Chapter 1: The beginning
The two countries of Lyri and Toy Gun Gun had been feuding for centuries. Not full scale war, but small skirmishes and petty tricks that sapped the resources of both countries. No-one living now could remember when or why the feuding started, or if the reason was very important. The fact remained, however, that the countries were feuding, and that it was taking a tole on both. Another fact - one that was apparent for the first time in living memory – was that the rulers of both countries saw that something must be done. Solving the problem would not be easy, however, as each country's hatred for the other ran deep. Even if the rulers wanted peace and called a truce, pirating and border skirmishes between civilians would continue.
The king and queen of Lyri began to talk over what might be done, and the king of Toy Gun Gun also began to put his mind to it (in Toy Gun Gun, the queen had no part in politics; in fact, she was mostly a formality). Because of their superior intellect, it was expected by their subjects (and quite possibly by the people of Toy Gun Gun as well) that the rulers of Lyri would come up with a plan to end the conflict first. Surprisingly though, they were not. Perhaps because it was not a plan the Lyrian couple would ever have considered, but the king of Toy Gun Gun was the first to find a possible solution. Thus it was, that, on a certain day, the king and queen of Lyri received a letter.
Prince Masamune of Toy Gun Gun walked toward the banqueting hall, followed by his attendant and friend Yukimura.
Today, the king and queen of Lyri were coming by his fathers invitation to discuss the proposed measures for resolving conflict between their countries. He entered the banqueting hall and took his accustomed seat. For a long time Masamune had had nothing to do with affairs of state* until the grand vizier had suggested that, as future king, he should at least sit in and listen so that when he inherited the country he would have some idea what to do with it. Besides, this particular plan involved Masamune rather deeply. It was not a bad plan, he thought.
Masamune turned to his rather chubby father. “Our guests aren't down yet?”
“They should be down any minute now.” The king replied. “Ah, look, here they are.”
Prince and king stood up, greeting their guests politely. The tall king of Lyri helped the rather frail looking queen (she wore rather masculine clothes, Masamune noted) into her chair, then sat down himself. Then the food was brought in and, for a while, the four royalty simply ate and conversed politely without touching on the subject they were here to discuss.
Eventually, when the king of Toy Gun Gun was the only one still eating, the king and queen of Lyri looked at each-other, and the king began to speak.
“Well, I suppose it is time now to discuss the business at hand.”
Masamune perked up. “Ah, finally time to hear their answer to my fathers proposal.”
“Yes, I suppose we should get down to that stuff now.” Toy Gun Gun's king agreed. “Well, let us hear your answer.”
Lyri's king took a deep breath. “To be honest, when we first read your letter, I was all for gathering the army and invading Toy Gun Gun so I could give you and your entire family the death you deserved. However, once I had calmed down and we had talked about it a little, we realized that your proposal, for your son to marry our precious daughter Hotaru, would certainly be effective. However! We would never force our precious daughter into some loveless political marriage. We love her far too much. But... we love and value our country as well. As rulers we have duty to look after our people. So we came to a decision.”
He turned now to Masamune. “You may come and stay at our palace. While you are there, you will meet Hotaru and will be given free reign to court her. If you can capture her heart and get her to accept you as her husband of her own free will, we will consent to the marriage.”
Masamune smiled. “Don't worry, I'm certain I can capture your daughters heart easily. Although I say it myself, I am very good with ladies.” He said.
Then cried out in fear as Lyri's monarch grabbed him and began to twist his arm out of it's socket.
“Don't be so confident! Our daughter has excellent judgment and won't just fall for your looks you stupid, sissy prince!”
“Eh?! Sissy?!” Masamune wondered.
“I'm starting to think this is a bad idea, that we should not be letting an outrageous playboy like you near Hotaru.”
The queen, however saved the situation. She put a quieting hand on her husband's arm.
“Calm down dear. I think the decision we made was the best one. Hotaru is sensible. If this man is not a suitable husband for her, she won't choose him. I think the best thing here is to trust Hotaru's judgment.”
The king sagged. “Yes, your right. Hotaru would never choose a man like this in a million years. There is nothing to worry about. Oh, there was one other thing I wanted to mention. Hotaru is a very kind girl, with a strong sense of what is right. Therefor, if she new that she could help the country by marrying you, she might simply accept you regardless of her own feelings. Therefor, you will not mention anything about this to Hotaru. We will simply tell her that you are visiting in hopes that, if we get to know each-other better, we can end the feud between our countries. Do I make myself clear?”
“Of course, perfectly.” Masamune nodded vigorously.
After the Lyrian rulers had left for their boudoir, Masamune rubbed his still sore shoulder.
“Uh. That damn king nearly dislocated my shoulder.” He said to his father.
His father looked up. “What? Oh no, that one was the queen.”
*much like the queen – who was absent today, incidentally. The king had vaguely suggested that she should, formally, be there. Her response had been: “But I is ever so tired and these formal meeting are so boring. My itsy bitsy teddy-bear will let me stay here and get my beauty sleep, won't he now? Please? I loves you ever so ever so much?” And that had been that.
Chapter 2: Meeting
Thank you to the people who left comments and kudos. I hope you enjoy chapter two.
Masamune peered at himself in his ornate full-length mirror, frowning.
“Yukki, do think this one looks better, or the last one?” he said to his attendant.
