A/N: The idea for this fic came from curiousscaretteyes im just the one who wrote it. I felt like she deserved a credit.
Nezumi sits down in the field. The person he usually meets here hasn’t arrived yet. It’s not the first time Nezumi has gotten here first though, so he doesn’t worry. He looks around him, warily. He is always afraid that someone will follow him and find this place. That someone will find out about these meetings. And that would not be a good thing.
The person he is here to meet is a prince. The red-eyed prince of the Kingdom of Trendafil. And it would not end well at all if he, a lowly commoner, were to be found meeting with the prince. Nezumi sighs and leans back, resting his weight on his hands outstretched behind him. He feels the grass itching at his wrists and sees the sky, spread out above him. It was the prince who had taught him to appreciate this. Nezumi closes his eyes as he remembers the first time he met the prince. It was in this very field.
Shion was in a particularly bad mood that day. This was the third tutor that had been fired in the last month. So was it his fault if they didn’t know anything? All of the things they had to teach him, he already knew. And whenever he asked for more information, they either didn’t know or wouldn’t say. And, of course, there was the matter of his appearance…
So he had escaped the castle and was running to the field. This was the place his mother used to bring him and read him stories. But that was before they had been discovered. It had been extremely illegal, for them to sneak out and enjoy the fresh air, to truly stretch their limbs outside of the stuffy castle walls. The preacher had blamed it on Shion. Everyone saw him as a demon, a curse.
Luckily, he had been just a child, and the queen had been well loved. They had got off easy, but the place was still banned. Shion didn’t care though. He still went there whenever he was upset. Because he had supposedly corrupted his mother, he was only allowed limited contact with her. Here, in the field, he felt close to her again.
He stood in the center of the field, and closed his eyes. He held his arms out and then started spinning. He spun around and around and around, as if to take all of the bad, heavy thoughts and fling them away.
He heard a sound from somewhere else in the field. He stopped abruptly, so abruptly that he lost his balance and fell over.
A man was standing right at the edge of his field of view. Or was he a boy…? Shion had never seen anyone in the field before. Not anyone. He hadn’t even seen footprints or patted down grass indicating that anyone ever came here apart from himself. So what was this person doing here, in Shion’s special place?
The strange man wore clothes that Shion had never seen in the castle. He didn’t even know if they were from Trendafil. He knew that he lived a sheltered life inside the castle, and so wouldn’t have possibly seen all that Trendafil’s citizens wore, but black clothes like this… They seemed of too high quality to be peasants’ clothes.
He knew he should have been worried. He should have been scared. He should have turned and run from this strange man. He should not have stayed there, and he definitely should not have tried to talk to him.
"Hello?" He took a step toward the stranger. The stranger took a step back. Shion had to admire the way the man moved. It was smooth, elegant, like a cat. Shion could do nothing but stare at this man’s graceful movements. He shook his head. He shouldn’t be thinking such things; he had to find out who the stranger was first.
"What’s your name?" Shion asked. He wondered how he could show that he was not a threat. Then again, he was nothing more than a curse, wasn’t he? Was he truly not a threat?
The man regarded him with interest. After a moment, he spoke. “Nezumi.”
"Nezumi? As in Rat?" Rat didn’t seem right… This man was surely more than a rat. Shion thought Cat might be more appropriate.
"It doesn’t suit you," said Shion. The stranger- Nezumi -turned back to face him.
"It doesn’t suit me? You don’t know me. How could you possibly know what suits me or what doesn’t suit me?”
Shion was taken aback. He had not been expecting an outburst like this. “I don’t know…” he mumbled. He was just trying to be friendly. What did this man have against him?
He tried again. “What are you doing in this field?”
"I’m sorry, I wasn’t aware that you owned it."
Shion was starting to get irritated. He was making an honest effort here, but instead this man kept making sarcastic comments and cutting off any attempts at conversation that Shion made. It was infuriating.
"Well, it’s certainly more mine than yours!" Shion snapped.
The strange man chuckled. “Oh is it now? And why is that?”
"Because," said Shion. "I’m the prince!"
Nezumi looked at him for a moment, then he started to laugh. “You? A prince? No way!” he snorted.
"I am! I am Prince Renshion Rosaelius Trendafilei III, son of King Alubis Nousedos Trendafilei, and heir to the throne of the Great Kingdom of Trendafil!"
