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For Sixpence

For Sixpence

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asib19
As even a cold-hearted thing like me is now feeling guilty about Undone ... I've written you a fairytale of the Unseelie Court. Look closely and you might feel like making a few guesses about the main event. ;)



The Princess and the Dragon


It was widely acknowledged by all that the blossom season this year was the most spectacular yet. And of all the parks and painstakingly laid out gardens, the one boasting the best display were the imperial grounds surrounding the palace. Furthermore, the sudden display of pale pink and white flowers was accompanied by a stretch of clear sunny days and a temperature far higher than was to be expected for the early time of the year. With these two factors taken into consideration, it was little surprise that the Imperial Family had chosen to spend the afternoon picnicking beneath the blossoms, fully aware that the heat would simply make the viewing season that much shorter.

Tuning out the polite drone of the courtiers and other assembled nobility that surrounded her, Princess Tsukiko laid back on the cushions scattered around the spread of food and wine and gazed up into the flower-laden branches. Despite being unable to sense the slightest motion in the air from where she reclined on the ground, it was clear that there was some sort of breeze stirring the uppermost parts of the trees. As she studied the thick grouping of palest pink, a slow flutter of petals drifted down towards her. She closed her eyes and felt them brush against her face, cool and silken trails across her skin. The ceremonial robes she wore for the occasion felt stiff and heavy by contrast, weighed down with the embroidered patterns. Idly, Tsukiko wondered how much more comfortable her clothes would be should the dressmakers have foregone the detailing and simply laid the petals across.
Blinking her eyes open once more, Tsukiko found her vision obscured by a sole lingering petal. She pursed her lips and exhaled forcefully, hoping to dislodge it. The smear of white at the corner of her eyes fluttered, but didn’t move. With a sigh, Tsukiko reached up and brushed it away, moving to sit up at the same time.

Her attention mostly on brushing the fallen petals from the folds of her robe into which they had gathered, Tsukiko reached out with her spare hand for the small saucer of rice wine she had placed nearby. Her fingertips brushed against the smooth edges of the shallow cup, before her wrist was abruptly grasped.

Snapping her head up in shock that someone would grab her in such a fashion, particularly in full view of the court, Tsukiko found herself staring at the profile of a minor lord. “Princess,” the man said, his attention clearly on something by her wine, “Forgive me, but there is a serpent.”

Tsukiko started in surprise before pulling her wrist somewhat hastily from the man’s hold. Aware of the alarm of those within hearing distance, but feeling more curiosity herself, Tsukiko leaned forwards to get a better look at the creature. “A strange breed of serpent,” she commented, staring at the long coil of pale scales that was gathered by the wine.

“Indeed,” said another courtier, also studying the creature intently. “Not a breed I’ve ever seen before.”

Privately, Tsukiko was rather entranced by the shimmering paleness of the serpent; a perfect complement to the blossoms gathered around it. It was vastly different to the dull and earthy coloured illustrations from her lessons. It was also somewhat larger than the native species, a fact Tsukiko was only just noticing. It was also lying very still, mostly coiled by her cup, but with its tail snaking off to be lost in a drift of fallen petals. Tsukiko frowned, reaching out to touch it before a warning gasp from nearby courtiers stayed her hand. Instead she leaned in a touch closer. “I wonder what brought it out here,” she mused. “Perhaps it wanted to view the blossoms as well.”

“It probably intended to bask in the sunlight,” the minor lord from earlier supplied.

Tsukiko raised an eyebrow. “Perhaps,” she conceded. “In any case, the poor thing looks quite overcome with the heat.”

“Maybe you should offer it some of your wine then, and let our unexpected guest fully join in the festivities,” came the voice of her father. Tsukiko glanced up to see him standing nearby, viewing her with that half-amused, half-exasperated look he tended to favour when dealing with his youngest daughter.

Smiling back at her father, and fully aware that she was being mocked for showing more interest in a serpent than the potential suitors around her, Tsukiko reached for a nearby bottle of wine and poured some more into her cup, filling it to the brim with the sweet and clear fluid. The rest she poured on the ground just by the blunted arrow head of the strange creature. “There you are, good sir,” she said to the serpent with as much formality as she had ever been able to manage. “I beg you to share in our celebrations and try some wine. It will revive you and put you in much better form.”

