"... and with all due respect, Prince Callum, I still maintain my own daughter, Claudia, would be an excellent candidate for your hand."

Callum felt like smacking his head against the wall, or using aspiro and blast the damned High Mage out of the Throne Room.

It felt like they were having this conversation every other day since he turned eighteen less than a fortnight ago.

He resisted the urge to physically inflict damage on himself, or Viren, but couldn't fight back an eye roll.

"And with all due respect, Lord Viren," Callum started, doing incredibly well to keep his tone as level and respectful as possible. "I've told you numerous times, I am in no rush to be engaged, and no matter what you say to the contrary, I want to get married to somebody I love, and I'm sorry, that isn't Claudia."

He could see anger bubbling under the surface of Viren's false calm demeanour, the man's lips pursed, as he shifted from one foot to the other. Ever since the peace treaty with Xadia had been announced, eight years previous, Dark Magic had been made illegal, despite heavy protests from Viren. He had retained his position as the High Mage, but his power had been limited, and he was limited to what he had been able to learn using Primal Stones.

"Do you have anything else you wish to discuss with me?" Callum queried, standing to his full height as he uttered the subtle dismissal. Callum could practically hear Viren grinding his teeth in frustration.

"No, Your Highness," Viren practically hissed. Callum nodded at him.

Just as Viren turned to leave the room, the door swung open, and Callum's father walked in, causing the High Mage to jump slightly, before dropping to his knee in a mark of respect.

King Harrow strode into the room, he cast his gaze over Viren, on one knee, and the way his face was contorted in controlled rage, and then over Callum, who's expression oozed frustration, and swiftly put two and two together. His body immediately straightened, and he cleared his throat.

"Lord Viren, have you been pestering my son about marriage again?" Harrow asked, slowly pacing towards where Viren still knelt, his tone leaving no room for falsity or half-truths. Callum couldn't resist the minor smirk that crept onto his lips as Viren's body language shifted to that of a naughty schoolboy.

"I was merely reminding the young prince that he has a fine option, who he knows, in Claudia -"

"Enough, Viren."

Viren's mouth shut tight as if he'd been hexed, Harrow towering over him.

"I have told you time and time again, I will allow Callum to marry out of love. My father gave me the same courtesy," Harrow scolded, standing over Viren with his hands held behind his back. Harrow's face fell into a scowl as Viren did not offer any attempt at an apology. "May I remind you, you are on thin ice as it is with your incessant protests against the abolishment of Dark Magic?" Harrow asked, causing Viren's body to stiffen.

Callum watched the exchange with much interest. He knew Viren's position had been heavily reliant on Dark Magic in the past, his father often calling it a "creative solution", but Callum had no idea how much Viren had pushed it.

"You need not remind me, Your Majesty," Viren answered, his voice sounding mildly apologetic.

Harrow's eyes flicked to Callum's, and the King briefly offered Callum the same smirk that was on the Prince's face, before it slipped seamlessly back into the stern expression it had previously held.

"That is what I like to hear, Lord Viren, you are dismissed," Harrow responded. "I want to hear no more about this, is that understood?" Harrow added strongly, as Viren reached the door, leaving no room for argument.

"Of course, Your Majesty," Viren replied, swiftly departing from the room.

There was a momentary silence across the room after the door swung shut, both Harrow and Callum's gazes locked onto where the High Mage had exited.

Callum broke the silence, his voice soft, and full of earnest. "Thank you, dad." Harrow turned his attention to the Prince at the sound of his voice and offered his son a small smile.

"You are welcome, Callum."

Callum couldn't help but frown at the tone Harrow replied in. There was definitely a but missing from the end of that sentence, and there was a large hint of resignation too.

A ball of dread formed in Callum's stomach as Harrow turned to face him, the King's expression fuelling the nagging sensation that Callum was feeling. That he wasn't going to enjoy the conversation that he had been summoned to the throne room to have before he had been ambushed by Viren.

Harrow forced a smile onto his face, before crossing the room to be stood next to Callum, placing a firm, but comforting hand on his shoulder.

Callum grimaced at the false expression on Harrow's face. "What is it, dad?" Harrow's smile fell.

