The look on Kyoko’s face was incredulous. The Prince was offering her a chance to use all that she had learned, and maintain her rank. Everything she had worked for in her life up to leaving her homeland revolved around her career and her position, which she had been very proud of. Her initial thoughts were that as a Princess she would not ever be able to set foot out of the palace, and be seen and not heard. This…was a true gift, and one that she was truly thankful to be offered.
The more he spoke, the better it sounded. He would of course be her Senior, and she had no qualms with working beneath him and taking orders. It was all par of the course, when in the Brigade. The clincher, was being able to invite one of her Senior Master Sergeants to be transferred from Nephilim. It would mean that neither of them would be returning however, so she knew it would be a big ask on her behalf.
Truth was she loved her old life, and if this gave her even a moment to experience the thrill of action again, then she would grasp it with both hands.
“I accept your proposition, Your Highness. As soon as I am able, I will contact my Brigade and see who is up to be transferred here.” Her smile grew as she admitted a truth. “You don’t know what this means to me.”
Kazuhiko stood from his chair and embraced Kyoko in excitement. For a moment he felt a kinship with her that he had only felt when he was around Casimiro. He took a step back and looked into her beautiful brown eyes. The moment lasted for a few seconds until his heart could no longer take it. He let go of her and turned away a little, blowing strands of stray hair out of his face.
“Uh… maybe we should go back now. Wouldn’t want to cause a stir with the gossips,” he said as he headed for the door. His head raced with thoughts of how he could keep the mood light and get her to forget his imprudence. “Your skills and those of your Senior Master Sergeant will need to be tested. The Rise Arsenal is a special ops team composed of the prodigies of the Air Brigade. Although you will be my wife, we do not want anyone to think you receive special treatment. They need to know you earned your position, so that they can strive to do the same.”
He exited the way they came and turned to face Kyoko. He kept a respectful distance and straightened his expression. He was all business now. he stood tall and squared his shoulders. In every aspect, he looked the part of the fearless leader everyone claimed him to be. And in that moment, he felt the role in his heart. Casimiro could never be replaced, but the legacy had to go on. Kazuhiko felt a renewed vigor for the fight. He would protect his people, the one true calling of the Nephilim.
“Do those conditions agree with you?”
That moment the Prince embraced Kyoko, she felt a wave of shock and surprise. She couldn’t believe he just did something that was so spontaneous. He held her and then on releasing her just stared into her eyes. Did he feel something for her? Kyoko felt the confusion hit her when he turned away, and then more or less changed tactics, saying they should return before idle minds start to spread gossip about their absence. Kyoko shook her head, as though to rid any girlish feelings she may have had. There was no way the Prince could possibly feel anything for her. Soon enough, he returned to the proud looking Prince, his whole body language spoke this. For a few fleeting seconds, she thought they had a relationship of some sort; the possible sparks, but it died away like the breeze. The Prince spoke to her about how she would have to be proved to be worthy for her position, which was not unexpected. Her officer of choice, would also need to be pushed through his paces. Kyoko had no doubt that whoever came up from her Grand Academy would do them both justice.
As Kazuhiko maintained a respectful distance, and spoke to her as though she was under his command, she followed suit. Her eyes became devoid of emotion, and she followed him back to the castle. It had already been a long night, and she was ready to turn in.
On reaching the castle, she simply said.
“Thank you for a wonderful evening, Your Highness. I shall return to my chambers, and get some sleep.”
That said, she bowed and then turned to head down the hall.
The sudden chill in her disposition could not be ignored. It was like they were strangers again. Offending her had not been his inten,t but he knew he went about things in the wrong way. He had wanted to show her the utmost respect seeing as how they had just met, but he was prone to impulse. He didn’t want to rush or force a relationship with Kyoko. If something were to transpire between them, it would happen on its own.
“Good night,” he said not quite sure if she heard him. He turned and headed for his room which was suspiciously located on the opposite side of the castle. Kazuhiko was sure his mother had something to do with the matter. As he made his trek, thoughts of Kyoko flashed through his mind.
