A/N: Okay, I split this chapter up. I don't want to split it any more than this...b/c I think it would make the story slow. Anyways, again thanks to Lexik, you are the best =3 (I fixed the '...'s and there were a lot =.=) and also anyone else that reviewed. Oh and I have to give a super special thanks to Natalie b/c she actually printed stuff out and went over it for me! That's a true friend! :)
*I'd like people to go into this thinking along the lines of BoF VI or rather a BoF anime series where each chapter is like an episode. That's pretty much what I've set out to achieve :)
**And of course, I do not claim any of Capcom's characters...I just like having fun with them.
Princesses Were Born for Things Like This
If asked what the most beautiful sight in all the world was, Nina would forever say: Wyndia at daybreak.
From her balcony in the tallest tower within the ivory mountain top palace she called home, the princess of Wyndia stretched large snow white wings out into the warming rays of the morning sun, gazing with wide amber eyes at her vast country expanding around her. Apart from a few scattered farmlands in the outer sections, as far as the eye could see were fields upon fields of bright, swaying, multicolored wildflowers. The day of her mother and father's engagement, the king had ordered them to be planted in order to give his fiancé a "country as beautiful as she". For as long as Nina could remember, she would wake just before sunrise to follow her mother out onto this same balcony to watch the morning lights dance on the sea of colors. Even now - five years after her death - Nina's body would automatically draw her to the first glimpse of the sun over the horizon, as if eager to take in the breathtaking sight endlessly.
The princess grasped her balcony's marble railing with pale, slender fingers and leaned forward, allowing the mountain breeze through her long, unbound, honey blonde hair. Today however, she was eager for a different reason. Butterflies fluttered about her stomach as a smile broke through her pale pink lips.
At long last, he was finally back!
She giggled and hopped into the air, catching the wind with her wings, still looking out into the glimmering distance. "After seven years, " she murmured softly to herself, clasping her hands together, "I thought this day would never come..."
Nina whirled around at the urgent call, and through the waving cream colored lace curtains leading into her quarters saw a tall brunette handmaiden place her hands on her hips and tap a high heeled foot hard on the white marble floor. The girl shook her head, her long, high ponytail swinging angrily behind small baby blue wings. "Gods Nina, I've been standing here calling your name for ages!" she huffed, crossing arms holding a noisy array of thin silver bangles. "What are you a zombie? Staring out into the fields like that... What's wrong with you?"
Nina closed her wings and landed daintily on one pink slippered foot. "Nothing you would be concerned with, Chasta," she retorted haughtily, flipping her hair behind her shoulders and sashaying past into her lavish bedroom.
Chasta sighed and followed, knocking curtains out of her way. Her bangles clinked in an almost musical manner. "Well I don't think anything is so important you would ignore me your best friend, I mean-" She halted suddenly and a devilish grin cracked. "Ah-ha! Wait, I see now..."
Nina's nose went into the air when Chasta skipped to her side. "Today's the day isn't it?" she asked excitedly, clasping her hands in front of her, colorful rings on every finger glinting in the sunlight streaming in the room.
"I have no idea what you're talking about."
"Oh yes you do!" Her friend was now bouncing in front of her on her toes, blue wings fluttering and sapphire shaded emerald eyes wide under brow hugging blunt bangs. "You can't wait to see him again can you!" Nina's blush spread and Chasta snorted in amusement, "Look at you!" she cried pointing, "You're scarlet!"
Nina stuck out her tongue and pulled off her light pink terry cloth robe. "Come on, stop making fun and help me find something to wear," she groaned, tossing the robe behind her and pulling open her closet door. Hundreds of dresses met her.
"For him?" Chasta teased behind her in the doorway, folding her robe and setting it down on a chair.
The princess sighed loudly from within the closet. "Yes, Chas. It's for him. Now will you please come in and help?"
"Fine, fine! All you had to do was be honest," Chasta remarked tailing her.
"I know you too well for that."
"Now why would I, the most trustworthy person in all of Wyndia -ah, make that Elanaar (she added matter-of-factly) - stoop so low as to make fun of you?" Chasta pouted, thrusting out a heavily glossed bottom lip dramatically, and touching it with a hot pink flower painted nail.
Nina sighed again, but this time it ended with a smile. "Alright then, what about...this?" She held up an azure silk dress that frilled at the bottom and fastened around the neck, in a halter fashion. The sleeves gaped slightly at the shoulder and flowed down into bell bottom ends that were lined with blue stones.
Chasta gave it a scrutinizing look and shook her head. "Nope, try another one."
"Why?" Nina asked a little hurtfully, holding it out in front of her. "I think it's pretty."
"It is, but your father will blow a gasket if you show skin in the throne room," Chasta fingered the gaps in the shoulders.
Nina's face fell. "Oh yeah, I forgot about that." She reluctantly hung the dress back up. "With the way my father acts, showing even one shoulder would be like me going in there naked," she said, making a face. "I guess we'll have to try those awful ones on the other side. You know, the ones for special events."
Her friend turned around to face a mess of sequins and random flowing pieces of fabric. "What are these...?" she asked scrunching up her nose. "They look like...really gaudy masquerade ball outfits..."
"Hence the reason I used the word 'awful' to describe them."
"Well I'm sure we can find...something in here..." The handmaiden trailed off as she eyed a particularly garish one. "You can definitely trust me on this one."
As Nina stood there watching her friend tear through the hideous dresses like a dog after a bone saying things like "Wow this one says it's made of real ostrich feathers!" there was an anxious pang deep in her belly.
Chasta was right, she was excited beyond words to see Ethan again, but something tapped annoyingly at the edge of her mind, spreading dark, foreboding clouds over that elation. She fought to suppress it; trying to focus solely on the moment when she would be able lay eyes upon him again after so long, but each time, the nervous feeling would only push its way back, clawing at her even harder than before.
"Chasta?" Her voice came out awkward so she cleared her throat.
"Yes, Nina?" Her friend's was muffled by fabric.
The princess bit her lip a few times, unsure of how to put her thoughts into words. "Do you think...he'll...remember me?" she ventured, watching the mountain of dresses stop moving suddenly.
Chasta poked out her head and stared at her incredulously. "Are you seriously asking me that?"
Nina gave a half shrug, feeling a little embarrassed now. "Well, I mean it has been seven years."
Chasta stepped completely out of the dresses, cementing one hand to her hip. Bangles jingled loudly when she waved the other hand around. "Nina, I honestly doubt he would forget having any relations with the Princess of Wyndia," she said rolling her eyes.
"And especially the kind of relationship you two had."
"It wasn't like that!" Chasta smirked at her princess' quick response.
"You know what I mean. You two were inseparable! I'd come late at night wanting to talk to you, and I'd find him there-," she pointed at the large rectangular dark green rug lying in front of her bed,"-swinging his stupid swords around and hogging all of your time!"
Nina shrugged again but her doubt was being sliced through by a barrage of nostalgic memories consisting of a young Ethan twirling gracefully into a stances in front of her he swore he invented.
"I don't know how many times I had to help sneak him out of here at the crack of dawn because he apparently didn't know when the hell you went to bed!"
"He always insisted on showing me things like that," the princess murmured, still immersed in the past.
"Well, you never said no."
Nina's face flushed red again and Chasta giggled, slapping her palm playfully against the princess' back. "You worry too much, Nina! He's going to be overjoyed to see you, and you know it."