"I'm that obvious to you, aren't I?" Callum smirked briefly at his father's resigned admission before it fell into a serious expression.

Harrow guided Callum over to the steps in front of the throne, and sat him down, before joining him.

"This isn't easy for me to say, Cal," Harrow began, his tone and physical features grim. "I am being put under increasing pressure about your engagement status, from both the High Council and the rest of the Pentarchy."

Callum felt his heart sink into his stomach, he could tell by his father's tone that he didn't want to be having this conversation.

"What about what you said to Lord Viren?" Callum queried, his voice small, almost childlike. Harrow frowned further and brought his hand up to rub his forehead, then his eyes, tiredly.

"It isn't his job to find you a suitable partner, especially not his own daughter, it is not his place," Harrow answered quietly, before removing his hand and looking Callum in the eyes, sorrow evident in them. "But it is mine."

Callum felt his head spin and bile spring from his stomach, into his throat. He opened his mouth to protest, but Harrow swiftly silenced him by raising his hand.

"I was telling the truth when I said I want you to marry for love, and my biggest wish is that you do," Harrow implored genuinely, once again placing his hand on Callum's shoulder, giving it a gentle squeeze. "There's now a deadline for an engagement announcement," Harrow sounded incredibly apologetic, but also completely resigned, as if he'd argued to the bitter end against it.

Callum appreciated his father's attempts to prevent his arranged marriage, but it seemed they weren't enough.

"H-How long do I have?" Callum stuttered. His throat was remarkably dry, and voice barely above a whisper.

Harrow winced at his son's defeatist tone. "I managed to negotiate a year…"

Harrow continued talking, but Callum didn't hear a word. The room span. His chest tightened, his lungs seemed to burn. He had to blink back tears and took a deep breath. Callum's eyes flickered as he tried to clear his vision, and turned his attention back to his father, who watched him with concerned eyes.

"S-Sorry," Callum stuttered out an apology, licking his lips to attempt to remove some of the dryness in his mouth. "W-What did you say?"

"We'll figure this out, Cal, I promise," Harrow supplied gently, squeezing his son's shoulder once more and offered the young man a comforting smile.

The edge of Callum's lip quivered up, as he attempted to offer his father a half-smile, but it almost instantaneously fell flat.

"Is there anything else, dad?" Callum asked quietly, looking towards the door, making it evident he wanted to leave to be by himself. Harrow's face slipped into a frown.

"That's everything, son." Callum nodded stiffly, before standing up and swiftly striding out of the room. Harrow's frown remained on his face until Callum had exited the room before a sly grin slipped onto his lips.

"Do you think it'll work?" A voice said from behind the King, startling him momentarily before he placed the voice. Harrow turned around to look at the throne, and just caught sight of a brunette afro poking out from behind it, a faint glow accompanying it. "Will Cal actually tell her about this?"

"I certainly hope so, Ez," Harrow answered, striding towards his youngest son and his pet glow toad, Bait, as Ezran stepped out from his hiding place. "For both of their sakes, I hope it does."

"What if it doesn't work?" Ezran asked, his lips pursed together in a worried line.

"Then we just come clean," Harrow answered. "Or I'll just lie again!" He joked, lightly nudging his youngest son's shoulder.

Ezran's face twisted into a concerned frown, as he scooped up Bait and held him close to his chest. "Do you reckon mom'll be mad when she finds out we did this?"

Harrow couldn't help the chuckle that escaped his throat. He gently ruffled Ezran's hair, turning the young prince's frown into a small smile.

"It was your mother's idea!"

Callum strode through the castle with what could have been perceived as purpose, from the outside, that is. Internally, the Mage was stewing, his father's revelation throwing him for a loop.

So as he had done for as long as he could remember, he headed to the garden, his spot, under his tree. It had been his safety net for at least a decade, sitting there and sketching to distract his mind.

Eight years ago, the spot became even more prominent for Callum, and no longer his spot alone.

She had come into his life out of absolutely nowhere, initially just a tag-along to a highly important diplomatic mission. His life had never been the same since. She stepped into his life a complete stranger, and out of it a week later his best friend.

