Thanks tadsgirl, SpiritWell, Thundercat, EarthGurdian, Alea Seikou, Kia Sapphire,and animeluver911! I always appreciate all of your reviews and hope that you all enjoy the final chapter of 'The Reluctant Royal.' More stories are on the way.
Chapter V: And the Other Gold
Haru opened her eyes slowly. She had just had a wonderful dream, but she couldn't remember it no matter how hard she tried.
"Oh well," she sighed quietly. "Maybe it's a good omen for today."
She glanced out the window. It was a few minutes before sunrise. She rose and stretched her arms above her head, mindful of the sleeping Baron. Turning her head, she expected to see him sprawled out sleeping on his makeshift bed, but his place was empty.
Alarmed she shot out of her bed. There was no way he could have gotten out of her room on his own! She surveyed the room quickly, just in case he accidentally fell off the table during the night. He was no where to be seen. She gasped as she noticed a tall shadowed figure in the corner of her tiny room.
"Who are you?" she exclaimed. "What have you done with Baron?"
Silence met her question so Haru strode over to the figure.
"Answer my question!" she shouted at him.
The sun began to rise, and Haru's eyes followed a single band of light across the floor of the room. Slowly it drifted up against the figure, accenting light tan wingtip shoes and crisp white pants. Eyes widening, Haru saw the sunlight reveal a red vest and blue tie, but she was more astonished to see his face.
It was… exactly the same: light orange fur highlighted by amused emerald eyes which, narrowed in the sunlight.
"Baron?" she whispered in shock.
"Yes it's me," he answered her. Grinning, he replied, "And technically you asked two questions, not one."
Blinking in confusion, Haru realized he was answering her previous accusation and rolled her eyes. She moved closer to him and raised her hand up to touch his cheek but stopped an inch away, fearing his reaction.
Smiling softly, he dipped his head down and leaned against her palm, all the while closing his eyes and reveling in her gentle touch.
"I don't understand," she whispered. Secretly she too was enjoying the sensation of running her fingers through his silky fur.
"It's a long story," he murmured.
She laughed, "We have time, Baron. The others won't be awake for another hour."
Suddenly she giggled quietly and with a pout said, "I used to have to kneel to speak at eye level with you. Now I have to look up." Her laughing brown eyes met his piercing emerald ones.
Baron let out what sounded like a cross between a sigh and a groan. "I can't take this anymore!" he breathed out. The feel of her touch and her close proximity was too much and he enveloped Haru in a hug. He feared that she would push him away but felt her tense up, and then slowly wrap her arms around his neck.
Haru, startled by his action, found her face buried into the fur on his neck. Whenever Haru walked with Baron she noticed a sweet smell around him. Being so close to him she realized it was the scent of jasmine and the tea which he always drank. She could feel his breath tickle the tip of her ear as his chin rested on the side of her head.
Confused, she spoke softly, "Baron?" Her voice was slightly muffled in his neck.
Heaving a sigh, Baron had an excuse to give her about his unorthodox action, but decided to speak from the heart. It wasn't considered respectful to embrace someone who they were not married to, but hopefully, Baron thought, that would change.
"Haru…" he paused suddenly losing his nerve. He heard a soft groan come from Haru.
"Get to the point, Baron," she grumbled.
He chuckled. She was never very patient. To Haru, his laughter made his chest vibrate pleasantly and wrapped her arms closer around him.
"I am a member of the Jade Emperor's court," he started.
Surprised, Haru looked up and interrupted, "You're a fairy?"
The Jade Emperor was the ruler of the heavens who looked down upon the populace and rewarded them with good or punished them with bad luck. Those who served the Emperor often went down to the human world to fix problems or to see how those of the earthbound world were doing.
He grimaced, "I said I was a member of his court, NOT a fairy."
She snickered, "You were a fairy."
Rolling his eyes he continued, "The Emperor sent me to handle a situation in the Cat Kingdom. Apparently the King did not appreciate my presence, and decided to curse me to the form which you found me."
"What did you do?" Haru questioned him. Her forehead cutely, at least in Baron's opinion, scrunched up in confusion.
He sweat-dropped and sheepishly rubbed the back of his head with his hand. "I may have cut off all his fur," he said like a little child admitting his wrong.
Haru laughed openly, "Baron! That's a horrible thing to do!"
Baron wrapped his arms close around her again and mumbled, "He deserved it. He was trying to blow up the bridge between the human and Cat world. I suppose he reversed the spell this morning."
