Monthly Archives: February 2014

Arc Two Chapter Twelve

Bastion entered Kodran’s shop in late morning.  It was busy with customers and streetlings but he didn’t see Riva as he paused just beyond the doorway to glance around.  Kodran stood at the counter and spotted him, and smiled broadly.  “Bastion-lad, it has been a long time since you were here last.”

Bastion smiled back, somewhat sheepishly.  “I apologize for that, Kodran.  The Palace has been keeping me busy.  I understand that you have a streetling here, calls herself Riva?”  He tried not to sound as hopeful as he felt.

Kodran nodded.  “So you’re the one who saved our Songbird yesterday.  I must thank you for that.  She means a great deal to us.”

One of the children who sat near Bastion’s feet almost undid everything for them, or so they thought for a moment.  He looked up at Bastion and grinned.  “Songbird is our mother!  Did you know that we have a mother now?”

Bastion crouched down to be closer to the child.  “Do you now?”

He nodded.  “She sings to us and she hugs us and she doesn’t let the bullies hurt us anymore.”  Kodran felt a moment of panic, though he carefully controlled it.  Children, he knew from experience, could blurt out the most awkward things.  But the child had another secret to spill.  “But she’s got a baby now.  He’s really little and he cries a lot.”

Bastion blinked in surprise.  Even more surprising was the twist in his stomach.  “A baby?”  Why did the thought cause such a reaction in him?  Why would he care if a streetling girl had given birth to a streetling babe?  Except, he remembered the way her eyes looked at him, the joy in them.

“Uh huh.  She carries him everywhere.  She looks more like a mother now than she did before.”  The boy was oblivious to the effect his words were having.

Kodran hooked a finger towards the boy, catching his attention.  Best interrupt this while the interrupting was good.  “Why don’t you go get her?”

The boy scrambled to his feet and ran into the back rooms while Bastion got back on his feet.  He turned back to Kodran.  “She has a child?”  He couldn’t quite suppress the strange wavering note in his voice.

Kodran was actually surprised at Bastion’s reaction.  He tilted his head slightly.  “A foundling.  She seems quite taken with the babe and I haven’t found a home for him yet, so I chose to see how she would handle him.  She’s got a better head on her shoulders than some twice her age.”

Bastion was astonished at the way his breathing eased.  His stomach gradually untwisted.  “So it seems to be working out?”

Kodran shrugged.  “She doesn’t belong on the streets.  Near them, yes.  On them, I don’t know.  I thought about finding her work as a nursemaid or a nanny, but I don’t think she’d like taking care of other people’s children for very long.  I’m probably going to have to find her a husband soon and just let things go the way they will.”

Just then Riva appeared out of the back, with the little boy pulling on her hand.  Her other arm was wrapped around a bundle of a baby, who had a lock of her hair clenched in his fist.  The little boy pointed at Bastion.  “See, I told you a Knight came to see you.”

Riva looked up and met Bastion’s eyes and turned bright red at the expression on his face.  She looked down at the baby, who gurgled at her happily.  The little boy dropped her hand and stood, looking proud at himself.  Riva took the opportunity to gently extricate her hair from the baby’s grasp.

Bastion was dumbfounded.  For a moment his mind gibbered at him frantically.  She was a child.  She was just a child.  But she was a Traveler, and hadn’t his Princess told him that Travelers sometimes hid themselves as children?  His Princess, oh God, his Princess… did he even have the right to think this way about a streetling when his Princess…?  He briefly wished that this streetling could be his Princess and end all the confusion that he felt.  He knew that Riva was no child, and his heart’s wish was white-hot.  He wished that it were his child she held so tenderly.

Kodran looked from one to the other and just barely managed not to gloat at his success.  “Ah, Riva-girl, we were just talking about you.”

She nodded, still afraid to meet Bastion’s eyes.  “Kyle told me.”  She forced herself to face Bastion.  “You came, just like you promised, to see Alban.”

He nodded.  He also wanted to see her, but he was afraid to tell her that.  “Where is he?”

“He’s in the back.  I’ll show you.”  She nodded to Kodran, who nodded back with a decided twinkle in his eye, and then turned and led Bastion into the back rooms, to where Alban lay in a pain-filled doze.

The boy woke slightly as they entered, turning his head towards them.  “Riva?  Is that you?”

She knelt down next to him and took his hand in hers.  “Yes, it’s me, Alban.”

“Mother, it hurts.”

Bastion could hear the tears in her voice.  “I know, Alban.  There’s someone here to might be able to help.”  She looked up at him and he was struck again by the familiarity of her golden eyes.  “Please, tell me that you can help him.”

He stepped around the pallet to kneel on Alban’s other side.  “Let me see.”  He put a hand out over the boy and hissed in sudden anger.  “He’s enspelled.”

Riva blinked.  “Can you banish it?”

He met her eyes.  “Yes, but we would lose the ability to prove who did this, and without that proof, the ones responsible cannot be punished.”

Riva was silent for a moment as terrible anger crossed her face.  “Banish it.  Alban’s health is more important, and it isn’t like we don’t already know who is responsible.”

“But the King cannot punish them, legally there would be no grounds, and if you were to seek them out then you would be held in the wrong.”

“I know that.  I also know that justice is not always found in a courtroom.  Eventually they will choose the wrong victim and all this will come back to roost.”

He nodded slowly and gathered his own magical energies.  It was always something of a surprise to him to be able to use magic.  The spell that held Alban shattered beneath his hand and he was able to send healing energies in its place.  After a moment he pulled his hand back and nodded to Riva.  “It is done.  He will heal.”

He watched tears fall down her face as she looked at the boy who was now sleeping peacefully.  She nodded towards Bastion.  “Thank you, Captain.”

She set the boy’s hand down gently and stood, and he did the same.  He had to move quickly to reach the door before she did, but he opened it for her all the same, and she blinked in surprise, and then smiled.  Once they were outside the room, he closed the door gently.  “If you do not mind, I need to speak with you and Kodran privately, if possible.”

She looked up at him curiously and then nodded.  “Alright.  Let me get him.”

— — —

They stood in Kodran’s office.  Bastion could see a simple table, with a few scattered pieces of paperwork on it, and a haversack in one corner, the edge of a scroll peeking out from the top of it.

Kodran looked at Bastion in curiosity.  “What seems to be the matter, Bastion-lad?”

He sighed.  Best to be blunt, he supposed.  “Who is training the streetlings in combat?”

Both Riva and Kodran blinked in surprise.  They glanced at each other for a moment and Kodran nodded slightly.  Riva straightened.  “That would be me, Captain.  It started the day we found Alban.  I do not want any streetling who is willing to learn left defenseless against bullies who would attack an unarmed child.”

He looked at her for a moment.  “So it is for self-defense purposes only?”

She nodded.  “And city defense.  If an enemy army ever shows up at Castellan’s gates they would be hard pressed to defeat trained streetlings, who love their city as much as anyone.”

Bastion sighed.  “Nobles are noticing, and they are afraid.  Arming the streetlings… ”

Riva put a hand flat on the table.  Her other arm still held the baby, who had fallen asleep.  “No government worth supporting would fear an armed populace.  Only tyrants and dictators.  I have always believed in the right to keep and bear arms.”

Kodran looked from one to the other and realized that there were levels to this conversation that he wasn’t hearing.

Bastion met Riva’s eyes.  “We the people…?”

“Precisely.”  Her eyes narrowed.  “Besides, we’re following the law.  I asked before I started what was forbidden.  No streetling is being given swords.  I train them in bare handed techniques and in the use of sticks and clubs.  Now, some of the stick moves are exactly like sword moves, but there is a greater variation possible with a walking stick.”

He sighed and let the tension fall from him.  “Alright.  Just, be careful.  Some of the nobles are not noted for generous and merciful judgment.”  He paused and then met her eyes.  “For myself, Riva, I am with you in this endeavor.  I wish someone had done this during my years on the streets.”

Her stance softened.  “I understand, Captain.  You have risen very high for a streetling.”

He nodded.  “I would like the opportunity to talk with you, some time.  I haven’t had that chance in a very long time.  The chance to speak with someone else who understands what is meant by ‘we the people’ and ‘one nation, under God’.”

She smiled through the tears in her eyes.  “I would enjoy that, Captain.”

He smiled back at her.  “Please, call me Bastion.  For what you are doing, you have earned the right to call another streetling by name.”

“Bastion, then.”

An awkward moment later Bastion took his leave to return to the Palace and Riva sank to the floor, her back against the wall.  She smiled up at Kodran, the expression wavering slightly through the uncomfortable thump of her heart.  “That went well, didn’t it?”

— — —

Bastion was able to speak privately with the King later in the afternoon, in the library.  King Ainmire looked at him curiously.  “Well, what did you discover?”

Bastion sighed.  “It is another streetling who is training the streetlings.  They are being trained in weaponless techniques and in the use of sticks and clubs only.  Moreover, they are being trained for self-defense and to aid in city defense should the need arise.”

“A streetling?”  The King blinked in surprise.  “How is this possible?”

“She knows what she is doing.”

The King went suddenly still.  “She?”  He paused for a moment, gathering his thoughts.  “Your golden-eyed streetling?”

Bastion looked at his King and then nodded slowly.  He had forgotten for a moment how insightful his king could be some days.  “Yes, my King.  She trains them because of what happened to her friend, so that no other streetling will fall victim to them or their foul magics ever again.”

“What was wrong with the boy?”

“He was enspelled so that he wouldn’t heal.  Banishing the spell destroyed all evidence of it.  The ones who did that were taunting the streetlings.  Punish us or save your friend.  They chose to save their friend, and trust that such arrogance would lead the squires to choose the wrong victim one day.”

The King sighed.  “I need to meet with this girl, this streetling.  I need to see her with my own eyes, speak with her myself.  Can you arrange that?”

Bastion nodded.  “Yes, Majesty.  I will arrange such a meeting.”

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Arc Two Chapter Eleven

Kodran had the infant in his arms when Riva entered the shop again, and the little one was fussing absently.  She smiled gently and reached out for the tiny child and he settled down instantly.  She leaned him against her shoulder, letting his little head nestle against her neck and just held him close for a moment.

Kodran blinked.  “Riva-girl, if your face glows half that bright tomorrow, your Knight will be unable to resist you.”

She smiled at him.  “I love children, babies especially.”  And it had been a very long time since she had been able to hold one so close and not have to give the little one back to his mother.  She frowned, then, in thought.  “Do you have many problems with abandoned infants?”

He shrugged.  “I’ve been able to find homes for most of the ones we find still alive, but every so often there’s one we don’t get to in time.  I do not understand how humans can throw their offspring away like so much trash.”  Dwarves, with their lifespans, did not breed as quickly as humans did.  Of course neither did the dryads, but they kept to themselves.

“I don’t understand it, either, Kodran.  I don’t understand it, either.”  She paused.  “Will you be able to find a home for this dearling?”

He nodded.  “Yes, but not for several days.  You can be his mother until then.”

She smiled.  “Thank you.”

— — —

Bastion returned to the Palace, his face betraying distraction and his mind clearly elsewhere.  One of the pages had to tug on his hand three times before he turned to look at him.  “Hmm?”