The laughter of those around her suddenly cut off as the creature uncoiled and proceeded to do just that. Silence fell amongst the gathered court as the serpent daintily drained the shallow cup of the wine before inclining its head towards Tsukiko. Surprised, but determined not to let in show in front of anyone, Tsukiko bowed her head in return and watched as the creature turned and slithered off, vanishing into the fallen petals with startling speed.

A low murmur went through the rest of the court. “That was no natural creature,” someone whispered.

“What if it was Fae? A creature from their realms?” another voice said.

“It could have been someone under an enchantment,” yet another suggested. “Maybe some impolite fool that angered a Fae.”

“In any case, it’s gone now,” Tsukiko said with a calmness she suddenly didn’t feel. Looking across the picnic, she saw her father watching her gravely.

“Let us hope you have not attracted unwanted attention,” he said at last.

Tsukiko dropped her gaze back down to her lap, unwilling to meet the gaze of anyone else.
Conversation was struck up a few moments later, all rehearsed politeness and banal topics unable to cause offence. Tsukiko sat in a little pocket of silence and let the rest of the social gathering carry on around her. Inwardly however, she was listening for the rustling of scales across grass and petals.

~*~

Tsukiko started awake, unsure as to what exactly had awoken her. She didn’t feel alarmed or afraid, simply alert and she blinked in the dark, hoping her vision would adjust. The only real light in her room was provided by the full moon that hung outside. As Tsukiko watched, however, that light was temporarily blocked out as a shape appeared on her balcony.

Tsukiko froze; her breath suddenly shallow as she tried to be as quiet as possible. Her mind tried to think of who could possibly be outside her room in the dead of night and none of the answers were particularly comforting.

But despite all that her rational mind told her about who might be outside, Tsukiko couldn’t ignore the sense that whoever that figure was meant her no harm. Rising from her bed, Tsukiko drew her robes closer around herself and made her way over to the balcony. Sliding open the door, she stepped outside.

The wooden boards of the balcony were chilled by the night air, reminding her somewhat forcefully of her bare feet. It would probably become uncomfortable soon, but for the moment Tsukiko revelled in the cool smoothness, stretching out her toes as she glanced around the small area. The balcony provided few obvious places for someone to lie in wait, due in part to its relatively modest size. Tsukiko mainly used it on clear and sunny mornings when drinking her morning tea. Her small table and chair were set in their usual corner, empty of any intruder imagined or otherwise. Glancing to the other corner and blinking in the low level of light provided by the moon, Tsukiko saw little save the usual collection of ornamental flowers in their equally elaborate pots.

The feeling of being watched had not abated however. Tsukiko stepped further out, a faint frown beginning to form at the lack of any discernable presence. The layers of her robes rustled slightly as she moved, but their noise was not enough to mask the sound of someone else moving behind her.

Her breath catching in her throat, Tsukiko whirled around to see a man standing by the entrance to her chambers. He made no move either towards Tsukiko or away, but simply stood mostly in the shadows watching her. Tsukiko saw that as leave to do the same.

Foreign was the first thought that flashed through her mind as she noted the style and cut of the stranger’s clothes, so different to the garments of her own land. The material lacked the detailed embellishments and hand-painted decorations she was used to, yet were clearly of high quality. The stranger shifted his weight drawing her eyes up to his face and her breath inadvertently caught; exotic rapidly replacing the earlier assessment.

Tsukiko had seen pale skin before, but the stranger’s was fairer than any of the foreign ambassadors and dignitaries. It didn’t seem a symptom of ill-health either, almost possessing an ethereal radiance in the moonlight. His hair was pure white and tied neatly back from a face lacking any of the lines or signs of age that should accompany such a hair colour. His features were well-portioned and would no doubt be considered exceedingly handsome by most, but seemed to possess a strange sharpness to them. Tsukiko abruptly realised she was staring and felt her cheeks heat with colour as she dropped her gaze.

The stranger seemed to sense her unease. Sweeping into a deep and respectful bow, he eased his features into a smile that was both wry and somewhat apologetic. “Forgive me for startling you, it was not my intention,” he said as he straightened. “I came to tender my thanks to you. I am unused to these shores and the heat of today had overcome me. Your kindness in all probability saved my life.”

