Author's Note: Updated June 24, 2017

It was dawn, streaks of pastel orange and pink painted the sky. White wisps of airy clouds floated aloft in silence, over the tiny village that had just began to stir. The shallow stream that ran nearby babbled in a pleasant sort of din as the clear water glided between grey pebbles. Above stood an old cobblestone bridge, aged brick worn but still charming. Lush green vines curled up and around its small arch, over the side of its ledge and peeked at the neatly trimmed path.

From a distance, the gentle sound of humming reached over the hill, a familiar melody to the peaceful scene. It was as pure and transparent a sound as glass being rung with silverware. The gentleness of its tone remained even as pink tresses leveled the horizon and the slight figure of a woman emerged.

She was sixteen, dressed in a modest corset and a skirt as deep green as her eyes. Her complexion was radiant, betraying nothing that would suggest the long hours spent outdoors. From her lips came the enchanting song of ancient ancestors, war that turned to peace, and love for the land. Her name was Sakura Haruno, the only daughter of Duke Haruno, of Northern Solaris. The town's own personal angel.

Sakura Haruno was, in all respects, a bit of an odd one. Delightful enough company to keep, nearly ethereal by design, but fiery and with quick wit. She was one of the only women educated beyond the parameters of royal instruction, with a hunger for more and more information. She held on to the beliefs of her people with the ferociousness of a warrior, though she denounced any of their adoration. Nothing but love for the people of Northern Solaris moved her every step: to the market, by the coastline, near the square. In such a small village, it was impossible not fall in love the girl.

The children loved her as well. Most afternoons, at a quarter 'till closing time, the kids would flock through her shop's door, visiting Sakura to challenge her with riddles. There hadn't been one yet that bested her. When she wasn't busy, the children would beg for her to take them into the woods: to dance, to sing, to make flower crowns, or listen to her stories of brave knights and the dragons they'd smite. Everyone loved Sakura, and she, in turn, loved them back.

Though she may have been part of nobility, Sakura herself lead a relatively simple life. Their little countryside was a far cry from being considered industrialized, all rural and grassy. Not a factory nor train track in sight. In fact, their main export depended solely on the riches of their soil, a distinct Durum wheat. Their people were the humble sort, friendly and inviting, who went about their daily lives in peace. It was a quiet way to live, and as gratifying as it was serene.

Her mother had been a commoner too, she was told, and looked very much like Sakura in her prime. One rainy evening, years ago, her father, Sir Haruno, had tucked her into bed. But before he was able to leave, Sakura had tugged his sleeve, asking about her mother. She could still remember the sadness in her father's eyes as he slowly lowered himself on the edge of her bed.

'Your mother and I had met while I was on holiday in Venice, Italy,' he began.

'She'd been a street performer who sang and traveled across Europe, with no family to speak of. Rumor was that she was the most beautiful sight to behold, with a voice like a siren and a smile like a saint. An angel, with fiery red hair and mesmerizing green eyes. "Careful to get lost in them," someone had told me, "lest you be prepared to have your heart consumed." And they were right.'

Haruno laugh quietly at the thought, stroking his daughter's head. What her father had said was true. Though Sakura remembered little about her mother, there was a portrait of a regal-looking lady, hanging in the library, with stunning jade irises. She remembered thinking that the woman was gorgeous.

'One morning, when the sun hid behind a screen of clouds, I decided to step out for a stroll. Tour the streets of Italy.' He quirked his head back thoughtfully.

'It wasn't horribly busy. Perhaps a notch or two above our own market place. And plenty of bright stalls were on display.' He started to grin, 'I had stopped to view a children's puppet show when, while passing, I heard a voice chime from around the tight corners of Venice's buildings. It was as clear as a bell and rang in my ears. It was too fragile to be real, I thought.'

His hand stilled in Sakura's hair, lost in memory. Her father's eyes held a glassy, faraway look. He might not have finished the story had Sakura not broken his trance by tugging at his cuff.

'I followed its sound: over bridges, through throngs of people, around wooden carts. And that's where I found her, perched, like a delicate little dove, on the edge of a great fountain, singing to a small crowd of strangers. Her eyes were closed - she did not see me – they did not open until the end of her song. I remember then, the pain in my chest, like I was being struck by her glowing green eyes. She looked straight at me, and I knew immediately that she was the one.'

