A small, horse-drawn carriage adorned in a white and gold glimmering design pulled up beside the wide entrance cross-way leading to a large, stone clad castle draped in blue and gold patterned flags.
The area surrounding it was protected by a large, black fenced in gate with two royal guards patiently waiting in the front.
Then, a young woman with long, cerulean hair carefully stepped her way out of the wagon with a peculiar package held within her hands. However, she glanced around nervously before quietly thanking the coachman for her ride.
He nodded kindly back to her before taking off, leaving the girl alone as she hastily approached her guards to hand over the mysterious package to one of them.
Before she quietly requested they find a way to slip it into her personal chambers without anyone being the wiser.
She then hurriedly made her way towards the castle, choosing to sneak through the back entrance.
So, he wouldn't see her...
Shoes clacked quietly against the stone floor as the princess tried to quickly make haste along the outside corridor of the glorious fortress without being seen by her nurse maids.
She was just about to cross her way over the glistening threshold and shove herself through the back castle doors when—
"Princess Elice! Where do you think you are running off to?"
Said woman sighed in slight aggravation as she reluctantly turned herself around to face a plump lady adorned in a frilly white gown covered over with a light pink apron.
The older woman was giving the bluenette nothing but a stern frown as she tapped her pink-laced slip on shoe in impatience, arms crossed over her chest.
Elice gave her a sheepish smile of innocence,
"Oh! M-Mistress Madeline...why...whatever do you mean? I was just...making my way to the shower chambers to wash myself off before dinner."
The nurse maid simply rolled her eyes, ready to scold the young royal's attempt at fibbing when they were suddenly interrupted.
They turned to find two younger girls hopping out from the branched hallways connecting to the main outside corridor before they rushed over to the two ladies,
"Ah, Princess! It's so wonderful to see you!"
A perky blonde dressed in the same attire as Mistress Madeline came bounding over, her equally excited colleague in tow.
"Yes! Did you find yourself a fair dress for the wedding?!" The other young nurse maid questioned enthusiastically, her brown curls bouncing about her head as her vibrant green eyes gleamed up at the princess.
Elice tried keeping her smile kind as she glanced behind herself nervously, refusing to respond at the moment.
Mistress Madeline noticed before tugging the younger girls away from the overwhelmed bluenette,
"Easy ladies...Princess...why don't we take this conversation inside? Obviously, you can tell we have been patiently waiting on your return to discuss this—."
The royal suddenly backed herself against the large wooden doors before noticing the shock on her nurse maid's face at her rude interruption.
Elice cleared her throat as she gave the three women an apologetic smile,
"Ahem...I-I mean...we shouldn't. L-Let's um...maybe discuss this in the garden? A-After dinner—?"
However, Mistress Madeline gave a small tut, ignoring the younger girl's request before gently grasping the princess' arm and pulling her inside, her young apprentices in tow,
"Now now...I understand you're anxious about this entire situation. But...at least be thrilled for the dress you will be wearing to such an occasion!"
Elice cringed lightly at that as she reluctantly allowed the woman to pull her along into the stone fortress, the guards surrounding the perimeter silently closing the castle doors shut behind them.
Then, she glanced worriedly into each room they passed, making sure a certain someone was not lurking about and eavesdropping on their conversation.
Like she knew he would be.
"Princess—? Princess, are you listening to me?"
Said girl startled at the interruption to her quiet thoughts before giving her oldest nurse maid a guilty smile,
The woman stopped abruptly before giving her young pupil a look of concern,
"You've been ignoring everything I've been saying, haven't you? Is...is something else troubling you, dear?"
Elice bit her lip, looking around their location nervously once more before smiling kindly to the other's worry for her,
"N-No madam...you know already how stressful this has been for me...I...I cannot—."
"Fathom the fact that you are set up for an arranged marriage?"
The bluenette gasped quietly before shutting her eyes tight at the new voice coming from behind the four of them.
This is exactly what she was trying to avoid when arriving back to the castle earlier this evening.
Who she was trying to avoid.
"Marth. We talked about this—."
Elice grit her teeth at the sarcastic, biting tone before turning a stern gaze towards her younger brother.
