Prophecy Story Index

Summary: Kell considers how to remedy a few particular rumors circulating the palace. Post-Heart's Journey; pre-Searches.

Rumors
by Becky
September 2007

On silent if tired feet, Kellessan halted and stood before the hidden doorway into her palace room. Resting her forehead against the heavy panels of the doorjamb, she tripped the switch to swing the door inward a crack. She listened but heard nothing beyond and so let the door open fully, revealing the back side of the heavy tapestry that covered the doorway. As she pushed the woven cloth aside, subtly scented air slipped around her, welcoming her from the musty passageway. Diffused light from the sunset drifted through the shuttered windows and a low-lit oil lamp glowed from its position on a small table along the opposite wall. A tiny smile crept across her weary face at the sight. Few people had access to her small suite of rooms and the lamp being lit meant Dorien had been there recently -- at least according to the clutch of wildflowers in the bud vase on her vanity.

Stepping entirely in her room, she nudged the hidden door closed, half-hearing the latch click even as the tapestry fell back into place. As she unbuckled the leather strap of her sword sheath, her eyes drifted to the wardrobe and the smile faded away at the sight of the semi-formal dress hanging on the outer door. Memory rushed back and Kell groaned, closing her eyes. The dinner. That's tonight. I forgot. Just that morning, her parents had reminded her about the dinner to be held that evening with the royal family and the surviving elder Councilors and the Elder Father, Sami'el. Stefan had expressed concern that the Council didn't know Linet. Mostly because I've been avoiding them. Still. Whenever I can.

Linet had only appeared when absolutely necessary, such as at the recent banquet. Even then, she'd talked little and disappeared with Dorien sometime during the dancing, only reappearing shortly before retiring for the evening. She'd agreed to the dinner after she'd heard rumors (as Kellessan) in the soldiers' compound that the princess and only heir had become reclusive and secretive, and it was extremely troubling so soon after the country's victory over Seth. Thus the dinner to alleviate the Council's concerns which would then spread to others, quelling such rumors and worries.

Hopefully.

Kell stared at the dress a moment longer, then straightened with a muffled sigh and moved toward a small stool next to a locked chest next to the wardrobe. She carefully slid the sword sheath and Lachiellian off, wincing as strained muscles and an assortment of bruises sent up a chorus of displeasure with the movement. Gritting her teeth, she sunk down on the stool and unlocked the chest, placing Lachiellian inside and making a silent promise to clean the sword later. After this evening's torture session has concluded.

Leather vest, gloves, belt, and mud-stained boots were added before she relocked the chest. One hand clutching the opposite shoulder as abused muscles and tendons screamed again for attention, she sat for another few seconds, working to regain control over the pain. She knew without looking that lurid splashes of yellow and green would soon be evident along her upper arm, up and over her shoulder, and down onto her back.

But at least the pain means at least one of them is getting it. I think I'll move Kedric up to teaching, if only to keep from sparring with him anymore.

