Dauris stood in the market beside her cousin, the Princess Keara, looking at earrings. Behind them Keara’s guard stood watching them in his armor and helmet. Dauris knew that he was the one in the letters, the one who held her secrets, the one her guardian had threatened. A terrible longing rose in her heart. She had to know. She was afraid to know.
Gabriel was so close. If she asked, he would hear, and he had threatened to kill the Knight. She didn’t want her Knight to die. But she had to know. She was afraid to know. She stumbled with a sob of frustration.
The Knight reached out to steady her before Gabriel could. She had to know. She turned and looked up into the visored face of the Knight. “Please, is Gabriel your twin brother? Do you have a scar on your forehead?”
For a moment there was absolute stillness, then the Knight nodded slowly and removed his helmet and she knew that she looked into the face of the man that she had dreamed of, and knew that she could trust for the rest of her life. Gabriel roared with anger and rushed forward, his sword drawn. “I told you never to let her see your face!”
Her Knight stood over her protectively even as people fled from the coming violence. “She knows now! You cannot stop her from being with me, where she belongs!”
Kian grabbed Illian’s arm and pulled him away even as Keara pulled on Dauris to do the same. “Come, I have to get you to Father. You belong to Castellan now.”
The two men met swords above them and Dauris struggled to pull away from Keara. “But… my Knight. Gabriel will kill him. I can’t… I can’t let him kill him.” She managed to pull herself out of Keara’s grasp and ran forward, putting herself between Gabriel and her Knight. Gabriel’s sword blade caught her in the side.
Again time stopped as she fell backwards into her Knight’s arms. Gabriel dropped his sword in stunned grief. “No, no, not you, Lady Dauris.”
Dauris smiled up at her Knight, reached out one hand to touch his scar, ever so gently. He smiled back and took her hand in his own, and then kissed her fingertips. He sighed as he lifted her in his arms and then glared at his brother. “How could you, Gabriel? You were set to guard her.”
“I could not… I could not let her find you, my brother. I never wished to cause her harm.”
“And keeping her from me did no harm? Leaving her in doubt did no harm?”
Her Knight stood and began to walk away with her in his arms as Illian, Kian, and Keara followed them. Gabriel watched them leave with despair on his face. “You will mend, my princess,” the Knight told her, “and I will protect you, no matter what. I am your Knight, forever.”
— — —
Dauris woke suddenly with deep, heaving gasps. It took a moment to remember that she wasn’t twelve anymore. She was fifteen and she hadn’t had the courage to ask those questions that day in the market. She hadn’t asked those questions at any time since then, either, even though she had been exchanging letters with the knight from Castellan for three years now.
She rolled over in bed and reached under her pillow, pulling a stack of letters from their hiding place. She kept her favorites with her all the time; the others were hidden in a locked box. She unfolded one and started reading it again, looking for any clue that might tell her what she so wanted to know.
More than anything, she was afraid. She was terrified that the Knight in her dreams, who still came to her as a Pirate now and again, was not the Knight who wrote letters to her. She didn’t want them to be different men; she wanted them to be the same. Damnitall, she wanted to believe in her dreams. She wanted it more than anything.
She glanced over at her mother’s bracelet on her wrist. Her mother had believed in her dreams. She had given her three gifts before she died; a new name for hiding, Riva, an heirloom to be a bridge back, the bracelet, and a contact who was an old friend, Kodran the dwarf in Castellan. Dauris thought that her mother wanted her to run; her dreams were telling her that the two men were the same.
She just didn’t know.
Dauris sighed and slid the letters back under her pillow. There was only one thing that she could do, and fear had made her wait too long as it was. Before she could talk herself out of it yet again, she reached for her writing supplies. She had to ask. She had to know for certain.
I am terrified.
There is a question that I must ask and it terrifies me.
Does my guardian, Gabriel, have a twin brother? One with a scar above his eye on his forehead that goes into his hair? Are you that brother?
I must know. It will not change our friendship, nothing can do that, but the question has been quietly driving me nuts ever since I saw him threaten you.
She quickly folded the letter and set it aside. Then she wrote another letter, a more mundane one to her cousin, Princess Keara of Castellan, and closed it with a request to deliver her message quickly. Then she folded the letter to Keara around the letter to her Knight and sealed it.
She was trembling badly when she found Stella, who had been her mother’s maid and now was hers. “Stella, could you see a letter sent to my cousin in Castellan?”
Stella nodded. “Yes, Lady Dauris.”
