Game of Touhou

Epilogue

The Prince of the Vale

The raven had come but three days ago. While Ieyasu Hinanawi's father could not come to the Waterlands on account of his frailty, both Ieyasu and his mother, Queen Sakuya Hinanawi, were to travel to the Waterlands. It was only fair, given the circumstances. Mother could have gone to the Waterlands instantly, he knew, but Ieyasu had insisted he would come to the funeral too, to ensure the friendship between Noros and the Vale was maintained.

That, and Lady Kawasemi will be there. Ieyasu thought as he walked off the boat that had taken he and his mother across the Great Lake and onto Scarlet Island, I don't care if I am four-and-ten and she is eight-and-thirty. She is the most beautiful woman I have ever seen.

When sitting in on the royal council of the Vale, Ieyasu had seen Lady Kawasemi a few times, and had instantly fallen for her. Her long red hair, her beautiful singing voice, her thin waist that curved out to her hips, her firm breasts that were neither too large nor too small... she was perfect, even if she had married a commoner and bore his children. Ieyasu laughed a little, Who would ever think a prince could envy a commoner?

For a moment, the weirwood thicket that was Scarlet Island couldn't intimidate Ieyasu. He was drunk on the idea of Koakuma, of comforting her and telling her that her half-sister was the best queen that Noros had, of closing in on her face and telling her he loved her...

Ieyasu's fantasy was interrupted by him walking into a weirwood. He backed away from the tree and jumped as he saw that a face had been carved into the tree, a face with blood-red sap streaming from its 'eyes'.

"Don't tell me you just walked into that tree, 'yasu." Sakuya's voice said, before her fingers tapped Ieyasu's shoulder, "I'm here."

Ieyasu looked to find his mother, grey-haired and blue-lipped as ever, was the only one nearby, and that the rest of the valleyman escort were a good few yards away, and didn't seem to be waiting, "Why haven't they stopped?"

Sakuya chuckled, "I told them to go on without me, that I'd catch up. Ieyasu, don't think I don't know what you're daydreaming of. I won't criticising you for liking older women, but I will criticise you for nearly getting lost in the weirwood forests of this island. Trust me, the beasts in this forest are in no way pleasant. They were the death of Lord Vladimir Scarlet, Remilia's predecessor."

"Don't you mean King Vladimir?" Ieyasu asked.

Sakuya shook her head, "I should have taught you more Norosian history. Should have made your father teach you. He doesn't want you to be mocked for being scholarly, aye, but knowing your history wouldn't hurt."

"I know my history!" Ieyasu said indignantly, "House Katori of Death's Gates was founded when the proud valleyman raiders took Death's Gates and made it part of the Vale's glorious empire! House Hinanawi are the proud people that took over the Vale under Warrior Queen Tenshi, but she got ill and committed suicide, putting my father as king! The Akis are the remnant of some pagan holy city's lineage, and House Kochiya is also from another pagan lineage. And then House Kawasemi... House Kawasemi..."

"Was founded by a very pretty bastard sister of the Queen of Noros." Sakuya finished, "One you desperately fancy. You know nothing of ancient history, nor the machinations that got the Vale as it was now."

"Well... no, but I'm a prince, not a Maester!" Ieyasu protested.

Sakuya smiled with her blue lips, "And your father was a Maester before he was a king. Now come on, 'yasu, let's get to the Scarlet Manor. We are late as it is. Mayhaps at some point you and Grand Maester Patchouli can talk, mayhaps you'll even learn something."

Ieyasu inclined his head and began to walk briskly back to the host. He did not wait for his mother, knowing that she would simply appear in front of him. She used to play with him by challenging him to races all around the Valley of Peaches, but no matter how hard he tried, Sakuya would always win by simply disappearing and appearing at various points throughout the race. In the end, races stopped being fun, and Sakuya had since tried to find other ways to entertain her son.

A shame her efforts were wasted, really. She's tried so hard, but in the end I've got more entertainment from the idea of wooing Lady Kawasemi than anything she's devised for me. Ieyasu thought, catching up to his host, Not that drinking shade-of-the-evening wasn't fun. It's rather delicious now I've had it a lot.

The walk to the Scarlet Manor was quiet and quick from there, and when it came into view, it was more than clear the city was in mourning. While black was the uniform of the Norosian Queensguard, or so Ieyasu remembered, the black banners that flowed from the walls were almost certainly not the usual banners of the Scarlets. Bells were tolling, and two guards stood at the gates of the manor-city, both clad in that very same black.

