Five Years Later
On a sunny Friday, at noon sharp, a prince and his princess sister finished their messy lunch. Their nanny, Lady Nancy, and their Dad, Crown Prince Leon, helped with cleanup, wiping small mouths and messy fingers. Then, when they were presentable, the little prince ran out of the nursery to his father’s shock.
Leon picked up the little princess, smiling when she made pleased noises at the lift.
Lady Nancy ran after the little prince in a bid to get to him before he fell.
“Kleo, don’t run so fast!” Leon called out, trying to slow his son when he got to the hallway.
The two-year-old boy did not slow down, as he raced to the front hall at Castle Arguro at top speed. He was in blue shorts and a matching t-shirt, his shoe ties coming apart. Leon feared he would trip over them. Clutching little Gabriella tight, Leon followed his son and Lady Nancy worried for Kleo. He sighed in relief when he saw Kleopas’s nanny reach him and stop him. She knelt down and tied his laces.
Leon caught up just as she finished.
“Thanks, Nancy. For a second, I thought Logan was back,” Leon said, placing Gabriella down beside her brother.
His one-year-old daughter grabbed her brother’s right hand and held tight. At the palace, Kleopas seemed to have memorized Logan’s schedule and always raced to the door of their residence right before Logan arrived.
“He raced out of the nursery at speed,” Leon said, smiling at Kleopas.
“Prince Kleo is very fast,” Nancy said, moving aside to allow him to crouch before his son. “He’s excited to be at Castle Arguro today, that you’re spending the day with him, and that you’re getting visitors.”
“I can see that,” Leon said, brushing a kiss on Kleopas’s cheek. He was rewarded with a bright smile and a wet kiss on his nose that had his heart spinning in delight. “Or, he’s excited to see his Uncle Riku. Which one is it, Kleo?”
Kleo giggled and looked around Leon, his gaze on the front door. Leon followed suit and grinned when he saw Riku standing at the entrance.
“Uncle Riku’s here!” Riku declared, crouching down, his arms wide open.
Kleopas took off at a run and launched himself into Riku’s arms making Leon laugh. Leon picked up Gabriella, resting her on his hip as he watched Riku pick up his son.
“You’re early,” Leon said, glancing at the time on the grand clock by the door. “Where’s Petr?”
“He’s parking the car,” Riku said, coming to greet him with a one-sided hug.
Leon was glad to see Riku. They hadn’t seen each other in three months, his fault really. His schedule at the Capital Palace took up his time. His coronation was in three weeks and it was taking massive effort.
Riku had news too. He was preparing a big move. Worried that he had missed an important development in Riku and Petr’s lives, Leon had invited them both for a weekend at Castle Arguro. He wanted to hear about Riku’s decision to move from Bangkok.
“You look good, Your Royal Highness,” Riku said. “Where is your other half?”
“Accompanying Granny to a scholarship award event,” Leon said, leading the way to the sunroom where refreshments were already setup. “He couldn’t avoid it because his team organized it, but he promised to make it back by two this afternoon.”
“Your hubby has taken off,” Riku said, following Leon. “His popularity is so high. They call him the People’s Prince.”
Leon smiled with pride.
“It was Logan’s choice to focus on education and sports. He wanted the chance to create projects to help educate children who really have no means to access it. We can thank the Marshal’s Court for supporting his choice and really working with him. In the end they have created very positive synergy. I love that he is enjoying it so much.”
Riku sat down, hugging Kleopas tight, making Leon smile. Riku and Kleopas were the best of friends, his eldest son adored Riku so much. They were endearing to watch.
Kleopas had taken after Leon, from his brown hair to his gray eyes, even his smile. He was born first, using Leon’s sperm and a donated egg of their choice. They had then gotten the help of a surrogate. On the day Kleo was born, Leon remembered falling in utter love the moment he laid his eyes on his crying baby boy. A year later, they got Gabriella who came from Logan’s sperm and a donated egg.
Leon buried his nose in Gabriella’s thick dark curls and took in a deep breath. His daughter was a gorgeous, feminine version of Logan. He liked to think she looked like Logan’s mother. Her blue eyes were the most beautiful pair he’d ever seen, and no one could tell him different. Gabby had taught him that his heart could fill with more love than he had thought capable. He fell in love with her the moment she was placed in his arms too.
Dropping a kiss on top her head, Leon held her on his lap while they watched Riku and Kleopas whisper secrets to each other.
