Kuja sat in his chambers of his desert palace, before him a ball of energy spun around in a blur of colours in the air. The centre expanded and solidified to show a moving picture within. It had been two hours since intruders had been captured entering his palace and not one of them had woken from their spelled slumber. The images changed constantly, each second showing a different captive. “Stop!” Kuja ordered the ball of energy as it showed the one he had been waiting to see. He smiled and for a few minutes simply sat staring at the captive intently. Her slender body was curled up in the foetal position, her dark brown hair covering her face fluttered around her as she breathed out softly. “Awaken my canary,” he whispered reaching out and brushing his fingertips along the image of the sleeping princess.
Princess Garnet, soon to be Queen Garnet, slowly woke up from a deep slumber and forced her heavy eyelids open. She rubbed her eyes and blinked trying to adjust her eyesight to the dim lighting. Carefully she pushed herself into an upright sitting position, her body felt as if it had been carved from stone, how long had she been asleep? Still blinking she looked around, where was she? She studied the room she was in trying to find a way out; it was made of some sort of metal and was a circular shape. She ran her hands over the door trying to find a handle or some way to open the door. The patterned floor beneath her feet drew her attention and she dropped to her knees, taking off one of her gloves she ran her hand along a groove. The floor must open...but to what? She thought the feeling of unease growing; she put her gloves on and backed up against the wall terrified that the floor would certainly open and she’d plummet to whatever lay below.
Welcome to my humble abode your highness.
The voice filled the room and Garnet jumped looking around. She didn’t even try to speak, she had now adjusted to her mute status, she found the more she worried about it the more stressed she would become and knew that wouldn’t help her to get her voice back. The door to the cell she was in slid open and she looked up to see two black mages standing there silently.
Garnet shook her head and tensed her legs ready for battle, a metallic grinding sound caught her attention and she turned to look behind her.
Before you resist too much perhaps I should draw your attention to the fate that awaits your friends if you resist my commands.
Forgetting about the black mages Garnet stepped towards the edge and peered down into the hole, she didn’t necessarily need to look to see what lay below. She could feel the heat of the lava from the doorway, but she could not believe Kuja could be this cruel. The sound of approaching footsteps caught her attention once more, perhaps they thought she was foolish enough to throw herself in to the lava but the mages were taking no chances with her. Before she had a chance to throw up a shield and protect herself one of the mages grabbed her. She kicked at him; desperately trying to free herself but the second mage was already working a spell. Before Garnet could protest she was once again overwhelmed by a shroud of darkness and pressed into a deep sleep.
Kuja stood over the sleeping princess as she was placed on the floor at his feet, grinning his eyes took in her sensual form. His eyes rested slowly on her curves and he pressed a fingertip to his lower lip, she was at his mercy and oh how he would enjoy making her beg for it! “Awaken my sweet canary,” he purred kneeling beside her and touching his fingertips to her forehead. Slowly the young queen-to-be began to stir, she let out a small gasp and Kuja felt something in his loins stir. He expected her to say something, but as she pushed herself into an upright sitting position she remained silent. Odd. Thought Kuja, he knew she would always act the lady...but still she must have wanted to ask him something!
He gripped her chin and tilted her face to look at him, searching her eyes, there was something in the back he’d never noticed before. An empty, lost look he was sure had not been in her eyes the last time he had held her in the elephant queen’s chambers. “What is wrong princess? You are oddly quiet even for you.” Her reply was to spit square in his face, with a sigh Kuja wiped the spittle away and struck her across the face sending her reeling backwards and clasping a hand the left side of her face. “Do I need to remind you so soon of the fate that awaits your friends?” He pulled Garnet to her feet and opened his hand so the palm was pointing to the sealing. The ball of energy he had been watching only moments before sprang forth, only this time it was larger and slowed each of the captives at a much slower speed. “Who would you like to see burn first?” Kuja held her close, wrapping one arm around her waist whilst the other clasped her chin and forced her to look at the images within the ball. “Your knight in rusting armour will surely suffer; perhaps we should end it for him now?” Slowly the floor began to open beneath the sleeping knight, “he will not even know. Well…until it is too late for him anyway.” Even now the girl didn’t say anything but she frantically shook her head. Kuja clicked his fingers and the floor in the knight’s chambers closed once more, he turned Garnet around to face him and found her eyes shining with tears which she rapidly tried to blink away. It began to dawn on him that the girl wasn’t being stubborn with him, she genuinely had no voice. “Do not fret your highness,” he said silkily to the girl, “I am sure we shall have you screaming at the very least soon enough.”
Chapter 2: Chapter Two
Garnet pressed her ear to the door desperately trying to overhear what Kuja was saying. She could barely make out his muffled voice, but Zidaine’s anger was clear. Behind her she heard the black mage shifting uncomfortably and she turned to look at him. She wanted to ask why he was there; did he really believe Kuja would help them?
“Please miss, it’s best the master does not catch you listening at doors.” Garnet scoffed, if Kuja thought she would be addressing him as such then he was in for a rude awakening. I am a princess; she thought proudly but a stabbing pain her chest brought tears to her eyes. She wasn’t a princess. Not for much longer anyway. Once she returned to Alexandria she would be crowned queen, how much longer could she stay away for? I should never have left…how could I abandon my people when they need me? She sat back down and rested her hands in her lap, every so often she would glance at the black mage but he stood silently in the corner as deep in his thoughts as she.
“I want to see Dagger!” Garnet stood up at the sound of Zidaine’s voice and faced the door. “ Where is she ?” The door to the small room opened and Zidaine rushed in, looking Garnet over to make sure she was safe. As Zidaine opened his arms to her Garnet hesitantly stepped in to his embrace, her eyes stinging.
“As you can see her highness is quite safe.” Zidaine’s grip tightened on Garnet and she forced herself to smile reassuringly at him. “Now, choose your companions who will accompany you.”
“Dagger.” Zidaine spoke without hesitating and Garnet moved to detach herself, squeezing his hand gently. “I’m not leaving her with you.” Kuja laughed coldly and shook his head, stepping between the two he plucked Garnet away and wrapped his arm firmly around her waist pinning her arms to her sides.
“You let your emotions rule you, it makes you weak. Where I am sending you magic cannot be used, would you really put her highness at such a risk?” Garnet watched as Zidaine clenched his fists, she wished she could speak out to him and reassure him she would be fine.
“She will not be safer here with you.”
“I have already guaranteed her safety to her, and as you can see no harm has befallen her in my company so far.” Garnet nodded as Zidaine looked to her for confirmation. “When you return you will be reunited with the dear princess. Rather if you return. Now choose your companions and choose wisely .” Garnet could see it pained Zidaine and she opened her mouth to reassure him, remembering at the last moment that she could not speak. Noticing that Kuja’s grip on her waist had slackened she slid from his arms and moved towards Zidaine, squeezing his hands gently. She could see he was distressed, how could he choose whose lives to risk by bringing them? And what of those he left behind? Would they be at greater risk? “Your decision should not be difficult. I have already told you there is an anti-magic barrier around your location – even you cannot be stupid enough to even think on taking a mage with you.”
“Fine…I want to take Steiner, Freya and Amarant.” Garnet nodded reassuringly to Zidaine, she was sure she would be able to protect the remaining four. Vivi and Eiko were only children; surely Kuja would not harm them?
“Very well. Bid her highness farewell, I am doubtful you will see her again.” Kuja smiled cruelly and left the small room leaving them alone as he gestured for the black mage to follow him. Garnet rested her head on Zidaine’s shoulder, closing her eyes so she could be enveloped by his scent.
“I will come back for you,” Zidaine whispered reassuringly and Garnet wished that she could believe him. his gloved hand gently slipped beneath her chin so that he could tilt her head up. “I promise. I will not leave you with this demon.” A small smiled flickered across Garnet’s lips and she nodded, leaning in to his hand as he brought it to up to her cheek. She was aware of the closeness between them as Zidaine’s head tilted down, their lips almost touching. A rough hand grasped her just above her elbow and pulled her backwards. “Leave her alone!” Garnet tried to pull away from Kuja but his grip was possessive and she could see jealousy raging through his eyes.
“Her highness is not a common bar wench,” Kuja growled. “Now come. Your friends are waiting.” Zidaine glowered at Kuja, his fists were clenched at his sides and his legs slightly bowed in the stance he took before attacking. “Pitiful,” Kuja shook his head and flicked his wrist lazily, a gust of wind sent Zidaine crashing backwards into the wall. Garnet’s magic flared to life as she reached out to try and heal Zidaine. “No your highness, do not waste your energy on such low life.” Kuja turned her around to face him, his cool fingertips pressing against her forehead. “We will discuss the company you have grown accustomed to when you awake.”
Garnet’s surroundings were quite different when she awoke. Rather than the metal prison she found herself in a lavishly furnished room on a bed with rich coverings and furs. Kuja was sitting before a hearth lit with a roaring fire, at the sound of her stirring he looked over and smiled coldly. Ignoring him Garnet closed her eyes and focused on searching for her eidolons, she didn’t feel empty and nauseous like she had when they had been extracted.
“Your eidolons are safe my Canary. It was your mother who desired them for destruction, I desire something quite different.” I need to get away from here, Garnet thought seeing something frightening spark in Kuja’s violet eyes. But how could she get herself and her friends out safely without Zidaine? “I have had a bath prepared for you, I am sure after your travels you must be weary. After that you will dress and join me for dinner my sweet Canary, I have had some clothes prepared for you.” Sitting up Garnet caught sight of the folded garments on a chair close by to Kuja; she shook her head wanting to accept nothing from this man. “Must I remind you that only your full co-operation will protect the remainder of your friends in my custody? Are you really going to endanger them over a dress?” Garnet mustered her best regal face as she glowered at the man. Please hurry Zidaine, she had no doubt that he would return to her with whatever Kuja had sent him to retrieve. She just prayed it would not be long.
Standing up Garnet followed Kuja into a smaller chamber where a bath had been prepared for her. The bath was luxurious and welcome after trawling through the desert but Garnet wasted no time in washing, fearing the longer she took to bathe the more likely it would be before Kuja came to disturb her. She washed the grit and sand from her hair, feeling more like her old self as she washed away the dirt from her travels. If only she could speak then perhaps she could at least try to bargain with Kuja. Wrapping herself in a large sheet she was about to enter the main chamber when she realised Kuja would most likely be waiting for her.
“You cannot dress yourself sweet Canary,” she heard his voice call through the door and felt her cheeks flare with heat. “There is a screen for you to change behind, I am a gentleman.” Rolling her eyes Garnet clenched her fists and strode into the room regally. She spotted the screen and picked up the dress so that she could change, determined to do so alone. As soon as she slipped the dress on she realised she would not be able to lace it up herself and silently cursed Kuja. She tried her best to lace it from behind but knew it was futile. Kuja’s fingertips brushed across her bare back and Garnet flinched away refusing to look at him as he gently laced up the back of her dress. Garnet was surprised at his speed and expertise as he worked. She felt herself turned around gently as Kuja rested his hands on her waist; she met his violet eyes unflinchingly. “Come, let us dine.” Nodding Garnet walked forcing her body to remain aloof as Kuja’s hand remained on her waist as he guided her through his palace. H.is dining chamber was small and intimate with only a richly decorated circular table and two throne-like chairs furnishing it. Candles on the table and along the wall and Garnet couldn’t help but feel uneasy at the sudden romantic atmosphere within the room.