“Captain, the King wants to see you in the library.”

Bastion nodded to the boy, remembering for a moment that he was almost a streetling himself, adopted by a childless noble family as an infant.  “I’ll be right there.”

The boy ran off and Bastion watched him for a moment, lost in the memory of golden eyes smiling at him.

The King looked up from some papers as Bastion entered the library with a bow.  “I had feared you were lost.”

Bastion sighed.  “Forgive me, my King.”

“She will be alright.  You do not need to worry about your Princess so.  There is nothing we can do at the moment, in any event.”

Sudden memory made Bastion groan.  He had actually forgotten about the letter.  Was it only just this morning?  “Oh, God, my Princess…”  He leaned against a table, hands flat against the surface.

The King blinked in surprise.  “Captain, what happened to you?”  There was a chance, a thread of a possibility, and his heart raced at the thought.

Bastion shook his head.  “A streetling girl, I saved her life while I was seeing my response to my Princess on its way.  Her eyes, I just can’t seem to get the look of them out of my mind.  She had… she had gold eyes.”

King Ainmire stopped breathing for a moment and Bastion looked up at him in surprise.  He resumed his breath and struggled to sound normal.  “Gold eyes?  That sounds distinctive enough to me.”  There could not possibly be two girls in all the world with those eyes.

“Majesty?  Is there a problem?”

“No, Captain, not at all.”  He actually smiled, his heart feeling lighter than it had in years.  In spite of the reports he was receiving.  “How are your contacts with the streetlings these days, in any event?”

Bastion frowned.  “I am to go to Kodran’s tomorrow.  I promised the girl that I would look at a friend of hers.  He – he was attacked by a group of our squires and he is not healing.”

The King paled.  “The same ones?”

“Four of them.  I highly doubt that we have two such groups of squires at the moment.”

For a moment extreme anger crossed the King’s face.  “If I thought it would do any good, I would take them into the salle myself and beat them senseless.”

Bastion shook his head.  “I will do what I can, but they are very stubborn.  They are very much like my brother is.”

King Ainmire sighed, then.  “And this is at the worst possible time, too.  Captain, I have been receiving some worrisome reports.  Someone is training the streetlings.”

Bastion raised his head suddenly to meet his King’s eyes.  “I noticed that some of the streetling trainees were more adept than usual.”

“If it is simply a matter of self-defense, then that is one thing.  But those nobles who have noticed have fears; of revolution, of anarchy.  Of course, they are the ones who treat the lower classes the worst, but still, they are powerful and if they feel threatened, they will attack rather than wait to be attacked.”

Bastion sighed and hung his head for a moment.  Then he lifted it and straightened.  “I will ask Kodran, tomorrow.  If anything is happening with the streetlings, he will know.  But whether he will tell me…” he paused, shaking his head slightly, “I do not know.”

The King sighed as well.  “It should be enough to ask.  Just warn him.  Warn him that noblemen are becoming worried.”

— — —

Bastion was late getting to the tavern to see his old friends that night.  Dougal and Corrin ribbed him for a while about being late, but it didn’t take long to see that he was seriously distracted.

“What is going on, Bastion?” Corrin finally asked him.  “You haven’t done more than nod and grunt since you got here.”

Bastion sighed.  “Where do you want me to start?  I found your golden-eyed streetling today.”

Dougal blinked.  “She’s real?”

Corrin grinned.  “I told you.  I told you.  She’s nobleborn.  She has to be.”

Bastion shook his head.  “If she is, then she could be in trouble.  Things are happening with the streetlings.  And nobles are noticing.  It has the potential to be a very difficult and explosive situation.”

“Do you need our help?” Dougal offered.  “We’re with you.”

Bastion shook his head again.  “Not at the moment.  I’m going to Kodran’s tomorrow.  If she is nobleborn and she is the one doing this, then I agree with her in principle.  I just want to make sure that she knows the dangers.”  He didn’t tell his friends that he didn’t think Riva to be nobleborn, but he was certain that she would have the background and the skills necessary anyway.  And she might not know the political situation of Castellan well enough to gauge the dangers.  She was almost certainly a Traveler.

— — —

Riva kept the baby with her even when she went into the undercity for the training session that day.  He stayed in a basket nearby, playing with his blanket and looking with interest at Annie, who had left her vigil with Alban in curiosity about this tiny person her momma was carrying around.

Alban was getting worse.

He slept most of the time, but it wasn’t a restful sleep.  The bruises weren’t fading properly, and the broken bones had been set, but they weren’t healing.  Riva could almost feel some sort of magic about him, but she wasn’t certain.  Her brother hadn’t given her much of any training in the magics that were native to this world, and she wasn’t even certain what they had in the way of healing.  Only that it hadn’t been enough to save her mother.

She knew weapons.  But then, she’d had extensive training in them even before she had been locked in the cavern with nothing to do but dance and sing and practice.  She still wasn’t able to do some of what she’d once done, but she needed her Traveler magics to lift her back to those levels.  She knew magic from a dozen different worlds, but her ability with them was still linked to those same Traveler magics that were sealed away from her.

All she could do was sit and watch him and sing, or go into the undercity and train the streetlings so that what happened to Alban wouldn’t happen to any of them.  She held the baby close and prayed that this tiny child would find a home where he would be loved and taught to defend himself against anyone.

And then the child would open his eyes and look into her face and try to smile and tears would fill her eyes for the children she lost over her endless centuries and the children she wanted so desperately to have.  She could almost see them some days, almost hear them laughing beyond her senses.  Her arms ached to wrap themselves around a child she could call her own.

She wanted to hear a tiny voice calling her “Mommy”.  It had been so very, very long.

It helped that the streetlings called her “Mother”.  It helped that the smallest of them came running to her when they were frightened or hurt.  It helped that even the bigger ones were careful around her.

It was interesting, though, how many of them did double-takes when they saw her for the first time with the baby in her arms.  She prayed that Kodran’s gambit would work, that in an instant Captain Bastion would see her as a woman, not a child.  She would be patient, in any event.  She had to be.  The dreams told her that he would love her, and as much as she wanted her dreams, she wasn’t certain that she was ready for that.  Not when she had unfinished business elsewhere.

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Arc Two Chapter Ten

Kodran needed Riva to run an errand for him.  They were running low on some supplies for Alban, who wasn’t healing as quickly as they hoped.  Riva hadn’t left the boy’s room for much more than weapons training with the streetlings in the undercity.  She needed some air and he told her as much.

Riva looked at Alban for a moment before nodding silently to Kodran.  She would go, but she would be gone no longer than necessary.  Annie lay nearby and she looked up at her as she stood.  She smiled at the dog and told her to stay with Alban.  She set her head back down on her paws and watched the boy with worried eyes.

She hurried on her way as quickly as she could, running through shortcuts she had learned from other streetlings and dodged in and out of traffic on agile feet.  She wasn’t quite out of breath when she got the supplies Kodran needed, but it was a very near thing.

She started back as quickly as she had gotten there.  Perhaps that was why she wasn’t paying as much attention as she ought to have.  She stepped out into the street just as a wagon led by a runaway horse came barreling down towards her.

— — —

Bastion was on his way to the Green Tavern when he saw the girl step out into the path of a runaway horse and wagon, her arms full of packages.  She didn’t hear the shouts and she plainly wasn’t looking.  Unless something happened quickly she would be run over.

What else could he do?  He ran forward quickly and wrapped his arms around hers from behind, and then lifted her, packages and all, and turned, so that the horse and wagon missed them.  He set her down back on the side of the road and let her go.  She turned to look at him and he made himself smile.  “Careful, there.”

Riva turned to find herself face to face with a breastplate.  Her sight rose a bit and she saw a brooch holding a cloak over the armor and she felt her breath leave her body.  She knew that brooch.  It was her Knight.  She had found him and he had saved her, without thinking about it.

She forced herself to continue looking up towards his face and her heart stopped still in her chest when she saw the familiar face, smiling and friendly, and the scar on his forehead.  It was him.  It really was him.  He was really real, and he was the one she had been writing to and she didn’t have to worry ever again.  Somehow… somehow everything would work out.

For a blinding moment, Riva let herself fully believe her dreams, and the promises made in them.

Knight-Captain Bastion looked into a pair of metallic gold eyes and felt his whole world shift around him.  Somehow nothing would ever be the way it was.  He just wasn’t sure why, though.

He noticed, first, the way her eyes widened, the way they looked first to his scar and then to him.  He saw shock, surprise, and then, amazingly, joy.  She smiled at him and wondered why, for a moment.

He realized that she felt familiar, somehow.

She broke the silence, then, with a soft laugh.  “Oh wow, a real Knight-in-Shining-Armor coming to my rescue.  What are the chances of that?”

Something about her manner teased his memory.  He took a step back and bowed.  “Pleased to be of service, miss.”

“Riva.” she told him.  “I’m Riva.  I’m one of Kodran’s streetlings.  Still… still fairly new to the city.  Sorry about that.”

“What had you so distracted?”

He watched her face darken with anger.  “A group of squires almost killed a friend of mine and he’s not… he’s not healing properly.”  She growled.  “If I ever catch them in a dark alley…”

He had a sinking feeling that he knew that group.  “Four of them?”  She nodded.  “There is only one of you.”

She met his eyes with a strange expression.  “Your point?  Three hundred Spartans annihilated a million Persians.  I would be the only one still standing.”  He felt his heart stop at her reference.  She sighed.  “Forgive me.  My anger tends to run away with me.”  A strange vulnerability crossed her expression.  “May I at least know your name?”

He nodded.  “Knight-Captain Bastion of Castellan.  Your friend, is he at Kodran’s?”  She nodded.  “I will be by tomorrow to see if there is anything I can do to help.  I promise.”

She smiled through tears.  “I will be waiting, Captain.”  She hurried away and Bastion was left wondering how he had managed to meet two Travelers in his life and how they both wore wing-shaped earrings.

— — —

Riva reached Kodran’s shop by sheer instinct.  Her eyes were so blinded by tears she didn’t dare shed, not yet, that she could barely see in front of her.  The other streetlings saw her run in and straight to the back, not stopping.  Several of them stood as she passed, unsure of how to deal with their mother, the only one many of them had, in tears.

She found her way to Kodran’s office and collapsed in a corner, sobbing incoherently.

Kodran found her there, the packages setting on the table he used for paperwork.  He knelt next to her and put a hand on her shoulder.  “Riva-girl, what happened?”

She looked up at him and then reached out to bury her face in his beard, her arms around his shoulders.  “I found them!” she sobbed.  “I found them both and they’re the same man.  My Knight and the man in my dreams are one and the same and I found him and he’s wonderful, but he didn’t know me.”

Kodran was stunned still for a moment and then awkwardly put his arms around Riva’s shoulders, rocking her like she would rock the children.  “Who is he?  Did you get his name, Riva-girl?”

“He’s Captain Bastion.  Knight-Captain Bastion of Castellan.”

