I had been born for a purpose. Oh certainly, they tried to put the best face on it; the entire kingdom celebrated and feasted for a week after I was born, the long-awaited heir to the Lion Throne. The way they venerated me was one step short of proclaiming me a god. I was their Golden Boy, their Hero Prince, the One Who Would Be King.
From that cloudy morning, three days after my birth, that they trotted me out to show the adoring throng, a little golden crown on my head which weighed practically nothing physically but in symbolism was heavier than the Rock of Gilbratar, they had been grooming me for kingship. It was better than leaving me to spoil in my own self-importance and knowledge of royal birth, I suppose, but when every thing you eat, say, breathe and think must needs be examined with the question 'Will this make me a king?' it gets a little much.
My younger brother was like me in many ways. Like me, he had been born for a purpose; like me, he commanded the respect of people with such unconscious ease it was almost frightening (most especially to our enemies, of which there was no shortage); like me, he was trained from babyhood onwards to fulfil a duty that never hovered far from his thoughts-we even looked somewhat alike. I always found that somewhat surprising when I looked at him, even if we were full-blooded brothers.
But oh, in so many ways we differed. And it was the ways in which we differed that shaped our lives, not the ways we were alike. I commanded the adulation of millions who loved me because I would be their king, and because from their few and distant glimpses of my life, it seemed I would be a good one; he had the unwavering respect and loyalty of a few hundred who may have never thought about his royal blood but thought often of how he had proven his worth in blood and sweat and tears. My training was by learned and sage men famed the world over for their wisdom; his was by dark figures whose connection to the Royal House must never be acknowledged. I learned how to best lead the lives of those in my kingdom; he learnt how to take the lives of those who would threaten it. While I learned how to interpret information about my enemies in order to head off the possible threat, he learned how to acquire that information for me; how to analyze it and offer advice; then how to follow the orders I would give. Most of all, he and I were taught that his only destiny was to make sure mine was as bright as possible.
He was born six years after me. Most royal firstborns are taught to look at their younger siblings as competitors for the crown, and to negate that threat accordingly. As soon as my father heard of the birth of his second son, though, he took me directly to the room where my mother lay cradling the new babe in her arms. My father gripped my hand tightly as we two stood there at her bedside, and told me, "Look there, my son. This is your brother. Look well upon him, for when the two of you are grown to manhood, it will be his place to be the support for your throne."
My younger brother, who had been asleep, opened his eyes then, as if he knew he was being talked about. And as I gazed into the dark blue gaze-so like mine-for the first time, I reached out and let him curl his tiny fist around my finger.
Right away, I could sense a difference between him and I. Whereas I had been paraded in front of nobles and the people as often as possible, to keep them reminded just who their new king would be, he was kept largely a secret. Oh, my father never denied his existence or refused to accord him what was due a prince of the blood royal. But there was a distinct lack of gossip about him and the 'balls' thrown in honor of his birth consisted of only a few people. He did not go out on ceremonial parades all bejeweled and sparkling, to wave to the people as they cheered his name, as I did. Most everyone knew that the King had a second son, but they knew next to nothing about him. By the time he was eight and I was fourteen, it was widely thought that he was dead. Few even knew what his name was.
But what I was most aware of, before I had the maturity to notice all this, was how my mother treated him. I had mentioned that we looked alike, and so we did-but much less than one would expect two brothers to look. I had the strong, golden elegance that people whisper of in hushed, approving voices. I carried myself erect and upright, thoroughly admirable and blameless, like the lion that was the universal symbol of kingship as well as the device on our coat-of-arms. When people shook my hand or bowed to me, they looked full upon my face-eyes drawn as if to the light of the sun.
My brother, on the other hand, disconcerted people. His face, with its chin that was more pointed than square, had a fey, elfin look about it that most people found beautiful but slightly frightening-as if it were something that oughtn't to be on a human's face. He had thick dark hair that would stand up as if perpetually in a storm-wind, despite the best hairdressing efforts our nanny. His eyes, while the same dark blue as my own, were wider and set farther apart, giving him a look of innocence when he wasn't narrowing them in suspicion. When he smiled, he looked positively angelic-but he smiled less and less, as he grew older. All of this, together, gave him an appearance that quickly captured a person's eye more in wonder than admiration, and equally quickly caused the person to avert their gaze after a brief glimpse.
All except my mother, that is. She saw in him a reminder of the people she'd had to leave behind when she came down to marry my father. He had bred true to the mountain people, standing shorter than was usual for one of our blood, and more slender. Whenever she, almost unconsciously, reached out to hug him or run her hands through his hair or trace his face with wondering fingers, she was reaching out to her past. When she looked at me, she saw the broad, sunlit plains of her new home; when she looked at him, she saw the cool, shadowy mountains of her youth. And what person does not hold the days of idyllic childhood in higher regard than any other time in life?
