Being a princess wasn't all it was cracked up to be. Ahiru had read a lot of books in her day; the many books of a beautiful girl waiting for her princess charming were boring. It wasn't like that. At least not in her kingdom. She wasn't just sitting in the window sill, dreaming of a way out of the castle. Ahiru liked living in the castle. The girl would be out in the garden, playing with her ducks, the animal for which she was named. She would be playing with the other girls living in the castle, her cousins, sons and daughters of her mother's many brothers and sisters.
Her castle was a family filled fortress and Ahiru loved it.
There was one thing that Ahiru didn't like.
There were families who were not royalty who lived in the house. They were the knights of the kingdom. These people lived in the dungeon areas in filthy habitats and had for centuries. Ahiru had gone to her father many times to suggest putting them up into better rooms. For decades, their families had never failed to protect their country from warring states. They deserved better.
Her father denied, claiming "they loved living in their own filth".
Ahiru knew this was false. She had talked to some of the higher ranking ones. The knights responsible for her personal protection when she went out into town or to other castles of allied nations. All of them wanted to live in better homes but didn't dare going against the King because they liked their lives in the castle more so than those out in the village. They knew nothing else and Ahiru knew it wasn't fair, but what the princess also knew was there was nothing she could do.
"Fakir!" called a tall, balding man. It wore a very large suit of armor, which nearly swallowed him. On his back was a large broad sword. His voice called over a room very large and full of people who were all talking.
A boy across the room, a boy just old enough to join the rankings, looked up towards him from the back. The room, which was filled with many other men shaggy dressed, suddenly got very quiet. The black haired boy grabbed his sword which laid beside him on the wooden dinner table and his satchel. He walked silently up to the armored man, hearing whispers as he walked past.
"The boy's surely dead!"
"Aero never calls anyone's name!"
"God, be with his soul. He'll need it."
"Look everyone…it's the walking dead."
Fakir ignored these comments. Sure, many of the men who had been called out by Aero never came back to this filthy place, but maybe that was because they moved onto something greater. That thought pushed Fakir forward towards the man. As he stopped in front of him, he gripped his satchel string with one hand and the hilt of his sword with the other.
"Come with me." Aero said simply, turning around to the old wood door behind him.
Fakir followed silently.
As the door slammed behind them, Fakir knew his life was about to change. Aero led him through the castle, farther than Fakir had ever been in his lifetime. His father and mother had been killed in the war against the castle's most fearsome foe, the dreaded Raven to the north. It was a monster raven, a demon some called him. Fakir knew that whatever Aero was now leading him to he had to make it through. He had to one day face the Raven and defeat him to get revenge for his family.
Aero suddenly stopped at a door. Fakir nearly ran into him since he was lost in thought. Aero knocked silently on the door twice. It opened with an eerie creak. Suddenly Aero grabbed the boy by the back collar of his tattered shirt and brown overcoat, throwing him into the room. Fakir tried to keep his balance as he fell forward but gravity did not listen and he fell on his stomach, coughing in response. He stood quickly though, not showing any weakness. He looked up and what he saw shocked him.
Fakir was standing in the royal room of the Tower Knights, the castle's most elite fighting force.
"What…is going on?" Fakir asked himself as he looked around.
Ahiru was summoned the following day to the gladiator's hall. She hated attending these "performances" but her father would not hear her objections. As Ahiru's maid dressed her for the grand event, Ahiru asked her if she knew anything about what was going on.
"Well…milady… I think there's a battle that's going to happen with a newbie knight and a senior knight. A battle to the death." said the young woman.
"What?! That's insane! Why would my father agree to such a barbaric way of choosing a new knight for me?" Ahiru called out, angry at her father.
He had always let her choose her knight, an honor that only happened every five years of a princess' life. However, she also knew her father had never been happy with any of them. They were incompetent men who did not care for the princess at all. They care only for the title and crown she carried. She knew her father would soon revoke that right given to her but he didn't think it would be revoked in such a manner.
As soon as her maid finished dressing her, she took off for her father's quarters, intent on making him change his mind.
I still don't understand why I am here.
They've dressed me in a gladiator's clothes, which is extremely heavy. They've given me a broad sword which I can barely even lift.
Who are these people?! And what in the world am I supposed to do?