"I suppose you're right..."
Chasta rolled her eyes again, "Anyways, here." She yanked out a white dress from behind two pastel hued sequin disasters and handed it to her. "It's simple, elegant and look, it even has a cute cowl neck and this neat sash that ties around you like a belt." Nina held it up in front of her, staring at it half-heartedly. Her friend's look softened. "Nina, I'm serious. There's nothing to be fretting this much about. Now come on, try the dress on and we'll do your hair. Today's going to be a Good Day!"
Nina thought about this while she reluctantly slipped on the dress and followed Chasta out to her vanity, where she sat and watched her friend's reflection in the mirror scan her hair.
"Let's see, how did you wear it back then?" Nina's gave a confused look. "You know, seven years ago? Might jump start his heart a bit to see you looking they way you did when he last saw you," Chasta stated with confidence, picking up sections of Nina's loose long hair and separating them. "Didn't you wear it in low pigtails in the back and let some hang out in the front?"
Nina laughed despite her anxiety. "Pigtails? Won't he think I'm being childish?"
"No, not low ones. I can make them classy anyways. I promise!"
"Well I guess you were right about the dress," Nina said throwing an admiring gaze down at her ensemble. It was a simple long sleeved floor length dress, but it fit her in all the right places and was made with some kind of silky fabric that shimmered in the right light. The sash was beautiful too; they had tied it into a bow on the side and let the ends trail to the floor. To make the cowl neck flattering, a diamond rimmed lace choker was thrown in, which Chasta had commented shined and was attractive in any light.
Chasta pulled her hair back, took two long pieces of lace ribbon as well as a few strings of pearls and wrapped them gently around the sections of hair. In the end, Nina had pigtails that, like Chasta had said, definitely looked more elegant than a child's. The lace and pearls were woven through the hair picture perfectly. Her friend finished by combing her long bangs to the side and pulling some sections out to fall loose over her ears. "There." The bubbly handmaiden hopped back with a tube of lip stain after she added it. "Now you actually don't look twelve."
Nina regarded her reflection. There is was again, that pesky feeling of dread that only seemed to deepen with every second she stared. Would he like it? Would he notice the effort? She felt her hands grasp gently at the soft fabric of her skirt. "Chasta, regardless of whether he remembers me or not...what kind of person do you think he is now?" She searched her friend's reflection for her reaction. "Will he be the same?"
Chasta's eyes softened. She set the makeup on the table so her hands were free to gently grasp the princess' tense shoulders. "The only thing I can say about that, Nina, is... seven years is a long time to basically be an assassin." Nina held her expression. "I have no doubt he'll be ecstatic to see you as I said, but you have to remember he's been out fighting for a long time in a world a lot different than ours."
"But, I mean, he did all that fighting to be your bodyguard, so that has to account for something, I guess," Chasta said shrugging.
Nina's eyes continued to stare into her own reflection, hoping Chasta was right about one thing.
She really hoped it was going to be a Good Day.
Sir Ethan Von Buren
The title had such class, such prestige for someone so young.
Or rather he wasn't so anymore. Twenty-two was no fifteen after all.
Nina felt the butterflies flap their wings harder and faster within her gut as she walked slowly alongside her father and ten of his soldiers down castle Wyndia's enormous, crimson carpeted main hallway towards the throne room doors. It would only be a matter of minutes before Ethan would walk down this same hall in this same manner. She wondered nervously if he was thinking of her.
The king glanced down at her with questioning eyes as she stared, seemingly immersed in portraits of the royal family lining the walls. "Princess... are you feeling ill?" He asked reaching over and placing a large hand on her forehead. "You never find your ancestors that interesting..."
She jumped at the touch then shook her head abruptly. "Oh! No...I'm just a little tired!" she trilled, forcing a smile.
The king took his hand back, chuckling. "Ah I see. You must be excited to see little Ethan again!" He coughed and then corrected himself as her cheeks went pink. "Oh well, excuse me I suppose it's just 'Ethan' now, eh? It's been seven years!"
Nina's eyes went to the floor and she seriously wondered for a moment if "I miss Ethan" was plastered across her forehead.
"To think he was able to finish his training three years ahead of old Lucius..." he trailed off, combing his thick sandy mustache with his fingers. "The boy will be a damn good guardian."
"Seven years is a long time to basically be an assassin." Chasta's words echoed in her mind and she fought back a shudder.
At some point in Ethan's great grandfather's travels, he had saved the life of the leader an elite group of fighters called "The Assassin's Guild" or better known to the world as simply AG.
Her father had explained the organization to her as a group of bounty hunters who took on anything the members felt would better themselves or the world...or for astronomically large amounts of money. As a group, they were not affiliated with any country and had such a reputation of heartless killing that no kingdom ever called upon them openly for risk of rumor. While they were a group, rarely would they act together, and some of the members were even regarded in parts of the world as demons.
The Von Burens were a family of battlers, each generation striving their hardest to surpass the one before it, and accepted a pact from the AG stating for as long as the Roman family led them, the Von Burens were allowed to train with the greatest assassins the world had to offer. Normally the time frame was around ten years, starting from early adolescence, but they said Ethan was special.
When she first heard of this arrangement, she was shocked. Why would Wyndia go along with this? Those people were monsters! Her father told her the Von Burens had been this country's guardians for as long as there had been royalty. They were the strongest Wyndians, and that's what the job called for. If it took dealing with the scum of the earth to make them so, then so be it.
"Every country has its shadows. I gather this is ours."
Nina's chest tightened. What kind of person did that sort of training yield? Was Ethan noted as one of those demons now?
The throne room door came before she was ready. She stood silently, curling her fingers tight against her sides and staring at winged, long haired Goddesses carved into the dark wood flying gracefully strumming harp-like instruments in their dainty hands, trying to force her mind as far away from the AG as she could. Ethan? The one that would sometimes pillow fight with her and Chasta, a hard nosed berserker? No. She wouldn't entertain the thought.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you his majesty, King Issac Randolph Wynlan VII of Wyndia and his lovely daughter, Princess Nina Valentina Wynlan of Wyndia!" a deep voice boomed from the other side of the door. It was Asheton Cureton, the king's head adviser. Trumpets sounded. She flinched.
Soldiers pushed at the door and it opened slowly, its creaks echoing loudly throughout the cathedral ceilinged room. Inside, over a hundred people knelt down in unison.
Nina swallowed a lump in her throat and made her way down the aisle that lead to the throne. Above them, a stained glass skylight of the Goddess flying with her enormous white wings outstretched and blonde hair flowing, filtered pale colored light on the rows of soldiers and nobles that lined either side of the carpet.
She quickly scanned the bowing crowd while walking for Chasta and found her looking up from her kneeling position, smiling at her so broadly it almost looked maniacal. Nina made a face at her and almost giggled, but stopped when she felt a sharp jab on her shoulder; She had reached the end of the walkway and was still making faces at Chasta while her father impatiently tapped his foot, waiting on her to take her seat. She blushed and quickly took position on her throne, grateful everyone's eyes were still on the floor.
"You may rise," Asheton bellowed through his silver forest of a beard beside the king. The mass of nobles stood. "Your Majesty." He bowed to the king and scurried back into the sidelines.