Kodran sighed.  “Oh, girl, you certainly know how to pick them, don’t you?  I remember Bastion-lad, when he was a streetling.  He was a good one even then.  But you are more than a bit young, and he doesn’t seem to like the young and flighty types.”

She pulled back her head to glare at him and his heart lifted that her spirit wasn’t completely crushed.  “I’m not young and flighty.  I’m older than I look and if he ever realizes that I’m his Princess then he’ll know that I told him exactly that.”

“You would have to be, Riva-girl.  You would have to be.”  He sighed.  “Captain Bastion is the best the Order has.  I would wish you luck, but I think that you have need of more than simply luck.”  He set her up straight. “Now, Riva-girl, streetling of Castellan, tell me what happened.”

The tears slowed as she told him about meeting Bastion, about his promise to stop by to see Alban.  She didn’t tell him about being a Traveler, he was safer not knowing right now.

When she was done, Kodran was silent for a moment, thinking.  “This is what we are going to do.  We are going to do our best to encourage him to see you, not as a child, but as a woman grown.  It should not be so difficult; you act older than you are so often that it comes natural.  You will have to allow someone else to sit by Alban, though.”  He smiled.  “You are going to be much too busy.”

“What about the training?  I am not leaving any willing streetling defenseless against bullies and thugs.”

Kodran actually smiled.  “A child after my own heart.  I would have taught them years ago, but I am merely a merchant.  You, Imperial Princess, can do things that I cannot.  We will find a way, together, to see that the training continues.”

She nodded.  “What would you have me do, then?”

“Caitlin found an infant, abandoned, while you were out.  Can you play nursemaid?”

He was surprised by the way her face lit up and darkened in sorrow at the same time.  “A baby?  Poor little thing.”  Her arms bent as if to hold the child even now.  “I want babies so much…”  She put her forehead to her knees.  “Where is the little one?”

“I’ll get him for you.”  He helped her stand.  “Go, wash your face off.”

She nodded, silent in the stillness that followed tears.  Then she turned to smile at him.  “Thank you, Kodran, father of streetlings.”

He smiled back.  “My honor, Riva, mother of streetlings.”

— — —

After she washed her face, Riva turned to see Brady.  “Is it true?” he asked, face intent.

Her heart stopped still for a moment.  “Is what true?”

“I followed you.  Listened outside the door.  You’ll have to forgive me, but I have been a streetling for a very long time.  It’s a survival thing.  Is it true that you are a Princess and that you dreamed about Captain Bastion?”  Brady kept his voice very low so that no one else would hear the conversation.

“Yes.”  She didn’t want to tell him the truth.  It put him at risk.  But he was at risk anyway.  “But it must not become known.  I must be no different than any of the rest of Kodran’s streetlings.”

“Why?  You could have gone straight to the Palace.  Why live here?  You’re a Princess.”

She looked up to meet his eyes.  “I know that the lines between classes are sharp, but how much do you know about the Northern Empire?”

Brady frowned.  “Not much.  It’s an Empire.  With an Emperor.  And about three years back there was a lot of confusion and the King went away for a couple months.  He came back though.”

She sighed.  “My brother is the Emperor.  He adores me, or at least he did at one time, but he would not let me run, would not surrender me to another man.  I came here to marry a man, but I am content to simply be near him for however many years it takes for him to realize that I have been at his side the entire time.  If it is even whispered on the Castellan street that the Imperial Princess is here, then he will send soldiers and the Castellan army cannot stand in their way.  It would be war, and the Empire would win.”  She sighed.  “There may be war anyway, whether I was here or not.  Marus was going strange before I left.  He seemed to be seeking power.”

He looked at her blankly.

She sighed in frustration.  “Have you ever known someone that the more they had the more they wanted?  It’s that way with power.  The more power some people have, the more they want and the more it controls them.”

Brady nodded.  “I think I understand.  He’s a bully, then, like the squires.”

She frowned.  “In some ways, yes.  I never really saw that side of his personality myself.  He sheltered me from it.”  She sighed.  “No one else must know.”

He frowned in response.  “You will have to tell the Captain, though.  And the King.”

“The Captain, yes, eventually.  I want to see if he can figure it out himself.  But not the King.  Not if I can help it.  As long as he doesn’t know for certain that I am here then he doesn’t have to send me back to my brother.”  She sighed.  “I will be a streetling of Castellan for the rest of my life if that is what it takes to be near my Knight and my boys.”

He met her eyes.  “I’m going to enter training for knighthood.  I’m no good at much else and I am good at that.  Do you need my help?”

She smiled in gratitude for the offer.  “I do not know yet.  It depends on how frustratingly stubborn the Captain is.  Kodran has a plan, though, and I have my dreams.  Matters will work out.  They must.”

Brady nodded.  “If you need my help, Mother, just ask.”

“Thank you.”

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Arc Two Chapter Nine

After a couple days, Riva felt as if she had never really lived anywhere else.  She missed Illian terribly, and found herself looking around for Gabriel’s hovering presence, half-fearful of finding him.  Much to her own surprise she even missed Marus and his odd acceptance of all that was odd about her.  She had problems falling asleep the first couple of nights, but Annie nosed her way into her blankets to curl up next to her stomach, or lay across her ribcage and she was able to drift off knowing that she wasn’t alone.

When she wasn’t running errands or helping around the shop, the little ones took her exploring through the undercity enclave that opened into the back of the shop, and the older ones taught her what they knew of surviving on Castellan’s streets.  She did her best to learn all that they had to teach her, though she was uncomfortably slow sometimes.  She still expected too much, she supposed, even after all these centuries of adapting to wildly different worlds on a moment’s notice.

In return she soothed skinned knees, taught them songs to sing, and told them stories.  They loved to hear the story of Lady Zaira and Lord Gryphon most of all.  Gryphon had been one of them, and he had risen to be King of Castellan beside Zaira.

Then, one day, she discovered that she had even more that she could teach them.

Alban had been missing for most of the day.  He was one of the mid-sized boys, perhaps twelve, perhaps thirteen, even he didn’t know how old he was.  Brady, the eldest at the moment, had gone looking for him and showed up in late afternoon carrying the smaller boy in his arms, his face black with anger.  Riva was waiting for them when they arrived and her eyes went wide with shock and pain.

Someone had beaten Alban to almost within an inch of his life.

The boy was bruised and bleeding and mostly unconscious, and with a lot of help from Kodran and a few other adults, they got him situated and bandaged.  Riva was right with them.  She might not have her healing gifts, but a sister had seen that she was taught some of the basics involved in the nonmagical side of healing.

After she had seen to Alban, Riva confronted Brady in another room.  “What happened?”

“I found him like that, Motherling.  I swear to you, I found him like that.  I asked around and it seems like he ran into that group of squires.  You remember the ones, from the day you got here.”  She nodded.  “They said they needed some ‘pell practice’, whatever that is, and just…” the boy’s voice failed for a moment before he could continue, “He couldn’t even defend himself.”  Brady started pacing in anger.

“Can any of you?”

“Can any of us what?”

“Defend yourselves.  If those maddening bullies show up again.  Can any of you fight to defend yourselves or even just to get away?”

He looked at her, visibly trying to change his thinking.  “I’ve been in a few street scuffles, and can hold my own as long as it’s just fists, but none of us have the training to stand up to squires in training for knighthood.”

For a moment she was silent, her lips pressed together in fury.  “Are there laws against it, or is it simply a matter of available instruction?”

He blinked.  “Songbird?  What are you talking about?”

“Are there laws against you taking up a weapon to defend yourself?  Are there laws restricting what sort of weapons you can use?  Or is it simply a matter that most instructors wouldn’t think to teach streetlings?”

Kodran appeared at the door to the room.  “Riva-girl, anyone not noble-born is forbidden the use of swords, though exceptions are made for those who are accepted into training for knighthood.  Other than that, it’s catch as catch can.”

She was silent again for a long moment.  “Can they use sticks and cudgels even if they hold them as swords?”

Kodran grinned.  “As far as I know, there is no law about using a stick in a sword-like manner.  Are you planning something?”

She looked over at him, her heart in her eyes.  “I have to do something, and I am in the unique position of being able to.”

Kodran nodded.  “Just keep it in the undercity, where those who would tattle cannot see.”

Brady looked at Riva, his eyes wide and disbelieving.  “What are you planning to do?”

“I can teach you to fight, if you are willing to learn.”

— — —

They found a chamber deep in the undercity, in an area that only the dwarves went to.  The dwarves, of course, knew what was going on, but they weren’t going to disturb anything that Kodran had authorized, especially when it involved helping the streetlings defend themselves.

Somehow Kodran had gotten his hands on a shipment of ironwood walking sticks.  They were still being shaped and dried out, but when it was done they would be harder than the swords that the squires had, and wouldn’t be cut if used to block an edge-on blow.  In the meantime, Riva had a supply of regular sticks of various lengths.

The first thing she had to teach them was how to stand, and then how to breathe, and it was quite a while before she started them on their first swings, but not against each other.  This was going to be a long process.

But after what happened to Alban, no one was complaining.

It was tiring, but rewarding, even though it did keep her in the undercity for most of the day.  She still hadn’t tracked down either of her Knights, but she was willing to be patient, if only for a little while longer.

— — —

Two weeks after the conversation in the tavern, Bastion still hadn’t found time to go wandering through the Merchant’s Quarter with Connor looking for this strange golden-eyed streetling girl, who might or might not be noble.  He was in the training salle seeing to a new crop of students, a few of them were even streetlings.  There were rumors flying around of a streetling mother, and he had to smile when he heard them.

It reminded him so strongly of stories he would read when he was a child in another place and time.  Stories of boys very like these streetlings, and the girl they adopted for a mother.  He remembered his own time on Castellan’s streets, and he knew that they were much safer than they could have been, because of Kodran, but Kodran wasn’t a mother.  He was called the Streetling Father for a reason.

Besides, he could swear that one of the streetling boys who had entered training was better prepared for it than previous boys had been.  Like someone had already taught him the very basics.  If someone was training the streetlings it could make life very interesting in Castellan.

He caught motion out of the corner of his eye and turned to see Princess Keara entering the salle.  She looked around and spotted him and walked over to silently hand him a folded piece of paper.  He looked at it curiously.  It wasn’t time for another letter from his Princess.  That wasn’t supposed to happen for another week.  And she tended to write several pages at a time.

He opened the paper and his face drained of blood.  He didn’t even notice the way that all sound in the salle seemed to stop, how everyone turned to look at him.  He looked up at Keara and saw that her eyes were glistening, as if with tears.  “Princess?”

“Father is waiting for you in the library.”

He swallowed carefully.  “Did you read it?”

She shook her head.  “No, but – but her letter to me said that she needed an answer quickly.  I have an envelope prepared already.”

He bowed and then almost ran from the salle.

— — —

King Ainmire did his best not to pace as he waited for Bastion’s arrival.  When the Knight-Captain entered the library chamber he turned quickly.  “So you have the letter.”

Bastion nodded.  “You wished to see me?”

“I need to know, what did she ask?”  The King looked at him, a tense interest written across his face.  He was almost afraid of the answer, but ready for action because of it.

