Marking of the Days

by Sincline Koutaishi

Welcome Home

Here on this bright day, a landscape of weaponry welcomes us... Outdated, but none the less effective enough to end this long journey with bloodshed. No smiling faces to greet an injured Princess. It is useless for me to worry about my survival at this point... But I wonder how she feels about this less than happy homecoming.

"No! Stand down!" She cries at them.

I see her young captain rushing through the crowds with his team to confront me. They stop at the foot of the ramp and the captain aims his hand weapon toward my head, face set in anger to match the rest of this crowd. Of all those present, he is the one most likely to fire.

"Let her go! NOW!"

I growl at his insolence, holding apart my empty hands to demonstrate to them that I have no hold of her, she is in fact holding on to me for support.

"Put that down!" She yells. I have never heard her so angry with anyone other than me.

"Princess, come here!"

"No! Put your weapons down! All of you! Don't make me ask you again!" There is shock in the eyes of her protectors as they lower their weapons. "I would like to go inside without further hostility."

"Come away from him!" The captain insists.

"Oh, for heaven's sake! He's the only thing holding me up!"

"One of us will help you."

"No! The moment I let go of his arm you'll try to shoot him!"

"You better bet we will, sister." The lieutenant smirks at me, "Just give me a half a reason... A few inches to the left, buddy..."

"Clear the way! I'm not kidding!"

The group parts now and I begin the long walk down the ramp with my sweet but angry one. As we leave the ramp it lifts behind us, sealing the bay door. We follow the cleared path through my enemies inside the castle and down the hall. Her personal guard are close by, watching my every movement. She is already starting to slow down but I can see she is trying so hard to keep moving. The hall behind us is filling up... This is not the best position to be in.

I lean down a bit and speak quietly to her as we go on slowly, "Is it far to where we are going?"

"Yes a bit, with the speed I can achieve at the moment."

"If you navigate, I shall pilot." I smile at her.

"All right." She smiles back and seems relieved as I lift her back into my happy arms, "Straight ahead." Finally we reach her chambers, a place I have never been welcome before, "You can put me down now."

"Landing." I return her to her feet carefully.

She eases herself onto the nearby sofa as her personal guard and attendants come inside along with the Minister, a doctor and a pair of nurses to see to her condition.

"We are glad to have you back, Princess." The Minister bows to her.

"Thank you. I am glad to be back, drama not withstanding." She smiles sweetly at him. "Please, all of you, I know that this is a strange circumstance... But he is my guest, visiting royalty, and he is the one who saved my life. I ask of you to be kind and respectful to him accordingly."

Her captain is the first to react, "Princess, he has no right to be here after all he has done. He is not just the man who saved you, he is a dangerous enemy who may be using this entry to your life and this castle to examine our defenses and destroy us."

He steps forward, eyes fixed on me with every last piece of hatred he can find within him. I simply scowl at him. He is ruining this moment for my Princess... And myself... But I hold my tongue and let her speak to them on her own.

"Things have changed over the past couple of years... If you feel you cannot prevent yourself from being inhospitable towards him, you should depart for a few days as he will be a guest in my home." She surveys their quiet and stunned faces, "I owe him my life." She adds.

"You don't owe him anything! He tried to destroy your world! He has destroyed many others!"

"Please... Keep your voice down. He is a guest here... And he is no longer as he was."

"I don't believe that for a minute! What lies have you been filling her with?? Where have you been?? What have you been doing for the past two years, you monster??" The captain blusters.

I am glad to take up his invitation to speak, "Celebrating my father's death and conducting business as Emperor of one of the strongest military and economic powers in the Western Arm." I state flatly and then suddenly leaning forward into his space I hiss at him, "Have you missed me, boy?" He takes a shocked step back and I am somewhat gratified.

"No!" He draws his weapon again, "Get out of here!"

"I will not. Fire on me if you wish, if it will make you feel happier. I will not leave. I have been asked to remain here, by your Princess, and will not go against her wishes in this matter... Perhaps you should attempt to be as obedient to her requests."

"Monster... Murdering monster..." His hand shakes as he tries to decide between pulling the trigger and obeying his orders.

"Captain, give me your weapon." She asks.

"Princess! No!"

"NOW." She insists, holding out a hand until finally the weapon was placed in it. "Thank you."

"The doctor would like to examine you." The Minister spoke now.

"That would be just fine. I am getting used to it now." The smile returns to her face as she places the captain's sidearm on a table beside the sofa.

The doctors want to see to their Princess and so they send her personal guard out of the rooms, very much against their will. I remain within her chambers, moving out to the high balcony overlooking the garden so that she will have her privacy during the examination. The Minister joins me shortly as I am just lighting a smoke to calm my nerves. At least I am not dead.

From my perch I look far down upon my least favorite pair of her personal guard, one of whom is now disarmed. They are looking right back up at me. The young lieutenant lifts a fist upward with a wry smile, raising his middle finger in my direction. I frown and exhale smoke down toward them, familiar with this gesture.

"They are not comfortable with your presence, highness." The Minister bows to me.

"Yes, I can see that." I turn to face him. "It is quite understandable."

"It may be in the best interest of your safety that you not remain for much longer."

"Nnh... I will not leave until she releases me, regardless of what it may mean to my health... I understand too that you have concern for her but I assure you, she has been well cared for."

"She is looking far healthier than when we had first spoken to her over the video link." He agrees, "I feared she would still be very weak but it seems she has made remarkable progress. She could not have been more fortunate than to be taken to the care of those people. They obviously have tremendous skill in healthcare."

