His breaths came out in sharp, ragged pants - tearing through his throat like it was nothing but shriveled, dried-out paper.

I'm too soft. Prince Väinämöinen decided with an inward sigh. His violet eyes were widened fearfully as he shot a glance over his shoulder at his pursuer.

The Finnish prince had long since been a prized item in many's eyes - his whole kingdom being worth more than tenfold of many of the others. Other thieves, countries, and monarchs alike set their greedy, lustful gaze on Tino's wide stretches of land. He was constantly in so much danger, in fact, that he had been assigned a personal guard at all times. But that was exactly what had got him into so much trouble today. A petty thief had posed as his new guard. Tino cursed himself for being so stupid - the man had had such a scrawny build, not to mention there was a sleazy glint in his eye whenever he caught a moment alone with the prince.

I should've known.

I should've known-! Tino gasped, nausea beginning to flood in, slowly but surely overpowering his ability to continue. His small, slender frame wasn't used to running, let alone running this far.

Just a little bit longer! he told himself, attempting to strengthen his resolve.His footsteps thudded dully on the grass as he sprinted with all his might, occasionally stumbling over the princely clothes. The castle was growing larger and larger in the distance. If only he could make it to the gate.. if only one of the other guards could spot him in time. One of the maids had given him an ornate dagger, straight from the king, to conceal in his cloak. Tino doubted he would be skilled with the blade - and if he had the choice between fight, or flight.. he'd definitely be picking flight.

Early this morning, the 'guard' had suggested they take the horses out for a ride. They were rarely used, the the castle equestrian expert was beginning to grow tired of taking the large animals out for exercise all by himself. It was either that, or put up with their impatient huffs and hoof pounding all week. It drove a man crazy.

Tino agreed - he hadn't been out of the castle in ages. The guard had seemed in an odd mood today, the prince realized as he thought back. Fidgeting, averting his bloodshot eyes from the bright violet ones. Moving around as if he thought he was as sly and clever as a fox.

"Isn't the weather just lovely today, my prince?" the guard seemed to almost sneer as their horses trotted farther and farther out into the lush fields - the stable leaving the Finn's vision all together.

"Hm..?" Tino blinked in surprise when he saw the expression of the other, and steadily stared down at the soft mane of his horse. "I suppose so." he decided in a softer voice, wondering what could have made the other look so.. evil.

After about an hour, the guard posed a suggestion, "Why don't we sit here and rest, my prince?" he drawled, the corners of his lips twitching upward.

The moment Tino agreed and slid off his horse, the other had drawn his sword with an eery shrill scrape that grated on the prince's nerves.

"W-what are you doing?" he demanded, taking several quick steps backward. "There's no one around. You have no r-reason to draw your sword!" the Finn's voice grew more and more shrill, as realization struck him. This.. this man didn't care for his well being. He merely wanted some extra change in his usually empty pockets!

That was when the prince flitted away, earning a loud protest and a choice profanity from his 'guard'.

"Help..!" Tino finally screeched with all his might, the words being muffled by his thick, heavy breath. Swallowing painfully, the prince decided if he made it out of this alive, he was going to drink more glasses of water everyday. He could feel his heart thudding in his temples, and it was leaping around nearly as wildly as he was - powered by the surge of adrenaline and fear. But he could feel the organ growing weary.

"Help!" he repeated, legs throbbing painfully with the effort of keeping his body moving. The faint noise had caught the attention of the palace guards who usually tended the main gate. After surveying the situation, they ultimately decided that things weren't.. right. The pair of the the thick, well-muscled men charged at Tino's pursuer.

"Thank goodness.." he murmured in utter relief, collapsing with a soft 'thud' into the thick grass as he passed the guards who had come to his aid. Silently, he crossed himself and thanked God. He'd never doubt his beliefs again He heard the short scuffle from several feet away, but the imposter was easily captured.

"I'll have your fortune! I'll have y-" the thief screeched, flailing wildly until one of the palace guard's clamped an armored hand over his mouth - shooting him a disgusted expression as if this was the last thing he wanted his armor to come in contact with.

