DISCLAIMER: This is an original fic, and as such I would say that the characters, although unnamed, belongs to me. So I don't need to apologize for writing this, which is a pretty big YaY! *grins*
A word of warning: Lesbian relationship stuff up ahead (of course, this is me after all ^-^), and perhaps a slight dose of angst. Well, somewhat darker theme than usual anyway, but I hope you'll still want to read it until the end, just because. *smiles*
In case you are wondering, this is meant to take place in an unnamed country, at an unspecified yet moderately modern time, possibly also on an unnamed world. Does that make it a sci-fi fic, a fantasy story, or something else altogether? I'll leave all that up to you

The Last Letter
By Carola "Ryûchan" Eriksson

Strange how life turns out, sometimes.

I never had much of a faith to sustain me, and despite who I am and what I do, I never considered destiny much. Today, as I write these words, I am left wondering.

Was it… fate?

Let me start at the beginning, not my beginning but the beginning that matters, perhaps you will understand better what it is that I am referring to.

I was thirteen summers old when she entered my life; she, I would later find out, was twelve. My existence had been lonely, I realize this now, despite servants to cater to me and my father's needs, I had lacked the presence of my mother. Her death had robbed us both of something very vital… a loving human touch.

I do not blame my father for his strict and distant way of raising me, not at all. Being the King, even in these days when our realm is governed by a council, is a heavy burden to bear. And he bore it well, despite his loss.

I would not have been able to do the same.

As the first born, indeed the only child of my father's line, there was never any question that I would be other than the Prince and Heir to his throne. I was raised accordingly.

That summer when she came, when her family brought her to us, I knew there was change in the air, but I knew not what nor why. I did not know that this day had been anticipated by both our houses since she was barely a year old and I two, and our fathers had agreed upon a traditional arrangement.

The first time I saw her she was wearing the ancient clothing of her homeland, her face painted white and her hair arranged in a strict, shiny shape that made it look just as straight and as black as my own. She was kneeling before my father and myself, completely still and her face never lifting from it's subservient tilt for the long hours that my father and hers conversed.

I knew there was something different about her then. But still I didn't realize.

Finally the conversations of Kings came to the point where I was introduced to her, all formality and ancient traditions. She lifted her gaze then, and I remember I felt a strange shifting sensation in the pit of my stomach as I stared right into the grey eyes of my betrothed.

To this day I have no recollection of how long the betrothal meeting was, or what was spoken after that point. I do not even have a memory of taking off my ceremonial garb and going to bed that night, but I do remember the first time I looked into her eyes. I also remember the next morning.

Being the Prince meant that I needed to be the best warrior I could possibly be, so years of habit made me, even the day after a startling event such as this, wake early to run my laps and go through my combat drills. I have always found a certain peace within the form of my combat tradition, and I remember how I used it to ground me that morning. When I looked up, however, I found that I had a spectator.

It was the second time I saw her, and it was the first time that I would see her true form. She was no longer wearing traditional garb nor the face paint and elaborate hair, instead she wore a silken pants and blouse outfit that was popular in the court of her homeland. She was leaning against the balustrade watching me, her hair falling in great thick waves around her heart-shaped face, and I could swear that her eyes were glittering in the morning sunlight.

I am sure I stared. Not only had I never seen hair such as hers, such a light brown and so curly, or eyes in that light grey color, I had never seen any creature as lovely. Nor have I since. She smiled at me, blushing slightly at my stare, I believe, and my heart suddenly wrenched hard within my chest.

And I knew. I knew right at that moment that I loved her. And that I would continue to love her until my dying day.

At that time she and her family stayed for eight days, leaving the morning after the official ceremony with which our betrothal was made public. The ceremony in itself was a very strict and prolonged affair, with everyone of importance in either of our kingdoms present, and yet I can only remember the many times during that evening that we were required to pose together, or dance, or merely stand next to one another.

I wonder if she could hear my heartbeat, as it tried to pound a hole in my chest.

During those eight days of her stay, our paths crossed often. The more I learned about her, the deeper I fell, although I am sure I made a far less profound impression on her. I was very shy, and more than just a bit socially awkward, at least around her. It came to the point where I could not even speak if she smiled at me, instead I had a hard time just remaining on my feet, and she often laughed, though discreetly and politely as the refined young lady she was, at my ineptness.

Growing up I had the good fortune of finding my best friend in someone who was by birth determined to be my servant for life. She was meant to be my foremost bodyguard, but as we trained together since we were old enough to stand on our own, it was clear to all that I was the more skilled fighter of us two. That was as it should be, too, and instead of merely being my bodyguard my friend was my constant, faithful companion and confidante.

I did not need to speak of my infatuation with my young betrothed, my friend knew regardless. And as I suffered from my inexplicable inability to be near this beautiful creature, my friend took it upon herself to help me. She would speak to my beloved in those awkward moments that I could not, and she managed to capture my beloved's image for me to keep with me when those eight days had passed. And pass they did.

