Hello and welcome to my first Fire Emblem-story in years. This is a Fates/Conquest story, so beware spoilers. The following paragraph will also contain minor spoilers for Birthright, so just skip it if you haven't played that one yet.
I preferred Birthright to Conquest, not just because of the story, but also because some of the missions in Conquest were very hard to beat, and nearly impossible to finish without losing someone. Also, I found that the ending lacked a lot of story – while in Birthright, the surviving Nohrian royals are at Windmire, and Ryoma makes it abundantly clear he wants to help Nohr, not conquer it, the Nohrians in Conquest have very different ambitions. Also, Windmire is practically a deserted city, so civilians didn't really get drawn into the conflict. After the endgame, only one of the Hoshidan royals is at the capital, and we never find out how exactly Hinoka came to return to what was essentially enemy territory. Also, at Xander's coronation, she's all buddy-buddy with Kamui, without really having a reason to. I felt that Conquest needed a lot more story just to clear this all up, and thus, the idea for this fanfic was born.
I decided to use Kamui as the given name for the avatar – Kaze clearly remembers her name, and it would make sense for Mikoto to choose a Japanese-sounding name for her child after having settled in Hoshido. Also, it bothered me a lot that in the game, they always referred to the royals as lord/lady instead of prince/princess, and many a prince or princess might take offence at that. I believe this to be a result of translating the suffix "sama", which is used to address anyone of higher rank and usually gets translated as "lord". So I fixed that, too.
Oh, and please, no spoilers for Revelations, as I haven't finished that one yet.
Since I couldn't come up with any good names for chapters (or split this story into chapters at all), I decided to do this in a drabble-ish way (although I fear the drabbles will be quite long) and end a "chapter" every time there is a change of POV or location. I got the inspiration for naming my "chapters" from Sam F Parker's "Signum Vitalis".
I will also include a glossary at the end of every chapter for those of you not familiar with the Japanese language.
The cover image was created using the Shoujo manga avatar creator: Matsuri on Rinmaru Games.
Sakura couldn't quite determine the worst aspect of her situation.
She hated not knowing what was going on, yet at the same time, she dreaded receiving any kind of news – for they could hardly be good news.
Ever since the fall of Fort Jinya, she had been a prisoner of the Nohrian army – as well as her retainers, Subaki and Hana, and Yukimura, who had served her mother, and had been with them when the fort had been attacked. Though they had been the only ones lucky enough to escape with their lives – even though Prince Xander had promised to spare the lives of Sakura and her men should she yield the fort to his army, all of her soldiers had been slaughtered mercilessly after their surrender, and Sakura – with her hands bound – had been forced to watch helplessly as they bled out...
She could still hear their screams.
They had separated Sakura from the others and kept her in a small storage tent at the center of their army camp. She wasn't shackled or tied down, as her captors correctly assumed that she wouldn't be able to escape on her own, especially without a weapon. However, even if she should manage to find a bow she could use (Nohrian bows were so strange), Sakura was pretty certain she would never make it out alive – and even if she did, she wouldn't know what to do then – she hadn't been trained as a warrior, unlike her siblings, and had therefore not been taught how to survive in the wild. Running away on her own would eventually lead to her death.
Besides, she couldn't just abandon Subaki, Hana and Yukimura – she was their princess, and responsible for their welfare.
Though she could do very little in that regard at the moment.
Sakura was just glad she was being left alone most of the time – Xander, with his stoic features and stiff mannerisms, unsettled her greatly, as did the fierce-looking Princess Camilla. And while Prince Leo didn't look particularly terrifying, his eyes were always cold and calculating, and Sakura could well remember the damage he had inflicted with his magic during their battle.
However, none of the above frightened her nearly as much as King Garon and his henchmen, Iago and Hans. While she hadn't seen Garon and Iago in action yet, Hans had been the one leading the slaughter of her countrymen.
She was still angry at Xander for breaking his word – then again, she had gathered from the Nohrians that Garon had arrived unexpectedly and had simply overruled his son's orders.
It still baffled her how one could treat a defeated foe in such a manner.
Hoshidans had a strict code of honour, and it forbade mistreating defeated enemies. Of course, criminals faced punishment for their deeds, but they were never murdered in cold blood or executed without a trial.
While Sakura hadn't been harmed (intentionally – she had suffered some abrasions from the ropes that were used to bind her hands whenever she was moved), she had no idea whether her comrades had been as fortunate.
However, Sakura had also suspected that someone was striving to keep her safe and protected – and Princess Elise, the youngest of the Nohrian royals, had been visiting her quite often, bringing her blankets and always trying to chat with her. Sakura had refused the blankets at first, not wanting to accept the pity of her enemy, but had soon found that it got quite cold at nights. However, she still refused to talk to Elise.
The Nohrian army had marched straight onto the Great Wall of Susanoo next, where Takumi had been stationed – kind, gentle Takumi, who had taught her how to wield a bow when she had admitted to him how useless she felt, who had always allowed her to hide behind him and grab his clothing to make herself feel better... And now, he was dead. She had been informed that he had thrown himself off the wall after he had lost the battle, refusing Kamui's offer to spare him – Sakura had been told that no-one had survived that battle, including his retainers, Oboro and Hinata.
Sakura had been devastated, but done her best not to show it to the Nohrians who had brought her the news – she assumed that they had only told her because they had wanted to see her suffer. She'd spent all the time the army used to regroup and prepare for their march on the capital on her cot, refusing to get up, or eat anything, too caught up in her grief.
She had been forced to get up as soon as the army started moving again, though, and the constant marching had distracted her somewhat – she had been able to focus on other things than her grief.
However, it had all come crashing back once the Nohrian army started setting up camp outside the capital. Sakura knew that Hinoka and Ryoma were there, ready to take a last stand against the enemy. They would die trying to defend their homeland, Sakura knew. And she wasn't sure she would be able to handle another loss.
Sakura had been left behind in camp with several guards assigned to her – men loyal to Garon rather than Xander, she had learned – and all the non-fighters accompanying the army, such as cooks, blacksmiths and other craftsmen.
Despite the fact that her capture had happened many days ago, neither Kamui nor Azura had ever come to visit her. Even though Sakura felt betrayed by both of them, she would have liked to hear an explanation as for why they had chosen the paths they did.
Truth be told, it was Azura's betrayal that hurt her more – she could somewhat understand that Kamui wanted to be with the family she grew up with, even though Sakura completely failed to comprehend how anyone could go back to the man who had murdered her father, kidnapped her, pretended to be her father, and whose actions had caused the death of her birth mother.
