As you should know by now, I own nothing involved in this story except the… well, at this point I don’t even own the computer. So I own nothing. Characters not mine, general plot of the story not mine… geez, am I pathetic or what?
The ornamental rug brought by Kakorrot as a peace offering toward Chikyuu’s royal family had never seen as much use in its three years of occupancy in the center of the hall before the princess’s door as it had in the last twenty minutes. The noblewoman had actually started to wear a thin rut into the thick, richly woven fabric near the edge closest to the future queen’s chamber. Anyone passing would probably think her mad: the woman kept muttering to herself, throwing her hands in the air during the more explosive parts of her tantrum, and all over apparently nothing. Finally the heavily decorated chestnut door slid inward, and the princess couldn’t help but grin as her older friend finished one lap on the rug and started another. Clearing her throat, she dipped a curtsey when the noble’s head snapped around, quickly followed by the rest of her.
"Good day," she greeted, awaiting the snort of roll of the eyes that usually accompanied such formalities. Bulma didn’t bother, but grabbed the shorter woman’s arm and hauled her into the chamber. Having barely released her friend, she slammed the door shut and leaned against it, scowling. Chi-Chi grinned. "Well, I had to at least LOOK at the man before I dismiss him. Father would never allow me to do otherwise." This time the blue eyes WERE sent skyward. "You, of all people, should know that."
"Trust me, princess, I do." Her thoughts fleetingly turned toward the previous morning’s events and she scowled. "I do indeed."
"Well?" When Bulma’s murderous look faded to an expression of mere confusion, Chi-Chi heaved a dramatic sigh of exasperation. "What do you so desperately need to tell me? Father won’t let on, and I’ve nearly DIED of wondering." The princess’s black eyes were pleading when she turned them on her friend.
"Your father wouldn’t let on because he doesn’t KNOW anything," Bulma revealed with a feral smile. Motioning toward the gigantic bed, she ordered, "Sit." Chi-Chi looked indignant, but her older friend merely crossed her arms and waited. The monarch sighed, knowing that until she complied, no information would be given. Curiosity bettering her pride, she obeyed with all the natural grace required of her station, smoothing her skirts as if trying to subtly initiate conversation with a stranger. Bulma shook her head before taking residence on the other corner. "I’ve found someone to wed Vegeta and I."
"You DID?!" Chi-Chi nearly bounced off the bed. "Who? Where? When? Why—not—me—" Bulma blinked, knowing better than to answer when the darker woman shot off rapid-fire questions, half of which didn’t make sense. The princess crossed her arms. "And why am *I* more excited about this marriage than you are?"
Bulma stood and put her hands on her friend’s shoulders, lowering her back to her previous seat. "Because I fear that once I wed, I won’t be able to return."
"WHAT?!" Had it not been for the older woman’s restraining hands, Chi-Chi would have bounded to her feet once again. She sputtered incoherently for a moment, then silenced, directing her most efficient glower at Bulma. That look was more effective than any outburst, and the noble sighed, freeing her friend’s arms.
Crossing the room, Bulma stared at the picture of the queen before the Ox King’s reign to calm herself. "Vegetasei law dictates that if the future duke MUST wed a non-Saiyan, they are both restricted to the lands where they were married for five years. Hell, he’s hardly able to leave his estates. If Vegeta doesn’t abide by the law, and his father is informed, he can be disinherited." Bulma turned sad eyes toward Chi-Chi. "And the only woman I could find to marry us without Father’s permission is technically inside Vegetasei’s border."
Chi-Chi feigned insult to cover her injured feelings. "You would forget about me in only five years?" The look given in reply made her consider trying to unmake her words.
"Never, and you know that better than I," Bulma snapped. "But the duke is old, older than any Saiyan before him. By the time Vegeta and I are allowed to travel freely, he will be ruler, with me by his side. It will be difficult to return when so much demands my time and attention." She smiled wryly, her next sentence spoken so lowly she could barely hear it. "It would probably take us that long just to find our way to civilization anyhow."
Obviously, the princess wasn’t supposed to hear, but Chi-Chi—long accustomed to her friend’s constant mutterings—picked it up anyway. "Where, pray tell, IS this woman?" she demanded diplomatically.
