A Qualified, Fighting Princess.

King Xander walked up to where a few kings were bitching about their peoples.  He stared at them.  "Your people are ready to revolt," he told one.  "The bards have said that there's a huge movement."

"You listen to bards?" that king sneered.

"Yes, I do.  Because they're there to pass the news between kingdoms."  He smiled at one he knew very well.   "I saw your son recently.  Cas was very well.  His broken foot healed correctly and he was off teaching Dean new moves."

"That's nice," he said.  "Unfortunately my son is an idiot who goes against the will of the family."

Xander laughed.  "Yeah, about that."  He pointed at the first one.  "Your people are starting to feel like his."  The first king stomped off.  Xander looked at him.  "Michael, there's no way you can do what you want without a civil revolt.  They won't let you.  For that matter, your people don't know you that well.  Perhaps you should go undercover as one of your villagers for a bit to see what they're really like."

"Everyone knows me.  That would never work."

Xander looked at him.  "We're next door to yours so let's find out."  He walked him to one young woman who was tending flowers in a public garden.  "Excuse me.  Do you know either of us?" he asked her.  "I'm proving a point."

"I know you, King Alexander.  Thank you for stopping your father."

"I think it was a pretty unanimous hate.  Do you know him?"

"No, sire.  Is he one of the local nobles?"

"This is King Michael."

"Oh," she said weakly.  "I've heard of you, sire."  She nodded properly.  "Flower?"  She offered him one of the prettier roses.  He stomped off.  Xander winked at her.  She relaxed.  That could have been very bad.

Xander walked him off to the bard's stall.  "Bards know everyone important," he said.  "That's why they spread news and gossip."  He nodded at the bard behind the stall.  "Do you know who we are?  I'm proving a point."

"I know of you, King Alexander."  He stared at the other one.  "He looks like perhaps he's one of Consort Castiel's kin?"

"I'm his father," he sneered.

"OH!  We've never seen your picture even in the temples, sire.  Are you still hosting the bard's symposium this year?"

"No, I believe it's frivolous and bad for people."  He stomped off.

Xander smiled.  "He thinks all his villagers are *frivolous*," he mouthed, getting an eye roll from the bard.  Xander nodded.  "We're working on it."  He strolled off after buying a story scroll and handing the flower lady the change.  "Thank you for that service.  He's against frivolous things."  He headed inside reading the scroll, smiling at the king.  "Horatio."  He shook his hand.  "Thank you for hosting this gathering."

"No spouse?"

"At home placating his mother.  Who still only wants written to instead of the occasional fire call."  He looked at the limping prince.  "What did you do this time?" he asked with a grin.

"Tripped chasing someone."

"He was being accused of murder," Horatio said.

Xander nodded.  "We've had a few of them.  They knew not to make me chase them.  You just have to be more mean, Eric."

"Perhaps, but perhaps not," Horatio said blandly.  They walked into the meeting room together.  "Alan."

"Horatio.  Thank you for hosting."  He shook his hand.  "Xander."

"Alan."  He shook his hand.

"You don't use honorifics?" the king from earlier sneered.

"No, I don't, Aaron.  Because I have more status than you do."  He smiled.  "Beyond that, you're not worthy of it because you're as much a despot as my father was only you don't consort with demons.  They're just in your back garden."  He sat down at the horrified look.  No one liked King Aaron.  There had been official bets placed among the kings and princes about who would kill him.  Xander had a momentary fantasy of stabbing him in the spine and leaving him to slowly die from the paralysis.  "Anyway, what's the topic of the meeting, Alan?"

"A few things.  Your roads are still partially closed?"

"Only to Pelgar and Rosmathen.  Rosmathen decided to try to attack one of our neighbors and my soldiers had to come out to stop him from using our roads.  They weren't happy by any means," he finished blandly.  "He wrote an official protest.  I sent it back in pieces and promised next time I'd divert the succuba we keep tied up in the dungeons to his kingdom to take the stick out of his ass."

"You have a what?" Stella demanded.

"A succuba.  Where I was poisoned she can suck some of the buildup off before it gets too bad and I start getting too touch sensitive again.  Sam came up with the idea."  He smiled.  "It works well in small doses."

"I'll have to tell our healers."

"Gregory told his people so they could test and see if it was a solution to a newly poisoned one," Xander said with a grin.  "Prince James was amused as anything but Cuddy looked like she sucked the whole tree of lemons."

"Any news on that vote?" Alan asked.

"Gregory said that there's at least three others being nominated by the overseeing temple.  He was told one of the priests was begging their God to show up and talk to her.  Especially after two rulers died by her sneering inaction and I spent two months in a coma thanks to her not sending someone competent to help."

"You were?" Stella asked.

Xander nodded.  "I had half the healers in the combined kingdoms with me but none of them thanks to her.  Prince James said that they had ways of reducing it that would've sped my healing by half.  They haven't shared it with anyone though.  All at her command."

"So someone did ask her to look at Queen Joyce?" Alan asked.

Xander nodded.  "Buffy said she asked and Cuddy said no.  That was right after John said she wasn't possessed.  When the tumor might not have been fatal.  She also refused to send any help to King Jameson when he was so ill a few months back.  I know he's not one of us but he's the only fair ruler in that group of countries in the mountains to our south.  He had been poisoned with a simple fish poison by what I heard.  They do have a cure for it but they hold it sacred and don't give it out unless it's found to be a true case."

Alan nodded.  "So she has caused intentional harm."  Xander nodded.  "Then I hope whoever they pick is a better, more just choice."

"Amen," Stella agreed.

"Why are you here?" King Aaron asked her.  "You're not a king."

"Mac's ill with a chest cold and his healers said not to travel as it's been overly rainy in our kingdom for the last week."

"We all respect Stella," Alan said simply.  "She's very wise and a good queen with good ideas."

Xander snapped his fingers and pulled out something.  "This is the architectural drawing of the new wedding temple we're building so your next cousin can marry there."  He slid it over.

She looked over, smiling back.  "Sophia's little sister and oldest brother are both due to wed within the next year.  Will it be ready by then?"

"Six months.  They've just started it.  They can rent out the whole thing or just one of the larger suites.  It does have a viewing suite for the wedding night customs."  She beamed at him, making that note.  "It'll also have a smaller grotto area for smaller weddings.  There are commoner days for use.  They give them a heavy discount on those days.  The first month of them is already booked."

"Wonderful," Horatio said, taking it to look over.  "I know a lot of people would rather not marry in their home castles because it gives someone an advantage of power."

Xander nodded.  "That's one reason why we hosted so many.  That's also near the major flower growing area and a very decent agricultural area.  The fish in the pond are really pretty too."  He smiled.  "So within six months it will be open.  People are already jockeying for whose wedding will be the first there."

"I like the commoner days," John said from his seat.  He took it to look over.  "Very pretty and just temple enough that it looks slightly like one but not too much for those who don't want a religious ceremony."

"The local headman of the village can do ceremonies or you can bring your own priests," Xander said.  "There's room enough for even a full Sanzo style wedding," he told Horatio with a smile.

"I'm about to force one of mine into one so he quits being such a slut," he said with a smirk back.

"We'll gladly host it there and no one can say anything about the pages.  Though those togas are being stored out there in case they're needed for another wedding."

"They may," Stella agreed.  "Your lands do have a reputation for promoting fertility.  That's why Sophia is a holy terror with her first spawning."

"I wish her husband much luck ducking the hormones then," Xander said sarcastically.  "She had fantastic aim with her shoe during the wedding reception."

Horatio laughed.  "Yes, she did.  I think it's nice her mother quit having so much wine  because of it."  He handed the drawing on past Aaron's seat since he was such a dickhead.  "How is Queen Buffy doing?"

"She's in the last few months of her year of mourning," Alan said.  "So we do have to decide who's being sent to start the first treaty with her so we can see how stable she is.  My son Don did say that she had her airhead days and he wasn't sure some of them weren't an act."

"I know she's dating an absolute idiot squire," Xander said.  "Rumors have her dating someone who was part of Rory's army but came out cleanly on the other side.  Apparently he's had a few fun nights in his past that she's not aware of.  Which is really not my thing to butt in and notify her of."

Alan shook his head.  "I'll have Don ask around about him and tell her.  They're nominally friends and he mentored her at school."  He made that note.  "Who wants to restart the first treaty?  Do we want it to be symbolic or not?"

"I'm all for giving her six months for her people to settle back down," Xander said.  "They're not quite twitchy but the official mourning has gone on a bit.  They haven't had an official monarch mourning in a few decades so very few remember it or all the old ceremonies that she officially has to deal with.  So perhaps a trade thing first?"

"That's not a bad idea," Stella agreed.  "It's a cautious start and will let us know if she has the head to rule.  If not, she's got to have a master who can."

"They have a noble's council," John said.  "They do adore Buffy but they know she's not scholarly by any means."

"What about a trade agreement for....say vegetables or fruit?" Horatio suggested.  "That's pretty simple."

"Or a disaster one," Xander said, rubbing his forehead.  "I have no idea where that one came from."

"It's something that most of us informally have," Alan said.  "You wrote it into the greater majority of treaties you got before you threw your father into the woods."  Xander nodded.  "Is he dead yet?"

"No."  He smiled.  "Apparently he enjoys it."

"Charming," John said, scowling at him.

Xander stared at him.  "Ya know, it might help if you were in your own form," he told him.  The demon shrieked and changed as it attacked Xander.  Xander calmly stabbed it and threw it out a window.  He looked down.  "That's a demon's body," he called to the staring guards.  They nodded and built a bonfire right there.  "Sorry, Horatio."

"How long have you known?" Stella asked, checking the seat and her arm for any residue.

"About when I walked in and realized that John is holed up in his mountain castle because he has a broken leg."  He looked at King Michael, Castiel's father.

"I had not felt evil intentions," he admitted.  "Are the new protections not enough?"

"No, they're great," he said with a smile.  "Thank your family for the help with that."  He looked at Stella again.  "He's probably related to the one that tried to get Tony the other day.  The one his mother wanted him to marry sent a succuba to encourage him to have more sex.  She's not sure if that's a problem or not but Tony walked off disgusted and went drinking with Gregory again."

Stella shuddered.  "I can't even imagine Princess Gregory drunk."

"They were singing outside his house.  I finally had to send the guards to put them to bed before I went down there to glue their lips shut."  Horatio laughed.  She did too.  "Even my consort was all for gluing them shut.  Princess Tony cannot sing on key when he's drunk."

Alan stifled a smile.  "I'll tell his father that on the way home."  He made that note too.  "So who wants to start a trade treaty?"  One of the kings at the other end of the table raised his hand.  "That's a good idea.  I know you produce some excellent grains and other matters."  That king smiled and nodded.

Xander looked at him.  "We reup ours next year?"  He consulted his list and handed it around so they could see.  "I need to start doing that.  Sam's the only organized one in the castle."  He made his own notes and passed it on.  "Thank you."  He looked at Stella.  "I know I redo one with your parents this year."

"That's fine, Xander.  They're mellow right now outside worrying about a sister country to the west.  I was going to bring them up, Alan.  They're not part of that whole battle problem that everyone had but they're good people.  We enjoy them as a sister country.  They're a small island nation and they are having a problem with a sorcerer."

"Alchemist or otherwise?" Xander asked.

"Otherwise.  Of the king kidnaping sort."

"That one with all the fish and flower exports?" Xander asked, considering it.  She nodded.  "There's no really good fighters over that way."

"He is but he's being held captive," she said.  "I have no idea how to help them and my father's worried.  Their fathers were best friends in his youth."

Xander nodded.  "Let me think on that, Stella."  She smiled and nodded.  He looked at Michael.

"That is far outside of our home country.   We don't even have a treaty with them."

Xander nodded.  "Okay, I'll think on how to handle that."  He looked at Alan, handing over his notes.  "We need one of these meetings just for treaties.  That's my suggestion to the Council of Kings."

"All of us sitting around instead of traveling randomly around," Alan said.  "Say one long meeting where we look over treaties and then rework them?"  Xander nodded.  "I think we tried that in the past but some of us didn't have the people we needed or the ancient books with the treaties with us."

"I can understand that but I don't really have envoys picked.  I can't find anyone who isn't in my father's thinking among the more minor nobles.  I had a few who wanted to know when I was going to conquer someone the other day until I threw her drunk ass in the moat.  By the way, love the moat idea," he told Stella with a smile.  "It's very handy for drunken bitches who have bad ideas."

She smiled.  "I find it does work well in our kingdom too."

Alan smiled.  "You'll figure out how to travel lightly, Xander."

"I can't.  I have nineteen I have to redo in the next year's time."  Alan winced.  "Two with you."  He snapped his fingers.  "Pelgar's brother is over near that country," he told Stella.  "He's not insane like his brother and they might have a treaty with his wife's people."

"I hadn't thought of him since he's not one of us," she agreed.  "I'll send word his way to see if he's as worthless as his brother is."  She pushed her hair back over her shoulder.

"If not, let me know.  I'll either lend you some soldiers or we'll figure something out," Xander said.

"Why you?" King Aaron sneered.

"Because unlike most of you I've actually trained in the art of war.  It's the major benefit of being the son of a warlord.  Since I'm also trained to hunt demons, should I come take out the ones in your back garden that are keeping your youngest child hostage?"

"She's but a daughter," he sneered.  "She should be put to death for that.  All girls should be once their uses are done for."  Xander threw something and stabbed him in the stomach.

"Really?  Tell that to my daughter, who's smarter than you'll ever be," he sneered back at the body.  "Sorry to make such a mess, Horatio."

"No, I agree.  You needed to do that before Princess Calleigh did."  He looked at the body.

Xander pulled something out of his pocket.  "Wind elemental only," he promised, sticking the note to the former king's body with a pin Stella handed him.  The wind elemental appeared.  "Take him to a public place by his castle to show his deranged body off please."  The elemental nodded and left with the body.  "There, that way his people can quit having a civil war."

"I heard they were about to overthrow him," Alan said.

Xander nodded.  "Started when he traveled for this actually.  He was going to come home into an ambush anyway.  I'll stop there to make sure they know it wasn't an act of war."  Alan smiled at him.  "It'll take a bit out of my trip but I can hit the Pass Road easier from there."

"Not a bad plan," Horatio agreed.  "Xander, I'll send envoys to you."

"Thank you!  We have like five I think."  Horatio smirked and nodded.  "I'll gladly host any meetings for that sort of thing.  It'd definitely give Sam something to do and Tony too."

Alan smiled.  "Don is still considering Tony."

"I'll let him know."

King Michael coughed.  "Xander, you summoned that one how?"  He held up the charm.  "Who made you that?"

"The coven up by my northern border.  They have great respect for all the air elementals.  They had to free one that got stuck visiting a dragon."

"It possessed a dragon?" Michael demanded.

"It was a young elemental.  The head of the coven said he was barely able to be out on his own.  Like about my daughter's age.  It wanted to see what dragons were like when it enjoyed the air with them.  They got the dragon free, sent him off before he caused harm, and got the elemental spirit back to the others of its kind.  I love our coven.  They're uptight and bitchy but they've always guarded our northern border and the woods up there.  We'd have a lot more trouble if they didn't keep the forest spirits satisfied."

"We have a few of those," Stella agreed.  "They live near some ancient mines and keep the spirits there calm.  If they get pissed there's avalanches that hit a few nearby towns."

"John has fire elementals in his mountains between him and those strange people to his north.  He said one migrated and a very young male witch captured it in his hearth fire."  He grinned.  "John got him someone to mentor him immediately when he heard."

"Was it mad?" Michael demanded.

"No.  It loved being in the hearth fire.  It's still there and knows it can leave whenever it wants to.  Apparently it loves the kid's mother's baking."  He shrugged.  "I guess she makes really good breads and cakes."

Stella smiled.  "Some of us do, yes."

He grinned back.  "Thank you for the cookies for our anniversary.  Even my consort would say that but he's out of stationary and you know how his people hate to call."

She waved a hand.  "I needed to bake anyway.  Lindsay may be pregnant."

"I wish her child the best of all things and less strife than her mother caused," Xander said.

She laughed.  "Definitely.  Us too."  She smiled at Alan.  "I'm not against going to Xander's castle for renewing treaties if we can bring everything we need.  Last time I only needed a few facts from one of our history books."

"It's not a bad idea and it's very centrally located.  It might save longer traveling times.  It takes me almost two weeks to get to Queen Buffy's castle.  Not to mention the extra month for the one beyond her borders that we used to have a treaty with.  That's why it was never renewed, all the traveling."  He looked at Xander, who shrugged and nodded that was fine.

"I have a suggestion," Horatio said.  "Why doesn't the engineering academy become their own little country?  That way it's not under anyone's authority.  I know the one of mine who trained there said that they were constantly nagged to do things for their king instead of everyone else."

"He's tried to claim their inventions in the past," Alan said.  "I could see that."

"The bard's academy could use the same thing," Xander said.  "They complain about the same things."

"How do you get so many bards?" Stella asked.  "We never figured that out."

"I offer them half-price rooms in the kingdom."  He smiled.  "They spread news and gossip so that way I get it and my people get entertainment."

"Any news on who the father of her child is?" Stella asked.  "She's refused to say."

"Hmm.  Ask your academy up there from what I heard.  They had drugged her and someone else with a test potion."

"If so I'll kill them."  He wrote out a note and handed it over.  Stella got up to swear in the hallway.

Alan looked at him.  Xander handed him the folded over note.  "That's a good reason to swear.  They really need to shut down that academy and drive them up north."

"The ones up beyond John's lands deal more in engineer things from what I've heard," Xander said.  "I've only met one bard that was up there and I think he was a plant by them so they could see how the alliances laid out in case something happened.  He told me that they had ice dragons but no one thought they existed any more.  They're very 'magic isn't real' sorts."

"I might send Charlie up there then," Alan decided, tearing up that note.  "If they close the academy," he asked Stella when she walked back in and sat back down.  "Where would they go?"

"My domain," Xander complained.  "Or the former Rosenburg domains.  I've had reports of a few nosing around the ancient towers in mine by the guards that stabbed them for me."

"What were they looking for?" Stella asked.

"Not really sure.  The guard commander said he didn't want to take a chance with all the hell from the protections being down so he just had them killed."

"I'd like to do that to all of them," she said.  She pushed her hair back again and put it up with her pen.

"The engineers have made a few new war weapons," Xander said with a smile.  "I used one of their new smoke canisters.  They're very handy."

"Mac would adore that.  I'll have to tell him so he can send for a catalog."

"Me as well," Horatio agreed.

"It's not honorable combat," Michael sneered.

"Not everything can be fought with a sword," Xander quipped.  "Sometimes it takes a banishing gun as my spouse proves.  Or a fan to the head."  The other kings cracked up.

"How was he when you left?" Horatio asked.

"He was kicking Gojyo's ass with his fan and his foot for flirting with the wrong woman and nearly getting them all attacked.  As I rode out I heard Hakkai go 'please don't make me heal him too much tonight, I wanted to listen to the new stories at the tavern in town'."

"I think it's nice that all the healers around you when you were sick got sent to the west for that battle's aftermath," Alan said with a grin for the young king.

Xander smirked.  "Meant they quit nagging me about stuff.  Cuddy didn't send anyone then either.  During Charlie's wedding she doubted that there was a battle and it was against something evil."

Alan shook his head.  "We've got to prevent her from being named," he muttered, making a note.

"Ask Gregory who to talk to.  He's talked to a few of their priests who're over the voting."

"Thankfully they probably know not to nominate him," Alan quipped.

"We all hope so," Stella agreed with a smile.  "Before he drives everyone insane out there."

"He does a good job with my uptight asshole nobles," Xander quipped back.  "I'm about to build some new lovely permanent homes in the woods for some of them."

"Just banish them," Horatio said.  "I heard you were extremely mean to your father."

"He deserved it," Xander said.

"Yes he did," Alan agreed.  "We all agreed he deserved it even if we did wince at his punishment."  He looked at the young king.  "Did John really have to leave him a knife?"

"I was going to give him one on his anniversary out there."

"Too bad he hasn't used it," Stella said dryly.  She shook her head quickly.

"Longer story than that," Xander said with a smirk.  "Much longer story.  We found out...things when we went looking at the protections he tainted."  She shivered, rubbing her arms.  "Yeah.  He deserves to be out there more than ever.  Dean did suggest he be moved to your sorcerous academy though."

"No thanks.  They might get ideas.  They got plenty when we adopted Lindsay from King Jameson when he was dying."

"I did not know that's where she came from," Horatio said.

"I'm wondering if she went to the same princess academy I was made to go to," Xander said, grimacing some.

"She wanted to even though we wanted her to go somewhere more academically based," Stella said, grimacing too.  "Her friends were there."

"Well, it appears they turn out some people with sense," Alan said.  "Your consort went there.  Tony went there and he has sense."

"Genjo is the most unconventional princess ever," Horatio said.  "He simply hides it better."

"Tony dropped out after that first year to go somewhere better that didn't teach you dancing," Xander said.

"They taught dancing?" Horatio demanded.

