June '04'

Disclaimer: FF8 characters belong to Square or whatever they call themselves now...the story of Snow White that this FF8 version is based on belongs to the Brothers Grimm. The original version is a dark tale but a great read and I have tried to incorperate the two into this piece of fiction. Please enjoy.

This is YAOI - boys with boys, caring, desiring, kissing, hugging, groping…um, yeah…but that’s why you’re reading this, yes?

Squall Leonhart and the Seven Shumi
By Gardens Gnome

Once upon a time in the middle of spring, when the fields bloomed with masses of colour and the bees flew from sunrise to sunset, Raine Loire, Queen of all Esthar sat in her private garden pruning her beloved roses. A flock of birds passed overhead, casting their shadows across the young Queen, and as she turned to watch them, the soft flesh of her fingers caught upon a sharp thorn and blood dripped onto one of the roses. Wiping the drops of crimson blood from the dark bloom, Raine smiled and thought of wanting a child to share her garden with; to help with her flowers and chase butterflies. A child like the flower in her hand - soft and deep and pure.

Nine months passed and the Queen gave birth beautiful son, whom she named Squall after the fierce winter storm that blew outside the castle walls. Shortly after the birth of her son, Raine died and the King named his son Squall Leonhart for his mother, whom he would forever love.

After a year of mourning had passed, King Laguna chose Julia Heartilly of Galbadia to be his new Queen. Into the marriage, Julia brought her infant daughter Rinoa, whom she had bore to her now deceased husband, Prince Caraway, regent of the Galbadia Kingdom. She also brought with her a small crystal ball, rumoured amongst the castle staff to hold a talking spirit, but this was never proven as the Queen allowed no one to touch the ball and kept it well hidden. Inside the ball lived the guardian Siren, protector of the Galbadian royal line. Prince Caraway had explained to Julia that the spirit served the Kings and Queens of Galbadia and as the current royal heir was yet to come of age, it was up to him to rule by the guidance of Siren until the prince could claim his throne. He had commanded her to ask the spirit for advice should something happen to him because the spirit never lied and would help her, should she but ask. But Julia never asked the guardian any questions regarding who she should be given to, preferring to keep it for her own amusement.

The new Queen of Esthar was a vain woman and greatly enjoyed being told of her beauty and because the spirit would never lie to her unlike others, she chose to question it whenever she desired.

“O wise guardian in this ball,
Who is the fairest and most beautiful of all?”

And Siren would always answer the question truthfully:

“In these lands and beyond I have seen,
You are the fairest of all, O Queen.”

Satisfied with the guardians answer, Julia would return the ball to its hiding place and go about her daily entertainments.

Years passed and the lands of Esthar prospered under the rule of King Laguna and his Queen. Laguna spent his days with his advisor, Kiros, and occasionally his son Squall, when the boy was not playing in his mother’s garden, chasing butterflies with Rinoa or tending Raine’s roses. As Rinoa’s birthday approached, the children were separated, Rinoa needing to learn the ways of the court and become more lady-like if she hoped to find a husband; and Squall to learn how to rule a Kingdom.

So it came to pass that Rinoa’s tenth birthday arrived and Julia planned a great party, hoping to entice others of the court to betroth their sons to the princess. Though young, Rinoa showed great promise of one day outshining her mother’s beauty.

After preparing her daughter for the party, Julia questioned Siren:

“O wise guardian in this ball,
Who is the fairest and most beautiful of all?”

Siren answered:

“A shy bloom is yet to mature but I have seen,
Young Rinoa is the fairest of all, O Queen.”

Pleased with the answer, Julia returned to her daughter, happy that Rinoa was fairest and would likely snag a rich husband that would meet with the Queen’s high standards.

Time continued to flow and each year a grand party was held for Rinoa’s birthday in hope of her finding a suitable husband. Squall too grew and became a fine young man, sought by many mothers to marry their daughters. But Squall was shy and often found ways to avoid the parties at the castle by hiding in his mother’s garden, where Ward, the castle huntsman, would find him fast asleep. Ward would then call Laguna and Kiros and the three of them would see that Squall was returned to his rooms safely and any seeking the young prince kept away.

The year of Rinoa’s sixteenth birthday arrived and Julia was getting desperate to see her only daughter wed. Many suitors had come to court the princess, only to leave after finding her clingy, whiney ways undesirable in a bride. Julia suggested that Rinoa sing for the court in hope of catching a suitor’s heart with the same song that Julia herself had used to capture Laguna. Squall was to accompany her on the piano as he did whenever Rinoa had music lessons. So Rinoa sang her mother’s song, and as was their habit, Squall sang along with her.

As he played the final notes of the song, Squall opened his eyes that he had closed to better concentrate and looked around the room. His father smiled widely at him, his stepmother frowned furiously, and many of the guests, both male and female looked at him with awe and desire. Hearing a choked sob, Squall turned at last to Rinoa in time to see her tear-stained face as she turned and rushed from the room, Queen Julia quickly following her. Hearing the murmur of voices, Squall listened to the guests talk about his voice and how well he played and sang, easily out-shining Rinoa. Laguna congratulated his son and bade him stay for the rest of the party, which Squall did.