Why can’t I get her out of my head?
In no time at all it seemed, he reached his door and was happy to see no one in sight. He turned the knob and stepped inside. The room was well lit due to the fact that witchlights only turn off if you speak the correct words. He stripped down to his underwear and set the expensive garments aside. Someone would collect them in the morning for cleaning. He entered the bathroom and was not surprised to see that the puddle of his blood was gone and the mirror had been replaced. Intuitively, he knew he had acted very childishly earlier. There was no doubt in his mind that there would be hell to pay tomorrow for his actions. Letting out an exasperated sigh, he retired for the night.
Kyoko hadn’t heard him. She was walking too quickly to get away before he could see the look on her face. Her room was quite a distance from the entrance, and in that walk she mulled over everything that had occurred during this night. Kyoko put on the performance of her life. To look every bit the part the Crown Prince’s Betrothed, and had behaved impeccably. She was certain that at least the royal family would have taken note of her behavior, that would bring some comfort. Duty. That word kept coming up in her mind, again and again.
Kyoko finally reached her door, looking over her shoulder before opening it to find a large expansive room, that was elaborately decorated, but to her it could have been as hollow as a tomb. Sighing, she closed the door behind her, and pushed her head back leaning against the door. On the one hand, the Prince had given her a chance to become a part of his specialist fighting force, and that she would have a comrade from her homeland to work along side. That was something, wasn’t it?
But she would be just another soldier. Kyoko’s heart sank.
“I should be thankful, and yet why is my heart pained?’ She thought to herself.
Slowly she started to shed her clothes, and made her way to the bathroom to wash. Kyoko saw her own reflection in the mirror, and it was an unhappy face. She had to try and make this work. But what is a marriage without love? What is a life without love?
She didn’t know the answer.
The next morning brought with it sunshine, azure skies and a much dreaded note from Kazuhiko’s father, the Emperor. The brief message made it very clear that if the prince did not attend his weekly mandatory sessions with the royal physician, he would not like the consequences. After crumbling the note and throwing it into the wastebasket, he perused his closet for an outfit as close to casual as possible. He chose a simple black tunic and dark brown trousers with a long black custom etched vest made from the finest tapestry.
The time for their meeting was nearing, so he took a quick sip of water and left his room. The physician would be waiting in an appointed guest room for his arrival. It had been weeks since they last met. Kazuhiko hated the seemingly endless hour talking about what happened the day Casimiro died. Supposedly the rehashing of tragedy was a method of treatment, but he would rather drink a disgusting elixir any day.
He reached the room agreed upon and opened the door without knocking. The physician was already seated in one of the high quality armchairs that decorated each room. If he was surprised that Kazuhiko showed up, he hid it very well. They greeted each other briefly and Kazuhiko took a seat in the armcahir across from the physician. Without warning or provocation, the doctor began speaking as if they had never lost touch.
“I hear that you met the lovely Second Lieutenant Takiharah last night. Sadly, I could not attend the festival due to a previous engagement. Did you two interact well?” the practitioner asked. Kazuhiko was surprised by the topic choice of the physician, who seemed to have at least temporarily dropped the subject of his dead best friend. The crown prince was very pleased he didn’t need to spend the morning traveling down bad memory lane.
“She is very gracious and well-mannered, but I think I have ruined the chances for anything but a cordial partnership,” he said as he leaned his cheek against his fist and rested his elbow on the armrest. Kazuhiko was sure that he had been too forward with Kyoko the night before and believed she would give him the cold shoulder for a long time to come. “I offended her somehow,” he explained to the physician who took everything in and nodded slowly.
“Did you apologize?” the doctor asked.
“Well… no. I was too embarrassed by the whole situation, so I changed the subject,” he said, his cheeks starting to redden from the memory. The doctor laughed in a friendly fashion and sat forward in his seat a little.
