Land drifted lazily by as seen through the window of the warship Exarch is it sailed towards the docks of Vanhoover. The ship was built strong with a protective mix of iron and wood, armed three dozen cannons to complete its position as both a juggernaut and flagship of the Stoneguarde fleet. Powerful steam driven paddles chugged along as grey smoke rose steadily from the large smokestacks at the rear of the ship while similar towers of smoke rose from the two battleship escorts that flanked either side. But the kind of firepower each ship was merely a precaution. Each of the cannons on the three ships were shuttered and locked, their crews spread about the ship fulfilling other duties that needed seen to. For this was a mission of peace. At least that is what the young prince aboard the Exarchhad been told. That's what he hoped. They were steaming towards a new culture and life, but Callas Gabriel Vorr, the third Prince in line for the Kingdom of Stoneguarde, was anything but excited.
It had been two years since the people of Stoneguarde had crossed the ocean to the east only to encounter the inhabitants of Equistria, and in the first year there had been numerous minor skirmishes, trade disputes, and quarrelling amongst their peoples. But most of that had ended when King Gabriel Vorr had sent an emissary to the leaders of Equestria, and later met with the Princesses Celestia, and Luna. It was discovered in the long dialogue that followed that the two cultures had many things in common there were also many differences that if left unchecked, could lead down some very dark paths.
This was something each of the three rulers wanted to avoid at all costs, Equestria was a very peaceful people having formed treaties with neighboring kingdoms of Gryphon, Dragon, and even the legendary Crystal Empire in the north. While Stoneguarde, which possessed the lands across the westernmost ocean to Equestria's boarder was anything but peaceful – with the exception of the most recent decade or two Stoneguarde had been wracked with famine, pestered by barbarian tribes, and fought a long, brutal civil war.
But then Gabriel had come to power and everything had changed. Farms were back on track, the tribes of savages were driven away, and the unrest amongst his people was quelled with prosperity and the promise of peace. A promise that so far had been kept, but the reality of it was that Stoneguarde needed a strong, peaceful ally to help preserve the fragile peace in its own lands. So it was that a compromise was struck between the two nations to help ensure there would be no more squabbling between them. In order to bring the peoples of Equestria and Stoneguarde together, each of the Royal families of that nation would give one of their own, to be wed to the other. It was an ancient ritual that both cultures had been a part of in the past and though it seemed an outdated practice, each nation's leaders thought it would be the best way to test the waters of peace before engaging in full blown trade and other agreements. An engagement would be the best way to see if these two differing nations could even get along enough to coexist with the other. Humans and Equestrians.
No Pressure. Callas thought sardonically. It's just the hopes of our fledgling government and economy that are resting on your shoulders, should be cake.
Through the open iron slats on the outside of his window Callas could see the white docks of Vanhoover and other buildings were just ahead. The escorts on either side of the Exarch had broken off formation some time ago, which meant the juggernaut was likely preparing to dock. Which in turn meant his new life was about to begin. Joy.
A swift set of knocks on his stateroom door was immediately followed by some muffled bellowing about how he can open the door himself and then his father, the King, entered the room and smiled. He was a bearded man of large stature, so much so that when he was wearing his full velvety red royal regalia – as he was now – his wise grey eyes, set jaw, and arms folded across his chest would seem even more intimidating. He was the leader of Stoneguarde's armies, he was the King of the lands across the sea but to Callas he was just Dad.
"My son." he said, "We are preparing to dock in Equestria."
Callas nodded knowingly.
"This will be the beginning of a new life for you." the King continued, pausing only to gauge his son's reaction, "You are aware I'm sure what is riding on this treaty."
"Yes, father." Callas sighed, biting back more sarcastic remarks he might have had in favor of respect, "I'm very much aware of what is riding on this mission."
King Gabriel chuckled.
"Oh, my boy, I'm glad to hear that but I think I'm here more to speak with you as your father, rather than your King right now." he said and sat on the bench next to the window.
"You may sit if you like."
"I prefer to stand." Callas said honestly.