Tsukiko blinked. “You mean to say that you’re the serpent from earlier?” she heard herself ask faintly.

The man smiled again, this time with a touch more amusement. “It is a shape I can assume when I wish,” he said. “But I do not consider myself a serpent.”

“Then what are you?” asked Tsukiko before realising that her words could be considered rude.

It seemed the stranger took no offence, for he shook his head slightly as his smile widened. “Perhaps a topic for another night,” he murmured.

“You mean you intend to come here again?” Tsukiko demanded, seizing on the words with a speed that rather surprised her.

It seemed to surprise the stranger as well, for he blinked before bowing again. This one was more cautious than earlier. “If the princess wishes it,” he replied. “I am, after all, in your debt.”

“Then return tomorrow night,” Tsukiko replied. “So that we can converse properly.”

“I shall endeavour to do so,” the stranger said.

There was a sense of movement and a sudden gust of wind blew Tsukiko’s hair about her face. By the time she had smoothed the strands back into some semblance of order, there was no sign of the stranger.

~*~

“Your Highness? Princess?”

Tsukiko blinked, suddenly aware that her mind had clearly been wandering. Looking up she saw her calligraphy teacher watching her with concern. Tsukiko blinked again and then dipped her head low in apology. “I must beg your forgiveness, sensei” she said. “My thoughts appear to have been elsewhere.”

Her teacher shifted his position, relaxing back further into the cushion on which he knelt. “That is clear, your Highness,” he said with a mix of fondness and concern. “For I do not recall setting you the task you seem to have completed.”

Tsukiko stared at her teacher for a moment before dropping her gaze to the paper that stretched out on the low table before her. The collection of brushstrokes grouped together in distinct patterns again and again. She hovered her fingers over one, tracing the design in the air. “Snake,” she muttered.

“Indeed,” her teacher agreed with a sigh. “But not part of the Imperial Family’s name to the best of my knowledge. Shall we try again?”

~*~

“I came to visit these lands on somewhat of a whim. My mother has always been fond of a country not far from here and visited it frequently in her youth. I grew up hearing stories about these distant lands and wanted to experience them for myself. Unfortunately I was a little caught out by the weather.”

Tsukiko laughed and poured more tea into the stranger’s cup. Passing it back to him, she felt her breath momentarily catch as his fingers brushed against her own. Aware that she was once again staring into the stranger’s eyes, and that he seemed equally unlikely to look away of his own accord, Tsukiko hurriedly averted her gaze back down to the table. “And how does our kingdom compare that that so favoured by your mother?” she asked, injecting a forced note of casualness into the question. She glanced over at the stranger and felt her breath stutter in her throat once again when she realised he hadn’t looked away from her at all.

“More beautiful by far,” he replied, taking a sip of the tea. Then he broke the tension with a smile that softened the sharp planes of his face. “Though your tea is a good deal more … astringent.”

Tsukiko smiled back. “You are aware that insulting what you are offered by your host is a grave offence in my kingdom?” she asked with mock solemnity.

The stranger rose smoothly from his seat to sink to his knees beside Tsukiko. Reaching out, he gently took her hand and raised it to his face as he bowed over it. “Then once again I find myself cast upon your good nature. How may I atone?”

“Return,” Tsukiko answered. “Tomorrow night.”

“As you wish.”

~*~

“So am I to know his name?”

Tsukiko looked up from her contemplation of the formal tea set spread before her to stare at her mother in surprise. “Mother?”

Umiko snapped closed her fan with a sigh and laid it on the low table they knelt around. She leant closer to her daughter with a knowing look and Tsukiko suddenly noticed the absence of any servants within the spacious chamber. Her mother was not above staging a set-up, it seemed. “Please don’t try to hide things from your mother, Tsukiko. Everyone’s noticed your behaviour over the last couple of weeks. And the way you’re constantly sighing and staring off into space at all hours, even when you’re supposed to be enjoying tea with your mother, generally points to one conclusion. So, am I to at least learn the name of whoever he is?”

Tsukiko looked down at her hands and blushed. “He won’t tell me his name.”

Umiko raised an eyebrow. “A man of mystery. Does he have something to hide that his name would reveal? A noble family fallen from favour with your father? Or is he from decidedly more humble roots?”