How such a scrawny man was hired to be my protector, I'll never know. the prince thought with a deep sigh, his sandy blonde hair sticking to his forehead in clumps from the exertion. He'd have to have a nice talk with whoever was in charge of that.

"I'm a mess." the Finn frowned to himself and got to his feet - after he had regained his lost breath. .. Which had admittedly taken over twenty minutes. His clothes had gone all askew, and he was missing the hat he had taken with him, along with some of the rings his slender fingers usually bore. He brushed himself off and hurried back into the castle, as fast as he weary legs could take him.

The next day, Tino took his time getting ready, so he could present himself at his best. He had arranged a meeting with the head of the palace guard, a Dane - Mathias Pedersen. He was a goofy.. sometimes obnoxious fellow who loved nothing more than to act like an utter ass. The majority of the time he'd tell a joke and the room would fall awkwardly silent, instead of bursting out with laughter. But he did his job well, and that was what mattered. The Finn swore that sometimes you wouldn't be able to tell he was one of the best strategists in the world - having never lost a battle. The pale, ghost white scars were the only telltale signs to that.

"So what did you come here for today, ol' Tino?" Mathias shot him one of his massive grins as the prince entered his room. His fingers were currently occupied with idly twirling a knife on his desk. Tino shivered, one slip of his hand and the dagger could quite possibly embed itself into somebody's ribcage. Though, he laughed softly when he heard the usual, informal nickname the Dane had given him. "I've got a problem, Mathias."

"A problem? Well jeez, that doesn't sound good at all." Mathias tore his deep, azure gaze and set it onto Tino's. Something about those eyes always managed to reassure him. "Let's hear it."

"Well.. about the.. guard you assigned me.."

"Yeah? Go on." the Dane's interest was already slipping as the prince failed to get right to the point.

"He was awful."

"What do you mean, awful? He seemed like a nice guy. Gave me some good beer."

Tino pinched the bridge of his nose - feeling the urge to laugh while also wanting to hit Mathias for his stupidity. He had one sure weakness. Alcohol. "The beer may have been good, Mathias but-" the prince shook his head and decided to come right out. "He tried to kidnap me."

"It tasted really expensive too, I wonder how much h-" the head of the palace guard broke off, having been rambling. His blue eyes widened, "He what? Oh, that's not right." He leaned back in his chair and stuck his feet onto the table, shaking his head mournfully.

"As I was saying.." Tino coughed quietly, hoping to grab his attention again. He couldn't help but be sporting a small smile. "I was hoping maybe you could, I don't know.. assign me a guard who won't try to kill me?"

"I think I can do that.." Mathias said thoughtfully, running his hands through his already overly-tousled hair. Suddenly he sat forward in his chair, snapping his fingers and causing the Finn to jump. "I've got it! I know just the guy. Not much to talk to but.. some people say he's the best warrior in all of Sweden."

"He's Swedish?" Tino arched an eyebrow, curiosity growing at the base of his stomach. "Are you sure we can trust him?"

"Definitely sure." the Dane nodded and his voice grew comically serious. "It's been said that.. he's never lost a fight. No one's ever been able to land a single blow on him. Some even call him a heaven-sent saint."

The prince's violet eyes grew wider as he leaned forward with interest. "Really..?" he breathed, blinking. He had always been one for fairytales, in fact, he swore he had seen a dwarf in the gardens one day..

Mathias laughed and shrugged his shoulders. "I'm sure it's mostly just legend - stories and stuff. I wouldn't focus too much on that." he paused, "Tell you what. I'll even get him here by the end of the week, just for you." he added a wink for emphasis.

The Finn smiled sincerely and nodded, thanking him as he stood up and left.

For once, Tino felt like he could actually feel safe.

It was suggested (more like forced) that he stay inside until his new protector arrived - so everyone would be able to keep a better eye on him. Tino hated the attention, and penned himself up in his room. Luckily, he had Hanatamago - his fluffy, white dog to keep him company. One of the maids often told him fondly that she resembled a piece of freshly plucked cotton. .. The prince hoped that was a compliment.

