By the next day, Alban was sitting up again and laughing with his friends and every streetling knew that the Knight-Captain had been able to help him. Quite a few also knew that he had helped Alban because Riva had asked him to. Brady took the entrance tests for entering training with the knights in the morning, and passed them.
Riva had to smile when she saw him in the uniform of a trainee. He looked different. They managed to find a bare moment to speak before he left to join the others in seeing to their placements in the Palace grounds.
“Thank him, for me, when you see him.” Brady told her. They both knew who he spoke of.
She nodded. “Of course.”
“Do you love him?” There was an odd catch in his voice.
She sighed. Love was such a complicated thing for her. “I don’t know, Brady. Love is… love is never simple, or straightforward, and I am complicated beyond what you can possibly understand. I trust him, completely. I… I ache for his presence at my side. He’s in my dreams… but he’s not the only one and I do not know that I have the right to seek anything more than friendship with him. For now, it is enough that I can see him, speak with him.”
“When will you tell him? About who you used to be?”
“I don’t know. I’d like to see how long it takes him to figure it out.” She looked around. The other trainees were starting to leave. “You better get going, Brady. See you around?”
He nodded. “I’ll see you around, though it may be a while.” He took a few steps away, then turned and waved to her, and ran to catch up with the others.
She watched him run off and almost didn’t notice Bastion’s approach behind her. “Riva,” he said by way of letting her know that he was there, “I saw you watching the trials.”
She nodded, turning to face him. “Brady was one of Kodran’s. I wanted to see him on his way. He’s the one who asked me if I would be a mother to the streetlings.” As she turned Bastion could see a large pouch strapped across her chest, and nestled inside it was the foundling infant.
Bastion smiled at the sleeping child and then forced himself to look Riva in the face. There was something he had to know. He hadn’t heard the conversation, but he had seen them standing and talking, and was afraid of misinterpreting what he had seen. “Is he… is he important to you?”
She blinked in surprise at the question. “Brady is…” Dear God in Heaven, why was Bastion acting like he was worried about Brady? Surely he didn’t think… oh, who was she kidding, he probably did. “Brady is a friend, and a fellow streetling. His acceptance of me was unquestioning once Kodran had vouched for me, and for that I am grateful. He is the one who found Alban, and he wanted me to thank you for him, for what you did for Alban.” She paused. “But he is only a friend, if that is your concern. My life is more than a bit complicated for much more than that.”
Okay, so maybe that wasn’t exactly true… but she didn’t want to have to explain about losing all the men she’d ever loved. Didn’t want to have to explain about Cearnach, about Nebby… about Kenshin, who still caused her heart to squeeze with confusion. And great Heavens above, she didn’t want to have to explain about Simon. Hell, her unfinished business with Kenshin was simple and straightforward compared to the knotwork that was her history with Simon.
He blinked as he understood what she was saying. He nodded, and decided to change the subject. “Since you are here, already, if you do not mind, there is someone who wishes to meet with you.”
“Who would that be?” Her brows furrowed in concern.
“The King, privately.” He expected some nervousness. He wasn’t expecting to see her turn bloodless white and tremble with abject terror. “What’s wrong?”
She wrapped her arms around the warm bundle of the baby who was sleeping in the bag against her chest. Her eyes were wide and vulnerable as she looked up at Bastion. “Do I have to?”
Now he was very concerned. “He has asked to speak with you himself. Riva, what is the matter?”
Gradually color came back to her face and she stopped trembling, but she was still very pale and she bit her lip in nervousness. “It is… it is nothing.” She took a deep breath to steady herself. “I’ll be alright. Does he need to see me right away?”
“If you are amenable. Are you certain that you will be all right?”
She nodded. “Lead on, Sir Knight.” She smiled as she said it, and he had to return the smile.
But even he knew that something was wrong.
