Episode 3: Familiar Bonds – Part One

The Multiverse Chronicles

Season One: Episode Three

“Familiar Bonds – Part One”

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MVC_S1_E3

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Warm night air enveloped the city streets. A fine mist had sent most of the late night crowd into their homes and nearby pubs. Raucous laughter burst from a loosely hinged door, and Alia took an extra half-step out of the way to avoid anyone who might tumble out. But the door remained shut, the alley empty. She wandered on, alone, past the pub that many of the Prussian dignitaries frequented.

While she enjoyed spending time with her colleagues, she never visited that particular joint after her shift. Tonight was no exception. After watching her best friend fawn over his new fiancé, she needed some time to herself.

Solitude was best found at The Sleeping Wolf, a less-than-sleepy pub a few blocks down. There, soldiers of Her Royal Army blew off pressure, and there, Alia was respected for being a soldier, despite being left alone because she was not Britannian.

A tiny brass bell jangled as she entered. A couple redcoats looked her direction, shrugged, and then returned to their drinks, games, and conversations. They had become accustomed to her presence in the previous weeks. She slipped into a seat at the bar and waited for the tender to finish serving a blond soldier.

The pub smelled like warm bread and grain, with the unmistakable hint of beer and gin floating through the air. The bar tender grabbed a glass from under the shelf and wiped it clean with a rag as he approached. “What can I get ya?”

“Ale. From the tap. And whatever today’s special is, thanks.” Alia dropped a few coins onto the wooden counter.

The tender nodded, drew a mug of ale from tap, and checked the coins into a register at the back of the store. Prussian make. One of those old models that Clockwork Industries had been advertising in the newspaper lately.

Supposedly there was a newer model that was all the rage back in Prussia. Alia wished she were there now, to know if the rumors were true.

The tender pushed a plate of steaming meat pie in front of her. She took a bite, not quite relaxed, and stared at the mirror along the back wall. A large, burly man in a red uniform approached her. He had short hair and a good-natured face. The kind of man who could make pleasantries with just about anyone and have a story for them in return.

He was Charles Stroud, a Britannian soldier and—more notably—a storyteller.

He pulled out a seat. The chair thudded as he lowered himself into it and gave her a smile. “Well lass, I see yer back.”

“Yeah,” Alia murmured half-heartedly.

Though the man spoke Latin, his Scottish heritage showed in his dialect. For most, it wasn’t uncommon for their native dialect to overshadow the trade language. But being the bodyguard of Prussian royalty, Alia had to watch her speech so that her German accent wasn’t so obvious when she was away from home.

Unfortunately, her blue uniform had given her away the first time she stumbled into the pub. It was Charles who had cheered her up then, entertaining her with familiar stories from her homeland.

The heavyset man gave her one good look over, then nodded solemnly. “Pining over the prince, are we?”

She raised an eyebrow. This might not have been the first time they had spoken, but this was the first time he had mentioned her prince. “What are you talking about?” She took another bite of her meal, keeping her face blank as if she were playing cards.

Charles cleared his throat. “Well, you are a Prussian guard, and everyday you’ve come, you’ve come around the same time and you’ve been alone. You’ve usually got a long face, too. Not many of you Prussians venture this far. Most of you stop a few blocks from here at The Rust Barrel. And you’ve got a really good accent. Better than mine. I’d bet you a shilling that you’re Prince Alfons’ personal bodyguard and childhood friend, and now that Queen Catherine has announced his engagement to our lovely princess, your happily-ever-after has taken a rather unfortunate nosedive.”

Alia’s nostrils flared, but she successfully fought back the tears that had been waiting all night to surface. She choked on a snort instead. “You gathered all that from what I’m wearing and how I came here?”

Charles shrugged. “Nah. I’m on leave from Francia. I remember seeing Prince Alfons when he visited a year back. He had a bodyguard with him. Looked close. When I saw you come in the other day, I thought I recognized you. Wasn’t sure ’til now.”

Alia blinked. “How do you remember me? I’m just a bodyguard. I don’t even dress different.”

“I’m a storyteller, lass.” Good-natured wrinkles formed around his eyes. “Details are what make for a good tale, and I’ve taken to remembering the juicy ones. You’re special. Different. You have this amazing friendship between you, a bodyguard, and a prince.” He tapped his nose. “That’s not something you see everyday.”

“Yeah, well, I’m not sure how long that’s going to last. Things are different here.” Alia took a gulp of ale and eyed it suspiciously. Here in Britannia the princesses were clingy and the drinks were weaker.

Granted, there was only one princess, rather than a whole slew of relatives, but one was more than plenty.

Charles propped his elbows on the bar. “So tell me—did you love him?”

