Prince Magnus was not enjoying himself.
He had returned to the army several days earlier than expected, having been given the use of a Royal Airdramon. That was one excuse gone, leaving him with few other ways of delaying the campaign.
To make matters worse, he had been saddled with the most unpleasant of companions. A mysterious warrior, clad entirely in black, with his face covered at all times. He knew for a fact that the man was a spy, sent by Myotismon to ensure his cooperation.
Sometimes, just sometimes, he became concerned about the influence the digimon had over his father. It was only because of Myotismon's infusions that the King was still alive. This he knew, and so did Myotismon.
But that was not the most immediate problem. This dark companion Myotismon had foisted on him had complicated matters, ever since they had arrived at the base camp near the Eltanin-Aldebaran border. He insisted on being present at all councils of war and was not shy about giving his opinion.
This annoyed the War Captains, many of whom had spent so long fighting that they had developed an instinct for it. Magnus did not wish to alienate them, but neither could he afford to reign in this person, whose name he eventually wrung from him.
"I am called Uriah, your Royal Highness," he replied when asked.
An odd name to be sure, but one that Magnus had heard before. The Heralds had no record of any such person, but suggested that it was a biblical pseudonym. The fashion had existed for many years, ever since a particularly brutal civil war six years ago.
Magnus had been a child at the time, but he remembered all to well what he had been doing. Even after all those years, he profoundly wished that he could forget.
Sir Conrad had spent two hours in search of a Priest, finding only a pudding-faced ignoramus with little more education than his peasant flock. Sending the fool away in disgust, Magnus had called upon the Bishop of Orion, who was accompanying the army. The Bishop did not like being dragged from his meditations, which seemed to involve scuffling noises and high-pitched giggles, but gave Magnus the answer with good grace.
It had made him think. He now had some answers, but many more questions too.
So Magnus had left the Bishop to his observances and returned to his tent, deciding that he did not want to know who or what 'mister spankbot' was. The image was very distracting.
That was the previous evening. Even with 'mister spankbot' out if his mind, Magnus found no peace. This was because his plans were failing disastrously.
Despite all his best efforts, Sir Logan had not been able to drag out the pacification of Eltanin for anywhere near as long as he had hoped. They had beaten the Eltanians too well, with most of the populace just glad to be alive and able to return to their homes. With the ruling elite dead, imprisoned or collaborating there was no one able or willing to lead a revolt.
To make matters worse, the reinforcements needed to invade Aldebaran had arrived weeks ahead of time. Rather than marching more than two-hundred miles overland, they had sailed along the river Pisces and arrived in a matter of days. Magnus now had little choice but to begin the invasion, as his army was ready and there was no good reason to delay.
With Uriah spying on him, he dare not attempt deceit. Though he could protect Lupumon, Luke's life was too high a price to pay.
So he watched from the top of a hill as his army marched past. He sat mounted on Vulpimon, Lupumon's four-legged alternative form, accompanied by Sir Logan, Sir Tanya, Sir Conrad and Sir Sami. A little further away stood his household cavalry, or Hatamoto in the Southern tongue. Superbly equipped and mounted on fine chargers, these elite men-at-arms would fight and die at his command, though he could not understand why.
Below him marched his army of more than twenty thousand men and five thousand fighting digimon. The human troops included around six thousand crossbowmen, five thousand halberdiers, two thousand skirmishers and three thousand men-at-arms, many of whom were knights. There were also four thousand of Antares' elite heavy infantry, renowned in the South as the Ryumusha, the dragon warriors. They were his finest human troops.
Of his digimon, approximately half were a mix of small digimon, such as Gotsumon, Gazimon, Agumon, Gatomon, Gabumon and many more. What they lacked in size and power they made up for with enthusiasm and sheer numbers. The other half were larger and stronger, fulfilling a variety of purposes.
Behind them was the baggage train. Five hundred Monochromon laden with supplies, the rest drawn in wagons or else carried on available backs. The camp followers considerably outnumbered the soldiers. Women, some of who were wives, children, cooks, merchants, prostitutes, and thousands of others.