He turned to her with a smile. 'I was persistent, and when I finally got her to agree to a ride on a gondola... we fell in love.' Sakura's heart clenched tightly at her father's tender words.

Her mother had died from a sever chill at an early age, leaving her three-year-old daughter and her husband alone. Everyone in the village was devastated. They loved the Duke and his family very much, but at the time, there had not been a proper hospital within hundreds of miles. Duchess Haruno had passed peacefully in her sleep.

Because of her mother, Sakura grew passionate about healing others. Since she could not study practical medicine - the closest university was a several weeks' journey East - Sakura took to devour any form of medical information hungrily. She visited Berwick, their closest neighboring city, to tour the hospital and attend seminars on first aid.

At thirteen, the pinkette set up her own apothecary in the center of town, full of tonics that, at the very least, helped to prevent an array of potential illnesses. The people supported her wholeheartedly, and insisted that she fill their meadow with the herbs she needed. They had no money, and no space for an actual green house: the meadow was the best thing they had. Needless to say she was greatly touched by their sentiment, and gladly made use of their gift for her.

The sun drummed warmly against her skin as Sakura's curls bounced in rhythm, swaying from the high ponytail atop her head. She hummed another tune her father used to sing to her at night. It had gotten stuck in her head since yesterday, when she'd taught it to the village children. They were arranging daisies for their mothers, and singing felt appropriate at the time.

Little Bird learnt to sing in her cage whistling
Little Bird caught the eye of a little lark who heard her cry
Little Bird wrote him a tune, Fly with me far from this room
Little Bird fell in love, she fell in love, I fell in love

Sakura passed over the cobble stone bridge, taking a moment to smile at the morning dew, and continued on past a handful of cottages. Just ahead was her knoll full of fresh herbs that would eventually be ground into remedies, which she was starting to run low on at her apothecary.

The trees rustled in harmony, filling the quiet morning air with sound. Sakura grinned and swung her wicker basket around her waist. She laughed at a pair of squirrels chasing each other near her feet, and followed them with her eyes until they disappeared in the foliage. A mother bird cooed as her chicks chirped cheerily from their nest. Sakura spun once, inhaling the smell of nature, and climbed the slope to the top of the knoll.

Beyond was the edge of their condensed forest, lined with rows of tall trees. It was safe territory, since the wood wasn't nearly large enough to house wild animals. Perhaps an occasional rabbit, or a deer, but that was as dangerous as it got. The young lady dropped to her knees and folded her legs beneath her, careful not to snag her worn boots on the hem of her skirt. Contently, she started to gather bushels of Thyme, Lavender and Dandelion, arranging them meticulously.

Happily, Sakura lifted a fresh sprig of lavender to her nose, inhaling contently. Lavender was her favorite. They were good for treating burns and, when brewed correctly, made a wonderful oil that she would apply behind the ears of some of her more anxious patients. Besides being a wonderful perfume, it was a great stress reliever.

After her basket was about half full, weighing the left side down heavily, Sakura stood and moved her way to the forest line, where she picked Pine, Tea Tree, Cypress, and Echinacea. Echinacea was a pretty kind of flower, dyed a romantic purple, and useful in aiding the immune system. In secret, Sakura liked to think of herself as an Echinacea - lovely to look at, and incredibly potent. She was allowed a bit of vanity behind closed doors, wasn't she?

"Well look what we have here. A pretty little posy. What are you doing up and about, Little Bird?" a voice spoke from atop the hill.

Sakura just smiled and continued to pluck Pine from her spot, "You know as well as I that I'm nothing if not a morning sort of lady." She heard a deep chuckle before the sound of rustling grass came from behind her.

"Too true. I've yet to see you late to wake," the man spoke. His arm picked a cluster of Pine above Sakura's reach and handed it to her, which she accepted gratefully.

"A lady should always greet the day as it arrives," Sakura turned to face a handsome man who lingered at a respectful distance, but still kept her pinned in place. She shook her head with a smile, hitting him lightly with her small twig of Pine.

"Naruto, what are you doing so far out at this time? Shouldn't you be helping down at the Blacksmith's?"

At this, Naruto grinned, showing off two rows of perfectly straight teeth.

"The Pervy-Sage went off to buy a few things, and Kiba offered to watch the shop," the male leaned back, giving Sakura room to move.

"Anyway, I had a hunch you'd be here all alone and thought it best to kept you company. It's dangerous to leave a beauty unattended, " Naruto smiled. The pinkette curtsied with a laugh and started toward the path she'd taken, Naruto joining to her left.