"Your choice. Now I want to ask you a question, Callas, and I want an honest answer – from father to son – what are your feelings on this engagement?" he asked.
"You're asking me this now?!" Callas exclaimed.
"Well, I never was very good at timing that was sort of your mother's thing…" Her father trailed off and muttered some other things before making his voice audible again, "But the point is I'm asking."
Callas sighed and shook his head, leaning on the finely polished frame of the window and gazing at the nation in front of him. The ship was still carrying him slowly forward. He had thought of nothing but this arranged engagement over the last couple of months, and especially these couple of weeks it had taken for the fleet to arrive in Equestria.
"To be truthful I've given it a lot of thought, searched my own feelings time and again yet I still don't have an answer that meets my own satisfaction, much less yours." he said, and turned to face his father. "Part of me is a little frightened I suppose, part of me wants nothing to do with this nonsense. But here I am two thousand miles or so from our home so I can be introduced to the female that I will be engaged to as soon as this treaty is signed. I'm curious I guess – curious and a little afraid."
"Admitting fear is part of being human, Callas. Facing your fear makes you a man." he said proudly then stood to look out the window with his son.
Gabriel admired then just how much like his mother his youngest had turned out as he grew from a boy into a young man. He had inherited her mother's dark blonde locks and blue eyes, and even her lithe physique for the most part. Already dressed in his velvet red ceremonial robes and the best crown and bracer set that the kingdom could afford to give, which wasn't much. But it would do the job.
"I've met the Princess to whom you shall be engaged." the King ventured, "She is very bright, and seems to be excited about this arrangement."
"Knowing my luck she shall be bright and excited until she actually meets me and whatever false ideas that have already been impressed will be shattered." Called huffed, "Leaving naught but my own, dopey, self to try and pick up the pieces and start a friendship, much less a relationship."
"Not unlike when I first met your mother, I think." Gabriel said dryly and Callas laughed.
"I must go back to the main deck now, I will send for you when we are ready." he said as he rose and left the stateroom.
At almost the same time of his leaving the page that would be accompanying him on this engagement entered the room. He was a young boy, nine years of age that sported a crop of straight, blonde hair that went every which direction, and big brown eyes that wore a serious expression. He was also dressed in somewhat nicer clothes than he normally wore as he would be accompanying the young Prince to the signing on the docks.
"Are you ready to disembark, little one?" Callas asked.
"My name's Ferny not little one, Highness." he spat back as Callas chuckled. "And yes I am ready, but all I have to do is follow you around. Are you ready?"
"Quiet, you." Callas threatened, with a smile.
"That's what I thought." the page said in a clearly amused tone.
Though only a page boy for the royal family, Ferny had been personally assigned to Callas by the king for the last two years of his life and the young prince had gotten to know the now 10 year old boy well. Enough so that he sometimes thought of him as his own little brother. Admittedly, Callas had even helped little Ferny with some tasks he was given when they were both a little younger to help ensure the boy would make it, and though he was clumsy sometimes in his growing body, Ferny always took his work seriously, and always meant well.
"Don't worry for me, I will be fine." Callas said, adding an I hope in his head.
Through the windows the Prince could see the Exarch was slowly pulling alongside the dock as shore men jumped off the ship to tie it to its moorings, assisted by a handful of multicolored ponies. Actual ponies. Helping secure the ship. A pit seemed to open up from beneath Callas's throat as the full weight of what he was being asked to do ran through his mind. It wasn't as if humans in Stoneguarde were strangers to inter species marriages and relationships, far from it. He even knew a Duke in the lower portion of the Kingdom whose wife was a Centaur. No, what was bothering the young Prince was that he was being asked to single handedly create peace between his own kingdom and Equestria. Oh dear lord, he was going to hyperventilate.
"You're sweating, Highness." Ferny remarked.
"Quiet, you." he said for the second time in as many minutes.
There was a swift knock at the door that broke Callas's train of thought and causing him to physically jump, much to the amusement of his page.
"The King is ready for you on deck, Highness." an officer bowed in respect then stood to the side, holding the cabin door open.
