Marking of the Days

by Sincline Koutaishi

Dreaming and Waking to Dreams – The Second Day Dawns

My dreams come deeply again. From the blackness there is warmth now. Her heart is bringing mine to softness that I have not known before. I had known her only as a Princess, as her duty, as her reactions to my poor behavior. Now that I have spent time with her, it is as Shilne had spoken of what he wants in life. To see a woman and feel his heart join with hers, and later to realize that all he had hoped of for a companion and love would be there too. She is everything I have wished for and even more. I am constantly amazed by this—amazed by the way that we can talk to each other so easily despite the past. Amazed that the more I know her the more my love for her grows in all directions. How is it that my heart knew upon first seeing her that she would be so much the one for me?

I wake to the gentle touch of her hand upon mine, coming out of my dreams of such things. She is kneeling beside me where I have been laying upon the sofa in sleep. She smiles a little and my heart swells with love for her.

"Good morning." She whispers, her soft voice welcome in this early morning hour.

"It is." I agree and shift a bit in the cushions, still feeling a blanket of warm emotion upon my mind from my dreams. Her golden hair is down and falling over her little shoulders, aglow in the narrow stream of sunlight that is invading the room through a break in the curtains. So beautiful... I take my hand from beneath hers, reaching out and brushing her hair back over her shoulder. "You look to be still half in sleep." I say.

"I am." She nods slightly, coloring from my touching her.


I find myself moving back into the sofa further, inviting her to lie beside me. Very forward of me, but I so want to feel her warmth as we both fall back to sleeping for a time. She looks upon me in a way that tells me that she wants to do as I ask but is worried. Only a moment of hesitation from her and then she climbs onto the sofa, settling her back against me. I manage to overcome my surprise—as I am still tired—and bring her a pillow for her head. She rests there beside me rather stiffly as I bring my arm over her to keep her from falling off the sofa. Gods I wish she could let herself be completely relaxed with me yet appreciate that she has been so bold as to lay here with me. I hear her swallow rather loudly from her nerves. I am not sure of what to do. Should I tell her to go and relieve her tension? I cannot bear to have her go now. She feels so wonderful beside me despite her worry.

A yawn takes me from my concerns suddenly. I am still tired and want to be sleeping, "Sleep." I murmur to her, settling my own head back into a pillow.

I feel the tension leave her almost immediately. She sighs and shifts a little, her beautiful eyes fading shut. Soon she is sleeping beside me and I am almost asleep as well. This is what I want of my life. Every night to come to her side and feel her breathing in sleep beside me. Every day to wake and see the morning light shining in her hair, in her eyes. To take in every moment beside her, to feel joy in her triumphs, to comfort her in her times of sadness, to revel in the bliss of every simple thing that happens for the rest of our lives.

I breathe in her scent as she sleeps beside me so peacefully. I have never forgotten this scent from the very moment I had taken it in for the first time. I feel my mouth open slightly of its own volition and taste her scent upon the roof of my mouth. I want to be for her only, for her to be for me. I make a decision then... To bond myself to her completely. Whether or not she will have me I shall never wish for any other in my life. I know this in every corner of my being. I know that in her heart she feels things growing toward me but they have not yet overcome her fears. One day... One glorious day could she love me?

"Mmmmh." She sighs in her sleep, pushing the pillow away from her head. It falls to the floor as she shifts and turns over. Her head comes to rest upon my upper arm, her face nestles against my chest along with her perfect little hands. I am in awe of her. I love her so much.

"Please Gods, if she will not have me... Make for her a fine husband. One that will love her even if only half of what I do feel for her. One that will care for her even if only half of how I would care for her. For then she will be truly safe. I love you my little one. I will only be for you..." I tremble in her presence and begin to complete my bond to her, feeling that delicious scent becoming part of me forever more. With every breath, I yield to her. With every breath, I am her willing servant. With every breath, I will be only for her.

In this way I pass back into sleep, still taking her in, making my bond with her deeper and deeper.

I wake to the sounds of knocking at her outer chamber door. I sigh as she presses her face closer to me, her brow furrowed from the disturbance.

"Oh, go away." She sighs to the knocker.

I feel so mellowed, the bonding complete. So relaxed to her. I am so happy that I have done this thing.

"Mmh... It is a shame you are such a good person, Princess."

"Huh?" She stretches.

"Everyone wants to see you all of the time." I joke softly and set her free of my arms, yawning and stretching a bit.

"Some times I just wish I could not be a Princess any more." She comments and continues to remain by my side.

"I am glad that you are."

"Really?" She seems surprised and for some reason also quite relaxed though she has woken in an even more compromising position than she fell asleep beside me in. Perhaps my bonding to her has had some effect upon her? No... Things do not work that way.

"Yes." I say simply and gently lift her head from my arm so that I can begin to rise to make my weary way to her door. The knocking is coming again. "Impatient..." I lean over her, and take note of her surprised expression, "Are you sure you would like to see people? I could always go out the window and they would find you sleeping if they came in. Then you could have some time to yourself." My words seem to set her to relaxation again.