Taking a breath, she heaved herself to her feet and started across the room. She stopped to eye the dress, chosen she assumed by her mother, and was relieved to see its modest cut would hide the presence of the bruising. At least the physical evidence. Kell grimaced and continued towards the bathing room. The pain would be harder to mask, although she had a mild pain-numbing tea she could drink while dressing. I just hope it will last me through the evening. She had a more effective salve, but its rather distinctive and very strong odor prevented its use until later. Time to make that magical transition from Kellessan the warrior to Linet the princess.

~~~~~~~~~

Sometime later, the transition was nearly complete. Fully clothed, Linet sat at her vanity, watching herself in the mirror as she attempted to tame her long hair into some semblance of princessly propriety. With not enough time to fully wash her hair, she'd made do with a quick brush-out and smoothing over with a tirari-scented damp towel. The essence of the lightly-scented flower had been supplied some months ago by her mother to assist when Kellessan had to become Linet in short order. Sachets appeared soon after, tucked away in the corners of drawers and her wardrobe, almost as quicky as those same spaces filled with clothes and other such things fit for a princess of Rillanda.

Linet drew the brush down one final time and sighed. Now what? Re-braiding, even loosely, wasn't an option, not with the patterns of the previous braid still in evidence. Maybe I could... Setting the brush aside, she drained the rest of her tea, then slid open a small drawer and rifled through it, pushing aside ribbons and decorative pins until she found a silver butterfly hairclip. She smiled and traced one finger along the edges of the wings where the colors were mostly worn to bare flecks after much loving use. It had been given to her on her tenth birthday by her grandfather Andrel, who had made it for Gwyna -- the grandmother she'd never known -- many years ago. Although it had been too large for a ten-year-old girl to wear, she had still loved it, occasionally carefully flying it about her room, pretending to be a fairy. When they had to escape, the butterfly clip had been in the pocket of her cloak.

It was the only thing she still had from those long-lost days. The clip -- carefree, silent, faded, alone -- had become a cornerstone of her new life, helping her to remember not just the bad but all the good.

Working from memory from the portrait of Gwyna in the gallery, she loosely pulled back sections and affixed the pin at the back of head, taking care to leave a few tendrils to hang about her face as had become her custom. Besides assisting in distancing the likeness between Kell and Linet, they also hid the faint scar tracing the skin in front of one ear, courtesy of a short but vicious hand-to-hand knife fight from even before she had taken the name Kellessan. The first scar of many to follow, each accompanied by the vivid memories of the scar's genealogy.

Mentally taking a step outside herself, Linet eyes her reflection critically, examining the royal camouflage for flaws or cracks. A tiny smirk tugged at one edge of her lips, hinting at the warrior hidden beneath. Camouflage is usually meant to hide yourself among your enemies. I doubt the councilors would much appreciate the comparison. Though if they only knew...

In the months since Seth's defeat, she had slowly been cultivating a separate personality for Linet apart from Kell. It was tiring and sometimes near impossible when it was necessary to curb her immediate response of contempt at the highhandedness of a handful of nobles drifting back from their hidden asylums. Them and their half-whispered rumors and gossip of what those who remained had to do to stay alive. What did they know of hard lives? They ran. She sneered as Kell abruptly stared back at her from the mirror, the mask of Linet vanishing in a blink. And hid in silence. For fifteen years. Not all of the nobility were like that and none of them were among of those to be at the dinner that evening. I'm just lucky enough to run into them whenever Linet makes an appearance. In particular the ones who think they are courting a sheltered, possibly frightened princess, looking for a strong, young man to be her husband. Oh, and be king some day as well. Her stomach tightened at the thought of any of those suitors taking her father's place, much less...anything else.

Kell sighed and rubbed a few fingers over her forehead. I finally get what I've wanted for fifteen years and now it's all I can do some days not to run. But I won't let anyone chase me away from my home again. Not rumors. Not simpering nobles. Not arguing Council members.

A sudden chuckle rose as she remembered Stefan's sly comment to her after the Council's first post-restoration session: "I ran a tavern for three years. The Council may be a more quarrelsome group, but much less prone to throwing tankards and breaking chairs." He'd paused and then finished, "I have a feeling the day will come that I'm going to miss the simplicity of solving disputes with a bucket of cold water or a solid clot across the jaw."

Mood lifted, Kell closed her eyes and took a deep breath, calling back the mantle of royalty. It became a little easier each time, answering her often thought but unvoiced question of whether a warrior could remember how to be a princess. Especially -- as a bolt of pain streaked across her shoulder and down her back -- with the past, my past, engraved on my skin like a map. One that thankfully none of the Council will ever see. The inevitable question that would arise if they did -- whether or not she was truly Linet -- wasn't a battle she was prepared to fight.

Not yet anyway.

Another breath, deeper this time. The scent of the wildflowers drifted upwards, bringing a smile to her face. Her eyes slid open, but she ignored the mirror's reflection of Linet. Instead, she focused on the flowers and lifted one hand to touch the delicate petals.

Dorien.

Part of the work in creating who Linet was involved letting pieces of Kell out, mostly letting it be known that she held strong, quiet opinions and could be stubborn if pushed. That she preferred the company of so-called "peasants" to riches. That her strongest loyalty, aside of her parents, was to Dorien, the newly affirmed Royal Bard. And the slowly evolving gossip that her heart was already spoken for by the same Royal Bard. She chuckled. Does it count as gossip if you're the one to start the rumor about yourself, only in a different guise? Though one of her guard trainees did ask about Dorien first....

A knock on the door scattered her thoughts. Dorien's muffled tones swept inward. "Linet? You ready?"

Linet fought down the absurd blush that she felt staining her cheeks at the sound of his voice. Mother would be laughing at me if she were here. She stood and smoothed down the panels of the skirt, then took one last look in the mirror before walking across the room to open the door.

