The Sun and the Moon

The Nations of Brennen and Syen had been warring viciously for decades, both sides suffering heavy casualties and damage. They reached a point where both nations could hardly remember the reason they were fighting, and whatever it was, it certainly wasn't worth killing their countries over. A temporary truce was called, if only because the fighting could hardly continue, and a peace meeting arranged. The tent they met in wasn't what either of the ruling families were used to, but in times of war even luxury was sacrificed if it meant a truce.

The talks were tense, and it seemed they would never reach an agreement, until one advisor from the Syen suggested marriage.

Addressing the King of Brennen, he said. 'Your Majesty, you have a two year old son, correct?' Upon the King's nod, he continued.' The Queen of Syen is with child, and a wise woman has decreed it shall be a girl. If these two children are wedded, they will unite our nations in a way that will be far more agreeable to our people than a military truce.'

The idea was much discussed, but eventually everybody present agreed that it would work, and the document were signed for the betrothal of the first son of Brennen to the yet-to-be-born daughter of Syen.

There was much celebration in both countries, but nobody could truly relax until the Syen daughter had been born. Both courts waited with bated breath as the day of the birth drew closer and close as the Syen queen grew larger and larger.

A week before the scheduled day, the queen clutched her stomach and screamed for her nurse. A messenger with urgent news galloped to the Brennen capital and delivered the information that the queen was in labour. The king immediately got on his horse, not even accompanied by a guard, and rode swiftly to Syen. He arrived just as the nurse came out of the room, looking tired after hours of helping her queen through an agonising birth.

She spotted him and turned, giving only a slight curtsy, barely more than a bob. He studied her face, and realised it was not only weariness that plagued her. He hesitantly questioned her about the birth, fiercely hoping it hadn't been born a boy, or stillborn. She looked at him with a hint of something unreadable in her eyes and told him.

'Your Majesty, the queen gave birth to twin girls.'

He stared at her, hardly believing it.' Well, do you know which was the oldest?' This seemed to be the obvious solution; it was nothing to worry about.

'No, I don't. They are too alike to tell the difference, anyway.' She informed him shortly, and stalked off to get some fresh cloths.

Suddenly the King of Brennen felt like he needed a drink. Preferably a strong one.

xxxx

They were named Cyrah and Luna, meaning sun and moon. It was a tradition in Syen for twin names to have opposite meanings. The girls were almost identical, apart from their hair. After their hair grew from the indeterminable tufts they were born with, it became quite easy to tell them apart. Cyrah had long blonde locks that shone like polished gold. She always tied it in messy plaits that kept it out of her face, unless there were guests, then it was always down and brushed.

Luna had inherited the ebony hair that cascaded down her back from neither her fair-haired mother nor her father, but from some distant aunt that had apparently gone mad. This wasn't a fact commonly mentioned at dinner banquets.

The girls grew up like most other children; they played with toys and learnt to read and write. However, they always had the knowledge hanging over them that one day one of them would be chosen to marry a foreign prince and unite their nations.

But which one?

The queen and king first discussed this in earnest when the girls were six, which was not really enough time to tell their eventual character, but enough time to see some obvious personality traits. Luna loved horse riding and couldn't cook to save her life. She was rash and tempestuous, with a fierce temper that was quick to flare, but thankfully quick to die down, too. They would have given up on her ever becoming a potential bride if she didn't have a curious interest in healing. She would spend hours in the local hospital, generally being a nuisance and getting in the way, but because she was so obviously interested in their work, the doctors let her stay. Some of them would even explain what was happening to her, when they had time. It was not a normal hobby for girl of her standing, but her mother was just relieved she wasn't a complete tomboy. Cyrah seemed to be the obvious choice; she had a love of sewing and reading, all acceptable pursuits for a princess. If it wasn't for her tendency to disappear or hours at a time, never telling anybody where she went, no matter what the threats when she refused, she would be the perfect candidate. She was quiet and serene, but had surprisingly strong feelings about things, and would never revoke her opinion once given.

xxxx

The twins first met the prince when they were seven, and he was nine. His name was Zeru, and he was tall and pale and quiet. He studied the girls intently, and they stared back, a little intimidated. He nodded, apparently done with his inspection. He turned back to the book in his hands and began reading, paying no attention to the girls. Luna frowned, incensed, and questioned him angrily. 'Excuse me! Why are you ignoring us, fool?'

He glanced up from his book, smirked condescendingly at her, then carried on reading as if nothing had happened. 'Answer me!' The girl insisted, stomping her foot.

When he did not, Luna stormed out of the room, slamming the door as she went. Cyrah sighed, knowing her sister's temper meant it was unlikely she would return. She steeled herself, and prepared to greet the prince as she had been taught.

Curtsying, she said gently 'Welcome, Prince Zeru-' Cyrah stopped as he waved an elegant hand carelessly in the air.

'You don't need to bother with any etiquette. It's pretentious and it irritates me.'

Cyrah felt her temper flare, but instead of screaming at him like her sister, she merely said calmly. 'Well, in Syen we like to greet our guests politely. Even if' she added with an icy smile,' They don't deserve it.' With that, she curtsied again and left the room, leaving the prince to stare after her.

