Emperors weren’t meant to be single.
Emperors were supposed to find Empresses to rule with them and provide many heirs.
Spine was the Emperor of Fantasy Forest.
Emperor Spine didn’t have an Empress, even after being Emperor for many years.
This was a problem.
Well, in all actuality, it wasn’t so much a concern for Spine. After all, he’d never met any woman who he could imagine spending his life with. indeed, he hadn’t met anyone who he could stand for all that long period, and this was after he’d regained his sanity after that little go-crazy-and-try-to-destroy-the-forest incident.
…Of course, that wasn’t the entire truth. There was one person that Spine could stand for long periods of time and in fact had done so with for many years. Alas, that person was not royalty, and nor even a woman. No, that one being was Thistle, his little Elvin court magician.
It really went without saying that Thistle wasn’t exactly Empress material.
It was really too bad, because who better than to spend your life joined in wedded bliss than someone who’d seen you at your worst and thought no worse of you for it? Thistle forgave him for everything immediately after the prophecy was fulfilled and he flowered, and they’d fallen back into their old routine in the months that followed. But now there was an added complication—Spine’s parents, the prior Emperor and Empress, were insisting that their son “Hurry up and find a wife so we can have some grandchildren already!” They even offered to introduce him to suitable women in other empires. Supposedly, the princess of Whimsical Woods was young, pretty, and single…
But quite honestly, Spine had no interest in meeting any princesses, duchesses, countesses, or any other noble woman that might be about. He wasn’t a teenager anymore, and he certainly didn’t need his parents’ help to get a date. He knew what he was looking for in a partner, and he could assure anyone who cared to ask that none of those women would have it.
Because none of them were lithe elves with long white hair, pink eyes, magical hats, and endearing lisps. Oh no, Thistle wasn’t just the only one he could stand for more than ten minutes at a time; Thistle was also the only one Spine could imagine being married to. And as Spine already knew far too well, Thistle wasn’t exactly Empress material. Spine had a fairly good feeling that if he told his parents he insisted marrying his court magician, they’d think he’d lost his mind. Again. Needless to say, that wasn’t exactly preferable.
He knew that his subjects wouldn’t mind. They all liked Thistle after the magician played a key role in returning his sanity during the aforementioned incident. Most of them probably liked Thistle more than they liked him. And really, if his subjects wouldn’t mind, who else really needed to approve?
…Well, other than Thistle of course.
Thistle was an enigma. He seemed like he returned Spine’s affections, he really did. He was loyal to a fault, took his past abuse in stride, had a habit of batting his eyes when he talked to him, and called him “my Cactus King.” The problem was, even after all these years, Spine wasn’t sure if that was Thistle’s way of flirting with him, or if that was just how he was. After all, Thistle was hardly the epitome of masculinity.
True, the easiest way to find out would be to ask, but… Did he really want to risk rejection if he was wrong? And what if it didn’t work out? How would their relationship be then? And… And…
And what was he? A teenage fox girl with her first crush? No! He was Emperor Spine, the Cactus King! Ruler of Fantasy Forest! And if he wanted to know if his appointed magician was in love with him, then that’s what he would find out! …And he hated to admit it, but even that sounded a bit lovesick. Oh well, it wasn’t as if anyone else heard it…
“Your grace? What are you doing?” The confused lisped voice of the very one he’d just been thinking of snapped Spine from his thoughts and clued him into the fact that he’d stood up from his throne and had been making hand gestures to accompany his thoughts. Oh. Well. That was rather embarrassing. He coughed to regain his composure, ignoring the stares he was receiving from Thistle and the royal guards stationed in the throne room.
“Nothing, nothing at all…” The magician gave him a look that clearly said that he didn’t buy a word of it, but he didn’t say a thing. “Right… Thistle, today has been rather slow. If anyone comes in requesting an audience, I’m sure they can wait until tomorrow. Would you mind accompanying me to my chambers? There’s something I wish to discuss with you.” Thistle merely nodded his head, the confusion apparent in his eyes as he followed obediently behind his Emperor. Once they reached his room—Thistle’s was the next room down the hall, so he knew the way well—Spine opened the door and gestured for the magician to enter. He did so, and Spine closed the door behind him. And locked it. He didn’t want anyone bursting in during this.
