Author's Note: Please forgive any historical inaccuracies. I've done my best to research certain subjects and figures but have taken creative liberties as this isn't actually ancient Japan. My current outline puts me at maybe eight chapters or thereabouts. I'll post them as they are written.
"My granddaughter is..." the elderly Emperor sighed and clasped his hands behind his back. "Quite strong willed. I hope she won't be too much trouble for you on the road."
"I assure you there will be no trouble, Your Majesty." The samurai bowed deeply with one hand on the hilt of his sword.
The Emperor turned from the window and stared at him. "You have come highly recommended to me and I am trusting you with her life. She may not be of my blood but she is beloved of me all the same."
"The threats against her life are something I take gravely serious. When the danger has passed my grandson shall personally send for you to bring her home."
"Of course," Jellal said stiffly. He was eager to be on the road. Snow clouds gathered on the horizon and the heart of winter drew near. "Have the preparations been made?"
"They have." The small man fumbled with his next words. "I'm afraid she's a bit displeased with the current situation."
"Has she been warned of the rudimentary facilities of road travel?"
Emperor Dryer laughed heartily and Jellal struggled to keep his expression smooth. "I think you'll find Erza to be less concerned with the hardship and more offended I believe she needs a samurai guard at all." The old man's smile faded and he shook his head. "She's been trained in formal swordplay because I am a weak man and cannot tell her no, but her skills aren't suited for self-defense against those with no honor."
"Her safety is my number one priority, Your Majesty."
"Good, good." The Emperor pulled a cord and an attendant opened the great doors to the chamber. "Laxus will send word under the Lightning Dragon seal when the city is safe for her return." Jellal bowed once more and left the Emperor behind.
His first glimpse of Erza was the sound of her commanding voice. She chastised a stablehand for mishandling one of her trunks and offered to load it herself. Jellal peered around the corner and saw horror etched onto the face of a young boy. The very idea of the princess loading her own trunks was clearly abominable. There was only room for two on the back of the small, nondescript caravan and Erza supervised the strapping closely.
The Princess was indeed just as beautiful as rumors purported – perhaps even more so. Her stunning red hair was styled into a knot suitable for travel and she wore thick robes to stave off the oncoming cold. Once her belongings were properly loaded Erza dismissed the boys and swept along the side of the cart to the horse waiting in front. Jellal watched with great intrigue as she pressed her cheek to the smooth expanse between it's eyes. She whispered to the creature words he couldn't hear but her intimacy with the animal impressed him.
Jellal took several quick, deep breaths before rounding the corner and approaching her. She gave him only a cursory glance as he bowed just as deeply for her as he had for the Emperor.
"Princess," he said quietly.
"I suppose you're the one my grandfather has sent to escort me to my prison."
"His Majesty is deeply concerned for your life, Princess. I will keep you safe until the danger has passed."
"Assassins do not scare me." Finally she folded her hands and hid them in her wide, quilted sleeves. "Shall I simply call you Samurai or do you have a name?"
"It wouldn't be appropriate for a princess to address one such as myself by name. Samurai will do." The princess pursed her lips but didn't press him further. "We should depart as quickly as possible."
She nodded and pulled open the hatch leading to the interior of the carriage. Before crawling inside Erza whirled around to have a final look at her home. Jellal thought maybe she swiped at a tear but he wasn't sure because she turned sharply and disappeared inside.
The landscape beyond the borders of the royal city was harsh but beautiful. Mountains rose in the distance and were their intended destination but Jellal didn't think they'd reach them for several days – more if the snow continued to pile. The Emperor had made it clear that public inns were out of the question but the royal family had in its possession a network of cottages that were used for evacuations in the past. He was to stick to the cottages or pitch the basic tents strapped to the sides of the cart.
The moon was high in the sky by the time they reached the first cottage. To her credit, Erza never once complained or demanded to know their location from her place inside the cart. He wondered if she slept or indulged in the sadness he'd had a glimpse of before they left the palace. Either way her face was impassive when he opened the hatch after checking the premises for security.
"Should I tend to the horse, Samurai?" She asked quietly from behind him as he unhitched the animal from the cart. "I don't mind. He's been mine since I was a child."
Jellal turned to her and couldn't stop himself from thinking her even more beautiful surrounded by snow in the moonlight. "No, Princess. I swear to you I will handle him with kindness. You should go inside and rest. Tomorrow will be another long ride. I've already prepared the fire."
She eyed him for a moment before nodding and leaving him alone outside. Jellal led the horse to the shelter beside the house and checked for fresh hay and water. It was indeed a beautiful animal fit to carry a princess such as Erza.
By the time he entered the cottage his face was flushed with cold. The princess sat on a pillow dragging a comb through the long, red hair he'd admired earlier. For a moment he was entranced with the way the black teeth of the comb sliced through her strands that glowed in the firelight. Her robe fell over her shoulder and left an expanse of pale skin exposed. She hadn't noticed his presence and Jellal hated to break the silence but he knew staring at her from the shadows was deeply inappropriate.
He cleared his throat and shrugged the damp sections of his armor off his body. "Your horse is sheltered for the night, Princess."
"Thank you," Erza said softly. She pulled the edge of her robe back over her shoulder and set aside the comb. "When will we depart in the morning?"
"At dawn." Jellal knelt in front of the fire and pulled his katana from it's sheath. The blade shone in the low light and he could see the sharpening pattern clearly. He hadn't used the sword since the last time he'd run a stone over it but his training necessitated the inspection. Without a warrior's code and rigid morals he was simply another soldier with a weapon.
"I have heard of your kind only in story."
Jellal chuckled lightly. "My kind?"
"Bushido," Erza said without fanfare. "Righteous, courageous, benevolent, respectful, sincere, honorable, loyal, and in control of one's self. Is that not how it goes?"
"Of course grandfather would choose one such as you to whisk me away to the mountains." Her tone was slightly petulant but laced with resignation.
"My code prevents me from disobedience and dishonorable behavior if that's what you mean." Jellal slid the sword back into it's home and placed it on the edge of his bedroll.
"Does seducing a princess qualify as dishonorable?"
He set his mouth into a hard line. "Soldiers do not seduce, Princess. They pillage."
"And the samurai?"
"We do neither."
"You should rest now, Princess. Tomorrow we cover twice as much ground as today." Much to his relief she simply nodded and slid beneath her blankets. The princess need not know of his prior affections – only that he'd never entertain the thought of exploring what lay beneath the seams of her robes. The one time he'd allowed himself to become entangled with a woman had ended with his heart carved from his chest and his head an empty shell.