Livi never once lifted his head from the floor as his fate was announced for the throne room to hear. He stared at the straw mat inches from his face, his hands resting perfectly at his brow, and only one thought went through his mind.
Ah. I knew it.
"In one week's time, the prince and his entourage shall depart from our shores and make for the mainland. After the wedding, the entourage shall return to the Duchy," the queen explained calmly. Several voices murmured, though it was hard to tell what they were saying from his position on the mat. Still, Livi didn't need to hear to guess what they were thinking, and it only filled him with anger.
They're relieved. And glad it was me. Of course they are.
"Prince Livius, I implore you to bring our small country honor as the Sun Queen's consort." He raised his head to look at his mother. Queen Sheila half-smiled, and Livi bowed his head back to the floor out of respect for her.
"Yes, Mother. I will do my utmost never to sully the name of the Duchy."
"May the gods watch over you, my son."
I wonder... would you have sent me away under any other circumstance, Mother?
"Do you despise your fate, little prince?"
Livi had been leaning on the balcony outside his room, staring out over the green country he'd soon be leaving behind. He jumped and turned to see a tall man with black hair, arms folded neatly beneath his regal robe.
"F-Father..." he said. Leonidas smiled slightly and joined his son at the balustrade.
"It will be difficult, journeying to a new land by yourself," he mused, the soft rain falling on his hair. "And you're still so young, only twelve..."
Livi said nothing.
"You don't want to go, do you?" his father said, looking down at Livi, his deep blue eyes the same shade as his son's.
"Understandable," he said kindly. "I know life here hasn't been easy for you, but it's still the only home you've ever known."
Livi sighed, visibly relaxing. He rested his chin on his hands. "Father, do you ever regret... I mean... I'm thankful that you and Mother had me, of course, but..."
"Ah..." Leonidas said softly. "Well, it would be a lie if I said I never had my doubts... and I do regret the hard life we've given you. But... I love your mother, and I love you, so I hope that someday you can forgive me, Livius."
"Don't be silly, Father," Livi frowned, standing straight. "I don't blame either of you. It's the rest of the royal family I can't stand. What's so important about pure blood? So what if my father is a commoner? You're still part of the royal household," he said stubbornly.
Leonidas chuckled. "I'm nothing more than a glorified consort," he said, smiling. "But yes, Sheila's children by the late King find you to be a threat to their position."
"I don't see why; I have no interest in the throne."
"It's because you can sing."
"I'm not the only-"
"Yes, but compared to your brothers and sisters, you're special, Livius. The quality of your summoning is completely different from theirs, and our laws state that only practitioners of sufficiently high talent can inherit the throne."
"What a stupid law," Livi muttered.
"Yes, it rather is," Leonidas sighed. "And I'm sorry, but neither your mother nor I can do anything to overturn it. That's why we're sending you away."
"I know. You and Mother want to protect me... You don't have to explain yourself, Father."
"That's one of the reasons, it's true. If you remain in the Duchy, the rest of your life will be spent in fear of assassination and conflict. The Queen and I won't be around forever to shield you, Livi." He rested one of his large hands on Livi's head gently. "But... we also want you to be happy. Perhaps, away from this gloomy land, you'll find something bright and warm to support you."
Livi scoffed. "I'll be alone, in a foreign land, and I'll be marrying a woman I've never met. Happiness sounds like the last thing I'll find in the Sun Kingdom."
"Well, you won't know until you try, hmm? Being a Queen's consort isn't the worst fate in the world, little prince," Leonidas winked. Livi grinned despite himself.
"Easy enough for you to say, Father. You're consort to the Queen of the Rain, the most beautiful woman there is."
Leonidas glanced around and bent down so that only Livi could hear. "Perhaps, but she's also a force of nature; not always calm like this gentle rain," he whispered. "And if it helps, I've heard the Sun Queen is quite the beauty herself."
Livi laughed quietly. "I don't know, I'll have to see for myself. And sooner than I'd like," he said, his eyes fixed on the huge ship moored at the harbor.
