Prince Edmund dismissed the obsequious official with a flick of his hand, letting out a deep sigh as he was finally alone in his chambers. A pause from his royal duties was such a rare occurrence that he closed his eyes for a moment, leaning against a wall to savour it. Now Prince Edmund was of course aware of his fortunes in life, the fine clothes he wore, good food he ate and many, many servants he had in to carry out practically all his tasks for him and yet it somehow wasn't enough, or at least not what he wanted most of all. His mother had died giving birth to his younger sister Maria and since then his father had grown very distant from both of his children. He had already been a very uptight, quiet man who kept his emotions to himself but now with Edmund's mother dead and his sister visiting a neighbouring royal family, Edmund was lonely. He had no one to discuss his day, no one to ask him how he was feeling without thinking of their payment rather than Edmund's feelings. Maybe this was why Edmund himself became a very closed, even spoilt person, because it had been years since he had been taught otherwise. He only saw his father on state occasions, just like the one he had to attend tonight…

The thought made him snap out of his deep thinking. He had only half an hour before his attendants would arrive to dress him for the banquet that night and he had far more important things to do with his time than daydream. He walked into an adjoining room that was filled with row upon row of fine clothes, doublets and waistcoats made of rich gold, red and blue, encrusted with jewels, and beneath them matching hose. Prince Edmund made his way to the far corner of the room and reached past the boxes of shoes to find a small crumpled ball of brown peasants clothes. He had hidden these in his chambers so that when he rarely had a free moment he could leave and explore the palace grounds without the restriction of guards and protocol. Quickly he changed his silk shit for a coarser, muddier one, his jewel-covered doublet for a plain brown one and his bright red neckerchief for a torn fraying one. Leaving his clothes in a pile that would cause his laundry maids to despair he left via his side door and out into the palace grounds.

Robert Browning carried his basket over his arm as he headed towards the palace orchard. He was relieved to be out of the palace kitchens where he worked and free from the tyrannical rule as he described it of the head cook. The wind was picking up and as he felt it run through his hair he felt more relaxed than he had done in ages. The head cook definitely did not like him; he had accepted that long ago although why exactly he had no idea. However whilst the over boys around him had been promoted to footmen serving at the palace table he was still stuck doing errands in the kitchen with the younger boys. He was now twenty-one, no longer a boy and he should not still be doing the job of a fourteen year old. He was certainly not lacking in talent, but then when his chores allowed him to escape from the kitchen he knew he should not be so fussy.

As he approached the orchard he saw a man who looked about his age or possibly a year older. He had seen him around only a couple of times before, dressed very similarly to him although this man was fair and had paler skin whilst Robert had dark hair and was tanned. Out of the corner of his eye Robert could see that he was watching him with great interest. He slowed down his work wandering if the other man would speak to him this time, but still it did not look like the man would come over to him. He was very handsome, he could see that at a distant but it was something in his manner that really attracted Robert to the other man. Yes attracted him. Whilst gay marriage was legal in the kingdom of Alkovia it was frowned upon and only the lowest classes, whose social status could be no further damaged ever committed to a gay marriage. Although Robert suspected that others higher up the social ladder had gay lovers it was never made public. This did not stop Robert's interest in the other man though, what stopped him was his own shyness. He generally liked to keep out of the way of intimidating figures and the interest this man arouse in Robert made him intimidating in Robert's mind.

Edmund however was not one to be easily intimidated as he met many dignitaries daily and had very little privacy. He walked up confidently to the other man, deciding that this time he would go and speak to him.

"Good afternoon. I do not believe we've ever met…"

"Good afternoon, my name is Robert, Robert Browning", Robert introduced himself. "I've seen you a few times but I've never actually spoken to you," He added surprised at himself for the extra information he was giving.

Edmund paused for a moment at the rudeness of someone speaking to his without his permission and then once again remembered that he was not here as a prince but just an ordinary man. The thought exhilarated him as he gave a small bow saying

"My name is Edmund, uh Edmund…Smith," giving himself a false surname. Robert let out a low chuckle at his formal bow and found himself relaxing in this mans company surprising quickly. Edmund in turn found he was treating Robert with an openness he would only treat an old friend with.

"There's no need to worry about formalities with me Ed, do you mind if I call you Ed." The Prince barely had time to nod before Robert continued, "and do call me Rob, my friends do."

Prince Edmund felt a warm feeling in his stomach as he heard himself addressed as Ed. It gave a sort of equality and intimacy that he craved. As Robert sat down next to him though he noticed that where his sleeves had risen up there where four small bruises on his arm. He didn't understand what could have made such a mark. Robert noticing what he was looking at pulled his arm around him and muttered

"It doesn't matter".

Edmunds cheeks warmed and he felt himself wearing a matching blush to Roberts.

"I do sincerely apologise for staring Robert," he said with his hand on his heart. " I am truly ashamed that my manners were so remiss."

Robert gave another short laugh and said,

"You are very formal Ed. As I said it does not matter"

Edmund smiled in return, this exchange of smiles cause a jolt of electricity to seem to pass through his body.

"I rarely see you around Ed", Robert asked, calmly. "What is it exactly that you do?"

"I work in the castle," he replied hoping he wouldn't be pushed any further as he did not want to lie to his new friend. He was spared this though a piercing shout of

"BROWNING, where in that useless boy, BROWNING!" A complete change came over Robert. He leapt to his feet with a look of intense terror on his face. With a quick

"I must go" he turned, picked up the basket of apples he had gathered and practically ran back the way he came.

Staring after his in surprise Edmund suddenly realised that the mark on Roberts arm had been a hand mark. Wincing at the idea of the pain of someone grabbing your arm so much it would bruise, although truly he had no idea of that level of pain as he had never been hit even as a child, his body deemed sacred, the Prince got up and left. "Was that sort of bruise normal for the lower class?" he wondered as he walked back to his royal chambers.