Bastion was silent for a long moment.  “I cannot reveal her letters.  I promised her.”  He had promised to hold her confidences as his own honor, and that was just what he did.  Normally, there were smiles when the King or his children pestered him to know what Princess Dauris wrote.  Like they just wanted to hear him tell them no.  There was no smile this time.

The King sighed in very real frustration.  “Very well, just confirm or deny the matter for me.  Does she ask about that which we were forbidden to reveal to her during the Coronation?”

Bastion nodded.  “Yes, Majesty.  I- I do not know how she would even know to ask such questions.  Who could have told her…?”

The King silenced him with a motion.  “Do not concern yourself with that right now, Captain.  Do you intend to respond to her?”

Again Bastion nodded, more certain of himself.  “Yes.”

“Then prepare your response and give it to my daughter that she may see it on its way.”  He paused.  “My niece has not been seen in the city of Pallantia for some days at last report.  There were rumors, unconfirmed, of an attempted kidnapping.”  He wasn’t sure that he should even tell the Knight-Captain about the rumors, but the man deserved all the information that they had.

Bastion turned very pale.  “I must go to her.”  He started to turn to run.

The King stopped him and shook his head in negation.  “No, not yet.  Not until we know that she is in need of rescue, or wishes our aid in escape.  We must be patient, for a little while longer.”  The last was almost a plea, almost a promise.

Reluctantly Bastion nodded his acceptance of the will of his King.  Then he turned and left to see to his response.  It would not take long.  He stopped by his chambers to jot down his quick response to the letter, brief as it was.  Then he folded the page and fairly ran to the Princess’ chambers.

Keara met him at the door with her own letter in hand.  She quickly folded her letter around his and sealed it and then handed it to Bastion.  “I need you to take it to my contact in town.  Give it to the man at the rental stables behind the Green Tavern near the Sun Gate.  Tell him…” she paused for a moment and then continued, “tell him this is important.”

Bastion nodded and then bowed.  “Thank you.”

She smiled.  “You aren’t the only one worried about her.”

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Arc Two Chapter Eight

Introductions were quickly made to the other streetlings who helped Kodran with his shipment.  Riva left her haversack in Kodran’s office to be certain that it was safe.  She wasn’t about to take the risk that curious eyes and hands would go digging through it.  The last thing she wanted was for those letters to end up strewn all over the street.

Still, she felt good about her decision, and about who she had become.  She laughed at a joke one of the other streetlings made, though some of her more gentle traits were stubbornly hanging on.  She wasn’t really one of them, not yet, but she would be.  Out of an old habit she began softly singing, her steps taking on the rhythm of the words.

A boy, only a year older than she appeared to be, straightened slowly, looking at her.  “Nice song.”

She smiled in response to the comment.  “Thank you.”

Several of the younger children clamored to know what she was singing, so she raised her voice, and taught them the words as she continued to help with the unloading and storage of the shipment.  Before long she had quite a chorus going along with her, and the work was going easier as well.

Another merchant paused on his way to listen to them, and smiled.  He nodded to Kodran, who nodded back.  “That is quite the songbird you have there.”

Kodran smiled.  “Thank you.”

It didn’t take long before more streetlings called Riva Songbird than called her Riva.  She didn’t mind.

Not even Kodran, though was prepared for what happened when the gang of toughs appeared, chasing after a four-year-old who looked panicked.  He didn’t approve of the gangs, though he understood that not all streetlings were willing to fetch and carry at the call of others, to work and to find their way honestly.  For that matter, there were quite a few bullies that he refused to allow near his shop.  He wouldn’t put up with their nonsense.

Riva glanced at Kodran, as if asking permission.  He nodded and she ran forward with several of the older boys, to put themselves between the child and his attackers.  The child had fallen and had scraped his knees, and cried.  She knelt beside the little boy and pulled him into her arms, letting him wrap his arms around her neck and murmuring comfortingly to him.

The leader of the gang looked nobleborn, and he glowered at them.  “Hey, that one’s ours.  He needs to be punished for running into me.  He tried to pick my pocket.  We’re going to thrash him.”

The child denied the charges vehemently.  They had run into him, he claimed.  He had helped a lady find her dog and she had given him a treat, and they tried to take it away from him, and now it was ruined, but he hadn’t tried to steal from them.  He wouldn’t do that.

Riva shushed him and stood, holding the child close.  She glared at the bullies.  Once they were able to get a good look at her eyes, they seemed to shiver slightly.  “Leave here,” she told them.  “You are not welcome.  This child is no threat to you.”

“Oh, and who is going to make us?  You?  A streetling girl?  We are trained squires of the Order.”

The boys around them closed ranks threateningly and the gang leader growled.  “Come on, guys, they aren’t worth the hassle.  Consider this a warning, though.  If any of your street trash comes near us again, we won’t be so generous.”  They left and the tense situation eased quickly.

Riva quickly carried the boy over to a crate where she sat down and began to rock him, gently, singing softly.  As the child calmed down the other streetlings looked at Riva, and then at Kodran.  One boy whistled low.  “I remember… my mother used to hold me like that, before she…”

Another nodded in agreement, soon they were all nodding and several of the smaller ones had crept close to Riva.

The biggest boy looked at Kodran.  “She’s one of us?”

Kodran nodded.  “Why?  You worried?”

“Naw, your say so’s good enough for me.  Not many girls make it as streetlings.”  There were nods of agreement.

“I’ll make it.” Riva told him.  “I’m not so weak as some.”  She still rocked the boy, who had reached out and was playing with a lock of her hair that had fallen over her shoulder.

“We’ll look out for you.  Look, Kodran’s the closest thing most streetlings have to a father.  Would you… would you be our mother?”

Riva looked up and felt a moment of mental vertigo as her unique understanding of the world spun around her.  For a moment she didn’t see the Castellan street, or the streetlings.  She saw Wendy and the Lost Boys, and smiled.  “Yes.  Yes, I will.”

— — —

Riva still sat on the crate, rocking the little boy in her arms when a barking sound filled the air and a small, dark brown dog ran up to them, to jump up on her leg as if trying to reach the lap that was currently occupied.  The little children looked at her in delight to match the grin that spread across Riva’s face.

“Annie, where have you been, you naughty darling?”

Once she knew that she had gotten her momma’s attention, Annie turned towards the children and seemed beside herself to have so many little persons around to pet and love on her.  She certainly did love children.

The little boy slid from her lap and ran with the other children to play with the dog and she smiled to watch them.  After a moment she sighed and turned to the larger boys.  “Let’s get the rest of this stuff put up before she distracts us too much.”

“She yours?”  The largest boy helped her carry a box into the shop.

“Yes.  And locked doors that dog does not know.  I never could keep her in a room, never could keep her out and somehow she always knew where to find me.”

“Sounds like fun.”

“It was, especially when I had to go wandering around looking for her because it was getting late and she wasn’t at home.”

Working together they made quick work of the rest of the boxes.

— — —

The soldier sat, that night, in a tavern with several of his longtime friends from in the Palace.  They had all been streetlings together, years before, and they had kept up with each other, though it had taken quite a bit of effort.

Dougal looked at him over the rim of his mug.  “You are kidding, right?”

The soldier, Corrin, shook his head.  “Honest, holy truth, I swear.  She has got to be watching me while I help the kids get their ball back and then walks up to me only after they have run off.  I could actually hear her voice want to call me ‘sir’.”

Across the table, Knight-Captain Bastion smiled into his ale.  “A noble streetling?  What did she look like?”

Corrin shrugged.  “Like any other streetling, though a bit cleaner, a bit more… controlled.  Blonde, like you, with her hair pinned back in a kerchief.  What struck me most, though, was her eyes.  Pure gold, like two new-minted coins.  Now where does a girl get eyes like that?”

Dougal laughed.  “I don’t know.  Same place you dreamed up a noble streetling, I suppose.”

Corrin raised one hand as if taking an oath.  “I swear, I am not making this up.  It was the weirdest thing I have ever seen.  It was like… it was like she was looking for someone she could trust to ask directions from.”

Bastion chuckled and then took a sip from his ale before setting the mug down.  “And you, being the honest and upright person we all know, told her exactly how to find Kodran’s shop?”

Corrin nodded.  “That I did.  I can take you over there at some point, maybe we can spot here there and I can prove to you that there is a noble streetling girl with eyes as gold as…”

“As coins?” Dougal offered, still chuckling.

“Exactly, as coins.”

Dougal snorted in laughter.  “You have got the biggest imagination I have ever seen.  Like any noble daughter thrown onto Castellan’s streets wouldn’t end up in a troublesome spot within an hour of arriving.  They’re used to being waited on, hand and foot.  Kodran wouldn’t put up with that, and we all know it.  No spoiled lady would put up with some of the stuff the streetlings do.”

Bastion shrugged.  “Well, I know one noble daughter who might.”

Corrin looked at him curiously.  “Your Princess?”

He nodded.  “She’s got the strength, but I don’t think she would really run.”  He paused.  “And I don’t think that she’s got gold eyes.”  The more he thought about it, though, the more he realized that he didn’t know what color her eyes were.

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Arc Two Chapter Seven

Riva watched the city of Castellan approach over the horizon as the sun rose above them.  Dalziel looked up at her from the pilot’s seat.  “Are you certain about this?”

“Why do you ask?”

“Renna and I could certainly use you here.  Three making their way in the world is easier than one alone, even in Castellan.  Besides, I like the idea of having a woman around that I’m not related to.”

Riva chuckled and then smiled at Dalziel.  “I appreciate the thought, but there’s someone I need to find, someone who will miss me terribly.”  For a moment she considered the possibilities, though.  It would be so easy to write a letter and ask that it be delivered to her cousin, a letter explaining everything.  Maybe then her Knight could meet them at the skyport, join them for a life of piracy and adventure.  She had seen him as a Pirate more than once… if her Knights were the same man after all.

She sighed and Dalziel looked at her, concerned.  “Are you going to be okay?”

“Yeah, it’s just… your offer is very tempting.  You do not know how tempting.”

“Then come with us.  We can help you find this friend of yours and the four of us can take off for a life without limits, without boundaries.  In the Windborne, we can go anywhere.”

“Is that what you’re calling her?  The Windborne?”

He nodded.  “Sea or sky, the wind carries her.”

She sighed again.  “I can’t.  Not right now at least.  I have to stand on my own for a while.  But maybe… maybe later, in a couple of years, maybe then I can join you on the Windborne and we can sail off for adventure.”

“Will you at least agree to keep in touch?  I don’t have many that I can call friends, and I’d hate to lose track of one.”

She smiled.  “I would love that.  Never can tell when a Castellan streetling will need a Pirate to come to her aid.”

“And I would come to your aid in a heartbeat, sweet Riva.  I swear it to you.  If you ever need my help, a rescue run, or even just a day out of the city, you let me know and I’ll be here as quickly as the Windborne can fly.”

She nodded.  “I will do that.”

— — —

Dramsol watched events unfold from within the silences of his mind.  Everything looked to him like events were proceeding on the intended paths, though Gabriel’s actions… even the Mother seemed to panic a bit when that happened.

