Tuesday, November 24, 2015
Yalera had wanted to meet Prince Crispin's other women before she married him. Part of her thought that if she didn't get along with them, she might be able to call off the wedding after all. The rest of her knew that that was just not possible. In any case, there simply wasn't enough time to meet them.
So here she was on the morning of her wedding being prepared by her mother and sister. Her twin was also in the room since he was the only male – other than her father – that could be trusted to guard her at such a time. Well, the only one that her mother would agree to. Apparently, there were specially trained guards who wore blindfolds when their female charges were dressing. Prince Crispin had told her that she'd be assigned one after their marriage. In any case, Rohan sat out of the way stroking their cats.
Rolanna chattered on about how exciting it was for Yalera to be getting married, and how wonderful her own wedding had been. Yalera was grateful for her cheerfulness. It took her mind of her nervousness.
“Oh! You look so beautiful!” Rolanna exclaimed when Yalera was ready.
“I feel beautiful,” Yalera murmured, admiring herself in the mirror. Slowly, her nervousness was being replaced by excitement. “I still can't believe that in just a few short hours, I'll be a married woman!”
“I like being married,” Rolanna informed her with a smile. “No matter what you might have heard, the wedding night is not scary at all.”
Yalera chuckled wryly. “Well I wasn't scared about it until just now.”
Her mother sighed and shook her head. “Rolanna's right. So long as your husband has any regard for you, he'll make sure not to hurt you.”
“But... what if he doesn't? Have regard for me, that is. What if I am just another woman to him and he doesn't care if I'm hurt?” Yalera wondered.
Both Rolanna and their mother exchanged helpless looks before shrugging. “Well... if it comes to that, just do your best to relax and endure it,” Lady Yalena advised.
“The hell with that!” Rohan blurted out fiercely. He was blushing at the topic, but also felt this was too important to remain silent about. “If he hurts you, hurt him back! Also, you might want to remind him that he said he owed you for saving his life, and the least he could do is treat you well.”
“That's an excellent point!” Yalera exclaimed cheerfully. She walked over, and then bent to kiss her brother on the cheek. “You always know just what to say to make me feel better.”
Lady Yalena pulled Yalera aside, took a deep breath, and then looked at the ceiling. “You've seen your brother naked, so you know what to expect in that regard. Although I hope you haven't seen him in that state... Anyway, since you have been properly sheltered, you probably don't know much about what is going to happen. I think I should tell you what to expect so that you aren't too shocked.”
Yalera smiled at her mother. “Thank you for wanting to prepare me, but I've seen our livestock mate. I am pretty sure I can guess what will happen.”
“Oh thank the Gods!” Her mother muttered. “I wasn't very good at explaining this to Rolanna either!”
Rohan cleared his throat and looked away as he muttered. “That's probably why dad explained things to us...”
“Yeah,” Rolanna agreed with a small laugh. “He made us promise not to tell you, but he had an enlightening talk with both Yemry and me when we were younger, and it was a lot more informative than your talk was.”
Lady Yalena sighed in relief. “I wish he had told me that. I wouldn't have felt so terrible for not knowing what to say!”
In practically no time at all, Yalera was clutching her father's arm as they waited to walk down the aisle in the palace throne room. Contrary to expectation, there was no maid of honor or best man. Thus, Rolanna was already seated.
The music started playing, and then the doors opened. Yalera took a deep breath and plastered a smile on her face. The guests got to their feet and turned to look at her as she slowly walked forward.
Mixed in with all of those visiting from Rubidium were Nandians. It was strange to Yalera that most of the Nandian women in attendance wore veils. These were not veils designed to hide their faces, but rather sheer veils that seemed to have no real purpose other than to look pretty. However, Prince Crispin had already told her that she would be expected to wear one in public as a way to let others know that she belonged to the Royal Family and should not be looked at. This concept made no sense!
Pushing the subject of veils to the back of her mind, Yalera looked around at those she knew. Unexpectedly, Baethan caught her eye. He looked extremely frustrated about something. So much so that Yalera wondered if he was about to cry. She then noticed that he was standing more or less directly behind her sister, so she figured that he must wish that he could reach out and stroke her hair or something like that.
He caught her looking at him and quickly changed his expression to a goofy one. He even went so far as to stick just a bit of his tongue out at her. Rather than laugh loudly like she wanted, Yalera simply chuckled softly, grinned, and turned her attention to her groom.
Prince Crispin was looking at her as if he was mildly stunned by her beauty. He didn't seem nervous at all, yet he must be! They hadn't had any time at all to get to know one another!
From the moment that her hand was placed in her groom's, the ceremony was surprisingly short. They weren't asked to make any vows – as she expected – instead, they were blessed on behalf of the Gods for a couple of minutes, and then declared man and wife, which was sealed with a nerve-wracking kiss. She was asked to stand aside with her husband as the two Kings signed the peace treaty, and then the Priest beckoned them forward again.
This time, they were asked to kneel as a box was held out by an attendant. The Priest selected a sturdy gold circlet – which looked bold and manly – and then placed it on Prince Crispin's head. “I now declare you officially the Crown Prince in the eyes of the Gods. Please...” He gestured for Crispin to look into the box.
Prince Crispin nodded to indicate that he knew what was expected of him. He took hold of a solid gold circle about a half an inch wide. It was fairly flat and thin, and had a well crafted hinge so that it could be opened. Crispin placed it around Yalera's neck.
“This is the symbol that you belong to me. I'm told that in your Kingdom, a man gives his wife a ring. In my Kingdom, we give our wives collars...” he explained as he closed the collar and fastened it. Next, he placed a tiny golden lock through the clasp so that she couldn't take it off without his permission – slipping the key into his breast pocket. Lastly, he took a thick gold chain from the box and squeezed open the hook so that he could hook the chain to the collar. It dangled about a foot and a half before forming a loop.
Like a leash... Yalera thought with a numb feeling.
Satisfied, the priest grinned at her. “And now!” He took hold of the last item in the box – which was a delicate gold circlet that subtly matched Crispin's. It sat on a sheer veil which was carefully placed over her head, and then the circlet was pressed down over it. “I pronounce you the Crown Princess Consort in the eyes of our Gods.”
The crowd applauded them loudly enough as they stood and turned to face them that Yalera felt confident that no one would overhear her. She leaned closer to Crispin to whisper in his ear. “Why am I wearing a leash?”
Crispin chuckled and whispered in her ear. “Don't worry. Tomorrow, after we've consummated our marriage, you will place the leash around my neck where it will remain. This is a symbol that I belong to you as much as you belong to me.”
“Oh,” Yalera murmured.
“Come,” Prince Crispin tugged on her hand. “We're going to go wait for a few minutes while the guests move to the ballroom.”
“I see,” Yalera murmured, following him out the private entrance to the throne room. Select people – such as her parents and King Eric – would be allowed to wait with them, but the majority of the guests had to use the main entrance. Since there was quite a crowd, it would take them some time to relocate.
