Prophecy Story Index || The Sentinel Fan Fan Fiction
Set two years after 'Silent Song' .....
Wind blew gently across the sloping hills just to the north of Brightstar, capital city of Rillanda. Flowers dotted the hillsides with a smattering of bright colors. Tall green trees offered both shade from the mid-afternoon sun and a home to many a forest creature. Settled between two of those trees, on the edge of the wooded area, was a young man astride a dappled horse. His eyes were fixed on the tall, delicate spires and towers of the Crystal Palace in the distance, in the midst of the city. It had been a long, sometimes confusing, sometimes dangerous, journey, but he had finally made it.
Almost there. And then maybe I can see them, meet them. Maybe they can tell me what I want to know.
He shifted in his saddle, absently moving a hand to swipe away the unruly lock of brown hair that insisted on falling into his blue eyes.
"Is that the palace?"
Smiling, he moved to look at his companion, still in the shadows slightly behind him. "Yes, that's the palace. It has to be." He turned back to stare at the city in the distance, licking his lips nervously. "I hope . . . I hope someone is still around that knows, that remembers. It's been so long. And I have so many questions."
His companion was silent for a bit, then slowly moved into soft filtered light coming from the trees above them, revealing the shadowed figure to be a woman. Sunlight sparked off thick dark red hair pulled into a ponytail that reached just beyond her shoulders. Light, almost clear, green eyes joined those of the young man as he stared at the castle walls. Without conscious effort, she kneed her light brown mare to a stop next to the other horse. She shifted slightly, readjusting the two swords on her back, then crossed her arms over her chest, a small smile on her lips.
"You're not finding out anything by staying here, watching from the hills, Rishondan."
Rishondan threw an abashed grin at her. "Yeah, I know that. It's just, I don't know, what if they don't believe me. What if I've come all this way for nothing. Mother will be so disappointed. And upset. She was upset enough when I told her I wanted to do this. I'm only 16, barely old enough to be considered a man. And she was right to worry. I nearly got myself killed. Several times."
The woman nodded in acquiescence. "True, but you're not dead. You're alive."
"Thanks to you, Liralen. You're an experienced swordswoman. Unlike me. What was I thinking?"
Liralen shook her head, reaching out to lay a hand on his shoulder, squeezing it hard. "You were thinking of finding family. And some answers. You just got a little . . . lost on the way and wandered into the wrong people." She paused, shrugging, and pulled her hand away. "And as for me, well, I was there and you looked like you could use the help. And I was heading this direction anyway. Figured the company would be nice for a change. Light knows I travel alone too much of the time as it is."
Rishondan asked, "What will you do now? Now that you've got me here safely, that is."
"I don't know. Maybe get some work for awhile, then move on again. Maybe go down to Jourdain. I hear the trade's good down there. And there's always a need for caravan guards for travel through Gurodel. We'll see. I don't really have a plan. I just do what I feel like doing at the time." She watched in silence as the youth stared at the castle again, eyes wide and apprehensive. Finally she sighed and shook her head, laughing a bit. "You ready to go or you want to stare for a bit longer?"
He laughed with her, then straightened his shoulders. "Yeah, I'm ready. Let's go."
Fingers laced together under chin, Dorien stared intently at the open book laying on his desk. The words rose off the page, words that he'd read a hundred times, but still didn't understand. Words that he and Blaen had spent long nights in the library trying to decipher with no luck. Neither could they find any other reference to them.
After the death of King Helv, Queen Seyna returned to the land of her birth, leaving Bornath in the hands of their heirs. She mourned the loss of her husband dearly, planting the first trees in the palace courtyard in his memory. The courtyard became her sanctuary against distant family and nearby royalty, old friends and new enemies, and ancient words and new truths. Rhian spoke of circles of time and winds of fate, of prophecy and destiny, of trust and betrayal, of death and life. And so Seyna lived the remainder of her life in solitude in the land of her people, speaking of a great many things, all written down faithfully by her friend and companion.
Blaen had found the passage of text one evening when he was reading some of the older books in the library. It didn't sound right to him and so he'd brought it to Dorien, hoping he could explain. Which I couldn't, because it doesn't make any sense. Who is Rhian? Why is there no mention of that name anywhere else? I'm not even sure it's a Rillandan name. It's almost as if the copyist made an error, inserted a phrase where it didn't belong. Which is possible, I suppose. He leaned back in his chair, stretching his arms above him, then rubbing one hand over his forehead. Maybe Blaen is right. Maybe I should just forget about this. Let it rest awhile and come back to it later.
Dorien shoved the open book aside and dragged over a sheet of paper from the edge of his desk. I should probably be working on the music for the spring festival anyway. He had just picked up his stylus when there was a knock on his office door.
He looked up to see a court page hovering hesitantly in the doorway. Setting down the stylus, he smiled. "Yes, what can I do for you?"
The page, a young girl, curtsied, then spoke softly. "King Stefan wishes for you to come to formal court."
Dorien stood, nodding. "Very well. Please tell him I will be there as soon as I can. Thank you."
She curtsied again, then dashed out, disappearing down the hallway.
So much for working on the music. Wonder what's going on?
Blaen watched the two figures idly, a half-smile on his face, as he leaned against the outer door of the large, high-ceilinged workout room. Workout room, my foot. More like a personal sparing hall! He shook his head, his smile widening with hidden amusement. Swords clashed and clanged loudly and he winced at the echoes. You'd think after a couple years of this I'd find something to block out the noise or that I'd get used to it. Or just not volunteer for guard duty. He sighed. I must be a glutton for punishment or something. Jydan would probably say the 'or something'.
One of the sword fighters spoke up in a low, amused tone. "Palace life must be getting to you, Kell, you almost missed that one."
Kell grinned almost evilly at the man circling her as she moved with him to keep her eyes on him. "Nah. I'm just going easy on you, Jydan. Figured I'd let you win one of these for once."
Jydan snorted, clearly unimpressed with her reasoning. "For once. Like I haven't won before. Without you 'letting me win'. You just watch it."
She shifted her weight, motioning with her sword, still grinning. "We'll see."
"That we will." Jydan moved forward and attacked, forcing Kell back for a few moments before she regained her footing and pressed back at him, shoving him away. Blaen could only watch in amazement as swords flew and bodies whirled and dipped as they danced around each other.
I will never get used to this, this symmetry, this perfect balance of motion. And that, my boy, is why you keep volunteering.
Something beyond Kell and Jydan caught his eye and he turned slightly to see the hidden doorway that led to the hidden passageways glide open soundlessly. A moment later, a face appeared, topped by reddish blonde hair. Melaani! Straightening, he grinned brightly and waved at her from across the room. Her eyes found his and she smiled back at him, lifting a hand to spell out a quick, fond hello to him. As she stepped fully inside the room, she hesitated, eyeing the two combatants warily.
Jydan was the first to notice the new arrival and pulled up from his fighting stance, backing off quickly and carefully. "Kell. We have company." He nodded behind her and Kell turned as she lowered her sword.
Kell strode over to the young woman. "Melaani. What is it?"
The girl's hands sketched a few quick elegant symbols in the air and Kell's forehead furrowed as she replied to Melaani in the hand language as well.
Blaen jogged over to stand next to Jydan. The older man gestured to the two women with his chin, asking in a soft voice, "Can you read what they're saying?"
"Pieces of it. But not all. As soon as I figure out their current private signs, they change them. It's like a game to them." One that I am most definitely not winning. Even with my relationship with Melaani.
