iv. of the order odonata
"My name is Daisuke, your Highness."
Daisuke is not entirely sure that he appreciates being rescued, not if it means having to be called "human" in that condescending tone, especially when the speaker is a boy not much older then himself. A human boy, at that.
"I didn't ask for your name, human," the Prince says softly. Daisuke catches the dangerous tone, and tries to smooth his own bristling skepticism. Pretender or not, the Prince obviously commands unusual resources. You just don't ignore things (er… persons) like Stingmon. "I was wondering what I should do with you."
"Fight me, kill me. I don't care."
Raising a finely arched eyebrow, the Prince looks over to his vassal. "What's this?"
Stingmon demurs. "Remember the whale's story, your Highness. Two of this child's comrades were accidentally killed. I believe he feels… a debt."
"Ah. That makes sense." Returning his attention to Daisuke, the slender royal raises his arm and makes a gesture. Come nearer.
Daisuke wonders if he's been hypnotized. His feet move forward and he doesn't remember telling them anything about it. The Prince is compelling, perilous. Daisuke shivers as he steps forward.
"Why did you spare the whale?" asks the Prince, and with sympathy in his voice he sounds like gold.
Daisuke looks down, examining his treacherous feet. "It just… didn't seem right." He feels the answer is inadequate, grossly so.
"Any other reason? Any at all?" the Prince prompts, and Daisuke is shocked to feel the tickle of a whisper in his ear. He does not need to look up to sense that the Prince is very, very close. Punishingly close.
"No." Daisuke wishes that he had something better to say.
Daisuke looks up. The Prince is smiling, and for some reason he has removed the goggles. His eyes are like fragments of the iceberg that Daisuke just escaped from: melting jewels. He'd never seen such a pale blue before.
"I don't bother with humans who bore me with excuses and justifications. You did what you did, and that pleases me. Whales are good eating, but they are also good for conversation and friendship. It was well done to spare the whale."
"You've eaten whale?" Daisuke is beyond stunned. "They speak to you… don't they…?!"
"…Yes. I will especially eat them if I liked them when they were alive." The Prince flashes a crooked smile. "I don't kill them, if that's what is bothering you. At least… not personally."
"Are you going to eat me? When I die?" When you kill me?
"What? Oh, no. Humans eat all the wrong things, and probably taste quite poor."
Daisuke reels. "Probably? Are you a cannibal?"
The prince places a gloved hand on Daisuke's shoulder, squeezing gently. "Not yet."
Daisuke frowns unhappily, having just figured something out. "You are trying to make me be scared of you. That's not nice."
The prince widens his eyes, and looks at Stingmon in surprise. "Not so stupid… for a human."
"What?" Daisuke riles, and grimaces. He conveniently remembers that he is not afraid to die. Why is he putting up with this? It's rank teasing. "You are a human too, or are you too dumb to know that, Prince?"
"Shape and form fit, so you presume to know what is inside of me?" Anger. It suits the prince well.
"Ooh. Are you going to turn out to be a magical lion after all? Go ahead, show your true self then. I'm totally ready for you." Daisuke feels disappointed. "Jerk."
"Magical… er… lion?" The Prince turns to Stingmon for help.
Stingmon shakes his head. "No idea."
"This is my true self. I am nothing more or less then what you see. But I'm not human, either. Don't ever call me that, human. Or I shall become cross."
"What should I call you then?" Daisuke asks in thickly disbelieving tones. "Insect?"
The Prince is a bit startled. "I'm not worthy of that. Mmm…" He appears thoughtful. "I used to be called Ken."
Called Ken by who? Daisuke wants to ask, but something about the wishful way that the Prince speaks makes him hold his tongue. "Okay… Ken."
"I still don't know what I'm supposed to do with this human, Stingmon," the Prince… Ken… says in irritated tones, turning to ignore Daisuke in his sudden pique. "He's not a hostage."
"True." Stingmon nods.
"We can't just send him back to those barbarians who left him on the ice in the first place, either. That would be cruel."
"Hey!" Daisuke says, but he is ignored.
"South America is hardly a place for a native islander whelp," Ken mused. "Australia is… very far away. And it's ugly. Mmm." The Prince swirls his cape out of the way, so that he can sit on a rough chunk of naked limestone. "Bother."
"He's moderately tolerable." Stingmon says neutrally. "Maybe you could keep him?"
Daisuke has been watching this exchange as if it were a ping-pong match, biting his lip as his fate is discussed in such exclusionary tones. It is obvious that this Prince is not interested in what Daisuke thinks of the matter, so after that first exclamation ("Hey!") he settles back into grim silence. Death. Yeah, that is his goal after all. So no need to feel picky about however the Gods might chose to hand it out. Whether by the pitiless sea, or by a loony demagogue, it hardly matters
"As what?" Ken counters. "I don't need anymore servants. And he would be useless as a warrior. Too sentimental. What do you propose?"
Stingmon hedges diffidently. "As, er… a companion."
Ken adopts a steely tone after checking to make sure that Daisuke isn't going to laugh, fixing the island boy with an intimidating glare. "What kind of companion?"
"You know… a… friend."
"Gah. I don't need any friends, especially not stupid human ones. I should have known something was up, when you came to me with that sob story from the whale. Like you care about whales anyway." Ken glowers at his vassal. "A friend. Hah."
Daisuke evaluates the Prince with new interest. No friends, eh? "How long have you 'ruled' Antarctica anyway?" The sarcasm in his voice is light, transmitting the following message: You may or may not be who you claim, but you are surely interesting enough for me to be curious.
"My whole life." Ken answers, and then frowns. "You doubt me?"
"Of course." Daisuke grins. Nothing to lose.
Ken is silent. He looks at Stingmon, who bows in return but says nothing. "Maybe I should take him with me." Ken says at last.
Stingmon makes positive noises.
"It might be… advantageous… to have at least one human who has seen the glory of my realm."
"Mmm…" Stingmon appears to ponder these wise words.
"And maybe I could find some small odd things for the human to do."
"I can thing of a few things myself that need to be taken care of better, your Majesty," Stingmon confesses.
"I won't kill for you," Daisuke interjects.
Ken stops looking at Stingmon, and for the first time since Daisuke called him by name he seems to notice the fur-clad boy. "What?"
"My life is forfeit for what I've done. I'll go with you if you want, but I'm done with hunting. Done. If you want to kill me for defying you or whatever, go right ahead. But I no longer have the right to take life."
"It's a belief of his people," Stingmon says. "He means it."
Now the Prince looks powerfully interested. "Really?"
"I will take you, human boy." Ken says at last. "You are peculiar and entertaining. You will serve me as I see fit, except for that I will not require you to kill anything or anyone. In exchange, you will eat well and sleep comfortably and I promise you will be safe. Do you agree?" Ken stands. "This is a serious proposition," he adds softly. "I become your liege. Your Lord. Can you handle that?"
"You have a choice. I will take you anywhere in the world, except to those barbarians who abandoned you. Or I will leave you here. I will not force you to come."
Daisuke feels a heart-sick twinge when Ken refuses him the trip home. But it makes sense; even to his own people he is dead now. "I… I… accept."
Ken smiles distantly, suddenly seeming sure of his powers. "Excellent."
"I've never seen a realm before," Daisuke says thoughtfully.
"Lots of ice there," Stingmon promises. "It's mind-boggling."
Daisuke perks right up.