"Greetings, Queen Sakuya." one of the Queensguard said, inclining her red-haired head.

"Commiserations to you." the other Queensguard, a man, added, "We know you were a devoted servant of Queen Remilia."

Sakuya shook her head, "Do not be sorry for me, Ser. It was not I who had the failing health, nor I who tried in vain to treat it. If anything, be sorry for the Grand Maester. She no doubt tried everything she could."

"She wouldn't stop shaking." the man muttered, "We Queensguard could do nothing. No sword could have protected her from her own frailty."

"To die at four-and-thirty... there was no saving her." Sakuya accepted.

Ieyasu bowed, "The Vale and its people offer its deepest sympathies. My father wished for me to tell you that he is sorry he could not be here to pay his respects."

The woman smiled darkly, "It'd be more meaningful if you said that to the Hand. She's the one ruling here until a successor is decided upon."

Sakuya nodded, "I understand. May we enter the city, Meiling?"

"Aye. One moment." the Queensguard said, and got to opening the gates with her fellow gate guard.

The gates were soon opened, and the mourning capital of Noros was revealed. If Ieyasu was honest, it felt more like a giant, dusty house than a city, and the people within it were pale as milk. While Ieyasu didn't know for a moment where he was going, Sakuya did, and was headed straight for a large hall, wherein a cask lay in the middle. There were several people surrounding the casket: a wizened old woman in red, her hair tied back, a blonde-haired woman in pink and white with serious eyes, a man with cold, blue eyes and a thick, black beard, an intimidating middle-aged woman with blonde hair, black-and-red clothing and possibly the largest scythe Ieyasu had ever seen, and possibly the most intimidating; a creature with a black cloak, a covered face, and glowing, green eyes. In the cask was the woman they'd travelled here for: Queen Remilia Scarlet.

Ieyasu stood over the dead queen for a moment. Pale and dead, she seemed so... young. Her eyes had been covered with stones, but her mouth was plainly visible, stuck in a permanent pout. She had been dressed in royal finery, a high-collared dark blue cape, and a light pink dress that puffed out, likely in an attempt to make her thin hips seem less so.

She looks nothing like Lady Kawasemi. Ieyasu concluded, She doesn't even look like a queen. She just looks like a corpse. She doesn't smell like one, though. This Grand Maester mother spoke of must have treated it well.

"Queen Sakuya." the woman with the scythe muttered, "I see you finally made it." she stopped talking, and turned to Ieyasu, "So this is the product of a warlock and an old man?"

Ieyasu looked to Sakuya. What do I say, mother? Who is this woman? Am I allowed to insult her back? Do I simply accept the slight? I know the valley way, but this is not the valley...

Sakuya simply nodded to Ieyasu, as if to say 'you're on your own'. Ieyasu swallowed, and mumbled, "Aye, I'm the Prince of the Vale. And who are you, may I ask?"

"Elly Kazami. Hand of the Queen and Protector of the Realm." Elly muttered, "Soon to be Queen Regent once Princess Flandre ascends."

"Regent? How old is Princess Flandre?" Ieyasu asked.

"Oh, she's a woman grown..." the blonde-haired woman in pink said ominously, "...it's not on account of her age that she needs a regent..."

The crone in red shook her head, "...a discussion regarding the succession may well be in order..."

What is wrong with Princess Flandre? Ieyasu wondered, Why does she need a regent? He almost considered asking, but the way the Hand was holding the scythe suggested that asking questions, especially as a boy of four-and-ten, was probably not permitted. I much prefer the Vale's royal court. Much less cold, and Lady Kawasemi sometimes comes to have her say. Wait, where is Lady Kawasemi? Surely she'd be here to see her half-sister...

Without thinking, Ieyasu broke the taboo and asked a question, "Where is Lady Kawasemi? Surely she'd be here to grieve for her half-sister..."

The blonde-haired woman in pink spoke up, "She is here, but currently staying at an inn. Her favourite haunt before she became Lady Kawasemi, in fact."

Suddenly, Sakuya sported a wicked grin, and walked towards the woman. She took her ear, and whispered a few things, ones that apparently made the woman stifle a laugh, and eventually she took to addressing Ieyasu again.

"Prince Ieyasu of the Vale." the woman in pink and white said, "I'd be more than glad to show you to Lady Kawasemi, but you must do as I say. Understood?"

Ieyasu looked at Sakuya for a moment, What is she planning? Is this another one of her japes? And who is this?

"Only if you tell me your name." Ieyasu responded.