Alia shook her head automatically. “No. We were just friends. I knew a long time ago I could never be romantic with him. But we’ve been friends since we were children. When I got the job, I thought we’d always be together. You know… as friends.” She glanced at the storyteller. “I never thought I’d lose him.”

“So you did love him.” An understanding smile quirked on his lips, but Alia scowled.

He didn’t understand her at all. “I just said—”

“Lass, not all love is romantic. You say you were childhood friends. Where I’m from, that love can be stronger than anything romantic, and it’ll hurt ya just as much if it’s lost. Just take a look at the love between a familiar and their human… it ain’t romantic, but it can be just as sweet.”

Alia lowered her eyes to the brown, frothy liquid in her glass. A couple weeks ago, Charles had told her a tale of a beastmaster whose powers went beyond simple command. The woman in question held two-way communications with an old draft horse, and from the way Charles told it, when the horse finally passed away, the bond had never quite vanished. The woman had returned to the horse’s cairn once a month afterwards, and was said to have rode the horse’s spirit across the hills to the sea, where they finally disappeared, never to be seen again.

Alia had attributed the story to another one of the Britannian’s weird fables, but she still had to wipe a tear from her eye, just thinking about it. “Aren’t you supposed to tell happy stories?” she snapped, though the storyteller’s smirk suggested that he knew she was teasing.

Charles chuckled. “If you’re thinking about the story I think you are, that was happy. They rode off into the moonlight together. No high-falutin’ mares to steal her old stallion away.” He grinned as Alia rolled her eyes. “See? Now yer happy.”

She sighed. “I guess you have a point.”

A soldier walked over and clapped a hand on Charles’ shoulder. He grinned. “Well, about time I met your Prussian friend. Am I interrupting anything?”

Alia nearly jumped from her seat. For a place that was usually lonesome, she was getting anything but solitude.

The newcomer was quite a bit shorter than her. He was somewhere in his mid-thirties, had sun-kissed hair, bright blue eyes, and a lean, muscular frame that would get a second glance from most anyone interested in men.

Charles tipped his fingers to his forehead in address to the soldier. “Evening Colonel. No, you’re not interrupting anything at all.”

Alia snorted. She was inclined to disagree, but this was their pub, not hers. She couldn’t blame them if they wanted to talk.

“Ah, well, good. Here, let me order my drink…” The colonel tugged his red overcoat free of wrinkles, revealing a shiny set of bronze pins beside his nametag, then sat beside the storyteller. A flick of his hand later, he’d ordered himself an ale and returned his attention to Charles.

“You were saying?”

Charles let out a throaty laugh. “Colonel, this is Alia Behringer. She’s one of Prince Alfons’ bodyguards. Alia, this is Colonel Pearson.”

“Oh?” The colonel raised an eyebrow. “What brings you here?”

Alia opened her mouth to say that she was only here for a moment of peace, but Charles interrupted without a second’s hesitation. “Oh, Colonel. Must you pry? It’s personal. Nothing you would be interested in.”

Colonel Pearson held up his hands in mock defeat. “All right, all right.” He turned to Alia and winked. “Be careful of what you tell Charles here. You never know what will make it into one of his stories. He’ll take your bad days and run with them all the way to Alexandria.”

Charles scoffed. “You make it sound like I embellish things. I don’t tell personal stories. At least, not without changing the names first.”

Alia snorted. The colonel—obviously a seasoned busybody—seemed far more dangerous than Charles. A storyteller, at least, enjoyed stories. They did embellish things. Most people wouldn’t believe him even if he did tell the truth.

“Well, unless he wants to spin a yarn about a prince and his bodyguard, I don’t think he’ll get much from me,” she said shortly.

The colonel smirked. “Don’t count on it. Has he told you the one about the beastmaster and the horse?”

Alia glanced between the two of them. “Yes?”

He tipped his mug to her and took a swig. “That was my great-aunt.”

Alia rolled her eyes and took another drink of ale. Charles just shook his head, so surely the colonel was pulling her leg. She was about to open her mouth with a sorry comeback when a shriek ripped through the thin walls of the tavern, followed by shouting and the smashing of glass. Half the pub’s occupants stood or stopped talking, and the colonel cursed. He darted between two stocky men in his haste, muttering something about a drunken idiot and a drake.

Alia shook her head. Britannians… a strange people, the lot of them.

“Well, lass, ready to see a story in the making?” Charles asked, peering toward the open door. Alia shrugged. Might as well. She could use a little excitement that didn’t involve a prince and his clingy fiancé.

Following the colonel, the two of them pushed through the curious crowd and headed out the door.

Meanwhile…

Alfons and Cassandra strolled hand-in-hand toward Cassandra’s room. The castle corridor glowed warm from a dozen crystal chandeliers, each crystal dangling and refracting light onto the wall’s brilliant tapestries.

