Gabriel found Dauris in the hallway outside the bower. “Where have you been, Lady Dauris?” She actually detected a note of panic in his voice. How odd.
Luckily, she had a ready excuse. “I was looking for Annie. She got out somehow, you know how she does that, and I had to go looking for her.” Strangely enough, it was true. There wasn’t a locked door that they knew of that the dog couldn’t find a way past, somehow.
Gabriel tried to glare at her but she just looked innocent and worried and eventually he sighed. “Into the bower with you. Your dog will show up somewhere eventually. She is far too attached to you to wander far. I’ll see that the guards know to be on the lookout for her.”
Dauris ducked into the room quickly to hide the sudden desire to grin at the success of her ruse. Now it was up to her to wait, somewhat less than patiently, for the results of her stratagem.
She wasn’t expecting to see Illian waiting for her. “Brother?”
“I was beginning to worry, Sister. Gabriel was wandering without you and you weren’t here and I know that you don’t go anywhere without him or Marus.”
Dauris sighed. “It’s complicated right now, Brother. Please trust me. I’ll explain everything to you when I get a chance, but I can’t right now.”
He sighed and reached out to take her hand. “Sister, is it your dreams? Have you found him?”
She closed her eyes against a sudden hope, and the guilt of unfinished business in other places. “I don’t think so. I don’t know. I wish I did.”
He nodded. “I will not wait very long, but I will wait, Sister. I will trust you.”
It wasn’t long before Gabriel opened the door to announce the arrival of her cousins from Castellan, and the return of the wayward Annie. Dauris met her cousins personally at the door to the bower. The presence of the wriggling dog made introductions much easier by trying to jump into her momma’s arms from her position in Keara’s. And showing her cousins around made it easy to dump Gabriel by the door and get out of hearing distance so that Keara could slip a folded letter to Dauris.
It was hard to miss the way her eyes lit up when she saw the letter, addressed simply to “Princess Dauris”. Keara nodded to her brother, who nodded back and took Illian by the arm, asking him to show him the grounds. Illian glanced at his sister in confusion for a moment. She smiled and his expression cleared. “Girl talk,” she explained. “You’d be bored out of your mind, my brother.”
Illian nodded. “Very well.” The two boys took off for the grounds and Dauris pulled Keara into her room and shut the door behind them, leaving Gabriel by the door to the bower suite alone.
Before they could get down to some serious talking, though, Keara had ecstatic fits over the bed, a sort of reverse canopy creation that Dauris had overseen the construction of a few years before. The bed itself was a bowl shape made of a wooden frame with a very large cushion inside it. Supporting the bowl were several legs that were covered by a filmy curtain, creating a small hiding room underneath the bed. Keara had never seen anything quite so cunning before. Dauris shrugged. “I’ve always preferred nests to dens, but this way I got both.”
Finally, though, they sat in the bed and poured over the letter that the Knight had sent to Dauris. “So that’s what the term streetling means. I always heard it used, and figured something along those lines, but no one ever bothered with an explanation.”
Keara grinned. “So, what do you think?”
“I like. He seems really… nice. I still have no idea why Gabriel was roughing him up like that, but it was completely uncalled for.”
“We saw the letter that you had written to him.”
“I expected something like that.”
“Are you really thinking of running away?” There, Keara had asked.
Dauris sighed, reading through the letter again. “I don’t know. Not really, I guess, not yet at least. I don’t have a reason to. No reason at all. I just get so frustrated with Marus some days. He just wants to protect me, and I know that it’s just because he cares, but I’m not completely helpless, even now, and he knows it.” She sighed again. “I don’t want to be wrapped in eiderdown all the time.”
“What do you want?”
“Freedom. Freedom to be who and what I am without having to twist myself to fit someone else’s expectations. Love, Respect, Devotion.” She sighed. “Keara… I’m not like you are, not like everyone else is. I don’t want anyone who would expect me to conform to a standard that isn’t made for me. I don’t want to be limited, cannot abide being caged. But this world… the expectations of the cultures, the expectations of nobility… they weigh on me.”
Keara had a sudden idea and grabbed some paper and a pen with ink from a ledge near the bed. She pushed the paper with a piece of wood for a solid backing towards her cousin and then offered the pen. “Here, write it down. I can carry it back when I go.”
Dauris blinked. “Do you think he would mind reading something so personal? I thought guys were uncomfortable with all that mushy stuff.”
Keara shrugged. “At least you would have it on paper and in a place where your brothers weren’t likely to find it.”
Dauris nodded. “Thank you, Cousin, for carrying these for me.”
Keara grinned. “This is fun.” She paused a moment. “If you want, you can keep writing to him even after we leave. Just send the letters through me. I doubt your brother has sunk to reading your correspondence just yet.”
“Let’s not give him any ideas, shall we?” Both girls laughed and then set to the work of composing a letter.
— — —
I’m glad that you are willing to write to me.
I think my brother just fears everyone. Or at least, distrusts everyone. Ever since Jules did what he did, Marus has been difficult. Jules was corrupted by someone who was trying to get at me, and that has Marus on edge, and has for a long time. There are times I wonder if he even distrusts himself.
The problem is that while I may be a child now, or at least am close to one, I will not always be a child. It’s not that I am completely helpless, even now, but I will gain in strength, not decrease. I like being protected sometimes; I like the feeling of knowing that I am precious to someone. But I am not made of spun glass and I can stand on my own at times. And I like being able to stand.