Two black mages entered the room, one carrying dishes of delicious smelling food and the other goblets and wine. Both bowed low as they set their wares on the table but Garnet kept her eyes focused on a spot in front of her, she was aware of Kuja’s eyes on her and eventually forced herself to meet his gaze.
“I have given your thief twenty-four hours to achieve the object I need. If he returns within that time then I have agreed to set your friends free.” And if he does not return? Garnet wanted to ask, the question was clearly in her eyes as Kuja smiled slowly. “Provided you do not displease me, your friends will be perfectly safe. They shall not be freed as promptly, but as you earn my trust I shall reward you with their freedom.” Garnet nodded to show that she understood, it irked her that she could not speak out and try to make him see reason. She could not trust him, no matter how much he vouched for their safety. A thick silence descended between the two as they ate; the food was rich and delicious but Garnet found she had no appetite and merely pushed morsels around her plate half-heartedly. As the black mages cleared away the plates Kuja offered Garnet his hand and she carefully rose. “It must be frightening to think that upon your return home you shall be queen. A heavy burden to befall one so young,” Kuja’s tone was one of casual conversation but Garnet felt the first tendrils of fear grip her belly. “Do you truly feel ready to take that responsibility, alone?” It is my duty, Garnet thought forcing her expression to remain calm. “A canary as sweet as yourself, as beautiful, should not have to bear such a burden alone.” Garnet almost choked as she realised where Kuja was going, at what he was suggesting. “Forgive me for being frank my Canary but your recent actions have been…” he trailed off and Garnet looked at him sharply. “Running away? Twice? Who is leading your people at this very moment?” Tears of guilt pricked Garnet’s eyes but she blinked them away rapidly; he was right. How could she have ever thought running away was the solution? She could have contacted her Uncle Cid another way, a messenger may have reached him faster than she had travelled and she certainly would have caused less trouble. What must the citizens think of me now? I have left them to rebuild Alexandria without me…I should be there leading them. “Sweet Canary you should not feel ashamed, you are young. You are too fragile to rule alone,” Kuja opened a door and Garnet recognised the chamber as the one he had brought her too when she had first awoken. She moved towards the metal grill desperate to see her friends but Kuja turned her gently to face him. He tilted her head up so that he could hold her gaze with his own, his free hand trailing down to rest on her lower back so that he could close the gap between them. “Sweet Canary, allow me to rule by your side. To guide you in times of crisis.” He lowered his head to brush her lips with his but Garnet found the strength to push him away.
“No,” She cried out emphatically but of course no sound escaped her.
“Think wisely,” Kuja’s voice hardened as he gestured to the grill. Pulling herself free from his grip Garnet swept across the room and peered in desperate to see that her friends were safe. They all still appeared to be asleep, even Mog had returned to his slumber. “I am not a cruel man; your thief has less than seventeen hours to return. I shall give you the same amount of time to make your decision.” Garnet refused to look up at him; instead she kept her eyes focused on her friends. There was no decision to be made. If she refused him then surely her friends would bear the brunt of the punishment. She looked down at the four sleeping; Vivi, Eiko and Mog were curled together while Quina was sprawled further back. Garnet frowned realising that someone was missing. Zidaine said he would take Steiner, Frey and Amarant…where is my uncle? She looked at Kuja accusingly but could see he was just as surprised as she by the number below. He scowled furiously and whirled around to face two of the black mages standing guard by the door.
“Find the frog immediately !”
It was evident that the disappearance of Regent Cid troubled Kuja more than he let on, his elegant fingertips drummed against the table top and he barked at anyone who disturbed them. Garnet was seated at a desk, her mind split asunder. She was torn between fear for her uncle and Kuja’s proposal. She could not accept him; he would be an atrocious king. How could I hope to protect my people from him when I cannot even protect my friends? She looked across the room at Kuja; he glared at a globe levitating in front of him, his eyes moving from side to side as he sought out her uncle. Rising to her feet Garnet approached Kuja and stood slightly behind him so that she too could study the globe. The images within flashed by in a sickening blur and she could barely focus on anything.
“Three-sixty-seven,” he barked pushing his chair back and rising. “Have extra mages stand guard by the prisoners. If the frog appears bring him to me.” Garnet moved so that she could sit opposite Kuja, aware of his eyes following her. She glanced at him to see a suspicious look in his violet eyes, sighing Garnet shrugged and gestured to the room. She had not left his sight since awakening, how could he think she had anything to do with this? “He was with the thief…he must have slipped out with him…” The mention of Zidaine made Garnet’s heart twist sharply and she glanced around for a sign of a clock or anything which might indicate how much time had passed since his departure. “Perhaps you should accept that your thief will not be returning sweet Canary,” Kuja’s voice was cold and harsh but Garnet refused to let him see that she fearfully agreed. Red light sparked across Kuja’s fingertips and Garnet jumped to her feet recognising the sleeping spell he had now put her under twice. Without thinking she summoned her white magic and threw up a reflective shield to protect herself. She had no intentions of being put back under a sleeping spell; she would not be able to protect her uncle and friends if she was constantly asleep. “I thought perhaps this would ease your wait,” Garnet shook her head but refused to take down the shield as the magic disappeared from Kuja’s fingertips.
Garnet approached the metal grill and looked down at her friends who were sleeping below. Has he put them under a sleeping spell? She bit her lip and wondered if this was a true vision she looked down upon. She could feel Kuja’s eyes on her and she turned to look at him, gesturing down to her friends.
“I want to see them.” She mouthed but Kuja only shook his head.
“Your friends are quite safe.” The look Garnet threw at him was one of disbelief and she crossed her arms over her chest. “You will be reunited with them when the thief fails to return. I will have to decide upon their fates then after all.” Cold dread washed over Garnet and she felt the blood drain from her face. “They will be perfectly safe but I need to ensure they do not intend to plot against me once more.” Garnet gestured frantically to Eiko and Vivi, they were only children; how much plotting could they get up to? “They may be children but look how far your little black mage has come. And that summoner…she could be a potential threat if allowed to live to adulthood.” He joined her beside the metal grill and looked down at the sleeping group. “The strange beast…that should be no threat. But the other two…” Garnet looked down at her friends feeling her stomach clench, she spotted Kuja’s hand resting on the railing and forced herself to take hold of it. “What would you have me do? Set them free?” Garnet nodded emphatically, “sweet Canary…this is why you need someone to rule by your side. You are too soft-hearted.” With his free hand he cupped Garnet’s right cheek and caressed it softly. “I have no intentions of harming your friends, should I need to I shall have to keep them captive for the remainder of their lives.” Garnet flinched; both were so young. What kind of life would that be? “While we wait for your uncle to be found and your thief to return perhaps we should try to retrieve your voice.” Accepting his help was the last thing Garnet wanted to do but she knew she could not remain mute forever.
Kuja waved his hand and a pile of comfortable looking cushions and blankets appeared on the floor, nervously Garnet settled back on them cringing as she caught the lustful look in his eyes. Mother how did you ever get mixed up with this man? She wondered if she would ever have the courage to ask Kuja that question when she regained her voice; would she want to know the answer? Would she even receive the truth? Kuja’s fingertips touched the hollow of her throat and Garnet flinched backwards, her eyes squeezing themselves tightly shut.
“You need to take your shield down; I cannot help you if my magic is going to reflect.” Nodding to show she understood Garnet drew in a deep breath and dispersed her shield. She eyed Kuja wearily her instincts alert in case she needed to protect herself. “How long has it been since you lost your voice?” Garnet shrugged unsure of how to answer him, “I assume it must have been after your mother’s death.” She nodded and tried to sit up but Kuja firmly pushed her back down. She tapped her chest to try and signal her eidolons. “Ah…I see…” Curiosity got the better of Garnet and she watched Kuja as he began using his magic to pry at her voice. She felt something heavy on her throat and she winced as his magic probed and prodded at her. Please hurry Zidaine; she thought quickly closing her eyes as Kuja’s gaze met her own. “Your thief will not return, perhaps you should accept this now and save yourself the grief.”
“Master, we have the frog.” A black mage mercifully interrupted them and Garnet’s eyes snapped open suddenly aware of the compromising position she was in. A second black mage entered carrying her uncle and holding him out by the cloak. Kuja kept his hand firmly on Garnet’s shoulder, a wicked smile flickering across his face.
“Put me down this instance! What are you doing to the princess?”
“She has being gracious enough to keep me company while your hired thief runs an errand for me.” Kuja gestured to the pile of cushions and Garnet pushed his hand away so that she could sit up. She could tell from the uncomfortable heat that her cheeks were a deep crimson and she stood up straightening her skirts.
“Has he harmed you Garnet?” Garnet shook her head to reassure her uncle and stepped around Kuja as he too rose to his feet.
“Why would I wish the princess harm? I have high hopes for her future.” Garnet looked at him and shook her head slightly; she had not accepted his proposal nor did she wish for her uncle to learn of it this way. Catching her eyes Kuja seemed to study her for a few moments before bowing his head in silent agreement. “Why were you trespassing in my palace?”
“I was not trespassing. The door to my cell opened and I stepped out, I was hardly going to wait for death to seek me there.” Kuja nodded thoughtfully and gestured for Garnet to sit down at the table. “What have you done with Zidaine? I was with him when you summoned him, he never returned…”
“Your thief has gone on an errand for me. He has less than an hour to return…if he is not back by then I can only assume he was unsuccessful.” Garnet felt a tear trickle down her cheek and she bowed her head to hide this. Had twenty-four hours truly passed so quickly? “Take the regent to join the others. I will decide their fate once we know what has become of the thief.”
Garnet was sitting in the room that Kuja had assigned as her personal chambers. She had been brought there shortly after her uncle had been taken to her friends. Unshed tears stung her eyes and her throat ached painfully. She knew it was well past the allotted time Zidaine had to return. He cannot be dead…and what of Steiner and the others? She could not return to Alexandria without them, she needed them to rule. Steiner had been by her side for as long as she could remember; he and Beatrix were Alexandria. The door to her chamber opened and she turned around to see Kuja filling the door. His face was a sombre mask but she could see the triumphant glimmer in his eyes.
“Sweet Canary –” He strode towards her holding out his arms but Garnet moved back shaking her head. “I am sure your friends fought valiantly, but alas…I am afraid their curtains have fallen.” No, no, no! Garnet cried internally, they could not be dead. “Perhaps you will allow me to comfort you during this most grievous time?” Backed in to a wall Garnet had nowhere to turn and stared daggers at Kuja as he took hold of her waist and pulled her close. He pressed her head against his shoulder, gently stroking her thick hair. “As your king I will take away the pain of ruling. You should not be forced to deal with such a responsibility during this grievous time. Allow me to rule with you, to rule you.” No. Garnet felt her heart turn to stone and she pushed Kuja away roughly, her magic sparking at her fingertips.
“Never!” She shouted wordlessly at him. She had never attempted a black magic spell, but hatred seared through her and she somehow summoned a ball of fire which she aimed at Kuja. He was older and far more experienced in magic than her, effortlessly he deflected her magic and gripped her throat.
