A/N- It feels peculiar to write again in this section after so many years... but it also feels nice to return to it. Anyway, this is Breath of Fire III story, set sometime after the end of the game. Anyway... enjoy, and if you'd be so kind, drop me a review at the end to tell me what you think.
A Princess's Duty
Thy Kingdom Come
Nina, princess, and heir to the throne of Wyndia, was depressed. As the sun was setting on the horizon, she clambered out onto the castle balcony and sat on the wall, putting her head in her hands. Coming back to the castle was both a blessing and a curse. On the positive side of things, she got to see her father and her people, sleep in a soft bed, and eat other food apart from beef jerky and apples. On the negative- she had to see her mother. While she loved her, Sheila was a meddler who specialised in meddling in her daughters affairs. Most would just call this nagging or 'doing ones best for ones daughter' but Sheila took this to the extreme, in Nina's eyes. Usually she could stand it, as it involved nothing more serious that what she wore to dinner, or the company she kept. But recently, Sheila had taken it upon herself to find a husband for her daughter.
If this wasn't bad enough for headstrong willed Nina, there was only one type of man she could marry, and it was a type she wasn't ever going to be interested in at all, no matter how handsome or charming the man. She had to marry one of her family.
It was told in the old books that once the Wyndians were all winged, and not just with the pip-squeak wings they had today- they had great white angel wings. However, dilution of the blood had followed as the Wyndians married normal humans, and their wings shrank, and eventually almost completely disappeared. Only those related to the royal family remained true to their heritage, and even there wing size was smaller. The upshot of this was that Nina would have to marry one of her kin for the blood to remain pure, and so the Wyndians would remained winged.
Her head dropped further, till she was sitting with her head in her lap. What could she do? Run away, she supposed. But she was nineteen years old, and a princess. She couldn't just disappear again; she had duty, people, responsibility. She was supposed to be an adult. But all she could think was- what does being an adult feel like?
"Princess Nina," said one of the guards, startling her. She'd been so caught up in her thoughts she hadn't heard him coming.
"Y-yes?" she said, climbing down from the wall and brushing her windswept hair behind her ears.
"Queen Sheila requests your presence at dinner tonight Princess."
There came a pause.
"Well, you can tell her that I 'request' that she leaves me alone. I know what's she's up to! Every week when I'm 'requested' to dinner, I have to sit next to some pompous, arrogant relative that then proceeds to try and sweet talk me!" She turned her head away, staring determinedly at the Wyndian banner flying from the top of the tower. The guard shuffled his feet nervously.
"I'm afraid the queen said you must Princess. She-uh- asks that you wear something nice as well."
"What I'm wearing now is nice!" Nina exclaimed, picking up the end of her favourite creased yellow dress.
"Um, I think she meant something… a bit more formal ma'am." Nina pursed her lips, still staring at the flag. A thought floated though her mind briefly, telling her that she was being childish. She pushed it away. One couldn't help but be childish when dealing with her mother, you certainly couldn't speak maturely with her. But still, she wondered…
"Fine," said Nina. "Fine, I'll go." But I'll be such miserable company she'll wish I hadn't, she thought.
Her maids exchanged a meaningful glance as Nina rejected the seventh dress, a pretty pink thing that fell to the floor in waves. "I'm not in the mood for pink," she mumbled.
"Well what about this then?" said the younger of the maids. She pulled out a red slim-fitting dress with a low cleavage from the wardrobe. "You wore that on your birthday last year, remember?"
"If I wear that, the leach my mother has brought will end up eating me with his eyes instead of his dinner." She sat up from the bed and rummaged though the wardrobe herself. "Aha!" she cried, pulling out a black shapeless dress that would cover her completely.
"Princess," said the older maid, "that's a funeral dress. You wore when your great aunt Magdalen- god bless her soul- passed away."
"Yes, well- it's been a while and I feel like wearing something I haven't been in for a bit."
Deciding that exchanging any more words was fruitless, the maids helped her change into it, all the while knowing exactly what she was thinking. When they were finished she grinned at herself in the mirror, and set off proudly down the stairs.
There were a lot of guests- that was the first thing she noticed. All dressed very informally, as though they'd been travelling and hadn't had time to change. Her sense of rebellion shifted somewhat to get out of the way for the approaching curiosity. There was a lot of talk and laughter; clearly the guests were in good spirits. A great table of food was laid out, filled with roast chicken and turkey, potatoes, sprouts, gravy, parsnips, radishes and plenty of finer food she didn't know the name for.
"Nina, there you are!" yelled Sheila, standing up from her seat. "Stop hanging about the doorway and come in for goodness sake."
