" Look for your friends, but do not trust to hope. It has forsaken these lands. "- Eomer- Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.
It was that legendary sentence from Eomer that actually inspired me to write this fan-fic. It's yet another Ulquihime. In case you are wondering if I am ever going to write about anyone else, I will. When I find some other muse, I will. As of now, Ulquiorra is my muse. So you will only get Ulquihime from me.
This fic is a political drama. The title is a working title. I am not very thrilled with it. So if any of you can come up with something new, please do suggest it. As usual, read & review.
Characters belong to Tite Kubo. I do have a few OCs in this fic though.
A faint orange glow shimmered in the horizon signalling the beginning of yet another chapter in the eternal battle between light and dark. Every morning, with the rise of the Sun, light won. But darkness would always creep up, claiming it's throne, banishing light from the skies. But light was resilient, it would always come back, every day, filling everyone with hope.
Hope. That was something that had long forsaken the kingdom. Hope. There was none left in this neglected realm. Hope. The people of the land had long since forgotten what the word meant. Hope. That was something that was brutally snatched away from this parched land. Hope. Even the thought of it seemed like a cruel joke to any inhabitant of the country.
By the faint glow of the approaching dawn, one could see the silhouette of a young man, seemingly staring at the silent and eternal battle unfurling in front of his eyes. Medium in height and pale of complexion this man stood proud and erect. His hair was black as the night that surrounded him. They were long enough so that on a windy day, they would have whipped around a bit. His eyes were as green as newly blossomed leaves. His face while devilishly handsome was as expressionless as though it were sculpted from marble. This man, the soon-to- be king of this broken realm, had an enormous responsibility thrust on his broad shoulders. He had to heal the wounds on his motherland's bosom. Wounds there were gouged by his predecessor who had ruled this land for twenty-six long years and had in the process, bled the land dry.
A slight noise, almost like a whisper, alerted him to the presence of another being. He turned his head marginally, indicating that he had heard the other.
"Your Highness," the manservant said, bowing as low as he could while still standing, "the preparations are complete."
He nodded and resumed his silent watch as dawn's fingers slowly tore through the darkness. He stood there with an unnatural stillness as he contemplated yet again, the path that lay before him. He sighed. Time for contemplation was over. This was the time for action. He undid the ornate coat made out of silk and gold threads and let it fall to the floor. He had no use for such finery when his people were starving. This was a ceremonial coat, one that the high priest insisted had to be worn.
'Such frivolity is highly unbecoming of the King.' He thought, but kept his thoughts to himself.
He was yet to wear the crown. He would have to wait till he had actual power in his hands before he could start refuting old customs. There were still a few hours between him and the actual coronation. Till that time, he would have to placate the people that mattered or risk losing the crown, his life and with it a chance to actually heal the wounded country. It was a chance he wasn't willing to take. A servant came forth with a vial of milk with the drop of Eucalyptus oil added into it. He drank the milk without any expression, fighting off the urge to throw up. The Eucalyptus oil burned his tongue and the smell was nauseating. In silence he continued to walk down the hallway, ignoring the lower priest that walked along side him as well as the finery that adorned the walls. To him it all meant a vulgar display of power and wealth- something he was completely opposed to.
He traversed the corridor to enter into yet another opulent chamber that housed an enormous tub. He stood quietly, taking in all the elaborate preparations. Slave girls stood in various stages of nudity in and around the tub, waiting for him to start his ceremonial bath. The bath water itself emitted various smells that clogged up his olfactory senses. The walls of the chamber itself was engraved with rich Gold and Silver leaves that shone dully at the reflected lights of the candles.
One of the girls hurried up to him and with trembling fingers started to undo his breeches. He brushed her hands away.
"What are you doing?" He asked with a suppressed growl.
The girl trembled and looked down at the floor, unsure of how to respond. The man closed his eyes and reigned in his impatience.
"You are all free to leave. Go."
"But your Highness.." A lower priest whispered "This is the King's bath."
"I am perfectly capable of having my bath unassisted. I do not want to see any one of them in my bath chamber ever again." His voice was even and calm, but the anger that lay in it was tangible.
"Yes Your Highness. Forgive our ignorance. We didn't..."
He waved his hand, indicating that they were all dismissed. One by one, each of the slave girl bowed to him and left him alone. He stripped and walked over to the tub stark naked as the priest started his chants. The water was a little too hot for his liking, but he decided to let it be. It was a ceremonial bath, he wasn't meant to relax in it. However as his body adjusted to the temperature of the bath, he found himself tuning out the chant and drifting away.
