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 Sleeping Beauty, Chapter One: The Vow

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Xandra



Posts : 169
Join date : 2010-09-17

PostSubject: Sleeping Beauty, Chapter One: The Vow   Sat Nov 28, 2015 10:49 pm


"In which a child is born, and promises are made.”

****

Once upon time, in a land far away, there stood two glorious kingdoms. To the north lie the ancient Empire of the Star, a kingdom of knowledge, known most for its strides in progress and the resilience of its hard-working people. To the south lie the neighboring Kingdom of the Cross, a realm of music and art, recognized for its fair weather and kind, friendly citizens.

Though each ruled over by a good and powerful leader—the neighboring lands wealthy and prosperous, and having stood side by side since time began—these titanic kingdoms could be no more different. A bitter grudge separated the two, and with it a wall that denied each land’s people the benefit of each other’s strengths. The Cross was a happy and beautiful place, but suffered from lack of discipline and wisdom to better appreciate its arts, and though the Star was strong and diligent in its ways, the monochrome colors of its iron and stone dulled the colors of the world its people so longed for.

Separated by an age-old rivalry that had long since lost its importance, the two powerful lands could grow no stronger. Their people restless from too long divided, tensions boiled on each side of the wall, and talks of war began. One way or another, each wanted to see the other side. There had to be a way, and in spite of the rulers’ attempts to resist it, it seemed that battle was the only way.

It was in these dark times when fate visited their lands, bringing with her a ray of hope in the most peculiar form. It wasn’t through the strength of their swords, the cries of their people, or even the wisdom of their monarchs, but through the gentle hearts of their queens that a promise for peace and happiness was achieved.

Putting aside their lands’ differences, Queen Arianna of the Cross and Empress Daniella of the Star met in the overflowing and tender joy only a mother could know. Afflicted by the threat of war, they both looked into their hearts and knew they didn’t want their progeny to inherit their arms, the same way many others before them had. Because of this, they made a vow to end the conflict, and instead allow their children inherit their peaceful and prosperous lands. To achieve this, the future princess of the Star was betrothed to the young heir of the Cross. Together, they were to unite their kingdoms, not with iron and fire, but with love.

In the end, a pact was the best alternative to conflict, and with children in the house of each family, a war would only cause suffering, and exhaust the resources each kingdom was most proud of. So (without input from either male ruler), the decision was made.

Time passed, and soon, the Empress was pregnant with the first royal heir to the Empire, and preparations were made for a grand coronation, to introduce the future Queen of both lands to her fated King, the child-prince of the Cross. Both lands were abuzz with the excitement of the approaching birth, and with it, the inevitable peace that would follow, cleansing the centuries-old hatred that kept the lands apart. Even the rulers themselves could not help but to become acquainted, for the sake of good sportsmanship, and in anticipation of their new alliance.

And then, the fated day came…and brought with it an unforeseen outcome. The princess that was to save their lands from the suffering and fury of war was not a princess at all—the baby was a boy. This, foreseeably, put a prominent dent in the two houses’ plans. While a princess could only promise peace through an honorable merger, a prince had no better role than leading troops to battle against an enemy. It was an unhappy sign of the future of the two kingdoms.

But, never to be deterred, Empress Daniella merely smiled and accepted her son as graciously as any other mother could, for he was beautiful and of good temperament, and she could not have been more pleased. The Emperor could not deny the slight relief he felt at having a son, for most every man certainly wished for one. Undeterred, no sooner than she had healed from the birth than the Empress continued the preparations for the coronation, and invited both the house of the Cross and all of the allies of both varied kingdoms to attend. Though things had not turned out the way she had hoped, the wise and patient mother had a plan.

And thus, the foreign rulers were welcomed into the lands of the Star with a marvelous celebration, for a birth was a joyous occasion, with no place for hatred and war. The royals of the Cross understood and were not set back by the birth of the prince; the wish for peace remained in both of their hearts, and so the truce remained as it was.

From all over the land, from peasant to lord, Stellacian and Crucian alike, everyone gathered in the great halls of the castle to bid their welcoming wishes to the newborn prince. There wasn’t a single heart that didn’t melt in the sight of the tiny infant. Even the king and queen of the opposing kingdom could not resist him, and wished him well. And though the initial pact could not be fulfilled, a new one was formed when the young heir to the throne of the Cross stood before the heir of the Star.

