Pairing(s): Russia/America, other undecided pairings

Rating: Let's just stick to T.

Genre: ... Really, really lame attempt at humor, general stuff.

Notes: Uh. Light violence. Ongoing. Stupidity. xD Usage of human names, since it's a weirdo fantasy!AU and all. Dragons, swords, magic all that.

Summary: Once upon a time, there was a Totally Awesome Badass Hero. Cursed by his own Dad, Absolute Ruler of the Britannia Kingdom, he goes off on an Epic Adventure with a Stupid Evil Sorcerer – the only one able to break that Freaking Curse. Fantasy!AU, RussiaAmerica.

A/N: Thanks again for the reviews! Wow, guys. xD; Anyway, um, yeah, I'm probably supposed to be studying for my exams. It's history. I can't get anything into my head, but still it's no excuse... Actually no, I've been fooling around playing casual games. A lot. Of flash games. Please save me. I'm obsessed with collecting achievement badges, and I really like this one badge with a green smiley cube on it and it says Закончено which supposedly means 'finished'; it's so cute, okay I admit I only got it because of the Cyrillic letters -

Right.

More character interaction! Probably one or two things will be revealed in the next chapter. You never know.

Love you guys! Read and review, please.

Fifteen Years, by Impervious Marr

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Chapter Two - Alliance

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"... You know, it sucks not getting to touch anything," Alfred complained offhandedly.

An odd frown crossed Ivan's features for a moment, eyes darkening in thought.

"... Actually, I have been perusing through this collection of ancient elven spells concerning the mechanics of the Otherworld - there is a way to modify the spell and let you touch things without having to constantly enchant them..."

"You're kidding me."

Ivan smiled serenely. "No, little prince. Certain Masters have been given the duty to constantly perfect and better previous spells. I am one of them, and as you might probably be guessing I specialise in Dark Arts - I have been entrusted with the tomes to complete my work."

"I've never seen Dad do any of that before."

"As I say, certain Masters. Your father is an exception - for he is, after all, the sovereign of a kingdom. There are also other Masters who take up apprentices and act as teachers."

"Like Mattie?"

"Like Matthew, yes. Nevertheless, we all report to the same Grand Council."

"Man, I'm glad I didn't decide to be a warlock or anything. Too much stuff to think about. All right, back to that touching things stuff."

Ivan chuckled in amusement, but humoured the prince anyway.

"The extent of intangibility in the Phasma Phasmatis curse has constantly been an issue; I have not gotten around to it lately because of a lack of research materials," he murmured meaningfully, and he felt Alfred's breath close to his neck and he was not thinking about it, "And also because I have been too busy, always being summoned to take care of clumsy royals."

Alfred snorted. "Like I said, it's not my fault. The Princess just whipped out a marriage contract out of nowhere and told me we're gonna get hitched right then and there. How the hell am I supposed to react?"

"I'm sure without having to spit on her face, rytsar."

"I didn't mean it." But by the subtle mischievious tone in his voice, Ivan was inclined to believe otherwise. "I've only met the Princess two times before that Summer Festival. She said she was in love with me - of course, who wouldn't fall in love with a handsome, charming knight like me?" he declared proudly, puffing out his chest and Ivan thwacked him on the knee. "Hey!"

"Oh, I wonder," Ivan said sarcastically, shooting a Look when Beef - Ailel - wanted to be a smartass about it. "And keep quiet."

"Oh, right. Anyway, she was just at the wrong place at the wrong time, 's all. Even if she didn't go around with it like that, I didn't wanna get married 'cause I'm already..." Alfred trailed off, looking at Ivan for a second before shaking his head, laughing awkwardly and keeping his gaze in front. "And I told Dad that I'll be fine even without the spell but he did it anyway and now I'm stuck like this."

"Patience, prince." Ivan patted Alfred's knee, making the young man behind him jump. "I'm very sure he had his own reasons, one of them being your running off here and there."

"But I don't want to be stuck in my room all day long - it's bad enough I don't get to leave the kingdom but in one confined space? I don't think so. Anyway, it's probably better if I was all over the place since if I'm stuck in my room, they're more likely to succeed in kidnapping me since I'm always there, don'tcha think?" Alfred asked, and Ivan blinked.

Interesting point.

"Still, I'm pretty sure there were other ways than resorting to turning me into a ghost, but Dad always went all out for me." Alfred's lips quirked. "Matthew and me. It's always been like that ever since..." He frowned suddenly, and kept quiet.

Ivan did not press on for further details, because he had the feeling that Alfred would not budge.

"Anyway, enough about me. Do you think she's okay?" he asked, keeping his hold on the straps beside him, with Ivan sitting right in front as the wizard had the girl leaning against him.

Liechtenstein was exhausted, that much he could see. After taking off from their spot earlier she easily fell into a deep sleep - first they thought that it was the spell's effects catching up to her but fortunately it was because of lack of energy - especially having to fly nonstop towards the Deutsch without taking so much as a break along the way.

And Alfred didn't blame her for thinking Ivan comfortable. The man really was a mobile pillow.

"After a good rest, she will be. And another two hours we should reach the Grand Duke's castle."

"I didn't say anything."

"You were about to."

Alfred stuck out his tongue, and at the same time Ivan thwacked him on the knee again.

"And don't think I can't see what you're doing."

"Do all grown-ups have eyes at the back of their heads?" Alfred whined as best as he could without being too loud. "Or it's just you who can read people's minds?"

Ivan smiled. "I wonder."

The evening sky was turning into goldens, and browns, beautiful deep purples with a little bit of blue if he squinted carefully. Alfred could already see most of the greenery making way for more agriculture and the odd village here and there; the Blue Eagle Tower an imposing presence in the distance. Ivan explained earlier that the mountains would give way to a valley where the City of the Steinadler was located, and from here it was already obvious where the grand roads were leading to.

"What does Steinalder mean?"

"Steinadler, prince. It is the capital of griffons, City of the Golden Eagle," Ivan replied, and at this Alfred squawked.

"Griffons?"

Ivan didn't even hesitate this time in smacking him at the knee again. "The fair lady, prince, hush."