Nina looked out over the crowd from her seat. Being in the throne room was always an interesting experience; one that both her and Chasta usually enjoyed. It was one of the only times they got to see all of the good looking Wyndian soldiers lined up in a row, standing at attention. Although most of the time Nina would get angry in the end because, well she was the princess and could never even be seen looking at any of them, no matter how handsome and unbelievably fit they all were. Chasta, on the other hand, could have her pick; there was nothing stopping a handmaiden, and she made sure to always let Nina remember it by throwing scandalous stories dripping with details about her escapades at the princess weekly.
Today unfortunately, she couldn't bring herself to spare the energy to care about the many intrigued stares Chasta's pick in attire was awarding her. Her eyes were glued to the door.
The king cleared his throat and her own tightened. "For four generations now, the training of the Wyndian Royal Guardians has been allotted to a decade of hard work and dedication; as only the ones strong enough to endure such, should be allowed to protect the royal family." Nods were seen in the distance by the nobles. "We are celebrating this day, not only to appoint our newest guardian, but for the fact that this boy-" He coughed, smiled. "Excuse me, man...had the drive and perseverance to amaze his educators in such a way, he was sent back to us three years prior to his predecessors."
Nina's heartbeat quickened when Asheton appeared again at her father's side and whispered something into his ear. The king nodded. "It is with great pleasure that I introduce to you all, Wyndia's newest edition to the royal military officers, Mr. Ethan Von Buren!"
Again the trumpets sounded. Perfectly manicured hands gripped the arms of her throne.
The large wooden throne door creaked open again and for Nina, time slowed to a crawl. A white winged man, decked completely in ancient Wyndian ceremonial armor floated into the sunlit room with a grace only a god should possess. Gasps could be heard along with the surprisingly gentle clinking of plate -considering all of the armor he wore- as he landed and strode forward, slowly and importantly, to the end of the aisle. Whispers erupted as he pushed his magnificent cloak back and dropped down on one knee before the king. Nina gaped.
Lucius, Ethan's father, had been her mother's guardian, and was knighted when she was very, very young. Nina remembered a story her mother told her one night while she was putting her to bed about how, as a child, she was infatuated with a "white knight"; a man who she saw only once in her lifetime and couldn't remember who he was or why she had a memory of him. It wasn't until later she learned it was Lucius.
As she sat there staring at what was supposed to be Ethan kneeling before her, his large white wings extending over that amazing armor, she could see exactly why.
The armor was a full suit of platinum plate that at each joint, branched off into intricate wing designs. Attached to platinum chain mail, the shoulders jutted up into points as tall as his head, and then layered down with similar points, each etched with writing that was filled with sparkling diamonds. The helm was valkyrie style; the wings on it also diamond engraved. His breastplate sported an embossed portrait of the Wyndian family crest that could only be halfway seen for the loose collar of the ivory cloak he donned, which held a majestic crimson phoenix. An ornately jeweled sword handle glittered at his side.
He looked so angelic, so significant.
She felt she would fall from her chair, but she couldn't help leaning forward as far as she could and stare, eyes filled with curiosity and wonder. Ethan was never lanky as a kid, but he was never like this. She could see his bulky form even through all of the armor. Gone were the days of her being able to tackle him for sure.
She shook her head at such a stupid thought.
"Mr. Von Buren."
Her father's voice pulled her attention back. The white knight raised his head, sparkled in the skylight's colored rays.
"You may remove your helm."
A wave of familiarity rushed over her. That hair. You didn't forget a head of fire like that.
Platinum gauntlets ran through short, bright crimson spikes and then fell, joining the rest of Ethan's body in a low respectful bow. "My Liege." A surprisingly deep voice came from his lips as he raised his head to the king.
Was this really her childhood friend? This...man?
Looking at him now, she could clearly see that it was in fact Ethan, but seven years had made a difference in him. His hair, which he had forever worn long and bound, was now cut short and sophisticated yet, still as red as a sunset. His facial features were more defined and mature – he even had a bit of stubble now on his chin and jawline- and then there was...
She felt her breath catch in her throat. On the bridge of his nose was a small but very noticeable dent across it. Her heart crashed in her chest.
It had made a mark, and worse: a mark that stayed.
He blinked perfect hunter green eyes and took a deep breath. "As the son of the late Sir Lucius Von Buren, I am now handed the duty of protecting the royal Wyndian family." He quickly glanced from Nina back to the king and she felt her heart skip. "I have traveled the world and have witnessed many things. With the experiences I have encountered, I believe I am more than ready for anything that shall come of us." He bowed his head again, swept a shining gauntlet out before him. "I give you my word that my judgment will never falter, for I surrender my soul in a vow to keep the Wynlan's inviolability. This I swear on the royal resting place of my ancestors."
Nina gaped again at the maturity of his words, while the king nodded profusely, clapping his hands together.
"Such etiquette, such enthusiasm!" The king slowly stood from his chair and Asheton hurried over, his own chubby hands carrying a long white pillow with what Nina assumed was "The King's Sword"; an ancient sword said to have unleashed it's power at the Goddess's will to cleanse the lands of all evil many years ago. The last time she saw that sword, her mother was being lowered into the ground.
Ethan kept his head down as the king grasped the ruby encrusted gold hilt of the enormous straight bladed sword, and brought it down gently on his left shoulder. "With this sword I hold in my hand, blessed by the Goddess's love and glory...I, King Issac Rudolph Wynlan VI, leader of this great country of Wyndia, hereby dub you Sir Ethan Von Buren, Royal Guardian of the Wynlan royal family," The sword switched shoulders and then was brought back down to the king's side. "You may now rise."
Slowly, Ethan stood, and Nina realized he was tall. He towered over the king now.
"I am forever grateful, your Majesty."
The king smiled and raised his hands into the air, gesturing to the crowd enthusiastically. "Let it be known today is a historic day!" he boomed, "Not only do we have our new Royal Guardian, we also have finally been invited to finalize the treaty with Ludia!"
A slew of excited whispers erupted from the crowd. Nina cocked her head to try and listen.
Ludia was the country northwest of Wyndia and they were always at eachother's throats every decade or so about something. This time it seemed a human got angry, killed a Wyndian in a conspicuous place, and all hell broke loose. She shook her head. Maybe there was more to it, she was never involved in the politics of any situation, so why bother to listen to anything about it? Only thing she cared about was whether it was or was not safe to go out on her balcony.
"It will also be your first assignment as Sir Von Buren." She noticed that Ethan even nodded importantly. "I want you to accompany Princess Nina into Ludian territory to speak with their prince about the details of our treaty."
Huh, so she was going to Ludia with Ethan.
Nina blinked. "Wait...what?" She blurted.
The king turned abruptly and nodded sharply at her. "You are going to Ludia in a few hours to speak with Prince Vahn about our treaty. Sir Von Buren will be your bodyguard," he said slowly with a stern glare.
"B-but me? Discuss something as important as a treaty? Father, I don't think it's wise to..."
She trailed off, suddenly remembering where she was when a frantic "Psst! Psst!" reached her ears from the audience. In the corner of her eye, she caught Chasta motioning for her to zip her lips then hide behind a tall butler.
"You are going to Ludia tomorrow to discuss the treaty," he said equally as stern.
Under theses circumstances, she knew she had to agree. "Y-yes Your Majesty," she stammered nervously and sat back, trying to ignore the stares she was getting.
