Darren frustrated Larten when he sat up on his throne and acted like he was not a Prince. The boy had been a Prince for a year now and despite the amount of effort Larten had exerted in getting Darren to act like it, the boy just seemed to want to ignore him. However, he would not be the first Prince to be a little...off and he would hardly be the last.
Whereas Paris was a force of power and grace, Darren was a lost puppy that tripped over the feet he had not yet grown into. However, nobody saw fit to disrespect him by saying so, which meant the task had fallen to Larten. Darren had pouted and thrown a bowl of bat broth at him but he did let Larten give him a few pointers in the end.
These nights Darren did a decent job and Larten was always fascinated to watch as he spoke with Generals or half-vampires called to the Mountain for the first time for some war related duty. Though lately he could tell that Darren was feeling tired. More tired than he had ever been before.
It was not uncommon for Darren to disappear in the interim of one meeting with a departing General and the next meeting with one that had just arrived. While Paris held court in the Hall of Princes, Larten was tasked with searching for the Boy Prince. He would start with Darren's room and then his own. He would then look in Seba's quarters and finally in the Hall of Games.
If these places failed he would make his way down to the Mountain's stores where more often than not Seba would be shelling peas on a long bench and Darren would be curled up beside him using Seba's cloak as a blanket. Larten would visit with the Quartermaster for an hour or so and then wake Darren with strict instructions to return to the Hall of Princes.
Darren got along well with the other Princes though only Paris was there on a consistent basis. He was also well liked by the Generals. So much so in fact, the Generals would bring him gifts when they came back to the Mountain no matter what state they happened to be in. At first it was simply little stuff. Trinkets that meant nothing and were worth even less. Darren kept them all in his room on little stone shelves he had had chiseled into the wall a long time ago.
One night someone had given him a book. The General had said that a very nice human had given it to him. Larten could not remember the title of this first book but it had sparked something inside of Darren. The boy devoured the novel in just a few hours and then had re-read it the next day as he sat on his throne completely ignoring his duties. Larten had eventually been forced to take the book away in order to get him to concentrate which he had done with a look of total rebelliousness on his face.
Now the Generals brought him books from the human world when they returned from their duties. Over the next few years small plays, novels, and large tomes had accumulated in Darren's room and there was always a pile by his throne with his own journal resting on top. No vampire could ever recall seeing someone read so quickly and devour books so completely. They were, however, used to quirky Princes and so indulged the boy.
Larten, for the most part, had neither encouraged nor discouraged this behaviour in Darren but simply took it in stride. As he usually did when it came to Darren.
On this particular night, Darren was engrossed in a mystery novel a General had recently brought him. He was sitting crossed legged, facing the back of his throne, effectively turning his back on the people in the Hall of Princes. Luckily, the only two in there just happened to be Larten and a rapidly aging Paris Skyle.
"Has he always enjoyed reading like this?" Paris asked, eyeing Darren's back. The two of them were enjoying mugs of ale and were sitting on one of the long benches near the door. Even if Darren could hear them Larten doubted he was paying much attention.
"I do not know," he replied honestly. "He had not shown any interest when he was travelling with me. Perhaps he enjoyed it as a human?"
"You haven't asked?"
"No," Larten said. "It would just encourage him to talk about reading."
There was very little use for Darren's new found love of all things literary. The boy would be much better off honing his skills with the long sword. Paris, however, huffed with laughter. Larten looked at him with surprise. He had never heard Paris talk about any book except that one a human had tried to write about him.
"I think you should encourage it," the Prince told him.
"Because he enjoys it and I do believe that it will benefit all of us later on. He is smart, Larten. The type of smart we are not very good at cultivating."
"Perhaps," Larten replied.
"Larten," Paris said sternly. "I mean it."
Larten eyed the Prince with surprise. He had never-never-heard Paris Skyle advocate for books. In fact, he could not remember any vampire talk of books. Even the most cultured among them preferred plays and art to books. Perhaps it was because books did not have any real place in the life of a typical vampire. Or perhaps it was because most of them were from a time when being illiterate was common place and had not sought to rectify the situation.
He was ripped from his inner musing by a very strange noise from Darren and turned just in time to see him topple backwards off his throne with his book landing open on his face. Darren did not move after that and Paris quickly escaped from the Hall leaving Larten to take care of it.
"Darren, are you alright?" Larten asked as he made his way to where the thrones were. With Paris gone, Darren would have to remain in the Hall of Princes which rarely bothered the boy. Larten thought he could do with at least one good day's sleep.
"This book is ruining my life," Darren whined. Larten picked up the book from his assistant's face and closed it.
"A book cannot ruin your life."
"Yes it can!"
He paused, thinking about Paris's thinly veiled order to encourage this book habit in Darren. He sighed and decided that the least he could do was play out this strange turn events until he could figure out what benefits the elderly Prince had been talking of.
"And what about this book is ruining your life, pray tell?" he asked, taking a seat next to the boy and leaning back so that his back rested against the throne.