He just wished that he could scry Marus more closely.  Knowing the Emperor’s mind, and the contents of that interview, would help matters immensely, but a shield closed over the room as soon as Gabriel had entered, one that Dramsol could not pierce.  He wasn’t his mother after all.

With that thought as a reminder, he composed a quick message and sent it out, knowing that she would hear him, no matter where she was.

Mother, Goldeneyes is on her way to Castellan.  I’m not sure whether her memories have been affected by whatever threw her here, but she remembers enough to know who she is, of that I am certain.  There is still no sign of her Dragoon.  I wish you were here.

It wasn’t much, but it would have to be enough.

— — —

Riva stepped off the Windborne and waved good-bye to Dalziel and Renna.  The pirate’s life would agree with them, she could feel it.  And they’d stop by from time to time to check on her so it wasn’t like she would never see them again.

They had traveled together such a short time, so why did it feel like she was saying goodbye to old friends?

The Windborne lifted off again and Riva watched her make her way towards the west, towards adventure and treasure and challenge.  Then she squared her shoulders and turned herself towards the city of Castellan.  She had a contact to find and then the small matter of locating a Knight whose face she had never seen, and hoped was the one she had seen in her dreams.

— — —

The city of Castellan was built on a hill overlooking a great plain.  In the beginning putting a keep in such a defensible position made sense.  Then the keep became a castle, and then a city surrounded it and then buildable land became an issue.  The city-state of Castellan started to run out of it.  The people tried building up for a while, multistory towers of buildings, but then someone in the Palace got the idea to block off some of those lower levels with earth, sort of leveling out the terrain so to speak.  Whole buildings were buried to make way for new ones.

But the old buildings weren’t collapsed.  They were buried intact.  This created something of an opportunity for the lesser-fortunate in the city, and the downright shady.  Before long the denizens of the streets and their compatriots were burrowing through from one buried chamber to another.  Some were used for storage for the shops above.  Others were homes for those with nowhere else to go.

Matters became even more interesting, though, when the Dwarves moved in and began actually carving their way through the bedrock that formed the hill upon which the city stood.  By the time that Riva set out in search for her mother’s old friend, the city was actually two cities, and undercity and an overcity.

For a moment Riva didn’t know just how to go about looking for this Dwarf, Kodran.  It was frightening, the sensation of being alone in a city she did not know.  And after what had happened, she was more susceptible to her fears than she would normally have been.  It didn’t help that within moments of stepping off of the Windborne Annie vanished into the crowd.  She supposed that she saw some children and decided to go play.

She hoped desperately that he wouldn’t get herself lost or hurt or something.  She’d always managed to find her way back to her, no matter where either of them had gone, and she’d been doing that for untold centuries.  Her display as they flew out of Pallantia proved that much.  She sent a desperate plea to a God she still loved, no matter where she went.  Please, God, look after my little dog.  She paused and sent a thought to the voice in the back of her mind.  You, too, Puppet-mistress.  Annie had better find her way back to me safe and sound or you and I will have words.  She actually thought she heard a chuckle.

After a moment she forced herself to walk, and look around at the city, and finally she found a soldier who was talking to some boys who seemed fearless around him.  Fearless was good.  It meant that this soldier, at least, was no threat to those smaller than he.

The armor was enough to set her to trembling again, but she walked up to him as the boys ran off, continuing their game once he had retrieved their ball.  “Please, could you help me for a moment?”

He turned to look at her curiously.  “Miss?”

“I’m looking for the Dwarf, Kodran.  I’m not even certain how well known he would be in this city, but if you could point me in his direction…”

“Do you know him, miss?”

“He… he was a friend of my mother’s.  She said that I could trust him.”

For some reason, the soldier seemed to soften.  “Yes, miss, you may trust him.  He helped me years ago.  His shop is in the Merchant’s Quarter, near the edge of the Dwarven enclave in the overcity.  Just go that way until you start seeing children everywhere you look.”

She looked in the direction he indicated, and then nodded in understanding.  She turned back to the soldier and smiled.  “My thanks.”  She bowed before leaving in that direction.

The soldier watched her walk away, a strange look in his eyes.  For a streetling, the girl was very well spoken, and very well mannered at that.  She had been gently raised, he was certain, and the circumstances that would put the daughter of nobles on Castellan’s streets… were intriguing in their possibilities.

— — —

Luckily Riva only got turned around three times before she found her way to Kodran’s shop.  A collection of wagons were outside it, unloading their goods while a dwarf with a full head of thick black hair and a matching beard watched them from the side, a board and charcoal stick in hand.  She took a deep breath to quiet her trembling stomach and walked up to the dwarf, one hand holding the straps of her haversack on her shoulder.

The dwarf looked up at her as she approached.  She saw his eyes widen when he noticed hers.  This was going to be more difficult than it had to be if those outside of Pallantia had heard about her unusual eyes.  “Would… would you happen to be the Dwarf, Kodran?”

He nodded slowly.  “That would be me, yes.”

She looked down at her feet for a moment, considering how best to introduce herself given the many people around.  She kept her voice low.  “My mother told me once that I could trust you.  That you were a friend of hers and that you had kept her safe when she walked Castellan’s streets under another name.”  She shook her free wrist, letting the bracelet fall and showed him the silver edge of it where it sat under her sleeve cuff.

He looked at the bracelet and nodded slowly, his eyes glistening with tears.  She took a moment to slide the bracelet back into hiding.  “I heard about your mother.  She… she was a very good friend to me, as was her father before her.”  That’s right, in this world, as in others, the dwarves were exceptionally long-lived.  At least five centuries, if not longer.  “Why are you here?”

“I need to hide.  To be anonymous for a while.  I’m… I’m looking for someone and it might be easier to find him if he doesn’t know who I am or where I come from right away.”

Kodran blinked for a moment.  “Dreams?”  He kept his voice very low.  She nodded in response.  He sighed and closed his eyes.  “Castellan dreams have made more Castellan princesses…”  He nodded, then.  “Very well, but you will tell me everything.  Maybe I can help you find him.”  He paused.  “Trust goes both ways, streetling girl.  What name are you using?”

“Riva.  My mother gave it to me.  I am Riva.”

“Very well, Riva.  Follow me, and bring that package with you.  Might as well get you used to things as quickly as we can.”

She picked up the paper-wrapped bundle with her free arm.  Then she followed him into the shop and into a back room where Kodran was able to close the door to give them some privacy.

“Now,” he said as she set the bundle down on a table, “just who are you looking for and why would the Imperial Princess need to run in order to find someone?”

She sighed.  “This is really complicated.  I’m looking for two people, actually, and I’m hoping that they’re the same man… I believe that they are the same man.  One is a Knight, a Knight-Captain, actually, who used to be a streetling.  We’ve been… corresponding for several years.  Ever since the Coronation, when I found my guardian threatening him in a corridor of the Palace.  The other… is either a Knight or a Pirate, and my guardian is his twin brother, and he has a scar on his forehead, across the bridge of the nose up into his hairline.  They are both in Castellan.”

Kodran blinked in surprise.  He knew that boy, remembered him as a streetling, remembered him to be uncommonly mature for a child thrust suddenly out into the world on his own.  How many years had it been already?  “And why would you have to run?”

“Because my brother and my guardian knew that I was dreaming, and I only found out yesterday that there really was a brother.  They never told me.  They didn’t want me to know.”  She clenched her fists in anger.  “I warned them.  If I ever had cause to believe that the man in my dreams was real, no one would keep me from him, not even my brother the Emperor.”

“So why don’t you march up to the Palace with that bracelet of yours?”

She sighed and looked at her hands.  “Retribution.  Plausible deniability.  I’m not going back to Pallantia and my uncle would be honor-bound to return me to my brother or face military response.  If he can say that he does not know that his sister’s daughter has come to Castellan then he can simply let me be.  I do not intend to let him see me, if I can help it.”

“I’ve heard stories about your brother.  Does he really…”

“He adores me, and I do not think he intends to ever surrender me to anyone else.  So years ago Illian and I made sure that he did not have that legal right.”  She sighed.  “I have Illian’s blessing and that is all I need.”

Kodran considered the matter carefully.  “Are there any other reasons why you would choose anonymity?”

She laughed softly.  “I wonder how long it will take my correspondent to realize that his Princess is right in front of him.”

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Arc Two Chapter Six

When Illian finally released Gabriel to his own recognizance, Gabriel went straight to Emperor Marus’ library, where he found the Emperor looking over a book.

Marus looked up at Gabriel as the man entered, a slightly humored expression on his face.  “Did my sister punish you sufficiently?”

Gabriel was silent for a moment, gathering his thoughts.  “My Emperor, your sister lied to you.  She was angry with me, not because I had threatened the life of a young man who smiled at her, but because while we were in the marketplace she was informed by someone I did not know about my brother, about his scar, and about his location.  She has run to Castellan to find him.”

Marus set the book down and closed his eyes momentarily to collect his thoughts.  “You did not know this person?”

“No, my Emperor, I did not.  Though he acted as if we were old acquaintances for your sister’s benefit.  His hair had a streak of white through it, much like the Lady Dauris.”

Marus blinked his eyes open.  “Now that is a fascinating piece of information.”  He paused.  “You let her run?”

“Yes, your Excellency.  I had… opportunity to enforce my will upon her, and prevent her leaving, but I did not.  I must admit… I considered it.  But she had already made arrangements to meet with Lord Illian before leaving and it would have been… difficult to carry her away before she was missed.”

Marus nodded.  “I understand your restraint then.  You say she met with Illian?”

“Yes, Excellency, she met with him before we encountered you in the hall and then after she had gathered her things before she left to find her way to Castellan.  She was to travel with the same man who had encountered us in the market.”  He paused.  “She made comment about his hair, as if it were a quality that she knew.”

“If what I have read is correct, she would have.  It seems to run in the family.”  Marus glanced at the book again before turning back to Gabriel.  “Is there anything else?”

“Lord Illian had paternal rights over your sister.  He sent her with his permission and blessing, and she carries rings.”

Marus blinked.  “Those two have been planning this for years.”  He sounded awestruck.  “They found the most obvious way that I could… and negated it.”  After a moment he laughed, a sound of joy and surprise.  “And the only way they could have known that far ahead was if she had dreamed it.  This gets better and better.”  He shook his head, still chuckling.

Gabriel writhed within himself.  He wanted to confess everything.  He wished for a blinding moment that he were reporting that he had, in fact, carried off the Imperial Princess.  It would have been difficult, but not impossible, and it would have been so easy to bind her when he had her locked in his kiss.

Marus seemed to notice his inner conflict.  “Guardian Gabriel, the path that I had set for you is a difficult one.”

“I came very near allowing my anger at my brother to gain the better of me.  I… I cannot banish the wish that I had allowed it.”

Marus was silent for a moment and Gabriel thought that perhaps he had confessed too much.  “Your anger is the weapon we need right now, if we are to reach our goal.  Are you willing to become my true confidant?  Are you willing to see this path to completion?  It is a difficult one, for us both.”

Gabriel saluted his Emperor.  “I am yours to command.”