The Prince actually led his new wife into a small waiting room where they would have complete privacy before joining his father in the King's private waiting room. Crispin shut the door and silently looked at his wife for a few seconds. She was tempted to run her hands through her hair nervously, but resisted the urge.
“What?” She wondered.
“Just that we don't have to attend the banquet. If you are embarrassed or nauseous – or anything like that – we can go to my, I mean our apartment and try to relax,” Prince Crispin suggested.
Yalera laughed nervously. “Are you saying you want to skip straight to our wedding night?”
He chuckled with an impish grin. “No... Not unless that's what you want. It's just that my mother told me that sitting there in front of so many people she didn't know on her wedding day had been something of a minor nightmare, and I thought I might spare you from that.”
Yalera smiled at him. “Thank you for being so considerate... but I think I'll do just fine at the banquet.”
“If you're sure,” Prince Crispin murmured. Then, he placed a hand on her cheek. “Part of me was hoping that you would want to skip directly to our wedding night,” he whispered softly, and then kissed her.
Yalera didn't really know what to do, so she did nothing at all for a long moment, and then slowly placed her hands on his chest. When their kiss ended, they silently looked at each other. Yalera felt mildly panicked, but also hopeful that he would be a gentle husband.
“Before I forget,” Crispin stated with a smile. “Here's that Royal Decree I mentioned.” He pulled a piece of paper out of his pocket and handed it to her. “With this, you won't have to worry if one of your brothers touches you.”
“Thank you,” Yalera gushed in relief as she slipped the paper into her bodice. She was happy enough that she rewarded him with a kiss.
Prince Crispin took advantage of her goodwill and kissed her far more thoroughly than she was prepared for, but she found it fairly enjoyable nonetheless. After a few minutes of heavy kissing, Crispin pushed her slightly away.
“Oh Gods! If we keep this up, I'm going to carry you to our apartment and skip the banquet after all!” He announced.
Yalera giggled, but then shook her head. “I want to go to the banquet.”
“As you wish,” he responded in disappointment. A moment later, he took her hand in his and led her to the waiting room everyone else was in.
King Bruno boomed out a congratulations and beckoned them to come closer. “While we wait, I have decided to give my daughters a rare opportunity...”
Yalera placed her hand in her father in law's at his insistence. He grinned at her warmly. Just when she was starting to feel uncomfortable by his scrutiny, he gestured to a long screen lining one wall.
“In our Kingdom, any woman belonging to the Royal Family is considered sacred. They are not meant to be seen by ordinary people, and so they quite often remain in their quarters. Thus, my daughters haven't had a chance to congratulate their brother. His mother – as my wife and Queen – is allowed to do whatever she wants, but the rest of my women remain in seclusion with my daughters,” he paused to take a breath. His wife smiled at Yalera from her husband's side. She wore a veil and a crown along with her kindly aura.
“So long as every man here promises to not look at any of the women directly, I'll consider the rule maintained and let my women come greet you,” King Bruno stated, looking around to see that King Eric and all the men from Rubidium looked confused, but nodded in agreement. “Good!”
King Bruno paused before granting permission, staring at Yemry and Rohan. “You there! You two are Yalera's brothers, correct?”
“Yes, Your Majesty,” they both murmured with a respectful bow.
“I'll make an exception for you two. If you're in the mood for a bride, feel free to choose one of my daughters. They can doubly cement this wondrous peace treaty!”
Yemry and Rohan exchanged a surprised look. Yemry cleared his throat. “Thank you for the generous offer. I might just take you up on that!”
“Good answer!” King Bruno roared in genuine delight. He clapped his hands. “Girls!”
As King Bruno was introducing the long line of women that emerged from behind the screen, Yalera noticed that the ones who were his lovers wore red veils while the ones who were his daughters wore blue veils. The lovers greeted them by saying: “Congratulations my Prince; my Princess,” as they curtseyed. Crispin's sisters greeted them by saying: “I'm so happy for you, brother!” Then they kissed Yalera on the cheek and added: “Welcome to the family.”
Yalera was more than a little astonished to realize that her husband had approximately 20 sisters! The oldest was about 25, and the youngest was only five or six. She held a small flower in one hand and her mother's hand in the other. Her mother was maybe 21!
“This is for you,” the youngest Princess murmured shyly as she handed the flower to Yalera.
“Aww,” Yalera purred as she accepted the flower. “Thank you!”
“My oldest is a little girl about the same age as her,” Prince Crispin whispered in Yalera's ear. “I'm so happy to see that you like children.”
Yalera was a little surprised since Crispin was only 21 or 22 himself, but since she had been warned that he had women and children, she wasn't too flustered. King Bruno didn't really give her a chance to respond.
“You'll meet my other sons at the banquet,” he assured her. He then turned his attention to Yemry. “Did any of my daughters catch your eye?”
Yemry blushed since he wasn't used to being in a position to look women over like they were mares on auction. Even so, he felt he should be honest as well as respectful. “Actually, yes. Your daughters are all very beautiful, but there is one in particular that I can't seem to stop staring at.”
King Bruno roared with laughter even as Lady Yalena muttered murderously under her breath. She was disappointed in her son since she thought she had taught him to know better. As for Ronin, he was impressed that his son had made such a major decision so quickly.
The thing was, Yemry had already been in talks with King Eric for a while and knew that the King wanted him to get married soon so he could start on a family. The only real problem was that none of the eligible ladies were quite the right fit for a cousin of the King. On the other hand, a Nandian Princess would be the perfect bride.
“Well out with it, my boy!” King Bruno roared. “Which one?!”
“The dark beauty off to the side,” Yemry stated, pointing to a girl who looked about 19 or 20. She was staring at Yemry with a sultry look that left little doubt that she liked what she saw. However, a good half of the King's daughters looked ready to mob Yemry and beg him to marry them.
“Marlena! Congratulations my dear!” King Bruno boomed as he beckoned her forward. As she walked to him, he turned to King Eric. “And what say you? Is she suitable to marry into your family?”
“Of course!” King Eric agreed, highly pleased with this turn of events.
King Bruno pointed at a guard. “Go summon the Priest before he gets too drunk to see straight!”
“Whoa, now?” Yemry gasped softly, gulping at the suddenness of the situation.
“Of course now,” King Bruno stated with a laugh. “You leave for home in a few days and I cannot in good conscious allow my daughter to go with you if she's not properly your wife!”
“Yes, Your Majesty,” Yemry murmured, sending another – still very interested – look at his sudden bride to be.
King Bruno grinned even wider as he turned his attention to Rohan. “And what about you, my boy?”
“Uh...” Rohan droned on for a moment, not sure how to answer that. He looked to the floor with a bright red face.
“Oh! Pick me!” Three girls who were either 16 or 17 exclaimed, rushing to kneel before him. “Please pick me!”