"I'm afraid so," Leonidas said sadly. "Still, as your father, I hope the Sun Kingdom does you some good, little prince."
They set sail within the week, a small knot of well-wishers gathered at the harbor to wish him a safe trip. He spotted his mother and father among them, and they watched him board the ship without a word. Livi might have resented that, but their eyes were full of sadness and warmth, and he found that it was enough. As the galley pulled away, a shower of rain began to fall, and Livi let the drops splash onto his face.
Farewell, Mother. Farewell, Father.
A few people waved at him, wishing him luck. He waved back, his chest hurting too much to call back. He had hated this country, had hated everything about his life except his parents. Every day had been filled with a suffocating hatred that seemed to flow into him from every corner and every inhabitant of the grand palace. Cruel remarks, physical abuse, even the occasional poisoning... he'd grown up being told with every action against him that he was unwanted, unneeded, and unworthy to share the Queen's blood. But as the green shore began to fade and he could no longer feel the cool touch of the perpetual rain on his skin, Livi realized that he would miss the Duchy, and that he would miss more than his immediate family.
Farewell, my country. Though I never thought much of you... I will never forget you.
The mainland was much hotter than he could have imagined. A full half-day before they arrived, a heavy, oppressive heat began to blow toward them on the wind. There was very little moisture in it, and the sun bore down on them mercilessly. Everyone on board was sweating and exhausted by the time they reached land, and more than half of his entourage had eschewed their traditional robes in favor of lighter (though less formal) clothing. Livi followed suit almost immediately. In his simple tunic and patterned slacks, Livi disembarked looking and feeling less like a Queen's husband-to-be and more like a normal twelve year old boy.
"Milord, please, at least the cape-!" one of his manservants begged as they walked down the plank.
"No, it's broiling!" Livi complained under his breath. He fanned himself tiredly. "I'd rather arrive looking humble than looking like I've been cooked in my own clothes, Garta."
Garta frowned. He was only a few years older than Livi, but he still took his job very seriously. "We'll be ridiculed, milord! Disgraced!"
"I don't care; you think they won't laugh if I show up red-faced and dehydrated?"
"Enough," Livi said sharply. "We won't even arrive at the capital for another week. It doesn't matter if we give off a good impression now."
"I said, enough. I'm not an idiot, but it's more important to learn about this country right now than it is to impress some minor officials," he scolded.
A tall man with glasses was waiting for them on the dock. He was dressed very smartly, and Livi guessed he was one of those officials he'd just alluded to.
"Excuse me, is the prince...?" he asked carefully, scrutinizing each new arrival.
"I am the prince," Livi said loudly, forcing the man to look back at him in surprise. From the look of shock on the man's face, he could tell they had been expecting an older groom. After all, they never specified which prince they wanted. And I suppose Mother... forgot... to warn them. "Are you here to meet us?"
The man cleared his throat and his cheeks turned somewhat red. Clearly, he was embarrassed by the situation. "Ahem, ah, yes. I am here on Her Majesty's behalf to act as your guide to the capital, Prince...?"
"Livius. Livius Ifriquiya."
"On behalf of my sovereign, Queen Nike Remercier, I bid you welcome to the Sun Kingdom, Prince Livius. I am Neil, Her Majesty's Chief Secretary. I trust your journey was a pleasant one?"
"Not at all. This blasted heat nearly killed us," Livi said sharply. The man coughed slightly.
"Uh, yes, I suppose it must be rather hot compared-"
"Never mind the weather," Livi cut in. He would normally never be so rude, but the heat was irritating. "Will we be setting off for the capital immediately?"
"Tomorrow, milord. Tonight we are to rest in the port."
Great, just what I needed. More time for me to mull over and curse my fate.
"Please call if you need anything, milord."
"Yeah, I will," Livi said tiredly. Garta closed the bedroom door, and after several weeks of being on a crowded ship, Livi was finally alone. He looked around the room; he'd never been in an inn before, so he couldn't compare it, but it was a comfortable sort of place. His room had a fair bit of space and a soft, plush rug that looked to be made of fur. There were lovely paintings on the walls and the furniture, though made of cheap wood, was nicely crafted.
