The 'slop' of the wash bucket echoed through the vast chamber Hall as he dunked his brush once more, removing the mud and dirt from the many bootprints. Early that morning, the entirety of the Spring Court nobles had gathered before the King to discuss the latest in the Kingdom’s issues. And with it, a horrendous mess of mud, dirt and general grossness. Not that they cared. Slaves such as himself were only here to clean up the mess. His tunic was soaked with dirty, soapy water and his hands and knees were red from the pressure on the floor but he continued on without missing a beat.
Phoenix had been born in the Spring Court as a slave and because of this, he knew no other life. Cleaning was just his way of life. He didn’t question his orders or cry over the amount; he just got to work, every morning. He had learned very early on to avoid the nobles of the Court, to keep his head down and stick to the shadows. And, it wasn’t just because he was a slave but because of the color of his eyes. When his Omega father passed away from sickness, he was taken in by one of the older women, a woman whose family had been slaves to the Spring Court for centuries. Early on, she had commented about the color of his eyes, telling him that it was dangerous should anyone see them. He was taught to keep his head down, eyes lowered and to remain out of sight. He was told it was for his own safety. Who was he to complain? He knew nothing more than this pitiful life.
He was just finishing the last corner of the vast Hall when the massive oak doors opened once more, voices bouncing around the chamber as two of the Spring Court’s generals walked in. It wasn’t so much the men that had caught Phoenix’s attention; it was the trail of dirty boot prints they left behind as they walked towards the Throne. He lifted his wrist to his nose at the onslaught of Alpha scents wafted towards him, covering up the clean smell of the floor.
“-King hasn’t said much about it. Although I know Autumn will be sending out emissaries soon to search Courts.” A snort. “You would think, by now, the Autumn Court would have given up by now.”
Phoenix picked up his bucket and silently padded up to the beginning of the men’s boot prints, beginning to scrub away as they stopped at the throne’s dias.
The other General spoke up. “If another war were to ensue, Autumn would be at the most risk. Without an heir, the Court would crumble. I suppose that’s why she continues to search. She’s desperate.” They both chuckle before coming to notice Phoenix. By this time, he had nearly reached their sides, their boot prints washed away.
“Hey, Omega!” The one laughed, kicking over his wash bucket. “How dare you spill your disgusting bucket at my feet! I demand you wash my boots now!”
The other General laughed, kicking at the spilt water at Phoenix who raised his arm to cover his face. “It’s the only thing you’re good for anyway! That and breeding!” The second general knelt down, grabbing Phoenix by a fistful of hair and yanking him forward. Phoenix resisted the urge to cry out as he fell forward, drenching his chest in the spilled water. The General leaned forward against his neck, taking in a deep breath of his scent and Phoenix tensed, blood running cold. “You do smell good enough to fuck... “ the man murmured.
There was a sound of fanfare and the general immediately let go of him and stood. Both male’s attention was taken away from him to the open Oak doors. They both shared a look before walking around Phoenix to leave the Chamber Hall. He watched them leave, curiosity tugging at him. That sound of fanfare meant someone important had just shown up. No doubt the Chamber Hall would be filled with people in a matter of minutes. Crushing down his curiosity, he returned to his work, being quick to clean up the spilled water, finishing scrubbing the dirty footprints before coming to stand. He barely got out of the way with his bucket before he was shoved aside as a group of people entered the Hall, ruining all the work that had taken him all morning to do. He pressed his back against the wall as different scents filled the air. It appeared to be a delegation from another court as the rush of scents towards him spoke of frozen plains, dangerously tipped icicles and endless black nights. As the crowd surged forward, towards the Throne, the Spring King himself appeared, lowering himself down onto his throne of gold and jewels.
The entourage stopped at the base of the dias and all bowed except for one; a male with blazing white hair and piercing ice blue eyes that could make any man freeze in place. Phoenix did his best to sneak quietly along the outer wall, towards a door that would leave him back to the slave quarters but he found himself intensely curious to what was going on.
“Ah, Prince Aspen!” The Spring King drawled, clearly not at all phased by the youth’s glaring disposition. “What brings you to the warmer side of the Kingdom?”
The courtiers and nobles that had filed into the Chamber Hall to witness this were all now whispering among themselves, bringing a low hum to the room. Phoenix was frozen beside the door that would grant him escape, eyes glued to Prince Aspen and heart pounding in his chest.
“I’ve come to collect on one of your daughters per the treaty agreement. Queen Attalea has been more than patient with you.”
