Category: National Treasures


My Hero

Leonas realized early on in their relationship that there were aspects that were uneven. Henryk was a warrior – a knight of Lenkiya – and he was a scholar. He looked to Henryk for protection and reassurance. When times were hard, he had Henryk to fall back on.

However, Leonas was less able, though no less willing, to reciprocate for Henryk. As a simple scholar, he could not protect the knight. He could rarely find words of reassurance for the rare moments that Henryk was upset or scared. Heaving a sigh, he looked out the window at the barren winter garden.

“Copper for your thoughts,” Henryk breathed into his ear. He set his hands on Leonas’s hips and turned the other to face him. “So quiet, kocha. What are you thinking?”

“You protect me and always know just what to say…. And I… I… what do I do for you? I just wish I could be there for you like you are for me,” Leonas said.

“You are though, Leo. Even when you can’t think of what to say to ease my pain or fear, you’re there to hold me and kiss my tears away. With you, I don’t need to always be the strong one. I can let my guard down and be myself.” He tilted his head and gazed into Leonas’s eyes. “You see?”

“I… guess,” Leonas said softly. He looked down and Henryk tipped his head up and smiled at him. “You… you’re my hero and I…”

“You’re my hero too,” Henryk said softly.

Taking a Holiday

Leonas looked up to find Lovisa frowning at him. “Hello,” he greeted before returning his gaze to his book.

A soft sound of protest escaped him as the book was tugged out of his hands. “Leo,” Lovisa said. “We’re free. You don’t have to write a history of Seska anymore. Why don’t you relax?”

“For me this is relaxing,” Leonas said softly. “Give me back my book.”

“No, tomorrow you and Henryk are getting married formally and today you and I are going into town to get you ready,” she protested. She slipped a sheet of paper into the book to hold Leonas’s place, then dragged him out of the room.

“I’m a boy,” Leonas reminded her softly. “I’m not getting dolled up for the wedding. I’m going to wear formal scholar’s robes and… you aren’t listening.”

“Just because you’re a boy doesn’t mean you can’t get your hair done nice and let yourself be pampered a bit,” Lovisa said. “There’s a spa that the local inn runs that people from miles around come for.”

“Then I very much doubt they’ll be able to take us today,” Leonas said, trying to get away from the strong willed woman.

Giggling softly Lovisa shook her head. “You won’t get away that easily,” she said as she led him into the inn. Leonas could tell by the reception they got that they were expected.

He tried not to enjoy the pampering that Lovisa insisted he get. It wasn’t exactly masculine to enjoy people soaking his feet and hands in softening creams and making his hair and nails shine. In the end, the small part of him that was vain won out.

He smiled at his reflection as the woman assigned to him finished cutting his hair. It was no longer shaggy. The bob style that he usually wore was now neat and tidy. Any locks that were out of place were artfully made to be that way.

“You had fun,” Lovisa sang softly as they walked out of the building.

“I suppose,” Leonas said softly, gazing at himself in the reflection of a shop window. “I should get back to work.”

“Dinner,” Lovisa said softly, guiding him to a little bistro. “They have noodles and veal and… you can eat veal, right?”

“But… they’re baby cows…” Leonas trailed off, though he was nodding.

“We’ll have the chicken then,” Lovisa said. “We’ll have dinner and then you can go back home and rest for the night. No working. Find something fun to do.”

“Research is fun…”

Star-gazing is more fun,” Henryk said from behind him. Leonas spun around and smiled at his intended. “You look so handsome, kocha. I can hardly wait for tomorrow. May I join you?”

“Sure, the more the merrier,”Lovisa said. Then, with a sly look on her face, she added, “though I thought you weren’t supposed to see the bride until after the wedding.”

“Bride!” Leonas snapped. “I’m… I’m not a bride. I’m a boy.”

“We can’t both be the groom, kocha,” Henryk teased. He kissed Leonas on the nose and said, “I’ll be the bride.”

