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here's to friendship and growing up

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They are ten years old, and Ezran has just been crowned King of Katolis, and a summit of the Pentarchy is being held at the neutral ground of Del Bar to commemorate him.

    “So,” Aanya begins, standing in the cold hall of the thrones room, “As one young monarch to another, I can relate to being underestimated.” She offers King Ezran a slight smile. “I would like to propose an alliance between our two kingdoms. Perhaps we can get to know each other better.”

    The boy king stares at her. “So… you want to be friends?”

    Aanya nods. “Basically.” She reaches out her hand.

    Ezran beams and awkwardly shakes her hand. “I’d like that.”

    Aanya allows herself to grin. “Me too.”

 

        ***

    They are eleven and twelve and eleven, and Ellis and Aanya are both visiting the castle of Katolis.

    The king and his commoner friend lay spread across the grass, chatting animatedly. A giant dog- no, Aanya thinks, it’s a wolf- pounces around their feet on crickets and arm movements and a few times on the king’s long-suffering glowtoad.

    Aanya’s been in Katolis for a peace treaty, and can’t help but watch from a tower window. I can’t afford to be so carefree anymore. She turns to go-

    “Hey! Aanya! Queen Aanya!” Ezran yells. “Come and meet Ellis!”

    Ellis says something and pats her wolf.

    “Ellis and Ava!” Ezran amends.

    Aanya smiles slightly, a bit startled, and turns to head downstairs to the courtyard where Ellis and Ezran are. Maybe she’ll try talking with them. All in the name of diplomacy, of course.

    Ezran lights up when she comes close and pats the grass near him. “Sit down!”

    Aanya looks at Ellis. “Is that okay?”

    “Sure!” Ellis chirps, a slight blush on her face, then leans over to talk to Ezran. “Who’s she?”

    Ezran whispers something back- Aanya catches friend and queen and Duren.

    She sits down lightly on the grass.

    “I’m Ellis, and this is my sweetie wolf Ava!” Ellis says, and Aanya smiles at her and clasps her outstretched hand.

    “It’s good to meet you, Ellis.”

 

        ***

They are thirteen and fourteen and thirteen, and Aanya’s taken to going to Katolis whenever possible.

They’re in Ezran’s room this time, the two rulers sitting on the bed and Ellis awkwardly perched on a chair, uneasy from so much opulence.

“And that’s when Callum decided to give me the talk about sandwiches,” Ezran finishes, and Ellis chokes on her spit.

“Oh my god,” Ellis says finally. “That’s terrible, Ez.”

Aanya feels a bit out of the conversation. Ellis and Ezran haven’t known each other for much longer than she has, but they have bizarre inside jokes. Still, it’s nice listening, so she brings her knees to her chest and listens to them talk.

“I mean,” Ellis continues, “my dad yelled at me for a while and I had to stay with a friend when I came out as lesbian, but that’s more merciful than Callum sitting you down and telling you to always use protection-”

Ezran sits up straight. “Your dad did what?”

    Ellis shrugs. “It’s okay now. We figured it out. He was just kinda caught off guard.”

    They were talking about Ezran’s coming out as pansexual, and Aanya winces with sympathy.

    “Well, know you can always stay here,” Ezran says finally, and Ellis grins.

    “I might just stay here anyway.” She gestures to the large space, comfortable bed and desk, a panel that leads to a secret passage, a gem-encrusted tapestry. “You have a really nice house.”

    “And there’s free jelly tarts!” Ezran says.

    “Free if you steal them.”

    “Exactly!”

    “So,” Ellis asks, “No  problems on your end?”

    “Nope!” Ezran says. “Like, no one in my family is straight though, so it would have been weird if there had been.”

    “No one?” Ellis asks skeptically.

    Ezran shakes his head. “My brother’s bi. My aunt Amaya’s lesbian, and her best friend is gay for one of Rayla’s dads, the one who lost his soul that one time. Claudia’s a lesbian and Soren’s gay, their evil dad is pan for the elf in his magic mirror, Corvus is ace…”

    “You have an interesting family,” Ellis comments.

    “I know,” Ezran groans.

    Aanya doesn’t have anything to add to the conversation, so she stays quiet, fiddling with her necklace. She had two moms. She thinks they would support her, given that, but she hardly knows anything about them, never even got to know them.

    Still, listening to Ellis and Ezran, it’s nice to know she’s not alone.

   

        ***

    They are fourteen and fifteen and fourteen, and Aanya is the only sensible person in their friendgroup. (She can think about it like that without having to justify it to herself much now. She’s still fourteen. She can have friends now without thinking about the benefits and if they can help her with whatever her plans for helping Duren are.)

    “Come on!” Ezran says. “It’ll be awesome!”

They’re standing on the bank of a swift-moving river. Aanya can see it drop into a tall waterfall and cascade past rocks in the distance. Ezran’s plan is to ride a rowboat down it.

“I don’t know,” Ellis says. “What do you think, Ava?”