I guess not everything in this country is harsh and ugly, he thought. So far, his impression the Sun Kingdom was rather low. There wasn't nearly as much foliage as he was used to, and though Neil pointed out that aqueducts supplied drinking water throughout the country, the landscape itself was dry and hot. The people in the city tended toward the irritable, which Livi supposed was a result of the heat. All in all, he was disappointed. He couldn't imagine living the rest of his life in such an unpleasant country.
Not that I have a choice, he sighed, throwing himself back onto the bed. He stared up at the wooden ceiling, lost in his thoughts. In about four days, they would reach Ginitarix, the capital, and he would finally meet his bride. He knew precious little about her; he only knew her name and what he'd been told, that she was young and newly crowned, and that she had sent a plea to the Duchy asking for a husband in exchange for political support.
"Marriage, huh..." he muttered to himself. In less than a week, I'll be a married man...
The room suddenly went dark, startling him. A moment later there was a faint thud from his window and he sat up to find a young woman crouched on the small balcony.
"Shh!" the girl hissed, hurrying forward and clamping her hands over his mouth. She pushed him down, using her weight to keep him from moving, and turned to face the window again, listening intently. The initial shock wore off and Livi began to struggle, but she made the shushing noise again and a moment later he heard loud voices coming from the street below the window.
"Did you see where she went?!"
"No, sir! I think we've lost her."
"Damn, back to the marketplace, hurry!"
The woman waited a minute before sighing in relief. She let go of him and pulled away.
"Thank the gods, I thought they'd caught me for sure." She turned to look at him. "I'm sorry about that, it must have been a shock."
Livi didn't seem to be able to speak. She was quite tall and was wearing what looked like a cloak. Her eyes were bright green and her brown hair reached to her waist. If it wasn't for the disheveled or adventurous look of her, he would have thought her quite pretty; as it was, her face was smudged with dirt and her hair was a knotted mess. There seemed to be scratches on her hands and arms, and her cloak was rather tattered around the edges. He wasn't entirely sure what he was looking at, and it took him a good moment to gather his wits again.
"A... A shock?!" he finally cried, his pride and temper finally kicking in. "What kind of person just breaks into someone's room and... and straddles them?!"
"And not just that, you basically half-suffocated me!" he glared. "Who are you?!"
"M-me?" she asked, surprised. Her genuine lack of concern for what she'd done only served to stoke his irritation.
"Oh, um, I'm no one important," she said hurriedly, waving her hands somewhat desperately. "I didn't mean to break in or anything, I was just in a hurry! Please don't make a big deal-"
"Hah?! For all I know you're a criminal or a thief," he said sharply.
"I'm not! I swear I'm not!"
The girl groaned. "How am I supposed to prove that? Look, my name is Mira. I got into a small argument with some soldiers and they started chasing me, so I ran for it. Happy?"
"What kind of argument?"
"They were heckling a shopkeeper, and I told them to quit it. They didn't take very kindly to my telling them what to do," she huffed.
Livi sighed. "Of course they wouldn't, you idiot."
"Well, whatever. If you're done trespassing, you should probably lea-" He was interrupted by the sound of more yelling outside the window, and the clanking of armor. Mira blanched and timidly peeked out from behind the curtain.
"Crap, they've brought the whole city guard," she muttered to herself.
"You have got to be kidding me," Livi groaned.
"Sorry to ask, but do you mind-"
"Yes, I mind."
"Please!" she begged, clapping her hands together and bowing toward him. "I-I'll pay you back later, I promise!"
"Heartless! You'd turn out a poor, helpless girl in trouble?!"
"In a second," he said without hesitation. "You're suspicious as all hell. Get out, or I'll call for help," he warned.
"Please, please!" She grabbed at his sleeve. "If I'm caught, they'll send me to prison!"
He hesitated. What should he care if she was sent to jail? For all he knew she was lying and she really was a criminal. But her expression was so sincere that against his better judgement, he found himself giving in to those wide green eyes.