"Come boy. It's time for your funeral." said one of the men in the room. He grabbed Fakir by the arm and dragged him into another little tunnel that led for a very far distance.
"No!" Fakir jerked his arm away. "Where are you taking me? What am I doing here?"
The man turned to him with a look of disbelief on his face. "No one told you? You're going to the fight to the death to become the princess' knight."
Fakir gasped in disbelief. "WHAT?!" he called out rather loudly. The man dragging him covered his ear closer to the boy.
Knight to the princess?
Fakir couldn't believe his life had actually come nearly full circle.
- 10 years before –
Ahiru had snuck out of the castle. She knew not to, but she also knew how to, and the ability to actually be able to go out and see the world was something she couldn't just ignore.
However…this was not the best of nights to go sightseeing on. Soon, Ahiru ended up on the very busy main street. Being dressed as a young princess, Ahiru stood out among the poorly dressed, alcoholic men wondering around the roads.
"Ooh, look at the pretty girl." said one man who grabbed her arm. "Aren't you just the cutest thing?"
"No!" Ahiru had tried to run but she could not run fast enough.
Soon she was surrounded by men who were all drunk and not thinking about the reality of this situation. Not to mention how young she was.
In the midst of running away from grabbing hands, beer being spilt on her dress, and trying to get away from the groups of people, she saw a hand come out from the group. It was smaller and a voice came with it.
"Come on! You little idiot! Don't you want to get out of this hell hole?!"
Ahiru nodded and grabbed the hand. She looked up to see a boy not much older than her. It was Fakir. He took her back to the castle, knowing full well who she was. She led him to the hidden exit on the side of the fortress.
"How do I thank you for saving me?" Ahiru had asked.
Fakir had brushed off the question.
"Just know that you owe me someday." was all he had said. "A gift, you could say, since you are royalty, you could probably afford whatever…"
He had begun to walk away when she called out to him. "Wait! I know you know me…but what is your name?"
He looked back at her with a small grin. "My name is Fakir. But don't bother remembering it. With the way this world is, I'll probably never see you again."
Ahiru ran as fast as she could.
Time was almost out.
Her father had yelled at her and told her not to interfere with the gladiator games. It was his solemn warning not to mess with anything, but she knew in her heart it wasn't right.
She arrived to a full coliseum, a roaring crowd, and a one opponent ganging up on the other. The smaller boy was bleeding through his armor. From where she was standing she could also see him breathing deeply while the other wore a very big grin, knowing he was in full control. Suddenly the bigger man hit the smaller boy over the head, knocking him to the ground and his helmet off. He didn't immediately stand but he did stand back up.
Ahiru looked closer, focusing more on the younger. Her eyes widened when she realized what was going on. All the memories of that night came back to her in an instant.
"NO!!! STOP THIS MADNESS!!!" Ahiru shouted, jumping over the edge of the center of the coliseum.
No one hear her except for those in the immediate vicinity. When she landed on the dirt ground, she felt the hurt in her feet tingle up her legs. Her dress ends were covered in a light brown dust. She started to run towards the boy. Even if it wasn't who she thought it was, no one deserved to have this happen to them.
"No, stop! In the name of Princess Ahiru, I command you to stop!" Ahiru shouted as she ran. She pulled off her dress sandals as she ran. When the man looked up at her and sneered, she glared darkly. "I will have you strapped in the dungeon if you do not stop!" she commanded, stopping in-between the boy and the taller man.
As he got a better look at Ahiru, he recognized her immediately and backed off. She turned over to the exit of the arena and called out to the guards. "You two, go get the medical staff! Now!" The guards scrambled into the back area and literally seconds later, two other men dressed differently ran out, carrying a stretcher.
"T-Thank you…Ahiru…" mumbled the boy behind her.
Ahiru turned around and her feelings were correct. It was him.
"Oh my gosh…Fakir!" Ahiru bent down, landing on her hands and knees in front of the bleeding boy. "I'm so sorry, Fakir! I never meant from this to happen…my father…he's so cruel to decide this for me in this way…" She couldn't stop the tears flowing down her face.
He looked up to her, his sight going in and out of focus. "itsokay…" he slurred. Damn it…this blood loss is making me weak. I don't want to be weak…in front of her…
All Fakir heard was Ahiru yelling his name as the world around him became dark.
