To think that the day had started like any other in the past months. It happened on a normal morning on his way to his shift. But maybe that was it. Crowley should have known it would not last. He and Aziraphale, happy for the rest of their lives, far away from their birthland’s grip. It was too good to be true and he had refused to see it. So caught up in his new blissful life, it took him too long to understand the situation.
The face of the mherondilian man was smug and his voice was way too pleased as he spoke, “Captain Anthony Crowley, you are hereby arrested in the name of the Mherondil Crown for the abduction of Prince Aziraphale.”
When it occurred to Crowley to flee, three pairs of hands were already reaching for him. Crowley tried to run, but he did not get far. He screamed from the depths of his lungs, cried out desperate warnings, hoping he was not too far from their home for them to reach Aziraphale.
Crowley would have wished to be with him forever, but if that was not meant to be, he at least wanted Aziraphale to be free. To bind as much of the mherondilian agents’ manpower, Crowley kept attempting to get away, writhed in the men’s grasp, kicked and snarled. In the end, it took four of them to hold him down while a fifth knocked him out.
Groaning, Crowley came to. His head was pounding, his neck was aching and his wrists were burning. He found himself in a moving carriage, his hands bound behind his back and his body squeezed between two guards. Satin curtains blocked the sight and gave the vehicle away as a noble’s possession.
Opposite of Crowley, sat a short, round man and grinned cruelly.
“Welcome back, Captain Crowley,” he said. “I apologize for the uncomfortable situation, but I’d rather not have a repetition of your attempts to escape.”
“Who are you?” Crowley asked. “What do you want?”
“My name is Sandalphon Wington,” the man answered. “I’m an agent of the Royal Family of Mherondil, taking care of… special problems that are to be kept from the public eye.” He took a deep breath. “And I want to bring Prince Aziraphale home and the man who kidnapped him to justice.”
“I didn’t…” Crowley began, but as he saw Sandalphon’s lips curl in a mocking way, he knew there was no use.
Sandalphon may not know exactly what was going on. But Crowley was sure the agent, probably a subordinate of the king’s master spy, had a pretty good idea about the truth. But he was not interested in bringing it to light. Crown Prince Aziraphale, pride of Mherondil and future king, - a gay man, fleeing forced marriage to live with a Royal Guard? No. That was not the truth they wanted. Crown Prince Aziraphale, looking forward to his marriage with the wonderful Lady Anathema Device - kidnapped by a traitor, either for ransom or out of madness was much better.
Not even trying to hide his disdain, Crowley glowered at Sandalphon. “You think Aziraphale will play along? Because I don’t.”
“He will if this guarantees your survival,” Sandalphon said in a bored tone. “Sure, he won’t be happy, but he will do what it takes to keep your head on your shoulders. And I’m sure you want him safe as well, don’t you?”
“What is that supposed to mean?” Crowley asked. “Hurting him is pretty much against your agenda, isn’t it?”
“Of course,” Sandalphon said. “The wish to keep Prince Aziraphale out of harm’s way is probably the only thing you and I have in common. But how can we ensure he doesn’t harm himself? There is a reason you went with him, right? The poor thing won’t stay fine for long, all on his own.”
Crowley’s eyes widened. For a moment, he simply stared at Sandalphon. Then Crowley began laughing, loud and long, his relief forcing itself out of his body.
“You don’t know where he is,” Crowley stated. “He escaped!”
For the first time since Crowley saw him, Sandalphon’s mien soured. Only for a second, but that made it all the sweeter, the smug expression wavered.
“Well, it is only a matter of time until we find him,” Sandalphon said when he had recovered. “Now he is in hiding, without you, without help. If you help us, your journey home and your stay there will be much more comfortable.”
Scoffing, Crowley turned his eyes towards the carriage’s lilac coloured curtains. “You underestimate him,” he told Sandalphon. “He may be neither fighter nor hunter, but don’t think for a second he will just roll over.”
Now Sandalphon’s grin was back in full force. He chuckled nastily. “Oh, come on. What is a spoiled little brat going to…”
Horses neighed and the carriage came to a sudden halt. Several people shouted at each other, but Crowley had trouble understanding them over the nervous chafing of hooves. After a while, animals and humans fell silent but heavy steps approached the vehicle.
Roughly, the door was ripped open. The curtains fluttered in the wind and the angles squeaked. A guard of Starholden’s city ward peered into the carriage. Crowley knew his face but not his name. He probably patrolled in different parts of town than Crowley. However, the man knew Crowley’s name.
“Anthony Crowley?” he addressed him.
“Please step out of the carriage.”
“Erm, you’d have to tell these gentlemen to let go of me.” Crowley pointed at the mherondilian agents who held him in their midst.
“Indeed,” the guard said and looked at the men. “If you’d be so kind.”