"F-fine," he said. "You can stay. But only until the soldiers clear out, got it?!"
"Thank you!" she cried, and before he knew it she'd thrown her arms around him. He froze; he'd never been touched so familiarly by anyone but his mother and father. She was warm, and her scent was foreign but pleasant, somewhat floral. "Oh, and I never got your name," she said cheerily, pulling away.
"O-oh," he mumbled, rather flustered. "I-It's Li-Leo," he lied on instinct.
"Alright, thank you Leo!"
"O-only until they leave!" he repeated as she sat down on the edge of his bed, looking far too comfortable.
"Of course," she smiled, and Livi got the impression that she was the sort of person that people found rather difficult to deal with.
"Say, Leo, are you a foreigner?"
Livi looked up from his book to find Mira staring at him curiously. It had been about an hour since she'd climbed into his room, and she'd done good on her promise to keep quiet.
Until now, at least.
"Why do you ask?"
"Your clothes are weird," she noted. "They're kind of... ethnic looking."
"Yeah, we don't have these kinds of colors or patterns in the Sun Kingdom," she said, pointing at his sleeves. "So, where are you from?"
He felt like it would be a bad idea to tell the truth. So he settled for a half-lie.
"I'm from the Rain Duchy. I came with my father on business," he said, not catching her eyes.
"Oh! The Rain Duchy! Is it true that the royal family there can call the rain?"
He blinked, surprised that she knew about Amefurashi. "Where'd you hear that?"
"Someone was saying it. You know, the Sun Queen is marrying a prince from the Duchy."
"I-is that so?"
"Yeah. They say she ended up asking for a prince from the Rain Duchy because she wanted to see the rain."
"She... wanted to see the rain?"
Mira shrugged. "It's always so hot here, you know? We've been suffering a drought for years, so rain is a big deal. She probably saw the opportunity to ease our water situation... or maybe she was just curious." There was a thoughtful look in her eyes. "Still, I bet the queen is bitter about getting married in the first place." Her expression grew sour.
"Why would she be bitter? Didn't she ask for a prince?"
"Well, yeah, but only because the government has been pushing her to do it."
"They're probably hoping they can control her through her husband; as soon as Queen Nike took the throne, she started getting rid of lots of unfair laws and stuff, but I hear there are a lot of aristocrats who aren't happy with her changes."
Livi snorted. "Well, perhaps they'll find that the prince won't be so easy to manipulate."
"Hmm," she said thoughtfully. "Well, who knows? In any case, is this your first time in the Sun Kingdom?"
"Yeah. But we're leaving the city tomorrow."
"What?! And you're just gonna spend the whole day in this stuffy room?!" she asked suddenly, sitting up straight.
"Well, yeah..." he said, taken aback by her outburst.
"No way, you have to see the city!" she insisted. "Come on, we're going!" She grabbed him by the hand and pulled him straight to the window. She took a quick look around the street below them and seemed to be satisfied that no soldiers were around.
"Of course!" she said, as if it were the obvious course of action. She clambered onto the railing, her leg dangling over the edge. "Come on, there's a tree, I used it to climb up." Before he could object, she'd leapt and clung onto a tree branch. He hesitated.
I'm going to regret this...
A moment later he pulled himself up onto the balustrade to follow her.
She dragged him all over the city. They walked through the marketplace and visited the town square, Mira keeping up a stream of commentary as they went. She pointed out everything from statues and buildings to the aqueducts and market stalls. She insisted on buying a few snacks for him to try, saying that it was important that he experience the port's delicacies and traditional foods. They stopped to watch a performance by a group of traveling entertainers and walked down the dockside to watch the sailors at work.
By the time it was dark, Livi was sure he'd never walked so much in his life. A loud chime echoed over the city, counting out the hour.
"Wow, it got late so fast," Mira noted, staring up at the sky from her seat on the edge of the fountain. "Should I take you back to your inn?" she asked. Livi groaned, shaking his head tiredly.
