Year 16 in the Reign of His Majesty, King Livius I

Athene heard her name, but she pretended not to hear. She kicked her feet lazily in the air, her back pressed to the trunk of the tree she had climbed.

"Say, sis, you really shouldn't make Lanra look for you like that."

Hmph, she's only looking for me because Stephen is arriving today.

"Still, she's going to be stressed. She's just doing her job, you know."

Don't care, I hate dressing up, she scoffed mentally. Cecil sighed.

"I know, but-"

Besides, I hate Stephen. He's so annoying! He just follows me around everywhere.

"Well, he's only seven. You're the older one, shouldn't you be happy that a young kid likes you so much?"

No, I overheard Uncle Bardwin talking to some maid yesterday; he said they're thinking of marrying me to Stephen when we're older, and there's no way in hell that's going to happen.

Cecil fell silent for a moment.

"If that's true, I pity the poor boy."

Hey!

"What? It's true."

So? You didn't have to say it like that, she said, irritably tapping her knuckles against her knee. I just don't wanna marry anyone, okay?!

"Heh, sorry, I guess I hit a nerve. You always were fiercely independent."

Mother says a princess has responsibilities she can't ignore, but I don't care. I'll be the first princess who won't get married. I can rule the Sun Kingdom all by myself!

"If that's what you want, that's fine with me," Cecil chuckled. "If it makes you feel better, I also can't stand Stephen much."

Right?! He's so NEEDY!

"Ugh, yeah. And he never shuts up about all the things he owns, as if we weren't the heir to the largest empire in the world."

What a braggart. And he's not even a real prince.

They laughed, but unfortunately Lanra found Thena by the sound of her voice.

"Princess! Get down here this instant!" she scolded, hands on her hips. "Prince Stephen is almost here and you're still running around in your chemise!"

"Ugh, fine," she muttered, getting into position to jump.

"NO, CLIMB DOWN LIKE A NORMAL CHILD, FOR GODS' SAKE!"

"This is faster!" she called, and leapt. She spoke a few words, asking the wind to cushion her fall. She landed on all fours, a bit like a cat, and Lanra gave her a smack to the head.

"For the last time, stop doing such dangerous things! You're worse than the queen!" she scolded furiously.

"Ow! I can't help it, okay?! I'm her daughter, after all!"

"Keep it up and I'm going to tell Neil to increase your studies. If keeping you busy is what it takes to get you to behave, you'll be living in the library before you know it," Lanra threatened.

"Fine, fine," Thena huffed. "Let's get this over with then," she muttered.

"Huh."

What?

"Oh, nothing, I just thought you would argue more."

Cecil, I'll kill you.

"Hah, good luck with that, I'm already dead, sis."

You smug little-

Sometimes Thena thought that Cecil rather reminded her of their father, though she would never admit it to him aloud.


Violetta was working as usual that morning when a knock at the door interrupted her report.

"Come in," she called, checking her writing for any mistakes. She looked up to see Bard open the door. "Oh, it's you," she said coldly.

"Ow, cold as always, Violetta," he winced. "Can't an old lover come visit from time to time?"

"No, not when I'm working. Besides, I'll tell Princess Kara you just said that," she warned. He gulped.

"I didn't mean to insinuate anything of the sort," he said hurriedly, waving his hands. "Actually, I came to ask a favor."

"What is it?"

"I need an escort to Fiore next week."

"Going to pick her up?"

"Yeah. She's coming to visit for a few months."

"I don't understand you two, why don't you just get married already?" she sighed, leafing through her documents as she searched for the roster of active guards. "It's so much more cumbersome for everyone involved when you travel back and forth all year long."

"We're not really the type to settle down, I suppose," he shrugged. "There's no pressure to get married when you're not in line for the throne. Athene is succeeding Livi, and Kara is only the third princess. I'm fine with this lifestyle, and traveling suits Kara-chan. That's all there is to it."

"If you say so," Violetta said, stifling a yawn. "Let's see... I've got a few people free next week. Will Garta Bayreuth do?"