"Dancing, etiquette, minor self defense with hideable weapons like fans, core subjects to the level I was at when I was in the tower, and you had to dress as if it was a formal event dinner every night.  She did not like the more relaxed formal approach for formal dinners.  She hated that I did not and would not wear courtier tights and heels.  Tried to have the etiquette teacher put me in them until I stormed out and told them all that my father put people to death for wearing them.  Tony pointed out his people didn't wear that stuff and he wasn't representing his people if he wore them.  She sneered at our whole class because we weren't *traditional* princesses."

Horatio shuddered.  "None of my family will ever go there."

"Mine either.  Lindsay came home with an attitude problem Mac had to nearly beat out of her," Stella agreed.

"Oh, and she bragged that she had set up and arranged our political marriage," Xander told her with a smile.

Stella snorted.  "Your spouse's brother set it up after your coronation."


She shook her head, grimacing tightly.  "That's it, the woman needs to be remade."

"She showed up with *twelve* helpers for my coronation," Xander told her.

"Why?" she demanded.  "I only need one to press things and maybe help me with my hair."

"Calleigh only needs one," Horatio agreed.

"Amellisame only needs half of one and half the time that's her guard," Alan said dryly.  "Charlie only needs one when his hair is knotted and he can't get it untangled.  Most of the time that's Amellisame."

"She said the housing was adequate because all of her people had to double up.  She could've said she brought them to see the coronation but they weren't allowed out of the house unless she sent them on errands."

"What a bitch," Stella said.  Michael gave her a horrified look.  "She is."

"She kept telling me I was a worthless princess," Xander told her.  "None of mine will ever go there."

"Charlie hadn't invited her to his wedding but she sent an impolite letter turning down an invitation because he was marrying a commoner," Alan told her.

"Hell no that new grandchild isn't going there," she decided.  "There's another one."

"Don likes it better.  If I had known that Don was taught dancing instead of tactics I would've had him pulled," Alan said with a small shrug.

Xander snickered.  "The one thing we got into it over on the first day was when she tried to put me on the female's floor and then expected me to be chaste," Xander said.  Everyone laughed.  "I had to point out a few times that you couldn't tell if a guy wasn't chaste and when she mentioned being pure for the wedding night I had to remind her you couldn't really tell the difference."  Alan burst out laughing.

"I heard you were nearly poisoned your first night," Alan said.

"Yeah and she didn't want to let me be excused to go get the antidote.  Then again, for the first few weeks I was there, since I got there early, she thought I was a stable boy."

"You do good with them but not that good," Stella said dryly.  Alan walked out laughing.  "Any other business to bring up?"  No one said anything.  "Then happy travels, everyone."

The meeting broke up.  Xander's horse was saddled and waiting for him.  "Thank you."  He mounted and looked at Alan.  "Bring my baby to visit soon?"

"Very soon."  He shook his hand.  "We'll see you soon over treaties too."

"Cool.  Let me go check on King Aaron's revolt."  He trotted off.


Xander rode up to the castle that night, staring at the people.  He cleared his throat.   "Didn't I leave a note on him?"  They all stared.

"King Alexander," one said.

He smiled.  "He told me all girl children should be killed after their uses were used up."  He dismounted.  "I'm not staying for long and he's not winded."  He walked inside with the group.  "Good, you're starting to do the necessary things."  He pointed at the map.  "This group is in near revolt.  This one is going to have a hard kingship vote soon.  This one's going to end up the same way you are."  He looked at the staring people.  "You need to settle down quickly and easily so your fighting doesn't flow to their borders and make any legitimate strife harder."

"Who are you?" one asked.

"King Alexander."

"Warlord deMal's son?"

Xander smiled and nodded.  "I'm the one that got the asshole at the king's meeting.  I'm also here to kill the demons in your garden who have the youngest princess captive."

"She can go with the rest of the family," he said.

Xander stared at him.  "Let me give you a bit of knowledge I gained watching my father try to take over the world, Lord Paul."  The guy flinched.  "Those who kill children for no reason tend to not be very well listened to or liked rulers.  The Convergence of Kings council might admit a ruling council but it will not admit anyone who took out children for the crime of being born into the wrong family."  He stared at him.  "I'm sure you've read up on the last time a ruling council was tried?"  He nodded slowly.  "Then learn from their mistakes.  Don't make a second civil revolt happen."

"We're trying not to," another said.  "Unfortunately all the ones in the family have been found to harmed common people for their fun and games."

"Then I would send any legitimate children off to a relative out of the country," Xander advised.  "Adults know it might be coming if they're dumbasses.  Children are still sacred to most of us."  He stared at him.  "With the way the families have interbred I'm pretty damn sure their noble cousins here can take them when you give them the opportunity to flee.  Though I know some of yours will probably leave at least a few of their children behind.  I know one of them has a problem finding all his seventeen children at once.  Even if you give him a day's warning."

"Which would lead to less bloodshed for the people to get angry about," Lord Paul said.  Xander smiled and nodded.  "That is wise.  Thank you."

"Welcome.  A day's warning is enough for even nobility to pack the important things and flee.  While my country wouldn't accept them they have family in other countries I'm sure.  The children that are left behind by some of them will have to be cared for but any child can be taught how to do it better."

"So showing them and then even if the ruling council is overthrown it'd go back to them and they'd be better able to handle the populace in more pleasant manners," Lord Paul said.

Xander smiled and nodded.  "It is my suggestion.  I know your people will kill you if you put the kids to death or stick them in a jail, which will make them vengeful."

"It would.  My own was in one until recently."

"My father did the same to my daughter for a bit.  I found out when I took over.  Fortunately she was very young."

Lord Paul and the others looked at each other and nodded.  "We can settle things quickly."

"Good.  If you need advice, feel free to fire call me.  King Alan and King John would probably also give advice.  His son, Prince Dean, and his consort would.  Castiel definitely would.  He's King Michael's son."

"I've heard bad things about them," one of the members of the council said.

Xander nodded.  "We talked about his people moving to where you were because he considers them *frivolous* and wanton.  He thought everyone knew who he was until I asked a bard.  Then he guessed the right family but not who."

"So no bard's symposium?" Lord Paul guessed.

"No.  You might offer to host it.  It might create good will and some easier times when your people don't worry as much.  Also, another piece of advice, talk to your farmers *first*.  Your whole country, all countries, lean on the back of its farm folk.  If they're not happy, no one's happy and people start to go hungry."

"We can call some of them up later this week," Lord Paul agreed.  "I had not thought about that but one of the reasons for the strife was that the normal people had not enough food."

Xander nodded.  "As is common.  See where the problem is, see if they have solutions, see if it's rule based or other problems like a drought.  Then see how to best ease whatever the problem is.  A group with a full belly is always happier."

"It is," Lord Paul said, smiling at him.  "Good ideas both."  He shook his hand.  "The youngest princess?"

"But a babe as I heard.  I'm not sure if they're keeping her hostage or protecting her."  He heard someone shout that they couldn't end that magic.  Xander walked that way.  "That's a fire calling station.  We use that to call between palaces and important places like academies."  The wizard looked confused.  Xander pressed the button for his castle.  "I'll be a day late," he noted to the page who answered.

"Yes, King Alexander.  You have visitors."  He sent someone to get them.

Xander beamed.  "Amellisame!"

"Daddy!"  She smiled and waved.  "Hi."  She looked at her father.  "Are you on your way home?"

"I am but I'll be one day late probably.  I had to stop and help the revolt in King Aaron's kingdom.  So I'll be home nearly on time."  He grinned.  "We'll talk then?"

"Of course we will, silly."  She waved and hung up.

Xander smiled at the wizard.  "It's so we can talk semi-securely if there's a problem, call in warnings about war bands, and call healers from other areas if we need one.  And sometimes gossiping."

"Then we'll leave that," Lord Paul said.  "I had no idea about those."

Xander grinned.  "They're very handy.  An engineer just out of their academy created them since he had some small magical gifts.  We've had them now for almost two decades."  He pointed.  "You push the key that goes to whichever place you want to talk to.  Most engineers know how to add new locations if you must or there's a way to do it for emergencies."

"Wonderful!  That is actually very helpful."  He shook his hand.  "Let me lead you to the gardens."

"Sure."  He followed him out there, taking his sword off his back to kill the demons attacking them.  He found the den of the water demons and squatted down.  "I want the princess back.  I'm not of her family but I will protect her."  They shook their heads.  He took the baby anyway.  They could only make grabby hands for her.  He felt the curses coming for her and held her against his amulet of protection.  They got absorbed so he put it around her neck.  She cooed and patted his cheek.  She was probably about a year old.  He smiled back.  "There you go, Emily.  That will protect you as it has me for years."  He walked her back inside.  "I'm fire calling some of the coven I know."  He added the right potion to the fire to call her.  "Gledara."  Her head popped up and she glared.  "This is Princess Emily, of King Aaron's get.  She's been cursed."

"I see her wearing the protection I had made for you.  Honestly, such curses would rebound up here and cause more harm, even with the protections and I know not how to cancel them, my king."

"Would the other coven know?"

"Yes.  They would and they do have many would foster her."

Xander smiled.  "Thank you."  He hung up and added more potion.  "Tavana."  She appeared and cooed.  "This is Princess Emily."

"I've heard of her curse.  Bring her to me."

"Do be aware that your king is against you," he said quietly.

"We know.  We're handling it."

"Then I'll meet you on the crossroads?"

"That would be excellent.  Even if we have to move that would be fine."  Xander smiled and nodded.  "Thank you for protecting the innocent yet again."  She hung up.

Xander looked back at the ruling council.  "Would that work for you?"

"It would.  It would protect her and if something happened, I'm sure they'd raise her to have sense.  It's said those witches are strong but uptight about morals," Lord Paul agreed.

Xander nodded.  "I sent a young witch that was taken in by Rosenburg to heal with them.  She's very sweet and innocent but can help this one grow up strong and moral."  He shifted her.

"Here," one of the maid said, handing him a sheet.  He looked clueless so she fashioned a carry sling for him.  "That will let her rest easier, King Alexander."

"I thank you."  He smiled.  "Let me head there.  Be safe and if you need advice, call on one of us.  Outside Michael.  He's being a bit cranky this week."  They smiled.  "Happy ruling."  He bowed and left.  A horse was being killed.  "I would hope that wasn't mine," he said bluntly.

"She's a nag, sire."

"Nags can still be bred with something stronger for carriage and farm work.  Even the worst nags had some good blood originally."

"Aye, but we need the food and these two are old nags."

Xander shuddered.  "I do not like eating horses but if you must you must."  He looked at his horse.  "That's not my saddle or bride."  They brought his out.  "Mine have silver tracings.  I know things are going on but I did take out your king."  He found them himself and saddled his horse, mounting up.  "They've got a good start to ending the problems.  If those who need it ask, we'll give advice.  I hope your people prosper under the new leadership and they don't turn into the same sort of power hungry assholes."  The groom smiled.  He rode off.  He patted his horse's neck.  "Good boy."

The groom told the ruling council what he had said.  They agreed they hoped they didn't turn out the same way.  They had to make some fast decisions before their neighbors attacked them for being weak and causing stress.


Xander rode up to the witches gathered.  It had only been six hours since he had left the last castle.   Whoever had designed the former King Aaron's lands had put his castle near the top of their country instead of in the center.  "He try something?"  The head witch nodded.  "Pity for him.  I'm sure something will happen.  Why don't you wall off your woods?"

"It leaves us unable to get to a market," she admitted.  She looked.  "She needs changed."

"I have no idea how to do that."  He handed her the baby, sheet and all.  "Here.  They wish her to grow up strong and moral in case the usual happens and the ruling council gets overthrown too."

"We can definitely do that."  She patted the amulet.  She moved it and felt the curses gathering.  "Tara, come help me, dear."  They gathered to end the curses.  "Hmm.  King Michael's wife strikes again."  They handed the amulet back to Xander and made her one of her own.  The baby was a happy girl once she was changed.  "Did you feed her?"

"I let her suck on some of my travel rations."  He handed over the soggy piece of jerky.  "She seemed to like it."  Tara stared at him.  "I have no idea what to do with tiny babies, Tara."  He patted her on the head.  "Are you good?"

"I'm better.  Thank you."

"Welcome.  If you need us, let us know.  If you need to travel to the coven in my lands, I'll allow it," he told the head of the coven, who smiled back.  "If not, watch out for what goes on.  King Michael's not well liked.  The air elemental I called to bring King Aaron's body home nearly hit him."  He rode off.  "Happy days, ladies."

"You as well," Tara sent after him.  She took the baby, cooing at her.  "Did the silly king feed you jerky?  It's not what baby girls eat, Emily."  She walked off to find her something to eat.  When guards showed up they glared.

"It's our orders, ladies.  King Michael does not want your kind here."

"If we're not here, your kingdom dies," the head of the coven said simply.

"That's his doing then," the head guard said.  "We can't go against orders."  Tara charmed him to walk off with the others.  Then they built protections around their lands.


Xander walked into his castle, picking up his daughter to swing her around.  "Hi."

"Hi!  Silly, put me down."  He grinned but did that.  She hugged him around the waist, getting one back.  "Want to read with me?"

"Let me bathe and then I will."  She giggled and ran off.  "Give me a half-hour."  He smiled at his mate.  "How was your trip?"

"Not great but enlightening.  I saw King John's horse out by itself."

Xander grinned.  "Impala isn't the normal horse."

"I did not sense the taint of demons."

"That's because Impala's an earth spirit.  A fairly old earth elemental."  Genjo gaped.  Xander grinned and nodded.  "We love Impala.  She makes pretty foals but she is."  He walked off.  "I'm going to bathe.  You can come talk to me."

"I can do that."  He followed.  "How do you know?"

"I'm one of the few who can sense it.  Dean and John can't.  I'm not sure if Castiel can or not."

"I can," Sam said as he walked past them.  "My father thought I was possessed because I could see the difference."  He smiled at Xander.  "Go bathe."

"I am."

"Good."  He went out into the courtyard.  He had felt Impala getting close.  He had changed into traveling clothes.  When the mare showed up he smiled and moved forward.  "Which problem are you helping with?" he asked gently.  She nuzzled him.  He climbed into the saddle.  "We'll go handle it."  She ran off, using her supernatural gifts to go overland faster than any real horse could.   When they got close to their destination she slowed down.  Sam nodded at Dean and Castiel.

Castiel stared.  "That's Impala."

"Yes, it is."  Sam grinned and got off.  He took off her bridle and saddle.  "You go do what you feel you must.  You're a wise old spirit, Impala."  She snorted and nuzzled him then faded off.

Dean spluttered.  "Dad said that was you having a fever or something!" he shouted.

Sam smiled and shook his head.  "Impala's always been a primal earth spirit."

Castiel nodded.  "I have seen such in the past.  Where did she go?"

"Well, we're here to do battle with some of your batty relations," Sam said dryly.  "Where do you think she went, Cas?  Gabriel, hands off my ass."  The other brother moved away from him.  "Thank you."  They heard a scream and looked that way.  King Michael and his entourage of idiots who agreed with them were coming toward them.  Impala had just pounced and used her forehooves to knock Michael off his horse and was now stomping his head in.  "I think she's going to agree with you two," he decided.  The mare attacked the queen and a few others before trotting off, looking more like a normal horse.  Sam took off his t-shirt to rub her down.  "You got all lathered," he soothed.  "Nice job, Impala."

One of the remaining brothers looked at them.  "That is a demon horse."

"*She* is an earth elemental," Sam said back in just as snotty of a tone of voice as the idiot had used.  "Always has been."  He finished his rub down and poured some of his canteen of water into his hand so the mare could drink it.  "Nice job making your point known, dear."

One of them stomped over but Gabriel stabbed them in the stomach.  "Leave Impala alone."

"That's King John's horse?" the remaining daughter demanded.  Elizabeth was nowhere to be seen.  Gabriel nodded.  "Why did he interfere?"

"Dad's laid up with a broken foot," Dean said.  "I'm here to help my spouse."

"Impala needed a rider," Sam said with a shrug.  "And I agree with Cas."  She tried to curse them but Sam sent it back.  She shrieked and died.  Gabriel started to get sick.  Castiel moved to help ease his part of the curse.  "Sorry, Gabriel."

"I would rather die noble than live with their sins."  Sam came over to help him.  A jewelry-bedecked young woman rode up and put a hand on his head, making it glow.  Sam looked at her.  Gabriel looked at her.  She smiled.  "Merciful Goddess."

She grinned.  "Tell my chosen that they're just as big of assholes.  Especially the one with that cute little geek prince."  She winked at Sam.  "Very nicely done."

He bowed.  "Thank you, Goddess.  Do more of you walk?"

"It is the night of it," she reminded him.  "Though only one I know of.  He's making his feelings known about his chosen."  She disappeared as she rode off.

Gabriel straightened up.  "I will pass on that message."  He looked at Sam.  "Thank you."

"Not a problem."  He shook his hand and let him kiss him.  "Be nicer."  He smirked and got back up onto Impala once he had her saddled and bridled.  "Let's go home?  Or back to Xander's?"  She rode off, enjoying the spirit running.  "Impala, do you have any special mares?  Amellisame could use one.  She's very innocent and has a gift for healing."  The mare shook her mane.  They made it back to John's castle, where Sam got a few things.  Including his spare mare sent to Xander's.  A young foal walked out to join them and he moaned, kneeling to pet him.  "Well met, young prince."  The foal nuzzled him and trotted over to his mom to nuzzle her.  He was probably a yearling, just barely weaned.  "Is he coming with us?"  Impala nodded.  Sam got her a food bag.  Got the foal a bag of special feed as well.  The foal got happy and danced around the courtyard.

John limped to the doorway.  "What are you doing with my mare, Sammy?"

"She just made her special feelings known to help Cas."  He grinned.

"She's a horse."  Impala faded to her elemental form.  John swallowed.  "Huh."  Sam grinned.  "Fine, you were right.  Thank you for letting me ride you all over, Impala.  It's a very special gift."  She walked over to nuzzle him then went back to Sam, nudging him.  Sam got onto the saddle.  She and the foal ran off at his elemental speed.  John went inside to get drunk.  He had no idea that he had been riding a spirit all this time.  Though it did explain how some trips had been shorter than they should have been.  He thought it was because he had dozed off.


They got back about daybreak.  Sam winked at the two spirits and went running inside.  He found Amellisame and woke her, nodding outside.  "Someone wants to meet you."  She squealed and put on a bathrobe, coming out with him.  She knew she could trust Sam.  They walked out and Impala was alone.  He pouted.  She nodded.  The foal was eating roses.  "Amellisame, daughter of Xander, this is Impala.  She's an earth spirit."

"Aww," she cooed, looking at him.  "Can I pet her?"

"Ask her."

She smiled.  "Can I pet you?"  The horse lowered her nose.  She petted it and cooed.  "You're wonderful.  I've only heard stories about you."  Sam showed her where to scratch the mare's ears.  "You're so wonderful."  She hugged her around the neck then wiggled down.  "Is that your baby?"  The horse nodded, walking her over there.  The foal pranced over and stared at her.  She cooed and petted his ear for him.  The foal flinched.  "No, don't be scared.  I'm not mean like the grandfather.  I'm a good girl.  I'm going to be an excellent queen and healer some year soon."  The foal nearly nuzzled her off her feet so she went back to petting him.  "You're so great."

Hakkai walked out of the garden maze and paused.  "Well met, Elemental Spirits who guard others," he said in his native language.  Impala snickered as only a horse can.  He smiled at Sam.  "He's a wonderful choice for her to learn to protect."

"He is."  Hakkai went to tell the queen and others.  Sam petted the foal.  "Do you think you'd like to stay with her for a bit?"  The foal nuzzled her and knocked her down, laying down beside her.  She giggled and cuddled him.  Impala stood watch over them.  He got them all cleaned up and made sure there was stall space ready.  He taught her how to take care of the foal and she could brush him for hours, he just sucked up the attention.  It was good for her.

Xander strolled out.  "Morning, Impala."  He patted her on the shoulder.  "Thank you."  She nuzzled him so he scratched her neck.  "Daughter?"

"His name is Cougar," she said happily.  "Because he's dark like one."

"Wonderful.  Well met, Cougar."  He let the foal sniff his hand then petted his ear.  "You'll do good protecting each other.  I'm sure of it."  He stepped back.  "Impala, as always you're welcome to my barn."  She nuzzled him and Sam again then whinnied.  The foal got up and followed her to the grazing field.  Amellisame got helped up by Sam. 

"We'll teach you how to take care of him," Xander said with a smile.  "I'm very good at training the foals around here."  She hugged him.  He picked her up to hug her properly.  "I'm so proud that you're worthy of Cougar," he whispered.  She gave him an extra squeeze.  "After breakfast and you're dressed we'll come out to fully groom him.  I'll even teach you how to braid a mane and tail."  She wiggled down, running inside to get dressed.  He hugged Sam.  "Thank you."

"You're welcome.  She suggested it."  He walked inside with Xander.  They ate quickly and waited on her to come down in real clothes instead of princess gear.  She inhaled breakfast, and seconds, then they went out to groom the two special horses.  She got the braiding down easily enough.  Impala was made pretty too.  It made her happy.


