Grainne walked down the hallway, her hand firmly clasping that of the child she already thought of as her daughter. Dauris. She was still amazed that they had actually found her, alone, under circumstances that mirrored her dream of only this morning. It felt like a lifetime ago.
Dauris walked quietly beside her mother, mentally reviewing everything she knew about Emperors. Would he be a kindly man, an innocent like Mother and Illian? Would he be sinister like Jules and Marus? She knew of examples on both ends of the spectrum, and that was without even thinking hard. He would be her father, though, and her experience with fathers tended towards the sinister, with a few spectacular examples. Almost like her experience with brothers. She hoped for kindly and innocent, though.
She did not have long to wonder. They came to a door and Grainne opened it and escorted Dauris into the Emperor’s study, shutting the door behind them. The Emperor was seated in one of his reading chairs and stood upon seeing them, looking at his wife with eyes that took Dauris’ breath away.
He was sinister, yes, but not now, not here. He was not innocent, but he had been, once. He would be kindly to her because… because Mother wished it. She had seen that look so many times, as men looked at her sisters but never at her. Did Mother know? She looked up at Grainne curiously and saw that she flushed slightly, but did not return the look. For a moment Dauris wished that she were big enough to spank the both of them.
“This is the child, my husband.” Such formality in her voice.
He nodded. “Thank you, my wife. She is to be called Dauris?”
“Yes, Tresoria Dauris.”
He looked down at her and smiled. “Hello, Dauris. Would you like to sit down?”
She nodded solemnly and let go of Mother’s hand. She walked over to one of the great reading chairs, the one nearest where the Emperor had been sitting, and climbed into it. She could tell that she looked very small in the large seat, but she didn’t mind.
Grainne smiled at her and then turned to her husband. “I must see to some things for her. Will she stay in the bower with me?”
He nodded. “Yes, that would be best.”
Mother smiled and then took her leave. Father took his seat again and looked at Dauris for a long moment. She looked back at him. “You are quiet,” he observed.
“You love her.” Father looked startled at her words. “You love Mother and yet you don’t share her life. Why?”
“Ours was a political match.” She could see him reconsidering her as he spoke. He had thought her to be simply a child. As easier as it would be to simply be a child, she had to disabuse him of that notion; she could not afford it. Not with threats still active against her.
“Marus told me. What sort of politics could join you to a woman you plainly adore, a woman who gave you three sons, and yet keep you so separate? Would loving her weaken you somehow? Is it that men in your world do not share their lives with the women closest to them?”
“You are still too young… ”
She interrupted him, politely, but still, she broke the rules to interrupt. It got his attention. “Do not be deceived, your Excellency, Father.” He blinked in surprise. She continued. “I am everything that you see, barbarian, a foundling, ever quick to try to eat my feet, but all that you see is not all that I am. Do not believe that my understanding is not that of a woman grown. I know the role that I am to play and I will play it willingly. I will be the dutiful daughter and the loving sister, if you will allow it, but though I am sometimes foolish, I am not a fool.” Her voice grew very soft and tears filled her eyes. “I grew very lonely in the cavern and my gratitude for freedom is very great.”
He nodded slowly. “Very well.” He paused, collecting his thoughts. “Our world is ruled by two great Empires, we of the North and the other of the South. We are not friendly.”
He watched her nod in understanding. “Competing superpowers rarely are. It is one of those constants that make me truly believe the old adage about how things change, but never seem to change.”
He nodded. “Between the Empires, as a buffer so to speak, are several small nations, kingdoms and small republics and the like. One of those is Castellan, where your Mother comes from.” Again, she nodded in understanding. He continued. “The royal line of Castellan is known for peculiar abilities. The royal daughters… dream, and their dreams are more than nighttime imaginings.”
“Their dreams come true.” There was a strange note in her voice; it sounded almost like strangled hope.
“Yes. Most often it is love that the royal daughters dream of, and such dreams… are not to be denied.”
“Mother dreamed of me.” Now there was a touch of awe to her voice, a sense of disbelief of her own good fortune.
“And here you are. Sometimes the dreams are of threats to the land, or threats to the world, and sometimes the dreams are for purposes that we do not understand, but are not to be resisted. Your mother dreamed of you and her dream called you Daughter. You are her daughter. No matter the formalities that must still be accomplished.”
“I haven’t had a mother in so very long… ” Again that touch of awe, the Emperor found his heart going out to this unchildlike child.
He decided to return to the tale. “A generation ago a Castellan royal daughter dreamed of love and it came very close to setting our world at war.”
She frowned slightly, pulling her brows together. “Mother?”