With any luck, the abundance of supplies would prevent the troops from looting, though there was little hope of it. Antarian troops were unique in that they received a salary, but it was rarely enough and most spent it within a day. They had little choice but to plunder whenever the opportunity arose.
Even so, the standing order was no looting except from those who fought. The wily ones would no doubt find ways around it, but it might keep atrocities to a minimum.
Or so Magnus hoped.
* * * * * *
It had been a week since Prince Takeru had re-entered her life, and Hikari still felt light-headed. Walking through the gardens in the morning sunshine, she found that everything seemed more beautiful, more alive than it had before. The flowers seemed more vividly colourful, the birdsong sweeter and more in tune. Even the trickle of the water in the fountains seemed melodic.
She had always known that she would have to marry some day. There was no getting around it. She could try running off to a Convent, but she did not find the thought of Hessian underthings appealing. And besides, Taichi would still drag her back.
As she had matured, turned from carefree girl to young woman, this reality had come closer and closer. It made her bitter, knowing that she could not love as she pleased. It was bad enough knowing that everything she said or did was being discussed behind her back.
There were times that she wished to be a normal girl, untroubled by royal obligation. But it was a foolish wish. Peasants were no more free than Kings, and in many ways they were less so. If she had been the daughter of peasants, she would have ended up marrying whoever in the village happened to impregnate her first.
But then he strode gracefully into her life. And everything changed.
He was the sort of prince that gave Troubadours a reason for existing. He was handsome beyond belief, his face unmarked by pox. He was strong, cultured, unfailingly charming and polite, very different to the hyperactive little boy he had once been.
Yet at the same time he had hardly changed. His true nature was still there. He was kind, considerate, his touch soft and his manner gentle. He also understood her and cared for her, they way he always had done.
That was why she enjoyed his company so much. She could tell him anything and be sure of his sympathy and discretion if not his understanding.
But she did not discuss ladies things with him of course, as that made him nervous. It was a surprise, but Hikari could tell that he was uncertain of his masculinity. She could not think why, but he evidently was. Maybe it was because he wasn't as big and burly as his brother and hers.
It was obvious. In Takeru's mind, if a girl was being intimate or even friendly towards him, that meant she thought of him as a girl. Therefore he must be effeminate.
"It's silly for him to think that way. Why shouldn't I feel at ease in his company? Why shouldn't boys and girls be friends? Must relationships be entirely sexual? I know that Miyako and Iori aren't that way."
She enjoyed and valued Takeru's friendship, perhaps more than any of her others. He wasn't effeminate and their friendship did not make him so. But it did meant that their marriage would be somewhat bearable.
"Perhaps we'll come to some arrangement. He'll probably want to take lovers, so perhaps he let me do it too. We can still be friends."
Halting suddenly, she looked into the water of an ornamental pond.
"Maybe he's right. Maybe…I am beautiful, despite what I once thought."
The self-consciousness she had felt for so long had disappeared. She had come to realise that her face was indeed attractive. And though her hair was rather short by the usual standards, it seemed to work well.
She did not notice his presence until his reflection appeared in the water next to hers. She looked straight at him, marvelling at the gleam in his eyes.
"It's a beautiful morning."
"All the better for seeing you" Takeru replied gallantly, taking her hand and kissing it.
something I've been meaning to ask you," Hikari decided to take the
plunge. "Something important."
"What is it?" Takeru was still smiling, though she could tell that he was worried by what she had said.
"I've been wondering," she started, then decided to stop stalling. "Have you got your eye on anyone?"
"What?" Takeru was shocked. "What on earth do you mean?"
"I just wanted to know," Hikari went on, finding that it was easier to keep going than to stop. "I need to know how this is going to work."
"Hikari what on earth are you talking about!?"
"You know what they're planning" Hikari continued, referring to Taichi and Yamato. "You know that we'll be married by summer's end."