Jydan rolled his eyes, sighing. "Well, what can you tell me?"
Blaen watched the motions for another moment, then spoke. "I think, I think Kell, or rather Linet, is needed back at the palace. Someone has come."
"Someone? Someone who? Come from where?"
Shrugging, Blaen replied to Jydan's insistent questions. "Got me. That's all I can read. There's more, but I don't know what it is. Maybe you should just ask Kell."
Before Jydan could say anything, Kell turned back to them. "I have to go, Jydan. Thanks for the practice." She grabbed her sword sheath that was leaning against the wall near the door, sliding her sword inside smoothly.
Jydan called out quickly, "Wait! Kell, what's happening?"
Kell paused at the door, waiting for Melaani to enter first. "I don't know exactly. I'll tell you later." And then she was gone, the door pulled shut from the inside and the seam disappearing into the wall.
Neither man said anything, then Jydan started to grumble under his breath as he stomped across the room to get his sword sheath. Blaen followed him after a moment, chuckling softly and shaking his head in amusement.
Stopping at a bench set against the wall, Jydan shot a glare at him. "You find this whole thing funny, don't you?"
"Actually, yes, sorta. I probably shouldn't, but I do."
Jydan muttered something under his breath in response.
Blaen stepped closer, an eyebrow raised. "What was that, Jydan? Something about unfair advantage? Maybe one against you?"
"Oh, you wish. You know, I think you've got too much energy today. And now that we no longer have to worry about guard duty, maybe I should do something about that."
Blaen's eyes narrowed and he crossed his arms over his chest, trying -- and failing -- to look stern. "Such as?"
Jydan laid his sword on the bench and turned slowly to look at Blaen, a sly grin on his face. "Oh, I don't know. Maybe some practice in . . . hand-to-hand combat."
Blaen yelped, fighting back laughter as he did so, then skittered backwards as Jydan attacked him, sending them both to the floor in a tumble of limbs.
Kedric paused at the door to the workout room. He knew that Jydan was supposed to be inside this afternoon, practicing combat skills with his friend Blaen. Through the thick walls, he could hear vague thuds and voices, along with the occasional laugh. He didn't like to interrupt the Guard Captain when he was working out -- no one did -- but Kedric had his orders. Orders from the royal court. He shoved open the heavy door and stepped inside, stopping just beyond the doorway. Crossing his arms, he watched with a small grin as Jydan and Blaen grappled with each other for dominance. After another minute, Jydan finally wrestled Blaen to the ground, pinning his arms with large hands.
Jydan panted and grinned at the younger man. "So, now what are you going to do?"
Kedric also wondered. Blaen was smaller, not as strong, not a fighter by nature. Frankly, I'm still not sure what he's doing here in the soldiers' barracks. I would think he would feel safer, or at least more comfortable, in Academy quarters or something. But, no, they both insist that here is where Blaen needs to be. I mean, Blaen's a nice guy and all, and I know he can fight if he needs to but he's still no soldier.
His thoughts were interrupted as Blaen, still pinned, twisted underneath Jydan's heavy frame, then shoved upward. Jydan went flying off to the side, landing with a hard thud on his back, eyes wide and almost comically stunned. In the next second, Blaen had rolled quickly to Jydan's side to lean over him, chopping a hand down at the older man's throat, stopping just above the skin.
Blaen grinned broadly down at him. "You were saying?"
Kedric blinked. How'd he do that?
Jydan echoed his thoughts. "How did you . . . ? What happened?"
Blaen shrugged. "Just a little something I picked up from some of the other soldiers with, uh, similar stature as me. Comes in handy with big bullies like yourself."
Jydan rolled his eyes, then pushed himself to his feet, dusting off his clothes. "I'll deal with you later. As for now," he turned his attention to the doorway, "what can I do for you, Kedric?"
Kedric came to attention as he replied, "Your presence is being formally requested at court, Captain."
Blaen stood as well, laughing at the aggrieved look on Jydan's face. After over two years of being Guard Captain, Jydan still hated appearing at formal court. "So soon. Weren't you just there, uh, yesterday, the day before?" Kedric chuckled as Jydan glared at Blaen whose dark blue eyes were dancing with amusement. Jydan took a step toward him, lifting a hand. Blaen scrambled away, still grinning. "Nope, no more practice today, Jydan. I think I'd better leave now." With one last laugh, he dashed past Kedric through the open doorway.
Shaking his head, Jydan laughed, then said to Kedric, "How did the recruits do today? Any problems?"
Turning back from watching Blaen run up the path that led to the quarters he and Jydan shared, Kedric leaned against the doorjamb briefly. As Jydan detoured to grab his sword at the side wall before heading for the door, he replied, "No problems. And they are looking better. In a few months we should be up to full strength."
Jydan stopped next to him, clapping him on the shoulder. "Good man. I knew I was making the right choice in picking you as my second three months ago."
Kedric smiled, inclining his head at the praise. "Thank you, Captain. You are most kind."
"Now then, I'd better get changed and get going. Wouldn't do to have the Guard Captain late."
Kedric shook his head, a smile still on his face. "No, sir, I don't think it would at that."
Raven carefully studied the young man -- teenager really -- standing near the bottom of the throne room dais, a little off to the side. Not yet fully grown, but he was very lanky, indicating to her that he would be tall. His eyes were serious, determined, and more than a little scared. He almost looks how I felt when I found out who Stefan was so many years ago. Scared too death, but unwilling to break with the pressure. I wonder what is so important that he wants Linet here as well.
The young man, Rishondan by name, had formally requesting an private audience with the entire royal family. After some thought, Stefan had agreed and sent for Linet, then Dorien, thinking that it could be helpful to have their goodwill ambassador there as well. Rishondan had graciously stepped to one side, letting the last few court visitors pay their respects to the King and Queen and bring their wishes to their attention. Raven could hear the muted voices of the advisors and councilors of the formal court whispering quietly among themselves, most likely wondering about the young man and his purpose for coming to the formal court. As her eyes swept past the formal court members, Raven eyed the guards posted at the doors. Alert, silent, focused only on their duties. With Jydan as their Captain, they had been trained to be and do nothing less.
At the thought of Jydan and the fact that Stefan had called for him as well, Raven's eyes shifted to just behind Rishondan, to the woman who stood at his back. Nearly as tall as Linet, with a proud but easy posture, dressed in dark trousers and a long-sleeved white tunic belted at the waist, with a leather vest thrown over the shirt. Two crossed sword lay sheathed and strapped to her back, pommels sticking up almost defiantly just over her shoulders. Her dark red hair had been gathered into a ponytail that glided smoothly over the pommels as she turned to look from side to side occasionally. Her eyes, a pale green, were alight with quiet humor as they met Raven's.
Oops. Caught in the act. She smiled slightly, inclining her head in apology. The woman nodded back, a small smile on her face in return. I wish I knew her name. Rishondan hadn't introduced her other than to say she was his traveling companion. But once Stefan had seen the swords and the way the guards were watching her, he hadn't hesitated to call for one other person -- Jydan.
A moment later, the tall guard captain strode through the large entryway of throne room. Raven had to suppress a smile as the guards at either side of the doors straightened even further. Jydan nodded briefly at each of them, then continued forward, heading for the dais. His eyes narrowed when he caught sight of the red-haired woman and Raven saw his hands twitch in anticipation of trouble.
If that is how Jydan reacts to her, I wonder how Linet will react. Or should I be thinking of Kell?