“You will never use your magic against me again.” He growled, his violet eyes were alight with fury. The hand at her throat squeezed and she felt her airways cut off. “You will truly refuse me?” Despite the hand clenching her throat Garnet nodded, bitter hatred blazing within her deep brown eyes. “Very well…” Kuja released her and the fury was erased from his face as if someone had wiped it clean with a cloth. Circling her waist Kuja led Garnet from the chamber and on to the teleport pad outside the door. She saw the metal grill and felt her stomach drop. “I cannot trust that your friends will not be a threat to me…your uncle at least has the power to raise an army against me.” Garnet looked down at her friends who were beginning to stir; all except Quina looked concerned for their fate.
“They will not!” Garnet tried to argue growing ever more frustrated at the disappearance of her voice. “ Please !” She felt her legs buckle as out of the corner of her eye she saw the metal floor slowly beginning to open. Vivi, who had been sitting ever so close to the middle, suddenly scooted towards the wall. She could see he was trying to summon an aero spell but Kuja had clearly learnt from Garnet using a spell on him. She realised then that her own magic had been muted and rendered useless.
“I am sorry my sweet Canary, but this is how their roles must end.” Tears pricked Garnet’s eyes as she looked between Kuja and the horror unfolding below them. “In time your grief will heal.” Shaking her head Garnet felt her throat close, what could she do? They would never be a threat to him! Uncle would never raise an army against him. But she realised that her uncle would have no choice. Unless… there is only one way. Choking back a sob Garnet seized Kuja’s arm and pulled him around to face her, before she could change her mind she grasped his shoulders and stood on tiptoe so she could push her lips against his. This is the only way, she told herself. If Kuja was her husband then her uncle could not raise an army against him, not unless he wanted to raise an army against his own niece. We will be allies…
“A kiss is meant to reassure me?” Garnet was horrified to see the floor of the chamber was still opening. She gestured to her throat unsure of how else to make Kuja realise what she was agreeing to. As she glanced back to the chamber she was sickened to see the floor was almost fully opened, her friends were standing now and pressing themselves against the wall.
“ Kuja !” Garnet cried silently, “ please !” She dropped to her knees clinging to his hands, she bowed her head in a sign of obedience. She had seen this gesture only once; she had been incredibly young. Perhaps she had only just arrived at Alexandria? A brief war had taken place and the general of the army had visited the palace to surrender and swear fealty. She used that gesture now to try and show Kuja she would accept his proposal. He tugged one of his hands free only to rest it behind her head so that he could twist her hair and pull her head backwards.
“You will accept my proposal in exchange for the safety of your friends?” Garnet nodded emphatically pleading with her eyes for him to stop. “I suppose this would solve the problem of your uncle raising an army…but what of your other friends?” He seemed to consider the thought for a few moments before nodding his head slowly. “Very well…I am sure we can work something out to ensure they will not be a danger. Ninety-four ,” he barked suddenly. “Bring up the prisoners.” As Kuja released her, Garnet dropped her head to the floor and buried her face into her arms so she could sob quietly.
“You should compose yourself my Canary; after all we are giving your friends joyous news.” Kuja gently pulled Garnet to her feet and kissed her cheek gently, his lips were cold and Garnet flinched backwards. She had never given much thought to her first kiss; she had always known it wouldn’t be with someone she loved – that was not her duty. But she had never thought it would be to a man she loathed. “If you would rather change your mind –” Garnet shook her head knowing what the consequences would be. Zidaine please come back, she pleaded. She didn’t believe for a second that he had perished, it was impossible. “You should smile at least.” Garnet glared at him, was he truly so insensitive? How could he think she could force herself to smile after agreeing to marry him less than an hour after learning of Zidaine’s potential death? She looked around and spotted a piece of parchment and quill on his desk. Striding over she dipped the quill in ink and wrote him a note, the only way she could think to express her thoughts without him manipulating them.
My friends will never believe I have agreed to marry you for love or any such feeling, but I do not want them to know I have agreed to save their lives. We will tell them this is a political marriage. Vivi and Eiko will at least accept this even if my uncle does not.
She presented the note to him just as voices reached the outside of the door. Kuja scanned the note and nodded with a cold smile on his lips. As the door to the chamber opened he scrunched the piece of parchment up and tossed it into the hearth where the flames licked at it before consuming it entirely. Two black mages led her friends in, one leading them at the front and a second bringing up the rear. All were subdued; even Quina’s insatiable sense of hunger and curiosity seemed to have diminished under the bleak atmosphere. Kuja gestured for the four to take a seat, Garnet hoped that Mog was safely tucked away in Eiko’s clothes rather than something had befallen the young moogle.
“Where’s Zidaine and the others?” Vivi was the first to speak and Garnet quickly turned around so they would not see the grief on her face. Had her uncle not mentioned Zidaine’s task? He would not have seen any reason to distress them.
“Perished.” Kuja’s voice was blunt and to the point, “I sent the thief and the remainder of your party to retrieve an artefact for me; they failed.” They could still return, Garnet wanted to argue but knew even if she could speak it would have been pointless.
“Just because they’re not back yet doesn’t mean they failed – Zidaine would never fail! He’s probably just running late!” Tears trickled down Garnet’s cheeks at the adamant tone in Eiko’s voice. For someone so young she was incredibly stubborn and sure of herself; perhaps Kuja was right and once she was older she would be a threat to him. but if that were true then it was all the more reason to protect her. “How can you be so sure?”
“Simple. Your friends did not travel alone; I sent an escort with them. When the escort returned without your friends…well…” A thick silence descended upon the group and Garnet did her best to muster herself, she had not wept in front of them after her mother’s death; she could not weep now. “I made a vow to your thief –”
“Zidaine.” Vivi spoke up, “his name was Zidaine.” The sudden grip on Garnet’s waist told her that Kuja was greatly displeased at someone speaking out against him.
“I made a vow to Zidaine ,” Kuja spat the name, “that you would all be safe.” He let the sentence hang in the air as he put on a show of consoling Garnet. “I will arrange for an airship to take you all home tomorrow. The Princess Garnet and I will see you off before beginning our own journey.”
“Dagger isn’t coming with us?” Vivi’s voice was so childlike and innocent it broke Garnet’s heart. Oh Vivi…
“The princess will not be a princess for much longer – she has a kingdom to run.” Garnet felt herself slowly turned around and she held her chin up, all traces of grief erased from her soft features. “And she has graciously accepted my offer to help her rule. As her king.” Regent Cid’s outburst was the loudest and Garnet looked at him shocked, her mouth forming a surprised ‘o’ at the vulgar outburst.
“She’s meant to marry Zidaine!” Eiko cried out her eyes bright with tears, “we were rivals in love, but she was meant to win!” Garnet frowned and shook her head unsure of what was going through Eiko’s mind at that moment; nor did Kuja.
“The princess cannot marry a lowly thief,” he scoffed.
“But she can marry a kidnapper?”
“ Eiko !” Garnet cried, how could she keep the young summoner safe if she could not think before she spoke? She rested her hand on Kuja’s arm and squeezed it lightly.
“I have not kidnapped the princess – you all trespassed upon my domain. And as you can see the princess is perfectly well,” Kuja gestured to the fine lilac gown she wore with the slashed sleeves to reveal her slender arms. “May I also remind you that the thi – Zidaine, kidnapped the princess on their first encounter?” Garnet looked up at Kuja and shook her head ever so slightly, urging him to leave her friends in peace. “Whether you approve or not is irrelevant, I thought perhaps you would be happy for the princess.” Kuja shrugged and gestured for the two black mages to come forwards, “take our guests to their chambers. See that they are fed and well looked after; they will have an early start in the morning. Regent Cid, would you join us for supper?”
“Of course,” the frog glared at Kuja but accepted his invitation politely enough.
“I will send someone to collect you,” Kuja bowed respectfully as the regent departed before turning to Garnet with a smile. “Come my Canary, we too should prepare for supper.”
The meal was a subdued affair, Garnet sat in between her uncle and newly-betrothed feeling awkward. Having grown up in a political world she was quite used to uncomfortable situations, but she found herself almost wishing to be sitting next to the prince of a rival kingdom than this dinner. At least in that situation she knew her place, knew the part she had to play. Here she could not even rely on her voice to make conversation when the air thickened with silence.
“Garnet are you sure this is the correct decision?” The regent asked her, his voice was gentle and full of concern. Unable to speak Garnet nodded curtly, what choice did she have? Of course she had not told her uncle the reasoning behind her decision. She would. Eventually. But if she told him now she was sure it would just make the situation worse.
“Regent Cid with the utmost respect Queen Brahne had considered me for the princess – we had discussed her betrothal on many occasions.”
“Do you believe this will ease my feelings? Her majesty, rest her soul, was not herself in the months leading up to her death. She had become intent with power – she tried to kill the princess, do you really believe that hearing she had considered marrying Garnet to you would console me?”
“The princess is young and grief stricken –”
“She would not rule alone.” Garnet slammed her cutlery on the table and looked between the two men looking every inch the sixteen-year-old teenage girl that she was. “As you can see Regent, I believe she has made up her mind.” Garnet could see that her uncle looked defeated and she swallowed the hard lump in her throat; she could not even confide in him. As long as she was mute she would be helpless to explain to him why she had to go through with this. The meal finished in silence, once a black mage had cleared their plates Garnet pushed her chair back to retire but Kuja shook his head.
“I understand Regent you may be upset at the prospect of your niece marrying, especially when she is still so young. And especially given the current state of your own marriage. How long has the Lady Hilda being missing now?” The regent remained silent and Garnet followed Kuja uneasily with her eyes as he rose and moved to the door of the intimate dining chamber. He opened the door and bowed low; Garnet jumped to her feet at the familiar figure and felt tears wash over her cheeks.
“My darling niece,” Hilda gathered Garnet up into her arms and shushed the girl as she quietly cried into her shoulder. “Kuja, perhaps you could give us ladies a few moments?” Garnet was surprised that Kuja obliged, pausing at the door as he gestured for the regent to follow him. “Husband dear we will talk soon, I promise. But Kuja has kept me informed of Garnet’s situation…I think perhaps I am the best to advise her at this moment in time.” When the two men had departed Hilda sat Garnet back down and pulled a chair close so that she could sit beside her niece, all the time she kept a hold of one of Garnet’s hands. “Sweet child, I was so deeply grieved to hear of your mother’s passing.” Garnet bowed her head to show her thanks and blinked back a fresh wave of tears. “Kuja also informs me you and he are to be wed…” Garnet’s head snapped up and she frowned; how did her aunt know these things? How long had she been here? “I have not been captive my dear,” Hilda scolded her lightly, “I will admit Kuja has a cruel streak – but he also has a tender one. He comforted me in a time of great need…but now I see I must return to my duty.” Hilda cupped Garnet’s cheeks and held the young princess’s gaze, “you have been given a terrible path to walk my darling. I am only sorry I cannot do anything to ease your suffering.” Garnet bowed her head slightly to acknowledge her aunt’s words, but she could barely make out what Hilda was saying to her through the stream of questions buzzing around her mind. I need my voice back…perhaps my aunt can help me escape from this mess. Or at least advise me on how to cope…
Garnet spent several hours with her aunt that evening; it was comforting listening to the older woman talk. It was unnerving to think that her aunt had shared Kuja’s bed; would he compare her with her aunt? One by one the torches in their wall sconces flickered out until only one remained. Hilda looked around startled at the sudden darkness and gently helped Garnet to rise.