It would take another four years before I saw my beloved again.

Messages from court kept me posted of her condition in general during those years, and occasionally an image of her would be sent to me as a gift, but that was all the contact we had. No personal letters, no word from her to me, and certainly no meeting one another. During those years other young women had passed through my life, paraded before me for the purpose of… I am not certain what the purpose was, perhaps it was thought that I should have experience before entering my marriage. Either way, I noticed none of them. That smile still held my heart firmly, and I could no more be unfaithful to that than I could bend the winds to my will.

When we met again it was during sombre circumstances. I was now on my eighteenth year and considered an adult, and as such my betrothed was required to be presented before me again, that our fathers may plan the grand day of our marriage. It would have been a joyous occasion, at least for me, if not for my father's failing health. It was widely known by now that my father was dying.

She was even lovelier than I remembered, lovelier than the images of her revealed, but solemn and quietly spoken out of respect for my father's circumstances. I had grown slightly more suave over the years, but it was all undone in her presence as I once more found that I could not speak what my heart was screaming to me. We exchanged ritualistic platitudes or painful silences, until once more my friend came to my rescue. With my friend's easy presence, I once again got to see my beloved smile. Better yet, she laughed once, and I would have laid all that I was, all that I had, at her feet for that smile or that laugh to be for me.

But it was not. It took me many years to realize that particular fact, and by then it was too late to change.

The date for our wedding was set for a full year later, during which I never saw my beloved. My father's health steadily grew worse, taking most of my concentration, and before I knew it a year had passed.

When she was presented to me I once more experienced that curious feeling that all the air in the room was sucked out, leaving me gasping for breath and unable to properly concentrate. Thinking back on it now I would say that she looked shy, something I had not seen her display before. The ceremony was elaborate, and long, and I was steadily growing more and more nervous. She sat next to me, giving me bashful looks that made my heart pound so loudly in my chest that I never heard the words that bound us together. It was the look in her eyes that alerted me that I had been given my cue, and I felt an insurmountable pride that I had managed to remember the words much less been able to speak them evenly while in front of her.

Then the priest declared us one, and it was time for me to kiss my wife.

We were both trembling, but despite this, and despite the fact that it was one of the things I had bemoaned to my friend that I had no experience in, we somehow managed. Not that I before nor after that day ever wanted that with another woman. What would be the purpose, when whenever I close my eyes she is all that I see? But I had on that day a deep-seated fear to disappoint her.

We kissed, and that all too brief touch of her lips was the sweetest sensation in the world. I wanted to linger, indeed our kiss was longer than what was thought strictly appropriate, and I could tell that she was blushing slightly once we parted. After a moment she glanced at me, and as we turned to face all those who had born witness to our union, I saw her smile shyly. I thought it was for me.

I took her small hand in mine, feeling so much stronger suddenly, and smiled at my father, at my friend, at the world. Nothing could beat this feeling. She was mine, and I hers. Or so I thought at that moment.

The celebration passed for me in a heady intoxication of joy, and my eyes never left her. The wedding night, however, cooled my jubilant heart.

Shy and nervous I prepared to take my beloved bride to bed, I who truly knew nothing of intimacy and who had never been taught how to show affection. Affection is taught by example, and I had truly had none to show me these things. My father was never affectionate and my mother was lost while I was so young I do not remember her, so the only one that I could say had treated me with affection was my friend. And that was woefully inadequate for the occasion. And then there was that other problem.

I was a Prince, and now a husband, but for all that I was still female. And it had never to my knowledge been discussed with my bride how she felt about that. When my clumsy and shy overtures went unanswered, it was with a sinking feeling of dread I began to realize my error. Fear loosened my tounge, and hesitantly I spoke to her. Eventually I tried to reassure her, thinking that perhaps her silence was brought on by the same nervousness that I felt. Finally I told her, as she gave little response to anything else I said, that we could go to sleep if the thought of… other things made her uncomfortable.

She wasted no time in pulling the covers around herself and lay down as far away from me in our large bed as possible, with her back to me. I lay there in an empty space, feeling even more empty inside. I would not be permitted to hold her, or even lay next to her. Not even that innocent touch was going to be allowed me, and I was beginning to understand that I had without quite comprehending it myself given her a choice that night, and she had chosen. She chose to be my bride in name only.

My beloved did not want this. Did not want me. And by all of creation, how that hurt.

The next morning met me tired and listless, all the bright colours the world had been painted in the previous day had turned ashen. I was lost in thought, and for once I could not speak to my friend of what troubled me. Fourteen days passed this way, and fourteen nights did I lay, unable to sleep, with an ocean of cold bed between her and myself.

On the fifteenth day my father's doctors informed me that the only chance they could see to prolong my father's life, or at least make his last days less difficult, was if I took him to a special place of healing, far away. Like a dutiful child I agreed, and prepared to cut my supposed honeymoon short.

