Rating: PG-13 for violence?
Pairing: Ishida and Orihime
Note: I have no idea if this is on time anymore, since I fell asleep on the last page. But even if it's not, this story is also for Luminous85. It's a story that turned out a lot longer than I ever expected. An archetypal fairytale that I tried to make sound like those passed from generation to generation. Let's see how I did?
Note 2: So. Turns out my story is too long to post. So I guess I'll be uploading in pieces. Unfortunately, all HTML I had died. So place emphasis wherever you see fit. Sorry!
~*~Please don't comment until you see me write "DONE" in the heading. orz Here goes.
For convenience: I've put the story in my journal in two parts. Now with a few things tweaked, HTML, and less typos. Part one. Part two. (Part one is pretty much the same thing as the first part here.)
As is tradition, this tale starts in the manner of all great stories. It is a tale of romance. Adventure. Daring princes and chivalric knights. Magic and wonder. But, above all these, it is a tale of love. For, little ones, there is nothing more timeless on this earth… than love.
Our story begins in a way you all may know- the words that open the world of ancient mystique that cannot be defined. Our story begins… Once Upon a Time.
Once upon a time, in a far away land, there lived a beautiful princess. It was said that she came from the heavens, a gift from the stars to the kind ruler of the kingdom. The king and his queen had one son, but the queen had always longed for a daughter. One day, the people say, the gods heard her, and a daughter with hair like rays of the sun and eyes like the earth was born.
One fateful day, the king and queen were taken from the world of the living in a terrible accident while visiting a neighboring land. The prince ruled the kingdom in their stead for years until he too, was caressed by the touch of death. It is not long after the princess’s beloved brother wilted that our story begins.
You see, now that the prince was dead, the princess was the only heir to the kingdom. She was a strong young woman and more than capable of maintaining a peaceful rule… but as is true in many kingdoms, hers had a silly law. Because women were believed to be so fair, it was law that she should have a guiding hand. Only a Queen, and not a princess, could lord over a kingdom. The princess was determined to uphold the values her family stood for. And she knew that she would. She knew that she must.
“Are you sure this is wise, princess?”
A young woman pushed her hair behind one of her ears, a cascade of sunrays dancing in the wind. She observed the saddlebags as her most trusted knight loaded them onto her horse.
“Of course,” she answered. “Red is the most popular color for saddles these days. I think it looks wonderful.”
He knight gave her a long look. “You know that is not what I was talking about.”
She did know. She knew exactly of what her knight spoke. Today she would journey to a kingdom across the sea. Her kingdom needed her and she would do everything in her power to serve it. In the kingdom across the sea, lived king Isshin’s son, Ichigo. King Isshin’s unmarried son, Ichigo. Though they only saw each other once a year, when the kings of the land met to discuss the welfare of their people, princess Orihime was in love with him. She had fallen for his unkempt charm, his passion, and his compassion. He was loud and strong and handsome.
“Princess,” her knight’s voice rang through her thoughts.
“I know, Ishida,” she said. “But my kingdom needs a ruler and I cannot lead it as I am. Tatsuki will keep it in my place until I return.”
“But princess, why-”
She laughed, rocking on her heels. “Oh, Ishida, you worry too much. Nothing will happen to me. I will be fine.”
Orihime looked at him in surprise. No? He never refused her anything before. Ishida had served in the palace for as long as the princess could remember. She met his when he was a stable boy. He hadn’t wanted to speak to her because she was the princess. But she visited the stable every day, determined to make a new friend, and there was only so much avoiding one could do when he worked in the same place every day. She was persistent and talked to him even when he did not want to be talked to. They became friends, of course, though he still insisted of formalities. When Ishida finally became a knight, Orihime trusted no one more. He was always with her as a constant pillar of support.
So it was today. And that was why she could not believe what she heard. “Pardon?” she asked, incredulous.
“We will be fine,” he said firmly. “I will not allow you to go alone. If you refuse me I will become your shadow.”
And so it was that Ishida wormed his way into Princess Orihime’s journey.
For many days and nights the princess and her knight traveled. But unbeknownst to them, a pair of dark eyes watched their travels. The lord of the kingdom across the mountains in the west was a cruel man. Oh, to most he appeared a kind and gentle soul. But to his inner circle, he was as devious and cunning as Eden’s serpent. This lord had hatched an evil scheme… a scheme many years in the making, and as evil as his heart was black.