Her wolf barks, and Ezran translates. “She says it’s a great idea.”

Ellis frowns at him. “Are you just saying that so I’ll go in the boat?”

“Maybe,” Ezran says.

“Cool,” Ellis decides and gets in.

“You can’t seriously want me to go down that,” Aanya tells Ezran. “What if we all die and no one’s left to take care of our kingdoms? Plus, there’s no point. It’s just dumb.

Ezran grins at her in a way that’s hard to say no to. “There’s a point! It’s to have fun.”

He takes her by her arm and begins dragging her to the boat. “You need to have more fun, Aanya. You’re too serious.”

“You’re not serious enough,” Aanya complains, but allows herself to be pulled into the boat. Ezran gets in and kicks off the boat after telling Ava to take care of Bait, and the river starts pushing them to the waterfall.

Aanya steels herself. I’ve resisted so many assassins that it’s hard for anything to phase me. This’ll be fi- “AAAAAH!” she yells as they fall down the waterfall, boat vertical and heart beating hard in her chest. Ellis and Ezran laugh and Aanya ducks as a cascade of water threatens to soak her intricately decorated clothes.

They head down the river, whacking against rocks, and Aanya admits she’s enjoying it a bit. She lets herself laugh with the others as they keep going along, boat spinning almost out of control and the three of them pressed up against the back of it, and she dramatically falls into Ellis when they hit a rock.

“See!” Ezran yells to be heard above the roaring water. “You just needed some fun!”

Aanya tries to appear composed again and flicks him. “That doesn’t mean you can just make us all do incredibly dangerous things randomly.”

Then they hit another rock, and Aanya yelps as water actually does get on her clothes. They’re probably going to be ruined after this.

She doesn’t really care, though.

They pull over to a bank and Ezran sighs in relief. “Awesome, no giant serpents this time.”

What?”

“Nothing! Let’s go again!”

Aanya sighs, but trudges up the hill with her friends. “One more time.”

 

        ***

    They are fourteen and fifteen and fourteen, and they’ve just been to their first real party. Aanya talked and danced a bit, and flirted with Ellis, but avoided acting like, well, a teenager, and though she probably missed out on most of the fun, it’s worth it when Ezran and Ellis are groaning and rubbing their heads in the morning and she’s cheerfully reading a book on Evenere politics at Ezran’s desk.

    “Soren’s parties are wild, huh?” she comments, and grins when Ezran puts his hands over his ears and tells her to stop talking.

    “Wow, so easily angered. How are you ruling without a regent? You’re so immature.”
    Ezran stopped ruling with a regent a few months ago, and so far is doing a pretty good job, not that Aanya’s going to tell him that.

    “I wasn’t that drunk,” Ellis complains.

    “You tried to color my face with a highlighter because you said I was important.”

    “But you are! ” Ellis tells her, and Aanya grins.

    “That was kind of sweet.”

    Their conversation is interrupted when Callum enters the room. “Ez, did you go out last night?”

    “No,” Ez says muffled, then, “Well, yes.”

    Callum sighs. “You’re too young to do stuff like that.”

    “But not too young to cross Katolis to stop a war,” Ezran points out. “You know, I think you’re just jealous because you have no social life.”

    “I have a social life,” Callum complains.

    “Sure,” Ellis says. “By the way, since you weren’t there, did you hear your girlfriend Rayla kissed Claudia?”

    “What?”

    Ellis grins. “Yeah. She totally did.”

    Callum left, probably to go talk to Raya, and Aanya sighs. “That was close. Who wanted to go to that party, anyway?”

    Ellis points to Ez.

    “I just wanted to do something fun,” Ezran says.

    “Cool. Why don’t we go off a waterfall next time?”

    “Shut up,” Ez tells her, and Aanya smiles and continues to read her politics book.

 

    ***

They are fifteen and sixteen and fifteen, and Aanya’s playing with her necklace again.

Ezran glances at it. They’re up sitting on the palace roof, the two rulers sitting close and Ellis a bit further away, marveling at how the sunset turns the sky the color of honey and gold.

    “You wear that necklace all the time,” he comments. “Why?”

    Aanya opens the petals up to reveal the ring inside. “It’s from my moms. It’s.. one of the only things I have of them.”

    “Do you miss them?” Ezran asks, and Aanya lets out a breath.

    “Every day. Is it weird to miss someone you’ve never met?”

    Ezran shakes his head. “No. It’s not.” He sighs and continues.

    “Sometimes, when you grow up, there are changes you don’t expect.” Ezran kicks his legs up and down over the edge of the palace wall. “My brother told me that when he was trying to tell me Dad had died.”

    Aanya freezes up. She’d forgot Ezran had lost both parents, too. “Ezran, I’m sorry-”

    “It’s okay.”

    He leans into her, and Ellis comes on her other side and leans on her as well.

    They are fifteen and sixteen and fifteen, and they are dealing with changes, and Aanya’s not sure, but she thinks it’s all going to be okay, somehow.