It was only two days after Soo-won stepped down as King that Yona sat down on the throne as the new Queen of the Kouka Kingdom. Mika helped ready her for her coronation. She was very quiet as Mika combed through her fiery hair and her eyes were sad.
"What is it, Yona?" Mika's soft voice caught Yona's attention. The fair-skinned woman looked at the princess with concern evident in her black eyes. Yona looked down at her small hands, scarred and rough from years spent using a bow and hunting and fighting. Tears threatened the well in her eyes.
"For so many years," Yona's voice was so quiet. "We have fought for Kouka. We have sacrificed so much and made improvements. We saved lives and freed the enslaved. In many ways, this is the end of all of that. The dragons, my family, they have done their part in bringing Kouka into a new, peaceful era. It is . . . I believe that it is time that they return to their lives and do what makes them happy."
Mika placed an ornamental pin in Yona's hair. "In many ways, you are right, Yona. This is a new era, but that does not mean it is the end."
Yona looked up at her friend.
"A family does not stop being a family based simply off of miles or life paths. We will always be a family. And we will always be your loyal friends and advisors. Do not ever think that you walk this path as Queen alone." With her kind words, Yona was not exactly put at ease, but she did find some light in Mika's thoughts.
"What will you and Shin-ah do?"
Mika paused at this. "I . . . I am not certain yet. Come, let me dress you." Mika looked lost suddenly as she helped Yona stand. There was a question in Yona's eyes. Mika herself was dressed in simple black and white as always. Her sash was adorned with stitched blue flowers. Yona wore nearly all white and had requested that her coronation gown not be gaudy or excessive. She refused to live in excess any longer. "I suppose I would like to marry Shin-ah, but I know he does not wish to leave the palace."
"And you do?"
"Yes . . . well, no." Mika slipped Yona's gown over her shift. "I would like to live by the sea, but I think it will be too far from Shin-ah's brothers. I do not want that for him."
Yona started. "I may have an idea."
Mika met her direct gaze.
"There is a small palace just outside of the capital. It is private and has been abandoned for some time, but it is near the river. While not the ocean, I hope that it is at least something. . . something that will convince you to stay nearby." Mika smiled at Yona's hidden meaning.
"Thank you for your thought, Yona. I will tell Shin-ah."
Once she had finished dressing Yona, Mika took a step back to take in her handiwork. She was not prepared for the tears that began cascading down her cheeks. Yona gasped. "What is it, Mika? Are you alright?"
"I have never been better, Princess." Yona was surprised by the sudden use of her title. Mika looked at her fiercely. "I feel I must tell you this before I go. Princess Yona, I am so honored that I was part of your journey to this point. You have grown into a strong and empowered woman. To see you grow into this type of leader has been the honor of my life. Thank you."
Yona only smiled at her. "Thank you, Mika, for being my shield."
Mika bowed to Yona. "I should go now. Hak has been waiting to see you." Before she left the room, Mika glanced once more at the princess. The next time she would see her, Yona would be the Queen.
Mika smiled softly at Hak when she passed him. He held Yona's sword in one hand. He was startled to see Mika's tear-stained face, but wisely didn't mention it. She meandered through the garden halls outside of Yona's rooms. The entire palace was buzzing with activity. The servants were all preparing for the coronation. Zeno was sitting in a tree in the gardens. She hadn't seen Jae-ha all morning, but knew he was waiting somewhere for his turn to see Yona. Kija had been crying and inconsolable. Yoon had mostly yelled at him to stop.
Shin-ah. . .
Mika didn't hear him approach. "Mika?" She stopped instantly and quickly brushed the tears from her cheeks. His hand grasped her shoulder gently. He turned her to face him.
"I'm just a bit . . . emotional is all." Shin-ah's mouth didn't move, but his arms came around her. Mika sighed into his chest. There was nothing better than being in his strong grasp. He was as steady as a mountain.
Hours later, Mika, Hak, and the dragons stood next to the throne as Yona walked towards them. When her tears started acting up again, Shin-ah's hand clasped around hers.
Shin-ah and Mika stood in front of the small palace. She wore a wedding gown of the silkiest material that shimmered in the soft afternoon light. Mika's mouth was agape. Only days before, they had come to look at the place and found it in some disarray. They had worked for a few hours to clear debris, dust, and straighten the palace. The gardens were a mass of weeds and overgrown trees.
Shin-ah took her hand. "My brothers. And Yoon. Mostly Yoon."
Mika laughed and followed him through the twinkling lanterns hanging from branches. They caught and reflected the light off the small streams. He took her to a small pagoda entangled with vines and blooming lilies. "Shin-ah . . . I have never been so happy."