My wife did not join me and my father on our journey, and since she did not, I left my friend to protect her and guide her.

It took my father three more months to die, and I stayed by his side during all of it, even through the times when he no longer knew who I was. In a final period of clarity he summoned for my wife to join us, and she came, escorted by my friend. Thinking back, he must have sensed something wrong between us, despite his illness, for he concluded sadly that I would have no children to carry on our line. I bowed my head with the pain of it all, unable to quite say the words that I felt I needed; to apologize to him for failing. But my wife beat me to it.

She looked at me as if astonished, then hurried to assure my father that our line would not end with me. It must have angered her a little, or perhaps my father's sadness affected her as well, because she spoke quite boldly, declaring that of course she would carry my children.

There was a silence in the room for a while, then I did the only thing I could think of. I took her hand although I had been very careful no to touch her since our wedding night, and asked her as gracefully and as formally sounding as I could muster if she would do me the great honour of carrying my child.

It looked for a moment as if though she would cry, but her voice was steady and determined when she answered yes. My father thanked her, telling us both how it eased his mind to know. Three days later he was gone.

I had no tears to give for his passing, nor the time to grieve, there was too much that had to be done. My wife was comforted by my friend as I had to shoulder my responsibilities as my father's only child.

I was startled when less than a month later one of my father's doctors approached me, informing me that the necessary arrangements had been made for my wife and myself to conceive. My father had somehow managed, with his dying strength, to arrange for the continuation of our line. I did not know quite how to feel about that.

I met my wife to speak of these matters, telling her of my father's arrangement, and how it concerned me since I had not expected him to ask her to do this while she was so very young. It felt like far to much to ask. My wife responded in a manner I should have expected, given her great adherence to duty and tradition, and acquiesced to my father's wish. I was humbled by her loyalty, and felt as if though the dreadful frost that had gripped my heart for so long now might finally thaw.

It was not long until we were brought to the facility where our essences would be blended so that a child of us both could be created. It surprised me how swift the procedure was. I stood by my wife's side as our child was placed back inside her, and wished so much that I could have been allowed to hold her, or at least touch her cheek as our child came to life. Instead I waited until the procedures were done and we were allowed to leave before kneeling at her feet and placing a single, reverent kiss on her palm, trying to let my eyes speak of all those things words would not sufficiently convey.

It was the second time I kissed her, and the first time I kissed that hand. The second time I kissed that hand was at the birth of our child.

During most of my beloved's pregnancy I was immersed in work, taking up my father's mantle and trying very hard to keep my end of our nation's protection intact. But a war was brewing in the world around us, and even though it demanded more and more of my time to prevent our peaceful home to descend into it as well, I could not shy away from my responsibilities. It was during this time that my wife and I were crowned King and Queen.

It was a very sombre affair, so that my wife would, much like myself, seek the open air of a secluded balcony during the quiet celebration that we could not avoid having after our coronation did not surprise anyone, much less myself. That she chose the very same balcony that I had to hide myself for a few moments alone with my father's memory was a mere coincidence.

My beloved was not alone. My friend walked with her out on the balcony, and as I tried to clear myself of my sadness enough to let them know I was present, they embraced. The words died on my tounge.

It was not that they made great proclamations of undying love for one another, nor even that their movements spoke of passion or forbidden touches. No, what opened my eyes was the way the simple rigthness of them. My best friend held my beloved wife so tightly, so close to her as I had only done in dreams, while my wife clutched my friend to her with desperation as she wept in her arms. That was the image of lovers, of love, to me. And my eyes were opened painfully to what should have been apparent all along.

My heart, already frozen with the knowledge that my love did not care for me, shattered utterly. There was nothing to do, and no way that I could remain and watch them, so I slipped silently into the night.

Did she notice my absence that night? I think not. There was no reason she should.

I spent that night and days to come brooding over the truth of my life. Oh how I regretted not being of clear enough a mind to have seen what was before my very eyes all along… and now the two that I loved most would have to suffer for my blindness. If only I had not allowed my wife to honor my father's dying wish, then perhaps I could have honored her heart's wish instead, somehow. There is no graceful or accepted way for a King to be divorced, and since my Queen bore my child within… no. It could not be done.

Would I then be the cause of their misery? I, who knew full well the pain of loving someone who would never be mine? No. I swore to find a way for my beloved… nay, for my Queen to find happiness. Somehow. Regardless what it cost me.

Life at large seemed to agree with the dark decision I made then, as the war in our bordering countries grew until it threatened us all, and I would soon be called away to serve as my title commanded me to. I was summoned to my wife's side as her pregnancy neared it's end, and so I was there when she went into labour. It seemed to take forever, although I was told then, and since, that my wife was fortunate to spend so little time in labour, and that the delivery was an easy one. I do not know, I only know that she gasped from pain and reached for a hand to hold to steady her through it.