Now Bulma’s smile turned true. "I can’t tell you, princess. You would try to stop me."
"I’m going to try as it is," came the sharp reply. Chi-Chi rose regally, her expression and tone the very essence of a queen. "Who are you trusting? And where is she?"
"You wouldn’t believe me if I told you, my lady."
"You dance around the subject, Bulma." It was obvious Chi-Chi’s patience was wearing thin, and even more obvious it was out of worry over one of her close—if not closest—friends. It was only a matter of seconds before she used her rank to demand an answer—not as a friend but as the princess of Chikyuu.
The noble relented, sighing. "The Forbidden Lands." Her answer came in that same low mutter than had gotten her into this situation to begin with. Bulma only wished she could sew her lips shut and therefore not divulge any more information.
Had the princess not already been standing she would have leapt to her feet for a third time inside ten minutes. "Are you MAD? Vegeta will never agree to this!"
Bulma grinned dryly. "He will if he wants a wedding, my lady. And that damnable pride of his won’t allow him to do a thing outside of marriage." Chi-Chi sputtered another few seconds, and her friend shook her head. "I did warn you that you wouldn’t believe me."
"O, I believe you, Bulma. I only think that you and your fiancé are both stark-raving MAD." It was Chi-Chi’s turn to pace and grumble incomprehensibly while waving her hands. It made quite a sight in the light of fading day; by firelight, Chi-Chi was likened to a witch trying to remember the precise ingredients to some concoction or another. Finally she halted and scowled. "I won’t let you. I forbid it."
The blue head lowered. "I know you would say that, princess. And I have already decided to go, with or without your blessings."
"I will have every sword [armed soldier] under my father’s command hunting the lot of you," she threatened, black eyes bright.
"Come now, my lady. ‘The lot of us’ are Vegeta and myself. No swords with any honor at all will trace two citizens. And those that do will probably not come back alive." Aqua eyes met obsidian without any challenge. "They are called the Forbidden Lands for a reason. And Vegeta does not deal kindly with those who come against his mate in any form." Chi-Chi scowled and the older noble shrugged. "I cannot control my fiancé ALL the sunup, princess."
"You will not go," Chi-Chi repeated stubbornly.
Bulma moved to an arms’ length away from her friend and placed a hand on either shoulder. "As my friend, I love you dearly, but I cannot let him go. Can you not understand? This alone is the one think I’ve ever wanted." Chi-Chi ducked her head, but Bulma bent to retain eye contact. "Please princess, don’t try to stop this."
Chi-Chi’s warm black eyes watered as she raised her head. "I will not be in your way," she stated finally, chin quivering. "But neither will I support your decision." She instantly found herself wrapped in her friend’s arms, feeling the breath squeezed out of her. "And I still think that you are both—"
"Mad? I must be, if you keep telling me so." Bulma continued to apply pressure until her hug became nearly bone-crushing. "Thrice noted, princess."
Lord Briefs closed his eyes, letting his head rest heavily against the light stone paneling of his parlor—a sign of his wealth. Unlike Vegetasei, only the wealthy in Chikyuu could afford to build in stone, and as such, the lord was proud of his estates. He inhaled deeply, still pondering the issue of his daughter. Vegeta was much better suited for a political marriage with Chi-Chi, which would ensure peace between the two lands, which easily left Bulma in the arms of her best friend since youth. If only it were that simple, he thought with a mental sigh, shaking his head. Bulma herself had readily admitted after Kakorrot’s leave the prior morning that she would rather spend the rest of her life in a convent than without the headstrong Saiyan. The aristocrat was quickly coming to the realization that unless one of them relented, he was looking at the end of the Briefs line.
Without opening his eyes, the lord chewed on the end of his pipe, in some small corner of his mind NOT occupied with his always-present dilemma, he wondered if he should light it. Tobacco, another precious commodity, had caught Bulma’s fancy as of late. Marrying Vegeta would only ensure that she would have his added wealth to deal in it. So many reasons to keep her from becoming duchess of Vegetasei, but only two could not be dealt with easily. Bulma’s happiness, for a start. While he wanted her safely married so he and his wife could live out the rest of their lives in peace, he would not merely send her off without a thought to her feelings. The other obstacle would be even harder to overcome, even strong as Bulma’s will was. The other was his wife.
