[This story is set about ten years before the series, before the death of Goau of Fanelia. Guessing at ages, I would put Folken at around 16, Van at 6, Millerna 7 or 8, Eries at 13 or 14, and Marlene at about 16. I wrote the majority of it while I was doing my research for my project on the Silk Road and cultural diffusion for Anthropology, and I'm afraid it shows in spots.]
The young prince, heir to the throne of Fanelia, stood uncomfortably, his pale turquoise hair falling in front of large, dark crimson eyes.
Princess Eries of Asturia stared.
She'd heard rumors that princes of Fanelia were half-blood something, but didn't imagine it would be so visually apparent. But Prince Folken smiled a little self-consciously at her, his face and form that of a handsome young man a year or so her elder, and his coloration that of a demon.
Well, that did it. She won. Marlene had only been betrothed to an old man – Father was arranging her marriage to a half-breed demon.
Eries felt Marlene subtly yank a lock of her straight, thick flaxen hair. Eries blinked, and lowered her eyes demurely. She just caught sight of little Millerna ducking behind Marlene's skirt and peeking out again, blue eyes wide.
A tousled head of black hair appeared from behind the elder prince's lanky legs, and a pair of round brown eyes blinked back at Millerna's.
"Come on out, Van," Prince Folken said with a laugh, turning to catch and lift a little boy of six years into view. Prince Van smiled shyly at the blonde Asturian princesses before tugging at his brother's tunic to be put down. When Prince Folken obeyed his little brother's wish, Prince Van scampered over to his mother, and took refuge behind the skirt of Queen Varie's robe.
Smiling a little at her younger offspring, Lady Varie turned her attention to her guests. "Welcome, dear princesses." She extended her hands, and grasped one of Marlene's and one of Eries's warmly in greeting. "Fanelia is honored by the visit of the jewels of Asturia." She was a beautiful woman – tall and slender, with long, lustrous black hair, and…pink eyes, tinged with violet.
Eries tried very hard not to stare this time.
"Come, let me take you to your rooms. You can change clothes, and…"
Eries blinked. The Queen was attending to this? Didn't they have servants in this backwater little city?
"Our trunks are still with the rest of the entourage," Marlene pointed out. The princesses' carriage, and their guards on horseback had been sent ahead of the caravan.
"But you must be so warm," Varie said gently.
Eries couldn't have agreed more. The steamy humidity of the forest, and the beating sunlight of the road made her long for the cool, misty sea breezes of Palas. The starched sleeves of her gown had gone limp, and the palms of her white gloves were damp. Decidely, so warm.
"I'm sure we can find clothes for you." Lady Varie's sleeveless robe seemed much more appropriate, and the princes looked perfectly comfortable in their trousers and tunics, worn without an undershirt, due to the heat.
This, however, gave Eries an excellent view of Prince Folken's broad, leanly muscled shoulders and arms. He looked like a statue.
She blushed slightly, reprimanding herself internally for staring like she'd never seen a young man before.
Marlene, who Eries knew for a fact had seen a young man before, seemed quite appreciative as well. As payment for the yanked lock of hair, Eries jabbed a sharp elbow into her sister's side.
"Getting possessive?" Marlene breathed softly into her sister's ear.
Millerna, thrilled to be free of her layers of petticoats and silk, spun in a circle, the skirt of her intricately embroidered cotton robe swirling around her bare legs.
Part of Eries longed to take Millerna's little hands and twirl with her. Another part was very uncomfortable without the corset, shift, petticoats – all the undergarments she was accustomed to. But hers were soaked in sweat, and Lady Varie had provided clean, thin shifts, just perfect for the temperature.
Marlene stretched her long white arms, and then adjusted the hang of her dress.
Now that they were alone, Eries narrowed her eyes at her elder sister.
"Possessive?" she demanded, her voice dangerous.
"Hm?" Marlene asked, blinking her dark blue eyes rapidly.