The woman cocked her head, "Is this some sort of valleyman game? My name is Patchouli Knowledge. I'm Grand Maester. I'm surprised Sakuya hasn't told you about me."

Ieyasu immediately felt foolish, "My apologies, G-grand Maester. Mother- I mean, her grace has told me about you, it's just I've never seen you before. Very well, I'll do as you say."

Patchouli gave a meaningful look to Sakuya, before walking towards the hall's exit, "Good. Come with me, my prince."

Ieyasu felt like a meek young child tempted by honeycombs, but followed regardless. Once in the halls, he immediately asked the Maester what was on his mind, "What did mother tell you to do? Is this a trick?"

"No trick." Maester Patchouli said, "I know where she is, but first I must teach you a few things."

Ieyasu smirked, "Very well. You can start with teaching me where Lady Kawasemi is."

Patchouli laughed at that, "Would that it were so easy. Come with me to my chamber, I'll show you a map."

Ieyasu realised what this was, "Is this for my being ignorant of Norosian customs? Mother is so..."

"...intelligent for ensuring the Prince of the Vale is well-versed in the neighbouring nation's nobility? I thought so too." Patchouli interrupted, "Come, child."

Child? I'm four-and-ten! Ieyasu complained in his mind, but nonetheless he followed the Grand Maester, a pup lured by the prospect of seeing Lady Kawasemi again.

Maester Patchouli's chambers were meticulously well-organised, yet incredibly dusty. Tome after tome filled the shelves, but the table was clear but for a candlestick, a dish of cooled, scarlet wax, and a pot of ink with a quill in it. Ieyasu sat at the desk, and Maester Patchouli reached for a rolled-up piece of parchment on one of her shelves. Finally she got one, and unravelled it on the desk.

"Here is a map of Noros and the Vale. Once our kingdoms were united, and so the continent as a whole is shown. I presume you know your map directions?" Maester Patchouli asked.

"Of course I do." Ieyasu muttered, and pointed to the red phoenix, "I know that one. House Katori of Death's Gates. The peach with the sword is House Hinanawi of the Valley of Peaches, the frog is House Kochiya of Mount Tengu, the wheat-head is House Aki of the Shrine of the Lake and the kingfisher is House Kawasemi of River's Fork."

"Well done." Patchouli conceded, "However, if Queen Remilia only knew the places within her own little region, she wouldn't have been much of a queen, would she?" Patchouli smiled, and pointed to a region to the very south-west of the continent, one without a sigil, "Which House used to preside over this now ruined city?"

"How am I to know?" Ieyasu asked, "That's not in the Vale!"

"Oh, but that house was instrumental in ensuring the Vale's independence. House Yakumo of Mayohiga ruled there." Patchouli said, before pointing to the south-east, at a circle split into a black and white half, "Who are these?"

"I know those! House Hakurei of the Shrine of the sea! Lady Kawasemi is very good friends with Lady Hakurei!" Ieyasu declared, his victory suddenly quelled by the Maester's mocking eyes.

"Of course you'd know it if it involves Lady Kawasemi." Patchouli remarked, and then pointed at a blue skull within a flame, close to the sigil-free south-west, "Who are these?"

"I don't know." Ieyasu admitted, "I know they rule the Minelands, though."

"House Kaenbyou of the Palace of the earth." Patchouli then moved her finger north, to the Plains of Death, where she pointed at a sake dish, an ale horn, and a sunflower, "These three?"

"The sunflower is House Kazami, the Hand of Noros' house." Ieyasu answered, "The other two..."

"The dish is House Arie of Muenzuka, and the horn is House Asama of the City of Desires. Lady Kazami has a good strangle-hold on the Plains. Asama was once a sellsword working under her." Patchouli mused, moving further north to the Sea of Demons, "These?"

Ieyasu rubbed his chin fuzz. There was a black-and-white mask, a black helmet, a purple set of wings and a flask of some sort, "The flask looks like the sort my father uses. Is that the Okazakis of the Alchemical Stronghold?"

"Very good. The others?" Patchouli demanded, still unsatisfied.

"I don't know."

"The mask is House Hata of Titan's Head, the helmet is House Houjuu of Chatra, and the wings are House Makai of Pandemonium." Patchouli answered.

"But surely the sigil with the helmet better fits Titan's Head?" Ieyasu asked.

"I'm glad you noticed. Can you guess why?" Patchouli quizzed.

Ieyasu scratched his head, "The Houjuus had to leave Titan's Head, and the Hatas took over?"

