His First Address

Yuri wondered how fast he could make it to the nearest pool of water.

“Stop hiding, you wimp!”

He ignored Wolfram’s banging on the locked door and straightened his gold shoulder braids in the mirror. A strand of black hair sprang free from its slicked-back coif, followed by another, and another, until all of Günter’s styling had fallen into disarray. Yuri stared at the mess, wishing it could be used as an excuse to get out of his duties.

“There is nothing that will get you out of your duties, so open the door and come out!” Wolfram shouted. “Unless you’re not man enough.”

“I’m more of a man than you are!” Yuri exclaimed, flinging open the door.

“Ha,” Wolfram derided, as he snagged Yuri’s elbow and dragged him down the corridor. The Covenant castle guards drew to attention as they passed. “I am a trained warrior and an aristocrat from one of the ten territories of the Demon Kingdom.”

“And I am Demon King.”

“Then, act like it.” Wolfram came to a sudden halt in an archway to a parapet. Outside, the buzz of voices rose from below, blending together into a steady, loud drone.

Yuri gulped, as Wolfram readjusted the braids on Yuri’s shoulder. “But why do I have to address them? Can’t Gwendal do it? He knows more about the affairs of state than I do.”

“Those of the Demon Tribe want to see their king,” Wolfram said. “Though, why they’d want to see an imbecilic wimp like you—”

“Stop calling me that,” Yuri snapped with little heat.

Wolfram sneered, then dragged his fingers through Yuri’s hair, combing it into place. He stepped back, looked Yuri over from head to toe, and nodded with approval. “At least you won’t be a visual embarrassment.” Wolfram’s eyes narrowed. “But don’t you dare flirt with the peasants.”

Yuri didn’t say that he’d be too nervous to flirt, even if he did that sort of thing. He wished Conrad were with him, but he was on a mission, and Gwendal had stuffed Günter in a closet, insisting that Yuri had to do this alone.

“Get on with it, you sniveling coward.”

Well, not completely alone. Yuri glared at Wolfram, who gave him a shove through the archway in return. Yuri stumbled forward into the sunlight and the crowd of people gathered below raised a cheer.

Yuri stood frozen in panic, as his gaze swept over the massive crowd. He hadn’t expected so many for his first real address, especially since there was nothing important to convey. His quivering knees bumped against the stone balustrade. Silence swept over the crowd at some signal Yuri didn’t give, until the only sound to be heard was the pounding of his heart.

The eyes and ears of thousands of faces focused completely on him. Yuri opened his mouth to begin the speech Günter had coached him on, but all the came out was a squeak. His gaze darted from person to person, young and old, waiting reverently to hear his words. He saw Gwendal amongst the people, derision and impatience compressing his lips.

A touch against his arm caused him to nearly jump out of his skin, and he whipped his head around. Wolfram stood slightly behind him, as was his right as betrothed, a corner of his mouth curving in a smirk. “Wimp,” he whispered.

Yuri squared his shoulders at the taunt and looked at his people again. His burst of confidence began dwindling immediately at the expectant expressions on their faces. He reached out blindly until he snagged Wolfram’s hand. He heard an intake gasp of breath. Wolfram’s hand trembled in his, and a glance over his shoulder revealed wide, surprised eyes and bright pink cheeks on Wolfram’s face.

A smile slid across Yuri’s lips. Mr. High-and-Mighty didn’t look so composed any longer. And, as usual, Wolfram had succeeded in giving Yuri the boost he needed. He turned back to the crowd waiting below. “Greetings. I am Yuri Shibuya, the Demon King, and I welcome you to Covenant Castle.”

The crowd cheered. Yuri glanced at Wolfram and received a faint smile. His confidence swelled and he launched into his speech, giving it without a single mistake. Günter would be so proud, and even Gwendal looked slightly impressed.

Later, when Conrad returned, he asked a posing Yuri how he’d faired giving the address alone. “He wasn’t alone,” Wolfram spoke up from behind his easel. “He needed me there to hold his hand. The wimp.”

“I am not a wimp! Maybe I just like holding your hand.”

There was a clatter from behind the easel. Conrad coughed, though it sounded more like a laugh.

Yuri wondered how fast he could make it to the nearest pool of water.