Finishing the tale (part 3)/ Neutrality

On the last occasion they had returned home, a day before Henry had sent the wedding invitations, they had taken items of clothing and toiletries to last them for this wonderful month. Now it was time to fetch all of their belongings to take with them to their new home in the Land of Boulders, refusing to depend on their friends for a living in either of the palaces which would gladly serve as their home.

Firstly, the couple rode to the Wavian border of the land of which Calvin was the High Prince, accompanied by that ruler himself lest an unlawful arrest of the pair should be attempted in his country.

The guards patrolling the borders were stunned by the royal party and shocked by the sight of the Phoenix High Princess on the same horse as their High Prince but showed no sign of knowledge that Henry had broken Wavian law and were indeed honoured by the chance to talk to him, even if this was for such a brief period of time and on such an insignificant day.

Their reaction was disheartening though as Henry stated "I should like to know whether the Palace is still my home. If it is not, I believe I still have a right to my possessions and would like to have them delivered here so I can take them to my next residence. I request this so that I do not break the terms of exile by setting foot on Wavian soil."

One of the guards looked horrified. Another looked disappointed. The third looked furious.

"You have brought shame on our people," he muttered as the disappointed one was sent to the Palace.

Henry felt Vanessa tense in front of him and briefly let go of one of the reins to stroke her arm comfortingly.

"They shouldn't talk to you like that," she murmured.

Henry leant forwards and kissed the back of her neck. She instantly relaxed, reclining against him.

"I don't care about anyone's opinion save yours." he told her smiling.

Vanessa smiled back, though Henry couldn't see her face.

Henry kissed the top of her head and started thinking about the luxurious honeymoon they had had to pass the time. Vanessa considered her luck as she had so many times before, enjoying the presence of Henry's arms either side of her.

The other two guards, meanwhile, glanced at each other uneasily wondering if they would be punished for not knowing about Henry or for serving him.

The third guard returned and announced that Their Majesties had disowned Henry as their son and would be glad to be rid of the sight of his belongings but that it would take hours for the trunks to be packed.

"In four hours' time, they will be placed here. It is your choice whether to wait or leave and return later."

Henry nodded. "Thank you. Would it be possible to talk to Prince Simon?" There was still a small amount of hope within him, however foolish that may have been.

Vanessa put one of her hands over his.

The guard shook his head. "Your fam- your previous family have no desire to talk to you or even see you again."

Henry swallowed hard, his hope extinguished. "Thank you," he said, but the words became stuck in his throat.

Vanessa stroked the back of the hand her hand was resting on. It was not much consolation to him.

"I trust that I may enter," Calvin said, surprising his companions as well as the guards.

Two of the guards looked to the other. He shrugged, mouthing ‘He is a Dragon'.

"Yes, Your Highness," this guard told Calvin, "you may."

"I am going to buy supplies for a picnic," Calvin informed the rest of the group before riding forth into Wavia.

"I like Calvin," Vanessa said for an amusing effect.

Henry chuckled.

When Calvin returned, the picnic was had. He had purchased bread, butter, cucumber, fruit and sparkling water. For the next few hours, the atmosphere was empty of tension. The five people sat down and ate like equals - ignoring the contrast made by stark reality with the end of Henry's princeship.

But then the trunks arrived on a wooden cart and Henry once again felt the pain of rejection from those who had beforehand always been there and supported him.

To his surprise, his younger brother rode out with the cart. His hopes lifted slightly until he saw his sibling's expression of disapproval. Nevertheless, he greeted him and congratulated him on becoming the new High Prince.

Simon's face did not change.

"I am here to tell you that when you are free of the Phoenix's bewitchment I will gladly allow you to reclaim our title," he said, rather stiffly. Henry knew that Simon was suppressing pain and almost felt sorry for this brother who had lost so much. But then he remembered that he was the one who was apparently ‘gone' and all he felt was his own sadness.

"I am not bewitched, Simon," he said quietly.

"I will never believe that.

Henry sighed.

"Goodbye, Henry."

"Goodbye," he replied disconsolately.

Simon glared at Vanessa before turning and riding back to Wavia Palace.

Vanessa was in a state of distress.

"Henry, we must end this! I cannot let you be hurt in this way!"

Henry turned to face her. She had been sitting down during the conversation, partially shielded from Simon's sight by Henry's figure. But now she had stood up.

Henry stared at her, bewildered.

"You think I would forsake you so I could rule this flawed land?" he asked.

"No. You would never forsake me. But I would insist that you returned to your family."

"They are no family of mine," he said coldly.

"Henry, I can see the pain in your eyes! You cannot pretend that all is well!"

"You are the only one who could make my life right," Henry told her firmly. "And if I forsook you, I would never ever be happy again. I love you, Vanessa."

Vanessa looked away, her eyes brimming with tears.

"Your own brother hates you," she whispered.

Henry put his hands on her waist and kissed her. Pulling away, he tucked a lock of hair behind her ear before saying, in a warmer, gentler tone "I do not care."

The five of them plus the cart travelled to the Dragonian Palace. The trunks were unloaded into the Entrance Hall, the driver of the cart was paid before he drove back to Wavia, and everyone rested in one of the State Rooms after what had been an exhausting day.

