Prophecy Story Index

Summary: Post-Time's Circle. In the wake of recent events, decisions are made and actions taken to assure Rillanda's future.

Oracle's Tears, Part One: Daughter of Fate
by Becky
January 2006

Silent and unnoticed, she melted into the shadows of the doorway, watching the hurried preparations with grim resignation. I didn't want to see this, to do this, at least not for many...many years. But... Her eyes squeezed shut and her fists clenched at her sides. She drew a deep breath and let it out slowly, drawing on lessons old and new to calm her turbulent emotions.

As usual, fate has other plans. The last time is still so fresh in my memories...

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Three years ago...
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Finally.

Three chaotic days had passed since Seth's demise and the retaking of Brightstar and the rest of Rillanda. The Bornathian troops who survived were in the process of being escorted out of the country, as were any of Seth's black mages that could be found. Concern over the presence of unlocated mages was pushed aside in the joy of victory.

Kellessan scowled unhappily at the last. She'd had too many bad experiences with -- and a handful of unpleasant scars from -- those mages to so casually dismiss them without a thought. But it was hard to be the lone dissenting voice in a chorus of unbridled happiness. She sighed and shifted back a scant inch into the darkness of the side entranceway to the palace throne room.

Inside, Camella and an army of "assistants" scurried about, recreating the Rillandan throne room as best they could from memory and with what supplies were available. It had amazed Kell enough that Camella had managed to squirrel away the crowns and royal robes. But apparently she'd taken much more. Select tapestries had begun to appear, as well as some of the smaller artworks and furniture pieces. In addition, the hiding places for Tulan's library and the official portrait gallery had been located and plans were already underway for their restoration.

Kell's mouth tipped up on one corner. Dorien is no doubt leading that charge. The minstrel had proved to be a lot more useful than she thought he would be. Useful. An inner voice chided her. Is that all? Kell clamped down on that voice, not ready to deal with her conflicting feelings about the man. Not now. Not yet. I'm not even supposed to be here.

Immediately following the successful battle and impromptu recrowning, Kellessan, daughter of no one, had withdrawn from any and all spotlight. She couldn't risk being seen and remembered, not with Linet, princess and heir, already being revealed to the public. Her parents had already developed a sketchy story to account for Linet's obvious absence during their exile in case anyone who knew their alter egos came forward. The story was to be that sometime during childhood, they had decided to leave Linet with friends for safety's sake. Those friends had since been killed but not before Linet had learned enough to live on her own.

Thin but acceptable, I suppose. She looked down at her sword-callused hands. It's not like I can tell the arriving councilors the truth.

Which led to why she was currently lurking in the shadows instead of being with her parents. The councilors were the reason for today's preparations. Most had escaped into hiding throughout Rillanda prior to the capital's invasion. The ones still alive were quickly returning and had wanted an official coronation of Stefan as King and Raven as Queen-Consort. Apparently, unofficial recrowning Camella had performed wasn't quite what they had in mind.

Camella had found Kell early that morning while she was doing sword drills in a clearing beyond the palace grounds to let her know about an additional piece of information that had reached her ear. The eldest of the surviving councilors, Volenn, had specifically requested the use of the rhain'uel -- ancient Rill for 'starry white' -- one of the few mystical Rillandan artifacts that still existed, during the coronation ceremony. The rhain'uel belonged to the Order of the White Star, Rillanda's major religious group. Fortunately for Volenn, the artifact had escaped the invasion unharmed with Sami'el, then a novitiate of the Order, now the Elder Father. And Camella's sources reported that Sami'el was already in Brightstar at the Order's House.

Although the rhain'uel was a traditional part of the ceremony, that Volenn went out of his way to mention it meant to Kell that he wanted to be sure that Stefan and Raven were who they said they were. The rhain'uel was a murky white stone about the size of a large apple affixed to a short scepter. At first glance, it wasn't terribly impressive. However, it had truth-telling abilities. If someone touched it while speaking, the stone would change according to the truth and honesty in the person's words and heart. Little was known about its properties except that the brighter it became, the more truths; the darker, the more falsehoods.

Legend told of its use to verify a new ruler's oath to lead fairly and hinted only vaguely at further uses. Tradition gave it a place during the coronation during the final oath-taking. However, it hadn't been used to verify identity in several centuries.

Kell privately admitted to being annoyed that someone, anyone, could doubt her parents' claim to the throne, but she also knew it had been a very long hard fifteen years. That had changed a lot of people -- councilors and rulers alike.

Which was the final reasoning behind Linet's non-appearance at the day's coronation event. Raven, with some help from Camella, had spread the quiet rumor that Linet was recovering from a minor injury she received while on the fringes of the battle. Nothing life-threatening but enough to make her tired. And Raven, mother that she was, refused to let anyone outside of family see her. The truth was more disturbing. Kell simply couldn't take the chance that Volenn would insist on verifying her identity at the same time. Although she had only used the name of Kellessan for three years, it felt like an eternity since she had answered to Linet.

I just don't know if Kellessan, daughter of no one, can honestly say she is Linet, daughter of Stefan and Raven.

The cessation of activity in the large room recaptured her wandering attention. Camella stood on the other side, giving the preparations one last look as she shepherded her workers out the side exit. Willim and Jamas slipped in before she left, both dressed in their old guard uniforms. They strode to the closed double doors and pulled them open with appropriate flourish.

Councilors and assorted nobles, guardsmen, and a handful of hand-picked merchants and citizens poured through the opening, taking their seats on either side of the room amidst the low roar of voices and rustling robes. Kell spotted Dorien near the front of the room, as befitted his status as Tulan's choice as Royal Bard and Historian. Camella had even found him an official bardic outfit of sorts, she noted, though the bardic sash was missing. Guess Camella has some more hunting to do. After everyone was seated, two other men entered. One, dressed in a long-sleeved, long white tunic over dark green trews, she pegged as Sami'el; he carried the rhain'uel scepter. The other man, older and graying, she knew to be Volenn.

Silence settled onto the assembled crowd. Another moment passed, then Willim announced in a strong voice, "Stefan and Raven to lay claim as lawful king and queen of Rillanda." He and Jamas stood at stiff attention as her parents entered through the heavy doors. Kell's breath caught at the sight of them in such finery that she could barely remember from "before." Dressed in a long blue gown, Raven's hand rested lightly on Stefan's arm and her bearing appeared deceptively calm. Kell knew, however, that fifteen years of hiding had only increased her mother's dislike of public scrutiny and attention. One of the first things I learned as we ran -- attention is bad. Attention means villages burn. Attention means people get hurt. Attention means people die.