“Eeeeeeeeeh, does it matter Mattsun?” the other replied, yawning. Yukimura was supposed to be helping the prince pack for his visit to Lyri, but was currently flopped on his liege's bed and doing his best to sleep.
Masamune turned around. “Of course it matters! I can only fit one more outfit in my luggage, and I want to pick the one that looks best on me. Woman like a well dressed man you know. Oi, Yukki! Wake up!”
It had been like this for a week now, and the servants were all fed up with it. Masamune had harassed the court tailors, feverishly packed and packed and then unpacked it all because the horses couldn't couldn't move the luggage cart anymore.
The truth was, he was very much looking forward to meeting the princess. He had had plenty of affairs up to now, of course; covert flirting with the ladies in waiting, or seducing a pretty dancer into his bed for the night. But only ever for the night. It could only ever be for the night. He was the prince, after all, and someday the king. The difference in status between him and those woman was too great. If the prince took a lady in waiting or some traveling dancer for his lover, or worse, his WIFE, the whole kingdom would drown in scandal. There would be consequences for the woman as well.
Princess Hotaru, on the other hand, was of equal rank to him. In fact, everyone was hoping his courtship of her would go well. He remembered the king of Lyri's – no, he corrected himself, the QUEEN'S – behavior to him at the banquet; all right, not quite everyone then. But still, even that violent queen had given him permission to court her daughter, marry her if she would have him. Masamune was not lonely, he had no reason to be. There was Yukki after all, and always plenty of servants around. Still, he thought, it would be nice to have a woman he was finally allowed to get close to. Someone who was his equal in every way, a wife who would always be by his side. Someone to laugh with, to hug, to love and be loved by.
Yes, he must make the best impression possible on princess Hotaru.
It was some four days later that Masamune rode through the gates of Lyri's capital. It was a beautiful city; flowers trailed from the buildings and the market on main street was lively. The people here looked happy, Masamune thought.
He turned to Yukimura.
“Hey, Yukki, go up to the castle ahead, and see that my luggage is unloaded properly.”
“Eh? Alright but where are you going Mattsun?”
“Just to look around for a bit. It's not every day you get to visit another country after all!”
“Really? Well, have fun Mattsun. Don't get lost. Oh, and don't tell anyone who you are. The people here don't like our country much remember.”
Masamune rode through the streets, looking at everything around him. As a neighboring country, Lyri wasn't that different from his own, but it differed in small ways. The cloths, the foods in the market, even the structure of the city differed slightly from what he was used to.
At last, though, Masamune felt he really should go up to the palace. He didn't want to make Yukki worry or cause Lyri's rulers any trouble – he shuddered to think what the queen would do to him if he did.
“Now, which way IS the palace I wonder...”
As he rode through the streets, vaguely searching for one that might lead him to the palace, He heard a woman scream.
“Let me go! Please let me go! I'll give you you everything I've got, I swear! Please don't hurt me!”
The woman must have been returning home from the market. She was down a small, deserted side street and a group of men were crowding around her. One of them held a knife. As he galloped closer Masamune saw one man grab the wares from the frightened woman's hands.
He drew his sword.
“Hey, what do you think you're doing to such a beautiful young lady?!” He said. “Girls should be treated kindly you know, and it's not nice to steel from anyone. So, why don't you give her back her things, and then I'll give you a lesson on how to treat girls properly!”
The thieves, seeing some sort of noble on horse-back, with a sword, decided they're best course was to give the woman back her belongings, but not to stay for Masamune's offer of tutelage.
Masamune watched them go, before dismounting and going to the young woman.
“Are you all right?” He asked, helping her to her feet.
“Y-yes sir. Thank you s-so much for saving me.”
She was trembling and her legs seemed ready to collapse, so Masamune put his arm around her for support and pulled her to his chest.
“Don't worry, your safe now.” He told her. “But be more careful next time. A beautiful girl like you shouldn't be wondering around on her own.”
The girl recovered after a few moments and began to express her thanks to Masamune once more.
“Really, I am so lucky that a chivalrous man like you was passing. Is there anything I can do to repay your kindness?” She batted her eyelashes.
“It was my pleasure to help you.” He answered, keeping his arm around her. “But if your set on showing your thanks, then I would like nothing better than to stay in your company a little longer. Would you grant me that wish?”
She turned away from him in pretense of hiding her blush, which he could clearly still see.
“Oh, sir, you flatter me! I'm sure a handsome man like you has a lady love at home who is far more beautiful than me.”
“Ah, unfortunately, I but a lonely bachelor. What about you? Are you married, my Aphrodite?”*
“Oh, you ask such wicked questions! N-no, I'm not married at all.”
“Hmmmmmm, is that so.”
He bent towards her, his lips coming closer to her's...
“S-STOP THAT YOU EVIL-DOER!”
The man and woman both jumped violently, whipping around in time to see a figure on horseback careening towards them. The figures sword was raised, and Masamune realized it was meant for him. He had just time to draw his own and block the strangers strike; to his shock, though, the blow he met with was so strong that his sword was knocked from his hand and his body knocked to the ground.
The young woman screamed.
Masamune struggled onto his elbows, but found himself confronted with the point of a sword. He looked up past it and saw that its wielder was a young boy. Green eyes glared down at him along the length of the sword.
“Leave that woman alone, you evil-doer!” He said.