"Oh, I dunno, I was kind of hoping you could assign that pretty girl, you know, the one with the- OW!" She'd thrown a book at him.

"How Kara-sama puts up with you is beyond me," she growled. "Garta it is."


Dear Nike,

How are you? I hear the weather in Ginitarix has been very pleasant this year. I suppose that means you and Livi haven't been arguing too much? I hope that's true, though if you ever do get fed up with being Queen of the Sun Kingdom, my offer from all those years ago still stands. I'll demote Claude to my concubine in a heartbeat if you'd rather come live with me. He's driving me insane, he keeps coddling Stephen to death, and I'm afraid the boy's head will explode if it gets any bigger. I see now why you were always so stressed with Princess Athene; children are already so difficult to deal with, the last thing we need is husbands who have no idea how to keep them in line.

Speaking of Stephen, he should be arriving any day now. I tried to tell him to behave, but I will be entirely surprised if he comes back without a single bruise from your daughter. I really don't think arranging a marriage between them is ever going to work. They're both too proud to put up with one another, and I think Stephen is actually afraid of Athene. He keeps bringing up something about a snake from her last visit here; I think she may have put one in his bed. Knowing him, he probably deserved it, but still, keep an eye out, won't you? I'd rather not have to see him come back in tears. He's such a pain when he throws a tantrum.

Everything is quiet as usual in Fortis, even the pirates have been laying low. Claude and I will visit for the holidays as usual, so I'll be seeing you soon. Take care, and send Livi and Athene my regards.

Yours,

Amaluna Luirasalle, First Princess of the Ocean Kingdom and Marchioness of Fortis


Neil yawned, stretching his arms over his head as he finished reading through a contract.

"Finished already?"

Lanra looked in through his office door, her hand on the frame. She looked a lot younger than she actually was; even with her stressful job as Nike's maid and Princess Athene's caretaker, she never seemed to age from it. Neil suspected it was because though she loved to complain, she loved her work, and she enjoyed herself more than she ought to as the queen's retainer.

"Just about," he replied, dipping his quill into his ink bottle. He signed his name with a flourish. "Thankfully, there isn't much to go through today. And you? Where's the princess?"

"Bullying Prince Stephen, I'm sure," she gave a noncommittal shrug. "The less I know about it, the better."

"Devious," he snorted.

"It comes from being married to the spymaster," she grinned.

"Head Chamberlain, for the last time, Lanra! I'm the HEAD CHAMBERLAIN!"

"Whatever you say, Neil. But it doesn't change the fact that your job is still to know more than you should around here."

"Ugh, the princess is really beginning to rub off on you," he sighed.

"You think so? I think I've always been this way," she winked and walked away. "It's your own fault for marrying me!" she called down the hall.

Bloody hell, she has a point.


Dear Nike,

Thank you so much for the aid you've been sending; we're really making strides to combat the drought. Prince Irada says that we may soon be able to relocate all of the oasis' populations, and the aqueduct the Sun King began building is finally nearly complete. People seem livelier nowadays, and it's all thanks to you and the king. You have my heartfelt gratitude, and the Prince's as well.

How are things in Ginitarix? It's been ages since you've visited us, and we'd love to have you. Though, please leave your spitfire demon at home, I'd rather not have to murder any of my guests. I hope you've finally managed to get her to stay still for longer than a minute; every time I see her I'm reminded to be thankful that I don't have kids. I feel sorry for you. Seriously.

Anyway, send me a letter with your reply; I'll be waiting to see you, there's plenty of places in the Sand Empire you've yet to visit. Address it to Commander Falaha, I've been promoted.

Love,

Falaha, Commander in Chief of the Sand Empire's Armed Forces


The wind was cool and sweet, rolling across the plains in waves. Talea watched the grass rise and fall, her hand pressed to her cheek in quiet contemplation.

"You look pensive, Talea."

Rosalind came to a stop at her side, brushing her skirt gently with her hands. Her long red hair whipped in the wind, her blue eyes warm as she gave Talea a small smile.