Lord Aizen was not content with rule over a single kingdom. He would not accept one people under his iron clutches. So the impious man plotted to take all the neighboring kingdoms in his grasp. He sought to build an empire to call his own. The first step to his wicked plan was to make sure that his closest ‘ally’ kingdom was without a ruler. And, as it so happened, the foolish princess had left the safety of her palace walls with no more than a lone, feeble knight. He plotted to eradicate this princess. To make sure that the kingdom had an ally to guide them through the grievous times that followed a lost ruler. He plotted… and waited.
“We’re going to need a boat,” the knight said, dismounting his horse. He and the princess had just arrived in the closest port village. The air resounded with the sound of merchants peddling their wares. It took all Ishida’s persuasive abilities to keep the princess from flitting about every booth and trinket she passed. This village was a sailor’s town. The knight had no taste for sailors.
He led their horses to an inn and paid for lodging. A page took their horses and the knight carried the princess’s belongings to her room. He was torn between staying with her for her protection and maintaining decency. In the end, he paid for his own room to avoid suspicion and resolved to sleep outside the princess’s door.
The day was still young, and the two travelers needed to procure a boat on which to sail by tomorrow. There were two places best for doing so- the docks and the inn’s tavern. Pickpockets shamelessly frequented the docks so tavern it was. By the day’s close, the knight had secured a place on an outgoing vessel and the princess had managed to make friends with the tavern’s rat-catcher. She scratched the lithe cat behind one ear and it followed her for the remainder of the day.
That night, beneath the black cloak of darkness, the knight awoke to cold steel pressed against his throat. He had fallen asleep while keeping watch over the princess’s door. He drew a sharp breath, mind reeling for a way to keep the princess safe from his attacker. Before he could speak, however, his attacker kneeled down before him, revealing his face through a stream of moonlight. The innkeeper.
The man held a finger to his lips, eyes twinkling in the light. It was only then that the knight heard the sounds of battle echoing in the hall; it was only when his nose caught the distinct trace of smoke in the air that he realized the inn was under attack.
“On your feet,” hissed the innkeeper. Ishida complied. He would be no help to the princess dead. He stood slowly, back pressed against her door, never letting his eyes leave the innkeeper.
“What do you want,” Ishida whispered, wincing as the knife dug into his neck.
“Open the door. Now,” ordered the man. Looking back on the event later, Ishida would never know what possessed him to open the door. He could not remember what he was thinking when he turned the doorknob. But he did it.
As soon as the door was open, the innkeeper shoved Ishida into the room, rushed in himself, and hurriedly locked the door behind him.
“Who are you?” the knight demanded, drawing his sword. Something brushed against his leg. He looked down for but a second. The innkeeper’s cat. To his horror, when Ishida looked up, the innkeeper stood above the princess’s bed. He was laying his filthy hands on her!
“Urahara?” Orihime’s sleepy voice questioned the innkeeper by name. “What’s going on?”
“The inn is under attack,” the innkeeper, Urahara, spoke.
“What?” The princess shot upright. The knight rushed to Orihime’s side, shoving the innkeeper away from her and standing protectively before her, sword held ready.
“You need to leave,” a female voice sounded from the doorway. Ishida’s eyes darted to the door. Before him, surrounded by a lingering mist, stood a dark skinned woman. A sorceress, he realized.
The innkeeper and sorceress, who had been his cat all along, hurriedly explained to the princess and knight that they must flee. A great evil was hunting them. All the sailors had been paid to kill them if they attempted to buy passage and their horses had been either killed or stolen in the fire that still burned the inn.
There was a passage, the innkeeper told him. He strode to the princess’s bed. Under it, he revealed a trap door. Someone banged loudly on the room’s door, demanding entrance. The innkeeper and his sorceress ushered the knight and princess into the secret passage- but not before the sorceress pulled the princess aside to speak with her.
“The necklace you wear,” she said, gesturing to the jewelry Orihime never removed. It was a simple chain with two delicate metal flowers that glowed the color of the sea. “It holds a power older than the earth itself. Alone it is useless. But with you as its bearer, nothing is more precious. Do not let it go, princess. You cannot afford it to enter any other’s hands.”
She drove the princess out of the room, telling the couple to seek a ship with a black flag at the harbor. It was the only escape they could hope for. The trap door slammed closed above them and the knight was sure he heard the sound of splintering wood and clashing metal as they fled.
The harbor smelled of sweat, burning wood, and fish as the princess and the knight ran. They had left everything they had at the inn, aside from whatever provisions they had on them. Considering the princess had been asleep… those were precious little. After searching, the exhausted pair managed to remain unseen until they spotted a ship with a tattered black sail.