"And you really have to stop that," Alfred grumbled, rubbing his abused knee, then his head, thumping it against the nearest available surface - Ivan's back. "Are you sure the Grand Duke's castle is there -"

"Did you get into trouble with one of their kind?" Ivan cut in, though from the tone of his voice he expected as much.

"No! I mean, it wasn't really - well - um. Not really. I guess." Alfred mumbled incomprehensibly before making a frustrated noise at the back of his throat. "I might've pissed some people off. In the past. A few people. Well, really, only one guy. Or maybe he forgot, I don't really know. That's one thing, and another is because for some reason I don't really get along with stuffy pompous cat-birds, you understand."

"... I see. Well, this is your idea in the first place, so we would have to go through with it nevertheless."

"Yeah, yeah... So we're going to the city of cat-bird people? I didn't know Britannia bordered cat-bird people territory."

"Well, if you put it that way... Yes."

"That's funny. I mean, I would've known about it - but then again." Alfred coughed, fidgeting guiltily. "I kinda avoided griffons ever since... That Incident, never really wanted to know anything about them after that in case the guy started chasing me again, um."

"Do I need to know?"

"You'll find out eventually."

--

--

Steinadler shone like a bright star against the night - the lights from the city lit up each of the buildings and Alfred had the distinct impression of a city made out of warmth. Earthy tones dominated the city and for some reason, its position looked odd from this angle. For some reason it seemed as if the city proper wasn't even touching the valley floor -

"Is it floating?" he asked in amazement, peering over Ivan's shoulder before settling his chin there, hands on the wizard's shoulders. "Wow..."

"City of the Golden Eagle. A fitting name, don't you think so?" Ivan asked as how he would do it if he was teaching, and he felt the prince behind him nod, still too absorbed in the sight to reply properly.

"It's pretty."

Ivan turned his head to look at the prince before forcing himself to pay attention to Ailel's flight path. The image of Alfred's face being lit up by the Steinadler's lights would be forever engrained into his mind.

It isn't a crime to admire beauty now, is it?

"How're we gonna land?"

"I wonder."

"You have got to stop answering my questions like that," Alfred retorted, frowning. Ivan chuckled, before gently shaking Liechtenstein awake.

"Mm? Oh -" She jerked but Ivan kept a steady hold of her before she could fall. "I'm sorry for falling asleep."

"No need to apologize. Now brace yourself to land, we'll get you into a proper bed soon. I would say the front courtyard would be the most fitting place to land," Ivan intoned, and Alfred squinted downwards, cocking an eyebrow. "Ailel, you know what to do."

"That looks way too small for Beef to land."

"I'm aware of that. Fair lady, if you would excuse us," Ivan motioned, before he got up, startling the both of them.

"Where're you going? You wanna fall or something?" Alfred asked, eyebrows shooting up to hide in his fringe, own eyes wide in alarm. "Ivan?"

"Come, prince. You said to land?" Ivan asked, amused, holding out a hand to pull the confused prince up.

"What the hell are we doing? You're not saying we have to -"

Ivan jumped forward, pulling the prince with him.

"OH MY GOD!" Alfred started screaming loud and high as his feet left Beef's back. "AHHHHHHH -" He held on tightly to Ivan's hand, and even went one step further by pulling himself to hug the man like he would die if he let go. (Technically, he would, though since he was a ghost and everything would he actually die from falling to the ground? It'll probably hurt like a bitch -) "Why'd you have to go do that for and if you wanted to be suicidal there are other ways to go about on it I don't wanna die this is the easy way out are you sure wuh - wuh -"

Ivan said something but since they were diving head first, Alfred could only hear the way the wind whipped past his face.

So he bellowed in response. "I can't hear you -"

"Just hold on to me, prince," Ivan repeated loudly, and Alfred shot him a disbelieving look.

"Isn't that what I'm doing!?"

Ivan winked then, sneaking a hand around Alfred's waist and started muttering. Alfred stared, slack-jawed. The nerve of him - muttering when they were about to die!? He saw the ground coming up fast, how some of the inhabitants in the distance pointing up at him, the wind and the noise and Alfred buried his face in the crook of Ivan's neck, knuckles going white as he clutched as tightly as he could.

Then he felt the thrum of magic against his skin, the way the wind was gradually slowing down, the noise getting quieter and Alfred abruptly realised what Ivan was doing when he felt gravity change and another hand sneak under his legs, securing him in a hold that was usually associated with newly wedded couples.

Then suddenly the sound of the wind changed to the sounds of a city - he felt Ivan hit the ground.

He looked up, and saw the brightly lit courtyard of the Grand Duke's castle, the way the people stopped at stared at him and the way Ivan smirked.

Alfred snapped.

"I can't believe you just -" Alfred hit him hard, on the chest, and Ivan remained the Unmovable Object, still smirking, definitely going to get his ass whooped in the next second. "You're such a bastard put me down!"

Ivan laughed, tightening his hold on the prince in his arms. "Say please, prince."

Alfred cursed up a storm.

Liechtenstein floated gracefully beside them, settling delicately to the floor. She looked a bit ruffled but other wise fine. In the distance Alfred noted that Ailel was already flying off somewhere - maybe to hunt for cows, you never know... "Are you alright, your Highness?"

"I will be after he puts me down and I give him a good kick on the shins!"

"So violent," Ivan murmured. He smiled at the faerie, remarkably calm even with the struggling bundle in his arms as he nonchalantly made his way towards the palace steps. "I hope I did not scare you too badly, fair lady."

"It took me by surprise, yes, but I'm alright," Liechtenstein replied, concern taking over her features. "Though I could not say the same for the prince, he looks ready to choke you given the chance..."

"You bet I will! Sorry, sweetheart, but this is personal - Ivan!" the prince yelped, immediately going to wrap his arms around Ivan when he swung his load merrily without a care in the world. When they were climbing the stairs. "I'll fall, goddamn it!"

"I thought you wanted to be put down."

"Yeah but this isn't putting me down this is -" The sorcerer did another dangerous swing. "Ivan!"

He felt his feet hit the ground when they reached the top of the steps. Alfred blinked owlishly, releasing his hold as if by reflex.