"Did you hear that? The Princess talked back to the King!"
"My, how rebellious that girl is getting!"
Nina pursed her lips and wished she could disappear into the chair's puffy red velvet backing. Ethan glanced over at her again and added to her desperation. "I will be honored to accept such a task," he said, gaze remaining. "Princess Nina will be safe in my hands."
The rest of the ceremony went on with the King giving more thanks to Ethan's ancestors and a remembrance of his father, Lucius, who three years ago was killed by an assassin attempting to murder her father. She tried to pay attention, but the only thing running through her mind was the fact she was about to take a three hour ride in a carriage alone with her new bodyguard.
And here he was sporting that beautiful discolored scar. She closed her eyes. There was no way she would talk about it; only if he happened to mention it. Blood rushed to her cheeks and she fidgeted in her seat, stealing glances at him when she could. But what if he did mention it? What would she say to him? After all, she was the one who gave him that unsightly mark. She sighed inwardly and prayed he really didn't think of the word unsightly when he thought of it.
"Ahem! Princess Nina!"
"Yes?" She chirped sitting up in her chair, trying to focus on what was going on. Again, the nobles stared and some whispering about her either being one of those far seers like some of the princesses of the past, or just a lazy daydreamer pursued. She ignored it.
"I said we would be honored for you to finish with the Goddess's Hymn."
"Th-the Goddess's Hymn..." She felt her legs wobble as she stood. How could she have forgotten? It was tradition. Every knighting, every crowning, every royal birth, every royal death, a Wyndian princess was to preform the Goddess's Hymn to ensure good fortune upon everyone that hears it.
She swallowed, walked a few steps ahead of the king. Now only inches from Ethan, who's eyes were unnervingly locked on hers. "I-I...I..." she started to stammer, eyes gravitating to his nose. She had to look away.
Frantically she searched again for Chasta and found her mouthing "You can do it!" from behind that same tall butler.
Nina took a deep breath and began to sing.
The Goddess's Hymn was a prayer sung in ancient Wyndian to "Protect those who had shed their blood for the people of this great land" and "To the prosperity of Wyndia and blessings for all those who believe in the Goddess's love".
After learning the song as a child, Nina took it to great lengths to became fluent in a language she thought was one of the most beautiful tongues in all of the world; the language of magic and the old clan. This was her third time publicly singing the hymn; the other two being the birth of her sister and the death of her mother. Her nervousness melted away with every note. Luckily for her, her voice was destined to be one of Wyndia's, and the world's, finest treasures. Legends told of the Goddess purposely implanting her voice into the genes of all Wyndian princesses so every organized hymn of great importance in her name reached her ears in perfect harmony.
She finished and opened her eyes to nobles and soldiers alike, wiping tears from their own. Chasta fanned her face frantically in the background. Ethan's lips parted in awe.
Asheton hurriedly fetched the king a handkerchief so he could dry his own eyes. "Always beautiful, my daughter...always absolutely breathtaking..." he nearly sobbed into the white fabric with the Wyndian emblem embroidered on the corner, "You all may be dismissed. May the Goddess watch over us all."
"May the Goddess watch over us all," The audience spoke together.
The room began to clear and Ethan stood slowly, his armor's plates clanking gently together. Nina marveled at how she barely reached his shoulders.
"Princess Nina, I would like you to be outside waiting on the coach by mid afternoon." The king commanded, tossing the used handkerchief back to a fumbling Asheton.
"F-Father!" she started and shrunk back at the cold glare she received. "I mean, My Liege," she said suppressing the urge to roll her eyes, knowing he was probably acting like this because Ethan was still standing there. "I want to talk with you about this treaty. I don't think that I'm the right person to do this!"
"You're going," He said simply, walking off of the platform.
"B-but you don't let me know anything about anything! How am I supposed to know what to say?" she cried running after.
"Princess, do not forget your place."
"Father I know my place! That's what I'm trying to tell you!"
The king's jaw clenched. A large vein formed on his broad forehead when he scowled at her again, "The prince has specified that you and only you are allowed to speak with him about the details. I will give you a run down of the paperwork in a packet you can read as you head to Ludia."
"S-Since when do I make appearances like this...!'?"
"Do not question me, Princess," he leaned in close, glaring at her with piercing brown eyes. "Come, Sir Von Buren," he stepped back, motioning to the white knight, surface anger diminishing instantaneously. "I'll show you to your room so you can change out of that cumbersome outfit."
Ethan glanced at Nina fuming and staring at the floor, then nodded back at the king.
"Yes, it is quite difficult to maneuver in," he chuckled softly and joined him.
Nina waited until they were out of the room before she walked to her father's throne and kicked the side of it as hard as she could. There was a snap and she looked down to see her heel had cracked. "Damnit...," she muttered yanking both of her shoes off.
"You can't be talking back to him like that, Nina, you're going to get into real trouble one day," she heard Chasta say behind her.
"Yeah, well I'm tired of having to call him 'My Liege' or 'Your Majesty' when anyone 'important' is around... He had no right to embarrass me like that in front of Ethan!" Nina cried, spinning around angrily to face her.
"Well he is the king..."
"Are you supposed to be cheering me up?" Nina asked, raising an immaculately arched blonde eyebrow at her friend who shrugged back at her.
"Well, how about Ethan, huh?" Chasta asked winking, "He turned out waaaay better looking than I expected."
Nina's mind went back to the scar. "Yeah, he did, but..." her shoulders slumped, "He's got a scar on his face now!"
"What? A scar? So what? Every soldier's face was painted with envy the moment he walked in, especially when they saw the way you were gawking at him. It shouldn't matter that someone as sexy as him has a scar-" She stopped and blinked. "Oh. Oh!" She immediately started bouncing on her toes, baby wings fluttering. "I can't believe I forgot about that! No wonder you're such a basket case!"
Nina flushed and looked away. "It's really not that big of a deal."
"Yes it is! And now I know why you were so zombie-fied at the ceremony! You pervert!"
"What!'? I am not a pervert! Where did you get that from?"
Chasta's grin spread even wider. "You're gonna have that carriage all to yourselves and I bet all you can think about is what he's going to say to you," She stopped bouncing and leaned forward with a sly look. "What he's going to do to you."
"No, no no, are you nuts?'!" Nina cried waving her hands in front of her, the blush felt like it was infecting the rest of her body. "You know I'm not like that! I wasn't even thinking about that at all! I am not that kind of girl!"
Chasta stuck out her tongue and bounced again. "Whatever I know you're that kind of girl and I'm going to tell Ethan!" she cried kicking off and heading straight for the door.
Nina blinked. "You're going to do what?" She pushed off of the chair and dove forward. "Oh no you don't! Chas come back!" she called, chasing her out of the throne room and into the hallway where the other handmaidens screamed in surprise as they barreled past. "Sto~p!"
She laughed as she struggled to keep up with her taller, longer legged friend. That Chasta, she thought warmly, watching the brunette look back and stick out her tongue again. What would she do without her?
Hours later, Nina flipped anxiously through a thick pamphlet of the treaty her father had given her while listening to the steady sound of six armored horses trotting in front of the carriage. The king had said to make sure and read it, but there was no way she could concentrate with Ethan sitting right in front of her. All she could do was stare at the pages dumbly.