Naruto Uzumaki was Sakura's closest companion, her playmate from when she was still a young girl. He was only a few months older than her, at seventeen, but looked to be much more capable than most. His arms were large and strong with years of labor work, his skin kissed tan by countless hours in the sun. Sometimes she found herself staring appraisingly at his large, calloused hands, as masculine as any could imagine. Sakura loved how handy he was around town. Naruto had always been a physical person: always needed to fix something or lift something. It was no wonder why many of the smaller village boys looked up to him.

"It's very considerate of you to come all this way just to escort me back. I thank you kindly," Sakura said.

"Thank the Old Man, he's the one who gave me the hint that you were out here," Naruto winked. Sakura chuckled into her hand in amusement.

Sarutobi, who Naruto affectionately called Old Man, was like the Elder of Northern Solaris. You could catch him at any time of day, relaxing in his rocking chair that sat next to his front door. He was more than willing to talk, and found joy in recounting old tales of his time in the King's army. He was respected by those who lived in town, and his opinion mattered a great deal. Sarutobi was like everyone's grandfather.

"That reminds me! I hear you were looking for more remedies to use in your apothecary. Old Man and I were talking about it yesterday, and he says that he might have a book on his shelves about medicine. He told me to offer you a visit if you like," Naruto said, throwing her a boyish grin. Sakura's eyes lit up with excitement.

"Really? Sarutobi has a book on remedies? Why hasn't he spoken to me about this before! Oh Naruto, would you mind terribly if we stop by his cottage for a bit?" Sakura tugged at his sleeve, as if the action would lead them faster. The boy just laughed and allowed her to drag him.

"I was expecting it, actually."

The pair crossed over the creek and strode through town, greeting the few neighbors who were beginning to opening their window blinds. They chatted about the new families around town, how certain businesses were doing, if the daycare was flooding with children yet.

"Since Pervy-Sage came back, I wouldn't be too surprise if our population all of a sudden boomed!" Naruto let out a hearty laugh as Sakura fought to keep an appalled expression while chastising him. It may have been a bit more convincing if she hadn't cracked a smile.

Near the center of the village there was a tiny house, almost inconspicuous with all the vendors set up around it. A white-haired gentleman sat with a pipe in his mouth, rocking to and fro at a steady pace. His pale eyes slid their way as the two stopped by his doorstep, feeling their presences, and smiled warmly at them.

"Good day, Old Man. I brought along a little bird, just like I said I would," Naruto introduced playfully, and Sakura giggled, curtsying. Sarutobi bowed his head, almost as if he saw her display of politeness, and waved them over.

"Good morning Sakura, were you able to gather a lot of herbs?" he asked. He took another puff of his tobacco pipe.

"Why yes, I did actually. Plenty to restock the shelves," Sakura reported.

"Of course, I will still be able to administer you your Lavender tomorrow. It's unacceptable to have The Great Sarutobi in a state that's anything less than healthy," Sakura smiled when he patted her hand resting on top of her basket.

"Such a sweet girl. Naruto has told you of a book I'd like to give you, yes? Here," the old man lifted a book that had been sitting next to his chair, "I'm sure you will find this very interesting." Sakura took the book graciously with both hands and stroked the binding lovingly.

"I don't know what to say," she whispered, "Thank you, truly. I appreciate this gift. Are you certain you do not want it back?"

Sarutobi held up a hand sternly and responded, "What's a blind man going to do with a book that isn't in brail? Keep it, please." It struck Sakura that it was funny how he was able to pick out the correct book for himself, without being able to see, but quickly forgot about it. Sarutobi was a wonder to everyone.

"Now head over to your apothecary. You can thank me by brewing up some more of your special remedies," the older man smiled. Sakura, having significantly shaken herself of her stupor, agreed, bidding the old man a goodbye, and raced to a small shop at the corner of the square. She could hear Naruto shout a hasty goodbye before hollering for her to slow down. Sakura laughed at his flushed expression in the distance as she unlocked the front of her door.

The front of the apothecary was made of old driftwood, brushed with a thin layer of white and carved lovingly by some of her friends down by the docks. A charming flower box sat quietly on the windowsill, a quirky color of orange.

The door squeaked as Sakura rushed in and it tapped against her shelf of herbs before shutting softly behind. The room itself was considerably bare: a hefty work table stationed underneath handmade stain glass, countless wooden shelves lining the majority of four basic walls, a stool here and there, and a tiny black furnace in the back corner.