Rohan took a step back, looking almost aghast. What do I do?
Yalera giggled. Pick one, I suppose.
I can't do that! Rohan insisted, shaking his head.
Then politely explain that to the King, Yalera suggested with a shrug.
Rohan took a deep breath and sighed. “I... I'm not ready to get married...”
“No one is ever truly ready,” King Bruno informed him sagely.
The three girls dared to tug on the bottom hem of his shirt. “Please...” they begged.
“I can't marry all three of you!” He blurted out, holding his hands up helplessly.
“Then pick one,” King Bruno insisted with a grin. His expression let everyone know that he fully understood how funny it was to have three beautiful Princesses begging to marry a young man who wasn't expecting to get married so suddenly.
Do you like any of them? Yalera wondered. Rohan blushed and cast her a sharp glance.
Well yes, but...
Which one? Yalera wondered.
What does that matter? What would I do with a wife? Rohan asked.
Yalera held her hands up in a sort of large W, giggling softly again. She would help you run our estate, and you could eventually have children.
Rohan bit his lip and considered this. That wouldn't be so bad...
King Bruno wasn't the only one watching this silent exchange with interest. He turned to Yalera. “How far apart can you two be and still talk to each other like that?”
Yalera shrugged. “We've only ever tried it when we were together but not able to talk out loud, for whatever reason.”
Rohan sighed in defeat before anyone could say anything else. “I... I suppose...” He held his hand out to the girl on the right. She was short and plump with long wavy blonde hair and blue eyes. She also knew better than to take his hand or let him touch her without her father's permission. Even so, she inhaled a gasp of wonder.
“Me?!” She had honestly assumed that he would choose her taller sister who was thin with wildly curly red hair and adorable freckles all over her face.
Rohan shrugged. “There's just something about you... It's like an aura...”
“Wonderful!” King Bruno exclaimed. “Hannah, come stand next to Marlena.”
Lady Yalena whispered to her husband. “Are we really going to let both our boys get married so suddenly?”
Ronin shrugged. “How is this any different than Yalera getting married? An arranged marriage is an arranged marriage whether the couple has a lot of time get used to the idea or not.”
King Eric overheard their soft conversation and turned to add his two cents. “Besides, I like this marriage for Yemry. It solves a lot of the problems I was having finding him a suitable bride. Rohan may be a bit young, but it's a good marriage for him as well.”
“That's true,” Lady Yalena agreed with a frustrated sigh. The only real problem she had was that the marriage was being thrust on them so suddenly. Even so, she understood that they were at least lucky enough to choose their brides. Most arranged marriages – like Yalera's – happened between couples that hadn't really met before the wedding, thus she had no real reason to object.
The Priest entered the room. “I was summoned?” He inquired with a lightly slurred voice.
“You have two more weddings to perform,” King Bruno informed him joyously.
“Excellent!” The Priest exclaimed. He looked around to find that a servant rushed into the room holding a box. With a grin, he beckoned to the the two he assumed were the brides since they were standing next to the King. “And where are the grooms?”
Yemry cleared his throat nervously before stepping forward, and Rohan took a very deep breath. He held it for a moment, then exhaled slowly as he walked over to the Priest. The Priest scrutinized them both for a moment. He thought Rohan a bit too young, but shrugged a moment later.
“Take your bride's hand in yours,” he advised them both. Yemry took Marlena's with a soft smile. Rohan took Hannah's with a shaky hand and another deep breath. Very quickly, the Priest recited the blessing, then he gestured toward the proffered box. The servant promptly opened it. “Take a collar...”
“Can't we just give them rings when we get home?” Yemry wondered with a frown.
“If you wish,” King Bruno stated with a shrug. “But for now, please...” He gestured toward to box.
With a shrug, Yemry took one of the collars. This one was made out of gold as well, but it was only about a quarter of an inch wide – as opposed to the half inch wide one that Yalera wore. He was a bit shocked to discover that he had to actually unlock the tiny gold lock before he could open the collar. As he did this, King Bruno explained things to him.
“This golden collar indicates that she is a member of the Royal Family. Thus, even though she will no longer bear the title of Princess, all will know that she has Royal Blood in her veins. That is why it's my gift to you both.”
“Oh...” Yemry murmured in both understanding and confusion. He placed the collar around his bride's neck, and then blushed redder than he thought possible when he had to put the tiny lock in place.
“The leash is the symbol of your devotion to her,” King Bruno explained as he firmly gestured for Yemry to continue. “For today only, you will place it on her collar, but after tonight, she will place it around your neck and you will wear it always – much like the rings in your Kingdom – to tell the world that you are a devoted husband to your wife.”
Yemry cast a startled glance at the King. He hadn't understood this at all! He thought that the whole thing was a dominance gesture meant to proclaim that he literally owned her, or something like that. King Bruno pulled the chain around his own neck out from beneath his clothes.
“You see, even I wear one.”
“Oh,” Yemry murmured, feeling a little better. He opened the hook before fastening it into place.
Rohan repeated his brother's actions, also blushing at the implications of a collar and chain. The moment he was done, King Bruno boomed out a congratulations, and then announced that it was high time that they joined the banquet.
Baethan paced anxiously as he waited for his best friend and everyone else to finally enter the ballroom. The banquet was technically not able to commence until the King gave permission. Thus, most people were sitting around chattering as they wondered what was taking so long.
Baethan was having a hard time accepting the fact that Yalera was really married now. He hadn't been around for Rolanna's wedding, and he hadn't fancied himself in love with her until after she'd been married for a couple of months. Thus, watching a woman he was pretty sure he loved marry another man was a new experience for him. And to be honest, it hurt a lot more than he thought it would!
When the King's private entrance opened, Baethan stood off to the side. He hoped to get a few words in with Yemry before they had to sit down to eat. In a matter of seconds, he completely forgot everything he wanted to say! Right behind Yalera and her husband walked both Yemry and Rohan... holding the hands of women who wore collars like Yalera now did.
“No...” Baethan exhaled softly in shock.
King Bruno addressed the assembly a moment later. “My dear guests... We are triply blessed today since two of my beloved daughters are now married to Princess Yalera's brothers!”
Baethan was floored and nearly tripped over nothing in his shock. He quickly located a seat with the rest of the soldiers from Rubidium, and slumped into it before he could faint. They all looked just as incredulous as Baethan!
The first part of the banquet was fairly formal. The brides and grooms ate at the table on the dais with their families. Light and airy music was played to enhance the mood, but dancing was not in the plans.
Eventually, Yemry was allowed to bring his new bride to sit with his soldiers, and so was Rohan. Except that Rohan preferred to sit at an out of the way table that no longer had people sitting there. He smiled at his wife, finally feeling like he had a chance to talk to her.
“So... Why did you want to marry me?” Rohan asked.