“He’s from a very distant kingdom,” Tsukiko said, watching the way the steam rose from the teacups in sinuous coils. “At least, that’s what he’s told me.” She glanced up at her mother and at the lack of reaction, searched for something else to say. “He’s certainly nobility at the least, but a younger son for he’s mentioned his older brother from time to time. I think that’s probably why he has the freedom to travel so widely.”

“Younger son,” Umiko murmured, reaching down to sip absently at her tea. Even when her mind was clearly elsewhere, she performed this manoeuvre with a perfect grace that Tsukiko was relatively sure she would never be capable of matching. “Won’t be expected to provide an heir. Has he given you any indication as to what his intentions for the future are?”

Tsukiko slowly rotated her teacup, hoping her lowered head would hide the worst of her blush. “We don’t really speak about that.”

“And what is that you do speak of?”

Tsukiko shrugged. “Everything. Nothing. Whatever comes to mind, mostly.”

Her mother sniffed. “And it seems your future is not on your mind.”

“We’ve never thought about it,” Tsukiko objected meekly. “We’ve been getting to know one another.”

Umiko gave a long-suffering sigh. “Well try getting to know what he hopes to gain from these meetings.”

“Yes mother,” Tsukiko replied, her attention already drifting away. She frowned slightly as she stared into her teacup. Now that the idea was in her head, she couldn’t help but wonder just how her stranger felt about their meetings. Did he see them simply as a pleasant way of passing the time? And for that matter, just how did she feel about them?

All she was really sure of was that for some reason, the answer was extremely important to her.

~*~

“There is something I feel I need to tell you.”

Tsukiko watched as the stranger carefully took hold of her offered hands as he sank to his knees in front of her. Her heart felt as though it were threatening to either break free of her chest or simply break down from exhaustion due to the pace at which it was beating.

“I think I love you.”

There was a moment’s pause before Tsukiko realised what she had blurted out in place of her intended teasing comment. Her face paled. Tsukiko tried to speak again, to apologise for her forwardness and interruption of whatever her companion wished to discuss, but the words remained silent and useless in her throat.

“I fear, your Highness, that you appear to have stolen my words,” the stranger said at last with a small smile. “But that was to be only one half of my full confession. Knowing my feelings for you, I’m afraid I have to reveal the truth about myself. I do not wish to lead you into a course of action that you may regret.”

Unable to think of a suitable answer, Tsukiko tightened her grip briefly around the stranger’s hands. Her gesture was echoed back and accompanied by a quick widening of the stranger’s smile.

“When you heard that I was the serpent you encountered amongst the blossoms, you asked what I was. As you may have guessed, I am not human. I’m the second son of the Unseelie Royal Family.”

“Fae…” Tsukiko murmured, mostly to herself.

“Not simply Fae, but Unseelie,” the stranger corrected. “We are the Night Court to the Seelie’s Day.”

“Do you all turn into serpents when you choose?” Tsukiko asked.

The Unseelie prince laughed quietly. “No … the ability to assume the form of serpents is a particular trick I was gifted with some time ago. But that will hardly be the strangest sight you will see amongst our Court.”

“And what sort of sights will I witness?”

“I can show you another now, should you wish it,” the prince said. At Tsukiko’s nod, he rose to his feet. Letting his eyes close in concentration, he reached down and removed a simple silver ring from his middle finger. There was a fluttering, rustling sound from behind him.
Tsukiko blinked, vaguely aware that she was holding her breath as she took in the sight of the two leathery wings that stretched out from the prince’s back. She realised that she had automatically begun to stretch a hand out to touch the wings and confirm that they were indeed real. With a slight gasp at her imposition, Tsukiko immediately began to withdraw her hand. An encouraging nod from the prince made her reach out once more.

The wings were velvet soft to the touch, the seemingly impossibly thin skin flexing gently beneath her fingers. Tsukiko ran her hand gently across as much an expanse as she could reach from where she stood and then simply gazed at where they continued to stretch out into the night air. “Is this another gift you acquired?” she asked.

“No,” the prince replied, watching her every reaction closely as if unsure whether she would turn and run from the sight. “This is the mark of my family. House Draconis.”

“It’s incredible,” Tsukiko breathed.