"I was not being possessive. I was merely pointing out that it's rude to stare."
Marlene raised an eyebrow. "Naturally."
"Why would I be possessive of that… that…" Eries demanded quietly, her fists tightening.
Marlene shook her head. "You know you'll never have a choice about whom you wed, Eries. And Prince Folken is close to your age, and very beautiful…"
Eries stared. "Marlene," she began, incredulously. "He's…"
"Can we go outside?" Millerna broke in, pulling at Marlene's skirt.
Marlene grinned, and lifted her little sister. "Let's."
Van looked up abruptly from his work, when he heard the approaching patter of bare feet. Girl feet.
Princess Millerna smiled. "Are you making mud pies?" she asked sweetly.
Prince Van was, under ordinary circumstances, the perfect little gentleman his mother and father had raised him to be. But when insulted beyond all bearing, he could become somewhat short.
"It's a castle," he snapped.
Millerna blinked. "That's not a castle. Castles are made of stone."
He rolled his eyes. "It's pretend," he said, with exaggerated patience. "Besides, not all castles are stone," he retorted.
Millerna's lower lip stuck out stubbornly. "All real castles," she said haughtily. "I would know. I live in a castle."
"So do I." Van shot to his feet. "And mine is made of wood!"
"Well then it's not a real castle!" Millerna concluded hotly.
It was really just too convenient. Prince Van was already holding a handful of mud. And Princess Millerna's neat golden curls were just begging for it.
Like any little girl, when hit with a handful of mud, Millerna burst into tears.
Unlike some, however, she also tackled Van to the muddy ground and shoved his face into his "castle".
And she let out a shrill scream when hit with a furry missile from the low branch of the tree Van had been playing beside.
"Merle!" Van cried, exasperated.
"Don't you touch Prince Van!" the kitten-girl in a little orange dress hissed fiercely, pushing Millerna into the mud, but mercifully keeping her claws in.
Hearing her littlest sister's cry, Marlene came running from between the trees of the garden. "Millerna!"
Hearing Merle's shrill voice, Folken came barreling from the opposite end.
Long-limbed, swift, and not impeded by a skirt, Folken arrived first on the scene of the crime, and picked up first Merle under one arm, and Van under the other, getting himself very muddy in the process. Marlene extracted her sobbing sister from the mud.
"Gracious heavens," Marlene murmured, wiping the worst of the muck from Millerna's tear-stained face. "What happened?"
"She jumped on Prince Van!" Merle said, her muddy fur standing on end.
"Millerna!" Marlene exclaimed, shocked.
"He started it!" Millerna managed to gasp out between sobs.
"Is that true?" Folken asked his brother, voice calm.
Van's muddy face was set. "Yes," he admitted. "And no."
"He threw mud at me!" Millerna wailed.
"She insulted the honor of our family!" Van defended.
"That," Folken said seriously, "is not an excuse to throw mud at anyone. Least of all a lady, and a guest."
Looking unconvinced, Van pouted.
"I was just protecting Prince Van," Merle said smugly, snuggling her furry head against Folken's arm.
"Princess Millerna is a guest of your home as well, Merle," Folken said sternly.
"But…but… she hurt Prince Van!" Merle explained vehemently.
"Merle," Folken groaned.
Merle's already enormous eyes widened, and quickly filled up with tears.
"No, don't…" Folken began desperately.
She let out an anguished wail.
"…cry," he concluded, wincing. Van reached over to pat Merle on the head, and she sniffled at him. Folken shook his head, his smile pained. "I'm going to take these two to Mother. My apologies to little Millerna!" He strode across the garden, doing his best to keep his hold of the kitten-girl, who, sensing encroaching reprimand, was determined to wriggle out of his grasp. Muddy as she was, she managed it rather quickly, and scampered towards the safety of the branches.
Van tugged at his brother's tunic to be put down, and Folken, shaking his head, set him on his feet. Van took a few steps forward and held out his hand. "Come on, Merle. We have to take responsibility," he said solemnly.