“It seems you have experienced the flaw of male and female relations. It will take much time for you and Kyoko to come to understand and trust each other, but I assure you that it can be done. The first step might be to apologize for your offense. That should lighten any antipathy between the two of,” the practitioner said wisely. The session seemed to pass quickly as the doctor gave Kazuhiko pointers of how to sucessfully interact with Kyoko. The crown price was so immersed in the conversation, he didn’t notice when the mandated time limit had passed. The doctor’s advice gave him confidence and he decided that he would meet up with Kyoko before breakfast to atone his bad behavior.
“Thanks for the advice, doc,” he said before leaving and heading toward Kyoko’s room. She wasn’t far from where he met up with the physician, so he would be there in no time. When he arrived, he stood outside her room for a very long time. All of the courage he built came crumbling down around him and lightly tapping on the door was all he could manage. Thinking about giving up and running away, he stood and waited with his hands clasped behind his back.
A new day dawned with the sun’s rays filtering through the light curtains and down onto Kyoko’s bed. She had had trouble sleeping initially when she had returned to her chambers, due to her mind being filled with the events of that night. Soon enough she did fall into a deep sleep, and she slowly awoke; stretching and yawning as the new day appeared.
Kyoko threw back her satin quilt and thew her legs over the side of the bed, placing her bare feet down upon the shaggy rug at the foot of her bed. Wriggling her toes, she smiled as she rose to standing, going into a routine of stretches and bending, to help awaken herself further.
Padding over to the window nearest her bed, she looked out over the expansive grounds of the castle, and leaned on her elbows, drinking in the morning sun. Her hair lightly teased by the breeze, blew about behind her as she yawned some more. Her stomach rumbled slightly, as she had not eaten at the grand banquet, having been too self conscious and nervous around the Crown Prince.
Ah, yes. The Crown Prince. She grimaced slightly as she pushed herself off the window sill and turned around to ponder how to deal with him when the time came. He was so business like when they parted, she could only imagine more of the same the next time they met.
A small knock at the door startled Kyoko and she crossed the room quickly to answer it. On opening the door, it was a hand maiden with her breakfast. Relieved, Kyoko took a step back and allowed the girl to enter and Kyoko motioned towards a small table near the large window, where she would like to have her breakfast. The girl was very subservient, bowing and such and Kyoko felt a bit embarrassed that she was doing all this for her. Kyoko didn’t feel any different from when she was at home in the academy. Sighing, she thanked the girl and showed her out, before sitting down to enjoy her breakfast, which was mainly fruits and cereal, with a coffee and juice.
As she ate, she glanced over at picture of her parents, and her younger sister. How she missed them. Kyoko made a point to remind herself to write to them after breakfast, since she had no prior engagements planned. Kyoko glanced across at the empty chair opposite her at the small table, and imagined if the Prince was sitting there. She wondered if after they married, would it be like this? Eating alone, having her own room. If that was the case, this was going to be a lonely life.
Patting her mouth with her napkin as she finished her breakfast, she toyed with her cup of coffee, turning it around and around, as she pondered the future. Who to choose to come and be her offsider on the new assignment, when the Prince gave the orders. Her heart lifted a little. To have someone there that knew her from the years of training. She just hoped they didn’t get upset about leaving their homeland behind, like she had.
Setting down her cup of coffee, she decided to get dressed, and none of the finery either. She settled on casual clothes, with light pants in blue and a white tank top. Sandals to match and when she looked at herself in the mirror, she liked what she saw. Just natural and plain. This was the real Kyoko. The girl behind the future Princess.
As she was about to go and write a letter, there was another knock at the door. Kyoko thought that it must be the servant girl come to get her dishes, and she skipped over to open the door, only to get a shock to see it was the Prince.
“Oh…oh I’m sorry, I thought…never mind. Good morning your Highness.” Kyoko said with a light bow.
By the time Kyoko answered the door, Kazuhiko’s resolve was completely shot. His palms were sweaty and his heart pounded to an insane rhythm. No one had ever caused him to feel this way before and he found himself wondering if fate had played a funny trick on him. Kazuhiko had spent so much time convincing himself that this marriage would be nothing more than a business venture, but now he wasn’t so sure.