"I need a few minutes, I'm exhausted," he complained, unceremoniously slumping against the fountain statue. He watched some of the passerby in silence for a minute. "Hey, Mira..."
"You sure know a lot," he said slowly. Perhaps he was imagining it, but she seemed to stiffen somewhat.
"Huh? No, not really. I'm just a regular girl, you know?" she said, a bit too quickly.
"You must like to read a lot or something then," he said, too tired to press the issue.
"Y-yeah... But the reason I know so much about this city has nothing to do with books," she said, her eyes looking distant. "I... I had an older sister, you see. She loved this place; she used to bring me with her and show me all the sights, just like I did for you today. She said the spirit of this country is strong here, that you can really see the beauty of the world when you walk through its streets and see the people about their daily lives."
"Beauty?" Livi asked, skeptical. She chuckled.
"I'm guessing you don't think so?"
"It's not that," he said hastily. "It's just so... dry... and everyone seems so irritated."
"As expected from someone who lived in a place called the Rain Duchy," she grinned. "I bet your country is full of greenery."
"True, we don't have a lot of trees or grass, but there's different kinds of beauty in the world. Look." She pointed across the square, where a young woman was leading a little boy by the hand. The child was nodding off, his steps sluggish. As they watched, the young mother stopped and picked him up, tucking his face into the crook of her shoulder. They saw her smile and say something, though they couldn't hear what she said. As she turned round the corner, she kissed her son's hair gently. Livi was reminded of his own mother, and a terrible homesickness took hold of him.
"Listen," Mira said next, and she indicated toward a group of people laughing outside a restaurant. Some of them carried instruments, and from time to time they would strike up a half-joking tune, the laughter echoing over the cobblestones. A murmur seemed to fill the night air, a gentle sound made up of voices that broke and babbled like a brook. Livi was reminded of the sound of rain pattering on a roof.
She pressed a fingertip to his chest. "Feel," she ordered, and he did. He felt a warm breeze blow across his face, tussling his hair slightly. It smelled like salt and smoke, like heat and brine at the same time. A feeling of peace overcame him, and he found, for the first time in a very long time, that he wanted to sing.
The words came to his tongue unbidden. It was a language long dead, even in his country, only used in songs and spells. He didn't know the meaning of the words; he was merely a vessel for them, bringing them up from the wellspring of his emotions and conveying that in his voice. He closed his eyes, letting the song flow and build. A colder wind began to blow, carrying the sounds away. When he finally fell silent, he found that Mira was staring at him with a strange expression on her face.
"W-what?" he asked, suddenly self-conscious. He hadn't meant to use his powers, but thankfully it had been a gentle summoning; he hoped she hadn't deduced that the wind wasn't just a coincidence.
"You... you can really sing," she said quietly. Her voice sounded odd. "I felt like... something in my heart hurt just now, like I could hear my sister's voice, even though you sound nothing alike..."
He coughed slightly, avoiding her eyes. Amefurashi was the power to call rain, but it was the power to affect emotions as well; he'd probably tapped into her nostalgia.
"Your sister..." he said, his need to know getting the better of him. "What happened to her?"
Mira clenched her fist slightly.
"She died. She fell ill, the last time she visited this city."
Livi didn't press any further, but he found he didn't need to. Mira spoke so quietly he had to strain his ears to hear her shaky voice.
"She... my sister loved this city. Last year, there was a typhoon. She came to help, and she never came home. She loved this place but I... I hate it," she choked, and tears began to streak down her face. "I hate that it took her from me... and I hate that I still remember everything she ever showed me about it. I hate that I can still find it beautiful, even though it's the place where she died."
"You came to look for her," he said simply. He could feel her emotions threading through the air, could feel them gathering painfully in the pit of his stomach.
"You wanted to see if you could find some part of her here, even though she's gone."
"I never thought about it like that... but I guess in a way I did..."
"Did you find her?"
"I... I don't know."
He laid a hand over hers gently.
"I think you did," he said. He let her cry herself out, until finally she wiped her cheeks with her sleeve.