There was a minute relaxation in the prince’s shoulders as he smiled at her once more. “I’m flattered you think so. I … I must return soon to my family. I would like for you to come with me. As my wife.”

“There is nothing I’d like more,” Tsukiko said.

The smile that answered her statement all but dazzled any further thoughts from her mind. Leaning in close, the prince reclaimed her hands, placing a soft kiss on each. “Then we shall ask your father for his permission in the morning.”

~*~

“An Unseelie wed my daughter? In what possible way would you consider yourself a suitable match for her?”

Tsukiko stood silent and horrified at the thunderous expression on her father’s face. She hadn’t expected this conversation to be an easy matter, but the strength of his disapproval shook her to the core. Looking over at her prince, Tsukiko took a small amount of relief from the calm expression on his face. One of them, it seemed, had anticipated this reaction.

“I am of royal blood and our Court is prosperous,” the prince replied. “We have power and riches at our disposal that pale against any mortal comparison. But more importantly than that, I love your daughter truly and will do everything in my power to ensure she is happy for the rest of her life. And as a Fae, I cannot lie.”

Her father snorted. “Pretty words. But declarations of love aside, you know full well that any child the pair of you have will be a Wræcca.”

The prince inclined his head. “Wræcca have always been welcome in the Unseelie Court.”

“They are unnatural!” Tsukiko’s father objected. “And an Unseelie one at that … who knows what deformities such a child would have.”

There was no perceptible change in the prince’s expression, but the look he subjected Tsukiko’s father to was noticeably colder than before. “We do not see them as such in our Court,” he replied. “But as something which defines an individual.” The prince paused and looked over at Tsukiko, seeming to take reassurance from her presence before turning back to her father. “Are you in doubt of my worth as a suitor? An Unseelie prince?”

Tsukiko’s father paused, obviously debating the risks of deliberately enraging a member of the Unseelie Royal Family. His eyes flickered between the pair before him. Tsukiko dared to take a step closer to her prince and reached out to take his hand. Interlinking their fingers, she stared back at her father, hoping her would see that her mind was made up.

“Very well,” her father said at last. “But if you want to marry my daughter, you must prove yourself worthy of such a bride. Meet me at sunrise outside the walls of the palace. We shall have a race – me on my horse against you without. Should you beat me, you shall win my daughter.”

The prince bowed his head. “I accept your challenge.”

Tsukiko tugged at his hand, desperate for the prince to realise her father was clearly setting a trap, but the prince merely smiled at her reassuringly. “Trust me, my love,” he whispered to her. “I will win. I’m Unseelie.” Turning back to Tsukiko’s father, he dropped into a brief yet respectful bow. “I shall take my leave until tomorrow morning,” he announced.

~*~

As the sun rose, Tsukiko stood on the dew-soaked grass outside the palace and stared at the scene in front of her in despair. Clearly her father had been busy. Glinting in the first rays of the morning were a multitude of blades planted into the ground to form a forest of steel.

Every blade in the kingdom must be here, she thought dazedly, noting the way the dawn caused the metal to gleam blood red. The course her father had set was designed to slice and maim her suitor until he could no longer continue.

Sitting astride his horse in the only area free from the deadly blades, her father looked down haughtily at the Unseelie prince. In contrast to her father’s well-armoured horse, the prince wore only lightly woven clothing with nothing that would protect him on the course. Despite this, the prince’s face was calm as he surveyed the grounds before turning back to her father.

“Well Unseelie, do you still wish to pursue my daughter or will you be turned from this course of action?”

“I love your daughter, Sire, and Unseelie do not veer in their devotion.”

With a scoff, her father shifted impatiently on his horse. “Well let us witness how far your devotion will take you. One lap around the exterior palace walls. Should you prove faster than my finest horse, then you may marry my daughter. Should you fail; I want you gone from this kingdom by sunset, never to return.”

The prince nodded his acceptance of the terms and with a flicker assumed the form of a slender serpent. Her father’s horse shied instinctively at the sudden appearance of the creature, but with a snarl, he brought it back under control. Looking contemptuously at the serpent, her father turned his head to stare deliberately at Tsukiko. Look at him, his expression clearly said, is this what you want to spend your life with?