Alfons was oblivious to their splendor.

His fiancé’s velvet-smooth hand was firm around his, her gait purposeful, even as she leaned into his stride. Her dark hair lay in a thick bundle at the nape of her neck, secured with a ribbon during their return from the garden. Someone so majestic… was it truly possible that she—of all the royalty—loved him?

At her door she looked into his eyes, and her cheeks flushed a deep, rosy pink. A smile formed across her full lips. A tingle of excitement fluttered in his chest. Those beautiful eyes…

“What is it my dear?” he asked.

Cassandra giggled, a sound heard only in private—not counting the guards that followed her. “This is amazing. I can hardly believe my mother approves of you. I was so worried she would not. But not only does she approve, she actually likes you. That is certainly an admirable accomplishment.”

A scoundrelish smirk formed on Alfons’ lips. “Well, I was brave enough to propose that I take her daughter’s hand in marriage.”

Cassandra’s eyes glittered from the flickering chandeliers, and she leaned to his ear, her voice savory. “You have it all wrong,” she said mischievously. She drew out each word, relishing her hold over him. “I am the one who is taking your hand.”

A shiver raced up his spine. Heat crept to his face. Cassandra’s confidence was… certainly attractive. He swallowed hard and licked his lips. Carefully, he pulled away from her, though he still clung to her hands. “Are you sure about that?”

Cassandra grinned. Her eyes possessed a subtle flicker, an unnatural fire that smoldered between them. With the predatory gaze of a raptor, she leaned in to kiss her prince—

Her pet rat—who had been nestled comfortably on her shoulder —squeaked sharply and tugged a lock of her hair.

Her eyes flared. She glared at the rat and twisted her lips. “It seems my ‘chaperon’ protests.” A smirk later, she swooped her arm under the small of Alfons’ back, dipped him low, and kissed him deeply. His eyes widened. He couldn’t quite catch his breath. She was strong. Her kiss was everything he had dreamed, and—

The rat squeaked.

Alfons opened his eyes to find the rat staring at him from Cassandra’s shoulder. The seconds drew longer than hours under that perturbed rat’s glare, until finally the princess drew back and coyly wiped her mouth on her sleeve.

Alfons quickly straightened his posture and cleared his throat. “I see you do not mind your… chaperon,” he stammered.

Cassandra glanced at her rat, then burst out laughing—a beautiful sound that was somehow deep and throaty, and lively as a ballerina, all at the same time.

“We are engaged now, my dearest. My chaperon is going to have to become accustomed to such displays of affection.” She poked the rat’s nose, which gave a short shriek in protest.

“I suppose so,” Alfons admitted. “But we still need to announce our engagement in Berlin.”

Cassandra smiled. “I look forward to the announcement. Although, I do hope you do not mind if I bring more guards with me than the few you brought?” She glanced at the single blue-uniformed bodyguard behind the Britannian guards.

Alfons lowered his head and scuffed his feet on the floor. Cassandra did seem to have a high number of personal guards around her at all times. He would hardly be surprised if he found one standing watch in her chambers.

But he went into their engagement knowing that their customs were different, and he did not wish to cause any agitation on so minor an issue. “Of course I do not mind. We can accommodate your guards at the palace.”

“What of your parents?” she asked, gentle. She placed a light hand on his shoulder. “I do not wish to insult them. It is just… your guards are a bit on the careless side.”

“That’s because they know I’m safe,” Alfons stated defensively, then instantly realized he had spoken to her like he would his own guards—a friend, not a life-long companion. He cleared his throat and smiled. “Back home, things are less tense. You will see when we get there.”

Cassandra gave Alfons an uncertain look. “If you are uncomfortable here, I could provide you with a few of our royal guards for your stay in Britannia. Mother would not mind.”

Alfons laughed. “That will not be necessary, my love. That was not what I meant. My guards do just fine. But if having a larger accompaniment would make you feel more secure in Prussia, then by all means, please bring them. The more the merrier.”

She nodded, obviously appeased. “Thank you.”

He let out a happy sigh, then squeezed her hands. “We should retire for night. We have a big day tomorrow.”

“Of course. Good night, my dear.” Cassandra gave him a quick peck on the cheek before slipping into her room. Alfons stood there a moment, staring at the door before one of the stalwart Britannian soldiers positioned himself behind Alfons and cleared his throat.

Alfons smiled nervously, then hurried toward his own room.

A big day tomorrow, this was true. Tomorrow he would formally announce the engagement to his parents, and they would make plans—not that those plans had not already been made in anticipation of the trip to Britannia—for the royal festivities.

Perhaps then his lovely Cassandra would finally relax.

* * *

The adventure continues in the next episode, when Trish saves a drunkard from a rampaging pterosaur…

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