He mentally groaned and switched his pipe to the other side of his mouth. The wily old woman unconsciously raised their daughter in her stead, which lead to Bulma’s acquisition of an acid tongue and even sharper wit. Lady Briefs would not easily be conquered if her only child expressed discomfort over the lord’s choice in suitors. Lord Briefs smiled slightly, hand falling to the arm of his chair to run the length of his shadow of a black cat. Perhaps an afternoon away from the estates will calm her enough to discuss reason…
Opening his eyes, the lord grinned. His wife was only just starting to make her way down the slightly spiraled staircase. Rising with a grace that didn’t suit his years, Lord Briefs sauntered over and rested one hand on the banister as his lady’s foot touched the last step. He took the opportunity when his mate paused, surprised, to kiss the inside of her wrist. The blond stared at him curiously before he transferred his lips to hers, moving up onto the stair with her.
"You are radiant, my lady," he complimented, sweeping her off her feet carefully and moving out toward the veranda.
"And YOU are foolish, my lord," she teased, allowing her head to fall on his shoulder and her eyes to slide closed against the harsh midday sun. Her nails scratched through his pale lavender hair playfully. "Though ‘tis good to see you in so pleasant a mood." He didn’t reply, only placed her in a padded chair before pulling another up beside her and taking the hand of his chosen. "Husband, what—"
Two fingers went immediately to her lips. "Quiet, my dove. Let us just sit and enjoy the other’s company." Lady Briefs didn’t object, but leaned into her mate’s side. It HAD been a long time since the two had been able to just spend time together outside the whirlwind of social events. Usually the lord would stay for days at a time with the Ox King—his name a testament to his strength and stubborn rulings—then would return home only to be seen nearly a week later, having furnished some item the king had need for.
Lord and lady both glanced down the drive as a grim-sounding voice floated on the wind. The couple exchanged glances, and the lord tried to stand. His missus laid a hand on his arm. "Stay, husband. Their business is not ours." However, as the growling got louder, her fingers tensed around his elbow. She was also the first to her feet as their daughter stumbled up the lane.
Bulma, limping and covered in blood, did not look the least bit the lady she was supposed to be. Her dress was torn in so many places it was hard to tell how it even stayed together. Her sapphire hair was splayed at odd angles, held in place by what looked like blood-matted mud, and her limp was emphasized over the stone drive by the fact that at least one shoe was gone. Lady Briefs was instantly at her daughter’s side, checking for injuries with a careful eye. Bulma scowled and jerked away, stalking toward the door at the side of the patio in hopes of warm water and relaxation. She only met her father’s eye when it was quite obvious the lord wasn’t going to budge, and was currently blocking her intended path.
"Good day, my lord," she snapped, sagging a lopsided curtsey. When her father didn’t move, she scowled darkly. "Let me pass."
"Daughter," Lady Briefs interrupted, even as her husband shook his head firmly. "What happened?"
"Why do you think something happened?" From the expression on her face, even Bulma thought the question ludicrous. Both parents rolled their eyes before her father stepped forward. The younger lady of the house swallowed thickly; as aging as her father might be, he could still be intimidating. "Kakorrot happened."
"KAKORROT did this to you?" The blond woman put a restraining hand on her mate’s shoulder to keep him from advancing further. The lord’s face showed he was struggling whether to believe her or not: the Saiyan would never lay a hand on a woman, and yet he couldn’t call his daughter a liar. Leaving his emotions to figure themselves out, he crossed his arms and scowled.
"Indirectly," Bulma answered guardedly. Lord Briefs sighed, looking to the heavens. That explained it.
"How? Were you defending yourself against him?" Lady Briefs took over, sensing her husband was in no condition to continue the interrogation without injuring their daughter’s feelings, and probably his own fist.
"Nay, Mother. I was running from him."
"I see…" She smacked her partner lightly on the arm to gain his attention. "Husband, draw a bath for our daughter." He sighed and bowed, kissing her cheek as he departed. Watching her mate go, she continued. "And WHY were you running, Bulma?"
"Because I didn’t wish to speak with him, and yet he persisted." She shrugged helplessly. "Running was the only thing I could think of."