That same night, a few kingdoms over a young seeming man walked out of the temple.  All the priests stared in awe and most of them bowed.  He smiled.  The princes were gathering for the morning meeting and prayers.  He looked at them.  "I do not believe some of you passed the test fairly."  Most of them stared at him. 

The crown prince sneered.  "Who are you to say such things?  We've never seen you in this temple before."

"Then you did not look very well, Prince Cuddy."  He pointed at a statue and she laughed until his touch to her temple made her a crying heap on the floor.  "That's better and more humble."  He looked around.  "No, she is not what I had in mind to lead my people.  She's selfish with knowledge and skills.  She forces others into the same sins."  He looked around.  "Though I do not recommend Gregory by any means," he finished sarcastically. 

"He does well handling an individual crisis but not a large one like you'll have every now and then."  The priests all sighed in relief.  "Find someone who I would appreciate and the other rulers would appreciate getting to know one another."  He looked at the crying crown prince.  "You really should go to that one queen's people to study patience and humility."  He disappeared.  Before he smote her again.  She had nearly ruined a lot of plans.  Healers should not worry about such things as money.

The priests conferred and opened nominations of who should take control of the kingdom.  Both of those mentioned were ignored from contention.  If their patron saint and God hated them ruling then they weren't going to ignore his wishes.  Especially since no one really wanted Princess Gregory in charge.


Dean and Castiel rode into the courtyard a few days later.  John was behind them on Sam's spare mare.  They dismounted and handed over their horses.  Dean tipped his head and smiled.  "Looking good, Amellisame."  She smiled and waved.  "You too, Impala."  He scratched her ear, getting a happy whuffle of noise.  Xander came out of the barn.  "Nice braiding."

"She does a really good job."  He shook John's hand.  "I did hers to teach her for Cougar."

John nodded.  "A special foal for a special girl."  He petted his own horse, who nuzzled him and got some sugar from him.  He smiled.  "Thanks, Impala."  Amellisame ran over to hug him and babble at him about the two of them.  He settled in to tell her about elemental spirits.  He'd ignore the very pretty ribbons in his war steed's mane and tail.

Dean looked at Xander.  "I saw Emily."

"She might be the last one in that family."

"She is."  Castiel looked at him.  "They have decided on someone to take the place of a ruling council.  There's a near heir, a younger cousin, who has agreed to take over and rule justly.   He was with Princess Gregory's people for training so he got missed and missed all the bad things.  He's a bit frigid but he will not allow victims."  Xander grinned.  "The new King Aaron's family is already there and has accepted care of Emily and protection of the coven if they should need it."

"Wonderful news."

"He's trained as a mind healer, even though it's not what part of that job he likes to do," Dean said.

"Even better.  His people could use it.  Have you told Alan?"

"We fire called him.  He greeted him and told him to visit soon so they could set up treaties and he could introduce him to all of us."

Xander nodded.  "That works for me too."  He hugged Dean again then Cas.  "If you had asked, I would've been there."

"I know but it is best to leave you safe in case something happens," Castiel said.  Xander rolled is eyes and walked off.  John and Amellisame had the two special horses in good hands.


Gregory got the official notice of what had happened at the temple and walked outside, looking up.  "Thank you!  Whichever one you are, thanks!"  He walked back inside.

"Got taken out of the nomination process?" Xander guessed.

"Yup.  Apparently some sort of higher being showed up to kick Cuddy's ass and told them I wasn't really fit to rule either.  So I'm hoping James gets it."

"There's another letter for you," Sam said, handing it down.  "Came by different messenger."  He went back to fixing his morning toast.

Gregory read the simple 'call me, we need to talk' message and got up to use the fire calling system.  He poured in the tiny bit of potion, said James' name, and waited.  James showed up.  "What's happened to who this time?"

"Nothing, exactly."

Gregory stared at him.  "You're getting married again already?  You look like you're seeing hell."

"I'm sick, Greg."

"Excuse me?  Are we not healers?"

"I'm my sort of sick.  I've taken in a fellow to teach by letting him learn on me."  Gregory glared.  "He's good.  He's got the gifts."


"Lower than Queen Joyce's.  About as problematic however."  Gregory just nodded.  "I... I'd rather break that sort of news in person than in a letter."

"Whenever you get too sick, you're coming wherever I am and I'll hire you a pretty nurse to do your bathing for you."

James smiled.  "I might like that.  There's every chance I caught it early enough."

"Good!  Before I come up there and see if I can transplant a healthier part from someone else into your brain.  It might make sure you don't marry another using twat."

"You're more than welcome to have guests," Xander called from the dining hall.

Greg realized he had been a bit loud and cleared his throat.  "How long before you know if it's treatable?"

"I'm starting treatment later today.  He's actually from Hakkai's people and he has that sort of focused healing gift, though lesser.  He's learned how to put ours and their styles together so I'm hoping for a speedy recovery."

Greg nodded.  "You can come here now and I'll still hire you a pretty nurse to bathe you."

"I'll be there once I know."  He smiled and hung up.

Gregory went into the gardens to throw a fit at their God.  James did not deserve this!  He was one of the better ones.  Greg deserved this sort of punishment more than James did.

Xander walked out and hugged him.  "If there's any way you can do it, you'll make whoever better," he said in his ear, getting a stiff nod.  "But you just sent pages screaming for me to see if we were under attack."  He made Greg look at him.  "Can he get better care anywhere else?"

"No.  The fellow who he's teaching sounds decent."

"Then he'll be doing everything he can to fight this.  Unlike some people who don't.  I heard one princess last year refused to fight the tiny tumor that had rendered her infertile.  She decided it would mean too much pain and she'd end up looking horrible so she didn't take any of the medicine.  Now she's wasting away slowly and bitterly.  She's still going to die looking horrible.  Is James like that?"

"No.  He's helped so many others through it."

"Sometimes bad things happen to good people, Gregory.  You've seen it.  Hell, I've seen it."  Greg relaxed and nodded.  "If you want to, bring him and his healer here.  If we have to, we can build you an official residence."

"I'll suggest that.  The warmer air might help him.  Thank you."

"I hate seeing people in pain.  It's why I'll never be a warlord, even a kind and generous one."  He left him to his more quiet angst.  There was nothing even a best friend could do or say to ease that ache.  "And don't make a wish, a demon might hear," he said before going inside.

"I hadn't thought about that."  He went inside to call him back.  "Come down here."

"I can't.  I have things I have to do."

"Bring the fellow with you," he ordered.  "The warmer weather with the happier people can probably help at least ease some of the strain you're going to be feeling."

James smiled.  "We'll be down next month anyway for a long visit."

"You and the fellow can both stay."

"Let me start all this and make sure things are in order."  Greg nodded and James hung up, leaning back in his desk chair to relax.

Greg went to the chapel in the castle to glare at the figures on the altar.  "I don't believe in you.  I never have," he muttered.  "But how dare you punish James for anything he's done with how he's served the people."

A quiet sigh heralded a visitor and the man sat next to him.  "Some of you do the work without the benefit of belief.  I really don't mind."  Gregory stared at him, mouth slightly open.  "James' illness is not a punishment from anyone.  Like most other cases it's simply a tiny group of cells that grew wrong.  The treatment should work.  Though he's going to feel worse before he gets better.  It's on the part of his head where the hormones are regulated so he's going to have a few swings."

"I've seen pregnant women before," Gregory admitted.

"You're the best soul's ease he can have.  Because you'll make sure he has what he needs and he won't give up."  He patted him on the hand.  "Beyond that, James would beat you to death with a shoe or a paddle if you even thought about making a deal for his health."  He smiled slightly.  "I do favor your results even if your methods do sometimes drive me nuts, Gregory.  You are still one of my favorite princesses."  He faded out.

Gregory relaxed, thinking on that.  He had never been visited before and he wasn't sure the 'God' wasn't a hallucination brought on by the stinky candles in there.  But if it meant James would be all right, he'd let it go and just do what he had to so James had what he needed.  He got up and went back to breakfast, making a list of what James would need when he showed up.

Sam took the pen and looked at him.  "We have a healer on site.  She has three elder sisters who take in patients."  Gregory smiled and nodded.  "You might ask her if one will be available.  If not, she'd probably know the others in town who do that sort of thing.  We had to let the healer's sisters help us with Xander more than once when he was in that fever coma."

"I can do that.  I'll need to stock food and other necessary things."

"Is he going to be able to eat regular foods or will he need more vegetables?  Which would mean fresh bought or stored in the root cellar?"

"Probably either would work.  Fresh would be better."  He took the pen back, adjusting his notes.  Sam did have good ideas.  "We need to set up a place for the healer to work."

"Xander offered and she refused.  He offered to set her up a house with rooms to see patients in underneath her upstairs living quarters."

"That's about what we do."  He looked around.  "She's out today?"

"She's at home.  There's been no reason for her to show up here recently."

"I'll find her later then."  He inhaled his breakfast and stomped off to talk to her.  He wasn't about to ride today.  His leg had been cramping again.

Sam looked around and shrugged at the staring looks.  "His friend is ill."  They nodded and decided his hasty exit had not been rude after all.


Xander looked around the castle.  It was actually finally fully clean.  "Wow, the walls are white.  Thank you, everyone."  The people in the throne room smiled back.  "You guys did an excellent job cleaning up his wreckage of a castle."  A few laughed.  "Let me know if there's anything structural we have to fix when we have Princess Charlie's new pipe system put in."  He sat down on his throne. 

"We have been asked to travel to greet a king that has had some problems but is not officially one of the Joined Kingdoms by Queen Stella.  Some of us do have treaties with him but he's run into major sorcerer problems."  The generals in there nodded.  "So I'll need a good guard troop to go with myself and my spouse.  We're going to the west but to an island."

"I'll arrange the ship's charter," the majordomo said, making a note.  "To that one that we trade with for the exotic flowers, Sire?"

"Yes."  That got a smile and a nod.

Xander looked around.  "While I'm gone, the regency still goes back to Sam if he's local.  If not, it goes to either Tony if he's local or call me to tell me what's wrong.  That way no one has to worry about martial law."  He stared at one general.  "And if you panic the people again you can go join my father in the woods.  We'll build you a pretty little pavilion as well."

"Yes, Sire," he said, looking down.

"Good."  He smiled.  "Any other problems let me know now or then."

"What of the minor nobles that want to take over?" one of the generals asked.

"Anyone breeding dissent can move and I would suggest they move before I find out who that little group holds."  He stared at him.  "Today."  The generals all shuddered.  "I don't care about the minor nobles being whiny about their old tithes being taken away from them.  They can find a profitable enterprise.  If not, then they're clearly not smart enough to help us build up this country to the glory it had during my great-grandfather's time."

"Sire, is your mother local?" one asked.

Xander shrugged.  "I always assumed she was.  I'm fairly certain I know which one she is and I think she is."  The cook shook her head.  "She's not?"

"No, sire, and I was a young maid then."  He whispered in her ear.  "No, that was assumed as well because she was banished then.  Actually there's two choices of who your mother is.  Two mothers went into the birthing room together.  The old Queen and one of the maids from Lord Jethro's kingdom that we had assumed your grandfather got in trouble."  Xander stared at her.  "Only one child came out though so we have no idea which one you are."

"Was my grandfather poisoned?"

"Yes, Sire.  Not what you were but one of the fish scale poisons we got from that kingdom."

"Probably by my father's hand?"  She nodded quickly, rubbing her throat.  "So the antidote was given to him?  Which has known aphrodisiac properties."  She nodded slowly.  "Tell me who my mother was pregnant by?"

"No one was certain about the fatherage of either child," she admitted.  "Only rumors."

"How many of them had my mother pregnant by my grandfather?"  A few gasped.

"Most.  We ignored such things though."

"Gregory, is there a way to tell?"

"If we had something bone-like from your mother and grandfather we can test it to see if your blood reacts the same way."  He looked at Sam.

"I can't do the magic to tell," he admitted.  "There is one.  Castiel could do that.  And I'm pretty sure your father got the poison from his dad by some historical documents I found."


"The coven can tell," the Cook assured him.  She went to call.  She came back.  "She'll be down later tomorrow, Sire."

"That'll give me time to deal with the idiots who want my father back."  He pulled out a scroll.  "These nobles will appear to me by tomorrow morning to answer charges of treason or they will be considered guilty and had better flee before I decide to eliminate them.  If found guilty they'll have half a day to get their things together and leave."  He handed it to his majordomo, who was looking like he was going to cry.  "I told everyone I wasn't going to be like my father.  Apparently that's now sinking in and people are upset.  I don't care, but yay."  He smiled.

"I shall let them know, Sire."  He went to make the fire calls.

Xander looked at the generals.  "General Horace, your troops are to make sure they abide by the half-day leaving rule.  Your troops are to make sure they are gone by the time limit and make sure that anything they leave behind is secured."  That got a nod.  "First, though, I want you to go to Lord Amporle and get the crown jewels back.  I found note that my mother sent them to him to save them from my father's dynastic plans."

He winced.  "I'm not sure if he has them anymore.  Is his son on the list?"

"Yeah, he is.  So is his daughter."


"She's actually trying to marry one of Rory's spawn to legitimate her takeover attempt.  She's a whole other plot beyond that disgruntled whining society."

"Shit," the other generals muttered.

Xander smiled.  "Tried to recruit you already?"  They nodded.  "Don't.  Remember, I'll destroy the kingdom first."  He smiled.  "Then rebuild it again."  They nodded and left.  He considered it then called his personal guard unit to go handle one other problem person.  He knew she had some of the crown jewels.  He had caught her stealing them and reported her but nothing was done.  His father's mistress must have thought it was her pay for putting up with his drunken, stinky desires.  Well, it wasn't and now Xander wanted it back.

One of the generals came back.  "We could do that as well, Sire."


He shuddered.  "Witch and not in a good way."

"I heard.  I actually turned her in for taking things as her pay for putting up with him oozing slimy sweat all over her."  They shared a look.

"I hope she hasn't sold it yet."

"No one will take the crown jewels of ours.  Only one piece has been broken up and sold, that was while I was in school.  I warned people before it would start a war when I went to take it back."  They shared a look.  "I only do big things for important reasons."

"I know, Sire.  We appreciate not being on the road most of the time and how much calmer everyone is."  He left to tell the others why that specific unit had been sent.  "Abellea."

"I'd send more than a guard unit.  She's been expecting an attack for a while now."

"They left the other day.  She couldn't pay them," Xander said as he walked past their office on the way to the stables.  "I'm going to work with the foals if something needs discussed."

"Yes, Sire," they agreed.

One of the generals leaned out.  "Sire, if you have an extra one, would you put her up to auction for the military people?"

"As long as I made it fair for all calvary and higher ups," he agreed.  "There's three foals.  I'm leaving one of the two males ungelded so he can be bred."

"Excellent, Sire.  Thank you."  He pulled back in.  That had been Xander's main job for the army before and he was very good at it.  All their war steeds were getting older and they needed some fresh blood.


The royal traveling group was stopped at an inn barely within their borders on the way to the westward island when they were attacked.  As Xander had heard they would be.  He had warned his spouse so he was safe with his guards.  They weren't used to handling humans, just demons.  When Xander realized there was half of his military he pulled out things he had gotten from the engineers and smoke canistered them all.  The few who didn't go down fast enough he could fight. 

He looked over them.  "Huh.  Well, I sense the option of rising some people up to a higher station."  He got help from his spouse's team to tie them up and went inside to call.  He smirked at the woman who answered.  "You lost a whole lot of people just now."  She shrieked.  "Are you happy with that loss?"  He hung up and looked around then at something on his saddle.  He reached for it but his spouse stopped him.  "It won't take me long."

"It's stupid to do it alone."

"I'm not doing it alone."  He smiled.  "At all.  Start a tribunal."  Genjo nodded, stepping back.  "Watch out for any reinforcements.  That's why we stopped here.  It's securely strong."  He grabbed the amulet and crushed it, being sent back to the palace by the wind spirits he liked to call upon now and then.  He stared at her, sneering some.  "You're still so worthless."

"You're the get of an improper husband and some inn whore."

"Actually, we found that his grandfather's poisoning meant he slept with the inn whore," Gregory said from where he was being held.  "So he's direct bloodline."  He pointed at the witch who had done the spell.  "She checked."

Xander smiled and nodded.  "And it was announced.  Your spies are really pathetic."  Two generals stomped in.  Xander stared at them.  "Declare your allegiance now, boys."  They attacked him.  They were pretty good, or else they wouldn't be generals, but Xander wasn't the average stupid princess.  He had more goodies on him and they went down too.  Xander stabbed them both and then turned and threw something at the wannabe ruler of his lands.  She shrieked as she started to bubble up and melt. 

"The things an engineer comes up with when a bard suggests it," he said dryly.  He walked over to take his crown from the goo that she was becoming, wiping it off on a towel one of the pages handed him.  He put it onto his head.  "It is my country," he said.  He looked around.  "Oh, yeah."  He walked over to something.  "We forgot something during the coronation as Sam and Elizabeth found out."  He slit his palm and put it over the carved mark that resembled his seal. 

"I am the rightful ruler of this country.  I am King Alexander the third, son of King Arant and his concubine."  The bells all over the kingdom rang.  He walked outside.  "I realized I had forgotten to do something during the coronation," he announced to the staring people.  "The revolt by the pissy bitches who want my stepfather back is over with.  Should someone be found to be helping my stepfather, the charge is treason.  The same as it will be for those who attacked myself, my spouse, and probably tried to send someone to attack my daughter.  Who I will be ending personally."  The bells quit ringing.  He looked up because that had been short.  "Not an official concubine?  Fine, King Arant's mistress of the moment."  The bells went back to ringing.

"How long does the noise last?" Gregory asked loudly.

"Thirty minutes," Xander called back.  "It's a spell linked to the seal."  He smiled.  Then at the people.  "Accept it as it is, people."  They cheered and fled to tell the news.  He walked back inside.  The bells gradually faded off.  He looked around at the staring people.  "Any more dissent?"  They shook their heads, looking down.  "Good.  Then let's go deal with the military tribunal of the jackasses that attacked my spouse and myself on our trip.  By the way, if her guard hurts her, I'll end his whole family."  He stared at the brother of the guard watching his daughter.  "Am I clear?"

"Yes, sire."

"Is he?"

"He was asked to.  I'm sure he won't."  He ran to fire call him.  He got Prince Don who told it was already too late.  The guy was dead and Amellisame was fine.  She was crying but fine.  Xander walked over to talk to him and her.  The soldier swallowed.  "How far up his family did you mean, Sire?"

Xander looked at him.  "I protect young children as some of you protected me."  He nodded, looking down.  "I would suggest any children find a quick set of foster parents.  I'll make a decision about you since you know to turn such things in."

"I'll agree, Sire."  He went to talk to his wife and his sister-in-law.  They were in real trouble.  The payment for the assassination wasn't going to be enough.  It would go with their children to his sister.  She was gentle and would do well with them.

Xander hung up with Don and walked back to the throne room.  "Whoever else still feels the same way has the option of a tribunal or honorable suicide.  If I find out you took part and I didn't catch you now, you'd better have had a very good reason, like saving your children who were held hostage.  After the tribunal I'll be appointing new generals."  He walked over their bodies.  "Let me get back to oversee the tribunal of those who attacked us."

"He's very pissed off," Sam muttered, shaking his head.  "We hate Xander's temper."  The remaining soldiers all slumped.  They had seen Xander's temper in the past.  They never wanted to see it again.  He looked around.  "I think he was pretty damn serious.  Throw their bodies out so their families can have them."  The dead ones got taken out.  The puddle of goo got stared at.  "I have no idea what he used or if it might spread when touched.  It looks like it's eating the tiles though.  Do we have anything that would counter an acid?" 

One of the maids got him some flour.  He tried it and it thickened the mess.  It took a lot but that was fine.  She was scraped up with a shovel gotten out of there in the flour barrel.  Sam stared at it then decided to act like his father and had her remains sent to her husband.  The other princesses called home to tell them that the coup attempt was over with, the news about Xander's actual parentage, and that he was in a snit of epic proportions.

Most of their kings hadn't known that Xander had a real temper outside what had happened at that battle against evil.


It took an extra week but Xander did get things straightened out, nominated four new generals, three other higher commanding officers, and agreed that the military could enroll another three hundred people who had wanted to join.  Then they made it to their ship finally.  He slumped down in the room they had below decks.  His husband had the other bunk in there.  He looked at him.  "They're going to be scared of me," he said quietly.

"Then they know they did wrong.  My father might've had them put in for reincarnation.  Castiel's father would've smote the whole village and military, Xander.  You were very just and light on them.  You gave mercy where it was due."  Xander nodded, swallowing.  He hesitated but patted him on the hand.  "Rest.  It's a full day's sail to the islands.  We'll probably be attacked by demons since there's a sorcerer involved."

"Thank you," he said quietly, curling up on his side.  "I got a fire call saying most of the crown jewels were back so we need to go through them for an inventory.  We might still have things that belong to other families."

"We can worry about that when we get back.  Worry about today's trip since I've heard you've never been on a boat?"  Xander shook his head.  "Then we'll figure it out."  Xander nodded, closing his eyes.  Someone tapped quietly.  "What?"  Hakkai walked in with a small bottle of green liquid.  "Medicine for travel sickness?"