Sakura dropped the large book on her counter and heaved herself onto a stool, setting her basket next to her. The desk alone reached her chest when she stood. Why she'd asked the carpenter to make it so unreasonably tall was beyond anyone's knowledge.

With eager eyes, the pinkette cracked the pages open, immediately spotting a cure for migraines. It read that Feverfew, a potent herb found most commonly in Central and Southern Europe, was easy to grow in any garden, meaning it would find sufficient home in the meadow. Sakura's attention peeked more when she read that it could also be brewed as a way to treat arthritis. She straightened in her seat, lost in reading; Sarutobi had pain in his joints all the time, which is why she liked to set aside a small jar of lavender oil for him. It soothed his aches, he said.

A small 'ring' came from the front when Naruto entered seconds later, breathing hitched.

"Jeez Birdie, didn't you hear me hollering for you to slow your roll? I nearly tripped up by Choji's piglet troughs." He plopped himself on a stool not too far away, rubbing the back of his neck.

"Sorry, sorry, I didn't mean to leave you," Sakura didn't glance up, but offered a small laugh, "I almost forgot that you were tailing me, what with how long it took you to catch up and all." Naruto frowned, unamused.

"That stings, you know." Sakura laughed again.

The blond haired male looked around the room, hand still hooked to his shoulder blades, "You weren't kidding when you said you were running low on supplies. Looks like the town's got you mighty busy this week," he whistled.

True to his word, the several glass containers neatly organized on the shelves stood at varying levels of empty. Many did not have any contents at all.

"Yes, it's been particularly active the past few days. It seems a lot of people are overworking themselves in the field," Sakura paused with a pitying expression.

"Even the children are starting to assist. They mostly make rounds, hollering at Shizune and them. Still, they must all be so exhausted. The poor things," Sakura cocked her head to the right, finally looking up from the worn pages.

"By the way, have things been well at the Blacksmith's? I haven't visited in quite some time. How is Jiraiya? Kiba?"

Naruto grinned fondly, "The Pervy-Sage is going strong. You'd never think that he was sixty-some years old. Stubborn as ever, too. Never knows when to give up the iron to Kiba or me, and ends up so tired he has to sit out the rest of the evening." Sakura chuckled, knowing just how hardheaded Jiraiya could be.

"And Kiba's the same, just louder. Always trying to take on the big jobs by himself. Just 'cause he's a year older, he thinks he can do everything alone. It's really hard to watch without saying anything sometimes," Naruto grunted in distaste.

"But you know him. If I even so much as comment on his technique, he turns into a big baby. I mean, seriously, that man's all puppy and no hound." He huffed and slumped more in his chair.

Sakura shook her head. "Kiba sounds energetic, as usual. If you really are concerned for his wellbeing, why don't you drag him here. I could see if there's anything I could do," she smiled, but promptly furrowed her eyebrows when something caught her attention.


"Hm?" he mumbled, not quite listening.

"Would you mind coming here for a moment?"

At her professional tone, Naruto paused. "What's the matter, Bird?"

Sakura frowned, beckoning him over with a wave. He stood, towering over her tiny figure, and had to bend down to reach her level. Sakura laid her thumb over his neck.

"Turn you head a bit, please." She gently nudged his chin away with her fingers. There, near the top of Naruto's left shoulder blade, was a large, fresh bruise, already starting to turn an unattractive shade of purple.

Sakura 'tsked' in displeasure, "Naruto, where'd you get this? Did you get hit by a piece of metal again?" She continued to stroke the injury, not noticing the male's red face.

"Y-yeah. I think it was from when I was helping lift a stack of iron bars this morning. It wasn't too serious or anything, just fell on my shoulder a little too rough." Naruto coughed awkwardly into his fist.

Sakura looked up, and seeing his averted eyes, quirked a questioning brow. After a second, she laughed lightly and removed her hands from his person.

"Now, Naruto Uzumaki, I don't suppose you're getting all embarrassed because a little filly is examining your bruise, are you? It would hardly do to have romantic feelings for your ex-fiancée," Sakura winked and jumped down from her position on her work-stool. She missed Naruto's saddened expression.

"Of course not, don't be silly. It's just hot out today, that's all," he responded. Naruto leaned against her table and turned his nose up in indignation.

