"And then, he told me that until I was given to him, and not this Prince, or anyone else Father tries to give me to..." She picked at the beads of the perfume bottle. "That whosoever I kiss will die. He was huge! And scales like jade with eyes of gold.""It was just a dream. These happen before such life changing times.""If you say so."She tapped her fingers on the white and pink marble of her vanity, staring into the mirror. Hazel eyes stared back at her, set in a heart shaped face, milk pale skin framed by jet hair. Her handmaiden eagerly wound the dark length into masses of intricate coils, set just so and interspersed with diamonds and pearls, caught by a fine net of silver."Oh stop fussing milady. You'll love him, wait and see. Your parents would not be giving you to someone that would make you unhappy.""How do you know? I've never even met him. What if he's really a goat, or old, or boring, or worse- all three! An old boring Goat Prince!""What if you didn't give him a chance, and he was really The One?""I don't think that One exists... Have you ever seen a real Happily Ever After? They still end with tears when they end."She slumped, in the still perfect way that Princesses are trained to do since birth, just as her handmaiden finished binding up her hair."You'll see milady. Just believe.""But the dream was so real...""Hush now, you'll jinx yourself. Dragons don't exist."The handmaiden arranged the vast veil over her, obscuring her below a frothy sea of white. A knock sounded at the chamber door, and the maid scuttled to answer with a titter and a deep curtsy."Your majesty!""My daughter, she is ready finally?" Barely a pause, more a mere formality as he already swept through the door toward his daughter in a wave of silver pelts, then the silver haired and robed King embraced the snow white mass of fabric. "If only your mother could see you now.""Thank you Father..."He beamed, then set a tiny tiara carrying a jade dragon atop the veil. "There, all ready."Offering his arm, the King led his daughter from the room, too pleased to notice his daughter's reticence, which was disguised even if he were paying attention. Down the hallways and to the chapel, any and all servants scurried out of the way. The Princess kept her head down, uninterested in the tapestries and works of art, or the carved stone spirals. Nor did the even more intricately decorated chapel interest her, with its soaring Cherubim, Seraphim, and sweeping open arches.In the chapel, a priest in white and gold waited in front of the polished wooden altar, holding an ornate book, and a giant tome open on the altar to the day's painting. Beside him waited a young man, standing at attention with his eyes fixed on the entry door, where she now floated through.The young man waiting at the altar held her attention. Resplendent in red velvet jacket, white silk pants, and black furs, he wore black leather riding boots. The scabbard of the sword at his waist bore the evidence of battle, despite the gleam that told her it had been freshly serviced. An open face regarded her with possibly as much trepidation as she felt, though masked behind an air of self confidence. He extended a hand, open and palm up, and smiled. His stance softened. She continued on, and looked down shyly when her Father placed her hand into her new husband's. The Prince squeezed her hand lightly during the service, as they stood looking at each other."We are gathered here to unite two people and two Kingdoms, before man and God. If there are objections to the union of this man with this woman, speak now, or hold your peace for all time."There was a shiver through the whole room, and a voice whispered on a chill breeze from the window."I do. She is mine, and marked from birth to be mine. I have watched long, and today a promise breaks. There will be consequences till what is mine is brought to my side."The priest paled, and looked at her, and she at him. He then looked around with wide ice eyes, but it seemed that out of all the nobles gathered, only they had heard this. An usher silently strode to close the windows while the nobles tried warming themselves without anyone noticing. With no objection coming that would not make him look insane, as disembodied voices were considered a sign of insanity, he continued."Do you take this woman to be your wife before Man and God? To guide her and her country, and guard them both from all manner of hardship, and rule her people justly, until death do you part?""I do." He looked at her and smiled. "Till my dying breath, I do.""Do you take this man to be your husband before our God? To follow his lead, and correct him if he is wrong, and help him rule the land and people justly?"She looked at her new husband and drew a breath. After what felt like an eternity, she heard her own voice, distant and quiet as a ripple on a frog pond."I do.""Then by the power invested in me, place the bridal ring and exchange your kiss, sealing till death this union as man and wife, future King and Queen of Narahn and Thareav."The witnesses collectively drew their breath, as the Prince threw the veil of his new bride back over her head, then slipped a jade ring on her finger. A sigh of relief, since the ring fit and boded a good match, escaped all. The chapel filled with resounding cheers as they kissed, too exuberant to notice the green glow of the jade dragon now covered by the veil."I warned you... Why didn't you listen?" The Princess heard a hiss above her head, and a chill passed over her as her lips touched her groom's.A loud