Stefan and Raven stopped at the edge of the dais and turned to face the room. Sami'el stepped forward and held out the rhain'uel scepter. Without hesitation, Stefan placed his hand on the stone and spoke in a clear tone that carried to every corner.

"I am Stefan, son of Randal and Tayna, true and rightful heir to Rillanda's throne." The stone glowed a steady, bright white as he continued. "After a long and sorrowful absence, I have returned to take up the rule and care of this land and her people as my father before me. Should my oath be false, may the white star display the truth to all." The rhain'uel only glowed brighter, flaring briefly in confirmation of his words.

In an unexpected move, Raven stretched forth her hand and placed it atop Stefan's, her fingers lacing through his to touch the glowing whiteness. As Queen-Consort, Raven would have no authority to rule on her own and was therefore not required to participate in this part of the ceremony. Kell smiled as the stone reacted even more positively to her mother's unique softness and untouched belief in goodness. Her quiet voice floated above the low surprised murmurs.

"Raven, daughter of Andrel and Gwyna, wife to Stefan, mother to Terel and Linet." By her father's non-reaction and pleased half-smile, Kell had the feeling that the action was something they'd discussed and decided between themselves. Raven added one final thought. "May our service be to heal the wounds of these many years." Another flare followed her words.

"Long live the King and Queen." Dorien's strong voice echoed off the walls, drowned out nearly immediately by the assembled witnesses' enthusiastic affirmation. They were still chanting when the hastily named Chief Steward and his assistant hurried forward with the crowns and robes.

Kell watched in silence as they were placed -- a second time -- on their rightful wearers, this time by Sami'el in his role as Elder Father. She whispered along with the crowd, "Long live the King and Queen." Then she added a line of her own, "Long may you reign."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Present...
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

It wasn't long enough.

Not even three years had passed since that day. Two weeks earlier, Stefan had been gravely wounded in the attack on the palace, leaving Linet to rule in his stead. But circumstances had conspired against them, taking away all options.

Except one.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Two days ago...
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"....as Chief Councilor, Volenn commands a great deal of power and respect. And evidently, I do not." One leg curled beneath her, Linet sat at the foot of the large bed, leaning against the bedpost. "I know he means well, but... To be honest, I don't think he likes me. Or trusts me."

"He's also not a man who knows what to do with a female ruler. It's been many generations since there's a been a ruling Queen," Stefan added. He lay in the bed, propped up by several pillows. Raven sat near him, a gentle hand on his shoulder. "Working with Volenn has been a bit of struggle, even for me." He stopped, closing his eyes as pain rippled through him, then went on. "As the oldest of the councilors during the exile and one of the few left from my father's reign, Volenn held power of position then and still does now. He's not a bad man; he wants what is best for Rillanda."

Linet propelled herself from the bed impatiently and strode over to the curtained windows. Folding her arms across her chest as she looked outward into the dusky sky, she conceded, "I know that. He's done good things and still is. But at the same time, he continues to take control of almost every Council session." She dropped her arms and turned sideways, letting the evening light silhouette the profile of her lowered head.

Raven blinked as the shadowed image of Kellessan superimposed itself over Linet. The former was one she'd seen on too many nights when her daughter would remain outside, sometimes in drenching rain, relentlessly practicing and honing her sword skills. She was 'Kellessan, daughter of no one' long before she renamed herself. Perhaps from the moment that arrow struck Terel.

"I never wanted to be ruler." Her eyes unfocused, Linet spoke to the air. "My sole focus was always to remove Seth and return you to the thrones. Some part of me, deep down, knew what that would mean in time for me, but I never really acknowledged it." She turned her face back to the windows. "I didn't want to. Terel... that was supposed to be his role." She took a breath, then spoke again, her voice firm. "But the role is mine now. Only I'm finding it usurped before I can find a proper fit."

Stefan spoke up quietly. "I see only one solution."

"I know." Linet's voice was resigned.

What...? Oh. Raven finally entered the conversation. "Should Dorien be here?"

A mirthless chuckled slipped from Linet. "Yeah, he probably should. It affects him as well. I'll send a page to find him."

Dorien arrived within minutes, making Raven believe he'd been looking for Linet since that afternoon's reputedly heated council session. He closed the door to the spacious bedroom and turned to face them. "Stefan, you're looking--"

Stefan interrupted, waving a hand at him. "I'm looking wan, pale, and none too well, thank you."

"Too many overly hearty 'you're looking good' comments?" Dorien's lips curled into a smile.

Raven slid the back of her fingers over her husband's cheek. "Too many and too much of everything. Half the palace staff and nearly all the Councilors are constantly finding reasons to be here."

Stefan grimaced. "Which is part of the reason Linet asked you to come."

Dorien looked over at Linet, who stood again at the window, hands clasped behind her, back to them as she watched the final slip of the sun disappear. She spoke without turning. "My father cannot rule and he will not heal with these constant intrusions. I cannot rule effectively as things are now. My authority is too limited and my voice goes unheard among most councilors."

"Volenn?" Dorien questioned.

"Volenn." She shifted finally to face them.

"Thought so. He's never been obvious about it, but I'm pretty sure he doesn't trust you. I'm also fairly positive he's not thrilled with me being your betrothed." He raised a hand to forestall the angry response hovering behind her tightening lips. "He hasn't truly said or done anything; it's just a feeling."

Stefan spoke again. "It's a matter for another day. Right now, we need to solve this problem. Simply put, I'm going to officially step down as King. And Linet will be coronated as Queen. And it will be permanent."

"Oh." Dorien blinked. "Well." He blinked again. "This is ... unexpected." Focusing on Linet, he asked, "What does that mean for us?"

Linet frowned, the question confusing her. "Us? I don't--"

"Do we need to get married sooner?" He hesitated, then added, "Are we still getting married?"

"No! I mean, yes, I--" Linet flushed in a rare moment of embarrassment. She moved to stand in front of Dorien and placed her palm over his heart.

Raven realized instantly that she and Stefan had been forgotten by both of them. Stefan touched her hand with his, fingers tightening on hers as they silently watched.

Linet clarified her answer. "Yes, we're still getting married, but no, not sooner, not if we don't want to."

Dorien smiled and covered her hand with his, holding it warmly against his chest before bringing it up to press a kiss onto her fingers. "As my Queen commands."

Stefan spoke softly into the moment. "There may be pressure put upon you, but don't let anyone rush you."

Another moment went by before Linet sighed and returned to the present matter. She extracted her hand reluctantly from Dorien's grasp. "I need you and Blaen to look into the rhain'uel for me. Beyond the light-dark aspect, there's so little known about it. Something tells me it's capable of much, much more than just a glow. I'd like to know what to expect if things go...badly."