Fakir slowly opened his eyes, coming back to the world around him. He felt warmth around him, and softness. He realized he was in a bed. It was then that he realized his right hand was warmer than his body. As his sight became clearer, he saw her, Ahiru, sitting next to his bed in a chair. She was talking but he couldn't make out what she was saying. He could barely make out the nurse behind her.
"H-hey…moron. Behind you…" he mumbled softly.
Ahiru quickly turned around and her face brightened, her mouth widening into a large smile. "Fakir! I'm so glad you're okay!" the princess said, rubbing his hand.
"Where am I?" Fakir asked, trying to turn his head.
Ahiru gently touched his face to keep him from doing so. Fakir felt a jolt on his face from her touch; he felt his face grow hot. "No, no…you have a broken bone in your collar. But anyway… you're in…well, you're in my room."
If Fakir could've moved, he'd been out of the bed in probably a millisecond.
"I'm sorry sir…" the nurse said. "Ahiru's father assumed it would be better for you in here rather than the Medical Wing." She paused. "The people at the gladiator's arena weren't happy when the Miss saved you and a mob started."
"Luckily the two medics and I were able to get you on the stretcher and out of there." Ahiru piped in. "It was pretty bad." She looked out the window. "Oh…and it's been about five days since then." The girl suddenly jumped up. "My father will want to know you're okay. I'll be back." Ahiru quickly ran out of the door just across the room.
As the door closed, the nurse came over to the side table, looking at the medicines. Fakir turned to her and simply watched.
"I-if I may say so sir…" the nurse began. "I just thought you might want to know that Princess Ahiru has been here every minute of every day. When she just left…that's the first time she's left the room for about five days."
Fakir looked down at the bed. He realized now what Ahiru meant. She probably felt like it was her fault what happened. He knew it wasn't.
The nurse went out of the room just as Ahiru was walking back in.
"Hey, Fakir…are you hungry? I could get you something to eat." Ahiru said as she came back to the bedside. "I'm sure you are after not eating for five days. Or maybe you're really thirsty! I know… I'll go get you some water." As she went to jump up, Fakir reached and grabbed her arm as tensely as he could. She turned back to him. "Fakir?"
"Let's…just talk for a second. I need to assure you…of something." Fakir said. Ahiru slowly sat down. The injured boy saw her eyes notice that he did not let loose of her hand. "W-what happened to me…was not…and will never be your fault."
Ahiru's eyes softened and she curled into herself. "B-but it was a fight to the death…just for the honor of standing by my side. I-it wasn't…it wasn't fair! That n-never should've happened." She paused and took a breath. Fakir heard her voice shake. He grasped her hand tighter and she nodded. "My father stopped me from choosing my guard because most of them showed how weak he was when it came time to defend me from people my father would send in to test them. There was even one…" she began to laugh sarcastically. "…who actually started to barter with the intruder, saying he wanted my title and was willing to work a deal with the person who was going to "kill" me…"
Fakir scoffed. "I… I decided something. I…remember saving you from those fools in the city. I just saved you from maybe getting an arm hurt or something… but you… you saved my life." He raised his left hand towards her and started to turn. Ahiru acted like she wanted him to stop but Fakir shook his head. He leaned up to her and sat up straight, looking at her directly in the eyes. "I will now…give you the ultimate gift because it's what you deserve."
Ahiru felt her face flush.
"It is the gift of protection. I will stand by your side… as your knight… to protect your life, as you protected mine." Fakir said in-between breaths. He hated how weak he felt in front of her.
"Thank you…Fakir." Ahiru said softly. She knew she was blushing.
"Let me show you that I am serious…" Fakir said, nearly in a whisper.
He leaned forward, feeling his lips caress over hers. He knew it was a very boyish thing to do, but he felt a need to protect her. That hadn't left him in the time he hadn't seen her. The moment he remembered that night, his feelings of wanting to always be by her washed back over him. He knew his parents' revenge would have to wait. Where he needed to be was by Ahiru's side.
Ahiru accepted the kiss, realizing nearly instantly what had been missing from her life. All of her older cousins had a male companion, someone who sincerely wanted to protect them. She knew now…from this moment…
Fakir was her forever knight.
And that was the best gift anyone could give her.