"That won't be enough time; he's remarkably stubborn. Send a letter to Blood Pledge Castle informing them that my grandson will remain here for at least another two months to attend to family matters." Ulrich von Bielefeld's chief advisor bowed and left to carry out the order. He didn't even glance at the unconscious, half-naked blond lying on the stone floor of the cell.

"Wait twenty minutes, then douse him with water to wake him," Lord von Bielefeld ordered, glaring down at his grandson. "Leave him alone, but don't let him sleep. Give him another dose of the potion with tea at midnight and continue to wake him every hour until noon. If he's more cooperative he can return to his room to sleep; if not, he stays here until I'm convinced that the potion is working."

The two soldiers bowed to their Lord and reassumed their post, keeping watch over the young man just as they had for the past nine days.

"I am Wolfram von Bielefeld. I am a solder of Shin Makoku. I will give my life to protect my king."

Wolfram repeated these sentences over and over in his head, clinging to the reality of the words desperately. His body was shaking with cold and his hands and feet were numb from the iron manacles that trapped him in this damp, dark cell. He'd lost all sense of time. Had he been here a day? A week? How long had it been since he'd arrived at his grandfather's castle, seeking peace and solitude after losing his fiancé? Why had his grandfather betrayed him?

He was Wolfram von Bielefeld. He was a soldier of Shin Makoku. He would give his life to protect his wimpy fiancé. He'd give anything just to see Yuuri again. He'd...

...kill him for sullying the throne with his half-human heritage.

Wolfram blinked. Blinked again. What?

The thought was there, solid and ugly in his mind. It resonated through every good thought of Yuuri...

...that half-breed filth.

Tears stung at the corners of Wolfram's eyes but he ignored them, biting down hard on his lip and savoring the blood and pain that filled his senses.

"I am Wolfram von Bielefeld. I am a solder of Shin Makoku. I will give my life to protect my king." He shouted the words until he was hoarse,
and yet... those silky, traitorous thoughts still taunted him.

"My Lord, an urgent letter for Lord Wolfram." The servant handed the sealed message to Lord Ulrich, leaving quickly when he was waved away. Ulrich opened the letter and leaned back in his opulent chair. He moved easily for a mazoku of 412 and was imposing in manner and stature. He was used to having his orders carried out immediately and without question and as so had no patience for anyone who dared question him.

He scanned the handwritten text, scowling in displeasure. He'd been told the maou was gone - back to his human land, possibly never to return. The one who bore such false news would be punished for their error. Shoving the letter at his advisor, he growled, "The half-breed king has returned. He's asking for his fiancé."

"It's only been a month, Lord Ulrich. The potion has not fully taken hold." Lars Holsted's voice trembled as he faced his angry superior.
Twenty years older than his master, Lars had spent his life in service to the man and his family. He was thin and a bit frail where Lord Ulrich was stout and healthy, but Lars was competent and loyal, even when he was not comfortable with his assigned tasks. He often served as a buffer between the lord and his servants, more so since the war as Ulrich grew increasingly bitter from hatred of humans and grief for the sons he'd lost.

"I thought the healer said it would work," Ulrich snapped. "He assured me it would rival the Wincott poison for controlling people." He leaned forward in his chair to glare at Lars. Stray wisps of gray hair slipped down over one eye making him appear almost feral.

"It is still being perfected, my Lord. Your grandson is remarkably strong-willed; to my knowledge no one has resisted this level of persuasion like he has."

"Now is not the time to admire a trait that could ruin everything! We can delay four days, no more, as the boy's wounds need time to heal.
Have him moved back to his bedroom and call the healer at once. We will have to increase the dosage of the potion."

"We can't risk it, Lord Ulrich. The boy has been feverish for days; increasing the potion could kill him!"

Ulrich looked ready to rip Lars' head off with his bare hands, but he forced himself to calm down, easing back in his seat. "Very well, but the plan remains. The boy will go back to Blood Pledge Castle and marry the half-breed king. When the time is right, we will activate the potion; he will kill the king and assume the throne." Ulrich smiled nastily. "His first act as king will be to remove his brothers from the castle and name me as his advisor."

"Yes, Lord Ulrich." The advisor's expression did not change as he left the room, he hurried down the corridor, and up the nearest staircase to Lord Wolfram's bedroom. He nodded at the guards and waited for them to open the door, admitting him into the darkened room. He kept his hands at his sides and hoped no one would notice them shaking.

The young lord tossed restlessly, hair matted to his face with sweat and skin unnaturally flushed with fever. Lars Holsted had been an aid and advisor to Lord Ulrich for nearly three centuries, but now he faced a critical decision. He picked up a cloth from the nightstand and wet it, wringing it out thoroughly before placing it on the young man's forehead. Wolfram whimpered and shifted away without waking.

