vi. for the sun drenched land
Without a clock, there is no way of saying exactly how long Daisuke has been sleeping. The swinging, teasing arc of the sun might have given some clues, but to be honest, it is not really important. Daisuke sleeps now, in the only real bed of the way station, the one which is intended only for the Prince.
The Prince sleeps elsewhere.
Or rather, he "sleeps" elsewhere.
Even in the summer, when the sun shines strongly all day (and most of the night), Paulet is locked in by the stubbornly persistent ice. Temperatures are running at a balmy 25 degrees Fahrenheit, and when the wind strips down that actually feels pretty nice. Stingmon and Ken sit together just outside the cave, on either sides of the shuttered opening. The cave is located high up in a small mountain, very difficult to reach by land. This makes it defensible, and more or less safe.
Stingmon seems inured to the cold, possessing natural and unnatural defenses against extremes of temperature. His watch is unfailing because he is incapable of feeling bored or tired (except when expending his mysterious energies through battle).
The comfortable calm of the Prince has nothing to do with innate invulnerability; rather, he stays warm because he is extravagantly swathed in as many warm blankets as he could possibly gather (while leaving a sufficient amount for the boy). Also: over his regal (yet functional) attire he wears a parka, one which would cost many tens of thousands of dollars at a Sotherby auction because it had been hand-pieced by native peoples of the North, made from pelts of mammals that do not live down here. His face is encircled in silky black fur, which abruptly shatters to white several inches from the inner border. The combination of furs and blankets obscures Ken's lithe form almost completely.
"Stupid whale," Ken sniffs, after having awaken from light slumber at least ten minutes ago.
There is no reply from Stingmon, although he does seem to rouse to attention.
"What a bloody nuisance." Turning his visored face towards Stingmon, he glowers, but because his mouth is muffled in a scarf his expression is not very translatable.
"Mmm… would you prefer that the child have died, abandoned like that?" Stingmon asks, using the round and respectful tones of a councilor. "He did nothing wrong."
Ken squirms uncomfortably.
Stingmon comforts. "Things will be easier when we get back to the fortress, your Highness."
"I'm not so sure…" Ken muses. "He has a death wish." The dark-haired boy growls impatiently. Something about the human child bothers him, something more than the despair and the oddness. "I don't understand why a born hunter would refuse to kill," he says finally, prickling tones of self-reproach because he feels that he ought to understand.
"I'm not sure he does, either."
Ken shakes his head in negation. "How can a person act, with so little discretion? It's madness."
"And yet, it's also rather… nice." Ken makes a puzzled sound, and Stingmon elaborates. "Don't disdain instinct, your Highness. It has its uses."
There is a pause.
"I should beat you up," Ken says conversationally. "Why don't I beat you up?"
"I'm sure you would if you could, my Lord," Stingmon says, and his voice carries a warmth and affection that would surprise anyone else who heard it.
"Mmm…" Ken murmurs plottingly. "I'm just biding my time, old friend."
"You know, I would let you," Stingmon says with a sudden thoughtful honesty. "Perhaps that is what the child's 'death wish' is…"
"I think perhaps that he is simply acknowledging a right… he believes that the people he loves are entitled to kill him."
Ken frowns. "Barbarians."
"I guess that makes me a barbarian too, then." Stingmon gets up, stretches, and looks down at his master in absolute deference. "Shall I patrol?"
"What?" Ken looks at his vassal, distracted by Stingmon's confession. Does everyone have a death wish these days? "Oh, yes. Please. Be back in two hours. I should have the child ready by then."
Stingmon shoots into the sky and disappears.
The child. Ken shivers. He probably is no younger then I…
Most of the candles in the cave have been extinguished: no need to waste light on a slumbering boy. But as Ken de-huddles (folding up each blanket neatly and hanging up the parka properly), there is enough flickering light for him to see the human person who will soon become a fixture in his life for some time to come.
Fingering the tear on his blue-and-white striped jumpsuit, Ken finds himself drawn to examine closer.
He calls himself Daisuke.
Ken removes the tinted sunglasses.
Sitting on the edge of the bed, Ken picks up the boy's abandoned outerwear, sorting through it curiously: a utilitarian seal-skin cloak lined in some sort of imported wool; an overlarge grey woolen sweater; a pair of impressively large boots which are lined with fur and covered in salt and grime; knives, two: both sharp. Ken finds a little stylized embroidery on the cloak, and a rather pretty etching on one of the knives … these are NOT evidence of rank poverty. The people of this human's island must be prosperous.
