After she had removed her armor Lucy returned to her room to put on some better clothing, a long baby blue caprice dress. Levy helped her changed, but the handmaiden was still a little concerned about what had just happened that day. What puzzled her more over was that Lucy didn't appear all that bothered by it. She was incredibly calm, humming softly as she fluttered about in her dress, looking herself over in the mirror to insure that she looked fine.
After she had finished getting dressed Lucy made her way down the hallway towards the dinning room where her father and several of the other noblemen awaited her. Levy followed behind biting her tongue. She wanted to ask Lucy why she wasn't all that troubled, but she figured it was better not to.
When Lucy arrived in the dinning room she was greeted by everyone there. A loud applause came as many of the nobles gathered around her asking if she was okay. The blonde teen just smiled sweetly at them and nodded her head politely. She thanked them for their concern, but she just made her way over to her father. King Jude was sitting at the head of the table with Iwan at his side, the two of them talking. Iwan was the first to point out the princess's approach as King Jude stood up once more and embraced his daughter in a tight squeeze.
"How are you doing, Lucy?" he asked.
"I told you I am fine father," she told him as she too took her seat at her father's side. "I have endured hardships like that before, and this one was no different."
"Except you did not have Master Clive there to protect you like before," Iwan interjected. "Or Natsu, until the boy finally managed to make a surprise rescue of our beloved princess."
"Yes, the boy did come through as he always has," King Jude said nodding in agreement. "We should be thankful to have such a loyal slave at our dispense."
"Yes, father," Lucy agreed as she grabbed a goblet that lied in front of her and sipped the wine within. "However, he is still just a slave. He is not a noble knight of my father's court or a master of combat like Master Clive. He is nothing more than a blacksmith, and even that is being too kind."
"You should watch your tongue, Lucy," King Jude interrupted. "It's hard to find a servant that would be willing to sacrifice so much for the family, especially a Draconoan. Most of his fellow slaves would have taken the chance to shot us with an arrows rather than bandits."
"I know father, but those peasants aren't as fine tuned soldiers as you give them credit for," she said resting the goblet by her plate. "If they were than they wouldn't have succumbed to slavery in the first place. Am I wrong?"
King Jude laughed at his daughter's remark turning a satisfied eye to Iwan. The nobleman just smiled and nodded along with the king. Levy turned her own head away frowning as she heard the princess speak. The condescending attitude was too much for her to bear. She was tempted to leave and was about to make her way out of the room, but knew that as the handmaiden to the princess she had to sit there and listen to their droll.
"By the way my Liege," Iwan interrupted, "what of King Duke Sawarr of the Junelle? When is he due to arrive?"
"Within the month," King Jude answered. "Though he has already pledged to join our two kingdoms, I feel that it would be wrong to not wait and see what other offers may arise."
Lucy quickly lifted the sliver goblet back up to her lips to hide her dissatisfied scowl. She didn't know who this King Duke was, but her father expected her to marry him. A man she had never met, but was often told that it was her duty as a princess to go through with it. She hid her face from her father behind the mug, but Levy could spot it from the corner of her eye. She just rolled her eyes and sighed knowing how upset the princess was going to be. But the two girls just smiled and pretended as though they had no complaints.
"Other offers, eh?" Iwan said rubbing his chin. "You mean like Lord Isaldor?"
Lucy nearly choked on her wine as she heard the name. Isaldor was a man in his fifties with children older than her. She would be damned if she had to marry such an old man. Not to mention his kingdom lied dormant up in the snowy mountains of the north. They hardly ever saw a clear summer's day there. The idea of it made her sick to her stomach.
"By the way father," Lucy said softly biting her lip, hoping to distract them long enough from their potential bargain of the girl, "I was wondering if I could venture out to the lake for a few hours. It would give me a chance to clear my head."
"Of course my dear," King Jude said as he took her hand in his. "You take all the time you need."
"Thank you father," Lucy said as she stood up to leave. Levy followed right behind her.
King Jude and Iwan watched them leave. Once they had gone from view Iwan leaned into King Jude, with a more serious expression on him.
"My Lord now that the princess has gone I think we should talk about these bandits," Iwan said in earnest. "They have become a big problem, and we are losing more and more guards to their thievery."
"I know," King Jude grunted as he reached over and plucked his goblet up.
"What do you want us to do about it?" Iwan asked. "My Lord, King Duke is due to arrive any day now, and if he is attacked by a group of bandits on your land that does not bode well for you or for Princess Lucy."
"I know," King Jude grunted again. "But what would you have me do? We're already patrolling the areas, and I was even forced to disguise my daughter as a knight just so she could visit the nearby town to hear their woes while I spoke to council about this same problem earlier."