Nezumi looked at him, his expression hardening. “Well then, Prince Renshion,” he spat Shion’s name as though it were an insult. Then suddenly, he was on him. Shion had been knocked backwards and the stranger was holding him up by the collar. “Why don’t you tell me why you think that just because you were lucky enough to be born into a family where your daddy had a bit of power, you think that you are better than the rest of us!?”
Shion was shocked. He had not expected Nezumi to get this mad. The man had been so calm and collected before, but now he was in his face, yelling at him.
Shion averted his eyes. He would have looked away, but the stranger’s hands holding the fabric of the shirt restricted his motion.
"I don’t…" He mumbled.
"Obviously you do. Otherwise you wouldn’t have said it."
"No, I…" Shion felt terrible. He didn’t really think that he was better than anybody else. The people in the castle treated him like dirt, just the same as the peasants. But, he realized bitterly, if I’m calling them peasants that means that I have some sense of entitlement…
But even as he was thinking this, the man released him, shoving him back roughly. Shion stumbled backwards, but didn’t fall.
Nezumi was looking at him with that amused expression again. “So tell me, Your Highness-“
The expression froze on Nezumi’s face. “What?”
"Shion," he repeated, looking the man right in the eyes. "My name is Shion."
Nezumi held his gaze. Shion felt like those eyes were piecing him through him, looking right into him. This stranger came into his soul through his eyes and looked at every part of him, stripping all of his secrets away until he was left standing before him completely naked, completely exposed, and nowhere to hide.
Then the eyes were gone, and the stranger was speaking. “Heh. Shion, then.”
Shion longed to catch the stranger’s eye again. He had never seen eyes like that before. They were just so…
"So what’s a big-shot prince like you doing out here? Shouldn’t you be hanging around with you royal friends?"
Shion smiled bitterly. “‘Royal friends?’ I don’t have any friends. I shouldn’t even be out here. I’m not supposed to be seen by the people. I have to stay locked up, in my room, with nothing but books of my father’s self-glorifying legends and the royal tutors.”
Nezumi’s eyebrows shot upward. “Oh? And why would that be?”
Shion sighed. “Just look at me,” he said, motioning to his white hair, his red eyes. “I’m a curse.” He had fully intended to stop there, but upon seeing that this man really had no idea what he meant, he continued. “It’s an old legend around here. All children with red eyes are seen as being possessed by the devil. They will bring misfortune onto the land. The crops will not grow, the weather will be harsh, and some even say that plagues will strike.
"And all of that is just for the commonfolk. The fact that I am a prince… I am the scapegoat for anything wrong that happens. Foreign relations are bad right now. We are on the brink of war. All of it is blamed on me, even though I’m always kept tucked away in some corner so I don’t corrupt anything."
"Is that so…?" The stranger mused. "What did you mean by, ‘you’re not supposed to be seen by people?’"
"It means what it means. The king thought that the people would panic if they ever found out about me, so I’m kept hidden in the castle. I’m not allowed to go out. I shouldn’t even be here. But I can’t be locked up there all day, I can’t. I just had to get out…"
They drifted into silence, neither wanting to start conversation again. Shion supposed there were worse ways to live life, than being a prince in a castle where everything was provided for you. But to him, it was terrible. He couldn’t do anything on his own. And he hadn’t been lying or exaggerating when he’d said he didn’t have any friends. Maybe this man would be his first.
"Well," said Nezumi. "I’d best be going." He turned to leave.
"Wait!" Shion had called out before he realized what he was doing. Nezumi turned to look at him. "Well… Will I see you again?"
Nezumi shrugged. “Maybe.”
"Would you…" Shion trailed off. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea after all…
"Would I what?"
Then Shion strengthened his resolve. “Would you meet me here again tomorrow?”
The man looked at him. “Yeah,” he said at length.
Shion grinned. “Okay. Well, I have to go, so, see you tomorrow!”
Nezumi gave him a nod. “See you.”
And then Shion turned and went back home to the castle.
The next day, Nezumi went out to the field. He couldn’t quite believe he was actually doing this. The only reason he was here was because he was actually a spy. He remembered his conversation with his boss, The Coordinator.
"A prince…? That is interesting… Maybe we could use him."
"Are you sure? He wasn’t exactly the smartest kid. He approached me without hesitation. I can’t see him as being useful."