“This is not a command, nor can it be.  I need an ally, one capable of seeking his own path to a goal that we both share.  Your loyalty must ever be to the Lady Dauris even as we work against her.”  He paused again, his own pain written on his face.  “You may yet be called upon to give your anger its rein.”

Gabriel nodded slowly.  “Yes, my Emperor, I understand.”

Marus started to pace.  “I will do all that I can to avoid such a necessity, fear not.  But there is much that I must know, particularly about your brother.  His honor, how he would respond to the sudden knowledge that a royal daughter has dreams of him, for I am certain that he was not given the reason why we sheltered her from him.  I must know everything that you can tell me about him, sparing nothing, and when we have exhausted your knowledge we must find sources closer to him now to inform us further.  And then we need to discuss the most effective way to start a war.”  He paused and looked Gabriel full in the face.  “I mean to kill a great many people, even some who are dear to me, before we reach our goal.  But that goal… it is worth it all.”

What was it that Lady Dauris had said?  “The ends justify the means”?  She was not so certain that they did.  Gabriel was not versed in philosophy, nor did he give consideration to such things.  He was a soldier, and anything that gave him the chance to remind his brother that he, Gabriel, was dominant… was a goal worth seeking.  Gabriel bowed to his Emperor.  “Yes, Excellency, I understand.”  He paused then and continued.  “There is something else, something I only just heard mentioned in passing between them.”

Marus looked at him, curiously.  “What could that be?”

“It may be that my brother is not the only man in her life and her dreams…”

— — —

With the dawn the rumors started about an attack in the Palace.  Assassins struck the bower, seeking the life of the Imperial Princess, who then collapsed from the strain.  Out of concern for her health, her brother the Emperor confined her until she could recover, placing heavy guard over her, though he made no public comment on the matter.

Gabriel walked to the house of Lady Dauris’ former guardian with a heavy heart.  This was not going to be a pleasant interview.  Not the least for his own secret guilt.

Gallus was waiting for him, face mottled with anger.  “Attacked?  In her own chambers?  Where is she?  Why are you not with her?”  Why, indeed?

Gabriel glanced about, making certain that they would not be overheard.  “Sir Gallus, the Lady Dauris was not attacked, though that is the tale that the Emperor wishes be spread, slowly.”  Except, he still wished that events had happened differently, and cringed at his own wish.  It was not honorable to wish for such things.

The older man slowly calmed.  “She ran?” The anger was replaced by a hushed sort of joy, of a kind that made Gabriel feel even more soiled and impure.  The old man loved their Princess, loved her with a purity that Gabriel did not feel, and could not.

“Yes, Sir Gallus, and she commanded me to remain silent to all except you.  She wished for you to know the truth of her leaving.”  He realized, then, that the Princess must have cared greatly for her former guardian, and did not wish him to worry for her.

“When did she find out?  Did you tell her?”  His voice betrayed the curiosity of a grandfather.

“No, I did not.  A stranger in the market told her after we left here just yesterday.”  Gabriel paused.  The desire to confess everything was strong, but he could not bear to see the old warrior’s eyes darken in fury at what he had considered doing.  “She was very angry with me.”

Gallus sighed, with a hint of a laugh.  “She would have been.  Do you love her yet?”

“Her anger… I have never seen its like before.  She will be wasted on my brother.  He will not be able to appreciate her anger.”  Only he could.  He did not love her.  Desire, yes.  Hunger, yes.  As much as he wanted to lay sole claim to anything precious that was given to his brother.

“You cannot protect her from dreams.  You could have gone with her, though.”

Gabriel shook his head; the very idea was more than he could stand.  “No, I protect her best from here.  I cannot be near my brother.  To see him, with her, would tempt my anger too far.”  And he would not be able to keep himself from following his desires; he would not even want to, and honor be damned.

Gallus put a hand on Gabriel’s shoulder, thinking that the younger soldier merely resented his brother’s good fortune, merely wished to keep her a child forever.  How little he knew, how terribly little he knew.  “One day, for her, you will have to set your anger aside.”

Gabriel didn’t have a response.

— — —

Doctor Revier looked at Marus in stunned disbelief.  “Have I heard your Excellency correctly?  You have decided… that is, you have reconsidered your decision to place your sister in my most protective care?”

Marus looked at the Doctor for a moment before answering.  They were sitting in his personal library as he had summoned Revier to appear before him, making certain that his messenger arrived at the Tower before the rumors of the morning began to circulate.  “You heard me correctly, Doctor.  My sister is being cared for through other means at the moment in light of recent events.”

Revier blinked for a moment.  “Recent events?”

It seemed the messenger had reached the good Doctor before he had heard any of the rumors that Marus had arranged to float around the city.  All to the better.  “My sister was attacked in her chambers last night.  I have placed her under heavy guard lest another attempt be made against her life.”

“But, Emperor, that is all the more reason to see that she is placed within my care.  I assure you, my Tower is most secure.”  Revier was actually pale, slightly, as he pressed his case in genuine concern.

Marus lifted a single curious eyebrow.  “Truly?  So what I have heard is not, in fact, true?  That one of your… guests managed to escape last night?  And with a prototype vessel no less?”

Revier stiffened in reaction to the barb.  “I assure you, my Tower and the accommodations I have arranged for your sister are most secure.”  He was very pale though, and a muscle at the corner of one eye twitched nervously.

Marus nodded.  “I shall consider placing my sister in your care in the future, if her current situation proves inadequate.  That is all for this morning, Doctor.  I trust that you are making progress in your research?”

He nodded briefly.  “Fair progress, though I would prefer to have access to something of proven provenance, or at the least access to the person of a descendant of one of these wanderers.”

Marus shuffled some papers on his desk.  “I shall see about making arrangements to acquire such, if it is possible.  It will take time, though.”

Revier bowed.  “A scientist is nothing if not patient.”  After a brief discussion of the development of various devices, some to armor soldiers, some to prevent scrying, the Doctor bowed respectfully and left to see to his research projects and Marus returned to his plans and concern about how his sister fared on her journey to Castellan.

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Arc Two Chapter Five

Riva checked the map to get their bearings.  “Looks like the office is that way.”  She pointed to the right and Dalziel nodded.

“So what’s your story?” he asked as they started down the hall, keeping an eye out for guards or researchers.

“Orphan.  Trying to get to Castellan.  I understand that being on my own is easier there than anywhere else.”

“You do have that right.”  He held an arm out as they ducked into an alcove while waiting for a guard to turn his back.  “I spent a year or two there myself, trying to find out where she’d been taken.  If you are going to try to make it on your own strength, Castellan is the place to do it.  If you’ve got the aptitude for it…” he paused for another guard, “the Order of Knights of Castellan even accepts females.  In honor of Lady Arie, I suppose.”  He grinned at her.  “I think you would be a stunning Knight, myself.  I think you would be a stunning anything.  Has anyone told you that your eyes are gorgeous?”

She grinned.  “Actually, no, they haven’t.  Thank you for the sentiment.”

“You’re kidding right?  I cannot imagine that no one has showered you with compliments and sweet nothings for an amazing set of peepers.  Your whole ensemble, for that matter, is staggering.  Where have you been all my life?”

She chuckled.  “Apparently we ran in different circles.  I haven’t actually had a chance to hear many compliments.”  She spotted some guards.  “Hold up, swords ahead.”  They ducked into a doorway until the coast was clear again.

“May I call you friend?  I just have the sudden feeling that we could work very well together.”

“I would love that.  And I second that feeling.  What’s your story?”

“Always wanted to be a Pirate.  I’m thinking that I might find my way to make that dream come true when I get her out of here.  When she vanished, I ran away to find her.  I was the only one who was going to.  They were just going to forget that she ever lived.  Assumed that she’d run away on her own.  Renna wouldn’t do that.”

“Who is she?”

“My sister.  Half-sister, really.  Older than me, was as much my mother as the one who gave me life.  I couldn’t just give up on her like the rest of them did.”  He paused.  “How come your hair is like Dramsol’s?”

“Distant family.  We weren’t able to get around to comparing backgrounds, but the streak is a family trait.  How well do you know him?”

“I heard that he knew a way in here and so I had to find him.  I have heard… I have heard some terrible things about this place.”

They turned a corner and Riva pulled on Dalziel’s arm abruptly.  “Here’s the office.  Quick, the door should be unlocked.”  They ducked into the office and closed the door behind them just as a guard turned to look down the now-empty hallway.

After a moment they looked around the room.  “A key, right?” Dalziel asked.

Riva nodded.  “Yes.  I’ll start with the desk.”  She walked over quickly and started searching through papers while Dalziel started on the bookshelves, until one of the pages caught her attention and she gasped in surprise, the sound of her voice drawing him over to her side.

“What did you find?”

She held the paper by the edges, eyes wide.  It was a memorandum, a note about preparing a special cell to hold the Imperial Princess.  It also dictated several precautions so that the testing to be done on her would not be immediately visible to her brother when he arrived for inspections.  It was dated as of that morning.  The Princess’ arrival was set for three days hence.

“He… he wouldn’t…”

Dalziel glanced at the paper and paled.  “The Emperor’s sister???  But… he adores her.  It’s legendary.  He’s about this close in the stories to locking her in a glass tower so that no one else can behold her beauty.”

“What else would you call this place?”

“This, sweet Riva, is no glass tower.  This place is the gates of Hell.”

She handed him the memo.  “Here, hold this for a moment.”  She began searching through the papers with more focus, pausing to read them before she set them aside, her face turning ever more pale.  “Oh, dear God, he’s continuing Jules’ research.  He’s just going about it from a different direction.”

“And how would you know about what the fallen Prince was doing?”

“Contacts in the Palace,” she replied shortly.  “Lord Jules was working with a very shady person who wanted to perform… experiments on the Imperial Princess, in part because of how she was discovered.  They were likely to be excruciatingly painful, especially for a girl who was only nine at the time.”  She looked at a few more pages and handed them to Dalziel.  “Did your sister evidence any abilities?  Anything out of the ordinary?”

He shook his head.  “No, not that I know.”

She sighed.  “Then he must still be searching for a way to identify the ones he’s looking for.  No wonder Dramsol couldn’t come in here.  His gifts are active; he’d have likely set off alarms just walking through the door.”

“And you?”

“Mine are suppressed.  In theory I wouldn’t set off any alarms, as long as I’m not here for very long.  We’ve got to find your sister and get out of here soon.”

“I second that notion.  What am I to do with these?”  He held up the small stack of papers that she had pulled off the desk.

“Keep them safe.  I don’t dare carry them with me.  Take them with us and if you find that you have the need, take them to Lord Illian.”  She huffed in frustration.  “He’s an innocent, but he’s our only choice.”

“What about the Princess?”

“She can’t help you where this place is concerned.  Trust me.  She has problems enough of her own.  Lord Illian is the only choice.  It’s possible that he’s an innocent in act and thought, but not in understanding.  That would help a great deal, if he could understand that others are not like he is.  That others can be corrupted.  He saw what Jules tried to do because of the power that was placed in his grasp.”  She paused and took a calming breath.  “Let’s get your sister.”  She found the key under a few more pages.

Dalziel nodded at her look.  “Let’s go.”