She chuckled and leaned her body back into the embrace of a now life-sized Baron. Startled, she realized suddenly the implications now that with his full form back.
"Are you going back to the Celestial Palace now?" she spoke softly.
Haru felt his body go rigid.
"I was hoping…" he replied, "that I could stay here on earth."
"Well, we'd have to get some workers to build you a new home. You certainly can't live in your old one and then…" Haru babbled.
Baron rolled his eyes at her denseness, and decided that there was only one way to get his point across the most effectively. He leaned forward and brushed his lips against hers in a soft kiss.
"I meant," he murmured as his lips touched the tip of her ear, "that I would stay on earth… with you. I love you, Haru."
Haru's mind barely registered his words. Stay…earth…love… you.
"Did he mean it?" she thought suddenly. She pulled away from him and looked deeply into his eyes. Her mother had always told her that you could always tell if a person was lying by the emotion shown in their eyes.
She saw joy, hope, a touch of sadness, but mostly a genuine feeling of love in his turbulent irises. Realizing that her response was taking too long, she too countered his impulsive action with one of her own and smirking, she stood on her tiptoes and kissed him with equal passion.
Baron felt his heart sink when she first pulled away from him. He had taken a chance in telling her, and knew what was at risk. It was one he was willing to take, and judging by her response, quickly decided it was the right one.
He pressed his lips against hers with equal fervor: softly, gently, but with closed lips. This experience was still new for the both of them and a joyful declaration of love. Baron felt his lips curve into a smile against Haru's. He was sure there would be more time for new experiences.
Pulling away to take a much need breath of air, Haru grinned widely and coyly said, "Did that answer your question?"
He groaned at her sarcastic comment and lovingly kissed her forehead.
"At least I know ways to silence you," he laughingly replied back. He grew serious and said, "We should go. Your uncle and the others should be awake by now."
As they proceeded to the throne room, Haru gulped as nervous butterflies settled into her stomach. With Baron now a suitable partner to waltz with, she might actually have a chance at the throne, but could she be queen? She was sure that one of her cousins would challenge her to the throne, that is, if her uncle had already not chosen one of them. Lately he had been introspective, melancholy, and withdrawn. He'd shut himself in his room for a majority of the day, only leaving to briefly take a light meal. He had left for several hours to consult with the royal advisors, his mandarins, but after that retreated back into his quarters.
She was pulled away from her thoughts by a gloved hand gently taking hers. Rubbing the back of her hand with his thumb, Baron gently asked her what she was thinking of.
"The future," she whispered quietly.
He stopped and took her by the shoulders.
Looking deeply into her eyes so that she would know he was telling the truth, he said sternly, "Whatever happens will happen and you should know that you tried your best. I will love you and stay with you no matter what the outcome."
Tears began to fill her eyes as Haru realized how lucky she was to have Baron in her life.
"I love you too, and thank you," she whispered to him.
Now confident, she tucked her arm around Baron's proffered arm and strode into the throne room. Her cousins soon entered with their husbands in tow dressed in expensive gowns, and were followed by the mandarins. Haru politely bowed to her respected elders. They all stared in surprise at Baron's transformation but bowed back. Lastly King Yoshi entered, looking haggard and weary in appearance. He glanced briefly at Haru and Baron and took his seat.
He ordered light music to be played and Mitsuki took her turn first. She waltzed beautifully with her partner for the duration of the song. She threw a confident sneer in Haru's direction when the song ended. Ying, too, showed the same contempt as her song ended.
The band began to play the beginning notes of "Katzen Blut," an old-fashioned waltz popular in the elder's time. Baron led Haru out to the middle of the room, while she murmured the steps to herself. Sensing her trepidation, he placed a gentle kissed against the back of her hand.
Placing their hands in the appropriate positions they began to waltz. Haru at first began to stare at their feet, making sure she didn't step on Baron's toes and to watch where he would lead her. Baron smiled and briefly let go of her extended hand to softly lift her chin up.
"Look up Haru, and believe in yourself," he said in a soft voice.
Seeing the loving gaze which he had for Haru, she forgot all about the counts or the feet positionings. Concentrating only on his face and the subtle cues he made in leading her, she soon lost herself in the music. Twirling gracefully in his arms she found the steps to be second in nature to her and too soon, she realized, the waltz was over.
