The End of Childhood


"Ah," Manaril says.

She stands by the doorway, eyes wide, the heavy brocade curtain still held in one dainty hand.

"Princess! This isn't- This isn't at all what you think!" Taj has never been more ruffled, his hair disheveled and his scant Captain's uniform askew, the tell-tale marks of love written on the curve of his collarbone like notes of music.

Manaril put her hands together, touching them to her lips in habit to hide a smile. "That's okay, Taj."

"Manaril," Shams implores- or as much as he can with with nothing but the purple silk of the royal sheets hastily drawn over his form. His crown is nowhere to be found, though Manaril thinks she might see a glint of it buried under the covers, fallen by some careless act.

Giving her brother her sweetest smile, Manaril curtsies slightly to signal her intent to leave and graciously does not laugh when Taj scrambles to his feet, mistakenly taking half of the sheets on her brother with him in uncharacteristic clumsiness.

And then he sighs and gives her brother, the King, an almost rueful smile. "I'm afraid it cannot be undone, Your Majesty."

"Shams," the King corrects almost idly, with the well-worn tone of a well-used argument. He turns bright eyes to his sister, expression unsure, like they were ten and six again, meeting in the Palace's grand hall with their mothers glaring daggers at each other and her hand in his.

"Manaril, we would have told you, but.."

"I am not quite a child anymore, brother," Manaril smiles, winding a curl of her silver-white hair, long enough to touch the small of her waist, these days, on one finger.

"No, I suppose not," Shams admits. "But this isn't how I thought I'd tell you."

Manaril simply laughs gently, smiling and understanding.

She will be sixteen soon, coming into her own, with five years of golden days in Salsabil to touch her face into dawn, streaking her hair in silver.

Five glorious years in Salsabil's beaches and grand library, now rivaling the ones that had been in the Magedom, building her friendship with Sophia and helping Mubal and the Scribes take their Chronicle research further.

Five incredible years to live with and meet the brother she had barely known; had only ever met in the grand balls and celebrations, across gardens and marble.

Five blossoming years to become a young woman, more like her mother with every passing day.

Her mother's shrewdness nonetheless.

Watching Taj help her brother find his clothes, the gentle touch in his strong hands, and the way he turns to him, like Shams were the sun, and he the flower, she thinks he'd be good for him. Just as the very way he speaks told Manaril that Shams did not think he could have found a better friend- or lover.

So quietly, while the two of them exchange a silent conversation, Manaril takes her leave.

These sunlit days seem worlds apart from the years when she had been kept in the innermost belly of the Academy, brighter and lighter all at once. But love is something that was taught to her by her mother, with all that she had been able to give, something warm that glowed from your very being; that weathered years and cold words.

She does not need to be sixteen to know what love is. But perhaps she had needed to be sixteen to understand how many different forms it took.

Author's Notes:

I always thought I liked Manaril. Thinking about it, I think she knew, instinctively, somewhere, that Rizwan loved her. That the love she had shown when Manaril was still a baby was not false and that her mother privately hated herself for what she was doing. She was very sorry to leave her mother when Sieg and co came to kidnap her, and cried for her when she died.

And Taj/Shams is so obvious I think Konami might be getting into this whole ho yay business Squeenix has been making millions out of.

This... was supposed to be humor. But Manaril's too wise so it took a sentimental slant. ;