Azura, on the other hand – she had spent most of her life in Hoshido, and, being the gentle and kind person that Queen Mikoto had been, she had loved Azura just as much as she had loved her step-children. Even though Azura had technically been a political hostage, she had never wanted for anything, and had been treated as family – except maybe by Takumi, but he had always been a difficult person to interact with. Azura and Sakura had been very close, and Azura had mentioned how she and her mother, late queen Arete, had been mistreated by the royal court in Windmire, and that, given the chance, she would not return to Nohr. Therefore, her actions didn't make the least bit of sense.
Unable to stand the tension any longer, Sakura got to her feet and started pacing, wringing her hands and fisting them into the fabric of her clothes. She couldn't bear to just wait, yet she dreaded hearing the news – the Nohrian army seemed unstoppable, and she was certain that both Ryoma and Hinoka would refuse to surrender.
The sound of a horse approaching at a fast pace roused Sakura from her dark thoughts. Horses never moved at this kind of speed through the camp, she knew from observation. It would be stupid, really, to gallop amongst all the tents and wagons, so Sakura had no idea why anyone would do such a thing.
"P-Princess Elise!", one of the guards posted outside the tent exclaimed.
"Stand aside. I need a word with Princess Sakura."
"We are under strict orders from King Garon to let no-one inside, princess", the guard replied.
"King Garon is dead. It's Xander you answer to now. Move."
"But, princess - "
"Fine", Elise replied. "I'll just have to tell Xander you refused a royal order. Enjoy the remainder of your life."
"W-wait, please! It's just - "
"Listen, you big dimwit. It's been a long day for all of us, and I'd appreciate it if you wouldn't make it any more of an ordeal than it has been already. You – and all the other soldiers, workers and whoever might be nearby are to move out of hearing range. I want a word with Princess Sakura, in private."
"If I catch anyone eavesdropping, it'll have consequences!", Elise yelled after the men as they scurried away.
Sakura wasn't sure what to think of that – Elise had visited her before, but had never ordered the guards to leave. Also, Garon was dead? What did that mean? Had Hoshido won the war after all?
No, don't get your hopes up, Sakura. Wait until you hear what Elise has to say.
Sakura didn't have more time to think, anyway, as Elise pushed open the tent flap and stepped inside. She looked slightly dishevelled, and she was still carrying her tome and staff – she had never brought her tome before, and Sakura assumed she'd come directly from the battlefield.
The two girls stared at one another for a heartbeat, before Elise broke the silence.
"Did anyone beat me here? Did anyone talk to you about the battle?"
"N-no", Sakura replied. "No-one's c-come in here e-ever since you l-left. The army, I m-mean."
"I see. Good."
Elise dropped her tome onto one of the boxes before moving closer.
"Mind if I sit down? Today's been really exhausting, and I don't just mean physically... I'm still trying to make sense of everything that's happened."
"Uh, sure", Sakura replied, gesturing towards her cot.
Elise plopped down with a rather ungraceful "ooph", cradling her staff against one shoulder.
"Perhaps you should sit as well", she mumbled. "I'm not exactly a bearer of great news. Sorry."
Sakura took a fortifying breath before sitting down next to Elise, her back stiff.
"I-I'm confused", she said when Elise still hadn't said anything after a while. "Y-You said King G-Garon was d-dead?"
"Yeah", Elise sighed. "It's a really complicated mess, and I'm still not sure if I understand everything, but I think it's best if I tell you everything in order, or you'll never understand. But we need you to understand..."
"Understand what? That you h-had to invade my h-homeland and t-tear my family apart?!"
"I never wanted any of that to happen, believe me, but no-one cares about what a little princess like me wants!", she pleaded.
Sakura was already regretting her outburst – while Elise wasn't scary per se, she was still part of the royal family, and she had just threatened some of her own men – therefore Sakura considered this one of her less bright moments.
"I-I'm sorry", she stammered. "I sh-shouldn't have - "
"No, it's okay", Elise replied quietly. "I can't even imagine what you're going through right now – but I understand if you're angry."
"I-I still shouldn't h-have - ", Sakura tried again, but Elise cut her off.
"I said it's okay!", she almost shouted, grabbing Sakura's hand and squeezing it. "Shout or scream if it makes you feel better, just – please don't blame me for anything that happened..."
Sakura, however, remained quiet, waiting for Elise to begin her tale. The Nohrian princess sighed.
"I guess there's no more putting this off, is there?"
"I-I need to know. Whatever i-it is you h-have to tell me."
"All right... First of all, you might have noticed that our army is made up of two large factions: the men following Kamui and Xander's lead, and the ones following fa- Garon's. Ever since the war started, Kamui has been ordering our men to hold back on killing as much as they could – it was her wish to spare you, and your men. However, the other part of our army knew no such restraints, and the men following Garon killed indiscriminately... They even seemed to enjoy it."
Elise sounded disgusted.
"Ever since Kamui returned with us to Windmire after our first confrontation on the plains of Hoshido, Garon has given her horrible missions and tasks to test her loyalty, as he said. So, as we set out this morning, we were informed that your sister, Princess Hinoka, was guarding the castle gates, and Garon ordered Kamui to kill her."
"We all thought this was incredibly cruel – but refusing a direct order would be a death sentence – I've heard he once had a knight's entire family murdered just because the knight refused an honour the king had offered him... And we couldn't expect any kind of leniency just because we were his children, either... so we set out."
To Sakura, it seemed incomprehensible that a father could treat his own children in such a manner, she could never imagine Ryoma – or her own father – acting such a way...
"We eventually defeated Princess Hinoka and her retainers, and Kamui prepared to decapitate her – but she missed, on purpose. She then took Hinoka's lance and told her she was dead to the world, and should flee. She wanted to use her lance as proof that she'd killed her, so Garon and Iago wouldn't grow suspicious."
"H-Hinoka is alive?", Sakura asked, her tone tinged with hope.
"As far as we know, yes. Iago didn't really buy our story, and some of his men saw Hinoka sneaking out. He confronted Kamui while Garon was in the throne room, alone, and we killed him. No-one was sad to see him go."
Sakura made a small noise of agreement.
"Wh-what about Ryoma?", she asked tentatively.
Elise closed her eyes and seemed to fortify herself.
"He was blocking the way to the throne room, and challenged Kamui to single combat. Garon ordered her to kill him, and your brother's remaining men attacked us – two of them were particularly ferocious – two ninjas."
"Saizo and Kagero", Sakura whispered. "They were Ryoma's retainers."
"I see – that would explain their fierceness – we were unable to overpower them, they would not surrender. We – we were forced to kill them."