“Kuja told me much during our time together…I know you are young Garnet but he will wish this wedding to go ahead sooner rather than later. The best advice I can give you is to use your time together wisely, once he has taken his pleasure he cannot help himself from boasting. If ever you suspect him plotting, that is the time to enquire – but subtly.” Garnet swallowed a lump of fear and nodded to show she understood, would Kuja really press for a quick wedding? I am not ready to be a queen let alone a wife. She had agreed to marry him to protect her friends; but the harshness of her decision was just now hitting her. She would have to share his bed…how long would it be before he begot her with sons? She gripped her belly and felt her throat close as she choked back a sob. She could never have married Zidaine, it would never have been allowed. But as their time together grew she had found herself wondering more and more…what would it be like to give herself to Zidaine? There is no point in dwelling on it, she told herself firmly. Even if Kuja was wrong and Zidaine had not perished, she could not go back on her word. Two black mages were patiently waiting for the royal women to emerge from the room.
“Your highness, the master has asked for you to join him briefly in his chambers.”
“That is hardly appropriate,” Hilda laid a protective hand on Garnet’s shoulders, “now that Kuja and the princess are to be wed they should not be unchaperoned in such an intimate space.” Garnet looked at her aunt suddenly frightened.
“I have my orders my lady,” the black mage bowed and the second one addressed Hilda.
“I am to take you to the Regent Cid, please follow me.”
“I will not leave my niece unchaperoned.”
“Her highness will be perfectly safe; I have no intentions of bringing dishonour upon her.” Hilda looked down at Garnet uneasily; the young princess forced herself to nod to show that she would be fine. She had been alone with Kuja since she had woken up; he had even helped dress her. Surely if he had dishonest intentions he would have carried them out by now? Swiftly Hilda leant down and kissed Garnet’s cheek before stepping on the teleport pad. When she had disappeared Garnet took a tentative step forwards, she did not like teleporting; it left her feeling sick and dizzy.
“Sit down,” Kuja gestured to a comfortable looking armchair in front of a roaring fire. Garnet sat down, sweeping her skirts around her ankles and folding her hands elegantly in her lap. “I am still at a loss as to what to do with your friends…” As Kuja sat opposite he handed Garnet a goblet, “it probably will not work. It is a potion I concocted to try and bring your voice back, but if it is grief then I am afraid only time will tell if you will ever regain it.” Garnet gulped the potion back expecting it to take awful, she was surprised to find that it was quite pleasant. She could taste honey mixed in with mint, and a mixture of herbs she couldn’t quite decipher. “Well?” She could tell it hadn’t worked and shook her head. “ Try .”
“There is no point.” Garnet sighed but spoke the words to prove to him she wasn’t lying. She gave the goblet back to him and rested her head against the back of the chair.
“We will leave tomorrow for Alexandria.” Kuja sat in a chair opposite her and leant forwards, his elbows resting on his knees. “I am sure the city is missing her queen and we should ensure that rebuilding the city is underway.” Try as she might Garnet could not stop her eyes from blurring; she ducked her head to hide the tears sliding down her cheeks. Kuja was not fooled and she felt her face gently turned to the side. “The past several months have been traumatic for you, perhaps once you return home you will find peace. Alexnadria and Lindblum have had some difficult times; I will work with your uncle to draw up a peace treaty.” That is my duty; Garnet glared at him and shook her head.
The sight of Alexandria did little to lift Garnet’s spirits. She stood on deck of the airship staring in open dismay at the destroyed tower of the palace. The shattered obelisk reflected the brilliant sunshine, throwing the chaos and destruction of the city in to stark reality. Garnet gripped Vivi and Eiko’s hands fighting back her own tears as she listened to the sniffling of the two children.
“Why isn’t it fixed yet?” Vivi wondered allowed and Garnet looked down at him sadly, unable to answer. She could not hold it against Beatrix. She had left the woman in charge while she had once again fled. No more running, she silently promised herself. I am a queen now. I will not abandon my people. As the airship glided in to the docks she thought how best she could speak to Beatrix. She realised in horror she would have to tell the woman what had happened to Steiner.
“It will be fixed soon enough.” Kuja joined them on the deck, his eyes scanning the sparsely populated dock. “I had expected more people to come and greet their queen.”
My people are not psychic, Garnet thought sarcastically and leant down to take Vivi’s hand. She was surprised when she felt her other hand grabbed and looked down to see Eiko grasping on to her.
“Don’t leave me with the bad man,” she whispered and Garnet nodded. She knew the child had nightmares about the hole in their cell. The walls of the cabins were thin and several times Garnet had woken up to smaller bodies climbing in to bed beside her.
“Your Highness!” Beatrix came running towards them, bowing deeply as she came to a halt. “We were worried for you! A message was sent from Lindblum that you were crossing the continent but had disappeared.”
“And what did you do to find her?” Kuja asked coolly, resting a possessive hand on Garnet’s shoulder. She shook her head quickly as Beatrix’s hand twitched towards her sword.
“Your Highness you must know who this man is surely?”
“I am her betrothed and your future king.” Kuja sneered and Garnet felt her face heat with a mixture of embarrassment, shame and anger.
“General Beatrix I am afraid her Highness has still not recovered her voice. Perhaps you could have some chambers prepared for Kuja? After come to Princess Garnet’s quarters and I shall inform you of the events that have passed.” At that moment in time Garnet did not think she could be more grateful to her aunt. “Kuja I trust now that you are to be king of this city that you will not terrorise its citizens? If so then I suggest you familiarise yourself with it.” Hilda coolly dismissed him and gestured for one of Beatrix’s soldiers to accompany him. Tensely Beatrix bowed once more and turned to depart.
The sense of familiarity and safeness did not last long as Garnet entered her quarters. Compared to other parts of the palace her rooms had gotten off lightly. Her ceiling had been repaired and the smell of fresh paint was the only indication that her room had taken any damage to someone who was not familiar with the room. But several pieces of furniture and childhood dolls were missing. Garnet blinked back tears trying not to cry over a toy but the overwhelming sense of loss was beginning to hit her hard.
“Take this time to grieve,” Hilda squeezed her shoulders gently. “Unfortunately, we do not have the luxury of time as our people do. After today you must act as the queen you are destined to be. Even if you have no voice, you must inspire confidence amongst your people.” Garnet nodded, enviously thinking of Vivi and Eiko. “Your father would be proud of the woman you have become.” Tears flooded Garnet’s ideas at the sentimental words and she slumped down in to an armchair beside the empty hearth. She didn’t know who her father was, and the King…
“Your Uncle Cid and I were in Alexandria when their Majesties found you.” Hilda was kneeling on the floor beside Garnet. “While you were not their biological child they loved you just as much – they saw you as a true blessing. They had been almost destroyed by grief, they had shut themselves away from the public eye unable to even have the princess’s death announced. You should not feel as if you are an imposter, nor doubt that your parents loved you.” Waterily Garnet smiled and leant down to hug her aunt tightly.
Taking her aunt’s advice dinner that evening was a small affair with Hilda, Vivi, Eiko and Beatrix joining her. Begrudgingly Garnet had consented to Kuja joining them admitting that it was easier now she could speak through him. The small group ate in her personal dining chamber that she had often shared with her mother, picking at her food Garnet wondered if she would soon have to move in to the Queen’s chambers; her mother’s. Opposite her Beatrix sat pale-faced, her food untouched.
“I thought this was meant to be a welcoming dinner?” Kuja asked coldly as he took a deep drink from his goblet. Garnet kicked him under the table, taking more pleasure than was appropriate at the hiss of pain he let out. My kingdom is mourning for their queen, homes and family. Family that you murdered. She glared at him deciding to make use of the connection he had forced upon her. General Beatrix is grieving for her friend, she could not stomach the thought that something stronger had been blossoming between Beatrix and Steiner. That through her own selfishness Beatrix had lost out on happiness. I am in mourning. This is not the appropriate time for a welcoming party. Nor is tomorrow. We will dine in public with the citizens but we will be in mourning. All of us. Pointedly she looked at Kuja’s satin and silk robes in pure white and royal purple. If you intend on becoming a part of this kingdom then you will follow our customs. Kuja stared at her, for a split second he seemed to be caught off-guard by her tone but after a split second he gave a curt nod.
“Forgive me General. I forgot those who perished were companions of yours.” Beatrix bowed her head but refused to acknowledge Kuja further. Garnet tried not to dwell on the thought of how those who worked within the palace, who knew Kuja’s responsibility for their devastation, would take to his rule.
“Tomorrow I would like you to see the city,” Garnet rested her cutlery on the plate and looked at Kuja, trying her best to indicate to the rest that she was talking to him. Kuja held her gaze for several moments and she could see he was relishing the power he had over her. Only he knew what she wanted to say, she tried not to think how he would abuse the power. “I am warning you Kuja. You have taken from me too many people I have loved. Do not think to cross me.” It was an empty threat, against his black magic she was almost powerless. But she couldn’t afford to show her weakness.
“Together?” He asked and Garnet nodded. “Her Highness wishes to accompany me on a tour of the city tomorrow.” Kuja explained to the waiting onlookers. “Although your people will wish to talk to you, I think we should not enlighten them as your current condition.” Garnet sighed, he was right. But how could she hope to hide this?
“It would not be unusual for you to be heavily guarded – not at this moment in time.” Beatrix offered but Garnet shook her head, surprised she did not need to relay her answer to Kuja before he spoke up.
“No. That could cause unnecessary worry. The princess has been away too long, her people I expect have missed her.” Garnet felt fresh tears prick her eyes and she stood up to walk on to the balcony. She barely heard the scraping of chairs as everyone rose to bow to her but she waved them back in to their seats. She had grown up with the formality of a bearing a royal title. But she was nothing more than an imposter. She had never thought herself trapped before, living in a gilded cage. But that had been before Zidane. Before she had left Alexandria and seen what was beyond the Mist Continent.
“Zidane would have never worn the crown.” Kuja’s voice was gentle and he rested a hand tenderly on Garnet’s shoulder.
“Don’t you dare -”
“I am not being malicious.” Kuja cut her off. “But I can see how taking the throne is affecting you – you were born to this role and already you feel burdened by it.” Garnet tried to keep thoughts of her heritage away from Kuja, forcing herself to concentrate and throw up a mental barrier. “Zidane was born a commoner and raised a thief. He has never had to sit through the pomp and ceremony nobility are raised to.”
“And you were?” Garnet arched an eyebrow but received only a small smile in return. “I don’t want to talk about him. I just want to be alone.” Lost in thought she barely noticed as Kuja rested his hands on her waist and turned her to face him, one hand cupping her chin.
“How long will you continue to hate me?” He asked silently, his thumb trailing across her lips.
“I don’t hate you,” Garnet smiled as she tossed her hair back. “I loathe you.” Stomping on his foot she pushed Kuja away.