"Yes.  Enough for both of you.  I've already dosed the other two."  Xander took his and handed it over.  Xander grimaced but shuddered.

Hakkai frowned, testing him.  "That's not a poison....your taint."  He weeded out the problem, breaking out in sweat from the energy he was using.  Xander let him have the bed to rest on.  "Sorry."

"It's a fluke, Hakkai.  Thank you for making sure I didn't turn into a sea creature."  He grinned.  "Rest.  I'm up."  He nodded, falling asleep.  He looked at his spouse.  "Let me make some orders out for later on.  Beyond the inventory, talking to the farmer's about the upcoming harvest, and the cook about her love of beets, do we have any other issues to consider?"

"The old tower really is a wreck and a dangerous one.  Elizabeth found magically hidden areas."

"I heard her squeal over them and then saw the pout when she couldn't get into them.  I told her to ask the coven we set Tara with since I know ours can't get into it."

"Should we rip it down once they can?"

"I'm not so sure we won't end up rebuilding it to get into those rooms," Xander admitted.  "Something I found said that the protections on those rooms were woven into each and every stone in the tower."  Genjo winced.  "Which means they need to be replaced and in perfect order.  The other ones might not be as easy to do.  They're in other kingdoms if we need all three.  One's in Pelgar's."

"Maybe that's why he's insane."

"Could be.  It could be hereditary since his father was a paranoid man who saw enemies in every shadow."  He settled in at the tiny desk to work on orders for the time after this visit and he took the time to write his daughter.  He had fire called her each and every night.  Maybe now the kingdom would be safe enough for her to come back more often.  "We have to name new nobility."

"With the way your father and his ancestors wenched around there's not many that aren't related," Genjo said dryly.  He couldn't smoke.  The ship was made of wood and might catch on fire.  That had been made plain to them by the captain.  "How would you pick one or two?"

"Younger children?  We really need to start suggesting some out-kingdom marriages."

"Yes, probably," Genjo admitted.  "How would you do that?"

"There's the people of this country, there's about ten to the west that might have a problem with how often their people were taken out by demons.  There's the strange people to the north.  There's all the countries to the south in the mountains that we don't really know all that well."  He made a note on the list to talk to someone about how to encourage that.  He sent the orders off with a waiting page since they hadn't left the port yet and there was a messenger post there.  He walked back onto the ship and smiled at the captain.  "Last minute orders, a letter for my daughter, and all that."

The captain smiled.  "I saw your daughter at the coronation.  She's very cute, Sire."

"She's incredibly smart.  King Alan has done a wonderful job protecting her and helping her mind grow."  He grinned.  "I'm very proud of her and her healer skills."  The captain moaned and nodded.  Xander giggled.  "Yeah, she's like a nicer version of Princess Gregory at times."  He went back below deck.  He ran into Gojyo.  "Hakkai's resting on my bed.  He didn't realize the medicine would act against my fish spike taint."

"I was wondering.  Goku's eaten himself into a coma."

"That was the plan when I got him that huge dinner basket."  That got a smirk.  "We'll be landing tomorrow morning."

"Go fuss over your spouse.  He could use it."

"You know he won't let me fuss over him."  He went back in there.

"No, you cannot fuss over me," Genjo said, reading a scroll from the travel pack.

Xander settled in to read his own by sitting against the doorway.  The cabin was tiny and there was almost nowhere to sit.  He wasn't going to wake up Hakkai.  Genjo looked at him so he shrugged and smiled, going back to reading the newest fantasy scroll.  It had aliens and those strange people to the north.

Genjo shook his head.  Sometimes Xander's honor code and mind worked on a different book than anyone else's.


They offloaded the horses the next morning once they had docked.  It was almost immediate that something was sent at them.  Xander casually killed the two spirits.  He stared at the third one.  "Mother."

"Bastard," she sneered.

"You know what?  We found out that you're my sister," he said happily.  "We had it tested."  She shrieked and faded.  "Bye!"  He waved at it.  The watching sailors stared in awe.  He shrugged.  "Arant wenched so damn often I probably have more siblings.  My stepfather just assumed."  They laughed.  They rode on.  They found a sobbing woman by a large plinth that held a conch shell.  "Miss?" he called, halting the trip.  "Is there a problem?"

She looked at him.  "No one can stop the creatures.  We have to have a prince to blow on the horn."

"Any prince of any lines?" Genjo asked.  "Or just your native royal family?"

"I think the native or it could make it worse."

"We'll tell them when we get there."  She nodded, watching out to sea.  They rode on.  Things were looking a bit grim.  The villages they passed through had a lot of shady looking people carrying strange bottles and weapons.  The citizens were all scared looking.  A few challenged them.  The first one heard who he was and ran for the hills.  He shrugged because that was what he had planned.  They finally made it to the capitol that night.  The same sort of shady people were there.  The natives were looking a bit stronger though. Xander looked at the herald on the gates.  "Announce me."


"Now," he ordered.


"Try King Alexander of the Joined Kingdoms."

The herald gave him a horrified look.  "She'll come for you."

"Good!"  He pointed at his guard unit.  The herald opened the gates and made the official pronouncement.  His spouse was staring at him.  "I was taught to always give fair warning before I started to whip someone's ass." 

His spouse nodded.  "I was more taught that stealth was good."

"If she didn't hear that's her problem."  They shared a look and smirked.  "Five gold?"

"Sure."  They rode through.  The townspeople were hissing and staring at them.  The sorcerer didn't stomp down to meet them so Xander had won.  They met her at the castle.  Xander threw something at her, making her shriek and the palace revert to a cave complex.  Which was a spell she had laid.  "I'll get the prince," Genjo noted.  He and his team went to do that.  They didn't really fight sorcerers.  The guards were experienced with it.

Xander sneered at the sorceress.  "What?  He turn you down?" he quipped.

"Who are you?" she sneered.

"King Alexander."  He smirked evilly.  "Stepson of Tony deMal and son of King Arant."  She shrieked and came at him.  He fought her while the guards got her conjured troops.  He saw one fall and threw his buddy a canister then beat her back against a wall so he could kill her.  She only screamed at iron so he tried silver and wood on his next weapon.  That killed her.  The palace reverted and tiny laughing bells sounded.  "I think she's dead now."  The conjured beasts were killed and dragged to a corner.  "Consort, do you need help?" he called, following their pathway.  He killed the few guards that they were knocking out and finally found the room where half of the royal family was.  "Good day."

"The king's in a small subportal to a cave," one of them said.

"Okay.  Is the cave reachable any other way or where is it?"  They showed him.  He walked through it and used his last canister to kill everything not the local king.  Then he got him free.  "The portal will probably snap and with our luck we're on another island."  He walked him back through.

"Who are you?" he asked.

"King Alexander."  He smiled.  "Queen Stella was worried about you so she sent me."

"I love Stella.  She's a very sweet woman with a temper.  Much like my own consort only prettier."  They walked back into the throne room.  He found his crown.  Genjo offered a cloth to clean it off.  He put it on his head and light flared out.  "We'll beat the bad influences she let thrive starting tomorrow.  Chin, find me where they are.  Danno, check on your daughter then help."

Genjo cleared his throat.  "We ran into a sobbing woman near a conch shell?"

"I'll do that on my way to kill some of them tomorrow."  He looked at them.  "Warlord deMal's son?"

"Stepson as it turns out."  He smiled.  "King Arant's last get."

"Oh!"  He nodded.  "You missed the bad blood then."

Xander nodded.  "Definitely."  He smiled.  "So we came to visit, amend trade agreements, and brag about our engineering academy that makes wonderful war weapons."  The king stared at him.  "That canister came from them."

"I need a catalog and an account started."

"Not in my carriage you're not," his consort complained.  "Before you blow me and my daughter up by accident."

"Fine.  Whatever," he muttered as he walked off.  "How long are you staying, King Alexander?"

"I planned for about a week of freeing you."  He smiled.  "We could use the vacation.  We just stopped some people who wanted my stepfather back.  And of course, if you need our help with things like demons, just ask."

"Demons exist?" he demanded.

"We're plagued now and then," Genjo agreed.

He looked at him.  "I recognize the robes from somewhere."

"This is Consort Genjo of the Sanzo empire.  My spouse," Xander introduced.  "His traveling companions and guards Goku, Gojyo, and Hakkai.  And my traveling troupe this time."  He pointed at them.

The king smiled.  "I'm King Steve.  This is my consort Danny.  My second, Chin, and my newest princess Kono."

Xander smiled and shook their hands.  "Well met."

"Well met," Chin said with a smile back.  "We can find you a wonderful suite to lounge around in.  We'll talk about the trade things soon?"

"Grand.  Ships upset our stomach."  He laughed and they got taken to a room to rest in.  The guard troupe had a nice lawn to pitch tents on outside their window.  They had a pretty view of the ocean.  They only had one bed but it was large.  Xander looked at his spouse.  "Pillow?"

"That should work."  They went to bathe then laid down for a rest.  A pillow went down between them and it was nice.  Even if they did snore at each other a few times.  The guys got a room off to the side that had bunks, which worked for them because having to share a bed with the three of them meant that Goku slept on the floor and he complained.


Alexander heard screaming the next day and casually walked out there.  "King Steve, if you would like you can borrow my guards."

"I might take you up on that."  He grimaced.  "That's my consort's former spouse."

"Ah."  He smiled and nodded politely.  "King Alexander, ma'am."  He shook her hand.  He smiled at the little girl.  "My daughter's only five.  Would you like to write to her?  She's gotten very good at writing letters."

She smiled.  "I might like that.  It's hard being a princess."

"Yeah, it is.  I was the princess of the family for the longest time."  She giggled and ran off.

"The Joined Kingdoms still has that curse?" Danny asked.  "I'm from King Mac's kingdom originally."

"It does.  That curse on any first born princesses ruined someone who didn't want to believe last century so as far as we know it's still on there.  King Michael, who's family started it, is dead though.  He was the last one that could've removed it."

"Pity.  How is Stella?"

"She's wonderful."  He smiled, walking them off to share the gossip from over that way.  Including about the sorcerous academy impregnating Princess Lindsay with Princess Danny's spawn.  She had just been born and she was sweet looking but loud.  Danny and his former spouse relaxed and it was better.

Genjo heard someone yell something about a spirit and hurried out.  "Cougar," he said, petting the earth spirit that pretended to be his stepdaughter's horse.  "Is there something wrong with Amellisame?"  He shook his head and rested his head against Genjo's to show the picture.  "That's bad."  He looked at the king.  "Fire calling station?"

"A what now?" he asked.

"Shit."  Genjo found a fireplace and got the potion from the guards.  Goku ran to get it.  He called.  "King James," he said.  The king grimaced at that title.  "Amellisame's guardian spirit showed that they're having a great fever again.  The whole throne room was on the floor in what he sent me."

"I'll send healers.  We're only about two days away.  I have some closer I think."  He hung up and called around.

Genjo bowed properly to the spirit.  "Thank you."  The horse pranced nervously.

Xander came out and rested his head against the foal's head.  It calmed down and nodded, nuzzling him before disappearing.  "I sent him to that tiny kingdom that sits between him and John's lands.  They have a few healers there and paths through the mountains.  Then he'll go sit beside her to make sure she's all right.  Thank you."  He gave him a quick hug then walked off.

"I want to know about that," Steve said.

Genjo shrugged.  "Engineers made it.  I only know how to use one."

"I've got one coming to put one in my suite," Danny called.

"Have him bring a catalog," Steve ordered.

Xander grinned.  "Alan's second son Charlie created a way to pump warmed water all over the house for bathing," he offered.  "We're putting it in my castle later this year."

"We have one that's localized to specific rooms," Steve admitted.  "Huh.  I really want a catalog to look over after I end all the drug and weapons dealers."

Xander smiled.  "Ask your working population of females.  They've probably gotten decent business from them."

"That's not a bad idea."  He went to find one and talk to her.  He wanted the capitol cleared as soon as possible.

"No property damage," Danny yelled after him.  "We don't need to rebuild everything because you blew them up instead of taking them out."

"Maybe he and my spouse are related," Genjo said, shaking his head quickly.

Danny laughed.  "I think it's taught to them by some evil spirit who thinks it'll make them stronger and harder to beat.  Which it does, but it's wearing on the nerves."

"Yes.  I find mine going after demons without me."

Xander shrugged.  "Not my fault you were busy."  He smiled.  "At least you didn't have to see me taking out the last King Aaron."

"No, we simply cheered," Gojyo said.  "Consort, is there a rule about smoking indoors?"

"Take it onto the balcony."

"Thank you."  He went to do that.  Genjo followed.

Xander grinned.  "They're his friends and traveling companions.  There was a *huge* battle against an evil demon lord that he had to handle due to a prophecy.  In fact, most of the warriors in the Joined Kingdoms helped.  I was there.  King John and his boys were there.  Alan's son Don was there with Queen Buffy, though she was a prince then."

"Why?" the young princess asked.

Xander grinned.  "Way back when, like before most castles had been built, a sorcerer decided she was mad at a king who demanded she make sure he only have sons.  Because that guy only really wanted boys, he thought girls weren't really useful for the royal family.  Of course, the sorceress was female so she got mad at him."  He shifted.  "When he finally made her cast a spell so he'd only have sons, she warped it so any first born princess would come to harm.  Because all the other kings at the time hadn't stopped him when she had asked mostly politely she cast it all over the Joined Kingdoms."  She grimaced. 

"Yeah, not happy.  So they got together to figure out a way around it.  They rejected banishing any first born daughters because they weren't cruel, just not as smart as we are today.  One of King Alan's predecessors loved word games so he suggested that we name a set order.  So there were no first born princesses.  All first born children of either sex were named Prince.  Then it goes Princess, Princess, Prince, then Prince and Princess alternately through any other kids." 

He grinned.  "There for a while they were a bit paranoid and female Princes became Kings instead of Queens but they found out that part wasn't part of it about a century later when there was an accidental crowning mistake of a new queen and her regent because she was like two."  She grinned.  "So now, in our area of the world, the first born is always a prince.  The second always a princess.  I was second born so I was a princess until my brother got eaten by a dragon and my stepfather got banished."

"Was he bad?"

"He was a warlord."

"I'm learning about those."

"He's the former Warlord deMal."

"Rory or Tony?"

"Tony.  Rory tried to attack King Alan's second son's wedding.  He didn't win.  Charlie was very happy that it wasn't interrupted."

"Wow.  Can I ask you questions for my report?"

"Sure."  He grinned.  "That's not a problem.  I hope all kids grow up as smart as you and my daughter are."  She beamed and looked at her father.

"Go for it," he agreed.  "If he's willing to answer questions you can ask."  Her mother nodded.  He got them a map sent in so Xander could tell her where everyone was and who they were.  She got to ask all her questions about both those warlords and the one that was starting up beyond the northern mountains.  She even called in her teacher so she could talk to him.  Xander got roped into talking to the class.  He pulled Genjo with him since he was his consort and knew a lot about his people, who the class was studying next.

Genjo glared at him for it but he had to agree or else Xander would take Goku and the kids would have very strange ideas about them.


Xander was up early the next day, watching the water.  He saw the king come up out of it and his legs split as he came out of the water.  "Huh," he said quietly.  Genjo walked up behind him to see.  They shared a look and shrugged.  "He still seems very nice," Xander said.

"He's a lot like you," Genjo agreed, going back to bed.  "Wake me for breakfast."

"Sure."  Xander worked on his morning stretches.  He smiled when someone tapped, going to answer it.  "Good morning, Princess Kono."

"He said you saw him swimming," she said bluntly.

Xander shrugged.  "Everyone has quirks in their lives.  I've been possessed by a matriarch hyena by some shaman my stepfather sent me to."

She relaxed.  "So it won't matter?"

Xander shook his head.  "No, it doesn't matter to me.  He's a good king and that's all that matters to me.  I wouldn't tell Pelgar anything about it.  He's a bit insane and uptight."  She laughed.  "Speaking of, I was going to talk to you about something later."   He led her to their sitting area.  "My family's history was full of kings and princes who wenched so much that half of my people are now cousins.  I was hoping to set up a slight transfer of single people who wanted it?  Maybe trade some farmers for a few years so they can teach the different methods and learn from each other?  And if they fall in love and marry great?"

She smiled.  "That's not a bad idea.  We have the same problem sometimes.  We had an influx of a few different peoples a few times but it was getting necessary by the first one."  Xander smiled.  "That bad?"

"My father sired three-hundred-twelve children over all."  She gaped.  "Yeah.  We didn't know I was one until recently."

"Damn," she said in awe.  He nodded.  "I can see if we can set up something like that, King Xander."

"I'm not the formal sort."  He pointed at his consort.  "He is."

She smiled and shook his hand.  "I'll tell the others.  King Steve was going to see what sort of treaties you brought for him to look over."

Xander got up and got the package of them.  "From King Alan, King Mac, King Horatio, myself, King John, King Pelgar's is crap and I'll warn you he's insane, and newly made Queen Buffy.  She's just out of mourning and we figured this was an easy first negotiation sort of thing to get her used to it."  He handed them over.

She smiled.  "That's handy."

"No one likes ships.  Alan said he gets sea sick.  Stella's having to deal with Princess Lindsay's new baby drama.  Horatio would've sent someone but all his close relations are dealing with a rash of wife burnings from a cult that just popped up."

"Poor people.  I'll bring them to him."  She got up and left them to their morning activities.  She walked into the ruling family suite and to Steve's door.  "He said he was possessed by a matriarch hyena by some shaman his father had sent him at."  He smiled and relaxed.  "He said it didn't matter to him but a few it might and he warned me one was slightly insane and uptight."  She handed over the package.  "He brought them all."

"That's fine."  He settled in to look them over.  "Any other news?"

"He wanted to set up a farmer exchange.  Partially because his father, who he just found out he was sired by, had three-hundred-twelve kids."  Steve gaped at her.  So did Danny.  "Apparently the whole line was that way."

"That's a good reason.  So if they fall in love it's all good?" Danny asked.  She smiled and nodded.  "That's not unreasonable.  We have some who might go.  They have light winters there most years.  He was telling Grace that they had just put up a wedding temple so they could quit hosting them at the palace."  He settled in to take a few to look over.  "Which one's insane?"

"Pelgar.  Also, Queen Buffy is newly crowned so this a good, gentle first treaty for her to learn from."

"I'll excuse inexperience," Steve decided.  He found that one marked and read it over, nodding.  "Not bad.  Based on the older one with a few more modern terms.  Why does she want those flowers?"

"No idea," she admitted.  "I didn't ask anything specific."

"Are they a *couple*?" Danny asked quietly.

"No, I'm guessing a political marriage.  There's a line of pillows between them on the bed."

Steve nodded.  "It happens sometimes."  He looked through the rest, tossing a few toward his desk.  A few got put back into the pack.  One got looked over and nearly tossed in the fire.  The dog in there brought it back to them.  "Thank you for fetching," he said, patting him absently.  Another one got handed to the dog, then the rest got tossed onto his desk.  Danny carried his over and handed the dog one.  "That's not a bad average.  Six that need reworked, three that are crap."  He took them and went to talk to him.  Xander met him at the door.   He nodded outside to the balcony.  "I didn't mean to wake him."

"He's only grumpy until he's had tea or coffee.  How many were bad?"

"One of yours and two others."  He let him see them.

Xander frowned.  "I didn't write that."  He read it over.  "Oh, that's the one signed between our grandfathers."  He tossed it back into the room.  "We can rework that easily."  He looked at the other two.  "Hmm.  Stella was hopeful but clearly someone else wrote this.  She's more precise.  Mac's brief and to the point.  Not sure who wrote that one."  He looked at the other one.  "That's King Pelgar, yeah."  He looked up.  "He's paranoid, insane, and his people aren't yet suffering enough to take him out.  They've had a small drought but couldn't blame him.  They love the insane dictator for some reason."

"I've seen others.  Is Queen Stella coming?"

"Lindsay's new baby has caused no end of problems since the sorcerous academy had her come into being between her son Danny and the adopted daughter Lindsay."  Steve winced.  "We love Lucy, she's an adorable, loud child, but the people are throwing fits about the academy.  Mac's trying to shut them down, and failing at the moment.  They have too many protections and are in a protected valley that's hard to get to.  I suggested they talk to another academy in the southern mountains that does the same thing but they're jealous.  As long as they only hit each other.  He was worried it'd have too many innocent deaths."

Steve nodded.  "I can see that.  We might travel that way soon."

"Did you get the lady at the conch shell?"  He pointed.  "That's a kraken."

Steve looked and winced.  "I had.  I'll send Chin to blow it again."  He got up.  "We can remake that one?"

"Definitely.  I'll carry back ones for the others that you want to renegotiate."  He smiled.  "I'm not the mean one.  That's John.  Actually, his second son Sam is very good at things like this.  He's got a good mind for the legal niceties."

"I'll keep that in mind."  He smiled and went back to his suite.  "Chin, we have a kraken."

"I'll go blow on the conch again."  He and Kono went to do that.

Steve looked at Danny.  "He talks like you and reacts like I do," he said quietly.

"Something you wanted to tell me?" Danny quipped with an evil grin.

