Temple of the Winds 1
Rating: PG-13 (may change)
Summary: There's one more custom Yuuri doesn't know about.
If there was one thing one Wolfram von Bielefield truly enjoyed, it was training soldiers. He liked teaching, and he took great pride in his soldiers. His soldiers looked up to him, treated him with respect, and trusted his judgment. They didn't mind that he sometimes lost his temper or yelled at them. In fact, they worked hard to earn his praise. They were proud to have him as their mentor, and most importantly, they were loyal to him.
Wolfram was not the best swordsman in Shin Makoku, of course, but then again, there were precious few who could claim to be his better. After all, it was the formidable Conrad Weller, the ultimate swordsman, who had trained him.
This morning Wolfram was, as was his usual routine, overseeing his soldiers' training. It was hard work, to say the least, because as enthusiastic as they were, new soldiers were generally bumbling, clumsy, and dangerous to others as well as to themselves. However, Wolfram kept his temper by reminding himself that he had once been just as bad. Well, maybe not quite as bad, he amended ruefully. Anyway, he usually found it easy to be patient with his trainees, even when it was only by the grace of Shinou that he was kept from being skewered by their efforts.
At the moment he was showing them – again – the proper way to handle the sword without mutilating themselves or him.
"Practice!" He hollered forcefully, then quite sensibly stepped out of harm's way. Watching them through narrowed eyes, he found himself musing idly over how ironic it was that he found it easier to hold his temper with his trainees than with his fiancé.
Wolfram grunted impatiently in reply, not taking his eyes off his recruits. It was common knowledge that he intensely disliked being interrupted during training.
"There's a package for you, Excellency."
Something in Dorcas' tone drew Wolfram's attention. The bald soldier was clearly upset, his face blanched, his eyes a little wild.
"A package?" Wolfram frowned, his eyes narrowing at the seemingly innocuous burlap bag Dorcas held as though it was going to bite him any minute. "Who sent it?"
Dorcas swallowed nervously, eyes downcast as he mumbled. "A monk."
Wolfram's heart skipped a beat, his mouth suddenly going dry.
Wordlessly, he took the bag. He took a steadying breath, then broke the seal and reached inside. His fingers closed around soft cloth, and his gut twisted. Slowly, almost reluctantly, he drew his hand out to gaze at what he held.
The banner was a simple triangle of purest white, a single blue dove in flight embroidered on its center.
Wolfram's grip tightened convulsively around the banner.
/The Temple of the Winds - here./
The banner burst into flame, and within seconds black ash fell from between his fingers.
The fearful tone cut through the haze that had enveloped the blonde knight, and his head jerked up to find that the recruits had stopped practicing, their attention drawn to his tense figure. They were too far away to see what he had held in his hand, but they had seen his reaction. Knew that whatever it had been, had upset him greatly. Wolfram drew himself up, forcing calm.
"Training is over today." He stated stiffly. Not trusting himself to say anything more, he turned on his heel and left.
He walked blindly, his thoughts racing madly around his head, until he found himself in the room he shared with Yuuri. Blankly, he gazed around the simple, yet elegantly appointed chamber, his control splintering as a conflagration of panic, fear, and despair swept through him. Shaking, he sank to the floor, his hand going to his mouth to stifle the whimpers he could not keep back anymore.
The banner's appearance meant only one thing – his time had run out.
Tears slid down his cheeks as he curled around himself on the cold floor. /Shinou, what am I going to do now?/
"They will be here tomorrow then."
They were gathered in Gwendal's office – Gwendal, Günter, Conrad, and Wolfram, to discuss the banner and its import. A hasty, secret meeting while Yuuri was safely out of the way, playing with Greta in the nursery.
Conrad gazed at his youngest brother with barely-disguised concern. He could only imagine the helplessness and fear the blonde prince was experiencing. Wolfram had sought them out an hour after receiving the package, and the brown-haired swordsman suspected that hour had been spent composing himself. An admirable effort, he acknowledged, since though his eyes were red-rimmed and puffy, his face pale and white-lipped, Wolfram was at least outwardly calm. Only his eyes blazed with emotion.