“E-evil-doer? What do you-”
“Be quiet! Try to lay another hand on her, or on any other woman in this country, and I will not forgive you! Thank goodness I heard her screams and made it on time! Evil men like you are better off dead!”
“PLEASE WAIT! DON'T HURT HIM!”
The boy turned in surprise to the woman, who had spoken these words.
“Why?! Why would you try to protect your attacker?”
“You've made a mistake! It's true that I was the one you heard scream earlier. I was attacked by thieves, and this man saved me. He is a good person who has done me no harm!”
“Eh?! Really?!” The boy looked stricken.
Then, to Masamune's surprise, he dismounter, knelt down and bowed his head to the ground.
“I'm so sorry! I have made a terrible mistake, and insulted you horribly! I am so, so sorry!”
“Eh?! Oh, it's fine, it's fine. Please get up. It was an honest mistake after all. There's no need to apologize so much.”
“So he's a good kid really.” Masamune thought. “He was just worried about the girl. Although I think he went a bit far there, his heart seems to be in the right place.”
The boy got up, dusting himself off, then frowned.
“Wait, if you only rescued her, then what about those things you were saying when I arrived. You looked like you were about to k-kiss her too.”
“Ah, that was just, you know...” Masamune trailed off, having the grace to blush a little.
The boy's face slowly turned pink as he realized and a look of mild disgust appeared on his face.
“A-a-ah... you... you... SHAMELESS MAN! You... you... doing that sort of thing... and in public...”
Masamune was worried the boy might attack him again, but he just turned away.
“W-well, anyway, I suppose I should thank you for saving this woman. I might not have got here in time to help her. So if there's anything I can do to thank you, then I will. Also, I still - sort of - falsely accused you and I need to apologize for that.”
“Well, since your offering, I actually need to get to the palace but I don't know the way. Do You think you could take me there?”
The boy brightened a little.
“I'm going there myself as it happens. Just follow me.”
He picked up his sword and turned to mount his horse. Masamune turned to the young woman.
“Sadly, we must part for now, my sweet Bella Donna. Having to leave your side saddens me so that I can hardly bear it, but let us both pray that we will meet again soon. Until then, I shall spend every moment dreaming of you fa-”
“HURRY UP OR I'M LEAVING YOU BEHIND, YOU STUPID PLAYBOY!”
Masamune thought about the queen and decided to cut his goodbyes short. Besides, soon he would meet the princess, his future spouse, the girl he would spend his life with... These happy thoughts in mind, Masamune mounted his horse and rode after the boy. As they rode wordlessly through the streets, Masamune noticed that the boy was rather well dressed. He must be the son of a noble family, headed to the palace on some business. Come to think of it, he must be pretty high ranked to speak so disrespectfully to someone who was clearly also of noble blood. He found he rather liked the boy in spite of it, though.
In a short time, they found themselves at the palace gates. The guards seemed relaxed, but not unobservant. They immediately straitened their backs and saluted when they saw the boy, their attitude confirming Masamune's surmise that the boy was someone of higher than usual rank.
Once through the gate, Masamune saw they were in an outer courtyard. The boy began dismounting, and Masamune followed suit.
Suddenly, there was cry of “Hotaru! Hotaru!” and a finely dressed girl ran towards them, flinging herself on the boy.
“Jeez, where have you been Hotaru? I got here and heard you had gone out somewhere. You know you have to be here to meet the prince of Toy Gun Gun today. And just look at the way your dressed. You'll need to change into a pretty dress before he comes.”
“Oi, Kanae wai-”
“Your carrying a sword again?! You can't do that! Your a girl you know, you should start acting more feminine. Now come on and I'll make you all pretty for the prince's arrival.”
“What?!” Masamune thought. “A girl?! She just said 'girl' didn't she!? Wait, so that boy is actually a girl?”
And then, slowly, something else registered in his mind.
“That girl called her 'Hotaru' didn't she? Does that mean... this is... the princess?!”
*The Greek goddess of beauty.
Chapter 3: The Princess
Hello! I am really REALLY sorry for how long it's been since I updated this. I have just been so busy that I had no time or energy to write. Thank you to all the people who left comments or kudos!
The first night of Masamune's visit to Lyri. He was lying face down on his bed, pinned down by despair. Everything had turned out in the worst way possible. Instead of a romantic first meeting in a flower garden or something, he'd first met the princess while trying to seduce another woman. He was branded as a shameless playboy in her eyes. And if that wasn't enough, there was the princess's masculine behaviour and appearance. Well, having met the queen, he supposed he should have questioned his image of a sweet, blushing girl.
It was not that he disliked the princess; he was sure that if they'd met under different circumstances they could have become good friends. But how was he supposed to go about wooing such a girl? He had no idea. She wasn't his type either. She had nice features and all, but he preferred more feminine girls. There was nothing cute about her at all.
“Well, my personal preferences make no difference.” He thought. “I must go on with the plan. I was never really doing this for myself anyway; it was for the kingdom. After all, this was an arranged marriage from the start.”
This was what he thought, but deep in his heart he still felt the disappointment keenly
At 11.00am the next morning one of the ladies in waiting knocked on Masamune's door.
“Prince Masamune. The queen and princess ask that you join them in the west garden for a little flower viewing. If you will follow me I will take you to them.”