"Huh?"

"Just having a bit of harmless fun, little prince." Ivan laughed softly, hand going up to brush Alfred's golden bangs aside before he dropped it and strode towards the wide bridge connecting the main palace building where it was surrounded mostly by a body of water. The style was very different from the buildings Alfred was used to at home, with more wood rather than stone making up most of it, and again he had the distinct impression of warmth.

But he wasn't actually really paying attention.

Alfred stared out blankly, cheeks heating up before he snapped, running up in front of the sorcerer - and then kicking him hard on the shins.

Ivan grunted, but he expected such a reaction, so he simply smiled.

"You suck," Alfred declared loud and clear, then turned around swiftly, stalking towards the palace himself where the griffon guards keeping watch near the entrance of the residence looked at the three newcomers as if they were some otherworldly beings.

Then Alfred realised belatedly that they weren't too far off the mark. He was still a ghost - being able to touch Ivan made him forget about that, most of the time.

Griffons were notoriously proud creatures, which probably came from the leonine part of their blood. They were a mixture of lion and eagle, made up of mostly warm colours - skin like velvet, covered in short, fine hair, while their forearms and legs were covered by the strange skin found on birds, fingers and toes ending in sharp talons. Not so fine as demon claws but definitely more vicious. On their back were powerful wings meant for flight, and feathers covered a great deal of their backs, especially where the wings met. Topping it off was an elegant lion's tail, always ending just before they touched the ground.

"Um -"

"State your business," one of them demanded, stretching their claws none too friendly as their eyes glinted and their faces tensed with that pride. Alfred's shoulders squared as well, because it reminded him of all the times people didn't believe he was slated to be the next ruler of Britannia, back in his younger days. Arthur made sure it never happened in his presence, but even that wasn't enough when Alfred could hear them talking behind his back.

Old memories stung, but it wasn't time to dwell on them.

"We're here to -" Alfred cut himself off, flushing. He was never really good at all this styles and honorifics they had to use, how to speak prettily in the court and all that. Give him wyrms to fight any day, this was hell when compared. "We're here to request audience with Lord Roderich?"

"The Lord isn't in at the moment," the guard nearest to him barked, "Least of all to a bunch of riff-raffs looking as if they were dragged through the mud. Do you honestly think the Lord would appreciate being summoned by peasants at this time of the hour?"

Alfred held himself from flinching - he glared. Sure, they could call him a peasant and all that since he was arguably dressed simply compared to other royals - but even though Liechtenstein might look a bit ruffled from all her running, anyone could see that she held the grace of a noble, her slightly dirty dress made out of finer materials than most people could afford.

"Talk about the fair damsel again like that and I'll beat you up from head to toe until you're covered in nothing but bruises," Alfred snapped, eyes narrowed.

The rude griffon bared his teeth at the challenge. "As if a ghost can do anything -"

"Come back tomorrow," another intervened, from inside the entrace hall, and he looked nicer than the four griffon guards - he smiled amiably, uncomfortable with the way the guards were so antagonistic towards the guests. "The Lord would be in court earliest at eight, and I'm sure he would be more inclined to hear about your plight then?" he suggested politely. This griffon was dressed in normal court attire, probably somre manner of high ranking staff.

Before Alfred could say anything, Ivan's steel-silk voice cut through the air like a blade. "If you hadn't heard it properly earlier, we are requesting an audience with the Lord Roderich Edelstein of the House of Österreich," he spoke in his normal tone, but for some reason it held a harder, more authoritative edge. His hand came up on the small of Alfred's back for two seconds - as comfort, he realised - before it dropped, while Liechtenstein stood on Alfred's other side.

"Who are you to demand such a thing?" the first guard spoke, affronted by the blatant disregard for proper courtesy. "Especially at a time like this?"

Ivan smiled dangerously. "I would go into the full titles if time so permits, but we all aren't so fortunate, da? You are currently showing your claws to Crown Prince Alfred Fay Jones Kirkland, as well as Princess Liechtenstein Zwingli. I won't even bother to delve into the proper styles in which you should choose to address us three, griffon."

Alfred squawked, turning towards Liechtenstein. "You're a princess?" he whispered furiously, eyes wide and Ivan barely kept from sighing, busy intimidating the guards.

The friendly griffon from earlier straightened up immediately like a stick, falling over himself to right the wrongs done. "Please accept my humblest apologies on behalf of my comrades, your Highnesses. We recieved no word of your arrival from the Lord himself, and so assumed -"

"They were only doing their required duty," Liechtenstein cut in as politely as she could, returning a smile of her own. "Our matter is of the outmost urgency. We are very sorry for the trouble caused, but this concerns many of my people." Her stance changed as she assumed the firm demeanour of a proper, capable royal commanding respect. "Would you kindly send a missive to the Lord? If not then at least for us to speak to a representative?"

Alfred watched, awed and slightly envious. He could never do that, no matter how hard he tried - his mouth only ever tripped him up, better suited to saying what he felt like saying and not the things he should. Never pretty court speech or things princes were supposed to say.

So he simply kept quiet, hands fisting at his sides.

"Of course, your Highness. Barett, get the Lord Chamberlain down, you know he's usually up at around this time -"

"Not until you tell me who are they to comandeer such respect, Karl -"

The griffon named Karl hissed. "Do not embarrass our kind by acting so foolishly in front of Britannia's Crown Prince, and the Faerie Princess of Helvetica. Now go!" he barked, pointing into the palace and Barett scrambled to do as he was told.

The other three unnamed griffons straightened in shock, looking contrite. Ivan looked satisfied at the proceedings, nodding his approval at Karl.

"I hoped we haven't terribly offended you, Master...?"

"Ivan."

"Master Ivan, then. Please follow me, standing outside in the cold brings nothing good." He turned swiftly and they all followed after, some of the servants who stopped to look earlier scrambling to get back to their jobs. At least a great deal of them looked at Alfred curiously, the way his edges blurred and how his body was translucent and he grinned at them, some of them returning the smile and most of them snubbing him off - well. What's to be done? "I'm sure Barett would be down with the Lord Chamberlain soon. I'll summon someone to bring up a light meal for your Highnesses, um..."