The baby was fair like his gentle mother, with raven strands of hair curling lightly about his cheeks and brow, quietly resting in his silk-draped bassinet. For all the noise and revelry, for all the attention he had received, he remained comfortably undisturbed, for the world unaware that he was so important.

Watching from the comfort of her throne, Empress Daniella smiled at the curious boy, glancing briefly at her occupied husband, then rising quietly and descending to the cradle. "I see you’ve met the baby,” she said softly, with a gentle smile. Her fingers moved to tuck him in, brushing a curl from his eyes and tapping his nose affectionately. "Not your bride, I’m afraid…but I’m fond of him.” She glanced down at the lingering prince. "Have you introduced yourself yet?”

Caught off guard by the fair queen, the young prince righted himself with a most serious expression. "My name is Prince Sanctus Credo Santori the First!” he announced with learned discipline, bowing down before the Empress. He also wore the most crimson tint on his cheeks. Watching this, his parents smiled; one with proud satisfaction, and the other with warm affection. The little heir was attired in red and golden silk, carrying with himself the symbol of his land around his wrist. He was well-versed in manners and protocol, though his big dark eyes showed how little he understood of the world of adults and his own presence in it.

While the Emperor raised his eyebrow in the background, and some of the gathered guests snickered in good humor, Daniella merely blinked, then giggled as well. Carefully, she adjusted her gown and knelt to the young noble’s level beside the bassinet. Softly, she whispered, "While that was quite impressive…” she gave his shoulder an understanding rub, "I meant to the baby.” At that very moment, from within the cradle came a small coo, and the Empress peered inside. Pale silver eyes peered back. "Oh, good morning,” she said, and turned her patient gaze to the prince. "Here’s your chance now—he’s awake.”

"But…” The prince muted his complaint, not seeing much point in talking to babies, like many boys failed to. Still, ever the proper little gentleman, he stepped forward and leaned over the cradle, his dark eyes meeting those of the other prince.

"Go ahead,” the new mother encouraged, smiling. She glanced briefly to their friends, the boy’s parents, sharing the innocent humor of the moment with them. "Don’t be shy…”

Lying swaddled in the cradle, the baby looked quietly back at him, no doubt just as curious about the new visitor as he was about the baby.

Looking back for a second, Credo eyed the Empress with a slight blush, then looking back at his parents, finding reassurance in his mother’s smile. She and the Empress shared the same kind of smile. "Right,” he made up his mind with a frown, which softened the second he looked back at the baby. "I’m Credo,” he introduced himself in a whisper, feeling that such a tiny person had no need for a grand voice. "…And I’m not going to marry you.”

Hearing the stern proclamation from the heir to the Cross, several paces away, the stoic Emperor finally cracked, and a smile made its way across his narrow face. Empress Daniella took a deep, graceful breath to keep from giggling again. At the very least, the boy was firm in his opinion.

Here, the Queen had to intervene, approaching to save her child from the chuckles that followed. "That might be the case, but you two will be really good friends, right?”

"But he’s a baby,” the young prince argued the obvious, hiding his face nervously for all the attention placed on him.

His mother simply leaned down, brushing his hair from his face, smiling patiently at her son. "That’s why you have to take care of him.”

Though still confused by the gain and loss of a bride, to gain instead a baby boy, Credo nodded obediently, turning to the infant once more. "I’ll look out for you,” he relented, shyly reaching for the baby’s tiny hand, bestowing upon him his own golden wrist chain—an innocent token of their future alliance, sealing their new pact with a small handshake.

Beaming, the Empress rose to her feet, petting the young diplomat’s head in approval. "Such valor,” she said softly, exchanging an amused glance with Queen Arianna. She winked. "How rare.” Above, her husband cleared his throat—a disapproving sound—but she merely smiled, and pressed the too-large bracelet up the baby’s tiny arm. "I do hope that you and he will be good friends,” she said. "Those are also rare.”

While the bigger people were busy with noise-making, the wiggling baby amused himself with the trinket given to him. Intrigued by the gift, he gave his arm a little shake, and the chain jingled quietly in reply, the light from the hall windows reflecting flickers of gold through the silver cradle. He shook it once, and then again, clearly amused by the action.

Daniella smiled, and adjusted the chain again for him. "I think he likes it.”

Indeed, he did—and of all the gifts given, it was the most thoughtful, without pretense or duty. Certainly, the new heir preferred it, and his parents could only approve.