Nina headed over across the room and took the open seat between her mother and one of the men in travelling clothes, feeling quizzical eyes on her. Sheila pinched the side of her dress and tutted loudly.
"Really, Nina, out of all your clothes, you picked this…"
"Who are all these people?" Nina asked, ignoring her.
"Attention everyone," said the king, rising to his feet. "I believe we now have everyone who shall be joining us this eve. Before we begin however, I'd like to welcome back Sir Edmund and his men, who have been on an expedition to the uncharted lands to the south, and have now returned safely with tales of their journey and many excellent artefacts. I'd like to propose a toast- to Edmund."
The group, including Nina, picked up their wine glasses and touched them together. "To Edmund," they chanted.
The man next to Nina- apparently Edmund- nodded appreciatively. The king took his seat, and he rose.
"It might be appropriate to make some great speech here…" he said, "but I can see you're all hungry, and I don't want to bore you all too much with my drabble. So- if that's alright with you King- I say we tuck in."
Everyone applauded, and following the heads up from her father, they did just that. Everyone except Nina, that is. She played with a sprout on her plate, poking it with a fork, all the while thinking furiously. She'd made a complete fool out of herself. She'd acted like a stuck-up spoiled little princess, and for what? There was no suitor here, just her father's explorers. What must they think of her, sitting there moodily in that dress, looking as though she was attending a funeral rather than a banquet.
"Nina," Sheila muttered out of the corner of her mouth, "stop playing with your food already and eat."
I ought to at least try and get my dignity back, Nina thought, and she reached over to get some potatoes from the bowl on her top right. She couldn't quite reach.
"Do you need some help there?" said the explorer Edmund, smiling kindly at her.
"Uh, yes please," she said, and he picked up the bowl and passed it to her.
"Thanks." She started piling them onto her own plate.
"No problem… you're Princess Nina, aren't you?"
"Yes," she said, replacing the bowl.
"It's very nice to meet you then, Princess." He took her hand and kissed it in the normal court fashion.
"Same to you. You're an explorer then?" she asked this not just to please her mother (she was always told 'to be nice' to important guests) she was genuinely interested.
"Oh yes, I've been all over. The Dauna hills, Rhapala, the Urkaan region, even far down south, where the places don't have names and are ruled by savage people." Nina's interest was perked by this, last time she heard from Ryu, he was travelling in the Dauna hills.
"The south… that's where you've just come back from, isn't it?" she said, putting this aside for the moment.
"Yes, harsh terrain you have to cross to get to it though. The Raes, it's a chain of mountains you have to pass. Some of them stretch as high as the clouds, higher even." He waited for her to make some sound of awe, but when she didn't, carried on anyway. "It's worth it though. Beautiful lands beyond. There's a friendly tribe we met this time called the Grassrunners. Strange, strange people. I'm not sure they're actually people at all though… they look like dogs, you see? Wear a lot of jewellery."
He seemed very happy to tell his tales, and she was happy enough to listen. He was perhaps a little too eager to retell his amazing feats, perhaps a little pompous, but she supposed if he had done all he said he had, he'd probably earned the right to be. Though she still had to smile as he told her how he and his men had valiantly fought off a monster the size of a house. That was hardly anything compared to some of the things she'd fought when she was travelling with Ryu.
As they talked, the evening dragged on, and desert was brought in.
"I came back with quite a few things we bought or were given. The Grassrunners were so generous we had to load up their gifts into half a dozen wagons! It was a job and a half, but we go them here. I'm storing them at an old house near the bakery at the moment. Perhaps you'd like to come down with me and see them sometime? Those dogs gave us some very interesting artefacts…"
Nina swallowed the last spoonful of strawberry trifle and looked up at him. "That'd be nice," she said, "are you staying in town for a while then?"
Edmund gave her a slightly puzzled look. "Well… no. I'm staying at the castle."
"Really? You must be a pretty important explorer then. I didn't realise. Only family or very important people are usually allowed to stay. Have you known my father for a long time?"
He laughed. "But I am family. The king is my uncle… which makes us, first cousins I suppose. Didn't you know?"
A sense of complete shock came over Nina, and she looked over to her mother, who was straining close to listen in.
"I'm glad you two are getting along so well," she said.
Nina turned back to Edmund, fire burning in her eyes. She felt utterly, utterly betrayed. She'd talked so politely and nicely to this young man, when he must have known all the time what her mother wanted. She probably cornered him as soon as he entered the castle, before that even. He knew, all this time.
Without a second thought, Nina clenched her hand into a fist and punched him in the jaw as hard as she could, knocking him and his chair backwards and sending him sprawling onto the floor.
