70 Meeting a Second Time
It was only minutes ago that I had been discovered. I had believed my escape plan had just failed like that, with a single man hearing my barks and discovering me in my makeshift hideout. I had believed he would bring me back to my rooms and confine me there or, far worse, lead me to the king who would present me to the gathered masses of strangers.
There had been no way for me to escape the fate of being made into the prince's betrothed and it was only a matter of time before I would not only be forced to marry him but also to... be his wife. And then she had appeared, just like that, to end all of my fears by just being here.
Shiro didn't even have to say a single word. After stealing my dress and underwear to protect her bare body, and complaining about how tight it was especially in the chest area, she simply picked me up from the ground and carried me away just like that.
The man didn't even think about stopping her. After the initial three or four seconds it took for him to overcome his surprise, he immediately knelt down without ever daring to look up further than Shiro's knees. He didn't even utter a single word to her, though I could hear him mumble a series of prayers.
His comrades were far harder to deal with. Some of them knelt down to honor the goddess and pray, others, however, immediately began spreading the news of her appearance in midst of the palace garden. I heard the shouts of the men traveling through the buildings, reaching further and further, until they were almost inaudible.
It only took minutes for this little information to reach the wrong ears. Before we had even seen the gate that would lead us to freedom, a large group of guards and familiar faces appeared in front of us. They blocked our way, some by standing, others while kneeling down.
The king seemed shocked to see the vixen in person, but even he soon bowed down to show his respect to her.
«Did they all see the figurine? What did they do with it? Display it for all to see?! Why does everybody know how she looks?!»
It took Hensin only a few moments to regain his usual calm. He slowly raised up to face Shiro who stared at him as if he was the sole warrior protecting an enemy castle.
"Your holiness, please wait," he begged her.
"You dare to block my way?"
I looked at Shiro in disbelief. Her voice was entirely different from the one I had grown accustomed to. It seemed dominant, self-confident and... looking down on them?
That had to be it. She was treating those men and women in front of her as lower beings, as insects she could easily trample into dust should she decide to do so. And the king believed her. Not only him, but all of his guards, too. I could even see a few of them shaking in fear.
There was only one single figure that didn't seem to be frightened, one that knew me well enough to judge that I would hold back Shiro should she try to go on a rampage. Laurin stepped forward, ignoring the words of his father who tried to hold him back.
"You will take her away," he asked, his voice growing weaker with each word he spoke.
"I will not accept a mere human to ask for the hand of my daughter!"
"I never tried to hurt her!"
"She did not wish for it!"
"But I," he hesitated for a second, "I love her!"
It was only now that his father dared to step forward. He once again bowed to the goddess, completely lacking the boldness of his son, before he spoke up in a quiet, but collected voice.
"Your holiness, I never wished for your daughter to be displeased. I only tried to make the best decision for both her and my people."
"Why would that mean to marry her to your son?"
Hensin placed his hand on Laurin's shoulder. "My son will be the king of Aurent, the greatest of the Eleven Kingdoms, and she will be at his side, as his queen. She will be loved by the masses and receive all the honor she deserves. There can't possibly be a better man for her!"
Shiro answered him with a threatening silence, clearly showing what she thought about his 'generous' offer. Hensin, however, didn't accept her rejection just like that. He kept pushing forward, trying to protect the precious jewel named 'saint' or 'fox' he had managed to grasp for himself.
"We will dedicate shrines to your holiness," he promised, "not only the one in the palace!"
I could almost hear Shiro thinking. If there was a single thing that could bribe her, it was shrines or anything else that would increase the number of believers that fed her with faith.
Hensin wasn't blind enough to miss the change in her expression. A faint smile grew on his lips before he continued his attack.
"Your holiness! I have personally ordered for the palace shrine to be dedicated to you alone! It has your statue. I have prayed to it each day without a fail! Everybody here has!"
"Your daughter will receive everything she ever wished for. Nobody can ever make her happier than my son!"
Shiro considered it, she really did. That meant until I helped her finding a decision by chomping down on her, or rather my clothes.
"He- he isn't the best," she stammered.
"How can there be anybody better?!"
"Is he strong?"
"He has to be stronger than everyone! How else could he ever hope to protect her?"