"While you're very good at going out my windows from much past experience, I don't think it's necessary right now." She smiles at her joke and I cannot help but return the smile.

"Very well. I will carry out your first command of the day, milady. Letting in your morning company."

"It's not a command." She says as I pick myself up from the comfort of her warmth and the sofa's cushions.


I laugh and carry on to the door, raking my fingers through my hair. There will be no dignity found for me this morning—still wearing what I wore the day before, hair in disarray and clothing creased. I can only hope that the group outside the door does not contain her captain or nanny. I am not in luck on either wish. The group that has been talking amongst themselves about what is taking the Princess so long to come to the door quiets in surprise at seeing my face.

"Good day." I say to them, "Your Princess is half in a nap if you wish to speak with her."

The captain pushes past the rest of them just before I finish my sentence and shoves me back from the door quite harshly, "GET OUT!"

"Saich." I hold my temper, setting my teeth and frowning heartily.

"captain !" She scolds from where she has been sitting herself up, "STOP that! MY God! Apologize right now!"

"What??" He takes a step back from me, looking at her in shock.

"I don't know what you think you're doing! Don't come pushing your way in here and shove people around. Can't I have a moment of peace?"

"He has no business being in here! It's pretty obvious he never left last night. Are you out of your mind, Princess??"

"He what??" Her nanny sorted it out too. "Oh my baby! What did he do to you??" She hurries over to her side as I shake my head.

"Oh, nanny. He didn't do anything to me. I just started falling asleep and didn't have the energy to show him to his room. Strangely enough he wasn't feeling like having a walk alone in my home with so over-protective a group of people keeping watch over my every movement." She scowled at the captain after her sarcastic remark, "He slept out here and I slept in my own bed. Is everyone's curiosity satisfied? Can I please have some quiet?"

"But, Princess..." Her nanny began, "It isn't right for you to have a man staying in your chambers while you are sleeping. You could have called for me to show him to his room."

"I could have but I didn't think it was fair of me to leave him to the care of people who really don't want him to be here. You haven't been very nice to him at all."


"No. Stop. I know you mean well by me and you want everything to appear proper in my life. We've all thought the worst of him over the years, myself included! Do you think I would have let him stay if I had even the slightest concern?" She cast her eyes across them all and then added to their surprise at her tone by bringing up what I had not wanted to think of, "On top of that, it has to look more improper for him. He's engaged to be married to a Princess in the western arm."

Now they turn and look upon me in surprise. I feel sick inside from it, seeing the look on her face upon telling them this. She is not looking as though she is pleased with relaying this news. I should tell her the truth of the matter. Is that the last of what it is that keeps her heart from me? Is it? Is that what I see on her face? Disappointment? What a morning this is...

"You?? You're getting married?" The lieutenant laughs and I growl at him, "Well... There's a surprise. The big M. Who lassoed the playboy of the western arm?"

"The Princess of Tastian." She replies with that same tone.

"Tastian? Where's that?"

"In the far west and north of the western arm." I say flatly, "You would not have heard of it. It is a far kingdom but touches the northwest of the Empire."

"He was on his way to his wedding when I got in the way of his journey." She continues.

"So you're skipping your wedding to be here?"

"No. I was taking time before the wedding ceremony to spend by myself, the last vacation as a... Ehnn... Bachelor I think you say."

"Ahh... You go with your bad-self. A vacation of hookers and strippers." The lieutenant winks and holds his thumb up in an apparent gesture of approval.

"Hookers and strippers? You are a strange creature..."

"No hookers? It's not a bachelor party without hookers."

"Lance... Stop." The captain chastises, "He doesn't know what you're babbling about."

It appears that the lieutenant's strange sense of humor is lost on his captain as much as his words are lost on me. It pleases me temporarily to see someone else vex the boy.

"Congratulations are in order." The Minister bows cordially to me.

"It is duty." I say.

"Whatever..." The captain approaches me and stares up at me with strange dark, angry eyes. "You... Are not staying in her room again." He shoves me back once again.

"You are pressing your luck, boy." I snarl, "I may be a guest that you do not appreciate but I am a guest here. I am also royalty and high military command... I will defend myself if you lay your hand on me again."

"Fine... Maybe I'll just shoot you instead."

"Try it..."

My fist tightens. He goes for his weapon and I let it fly, knocking him to the ground as her nanny shrieks. His hand weapon is airborne for a moment before he hits the floor and I snatch it.

"Please stop."

Her voice comes to me over the noise and stills me from causing him further harm. My bonding with her has been deep and recent so I do not resist her desire to have her captain safe. Another thing comes of this... I remember my mother's voice easily staying my father's hand from killing Maienshin so long ago. Had he bonded with her?

I go to her side and give her the weapon I have taken from him, ignoring him as he picks himself up. The lieutenant grabs his arm before he can come at me again.

"Forgive me." I bow my head to her as she takes the weapon from my hand.

"You horrible, horrible monster!!" Her nanny shrieks and goes to see to the captain 's health. He brushes her off, glaring at me.