— — —

The holding cells were dark and filthy and mostly empty except for a few still, hopeless bodies bereft of thought or soul.  Once they had been people, but there was no saving them any longer.  Riva and Dalziel found the cell they were looking for at the end of the row.

Riva had to unlock the door, Dalziel’s hands were shaking too badly as he looked at the pale skinned girl who lay still on the floor, her green hair spilled carelessly over the floor and her face.  Once they were inside the cell, he knelt and lifted her gently into his arms, checking her pulse.  She lived, but barely.

Riva lifted a curious eyebrow.  “I thought you said that she was older than you.”

He met her eyes and she saw the fury in them, a fury directed at the Doctor who had done this.  “Dryad.”

She nodded in understanding.  “So your mother was a Dryad, too.”  Dryads weren’t human, and were correspondingly longer lived, much like the Elves on other worlds.  In point of fact, the Dryads of this world were startlingly like the Elves that she had seen in other worlds, complete to the magical nature and the distrust of outsiders, and the suspicion of half-breeds.

“Yes.  I never knew my father.  Renna’s the only family I have left, now.”

“Alright.  Let’s get to this exit route that Dramsol promised.  You’ll make a wonderful Pirate, I just know it.”

— — —

Dalziel carried the insensible Renna as Riva led the way, one eye on the map and one eye on the path ahead of them.  The exit route led them to a giant docking bay in the upper floors of the tower, and a beauty of a skyship waiting there for them.

Dalziel gasped as he saw her, framed against the open doors and the sky beyond.  Even Riva had to appreciate the aesthetics of the vessel, made so that she could sail sky or sea with equal ease.  “I want her.”  Dalziel’s voice was hushed.  “That is a Pirate’s ship.  I want her.”

Riva chuckled.  “I think she’s ours.”  She showed him the map.  “X marks the spot.”  Sure enough, the ship sat right where the mark was on the map that Dramsol had given them.

“Ohhhh, remind me to kiss Dramsol when we see him next.”

Riva choked on a laugh as they quickly hurried across the bay towards the open door of the vessel.  “I don’t think he’d appreciate it, but then, you never know.”

Once inside the ship, Dalziel set Renna on a bench by the hatchway and moved towards the pilot’s seat as Riva saw to the Dryad’s safety.  They heard sounds coming from the hall leading towards the bay, and them.

“Better hurry!”  Riva called to Dalziel.

“Is there a manual to this beauty?”  His voice was slightly confused and definitely rushed.  The sounds were getting louder.

“Do we have time for one?” Riva called back as she laid a blanket over Renna.

“Probably not.”  His voice faded as he muttered to himself.  “Start button, start button, where oh where is the start button?”

Renna started to wake up, blinking her eyes and trying to focus on Riva’s face.  “W-who?”

Riva smiled at her.  “A friend of your brother’s.  We’re getting you out of here.  You’re safe now.”

She blinked more rapidly and tried to sit up, and Riva had to hold her down.  “D-dalziel?”

“Renna?”  Dalziel’s voice was joyful, and slightly panicked.  “Don’t worry; we’ll be out of here in just a moment.”  There was a pause.  “Ah ha!  I found the start button!”  The engines powered to life and the vessel shuddered slightly with the flow of power as the guards emerged into the docking bay.

Riva stood, then, to close the hatch, when she saw what had drawn the guards.  Running full tilt towards them was a small, dark brown shape, and it was barking madly.

“Annie!”  She was overjoyed to see her, but the vessel had started to move and they were pulling away from the dock.  “Hurry, Annie!”

The tiny dog seemed to bunch in on herself for a bare second and then burst forward with a speed she would not have believed if she weren’t watching her.  The ship was already away from the dock, but Annie didn’t stop, didn’t slow, she reached the end of the path and jumped.

She landed in Riva’s arms, sounding very pleased with herself as she yipped for joy and tried to lick her momma’s face.  Riva fell backwards for a moment, hugging her, and then she handed her to Renna just long enough to close and seal the hatch.

And then they were through the docking bay doors and on their way south to Castellan and freedom.

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Arc Two Chapter Four

Illian was waiting for them when they reached the chapel, and he wasn’t alone.  The resident priest stood nearby, opposite the altar from Illian.  On the altar were two rings glinting in the candlelight with a chain threaded through them and a sealed scroll.  Standing next to Illian was the man who had come up to them in the market.  He grinned and waved.

Dauris narrowed her eyes as she took a good look at him as they walked up.  She glanced at his hair and her eyes widened.  “Interesting hair.”  She kept her voice neutral.

He bowed.  “I might say the same about you, Goldeneyes.”  She looked at him, then, but he blinked at her innocently, so she didn’t comment on the name.

Illian looked from one to the other.  “Do you know each other?”

Dauris turned to her brother.  “We’ve met, but have not been formally introduced.  Is he a friend of yours?”

“He’s your transportation, after a fashion.  He assures me that he can get you to Castellan safely.”  Illian took a formal stance.  “Sister, may I introduce you to Dramsol?  Dramsol, this is my sister, the Lady Tresoria Dauris of House Krellian.”

Dauris found the genteel folderol reassuring after the shocks of the day.  Behind them, Gabriel stood still and impassive.  He had already made all the statement that he needed to.

After a moment, Illian continued, picking up the scroll that he had brought with him.  “Sister, this scroll is my formal, written approval for your marriage.”  Dauris started to argue with him and he stopped her.  “I know what you think about this sort of thing but I have to do this.  To be certain that you can, if you find that you want to.”  He put the scroll in her hands, making certain that she was holding it.  “I have also included a copy of the papers of transfer from Father.  The two together constitute a formal betrothal, but they depend upon several factors.  First, Gabriel’s brother must be the one in your dreams and you must wish to wed him, or otherwise bond your life to his.  If, after finding him, you do not wish a formal union, you do not need to have one.  Additionally, he must choose to accept the bonding as symbolized in your rings.  Should he be everything you desire and should he choose to take you to him, then you have all the formalities covered and need nothing else.  All here stand as witnesses.”

They were silent, then, as the priest took a moment to perform the customary blessing over the rings.  They glowed softly in the candlelight as the priestly magic invested them with a charm and an enchantment all their own.  Then Illian lifted the chain and lowered it over his sister’s head, letting the rings settle into place.  Dauris lifted them a moment in her hand, to look at them, before tucking them below the blouse next to her skin.

Illian was silent for a moment.  “I don’t know whether or not this man, this Knight, is the one you lost before, reborn.  I don’t even know how to plan for that possibility, or the possibility that he isn’t and some other man might be… It’s why I gave you the escape clause.  I want you to have your dreams… but more I want you to be happy, Sister.”

She nodded, tears filling her eyes.  “Thank you, Brother.”

“You were promised permission if it came to this, and I genuinely wish to give you what aid and assistance I can.  For your dreams, for your happiness… all this is worth the effort to me.”

Dauris didn’t know what to say; her voice struggled to work past the lump in her throat from gratitude and sorrow.  “I couldn’t find Annie in the bower.  If you find her…”

Dramsol cleared his throat.  “I, uh, wouldn’t worry about your small friend.  She’ll catch up with you later.  She’s been good at that sort of thing for a while, you know.  We need to get going.  There’s some fairly delicate timing going on right now.”

She frowned in curiosity, looking at him.  “Timing…?”  She looked as if she were about to ask a question, then decided otherwise.  “Alright.”  She looked at Gabriel.  She wanted to kill him for what he had done earlier, for what he had considered doing, but she was still so scared.  She just wanted to get away from him and to his brother, who would never do what Gabriel had threatened.  “You can tell Gallus where I have gone, but only him, no one else.  Do you understand?”

Gabriel nodded.  “Yes, Lady Dauris.”

Dauris put the scroll in her bag and then reshouldered it.  She nodded to Dramsol.  “Where to?

He motioned to her to follow and, after a final embrace for her brother, she did so.

— — —

Dauris walked beside Dramsol, her haversack bouncing on her shoulder where she held both straps in one hand.  “So,” she asked when they were away from the chapel, “what’s this about timing?”

Dramsol managed to look vaguely apologetic as he checked around a corner to be certain that they were safe.  “You aren’t the only one needing out of the city tonight, and it involves a place I dare not enter.”

“And I can?”

“Yes, actually.  Please don’t ask why, I would explain and it’s complicated and there are some things you need to see with your own eyes.  You need to fear this place, Goldeneyes, you need to fear it and you need to know how close you came to being a prisoner there.”  They approached the marketplace.  “Under other circumstances I would take you to Castellan personally and drop you off at the Palace, right into the arms of the one you seek.  This way, though, you gain potential allies for later, and you still get to Castellan.  Two birds with one stone and all that.”

“How do you know all this?  How do you know why I’m leaving Pallantia?  And how do you know that name?  I haven’t used it in… a very long time.”

He turned to smile at her.  “You’re family, Goldeneyes.  That’s all that matters to me.”

“Do… do you really know him?”

Dramsol smiled at her again.  “I’ve seen him from a distance.  I apologize for my performance earlier, but someone had to tell you, I am Mother-touched, and Gabriel deserved it.”

She trembled, remembering Gabriel’s kiss.  She had so many questions, so many worries, so many fears.  “I’m scared.”

“I know, and I wish I could reassure you.  More than you know rests upon you and your Knight, and the bond that you share.  Once you get to Castellan the path that you follow will be up to you.  You can be delightfully direct or you can be deliciously devious but it is your choice.”

She thought a moment and looked down at her mother’s bracelet, her bridge back, and all that her mother had told her about Castellan before she died.  She thought about the contact, and the name, and all she knew about streetlings.  Her Knight had been a streetling, and he had said that she was strong.  She tucked the bracelet under the cuff of her sleeve so that it didn’t show.  “I will not go to Castellan as the Imperial Princess.  It would invite retribution.”

“Who will you be, then?”

“Riva.  My mother named me Riva.”

— — —

Names for a Traveler are an odd thing.  Most people never have more than one, the one they are given in birth.  Women usually have two, the second one is taken when they marry and take on the name of their husband.  The mere act of naming something is seen as a magic by a great many cultures, even though some scoff at their own superstitions.

But ask any woman who has taken on her husband’s name if she did not change in a fundamental way when she did so.

Travelers usually gather quite a collection of them, and they rediscovered something that more primitive cultures knew long before they did.

Names are magic.  Names do have power.  Changing a person’s name is as fundamental a change as changing their handwriting.

Most names linger for a little while and then fade as another is taken.  Some Travelers seek for decades for a name that fits them, a name that changes them into a shape that they want to be.  For this goldeneyed Traveler, though, the search for a proper name had been born of an odd need.

She had been Goldeneyes too long.

She had worked her way through a dozen names over the decades since she began her search for a way to renew herself.  But none of them had stuck.  None of them had fit.

As Dauris, though, became Riva, the Traveler felt a strange synergistic rightness that told her that here was a name she could keep.  Here was a name that would help her regain what was lost.  Even her gait changed as she altered herself from the sheltered, frightened Princess into the stronger streetling, for that is what she would be.

Dramsol watched her change and smiled.  “Strange, isn’t it?” he asked.  “Happy fit.”