Before dinner (which Calvin had invited them to), Henry began sorting out some items to sell so he and Vanessa would have means to keep themselves alive in their new household (which was still quite a mystery to the latter, Henry having bought it in secret). Vanessa took a short nap, to evade the thought of her own family's reaction to the marriage as well as to restore her energy.

The meal was a pleasant affair, conversation being light and food being delicious without being uncomfortably extravagant.

Afterwards there was some socialising as the Palace received an unexpected visit from the Eagle Empress and Kiana Soar. All in all, it was a gentle conclusion to a stressful day.

The following day had its good moments but a rather more unpleasant one too.

The good moments were the successful sale of Henry's unwanted items which provided a grand amount of money for his and Vanessa's new life, and Henry's revelation of the new house but in between the two events was the much dreaded journey to the Firish border to ask that Vanessa's belongings were given to her.

The first negative aspect of this moment was that Vanessa's brother came out personally to criticise his sister and her husband.

Then, it seemed that her trunks had already been filled with her possessions - as if she were dead to her family - when they were delivered within the two hours it takes to reach the Land of Boulders from Fireland Castle.

Thirdly, the cart driver who was transporting her things to the Dragonian Palace had been paid to insult her as much as he could.

The final, awful thing to transpire was that amongst her items was a letter from her parents emphasising the fact that she was a "disgrace to the kingdom", a "horrific example to other women of her age" and, most significantly and painfully, that she was "the worst excuse for a daughter and the most terrible sibling a High Prince could have".

She was in tears even as Henry hired a cart in the Land of Boulders to take her belongings to their mystery new residence.

Before they left, Calvin came out of the palace to say goodbye.

"Henry, you know you could always live here. My parents would adopt you as a son and Vanessa as a daughter; they would love to have you here."

"We could not depend on you like that - it would not be fair," Henry replied.

"But will it not be strange to stop living in a palace after being a prince your whole life?"

Henry shrugged. "It will be a relief to lead a simple life. We have no need of the luxuries that come with royalty. And ... our memories of being royals are tainted."

Calvin nodded, looking sympathetic. "Well, if you ever change your mind, the Dragonian Palace will welcome you with open arms."

Thank you," Henry said sincerely.

"Thank you," Vanessa murmured from beside Henry.

"I will come and visit," Calvin promised. "And if I disapprove, I will insist you move in with me."

Henry grinned. "Goodbye Calvin."

"Goodbye, Henry." He nodded to Vanessa.

Vanessa nodded back.

And so, the two set out for their new life together.

The cottage was quaint. It had a thatched roof and a whitewashed interior which made it feel spacious. The front room was large and contained a wide fireplace, before which stood two comfortable-looking armchairs. The bedroom was in the attic and was the location of a grand double bed and a beautiful, tall lampshade. The kitchen was cosy, its furnishings being of warm colour and its size being not too great so that there was something like to a chasmal distance between the walls but not too small so that the couple would feel cramped when cooking together. Vanessa fell in love with it instantly and found it easy to forget the sadness brought on by her family's thoughtless action. To show her appreciation, she kissed Henry. This moment became a wonderful first memory of the cottage which the pair would cherish and use to mark the new life which was defiantly rejecting the pain of the old one.

A month later, Henry had commenced working in the Dragonian Palace library and Vanessa designing and making dresses. Both of them greatly enjoyed their jobs and neither missed the indulgences of Palace living.

Their contentment was momentarily shattered when Calvin visited and informed them that there was a funeral procession in Fireland for Vanessa - who was horrified by the news - but the couple's love meant that they quickly recovered from the pain.

So they continued this lifestyle, barely considering the fact that they had been exiled from their homelands or that Wavia had been deprived of its lawful rulers or even that they were dead to their own parents. So much had been lost but all had been what they were willing to sacrifice. If they could live their lives again, it was doubtless that they would have changed nothing.

This was the tale of Henry Waterfall and Vanessa Flame.

I closed the book, a tear in my eye. The end of the account had been almost happy but I couldn't help but think how I would feel had I suffered their experiences.

I handed the book to Charity the next time I saw her in private. I quietly mentioned that I would cease attending the meetings, feeling inferior to Henry and shallow for merely being interested in the ending of the conflict so I could court Tiger. Charity was disappointed and tried to convince me that other people would be a part of this movement for such a reason, but that didn't change how I felt. Another good reason was the fact that I wasn't going to try to make Tiger fall in love with me anymore. I had no real motivation for wanting to dissolve the conflict. Charity gave up but always looked a little sad whenever we saw each other. I hoped she knew that I personally would never condemn a Dolphin who fell in love with a Phoenix were it my choice on how they should be treated but could understand her sadness anyway.

One time she asked if I would accept the throne if offered it. I told her I wouldn't, which somewhat improved her view of me, but I continued to remain neutral to the conflict.

I was surprised by Adam's reaction when I mentioned I had decided to stop attending the meetings for those who despised the conflict. He merely asked if I was totally in support of it and calmly accepted my neutrality when I responded.

He smiled affectionately, murmuring "Opposition's not for everyone."

Before I went home after that particular visit, he shocked me by kissing me directly on the lips.

Completely taken aback, I stood perfectly still, as if paralysed. Adam drew back after a short time, quite a peaceful look in his eyes.

"Goodbye, Selena."

The End

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