The celebration continued, even as further guests continued to arrive, albeit fashionably late. However, the line of entering nobility was abruptly cut off by a disagreement at the door. While most of the room was unconcerned with the disturbance, the Emperor took quick notice of it. It was rather hard, in fact, to ignore such a spectacle, which was steadily increasing in volume.

The guard at the door stood calmly explaining the situation to the newly-arrived guests. "I’ve just told you,” he was saying, "that you are not on the register—so I can’t let you enter.”

"And I’ve just told you,” said a man dressed in red, "that we were invited.” He was relatively tall, with choppy sable hair and an impatient tone to his voice. It seemed as if he were trying to threaten the armed guard. And he did just that, jabbing a finger into the man’s chest. "So check again.”

He failed to be intimidated. "Do you have your invitation?” the sentry asked, archly.

The crimson-clad man huffed, and turned abruptly to the party with him. It was clear enough that they were a trio, as each of them was dressed in a solid color. Behind him in the foyer stood a petite man in muted blue, and a brutish one in dark green. "Do you have it, Aleksei?”

"I do not,” the smaller man spat. He was golden-haired and pale of complexion, narrow and bird like in his figure and posture. He perched a hand rebelliously on his hip. "I am not your servant, you realize. I’m not obliged to carry your things.” He paused, and threw a glance at the third party. "I gave it to Dema.”

There was a pronounced pause, in which the other two men peered hard at the third, a towering figure with dark skin and darker hair. He stood nearly a head higher than the rest of the room. "Dun’ have it,” shrugged the green wall.

Then, "…We are on that list,” the red-dressed man continued, turning again on the guard. "Give it to me.” He snatched the sheet of parchment away, startling the poor soldier (held in place by the big, tan hand of the giant) and those of his fellows slowly encroaching on the disturbance. Completely unconcerned, the impertinent man raked his hair from his eyes and looked down at the list—and he scoffed, and shoved it back into his hands. "Are you blind? We’re right there.” He pointed. "The Elementals.”

The guard paused to check again…and immediately frowned, and looked up at the trio. "…Are you trying to tell me that you three are the fairies?”

The man in red threw up his hands. "Very good!”

A response followed closely by a very helpful, "Durr…” from the one clad in green.

"There is hope for him yet,” the one in blue sneered.

"But…aren’t fairies women?”

The group stared menacingly down at the man, who—despite being armed—suddenly appeared quite outmatched.

"Wow,” the crimson-dressed man spat. He folded his arms, glancing briefly at his companions. "Sexism and specieism. No wonder you’re a guard.” And he shoved his way past, followed closely by the other two. He straightened his tunic, as if the brief confrontation had somehow besmirched his attire, and started down the pathway to the head of the room.

Dryly, the Emperor turned his head, drawing the attention of his wife. "Apparently,” he murmured, "your guests have arrived.”

"Wonderful,” the Empress beamed, "just in time.” Guiding the little prince back to his parents and tucking the baby back in, she accepted the offered hand of the Emperor and quickly rose to reclaim her seat, and to welcome their honored guests. As everyone knew, it was good luck to invite immortal folk to such special occasions. She could not have been more pleased by their arrival.

Acknowledged in their positions and trades, the three fairies walked firmly and proudly, approaching their most noble hosts, anticipation to meet the new prince building up inside them. Or, at least that was the case for two of them. A few steps behind the other two fairies, Dema stood still, contemplating his surroundings. He was a very quiet and very unsocial immortal. He thought, maybe that was why he didn’t felt quite welcomed in the silver palace.

Just ahead, the most obnoxious of the trio paused, noting the lack of heavy footfalls at their backs. He snagged the smallest of them by his elbow to halt him, glancing quickly back. "Oi,” he called. "What’s the hold up? We got a baby to see.”

"Comin’,” came the low voice of the green fairy. The unsettling feeling was still there, like a splinter stuck in his finger. But at the same time, more and more sets of eyes where coming to rest on them; that could have a similar effect, thus the silent immortal discarded his worries, catching up with the others.

The attention they drew was well-deserved; to the lingering mortal folk, they were quite a sight to behold. Every noble and every peasant stood aside to safely observe the magical trio. Not even the neighboring royals could hide their interest in the newcomers. "Look honey, fairies,” the queen showed her shy prince, whom for all the manners instructed in him, could not help but step forward to gain a better glimpse.

"Don’t teach him to stare, Arianna,” a stern voice came from behind the couple. "You know better.” Abruptly, the young heir was pulled back by the hand of an old woman, clad in the Cross’s trademark red; her elderly face was concealed beneath a black veil falling from her headdress.