"Enough of this." The Princess shakes her head, "This is not how I wanted to start the morning. He has every right to defend himself from you, Kirin. Stop being so rude. I know you're angry from all sorts of past things, but stop it. If you don't have a reason to be here, please leave. Everyone!"

The captain and lieutenant depart and her nanny stands beside the Minister looking angry.

"I simply wished to know what you would like for your breakfast, Princess. Will you be dining in your room? Or in the main hall?"

"Under the circumstances, I think I will be dining in my room. Please bring us something nice. I feel half starved." She smiles again, her little attempt at anger fading quickly.

"Of course." She bows away.

"And I am here to remind you of your promise to do a bit of work today. Or at least try to."

"All right. Thank you." She nods. "Will you give this back to Kirin when he calms down a bit?" She offers him the weapon I have confiscated.

"Of course." He smiles and takes it from her, "Enjoy your breakfast." He bows away as well.

"Well... Such a dramatic morning!" She sighs, "I am so sorry. I feel like I am wearing out my tongue with apologizing for other people's behavior."

I shrug, "It is a shame that they cannot have forgotten my past completely... Yet it is understandable. Forgive my urging on his hostility."

"It seems to be just what you do and it seems that he is all too eager to give you a reason to punch him." She sighed and got up slowly, "Owie..."

"Leg aching?"

"Not so much... My other leg has pins and needles." She laughed, "Isn't that funny?"

"Pins and needles?"

"It fell asleep."

"Your leg can sleep?" I raise an eyebrow.

"It's just an expression... It means that I must have been laying on my leg funny and the circulation got cut off."

"How odd."

"That doesn't happen to you?"


"Lucky! If you'll excuse me I am going to take a little shower."

"Of course." I laugh as I watch her walk away, favoring both legs.

"Ohhhh... You won't be laughing so hard when I limp over there and punch you!" She grins.

"Excuse me... I cannot help but laugh." I avert my eyes while she carries on to her wash room.

Once again I find myself on the balcony smoking, amazed by the emotional highs and lows of all kinds that are coming to me. It is worth the lows and hostility I have received for those moments in sleep beside her. She returns to me smelling wonderful and apparently feeling quite happy about being freshly cleaned.

"What are you doing?" She asks.

"Enjoying the view and smoke." I smile, "You smell wonderful."

"Thank you. I feel wonderful. My leg isn't throbbing this morning, my side isn't completely sore. It's nice."

"I am glad to hear you are feeling better." I reach out and stroke her cheek, surprised at myself and surprised more when she doesn't pull away. "It is quite an accomplishment that you feel well so soon considering the wreckage I pulled you from." I let my hand drop.

"I know. I give all the credit to the doctors you brought me to. They were wonderful... And to you for bringing me to them."

I nod and hear the door open as our gaze locks together, "Your nanny is here." I whisper and smile.

"Ooohh... Stay here." She giggles and goes back inside to see to her nanny. Soon I hear the door close, "You can come in now! It's safe!" And another giggle.

I wander inside to see she is already sitting to her morning meal and waiting for me. I join her and find great peace in our conversation. She allows my use of her bathing facilities afterward and is entertained by my clothing again.

"And now I will make you regret my being here." I say.


"Yes... It is time for some walking."

"So soon?"

"Yes. Do not argue with me for I have ways of making you walk that you do not want to know of."

"Maybe Kirin is right... You are a monster." She smiles and takes my arm.

"Finally you know the truth. Where shall we walk?"

"You pick. I'll let your curiosity be our guide."

"Very well!"

I take her about the castle halls for a while, having only seen most of it through scans that have generated floor plans. We come to the throne room and I stop there.

"That is your throne, nnh?"

"Yes. Such as it is."

"What do you mean with that comment?"

"It's broken."

I let her arm drop from mine and go over to it. It is indeed in poor shape, "What happened to it?"

"Ummm... Another parting gift from your troops."

"Ahhllll... I am sorry." I crouch down and look at the broken wood.

"I suppose it's just part of war." She sighs and joins me.

"Did you like it? Did you enjoy sitting here?"

She shrugs, "Not really... It just reminded me of my father and being left to rule when I didn't feel ready. I am not a good ruler. A chair won't make me better or worse at it."

"True... But it is part of the ceremony of title."

"Do you have a throne?"

I smirk, "The throne of the empire is in a museum."

"Is it?"

I look up to her shocked expression, "Yes... I tried to set fire to it but the members of the Ministry of Heritage caught me at it and rescued the thing before I could find something to adequately light it. So now it is safe from me in a museum."

"You tried to burn it??"

"I tried very hard!" I stand again, "It is not a throne that makes me King or Emperor. It is what I do. And so now the throne is any chair upon which I settle myself. I will have yours repaired if you will allow it, for your rule would do well with the symbolism and ceremony. It may help to bolster your ego for the task."

"Ego..." She purses her lips, "I'm not so sure it's ego. It's just confidence."