"True true." I nod, "The Gods picked a good location for her suffering at least... I will do what I can to keep my temper contained in the face of threat from her personal guard. I would appreciate it if you could perhaps ask them to do me the courtesy of a bit of patience."

"I will do what I can... I am afraid that this is all they have to offer of the kind. I have already spoken to them at length to be steady when you arrive... But they worry for her."

"Of course. I am no worry for them however."

"Forgive me for saying so, but even I have a hard time believing that. I am feeling great surprise to be standing before you in this moment and not having a blade of some sort pressed to my throat." He tested a smile with me and I returned the same.

"I would offer to make you feel more familiar with me by doing so, however it would likely not go over well even in humor."

"You are correct." He relaxed enough to laugh a little.

The doctor finished with the Princess soon and she came limping out to the balcony with us, "Excuse me for interrupting." I am amused as she bobs a little curtsy to me in her borrowed Imperial uniform. "I'm going in to have a bath. I'll try to be quick. I'm sorry to leave you on your own here."

"Take a slow time of it, Princess. I am having a comfortable conversation with your Minister. I know you have been looking forward to this."

"All right..."

She fidgeted a bit, showing her nervousness at leaving me alone amongst these people who hate me. Her attendant came blustering out onto the balcony then, causing her to wince at her tone, "Princess! Come away from that horrible thing!" She took her by the arm, tugging her away from me.

"Nanny! Goodness!" She shook loose, "Do you think he's going to rub off on me or something?"

"The less you are around him the better!"

"Saich woman. She has not turned blue yet and I have been with her for some time now!" I chuckle.

"You be quiet!" She snaps at me, "Go go go! Get out of that awful uniform! I'll have it burned right away!" She herds the Princess out of my sight.

"She is a brave one." I comment and raise an eyebrow in the direction they have gone.

"She can be a fireball when she is feeling protective of our Princess."

"So I see."

"It will be a chore to get her to set up a room for your use but I will see to it."

"Thank you. I appreciate your generous nature, especially considering the circumstances."

"Mmh..." He nodded and sighed. "If I may be so bold... What is the truth of the matter? Will there be renewed attacks?"

"No. I have kept my people on our side of the border for two cycles and had this not happened, you would not see me before you nor would you see any of my troops. I am done with your people. Your Alliance has been trouble for tens of years. They still try to press us... But that is another story." I draw on my smoke and let the herbal breath settle into my lungs. "Excuse me for passing into irritation and politics."

"I find it fascinating." He nodded, "We have some linguists here who I know would enjoy talking with you. Many years ago the Alliance sent them here to try to learn your languages. Since we are closest to your borders we tend to receive many of your people's transmissions and so there was a great deal for them to learn from. I do not know if you would be willing to fill in some blanks for them..."

"I will speak with them. It may be interesting."

"You have an excellent grasp of our language."

"After learning so many different ways of speaking I can say this much of it... The human trade language is confusing."


"Too many things sound the same but mean differently... And the way you arrange the words makes little sense in my mind, but it does seem to come easily if I do not think about it too much. Your good Princess has been spending her time correcting my grammar and teaching me new words."

"From what she says, you have been doing your own share of teaching her."

"It is an even trade." I nod.

All too soon the boys she calls her defense team have come back to torment me. Her nanny is not a piece of joy either as the Minister is trying to convince her to rally the housekeepers to put together a room for me. Once he has made her his friend again she goes to call some of the staff together then returns quickly to her guard duty outside of the door behind which my Princess is bathing herself.

When she comes out of her bath she manages the impossible—convincing her nanny and her personal guard to leave us in peace.

"Hello." She says as she comes limping slowly out onto the balcony with us, the outer doors to her chambers closing behind those angry people.

The first thing I notice is her scent—her lovely scent that has been accentuated by the things she has used to clean herself. My heart picks up its pace as I curse my senses for being so sharp. She is also wearing more familiar clothing.

"Ah, Princess." The Minister smiled for her, "You look much more relaxed."

"Nothing like a bath to lift one's spirits." She agreed and looked to me then shyly turned her eyes away. "I'm having nanny bring us some lunch. Sorry she was giving you such a hard time." She offered.

I shrug, "I am used to it."

The Minister was kind enough to wait until her nanny left after bringing our food and then departed himself, leaving us alone again. She invites me to the table and there I sit, looking at the strange things that have been assembled. I am feeling flustered—a very different feeling for me to have—alone with her again and thinking of the feeling of her arms about my neck and her head settled upon my shoulder... The way that she looked at me...

"I hope you like the food." She says, pulling me out of my thoughts and my stare at the strange plate.

"Nnh." I poke at it a bit with the stranger looking eating utensil, "It is... different looking."

"Oh, just eat some. I had to eat a lot of alien food at Kyerst and it wasn't so bad at all compared to what I'm used to."

"What is it?" I smirk.

She moves her chair beside mine and spears some strange thing on my plate with her utensil, "Carrot." She said, "Vegetable. It'll help you see better in the dark." She smiles.

"I already see very well in the dark." I smile back and then cross my eyes as she thrusts the carrot into my face.

"Just eat it... Open the hangar doors."


"Open your mouth, silly."

"Nnh..." I do so with some hesitation, taking the orange thing from her and finding it not so horrible, "Not bad." I decide to take up my own utensil and sample some things. Each item I try, she names for me, "You people are not much fond of meat it seems."

"It's just not that easy to come by. More of a luxury."

"For a my own people it is more of a necessity. We tend to have a great deal of muscle in need of protein."

"Oh... I'm sorry. I didn't think..." She is disappointed it seems.