They boarded her, ducking over the deck just before an axeman ran past below- obviously hunting the princess. They were panting so heavily that they did not notice they were surrounded until it was too late.
That is how the princess and her knight came aboard the greatest pirate vessel of legend.
You see, the captain of the vessel with the black sail was unlike any pirate in all the ocean. The gruff man did not care for riches or wealth. He lived and sailed for one purpose only- for the thrill. His ship bore no name. It was said that every ship held a name and every captain learned it after sailing on his first voyage. If Captain Zaraki’s ship had a name, he never bothered to learn it.
The captain wore an eye patch, worn boots, plain trousers, a tattered brocade coat, and a rose haired girl on his shoulder.
Once again, the princess made fast friends with the girl, who the captain had named Yachiru. The crew was devoted heart and soul to their captain. Ishida was surprised by the loyalty they showed, considering the oh-so-favorable reports on pirates and their loyalties. But what was more amazing still, was the fact that none of the crew cared for riches. None of the crew could be bought. It was because of this that the princess and her knight were aboard the cleanest vessel in the harbor.
The ship’s quartermaster, a smooth-headed man who refused to wear shoes, was the first to agree to help them. He had taken a liking to the knight’s defiant eyes and declared that anyone who wore such an expression had to be a good fighter. Indeed, Ishida thought he had been a good fighter before he started sparring with the crewmen every morning. Ikkaku, the quartermaster, Renji, the helmsman… even the ship’s chef, Yumichika were all skilled fighters. Every day that they journeyed toward Kurosaki’s kingdom, Ishida grew stronger than ever before. The princess spent her time training as well. The captain himself had taken her under his wing, and though his style was more than unorthodox, Ishida felt comforted knowing that the princess was learning to defend herself.
After a long voyage together, the nameless ship anchored in a harbor not more than three day’s journey from King Isshin’s palace. They parted company with the crew, embracing their new friends fondly. Yachiru and the princess swore they would have a tea party together and the captain invited himself to join them, when the day came.
After entering the harbor village, the princess’s knight was reluctant to stay the night at an inn as before. The princess was afraid. She never said a word of it, but Ishida knew. He new her better than he knew himself. And he knew that he must find a place for her to feel safe.
It was then that our travelers came across a small teashop. The owner who greeted them was a kindly old man with hair as white as winter’s first snowfall. He noticed the weary travelers and ushered them inside, offering them tea. A woman with dark hair and gentle eyes sat with them while he prepared tea for them. She spoke to them about the shop, the white haired boy the owner had adopted. The boy was gifted with wit and intellect far beyond his years. It is said that his white locks were a symbol of the wisdom he possessed far beyond his years. But the woman, Unohana was her name, told them he was just a boy. She smiled fondly and looked over to the kitchen where the shopkeeper was trying to teach the boy how to properly mix tealeaves. Just boys… both of them.
They were so welcoming that Orihime and Ishida jumped at the shopkeeper’s offer for lodging for the night. The next morning, they left the village with a supply of tea and a beautifully wrapped package that the princess clutched it in her palm. Unohana had spoken to her when the men had all fallen asleep. She told Orihime to keep it with her always. When she learned of the power of her necklace, it would be invaluable to her. But it could only be used once. The princess would know what it was for when the time came. Orihime tucked the package into her sash, wondering just what it was that her necklace could do.
The next morning they were on their way. The boy with hair of snow watched them through the window, eyes like the glaciers high in the mountains following them as they left.
The princess and her knight journeyed by foot, having no money to buy horses. Their journey led them to an enchanted forest that filled the air with awe. On the first night, wolves attacked their camp. The knight bravely defended his lady with his bow, for he was the greatest marksman in the land. But there were many, and though the knight saved his princess from any harm, one of the wolves made contact with him and he was terribly wounded.
Princess Orihime tore the hem of her dress and wound it around the knight’s wound. She held back her tears, but he noticed them and offered her a small smile. He assured her that he would be able to continue because she had acted so quickly. But when she finally fell into sleep, the knight finally allowed himself to grimace in pain. As things stood, he would not be able to hold a bow to defend his princess. He hoped upon hope that nothing more would attack them, but he was prepared to give his life if his hopes went unanswered.
The second day’s travel went slower than the first. The princess said nothing of it, chattering unremittingly with her knight. She told him she wanted to enjoy the beauty of the forest and begged him to travel slowly today, so she could see its wonders. The knight wanted to leave the forest as quickly as possible, but he knew he was in no condition to do so and he agreed.