"Oh, it's nothing," she said, indicating that Rosalind should sit next to her. "I was just thinking about the plains outside Ginitarix."

"Is that so?" Rosalind replied, staring out at the vast grassland. "I think there are more flowers in these plains," she said after a moment.

"Perhaps you're right. The climate here is much cooler than back home, after all."

"That's the Cloud Kingdom for you."

"It's a lovely place. And well named," Talea noted, looking up at the sky. Huge, white clouds, like thick wads of cotton floated above, obscuring the sun for long moments at a time. She leaned back until she was lying on her back and spread her arms wide.

"What are you doing?" Rosalind giggled.

"Just relaxing," Talea smiled. "It feels nice, try it."

"If you insist." She joined Talea, lying with her feet pointing in the opposite direction.

"Cecil would have loved this place," she said quietly. Her hand twitched toward her bag, where she'd taken to carrying the small plush animal he'd always had with him.

"Yes, he would have," Rosalind replied softly. "He always did love nature; it was such a shame he rarely got to play in it."

"Mmm." She closed her eyes, breathing in the smell of the grass. "I'll be sad to leave," she said.

"We can always come back. Didn't you say you wanted to see the Forest Kingdom before we visited the Sun Kingdom again?"

"That's true. It seems we never run out of places to see," Talea said.

"The world is vast. I don't think we could see all of it even if we traveled for the rest of our lives." Rosalind turned over and propped herself up on her arms.

"That sounds lovely, Rose," Talea replied, looking up at those icy blue eyes.

"What part?" Rosalind teased.

"Traveling for the rest of our lives."

"I thought that was the plan."

"It is," Talea said. Rosalind leaned in to kiss her, and for a moment, she couldn't hear anything but the sound of the wind roaring in her ears.


Livi headed to bed much later than usual. There was a dispute among several of the northern nobles concerning a lake and he'd been wracking his brains trying to come up with a solution that would, at the very least, leave everyone equally disgruntled with the outcome.

Gods, I'll never get used to nobles squabbling over every stupid little thing, he thought angrily, turning the knob to his bedroom. To his surprise, it was locked.

"Nike, please open the door," he called, too tired to argue.

"No," came her muffled reply. He groaned.

"Nike, I'm exhausted. I've been dealing with these bloody nobles all evening. If you don't open up, I'll have to sleep in the hallway. Don't tell me you're still mad about that thing this morning?"

"You tell me, you jerk," she replied.

"Come on, it was a joke," he yawned. "Of course I'd never tell Thena you aren't her real mother, what kind of crazy person do you think I am? I like being alive," he said.

"It wasn't funny."

"Okay, look, I'm sorry. Really. Open up?"

"No."

"I'll let you dress me up in whatever you want tomorrow," he offered.

"Not good enough."

"What?! Who would throw away a chance like that?! You could put me in a skirt! A dress! I may not be small anymore but I bet I'd still be way more beautiful than most of the court ladies!" he argued in mock outrage.

He heard a laugh on the other side of the door.

"Only if you wear my highest pair of heels."

"Deal."

A moment later, she opened the door.

"You're still a jerk, though," she said, her robe pulled over her chemise. She stood aside to let him in.

"I'll accept that," he yawned loudly. "It was a pretty bad joke, I guess."

"Hmph," she said, closing the door behind him. He wrapped his arms around her waist.

"Sorry, you're just too much fun to tease," he grinned.

"Ugh, I want a divorce," she muttered, pushing him away, though she hardly put any force in it.

"You always say that, but you're still here," he pointed out.

"Beats me why," she huffed. "You're insufferable."

"Hmm, I wonder," he said slowly, reaching to kiss the nape of her neck. She made a high pitched noise.

"S-stop that!" she complained, but a second later she laughed as he blew into her ear. "Ah! No, stop, that tickles!"

"You're adorable, Nike," he grinned, and a moment later he bent to pick her up, carrying her to the bed.