"It takes time to learn to make your way. Even now I do still work hard to find the best way to rule. The confidence will come to you... I have spent much time over the last two cycles facing the things that I have done both bad and good. I would like to mend this one thing if I may, for I am certain that while my hands did not do this, my will brought it about. May I have it repaired? Or replaced? Perhaps with a different throne you will not think so much of your father and such as you will think of the courage that you have had to come to a place where you are standing beside me instead of facing me in anger or fear. You may be reminded of your own successes."

She nods, "That would be nice... Perhaps it's time for this to be in a museum too." She takes my arm again and hugs a little, "Thank you."

"It is no large thing." I sigh and look down upon her with affection. I want for her to come to her own in her ruling. Would that I could give her some of my own confidence. "It will all come to you." I say softly.


"Come... Let us keep you moving."


She has gone quiet, full of her thoughts and I decide not to disturb them—allow her to work through them herself. As we pass down the halls together her expression calms and her smile comes back. She is a sweet thing and never seems to remain in dark thoughts or anger for long. Perhaps I could trade some of my confidence for some of that.

At last my curiosity leads us to another of the castle's balconies and a different view of her world. She smiles more and more here in this sunny place and hugs my arm again.

"I am glad to see you so happy."

"Do you know why I'm happy?" She asks, turning her smile up to me.

"From the bright day?"

"That is nice, yes. But not that."

"Because you are home?"

"That is nice too, but no."

"Because you are holding to the arm of a very handsome man?" I smirk.

She crosses her eyes at my ego, causing me to laugh at her.

"I am smiling because I am going to be able to trade corn with you."

"What?? Never." I scoff.

"Well... You ate an awful lot of it this morning." She nods, "And you seemed to like it."

"Ehnn? I did not..."

"You did so."

"How? I did not see any of that horrible thing."

"What you thought was bits of bread." She explains, "Corn muffins. Ha! You kept eating them with no complaints."

"You fool with me." They didn't taste at all like that foul stuff.

"No. You like corn."

"May the Gods help me. I have been proven wrong by a human." I shake my head.

"It'll probably happen again." She warns me.

"Perhaps." I turn toward her and look to her softly, "I do not mind it so much."


Our moment is defeated by the Minister's arrival. She releases my arm and both of us turn toward his approach. He bows to us most apologetically.

"Excuse the intrusion."

"What can we do for you, Minister?"

"Rather what the King can do for us." He said.

"Go on." I am curious what this next challenge might be.

"The Alliance is in contact with us once again. They are asking to speak with you and they are quite insistent. Will you talk to them?"

"If I must." I scowl.

"You don't have to." She says.

"This I know. Perhaps it will serve to entertain. Perhaps you can come to know more of what a horrible creature I am. Who is to say?"

"I don't think that will happen."

"Ahhuu, just wait and see. Lead me to them, Minister."

"Thank you, your highness."


We go to the main communications center of the castle where the Alliance's representatives were waiting not so patiently for audience with me on a view panel. I recognize at least one of the faces there immediately though he is seated in a fashion that lets me know he is not the leader of this group. This could prove to be entertaining after all. I feel a wicked grin come to my face as I stride into their visual range.

"General Yarboro. How unpleasant to see you again."

"We could say the same of you, Prince." One of his comrades offers.

"Naii...King. Emperor!" I laugh, folding my arms over my chest.

"Yes, we had heard your father had passed. Is that true then? Did you kill him for the throne?"

"It is true he is dead. I did not kill him, however I would have gladly done so. He passed of illness likely due to his advanced age. He never should have lived so long as he did. Why are you disturbing my peace? This is my time that you people call vacation. I do not wish to speak of politics and titles."

"We wanted to thank you for returning the Altean Princess to her home."

"You are most welcome. I have already been well thanked. Is that all?"

"No. We also wanted to talk to you about your plans now that you have reemerged."

"I have not so much reemerged, as you put it. I have simply come to the aid of a neighbor in need of help. If not for this incident you would not see me here before you. I had no intention of coming back into your territory. I have no intention of staying in your territory. I remain because I have been invited to."

"You would perhaps consider signing a peace treaty before disappearing into your territory again?"

"You wish to surrender to me?" I chuckle, "Very well! I accept your surrender!"

"I believe you know that we were never implying such a thing." This new general is obviously put off and surprised by my uncommon humor. "Since you are looking for surrender, it seems you consider us still at war."

"I have a joke with you, General. I want nothing of the Alliance. I will simply go back to my home and perhaps begin to conduct some trade with the Alteans."

"The Alteans are part of the Alliance. We will not allow it without a declaration of peace and certain conditions being met by your empire."

"You will not give me conditions, General. My dealings with this world will be through its Princess and Minister only, not through you or any of your agents. Or have you forgotten that they are a sovereign world and not one of your obedient, subservient colonies? You seem to forget this often..."

"While they may be sovereign, they are still under the wing of the Alliance. They will refuse trade as is proper under the circumstances."

"Whatever you care to imagine." I smirk and wave my hand in dismissal, "May that thought keep you warm in your blissful ignorance. If the Princess wishes trade with my people, she will have it."