Dorien stood in the hallway, looking very bardic. A pleased smile curled up the edges of his lips. "Good evening, milady Linet." He gave a little bow.

She stepped back and gestured for him to come inside, releasing the door as she walked to the low bench at the end of her bed. "Let me get the wrap-thingy Mother insists I wear and--" Fingers grasped hers warmly and tugged her to a stop. Turning back, she frowned in puzzlement. "Dorien--"

"Don't I get a proper hello?" Dorien touched her cheek with his fingertips. "You look lovely, Linet." Then he leaned forward and kissed her, lingering softly.

One hand gripping his, the other lightly resting on his shoulder -- when did I do that? -- Linet felt the recently fought down blush make a quick return. The new closeness between the two of them left her uncertain, the bold confidence of Kellessan slipping away at his touch. Instinct took over and she released his hand, moved a few inches closer, and reached up to cover his hand where it cupped her cheek, curling her fingers through his.

Suddenly this evening doesn't seem so horrid.

Her voice whispered out against his smiling lips. "Hello. And thank you."

In response, he kissed her again and she released his hand to reach toward his shoulder, intending to--

OW!!

--sharp twinges streaked upwards from her shoulder to her arm, reminding her rudely of her injury. The pain must have shown in her features -- and more probably in the way her arm dropped away -- as Dorien's smile faded into a frown.

"What is it?"

Behind him, she could see the door had been pushed partly closed but there was still a gap open onto the hallway outside her room. Always wary of listening ears, Linet said only, "I ... fell earlier."

"Fell?" Comprehension dawned swiftly. "During..." He made a quick slashing motion with his hand, as if gripping something in one hand.

"Yes. I'm okay. Just bruised." She pulled away to retrieve her wrap, draping it quickly over her shoulders. Turning back to Dorien, she found him still frowning, eyeing her intently, searching for the bruises.

"Where--?"

"Here." She interrupted him before he asked and touched her cloth-covered shoulder with the opposite hand. No need to tell him that the bruise went all the way down. Before she could react, he had one hand on her dress, fingers carefully pushing aside the edge of the neckline and the newly-situated wrap where the bruise started. The opposite hand slid along her waist and brought her flush against him even as he dropped his head to her shoulder.

She sucked in a breath at the touch of his lips on her bare skin.

oh

Eyes wide, Linet froze as even instinct deserted her. Her hands remained at her sides, fingers twitching once before curling into the material of her skirt. He's... The warmth of his breath wafted across her shoulder and neck, his voice whispering something unheard, and the callouses on his fingertips slid gently over her skin, in contrast to his soft kiss. His other hand tightened slightly around her waist. I... His hair grazed the underside of her jaw, and she could smell a faint hint of clean soap scent. A sound at the edge of her range caught her attention, and she finally managed to gasp out his name.

"Dorien..."

He slowly straightened, hands sliding away from her. Linet blinked at the color appearing in his cheeks. "Did it work?"

She blinked again and then a vague memory of being a child with a skinned knee running to mommy for a kiss to "make it better" skittered across her mind. It hadn't worked after Terel died. Or it hadn't until now.

"Yes." Linet reached up and slid her fingers across Dorien's brow, replacing a few misplaced strands of hair. "Yes. It worked. I..." She paused, fumbling for words to express herself. And not able to find them.

Dorien grasped her hand and pressed a kiss onto her fingers, holding them there for long moments, his eyes holding hers hostage with all the words neither of them was ready to say or hear. Silently, they left her room, locking the door behind them. Linet tucked the key away in a tiny hidden inner pocket she'd sewn into most of her dresses, then let Dorien tuck her hand into the crook of his arm as they started down the hallway. Content to rest against him, Linet enjoyed the quiet peace as they headed toward the smaller banquet room.

As they turned a corner, she spoke up. "I think we must be late."

"Hmm?" Dorien glanced at her.

"I caught the face of a page at the door...he, uh, gaped for a moment, and ran off." She sighed. "Another rumor for the Council to chew on."

Dorien's eyes widened. "I'm sorry."

"I'm not." Linet patted his arm and laughed at the confused look on his face. "Don't worry. All part of my devious plan to make sure any other...suitors...ugh, know that I'm not available. Rumors are a wonderful thing." They'd left the residential part of the palace and were occasionally passing others in the broad hallway. She lowered her voice. "I hear that this rumor was actually started by Kellessan herself when one of her female guard trainees commented about a certain Royal Bard's...availability."

Now Dorien laughed. They rounded the last corner and stopped at the top of the grand staircase that led down to the main palace rooms. Below they could see the door to the banquet room. Muffled voices and the occasional clink of glassware drifted upwards. As they prepared to descend, Linet felt Dorien lean closer.

His voice quieted down to a mere whisper. "Just what did ... Kellessan say? Or was rumored to say?"

Linet looked down at her hand where it rested lightly on his arm, the roughened skin of her palms and fingers catching slightly on the material of his sleeve. After a moment, she raised her eyes to his, her expression hovering on the edge of embarrassment. "Only that she'd heard that the Royal Bard has been minstrelling for the princess who hasn't refused to listen to said minstrelling."

"Ah."

She relaxed at his immediate acceptance of what she'd done and evidently found it amusing as he continued.

"And Kellessan, of course, made sure it was known that ‘minstrelling' meant more than simply music?" Dorien grinned.

"Of course." Linet smirked just slightly. "Kellessan tends to be a bit .. blunt about those things, you know. Rough at times for those around her." She stopped, her expression softening. "Dorien, I--"

An impatient and not terribly discreet throat-clearing from the bottom of the stairs interrupted her. She flinched slightly, having forgotten they were on display so prominently. Dorien's matching flinch commiserated with her.

Later. We have time.

With a restrained sigh, Dorien straightened a bit and gestured towards the stairs. "Ready to face the ... rumors?"

Head lifting, she mentally pulled on the remaining armor of royalty. The strange amalgam of Kellessan and Linet that so few saw disappeared. In her place stood Her Highness, Princess Linet of Rillanda, on the arm of her chosen escort -- and apparently willing partner in various rumors.

"Ready."

- The End -


Prophecy Story Index