Garnet stood in what had once been her mother and father’s personal chambers and stared around at the cavernous space. Beatrix had prepared it for her but as Garnet stood in the doorway to the bedchamber she knew she would not be able to sleep there. The ghosts of her parents were still too fresh. Her mother’s grief seeped from the stone walls and floor, filling Garnet with a chill she could not shake. There is no reason I cannot stay in my own chambers, she told herself although the idea itself felt wrong. Surely it was breaking protocol? But then she had been breaking protocol ever since her sixteenth birthday. I don’t care! She silently screamed shaking her head. How was she going to bear being queen if she could not follow something as simple as where she was to sleep? If I am to tour the city tomorrow with Kuja then I need rest. With the thought firmly in mind Garnet made her decision and walked to the main door of the chamber.
Beatrix stood on the other side of the door and bowed deeply as the door opened.
“Would you like me to escort you to your chambers?” There was a light smile on the woman’s lips, as if she had known Garnet would not be able to stay put. Overwhelmed with relief Garnet nodded and the two walked back to her own chambers in silence. Once she was ensconced inside Beatrix disappeared and the sound of running water filled the silence. The bath was gloriously warm but Garnet didn’t allow herself to luxuriate in the water for long. She bathed and washed her hair thoroughly, staring at the long strands as they pooled around her in the water.
“Your Highness…I must ask your forgiveness in all that has befallen you and the kingdom.” Garnet stared at Beatrix, her mouth open in a small ‘o’ of surprise. “I should not have been blinded by your mother’s orders. I should have known what she was doing was wrong – from the moment she destroyed Cleyra. I knew then the Burmecians had never been a threat to our kingdom, that she had been misled.” Garnet reached out and squeezed the general’s hands, shaking her head urgently. “You must hold me responsible!” How could I? Garnet wanted to ask her, I was just as blind to my mother’s actions. I saw the war banners when I travelled with Zidane, I saw the Black Mages in Dali…but I couldn’t believe it was mother behind it all. “When she ordered your execution…”
“Please,” Garnet begged surprised when a squeak escaped her throat. Beatrix’s eyes widened ever-so-slightly but she gave no other appearance of being startled. Is my voice coming back? Relief flooded through Garnet and she tried to speak once more but no sound came out.
“Do not push yourself Princess.” Beatrix squeezed her hand, “Your voice will come back. As much as I loathe him, Kuja is a powerful mage. He will find a way to restore your voice.” The two women exchanged a sad smile, neither wanting Kuja to be the one to help Garnet speak again. “Are you sure about your marriage to him?”
“Yes.” Garnet nodded when no sound came out, she shrugged knowing she wouldn’t be able to explain to Beatrix her decision. At first she had thought it was the only way to save her friends, but had she been a coward in throwing herself at his proposal? Seeing a scrap piece of parchment on her dressing table Garnet picked up a quill and dibbed it in the ink she kept by.
If he is king then it will bring an end to the destruction he has brought upon the other cities. And with my eidolons… Garnet paused in her note and fingered the piece of parchment. Turning it over she saw it was one of her notes on eidolons and she blinked back tears. If only she had not feared her power then her mother would never have taken them from her. She handed the note to Beatrix who nodded but continued to look doubtful. Hesitantly Garnet took hold of the older woman’s hands and looked pleadingly at her.
“Stay with me?” She asked silently. She knew Beatrix would be outside her door, but having her close by was comforting. She felt safer with her general there.
“Of course Princess. Always.” Beatrix’s hand touched the sword of her hilt; Save the Queen and she gave Garner a reassuring smile. “I failed your mother, you and Alexandria…but I will not do so again. If you think that marrying Kuja is the best decision then I will of course accept his rule. But Princess please know I will not repeat the same mistake. Should I ever think you are wavering from your path – that he is using you cruelly…”
Garnet smiled and nodded her thanks. Glancing out of the window she looked up at the twin moons, there would be an eclipse soon. She couldn’t help fearing that it was an ominous sign.
A loud knocking and several voices pulled Garnet from her slumber. She was surprised to find her head resting in Beatrix’s lap and a blanket tucked over her shoulders.
“You didn’t want to be left alone,” Beatrix shrugged. “I apologise but once you had fallen asleep I did not want to move you – and truthfully I was quite exhausted.”
“You cannot enter the Princess’s chambers!” A firm voice scolded and Garnet set up stretching.
“Insolent wench! I am to be your king –”
“To be ,” the woman continued. “My duty is protect her Highness.”
“We will need to talk to Kuja…and I suppose I should talk to my soldiers. And the Knights of Pluto…” Beatrix’s voice took on a strangled pitch and Garnet squeezed her hand. Was Steiner really gone? The thought made her own eyes sting and she hurriedly stood up not wanting to show her grief to Beatrix. It wasn’t fair on the woman. Opening the door to her chambers she nodded to the guard and gestured for Kuja to step inside.
“They are following my orders. You have no right to be in my personal chambers – you are neither my husband nor their king.”
“Yet.” Kuja responded silently and glared at Garnet. “I have found a temporary solution to your condition.” As Garnet followed him over to a settee and several plush chairs she could hear Beatrix consoling the soldier. She relaxed when the soldier came in, although both were at the further end of the room she felt protected. “Sing.” Garnet shook her head just managing to stop herself rolling her eyes. “ Sing .” Kuja repeated firmly. Returning his glare Garnet began to sing, feeling self-conscious as no sound came from her. She closed her eyes, the sight of Kuja watching her making her more uncomfortable. Calloused fingertips touched her throat and she winced backwards but didn’t stop singing, but it became harder as she felt something tugging at her throat. Opening her eyes she was surprised to see Kuja pulling a glittering light from within her.
“What is that?” Beatrix asked joining the two and resting a protective hand on Garnet’s shoulders.
“You are becoming too familiar with her Highness are you not?” Kuja’s eyes narrowed and Garnet was surprised to see he was jealous. She put her hand over Beatrix’s smiling coldly at him.
“General Beatrix is not just my General – she is my friend and protector. She has my best interest at heart.”
“It is a shame she did not have your mother’s interest at heart,” Kuja responded cruelly and Beatrix let out a small gasp of shock.
“Stop it!” Garnet warned him. “You have committed enough crimes against this kingdom that I could have Beatrix execute you now.” Smirking Kuja stood up, the ball of glittering light suspended in mid-air and seemingly forgotten. Bowing to Beatrix, Kuja held out his hand and smiled seductively at the standing woman. Garnet looked on in confusion as Beatrix smiled with a dreamy look, an expression Garnet was unaccustomed to seeing on the General. Kuja pulled her close and tilted her head up, as if he was about to embrace her. His hands caressed her cheeks and hair, before resting against her throat where he suddenly began to squeeze. The dreamy expression left Beatrix’s face, replaced with one of anger and, Garnet was horrified to see, fear.
“Do not think to defy me, Princess.” Kuja warned as Beatrix’s hands clawed at him. Her body suddenly stiffened as she reached for her sword.
“Stop it!” Garnet tried to stand up but her own body was frozen in place by the same spell. “Kuja you are killing her!”
“Your Princess only agreed to marry me to spare the lives of her friends who were not already dead.” Tears of shame burned Garnet’s eyes but she couldn’t close them. She was forced to look on in sickening horror as Beatrix’s lips began to turn blue and her eyes begin to dull. “Perhaps your death will be the final reminder she needs.”
“ NO !” Beatrix dropped to the floor as Garnet’s cry broke the spell. Garnet pressed a hand to her throat, shocked that her voice had come not from her but rather the glittering ball before them. Able to move she quickly knelt beside Beatrix, trying to make sure she was ok but unable to meet her eyes.
“Well at least we know your voice is not permanently destroyed.” Kuja said casually as Beatrix coughed and spluttered on the floor. “Let this be a warning to you both. I will not tolerate threats. Perhaps you should think on how you will keep me happy my little Canary. Once I have sons from you what use are you to me?”
“She will be the queen !” Beatrix croaked rising to her feet and standing over Garnet protectively.
“And once I have sons no one will dispute I am the king. Should an accident befall her Majesty, well…someone will have to rule until the prince comes of age.” Garnet’s blood ran cold and she stared up at Kuja in fascinated horror. Had she really thought the fear would end once she agreed to marry him? Closing her eyes she took a deep breath and willed herself to stand up. “Now perhaps you can both stop playing the heroines of this tragedy and allow me to finish what I had come to do? I had come to help you after all.” Garnet eyed the ball of light suspiciously, unsure how he could help.
“That is her Highness’s voice?” Beatrix looked curious, her near-death seemingly forgotten although the hand shaped marks stood out starkly against the pale skin of her throat.
“Yes. You have noticed the Black Mages the queen had created were able to speak? Although many of them had their voices deactivated, some could converse. I believe I can create a copy of her Highness’s voice, it will give her real voice a chance to rest and I can examine it better.” Garnet shook her head and almost reached out for the ball of light. “Do please think rationally sweet Canary. What good to me are you without your voice? People will merely say I coerced you in to marriage -”
“And they would be right.” Beatrix snapped refusing to back down as Kuja glared at her.
“Perhaps. But if you both value the peace within Alexandria you are not going to point this out I trust? A riot would hardly be good for the kingdom as it stands at the moment. Or rather…”
“Don’t.” Garnet cut him off. “What do I need to do?”
“Nothing.” Kuja shrugged and picked up her voice with one hand. Closing his eyes, Garnet watched in fascination as the pale green ball pulsated and began to expand. Gradually it split in two and Garnet moved closer to examine the two. They were almost identical except one of the balls had a violet tint to the pale green glow. Standing straight she tried not to recoil as Kuja cupped the back of her neck. “It may be less uncomfortable if you swallow it. ” He suggested and the ball hovered in front of her. Drawing in a deep breath Garnet opened her mouth, almost gagging as the ball moved down her throat. For a few moments she could only stand between Beatrix and Kuja, too nervous to speak.
“D – Did it work?” She eventually managed to choke out. At the sound of her voice her legs buckled and Beatrix supported her gently. “How long will it last?”
“I’m not sure,” Kuja shrugged and produced a small wooden box from thin air which he placed Garnet’s original voice in. “It should hopefully last while we are out in the city, but I can’t guarantee it.”
“Thank you,” Garnet said fighting to keep the begrudging tone out of her voice.
“Your Highness we should get you dressed and ready for the tour today.” Beatrix said formally and Garnet nodded in response.
“And who will help me to prepare?” Kuja replied coldly, Garnet could tell both she and Beatrix shared the same thought.
“The Captain of the Knights of Pluto serves the king,” Beatrix’s voice was as cold and hard as stone.
“Kuja there are protocols that must be followed. You not entering my chambers is one of them,” Garnet said wanting to diffuse a potentially dangerous situation as best as she could. “If you want to be king then you must learn and respect these, along with our customs and traditions.”
“When we are married –”
“Then begrudgingly you will be allowed access to my chambers. But at the moment we are not married and it is improper for us to be in such intimate spaces together. General, please escort Kuja back to his chambers. Perhaps Sir Blutzen can help our king-to-be to prepare for the tour today.”
“Dine with me, alone, tonight.” Garnet thought of her Aunt who would want to chaperone and looked towards Beatrix before nodding her head.
“Of course.” As Beatrix led Kuja from Garnet’s chambers, Garnet slumped on a chair and buried her face in her hands. How could I have let everyone down? She could not shake the image of Beatrix’s face and lips turning blue as Kuja choked the life from her. Would he blackmail her to get his way every time? I need to learn to fight him. I must master black magic and my eidolons. Vivi had taught her a few spells, but she was sure she could learn the rest. She possessed magic after all, how hard could it be to master a different side to her art?