In the Queen’s own bedroom, Julia sat on the bed and comforted Rinoa as the princess wept into a pillow. Spying the chest in which the guardian ball was hidden, Julia brought out the ball and placed it between herself and her daughter. Perhaps being told she was beautiful would help the black-haired girl to stop crying.

Rinoa looked on with interest as her mother questioned the spirit:

“O wise guardian in this ball,
Who is the fairest and most beautiful of all?”

Inside the ball, sea-green and gold swirled as Siren answered:

“The shy bloom is now open for all to see,
Squall Leonhart is the fairest of all, O Queen.”


The Queen’s mind recoiled at the thought of her stepson being more beautiful than her daughter. It just wasn’t possible.

“It’s not fair!” screeched Rinoa, a hand angrily snatching up the ball so that she could glare at it. “How can he be more beautiful than I? He’s a boy!”

Julia quickly grabbed the hand that held the precious crystal ball, preventing the upset princess from throwing it against the nearest wall. Her mind worked quickly, even as a cold fury fuelled by jealousy filled her heart. Only yesterday the ball had said that Rinoa was the fairest in the land. How was she supposed to marry Rinoa off to someone of great wealth when Squall had so easily nabbed the attention of all available suitors, both male and female, at the party? If he were to marry…

“Rinoa, calm down!” Julia commanded her daughter and watched as the princess immediately quietened. “I have an idea.”

“What is it mother?” Rinoa asked.

“You will marry Squall.”


“It’s the perfect solution. You marry Squall, and become the most beautiful couple in the land.”

“Really?” Rinoa asked, eyes shining hopefully.

“Yes,” Julia whispered. “And then one day you’ll be Queen of all Esthar.”

“I’ll be Queen?”

“Yes dear, you’ll be Queen.”

Julia smiled in triumph as Rinoa collapsed into her arms; eyes dry of tears and now dreaming of a future where she would rule Esthar at Squall’s side.

“No, I won’t do it!” shouted Squall as he stormed from the dining room the next morning. “I won’t marry my sister,” he added as he slammed the door shut behind him.

“That went well,” Laguna said with a small shake of his head before returning to his breakfast like the argument hadn’t happened.

Julia sighed and glanced across the table to where Rinoa was dejectedly pushing her pancakes around her plate. Reaching across the table, the Queen placed her hand over her daughter’s and gave her a small smile. “Don’t worry dear, Laguna can order Squall to…”

“That won’t be happening, Julia,” Laguna said as he finished off his cup of coffee. “I agreed to the match only if Squall himself said yes. I do believe he said no.”

“But you’re the King, couldn’t you order him to marry Rinoa?” Julia asked, pressing the issue.

The sound of someone clearing his throat announced Kiros’ arrival. “Excuse me, your Majesty,” he said, addressing the King. “Three men have arrived from the summer court at Balamb and request an audience.”

Laguna nodded his thanks to his advisor and looked at his wife and stepdaughter.

“The answer is no. I will do anything in my power to ensure the happiness of my son,” Laguna said, standing from the table. “Neither of you are to approach Squall regarding this matter again, do you understand?” he asked. “I‘ll make it a royal edict if I have to.”

Both women nodded, subdued by Laguna’s show of authority.

“You both may join me to talk with our guests. Otherwise, I wish you a pleasant day,” Laguna said and then left the room, Kiros following closely.

The moment the door closed behind the two men, Rinoa let out a loud, angry shriek.

“Rinoa! That’s enough!” Julia said loudly to be heard over the noise the princess was making. “I will not have you acting so spoilt and providing gossip for the servants,” the Queen told her daughter as she glared at a serving maid, the young woman clearing the table quietly. “Now compose yourself as befitting a princess of the royal family and we shall go see what word there is from Balamb.”

Straightening her skirts, Rinoa turned her nose up at the servants in the room and made her way out the door, Julia following closely behind. With a parting glare as a warning to those in the room, Julia pulled the door closed behind her.

Arriving in the throne room, Julia and Rinoa moved to take their places on the dais with the King.

“Mother, I thought Kiros said there was three men?” Rinoa asked, her attempt as a hushed whisper loud enough to get a snicker from one of the men seated in plush chairs close to the dais. She looked down to find green eyes laughing at her.

“And you are?” she asked haughtily.

“Seifer Almasy, lord of Centra,” the tall blonde said as he stood and bowed deeply. He gestured to his smaller companion. “My friend here is Prince Zell Dincht of Balamb.”

Zell bowed gracefully and smiled, blue eyes twinkling with amusement.

“And Irvine’s around somewhere,” Seifer finished with a shrug.

“We apologise for Prince Irvine’s tardiness, your Majesty,” Zell said quietly, tossing a glare at the grinning blonde as he sat down again. “He said something about hearing singing and the next we knew he’d disappeared into your vast gardens.”

“Shall I send someone to locate him, my King?” Kiros asked.

“A moment,” Laguna said, holding a hand up to halt Kiros’ summoning of a page. The King looked at the two men before him. “Which garden did he go into?” he asked.