Ulquiorra Schiffer, the only son of the fourth wife of his father and predecessor Uriel Schiffer. Uriel was a man who loved excesses. He was in his late twenties when he took the throne. As a Prince, Uriel had been promising and the people loved him. However, once he got a taste of power, it corrupted him. Polygamy had been a prevalent practice among the Kings of Hueco Mundo and Uriel Schiffer had six wives and countless affairs. He spent with his both hands and neglected his duties as a King. He surrounded himself with people who would praise him and pushed away those who could criticize him or tell him the truth. Under his rule, the land had fallen to utter lawlessness. To Uriel, the only thing that mattered was his pleasure. He never cared who he trampled in the pursuit of his desire. Ulquiorra's mother Kaede was a prime example of it. Uriel had spotted her somewhere and taken a fancy to her. She was abducted from her wedding altar and was forced into marrying Uriel. Kaede had hated her husband all her life and was determined to make her son into a different man. She had groomed Ulquiorra into the man that he was today.
Uriel had four other legitimate sons, but all of them were in some way or other copies of their father. Ulquiorra was not the eldest, therefore no one had ever imagined him as the King. However, in his last days, Uriel had seen his folly. In an unprecedented act of selflessness, he had publicly announced Ulquiorra as his heir. He had confessed to him later in a private meeting that he had destroyed their motherland and Hueco Mundo needed someone like Ulquiorra to amend his mistakes. His accession was naturally opposed by those who had grown accustomed to a lazy lifestyle. They knew that he would crack the whip and be a very hard task master. But Uriel was adamant. The King had passed away seven days ago and this was the day of the new King's coronation.
A clearing of throat brought Ulquiorra back to the present. He realized that the chants were over and the servants now stood with a towel and his clothes. It was time. He pushed himself up and walked out of the bath, allowing the servants to wipe off the water and put on the elaborate garments on him. Each layer of garment, even his inner clothes, were made of the softest of silk. Kings of Hueco Mundo wore grey in their coronation. His garments too were blue-grey with rich silver thread embroidery done on them. A large amount of glittering jewels were added around his neck which annoyed him but he wore them silently. He refused to wear any finger rings except the family insignia- a bat. When finally the coronation coat was laid on him, he felt that his weight had increased by a few stones. Two pre-teen boys held his train as he walked out. Outside the bath chamber, he was handed the scepter. He grabbed it in his right hand and walked on.
He was to travel to the main temple where his coronation was to be done by the High Priest. The procession was an elaborate affair with long lines of carriages and decorated horses that made their way to the temple amidst a lot of fanfare and celebrations. All of which grated on Ulquiorra's nerves. He silently vowed to himself, the next time he would allow a celebration of this proportions, it would be when the country was healed. At the temple, as he was about to step out of his carriage, he spotted a pair of hands cupped in front of his feet for him to step down. He frowned and stopped.
"Man, get up." He said.
The man stood up, his eyes downcast.
"Never do that again." He ordered and got down from the carriage.
He walked into the temple to a mixed reaction. A fraction of the crowd greeted him enthusiastically. A part was politely disinterested and yet another had a barely concealed hostility. The High Priest Zommari stood in his regalia on the altar with all the paraphernalia for the ceremony. Ulquiorra reached the altar and kneeled. Zommari called on to all the Gods, all of Ulquiorra's ancestors and all the angels to bless the new King. The chant rose to a crecendo before falling down and ceasing altogether. Then, in a carrying tone, Zommari said,
"By the power vested in me and by the will of your predecessor, the Late King Uriel, I hereby proclaim you the King of Hueco Mundo."
Zommari placed the heavy, ceremonial and exceedingly ornate crown on the new King's head. Ulquiorra stood up, with a hand holding the crown because he felt it wobble slightly. Everywhere he could see, he saw the flag of Hueco Mundo. The blue-grey flag with an inverted sickle moon. He knew he was expected to address the crowd. He cleared his throat and at once, almost magically, silence reigned supreme.
"My fellow countrymen." He said in a clear voice, "Many Kings have stood here before me, giving you many promises. Some delivered them, some failed. I am not going to make any promises." He paused and let the murmurs die down. "I am well aware that our country is anything but stable. My promises won't do you any good. What will help the country is hard work. Each and everyone of us has to work hard if we want our country to stand up again and be counted as a force to be reckoned with. I have vowed to myself that I am going to work hard, every day, as long as I live. All I ask of you is to vow the same to yourselves. Then and only then will this country stand up on it's feet. My brethren, are you with me?"
A deafening cheer went through the crowd as Ulquiorra raised his hand and waved. The crowd cheered his name over and over again as he took his throne.
'And so, it begins.' He thought as the crowd erupted in celebration.
It was his first day at court and already he could sense trouble. His council disagreed on everything, almost as if on principle. No one was certain about anything. His General, Nnoitra Jiruga, was a foul-mouthed blood thirsty man who needed to be reigned in before he led the army to self destruction. Uquiorra was thankful that at least in court, Nnoitra could keep his tongue in check to a certain extent. His Prime Minister, Ichimaru Gin, reminded him of a fox because of his ever present insincere smile, his almost invisible eyes and his slightly sing song voice. The High Priest was a deeply religious man, but he had no interest in politics. He would disagree with anything that he thought was unholy, which unfortunately included just about everything under the Sun. His Lords were no better. On one extreme was the lazy and unmotivated Starrk on the other extreme was the volatile Grimmjow, with a plethora of other Lords in between.