It was difficult to be jealous of him for this; nor for the fact that he was beating me in swordplay by the time he was six-and it wasn't just because I knew how he was to be forever in my shadow, or how hard-won his fighting prowess was. It was because my brother bore for me a huge, unconditional love that eclipsed all the adulation of everyone else. He adored me completely, hero-worshipped me. When he was a baby, he would crawl around after me wherever I went, and would weep bitterly when I was taken away for lessons. My mother and the ladies-in-waiting found his devotion cute; I found it strangely touching. What had I done to deserve such love?
As he grew older, and his teachers fed him more and more of their dark knowledge, he showed that love less and less-not only for me, but for everyone. It nearly broke my mother's heart, no matter how many times my father tried to explain that it was all necessary, it was all for the Crown. Come to think of it, I don't think my father believed it himself. After all, it was his son, whom he did love despite it all, who was growing into a dangerous stranger in front of his eyes.
I could see that my brother loved me when I looked into his eyes. And, after all, he never looked at me as if I was some annoying, perhaps rabid dog that needed to be killed-a gaze he focused on almost everyone else at one time or another.
But I never could make him smile anymore. Not like before, when all I needed to do was grin at him, pretend to advance as if I was about to tickle him, to set him smiling widely. Now he never smiled.
That is, not until she came.
They had arranged for me to marry a princess of the kingdom near ours, a marriage that would forge an alliance between the two nations that would be beneficial to us both.
She and I were obedient, dutiful and raised to regard ourselves as servants for the country… not as people. Surely we had accepted the fact that our life partners would not be chosen by ourselves, but by a committee. It should have gone off without a hitch, except for one thing.
She fell in love.
It didn't surprise me. My brother was a handsome devil, after all, and as he had attended the same battery of etiquette, dancing, and assorted-social-niceties lessons as I had, he could also be a charming one when he wanted to be. (usually when it involved charming people to get information from them) Also, they were the same age instead of separated by six years.
I suspect all this was largely incidental, though. To explain why would involve explaining the exact nature of the bond between my brother and the princess.
They met in a thoroughly unconventional way. After she had arrived at the palace and we had all gotten through the rather tedious ritual that accompanied one royal party visiting another, she had excused herself. She somehow slipped away from all her retainers to sit alone on the beach, divesting herself of crown, jewels and all royal insignia, so while no one would take her for a commoner, neither would they think she was a princess.
As she sat on a large, flat rock, warmed by the red glow of the setting sun, she thought back on the events of the day. She was in a strangely pensive mood-although she had, as I mentioned, known all her life that her marriage would not be an affair of love but of politics, today she felt like she had been cheated. I had seemed nice enough, and there was no secret lover she was being forced to leave behind, but the idea of marriage still appalled her.
Then my brother came splashing up. He had been gone on a 'visit' to Baron Rosencratz's, and while there had found out something he needed to tell my father right away. Not trusting the couriers, he had galloped all the way back to the palace himself. His white stallion, Wing, had lived up to his name and was running as if he did have wings on his feet.
They were pounding along the surf, ocean spray flying up from beneath Wing's hooves and glittering in the dying rays of the sun, when it happened. I don't know what spooked Wing, but I believe that if my brother knew what it was, he would give fervent thanks.
Wing reared up, long white forelegs thrashing the air in fright. Of course, this made his rider slip off his back, and my brother fell into the shallow water, dazed. He was too stunned to move out of the way as Wing plunged back down and kicked out behind him with his rear legs.
At the sound of his low, pained groan, the princess got up and ran to him. Ignoring the frightened horse that galloped past her to the stables and the sea soaking her dress, she knelt down and cradled my brother's head in her arms.
"Shh…" she whispered, voice soothing like the sound of wind rustling through the grass. "Shh…" He groaned again and stirred, but never moved out of her arms.
I had heard Wing's frightened shrill and was hurrying down the steps towards the beach when all this happened. I got within eyeshot just in time to see my brother open his eyes and gaze full into the princess's.
How do I describe what I saw there? If eyes are the windows to the soul, those two opened their windows wide at that moment. They weren't looking into each other's eyes, they were looking into each other's souls, and giving a piece of it in return. I saw my brother's face relax, saw the glint of danger that was always in his eyes gentle into something that was softer. He smiled up at her-smiled, actually smiled! -he, who for three years now hadn't showed any emotion other than anger and annoyance and even those infrequently. There was a curious expression on his face, a sort of half-recognition as if he'd seen her before and had known he would see her again but didn't know her name, mingled with a kind of gentle, joyful wonder and…could that be…love? -an expression mirrored on her own face.