"Almost. Nue Houjuu was once Queen of Noros, and at that time, the capital was in Chatra. So, she moved to Chatra, and left Kokoro Hata as castellan. Later, when Remilia made her abdicate, Houjuu decided to stay in Chatra, and let Kokoro rule as Lady of Titan's Head." Patchouli explained, moving her hand west, "The Woodlands."

There were two strange octagon sigils, the western one placed on a black square and the eastern on white to differentiate. A purple lightning bolt was south east to these, and south of the octagon on white was a grey moon and stars.

Ieyasu was at a loss, "I know none of those, but the two octagons are related to each other."

"Anyone could have guessed that." Patchouli chided, "The hakkero on white is House Kirisame of the Rainbow Fort, and the hakkero on black is House Blacksand of Rumia's Fort, founded by Lady Marisa's second-born bastard. She built on top of a wooden fort that burned down. Some say is was Lady Nagae who burned down the old fort..."

"Lady Nagae? You mean Iku Nagae, the hero that hailed from the valley and helped the Warrior Queen Tenshi?" Ieyasu said with renewed interest, "Of course! That's what the thunderbolt is! House Nagae of Dragonslayer's Lair! I hear she earned the city by killing a dragon with a magical sword!"

"I don't know about the magical sword, but she certainly killed a dragon. She even kept the bones, so you can see for yourself if you visit Dragonslayer's Lair." Patchouli said, "The moon is the Paramount House of the Woodlands, House Luna."

"Am I almost done?" Ieyasu complained, "I want to see Lady Kawasemi..."

Patchouli rolled her eyes, "I imagine you do. This is the last region."

She pointed to the Waterlands, which had the bat of the Scarlets on it, along with a black moon, a set of blue stars, an orange sunburst, and in the Great Lake, pale blue ice shards.

"The bat is House Scarlet. The stars are House Sapphire and the ice is House Cirno, but apart from that... I don't know." Ieyasu answered.

"You know the royal region of Noros somewhat well at least. The sunburst is House Milk, and the black moon is founded by a bastard line of House Luna. They're called House Child, and every ruling member is called 'Luna Child'." Patchouli began, "House Scarlet, of course, is the ruling house, founded by Lysene-"

"Yes, yes, I know the houses, let's go!" Ieyasu interrupted, "You promised to take me to see Lady Kawasemi!"

Patchouli rolled the map up, "Whoever knew a Prince of the Valleymen could be so demanding? Very well, you've earned it. One last question to test your memory: which House ruled Noros before the Scarlets?"

"House Houjuu!" Ieyasu recited to his own shock.

Patchouli seemed genuinely surprised, "Clearly you're not entirely valleyman."

"Enough! To Lady Kawasemi!" Ieyasu demanded.

"At least your idiocy has given me some levity for the time being." Patchouli muttered, heading out of the chamber, "Forgetting my failures has been... diverting. Thank you."

Ieyasu's eyes widened, "I'm... sorry, I never offered my condolences. My apologies, I was too obsessed with..."

"Don't worry." Patchouli cut him off, "Come on, I'll show you to Lady Kawasemi."

With that, the Grand Maester led Ieyasu to an inn, and through the drunkards, until they got to the bedrooms. Finally, they stopped at one on the upper floor, where Lady Koakuma's beautiful voice could be heard through the door.

Oh, she sounds heavenly. Ieyasu thought, Like she was a maiden of the Valley God herself. Oh, she's a far greater prize than any valleywoman. When I'm king in my own right, what I'd do to make her my queen...

"Well, I suppose I must leave you now." Patchouli mused, "Enjoy being a randy teenage boy. I have less enjoyable tasks to tend to. You've been a distraction, at least."

Ieyasu snapped out of his Koakuma-induced trance, "D-do not worry, Grand Maester. I... uh... I appreciate what you were doing. Mother... mother wants me to be a wise man, like my father before me. I want to be like Warrior Queen Tenshi, though. I suppose there's nothing wrong with being both."

Patchouli sighed, "Being a Maester is a thankless task, but you're less like to get yourself killed. However, I'm going to be blamed for the death of Queen Remilia until I die..."

"I'm sure no-one blames you..." Ieyasu said in a vain attempt to comfort her.

"I do." Patchouli muttered, "And I'm someone."

With that, Patchouli left Ieyasu, and for a moment, the Prince of the Vale could do nothing but stand and listen to the sound of Lady Kawasemi's voice. All I need to do is knock on her door. Greet her, ask her if she remembers me. Just to see her again would be enough...

Bringing a quivering hand to the door, Ieyasu knocked, and once the singing stopped, waited, shaking in his boots in a way no true valleyman would.

