Delegations from every nation started arriving for the funeral, and the Imperial coronation that followed. Dauris wished to meet each of them personally; it was her place as the only female in the family to see to the needs of their guests. Marus, though, decided otherwise. He would be the one to greet their guests, and Dauris was to stay in the bower. There would be time, later, for her to meet her cousins of the South and of Castellan.
Dauris lay on her stomach in the elevated bowl that was her bed and played tug-of-war with her dog and an old towel that had been knotted up just for such a purpose. The little dog pulled on the towel and twisted her body just like she was fighting some creature, but both of them knew that it was just for fun. Dauris sighed in frustration. Some days she felt just like Annie, always pulling on something that was always held back from her. Just when was she going to be able to give Mother’s letter to Uncle Ainmire of Castellan if she couldn’t meet with them personally? And just what was in the letter that was so important that she had to be the one to deliver it to him?
After a moment Dauris sighed loudly and let go of the towel. The dog, still very much a puppy, fell backwards with the lack of resistance. For a moment she was still, then she took hold of the towel and shook it back and forth, growling like she was attacking some small creature, and then dropped it and tried to lick Dauris’ face. She actually giggled and grabbed her friend and held her wriggling body close to her for a time. She couldn’t hate Marus, not after all that he had done, no matter how infuriating he was or how insufferable or how pigheaded. Especially when she thought of the look in his eyes when Annie had run up at him barking like she was four feet tall to the shoulder and three hundred pounds instead of maybe twelve inches long nose to tail and perhaps four or five pounds. And she had been smaller when they’d found her.
She let go of Annie and sat up. She wasn’t going to let her brother keep her from delivering the letter, but she had to handle this discreetly. Maybe she could find one of the Castellan knights in the hallway.
— — —
Marus took Gabriel aside after he saw the most recent arrivals to their chambers. “My uncle’s delegation, the Knights with him, is one of them…?”
Gabriel nodded briefly. “Yes, Lord Marus, he is among them.”
A strange light seemed to flicker in Marus’ eyes. “Interesting. My sister is only twelve years of age, for all that her maturity is beyond mere chronology; much too young for Fate to give her the object of her dreams, if he is such, don’t you agree?” When Gabriel didn’t answer the question, Marus chuckled. “Speak to your brother privately and see that he does not approach the Lady Dauris in any manner that may reveal to her any aspect of his relationship to you, or that may allow her to see his face. I will see that the various delegations are informed that their honor guards may wear their helmets in public, so long as the whole of the guard does so.”
Gabriel bowed and saluted Marus and then quietly left the room.
— — —
Knight-Captain Bastion of Castellan was walking down a hallway in the Imperial Palace. He had been trying to find his way back to the chambers set aside for the Castellan delegation and had gotten turned around. It had probably happened when he had gotten distracted, wondering why the Emperor-to-be Marus had looked at him so strangely after a whispered conversation with, of all people, Bastion’s twin brother Gabriel.
Bastion sighed. He and his brother had never really gotten along; they were too similar, or so Bastion thought. But they hadn’t seen each other in years and he had thought that they would be able to set the past behind them for at least a little while. He just didn’t want to fight with his brother, not now, not ever again.
All thought of reconciliation, though, was forced from his mind as he was whirled around and pushed up against the wall. Gabriel stood, holding onto Bastion’s armor, and put his face very close to Bastion’s, hissing slightly as he struggled to keep his voice low. “I have instructions for you. You will not go near Princess Dauris, ever. You will not inform her that you are my brother, or allow anyone else to so inform her. You will most definitely not allow her to ever see your face. Do you understand?”
“Gabriel? What is wrong with you? Why are you so worried about the Imperial Princess?”
“Do you understand?” He repeated more forcefully. Bastion nodded slowly, confused. “If you fail to follow these instructions, if you approach her, I will kill you. If I even think she has been told, I will kill you.”
They were interrupted by a young, female voice. “Gabriel? What are you doing to that Knight?”
Gabriel abruptly let go of Bastion and turned, putting himself between Bastion and the girl, barely old enough not to wear short bodices. “Princess, what are you doing out of the bower?” So this was the mysterious Imperial Princess.
Dauris glared at Gabriel even as she really wanted to get a good look at the Knight that her guardian had been roughing up. “You were threatening him! How dare you threaten one of the visiting Knights? I don’t care how over-protective Marus has gotten, that is going too far, my guardian.”
Her voice faded into the distance as Gabriel firmly escorted the girl back to the bower. Bastion waited only a moment more before continuing on. He hoped the girl gave his brother an earful, but he needed to speak with his King.
— — —
Dauris had never been so furious in all her life. Of all the frustrating, infuriating, pigheaded, … she wanted nothing more than to wrap her hands around both their throats and squeeze. Then she reconsidered. No, throttling wouldn’t be near as satisfying as bending each of them over her knee and spanking them raw like the children they were. She wanted to beat them until they wouldn’t be able to sit for a month.
Not that Dauris would ever strike a child in a mood such as she was in. She didn’t have as many problems with corporal punishment as some did, but she wasn’t likely to use it lightly. It had been used against her too many times, and left too many scars that still lingered. That, and worse.
But neither of these was a child. They were both old enough to know better. She just… she was frustrated enough with them to scream. So she did the only thing she could. She ran from Gabriel and lost him in the corridors of the Palace, and then climbed into her private retreat in the Palace gardens.
It was very cold out, winter was not yet over, though it soon would be, but Dauris was angry enough that she didn’t need to get her cloak. She paced back and forth in the little room, muttering invectives in the languages of a dozen different worlds. Finally she decided what she was going to do, but she had to go back to her room to manage it.
She crept through the hallways, taking care not to be spotted by anyone, and snuck back into the bower where she found pen and paper and ink quickly. After a moment of thought she wrote out a letter, being very careful about blots and such. When she was done she looked at it once more and then nodded to herself.
She found the scroll from her mother where she kept it hidden and picked up Annie with one arm, shushing her against her excitement. “I need your help, baby girl. You can go where I cannot.” So why did she wish so desperately that she could be standing at their door? Whose eyes would she look up into? And just who in the world was that Knight?