It was all Folken could do not to burst out laughing, either at his brother's words, or Merle's shamefaced expression as she warily returned to take Van's hand.
Marlene watched them head back to the house, and gently rubbed Millerna's back, murmuring comforting words. She never liked scolding the little sister she'd more or less raised while Millerna was still crying. Unfortunately, Millerna had learned quickly that the best way to avoid being scolded at all was to burst into tears.
"Folken, you're a mess! And your father is looking for you!" Varie sighed in exasperation.
Folken smiled his sweet, disarming smile apologetically, and stepped aside to reveal the very muddy, very sullen Van and Merle.
Varie's expression was a mixture of amusement, concern, and dismay as she hurried to the children and knelt in front of them. "What happened?"
Folken tried not to smile. "A diplomatic disagreement between the House of Fanel and the House of Aston."
Van shot his brother a reproachful look for making fun of him.
Varie sighed. "You wouldn't joke about that, would you?" she asked hopefully.
Folken shook his head. "I'm afraid not."
"Go get cleaned up and find your father," Varie instructed her elder son. "He wants you to practice with him." Folken nodded, and turned to leave.
"Come here, my little ones," Varie murmured, opening her arms to Van and Merle. "Before I say anything else," she said pulling them close, "I must ask both of you, from now on, to be especially kind to Princess Millerna."
Van gulped guiltily.
"She's just lost her mother, so you must be patient with her. It may not be easy, but you must do your best."
Merle nodded vigorously, eyes wide, and Van impulsively planted a kiss on his mother's cheek.
"I'm sorry," he muttered.
Varie's eyes hardened a little. "Oh, I hope so."
Goau of Fanelia, like his son, was slender and tall. Folken stood in the doorway of the armory for a moment, admiring his father's grace as he practiced forms with the sword bearing the royal crest. A shaft of sunlight fell upon him, reflecting brilliantly on the flat of his blade, and shining softly from black hair like Van's.
Turning, Goau smiled at his son, and sheathed his blade. Folken chose his wooden practice sword from the wall rack, and Goau replaced the royal sword with a wooden one as well.
Folken wasn't sure how he felt about sparring with his father. It had been a daily tradition since he was twelve. He never won, and was tolerably certain he never would win. Each time, he strove to be deserving of some kind of compliment from his father, and was more than content with that small praise.
"You're quick today, Folken," Goau commented, his own movements looking effortlessly light. Unable to spare the breath to respond, Folken brought his wooden sword up to block his father's careful blows.
Doing his best to mimic Goau's graceful movements, Folken almost dropped his sword when his father's went spinning across the smooth wooden floor.
He… won. He wasn't even trying to win. He didn't even want to win.
Goau stood, looking at his empty hand. It was a moment before Folken noticed that it was shaking.
"Father?" Folken said softly, letting his sword drop from its ready position.
"My son," Goau began, looking up. Folken was surprised to see tears in his father's eyes. "Forgive me. I am going to ask something of you… that no one should ask of another person. You are free to refuse. And know, if you do, that it will not make you a bad son, or a bad king. And yet… I must ask."
"Father…" Folken repeated softly, confused.
"When the ambassadors of Asturia approached me with the idea, this past spring, I refused them immediately. I would not sell my son for mere military might." Goau spoke slowly, his voice full of emotion. "His life is his own, and his choices are for him to make."
Folken was silent, and still.
"Forgive me, Folken. Forgive me for forcing you to make this choice." Goau took a deep breath. "King Aston of Asturia has proposed, when you are of suitable age, that you wed his daughter, Princess Eries."
For a moment, Folken stood, looking, for lack of anything better, at his practice sword. His parents' love story was the kind that was made into epic poems, and timeless ballads. The young king, his fey love, and how they had overcome all those who opposed their love to make a prosperous, happy kingdom for their beautiful sons. Everyday of his life, Folken saw his parents' love for one another, reflected in the way they spoke to one another and looked at each other, and in the shining eyes of his little brother.