"What do you think he's going to be like, Hanatamago?" he questioned, tilting his head quizzically at the dog.

She yapped softly and rolled over. Tino had guessed she wouldn't know the answer.

"I hope he's nice. I've always wanted a good friend..." he said thoughtfully, running his hands through the dog's thick coat. "Maybe he'll even be a dog person!" he joked, laughing.

Hanatamago barked in agreement. She thought that would be a good idea too.

"Ha, of course you'd like that." Tino ruffled her fur with a grin before letting out a soft yawn. "He's coming tomorrow, Hana.. we'll find out then, I guess."

A sharp, impatient knock at his chambers jostled the Prince from his slumber. Sunlight was streaming heavily through the window, causing the already warm room to become uncomfortably hot. Darn it. He had slept in "Yes?" he called, his voice heavy with sleep.

Mathias' voice sounded through the door. "I've got a surprise for you!"

"A surprise..?" Tino repeated to himself, momentarily confused. He didn't have much time to think it over as the Dane threw open the door.

"Rise annnd shine, beautiful..!" he called loudly, too loudly for this early in the morning for it caused Tino to wince. "

Fuck him for being such an early riser. Tino thought, a rarely used profanity surfacing in his brain. "What is it, Mathias?" he said impatiently through a loud yawn.

That's when another figure entered the room. The first thing the prince noticed was the sheer size of the man. No, no.. he wasn't fat - but tall. Extremely and hugely tall. He had to have been over six-feet. Tino's amethyst gaze slowly slid up to the man's face and he immediately jumped, feeling self-conscious under the intensity of his gaze. The 'giant' had a head of soft, light blonde hair and a pair of sharp piercing sea-green eyes that seemed as cold as the Arctic sea itself.

It feels like he could see right through me. the prince though to himself with a small shiver, pulling his embroidered covers right up to his chin. "W-who's this..?" he finally forced out, though it sounded like more of a squeak. Tino's cheeks flushed, now realizing that on top of that, he had bedhead as bad as a haystack.

"Exactly who I've been tellin' you about, Finny." Mathias told him, smirking at the expression on his face. "This is Berwald. Berwald Oxenstierna. Otherwise known as the 'Savior of Sweden'."

Berwald raised his right hand in recognition, a slight bit of curiosity sparking in his eyes - replacing some of the coldness. It was funny, seeing royalty like this. His hair all ruffled and his face still sleepy.

If only his hair was longer. Tino mused, imagining a thick lions mane on the man. He certainly looks scary enough to be a lion.

"I'm T-Tino." the Finn finally spoke, cursing himself at the stammer. It seemed anyone could break under the power of that gaze. .. Well, anyone save Mathias.

The Dane looked back and forth between the duo, the feeling of awkwardness in the room gradually climbing. "Well then." he clasped his hands together and rocked back and forth on his heels for a moment. "I'll let you two.. get acquainted." And with that being said, he vanished - leaving Tino completely, and utterly alone.

"S'rry for int'rruptin' you." the 'lion' finally grunted. It took the prince several long moments to distinguish what he had said through the thick, heavy accent. Berwald's voice had a rough tone to it, but he could find that it was slightly warm and kind as well.

Tino quickly shook his head, "N-no, no..! It's fine!" he assured him, though, he casually tried to smooth the few strands of hair that insisted on defying gravity.

The Swede raised an eyebrow slightly, "'ll be outs'de." he said, before exiting the room and closing the ornate door behind him.

The prince let out a soft sigh of relief, all the air that he had been holding in suddenly escaping. His chambers had grown even more uncomfortably hot, he realized. And going over the Swede's face in his head, he tried to decide if he was handsome or not.

Certainly he had manly features - the sharp cheekbones and the lean muscles that were still apparent under the armor he wore. Tino safely assumed yes. He wondered what the man would look like if he actually smiled. .. Could he smile? The prince thought this over next.. his expression had seemed so cold, perhaps he had some sort of disease or defect..!