I didn't move, didn't make a sound. It seemed to me that to do anything to disrupt that bond, almost holy in its purity and intensity, would be something tantamount to sacrilege. I didn't believe in the soulmates theory, but if there was such a thing, these two certainly qualified, and if not, then they came as close to it as possible.
Slowly, the princess raised one hand to cup my brother's cheek. He turned his face to nuzzle gently into her palm, neither breaking eye contact. "My name's Relena," the princess finally said.
"I'm Adian," my brother replied quietly.
And from that moment on, my brother and Relena were never far apart. The news my brother brought, about Rosencratz having been made overtures of alliance by the Overking of Argas-the dark, hilly nation that had been our enemy for so long it was practically a racial tension now-had prompted my father to pull away all my brother's tutors, so Adian had nothing to hamper him from spending time with Relena. Soon, it became that to find one was to find the other, and to tell one something was to have the other's advice, opinion and thoughts on the matter by the next day.
I remember one day in particularly fine detail. The court was milling around in the Grand Ballroom, including Adian and Relena-though those two were off in one corner, Adian periodically whispering something in Relena's ear that set the sandy-haired princess to giggling. Knowing Adian's unique skills, I suspect it was some obscure secret about whatever noble was passing by.
Rosencratz wasn't stupid-or at least, he wasn't that stupid. He had an inside link to the palace. But with my father the King marching on his barony with an army of ten thousand and no support forthcoming from the Argas Overking, he was more than a little desperate.
He had somehow managed to get word to his flunky in the palace to murder the heir to the throne-me-and thus force my father to return to the capital. So, the flunky hired a gang of ruffians and cutthroats, smuggled them into the palace, and now, as they burst into the ballroom, ordered them to "Kill the Prince! Kill the Prince!"
As there was only one prince in the room-or so they thought, my brother being mostly an unknown to the lower classes-they all plunged towards me, knives flashing and grinning ghastly, gap-toothed smiles.
However, I was the Crown Prince, and I had a phalanx of bodyguards moving grimly into position around me to meet the street-thugs-turned-assassins with cold steel. More than that, I had my brother, who had started running towards me even before the command to attack had been given. He drew that strange Eastern-style sword he was so fond of, that curved-bladed katana, and was slashing his way through the seething mass with preternatural speed. With him there, and my own bodyguards silently doing their job with an efficiency showing the extent of their training, the assassination attempt was rapidly going to pieces.
The flunky was breathing as if in the throes of an asthma attack (and that may have been the case) He looked wildly about, and very unfortunately, his gaze fell on the princess. If he couldn't have one royal, the other would do, he reasoned, and grabbed her.
Of course, had he known my brother, he would have realized that he had in effect committed suicide.
With a roar that filled the entire room, Adian leapt for the man's throat. It was uncanny; he just seemed to suddenly appear in front of the flunky, and before the man had time to do more than widen his eyes in horror, Adian's bloodied katana was flashing on its merciless arc.
The flunky fell to the floor, twitching slightly. His hands were loosely clasped around the sword that was still embedded in his stomach-Adian had practically cleaved him from shoulder to belly.
Seeing their 'leader' fall, the thugs just dropped their weapons and surrendered. Not many were paying attention to them-at that moment, nearly every eye in the room was on my brother, who held the trembling princess tightly, stroking her sandy hair with his surprisingly unbloodied hands.
After that, it was widely accepted that the two of them would marry-as much for the fear that they would face my brother's sword as for the fact that none could raise an objection in the face of a love that pure and fierce and strong.
Their wedding was the next spring. It was a magnificent affair, my father sparing no expense as if to try and make things up to my brother. For the first time, Adian had all the glory and honor instead of me, and it was his name whispered in the palace instead of mine-something that made my brother very uncomfortable, as I remember. Relena's brother, the legendary warrior Zechs, was there too-right next to me, in fact. He was a friend of mine, and had been looking forward to seeing his sister wedded to me, but after meeting Adian, he seemed contented enough. There was a certain tension in the air whenever they talked, though. Relena and I chalked it up to the rivalry that had sprung up between the two fighters, both unmatched in the battlefield.