Dauris gave her the sealed bundle and forced herself not to worry about it too much. Stella was the first in a long list of messengers who served as the path that the letters took back and forth between herself and her Knight. It could take upwards of two weeks for a letter to make its way through the journey, but at least the journey could be made.
Then Annie came running up to her, wanting to play, and Dauris could never be scared around her baby girl. The two of them went out into the gardens to play some, even though Dauris was getting quite old enough not to rough-house with a dog. Stella had to smile as she watched the Imperial Princess lose her worries with her little dog. She seemed so old most of the time, it was reassuring to see her lose the weight of her burdens and be young.
In point of fact, there were several pairs of eyes watching Dauris that morning, and not all of them were as sympathetic as her maid. From a balcony above them, her brother, the Emperor Marus, stood watching her with his resident scientist, the Doctor Vulkos Revier. Marus had made certain that the two had never been introduced, though he was quite certain that they had met in the hallways a time or two.
Even from this distance, Marus could see the nervousness in his sister’s manner and immediately intuited the cause. She had finally asked the questions that had been delayed three years. Beside him, Doctor Revier also watched the girl, but for different reasons.
“Your Excellency, how… hrm, how safe is she really in the Palace? The courtiers… the men of the court begin to notice her, do they not? At least one minstrel that I know of is composing odes to the color gold. How many have quietly asked that their sons be introduced to her? Or themselves? It is only a matter of time…”
Marus sighed. “My sister is not to be wooed by any in my court. Her path… lies elsewhere.” He forced himself to turn away from the sight down in the gardens. “Your facilities, how secure are they?”
“Why, the most secure, your Excellency. I assure you, she can be quite safe and away from prying eyes in my research facility.” Doctor Revier didn’t tell his Emperor that he made this offer out of an intense desire to study the girl himself. He knew quite well that the Emperor would… disagree with some of his methods if they were to be applied to the sister he doted so upon. Anyone else, he was not so particular about.
With reluctance, Marus nodded. “Very well. I will see that she is delivered to your facilities in a few days. See that her quarters there are prepared with her comfort in mind.” He paused. “And see that she has an open window so that she can see the sky.”
With a quizzical look, the Doctor bowed and left the room. When he was alone again, Marus covered his eyes with a tired hand. “Forgive me, my sister,” he murmured, though no one else could hear him, “but I cannot surrender you to any other man. Not without a fight worthy of your value to me.”
— — —
Destiny sat at her Loom, intent on the threads and how they interacted with each other. It was delicate work and took most of her focus to manage. As she watched the threads, a man materialized in the room with her.
He was hugely built, with charcoal grey hair and amber-yellow eyes. Simon Ambrosius. He stood, silent, for a moment just watching her before he chuckled low. “I haven’t seen you that intent on something without a blush on your face in a while.”
She didn’t take her eyes off the loom, but sighed in audible relief. “Ah Elar, thank goodness you’re here. I’ve been trying to contact you for a while, Simon.”
“I’ve got that crystal palace that Goldeneyes calls a retreat set for a very slow time passage. I didn’t know how long it was going to take for you to find her and I didn’t want her girls to get too out of alignment with her. What’s going on?”
“My son managed to track her down, but the matter is complicated as all hell.”
Simon stiffened as he stood. “She’s alive?”
“Yes, for now. That’s where the complication comes in. Wolf Eyes is after her. I’m already taking steps, but it’s going to be a very near thing.”
“What about her Dragoon?”
“He’s on his way to her, but it’s going to take him a while. I’m making other arrangements for someone to guard her in the meantime.”
Simon frowned, looking at Destiny for a long moment. “Are you certain that is wise? You know what’s likely to happen with any sort of guardian. Hell, it’s happened with me in the past and I know you well enough to know that you’re not arranging for a female guardian for her to add to her collection.”
She looked up at him, emotions blazing in her green eyes. “What choice do I have, Simon? If Wolf Eyes gets his hands on her then she’s as good as dead or worse, he finds a way to restore that damned curse on her. I can’t… I can’t watch her suffer like that, not again. If she and her guardian take that path, then they do, and her Dragoon will just have to find a way to deal with him. He’s already going to have to accept her girls.”
He chuckled low. “From personal experience, that’s not going to be a problem. Melanie, at least, will make him accept them.”
Destiny looked at him for a long moment before chuckling low and turning back to the Loom. “Don’t be afraid to show her where Goldeneyes learned it all. If she’s taunting you that badly, she wants to see your worst.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.” He vanished between one heartbeat and the next, leaving Destiny alone in the room, still staring at the Loom in front of her.