In the darkest depths of the forest, away from the prying eyes of mortals, lay an ancient, white-barked magnolia. The uppermost branches of that tree, ancient even when the bulk of the forest trees were but saplings, creaked lightly beneath the slight weight of a young, beautiful, and deceptively fragile young woman. She scowled at the distance, her misty blue eyes squinting ever so slightly. Her attention was diverted, at least for the moment, by the low, soothing voice emanating below her.
Amayami, heir to the eastern providence and future Lady of the Western Lands, did not acknowledge the address. Instead, her gaze remained fixed on the distant plains.
The tree's branches shook as the voice sighed. "I know you are angry."
Righteous indignation filled the young daiyoukai's form. She leapt to the forest floor gracefully and raked a clawed hand through her pearlescent white hair. "Angry?" she repeated slowly, to which the tree once again sighed.
"I meant no offense."
She snorted most inelegantly, and tossed back her pale locks, her fingertips pausing for a moment to absentmindedly trace the indigo moon that adorned her unlined brow. It was the symbol of her beloved family and those who had consigned her to this fate. She, a daiyoukai second only to her father, was being traded, used as an offering to appease a petty dictator and tyrant. An oppressor who violated their borders, stole what he was able to and razed the remainder. They would lose the war, her father despaired and it was best to cut their losses. And so for their people he surrendered, willingly combined his lands with the west but with one stipulation.
Amayami's visage grew cold, her eyes hardening as she glared at the tree youkai that acted as mediator for the treaty negotiations. "I am beyond angry, Bokusenou!"
The old tree remained silent, casting a weary gaze at the young woman. In a way he pitied her, but in doing so he did her a great disservice. She was a powerful and prideful being, forced into a marriage with her enemy, a youkai that was centuries her senior. She would be expected to be submissive to one who had ransacked her kingdom for more centuries than she had been alive. It would spell the ultimate defeat.
She retreated into a cool silence, the calm before the storm. Tension was a near tangible thing in the tiny grove.
"He is probably fat and ugly!"
Bokusenou chuckled, his lush leaves shaking. "I doubt that, Amayami-hime."
Amayami hmphed and spun on her heel. "Of course not," she snapped. "Raping and pillaging is a quite a bit of exercise."
"Child," Bokusenou began gently. He paused thoughtfully, unsurprised that she did not turn to face him. Amayami-hime was as obstinate as Touga-sama. He almost cringed at the thought of their children. And there would be children, powerful, stubborn offspring, which would herald a new era of peace. At least, one could hope. The old tree, wise and kind, sighed once more. If he had hands, he would have laid a comforting one on her thin shoulder. "If you are determined to be unhappy, you shall be."
"Forgive me, dear Bokusenou," she began, her tone flat and emotionless, "if I have no longing for the butcher who murdered my people by the thousands."
She silenced him with a look. "Worry not, Bokusenou." She licked her lips and tucked a lock of hair behind one pointed ear. "My course is set." She bowed slightly to the ancient tree. "My duty is clear."
"And what of yourself?"
Amayami smiled slightly, but the smile held no joy. "We are but slaves to our crowns. Is that not correct, Touga-sama?"
A tall shadow separated itself from the tangling underbrush of the forest. His slightly tanned face held annoyance, if not slight surprise. That his betrothed had discovered his presence after he had gone to great length to conceal himself was beyond impressive. Touga smiled almost condescendingly at his fiancé. "How long of you been aware of my presence?"
Amayami's eyebrow arched a bit higher than its usual graceful curve. "Since this very moment." She smirked at the confused, almost pleading glances between her future husband and Bokusenou. A low chuckled spilled from her pale lips and grasped the attention of the two elder youkai. "You surprise me," she stated, her tone haughty.
She turned on her heel to face the almighty Lord of the Western Lands. This was the first moment she had, in fact, laid eyes on the daiyoukai. Despite her protestations to the contrary, she was pleased that her earlier assumption had been incorrect.
Touga lacked the delicate beauty typical of most daiyoukai, herself included. Instead, he was handsome, with strong bones and rugged features. His visage was pleasing enough, but it was his eyes, almost molten gold in their color, that took her notice. She cursed herself the instant she acknowledged those eyes. She was not supposed to be even remotely attracted to this fiend. He was a beast, a murderer, and now her keeper. Her countenance betrayed none of her inner quandary, merely remained a blank porcelain mask.
Touga's lips twitched as he folded his arms over his chest, slightly rumpling the front of his elegant wedding kimono. He would be late to his own wedding, he realized with a small amount of disdain, and the fact that his bride was still traipsing through the forest in full battle regalia reinforced the likelihood of her own tardiness.
