Chapter 1

Disclaimer: I do not claim to own these characters because I don't own these characters. I love the creators of both the anime and the manga for creating these characters. I am doing this fiction for entertainment purposes only. Trust me; no one pays for my stories. ;p

Merle scratched behind her ear in a bored manner as she waited for her friend and lord to return. The guards who accompanied the Prince used to make themselves comfortable inside the castle, but was too often ripped out of bed in the middle of the night because their leader was chomping at the bit to run.

It was a common knowledge that Van would form his opinion of the wife candidate within the time the dinner occurred and never stayed much longer after that. As the second moon rose in the sky, Merle glanced at the guards who were faithfully staring at the steps.

Her ears twitched when she heard the familiar sound of leather shoes making a hasty retreat down the steps. The ebony, wild haired prince took the steps three at a time, loosening his collar as he made a beeline for his traveling party.

As he discarded the jacket and unbuttoned half the buttons of his starched white shirt, the Prince took in a deep breath of air. All the formal dressings usually made him feel as if he were suffocating; being freed from such restraints was always a blessing.

"And what was wrong with this one, hmm?" Merle asked, her ears going flat against her head after Van dug his heels into his horse and sent it trotting up the road, back to Fanelia.

Van didn't utter a word, but Merle was never one to give up easily. She prodded her horse to go a bit faster to be neck and neck with the Royal Pain in the Neck. She pulled back her fist and punched him in the arm, not enough to knock him off his horse, but enough to hurt.

Van's garnet eyes, wide with disbelief, met with the scowling cat girl's green eyes.

Sighing, Van searched his mind for a proper way to describe his latest attempt.

"She was..."

"Wait, let me check off the reasons you've already used." The cat girl sat up straight in her saddle and ticked off every reason with her fingers. "She's too fat, thin, pretty, ugly, old, young, snobby, childish, mature, ignorant, war hungry, loose, prudish..." She tipped her chin down and looked at her fingers, and then whipped her head around to look at her Prince and with a smirk, added "Did I forget anything?"

A small smile graced the man's lips.

"This one was hot-headed, self-centered and completely distracted with the fact she wanted to be a queen to really care how she obtained the title."

"Of course!" Merle hit herself lightly in the forehead. "How could I ever forget that!"

The guards behind them exchanged glances. One sighed while the other looked triumphant.

"Pay up, friend. You lost."

The loser dug in his pockets and plunked a few coins in his partner's waiting hands. Another lost bet on whether the prince would marry this girl or not.

"I'm going to be eternally broke," the loser moaned.

"This is absurd, Mother, and you very well know it." Hitomi punctuated her sentence by forcefully putting her balled up fists on her hips and cocking her dirty-blonde-haired head to the side.

"Oh, darling, but think about it! How grand it would be!" The silver-blonde haired woman clasped her hands together and got the starry-eyed look in her eyes yet again. Whenever the stars entered the older woman's eyes, Hitomi found out over the years, rocks usually entered her head.

"This is a bit different than dressing up and attending a ball where some guy twice Father's age tries to grope me at the refreshment table and Father strikes a business deal or threatens to tell the guy's wife!" Hitomi, the middle daughter to one of the most well off merchants in her hometown, was used to being a tool for trade but never anything like this!

"Darling, he's desperate," the pretty older lady pouted.

"But I'm not!" she sputtered in response. Her mother's lax attitude in the situation was too insulting to be recognized so Hitomi stuck with what she knew- argue until she got her way or broke something. Of course, Hitomi reflected later, she wasn't sure if her mother meant the prince or her father was desperate.

"My beautiful little girl," Minerva cooed at her child, only to be on the receiving end of a steady, unamused look. "You don't seem to fully grasp what I'm saying."

"Great, now I know where I get it from," Hitomi muttered darkly. As per usual, her mother was unfazed and breezed over her comment.

"Your father is arranging this as we speak."

"What!" Hitomi's eyes widen in shock. "Please say you are joking, please."

"Of course not! I would not be as cruel as to tempt you with such a tasty little morsel as the Prince in jest?" The lady gave a good laugh as she dropped into one of the overstuffed chairs. "I will be mother-in-law to the King of Fanelia! And you! You will be mother to all the heirs!" The stars increased at the same speed the sick feeling in Hitomi's stomach grew.

The green-eyed girl shook her head in disbelief.

"The grand council won't ever agree," she muttered, more to herself as a slight encouragement than to her mother.

"Oh, precious! Of course they will! You know your father; he could talk a neko out of its tail!"

The sick feeling increased as Hitomi sent a silent prayer to whatever deity was currently laughing his or her arse off at her.

I can't marry Prince Van! I can't!

"As you well know, I have excellent standing with every country surrounding Fanelia and would even be able to aid in the economic growth of my dearly beloved country." The man was a pro at peddling, whether it was a sock with no partner and a hole in the bottom or his daughter. He knew the cards to play and the council would commend him should they realized that he, also, carefully choose a time when the young prince would be out of the country.

There was a mutter across the board and the man grew impatient. He hadn't wanted to strike sore spots, but it seemed it was going to be the only thing that worked.

"Royals will talk to royals as easy as merchants will talk to merchants." He beamed in his friendly way. "If Dryden knows Prince Van married a merchant's daughter, I'm sure he will be more than willing to tell his wife, Princess Millerna, of this account, thus strengthening ties with Asturia."

"Also, if the prince comes home without a princess, his inauguration in three weeks will be-unstable," remarked one of the men.

One of the older members of the council scoffed, "Why ever for? He is a beloved man among many."

"Yes, but the country would like, I'm certain, to know their king was a morally upstanding man. It is a scandal in many royal homes to have mistresses without being married or with being married as the case might be. Such a scenario might cause the people to become—uneasy?"

There was no question in the man's voice and his face stayed a wistful, yet concerned expression. He wanted badly to smirk, but forced his facial muscles to obey.

This statement caused a slightly louder rumble from the council.

"And of course, with a wife, there will be a strong chance of an heir within a few years."

This made the men nod and affirm that an heir was definitely going to be needed and soon to put everyone's mind at ease. A prince or princess always meant stability.

"You have brought up very valid points, Mr. Kanzaki, but the girl. We do not wish to force the prince into an undesirable match."

"You want to know if she if pretty?" He let out a warm laugh. "Indeed, she gets praised often about her unique beauty."

"Is she tolerable? What about her age? Educated?"

The father's chest puffed up.

"Of course she is educated! I would not allow any child of mine to walk around without knowing how to read or to carry on an intellectual conversation!" Or, the man thought privately, to prove a hindrance in marrying off. "As for her age she is but a year younger than the fair Prince and she is quite tolerable. She is a favorite among our social circle and is always content with little."

The council spoke among themselves, their voices hushed so Kanzaki could never hear them clearly, only a word or two and often nothing that made sense. The man disliked being patient; in fact most of his deals had to be struck within minutes but this, he reasoned, was a very special occasion and one worth waiting to hear about.

After an eternity, the head member turned to the merchant and with a slightly amused air gave the council's answer.

"Bring your daughter, Hitomi, was it? Here within the week. It would seem we have a wedding to plan."