"But my Lord we must do something now," Iwan pleaded. "The council is full of men not willing to sacrifice what men they have under their command for the sake of the country, so that they can continue to live in protection while our merchants and traders fall under siege. It is hurting our economy, and this has been going on for far too long. Soon other nations would think us weak."
"What would you have me do?" King Jude asked as he took a sip of wine from his goblet. "I am thin on guards as it is, and none of the other nobles are willing to provide support. They are too busy trying to defend their own lands."
"Well then might I suggest using the slave boy Natsu to fight those bandits?" Iwan asked.
"You would ask me to send the slave boy out into the wild?" King Jude snapped.
"My Lord," Iwan interjected, "the boy has already proven himself to be most loyal to you and your family. He just saved your daughter from the bandits and he is literally a one man army."
"I see your point," King Jude said. "Fine he may go, but only if he is escorted by at least two other knights."
"I have just the men for the job," Iwan said grinning madly.
As the two of them left Lucy made her way out to the back of the castle where the arena was. Before she walked through it she turned to Levy, and with a sweet smile asked the handmaiden to stay behind.
"Yes, my Lady," Levy said bowing her head. "But if I may, why?"
"I just feel like I need to be alone for a while," Lucy told her as she turned to leave.
The blonde glided through the old training arena. She remembered the previous times she had been there as a child. She looked up and saw the balcony she used to watch the soldiers train with her father and the occasional noble. It still reaked of man sweat and blood. Even though there were other ways for her to get to the lake, she always liked going down this path. It was familiar to her, safe, and welcoming.
When she came upon the lake she could see that the flowers were still in bloom, the long grass swayed with the tree branches in the wind and the water was still except for the occasional swirl that was brought on by the fish swimming underneath the surface. The apple tree itself had luscious fruit, that she often enjoyed eating while she sat near the lake's bank.
As she stood there she could hear the rustle of leaves and brush behind her. She turned around to see Natsu glide through the foliage and appear right in front of her. She glared at him coldly folding her arms across her chest. Natsu eyed her back, standing there firmly, unwilling to move. But it didn't last long before she burst out into a giggle frenzy along with the pink haired boy.
Lucy then proceeded to dash over to him, wrap her arms around his neck and pull him in for a deep passionate kiss. Natsu brought her in tighter, wrapping his arms around her wasted as their lips touched. The moment lasted for a good long while before the two of them broke away to get some air. Natsu brushed some of Lucy's hair back as he stared deep into her eyes, before the two of them prodded to kiss each other once more.
When they had broken away for a second time, Lucy buried her head into the teenage boy's chest and closed her eyes.
"I'm sorry about earlier," she said softly, she could feel his hands rubbing against her back. "Are you okay?"
"Don't worry about it," Natsu laughed. "I have to admit, your kick has gotten stronger."
"Perhaps Gildarts taught me too well," she giggled. "You shouldn't have let me train with you all those years. Who would think that the princess would be able to beat down a dragon?"
"Oh yeah sure," Natsu said rolling his eyes. "I'm sure you can kick my ass any day."
"You wanna see me when I get serious?" Lucy joked.
"Oh, you weren't serious today?" Natsu said skeptically. "Well it's good I had to fake the fall in order to sell it. That explains why the kick was so weak?"
Lucy slapped him on the shoulder as the two of them laughed with each other. The laughter was broken as Lucy grabbed Natsu by the back of the neck and pulled him in for another kiss. After that she rested her head on the boy's shoulder and closing her eyes. She could feel herself falling asleep as Natsu began to stroke her hair.
"I hate treating you like that," Lucy sighed, rubbing her cheek against Natsu's chest. "It makes me feel sick to my stomach."
"Shh," Natsu said trying to sooth her. "You and I both know that we have to keep this up so no one becomes suspicious of us. I don't mind, it's no different than how most other people treat me around town so I'm used to it."
The words didn't provide the blonde much comfort. It actually made her feel worse as she thought about the way the town's people treated Natsu. She just tightened her hold on him. Natsu began to stroke her hair as he hummed a tune to her. The two of them stood there in that moment, a gentle breeze blew by them, and the sound birds singing in the trees.
The two of them took a seat on the grass near the bank of the water. Lucy rested her head on Natsu's shoulder. The two of them sat there staring at the lake, watching a family of ducks as the swam on the surface. They sat there in tranquil peace with one another, holding one another's hand. Natsu watched the stillness of the lake happy that Lucy was there with him.