Callum scoffed slightly at his thoughts, a soft smile creeping onto his lips. They had barely spent more than two months actually in each other's company, spending all but one week of the year almost an entire continent apart. However, thanks to a gift from her uncle they managed to talk every day.

She had become Callum's safety net, his go-to contact whenever he was feeling stressed, anxious or under pressure, if he had any exciting news, she was the first to know.

When his tutor in Primal magic told him he had mastered Sky Magic, she was the first to know.

When he had studied the message mirror thoroughly enough to find a way for them to see each other when they spoke, he'd made sure to tell her instantly.

Nothing was too big or too small for her, she cared about everything, and it warmed Callum's heart.

A frown flickered onto his lips. She wouldn't like this, not one bit. When he'd first explained arranged marriages to her on her visit a couple of years previous, she had completely flipped out.

Callum had only previously seen her that irate when discussing Dark Magic. She may well get more angry about this than he was.

A sigh escaped his pursed lips as he approached the tree, carelessly tossing a glance out at the gorgeous array of vibrant, colourful flowers that encompassed the castle's gardens.

Callum knew in the back of his mind that it would more than likely come to an arranged marriage, but that didn't make it any easier to swallow.

There was strong peace between Katolis and Xadia, founded by the positive agreements made eight years previous. A mutual trust and respect had formed between both sets of monarchies and politicians, and subsequently, their people's.

But progress between the other human kingdoms and Xadia had been tougher going.

Duren was the most open to negotiation and seemed to be close to their own agreement with the eastern continent. Queens Annika and Neha were forward-thinking, open-minded, and well aware of the benefits that a formal agreement with Xadia could provide for their kingdom.

However, the other three members of the Pentarchy, Del Bar, Neolandia and Evenere, were far more stubborn towards negotiating.

Callum had heard rumours that each of the monarchs of those kingdoms, or their close ancestors, had lost loved ones in skirmishes with the elves, and that had born racist tendencies in the current rulers.

It made Callum wonder. What would his opinion of elves be if he'd lost somebody he loved? What stories would he have been told growing up? What misconceptions would he have formed?

Would he view them as bloodthirsty monsters?

He shook his head to clear these thoughts. His best friend was an elf, and he wouldn't change that for the world.

However, it was these diplomatic issues with the other human kingdoms that caused them to be separated for so long. As a prodigious member of the Dragon Guard, she was part of all of the political parties sent out to attempt peace negotiations. Thus meaning they only saw each other for one week at a time, on the annual celebration of formal peace between Katolis and Xadia.

Oh, how Callum had pleaded to be able to visit her in Xadia, but had been denied, informed that his princely studies took precedence.

Callum flopped down emphatically against the thick trunk of the tree, relishing the warming, tingling sensation of the midday sun beaming onto his face. It temporarily drove all the thoughts from his mind, and he basked in the momentary peace.

All until a tingling sensation from his satchel drew his attention, drawing a delighted smile onto his lips.

One of the conditions of the peace treaty between Katolis and Xadia was that Callum would be tutored in primal magic, and although he had only a connection to the Sky arcanum, he had extensive knowledge of all the other primals. It was through his learning of the Moon arcanum that he was able to enhance the message mirror he had been gifted at the age of ten.

Callum had been able to turn it into a two-way mirror, meaning he could verbally converse with and see her, no matter where she was. All they had to do was both draw a specific Moon rune onto the device, and the mirror would activate, almost like looking glass.

I've got some news! Are you able to talk?

Was the message that Callum had received, which caused the buzzing he had felt earlier. Initially, noticing the message had caused a bubbling feeling in Callum's stomach, but at the word news, his stomach twisted itself into knots, and a grimace leapt onto his face.

He certainly had news to share.

Of course, he scrawled back, before drawing the rune into the bottom right corner of the glass. To do so, he drew a square, with two flicks coming off the top line, and then three prongs inside the square, almost like the tip of a trident.

Once he had finished drawing the rune, it began to faintly pulse, and the device in his hand trembled with it. He couldn't help but smirk as she drew a small smiley face in response to his message before she scrawled over his rune.

Once she had copied the rune, the whole of the glass glowed brightly for a couple of seconds. After the light had died down, Callum forced a smile onto his face.