Ken pulls back the coverlet which Daisuke has tucked in to cover even his head: people who live in such cold climates prefer not to sleep barefaced. The small boy stirs in his sleep, but does not wake. This pleases Ken.
When was the last time Ken had been this close to another.. a… human? He does not remember. A tiny bubble of snot balloons from one of the boy's child-sized nostrils, and he snores. Experimentally, Ken pops the snot bubble and it does not return. Ken looks at the trace of clear slime left on his glove and grimaces in disrelish, and decides to wipe his fingers clean in the rust brown fringes of Daisuke's hair. He then removes his glove fastidiously, freeing his left hand.
The boy has a dirty face, but despite that Ken finds a few things that he admires. The skin that wears the dirt is smooth, and Ken clearly sees that it has a lovely color, tawny and brown. Daisuke's bones are good, defining his face in a pleasing way. Using the rarest touch of his fingertips, Ken traces the jaw and other obvious margins, then carefully presses his finger into the pad of the boy's cheek, finding the edges of the fox-like angularity which suits his coloring and personality so well.
Ken becomes braver in his explorations as he discovers that the boy is not easily aroused. This does not surprise him; for the island fisherman, few dangers are expected during sleep on land. The allurement of the boy's helplessness prods him on: and his own unstated hunger for companionship drives him. He touches Daisuke's neck next.
He feels the fluttering of a pulse, and Ken finds himself tracing that impulse down, pressing on Daisuke's thin chest and finding the heart. It beats slowly. The undershirt seems to be made of quite ordinary cotton, and yet it is extraordinary because it is somehow kept perfectly white. Ken starts to wonder about the life this boy must have led before, but his thoughts fly away as he is seduced into mindless comfort, touching the source of that warm, steady beat.
It is only when he feels himself succumbing to an extraordinary desire to place his ear against that chest and listen closely, covering himself and the boy with blankets, that Ken remembers himself.
"Wake up," Ken bids softly.
Daisuke moves not. Ken shakes the boy a little bit, calling more loudly. "Come. Wake."
Smilingly, Daisuke murmurs and rolls on his side, towards the voice. Ken thinks this is encouraging, but hardly sufficient. "Time… to get up..." Daisuke scrambles his curving arms, swatting blindly and sleeping as Ken begins to shake more vigorously.
"Daisuke. Wake UP."
This does it. Daisuke's eyes fly open, and he appears startled and disoriented. "Wha… who?"
"It's me," Ken says levelly.
Ken sees the way that a sudden sharp disappointment blooms on the boy's face, replaced quickly with blunted resignation. He finds it… troubling.
"Oh… yeah… "
"Would you like something to eat?" Ken asks carefully. He's going to try avoid a repeat of yesterday's condescending tones. As a budding statesman (although of a rather peculiar realm), Ken is sweetly capable of adapting his perceived persona, and many times has he needed to be winning and charming, both. Never to a vassal, before… never to a servant. Ken smiles to himself ruefully. I do what I have to. I keep my promises.
"What do you have?"
"Very little that's good, I'm afraid. All the nice things are back at my home."
"Are we going there next?"
Ken nods. Daisuke appears to think this through. "Can I eat now, and then eat later too?" Almost involuntarily, he lifts his hand to touch the place where Ken slapped him. "Umm… your Highness."
This makes Ken laugh. "M….mmaybe. If you're good." He has no intention of starving the boy, but his own instincts tell him that setting early limitations on the larder might be the best decision he'll ever make.
"I'll be good," Daisuke says, and Ken is pleased to see that he seems to be reviving a bit. One day at a time, or maybe a bit less… Ken is not fooled into thinking that this human's strange hopelessness has been cured, but he approves of the fact that the boy seems to have the ability to set his depression aside when needed. "I'll be very good, the exemplar of good, the king-pot of all goodness. Stunningly good. Remarkably good. Amazingly, amazingly, amazingly good."
"That's a hell of a lot of good."
Daisuke nods and smiles. "What do I get to eat now?"
Daisuke lifts his eyebrows. "And you say that's not good? I eat that every day!"
Standing up, Ken drops Daisuke's pile of clothes on the bed. "Get dressed," he orders.
He cannot explain why he feels a need to turn away. Nor can he explain the blush warming his own childlike cheeks.
He looks away anyway. It just… feels right.