Said boy ignored the look as he marched his way over to be up close and personal with his older sibling,
"Because Father made these arrangements not a mere two weeks ago and you've already purchased yourself a wedding gown! And, the ceremony is not for another three months!"
Mistress Madeline gasped quietly before suddenly releasing her hold on the princess to give the younger woman a puzzled look,
"Three months...? Your Highness, I thought you were set to leave tomorrow evening?"
The taller bluenette squeezed her eyes shut once more before covering a hand over her face.
The oldest nurse maid glanced back and forth between brother and sister as realization began to dawn on her,
Then, Marth took a silent step back, his anger dissipating immediately as it became replaced with grief.
"You...you lied to me?" He whispered out softly.
Elice picked her head up upon hearing the upsetting tone in her little brother's voice, anguish suddenly filling her features as she looked into those mournful sapphire eyes,
"Does Merric know?"
The older girl blinked at that question before silently nodding her head after a moment of hesitation.
Of course the love of her life already knew about the sudden, and upsetting news.
And, the proper time of her departure.
Sadly, she had no choice but to go through with this abhorrent wedding. But, thankfully the green-haired mage she loved so dearly understood that, albeit both of their hearts shattering with their love being an impossibility now.
They both knew Elice's responsibilities to being an aid in saving their kingdom. She needed to wed to the Prince of Gra in order to form a quiet alliance and cease their threats to Altea once and for all.
However, bringing up the proper timing of her leave to her younger brother was a different story.
And, a much harder feat.
She could not stand to leave him alone here.
Especially, with no one to stand in between him and their Father.
And, their mother could only do so much.
So, the only solution Elice could come up with in easing the prince's fears was to lie and tell Marth that her wedding was far longer than it really was.
Obviously, she was now coming to realize the mistake she had made.
And sure enough, as the older sister kept her calm gaze on her brother, the princess was easily able to make out the tears collecting in his eyes.
Elice cleared her throat,
"Could you ladies excuse us for a moment?"
Mistress Madeline looked at the siblings once more, taking in the prince's stiff posture and Elice's defeated one before nodding silently as she hurriedly ushered the two younger nurse maids and herself out of the hall and towards the kitchen to help prepare this evening's supper.
The princess then took a deep breath before focusing on her sibling.
Marth was trying his best to keep himself together upon learning this new found information,
"W-Why didn't you just—?"
The prince swallowed thickly before turning his head to the side, needing to look away from his sister's guilt-ridden expression.
Suddenly, a soft hand came up to hold his cheek as a silent tear fell from his left eye,
"Come with me."
Marth looked up at that before he felt his sister grasp his hand and gently lead the two of them towards her personal chambers down the hall and to the left.
The two siblings entered Elice's bedroom, with said girl shutting the door quietly behind her brother before silently guiding him over to sit on her plush, velvet maroon bed.
The shorter bluenette sniffled softly before a handkerchief came into his view.
He blinked up to find a soft pair of azure eyes looking down at him as he took the soft cloth from his sister's hands.
"I'm sorry I wasn't honest with you...I just...I cannot stand to see you like this, Marth. I know how much this upsets you...and...I just wanted to stave off the impossible as much as I could for you. I...I wanted to leave here with you happy and all smiles."
The younger bluenette looked up at his sister in disbelief,
"B-But...then we wouldn't have gotten a chance to properly say good-bye..."
Elice's brows bent in anguish as she gently brought her fingers through the younger male's hair as he hiccuped softly,
"I know...but...would you really have wanted that—?"
"Yes!" Marth shouted abruptly, slamming his fist into his sister's bed in a small burst of anger.
Startled by her brother's outburst, Elice took a step back as she put her hands up in a defensive stance,
"Hey! Do not forget your manners. I understand your grief, Marth. But, that does not give you the right to act so childish—!"
Ignoring his sister's scolding, Marth threw all his politeness to the wind as he shot himself up from her bed before clamping the older woman in an incredibly tight embrace.
Elice stumbled back at the sudden impact, not prepared at all for it.
However, her sternness from a few moments ago faded away when she felt the younger boy trembling against her.