“Hmmm, going to get friendly with the princess Mattsun? Have FUN.” This from Yukimura, who was with him at the time.
Masamune blanched slightly.
“Hey Yukki, don't even suggest that sort of thing. I can't make a move on the princess with the queen there. I'd be killed!”
As the woman led him through the halls of the palace, a girl darted out from one of the doors and accosted Masamune.
“Prince Masamune of Toy Gun Gun I assume?” She said.
Masamune nodded. “She's the girl who was with the princess yesterday, wasn't she...” He thought.
“Kyaaaaaa! Your even more good looking up close! I'm so jealous of Hotaru getting you for a husband.”
Masamune started at this.
“What!? I thought she didn't know why I was here. The queen specifically said...”
“Oh no, Hotaru doesn't know, but the queen told me all about it. I am Hotaru's best friend after all. My name is Yajima Kanae by the way. I'm the grand vizier's daughter. I'm so glad Hotaru is finally going to have a boyfriend. She's a wonderful person, and she's so kind, but she isn't very feminine so most men don't really look at her in that way. But anyway, what I really wanted to tell you was just that I'm rooting for you and... please be kind to Hotaru and don't do anything that would make her cry.”
Masamune simply smiled and bowed to the now blushing girl.
“I will treasure the princess and do everything in my power to make her happy. For my whole life, if she will let me.” He replied.
“Oh your such a gentleman! Yes, I think I can trust Hotaru to you. Ah! I mustn't keep you any longer, Bye bye!”
And with that she ran of.
“What a sweet girl.” Masamune thought. “If only she were the princess... Ah, no no. I can't start thinking like that. I just promised her I would treasure the princess after all. Besides, the princess seemed like a good person. I'm sure we'll get on fine as husband and wife, even if it wasn't quite what I wanted...”
Masamune sat sipping tea with the princess and her mother, surrounded by an atmosphere heavy enough to crush rocks. They were in a beautiful flower garden, at a table surrounded by red rose bushes. The perfect place to court a young girl, but he felt discouraged. He did not know what to do next in terms of courting this girl, and certainly did not feel like attempting anything with her mother around – Masamune felt this would be courting death, even if he did have her permission.
As if on she could hear his thoughts (Masamune shivered at the idea) the queen rose from the table.
“I'm afraid I have official business to attend to now, so I will have to leave now.” She said to Masamune.
The princess also jumped up.
“Ah! I have some things to do as well so-”
“You will stay here and entertain our guest Hotaru.” The queen interrupted. “It would be bad form on our country's part to leave a guest on his own.”
“No buts! This is for peace and justice!”
The queen swept off past Masamune, and as she did he heard her whisper - so quietly that the princess could not possibly hear - “If you hurt Hotaru in any way I will execute you myself!”
And with that the prince and princess were left alone.
Masamune gulped nervously and cleared his throat. “She's just a girl. She's a bit odd in some ways, but a girl is a girl right? Just court her as you would any other girl and she'll definitely fall for you. That's right. It'll be fine!”
“Shall we walk a little in the rose garden, my sweet princess? Though I can have no eyes for the flowers in the face of your beauty. It is like a goddess has stepped before me and ensnared me in her radiant web. Ah, my only wish now is that I need never leave your side again.”
The temperature dropped so low it could have frozen hell.
Masamune began to sweat nervously, remembering how quick the princess had been to try and decapitate him yesterday.
Hotaru stood up.
“We'll go for a walk then, if that's what you would like to do. But keep at least a meter away from me or I will deal out justice on you, you damned playboy prince!”
“Y-yes!” Masamune answered.
“This is dangerous! Going into battle naked is safer that trying to court this princess! Forget persuading her to marry me, what I need to concentrate on is getting out of here alive!!”
He rose unsteadily, and followed the princess into the garden.
Two days passed like this. Each day would be spent with the princess - whoever was with them at the time would make some excuse and leave them alone. Each day he would try to win Hotaru over. He would speak sweet words to her: “Your eyes are as beautiful as the fresh green of spring” “I feel like I would die if I could no longer look upon you face” and other things of that sort. Each day the air around the princess was growing colder, and sometimes he even feared for his life. Also, he could swear the queen was starting to give him smug glances.
And so another day dawned, and that was the day that the king suggested Hotaru should show him around the city.
They walked silently through the streets, neither of them saying a word. Masamune could not think of anything to say to this strange girl any more. He had already run through his entire vocabulary of sweet talking (which was large).
The princess turned to him stiffly.
“Matsuoka san, is there anything you would like to do here? Anywhere you would like to go? If there is I will take you there.”
“Anywhere I want to go? Uuuuuuh, let me think...”
“AH! I will not take you to one of th-those places though!” The princess said firmly.
“One of those places? What do you...” Masamune blushed as he realized what she meant. “No! Absolutely not! As if I wou
l'd never even mention such a thing in front of a lady!”
“Well how should I know what you would and wouldn't do, since you seem to lack such a thing as a sense of decency! After all, you seem to have no problem saying obscene things to a woman you've just met in broad daylight, and then you even try to flirt with me the next day as soon as my mother's back is turned! You're nothing but a stupid playboy!”
It was clear that this was something she had wanted to say for a while.
Her outburst was a surprise to Masamune, and worried him a little.
