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.”