"An Asturian princess…" Folken began slowly, "would mean an unbreakable bond to the strongest, most prosperous nation on our border. And," he furrowed his brow, "lower tariffs on Asturian goods, and better access to trade routes, and to the ports of Asturia."
Goau, with his silence, agreed.
Folken bit his lower lip, and ran his hand along the length of the practice sword. He tapped the tip in his palm as he thought. "It would also open Fanelia to certain amount of courtly intrigue and corruption to which it is unaccustomed. And Asturia would gain access to our wealth of natural resources, which…in foreign hands I do not think would be stewarded as well as they have been."
Goau nodded curtly, and approvingly.
Returning his practice sword to its place on the rack, Folken turned back to his father with his hands out, palms facing upward, fists closed. "We would run the risk of losing control of our resources and facing a challenge to our sovereignty." He raised his left hand, with two fingers up. "And we are assured military support, and improved trade." His right hand mirrored it. "An even exchange, but is it one we wish to make, Father?" He let his hands fall.
Goau retrieved his own wooden sword, and set it back in its place. He stood for a moment, leaning with his hands on the wall, his head bowed slightly.
"You are logical and insightful, my Folken. But you over look a few key elements. A strong alliance with Asturia would offer more than trade and a strong military ally. Asturia has technology, beyond their advanced Guymelefs, that would improve the lives of the people of Fanelia – better crops, better metallurgy, better glass-making, more advanced clockwork mechanism, leviships…" Goau's voice trailed off, and Folken crossed his arms.
"You think then, that an alliance with Asturia is what's best for Fanelia," Folken stated softly.
Goau straightened, and closed the distance between himself and his son. Placing his hard, calloused hand on Folken's shoulder, he looked into his son's face, eyes full of pain, and compassion. "I would never ask you to make this choice if I did not believe that with all my heart."
This choice…Folken dropped his eyes from his father's face. And if I let it pass, it goes on to Van. If I refuse the hand of Princess Eries, then Van must someday make a similar choice – whether it be to wed Princess Millerna or some other Asturian girl – to cement this alliance that Father finds critical. And perhaps it is critical, at that.
Van. He would feel the same pain and regret that Folken felt now, if Folken refused his duty. How could Folken make a choice for his own happiness, when that would put his brother's in danger?
"Then," Folken began, voice heavy, "your wisdom is my own, Father."
By the light of Asturian candles, Princess Eries sat before the mirror brought with her trunk, brushing her long, thick hair the color of corn silk. She'd dressed for dinner in her own favorite blue silk gown, with its safe, wretchedly uncomfortable layers of undergarments.
Marlene approached behind her, and gathered Eries' straight, smooth mane of hair into her white hands. Eries straightened while Marlene deftly divided the strands and formed a thick, loose plait. Marlene had changed back into her loose Fanelian robe already, and her own golden hair was braided as well.
"Millerna's asleep, finally," she said softly, as though afraid she might wake her in the adjoining room.
"I hope the food agrees with her," Eries commented.
Marlene laughed. "I don't think I could deal with both of you sick again."
Eries shook her head. "It's just lucky you could handle the food in Freid."
"And that you have no problems with Fanelian food."
Was it really necessary for her to bring that up?
"I want to go home," Marlene whispered softly, resting her chin on her sister's shoulder, and wrapping her arms around her. "I miss the sea…" she said softly.
Eries felt a sharp twinge. The salt on the cool breeze… the sunlight sparkling on the waves… Certainly, tomorrow evening they would be on the road back to Asturia… home. But in a few short years, home would be a memory, or a place to visit.
Fanelia's emerald woods and babbling brooks had their own charms, but couldn't replace…
"Don't cry, Eries," Marlene murmured, reaching out to brush the tear from her sister's cheek. "I'm sorry, I didn't…think."