Callas looked at Ferny who nodded in reassurance, then closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and let it out slowly. When he opened his eyes again it was not as a young man unsure of his place in the world. It was not of a son who wasn't sure he could fulfill his father's wishes. No, when he opened his eyes, it was as a confident one day ruler of a nation, it was as a confident diplomat, it was as a Prince of a nation in stepped forwards without hesitation, Ferny falling in line behind him as they climbed from the cabin onto the main deck.
The Exarch had been decked out with the red and gold colors of their nation, streamers and flags hung from every possible rope and Boom that wasn't in use by a sailor, and from the top of the main mast, the flag of Stoneguard flew proudly in the breeze bearing the image of a gold lion atop a mountain, on a velvet red background. On the main deck soldiers and sailor had been decked out in their dress reds and whites, and were standing at attention whilst the Herald spoke loudly of peace and prosperity. Amid all the ceremony on the main deck Callas quickly located his father, and came up on his left side, Ferny following close behind.
"And that the hopes of both nations great and small be sealed by peaceful negotiations, that both peoples may unite, in PEACE!" The herald shouted, and solders from both nations let out a single 'huzza!' From his point of view at the top of wooden ramp, he could see the Sontguard solders lining each side of the pier and stopping just behind the front of the Exarch itself. Beyond that there was a gap in the coverage of soldiers from either nation, where a desk had been set up with chairs on either end, but the dock was too large to properly make out the groups of ponies on shore, other than the seemingly numberless groups of white stallions with gold and blue armor, and various weapons at their flanks.
"For the signing, it is my privilege to present Gabriel Kelnor Voor, King of Stoneguarde!" the Herald shouted proudly.
Callas' father gave him a wink, and walked down the ramp to the dock, stopping just beyond the end of the ramp.
"Thensa Onsfeather, First Chansellor, and second Steward of Stoneguard!" the herald announced.
Thensa was a short, scrawny dark haired little man, and the King's primary advisor and one of the generals during the long civil war, having left the resistance forces to join with the Voors, his insight and knowledge had helped quell the instability and bring about the peace that now reigned. Callas personally did not trust the man's narrow grey eyes, but his father did, and that was good enough for him. After all since recanting his old ways, Thensa had been nothing but loyal to the crown. He did not give Callas a second glance as he also walked down the ramp and stood next to his father.
"And Callas Gabriel Voor, Third in line for the crown, and Prince of Stoneguarde!" the herald announced and the young prince stepped forward, projecting as much confidence and pride as he could within reason, and joining his father on his left side.
A herald of trumpets sounded from the shore side of the dock, and from the ground of ponies broke three that at the first glance, had stood out. The largest of the three wore a tall crown and golden armor against her white coat, with multi pastel colored mane the flowed in the breeze. The second largest of these stand out ponies, was the opposite of the first, with a deep blue coat and mane, complete with obsidian like armor on her chest and hooves. But it was the third of these standouts that garnered his attention, she had a soft lavender coat and darker purple mane, complete with lighter streaks of the same color. Her mane was expertly trimmed just longer than her horn and as both groups approached the desk that had been setup in the center of the docks, he noticed that unlike her compatriots she wore a finely made blue dress instead of armor, and her wings were pulled tight against her sides instead of confidently unfurled.
"The Kingdom of Equestia presents for the signing of the treaty, the Princesses Celestia and Luna, Diarchs of Equestria! And Twilight Sparkle, Princess of Magic!" Announced a herald from somewhere behind the Princesses.
"Hello again, Gabriel, I trust the journey here was enjoyable? " the white one asked with a smile.
"It was, thank you, but I am far more excited to be here, at this desk today than I was when we left port, and I am eager to secure the future of both our great nations." King Gabriel chuckled.
"Shall we get down to business then?" the darker one asked and each leader agreed and sat at the desk.