As night came, they made camp under a great oak tree. When the knight sent the princess to gather firewood, she knew he was not well. His sense of chivalry would never allow her to gather wood. She knew this because every time she asked, he denied her. She went, fearing for her friend all the while. As soon as the princess was gone from sight, the knight collapsed at the foot of the tree. He managed to draw himself into a sitting position, straining with effort.
When the princess returned, she found him asleep. It was only when she built him a fire that she noticed the scarlet stains seeping through the wrapping she had given him. She rushed to his side, hurting at the sight of his pain. She silently prayed for healing for her dear friend. The forest answered.
The princess’s necklace glowed as bright as the moon on a cloudless night. Then, suddenly, it shattered and all the petals imbedded themselves into the trunk of the great oak tree. The princes stared in wonder as the tree creaked and groaned, listening to a gale of wind rustling the leaves. Then, from the very tree itself, where each part of her necklace had struck, a flower rose from the bark. The flowers bloomed before her eyes and when they fully opened, the princess saw that each was not a flower, but a small faerie spirit.
The spirits rose and circled around her. They spoke kindly and told her of their purpose. Orihime’s necklace was an enchanted relic, gifted with powers by the great wizard Yamamoto of lore. The wizard had tired of the war that beset the kingdoms and created the necklace to restore the damage done by it. The petals of the necklace summoned the spirits of the enchanted forest, calling them to heal the wounded soldiers. It was because of this necklace, the faeries told her, that the Great War ended. The necklace was given to the first kingdom to agree to peace as a gift- Orihime’s kingdom. Orihime listened in wonder to the spirits as they wove their tale. They told her, however, that they were not merely for healing. They had the power to shield entire cities from ruin and, they told her gravely, they had the power to bring cities to ruin. They could not act without a wielder. That wielder must be a descendant of one of the kings from the Great War, the kings that initiated peace. But because Orihime’s ancestors had been the first to agree to peace, the power in her line was the strongest.
With this new knowledge, the princess asked the faeries if they could heal her knight. The wind stirred around her and her hair flung before her eyes. When she wind died down and she managed to pull her fiery locks from her eyes, the faeries were gone and she wore her necklace as if it had never shattered. Her knight was healed. She thanked the spirits quietly, kissing her necklace in gratitude.
When her knight woke, he marveled at his wound… or its absence. The princess would not tell him how it was done, and she smiled at him like a child harboring a delightful secret.
From outside the camp, a dark shadow watched. The evil lord Aizen had readied a spell to kill the princess where his wolves had failed. With the knight unable to sense his presence, it was the perfect opportunity. But the spell died on his lips as he saw the wonders of the princess’s necklace. No other was left in her line- she was the last. That meant that no other could use the power she had demonstrated under the great oak tree.
He changed his plans there. Why kill the princess when he could trick her into calling the spirits for him? He could then use his spells to bend them to his will and destroy entire towns with the wave of a hand.
He strode into the camp with a smile.
At the sight of him, the princess shrieked in delight, flinging her arms about his neck. When the kings met every year, Aizen was always her favorite. He brought her gifts and told her stories of ancient times. She invited him into their party, chatting merrily. Her knight’s eyes never left the king, watching him with intensity as great as the sea. The knight was perceptive, thought the evil king, and his eyes were too open. Aizen would make sure, come tomorrow, that they did not open again.
The next morning, the knight pulled the princess aside when he thought King Aizen was asleep. In truth, the evil king had given up sleeping years in the past, as many great magicians are wont to do. But the knight did not know of this- how could he?
“Princess, you cannot trust him!” Ishida whispered harshly, gesturing to the sleeping king.
“I trust him with my life!” cried the princess, appalled by the hostility her knight had shown towards the dear king.
“Then you will lose it,” hissed her knight.
Orihime was shocked. He had never argued with her before. Well, of course they argued, but it was over petty things like what to feed the horses or which story to read together. She always won of course. She suspected he let her because she was the princess. He let her, in truth, because he loved her.
It was because he loved her, this time, that he could not let her win. Their argument rose in volume and intensity as the minutes passed. He was adamant that they leave the king. But the princess was a kind soul. She would not, even if he were a stranger.
“Ishida, he came all this way to see us and escort us safely! If we cast him out, he could die in this forest alone.”
“Then let him.”
The forest echoed with the sound of flesh striking flesh. The princess would not tolerate such remarks. She turned on her heels and marched back into camp, gathering her belongings. She did not speak to her knight for the rest of the day. He did not try to make her.