Sakura bowed her head. While it sounded like Azama and Setsuna might still be alive, Ryoma's retainers had been less fortunate – then again, Sakura couldn't ever imagine that either of them would surrender – they'd rather take their own lives than suffer such a humiliation.
"Prince Ryoma didn't want to listen to reason, either, even though Kamui tried to talk to him before they started their duel – she did manage to make him listen once she had overpowered him, though. We were too far away to hear what they were talking about, but it looked as if he had understood what she had been trying to say to him, his hostile energy completely gone – and then – then – then he grabbed his sword and – gods, that was heartbreaking – he stabbed himself."
"No!", Sakura exclaimed in horror, her hands flying to her mouth.
Elise squeezed her eyes shut.
"We believe he wanted to spare Kamui the pain of having to kill him herself... I'll never forget her scream. Or the shock on Azura's face – Iago had the gall to complain about him stealing Kamui's victory, the bastard, but Garon shut him up before disappearing into the throne room. Iago then confronted us just as Kamui and Azura were trying to get their bearings, and I do think they did take some pleasure in ridding the world of him.
"It was then that Kamui and Azura – who had been acting in a strange way occasionally – told us that they had discovered something terrible. According to them, Garon had been possessed by some kind of monster, which was planning to destroy Nohr and Hoshido by causing a war between them."
"Yeah, that's how the rest of us reacted. But – Camilla, Leo and Xander sometimes told me that father had changed suddenly – that he had been caring once, and kind. Leo said he would let him ride on his shoulders... I never knew that Garon – the real Garon. The others attributed his change to the loss of both Queen Katherina and Queen Arete, and didn't question it overly much."
"Queen Arete w-was Azura's m-mother, wasn't she?"
"A-and Queen Katherina?"
"Was Xander's mother."
"Anyway, Azura told us she'd already tried to bring back the real Garon using her magical song, but failed. She told us the only way to end this war was to kill the monster – and that the reason they had worked so hard to seize Hoshido was so they could trick him into sitting on the throne – which would apparently reveal his true nature."
"M-Mother said something like that", she said, remembering. "She said it had m-magical properties."
"I see. So, the plan had been to reveal the monster's true nature to us by using the throne – both Azura and Kamui feared that we'd never believe them if they'd just told us."
"W-well, it sounds pretty f-far-fetched", Sakura mumbled in agreement. "I wouldn't h-have believed them."
"Anyway, they convinced us to go inside and see for ourselves – we found Garon sitting on the throne, and – he didn't look human any more – there was a face on his chest and I – I realised that I'd never know my real father..."
Elise looked absolutely shaken, and Sakura couldn't help but feel pity for her. She knew what it was like not to know one's father, but at the very least, there hadn't been an imposter of her father walking around Castle Shirasagi...
"The monster was enraged we had seen its true nature, and attacked, trying to kill us. It was frighteningly powerful, and I don't think we'd have been able to defeat it without our divine weapons, and Yato. We won, obviously, but the battle wore us all out. And then, just as we thought everything was finally over, Prince Takumi appeared."
"T-Takumi? He – he was alive?", Sakura asked in disbelief.
"Yes – somehow. You see, after our battle at the Great Wall was over, we went looking for his body – but found nothing. Even if he had managed to survive a fall from that height, he would have been too badly injured to be able move around much, he would have never been able to get away from there in time, or without leaving a trail – and yet we found no trace of him. We still don't know how he did it, but he had apparently followed us all the way to the capital.
"He was furious with Kamui for siding with us, blaming her for your mother's death as well as Ryoma's. Kamui thought that he would just need to vent, and allowed him to attack her, certain he wouldn't actually try to kill her..."
Sakura stared at Elise in horror. She knew the power of the Fujin Yumi, had seen it many times being unleashed by Takumi either in practice or battle. Takumi's shots were precise, and deadly.
"Apparently, Kamui was wrong, and she fell. When I rushed over to help her, she seemed lifeless – there was nothing I could do."
Sakura felt chilled to her core – Kamui had died? At the hands of Takumi? So far, none of the siblings had actually killed each other – if Elise's words were to be believed – and Sakura had a really hard time picturing Takumi as a revengeful killer.
"K-Kamui d-died?", Sakura finally asked in a small voice.
"It seemed that way", Elise replied. "Your brother most certainly believed it, and started taunting us, and celebrating his victory."
"Th-That doesn't sound like T-Takumi at a-all", Sakura protested.
"That's what Azura said, too. She then assumed that he had been possessed by the same creature as my father, which was confirmed by Kamui when she came back to us."
"W-Wait – what? You j-just said she d-died..."
"You're a healer, aren't you?"
"Then you must know what a dead body feels like."
Sakura nodded. All healers were taught to use their magic to check if a person was still alive, in addition to checking for pulse, heartbeat or breathing.
"Well, from a healer's point of view, she was dead. Nothing to be done about it. I have absolutely no idea how it was possible for her soul to leave the body so quickly, or how she managed to come back – she told us she'd met Queen Mikoto, Prince Ryoma – and the real Prince Takumi, who had apparently been dead for quite a while. Azura lamented the fact that she might have been able to do something to help Takumi had she been by his side, and Kamui told us that Takumi had asked her to stop the monster using his body. So we prepared to engage him."
"This – I-I can't believe this!"
"I understand if you find it hard to believe anything I say, but seriously, if I was trying to deceive you, I'd put a bit more effort into it – come up with a more believable story, you know. And I can't really think of any reason why I would lie to you about this. I swear to all the gods that might be out there that I'm telling the truth."
Sakura swallowed hard.
"S-So – I t-take it you k-k-killed him?", she asked in a small voice.
"Yes. Fighting him was even worse than fighting possessed Garon had been, he was completely deranged. Azura sang a really weird song I've never heard before, and that seemed to affect him somehow... We apparently managed to purge that monster from his body, and Kamui got to speak to the real Takumi again before he died – he apologised for having been a jerk, and I think he at least partly blamed himself for what happened to him..."
"I-I see. So Takumi was possessed b-by the same c-creature as your f-father?"
"We think so. Azura didn't really have much time to tell us anything, as we were rather busy fighting for our lives... But it would make sense for a creature trying to destroy Hoshido and Nohr to possess people on both sides..."
"Anyway, Xander sent me here to tell you all of what happened so you wouldn't – we found out about last time, after the battle at the Great Wall. He thought it would be better if I told you before you found out from someone else..."
"That's v-very – c-considerate of him."
"Hm. Anyway, are you ready to go?"
"To the castle, of course! Xander wants to see you."
