* XII *

"What?!" I yelled. "No way. I wouldn't ever do that to Emrald! How could you even think of such a thing?"

I wanted to get up and slap him but I restrained myself, not being a violent person by nature and wanting to appear better in some way than this jerk.

"Said it would be worse," Ralph muttered.

"Why are you even here?" I asked. "I think you should get out before one of us throws something at you."

"I've been asked to give you a tour of the Palace."

"By who?" Emrald asked.

"My mum - your mother's cousin."

"Well, we're not interested in a tour. We're going to try and arrange it so we can go home."

"You can't go until after a year," Ralph said.

"I don't care," Emrald replied.

"Are you going to let the whole city suffer then? I don't like the rules either but if we don't follow them, Sapphire City will fall into ruin. After a year, you can do what you like: you can make me king, leave the city and never return; you can even change the laws so you could court your girlfriend. In fact, if you stay, you can change all these stupid rules and make everyone's life easier. I implore you to not be selfish. Sapphire City could benefit so much from having the right sort of king."

"You can do anything I can. It's just a shame I have to wait a year."

"Please at least pretend to be interested in the affairs of the people here: you don't want a revolt. If they overpower you and put you in the dungeons, you'll have to spend even longer here."

I was shocked. "They would do that?"

"Definitely. These are people who want to be treated fairly and not as if they're a problem."

I looked at Emrald. "I ... think these people need you, Em," I said hesitantly.

Emrald looked at me imploringly. "Cherished one, I can't. Since when have I been interested in having a lot of responsibility and looking after anyone other than the people I love."

"I know, darling. But I think you're capable."

"Cherished one, you think I'm amazing."

"I did before we started going out. And you have such a big heart that you'd change in some horrendous way if you just abandoned these people."

Emrald sighed. "I guess I have to accept my fate then."

I rubbed his shoulders. "You'll be fine: I believe in you."

Emrald turned to Ralph and resignedly said, "Give us this tour, then."

Ralph bowed. "Certainly, Your Highness."

"Don't," Emrald said. "Especially if we're family."

Ralph beamed. "You'll be just fine, Indico."

As we started his tour, he chatted about how much he'd always wanted a relative like a brother.

"The things we'll do together," he said. "Watching the jousting, hunting deer in the forest, escorting young women to balls (well, you can miss out on that one, if you'd like). It will all be so much fun. "

Both Emrald and I were too tired to show indignation or incredulity.

The End

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