He clearly didn't know how to go about on Alfred's case - how do you feed a ghost? But Ivan waved it aside, smiling serenely. "Do not worry about it, serve him as you would other royals - though forgo the meal for me, please."

"Very well." Karl spoke to a passing maid who nodded immediately before he continued, finally stopping in front of two double doors. "Please make yourself comfortable in the Red Room, just ring the bell if you need anything," he explained, before bowing and making his exit.

Alfred opened the doors, blinking at the way all the furniture seemed so spread out, chairs low-backed - maybe to accomodate for the wings... "Cool, they look really comfortable!" he exclaimed, grinning, coming up to one of them and sitting down - before he went completely through, hitting the floor hard. "Ow!"

"Prince!" Liechtenstein exlaimed, concerned. "Are you okay?"

Ivan chuckled, holding out his hand to help up the fallen prince. "Be careful next time, rytsar."

"I keep on forgetting..." Alfred accepted the hand, pulling himself up. Ivan moved behind him, touching the seat briefly, eyes flashing. "Whatcha doing?"

"Try it now."

"Right..." Alfred trailed off warily, but sat down anyway, then whistled. "They really are comfortable! Sweetheart, try it!"

"Alright."

There was a knock on the door and soon it admitted a pair of maids, bringing two trays of a light meal inside, settling them down onto the table, then leaving without a word. That done, Ivan waved his hand over Alfred's tray. The prince frowned.

"Don't you ever get tired from casting that? You don't have to, you know..."

"It is only mildly complicated, and you are speaking to a master in the arts, prince," Ivan explained patiently, before ruffling his hair. "It is no bother. Now please excuse me."

"Where are you going?"

"I'll be back soon, little prince."

"Hey, you didn't answer my -" Ivan disappeared into the hallway, shutting the door behind him. Alfred slumped. "- question... Well, whatever. At least he left us with food."

Liechtenstein smiled. "It shouldn't be too long, Highness."

"Yeah, well - in case someone comes by and starts talking in court speech, sweetheart, you're on your own. I have no idea how to deal with that. And what did I tell you about calling me Highness? Shouldn't that be the other way 'round?" Alfred asked teasingly, before sighing. "I really should've figured it out sooner you're a princess and all, especially when you kept on referring to your brother and 'his people' and all that. Man, I suck."

"No, prince. I could demand no formality especially from the one who saved my life." Liechtenstein frowned. "And what do you mean by that?"

"Exactly what I mean. I don't act like how a crown prince should be, I don't talk pretty and stuff and formality for me is like, trying to feed a dragon rocks. It doesn't end well." Alfred shrugged. "Dad tried to beat some sense into me but, well, look at me now. I'd really rather be the heroic knight off to save off pretty damsels like yourself, I don't wanna deal with the stuffiness of the court."

"You are incredibly charismatic, prince, in your own way," she said wisely. "Pretty manners don't make up for one's courage, knowledge or benovelence, so it shouldn't be used to judge a person. You shine, prince. At least I think so. Your words, even if they are as rough as other people might seem to think, are filled with the sort of conviction and honesty that cannot be fabricated. You are able to give hope and reason, persuade people to follow you in your stead."

Liechtenstein went to touch him on the shoulder, but it went through as if there was nothing but air - she drew up short.

"You speak your words and you mean them without caring what others might say. It is an admirable trait. You will make a good king one day."

Alfred smiled - slow and sweet.

"... Thank you, sweetheart."

They started on their food, still steaming - and swapped stories of their childhood, Alfred driven to disbelief when Liechtenstein explained how old she was.

"Mm, thirty-four this year? Give or take..."

Alfred choked on the bread he was wolfing down, hitting his chest hard and he coughed noisily.

"Prince -"

"Thirty-four!? Can't we just have normal people looking like their age around here or something?" he asked, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. "Am I the only one around here who looks like twenty-one and is twenty-one!?"

Liechtenstein smiled sheepishly. "Well, magic does slow our development rates down..."

"Yeah. Right. I have magic just like my twin and you don't see us still looking like five year olds. Maybe it's 'cause you're a faerie. But Ivan's human too, I think..." Alfred pouted. "That means I'm the youngest, then."

"Don't feel so bad, prince. It's not a terrible thing to be young."

"But it's weird calling a thirty-four year old like a younger sister. No offense."

"None taken, and I like being referred to as a younger sister."

"Oh." Alfred blinked, then grinned widely. "Well then. Okay. You still look seventeen so -"

The sound of the door being opened jerked them out of conversation.

"You two went through a tumbler or something?" a rough voice asked.

Both the prince and the princess looked up at the newcomer standing at the doorway. Alfred might have not seen many griffons in his life - they mainly kept to themselves - but he was sure none of them had the kind of plumage this one had. His wings were pure black at the start, before they lightened sharply into stark white at the tips. His short hair was as white as freshly fallen snow and his eyes were a deep red-violet.

Even though he wore a strict-looking, deep blue uniform, his eyes held a spark of mischief, a smirk always playing at his lips. Alfred was reminded of a fox instead of a lion, but he definitely looked less stuffy than the rest of the griffons he met so far.

"Yeah well, it's not easy stopping by to clean ourselves up when we're on a dragon."

The man whistled. "Rode a dragon here? You have my respect, kid."

Alfred grinned.

"Yeah. So um, who're you?"

"Lord Chamberlain of the Household at your service. Actually, that pretty much sounds as if I have a really lame job," the griffon said lightheartedly, settling into the couch opposite both of the royals. He looked more sprawled than seated. "Full name's Gilbert Beilschmidt. Call me Gilbert. You must be Princess Liechtenstein, and Crown Prince - you're dead!?"

Alfred jumped. "What? Oh - wait, wait! No! I'm not dead, I'm just - it's a spell. Seriously."

Gilbert cocked an eyebrow. "Funny, I didn't know ghosts could sit. So anyway, you must be Crown Prince Alfred. So what brings you here to see old Rodeprick? I called him earlier but he's cleaning himself up, the stuffy bastard, so you'll just have to deal with me. Forgive my language, Princess, I ain't as nicely mannered like my brother."