"Mother, he’s just a child. He’s never seen the Elementals,” defended the gentle queen, her temper and kindness unwavering before the severe look of her mother. "Don’t be so strict. It’s a celebration for the children, you know.”

Caring and forgiving as the queen was, the little prince still lowered his head before his grandmother in apology, escaping her gaze. "I’m sorry, Nona,” he said, quietly. However, just as his mother had said, children where children, and he was a curious one indeed. Thus, torn between restriction and encouragement, the small heir ran to his father, shyly peeking at the magical beings from beneath the shelter of the king’s cape.

As the trio of immortals approached the seats of the royalty, the eyes of the court observing their every gesture, their leader began to quail as well—and he took it immediately as a bad sign. Unlike the gentle giant of their party, he was no shy and fleeting presence; if anything, he relished in the attention they received. But the sense of being unwelcome struck him, in spite of the warm interest of the room at large. He took a cautious look around the chamber, wondering. Certainly, something must have been causing it…

They reached the end of the carpeted pathway, and paused before both honored families to bow. Their loyalties lie not with the Cross, nor the Star, but it was only proper to show respect before both houses, particularly the one that had invited them. As he moved to kneel, the crimson fairy felt that uncomfortable sense of being unwelcome creep across the nape of his neck. Perhaps it was for the scene they had made? Had his hot-tempered nature earned them the scorn of their hosts? He could only wonder, but the source felt dangerously close.

Unaware of the unsettled mood of her guests, the Empress Daniella smiled, and gestured for them to rise. "Thank you for coming—you honor us with your presence.” It was clear enough by her gracious smile that she was not offended by them in the least.

Reassured by this show of hospitality, the crimson fairy rose to his feet once more. "Not at all, Your Highness,” he replied. "Thank you for inviting us. The honor is ours.” He paused then, taking note of the silver bassinet perched just between both families. "Might we see the baby?” After all, visiting with the newborn prince was their entire purpose here.

She nodded her consent, motioning happily for them to come forward. "Oh, by all means! I’m sure he’ll be thrilled.”

Exchanging a brief glance between them, the fairies approached the cradle, and peered curiously through the mesh canopy.

The baby—still very much awake—babbled animatedly as the multicolored party peeked in at him. As they watched, he shook his trinket for them, as if to share his amusement…and certainly, the crimson immortal smiled. Even the cold blue fairy couldn’t resist a similar expression crossing his lips.

The green fairy, however, was harder to read. Certainly amused by the baby’s game, he remained an immovable wall. Yet, for all his silence, it was he who took it upon himself to first address the infant. "Yo’,” he said, offering the infant one big finger to greet him.

Accepting the presented digit, the baby shook that too, though it didn’t make noise or move very much. Still, it amused him, and the excitement he showed pleased them as well.

"Aren’t we charming…” the crimson fairy remarked, reaching with a gloved hand to smooth the wiggling infant’s hair. Admittedly, he was taken with him. All of them were, from the very first glance. Any prior thoughts of discomfort and frustration were lost at the sight of the tiny creature, so easily pleased and free of worry. To be so at ease… "You’ll make a fine Emperor some day, won’t you…?”

His parents smiled approvingly, appreciating the remark.

The fairies exchanged another brief glance. That sealed it: they were going to have to bless him. It was a custom, true, to offer blessings to the first child of a noble family. They had been invited for that very purpose, but rarely had they come across such a child as this one, who so easily earned their fondness. So, the blessing would be given willingly, from desire as well as duty. After all, so special a boy should be treated as special.

"What y’ gonna give im’?” the green fairy inquired covertly, his finger still in the baby’s possession. He glanced down at him and smiled faintly. Everything in him was quiet and subtle, expressions notwithstanding. "Dun’ give im’ anythin’ weird,” he warned with a raised eyebrow.

"You being the authority on weird,” the blue fairy quipped, but he, too, peered suspiciously at their leader.

The crimson immortal raised his hands, smirking at his companions. "Your trust flatters me.” He gave a dismissive gesture. "Worry about your own gifts.”

"Father, what are they doing?” asked the child observer, watching the magical trio gossip before the cradle. He wondered if any of them was going to turn the baby into a frog? In such case, he would have to ask them not to, since he had promised, and promises were meant to be kept. Even a frog would be interesting.