"Well…yes," Takeru reluctantly admitted. "But what does this have to do with me having my eye on anyone?"
"I don't mind if you are." And she didn't. It made no difference whatsoever. It was just a marriage of convenience. "And no one else will. It's practically expected of you."
"Hikari, No!" Takeru was outraged, his eyes shining brighter with a passion she had never seen. "Don't talk that way! I would never do that to you!"
"Why not?" Hikari asked in surprise. "This is a political marriage after all. I'm sure there was someone else you…"
"Stop it! I love you!" At that, Hikari turned away from him, tears burning her eyes.
"I do love you!"
"No Takeru," she replied serenely, turning to face him. "You mustn't say such things."
He had done exactly as she feared he would. He had started spouting all that romantic claptrap that she knew was a pack of lies.
She didn't know why he was doing it. Maybe he wanted a smiling bride. But it was time to end the charade.
"Hikari, what's wrong?" He grabbed her by the elbow as she tried to back away. "Tell me what's wrong!"
"Stop it Takeru!" She wrenched her arm from his grasp. "Stop pretending! Stop lying to me! Stop pretending that anyone could possibly love me!"
"I'm not lying!" He couldn't believe it. It was all going to hell. "I love you!"
"No you don't! And if you think of me as a friend, then please stop lying to me!" With that, she turned and ran, covering her face with her hands. Takeru made to run after her, but checked himself. What was the point?
"What did I do?" he asked out loud. What had he done? Why was she being like this?
Anger and frustration welled up inside him. He took a swing at the fountain.
Then winced as he cracked his knuckles on the hard marble.
He sat down, rubbing his knuckles, glaring at the flowers that had seemed so beautiful a moment before. They were still beautiful, but they seemed smug now, so content, drinking in the warm sun. He remembered Sora telling him that Hikari had planted them.
The anger came again. He stood him and strode over to the flowers. He couldn't stand to see them there. Seeing all this beauty made him more and more angry.
He raised his foot, preparing to grind his heel into them for daring to insult him.
Then he stopped, cursing himself for his childishness.
"What am I doing? They're just stupid flowers! It's not going to solve anything."
He recognised the anger within him. He wanted rid of it, but destroying helpless flowers would not serve any useful purpose. It was really only because Hikari had planted them.
He had to get rid of these feelings. If he had started wanting to hurt Hikari, what might it lead to? He was angry with her, but not that angry.
Then he remembered that Taichi and Yamato were going hunting this morning. Perhaps they would let him tag along.
Most illustrious and gracious majesty,
It is my regretful duty to report the occasion of a most grievous danger. In battle upon the northern border, my warriors did take captive a Yuri Kurakov, Count of Ophiuchus. My historians have already confirmed his legitimacy, and have enclosed a reproduction of his arms lest your majesty require greater proof.
I have cause to believe that this incursion is but the precursor to a more serious threat against the sovereignty of this Kingdom and against your majesty. It is my firm belief that the armies of King Stefan of Antares do intend to make war upon us. My spies report the massing of an army within the land of Eltanin, and that this nation is now entirely under the control of Antares. I beg your majesty to heed this warning and look to the defence of the realm.
Also, if your majesty will forgive me, there is one more matter. In the skirmish aforementioned, a Squire by the name of Daisuke Motomiya did distinguish himself most admirably. Having seen this evidence of his valour, and judging him to be of good character, I have bestowed upon him with the blessing of the church and of the Knights of Alioth the accolade of knighthood. I humbly ask, if it please your majesty, to ratify this.
I beg to remain Sire, your humble and most obedient servant,
Ken Ichijouji, Earl of Alioth
King Taichi lowered the letter, glowering.
"No, Lord Ken," he said quietly, to no one in particular. "It does not please me."
(Did the romance make any sense? I don't have much experience or understanding in this area, so it may not have come out right. Hints will be much appreciated. If anyone has any idea who 'Uriah' is, or what the biblical connection is, then please say so. I will try to update soon.)