There was a rustle in the background, and the 'clink' sound of jars being knocked together.

"It's not a degree above sixty yet, dearest Naruto," Sakura sang, and laughed again at his look of discomfort. He tried to sputter a retort, but Sakura brushed it off and began to busy herself.

"I'm only teasing. I know your feelings." She set down her arm-full of jars and looked at him. His eyes were hidden.

"No matter the time, no matter the place, Naruto Uzumaki will be my closest and dearest friend. Don't think that I'd still harbor a grudge against you after so long." She turned her entire body to face him.

"Besides, we were young. And I understood your sentiment. You've always been a kind soul."

When she received no reply, Sakura walked over and took up his hand comfortingly. Naruto offered her a smile, but it came out only slightly better than a grimace. Sakura accepted it. It was as good as their situation could get on this particular topic.

She dropped his hand and childishly commanded him to collect the other jars from behind his head. Wordless, but thankful for Sakura's purposeful change of subject, Naruto drew three clear bottles from the shelves. The mood lightened as Sakura continuously slapped his hand when he ground the greens incorrectly (which was the majority of the time). They stayed in an ease of playfulness for the remainder of the morning as Naruto helped Sakura sort her medicines, all trace of awkwardness gone.

Here, with a Loaf of Bread beneath the Bough

A Flask of Wine, a Book of Verse

And Thou - beside me, singing in the Wilderness -

And Wilderness is Paradise enow!

The halls of the Haruno Residency were as grand as any could imagine. There stood porcelain statues, bent and twisted into artistic poses. Brilliant golden tapestries hung from the high ceilings, brushing the spotless white tile on the palace floor. Large archways, lined in a row, leading out to a beautiful garden, full of cleanly trimmed hedges and fine flowers. But though all this was built with the intention of satisfying the taste of rich noblemen, instead it was maintained to high standard simply out of obligation. This palace housed the most beloved family of two in Northern Solaris: Duke Kizashi Haruno and Lady Sakura Haruno.

If asked, any citizen would agree that the Harunos were not a materialistic sort. Contrary to the image of most nobles, the Haruno's immersed themselves withinthe community. The Duke, Kizashi Haruno preferred to be considered an advocate, a man with the people's best interest in mind. Often, if one could not find him in his study handling political affairs, he was at the schoolhouse, assisting in the education of children. And while they seemed to live more luxuriously than most, the Harunos were notably the largest donors to town projects and schooling, giving up a large portion of their own allowance from the Capitol. It was a known fact, even well beyond Northern Solaris's boarders, that Duke Haruno was not a shallow man.

Sakura Haruno was very much like her late mother, Lady Mebuki Haruno; she was a gentle soul, generous and motherly. A life of nothing but peace molded her into a fine woman, adored by her people whom she tended to so kindly.

Midday rose and settled with a cheery sun high above the clouds. Sakura walked briskly, with light-laden footfalls. The halls were silent, the few housemaids that they had resting in their quarters. She turned right, up a decorated flight of stairs, and ended in front of a large oak double door entrance. Hurriedly, Sakura straightened her skirt and matted down her wild curls, loose from their once perfectly groomed updo. She knocked on the door and waited.

"Enter," came a low, muffled voice. Sakura gripped the door handle and pushed it open confidently. Behind a bulky desk sat a man, hair peppered black and white, reading from a stack of papers. The man glanced up and greeted her with a familiar smile, beckoning Sakura forward. He stood and moved out of the way, enveloping his daughter with a warm embrace.

"Sakura, darling. How is it that I see you only now, and not when I awoke specifically to dine with you this morning?" he chided softly.

Sakura smiled and seated herself across from his person, "My apologies father. It's only that I needed to visit the meadow early. My supplies had run low."

The Duke nodded, reclining comfortably in his armchair.

"Yes, I heard from one of my associates that your apothecary is doing splendidly as of late. Congratulations." He took a moment to give his daughter a meaningful silence, a blessing.

"Your Echinacea did just the trick for my illness. It was as if I'd never caught a cold," the Duke quipped.

Sakura's face softened, "I am overjoyed to hear it." A comfortable silence stretched as her father readjusted his sleeves. After a few moments Sakura spoke hesitantly.

"Father? Is this all you wanted of me?" At that, the older man paused in his ministrations - Sakura saw him tense.

Then, without looking her in the eye, the Duke responded.