Because of the knight’s injury, they had lost about half a day’s travel and had to make camp at the outskirts of the forest. The princess had not even looked the knight’s way and his heart was heavy. But he kept behind her, watching Aizen’s every gesture. The knight was tired- he hadn’t slept the entire night that Aizen had been with them. He could not place it, for the man had been nothing but kind to him, but the kindness felt superficial, and Ishida did not trust him.
That night, for the first time he had known her, the princess went to sleep without saying goodnight to her friend. She did not know that tomorrow she would not be able to tell him, even if she wanted to.
While she slept, Aizen beckoned the knight to join him in conversation. Ishida was reluctant to leave the princess, but did not want to leave the king out of his sight. He stood, taking his bow and sword, and followed.
But the evil king had laid a trap for the knight. As they walked deeper into the forest, the knight felt his strength leaving him. He stopped walking and called to Aizen, saying he would go no further and whatever the king had to say could be said now. Maybe the spirits of the forest were with the knight, for the evil king had bewitched the rotted leaves that coated the ground. Thirty paces further, and the knight’s life would be spent. But the king had cruder methods. He turned to the knight and smiled with cruel eyes. It was then that the knight realized he had been led into a trap, though he had come prepared. He drew his bow with the swiftness of a hawk but he was already weakened, and the king held dark powers. He disappeared like a fog into the shadows. A sword, forged from the forest’s mist by spell, plunged through the knight’s back, surfacing through his chest. The evil king stood behind him, materialized from the shadows.
King Aizen looked on in satisfaction, twisting the sword of mist and darkness with his wrist. The knight’s bow fell to the ground and he followed it, the cushion of leaves silencing their impact. The knight lay fallen and the sword buried in the ground, pinning him there. The king spoke to the knight then. He told him how he would become the ruler of all the kingdoms and how the foolish princess would lead him straight into power. He thanked the knight then, for saving the princess from the wolves he had sent. If he had killed her, then he would not be able to use her powers.
He left the knight pinned by sword to the ground, bleeding into the forest. You see, the faeries in the forest watched in worry, unable to pass through the spell the evil king placed on the land when he laid his trap. But the faeries are a powerful force, even when fools doubt their magic. They could not stop the evil king… they could not save the knight. But they could aid him for a little while. They banded together, pouring their magic through the leaves and the wind. They made it so that the knight’s breath seemed to still and his heart ceased to beat. So when king Aizen stooped to make sure the knight would no longer be a hindrance, he saw no signs of life. The forest sighed with relief; but the evil king did something they had not accounted for and could not stop. As a parting gift, he summoned the snapping wolves that he had called to kill the princess two nights before. The king bade the knight’s corpse farewell and walked away. He waved a dismissive arm as he left, and the wolves lunged.
The princess did not take the news of her knight’s departure well. She awoke and her first thought was of him. She wanted to apologize for striking him- that was something no friend should do. But she awoke to find only Aizen emerging from the forest. She asked him where Ishida was gone, for she desired to speak to him. Aizen looked at her with an unreadable expression and sighed. He told her that he had asked the knight to put aside his dislike for him for the sake of the princess. The knight, he said, refused to stay in the same party as he. It was clear whom the princess preferred and he left in anger. King Aizen apologized for not being able to keep him, but the princess waved off his concern.
Orihime felt that it was her fault… once she found Ichigo, perhaps she could convince him to help her find her knight. The two, though neither would admit it, were both rivals and friends. She hoped that when she found Ishida he would be able to forgive her.
She embraced King Aizen and thanked him for staying with her. Behind her, Aizen smiled.
In the forest, the princess’s knight groaned, feeling his lifesblood pouring into the brush beneath him. He could scarcely lift his arms, but he managed to draw a knife he always wore about his waist. He struck at the first wolf that reached him, burying his knife into its paw. It yelped and retreated. The other wolves circled in wait.
Soon, they grew impatient and bolder with hunger and tightened their circle. As the knight’s sight dimmed, he felt cold. Cold. It was freezing. It must be death coming to claim him. Maybe the wolves had already killed him. His eyes could only see darkness, but the knight thought he heard the sound of wings as another wave of cold washed over him.
Wake up, a voice rang in the knight’s mind.
He made the distinct sound of a man who did not want to wake up.
“Or don’t,” the voice was much clearer now. “You can just lie there. I don’t care. Let whoever attacked you run off with the princess.”
Ishida awoke in an instant and wished he hadn’t. He doubled over in agony.
“Idiot! I’m not a healer or a tailor. Don’t move so fast.”