"What have the Alteans to trade with you?? This is preposterous!!"

Another general laughs. It seems that my old friend Yarboro is keeping out of things as much as possible and his fellows are far less patient. I fix my gaze on this new pink thing that is yelling at me and keep my temper. I have the upper hand in this situation and can afford to antagonize them.

"I know not what 'preposterous' means... The Alteans have things that are of interest to us. Leave it at that."

The lead general now grow a worried look on his face. He seems to be imagining some as yet hidden resource that I am hoping to monopolize upon in beginning to trade with the Alteans.

"I insist you tell us what you intend to take trade of."

"I insist you keep mindful of your own business. This has nothing to do with you!" Gods I am quite enjoying myself in this exchange. It has been a while since last I scrapped with these people. "What is it about you humans? So thirsty for details of everything. It is as though you feel more comforted the more you pry out of people." I shake my head in distaste, "I will be leaving this place in a few days time. Let that thought provide you comfort General, for I will not speak to any of you further of any trade arrangements with the Altean people. If the Princess wants to tell you these things, she will."

"Princess!" The General barked at her and she jumped in the chair she had been sitting in to keep weight off her leg. "Pay attention girl. You will provide us a list of the items you intend to trade and take in from the Empire."

Her look is one of surprise. She doesn't know what to say. I am furious for their treatment of her.

"How dare you speak to her in such a manner?? She is not your dog, man. I will not have it! She is deserving of your respect! Do not make her suffer your stupidity so. Make your apology! Be quick about it!"

"This is none of your business, blue!"

"I will make it my business! Do not press your luck so. I will carry on this conversation with you some other time. Perhaps by then you will learn some honor and respect. I will not let her suffer from your abuse. She has for far too long. I know this for fact." I tighten my glare on the lead General.

"Abuse? This from the man who has tried repeatedly to kidnap her and force marriage upon her? Or are you someone else suddenly?"

"I am someone else. I have learned a few things over the years. I see that you have not. This conversation is at an end. Leave her in peace until you can show some respect. Vao athne!!"

I take out my katsun and use it to close the connection very pointedly then mutter a curse for these rude people.

They will not speak to my love this way... Fools. They will not find themselves feeling so powerful if I send 20 million of my troops to repay them for their idiocy.

I scowl and push back my thoughts of revenge... Aich but I am a fool myself for I have shown these two people that I have a method to control their systems quite easily.

I gather my sense and turn to them both with a bow, "Forgive my temper. Your Generals have a way of bringing forth the worst of me. They have no honor, no respect. Do not worry of their reprisals, Princess. I will take responsibility for irritating them and assure your safety and the safety of your world. If ever you are in need of my troops, they are at your disposal."

She nods, "Thank you." She breathes, her look is one of gratitude strangely enough.

"And so you see that I was right. You have seen more of what a terrible creature I am."

"I don't think you're terrible at all. It was nice to have someone talk to them like they've been talking to us. I wish I didn't feel that way, but I do right now. Minister?"

He nodded, "Certainly not something I would have been bold enough to do... How is it that you can command our communications facilities?" He inquires, an eyebrow arching upward.

"Ahhlll... My apology. We have had the ability to reach your technology for some time. It is how I had contacted you privately to let you know that your Princess was with me and safe. I was impatient to end the discussion and so I took it upon myself." I pocket my katsuna again. "Do you feel you will be in need of defense as a result of my sharp speaking?"

"I am sure they will leave us be, Highness." He said, "They tend to like to bully a bit. But their bark is often worse than their bite."

"I have seen the truth of this myself." I nod, "Please excuse me." I begin to make for the door to leave them alone.

"Wait!" She calls to me and I stop, looking back to her, "I need some help back to my room."

"As you wish, milady." I bow and go to her, "Would you prefer a walk or to be carried?"

"Walk please." She takes my arm and I help her to her feet, "Thank you."

"You need not thank me. I am glad to help you." And slowly we go back to her room, where I settle her onto the sofa again. "I am making trouble for you by remaining." I note.

"No. Please don't feel that way. Things have been difficult with them since my father's death. They had always been asserting themselves with him and did a much better job with intimidating me." I kneel beside her seat. "Stop looking that way."

"Nnh?" I turn my attention to her instead of the carpeting that I have been frowning at.

"You are far too worried over this. Stop."

I sigh and sit myself down on the carpeting now, resting my back against the sofa. "My patience runs short with them even after so many years. And you will bear the consequences of it. I am sorry for that."

I push the hair from the back of my neck and rub a little. I am sore from the sleep on the sofa and my tension over wanting to cause those fools some pain. If only she realized that a few words from her and I would send my troops to Earth to extract a proper apology from them. A few words from her and I would lay the entire galaxy at her feet.

"Really, you don't have to worry. They're likely far more interested in making you bear the consequences of your temper... Is your neck sore?"

"A bit from sleeping on this sofa." I am grateful for her change of topic.

"I'm sorry. I should have gotten up and taken you to your bedroom."