Jydan eyed the red-haired woman as he walked forward, unconsciously slowing his steps so he would have more time to study her. As he strode past her to reach the dais, she met his eyes for a moment. A grin tugged at one side of her mouth.
And she winked at him.
He blinked once, then bit down on the inside of one cheek to keep from reacting any further, then dragged his eyes away from her. Inclining his head in formal greeting to Stefan and Raven, he let the appropriate words roll off his tongue. However, his thoughts were running in an entirely different direction.
Who is she? Why is she here? What does she want? How dangerous is she? And two swords? Somehow that sounds familiar to me. But I don't know why . . .
Stefan was speaking and he yanked his attention back to the King to listen before he made an idiot of himself.
". . . asked for a private audience with the royal family. As such, we require your presence for security concerns."
Jydan nodded, glad that Stefan had thought to include him in this 'private' audience. "Very good, Your Majesty." Hope Melaani can work a miracle and pull 'Linet' out of 'Kell' fast enough to get her down here. He threw a covert glance at the red-haired woman and the young man. He withheld a frustrated sigh. There are times when I long for the days when I could have just asked, found out what I wanted to know, and been done with it. He carefully rolled one shoulder under the stiff formal tunic, trying not to grimace at its scratchiness.
This is definitely one of those times.
Linet pulled her head away from Melaani's hands, standing up from the chair. "Enough. It'll pass." She paused, turning toward Melaani with a half-hopeful expression. "Won't it?"
Melaani eyed her a moment, then shook her head sorrowfully, moving one hand in the air. 'No. Not royal enough. Sit.'
Linet made a face, grumbled, but sat obediently, unconsciously smoothing the stiff fabric of the long, dark green formal court gown. She stared malevolently at the door that led from the private hallway to the side royalty entrance to the throne room. I hate appearing before formal court. Everything has to be so . . . perfect. Her hair had been properly styled, or at least appearing to be so, when they'd hurried down the corridors from her suite of rooms to the throne room. But just before they reached the last hallway, Linet had reached up and touched something under the silver circlet around her head, probably one of the long hairpins Melaani used to hold her hair up in an attractive style.
The mass of hair had tumbled down immediately, revealing the tight bumps and curls made by recently pulled-out braids, the split ends from the intense fighting of the morning, and the occasional tangle from tumbling on the ground. Not at all proper for a princess.
Removing the circlet, Melaani had shoved her into the chair outside the doorway and pulled a brush and comb from a dress pocket and had started to work. The comb had caught in a nasty tangle, not something that usually happened as Melaani normally took her time. But they didn't have the time to spare at the moment to do so.
Linet shifted uncomfortably, wincing as the comb caught another tangle. Melaani paused long enough to pat Linet on the shoulder, her version of a shorthand apology, then returned to work, gathering up the blonde hair.
Another voice intruded on them. "I thought you'd already be in there."
Linet recognized the speaker's voice and replied back, "We would be, but this mess on my head doesn't want to cooperate. I think I miss the freedom of just braiding it and forgetting about it."
Dorien sauntered over, grinning. He laid a hand on Linet's shoulder. "You have to dazzle all those young male nobles, Lin, keep them interested in the court. I don't think any of them have given up on snatching you up yet."
He didn't get any further as Linet grabbed his arms and yanked him down to her, displacing Melaani's hands as she tilted her head up and met Dorien's lips in a hard, fast kiss. She muttered when they parted several long moments later, "Tough. I've already got who I want and you know it, so don't start with me, minstrel."
Dorien smiled softly and leaned in to kiss her again. A hand on his chest shoved him back. And not Linet's hand. Both sets of eyes turned to see Melaani, foot tapping on the floor, eyes partly amused and partly impatient. She sketched a few signs in the air with sharp movements. 'Enough. You can do that later. Formal court now, not so formal later.'
Linet burst out into a very unladylike laugh, then covered her mouth, eyes wide as she glanced at the door leading to the throne room. "Oops. Hope they didn't hear that."
Dorien chuckled softly. "Well, if they did, at least they'll know you're in a good mood."
While the two of them were talking, Melaani took a long critical look at Linet's hair, then shook her head in mock disgust. She tossed aside the comb and brush, both landing on the pile of discarded hair pins on the table, then hurriedly dug a wide dark green ribbon from another pocket. With quick deft hands, she rebraided the stubborn hair in a loose, heavy braid, weaving in the ribbon as she did, arranging a few tendrils to hang around Linet's face artistically. Then before the hair had to time to realize it had been styled appropriately, Melaani snatched up the circlet again and placed it carefully and snugly around Linet's head, nudging Dorien out of the way so she could check the front.
Satisfied that the style would work, Melaani breathed a sigh of relief. She gestured for Linet to stand up and get into the throne room. Linet stood, grabbing Melaani's hand and squeezing it quickly. "You are a miracle worker. I don't know what I'd do without you."
Dorien whispered a low comment as they approached the door together. "Probably still be braiding your hair and looking like the uncultured mercenary we all know you are." He was saved from response as he opened the door into the throne room and gallantly stepped aside for Linet to enter. She shot a quick glare at him, then lifted her head and walked quickly, but with a stately decorum, into the throne room.
Revenge would come later.
Blaen tapped at Dorien's half-open office door. "Hey, anybody home in there?" He pushed the door all the way open and peaked his head inside. Only a cluttered desk and stacks of books, plus assorted instruments greeted his sight. He sighed, then grinned to himself.
Bet he got called to court as well. Hope they all have fun. Formal court is not on my favorite to-do list. Not having an official or royal position most definitely has its advantages. Now as for that book Dorien promised me. Where would he have put it? Hopefully not a top shelf, though knowing him, he would. Just to bug me.
He stepped all the way inside and walked to the large bookcase behind Dorien's desk, scanning the shelves first nearest the floor, then up to the eye level shelf. He ran a finger over the spines, murmuring the titles to himself as he went. Not finding it, he moved his eyes upward to the higher shelves, finally spotting it on the shelf just barely within arm's reach. Figures. Carefully stretching, rising onto his tiptoes, he snatched the book, then rocked back down on his feet, steadying himself against the desk behind him.
As he turned to leave the office, an open book on the side of Dorien's desk caught Blaen's eyes. He looked closer out of curiosity, then chuckled as he recognized the book and the passage it was open to. Our little riddle. And he's still working on it. He stared down at the words, moving his free hand to press open the book and read the few sentences again, even though he had them memorized already.
Who is Rhian? And why is that phrase included in the text? And why am I still so drawn to this thing? I've been telling Dorien for days to just let it go. But every time I go into the library, I find myself looking for something else to interpret it. I think I must know the library better than Dorien by now. Well maybe this new book will divert . . . .
A knock at the door broke into his thoughts and Blaen jerked up to attention, feeling just a touch of guilt for being in Dorien's office, even though he had a standing welcome to go there whenever he wanted. His guilt melted away when he saw who was looking back at him, a laughing smile on her face and sparkling in her green eyes.
Blaen moved out from behind the desk, smiling, the book he came for in one hand, the other book forgotten. "Melaani. Hi. What're you doing here?"
She grinned, signing out a casual answer. 'Looking for you.'
He stopped in front of her, spreading his free hand on his chest, eyes wide with studied innocence. "Me? Whyever for?"
Her grin widened and she only shook her head in reply, no words necessary as her response danced in her eyes.