"No!"  He settled in to go over the good ones that needed very little work to make sure of all the fine points.  He also kept track of how much was going out in trade.  He'd have to reduce some.  "Should mountain ones get preference for fruit products over more plains-based countries?"

"Probably.  They can grow some fruit but not like we can."

"True."  He adjusted a few and put notes on them in the margins.  He was using a different shade of ink so they could tell where he had to make corrections.  He hated doing the paperwork but Danny excelled so he turned it over to him when he heard that the newest group of drug dealers had been spotted finally.


Three weeks later, Xander walked into his home castle. "Finally!"  He stretched to pop his back.  He saw the waiting people and nodded.  "I have a lot of treaties to hand back.  A few signed.  A few with minor changes.  Do I have time to bathe before the meeting?"

"Of course," Alan said, smiling at him.  "Thank you for getting James to help us, Genjo."

"It was not a problem."  He looked around, smiling at his stepdaughter.  "We have found you a new penpal."  She cheered.  He settled in to tell her about Princess Grace, who was a few years older than Amellisame.  Alan smiled at him for that nicety.  Xander came back damp from his quick bath and they settled in to go over the treaties.

Xander smiled as he stood up once Alan had called the meeting to order.  "King Steve is back in charge.  The sorceress is no more.  The creature problem his seas were having is solved by blowing on the mystical conch shell."  They all smiled and nodded.  He opened the pack.  "Stella, he wanted an in-person visit soon."

"I'll try.  I could use a vacation."  Mac nodded he could too.  She took hers to read over.  "Just adjusted how much down."

"He wanted to make sure they kept within realistic growing rates for slower years."

"That's fine," she promised with a smile.

"He also gave me plans for Charlie, Alan."  He slid them down and his.  "I think he adjusted your wanted quantity down some as well.  He gave preference to mountain kingdoms that couldn't grow as much fruit and food."  The others nodded that was reasonable.  He handed out the others.  "His consort will be traveling this way with his former spouse so she can visit her family in King Jameson's kingdom."  They all nodded.  "Mac, he's formerly one of your people."

"I remember him slightly."  He smiled.  "He babbles like you do when you've been eating candy to think if I remember right."

"Yes he does.  One of the bards asked Princess Kono if I was related to him."  They all laughed.  He smiled.  "His daughter is eight."

"That's a wonderful age.  No colic or diapers," Stella quipped.  Mac hugged her even he was laughing.  "Any not go through?"

"Ours was done the last time during our grandfather's times so we worked out one pretty easily. Pelgar's he sent back an attempt and his consort will finish the more precise negotiations.  By the way, Alan, he wants a full catalog from the engineering academy."

"I'll have Charlie send him one."  He made that note.  "Do they need the structural ones too, Xander?"

"They have a single room system for heating sea water instead of all over the castle.  They do filter sea water for their bathing.  They use interior springs for drinking."  That got a nod and a few others made those notes.  "Also, King Steve is warrior trained."  They all stared at him.  "The sorceress let drug and weapons people into his kingdom.  He's spent the last few weeks routing them by whatever means he needed.  Including a few explosions and a few fires."  Alan shuddered.  "There were whole villages infested with them.  So he's got some work to go.  Prince Chin is very technological.  So is Princess Kono.  She also agreed that we might do a farmer exchange with single farmers who wanted to learn their methods."

"Fighting the population lines?" John guessed.  Xander nodded.  "We can do the same, Xander."

"Not to be insulting, John, but a lot of my relatives wenched in yours and Alan's kingdoms."

"Don't remind me.  There's a whole village of them in the north," John quipped.  "I've had to order no more marriages within any families of a hundred miles around there."

"Kono's people are very beautiful and she's warrior trained too.  We sparred a bit with them.  She knocked me on my ass and then just smiled prettily at me."  John moaned with pleasure.  "None of them are the babied sort of royalty."

"Excellent," Alan agreed.  "Genjo, did your people have an agreement?"

"We have not in many years.  I did put forth the idea of one with my family before I left.  They sent back that it might not be necessary but if I found something that I thought they could use to start opening moves toward one."

"King Steve is reasonable about stuffy ritual things," Xander told them.  "Consort Danny is more action oriented than scholarly or priestly oriented.  He does not believe in magic or anything without it coming at him."

"Got it," Mac agreed.  "Some of ours don't thanks to the academy of idiocy.  His daughter?"

"Doesn't believe either."

"That's fine," Stella agreed.  "How do they do schooling?"

"Academy style but day school instead of boarding.  I ended up answering questions because they were going over the various warlords and then the Joined Kingdoms.  Genjo's people were being learned next so he did some too.  The kids thought he was shy."  They smiled at his consort.

"Are they a political marriage?" Alan asked.

"No, they're of the throwing each other down over the dinner on the table sort," Xander said.  "They realized we weren't.  I got a few pitying looks for not having a hot and cold moaning consort at times but that's fine.  They don't mind either way."

"Excellent.  That means I can put them in the tower room so they get a good view when they show up," Mac decided with a smile.

"The one we're running that traveling mine belt up to?" Stella asked.  He smiled and nodded.  "I want to see if it's safe first, Mac."


"They gave us a very pleasant suite," Genjo said.  "Huge balcony overlooking the ocean.  The guards got to sleep in tents underneath our room.  They got to help the king too when he needed some backup.  Consort Danny got them a few times when King Steve forgot."

"They do not have the princess curse," Xander said.  "So the first daughter is a princess."  John smiled.  "She's adorable and smart.  When Cougar showed up the second time she nearly squealed herself hoarse while trying to pet him for as long as he'd stay still."

Alan grinned.  "Cougar is a very protective horse.  Don loves him and Charlie just gives him strange looks.  Ian is teaching her to train him for later riding."  Xander grinned and nodded.  "How are things here?  We heard about the attempt."

"It had better be stopped for all time," Xander quipped with an evil smirk.

"Yes it should be," John agreed.  "I've had Sammy off listening and he said it was."

"I've had Tony doing the same thing," Jethro agreed.  "He said the same thing. My first son Timothy listened a few times and hadn't heard anything either, Xander."

"Thanks, Jethro."  He looked at the rest of the table.  "I also think we got most of the crown jewels back.  If you're missing specific things I'll see."  They all nodded.

"You gave back most of ours," Stella said, considering it.  "All but a pearl tiara that Mac's mother wore to bed."

"If I can find it during the inventory I'll send it back," Xander promised.  They made notes on what they knew they were missing and handed them to Genjo.  He was the more organized one.  "We also had a definitive test done before we left and nearly got taken out.  I am actually the last son that King Arant fathered, while poisoned.  Apparently my mother, who was his toy of the moment, and my stepfather's spawn were born in the same room but only I came out."  Alan gaped in horror.  Xander smiled at him.  "Yeah."

"So you're not only of the lineage, but you're actually the true heir," John realized.  Xander nodded.  "Any older siblings?"

"Three-hundred-and-ten if you don't count me and my sister/stepmother.  So yeah, we'd like to encourage some outbreeding."

Castiel crossed himself and muttered a quiet swear word.  "None other raised in the castle?"

"The official nine all died before my father died," he told him.  "Possibly due to Tony's interference."  John shuddered.  "The rest...  I have no clue.  They didn't keep notes on that.  In some birth records there's a tiny dot in the corner to note that the child is one of the lineage.  Sam looked through the books and it depended on who entered them and when.  Any who didn't look like him didn't get marked unless they could prove it.  He's on two different birth certificates but they were older and died before I took over."

"We'll encourage our people to marry some of yours," John said.  "Not from that one village but the rest."

"Thanks.  I worry we'll turn into that one southern kingdom that has those pale people that are so trapped that no one can get in there."

"I always thought they had blocked themselves off," Stella admitted.

"That's what we heard too," Xander agreed.  "I've seen pictures of them and they're damn scary looking."

"They are," she agreed.  "We've seen some scary people around the kingdoms too though."

"Please don't encourage Horatio's cult to come here?"

She laughed.  "I'd never do that to anyone.  He's still fighting against them."

"He thinks the rest are about to commit suicide to join their strange God," Mac said.  Alan grimaced and made another note.  So did John.  "So, how was their kingdom?"

"Warm, sunny, lots of breezes from the sea," Genjo said.  "People wear very skimpy bathing outfits when swimming in the sea so I had to rein in Gojyo before he made us enemies.  Goku got caught staring in awe like he had just discovered why women have breasts.  Hakkai got him before I could and made excuses for him being a teenager."

"Hell, even I stared," Xander admitted.  "They have some very pretty, very shapely young women there.  Who barely cover their breasts and butts to swim."

Mac looked at his wife.  "You have a similar outfit."

"I do."  She smiled.  "It's very good to get a tan in.  I'll pack it."  Mac scowled.  She smiled and patted him on the hand.  "I could use some good sun."

"Uh-huh.  Don't make me kill anyone who might try to take you, Stella."

"I won't, Mac."

Xander smirked.  "Genjo got down to his pants and no shirt a few times."

"Wow," Stella said, grinning at him.  "Feel good?"

"Very good.  I needed the sun too."  He batted his husband on the arm, getting a smirk back.  "Keep it up.  Watch me tell Princess Kono that you'll take that one young woman to be your surrogate."

"She was beautiful.  She was very bright.  She was interested in engineering things.  If you agree, I'll tell her I accept.  We can fill the palace with her kids.  Your mom would like more kids to fuss over, right?"

"Quite."  They shared a look.  "Your local ones?"

"She's carrying one for one of the new generals and her sister just got remarried."

"We'll discuss it later."  Xander grinned a goofy and relaxed grin.  "Though it will be by tube."

"That's fine, dear."

"Thank you."  He settled himself in better.  "John, we suggested that Sam would be a good person for his consort to work with on the new treaties."

"Sammy is good at that stuff.  He's still single too.  Maybe he'll find someone pretty."

"If Don and Tony hadn't made an agreement I'd see if Don liked him," Alan said.

"Am I throwing their wedding?" Xander quipped.

"We are," Jethro said with a smirk for him.  "Abby insisted."

"Then they'll do a renewal in mine on their way to their honeymoon," Alan said. " Maybe I'll suggest they go to see them on the island."

"Steve told us that couples used to take boats over to marry there.  It was considered a great omen for the family if they weren't attacked by something on the way back during their honeymoon night," Genjo said.

"I'd say that's a great thing," Mac said.  "I know Stella's people have something like that to one of their ancient mystical spots on an island."  She nodded because theirs had been such a peaceful sail back her parents had cried on them for hours before demanding when she was getting pregnant.

"If they're willing to encourage it, I don't mind promoting the program," Alan agreed.  The others all made notes to ask about that when whoever showed up to talk about the new treaties.  He looked and found Buffy's, nodding at it.  "Okay, that's actually pretty fair.  I'll bring this to her on the way home."

"It's days out of your way," Stella said.

"We need to get home," Mac reminded her.  "Don was ready to kill Lindsay and the academy up there."

"Good point."

Xander looked at Genjo.  Who shrugged.  "We can go," Genjo agreed.  "For a very fast visit."  They all nodded that was reasonable.  "It'll take a few days though so we'll send a message first."

"That works for me," Xander agreed.  "I have to do that inventory and make sure things are solid."

"You advised that temporary ruling council to talk to the farmers?" Mac asked.

"Yeah.  If the people who make your food aren't happy, no one eats," he pointed out.  "They don't work as hard planting or harvesting.  They don't work as hard with the animals.  For them profits are about the same no matter what, very little."

"That is wise and something I advised to my brother when he took over," Castiel agreed.

"That is sound," Alan agreed.  "I always keep my farmers happy.  Mine have protested some things by holding back shipments by a few days, just enough so that half of everything got to the market in bad shape."  Xander grinned.  "I taught you that."

"Yes you did."

Mac smiled.  "That is sound," he agreed.  The meeting broke up and they went back to their own kingdoms.

Genjo sent the official notice and they settled in to look over the inventory someone had done for them.  Guards were going to be sent half of everywhere in a few weeks.  It reduced the crown jewels by about a third to send it all back.


Xander walked into Buffy's throne room beside his spouse.  "King Alexander and Consort Genjo of Sanzo," the herald announced.  They walked in and nodded politely at Buffy and the nobles with her.

"Xander," Buffy said, smiling at him.  "Thank you for not holding Mom against us."

"She was sick, Buffy.  It wasn't her fault."  He shook her hand.  "I'm sure you remember my consort from school."

"I do.  He kept giving my outfits funny looks."  Genjo gave her a funny look again because it wasn't even in the same land as demure; she smiled, shaking his hand.  "Come sit.  I had the comfy couches brought in.  These are some of my upper level advisors.  They wanted to see the new treaty."

"That's fine," Xander agreed.  He handed it to her.  One tried to snatch it so he raised an eyebrow.  "Don't you think your queen should have it first?" he asked quietly.  He backed down.

She looked it over.  "It's very long.  Three separate terms?"

"Yes."  He shifted closer.  "This was for the flowers you liked, though King Steve wasn't sure why since he thinks they smell bad."

"They do but they're very pretty and when planted below windows they keep out bugs."

"I'll have to try that."  He smiled.  "That's an in case of emergency clause.  That says that output can be reduced if he notifies you of an emergency or you notify him that you're having economic problems so you can't pay for it.  There's no penalty if you notify him two weeks before the first shipment goes.  You'd be liable for anything that's already shipped if it's after that."  She nodded slowly. "This one is a real in case of emergency.  It says that if you or them are raided you can ask them for aid.  Steve's people have some very good warriors as part of their native culture."  She smiled at them.  "Or if they're raided and ask, you need to send help if you can."

"We do have some soldiers, not many though."

"Help can also be food aid or building materials," Genjo said.  "Once the main emergency is over with."

"I can like that.  Is that spelled out?"  Xander pointed and she read it.  "Very small type in archaic script."

"It's traditional," Xander quipped.  She nodded and moved over to let her advisors see it.

"Must we include the emergency supplies clause?" one of them asked.  Xander nodded.  "They won't sign for it without it?"

"It's considered polite," Xander said dryly.  "And if their people just had a catastrophic earthquake you'd probably try to send something anyway if you're a good person."

"Why watch people suffer," Genjo agreed.

"They have earthquakes?" Buffy asked.

"Their island has a few volcanos."  She nodded she knew what they were.  "One now and then will spit up some, it'll cause a small rumble, nothing but a few higher tides will happen.  Now and then though, one of the stronger ones off in the ocean that's making King Steve new islands will go off in a spectacular manner and you'll get a few very high tides off-schedule, all the way up to a tsunami, which is a huge wave that destroys whole towns.  They also get the occasional bad hurricane, which is like our tornadoes only started off in the water."

"That's bad," she agreed.  "For something like that I'd try to send some help.  I'd never want to see anyone suffer."

"And it's not mandatory, it's a when they ask unless you volunteer," Genjo said.

"That's even better."  She reread that part.  "See, here, he can ask.  We can send what we can."  They nodded.  "Are they nice?"

"Very nice.  King Steve's not real talkative but his consort is.  He's got a young daughter from a former relationship.  She's eight."

"I'll sponsor her into the Princess Academy," she offered.

"I'd never suggest anyone go to her," Xander said dryly.  "Or don't you remember her saying I couldn't go get an antidote to a poison?"

"Oh, yeah."

"She's also taking credit for my wedding."

She rolled her eyes.  "She's a very traditional princess."

"Danny's daughter has to be like ours will be.  Able to do more than dance and look pretty.  She's the only child so far."  That got a nod.  "Though, no princess curse."

"Wonderful.  Can we break ours?"

"Not that I'm aware of.  Genjo's people started it with Castiel's family."  Genjo shook his head.  "Sorry."

"No, it's okay.  Some day I need to have babies."

"You need to have babies with someone you'd trust to lead your kingdom and them if something happens to you," Xander said gently.  She glared.  "Yeah, I heard where he came from."

"How do you hear so much information?" Buffy demanded.

"Bards."  He grinned.  "They're there to spread news and gossip."

"Huh."  She looked at her people.  "Don't we have bards?"

"They baby the bards," one told her.

"We offer them half-price on rooms," Xander agreed.  "That way they like to come to my kingdom to preform for my people and the castle."

She pushed her hair back over her shoulder.  "I need to start doing that."

"They're looking for the fall symposium's new home," Genjo said.  "Since the original King Aaron had died and the new one's hosting the spring one.  King Michael was going to end the practice as well and he's dead."

"By the bards?" one of the nobles asked.

"No, King Michael got killed because his people were starting to be oppressed," Xander said.  "He got killed by an earth elemental spirit.  King Aaron, the original one, got killed by me when he said all girl children should be killed once they'd been bred."  They shuddered.  "That was during the Convergence meeting at King Horatio's castle."  He looked at Buffy.  "Tara is still with the coven in King Paul's kingdom - he took over for his father Michael.  He's relented on them not being evil and they're guarding the borders.  The new King Aaron appreciates them because they protect that border."  She smiled and nodded.  "She said she's doing all right.  I stopped in there on the way home from talking to the ruling council that nearly formed."

"That's good.  I'll write her a letter."  She looked at her people.  "Can we accept this?"

"I still think this trade deal is frivolous," one complained.

"You'd rather have a houseful of flies?" she countered.


"Then it's not frivolous."  She smiled and took it to look over.  "Anything in the tiny print I might object to?"

Genjo got up to find it.  "Here, that you would not try to seduce any of their royal family into moving here.  Steve's wanting them all home for this generation.  Any of the lesser nobles are fair game but not the main family because they've got to clear out problems."  He sat down.

"The sorceress that had them hostage let in drug and weapons people," Xander told her.

"Then I'd never want to interrupt that just for my love life.  Are they nice?"

"We met a few of them during a special dinner on the beach," Xander said.  "They were very nice.  Very happy people for the most part.  Mostly polite.  Very beautiful.  Our formal surrogate is coming from one of theirs."

She smiled.  "I might like to meet them then."  She looked at her people, who shrugged.

"Also, we're working on a reciprocal farmer trade agreement," Xander said.  "That way they spread genes elsewhere."

"We have a few villages that could use that," Buffy agreed.  "Everyone looks the same."

"We have a few too many of those," Xander said, relaxing.  "So we were thinking about trading farmers between countries so they could learn new crops and techniques."

"That would be good.  Your people grow things we can't here.  Can we work up a trade agreement for that?"

"Of course."  He smiled.  "We do have a good export surplus most years."  She smiled back.  "It shouldn't be too hard.  We're redoing most of those after harvest time this year.  That way we can judge it on what we're putting out."

"That's fine.  I can send someone to talk about it?"  Xander nodded, grinning now.  "Excellent."  She smiled at her boyfriend when he came in.  "Xander, Genjo, this is my boyfriend Riley."

Xander looked at him.  "I've seen you before."  The man stomped off.  He shrugged.  "Okay.  That's your shit."  He looked at her.  "You deserve better."

"He's nice," she said firmly.

"No, he's not."  He handed over a letter.  "From my indirect aunt by marriage."  She read it and scowled at the doorway.  He shrugged.  "We're all nosy about people on our borders, Buffy.  It lets us know when we have to prepare for some unsubtle strife coming."

"I never learned how to do that."

"I do it through the bards."

She grinned.  "I can try that.  Like Willow said she used to do?"  He nodded.  "I can try that.  It'll make me look less like a princess in a glass tower too."

"It would," Genjo agreed.  "Any ruler only rules by the will of their people."

"Or else they overthrow you."  She nodded she got that.  "We can all go to the tavern tonight so you're protected."  She nodded and hopped up after signing the treaty.  "We'll go freshen up."

"I forgot.  Clyde," she called.  Her majordomo came out.  "Take them to their rooms?  We're going to the tavern tonight to talk to the people."  He nodded, taking them to their suite.  She met them in the main throne room an hour later wearing more normal people clothes and they were wearing jeans and shirts.  She walked between them down to the town.  She smiled and waved at the people staring at her.  "I've got to learn how to listen to people," she told one.

The tavern keeper swallowed his tongue when they came in.  "Queen Buffy!  King Alexander!  Consort Genjo!  We have a great table in the back room," he offered.

Xander held up a hand with a smile.  "She's learning how to talk to the normal people so she knows when there's problems."

"Good!" he agreed, smiling at her.  "There's a few but nothing too huge."

"Easier to clean a lightly messy room than a hugely messy one," she said.  "I learned that when I was eight and kept putting it off."

He smiled.  "True.  Wish my own kids would remember that."  He sent for some people to come talk to them.  When the normal people showed up for their evening dinners and bullshitting times around the fireplace they added in their own minor issues.  She was making good notes and if she asked them, the visiting kings gave advice.  She'd learn how to be a queen like her mother was before she had died.


Xander returned to a huffy person waiting on him.  "What's wrong now?" he demanded tolerantly.

"We demand...."

"First, you don't get to demand in my castle.  You can request.  You can ask nicely.  You demand and I throw you in the moat."  The diplomat coughed.  Xander sat on his throne, Genjo sitting on his.  "Now, what are you *requesting*?"

"You have three pieces of our crown jewels.  We want them back."

"Do we know what they are?"

"We can tell by looking."