“The west garden, your Majesty,” Seifer said.

“Ah, do not worry about your companion. Squall will bring him in shortly,” Laguna said with a smile. “Now please, tell me of your news.”

As Seifer and Zell spoke with the King, Julia gained Rinoa’s attention and motioned for her to leave, saying as quietly as possible to find Squall. The princess excused herself and made her way into the garden.

Irvine followed the voice that had caught his attention the moment he and his companions arrived at the castle, long coat billowing behind him as he walked. Deeper into the gardens he wandered until he came to a secluded area surrounded by a tall hedge. The voice beyond continued to sing, and Irvine felt it calling to him as he heard the tones change from light and cheerful to melancholy and sad. Finding the archway that allowed entry, Irvine paused at the sight before him.

Bathed in bright sunlight, a youth around his age kneeled on the ground, uncaring of the dirt staining his fine clothes, weeding around some rosebushes. Long fingered hands removed the weeds, taking care to collect all the roots. Tousled brown hair covered most of the youths face but Irvine could see his lips moving as he sang. Nearby a couple of finches made use of a birdbath, twittering happily amongst themselves. Taking a step into the garden, Irvine started slightly as the small group of birds took to flight with his arrival. He turned his attention back to the youth to find blue eyes watching him warily.

“Please, do not stop singing because of me,” Irvine said as he slowly walked into the small area. “You have a beautiful voice.”

Blue eyes studied him for a moment more before slim shoulders shrugged and the youth went back to his weeding. Irvine sat on the thick grass not too far away, happily listening as the singing continued once more. When the soil was cleared of weeds, the youth turned to him again as he poured some water on his hands and cleaned them with a cloth.

“Who are you?” he asked quietly.

“Oh, sorry about that. Zell is always going on about how I forget my manners," Irvine said, a little embarrassed. “Prince Irvine Kinneas, at your service,” he said, touching his fingers to his hat as he dipped his head in greeting.

“Kinneas?” the youth asked, a frown marring his smooth skin as he tried to place the name. “From Galbadia?”

“Yep, that’s me,” Irvine grinned. “And who might you be, lovely?”

A light blush stained pale skin and Irvine chuckled as he moved a little closer to the other man. Reaching out, Irvine tipped up the youth’s face with his fingers, enchanted by the sight.

“No need to hide, darlin‘. I just want to know your name.”

“I…I’m Squall Leonhart,” Squall said as he shivered slightly, unused to having another so close.

“Squall,” Irvine whispered as he leaned a little closer, causing the brunette to look up at him. “Such a beautiful name,” Irvine said softly as he brushed his lips over Squall’s.

Squall’s eyes flew open at the gentle touch and he gasped, reaching out with a hand to grab Irvine’s shirt as he swayed slightly. He could feel warm air flowing over his lips and knew that Irvine’s lips were still close.

Irvine smiled at his good fortune.

“Never been kissed?” he asked quietly, each word causing their lips to brush together. He could tell from Squall’s eyes and the way his breath stuttered over his lips that the other youth was completely innocent.

About to lean that little further to claim that soft mouth, both men heard a feminine gasp and turned towards the archway. There stood Rinoa, cheeks blazing as she watched them. With a choked sob of horror, she fled back towards the castle.

“Friend of yours?” Irvine asked as he watched Squall looking at the place where Rinoa had stood.

“She’s my stepsister,” Squall said, standing and offering a hand to help Irvine up. They dusted themselves off quickly, and the brunette gathered his tools. “I’ll take you to see my father.”

Irvine watched the youth walk away from him. He knew that King Loire had a son who was about his age named Squall, but this Squall had given ‘Leonhart’ as his last name. Irvine shrugged in slight confusion and wandered after the brunette.

Maybe there were two people named Squall in the castle.

Rinoa fled to her chambers, sending her maid to ask the Queen to join her. A few moments later, Julia slipped into the room and placed a hand on her daughters shaking shoulders.

“What has happened, dear?” she asked.

“I…I found…them. In the rose…garden.”

“And?” the Queen prompted gently.

“And they…were…kissing,” Rinoa managed to get out before bursting into tears.

Julia abruptly sat on the bed, shocked at this information. She’d been keeping an eye on Irvine over the years. It had always been in the back of her mind to seek him as a suitor for her daughter but he never came to Esthar, preferring to stay in Balamb, where he’d been ever since his father, the previous King of Galbadia had died and Prince Caraway had become regent. Irvine was almost of an age where he would ascend the throne. He would be the perfect husband for his distant cousin, Rinoa.

But the knowledge that he found Squall desirable made her heart burn with a hateful fury. How dare he! It was obvious that Squall needed to be dealt with in a more permanent manner.

“Dry your eyes Rinoa and change your dress. We have guests to entertain,” the Queen said, pulling out a small handkerchief for the girl’s eyes. Rinoa looked up at her mother.

“What is it, mother?” she asked as she dabbed at her eyes, noticing the gleam in the Queen’s eyes.

“Never you mind. I’ll take care of everything,” Julia promised and left Rinoa to her preparations.