Leon smiled when Gabriella wriggled off his lap, using the coffee table for balance; she walked to Riku and Kleopas. It was clear she wanted to discover what secrets the two were telling each other. She crawled on to Riku’s lap without waiting for invitation so in the end Riku was holding both his children.
Leon could see why his grandmother was advocating for another child. Children were so sweet at this age. Still, Leon wanted to give it time. He wanted to give Kleo and Gabby the attention they deserved, and with a coronation on the horizon, he worried that his time would be scarce.
Picking up his coffee cup, Leon sipped as he watched the trio talk, smiling when Riku hugged both kids. His smile widened when Kleopas pointed at him and clapped.
“What are you telling my children?” Leon asked, curious.
“I’m enticing them to visit me in Bangkok before I leave. I’ll take them to the beach and we can swim.”
“Swim!” Kleopas clapped. “Dada, swim?”
Leon found he could never refuse his son anything he asked using his two word mishmash requests. It was the earnest eyes, looking to him with pure trust. He was well aware that he was in trouble because Kleopas was on the verge of whole sentences.
“Dada, swim,” Kleopas continued. “Swim, Unc Rik.”
“Yes, you can swim with your Uncle Riku,” Leon said, shaking his head at the simple defeat. Logan was going to have to be the ‘says-no-Daddy’. “Now he’s going to keep asking until we make it to Bangkok to see you, Riku.”
Riku grinned and Kleopas clapped. Leon hoped Logan was up to a trip to Bangkok in the next week.
“I’ll make all the arrangements, all I need is a date,” Riku said. “Leon, visit me in Bangkok, before you have to run it through your Prime Minister.”
Leon smiled and reached for his coffee cup, taking a slow slip. His heart squeezed at the mention of a Prime Minister.
As Crown Prince, he had his grandmother to cushion him from the burden of power, but after the coronation, Amethea wanted to retire. She wanted to travel and see the world. She had even met with Anselm and Paul because she wanted to visit their estates.
The burden of authority would now be Leon’s to carry.
Leon met Riku’s gaze.
“How are you doing?” Riku asked. “I know you worried the Kingdom would be up in arms over your choice for surrogacy and to keep the surrogate’s name private. Your grandmother settled that issue by advocating new surrogacy policies created by Parliament. Why do you still look so worried?”
Yes, their choice not to name their surrogate had sparked debate.
Nicola Sande was a gentle soul who agreed to be their surrogate but insisted on keeping her privacy.
Leon fought hard to keep Nicola’s name out of the press. Amethea’s policies had made it illegal to reveal Lady Nicola’s name to the public, as long as she wished to keep her privacy. After Gabriella’s birth, Leon helped Nicola find a quiet estate in the highlands where she now lived with her husband and two children. Amethea granted her family a noble title in appreciation.
Yes, the surrogacy matter was settled. Now, he had a new, larger problem that would not disappear with a few policies.
“Leon,” Riku prompted. “What’s wrong?”
Leon’s lips curved in a small smile. Riku could read him with a single look, or a shift of his body. Leon’s gaze returned to Kleopas who was playing with a button on Riku’s tailored blue shirt.
“Do you think I’ll make a good king?” Leon asked, drawing Riku’s sharp gaze.
“I think you’ll make a wonderful king,” Riku answered without hesitation.
“I’m worried for Kleopas,” Leon said. “The Royal Diet has scheduled his Crown Prince Investment ceremony for when he turns five years old. The start of a grand plan for his life has begun. I know his life is going to be of interest to the Kingdom. I worry because I just want to make sure he grows up happy. The pressures in the palace might change that, and—”
“Gia grew up okay, despite her father,” Riku said, cutting in. “Leon, you’re not Isaak who is a bad seed. His character created Constantin. My evidence to that truth is your father. Prince Kleopas turned out okay and he lived in the Capital Palace before he moved to Castle Arguro. He got you, and well you’re you, Leon. You’re different from Constantin. So, I know Kleo will be fine. So will Gabby. Stop worrying.”
Riku’s conviction in his abilities melted the tightness that had lived in Leon’s chest this past month. His oldest friend always knew what to say.
Placing his coffee cup on the table, Leon sat back and let out a relieved sigh.
“Leon, you also won’t have to do this alone. You have your grandmother, Logan and us. It’s not like you won’t be able to call us,” Riku said, winking at him. “Anselm, Paul, Petr, David and me. We’re all here for you.”
Leon nodded. He had not forgotten. Through the years, his friends remained solid pillars for him and for Logan. He was lucky to have them.
“Gabby is sleepy,” Riku said, prompting Leon to get up.