With careful footsteps she strode to him, and although fallen leaves blanketed the forest floor, not a single sound was heard from her delicate footfalls. She stopped centimeters from him, her pale blue eyes locked with his bright gold ones. "It is unlike the daiyoukai of the West to lower himself to such menial tasks."
Bokusenou rolled his eyes skywards but kept his silence. Only a fool could miss the inherent insult in the younger daiyoukai's flat tone. Touga-sama was no fool. He was also not known for being levelheaded. Had the tree youkai not known Touga desired, above all, peace between their kingdoms, he would have intervened. Instead, as he was often wont to do, he remained silent, acting as an impartial mediator.
Touga's brows knit together in a small frown before a small, condescending smile graced his full lips. She had a horrid opinion of him, that much he understood. The little devil inside demanded he add fuel to this already smoldering fire. He inclined his head in mocking half bow. "Thrift, milady."
Almost of its own accord, his fingertips gently brushed the twin stripes gracing her flawless face. He marveled at the silken softness of her cheek and its utter paleness. She almost glowed against the darkening backdrop of the forest. He tilted his head down slightly, for she was nearly a head shorter than he, until his lips almost brushed against hers. She gave little reaction, merely stood statue still and unblinking. Her lack of reaction annoyed him, almost as much as it pleased him. "I doubt any in my service could take you alive."
Amayami snorted, her lips curling into a humorless smile. "You would do well to remember that."
He dropped his hand immediately and took a full step back. She was baiting him; the tone confirmed that notion. He had grown weary of battles, even verbal spars. That did not mean, however, that he would simply crumble to her whims. "There will come a time in which you grow tired of battle, young Amayami."
Once again, her dainty brow rose from its elegant arch. "It kept you amused for seven centuries," she retorted dryly, her meaning all too apparent.
Then, without a further word, the darkening forest brightened as she transformed and took to the sky. Both Touga and Bokusenou watched her departure with a slight amount of apprehension. It was apparent that while the young daiyoukai would submit to the marriage, she would remain difficult.
"You must forgive Amayami-hime," Bokusenou began tiredly, pausing for a moment to gather his thoughts. "She is--"
"Beautiful," Touga offered, to which Bokusenou, if he were able, would have shaken his head in despair. For all of Touga-sama's great power, he was a tad simpleminded.
Touga continued to gaze skyward in the direction of his betrothed's departure. He was pleased to note she was traveling in a westerly direction. He exhaled pointedly, closing his eyes and reopening them slowly. "I did not realize she would be so young."
Bokusenou nodded sagely and sighed. "She will be one hundred this summer." He paused, briefly noting that his friend shifted uncomfortably. "I will grant you some advice, if you would hear it." His friend nodded slowly, a frown creasing his tanned features. "Amayami-hime is indeed young, but she is every inch a Taiyoukai. Treat her as such."
Touga bowed his head in thought, digesting the old tree's words. Amayami would never willingly submit to him, and she'd likely hold her new role as wife and future mother in resentment, especially considering her youth. She was just barely reaching adulthood, while he had passed that long ago.
It was not uncommon for large differences in age for arranged marriages. His own parents had been two centuries apart, nowhere near the difference that separated him and Amayami, who was his junior by nearly eight centuries. Added to the vast difference in age was the damning fact that he had been the aggressor in a war that had devastated her lands and caused her people to suffer. She had been raised to despise him, look upon him as her enemy.
The turmoil of his thoughts was interrupted by a rather loud snort, followed by a snuffling snore from the old tree. Touga cast a bemused glance at the now slumbering tree youkai and chuckled to himself. He likewise rose to the sky and headed westward.
Three hours later they were married in a lavish ceremony located within the opulent gardens of the castle of the Western Lord. Amayami was breathtaking in her wedding kimono; the cold stoicism of her visage only added to her untouchable beauty. Her vows she delivered flatly and with little enthusiasm.
After the priest had pronounced the couple married, a small coronation ceremony was performed. Or rather, would have been, had she not adamantly refused to witness Touga gain formal sovereignty over her father's lands. That they were also her lands now, along with the entire west, brought her little comfort. Instead she stormed from the reception, leaving behind a crowd of bewildered guests, well-wishers and one infuriated husband.
Her rage escalated as she stalked down the winding halls leading to her bedchambers, though her bored, almost amused expression belayed that fury. Once inside the room, filled haphazardly with her unpacked belongings, she cast a steely glare at the hidden passage adjoining her chambers with that of her new husband's. She slid the door shut behind her with an audible swoosh, almost ripping the rice paper from its fragile frame.