"Ah – could you g-give me a m-moment, please?"
"Sure. Should I wait outside?"
"All right. Come outside whenever you're ready."
Elise got to her feet, grabbed her tome, and left the tent.
Suppressing a groan, Sakura curled in on herself and hid her face in her hands. Ryoma and Takumi were dead – and Hinoka somewhere out in the wild, with probably only a handful of men... Sakura could hardly believe it. Her older siblings had always appeared so strong, so confident, she would have never thought that they could be defeated – that they could be killed. Yet all three had suffered defeat at the hands of their enemies, and Takumi had even been killed in battle... Sakura could totally see Ryoma ending his own life to spare his beloved sister the pain of having to do it, but that still didn't make it hurt any less. At the very least, Hinoka was still alive... maybe she would manage to raise support for her cause, and manage to reclaim the throne... Izumo might be willing to help.
The thought of Xander wanting to see her filled her with trepidation – like his father, he'd only visited her once, and hadn't stayed long – she assumed he'd only wanted to see where she was being kept. Neither Leo nor Camilla had ever stopped by, she had only seen them when on the move.
But with his father dead, Xander was in charge of both the army and Nohr, and de facto Hoshido's new king. It would be prudent for a conqueror to weed out all members of the previous ruler's family to make sure they wouldn't contest his claim, so Elise might well be here to lead her to her execution... Then again, if they just wanted to execute her, they surely wouldn't have sent the youngest member of their royal family on her own to fetch the captive princess... Or cared whether or not she would be upset upon learning of the death of her brothers.
Sakura had no idea what to expect, however, and thinking about it only made her anxiety worse. Therefore, she decided to take whatever might come in stride – there was nothing she could do to change her fate at this point, after all. She sent a quick prayer to the kami to give her strength before getting to her feet and taking a deep breath. Once she felt calm enough, she walked over to the entrance and peeked out.
Elise was waiting nearby, her horse tethered to one of the tent's poles. She beckoned for Sakura to come over.
"Have you ever ridden a horse before?"
"N-no. We don't r-really use horses for that – they are used to h-haul carts or carry goods."
"Then – how did you travel anywhere?"
"W-well, I'd walk, if i-it wasn't too far. If I had to g-get somewhere fast, I'd ride on Hinoka's or Subaki's pegasus. For longer d-distances, I'd use a litter."
"A litter? What's that?"
"Um – it's like a small room made from w-wood, with curtains and cushions that gets carried by servants o-or horses."
"Sounds a bit like a four-poster."
"What's a f-four-poster?"
"A bed with four poles that hold up curtains. You draw them shut and are snug and warm all night long."
"Sounds s-similar. A litter has a roof, though."
"Four-posters do, too."
"Th-That's funny", Sakura said, smiling slightly.
"Yup", Elise agreed with a grin. "Do you have your own litter, or do you have to share?"
"They c-come in different sizes. Mine i-is big enough for several people, but each member of the royal family has his or her own litter. Though Hinoka rarely used hers."
"I see. Well then, riding isn't particularly difficult, and we'll go slow, so you won't fall off. You get up first."
"U-Um – I don't think I c-can..."
The outfit Elise was wearing seemed a lot more suitable for riding than Sakura's robes, and she had no idea how she should get into the saddle without help...
"Oh. Right. Wait a minute. Hey! You there", Elise shouted in the direction of a worker in the distance. "Bring a crate for Princess Sakura so she can get on the horse!"
The man sketched a quick bow and hurried to find a crate.
Once everything was in place, Elise took hold of the left stirrup.
"All right. First, climb onto the crate. Then, grab the front and back of the saddle, and put your left foot in the stirrup. That's it. Now, haul yourself up, but make sure to keep both legs on the left side – I don't think sitting astride the horse would be comfortable for you with what you're wearing."
Following Elise's instructions, Sakura managed to mount the horse. Elise untied the reins from the pole and effortlessly swung herself up behind Sakura. She took the reins into her right hand and wound her left arm around Sakura's waist.
"You can grab the mane, too, if it makes you feel better."
Having said that, she directed the horse towards the edge of the camp.
"Oh, by the way, some of our men are waiting for us outside the camp. Xander wouldn't let me go alone – even though I'm a big girl. I can take care of myself."
Sakura could hear the pout in Elise's voice, and smiled a secretive smile no-one could see.
"S-sounds to m-me he's just w-worried. R-Ryoma – was l-like that, t-too."
Silence fell afterwards, the awkward kind, where none of the people present know what to say. Sakura fought the urge to fidget, not wanting to fall off the horse.
Trying to find something to distract herself with, she inspected the horse's gear, and noticed that both Elise's tome and staff had been strapped to the saddle – the tome was stored in a protective case, but seemed easy enough to reach.
As they left camp, Sakura spotted Elise's entourage – most of them were mounted on horseback, but there were one draco-knight and a mage sitting astride a black pegasus, too.
"May I present", Elise said, as she brought her horse to a stop. "Peri and Laslow, Xander's retainers. Niles and Odin, Leo's retainers. Beruka and Selena, Camilla's retainers. And these are Nyx and Silas."
Niles, Peri, Laslow, Selena, Silas and Nyx turned out to be the horsemen, Beruka the one riding the wyvern, and Odin the pegasus. The grin Peri gave Sakura sent chills down her spine.
"Um – where a-are your retainers, P-Princess Elise?"
"At the castle. Arthur and Ellie aren't mounted units, so I couldn't bring them along – I tried to get here as fast as possible, and so Xander put together a team of elite fighters he trusted to accompany me."
"Princess Elise, are you ready to depart?", Laslow asked with a smile.
"Yes. Get into formation. Oh, and Laslow, Niles? I don't want to hear any kind of stupid comments from you, to any of us."
"You wound me, milady", Niles lamented. "I would never do such a thing!"
"Be quiet, or I'll tell Leo."
The group formed up with Laslow and Peri in front, Selena and Silas flanking Elise, and Nyx and Niles at the rear. Beruka and Odin took to the skies to circle above them.
Despite moving at a rather leisurely pace, they reached the city sooner than Sakura would have on foot. The closer they came to their destination, the more nervous Sakura became – soon, she would see the first bodies. Bodies of men she hadn't been able to help, because she'd been detained in a tent far away from the front lines... Rationally, she knew that these deaths were not her fault, because she would have never been able to make it all the way here, but if only she'd been able to hold Fort Jinya... then, perhaps, her brothers would still be alive.
Nohrian soldiers were patrolling the streets, but despite the evidence of a recent battle, she couldn't see a single corpse. Sakura was still puzzling over this when a cry made her jump.