Leon crossed to Riku and picked up his daughter. Gabriella’s eyes were drooping and her brother was not far behind.
“What’s taking Petr so long?” Riku asked, standing up with Kleo in his arms. “He wanted to see Kleo and Gabby.”
“You’re here all weekend. He’ll get to spend time with them,” Leon said, leading the way out of the sunroom. Gabriella’s head resting on his right shoulder, he rubbed her back in circles as he walked. “Besides, putting them down for a nap will give us a chance to talk.”
“About?” Riku asked, following Leon through the hallways to the nursery.
“You’re moving, Riku,” Leon said, his voice low because he didn’t want to wake Gabriella. “You’re leaving Bangkok to go stay with Petr. You still haven’t told me where will you guys live?”
Riku shrugged as they entered the nursery.
The nursery was a large bright room, cute mermaids painted on the wall on Gabriella’s side, and blue toy motorcycles on Kleopas’s side. Lady Nancy helped Riku with Kleopas, while Leon lay Gabriella in her bed. He spent a few minutes covering her with a soft pink blanket, making sure she was comfortable. Leon leaned over her and kissed her forehead.
Crossing the room, he kissed Kleopas’s cheek and followed Riku out of the nursery.
Riku took his hand and they wandered to a small sitting room opposite the nursery.
Leon urged Riku to sit in an armchair by the window, chose the stool closest to Riku and waited.
“Remember when we had that scare about you dying,” Riku said, after a long moment of silence. “I came to find you at Logan’s apartment after you were safe. I asked you whether I should break up with Logan.”
“I remember,” Leon said. “I told you to make a choice that will make you happy.”
Riku wiped his hand down his face, and looked out the window.
“Petr always made me happy,” Riku said. “I’m content around him, have always been. The last five years have been hard for both of us. We might have started on the same page when I returned from Logan’s Island, but life got complicated when we returned to our own countries, our respective places.”
“Your Pa?” Leon asked, remembering that Riku’s father remained an ambitious politician to this day.
“He moved back home to Tokyo in January, this year,” Riku said. “His goal is to reach the highest political office possible, but before that he’s become a cabinet minister. My mother and sisters wanted to stay in Bangkok. They had made a life there, you know. I wanted to keep that freedom too, so I supported them. I decided to stay in Bangkok to look after my mother and sisters instead of joining Pa. I could not have imagined my mother changing her decision on me. Pa convinced her to move back to the home country. For the sake of the family’s prosperity, he said. He wanted me with him in Tokyo, no matter what. In the end his agenda forced my decision to move in with Petr.”
“What agenda?” Leon asked, upset that Riku had kept all the changes in his life from him.
“Marriage,” Riku said. “He wanted to arrange a political marriage between me and a powerful businessman’s daughter in Tokyo. I refused. Told him I would not change who I was for power. He told me that I was dishonoring the family.”
“Oh, Riku,” Leon reached for Riku’s hand. “How did your Pa take it?”
“Not well,” Riku said, shaking his head with a small chuckle. “Pa had the idea that shipping me back to Tokyo by force would change my mind. I still can’t believe I needed a rescue from Petr’s team of mercenaries. Petr found me and negotiated a truce with Pa. They made an agreement that included a substantial amount of money. It broke my heart.”
“All of these after your family moved to Tokyo?” Leon asked, needing to know he had not let the ball fall as Riku’s friend.
Riku squeezed his hand.
“The last three months,” Riku said. “I didn’t have time to tell you because I couldn’t figure out what was going on myself until it was too late. I couldn’t believe my father would pay people to kidnap me. It still feels surreal. Anyway, thanks to Petr, my Pa’s plan didn’t succeed and Bangkok has become a place I need to leave.”
Leon nodded understanding the need to leave bad memories behind.
“So, Petr is your choice,” Leon said, with an approving nod. “You still haven’t told me where you’ll be staying.”
“Your Royal Highness, I’m quite partial to your Kingdom,” Riku said. “I loved Logan’s Island so much that I thought staying here in Aeras might be what I need. So, with David’s help, we’re hoping to purchase land and build a house for us. Maybe close to David’s place or by the beach. Aeras is also convenient for Petr’s business and he likes supporting you.”
“You’re not joking with me, are you?” Leon asked, hoping Riku was not playing with him.
It would be so good to have Riku living in Aeras. His life would be complete having three of his best friends so close to him.
“We’ve already made the necessary immigration applications,” Riku said, laughing when Leon launched himself into Riku’s arms. Riku hugged Leon and patted his back. “After all that happened in Bangkok, I thought that you, David, Anselm, Paul and Petr are the best thing for me. You are my family now, Leon, my brother.”