Amayami fisted her hands into her long white hair and fought the urge to scream. Such an emotional outburst would be beneath one of her station. And yet, she could not help but consider such an act a reasonable response given the current situation. Above all, she had the overwhelming urge to flee. But fleeing was one luxury she could not afford. For her people and for peace, she would remain. She would play the part of the wife and, eventually, mother. Her acquiescence did not mean she found joy in the prospect, or that she would make the situation particularly easy for her husband. Amayami was not a pampered noble, but rather one reared to rule and defend her lands. To act in any other facet would do her upbringing a great disservice.
With a final downtrodden sigh, the final breath of pity she would spare herself, she settled gracefully on her futon. So content was she in solitude she soon drifted into a deep, dreamless slumber.
From the doorway of his room, Touga watched her sleep, his face pensive but disapproval weighing highly in his golden depths. That she had publicly humiliated him at their coronation, a ceremony that was merely a formality, was inexcusable. It had been his intent to reprimand her, to demand her explanation, and, above all, extract his conjugal rights. Their marriage, and its attached treaty, meant nothing if it were not consummated.
As he watched, she drew her knees to her chest and curled contently around a pillow. Her wedding gown, now impossibly wrinkled, frothed around her ethereal form like a soft, billowing cloud. He felt his anger diminish as he silently he weaved through the countless crates to kneel at her bedside and remove her footwear. He tenderly brushed the pale locks from her face before pressing a light kiss to her moon-marked brow. All thoughts of enforcing his rights and punishment for her transgression fled with the contented sigh that escaped her barely parted lips.
She was beautiful, impossibly young, innocence and fragility contrasting with the deadly grace flashing across her moon pale features. Gently he stroked the delicate curve of her jaw while lost in thought, half wondering if all her skin was as soft. He was uncertain how to make this transition easier for her, for either of them. Centuries of bitter warfare had left their toll and would not be easy to forgive, nor would they ever be completely forgotten.
He drew back slowly as she stirred in her sleep. She blinked bleary, sleep-heavy eyes at his kneeling form. A delicate frown creased her brows and the barest amount of panic settled in her pale blue eyes. She all but scrambled into an upright position and gathered the blankets protectively to her still clothed chest. She swallowed hard, but otherwise kept her composure. "What are you doing?"
A weary, nigh despondent sigh escaped his lips as he tiredly loosened his ponytail so that his long hair flowed over his broad shoulders and down his back. "Contemplating."
Her lips quirked into a small smirk and her eyes glimmered with mischief. No doubt her next remark would be of a sardonic note. Instead, her comment was of a different nature. "I prefer your hair up."
Surprise colored the Western Lord's features for a moment. He took her smaller, clawed hand in his and kissed her knuckles. "Then I will wear it as such from this moment forward."
She huffed, her lips twitching in annoyance as she looked away. "You mock me."
He cupped her cheek, gently tilting her face towards his, and pressed a light kiss to her lips. Her breath hitched in her throat and her eyes widened, but otherwise she made no response to the lips nipping gently at hers.
Amayami was not one to give in to lesser emotions. True, she mourned for her people, was outraged at her father's surrender. Never had she been so utterly terrified. Not as she was at this moment, faced with the prospect of consummating her marriage. That Touga was handsome mattered little when matched with the realty that he was her former enemy, a creature she had been reared to despise since birth, and a relative stranger. This was her duty, her fate, and in reality, despite her protests and her rages, she was merely a spoil of war. When he lifted her gently from her futon, she stiffened and fisted her hands into his long sleeves in protest.
"Amayami," he whispered tenderly, his eyes holding not ardor, but compassion. "You are an innocent."
She nodded dumbly, not bothering to deny the truth. Before her husband, no man had ever embraced her, save her father. He carried her slowly through the hidden door and placed her gently on his bed. Afterwards he vanished, only to return moments later with a long sleeping gown. After placing the gown in her lap, he once again kneeled at her feet. "I am uncertain how to make this easier for you."
Amayami's eyes fluttered shut, her cheeks flushing crimson as she looked away from his stare. She clenched her jaw, grinding her teeth, and returned her gaze to his. "I am not a trophy."
"You are my wife," he replied sternly before covering her mouth with his.
She wrenched her face from his, her claws digging into his long sleeves. "And you are my husband."
Angrily she leapt to her feet and stalked from his chambers into her own, almost daring him to follow. He was a conqueror, and thus gained much of his territory and wealth by the calculated invasion of a superior force. And yet despite his power, which he rapidly began doubting in his wife's presence, he feared the consequences of breaching the borders of that room. This was not a battle he would win by force.