"Princess... Please take that look off your face. It is not the most horrible thing that has happened that I have found vegetables for my meal." I laugh at her expression of worry, "I have some dietary supplies on my cruiser if I begin to die of starvation."

"Will you starve?" She gasps.

"No." I laugh more and before I know it my hand has covered hers where it rests on the table. "You tend to take me too seriously."

"I guess I do. I just wanted to make you feel welcome."

"I do feel welcome... By you." Again I smirk, "Believe that I have eaten worse and I have been treated far worse by your associates." My fingers are stroking the back of her hand now. They seem to have a mind of their own—more courage than I have to touch her. She is not pulling away and so I am proud of my hand's free will. "I consider it all more than worth my while in order to spend time with you."

"Thank you." She sighs.

"Eat your meal, milady. You need it to heal."

"Mm hmm." She nods and resumes her own meal, her little hand still resting under mine quite contentedly.

I wonder how long she intends for me to stay with her. I wonder what she has planned for us during this time. Perhaps I should make suggestion? No... I am a guest in her home and should let her set the pace as she wishes. I should follow her lead. She has already shown that she will curtsy in respect of my new title before the eyes of her people. I am in hopes she will not behave this way when we are out of their sight as she had said to me that she prefers to keep things more informal between us.

I set my mind in thinking to just follow her will as her hand shifts beneath mine. Rather than pulling away her palm turns upward—her fingers stroke my palm and I feel all of my concerns fade. She is here with me and my spirit is content regardless of those who surround us. I can feel her eyes upon me as I enjoy my odd meal but do not look up. If she wishes to look I should not stop her by noticing. Such quiet has fallen but her touch is a sound in itself.

"Would... You like some wine to drink?" She asks after a while, "I forgot to ask you..."

Now I look her way and smile a little, "And I forgot to ask. Is that water there?"

She looks over to the pitcher on the table, "Yes."

"That will go well." I take up the pitcher and fill my own glass, "For you?"

"Yes please." She watches until I put the pitcher down again, "I'm afraid I'm not being a very good hostess."

"You are doing fine. I prefer this quiet without servants rushing about and formality. Do not worry yourself over me so. I will not drop dead of hunger or thirst I am certain."

"I hope not!" Her smile returns, "It's so strange to have you here at a table with me. I have all of this training in formality with visiting royalty and such and I'm not using it. Not that I feel bad about it, I'm very happy that you don't want that. But I keep waiting for the Minister to correct my behavior." She laughs a little, "And you're not drinking any wine either! I had always thought you to be quite interested in wine."

"In the past I have been... I have been too interested in it."

"I would say so."

"When one grows and realizes that they cannot hide themselves in false ways to feel, they leave their wine and such behind... I have too much to do to be drinking all of the time!" I chuckle, "I do not miss it. My life is better now with only the occasional drink."

"Good for you." She praises.

"Yes it has been."

"What will happen with the pirates?"

I shrug, "The usual. We will keep thinning their herd and trying to disable their skip point generators. They are not a new thing to us. I do not let them worry me. Their technology is old or stolen. The only thing that is a challenge about them is the sheer numbers in which they show themselves. It takes time to fend off their attacks. I have always worried that they might make their way here since your people are constantly broadcasting your locations to the rest of the galaxy. It aids my suspicion that their skip point projectors have a rather limited range. They haven't been able to project one toward your people's home world or much farther than the Empire's borders."

"What about the ones that attacked me?"

"Those that we have captured have been brought to Galrea to the prisons there. They will be kept there until I decide what to do with them."

"What do you think you might do with them?" Her little brow furrows beneath the gold circlet I have given her. I am shocked by her apparent concern for them.

"Princess, you have a worry for their lives considering what they had done to you? What they might have done to you if they had captured you still living? Do you have any idea what they would have done?"

"No, not really... But I don't like to see people get hurt."

I nod, "I will keep mindful of that when next I see them... Should I perhaps change your mind by letting you know what they might have done?"

She bites her lip, looking at me for a while. "I don't know... Should I know?"

"Nnh..." I look back at her worried face, "Perhaps not. It serves no purpose to worry you further about their intentions. It is my way to give like for like. I wish to revenge you for I have the power to do that. If it is your will that I be lenient, then I will be."

She nods and sighs, thinking for a moment before answering, "I do appreciate all you have done for me to save me from them and I know that they didn't mean to shoot me down in order to be nice to me... All the same I would prefer it if you would be lenient. I will leave it up to you to decide further than that."

"Very well. You are a better person than I, Princess."

"I don't know about that..."

"But I do."

My Katsuna chimes at that moment and I reach for it automatically.

"Ahht." I say and Shilne's face appears.

"Sire." He nods his bow, "For information... The Altean Minister has contacted the Alliance to let them know you are here and that you are now Emperor. Apparently you have released your secret!"

"Yes..." I sigh from my regret. "Keep watch."

"I will go you one better." He smiles, "They are arguing with the Minister right now over wanting to talk to you. He is trying to get them to leave you be. So if you feel the need to bother with them, they are eager to talk to you."

"Wonderful... I will be staying here for a few days so perhaps during that time I will indeed talk to them."

"Staying?" He is as surprised as I was.

"Yes... The Princess asked me to stay. I could not refuse her hospitality."

"Of course not!" He grins, "We will remain in orbit then. Take your time."

"Let me know if anything else comes across of interest."

"You know that I will, Baika." He nods again and the connection ends.

"Was that Shilne?" She asks.

"You recognize his voice already?" I smile again and set the Katsuna down on the table.

"It isn't hard. He's always so cheerful."

"That he is."

"What did he say?"

"You may be annoyed if I tell you."

"I will be more annoyed if you don't." She smiles brightly at me.

