Chapter 10: Occasions
             Clamorous claps and thunderous chants resonated throughout the ballroom and even throughout the kingdom. Tonight, there were candle-lit lights streaming from street to street and I was reminded of the old city life, where street lamps bedazzled the paths. Everyone was in the mood for celebration for Cael was now the King.

            Unlike traditional coronations, where the King crowned the future King of Urcis, Cael had crowned himself in the presence of all the nobles. This coronation had to have taken months to plan. Cael’s extravagant attire was well co-ordinated. He wore a long, velvet cape, crocodile skinned leather boots which were a gift from the Pharaoh of Aquilla, a new, gold crown and a golden sceptre from Slianvwi that was decorated with precious jewels, a rouge military jacket etched with the family crest paired with a set of tailored pants.
            The location of this ceremony was the Stairs of Exodus. When I had heard where the coronation would be held, I leaked a smile. I understood why he had restored this tower. It was all for his own good, yet when I asked him why he had selected this particular place, he had explained that he wanted everyone to attend this ceremony and that he wanted to be at the top of the tower. So, on the day of the coronation, all of the villagers were crowded at the base of the staircase and lower steps while the nobles, in order of dignity and importance, stood at higher levels of the stairs. The only ones that were at the top with Cael were Beau who wore his ceramic mask, the Minons, the ambassadors from the three kingdoms, and me.
            “My people,” Cael had announced and even looked down to face the many set of pairs ogling at him. “It is time for a new era, one where we can all live in peace and prosper.” Slowly, he took a step downwards and then another. “I know that there has been a lot of suffering after what my father had done,” he had explained, “and I know that there are those that may have trouble believing in this system, but I assure you that I am here to serve you. I may be too far to reach at times, but trust me that I am with you at heart. I am the People’s King.”
            Everyone was completely silent as they watched Cael descend the stairs. He had glanced backwards to signal us to follow him and so, one by one, every noble was tagging along. When Cael realized his cape was slowing him down, he tossed it aside. Nothing could withhold him now.
            I was amazed at the audience’s patience and quietness. They were practically too astonished by Cael’s attitude that they could only watch his every movement. By the time, he stepped onto the first level, he reached his hand forward and said to an old man in front of him, “Sir, do you accept me as your King?”
            The old man could not close his jaw and could not even blink until suddenly, he had fallen to his knees and had cried, “Your Majesty, you will always be our King.”
            Helping the old man up, Cael had uttered, “Thank you. I appreciate your support.”
            Then, Cael had turned to the middle-aged woman beside the old man, and had asked her the same question, “Madam, do you accept me as your King?”
            This process continued until he shook every single person’s hand and received his or her approval. I had to admit that Cael was convincing. He had appeared that he cared and surprisingly, the nobles were not enraged by Cael’s actions. Perhaps, Cael had already informed them of his plans.
            Now, thinking about the coronation, I had to add that I too had felt something magical. Everything seemed so surreal. Who would have imagined a King touching a commoner? If I too had been a peasant, then I would have believed that Cael was an angel from the Heavens. He was treating everyone equally with the same amount of attention and care.
            “Amazing, is it not?” Trenton stood beside me watching Cael and his Queen, Makoto Chiyoko Akemi, sitting in the thrones on the balcony of the Banquet Hall. Queen Chiyoko was, bluntly put, a peace offering from the Emperor of Kosei. She was the Emperor’s most adorned daughter and the only daughter of Empress Makoto.
            “Yes, it is unbelievable that he has become the King and has also married the lovely Chiyoko,” I muttered. I had never been told of his plan of marriage and nor had Beau ever informed me. I didn’t know why I found it so hard to smile at this bonding. Was I jealous of her happiness? Chiyoko was bashfully smiling as Cael whispered something in her ear. Did he even love her? And what of . . . Morganne?
            “You will have your share of joy,” Trenton nudged me, “and it is not as if this is joyful for Cael. He looks more tired to me . . . with that grin of his.”
            I looked again at Cael and behind him, I saw Beau standing still. His face was disguised by a purple mask for the masquerade, but from afar, I could still pinpoint his melancholy. I wondered what he could be thinking and I even pondered at how their marriage would function. Would Chiyoko ever discover that there were two of them? Would Beau have to share a bed with her? Would he even kiss her? Would he eventually fall in love with her?
            “You better not choke yourself to death with that necklace of yours.” Trenton chuckled before dragging me by the wrist to the centre of the dance floor. I must have been pinching onto that pendant too hard and Trenton must have known what I felt. He had a way of bringing a dash of warmth to people’s hearts. “Shall we dance, Princess?” The music at this point was waning and a new piece was about to commence.
            “What of Eleanor? What if she sees you?” I asked.
            “I told her that you were the one that brought the two of us together,” he explained. “She is in debt to you. Look.” He cocked his head to Eleanor’s direction and I followed his lead to find a sweet girl greeting me with a timid wave and a genuine grin. “So, shall we dance?”
            “Fine,” I grumbled and took my position across from him. At Urcis, dances typically started with two rows with each partner facing one another. Then, the partners would interact and mimic each other’s moves and in between, people would exchange companions. In the end, though, everyone would return to his or her original partner.
            In this particular dance, the men had to greet the ladies from the other side by elegantly extending their arms and ending with a bow. The females would then mirror the men. Because Trenton and I positioned ourselves as the first couple, at the sound of the trumpets, we danced towards each other and joined arms at the centre. At that moment, he revealed another grin and asked, “Am I that unhandsome for you?”