"Rayla!" He greeted, overenthusiastically greeting the elf on the other side of the image. Callum could tell she was in her room, with her message mirror propped up on her desk.

He knew this because the Moonshadow elf was currently pacing back and forth in front of her bed. Callum couldn't help but just observe her for a while.

She was in her usual outfit of green trousers, that were usually covered by her almost black dark blue, knee length boots, but she had forsaken them on this day. Her trousers were propped up on her waist by her brown belt, dual wrapped around her waist and fastened by a crescent moon shaped buckle. Rayla had also elected not to wear her black armoured shirt, and was only wearing her green vest, which rose high onto her neck with a heart-shaped pattern missing from the front of her neck. The vest was tight-fitting, revealing her muscular upper arms, as it was shoulderless, and her well-toned stomach. Her white hair was pulled into a tight, long singular braid, which was currently tucked over her right shoulder, and bounced up and down as she paced.

She seemed to be startled by the sound of Callum's voice, and she jumped slightly, and turned her wide violet eyes towards her mirror, but her demeanour swiftly switched to a delighted one.

"Hey, Cal!" She greeted, finishing her pacing and casually grabbing a nearby chair, swinging it in front of her, with the front of the back of the seat facing towards her, and in one motion, placing it down and plonking herself onto it. She folded her arms on top of the back of the chair and rested her chin on top of her arms, a vibrant smile on her face. "I've got some amazing news for ya!"

Callum smiled at her enthusiasm. But it couldn't quite reach his eyes, he prayed she wouldn't notice.

Of course, she did.

Rayla blinked a couple of times at his false response, lifting her head up in surprise at his distinct lack of happiness.

"And I'm guessing you don't have the same?" She added, her previous clear joy dilapidating at Callum's attempt to hide his distress. Callum let out a wry chuckle.

"You're right about that, but don't let me bring you down!" Callum replied with an attempt at a jokey tone, but it distinctly fell flat. Rayla's confused expression fell into a disheartened one.

"C'mon sad prince, talk to me," She coaxed, leaning her chin back onto her arms and tilting her head slightly to one side, with a tiny pout on her lips, in what Callum had dubbed her "puppy elf face."

In response, Callum let out a frustrated huff, and leant his head back against the tree trunk, glaring up at the sky. "Believe me, if I tell you, you're only going to get annoyed," he flicked his line of sight back to the mirror propped up on his knees. She shifted her head up again, this time leaning it onto the palm of her right hand.

"Well now I'm absolutely curious," Rayla responded. "If it's something that has you like this, then I definitely want to know - if only to cheer you up!"

This elicited a small smile from the anguished prince. "You've gotta promise not to get angry?" He prompted. Rayla immediately nodded.

"Me angry? Never!" Rayla quipped, before genuinely agreeing to Callum's terms.

He sighed once more, and closed his eyes, running his left hand through his hair. "So my dad called me to the Throne Room today," Callum started, opening his eyes, and tilting his head to the left to lean his cheek on his left palm, his elbow resting on his pulled up knee, and holding the message mirror with his right hand.

Rayla's eyebrow instantly quirked up. He had told her numerous times that King Harrow only called him to the Throne Room for a talk if it was something very important to his princely duties.

"I got ambushed by Lord Viren on the way there, and yes, he brought up marrying Claudia again," Callum continued, smirking slightly as Rayla rolled her eyes immediately at the mention of the High Mage.

"Will he ever drop that?" She queried rhetorically. "Surely he should get the point by now that it's up to your father if you get an arranged marriage?" Rayla quipped, keeping her tone jokey until she reached the last two words, where she physically couldn't keep the disgust from her voice.

Callum's face must've dropped dramatically, because Rayla's mien swiftly shifted into one of disbelief.

"T-That's the thing," Callum muttered, throat feeling particularly dry again. "From what my dad was telling me, it sounds like it might well be out of my hands. And his."

It came out so quietly, so hoarse that Callum was unsure whether Rayla, even with her superior elven hearing, had, in fact, heard him. The only indication that she had was a minor twitching of her ears, and a marginal shift of her expression, into something resembling thoughtful.