She carefully brought her arms around him, returning the hug just as tightly,
"Shhh...I will be alright, Marth. There is no need for you to fret. I...apologize for yelling at you. This has just been...very hard on me, too. You know that."
The boy stubbornly shook his head into his sister's shoulder,
"I...I-I don't want you to...to leave. T-There has to be some other way, Elice...!"
The older bluenette simply hushed him once more before placing a soothing hand atop her brother's teal head,
"You know there isn't, Marth. Father needs me to do this so Gra won't invade our borders. This is for the safety of Altea—."
"I don't care."
Elice rolled her eyes at her brother's stubbornness, but let it go. She knows how hard this will be on him. And, it may take a lifetime for the young prince to get used to her absence.
After a quiet moment between the two, Marth picked his head up from his sister's shoulder before his watery sapphire eyes landed on the mysterious package from earlier laying on the woman's bedroom desk beside her powder mirror.
He sniffled softly before gently pulling away from his sibling.
"Is that it?" He asked quietly.
Elice delicately held her brother's tear-stained face in her hand before turning to see what he was looking at.
Before sighing softly,
Clearing his throat, Marth walked over and fiddled nervously with the plastic wrapping protecting the delicately sparkled, white wedding gown,
"I'm sure you will be stunningly beautiful in this dress, Elice."
The princess smiled woefully at that before walking up next to her brother,
"I may...but...it sadly will mean nothing to me if Merric is not the one to see me in it."
Marth glanced up to find his sister's own blue eyes pricking with unshed tears.
He bit his lip softly as he heard the older girl sniffle, before gently wrapping an arm around her waist and leaning himself into the older royal's side.
Elice looked down fondly at her younger sibling's attempt at comfort, appreciating it wholeheartedly as a tear trailed down her cheek. She then leaned down to press a soft kiss into his hair,
"I love you."
The teal-haired boy wiped at his eyes before looking solemnly down at the dress along with his sister,
"I love you too."
King Cornelius carried himself proudly through the castle halls as he made haste towards its grand entrance. Passing by the art decor of the West wing of the large fortress, the callous man slowed his pace briefly upon his approach to his son's bedroom he knew to be a few paces to the right.
However, the sovereign grit his teeth in annoyance when he noticed his youngest child's bedroom was indeed unoccupied.
Marth was to stay in his room at all times.
Especially today when the King was about to see his daughter off to Gra.
Cornelius never paid any mind to his son due to the boy's incredibly soft demeanor and his lack of passion to read over the history of their kingdom or to learning in general. The young prince rather daydream and go pick out herbs and supplements to aid his sister in her healing rituals for her practices in mending.
With such behavior, the ruler of Altea believed Marth would never become anything like his ruthless self.
So, with that, he gave up on the boy all together and purposefully makes sure the prince is unseen by outside eyes.
Feeling it to be a disgrace to Altea, and practically the continent of Archanea itself, if anyone knew Marth existed.
And, the King's anger boiled more knowing how close his two children were. He tried to separate Elice from the boy for years. But, unfortunately, his eldest child inherited his huge amount of stubbornness, and she yielded to every order of his—
Except for that one.
Letting out a huff of agitation, Cornelius marched out of the hall to continue on towards the North entrance.
As the castle doors opened for him, the man took a breath of the fresh air of the country surrounding him before his dark brown eyes honed in on his two young, yet exceptionally skilled cavaliers resting beside an obscure mule drawn carriage.
A disguise that will be used to keep his daughter protected and hidden during her travel to Gra.
The King let a sorrowful frown cross his features briefly before he cleared his throat as he made his way over to greet the red and green duo,
"Cain, Abel. Is everything set and ready for my daughter? Including preparations in keeping her covered?"
Both men quieted their conversation before adjusting their posture and standing up straight in homage to their King.
"Yes, Your Majesty," Cain answered with ease, "We have secured the armory guard surrounding the carriage from the inside, where Her Highness will be kept very much concealed, and most importantly—safe."
Cornelius nodded curtly in his own way of appreciation for their diligent job before folding back the curtain of one of the masked windows,
"So, gentlemen...where exactly is my daughter?"