She's angry! Ohnononono! Is she going to hit me now?! Wait... she's blushing?! And... is she tearing up?! Wait! She's not angry?! Just upset?!? She's just upset because I was flirting with her right after she had seen me trying to seduce another woman! Of course... she has no idea about the plan for the two of us to marry... she must have thought I was treating her as cheap. And I suppose I was, a little. After all, I thought that I could make her fall in love with me even after what she'd seen. Any girl would be upset by that. I... must have hurt her feelings so much... Wait...! Any girl...
Does this mean that, in spite of the way she looks and acts, she has the same sorts of feelings as any normal girl?
“Princess I...” Masamune began, but he was not allowed to finish.
“I'm very sorry!” The princess was bowing low in front of him. “I went to far and was very rude to you. I am deeply, deeply sorry. I am a failure as a member of this country's royal family. I will do anything, absolutely anything, to make up for my rudeness to you. So... please keep working with our country. Please... The feud with Toy Gun Gun will end up tearing our country up if it's allowed to continue. So many people will suffer. Please, I know this country's fate is none of your concern. But please, I beg you... if the country fell apart because I couldn't keep my mouth shut there would be no punishment great enough for me to atone. I will do anything, anything!” The girl begged.
For a few seconds, Masamune could not think what to say. He just stood there, blank with surprise.
“P-please raise your head.” He finally managed to say, and the princess slowly looked up into his eyes. She was crying properly now, and the sight went straight to Masamune's heart and, though at that point Masamune didn't realise it, what he felt in that moment was something other than pity.
He said softly “It's all right. I am not angry, and I will not be leaving Lyri. Because... I deserve everything you just said. You have every right to be angry with me. I have behaved terribly with you, and treated you like you were something cheap. I never meant to do something that would be hurtful to you, and the fact that I didn't realize my actions would do so is terrible in itself. I beg that you will forgive me for what I have done.” He bowed low.
There was silence for a minute, and Masamune looked up, a little fearful... and found himself looking strait into the princess's large, tear-filled eyes.
“You, you'll really stay? You'll really forgive me for being so rude?” Her voice was tembling, he noticed.
“Of course I will. Even I could never abandon a country to fall into ruin. Besides, I have a duty to my own country as well.”
“..O relieved. Thank you so, so much!” And through her tears, the princess smiled. The most genuine, beautiful smile Masamune had ever seen.
She looks so cute! Were the words that came into his mind.
Chapter 4: Why...?
Thank you to the people who left comments and kudos.
Masamune lay on his bed that night, a very different mood in his heart than when he first arrived. A mood full of confusion, but definitely not a bad one.
Cute? Why did I start thinking that tomboy princess was cute? But... that smile. There was no other word for it! And those big green eyes all swimming with tears and that smile and...!! She was just so cute! In fact, I don't think I've ever seen anything as cute as that before! Wait... how strange that I would think that about her of all people. But... I suppose she's different from any other woman I've ever met in a lot of other ways as well. It really is the first time I've ever met anyone like her before. The very first time...
When Masamune met with the princess as usual next day, everything felt different than it had on any of the previous days of his stay in Lyri. Before, he had simply tried to make some conversation in spite of the freezing atmosphere surrounding the princess and try and throw in as many compliments and flirtatious lines as humanly possible. Today, though, the princess seemed more open. She greeted him a little more warmly than before, and when they were left alone in the usual manner she was actually the first one to speak.
“Um... i-is there anything you'd like to do today? You haven't seen many of the kingdoms sights yet or anything and if our countries are to become closer then we should know more about each other, shouldn't we. ...also... I... have treated you rather badly up to now so if there's anything I can do to make up for it then...” The princess blushed and stuttered as she said it, and Masamune found himself, once again, thinking how cute she was.
She... is actually a really sensitive person, isn't she? He thought.
“Um... well... where do you like to spend time? I don't really know much about Lyri yet, so why don't you show me somewhere that you like to go?”
“Hmm... I spend a lot of my time practising the sword. Would you like to have a match together?” She saw Masamune's face blanch and tried to think of something else. “Um, what else could we do... We could... Ah! I know!” The princess's eyes lit up. “There is a restaurant in the city that I love to go to! Would you like to go there? There food is really delicious, and the place is very comfortably furnished as well.”
“That sounds good. Lets do that.” Masamune smiled to himself and absent-mindedly thought how cute she was when she was enthusiastic.
Half an hour later, the two of them were standing outside a luxurious looking restaurant with flowers hanging from its windowsills. As they entered, a young woman come to great them. She bowed low, then straightened and smiled at the two of them. When she caught sight of Masamune, her smile changed to more demure one and she batted her eyelashes.
“Welcome, sir. May I show you to a seat? We have a public area, or there are smaller, private rooms. If you wish you could even sit in the public area, and then I could show you to another room later if you wanted a little... privacy.”
Before now, Masamune would have gone for this last option without hesitating. The girl was rather pretty, after all. But he was with the princess today. Besides, he had seen Hotaru tense ever so slightly out of the corner of his eye and open her mouth to answer the girl before he could.
She never got the chance, though.
When he saw that Hotaru expected him to flirt and play around with the hostess, Masamune felt a jolt inside him. What the emotion was he didn't know but, in that second, he desperately hated that the princess saw him as some untrustworthy man who had no morals when it came to woman. He wanted, more than he her to think well of him. He wanted it in a way that he had never wanted a woman to think well of him before. So he spoke before the princess could.