"Yes." Günter said in reply to Gwendal's statement. "The banner is always sent out one day before their arrival." The gaze he directed Wolfram was filled with regret. "They are giving you a day to make your preparations. When they arrive on the morrow they will expect you to be ready."
A day to say your goodbyes.
Wolfram stood, unable to sit quietly and bear the pity in their eyes. He strode to the window, gazing blankly over the kingdom. He could feel the cool wind against his skin, but more than that, he could feel its fingers curling around his heart.
The Temple of the Winds.
According to custom, the Demon King was free, whether by choice or politics, to declare anyone he wished to be his fiancé. However, if, after a year of association the King chose not to consummate the engagement through marriage, the latter was then deemed unworthy and the engagement dissolved.
The King is then free to find another.
But not so his ex-fiancé. Having been blessed by the King's regard, no matter how fleeting, he or she is thus rendered untouchable by any other being. To associate with another, to marry another, or even to take anyone else as a lover, would be to place that person on the same level as the Demon King, an unthinkable and unacceptable discourtesy punishable by death.
Therefore, to prevent the honor of the King from being sullied, his ex-fiancé was cloistered in the Temple of the Winds. There, under the watchful, though benign care of the monks, he was to live out his days.
Bile rose in Wolfram's throat at the fate now looming over him. He had failed. For one year he had done his utmost to make Yuuri love him. He had shared his bed, if only to sleep. He had watched over Yuuri, had kept the women out. He had risked his life repeatedly for Yuuri. Had offered every service he could think of. Had all but offered himself on a silver plate. He had done everything he could, and still he had failed.
"We have to tell him."
Conrad's statement was met with silence. They all knew there was no other way.
"Tell him what, Conrad?" Wolfram said from the window, his low voice carrying easily to the others. "Tell him that the Temple of the Winds had come to rid him of a fiancé he had never wanted?" His mouth twisted. "Cause for celebration, don't you think?"
"Wolfram – "
"Oh come off it, Conrad! What do you think he'll do once he finds out?" Wolfram went on harshly, overriding Conrad's protest. "Weep over his loss? Get mad?" His fingers curled tightly into his palms. "We all know he'd be jumping for joy."
"That's not true!" Conrad rose to the absent king's defense. "Yuuri would never wish this on anyone."
No, he would not. Wolfram knew that, in his heart. Yuuri was too kind, too compassionate. He would be appalled were he to know what his rejection had cost Wolfram. He would rail against it, would do everything he could to change it.
But therein lay the rub. Yuuri would do everything to help him, would lay down his very life for him, but he could not love him. He would do the same for anyone. It was just the way he was. He did everything out of the kindness of his heart, not love. And love was what Wolfram wanted. What he needed. He could not accept anything less.
"What can he do?" Gwendal interjected quietly, knowing the answer to his question but needing to voice it out anyway.
"He can marry Wolfram." Günter replied faintly.
"Or he can let me go." Wolfram countered.
"His Majesty wouldn't do that!" Günter shot back in Yuuri's defense. "He wouldn't willingly let you – " He faltered.
" – rot in exile." Wolfram turned to face them, his eyes like living coals of green fire. "No, he wouldn't, would he? He's too soft-hearted. Too kind. He'd much rather marry me out of pity." He gave a short bark of acid laughter. "Thank you Günter, that does sound like a better fate."
"What do you want to do?" Gwendal stepped in adroitly. "You know you can't keep this any longer from the Maou." His gaze locked on his youngest brother. "We've kept this secret long enough because you asked it of us."
Because, Wolfram acknowledged bitterly, he had hoped to make Yuuri learn to love him before this day came.
"Tell him, Wolfram." Conrad urged strongly. "Yuuri cares about you. I'm certain he will not let the Temple take you."
"No, he won't." Wolfram agreed. "He'd sooner destroy the temple itself than let himself be the reason for another person's misery. Hell, he'd rather be miserable himself than cause another suffering." He took a deep breath and plowed on, unmindful now that he would betray himself to his brothers. "But caring is not love, Conrad." Wolfram pointed out painfully. "And I won't have Yuuri marry me for anything less."