"They are about to bless the prince.” The King of the Cross spoke quietly, so as not to interrupt. "They will bestow magical gifts upon him,” he added, taking notice of his young son’s confusion; it was understandable, being his first encounter with magic. He himself was also caught by the curious event that was about to take place. An immortal’s blessing was the most fortunate start a young life could have.

"It’s a tradition in this kingdom,” added the foreign queen, smiling upon the fairies.

"Such nonsense is not needed on our lands,” the elder royal interjected immediately.

But as negative as the older woman was, she wasn’t false. Though magic existed everywhere, in every form, the loyalties of the Cross lie in other ancient beliefs. Because of this, magic was rare to them, and the opportunity to witness actual magic could be seen as either a unique privilege, or a frightful taboo by its people.  For the young prince, however, it was a most curious thing simply he had to see; thus, unafraid of any scolding, he stepped forward, intently watching for what the fairies would do.

The assembled guests discussed similar thoughts of curiosity amidst themselves, rapt with excitement as the Elementals withdrew, just enough to reveal the carriage between them.

As their leader, the crimson-clad fairy went first. He lifted a hand, then gently brought it down, delicately touching the baby’s cheek. A flare of scarlet light flickered from within the bassinet. "My gift,” he said with a smile, "is the gift of beauty—lovely and graceful, to be admired by all things.” He leaned down then, and pinched the infant’s nose fondly. "Not that you’ll need it…but everyone will appreciate it, all the same.”

"What a dramatic gift,” the navy-garbed fairy murmured disapprovingly. Gesturing the taller immortal aside, he took his place before the bassinet. "To counteract that,” he said, with a glance to the red fairy, "my gift is the gift of wisdom—he’ll be deeply thoughtful, clever, and sharp as a sword.” He touched the baby’s forehead, and with a flicker of azure light, it was done. Quietly, he added, "The last thing we need is some pretty idiot in the throne.”

The crimson fairy scowled, but said nothing, merely turning his gaze to the third of their party. It was his turn.

For the remaining fairy, choosing a blessing to grant didn’t come as quickly. Being the silent one of the group, he was usually also the last. Perhaps it was better, for he was a deep thinker, over-thinking every thought he had. The problem with this was that while he thought great thoughts, the most reliable blessings were granted by his peers. Besides wisdom and beauty, what could a prince need? He had the riches, and power would come from his own efforts. Perhaps the sword of a great conqueror? Leaning forward to stare at the child, he decided against that. A king could be a great conqueror, but he didn’t want to see this child as a man of the sword. "What to give ya’…” he confided to the baby alone. "Want a dragon? To be able to fly? Talk to animals? Read the stars?” he checked with the baby, hoping from some input, but all he got was an amused little babble. Sadly, not very enlightening.

Over-thinking was what he did, and when he did it well, the result was usually satisfying. But thinking, be it once or a thousand times, was a hard thing to do under pressure, Dema realized. The suffocating feeling did not radiate from the parents who expectantly awaited his answer; neither did it come from his comrades, far too used to his ways. He peeked over his shoulder to stare at the room at large, knowing the source for his feeling was there, and he did not like it. He needed to make a decision.

Then, he had it.

"Ya’ agree?” he looked at the baby, thinking he had found the answer. What he wanted for the little prince. He just had to find the safest way to phrase it.

As the crowd looked on, and his fellow immortals grew curious of his motives, the infant gave another little flail of his new toy, his own sign of amusement and happiness. For as much as the others didn’t, he seemed to understand just fine.

"My gift to y’ will be the gift of safety,” he spoke out loud for the baby, the fairies and the court. Then he was quiet again for everyone who saw, but not for his peers or for the baby to whom his blessing was given, "So that no one in this room may harm you.”

Indeed, what he wanted for the prince was for him to live.

The red and blue fairies exchanged a covert glance, turning their gaze upon their third member as he bestowed his blessing, with the corresponding flicker of light. Now with their work done, they were free to retreat, as the royalty thanked them over the murmurs of interest and curiosity concerning the last gift. Even they were taken aback by the choice, but knowing him—there was a reason. It was then that they both recalled the sense of foreboding they suffered on arrival, and decided that the matter was better discussed in safer quarters. Which meant it was time to vanish.

As the Empress arose from her seat again, the other two fairies gave quick motions of respect, then seized the third by his wrists and started off to the sidelines, the blue fairy casting a spell behind them to assist in their unnoticed retreat. Now with the blessings bestowed, their duty was fulfilled, and it was time for the royalty of the Star Empire to address their friends and allies, and properly introduce the infant prince. Such things did not require their presence, and so they disappeared into the crowd, as the many gathered subjects rose to their feet.