Later that night, Cyrah listened to Luna's furious complaints about him.

'And did you see that stupid smirk on his face! Just because he's older than us, how dare he! He thinks he's all that- he has the stupidest name ever-what gives him the right to act so patronisingly? What kind if name is Zeru anyway?'

'I think it means strength. And remember Luna,' Cyrah reminded her sister, 'one of us has to marry him.'

Each of the sisters fell silent, unable to imagine a future with this strange prince. But in less than nine years, when he was eighteen, he would choose one of them to marry.

After that, there were regular visits from the prince. There were numerous meetings, and in most of them nothing of import happened. But there were several key events, which would eventually lead up to the prince's decision.

xxxx

Luna was the first to make him smile. They were nine, and a little of the frostiness in their relationship had melted. It was inevitable, with all of the time they spent together. Luna was re-enacting a play she had recently watched, and she was playing every single character. She was preforming on a grassy knoll just outside the palace. She had such enthusiasm, never mind that her audience weren't that interested. The children (though Zeru claimed to be an adult, as he was almost twelve) had spread a picnic blanket and situated themselves in sight of the twins' chaperone. Now that the girls were a little older, some of the older, fussier nobles had said they should have a chaperone during their meetings with the prince. It isn't matter that they were nine and weren't even that keen on Zeru anyway.

When she finished the play by getting married to herself, she gave a huge bow, beaming. Cyrah clapped kindly, grinning at her sister's complete lack of self-consciousness. Zeru didn't clap, but instead gave a small, but genuine smile. Luna noticed, and if possible her smile grew wider.

Cyrah also noticed, and since she knew Luna better than she knew herself, she also knew that was the moment Luna fell in love with him, even though the girl herself would only confirm it two years later.

xxxx

Cyrah was the first one to ask him for advice. She was eleven, and absorbed in thought as she was pretending to read the latest novel for 'young ladies'. In truth, it bored her to death, but she was far too preoccupied to pay attention to the trials of 'Janet' anyway. Zeru sat next to her on the embroidered couch, and asked her, frowning slightly, 'What's wrong?'

She fiddled with the tassels, but remained silent. 'Tell me.' He pressed.

'I'm jealous of Luna.' It all came out in a jumble of words and feelings. He just watched her, as she explained herself hastily.' We had class today, with our horse master.' She shot him a sideways glance, as if to gauge his reaction.' She's so good at it, a natural, and she always manages to be so beautiful and alive. And I just envy her, because she has the type of personality that draws people in, whereas I'm more of a quiet afterthought. But I feel ashamed, because Luna would never mean to make me upset, I'm just a horrible person.

He mulled over the problem for a few minutes and she gripped the book so tight her knuckles turned white. She never told anybody about the brief bouts of jealously she sometimes had about Luna.

'I don't think that you're a horrible person, you're just insecure. You and Luna are different people, with different strengths and weaknesses. Do not try and be your sister, Cyrah.' He told her eventually.

Then, he left, moving so gracefully his feet did not make a sound on the carpet. Cyrah was very still for a few seconds, then closed her book and went to find Luna and invite her to play cards.

xxxx

Luna and Cyrah's thirteenth birthday had been looked forward to with much anticipation. Not because thirteen was a special number, but because for the first time Zeru would choose their presents himself. Oh, the Brennan court had sent meaningless little trinkets every year before, but this time Zeru had announced he would pick them out himself, in that careless, almost thoughtless way of his. There was much speculation as to what he would buy; would there be jewels, would it be expensive, would the presents be different?

Luna didn't conceal the fact she was very, very excited. She took part in the numerous bets as to what the presents would be, she eagerly crossed off the days until her birthday, and she stalked Zeru numerous times to find out what it was, though he always caught her. Cyrah projected an image of absolute nonchalance, but secretly she was curious too.

When the day arrived, there was an air of impatience in the palace and the servants carried out their jobs with haste. Zeru arrived on horse, instead of a carriage, with his bag slung casually over his shoulders. There was no pomp and circumstance when he handed the presents over, he just shoved the hastily wrapped parcels into the twins' hands. There were obvious differences. Luna's was much larger and heavier too. Cyrah's was small, and suspiciously soft. For one awful moment she thought he had gotten her jewellery, even though her dislike for it was renowned.

Luna tore open her gift with curious ferocity, and stared open mouthed at the book in front of her. Her parents frowned; Luna was not a big fan of reading and to give her such a large book seemed idiotic. Then she squealed and threw her arms around Zeru, startling him with her exuberance. 'Thank you, thank you, thank you!' she sung, dancing around, clutching The Medical Encyclopaedia to her chest. Cyrah smiled gently, then carefully opened her present, ripping the paper neatly at the end. A velvet bag in a rich shade of burgundy slid into her hand, the contents seeming much heavier than jewellery normally did. She tugged on the silk strings of the drawstring bad, and stared in amazement at the item she was holding. It was a delicately crafted silver dagger, just shorter than the length of her forearm. There was no ornament or undue decoration on it, yet it was beautiful in a deadly way. It was exactly like the kind of dagger the protagonists in her books carried, and it had always been her secret dream to own one.