Making her way back down to the audience chamber, Julia was surprised to find the three guests gone and Laguna chatting quietly with Squall on the dais. A glare slipped through her smile at the sight of Squall’s blush at his father’s teasing, but the Queen composed herself before approaching the men.

“Where are our guests?” she asked.

“They had to press on to Trabia and so could not linger here with us. I ordered that their supplies be replenished and they went on their way. But not before Irvine made an offer for Squall’s hand,” Laguna said, practically glowing with pride as his son blushed brightly.

“How nice,” Julia said with a tight smile.

“Yes, and both Squall and Rinoa have been invited to the summer court at Balamb. I’ve already said Squall can go. Would Rinoa like to go too?”

“I’m sure she would. I’ll find out how long it will take her to prepare,” Julia said and with a proud swish of her skirts, strode from the room.

The Queen stormed into her own chambers, furious at the turn of events. Irvine wanted to marry Squall. This would ruin any plans Julia had of Rinoa marrying the heir to the Galbadian throne. The only to stop this now would be to kill Squall.

But how to kill the boy without implicating that she was behind the death, Julia did not know. Looking down into the courtyard below, the Queen saw Ward talking with one of the stable boys. Julia watched him for a few moments longer before smiling evilly. She had just found a solution to her problem.

Sending a pageboy to summon the hunter to her rooms, Julia grabbed up one of her small jewellery cases, dumping precious stones on her dresser.

A short while later there was a knock at her door followed by the entry of the pageboy and the hunter. The pageboy bowed deeply and left, closing the door firmly behind him.

“You summoned me, Queen Julia?”

Julia watched the large man closely. She knew exactly how to get him to do as she wished, even though his loyalty was to the throne and it’s King.

“Yes I did,” she said, sitting down on a chair with the small wooden case in her hands. “I have something that needs to be taken care of and you are the only one who can.”

“Certainly, my Queen. What do you require?” Ward asked.

“Squall Leonhart needs to die.”

“What?!” Ward gasped out, shocked to his core.

“You heard me,” Julia growled out, ignoring the lack of respectful manners from the surprised man. “I want the boy dead! Or do you want Laguna finding out that his best friend and confidant has been keeping secrets from him?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” the hunter said, trying to calm his rapidly beating heart.

“I know about you and Kiros, Master Hunter. If Laguna found out, it would surely break his heart,” Julia said sweetly. “Kiros would have to leave the castle in shame. I would make sure of it. Do you think you would be able to support the both of you if you were no longer the castle hunter?”

“Don’t threaten me,” Ward growled, towering over the smaller woman, hands clenching in fury.

“Lay a hand on me and I’ll have you executed,“ Julia said as she stood and offered the wooden box to Ward. “Do as I command and Laguna will never know.”

Ward looked down at the small Queen, and bowed his head in defeat.

“Very well, your Majesty. Tell me what I must do.”

A few hours later, Ward and Squall rode out of the castle gates and turned their horses towards Trabia. When Julia had reported that it would take Rinoa at least a week to prepare for the trip to the summer court, Squall felt it would be forever before he saw Irvine again. Then his stepmother suggested that if he were to travel light, he might be able to catch up with the other three men and accompany them back to Balamb, with Rinoa bringing his clothes with her.

Laguna agreed and ordered Ward to ride with his son until they joined Irvine and his companions.

An hour or so later, Ward stopped his horse and looked at the youth that happily followed his lead. He could not harm the son of his King. But to return to the castle and tell the Queen of his failure was not an option either.

“What is it Ward?” Squall asked, noting the sad look in the hunter’s eyes.

“I am sorry, Squall,” Ward said as he dismounted and tied his horse to a nearby tree.

Squall jumped lightly to the ground and approached the larger man. “Why, Ward? Why are you sorry?” he asked.

“I…I have…” Ward tried to find the right words. “You have to run!” he shouted suddenly.

“Run? Why?”

“I’ve been ordered by the Queen to kill you,” Ward confessed helplessly, holding out a small wooden box and his hunting dagger. “She commanded me to bring you heart and liver to her as proof of the deed.”

“But why?” squall asked, horrified at the turn of events.

“I don’t know why, my prince. But I won’t do it,” Ward said, tossing the dagger and box to the leafy ground, collapsing on his knees next to them.

Squall knelt next to the man, trying to think of how to help.

“Go back, Ward. I’ll continue on my own,” Squall said. “You and father taught me to hunt. I can fend for myself out here. Then I’ll stay at Balamb until it is safe to return.”

Ward looked up at the youth. Yes, that might work, he thought to himself. “But what about the heart and liver that the Queen demanded I bring back to her?”

“We’ll kill a wild boar or a deer,” Squall said with a shrug. “I’ll need the meat anyways.”

Ward quickly agreed, happy to not have to kill this beautiful youth. After the task was done, both men mounted their horses.

“What will you tell my father?” Squall asked, his blue eyes troubled at the thought of the King mourning his loss.

“I’ll say we were set upon by bandits and your horse fell down a ravine and that I was unable to save you or retrieve your body,” the hunter said quietly.