"He could be a good source of information. I would like you to continue meeting with him and see what you can get him to tell you."
The prince was already there, waiting for him. The kid was just standing there. Staring at the sky.
"Hey," Nezumi called out. "You awake over there?"
The prince turned and looked at him. Nezumi was amazed at how the boy’s face lit up when he saw him. How could anyone be so genuine? Maybe it had something to do with his sheltered life…
"Nezumi!" The boy practically ran to him. "I was worried you weren’t actually going to come."
"You really don’t get out much, do you?"
"No, I already told you. I’m not supposed to exist," said Shion. He still seemed cheerful though, not like the darker moodiness of the day before.
"Yeah, yeah." Nezumi knew he would have to tread carefully while digging for information. He didn’t want this boy to get spooked and shut him out completely. "That’s because of this curse, right?"
"Yeah. Everyone around here knows about it. So then why don’t you? Are you not from around here? Where are you from? And why did you come-"
"Are you always like this?"
"Like…" Nezumi searched for the word. "this! Do you ever stop talking?"
The boy seemed somewhat surprised. At what, Nezumi didn’t know.
"Well, I don’t really talk at all at home…"
"Oh really? And why is that?" He let Shion open his mouth to respond before cutting him off. "No! Don’t tell me- the curse. Right?"
A moment of silence passed between them. Nezumi caught himself thinking about how much this image affected the boy, then shook his head. The kid still had everything provided for him. He didn’t have to work at anything. So what if he was a little lonely? He was at least guaranteed a meal.
"So what do you thing would happen?" Nezumi asked.
"If they all found out about you?"
"What, like if the commoners found out?"
"Well… I imagine there would probably be a riot… The people would be mad that the king hid me from them. They would probably try to kill me, and my father too!" The boy was grinning. He was talking about his own death, yet he was grinning.
"Are relations that bad?"
"Well I’m kept pretty far away from legal matters. They don’t want me to mess anything up. But I would say that yeah, things are pretty bad. There’s a lot of unrest out there currently because the lower class thinks that they are being oppressed by the lords, but the lords are saying that the peasants are getting really unruly…"
"Really?" Nezumi was going to take a chance. The prince seemed like he would be willing to talk a little more. "That’s enough to justify killing a king?"
"Well yeah, that’s been going on for a while. But there’s been a drought lately, so crops are bad, and now we are going through some tension with one of the neighboring kingdoms." He went on to explain how he was supposed to have been married off to some princess by now, but the king had had to tell the other place that Shion had died. Apparently that made this kingdom seem weak in the eyes of the other.
Nezumi absorbed all of this information and stored it away in his mind. There wasn’t a single thing that they not said that wasn’t useful. How could he just speak so openly? It was clear that the prince trusted Nezumi, just one day after he met him. The boy had probably trusted him right from the start.
Then again, what could be expected from one who lived such a sheltered life? The boy had probably never met anyone in his entire life that would want to hurt him.
The boy was still talking. As Nezumi asked more questions and Shion told him more and more about the political state of the kingdom, Nezumi started to realize that he didn’t need to be tactical at all. He could just directly ask things. The boy was too airheaded to even consider that Nezumi would do anything bad with the information.
Nezumi glanced up at the sky. The sun had moved quite a bit. Where had all that time gone…?
"… so in that case it is likely that…"
The boy stopped his babbling and focused on Nezumi. “Yeah?”
"How long do you think you can be away?"
"What do you mean?"
Nezumi sighed. “We’ve been here for two hours.”
"Two hours!?" exclaimed Shion.
Nezumi glanced back up at the sky, checking his estimate. “Yeah, I’d say. Maybe a little more.” He looked back at Shion who was staring at him with a mixture of excitement and amazement.
"How can you tell? Did you figure it out from the height of the sun? That’s amazing!"
Nezumi raised an eyebrow. “Aren’t you worried about everyone missing you?”
"They won’t miss me, it’s fine. I’ve spent whole days out here before. They won’t notice."
"Well okay, then," said Nezumi. "But unlike you, I have things to do." Nezumi turned to leave, then remembered that his boss might want him to keep a line to this kid. He was a gold mine of information.
"You want to meet here again tomorrow?"
The grin on the prince’s face was enormous. “Absolutely,” he said.
