The Songstress of Avalon
“It’d be nice if she could be reborn into a better world…”
The last thing the girl saw before her vision went dark was the formless shapes towering over her and the garbled sounds which emanated from them. Her eyelids fluttered weakly at the sound of a familiar voice, the final manifestation of her waning strength.
She opened her eyes.
A dull ache pestered her limbs, and her head throbbed slightly; however, these unpleasantries were offset by the softness of the ground which her body rested on. She stretched out an arm and began to feel around her – no, this wasn’t a particularly soft grassy patch, but something more akin to chenille fabric.
The girl had been laying on a splendid couch, the scene reflected to her by what she noted to be a massive mirror in the ceiling. Seeing herself reposed in such luxury made the girl shoot up immediately, anxious that all was not what it should be.
The face of the middle-aged man standing vigil by her side darkened.
“Don’t move so suddenly!” he scolded.
“Sorry!” she responded instinctively. “Hold on, who are you?”
“I’m Prince Del Fiore’s personal physician,” he replied, completely seriously, and then “wait, you’re the one to talk! The servants found you passed out in the garden, so why don't you tell me who you are!”
“Arisa,” her reply was stonily straightforward.
“Arisa what? Daughter of who? Don’t tell me you’re one of those commoners who only have a given name? Well, I’ll treat you anyway. The doctors’ oath and all…” he grumbled, placing a hand on her forehead.
“Iwasaki Arisa,” she clarified.
“Iwasaki?” the physician’s voice heightened in pitch when she revealed that she, in fact did possess a family name. “I’ve never heard of it, but then again it’s a big world.”
The physician turned around to consult his doctors’ bag, and Arisa had to physically suppress a yelp by covering her mouth with both hands. His ears were slightly elongated in comparison to hers, and whilst she had noticed immediately, thought nothing of it. However, considering his ears in conjunction with what she noted to be a tail, it was clear that his deformity was something beyond the ordinary.
“Are you some kind of cosplayer?” she asked.
“A what?” he was checking her temperature.
“You’ve got pointy ears and a tail.”
“An observant woman,” he was unmoved by the sudden comment. “That’s because I’m a satyr. You’ve never seen one before? What kingdom does the House of Iwasaki hail from?”
“House of - what? My family, huh? Well, my father's from Hokkaido and my mother was born in Tokyo. I guess we're Japanese all the way,” she laughed lightly.
“It rings no bells,” the satyr replied, almost dismissively. “Well, you seem to be fine. Under any other circumstances, I’d just let you go but the prince has already been told you're here. Oh, he isn’t upset or anything like that, but you should pay your respects before you leave. Shall we go together then?”
He offered his hand (she was silently relieved that it wasn’t a hoof) to help her up from the couch, and then led her towards the hallway. Even though she hadn’t seen the exterior, she could tell from the grandeur of the rooms that this was a castle of some sort – the satyr with a medical degree had said the homeowner was a prince, and only a prince could live in a place like this.
"Is that the prince?" Arisa pointed at one of the photos which adorned the hallway walls - one of a handsome, curly-haired man with piercing brown eyes.
The doctor shook his head sadly. "That's the prince's elder brother, Tommaso. Unfortunately he's no longer with us," he didn't dwell on the subject and carried on walking.
The throne room, where the prince is often found, was located on the third floor; given the immense size of the house, it took the pair around fifteen minutes to get there, and that was despite the fact that the caprid physician knew every nook and cranny of the building like the back of his, thankfully not a hoof, hand.
He muttered something to the guard standing outside the throne room who nodded in response and then proceeded to push open the double doors. Beginning at the border which separated the throne room from the third-floor hallway was a purple carpet which led all the way to the end of the room.
At the foot of said carpet were three steps half a foot in height, and which led up to the room’s namesake: the throne.
A man who was unmistakably the prince rested on the exalted seat, smiling an inscrutable smile. His amber eyes narrowed at the sight of her and he uncrossed his legs, allowing them to cascade freely over the edge of the seat. He looked expectantly in the direction of the guard who hastened to make the appropriate introductions.
“To the princely court, the distant traveller Iwasaki Arisa and this esteemed household’s physician Barkley Porridge have been granted an audience with Prince Lorenzo del Fiore.”