'I am in the middle of a pack of wolves. One sign of weakness and they will pounce.' Ulquiorra thought.
"...strengthen the borders." Nnoitra was saying, "We need more people in the army, Your Highness."
"There is a vast number of able bodied men and women with no jobs General, hire them." Ulquiorra replied, wondering what was stopping Nnoitra from doing the obvious. He got his answer immediately.
"With all due respect, Your Majesty," Gin intervened, Ulquiorra resisted the urge to roll his eyes. "These people have no military training and..."
"So train them Minister. These people need food and shelter. We need hands. It's a fair bargain. I fail to see the problem."
"Sire," Gin said smiling, "We lack sufficient funds."
"Do we now?" Ulquiorra said conversationally, "Then why don't we cut down on the celebrations? The Coronation is done. All the Kingdom knows I am the new King so what is the point in a three day long celebration? Let us use the money in funding the things that would actually benefit the country."
"Sire.." Gin started yet again.
"Is there a problem, Minister?" Ulquiorra asked coldly.
"No, Your Majesty."
"Then see it done. Next."
"Your Majesty," Starrk spoke up, "we need better roads."
Ulquiorra looked at Starrk, waiting for him to elaborate. However, before Lord Starrk could, Lord Grimmjow spoke up,
"Before that we need to crush the rebellion, roads are secondary."
Ulquiorra was wondering just when the name of Ichigo Kurosaki and his rag tag band of revolutionaries was going to pop up. Apparently he didn't have to wait for long.
"Lord Jagerjaquez," Lady Harribel, the only woman in the court, ventured, "Better amenities is one of the main rallying points of the revolutionaries. I agree with Lord Starrk, if we do provide them, we take away a potent weapon from their hands."
"And what happens then?" Lord Grimmjow persisted, "They find another cause and start their fight over again. I say we crush the head of the snake before it rears."
"Killing Kurosaki won't solve the problem," Lord Barragan countered, "He's just the face of something much bigger. We kill him, another Kurosaki will emerge."
"So what do you suggest we do? Give in to their demands? That's akin to showing them weakness." Lord Grimmjow said frowning, "Going headlong into battle with them is the best option."
"I agree with Lord Jagerjaquez," Lord Nnoitra added loudly, "We should kill those rats, this would teach those bloody vagrants a damn lesson."
"Lord Jiruga," Ulquiorra intervened, "Please learn to control your language in my court. I won't be so kind next time."
"Apologies Your Majesty." Nnoitra said immediately.
Ulquiorra nodded, mentally noting the slight hostility in the tall and lanky Lord's eyes. Either Nnoitra had problems with authority or he didn't like being rebuked in public or he disliked Ulquiorra. Whatever the case maybe, he knew that Nnoitra was a potential threat who needed to be handled carefully. He sighed and with a signal of his hand, gave his courtiers the sign to continue.
"Your Majesty," Lord Szayel, the chief healer spoke up, "if I may?"
"Providing basic amenities might be the right way to appease the revolutionaries and thereby probably stop them from causing troubles, however, providing them would not be easy. We need funds and if I may be so bold as to say that we are short on that."
'Succinctly summarized.' Ulquiorra thought, glad of the man's ability to get to the heart of the issue. "I assume you have a suggestion, Lord Granz?"
"I most certainly do, Your Majesty. Our neighbouring kingdom Karakura is a stable kingdom with strong military base and a free flowing economy."
Ulquiorra nodded, waiting to see where the man was going with this.
"The King of Karakura, Jirou Inoue has a daughter of marriageable age. Why don't we send a marriage proposal to them? If they accept our proposal, we might just be able to procure the much needed funds, since the Princess is his only child. If not, we really do not stand to lose anything."
Ulquiorra crossed his fingers, touching his lower lip, with a frown on his face. It was definitely worth a try but he had to wonder, what exactly did Lord Szayel Apporo Granz stand to gain from this?
He looked at his courtiers, "What do the esteemed members of the court think?"
"Marriage with the daughter of our neighboring kingdom will give us a significant boost. I think it is the perfect solution, Your Majesty." Lord Starrk vouched.
"I am in favor of this arrangement." Zommari said, "There is nothing more holy and pure than matrimony."
"I agree as well, Your Majesty." Lord Barragan added. "Sending a proposal would indeed be a good idea."
Lady Hallibel, Lord Yammy and Lord Aaroniero refrained from giving any opinion.