He shook his head. “Her sister. She dreamed of the Emperor of the South. The buffer lands must remain neutral, but to allow a Castellan royal daughter to wed the Southern Emperor would be to create an alliance, one that the North, that I, could not allow.” He shook his head. “I would have slaughtered millions to prevent that alliance.”
Dauris’ face paled. “You set yourself against the dreams of a Castellan royal daughter? Even with how much you believe in them? What sort of arrogance… ?” She stopped suddenly and turned very red. She looked down at her hands. “I beg your forgiveness.”
He smiled. “You did warn me, Daughter, and it was arrogance. If Princess Alyssa had dreamed of any Southerner other than the Emperor, I would not have had the cause for war which I sought. And I did seek war. I was proud.” He sighed deeply. “I would have even spilled noble blood for my pride.” He didn’t like admitting to his faults, but after all these years, he had to admit them sooner or later. “Your mother stopped me, may Heaven be thanked.”
“She made you an offer you could not refuse.” Dauris fought very hard against the smile that tried to come at the reference to a story that the Emperor certainly would not know. For that matter, Dauris had never watched that tale unfold, but the quote was so much a part of the culture that she had been born to, the culture that she had left to become what she was, that she couldn’t resist the desire to refer back to the saga of a rogue leader of a family of rogues and cutthroats.
He nodded. He understood the statement, if not the fact that it was a reference to something else. “She offered me her hand, and a complementary alliance to balance the one her sister made. She took a political match so that her sister could take a love match. In the beginning I only admired her resolve. I valued her as a war-prize, as a testament to my willingness to slaughter my way to strength. Now… ” His voice trailed off.
“Now you would trade your Empire for her to dream of you.” He nodded and Dauris took a deep breath. “Predestined loves are almost as difficult as loveless alliance marriages. You might try seeking her choice, not her dreams. To choose to love someone, warts and all, is a greater gift than to have to love someone.” There was pain in her voice, the pain of first-hand knowledge, though how a five-year-old girl could know something that intimately was a mystery.
They were silent for a long time. Finally Dauris spoke up, in a hesitant voice. “Is it only the royal daughters of Castellan who dream true dreams?”
He looked at her curiously. “Why? Have you had odd dreams?”
She nodded slowly, looking at her hands. “In the cavern, every night. The same man, always different but always the same. If there is the slightest chance that he could be real, if he could really be out there, somewhere, looking for me… ” He wouldn’t be the only one, if he were real. She didn’t know what to think about the others, and she had to hope that there would be others looking for her, too.
“You could be of a lost branch of the Castellan line.” He smiled at her. “Though you are a touch young to be running away in search of Castellan dreams.”
She shook her head. “No, I know where I come from, at least in bloodline, though the cavern may have changed more than my appearance. As far as I am aware, I am not of Castellan except by Mother’s dream. The dreams I had were probably nothing more than just dreams.”
The Emperor reached out to take her small hand in his. “Do not be so quick to dismiss your dreams. Your mother is of Castellan’s royal line and her dreams declared you to be of her lineage. I do not claim to understand the magic of Castellan dreams, but you are her daughter.” He paused. “Tell me of yourself, Daughter.”
“I am crippled, like a bird that cannot fly, but can still remember the freedom of the skies. I was attacked by one I called Brother, and locked in the cavern to slowly shrink away to nothing. He wasn’t always like that. There was a time when he was as much my brother as any of his household, and I loved them all for giving me place among them. He was twisted, later, and came to hunt the rest of us.” She paused, a strange look of hope coming across her face. She touched the streak of white in her hair. “When they adopted me, I became one of them in truth. They claimed me and the blood proved them.” Then she shook her head, trying to clear it of the hope. “But no, none of them would deny my right to the blood anyway, I am cut away from the source of them all, from the feminine which gave them life.”
The Emperor looked at her. So few of her words made any sense to him, but he felt that she was more speaking to herself. “You are safe here. Do not be afraid.”
She looked up at him. “I will never be safe again. But I swear to you, I will not allow the wrath of the one who hunts me to harm you. I have run away before, I can do it again.”
He took her small face in his hands. “Castellan dreamers run away from home for one purpose and one purpose alone, to find the one they dream of. And that they do with astonishing regularity. If you were to run, it would be with my blessing. Castellan dreams will not be denied, no matter who the dreamer is. But you have years of growing up to do before you need to worry about that.”
She nodded slowly. “Yes, Father.” There were tears in her eyes.
He smiled and gently let go of her. “Your mother probably wishes to have you back in the bower to coo over and your brothers are probably impatient for a sister to spoil and I have papers of formal adoption to write up. Let me ring for someone to take you back to the bower and then we can get everything take care of.”
She smiled her gratitude.