thud announced the fall, to a symphony of surprised screams. She gazed down at the man crumpled at her feet in shock, then joined him as the shock claimed her. Unnoticed, the ring slid from her hand and rolled away as it flung wide during her fall.The priest knelt beside the pair, and checked the pulses of both, praying fervently that their God would spare the Prince and deliver the Princess from whatever strange curse had befallen her, and wondered how she had fallen under the power of- whatever it was. Meanwhile, the King called for his Royal Healer, and several of his knights, clanking and shining in dress armor, rushed to carry the pair to their beds, as soon as the priest deemed them safe to move.The Kingdom went into mourning, fearing for the loss of the bright future that they had only just been celebrating. During the hours that the Royal Healer and his apprentices conducted his first investigation, word was sent out by the Royal Priest to take down the mirrors through all the Kingdom, lest their souls be caught and held prisoner in between death and life inadvertently. Those mirrors secured too well, or too large, were soon covered by large, heavy cloths. The Healers labored valiantly, trying every concoction and remedy that they knew.Yet, to no effect.Days passed. One day during the beginning of Autumn, when the leaves were red and falling, and the winds blew chill under low skies of grey cotton, and the touch of wisping mists that wound through village, courtyard, field, and glen masked it all, the Princess stirred. The news spread quickly, and hours later news spread again as she woke."Where am I?""Hush Daughter, you are in your room." Louder, he called to the guard outside the door. "Send to the kitchens for soup, she awakes.""Soup? I'm not hungry Father.""You should be, you have been unconscious for days, and verily, deathly cold. So, you will eat.""Yes Father..." The Princess sighed, and tried to sit up, only to discover that she was much weaker than she expected to be. "My husband?""Still sleeps. We hope that he awakes soon." He smiled, and helped her to sit up, smoothing some hair back out of her face once she was up. "Since you returned from sleep, we can expect him to as well." He kissed the top of her head."I'm afraid though, Father. I... I've been hearing things, before this happened.""What things?" He smoothed the blankets around her, staring at the folds perhaps longer than strictly necessary. She noticed, now, the age spots beginning to show, and how the cords in his hands were beginning to stand out more.She looked at him, and his eyes did not quite seem to meet hers."The night before the ceremony, I had a dream- a nightmare really. A great green dragon had been telling me that if I were to be married, an old promise would be broken. Anyone I kissed would die.""A dragon? Green?" The old King's eyes finally met hers fully."Yes. He was the size of several hills, and scales like fine jade. Not forest green or emerald, but that green jade from across the sea in the land with the gold and silk. His eyes were gold, and I know for certain it was a he, because of the way it moved and the sound of its voice. What promise would be broken though? I've not made any promises to a dragon, and my handmaiden insists that they are not real."The King patted his daughter's hand, and was silent until a scullery maid arrived with a bowl of fresh hot soup. She handed the tray to the King, with the guard standing at attention, and then slipped away after her obeisance and receiving no further tasks. The King quietly shut the door and brought the bowl to the bed, sitting on the chair once more and wielding the spoon himself for her."No, dragons are not real anymore. The last was killed long ago. However, there is a country that has a gold eyed jade dragon, that we used to do extensive trade with. The King and I were once very good friends, we even decided that when we had children, if they were proper to wed, we would join the two of you. His child, when it came, was a boy.""What happened?""A plague decimated their military. Only their military, my child. While that country's forces were low, a neighboring Kingdom used that time to attack. The King and his wife were killed, my forces arrived too late to prevent it. We looked for the boy, but could never find him. Years we searched, and at last had to think him dead.""So, does this strange happening mean he might be alive?""I don't know. If so, this cannot be undone, you are already married now.""When the priest asked if there were objection, I heard a voice raising the same objection. I think he heard it too.""I will see what he has to say then. Perhaps he will know of something."He spooned more soup into her mouth, and she ate while both pondered the situation. Once the bowl was empty, he withdrew, taking the tray with him, leaving her alone save for the guard outside. When his Highness had been gone for several minutes, she bowed her head and wept as quietly as she could manage.Still, the keen-eared guard heard, and he knocked softly before opening the door."Milady?"She pulled her hands from her face. "Raen?"The voice matched her expectation, and as always his blue and silver uniform was smart, and boots polished to the proper sheen. The sword at his hip was less imposing than that of the Prince she had so reluctantly wedded, but no less well cared for. He came to her, though careful to always keep the door in his sight, and himself between them. He bowed deeply. "I can't fix this, but I can sing for you when the guard