            “Maybe you are rather disheartening for my eyes,” I managed to mutter before holding hands with another male down the line.
            As we met each other again on the opposite end, he joked, “Ha, you are still rash with your words.”
            “My pleasure, Trenton,” I shook his hand hard. “It is always my pleasure to humour people.”
            “And to mock them,” he added prior to twirling another female.
            “In the name of amusement,” I retorted after encountering him while the females circled around the males. “You do live for amusement, right?”
            “Are you implying that you are free to mock me then?” He chuckled.
            As we greeted one another again, I asked from the opposite side, “Trenton, do I ever mock you?”
            “Haha, that does not concern me.”
            “Trenton, you should be careful of—“
            I had accidentally turned too widely and crashed into another pair behind me. The man had to let go of his companion, who then tripped on her own dress and fell on her buttocks. I too had almost tumbled to the ground, but that man had supported me just in time. Both of us were at a loss of words as we stared at each other. To make matters worse, both of the dances had abruptly stopped because of the uneven number of participants. I couldn’t, however, focus on this humiliating situation. I could only focus on the fact that he was there.
“What . . . brings you here?” I asked with a murmur. “Ku—“
            He pulled me away from everyone’s attention and the two of us disappeared to a nearby terrace. I was sure I had heard people whispering in each other’s ears, but luckily, the orchestra began to play a new piece.
            “I thought this would be the perfect disguise,” he heaved a long sigh.
            He, at last, unmasked himself and removed his brown, short-haired wig to reveal his tied-up bun, which he now shook off to reveal his long, straight hair. He was a foreigner clad in Urcis’ attire for men. His change in dress was so different that I had to take time to assess him again. He had grown taller once again for I had to tilt my head upwards just to confirm his face. This was one of the unusual moments where he had revealed his deep scar and for an instant, I had become bewitched by his ambience until I remembered . . .  
            “You did not answer my question,” I repeated. “Why are you here, Kuro?”
            Yes, what purpose did he have here? I wanted to ask him so many questions, but I knew I couldn’t. Now was not the time. The setting was wrong. The moment was wrong. The encounter was wrong. Everything was wrong.
            “I am here to attend my sister’s wedding,” he answered.
            His answer had brought a sigh of relief to me, yet another question had surfaced. “The Queen is your . . . sister?”
            “By blood,” he continued to explain. “I thought you would have known by my name: Makoto Kuro Jou.”
            No, I had never remembered any of the Princes’ full names. They were too long and the last bit was pretty much unusable unless I had become their lover or close friend. No one, even among royalty, would ever refer to them by their surnames as well.
            “Makoto . . . Kuro Jou. Makoto Kuro Jou . . .” I kept repeating, thinking that I had heard of this name somewhere until it suddenly occurred to me what his name could mean. “The Empress’ son, Empress Makoto’s son . . . Are you the Imperial Crown—“
            “Heaven’s no.” He snickered. “Where do you even draw your conclusions?”
            “Well, you are the Empress’ son.” I crossed my arms and offered him my best frown.
            “Which would not mean that I am the Crown Prince,” he purposely noted just to shun me. “You do know the Koseian tradition where the Crown Prince is selected by the Emperor?”
            “I knew, but I just thought—“
            “Never think that way.”
            Kuro wandered to the edge of the balcony and then he just stood there with a graceful posture. His eyes were drawn towards what I had noticed a while ago: the night lights. He was admiring the scene so peacefully that I could not help feeling how out of character he was tonight, but then again, he was never the rambunctious sort. I still remembered when we had first met each other. I had almost forgotten his presence until . . .
            Our eyes had met again, and as if by reflex, I had dodged his gaze. Hoping that he would not notice that I had been observing him, I slipped a question from the tip of my tongue. “Say . . . Kuro . . . how did you manage to sneak in here?”
            I only realized how silly I sounded until I heard what I had just said and just as I expected, he dismissed my curiosity. “I believe that is not important,” he uttered.
            I defended my trivial cause, “It is a breech in security. I should inform Cael that—“
            “You shall inform him nothing, but . . .”
            “But?”
            “Do you recall that you and I had an agreement?” He had become so solemn, casting a directive glare at me. “You would do anything that I asked just once.”
            How could I forget that promise? He had dislocated my shoulder prior to that deal. I knew he would someday come back to haunt me with that contract. I just never anticipated his arrival to be tonight.
            “Y-yes?” I stammered.
            “Good.” From his blazer pocket, he handed me a folded, piece of paper and a small, hand carved flute. “Please bring these to Akemi, I mean, Chiyoko.”
            I almost dropped all of the articles. That was the deal? That was all? Maybe, I had anticipated something daring, over-the-top, or even dangerous. Somehow, delivering gifts to his sister never crossed my mind. Such a minute request was, needless to say, too normal for someone like Kuro.  
            “Should I say that they were from you?” I verified. He was fixing his wig and placing his mask over his face now.
            “No, she will know that they were from me.”
            I didn’t know what I was doing, but I had already blurted, “This does not count as part of our deal, you understand?”
            His eyes slanted towards me. His smile was too gentle for me to grasp. Then, he opened his mouth ever so slightly to muster, “Thank you.”
            Thank you. Yes, he ought to thank me, I thought while watching him slowly camouflage with the crowd. I wondered if this was the first time had ever thanked me and then I laughed to myself, knowing that I was overanalyzing his words. He was probably saying this out of courtesy, yet I could not deny how sincere he sounded. Although his tone might have been understated and even muffled, he was still earnest. Perhaps, I thought to myself, it wasn’t so bad doing a charitable act once in a while.
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