"And who is worrying now? I made my decision and I am glad of it still. I preferred to stay closer to you for my own safety. It is doubtful that they would choose to attack me so close by you. I slept soundly other than waking with this."

"I'm glad then... I could rub your neck for you." She offers to my surprise.

"I would be most grateful for your touch." I look at her sidelong and smile.

She shifts and settles so that I am sitting on the floor before her, rested back on the sofa and between her knees. Such a pleasant feeling!

"I'm not sure if I'm good at this. Please tell me if I am making things worse." Her voice gives away her nervousness at our position and so I attempt to be as relaxed as possible.

"I am certain you will do well."

She brushes my long hair over my left shoulder to get it out of the way then lays her hands on my neck, beginning to try her skills with settling my soreness with her fingers. Wonderful... My eyes fade shut from her attention, my body relaxes from the tension that had come earlier. She does not stop for a long while and I do not try to make her... Her hands eventually stray to my shoulders, not so much rubbing but caressing... I could gladly stay this way forever.

"What is your life like?" She asks quietly, still touching me gently.

"How do you mean?"

"What is it like for you to be at home? What do you do? Do you have friends you spend time with? I want to know what it is like to be you when you are not being so much of a King. I know that you read..."

"Ahht... I see. It is not often that I am not being so much of a King and Emperor. It is very hard work. I know that you understand. I do have my free moments though... I will fill my time with meditations at the temple, wandering in the archives or through the streets of the cities to see what it is like to be a person living under my rule. In the mornings I usually run with the palace guard and then practice combat arts. I take exercise at the academy from time to time and teach the next generation of soldiers how to fight and live with a warrior's honor." Again I take out my katsuna and flick it on, scrolling through the menus, "Here is something for your curiosity."

I find a set of images of Aiyuni and smile a little. She is so lovely.

"Who is that?" She leans forward, bringing her head almost right next to mine.

"She is Aiyuni, my Sianta." I say fondly.

"Do you mean... daughter?" There is such shock in her voice and I laugh.

"No no. I have no children! I am her Sifu... Sifuianai formally... I am not sure if there is a human equivalent. It is a term of respectful association for a non-family member. If her parents should be unable to care for her, if they should die for example, I would be responsible for her care."

"Oh, like a god parent."

"If you would call it that." I nod, "Her parents were in need of some time to themselves and so I offered to see to her care while they went off together on their own. She has me in her little hand, she does. A beautiful and smart girl. She will have many suitors who will have to work hard to make her notice them. And I will take great pride in chasing them off!... Huaa, look at her. She knows that she is a beautiful child. I give her far too much. Her mother often scolds me for giving her toys... It seems that almost everyone that I am familiar with is having children. Since the border was closed, so many children have come."

"Who are her parents?"

"Her father is Ryuaki, a student in justice from a long family line of defenders. Her mother is Laila, a servant in the palace." I flick through a few more images, "There they are. The happy family—husband, wife and child."

I hear her draw in her breath in surprise at the image, "Her mother's human..."

"Indeed. Laila was a slave taken from Mycenea to Galrea. Ryu and she apparently fell in love very quickly. They did not even speak the same language and yet they came together and created such a deep bond... It amazes me to this day that they still have trouble talking to one another yet they can communicate in so many silent ways. In fact she came back from their time away with another child inside of her. Ryu is a proud husband and father."

"But...he married a slave?"

"Laila is not a slave." I say emphatically, "All of the slaves were freed as part of my taking the throne. I could not return your people to their old homes, but I did my best to give them new ones. It has caused some problems, but nothing that has not settled bit by bit... I am so fond of this child. I am always glad to see to her care."

"You really did that? You freed all of the slaves?"

"Yes... I have a way of surprising you." I smile proudly.

"You do!"

More images go past our eyes. There is one of myself with little Ai sleeping in my arms, her mother leaning against me and looking upon her daughter with a smile.

"She's so happy." She noted of Laila.

"She has a wonderful child and a husband who cares for her deeply, another child on the way, a good home, and a deep love for Ryuaki that has passed by their language barrier. He is an ambitious young man and has already built himself a fine reputation in his field. They will have great success."

"Is this different from how that young woman I met on Kyerst lives? Do the people of your home world treat them strangely?" She asks, resting her chin on my shoulder to my delight. I turn my head slightly and rest it against hers, so enjoying this closeness.

"Not so much as you might imagine. It is more difficult at home where there has been a constant slave population during the war but even so... Aiyuni has been a great ambassador for them with her smiles and confident nature. I like to think she has absorbed her Sifu's fearlessness." I sigh, "She has actually been an ambassador for me."


"She has a way of sneaking into my rooms even when I am in the midst of trade negotiations. I was having problems with one group of merchants from Mekaroli and she chose that time to come and sneak in and attach herself to my leg. They seemed to expect me to scold her quite harshly but I lifted her onto my knee and carried on talking to them while she settled herself in and started to nap. Seeing that won their confidence as apparently children are very important in their culture."

"How old is she?"

"Just over a cycle."

"No... She's so big! She looks like she's at least three."