Adian looked very handsome in his blue-and-gold finery, a military-styled outfit labored on by palace seamstresses for two months. His only ornament was a gold circlet with a single diamond in the middle. His hair was still as messy as ever, but Relena seemed to like it that way. He was not wearing his katana or any other type of bladed weapon, his and his teachers' protests overridden by my mother, who had taken over the planning of the wedding with a passion and frenzy that awed us all.
He shifted nervously from foot to foot in the manner of all jittery bridegrooms. His anxiety was not helped by the teasing of my father and I... and Zechs' not-so-veiled threats about what he would do if he ever found his sister in anything less than a state of absolute bliss.
Every trace of anything but awe was wiped from his face as Relena appeared. Like my brother, she did not have much jewelery on-just a string of virgin pearls at her slender throat and a gold circlet like Adian's on the sandy hair that was put up in a coiling bun with a few strands escaping to dangle directly over her sea-blue eyes. Her white wedding gown was similarly understated and elegant. Her train, studded with seed pearls and tiny rubies and emeralds, was carried by a puffed-up young attendant who looked extremely pleased at the honor given to him that day. She mounted the dais and smiled shyly at Adian, who managed to pick up his jaw in time to smile back at her before turning to the priest.
The archbishop who was officiating was a long-winded old bag who managed to throw in long vows involving every oath he could put in and convoluted blessings from nearly every saint in heaven into the ceremony. Adian and Relena didn't much notice, being too involved in each other's eyes to do more than murmur "I do," at the proper intervals. However, the rest of the congregation suffered very much, and I believe that if many of them had their way the archbishop would have been stricken with laryngitis for the rest of his days.
He plodded on through the ceremony with studied solemnity, though he did pick up his pace near the end, when he noticed a contingent of people, including Zechs and my brother's friends-warriors all-looking especially murderous.
"You may kiss the bride," he said, and the congregation breathed a sigh of relief that turned into an 'ooh…' when they noticed just how Adian was kissing the bride. I noticed Zechs develop a conspicuous twitch in his right eye.
The happy couple left for their new home the next month, after returning from their honeymoon somewhere in the secluded wilds of our country. Along with them went several of Adian's friends and teachers. My father was a bit put-out by losing several of his best warriors, but was reassured by my brother's promise that he and his friends Duo, Trowa, Quatre and Wufei would return at my father's call any time he wished, and they would even bring Zechs along.
And so they lived happily ever after. They had a pair of identical twin sons followed by a daughter in the next seven years, prospered and were deliriously happy. Relena and Zechs shared the throne jointly, and as Zechs' wife was barren, the crown fell to Adian and Relena's oldest son, Kieran. Adian still continued to serve as the shadow behind the throne, but he was the shadow behind her throne, not mine, and he didn't have to remain in the shadows all the time. He could come up to the light, at her side.
Do I sound bitter? I guess I am, slightly. No, I did not love Relena. In fact, I'm glad that she and Adian found happiness together, because if they hadn't, I wouldn't have been able to meet and wed the lady whom I loved so totally. But I lost something very precious in what happened.
I lost my brother.
I think back on that as I run my hands over Epyon's red armor. It had been very strange, growing up with the memories of a previous life. I knew who I was, Prince Troy of a kingdom long dead and only a myth in the world I lived in now, but none of those who had been with me in that long-ago time remembered.
I did not resent Relena for taking away my brother. Theirs was a love that was predestined, and a part of them deeper than friendship, pain…or family. So it had been, even then, and so it was, now.
I knew my brother in this world, but he did not know me. It pained me, whenever I looked into his face-so like the one I remembered from the kingdom-days, as I termed my previous life-and saw the absolute coldness. When I had found him, I researched on his life here. He had grown up being trained under an assassin named Adian-funnily enough, to have shared the name of my brother. When Adian died, the boy who had been my brother adopted his mentor's name and started to train under Dr J, who had sent him down to the Earth as Pilot Zero-One.
He and I were on opposite sides of the war now. But the sides in this war shifted and changed with the fluidity of water.
I turn as I hear his footsteps on the floor. He comes to a halt in front of me, regarding me with suspicion. He has a gun in his hands, which I tell him to put down as I lead him to Epyon. He looks at the demonic red Mobile Suit, astonishment showing in that normally-stoic face.
I am giving it to him, because I know he has to protect that princess. He always has, and he always will. This will aid him. He knows that, and so he takes it, in spite of his distrust of the ZERO system. He'd brave anything for his princess.
"I won't permit you to die before you kill me, Heero," I say to my brother, and he nods.
I wonder if he and I will be brothers again in the next life, or if I'll see my dear Lady there. I wonder if Zechs will once again be a friend, or maybe an enemy this time. But I do know that no matter what happens, my brother and his princess will find each other again and again and again.