"Are you expecting them to?"

Linet shrugged. "If it's simply a question of 'who are you,', then no. But with Volenn... I expect he'll have more questions. If I'm to get struck by lightning, advance warning might be nice."

Dorien chuckled at her morbid humor. "I'll see what we can dig up. How much time do we have?"

Stefan answered tiredly. "Raven will announce my decision at tomorrow's morning session. Linet's coronation will be the day after." His eyes slid closed as his pain-induced weariness finally caught up with him. "Sorry. Not much time..."

Dorien's lips pressed together tightly. He grasped Linet's hand briefly, bobbed his hand at Raven, and slipped out the door on silent feet. Linet's eyes trailed after his form for several moments, then she joined her mother to watch Stefan drift into a heavy and hopefully healing sleep.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Present...
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"So...what happens if the rhain'uel doesn't like you?"

Linet smirked. "Thought you didn't know its real name. Blaen told Dorien you keep calling it 'that rain stone thingy'."

Jydan chuckled and leaned against the opposite wall in the entranceway. "Well, you know me. Have to keep Blaen on his toes."

"Hmm."

Neither said anything more for long seconds as both watched the last decorative banners being hung.

Linet finally answered Jydan's question in a subdued voice. "Dorien and Blaen did some hurried research about the rhain'uel but found very little that could be counted on as fact. It's so very old that a lot of wild tales have sprung up around it. The only thing we really know is that it glows with truth -- as evidenced at my parents' coronation three years ago. But they did a good job at winnowing out a few basics and gave me the highlights." She lifted a hand and held it out, palm upward. "On one side, the Order has long claimed it as a gift from the Light Sisters, who also gifted Kellessan with Lachiellian and have served as guides of a sort."

Jydan nodded in understanding, "So perhaps the stone should be in agreement with their judgment."

"Maybe. If their claim is correct." The opposite hand lifted. "On the other side, one old tale Dorien unearthed and translated said something like 'good truths burn not those with honest hearts' which begs the question about bad lies and not-so-honest hearts. In addition, Blaen found some ancient partially water-damaged etching with the stone, lots of flames, and what we assumed was a ruler who didn't rule very long."

"Sounds lovely." Jydan made a face. "And the first thing they -- or rather, Volenn -- will ask is who you are, right?"

"Essentially. Three years ago, I wasn't sure I could answer that question as Linet and be truthful."

"And now?" Jydan queried.

Linet hesitated. "I don't know."

Silence fell between them. Inside the throne room, workers scurried around, talking in quick low voices as they cleaned up scraps, removed ladders out through the side doors, and straightened up council chairs.

"You ready for the trip?"

Jydan nodded once. "Blaen's already got us packed." His lips quirked into a grin. "I think he wants to be gone and back before he misses Melaani too much."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Yesterday late morning...
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Standing awkwardly in the eastern hallway off the throne room, Jydan knocked twice on the half-open private study door.

A muffled voice inside answered promptly. "Enter."

Jydan slipped past the silent guard to step inside. "You sent for me, Your Highness." No matter how many times I say that, it still sounds strange. And this morning's announcement means it's about to get even stranger.

Linet looked up from the desk against the far wall. "Yes, Captain Jydan. Please close the door." She was alone in the room, though Jydan spotted a black-and-white feline curled up indolently in one of the room's plush visitor chairs set in front of the glass-paned courtyard doors.

After nudging the heavy door closed, he walked to the desk and gazed down at its surface. His practiced eye caught a variety of legal documents, a half-edited treatise, a book on royal etiquette, another book on coronation practices, and surprisingly, right in the middle, a large map of Rillanda with a scribbled-in town names. He raised an eyebrow. "Planning your escape?"

Linet laughed briefly and rubbed a hand over her eyes. "Don't tempt me. I never knew it took so much ... everything just to get crowned."

"You did only give them two days' warn--"

"Just stop." She held up a hand. "I have heard that particular phrase way more times that I care to count -- from Chief Councilor Volenn down to the palace cook's assistant's cat." She waved her hand over her shoulder at the cat sleeping in the chair. Before Jydan could comment, Linet continued, "Anyway, that's not why I asked you here. I need a favor."

Jydan straightened a bit. "A favor?"

She nodded and gestured him toward a chair as she settled into the one behind the desk. "As soon as this coronation business is over, I need you to find someone for me. You and Blaen." Her momentary hesitation caught his attention. "If you think it's safe enough to leave. Dorien would be my other choice for this particular errand, but..." Her voice and eyes dropped. "But I need him here. I don't think I can do this alone."

Deciding not to comment about the last part, especially since he understood more than most the desire to have one's partner close, Jydan focused on the more important issue. "You're asking if the guards are trained well enough to do without their captain for a time."

"Yes. And if Kedric -- and Liralen -- are trustworthy and can be left in charge during your absence." Linet leaned forward and folded her hands on top of the map. "I don't know how else to put this, but I need your opinions of them outside of any personal involvement."

Jydan's eyebrows rose. Her words were not blatant, but he knew what she was asking. "So you've heard."

Linet smirked. "About the swordfighting competitions? Oh, yes." She chuckled softly and lowered her voice another notch. "I seem to remember Blaen saying something once a long time ago about swordfighting being the mercenary version of flirting. Between Dorien and Melaani and both of their connections with Blaen and others, I've heard all about the sparks between the two of you."

His low laughter joined hers and he rubbed a hand across the back of his neck. "She does her best to keep me on my toes." After a few moments, Jydan continued more seriously. "I consider them both very capable of leading in my absence. Kedric is solid, well-trained, and a very excellent second-in-command; he'll do well as interim captain. As for Liralen, I know she hasn't been here long but she gets along with most everyone, especially the female guards who've lacked in someone to go to for more ... specialized fighting skills. She's quick. She notices details." A nearly forgotten detail came to him. "Oh! And she must have some sort of ability to sense magecraft."

"What?" Linet's eyes widened. "What do you mean?"

"During the attack, when we were fighting..." He tried unsuccessfully to find the right description, then gave up. "...something nearly flattened us for a brief second. That's how Gnalaar and a few others got through. Liralen said there had to be a mage around and that it was called it an energy burst, I think." Frowning, Jydan shook his head. "I'd forgotten that until now."

Linet tapped her fingers on the desk. "But she's never done any magecrafting herself."

Jydan shrugged. "Not that I've seen. Would you sense it if someone else did something ... mage-y?"