Obviously, it was not my hand.

I think that watching her suffer to bring my child into the world nearly killed me, yet I managed to remain on my feet somehow, and at a respectful distance from them. I was determined not to intrude, and it had been clear to me for a long time that I was, after all, not welcome there. Then our child was placed in my wife's arms, and we were left alone for a moment, just her, myself, and that wondrous miracle born of us both.

My wife smiled at me. I knelt, powerless not to, and placed a kiss on her palm in gratitude for this amazing gift. I know I was trembling.

She called me up on my feet and placed our child in my arms, still smiling, calling me her King and proudly introducing me to my Heir. I wanted to beg her to let me be not her King, but her husband. That she be not my Queen, but my wife, my… love. But I had not the right, and the child in my arms demanded all my attention. My daughter. I was unable to prevent myself from crying.

Our moment ended and healers rushed back in to ensure the health of my child and my Queen. Entering with them was my friend, and the last sight I saw as I silently left the room to weep alone was of her hugging my wife in joy. I have wondered since how many times the heart can die yet continue to beat.

I stayed for a while after that, to revel in my newborn child. I had never dreamt of such a wonder, and ached curiously to be nearby, if just to watch her sleep, carefully listening to her breathing. I tried not to be present when my wife was doing the same, watching our child in sleep or wake, and I left whenever my friend would accompany her. It didn't take long until the strain of my presence began to show in them both, and that is when I returned to my duties.

I admit that I longed for the wars of old, where I could have taken a weapon and lead armies into the battlefield. In such a war I could have been killed, and that would have solved everything. No more pain for my beloved one.

But no, I was not the kind of King of old, who brandished a sword at the front lines of the army, and I survived the war. The war ended for my country, although the conflict remained, as war is not a thing so easily and neatly contained, and I could return to my home. My child was eight months old and I had not seen her since she was born, and my longing to see her and my wife was as great as my apprehension for what I knew waited for me.

My child was a gregarious infant who took to me easily, to my great joy and relief. I spent as much time as I was allowed in her presence, soaking up her unconditional affection and delighting in being able to return the same. My wife largely avoided me, and when our paths crossed she was very formal, very proper…and more distant than ever. After a while I realized that she was trying to restrict my access to our child.

I did not know why, only that she would take her away, hold her at a subtle but clear distance from me, or take her from my presence altogether. That hit me hard.

After a while we set into a form of routine, although I do not believe either of us did so intentionally. I made sure my duties kept me away much of the time, and when I was not, some reason or other seemed to keep my wife at an other location. It was obvious that she avoided me altogether, and I would have respected that choice as I have tried to do all the others she has made during our marriage, but… I wanted to have the chance to be a father for my daughter.

But the truth was that whether near or far, my wife and child would always be unattainable for me. Like the moon and the stars they were the only light to shine in the dark night that had become my existence, but looking upon them and knowing they were forever outside my reach… hurt beyond words.

The last time I saw my wife and child, my child did not see me. It happened that we for once were all at the palace I used to call my home, and in truth I was headed to my child's chambers in the hopes of seeing that precious face for a little while. I opened the door, and there they were… my wife, smiling and smothering a laugh, leaning against the wall. My friend, making silly noises at my child while spinning her in the air playfully. My child laughing, the deep, happy gurgle of the very young.

I froze in the doorway. The adults slowly turned to me and their smiles, their laughter, died away. I believe I may have nodded once, then I closed the door and walked away. I retrieved my sword and didn't stop walking as I reached the palace gates.

My friend somehow managed to catch up to me just as I was about to leave the courtyard.

We exchanged angry words. Or no, rather she had many angry words to say, and I was silent. She even resorted to calling me names, but I said nothing. Then she grabbed me by the front of my shirt and pushed me up against the wall, so angry that I could feel her hands tremble with the desire to hit me. I would not have stopped her.

She asked me why, with tears in her eyes, finally running out of things to yell. And I answered. Finally I told her that while my wife and child had her, there were no place left for me.

Then I left.

I left the city behind me and travelled here, to the remote temple where I was brought often as a child to train. Just as I recalled it is very peaceful here, very quiet and soothing. There is no-one else here.

I have written this letter for you, my child, my Heir, my Prince, that one day when you are grown and wonder why I chose the old path, you may know your father's heart. There are things here that I am sure you did not wish to know, yet they too are a part of my story.

I am sure that I leave you in good hands. Your mother loves you very much, and will do fine as your Regent until you are old enough to take the crown. I hope you can forgive me for not being there to guide you, as I know that the crown is heavy. I also know that you will not lack for a father. My friend will make you a fine father, and the husband your mother would have wanted.