“I'm ready to be married,” she stated with a smile and a shrug. “None of my sisters are – you know? Not even the oldest. Most girls in the Kingdom are married and maybe even have a baby on the way by the time they're my age. I figured that if my father was giving his permission, I'd jump at the chance.”
“And why didn't your father find you all suitable husbands already?” Rohan wondered curiously.
Hannah shrugged. “Probably because picking 12 men – that how many of us are old enough to marry – anyway, picking 12 perfectly suitable men to marry us is a lot harder than if he had to pick just one or two men.”
Rohan looked down with a sense of dread. “You were raised a Princess, you're not going to know how to help me run our estate.”
“I'll learn, I promise!” Hannah vowed earnestly. “I would gladly work a pig farm if it meant that I'd be free to go outside and enjoy the sun whenever I wanted!”
“They keep assuring Yalera that she'd be free, but you make it sound like you've been locked in a cage,” Rohan muttered darkly.
“Oh she will be – more or less. She's the Crown Princess now, so she can do a lot of things we can't. As our father explained, we're considered sacred, and so should not be looked at by anyone. Especially men! Especially not handsome men...” Hannah purred this last bit with a flirty smile. She rested her hand on Rohan's chest. “My father rushed us out here before we could even perform the traditional kiss...”
“Uh...” Rohan droned hesitantly. He blushed so red that he'd swear that he could feel it all the way down to his toes!
Hannah kissed him before he could do anything. “Oh wow...” she whispered reverently. “That's a lot more interesting than I thought it be...”
“Yeah...” Rohan whispered in return. He was suddenly nervous and excited. “A-a-are you, um... interested in staying at the banquet a while longer?”
She shook her head. “Not at all!”
“I am pretty sure that now that Yalera is married, the room we shared is all mine now. Do... Do... Do you...” Rohan cleared his throat, frustrated that he couldn't say it out loud.
Hannah giggled, instantly understanding what he was trying to ask. “Yes... I do...”
Rohan took her by the hand and stood up. “Come on.” They both felt inexplicably guilty as they snuck out of the ballroom, but no one could stop them even if they wanted to. The two of them were married after all.
Meanwhile, Yemry held onto one of Marlena's hands as he explained the situation to Baethan. Baethan was still having a hard time wrapping his head around the news. He kept looking back and forth between Yemry and Marlena.
Yemry laughed and whispered into Marlena's ear. “Baethan's never speechless!”
“Well can you blame me?!” Baethan burst out. “This might well be the very last thing I expected to happen today!”
“I understand!” Yemry stated with a chuckle. “I wasn't expecting it myself!”
Their fellow soldiers repeatedly offered their congratulations and mugs of ale. Yemry tried to only drink a little, but they kept insisting that he drink more and more.
“Where did Rohan go, I wonder?” Yemry asked a little while later.
“He and my sister snuck off a while ago,” Marlena informed her husband with a giggle.
“Seriously?!” Yemry roared in astonishment. “I didn't expect him to warm up to the idea for several more hours at least!”
“How did that happen anyway?” Baethan asked. “Rohan getting married, I mean?”
Yemry snorted in amusement. “Well, when the King offered us a choice of his daughters, I was interested because I've been thinking about getting married soon anyway.”
Baethan nodded because this topic had come up before, even though he had assumed that it was still a vague and distant future thing.
Yemry continued with a wry grin. “But Rohan practically panicked! When those three adorable Princesses got onto their knees before him and begged him to marry them, I thought for sure that he was going to either have a heart attack or vomit!”
“I did too,” Marlena confessed in a giggle.
“Son of a!” Baethan swore incredulously. “He had three Princesses beg to marry him?!”
“Yep!” Yemry confirmed, laughing at the look on Baethan's face. He downed the last of the ale in the cup he was holding, and then looked at his new wife. “So...”
“Yes!” She blurted out before he could even ask the question.
Yemry was surprised. “Really?”
“I've been longing to get married for years,” she informed him. “Believe me, I'm ready!”
“Alright then,” Yemry agreed happily. He stood and held out his hand to her. Just as she giggled and slipped her hand in his, Yalera shocked everyone in the ballroom by screaming.
“Crispin??? Crispin?!” She shook his shoulders as his head rolled around on the table.
King Bruno leapt to his feet in concern. “Son?!”
Yalera was crying as she shook him again. “Wake up!”
“What happened?!” King Bruno demanded.
“I don't know!” Yalera wailed. “He was eating... drinking some wine... And then he just fell over!” She looked over to where a servant had been standing, but the servant was no longer there. Yalera assumed that he was merely trying to stay out of the way, and didn't really give him a second thought.
King Bruno also shook his son, being rough enough that he actually lifted Crispin's shoulders off the table and sat him up. Crispin's eyes gazed unseeingly at the room in front of him. Yalera gasped in shock, then covered her mouth and looked away. Cries erupted from her.
“Who did this?!” King Bruno roared in outrage and grief. He didn't need the Court Physician to tell him a moment later that the Prince was dead. It was obvious to anyone who looked at him.
The Physician looked at the goblet of spilled wine and focused on Yalera. “Was this the last thing he consumed?”
Yalera nodded. “We had both just gotten a refill. The moment the servant stepped back, Crispin lifted his cup to salute me, and then drank at least half of it in one gulp. A moment after he set the cup down, he...” Yalera started crying even harder, making it difficult to speak.
“And you?” The Physician asked as he dipped a finger in her goblet. He tasted it, a frown puckering his face before he spit the little bit out.
“I was still too nervous,” Yalera finally explained. Focusing on remembering things helped calm her just a little. “I haven't eaten or drank much of anything at all.”
“Why not?” The Physician wondered curiously.
“Crispin kept kissing me, and the more he did, the more I got nervous about what will happen... was supposed to happen tonight!” Yalera confessed, and then gave into her crying once more.
“Ah,” the Physician stated, understanding that the event was often considered terrifying to a young woman. “Well, it's lucky you didn't drink any of this wine... It was poisoned.”
Yalera gasped and turned around in her chair to look for the servant. He was nowhere to be found. She pointed to where he had been standing. “I think it was him!”
“What?” King Bruno demanded.
“The servant. When he poured our wine, I looked up at him briefly. He had the appearance of an old man, but I'd swear I'd seen him before,” Yalera explained. “I think it was Prince Hugh!”
“Search the palace!” King Bruno shouted.
The Captain of the palace guard saluted. “Already on it, Sire!”
The banquet was officially disbanded. Everyone was sent to their quarters. As they left, guards searched them to be sure that they weren't the rogue Prince in disguise.
Time passed strangely for Yalera. She moved beyond teary grief to a sort of numb acceptance. She held onto Crispin's hand, not knowing what else to do. She wished that she had recognized Hugh the moment she saw him!
About a half an hour later, the palace guards dragged a body into the ballroom, where the King and those he deemed most important were still waiting for news. By this time, most of the guests had cleared the guards and left. King Bruno looked at the body carefully.