The tour of Alexandria was not as eventful as Garnet had feared. She chose for her and Kuja to take the tour on foot rather than on horseback or in a carriage. She knew it was time to speak to her people face-to-face, to give them the opportunity to see their monarchs-to-be up close.
Beatrix and several of her soldiers were close by, none of the Knights of Pluto accompanied the party. Hilda had opted to remain at the palace with Eiko and Vivi, not wanting to distress them at the sight of the city’s destruction. Kuja walked beside Garnet, dressed in tailored robes of lilac silk and deep purple trousers. Every so often his hand would twitch to take hold of Garnet’s but she was able to silently dissuade him.
It is not appropriate – the city is still in mourning. Now is not the time to announce our betrothal.
When then? Kuja growled and Garnet’s eyes flicked at him, narrowing slightly.
When the occasion is right .
“Your birthday is fast approaching, is it not Your Highness?” Garnet’s feet stumbled to a halt as Kuja asked the question allowed. Behind her Beatrix called for the party to stop and rest, sensing that something was amiss she approached the two.
“Your Highness?” Beatrix’s eyes were full of concern and she flipped her chestnut brown hair back.
“General…” Garnet closed her eyes as she tried to count how much time had passed since her sixteenth birthday. Had a year truly passed? “When is my birthday?”
“Two weeks Your Highness,” Beatrix answered and the concern in her eyes deepened. “I thought you knew? I did not want to press you on what you would like to do for the occasion, I thought it might upset you, I didn’t realise you might not know.”
“It would be selfish to not celebrate,” Kuja said slyly. “You may not feel up to it, but your people could use an excuse to celebrate I am sure.” Beatrix scowled at Kuja but reached out to gently squeeze Garnet’s arm and spoke in a low voice.
“I loathe to agree with Kuja but he is right. Your people need a reason to celebrate, they have been grieving for so long. First you went missing, then we went to war, your mother’s death and the destruction of the city…” Garnet quickly brushed the back of her hand across her eyes to hide her tears and nodded. “Perhaps it would also do you some good Your Highness. You must move on from these tragedies and lead Alexandria forwards.” Am I being selfish keeping everyone in mourning? Garnet asked herself but realised too late she had broadcasted the question to Kuja who had an almost sympathetic look on his face.
“I will talk to her tonight,” Kuja promised Beatrix. “Her Highness and I have several matters to discuss.” Beatrix looked doubtfully at Kuja, her eyes full of bitter hatred and distrust. Eventually she relinquished her hold on Garnet and barked an order for the party to begin walking once more.
As word spread of the royal tour people began to pile on to the streets, emptying out the local taverns and brining people out from their homes. Garnet was surprised as they cheered for her and she signalled to Kuja and Beatrix to stop and begin talking to people.
“Your Majesty we’re pleased you’ve returned home.” A kindly old man bowed to Garnet and she helped him to stand with a small smile. Despite Kuja’s warning she spoke to each person in turn, ignoring the tightening of her throat as her voice began to strain.
You are putting too much pressure on the spell, Kuja silently scalded her.
Can you not see they have been waiting for this for so long? I cannot disappoint them. Garnet replied and shut her mind from Kuja, wanting to concentrate only on her people.
“We were so sorry for the passing of your mother. Your parents were great rulers.”
“Thank you,” Garnet smiled and forced her eyes to remain clear. “I hope to serve you all just as well as my parents did.” Out of the corner of her eye Garnet observed Kuja, surprised at how kindly he spoke to the people and how well they received him. They don’t know who he is, what he’s done . She reminded herself. Was she doing them a disservice by lying to them? “You have all done a beautiful job restoring the city. I am promise, now that I am returned home I will do everything in my power to rebuild our city and restore peace to the kingdom.”
“Bless you Princess.”
The sun was beginning to set when Garnet finally finished the tour of the city and began to make her way back to the palace. She was so exhausted she almost found herself leaning on Kuja but managed to keep herself standing upright.
“Sing,” Kuja ordered and Garnet too tired to argue complied. She winced as she felt the duplicate of her voice extract itself from her throat, almost gagging on it. It was disconcerting to hear her voice coming from Kuja’s hands as he cupped the glowing ball. She watched him curiously as he closed his eyes and seemed to pour his power in to the ball, before gesturing her to keep singing. “Do not exhaust it – it will not last much longer.” Rising to his feet Kuja shocked Garnet by kissing her forehead tenderly, as if he were a lover departing. “I will see you soon for supper.”
“Do not be taken in by his softness,” Beatrix warned as she helped Garnet to undress. “You know I disapprove of you dining with him alone, but I suppose the days of you listening without question are long gone.” Garnet turned to face Beatrix prepared to defend herself, but instead of a stern look on the general’s face she found a small smile. “I am glad. It proves you are ready to be queen. The past year may have been difficult, I imagine it will be the hardest year of your life – at least I hope it is.”
“With Kuja as king…I doubt it will be.” Garnet sighed and lowered herself in to the warm bathwater, letting out a sigh as her muscles relaxed. She had barely paid attention to the protesting pain in her feet and legs from walking all day, but now she felt every step she had taken. “Beatrix, do you think I am making the right decision?”
“Unfortunately I do not see what choice you have.” Beatrix answered truthfully. “He is a powerful mage – he had great influence over your mother. He blackmailed you in to marriage but I do not doubt if you tried to renegade on your acceptance he would only force you in to the marriage.” Beatrix pulled Garnet’s hair aside and pressed her lips to the young royal’s ear. “I am sworn to protect you. Even when Kuja is crowned king, my first duty is to you.”
“I will not have you guilty of regicide on my behalf,” Garnet murmured conscious that Beatrix was frightened they were being spied on. “I will deal with him myself…”
Dressed in a simple gown of russet brocade Garnet went alone to the small dining room she had so often shared with her parents. A soldier stood outside the door to the dining room and pushed it open to reveal Kuja already waiting inside.
“I will be here, should you need me Your Highness.” The soldier promised as she bowed deeply and Garnet smiled at her in thanks, closing the door behind her as she entered. Kuja rose and bowed, before stepping up to Garnet and cupping her cheek gently.
“Kuja, please –” Garnet protested but was silenced as his mouth descended on hers. He cupped her upper arms, pulling her close and trapping her body against his. Garnet’s blood ran cold with ice and she felt several shards of icy power pierce her heart. Shiva , she thought and closed her eyes to allow the power to swallow her up. “No!” She pushed Kuja back, alarmed to see an icy hand imprint on his chest where she had pushed him. She expected him to react in anger and she braced herself for his temper, while at the same time willing the icy goddess’s power back. Kuja stared down at the imprint and touched his fingertips to it.
“Your people are glad to have you home.” Kuja pulled a seat out for Garnet and she accepted it, thankful yet suspicious at his smooth change of subject. A warm loaf of bread lay on the table between them along with a tantalising pot of stew. Kuja served Garnet a generous helping and she dug in to it with gust, not realising how ravenous she was until the first mouthful. “When will you have your coronation?” She knew the question he wanted to ask, the hidden one he expected her to answer. Dipping a piece of bread in to the stew Garnet chewed on it carefully as she thought her answer through. She could not rush it, she would not make him king without first establishing herself as queen. She would not subject her people to his tyranny.
“I will be seventeen in two weeks,” she replied after taking a drink of wine. “I will have my own coronation within the next two moons. Our marriage, and your coronation, will take place shortly after my eighteenth birthday. But I think my mother, and Alexandria, deserves a proper period of mourning. Ignoring my birthday would be selfish – my citizens need a celebration. But after that our priority must be rebuilding the city and restoring peace with my uncle in Lindblum and the King of Burmecia.” Kuja sat back in his chair and stared at Garnet, his fingertips drumming on the table’s surface. “I will not negotiate this Kuja. I am the Queen of Alexandria, my people need time to adjust. And by spreading out my coronation and our marriage will give our people something to look forward too. Something to give them closure from this awful year.” Her throat tightened and for a second she feared it was Kuja’s spell, until she felt the cold trickling of tears on her cheeks.
“You are right,” Kuja smiled and Garnet forced herself to remain upright and not sag in relief. Staring down in to her stew Garnet thought about Blutzen and appointing him as the Captain of the Knights of Pluto. “What is troubling you?” Besides everything? Garnet asked making sure her mind was firmly closed.
“My friends,” she whispered and looked up at Kuja. “Are they truly dead? Is there no hope that they were just late back?” Kuja stood up and walked behind Garnet, his hands resting on her shoulders when he gently massaged her.
“Do you think to garner hope and delay my coronation?” His fingers worked up to her throat, no longer massaging but rather threatening.
“No.” Garnet replied firmly and reached up to stop his fingers from crushing her windpipe. “It is for General Beatrix – for the Knights of Pluto. I have caused so much pain. Please Kuja if there is any hope for them…please just tell me.” Carefully she turned to look up at him, no longer hiding the grief and pain in her eyes. Loosening his grip on Garnet’s throat Kuja brushed a tear from her cheek and studied the drop on his fingertips. Slowly, his eyes never leaving Garnet’s, Kuja brought his finger to his lips and sucked the tear from it. A careless smile on his lips. Garnet stared at him, not allowing herself to blink or look away.
“Shortly before we departed my palace I had word from some of my Black Mages who accompanied your friends on their expedition. Your friends failed to obtain the object of their mission in the given time-limit so they were left; in Oeilvert certain death awaited them.” Garnet closed her eyes feeling more tears trickle free. “However my Black Mages believe some of your friends may have escaped alive – they reported a message from two survivors.”
“Steiner?” Garnet whispered allowing hope to flood through her. Just because they had heard from two did not mean the rest had perished; they would never have left each other. Even Amarant she was sure would have remained with them, if not out of loyalty than out of an increased chance for survival.
“I do not know who the two were. But I can promise you one thing Princess, your Monkey-Boy is dead. Do not think to hope he survive,” a cruel smile lurked on Kuja’s lips as he knelt beside Garnet. “I am sure you have realised you’ve not seen the full extent of my power, that I can manipulate magic far beyond what is humanly possible.”
“W – What did you do to him?” Garnet whispered.
“I cast a spell on him, but I managed to extend its time before it would expire and claim him.”
“No,” Garnet whispered shaking her head. “Please…” Kuja kissed her cheek and this time she recoiled as his tongue grazed against her skin, lapping up her tears.
“Yes Princess. I cast Death on your precious lover,” Fluidly Kuja moved aside as Garnet’s dinner splattered on to the stone floor, his laughter ringing in her ears.
One Year Later
“You look beautiful Your Majesty,” Beatrix and Hilda both stepped back to admire their work on the young queen, now eighteen and in to her second year of rule. Somehow Garnet mustered a smile, she was aware that both women would know it was just for show. That inside she was as dead as her mother. As dead as Zidane. She had never confided in Beatrix what Kuja had told her at supper over a year ago. At first, she had been distraught to know hope of ever seeing Zidane was truly false. But as time passed and no news of Steiner or any of her friends emerged, she knew it would be cruel to just give Beatrix false hope. Instead she had discussed plans for Steiner’s replacement, and now Captain Blutzen was the First of the Knights of Pluto. “How do you feel?” Garnet could only nod in reply, her voice had never returned and she was still reliant on Kuja’s spell to allow her to speak.