The knight blinked, looking for the speaker. The first thing he saw was frost covering the ground around him. The second thing he saw were the corpses of several wolves, though it was a wonder he recognized them. The third, which effectively stopped his thoughts, were the eyes of a massive dragon. Before him lay a creature glistening like morning dew in the small beams of light that passed through the trees.
This creature's kind, though they have not been seen for centuries, were once great forces in the land. These were the rarest of dragons. They were said to live in the highest mountain peeks of the land. In fact, according to the ancient legends, the very winter is said to pass but the one time a year when the dragons fly across the land, far above the clouds. These legends were popular belief in this once upon a time with our brave knight. He looked at the creature in wonder and fear, for it was said that no man could look into the eyes of a dragon and keep his life. The dragon huffed, sending a stream of cold air at the knight. He realized that it was the dragon that must have saved him and the cold must have been the air from his wings.
But as the knight surveyed the dragon, he noticed someone sitting comfortably with his back against its side. He stared at the form, for he recognized it instantly. Nestled next to the dragon and staring back at him was the boy from the teashop. For those of you who know the ancient stories, I will tell you a little known truth. This boy, though youthful and only a child at the time of this tale would one day become the great wizard of the mountains who controlled the skies with the help of ancient dragons and saved many lands from calamity and famine. But those are tales for another story. Here, he is just a boy.
As an infant, the boy had been found by the dragons in the freezing snow. Perhaps it was his near death in the snow that linked him to it. His hair grew in its color and his eyes shone like the ice it became. One winter, when the dragons flew across the land, the boy ventured into town, where he met the kindly shopkeeper with hair the same color as his own. He stayed at the shop from then on, though he met with the dragons often.
After the princess and her knight left the city, he followed, calling his closest friend, Hyourinmaru to him. The ancient one came to him and they took to the skies, searching for the couple. The boy’s intuition was strong, and he felt that a great evil followed the princess and knight. It was fortunate that he did.
After saving the knight, the boy did his best to close the wound. The dragon instructed him through it, making him a fine needle of ice. Hyourinmaru, as ancient as the forest itself, called to the spirits of the forest for aid, and they used their magic to create a seal on the wound. It was temporary- they could not heal the knight’s without Orihime’s powers behind them- but they believed it would last long enough for him to reach the princess and save her from the evil king.
The boy told the knight what they had lost a great deal of time. He helped the knight to his feet and the great dragon bowed his head, gesturing the two to climb onto its back. The sun was falling below the horizon as they took to the sky.
It was midday when Orihime and Aizen reached Isshin’s kingdom. They were welcomed so warmly that she almost pushed her knight’s absence from her mind. But as we all know, almost is never as full a word as completely.
King Isshin invited his guests in. He ordered hot baths to be prepared for them and places set at the table for an early dinner. The young princesses ran to their unexpected guest in delight, the youngest one throwing her arms about the fiery haired princess. She embraced them warmly, relieved to have a roof overhead once again.
Dinner was wonderful. After washing away the long journey, the company feasted, sharing stories and merry conversation. Orihime chose a seat next to prince Ichigo, feeling safe at his presence. She glanced over at him often, always smiling. The princess had nearly forgotten how much she loved prince Ichigo. But being near him reminded her of all the things she loved about him. She giggled when he bickered with his family, laughing in pure delight when he launched a bread roll across the banquet table and hit is father squarely between the eyes. She managed to duck under the table at the same time as Ichigo’s sisters and his knight. His knight was a silent man from the islands in the east. His skin was dark, his eyes darker. He was an impressive warrior, standing tall above all in the court. It amused the princess to see him crouched under the table just as she was. She smiled warmly at him and laughed.
After dinner, Orihime managed to catch prince Ichigo in the hallway. They spoke to each other merrily, moving outside to a clear balcony. After a moment of friendly silence, the prince and princess moved to speak, interrupting one another. After a small debate over whom should speak first, the prince asked his question. Orihime was unsure how she would ask Ichigo to marry her… and a small part of her was unsure if she still wanted to ask him. But of course, Prince Ichigo spoke first.
“Why isn’t Ishida with you?” he asked.
The princess did not know how to answer. She stood silent, looking at the moon in the sky. Her silence caused the prince to panic. There was no way the knight would leave his princess unattended. He was the most stubborn, chivalric man the prince had ever met. He seized the princess by the shoulders and demanded she answer him.
Finally, the princess slid against the wall, pulling her knees to her chest. “We fought,” she answered meekly.
The prince looked at her in surprise. Orihime was not one to start fights lightly. “What happened?”