Turning in the saddle as far as she could, she saw a woman hurrying towards her, a desperate expression on her face. Soldiers intercepted her and tried to hold her back.
"Stop right there!"
"Let me through! Sakura-hime!"
Sakura gasped when one of the man shoved her back using his lance, and she fell with a cry. Sakura squeezed her eyes shut, unwilling to watch as the man struck her.
"Stop! Stop this right now!", Elise thundered.
Sakura dared to open her eyes again, and saw that the man had frozen in place.
"Selena, hold the rains. Look after Princess Sakura for me."
Elise grabbed her staff and slid out of the saddle, then marched over to where the men were, still surrounding the fallen woman, who looked livid.
"You! How dare you attack an unarmed woman! Do you have any idea how this reflects on us, if you do things like that? The Hoshidans now probably think we're some kind of barbaric race with no sense of decency or honour! You will go back to camp, and wait there until someone gives you a different order."
"B-but, princess - "
Elise swung her staff around so its tip was pointed straight at the man's face.
"Now. Or I'll let Peri have you. And there won't be any dinner for you, too."
The man paled, but apparently thought it would be better do do what Elise wanted. He tried to leave with as much dignity as he could, though Sakura could tell that he was pretty incensed.
Elise now approached the woman, who had managed to get into a sitting position.
"Are you all right? Do you need to get healed?"
The woman stared at her for a heartbeat before slightly shaking her head.
"I'm fine. Why – why did you help me?"
"Because I read in a book that we should treat everyone with kindness, including criminals, or our enemies. And I like that idea."
"I see. You have my thanks."
The woman bowed her head before looking up in Sakura's direction. Sakura managed an encouraging smile, hoping to convey the message that everything would be fine – even though she had no idea if that would be the case.
The woman slowly got to her feet, wincing slightly.
"You there, soldier. Accompany this woman back to her house. And make sure to spread the news – Xander won't tolerate things like this. Members of the Nohrian army should behave as such, and not like a band of thugs."
"At once, princess."
Elise turned on the spot and briskly walked over to them. Before she could swing herself onto her horse, Sakura placed her hand over hers.
"Thank you", she said earnestly.
Elise smiled briefly.
"Don't mention it. I'm just glad I was able to do something this time."
Sakura nodded, and removed her hand.
The remainder of their trip to Castle Shirasagi was uneventful, and Sakura was glad about it – she was already worn out enough by this day's events, and she really didn't need any more excitement.
Xander, Camilla, Kamui and Leo were standing in the main courtyard, talking amongst each other. Azura was nowhere in sight. They turned around to face them just as Odin and Beruka came swooping down. Elise and the others dismounted, while Sakura stayed where she was – she felt a bit more confident on horseback, besides, she was quite certain she wouldn't be able to make a descent quite as graceful as Elise's. The last thing she wanted was to fall flat on her face while surrounded by enemies.
Laslow appeared by her side.
"Need some help, princess?"
"All right. Just hold on to my shoulders, and let yourself fall. I'll catch you without fail."
Sakura did as instructed, and Laslow carefully eased her to the ground. Sakura looked up at him, trying her hardest not to show just how embarrassed she was.
"Anything for a beautiful flower like yourself, princess."
"Ah, my apologies, Princess Elise."
Laslow grabbed the reins of Elise's horse and followed the others towards the stables. Sakura suddenly found herself alone with all of Nohr's royal children.
All her previous fears and worries came crashing back, and she lowered her gaze go the ground, her hands kneading the fabric of her robes.
Kamui made a strangled noise.
"Where's Azura? Haven't you found her yet?", Elise asked.
"No", Xander replied. "We haven't searched the entire castle yet, but so far, we haven't found a trace of her."
"You don't think something happened to her?"
"I don't know... The Hoshidans might resent her for her role in the war, but if someone did harm her, we ought to have found a trace of her by now... Princess Sakura, do you know where Azura might be?"
Sakura jumped at being addressed so suddenly, and looked up. Xander's face was just as impassive as she remembered, and his eyes bore into hers.
She quickly looked away.
"Azura d-didn't like b-being a-around p-people", she stammered. "She would o-often go down to th-the l-lake to s-sing."
"I see. Leo, round up some men and have them search the area - "
"The lake! Gods, no!"
Everyone turned to look at Kamui, who had turned white.
"What's wrong, darling?", Camilla asked in a worried tone, placing a hand on Kamui's shoulder.
Sakura felt sick.
"Did Azura talk to any of you before you last saw her? Did she mention a place you'd never heard of – the place that monster came from?"
The others exchanged glances.
"Not as far as I know", Leo replied. "Come to think of it – where was that monster from? Azura never gave us the details. And why would talking about it be a problem?"
"That's because of the curse. Azura told me that I must never speak about that place, or I'd vanish."
"For real? Like, this is actually a thing?", Elise asked, sounding sceptical.
"I had no reason to doubt her. I've been to that place, which is why I know of it. Azura couldn't tell anyone – I have no idea how long she's known."
"So where is that place? And how did you get there?", Xander asked.
"I don't really know where it is exactly, as we used magical portals to get there, and back here. I stumbled through the portal by accident – I had gone looking for Azura, and saw her go down into a lake fully clothed. When she didn't resurface, I went after her, worried she might drown... but I never reached the bottom of the lake – instead, I was in that place, where I met Azura, and Gunther. Azura was surprised to see me, and told me of the curse placed on this land. We were then spotted by the people living there, and had to flee to another portal, since Gunther couldn't go through the lake, according to Azura. Remember that night we brought him back? How we were bruised and bloodied?"
"I do", Xander replied. "Iago interrogated you about that, didn't he."
"Yes. He was very interested in finding out where exactly we had been. Come to think of it – could he have been in on this? Could he have known about – about that place?"
"It's not unthinkable – Iago had been close to the imposter for a long time", Leo replied.
"S-so", Sakura said, immediately drawing everyone's attention back to herself – "you think that she m-might have g-gone through the portal whenever she w-was at the lake? She usually was gone f-for hours."
"It's very likely", Kamui replied. "She told me she was captured by Hoshidan warriors when she returned through the portal."
"Ah. When R-Ryoma found out what had happened, h-he was furious. I'd n-never s-seen him like that b-before..."
"So, Kamui, you think that Azura could have vanished because she talked about that mysterious place of yours?", Camilla asked.
"It's possible, and it would explain why no-one found a trace of her", Kamui replied heavily. "Though I have no idea why she would throw her life away like that after the war was already over – we defeated that monster, which had been our aim ever since she showed me Garon's true form..."
