Sanaki sighed, looking out her window to the crowded streets below where her loyal subjects were celebrating her birthday. It was only right, she was 16, old enough to be married and more than that her people loved her. Still, she turned from window, none of it felt...real.

She remembered how Sephiran had celebrated her birthday. The senator would, after the festivities, take her upstairs and give her a gift, it was always small, but at least it meant something. He would kiss her forehead in a fatherly manner and sing the happy birthday song that he claimed his mother had taught him. It had sounded like a spell and now, three years later she realized that it was a galdr that had lost all its power. The young empress felt tears building behind her eyes and took several deep breaths, she was a woman now, and full grown women did not cry at the memory of a lullaby.

Sanaki brushed out her hair and, when Sigrun knocked on her door ready to escort the birthday girl to her feast, presented a dry face that was the epitome of calm.
"Are you alright, Empress?" The commander asked with motherly affection. Sanaki gave her a small smile and nodded.
"I'm fine, Sigrun." Sanaki half-lied, "I was just...thinking."
"What about?" the woman asked as she lead her charge down the stairs.
"Duke Sephiran." the young woman answered, "How he used to celebrate my birthday." Sigrun sighed sadly and opened the doors to the great hall, presenting Sanaki to a room full of people who all claimed to love her.

Dinner passed far too slowly for Sanaki's taste. She ate very little, feeling almost sick at the false smiles of people who only wanted to curry favor with the Empress. Senators sons who flirted with her, hoping to secure her hand in marriage and therefore power within the country. She looked around from her high seat, and smiled. Her eyes landed on a bright orange cloak beside a green tail. Tormod and Maurim were sitting in the middle of the hall, alone because prejudice was hard to fight. The young mage was in a heated argument she couldn't hear with some young man or another.

She felt a smile drift to her lips. A genuine one, not the fake stone smile of a statue. It was warm and nearly threatened to split her face in two and she giggled against her will in a most undignified fashion. At her left hand, a senator gave her a disapproving look.
"Is something the matter Empress?" He asked. She shook her head.
"No, just...thinking." she said, taking a spoonful of soup and watching as Tormod's gestures became more animated. Whatever it was that he was arguing against, he was certainally impassioned about it. Sanaki reflected with a smile, it was probably Laguz rights, though the hapless cretin he was arguing with clearly hadn't said "sub-human" yet, Tormod hadn't set him on fire yet. Though the Empress could tell that it was on the young Sage's mind.

The feasting ended, and the dancing began. Sanaki politely declined, feigning exhaustion. She bid her people a loving "goodnight" and thanked them all for their kind words. Then she returned to her chambers. She slumped over on her bed, restless, but unwilling to subject herself to more false smiles.

How she longed for someone who would put aside the titles and just talk to her. Treat her as an equal. She smiled fondly at the memories of several years back, when General Ike had made a point of not treating her any different. At their first meeting he had treated her like an irritating child, and, no matter how much she resented it at the time, she missed it. She missed being treated like everyone else. Was there no one in Begnion who would treat her like a human being instead of a Goddess? A mischievious smile fitted itself on her slender lips. There was at least one.

Mind made up with the kind of determination that only 16 year old girls can manage, Sanaki tied her silken sheets together and began to scale the wall, escaping her bedroom. It was exciting to say the least. She could feel her heart pounding in her chest, a mixture of adrenaline-induced endorphins and panic as her feet made contact with the pavement. She doubted he would have remained at the party, so the young empress made her way through the shadows to the house Tormod and Maurim were staying in.

"Knock. Knock." She rapped smartly on the door. Glancing around nervously, worried that someone would spot her.
"Coming." she heard him shout as he pulled open the door. The mage stared at her for a moment blinking as his brain tried to register that the apostle (who had earlier retired because she was "tired") was standing, alone, in front of his house.
"Sanaki?" Tormod asked, gesturing for her to enter. "What are you doing here? I thought you were tired."
"I was." she answered carefully, sitting down in one of the chairs before the fire. "Tired of the fake smiles, of people doing nothing but trying to curry favor with me."
"I bet that gets old quickly." Tormod replied, he plopped down next to her, "How'd you get here?"
"I walked."
"From the Cathedral..."
"Without being seen."
"I believe so." she laughed. Tormod nearly collapsed,
"Wow! You've got to be even sneakier than Sothe now!"

They sat there talking for another hour, switching between current events in Begnion back to reminiscing about both wars.
"What were you arguing about this evening anyway, Tormod?" Sanaki asked, sipping at the tea Maurim had prepared. Tormod turned a deep red and looked into his cup.
"Er..." he said, "Senator Chevelair's son and interest..." his voice dropped off into almost nothing, "inyourhandinmarriage." the blushing fire sage muttered incoherently. Sanaki blinked.
"And you fought with him over that."
"More or less..."
"Tormod..." she said, with a smile. He looked up and her. With a beaming smile she took both his hands in hers and kissed him on the cheek.
"Thank you."
"For what?" He said, an even brighter red. He squeezed her hands, "Sanaki...I..."

"Knock. Knock." The door interrupted what I'm sure would have been a touching confession of love. Tormod let out a groan and (rather unwillingly and hesitantly) let go of Sanaki to answer the door. Captain Tanith was standing there, looking like her usual mildly-irritated self.
"Empress." she said politely, "Its time to go home."
" did you know where I was?" the rather stunned teenager asked,
"You weren't in your chambers when Si- Commander Sigrun and I went to wish you goodnight. There weren't very many other places to check." With a kind of restrained sigh, Sanaki stood up and walked to the door.
"Thank you for a lovely evening, Tormod." She said, donning her usual calm expression. Tormod smiled and gave her a quick (and rather awkward and blushing) kiss on the cheek.
"Happy Birthday, Sanaki." he whispered. Sanaki turned bright red and managed to contain her squeal and giggle until she was on the back of Tanith's pegasus.

It had been a rather happy birthday after all.