Leonas giggled and shook his head. He took a bit of the noodles that the waitress brought and after he’d swallowed pointed his fork at Henryk and said, “You think I’m going to protest that you are a warrior and shouldn’t be the bride, but I am not. Instead, I will allow that we cannot both be grooms, but add that since we are not technically human and this is not technically a normal wedding that technically, there is neither bride nor a groom.”

Henryk grinned and chewed thoughtfully on a bite of chicken before adding, “Father Christien will pronounce us man and wife though.”

A Little Sport

Henryk came out into the garden, half-expecting Leonas to be sitting on the grass either reading or writing. Over their years of associating with one another, he’d come to see the other boy as a quiet, bookish homebody. He didn’t expect to find the boy… being boyish and playing around with a little cloth ball filled with grain.

Henryk recognized the game as one that he’d played with the boys from the villages when he had free time. He had no idea that Leonas was just as familiar with it. As the ball sailed out of Leonas’s circle, Henryk caught it with his foot and sent it flying back.

“Thanks,” Leonas called to him. With a sudden impish grin, he kicked the ball back toward Henryk. Soon they were kicking the ball back and forth between each other. Henryk found that Leonas was a rather competitive player and had a knack for landing the ball in his area with just the right angle that he’d catch it but not be able to control its movements.

“I give, you win,” he said when they were both breathless and beginning to giggle softly. Henryk kicked the ball one last time and Leonas caught it with his hand, signaling the game’s end. “I didn’t know you could play that game so well. Why don’t you ever come down to the village to play?”

Leonas sighed and settled back against a tree. “How would it look for a university professor to play a child’s game, Henryk?”

“Like he knows how to have fun and act his age, kocha,” Henryk said. “It’s settled. Next time I have free time to go to the village, you are coming with me.”

“Alright,” Leonas agreed, with only a token show of reluctance.

What do you mean?

Leonas looked up as Henryk came in. “Hello, mono svie. Dieter told me that he was sending you to help me with the library cleaning today.”

“Yeah,” Henryk said. He looked around and sighed. “What do you need help with exactly?”

“The shelves are stacked with too many books for me to read myself. Even with Marius here, it’ll take forever. It’ll go quicker with three,” Leonas said. He started to turn away and paused when Henryk groaned.

“We’re really supposed to read all these books,” he said, disbelief coloring his tone.

Leonas chuckled and shook his head. “Not the books, the shelves.”

“We’re… reading the shelves?”

Leonas frowned. “You don’t know what I mean… of course not. You aren’t a scholar. You don’t spend much time in libraries. Dust the books, look out for any that have damage from bugs or mice or just mistreatment and straighten any that are trying to hide behind the rest.”

“Oh, is that all? And that’s called reading a shelf?” Henryk said. “Learn something new everyday.”

“Indeed you do,” Leonas said as he turned toward a set of shelves.

Leonas sat in the window seat and stared outside as he watched the rain made streaks across the window. He had been outside, in the garden, only moments ago. He’d moved inside as soon as the rain had started but had still managed to get soaked by the sudden shower. Sniffling lightly, he thought about another day, similar to this one. The only difference was that he hadn’t been at his own home when that shower had soaked him. He hadn’t had clothes to change into, like the plush robe he now wore.

Dieter had ordered him to collect a basket of plums. It seemed like a simple enough chore; until he realized that there was no ladder to help him reach into the high tree branches. He had to climb up into the tree to reach the ripe fruits. The next trick had been figuring out how to climb the tree and gather the fruits at the same time. In the end, he’d rigged a shoulder strap of sorts onto the basket.

Now, perched precariously on a branch, Leonas carefully picked plum after plum, slipping them into the basket he’d looped over one shoulder. He heard a soft rumble in the distance and sighed. Thunder could only mean one thing. The thought crossed his mind at the moment that the rain started. It didn’t begin as a light shower either, it started as a downpour.

With a disgusted shout, Leonas clambered out of the tree. It was already beginning to sway dangerously in the ever-strengthening wind. Lightning flashed as his feet reached the damp earth. Slipping a little on the rain-soaked tiles of the garden path, he ran inside.

“You’re soaked,” Dieter said softly as Leonas entered the manor. He looked at the basket and shook his head as he noted, “It’s only half full.”

