Kiku yawned as he sat up in his bed. He looked out side to see the sun rising over his garden. Smiling to himself he climbed out of bed and went to his wardrobe. It was another day for him… just another-
"Kiku dear, are you up yet?" His maid called from beyond his door.
"Yes ma'am" He called, "But I'm not decent yet, so please wait a moment."
"Certainly dear." She called, then seemed to be speaking to someone else in the hall as she said "Such a shy girl that one."
That's right. Every day he was reminded that he wasn't aloud to be a boy. Kiku is forced to live as a girl, at least for now.
He grabbed a blue kimono with lighter blue and white flowers trailing the sleeves and bottom.
"You can come in now." He called once fully dressed.
"Alright dear." The maid called as she stepped in. She was an older woman, but strong for her age, and proud. If Kiku had to be a woman, he wanted to be one just like her. She sat him down at his makeup desk and began combing his raven hair. "I don't know why you insist on letting your hair remain short." She said with her everlasting smile.
"It's easier to manage this way." Kiku insisted. "Perhaps today… We could go tend to the garden?"
"Certainly, but don't dirty yourself, you have a guest later."
"Oh, who may that be?" Normally 'a guest' meant some royalty Kiku's father was trying to make treaties with- often using Kiku as bait for their princes. Luckily Kiku had yet to be wed for he always found some way to get out of the marriage. Most of his tricks involved doing things the princes abhorred.
"He's a soldier from a far away island."
"Yes… Oh I shouldn't be the one to tell you this." The maid set down the comb, and took a seat on Kiku's bed.
"Tell me what?" Kiku turned, looking her in the eye.
"Your father is afraid a war is coming." She said. "The soldier coming is from an allied country. Your father is afraid he may have to go to war, but he doesn't want our bond with the other country to break in his absence, so he asked for a trade."
"Yes, he is sending a soldier to protect their prince, and they are sending a soldier here to protect you."
"Is father that afraid he's going to leave?" Kiku asked. "He- He can't do that."
"I know he's all you have left dear…" She said frowning, "But if this turns into a full scale war, he will have to be there for his troops, for his country."
"What about his daughter?" Kiku said, tears building up in his eyes, "I can't loose him… Not like… Not like mother…"
The maid stayed quiet for a moment, as though mourning the loss of her queen, then as though to be thinking. "I shouldn't have told you." She said, "But… You'd have to find out eventually, and your father isn't exactly the best with words."
Kiku nodded, wiping his face with his kimono sleeve so no tears would fall.
"Shall we go to the garden then?" She asked, standing up and offering her arm to Kiku.
Nodding again, Kiku wrapped his arm around hers, smiling slightly as the old woman patted it. She had a way with unspoken words that could make him smile even in depressing times like this. Her eyes were also sad, they shared Kiku's deep pain.
Entering the garden Kiku noticed a white snake laying under a large bundle of red poppy plants.
"That's good luck." The maid said.
"Good luck?" Kiku looked at her questioningly.
"There's an old Chinese story that tells of a man who fell in love with a woman, not knowing she was a white snake."
Kiku stayed in silence, waiting for the continuation of the story, but when it didn't come, he outwardly asked, "What happened?"
"They went a long time together, him not knowing she was a snake, until one day heaven came to his door and told him of his forbidden love. At first he was in shock, horrified to find that he'd been tricked, but when he confronted the snake she assured him her love was true. Knowing she wouldn't lie to him, he ignored heaven's warning. The two were so in love that one day they decided to get married. Heaven once again stepped in, ready to punish the man and the snake, but they warned that even heaven itself couldn't stop them. They would go to the ends of the Earth together if only for the chance to be together. Heaven was so moved that it offered to turn the snake into a real woman. The man was first to decline, claiming he wanted to be with the woman he fell in love with. Heaven agreed, and the two lived happily forever."
"I've herd this story before." Kiku said, "But wasn't the white snake evil, and heaven punished the man for disobeying their rules?" "There are many versions of folk tails." She said smiling, "Choose to believe which ever one you want, or non at all."
Kiku starred back at the snake, "So where's the good luck come in?"
"Oh right. Well, even though they could now live together, the snake could not bare the man a child. They took a daring risk, and asked heaven what they could do. Heaven's response was that they must go their lives without children, but in return their story would be passed down and along with it generation upon generation of white snakes to bring man good luck."