They had entered the carriage with an unspoken respect; only soft smiles and nods, and it left Nina wondering if he really did forget her after all. Even now, a good half hour into the ride, he sat across from her at the window, silently gazing out as if in a trance. Presently clad in a tighter fitting white plate version of the Wyndian royal soldier getup that all the soldiers wore (basic iron plate with chain mail and a large crimson cloak), he looked a bit more approachable than when he was in that ceremonial outfit. She just wished that for a moment he would look away from that damned window.
Pursing her lips, she flipped back to the beginning of the pamphlet and held it up in front of her in an honest attempt to decipher it. Like it or not, she was going to be representing her country in a few hours and there was no sense worrying about Ethan if he wasn't going to talk anyways.
After consuming a few pages of primarily respectful sap thanking the other side for agreeing to cooperate with her country, she decided to flip to the middle where she assumed most of the important things were. It turned out not what she expected at all.
Rows and rows of incomprehensible equations littered the pages along with the words TAXES AND DEDUCTIONS written in neat calligraphy across the top. Her brow knit and she sighed softly. There was absolutely no way she was going to learn all of this before she reached Ludia, she thought, closing her eyes in a brief attempt to calm her nerves. Where was Chasta with a stupid story when she needed it?
The carriage hit a small bump and she opened them to her new bodyguard lounging across from her. He was still staring out of the window. Annoyance flared. So what if he was a hardened assassin now? He was still her old friend of more years than he was gone and so far he hadn't had the decency to say, "Hey it's been a bit, how have you been?" or any conversation for that matter. Her eyes hovered over his scar. How could he look in the mirror everyday and not remember her?
Hunter green eyes suddenly met hers and she flinched. "I-I'm sorry I just...," she stammered and immediately wished she had kept her mouth shut.
Ethan sat up and to her surprise, smiled back; he really did have a hell of a smile. "No, I think this is more my fault." He scratched his head thoughtfully. "I haven't spoken to you at all, Princess."
She clasped her hands together in her lap and tore her eyes from him to regard the maroon colored plush carriage seat beside her with embarrassment. His politeness was putting a damper on her anger. "It's fine. It's...been a really long time."
"I want to give you my condolences for the Queen," she heard him say after a moment. "It must have been hard for you; you were very close to her."
She looked up. "I should hardly think as close as you and Sir Lucius were. My condolences to you as well," she replied gravely.
Ethan's smile warmed up and he shook his head, "Oh no, there's no need for that. Father died exactly how he was meant to. Word reached me that he didn't let the assassin get away too lightly either."
What he had just said was an understatement, Nina thought. From what her father had told her of what happened, Lucius had stopped a Shydian intruder from stabbing the king while he was in his study, only to take the blade in his own body over thirty times. Yet even after that, he managed to disembowel the assassin before he died. Nina remembered seeing the bloodied bodies being pulled from the room by soldiers after she and Chasta sneaked up to see what all the commotion was. It had only resulted in making her sick; not a memory she wanted to be reminded of.
"I'm just glad nothing happened to you during that period with no guardian. Especially with the birth of Isabella." he said leaning forward and placing his elbows on his knees. He clasped his hands underneath his chin, "I was worried. It was one of the main reasons I trained so hard."
Nina found herself smiling sheepishly and shrugged. Lucius's death had brought on her father's "No going out into the city unless you have no less than thirty guards accompanying you" rule. She hadn't been out since. "What's good now is that you're back...and I can finally go outside," she said, trying to divert the conversation from their deceased parents.
"Yes, His Majesty informed me that this would be the first time in awhile you've left he castle gates. Such a shame. There's so much to see outside those walls." He shook his head.
"Well...It really hasn't been so bad. The outside wouldn't be so pretty with a knife in my back you know," She was grinning now. Talking with him was getting easier the more she heard his voice. It was really only slightly deeper; the essence was still the same. "I still have Chasta...and we find things to keep us entertained around the castle."
"Ah, Chasta. I can imagine you two cause a lot of trouble."
Nina laughed. He must have seen them running through the castle yelling like madwomen earlier. "Really? You think I've become a troublemaker in your absence?" she asked, to her astonishment, almost mischievously.
Ethan gave a half smile. "Your antics come to mind every time I am near any reflective surface." He tapped the bridge of his nose gently. "I believe an older, wiser you might be a bit more dangerous if provoked."
"I wasn't 'provoked'! You went and ki-" She clamped her mouth shut, cheeks red, and stared wide eyed at him. This was exactly what she didn't want to talk about! She decided not to speak until he did.
Unfortunately she didn't have to wait long.
"You've really grown, Princess," Ethan said gently, eyes running over her in a slightly different way than before. It was making her nervous. "It's almost surreal to set eyes on you again."
"That goes for you as well," she blushed harder when he continued to smile that smile at her. She brought part of her hair in front of her shoulder and began running her fingers through it without realizing it.
"I guess I shouldn't be too surprised, nineteen is no twelve after all, is it?" he asked in a smooth, even gentler tone. "And your voice...I've never heard something so amazing... I felt like I was listening to an angel; I couldn't bring myself to look away. You really are a sight to behold, Princess Nina."
Her face was on fire now. What was he getting at? Was he talking to her like that or was Chasta's ridiculously risqué scenarios throwing her mind in the gutter? Her anxious hair combing continued as she stared into his dark eyes without a clue on how to respond to him at all.
In front of people and especially coupled with Chasta's radiating confidence, Nina felt she knew exactly how to deal with the opposite sex. If you looked at them like this and leaned at them like that all while giving the most innocent pout you could, you got almost anything you wanted most of the time without having to really interact with them. At least it worked with soldiers, servant boys and a majority of nobles. However, she had zero experience being one on one with them and being talked to like this...
As a child she was alone with him more times than she could count. Even that day...how had she reacted? Her eyes went yet again to his scar.
The small sliding window that separated them from the driver flew open and broke the silence. "Sir Von Buren, I hate to bother you, but we're approaching the checkpoint. Can you come out here for a bit and talk to the soldiers?"
Ethan leaned back and nodded at him. "Alright, I'll meet you outside," he said inching towards the door as the carriage slowed to a stop in front of a small wooden cabin with the dark blue Ludian lion crested flag stretched across the rooftop. "I'll have to finish talking to you later." Nina felt her face still burning when he nodded at her. "I think for the rest of the trip I'll have to ride out front; Ludia is still not our ally quite yet. I want to make sure I get you there and back in one piece." That smile again. She couldn't find any words, but he didn't seem to care. He merely bowed his head again and proceeded out of the door where he was met with six surly looking Ludian soldiers.
"Greetings, Ludians," He announced cheerfully, giving them a low, respectful bow as they approached, weapons half drawn. "I am Sir Ethan Von Buren, here escorting the Princess of Wyndia to meet with Prince Vahn of Ludia about our treaty. I hope you've received our paperwork via messenger...if not, I have some here."
A few of the soldiers' mouths dropped and their swords lowered. "Ethan Von Buren?" One almost whispered under a thick black mustache.
The door closed and Nina could no longer hear them. She watched from the window. The Ludians were staring at Ethan as if he had three heads as he moved his hands around in what looked to her like a genuine attempt at casual conversation.
That one soldier had said Ethan's name like it was a curse or something, and she wondered what it meant. Her eyes lingered on her bodyguard's seemingly personable smile as he chatted and showed the spooked soldiers loads of papers. What kind of reputation would make these men visibly shake in their boots? Beyond the huddle, she could see others inside of the dingy cabin peeking through ragged navy curtains and pointing.