"My darling, though I did send to have you for merry conversation, I am afraid we must speak professionally." Suddenly the lines on her father's face sink in, and the shadows of sleepless nights showed strikingly under his eyes. Sakura straightened her back and folded her hands on her lap expectantly.

The Duke sighed heavily, rearranging the papers on his desk so that he could fold his hands neatly without crimpling documents.

"It is no sudden concern that our humble town of Northern Solaris is less than prosperous," he began.

The young woman nodded, "This is true."

"The position we find ourselves in now seems to be... unfavorable. No, this is an understatement. It seems..." for a moment, the Duke looked to be at a loss of what to say, "...the Capitol is not consuming our Durum as they had been before. Our surplus is forcing our wheat's value to decrease. And unfortunately, we have lost any prospective importers due to its diminishing worth." The Duke held out a small stack of papers toward his daughter, who, with unsteady hands, accepted them.

"My darling, we seem to be in a grave situation."

Sakura hadn't looked up from the documents to remain attentive for the last part of her father's speech, but she did not have to be told that their condition was dismal. Sure, their town had been just shy of average in terms of finances, but that had been the case long before her family had stepped into power. And things had appeared content politically. There was little to truly be worried about - or at least, she had quite believed so.

"Father, my excuses... but I fail understand. Why is the Capital suddenly pulling their orders, though there are plenty of other plantations they seem to have correspondence with?" Sakura held up a single document, outlining the other orders of wheat being shipped from different locations.

"Ah, yes, I had a meeting with a friend of mine, Genma Shiranui, a minister within the Capitol, and asked the same question. It seems as though it is a trend," the Duke reached up and rubbed the bridge of his nose, a sign of his fatigue.

"A trend, Father? You mean..." she saw her father nod before she could finish her sentence.

"Regrettably, yes. It has simply become unfashionable to eat Durum wheat bread. The Capitol's people have abandoned their demand of our export, and the entire country is slowly following suit."

There was static. Sakura was sure it was silent in her Father's study, but all she could hear was static. It was a blow. A humiliating blow at the name of her beloved Northern Solaris, and it shocked her how the people of the capital believed they could make a game of her people's livelihood. As if they had nothing better to spend their time on than creating new and ridiculous fads to follow, all for the sake of entertainment. To be so inconceivably inconsiderate - had they truly believed that there was no one picking their grain from dawn to dusk? Had they not known that there were laborers who swore their lives on transporting the grain all throughout the country? What about those who had nothing to eat! They were practically laughing in their faces!

At the news, Sakura's face reddened in anger. Her grip on the documents hardened, crumpling the edges, and her movements became terse.

"So our people must suffer because the whims of the Capitol took to exclude Durum." It was not a question, and the Duke noticed the rare look in his daughter's eyes: fury.

"Sakura, I understand your frustrations. I to, feel the same. However, we must continue to act composed."

She stood abruptly, flashing a fierce look that was not directed at her father. It reflected her simmering rage, turning her eyes from bright green to deep emerald.

"I cannot stay composed when our prosperity, hanging by a thread as it is, lays in the hands of the frivolous folk! Though you were able to catch this early, Father, soon the effects will ruin the peace in our town! There is only so much we can afford on our own!"

Her voice raised with every word she spoke and by the end, Sakura was left heaving from the exertion. Duke Haruno sent her a firm look and silently commanded her to be seated, which she obeyed.

"Your passion is moving, Sakura, but it is very unladylike to shout, especially in the presence of your father." In response, Sakura bowed her head, apologizing, but not loosening her grip on the documents.

The Duke sighed, "I called you here today, not to upset you, but to discuss our next course of action." He, again, reclined in his chair, relaxed posture contrasting greatly with his serious tone. Sakura looked up, attentive, and began to slow her breaths.

"I have taken into account the future status of Northern Solaris should things continue their current direction, and have invited Lord Uchiha to stay in our home while we negotiate our options. He and his family will be arriving, I'd assume, within the next few days and will be residing with us until the week is out." The Duke lifted a tea cup to his lips and took a long sip. He had a habit of drinking too much tea when stressed.

Sakura pursed her lips, unsure as to the proper way to react to the news. The Uchihas were the current royal family over Vianesse, their country. Northern Solaris was located near the sea, where cliffs dropped off into open ocean, while the Capitol, the city the Uchihas resided in, was central; the city must have been at least ten times as big as their tiny town.