“Thank you, Ward,” Squall said, clasping the man’s hand. “I’ll return when it is safe.”

And so the men parted ways. Ward returned to the castle bearing his sad tale of the death of the prince. Laguna immediately wanted to search out the bandits but Ward said he did not know which way they went. The King locked himself in his rooms to mourn the loss of his son.

That night Julia dined on the heart and liver brought to her by Ward, gleefully content in the knowledge that he daughter was once again the fairest in the land.

Crossing over into the lands of Trabia, Squall noted that he would have to find shelter for the night as a fierce snowstorm was approaching. Squinting into the distance, the brunette could just make out a large, dome-like structure. Perhaps he could find some shelter for himself and his horse there.

Arriving at the structure, Squall dismounted and led the horse into the dim interior. What the young prince found surprised him. The dome was in fact a covering for a large cave entrance. Squall could not see far into the cave but at regular intervals, softly glowing stones were embedded into the walls. Making his horse comfortable in a corner, Squall went to explore the cave.

Deeper into the cave he walked, the softly lit floor sloping downwards under his feet. Coming around a bend, Squall stopped abruptly when his path ended in a thick wooden door. Hesitating a moment, Squall lifted his hand and knocked.

No answer came.

Knocking again, Squall reached out and grabbled the handle, startled when it turned easily in his hand and the door opened inward. The brunette stepped through the portal, stopping again and letting the door swing shut by itself.

Behind the door was a large cavern. Squall stood upon a high platform that led down to a grass-covered floor. Here and there, small houses dotted the area below, many with small gardens of vegetables and fruit. A lake, including chirping frogs, completed the scene of an underground village. Taking a step back, Squall ran into something warm and hard. He had not heard the door open. Turning quickly to see who or what was behind him, the prince lost his footing and fell backwards down the stairs.

He was unconscious before he reached the bottom.

Hours later, the brunette awoke disorientated, his head fuzzy and his body aching. Slowly opening his eyes, he carefully looked around. Creamy coloured walls sloped over his head occasionally broken up by intricate stained glass windows. The interior of the hut was cosy, dancing firelight showing rugs and paintings on the walls and shelves crowded with books, statues and other small items. Nearby was a low table with six small chairs and one slightly bigger one. All the chairs were occupied.

Moving slowly, the brunette sat up, rubbing a hand over his face.

“Where am I?” he asked, voice slurred with sleep.

“You are in the village of the Shumi,” the largest answered, standing and walking to the bed. “You had a nasty fall and have been unconscious for hours. Thankfully your injuries are not too great.”

“I…I don’t remember,” the youth said, searching through his mind for the events mentioned by the creature.

The Shumi was a humanoid looking creature, their pale skin attesting to living most of their lives underground. They all wore thick robes, large hands peeking from long sleeves, hoods pushed back to reveal bald heads and black eyes. All of which were turned to the youth in the bed.

“What is your name, young one?” asked one of the smaller Shumi, as he brought a small bowl of steaming soup from the table where the others ate quietly while watching their guest.

“I…I’m…I don’t know,” the brunette said in a horrified whisper, frantically searching his mind for a name. “Do you know who I am?” he asked the tall Shumi.

“No young one,” the creature said softly, shaking his head. “But you are welcome to stay with us until you regain your memory. We are simple beings who take pleasure in creating with our hands. Your company is most welcome.”

The youth nodded his thanks and relaxed a little as the other Shumi showed agreement to the offer.

“Eat and rest,” the smaller Shumi commanded gently, handing over the bowl. “We shall show you around tomorrow.”

The brunette did as he was told and soon slept, watched over by the Shumi.

In the lands of Esthar at the palace, Rinoa finished her preparations for going to the summer court earlier than originally expected, seeing as with the death of the prince she only had to transport her own entourage. Julia had convinced Laguna that it would be best for the princess to be away from the sadness that had enveloped the kingdom, leaving the King and Queen to mourn the passing of Squall. Laguna agreed before retiring to Raine’s garden, where he now spent most of his time.

After watching the servants load up a coach with Rinoa’s luggage, Julia went to her rooms, wanting to question Siren before her daughter left. Standing beside the window to watch the events below, Julia spoke to the guardian:

“O wise guardian in this ball,
Who is the fairest and most beautiful of all?”

A brief swirl of colour showed before the guardian answered:

“Even deep in the ground where the Shumi reside,
The beauty of Squall Leonhart is hard to hide.”

Julia almost dropped the crystal ball out the window in shock. Squall lived! She would have Ward’s head for lying to her!

Summoning the hunter to her room, Julia locked the door behind him.

“You lied to me!” she hissed at the large man.

“I’m sorry, Queen Julia. But I couldn’t kill the boy and I won’t do it no matter what you do to me,” he said quietly.

Julia looked at the man. Ward was pale and his eyes darted towards the window that looked down to the courtyard where Kiros was giving instructions to Rinoa’s entourage.

“You think the worst I can do is tell my husband about you and Kiros?” she asked with an evil smile as Ward’s eyes shot back to her. “I’ll cut out your lying tongue first, then there will be no more honeyed words of love for your precious Kiros…and you won’t lie to me again!”

