~Fate is Cruel~

"...You may now kiss the bride," Toreno announced. There was an awkward pause as Phinelli turned red and looked at the ground.

Everyone was silent, some nervous, some confused. Mirin looked at Zarador and smirked oh-so-slightly, like she knew something he didn't. It took only a second for that to register to him.

Phinelli, twenty years old, clothed like a princess, a year's worth of spellcasting experience, getting married to the most poweful political figure in Wherrem.

And utterly, completely...well, -innocent-.

Well, he could always do what his friend had said; 'keep your hands off her...'

No, of course not. People just don't skip kissing in a wedding. It just wasn't how things were done. But the way Phinelli looked, all glossy-eyed, small, and pale...she looked suddenly ten years younger, and Zarador couldn't bear to kiss anyone who seemed so much like a child.

"Cough-anydaynow-cough," eminated from one of the guests. A few people sniggered. Toreno was staring blankly, as if unsure what to do about this himself. He looked a bit shocked, and with good reason - people who said "I do" to all the vows usually didn't back out at the last minute.

Zarador finally lifted her veil and placed just a small kiss on her forhead. The crowd looked relieved and clapped approvingly (though awkwardly); Phinelli went very red in the face.

"Now that that's settled, I greatly apologize sirs and misses, but I have some people I need to tend to..." Toreno said.

"Of course you may go. Thank you for sparing your time," Zarador said. Toreno smiled and bowed before leaving. The crowd began to disperse, the different sides mingling. Zarador stepped off into the shade of a large leaf, glad it was over.

His two friends from earlier (who were really named Denito and Kartler) suddenly swooped him off to a more secluded area of the branch, carrying him along by both arms. They stopped and turned to face him. Denito (aka, bow-tier) leaned an arm on Zarador's shoulder.

"So, when and where is the honeymoon?" Denito asked, grinning.

"We don't know. There likely won't be one," Zarador replied.

"Oh, you two are such rule-breakers. Don't you want to have a million children and grow old and die together?"

"We don't even know each other. I met her a week ago."

Both friends looked shocked. They exchanged looks, and Kartler spoke up. "Then why are you marrying?"

"It's called love at first sight, Kart," Denito said.

"No..." Zarador said.

"...You have other...'motives'?" Denito said, smirking.

"Denito! Honestly!" Zarador said, "No, no, neither of those. Madame Mirin...blackmailed me...She really only wants my wealth. She's using Miss Phinelli to get it."

"Don't call her 'Miss' anymore," Denito said. "Anyway, why would you be willing to give up your riches? It must be some pretty serious blackmail. Were you a criminal? Or maybe a swinger. Or maybe you're not interested in women at all..."

"Denito!" Zarador said.

"You mean he's right?" Kartler asked.

"No," Zarador said.

"He's in denial. He knows he doesn't love her. Nope. He loves US," Denito said.

"No!" Zarador said, very irritated by now.

"What?!" Kartler was surprised, being very naive and un-used to Denito's twisted sense of humor.

"Yes, he's secretly wanted to marry the both of us this whole time," Denito said.

"NO!" Zarador shouted, pushing them away from him. "No, no, and no! That's not at all what it's about. Just leave the subject alone, please?"

"What is it then?" they asked in near-unison.

"If I wanted the whole world to know then I wouldn't have married Phinelli to keep her mother from telling everyone, now would I? It is none of your business, and never will be! Now leave me alone!"

The friends realized they had crossed the line, and backed away, muttering apologies before finally dashing away and out of Zarador's sight. He sighed, rubbing his forehead as though suffering from a headache. What was he going to do after this? Would Mirin blackmail them to reproduce to ensure herself the possession of his riches? Surely she would know that Zarador was ageless, and his immediate death was supremely unlikely. Phinelli would certainly not outlive him; the only other option was, of course, having children. Probably lots of them.

Zarador groaned inwardly. Raising children wasn't one of his strong suits. He wasn't very happy on the idea of having them, either. Especially with someone he'd known for a week. Especially since that someone was just a maiden who'd probably never had a date in her life. He started to wonder if this was just some big nightmare he'd wake up to any minute now...but of course it wasn't. Oh well. He'd just have to keep going on, like he always did, because unlike the problems and problematic people, he never had the gaurantee of eventually perishing...

"What is the matter, Your Majesty? I would have suspected more joy from you on your own wedding day."

Zarador turned around to look at Mirin, who'd snuck up behind him.

"I don't see the reason you decided on this ridiculous ceremony. No one follows that krish-chun religion anyway," he said, "Its beliefs are nonsensical, with such ideas of monotheism and strict doctrines. Why have a matrimony following its traditions?"

"I felt like it," she said with a simple shrug.

"You FELT like it? Well of course, I wouldn't expect anything better from you than to choose a random, obscure religion for your own daughter's wedding," he said.

"I know," she said, smirking, and left.

Luckily, that was the last he saw of her.

-

Over the months, Zarador and Phinelli slowly warmed towards each other, and at times they almost forgot they hadn't gotten married by choice. Phinelli, being the sweet person she was, made great friends with the other people residing in the palace, and was much loved by everyone, mostly by Zarador, though he was too stubborn to openly admit it. She could never quite understand his reluctance to speak of the word 'love'. It seemed like every time she brought it up it made him remember something painful, and he would then change the subject or just leave the room. Eventually, out of fear she was hurting his feelings, Phinelli quit saying 'I love you' altogether.

Despite the lack of those three words, Phinelli and Zarador's relationship grew, unlike most forced-to-be-wed couples, and one thing led to another, and one morning when feeling ill she went to the cleric and found out that she was going to have a child.