“I will send someone for Kuja – he cannot deny you the spell on today of all days. Not if he wants to be a true King.” He will not deny it, Garnet thought sullenly. He just wants to savour his ability to humiliate me. At her fingertips she felt the crackle of power and Beatrix quickly and lightly slapped her hands, batting out the flames which had ignited.
“You must remain calm – you have worked hard to master Black Magic. Do not let him discover it now.” Chastened Garnet nodded and felt her cheeks warm up. “Your Majesty, you have been an excellent queen over the year. Both your Aunt and I have faith in your ability to protect your people. But please remember we will always be by your side to protect you.”
“Your Uncle Cid will not let harm befall you –”
“Why should any harm befall my wife?” Kuja strode in to the room without so much as knocking and winked wickedly at Hilda’s outraged cry. Garnet tried to suppress the thought that her husband-to-be had once taken her aunt to his bed; would he compare them? The thought made her skin crawl and Garnet squirmed uncomfortably.
She was nothing more than entertainment. Kuja tried to appease her but Garnet only glowered at him.
That offers me little comfort – you used my aunt as if she was nothing more than a common whore? She is the wife of a Regent! The Ruler of Lindblum!
And you are the Queen of Alexandria, yet we will see what role you shall play tonight. Garnet’s cheeks flamed even brighter and she bowed her head to hide her embarrassment. Beside her, Hilda squeezed her arm in gentle reassurance.
“Kuja stop teasing Her Majesty and give her, her voice.” Hilda’s voice was sharp and brooked no argument from the younger man. Chastened he held up his hand to reveal Garnet’s voice, drawing a shuddering breath Garnet closed and her eyes and began to sing. She flinched as her voice almost choked her.
“I will never get used to this,” she murmured rubbing her throat. Standing up she took in Kuja’s ceremonial robes and felt her heart tighten. You would never have married Zidane, she tried to console herself. Who would have accepted a thief as king?
“Do I not please you, Your Majesty?” Kuja asked coldly gesturing to his gold and white brocade robes.
“No.” Garnet replied, her voice just as icy. “I would never choose to marry you willingly Kuja. You are becoming king by force, I am doing this out of duty to my people. To protect them from you.” Kuaj’s violet eyes flashed dangerously but Garnet refused to back down and tossed her head back signalling for Beatrix to put on her crown. “ I am the Queen of Alexandria, the first ruler. You may be king after today, but you will still answer to me .” Mockingly Kuja bowed to her and sauntered from the room, a vicious smirk never leaving his face.
“You are not alone in protecting Alexandria, Your Majesty.” Beatrix promised.
“Your uncle and I will also fight alongside you. We will always protect you.”
“Thank you,” Garnet whispered. “Please, let’s just get today over with.”
Garnet observed Blutzen from beneath her veil; her heart torn between sadness and pride at how far the knight had come. In the year since he had taken the position of Captain of the Knights of Pluto he had grown from a bumbling fool to a strong knight, although he had never managed to win over Beatrix as Steiner had. As Blutzen bowed to Garnet she stood up from her throne and walked before Kuja who was kneeling, head bowed at the altar of the temple.
“Kuja, you are charged with the duty of protecting the citizens of Alexandria. Of serving our Queen; Her Majesty Garnet Til Alexandros, the first.” Beatrix’s voice was clear and strong, she showed no sign of her distaste for the man she was crowning king. “Do you swear to all those who bear witness; the citizens of our great kingdom and the Gods who rule us, to protect Her Majesty, her kingdom and her citizens.”
“I do.” Kuja’s voice betrayed no trace of irony and he rose to accept Garnet’s hand. Garnet was unflinching as their eyes met, her own holding a silent promise that she would protect her people. Kuja’s grip on her hand was unnecessarily tight, but she showed no signs that he hurt her.
“Your Majesty, Queen Garnet Till Alexandros, do you accept Kuja as your sovereign and husband?” No . Kuja’s eyes narrowed as he heard Garnet’s thought.
“I do.” She answered calmly. As Kuja pulled her close to kiss her Garnet refrained from pushing him away, for showing her disgust. As she stepped free from his grip she turned to take a crown from Beatrix; her father’s crown. I’m sorry father, she thought as her eyes began to sting. She couldn’t bear the thought of her father’s crown being worn by another man, by someone unworthy of it.
Canary, Kuja warned her.
Be quiet, Garnet snapped not lifting her eyes from the crown. Steeling herself she took a deep breath and raised the crown as Kuja knelt in front of her. I promise you Kuja, give me a reason and I will destroy you.
“People of Alexandria, please acknowledge your new king; His Majesty, King Kuja til Alexandros.” The words left a bitter taste in Garnet’s mouth as she lowered the crown on to Kuja’s silver hair.
The feast was somehow endlessly slow and over too quickly for Garnet. Every moment felt as if it was dragging on, but all too soon she was summoned by Beatrix to be bathed and dressed for the bedding ceremony. Garnet’s hands were slick with sweat and despite the heat of the water she trembled beneath the surface as if she bathed in ice. Beatrix’s voice spoke words of comfort, but they washed uselessly over Garnet’s head.
“W – Will it hurt?” She felt ashamed by the question and the tears that threatened to shed at any moment. Hilda squeezed her hand gently.
“For a short while yes,” Beatrix answered truthfully. “But only because it is your first time.”
“I will not go in to details Garnet, it would make us both uncomfortable. But as cruel as Kuja is, he does not draw pleasure from pain in his bed.”
“I – I don’t want to do this,” Garnet’s voice came out as a strangled cry and she realised with horror Kuja’s spell was fading. A tear slid down her cheek and she hurriedly brushed it away.
Well you must, Kuja stood in the doorway to her chamber. “Leave us,” he commanded Hilda and Beatrix. “I understand your custom of bearing witness to our bedding – but I think you will both agree this is distressing for our sweet Canary enough as it is.” Beatrix turned to look at Garnet, her eyes searching the young queen’s face.
“I will be standing guard outside.” She promised and kissed Garnet’s cheek. Hilda kissed her other cheek and squeezed her hand gently.
“Kuja, remember she is young -”
“Surely after our time together Hilda you do not have concerns for her?” Kuja drawled as Hilda passed him, his lips twisting up in to a smirk. “You may hear your queen cry out, I can assure you it will be far from pain.” Garnet’s cheeks burnt as if she stood in a furnace and she turned her back to the small group, pressing her hands to her face. Warm hands on her shoulders forced Garnet to turn around and look up at the man who was her mother’s murderer, who had sent her friends to their deaths. Her husband. “You will cry out tonight,” Kuja smirked wrapping a slender hand around her throat. Garnet flinched but relaxed as he withdrew it, revealing her voice. “I want to hear you whisper my name.”
“Stop it,” Garnet begged him. “Can we not just lie and pretend we were bedded?”
“And what will we present to our court tomorrow?” Garnet cringed as she remembered what Beatrix and Hilda had told her about the bloody sheet. “How will you give me sons?” Kuja knelt before her, clasping her lower back and kissing her belly through the sheer robe. Standing up Kuja tilted Garnet’s head up, kissing her tenderly before standing back to disrobe her.
“No,” she pleaded pulling her robe shut. She was shivering but it was not from the chill air, the fire Beatrix had lit ensured the cavernous chamber was bathed in warmth. Kuja stared at her with a gentleness she had never seen before, never believed he was capable off.
“I promise you my Canary, you will never have reason to fear me when I take you to bed.” Gently he placed his hands on her shoulders and pushed her robe free. Surprised at her willpower Garnet’s hands remained motionless at her side as her robe pooled at her feet, exposing her skin to the air and Kuja. Taking her right hand Kuja led Garnet to the bed, kissing her as they stood at the head before carefully scooping her up and placing her on the mattress. Swiftly he removed his own robe and Garnet focused on a point of the canopy just above his shoulder. Canary, Kuja’s voice coaxed soothing waves through her body and Garnet felt herself relax. You should not be afraid to look at me. Cupping her chin Kuja held her gaze, as his own eyes slid down Garnet’s body she felt her eyes comply and she took in the sight of his own nakedness.
Taking her hands in his Kuja held them in place with one of his above her head, trailing kisses along her neck and down her body while his free hand stroked and soothed her. Garnet’s breath hitched in her throat at the new sensation swelling deep within. She was embarrassed at the moan which broke free from her lips and she quickly bit down on her lower lip.
“Try to remain silent if you wish,” Kuja brushed his lips against her cheek and lips as he spoke. “I enjoy a challenge.”
Garnet held her blanket tightly to her chest as she began to wake up the next morning. The memory of the previous night was ingrained in her memory and she buried her face into her pillow, wishing it was an awful nightmare that she could forget. Her body ached and she winced as she moved to swing her legs from the bed.
“You will be sore for a while,” featherlight lips brushed her shoulder and Garnet winced away. “My little Canary, do not pretend you did not enjoy last night.”
“Be quiet,” Garnet ordered but her voice had faded during the night.
“Go away!” Kuja bellowed as someone knocked on the chamber door, Garnet turned to glare at him and moved to stand up but Kuja gripped her wrist.
“Queen Garnet forgive me for interrupting, but I am entering.” Beatrix’s voice was firm and Garnet smiled thankful that she had the general. Shaking her wrist free from Kuja’s grip Garnet scooped up her discarded robe, rolling her eyes at Kuja’s immodesty as he laid back on the bed with feline grace. Several servants followed Beatrix into the chamber, all looking dismayed at the sight of their king.
Kuja! Garnet sent him a warning and scowled down at him. Stop showing off, you wanted to be king. Perhaps you could act like one? Smugly Kuja stood up and sauntered into the bathing chamber, calling for some fresh water to be brought up.
“We need to collect the sheet,” Beatrix’s voice was soothing and she looked at Garnet sympathetically. “Girls, please take the bedding down to Lady Hilda. She will give further instructions.”
“Yes General,” the serving girls curtsied deeply to Garnet and quickly went about their task. They were gone before Garnet even had time to register what had happened.
“How do you feel?” Beatrix’s formal demeanour relaxed ever-so-slightly now that the girls had gone and Garnet shrugged.
“I was very gentle with her,” Kuja drawled from the doorway of the bathing chamber and Beatrix rolled her eyes seeming nonplussed at his state of undress. “If you have concerns for her safety General you would be more than welcome to join us.”
Stop it. Garnet ordered him narrowing her eyes. Must you make this more humiliating?
There is nothing humiliating about sharing your bed with your husband. Kuja chided her and Garnet rolled her eyes. “General Beatrix I am sure you understand that Her Majesty may be late down to break her fast. I will help her prepare myself. That is unless she can be excused from the ritual?”
“I wish she could, but it is tradition.” Garnet shrugged although surprised that Kuja had asked.
You don’t seem to mind humiliating me in front of my friends, why should this bother you? She asked him, her voice genuine.
I don’t aim to humiliate you Canary, I merely want you to know your place. Garnet scowled at his response and Beatrix looked between the two exasperated. Sitting with your bloody sheet behind you seems barbaric, everyone knows what took place last night.
I have never given this much thought, Garnet answered. But thank you. Compared to everything else though I assume this will be relatively painless.