“I’m sorry I wasn’t there for you,” Leon said, pressing his face into Riku’s shoulder. “You should have told me what was going on, and I would have come to get you first.”
“You were busy taking care of Kleo and Gabby. Besides, Petr did it for you,” Riku said, with a small laugh. “And after our move, I’ll have the chance to see you more often.”
“Kleo and Gabby will love having you too,” Leon said, leaning back to study Riku. “This is the best gift you have ever given me.”
“You are the best gift I ever got too,” Riku said, giving Leon’s cheek a light pinch.
Leon made a face and sat back on his haunches.
“Any other news I should know about? You’ve been a well full of surprises.”
Riku started to shake his head, then his eyes widened and he reached for a silver chain around his neck. He pulled it off to show Leon the white gold diamond ring hanging on the chain.
“I’m getting married,” Riku said, his face alight with happiness. “Will you be my man-of-honor?”
“Yes! Congratulations!” Leon said, getting up to his feet, jumping in happiness.
Riku laughed watching him and turned to the door when a knock interrupted Leon’s excitement.
“What is making you so happy, my love?” Logan asked, walking in to the small sitting room.
Leon ran to Logan, and wrapped his arms around him. He kissed Logan hello, still smiling.
“Riku is getting married,” Leon said. “He and Petr are moving to Aeras to stay.”
“Really,” Logan said, holding Leon, his gaze on Riku. “Is this true, Riku?”
“Yes,” Riku said, looking beyond Logan to see Petr.
“Yes,” Riku repeated, and Petr’s reaction was to hurry to Riku’s side and pull him into a passionate kiss.
Leon gaped and turned to Logan.
In silent agreement, they left the room and Leon closed the door.
“Seems as though Petr was waiting for an answer,” Leon said, holding on to Logan’s left elbow.
“He was,” Logan said, smiling. “I found him outside, pacing. He was worried Riku might decide not to marry him. Petr is aware that you help Riku figure things out. He hoped this weekend would help Riku make a decision. We stayed out there talking until he was ready to come in.”
Leon nodded, as they paused outside the open nursery doors. Lady Nancy sat in a rocking chair by the windows reading a book. She waved at Logan when she saw him.
“The kids are sleeping,” Leon said, leaning his head on Logan’s shoulder. He looked behind them to the small sitting room’s closed door. “Riku and Petr are having a moment. Do you want to go for a walk with me?”
“I would love nothing more,” Logan said, kissing the top of Leon’s head.
Logan held his hand when they got outside, walking along a cobbled path at the back of the castle.
“How was your day?” Leon asked, pausing to touch a vibrant rosemary bush.
“The event was a success,” Logan said, taking the rosemary leaves Leon pinched from the bush, he brought them to his nose taking in the scent. “Amethea loved giving prizes to the scholarship recipients. When the ceremony ended, she insisted we have lunch together. She’s looking forward to moving to Castle Arguro.”
“I suppose we should enjoy our time here this weekend. It might be a while before we get a chance to escape the Capital Palace for a long period of time,” Leon said, resuming their walk.
“Are you afraid of ascending the throne?” Logan asked.
“I was, a little,” Leon said, squeezing Logan’s arm. “Talking to Riku helped. He thinks I’ll make a wonderful king.”
“You will,” Logan agreed. “You already are. If you haven’t noticed, Amethea has been handing over since the day we agreed to move into the Capital Palace. You deal with most of the heavy weight issues. She was right when she said you didn’t notice today.”
Leon looked at Logan in surprise.
“Have I?” Leon asked, stopping.
“The surrogate privacy policies were pushed through by you. Amethea only gave quiet support by standing by you,” Logan said. “You’ve been handling the royal office alone, my love.”
“Huh,” Leon said, following Logan when he continued their walk. “Logan, are you happy?”
“Why would you ask me that?” Logan asked, giving him a quick glance.
Leon shrugged, thinking of Riku and Petr who had stayed apart for over ten years. Their love story had taken longer, their journey full of pitfalls. He could not remember ever having doubts about Logan. He had loved him, with his whole heart, even when Logan left him to pursue his career.
“I don’t know, you are about to become Prince Consort. The royal court will expect much of you, of our children,” Leon said, he dropped his gaze to the ground. “I just want to make sure that you will be okay, Logan. I want you to be—”
Logan stopped and turned to face Leon. His blue eyes so dear, Leon could only stare, no matter how long they stayed married, his heart still danced in joy at the sight of this man.