Liechtenstein shook her head. "It's all right. I'm sure if you met my brother you would know I'm quite used to it."

"Faerie King Vash Zwingli. That's the one, violent with a crazy trigger finger if I remember correctly. And aren't there supposed to be the three of you?"

"Ivan went out to look for something," Alfred explained, noticing the way Gilbert frowned. "He said he'll be back soon."

"He better be. Ivan, huh..."

"You don't look like a Lord Chamberlain."

Alfred shut his mouth, but it was too late.

Gilbert, instead of taking offense, laughed. "It's cool, kid. I know I don't look like one. But I like the job, it's like plotting out war strategies without having to account for the losses of men. Just the occassional plate or two when the maids aren't careful or when they start panicking. New challenges everyday, I'm glad West put me up for this thing."

"West?"

"My brother, he should be here in a while too. Mostly because we've got two royal representatives from neighbouring kingdoms to see one of the Lords. It's not often that kind of thing happens, especially without some sort of word in advance. And at this hour, too." Gilbert grinned.

"Yeah, sorry about that -"

The door opened, admitting a man who looked to be the very definition of stern - slicked back blond hair, piercing pale blue eyes with chiseled features, looking remarkably similar to Gilbert. His wings were pure black. The clothes he wore were free of any creases, obviously pressed to perfection as they bore the designs of a high-ranking noble, materials of different shades of deep green.

Alfred paled.

"Apologies for the delay," he started, standing a few paces away from the door and straightening his clothes. "I am Ludwig Beilschmidt,Grand Duke of the Steinadler and I welcome you to our palace."

Alfred couldn't shut his trap on time again. "Oh shit."

Liechtenstein and Gilbert looked at him strangely, before the man spoke again.

"You look familiar," Ludwig murmured, before his eyes narrowed dangerously. "You!"

Alfred laughed nervously. "Me."

Gilbert straightened in his seat and blinked. "West? You know this kid?"

"Of course I would know him. Fifteen years or not, I would still remember him, come hell or high water." Ludwig frowned severely, crossing his arms. "Why exactly is this brat here?"

"I would also ask you why you are here, Ludwig, maligning my ward, but then again it would not be courteous as a guest," Ivan interjected icily, right behind Ludwig as he entered the room - and Gilbert visibly tensed, wings fluttering restlessly on his back.

Ivan smiled wryly at this, nodding at the griffon.

"Beilschmidt."

"Winter," Gilbert almost spat, but obviously forcing himself to retain some form of decorum. His claws twitched before Gilbert settled into his seat, struggling to show that he wasn't poised to strike. "You the one takin' care of the kid?"

"Yes. Glad to see both of you are getting along."

Gilbert grunted. Both Liechtenstein and Alfred shared a look at the strange interaction, then Alfred remembered about his current situation. So he turned to Ludwig, who stared at him warily - he inhaled.

"I'm really, really sorry," he started, fidgeting.

"You -" Ludwig cut himself off, staring at him strangely. "You are a ghost? I hadn't recieved word that Crown Prince is -"

"Not dead, thanks," Alfred cut in, annoyed. "It's just a spell, temporary stuff, long story, will get to that later."

"Very well. You were seven summers old at the time, were you not?"

"Yeah, and I'm all grown up now so I'm not really a brat, you know, and that was stupid. Yeah. I wasn't really thinking." Alfred's eyes darted at Ivan who cocked his eyebrow in return, then shrugged helplessly. "I was seven! How was I supposed to know there was a really important thing going down at the valley?"

Ludwig's expression went dry.

"Right. Okay. Fine, there was a lot of people. But I didn't know about the treaty you two were gonna sign -"

It went drier.

"I didn't mean to do it!"

"It does not change the fact that it was a cause for great embarassment to my people," Ludwig said, wings twitching before they settled. "It caused a great deal of trouble for your father because the griffons considered it a great insult for you to do such a thing. I could not help but assume the same thing before your father explained about your outrageous behaviour."

Alfred pouted.

"Embarrassment? Again? What exactly did you do, rytsar?"

"Maybe you should enlighten some people here about your deed that day?" Ludwig suggested, face stern and Alfred was reminded of one of his stuffy tutors back at home when he didn't know the difference between the fork for the salad and the one for the fish. Honestly. Who needed to know all that? Food was food, no matter what you use to eat them with.

Alfred shifted guiltily. "Well... Fifteen years ago..."

--

--

Fifteen Years Ago

Alfred grumbled moodily, kicking ground before realising that the ground probably didn't deserve it, so he apologized to it mentally before heading off towards the back of the castle.

Stupid Ivan. He wasn't - he didn't - well. What did it matter? The stupid sorcerer was gone and his kingdom was rid of one Evil Sorcerer but it still didn't change the fact that Ivan was stupid and why did he have to leave so soon and -

He rubbed his eyes furiously before sitting down against the castle walls, knowing that nobody really came to the back gardens of the castle so he wouldn't have any busybody Dads or little brothers to disturb him and ask him if he was okay and if he wanted to come in for some food. He just needed a bit of Alfred time, that's all.

Whatever. It was done, and he shouldn't think about it anymore because it wasn't as if he was going to see him again.

Alfred sighed, scrubbing his face furiously before getting up. He needed to pee.

He went to the edge of the gardens, where it ended abruptly with cliffs. Distantly he noted there were people below in the valley, but he didn't really care at the moment, and he really needed to pee so someone would just have to deal with getting his head sprayed with piss.

The young prince dropped his pants and did his business, sighing as he did so. Well, no point in still sulking. Maybe he should grab some more cake -

"Verdammt!"

- oh shit.

Alfred hastily pulled his pants back up and looked over the fence meant to keep him from falling over the cliff, and then paling at the sight below.

"I'm sorry!" came out of his mouth before he could stop himself, and the crowd below looked up at him; all manner of magical creatures - faeries, griffons, demons, phoenixes and elves to name a few - focusing their sharp gazes at him, in which Alfred personally thought was a gaze all grown-ups had to master before getting to be a grown up.