"Very well... Shilne intercepted a transmission from your Minister to the Alliance Central. Apparently he has let them know I am here and that I am also now Emperor. I should not let my mouth get away from me." I lament.

"Isn't it better to tell them the truth of the situation? I mean, don't you feel better now that you don't have to hide it anymore?"

"Nnh... I am not so certain that I do feel better. In honesty, I had hopes of never having to deal with humankind again." I frown.

"Oh..." Her smile has faded along with mine.

"Do not take offense. It is no comment about you. Your people have caused mine a great deal of pain over the many many years that have passed. I wanted to put all of it behind us. The Alliance..." I stop—Hanta's words to keep away from politics in my discussions with her coming to mind, "As I have said to you before, I have nothing against humans. Nothing at all against you... This will likely open old wounds."

"Maybe we could all get along now." She offers.

"I cannot see that happening." I smile a little again, "You always seem to do all you can to find the good side of things."

"It's better than fishing around to find the worst side. Don't you think you could give it a try?"

"What would you have me do? Throw open the borders and invite your people in?"

"I... I don't know. Maybe try some trade. Do things little by little." Her little shoulders shrug.

"Princess... There is nothing that humans have to offer us that we are in need of. We had gotten on quite well without ever knowing of your people. What would we trade?"

"We have lots of things."

"Such as?"

She furrowed her brow, "What do you usually seek in trade?"

"Ah, answering a question with a question." I laugh, resting back in the chair.

"Well, I know what we usually have shipped here, but I doubt it is anything you would ever be interested in. Things are very simple here. We usually take in seed and equipment and other supplies."

"Yes, you are still struggling here. I know... I do rather like those carrot things. What would you like for me to trade you for some of those?"

"Now you're mocking me."

"No no! We are working on an example here. Do this with me. What would you like me to trade your people for some carrots?" I lean forward again, pushing aside the plates and take her little hand gently into both of mine, resting my elbows on the table, "Tell me."

She sighed and thought about it, "Some better seeds to grow. We seem to have a horrible time growing things here. You wouldn't think it would be so hard considering how green everything is here."

"Very well. I will trade you some seeds that will grow well here. I will even be kind and make them some vegetables that your people will very much like the taste of."

"Really?" She brightens.

"Yes. You have enjoyed them on a number of occasions since I have found you. Ucho."


"You said they were like nnh... Squash. Strange word."

"Oh yes. They were lovely! They come in a lot of different tastes too. They'll grow here?"

"By the thousands. They grow quickly and are very good for nutrition too."

"Wonderful! You see? We can trade. And you like music too! We are very good at making all kinds of music."

"I agree. I have heard a great deal of it over the years. Well before we ever had seen one of your pink people we heard your radio. I would be interested to hear more."

"Is this really so bad?"

"No, not so bad as it would be with your Alliance. Yours is a sovereign world, Princess. I have no worries over conducting some trade with your people. You are an exceptionally honest person. I do have worries over conducting any kind of business with your Alliance. I do not trust them. I have very good reasons to feel this way."

"I know..." She sighs, her hand squeezing mine.

"You are doing very well."

"Hmm?" She looks back to me from her thoughtful stare at the tablecloth. "What do you mean?"

"You have done what your Alliance in all their history and wisdom could not... You have persuaded the Empire to open trade with a human-held world."

Her smile returns now, "Have I?"

"You have... We will talk of this more later if you like."

"I would... Do you need anything else that I haven't thought of? If nanny hasn't completely revolted she's going to have the housekeepers fix you up the rooms next to mine..."

"If at some point you would go with me to gather a few things from my cruiser that would be most helpful. You also need to have yourself some exercise. You were doing so well on Kyerst."

"Yes... I feel all wobbly now."

"Let us go and have a little walk for you then."


I stand from my seat and offer her my arm, which she takes gladly and then I walk with her slowly out of her rooms, past her guards, down the long halls the way that we had come from my cruiser. She has had to do a bit of convincing to keep her guards at her door instead of following in our footsteps. The guards and the staff in the halls all have their eyes upon us as we pass and I try not to concern myself with their curious stares as I escort their wobbly Princess along.

"Aren't you nervous about being here?" She whispered. "You don't seem worried at all."

"I doubt they will start to fight with me while you are hanging off my arm. And also I am wearing a prox-shield. It will keep me relatively safe."

"Ohhh, yes I remember. And here I thought you were just being so brave." She smiles up at me.

"Now you know the horrible truth." I return her smile and lay my hand over both of hers where they rested in the crook of my arm. "How are you holding up?"

"As good as can be expected. At least I have you to use for a crutch."

"I am glad I could be of some small service to you, Princess."

She just laughs and concentrates on staying upright as we go along. Outside her defense team has caught up with us, having heard from the castle residents that I have taken her out of her rooms unescorted by her guards. They come before us, cutting off our line of walk.

"Where do you think you're going?" The captain demands, holding a hand up to me as though it might actually have the power to keep me from proceeding by itself.

"To my cruiser." I scowl.

"Not with the Princess you're not."

Before I can challenge him the Princess is already speaking, "For goodness sake. I'm just getting some exercise and he needs to get a few things from his ship. Now stop it!"

"Stay here with us while he gets what he needs from his ship."

"Oh fine." She rolls her pretty blue eyes and lets go of my arm, "Keep your hands off your weapons."

They stood with their hands behind their backs, and she kept an eye on them while I proceed to lower the ramp to the hold of my ship. I look back at the little angry group and enter the hold, satisfied that she has her team of boys under control. I gather a few changes of better clothing that I had stowed for my ended trip toward vacation and then marriage. When I exit the hold I catch the tail end of the conversation she is having with her team.