The two agents looked at Sandalphon who, until now, had simply observed. His face was red and his expression furious.
“What is this about?” he hissed. “I am Sandalphon Wington of Sunborrow, I have authority to…”
“I’m afraid you have been out-authorized,” sounded a familiar voice.
“Captain Shadwell!” Relief spread through Crowley at the sight of his superior. Even though he was not sure on whose authority Shadwell stopped a foreign ambassador's carriage. But the old warrior had the respect of every guard in this city and if he told them to arrest Sandalphon, they would.
Sandalphon however scoffed in disbelief. “Not even to speak of the fact that ‘out-authorized’ is not a word, Captain,” he said. “I also wouldn’t know who had the authority to ‘out-authorize’ an ambassador of Mherondil.”
Shadwell grinned. “I would.”
Fortunately not in Sandalphon’s company, Crowley was seated in a different carriage. Shadwell did not join them and the guard who was with him was either unable or unwilling to share what was going on.
They traveled through Starholden for what must have been around half an hour. This was no longer the district in which Crowley lived and worked, but nevertheless, he knew it. This was Starholden’s Palace District.
And the carriage was rolling right towards the main attraction.
Heavy footsteps met the elegant floor. The high walls threw back the strikes of leather on marble, creating a menacing echo. Statues of heroes and nobles looked down on the men walking towards the throne room, their size as well as their significance adding to the graveness of the scenery.
As he was led down the hallway, Crowley felt his nervousness growing. Sandalphon walked a few steps aside from him, both men flanked by several guards. When they reached a large door, adorned with complex carvings, one of the guards left the formation. He pushed the two heavy leaves, bit by bit presenting the view on the impressive yet not overly pompous throne room of Starholden Castle, main royal residence of Avriburg.
Through large windows, sunlight streamed into the large hall. Dramatically, it illuminated the throne of ebony wood, flowed down the steps and reflected from the dark marble floor. Four statues, a monk, a witch and two knights guarded the corners of the room and a golden brocade carpet led the group through the hall.
Several feet away from the throne, one of the guards gestured for them to halt. From here, Crowley spotted a narrow side door in the wall laterally behind the royal seat. Just now, it opened and a man, dressed in red satin clothes, stepped out. He cleared his throat, despite already having everyone’s attention. After letting his eyes sweep over the assembled people, the man pointed at the door.
“Her Royal Highness, Queen Agnes of Avriburg, Grand Duchess of Starholden, Keeper of the Cup of Knowledge, Wielder of the Staff of…”
“I’m sure they get the gist, Archibald!” sounded an amused female voice.
A second later, a woman in a tasteful dark blue dress stepped through the door. Her dark hair was greying and time had left lines and wrinkles on her attractive features. But her green eyes gleamed with energy, her youthful smile was almost mischievous and there was determination written all over her face.
Shooing Archibald away, she sat on her throne. In the corner of his eyes, Crowley saw the other men bowing. He was not sure how exactly to behave in front of Avriburg royalty, but he hoped Mherondil court etiquette would show enough respect.
With raised brows, Queen Agnes scrutinised the men in front of her. Finally, she spoke.
“Sandalphon Wington,” she said. “I hear you are harassing my citizens. I’m sure you were informed that this is not covered by diplomatic immunity in my country.”
Sandalphon’s eyes widened. It was clear that he was out of his debt. Like Crowley, he had obviously not expected to land in front of the queen, nor be challenged for his behaviour.
“Your Majesty,” he said, accompanied by an exaggerated bow. “This must be a terrible misunderstanding. I’m merely doing my duty in service of my king. This man,” he pointed at Crowley, “abducted Crown Prince Aziraphale of Mherondil and I am here to arrest the criminal and press the whereabouts of our poor prince out of him.”
“Is that so?” Barely noticeable, Queen Agnes’ mouth twitched.
“Indeed,” Sandalphon said. “Look at him,” again he gestured over Crowley, “he is a foreigner with a low rank in your city ward. Surely, you would not risk a diplomatic crisis over someone so insignificant.”
At that, the Queen’s amused expression morphed. She was still smiling, but it was strained and cold.
“Do not tell me what I would or would not do, Lord Wington. I have never been afraid of a confrontation and so far nobody was stupid enough to start a war with our kingdom over hurt pride,” she said, eerily calm, before laying her eyes on Crowley. “Mr Crowley, what do you say to these accusations?”
Swallowing, Crowley let his gaze flick between Queen Agnes and Sandalphon. His decision was made quickly. He had nothing to lose after all. At least, she was willing to listen.
“It is true that I came into your kingdom with Prince Aziraphale,” he said. “But he came with me willingly. His family planned to wed him against his will to a person he hadn’t even met and he didn’t want this. We came here to hide. We… love each other, your majesty.”