The Spring King leaned forward in his throne with a glaring frown. “I told that old wytch that I refuse! Bring the entirety of your army to my front steps! Dare to challenge the curse that had once almost destroyed us!” Here, the Spring King smirked, an almost wild and crazed look to him as he leaned even forward. “No one has dared raise a weapon since our curse was broken! Do you want to be the first, Prince Aspen? Do you want to be the one known to destroy our people?”
A silence hung heavy in the Chamber Hall and Phoenix remembered the stories he had been told. Of a time when a curse had made all females infertile, essentially almost wiping out the entirety of the fae race. But one brave fae had sought out the Wytch who had made the curse and had bargained, for the good of his people. When the wars ended and peace reigned, the idea of Alphas and Omegas became reality. There were whispers that the Wytch still lived, that she waited for the moment when the wars would return and she would curse them all once more. And this time, there would be no one around to save them.
“A treaty is binding, Your Highness.” He growled, seeming to barely contain his own rage. “You made a promise; our precious gems for your daughter.” His eyes shifted to the throne the King sat on and he sneered. “Or shall I tell my men to begin tearing apart your kingdom to bring those gems back?”
The smirk fell from the Spring King’s face to be replaced by fury. He was immediately on his feet and the men who had come with Prince Aspen shifted, as if prepared to protect their prince. “How about I make a counter offer!” The Spring King hissed. “Unless you want to bring the curse down around all of us once more by declaring war, I suggest you take whatever Omega fills your fancy! None of my daughters will be going with you!”
The King’s gaze slid around the gathered people, as if searching for something and Phoenix decided it was his cue to leave. He turned, opening the slave’s door to slip through but before he could, he heard a shout and turned just in time to see Spring guards coming for him. Fear kept him from fleeing. Punishment would have been far worse if he had run. The bucket smashed to the floor as it was forced from his hand and he was shoved forward, through the crowd of courtiers and nobles and straight up to the cold, dark presence of Prince Aspen. He only got a moment to gather that the Prince’s attention was still on the King before he was brought to his knees before the Winter Prince. Habit immediately had him remembering to put his gaze onto the floor, to keep his eyes from being seen.
“Like this one! He cleaned the whole Chamber Hall in an hour! What better asset to your filthy court!”
The room erupted into laughter and the air around the Prince turned absolutely frigid. Phoenix shivered, brought his arms up to cross over his soaked chest and did his best to block out most of the cold. He was wearing nothing more than a dirty tunic, ripped and stained from many before him and his legs and arms were bare. He wasn’t even granted the mercy of shoes. Those were only granted to the older slaves. He was sure the floor beneath him would turn to ice and it would begin snowing.
Surprisingly, the Prince and his escort weren’t laughing. The sound of boots across the floor and Phoenix glanced up to see the Prince moving towards him. Every part of him froze, prepared for the harsh hand of an Alpha, to be swept away to the freezing Winter court and cruelly put to work as the Spring King suggested. He squeezed his eyes shut as the Prince’s boots stopped before him and, after several beats of his heart, felt a cold hand under his chin and the swirl of a calming Alpha pheromone.
Phoenix’s heart hammered as the smell of frost covered pine and mulberry was inhaled into his lungs. A warmth sparked in his belly, like a tiny flame being ignited and he found his chin being lifted until his eyes met with those eyes of such blue they were almost white. He forgot about hiding his own eyes, forgot that they were in a room full of other people; at that moment, it was just the two of them, surrounded by snow covered pines and sitting around a warm, crackling fire. There was a moment where surprise burned in the Prince’s eyes but it was immediately snuffed out to be replaced by cold indifference. It was at that moment that the spell seemed to be broken and Phoenix jerked his chin from the Prince’s grip and looked towards the floor once more, heart hammering with a strange emotion mixed with fear.
A ruffle of furs and armor as the Prince stood, addressing the King. “Omegas aren’t objects to be abused and sold around, King Midas.” Prince Aspen’s voice was icy and sharp, immediately snuffing out any lingering laughter in the Chamber Hall. “I wish to see my room. We will discuss this again when we don’t have an audience.”
He turned, with a whirl of furs and silks and was walking away from Phoenix, bringing with him, his entourage. The courtiers and nobles moved out of the Prince’s way and ignored the worthless Omega still kneeling on the floor. A vibration behind him and Phoenix realized, too late, that King Midas had walked up to him. A hand gripped into his hair-shades of blue and white and purple-and jerked him upwards. Phoenix cried out, scrambling to his feet to keep from his scalp being ripped off.
“Get out of my sight!” King Midas hissed, rancid breath making Phoenix's stomach churn. “I’d rather you had died than your Omega father!”
He was thrown, then, knees hitting the floor before he was quickly on his feet and fleeing from the Chamber Hall and through the servant’s door.