"... He brought me back here and he would have left of his own accord if I hadn't asked him to stay. So leave him alone!" She snaps, her little arms folded over her middle and her face set with as much anger as her gentle heart can muster.

Her captain is about to return her anger when I come to stand beside her again, giving him something else to think about.

"Oh great. You brought a change of clothing." The captain notes the bag I have slung over my shoulder, "Glad to see you'll be comfortable while you're taking inventory of our defenses."

I keep my calm, and attempt to disturb him at the same time, "I had done that many years ago, captain. I need not do it again for I see even at a brief glance that you have not upgraded any of your systems." I gesture lazily toward the ships that are resting nearby my own. "You must enjoy the challenge of flying antiques."

"Stop it. Both of you." She interjects as the captain opens his mouth again, "My leg is absolutely killing me and I want to go inside."

"Of course, Princess." I bow to her slightly.

She takes my arm again to the disgust of her captain and slowly I bring her back inside, leaving them behind.

"It would help if you didn't respond to his comments." She says as I help her to her sofa for some rest.

"I will do my best, however I cannot promise I will be completely successful." I smile then bring her one of her pain pills from the Avasjan doctors and some water.

"Thank you." She gulps it down happily.

"I have never been one to avoid an argument or to not use the sarcasm the Gods have gifted me with."

"I know. How I know." She pulls her leg up onto the sofa, "Ow."


"Oh yes... What did you get from your ship?"

"As your captain had suspected... Clothing. And books. Something to read to you while you are too sore to move."

"Oh good. Perfect timing!" Her smile has returned and I am relieved that her annoyance with my baiting of her captain has passed.

"Indeed... May I ask a favor?"

"Of course."

"I am rather hoping for a bath."

"Help yourself. Right through there." She points, "Nanny left a few clean towels folded up on the counter in there. You can shower or if you want to wait for the water to fill up you can have a bath. I did. It was wonderful!"

"Perfect. I will not be long."

"Good because if they come in and find I've let you use my bathroom who knows what they'll think!"

"That I like to be clean?" I offer.

"We could only be so lucky."

I leave her with a few of my books to look through and see which she would like me to read to her. In the bathing area I stand and look about, trying to determine the best course of action. I place my change of clothing on one of the marble counters and look over the fixtures. They are not too much different than our own so in a short while I sort out how to get hot water out of the spigot in the little enclosure that I assume is what she refers to as 'shower'. This thing is not made for someone of my dimensions and so I find I have to make some compromises. The soap is strange. I know it is what she has used on herself earlier from having marveled at the way it made her smell.

I bend over slightly, resting my hands on the cool marble wall, and let the hot water flow through my hair... The thought takes me that in this very place, she has stood before many times... Her body covered in warm water.

"Collect yourself..." I say and turn my concentration back to bathing.

When I am finished I wring out my long hair and throw it back over my shoulders, drying off and dressing in civilian clothing instead of my uniform. I would like for her to see me as a usual person, not simply my title. Never again in such brilliant colors as the Avasjans enjoyed putting me into.

I find that the Princess has been waiting patiently for my return, sitting still on the sofa with her foot elevated. She smiles for me as I immerge. My uniform and flight gear I leave on one of her tables with my travel bag of things from the cruiser nearby. My sword I do not equip but bring with me to the sofa where I sit beside her and leave Toumai resting out of the way but within reach should I need it. She watches me as I pull on shoes in place of the tall military issue boots that I wear in flight. She seems fascinated by my normal behavior. I am certain that half of her fascination is that she does not feel threatened by me for a change and can simply watch me to see what differences she can find that make me not human.

"Is this how your people dress if they're not in the military?" She asks and I then look to her once my feet are covered again.

"There are many different ways that we clothe ourselves. Just as humans have different styles. Most of my own clothing comes from the palace tailors. They tend to know what I prefer—less complication. I have to dress rather elaborately for most royal functions."

She takes my wrist and examines the stitching of my sleeve. Then another question comes to her as she releases me again.

"How come your men don't have beards?"

An interesting enough question. This one simple thing does indeed set us apart from humans, "It is just not something that we have. I have always thought that the hair your men grow on their faces looks rather awful. I have often wanted to ask your Minister if it makes him crazy to feel all of that on his face."

"You mean his moustache?" She giggles. "I wonder about that too."

I touch my own face and then bring some of my long hair across to see what it might feel like, "Ah.. No I would not like it." I brush my hair away again, "Forgive me, I am glad I am not more like a human even if for just this one thing!"

"I keep forgetting you're human too... Can I ask you something that might sound horribly racist? I hope it won't, but I don't know."

"Please do." I lift her legs from their resting place and move back on the comfortable sofa, placing her legs across my own and a pillow beneath her wounded leg.

"Umm... You don't have the ridge on your forehead that I see a lot of your people have... Is that because you are part human?"

"Only the southerners have the ridge. And then only the fully southern. I have never seen a mixed southern and northern have a ridge. It is commonly accepted that this is a more ancient feature of our people and is genetically weaker than the northern look. What was true for these mixes has also been true for humans or other races when mixed with either northern or southern. We all lack the ridge. So yes, it is because I am human, but that is not the only reason we might lack a ridge."

"I see. There are more human mixes than just you?"

"A good number. I find out about more of them as the days go past. The children have been hidden for fear that they might be destroyed. Bit by bit they come forward as the families realize that I support them for I am mixed as well and no longer so angry about my human component. They are now fully made citizens of the empire with all rights and benefits." I note her look of surprise.

