“I want you on your best behavior, no tricks, no shenanigans. Are we understood?” the elven woman sternly asked her daughter. The woman pursed her lips and brushed her silver hair out of her eyes to rub the wrinkles on her forehead. The woman was draped in extravagance and every movement was deliberate and graceful. The young woman rolled her eyes, the black irises, and her dusty pink skin a striking image in the dark elven Empire of Kintsugi. She shook her head slightly, exasperated, a few unruly thin black strands of hair sticking to her face, the rest styled up in a delicate bun.
“Yes mother, I promise to be positively perfect,” Kichi said glibly. Her mother paused for a moment, pulling her aside and leaning in close.
“I love you my little sakura. Go out and fulfill your responsibility to the empire, be the radiant beacon of hope our people know you as, and of course, have fun” she said, placing a gentle hand on her daughter's cheek, silver bangles clanging and sparkly rings shining in the morning sun. Kichi cradled her mother's hand and said,
“I love you too mom.” Aia smiled at her, released her face, and nodded to the man who stood just behind Kichi. The man helped her into the elegant carriage waiting for them. Aia waved at them as they set off.
With two mundane carriages on either end, the royal carriage was sandwiched in the middle, with intricate red and gold designs and the Empire’s insignia on the doors. Each carriage was pulled by a beautiful ibex, its horns adorned in gold filigree. The inside had two seats sitting across from each other, they had red velvet cushions the height of comfort and elegance. Kichi sat on one side her guard on the other. Behind the guard's head was a curtain covering a window to communicate with the carriage driver. Kichi lounged in the carriage, sitting across the seat resting her head on the window and her shoes crossed on the fine velvet.
“She’s out of sight, so you can breathe again Sammy,” she said, turning to the man sitting across from her. Sam was a young elven man. He had light grey skin and long black hair which was in a high ponytail at the top of his head. He was wearing all his soldier getup. His left arm was heavily plated and he had a large shiny breastplate. His right arm only had chainmail. He also had heavy plates on his shins. He carried with him a shield which sat beside him on the seat. A Pavis shield he had told Kichi, it covered his whole left side and had a dent so that his arm could fit snugly inside. At the end was a sharp metal spike and the front was painted with the royal insignia. Sam also had a katana at his side. In his right hand, he carried his helmet.
“You know she doesn't like us talking. I don't want to get you in trouble,” He said with a sigh.
“Pshh. Hush now, the two guys in the back, their new right?”
“They were hired last week, recently graduated I'm told.” He said.
“Haha!’ Kichi laughed. “Perfect! Let's play a game at lunch, we should make them feel welcome,” said Kichi with a smirk and a giggle. Sam groaned and shook his head.
The princess was traveling to visit the city of Pinku No Umi, famed for the brilliant cherry trees planted all around the city. It was a two-day journey from Agsuma. She planned to arrive a day before Hanami when everyone in the city gathers around the trees to watch the blossoms fall. It's an honor for the city to host the princess and she will be treated with the greatest respect. Kichi is most looking forward to the revelry when the sun goes down when she can drink sake and dance till the sun rises.
After a few hours of discussing the upcoming holiday and the best ways to win tic tac toe, the carriage slowed to a stop. Sam clumberd out of the carriage first then helped Kichi step out ever so gracefully. Everyone was out of their carriages and two guards stood at either end of the caravan while a young elven woman set up a fire and started cooking. Soon the smell of roasting salmon wafted through the camp. A few of the guards set up makeshift tables and chairs including Sam. They had stopped just outside of a small fishing village by Funadama’s river. It was a hot day the blistering sun beat down on them, and the salt spray from the river was a refreshing gift from the gods. Kichi could hear fish splashing in the water, children playing inside the village, and most importantly her stomach growling. Kichi pulled up four chairs to her table and slyly walked over to the two new guards. They were dressed in full armor and had katanas at their side, along with a distinct lack of shields. They stood facing the lake.
“Hello good sirs,” she said and tapped one on his shoulder. He jumped and pivoted around to face Kichi. He stepped backward, eyes wide as the moon. His friend turned around and bowed his head. He nudged his friend in the ribs and the man bowed. Kichi gave a small bow with her head.