"It just doesn't make any sense!" Darren exclaimed snapping up to sit in front of Larten so that his rapid hand gestures would have more effect. "The detective is super whiny and then he just randomly starts pointing the finger at people and then the author gave the stupidest conclusion of any mystery book I've ever seen!"
"Then why did you read it all the way through?" Larten asked.
"I was hoping it was surprise me in the end," Darren said. "I probably won't keep this one but don't tell Sam."
"I hardly think his feelings will be hurt."
"No I guess not," Darren replied thinking about the tall, powerful General. Larten had been honestly surprised that Sam had bought into the little tradition of bringing Darren books. The boy continued on and talked so long that he eventually fell asleep still half mumbling about stupid writing.
Larten just left him curled up where he was.
Over the next two years Darren had collected too many books to keep in his own room and thus had begun to store them in Larten's room to the point that his small cavern was also filled to the brim. He had been none too pleased to go to bed one day and have to wriggle around in his coffin to remove the novel digging into his back.
"You do not have to get rid of the books," Larten said one evening as he made sure Darren was up for his duties. The boy had taken to reading too late and getting even less sleep than before. The result was exhaustion. "However, you need to remove them from my quarters."
"But where will I put them?" Darren asked, hopping around as he tried to get his pants on.
"I do not care," Larten told him and crossed his arms sternly. "I am simply tired of finding them in my coffin and then tripping over them whenever I step into my quarters."
"But there's no where to put them!"
"Then I would suggest you choose which ones you wish to keep and which ones can be used as kindling."
"That's book burning!" Darren accused, though the accusation meant little to Larten.
"Yes, we need kindling in the kitchens," Larten replied coldly and walked out.
And so Darren spent the next night going through his books and figuring out which ones he no longer liked or had never liked in the first place. He hemmed and hawed over every book weighing the benefits and costs of getting rid of them. The only books Darren even considered getting rid of were novels. He was convinced that the biography, history, political, and cultural books could be useful at any given moment.
Since Larten had been the one to force Darren through this torture, he was the vampire that was forced to sit through each and every discussion over the merits of a book.
"Darren!" he snapped. "You do not even like this book. You accused it of ruining your life, remember?"
"Fine," the boy whined and Larten threw it from the room and into the corridor to land on the small pile there. It wasn't nearly as big as he wanted it to be. The novel narrowly missed Mika as he came into the room. He handed Darren a new book that the boy put under the blanket of his hammock quickly as if he thought Larten was going to take it from him.
"What are you two doing?"
"We are trying to get Darren's books under control. They seem to be breeding and taking refuge in my coffin."
Mika raised an eyebrow and smirked. He clearly thought it a good joke.
"Weren't you planning on re-reading them?" he asked. Larten glared at him.
"Yeah, but Mr. Crepsley won't let me."
"He does not need this many books," Larten snapped. "If he cannot store them in his own quarters then he needs to begin removing them."
"Hmm," Mika hummed and left as suddenly as he'd come. It took another few hours to get through all the books Darren wanted to keep and Larten still had to allow some of them in his own room but they managed to cut down on the staggering size of Darren's collection.
Darren had taken to hiding in Larten's coffin during lulls in the night. They had hit a rather calm spot in the war and the boy had more time to rest. Instead of sleeping like he should have, he spent it reading. It seemed that Darren was rarely in his own room anymore.
"You should be sleeping," Larten said when he came in to change his shirt. Darren was reading another book, something about science.
"I will," he mumbled and Larten did not believe him. He crossed the room and snatched the book right out of Darren's hands.
"Hey!" the boy snapped, angry. He looked remarkably unthreatening with the bags under his eyes. A strong wind could knock him down. The state of Darren's health worried Larten to a great extent. The boy may have been a Vampire Prince but he was still a half-vampire. He was still a child and Larten was still his guardian. As such, he was required to act.
"If you continue to choose these books over your sleep-something you very clearly need-I will have them taken away and burned. No General will be allowed to bring another book inside this Mountain ever again. Do you understand?"
"You can't do that!" Darren whined. It was a mark of how tired he was that he had resulted to whining. Darren may not have aged physically but he had certainly matured. He was an adult in the ways that mattered.
"I can and I will. Now go back to your own quarters and go to bed."
Darren left with much huffing, puffing, and mumbling of curses but he did leave. When Larten checked on him a few minutes later he had already fallen asleep in his hammock.
Larten decided to remove Darren from Vampire Mountain for a few nights. Darren had been reluctant to leave but Larten could not tell if it was because he did not want to leave his duties as a Prince or because he could not take any books with him.
He pondered this book obsession in Darren. The boy had never seemed obsessed over anything before. Larten found this behavior alarming. Everyone else thought it was quirky.
While they were in the forests surrounding Vampire Mountain they hunted and Larten taught Darren some tracking skills he'd gained over the year. Sleeping outside and being under the stars again did wonders for Darren. He was relaxed and he was sleeping again. He still prattled on about his books but Larten had learned not to mind.
No matter how strange it was to see a Vampire Prince reading on his throne, Larten was glad that Darren had found something he could love so much. Even if he did continue to find books in his coffin every now and then.