“Sire,” the Guard Captain murmured respectfully. “It's confirmed. A man dressed as an old man was spotted and killed resisting capture...” He removed the wig and lifted the man's face for inspection.
“Hugh...” King Bruno whispered. His heart was heavy with grief – not just for his beloved Heir, but additionally for his oldest and also well loved son. Both were now dead because Hugh could not accept the fact that he simply wasn't suited to rule the Kingdom.
Yalera sensed that this lost grieved the King every bit as much as Crispin's had. In sympathy, she placed a hand on the King's arm. “I'm sorry...”
He took comfort in her genuinely kind compassion, pulling her into a hug. When he finally released her several long and uncomfortable (for her) moments later, he sighed. “Now what?”
“Now what?” Yalera parroted in confusion.
“Now what am I supposed to do with you?” King Bruno whispered, biting his lip in thought.
Yalera inhaled in shock and a sudden sense of dread. He took pity on her, returning her kindness with kindness of his own. “Don't worry, I'll honor the treaty...” With a regal wave of his hand, he dismissed her.
Monday, November 23, 2015
For an entire week, the entourage was harassed by Prince Hugh as it steadily traveled towards the Nandian Royal Palace. Only the fact that Yuna and Rune alerted them each time the mercenary army got close prevented serious casualties. Yemry was ready to call it quits, but Yalera stubbornly refused.
At the moment, she had all her advisers, her parents, her twin, and Yemry in her tent. Baethan stood guard at the door, half to prevent any of the advisers from leaving without permission, and half to ensure that no one disturbed them. He watched her pace the tent in frustration.
“We're not giving up!” Yalera roared. “If we run away now, then we are nothing more than cowards!”
“But surely it would be prudent to retreat until our safety can be guaranteed,” Lady Yalena protested.
“But it's two weeks in either direction,” Yalera reminded her mother. “If we retreat, we have to travel two weeks just to get back to Rubidium. If we keep going, it's two weeks to the Nandian Royal Palace. Going back will just tell Prince Hugh that he can push us around and we won't fight back, but if we make it to the palace, the two Princes can fight it out while Rubidium is safe.”
“My first priority is your safety,” Yemry stated firmly. “Continuing on while we are a clear target is sheer idiocy.”
Most of the advisers chimed in with: here here!
Yalera growled and forced herself to stop tearing out her hair. “Am I in charge here or not?”
“Well yes, but,” Yemry replied, hesitating. “Only if you listen to your advisers and take into account their advice.”
“I've listened,” Yalera stated with a steely softness, glaring at her older brother. “I've listened to every single one of you advise me to run and hide and retreat...” She paused as she paced to the opposite side of the tent and then back. As she did so, she gave each of her advisers a serious look. “You all seem to be under the impression that you're talking to my older sister. I'm sure Rolanna would have given up by now. I'm sure she would have quietly done as she was told. But I'm not her. I was asked by our King to go to the Nandian Royal Palace and marry Prince Crispin to ensure peace between our Kingdoms, and that is what I am going to do!” She ended by staring at Yemry again.
He took a deep breath in, held it for a few moments, and then exhaled in defeat. “Fine. We'll continue on.”
Ronin chuckled softly, putting an arm around Yalera's shoulders and kissing her temple. “I knew you'd be able to stand your ground. You're just like your mother in that.”
“Don't remind me!” Lady Yalena grumbled, making a few others chuckle. She looked Yalera in the eye, a bit of pride shining through despite not getting her way. “And you're wrong about Rolanna. She'd probably insist on completing her mission too, she'd just do it with a softer voice and a bigger smile.”
“Hmm!” Yalera harrumphed. “Well she's listened to, so she doesn't have to yell.” Her mother hugged her.
“Well,” Yemry said, sounding lost in thought. “There's a Lord near hear that's rumored to be loyal to the Nandian King and his chosen Heir, so he might be willing to give us shelter for a few nights. That way we can be fully rested when we continue on.”
“Good!” Yalera stated in relief. She closed her eyes and raised her head as if looking at the sun. Please Gods! Please let him help us!
To everyone's relief, the Lord not only helped them, he rode out to meet them on the way. Word had reached him of Prince Hugh's shenanigans, and he felt that it was his duty to come to their aid. He arrived just in time help defend against the mercenaries' harassment.
Prince Hugh seemed to think that if he just kept coming after them – like a dog gnawing on a bone – he'd eventually wear them down. When he saw a group of Nandian soldiers come to their aid, he growled in frustration and called a retreat. “Don't think you've seen the last of me! I'll get you when you least expect it!”
The Lord sighed heavily. “And that's why our beloved and wise King chose against him... He doesn't know how to put the good of his people first.” He dismounted and knelt before the group comprised of Yalera's family. “I am Lord Carver. Please allow me to escort you to my home so that you may rest.”
“Thank you,” Yalera stated with relief. “You have no idea how happy I am to have a respite from that deranged Prince!”
Lord Carver laughed, seeming startled to do so. “I can only imagine!”
Yemry shook his hand. “I'm Yemry, older brother of the bride to be. This is –”
Lord Carver cut him short. “I hate to be rude, but perhaps the introductions can wait until we are safely on my lands.”
“Of course,” Yemry agreed with a nod, and then gestured for his men to make sure their party got moving.
A few hours later, everyone was safely ensconced in Lord Carver's castle. Introductions had been made, and a late dinner was currently being served. Yalera's advisers were also busy trying to squeeze every last drop of information regarding Prince Hugh from their host. Lord Carver answered the best he could, but honestly, he didn't know much more than they had already figured out.
Yalera listened, of course, but her attention also wandered. Situated around the dining hall was a balcony that lined all the walls about 10 or 12 feet off the floor. It was intended to provide a place to stand around and chat during balls and parties, thus didn't really have a purpose most of the time. Even so, small movement made Yalera wonder if the Lord had a dog roaming around.
She tracked the movement until it stopped in a shadowy area that was sort of off to the side and behind Lord Carver – who was at the head of the long table. This was suspicious enough that Yalera narrowed her eyes in concern. She then pretended to pay attention to something else.
“But don't you worry!” Lord Carver exclaimed as he took Yalera's hand in his and kissed it. “I'm sure that the added presence of my men will be enough to keep Prince Hugh at bay until you reach the palace.”
Since she was sitting on his left and he had her hand in his grasp, Yalera felt that she had no choice but to smile at him. “Thank you... I only pray that no one else gets injured.”
Her eyes drifted back up over his right shoulder to the balcony. To her surprise, she could now clearly see a little girl of maybe six sitting between the columns. She seemed confident enough that no one would see her sitting in the shadows that she swung her legs lightly.
Yalera waited until the little girl was looking at her and smiled. The little girl blinked and rubbed her eyes as if she wasn't quite sure that Yalera was actually smiling at her, so Yalera winked conspiratorially. The girl immediately scrambled to get up and run away, but slipped and fell.