Lady Briefs sighed and put an arm around her daughter’s shoulders, leading her back toward the house. "Come, daughter. Let’s get you clean. It won’t do to go to the palace looking as you are."
"The palace?" Bulma abruptly halted, nearly jerking her mother’s hand away. "Why?"
"As a family outing. And you are still yet a part of this family." Lady Briefs’ tone turned warning before she smiled. "And I think there’s a certain young man that has caught your fancy competing at tilting [jousting]."
Bulma grinned over her shoulder. "‘Tis sooth?" The lady nodded and the blue-haired woman’s grin broadened. "I shall be ready in one half hour."
Chi-Chi paused just inside the stable’s shade, giving her dark eyes the precious few seconds they needed to adjust to the gloom. Blinking, she noticed Kakorrot was only now finishing readying his mount for the competition. He cinched the last buckle on the saddle and stepped back, running a hand along the horse’s nose affectionately. "Good day my lord," the princess greeted, making the Saiyan’s head snap around. He nodded back formally and swung himself easily onto the stallion’s back. Chi-Chi frowned, a bit distressed by his coldness. Never before had he ignored her. "Goku…"
He brought the steed parallel with the door, his booted feet only inches from her stomach. "Move, please." The request sounded more like the order of a soldier than a demand from a friend. When she made no indication of complying, he scowled slightly and inched the horse forward. "Move, princess, or I will jump over you." The future queen folded her arms stubbornly and Kakorrot twisted the reins in his fist. "As you wish, my lady." He jerked the stallion back toward his stall before circling it back to face woman and door.
Chi-Chi’s heart leapt to her throat as Kakorrot’s heels dug into the horse’s sides. The animal raced toward her at a charge. By the gods, he wasn’t jesting! It was too late now to dodge the hooves and still retain her dignity, so she forced herself to remain still and raised her chin to glare Kakorrot square in the eye. A muscle in his cheek twitched as he realized she wasn’t going to move, and much as he didn’t want her now, his honor wouldn’t permit him to kill a woman. Especially the princess of his adopted land.
The Saiyan growled, knowing that his horse would never clear her head, especially with him on it. He pulled the stallion up so short it nearly fell on its haunches trying to obey. When it came to a full stop, its nose was even with her ear. Chi-Chi could still feel her heart rattling in her chest as her ex-fiancé dismounted. Grabbing the reins, he scowled and moved only a step away from the princess.
"Why didn’t you move?" Again, he sounded more like a soldier than even an angry ex-lover.
She inhaled shakily, wanting to find her voice before speaking. "I believe you are late, my lord."
Kakorrot said nothing as she moved to the side, motioning for him to go before her. He paused once he was nearly past her, then glanced at Chi-Chi’s solid stone face. Whatever he had been about to say washed out of his expression and he tugged on his mount’s lead and smirked before continuing on. Only when the princess was sure he was out of earshot did she let the tears run free.
Vegeta was strapped on his gloves when the flap to his tent opened, casting his shadow into a darker hue. He paused slightly, as his back was to the intruder, then completed his task and glanced over his shoulder disdainfully. The Namek healer was smiling back at him, black eyes concentrated on where the worst of the damage from his wound would be seen as it was covered by the heir’s tunic. He was still dressed in the royal blue and gold of the Vegetasei duke, a fact which still had the noble confused. "It is good to see you well, my lord." Vegeta snorted at the salutation and rubbed his wrists to make sure the leather bonds were tight; he saw no need to tell the boy—Dende was his name if the duke remembered correctly—that he was by no means fully healed. As if reading his mind, the boy went on, "Though you would be so much better if you would let me treat you." The noble grunted and concluded that his hands and forearms were adequately protected. Dende sighed. "You favor your side, my lord. Any opponent will take advantage."
"And they will underestimate my strength," Vegeta countered, making a fist and turning more toward the healer. Since Dende knew he wasn’t in top form, he also probably knew the Saiyan couldn’t joust either: in Vegetasei such sport was looked on as cowardly. If a Saiyan didn’t have the honor to defeat his opponent hand-to-hand—even weapons matches were rare—then he should not have the honor of issuing a contest. Yet Kakorrot had chosen tilting firstly to see if Vegeta would hold by his code of honor, and secondly because he knew the older warrior hadn’t the faintest idea as to what he was doing.