"And you, Leo?" she asked, a sad smile tugging at her lips.
"What about me?"
"Did you find something here?"
He pondered the question, staring up at the sky as he did. He blinked; since it was perpetually raining in the Duchy, it was rare to see stars. But here, he could see them for miles, a canopy of light stretching over them. The moon was beginning to rise, a flat white disk peeking over the horizon from the direction of the ocean, casting a long white path over the waves. In the evening light, under the millions of stars, the city was no longer a harsh, tiring place.
"I can't say," he finally replied. "But I'll probably know in a week's time," he added. She didn't bother to ask him to clarify.
"Raise your head, Prince Livius. You are in the presence of Her Majesty, Queen Nike I."
His heart was in his mouth, his eyes staring at the thick red carpet laid out underneath him. He took a deep breath.
This is it, Livi. It's time to face your fate, eye to eye.
He looked up to see a pair of familiar green eyes. His mouth fell open, and he vaguely recognized that his bride was staring at him with an equal expression of incredulity.
It was definitely her, though the last time he'd seen her she'd been so shabby that it took him a second to recognize her now. Her hair was perfectly coiffed, a thin gold crown on her brow. Red stones hung from her ears, and her dress, though simple, was embroidered with silver thread. On her breast shone a brooch with the kingdom's coat of arms emblazoned on it.
Both of them clapped their hands to their mouths at the same moment, and a murmur of gossip broke out in the throne room from the onlookers. Neil, standing behind Livi, pointedly cleared his throat. Livi quickly remembered himself.
"Y-your Majesty, I have come from the Rain Duchy to answer your plea," he said stiffly, trying to focus. Mira, or rather, Nike, merely gaped at him. A second later she turned to one of her advisors.
"How old did you say he was?!" she asked loudly.
Several people broke out in sniggers and Neil clapped a hand to his face in exasperation.
"Please, Your Majesty, try to have some decorum," he said.
"But he... Leo- no Prince Livius, your country sent you to marry me?!"
"They did," he said, unsure of how to address her in this situation.
To his surprise, she burst into loud, wild laughter, her heavy earrings clinking together loudly.
"Oh, this is perfect!" she cried, wiping the tears from her eyes with her gloved fingers. "I get to marry a friend, and the aristocrats have zero chance in hell of controlling you!"
"Your Majesty, please!" Neil hissed as several people in the crowd began muttering mutinously.
"A... friend?" Livi asked, his feelings a whirl of confusion.
"Of course," she smiled. "We became friends, didn't we? Back in Florian?"
She looked so beautiful in that moment that the thought of her in her tattered cloak almost made him laugh as well. He grinned, relief and hope replacing all the anxiety he'd been carrying since he'd left the Duchy.
"You're right, we did."
He held out a hand for her as she made her way down the aisle toward him. Nike took it, her slender fingers clasping around his small palm. She was much taller than him, and he could hear several people commenting on the age difference as they passed. Livi didn't care. As the music swelled to a crescendo, he whispered to her, "It seems I did find something in that city."
She squeezed his hand.
"Was it what you were looking for?"
"Better," he muttered, and her eyes shone with mischief.
"Being my consort isn't going to be all fun and games, you know."
"The aristocrats hate me."
"They say I'm difficult to deal with."
"I can tell. But I can be difficult too, you know."
"You don't say," she grinned.
I like her, he thought as they reached the altar. She's unexpected, and full of life. She drags everyone around her into her own pace, but I don't hate that about her. She's not solemn or obsessed with decorum, she's nothing like the court back home. I like that. I like her. It's not love, not yet, but I want to be her companion. Maybe Father was right, maybe there really is something warm and bright for me here in this hot country.
As he slipped the ring onto her finger, he had to fight the urge to laugh. He thought he might be able to sing for weeks with the emotions now filling up his heart.
This story was born of a request for a roleswap, where Nike is the Sun Queen and Livi is the Prince come to marry her. I ended up embellishing it, but I wanted to write a story with more of a focus on friendship than on love for once. I dunno that I succeeded but hey, I tried. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