Without taking even a second to think about it, Yalera jumped up from her chair, which made it tip backwards onto the floor with a loud bang. Rushing to move around Lord Carver's chair, she managed to arrive just in time to catch the little girl. Falling from that height probably wouldn't have killed her, but she definitely would have gotten seriously hurt.
“I've got you!” Yalera announced when the little girl burst into wails of terror, still certain that she was about to get hurt from the fall. “Shh... you're safe...”
“Mila!” Lord Carver exclaimed in astonishment, pulling the girl from Yalera's arms to cradle her tightly. “What are you doing?”
“Daddy!” Mila sobbed, burying her face in his chest. “I just wanted to see the pretty Lady that's supposed to marry the Prince!”
“Oh Mila...” he muttered with a tone like he was thinking: I should have known!
A woman burst into the room and rushed to Lord Carver. She was dressed in a simple maid's outfit, but was very beautiful nonetheless. She wrung her hands fretfully.
“I'm so sorry, my Lord! I really thought she was in bed asleep!” The maid apologized.
“I understand,” Lord Carver murmured, still stroking his daughter's hair to calm her down. “Mila, look.” He pointed to Yalera. “It's the Lady you wanted to see. Can you stop crying and give her a smile? She saved your life after all.”
Mila sniffed a few times to stop her tears, and then looked at Yalera. “Are you really going to be the Princess?”
“That's right,” Yalera murmured with a kind smile.
Mila smiled at her before shyly burying her face in her father's chest again. “Wow! I got to meet the Princess!”
Lord Carver pressed a kiss to her cheek. “There, mission accomplished. Now go to bed and stop giving your poor mother reason to worry about you!”
“Yes daddy,” Mila murmured unhappily. Lord Carver handed her to the maid, who bobbed a curtsey to the Lord.
“I'll make sure she doesn't leave her bed again tonight,” the maid vowed solemnly.
“But mama!” Mila protested in dismay. “What if I have to pee?”
The maid harrumphed as she carried Mila away. “You'll just have to do that before I put you to bed!”
As the two left the room, Lord Carver himself picked up Yalera's hastily vacated chair and set it upright once more. He helped her sit back down. Even though he tried to hide it, Yalera could sense a feeling of profound relief emanating from him.
“Thank you for catching her,” he stated with a respectful bow. “I have no idea what I would have done if she'd been hurt.”
“No need for thanks!” Yalera insisted as she waved her hands in front of her. “I am fairly certain that I am the reason she fell in the first place. I startled her.”
Lord Carver nodded in understanding. “Even so, I am in your debt. If you should ever need anything from me, don't hesitate to ask.”
Yalera felt an urge to smack him and insist that he just drop it already, but she took a deep breath and sighed. Pasting a smile on her face, she responded to his offer. “Thank you.” She didn't intend to ever act on his words, but graciously accepting seemed more diplomatic than arguing pointlessly.
One of Yalera's advisers stroked his chin as he thought. Clearing his throat, he interrupted before anyone could say anything else. “Please forgive me for prying, but did that girl that you freely acknowledge as your daughter call that maid her mother?”
“Yes,” Lord Carver confirmed without the slightest hint of shame.
In Rubidium, it would be nearly unheard of for a Lord to create a child with one of his servants, and if one should happen to be created, he would be obligated to hide this fact by gifting the servant with a nice house somewhere and enough income for the mother to take care of the child in simple comfort. Yalera hadn't really thought about such things before – although she was aware of them. Even so, she was fairly certain that the circumstance was rare. She wasn't the only one who found it strange that Lord Carver kept his illegitimate child in the castle he lived in.
The adviser chose his words carefully. “Is such a situation common in Nandia?”
“Actually, yes,” Lord Carver confirmed. He looked reluctant for a moment, and then let out a heavy sigh. “I feel I should warn you, my Lady.”
Yalera realized that he was about to impart something serious, so she sat up a bit straighter and gave him her full attention. “About what?”
“I am not really sure how things are done in Rubidium, but here in Nandia, men very often have mistresses and lovers on the side. It really is common for a man to have a child with a woman he only visited one or twice. Men of honor – which I feel to be most of us here in Nandia – will happily care for their illegitimate children. They will make sure that the mothers are well treated as well. Thus, men who can afford it may well have a lot of women they are responsible for, as well as a lot of children.” The Lord shrugged and took a sip of ale from his tankard.
Yalera didn't really know what to say. She really tried to think of a diplomatic response, but nothing came to mind. Her mouth opened and closed a couple of times before she finally gave up.
Lord Carver looked her in the eyes quite seriously. “Especially the Prince. All the men of the Royal Family, actually. They feel it is their duty to have as many sons as possible. You will be his wife and Queen, and so your sons will be the most important. However, Prince Crispin has other women and children already. I tell you this so that you may prepare yourself for the day that you meet them.”
Yalera scrunched up her face in confusion. “What happens if I don't have a son?”
Lord Carver shrugged. “If you are capable of having children but haven't produced a son, the Prince will likely just keep trying. In the instance that you are unable to have any children at all in a period of – say – five years, he will likely draw up a contract of divorce in which you will be cared for generously, but otherwise demoted from wife and future Queen to Princess and...” he faltered and looked away.
“What?” Lady Yalena demanded in concern for her daughter.
“Royal Concubine...” Lord Carver murmured, trying to be sensitive to their beliefs even as he explained things. “I am not ashamed that this is the way things are in our Kingdom, but I have heard stories of Rubidium. I am fairly certain that you will disapprove of such a situation, which is why I decided to warn you.”
Yalera felt like she wanted to be sick, but she pushed the feeling aside with a shrug. “It doesn't matter. My mother had two sons, so I should be able to have sons too. And even if I don't, the peace treaty between our two Kingdoms will remain in effect. That is the most important part of all.”
“Yes,” the adviser that had started this particular conversation agreed grimly. However, even he looked like he was now having second thoughts about this marriage.
Yemry growled in frustration. “Lord Carver! How would you feel if you heard that your younger sister was potentially going to be demoted to the position of Royal Concubine?!”
Lord Carver smiled, giving one soft chuckle. “Actually, I would be proud of her. Especially if Prince Crispin was already King at the time. The woman he is married to can hold a considerable amount of power in the Kingdom, and if he decides to divorce his Queen, she will still have quite a bit of power... If she knows how to use it.”
He chuckled again, refilling his tankard of ale and getting more comfortable in his chair. “Take our Current King – for example. King Bruno was a very passionate young man who had an eye for beauty. He married the woman chosen for him at age 20, but when she did not give him a son after three daughters and five years of marriage, he divorced her and took a new bride. That bride gave him Prince Hugh. Unfortunately, she died in childbirth...”