The seconds were passing by and the prince still hadn’t returned Kyoko’s greeting. He felt paralyzed looking over into her eyes and she made the matter no easier by appearing so at ease. Her face held no make up, but was luminescent and smooth. She wore casual clothing, but the simplicity favored her, only adding to the appeal. He wondered if she realized how on edge she made him feel.
Too much time had gone by and Kazuhiko was sure he was starting to look like a fool, so he cleared his throat and returned her bow. “Good morning, Miss Takiharah. You are quite lovely this morning,” he said honestly. The doctor had told him to sincerely compliment Kyoko whenever the chance presented itself, explaining that flattery always softened the mood. Kazuhiko would rather not have this conversation in the hall, but he didn’t want to invite himself in, so he swallowed his pride and proceeded to his apology.
“Yesterday, when you agreed to join the Arsenal, I got ahead of myself. I have a bad habit of acting on my emotions and I was so excited from gaining your valuable fellowship, that I behaved imprudently. I should not have embraced you without your permission and you have my humblest apologies if I have offended you,” he said seriously, meaning every word. He hoped that Kyoko could find it in her heart to give him another chance. He stood quietly and waited nervously for her response.
“Good morning, Miss Takiharah. You are quite lovely this morning,”
That first part of his introduction, was one that took her back slightly. Here she was just dressed in ordinary civilian clothes and going about a typical morning routine, when the Prince arrives looking dashing as ever. His demeanor however seemed to have lightened, a little. Kyoko brought her shoulders up and blushed slightly, taken aback by the compliment, but she had to admit to herself, it was a nice thing of him to say. The Prince continued to speak, though standing in the hallway and Kyoko was ready to step back and allow him in, but he spoke about their discussion yesterday, and how his actions may have been over the top to her acceptance. The hug. The part where he said he should have asked her permission before hugging her, actually had her lip quiver as she started to smile. It’s not normal to ask someone to hug them, you do it cause you are either pleased to see them, or you just get the feeling its acceptable. The Prince went on to apologize if he had offended her, which in all truth he hadn’t, it just threw her off slightly.
For a moment, Kyoko was trying to take all this in, but then remembered herself and said.
“Really, it is I that should be apologizing. But, it might be better if you came into my room, rather than stand out in the hall. That is…if you would like my company?’
If he entered, she would close the door, then offer him a seat on the large window sill seat, so that they could speak more candidly. Kyoko sat down first, and crossed her right foot over her left, with her hands placed joined in her lap. She still had an air of decorum, but she was also trying to make the Prince feel more at ease.
“I think it would be safe to say, your Highness, that we both had a touch of nerves last night.” This was how she truly felt and thought it was reasonable to say. “I admit, that I had feelings that our marriage was more of a business arrangement, than one of…compatibility. To only have met the once, and the expectations each of them would of or may have had, may have marred their first casual meeting. Kyoko then decided to be bold, and speak her mind.
“My Prince. I really would like us to be friends. To get to know each other, what we like to do, hobbies, interests.”
Was she speaking out of line?
Taking a seat next to Kyoko, Kazuhiko couldn’t help but smile. She seemed to hold no grudge against him and the fact that she wanted to get to know him better was more than he could ask for. It felt like a weight was lifted from his shoulders. He relaxed on the window sill and looked around the room. It was just as grand as his own and he wondered if Kyoko liked her new home.
“Getting to know each other sounds perfect,” he said turning a little to face her. “I know you had to leave your homeland behind, but I will try my best to make you feel welcome.” He spoke with earnestness and boyish innocence, happy that they could at least be amicable. He thought of ways he could make her feel more at home and the Air Brigade Base came to mind. The night before, she spoke with so much passion about her career. He knew she would like to see where she would be working now. Hopefully it would give her a reason to not be so sad about leaving her homeland.
“How would you like to visit Desnonia’s Air Brigade today? I’m sure its not as grand as the base in the homeland, but it will give you a chance to meet the team.”