“I would like a private room for me and the young lady. Thank you.”
The hostess looked disappointed, but turned and led them to a room full of bright flowers, with a table and two comfortable looking couches.
When she had left, Masamune looked around him.
“This really is a nice place. You have good taste, Hotaru.” Silence. “Hotaru?”
He looked across at the princess and was surprised to see that her eyes were on the floor and she was blushing.
“Hotaru? What's the matter?!”
The girl jumped. “Ah, no, n-nothing. It-it is a nice place, isn't it?! I-I'm glad you like it.”
“Huh? Really, what's wrong?! It's clearly not nothing!” Masamune, looked at her, confused.
The girl blushed even more. “It's just... Um... Wh... Why did you ask for a private room? Th- that is... Um... we could have sat in the public area. This is a little...”
It took Masamune a few seconds to work out what she meant. “You mean you hate being alone with me that much?!” He snapped, hurt. “You think I'm the kind of man who would take advantage of you?! I may enjoy female company, but I would never do something as terrible as to touch a girl against her will!”
He stood up. “Come on! As you wish, we will sit in the public area, like you want. I would never make you endure being alone with me.” And he opened the door, holding it open stiffly and motioning for the princess to leave first.
They met the server on their way out, and Masamune stiffly informed her that they would be sitting in the public area instead.
They sat at a table, eating in silence. Masamune sat stiffly in his chair, his eyes fixed coldly on his food. Hotaru made one or two timid attempts to speak to him, but he refused to reply and she gave up. They were both sitting there, wishing the meal was over, when a snide female voice cut into their discomfort.
“Oh, if it isn't Hotaru-kun. Oh no, I do beg your pardon. Hotaru-chan. I never can make myself remember that your a girl. Is this some foreign guest that you're looking after? For a second I thought you might be on a date, but of course that's impossible. He's far too handsome to be on a date with you.”
They both looked up to see a beautiful young woman, an irritating simper plastered on her face. Masamune felt immediate, strong dislike flood his chest. He glanced at the princess and saw that the was looking away from the woman's eyes her face unhappy, her shoulders hunched.
The woman turned her attention away from the princess and onto Masamune.
“It's so nice to meet you. I'm Hotaru's cousin, Evangeline. I so hope you're enjoying your stay here, and that Hotaru isn't boring you too much. She really has no idea how to act around men. Every suiter who's ever come to the castle has left after meeting her once. Absolutely no female appeal, as you can see. So sad. Why don't you come with me? Have a little pleasant female company. It'll be so much more fun than talking to this little tomboy. You don't mind, do you Hotaru dear? You wouldn't want to force your company any man, would you?”
The Princess looked up, meeting her eyes uncomfortably but defiantly. “I don't care about men and things, so I don't care whether those men who came to the castle found me pleasant or not. They were simply after my tittle, and had no interest in me. I don't believe in any sort of romance that isn't completely founded on love, so I hate men like that more than anything. As for Matsuoka-san, it is quite true that I would not want to bore him. More than that, I have behaved badly to him, so it might be better if you were to entertain him in my place. Thank you for your considerate offer, cousin Evangeline.”
Evangeline turned to Masamune.
“Shall we go then?” She inquired sweetly, taking his arm.
But Masamune could stand it no longer, and pulled away from her. “I'm afraid I would rather stay in the princess's company.” He said. “She is, as you say, a little unfeminine and be inexperienced with men. And she seems to be unable to change a bad opinion of someone once one is formed. But she is an undeniably sweet, sensitive girl who wants only what is right for the people around her. Any sensible person, man or woman, would prefer her company to that of a vicious, harpy like yourself. I certainly, would rather spend time with her, who has a pure, good heart that with some poison tongue woman who tries to tear others apart by means of their own insecurities. Lets leave, Hotaru. Good day to you, Miss Evangelene.”
With that he left the restaurant, Hotaru hurrying behind him. When they were a little way from it he stopped and turned to check that the princess was behind him. She was there, panting a little from trying to keep up with his longer stride.
He turned away again saying “rest a minute.”
Um, Matsuoka-san?” The princess's voice was hesitant.
“Thank you. I... in spite of what I said I was upset by that so... truly, thank you. nobody has ever said that sort of thing about me before. You... really are a nice person.”
“It didn't mean much. I just hate poisonous people like that who bully others. And I'm so glad you think I'm a NICE PERSON now.”
“I know that is why you did it. That is why I said you are a nice person, because you don't like to see others bullied.”
“I see.” Was all Masamune said, and he began walking away again.
“Matsuoka-san?” He heard Hotaru's voice again.
“About the room in the restaurant, it wasn't that I thought you might take advantage of me or anything.”
Masamune turned to her, surprised. He saw that she was blushing, but she caught his eyes and held them with her own. “What was it then?” He asked.
“It was just that... well... I have never really been alone with a guy like that before.” She looked away nervously. “I was shy.”
Masamune stood there for a second, then he started to laugh. He couldn't help it, his heart felt so much lighter suddenly.
Hotaru looked up, surprised, at the handsome, laughing face of the young man. “I see.” He said. “So that was it. That was all it was. I'm so glad, Hotaru. And I'm so sorry I jumped to conclusions and got angry.” He continued to laugh.