"Maybe she just went through the portal again?", Elise suggested.
"I don't know, and I don't think I could open such a portal myself. It had all been Azura's magic all the time."
"Well, all is not lost yet. We might still find her", Leo said.
"I don't think idle speculation will get us anywhere. I suggest we halt the search for today – the men are exhausted, and we have other matters to think about, too", Xander said.
The others nodded in agreement, and Sakura got the sinking feeling those "other important matters" concerned her.
"Princess Sakura", Xander said gravely, turning around to face her, "I owe you an apology. I deeply regret that I was unable to keep my word back at Fort Jinya – had it been in my power to save the lives of your countrymen, I would have done it in an instant."
Sakura blinked. This wasn't at all what she had expected.
Leo was smiling that annoying smile of his again, and Camilla looked mildly amused. Elise and Kamui didn't seem to find her lack of reaction funny, though.
"I h-heard something l-like that from some soldiers", Sakura said after recovering somewhat. "They s-said that you would n-never go back on your w-word, and that King G-Garon's actions b-besmirched your n-name."
Xander lifted an eyebrow.
"That was very brave – and foolish – of them", he said. "That imposter would have had their heads on spikes had he found out about this."
"They s-seemed very a-angry", Sakura replied. "I think they c-cared little f-for p-possible consequences. I n-never knew Nohrians took h-honour so s-seriously."
Xander lifted his other eyebrow. Sakura paled.
"I-I'm s-sorry! That c-came out th-the wrong w-way..."
"Ignorance is not a crime, princess", Xander replied calmly. "One cannot be expected to know everything."
"One should always strive to obtain new knowledge, though. Know that I hold a great deal on my honour, and that my failure to keep my promise to you gnawed at me day and night. I once again beg your forgiveness, Princess Sakura."
It was in that moment that Sakura realised that showing understanding for his position wasn't enough – he needed to hear that she forgave him. While Sakura wasn't sure she was able to actually do that, it didn't strike her as clever or practical to hold a grudge against him – she should rather try to get on his good side, if at all possible.
"I accept y-your apology, and I f-forgive your for being unable to k-keep your word, Prince Xander. Though you o-ought to know that the f-families of those that w-were slain m-might not be s-so forgiving."
"I understand. I couldn't ask for more."
Sakura got the strangest of feelings that in that moment, they understood each other perfectly – which was utterly absurd, since she had no idea what Xander was like either as a prince, or as a person. The silence that followed their words made Sakura edgy, and she busied herself with kneading the fabric of her robes again.
"Here they come", Leo suddenly said.
Sakura turned into the direction of the gates to see Hana, Subaki and Yukimura being led into the courtyard by several soldiers. Their hands were bound, and they looked dishevelled.
"Sakura-hime!", Hana yelled as soon as she spotted her. "Sakura-hime! Let go of me, you brute!"
She tried to break free from the soldiers' grips, and Sakura feared that she would see a repetition of what had happened in town earlier. Out of the corner of her eyes, she saw Xander make a swift gesture, and the men released Hana – who broke into a rather graceless run and didn't stop until she'd reached her side.
"Sakura-hime! I'm so glad to see you! And so sorry for letting you down..."
"Don't. It doesn't matter."
Subaki came walking towards them at a slower pace, managing to look like a perfect knight despite being unarmed and having his wrists tied together. He gave Sakura one of his charming smilies before fixing his attention on the others.
Yukimura was the last one to arrive – he looked pale and haggard, and he didn't even try to conceal the suspicion he felt towards the Nohrians.
Xander had, in the meantime, produced a dagger from somewhere, and beckoned to Hana, who stood closest to him.
Hana instantly took half a step backwards, shifting into a defensive stance. Both Yukimura and Subaki looked alarmed, while Sakura tried her best to hide how terrified she was.
"Oh, come on", Elise said, rolling her eyes. "He's not gonna stab you."
"Keh. Like I'd be scared of some pathetic Nohrians!", Hana retorted.
"Hana!", Sakura exclaimed, horrified.
It was one thing to be sassy on the battlefield, where taunting your enemy could work in your favour – and something entirely different to provoke an enemy that held your life in his hands.
"Well then, what's the hold-up?", Xander asked calmly.
Hana straightened her spine and all but marched over to the Nohrian prince. Xander took hold of her wrists with one hand and then carefully sawed through the ropes, taking care not to cut her in the process. When he was done, he tossed the remains of the ropes towards Camilla, who incinerated them before they even hit her.
Hana's eyes went wide.
"Who's next?", Xander asked conversationally.
Subaki moved over, gently pushing Hana, who seemed petrified, out of the way. Sakura took her arm and pulled her aside, subtly checking for injuries – before realising that she didn't have her Sun Festal.
When it was Yukimura's turn, he refused to approach Xander.
"What exactly is your game, Nohrian?", he demanded in the most authoritative voice he could manage.
"Right now, I plan to cut your bonds. Unless you prefer to stay the way you are? I imagine it must be rather uncomfortable."
Yukimura's eyes narrowed in anger, but he allowed Xander to cut his bonds.
"Well?", he demanded when Xander didn't speak soon enough for his taste.
"I have some matters to discuss with Princess Sakura, and I thought I might need your input. That is why you are here."
"What could you possibly need from us? Do you need us to explain how the Hoshidan government works or something like that?", he asked sarcastically.
"Yukimura-san!", Sakura exclaimed. "Th-That's enough! Let's h-hear what P-Prince Xander h-has to say."
"As you wish, Sakura-hime."
"I don't know if all of you are aware, but we defeated Princess Hinoka this morning, and officially declared her dead. Kamui sent her into exile, as this was the only way she could think of to save her life. Our ploy was discovered later on, but as far as we know, Princess Hinoka and some of her men managed to escape."
"Why are you telling us this?", Subaki asked. "From a military point of view, this doesn't make much sense."
"Patience. I will get there eventually. Princess Sakura, I don't know how familiar you are with the geography and climate of Nohr, but living conditions there can be harsh, and we must heavily rely on trade with more fertile regions to have enough food for all. The nobility, naturally, wasn't affected much, but the general populace would suffer from the harsh environment. When I was little, I was taught that the best way for Nohr to sustain its people would be to conquer the more fertile parts of the continent, and take their resources for ourselves. As a child, I did not question this.
"As I grew older, and saw more of the world, I began to think differently. I saw what my father's iron rule caused – how people would look at Nohrian soldiers with fear and hatred. That bothered me exceedingly, but even though I was crown prince, I could do nothing to change my father's ways. However, I vowed to myself I would be a better king than him one day.