“So… What’s wrong Spine?” When they were all alone, Thistle was allowed to drop the formalities, though he did still call him “my Cactus King” at times. He was the only being in Fantasy Forest with such a privilege.
“Thistle… I’m sure you’ve noticed that I’ve never courted anyone before…” Thistle nodded, some understanding entering his eyes.
“Oh, so that’s what your parents’ letters have been about… They must want you to get married immediately, right?” It was Spine’s turn to nod. He sighed and turned to sit on the side of his bed, not noticing the small frown that appeared on the magician’s face. “Then… Have you decided which of them you’ll choose?”
“Which I’ll choose…?” Spine repeated bewilderedly, finally looking up and seeing Thistle’s expression. Why… “Thistle, are you… pouting?” Thistle’s eyes widened a fraction, and he hurriedly cast his gaze to the floor to mask his expression.
“N-no! Why would I…?” Spine chuckled, a burst of confidence filling him as he noticed Thistle’s flushed face.
“All right, if you say so... But no, I’ve haven’t chosen one, because I’m not interested in any of them. I can assure you, not one of them is my type.” That got Thistle’s attention.
“Your… type?” He paused for a moment, as if deciding precisely what he wanted to say. “What exactly is your type?”
“Well… They have to be smaller than me.” Thistle listened attentively, though Spine could tell he was nervous due to the way he was wringing his hands together. How cute. “Slim, long hair, big eyes… Their demeanor must be pleasant—neither too aggressive nor too meek. They must be willing to forgive my faults and stay loyal to me but not afraid to go against me if I’ve lost my mind.” Even with all of his clues, Thistle was still nervous that Spine was describing a woman. Now that just wouldn’t do… “Magical prowess and lisps are preferable as well.”
He waited. One second, two seconds, three, four… There. Thistle’s face went from green to bright red as he suddenly realized just who Spine was describing.
“B-b-but, your grace, surely you don’t mean—”
“Yes I do,” Spine cut him off, his tone leaving no doubt that he was perfectly serious, “I don’t want any of those women because I want you. I’ve wanted you for the longest time, but only now have I been put into the position where I am forced to attempt to further our relationship or risk losing my chances with you forever. I’m not asking for your hand, but, perhaps, you’d care to see what we can make of this?” Thistle stood silent for a few moments, shell-shocked and unblinking. Then, slowly, a smile spread across his face. It was one of the most beautiful things Spine had ever witnessed.
“Emperor Spine… Are you saying that you love me, your lowly court magician?” Spine’s face took on its own smile at the teasing tone in Thistle’s voice.
“I believe I am. And your answer is…?” Thistle crossed the short distance to Spine’s bed, but rather than sit on it, he planted himself squarely in Spine’s lap and brought their faces so close that their lips ghosted together.
“Isn’t it obvious?” And with the resulting kiss, Spine had to say that yes, it was quite obvious indeed.
“What’s that?” Thistle asked, curiosity having finally got the best of him. He’d been watching Spine write a letter for the better half of an hour, and Spine knew that he really wanted to know what was in it. And being the Emperor’s court magician-slash-lover, Spine felt that Thistle was justified in being a bit nosy.
“It’s a response to my mother’s last letter,” was the reply he gave as he rolled up the parchment and closed it with his royal seal. He finally turned from his writing desk and saw Thistle sitting on the side of his bed, kicking his legs in apparent boredom. Ah, that would have to be rectified post-haste… “I informed her that she may stop sending me the names of every single noble woman she knows, as I have found someone to court on my own.”
“Court?” Thistle questioned with a giggled. “You’ve been courting me for years. You already have me.”
“True,” Spine agreed, the faintest of smirks on his face, “but she doesn’t need to know the details… Now, I believe I have a bored little magician on my hands. Whatever shall I do with him?”
“Why, your grace, whatever you wish, of course.”
No, Thistle wasn’t exactly Empress material… But that suited Spine just fine.