Yalera bit her lip as Lord Carver took a drink. “So then the King married again and had Prince Crispin?”
“Yes,” Lord Carver confirmed with a nod. “Not to mention a couple of other sons. It is true that the sons born of a legitimate marriage are more important to the Kingdom, but when it comes time for the King to name his official heir, he can choose whichever son he feels is the most worthy. This is why King Bruno chose Prince Crispin over Prince Hugh. Prince Crispin is far better suited to ruling the Kingdom.”
“I see,” Yalera murmured politely.
A look around the room showed that all of the people from Rubidium were now more than just a little concerned for Yalera's future. She decided to smile brightly and raise her wineglass. “Here's to peace between Nandia and Rubidium.”
“To peace,” everyone murmured as they raised their glasses.
Sensing a tension in the room, Lord Carver grinned. “Now! It's getting late, so perhaps my servants should show you all to the rooms you'll be staying in.”
Yalera nodded in agreement, relieved to be done with the troubling conversation.
“Lord Carver!” King Bruno boomed proudly. “You have my sincere gratitude for safely escorting my son's bride to the Palace! Now... Which is the lucky Lady?”
“Your Majesty!” Lady Yalena burst out in barely veiled indignation. “Forgive me but I must protest! My daughter needs time to freshen up from our journey before being presented!”
Yalera dared to look the King directly in the eyes as he studied their entourage. He struggled to hide his surprise at seeing a pair of smilodons for a moment, but then managed to plaster a smile on his face. A moment later, he noticed that the riders looked remarkably alike. Not to mention, out of the entire entourage, only Yalera dared to look him in the eye. The rest were respectfully bowing their heads.
He burst out laughing quite raucously. “Crispin, my boy! I think I've figured out which is your bride to be! And just look at her! She has the regal bearing of an Empress!”
King Bruno strode over to Yalera, taking great care to give the huge cat no reason to take umbrage. Prince Crispin stepped forward to follow his father. He was not as impressed by the girl riding the smilodon as his father, but he managed to look pleased to meet her. King Bruno held out his hand, doing his best not to glance at the cat – who was staring at him suspiciously.
Yalera took a deep breath, and then slipped her hand into his and let him help her off Yuna's back. She was wearing yet another of the dresses she'd made with very wide pants so that she looked like she was wearing a properly modest skirt. She used her free hand to curtsey fairly deeply.
“Your Majesty...” she murmured respectfully. “I'm Yalera.”
“I love her!” Bruno announced abruptly with a jolly smile. “I'm tempted to marry her myself!”
Prince Crispin scoffed and rolled his eyes. “Dad!” He shook his head and held out his hand to Yalera. “A pleasure to meet you.”
Yalera was relieve to see that her future husband was only about 20 or 21. She had been rather afraid that he'd be a good decade or more older than her. With a smile, she gave him a slight curtsey too.
“I'm happy to meet you as well,” she replied, mostly truthfully, slipping her hand in his so that he could kiss it.
“I was starting to worry that you wouldn't get here in time for the wedding,” Prince Crispin informed her. His expression actually confirmed this too. She thought that he might have been hoping that she'd be late.
“I vowed to make it in time no matter what,” Yalera stated firmly. They would have made it here much sooner if they hadn't had to dodge and fight Prince Hugh at every turn, but she didn't feel like mentioning that.
“There're only three days left,” King Bruno reminded her with a happy grin. “We've already received an advance message from your King that he and his entourage will be arriving tomorrow.”
“Pardon our tardiness,” Yalera murmured politely. “We ran into some unavoidable delays.”
“So I heard!” Bruno boomed with a short and derisive laugh. “But forgive me! Naturally you ladies would love an opportunity to get changed and freshen up a bit before dinner is served. My stablehands shall take charge of your mounts while your party is led to the quarters assigned to you.”
Yalera pasted her most angelic smile on her face as she gestured to Yuna. “My beloved pet – and that of my twin – will naturally be staying with us. I assure you that they are well trained and will not make any unpleasant messes in your palace.”
King Bruno literally took a step back for a moment to get a better look at the two large smilodons. “Uh...” Then he did a couple strange half circles with his head. “Of course.”
Yuna seemed to smile at him and nuzzled her beloved mistress for a second before licking her on the cheek.
Prince Crispin laughed softly. “I'm dying to know how you managed to turn such a dangerous wild animal into a pet!”
Yalera laughed and couldn't stop herself from blurting out a joke. “We share a father!”
Ronin laughed richly. He had dismounted and put a comforting arm around his wife when she had been affronted by the King's mildly rude behavior. Now, he walked over and put an arm around Yalera so he could poke her in the nose. “You're not the first one to suggest that!”
He gave a deeply respectful nod to King Bruno and Prince Crispin. “In truth, I raised their mother from a cub, and these two were raised with the twins as if they were siblings.”
“That seems like a fascinating tale,” King Bruno stated with a grin. “Come, tell me about it.”
Ronin and the King started walking toward the Palace. Prince Crispin held out his hand to Yalera once more. She took a deep breath to prepare herself, and then smiled at him and placed her hand in his.
The Prince put enough space between them and everyone else that they could have a semi private conversation. “You're not what I expected.”
Yalera gave him another polite smile. “I'm not?”
“No! I expected a delicate little thing... a girl raised as a Princess...” he murmured softly.
“Oh...” Yalera replied, not sure what to say. “I'm sorry...?”
He laughed. “Don't be! If nothing else, we'll have plenty to talk about!”
“I suppose that's true,” Yalera replied with a genuine smile. A surreptitious glance over her shoulder showed her that her twin was not happy in the slightest. “A moment please?”
Prince Crispin noticed that the rest of her party – aside from Yemry and Baethan – seemed to be trying to give them a modicum of privacy by heading into the palace while they lagged behind, so he felt no pressure to maintain proper etiquette. He was supposed to escort her into the palace as quickly as possible, but with minimal eyes on them, he simply nodded to grant her request.
Yalera slipped her hand out of Prince Crispin's and walked over to her brother – who was currently walking between their smilodons. She put her hands on her twin's shoulders and rested her head against his.
He shrugged and shook his head slightly. Until this very moment, I didn't really believe that this would happen. I guess I just feel like this is all happening too soon.
Me too, but... Yalera shrugged her shoulders a bit helplessly. What can I do? I have an important duty.
I know! Rohan sighed, putting his hands on her face and closing his eyes. I know... I just wish we had more time.
I love you more than anything in the whole world, Yalera reminded him.
I love you too. He let go of her face, stepped back, and nudged her to return to her betrothed. She slipped her hand into his and tugged him after her.
“This is my twin brother,” she informed Prince Crispin at his curious look. “We've done everything together our whole lives, and neither of us is quite prepared for me to get married and start a whole new life without him.”
Prince Crispin looked like he was lost for words for a moment. Finally, he tilted his head slightly. “I, uh... I have sisters, but I can't quite imagine being so close to any of them. I barely know what they look like! But I'm sure you'll get to meet them... If you want.”
