Unbeknownst to either Bastion or Riva, they were not unobserved as they sat and talked quietly along the edge of the gardens on the Palace grounds. On the other side of a high wall not far away two young people were struggling to catch a peek over the bricks.
“Can you see them?” Keara whispered up to her brother, who stood balanced on the stone bench that stood beside the wall. He was stretched as far as he could reach on his toes.
“Almost.” He sighed and settled down a bit on his feet. “This isn’t going to work. I’m going to need to actually climb up on the wall.” He looked at his sister. “I could always lift you up; you are lighter than I am and it would be almost nothing.”
Keara flushed in embarrassment. “I… I’m scared to actually see them myself. I need you to do this for me.”
Kian sighed. “I don’t know why, little sister. You can always ask the Captain to introduce you, or better yet, ask him to help show you around town. You’re always asking about what things are like in town.”
Keara looked at him with wide, vulnerable eyes. “Please, Kian, please, I need you to do this for me.”
Kian looked heavenward with a long-suffering sigh. “Alright. Goodness knows I’m as curious about the both of them as you are.” He looked at the high wall again and took hold of it, scrambling up with both feet against the rough surface until he was looking over the wall to where Bastion and Riva were sitting. His eyes widened and then he dropped back down to sit on the bench.
Keara almost fidgeted in curiosity. “Well?”
Kian met her eyes. “I saw them. They’re talking. They look very attached to each other, but our cousin has her hair covered.” He paused.
“What is it, Kian? What’s wrong?” Keara was suddenly frightened.
He swallowed carefully. “Keara, she was holding a baby, holding it like it was hers. I think… I think it was hers.”
Keara’s eyes grew round. “Father didn’t say anything about a baby.”
Kian nodded. “I know. So, do we talk to Father about this baby or do we go straight to the source?”
— — —
Marus was reading over some papers when a hesitant knock was heard on the door to his library. In curiosity he walked to the door and opened it, and found one of his sister’s maids standing, nervous. “Yes?”
“Excellency, I realize that the Lady Dauris has been sheltered for her own safety, and that we are not to speak of it, but I need to see her, if I may.”
Marus motioned the woman into the library and then closed the door behind her. “What seems to be the matter?”
The woman seemed to hesitate slightly. “I just need to see her, if I may.”
“You can trust me. Please, what is the problem?”
The woman sighed and showed him a small, folded packet of paper. “A letter arrived for her today, from her cousin, Lady Keara. I was instructed to deliver all such letters directly to the Lady Dauris, so you see, I need to see her.”
Marus held out his hand. “I will take the letter to my sister.” After a moment of severe hesitation, the woman laid the letter in his hand and then curtseyed and fled.
When he was certain that she was gone, Marus carefully opened the packet. The outside was, indeed, a letter from Keara to Dauris, talking about day-to-day occurrences in the Palace in Castellan. Folded inside, though, was a simple page written in a very different hand.
Marus smiled to himself as he read the words. A month had gone by already since Dauris ran away. The courtiers were starting to make pointed observations about her absence. It was time.
— — —
Bastion carried a copy of the proclamation crumpled in his hand. He just had to walk. He had to get away from the Palace. Away from the sympathetic eyes, away from all his fellow knights and Captains who knew about him, and about his Princess, before another one asked if he was alright and he lost control of himself.
Before he knew where he was, he was walking into Kodran’s shop and asking for Riva. He found her in the back rooms, a small dog sitting in her lap, looking up at her face with a worried expression. It took him a moment to realize that she was crying. It took him only a moment more to realize that she wasn’t holding the baby.
“Riva?” He sat down next to her. “Riva, what happened to the baby?” He was afraid to ask, afraid that he knew the answer, and it would just put the perfect cap to a perfectly awful day.
“K-kodran found him a home. I-I helped him g-get settled a-and then I h-had to come b-back without him.” She burst into great sobs and he pulled her into his arms with a sigh. “H-he started crying a-and it hurt so much…” She’d heard in his infant voice the cries of every child she’d ever carried and had stolen from her arms, every babe and kitten she’d lost because of the villainy of men, and worse, throughout her long life.
“Looks like we both have had rotten days today.” He let her cry even as the dog fell off her lap with a surprised expression. He watched the little animal sniff at him curiously and then wander off to curl up in a corner. Even seeing the dog reminded him of his Princess, and her little delivery girl. He wished that he could cry out his frustration and his helplessness, too.
“W-what happened t-to you?” Even in her own grief she reached out to him.
With a sigh he showed her the proclamation. “There’s a Princess. She means a great deal to me. We’ve been writing letters to each other for several years. The last letter I got from her made me worried, but then we get this. My reply should have reached her just before this was announced.”
