As it happened, no one was about to see them, Roxas' stableboys much used to their master's curious habit of wanting to saddle his own horses, as if he were no more than a hostler. The servants were all bustling around making preparations for the wedding, and so no one was there to see two figures, who by all measures of propriety should not even be allowed to speak without a chaperone for fear of indecency, as they slipped into the stables, laughing together like schoolboys. Dressed in their summer silks, they resembled nothing so much as a pair of brightly coloured songbirds, trilling their joy to the sky at the dawn of the hot summer months and the golden wheat fields filled with possibility and released from the burden of waiting to grow. Axel whooped as he swung into Durant's saddle, the charger taking the slender redhead's weight as if it was nothing, and Roxas, for a moment, saw him as a firebird, a spark against the sky, red on blue, and then Moxie snorted her want to move, and when the blond turned back, the spark was gone and there was only the man he'd once taken for a thief, and was to take for a husband in a few short days. He climbed slowly onto Moxie and kicked her into a trot, following Axel's gallop more sedately. He caught up with the redhead entering the woods on the castle grounds, and they both slowed to a walk, Durant nickering in delight at having had a good run, lipping Moxie gently.
"So, how did a rich little lord like you end up with merchant spawn?" Axel asked, a little nastily. The blond might have let him ride his horse, but Axel wasn't at all convinced that meant anything. Could be the kid was just not very good at riding the charger, like he'd admitted before.
"My… my father made the decision. Your lands border ours, so it was advantageous to make a match. I'm also making the assumption that he found someone else who would prefer a man to a woman."
Axel shrugged. He wasn't about to give anything away, not the men he'd lain with, nor the women he had tried and failed to love. He knew what was best kept a secret and what was best said aloud, more so than this little lordling seemed to understand.
"And what of it?" he said, at last.
"I would prefer to know that the person I am to be bedding would welcome my physical state, at least," Roxas said, dryly, nudging Moxie against Durant's flank in a playful shove to Axel, "I am not in the habit of bedding the unwilling."
"Unlike so many other lords, then." Axel said, sourly. He knew the tales, the serving girls with the marks on their wrists, the lords with fingernail scratches down their faces, the healers who kept their silence for gold.
"I would never." Roxas said, earnestly, and for a second, Axel almost believed that he could be different, that he wouldn't be like all the other boys born to high status and the privilege it brought. Then he remembered the look on Roxas' face when he'd said that Axel should spread and take it like a bitch in heat, and stopped those thoughts before they could begin. It wasn't that he was so opposed to the idea of being under the little blond – he's spread for many a man before, and what was one more, especially a softy, pretty one – but he was damned if he would give the brat the satisfaction of letting him know that. For the first time, he wished for the veil which would give his face cover to hold any expression he pleased, without having to hide his thoughts behind a mask of calm politeness. Roxas, however, seemed to sense his feelings without needing to see the movement of his mouth.
"You do not believe me." He said, and a shadow passed over his face, anger and shame, and Axel gazed at him in wonder. This was no petulant child, no spoiled little lord used to getting his own way; this was a man full of bitterness and rage, knowledge that he was being called a liar and that there was little he could do about it. He had never looked more beautiful to Axel than in that second, where he became a man instead of the boy-child he was supposed to wed. And then the blond wheeled his horse around and set off at a gallop towards the woodland path, vanishing into the dense greenery, leaving Axel alone.
Roxas slowed almost as soon as he knew he would be out of sight, for the sake of Moxie, rather than because he was feeling any calmer. He did not want her to catch a hoof in a root and break a leg, after all – she was a good horse, and it was not her fault that Axel was a fool. She whickered softly as he patted her, and happily followed the forest path. He often took her this way, Durant being too big, really, and the little mare seemed to enjoy it, the new smells and sounds which enveloped her, the relative quiet after the noise of the stable. He wondered if she knew that he only brought her through here when he was upset, when he needed space to himself. Shortly before his mother had died, he had spent a good few months mostly off the path, just a little way, with Moxie or one of the stable-hounds. It was in those years, fourteen summers old, that he had discovered that he could attract the young men of the surrounding village and lead them a merry dance through the woods he knew like the back of his hand. If they chased him and could find him, then they were worthy of laying with him; and these were hard-working lads, strong and used to strenuous work, so it was rare that they did not catch their lord and bed him on the forest floor, pillowed in pine needles and soft leaves, pressing him into the mud and kissing him with the fervour only the young have, the desperation simply to be close, to be near, to climb within and know each other perfectly, if only for that second. After, he did not want to be close to anyone, and withdrew, locking himself in his tower room and refusing his servants entry as he screamed and threw objects at the door.
"Not very good at hiding, are you?" a rich voice said, and Roxas looked down into Axel's eyes, "Your boy's too big to get through here, but he's happily tethered. You did not even try to cover your tracks."
"I was not expecting you to follow." Roxas said, honesty escaping from him in surprise, "I did not think you cared for me."
"Perhaps I do not, but it is rather bad form to let one's husband-to-be freeze to death in the woods."
"It is summer." Roxas said, shortly, wondering if he could get Moxie to bash the fool's skull in with her hooves. Probably not, she had never been one for violence.
"Then perhaps I came to find you because I am without a veil and without an escort, and I prefer to be inappropriate with company." The redhead said, easily, shrugging.
"I had heard that about you." Roxas muttered, although he had heard nothing of the sort. He realised that he knew nothing of this man who was to be his husband, to be his bedfellow – nothing of his past, or of his family, other than that they were in good monetary standing, owned a large amount of land, and wanted the security of their lord's approval. Perhaps, too, Axel's father had looked for a man who would take another man into his castle, into his arms, into his bed, and had found Roxas, whose steadiest relationship was built on currency and agreed on by appointment.
Axel smiled at that, all teeth, and stepped forward, quick as a whip, pressing the little blond against a tree and leaning in close. He pressed a chaste kiss to soft lips, and then drew back gently. The boy looked shocked, eyes wide.
"Let me guess," Axel said, "Whores don't kiss."
"Not like that." Roxas said, and he hated that he sounded breathless. He hid it by diving forwards into another kiss, letting Axel push him back hard against the tree, careless of the hard bark against him. Perhaps this wedding would not be a disaster after all.