The King's Challenge

By Mell Eight

Prompt: Give me one more shot

Warnings: slight m/m

Kris only had one more shot. That was it. The castle guard changed their formation four times every night. It was meant to deter their enemies by making their movements unpredictable, but the ensuing few seconds of confusion were just enough for one enterprising thief to sneak in and out. He had already done the in part, but getting out was fraught with a bit more tension.

Mostly it was that his timing was off. He had slipped over the wall and across the grounds during the first formation change. The guards hadn't had a clue he was hiding in the bushes as they finally found their positions and turned their backs to the castle to watch for oncoming danger. Kris, hidden behind them, safely found a side door into the castle and hurried from the plush nobles' area to the much more bland servants' hallways.

There were guards by the main entrance and all along the main hallway and grand staircase, but the servants' hallways were built of dark wood without any ornamentation or guards. Kris travelled all the way up to the third floor and to the wing for the nobles' offices without being stopped once. A servant's style shirt and a well-darned pair of pants meant that none of the other servants he passed gave him a second glance.

Kris wasn't surprised to learn that there wasn't a secret, servants' entrance to the king's office. That would make his task far too easy. Instead he backtracked to a storage closet where he grabbed a tray used for cleaning away dirty dishes. He had little doubt that there would be used teacups inside the office to fortify his disguise, so he stepped into the open with purpose in his stride.

The carpet beneath his feet was plush and brightly colored, the walls painted and covered with portraits and large tapestries. He passed a side table with enough finery casually displayed to feed himself for a month. He also walked by a pair of guards stationed at the corner. The guards barely noticed his presence; no doubt they were tired from the late hour, bored with the monotony of their position, and used to letting servants come and go.

Kris entered the king's office without being stopped. He took a few moments to gather the abandoned cups and a half-filled teapot while he got his bearings and waited to double check the guards weren't going to follow him. After a long, tense moment, Kris moved to the heavy painting behind the large and ornately carved wooden desk. The picture was of the king's parents, sitting primly on their thrones, and it swung outwards on a set of well-oiled hinges to reveal a large safe set into the wall.

The key was no doubt kept somewhere where an enterprising thief couldn't get to it, but a set of lock picks would solve that issue easily enough. Kris got to work, trying to move quickly so the guards did not get suspicious. Between the space of five breaths, Kris had the first tumbler popped. The second and third proved to be more difficult, but the safe swung open for Kris soon after.

He looked inside, expecting to see a jewelry box, or, even more brazenly, the item he was searching for placed on display. Instead all he saw were stacks and stacks of papers. He reached inside to double check that nothing was hidden, but couldn't find anything. The item wasn't there.

Kris closed the safe and the painting, gathered the remaining tea dishes, and left the office. He returned to the servants' hallway without any issue. One of the guards had let out a wide yawn as he walked past, which meant he didn't even care to get a good look at Kris' face. Back in the servants' closet, Kris nibbled his lip as he thought. There could only be one other place in the castle where the item was hidden: a second safe in the king's bedroom.

If Kris posed as a servant gathering laundry for wash, he could probably gain entrance. It wasn't the best plan, but as he made his way up to the sixth floor and down the hall to the bedroom the second changing of the guard occurred. If he didn't get the item soon, he wouldn't be able to get it at all, so he had to work with the little he had. The third guard change passed while he was creeping back out of the darkened bedroom with a basket full of dirty laundry while the king slept on unawares. The scratch of his lock picks and the clank as the safe pulled open had sent his heart racing in fear, but the king hadn't even twitched. His excessive care not to wake the sleeping monarch had caused him to take far too much time at his task.

Which was how he managed to be outside with just moments to spare before the fourth and final guard change. It was his last chance to escape, because if he was still in the castle grounds when daylight arrived Kris had little doubt he would get caught.

Finally, Kris heard it. The creaking of the heavy barracks door as the final muster marched outside. The guards on the wall began to eagerly abandon their posts for their long-awaited beds. Kris saw an opening: one guard leaving a few moments too early while his replacement was still on the stairs leading up to the guard platform. Kris dug his fingers into the cracks between the stones and hoisted himself up and over the twenty-foot wall. He dropped heavily onto the grass on the other side, but he didn't stop to catch his breath. He found his feet and jogged across the short expanse of grass and road until he melted into the shadows of the city.

Kris headed to his little loft for a few hours of much needed shuteye, his prize tucked safely away inside his shirt. He had to be ready for the morning.

Kris boldly walked through the main gates of the castle wall at ten in the morning. To the guards on the gate he was just another peasant attending to some task inside the walls. To the guards on the main castle doors, he was a nuisance.

"I have fulfilled the king's challenge," Kris said boldly when the door guards immediately refused him entrance. One of the guards blinked in shock while the other hurried inside. He returned a moment later with a steward who gestured for Kris to follow him.

The opulence of the main foyer of the castle was impressive. Kris couldn't help gawking at the high, gilded ceiling, and the inlaid marble floor. He was led up the grand staircase, aware of dozens of curious stares following his progress, and through a long hallway with a grand set of doors at the far end.

Court was in session as the steward led Kris through the doors and into the king's throne room. At the far end of the very large room, on a dais and sitting in his throne, was the king. Kris remembered the mischievous smile the king had worn when he had made the proclamation in the marketplace. As the captain of his guard stood nearby, the king had challenged any would-be thief to steal a delicate glass flower from him. The winner would receive a boon of his choosing.

After completing the task, Kris knew it wasn't just about stealing a flower. The flower had been nestled in the safe between dozens of other jewelry boxes, all containing gold and gems totaling a few years' worth of food. The king himself had been sleeping helplessly, at the mercy of an attack. The only thief that could take the flower and claim the boon without being arrested for other crimes was an honorable one and could therefore be trusted not to abuse the privilege.

Although, Kris' intentions weren't necessarily honorable. The playful grin the king had worn as he made his proclamation, the light of excitement that lit his eyes, and the sheer brilliance of the challenge had twisted something hot inside of Kris. He hadn't been able to resist accepting the challenge, particularly since he already knew what his boon would be.

It wasn't as if the king was against being with men. He had two children by two different women, but instead of taking a wife he had instead taken a series of male companions, all of whom had eventually left the king's employment richer and happier.

Kris wanted to try, at least.

"This man claims to have won the king's challenge, my liege," the steward called over the noise of the milling crowd of courtiers.

"Has he?" the king asked, that impish twinkle back in his eyes.

"I have, my lord," Kris replied firmly.

"Very well," the king said. "Prove it."

Kris reached into his shirt and pulled out a handkerchief wrapped bundle. He gently removed the handkerchief and held out the delicate glass flower for the king to see.

"You have indeed won my challenge," the king proclaimed, his smile growing as the captain of his guard let out a disbelieving growl and a number of onlookers gasped in shock. "What is your boon?"

Kris carefully handed the flower to the steward and then stepped forward. He mounted the three steps up to the dais and only stopped when he was standing directly in front of the king. Kris surreptitiously wiped his sweaty palms dry before reaching out to gently tilt the king's head upwards.

Kris bent down and pressed his lips to the king's, tasting a hint of sweet breakfast wine, before drawing away. "My King," he whispered leadingly.

The king's grin had grown into a wide smile as he looked at Kris approvingly. Kris didn't know if he would be like the other men, used to the utmost of pleasure and then sent on to build a life of happiness. He wanted to believe he would be the last man in the king's bed, there until his dying day. And perhaps he would be, but for the moment the king was drawing him back down into another kiss and his thoughts scattered.

"Call me Charles," the king said firmly. "I've never had a thief for a lover before. This is going to be fun."