I have made all the arrangements, your mother will not be bothered by the funeral detail, nor with having to explain to concerned parties why I chose to exercise my right to perform this ancient ritual. Servants will come here and find my body at dawn, and the letters with my instructions will be delivered to all involved. Except for this one. The instruction is that should you ever ask, this letter will be given to you. If not, then my seal on this letter remains unbroken.

Farewell my daughter. May life treat you well, and may you find the strength to endure what lies ahead. Know that I loved you very dearly.

I have kept this letter with me for some time, since seeing how candidly your father tells her story has prompted me to do the same. I do not know how well I can put these things on paper, but I will try, just in case the time comes when you will read this.

Firstly, I was born into a family with many children, just one among many daughters that were reared mostly by our various teachers into good and proper princesses. Duty, honor and tradition were all taught to me very early, although I would spend all my adolescence, indeed all my life until my wedding day, in schooling to be the wife and Queen I was expected to be.

In truth it didn't interest me, but like breathing it was one of life's basic components, and there was no point in objecting.

The day I first met the one I had been betrothed to since I was but an infant, I was curiously not at all nervous. Instead I was eager to meet this important person who would one day take me away from my life as a princess in training. Perhaps it was childish ignorance that I never considered such things as love at that time.

As I recall, my first thoughts about my betrothed was that she had a very nice voice. The kind that was deep and smooth like a caress, even though her voice had yet to deepen the way it did as we grew up. The second thing I noticed, as I was finally allowed to look at her, was that her eyes were completely black. Not if she was attractive, or looked masculine, or intelligent, or gentle, or anything one might think I would consider important at such an occasion, no, just that her eyes were black.

The next day I was mesmerized by her as I watched her train. Even then she was very graceful, very sure in her movements, and her calm, stoic expression made me feel that she was so much more mature than I. I realized then that she was very handsome.

When she turned to me and her eyes grew comically wide, I realized that she was also very cute.

Not the earth-shattering insight your father experienced I'm afraid, but enough to pique a young girl's interest. Unfortunately, she was obviously too shy to say much when we were together, and while I thought that simply adorable it did make for a few difficult situations. Especially since I, by the fifth day of our stay, had decided that I needed to make her interested in me.

It was still not a matter of love, as truly I was too young then to consider such things.

I remember well the betrothal ceremony, and stealing glances at her as we were made to pose together for the crowds. I also remember the exhilarating feeling I had when we danced, and how terribly shy she was… and how I thought our size made us fit just perfectly together. Strange the things one retains of the past.

The four years that followed could not pass swiftly enough for me. I had a new incentive to listen well to the lessons taught me, and my teachers grew far more expectant of me than they previously had. By the time I was to be presented before my betrothed again, I was going to be the perfect bride. Whenever I felt like objecting, I would for some reason remember what it felt like to dance with the girl they wanted me to marry, and my protests died out. And no matter what, a marriage was the only way to get out of the life I had, so I might as well marry someone I thought I might be able to like.

Our meeting on my seventeenth year was, mildly put, difficult. She was much more handsome than I recalled, and this time I keenly felt the attraction. Perhaps it all comes down to that I must have been so much more slow to mature than she, emotionally, because my reactions to my betrothed were not only very new to me; they frightened me.

I fell back upon my schooling, which was familiar to me and that I hoped would impress upon my soon-to-be husband that I would be well suited as her bride. I may have been naïve in many ways, but I was not naïve enough to think that someone so dashing as she would be without options, if she chose. For as long as we were not alone, things went well. But conversations between us were frightfully lacking, although I could tell that it was not due to disinterest on her part. It made me nervous, and tense, and whatever conversational skills I might have possessed evaporated.

Our salvation was our easy-going friend, whom I remembered from that first meeting with my betrothed. She filled the silence with nonsensical things, and while I rarely listened, it made me relax considerably. Watching my betrothed I came to the conclusion that she, despite her looks and self-assured ways in other matters, was still very shy. As I recall, I began to resent the presence of a third person as our time together began to draw towards an end, for I had now lost enough of my nervousness that I very much wanted some time alone with my betrothed. It would be a whole year until I would see her again, and I had this vague hope that I might receive a first kiss before we had to part.

Thinking back I must wonder if a lot of things had not been different had we been allowed some privacy then, when I was bolder and less fearful to be hurt.

The year passed though slowly, and I thought of her very often, if not daily. It was my year of awakening, although my joy was dampened with worry for her, as we had heard of her father's illness. I was told to prepare to be made Queen very rapidly after my marriage, and I resented that idea, since it would mean that my betrothed would lose her only parent.

I have never wanted her to be hurt.

The day of our wedding came, and I was besieged by anxiety and nervousness. My thoughts and dreams of her during our year apart made me embarrassed to face her, and it startled me that my heart would pound so strongly when I saw her again. I did feel very shy. I could barely believe the day I had waited so long for had finally arrived, and my new life with her was about to begin.

Then she kissed me and, oh, my young inexperienced heart was on overload.