"Our children grow quickly in their first seasons. She has not taken much to speaking through. When she does, she speaks such a combination of human and northern and southern that neither of her parents seems to fully understand her. She simply uses whatever words she has learned from each language to make a sentence. It is rather humorous."

"She really does have you wrapped around her little finger."

"What an odd thing to say." I laugh at her strange allusion.

"How did you come to be her Sifu?"

"I will keep the story short as possible. Laila was a slave of Galrea who I managed to scare senseless in the days after the death of my father. I only asked her a question and frightened her beyond knowing. After I freed the slaves she found a bit more courage with me and I came to know her as she continued to serve in the Castle before its destruction. She decided that she wanted to continue in my service instead of going to one of the former slave colonies. That is how she met Ryuaki and he followed her about trying to get her attention and give her flowers. Of course I threatened him..."

"Of course." She laughed.

"I had started to feel as though she were my daughter! Of course I would threaten her suitor. Someone needed to. Yet Ryu persisted and she was happy with it and married him when he asked me to ask her on his behalf. It did not take long for Aiyuni to be coming along. It falls to the mother to select the Sifu or Siecha for her child and Laila chose myself."

"It is so wonderful that you have found peace with humans in some way."

"Nnh... Aiyuni makes me think of what my life might have been as a child with better parenting."

"How many humans live in the Empire?"

I think of my answer for a while and click the katsuna shut, "Many. I could not tell you how many. As our numbers have increased so have your people been having children."

"It all sounds very happy."

"It has not been easy. I have done what I can to assist in calming things but still there are many corners that are not happy with freed humans and probably never will be."

"I can imagine... But you are a rather determined type, aren't you?"

"I am." I agree with another sigh, so relaxed in this closeness, "I have enjoyed my time with you..."

"Me too." I hear her sigh now, "I love to listen to you telling me stories about your real life."

"I enjoy sharing these things with you."

There we stay with her head rested against mine, she leaning forward on the sofa where she holds my body between her knees. Her arms go over my shoulders and her fingers lace together to be joined by mine.

By Gods, I love this woman. I know that I must not remain on her world too much longer but it is so hard to think of leaving her side. What will I do? Should I go on to Vidon and try to keep my mind on relaxation? Then return to my own home and see what will come of things? Ask her perhaps to join me on Forth for a visit? Perhaps that would be a good thing... To then confess to her that I had ended my arranged marriage... That I could not have any other when I love her so much. Would she see my heart or would she see deception? With her closeness now I believe she would see my heart.

"There is so much I could give to you... You would never want for anything again in your life. You would never fear for your safety or that of your people for I would see to the defense of your territory. Anything you asked of me I would do for you. But would your people allow our marriage? What would the Alliance think of it? My own people? All of them be damned... If she loves me, if she will have me, then no one else matters."

"Did you give that to me?" She asks me softly.

"Hhh?" I come out of my quiet thoughtful state, my eyes opening half way.

"That plant. Do you see it?"

"Yes I do." I nod and regard it with some pleasure to see that it has grown since I had sent it to her. I hadn't even noticed it in the room.

"Did you? It came here without a tag on my 18th birthday and I always wondered-"

"Yosuka. Uinukaru." I say the words written inside the pot. "I wanted to find you something you would enjoy. I did not know it was an important year for a human until I read the news feeds. While it was not the jewels and finery you were receiving from other kingdoms, I thought you might like it for you could care for it and watch it grow."

"I did like it. I didn't like the gold and jewels and all of that. That sort of thing just made me feel sad because I didn't want it, and I couldn't turn it to something that my people could benefit from. Those gifts just made me feel horribly guilty and well... Reminded me that no one really knew me behind those gifts... Yours was the best gift I had ever gotten. Thank you so much."

Again I find myself sighing, "Owan, Princess. I am happy to know you were so pleased with it. From the looks of it you have been tending to it well."

"I try. It has been a lot of trial and error to figure out what it likes best. The better I take care of it the more flowers come so I do my best... I'm always amazed by the flowers it makes—all of the different colors. Every one is like a new gift."

"They grow in the gardens of one of the homes I keep and they do rather make me think of you."

"Really? Why?" She turns her head to look at my expression as I smile a little.

"Many reasons." I and stroke her hands where they are still laced against my chest.

"Are you going to tell me?"

"Perhaps." I smirk at her frustration.


I gently pull her hands apart and turn around, looking up at her, "Some day."

"Are you worried I'll be offended or something?"

"No." I laugh quietly. "If I were to tell you everything you would have nothing to wonder about me."

"Hmmph." She rolls her eyes, "Well you missed my last birthday." She accuses mockingly.

"I did not." I retort.

"Oh?... I didn't see anything come that seemed like it was from you." Now she is just looking surprised.

"I did not send anything. Rather I did something in your honor."

"Mmh..." She frowns.

"Take that look off your face, Princess. Not everything I do has the mark of evil about it as so many of your people care to imagine." I lay my hand on her knee and notice her cheeks redden a little.

"So you didn't conquer any planets in my name, I'm hoping."