"I'm fine, Marlene," Eries snapped, pushing her away.
"Quiet, you'll wake Millerna!" Marlene snapped back, a little hurt.
Eries rubbed at her forehead. "I'm going outside," she announced, standing from her makeshift dresser.
"Eries," Marlene called quietly, but Eries was already into the hallway, and hurrying down the stairs to the door she remembered that led to the gardens. It was only when she crossed the threshold to outside that she realized she'd forgotten her shoes.
Well there was certainly no way she was going back for them. The soft moss of the path was thicker than any of the carpets in her chambers in Palas. The wind tossed the leaves of the canopy, but it brought no scent of the sea. Still, it was a pleasant change from the close, humid atmosphere inside. She looked up between the leaves, the stars twinkling down, and the Mystic Moon casting it's soft blue glow down on the sleeping forest. She wasn't sure why they called it the garden. It was just a little tidbit of forest that had found it's way to the courtyard of the "palace" and the Queen seemed to like planting flowers here and there. It was a far cry from the carefully landscaped, manicured grounds that she was used to, but it had a peculiar, wild kind of beauty – not unlike the young prince of Fanelia.
The very young prince who now sat on the grassy bank not twenty paces in front of her, his own eyes fixed firmly on the stars.
She took a step back in surprise, and, hearing her skirts rustle, Prince Folken looked down and met her eyes. He smiled shyly at her, and stood.
Not wanting to be completely rude, Eries warily returned the smile and took a few more steps in his direction. In the dimness, his crimson eyes looked brown, and in the blue light, his greenish hair was silvery.
"Good evening Princess," Folken bade her pleasantly.
"And to you, Prince Folken," Eries replied, with a small, graceful curtsy.
"Have you come out to see the stars?"
"I… just needed some air," she answered honestly.
Folken smiled. "Well…enjoy the lovely night." He strode past her, hands in his pockets, back towards the building.
Although she did not turn her head to watch him go, Eries heard him stop.
"Princess Eries?" he began quietly. "Did you… know…"
"That we are to wed? Naturally," she replied, voice neutral.
"I only found out today," he said numbly.
Eries felt a pang of compassion. At least she'd had the entire trip to content herself to the idea. Or…to try to.
"Will you tell me about yourself?" Folken asked. "You've seen my home. Would you tell me about yours?"
He sat back down in the grass, and, after a moment's hesitation, Eries lowered herself to the ground next to him.
"The air smells different, at home," she began softly.
And before she quite knew what was happening, Eries found herself talking, perhaps even comfortably, to the half-breed demon who would one day be her husband. She spoke of her home, her sisters, her father…. and her mother.
"I… miss her. I can tell Father does too. He's gotten colder, lately. I worry about him."
What made it easy to talk to him? He listened so well… not just politely, but interestedly, as if he even cared. And perhaps he did, at that.
Eries had fallen silent for a moment. Folken looked up at her, his face a little sad.
"Princess… there is something I feel you ought to know, if we are to wed someday. And you ought to know it now, and not when it is too late to change your father's mind."
Change Father's mind. That was almost funny. Almost.
"I do not understand," she spoke aloud. "You needn't say anything that you are not comfor…"
Eries blinked rapidly in surprise when Folken placed a gentle finger on her lips.
"Please. This is important."
He let his hand fall, paused a moment, then pulled his tunic over his head in one swift motion.
Eries shot to her feet, confused, her face burning. But the memory of the sincerity and the sadness in his eyes called her back when she turned. He'd gotten to his feet, and his tunic lay on the grass beside where he'd sat. His head was bowed, and his eyes closed fast, as if in concentration, or anticipation of pain.
And in the next moment, the world was swirling with shimmering white feathers.
Prince Folken's wings shone like pearl, and glistened like new fallen snow.
The princess looked up from her writing desk, subtly shifting the letter she was writing to a relative of her mother's to cover the feathers she'd idly drawn on her blotter. "Yes, Marlene?"