“Disgusting,” Sandalphon exclaimed. Again, his mistake showed on the Queen’s face.
“What exactly is disgusting, Lord Wington?” she asked. “The same sex relationship? My cousin John is married to another man and there is nothing disgusting about them. Or is it the noble loving a commoner? I’ll have you know my dear late husband was a commoner and there was nothing disgusting about our love either.”
“O… of course not, your Majesty,” Sandalphon hurried to say. “I am merely disgusted by the blatant lie. Prince Aziraphale would never abandon his duty to live with a lowl… with this man.”
“Hmm, two men, two statements,” Queen Agnes sighed. “What a dilemma.”
“Is it really?” Sandalphon said with a saccharine smile. “The word of a noble man, an ambassador against a common soldier’s.”
“I judge a man’s credibility by looking at this heart not his title, Lord Wington,” Queen Agnes said. Softly smiling, she added, “Though I admit that a man’s heart is often much harder to read.” After a pause, she clasped her hand and grinned. “Good thing I have more witnesses in this case.”
“You have what?” Sandalphon asked.
Queen Agnes turned towards the door she had entered through.
“Dearest?” she called out.
The door opened and a pretty young woman stepped through. Long black locks fell on slender shoulders and despite her slightly darker skin and eyes, the family resemblance to the Queen was undeniable.
When another figure followed her, Crowley’s heart beat faster. His blood thundered through his veins in an odd mixture of relief and anxiety. Curvy body, cherub cheeks, fluffy blond curls - yes, the man behind the blackhaired woman was most definitely Aziraphale.
What was going on?
Several months ago, the Palace of Mherondil Capitol, the Palace Garden, to be precise
“Just… pretend you didn’t see me. It will be hours before anyone notices I’m gone for good. Nobody will know that it happened during your shift.”
“I’m more worried about you than about me.You must know how much I care about you.”
“Then don’t make me marry a stranger, Captain Crowley. Please, I can handle myself. I got this.”
Captain Crowley’s loyalty to the king was no match for his loyalty to Prince Aziraphale. Not only did he let the unhappy groom escape, he fled right with him.
Several months ago, also the Palace of Mherondil Capitol, not in the garden though but outside the stables
Two lonely figures, a man and a woman, sneaked towards the horses. They wore commoner’s clothes and the woman also hid beneath a hood. Underneath was the determined face of a person who had made up her mind. The man, however, appeared less convinced of their plans.
“You know I’d follow you anywhere, Lady Anathema…” he whispered.
Her expression softened as she turned to him and cupped his cheek.
“That’s good, Newt,” she said. “Because I’d be lost without you.”
Blushing, he returned her tender smile, before his face fell again.
“But where will we go?” he asked. “It’s not that your family or the Royal family will just forget that you’re supposed to marry Prince Aziraphale.”
“I know,” she said. “I arranged a journey to Starholden.”
“That’s… in Avriburg, right?”
“Yes, Queen Agnes of Avriburg is my Grandaunt,” Lady Anathema said. “No, my cousin. Once removed, I think. Or twice? Or Aunt, after all? Not sure. We’re somehow related. Either way, she is a fierce opponent of forced marriage. For personal reasons as I hear. She will help me. I’m certain.” Anathema halted. “But I won’t do it without you. I can’t.”
“Alright,” he said. “I’m with you.”
“This young man,” Queen Agnes said, pointing at Aziraphale, “rushed into a guardhouse this morning. He claimed to be a foreign prince, fleeing forced marriage and discrimination, and asked for asylum for himself and his partner.”
Nervously, Aziraphale met Crowley’s eyes. When he had heard Crowley’s warning calls today, he had panicked at first. Blindly, he had run out of the house and hidden in Majorie’s basement. Calming himself, he had mentally gone through his options and found them severely lacking in existence.
So now he was scared that Crowley would be mad because of the desperate measures he had taken. But when Crowley looked at him, Aziraphale saw nothing but relief in the golden eyes. As always Aziraphale being unharmed was Crowley’s priority.
“As is law, in my kingdom, everyone being threatened by ordeals that are illegal here, such as forced marriage, does have a right to seek asylum here. So my guards were obligated to either verify or disprove his claim,” Queen Agnes continued.
“Your Majesty, please, I must…” Sandalphon spoke, but the Queen ignored him.
“Now, it is not easy to prove a Prince’s identity without any papers,” she said. “So, a messenger was sent to the palace and what can I say? I knew someone who could identify Prince Aziraphale.” Grinning, she pointed at the young woman next to her throne. “My niece Lady Anathema Device of Everport. Dear?”