Lucy was at peace resting her head against the teen boy's chest. She could hear his heart beat. It was soothing to hear as his body provided her warmth and comfort. Being there with him made her feel safe and comfortable. She found herself drifting off to sleep. The sounds of the grass and flowers swaying in the breeze and the light touch of water on the banks.
Natsu thought to himself as he wanted to speak to Lucy about what was troubling. He was hesitant at first biting his lip, wondering whether or not he should even bring it up what was on his mind. In the end, after a long while sitting there with her he decided that he would risk it.
"Hey Lucy," Natsu whispered in her ear.
"Yeah?" Lucy answered in a murmured keeping her eyes closed.
"Are you happy? Here with me?" Natsu whispered to her.
"Yeah," she exhaled with a deep breath. "Why do you ask?"
"Well you know how your birthday is coming up, and your father wants you to marry some prince?" Natsu began. Lucy answered with a simple yes as she did before, still keeping her eyes shut. "Do you think you're going to marry a prince when the time comes?"
The question caused Lucy to stir as she sat back up. Natsu peered down at her as she looked him straight in the eye.
"I don't know," she sighed hugging him tighter. "You know I don't want to. I want to be with you, here and now. I love you."
"Then what would say if I asked you to leave with me?" Natsu said to her. Lucy frowned at the question as she furrowed her eyebrows.
"Natsu we can't leave, you know that," she said sternly. She peered at him with glaring eyes. He could sense just how serious she was at the moment.
"Why not?" Natsu asked her. Lucy became more serious as she stared at him with somber eyes.
"Natsu we can't just run away. My family's here, the people I know and love. Even if we did decide to run away together they would never stop hunting us. Is that the kind of life you want? To constantly be running away from any and every danger?" Lucy said in a grave voice.
"If it's with you than yes," Natsu said just as seriously. "I don't care if we're hunted down and have to run. We'll find somewhere we can be together, even if that means we have to cross the seas. And I will kill anyone that tries to hurt you. I'll fight to keep us safe, and you know I can. With my powers I'm invulnerable and nobody can hurt us. I promise to always be there for you."
"And what kind of life is that?" Lucy snapped.
"And what kind of life is it where you ask me to say goodbye to the woman that I love? You want me to stand by and do nothing as another man takes you away from me?" Natsu said growing frustrated. He didn't raise his voice at her, he couldn't yell or even become angry.
"Natsu please," Lucy pleaded, her eyes tearing up. Natus could feel his heat break as he peered into her eyes. She grabbed and held Natsu's hands in hers. "Let's not fight. Please, not now. We only have these few moments to spend together, and every other time I see you I have to treat you so poorly. Don't waste the time we have together by arguing. Please."
Natsu remained quiet for a few moments. He wanted to convince her to leave with him, to run away so they could be together. He could see the sorrow in her eyes as he just took a deep breath and nodded his head. He wouldn't pursue it for the moment. He would keep calm for Lucy, though he refused to let it go. He knew that she was right to some degree and for now he would keep quiet.
"Okay," he sighed kissing her hands, "I won't talk about it anymore. But I'm not going to give up on you. When the time comes, I'll be there for you," he said caressing her cheek.
Lucy clasped her hands on his as she leaned back in and kissed him once more. Natsu keeping his hand on her cheeks feeling some comfort in the touch of her lips. He decided that he did want to just live in the moment for now, but he wouldn't stop. Lucy broke away for a second, their eyes locking together as Natsu went back in for another kiss. After she broke away again she rested her head on his shoulder.
Unbeknownst to the young lovers, they were being watched from afar. A man shrouded in a cloak hid behind the branches of the trees. He smiled a coy smile but he continued to watch them. He was too far away to hear what they were saying, but he could see that there was something going on between them. When it appeared that whatever quarrel there was between the two of them was over, the cloaked man seeped back into the brush.
Once he had slipped away he made a dash back to the town. Once there he made his way to the same old tavern and up the stairs and into a back room. There he met with Iwan, only this time the noble was alone, standing in front of the fireplace as he poked the burning log to get it set. Once he was done he turned around and face the cloaked man.
"Kurohebi how did it go?" Iwan asked as he cleaned off his hands.
"My Lord," Kurohebi said bowing his head, "the princess and the slave boy seem to still be deeply in love. From what I've seen, Princess Lucy may even plan to leave with the boy before she is due to wed King Duke or any other suitor."
"Well then I guess that works well with our plans," Iwan said with a sly smirk. "I couldn't have asked for things to go this well. And you're sure that nobody else knows about the two of them?"
"I am positive my Lord," Kurohebi answered. "Their relationship is only known between them, and us."