"Mage-y?" She laughed and ignored Jydan's eyeroll. "If the mage in question is less trained or less powerful, or not bothering to shield themselves, then I'd probably feel something. But actively searching for someone doing something mage-y... Not a skill I cared to learn." Linet smiled sheepishly. "I wasn't really interested in much aside of swordscraft. Mostly I focused on how to shield myself and my parents, near to invisibility, from Seth's dark mages and maybe a bit beyond the magecraft basics to make sure I didn't blow anything up. Hinarme told me once that my gift was very strong but tended to be instinctive rather than very teachable."

Memories of the few instances he'd been witness to Kellessan's mage talents whirled vividly through Jydan's mind. If that was 'strong but only instinctive,' I don't know if I'm ready to see 'strong and very well taught.' "Who's Hinarme?"

"Hinarme is the reason for my favor." Linet stood from the desk chair and walked over to the windowed doors leading to the inner courtyard. "He was my magecraft teacher when I was younger. Sometimes it seems like two or three lifetimes ago. As fate handed me 'Kellessan,' he felt it best to go his own way, to separate himself from me and mine, for our protection and his. I've been in contact with him only sporadically since then. The last time was after Seth was....after my parents had taken the thrones. Dorien and I visited him briefly as we returned from a diplomatic trip to Bornath. That was two years ago." She took a breath as if to say more, but instead continued to stare silently through the glass.

"And the favor?" Jydan queried quietly.

Linet turned to face him, then returned to stand next to the desk. "I'd like you to find him. I want him at the wedding. He spent some time at court years earlier so it wouldn't be that unusual for him to come. I'm just not sure news by word-of-mouth will reach him in time." She made a face. "I have a suspicion that regardless what Dorien or I want, we will find ourselves married sooner rather than later so the next 'heir begetting' can begin as soon as possible."

Jydan frowned and leaned forward to look at the map on the desktop, understanding now why it was there. "Do you have any idea where to look?"

She pointed to spot on the northern border. "Two years ago, he was at River's End by Lake Aurora. I've had a few pieces of correspondence that indicate he's still in that general area, if not in that exact village. I'm hoping he's still there, although it's been several months since I've heard from him." Leaning to one side, Linet opened a drawer and pulled out a small scroll, tied and sealed with a royal green-and-silver ribbon. "This is for Hinarme when you find him so he'll know I sent you."

The scroll quickly vanished out of sight inside his overvest. "We'll leave the day after the coronation, if that's acceptable."

Linet nodded. "Perfect."

Standing, Jydan bobbed his head to Linet in royal deference. "As Your Highness soon-to-be Majesty wishes."

She groaned and threatened to throw a book at him. "Go prepare your troops for your departure, Captain Jydan."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Present...
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

A smile flitted across Linet's features. "I should probably tell you now that it was Liralen's suggestion."

Jydan queried, "What was?"

"To send you and Blaen on this little trip," Linet explained. "She accidentally overheard Dorien and me discussing the need for someone to go on a 'quick trip to deliver an invitation' while walking through the hall a couple hours ago before the excitement of the morning Council session yesterday. She suggested that you and Blaen were the obvious choices -- a guild-trained mercenary and tracker, and a second-level guide and seer. Both former occupations I'd forgotten about."

He grunted. "Sometimes, so have I." Then he laughed. "Liralen's idea, huh. No wonder she looked so pleased with herself when I told her about the trip and the plan for her to be Kedric's second while I was gone. Obviously she has plans to eventually take my job as Captain of the Guard."

Linet laughed softly with him.

"Here they are..."

Jydan and Linet shifted to look behind them and found Blaen and Liralen walking toward them from the other end of the corridor.

"...lurking in the shadows. Or hiding perhaps." Blaen finished, a grin on his face as he stopped next to Linet. "Melaani's been looking for you, Your Highness. I believe you have a coronation ceremony to finish preparing for."

Linet sighed. "So I've heard."

Arms crossed as she leaned against the wall, Liralen directed her comments to Jydan. "And I've been trying to find you to go over some final details about said ceremony."

Jydan gave her a look. "And just how much do you think I know about Rillandan coronation events?"

She shot back. "Hopefully more than me."

Mood lifting despite herself, Linet chuckled softly and leaned towards Blaen. "Sparks?"

"Sparks." Blaen laughed with her and both ignored the resultant glares directed their way. He held out an arm to Linet. "May I escort you to your impatient lady-in-waiting?"

"You may." She threaded her arm through his and together they walked down the corridor, leaving Jydan and Liralen to their debate.

Linet found her thoughts drifting to her parents. Since Raven's announcement two days earlier that Stefan was stepping down in favor of his daughter, Linet had only seen her parents for a few brief moments here and there. Her time was filled with meetings, rehearsals, research into coronation customs, dress fittings, and more meetings, with hurried meals and a couple hours of sleep shoved in to keep her going. The Council members were unsurprisingly divided in their opinions on the events, but in the end, their opinions were only that. Stefan, although injured and unable to truly rule, had been judged by the palace healers to be mentally sound, so his authority as King stood firm and would remain so until the moment Linet was crowned. The Council could not overturn or sway Stefan's decision.

Volenn had tried. Once. Linet smirked.

"What?" Blaen's voice jarred her from her musings.

"Hmm?" Linet glanced to the side to meet Blaen's gaze. "Oh, I was just thinking about Volenn's attempt to change my father's mind."

Blaen winced, then chuckled. "Yeah, I heard about that. I didn't know your mother could be so ... forceful."

"Neither did Volenn."

They rounded a corner and continued down another long hallway. Linet heard Blaen take a breath, then let it out in a rush. She eyed him, catching the half-hidden curiosity flashing across his face. "Is there something you wanted to ask, Blaen?"

He shrugged sheepishly. "Sort of. I just... I've been wondering about Volenn. And you. Do the two of you have some kind of ... history?" Linet knew her eyes must be shadowing as Blaen's voice became hurried and he started to pull away from her as her emotions shifted. "Even aside of the normal tension, I keep feeling like there's something else going on."

Linet looked away. "History." Her lips curled into a wry smile. "No, no history. Though Volenn did bump into Kellessan once. He didn't seem to like her much."

"Oh." He blinked. "That could make things interesting."

"Yes, somewhat. Kellessan was ... is memorable." They stopped at a doorway and Linet removed her arm from Blaen's. "Thank you for the escort, good sir."

Blaen dropped into a bow. "My pleasure, Your Highness."

Linet laughed and sent him on his way as she entered the room. Melaani and a few other female palace servants were there, waiting impatiently to prepare her for her "final walk" as a princess. She took a breath and moved to the center of the room. "Go to it, girls. Make me Queenly."