Care of the haphazardly-cast spell, most of the distracted congregation failed to notice as the magical trio faded from sight, focused instead on the Empress as she prepared for her address. There was, however, one little spectator whose curiosity had led him to be far more interested in the magical beings than in the words of the adults. Following the fairies’ every move, he was left in confused awe when his subjects of observation suddenly vanished before his eyes.

The ceremony continued without him, unaware of the departure of its guests. Stepping from his place in the wings, the Grand Duke swept forward to retrieve the baby, carefully lifting his newborn nephew from his bed and wrapping him safely in his blanket. Immediately, the tiny child made to protest the loss of his warm shelter, but the Duke merely smiled and whispered to him, quieting him easily. Indeed, no mere servant could be trusted with such a duty as escorting the prince, and no man was more trusted by the Emperor than his own brother. With a flourish of his cape and a patient smile, he crossed the short distance to the dais and presented the baby to his mother, kissing her cheek, then fading once more into the background.

"Thank you, Peter,” she whispered, and turned her eyes at once to her husband, who stood to join her before their guests. As the towering figure of the Emperor rose from his throne, moving silently to his wife, the grand chamber fell deathly silent. "Now, with the kind blessings of the honored Elementals, the time has come to announce our son. We thank you all for being present today to share this joyous occasion with us.” She paused to smile down at the baby, who was quietly babbling and jingling his trinket. "We are grateful that you can be here with us as we introduce our son…” She tilted her head back to peer at her husband.

Taking his cue, Emperor Pavel moved to continue, to address the Kingdoms for the first time since the announcement of the treaty. "As you know,” he began, with a dry glance to the Empress, "we were expecting a daughter…but I’m not of a mind to complain at the birth of a male heir.” Polite laughter rippled softly around the chamber, and he paused to peer down at his rather animated child. The boy was a sharp contrast to his silent and intimidating father, who himself could not help but smile just a bit in his presence. "With that much said, I am pleased to introduce to you the first Heir of the Star…the Grand Prince Nikolai.”

A general response of interest and approval rippled through the gathered crowd of nobles, and the baby made a point of squealing, earning an appropriate chuckle as well, and smiles from both his parents.

"He was not what we planned,” the Emperor continued, "but we are grateful for him. With the blessings of the kingdom, as well as of the spirits of the Empress’ clan—” he gestured in the direction the fairies had gone "—I have faith that my son will lead us into a successful age—one of peace, as we had hoped of our daughter, who was to ally us with the Cross.”

"An alliance,” Empress Daniella continued, "which we hope will live on, in spite of Fate’s untimely sense of humor.” Her lingering smile only widened, and she shifted her gaze to the once-rival family. "That said, I would like to extend our most gracious welcome and thanks to the House of the Cross, our honored guests…and our friends.” She sighed, smiling wryly. "In spite of the setback in our plans.”

"Setback,” Pavel repeated dryly, quirking an eyebrow at her. "This is your plot,” he murmured good-humoredly, away from their attentive audience. "You can explain that. I’ll not be slandered for it.”

"How brave of you,” Daniella murmured back with a smirk. Adjusting the baby in her arms, she sent another humorous smile to her husband, and to the Cross royals as well, though they were not quite ‘in’ on the news (though having caught a glimpse of that little exchange, they could certainly make their own guesses). Then, aloud, "I have referred to this as a setback, albeit a blessed one. Prince Nikolai will, of course, succeed his father someday—but, we have made a promise to King Paolo and Queen Arianna, that their son would have a bride from us. Though clearly our Nikolai cannot serve this purpose—as Prince Sanctus so bravely announced—” she grinned, finally catching the wandering attention of the young prince, "a promise is a promise, and it is our solemn wish to ally with the Cross, as we had agreed.”

There was a moment of silence, in which those gathered wondered amongst themselves, and the Empress’s elbow jabbed invisibly into her husband’s side. Grudgingly, the Emperor continued for her, a dry smile crossing his gaunt face all the same. "The Empress has decided…” the emphasis was intentional "…that we will have another child.”

The room broke out in understandable chatter. Such a concept! The newborn prince was no more than a few days old, and already they planned for another child? The suggestion itself was unheard of!

