As sunlight streamed through the window, it illuminated the room, glinting off mirrors, gilded frames, and blinding the girl who was walking around with a book on her head. Indeed, the girl stumbled, sending the book flying off and landing with a loud thunk on the floor. She kicked it in frustration, and was about to bend down to retrieve the tome when someone beat her to it.

"An atlas, Princess?" a slightly older young woman asked, raising an eyebrow. "Brushing up on your geography?"

"I fell down the stairs earlier and got caught. Apparently, that's not at all correct behavior for a Princess, and if I can't walk gracefully then I shall have to be taught to do so. Hence the book." She sighed, rubbing the top of her blonde hair. "Does my skull look flatter?"

"Only slightly."

The princess took the book and deposited back on the shelf where it belonged. "Where have you been anyway, Emerald? If you were with me like you're supposed to be, then I wouldn't have fallen. Or at least I could have blamed it on you."

Emerald rolled her eyes. "Mikomi, I'm your bodyguard, not your scapegoat. And I only have to be with you when you leave the palace. Unless you think one of the librarians is going to attack you."

"Oh, no," she waved off the comment. "They haven't tried to do that since I was five and started drawing in the books."

"Anyway, your mother sent me to get you. You have visitors," she informed with a wicked smile.

Princess Mikomi looked at her warily. "Visitors I know, or visitors I don't and don't want to?" Her bodyguard just smiled. "Would I be able to convince you to pretend you never found me?"

"Now, Princess, you don't want to disappoint them! This time it's a duke from Lockhaven."

Mikomi checked her reflection in the mirror, trying to make her bright blue eyes look at least slightly interested and practice her smile. At least her long pink dress was fun, even if she wasn't having any.

"Let's go, Mikomi. We can't keep him waiting." Grabbing her arm, Emerald dragged the princess out of her room and down the central staircase.

"Em, sweetheart, what if we do that thing where you pretend to be me and scare them away?" she suggested.

"The last time we did that, it almost caused a war."


Emerald pushed the blonde forward. "Just go see your mother."

Mikomi shot her a look, then continued down the corridor where the queen was waiting with two men. She pasted a smile on her face as she curtsied before her mother. "Your highness."

Queen Julia was an older version of her daughter, with equally white blonde hair and blue eyes. "Gentlemen, this is my daughter, Princess Mikomi. Darling, this is Duke Alan of Sharples."

"From Lockhaven," Mikomi added, surprising the duke. "It's so nice to meet such a high official from our neighboring kingdom."

Duke Alan raised a red eyebrow, stroking his mustache. "It's an honor to meet you, Princess. I've heard so much about you."

"Not all bad, I hope."

"Nothing but praises, I assure you."

"Then I guess my bodyguard only calls me a pain to my face," she giggled, looking back down the hallway where Emerald still was. She sent her a look, one that obviously meant 'if I have to suffer through this, you will too.'

Emerald, suppressing a sigh, approached the group and bowed. "Your highnesses, may I suggest moving into one of the sitting rooms? I'm sure the duke would love some of your famous mint tea."

"An excellent idea." Queen Julia smiled. "Please, your grace, allow my daughter to take you to the white room and I'll make sure someone brings you some tea."

"Thank you, your highness," Duke Alan kissed the queen's hand. "Your hospitality is everything I heard it is."

After the queen excused herself, Mikomi turned down one of the side halls, leading him to the white room. "Please, your grace, take a seat. I'm sure the tea will be here shortly."

Settling on a plush cream-colored couch, he patted the cushion next to him. "Princess Mikomi, I'm thrilled at being able to get to know you. I've heard you're a fascinating person."

Mikomi sent a pleading look towards Emerald, begging her to stay, before taking her seat. "Oh? I wouldn't consider myself fascinating. Far from it, really."

"Nonsense," he brushed away the comment. "Your name in itself is thrilling."

"Oh, well, when I was born we were going through a treaty alliance with the empire of Kohaku in the east. Mikomi is the name of a princess in one of their most popular myths. My parents thought it would be a show of good faith to the country if they named me after her." Princess Mikomi of Trillic smiled. "But that really has nothing to do with me."

Duke Alan smiled in return. "It's a lovely story. But that's not the only interesting thing I've heard about you. I learned from Duke Jonathan of Mula that when he came to visit you, you went horseback riding. Apparently, you left him in the dust."

The princess stared at her hands in mock humility, inwardly smirking at the expression on Duke Jonathan's face after she left him in the middle of the woods. "Oh, well, I've been riding since before I could walk. I guess it's just difficult for people to keep up with me sometimes."