“I – I’m s-sorry, Sir Dieter,” Leonas said. He could feel a chill already setting in, but his shivering wasn’t solely a result of the weather. “The wind and the lightning… it wasn’t safe out there. I’ll finish when the storm p-passes, I swear it.”

“Indeed,” Dieter said. He took the basket and set it beside the door and then guided Leonas up the back staircase to the living area of the manor. Leonas studiously kept his gaze on the floor even as Dieter drew him into the master suite.

He gave no protest as Dieter stripped his wet clothes off and hung them in an adjoining bathroom. Dressed only in a light undertunic and drawers, Leonas’s shiveres increased as Dieter drew him over to the bed. “Sir Dieter?” Leonas asked, finally forcing his gaze up and onto the taller man’s gray eyes.

“The master bedroom is warmer than the servant’s quarters, Lettowen. I wouldn’t wish for you to catch a chill, after all.” To Leonas’s surprise, the Seskan knight merely bundled him into the bed and then left the room. Heaving a deep sigh, Leonas laid back on the soft sheets and, intending to await Dieter’s return, tucked the heavy quilt around himself. Without meaning to, he was asleep within minutes.

Nothing had ever come of the strange event. The only thing it seemed to imply was that Dieter wasn’t quite as evil as he often seemed. Leonas sighed and slipped out of the window seat, sniffling again. He may not have caught a cold that day but he had no doubt that he had this time.

A Little Shopping

Henryk sighed as Leonas entered the third shop. Before he’d headed off this morning with his spouse, hed had no idea how complicated finding a single book could be. Leonas insisted that he need a specific book to complete his research on the history of Seska. It would be the hardest to find book imaginable.

Leonas wasted no time wandering the shop and browsing the shelves. He’d already bought four books at previous stores doing just that. Instead he went to the shopkeeper. “Excuse me?” he said softly.

The man looked up with the air of one who hated being bothered. “Yes,” he said, his tone bored.

Leonas blinked anxiously and looked over at Henryk. “Let me, kocha,” Henryk said. “We’re looking for a book. It’s an illustrated historical tome regarding Seska. The writer went by the name Vladimir.”

The man paused and nodded. He left the pair and went into a back room. Moments later, he emerged with a worn book. “Is this it?” he asked. He handed the book over to Leonas, who was already putting on special gloves.

Leonas scanned the book and nodded. “It’s quite worn but no pages are missing and it’s still readable. How much are you asking?”

Henryk smiled faintly as he watched his lover dicker for the prized volume. His mild-mannered habits may have made it hard for him to approach the man but once he had, it was easy for him to make the man think he couldn’t possibly by looking for a bargain while looking for a book.

“I think it’s kind of cute,” Henryk whispered as he gazed at the squealing beast.

“Don’t touch it!” Leonas hissed when his hand went out as if to stroke the soft pink snout. “It’s unclean, Henryk.”

“For eating, yeah, but surely…” he trailed off and sighed. “We can’t even touch it, can we?”

“No,” Leonas said firmly.

“But the poor little thing is stuck in the brambles,” Henryk said softly. “Maybe it would be alright if I touch the brambles and then he’ll run free.”

“Just don’t touch me afterwards,” Leonas said softly.

Henryk chuckled and nodded. “Whatever you say, Leo. Honestly though, you don’t think God would want us to leave a defenseless animal stuck in some brambles just because it’s been declared unclean, do you?”

The blonde seemed to wrestle with his conscious for several moments before shaking his head. “God said that we’re the custodians of his creation and didn’t specify. He told Noah to take two of every animal onto the ark and didn’t leave behind the animals that were later declared unclean. I suppose he wouldn’t be wrathful if we saved the little piglet.”

Henryk nodded and knelt down. “It’s alright, little one,” he soothed when the piglet squealed in fright at his approach. He reached down and untangled the animal’s hooves from the brambles and both nations watched as the piglet ran away into the underbrush.

“It was rather cute,” Leonas admitted, more to himself than Henryk. “I’m glad that it will be alright.”