Hotaru blushed, looking away again. “D-don't laugh.” She mumbled.
“I'm sorry.” Masamune Reached out to rumple her hair. “Come on, let's go back to the castle.” He said, and started walking.
Hotaru followed him, wondering why here heart was beating so fast.
From then on, the time they spent together became something that was pleasant to them. It was something they both looked forward to; so much so, in fact, that it confused them at first. Now instead of enduring silence or awkward flirtations, they talked to each other continuously. About themselves, their countries, about nothing in particular.
Gradually, they began to spend more and more time together. Gradually, the smug expression disappeared from the queen's face.
Then at last, one still, sunny evening when they were standing in the rose garden together, Masamune could hold back his feelings no longer.
They were leaning on a railing, with a short space between them, and Masamune gently moved to close that space. Hotaru felt his warmth behind her, and looked round.
His face was right next to hers, and her words broke off, a deep blush spreading across her cheeks.
He reached out his arms and gently, almost reverently, put them around her slim body.
“Hotaru...” his face came even closer to hers, one hand behind her head to stop her escaping. “Hotaru, I love you. Hotaru, ca-can I kiss you?”
She didn't say anything, just nodded and shyly put her arms around the back of his neck. Masamune bent his head down, and gently, delicately, touched his lips to the lips of the girl he loved, and who truly loved him back.
The days and weeks that followed were a very precious time to them both. One of the happiest the had ever spent, in fact. After six months, Masamune asked Hotaru a question that was very, very close to his heart. Hotaru answered yes.
Chapter 5: I love you.
Thank you to all the people who left comments and kudos. I'm afraid I've never written romance before, so it is a bit cheesy.
Hotaru woke early on her wedding day. It was bright outside, and sunlight flooded though her windows. It mirrored her mood – full of happiness, though that happiness was mixed with excitement and nerves. She got up and opened her door, planning to go and get something to eat, but she was stopped in the hall by the appearance of Kanae.
“Hotaru! Are you only just up?! You'll need to hurry up, there's so much we need to do! It takes time to make someone into an absolutely perfect bride you know!” Kanae grabbed her arm and began to pull her away down the corridor, immune to her friend's protests that she wanted breakfast.
Several hours later, Hotaru stood clad in an extravagant white wedding dress.
“Now, you are perfect, if I do say so myself.” Kanae said. “Now, I just need to get the flowers and we're all set. I'll just be gone a minute, so stay there and make sure you don't crumple anything.” And with that she ran out of the room.
In spite of her friends instructions, Hotaru did not stay put. She had been made to sit still for too long, and besides, the nerves were starting to get to her now that she was left alone. She opened the door, and wondered into the corridor. It was pure coincidence that she heard the voices coming out of one of them. Two maids were in there, discussing the upcoming royal wedding.
“You should see the bride” One of them said. “She's so beautiful.”
Hotaru blushed and was about to hurry past, but then the other maids reply stopped her.
“But it's such an awful thing that she has to get married like this.”
“That's true.” The other maid replied. “She deserves a man who loves her, not some faker.”
“Faker?” Hotaru thought. “I must be Masamune that they're talking about, but why would they call him that? Why would they think he doesn't love me? But I can't listen in. That would go against my sense of justice. But...”
Before she could decide, the next words from the maids floated through the door.
“So nobody's told that poor girl the truth? That he's just pretending to love her because the king and queen won't let the wedding go ahead unless she loves him for real?”
“No. It seems that they're just going to hope she never realizes his loves an act. It seems her parents are regretting even giving that prince a chance, though. I don't think they ever really realized what they were doing. Letting their only daughter away to a man who's lying to her for the sake of ending a feud...”
Hotaru didn't hear anymore. She stumbled away down the corridor in a state of numb shock. When she reached a door into the garden she half fell through it and collapsed onto the grass.
Fake... pretending... act... the words floated through and through her head, and with them floated images of all the time she'd spent with Masamune. Happy times, the happiest of her life. But as each image floated into her head those terrible words attacked, and broke it into peaces. She had thought that she was loved, but in the end she had just been an actor in some sort of play. Fake... it was all fake... Masamune's love was fake, and the happiness it had given her crumbled out from underneath her. She couldn't marry him now. She could never marry a man who didn't love her. But the thought that she would not marry him now made her feel as though her heart was being crushed.
Why? Why had everyone done this to her? And then she remembered what the maid had said. “...for the sake of ending a feud...”
A marriage between her and Masamune would bring peace. As long as they married, there would be no more feud, and the suffering it caused would end. By marrying Masamune, SHE could end that suffering. But could she bare to? Could she really bring herself to marry a man she didn't love?
The church was packed full. Guests from all the neibouring countries had been invited to witness the wedding of the prince of Toy Gun Gun and the princess of Lyri. The groom stood at the alter waiting. Music started playing, and the bride stepped through the doors at the other end of the church. The people who were close to her – particularly the groom and her parents – thought her face looked a little strange, as if she was holding something back. Lyri's king led her up the isle, then took her hand and put it into Masamune's, before retreating and sitting down beside his wife. A few of the guest may have noticed that that both the king and queens smiles seemed to bright, a little fixed.
Masamune, on the other hand, was clearly in a world of bliss. His smile was that of someone who is as happy as it is possible for a human to be. He took the hand of his bride to be and held in tightly, turning to smile at her and whisper a few words of love. It was then that he noticed that her face was a little strange. It made him uneasy, and caused his smile to fade a little.
