What am I doing? WHAT AM I DOING?! …Oh, this is gonna be SO EPIC…
Dedication: To Caitlin and Eleni and Xena. AIR KISSES. LOVE ME. Oh, yeah, and my mom, for helping me pound the plot-line out.
P.S.: Take a guess at who the story-teller is. ;)
It is a cold night. There is a group of people, sitting in a circle, around a burnt-out fire-pit, in the dark. A scent of smoke lingers in the air; smoke, cooked meat, and the coming rain. It is a quiet night.
She is seated among them, morose as they, yet somehow more tired, more lost, more broken. More worldly, they all suppose, for she is quiet for much of the time she is with them.
When she is not quiet, however, they will listen.
She is not a great beauty; short dark hair, sharp dark eyes, dangerous dark smile. She opens her mouth - it commands respect; the people around this fire-pit are gypsies, and gypsies always respect a true storyteller.
This girl is one such storyteller, and they know she has the ability to paint pictures in the air with her voice, and with the stories she creates. They always seem… to come alive.
She smiles slowly, and says "Myths are tales, and tales are stories. Gather 'round, children, and I will tell you a tale of great sadness, great fear, and above all, great love.
It begins many, many years ago, in a very different world then the one we're in now…"
Lady Haruno Sakura, princess of the land of Fire, stood on a balcony, over-looking the busy noon-day market. She was a very pretty princess - vibrant green eyes (rare, so rare), alabaster skin (as is proper, on a princess), pretty smile, and, to top it off, soft, bright pink hair (kept short, cut to her shoulders; not so becoming on a princess -as long hair was the fashion of the day-, but her last fencing partner cut her ponytail off, on accident. Her Majesty, the Queen, was not pleased, to say the least.
The princess, however, was delighted, and proceeded to throw a party.)
The girl looked, to put it mildly, bored. Dressed like the lovely lady she was -in a lovely-lovely green dress, to match her lovely-lovely green eyes-, she looked absolutely, utterly bored. A sigh escaped her lips, and she leaned against the railing, desperate to make it down to the market, and get out of that horrid dress.
A quiet bubble of laughter popped behind her, and she started in surprise.
She did not draw the sword that was hanging at her side, but only because she knew that laugh. Hinata.
"Ai-yai-yai, must you scare me like that all the time, girl?"
Hinata nodded, slightly deadpan. "Y-Yes, Sakura-hime."
They had been friends long enough that Sakura rolled her eyes. "Hinata, you don't need to stutter around me. Save it for my parents. Or for a knight."
The flush that crept across Hinata's face was unmistakable. She said "You're a b-bad friend. I d-don't know why I put u-up with you."
Sakura sighed. "Hinata, please, drop it. I'm… not in the mood."
Hinata sighed right back at her. "Fine. But stop playing the martyr. Nothing is going to happen tonight. You're parents are going to let you off. Like always."
Sakura shook her head grimly. "Not according to what Karin was saying. Apparently, my mother is desperate to marry me off."
"We've known that for like, years. What are you worried about?"
"I'm worried that she might actually push it, this time."
"Why? You're the only heir, what on earth are you worried about?!"
"That's exactly it!" Sakura muttered, exasperated. "I'm the only heir. And you know how my mother is! She's been plotting grandchildren since the day I was born!"
Hinata, as Sakura's oldest friend, and advisor, had heard this speech many, many a time. And really, she was starting to get bored of it. But, then, she did understand - being a noble girl -single heir or not- was a pain in the ass.
"Sakura, it'll be fine. We're not on the brink of war. Actually, we're kind of in the middle of a peaceful era! You're only sixteen; you're not an old maid yet."
Sakura muttered ungratefully under her breath "I'd rather be an old maid then marry any one of those idiots my parents have tried to set me up with…"
"C'mon, they weren't… that bad…"
"Do you remember Lee?! Do you?!"
Hinata winced, and tried not to remember that particular suitor. Besides the constant proclamations of undying love, and 'youth' (youth, of all things - really?!), he had just been… Really, really weird.
Sakura was still ranting. "-Even my mother was wincing at the thought of our children. All I will say is: 'Pink. Bowl. Cuts!' Are you okay with that image, Hinata?! Are you?! No! Of course you're not, because it's-"
Really, when it got like this, Hinata had learned to let Sakura rage and rage herself into oblivion; the faster she burnt the indignity of it all off, the better.
Sakura may have been childish, but she was a good political strategist. Hinata knew it, the kind and queen knew it, for god's sake, the whole freakin' city knew it.
Which was one of the only reasons Sakura's parents hadn't yet forced the girl into a very, very unhappy marriage (probably to a man twice her age, and if that wasn't creepy, what was?!).