“Well, while I had never spoken to Prince Aziraphale despite being meant to wed him,” Lady Anathema said sarcastically, “I saw him at Mherondil Palace several times and can swear that this is Prince Aziraphale. I can also testify that he is threatened by forced marriage since I was the unlucky bride to be - no offence.”
She said the last bit to Aziraphale who smiled friendly. “None taken, dear.”
He felt a bit guilty. While he would have sworn to have never been in the same room as Lady Anathema, he apparently had been close enough to her for her to verify his identity. Apparently, this happened when one was smitten by the Captain of the Royal Guard and only had eyes for him.
“Now, Lord Wington,” Queen Agnes said. “Prince Aziraphale himself says he came here on his own free will. Would you like to keep up your accusation against one of my city guards that he abducted the prince?”
Sandalphon gulped audibly. “It… appears to have been a misunderstanding, your Majesty. My apologies to Mr. Crowley.”
“Furthermore,” the Queen said, “there are two witnesses, saying Prince Aziraphale would be subjected to forced marriage in his homeland Mherondil. This would mean he has a right to find asylum here. Are you willing to challenge this statement?”
With raised brows, Queen Agnes stared at Sandalphon. Rather helpless, the ambassador sputtered. After a while, he shook his head.
“This… is not my field of expertise, your Majesty,” he said. “Plus, it has gotten late and I really need to return to the embassy. Please, let me repeat my deepest apologies to the Crown Prince and Mr. Crowley for this unfortunate misunderstanding.”
“I’m sure they are overjoyed,” Queen Agnes deadpanned. “But yes, you and your men may go with the reminder to respect my kingdom’s laws and its citizens.”
“Of course.” With a forced smile and a ridiculously deep bow, Sandalphon said his goodbyes and took his leave.
The guards led him out of the throne room. When door closed behind them, Queen Agnes stood and descended the steps, followed by her niece and Aziraphale. Amused, she looked from Crowley to Aziraphale and back.
After a while, she sighed. “I’ll allow one or two breaches of protocol,” she laughed.
That was all Aziraphale needed. Letting out the relieved sob he’d been suppressing, he rushed towards Crowley. Apparently, Crowley had been just waiting for permission as well. Grinning broadly, he spread his arms and caught Aziraphale in a tight hug.
“Well done, love,” he whispered into Aziraphale’s neck. “My smart prince.”
“My brave warrior.”
Wrapped up in each other, they barely heard Queen Agnes speaking to Lady Anathema.
“Looks like we’ll have guests for tea, dear.”
Two years later
“Sir!” Three young soldiers nodded respectfully as he passed them.
He returned the gesture, grinning across his face. As always, the palace guards could tell when their Captain was in a good mood. The day’s work was done and only a few steps separated him from his beloved.
Quickly, he opened the large door and stepped into the library.
“Captain Crowley!” It was not Aziraphale who greeted him, but Lady Anathema, no, Princess Anathema. Her adoption by Queen Agnes had been finalised a few days ago.
“Your Majesty!” Crowley bowed deeply, knowing it would annoy her.
As expected, he soon felt a light slap against his neck.
“Ugh, stop that,” Anathema said. “Or I’ll tell Aziraphale you’re being like that again.”
“Like what exactly?”
“Oh, you know damn well and so does he!”
Finally. Hurrying down the spiral staircase to the library’s upper levels, Aziraphale smiled brightly at Crowley.
“Captain Crowley,” Aziraphale greeted before he kissed him.
“Chief Librarian Crowley,” Crowley greeted back, pulling Aziraphale into his arms.
“Good Gods, you two are too sweet,” Anathema groaned and turned towards the exit. “My teeth ache. I’ll see you later.”
“Our regards to your valet,” Crowley called after her.
Anathema narrowed her eyes at him, but could not hide the soft smile forming on her face.
“Former valet,” she corrected. “But I don’t blame you. Newt himself has trouble remembering.”
With that, she left Captain Crowley and his husband to each other.
“There she goes, our future queen,” Crowley hummed dreamily. “What now?”
“Well, we have the whole library to ourselves,” Aziraphale said and teased, “So what can I interest you in? Combat strategy? Politics? Prose?”
Grinning, Crowley manoeuvred Aziraphale through the labyrinth of shelves, towards the small back room. A happy smile on his face, Aziraphale let himself be pushed against his writing table. Quickly, Crowley locked the door and closed the distance between them again.
“You should know that by now, Aziraphale,” Crowley murmured against Aziraphale’s lips. “If I can have anything in this library, I’ll always pick the librarian.”
“And he you, my dear,” Aziraphale answered with a pleasant sigh.
When Crowley pulled Aziraphale into a kiss, he thought for a second how grateful he was that he had followed his Runaway Prince all those years ago. But as soon as Aziraphale kissed him back, Crowley did not think much anymore.
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