The door opened, and she was there. She was only in her small-clothes, a thin satin top that covered all the way from her bosom to her thighs. Everything about her was just right. Her flowing red hair, her slightly sharp chin, her nipples standing against her small-clothes, right down to her smooth legs. Ieyasu was stunned. Paralysed. She's... she's undressed, in barely anything. I feel like I shouldn't be seeing this, but I don't want to look away...

"Prince Ieyasu?" Koakuma asked, drawing his eyes from her legs, "Is that you?"

She remembers me! Ieyasu thought, on the verge of giggling, "Lady... Kawasemi... I..."

Lady Kawasemi gave the prince a smile that could have killed him then and there, "What, haven't you seen a woman in her small-clothes? I thought you valleymen would be the sorts to start fucking at twelve..."

"...I love you." Ieyasu mumbled, too dazed to care about what he had just said.

For a moment, Koakuma looked shocked, but she did not cover herself, "You wouldn't be the first to say that, though I thought I was getting a little old for it all. My apologies, Prince Ieyasu. It's truly flattering to be loved by a prince, especially one so young, but I'm a married woman."

Prince Ieyasu felt a sharpness in his throat, "...I... I didn't mean to say that. The apologies are mine, Ko-uh, Lady Kawasemi, I was not thinking, I just wanted to hear you sing, I didn't mean to..."

Lady Kawasemi chuckled, and kissed Ieyasu on the forehead, making him turn as red as his hair and giving him a good view of her breasts for but a moment, "...then I'll sing for you. How about I sing the funeral song they've got planned for my half-sister?"

Ieyasu could only splutter half-made words, "You... if you grieve... you must... so full of feeling... beautiful voice..."

Koakuma ignored the Prince at this point, and began to sing,

"This is a song for which is sung,
Our queen so fair, and dead so young,
The Gods were cruel so,
To stop her blood flow,
But yet they did, and so we grieve here.

Though she was ill and frail in life,
The realm will ne'er forget her strife,
The freedom she gave,
The lives that she saved,
The realm she united for good,

So we hereby pay this tribute,
and give to her this salute,
a song for the whole realm to hear,
and if there is one to hate her,
to mock her or disgrace her,
for their lives they aught be in fear.

For she saved the realms of men,
All from deep within her den,
Yes although she was too frail,
She made sure not to fail.

And if you sleep well at night,
then remember, if you might,
that the one who saved us all,
is now dead to us all..."

Ieyasu was brought to tears by her voice and her poignant delivery, "You must have truly loved your true-born sister, even though you were base-born..."

After that, Lady Koakuma laughed and laughed. Her voice went from beautiful to callous in a mere moment, and she even leaned on Ieyasu's shoulder to support herself, and by the time she was done, the Prince of the Vale didn't know whether to be glad the beautiful woman was leaning on him or frightened.

"...why did you laugh?" Ieyasu asked.

"Because that's ridiculous. Me and my sister... we always fought. We did not love each other, no more than a Hijiri would have loved a Shotoku." Koakuma said, stopping leaning on Ieyasu and standing tall, "Certainly I missed my fights with her when I took residence in River's Fork, but there was no love between us. But I still grieve, because she was my sister, like it or not. My kin..."

"That 's why your voice seemed so sad... you miss your fights with her, not her love..." Ieyasu said.

Koakuma laughed again, "No. I just know how to sing in a way that moves silly little men like you."

She called me a man! Ieyasu thought, and for a moment wanted to kiss her, but he was only tall enough to kiss her collarbone, which was all well and good, but inappropriate, most like.

"I love you..." Ieyasu said again, dazed.

"I know you do, you strange boy. You should look for a valleywoman your age. Now get going. I must needs change into my funeral attire." Koakuma said, and with that turned around.

Even from behind, she's perfect... Ieyasu thought, but soon his vision of her was blocked by a door. I shan't get going, Lady Kawasemi. I'm to stay here...

The boy in him was giggling like some sort of mad thing. Quiet as a mouse, he put his head close to the door handle. The keyhole beckoned to his eye, and suddenly, Ieyasu was spying on Koakuma Kawasemi.

She removed her small-clothes almost as soon as she was settled in the room, her back to the door. Turn around. Ieyasu urged her, Turn around, please...

Ieyasu's dreams came true. She stopped, as if remembering something, and made to turn around. Slowly, she rotated, her breasts in full view, before she headed closer to the door. Perfect. Perfect. She's so...