Wide eyes gaped at her from every direction. Her father gaped at her like a Mannilo. Sheila was slumped in her chair, looking like she was about to faint.
Nina stood, sent a piercing glare her mother's way, stepped over the unconscious suitor and stormed upstairs to her room. She put the bar across the door, stopping all possible intruders, and threw herself onto the bed. She didn't cry, because she wasn't the sort of person who cried easily. Instead she raged, punching the bed furiously, imagining it as all the suitors her mother had presented to her, all of which she had turned down- though never quite as spectacularly as she had today. Some time into her fury, she shrugged off the ridiculous funeral dress and pulled on her nightgown. She was so lost in angry thought that she hardly noticed what she was doing.
She went out onto the small balcony from her room, hardly caring she was wearing only her nightgown, hardly caring anything.
It was dark now, and the moon- or three quarters of it- was in the sky. She put her elbows on the wooden railing and looked down at the town of Wyndia, the largest town in the world. In thirty or forty years, it would all be hers. But right now, she didn't want any of it. As she watched, she saw a person on horseback riding down the road towards Wyndia, looking like a blot on the dark grass. She sighed, and looked away.
"Nina! Nina! Open this door at once!"
She closed her eyes, trying to block of her mother's shouts and bangs at the door.
"Nina! Nina! NINA!"
Nina stormed back into her room, pulled away the bar and flung open the door, meeting with her mother's livid eyes.
"What?" Nina said, glaring back with her own formidable pair, a hand on her hip.
"Young woman, I think we need to have a little chat, right now!"
"How about no!" yelled Nina.
"How about yes!" Sheila yelled back.
"How about we stop arguing for a minute and try to sort this out sensibly?" said a voice from behind, and her father appeared and put a calming hand on his wife's shoulder. "Let me talk to her Sheila."
She looked on the verge of arguing, but bit her tongue, and walked away making an "Hmph!" noise.
Her father looked at her calmly with her own blue eyes, she felt her anger draining away, sucked into them as though they were whirlpools. A twinge of guilt hit her.
"Is-is he okay?" she asked.
"My nephew? He's fine. The doctor brought him round."
"Is… is he mad?"
"Edmund's a good spirited man, the first thing he said when he woke was that he never thought a woman could hit so hard. Still, I think you should apologise profoundly to him."
"I will," she said, and looked awkwardly to the floor.
"Sit down Nina, we need to talk."
Her father entered the room, and Nina pulled on a dressing gown, embarrassed to be wearing so little in front of a man, even if that man was her father. She sat down on her bed next to him.
"You're no longer a child Nina," said the king, getting straight to the point.
"I know that," she said," but mother is so…so-"
"Your mother wants what is best for you and the kingdom. She wants you to marry a good man to carry on our line. But she also wants you to be happy."
"But I don't want to marry! At least…. not like that. I don't want future husbands paraded in front of me to pick, I want to… to go out, meet my own husband. Fall in love."
The king sighed, and stroked his daughter's hair. "The world doesn't work like that, not for us. We must put the future of the kingdom and of our royal line in front of our personal needs. No prince or princess ever really found true love, you know. Power and love don't go together, you can't have both. All we have is the right to choose."
"But what about you Father? You wanted to marry Mother, didn't you?"
The king looked solemnly at Nina. "I'm going to tell you something, but don't ever repeat this to Sheila. I don't want her to know that I told you, alright? …Me and your mother had an arranged marriage, she's my second cousin. As you know, he has pretty small wings, but she's not completely wingless. We got on well enough, so my father, the king at the time, decided we should marry. She was beautiful, and I wanted to rule… so…"
The revelation was so shocking that all of Nina's remaining anger had long since fled. Her mother and father were like an old couple, always quarrelling. But there was affection there, she'd seen it.
"You mean… you don't love Mother?"
"No, no, no, I don't mean it like that. I love her," he said, shaking his head. "But it's because I learnt to love her. I've never had that passionate wild 'true love' that young people with freedom share. I could have loved another woman more. But this is the choice I made, and one must always stick with ones choices."
Nina's head dropped to the floor. "I never knew," she said.
"Well, now you know… But this is your choice Nina, Sheila can't force you to marry, nor can I. But I'm going to ask you not just to think of yourself, but for all of Wyndia. We need not just a princess, but a prince. The citizens depend on you for that, they expect it. But whatever you decide, don't look back. When you marry, you'll gain a kingdom. But you'll also loose something irreplaceable. That's why I'm telling you this- don't ever, ever look back. Doing that is like looking down from the tallest mountain. If you look back, you'll fall." The king of Wyndia, protector the realm, and descendent of the first winged one took his daughters hands in his. Then, suddenly, she realised there were tears sparkling in his eyes.