A marriage that was not beneficial to Sakura would not be beneficial to the kingdom, and anything that was not beneficial to the kingdom was -to an extent- a liability to the kingdom. And if something was a liability to the kingdom, it could, theoretically, be detrimental to the kingdom.
And things detrimental to the kingdom had to be removed; like how it was better to cut out an open sore, rather then to let it fester below the skin. The kingdom must flourish - it must flourish at all costs.
Therefore, Sakura had to flourish. And for Sakura to flourish, she had to be kept happy.
"-And then there was- Hinata, are you listening to my rant of doom?"
"No, not really," the lovely, indigo-haired girl said, while inspecting her nails. Hm, they needed a cut, soon…
"Asgjkl, Hi-na-ta! You're a terrible friend! You're supposed to be sympathizing with me-e-e-e!"
Hinata stared her best friend straight in the eyes, dead serious. To some, Hinata's pale-moon-lilac eyes were unnerving. To Sakura -who often had death glares sent her way from those same pale-moon-lilac eyes- was not.
"Sakura," Hinata said. "You are my best friend, and I know you better then you know yourself. I also know you have to talk yourself through these things, and that nothing I say or do will change the outcome. What you think is what you think. Now, please, do shut up, come inside, and get dressed."
Sakura looked slightly panicked, as she remembered the ball that night (in honour of her sixteenth birthday - could it get any more cliché?). So she whined.
Because that always seemed to work, for some reason… Especially with the guard… "Hi-na-ta-"
Hinata sighed, and put on the biggest, saddest pair of puppy dog eyes she owned, and the most pitiful pout in her arsenal. "Sakura, please?" she whispered, fake despair leaking into the words.
Sakura didn't even last a minute. She took one look at Hinata's almost-crying face, sighed in resignation, and let her oldest friend pull her into the castle's thick-stone walls.
"Fine," she muttered, annoyed.
Hinata just smiled quietly to herself. She always won.
It took Hinata three hours to fully get Sakura ready for the ball.
Three. Bloody. Hours.
This, of course, included choosing a pretty-pretty dress (Sakura choose black. Hinata vetoed it. Sakura choose grey. Hinata vetoed it. Grumbling, Sakura choose the only other choice, a floaty white thing made mostly of lace. Hinata smiled, and helped her put it on), doing Sakura's short, bright pink hair (hair pulling, curlers, and violence, to say the least), and, of course, the dreaded make-up.
Both Sakura and Hinata felt it was better to not think about that last one.
When they were both finally ready (it took Hinata all of five minutes to make herself beautiful, in a pale-moon-grey dress, hair laced into an elaborate twist. Sakura rolled her eyes at the unfairness of it all), the waited at the top of the Grand Staircase, to gracefully float down the stairs into the ball room.
Sakura was much in favour of skipping out of it altogether, and going and practicing her fencing against the pages in the barracks.
Hinata did not approve.
"I did not spend three hours of my day making you gorgeous for you to screw it up, okay?!" Hinata hissed in Sakura's ear, as they waited for their signal. "I will kill you if you screw your prettiness up tonight. I will let Ino at you if you screw this up!"
Sakura pretended not to be terrified, and thus, for once, did as she was told.
A trumpet sounded, and the two girls took that as their entrance. They floated down the stairs, Sakura first, Hinata a half-step behind her, head slightly bowed. They were in the public eye, and suddenly, they were not equal friends, but Princess and Lady-In-Waiting - and this made all the difference.
They made it down the stairs without mishap, and when the two of them touched flat ground, a dull roar of applause hit them.
The two girls smiled beatifically around at the faceless mass of strangers - mostly nobles, with certain rich merchants thrown into the mix, and waited for the music to start, and for the group of noble girls they called friends to find them.
Ino found them first.
Ino was beautiful - had Sakura been a boy, it would have been likely that they would have been engaged. Long, fashionable blonde hair, big blue eyes, full, cupid's bow lips, and a pixie's nose completed the image of scandalous perfection.
"There you ladies are! I was worried that I would have all these gorgeous boys to myself!" she exclaimed loudly, and threw her arms around Sakura.
To Sakura, she muttered, quietly "Kill me now, my mother is preaching about what I'm wearing again…"
"Shut up, you're a slut, you know you deserve it," Sakura murmured back with a polite smile.
"I hate you."
"Are we still spending the night up in the North Tower?"
Thank you, god." Ino murmured reverently in her ear for the last time, before withdrawing, and putting a polite distance between the two.