Unfortunately, this was about the time that a good chunk of the colonies decided a sudden raise in taxes was unfair and they had therefore rebelled. They refused to pay anything and would even attack tax collectors and negotiators. The tax raise to gain more money had turned quite the sour opposite, and there came a decrease in income for the palace. This had Zarador constantly in his office, going through papers and speaking with diplomats, trying to sort things out. He kept trying to strike a balance; he did want to go back completely on the tax raise, however it obviously couldn't stay as high as it was. And his busy-ness left Phinelli alone most of the month.

Finally one day, when he had no appointments to speak with any more diplomats and accountants, Phinelli walked right in and was about to loudly proclaim the fact she was going to have a baby, and suddenly felt an attack of "The Shyness". She started to shrink back out the door, hoping Zarador hadn't noticed her entrance, when he looked up and asked, "Is there something you wanted to say?"

"I...uhm..."

"There isn't much use in stalling. Please, just tell me what you wish to say," he said.

She just stared, half tempted to turn and run, but finally blurted out, "I'm going to have a baby!" She sighed as though a weight had been lifted off her chest.

However, Zarador did not seem relieved at all, but rather just the opposite. He had completely frozen, eyes wide with...what? Shock? Terror? Cardiac arrest? He was so still he almost seemed not to breathe, and Phinelli thought he had died on the spot when he calmed slightly, but still looking like he'd been electrocuted.

And then reality marched up and slapped her in the face. She was pregnant. A baby. A child. What would they do? How would they raise it? Would it be deformed? Sick? Would it hate them and run away? Commit suicide? Kill them? Was it a boy or a girl? Did it matter? Would labor hurt? How long would it last? What would they name it? Was it twins? Triplets? Octuplets?!

"I CAN'T TAKE IT ANYMORE!" she shrieked, causing Zarador to jump. He stood, saying, "No, don't be sad, it's...it's wonderful..." She ignored his words, ran up, and practically tackled him in a hug, bawling her head off.

"I don't know what to dooo! I don't know how to raise a kid! I'm too young!...I think! Waaahhhhh!" she cried, clinging to him around the waist.

"Shh, it's okay, it'll be alright..." he said.

-

Over the next months, he seemed to be right. Everything was in order - clothes and blankets were made, a room with a crib was prepared, and Phinelli even had a lovely little baby shower with a few close maids and servants as guests. But outside the palace, tension was rising.

The feud between the elves and minotaurs had ended very bloodily - the entire council of minotaur shamans had been assassinated, and the elven chief and chieftess were kidnapped, held for ransom, and killed despite the ransom being met. The minotaurs were ran out of the Tree of Harmony and disappeared eastward, and the elves were still recovering. But they were not the only two races with strong and violent disagreements. Rumors had reached Zarador of large groups of Ethereal Shapeshifters moving into the higher levels in the Tree, which was very troubling news.

Zarador's own kind, the Sanguians, had a racial rivalry against the Ethereals that ran deep and were securely rooted. In fact, this was partially due to Zarador himself, as he was the first Sanguian, ever. (He far outlived the rest of the Sanguians who followed after, being unable to age because of a backfired spell. Thus, he was there back when all the elemental shapeshifter species were originating, and is the only person living who remembers them first-hand. Thus...he knows that it is impossible remove the hatred the Ethereals hold for his kind.)

The rivalry began between him and a certain boy by the name of Lathan Tuketu, who had made every single day of his life horrid by means of insulting, deceiving, degrading, and even beating. Lathan had grown up rich and spoilt. His father dealt with real-estate and owned many of the homes in the town, and both his parents were highly skilled magi. Lathan's ascendants had even helped to found the town in the first place. Zarador's parents were the exact opposite - his parents were both poor, barely made the rent, had no magic skills, and his mother was even mute. So Lathan (and all of his friends) were quick to constantly pick on Zarador.

That is, until Lathan was murdered.

As reported by his butlers, who'd seen it happen, Lathan was eating his dinner when he suddenly collapsed. He hadn't ever shown signs of sickness or pain, and didn't even cry out when he died - he simply went limp for no apparent reason. The food had been examined, and it was determined he'd been poisoned. But by whom, no one knew. However, many fingers were pointed, some at Zarador for obvious reasons, but also at his highschool sweetheart, Sierra. She was more open about her hatred towards Lathan, mainly because she didn't like anyone harming her Zara, but also for reasons that no one knew of (save for Zarador, whom she'd told in confidence, and he'd never told a soul, bound by oath and having decided to never break any single promise to her, ever).

Sierra, by then, had already had Zarador's child, Kedda. Their little girl had already grown to be four years old, her fifth birthday fast approaching, when her mother had been killed. Found in the forest near town with an arrow lodged in her back, Sierra had been assassinated expertly and no one ever found out who had killed her. Everyone, of course, assumed it was one of the Ethereals, thus bringing the Umbrians into the feud.

From then on, the three species could never resolve their conflicts, and distanced themselves from each other. The Ethereals settled in mid-Wherrem (at least most of them) and the Umbrians had disappeared from the map, their wherabouts a total mystery (but they were reputed as being a mysterious people). The Sanguians, led by Zarador, settled in the Tree of Harmony and became the dominant race.

Zarador pondered the Ethereals sudden migration. It was probably not good - a large amount of enemies all moving so near to where he lived was definately a sign of trouble. But he wasn't going to do anything about it for now. More citizens did, after all, mean more taxpayers, so he could relieve the taxes a tad. If they showed signs of possibly trying to kill him, he could easily have them evacuated.

At least, if someone did manage to kill him, he had a potential heir.