Callum attempted to clear his throat before speaking again, averting his gaze away from the mirror, and subsequently Rayla, looking down to his right, tilting his head slightly so his hair obscured his face somewhat.

"Dad said that he's under increasing political pressure about my marital situation," Callum added with a heavy sigh. "He managed to negotiate a deadline of a year. One year, Rayla!" Callum's voice suddenly rose dramatically in volume, anger creeping in. His face was in a firm scowl towards the floor, distinctly attempting to avoid looking at Rayla. "How on earth does anyone expect me to find somebody I'll want to spend the rest of my life within less than a year?! Or to agree to do that with someone I've never met?!"

Tears had started to prick at his eyes once more, as the realisation fully set in. Verbalising it to his best friend had set it in stone. There was no avoiding it anymore.

Callum's head lulled back against the trunk of the tree once again, and a couple of tears escaped his eyes as he shifted his gaze up to the sky.

"I know that as the heir to the Throne I'm fully expected to have a future Queen well before I'm coronated, but it just sucks."

Callum rubbed the tears from his eyes using his thumb and finger of his left hand, and let out a shaky breath, which sounded borderline like a humourless laugh. "Sorry, Ray," he apologised, squeezing his eyes shut tight under his fingertips to force out the last of the tears. "You wanted to tell me all about your news and here I am moaning about my duties," Callum shifted his head to rest it back on the palm of his left hand, finally looking back at the aforementioned Moonshadow elf, and he was somewhat surprised at what he saw. He was fully expecting her to be irritated or annoyed by his news, or at least sympathetic, but her expression was definitely thoughtful. Her brow was furrowed together, and there was a slight glaze across her eyes that indicated she was in deep thought.

But it was clear she'd heard him, she was looking directly at him. When Rayla finally acknowledged that Callum was finally looking at her again, her eyes flicked to the bottom of the message mirror, and she nodded her head somewhat as well, indicating that Callum should look there.

There was a heavy blush on Rayla's face as she did so, and she seemingly attempted to cover it with her hand. Callum's eyebrow rose at her peculiar behaviour, and when he followed her gesticulation to the bottom of his mirror, his heart almost stopped at what she'd written.

What about me?

Now it was Rayla's turn to avoid Callum's gaze, her desk suddenly becoming remarkably interesting, as his eyes bore into her. His mouth had flopped open, and he was gawking like a fish, attempting to formulate words.

"R-Rayla… D-do you me-?"

"Yes," she interrupted abruptly, still averting her eyes.

"You seriously mean yo-"

"Yes."

"Rayla, you'd be a prince-"

"Yes."

Callum couldn't help but frown at her behaviour. It was an incredibly selfless offer, to put all of what she'd worked for her entire life behind her to attempt to help Callum. But it was so out of the blue that it made Callum's head spin.

"Rayla, can you just let me talk a minute?" Callum requested firmly, his tone finally drawing her attention back to him. The look in her eyes made the heat rise to Callum's cheek.

It was a look of pure determination, as well as concern. But Callum had to be sure she knew what she was offering here.

"First of all, that's a… I don't even know what to say…" Callum said softly. "That's easily the nicest thing anyone has ever offered to do for me, but you have to know what this would mean."

Rayla's eyebrows quirked at how downtrodden and serious Callum's tone shifted halfway through his speech; from grateful and soft at the start to borderline diplomatic by the end of it.

"If you… if we...agreed to do this, you'd have to give everything up that you have worked so hard for at home," Callum started, rubbing his eyes tiredly before resting his chin back onto it, the pure spectrum of emotions he'd felt during the day taking its toll. "I couldn't ask you to do that for me," he added softly, his gratefulness evident in his tone. "You know how much I moan about my princely duties, and I have to do them, you don't. I would not want to burden you with this."

Callum immediately knew he'd said the wrong things. Rayla's demeanour didn't change much, but there was a slight movement of her ears, the tips slightly flopping down, the action causing immense guilt to flood his stomach.

He'd upset her.

"Callum…" Rayla began quietly, fiddling with her fingers, hands still resting on the back of her chair, her gaze dropped momentarily to observe her hands, before her violet eyes found his emerald ones once more. "Before I say anything else, I want you to answer a question for me."

"Of course, ask away."