"Well, I’d love to stay and chat more, but it’s that time of day again," said Nezumi. It was the fifth day they had met like this, but it had already seemed to fall into the norm for Nezumi. Meeting with Shion out in this field and interrogating him for an hour and a half, it somehow made Nezumi feel good. When delivering reports to The Coordinator, he always seemed to feel better right after talking with the prince.
Shion groaned loudly. “Do you really have to go?”
"Yes. I have to be at work in less than an hour, and it’s about fifty minutes’ walk from here." Nezumi stood up from where he had been sitting next to the prince. Shion stood up as well. "By your leave, Your Majesty." He bowed down low to Shion.
"Wha- Oh. Um, yeah."
Nezumi straightened up. “You know, you don’t command a very regal presence,” he said. He walked up to Shion, and tapped the boy under the chin. “Chin up,” he said. “Back straight. Shoulders back.” Nezumi took a step back. “Good. Now let’s try this again, shall we?”
Shion nodded. Nezumi couldn’t quite get over how nervous the boy looked. He ignored it and bowed again, this time keeping his eyes on the boy. He wanted to see his expression. “By your leave, your majesty.”
"Yeah," said Shion, nodding.
Nezumi sighed again. “Yes. Not ‘yeah.’ And don’t nod. You are in charge here, not me.” He saw that Shion was still unsure about this. Nezumi let his shoulders drop and knew there was a smile playing about his face. “Here,” he said, going over to stand next to Shion. “I’ll show you.” He couldn’t believe he was doing this. He had business to attend to, and details of the day’s conversation would begin to fade soon. Why was he here messing around with this kid?
He stood tall, and knew that he looked exactly the part of a prince. “You see?” He asked. “Switch with me. You bow,” he told Shion.
And the prince did it. Here Nezumi was, standing here with a prince bowing to him, a spy. He was hit with a pang of… was it guilt?
"By your leave," said Shion. Nezumi thought that the prince seemed more comfortable playing the underling.
Nezumi waved a hand in his direction, never looking directly at him. “Yes. Go.” He waited a beat. “You see? You have to act like you don’t care.”
"But I do…"
"Yes, you are allowed to care. You just can’t show it when you’re talking to people. They won’t trust you or follow you. You need to show that you care through your actions."
Shion nodded. “I think I get it…”
"Shall we try this again?"
"Aren’t you going to be late for your job?"
Nezumi glanced up again. A half an hour had passed. “Oh shit,” he whispered. “You’re right. Okay, I’m leaving. Tomorrow?”
"Yeah," said Shion, confirming their meeting for the next day
As Nezumi left, he marveled at how easy it was for him, with this kid, to completely lose track of time. He wasn’t normally like this. What was it about this job…? He decided not to concern himself with it. For now, he needed to focus on delivering his report.
Nezumi smiles as he remembers all of these things. It’s been a few weeks since then. He had spent that time gathering information. The political structure of the country, the layout of the castle, the economic state, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. But he had also been also teaching. He taught Shion how to be a prince. Teaching him how to stand up had been just the beginning.
He looked up at the sky, calculating the position of the sun, seeing how much it has moved. Nezumi realizes that he’s been waiting for Shion for almost 45 minutes. Where is he…?
It’s important that he doesn’t come back to The Coordinator without any new information. He doesn’t know what the man would do. He doesn’t want to know. If Shion doesn’t meet him today.
”They would probably try to kill me…” Nezumi can see Shion’s face clearly in his mind. Why, of all the things the prince has said to him over the past few weeks, did Nezumi choose to remember this? And why does it make him feel like this?
Is it really about the information? Surely he is more worried about the boy himself. Could it be that what Nezumi really cares about is… No. It’s always been about the information. All he cares about is the job. All he wants is to keep getting good information from this kid so that he doesn’t fall out of favor with The Coordinator.
But he is still worried about what could have happened to Shion. There’s no way the prince would have just not shown up. If he wasn’t going to be there, he would have told Nezumi yesterday. And if he had been held up for some reason, he would have made it here by now.
Nezumi waits another five, agonizingly long minutes, before deciding to go out into town and seeing if he can find anything out. Something is wrong here. Something is definitely wrong. There’s no way the prince would just bail on him like this, not unless something had happened.
The town he comes to runs around the outside of the castle walls. There are a lot of people gathered at the entrance to the castle walls. They are shouting, waving signs and torches. Nezumi moves quickly through the town. He can feel the tense anger in the air. He doesn’t want to anger anyone, but he knows he has to find out what is going on.
