5. The Prophecy and the Stowaway (Page 4)

Levi stared at her, probing her soul with his golden eye, searching for a sign that she was lying. Finally, he shook his head in disbelief,  “A princess…”

“I’m telling the truth!”

“I know. I believe you,” he smiled, almost laughing at himself, but Hataru couldn’t tell if he was relieved or upset. “It’s just not what I was expecting. When you said you weren’t royal by birth, I thought maybe you’d married into it, though you look a bit young for marriage, but maybe aristocrats do that differently, and besides, that fiend said─”

“Kosu? He seems to know a lot about me,” she squirmed nervously as if she were still trying to get out of his grasp, “What else did he say?”

Levi’s face darkened, “He said that you were famous for your dancing, which I can believe, and that you’re searching for… a lover?”

“Well,” the princess frowned, “I wouldn’t phrase it like that…”

“So it’s true?”

“It was Father’s, idea,” she sighed, “Over the past month or so, I have been voyaging from kingdom to kingdom in search of a suitor. I was perfectly content staying in Trellisania to organize the needs of the orphanages I founded, but─”

“Wait, orphanages? As in, more than one?”

“Four, to be exact, and one hospital, but I’m in the process of inaugurating a second.”

“And you’re, what, only eighteen?”

“As a matter of fact I am! You think I’m too young?” she objected, her shoulders tense, “You think I can’t, or shouldn’t, do it because I’m a woman?”

“No, no! I think it’s quite,” Levi raised  “impressive.”

Hataru regarded him skeptically, but then she relaxed, a smug grin of independence and self-pride spreading across her lips.

“Anyway,” she continued, “My father believes that I should be happily married to a ‘nice, respectable man of high status’ by now. He wanted to set up an arranged marriage, but I told him the only way I’d agree to anything would be if I had a say in who I gave my hand to. So he set up this cross-continent voyage, gave me a list of bachelors he thought had potential, and sent me on my way. I had to beg him to let me use a faster boat instead of the imperial cruise ship he wanted me to use.” She threw her hands up in exasperation.

“Yeah, cruise ships are way overrated.”

“You’re laughing at me,” she complained, “I didn’t want it because it’s big and slow. It would have added three unnecessary weeks to my travel time!”

Ah-huh. So, you really don’t want to get married, I take it?”

The princess leaned back into the downy pillows on the bed and began fiddling with the blanket’s frilly trimming again. “It’s not that I don’t want to get married. I know I want to someday, but… I don’t know… I guess, I just don’t feel ready, and the way the trip had been going before the Sky Bender was attacked…”

“What happened?”

“None of the bachelors seemed right. They were either too old or too young, and the ones that were of a reasonable age lacked passion, drank too much, or had hearts much less than pure. I can hardly believe Father put them on the list! Now granted, not all of them were bad, per say, but I just can’t see myself spending the rest of my life with any of them and being happy. But,” she took a deep breath and adopted an expression of miserable determination, “I promised my father that I would at least try to find a partner that suited me, and besides, if I don’t make a decision, he said he’ll pick for me.”

The End

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