Blaen moved his free hand from his chest and reached for her even as Melaani reached for him. Their lips met in a soft kiss which to Blaen's dironan nature sizzled with unspoken words and half-formed feelings, all directed at him from the woman in front of him.
It had taken them several months to become friends, several more for Melaani to truly become comfortable with Blaen's dironan status. The memories of the evil dironan who had stolen her voice still stood out strongly in her mind. But once she had been able to trust that Blaen wouldn't hurt her, that he would never do any such thing that this other dironan had done, then their relationship had progressed quite naturally past friendship to something more. They were taking it slow, neither of them wanting to hurt the other. For both it was a first relationship and they wanted to get things right.
The year before, when Blaen had first realized the romantic attraction he had for Melaani, he'd resisted, worrying about the seven-year age gap between them, among other things. And nothing might have happened between the two of them if it hadn't have been for their friends which included Dorien's gentle and amused encouragement and Jydan and Kell's not-so-subtle nudges. Not-so-subtle. Make that downright literal!
Blaen pulled back slowly, leaving both arms around Melaani's waist. She smiled up at him, eyes half closed, pleasant contentment drifting off her in soft waves that warmed Blaen's soul. After Melaani had began to trust him again, Blaen had started to leave his inner barriers down more and more with her, picking up on her emotions, using them to understand her usually more than her words. He hadn't told Jydan what he was doing since he knew the older man would most likely worry that something could happen to overload him again.
He worries too much about me anyway. Besides, he's the one who told me to go where my heart told me to and that I needed to learn to risk again, to trust another person just as much as I trust him, to let someone else into my soul.
He moved one hand from around Melaani's waist and laid it gently on her cheek, stroking the soft skin, cupping her face. She lifted an eyebrow in question. He smiled at her. "Just thinking how lucky I am."
She shifted and brought one hand up, signing quickly, emphatically. 'How lucky we are.'
Blaen caught her hand and kissed her palm before pressing it to his chest, over his heart. "How lucky we are." He leaned forward and they shared another soft kiss before Blaen finally released her. He gestured toward the door and they walked out slowly, Blaen's voice echoing quietly as they disappeared down the hallway.
"Now, then, since you've found me, maybe you can tell me what's going on at court, hm?"
Rishondan watched as the guards pulled the doors shut after themselves, the last to leave the throne room after the other court members. Taking a deep breath, he turned back to face the front of the room. King Stefan, Queen Raven, and Princess Linet met his eyes expectantly. The Royal Bard, Dorien, stood near the edge of the dais, as did the guard captain, Jydan. He glanced to his side and found Liralen smiling quiet encouragement at him.
"Rishondan, you asked for a private audience." Stefan leaned forward slightly, curiosity written plainly in his brown eyes.
"That I did, Your Majesty." Rishondan stepped toward the dais a little, straightening his shoulders and absently swiping at the lock of brown hair that fell into his eyes. Here goes everything. "Thank you for agreeing to see me. As I said earlier, my name is Rishondan."
Raven interrupted softly, "And your companion?"
Rishondan turned slightly, looking back. "This is Liralen. A friend who was kind enough to travel with me."
Liralen inclined her head in respect to Stefan and Raven. "Your Majesties." A moment later, she shifted slightly toward Linet's direction and met her eyes as well before again inclining her head. "And Your Highness."
Raven asked hesitantly, her eyes drawn to the swords crossed on Liralen's back, "Are you a mercenary, Liralen?"
Liralen grinned. "Of a sort. I mean neither your country or your people any harm, Queen Raven, of that be assured. I have been traveling for several years. It was only by chance that I met up with young Rishondan here." She paused, looking at the young man for a moment. "He seemed in need of a traveling companion, so I joined him."
Rishondan blushed. "Liralen is too kind. I ran into some bad characters on my way here. I'm not sure I would've made it here without her help." Liralen inclined her head to him but didn't say anything further, merely gestured for him to continue with his story to the royal family.
Yeah, that is what I'm here for.
Taking another breath, he straightened his shoulders. "Your Majesties, Your Highness, I came because of my grandfather, a man I never knew, but have heard about for as long as I can remember."
Stefan lifted an eyebrow and exchanged a quick glance with Raven before asking, "Your grandfather. Is he someone we should know?"
"You did. A long time ago." He hesitated, then forced himself on. "Before the war with Seth." Stefan, Raven, and Linet all stiffened slightly at the mention of that name although none of them spoke. Swallowing, he finished quietly, "I am from Bornath. My mother's name is Catriona and my grandfather's name was Danilon."
In the brief silence that followed, Dorien was the first to react. He stepped past Jydan and walked over to stand in front of Rishondan, looking him up and down. Rishondan held his breath in anticipation. For all the war was over and peaceful relations had been established between the two countries, he knew that there still had to be some bad feelings and memories left over from that time.
Even if Danilon was on their side.
Dorien's voice was quiet, almost introspective. "Dani never spoke of a family to any of us. At least not a wife and children." He paused, then went on. "However, he did talk to Andrel quite often, and with Dani's permission, Andrel talked to Tulan."
Rishondan said, "Andrel. I know that name. He was the one who Gwyna, Dani's sister, left with, right?"
From behind Dorien, Raven replied, "Yes, Andrel was my father. Gwyna was my mother."
Rishondan swallowed. "My mother told me. Somehow she knew." He looked back at Dorien. "The other person, Tulan? That name I don't know."
Dorien continued, "Tulan was the Royal Bard and resident historian at the time. Tulan's journals speak of Dani's wife Eliana and of a daughter he met only once whose name was Catriona."
Rishondan breathed out in a rush. "Yes. Eliana was my grandmother. I never knew her. She died when my Uncle Elirand was born. And my mother has only a vague memory of her voice. But she left journals and letters with her memories of Dani and why she wasn't with him. And her closest friend Michela told my mother stories which she passed on to her children, including myself."
Stefan held out a hand to Raven and they rose from their thrones and descended the dais steps to stand next to Dorien. Jydan made as if to go closer to them, but Stefan raised a hand and shook his head. Jydan backed off reluctantly and threw a quick look at Linet whose own eyes were narrowed slightly.
The king spoke softly, "Rishondan, you must understand why we are so hesitant to believe you. Dani was a good friend, a very dear friend, who paid for our lives with his own. We have to be careful who we trust."
"I do know. And I understand. I don't know that I have a way to prove who I am to you, but I want to try."
Dorien cleared his throat. "Well, there may be a way. Did your mother ever speak to you of a birthmark?"
Rishondan frowned. "A birthmark? Um, well, no, but she has one. Right here." He touched his upper chest. "Most of the time you can't see it. But at night, when she wears her dressing gowns or something, well, you know." He blushed, lowering his eyes.
Raven cocked her head, looking at Dorien. "And what does that mean? You didn't ask that question idly."
Dorien shook his head. "No, I didn't. Tulan quoted two short letters of Dani's word-for-word in his journals. One was from Michela, telling him of Eliana's death. The other one, an earlier one, was written by Eliana herself, telling Dani of Catriona's birth and of a birthmark that she shared with Dani." He touched a few fingers to his upper chest. "One that was above her heart."
Raven looked back at Rishondan and reached out a hand to him, tilting up his face with two fingers under his chin. "Well, I guess this makes us cousins of a sort." She smiled. "Welcome to the family, Rishondan."