Tsukiko looked back at her father with as much conviction as she could show from her expression alone. Seeing that his daughter was unmoved by her suitor’s other form, her father turned with a snarl to nod at one of his servants. With a sharp bow, the servant in question made his way to stand a little way in front of horse and serpent. With another bow, he raised the flag in his hands above his head. Moments later, it jerked downwards and the race was on.

It became clear that the shape the prince had assumed was one that lent him a great deal of speed and agility, for he was proving better at keeping pace with the horse than anyone had expected. Even so, Tsukiko could see the glancing slices and cuts that he was accumulating and worried that his injuries would prevent him from completing the course.

Her father had also noticed that his plan was not going as expected. He began to use his horse to drive the serpent closer to the embedded blades, heedless of the way that his horse also suffered.

Such a strategy failed to slow down the serpent however, seeming only to increase his determination to finish the race. As Tsukiko watched with a mix of horror and amazement, her father’s horse began to slow. The rough riding had seen the poor beast’s legs cut to ribbons despite the armour and scant inches from the finish line, the horse collapsed, unable to move. As her father struggled free from the dying horse, the serpent streaked past to clear the finish line.

In fury her father pointed at the serpent. “I asked for you to prove your worth and you have obviously done so. Look at you. A worm. How could you possibly think yourself suitable for my daughter? I will not concede this win.”

The serpent changed once more into the form of the prince, though now heavily battered and exhausted. “You would dare go back on your word?” he asked, the tone of his voice betraying an equal level of anger. “I have won your daughter’s hand with honour by the challenge you set. More importantly than that, I have already gained her love and you think you can keep her from me?”

The prince once again changed his form, this time to a winged dragon so large that even her father back away from the sight. With a snarl, the dragon launched itself into the air and glided over to land in front of Tsukiko. As Tsukiko reached out a hand to gently stroke the fine scales, the dragon lowered its head to look at her with a questioning expression.

Smiling Tsukiko leaned forwards and kissed the dragon’s snout, paying no heed to the gasps and hissed warnings from those around her. “I love you,” she told the dragon. “Now take me with you.”

And so the dragon picked up her with infinite care to hold her within his claws. Another few beats of the wings and they rose into the air. Tsukiko glanced down at the kingdom where she had spent her entire life one last time before pressing herself closer against her dragon. As far as she was concerned, there was no one else she would ever want to spend her life with.
  • Yay! This was lovely. :)

    I am also now wondering if Bane may be related to House Draconis (the lacerations on his back when he was forced to resort to magic always made me think he had wings in his genetics ...and now I can't remember if there was ever any stronger evidence to support that theory).

    Has there been any progress on the main story? I am so in love with Undone it's crazy, you really have crafted a masterpiece.
    • Well the entire thing is plotted out in note form with a chapter by chapter breakdown (we're currently one third through). I'm changing my posting habits a touch with the second arc as there's a lot more detail to keep hold of in my head. Basically, I'm wanting to finish the next fairytale before I post again as there are a couple of quite important new characters to establish and I'm paranoid about my ability to write them consistently at the moment.

      I'm glad you liked it though. ^^

  • It's wonderful! I love it! Tsukiko and the Unseelie Prince are adorable together, they really are. And this reminds of a fairytale, what with the way you wrote it. Especially the part with the race and the swords. Very faiytale. <3

    I'm contemplating the main event, even now. I don't want to make any solid guesses yet, since my mind always instantly jumps to Bane and Aiden. (Whose names I cannot seperate, ever. They are one being to me)

    I can say, for sure, this is in the past, though. But I wonder... *gears turning*

    And you said Kaesa was next right? On the list? I can't wait. ^____^
    • I'm glad you liked it. They are a couple that have been fleetingly referred to in the main event, but I didn't really intend to write their story.

      The original tale is somewhat similar to this. My mother was a teacher when I was growing up and had a collection of themed fairy/folk tale books. My favourite one was the Dragon book (there were also Princesses, Witches and Giants) and this was my favourite in that. The Japanese elements come from the illustrations that this story had, which the artist had clearly based in Feudal Japan. It stuck with me - writing this up, I was amazed at how well I seemed to remember the story. Mainly because of the servants creating a race-course with the blades, which had been inked in silhouette against a huge crescent moon.
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