I spent the rest of the evening stealing dreamy glances of her and reliving that kiss, feeling ridiculously giddy that I was now a married woman. Her woman. I also worried about the night ahead, as I realized that I truly did not know what to do. That the person I married was female did not bother me in the slightest, but the fact that my teachers had neglected that part of my education because of her gender did somewhat disturb me. I was desperately trying to figure out the mechanics before we would retire for the night, and, I might add, only getting things wrong and making myself very confused.

It was truly a disaster.

We were both so nervous that we barely dared the most innocent touch in passing, and I froze up, stiff as can be, in waiting for a sign from her. I did not know what kind of sign, but I was hoping for something along the lines of a kiss, or that she would hold me. I figured those would be very telling signs, so I was waiting for them.

Then she told me that if it made me uncomfortable, we could just go to sleep. And so deeply hurt that this incredible person to whom I had been wed had no intention of completing our union, I curled up and hid my tears in my pillow. I spent nearly all that night, and so many of those that followed, weeping miserably into my pillow.

I considered myself fortunate that I had mastered the skill to weep without sound while very young, and learned how to hide the telltale tracks of a night of tears.

Now, if she had just held me in some form while sleeping, or perhaps given me a hug goodnight, I would not have been so miserable. But as things were I felt very much unwanted and lost, and my family had already left for the home that was no longer mine, leaving me without anyone to speak to or confide in.

Then we were informed by the healers that her father had not long to live, and my husband needed to take him to a place where at least he would suffer less. I felt very petty to have thought to ask for more than she could give me then, as she was obviously distraught by this, and thought that I needed to be more patient. I watched them go sadly, as I had not been asked by my father-in-law to accompany them, and thus must respect his wish and remain behind. I once had the impression that my husband would have asked me to join them, and it warmed me, even if she never did.

She left her friend behind to be my support, and I appreciated the thought as my home was new to me and I still felt fairly lost. The woman was friendly enough, and easy going, but at first it was very evident that she was there for me merely because I was wed to her best friend, nothing more. Slowly, in time, we became friends on our own, and often it felt like she was the one constant in my life, the one thing I could always depend on.

I was summoned to my father-in-law's side as he neared the end. I was, frankly, shocked at the assumption that my husband would have no children to carry on their name, and more than just a little angry to have such a thing thrown in my face. I was not barren, and I had every intention of having children – my assumption had been that my husband did too, and that we would have at least a few together. So my statement came out too rashly, too decisively, when I should have noticed my husbands downcast appearance instead, and asked.

I didn't realize how presumptuous it had been of me until she looked at me, grasped my hand and formally, as if speaking to a stranger, asked me if I would do her the honour of carrying her child. It hurt me so much that she thought so little of me, of our union, that she needed ask what was to me a most natural and obvious thing.

I somehow managed to beat back the tears that wanted to spill, and merely responded in kind. And three days later my father-in-law passed away.

I admit that I grieved more for my husband's sake, for her pain and her loss, than for the old man that had died, but grieve I did. And my new friend was the one to offer me a shoulder to cry on.

It didn't take long after his death before my father-in-law's healers approached us with the arrangements for the conception of our first child. I was a bit surprised at the haste, but had no objections to bear my first-born while young, none at all. I would truly be honoured to carry my husband's child, and I had a promise to keep.

In a whirlwind of activity, my husband and I were soon at the facilities where they concieve the children of same-gender partners, and I felt surprisingly calm. She stood next to me as that tiny piece of her and me was placed within me, and I wished that she would have held me close as I was suddenly pregnant with our child.

She surprised me when she knelt before me to kiss my palm and look at me so tenderly. My heart trembled, and I had to stop myself before I threw my arms around her neck and kissed her, so strong was my longing. I left those facilities feeling very happy and light-hearted, more positive about the future we had together than I had been in some time.

The times were bad though. Conflicts in nations bordering to ours led to war, and my husband was occupied with diplomatic struggles for most of my pregnancy. People told me how skilled she was, and how desperately our country needed her abilities in these trying times. I was proud of her, and tried not to begrudge her for all the times that she was not there for me.

Instead it was our friend that helped me when morning sickness left me weak, that held me when my emotions ran me ragged, that shared with me my baby's first kicks and all those quirks of pregnancy.

Our coronation to King and Queen was a subdued event, and I would not realize the significance it held in our relationship. My emotions still running wild, I went for the open air and privacy of a balcony to weep my longing for my distant husband, and my friend followed me to offer me some comfort as always. Her arms were often a substitute for those arms I so wanted to hold me in those days, and I truly never knew that we were not alone.

My husband disappeared from the supposed festivities that night, not to be seen nor heard from for days, and I worried where she had gone. I covered for her as best I could, understanding, or so I thought, that she had once again been overcome by the grief of loosing her father and needed some time to herself. When she returned she was beyond raggard, and her eyes, oh her eyes were filled with such pain and sorrow like I had never seen before. Worse, she looked defeated.