"Thank you. I hope I didn't offend you."

"Not at all. You do not ask out of hatred for my people, just out of curiosity... Are you ready to be read to?"


She handed over her chosen text and snuggled back into the pillows to enjoy her entertainment which I gladly provide her. In the course of only a chapter I notice that her breathing has changed. She has fallen asleep quite comfortably in her nest of pillows. She has come to great trust of me to sleep so deeply in my presence. I am glad that this trust is warranted. I sigh and stop my reading, laying the open book across one of my legs beside hers. My own back settles into the cushions and I gaze upon her sleeping form.

"May your sleeping and dreaming be as calming and beautiful to you as your waking life is to me." I tell her and then begin to drowse myself.

When I wake I feel my hand being held by both of hers. She has curled onto her side toward the back of the sofa and there are tears on her cheeks, her eyes are squeezed shut.

"Princess... Are you alright?" I ask her gently.

She nods weakly, "I'm fine." She sniffles.

"You do not look it. Is the pain medicine wearing off?"

"No... I'm really okay."

I shift slightly and stroke the tears from her cheek. "Why the tears?"

"Just... Well... So much has happened to me. I guess I'm just taking it all in now."

"Ahh... Come and sit yourself up." I help her to rearrange herself, "You have come a long way... But you are home now. You are safe." I assure.

"I know." She sniffles again. She can hardly look at me.

I move her legs gently and rise from the sofa, going to bring her a fresh glass of water, which she accepted gratefully and gulped at for a while.

"You will be fine." I assure once more.

"I know." She said again and sighed deeply, staring at the carpeting in her room.

"Coming close to death can cause a great deal of... Nnnh... Inside thought. It can change a person."

She nodded and looked back to me, "Have you ever come close to death?"

"Too many times to mention." I smile for her.


"Oh yes."


"The last time I was seriously close to that was long ago. Keep in mind I have been fighting on the front lines of our conflict and many others for most of my life. I have been shot at, attacked quite frequently in flight and face to face. I have crashed a cruiser almost as badly as you did your shuttle. I have had to fight for my position with others who sought a challenge. I have had to prove myself to my people over and over. My own father enjoyed trying to put me to death. When we closed the borders, you could see the gaping holes in the side of the Castle Galrea."

"Oh yes. With all of the smoke pouring out."

"One of my father's parting gifts to me. Even in death he was trying to take me there with him. All through the royal halls of Galrea there were traps. I had to have it all closed off... Let me show you something that I think I may share with the rest of your people now that they know my father is no more."

Up again and gathering my katsuna, then returning to her. She seems to enjoy hearing my secrets. I enjoy being so close to her in telling them and so I sit beside her, my arm about her back and hand reaching her far arm as I find the images of the rebuilt Galrea. She leans into me comfortably and watches.

"What is that place?" She asked, seeing the images go flicking by of the massive and intricate structure that has replaced the ugliness that was my father's castle. A master work of so many great minds.

"Galrea. The Eastern port." I say simply and watch her eyes grow large.

"How can that be?"

"I destroyed the old castle that my father built along with most of the surrounding structures... And this was put up in its place. What do you think of it?"

"It's amazing..." She kept her eyes glued to the changing images.

"I will show you one of my favorite things... Hnnn..." I bring up the image menu and search, "There..." I show her video of the destruction of the old castle. Her expression is of shock and I am pleased. Another angle shows my craft hovering before the massive structure, "That was myself setting in motion the chain of explosives that we had placed throughout the castle."

"My God, you have been busy beyond even what I imagined."

"I have at that... Do not share this information quite yet."

"I won't."

I feel a great joy as she nestles closer to me and watches the flames that lick up from the destructive force of the explosives. Gods she is beautiful and her hair smells of sweetness so close to my nose. Such a calm washes over me beside her. Before we can talk further of Galrea and all I wish to tell her of the rebuilding there is a knock at her chamber door.

"It seems that our peace is at an end. Rest yourself. I will answer on your behalf." I click the Katsuna shut and rise up to go to the door, slipping it into my pocket and equipping my sword again just in case... I look over my shoulder and see my Princess with a look of disappointment on her face. Perhaps she is as unhappy with this interruption as I am. I wonder if she really wants me to answer and raise an eyebrow in her direction as I come to the doors.

She nods to me and so I carry out my task for her. Behind the doors the Minister and her nanny have arrived again along with one of the doctors. Her nanny gives me quite the glare and turns her nose up at me before carrying on into the room after the other two who had come to visit. I smirk at her, amused more than annoyed, and wander back over toward my wounded Princess. The doctor just wanted to check up on her and departed shortly, making a wide arc around me on his way out. Her nanny fussed about her rooms, tidying furiously but mostly just wanting to stick around to keep an angry eye on me it seems.

The Minister is the only one who seems to have a more pressing reason for being here with us. He has brought her a bag filled with letters. Apparently the children and people of her world had been missing her and were sending 'get well' notes to her even while she was still on Kyerst. He had been saving them for her to read when she came home again.

"I'm afraid, your highness, that I may have overstepped my boundaries." He said to me after delivering the bag of notes.

"How so?"

"I have had a conversation with the Alliance Central Command today... And I mentioned that you had returned our Princess and that your father had passed... They are quite interested in speaking to you. I should not have told them." He bowed slightly.

Though Shilne has already informed me of this, I do my best not to be agitated with him for he was simply doing his job. At least he is man enough to identify and admit to his error.

"No matter. Do not concern yourself. I should not have been so quick to let my mouth move. It is my own fault. However, I am on vacation time now and do not feel inclined to speak to your Alliance. Perhaps if I feel in the need of some amusement."