You're In Big Trouble, Alfred Jones.

The griffon he peed on looked like a Very Important Person. And from the look on his face, he wasn't very happy. Neither was Arthur - a few paces away - who only barely dodged the onslaught of a seven-year old's business, glaring up at him with hawk-like eyes.

And Alfred also noticed the treaty which was supposed to be between the lord-looking griffon and his father and he distantly remembered something about Dad having a Very Important Event today with an alliance treaty and it looks like the treaty was soaked in -

Um.

Oh.

"Alfred Fay Jones Kirkland -"

"I love you too Dad bye!" he shouted, panicking, and dashing towards the castle with his tail between his legs. Heroic Knight? What Heroic Knight? Arthur would kill him nevertheless and that's that, and he really was too young to die without saving a few princesses and fighting dragons and all that.

"I'm really very sorry for this - get back here, young man!" Arthur roared, while the griffon lord spewed out curses himself in his own language.

--

--

"So that's basically what happened," Alfred finished sheepishly, rubbing the back of his head.

His audience stared at him for one long, long minute, before Gilbert burst out laughing.

"You - this was the kid who - oh my god my stomach -"

Ivan's look was incredulous while Ludwig's was resigned, the griffon lord rubbing both his temples at the same time. "I see you still remember it clearly."

"You peed on one of the peers of the realm," Ivan said, and the guilty flush that darkened Alfred's cheeks stamped out any more doubts in his head.

"Yeah, thanks. I did a lot of stupid things when I was younger." He turned to the griffon lord, then bowed his head. "I'm sorry for the trouble on that day. I still remember not apologizing to you about it, so... I kinda thought you'd remember about it when we came here. It seems like you still do."

Ludwig looked at him before grimacing, waving a dismissing hand. "Such things cannot be forgotten on a whim, but fifteen years longer spent on holding grudges is a waste of time. I can see now that those years have served you well." He suddenly smiled - faintly, and Alfred thought that he looked considerably less severe. "Now I'm sure you won't be inclined to use one of our cliffs in the city for such a thing again."

Alfred grinned. "If I'm desperate - kidding, kidding," he added hastily, when Ludwig looked stricken.

"Praise the Lord for that... Still. Why have you come to call upon Lord Roderich? Who should have been here ages ago, if I'm not mistaken..."

"Rodeprick probably got lost in the hallways again," Gilbert suggested, and Ludwig paled. "You know how bad he is with directions."

"I am not that incompetent, you hooligan," a clear, dignified voice spoke, and Alfred felt like his head wanted to spin. Just how many people were there? Already with the arrival of these two new griffons, one male and one female, it made the count about... Oh. Just seven.

This griffon looked even more dignified than Ludwig, if that was even possible. He had slightly wavy brown hair with a wild strand that stuck out noticably, and violet eyes. His clothes were in the similar style as Ludwig's - laces at the back and jacket cut strangely to accomodate for the wings, but it suited the man. His coat was long, navy blue in color with a white cravat and black pants to finish it off - golden brown for his wings.

In comparision, the female griffon beside him looked very sisterly. There was a flower in her long, light brown hair, and she had green eyes. She wore a flowing, short-sleeved dress that ended just below her knees. Her wings were light brown.

"This is Lord Roderich Edelstein, and Lady Elizabeta Hedevary," Ludwig explained to the guests, motioning to them respectively.

"I was held up by personal matters, forgive me."

Gilbert bared his teeth. "Personal matter, Rodeprick? You sure you weren't fooling around with Eliza -"

"D'you want to be hit by a frying pan again, Gil?" the woman called Elizabeta asked sweetly, causing the white-haired griffon to hold up his hands in defense. "I thought so - Princess! You look horrible!" She immediately rounded up on her companions, especially focusing her gaze on Alfred, who backed away. "These gents not treating you proper? What have you put the poor girl through? You'd better not tell me you're fooling 'round with this lot!"

Alfred squeaked. Honestly, girls were scary. Especially this one, and that comment with the frying pan. He didn't want to know - he saw Ivan in the background, struggling not to laugh, and he glared. The bastard!

Liechtenstein looked alarmed. "It's quite all right, Lady Elizabeta. In fact, he saved me from being a wyrm's next meal -"

"A wyrm! By the heavens, Princess - you there, don't you dare look away from me, boy! Now straighten up like a man!"

Elizabeta's eyes narrowed like a disapproving hawk (she might as well be one), sizing up Alfred as he scrambled to do as she said, returning the gaze with a paranoid look.

"... I'm not tasty," he tried meekly, and it garnered strange looked from everyone, save from Elizabeta - and Ivan - who snorted inelegantly. Elizabeta's was in disbelief, while Ivan's was to cover up a laugh. Which earned another scowl from Alfred.

"I'm not going to eat you, boy. You're the one who saved Princess?"

"Yes, ma'am."

"How'dyou do it?"

"Ran into the wyrm headfirst without thinking, ma'am," Alfred obediently replied, and Gilbert crowed, while both Roderich and Ludwig winced together. Obviously they knew how vicious wyrms were, and even Elizabeta's eyes held a bit of approval. But it still wasn't enough.

"Without thinking, you say? Saw the damsel in distress and went to save her?"

Alfred sputtered, getting up from his seat, frustration causing his words to be rougher than usual. "Look here, Lady! I don't care if you're some high ranking noble that I gotta respect or whatnot, but when you carry that tone with me especially since it's somethin' to do with sweetheart I'm not gonna take it lying down! I'm stuck here as a ghost 'cause I rejected a marriage proposal from a freakin' princess!" Elizabeta was about to say something else but Alfred hammered on. "I think it should be obvious from that I ain't gonna go off to the next pretty damsel to get her to like me! In fact this whole bullshit with the marriage why does everyone talk about it I don't wantto get married -"

"I like this kid," Gilbert said casually, towards Roderich who rolled his eyes.

"- and you!"

Alfred rounded up on Ivan, who smiled, eyes up in twin crescents.

"To hell with your laughing!"

"Alright."

The prince growled.

"Alright, little prince," Ivan repeated, correcting himself. Alfred rolled his eyes, then stared warily at Elizabeta.

