"How about you?" she calls to a shy woman who looks to be in her mid-thirties. "You can give it to that man at the book store you've been eying for weeks. Free of charge!" The woman blushes, trying to look offended at the young girl's audacity, but her smile is peeking through. "Come on, then. I'll make you look really pretty." Hesitantly, the woman nods, taking a seat on the bench in front of the girl's art supplies. "Oh, wonderful! Just sit there and hold really still, okay?" Her hand flies across the canvas, painting in sure, steady strokes.
"Do you like it?" she asks, turning the finished product around for the woman to see. Her hands fly to her blushing cheeks, her eyes lighting up in wonderment.
"Oh, that's beautiful!" she cries, smiling a genuine smile for the artist. "Is it alright if I refer some of my friends to you? What's your name?"
"That'd be great!" the girl exclaims, beaming. "I'm Orchid. Orchid Dalca." The woman's face pales as she realizes who the girl that had just painted her portrait was - the princess. She had just been painted by the princess!
"Oh! I didn't realize! I'm so sorry, your highness!" The woman bows, another blush creeping into her face.
Orchid jumps up from her chair, waving her hands wildly. "None of that! None of that! It's totally cool. You don't have to call me 'your highness' or whatever. I'm just Orchid, okay? Hey, here's my number. Keep in touch! And tell me how it goes with that guy," she adds with a wink.
"O-of course." Orchid grins, wrapping her arms around the woman.
"We're going to be great friends, I just know it!"
He stepped out into a marketspace at the juncture of two large pedestrianised streets, and scanned the crowd. No sign of Orchid. But...what was this? A smile came to his lips, and he made his way in a levitous stride over to the middle-aged woman standing near the centrepiece monument holding a canvas, chatting to her friends excitedly.
"I do say," Athy exclaimed to her, "that is an impressive portrait you're holding. Did you have it done here in the city?"
The woman nodded enthusiastically, and replied "Yes! In fact it came by the hand of princess Orchid herself!"
Athy feigned a delighted surprise. "The prin...really! That's amazing! Well I simply must try to get her to do one of me. In a few days I'm getting married and I can't think of a better gift to my new bride than a portraint by the princess. My dear women I'd be much obliged if you could point me in her direction."
"Certainly sir," the woman said, thankfully far too excited about her first royal encounter this morning to realise that she was in the middle of a second. "Princess Orchid left that way, I think she may have been going to set up in the Covenant Gardens."
"Then I shall spare not another moment!" Athy said grandly, in a more royal manner than he'd ever affect whilst not pretending to be someone else. "I take my leave of you good ladies, forgive my haste but I simply must get that portrait done!"
The women waved as Athy jogged in the direction they indicated, innocently believing they had done Orchid a favour by sending another painting subject her way. Athy traversed the streets as quickly as he could before emerging in the Covenant Garden. Looking around, there was no sign of Orchid...until he spied a brief flash of red hair hastening to conceal itself just around the corner from the consulate offices. Shaking his head and chuckling to himself, he approached the corner, but stayed on the other side of it, and spoke out: "Sister, you know I couldn't care less how you discharge your leisure hours, but frankly this capriciousness today is costing us all money."
"I'll meet my future husband here tonight," she said, walking back over to Athy. "That's a little weird to think about. I'm only 21. What am I supposed to do about school? Are they going to make me quit?" It was the first time she had considered it. They couldn't pull her out of school. She lived for her art classes - painting was her life. She pulled the portable easel that was tucked under her arm closer to her, holding it protectively.
"It would be a happy surprise if you succeeded in changing their ways." he said to Orchid, "It would be the first time I'd be happy to be proven wrong about something."
He, too, made light of the situation, which in truth did not seem particularly grave to him. But throughout the conversation he realised increasingly that the burden of the absurdity and injustice of this 'tradition' fell much more heavily on Orchid's shoulders than his. And, presumably, on the shoulders of his own bride-to-be, but it was difficult for him to feel sorry for someone whom he had never met. Orchid, though his sister only by means of the marriage of their parents, had at least earned a degree of his affection through a mixture of raw familiarity and the fact that through her interests (which were so far removed from his own) she brought something different to the royal table. So that, in a sense, the two of them together (as seldom as they were seen together) typified the very thing he'd just been describing, and that he was so proud of, about the Light Kingdom.
What a shame if that were to come to an end. If that were to happen, this 'tradition' would not so much be a neutral effect in the cause of progress, but actually detrimental to it. That certainly made Athy think differently about the whole thing.
Bellamy approach him and spoke.
"Highnesses. We've about an hour before the farewell ceremony begins for the princess, it has been suggested that each of you address the nation with a few words before departing. Now I appreciate the lateness of the idea, and it's not something you will have to do..."
"No," Athy scoffed, interrupting the footman, "the only thing we have to do is get married to a stranger."
"...but the court feels" Bellamy continued after a pause, "that it will rally support for the diplomatic effort if you do say something. So at some point in the next half hour, please take your place in front of the helicopters ready for the opening."
A small part of Athy resented Hayden appearing; because they were not blood relations he liked to thing of himself as the 'elder' sibling, and of course when Hayden was around it was a reminder that that was not true.
"Well apart from having to recce down into town to recapture certain vagrants," he said making a sideways glance at Orchid, "I think so far so good is the best I can say. Not that I seem to be particularly in the loop at all, I've just been informed that we're expected to tell the nation about our joy and delight over our impending predetermined nuptuals before flying off the the great celebration."
"Well apart from having to recce down into town to recapture certain vagrants..." "I resent that!" Orchid cried with false resentment. Honestly, she loved messing around with her brothers, and she would miss them when she went off to marry whoever from the fire nation. "They'll probably want you to say something, too. What do they really expect us to say? They don't want to hear our real feelings - they want the diplomatic response." She shakes her head sadly. As royalty, they were just not real people. Orchid had spent her whole life trying to escape from that cage, and for what? So she could do her civic duty and marry some man she most likely wouldn't love? Yeah. That's exactly what she had done it for.
Hayden watched as his brother took to the podium and was impressed with his speech. While some of it clearly made the reporters a tad uncomfortable, Hayden was thankful that Athy hadn't said anything too inappropriate. When the applause had tapered away, Hayden made his way over to the podium with a princely smile on his handsome face. He looked out over the crowd of people and took a second to collect his thoughts before he began.
"Good afternoon everyone. I am pleased to have this opportunity to say a few words to you about the current situation of myself, my brother, and my step-sister. My brother has done an excellent job at explaining everything to you and has highlighted our hopes and aspirations as we embark upon our marriages. I have no reservations about my marriage and am pleased to enter into it as a citizen of the Light Nation and it is my hope that through my marriage, and the marriages of my siblings, that we will be able to help bring peace across the Nations."
The press watched him with smiles on their faces, taking down notes and adjusting their recording equipment. Hayden could tell that through his brother's speech and his own, they were winning over the crowd. Beautiful Orchid would be the icing on the cake, as the Nation had always liked Orchid despite her interesting choice of hair color.
"I leave our Nation tonight as a hopeful man and I will return in the morning as an engaged one. My marriage will not effect my relationship with the Light Nation, and I hope it will not effect how you the citizens of the Light Nation view me. Please welcome my future wife with the respect and warmth that you show to my siblings and I. Thank you for your time and thank you for your trust in us." Hayden finished and smiled out over the crowd as they applauded him, some already looking to Orchid expectantly. Hayden gave a small wave to the crowd and stepped off the podium and smiled to Orchid who would be the last to speak.