“He did not agree with King Aizen traveling in our party. He said some terrible things and I-” she paused. “Oh, Ichigo, I struck him,” she cried. “I struck him and then I completely ignored him. It’s no wonder he left. He has no reason to stay. I’ve been no friend to him.”
“What do you mean no reason to stay? He lo-” Ichigo bit his tongue. That was not his place to speak. “You have been more than a friend to him. He probably needed time to cool his stubborn hide. He’ll be here by morning, waiting by your door as he does every morning.”
But even as Ichigo comforted the princess, he worried for his friend. Everyone but the princess herself could see that Ishida’s devotion to her was not only out of friendship. And even if it was solely friendship, Ichigo knew that no fight could keep the knight from staying by her side. Ichigo’s knight was unquestioningly loyal. Ishida was no different.
Orihime and Ichigo continued to speak to one another. Somehow every story that the princess told came back to her knight. Even as she related their adventure to see him, her most embellished details were little actions from her knight.
“You love him, don’t you?” questioned Ichigo, both seriously and with a smile. The princess was taken aback. It is often the case that those in love are the last to see it. Such has been true since the beginning of love itself. Such is true, even now.
The princess was no exception. She stared at the prince. It couldn’t be true, thought she. She loved Ichigo! She journeyed across the sea to ask him to marry her! Surely she did not love Ishida. So deep in thought was she that she did not even notice the prince rising to leave. He placed a hand on her head and mussed her hair, leaving her to her thoughts.
Night had fallen, and the land was dark. The castle slept. Even the princess had fallen asleep on the balcony. As she slept, Aizen drifted through the castle in shadow. It was time to put his plan into fruition. He would take the princess and bend her to his will. Of course, she would be quite dead to the outside world. And having last been seen alone on the balcony with the Kurosaki prince would make it so deliciously simple to stage the murder.
Once Aizen came in grief to the princess’s kingdom, bearing tragic news of her murder, her people would cry in outrage, demanding war. Aizen would lead them in battle. With the power of Orihime's necklace, he would devastate Kurosaki’s kingdom. Viewed as a great and powerful war hero, the princess’s people would rally to Aizen as their new ruler. He would have in he grasp two kingdoms to rule and one as a spoil of war. With the power of three kingdoms, the others would fall under his reign as a forest falls to fire.
So it was when the great dragon landed at the palace, Aizen and the princess were gone. The knight and the white haired boy ran up the steps, pounding on the door. Unfortunately, when a guard sees a dragon, his first thought isn’t one of kinship or comradery. But Hyourinmaru was not a creature of patience and negotiation in battle. He froze the guards of the palace with a single breath. Prey to his breath, the door crystallized as well. When the knight kicked it in frustration, it shattered under the impact.
With all the noise the party made, it was not surprise that the palace guard stood ready to meet them. Fortunately, so did the king and prince. They instantly recognized the princess’s knight and ordered their guards to stand down. When Ichigo noticed his friend’s blood coated garments and weak posture, he knew that his earlier suspicions had been right. Something had happened. He and his knight rushed to Ishida’s side and Ichigo demanded to know what had passed.
“Where is she?” were the first words from Ishida’s lips. He explained, as he ran to her room, of Aizen’s evil intentions. The king had dashed straight for Aizen’s quarters, hoping to catch him before any harm could be done. Ishida and Toshiro, for that was the boy’s name, were the first to arrive at the princess’s room. Toshiro wasted no time in kicking down the door, aware of the knight’s weakened state. Empty.
Ichigo ran to the balcony, hoping with all his heart that she was still there. But when he arrived, the last thing he ever wished to see greeted his eyes. The balcony before him lay devastated. Parts of the railing were crumpled as if stricken by a great force; pots were smashed into shards of clay; and, far worse than the others, the balcony was flooded with blood. Ichigo stopped, wide eyed and in shock.
Behind him, the princess’s knight rushed to speak with him. It took but a moment for the stench of blood to reach his nostrils. Whatever little blood remained in his face drained in an instant. Scraps of the princess’s tattered nightgown littered lay in the pools of scarlet. But what caught his eye was a small, once turquoise ribbon that lay among them. The knight had given it to Orihime five years ago on her birthday. He knew, then, that it had been her.
His heart screamed but he made no sound.
In the princess’s kingdom, Aizen’s plan was falling into place. He had left the princess in a secret keep within his castle, guarded by his magic and his men. It had not taken much of his magic to create the scene on the balcony. It had taken little more to transport himself and the princess with the necklace to amplify his power. He wasted no time in sending pages and messengers across the kingdom, summoning its entire people to an emergency announcement at the palace steps.