Both Cain and Abel glanced nervously at one another and then back to the King.
The older man immediately took notice of the hesitant silence and raised a stern brow as he turned back to the two knights in question,
Jade eyes met hard brown as Abel stuttered out,
"Uh...sh-she's with Jagen sir..."
The King gave the green-haired lance wielder a look of bewilderment,
"What for? Both of them should have been here by now. What is the meaning of this?"
The two cavaliers gulped nervously before Cain stepped forward, hands up in a defensive pose,
"H-Here us out, Your Majesty...we...we thought it okay the princess requested she see someone before her leave."
Cornelius growled, inching his face closer to Cain's,
The red-head gulped audibly at the sovereign's obvious intimidation,
The King was eerily silent for a moment, a very worrisome sign of his seething anger the two soldiers knew all too well.
Was all Cornelius said before turning on his heel and leaving his two cavaliers in uncomfortable silence.
"No matter if I see you in a wedding gown or not, Elice...you will always be beautiful to me. And...you know I will be here waiting on your return."
Said bluenette sighed softly before nibbling at her lip, trying to keep her oncoming tears at bay as she kept her fond gaze on the watery green eyes before her,
"Merric...you know that is impossi—."
However, a gentle finger was placed upon the princess' lips before said mage leaned himself forward to softly press them against his own.
Then, he quietly pulled back after a moment to wipe a tear trailing from the older woman's cheek,
"Hush...I will wait. No matter how dire our chances...I will be here."
Sniffling softly, Elice could do nothing but smile at the man before her. She knew he was only keeping positive for her sake.
Because she also knew how crushing this was for the green-haired sorcerer, as well.
The bluenette then leaned forward to give one last, longing kiss to the man she had grown to love over all these years of knowing one another. And, as her heart crumbled at this prospect, she felt a hot tear from Merric's cheek rolling onto her own.
Before pulling apart from him one final time.
"I love you," he whispered.
"I love you more," Elice answered back.
Suddenly, the two heard a quiet pair of foot steps entering the hall they were in.
However, they remained relaxed as the newcomer was none other than the young Prince of Altea.
Marth was shyly shuffling his way over to the two, not wanting to intervene. But, there was also a stern Jagen hastily following him from behind as the teal-haired royal met up with his sister and his best friend.
But, before the two fully made their way over, Elice suddenly turned to Merric.
"You promise to look after him for me?"
The mage smiled softly, giving his own kind glance towards the prince before looking back to his love,
"Of course. But, Elice...you know I can only do so much. What if this dissension with Gra makes a turn for the worst and I end up—?”
"You will cross that bridge when—IF we get to it. I've been praying to Naga to not let a war break out between our two nations...but...there is only so much for a Divine Dragon to do in such desperate times. Just...let us not think on it."
Merric could hear the fear mingled with sorrow in the princess' voice, but he had one more concern,
"Does Marth know about my enlistment?"
The green-haired male sighed before dragging a hand over his face,
"Elice, love, I know you want to protect your younger brother from everything in this cruel world but...you cannot keep stuff like this from him any longer. It will do a lot more harm than good. Believe me."
Said woman sighed shamefully before she felt a soothing kiss being pressed against her cheek.
Her watery azure eyes blinked up at a fondly smirking Merric.
Elice couldn't help but chuckle quietly at that look, giving the younger male a quiet thank you for his sincerity before Jagen suddenly cleared his throat as he and Marth finally approached two,
"Apologies for interrupting, Your Highness. But, as much as I would love to give you the time you have requested for your personal farewells, that time must now be cut short. I've gotten word the King is on his way to find—."
Said knight turned towards his said liege, the man holding a very troubled expression as the paladin bowed respectfully to his ruler, before purposefully placing himself in front of Marth,
"Your Majesty, I can explain—."
"There is no need. This brat has no self-discipline and he should have listened to my commands and stayed in his bedroom where he belongs!"
Cornelius' steely gaze was solely fixed on the pair of sapphire eyes glaring back at him from behind Jagen.
But, it was the paladin himself who spoke up once more,
"Sire, I don't see why—."