She looked up from it to find Zeru watching her, and she smiled in gratitude. His mouth didn't move, but there was a smile hidden behind his eyes.

xxxx

Later that same year, just after Zeru had turned fourteen, Luna admitted she was in love with him. It was whispered in the dead of night, as the fire was flickering and the curtains had been drawn tightly shut. They had been lying on their twins' beds, Luna staring at the ornate painted ceiling and Cyrah looking out the window at the stars. Cyrah had just been dropping off to sleep when Luna confessed,' Cyrah? I think I love him.'

Cyrah didn't even need to ask who 'he' was. She murmured something intelligible in reply, but was secretly uneasy. It should have been a good thing, everything would be so much easier if Luna married him; it would be a match of love. So why wasn't she happy?

'Why?' Asked Cyrah eventually.

'What?'

'Why do you love him? It seems a little unlikely.'

'I can't describe it exactly. It's when he smiles, properly, not like he does during ceremonies, I feel so... It's hard to describe to you. How would you know, you've never been in love?'

Cyrah didn't reply, but if she had to pinpoint a moment when it all started, that would be it. The moment when Luna, in her innocence, would for the first time, not understand her sister.

xxxx

Luna undoubtedly spent more time with Zeru. She would ride with him; they both enjoyed it. They would discuss the latest jousting tournament, she would show him her latest hobby(Luna flitted between them like flies at a butcher's) and he would explain the political debates that occurred at court. However, during all of their time with each other, he never showed a particular regard or affection for her. They weren't really close, but one couldn't be close to Zeru.

He was very quiet, and never wasted words. He was not exactly handsome, but he had an intensity about him that made it hat to look away. He was tall and compact, with strong muscles, but not built like many soldiers in Syen's army. Luna knew that she couldn't change his character, couldn't make him open and talkative, but sometimes she wished he would confide in her, or express some opinions to her. But he always turned their conversation to her, and avoided personal questions. Luna wished it was different, but he wouldn't risk losing their fragile bond because of her prying. She took comfort in the fact that he didn't have a particular confidante, or someone he entrusted his feelings to; she had no rivals, but it was hard sometimes, when she loved him so much and he treated her like a distant friend.

xxxx

When Cyrah turned 15, and Luna with her, Zeru discovered her secret. It had been an unremarkable day, the weather had been mild and no calamities had happened in the palace to cause alarm. And of course, Cyrah had disappeared.

By now, most people were used to it, and gave it no undue concern. She would turn up a few hours later her face impassable and her secret intact. Zeru had heard tales of it, and though he thought it was out of character for the quiet princess, did not remember it. He inquired as to her whereabouts, as Luna was helping at the hospital and he was a little bored, though you couldn't tell from his facial expression. He was answered with shrugs and vague answers. He frowned, and went to the library in search of her. She wasn't curled up in any of the armchairs where she could usually be located, and a brief search of the common room proved useless. Zeru was at a loss, as Cyrah wasn't of a disposition to spend a day in her bedchamber, and she despised the frivolities of visiting friends for afternoon tea.

A palace servant ran past, her face pale with worry. He blocked her path, and when she halted, inquired,' May I ask what is troubling you?'

She curtseyed hastily, and answered.' Lord Zeru, Princess Cyrah has been missing for over four hours now, and the weather is taking a turn for the worse. We don't know where she is, or what has happened to her, so we've sent out search parties.'

Zeru gave her a polite nod, his mind whirring. He remembered a few days ago, when he seen Cyrah pass him in the hall after one of her disappearances. There had been a twig entangled in her long hair.

Zeru looked out at the darkening sky, and as the first drops of rain, as big as bullets, started to fall, he raced for his horse, his heart hammering unusually quickly, despite the fact the exercise was hardly strenuous. He saddled the huge black animal swiftly, and rode out into the forest. He hoped it was just a foolish notion, but he had to check. The rain plastered his dark hair to his face, and quickly soaked through his shirt. He had travelled into the depths of the forest, where the roots and herbs were overgrown, and the only paths were worn by animals, rather than people. He was about to turn back, thinking he had been mistaken, when he saw a flash of gold.

One of Cyrah's trademark blonde plaits was hanging from the branch above him. He glanced up in amazement and sheer disbelief, to see the missing princess sitting calmly on the branch, so absorbed in her novel that she didn't even register his presence.

xxxx

Cyrah blinked, and a sudden sense of foreboding came across her. She looked down to see Prince Zeru staring at her with the frostiest expression she had ever seen him wear.

'Exactly what do you think you're doing?' he asked in a deadly calm voice that sent shivers down her spine. She could have dealt with him angry, but this mood was wild and unpredictable. She clutched her book to her chest instinctively.

'Reading?' she whispered nervously.

His glare darkened, and Zeru hissed. 'Oh, and you were so busy reading that you didn't notice the weather? Do you know how worried everyone at the palace has been? There are search parties out everywhere looking for you.'

Cyrah felt a twinge of guilt, but his patronising tone got her back up. 'I didn't mean to make everybody anxious!'