“Me too,” Henryk said. He stood and, eyes sparkling with mirth, caught Leonas by the hand. “Let’s go see that priest,” he added when the scholar squeaked a protest.

First Encounters

The day had been a long one. He had spent more time in the saddle than he ever had before and the only thing Leonas could think about was getting out of the dirty clothes that he’d worn for the past three days and washing the sweat and road dirt from his tired body.

He slipped away from the camp after gathering enough wood that no one would say he was shirking. He grabbed up the leather camp buckets and headed down to the stream he could hear just beyond the tree line. If anyone asked, he could say he went to gather water.

He did fill the buckets and set them in a shady spot so that they wouldn’t become tepid during his bath. Then he shucked off his clothes and, after folding them neatly and setting them near the buckets, he slipped into the stream.

The water was cool but not cold enough to be uncomfortable. Sighing deeply, Leonas eased himself deeper. The cool water eased his aching muscles and he began scrubbing the road dirt from his body. The water wasn’t deep enough that he needed to worry about his lack of swimming skills. In fact it was just deep enough that he could practice, as Kazimeras had told him he should.

Leonas stilled when the soft tread of boots reached his ears. He sunk deeper into the water as the unmistakable sense of another national avatar reached him. It tickled in the back of his brain like a feather lightly brushing somewhere deep inside his soul. He turned toward the sense as the boot steps drew near.

Their eyes met, and for a solid minute neither moved. Leonas shook slightly in the water. The other boy was dressed as a warrior might. He knelt beside the stream and took a long drink before returning his gaze to Leonas.

“Hello,” the boy said softly. He stood slowly, the way one might if one spotted a deer in the forest. “What’s your name?”

“L-Leonas… of Leituva,” came the shaky reply. He felt helpless, staring up at the taller boy in his armor; a sword-belt secure on his waist.

“I’m Henryk of Lenkiya,” the boy replied. “What are you doing in the water?”

“Bathing?” Leonas replied in a voice that hardly carried as far as the bank. “We’ve been traveling and… my hair’s a mess… I was filthy with road dirt and sweat.”

“You think you’re filthy,” Henryk replied. Before Leonas’s astonished gaze, he shucked off his armor and clothes. Before long, he was naked and slipping into the water with Leonas. He was very muscular, as one might expect from a warrior. He was also covered in a multitude of bruises and gashes.

“What happened to you?” Leonas asked. He gasped when Henryk eased closer to him in the water.

“A battle,” Henryk replied. He turned his back to Leonas and asked, “Is there something in my shoulder? It hurts a bit.”

Leonas licked his lips nervously and edged closer to examine the muscular back and shoulders before him. “I can see a cut,” he reported. He reached up and gently prodded the gash. It was deep and as Leonas inspected it, he saw something glinting back at him. “There’s something metallic inside it.”

“Can you get it out, do you think?” Henryk asked. “I’d hate for the wound to heal with it still in there. That kind of thing might affect my range of motion.”

Leonas prodded the wound further and then nodded. “I believe that I can get it out. I just need the proper tool.” He half swam to the shore where his clothes waited. He rummaged in his tool belt until he found a pair of small forceps. Then he returned to Henryk.

The taller boy tensed when Leonas slipped the forceps into the wound but seconds later he relaxed as Leonas eased the piece of metal free. Upon closer inspection, he realized that it was the broken tip of a lance.

“Thanks,” Henryk said, turning to give Leonas a sunny smile. “You know they say there are lots of bandits around these parts.”

“Really?” Leonas said. He looked around nervously. A sudden noise in the bushes sent him scooting back toward the far bank, and Henryk. He had about enough time to realize there was an armed stranger standing not two feet from them when a hand went over his mouth and fingers pinched his nose. Then he was underwater and, as panic set in, limp in Henryk’s arms.

Before he could even begin to drown, they were in the brush at the edge of the stream. “Sorry,” Henryk breathed.

Leonas shook his head and ducked back against the taller boy. Suddenly, he was acutely aware of the fact that they were both naked. The bandit seemed not to have seen them and merely knelt beside the stream to drink as Henryk had done only moments ago.