"My 'father' might have wanted to rule the world, but I hold no such ambitions – Nohr is in a dire state, and I will need to focus all my time and resources on making it the place I want it to be – I simply do not have the time and resources needed to rule a country as big as Hoshido in addition. Princess Sakura, as your older sister, Princess Hinoka would be first in line to the throne. I want her to be the next queen of Hoshido."
Sakura was speechless. She hadn't expected this at all – it sounded too good to be real. Apparently, the others seemed to feel the same way.
"You want Hoshido to remain a sovereign nation? Forgive me, but that is a little hard to believe", Yukimura said.
"I could appoint a regent, but that seems like more trouble than it's worth. We have had our differences in the past – but I earnestly hope that we will be able to start over – we cannot change the past, but we can try to build a better future for all of us – together."
"So – y-you want H-Hinoka to come back and b-become queen?"
"Yes. Which is the part where I require your assistance – my men are not familiar with the lay of the land in these parts, and it might take a long time to find Princess Hinoka – and I would like to find her soon, preferably before she finds support for her cause somewhere and returns with an army. Anything you could tell me would be highly appreciated."
"You expect us to cooperate in what might well be an attempt to lure our princess into a trap?", Yukimura asked in disbelief. "How gullible do you think we are?"
"I am a man of my word", Xander replied. "And I give you my word that Princess Hinoka will not be harmed."
"How do we know you're not lying?"
"Do you really think us capable of something as despicable as that?"
"You lured King Sumeragi into a trap and had him murdered, kidnapped Princess Kamui – which broke Queen Mikoto's heart, then turned her against us and also caused the death of Queen Mikoto. Need I go on?"
"Do not blame a child for his father's misdeeds!", Xander replied, his dark eyes burning.
Sensing danger, Sakura decided to try and intervene before Yukimura pushed Xander too far, and got himself killed – as she did think the Nohrians capable of murdering someone in cold fury.
"Yukimura-san, I-I think we should t-trust Prince Xander."
Yukimura glanced at her in pure disbelief.
"And why-ever would you say such a thing, Sakura-hime?"
"B-Because – I do believe P-Prince Xander h-holds a g-great deal on his h-honour – he apologised for what ha-happened at F-Fort Jinya earlier, you know. B-Besides, if they truly wanted Hinoka-onee dead, they w-would have k-killed her this morning, n-not sent her away."
"Indeed", Princess Camilla chimed in. "I had her at sword-point, so to say – I would have done it myself."
Sakura felt chilled to the bone upon hearing this – Camilla truly was cold-blooded.
She could see a flash of anger in Yukimura's eyes, but they remained fixed on Sakura.
"And you believe that?"
"Yes. Besides, I o-overheard some soldiers saying that K-King Garon's a-actions besmirched Pince X-Xander's name."
"That could have been arranged - "
"Yukimura-san, please! What if Hinoka-onee does return with an army and starts another w-war, and – and she was k-killed? I don't think I c-could bear it..."
"So you want to risk trusting them to keep things from escalating? Is that it?"
"Y-Yes. And I do believe him. They h-haven't done anything to h-harm me so far, either."
Yukimura pinched the bridge of his nose.
"Hana-san, Subaki-san? What do you think?"
"While the thought of trusting and working together with the Nohrians appals me, I do believe Sakura-hime's words have merit. Besides, they would probably start looking for Hinoka-sama with or without our help, and might even locate her – knowing Hinoka-sama, she would probably try to fight whoever found her, too", Subaki stated.
"I don't like any of this", Hana said, her brow furrowed. "Sounds like a really brilliant, evil scheme to me. However – if it is your wish to work together with them to try and recover Hinoka-sama, Sakura-hime, I will respect your decision, and do whatever I can to help."
"So you will help us, then?", the crown prince asked, his gaze moving from one person to the next.
"Yes", Sakura replied. "And I t-trust your word that you will n-not harm my s-sister."
"You can trust on my word", he replied gravely. "I vow that I will not let any harm come to Princess Hinoka."
"Well then, how c-can we h-help?"
"As mentioned earlier, we aren't familiar with the lay of the land around here, and have no idea where to look for her – perhaps some of you know where she might be headed in a case like this?"
Sakura looked away.
"I'm a-afraid I c-can't help with that."
Xander frowned, but Subaki spoke up before he could question her.
"I used to train together with Hinoka-sama when we were younger", he said. "It's safe to say I know a lot about how she thinks and acts. Probably more than anyone else here."
"I mainly worked together with Queen Mikoto, and the High Prince. I did not spend a lot of time with the younger ones of the royal children, and, given that she is Sakura-hime's retainer, Hana-san doesn't know Hinoka-sama very well, either."
"Very well, then. Tell us what you know."
"It would make sense for Hinoka-sama to try and seek sanctuary and maybe military aid – Izumo might be a good candidate for that, provided the archduke would be willing to forsake his land's neutrality. Alternatively she could try to find assistance in places that are ruled by Nohr, but are opposed to said rule, such as Cheve. I doubt she would go to Mokushu – that would be far too risky, given how they betrayed us only recently.
"However, I doubt she would pick any of those obvious choices – we were trained, among other things, to always try and do something the enemy wouldn't expect – to be unpredictable on the battlefield."
"So you believe she might go somewhere we wouldn't expect her to go, with the exception of Mokushu", Leo surmised.
"Then how on earth are we going to find her? It seems impossible to determine where she would go!"
"Have you considered simply following her trail?", Subaki suggested.
"How are we going to find the trail of a pegasus?", Leo exclaimed in exasperation.
"Was Hinoka-sama the only one to survive the battle?", Yukimura asked.
"No", Camilla replied. "Several of her men were still alive, and we let them go."
"Were some of them footsoldiers?", Subaki inquired.
"Yes", Kamui answered. "Asama and Setsuna were with them, too."
"Well then, there you have it. Hinoka-sama would never leave any of her men behind, not even to save her own neck – and they would leave a trail. Another thing – if I were in her position, I would first try to find some-place to hide and lay low for a while – her men must've been worn out or even wounded, so I would head for the mountains – there's some to the north-west and some to the south. The mountain paths can be treacherous – which is part of the reason they became a part of the defences of Castle Shirasagi."
"I see – I will send out search parties tomorrow", Xander decided.
"Tomorrow? We'd lose precious time if we wait that long!", Leo protested.
"We need to organise the search parties – find men willing to depart so soon after winning a war, and make sure to pick some that will follow our orders precisely – we don't need a repetition of what happened at the Bottomless Canyon – it's what got us into this whole mess to begin with."