Duke Alan reached out and put his hand on top of hers. "I'm sure that no one would mind trying."

She tried not to flinch, but tilted her head coyly as she asked, "Duke Alan, please excuse my rudeness, but how old are you? I'm sure someone as smart as you didn't have to work hard or long to achieve such a prestigious title."

"I don't find you rude at all, dear Princess," Alan smiled. "I'm thirty."

"I'm sixteen."

His hand wrapped around hers. "I've always felt that age is simply a number."

Mikomi sent a frightened look towards Emerald, before smiling shakily at the duke.

Emerald, who was leaning against the wall near the doorway, wondered if she'd have to slip something into the duke's tea that made him horribly ill or at least knocked him out for a few hours. She always sympathized with her princess's plight, but admitted that she was happy no one was forcing her into marriage.

"Have you been the princess's bodyguard long?"

Emerald glanced at the duke's bodyguard; she hadn't been aware that he was able to talk. "For a few years now."

He held out a hand. "Sergeant Bernard Spinner, of the Lockhaven army."

She shook it firmly. "General Emerald Silver."

"General?" Dark eyebrows rose above equally dark eyes. "Excuse me for asking, but how did someone as young as you become a general?"

He didn't add, 'Someone who is a girl, nonetheless,' but she knew he was thinking it. Everyone always thought it.

"Help win a few battles, make sure bandits don't invade the city, lead some troops in skirmishes against invaders over the border—which we won, of course—and sooner or later, you're a general," she remarked as if it were nothing to become a general at the age of nineteen.

"Of course," Bernard smirked, "then you get placed on bodyguard duty."

"Excuse me?" Emerald asked, raising an eyebrow.

"I mean no offense, General, but bodyguard duty is hardly the most difficult thing you could be doing."

Emerald held back a snort. "You don't know Mikomi. I doubt most bodyguards need to learn to braid and fix high heels. Besides, you're the duke's bodyguard."

He shook his head. "Only for this trip. When Duke Alan told the king that he was going to visit Princess Mikomi, he insisted a bodyguard come with him, after what happened to Prince Curtis."

"I assure you, the princess had no idea there were water moccasins in the lake. It was just lucky that Prince Curtis discovered that before the Princess Mikomi went in. And our healers did a wonderful job on him."

Bernard cleared his throat, "Yes, well, I volunteered to come with him to meet your princess. I've heard so much about her. She's even lovelier in person."

Emerald's eyes drifted over to Mikomi, who was doing a good job of pretending to be interested by the duke's stories. They were opposites in most ways. While the princess's blonde locks rolled down her back in waves, her bodyguard was a brunette addicted to ponytails. Mikomi had eyes that were continuously compared to the sky or the ocean; while Emerald's eyes were supposed to match her namesake, she felt that they had to be unpolished gems. She even grudgingly admitted that the princess's form could make anything look feminine, especially compared to her boyish figure. "She is at that."

At that moment, a maid came in with a tray of tea and finger sandwiches, placing it on the table in front of the princess and duke before curtsying and leaving. Princess Mikomi poured some for the duke, then a second one that she held out towards the door. "Emerald?"

Duke Alan started, staring as the general took the cup with a, "Thank you, Princess."

Mikomi looked at the other bodyguard. "I'm sorry, I didn't catch your name. Would you like some tea?"

Bernard looked at Duke Alan, who seemed just as bewildered. "Um…no, thank you, Princess Mikomi."

She shrugged. "Suit yourself. If you change your mind, please help yourself. Your grace, please try to finger sandwiches. They're delicious."

Smirking to herself, Emerald could tell that Mikomi was just trying to find a way to shut the redhead up. "After you're finished with your tea, Princess, we have to go. You have a voice lesson."

"Oh, you're right!" Mikomi sighed, pouting lightly with fake depression. "I'm sorry, Duke Alan, but I guess I'll have to leave."

"Ah, but Princess Mikomi, your voice sounds quite lovely to me."

"Thank you, you're so kind. But my mother insists that I know something musical. I really should be leaving; my voice teacher gets so irate if I'm late." Mikomi stood up, still smiling. "Thank you so much for your time. I do hope to see you again."

Quickly, she exited the room, knowing the Emerald would be behind her. After they turned the corner, heading for the staircase, she sighed in relief. "Thank you for getting me out of there."

Her bodyguard smiled. "It just wouldn't do if you hit him. Grabby one, wasn't he?"

"Unnecessarily so," Mikomi agreed. "And is it just me or do they keep getting older?"