"Would you rather spend your life with someone you don't know, or with me?"

Callum was shocked speechless for a moment, but his answer was immediate in his mind. "You."

Rayla smirked slightly. "Pro one," she added quietly, holding up a finger to match the number. "And I know all of the pressures you're under, believe me, I do, you moan to me about them enough," Rayla quipped, winking at Callum, causing his blush to deepen. Rayla's smirk drifted into its previous serious expression - a borderline frown. "But you're my best friend," her tone started to become rather emotional. "And I do not want to see you spend the rest of your life with someone you might despise. I do not want that for you," she repeated firmly, ensuring that they maintained eye contact, and her determination was enough to set Callum's pulse racing.

Rayla's demeanour softened dramatically, and her violet eyes sparkled, her mouth opened slightly as she attempted to speak. She opened and closed her mouth a couple of times before she swallowed deeply.

"I want to do this."

It came out barely above a whisper, but the statement was drenched with sincerity. They both flushed dramatically at her statement, and the sentiment it was laden with.

"I don't want to see you miserable with someone you don't love," Rayla added, just as quietly, but just as genuinely. Callum couldn't help but smile at Rayla. She was offering to go above and beyond anything he had ever expected when he broached this subject. He thought she would be angry with it, he thought she'd curse arranged marriages, and the disgusting prospect of marrying someone for political gain, and not love.

But here she was, offering herself to him, putting his happiness above hers, offering to give up her entire life's training thus far to help him.

What on earth had he done to deserve her as a best friend?

Callum frowned internally at his thought. A friend suddenly didn't seem to cut it anymore. What Rayla was offering to do, wasn't an act of friendship, even of a best friend. It was above and beyond anything that could've been expected of her.

And it caused some thoughts and feelings to fly through Callum. Thoughts and feelings that he wasn't a stranger to when it came to his Moonshadow elven best friend. He would often find himself lost in her. Mesmerised by her markings, her eyes, her gestures and inflexions, the way her ears would quirk with her mood and voice and facial expressions. Things he had, before this very moment, purely associated with their strong bond and immense friendship.

But all of a sudden, it seemed a whole lot more than that. The prospect of spending the rest of his life with her causing a shift in his perception of these moments, of the one he was in right now.

Callum's focus snapped back onto Rayla, who must've noticed his mind drifting, as she seemed to jump slightly at the intensity that flowed into Callum's previously glazed emerald eyes; eyes that abruptly seemed to sparkle.

Callum wanted to let himself get tugged away with the moment, with the emotions coursing through his veins, the images of potential futures with Rayla dancing across his mind, but he anchored himself for a moment, in an attempt to think clearly.

"What about the Dragon Guard? And all of your training?" Callum queried softly. His genuine concern for her, and his consideration for her training and the career path she had been following for as long as she could remember.

But a wry smirk slipped onto her lips.

"That's the news I had," Rayla quipped in a singsong tone. "I passed my last exam, and I'm now all set to graduate!" She exclaimed, her delight causing a beaming smile to flood onto Callum's lips.

"That's amazing, Ray! Congratulations!" He was just as enthusiastic in his congrats as Rayla was in her exclamation. Rayla's face softened, and she smiled affectionately at the young prince.

"Meaning, I can now do whatever I wish," Rayla added, her tone dripping with implications, as she raised her eyebrow in a subtle question. "I could become a politician in the Dragon Guard like my parents, I could become a guardian in the Dragon Guard like Runaan…"

Her eyes drifted around her room as she listed off the possibilities, before coming to fix firmly onto Callum's eyes, a smirk cracking onto her lips.

"Or, I could help out my dummy of a best friend, and become a princess."

Rayla managed to say it jokingly, but so calmly, that Callum couldn't help but believe that she fully understood what she was offering to do. He couldn't help but get drawn into the possibility of being with Rayla for the rest of his life. His cheeks flushed dramatically.

"Rayla, you're my absolute best friend, and I have absolutely no clue what I would do without you," Callum replied sincerely, his voice cracking slightly with emotion. Rayla's smirk shifted into a soft, fond smile, one that caused Callum's heart to race, and before he could reconsider, three words slipped from his lips.

"Let's do it."