"Eries," Marlene repeated, coming into her sister's room, and kneeling beside Eries' chair. Her eyes were strange, and she reached out to put her hands on her sister's shoulders.
"What's the matter?" Eries demanded, concerned. "Marlene, what is it?"
"You knew," she began slowly, "that Lord Goau of Fanelia had died of some illness or another that the Fanelian doctors that were unable to cure."
"You needn't make them sound so primitive, Marlene. People get sick beyond help here as well, remember?" she replied sharply, surprised at her own vehemence in defending the place.
"I didn't mean…" Marlene began, then sighed, and fell silent for a moment. "Eries," she said again, her voice very careful, and very solemn. "There's been… an accident of some sort. Apparently," she paused, and took a deep breath, "… Fanelia has a tradition that requires the new king to slay a land dragon to ascend to the throne. It may be a barbaric custom, but they hold to it, even when the crown prince is little more than a boy, and not experienced enough to battle such a beast."
Eries felt her breath catch in her throat, and her eyes grow hot with tears. "Do you mean to tell me…" she murmured.
Marlene reached up and placed her hands on Eries' cheeks, her eyes oddly intense. "It is a tragedy. But Eries, consider - Prince Folken's blood has bought your freedom."
"My what?" Eries answered numbly.
"You are free. You were a widow before you were a bride, and you belong only to Asturia now."
"Until it seems to Father that it is beneficial to give me away again."
"Eries. I know Millerna is the littlest and gets away with murder, and Father sometimes seems to favor me. But more importantly than that, he depends on you. You keep up his correspondences, and play hostess. You have the makings of an excellent administrator, and you take all your duties very seriously. As long as you're around, Father will always know he has an advisor he can trust."
And for a moment, she was taunted by a memory… the gem-like, idyllic beauty of Fanelia seemed all the lovelier in contrast to the intrigues of the Asturian court.
Which was nonsense, she assured herself. For all its charms, Fanelia could never have been home. She loved Asturia… with it's graceful buildings, and everywhere the sparkle of water, and the breeze off of the ocean.
Mother had taken them to a beach – a sea side retreat, and sat in the sand while she and Marlene splashed in the deliciously cool water, filled their pockets with colorful shells and smooth pebbles, and played at being mermaids…
The part of her that was still a little girl with salt crusted in her tangled golden hair had never wanted to leave her home.
And the bright, intelligent young woman now greeted the opportunity for influence, and the ability to make a difference in the home she loved so fiercely.
But there was another part – one that she could not quite put a name to – that mourned the loss of that other fate a little. She would never be the bride of the handsome fey prince, nor the queen of his fair forest realm.
"Eries," Marlene said softly, squeezing her sister's hands, and calling her back from her thoughts. "You belong to Asturia. This is you chance to be more than a princess."
"It…. it just feels wicked to be relieved," Eries told her softly, feeling tears slide down her cheeks. Tears for him, or tears for herself, or....
"Hush darling," Marlene murmured, gathering Eries into her arms as she would have Millerna. "You aren't wicked. Don't ever think that. Prince Folken was a kind person."
Eries was struck as though by a blow with the image of him bathed in the light of the Mystic Moon, wind ruffling the snowy white feathers of his magnificent wings, and dark eyes so sad. Perhaps the fey blood gave him some foresight of his sad fate. Or perhaps he was just a boy who was no happier than she about having his life put in the hands of a stranger.
"He would not have wanted you to cry," Marlene concluded, wiping at Eries' tears.
[Thanks to the usual – Annie, and Erin, who I inflict the early drafts on, and to NickelS, who I shamelessly swiped the title from (although mine still isn't as good as hers) and who has a story pursuing the idea of Eries and Folken having been betrothed, during the time of the series.
I, obviously, don't own anything remotely related to Vision of Escaflowne. If I did, I wouldn't be writing fanfiction.]