"No, you can bring me a list with any identifying marks," Xander said.  "Especially since so much shit was given during weddings.  My own stepmother got seven crowns that were no longer fashionable at her wedding."  The diplomat huffed.  He shrugged.  "How do I know it's yours without proof?  Bring me proof.  We'll look to see if we have it and verify it wasn't given to us during some sort of wedding or baby present giving by our records.  Which you can be here for to help us look it up.  But I'm not going to simply let you loose in our archives.  Now, do you have proof?"

"My queen showed me pictures."

"Then bring the pictures here," Xander said simply.  "I'm not handing over anything until I have proof that it's yours.  How would you like it if I gave it to someone else?"  He huffed again and nodded but stomped off.  Xander shrugged, looking at his herald.  "Who?"


"Douches," he muttered.  "They're still probably mad that we wouldn't let them use the roads."

"Probably since your father never tried to capture them, Sire.  They were scared enough to make a treaty before the army showed up on their doorstep."

Xander shook his head.  "Find out if they gave them to us?"

"The three things they were mentioning aren't theirs."  He handed him the official request.

"That's Mac's and went back to Mac.  The other two were Horatio's if I remember right."  He got up and went to fire call them.  "Get your king."  The page gaped.  "Now!" he growled.  He ran off.  Soon enough the queen showed up.  "Two things, if we have something of yours, send proof.  I'm not going to hand over something on just the say-so of someone.  Sending pictures of them are fine.  Especially since there's that horrible habit of dumping unpopular crown jewels as wedding and baby presents."  He stared at her.  "Second, looking over what little you did send, one's Mac's and the other two were Horatio's.  They're with them."

"Who are you to...." she started.

"I'm the king, dear."  She gasped.  "No, I'm not an idiot either."  He stared at her.  "If you think we have something of yours, which my people think is a slim chance since you guys made a treaty with my stepfather before he conquered you, you send me proof.  Description, pictures of someone wearing it, whatever.  Then we look for them, we check the present books to make sure it wasn't given over for a wedding present or something, and then hand it back.  I checked during the last Convergence.  Alan said that was a reasonable hand-over procedure so I couldn't accidentally give something to someone it didn't belong to."

"They're ours."

"Mac had proof they're his and Horatio's.  You have to talk to them about it."

"How dare you speak to a real ruler, you upstart, usurping bastard," she sneered.

"So I take it you didn't hear that I'm actually the son of King Arant?" he asked dryly.  She choked and spluttered.  "So, no, *Your Highness*, we're not playing games with the snotty attitude.  I outrank you; even before I knew that I outranked you."  He stared at her.  "Beyond that, why would we have anything of yours since your people rolled over and signed a treaty without even fighting him?"  He hung up and walked off.  "Yes, the road's staying closed to their idiocy.  They can take it to the Convergence.  Any other issues before I fall asleep?"

"No, Sire," the majordomo said, looking at the queen, who shook his head.  Genjo went back to his own house to rest.  The Majordomo went to ask one of the guards what had happened.

"Queen Buffy's boyfriend tried to have us attacked, unknown to her.  He's the only one who survived because he was watching from a hillside," the head guard said with a grimace.  "Rory hired wooses."  The Majordomo nodded and went to make note of that in case it created some political problems.


Genjo walked out of the study the next day to meet the huffy Count.  "No, my spouse did not kill them.  I killed them when they attacked us," he said simply.  "Because I'm not suicidal."  He stared him down, sneering some.  "Did you have something to do with the attack on us?  If so I'd like to talk to you as well."  The man fled.  "Capture him."  The guards shrugged and did that.  Xander came strolling out sipping some juice.  "He showed up to complain that I defended us while you were having a nap."

"Fuck 'im," Xander said with a shrug.  "We can send an official complaint at Buffy and demand he be charged."  He walked off.  "We have a jail for nobles."

"Thank you."  He followed the guard to it so he knew where it was.  Xander was calling for a formal meeting so he could politely beat the shit out of the people pissing him off.  Alan sighed in displeasure but when he heard why it was agreed for a short one in Xander's kingdom.


Xander looked at the people waiting.  "Sorry, minor problem in the barns.  One of the new carriage teams got free and trampled two people."  He sat down in his spot.  "King Alan, I ask this board to hear the whiny bitches complaining about things that aren't their business."

"I think that's why we called this one," he agreed.  "I've heard one about stolen crown jewels.  I see one about an attack you started.  And one from Buffy asking for her noble back."

"First, let's start with the crown jewels," Horatio said smoothly.  "I got a copy of the official notice of them requesting the jewelry from Xander."  He handed it over.  Mac handed over his copy.  Xander handed over his and the books of turning over.  They kept a good record of that.  "As you can see, they're requesting things that aren't theirs."

Alan looked it over with John and another king from up there.  "I see that they were noted as coming from Mac and Horatio's kingdoms originally.  That book, Xander?"  Xander had it sent for.  Sam had pulled it and brought it in.  "Thank you, Sam."  He looked at the entries.  "It appears that the pearl crown that came from Mac's people came as a bribe to get someone held hostage free?"

"It was," Mac agreed, handing over that agreement.  "We handily paid the ransom since she was pregnant."

"Which is reasonable at the time."  Alan looked them over.  "Horatio, do you have notice on when it was handed over?"  He handed those two scrolls over.  "Both ransom payments I see."  He looked them over.  "The descriptions do match what's in the hand-over book and the return book."  He looked at the descriptions on the request.  "The requests are the same and do describe them.  I see that they're not yours," he told Rothmasen's delegate.  The queen wasn't allowed in the country before Xander slugged her.  She had vulgarly refused to come to the meeting to be heard at the top of her lungs, which was why Xander was going to slug her.  Her king was being her lapdog so he didn't come either.

"He's not the rightful king," that diplomat said.

King Pelgar looked at him.  "I wasn't the only one that got the official notice of testing.  King Xander came out as King Arant's son."  The man flinched and backed down.  "With the way the man wenched half the town might be his but this is the only one raised royal."  Sam handed over notice of the testing and the findings, plus what else they knew of it.  "The historical mention?"

"Yes.  That way the whining ones could stop the bitching ones."

"That's always a good thing," Alan agreed.  He looked it over.  "I see it was done officially in accord with the way King Michael used to have it done."  Xander nodded.  "And also by the coven up in the woods?"


"Fine.  We knew you're the rightful king, Xander.  You're the one who's been ruling when he was drunk for years."  Xander smiled at him.  "Now, I see an attack mentioned."  He looked at Buffy.  "Which dovetails into yours."

"I sent him up to see what happened," Buffy said.

"No, he demanded that we not defend ourselves," Genjo said.  "By the way, Xander wasn't the one that defeated them.  I was."  They all stared at him.  "Some of us were trained enough to handle a great evil we were destined to take out, people."

"I saw you in that battle," Don said from behind his father's seat.  "So what happened?"

"I was taking a nap," Xander admitted.  "First I knew he was getting back into the carriage complaining about blood on his robes."

"Our carriage was attacked just past the inn at the halfway point between our two kingdoms," Genjo said.

"The place that has the really nice stew?" Buffy asked.

"Yes, there," he said.  He'd ignore how she categorized places.  "We were in a small dip between sections of the woods and there was a small hill behind us with a slight hill in front of us.  About ten degree grade.  Just enough to obscure true line of sight."

"I know of the place," John agreed.  "Nearly lost a shoe there due to the mud that gathers in it."

Alan nodded.  "So have I.  We had a carriage get stuck there."

"We were attacked by six men with a seventh on the hill behind us watching it," Genjo said.  "I kindly shot all six of them and looked at the one watching, who ran off like a coward."

"Could you recognize him?" Buffy asked.

Genjo looked at her.  "I think you could as well, probably a lot better than I could."

She huffed.  "Riley."  He nodded.  "Shit."  She covered her mouth.  "Sorry."

"Sometimes a swear is the only appropriate answer," Don said, moving forward.  "To speak against Riley as well, he tried to have my carriage attacked when I was coming back from meeting with Horatio and some of Genjo's family over that multi-lateral trade agreement.  I did kill most of them and the last few ran.  I knew it was Riley, I'm the one that cut his arm."

Alan nodded.  "Has anyone else been attacked by him?"  Sam raised his hand.  "When?"

"Here.  He showed up a few days after the attempted coup and tried to get into the castle.  I kindly kicked his ass and tossed his bottle of poison into a burn barrel."  He handed over a statement.  "From the guards that chased him while I burned the poison."

"Do we know what kind?" Alan asked.

"Gentrus by the smell.  It smelled like sickeningly sweet flowers."

"That's Gentrus," John agreed.  "Why bring that here?"

Xander looked at him.  "You spent how long babying me through a fever coma thanks to a second dose?"  He looked at Don.  "No daughter?"

"No.  She went home early because she was still feeling off.  I asked some of Horatio's guards to go with her.  And we've appointed a new guard.  Ian got her one."

"I trust Ian's judgement.  She won't talk to me."

"She's been pouty all week," Alan said.  "Not because she's sick but because she's grounded.  She tried to climb the outside of the prison tower."

Xander smiled.  "Did that," he and Sam said together.  John scowled at them.

"I'm sure you got grounded too," Alan said, looking at them.  Sam nodded.

"No, my stepfather said if I wanted to fly that much he'd have the coven up on our border turn me into a dragon or something.  So I said if he did I'd come stomp the castle."  He smiled.  "He huffed off to go screw another bar maid against her will."

"Not like anyone would sleep with him as he was," Horatio said blandly.  Xander nodded.  "So why the protest for protecting themselves?" he asked.

"I have no idea but even if it's illegal to protect ourselves I'm still going to," Xander said.  "Be damned if I'm ready to die yet."

"No, it's right of you to protect yourself," Alan agreed. "How did you come to have Buffy's noble locked up?"

"He showed up to complain that we had protected our self," Genjo said.  "I asked if he was whining because he was involved in the plot to take us out.  He tried to huff off so I had him arrested and sent her a note telling her we'd hand him over if she'd give him a trial."

"I see how that's fair," John agreed.

"I never got that note," Buffy said.  She handed the one she had gotten over.

Alan looked.  "That's not his handwriting.  All the treaties are in his handwriting, Buffy."

"Wow, way tiny, perfect script," she said, looking at him.

"Practice makes it an art," he shot back.

"I need to do that."  She looked at Alan.  "I'll gladly give him a trial if we can find anything that shows he was involved.  If not, he's put on notice I'm paying a lot of attention to him."

"I had to rebuke some of her nobles for trying to take that treaty from her hand," Xander told Alan.

"We know they treat her like an idiot, Xander.  We're working on that."  He smiled at the young queen.  "We know you're smarter than you pretend to be most of the time."

"Yeah, but some days I'd still rather be a princess."

"Me too," Horatio admitted.  "It's much easier to simply look pretty and make subtle orders instead of being in command."

"Hey, Horatio, maybe you should introduce her to Eric," Xander said with a grin.  "She needs someone strong willed who can spar with her."

"He can't spar but he is stubborn.  Ryan would clean the castle on her since he's a bit OCD."  Buffy shuddered.  Her mother had a bit of that by the end of her life.  "Mac?"

"I'd like to give her to Danny but he's done the honorable thing due to his daughter.  Don's a bit too old for her."

"We can hand her to Gabriel," Sam said with an evil smirk.  "He likes them shapely in the backside and he keeps thinking I'm sweet."

Castiel looked at him.  "Have someone banish the evil thoughts, Sam, before you fully turn."

"Still single," he quipped with a grin.

"You're her age," John reminded him.

"No.  It'll bring up bad memories of Mom's illness," Buffy said.  "Besides, Sam's way too smart for me.  Alan needs a son like Don that's my age."

"I'd offer one of mine but you'd never get more than your hand touched," Genjo said.

"Or mine," Castiel agreed.  "They're on an improving themselves personal goal quest at the moment."  Dean shuddered.

"Steve offered to introduce her to some of his young nobles," Xander said.  "They're very beautiful and smart."

"There's a new envoy from the upper people," Alan said.  "We're introducing them next month to the regularly scheduled meeting."  They all nodded.

"Can we ask if they really have aliens?" Sam asked.  "All the scrolls from up there say they do."

"If you must," John complained.

"Thank you."

"There's always Timothy," Xander said.

Alan looked at him.  "A bit too old for her but very sweet and gentle, yet protective," Alan agreed.  "I'll see if Jethro would want to introduce her."  Buffy grinned at him.   Jethro was paying attention to a charmed parchment that was sending him notes about something.

"If not, King Jameson's heir has a youngest son that's seventeen," Don said.  "He's not too bad.  Could use some attitude beaten out of him.  He's a good manager though."

"I'm willing to meet him," Buffy said.  "I've realized how lonely it is being me."  They smiled at her.  She was learning quickly.  "Does Stella have any hotty relatives?" she asked Mac.

Who nodded.  "She does have a few but all in their mid-twenties.  None I'd really suggest for my own daughter though.  They're either a bit wild or a bit 'all this business is too much so I'm going fishing' as Stella puts it."

"Well, if any are looking to settle down, let me know."

"I will."  He patted her on the head.  She immediately fixed her hair.  He smiled.

Alan nodded.  "So it looks like all the complaints have been solved?"

"I do not believe this testing," the one snotty diplomat complained.  "We must redo it."

Xander looked at him.  "Sure, go dig up my father to get another slice of bone from his corpse."  The man looked green suddenly.  "Fortunately we had a tiny piece in a locket a healer had."

"That's always more tasteful than grave robbing, yes," Alan agreed.

"I found mention of the blood binding to the seal ritual and I told him so he could do it after defeating that coup," Sam said.  "It stopped sooner because he had called her a concubine.  As soon as he corrected it they went back to ringing for the specified time."

"Bells were heard on all the borders," Don said.  "We wondered why."  Xander smiled.

"That ritual is as old as the seat of power is," Alan said.  "I looked that up once."  Xander smiled at him.  "The towers?"

"Castiel's sister Elizabeth wanted us to get her into the rooms with the sealed information but to do that will require rebuilding them all and getting every stone back into its place," Xander said.

"That's going to be a problem.  Some of the stones were probably taken by villagers and put in their homes," John said.  Xander nodded.  "So that's not a logical solution then."

"I have no idea how to break into them otherwise," Xander said.  "I haven't been out to them since I was six.  Then all I remember of the trip was waking up with the healer and a horrible headache.  I was told I had fallen off part of it while climbing."

"Your stepfather had to stomp off to get you during one of our treaty talks.  He was not amused by any means."

"Probably because I was up there," Xander said.

"Why would that matter to him?" the snotty diplomat demanded.

"Because it's one reason that's drawn demons to this kingdom," Xander said simply.  "Which he knew about."  The diplomat went back to his green complexion.

"When we found out that he had known a few demons it explained a lot," John said.  "Including that he was having people rebuild the towers.  He's got one totally rebuilt, even though it destroyed a few houses to do so.  The middle one over toward Pelgar's kingdom is about three-quarters complete.  The upper one isn't at all?"  Xander shook his head.  "Huh.  Would you let Elizabeth come browse?"

"Sure.  She and Sam or her and Dean and Castiel can come browse.  She'll need some guards with sense because there's been a few sorcerers trying to break in."

"I'll tell her."  He looked at Alan.  "Any other whiny complaints we need to hear?"

"Not that I'm aware of.  Anyone?"

Horatio raised a hand.  "I hate to mention it."  He looked at Genjo.  "Your people are causing problems."

"All but my mother ignore me," he admitted.  "She simply nags for more grandchildren.  I've served my duty on the quest so therefore I'm married and taken of my spouse's people now."

"I'll send another envoy to them to complain about their people fleeing then."

"Have someone from Castiel's family talk to them," Xander offered.

"The night King Michael was killed a radiant looking woman with purple hair, dark eyes, a fancy-ish toga sort of gown, and a lot of jewelry stopped by to help Gabriel with a curse I flung back at the family after they sent it at me," Sam said.  "She told him to tell them they're all assholes, especially you, Genjo."

"I am," he agreed.  "It's nice that the Merciful Goddess showed up to help smite him."  He'd keep his swearing mental because he did not want to believe She was real and he did not want to deal with the thought of deities with opinions on their lives or lifestyles.

"No, she was there afterward on a pure white horse."

Genjo let his head flop forward as he shook it.  "Any others?"

"Gregory was told that their patron saint showed up to beat the shit out of Cuddy," Xander told him.  "And assured them he didn't expect anyone to nominate Gregory."

Genjo looked at him.  "Seriously?"

"Yeah."  He smiled.  "That's how James got named."

"Goddess, we're all doomed," he muttered.

"I would adore Gabriel going to speak to them if he could," Horatio told Castiel.  Who nodded.  "Thank you.  Their refugee problem is still out of hand."

"I'll talk to them if I can.  I'm considered a pariah for sticking up for the commoners instead of the family's desires for them to all be like holy monks."

"Did he really scowl at some of them?" Genjo asked.

"Yes.  The headman corrected his assumption as the frolicking couple was celebrating their first anniversary and the fact that she was with child by going to have a picnic by the river.  My father had assumed they were being...wanton and shirking their duties to their work."

"Then I'm rather glad your father is gone," Xander admitted.  "Sorry, Cas."

"I'm not," he admitted.  "He was moving to a dictator that did not want to understand the commoner's problems.  He tried to claim a bad drought by a river was God's will for them being so lazy when they worked year-round to supply everyone with fish.  He had to backtrack when they went on strike."

"I'd have went on strike too," Sam admitted.  Castiel smiled at him.  "Oh, tell your brother that his explicit letters are a bit raunchy?  I'm not that flexible of mind or body."

Cas squeezed his eyes shut.  "I'll discuss his wanton stalking of you, Sam."

"Thank you."

"If we needed a treaty with your people," John said dryly.

"I'd kill him in bed, Dad.  He's one of those boys that can finish off in the time it takes to cook an egg for dinner."  He left the room.

"Many people are," Xander agreed.  "It's a pity they don't have more stamina."

Buffy blushed.  "Men can go longer than that?"

"Yes," Dean said with an evil smirk.  "Real men can.  I can go *hours*."  Castiel swatted him hard.  "Hey!"

"Hush.  Before I have to turn you over to your father for a possession check."

"Maybe you just need to clear out the evil thoughts," Dean quipped back with a grin.

"John, do you have any holy water?" Cas asked.  "I stupidly left mine in my pack."  John handed some over so he sprayed Dean, who rolled his eyes and took a kiss.

"Neither of you have traditional viewed wedding nights," Xander said dryly.  "Unless you really want us to watch you two procreate?  Because we're over that second doorway."  Dean pulled back quickly.  John stared at him.  "Genjo's mother swears up and down she has that curse.  So does Gregory."

"Gregory would use it for his personal amusement," Jethro said dryly.

"There is?" Buffy asked, looking confused at Alan and Don.  Who nodded.  "Why?"

"It's an ancient curse," Xander said, waving a hand.  "There's been no few consorts that get threatened with it so they use the surrogates quickly."

"We have a few years," Genjo said.

Xander looked at him.  "Next year?"

Genjo considered it.  "Nanny."

"Definitely.  Because you'd turn her ancient before her time and I'd warp her."

"I'll send you recommendations," Jethro and Alan said together, making the note for their people.  Xander grinned.  "Your surrogate?"

"Coming from King Steve's people.  She's got training as an engineer, is going to be taking classes at the academy.  Thinks Genjo's hot because he's a blond."  He smiled.  "King Steve wanted a full catalog from them."

"I mailed him one," Alan assured him.  "He sent back a very nice thank you note that the academy passed on from the same envelope his order was in."

"Wonderful," Xander said with a smile.  The meeting broke up and the snotty one fled before Xander kicked his ass.  All it took was a look in his direction.


Xander was out working with one of the younger horses when he saw something odd coming up the roadway.  He stared, then walked over to the stairs that were in the baby's way.  "Hey," he said with a grin.  "What's your name?"

"Shawn," he said, smiling and waving.

"Hi, Shawn," Xander said, waving and smiling back.  "Where's your mommy?"  The baby started to look like he was going to cry so Xander whistled.  The colt he had been working with trotted over with one of the hunting hounds following.  "Shawn, would you like to play with the horsie or the doggy?"  He pointed.  "We can play with the horsie or the doggy."  That got the crying cleared up.  He helped the toddler pet the dog and the horse because he wanted one hand on each.  The colt was content to be petted and the dog lapped him until he giggled.  Which brought the dog handler.  Xander pointed.  "Came up the road.  He said his name is Shawn."

"I'll check the castle staff, Sire."  He ran off to do that.

Xander grinned.  "The doggy's name is Lilac.  Can you say Lilac?"  The baby babbled noise at him.  "Sure, that's close enough."  He smiled when one of the guards came out after about an hour.  He knew the guy had kids, especially since the new one was keeping everyone in the vicinity up most of the time thanks to his crying.  "Came up the road.  Said his name was Shawn."

"I heard.  He's not one of ours, Sire."

"Get the heralds to find his parents," he hissed, looking at him.  "And I want to talk to them."  He nodded and jogged off to tell the heralds to announce that.  Xander listened as the heralds started to yell.

"Hear ye, hear ye.  The king has found a wandering toddler, aged about three or four, wandering toward the castle.  He requests that the child, named Shawn, be claimed by the parents or guardians immediately," was shouted and then they moved toward the market to announce it there.