She let the giggles and the quiet conversation float past her, absently following their directives to move or stand in a certain way as they dressed her. Melaani herself did Linet's hair as usual. After everything was completed and the other girls had left, Linet closed her eyes as Melaani's adept fingers did a final check on her "Queenly" hairstyle.

"You're so lovely."

Linet's eyes flew open, blinking in surprise at the sight of a smiling Raven standing just inside the door. "Mother!"

Before either Raven or Linet could say anything else, Melaani dipped a quick curtsey and slipped out the door, leaving mother and daughter alone in the brief few minutes before the ceremony was to start.

"I didn't expect--" She swallowed hard and asked quickly, "Is Father okay?"

Raven walked across the room. "He's fine. Sleeping after one of Healer Viane's potions." A tiny grin lit her features. "The 'particularly foul-smelling' one, I think you called it."

Linet wrinkled her nose as she chuckled. "Ah... Chalky Orange Painkiller. My favorite." Her laughter faded away. "So... Lovely, am I?"

"Yes." Raven lifted her hand to rest it delicately against her cheek. "Very much so, Daughter." She held Linet's gaze, seeing as always through the untroubled façade she presented to the world, and said softly, "I told you years ago that no matter what you chose to be, you would never be alone. That is still true today."

"I know." She turned her face slightly toward her mother's hand, absorbing the warmth on her skin. "I just wish--" She bit off her words. Wishing wouldn't help.

Raven grasped both of Linet's hands in hers. "Before he drank Viane's brew, Stefan asked me to tell you a few things. He said he's very proud of you, of everything," she paused and repeated the word to emphasize it, "of everything you've done, in whatever form that may've been, to serve Rillanda and her people. Both of us are. Always."

Linet blinked away tears. Part of her had wanted to believe that her parents, while accepting of Kellessan, had never truly been thankful for her presence.

"He spoke of a prophecy given at his birth which named him the 'king who is not'," Raven continued, "something he told me a few years after we married." She smiled softly. "So we'd known for a great many years that he might never be king, and if he was, his rule would be short. You are a worthy and true successor, Linet. I know fate has rarely been kind to us, but both Stefan and I agree that you are meant to rule, to lead, to rebuild Rillanda."

She finished softly, raising their clasped hands to hold them against her heart. "Above all, we love you. And we are here for you."

Linet bent her head downward, squeezing her eyes shut as she fought back the emotions that threatened to burst forth. Not a good time. She felt her mother press a kiss to her forehead, just below the edge of the princess circlet.

Her mother's voice whispered to her, "Love, strength, courage, and truth, my little Lin. And a mother's blessing." Another touch of lips to her cheek and then she withdrew, nearly unheard footsteps retreating, and then the soft snick of the door opening and closing.

Truth. Linet took a deep breath and released it slowly as she straightened and opened her eyes to look down at her hands. Calluses still remained, reminders of a harder life. Scars hid themselves underneath layers of material, reminders of why she had those calluses. She touched her shoulder, where one such scar told a story of a battle, a near miss, and a benign encounter with an artifact she barely knew the name of.

It was different then. No one was asking me questions. I didn't know what it was or what it could do. I wasn't trying to deceive anyone. I was who I was. There was only Kellessan, 'Rill's lost daughter.' Her mind drifted back and a memory of another time, another place, another life came forward.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Four years ago...
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Kellessan shivered. Not only was it was moonless dark, it was wet and cold and muddy. And wet. Did I mention wet? She grimaced as a gust of wind blew rain in her face. Tugging her dull brown hooded cloak further around herself, she tried to present as small a target as possible for the seemingly-targeted-at-her weather. Not so easy with a massive sword jutting up over one shoulder.

It's official. I hate spring.

Hidden behind the foliage slightly above the narrow dirt road leading into the tiny village of Redtree, Kell was responding to several rumors of Seth's dark mages planning to attack the village for some as-yet-unknown reason. She'd been three days' travel away from Redtree when the rumors reached her from someone she knew to be a reliable source. So out into the spring storm she and Tavi went, traveling hard and fast, hoping to arrive before the mages attacked.

She'd been through Redtree once before several years earlier and she couldn't imagine what they could possibly want with such a remote, unimportant place like Redtree, whose only inhabitants were peasant farmers. Redtree was also only a day's travel from Yana and she wasn't too thrilled with the idea of having Seth's evil so close to her parents.

Water dripped down her hood and wound its way inside to stream down her cheek to her neck. Shivering, she tugged the hood tighter around her head, wishing she could've stayed with her horse. Tavi was currently hidden in a ramshackle abandoned waystation some distance away from the road. Probably dry and contentedly munching on hay, wondering why his rider is stupid enough to sit in the rain for hours. She made a face. Maybe the rumors were just rumors. I don't feel-- No, wait, what's that?

Distant voices and a sudden flurry of lights in the cluster of small homes at the far end of the road chased away her complaints. More importantly, the feeling of brittle cold that had nothing to do with the weather made every muscle tense. Definitely not just rumors.

Ignoring the pelting rain, she stood and swung her cloak off one shoulder long enough to pull Lachiellian out of its sheath. Water immediately covered the blade and pommel, flowing downward to her gloved hand. Cloak pulled back in place, Kellessan whispered, "Time to go to work."

Quickly and stealthily, she worked her way down to the road and sprinted through mud puddles to the village. The closer she got, the more voices she heard, and the more uneasy she felt. Memories of her scattered encounters with the dark mages flittered through her mind. As always, the Battle of Lilies, as it had quickly been named, topped the list. But Lilyvale was a fortress. They had arms and the training to use them. Redtree is just one big dirt farm.

Kell slid to a stop by a chicken coop -- evidently filled with unhappy chickens -- and peered around the front edge of the enclosure. The doors to the house across the street burst open from the inside and assorted figures spilled outward. In the rain-soaked light streaming from the house, Kell immediately identified three of the figures as Seth's soldiers and two as dark mages, always distinguishable by their shiny black robes. The other two had to be their prisoners since they were being dragged along quite unwillingly by the soldiers.

She narrowed her eyes at the captives. Those two aren't farmers. Wrong clothes. Wrong shoes. Way too clean-looking. Which means... Her eyes shifted to the mages. One of them carried a wrapped item about the length of her arm. Which means they came hunting for a hidden prize or two.

One soldier, a covered lantern in one hand, stayed at the doorway of the house, talking in curt tones to the frightened family who owned the house. The other two hauled their prisoners to a half-covered wagon, which probably belonged to the farmers themselves, at the far edge of the yard. The mages strode rapidly toward a much nicer carriage some distance apart.