You were not in that much pain, Kuja smirked and Garnet felt her cheeks heat up. Beside her, Beatrix gave a pointed cough. “General Beatrix perhaps you could give us until the next bell? I will help Her Majesty to prepare.” Beatrix looked at Garnet and she gave a small nod.
She answers to me first, Garnet reminded Kuja as she followed him into the bathing chamber.
“As you answer to me first,” Kuja murmured into her hair, his hands playing with the ties on her robe. Pushing him away Garnet glared at him, turning so that he faced her back as she disrobed. Shaking her head at his comment she slipped into the warm water and began to scrub herself vigorously. She wanted to erase every inch of his touch from her body,
Sitting in front of a mirror in her robe, Kuja dried Garnet’s hair using his magic. She frowned at his use, it seemed such a waste when it could be done by hand. how reliant was he on his powers? At Kuja’s command she opened her mouth and inhaled the glowing ball of light.
The chefs had outdone themselves putting on a lavish feast for which people could break their fast, very few seemed to have an appetite. The atmosphere in the grand hall was subdued, only Kuja ate with true gusto. Garnet sat beneath the bloody sheet, her cheeks red with shame as she could see people glancing fearfully between the sheet and Kuja. All clearly wondering the same thing as she. What if she had conceived? She could not forget his threat; once she bore him sons what use did he have for her?
Her aunt and uncle approached the dais and greeted them in a deep bow and curtsey. Kuja’s hand twitched as if he was moving to dismiss them but Garnet rested her hand over his. At their table she caught sight of Vivi and Eiko, both trying to look as if they had been raised among royalty but as Eiko leant back in her seat to see Garnet she almost toppled backwards.
“Uncle, Aunt.” Garnet smiled at them in greeting. “Will you walk with us in the gardens later? I would like to visit my mother, perhaps you would join us?”
“I have no interest in visiting your mother,” Kuja scoffed. “I do not have time to waste on the dead.”
“Then perhaps you would permit me some time alone,” Garnet smiled. She didn’t need his permission, his powers might be greater than hers, at least on a darker scale, but she still out-ranked him in the eyes of the citizens. They believed her to be a princess of the blood, born to the throne. She didn’t need to worry about Kuja revealing her secret; it would only weaken his own hold on the throne. “It has been a longtime since I visited her...I miss her.” It was odd that she had to speak in such a low voice. Normally the great hall would be filled with buzzing conversation and laughter, but the only sounds were of the clinking of cutlery and the soft thump as people set their cups back on the table. This has to stop.
“She ordered your execution,” Kuja reminded her.
“Because of you. You manipulated her, but I do not wish to discuss that - not here.” Garnet rose to her feet and the sound of chairs scraping against the stone floor made her wince. “I will join you for supper.” Gesturing to her aunt, uncle and Beatrix, Garnet strode down the middle of the great hall. She nodded as people bowed and curtsied to her, she had grown up in such a formal setting but after her time away with Zidane it felt strange. Almost alien. What would have happened if he had lived, would they have married? How would they have survived? He would never adapt to life within the palace walls, she thought sadly. He was meant to be free, to go off adventuring. As the doors to the great hall closed behind her, Garnet felt her throat close painfully. She steadied herself against the wall as she began to retch and splutter. As she coughed a fine mist came from her throat and she realised what Kuja had done. Regent Cid patted her back but her Aunt Hilda pulled him aside, whispering sadly.
“He cannot do this,” Cid growled but Garnet could only shrug. Clearly, Kuja did not trust her to speak with her only living relatives.
“It was actually Kuja we wanted to discuss with you, and well, let’s walk,” Hilda linked her arm through Garnet’s and they walked from the palace and into the grounds. Garnet waited patiently for her aunt to continue but it wasn’t until the reach the solitude of her mother’s grave that Hilda continued. “It’s Eiko and Vivi. You know we have never been able to conceive children of our own and we are very fond of them.”
“We wish to adopt them,” Her Uncle rushed on and Garnet grinned, but she could see there was a shadow in her Aunt’s eyes.
“We love them dearly but their powers...they’re young. And neither of us are equipped to train them, I can of course arrange for Eiko to learn white magic but she is like you. And Vivi…” He is possibly a creation of Kuja’s, Garnet thought. “We would like for you to teach them, if you would not mind…” Garnet looked down at her mother’s grave thoughtfully. She trusted Vivi with her life, she did not doubt for a second that because he was a creation of Kuja’s that he was dangerous. But she was hardly equipped to teach Vivi how to master his powers, not that he seemed to need much tutoring. “I think you have spotted our predicament.” Hilda smiled drily.
“Given the history between us...I would rather not have to ask Kuja for favours.” Garnet scowled at Cid, did he think she would prefer to go begging? From Hilda’s expression she could see the older woman was thinking the same as she.
“Your uncle has less tact, surprising for someone who is a ruler.” Hilda scolded, “but we would appreciate your help in approaching Kuja. Coming from us it would look as if we are asking for favours, but should it come from you…” Garnet felt her cheeks redden but she nodded. She wished she could voice her doubts; she would of course try, but Kuj did not even let her speak. How would she convince him to help Vivi? If I am helping Eiko, and perhaps she me, then why would he refuse? She knew the answer to her own question though; Vivi was powerful. “You will talk to him?” Garnet turned from the tombstone and nodded. She loathed the idea of asking Kuja for favours, but if it was true and he had created Vivi then he was responsible for the boy’s education.
She talked with her aunt and uncle for a long time, or rather she listened while they spoke of affairs in Lindblum. Garnet longed to visit the city once more, she had always loved the city and yearned to ask if she would be permitted a visit. But with Kuja it would be almost impossible; the city’s destruction was his fault. She could hardly bring him along, but nor was she prepared to leave him in charge of her own kingdom.
As the bell tolled the lunch hour her aunt and uncle kissed her cheeks and left her in peace with her mother. Beatrix stood close by at the bottom of the steps standing guard but far enough that Garnet felt she had some privacy. Sitting on her knees she bowed her head as if in prayer and let the silent tears flow free. The second anniversary of her mother’s death would be on her in just a few months, yet the grief felt as fresh and raw as if she sat beside the Queen’s corpse on that beach.
She paid little heed to the passing of time. The air grew colder and the sky darkened, but as the bell tolled each hour, Garnet remained stationary. The events of the past two years were never far from her mind and as she stared at her mother’s grave they replayed themselves in perfect detail.
“Garnet?” The musical voice pulled her from her thoughts and Garnet quickly wiped her eyes and rose to her feet as Kuja approached. A glittering ball of light, her voice, floated behind him and Garnet’s eyes narrowed. “I needed it to see if I could give you your voice back.” He shrugged.
“Next time, ask ,” Garnet’s internal voice was like a growl and she was proud of herself for sounding aggressive. She would not let him cow her. Taking a deep breath she closed her eyes and began to sing, spluttering as her voice began to choke her once more. “Is there not an easier way to do this?” She asked him as Kuja steadied her gently.
“I have never encountered this before, so if there is I do not know of it.” Garnet realised that Kuja was genuinely frustrated at the idea there was something he didn’t know in the realm of magics. The moonlight glinted on a crown and Garnet rolled her eyes as she realised Kuja was wearing it.
“You don’t have to wear that all the time,” she sighed but knew it was a symbol of power for him.
“But it suits me so perfectly,” Kuja tipped his head and flashed a sarcastic smile. “Supper is almost ready, I thought perhaps you would need reminding to eat.” Garnet followed him and Beatrix back down to the boat. “Will the Regent be joining us?”
“No.” Garnet shook her head and remembered what her aunt and uncle had asked of her that morning. She decided to bide her time until they retired for the night and were completely alone; keep her humiliation to a minimum.
She ate little at supper; the silence in the intimate dining chamber did little to help with her appetite. Kuja watched her thoughtfully, but thankfully he kept quiet. His face was blank, his thoughts a complete mystery. Garnet wondered what he was thinking about, was he thinking of ways to get her voice back? Or was he thinking of the night ahead? I can’t do this every night, she thought blinking back tears. Hurriedly she tried to make it look as if there was something in her eye, to which Kuja played along.
In the bedchamber Kuja dismissed Beatrix and helped Garnet to undress, but she was surprised when he made no movement on her. As she pulled on a chemise she looked around the bedchamber; now officially queen she had moved into her mother’s chambers. It was something she had never grown used too, she missed her old chambers and the familiarity. They offered a safety; she was still a child, destined to be queen but not quite yet. Now she was in the Queen’s chambers she was no longer a child, and responsible for the lives of a whole kingdom.
Her mother had waged war across the world in her final year, Garnet had thankfully dodged war but she knew this was largely in part to her uncle. Lindblum may have been destroyed but it was recovering and thriving. Publicly allying with Alexandros had protected Garnet from her neighbours who could seek revenge. but the distrust was there, and who could blame them given who her husband was? Husband . She suppressed a shiver.
“What’s wrong?” Kuja offered her some wine but Garnet shook her head.
“My aunt and uncle have a request...they would like us to teach Vivi and Eiko to master their powers.” Garnet expected an instant dismissal, but Kuja sipped his wine thoughtfully. “You will not manipulate them.” She added firmly sensing he was plotting something.
“You ask me a favour then give me orders?”
“I’m your Queen.”
“And I am your King.”
“The people are loyal to me Kuja, they fear you - but they love me. Do not assume you hold all the power.” Garnet spoke firmly but sighed; she did not want to fight. “We owe it to them; you created the Black Mages and, as much as I loathe to say it, you are an expert in the dark arts.”
“We are from the same village, she is as close to kin as I will have. She already has some learnings in white magic; she can help me master my Eidolons and I can help her with her magic.”
“Why should we teach them? We have a kingdom to rule.”
“ I have a kingdom to rule. We owe it to them, they’re young - if they don’t learn to master their powers they could hurt themselves or others. If you want to be king then act like one; protect the people you are responsible for. Being a ruler isn’t just pretty accessories and finery,” Garnet gestured to his crown and silk robes. “It’s protecting people, making decisions that people will not like. Hours of boring council meetings, leading mourning sessions - not just the celebrations -” Kuja silenced her by pulling her close and kissing her gently.
“Sweet Canary I was only teasing, I would not be so foolish to suggest we do not teach the young ones to master their skills.”
“You will teach Vivi?”
“Yes. I assume the Regent and his consort will return to Lindblum? Teaching them will take time, if they think to hover here and meddle -”
“No. My uncle has a kingdom to run just as I do. They came for the wedding, now that is over...they will most likely return in a few days.” Garnet felt a heavy feeling form in her stomach, she was growing used to her aunt being a source of comfort.
“We will discuss the details with them tomorrow. They have officially adopted the two have they not? I am sure they would want to visit them while we teach them.” Garnet was almost touched by his thoughtfulness, but she was too cynical and questioned his motive. “Now, come we should retire for the night.”
Garnet climbed hesitantly into the bed, holding her breath as Kuja moved in beside her. Her muscles tensed as they waited for his touch, but he simply leant over to brush his lips against her cheek before turning onto his back.
“I am not a complete monster Garnet; last night was our duty. The next time we couple will be because of your desire.” Garnet almost scoffed; she could not envision such a time. Closing her eyes she turned onto her side and tucked the blanket beneath his chin. If he was serious, then perhaps there was hope that she would not conceive so soon.