It went without saying that the theatrics were for the benefit of the small crowd milling around the throne, and of course, the prince himself whose eyes brightened at the sound of his own name. When the guard finished speaking, Arisa was led towards the throne.
Now that she was closer, Arisa could take in the sight of the prince more easily. Certainly, he looked the part – his tall, slim figure filled the throne perfectly and with delightfully raven hair, parted in the middle, he looked the very picture of the handsome prince from the picture books. The princely garbs helped too.
Actually, he was the spitting image of Fujiwara Yoshikazu, the Ronny and Associates idol whose visage covered Arisa's bedroom walls.
“Just thank him for giving you the medical treatment. Nothing fancy, hear?” the satyr called Barkley Porridge nudged her.
“Even though you’re the one who treated me?” she asked, confused.
“Shush!” he admonished quietly. “Not so loud; and my good deeds are the prince’s good deeds. Now go on.”
She decided not to press the issue.
“Thank you for the medical treatment, your highness…?” she began awkwardly. “And for letting me rest here. Your couch, especially, was very soft,” she thought she had added a nice touch but the somewhat flustered look on Dr. Porridge’s face suggested otherwise.
“Hmm…?” the prince hummed, as though none of what she had just said had registered. “I’m sorry, but I got lost in your eyes.”
“Ah, here we go…” the doctor seemed to mutter.
The handsome prince leapt from his throne, his long legs carrying him down the steps to where the satyr and the girl stood. He clasped Arisa’s left hand with both of his and gazed down at her; amber and brown met, and she felt her heart begin to thump.
"Fujiwara-san..." she flushed, and then slowly returned from her reverie. "No, I mean, your highness...?"
“Beautiful girl,” the prince began. “The House of Del Fiore is happy to extend its help to anyone who needs it. What do you think of my home?”
“Uh,” Arisa was nonplussed. “It’s… nice, I think? It's much bigger than my family's house in the suburbs.”
“If you find it so nice, then why don’t you stay?” he asked.
She tilted her head to one side, clearly confused.
His nostrils flared, but only for the slightest second. Once again, he was the able charmer. “Do you mean to make a prince say what he really means? Ah, I expected no less from a woman capable of becoming Lady Del Fiore!”
“This is like the sixth ‘Lady del Fiore’ this month,” one of the attendants whispered to the person beside him, out of earshot of the farce’s main actors.
“You’re new here, so you don’t know,” the other, a more seasoned attendant, responded, “but the veritable prince can’t be satisfied with just four or five women. I sympathise with them, but they shouldn’t fall for such easy tricks."
It wasn’t as though Arisa was particularly experienced in the realm of romance but she was, by now, well aware of what the prince was trying to say; and by the frown on her face, anyone could tell that she did not look at the prince's proposal, if you could call it that, favourably.
“No thanks,” she immediately turned around to leave.
Her exit, as dramatic as the prince was theatrical, would have come amidst the gasps of the attendants and an impressed looking Dr. Porridge. Lorenzo, however, wasn’t content to just let things end there. He acted whilst Arisa was still within his grasp; reaching out an arm, he grabbed hold of her wrist.
“Stop right there."
The charm was gone from his voice now, replaced by something that teetered between surprise and anger. His eyes, formerly a cool amber, had turned blue, and both trembled and shimmered like a turbulent ocean.
But still, his rage didn’t compare to hers.
Without warning, Arisa spun around and hit him in the square in the face – not softly, but the prince was fond of theatrics even when on the receiving end of a physical assault. He was sent crashing into the steps with a groan. His cheek burned momentarily, the small of his back began to throb, but it was his ego which had taken the worst beating.
“She hit your highness!” one of the attendants shouted.
“For goodness’ sake, grab her!” another one hollered.
“Doctor, check if your highness is OK!” a third attendant urged Porridge Barkley who, despite the cacophony of appeals on the prince's behalf, did not budge in the slightest.
“I think he’ll be fine.”
Prince Lorenzo del Fiore shambled to his feet, slapped away the concerned hand of a courtier, and roared. “Somebody bring her to me! Hitting a prince is a capital offence!” he pointed a quivering finger at the wide-open double doors from which Arisa had just sprinted out.