She flexed her hand around her leather sword grip, watching the mages intently. If they're like all the others, that carriage is rainproof, coldproof, heatproof -- and somewhat soundproof. Kell closed her eyes for a brief moment, ensuring her own magegift was still tightly packed away where it wouldn't be noticed, then reopened her eyes to concentrate on the scuffle ahead. Wait until they're inside.... Now.

Kell stepped backwards and hurried around the back end of the coop and the hay barn next to it. Her boots squelched in the mud, but she figured the noise would be unheard above the rain, which was slowly tapering off, and the commotion. She edged just around the corner and spotted the other side of the wagon. As she slid silently along the side of the barn, the old farm horse turned its head in her direction, looking extremely unhappy standing in the mud and rain. Kell waited until the soldiers had pushed their prisoners into the wagon and turned in the opposite direction, laughing between themselves at their catch. She moved swiftly and knocked one out with her sword pommel on the back of his neck. He collapsed onto the muddy ground without a sound even as his buddy was turning. She delivered two strong punches at the second soldier's head and he joined his friend with a cut-off groan.

"Who are you?" The demanding male voice came from inside the wagon.

Definitely not a farmer. "Someone who's helping you. Now please shut up." Kell didn't even look inside, concentrating instead on the slowly approaching boot squelches. Stepping out from cover, she found the third soldier waiting for her, sword out. His lantern sat just next to the wagon wheel, flame guttering madly. Taking half a step back, she tore off her cloak and tossed it at the back of the wagon just moments before the soldier charged her, sword swinging.

Three moves into the fight, the captives slid out from the wagon. She heard one of them say something about getting the rain back from the mages. Ducking under a sword swing, Kell slipped and fell, her head falling backward into the mud, dowsing her much-bedraggled blonde braid even further with muck ... and other things she didn't want to consider. She dragged a gloved hand over her eyes, clearing her vision just as a voice gasped.

"Look out!"

The half-seen, half-felt whoosh of an approaching deathstroke gave her barely enough time to roll out of the way. As it was, the sword sliced the outer edge of her shoulder, tearing away cloth and a layer of skin. Gritting her teeth, Kell shoved herself upwards and attacked in a flurry of moves that drove the soldier backwards towards the wagon. Like her, he tripped but also managed to lose his grip on his sword. She struck and he fell unconscious next to the other two.

Panting, she leaned against the rickety wagon bed for a moment, getting her breath before standing upright and gingerly touching her bleeding shoulder, hissing at the pain. But it's nothing that won't heal. Now then, about--

"I thought your type always killed their prey."

She stiffened and swivelled to face the two men.

The second man protested quietly. "Volenn! She just saved our lives. Seth would not be so kind."

"My type?" Kell bit off.

The first man, Volenn, apparently, stepped closer to her and stared at her in the near-darkness, his eyes judging her appearance. "You're a mercenary, aren't you? You're not old enough to have been one of the king's soldiers."

Kell stared back at him, processing the gray hair and the noble mein. Volenn. I know that name. Lists of important people and places sped rapidly through her memory. Until... "Volenn. You're one of King Randal's councilors that escaped before the invasion."

His eyes widened and he answered without thinking. "Yes, I-- I mean, why would you think that?"

She laughed once. "I make it my business to know who people are." Pausing, she frowned. "Where's your friend?"

Volenn started and glanced around, then pointed behind her. "Gone to the mages' carriage. He wants to retrieve the rhain'uel. Seth sent them for it."

Kell muttered a few words under her breath and strode across the farmyard. She was still several feet away when the other man yanked open the carriage door. He managed to get partway into the carriage before he was blasted out by a familiar power surge, landing some distance away with a wet squelch. Kell gritted her teeth and dove in, tossing up a quick outer shield as she stopped before the open carriage door, Lachiellian raised and ready.

"I think you have something that doesn't belong to you." Both mages started a bit at her appearance in the doorway before one of them tossed his hand in the air in a move that was intended to shove her away. But her shield pushed back and she only felt a small nudge. She spotted a scepter on the seat, resting on a ratty blanket. "And that must be it." Grabbing it before either mage could react, Kell shoved the scepter through her belt and stepped away from the carriage door.

The two dark mages studied her with glittering eyes, abrupt understanding blazing on their faces. One still had a hand raised from the previous attack. He was the one that spoke. "You are Kellessan. The one who defeated our brother in Lilyvale."

"That'd be me." She took another step away.

"You must die."

The resultant blast left her side of the carriage a sizzling, singed black mess. And dried out her darkened hair to a cakey, bad-smelling chunk of muck as well as leaving her eyesight dancing with spots and sparkles, and her hearing fading in and out. But she was still standing (mostly), the mystery scepter was still in her possession (shockingly), and she still had a grip (loosely) on Lachiellian. Kell coughed weakly. Yay for me.

The two mages stepped from the ruined carriage. Their voices ran together. "Kellessan, daughter of no one, daughter of a misbegotten fate, daughter of no destiny, the Light Sisters have lied to you. Rillanda is lost. You are lost. You have no place left to run."

She ignored the mutterings of "that's Kellessan!?!" from Volenn and his unnamed companion. "Who said I was planning to run?"

Both mages raised their hands and she could almost smell the power being drained from the surroundings into their hands. The few lights seen in houses disappeared. The lantern by the abandoned wagon snuffed out with a hissing sizzle. The unconscious soldiers groaned in pain.

Somewhere a baby started to cry. And then stopped.

No. Not again. Straightening against the outward drag of power threatening to weaken her, she wrapped both hands around the pommel and raised Lachiellian. "I've learned a few things since my last encounter with your ... types." She stepped forward. "I am the daughter of Rillanda; I do have a destiny; and I do have a fate. And the Light Sisters, well, they like me. A lot." Eyes drifting closed, she whispered something unheard (thank you, Hinarme, for making me learn the few important Words and the right way to do this) and then power streamed from her hands, up through the sword and out as she leveled the point at the two mages, who tossed their own magic up in defense. Both sides met in an explosion that sent up a pulse of thunder that could outdo anything ever heard naturally.

When the light and sound show ended, Kellessan stood on wavering feet. The carriage was a smoking pile of ruins. And there was no trace of the mages to be seen anywhere. She shoved her sword downward into the ground, leaning on it, not wanting to fall on her face right then. The smell of smoke and oily magicks hung in the air around her, slowly being washed away by the returning rain, which had warmed up.

A wailing baby cry filled the air. Wilting just a bit more, her eyes closed in gratitude and relief.