She was very shortly thereafter called out to war, and I spent the rest of my pregnancy worried to the point of ailing for her. The only things that sustained me was that I must be strong for our growing baby within me, and the constant support of my friend. She returned to me for a short time when I was about to give birth, and she stood by me as our child was born. But she kept herself so distant it broke my heart, and her eyes still carried all that sadness.

My friend was with me, to hold my hand as pain overcome me. I had asked her to, as perhaps I already knew that I would not be given that support from my husband.

My husband knelt before me, kissing my hand in genuine gratitude for our child's life. I wanted so badly for her to hold me, but at least it warmed my heart to see that she shared my joy in this tiny, beautiful life that we had created. I presented her Heir to her, wanting so much to say more, but knowing that I had not the right. I had been given her name and allowed to carry her child, but I had not been permitted to be anyone to her for my own sake.

She wept as she held our daughter, and if I hadn't loved her already, I would have then.

I felt us become closer for that brief moment, as if the the distance between us could be bridged just by the emotions that was surely as clear in my eyes as in hers. I thought for a moment she would come closer, and I felt myself begin to reach out, to join these two special creatures in a moment of family. That was when the healers bustled back inside, and I was suddenly hugged hard by my happy friend, congratulated for the birth of one perfect little girl.

When I managed to look for her, my husband was already gone. That… hurt.

She was so sweet with our baby during those days that followed. I do not know how many times I walked in on her watching our baby girl sleep, looking for all the world as if she was standing watch to make sure she would not disappear. We both sneaked around like that, then, wanting to keep her in our sights, but my husband would leave whenever our friend would join us. I could not understand what was going on, why my husband was acting so strangely, and it started to get to me. Then she returned to the war, not looking back.

It would take eight months until she returned to us, and this time I did resent her. I had finally, after all this time, come to the realization that this was all that I would get. To be her wife on paper and to have born her a child was all that she wanted of me, and she would avoid me as much as possible otherwise. My heart was simply shattered, and my friend was the one to give me the strength to try and put the frayed ends of my life together in a fashion that I could somehow survive.

The agony was more than I could possibly say.

She returned, her black eyes still clouded by a greater darkness, and while she stood in the same room as myself, she was as distant as the other ends of the ocean. She spent much time with our daughter, and that precious little girl of ours adored her from the start nearly as much as her father adored her right back. It was quite obvious to me.

So why did I do what I did? I deliberately tried to keep a distance between them, I knew that then and I will not deny it now. But it was simple, really. I did not want my little one to love her, only to have her turn and walk away as I knew she would. And she proved me right.

There was no longer any reason for her duties to separate us; it was her conscious choice that did that. Feeling cold I tried to respect that and make it easier for her by removing myself during those times that she had no duty, no assignment, to fall back on to justify her absence in what was supposed to be our home.

I would speak to my friend of my pain, and she was always beside me.

The day it all came to a breaking point we, that is my child, my friend and I, had returned to the palace for a time, coinciding with my husband being there. I was watching my friend play with my baby girl, delighting in the sound of their laughter and the sense of family that the sight gave me. Despite the deeply seated wish I held that it would be my husband doing these things with me, I smiled and eventually even found myself laughing for the first time in a long while.

Something made me turn, and the air just left me suddenly as I stared right into my husband's eyes. Before my eyes they went beyond the sorrow I had seen in them for so long, and became… dead.

She nodded once, then closed the door without a word. For some reason it broke whatever was left in me, and I slipped to the floor in tears. The keening wail that accompanied the sobs that racked through me alerted the maids that came running to aid me, as well as the nanny that plucked my daughter from my friend's arms to take her to another room, lest my hysterical crying would frighten her.

I later learned that my friend had spent a moment staring at me and the women trying in vain to console me, then left with a very angry expression on her face.

The presence of so many that was supposed to be my servants eventually returned the control that I had gained in a life of schooling to keep up proper appearances, and I managed to fight back my sobs and overpowering pain. If I was going to break down, I wanted to do so privately.

It took me a moment to realize that my friend was missing. Another before one of the maids nervously told me that she had run off, looking mightily angry. With a sinking feeling I realized that she must have gone to confront my husband, for my sake. And I feared she would not be able to restrain herself, that they would come to blows.

Only at one other occasion would I run like I did then.

I found my friend on all fours, emptying the contents of her stomach on the gravel by the courtyard gates, and crying miserably. I knelt in the dirt with her, fearing that she was injured, and ended up comforting her as she had me so many times.

Somehow I managed to get her back inside the palace, and there I mobilized everyone I could think of to aid me in my search for my husband. The search went on for several hours before a boy from the outskirts of town was located that had spoken to my husband that evening. He had been payed to run an errand for her, to summon two of her advisors to a certain temple at daybreak. A dreadful chill settled in me then, and I knew, just somehow knew without question, that I was running out of time.