He shut his eyes, and sighed, as people sometimes do when dealing with obnoxious children. 'Well, obviously you have! Your mother is distraught, I hope you're proud of yourself.'

Cyrah was ready to lose her notorious cool and scream at him, when suddenly his eyes softened, from the shade of night to charcoal grey. She wasn't sure why it was so pleasing to her. 'Come on, I'll take you back and nobody will know where you go. Is this your secret hiding place then?'

Cyrah nodded, confused by his change of mood. He offered her a hand to jump down from the branch, helping her to avoid the muddy puddle. Zeru lent her his jacket to protect her from the huge raindrops. He pulled her onto the horse behind him, she slipped her arms around his waist, and the entire journey back she wondered how he managed to make her feel so off balance.

xxxx

Ever since Luna's fifteenth birthday, she had been officially allowed to help out in the hospital, never mind that she had been running errands and performing low-skill Healings since she was eleven. She was currently bandaging a wounded man's arms, trying to be gentle and efficient as he gritted his teeth from the pain. He was a hunter, and had been hit by a stray arrow let loose by a foolish young man.

She finished and tied the white cloth firmly, giving the man a huge smile. ' There. Done. You were really brave; I had someone in last week who fainted from the pain.

He smiled kindly at her and nodded. 'Thank you kindly, Princess.' She smiled; this was her favourite place to be, helping people.

Luna left his bedside, and visited an old lady who had the forgetting-sickness. Her family had come to see her, but she didn't know who they were. It broke Luna's heart a little, to see her look blankly at her sobbing son, and to innocently ask him if he was alright. She went over, and greeted the old woman, who gave her a toothy grin.

'Hello, Doctor' she always called her this, even though Luna wasn't even a qualified nurse. Luna smiled, and arranged the flowers her family had brought into a vase.

'Hello, Sally. Is there anything I could do for you?'

'Well, yes, actually there is. This nice family here seem to be lost, because they think they are here to see me! That's impossible, because my Henry hasn't even asked me to marry him yet. Though if you ask me, I think he's going to soon. He has that secretive look about him.' She beamed fondly, Luna felt her eyes sting as she recalled that Henry had died five years ago in a horse and cart accident. She gave the miserable family a nod and went on her way.

She was walking along a corridor that smelt strongly of sage, which was supposed to be a cleansing herb. It made her nose itch really, but she didn't mind. A messenger, dressed in the navy and silver livery of the Syen service ran up to her, panting.

'Princess. ' He greeted her hastily, unwilling to forgo manners even in an emergency. Luna felt a little panicked, and waited for him to relay his message.

'Your sister, Princess Cyrah, has not yet returned to the palace, and in light of the weather, we have sent search parties out for her. Your mother inquires as to whether you have any knowledge as to her whereabouts.'

Luna ignored his overly formal speech and set off towards the palace, after giving him a cursory nod. She had never asked where her sister went on her mysterious outings; she sensed Cyrah did not want to tell her. Could her sister truly be in danger? She started to run, hiking up her cumbersome skirts to a length that was most definitely not suitable for a lady, let alone a princess. She sprinted, faster than she thought she could, avoiding children and animals that had been let loose in the street, her feet kicking up dust on the streets.

She entered the palace gates, dodging a fat woman carrying a platter heaped with steaming food, and entered the throne room, where her sister sat wrapped up by the fire in a huge blanket, her nose red. Prince Zeru was pacing on the other side of the room, scowling, and even though she wanted to go to him, Cyrah was her priority.

Luna knelt by her sisters side. 'Are you well?' she murmured. Cyrah gave her a weak smile, and yawned. 'I suppose so, but I am to be confined to the palace walls for the next three months, and I am not allowed to read at all!'

Luna frowned. 'That is so unfair! I will talk to mother and father for you, Cyrah, I will make them be more lenient!' She spoke earnestly, but was interrupted by Zeru, speaking from the other side of the room.

'I do not think that possible, Princess Luna, for your parents were very worried. People often mistake fear for anger.' Luna gave him a small smile, and wrapped her arms around her shivering sister, who whispered in her ear.

'He was so angry when he found me.'

'Who?' asked Luna, a cold pit forming in her stomach.

'Prince Zeru. I've never seen him look so scary!'

Luna nodded and smiled, trying to conceal the irrational jealously in her heart. It wasn't as if she wanted Zeru to be angry at her, but he'd always treated her as if she didn't need rescuing. And Luna liked to feel strong, and independent, but sometimes she wanted to be treated as if she was precious.

xxxx

Luna and Cyrah were different, yes, but in some way they were very similar. The both had identical eyes, pale green flecked with gold, with a darker rim around the edge. They both slept the same way, curled up into a ball on their sides, clutching their duvet.

But they were so eager to prove themselves individuals, as twins often do, so they wore their hair differently and started other hobbies, all in an attempt to distinguish themselves from being the 'twin princess'' into 'Luna' and 'Cyrah'.