Something hard tapped her midsection and she glanced downward at the forgotten scepter. Oh. It didn't seem that special, though she supposed the glowing stone might be nice for a low light source. Prying one curled hand away from her sword, she fumbled for the staff and tiredly yanked it from beneath her belt. She examined it for a moment, frowning at the simpleness of it, wondering why the dark mages wanted it so badly. You know, I don't think I really care. Shifting slightly, she turned her head to look for the two men who'd gotten her into this mess. "Who wants this rain...thingy?"

"Rhain'uel." The second man, dressed in a hooded dingy white robe, appeared next to her. "It's an ancient Rillandan artifact belonging to-- Oh! It's glowing." His face lifted to hers. She could see the light reflecting off his eyes but nothing of his features.

Kell blinked and looked again at the stone. "Is that bad?"

The man reached out and grasped the staff of the scepter. "No, just ... unexpected." He seemed to stare at her from beneath his encompassing robe, then he spoke again, a smile in his tone. "You can let go now."

"What? Oh. Sorry. I'm a bit foggy." She released the scepter and raised that hand to rub her eyes. The stone immediately dimmed before being tucked away inside the man's robes. "You and your friend Volenn should get going. It's not safe here. Seth will send more mages to investigate."

He nodded, his eyes going over her shoulder. "Yes, Volenn is anxious to leave, even in this darkness." Touching her shoulder, he added, "Light's blessings to you, Kellessan, daughter of fate."

Kell felt something other than his hand touch her for a moment and she sighed at the warmth it produced. "I-- You're welcome... I never got your name."

She could sense his smile even in the darkness. "Sami'el."

"Sami'el. Safe travels."

He nodded and left her side to join an impatient Volenn. She watched idly as they retrieved their horses from the barn and headed out of the village. A group of townspeople had appeared as they were leaving, all with lanterns. Kellessan gathered herself enough to assist with removing the evidence of the dark mages' presence and demise. The still-unconscious soldiers were tied up and dumped into the wagon to be dealt with later.

Finally in the last hour just before dawn, she sat down on a rickety chair just inside a barn to eat a quick breakfast of bread, cheese, fruit, and wonderfully warm cider, pressed upon her by the grateful mother of the crying baby. She stowed half an apple away for Tavi and savored the best meal she'd had in months, watching as families went about their early morning chores. Fathers stopped to hug their younger children and wives before leaving to do work in their fields.

Tears unexpectedly welled up and she blinked several times, looking downward as a few tears escaped to splash into her half-empty mug of cider. It had been several months since she'd been back to Yana. Working against Seth took her away a lot but she'd never been away this long. But then Lilyvale happened. Her stomach churned at the stark memories and she squeezed her eyes shut.

The mages' taunt rang in her ears. 'You have no place left to run.'

I ran from Lilyvale to Fariedel and Jydan. And then I ran from Fariedel and away from Jydan to...to... To anywhere but back to Yana. She'd long ago accepted the unpleasant fact that she would occasionally have to kill. But to be the reason for an innocent's death because she was too late, too slow... How can I face them? How can I tell...?

Her mother's gentle face suddenly appeared in her mind. She took a breath and forced her eyes open. No. They can't know. Ever. Her gaze fell upon a mother holding her young daughter to her as they walked back into their home. Her heart ached for that simple comfort. But I think it's time. Kellessan stood and gathered up her partially dry cloak then slipped away into the woods, heading down the road that would lead her to Tavi and to home.

She missed her parents. Missed her mother's cooking and her father's quiet humming. She even missed sitting bored on a stool at the back of the room, listening to badly trained minstrels tell the same old stories over and over. Looking behind her briefly towards the road on the other side of the village, she smiled thoughtfully. If there's a council member still around, maybe a bard or two managed to get out as well. It'd be nice to hear a 'true story' again.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Present...
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Dorien straightened as Linet was announced into the throne room. He had spoken to her briefly early that morning but hadn't seen her since. He wished he could be walking with her but only a spouse could do so, not just a betrothed. Still, his status as both Royal Bard and Historian and as Linet's chosen secured him the nearest seat to the crown, both literally and figuratively.

Not something Volenn is crazy about. I need to find a successor before Lin and I get married.

Linet was resplendent in deep green and silver, the princess coronet shining atop a multitude of soft waves and tiny elaborate braids that spoke of Melaani's talented hands. The gown was new, at least to Dorien's eyes. Then he blinked as he realized it was actually a very old style, obviously patterned after an ancestress's choice of apparel. Subtly reaffirming her proper claim. Clever, Lin, very clever.

Jydan appeared beside him, looking vaguely uncomfortable, as usual, in his official guard captain attire. Blaen was with him, an abnormal sight for court, but one that Dorien expected. Unsurprisingly, Melaani stood at Blaen's side, her hand entwined with his. Although it was considered more than a bit unusual for a princess to have a guard captain and his guide-partner as friends, it was generally accepted that Linet herself was a bit unusual for a princess, so the friendship wasn't questioned. Much.

Realizing the newest member of their circle of friends was missing, Dorien leaned to the side just a bit. "Liralen?" Not that the two of them show the slightest hint of affection towards each other while on duty...

"At the doors with Kedric." Jydan nodded toward the opposite end of the room. Beyond the crowd, Dorien could see Liralen and Kedric standing as honor guards at the doors. He glanced quickly over at Jydan whose voice was tense with expectation. What had Lin told him about what's going to happen?

Linet stopped at the dais and hesitated only a bare moment before turning to face the assembled councilors and citizens. Her eyes flickered to Dorien's and held for a few seconds. He raised a hand and touched the silver pin affixed prominently to his collar. Aside of princess coronet, Linet's own adornment was limited to the betrothal necklace from him. Dorien knew he was one of the few who caught the slight firming of her stance as her eyes shifted to a somber Volenn and then to a pleased-looking Sami'el.

In contrast to Volenn's quiet opposition to Linet, Sami'el was openly supportive of her, moreso than many on the Council, which actually inclined many of them to support her as well. Dorien's eyes fixed on the rhain'uel scepter in Sami'el's hands. He understood Linet's concern about this particular part of the ceremony, especially after all the research he and Blaen had done. Lightning indeed. I wonder if Sami'el knows about-- Abruptly, his thoughts derailed and something else struck him. Sami'el is the Elder Father of an Order which reveres the Light Sisters who guided Kell for so long. His breath caught and his eyes shifted from the murky stone to its bearer. Could it be that he knows just who Linet is...was?

Before Dorien could adjust to that striking possibility, Sami'el stepped forward and held out the scepter. Dorien silently cheered Linet's refusal to show her worry as she lifted her hand and rested it wholly on the stone. Her voice rang clear and strong as she identified herself. "Linet, daughter of Stefan and Raven, true and only heir to the throne of Rillanda." Tradition required nothing more. Dorien sucked in a silent breath as the stone seemed to pause before glowing whitely from beneath Linet's hand. She turned her head to look at Volenn, leaving her hand where it was, waiting for him to say something. He didn't disappoint.