Riva wiped her eyes so that she could see clearly, leaving smudges on her cheeks. “An attack? She’s gone into seclusion?” There was a pause and he could hear the incredulous rise in her voice. “A nervous breakdown??” She turned to look him in the eyes. “Tell me this isn’t for real.”
Some part of himself wanted to laugh. Her reaction was so different from the ones in the Palace. “Her brother is very protective. I do not know that it would be a willing seclusion.”
“No, I mean you and her. So this is why some of the knights were always making comments about you having a princess somewhere.” She sniffled a moment. “Tell me about her.”
“She… she’s strong, strong enough to defy her brother and write to me, if only in secret. My brother Gabriel was assigned to be her guardian. I promised to keep her secrets, so there’s not much I feel comfortable telling you.”
“Do you still have her letters?” Her own interest in the answer surprised her.
“Yes. Each and every one of them.”
“Could I read them?” There was a touch of impishness to her voice.
He did laugh this time. “No, you may not read them.”
Riva felt a thrill in her heart at how much he protected the letters. He kept them and he protected them, even though he didn’t know that she was his Princess. Then she sobered. “Does the King know? About your princess and the proclamation.”
He nodded. “Yes. I received this copy directly from him. He said…” For a moment Bastion’s voice failed him, “he said that I had to be patient.” He hit the floor in frustration. “I don’t want to be patient. I want to fly there and charge into wherever they’ve got her locked away and… and…”
“And get yourself killed if you aren’t careful.” The matter-of-factness in her voice brought him back to his senses. “You can’t go running off into the wild blue yonder without knowing precisely where you are going and what you can expect when you get there.”
He sighed. “I know. I just feel so helpless…”
She reached up and put her hands on either side of his face. “I can imagine how difficult this is for you. I’m usually the one running right into the chaos I wasn’t expecting when a friend is in danger. What did the king tell you to do?”
“Wait. Wait to see if she contacts me. Wait to see if he can learn anything about where she might be.” He was so frustrated with waiting. It didn’t help that the King had told him that with a hint of something behind his voice that sounded almost like humor. He knew better than to suspect the King would find the situation funny; this was his niece, the daughter of his sister.
She sat up on her knees and pulled him forward to rest his head on her shoulder. “Then we will wait, but you don’t have to do this alone.” She held him, rocking him softly, and whispered, “I’m here. I’m right here.” She wanted to tell him, ached to just spill out the truth so that he didn’t have to worry anymore… but she didn’t know who else could hear them and she was afraid of the repercussions.
She was glad, though, for a fiercely painful moment, that of all her secrets she had entrusted to him in those letters, she had never told him about her darkest days, about the horrors she had suffered and endured across lifetimes. If he had known… if he’d had any idea of what her “brothers” had been capable of doing to her in other places… he’d already be flying to Pallantia and not even his King would have been able to stop him.
She didn’t want him to fear for her suffering that ever again and she promised herself that if, by some circumstance, he found out then she’d tell him the truth that very moment. Some secrets are too serious to be kept.
Bastion wrapped his arms around her waist and willed himself to accept the comfort she offered. He wished he had the courage to ask her to be more than simply his friend, but he had his Princess to worry about, and his Princess meant the world to him.
— — —
Bastion found Dougal outside the tavern where they met. Dougal looked up at him in surprise. “What’s wrong, old friend?”
“I need you to do something for me, if you are amenable.” Bastion didn’t like going around the King like this, but there were things that former streetlings could do that agents of the King could not.
Dougal looked curiously at him. “This have to do with that Princess of yours?” He’d always found the Knight-Captain’s correspondent to be an interesting side of his personality.
Bastion nodded. “How good are the contacts you have up North?” He glanced around to be certain that they weren’t being observed.
Dougal thought a moment. “I don’t know. Might have to make a personal visit out of it. What do you need to know?”
“I need to know anything you can get for me about the Imperial Princess, Lady Dauris, where she was seen last, what she was saying, what she was doing, who she was with, anything you can get for me. I also need to know the likeliest places that her brother would have placed her in order to maintain security. She would not still be in the Palace proper, that is for certain.”
Dougal nodded. “It may take a while, you know that. It could take several months.” Several months away from Castellan, away from his friends, away from everything.
Bastion sighed. “I have no choice. I cannot leave to do this myself. I have no choice but to be patient.” That didn’t mean that he had to like it.
After a moment Dougal nodded and offered his hand to his friend. “Alright. Keep my chair open for me. And if you need another sword for a rescue…”
Bastion actually surprised himself by chuckling. “It may yet come to that, old friend. That is why I need to know what the situation is, before I go in with my sword drawn.”