"Good," Iwan said rubbing his chin. "Very good. It is only a matter of time now."
"Well how much longer until King Duke arrives at Konvern, my Lord?" Kurohebi asked.
"He is due to arrive later in the month, probably after Princess Lucy's sixteenth birthday," Iwan said as he sat down at the table. "And I don't know whether or not he will be the only one attempting to gain her hand in marriage. Though King Jude is leaning towards King Duke."
"Why?" Kurohebi asked puzzled.
"King Jude prefers King Duke because he is young, has large chunks of land and his army wasn't as damaged in the dragon wars as most other countries. King Jude sees it as an ample opportunity to gain some power. The combination of the two kingdoms would prove to be an incredible force," Iwan said as he leaned back in his chair. "Also, you include Natsu into the mix and you have a force that would be unstoppable. This is why so many other kingdoms have been trying to gain Princess Lucy's hand. One of the only downsides to the marriage is that other countries have threatened war."
"War my Lord?" Kurohebi asked.
"Of course," Iwan said as matter of factually. "You think they want to see one of the largest forces under the banner of the king whose father only seventeen years ago led the demise of the Draconans, a peaceful race, simply for the sake that he could take their wealth from them? Now that he has a beast that can rip out men's throats with claws and breath fire that only causes countries to worry more. War might be a last resort to stop their kingdoms from falling to the same fate as the Draconans."
"So you expect there to be a war?" Kurohebi asked.
"I expect as much," Iwan shrugged. "Natsu will be a helpful tool when the time comes. But unfortunately we're not the only ones with a weapon like him in our arsenal."
"Really?" Kurohebi asked as he took a seat next to his lord.
"I have heard rumors," Iwan told him, "rumors that say other children of dragons have been captured and taken into other countries. I tried to keep it secret, but after the boy's outburst all those years ago word had traveled far. Many kingdoms did not believe it until one of our own military leaders spoke of it. Fortunately, King Jude had enough sense to cut off the fool's head, but by then it was too late. Our enemies knew of Natsu's existence long ago, and have resorted to their own tactics."
"So they have discovered ways to kill the boy?" Kurohebi asked. His eyes went wide as he sulked in his chair. A decade of watching the boy, insuring that he did all of Iwan's bidding only to find out that the boy may have just become obsolete made the spy uncomfortable.
"No, nothing like that," Iwan said. "I have heard rumors of others like Natsu. Whether they are true or not I have yet to see, but if they are. This war will not be easily won."
"What are we to do my Lord?" Kurohebi asked.
"I have already taken care of it my friend," Iwan let out a sly smirk. "I have invited King Jean Du-Arc to come and see if he can convince King Jude to marry Princess Lucy off to his son." Iwan leaned in. "He says that he is bringing a very interesting prospect. One that might completely sway King Jude's decision in his favor."
"What?" Kurohebi asked.
"That I can't tell you," Iwan said leaning back. "I don't want to spoil the surprise."
"I see," Kurohebi said disappointed.
"By the way," Iwan continued. "Have the princess and the slave taken their relationship to the next level? I mean, have they explored how they could potentially create a child if they decided?"
Kurohebi laughed at the remark, but even Iwan found himself in a fit of laughter. "No," Kurohebi said shaking his head. "The two of them have only kept it to minor love moments. Nothing beyond kissing and holding hands."
"So he's managed to control his the more beastly side of himself," Iwan said raising an eyebrow. "The other beastly side of him. I can't say that I was the same when I was his age. By then I'm pretty sure I had already had my fill of young ladies, but never a princess. Such a feat must be admired and respected."
The two of them erupted into a fit of laughter once more. Iwan just shook his head as he thought about the two of them together. He had to give credit to the teen boy. He had known of almost every secret meeting that was shared between the princess and slave since they were children. He even monitored Lucy's training in fighting under Gildarts and Natsu, learning knew ways to defend herself. Her father had never known that the girl was visiting the lake with the two of them, and with Gildarts spending almost every night in a tavern or brothel, he never talked to the king about it either. Iwan often told the king that Lucy had gone off into town with a guard. The king never paid much mind.
"But the boy never did seal the deal," Kurohebi told him.
"True," Iwan said pursing his lips together. "But still you have to give the boy credit for getting this far."
"I guess that is true," Kurohebi said. "But now what is the plan now? Do you want me to continue watching the boy?"
"Of course," Iwan told him. "I want to know every move he makes. That boy is vital to all our plans. Everything he does, anything that happens to him is essential. That is why I'm going to need to you for something else."
"What?" Kurohebi asked.
"How do you feel about working with bandits?" Iwan asked grinning widely.