"Prince Ieyasu?" a man's voice was heard, forcing the prince to break away from the door and his dreams. Standing over Ieyasu was none other than Koakuma's peasant husband, Hiroki Kawasemi, a large, handsome man oh-too-deserving of her love.

Ieyasu stammered, trying to say anything, but the only thing that came up was, "I must go."

"My prince?" the man began, but Ieyasu was already gone, travelling almost as fast as his mother.

Speeding back to the hall with Queen Remilia's cask, Ieyasu was flustered to find that the room was now crowded, full of grievers for the late queen. In his quest to find his mother, he walked into a smirking, unsettlingly beautiful woman with black hair, a woman with bright red hair, and the thing with the cloak and the glowing eyes, but in the end, he found his mother, clad in black and grinning spectacularly.

"So, how did you find it?" Sakuya asked.

"I... she... her clothes..." Ieyasu spluttered.

"I imagine you can't remember a single Norosian house after whatever you've been through." Sakuya remarked, "Mayhaps if I betroth you to her eldest daughter, you'd be satisfied."

"I don't want Kaori Kawasemi! I want her!" Ieyasu yelled without thinking, "My apologies... sorry, mother. Yes, she'd be a better match. Yes."

"At least she's less than twice your age." Sakuya said with a chuckle, "But we must stop the japing now. It's almost time..."

Time flew by, almost as if made quicker by his mother's presence, and soon enough the singers began to drone the song Koakuma had performed elegantly, and shortly after, the Hand of the Queen, the ever-intimidating Elly Kazami, made a small speech, albeit with two Queensguard knights flanking either side.

"We are here gathered to commemorate the life of Remilia Scarlet, first of her name, Queen of the Norosians, the Braavosi settlers, and all islands within its oceans. Her ascension to the throne ended one era and began another. Remilia took us from a time of war, famine, and chaos, to one of peace, reparation, and order. It was under her hand that the Vale was made to be a truly independent nation, free of meddling by the treacherous Yakumos that our friends in the Minelands so boldly took down. It was under her that the Mad Queen's stain was permanently scrubbed from this land, and under her that the menace of the undead was destroyed forever. Both people of the Vale and people of Noros loved her, and even in death, we shall continue to love her. In her dying moments, Remilia demanded that she be places with her father, in the hall of the dead. This place is where all the great Scarlets of old have been placed in their death, and now Remilia has joined them. While this prosperous era has ended, we should not lose faith. We should all hope that tomorrow, an even brighter day may come. So while we grieve for the loss of Remilia, we must also look to the future, and hope that her... successor... is just as great a queen as she."

The woman turned to Remilia's cask, and looked down, for a moment seeming to smile, "If anyone wishes to look upon her and pay their respects, please do so..."

At that point, the guests began to do the only diplomatic thing: lining up to pay their respects. However, Elly Kazami, as well as the creature in the black cloak and the crone in red, began to walk towards the exit. Ieyasu began to walk towards the cask, but Sakuya stopped him.

"No, 'yasu. We're too attend a Small Council meeting." Sakuya said, her voice surprisingly grim.

"Y-yes, mother." the prince said, knowing not to argue.

Soon they were in a room with a small weirwood throne, as well as a table to seat the other members, a black-and-gold crown with ruby furnishings lying in front of the throne. There was one seat free in thanks to the dead queen, but it was not the throne. Elly Kazami gave herself the honour of sitting in the throne, while the rest of the council took their seat. Ieyasu sat in what he assumed was Elly Kazami's usual seat, and so the council began.

"Why's that thing here?" Elly immediately said to Sakuya.

"I wish for him to learn the ways of politics. He needs to sit on some councils, if only to observe." Sakuya replied.

Elly looked like she was going to disagree, but surprisingly, she relented, "Very well. I respect that. That's how my niece learned, and she's a fine young lady. Reigned in the Plains like nobody else could. Stay here, boy."

Ieyasu was too frightened not to at this point, "Yes, my lady."

Elly did not dignify the acceptance with a response, "Ser Parsee, to begin, tell me of the expenses."

'Ser Parsee' turned out to mean 'the creature in the cloak'. It whispered out in an echoing voice, "One thousand golden bats and twenty silver stars. The Minelands has covered most of the expenses, but we should expect a reimbursement of quicksilver and weirwood."

"Very well." Elly muttered, "Ashigara, is it possible to reduce the gold demand in the Alchemical Stronghold?"

The man with the thick beard nodded, "Aye. So long as the crown still pays at least half. The fleet's been built up to sixty."