She smiled back at him.  “Thank you.  Now, where’s this person I need to rescue?”

“In good time.  First I need to introduce you to the other person seeking to rescue her.”  Dramsol waved to a person who was waiting for them in the shadow of a building.  As they walked up to him, Riva saw a young man, perhaps late teens or early twenties, with a delightfully wicked cast to his face.  He would be a charmer, if she was any judge, but right now he was distracted and worried.

“I was afraid something had happened to you.”  He glanced at Riva and smiled, and she saw the dimples spring to life in his cheeks as his charm came to the forefront.  “And who is this young lady?”

“This is your ally.  Play nice while you’re in there.  I can’t go in after you two.”

“I’m Riva.  You are?”  She offered her hand to shake.

He took her hand and turned it to kiss the back as he bowed.  “I am Dalziel, and I am honored to make your acquaintance.”

Oh, Dalziel was definitely a charmer.  Riva grinned.  It had been too long since she had been able to exchange banter with someone who flirted out of instinct, and an uncommon respect.  She liked him immediately.  Of course, she always liked charmers and rogues.

Dramsol cleared his throat, though he was grinning a bit too.  “Enough, we’re losing time.”  Dalziel let go of Riva’s hand and they turned to look at Dramsol.  “Here’s a map of the place, I’ve got a few places marked.  The first is an office.  You’ll find a key there.  The second is where they are holding her.  The third is your exit route.  You’ll find something there that will make all of this mess worth it in the long run.  Try to be as quick as possible, I can’t guarantee the window of opportunity for more than an hour.”

When they nodded their understanding, he smiled at both of them.  “God be with you.”  It was a farewell.  Then the energies of a Traveler’s Doorway enveloped them both and they were transported into the research facilities of Doctor Vulkos Revier.

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Arc Two Chapter Three

Gabriel had to admire her restraint as Dauris pulled him by a death’s grip on his breastplate into a nearby alley.  She waited until she was certain that no one could hear them and then rounded on him, trembling with fury.

“A brother.  A twin.  With a scar.  And you never told me!  How could you?”  There were tears of anger in her golden eyes.

He didn’t have an answer for her.  Not one that would satisfy.  “The Emperor commanded my silence.”

“My father would never have done so, only my brother.  Why didn’t you tell me when I first asked you?”

“I could not.”

“What’s his name?”

“Highness?”

“His name, baka.  What’s his name?”  Gabriel remained silent, refusing to meet her eyes.  She hissed in anger.  “He was that Knight, wasn’t he?  The one you were threatening.  Your brother is in Castellan and it was a Castellan knight that you were…  How could you?”  She hit him, then, though the blow was absorbed by his armor.  She didn’t go for his face, just his body.  “I could have been with him!  For three years I could have…” She hit him again.

“Highness, you were a child.”

“It doesn’t matter!  Just to have seen his face.  Known he was real.  Been near him.  For three years I have been left in doubt – of my dreams, of myself.  You knew that I dreamed!”  She hit him again.  Gabriel really wished that she would stop doing that.  “Look at me!”  Reluctantly he met her eyes, and felt his body shiver with the coldness in her gaze.  “We are going to the Palace.  You are going to stay where I can see you and you are not going to breathe a word of this to my brother, or anyone else.  You can’t stop me now.  You lost that right.”

“Highness, please, don’t do this.”

“Silence.”  Oh, she was angry.  “I warned you.”

He tried not to wonder why she was more beautiful to him than ever in her towering fury at him.  She would be wasted on his brother.

— — —

They found Illian in the gardens.  He looked at Dauris and blinked in surprise.  “Sister?  What happened?”

“He’s real.  The Knight, the Pirate, whatever he is by now, he’s real and this…” she indicated Gabriel, “this baka knew the entire time.”

Illian straightened in sudden understanding.  “You are running?”

“I have to.  I have to see him.  With my own eyes.  I have to be near him.”

Illian nodded with a sigh.  “I understand.  I’ll see what I can get you to help on your way.  Meet me in the chapel in an hour.  I’m going to miss you terribly, Sister.”

Dauris nodded.  “I’ll miss you, too, Illian, but I have to do this.  I may need you to keep an eye on this one,” she jerked a thumb towards Gabriel, “until I’m away.  I don’t want him to warn Marus.”

Illian grinned.  “I can do that.  See you in an hour or so.”

Dauris tried to smile, but it was strained.  Then she hooked a finger in Gabriel’s breastplate and pulled him along behind her.

— — —

She wasn’t expecting to run into her brother, Marus, in the hall on the way to the bower, but there he was as she rounded the corner.  She almost hit him.

Marus blinked in surprise at the fury in her face and the way she pulled Gabriel along by his armor.  “Sister, is something wrong?”

For a bare second Dauris was at a loss for words, but then the voice that lived in the back of her mind took control and she found herself telling an outrageous lie, believably.  “Yes, Brother.  This one,” she yanked on Gabriel’s armor, “this baka, tried to kill a boy for smiling at me.”

Marus glanced at Gabriel, who remained impassive.  “He is here to guard you, and your honor.”

She huffed.  “But just for smiling at me?”  She paused to glare at Gabriel.  “Pardon me for a while, my brother.  I’m going to take this baka to the training salle and beat on him for a couple of hours.”

Marus grinned and nodded to Dauris, who continued on her way with Gabriel in tow.  After a moment he called out to Gabriel, “Don’t make it too easy for her.”  Then he continued on his way.

— — —

Dauris reached the bower without any further trouble.  She pushed Gabriel in before her, and then shut the door behind them.  She pointed to a chair.  “Sit.”  He did so.  “Talk to me.  I want to know where you are.”

“Highness, please don’t do this.”

Dauris quickly ducked behind a screen to change out of her gown and into the blouse and skirt she had bought that day.  “I have to.  I don’t expect you to understand.”  She paused.  “Do you hate your brother so much?”

Gabriel sighed.  “I don’t know anymore, Highness.  We fought constantly as children, and growing up.  He is weak, Highness, not fit for you.  He lacks the will to do what must be done.”

“And you are so perfect?  You would argue that the ends justify the means?”

“Highness, sometimes sacrifices must be made.”

“You would cut me with the same blade you use to wound him.  Which reminds me, if you ever do that in real life, I will knock the hell out of you.”  She emerged, adjusting the laced belt.  “I’m not arguing against some of the shadier methods used by rulership.  Assassination, for instance, has its place.  Focused strikes against the leadership of a combative organization, as long as secondaries like children and other innocents are left unharmed.  For crying out loud, I was once a member of a so-called terrorist organization that was out to save the world by any means necessary.  But sometimes the personal cost of those methods is too high to bear.”

Gabriel looked at her for a moment, carefully weighing his words.  The scoop-neck blouse showed a great deal of collarbone and shoulder and the tiered skirt almost reached her knee.  The wide belt accentuated what was, in fact, covered.  “When were you a member of a terrorist organization?”  He kept his voice neutral.

She looked at him, met his eyes fearlessly.  “I have lived whole lifetimes on other worlds. You should know.  You come from one yourself.”

Gabriel’s face went pale white.  “How do you know that?”

“Your brother told me where the two of you came from.  I’ve been exchanging letters with him since the day I found you in the hall with him.  I’ve seen more worlds than you can imagine.  It was the cavern that turned me into a child again, forced me to grow up like this.”  She walked across the room and dug out a haversack bag from a box and began stuffing her few true treasures into it.  She pulled the letters out from their box and put them in, first, even her favorites that she carried in her belt pouch.  “Where in the heck is Annie?” she murmured, more to herself.  There was no sign of the dog in the room, other than her bed that served as the hiding place for the box that had held the letters.  “What happened to you isn’t even that unusual.”  She continued talking to Gabriel as she pulled out her knife and set it aside.  She would wear it when they left.  “I would just feel better if I knew whose powers transported you.”

“He told you?  You know…?”

“You hadn’t figured it out?  You saw me dance.  You heard me sing.  Where did you think I had learned to dance like that or to sing those songs in this quasi-steampunk fantasy world?”

“So, how old are you, really?”  The emphasis in his voice was curious.

“Simple answer?”  She sighed.  “Older than twenty.  Old enough to not have to answer that question when asked, but when I became what I am now I… I changed so that my body only looked twenty.  Complicated answer?  Twenty plus… oh… close to a thousand, give or take a century or two.  I lost track.  After about the first century, it’s all the same.”  She turned to find herself looking at Gabriel’s breastplate.

By sheer presence he backed her up until she was pushed against a wall.  She looked up to meet his eyes, and quailed a bit at the expression in them.  “I should keep you from going to him.”  There was a roughness in his voice that frightened her.  For a moment the anger faded.

“And just how do you intend to do that?”  Sheer bravado.

“I could take you myself.”

She shivered slightly in fear.  Ah Elar… of all the horrors that could be threatened against her, she didn’t want to have to face that one.  Not after what she’d been through across so many lifetimes on so many worlds.  “And earn my brother’s enmity forever?  He is your Emperor.”

“He as much as advised it.  He asked me if I wished to court you myself.  I told him that I would think about it when you had a few more years.  It seems that you do, after all, have those years.  I could carry you away from here and no one would think to look for you.  Certainly not my brother.”

She was afraid to breathe too deeply, afraid that her breath would draw too raggedly.  The voice in the back of her mind cursed softly.  Don’t antagonize him too much, GE.  He’s on a razor’s edge of decision.

And just what am I supposed to do, oh puppet mistress?  Her anger flared up stronger than her fear.  She glared at him; the anger gave her strength.  “I would kill you first.”

“I have no doubt that you would try, but could you see it through?  I know about your knife.  I can see it in your reach.  I have no doubt that you could grab it to defend yourself, but could you see the act through?  Could you plunge your blade into my flesh, watch the life fade from my eyes?  Blood would cover everything, even you.  My blood.  Could you, really?”  His voice was almost hypnotic, painting the picture for her imagination to fill in.  He had killed, up close and personal.  So had she, but he didn’t know that part.

She made herself face him.  “Yes.  I could.  I would grieve, later.  But you would be dead and I would have your brother to comfort me.  I have no doubt that he is skilled in giving comfort.”

He laughed.  One short bark of humor.  “God, I wish you weren’t so attached to that unworthy brother of mine.  I do believe that you could see it through.  Very well, I will not assault your honor but before I allow you to run to my brother, remember this.”  He startled her, he was so quick.  He reached up to take hold of her head, one hand on either side of her neck, thumbs on her jaw, pushing her face up as he bent his head down to put his mouth over hers.

It was not a gentle kiss.  Gabriel didn’t believe in gentleness.  He believed in power and strength and both qualities he had in spades.  He stunned her with his kiss and she was furious with him for it.

He let her go and stepped back with a look of triumph in his eyes.  He had won the battle.  Even had he done as he threatened, he would not have won so completely.  He could have, and chose not to.  He left her standing against the wall, went back to the chair and sat down in it, waiting patiently for her to complete her preparations.  After a moment of speechless anger she did so as quickly as possible.

Well, murmured the voice in the back of her mind, that was unexpected.

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