His breaths coming in short pants and shaking more and more intensely, Leonas shrank against Henryk until the man turned to leave. The bandit paused then turned to look back at the stream critically and Leonas realized the problem. He’d seen their clothes and was now well aware that he wasn’t alone.

“Come out where I can see you,” he ordered, drawing a short sword.

Leonas almost screamed in terror at the sight of the naked blade. Henryk covered his mouth and hissed, “Quiet. He doesn’t know where we are, just that we’re here.”

Tears filled Leonas’s eyes and he swallowed thickly as Henryk eased his hand away. He couldn’t still his shaking and finally simply ducked his head against the taller boy’s chest. The bandit continued to scan the stream, especially the margins that were shaded and covered by reeds and trees. He willed the waiting to be over; for Kazimeras to come and rescue him. He cursed himself for his own foolishness at leaving the security of the camp.

Suddenly, Henryk released him and he floundered for a moment, confused and near hysterical. As his feet hit the soft earth, Leonas half-stood and turned to see that Henryk was holding the bandit back with a stout branch. “Get help!” he shouted.

Sobbing, Leonas bolted from the stream and ran back to the camp. “Kazimeras!” he screamed, nearly tackling the almost king of his newly forming country.

“Leonas, what in the world?” the man started. He swung the cape off his shoulders and knelt down to look the young nation in the eyes. “What’s happened?”

“The stream… I was b-bathing… another n-nation came. He said there were bandits and then – then… He needs help! He protected me, gave me a chance to get away. He needs help.”

“Wait here,” Kazimeras said calmly. He gathered the men with him and headed off into the forest; back from whence Leonas had come.

Shaking and sobbing, Leonas sank to the ground. Suddenly, he was held in a gentle embrace. It took him only seconds to recognize Rasa, Kazimeras’s wife. She held him as she might one day the child she carried in her womb and whispered soothing words into his hair.

Slowly his sobs eased to soft hiccups and he raised his head. “I was so scared,” he whispered.

She smoothed his hair away from his eyes and nodded. “I know, Leonas,” she said. “But you’re safe now and your friend will be too. Kazimeras will see to that.”

As if mentioning his name called him, Kazimeras returned to the camp then. He carried the still form of a blond haired boy who looked just slightly older than Leonas. “Henryk!” the smaller nation screamed.

“He’s hurt but alive, Leonas,” Kazimeras assured him before he could become hysterical again. “Get yourself dressed and meet me in my tent. The healers will see to your friend but I’d like a word with you.”

“Y-yes, sir,” Leonas said softly.

He stood and headed to his own tent. He was well aware of what the soon to be leader of his country wanted to say to him. He could sense it as he could the heightened anxiety of the camp.

He’d been foolish to go off on his own. He’d put the troupe in danger from retaliation by the bandits in a time when they could ill-afford such scrutiny. He’d also drawn the eyes of another, apparently more powerful, country to them. It may be that the two countries might become allies but it might just as easily mean that they would be conquered before they’d even fully formed their country.

He dressed quickly and efficiently in clean clothes from his traveling bag. With a sense of dread, he left his tent. The camp was full of hustling soldiers and hurrying healers. He wrung his hands as he made his way to Kazimeras’s tent. He could feel the man’s frustration like a palpable thing.

“My king,” he whispered as he peered inside. At Kazimeras’s curt gesture, he slipped inside and knelt down before the human. “I well know my folly,” he said in a voice that hardly carried.

“Good,” Kazimeras said sharply. He took a few deep breaths, obviously trying to calm himself before he spoke. “Leo, we can’t afford this kind of situation. We don’t have proper houses yet. There isn’t even a palisade to hide behind.”

“And we have women and children with us,” Leonas said miserably. “It was foolish and thoughtless. I should have… st-stayed at c-camp.”

“Don’t you start crying,” Kazimeras snapped. “If you start crying I won’t be able to scold you and you need to know… Leo, you are to remain with me or another of my men at all times. Is that understood?”

Leonas nodded and rubbed his eyes. “As my king wills, so I do,” he agreed. A part of him wanted to bolt from the tent but he knew that would be against the orders he’d just been given, so he stayed where he was.