— — —
Riva kept her eyes down as they entered the library where the King, her Uncle, waited for them. She was terrified, but she knew one thing for certain, she was not going back to Pallantia. She just… she didn’t want to leave Bastion behind if she had to run again.
The warmth and the weight of the baby in his carrier comforted her as she walked behind Bastion. She was not looking forward to the day that Kodran was able to find parents for the little one, but she knew that the day would come.
Bastion saluted his king, who was sitting at a table, reading some papers and proclamations. “Your majesty, as you asked, I have brought the streetling, Riva.”
Bastion wasn’t prepared for the way that his King stood when he saw the girl, with her arms wrapped around the bundle strapped to her chest. He glanced at the Knight. “You didn’t tell me about the baby.”
He frowned in confusion. “A foundling that Kodran is still seeking to place.”
King Ainmire nodded then and walked over to where Riva stood, nervous, her eyes downcast. He very carefully took her chin and lifted her face. “Do not fear me,” he said. “I need to see you with my own eyes.”
“You place Castellan at risk if you do.” Her voice was soft, but edged in hardness.
“That is my risk to take.” He met her eyes and sighed. “As I thought. You are training the streetlings on your own?”
“Kodran is providing the materials, the sticks and such, but I am training them, yes.”
“And this is for purposes loyal to Castellan? Loyal to me?”
“Yes, Majesty. I am one of Castellan’s streetlings, too.”
He let her go, then, and took a step back. “You need never have any fear of me, streetling Riva. If the nobles come to me about this, I will tell them that it is with my blessing. In the meantime, if you will indulge an old man,” he turned to Bastion, “Captain, I would like for you to assist her in training the streetlings to stand and assist our soldiers in the defense of Castellan. I would also like for her to be made known to the Palace guards, so that she may come and go as she pleases. If she has the skills to instruct streetlings, then she might also have the skills to assist you in your duties here, if you wish. See that she is tested, will you?”
Bastion saluted again. “Yes, Majesty.”
“Very well, you may go now.” He turned back to his paperwork and the two left.
Once outside the door, Bastion looked at Riva curiously. “What just happened?”
She forced herself to shrug nonchalantly. “Who knows why royalty does anything?”
— — —
King Ainmire was still trembling when his son and daughter entered the library after Bastion and Riva left. Kian looked curiously at him while Keara ran to his side. “Father? Father, why are you so pale?”
He smiled at the two of them. “Your cousin is in Castellan.”
Kian’s eyes widened and Keara clapped for joy. “Does Captain Bastion know?” she asked.
King Ainmire smiled. “That is complicated, my daughter. He does not know that she is the Lady Dauris. She has come to us as a streetling.”
Kian chuckled. “She ran, then. But there hasn’t been time for the Captain’s response to her last letter to have reached her. When did she run?”
The King shrugged. “I do not know. I can tell you that they met on the street the very day that he received her letter. He was seeing his response on its way when they found each other.”
Keara’s hands flew to her mouth. “But that means that his response will reach Pallantia and there won’t be anyone to receive it. What if… what if her brother finds it?”
“But if she’s already here,” Kian said, “then he can’t lock her up to keep her from running.”
The King looked at his seventeen-year-old son and his sixteen-year-old daughter. Were they old enough for all the strain that their position entailed? They had to be. “He can try to make us return her to him. We must make no public notice of her, not as the Lady Dauris. She is a streetling of Castellan, as per her statement. She… she is aware of the pressure that can be brought to bear. She did not wish for me to see her, to know that the streetling Riva was my niece.”
Kian was the first to nod his acceptance of the conditions. “Very well.”
Keara, though, was thoughtful. “She has her mother’s bracelet.” They looked at her in surprise. “She told me about it when we were in Pallantia. She would not have left without it. Aunt Grainne gave it to her to be proof of her name and nature, to be a bridge back.”
The King looked at his children. “This must be kept only between us three. Until the day your cousin declares herself, no one else must know about her.”
Slowly, the Prince and Princess nodded their acceptance.