They did not spend as much time together as they should, or as they would like, but they pretended it did not bother them, so nothing was changed. Sometimes, each twin was a little envious of their sister, as they were so unsimilar it made the other interesting and exciting. They each harboured a secret insecurity, worrying about which twin was better.

Eventually, it wasn't any of those trivial doubts that split them apart. It was the boy with whom they both fell in love.

xxxx

After what Cyrah termed 'the incident', or her unfortunate disappearance, she was confined to certain rooms in the palace, her diet was restricted to plain foods and water, and her books of adventures and pirates were locked away. Her parents were determined to be strict, and although her father was softening, her mother had felt the all-consuming panic that comes with the vanishing of a child, and would not relent.

This had one unexpected side effect. Zeru came to visit her a lot more. At first, she had thought it was out of pity, or maybe kindness, but as he came more and more she could not explain it away.

He would come to play chess with her, or sneak a ginger biscuit in her pocket without reason. He would bring objects to show her, like a delicate map, and they would discuss the far off lands drawn on the manuscript. He would simply talk to her, mostly, about what he was doing, and ask her questions on her thoughts about the latest scandal at court, or the newest decision by the army. She'd never seen him show more emotion, or act more like his age, than when he was with her in the small sitting room by her chambers. Cyrah enjoyed these meetings, even looked forward to them, but every time she laughed at his stories, or shook hands with him after he thrashed her at chess, her heart constricted with guilt at the thought of Luna's face if she found out.

When Zeru came for one of these meetings, the topic of Luna somehow came up, perhaps through discussion of her riding skills, and Cyrah found herself mentioning the one thing that had been banned by an unspoken rule.

'I don't think she'd like us meeting like this, you know' she told him quietly.

'Why not?' he asked, but she had an inkling he knew. Luna had never exactly been discreet with her feelings.

'Well, um, one of us has to marry you eventually, and she might think… well, she might think that I'm trying to make sure it's me, as if I'm trying to persuade you.'

She peeked through her curtain of messy blonde hair( she'd left it down after he'd casually mentioned he liked it that way) to gauge his reaction. His face was unreadable, and he was watching her steadily.

She cringed with embarrassment at actually voicing this, but ploughed on.' I feel that…Luna has told me… She would quite like to be the one to marry you, but if you tell her I said that I will deny all knowledge of this conversation.'

He was silent for a long minute, and she sat frozen, wondering if she'd gone too far. 'But I don't want to marry her.' He informed her in a soft voice, one she didn't think she'd ever heard him use before.

'I want to marry you, Cyrah.'

She stared at him, her eyes wide and her heart racing. She could hardly believe her ears. 'But…' she whispered, but couldn't find the words to complete her sentence.

'But what?' he asked, just as quietly. He shifted, just a little bit closer to her, and leant forwards, ever so slowly.

She froze, hardly able to blink, let alone form a thought. She could feel his warm breath on her face, when they heard loud footsteps right outside the door. They jumped apart; Cyrah turned red and even Zeru looked a little uncomfortable. All Cyrah could think was 'What if that is Luna? How could I do that to Luna?'

The door burst open, and a general of the Brennen army barged in, fully outfitted in decorative uniform. This was unusual in two ways. One, generals never delivered messages themselves, Syen had a very successful messenger service to do this for them. Two, he had completely ignored protocol, and hadn't knocked or asked permission to enter. This meant that what he had to say was serious.

They turned to him, and he stood up straight, took a deep breath, and told them. 'The nations of Brennan and Syen are at war.'

'With each other?' questioned Zeru in his controlled, military voice that he used whenever talking to people he wasn't comfortable with.

'No, no, fortunately.' The general assured him. 'The Western Empire of Yaczech has attacked the Northern War, and then sent a very rude message declaring their intent to invade our nations and occupy our land.' He saluted, startling Cyrah a little, and handed Zeru rolled up parchment tied with a forest green ribbon. 'Therefore, Prince Zeru, you are officially called to lead this war.'

Zeru solemnly answered the words that had been ingrained into him since childhood, the ones he had hoped never to use. 'I answer this call, and by my sense of honour, and integrity, and duty, I will lead this country to war.

Cyrah felt cold, as if she'd been encased in ice, though she knew the room was cosy. They exchanged glances and he smiled slightly at her, his dark eyes unusually warm. 'I take my leave, Princess Cyrah. I shall speak with you later.'

Both he and the general bowed, and left.

xxxx

The Yaczech Empire was made up of most of the West, with greedy leaders keen to exploit the East's valuable resources. It had left Syen and Brennan alone, because they were strong and had well trained armies. The Empire had only been biding its time however. It waited until the two countries were weakened by war, then built up its forces and attacked.

There was no warning, no announcement, just a dishonourable battle in which they besieged innocent unarmed villagers, claiming they were helping to protect the interests of the West. They slaughtered anyone who resisted.

They may have outnumbered the Syen and Brennan armies combined, but the latter was highly able and fought intelligently. It would be an even-matched war, and both sides had a lot to lose.

xxxx

Cyrah found Zeru two days later, as he was saddling up to go to war. She hadn't even seen him since the declaration of war, as the palace had been a bustle of plans and strategies and preparations. She approached him quietly; unsure of what to say, but knowing she wanted to say something.