"Silence! Jagen...you are one of my most trusted knights. Do not let me lose faith in you for making an attempt at granting my son this...this inordinate freedom."
The white-haired knight hardly flinched at the King's furious scoul, but he kept his mouth shut nonetheless.
With that, Cornelius turned back to his son,
"Go. To. Your. Room."
Marth growled in defiance, attempting to take a step forward before Jagen stopped him.
Albeit his unyielding loyalty towards the King, the paladin also had a hidden soft spot for the other's maltreated son. And, as much as this was not his fight, Jagen has a sworn duty to protect all that is royal.
Including a disparaged prince.
Cornelius, however, smirked sinisterly at the other's action.
Mistaking his knight's actions as loyalty to the King himself.
Not thinking the other had any care for his pathetic child whatsoever.
But, there was a sudden twitch in the King's brow when a light hand was placed upon his arm,
"Father...please let Marth come out to wish me his own farewell. He has done no harm to you or to anyone, and he deserves every right to see me off as much as you do."
Stern brown eyes looked down into a pleading pair of blue.
But, the King's decision did not diverge one bit as he continued to glare at his daughter,
"Jagen. Take Marth to his chambers. I then expect you ready and with your steed by the carriage soon after. Do I make myself clear?"
Elice growled as Merric gently, but firmly pulled her back,
Cornelius grit his teeth, not appreciating how juvenile his eldest child was currently acting,
"Quiet, Elice! Your brother's rebellious, childlike behavior has been wearing on you far too much. You are acting like nothing but a spoiled child yourself right at this moment. Pull yourself together and go see your mother by the carriage. Now, young lady!"
Said girl bit her tongue, frowning one last time up at her father before her watery azure eyes landed on her brother.
Marth was silent.
But, as his older sister and part-time care taker throughout most of the boy's childhood, Elice could easily see the quiet forgiveness and love shining in his mournful sapphire eyes.
She gave him one last sad smile before she reluctantly left the prince behind, along with her lover.
After the princess' departure, Merric quickly made his way over to Marth before he looked up at the King,
"I will take him back, Your Majesty. Lest you wait any longer on seeing the princess out."
King Cornelius eyed his son and his most powerful mage warily for a moment before quietly nodding in agreement. Then, he gestured for Jagen to accompany him, leaving the two friends behind.
Letting out a quiet sigh of relief, Merric looked over at the younger male, who was still glaring at his retreating Father,
"Hey, come on. Let's sneak our way out the South entrance so we can see Elice one last time, alright? She was right, Marth. You deserve to see her off and have a proper farewell with her before...before she...ahem...well, let's just get going. She's your sister for Naga's sake and I will not let your Father take that right from you. I promise."
Marth blinked from his trance before turning his watery eyes towards the green-haired mage.
Merric smiled softly before tugging lightly on his companion's arm, enticing the upset prince to start moving so they can quickly make their way out of the castle and towards the carriage at the front.
Placing her wedding dress down inside the hackney, with the garment enclosed within its sealed packaging, Elice sighed quietly before squeezing her eyes shut.
She prayed to Naga that not only will this ridiculous marriage arrangement work to save her threatened country, but also that it will ease the tension off of her father just enough to where it may allow the man to bring peace to her brother once and for all.
If all went wrong, however...
'Divine Dragon Naga...if all these efforts to relieve the fighting between both our nations fail us...I only ask a simple favor. Watch over my family...especially over Marth. Guide him in ways I could not myself. Protect him from Father. And, most importantly...bring him peace.'
Blue eyes slowly let themselves open before the princess let out one last sigh of defeat.
Then, she turned to face her mother.
She smiled sadly as she watched the woman gently trace her hand along the crest of the cart mule's neck.
Queen Liza paused in her motions before silently retracting her hand from the quiet animal.
She then looked over to her daughter,
"Oh, dear...how I wish it wasn't."
Quietly, the Queen walked over to her daughter before caressing the younger girl's face gently,
"You are so beautiful...and...you deserve much more than this, my love. I am so so sorry my child...I wish...I wish there was a different path for your Father to take than resorting to this. But...Gra has come far too close to our borders already for us to wait out much longer for a better thought-out decision. So...he had to act in the quickest way possible."