Jydan stripped off the formal overtunic and tossed it on the bed, uncaring that it would get wrinkled. Blaen would undoubtedly chide him about it later. Let him. I think he enjoys doing it. Shaking his head in fond exasperation, Jydan sat on the edge of bed to yank off the black polished boots -- the ones he wore only for court purposes. Dropping first one, then the other, on the ground, he wiggled his toes in pleased relief. The formal boots always seemed so cramped compared to his everyday footwear. Probably because they don't get worn very often.
Quickly, he finished exchanging the rest of his clothes for his normal attire -- pants, tunic, leather overvest, and correctly fitting boots. Striding out to the front door, he snagged his sword and sheath before leaving. Court had made him late for the daily late afternoon practice. He knew Kedric could handle it, but he still preferred to be there, to see his soldiers and guards in action, see what improvements had been made and what still needed to be done.
As he jogged down the outside steps that led from their quarters to the main barracks area and the fighting/practicing yard, Jydan considered what had happened at court. Even if I didn't know Dani, I know just from the stories Blaen tells me about him that he was important and special to this family. Instrumental in getting Gwyna and Andrel out of Bornath and he was the one who warned them about Seth and the coming war. And now his grandson appears. Still not sure why, other than he wants to know about Dani. He shrugged. Which I guess is as good a reason as any. Could have been much worse. He could have been coming for vengeance or some such thing.
Thoughts of Rishondan inevitably led to his red-haired female companion, Liralen. Now there is a puzzle if I've ever seen one. He frowned to himself. A puzzle in a very inviting package, but a puzzle nonetheless. I wonder how long she plans to stick around. Maybe I could talk to her about those swords of hers. There's something about them. . . .
Jydan smoothed away his frown as he turned the corner and came into view of the practice yard. Those swords. I know I recognize them from somewhere.
Shoving away those thoughts for the moment, he turned his attention to his people, nodding a greeting to Kedric as he walked toward him. Later. I'll ask Blaen. He probably knows. And if he doesn't, he knows where to find out.
One last thought flitted through his mind before he threw himself into the practice.
I wonder what Kell thinks of her.
Linet excused herself as soon as she could from the throne room, claiming responsibilities elsewhere. Raven looked about to protest, but Stefan has merely nodded for her to go. Jydan's already left since he wasn't truly needed anymore. And Dorien is in his element. Mother and Father can tell enough stories to keep Rishondan busy for awhile. And Liralen . . . . She shoved the side door to the throne room closed, then gathered up part of the long, full skirt in one hand so she could walk faster and began to make her way through the hallways up to her suite of rooms.
She did have things she had to do -- even as a princess she had duties to attend to. She just wasn't planning to do anything about those duties, but she had to get out of the throne room. Between the memories of Dani that the appearance of Rishondan had dragged up and the curiously penetrating eyes of Rishondan's mercenary friend, Liralen, she had to leave. 'Linet' was having a difficult time keeping 'Kell' in her place and out of the throne room.
There's just something about that woman that rubs me the wrong way. I don't know what, but . . .
Shaking her head, Linet snorted quietly to herself. I'm probably just jealous of her freedom to go and do what she wants without the restrictions of a royal birth. Stop thinking about her. Just let it go. She's not going to do anything -- even if she did keep looking at me. It was probably just because I wasn't saying much. Didn't help that I couldn't sit still. Too itchy.
Upon reaching her suite, Linet peaked her head into Melaani's room. The young girl wasn't there. With Blaen no doubt. Linet had to smile about that. Their two young lovebirds were adorable to watch and made everybody happy, made everyone want to be in love, even if they already were.
Like Dorien and I.
Carefully removing the full court gown, she laid it flat on the bed, not trusting herself to hang it up without disturbing the other gowns in her 'royal outfit' closet. Last time she'd tried, Melaani had slapped her hand away and scowled at her. Not wanting to be on the receiving end of that scowl again, Linet had left that closet -- and the gowns within -- alone. Instead, she opened the other closet, the one with her more ordinary clothes, usually skirts and blouses, plus a few casual dresses. She stared inside, wondering what she should wear. And while her eyes were on her clothes, her mind went back to thinking about other, more pressing, matters.
Her relationship with Dorien was still slowly progressing, sometimes too slow. Especially in the eyes of the royal court. They wanted another heir in addition to Linet. And for that, Linet needed to marry. Preferably soon. And while Dorien wasn't among their first choices, he was acceptable in most eyes, more acceptable as each day passed. Linet was 28, Dorien 31. Linet had heard vague rumblings among the court advisors and councilors about her age and the fact she wasn't married, nor had children. Linet knew that her parents were providing interference for her, to keep her separate from the debate, to give her time to acclimate herself to becoming royalty again, to accept the love that Dorien so freely offered rather than be married to one of the few nobles left in the kingdom or to a man from another country.
They know I won't be pressured into anything and that I'll only marry for love. She paused, looking toward her full-length mirror in sudden realization. And Dorien is the one I love.
Clad in her long grey silk slip, Linet stared at her reflection in the mirror, wondering, not for the first time, what it was about her that made Dorien so willing to put up with her, made him fall in love with her so quickly and so completely. And make him want to marry me, rule Rillanda with me. What is it that he sees? She never saw the things he saw. She always saw a warrior still trying to fit into a life she'd left behind so long ago. It was getting easier each day, but never quite easy enough. If it wasn't for the fact that her country, her people, needed her to stay here, to be Princess Linet, to eventually be Queen Linet, well, then Kellessan would reappear and ride away, leaving the royal life and all its trappings behind her.
But her sense of duty, of loyalty, of honor, kept her in Rillanda, in Brightstar. This was her home. It was the land into which she had been born, the land for which she had fought, the land to which she was bound. It was also, above all else, a love of its people, her people, that kept her in Rillanda. She could no more leave them than she could deny who she was, who she had been, and who she was to become.
Lifting a hand, she lightly touched the mirror with a few fingers, tracing the reflection of her face with her fingertips. Her eyes rose to the see the silver circlet atop her head. She moved her hand to remove the circlet, then ran her sensitive fingers over the delicate filagree and design. Kelesa's words to her rang in her head, as they had quite often in the last few years.
And now you must take up what I left behind -- that of the eventual rulership of Rillanda. The land has impatiently stirred for six hundred years for the return of the true ruler of my blood to its throne. It has waited for the Protector -- you are she, as I could not be. Be of courage, Linet, known as Kellessan, daughter of no one. For that which you have worked for will not be taken away. You have lived your life and done what was prophesied. Live in peace and happiness.
Peace and happiness. She sighed, lifting her eyes back to the mirror, seeing in her mind's eye her two selves standing on either side of her. Linet, princess, royal, heir to the Rillandan throne. Kellessan, swordswoman, warrior, more blood on her hands than she wanted to remember.
Maybe it's time I made a choice. A choice of who I want to be. A choice of who I am.
Only last week, Dorien had spoken of marriage. He did so very cautiously and very obliquely, never actually referring to the two of them. But Linet had seen it in his eyes, heard it in his voice, and felt it in his hand where he had held hers, stroking his thumb over the back of her hand. At one time, they might have spoken of marriage much earlier, but shortly after Melaani began to work in the palace, the truth about the once-closer, extremely brief, relationship between herself and Jydan came out by accident. The results had been terrible, almost tearing her and Dorien apart. Hurt at what he saw as a deception, Dorien had run, forcing Linet to go after him, to explain to him what happened then and in the past. The revelation had unnerved and unsettled the bard. It had taken a very serious, very painful, discussion before he had been willing to forgive her. And after that, their relationship had been on rocky ground for awhile. It had taken time for them to put the pieces back together well enough that either one of them felt ready to talk about marriage again.