Silence greeted his words. Here, now, was the admission they had known all along.
Finally, Conrad spoke up. "Would it be so bad, Wolfram?" He asked softly. "At least once you are married you will still have the hope of someday winning Yuuri's love. He already cares for you. You're his best friend. I'm sure that with time that caring will grow into love." He gazed at his brother earnestly. "If you let go now you will lose everything."
Wolfram's eyes slid away, his heart beating a little faster at his brother's words. Hope. Conrad was offering him hope. He closed his eyes for a long moment, and when they opened, determination glittered in the emerald depths.
"Alright, I will talk to Yuuri." Wolfram said, his gaze sweeping over his brothers and Günter. "But, no matter how it turns out, no one else is to speak to Yuuri about this." His eyes zeroed on Conrad. "No one."
Caught in the brilliant gaze, the others could only nod their assent. It was Wolfram's fate, and thus, his choice.
Yuuri could not recall a more uncomfortable meal as the one he had that night. Everyone was quiet. Too quiet.
Gwendal was grimmer than usual, his forbidding mien beyond stony. Conrad gave him a small smile, but the brown eyes were troubled. Even the normally voluble Günter was uncharacteristically silent. And Wolfram –
He frowned. Wolfram was like a cat on hot bricks. Oh, he seemed fine, but Yuuri had come to know his fiancé very well, and there was no hiding the tension that fairly bled from the blonde's every pore. His green eyes were unusually bright.
Something was terribly wrong, and Yuuri couldn't shake the feeling that it was somehow connected to him. Something he had done, or not done. He thought back frantically, trying to remember everything he had done that day. Or the day before. But he came up with a blank. He had suffered through all his lessons, had trained exhaustively with Gwendal, and had met with all the dignitaries he was supposed to. He hadn't spent an inappropriately long time playing baseball with Conrad, and he hadn't even talked to any girl besides Greta, much less engaged in anything that could even remotely be classified as flirting.
Finally, he couldn't take it any more. With a loud clatter he set his fork down on his plate and raised both hands.
"Alright, I give up! Uncle!" He burst out finally. "Whatever it is, I'm sorry , okay?"
Four pairs of eyes descended on him with varying degrees of bewilderment.
"I mean – " Yuuri stammered out uncertainly, "there's obviously something wrong, and maybe I'm wrong, but I don't think I am. So that means it's something I did that's upset you guys. Well, I can't think of anything I did. But if I did, I didn't mean it and I'm sorry already, alright? Now will somebody please tell me what it is?"
Wolfram was the first to figure out what he was talking about. "Idiot." He sniffed, though there was a marked lack of impatience in the gesture. It was more habit than genuine annoyance.
"Your Majesty, of course there's nothing wrong!" Günter rose to the occasion with his usual aplomb. "You are the greatest King we could hope to be blessed with. And even if you did anything wrong, why, that's perfectly alright! You must never apologize to us, Highness! It is our honor to serve you!" He trilled.
Yuuri sweatdropped at the fulsome reply. "So, you're not mad at me or anything?" The question was directed at everyone, but his eyes were on Wolfram.
"How can we be mad at you, wimp?" Wolfram shot back coolly, "You haven't done anything."
Yuuri stared at his fiance's suddenly unreadable face. There was something in his words, something he was supposed to understand, but for the life of him, didn't.
"You are mad at me!" He accused hotly.
Wolfram shook his head. "I'm not."
"Yes you are!"
"I've told you I'm not!"
"Enough!" Gwendal's thunderous roar silenced the bickering couple. He drew himself up, his gaze making the two feel like naughty children. "Wolfram, I think you and Heika should settle your affairs in private. Now."
Wolfram's jaw clenched, but he nodded, rising to his feet.
Yuuri's heart sank. He absolutely hated it when Wolfram turned quiet on him. It presaged something much worse than the usual tantrum. However, he obediently followed the blonde out of the dining hall.