And some day my brother is going to have to stand aside and allow me to stand on my own two feet, allow me to be myself, not just his precious image of what he thinks that I am. I just don’t know if he will be able to do that. I am not the person he thinks I am. I am not what anyone thinks I am.
I don’t need him to choose my future for me. No matter that the culture might give him that right. I’m strong enough to choose my own path.
I don’t want a political match, though I’m hearing the whispers of people starting to suggest such. I don’t want some overbearing oaf who will wrap me even more tightly in eiderdown so that I cannot breathe much less think or fight. I want even less than that some simpering courtier who has never held a weapon, has never felt his blood rush in battle, or in the thrill of the hunt. I don’t want someone who thinks that violence is barbaric, or who lacks the will to fight for his own life, because how will he then fight for mine?
I do want someone who is strong enough to allow me to be strong. Someone who is not threatened by my ability. Someone who chooses me out of love, not compulsion or obligation. I want to be loved for myself, for all that I am and in spite of all that I am. A partner who will stand at my side and let me stand at his. I want someone to give me wings to fly, and who is willing to trust that I will fly home to him on those wings. I want to be someone’s heart, not his foot, nor his head, but his heart.
I don’t want to be locked in a cage, no matter how pretty or comfortable.
I want a man, not a boy, and I do know the difference. It has less to do with years than with attitude. A boy’s love is all about what he can get. A man’s love is about what he can give. A man is secure enough in himself to not let his ego get involved. A boy is all ego. A boy thinks that he is immortal and takes risks that he should not. A man knows that some risks are too great, but he also knows that sometimes even losing battles must be fought because something greater than himself is at stake.
It’s just so frustrating some days when all I see around me are courtiers with their useless, overfed lapdogs, who smile politely and say absolutely nothing but do so with a great many words. I see my brother, Marus, who fears for me without understanding just what it is that he fears. I see Illian, who in his innocence is stronger in some ways than Marus. I see my guardian, who mistakes a willingness to fight for true strength.
Gosh darn it, honor is in leaving the battlefield alive. History is written by the winners. What use is it to die fighting for something if what I sought to protect is lost anyway? Losing a battle is not always shameful, sometimes you have to step back in order to step forward. But still, if I’m going to go down, I want to go down fighting. I refuse to go quietly. I refuse to simply lie down and surrender.
I want so much that sometimes I wonder if I will ever have it, or if I will always have to surrender one desire to receive another.
I am so grateful that I, at least, have you to share this with. Illian is still too young to understand half of what is going on inside my head and Marus… Marus may yet become my adversary and I fear that day. I do not want to have to take up arms against yet another brother.
— — —
Bastion sank into a chair as he read the multi-page letter that Dauris had written to him. This… this was a twelve-year-old princess? How had she come to understand so much? How had she managed to keep so much spirit hidden away in a palace? He glanced up at Princess Keara, who watched his face with a small smile. “You were with her when she wrote this?”
Keara nodded. “Yes, Captain. Those are her words and her thoughts written with her own hand. She was in a mood for confidences, so I thought it best for her to write it all down. Even I have a diary to hold my secrets, but I have a feeling that she does not. At least this way, her secrets are safe from her brother.”
He shook his head, a sudden fear in his heart. “But my responses… if her secrets are safe with me, what about that which I send to her?”
Keara smiled. “We found a solution to that. Tomorrow we are going to spend the afternoon sewing a belt-purse for her to wear all the time. She will keep your letters in it, so that they are not to be found if someone were to go snooping through her things while she was out.”
Slowly Bastion nodded. “Very well.”
I am honored beyond my station to be trusted in this way. I will keep your secrets, and I will be a listening ear for what you need to say. I can only hope that you are able to keep my letters similarly safe. It is not my wish to place you in threat of harm for corresponding with me.
You seem to be as much a warrior as Lady Arie all those years ago. Please, do not allow your brother to stifle your spirit. You are so precious. Your strength is such a treasure.
I pray that someday you are able to find the partner that you seek. Whoever he is, he will be a blessed man indeed.
For myself, finding a feminine complement has proven very difficult. At least I am given the option, being a knight in service to my King, of remaining solitary. While you see oafs and fops, I see females without two thoughts to string together or those who are improper. I want neither. It is lonely, though.
If I were to share my life with a woman, I would want one of intelligence, enough intelligence to at least carry on a conversation about more than fabrics or gossip. I would want someone to challenge me, to disagree with me on occasion, a woman strong enough to know her own mind. A woman to teach our children how to think for themselves.
But finding such a woman is a task that has proven nigh impossible. Especially as I am loyal to my King and stand at risk of giving my life for him. Not many women are able to send a man off to fight, knowing that he may not return. I do not seek my death, but I know that it is possible. How could I give children to a woman and not trust her strength to protect them if I were to fall?
I cannot, and so I have remained alone.
It is not so bad, in reality. I have recently begun to teach some of the young ones who seek to become Knights, and it is very rewarding to see them gain strength and skill with their weapons. It is also difficult, because as knights and soldiers they will live or die by their skill, and thus by my skill in teaching. I fear for them all. They are so young.
Be well, Princess, and guard your spirit. I value your confidences as I do my own honor.