'Hello.' It seemed like a good start.

He turned, and his face lit up when he saw her. 'Hello, Cyrah. Have you, um, have you come to see me off?'

She grinned inwardly at how nervous he sounded. 'Yes. I was wondering if you would write to me while you were away.'

He agreed eagerly, and suggested he write the first letter because she didn't know where he would be stationed.

'It may be an irregular correspondence,' he told her,' there will only be weekly deliveries and it may be delayed because of the war so if I don't reply-'

She cut him off.' I would write to you anyway.'

He looked at her in something resembling wonder. 'Thank you.' He said quietly, and the emotion in his voice made her blush.

She took her leave, still red, and he finished putting away his tack. Less than five minutes after, Luna entered the stall, clutching a package in her hands.

'Here.' She said, forgoing a greeting.' It's some herbs you may need while you are away. I've labelled them all, so you know what you can do. Don't use too much; they're quite rare.'

'Oh, um, thank you.' He replied, startled.

'Good luck.' She told him shyly, and abruptly changed the subject by inquiring after his horse, and the talk moved to safer topics.

xxxx

Cyrah received the first letter only three days after he'd left.

Dear Cyrah,

How are you? I am sure the palace is very busy, as the Syen people love to make a fuss about everything. We are currently riding North, to aid the border defences. It has been raining almost since I left, and I'm soaked to the skin. I don't remember ever being this wet.

Apparently, I am leading my regiment, but the older soldiers do not believe I can fight. One of them was very vocal about this, so I had a practise spar with him. After I'd beaten him three times in a row, most of the protestors stopped yapping.

Tell me what you are doing. I presume you are somehow meant to contribute to the war effort, but your parents will not let you five miles near danger.

Yours faithfully,

Zeru.

She replied almost instantaneously.

Dear Zeru,

I am well, though considerably drier than you. If you have never been that wet before, I presume you have never bathed? I shall remember this when I next see you, and I shall be sure to avoid your presence as the smell must be appalling.

I'm sure you are perfectly capable of fighting, but merely wait until battle, where they will see you victorious and retract their words. However, don't do anything foolish in an attempt to impress them; I will not be happy if you get yourself killed.

And I'll have you know that the Syen people are perfectly reasonable. Most of the uproar is being made by idiots from Brennan.

At the moment, Luna and I are organising care packages to be sent to the troops. This means the remaining members of the town, who were not able to go to war, are knitting scarves, and cooking food for you. The hospital is also sending out medical supplies. All of this requires a lot of supervision, and that task has fallen to Luna and me, as my father is holed up in the council chambers discussing the latest battles, and my mother is assisting him.

I find it challenging, yet entertaining. I hardly have time to read. Please inform me of how the Northern wall is faring, and if there are any shortages of supplies. I can arrange to have things sent to you.

Always,

Cyrah.

Cyrah was not to know the effect the ending of her letter had on Zeru, who obsessed over its meaning and subtly inquired of his fellow soldiers what it signified.

They exchanged glances and just smirked at him, but they were a lot friendlier towards him now he showed some emotion.

They exchanged letters regularly in the months of the war, with Zeru including funny anecdotes about some of his friends, and Cyrah telling him all about the bossy old ladies who were knitting endless shapeless hats and gloves for the soldiers. She even sent him a scarf that she'd made. It was bright blue, clashing with the army uniform, and very poorly knitted, but he wore it everywhere. None of his friends had the heart to tease him too badly, as they were very interested in this correspondent of his.

He hadn't told them a name, but they were not mentally deficient, and could figure out it was one of the princesses, though they didn't know which one.

There was a very quiet bet going on, and so far Luna had the best odds.

xxxx

Luna rushed around the hospital, her arms full of linen, even though it was eerily quiet. There were less and less patients as the foolhardy young men and women who were most often in there had gone off to war, and everybody else was too busy with arrangements for the war.

Honestly, Luna knew that Syen and Brennen weren't ready for a war. They had only just recovered from the last one, and many men still bore scars from fighting. They didn't need another generation to be damaged by conflict.

She deposited the linen in the waiting room, which had been converted into a kind of post office, sending letters and necessities to the troops. The doctor who was in charge gave her a grateful wave and asked her to deliver a batch of pain-reducing herbs to the midwifery section, as a local lady had gone into birth, and since she was very young they were worried about her.

Luna nodded and ran to the west wing. It may be a bit of a comedown, for a princess to be an odds and end helper at a hospital, but she enjoyed the job.

It was times like this when she wished so hard that she was ordinary. That she'd just been born with no title and no expectations; that she could have made her own way in life, and have been recognised for her own achievements. But it was a silly dream, she decided, and there was no point in wanting what you could never have.

And anyway, if she had never been a princess, she would have never met Zeru.

xxxx

14 months later.

The war had been relentless. The Yaczech army had been ruthless, sometimes attacking in the dead of night, or firing arrows at the nursing tents. The Brennan and Syen army had defended themselves just as fiercely, but many lives had been lost; families ripped apart, lovers grieving for their other half who had passed on.