Poor Blaen. I don't know that he's ever been so mortified and pitifully sorry in his life. It was an accident. And it wasn't all his fault -- Jydan and I certainly didn't help matters. And I should have told the truth to Dorien from the beginning. I've known since he met Jydan that he didn't feel up to par with him, that he was comparing himself to Jydan and how much better he thinks 'Kellessan' fits with Jydan.
She paused, thinking about what she had felt for Jydan so many years ago, before she had met Dorien. Yes, she'd been taken with the tall, handsome mercenary. Both of them had been without companionship of the opposite gender for so much of the time, though for Kell, it had been more of a conscious choice than for Jydan. But even as they had warmed toward each other, she knew, somewhere deep inside, that it could never work, that she couldn't allow herself to feel what she was feeling.
It had taken a little time for her heart to listen to her head, for her better wisdom to overrule what her body wanted her to do. Jydan had been disappointed, but being the gentleman he was, he didn't protest her decision, simply let her go and never brought it up again. It took a bit for the heat between them to disappear, but it did. And it never came back. They were friends now, very strong, very solid friends, but only that. Her heart belonged to Dorien. And Jydan's heart? She grinned. Well, it was still available -- as nearly all the single young women in Brightstar had noticed. He had no lack of admirers, that was for sure. Neither did Blaen, even though he was taken.
Shaking her head, she returned her thoughts to Dorien. He was one of the few who accepted her as she was, both the princess and the warrior. Not even her parents accepted her warrior half as easily as Dorien.
He once told me I would need both to rule Rillanda. And he was probably right. He usually is.
Linet looked over at her dressing table where a single red rose in a vase decorated one side. Dorien had given it to her yesterday, a gift of 'just because I love you'. And just as I'll need both the princess and the warrior to rule, so do I need Dorien.
Glancing back at the mirror, she imagined she could see the disparate sides of her self merge into one, becoming whole, becoming 'Linet, known as Kellessan', becoming 'she for whom' Rillanda had awaited for six hundred years to return. Smiling, feeling a new and deep peace in her soul, she turned away, heading back to her closet to find something to wear. Next time Dorien brought up marriage, he would be in for a small, and hopefully pleasant, surprise.
And it had better be soon. Because if it isn't, I might just ask him myself instead of waiting.
From the shadows just beyond the practice yard, Liralen leaned against the outside wall of a barracks building, arms crossed, observing the fighters as they danced around each other, swords and quarterstaffs flying, the sounds of voices and clanging weapons echoing across the yard.
Once she had realized that Rishondan didn't need her presence any longer to talk to the king, the queen, and the royal bard, she had asked to be excused. King Stefan had called for a page to show her to a room where she had been invited to stay as long as she liked. Once the page had left, she had decided to explore a little.
Her exploration had led to the soldiers' barracks and the practice yard where Guard Captain Jydan was currently working with his guards. Pairs of guards were scattered throughout the wide open area, some using swords, other quarterstaffs, a few even practicing hand-to-hand on the hard dirt. Liralen's eyes were fixed on Jydan. He stood at the edge of the practice area, demonstrating a particular move to a younger guard, going through it slowly and carefully, explaining how and why it worked. Or at least Liralen assumed from the patient expression on his face and the approving nod when the guard got it right. She couldn't really hear anything specific from where she was standing other than his general tone of voice.
Jydan walked away from the guard and motioned him back to his partner. Liralen watched as Jydan turned, eyes scanning the barracks and the surrounding area as he paced around the edges of the practice yard. I bet he does that constantly. He has that look about him. And he doesn't act like a typical soldier, more like a mercenary. Jydan's eyes swept past her position. He stiffened, then looked back, eyes narrowing in suspicion, hands curling at his sides. Definitely a mercenary.
Liralen stepped forward into the light before Jydan could raise an alarm. "Greetings, Guard Captain Jydan. I apologize for alarming you."
He relaxed, then nodded in acknowledgment as he walked toward her. "Liralen. May I do something for you?"
She shook her head. "I was watching you work. You've done well, I see. Much better than I think anyone would expect considering how much this country has gone through in recent years."
Jydan inclined his head. "Thank you." He paused, then asked, "Are you Rillandan, then?"
"Yes. And you are not, I would guess. Neither have you lived the life of a soldier for long."
"Correct on both counts. I am Eirenan and I've been a mercenary for most of my life. I was asked to serve as Guard Captain since there was no one else who could take the job."
Liralen lifted an eyebrow. "Asked? Asked by whom?"
"By the King and Queen. Though more directly I suppose by Kellessan. I worked with her some in the last few years before the retaking of Brightstar."
Kellessan. Somehow I'm not surprised. She nodded. "Hmm. Yes. I had heard something about her not wanting to stay in Brightstar too long."
Jydan shrugged. "I think she has always been a wanderer, never content to stay in one place too long. She shows up from time to time, but not too often much anymore. Have you ever met her?"
"I have not had the privilege, no." She looked beyond Jydan to the fighting pairs in the practice yard. Then she grinned. "So, are you perhaps up to some serious sparring?"
Jydan raised an eyebrow. "Just what did you have in mind?"
"You and me. I haven't got any good practice in for a very long time. Rishondan is a good kid, but he has no fighting experience and the short arguments I had with miscellaneous bandits don't count for much."
Jydan didn't say anything for a bit, seeming to consider it, then he nodded shortly once. "Very well. First, though, I want to know something."
He motioned to the two swords on her back. "Why two? I know I recognize the sword design from somewhere, but I can't remember where."
Liralen lifted a hand to rest on one of the hilts, stroking the leather grip with her fingers. "Many years ago, I once ventured into Ysindra. I stayed for quite some time just beyond their borders. These swords were a gift from my swordmaster that were left to me upon her death. She taught me everything she knew."
Jydan snapped his fingers. "Ysindra. That's where I remember them from. There's a class of extremely high-level swordmasters that carry two swords. The, um, talanayra, I think was the name I've heard. But the Ysindrans are obsessively paranoid about the secrecy of their country. How did you manage to get one of them to give you her swords?"
Liralen smiled, her eyes glazing over in memory. "She lived alone on the northern borders. And she had no one else to teach. The swords must be passed on to another upon death or be destroyed with the swordmaster. It is part of their culture, their beliefs. So, with no other options, she taught me. And when she died, she blessed the swords and gifted them to me. She was a wonderful teacher." She shook her head to rid herself of the memories, then looked up at Jydan. "So, my former-mercenary friend, think you can handle your own against me?"
Jydan grinned back at her. "Just you watch."
Minutes later, Jydan found himself up against the most talented swordfighter he'd ever met -- including Kell. His guards and soldiers were ringed around the practice yard, watching with wide eyes. He dodged another swipe of one of her swords, holding up his own curved sword to deflect the blow. I think she's better than Kell. Not that I'm going to tell either one of them that. He panted, shifting away from her, then regrouping his energy to go on the offensive. Two sparring matches in one day. I don't know, Jydan, feels like you're a little out of shape here. You used to do this all day long at one point.
There was something about Liralen that called to him. He'd only just met her, barely knew anything about her past her name, still wouldn't trust her for much of anything, but still he felt more alive than he had in years. His sparring matches with Kell was one of the things he missed most about living in Brightstar where Kell couldn't show her face anymore in public, or at least not very often. Princess Linet was becoming more and more recognized by the city's people and if any one figured out that she was also Kellessan, well, no one would have been very pleased to say the least -- especially not Kell. She worried about enemies of Kell coming after her family, using them against her. And she worried about losing what was left of her private life.