Reports came in every six months concerning Ethan, and Nina would diligently wait for the messenger every time, prepared for the worst. The AG's main headquarters was located in one of the most dangerous places on the planet: The Western lands of Shyde. Besides being almost entirely covered by sandstorm invested, unforgiving deserts, the major cities were melting pots for the uncouth. Black markets, guilds of bandits, prostitution rings, underground gambling...anything and everything shady was usually what came to mind when the word "Shyde" was mentioned.
Even it's ruler was shifty; a supposed beautiful immortal bandit queen that had never made a public appearance to date. It was said that not even her own kingdom knew what she looked like. High end assassins did her message delivering and were her army. Because they worked in the shadows, no country really knew how many members the military held; only that they had enough to crush most small armies that invaded their country and yet not enough to invade one on their own. What they did know for sure was that they showed no mercy; there was no such thing as being taken a prisoner in Shyde.
The humans were handing Ethan back the papers and stepping away from him, bowing over and over again.
Ethan spent seven years in that land, where they say if you look at someone in the wrong manner you'll get your throat slit no matter how many eyes were watching. Nina watched her guardian smile, scratch his head, and bow back generously.
What all did Ethan see in that horrid place?
Better yet, what all did Ethan do?
He turned and headed back to the carriage, hopped into the air and flew to the front seat. Nina looked up when he sat down and motioned at her through the driver's window. "Looks like it's another two hours until we get to castle Ludia. Are you going to be alright back there by yourself?" he asked and she blushed.
"Y-yea...of course I'll be fine," she lied, wanting him back there with her to finish whatever conversation he was trying to have with her earlier.
"Alright, Princess you just relax and watch the scenery. Ludia is actually nice this time of year." Nina nodded and was disappointed to see him close the window so soon.
"I guess I'll have to..." She sighed and slumped back against the side window as the carriage slowly pulled forward past the checkpoint and the staring soldiers and into Ludian territory.
Ludia didn't really look that impressive to Nina. It was probably because she was spoiled by Wyndia's flowers, she knew, but all Ludia seemed to offer were normal forests and boring looking plains with dreadful, dull, non unique looking human peasants everywhere. She eyed a shabby farmhouse that had two elderly women in rags sitting out on a porch, smoking long, skinny pipes and eying her back with cold, menacing stares. Nina shuddered.
Humans hated Wyndians, it was a simple fact. Wyndians had wings. They didn't.
Another farmhouse crept into view with more perturbed bystanders outside. She averted her eyes.
She had been to castle Ludia once before, at the age of ten before any of the fighting in her lifetime had occurred, in a meeting the eastern world leaders held. Prince Vahn of Ludia was a child then as well; he was probably only a few years older than her. She distinctly remembered her first encounter with him. He came up to her while she was playing in some flowers waiting for her father in the courtyard after the meeting, and told her in a dreamy, far off voice that she looked like an angel. The way he was looking at her had been unsettling even at such a young age, and anytime afterwards when she would see him around, he would stare the same way, with no regard for discreetness. At the time, she had considered it peculiar, but now she thought maybe it was flattering. After all, he had requested that she, and only she, be the one that came to discuss the treaty with him, maybe that one unintentional good impression would help her out.
They passed the outside farmland areas and were now heading into one of the normal looking forests. Nina thought "normal" only because Wyndia was a huge step in the other direction. Due to an excess of natural magic in the air, her country's sparse forests were filled with horrifying monsters that fed on the flesh of anything living and trees that moved of their own accord. Towns had to be built outside a fifty mile radius of any wooded area in order to minimize the chance of attacks. Ludia's forests actually had cute forest creatures and tall oak trees that did little but blow in the wind.
She leaned her forehead against the window and watched a squirrel skitter up the trunk of a large one before she felt her eyes lose focus and her mind slowly drift away.
"You really are a sight to behold, Princess."
She smiled to herself and wondered smugly if he was thinking of her as well.
Ludia city came before she was expecting it.
At the first sight of the large stone gate with two huge carved lions guarding either side, her mind snapped back to reality.
"Gods, the treaty!" she groaned, grabbing it from beside her and throwing it open. Her fingers tore through the pages and her brain tried to take in whatever was not a number.
"Okay so...Ludia wants it so that we sell them produce at a cheaper price because the deserts of Shyde are spreading over into the country and killing the farmlands," she read aloud. "Oh, well that's no good... and...we aren't allowed to question a Ludian soldier if he wishes to come into any Wyndian residence for safety...okay..." She flipped more pages desperately. "Ludia will cease manning ambush points on the outskirts of Wyndian territory to attack travelers if the Princess of Wyndia agrees to-"
Ethan slid open the driver window and she lost her place in a nervous scramble. "The soldiers will need to see inside the coach, princess. They want to make sure we aren't sneaking anything in we shouldn't be." He flashed a smile, she nodded automatically.
"O-Of course." She looked down at the book again and he shut the window. "Damn..." She flipped back and forth a few pages searching for her name. Why was her name in there anyways? Was that why she was asked to come?
The carriage stopped and the door opened, bringing Nina face to face with two Ludian soldiers against a background of bright sunlight. One removed his helmet and bowed a sandy blonde head at her. "My apologizes, Princess Nina, but I must ask you to allow us to inspect the area." He had a cheerful face. The other soldier reached out and extended a thick hand for her to take.
"As you wish," she said, nodding to him and was helped out of the carriage.
The young blonde soldier leaned down and started patting the tops and sides of the puffy seats, muttering "Check!" over and over again.
"Sorry 'bout this. Is jus' routine," rumbled the other soldier beside Nina. She glanced up past his tall, burly form and into his intense brown eyes, staring at her from behind the metal grates of the helmet he was still wearing. Did he really have to look at her like that? Hadn't he ever seen a Wyndian before?
"It's no problem, I suppose-H-hey!" she yelped when she felt something grasp the top of her left wing.
Ethan was there in seconds, blade drawn and eyes blazing. "I don't think it's any routine to touch the Princess of Wyndia like that," he sneered through thin-lips, pulling her behind him and bringing his sword tip to the soldier's bulging adam's apple.
"Aye, I'm just checkin' ta see if she's really a Wyndian, man. Put the sword away 'aight? I was tol' ta do that. I ain't tryin' to mess wit' no high class royalty...'" he said putting his hand on the flat of the blade and giving Nina a little smirk. She made a disgusted face.
Ethan grunted and lowered his blade. "Well, whoever told you to do that, doesn't understand Wyndians," he snapped, motioning for the gawking blonde soldier to get out of the way and ushering Nina back into the coach.
"Fast...," she heard the soldier mutter with his eyes on the ground.
"Inform your prince that we have arrived. If you are prompt, I'll think twice about mentioning your atrocious behavior."
"I tol' you I was ordered ta do that!"
Ethan shut the coach door and took his seat up front again while the big soldier continued to plea outside. The horses whinnied and the carriage pulled off into the city.
Nina crossed her arms and glared at the soldier through the window until he was out of view. Anyone who knew anything knew that the wings on a Wyndian were not something just anyone had the permission to lay hands on. "Ugh, and I'm the damn princess!" she fumed. The only other person to have ever touched her wings was...