"I understand that it seems sudden,” Daniella interceded, raising a hand to gently subdue the curious onlookers. But the smile never left her face, even as she held her baby closely to her chest. "It is my decision.” She glanced to Arianna, and offered half a shrug. The gesture was returned with an appreciative, amused smile. "The powers had different plans for us, this time…perhaps, if we hope, our next child will be a girl.” She looked out across the room, which grew strangely quiet in the wake of her earnest reply. "While I do hope that the Prince of the Cross will find a wonderful companion in our son someday, it was our wish to bind our houses with a betrothal…and it is with this wish in mind that we will strive for a daughter, when I have recovered—a sister for Nikolai, and a bride for Prince Sanctus.” She paused, and looked quietly down at the bundle in her arms. She brushed a fingertip across his brow, finding him blissfully nodding off. "I feel it is the right decision.”

As she finished, a silence overtook the hall, just as if the whole kingdom had known that the baby prince slept. It was a time to quietly consider the bright future the Empress' words promised of. Such a peaceful and prosperous world felt close and tangible, so much that many among the lines of guests couldn’t help but shake hands and make amends with members of the rival kingdom.

"Oh, joyous day.” The silence was broken and everyone turned to the dais where the royals of the Cross remained. The Queen glowed in bliss, pleased to know that her dreams of peace were not hers alone. "My friend, it fills me with great joy to know your wishes for peace and for the prosperity of our children, and our people are as fervent as ours.” She stepped down daintily, looking back at her companion. The King smiled softly and joined his wife, approaching the Emperor and Empress. The little prince followed after them like the most disciplined toy soldier.

"Yesterday, we stood as enemies,” King Paolo of the Cross spoke, his voice coming out solemn despite its softness, "But today we stand face to face as allies, and friends.” He paused and stepped aside, to leave space between himself and his wife for their son to stand.

"And so that tomorrow we may stand as family,” Queen Arianna added with an accomplice’s smile, holding her son’s shoulder. The boy stood there as directed from his parents, looking up at the neighboring royals; for a second he forgot himself to be a prince and instead was an awe-stricken child.

"The Cross’s support shall be with the Star,” swore the King, "so that we may see this dream be a reality.” He extended his hand to the Emperor, a smile hidden beneath his solemn expression.

With a demure expression of his own, the Emperor nodded his agreement, accepting his rival’s hand and all it stood for. The Empress smiled at his side and coddled their child, and the courts of both kingdoms erupted with cries of joy and relief. At last, it seemed the centuries-old battle was over. Peace was here, and it would stay.

As the denizens of lands of Cross and Star rejoiced in the pact of friendship, elsewhere in the hall, certain beings were less than joyful. The trio of fairies, who had so quickly fulfilled their duties and fled, remained in a distant corner, wrapped up in revelations of their own.

‘It’s ridiculous,’ the blue fairy insisted, looking between the two taller immortals. ‘He isn’t powerful enough to grant a global immunity—none of us are, not even together.’ He turned on the green fairy then, frustration clear on his face. ‘What did you do? There’s no way that you’ve made him impervious, it’s not possible. If you’d even tried, you wouldn’t still be here!’

‘Wasn’t global,’ the green elemental defended himself, though there was not much to do against the other’s temper. It was just too much like a woman’s wrath, and there was no fighting that.

Still, the crimson fairy interceded. ‘Calm down, Aleksei,’ he said softly, drawing the smaller one back by a narrow shoulder. ‘If that was his intention, he would have undone himself, just as you said. But since that didn’t happen, clearly he did something else…and whatever it was, it worked.’ The usually exuberant and self-assured man was strangely subdued suddenly, distractedly fingering the pin of his cloak. Something didn’t feel right, and that something was growing more prominent by the minute. He glanced up at their third, concern written on his face. ‘Just what were you trying to do, Dema?’

‘Ya’ heard me,’ the green one shrugged. Thinking back, his blessing had been reckless in that it could have ended him—but it hadn’t. So, for better or for worse, he may have been right. ‘Y’ feel it too, don’t ya’?’ he defied his comrades, knowing they couldn’t antagonize him. ‘Doesn’t feel right…’ He looked back to where they’d come from, still sensing it there. ‘Had to make sure whatever it is won’t hurt the kid…can’t protect him from the world,’ he granted with a lazy shrug, ‘but can try from whoever in ‘ere that wants to strike ‘im.’

‘A protection,’ the red fairy said, understanding, ‘from immediate harm. From people here.’ That certainly explained the feeling he’d been having—the feeling they’d all been having. Someone meant to do harm to the baby, and to put off such a strong sense of hatred and danger, that someone could be no normal person.