"And what of your oath to this land and her people? Will you be true?"

The stone continued to radiate light with Linet's reply. "My goal is as my parents'. To heal the wounds of years past. And to grow in peace with those around us." Ceremony complete, she released the rhain'uel, nodding her thanks to Sami'el. Dorien started to breathe again, relief flooding his system. Whew. All done. And no lightning to be seen.

"My doubts of your suitability for this role remain."

Linet froze and a ripple of gasps ran through the galley of observers. Volenn continued, unfazed. "You are who you say you are, that much the rhain'uel says is true. And I don't disbelieve that you want to help your people. However, your whereabouts and training during the fifteen years of exile are unknown and suspect. The story of the separation from your parents could easily be a ruse for a kidnapping by enemies of Rillandan who then trained you to follow their path. And even if the story given is true, who is to say what ... indiscretions took place during those years that could lead to embarrassment for our esteemed royal house."

His voice remained even and calm throughout his recitation as he turned to face the other Councilors. "No, for the good of Rillanda, I must .... we must wait for time to pass for full coronation to be assured that Her Highness Linet is ready for such a weighty task. Perhaps a partial rulership with regency powers granted to select Councilors would be appropriate."

Jydan leaned toward Dorien, hissing angrily. "Can he do that?"

A grim-faced Dorien nodded. "Unfortunately, it is his right. But normally regency is only used for minors or when there is no clear heir, certainly not in-- Uh-oh."

Linet shook herself from her frozen stance and snatched the scepter from a likewise stunned Sami'el. One hand gripping the staff firmly with the other clamped tightly over the already glowing stone, she stepped away from the dais. Another echo of astonishment rocked the room and Volenn swung back to see a very angry Linet stalking toward him. Her voice cut through the noise like a sword and silenced the debating voices.

"You question my identity, my loyalty, and my integrity, Lord Volenn. Let me assure you of all I am. I am Linet, true daughter and true heir. I am not nor have ever been foresworn." The stone flared. "Rillanda and her people have been at the heart of everything I have done since my brother was killed protecting me fifteen years ago." The stone flared again, brightening further. "I have always known who I was and who I was to become from childhood forward. There is nothing in my past that has not been done to secure peace for this land. There have been no 'indiscretions,' as you claim, to bring embarrassment to my family." Those closest to the dais started to wince away from the white glow. Even Sami'el had to step back. Volenn could only stare at Linet's face, highlighted by the vivid light.

Dorien slid his gaze to Blaen who stared back at him wide-eyed. Dorien knew they were thinking the same thing -- neither had thought to wonder what the rhain'uel's reaction would be to someone with mage ability, especially not someone as strong and angry as Linet. Additionally, Dorien hadn't told Linet everything they'd found -- partially because some of it didn't seem useful enough and also because of the limited time she'd had in the last two days. But now he remembered a phrase he'd found about the stone's ability to function being tied to the priests of the Order in that it had to be held by one of them for the truth-telling powers to work. Either that bit of research is wrong -- or Linet, or Kellessan more likely, was named a priest ... priestess? de facto when she took up Lachiellian. His mind boggled with the new evidence.

His head whipped back as Linet's voice deepened. "You have no idea what those fifteen years were like for me..."

"No, no, no." Dorien's fists clenched tightly at his sides.

Jydan caught his worried tone and touched his shoulder. "What? What's wrong? Aside of the obvious--"

"...what I went through..."

"She's just about to slip--"

"...what my parents went through..."

Blaen's gasp cut him off and both men turned to see the younger man flinching away from Linet. Melaani pressed against him, both her hands curled around his arm, as Blaen hid his face in Jydan's back. Jydan tensed with alarm at Blaen's hoarse words. "Too much. She's too bright."

"...what I gave up..."

"You mean the stone?" Dorien questioned.

"...what I did..."

"No. Her."

Linet's voice dropped another notch, taking on a way too familiar gravelly tone. "...to ensure we would someday take back our lives..."

Panicking and not having another choice, Dorien took a full step forward toward the dais, breaking protocol but immediately capturing Linet's -- or rather Kellessan's -- attention. "Lin." He kept his voice as soft as possible, praying that everyone was either too involved in watching or unable to watch. But not knowing how much she could see beyond the sphere of light, he had to speak up.

"..and our homes. I--" Her voice cut off. The light immediately diminished as Linet removed her hand from the stone. She stood a moment longer in front of Volenn, eyes cool as she finished in a more normal tone. "I have seen and lived and touched more of Rillanda in those fifteen years of exile than you have, Lord Volenn. And while I will value your council and advice, I am of age and am the rightful heir. That I be crowned is my father's, your King's, command. There will be no regency."

Linet turned away from Volenn and returned the quiescent scepter to Sami'el before taking her place at the lowest step of the dais. By rights and tradition, it fell to the Royal Bard to begin the "long live" chant (as Blaen had named it), but Dorien had felt unsure of doing so this time because of the complications of also being future King. He had hoped Volenn would proclaim his support by being the first. Looking at the still stunned and blinking Chief Councilor, Dorien didn't think that likely. He drew breath to speak but someone else beat him to it.

Sami'el spoke into the uneasy silence, using what Dorien recognized as much, much older words of confirmation, edited just slightly to fit the unique ceremony. "Her Royal Highness Linet has been named in truth as heir to King Stefan and Queen-Consort Raven. Destined to rule as their successor, fate has decreed that her rule begin at such a time as now. Thus we name and choose her as Queen and true ruler of the blood. Long live Queen Linet."

Others joined in, casting their vote and lot with her. The noise jolted Volenn and he straightened, letting his voice be heard as well. The Chief Steward and his assistant walked with due pomp into the throne room. While the assistant stepped up to Linet's side and removed the circlet from her head, Sami'el lifted the heavier queen's crown from its silken nest held by the Chief Steward. Moving forward a step, he slowly placed the crown on its new bearer's brow amidst the resounding chorus of voices. His hands remained a moment, fingers lightly touching Linet's temples in blessing before he backed away, a pleased smile on his face.

Queen Linet remained standing for several seconds before turning and rising the dais steps to the thrones. Applause shook the walls as Linet settled gracefully into the ruling monarch's throne. Her gaze once again flitted to Dorien. He gave her a smile and pressed his fist over his heart, to signify his love for her and loyalty to her. She couldn't return the gesture while on such public display but she didn't have to.

Dorien could read everything she wanted to say in her eyes.

- The End -


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