"Not at all. You would approve I believe."

"Will you tell me what? Or will I have to wait to find out that too?"

"I will tell you this... On a small island on a small planet there once was a temple to our Gods called Chiyor. It was dedicated to the goddess Fao who I have told you a little of. It was very old and the island was at one time connected to the mainland by beautiful bridges. More a series of walkways, I suppose. A very meditative stroll out to the island... Long ago my father had it all torn down, and so near this past anniversary of your birth, the rebuilding of the temple was completed and rededicated to Fao. The bridges and paths were finally restored and reopened as well. The main bridge bears your name, its reconstruction donated by my funds as a tribute to honor your birth."

"Really?" She smiles softly.

"It is truth. I have the images to prove it." I shift aside, moving her knees back together and placing her hands on them, now beside her on the floor, "Perhaps you would have enjoyed gold and jewels more? Have you changed since your 18th birth year?"

"No. Not at all... It's so strange... I never would have imagined you as a spiritual person."

"In the past I have not been. I have been a warrior only. I am learning bit by bit of other parts of myself. I must say, life was easier when all I had to do was conduct the troops in battle. It was a difficult thing to begin to deal with the local governments and civilian population. In the beginning my temper was very short for they all seemed to think I cared what they held as opinion. They did not simply hear and obey my orders. It took adjustment."

"I'm the opposite way. I don't have much experience conducting troops. I keep asking nicely for things instead of telling people what to do. I'm not very good at that at all."

"Your disposition is not a military one." I chuckle, "Never before have I been apologized to in battle. I must say, it threw me off. Perhaps that was part of your plan?"

"No." She blushes, "I didn't want to hurt you."

"You see, that is the problem. You were supposed to want to hurt me. In every corner of you, you should have wanted to see me dead."

"I can't do that." She shakes her head, "As you have pointed out so well... How can you do that? How can you kill someone?"

"It is part of life." I reply simply and take her hand, "You look at another living creature and you do what you can to be just in your actions. If it comes to a place where it is your life or that of another, the decision is very simple. You must do what you can to survive, just as your opponent would. Yet never take life for a small thing."

"What is it like for you? To take a life?" Her blue eyes are wide.

"Ahhll, you do not want to know that."

"Yes I do."

"Nnnhh... Princess... I enjoy it."

"Enjoy it?"

"Yes. I have taken great pride in my kill record. I do not kill another creature with no reason, just for sport. I am not this way that you see me now when that happens, as you well know from facing me in combat before...On another matter, I am also very proud of the record I have for keeping my troops alive."

She nods, looking at my hand now as it holds hers. She strokes the scar on the back of my hand with her fingers—this scar that I gladly wear for my defense of her.

"What is this scar from?"

I am glad to tell her, "That was from a man named Namden. He was my father's Highest Commander. When his troops returned from Altea to Galrea to meet mine in combat, I sought him out to face him myself. I wanted his life. I wanted to feel the heat of his blood on my hand and to see his eyes become hollow. I hated everything he was. When I found him I fought him fiercely. This wound is from his sword when in my fury I blocked one of his strikes with my own fist in order to land a far more harsh blow upon his body."

"My god..." She gasps.

"I am being too detailed. Forgive me."

"No... I'm glad you said that. When that happened... I was so angry and terrified and... And I wished that I had someone to fight for me and my people as fiercely as you fought. Thank you for trying to protect us."

I nod, "I will always do my best to do so."

Her tears are rising as the memories of that time seem to come back to her. Her look of pain is unmistakable.

"Princess... Come." I say gently and she comes to my arms easily, settling into my lap where I sit on the floor. My arms surround her and hold her to me as she cries... I want to take this pain from her. Gods, that I could have been swifter and prevented it altogether. Her face presses to my chest, her anguish growing.

"I miss my father." She sobs and I feel her fingers clinging to my shirt.

"I know..."

I hold her more tightly and let her cry herself out little by little. She seems to have been keeping these tears inside of herself for quite a long while and I am blessed that she is able to release them in my presence.


She whimpers in response.

"Let us go to your family resting place and pay respect to your parents. Perhaps that will help to settle your mind."

"I can't." She breathes.

"Perhaps later you will feel differently."

She sniffles, "I am so tired..."

"It has been a long day for you, filled with emotion." I rearrange myself and lift her into my arms, standing, "It is time for you to have some rest."

She does not protest as I carry her to her bed and tuck her in there, smoothing her hair back.

"Thank you." She whispers.


I leave her quietly and in the outer chamber I sigh, my heart aching for her emotional pain. I should have been faster.

"I should have been paying more attention to my father's plotting with the witch... I am a fool... I also should have been faster with rescuing her. Am I always so slow??"

I frown and sit down on her sofa to mull it all over. I suppose that I should not argue with the way that the Gods have decided to arrange my life for even though the road has been difficult it has led me here... To the foot of the path I have dreamed of walking. I fold my arms across my chest and sleep a pilot's sitting-sleep there on her sofa. I will not be slow again. If anyone comes to harm her, I will be ready...

On to 31