"So…" Kiku thought for a moment, "It means fertility?"
"Yes, and love. No doubt finding this snake in your garden means it's a happy and healthy garden." She smiled cunningly "Or maybe it's here for you, to tell you that you're going to fall in love soon."
"Ah! How bold of you to say." Kiku said, slightly blushing.
"Your right, sorry." After a small pause, they both smiled, then began to laugh.
"Ma'am… Does this solder… know?"
"Oh no dear, it's best if you keep up appearances at all times." She said. "Not like you don't anyway."
They both began to laugh again, for no reason this time than just the joy of sharing it with someone.
"Well you sound happy." They both looked up to the sound of the king's voice.
"Father." Kiku said, bowing along with the maid.
"Hello Kiku, please, come in, I need to talk to you." Behind him was a man in a green suit, something uncommon to Kiku. It was complete with black accessories such as gloves, boots, a tie, and a belt. He had dirty blonde hair and bright emerald eyes. This must be the soldier, he guessed by his posture and stern face, and… Those…. Eyebrows? It was rude to stare, so Kiku simply followed his father. They made their way into a conference room and all took their seats.
"Who's this sir?" Kiku remembered that he needed to act unaware of the situation.
"This is Arthur Kirkland."
"Pleased to meet you." The man said, bowing slightly. At least he was abiding by their customs.
"Nice to meet you." Kiku bowed back.
"This is my daughter Kiku Honda." The king said. "Kiku, I have a lot to tell you…" He trailed off then cleared his throat, "I'm afraid our country is mobilizing for war."
"Yes. Arthur is from our allied country England. With both of our powers away at war, we need a way to keep our bond strong. To do this, we each sent one of our best soldiers to defend a member of royalty. I sent Takashi to protect their prince, and Arthur is here to protect you."
"…. What do you mean both your powers are sent away- Father are you-?"
He nodded, "I'm afraid so… Kiku… I may be heading off to war soon…"
"Father…" It wasn't hard to act shocked. Kiku doubted that he'd get over this idea even if he heard it a thousand times. The tears building up again were real, he would never dare fake an emotion like that.
"I love you Kiku." His father said sternly, "And that's why I'm entrusting this system. This way, if something happens to me-"
"No, nothing will happen to you father! Our country-" Kiku stopped as his father raised a hand for silence. He tried to maintain a serious face, but Kiku could tell this thought hurt him just as much.
"If something happens to me, then the country of England will be there to help you get back on your feet. It would be a tough journey for you alone, but this way you have a strong ally."
"Sire, if I may." Arthur said. Kiku glared at him subconsciously, making him cringe a bit, "I want you to know that the queen will hear of this speech… I'm sure she'll be delighted to know that you really care about our interrelations that much."
"How dare you…" Kiku mumbled, "We're talking about a man's death here, and all you care about is the power in nationality."
"Now Kiku," The king insisted, "He's only trying to make a valid point."
Kiku felt a hand on his shoulder.
"Ma'am." He looked up at the smiling maid.
"Do forgive him miss Kiku." She said pleadingly, "He's a little rough around the edges because he's a soldier. He'll no doubt be just as hard to talk to as your father, but that doesn't make him heartless."
"Nao, mind your place." The king said, though he didn't look too upset.
"Sorry Akio." She said smiling smugly, "But you weren't going to make your daughter feel any more prepared for this situation."
"Um… Akio sir?" Arthur questioned.
"His name, as you must know, is Akihiko, but I've always called my little brother Akio."
Arthur opened his mouth in a silent "oh" sort of understanding, then stayed still again.
"Aunty." Kiku stood up, "May we return to the garden?"
Nao looked at Akio, but when he gave no disapproval, she nodded. "Lets go."
The two walked out, smiling at each other.
Nao nudged Kiku, "It's not so bad, this is why girls rule." She winked.
"The white snake is gone…" Kiku frowned, stopping in front of the poppy plants.
"It's not gone." Nao said, "It's simply moved on, "A white snake only needs to be seen once to make a mark. Who knows, it could still be in this garden somewhere."
"I don't want to step on it." Kiku squeaked, lifting one leg to look under his kimono.
"No, no." Nao laughed, "White snakes are very smart, it'll stay out of your path. Besides, snakes are sturdy, no harm done if you accidentally step on one." "Is it bad luck?" "Not if it's an accident."