“I love you,” Logan said. “I love our children and the family we have made together. I’m happy because I have you. You being king and I being your consort will never change that. You’re my home, Leon.”
Leon nodded and leaned up to kiss Logan on his lips. A contented sigh escaped him when Logan held him tight pressing their bodies together. They stood that way for a moment, and then continued their walk.
“Riku made me promise to take the kids to Bangkok. He wants to take them swimming,” Leon said. “Do you think we’ll manage to steal time between the coronation preparations?”
“We can always steal a weekend,” Logan said. “Next week, maybe? I’ll ask Kresley to rearrange my schedule. It might mean working longer hours through the week.”
“I have a three day conference prepared by the Foreign Affairs Minister. It ends late Friday afternoon. Dax will have a time getting me out of that.”
“We can always fly out in the evening,” Logan said. “I’m looking forward to a family vacation…”
Three weeks later, a coronation started in the morning. The Kingdom of Aeras watched as Crown Prince Leon, wearing the Aeras royal mantle, walked the length of the ceremonial hall at the Capital Palace. The deep red velvet trimmed coat lined rich gold embroidery trailed behind him, every step sure, as he approached the two massive chairs waiting at the elaborate dais at the front of the aisle. One with the King’s Court of Arms, and the second that of his consort.
Amethea stood to the right of the dais, and Logan stood on the left.
When Leon reached them, he met Logan’s gaze first, and smiled when Logan winked at him. Then his gaze shifted to Amethea. There were tears in her eyes. Leon hoped they were tears of happiness.
On her head was the Aeras Ceremonial Crown, marking her status as the Kingdom’s Queen.
The Prime Minister and the Speaker of the Assembly waited behind Amethea. As members of the Council of State and representing the people of Aeras, they would be the ones to crown the new king.
Leon stopped at the first step at the dais and his grandmother stepped forward. He closed his eyes when Amethea placed a reassuring hand on his left shoulder. She smiled and then moved to stand next to him.
The Prime Minister and Speaker of the Assembly both moved closer, and as the Kingdom looked on, they lifted the ceremonial crown from Amethea’s head, leaving a thin gold crown in her hair. They then placed the heavy ceremonial crown on Leon’s head.
The weight on his head was no surprise, but it certainly felt like the responsibility of a kingdom placed on his shoulders.
The Speaker of Assembly held a microphone for him and nodded in encouragement, as the Prime Minister handed Leon the Royal Scepter.
Leon spoke the oath of his new office.
“I, Leon, promise and swear that I will govern the Kingdom of Aeras in accordance with its constitution and laws, so help me God, the Almighty and Omniscient.”
With his oath complete, the two officiators stepped aside, opening the path to the King’s Throne. Leon walked up the steps on shaky feet, doing his best to keep his head straight, and the crown on his head. Dax helped arrange his mantle after he sat.
His coronation complete, the Prime Minister spoke, “Ladies and Gentlemen, His Majesty, King Leon II Maximillian of Aeras.”
“Long live the King,” their audience responded. “Long live the Kingdom of Aeras.”
Leon met his grandmother’s gaze and once again, her eyes were misty with emotion. She looked to the side where Lady Nancy stood with little Kleopas and Gabriella. She smiled wide, where Leon felt the weight of his responsibilities increase. He needed to make sure Kleo and Gabby grew in a positive environment and were equipped to carry on the crown on his head.
“Your Majesty,” Dax said beside him. “Your first role as Monarch is to name your consort.”
Leon nodded, placing the scepter on the cushion on his right, as directed by Dax.
Logan moved to take a knee before him and Leon stood, biting back a smile at the serious expression on Logan’s face. Kresley, Logan’s private secretary, moved closer, holding a cushion with a gold crown resting in the center.
Leon took the crown and held it over Logan’s head. Never could he have imagined the Royal Guard who came to him when he was graduating at Oxford, would be his lifetime partner. His lover, best friend and a father to their children. There was no doubt that Logan would help ease the weight of the responsibilities on his shoulders.
Most of important, Logan’s love and support would always remain a source of strength for him.
“I, Leon, make you, Logan, His Royal Highness, Prince Logan and Duke of Ion, second only to His Majesty.”
Placing the crown on Logan’s head, he held out his left hand to Logan who stood up with a smile. Leon nodded as Logan stood beside him and faced their applauding audience.
We are one now, Leon thought, Logan and Leon of the Royal House Maximillian guiding the Kingdom of Aeras into the future. It was perfect.
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