He stood so he faced her. With trembling hands, he removed his mask to reveal his golden eyes. Mika couldn't hold in her involuntary gasp. As always, they were the most beautiful things she had ever seen in her entire life. He took her cheek in his hand and kissed her lightly on the mouth.
Mika was always excited with his newfound confidence. While still quiet and shy, Shin-ah could always surprise her. Mika's hands came across his biceps, then reached his neck. Shin-ah grasped her waist and spun her in a quick circle. Together, they laughed and hugged each other tightly. "I love you," he whispered in her ear.
"Oh, Shin-ah," Mika kissed him deeply.
For days, Shin-ah was able to awaken before dawn and watch Mika before she, too, woke up. Her black hair was always in disarray and her velvety eyes looked sleepy. He slept without his mask in their room now and caressed her bare body close to his. In the morning, they would bathe in the hot spring pools. She would wash his chest, kiss down his neck and back up, and Shin-ah could not imagine a better life. He didn't know how he had come to deserve this happiness, but he swore he would cherish it—and her—forever.
In the afternoons, they would walk through the gardens until their stomachs growled and they realized they could not survive on each other alone. Laughing, they would go to the kitchen. Mika made simple meals that they ate together at the pagoda. At night, they would lay out in the soft grass to see the stars. He could see more than Mika, but she didn't care. She would spend most of the time memorizing his sharp cheekbones and strong jaw.
They were left alone for nearly a week before Zeno and Kija could take it no longer.
"Kija and Zeno." Mika glanced up at Shin-ah. He was focused on the walls of their palace.
"I'm surprised they could wait this long." Mika laughed and pulled him in the direction of the palace gate. It was open. Zeno came bounding through. His blonde hair stuck up in every direction.
"You met us. Of course, I should have expected no less!" Kija grinned at the couple. He kissed Mika on the cheek and hugged Shin-ah. Over the years, he had become somewhat accustomed to Kija's more affectionate displays.
Zeno quickly approached Mika. His eyes were bright. "Mika, you are positively glowing. Are you pregnant yet?"
Mika sputtered. "I – Zeno!" He was pressing his ear to her belly and holding her waist. She glanced up at Kija.
He quickly grabbed the small boy. "That's not why we came, Mika. I swear it." He set Zeno down on his feet again. "We only wanted to see how you two were doing in this big palace all by yourself."
"Jae-ha." Shin-ah glanced up at a tall tree just outside the palace walls. The man in question jumped down with a sardonic grin.
"I was wondering when you would say something."
Mika shook her head as he flicked his long hair off his shoulder. "You three are so troublesome sometimes. Well, come in. We'll make lunch."
They sat on the pagoda around a small stone table. Kija had dragged additional chairs around it.
Jae-ha said, "You should really get some staff, Mika."
Mika started. "I don't think so. I like it this way."
"Yes, but what will happen when you start having children? That will be quite a lot to keep up with."
Shin-ah tilted his head. Mika looked annoyed. "Yes, well, I suppose I will have to call on you three to help Shin-ah and I babysit."
Zeno leaped up from his seat. "I would love nothing more! Any child of yours will be like a child of our own."
Jae-ha scratched his chin. "Of course, it would be easier for us to look after them if we were in close proximity."
Mika frowned. She had a feeling she knew where this was going.
Kija muttered, "We don't all have the green dragon's leg, Mika. It was quite a walk to get from the capital to your palace."
In the months to come, the palace grew in size. The main palace did not change much, but the three dragons added three additional smaller palaces of identical design scattered around the gardens. A newly married Yona and Hak rode there often to admire the progress and to heckle Mika about renaming it the Legendary Dragon Palace.
It didn't anger Mika. She could see how happy it made Shin-ah to have his brothers so near. In many ways, it was even fulfilling to have such a bountiful household. Mika was also happy to have Yona so near. It was easy for her to go visit or to assist with any governing matters. Yoon was also the Queen's trusted advisor, but he preferred to live in the capital near Hak and Yona. Zeno preferred to travel often, but returned to Mika and Shin-ah's palace when he was homesick.
The last of the little palaces had just been finished only six months after their wedding. Mika walked past it and out of the gates to the river. She often went there for walks. She waded through the water up to her waist and skipped across the flat rocks. Sometimes, Shin-ah would go with her just so he could watch her. She would dance for him in only her shift. She never stumbled even across the hard pebbles on her feet.
On that day, she was alone. Mika waded back to the shore. She stepped out of the cool water. Mika looked up at the woods around her. The trees suddenly blurred. Her breath came out in a gasp. Mika saw the ground come up to greet her cheek. "Shin-ah," she called before blackness came.
