The music flowed smoothly yet loudly as Princess Nikz danced alongside those also enjoying the party thrown by a lower noble. She only knew this noble by the fact he was barely held in higher regard than the commoners, someone of worth from another nation.
Still, he had invited her to a party for high profile delegates numbering somewhere in the thirties, and who could be more high profile than one of the Princess of Incasta?
“Excuse me, Your Highness?” A voice spoke over the music, and Nikz turned to see a well dressed young man. He had a messy mop of brown hair and a near perfect smile.
“May I have the honour of a dance?” A smile played upon Nikz’s face as she brushed a strand of black hair out of her face.
“It’d be my pleasure,” She replied as he led her to the dance floor. A nod from the boy and the band started playing slower, and Nikz took this to mean he was someone of importance as far as the party was concerned. The two of them began to dance a slower waltz, which disappointed Nikz inside. Oh well, she still enjoyed herself as the atmosphere around her changed from a common party to a regal ball, though she was sure it would change back.
Slowly, the entire dance floor was dancing at the same pace as Nikz moved with such grace, her waist length black hair and jade green gown flowing as elegantly as her movements.
Nikz closed her eyes as she danced, her feet never once missing a step. Being a princess had helped her learn the movements of almost every dance known in the kingdom. But for some reason, the music was lessening. She opened her eyes to find herself at the side of the party chamber.
And her partner was none other Duke Riku.
“Oh, hello Riku,” Nikz said, surprise of being caught easy to find in her voice. “Care to continue dancing?”
“Tempting,” Riku mused, his face not changing from its calm appearance. “But I’m here to escort you back to the palace. You would’ve been given permission to come had you simply told the Queens about this party.”
“Oh, you worry too much Riku,” Nikz waved him off, taking a step back towards the dance floor. “Can’t you just stop worrying about us Princesses for once and enjoy yourself?” A small smile played on Riku’s face as he looked back at the princess, his blue/grey eyes meeting her green emerald ones.
“Well, I guess I can let you off this once,” He admitted. Nikz smiled widely as she hugged the Duke.
“Oh, thank you Riku. Are you sure you can’t stay?”
Riku shook his head. “I’m afraid not. I have duties to attend to back at the palace.” The Princess shook her head, but still wore her trademark smile.
“Oh well, take care Riku,” Nikz waved as she returned to the crowd. Riku leaned to one of the two disguised royal guards flanking him.
“Just keep an eye on her.” The guard nodded and moved along the wall of the chamber, towards the food table. With one last glance at the Princess, dancing once more, Riku and the second guard walked outside and mounted their horses, steering them down the cobblestone road.
There was a slight breeze blowing behind Riku and the afternoon sun shined radiantly as he rode back towards the Royal Palace. In the street were the entrances to many taverns and inns, all bearing the national flag from their second story windows. The flag consisted of a diagonal blue stripe over a red background, with the royal family’s crest adorning the centre in gold.
Some passersby saluted or bowed to Riku as he made his way. He wasn’t too comfortable being in the spotlight, letting the more noble members of the family shine in it. After all, he was one of a select few with the title of Duke or Duchess. Still, Riku nodded to those that cared to acknowledge him.
After another few minutes of riding, Riku arrived at the gates to the Royal Palace; near twenty feet tall and made of the finest oak in the kingdom. A wave to the security guard and the creaking levels behind the palace walls pulled the gates inward. Once the Duke was inside, the gates sealed off the outside world with a resounding noise, and Riku dismounted and stood there, as always, marvelling at the sight of the palace.
The path leading up to the palace was still made of the same cobblestone as the rest of the city, but was lined with waist high hedges while the rest of the enclosed landscape looked like the rolling fields found further out in the kingdom. Large trees planted by kings long since past now stood proudly, some even taller than the walls that surrounded them.
As he walked further on, Riku could see the palace coming into view; a miraculous building created to house all members of the royal family and their assistants, chefs, gardeners, while a separate building on the other side of the main building housed all of the Royal Guard.
Heading towards the entrance, Riku heard the unmistakeable sound of steel clashing against steel. His left hand reaching for the hilt of his sword, Riku ran towards the sound, coming from inside the hedge maze.
After a few dead ends, Riku finally reached the villa in the centre of the maze, hiding behind the edge, listening for any clues as to what was happening.
“Come on Arthur,” a familiar voice rang out in disappointment. “How can I get better if I keep beating you so easily?”
“M-My apologies, Duchess Shards,” Arthur replied. “I was trying not to injure you.”
Shards sighed. “Just pretend, for one moment, I’m not royalty, okay?”
“Knowing the way Arthur can truly fight, you would be killed if he tried his hardest.”
Shards’ bright blue eyes went wide as saucers as she and Arthur turned to see Riku standing there with arms crossed returning their gaze, a smirk on his face.
“Ah, Riku,” Shards stuttered. “I-I can explain.” Riku looked over the young Duchess, taking in her common clothes; a simple white, button-up shirt with brown pants and brown beret. In her hand was a sword; a simple, non-ornamental one, not to draw too much attention to her most likely.
“I’m sure you can,” He replied, taking a few steps forward. “Why is it everyone assumes I’m the bad guy?” Both Arthur and Shards shrugged, causing Riku to shake his head, albeit with a smile on his face. “So, let’s hear the reason.”
“I... Well I...” Shards sighed. “Listen, I don’t want to be representing the family all day every day. All the others can do that, but I want to do something meaningful. Besides, you are not getting me into a dress unless the Queens say so.” Shards crossed her arms, waiting for a response. For a brief moment, all Riku did in reply was look intently at her.
“Arthur,” the Duke finally said. “I want you to return to your unit at the barracks. You are not to inform one single soul about what has happened here, understood.” The royal guard slowly nodded before standing up and making his way towards the exit of the villa.
“And as for you,” Riku continued, pointing at the Duchess as she was trying to sneak out with Arthur. “Let’s see what Arthur has taught you.”
“What,” Shards replied, the shock in her voice drowning out any other emotion.
“You heard me,” Riku replied, drawing his sword. “Like Arthur, I won’t hurt you, but just because you are a Duchess doesn’t mean I’ll go easy on you.” Riku took up a defensive stance as Shards stared at him, still shell-shocked at the challenge set in front of her.
“You aren’t joking, are you?”
“Hey,” Riku replied with a shrug, “If you think this is too tough, I hear Princess Strawberries is always looking for volunteers in the kitchen. You could be of more use there.”
That was more than enough to spur Shards into action, launching a wide swing at Riku, which was easily blocked.
“I’ll make you pay for that remark,” Shards growled through her teeth. Riku forced her away, but the Duchess came again, trying an overhead swing on this attempt. Riku sidestepped this and raised his leg, tripping Shards onto the grass underneath. Shards looked back to see Riku, sword resting over his shoulder.
“Is that all, My Lady,” He taunted.
Shards rose to her feet with another swing, again blocked, but she then spun in the opposite direction and swung hard. Riku rolled forwards before turning around and blocking another attack from his knees.
“Yield,” Shards said clearly, continuing to place pressure on Riku’s block.
Riku then directed Shards’ blade to stab into the ground, before standing in an instant and stopping mid-swing, the blade a hair’s breadth from the Duchess’ neck.
Shards’ breath came in short huffs now; partly due to amount of effort produced in that fight, and partly because she was afraid of the sword remaining that close to her neck.
Riku withdrew the sword before sheathing it and started walking away.
“Hey,” Shards yelled at him, “We aren’t done here yet.”
“Yes we are,” Riku replied, still facing the other way. “I’ll see you at five o’clock in the morning for some real training.”