"The Royal Guards are-"
"They will not be with her when she sleeps next to your son!"
"I can arrange that they guard her!"
"You want them to be around when they love each other?!"
Yep, there it grew again, that tomato-face of Laurin. Deep inside of his head, he already saw me lying next to him. I could swear he did.
«Don't try to imagine it! WHY?!»
Upon seeing this reaction, even Shiro could realize that she had said something stupid. She went silent for a moment, lost in thoughts, before coming up with a new and better excuse or rather lie, one that even the king would not be able to ignore.
"Rika will become a goddess herself. How can she accept her children to have a weak father?"
«A goddess?! Why didn't you use that excuse from the start?!»
Hensin needed some time to come up with an answer, but in the end, he could only make more promises that solely relied on her trusting him.
"I will make Laurin the strongest man there ever was! I will host a tournament and have him defeat each man daring to challenge him! He will prove his worth, as a king and a man!"
"Yes, your holiness! I will host it in the city for everybody to witness! There will be no tricks, no cheats, nothing!"
"I can see your dedication, but do you really think he will turn out to be the strongest?"
"I will make him the strongest for sure! If he proves his worth, please allow him to take your daughter's hand in marriage!"
"And if he loses?"
"He will give up on her."
«Does that guy even have an idea about what he is talking?! Humans are weaker than elves in magic, aren't they? And they should be weaker in strength compared to beastkin! And there are many other races!»
I could faintly remember Miriam carrying the blood of a tribe blessed by elemental magic. And if there were dragons and wyverns, there should be demihumans with their blood, too! My knowledge of this world was by no means acceptable, but going by logic alone, I was sure about Hensin losing this bet no matter how hard he tried. I almost felt sorry for his son.
Shiro, too, seemed to share my thoughts. She didn't even consider denying his proposal as it was the easiest way out of this mess and palace.
"My daughter will turn fifteen in spring," she randomly decided, "she is too young to marry yet. Hold the tournament when she turns twenty. I will personally give them my blessings should your son be victorious."
"As you wish, your holiness!"
"Now step out of the way! My daughter needs her rest!"
"Were will you bring her?"
"I will bring her home, where she belongs."
This one line was enough to break his remaining resistance. Hensin moved aside to free Shiro's path and knelt down to once again honor her. His guards and his family followed his example, creating two lines for her to walk through. And she did just that.
Without saying a single word, she passed by them and existed the palace through the gate. Not the small ones that had been open when I had been brought here, but the giant one in the center of the two, the one that had looked as if it had never been opened in decades. Dozens of guards stood to both of its sides, all of them kneeling down to show their respect.
Naturally, all of this caught the attention of the onlookers that still were gathered in the courtyard. They didn't know about Shiro's real identity, only seeing a white-haired beastkin instead. So while a few were kneeling down to follow the guard's example, others choose to do nothing but stare.
There were even some that dared to shout something, but Shiro didn't waste her time with them. Instead, she summoned half a dozen familiar faces or rather foxes to free her way from anybody coming too close. The voices reaching us soon drowned in waves of equally threatening and fake sounding barks.
I was saved.
⊱————- Extra ————-⊰
Sir Fluffels: Where is he?! Where is that bastard that tried to touch our queen?
Madame Plush: *cough* *cough*
Sir Fluffels: Ehm.. pardon, my dear. I meant 'kon'. Kon kon kon! Kon!
Madame Plush: They are watching.
Sir Fluffels: Kon kon! I am a fox! Kon kon. Just a normal fox! Kon!
Sir Fluffels: Just you wait...
Madame Plush: ...
⊱————- ❈ ————-⊰
Shiro: Did you see their faces?! They were afraid! Like totally!
Shiro: They were shaking in fear! And all of them knelt down!
Shiro: Did you see them pray to me?! They did, didn't they?! The totally prayed!
Shiro: What did my shrine look like? He showed it to you, didn't he? What was it like? Was it beautiful? I want to see!
Shiro: Do you think he will open more shrines if you marry his son? I bet he would!
Shiro: Five years is too long to wait!
Shiro: I should have asked him to slay a dragon instead! Maybe he would be lucky! Why was I so stupid?!
Shiro: Do you think I could return?
Rika: Please give me back the respect I had felt for you...