Lars studied the young man's pain-lined face for a long moment. He hadn't seen Wolfram in nearly four years, but he still thought of him as the son he never had. Lars loved the beautiful, lonely child who'd spent summers at his grandfather's castle and was proud of the man he'd become. With a sigh Lars reached into his inner jacket pocket, removing and carefully opening a small vial. He placed it against Wolfram's lips while holding the boy's head up slightly so Wolfram wouldn't choke on the bitter fluid. Lars pulled the now-empty vial away and reached for the glass of water on the nightstand. He helped the young man drink and held him up for a few minutes until he was sure that Wolfram would not choke.

"May Shinou-Heika protect us both, lad," he whispered as he eased the still unconscious blond down to the bed and smoothed the bed covers. "For all our sakes"

"Wolfram! Welcome back!" Yuuri's enthusiastic greeting trailed off as he got a good look at his fiancé. The young demon had returned to Blood Pledge castle in a carriage, his horse being led by one of his escorts. Siegfried Warner, one of his grandfather's healers, had accompanied him along with Lars Holsted, his grandfather's advisor.

"Yuuri," Wolfram greeted wearily as Siegfried helped him down from the carriage. "What took you so long to come back? If you can travel between worlds why didn't you return sooner? Were you cheating on me you..." The tirade trailed off into a fit of deep coughing that nearly knocked the blond off his feet.

"Wolf, you're sick!" Yuuri stepped closer, blinking in surprise as Wolfram shied away.

"It's nothing serious. I've had nursemaids and healers watching my every move. I can barely blow my nose without them panicking!" Despite his efforts, Wolfram couldn't quite pull off his usual bratty arrogance. He was ghost-pale and looked as though he might collapse.

"Wolfram..." Conrad's voice was unusually stern. "Perhaps you would allow these gentlemen to fulfill their duties and accompany you to your chambers. They can brief Gisela and then relax for a few days before returning home."

Wolfram grumbled, but clearly wasn't in any shape to put up a real fight. He turned and started off towards the rooms he shared with Yuuri; Lars and Siegfried bowed and followed him.

"Conrad..." Yuuri held back, watching with concern as Lars took Wolfram's arm to help him up the stairs.

"There was no mention of this from his family's house. They should have notified us of his illness." Conrad looked down at Yuuri who was clearly caught between concern for Wolfram and fear of doing something to set off one of his tirades.

"Perhaps you could catch up to them and make sure they have everything they need? I'll go find Gisela and send her up, then report to Gwendal."

Yuuri nodded and was gone before Conrad could say another word.

"He'll sleep until morning, Heika." Gisela smiled at her king. "You should call me immediately if his temperature goes up or if he's restless or in pain." She nodded at his thanks and left the room at a measured pace.

She was not surprised to find Gwendal, Conrad and Gunter waiting in the corridor. "I'll be glad to brief you on Lord Wolfram's condition"
She looked at the soldiers standing guard and at Lars and Siegfried standing slightly away from the group. "In your office, Lord Gwendal?"

Gwendal frowned at this unusual request, but nodded and turned to lead her away; Gunter and Conrad started to follow but Gwendal stopped them. "I'm sure this is quite routine. No need to keep our guests any longer; please escort them to the guest rooms in the south wing."

"Of course," Conrad agreed smoothly before Gunter could protest. The south wing guest rooms were on the opposite side of the castle and usually reserved for lower-level dignitaries or visiting soldiers.

"Sirs?" Conrad greeted the visitors from the von Bielefeld house and motioned for them to follow – leading them away from Gwendal and Gisela. Gunter took a moment to summon an extra set of guards for the king's bedroom door before joining Conrad's group.

"I am Wolfram von Bielefeld. I am a solder of Shin Makoku. I will give my life to protect my king." Wolfram was talking in his sleep, his body twisting as if he were being restrained.

Yuuri murmured soothing nonsense words, stroking Wolfram's hair and trying to calm his movements. He could feel the heat of the blonde's fever through the layers of clothing and wondered if he should call Gisela back.

Deciding against it, he did the only thing he could think of – straddled the blond to hold him still while he invoked the healing spell. Yuuri closed his eyes and concentrated on easing Wolfram's fever, surrounding the blonde's fire with cool water until the thrashing stopped and Wolfram seemed to settle into a restful sleep.

Letting out a relieved breath, Yuuri carefully shifted until he was lying beside Wolfram, close, but not actually touching except for a hand resting lightly against Wolfram's arm to monitor his body temperature. Yuuri hated to see anyone sick and suffering, but there was something especially distressing about seeing Wolfram like this. Regardless of the whole fiancé mess, Yuuri did consider Wolfram a good friend and would do whatever he could to assist the other's recovery.

Satisfied that Wolfram was a bit cooler, Yuuri closed his eyes and started to drift off. He was tired after the healing spell and grateful to be in a familiar bed. Surprisingly, Gunter hadn't put up too much of a fuss about Yuuri staying; normally he would object to the possibility of exposure to Wolfram's illness.

It was strange though, Yuuri mused as he drifted towards sleep. The expression on Gisela's face when she left... The fact that neither Conrad nor Gwendal had come into the room afterwards...

Oh well. It was late and he was tired. He'd think about it tomorrow.