"Understood." He nodded. "Princess... Now that you are home again, I know you will need to rest but there is much work to be done. Do you think you might be able to sit with me for a while tomorrow to try to get to some of it?"

"I will do my best. I tend to keep falling asleep though. It's the medication. Please do not take it personally if I do start to snore." She smiles.

"Of course not." He smiled back and his eyes watch me as I wander off onto the balcony to give them some privacy.

Eventually the Minister managed to bring her angry nanny away again and the Princess comes limping out to find me on the balcony, where I sit smoking and looking out upon her world. It is a beautiful place. I have always thought so. Its near sub-tropical climate reminds me of parts of Forth.

"They've left us alone again." She mentions.

"Peace once more." I turn toward her and smile, "They are not sure if they should be happy that you are home or angry that you have brought me along. Your Minister is being quite cordial however."

"I'm sorry that they're not all being friendly... But you must admit they have a pretty good reason to be angry with you." She laces her fingers together and I can see that she has tried very hard not to be too stern in her tone.

"I agree." I nod and draw on the smoke again, enjoying the way it opens my lungs, "I am not taking issue with it. Just being amused."

"You are so much calmer than ever I remember." She sighs and comes to the stone railing, laying her hands there on the sun warmed surface.

"I am indeed." I watch her as she watches the horizon, the breeze lifting her golden hair from her shoulders.

"What do you think when you look out across this landscape?" She asks, "Do you see a land yet to be conquered?"

"Princess... You seem to think I might be of a mind to come back with my forces again. I am not, as I have said to you before. That has not changed... This is your world. I will not attempt to take it from you. I will defend your right to it, for fact."

"Oh?" She looks toward me now, "Are you sure?"

"You have been listening to your nanny too much." I chuckle, "Believe my words to you. I will not bring my troops here to take your world from you. If any other forces should come I would gladly assist your people in defending this world for you. Do you have other questions to this end?"

She simply looks at me, thinking. "I trust you." She says at last. "I'm sorry for questioning you about this again. I have been listening to other people's worries... I've been with you for a while now and I know you have changed... But it's hard to feel differently after so long."

"Of course... Now that the initial trauma is over from your pains, now that you are safe at home... It seems that you and I are coming to find more familiarity. I have changed and circumstances have changed over the years but you do not know that completely yet. I can only say that you should believe what your heart tells you, not what your fear does." I offer her old advice that I had been given.

She nods, "You're right."

"Let us have another walk for you."

She smiles now, "I would like that even if my leg wouldn't."

"Lead me where you will, lumpy."

She laughs a little and off we go. She directs us toward the fields beyond the castle and I carry her part of the way for the terrain is rough. Again she settles against me quite comfortably and I find a little bliss in this. The quiet and her closeness here on this far world. Eventually she has me stop and I set her down again, watching her go over to the rows of strange plants and having a look at them. They are looking rather poorly at least in my estimation—a bit brown and tired looking.

"What is this?" I ask as I join her.

"Corn." She said, "A vegetable." She pulled a bit of it off the stalk, pulling back the outside to show me what is inside, "The little yellow bits are edible. It's used in many things."

I take it from her, examining it and picking a piece of the yellow stuff off and chewing on it. She giggles at the face I make from the taste, "This is horrible." I conclude. "And you say you eat this often?"

"It doesn't taste like that when you cook it! You're not supposed to eat it raw."

"You might have told me."

"I didn't think you'd just start gnawing on it." She covers her mouth with both hands, trying to prevent herself from laughing at me more.

"Keep laughing, Princess. I will not be making any trade with you for this naranai. It is awful." I give it back to her.

"Naranai..." She said, "A bad word?"

"It is descriptive of something not pleasant."

"Well, they don't do very well growing here."

"More human crops." I frown.

"Yes... So?"

"I will offend you again, Princess." My frown turns to a smile at the irony, "Your people are going to die from ego."

"What? Ego? Goodness, but that's the pot calling the kettle black."

I tilt my head as it tries to absorb the allusion she has made. Sea calling the sky blue...

"What I mean is that your people came here and looked at the land and said... Hnnn... Look at all of this native vegetation doing so well here. What shall we do with this fine and fertile land? Let us ruin it by planting things that come from Earth. Surely this alien land will accept our wonderful plants!"

"Such sarcasm." She clicks her tongue.

"You see? I did offend you." I smirk again. "But it is the truth. Your plants are not right for this soil. Why not plant things that the soil will like? Because then you would have to eat alien foods. How horrible! Yet you have enjoyed ucho. Yes?"

"I don't know why it's so difficult for them to grow here though. Shouldn't fertile soil take to any plant?"

"No... Come here and I will teach you something."

I carry on down the dirt road toward the fenced area where some strange beasts are being contained. They look at me as I approach with as much surprise as I feel at their appearance. She is hobbling along to catch up with me.

"What are these ugly things?"

"Cows. They give milk and meat. Your favorite thing." She leans on one of the rails of the fence.

"Ahhll... They are very ugly things... Forgetting that for the time... Look at what they are doing."

"Grazing. Eating grass."

"And it is grass that is not doing well... Look over there... Those cows are pushing their necks far between the fencing to get to that grass that is doing well. The cows know what is good. They can tell that the native grasses are healthy and good for them. They would rather have the native grasses than the Earth grass you people put in their own confinement for them to eat. Your cows are smarter than you."

She went over to the tall grass—the wide, purple and green leaves of it—then pulled out a handful and went over to the fence. The cows started to come over to her, reaching for the odd grass hungrily even though there was a patch of planted Earth grass just inside the fence. They preferred the alien grass indeed.