About to call the guards to the room to deal with Ward, the crystal ball that Julia still held began to glow. Curious, the queen watched as a pale blue mist drifted from the ball towards the hunter. Ward drew back in fright at the mist encircled his head and shoulders. His frightened whimper faded into nothingness at the mist tightened around his neck and disappeared into the tanned flesh.

Ward’s eyes bulged as he tried to make a noise, but nothing came out.

“Looks like you’ll keep your tongue after all, hunter. I suggest you learn another way of communicating, one where you can’t lie to me,” Julia said as she unlocked the door and held it open.

Ward fled through the opening and Julia listened to his fading steps with a small hint of pleasure. Turning her attention back to the ball, the queen pondered this discovery.

If Siren can do that to Ward just because I wanted him silenced, I wonder what she can do to Squall? Julia pondered, turning the ball over in her hand as she smiled happily.

Squall will die!

Under the ground, the brunette was finding it hard to tell day from night, so he followed the patterns of the Shumi. They all congregated three times a day for main meals in the room where he had first awoken. The hut belonged to the tall Shumi who was their leader. Each of the other Shumi had their own huts where they rested and carried out their various crafts, including woodworking, sculpting and working with coloured glass. The brunette watched them work with great curiosity, joining in when asked if he would like to try.

No one pressured him to try and remember his identity, believing it would come back in time.

Two days after he’d awoken, all the Shumi gathered in the largest of the huts where they kept their finished works. At the far end, a tall object was covered with a dust cloth, moved there only moments ago when the sculptor had finished his work.

All the Shumi gathered around, awaiting for the unveiling, the youth standing with them.

Tugging gently on the sheet, the statue was revealed.

Standing a little taller in height compared to the brunette, the statue was of a man a few years older than the youth. He was dressed in the robes of a King, his crown sitting slightly crooked on his head. The brunette smiled at the sight before studying the face more closely.

“I…I know this man,” he said suddenly, frowning at the statue. “Who is he?” he asked, turning to the sculptor.

“He is the King of Esthar. This statue is for the rose garden of his first wife. We will be making her statue next.”

“He’s…His name is Laguna,” the brunette said slowly, placing a hand to his head as his memories came rushing back. “He’s my father!”

The Shumi looked at the youth carefully, taking in the wild look to his eyes. The largest of them placed a hand on his shoulder. “Do you remember your name?”

“I’m Squall Leonhart. Laguna is my father. The garden is where I spend most of my time in the castle. My mother died just after she gave birth to me and my father remarried a year later. My stepmother…she’s trying to kill me!” he said in a rush, images and feelings of the last few days at the castle rushing through his head.

“Why is she trying to kill you?” one of the Shumi asked.

“I don’t know,” Squall told them. “I was heading to the summer court at Balamb to hide until it was safe for me to return. My father has been told I’m dead.”

Squall knelt next to the statue and placed his head against the cool stone surface. He could feel the Shumi gathering protectively around him. He remembered coming into the cavern and hearing a noise behind him. He’d turned and fell down the stairs.

“I had a horse. I left him up on the surface.”

“Do not worry,” the large Shumi said. “We have cared for your mount. Would you like to go check on him?”

“Yes, I would,” Squall said and stood, glancing at the statue of his father one more time.

“While you do that, I’ll inform the court at Balamb that you are here and ask them to send an escort for the rest of your journey.”

Squall nodded his thanks and left the hut, heading for the stairs and the surface.

Exiting the cave and walking to the other side of the large structure, Squall found his horse well fed and warm. He was about to return below when he heard another horse approaching. Warily, the brunette watched a woman ride in out of the snow, wet snowflakes sticking to her cloak and dirty blonde hair, her lined face looking tired.

“Can I help you?” he asked politely, moving to assist the woman dismount her horse.

“Thank you, young man,” the woman said, dark eyes crinkling at the edges as she smiled at him, showing her yellowed teeth. “My old bones don’t like to work properly in these cold climates.”

“Are you here to see the Shumi?”

“Yes, but perhaps I could help you first. I’m guessing that you are not from around here and I may have news. I have recently come from Esthar,” the woman said.

“I’m on my way to Balamb. I just stopped for a few days until the last storm passed,” Squall said, cautious as to how much he told the stranger, even though she seemed harmless.

“Ah…Perhaps then you would like me to look into your future and see what awaits you at Balamb?” the woman asked, settling her cloak on the ground before sitting down on it. “My legs need a little break before going into the cave. It won’t take but a moment to tell your fortune. Let this old gypsy weave her magic for you.”

“Whatever,” the brunette said with a shrug. He placed his cloak on the ground opposite the woman and sat down.

Reaching into the pocket of her woollen skirt, the woman produced a dark velvet bag. Dipping into the bag, she pulled out a clear crystal ball and set it on the velvet bag that now rested on a corner of her cloak.

“Look deeply into the ball, child, and we shall see what the future holds for you,” she commanded quietly and raised her hand over the ball, faint blue haze appearing at her movements.