“Hotaru?” He asked gently. “Are you nervous?”
She nodded, but didn't look at him.
The priest began speaking, and Masamune took his vows with the happy thought that in a few more minutes, just a few more minutes, Hotaru would be his wife. Then the priest began on Hotaru's vows, but during the moment when she should have said “I do” there was only silence. Everyone's eyes turned on the bride, waiting for her to speak, and then suddenly she sank to her knees and burst out crying. Several people jumped to their feet, including the king and queen. Masamune knelt down and tried to put his arms around her, but to his shock she pushed him away. Her parents rushed to her side, desperately asking what the mater was.
“I-I'm sorry.” Hotaru sobbed. “I th-thought I could for the sake of justice, but I just can't. Mother, father, I'm so sorry! But I can't marry him when he doesn't love me, not when I thought he did until an hour ago. I'm sorry! I'm so sorr-”
Masamune interrupted here, distressed.
“What are you talking about?! What do you mean I don't love you?! That's not true! Hotaru I lov-”
“Please stop it! You don't have to pretend anymore. I know about the fact that you had to make me fall in love with you, or my parents wouldn't let the marriage between our countries take place.”
“No!” Masamune shouted. “That's not- I mean, that was the plan originally, but I honestly love you now! I asked you to marry me because I love you Hotaru! That's the only rea-”
“Please, I can't stand it if you keep pretending to love me! I can't-” Hotaru shook her head, got up, and rushed out of the church, leaving Masamune behind.
There was a few seconds of silence, and then uproar broke out. People shouted and questioned one another, shoving and pushing in a mass of general confusion. Masamune just sat in the middle of it all, feeling numb and cold.
The king of Toy Gun Gun was angrily confronting the king and queen of Lyri (his wife was behind him, trying to powder her nose without anyone seeing).
“What's this!” he yelled. “Your daughter is refusing to go ahead with the marriage?! At this stage!?! I won't accept this! If she only found out an hour ago then that means she accepted him of her own will, and our agreement still holds! I demand that you go and bring her round! It's too late for her to back out of the marriage! It must go ahead, for the sake of both our countries!”
The queen of Lyri turned to him angrily.
“Shut up! I will not force my daughter into a marriage she doesn't want! She-”
“I demand that you force her to go on with the marri-”
Then Masamune's quiet, sad voice cut into the argument.
“Even if you bring her round, there won't be a marriage. Because I won't marry her. I won't let her marry me, not when she thinks that my love was an act and that I've done nothing but deceive her. I can't bear to marry her while she thinks that. Not even for the sake of our countries.”
Lyri's royal couple and Toy Gun Gun's king both went quiet, staring at him. Even Toy Gun Gun's queen stopped powdering her nose. Then the king and queen of Lyri smiled.
“I see.” The queen said. Then, turning to Masamune's father. “Well, that is how things are. The wedding is off. Now, if you will excuse me I am going to go and comfort my daughter.”
The queen found Hotaru sitting by one of the small, lily covered ponds that dotted the gardens. The girl was staring into the water, trying to get her tears to stop. The queen knelt down and put her arms around her daughter, saying nothing and just letting her cry. Hotaru was the one to break the silence.
“I'm sorry for causing such a scene in front of all the guests.”
“Don't worry. I don't blame you, and nobody else should, either. If anyone should be apologizing, it's me. I didn't realize how cruel that plan was until you'd actually fallen in love with him, and then it was to late. I didn't know what to do, so I said nothing just and prayed that it would work out somehow. I'm so, so sorry.”
There was a short pause, and then Hotaru said, “I'll marry him.”
“I have a chance to save Lyri and Toy Gun Gun. My sense of justice would never allow it, despite the fact that I broke down just now. So, I will go ahead with the marriage.”
“But you can't.”
“You can't, because the groom says he won't marry you any more.”
“Oh no! Is he that angry? What will I do, I've gone and ruined the whole thing. What will I-”
“He said,” The queen interrupted, “That he wont marry you while you think that he only pretended to love you. He said he couldn't bare it.”
Hotaru pulled back from her mother so she could look at her face.
“What... Is that true? Did he really say that? Did he really... really...?”
And her voice became muffled in tears again.
Masamune lay on his bed. He'd long ago given up trying to hold the tears back, and now he only covered his face with his arm to make a little easier to pretend that he wasn't crying. To pretend to himself that he was OK. But despite everything he could do, the pain wouldn't ease and the tears kept coming.
This was how Hotaru found him when, after having knocked a few times and got no reply, she quietly slid into his room.
He sat up, shocked, and desperately tried tried to wipe the tears of his face.
“Hotaru!? Why are you here?!”
“Um, um,” She shifted with nerves. “My mother told me... that you said you wouldn't marry me while I thought you didn't love me.” She finally met his eyes. “Is that true, Masamune? Does... does that mean that you really did love me? That it was more that just an arranged marriage to you? Does it?”
He couldn't say anything. He could only stumble to her and put his arms round her, tighter and tighter and hope that he would never have to let her go. They stood like that for a while, both of them crying and neither of them caring that the other saw.
When Masamune could speak again, he said: “Hotaru, I love you. Will, once more... will you marry me?”