‘But—’ the smallest fairy paused, and turned his gaze to where the Empress and her infant remained. She was chatting happily with the Queen of the Cross, no more aware of the danger than her husband, or the other guests. And for all his fire a moment ago, Aleksei seemed abruptly extinguished. ‘…It’s just a baby. What harm can he do?’ His voice fell softer still. ‘What kind of person would…?’

‘That,’ said their leader, ‘is what we need to find out. And quietly,’ he added, lifting a finger to silence their youngest. ‘We can’t tell the Emperor or Empress about it. You know how mortals are—they think their earthly power is all-encompassing. Telling them our suspicion will only frighten them, and make them do something stupid.’

‘Then what do we do, Boz?’

‘We do what immortals do best: we watch, and wait.’ He set a hand on the green Elemental’s shoulder, and the taller man nodded. ‘The baby is protected, so no matter what they try, it will fail. His parents will keep him safe from simple assassins, and Dema’s gift should repel anything worse than that, in case we’re dealing with another fae or ethereal. We’ll keep tabs on the family, and catch them when they make the attempt.’

‘Watch n’ wait,’ the green fairy agreed, and inside, he hoped and prayed that whatever the threat was, their power alone would suffice to banish it.

Though he clearly disliked such an indirect approach to such a seemingly immediate threat, the blue fairy nodded, resigned to the option. After all, it was their only one. ‘I suppose we have no choice, then. That’s what we’ll do.’ But he still didn’t like it. Not at all.

And so, as the joyous celebration continued on without them, the three immortals agreed: they would watch over the baby and his family, and apprehend the force that dared to come intending harm. Though their gifts may not have been much, they meant well in them, and in this, their final, silent gift—the promise to shield him against the coming storm.

But little did they know what this vow would entail, in the end…and how treacherous that storm would be.


To Be Continued

****

Character Recap

The Elementals:
-Boz: the red fairy. Obnoxious, talkative and sometimes quite charming, he is the self-proclaimed leader of the Elementals (though, FYI, they're also called fairies--which are clearly gay men). Though he doesn't always get along with the other two, he tries to make good decisions, and keeps an open mind as much as possible.
-Aleksei: the blue fairy. Cold and judgmental, he tends to take things very seriously, and has little patience for his companions. Sadly, this makes him the most reasonable one of the bunch. He and Boz do not get along, as both of them are bossy, and he is often critical of Dema for being strange.
-Dema: the green fairy. The quietest of the three, and by far the largest creature to hold the title, towering well over his companions. He comes across as strange and awkward to others, but mostly because he's too busy thinking to try and act normal. He uses as little effort as possible when speaking, and it gives him a strange drawl.

The Royals:
-Emperor Pavel: leader of the industrialized Empire of the Star. Serious, silent and (unintentionally) intimidating, he is in reality a good and just man. He doesn't speak much, but when he does, people listen.
-Empress Daniella: Pavel's wife, and Empress of the Star. Though somewhat small, Danii makes up for her lack of height with personality. She is determined, brave, and always earnest.
-Grand Duke Peter: Pavel's (younger) twin brother, and his court adviser. Peter has a way with people, and tries to be optimistic as often as he can. He is a sharp contrast to his brother.
-King Paolo: leader of the artistic Kingdom of the Cross. Like Pavel, Paolo is not very outspoken, and settles to rule from the background. He and his mother-in-law share vastly different views.
-Queen Arianna: Paolo's wife, and Queen of the Cross. Cheerful, humorous and endlessly positive, Arianna is not easily flustered. Unlike her strict mother, she is very open-minded.
-Dowager Queen Grazia: Arianna's mother, and the ex-Queen of the Cross. She is old-fashioned and traditional, and is not very open to change. Her views on magic are cold and biased.

The Children
-Grand Prince Nikolai: Pavel and Daniella's very unique child. He was just born, and already he seems to be the center of a lot of people's worlds. So far, he enjoys his mother, his father, the colorful people and the little boy who gave him a shiny thing that jingles. He has no idea how important he will be some day.
-Prince Sanctus/"Credo": Arianna and Paolo's five-year-old son. Though very young, he is well-versed in manners and decorum, even if their true purpose is unknown to him. He has promised to look out for his new friend, the Emperor and Empress' baby, even though babies are not as fun as frogs, or fairies. Clearly.


Story and Characters Copyright © Xandra and Countess-D 2010-201X
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