"You could stop it if you wanted to," Emerald reminded her as they sought refuge in the princess's chambers.

She shook her head resolutely. "No. I'm going to be queen. It's a stupid law, but I'll abide by it."

"Who came up with it anyway?" Emerald wondered, taking a seat in her favorite chair. "It's so old-fashioned. If a princess is the first born, she has to be married and take the thrown before the prince becomes eighteen or else she automatically abdicates?"

"I have eight more years until my brother is old enough to assume the throne. Finding a husband is the hardest part. I'm not ready to marry yet anyway. But all these boorish males who come and try to woo me are just turning me off all men in general." She sat on her bed, picking at the blanket resting across the soft mattress.

Emerald raised an eyebrow. "Still waiting for the perfect guy?"

Mikomi smiled wistfully. "Of course not. I know that such a guy doesn't exist. I just want someone I can stand. Maybe someone that will even make me happy. But I really want someone who will be able to rule with me, someone who will do right by my country."

"It's going to be so much work. Why are you even doing it?"

Standing up, she moved over to the large window seat that looked over the capital city. "This is my home. I've been told all my life that because I'm a girl, I'm not smart enough or good enough to protect it. I care for these people and I think I could do a good job."

Emerald put her hand on the princess's shoulder. "I think you would do a good job too." As Mikomi smiled at her, she added, "Plus, with you as the queen, I might actually be able to go out and have some fun. Maybe end this bandit problem for good."

Mikomi frowned down from her window, watching at a skirmish in the town square. "Yes, it does seem to be a growing issue. I don't get it, Em. Why do people decide to become bandits?"

The general's eyes seemed to darken. "I don't know," she whispered. "I really wish I did."

"You wanna be out there, don't you?" the princess questioned, gesturing out the window. "Fighting amongst the other guards, getting your hands dirty. If you really want to, I can request another bodyguard."

"Surprisingly, Mikomi, I've somehow become fond of you," Emerald promised. "Besides, I don't think anyone else would be able to put up with you as long as I have."

The blonde made a face. "I hate to admit that might be true. No one's ever stuck around this long. It's usually only a few months. But one day I'll be queen and you'll be off having wondrous adventures until I need you."

"And, as always, when you need me, I'll be back. Except for certain stair incidents, of course."

Mikomi nodded slowly, speaking more to herself than her friend. "Yes. One day I'm going to be Queen Mikomi of Trillic…"

Emerald shrugged. "Perhaps not."

She looked at her bodyguard sharply. "What?"

"I'm sure you'll be queen of somewhere," she continued. "But I'm not sure it'll be Trillic. That's probably why your parents let all these foreign royals come to meet you. They want you to fall in love with one of them so that you'll go be their princess or duchess and won't concentrate on the Trillic throne."

"Absolutely not," Mikomi shook her head, blonde hair flying back and forth. "I'm going to be queen of Trillic. They're running out of men from other countries who aren't scared of the stories they hear about me. Pretty soon they'll have to look around here and I'll stay and rule my country."

"Just hearing how beautiful you are will eclipse any fears they have of the Princess Rabbit," Emerald grinned, using Mikomi's old nickname that she still wasn't sure how she'd picked up. "I'm going to go find you some lunch. You hide in here. Unless you want to go see Duke Alan again…"

The princess paled at the suggestion. "You. Go. Hungry."

Emerald turned on the heel of her brown leather boots, heading downstairs towards the general direction of the kitchens. She was intercepted along the way by Count Daniel of Epstein. "General Silver, we need you in a conference."

She crossed her arms over her chest. "I was just on my way to pick up lunch for the princess."

"This is more important," he shook his head, hazel eyes lined with blue boring in to her. She supposed he could be considered handsome if he wasn't so serious all the time.

"Princess Mikomi gets cranky if she isn't fed."

The count scowled at her. "I'll take care of it. Please join the meeting, General."

Emerald didn't move. "Don't forget her bread and butter. If you do that, she tends to throw things."

Count Daniel twitched. "General Silver…"

"I'm just looking out for your safety, sir. She has quite good aim, and you're such a forbidding figure yourself that you make a solid target—"

"Thank you for your concern, General. I'll keep that in mind. Now, if you would please join the others," he gestured to a closed door on his right that lead to a conference room.

Holding back a smirk, she bowed, turning towards the room and opening the large oak doors. "Sorry I'm late, gentlemen," she announced, sitting at the empty chair that she assumed had been Daniel's. There was a split reaction to her presence; some were relieved that one of their most reliable generals had shown up, while others were disappointed that the count had been able to find Emerald. She tried not to feel self-conscious that they were all in their military attire, while she wore black pants and a tan tunic. "That Count Daniel really likes to ramble."