Blaen had his own theories, which he had told Jydan more than once when Jydan questioned why Kell just couldn't tell the country the truth. Kellessan was a legend, a person of myth and magic, someone that the country could believe in totally. She was a symbol. A light. If her true origins, her true identity, were revealed, well, then the magic, the mystery, the legend would be lost. And so would the symbol. Kell would be known as just an ordinary person, albeit a royal one, but still not someone who appeared larger than life, larger than truth, larger than herself. People needed something outside of themselves to believe in, and like it or not, Kell was it. Princess Linet, daughter of King Stefan and Queen Raven, heir to the Rillandan throne, became what she was and Kellessan, daughter of no one, disappeared.
So their sparring matches were few and far between, usually squeezed in between her duties and his own wherever they could fit. He was fairly sure she did a lot of training on her own and even probably some against Dorien and Blaen. But it was only with him that she was equaled, that she could fight at her full potential without too much risk. But it was always in secret, rushed, hurried, in short bursts, never very satisfying.
And now here's Liralen, a woman I know almost nothing about. And she's beating me because I'm not paying enough attention.
Jydan yanked back out of reach as he noticed one of her swords come flying down overhead at him. She laughed, grinning. "Hey there, mercenary, somehow I get the feeling you're not paying attention."
He grinned back, then crouched into the fighting position again, ignoring the calls and shouts of his troops. Most of the calls were for him. But he heard several for Liralen, probably wanting to see their captain get beaten for once, since none of them were able to do it.
We'll see about that.
Drawn by the loud cheers and yells coming from the soldiers' practice yard, Blaen jogged past several barracks buildings, wanting to know what was going on. He'd been in the library, researching something for a class he was to teach the next day when a feeling of alarm rang through his bond with Jydan. It had only lasted a moment, then had vanished, leaving Blaen blinking, curious, and a little worried. He'd sat there a bit longer, waiting, 'listening', but nothing happened. Nothing that Blaen would consider dangerous. Nonetheless, a minute later, he was on his way toward the soldiers' barracks, having determined that was where Jydan currently was.
Upon reaching the practice yard, Blaen carefully inched his way past the guards to the front of the crowd. He had to yank in every control, holding it down tightly to keep from reacting to any of the things he felt bouncing around him, just outside his barriers. He didn't normally like to go pushing his way through crowds of people. Too much physical contact. And way too disturbing. His control had increased immeasurably, but habit was hard to override.
Finally, he stumbled into the front, finding himself next to Kedric who grabbed his arm to steady him. "Whoa there, Blaen. What are you doing here?"
Distracted by the sight of Jydan and the red-haired woman sparring in the practice area, Blaen's answer came a few seconds later. "I heard the noise. What's going on, Kedric? And who's the woman?"
"Her name's Liralen. She's a mercenary, I gather. And that's about all I know. Jydan didn't tell me much. A few of the guards said they saw her in formal court this afternoon and that Jydan was called for just after she arrived."
Blaen frowned, but didn't say anything, just watched the two figures as the swords flew and sparked against one another. A few moments later, he spluttered, "She's got two swords!"
Kedric nodded. "I know. Jydan knew that going in. He said he could handle it. Look at him." He gestured with one hand toward Jydan, indicating the wide grin on his face. "I don't think he's had this much fun since the last time Kellessan was around and the two of them sparred off, which was when, last year sometime?"
This afternoon actually, but you don't need to know that.
There was a sudden flurry of movement between Jydan and Liralen, light flashing off the sword lengths as they moved faster than most could follow. Something flew into the air and landed, point-down, some distance away from the combatants. Blaen stared at it -- it was one of Liralen's swords. He edged his way toward it, wanting to see it closer. He thought it looked familiar. Dividing his concentration between Jydan and Liralen and that one sword, he stopped in front of the sword, squatting down and reaching out a hand to stop its slight wobbling.
The hilt itself was wrapped in leather. The blade was long and narrow, very unlike the heavy broadsword that Kell carried or Jydan's curved sword. Blaen ran a careful finger down the blade, feeling the metal. Very solid. Very sharp. He shifted, moving to get a closer look at the crosspieces. Delicate runes decorated the surfaces. He couldn't read many of them, only vaguely understanding a few of the symbols.
Blaen's eyes widened as he finally recognized the language. That writing is Ysindran! He glanced up at Jydan and Liralen -- both were still fighting, too occupied to notice his study of the sword. And no one around him paid him much attention, all too intent on watching the sparring contest. He looked back at the runes, squinting in the dim light, trying to remember the little Ysindran he knew.
Well, that one means 'fire' and that one 'warrior'. And that one . . . He tilted his head, studying it, frowning. 'Star shadows'? No, no, no, that doesn't make sense. Oh, wait, 'shadows and stars', that's what it means, I think. He trailed a finger over the crosspiece, looking at the many symbols he didn't understand, wishing he did. In the midst of the crosspiece, there was another symbol he thought looked familiar, but he couldn't quite identify it. I know I've seen in somewhere, probably in one of the books in the library -- which would take me half of forever to find again.
A shout from Jydan yanked his attention abruptly away from the sword. He looked up and over to see Jydan being disarmed -- quite efficiently -- by Liralen. The curved sword smacked flat onto the ground at Jydan's feet, sending up a puff of dust from the hard-packed ground. Both combatants were breathing hard, sweat soaking through their tunics. Liralen held her second sword in front of her, point tilted slightly at Jydan, a small grin of victory on her face.
Blaen blinked. She disarmed him. I thought only Kell could do that.
From the stunned look on Jydan's face, Blaen knew Jydan was thinking the same thing.
Liralen lowered her sword slowly, feeling her muscles yelling at her in both exhaustion and exhilaration. She stepped back from Jydan, straightening and inclining her head once. Jydan stared at her a moment longer, then shook his head, chuckling softly under his breath.
"I don't remember the last time someone actually disarmed me. You are quite the fighter, Liralen." He reached out a hand and held in open toward her, palm up.
First shifting her sword to her other hand, Liralen clasped his arm, squeezing his forearm tightly, feeling him return the gesture. She grinned. "Thank you, Guard Captain Jydan. You weren't easy to disarm."
He waved his other hand in the air, "No titles, please, just Jydan. I'm a former mercenary, remember. Titles don't mean much to me."
"As you wish, Jydan." Liralen released Jydan's arm and turned to look for her other sword as Jydan bent to retrieve his. The crowd of guards and soldiers were dispersing slowly, talking, gesturing, glancing back at her as they left. Liralen bit down on a laugh. Probably never seen their captain disarmed like that. She finally spotted her sword being yanked out of the ground by a young man with curly brown hair. She frowned -- she didn't like other people handling her swords. They tended not to give them the proper respect, especially if they weren't battle-trained, as she didn't think this young man was. But to her surprise, he held the sword carefully, cautiously, as if knowing its importance to her.
As he reached her, Jydan, behind her, spoke up. "Oh, Blaen, there you are. I wondered. Thought maybe you were off with Melaani or something again."
The young man rolled his eyes in annoyance, belying the light blush that appeared on his cheeks. "Well, I heard all the racket and decided to see what was going on."
Jydan laughed. "I bet. Blaen, this is Liralen. Liralen, this is Blaen, my partner."
Blaen inclined his head, smiling. "My lady. This is yours I believe. It's a lovely sword, by the way."