Soft clapping met both of their ears. Haru's eyes flicked over to Baron's proud gaze and looked to see who was applauding. Surprisingly, she saw it was her uncle, who was standing with a strange look in his eyes.
"Beautiful," he murmured. "Just like the way your father and mother used to look like."
Perturbed at his uncharacteristic comment, Haru could only gawk blankly at him. He continued on by addressing his daughters.
"Mitsuki, Ying," he started. "Your dances reflected the grace and delicacy of the lessons that were given to you by the royal instructors. Yet, there was no feeling between you and your partner. It reminded me of the old tale of the 'Emperor and the Nightingale:' stiff and mechanical versus natural and wonderful."
The girls too could only stare in amazement at their father's chastisement of them.
He sighed, "Perhaps if I had been a better father to you, then maybe things wouldn't have turned out so badly, but that should not affect my decision." He paused to choose his next words carefully.
Haru steadied herself for his decision, but with shock noticed a few new faces enter the room.
Muta, the grumpy fat cat had Toto perched on his back as he slowly padded into the room.
"If you didn't take the time to eat that last lemon cake slice, then we wouldn't be late!" she could hear Toto quietly chiding him.
"Ehh, shut your mouth. We made it didn't we?" Muta could only reply crossly.
Following the two arguing characters were Prince Lune, in his sleek grey coat and strange eyes, and another older cat. This one was similar in appearance but had a long haired coat, which seemed a little unkempt and wore a gold crown. It entered slowly, but as soon as he noticed the figure sitting in the throne, bounded across the room. Haru noticed that this action belied his old age.
Yoshi could only look on in awe as a streaking grey ball of fur landed in his lap, forcing himself to sit down again. The girls shrieked and demanded that the atrocity be removed at once. Staring at the oddly colored eyes, the king waved off the soldiers which had moved to follow the princesses' orders.
Memories flooded Yoshi as he gently stroked the older cat's fur: making believe he was a warrior as he battled his older brother, Ling, with wooden swords, eating his favorite meal made by his mother, and especially playing with his pet, the very cat which he now held in his arms.
"It has been a long time, my friend," he whispered softly. "We have made some mistakes, but I suppose that the next generation must now right our wrongs. Let's hope that they can forgive us."
The Cat King gave one slow blink at his former owner in understanding and leapt off his lap. Padding slowly over to his son, he bowed low in front of Prince Lune until the crown slipped with a small clang onto the hard floor. The prince took the crown between his teeth and bowed in return to his father.
"I'll try to make you proud, Father," he whispered.
"You've always made me proud," his father answered back.
The others did not hear their conversation, except for Haru and Baron. The former Cat King met Baron's eyes and again bowed low in a symbol of apology. Baron nodded back in acceptance.
Yoshi stood again.
"I have made my decision. Actually, yesterday I made my decision," he spoke clearly. He walked until he was in front of Haru and placed his hands atop her shoulders.
His eyes met hers as he spoke in a strong voice, "When you entered this palace all those years ago, you reminded me so much of your father that it terrified me. I could feel his gaze every time I even glanced at you. It was so soon after his death, I guess that was the reason why I never visited you." He paused to gather his thoughts.
"This contest started out as a farce. Just as amusing diversion to pick a successor, but you made it into an actual contest. Your entries reminded me of who I was before I became king. I admit I am ashamed of who I am now."
Haru interrupted him. "Oh Uncle, I do admit that your actions made me angry but you can fix them."
He smiled. "You are ever wise, Haru. I will fix them… by declaring you queen of the kingdom."
His daughters began to protest, seeing their future of power and wealth began to slip away.
"You can't do that father! We are the rightful princesses and how can that…that thing be king?" they exclaimed, motioning to Baron's odd figure.
Yoshi frowned and turned to address his daughters.
"Silence!" he barked out. "It is this kind of attitude why you can never be ruler. It is the both of you that are the false princesses. If Haru's father had not died, then you would have never been introduced to this life. As to Baron's figure, we'll let the public decide on that, but first…"
He turned back to meet Haru's confused gaze.
"Do you accept Haru? This position is not to be taken lightly, and it would take all of your effort and will to perform," he said firmly.
He paused and said softly, "I believe in you and… please forgive me."
As tears overwhelmed her, Haru threw her arms around her uncle.
"Yes, uncle," she sobbed into his neck. "And I forgive you."