“Are you two new I don’t believe we've met?” The two hesitantly lift their heads and the blonde on the left says
“Uh-Yes ma'am we both arrived last week.”
“Mhmm, Me too. What can we do for you Princess Kichi.” said the brunette on the right. Kichi giggled.
“Well, I like knowing the people who are valiantly protecting me. Myself and Sammy were going to play cho-han. Would you care to join us?”
“Would you like us too?” said the brunette, a tremble in his voice.
“Of course!” said Kichi with a laugh. She turned around and marched to her table where Sam was sitting holding a cup and absently mildly shook it. The boys cautiously followed. Kichi took her seat next to Sam and the two guards sat down.
“What is your name good sir,” Kichi said sweetly to the brunette boy sitting beside her.
“Ike ma’am.” He said.
“Ike, that's a beautiful name.” She said and patted the boy's arm. “It's been a while since I've played. Hopefully, I haven't lost my edge.” She said with a giggle. Sam rolled his eyes.
“Do you bet m’lady?” Said the blonde guard.
“Of course! It's no fun unless there's a risk.” She said,
“Of course not.” Said Sam under his breath.
“Oh hush,” She said, pawing at the bamboo cup Sam was holding.
“I'm putting up three copper on odd” Said Sam placing three copper coins in front of him.
“Only three? You are no fun, my friend.” Said Kichi. “I'll place three gold on odd. She said and tossed three gold coins on the table. The two guards sat up and stared at Kichi in disbelief.
“I think I’ll go five copper on even? Said the blonde.
“I'll take five copper on even as well,” Said the brunette looking at Kichi. Sam shook the cup and then slammed it face down on the table. He carefully lifted it up to reveal a six-face and a three, no wait a two-face. Only Sam noticed the small gesture the princess made as the three suddenly settled onto a two. Kichi giggled gleefully as she took back her three gold and her guards’ copper. The game continued for several more rounds and Kichi won every time without fail. The new guards, now short a day's wages, sulked back to their carriage now aware of Kichi's legendary luck. Kichi and Sam head back to the carriage after eating lunch.
They set off again and as they traveled Sam fell asleep. Kichi leaned forward and poked her head out through the front curtain.
“AH! Oh hello princess what can I do for you?” Said the carriage driver as she composed herself.
“Oh well my guard fell asleep so I wonder if you could engage in a little conversation with me. It's so dreadfully boring to travel.“ Kichi said settling into a more comfortable position.
“Of course ma’am.” The carriage driver said with a swallow. There was a pause before Kichi said,
“What's your name dear?”
“Oh, it's Hori.” The woman was a short elf with dark purple skin that glistened in the dusk light.
“Hori. That's a lovely name. How did you like being a driver? You must be pretty skilled to get this job,” said Kichi.
“Uhm. Yes, I’d hope so. I like driving fine. It's what my mom did and I like ibex a lot.”
“Your mother was a driver too? Did she teach you?”
“Yes. I used to go with her when I was little. I started driving on my own when I was about 15.”
“That's so young! How'd you go to school while going on long trips?”
“I had to stop going to school when my mom got real sick. I take care of the family now.” Kichi paused for a moment and looked at the floor. She frowned and said,
“Do you miss your family when you go on long trips like this?”
“Yes very much. But it's a good job and pays well enough so my siblings don't have to work.” Said Hori, she said with a small smile.
“That's good. I’m sorry about your mom,” said Kichi solemnly.
“Thank you, princess.” Said Hori. Kichi ducked back into the carriage. Inside she found Sam yawning awake and stretching. Kichi sat back and stared out the window as the sun fell below the mountains and she fell asleep.
Kichi was jerked awake, as the carriage suddenly stopped. The Ibex began huffing and crying. Sam was already awake and stepped outside the carriage motioning for Kichi to stay inside. The head guard came over and spoke with Sam for a moment. Sam climbed back inside and said,
“There's a fire on the road ahead is all, they're going to scout ahead and see what's up. I'll stay in here with you.”
“A fire? On the road? But…” She trailed off a moment. She grabbed Sam's hand and peeked out the window. She could see the gentle golden glow flickering in the distance against the deep purple sky. As she peered into the dancing sparks and shadows, she thought she could see a figure embroiled in the heat, becoming clear as it stepped out of the light, a tall armored silhouette wreathed in flame.