"I promise my life to you...Princess Nina Valentina Wynlan of Wyndia..."
To her disappointment, she didn't have time to reminisce; her coach was being surrounded by crowds of Ludian citizens.
Ludia's main city was a very lively place. Market stalls were on every corner with men and women alike showing off wares and haggling loudly with the public. Children in dirty rags and no shoes played on the cobblestone roadways, kicking balls or chasing each other through the crowds with wooden swords, yelling and laughing. It would have been entertaining to watch, had they continued with their routine. Scores of people were losing interest in the merchants and were now staring at the royal coach with a mixture of emotions. A few looked as if they were yelling, Nina was glad she couldn't hear them.
Not wanting to provoke anyone any more than she apparently had, she took her gaze to a mural of a tall blonde man raising a glowing hand into the air to a celebrating army. Bit narcissistic there.
Castle Ludia stood tall or rather loomed over the city with its gothic structured dark brown, almost black towers that looked as though they belonged more on a church out of a horror story. All along the edges of the rooftops were statues of the Goddess bursting from the building, clutching large intricate bouquets of roses.
After traveling down a ridiculously long driveway lined with vibrant red rose bushes, the castle came fully into view and Nina gazed at it until they pulled up to yet another crowd of people. She was relieved to see these humans smiling.
Her door opened and handmaids rushed to kneel on either side as she exited with the help of a handsome dark haired man in important looking blue robes. They reflected a shimmering pattern of lions in the sunlight and she wondered if it was the same kind of material as her dress. He let go of her hand and bowed respectfully. She noticed smart looking small round glasses on the top of his head. "Hello Princess Nina of Wyndia, I am Prince Vahn's head adviser, Nichol Talbot," he said when he came back up. "It's very nice to meet you!" He gave a warm smile and kept his bright blue eyes on her. "I hope your travels were well."
"It's nice to meet you as well, Adviser Talbot." She nodded, returning his smile. She didn't really know how to act in front of such important people without her father there to guide her, she was always told to just stand and look attractive while he did all the talking. She figured being extremely polite while looking attractive couldn't hurt. "We arrived here with no trouble at all." She mentally added Nichol to the list of things to tell Chasta about when she got back. Strange to see such a young adviser these days, but then she remembered the king of Ludia had recently fallen ill, and the prince had basically taken over. He probably wanted an adviser closer to his age.
Ethan walked up beside her. "Actually I would like to have a word with you about the behavior of one of your guards near the entrance of the city," he said sternly, and Nina felt anger flare up again at the reminder.
Nichol blinked and nodded so briskly, his glasses fell down from his hair. His nose caught them and he chuckled. "Of course, of course, we can talk about anything you like just as soon as Prince Vahn gets here-"
"Are you trying to hog all of the princess' precious time for yourself, Nichol?" a flamboyant voice called from the stairway leading into the castle.
Nina looked over to see a tall, pale skinned man with long blonde hair bound low and sitting on his left shoulder walk towards them shaking his head, his long bangs blowing in the breeze.
"Oh Vahn, don't be so stingy! I wanted to meet her as well!" Nichol cried pushing his glasses into place.
The prince came closer. Nina took a good look at him.
Last time she saw him, he was a kid and she really only remembered that he was blonde with blue eyes. She thought she remembered long hair from before too. Like Ethan, Prince Vahn was a man now and actually was...decently handsome...if the fact he could be called pretty at the right angle was ignored. He wore a simple outfit of black pants and a white collared shirt that was slightly unbuttoned at the top, with a blue Ludian scarf tied loosely around his neck, but the crispness and sleekness of everything screamed expensive. So did the platinum cuffs she saw glinting in the afternoon sun when he raised his hand. She gave him an approving smile, concluding that at least he could dress well. He batted long eyelashes at her. "Well now, let's have a look at you."
To her surprise and embarrassment, he began walking around her, eyeballing her as if he had ordered her out of a catalog. "Hmm...yes... Even more enchanting then I anticipated...," he murmured gently, nodding and keeping one hand on his chin. She felt her ears burn when he stopped in front of her, gaze lingering on her in a very familiar manner. She cleared her throat.
He shook his head as if snapping out of a trance and approached her, reaching for her hand and taking it in his gently. His thumb brushed across the top of it. Pale blue eyes met hers and he smiled. "Such beautiful hands too... Tell me, are you sure you aren't an angel? I thought only they had such perfect porcelain skin, " he breathed, touching his lips to it.
The burn flushed over her and she pulled her hand away as daintily as she could, using it to cover her mouth while she giggled as girlishly as her nerves allowed. Geez that look. "You are too flattering, Prince Vahn," she said smiling charmingly, "Now, shall we go inside to discuss the treaty? I should hate to take up too much of your time."
Prince Vahn flashed a sparkling grin Nina felt was too much for the occasion. "Oh, you want to get right down to business, I see!" he cried leading her by the shoulder through lines of handmaidens and royal guards and up the stairway to the castle's entrance. "Right this way, the council is waiting."
Nina looked back at Ethan who was talking with Nichol again about the soldier probably. The anxious grumbling in her stomach lessened. At least Ethan would make sure this guy didn't get too close; she hoped.
"Princess I hope you are noticing the mysterious and artistic decor of castle Ludia," Prince Vahn gushed over-dramatically, extending his arms out as they walked into the castle's main hallway. "My family has favored gothic art and roses for generations. Is it to your liking?"
To appease him, Nina gave the hallway a once around. The style was the same as the outside, except now, portraits of the Ludian family with frames of carved roses lined the walls. What was the big deal? She thought looking back at his expectant face. Wyndia had the same scheme, just brighter and more modern, and there weren't so many lanterns with actual wax candles in them. "It really is an amazing piece of work," she replied smiling and nodding at him, "These carvings of the Goddess are absolutely amazing. It's like shes...actually here or, something..." She bit her bottom lip thinking maybe that was a little too far.
The prince clasped his hands together dramatically and she exhaled. "I knew you would enjoy it! It's a shame, I was going to give you a tour of it before the meeting, but you seem to have your priorities on the right track! I'm glad you at least have enough class to appreciate the bigger picture even by just seeing a little bit," he fawned, leaning in too close to her. She wondered why Ethan wasn't stopping him. He was still talking with the adviser, not paying her a bit of attention.
They reached the Ludian tactics room and Nina was brought inside to a seat at the end of a long table with four older robed men who all had their wrinkled eyes on her sitting around it. She felt her heart beat faster when Prince Vahn placed a hand on her shoulder. "Councilmen, I give you Princess Nina Valentina Wynlan of Wyndia," The prince announced, taking a seat to the left of her and motioning for her to do the same.
Nina bowed and complied. The councilmen continued to stare at her silently, so she smiled as sweetly as she could and pulled out the pamphlet her father gave her.
This was it, her first diplomatic endeavor.
She would start out with something smart, something about the treaty; that was sure to impress them.
Assuming they would eventually want to go over the whole thing, she plopped the huge pack of papers down on the table and opened it to the first page, placing a shaking finger on the first bullet. "Greetings, Ludian councilmen. I am honored to be here to discuss these important matters." She said as articulately as she could, giving another adorable smile.
"Now the first matter of business, I see, is the taxes on produce grown in Wyndian farmlands and shipped over into Ludian territory. I believe that the course of action we should go is..." She felt the prince's dainty hand on her forearm.