"What exactly happened back there?", Yukimura asked. "I was only told Nohrian forces were attacking our positions."
"The imposter had ordered Kamui to inspect a supposedly abandoned fort to prove her worth – Hans was sent with her to protect her, but apparently, he had had received orders from the imposter to provoke a fight", Camilla explained. "It all went completely out of hand."
"What's that 'imposter' you keep talking about?", Hana asked, her brow furrowed.
"A creature pretending to be our father", Elise replied angrily. "Kamui and I never knew the real Garon."
"And you expect us to believe something as ridiculous as this?", Yukimura asked.
"You can choose to believe us, or not. It doesn't matter", Xander replied. "Princess Sakura, there is one last thing I must ask of you."
"Um – what i-is it?"
"I would like to borrow these three to accompany the search parties – they might help keep the situation from escalating, should one of the search parties manage to locate Princess Hinoka. Additionally, I do believe she will be more willing to believe them than my men. I will also appoint three of our retainers the leaders of these search parties, to make sure everything will go according to plan."
Sakura didn't like this plan one bit. She had only just gotten Hana and Subaki back, and now they were to leave again? This wasn't fair!
Then she reminded herself that she was a Princess of Hoshido, and that she had a duty to fulfil – and, knowing Hinoka, she would probably attack Nohrians on sigh and refuse to listen to anything they might have to say.
Still, she hated it.
"Very well", she said. "Your w-words have m-merit."
"But, Sakura-hime!", Hana exclaimed. "Will you be all right on you own?"
"I will be. D-Don't worry about m-me. Just m-make sure you bring back Hinoka-onee s-safely, all right?"
"I promise I will. I swear on my father's grave that I will not disappoint you again."
"I have a stipulation to make", Yukimura said.
"I want our possessions and weapons returned to us. I will not walk all the way to the mountains, much less unarmed."
"Sounds reasonable. I grant your request – I'll have your belongings brought here as soon as I am able."
"Then we are in agreement."
"Good. Make sure to get a good night's sleep – you'll need to be well-rested for tomorrow. I'll brief you in the morning – we'll met here at first light. Don't be late."
"Understood. By your leave?"
"By all means."
Sakura watched with a sinking heart as her friends and Yukimura disappeared into the castle. She suddenly felt very forlorn.
"Princess Sakura, I think it would do you good to retire as well", Xander stated. "It has been a long day, after all."
"Um – a-all right. B-but - "
"What is it?"
"I – I h-have one more question."
"Um – what h-happened to – to the b-bodies?"
"I had the ones in town moved to a field nearby, and the ones inside the castle to a larger hall near the throne room, as we didn't know how you treat your dead. You can see them tomorrow, if you like."
"Ah, another thing – most of my men will be staying at the camp, but is there a place in town where we and the commanding officers could stay?"
"The guest w-wing. Ask the s-servants."
"Thank you. Now, go", Xander added, almost softly. "We shall speak again tomorrow."
Unsure about what else to do, Sakura bowed to him before making her exit as quickly as possible, just wanting to get to the safety of her rooms.
"Kaze!", Kamui called.
Sakura was startled to see the treacherous ninja appear by her side.
"Accompany Sakura to her rooms, and assign someone to look after her – if she doesn't already have her own servants, that is."
"Consider it done."
Sakura resumed walking, assuming Kaze was following behind her – she couldn't hear him, and that unnerved her greatly.
She chose the shortest way to her quarters, fearful of what she might see if she wandered into the parts of the castle that had been part of the battlefield. She saw the expressions of many servants and court officials light up with joy when they spotted her – only to turn to frowns or sneers when they noticed her "companion".
Halfway to her room, Sakura stopped dead and announced that she would like to take a bath.
"Of course, Sakura-hime", Kaze replied.
Sakura changed direction and Kaze instructed a servant in passing to notify Sakura's attendant.
Sakura could tell just how happy Ai was to see her again, and she greatly enjoyed her servant's ministrations, and basking in the hot water. By the time she was done, all those dark thoughts of war and death had almost disappeared.
They came flooding back in when she spotted Kaze waiting just outside the baths, however.
Ai pointedly ignored him as she fell into step behind Sakura. Kaze seemed unhappy about his treatment, but decided to remain quiet.
As Sakura waited for Ai to slide open the door to her quarters, Kaze seemed to be mustering the courage to say something, however, Sakura was not in the mood to talk to traitors in that particular moment, and went inside before he could say something, and Ai shut the door in his face.
Sakura let out a deep breath.
"Sakura-hime, are you all right?", Ai asked cautiously.
"Unharmed, yes. Other than that..."
"I see. So, what's going to happen now? Did they – did they let you go?"
"I honestly don't know – they'll send out search parties for Hinoka-onee tomorrow, and Subaki, Hana and Yukimura-san will go with them. Prince Xander gave me his word he won't harm her – he said he wants her to become queen of Hoshido. But – I don't know what they plan on doing with me."
"You think they might use you as a hostage or something like that?"
"Possibly – they took K-Kamui, after all. I – I was very surprised they didn't execute me..."
"Well, that could be a sign that Prince Xander truly intends to let Hinoka-sama rule Hoshido – otherwise, keeping you alive would be risky, wouldn't it."
"Y-Yes. They would have to make sure no-one would be able to rescue me – maybe move me to Nohr so I couldn't be used in a rebellion of sorts."
"Makes sense – so, we'll have to wait and see how things play out."
"Yes. We must tread carefully. They might change their minds about me, if I give them a reason to."
"I shall keep it in mind, Sakura-hime."
"I shall retire for the night – I feel terribly tired."
"Of course. I pray that you will be able to rest well."
Sakura went into her bedroom and shut the door, then had a look around. Everything looked exactly like it had when she had left for Izumo along with her siblings – their short stay there had been the only time all members of both royal families had been present, though it had been far from a pleasant event.
The dolls that represent her siblings, dolls she spent many hours working on, were sitting right where she had left them – and Sakura felt profoundly glad she hadn't taken them with her on the trip – she didn't think she would have been able to bear it if the Nohrians had seen them – especially the ones of Azura and Kamui.
Sakura grabbed all of her dolls – including the ones of the two traitorous sisters – and slipped under the covers of her futon, cradling the dolls to her chest.
The Japanese language doesn't know plural endings, so the Hoshidans don't use them – the Nohrians, however, don't know that, and thus speak of "ninjas", for example.
kami – god(s)
hime – beautiful woman, princess
ai – love
futon – Japanese bed, a mattress sitting on the floor