Mika came to only seconds later. She felt dizzy and sick. She heard a small whooshing sound.
"Mika!" Shin-ah's concerned voice. Mika sat up slightly, then she puked. Shin-ah and Jae-ha ran to her side. Jae-ha's robe came across her shoulders. Shin-ah pulled her wet hair from her cheeks.
"I feel dizzy," She told Shin-ah and leaned into him.
She heard Jae-ha say, "I'll take her back to the palace."
"No," Mika said into Shin-ah's shoulder. His arms were around her. "I'll puke again, Jae-ha."
"Then Shin-ah will carry you home. I'll get a doctor." She felt Shin-ah nod, then he was lifting her into his arms. Mika held onto him with shaky, but taut arms. She didn't much remember the walk home. She didn't throw up again, although Mika thought she was close a few times.
Shin-ah undressed her, put her in night clothes, and laid her down in their bed. His golden eyes betrayed his concern. "I'm alright, Shin-ah. It will pass." In truth, Mika didn't know if she had ever been sick. Her demi-goddess powers kept her in excellent health. He stroked her hair softly.
The doctor came in shortly afterwards. He was followed by Zeno, Kija, and Jae-ha. Yoon, Hak, and Yona crowded the room even further. Apparently, Jae-ha had been concerned, but when Mika looked at him, he had a small, knowing smirk on his face.
The doctor knelt by Mika's side. He took her pulse and then smiled at the woman. He nodded at Shin-ah. "Congratulations, blue dragon and lightning goddess, you are with child." Mika's mouth dropped open. Shin-ah rocked back on his feet.
Yona began jumping up and down. She was crying. Kija was crying and hugging Shin-ah. Zeno began touching Mika's belly.
"Hello, baby," Zeno kept saying.
Yoon was making plans. "We must ensure you have an excellent diet, Mika. You will need to drink tea often to keep yourself in good health."
The doctor muttered, "I'm not sure if I'm necessary."
Mika met Jae-ha's eyes over the others. She shook her head at him. He had known.
The pregnancy was taxing on Mika. For a few days, she spent time in bed. Yona and Yoon took care of her for that time. When she was able to get up without feeling ill, Mika was still tired more of the time. She got into the habit of not wandering far; she stayed within the walls of the palace most days.
Shin-ah kept his eyes on her most of the time.
"Mika, name your child for me, please!" Zeno begged her at lunch one day.
"Shin-ah will choose the name of our child," Mika told Zeno calmly. Shin-ah's eyes went wide; his alarm was evident.
"Yes, Shin-ah," Mika told him, then smiled softly. She touched her belly. "It is tradition for the father to name the child at birth."
Shin-ah couldn't recall a time when he'd felt that much responsibility. As her belly grew, Shin-ah agonized what he would name the child. Would they have a boy or a girl? Jae-ha found him laying in the grass one day.
"Come now, brother. I'm certain you can come up with something."
Jae-ha sprawled next to him. Shin-ah asked, "What would you name your child?"
That caught the man off guard. He pulled at the collar of his robe. "I'll never have a child, silly dragon."
Jae-ha elbowed Shin-ah. "You can't name your child after your squirrel." There was more to it, which Jae-ha knew, but he still couldn't help teasing Shin-ah.
"Our child will have . . . a good life." Jae-ha glanced at Shin-ah in surprise. His brows were furrowed. He was thinking of his own childhood. Thinking of how the other children were scared of him and how he was shunned from the other villagers.
Jae-ha sat up. "Of course. Our child will."
Only a few months later, Yona found that she was also with child. Mika took a rare trip to the capital to be with her. They lounged in her bedroom on soft pillows. Mika's belly had become slightly rounded. Yona's hand stroked it softly. While it was not as rough as it had been, Yona still practiced archery daily and went on excursions with Hak at her side.
"How our family continues to grow." Yona whispered it, then touched her own flat stomach.
"A new era," Mika told her, "Not the end, but a beginning."
"Yes," Yona said and then laughed. She hugged Mika. "I'm so happy that we are doing this together. To tell you the truth, I'm terrified."
"As am I," Mika told her, "I try not to be in front of Shin-ah, but I can't help it."
"How is he taking it?"
Mika shrugged, "He's scared. Scared that a son will mean that there will be another blue dragon. He doesn't want our child to be shunned like he was."
"He won't. Even if he is a blue dragon."
"I know. And Shin-ah knows as well, but he still fears it."
Yona sighed, "Hak has threatened to name our baby Dark Dragon."
Mika sputtered. "Well, as King, I suppose he could. . ." She trailed off as Yona turned her fiery eyes on her.
"King Hak." Yona groaned.