"Princess Nina, I'm sorry, but...we've already gone over all of that with your father," he said reaching for her pamphlet and sliding it slowly out from under her bewildered stare, "We're here to discuss the engagement." He handed it off to a soldier behind him who in turn tossed it into a wastebasket behind him.
Nina blinked at him. If her father had already discussed things with him, why was she there? Her eyes glanced over at her at the can on the floor. Did they really just trash her pamphlet?
She pondered "engagement".
The councilman on the other end of the table twisted his long silvery beard around a bony finger and peered at her through thick wire rimmed spectacles. "Sign the papers, princess. That's all we need you to do," he wheezed.
"Excuse me?" she asked looking from the old man to Prince Vahn and then around the room at the rest of the councilmen who were all staring at her with equally intense eyes. "I-I'm sorry, I'm not understanding what's going on here..."
Vahn placed a new paper in front of her that had one long paragraph and then a line at the bottom for a signature. A pen rolled down the paper and bumped her hand as she read aloud.
"Sign here to acknowledge that the treaty of Ludia and Wyndia will only be in full effect when the engagement of Princess Nina Valentina Wynlan of Wyndia and Prince Jonathan Vahn Ludias of Ludia ends in...marriage," she read slowly.
Seconds passed and the words sunk in.
"Marriage?" she shrieked standing up and whirling around to Ethan who was leaning against the wall behind her picking at his fingernails. "Ethan! What is this'!'?" He continued on his nails and Nina's stomach fell. "...Ethan?"
Prince Vahn tugged on Nina's arm and shoved the pen into her hand when she turned to him. "Princess, it would be better if you cooperated," he said in a sickeningly sweet voice, "All we need is your signature and everything will be in order. Your quarters will be ready in five days. On the sixth, we'll marry and the treaty will be initiated."
Living with him in five days and married by the sixth? Nina's brain struggled to take everything in.
"I-I-I'm sorry but there has to have been some mistake," she stammered trying to step back. The prince held tight. She felt her legs start to wobble. "I-I didn't agree to anything! I mean...I..." An annoyed flair in his eyes made her think twice about what she was going to say next.
One thing she knew, was that she had to calm down. This was in front of a whole council of important people and the prince of an entire country. One wrong move could send Wyndia deeper into a war it wasn't ready for. She tried desperately to slow her heart by closing her eyes and forcing herself to breathe deeper.
"There's been no mistake, Princess." Vahn said guiding her hand with the pen down to the paper. "You've already been promised to me. Now be a good girl and give me your signature. There's no sense in all of this unnecessary drama."
Promised to him? Good girl? Nina's brow furrowed. What was going on? Was she really being forced to agree to marry this twerp? Her mind raced while the council's eyes continued to burn holes through her. Her own swiveled back down to the paper.
If she didn't sign it, there was no agreement. She had to somehow get back home without touching it; There had to be some way to talk some sense into her father.
But what would she do?
"Princess, I implore you to think of the welfare of your people." pleaded Vahn, leaning down inches from her, "As well as my own burning desire for you." He added in a whisper only to her, ending with a nip to her earlobe and a squeeze to her hips. It took everything not to slug him.
Ok now Nina knew he was a pervert and she wondered how he even thought that was something appropriate to do to a woman he technically just met, nevermind a princess.
She continued to resist his now not so gentle hand guidance.
"Princess Nina, I should think this is an easy task," The elderly man to the right of her mumbled in an ornery tone, while picking up a coffee cup and taking a long sip. She shot him a glare.
Maybe if she held her breath for long enough she would pass out.
She exhaled all the breath she could and prayed that because she was the Princess someone would catch her before she killed herself on the side of the table.
"Princess, it is your duty to sign this..."
She tried to count in her head while staring at the paper.
(...As the future queen of Ludia, Princess Nina will agree to fulfill every wish and desire of Prince Vahn's with no question...)
Numbers bounced around along a vision of her kicking Vahn in the crotch until he bawled.
Prince Vahn jostled her arm. "Princess, are you listening to me? I need you to sign this paper right..."
His voice faded out and blackness closed in.
The next thing she knew, she was lying on the ground in Ethan's arms. He was gently fanning her face with something, repeating "Princess Nina wake up!" She slowly opened her eyes to see a blurry red mass above her.
"Is she alright? Is my fiance going to be alright?" Prince Vahn's frantic voice floated in.
"Princess...Are you alright? What happened?" Ethan asked softly when she blinked a few times to clear her vision. "Princess Nina...," He pushed her bangs from her face and she stared back at him, thoughts clouded.
Before she could finish thinking the phrase "what the hell happened?", memories flooded back at full force and she immediately groaned like she was in pain. The prince ran over and dropped to the floor near her. "What's wrong, my love? Are you ill?" His girlish face came into view.
Nina whimpered and nodded weakly. "I...feel so...weak...," she almost whispered, turning towards Ethan and grasping at his cloak. "Ethan...I want to go home..."
"Alright. " He said putting his arm under her legs and hoisting her up. "Let's get you home, then. Maybe the trip was too much for you; it's been awhile since you've been out of the castle." She tried to hide a blush when he pulled her close; his aftershave smelled so amazing...
"Wait! She has to sign this!" Prince Vahn cried jumping up and snatching the paper off of the table. "I won't have you leave without signing this!" He waved it in front of Ethan.
Nina gave an exaggerated sigh. "Ethan I feel...faint...," she murmured, pretending it was hard to keep her eyes open.
Her guardian shook his head at the prince. "I'm sorry, but we'll have to do this another day. She is in no condition to comprehend anything it looks like. If she is indeed ill, she'll need to get back to Wyndia to rest."
Vahn sighed and returned everything to the table reluctantly. "Alright, make sure she gets well soon. In two days I want her to come back here for lunch and she will sign that paper." He ran a hand through his long bangs and Nina closed her eyes completely. "Also, It would be in Wyndia's best interest for her to behave on her next visit," he muttered haughtily.
"Yes, Your Majesty," Ethan bowed sharply.
Nina didn't hear anymore voices until they were outside of the castle and out in the cool wind. Ethan said goodbye to Nichol and Vahn and somewhere in between, she felt a hand caress her face. She was pretty sure she knew who's it was.
"Take care, my love," Vahn whispered in her ear. "I'll see you in a few days."
She was put in the coach and left there to rest as the carriage began its long trip back to Wyndia.
The entire ride back, Nina didn't dare move. She wanted Ethan to think she was so exhausted that maybe he would mention to her father the day after tomorrow would be a terrible day for her to sign her life away.
She tried to fight back tears forming in her eyes but a few stubborn ones slipped through and ran down her face as her mind raced with thoughts of what the hell she was going to do.
Prince Vahn was a creep and she didn't want to be anywhere near him ever again. She couldn't believe what he had done, even though it occurred to her that in his mind she was probably already his wife. Her fists clenched. Why did this have to happen right when Ethan came back? Did her father do this on purpose? Didn't he know that the only person she had ever wanted to be with was Ethan?
Her watery eyes widened at the end of that thought.
Was that what she really wanted? Did she even know Ethan anymore? How could she feel like she wanted to spend the rest of her life with him?
More tears fell onto the plush seat. "Anything would be better than this...," she muttered bitterly into the fabric.
By the Goddess, her father had a lot to answer for.