He appeared to them- the appropriate balance of grief-stricken and resolute. He told the people, using a spell to carry his voice through the entire capitol, of the terrible fate that had befallen their princess. She had gone to confess her love to the Kurosaki prince- but it had been a terrible trap! The innocent princess suspected no evil, for she saw the good in everyone she met. But the evil prince had used her good faith for his nefarious purposes. In cold blood, he slew the princess. She was dead.
To give proof, Aizen held high the princess’s cherished necklace. The people knew she would never part with that necklace- she wore it always. The grief was complete. Now, to instill hatred into the people, Aizen used his magic to show the people the Kurosaki kingdom. A mist condensed above the palace. The mist revealed a balcony with the distinct Kurosaki family crest for all to see. The evidence of a fight was clear. The blood was clear. The prince standing on the balcony in a pool of blood was the clearest.
The people rallied around him with more outrage than he could have ever predicted- for no other was loved throughout the kingdom as their beloved princess. His wicked heart rejoiced. War was upon them.
Two days passed in the Kurosaki kingdom. All in the palace mourned, but none mourned more than Ishida. There was no doubt to any that he had loved the princess. But for all his bravery, for all his life’s service to her, she was still gone. The prince’s knight understood some of what his friend felt. Failure to protect his lord or lady was the greatest fear any knight harbored. Losing the one he loved was the greatest fear of any man. Both had come to pass for Ishida. He had not left the bed they had given him for those two days. None expected him to.
But suddenly, as the court ate dinner in silence, Ishida stood before them, dressed for travel. “We need to warn Tatsuki,” he told them. At the table sat a new guest, a dark haired noblewoman from the edges of the Kurosaki kingdom. He small form seemed to provide comfort to Ichigo where he would have otherwise given way to grief. But the woman helped him to stay strong for his sisters and for himself. Ishida recognized her as a friend to both Orihime and Tatsuki.
She told him of a friend she knew- a sailor who would take them to Orihime’s kingdom aboard his vessel. Ishida could not wait that long. He turned wordlessly to the snow haired boy. They agreed to take Hyourinmaru to the port city. But the dragon could not carry so many people on more than a day’s journey. So the ancient one would carry the prince, his knight, and the noblewoman as far as the harbor. His boy and the past princess’s knight would remain upon his back and he would bear them across the sea to the princess’s kingdom.
So the new journey began with silence and heavy hearts.
After a day’s flight, the atmosphere had eased into one of purpose. The noblewoman was a strong uniting force, it was no wonder she meant so much to Ichigo. They landed at the harbor, stopping at Toshiro’s teashop to deposit the prince, his knight, and the woman. Ishida was sad to see them go, but he knew that they could gather forces to aid in the fight against the evil king far better than he.
Already, in their brief stay, the prince’s knight had recruited a teashop regular to their cause. Ishida eyed the man with skepticism. But, my children, hear me. Never you judge a man by his appearance. For though this man wore loud clothing and kept his face poorly shaven, he would prove to be a great warrior. The man garbed in a rose cloak and straw hat took an instant liking to Sado’s demeanor and vowed to join them.
Ishida left them to discuss the voyage and returned to Hyourinmaru. He noticed the teashop owner pouring gifts over Toshiro for the journey and the corners of his lips tugged in amusement. The boy finally managed to break away, struggling with a heap of foods and sweets for the journey. As soon as the boy climbed aboard the dragon, Hyourinmaru launched into the air, his great wings leaving a torrent of frost in their wake.
Within the days following news of the princess’s death, Orihime’s kingdom transformed. There was no person against war with her murderers. There was no craftsman who was not hard at work. There was no smithy in the land whose fires had stopped burning since Aizen’s announcement.
The days passed; the tension grew.
One night, all the fires in the kingdom suddenly died and a chilling cold filled the land. It passed as quickly as it came, and the people thought nothing of it. In the palace, Ishida and Toshiro crept through the window of Tatsuki’s chamber.
She awoke at the sound of her name. Ishida expected her to say many things. He did not expect, however, to be greeted with a fist colliding into his skull. Tatsuki screamed at him through her tears: Where were you? Why didn’t you save her? It took all the knight’s strength to keep the guilt at her questions from overpowering him.
Fortunately, Toshiro cut in sharply, grabbing hold of the woman’s wrist. They explained their story to her. She sat on her bed, knees weak. That bastard had them all fooled. That vile, wicked, depraved monster had taken the princess's life from her. She would not let him take her kingdom as well.