But it had finished. They had been victorious, by a very slight margin, but the Yaczech Empire had admitted defeat and had slunk away, back to their homeland full of sumptuous wealth stolen from other nations.

The army was returning, and preparations were being made in the Syen capital for a huge festival to celebrate. Even though the countries hadn't produced much grain or food in during the conflict, everyone scraped together their meagre possessions to help. Mismatched handkerchiefs were sewn onto string for bunting, children made paper chains out of old newspapers, and hand-picked flowers from the unspoiled mountains littered the streets, stuck in old vases and jugs that had been donated. It was not the grandest festival Syen and Brennan had ever seen, but everyone had put in their best efforts, and for that it was beautiful.

Luna and Cyrah could hardly contain their excitement. Each wished for the same thing, but neither voiced their hopes out loud.

Cyrah had received letters faithfully throughout the war, and kept penning her own even when the battles meant that Zeru's letters were delayed for weeks. It was always worth it when she got a bundle in the post. In the most recent letters, after the news of the ceasefire had been announced, he'd mentioned how much he'd missed her, and hinted at his continuing feelings for her.

It was strange to think, that had it not been for the war, he would have made his choice by now, and would have married that choice.

In an odd way, Cyrah was dreading his return. She didn't want to hurt Luna; but she would, as she loved Zeru, though not in the passionate, vibrant way Luna did, she loved Zeru slowly. She hadn't realised it until the letters started, until she noticed the way she would anticipate each one, how she would frantically worry if they didn't arrive. She had always been aware of Zeru before, but she hadn't thought she was allowed to love him, as she couldn't betray her sister in that way. Now, she knew that love didn't follow any rules, even self-imposed ones, and that no matter how much she tried, Cyrah loved Zeru like birds love the wind.

xxxx

Luna found the letters in the evening, when the sun was setting. It was a romantic scene, which made the discovery even bitterer. They were in a box under Cyrah's bed, hidden in the corner. Hidden from her. The box was almost overflowing with parchment, as each note had been kept, treasured.

There were 59 letters in total. Luna counted each one, and read them all, her heart shattering into smaller pieces as she did. It hurt more than it would have if she'd have caught them in an embrace; their love was spelt out in Zeru's flowing script. It showed in his caring questions, in his opinions, in his witty postscripts. There was more emotion in these letters than he'd ever shown to her, and it hurt so, so much. She always thought it was hard, loving him when he didn't return her feelings, but it was so much worse now he had fallen for somebody else. And he loved her sister, her twin.

She was still sitting on the cold stone floor, when Cyrah came in. Her sister froze when she spotted her. 'Luna…' she whispered.

Luna carefully turned to Cyrah, whose face was stricken, putting the letters back in the mahogany box and fastening the clasps. 'He wrote you fifty nine letters.' Her voice was controlled and even; almost emotionless. 'He never even sent me one.'

With that she walked past her sister, not even looking at her.

The next morning Luna's eyes were red and her throat was hoarse as she went about her chores, helping people with decorations and cleaning the castle. Her mother thought she was just organising the efforts, but what she didn't know wouldn't hurt her.

Cyrah was in charge of the food, helping out in the kitchen and finalising menu idea for the feast that was to be held in the castle. She helped the cooks dig out ancient cook books that had been used in times of famine to think of delicious ideas without over-stretching themselves.

The entire hospital staff, who were extremely fond of Luna, noticed her distress, but she refused to tell them what had upset her. Her friend Thomas tried to bribe her into telling him, but even her favourite sweet, which were very rare now, wouldn't persuade her to spill her secrets.

Luna entered the kitchen, her arms full of disused trays that had been taken out from storage, ready for the feast. She stopped when she saw Cyrah, but moved past her and placed the trays on the table, smiling at the cook.

'Thank you, dearie.' The elderly man said to her, his eyes crinkling as he beamed at her.

She nodded and turned to go.

'Um, Luna…' Cyrah started hesitantly.

Luna stalked away, trying to hold back the furious tears even those two words could bring.

xxxx

Three days later, Cyrah snapped. In retrospect, she probably could have chosen a better place than the busy town square to snap, but hindsight is always crystal clear.

The twins had been doing rounds to check on elderly folk who had no-one to care for them now their sons and daughters had gone off to war. They hadn't said a word since they'd left the palace, walking down the grassy bank in silence.

They had entered the square when Cyrah had tripped on a cobble. Her sister had kept walking, even though Cyrah knew she'd seen her.

'For goodness' sake! Luna, you could have at least helped me up.'

'Why should I?' her sister said dispassionately.

'Because I'm your sister – your twin sister, and we shouldn't let something like this ruin that!'

By now, they had attracted the attention of quite a few locals, but this escaped the notice of the princesses entirely.

'Something like this? Is it really that trivial? You lied to me Cyrah, for 14 months and whoever knows how much longer!'

'It wasn't that Luna. It was only letters.' She tried to reason feebly.

'Were they really only letters?' asked Luna softly, already knowing the answers.

'I wish- I wouldn't take it back, because I love him, Luna, I love him so much, but I never wanted to hurt you. Please believe that.'