I had all but forgotten that my friend was still present when she spoke up, telling me about a temple where my husband had used to train as a child. She looked horrible and ashen, and would not look at me as she spoke, for some strange reason giving me the feeling that she had known all along where my husband would go. The urgency I felt prevented me from finding out if this was true, and instead I left without further notice.

The sun was setting as I reached the temple, and once again I found myself running like mad as I searched for my husband there. It took me a while before I found her, sitting on a rock out in the river.

Her eyes were closed, and she was holding her sword to her stomach. As I watched in horror, she began to drive it home.

I must have screamed, because her eyes flew open and she turned slightly towards me. The shift altered her position so that the thrust of the blade cut a wide gash through her side rather than the deep cut through her belly that would have ended her life.

I know I stumbled a few steps into the water, because I can vaguely remember how I trampled a neat pile of letters tied off with an ancient stone marker before ending up on my knees in cold, biting water. I was crying. And I was begging her desperately not to leave me.

The next thing I knew her hands, her large, strong, gentle hands, were pulling me up and out of the water. I think she asked me something as she tilted my head up to peer at my face, but I did not hear it. Instead I clutched her to me with all my strength, afraid she would disappear if I did not, and begged her again between sobs not to leave me. And finally, after all this time, she was holding me.

She held me as I cried into her shoulder, then she held me as the tears subsided. It felt wonderful, it felt right. It felt like coming home. And I was so caught up in the rightness of being in that warm, strong embrace that it took a long time before I noticed the blood pouring out of her side, and that she was fighting to stay conscious.

It was fortunate that I had not come there alone. A few loyal servants had accompanied me, and when I cried for help as my beloved collapsed in my arms, they hurried to our aid. I don't particularly remember the journey back to the palace, nor how long it took the healer to attend her, but I do know that the skies had turned light again when my husband opened her eyes and smiled at me hesitantly.

It was a new beginning for us.

I will admit to you now that while she was still sleeping from the drugs the healer gave her, I read every single one of those letters that she had written before trying to kill herself. I burned all the others that night, but this one I kept. This one told me a truth I had never seen, and I wept even more. In looking back I am amazed that I had so many tears to shed that night as I did, but in the end they were a cleansing of sorts.

I told her how much I loved her that day. How all I had ever wanted was to be hers, and how the distance had been killing me as well. We talked of a great many things that day, and we even cried some more, yes, my husband as well. When night came I fell asleep tucked against her uninjured side, and there has been no night since then that I have not fallen asleep in her arms. No morning that I did not greet her with a kiss.

Speaking as a Queen, we were very fortunate. Those that know the truth of what happened when my husband had her… accident, has not gone public with their knowledge, not even the healer. So far it remains our private business, the startling white slash across an otherwise toned abdomen and what it signifies. Perhaps it will even remain that way.

As a woman… Well, I am writing this while I watch you play with your little sister on the floor. It amazes me sometimes how much like your father you are, with those same, black eyes and that long, straight hair. I think in time you will become very tall like her as well. As for our youngest daughter, she looks more like her mother I think, right down to the color of her eyes, even if her hair is black like yours.

Your father just entered the room, and both you and your sister have pounced on her, dragging her down to play with you. It does not take much convincing, it never does, and I can tell how happy she is. Those black eyes are warm and loving as she looks up and meet my gaze.

I am happy as well. Content. I have all that I have ever dreamed of, and more, right here with you all. And I would not trade a single moment of this for anything at all.

I realize that there is something that has been left unsaid here. You are probably wondering who this friend of ours was, that got so mixed up in those early days of confusion. The truth is that you will most likely never meet her, as she left us that night long ago, not intending to come back.

She left a letter, a long one, for my husband's eyes only. I was with her when she read it, and whatever it said in that letter, it was very difficult for my love to read. I admit that I cast a glance or two over her shoulder, out of concern, and the few words I read coupled with a few things my husband acquiesced to tell me, made me realize some things about my friend that I had not known.

As much as I have missed her since she left, I am glad that she did leave. It sounds strange, I know, but I do not know if I could… forgive. How could she knowingly have let us both suffer so? It nearly destroyed us.

But if I am honest I know why she acted like she did. Intelligence workers told my husband last month that she had recently gotten married to a young woman and lived a simple life on a farm far away from here. My husband told me no more, but she forgets sometimes that her servants report to me as well. So I found out that those that had seen the young woman my old friend had married were astonished at how much like me she looks.

That is how life is sometimes. Although clearly they were not married for quite the right reasons, I still hope they will find happiness together. Perhaps that, too, was fate.

With that I conclude this letter, and I will put it aside for someday when you and your sister are both grown. Perhaps you will read it then, or perhaps I will leave this until after your father and I are both gone, time will tell. But now I must go, as my beautiful family is waiting for me.



The End

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