Brigadier General Tyman of Davis smiled at her. Emerald still wasn't sure if he knew she was a girl. It was hard to tell exactly where he was looking behind those thick glasses. "We understand, Silver. Would you like some water?"

"No, thank you. I'd really like to get down to business, if you don't mind. I have a temperamental princess waiting for me upstairs."

"This shouldn't take long," the brigadier general assured her. "We want to discuss the bandit problem with you."

She sat a little straighter in her seat. "What about it?"

One of the sergeants who sat across from her crossed his arms over his chest. "I'm not sure if you're aware of this, General Silver, but a whole group of them attacked the town today in succession. We were able to fight most of them off, but they got several of our men and managed to take quite a few items that the store owners now want us to pay for."

"Such as?"

He nodded to a page, who began reading off a list, "Three gold necklaces, five loaves of bread, fifteen chickens, twelve bottles of ale and a chair."

Emerald's jaw clenched. "A what?"

"A chair, my lady…I mean, sir…I mean…general," the young boy stuttered. "A very nice one, I've seen it in the window of the store. It's carved cherry wood, with dyed leather padding."

She took a few deep breaths. "What exactly do you want me to do about this? Go and pay all the store-owners back personally?"

"We want you to figure out a way to stop this problem!" General Orzon of Camden demanded. Emerald waited patiently; when he got off on a tangent, it could take a while. "You're supposed to be this military prodigy, and you've fought the bandits before!"

"Everyone here has fought the bandits before," Brigadier General Laurence of Braziel reminded him. "We haven't had this kind of trouble since before the princess was born, but I'm sure at least half of our soldiers have had skirmishes with them since they first came to our attention a few years ago."

General Orzon pounded a fist on the table. "But none of them have ever led successful battles against them! She's the only one who has ever come close!"

Emerald lifted her hand off the table to get his attention. "May I remind you that I almost died all of those times?"

"Are you not willing to die for this country?" General Orzon demanded.

"Of course I am," she spat back. "But just remember: If I die, one of you or your soldiers is going to have to take over my role as the princess's bodyguard." The men around the table paled at the idea, remembering the havoc caused the last time Emerald had to leave the princess for a long period of time. She leaned back in her chair, examining the nails of her left hand. "I have a feeling that if that happens, either the runaway rate or the suicide rate is going to go up exponentially."

Brigadier General Tyman said quietly, "You are the best bodyguard she's ever had. She really listens to you."

"And don't you forget it," Emerald muttered under her breath, before clearing her throat. "If you really want me to concentrate on the bandit problem, I will."

General Orzon fixed his black eyes on her. "You'll give it your all this time?"

Her green eyes locked on his, narrowing slightly. "Are you insinuating something, General?"

"Just wondering how someone who saved us numerous times in the Pascal War by taking over a slain commander could have any trouble leading troops against a few bandits."

"Those men were in a combat situation; they weren't taken completely by surprise when they were on their way to the pub. They were also better trained and better armed," she growled. "I don't like your suggestions that I somehow let these people win."

He shrugged. "I'm having trouble understanding how someone who's never had any trouble leading in the battlefield can't take down the bandit."

Emerald scowled. "Maybe you've just been hit on the head a few too many times in battle. It's damaged your ability to think."

Sergeant Henry of Forest Gaze interrupted, "General Orzon, none of us have been able to subdue the bandits. The fact that General Silver has been able to do what she can is remarkable. They're better trained than we are and it seems she's the only match for their best fighters."

As General Orzon opened his mouth to speak, Emerald stood up, staring down at the men. "If you want me to take on this responsibility along with the princess, fine. But I'm going to do it my own way. Understand?" The men nodded slightly. "Then good day to you, gentlemen." She turned and walked out of the conference room, letting the door slam shut behind her.

A page was running along when she stopped him. "I need you to tell something to the princess for me."

"Th-the princess?" He gulped.

"Oh, you've heard of her?" she questioned sarcastically. He nodded quickly and she just sighed. "I need you to go to her room and tell her that the men have made Emerald go on an errand for them and I'm not sure when I'll be back. Can you do that?"

"Y-Yes, General Silver!"

She wasn't sure if the fact she scared this child was a good thing or not. "Thank you." There was a silver piece in her pocket and she handed it to him with a ruffle of his hair. He ran off and she continued to the main entrance of the palace. Pushing aside the large, heavy doors with one hand, the other fingered the hilt of her broadsword and she headed towards town.