"But why should they accept our proposal?" Lord Grimmjow asked, "Surely there are Kings and Princes from more stable and prosperous kingdoms who are sending their proposals."
Gin smiled and said, "Actually, we have a major advantage in that regard. Our King is young and good looking. Also he is unmarried. We have to think from the point of view of a young maiden. There isn't a single King or Prince in the neighboring kingdoms who can match up to our King in terms of charm and personality."
'Flattery doesn't suit you Ichimaru Gin. What is the real reason you are pursuing this?' Ulquiorra thought, his eyes narrowed.
"Fine." Ulquiorra said, "I see no harm in sending the proposal. Since it's your suggestion, I leave the matter to you Lord Granz. Please have the needful done at the earliest."
Lord Szayel Aporro Granz bowed and said, "As you wish Your Majesty."
The court was dismissed soon after.
Gin sat in his chambers, drinking his tea. He looked on as the man sitting in front of him fingered the rim of his cup of tea with a frown on his face.
"Proposal to the Inoue family you say?"
"Indeed." Gin replied, his smile unwavering.
"Szayel Aporro Granz suggested it?"
"I didn't know the chief healer was into politics." Gin said chuckling.
"Everyone is into politics." His companion said, "Thing is, I wonder what's his motive behind this?"
"It could just be a genuine suggestion for the betterment of this country." Gin suggested.
The man in front of him snorted derisively, "I like your sense of humor. If I know Szayel Aporro Granz, he won't bat an eyelid if he didn't see a benefit in it for himself."
"That was my impression of him as well. But it makes me wonder, if he is so self centered, how is he a healer? Healers are meant to be self sacrificing."
"Gin, the chief-healer is about as self-sacrificing as the she wolf who eats her own cubs to satisfy her hunger. He always looks out for himself."
"So what do we do about it?" Gin asked, leaning on his chair.
"Nothing as of now. We just wait and watch."
Ulquiorra lay on his bed, his mind going in ten different directions. He had a splitting headache and he knew he needed to rest but his mind wouldn't give him peace. He couldn't shake the feeling that he was being used in some sort of political game. Especially because of the marriage proposal. He had never really thought about his own marriage but now that he thought about it, he realized that a political marriage was not only to be expected but inevitable. The Kings of Hueco Mundo had always been polygamous but somehow now that he was faced with the possibility of his own marriage, he found the idea of polygamy repulsive. If matrimony was so holy and pure that even the High Priest was willing to accept it's divinity, then how could someone be married to more than one person at the same time? He briefly wondered what kind of a woman the Princess was, but realized it really didn't matter. What mattered was that they accepted the proposal and she brought in the much needed relief. He was willing to sacrifice every drop of blood in his veins if that meant that it could ensure his country's survival. He was more worried about his court. He had a feeling that getting them to do anything would be an uphill task. He looked around the royal bed chamber and sighed.
Everywhere he saw, he saw signs of his father's excesses. The entire bedchamber was made of the most expensive marble that Uriel could lay his hands on. Ulquiorra knew that marble wasn't available in Hueco Mundo locally. Nor were they found anywhere in the neighboring countries. It had most likely been shipped from distant lands. His enormous bed was made entirely out of Agarwood which was one of the costliest woods available and made him feel dwarfed. Four people, taller than Lord Nnoitra, could easily sleep on the bed and there would still be room in it. Not to mention the drapes that were made out of the finest fabric known to mankind. If that weren't enough, Uriel had had the most famous painter paint murals on the ceiling. By the faint light of the candles he could see that the jewels of the figurines glittered. He suspected the use of gold dust in the painting. His mouth was filled with a bad taste. So much money had been wasted in the making of this chamber alone. He suspected that if Uriel had cut down the cost of this chamber to a quarter of what it had actually cost, he would still have been left with enough money to build a magnificent room for himself and have money with him that could have gone a long way in being actually helpful for the country. Maybe then Ulquiorra wouldn't have had to approach the neighboring King and ask him for a trade.
'I will marry your daughter whom probably no one in their right minds would want to marry and in return you give me what I need.' He knew he was being cynical and bitter but he couldn't help it. He needed money. His country's condition had him in a stranglehold and this was the only tactic available to him. He wanted to rip his castle down to the last brick. He wanted to do something, anything, that would ease his frustration in someway. He wondered what King in his right mind would get his daughter married to him? Despite Gin's flattery, Ulquiorra had no illusions of grandeur. He knew he was a pauper of a King who was playing with only one card. If by some stroke of luck, the King even agreed to the proposal, what about the girl? He knew that he intimidated people, despite his small stature. No woman would want to marry a man that scared her.
"I hope I am doing the right thing by placing all my bets on you, Princess Inoue." He murmured before drifting off to a disturbed sleep.
Far away, Princess Orihime Inoue woke up from her peaceful sleep with a start. She was almost sure she had heard someone call out her name.