Through the meaningless banter and rehearsed diplomacy, Callas gathered that Celestia was the primary ruler of Equestria and Luna the secondary – though not of any less importance – and while the three rulers sat, going over the terms of the treaty one more time, he kept stealing glances at the mare he assumed was Princess Twilight Sparkle, only to find that she was also stealing glances at him. Their eyes met once, and both looked away quickly, Twilight finding something interesting to look at on the desk, and Callas something interesting on the decking. When he glanced up again, he found Twilight looking away quickly once more, pretending she was listening to the proceedings of the treaty as each ruler took turns reading summaries of each provision. In truth he probably should be listening too but he had read over the treaty four or five times during the long trip from Stoneguarde.
"Finally, Article Twelve." Celestia said, and both Twilight and Callas actually paid attention.
"Each Kingdom shall offer a Princess and Prince, by ancient custom, to enter into an engagement of marriage. This marriage will stand both literally and symbolically as the coming together of two different cultures, ideals, and peoples. That each of the Kingdoms bound by Treaty – that is the Kingdom of Equestria, and Kingdom of Stoneguarde – to the provisions and articles written within this document, that each of the laws provided therein may be honored. That this document may become a treaty of prosperity. A treaty of peace. A treaty of hearts. " the elder Princess read from the document, but did not take her eyes from each of the young royals that were about to embark into this, gauging each of their reactions.
"By signing this Treaty, both parties agree to enter into this Engagement." a quill feather that was attached to a Pen floated up into Callas' hand, and Twilight's magical grip.
For the first time since the reading of the treaty had begun Twilight and Callas locked eyes with each other again, and this time each could see clearly what was going on through the other's eyes in a mixture of apprehension, excitement, and a little fear. Well, a lot of fear. But Callas had faced down enemy troops with naught but a saber, he could handle this.
It was only the official meeting of the rest of his life.
Bowing slightly, the young prince held out a hand and after a moment of hesitation she placed her hoof on his hand, which he kissed in a soft gentlemanly manner.
"Callas Voor, it is a pleasure to finally meet you." he said with a practiced smile.
"Twilight Sparkle, the pleasure is all mine." she said with a slight giggle and blush, much to the young Prince's amusement.
After that the two did not get a chance to talk again as the actual signing on the treaty took place by Celestia, Luna, and his Father, Gabriel. The following hour and a half was then filled with briskly meeting personal guards, shaking hands and hooves with every noble that could possibly make it to Vanhoover, all while inching along down the dock until the royal parties finally made it to the carriages that would be taking them to the train, which in turn would be taking them to Canterlot where the royal parties would be enjoying more of the same until they got into the palace. However, until then Twilight and Callas had a carriage ride to get to know each other a bit more than their formal names. Ferny and Spike rode outside the carriage – as was the custom – which left Twilight and Callas all to their own in the first of the royal convoys, with Gabriel, Luna, and Celestia in the second.
The inside of the carriage was a standard noble affair, with gold trimming against rich wooden paneling and molding that had been painted a teal color. Princess Twilight sat across from him on the bench smiling probably as awkwardly as Callas was.
"I'm sorry if I came off stiff but—" they both said at the same time.
"Oh! You go." They both said again.
Callas chuckled as Twilight held her hoof to her face, just under her elegant tiara.
"Ladies first, Princess." he offered.
"Thank you, and you can call me Twilight, we're engaged after all." she said with a smile.
"Yes, we have that going for us." Callas smiled back, "Though in the spirit of honesty I must ask, were you forced into this engagement, or did you volunteer?"
"Oh! Umm…well this is kind of awkward." Twilight said, fidgeting with her forehooves.
Callas simply raised an eyebrow, waiting for her to explain.
"Eh-heh." Twilight laughed nervously, "You see, the idea that our cultures could be joined through a marriage was…um…kind of my idea."
Now both of Callas' eyebrows were raised. It was one thing if she had been forced into the idea of this treaty, it was another if she had volunteered like he had, but it was something else entirely that Twilight had thought of the idea in the first place. That the entire reason he was even here was because of her. It wasn't as if he had many preconceptions about the princess ahead of time anyways, but this certainly changed how he looked at her if she was helping shape policy in her kingdom. But if there was oen thing that Callas was sure of, it was that he and young princess had much to discuss.