"It's healthier itself and they know it's better for them." She muses, looking back to me as the last of the grass was eaten. She sighed with exasperation at my proud look for having been correct. "You're right. I hate to make your ego bigger... But you're right."

"Ahht! Handsome and intelligent both!" I grin, "Stop working so hard at planting your human vegetation. You will be well rewarded."

"Why are you so smart when it comes to plants?" She asks.

"I am not. I have very smart scientists that explain these things to me in small simple words that I then explain them to you with." I smile and she laughs, "We have been farming alien worlds far longer than your people. We have learned many things over the cycles." I look at the cows again.

She leans over and takes one of them by the harness, tugging until it came closer, "Go ahead and touch it. They don't bite."

"Hnnn." While I am curious about the ugly things I am not so sure of their disposition.

"Oh come on." She presses.

I give in and touch the animal. "Strange thing..." It is not very happy about being touched by me for its eyes are wide so I remove my hand. It is a plant-eating prey animal, and it is very aware that I am a meat-eating predator even though it has never smelled my scent before, "They stink. You say these are good to eat?"

"Yes. Better than corn in your opinion."

"Eating a rock is better."

"Very funny."

I pull up more grass and offer it to the beast in compensation for my worrying it. It does not hesitate to take it from me despite my strange scent and appearance.

"I have had scientists evaluate the soil here." I state and continue to pull up grass for them. A flock of them are gathering now.

"Have you?" She says with surprise.

"Some time ago, yes." I clap my hands to get rid of the last of the grass, making the cows jump now, "A long while ago when I thought that this world would be mine. I can tell you everything you need to know about the soil here."

"You were curious about your new property, hmm?"

I turn back to her, away from the strange beasts and find that her tone matches her expression, "You may stop glaring at me, Princess. My curiosity will now turn to your benefit."


"I will share all the information that I have gained with you."

"Very kind of you." She is still irritated with me.

"It is... I would like to see you succeed here. And since we are trading, I will show you my good faith by giving you some information."

"All of this for carrots." She smiles again at last, leaning on the fence and watching the sun begin to sink in the sky.

"They are good. I will give you much information just for the promise you will never try to give my people corn."

"I won't promise that. You might like it if it's cooked right."

We stay there and watch the sun go down in bright red brilliance, then I bring her back to the castle for her late meal. Again the conversation is enjoyable and we both learn more of one another. She changes into more comfortable clothing for her evening's visit by the doctor. He compliments her for walking about then departs. My Princess looks up at me expectantly from her seat on the sofa.

"Yes?" I laugh.

"Will you read to me more?" She smiles brightly.

"Yes I will." Soon she is drowsing again from the medication, "Princess..."


"You should be in your bed."

"Okay." She snuggled into the sofa cushions instead.

"Bed, not sofa." I get up, lifting her into my arms and carrying her to her room, setting her on her bed which already has the covers pulled back, ready to receive her.

"I have to take you to your room though." She protests—her eyes not listening to her command to stay open.

"If you do not mind I will sleep on the sofa in the other room. I am not quite comfortable with going off on my own in this place."

"Okay." She sighs comfortably as I pull the covers about her.

"Sleep well, beautiful Princess." I say softly then leave her room, the doors closing behind me and leaving me alone in her castle.

If only I could climb into her bed with her and wrap myself around her, feeling her warmth beside me. It is my dream to be beside her always, even in sleeping. I wander to her balcony and stretch in the moonlight, yawning, then sit on the stone railing, taking out another smoke and lighting it. How odd to be here as a guest instead of an invader. I am welcome to sit on this rail and enjoy the night scene. I look back into her rooms, amazed by this view now that I think on it. I have never had the opportunity to take in the details of her room before this. My visits were very... Rushed before.

I smile to myself thinking how things have turned. She is sleeping within strides of me and feels safe. Her world need not fear our invasion. I am patient with her foolish young guards to some extent... I think of the weight of her in my arms as I carried her to her bed. So wonderful.

"Be my wife..." I say to the air. One day I hope to say these words to her.

Perhaps I should tell her that I am no longer betrothed. Perhaps then the affection she seems to be growing will blossom. Perhaps she will just think I had lied to her in order to make her feel more relaxed. Perhaps she will just be furious. Perhaps I should leave well enough alone!

It is a good sign for me though that I feel no urge toward making her uncomfortable by pressing my luck with her affections. I have been a fairly decent guest if I do say so myself. I have vexed her with the truths I have spoken of her planet and other things. She has forgiven me though. Her trusting nature always wins over her anger, it seems.

"I think I would make a good husband for her."

What will I do to bring that to pass? Hanta believes I should let her come to me, not to push. How long will that take? I have not even been here for a full day and already she is familiar enough with me to do more than hold to my hand... I remember the feeling of her fingers stroking my palm... Wonderful.

"Just let things happen." I tell myself, "You force nothing and still she is growing closer... Do not ruin this chance for your happiness, fool..."

I can feel the rumblings of darkness in the distance and push back at it before it comes forward much more.

"No. Not this time." I grumble and finish my smoke then go inside and enjoy the curiosity of the bathing area fixtures, managing to clean myself a little before settling on her sofa. I look about the room, taking in the details of it, enjoying the feeling of being in this place that is her home. It is quite pretty, yet not overly feminine. Her nanny has done great works with cleaning everything. I cannot smell a bit of dust. I can smell traces of her lingering in the air however. I enjoy this thoroughly as I lay myself out on her sofa and fall to sleeping quite comfortably. It is almost as good as sleeping beside her... Or so I fool myself into imagining for the time being.

On to 30