"Put me down, you bloody tyrant!" she ordered. He did as she asked, dropping her unceremoniously on the mattress. "Goddammit Livi!" she cried, her hair half-covering her face. He laughed.

"Sorry, couldn't help myself," he chuckled, reaching to tuck the flyaway hair behind her ear. He kissed her, and when he pulled away, she pinched his cheek and pulled, hard.

"You're just as much of a brat as you were as a kid," she scolded, but there was a hint of laughter in her voice. "Look you, there are better ways to ask for a kiss, especially the ones that actually involve asking."

"Would you have given me one if I asked?"

"Depends."

"Okay, then can I have a kiss?"

"No," she said, and she pulled him down by the collar of his shirt.


As promised, she didn't kiss his lips. Instead, she kissed his neck and his shoulders, running her hands down his chest. She wrapped her arms around his neck, hiding her flushed face in his shoulder as he nuzzled the side of her neck. He slipped off her chemise at some point, pulling her body against his, the warmth seeping through her skin and to her core. His fingers trailed down her back gently, eliciting a series of shivers that traveled through her spine. In response, she left a mark on his neck.

"Can I have one now?" he asked, his voice breathless and deep.

"I've already given you several," she said seriously.

"You know what I mean, Nike."

She did. She leaned down to kiss him, and his arms wrapped around her waist tightly, holding her in place.

"Nike," he repeated, pressing his hand to her cheek. There was an almost austere expression on his face.

"What is it?" she asked.

"Can't I just say your name because I like the sound of it?"

"No. There's something you should probably be saying with it," she said, pretending to be annoyed.

"What's that?"

"I love you."

"That goes without saying, dear wife," he chuckled. "But if you want to hear it, princess, I'll gladly say it as many times as you need to hear." He kissed her lips. "I love you." He moved on to her throat, her shoulders, each gentle kiss punctuated by the same three words.

She blushed despite herself, and kissed his cheek. "I love you too, Livi. And... there's something else."

"Hmm?"

She leaned to whisper in his ear. He blinked, then groaned, clapping his hand to his face.

"You couldn't have told me that before I got undressed?!" he cried.

"Sorry, you're just too much fun to tease," she grinned triumphantly. "Better hurry, I'm pretty sure they need your signature before midnight."

He grabbed his shirt and began to button it up, muttering to himself as he did. She did nothing to help.

"This is payback for the joke, isn't it?" he asked, wincing.

"Yep."

"In that case..."

He leaned in, kissing her fiercely. She was taken aback, and he deepened it, though it didn't take long for her to respond in kind. When he pulled away, she was breathing hard, her chest heaving. He gave her one of his lascivious smiles and licked his lips.

"I'll leave you that to mull over while I'm gone," he smirked, and he threw his cloak over his shoulders. As he strode through the door, she came back to her senses.

"Dammit, Livi!" she cried, burying her face in her hands out of sheer embarrassment and desire.

She thought she heard him snigger as he closed the door behind him.

Fin


Notes:

Wow I can't believe I wrote over 130,000 words of pure drama. I truly am shoujo trash. Anyway, thank you for reading this fic! It's very unpolished, I know, but this is a story I've always wanted to write. I really enjoyed writing it, though I know the drama was probably a bit much from time to time. A few fun things to wrap up this long serialization:

- Thena and Cecil argue a lot, but they're always looking out for each other. As promised, Thena never tells her parents that she's possessed.

- Nike refuses to sleep with Livi for five whole years after the whole fiasco. She meant it when she said he wouldn't touch her for a long time.

- Lanra proposed to Neil. She has him wrapped around her little finger.

- Talea returns to Ginitarix once a year to pay respects to Cecil's grave and catch up with Livi and Nike. She's happy with Rosalind now, though neither she nor Livi ever forget about Cecil.

- Stephen is a total brat, but Thena is equally terrible to him, so it cancels out. They don't end up together.

There's probably a few more, and I may write a side story for grown-up Thena someday. But for now, that's it! Thanks so much for your support, I hope you enjoyed this story and that you'll look forward to my other works.

-Kairi