Xander grinned at the baby.  "We'll figure it out."  Goku sat down beside him.  "Shawn, this is Goku.  He's my husband's bodyguard."  The baby smiled at him and he grinned and waved back.  "Anything going on besides him?"

"Not yet.  Want me to take him to get him a snack?  I'm hungry again."

"You're always hungry but sure.  Shawn, want some nummies?  We probably even have cookies."  Shawn beamed and toddled over to Goku, who picked him up very carefully.  "Ask Cook if we have anyone who can handle him until we can find his parents?" he asked quietly.

"I can do that."  He carried him inside.  "Cook?"  She looked over and cooed, taking him to cuddle.  "The king wanted to know if we could have a snack and if we had anyone to help him until the parents are found?"

"Of course you can have a snack.  You're about the only one in the castle that has a proper appetite."  She smiled and handed the baby a bit of meat, which made him squeal.  "You're a bit thin.   Marjorie, send to Bilada and ask her to send down a few diapers?"  The maid nodded and rushed off to do that.  "She's got one that's just out of diapers.  He's about your age so I'm sure she's got them in a closet somewhere."  She let the baby have whatever he wanted.  He was clearly starving by the way he was inhaling food faster than Goku was.

Xander came in a few hours later, while she was making dinner.  "They *might* have finally found her mother," he said dryly.

"Might?" she demanded.

"Yeah.  One of the stall keepers remembered a woman who had a baby that looked something like him and a few others."

She stared at him.  "I would never let my child roam the market by himself, especially not at his age, Sire.  Even the homeless children would protect one this young."

"The stall keeper said she's not.  And didn't I start an orphanage system way back when?  Talked my stepfather into it because it meant that he could *encourage* them to join the military?"

"Yes, but there's been a few homeless youth in town."

"I'll send someone to look it over."  He walked back out.  The guards were bringing in the mother.  "Is Shawn yours?"

"What did the little brat do this time?" she sneered.

"He was wandering the market by himself."

"Who're you to say anything!"

"He's the king," one of the guards said, making her whimper.  "Sire, I sent two guards to her stated house to check for other children.  Halte sent back his partner to tell us to send a healer."

"Did we?" Xander asked.  She started to yell complaints about how it didn't matter, he didn't have a say in anything.  He stared at her.  "Shut up or spend some time in jail before you talk to the judge's panel.  And yes, I do mean all three."  She flinched.  "Spouse?"

"Neighbor said he's working out of town for a few days."

"Get the kids to the healer here.  She's going in the dungeons until he gets back.  Post a notice I want to see him as soon as he gets back."  The guard nodded, dragging her off.  He sat down on the stairs in front of his throne.

"It sucks when people do dumbass things to kids," Goku said.  "Gojyo's mom was something like that."

Xander looked at him.  "When I was fifteen I started an orphanage system in the kingdom.  Talked my stepfather into it because the homeless kids weren't getting any education and a lot of them had kids of their own."  Goku shuddered.  "I have *always* tried to protect kids.  I beat the shit out of a few guards that thought scaring them were fun and games while on duty.  I beat the ones that wanted to rape women too."  He leaned his elbows on his knees.  "Tell Gregory I need him?"  He nodded, going to find the cranky princess.  He got there about the same time as the other kids.  Three kids and one very smelly baby.  "Oh, shit," he said, making the kids flinch.  "How long?"

"At least days," Guard Helte admitted.  Gregory took the baby from him.  "He was in the attic in some straw.  These three were at home, Sire."

Xander looked at them.  "I found Shawn wandering around."  The oldest one slumped and shook her head.  "He's fine.  The castle's cook has him.  Gregory, do we have the official nanny here yet?"


"All right.  Then we'll let you guys stay with the nanny until your other parent gets here."

"Where's Mommy?" one of the little boys asked.

"She's talking with people about why your brother Shawn was wandering around the marketplace and wandered up here to the castle.  You'll see her in a few days."  He pointed.  "This is Princess Gregory.  He's a healer."  They stared at him and Gregory smiled.  "He's going to make sure you guys aren't sick and then let the palace nanny take care of you for a few days until your father gets home."  The oldest one nodded.  "I'm not mean, kids, but I do not want any children to ever be hurt.  Shawn could've been run over by someone in a carriage going too fast or fallen into the moat.  I'd hate that to happen.  He seems very sweet."

"He tries," the oldest said quietly.

Xander smiled.  "All boys have days like that."  She giggled.  "Gregory?"

"I can do that.  Someone get the town's healer as well so we know if she's treated them."

"She treated Mommy once," the girl said.

"That's good to know.  Let's grab your brother from the kitchen and I'll have dinner sent out too."  He walked them that way with the guard following.  He glanced at the guard.  "Problems?"

"Herding."  He smiled.  "Hi," he told the boy in the kitchen, who grinned and waved back.

"Shawn, why did you wander off?" the girl said, scowling at him.  The baby burst out crying.

"I don't think he meant to," Gregory said firmly, staring at her.  He let the guard pick up the baby to calm him down.  "I'm just glad we found him before he drowned or got run over."  He patted the baby on the head.  "It's all right.  You're not in trouble this time.  You're too young to understand.  We'll talk about it later," he told the girl.  Who pouted but nodded, looking at her feet.  He looked at the cook.

"I'll send out soup.  Tonight's is a cream of potato."

He smiled.  "That should work.  Send out some really warm milk for the baby?"

"I can do that."  He walked out with them, making her smile at the baby and wave. "I'll check on you tomorrow, Shawn."


Xander looked up as a man was led into the throne room four days later.  "Shawn looks a lot like you."  The man flinched.  "He's fine.  Everyone but the baby is fine."

"What happened?" he asked.

"Shawn wandered up here from the market.  Alone."  The father winced.  "After an hour checking the palace's people to make sure he wasn't one of ours, we sent heralds out to the town.  It took two hours for a shopkeeper to recognize him.  Your wife never showed up to claim him."

"Damn it," he said.

Xander nodded.  "We need to talk anyway."  He waved and the room was cleared of everyone but the guards.  "The baby was found in the attic, in some straw."  He found the picture waiting on this meeting and handed it over.  "Princess Gregory, the palace's healer, had that taken when the guard that went looking found him.  That was right after he got here."

The father looked.  "Those picture things are very detailed."

"Yes, and you can see every single rib on him."  He stared at him.  "I realize you've been working.  I can't blame you for not being there because a man has to provide for his family."

"I've been working on a few nearby farms, Sire."

"Good.  That's fine.  I don't have a problem with that.  I have a problem that your wife demanded to know what right I had to say anything to her."

He looked up, his neck popping.  "Is she in jail?"

"Yup."  He smirked.  "Because she swore that it wasn't any of my business.  Even after it was pointed out that I was the king and it was my business."  He smiled.  "Your kids are great.  Your daughter's a nag but the boys are wonderful.  They've been digging in the garden and ran into the field yesterday to pet the carriage horses.  Shawn and I petted one of the new ones and a hunting hound for the three hours."

"Shawn's a loving little boy.  I don't want to stick them in an orphanage while I'm working.  Some of them aren't real nice."

"I'm so having someone look into that.  I'm the one that started those and they were so good until recently."

"Two've closed," one of the guards told him quietly.  Xander looked at him.  "The people running it died and no one was appointed.  One the kids tried to take over but couldn't manage it on their own."

"Why didn't anyone tell me?"

"There's still some who believe you're as mean as the last king," the father said quietly.

"Hell no I'm not," Xander said firmly.  "I'm not mean.  If you see a problem I need to deal with, tell a guard.  It's their job to tell me.  Hell, tell a bard to tell me."  The father smiled.  "I'll have someone look them over."

"Yes I am," Gregory said, walking in with the baby.  "He can't go home yet."  The father looked stricken.  "He's still malnourished.  He's got a huge rash from not being changed for *days*.  The local healer and I had to scrape him twice to get him clean.  She helped the other kids take a nice, long, hot bath as well."

"I was working.  I had no idea."

"I know."  Gregory handed the baby over.  "He's a good boy.  You have great kids and a little mommy in your daughter."  He stared at him.  "He's still too sick to go home.  The local healer's agreed to keep him for a few days until he's able to eat like a normal baby would."

"Thank you.  How much will I owe her?"

Xander waved a hand.  "I don't want there to be anyone starving in this kingdom.  If someone's sick and starving because they're dying, that's one thing.  If they're starving due to mistreatment or because they're too poor to afford food is another.  We have a fund to pay for his care."

"Thank you, Sire.  My wife?"

"The judge's panel is deciding if and what she'll be charged with," he said.

"I understand."

"For now, get your family healthy and back together again."

"The healer knows a few grandmothers who are looking for something to fuss at," Gregory said more gently.  "She might be able to introduce you to one who'll at least help for a bit."

He smiled.  "They'd like that.  My own family's from out-kingdom."

Xander smiled.  "I was going to start encouraging a farmer trade situation."

"We need more farms locally, Sire."

"I have no idea why we don't have any.  No one's ever given me any real good reason."

"The plants tend to go strange," the father said.

The guard nodded.  "My wife's roses decided to grow an extra foot last week," he agreed.

"We used to have farms all over by the cliffs," Xander said, frowning a bit.  "Do we think it's something to do with the protections?"

"The roses might've been a fairy giving her a gift.  She was pouting that they weren't growing right."

"King Steve's people had a plan for greenhouses, which are glassed in buildings where plants are grown during the cooler months."

"That could help if we put it by the plague wall," the guard offered.

Xander snapped.  "That's what happened to the farms.  The plague.  We closed off that whole area due to that.  Put the survivors and the sick out there to stop the spread."

The father nodded.  "I worked at one there.  That's why I've been doing weekly work at a farm for the last few years."

"Someone ask the healer to look that over?  I'm not even sure if we still have plague survivors out there.  No one's mentioned it to me at all.  If so, I'd almost rather build them somewhere better and have the farms back.  Food's getting a bit expensive again."

"Nobody would live out there," the guard said.

"Stone houses can be burned clean," Xander said.  "Fields can be burned and prepared for the spring, plus blessed."  That got a nod.

"There's no reason why most plagues would bother the plants anyway," Gregory said.

"Won't matter to some people," the guard told him.  "They'd worry even if they knew that, Princess."

"If there's any survivors, let's move them out to the Bairnberry Cliffs area," Xander decided.  "It's not got great land for mass growing but for personal family gardens it should be good enough.  The edge of the forest would shelter them nicely.  We can send that one woman that I spotted with all the sores too."  The guard smiled and nodded.  "Clean stone buildings so they can be burned clean later on.  The local healer's sisters live out that way and take care of some elderly and sickly people who can't do it on their own.  Page?"  One of them leaned in.  "Get someone to write a message to the local healer, my advisors, and the town's mayor?"  He nodded.  He looked at the father again.  "If so, we can burn things clean and pure then start the farms over."

"I'd enjoy that, Sire.  My others?"

"In the field with the horses," Gregory said with a point.  "Shawn's playing tag with a few of the younger mares."

"He's a good boy but a bit excitable.  Thank you, Sire."

"It's not a problem.  I'd rather it not ever happen to any child but at least they have a good parent who still cares for them."  He walked him out there.

Shawn saw him and squealed 'Da' over and over until he could pounce his father.  The other kids followed.  "My kids," he said, hugging them all.

"I'll bring the healer with me on the tour," Gregory told Xander.

"Bring one of her sisters.  They'd know more about taking care of things long term."  They shared a look.  "Also make sure that no one's being forced into the military.  It's encouraged but it's not to be forced."

The guard following them cleared his throat.  "It's almost pressured, Sire, but the kids only have to go in for six months.  They get paid, which someone made sure they were getting paid after the first few didn't, and then they get to go to whatever sort of training or life they want with that pay.  We also make sure they've got an appropriate education and if they're good in some areas like smithing we set them with ours."

"It shouldn't be mandatory."

"No, sir.  But it's encouraged and the six months pay is real helpful when you're just now out on your own."

Xander stared at him.  "You decided to stay in?"

"Can't beat the pay," he quipped with a smile.

"Go with Gregory and whoever.  Report back to me on how it is and how it should be."  The guard nodded.  Gregory did too.  The healer came out to take the baby and talk to the father about what he needed.  Xander smiled and walked off.  They'd send him notice about his wife's charges.  He settled in to talk to his people about the plague village idea.  It was really needed.  The closing of the farms for it was supposed to be a temporary solution.


Xander looked up as a timid looking woman walked in.  "What's the problem?" he asked her politely.

"Sire, is there any work here?  I'm a good worker."

"I don't think so."  He looked at his majordomo, who shook his head.  "Are you desperate for work?"  She nodded, biting her lip.  He looked at the guard.  "Get your captain?  He was complaining about something and she might help."  He went to get him from his office.  "A few questions, miss.  Can you read or write?"

"Yes, sir.  I graduated the public academy."

"Good.  That'll help a lot.  Children?"  She nodded.  "How many?"

"Two, sir.  My husband died last year due to a fall."

"That is bad, yeah.  It's been a problem I've been trying to figure out because I know you're not the only one."  His guard captain walked in and saluted him.  "Captain, what if we gave you some helpers, on a rotating basis, to help out with the paperwork tasks, to do extra security during fairs and the like, and to staff those map booths?"

"I have no idea where you'd conscript for it."

"I was thinking that there's many widows, and others, like this woman who need to find some sort of income to feed their families."

He thought about it then nodded.  "They wouldn't be able to do everything but the simpler things would be easy enough.  Right now I'd like to someone to straighten out my files and shelves."

"Work a day, get a day's worth of rations and a few dollars?" Xander suggested.  "Or just straight money?"

"Rations are safer.  There's a few in town who are problematic because of how much they drink.  Giving them money would mean more drinking."

"That would be reasonable," he decided, looking at her.  "You're the tester of this," he told her.  She smiled and nodded, bowing to him.  "The captain's fair but he can be a jackass when he's yelling at the new soldiers.  If he's too mean, let me know."

"I won't be, Sire.  She's not a soldier."  He led her off to show her what he needed to be done.

Xander looked at his assistant.  "If that works out, we'll announce it and have it go through him."

"Yes, Sire."  She made note of that.

Xander looked at the other guards.  "How many do we have?"

"Probably about two percent of everyone.  Most everyone expects a widow to remarry sometime," the guard in there said.  "Took my sister six years but they had the family farm."

"But you can't really farm here in the capitol.  Almost no one has that sort of land."  The guard nodded.  "Okay.  Well, we'll see if it'll help and if it does we'll extend it over the kingdom's villages.  I'm sure they have tiny things that need done too.  I hate to see the people suffer."

"It's not a bad plan, Sire, and the families will be thankful for it."

"There's new work sites opening too but I doubt too many single parents can do that sort of work," he admitted.  "I want to know how it goes."

"Of course.  Are you going to listen to people complain at the tavern tonight?"

Xander nodded and grinned.  "I had planned on it.  Problems with that?"

"No, sir.  Just gotta make a note for the shift commander so he can have some extra guards that way."

"Thanks."  Genjo walked in and handed him some juice.  "Thank you."

"Welcome.  I heard about that idea.  It's not a bad one.  Though you don't have too many in that shape."

"I hate watching people suffer."

"I know.  That makes you a good king."  Xander grinned before sipping his juice.  "What else is on our agenda."

"Night in town?"


Xander grinned.  "The bards are holding plays next week for the holiday."

"That might be fun to see."  Xander grinned and they settled in to wait on any more complaints.


King Horatio called Sam at Xander's castle.  "Sam, I have need of some information and some help," he said calmly.

"Sure, Horatio.  What's wrong?"  He pulled a chair in to sit on.  This looked like it was complicated.

"Some idiot sorcerer brought back my brother."

"Okay," Sam said.  "We need to do a few checks.  Make sure he's really him and not a demon pretending to be him."  He looked around.  "Dad's at home.  Dean's over your way.  He's doing a diplomatic visit to Stella's mother.  Let me get our charmed parchment."  He got up and jogged off to get it, writing on it as he came back.  "Cas and Dean can be there tomorrow.  For now, I'd suggest putting him in a cell.  There's no telling if he's real."  He looked at the king.  "You're the older brother so there's no chance of him trying to usurp you."

"No, thankfully there's not.  His former wife is sobbing miserably though.  His son is quite angry."

"I'd be pissed too, Horatio.  Especially if the rumors we heard were true."  Horatio nodded they probably were.  "For now, put him somewhere he can't influence or harm anyone until they can check him for demon taint.  Then Dean and Cas can hunt down the sorcerer."

"We believe it may be the same one that wanted Xander poisoned."

Sam smirked evilly.  "We've been wanting to talk to them anyway.  Cas said they'd leave tonight."

"I'll expect them by dinner then.  Thank you, Sam."

"If you need to talk to Xander or Genjo, I'll call them.  Or Hakkai.  They're only in town."

"No, that's fine.  Thank you."  He hung up and went to his throne room to give that order.  His spouse already had him on his knees in shackles.  "Prince Dean and his consort will be here tomorrow to make sure that's actually him and help us with the sorcerer who did this," he announced.  "Until then, make sure he's safely confined so no one can hurt him and he can't harm anyone."  The guards nodded, hauling Raymond off.  Horatio sank into his throne with a defeated sounding sigh.  "Thank you."

"I figured the shackles would make it easier for Ray Junior to kick his ass."

Horatio smiled.  "It definitely will.  Yelina as well."  He looked up as his head guard walked in.  "Problems?"

"Lord Frank and Lord Hagen are here, Sire."

"Let them in.  You know they're always allowed to see me."

"I had them wait while you dealt with the delicate matter."  He went to let them in.

Horatio looked at them.  "We believe it was the same sorcerer that went after Xander."

Frank grimaced.  "Probably.  Any news?"

"Dean and Castiel will be here tomorrow to see if he's a demon or not.  If not, I'm going to let my sister-in-law and nephew have him," Timothy said with a smile.

Horatio smiled at him.  "Me as well."  He looked at his upper nobility.  "Problems?"

"Some of the ones from King Steve's kingdom ran here," Hagen said.

"Then let us make them feel very unwelcome, gentlemen."  He got up and followed them out.  Raids like this the royal family handled to make sure the people were safe.

Timothy looked around.  "Tell Princess Calleigh that he's going on a raid so she can help."  The page nodded and went to find her.


Dean rode into Horatio's courtyard, followed by his consort.  They had been racing and Castiel's mare had lost.  He paused near the stables and a groom came out.  He dismounted, handing his reins over.  "The king wanted us?"

"He's in the walking garden," the stablehand said, taking the mare's reins as well.   "Guards can show you, Prince Dean and Consort Castiel."

"Thanks."  They walked that way.  One of the guards stared at them then announced them loudly.  Eric looked over and waved them over.  They joined them.  "Problems?" he asked.

"Did Sam tell you why?" Horatio asked quietly.

"He did and it'll take us about an hour to do all the checks."  Castiel smiled.  "If he is, we'll make sure he's rebanished."

"If not, we'll get out of the way of his family," Dean quipped with a grin.  "Because Yelina's always scared me, Horatio."

He smiled.  "She does have a temper, yes."  He led them down to the dungeons so they could look his brother over.  "We had him stripped and given a bath."

"That's fine," Dean agreed.  "Means that the holy water steps hit bare skin."  They were let into the cell and guards stood in the doorway so the renewed being couldn't get free and harm anyone.


Horatio stood up at the formal dinner that night.  It had been planned for a while and he couldn't get out of it so might as well get it out of the way.  "I have an announcement," he said.  All his country's nobles looked at him.  "The same sorcerer that had King Alexander repoisoned also had my brother brought back to life.  After having Prince Dean and his Consort Castiel check him over for demon taint, he was found clean.  He's still living even after his family has had a go at him."  Yelina had mostly cried on him instead of beating him but Ray Junior had put in a good showing.  Timothy had been very proud of how well Ray Junior had beaten his father. 

"The sorcerer who did this is to be found and tried.  He is wanted on a death sentence here and in King Alexander's country."  They all nodded.  "Anyone who was found to have prompted it....  Well, I don't like their chances with the courts either," Horatio finished.  It was subtly threatening but not outright scary to the ones that hadn't helped.  He was known to be a fair king as long as you weren't killing, raping, or otherwise harming people in his kingdom.

Lord Frank stood up.  "Are we readmitting him to the family lineage?"

"I'm personally giving them a little house out by the sea.  Yelina wanted him back so I'm allowing her to take him out there since he's proven to be non-demonic.  He is still my brother but he is not in the succession lineage."  Frank grinned and he smiled back.  "My heir is still either Timothy or Calleigh."  The other nobles relaxed.  "I merely had to have this stated before the rumors got out of hand."  He sat down and the dinners were served.  Tim patted him on the hand, getting a smile back.

Calleigh looked down at him.  "If you leave me with all your paperwork I'm burning your corpse, Horatio."  The nobles near them choked.  "I hate paperwork.  He does all together too much of it."

Horatio nodded.  "It does tend to keep me from more pleasant things, like sleep, at times."

Tim smirked at her.  "The only way not to do it when it's your turn is to have a spouse that can do it for you."  She glared but he smiled.  Hagen was choking.  They all knew that those two had dated on and off for a few years but were presently not together.

