Author: Jordanna Morgan
Archive Rights: Please request the author's consent.
Characters: Elam and Arslan.
Setting: Between episodes six and seven.
Summary: Elam finds there is more to Prince Arslan than merely his noble words.
Disclaimer: They belong to Yoshiki Tanaka (and visually, to Hiromu Arakawa). I'm just playing with them.
Notes: My first attempt at a "Heroic Legend of Arslan" fic. This is a 2016 GenEx Exchange treat for Megkips, who wanted to see some bonding between these two characters.
For all Prince Arslan's royal lack of common day-to-day skills, Elam had to admit that he tried to compensate for it with enthusiasm.
It was a trait the young page once again observed in full force on this particular morning.
At an early hour, Lord Narsus and Daryun had set out for what they promised would be a short scouting mission, to ensure their immediate path was clear of any lagging members of Kharlan's search parties. Meanwhile, Elam and Arslan remained at the crumbling house in the woods where the travelers had sheltered for the night. Although Elam protested being left behind, Lord Narsus had gently insisted.
Elam wasn't worried for Lord Narsus' safety. He simply would rather have been at the side of his proper master—rather than playing nursemaid to a palace-bred puppy.
Throughout his morning camp-tending chores within the abandoned house, Elam had still managed to deflect Arslan's bizarrely hopeful offers of help… but he was starting to feel rather bad about it. Wasn't a prince supposed to expect everything to be done for him, without a second thought? Judging by his uselessness at many ordinary tasks, Arslan must have at least been raised to think that way. Yet here he was, plainly dismayed when Elam declined to let him do so much as fold blankets.
It was that crestfallen expression on His Highness' face, Elam thought. For all his flashes of brave and noble talk, Arslan really could look like a disappointed child. Elam wanted to dislike that… except somehow, it was working on him much more than he wanted to admit.
So he finally relented, just a little. When he went outside to pick wild berries—from which he planned to make tarts, as a treat for the others—he grudgingly invited Arslan to join him. Probably best to keep him in view, anyway; and he was reasonably sure the Prince couldn't hurt himself or damage anything while merely plucking berries off a bush.
For a while, it all went well. Elam located a sizable thicket of berry bushes a stone's throw from the safe house, just at the edge of the forest, and the pair set about gathering the small purple-red fruits. Whether or not he realized it was merely a trivial task to appease him, Arslan was clearly happy with the busywork—and he proved to have a surprisingly good eye for choosing berries that were neither unripe nor overripe.
Elam commented on that fact, and Arslan blushed.
"When I was a child, I used to pick berries much like these in the palace garden," he admitted. A faint smile of reminiscence crossed his face. "After my governess found out, she scolded me for eating dirty, unwashed fruit straight off a bush, and told the groundskeepers not to let me into the garden anymore. Even so, I'd still sneak out there by myself… and the gardeners would just smile, and let me stay."
Something in Arslan's deep-blue eyes shifted then, a quietly sad note that dimmed the brightness of his nostalgia. Elam suddenly realized that what the Prince was remembering was loneliness, even if he didn't quite recognize it for what it was.
He recalled a conversation he had overheard between Lord Narsus and Daryun on that first night, after Arslan went to sleep. As described by Daryun, Arslan's royal "family" were a man who showed no affection for his only son, and a woman who distanced herself from the child she had given birth to. What must that have been like for a boy who was so gentle-hearted and eager to please?
It was a little annoying to feel sympathy for a monarch. Elam had always believed they had everything…
Only everything wasn't quite that, after all. Not really.
Although Elam had begun his life as a slave, born to those who had nothing, at least his parents had loved him. Looking now at the somber reflection on Arslan's face, he thought he would prefer that to whatever life the Prince had known.
Shaking his head, he pried himself away from such contemplations, and tried to focus on the task before him. He found that without noticing it, he had nearly picked clean his side of the bush they were gathering berries from. However, there were still a few glimmers of bright color deeper down among the leaves.
His thoughts still vaguely wandering, Elam pushed aside a branch—and saw a flash of even more vivid scarlet mixed with black.
Even as his mind screamed a warning of snake, something collided with his left shoulder, shoving him out of the way. He hit the ground hard on his elbows and chest, but he barely felt the skin-grinding scrapes his arms received from protruding tree roots.
All he belatedly realized was that at the moment he was pushed away, Arslan had shouted his name.
That pale twig of a boy had swifter reflexes than the page had given him credit for.
His heart leaping into his throat, Elam twisted back. Arslan was standing in the very spot he had occupied a few seconds earlier. The Prince, with a baffled expression on his face, was staring down at the back of his left hand… where spots of red welled up from a set of small punctures that looked deceptively insignificant.
Grass rustled, and Elam saw the tail of the snake slithering away into the brush.
Snarling a curse, he drew his knife and dove after the reptile. His blade found its mark. Quickly he jerked its slender body from the weeds—now minus its head—and lifted it up to examine it carefully.
His shoulders slumped. A long, slow sigh escaped between his teeth.
"It's not poisonous." He tossed aside the snake's carcass, strode over to the stunned Arslan, and unhesitatingly tore the sash from around the waist of the young royal—to use it as a bandage for the bite wound. He was not gentle as he seized Arslan's hand and began to wrap it. "…But if there had been speckles of orange on that snake's black bands, the only chance to save your life would have been to cut off your hand within moments, before the venom spread! What were you thinking to risk yourself like that, Highness?"
Arslan still looked shaken, and if it was possible, even paler than normal. He remained frozen for a moment before he let out a trembling breath… and a tiny, sickly smile crossed his lips.
"I suppose I didn't think anything. I… just didn't want you to get hurt." A touch of embarrassment warmed the unsteady smile. "After all, if you'd been bitten, I wouldn't have known what to do about it, would I? And even if the snake was poisonous…"
Arslan hesitated briefly. His gaze fell to the fingers of his right hand, as they awkwardly rubbed the makeshift bandage on his left.
"…I'd rather lose a hand than lose a friend."
To that simple and earnest assertion, Elam could offer no response. He could only stare at Arslan, feeling his breath catch slightly in his chest.
Self-sacrifice was not what monarchs did. It wasn't what they were supposed to do. They were supposed to be the ones defended at all cost by others—because foremost, they were figureheads, raised from birth to be more of a cause than a person. A prince couldn't rally a kingdom if he got himself killed on behalf of a single individual.
Yet Arslan had risked exactly that. With the weight of an entire country upon his shoulders, he had nonetheless jeopardized his own safety to protect one humble freed slave from harm.
With such ignorance or sheer disregard of how the world worked, maybe the Prince was a fool if he thought he could ever become a ruler… but just at that moment, Elam couldn't help wondering what an extraordinary sort of ruler he would make.
The Prince was gazing down at his bandaged hand, flexing it, as if it was something foreign. Then his knees buckled—as he suddenly seemed to realize the horror of what could have happened. With less than princely grace, he folded into a sitting position on the leaf-littered ground, to run his unbitten hand through his hair and chuckle weakly.
Elam dropped down too, wincing a little as he leaned his scraped elbows against his knees.
The two young men sat next to one another, saying nothing, for what felt like a long time. Around them, the only sounds to be heard were birds chirping in the branches overhead, and the soft breeze rippling the grass.
It was Elam who spoke first, narrowly eyeing the discarded snake carcass that had fallen halfway under a bush.
"Well," he began, with a note of mischief that was so faint, he was already sure the Prince wouldn't decipher it. "At least that dead snake gives me something to do about dinner…"
Arslan's head shot up, his eyes fluttering wide beneath long silver bangs.
2016 Jordanna Morgan