In time, Kazimeras returned to his work. He focused on organizing his troops. Perhaps they could make a crude palisade before the bandits or soldiers neighboring countries found them. Leonas knelt in the center of the tent, sobbing silently, hardly aware of the work going on around him.

“Hey,” a soft, familiar voice said. Both looked up to see Henryk standing in the doorway of the tent. “Wanted to tell you thanks but you look busy,” he continued. “Leonas, why are you crying?”

“I… I’m not,” Leonas said, looking away.

“But you are,” Henryk said. “You are kneeling before your king and sobbing as though your heart was going to break.” He knelt beside Leonas and said, “I would know why? Are you worried about the bandits; that they’ll attack your camp because your people rescued me?”

Leonas nodded and glanced up at Kazimeras before adding, “And – and your people too.”

“Why would my people attack you when you protected me?” Henryk said. He stood and looked directly at Kazimeras as he asked, “Do you think my people are without honor and would attack someone who’d defended me simply because they aren’t strong? We’re soldiers because we have to be; to defend from the bandits. We’re not land-hungry. We won’t harass you.”

“Thank you,” Kazimeras said softly.

“If you’ll allow, we can give aid. We are neighbors, after all.” Henryk tilted his head and smiled over at Leonas. “We have portable palisades. Pop those things up in hours instead of days. They won’t hold back a full onslaught but they’ll stop the bandits in their tracks.”

“Really?” Leonas asked.

“If your king agrees,” Henryk said. “I can go and make the arrangements. My own people are not far off. We were in the area, trying to get the bandits under control.”

Kazimeras frowned as if considering for a long time. Leonas stood and smiled tentatively at Henryk. He’d been hoping that they could trust the other boy – and his people. “Very well, and thank you,” Kazimeras said finally.

“You’re welcome,” Henryk replied. He sketched a gracious bow before continuing. “I do beg a boon. May I bring Leonas with me? I swear to you that he will come to no harm and will return safely to you on the morrow. It would help matters if he met my own monarch.”

Kazimeras nodded and looked at Leonas. “You feel that this young man is worthy or our trust?” he asked softly.

“I do, my king,” Leonas replied.

“Make ready to depart then and Godspeed,” he said firmly.

“May the winds follow us at our coming and going,” Henryk said softly as he took Leonas by the hand and led him out of the tent. “He’s intense,” he said as soon as they were out of earshot.

“He’s a good man and will make me a good king,” Leonas said softly. “His parents raised us both. When he saw his people persecuted by their lords he sought a way to help them. That’s what brings us here.”

“Your people come from further away then?” Henryk said. “His parents found you as they traveled – as they entered your lands?”

“I woke and they were there. I toddled out and they took me into their home – their caravan anyway,” Leonas said. “They’d lived as nomads since leaving their homes in the old country. We still do, though we’re moving toward settling permanently. Besides the bandits…”

“No one else really lives here,” Henryk said. “The ground is fertile enough. The problem is the bandits and the woodlands. My people are farmers. They want grasslands, not forests that they have to tame down in order to plant.”

“My people are craftsmen and scholars,” Leonas said softly.

“Then that’ll be great we can start trading with each other and work together to build better countries.” He bounded over to the horses. “This’ll be great, Leo, you’ll see.”

As he followed the exuberant boy toward the tethered beasts, Leonas couldn’t help but agree. This was the beginning of what would be a wonderful partnership, he was certain.

Leonas looked out over the wind-swept plain and smiled. “What are you so happy about?” the human beside him said.

“Someday the capital city will be there,” he replied. “It will be a shining jewel in the crown of our land.”

“The only thing here at this point is farmland, Leonas. We don’t even have a land yet. We’re still a loose confederation of family units. What makes you think this place will be more than it is now?” He sighed and shook his head. “I know that you aren’t the child that you appear to be. You haven’t changed since we both looked the same age.”

“I just know,” Leonas said. “I know something else too. You, Kazimeras Regalis, will be my first king. The first King of Leituva.”

“Big dreams, Leo.”

“Those are the best kind,” he replied softly.

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