"Horatio needs to quit getting into things that could get him killed," Eric agreed.  "That way none of us have to do paperwork anytime soon."  He stuffed his mouth.

Tim smiled at him.  "Consort Genjo's people are looking to make some new alliance marriages."

"I'd hate to be married to someone who hated sex," he shot back.  "It'd probably drive me insane and that's not good for the family group."

"No, it's not," Horatio agreed.  "Though they are offering a nice alliance."  He looked down there.  Eric slumped and stuffed his mouth again.

"They don't like strong women," Calleigh said.  That got her out of it.  "They don't like Ryan for his OCD either."

"I know," Horatio said, smiling slightly at her.  Eric slumped down just a bit farther in his seat.  He knew he and Ray Junior were the only two really open for a political marriage made in hell.  He'd really have to find someone better sometime soon.  Maybe one of Stella's loud, slightly insane cousins?  They never *meditated*.


It was once again the Luna Festival and the palace's party was in full swing.  Full, boring swing.  Midnight was chimed and even Genjo wanted out of that room it was so stuffy.  He found Xander watching the villagers heading into the woods.  "I've never made a flower crown."

Xander grinned.  "It's like braiding and weaving at the same time.  Just make sure that you don't put the red flowers into it unless you want it state pure love."

"Show me?"

Xander looked inside and nodded, heading out with him.  It wasn't that hard to sneak out.  They pretended they were going to the buffet and slipped down the stairs.  Xander got them each a basket and smiled.  "I usually go over by the shrines.  Most of the villagers won't so it's easier to find the flowers and berries."


"For the traditional breakfast."  They walked off together.  "Berries are like the eggs of the plant world.  They nourish and spread to new young if left alone."

"I hadn't considered that."  Xander looked like he had shed years of stress once they made it into the woods.  He saw what Xander was gathering and moved off to get his own.  They split up and headed deeper into the woods.  Genjo found the shrines and stared.  He hadn't been out here.  He bowed at them because he was taught to be respectful even if he didn't always believe in or want Higher help.  He found some of the flowers on longer stems, that looked good for the crown. 

They did look like miniature eternity flowers.  The petals were soft and light blue.  He picked them and found some berries, moving to pick them.  He ran into Hakkai, who grinned and left him in peace.  He spotted a few of the red flowers, which smelled nice.  He picked them because he didn't think he had enough blue flowers.  If not, he could tuck them into his room to scent it.  He visited all the shrines, finding all the Old Ones that Xander's ancestors prayed to.  They were interesting. 

Most you could tell what they were supposed to be over but a few were mostly blank, just general carvings.  He'd have to look them up.  He found some strange berries at one of those and stopped to look at them.  They didn't look like a poisonous one he had been warned about.  They didn't smell edible though.  He crushed one and felt it.  It felt almost oily.  "That must go in that special oil," he murmured, picking a few.  He had wanted to learn more about that.  Maybe they could teach him how to press a tiny bit.  He walked around and found Xander at one, where he was planting flowers.  "You're supposed to plant some?"

"No, this is the personal family deity so I stop out here every few months to plant some newly picked grass and flowers near the special flowers for the shrine."  He pointed at them.  "It gives them extra nutrients since the river shifted."  He stood up and dusted off his hand.  "Those aren't edible berries."

"I figured they went in that oil I was looking at."

"They go into a lot of oils and healing creams."  He smiled.  "Here, we'll braid together."  They settled on the steps and Xander taught him how to weave a flower crown.  He spotted the two red flowers.  "They do smell nice," he said, ignoring it for now.

"They do."  He smiled.  He relaxed because Xander hadn't even hinted.  "Are there any other rituals to this?"

"No, it's a night to revel, to enjoy the night and the gifts of the moon."  He waved a hand.  "These flowers only bloom this month and only at night."  He grinned.  "It's special that way."

"I think I can understand that."  He finished his crown.  It looked sparse.  "I need more."

Xander smiled and handed over a few extra.  "Just stick them in."  Genjo did and it was nicer looking.  Xander finished his and tucked in the last stem, putting it carefully on the blond hair next to him.  "There."

Genjo let Xander help him finish it and then did the same.  "Will it sit without a pin?"

"Yeah, I have a skull ridge from a childhood cut."  He adjusted it and grinned.  "So, are you enjoying your first Luna Festival revel?"

"I am.  It's peaceful.  Why is it a lover's holiday."

"It's said that the moon goddess of the Old Ones created the flowers for her lover, who was an Earth spirit.  Not the Mother Goddess, but the God over Trees."  He pointed at the ones surrounding the shrine.  "Those were most special to him.  She created the flowers to entice him to her side.  He thought her love would wane with her cycle and couldn't stand to be away from the sun, who was his true love.  She looks on lovingly for the day that her affections are returned.  That's why we show her love, so she knows she wasn't abandoned by the fickleness of a male's affection."  He smiled.  "That way she's still attached to this whole mess down here and continues to bless us with her presence."

"What about on the sun's side?"

"She thinks she loves him but her love wanes as the seasons shift.  In winter, she's as cold as ice to him and he shivers and shakes, taking what warmth he can.  He never lifts his leaves up to gather the light that his real love gives him all year long.  It makes her sad and makes him hate himself for a few months of the year but he's like any boy in any bard's tale, lovesick and it's making his mind clouded.  Even when she floods his roots, even when she burns his leaves, even when she abandons him for a tree god in the lower countries for months on end, he's stuck on her instead of the true love that's always waiting."

"That's sad," Genjo said.

Xander nodded.  "Then again, no true love is ever all happy.  Nothing is all happy.  Or else we'd never realize what happy is."

"True."  He looked around, then at him.  "My ancestors would never think of something like that."

"By the histories, your ancestors had their own pagan roots, but they don't do more than cloud them now as familiar ceremonies like the greeting tea."

"I hadn't heard that."  He shifted, looking at his basket.  "Can we nibble before then?"

"Anyone who finds berries nibbles, Genjo.  It's not like it's a must starve until breakfast one.  It's about enjoying and showing the moon goddess the pleasures that she so desperately wants."  He looked at him and kissed him on the cheek.  "Loosen up.  You're still so stiff and it's been a few years."

"I'm not as stiff as I was."

"Or as angry," Xander agreed.  That got a nod.  "The boys out here?"

"Somewhere.  I saw Hakkai and I doubt they kept Goku from coming this year.  I don't think he'd understand more than there's breakfast from the berries."

"I've seen him looking shyly at a few of the girls in the palace."  Genjo gave him an odd look.  "The lovely Lithana, in the gardens?  He stares at her like she's candy.  The assistant cook, the new redheaded one?  He gives her cow eyes and stammers whenever she gives him food.  There's also the new animal trainer apprentice.  She's not noticing anything that's not an animal but he was trying to flirt with her.  Failed miserably but I told him she only saw four hooves, not two feet."

"He really is growing up.  I might have to tell him what girls are for."

Xander grinned and got up.  "Do you know what girls are for?"

"Of course.  I got told that."  He stood up.  "What else do we do?"

"Well, the villagers are celebrating by playing tag and dancing through the trees to grab their lovers.  By morning the village will have increased by at least a few future children."  He smiled.  "It's a party, a picnic, and a celebration all at once until dawn, when you have a breakfast and then go home to do chores and celebrate with the family you have.  The tradition says that you can introduce your intended to your parents today and they can't deny you but they can use it to get to know them so they can deny your wants the next day, even if there is a baby on the way."

"They wouldn't make her marry the father?"

"She can claim that she got caught up and no one would say anything.  The books would read 'revel baby' and a possible father if she has a really good guess."  He moved and grinned.  "If you want, we can play games in the woods.  We shouldn't be here for long or they might come back and demand a tribute."

"What sort?"  He looked.  "Why don't a few of them have explanatory carvings?"

"Because no one wanted to have little kids staring at phallic symbols," he said with a point at the one they had been sitting on the steps of.

"That makes sense," he admitted, catching Xander.  "Tell me about the others?"

"I only learned by rote.  This one there's actually a small shrine carved to in the back of the closet."  He led him around to tell him who they were and what they were over, how they handled things.

"Three love gods?" Genjo asked.

"She came from a marriage.  That was part of the wedding price because she had been a priestess, called to it according to the records.  Her family had a horrible accident so she was the last child able to make a marriage; she had to give up her vows and marry one of my ancestors.  They didn't mind and she did give them ten children, all of whom died before just before they turned thirty because she had left the service.  Fortunately she realized and had them married off young so there would be grandchildren."

"It wasn't prompted?"

"No.  One died of a heart attack in the middle of dinner, with no poison in his food or drink.  One died in bed.  No, two died in bed.  One died in someone else's bed and one in their own.  One was in the bell tower and somehow managed to die by hitting his head on it when it's ten feet above him and there was no way he could reach it.  That one we wondered a bit.  We had a few that were talking and chatting and between sentences they died.  Always a week before they turned thirty."

"Is that curse still around?" he asked.

"No.  It was only on her direct offspring.  They made sure and the grandchildren got married off quickly and bred fast but otherwise only one's died before thirty since then.   He died the day before when he fell off a horse."  He smiled.  "Great-grandfather.  That's why he only had six kids."

"Huh."  They kept walking and looking.  "Someone should clean up that fountain."

"We should but we don't want to disturb things and the villagers might feel uneasy.  So we've left it.  I started to and got yelled at."  He looked up at the war god's shrine.  "My stepfather was scared to death of them waking up."

"Are they supposed to be asleep?"

"They are.  In each shrine, under the altars, is a bedroom area.  It's thoroughly carved, laid with offerings and candles.  A fine bed with the finest sheets.  Then it's sealed up so nothing and no one can disturb it.  Even when we had forest fires a few years back, before I went to the academy, they never came out this way."  He looked at his husband.  "My stepfather forbid the military to even come out here to fight the fires.  When it didn't touch anywhere near there, and actually turned back toward the village, he had a minor freak out and asked the coven to help." 

Genjo nodded, stroking a plinth that wasn't attached to a shrine.  "Were there more?"

"Originally, this whole cleared area was a fine patio to stand and pray on.  There's still a few tiles here and there.  They were marked with blessing marks so they were never touched."  He pointed.  "That's what's sticking up."  Genjo squatted down to look at it, dusting some of the dirt off.  Xander smiled and helped him up.  "Let them sleep.  We've disturbed them enough for the night."  He gathered their baskets and took him to the stream behind the shrine area.  "One of the best local swimming holes but almost no one uses it.  They don't like coming in from the trees," he said with a point.  Genjo looked at him.  "Very few of the villagers will come near this area.  They don't want to be disrespectful or wake someone up so they murmur prayers whenever they come this way.  Most of them will avoid it like the plague village."

"I've seen that happen before."  They stripped down.  He noticed Xander was bare and decided to join him.  The water was cool but not cold.  It slid around his skin like cool silk, fresh from the drawer.  He swam back to put his crown on his clothes.  Xander did the same with a smile.  "Think we'll be joined?"

"No, probably not.  If it was hotter maybe."  He splashed some, then settled in to float.  "I always liked the water."

"I've noticed you bathe each time you come in from traveling."

"It washes all the dirt from other places so I can replace it with the ones from home," he said quietly, looking at him.  "It's a fanciful notion but I feel that I'm home then, maybe I'm welcomed back by it."

"That's not that fanciful."  He swam around then settled in to float.  "We need a pond like Mac and Stella have for swimming."

"I wouldn't mind that but an ocean like Steve has would be nice."

"But a lot of work and storms come stronger from the ocean," Genjo said.  "That thunderstorm they had was one of the worst I've ever seen."

"It was like some angry Old One throwing a fit that they had taken his son, Steve, and adopted him into the mortal families."

"You think he was?"

"No clue.  He didn't look native."  He shrugged.  "He's nice no matter what."

"He is.  What about Lindsey's baby?"

"I'd like to drown the mother and then maybe the baby will calm down?" he offered.

"It might help.  I heard when she called you to see if you knew anyone who worked with ivory to fix the broken rattle she had thrown."

"I'm putting in courtesy housing," Xander said suddenly, flipping over to swim a bit.  "That way all the visiting royals can have their own house and not disturb or be disturbed by the palace."

"That might be nice.  Can we build an inn specifically for diplomats?"

"Definitely."  They shared a smile.  Diplomats were annoying.  "If I put the diplomat house at the other end of town, at that nice clearing that used to be an inn, that would give them plenty of room for a six or seven apartment building?"

"It would," he agreed.  "Where would you put the other?"

"On the other side of the gardens, past your house, to that large clearing that we usually park extra carriages in.  Put it in a spider design?  Little houses around a central part?"  He swam closer again.  "It would give them privacy and let them not worry about spies or listening staff members, which would suit Pelgar fine.  It would let them have a kitchen out there if they wanted to use it instead of eating with us, which would suit some of your relations or Cas's relations."  Genjo nodded.  "Those that arrive with a guard troop could have them camped out around their little house area."

"That might be nice.  "Three?"

"I was thinking four.  Make it symmetrical.  Even with the old parts reopened, the palace isn't as big as many of them.  Alan's is the smallest I think but ours only has a few rooms more than his.  The coronation showed that.  Even with everything cleaned we couldn't have fit everyone."

"It's a nice idea.  It would let them rest without a lot of stress."  Xander smiled and nodded.  "Any other plans for the palace grounds?"

"No, not really.  Just moving that plague village and restarting those farms.  That's going well.  One of the other herb healers lives out near there and we expanded her house for her as well.  It gave her more room to see people that need help."

"That's a great thing.  I think every city should have a plague area already set up in case one pops up.  You always worry that more will infect if you don't have one set up."

"Our last one must've been a curse."  He snorted and smiled.  "I nearly ended up out there.  I got that child's disease with the itchy spots?"  Genjo nodded he knew what it was.  "About two days after that plague with spots popped up.  My father was shipping me off when the healer checked me and yelled at him for trying to kill me with it when I only needed to bath in cool water and that powdered herb mix to solve the itching."

"Do you think it was caused?"

"I don't remember much of it.  I was eight or nine.  All I remember is that no one was talking about it and suddenly, there was a plague.  I hadn't heard any healers coming in to report a problem, none of the guards had said anything.  Just suddenly, a pox."

"Could that be demon caused?"

"I asked John once," Xander admitted.  "He said it wasn't likely but it was possible but he couldn't see a reason for it to have been caused.  He said it was more likely a sorcerer of some sort that was trying to defeat my father and got the whole kingdom instead of the army."

"I've seen ones that have done that," Genjo agreed.  "Hakkai had to help with one.  I had to lie and say that everything would be fine and they'd pass onto their next lifecycle with no problems.  That there was some great plan behind such things."

Xander touched his arm.  "Every royal family lies to the people they serve sometimes.  Sometimes for their own good, sometimes for their peace of mind.  We do it to calm down problems or to make sure that they know whatever isn't as bad as rumors state, when it's usually worse.  We do it because the people need to have such lies told sometimes and we're the only ones who can do it."

"I'd rather not."

"Me either.  If we're invaded, I'll have to pull out a 'we can easily beat these ones' speech.  Or if there's another plague, that it's not so bad."  Genjo nodded.  "You and I, and a few others, would rather hear that yeah, things are bad and we're going to die but we'll do our best to beat back that fate.  The normal person wants the comfort so they can find hope and strength from it while watching us fight it."

"You've had to?"

"My stepfather sucked at psyching up people.  Not the military, not the regular people.  If he wanted them to get behind him, we wrote his speeches for him.  My brother was excellent at it and he couldn't speak in public.  He stuttered and looked like he was terrified of everything.  So he wrote them, I gave them, and it went on."

"You were a child."

"Better me than them not getting it at all and trying to overthrow my stepfather.  Though a few times they gave me really evil looks for trying to tell them it wasn't that bad.  Then things got slightly better and the evil looks faded again."  He flipped back onto his back again.  "The evil looks took nearly a year when I had to tell them that my father was calling up all the reserve troops right before he sent me to that tower.  A lot of people probably assumed that was to punish me or to save me from the villagers taking me out."

"You were still a child."

"There's no real children in the household of a warlord, Genjo.  We have to grow up strong and quickly, without obvious flaws to be taken advantage of.  I was seven and working on training the war steeds because I was good at it.  That was my job with the army for the longest time.  My brother couldn't smith if his life depended on it but he could make and fix bows so that was his job.  He couldn't use one but he could make nice ones."

"I've noticed you still work on them."

"I do.  Dean and I both do the training for all the top level war steeds.  We use similar methods but his have to be more steady for demon hunting than a standing battle.  We've incorporated each other's training into our methods though."  He smiled.  "I do a really decent job.  I pick the fastest, strongest, most capable, and then I split off for calvary, guards, and runner duties.  I do about six a year.  That reminds me, I need to look at getting some new blood into the lines."

"There's that horse sale in Horatio's lands," Genjo offered.

Xander shook his head.  "They're palfrey, riding horses.  Not war steeds.  Those are only sold at Carva.  That's in Willow's former kingdom.  It's held every few years.  The lower countries have some good stock but they're starting to get inbred.  I've tried a few breeding experiments and they've turned out well but no one wants to ride a crossbreed into battle."

"That's narrow minded.  Most breeds now started out from crossbreeds."

"Yes but they have names and proven histories of traits.  Some day these will.  It'll take a few generations to make them stronger."  He suddenly smiled.  "Up to the north, above Alan but before you cross the mountains, there's herds of wild horses.  A lot of them are very strong and I'd like to get some of them.  Alan's not sure how healthy they are.  They're more riding class but not totally.  A lot of them are faster."  That got a nod.  "And if we move west, there's some that way.  They don't always show up at Carva but they're in high demand."

"New blood would be."  He smiled.  "We have riding beasts but I never really got along with them."

"I sometimes find animals better company than humans.  They don't complain, want a lot, want to beat me to death for no reason."  He dove down and got a rock, throwing it at the thing in the tree staring at them.  "With the exception of those things."  He smiled.  "You realize we've floated downstream from the clothes, right?"

"I hadn't."  He looked.  "No one will see us being naked."

"Are your people the sort that never allow nudity?"

"It's not really encouraged."

"Hmm.  That sucks.  There's a few summers I ran around all but naked.  It was too hot for clothes.  Those times I nearly voluntarily went on trips as long as we were heading north."  Genjo laughed.  They got out and hiked back to their clothes and wreaths, putting them back on.  Xander kept his shirt off, slinging it over his shoulder.  They picked up their baskets and went back to berry picking.  He had to brush off a few dandelion spores.  "Nature's sperm," he complained.  "They puff up suddenly then explode everywhere to impregnate the earth with more of their spawn."  Genjo had to stop to laugh against a tree.  "They do."

"They do," he agreed.  Xander grinned.  He pulled him closer and kissed him.  Xander kissed back.  "I have not enjoyed a night as much as this one in quite a while."

Xander smiled.  "We have two revels and one prayer night a year.  You're more than welcome to come with me."

"Why not a third revel?"

"Would you want to picnic in the snow?"

"No," he agreed, still smiling.  Xander grinned at him.  The moonlight was hitting him just so, he looked like he was carved.  Genjo moved closer and kissed him again.  Xander let him lead wherever they wanted.  "I'm not sure how far this is going," he said quietly.

"It can go as far as you want," he promised.  "Do you have a preference for how you end up?"

"I can't and won't be underneath you," he said, staring into his eyes.

"It has been quite a while but I can see that."  Genjo tipped his head.  "I'd never let Sam do that, Genjo.  Beyond the fact that he likes it that way better, I'd never be Sam's wife."

"I can understand that."  He found them a nice spot of clover and put down their clothes as a bed.  Xander went willingly.  "We need oil."

"The berries have interesting properties," Xander said, plucking them out of his basket.  "To a lot they're aphrodisiacs because they cause hardness to manifest and they're slippery.  For generations that was the way people had sex."

"Even the fresh pressed?"

"It's more noticeable in the fresh and lasts less time."

"Good to know."  He laid down with him, moving the berries closer.  He let Xander kiss him and lead them to where they wanted to be.  He was going to take control.  He slowly worked Xander onto his back and started to stretch him with the fresh squeezed berry juice.  Xander shivered but it felt nice.  He kept his mind on things by showing he knew something about how things should go between them.  Xander moaned as he slid into him, slowly and steadily.  "Too much?" he asked.

"No, not yet."  He reached up to adjust the crown of flowers.  "Move, husband."  He smirked and did, making it as good as he could.  Xander was shivering and it looked like he was liking it, especially with how hard he was.  Genjo made sure they both came and then he laid beside him.  Xander panted and caught his breath.  Xander leaned over and kissed him.  "It was worth waiting for."  He took another one and got up to get them some water to drink, bringing it back.  Genjo gulped it, leaning back.  Xander smiled and got his own, wetting his shirt to clean them up.  That helped.  They lay there until nearly dawn, just enjoying the moment.  Xander could even ignore the smoking his mate was doing.  When the light was starting to come up, they got up and bathed in the river then had their traditional breakfast of berries.  They went back to the palace, Genjo a bit confused, and Xander feeling better. 

Maybe it'd take less than a year for it to happen again.

The End.

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