Vianesse's royal family was reasonable enough - never turned away the needy, ruled fairly over as much land as they could - but they had never struck Sakura as the type to spend their time concentrating on small villages like theirs. She wasn't saying that she was ungrateful for the Uchiha's support - them just agreeing to journey to their land would be enough to get them publicity in the Capitol - but she just knew that there must have been something else they wanted. The royal family were not stupid people.

Sakura concentrated on remembering any information that she'd come across about them. If she recalled correctly, there were four members of their immediate household: Lord Fugaku Uchiha, the King of Vianesse, Lady Mikoto Uchiha, his wife, and their two sons, Itachi and Sasuke Uchiha. The King and Queen were relatively kind people, strict, but not viciously so. Though they were married by a political arrangement, the two seemed to respect each other highly, and have ruled in peace for years.

Their two sons, however, where another story all together.

Itachi, the older sibling by four years, was a particularly poisonous personality - like nicotine. He was known from a young age to be very suave and charming, a danger to noble women and their chastity. Many scandals revolved around him, the amount of females he'd bedded, and if he'd be willing to give up his life of frivolity to settle down with a wife. A sacrifice he'd have to make for the crown. Though, Sakura supposed, it wouldn't be such a disastrous situation for him, considering she'd always predicted he'd commit adultery anyway. Sakura hated those types of men: piggish.

Sasuke Uchiha, on the other hand, was not as socially adept as his brother. Most considered the young prince to be the arrogant one of his family. He only studied with the most famed professors, refused to roam the roads alongside commoners, and spoke with an offensively sharp tongue. Despite the fact that he is the younger of the two, Vianesse tradition states that order of birth factored little in matters of succession. It was quite plausible for Sasuke to be crowned King, though he had just about as many passionate supporters as his elder brother.

Having two of the most infamous young men living within their residency would surely present some difficulties. But if she was to establish herself as a proper, respectable lady, she would no doubt have to deal with men like them sooner or later. It wasn't as if Sakura planned on staying confined in Northern Solaris for the rest of her life, no matter how much she loved it there. The pinkette bit her lip in hesitation; suddenly she wasn't too sure if she wanted to meet the royal family.

"I will give you further notice on when they will arrive, just be prepared. I would like you to sit in on our discussion," the Duke smiled warmly. Sakura's eyes grew wide, surprised at what her father had insinuated. Even though they no longer lived in archaic times, and political discussion were not solely for men alone, it was still a private affair. Only a noble's successor was allowed to be a part of important meetings, and even then, it was strictly when the noble felt their heir was competent enough to succeed them. In inviting her to join their conversation, what her father really meant was that he believed she was ready, that his daughter was capable of leadership.

To clarify, she stuttered, "By... by 'sit in on the discussion' Father, you don't suggest..." Duke Haruno laughed at Sakura's stunned expression and rose from his chair.

"My darling, you, above all else in this town, deserve to express your concerns. And you have the right to receive a response to those concerns. I have no doubt about it." He leaned forward and touched their heads together, a form of comfort he'd shown Sakura in her childhood. She smiled.

"You will make a fine Duchess someday."

He gave a final kiss on her crown, then pushed her out the door with words to return to the apothecary. Sakura stood outside his study for another minute, still partly stunned. Finally, as the idea had slowly begun to sink in, the young lady danced with bliss down the hall, thrilled beyond belief, and singing her great news to the hundreds of paintings displayed throughout the corridor.

Little Bird by the Fergies. The lyrics are so spot on that I couldn't ignore it. If you'd like more insight on the direction of this story, go ahead and listen to their song 9especially their acoustic version).

The poem was originally written in Persian by a mathematician/ poet named Omar Khayyam. Later, poet Edward FitzGerald translated it, along with some of Kyayyam's other pieces, and published his compiled work into The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. This excerpt was from the eleventh quatrain in FitzGerald's first edition. It's meaning is as follows: Live in the moment; love and experience the paradise that surrounds you presently.

I'm currently working on the next chapter of Little Bird, and am in the middle of editing the next installment of Sobriquet, my Action-Packed story. It's a little nerve wracking to be perfectly honest, since I am not accustomed to any other genre besides romance. The process is incredibly satisfying though, and I find that I've come to really enjoy writing action scenes. Perhaps I'll do others in the future. But before that I have already begun to sketch out a few skeletons - stories that will probably be posted sooner rather than later.

Thank you for your support, and I hope to hear from you again.


Mia Renally