Luna didn't know what to believe.

xxxx

Zeru returned victorious with his squad. He'd been decorated with many medals for bravery and excellence; Brennan was proud of their prince.

The First regiment galloped into the palace to deafening applause. They were greeted by Luna and Cyrah. Zeru dismounted, going to them quickly, but Cyrah avoided his eyes.

'Hello, Luna, Cyrah.' Only Luna noticed the extra warmth on Cyrah's name. 'Are you well?'

'Of course.' Luna told him, rolling her eyes. 'We've been busy though.' She fought to keep the mixed emotions out of her voice at the sight of him; happiness, heartbreak, confusion, sorrow.

'I am fine, thank you Prince Zeru.' Said Cyrah formally, still inspecting the ground.

Zeru's face crinkled with confusion and pain at her cold response, but he bowed stiffly and led his regiment inside for some much needed rest before the banquet in four days.

Luna felt as if she was in a glass box, watching everybody else rush by, for the next four days.

She watched as the dark circles under her sister's eyes grew darker and darker, as her already light skin grew paler and paler.

She watched as Zeru stopped trying to talk to Cyrah, retreating in hurt silence after his first few attempts failed dismally.

She watched as they both wandered around, miserable, and she hated herself for causing it.

She despised her own selfishness, yet she couldn't bring herself to apologize as she was the one who'd been wronged. She was angry at her own stupidity every time she saw Zeru glance over at Cyrah, look away suddenly, but always glance again. How could she not have noticed? How could she not have seen her sister fall in love?

But most of all, Luna was sad, for what she had lost, even though it had never really been hers in the first place. And she knew what she must do.

xxxx

The banquet was a huge success, everybody loved the food, the amateur entertainment was a big hit, and all the guests were relieved the war was over.

Luna waited until the alcohol had been served, so everyone was suitably inebriated, and would hopefully forget most of the details of the night.

Then she took a deep breath, steeled herself, and walked over to Zeru. He was surprised, and looked at her in askance.

'Could I talk to you in private for a moment please?' she inquired politely.

He looked a little disconcerted, but agreed. Cyrah stared at them wide-eyed, but then turned to her neighbour and engaged her in animated conversation.

They went to a deserted corridor, lit by a few flickering torches. Luna linked her hands behind her back.

'I need you to listen to me, without interrupting, for a few minutes. Is that understood?'

He frowned, but nodded.

'I love you.' She told him. His eyes widened, but he didn't speak. 'I think you already knew that. But you love Cyrah. And she loves you.' Her smile was bitter. 'It isn't such fairy-tale after all. However, I realised something in these past four days. I love Cyrah more than I love you. I'm not belittling my feelings, but if I had to choose one of you, it would be her. She is my sister, my twin.'

She looked him in the eye. 'I don't think she could make that choice, though. She loves you, Zeru, she really does. And I'm not sure if she would ever give you up.'

She swallowed the lump in her throat, and spoke the words that were the hardest thing she'd ever said. 'You have to marry her. You'd better make her happy, you hear me? I won't let anyone upset my sister.'

'Now, you are going to go out there and propose. Properly, mind you, you need to get down on one knee.'

He stared at her in amazement. ' Luna...' She smiled at him, a genuine smile, full of the secret love she would lock away.

'Thank you.' He told her seriously.

They returned to the banquet. Cyrah glanced up when they entered, and Luna met her eyes for the first time in days, and nodded at her.

Luna slipped into her place, and watched as Zeru approached Cyrah nervously. The entire hall fell silent with anticipation and curiosity as he stopped before her seat.

Then he knelt down before her, and asked her quietly, if she would spend the rest of her life with him.

He had his answer when she threw her arms around his neck. Everybody present cheered, and toasted the new couple.

Luna didn't cheer, as she had left. She went to the palace stables, and crawled in the stalls of her favourite horse. There, buried in the smelly straw and comforting warmth of her horse, she allowed herself to cry for the last time over Zeru.

xxxx

Cyrah and Zeru were married three months later. It was a modest affair, as the country was still recovering from the last war, but it was still beautiful. Cyrah was dressed simply in a white cotton dress, with a garland of red roses in her hair. Luna was bridesmaid, dressed in lilac with impractical shoes that she removed as soon as the ceremony was over.

Everybody commented on the happy couple, and only a few vicious gossipers mentioned the 'forgotten sister.'

Two years later, Luna wedded her friend Thomas, who was a doctor in the local hospital. Many of the court lords and ladies were shocked at the impropriety of the match; it was far below a princess, they muttered.

Luna's parents weren't thrilled with the couple either; although Thomas was by no means poor, he had no title and was ten years Luna's elder. They learnt to accept it though. Cyrah and Zeru – they always came together now – were simply happy for her.

Luna may not have loved Thomas in the intense way she had Zeru, but she was happy with him, he made her laugh, and they had a very comfortable living.

They had five children together, and they became the light of Luna's life. She adored them, and wouldn't have given them up for the world, or Zeru. They often played with their two cousins, and Luna felt at peace.

The End.

A/N Please review and tell me your thoughts.