Liralen took back the sword, turning it once to look for marks, but gladly didn't see any, then resheathed both swords. "Thank you, Blaen." She hesitated, then went on, questioning, "Partner?"
Blaen shoved hair behind his ear. "Jydan and I have worked together for years, long before we got caught up with Rillanda. I'm a guide."
Liralen nodded, her eyes caught by a glimpse of gold on Blaen's exposed ear. Two gold earrings. And he's got to be Gurodellan. That would mean he's a dironan! A second-level one at that. She asked quietly, "You are a dironan, correct?"
Blaen blinked, sharing a confused glance with Jydan before looking back at her. "Yes, I am. How did you know?"
She pointed to his earrings. "I've traveled quite a lot and I recognized those as the mark of a dironan."
"Ah, I see. Most people assume they're just decoration." He shrugged. "But I guess that gives me a bit of anonymity. Which is nice compared to Jydan's notoriety." He grinned impishly. "That way I don't have to worry about some official position and have to go to formal court."
Jydan growled and Liralen laughed lightly.
Blaen bounced on his toes, then continued on, "Speaking of formal court, what happened anyway?"
Liralen exchanged a look with Jydan before Jydan answered Blaen's question. "You know those journals of Tulan's you've been reading, how he talks about Dani, Gwyna's brother?"
"Well, Dani had a wife."
Blaen nodded. "I knew that. She died in childbirth though, long before he came here."
"Yes, but they had a daughter together. And that daughter married and had a son. And that son is here, visiting with Stefan, Raven, and Dorien." He paused to grin wickedly, knowing his friend's love of stories and how much he was getting involved in the history of the royal family. "Just imagine the tales you're missing."
Blaen's eyes went wide, all thoughts of talking to Liralen about her sword disappearing from his mind. He said in a rush, "I, uh, I have to go. See you, Jydan. Nice meeting you, Liralen." And he dashed off, vanishing around one of the barracks buildings.
Liralen raised an eyebrow, turning to Jydan who was laughing. "Is he always like that? So . .. energetic."
"Most of the time, yeah."
"Doesn't he ever get tired?"
Jydan shrugged, still grinning. "About once a month I catch him napping, but other than that, not that I've noticed." Turning to Liralen, Jydan continued, "So, Liralen, what were you planning to do now that you got Rishondan here safely?"
She shrugged. "Not sure. I thought about going south to Jourdain, maybe Gurodel."
He stared at her a moment longer, then pursed his lips. "What would you say to an offer of a more permanent job here in Rillanda, working with me, helping me to train the guards. Mind you that I've already got a second-in-command and I won't take that position away from him. Kedric's a good man and an excellent soldier. But I could use someone else with actual fighting experience. Especially a woman, considering the number of women that have joined the ranks."
Liralen looked at him, then glanced around at the barracks and practice yard, deep in thought. After a minute, she looked back at Jydan, smiling. "I'd say tell me more."
That evening found Linet and Dorien resting on a grassy plot in the garden area just outside of Dorien's office. Dorien was lying down, hands under his head, staring up at the dusky sky, watching as the last sunset colors faded from view. Linet sat next to him, her legs curled under her, supporting herself with one arm, hand flat on the blanket underneath them both. It was a quiet evening, no classes, no court functions, just the two of them. Not something they got very often anymore.
Linet let her eyes roam around the garden as she absently smoothed her loose cotton skirt, wiping away bits of grass. How am I going to do this? This isn't exactly my area. Swords, bandits, ruffians, even obstinate children -- those I can deal with. But where my heart is concerned . . . She bit her lip, then sighed.
A hand touched her back, resting there softly. "Lin? Something wrong?"
She shifted, turning to face him, seeing the concern in his eyes. "No, nothing's wrong. I'm just . . . thinking."
Linet looked away for a moment, then back. "About me, you . . . us."
Dorien nodded. "I see. Another of those heavy thought days."
She smiled. "I guess you could say that."
Dorien pushed himself up, crossing his legs to sit facing her. "So, have you come to any conclusions?"
"A few. I think . . . I think it might be time for me to stop trying to pretend I can still be Kellessan, time that I accepted who I am, what I am."
"And who are you?"
"Linet, princess, only heir to the throne."
Dorien chuckled. "Sounds like the court advisors have been after you again."
She grinned ruefully. "A little. Usually my parents can keep them away from me, but occasionally one of them will catch me in the hallways and want to have a 'little chat' of 'great importance'. I oblige them like a good little princess and they go away happy that they've done their duty. But when I don't immediately declare an impending wedding in the next day or so, well, they don't stay happy very long."
"Well, just so you know you're not alone, I've had a few advisors come visit me from time to time. They've had some interesting things to say."
Linet reached forward and grasped his hand, twining her fingers around his. "Have they been harassing you? Telling you that you can't . . . that you're not suitable for me?"
He shrugged, a grin playing around his lips. "At first, a few years back, they did that. Lately, however, they're leaning more in the direction of pushing me to get on with it already."
Linet stared at him, then started laughing. "Is that what they said? To get on with it?"
"No, not in those words, but the meaning was there. Impatient people, those advisors of your father's."
She laughed again and Dorien's eyes crinkled with amusement and joy. Shifting around to sit beside him, Linet rested her head against Dorien's shoulder, leaning into him. One of his arms went around her waist to support her, holding her to him. For long moments, they simply sat there, absorbing one another's presence.
Finally, Linet broke the silence with a quiet question. "So, about the wedding . . ." She let her voice die off suggestively.
Dorien caught his breath, then asked, "What wedding?"
"Well, our wedding, of course. When do you think we ought to have it?"
Dorien pushed her away so he could see her face. "Our wedding? Are you . . . ?" He swallowed, staring into her blue eyes. She smiled softly at his confusion, nodding at him to go on. "Are you saying that you'll marry me?"
"You haven't asked me yet."
Another moment passed, then Dorien shifted again to sit in front of her, taking both her hands in his, pressing a kiss on the backs of her fingers. He looked up at her, whispering, "Lin, marry me?"
Linet's smile widened and she whispered back, "Yes, I'll marry you, Dorien, gladly and happily."
Dorien grinned, letting out a soft sigh of both pleasure and relief. He leaned forward, moving his hands up to hold her face in his hands, kissing her thoroughly. Linet's hands slid around his waist and up his back, pulling more him toward her. Off-balance, Dorien pushed her over, nearly falling on top of her. He broke off the kiss with a laugh and caught himself with his hands just above her. "Well, that was graceful of me."
Linet grinned up at him, then shoved at him, getting him to lay down on his back. She shifted over to lean over him, her long, loose hair sliding over his face, a curtain protecting them from the outside world. Lowering her face to his, they kissed, Dorien hand's at her waist, Linet's free hand on his cheek. When Linet slowly pulled back, she laid down at his side, resting her head against his shoulder. Dorien's arms went around as one of hers rested across his chest.
She brought one of his hands up to press a kiss onto his fingers. "I love you."
He kissed the top of her head. "And I love you."
Both were content to lie there for awhile, drowsily at peace with each other and the world. Then Dorien asked, a semi-plaintive note in his voice, "So does this mean my feisty warrior woman is gone?"
Linet chuckled. "No, she'll probably make an appearance every now and then, just to make sure you're behaving yourself, minstrel."
He laughed. "Good." Hugging her, he whispered, "I think I'd miss her if she left for good."
She smiled, running her hand over his chest. "So would I."
- The End -
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