Squall leaned forward and peered into the ball, eyes following the swirls of blue and now green mist.

“I don’t see anything yet,” he said, glancing up before looking back at the ball.

“Of course you don’t, Squall,” the woman said, a glint of madness entering her eyes. “You don’t have a future!”

At the hissed words, Squall immediately rolled away from the woman, barely missing being slashed across the chest by a knife. “Who are you? How do you know my name?” he asked as he scrambled to his feet. “Were you sent by my stepmother?”

The woman laughed, a high-pitched sound close to insanity. Reaching up, she ripped off the wig of dirty blonde hair, tossing it to the ground, and glared at the youth in front of her, the dark hair falling to rest on her shoulders familiar to the brunette.

“I am you stepmother, brat!” she growled out, taking another slash at Squall with her knife. “DIE!”

Squall dove to the ground, avoiding the blade and latching onto Julia’s ankle in an attempt to pull the woman down. Losing her balance, the Queen lashed out with the object in her other hand, the crystal orb.

The summoning ball shattered against Squall’s face, cutting a long gash between his eyebrows and down across his nose. He fell back to the ground, unconscious and bleeding heavily from the wound.

Julia stood above the youth and smiled as Siren’s blue mist surrounded and entered Squall’s body, continuing to watch as his breathing slowed and apparently stopped right before her eyes. The queen checked for a pulse and almost cheered when she could not find one.

It saddened her that she had lost Siren but she would no longer need the guardian in the ball now that Squall was dead by her hand.

Gathering her things, Julia mounted her horse and left.

Deciding that Squall had been gone too long to be only checking on his mount, the Shumi made their way to the surface, worried that the youth might have had a relapse and lost memories again.

Exiting the cave, they all rushed to where Squall lay on the ground. A cry of dismay came from the smallest Shumi, as he found no pulse of life within the youth. Carefully they wrapped his body in his cloak and returned quietly to the cavern below.

Having already contacted Balamb and been told that a small group was at Trabia and would detour their way, the Shumi prepared the youth’s body for transport back to his father. Carefully they removed the shards of crystal from his face and hair and wiped the blood from his skin. None of them noticed that the wound had healed.

With great care the Shumi constructed a stained-glass coffin for the brunette so that all could see his beauty.

A day later his escort arrived.

Irvine strode ahead of his companions, having seen the mark of Esthar upon the horse in the shelter above. The message they’d received was to escort a young man to Balamb and the Galbadian was sure that the man would be his Squall.

Entering the main hut, Irvine stopped dead, Seifer and Zell running into his back.

Before them knelt all the Shumi, surrounding the coffin. Irvine’s heart jumped and thudded painfully in his chest as he beheld the motionless beauty of the youth who had stolen his heart.

“NO!” he yelled, rushing forward to touch the glass, to be closer to Squall.

“What happened?” Seifer asked as Zell tried to pull his friend from the coffin.

“We are sorry,” the large Shumi said, his head bowed sadly. “We found Squall like this yesterday on the surface when he went to check on his horse. We do not know who attacked him.”

“I want to touch him,” Irvine whispered stroking the glass. “Open it.”

The Shumi looked at the two blonde men who hovered protectively over their grieving companion. Zell nodded and pulled Irvine back a little as one of the Shumi activated the hidden latches.

“Oh Squall…darlin‘,” Irvine said softly as he stroked the cold skin. He reached out and curled his fingers around one of the brunette’s hands and just stared at the still form. Behind him he could hear Seifer and Zell explaining how they knew the young prince. A hand settled on his shoulder and he looked up into sad green eyes.

“Time to go, Irvine,” Seifer said quietly.

Irvine stood slowly, leaning down to brush his lips over Squall’s brow before settling them gently over the brunette’s lips. He brushed their lips together once, twice, and then gasped in shock as the fingers in his hand twitched and the lips under his fell open. Irvine felt something pass between his lips and the brunette’s, like a cool, sweet breeze that warmed his senses. His head felt slightly fuzzy and but the feeling quickly cleared. He could swear he heard a light voice whisper within his mind. My King.

Then he heard the others gasp and looked down to see beautiful blue eyes open and looking up at him.

“Squall…” “Irvine…” they both started to speak at the same time.

“What happened?” Irvine asked, brushing the back of his fingers over Squall’s soft cheek.

The brunette’s eyes glazed over in thought for a moment before he moved to sit up and looked around.

“Julia tried to kill me,” he said.

Irvine helped Squall to stand and held him close, furious that someone had hurt his betrothed. He traced a finger down the scar on Squall’s face. The mark didn’t diminish the brunette’s beauty in any way.

“We have to tell King Laguna,” Zell said, breaking the moment between the other two men.

“Yes,” Squall and Irvine agreed together.

Bidding farewell to the Shumi, Squall promised to tell his father of their progress with the statues for the rose garden.

During the journey back to Esthar, Squall told of how the Queen had first tried to use the castle hunter to kill him and of how Ward had been unable to do so, deciding instead to let the prince flee to the safety of Balamb. To make it less obvious that he had survived the latest attempt on his life, Squall wore one of Seifer’s cloaks and rode in front of Irvine, the brunette‘s own horse being led by Zell.