King Yoshi, now the former king, stared at his niece, the new queen, with tearful eyes. He could feel the weight that had been burdening him ever since the news of his brother's death being lifted off of him, and Ling's happy smile in his mind. This was one of the most honorable decisions he had made in a long time. He tore his gaze away from Haru to meet Baron's mysterious look.
"I don't know the circumstances of how you met, but if you accept the position of king then you must also accept the position of being Haru's husband. Do you agree?" Yoshi questioned.
Baron spoke loudly and clearly, so that all in the room heard him. "I accept the proud role of being Haru's husband to be just that, NOT because I want to be king. I will be king in order to be her husband, though."
Haru smiled and took his hand in hers. He always knew the right thing to say.
Yoshi nodded in agreement. "Now it is time for the presentation to the populace. I am sure they will agree to this."
Haru thoughts began to run wildly. She knew the public might object to her as queen, but most likely they would protest to Baron as king. She felt Baron squeeze her hand to draw her away from her destructive thoughts. She smiled to see how he always seemed to read her mind.
Yoshi addressed the large crowd which stood in front of the palace entry.
"My people," he started. "I do not have the right to call you this, judging from my past actions, but I hope that my decision will correct my wrongs. I announce as the new queen: Haru, my niece."
With that a deafening cheer went up from the crowd. Many thought that the king would choose one of his daughters, and they hoped that the lesser of the two evils would be picked, but to have Haru as queen was unheard of. She had helped so many of them during her time at her former home above her mother's shop, and then at the palace that they knew she would be a just and fair queen. But who would rule as king by her side?
Gathering up her courage, Haru faced the crowd and spoke her first words as queen.
"I am honored that you have agreed with my uncle's decision. I will do my best to serve you, the people."
Another large cheer arose from the crowd.
She continued, her nervousness returning from her next words.
"My husband, your new king… will be Baron."
Baron stepped into the crowd's line of view at Haru's side. Silence met his entrance and the crowd took in his presence. Closing her eyes in disbelief, Haru told herself that she would relinquish the throne if the public didn't accept Baron. No matter what her position in life, be it queen or servant, Baron would always be with her. She truly understood what her father must had been through in order to marry her mother.
Her worries were dashed as a tremendous roar erupted from the crowd.
"It's Baron!" several people exclaimed.
"He helped me find a gift for my mommy," a little boy sitting atop his father's shoulders shouted.
"He helped me discover my true talent," a young woman, a popular author said with a shy smile.
"He helped me find her," her husband, a violin maker, said proudly as he kissed her on the cheek.
Haru smiled as she heard all of their comments.
She whispered quietly to him, "Looks like you have been very busy ever since you were banished to earth."
Baron smiled at her. "I helped people just like how you helped them, my love."
Haru laughed as her heart began to beat wildly at his comment of adoration.
Yoshi smiled gently at their loving antics and proclaimed that they be wed in front of the crowd. With great joy he troth-plighted them and that nothing could separate their happy union.
That day was the beginning of Haru's happy life. Sure, her role as queen had their stressful days but the crowd supported her every decision.
The former King Yoshi retired to a small house in the less-well-to-do part of the kingdom, often volunteering and helping out his fellow man with his best friend, the former Cat King accompanying his every move. Now together after years of separation, the two would never be parted again.
The princesses, keeping their titled, lived together with their husbands in a house set up by Haru and Baron. With consultation the girls learned a trade along with their husbands. Mitsuki discovered that she was an efficient events coordinator, often arranging modest but fun affairs and charities at the palace. Ying found that she was an excellent foreign relations liaison to the public. She arranged purchases by the merchants with the neighboring countries at reasonable prices. As a hobby she consulted richer woman in shopping for gowns or household purchases. Both of their husbands became farmers and sold their wares in town. All soon overcame their vices.
Everyone thought that the unusual but happy couple would spend the rest of their days ruling from their immaculate castle.
No one suspected that the two lived in a replica of Baron's house (life-sized of course) in a daffodil field just outside the palace walls. They thought that servants would perform their daily, mundane tasks, but in actuality Haru cooked, with lessons from Muta, while Baron washed the dishes, and both cleaned the house.
No one also ever surmised that the two waltzed every night under the moonlight to music only they could hear. One night, Haru smiled as she stared lovingly into Baron's eyes. Before, she had felt awkward and unwanted. Now, not only did she find her family, and a blissful home, she had found her place in life.
It was here, in Baron's arms, she thought as he dipped her low and met her lips in a loving kiss.
Finally it's done!