He slows down, knowing it will be easier to find someone who will explain the situation to him if he takes time to actually look. Each person he sees, he can instantly profile and determine how helpful they could be. This is what he was trained for. Scoping people out, determining how much they know, how much they would tell him, and if they would tell anybody else afterwards. He knows how to get information about people and places and organizations without leaving a trace. This thing with the prince, he just got lucky. If it weren’t for that, he would have had to go around the town like this every day, gathering information from the villagers, and filling in the gaps himself.
He looks around the crowd. He can tell from people’s stances how caught up in this tense vibe people are. The people who are standing more closed off are less likely to want to talk to him. The people standing tall, with their chests slightly forward, they have a purpose. They would be biased. Any information he would get from them would have to be verified by another source. He doesn’t have time for the verification process now. He looks around. There were a few people standing off to the side, but watching with interest. Those were the best people to talk to. They had the clearest idea of what would be happening, and he wouldn’t be interrupting them.
He sees a young girl, barely older than himself. She is watching very intently. Looking at only one person. Possibly a boyfriend. Either way, Nezumi knows he would leave an impression on her and doesn’t want to have to clean up after himself. Another person here is an older man. He is leaning up and in, a sign of confusion. He knows just as much about the crowd making its way to the castle as Nezumi does.
He gets lucky with the third possible. She is a mother. He can tell from the way that she looks at the teenagers in the group, as though she wants to stop them, to protect them. She has a kind face, and is holding herself openly.
As soon as the crowd passes, he approaches her. “Excuse me madam, but what’s happening here?”
She turns to him. Startled, but not closing off. “Oh. There’s a riot going on…”
"Really? Why?" Nezumi has to keep his face blank, he can’t show anything more than intrigue. If he shows worry, or concern, she would turn around and start asking him questions. And he doesn’t want that.
But it’s difficult. It’s difficult to avoid worrying about what could happen. But he has to stay neutral. If the woman starts asking him questions, he’ll leave an impression. He would have to clean up. And he doesn’t have time for that.
"You’re not from around here, are you?"
Nezumi smiles apologetically. “No… I’m just curious, that’s all. It’s good to know why I can’t get anything from the market!” Nezumi says, laughingly. He is trying to humanize himself, make himself seem like a person, and therefore someone that the woman can trust.
"They are going in now to take down the monarchy…" She trails off.
Nezumi can see she is worried and he is sure that the worry must have flashed across his face as well. But he can’t let her stop there. He wipes his face clean and leads her on. “Do you have any idea why?”
She looks at him. “You really aren’t from here, aren’t you?” He shakes his head. “Well, we’ve been cut off. No other kingdom is trading with us. We are dependent on them for supplies; without goods coming in, we won’t be able to survive much longer.”
Nezumi nods. He remembers Shion saying something like this. A few days ago, he had been stressing about neighboring kingdoms boycotting trade. So it fit. The woman was telling the truth.
"There’s also been talk of a red-eyed prince," the woman continues. "I don’t believe it myself, but most everybody else seems to."
"A red-eyed prince?" Nezumi asks. He must maintain his composure. He must.
The woman is looking at him, seeming somewhat amused that Nezumi doesn’t know. But of course, he does know.
"Yes. Any child with red eyes is the embodiment of a curse upon the land. It is said that-"
"I’ve heard about the curse," Nezumi interrupts. He doesn’t like the way that the woman is just stating this as fact, as though it’s completely true. "But what do you think they are going to do?" He asks, dreading the answer.
"They’ll go into the castle. Everybody is more upset, I think, that they hid the prince from us. And now we are in a bad situation, and there’s no doubt that this is the curse beginning to show itself. They only way to get rid of the curse is to kill the marked child.
"Something similar happened where my father was raised. They tried many ways to lift the curse, and none succeeded but killing the child."
Nezumi wants to yell at this woman. He wants to tell her that that was all just coincidence, that this is different, that the kid isn’t actually cursed, or something, but he can’t. He’s already left more of an impression than he’d like.
He nods. “Thank you, madam.” He bows his head, and leaves. As soon as he is out of her line of sight, he takes off running. He has to beat that crowd into the castle. He has to. If he doesn’t… He shakes his head. He doesn’t want to think about it. He continues running, with only one thought in his mind.
I hope I’m not too late.
END PART 1