Who giggled.

"You're a cute darlin', prince," she crooned, hands coming up to pinch him in the cheeks. Alfred squawked. "And handsome, too. I remember when you were a wee kid, still a babe during your ceremony when your father didn't even let a speck of dust go near you or your twin."

"What - who - what ceremony?"

"Arthur wanted to make sure you were heir apparent from the start in a proper ceremony," Ivan replied, crossing his arms. "It was a formality to invite all the rulers of the realm, or at least their representatives. I'll explain more later."

"Was a big ceremony, that. We didn't expect stuffy ol' Arthur to be one ending up with the kids so everyone stopped by to give their blessings. I could barely see you in the mound of blankets the man put you in, you looked almost swamped." Eliza smiled. "But your baby stories are for another time. You said to come here for a matter?"

Alfred was promptly released from her hold, and he sat down heavily in his seat, looking warily at everyone in the room.

"... All of you are crazy," he muttered, which earned laughs, particularly from Gilbert and Eliza while Ludwig and Roderich sighed in resignation.

"You'll get used to it, I was just making sure you weren't going to run off with Princess anytime in the future. You wouldn't, would you?" For a moment, Alfred thought that Elizabeta smiled crazily. Must be a trick of the light... "Where's that brother of yours, Princess?"

Suddenly the temperature in the room dropped as Liechtenstein wrung her hands, expression tense.

"Princess?" Eliza moved, sitting beside the faerie. "What's wrong?"

Slowly she explained about her situation, and at the end of it everyone was sitting in their own seats; Ludwig and Ivan the only ones left standing. Shoulders were all set except for Alfred, who simply lounged. Alfred wanted to be tense, really, but the chair was really comfortable and that meal earlier was really warm, so all in all he was just enjoying the comfort, leaning back and looking at the ceiling with the pretty lights -

Gilbert growled low, an animalistic, guttural sound, which fascinated Alfred - he never heard such a thing before. "I don't like this," he stated, wings fluttering. "Someone out there has the power to break down century-old wards - there's only a handful of people in the realm who can do that, best to my knowledge." He grinned, but it looked more like a baring of teeth as he looked pointedly at Ivan. "And one of them's here right now."

Ivan returned it. "If I wanted to do such a thing, Beilschmidt, I would have done it a long time ago. Faerie magic does not interest me and you know this well."

Alfred straightened immediately, eyes swiveling to the pair. He had no idea Ivan was that powerful. And what is up between him and Gilbert?

Gilbert subsided, snorting. "Just sayin'."

"How any of them do you know, brother?" Ludwig asked, and Gilbert sighed, running a hand through his white hair.

"I know four. There's Winter over here, that recluse who's holed up in the Far East, the Grand Master and your dad, kid," Gilbert replied, finishing it with a look towards Alfred. The prince blinked, then slumped back into his seat.

"Yeah." It wasn't as if he didn't know that, but it was still a surprise sometimes to know his father had that kind of power. Most of the time he just threw things, ruled over everyone and acted like how he should act as a father.

"But getting back to the subject, this is something we should discuss after we get your friend back, Rodeprick."

The aristrocrat dismissed the nickname. "Of course, it is our immediate concern," he said, then hesitated. "Though I still have no idea why he would want you to look for me. Va - Zwingli has made it clear many times we have no association with each other."

"Old bonds run deep, Roderich. Whatever you might or might not be now, the past does not change." Ludwig finally moved around a chair to take a seat. "You still care for him, do you not?"

"To a degree, yes. Nevertheless..." Roderich sighed. "Mayhap he called upon me because our territory is the closest, and because of those bonds. Not in any relation to breaking the curse itself."

As Alfred watched all of them discuss, he suddenly felt that they were suited to their system. Before they arrived, Ivan explained that the 'Grand Duke' was not technically the absolute sovereign of the land; the rule was shared equally between three rulers, with their own territory to watch over. The Grand Duke was the representative of the three but all decisions were agreed on undividedly. He went on to explain further that this kind of system would not work if the rulers did not have a sense of strong kinship.

Looking at these four it wasn't hard to believe such a thing existed - even for Gilbert's case. Alfred figured that even though he was the Lord Chamberlain, his words held a lot of weight. He was acting more like an advisor, obvious when Ludwig was content to let his brother speak out his opinions.

In fact, it looked like Gilbert was suited to be a Lord himself. Then why wasn't he one?

"From what I heard, sweetheart's older brother is one crafty guy." And it wasn't until everyone stared at him that Alfred realised he spoke out loud. Still, he continued. "He probably had a damn good reason for telling his little sister to find a guy he didn't like. It could've been just, 'Get help from the Deutsch', but instead he gave a particular name. So I think we should just go there with the guy, and work out how to break it then, right? Hell, we already got a few ideas in our heads how to go with it."

The griffons, in particular, stared at him - it was becoming a well-loved past time, he just knew it - before Ivan chuckled, and Gilbert whistled low.

"Nice one, kid."

"Sometimes I wonder if you have another twin in your head, little prince."

"One twin in real life's enough for me, thanks," Alfred said, grinning. "And I can see sweetheart's still tired from all that flying, I'm just speeding things up."

"Very well." Roderich nodded at the prince before straightening his clothes and standing up. "We should leave as soon as possible."

"And that'd be tomorrow, after Princess is all rested up and ready to go," Elizabeta said firmly, daring for any of them to challenge her. Everyone gave their own murmurs of agreement, with Ludwig pulling a bell from beside a shelf.

"We will discuss over the tampering of ancient magic once this matter is settled. Even if it is faerie magic, I have a feeling all of us would be involved one way or another... Tomorrow, Roderich will go with you -"

"I'll come too," Gilbert said, popping his knuckles idly.

Ludwig nodded. "And Gilbert. Then it is settled." The door opened, admitting two servants who bowed - then looked shocked at Alfred's ghostly state.

"Take the prince to the Nymphea Room, Master Ivan to the -"

"I'll be staying with the prince," Ivan interrupted Elizabeta, then nodded at the rest of the griffons. "Beilschmidt, Ludwig. Roderich."