"And yet, my lord," Dende continued in a lower tone, "if you will let that wound be healed, you will be stronger than ever before. You will then be able to lead your opponent into BELIEVING you are still injured by still favoring your left. Victory will almost surely be yours." The duke’s son stared openly at the boy, not quite believing his ears. The peaceful Namek had the mind of a warrior. The healer bowed an apology, mistaking Vegeta’s awe for fury. "‘Twas only a notion, my lord. I speak out of place."
"Is there a reason for which you are here?" the Saiyan finally demanded to mask his surprise.
Dende blinked, then his black eyes widened; he HAD forgotten his errand because he was preoccupied with the lord’s injured state. Even now his fingers itched to apply his healing magic. "A message for you, my lord."
"NOW?" Vegeta could already see the heavyset knightmaster assigned to these types of events nearing his tent, probably to tell him the rules of the match. Faced with losing his dignity the first round, he considered a letter now trivial.
Dende’s sly smile returned. "From a certain young lady, my lord." The Saiyan’s attention snapped back to the healer even as the knight opened the tent’s flap. Vegeta signaled for him to remain silent as the Namek boy drew out a small slip of paper and pressed his thumb to the center fold. In the fraction of an instant the noble’s fingers brushed his, Dende had gotten enough magic into the taller man’s skin. He bowed first to Vegeta, then to the waiting knight. "Good day, my lords, and good luck."
Vegeta waved him off absently, unfolding the letter. He grinned as he saw what was written inside. One word, hastily scrawled in Bulma’s delicate handwriting: Luck.
Lord and Lady Briefs hardly missed their daughter’s disappearance, so involved in each other were they. Bulma didn’t know whether or not to be grateful for her parents’ inattention as she moved toward the less economically stable citizens of Chikyuu. Despite her polite demeanor, she was more often than not shoved back when trying to wiggle through an opening in the crowd. Throwing ladylike manners to the wind, she finally used her generous strength to push past the more stubborn spectators.
Finally the noblewoman stood with her elbows hooked over the edge of the fence. The wind rustled her blue curls, and she rested her chin on her crossed forearms. I wonder if Vegeta got the message… Any further speculation was cut off as she was slammed roughly into the picket barrier. Snarling, she turned, but no commotion existed. Passing it off as an accident, her attention wandered back to the flat terrain. When it happened again, Bulma wasted no time in grabbing the throat of her assailant, smashing the sapphire-cloaked figure into the place where she’d been standing. A soft grunt was emitted, and the hood fell back. Chi-Chi’s pained face was nearly covered by her locks of black hair.
"Chi…" Bulma apologetically released her friend and pulled her away from the splintering wood. The princess grinned painfully and rubbed her neck where a striking red mark in the shape of Bulma’s hand was swiftly appearing. "I didn’t mean—" The younger woman waved her off and coughed a few times to make sure her voice box was still in working condition.
She slipped the hood back over her dark head before turning to look over the dusty plain. "I’m not Chi here, remember?" Bulma bit the inside of her lip, realizing her mistake—the princess hated being known as such outside the palace. The two women mingled with the commoners on a basis both of their fathers would be shamed for, and it was good not to be recognized as either the future queen or the heir to the richest family in Chikyuu.
Bulma seemed to study the half-hidden face thoughtfully; to make sure their fellow spectators didn’t catch on. "Of course not. You remind me of someone I once knew."
Chi-Chi grinned back thankfully and lifted her shoulders in a shrug. "It seems everyone knows this same person. I am told that quite a bit."
Bulma fell back into her previous stance at the fence. "Do you know who the challenger is?" As if we don’t already know.
"Future Duke Vegeta of Vegetasei," came the smooth reply, "against Knight-Lord Kakorrot." Chi-Chi’s lips thinned as she spoke her ex-fiancé’s name. Bulma’s hand fell on her friend’s shoulder consolingly even as she focused her eyes on the tent of her own lover.
The sounding trumpets startled both women out of their reverie. Chi-Chi smiled wryly and turned her eyes to Bulma. "And now we shall see the strength of your lord."
* * * * *