Upon their arrival, Squall went directly to Raine’s garden, Irvine following him while Seifer and Zell searched out for the King and Ward. Squall would talk to his father first before confronting the Queen.

In the garden, the brunette found his father, along with Julia and Kiros. Squall almost gave his identity away, but Irvine laid a restraining hand on the other man, preventing him from attacking his stepmother. Laguna looked up at them, his face lined deeply with sadness, aqua eyes dull and tired.

“Prince Irvine,” Laguna greeted the Galbadian prince tiredly.

“King Laguna,” Irvine said, bowing.

“I am sorry but you will be unable to marry my son, for he is dead,” the King said quietly.

Laguna turned his head back to watching the roses, Kiros checking to see if the King was all right. Julia watched the young prince and his hooded companion closely, waiting for Irvine to react to the news or offer his suit for the other child of the King’s household. She was about to make a comment about Rinoa’s journey to Balamb when Seifer and Zell arrived with Ward.

“Ward, why are you here?” Kiros asked, knowing his lover was uncomfortable around others since the loss of his voice. They had spent much time together learning a new way to communicate with each other.

Ward shook his head and indicated the man standing next to Irvine.

Taking a step forward, Squall removed his hood. “Father.”

Laguna shivered at the sound of the sweet voice of his son. Surely he was dreaming but he turned his head towards the sound, hopeful that his ears were telling the truth.

“Squall!” the King shouted, scrambling to his feet to throw himself at his son.

Kiros laughed at the first sign of life within his friend and liege’s eyes in days. The apparent death of his son had hit him hard, and in turn affected the whole castle.

“What happened?” the King asked, hugging his son close to him before pulling away to stare at the scar on Squall‘s soft skin.

Squall looked at Julia over his father’s shoulder, enjoying the way the Queen paled as his travelling companions surrounded her. “Your Queen tried to kill me,” Squall said, glaring at the woman.

Julia collapsed to the ground, tears streaming from her face, knowing she couldn‘t run even if she wanted to. The group waited for her to compose herself.

“What did you do?” Laguna asked, voice hard and unrelenting towards the weeping woman.

Knowing she was doomed, Julia continued to sob and hiccup as she babbled out the story of how she only wanted her daughter to be the most beautiful in the land. She also told of Siren in the crystal ball and of how the guardian was linked to Irvine and the Galbadian throne.

When she was finished, she glared up at the brunette.

“You died,” she hissed. “I saw you stop breathing.”

Squall just stared at her, trying to remember what happened after she had thrown the ball at him. But he recalled nothing until he’d awoken to Irvine’s kiss. Thinking about the auburn-haired man, Squall smiled shyly at Irvine and rested his head against the man’s shoulder as Irvine slipped an arm around his waist. Together they watched Laguna approach the Queen.

“You tried to kill my son,” he said quietly, taking in the fear-filled eyes as Ward moved to stand behind her, Seifer and Zell moving aside to make room.

“You also harmed my advisor’s lover,” Laguna continued, smiling coldly at the shock that now showed. “Yes, I know about them. How could I not when Kiros has spent his practically every moment away from me with Ward, more so since the hunter lost his voice? I have given them my blessing, just as I have given Irvine and Squall my consent to marry should they choose.”

Julia glared over Laguna’s shoulder at the two princes smiling at each other, gritting her teeth as Irvine placed a light kiss on the brunette’s scar, Squall‘s delicate blush making him glow with happiness. Then she turned her eyes back to her husband, knowing she would not live much longer.

Laguna watched dispassionately as Julia realised that her dreams had crumbled around her ears.

“What will you do?” she asked.

“You have committed treason, Julia, a crime usually punishable by death. Ward will escort you to your homeland. I have no wish to see you again.” With these parting words, Laguna turned his back on his former Queen, the others following his lead.

True to his word, King Laguna did not see Julia again, the huntsman escorting the disgraced Queen from the castle before night had fallen. With the rise of the morning sun also came the quick return of Ward, his only companion the horse of the exiled queen. No one questioned him as to the fate of the woman. Nor did they question the contents of the small wooden box he carried with him.

After talking to the guardian spirit now residing within his body, Irvine and Siren restored Ward’s voice. The heir to the Galbadian throne had much to discuss and learn from the guardian who had helped his ancestor’s rule. When asked why she had been in the crystal ball when she could reside within his body comfortably, Siren had confessed to being unable to bond physically with a Queen, so she’d agreed to the ball until a King returned to the throne, later deciding that remaining there was easier. Irvine still had many questions but decided they could wait until he’d ascended the throne.

Not long after the death of Julia, the four young men then left to travel to the summer court at Balamb, but not before Irvine and Squall wed, the ceremony taking place in the rose garden where they first met.

The following year, Irvine ascended the throne in Galbadia, where he ruled with Squall by his side until the end of their days.


Notes from Gnome: This story won an 'honorable mention' at the upcoming 2004 Yaoi-con. I'd like to thank my betas for their help in making this story good enough to get noticed. ^___^