Elly smiled at this, "Very good. Now, onto the matter of import. Princess Flandre will be crowned in a fortnight."

The crone in red took objection to that, "Flandre? As in, the girl who still crushes walnuts in fits of rage? Is giving something like that a crown a good idea? Westeros crowned a mad boy, a bastard born of incest, and the realm bled for it."

Elly's cold face seemed to become frightened for a moment, "She has got better in recent times..."

"Not well enough to rule a nation." Maester Patchouli pointed out, "She's still got no true grasp of what's around her."

"But she'll have us." Elly said, her voice low and threatening, "The small council. A good council quells the maddest of kings. Mad King Aerys of Westeros ruled with Tywin Lannister as hand for twenty years and those years were considered the most prosperous times of recent there."

"What happened after that, though?" Sakuya pointed out, "The Mad King grew jealous and removed Tywin as hand, and the realm fell into chaos. What if Flandre does the same?"

Ashigara sat back in his seat, looking at Elly with a smile, "Aerys the Mad and Princess Flandre are a different sort of mad. Flandre is tractable. Malleable. She'd never remove us. We shall keep the realm stable, and she can keep on cracking walnuts."

"Elly will keep the realm stable." the crone muttered.

"What?" Elly asked, her voice clearly rising.

"You heard me." the old woman continued, "Did you think we did not notice? That we didn't see your aspirations to become regent? For the God of Renewal's sake, you're sitting in the queen's council seat! The only reason you protect Flandre's right to succession is because it makes you, Hand of the Queen, into the Queen Regent."

Elly stood up, her scythe in hand, "And who do you suggest would succeed Remilia apart from Flandre?"

"Koakuma!" Ieyasu blurted out.

Sakuya, Parsee, Patchouli, Ashigara, the crone, and Elly all looked at the prince with varying amounts of respect.

"A foolish idea from a mere boy." Elly said with mounting nervousness.

"A mere boy's idea, but not one without merit..." Parsee hissed.

Sakuya rubbed her chin, "Yes, and if Prince Ieyasu marries Kaori Kawasemi, then the realms of Noros and the Vale will be united once again, and the valleymen will not even think to rise against her."

Elly began to stammer, "N-no... if she became queen, who would rule river's fork?"

"We'll solve each problem as it comes." Sakuya said, "And for now, the problem is avoiding putting a mad queen on the throne, or, may the Gods forbid..."

"Don't say it..." Elly warned.

"...a Kazami." Sakuya finished.

Elly's yellow eyes were a mixture of hatred and sadness, and her scythe was quivering, "I... am not... my sister. I am not... House Kazami..."

Parsee's eyes glowed, "Do you wish for me to calm you, Hand? I was most adept at doing it for Lady Komeiji..."

Elly hit her scythe on the ground, but slowly, and calmly sat down again, "...very well. All in favour of Flandre's ascent to the throne, speak now."

"Aye. I believe she should be queen." Ashigara said, "We'll simply rule as a council, with Flandre as a figurehead."

Elly smiled, "Anyone else?"

Patchouli quietly spoke up, "If we mayhaps were to allow Koakuma into the council, and several others from the Vale and Noros alike to help further council Flandre, mayhaps her madness could be offset?"

Elly shook her head, "This small council is called small for a reason. Your idea is foolish, Maester."

The crone in red nodded, "For once I'll agree. Dragging nobles from all over the continent away from their seats is impractical, and leaves cities without rulers."

Elly sighed, "Is there anyone else for Flandre's ascension?"

The crone was first, "No. I do not know Lady Kawasemi well, but I do know that she is well-loved by her people. Even married a commoner, I hear. Such a woman for a queen would usher in an era of peace."

Elly seemed to be finding it difficult to speak, "Master of Whisperers?"

"I have to agree with Lady Shinki. Koakuma is the better woman for the job." Sakuya said, "Flandre is no queen."

Parsee began to speak in her unsettling whisper of a voice, "I have ruled under a grief-mad lady in the past. The duty was arduous, and even with my ability to control her emotions, Lady Satori made decisions that led to her death..."

The creatures green eyes dimmed as it looked to the ground. Elly clenched a fist, and seemed ready to hit the table, however, she simply stood, "Very well. This council meeting is inconclusive."

"What? But most of us want Kawasemi!" Shinki declared, "We need to decide who ascends."

Elly headed to the door, and swivelled her scythe, "We'll make the decision unanimously. Leave the council hall for the time being, we'll discuss this tomorrow."

With that, Elly Kazami left, and Sakuya looked to Ieyasu, "Come, 'yasu. To our rooms. Our guards are drinking at the inn. We need to keep them with us."