Elice raised a hand to cover over the one holding her cheek,
"I know Mother. It is alright. It is with this duty as the Princess of Altea that I will carry out this mission. To keep you safe...but...with my absence I am uncertain what will become of...Marth."
Liza Lowell sighed softly as her doleful gaze slowly shifted towards the castle.
And, then back to her daughter,
"I will take care of your Father."
But, Elice shook her head. She knew how terrible the King could be with his son...especially when she or their mother were not around to interfere.
However, Liza simply hushed her eldest child,
"Elice. I promise. Marth will be alright. He is 22-years-old and practically an adult, now. I know how much you care for him...but, he can and will stand up to your Father. He's come close on multiple occasions. And, your Father is fully aware he is beginning to lose control of him, and of the short amount of time he has left before your brother fully allows himself to rebel over his treatment. Marth will be okay, Elice...and, he still has his old mother here to baby him when he needs it."
The princess giggled softly at that last bit as her mother gave her a playful wink.
She was really going to miss the older woman.
So, with that, Elice leaned forward to give her mother one last, final embrace.
And, Liza returned it just as tightly.
Before the two were suddenly interrupted with the clearing of someone's throat.
Both women reluctantly released their hold to look up at a surprisingly content Cornelius,
"Alright, young lady. I know this has been...very hard not only on your mother and I...but on you, as well. Just know...what you are doing is an honor across all of Altea, and I could not be more proud to have a daughter such as yourself, understand?"
Elice smiled wanly before softly replying,
"Thank you, Father."
Then, she made her way to hop into the carriage when suddenly—
Everyone turned their heads to see a frantic Marth darting his way from the castle with a worried but determined Merric in step behind him.
The King growled lowly, glancing his eyes around the area to make sure no one was witnessing his poignant child,
"Marth Lowell! Get back inside the castle this instant!"
All courage in the prince vanished the moment his father took a protective step in front of his sister, causing the teal-haired boy to stutter in his steps. His boots scuffed the grassy dirt roughly as he managed to stop himself from ramming his small frame into his father's much larger one.
Vexed, Cornelius grit his teeth and pointed towards the fortress,
Although trembling slightly at his father's outrage, Marth swallowed thickly before furrowing his own brows at the man,
"No. I will not, Your Majesty. I have every right to say good-bye as much as you do!"
However, talking back never went well with the King.
The man gave out a loud snarl.
Before slapping his son hard across the face.
Elice shouted angrily before shoving past the irksome man and running over to her brother who had fallen onto the ground at the impact, with Merric quietly beside him.
The prince sat up with a rub to his now bruised cheek, fear filled within his sapphire eyes.
But, he couldn't help but remain angry as he glared up at his father.
"You disgust me, you know that?"
Marth suddenly blinked at the quiet comment from the man.
Cornelius, however, continued to sneer down at his son,
"What would the Great Anri himself think if he knew you were his descendant? You may be a prince, Marth...but you are no son of mine. You place disgrace on this family and on our kingdom."
The teal-haired royal on the ground flinched badly at his father's harsh words before he shamefully looked down into the grass.
All his willpower to stand up to the man vanished immediately.
Both Elice along with their Mother glared daggers into the King for saying something so dreadfully awful to the family member they cherished the most.
They knew Marth for who he really was.
But, if only the King would see that—
"You two are to shut your traps! This is between me and the boy—!"
However, before he could finish, all three family members watched as the young prince got up and fled back towards the castle.
He was too ashamed to face his family members or anyone after given such a horrible scolding.
And, his heart shattered when he heard his sister calling out to him.
But, he couldn't turn back.
Instead, he was too much of a coward and left the sister he loved so dearly.
Without getting a proper good-bye.
Elice gave out a huff as she watched her brother retreat from view.
Her eyes then welled with unshed tears at the thought of this being the very last memory of him.
Suddenly, she turned angrily towards her father as she made to step inside the carriage, becoming eye-level with the man,
"Good riddance, Cornelius."
And, with that, the Princess of Altea made her exit.