“How can you not know what they look like?!” Yalera asked in astonishment.
Prince Crispin took a long breath in and then slowly exhaled it as he wondered how to answer her. “Well... They are mostly kept with my father's women. I haven't been allowed in there since I was about 13 or 14.”
“Why not?” Yalera asked, tilting her head curiously.
Prince Crispin shrugged. “It's just the way things are done. I was given a room in another part of my father's apartment for a couple of years, and then I was given my own apartment. After we're married, you'll live in my apartment with me... Would you like to meet my other women before or after we're married? I am sure I could invite you into my apartment – with your mother as a chaperone, of course – so that you could meet them if you want. I must apologize though, no other men are allowed to see any of my women.”
They had slowly walked toward the palace, but Yalera stopped again. “So wait! Are you saying that after we're married, I'll be stuck in your apartment never to be seen again?!”
Prince Crispin smiled and shook his head. “Not at all! You'll be my wife with the privileges of a future Queen. So long as you conform to our customs, you'll be free to do almost anything you want.”
Yalera bit her lip and started walking again. “What customs in particular do I need to conform to?”
“You'll have a bodyguard with you at all times – more if you plan to go out shopping. You'll be in charge of the rest of my women so that you can take them shopping with you if you want. Outside of the palace, you'll need to wear a veil to let others know that you are part of the royal family and should not be looked at. Your guards will punish anyone who dares to look at you... Uh... Also – although I'm sure you probably knew this part already – you'll be expected to be faithful. No other man may ever touch you. He'll have his hand removed...”
Yalera interrupted Prince Crispin with a softly inhaled gasp as she stopped walking once more. “That's barbaric!”
Prince Crispin shrugged. “It's an effective incentive to stop men from trying to harm women.”
“But...” Yalera instinctively reached out and slipped her hand into Rohan's. She couldn't imagine life if she could literally never touch her brother again. Her other hand pressed to her heart as she looked to the ground.
Prince Crispin frowned slightly as he looked at their clasped hands. “Do you do that often?”
“All the time!” Yalera cried out.
Prince Crispin looked up as he thought about this.
“You don't understand what it means to be a twin,” Yalera insisted passionately. “We were one person who the Gods decided to split in two!”
“Hmm...” Prince Crispin murmured. “I suppose that I can sign a Royal Decree that your brother –”
“Brothers,” Yalera cut him short, gesturing to Yemry – who was still actively guarding her.
Prince Crispin sighed. “Brothers... That both your brothers can be exempt from the rule. They won't have their hands cut off for doing so, but I'd still not advise it more than necessary, and probably not at all when in public.”
Yalera took a deep breath as she wiped the tiny droplets of moisture away from her eyes. “Thank you!”
Seeing that she really was grateful to him, he smiled at her in sympathy. He shook his head. “I can't believe that I'm going to say this, but...” he muttered softly, and then cleared his throat. “But if you want, I can declare your twin brother one of my lovers, and then he can live in my apartment with us too.”
Yalera gaped at him in utter shock. “Wha...?”
Rohan turned a shade of deep red and looked to the ground. He had no idea what he felt about this sudden development!
“That's an option?” Yemry asked with an amused snort.
“Yes... but I don't think it happens all that often,” Prince Crispin stated with a shrug. “My uncle has had a male lover in with his women for many years, but I've only seen him once or twice.”
Yalera had to take a few deep breaths to calm herself, though her face was still red. “Uh... That's not really a practical suggestion. Rohan needs to go home and run our estate.”
Without me! Yalera added mentally.
It will never be the same, Rohan agreed, squeezing her hand in his.
Both Rune and Yuna perked up abruptly. They had been waiting more or less patiently for their humans to get on with it already, but now looked around with heightened awareness. Yalera felt the hair on the back of her neck stand up. She had no idea how or where, but she knew that danger was nearby. She gasped and looked around, actually turning in circles.
“What is it?” Yemry asked, looking around too.
“I don't know... Just...” Yalera shrugged. “Something's wrong.”
A moment later, she heard a soft sound that was unmistakable to her as an arrow in flight.
“Down!” She cried out, actually tackling Prince Crispin to the ground. She wasn't sure if the target was him or herself, but she figured that if they both moved, the arrow was unlikely to hit either of them. The arrow thudded softly as it planted itself in the ground next to them.
Yemry, Baethan, and Rohan had all flung themselves to the ground too, and now pulled her under them for her protection. She shook them off. With a sense of horror, she held out her hand and cried: “Yuna!”
Yuna promptly jumped out of the way as another arrow nearly hit her. Rune also moved away from an arrow, and then the two of them roared as they crouched. Grabbing Yuna's hair, Yalera mounted her and quickly withdrew her bow. Closing her eyes, she tracked where the arrows had to come from in her mind, and then grabbed an arrow out of her quiver and sent it flying. Two more arrows later, she paused to see if she had any more enemies to shoot.
“I think... I think I got them all...” she informed them hesitantly.
Baethan held a bow – as did Yemry – and pointed into the distance incredulously. “I can't believe you hit that one! That's definitely out of my range!”
Before anyone could say anything else, a group of men raced out of the palace with a sound like thunder. They ran toward the area where they would soon discover three dead men. Other men shouted to them from their posts, giving directions.
Prince Crispin dared to pull Yalera off her smilodon, thanking his lucky stars that the cat didn't object. Once on her feet, he tugged on her hand. “Come on! We need to get safely inside!”
She nodded and kept up with him as he ran. They flew through the doors of the palace, and then he pulled her off to the side so that they weren't in the way of the second group of guards who were rushing out the open doors. Yemry, Baethan, and Rohan were only a couple of steps behind them, with Rune and Yuna hot on their trail. Rohan was tempted to laugh as the guards very nervously gave the two cats a wide berth!
Prince Crispin put a hand on Yalera's cheek. “I think you just saved my life! I owe you a debt that I'll never forget!” He kissed her full on the lips before stepping back and turning his attention to the Captain of the palace guards.
“I want the Royal Army sent out to meet the other entourage from Rubidium! At this rate, my brother may well target them too!”
The Captain nodded his head just once before swiftly rushing off to follow orders.
Yalera felt faint as she stood in the entry hall of the palace, a hand on her cheek. She was blushing profusely from her very first kiss. The shock of it was almost enough to make her sway woozily. She was suddenly very glad that her first kiss hadn't been during her wedding, because the way she felt now, she may well have fainted during the ceremony!
Are you hurt? Rohan asked her mentally in concern.
She shook her head. No... just not sure how to feel...
Rohan nodded in understanding.
“It's a bit eerie how those two can have an entire conversation without saying anything at all,” Baethan whispered to Yemry, who nodded in agreement.
A moment later, servants rushed to escort them to their assigned quarters.