Sakura looked up, and saw that the rest of her friends were standing around her in a circle. Hinata and Ino, of course; Temari -the blonde-haired, teal-eyed, smirking genius daughter of the genius alchemist that worked for Sakura's father-; Tenten -an orphaned noble girl from the south, who'd been living in the castle since both she and Sakura had turned ten years old-; and Karin.
Sakura nearly threw herself at her cousin. "I haven't seen you in ages!"
The red-headed girl pushed her glasses up her nose. "You saw me earlier today, stupid."
"…Oh, yeah. Never mind, then."
Karin looked at Hinata. "She didn't get her dose of fighting, today, did she?"
Hinata rolled her eyes, the sweet smile fixed on her lips for the benefit of the people not in the group of girls. "If you count fighting with me over her hair, then yes. If not… then no."
Karin shook her head, quite sadly. "I'm sorry, Hinata, that you have to deal with her. I wouldn't."
Hinata smiled. "Oh, I'll get my revenge, someday."
"Hey!" Sakura said indignantly. "Rude to princesses, here!"
Tenten grinned. "Sorry sweetie, we just don't really care."
And the night wore on, banter between the girls light and airy; happy thoughts filled their heads and hearts, and laughter came easily. The room was lit by roaring fires, and thousands of candles, flickering and flickering all over the walls, casting shadows and playing games.
It was a night meant for fun.
It was not a night where the dark matters that were weighing on all of their minds had the right to exist; tonight was a night to make merry.
And besides; they did not discuss such things in public.
Those things were kept in the safety of the North Tower; Sakura's personal refuge since childhood. It was the only safe place to speak of such matters, and they all knew it. Marriage, actually, was normally one such topic.
But not tonight.
"Gentlemen, Lords and Ladies… the King!" called a herald, and the room quieted.
The King stood; red hair and beard flaming, bright blue eyes twinkling, he stared at his Court, picking out the familiar pink head of his only child. "Sakura," he called. "Come here, child."
Sakura smiled to herself. She may not have liked attention, but she did rather love her father. He had always been the driving force in her life; Sakura's mother was beautiful and serene, but quiet, a motherly hovering always on the edge of Sakura's conscious.
But Sakura's father…
He was an entirely different story. He was the first one to teach her how to use a sword, he was the first person to let her ride a horse astride, he was the first to- to- to let her be herself.
So she walked up to the raised dais he was standing on, head held high, and then proceeded to throw her arms around him.
He laughed, and swung her around, arms tight around her. "You'll always be my little girl," he murmured into her ear. "Always."
"And you'll always be my daddy," Sakura whispered back.
Of course, the Court was 'aw-ing', as was right and proper.
After the King put Sakura down, he did two things. One, he kept an arm around his daughter's shoulders, and two, he threw the other arm out, and waved for something.
Sakura blinked, when a squire-boy (she knew him; they had crossed swords once or twice… or eight times… or twelve…) came up, a reverent look upon his face. He was carrying a long, slender black case.
And Sakura knew, she just knew what her father had gotten for her.
"My Court!" her father called. "Today is my daughter's sixteenth birthday! In a year's time, she will be old enough to wed, but tonight - tonight we celebrate her birth, sixteen years ago!"
He paused, and looked down at her. "Daughter," he said, his blue eyes merry, "Tonight, I am gifting you with this sword. I know you have long wanted it."
Sakura was breathless with anticipation as her father opened the black velvet case. Inside, nestled against blood red silk, was the most beautiful sword Sakura had ever seen. It was the sword that had, for the longest time, been Sakura's dream; made of bright, strong steel, double-edged, with a hand and a half hilt, and a golden guard.
Inscribed along the blade was Sakura's personal motto - "A blade-dream for all those who dance with steel", and, when she tested her thumb against the double-edged blade, she cut through skin.
Sakura stared up at her father, her eyes round, and made of liquid emerald. "Thank you, Father," was all she managed to say.
He nodded once, his eyes still twinkling like stars, and Sakura knew that she could go. He would not give her something like that, and then expect her to not try it out.
She stepped down off the dais, clutching the beautiful, beautiful sword to her chest.
Her friends rushed over, awe in their eyes, while her father told the Court to "Eat, drink, and make merry, for tomorrow shall be a new dawn,".
Temari gently touched the flat of the blade. "…Wow, it's…"
"Beautiful," Tenten breathed.
Sakura smiled. "C'mon, girls. Let's get out of here; they'll be too drunk to notice we're gone, soon."
The others nodded their affirmation, and the six girls slunk out of the hall. Eyes watched them disappear, of course -there were always eyes watching, always- but a particularly malevolent pair greedily watched them slip away.
"Tonight," the malevolent eyes whispered. "Tonight we begin."