Elizabeta's eyes sparkled with something Alfred decided he didn't like just because he didn't, and she smiled. "Alright. Come along, Princess, I'll bring you to your room."

--

--

When they reached the chambers, it was a nicely furnished room in the theme of greys and blues, a definite contrast to the rest of the palace. It was connected to a bathroom to the right, with a balcony facing east, presenting a view of the lush valley and the forests beyond. Still, the colours were easy on the eyes, and Alfred strode around, breathing in the fresh air when he stepped outside. Then he looked back at the room, and noticed something definitely wrong with it.

"...There's only one bed."

"Blatant observation, rytsar."

"Shut up. How the hell are we gonna share a bed? We're not going to share a bed."

Ivan leered. "But you looked comfortable leaning against me earlier, little prince -"

"That's different, that's on Beef!"

The sorcerer shrugged. "Same concept."

"Beef's a dragon, that's a bed, one bed if I might remind you -"

Ivan laughed softly. "Just go to sleep, prince." He waved a hand over said piece of furniture, eyes narrowed in concentration before breaking it once something seemed to click into place. Then he went to the table, waving his hands again over the surface, summoning all manner of books and parchment with stationery to write. Then he settled into a nearby chair, opening one of those ancient-looking tomes.

"You're not sleeping?" Alfred asked, crossing the room with a few steps, peering over his shoulder. "What's that?"

"Ancient elven spells."

"For what?"

"Now don't tell me you have forgotten."

Alfred stared out blankly. Then he snapped his fingers. "Spells to make me touch things," he said, then made a double-take. "W-wait, for real? Why're you being so nice about it?"

Ivan raised an eyebrow. "Do you want me to be mean about it?"

"Um. No. But you don't really have to do all this, I mean - I was such a brat to you, seriously, I kept on kicking you on the shins and calling you names and - why?" he settled on, shifting from one foot to another, restless.

"I did tell you that this was one of my obligations as a Master."

"So it's work? Just work?"

"Why are you asking such questions, prince?"

"Oh. Well." Alfred slumped slightly, then strode back to the bed. "I'm going to sleep then."

Of all the hells... Ivan looked at the confounding prince, before getting back to the books and settling in; if he learned something about living as long as he had, it was that time spent on wondering about trivalities was time truly wasted - unless... "If you're worried about me getting into the bed with you in the middle of the night, prince, then you shouldn't."

"W-What the - who said I was worried about that!? You're such an ass, you know that?"

Ivan turned back just in time to see Alfred taking off his undershirt, with boots and jacket strewn on the floor - Ivan noted that fact distantly, and wondered if it would do any difference in breaking the spell if any of his equipment on hand were missing. And the boy really did cut a fine figure, with all the training he must have gone through, and this was definitely not the train of thought he should be entertaining, especially when he could somehow hear Arthur breaking his neck for even thinking about his son that way.

Well.

Ivan definitely felt the journey's difficulty rising up a notch from that point on.

Alfred had the shirt right down to his wrists when he suddenly stopped like a deer catching sight of a hunter.

"What're you looking at?" Alfred asked warily, suddenly shy. "Stop staring. It's creepy. Get back to your work or something."

Ivan smiled, nonchalantly covering up his slip. It wouldn't do for him to run off too wildly with his thoughts - barring Arthur's inevitable wrath, he was merely Alfred's caretaker, and even that was merely temporary. He was far too young for him... And Alfred obviously would balk at the slightest thought, if his frequent outbursts of 'Evil Sorcerer!' when he was younger was anything to judge by.

It was just as his Master always told him. He hated it when the old man was right (no doubt he would find this amusing, the bastard. He always, always knew).

"Just making sure you don't hurt yourself getting into bed, rytsar," he said idly, motioning to the miscellany that littered the bed. Alfred paused, jaw dropping. "You never know with foolish princes, after all; you might trip over your sheets when I'm not looking or even crack your head on a bed post -"

He let the pillow hit him straight on the face.

--

--

He could tell that she was impatient. She was always touchy, but this time she was pacing the floors, and already for the third time - he sighed, walking down the stairs, away from his spot near the railing of the second floor where he was watching from ever since after dinner in the dining hall. He ate alone with Yekaterina.

"Nataliya -"

"Sestra can say what she wants, but I only listen to myself and my brother," she cut in ruthlessly, visibly struggling with the bandages around her hands; the last spell they did took a lot out of the sorceress. Even his hands were burnt; he couldn't imagine what Nataliya was feeling because she refused to see her sister for healing. The bandages were shabbily put together, done by inexperienced hands better off for drawing runes.

He stepped closer, shaking his head.

"You should at least let her clean that up. She does care for you, you know."

"I just want braht to care for me."

He frowned. "He does care for you. You're his little sister."

"Then why will he not marry me? It is obvious that you are lying."

"He cares for you as a sibling," he stressed, and Nataliya looked furious at being argued with, but he knew she would let it pass. They've been in each other's company for a while now. "And people don't just marry their siblings."

"Nobody tells me what to do; I want to be with my beloved brother."

"You can probably start by not freaking him out so much," he joked hesitantly, putting up his hands in defense when she scowled. "Just a thought. Now come on, let's get you fixed up. Yekaterina's worried sick."

Nataliya crossed her arms, refusing to budge. "Why should I?" she asked coldly, but with a little petulance into that tone and he was reminded of the princess who had to kiss the frog.

"Because the longer you heal, the longer we'll take to finish our work, and the longer it is you'll get to see Ivan?" he suggested as casually as he could.

She glared icily, before turning towards the staircase as he followed her. "You are part demon inside for all this slyness you secretly possess, I am sure of it. You seem to thrive being assumed as docile and innocent; I cannot believe I was fooled into thinking you are anything like that," she murmured, face smoothing out into a bored, unassuming expression. He smiled with relief behind her, though he was tempted to say he really was docile and he didn't really fancy picking fights.

But she'll probably snap at him again, he thought warily. If ever, Ivan was probably the only one she would smile sweetly for.

--

--

End chapter two.

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A/N: How mysterious. And yes, I'll be adopting the name Yekaterina for Ukraine, lol.

Thanks for reading!