changes, if it would ease you somewhat, Milady.""Please...""Milady..." He picked up the jade dragon tiara and placed it on her brow, before bowing deeper and returning to his post.She took her tiara off, looking at the dragon and tracing its smooth curves. The longer she caressed the strangely warm stone and thought, the more it glowed. After the candle had burnt down an inch, she carefully reset it, hearing the loud stamps that came with the changing of the guard. Then, even later, after the candle had gone even lower, Raen returned, lute in hand. Standing near the door always, where the current guard could see him when checking the room, he sang and played the most cheering songs that he knew, until finally the sun of her smile broke weakly through the winter clouds of grief and confusion."Raen, do you know where my husband lies?""Yes Milady... I do.""Will you take me to him?"Raen sighed and bowed over his lute. "As Milady wishes."The Prince continued to sleep for weeks, and though the Princess cared for him, tending his needs and feeding as carefully and often as the Healers, he could be seen wasting a little more every day. His skin began to dry, he turned yellowish, and his bedclothes were looser and looser till his sleeping form swam in them.And still, he slept.Then one day he simply ceased to breathe.The Princess, as can be expected, was there for her husband's last breath. It was her wail that alerted everyone to his death."Oh daughter..."The King wrapped his arms around the Princess, who shook in his arms like a banner on the castle turret in the midst of a storm.Raen, who stood guard at the Prince's door that night, flung the door open. The Princess then sagged against her father, and his heart fell at the twisted face he had glimpsed."Send a messenger to his father. Remind him to be watching for the envoy on his way.""Yes Milord."A click of his heels and bow, then the guard was off to relay the royal command. The King held his daughter till the tears ebbed, then lifted her face to wipe the tears with his thumb."I did not expect it to hurt so much, father. I barely knew him.""Yes Daughter. You would be cold and callus if you felt nothing. I am... truly sorry. I tried to arrange a match I thought would ensure your happiness and well-being.""I know father."She kissed her father, just the lightest of brushes on the cheek while hugging him.The door swung open again."Milord, the messenger has been sent."The King fell heavy in her arms as the door opened and Raen relayed his news.The Princess looked at the unconscious man she held, blinking a moment."No. Please. Not again. Not father.""Milady!"Raen rushed to her side, taking the King's weight from her. The Royal Priest arrived at that time, ready to perform the first preparations for the Prince's long trek home. One look at the scene, and he shouted down the hall to where the next guard was stationed."The King! Send for the Royal Healer! Hurry!" He continued in. "What happened?""All I did was kiss his cheek. Just lightly on his cheek." Unevenly, she repeated herself and sank to the floor staring at her father.Raen continued holding the unconscious King, though watching the Princess expressionlessly."Highness! You heard it as well that day.""Yes, but I did not think it meant... It wasn't even the same sort...""But it was still a kiss Highness...""I know. Oh God above I know now. And now, I'm all alone.""Milady, not alone. I will not leave you alone, nor will the Priest.""Raen is right Highness. We will not leave you, and we'll do all we can to bring your father back."The Princess dissolved again into tears, like sugar into hot tea, but less sweet. Perhaps, more like salt into a broth, but less savory.Hurried footsteps sounded in the hall. The Royal Healer bustled in, a flurry of robes and his leather bag. Accompanying him with muttered curses that he had originally sent them away, the King's guards poured in.The captain of the guard himself collected the King from Raen, nodding toward the Princess, and Raen nodded back."What happened then?""Did they manage to save the King?""Did the loyal guard and Priest keep their word?"An old Queen looked toward the palace children that were gathered on cushions at her feet, waiting for the eager tirade of questions to end. As had always been, at least to their reckoning, the silver haired King stood guard at her side, in the blue and silver attire they had always known. She looked up at him from her chair, and he gripped her hand lightly."The King, despite all that the Royal Healer did, passed away in his sleep. During his enchantment, a search was made anew for the missing Prince of the land of Jade Dragons, but if he was ever found either he himself did not know who he was, or did not reveal himself to them.""And the guard and Priest?" A small boy repeated his question, leaning forward and gnawing on a sweet biscuit."The Priest passed away several years later, but even in death he keeps his word. If you go to the chapel, when all is quiet, you may see him praying.""And the guard?"The King at her side broke in. "Still stands vigil over his Princess, and plays for her when she is sad... which is often. Never yet has she kissed him to test the curse's power. He knows that, if he is lucky, he will finally receive that gift when she too is ready to leave this world."The Queen smiled sadly up at him. "Just as she promised Raen so long ago.""Milady..."He bowed over her hand and kissed the back lightly, still smooth despite their years.
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