"Why?" Ieyasu asked.

"You'll find out, if I know Elly Kazami. Hopefully she'll surprise me." Sakuya muttered, and briskly, the two left the hall and headed for their room.

They had been reserved the best room in the inn, as befitted the royal family of the Vale, but the luxury did nothing to comfort Ieyasu. As Sakuya sat on her bed and rubbed her temples, Ieyasu began to realise what was going on.

Turning to one of their guards, a great, bulky man with a red beard soaked with rum, Ieyasu muttered, "Be on guard tonight."

"If ye say so, mah prince." the valleyman slurred.

"I mean it, Ser. Do not sleep and do not keep your blade sheathed." Ieyasu commanded.

Sakuya looked to Ieyasu, "...so you understand?"

"I do, mother."

"Good." Sakuya said, "You have more of me in you than I expected. Shade-of-the-evening?"

"Gladly." Ieyasu replied.

After a couple of cups of shade-of-the-evening, Ieyasu fell asleep, but only as lightly as he dared. The moment the door got broken open, he was not even surprised. Getting up as soon as his mother instantly lit their candle, Ieyasu bore witness to a black brother of the Queensguard doing battle with the valleymen stationed at the door. The man had armour, and was taking the pair well, but was so occupied with them that from a small distance, Ieyasu felt relatively safe.

"We need to go, 'yasu." Sakuya whispered, "Hold my hand."

"Mother, are we..." Ieyasu began.

"Yes, we're going to move in an instant. Hold my hand, 'yasu!" Sakuya demanded as one valleyman fell and the other stabbed the Queensguard in the leg.

Ieyasu extended his hand to Sakuya's, but suddenly, an urge overcame him. He instead reached for his mother's hip, and grabbed the hilt of one of her many knives.

"'yasu, what are you doing?" Sakuya screamed.

"Saving the woman I love!" Ieyasu declared, and threw the knife at the Queensguard, hoping to hit him through the visor.

It instead bounced off his helmet.

"You little shit!" the Queensguard yelled at that, kicking away the other guard and running him through with his sword, "Who's going to protect you now?"

The black knight stalked across the room, hulking from the pain where his leg was injured, and raised his sword. Ieyasu suddenly looked to his mother, or where he thought she'd be, but no-one was there.

"MOTHER!" the prince screamed, and for a moment he closed his eyes and thought of his father, how he was now without a successor and how he'd failed his country. However, by the time he opened his eyes, the man was dead on the floor, a knife in the back of his head and Sakuya standing above him.

"Mother!" Ieyasu said with relief, hugging her, "You saved me!"

"Yes, and the sky's blue. Now come on, let's save your crone lover and future Queen of Noros." Sakuya said with a smirk.

Together they rushed up the stairs of the inn, getting to the top floor. When they reached there, there was a catspaw, noticeably not Queensguard, about to break into the room. Sakuya soon dealt with him, and before long he was suffering from a case of knife-in-head. Ieyasu no longer needed to fear entering Lady Kawasemi's room. He burst into the room, hesitating as Lady Kawasemi and her husband both sat up in their bed.

"Koakuma! Koakuma! I'm here to save you!" Ieyasu declared, but soon Sakuya came to cease the illusion.

"We're here to save you." Sakuya corrected, "Hold my hand or die."

Koakuma was breathless, "Sakuya?"

"Yes. Sakuya." the warlock said exasperatedly, walking up to her husband's side of the bed, disappearing with him, and then proceeding to appear again on Koakuma's side, making her disappear next. Finally, Sakuya appeared in front of her son.

"Now will you hold my hand, lover-boy?" Sakuya asked.

"Yes." Ieyasu replied, and held her hand. All became grey and thick with shadows, and though he felt himself walking with Sakuya for a moment, he soon fell asleep...

Author's Note: Well, this is it. It's been a long ride, but it's all finally over. If there was any time to review, readers, now would be it. I do hope this thing's had more readers than just the ones reviewing, silent people waiting and withholding judgement until the end. If you are one of those people, now is the time to review.

I would like to thank Festasim of D.A. for being my co-writer and beta reader. Without him, this fic would have never reached completion, and become another dead fic. I would also like to thank all you long term readers and fans that have endured this series for so long.

I'm sure you've noticed I've left a slight gap for a sequel, however, I'm also happy to end it on this note. Any feedback on which decision would be better would also be appreciated. Thank you all so much.

Goodbye for now, my friends,
Duwee Davis II.