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Well, it has been a while, hasn't it? My life has had some real upheavals and I've had to seriously consider what is important to me. I've had something of a falling out with writing Fanfiction as well, but I know that I did promise to finish what I've started, and I intend to keep that promise, it will just take a while.

Please enjoy and please review.

Shattered Fairytale

Chapter Two: Princes Aren't Charming

Dawn found Rinoa on her hands and knees out in the garden, the young woman ripping at the ground, searching for roots and bulbs that might or might not exist. A basket was already half full beside her, but she knew better than to think she was almost finished. She exhaled, a puff of wispy vapor escaping her, and rubbed her gloved hands on the front of her apron, sitting back on her heels.

After a moment, she looked back to the son of the last remaining servant family her father's household had. She couldn't help but smile a little, he hated hard work more than anything, and said so at least once a day, but still, here he was, trying to ease the burden that her stepmother had heaped onto her shoulders. The man was diligently digging up the bulbs, as if the inevitable first frost was going to happen at any moment.

"Zell," she called softly. "You can slow down."

He looked up then flushed slightly, "I know."

Rinoa sighed, sitting back further on her haunches, "It seems to never end, doesn't it?"

The boy did a slight double take, then took the proposed rest, studying her for a moment, "Well, I'm sure you'll be able to get on your feet soon, then you can leave here."

She shook her head, "I can't leave this place, now that step-mother has taken over my father's finances, I have no dowry, no way to support myself."

"That's not what I mean, I meant to say that, if you work hard, you'll be able to earn enough to get out of here on your own," Zell clarified.

Rinoa shook her head again, "You're missing one problem. I can't leave the house, my step-mother won't let me get an apprenticeship like you have. And beside the point, this is still my father's house. I cannot leave it."

The boy cocked his head slightly, considering. It was true, with the last reserves of money his mother had left, she had bought him apprenticeship to a metalworker, and she also covered for him when he went to his lessons. But Rinoa had no sponsor, her step-mother seemed perfectly content to keep her here for the rest of her natural life.

He sighed, and it didn't help anything that she took it laying down. She was a defiant girl by nature, but she also knew authority, and that meant that she knew what Ultimecia would do to her if she disobeyed. But still, Rinoa was smart, if she really meant to leave this place, she would have done it already. If she really wanted to, he had no doubt that she could make it to the capital city and beyond, hitchhiking or otherwise.

Why she chose to take this abuse, he had no clue.

"Rinoa," he began, clearing his throat a bit. "Why don't you—"

The woman recognized it, he had asked her the exact question many times, and immediately silenced him, "Just wait. I'm waiting for something, and when it happens, I'll know that everything will be alright."

"Waiting for what? Your Prince Charming?" Zell scoffed lightly.

Rinoa paused in her work and that was all Zell needed.

"…I'm right?"

The young woman looked away, it was stupid, she knew very well that is was so, but she couldn't just give it up either. For years her father had told her that she was a little princess, and that one day when he was gone someone she loved would come and protect her. Her prince charming.

"Of course not," Rinoa tried to brush it off. "You know I would never be that stupid, if I'm to get out of here, I have to do it on my own power."

The young man shook his head, "Yes, but a Prince on a white horse would help, wouldn't it?" He looked directly at her, concern evident in his expression, "Listen, Rin, I know that those stories kept you believing in a better life when you were younger…"

"But they're void now, is that it?" as much as she tried, Rinoa couldn't keep some scorn from her voice.

His only response for a moment was to sigh, "I know that the only thing that kept hope alive was those dreams, but sooner or later, you have to understand that they're not going to happen."

"Oh yeah?" she snapped. "And why not?"

"Because the Prince is in the castle, he's surrounded by guards on all sides, he's going to marry a princess, and caste forbids that he come down for a commoner!"

Even with all her denial, she couldn't find the voice to argue the point, and listened helplessly as he threw in one more comment.

"And beside, princes aren't charming!"

---

"My Lord," a voice called from beyond the door and the Prince recognized it immediately as one of the elite guard, the SeeD.

"Come in," he waved a hand carelessly, even though his soldier couldn't see it. As he often was, the prince was poring over charts of the nearby regions and comparing them with reports both old and new.

The door opened without sound, one more of the SeeD's many talents, the prince surmised, and he sensed rather than saw the uniformed man bow to him.

"His majesty the king wishes to speak with you, my lord," the formal voice spoke softly, but firmly, letting the prince know that it was more of a command than a request.

Closing his eyes, the prince heaved a long suffering sigh and prepared himself for another argument. As of late, the kingdom's relations with other countries was slowly degrading and that worried the prince more than he cared to admit. Despite the obvious danger looming for Balamb, no one seemed to want to do anything about it…least of all the king.

His father only seemed interested in stagnating, and that's what the country was doing under his rule. Stagnating. No change, no innovation, not even any difference in wealth, good or bad.

The prince sighed again, rubbing his temple with a hand. And that was exactly what the country didn't need now.

A war was brewing, he could feel it. It was a delicate situation, if he acted it could, quite possibly, make the situation even worse, but if he did nothing…

He didn't even want to consider the firepower Galbadia and Esthar could rain down on their heads.

Balamb was comparatively small to the two major players in this conflict. From the reports he had seen, Galbadia and Esthar were uncomfortably close to all out war. Both had sent ultimatums to Balamb, some appealing to their 'better nature', but, more often than not, threatening them that if they did not stand with one side or other, Balamb would be wiped from the map.

The King had seen then too, but he was still unwilling to act.

'It will pass, they'll realize what fools they are.'

Maybe so, but would they realize that before or after they destroyed half of the known world?

The Prince wasn't so complacent as to wait and see. As it stood now, whichever side they took, or even if they took none, they would be destroyed. There had to be a way out though, he just had to find it. If the reports from SeeD were to be believed, troops from Galbadia were already there, waiting for the command to attack, and Esthar's troops weren't far behind.

If he were to expose them as what they were, invaders, it would only cause widespread panic and make an enemy of their respective countries. Sticky situation.

"The king," the SeeD reminded him firmly, his voice unshaking even though he undoubtedly knew what the Prince was thinking of.

The royal heir waved a hand casually, trying to appear cocky in the grave situation, "I'm going, I'm going." He strode easily to the door, aware of the other man following him, then suddenly thought better of it, whirling to the man, his hands reflexively grabbing his tunic.

"We only know that they are here."

"Yes, Majesty," the man said expressionlessly, seemingly unaware that the Prince was badly infringing on his personal space.

"Where are they?"

"I do not know."

"Find out."

"Yes, Majesty."

"I want numbers, coordinates, an entire report on how many weapons and supplies they've brought."

"Yes, Majesty."

"No detail is too small!" he banged his fist on the doorframe to accentuate his point. "Be alert, if any one of those soldiers so much as touches a weapon, I want to know. Is that understood?"

The man bowed at the waist, backing from the room, "Yes, Prince Seifer."

---

Author's Note: Hmm, if I'm not mistaken, my mind has left its position in my cranium. Oh well, it can't be that terribly horrible, can it?…Alright, don't answer that. Please let me know what you think, you wouldn't want me to bite my fingernails off waiting for your reply, would you?…Don't answer that either.

Please review, I'll be waiting impatiently for your opinions and suggestions.

Rose Northe