Once safely on the streets outside the Palace, Dalziel allowed himself a grin. “Well, your Highnessness, I must say, you had me fooled. Is there anything else I need to know about you?”
Riva groaned and glanced heavenward for patience. “At least you figured it out on your own. I don’t know what I’m going to do when I have to actually tell him the truth. I’ve been half terrified of this day for months.”
“What are you going to do?”
“I’m going to Kodran’s shop and I’m going to get my bag and then I’m going to show him his own letters and I’m going to sing that song for him again, provided he hasn’t figured matters out before I get back.” She sighed. “Dramsol sent you to Dougal?”
“I am going to have to sit down one of these days and grill him about which side of the family he gets that streak from. He’s starting to sound far too much like a certain sisterniece of mine. If he ever starts spilling secrets, though, at a party, I’m going to throttle him for not warning me beforehand.”
“You’d love Destiny. She’s an eye for rogues and pirates and she’s more like the sea and the sky than she likes to admit.” Riva was rambling, more as a way to keep control of the nervous tension in her stomach. “Stay outside. I’ll be back quickly.”
— — —
Riva barreled into Kodran’s shop without pausing to say a word to anyone. Kodran spotted her and raised a single, curious eyebrow. He nodded to one of the older streetlings before following Riva into the back. She didn’t stop until she found the pack that she had stored there before going up to the Palace that day. Kodran stood nearby as she started digging through it.
“What are you doing, Riva-girl?”
Riva didn’t look up at him while she searched. “Bastion is absolutely besotted. I have never seen a man fall that hard for someone.”
Again the curious eyebrow rose. “You, finally?” He knew that she’d been spending quite a lot of her time up at the Palace, even though both she and Bastion had made regular forays into the Undercity to train the streetlings. Some of them were even making remarkable progress. The first of the ironwood walking sticks had finally been finished. He had them in a box in his office, waiting to be distributed.
She sighed. “No, not me.” She snorted in disgust. “The Princess Dauris. He doesn’t have a clue. I told him that I knew where she was in the city and that I was going to bring her to him.”
“So what are you going to do?”
She found what she was looking for and showed Kodran a stack of neatly folded papers, letters. She smiled. “I’m going to tell him that you found her. That you kept her safe so that she didn’t have to fear Castellan’s streets.” She stood and walked over to Kodran, who was trying not to let her see the tears in his eyes. “Thank you for everything, Kodran, friend of my mother.”
“It was nothing.” He tried to sound gruff.
She smiled and handed him a sealed scroll. “Here, keep this for me a while longer. If there is trouble at the Palace, take it straight to the King.”
“What is it?”
“My brother Illian’s formal approval of my marriage, specifically the writ of betrothal. In case someone decides to start screeching about age differences.” There were enough quiet whispers about it already. “I- I’m not ready yet to tell him about it unless I have no other alternative. I still… I still want him to choose to court me, if the choice is even possible.”
He nodded. “Take care, some of the looks you’ve been getting from the younger set up there… I’ve had a mind more than once to start heads rolling.” There was only one younger set that he had to warn her about, and they both knew that they wanted to send heads rolling for more than just looks and whispers.
“I can defend myself.” She’d proven that in the training salles more than once.
“Riva-girl, you are about to do something that will put your whole soul out in the open. Excuse me for wanting to guard your back while you do it.” Now he did sound gruff.
She laughed and kissed the top of his head, genuinely pleased that he would care so much for her. Even if her mother had been a friend of his. “Thank you for your warning, Kodran, father of streetlings. I will keep it in mind.”
“Better get going, before you lose your nerve. Wonder how all this would have turned out if you could have been Kodransdotter instead of Imperial Princess.” For a moment he looked as if he were as surprised as she was that the words had been spoken aloud.
She looked at Kodran with a strange glittering in her eyes. “I… I am honored.” She took a deep breath and then knelt to the dwarf. “If you wish to add a name and a title, I would be honored to accept it. My luck with fathers has been… spotty, but you… you are one of the great ones.”
“Then take the name, Riva Kodransdotter, Songbird of Castellan, and know that I pray for your happiness.” He reached behind the counter and took hold of one of the walking sticks and pressed it into her hands. “I had it made for you.”
She looked down at the wood and saw the runes carved into the wood, carved into wood that was stronger than metal. His artisans must have used diamond instruments. They spelled out the name, Riva Kodransdotter, and her eyes filled with tears at the thought of how long he must have considered this decision.
They stayed there a bare moment longer and then Riva stood, and with a final smile, forced herself forward, out of the shop, into the street, and back to the Palace, carrying the letters in her belt-purse. She paused to nod to Dalziel as she rejoined him and he walked quickly beside her as they hurried along.
The two were not unobserved as they hurried along the Castellan streets. Bannon watched them with his companions at his side. “It is time.” Indeed, it was past time for some well-deserved retribution. He had even gone to Lukan and learned a very special spell just for this occasion, one he had taught to each member of his band.
There were coarse snickers, but one looked concerned. “Come on, guys, they haven’t done anything wrong.” Kenneth was very uncomfortable. He wasn’t sure anymore that his friends were really his friends, but what other choice did he have? He’d never had friends before.
The others turned on him. “Nothing? She humiliated me.” Bannon stood chest to chest with his underling. “What, are you scared?”
“No, just… just cautious.” Kenneth was always cautious. He liked to think that it was a virtue, but he wasn’t so certain anymore. Something in his gut told him that this was the time for sending caution to the wind and for taking a stand, against his friends. But he wasn’t sure that he was strong enough to do that.
“No girl, less a streetling girl at that, is going to make me look like a fool without paying a penalty.” He didn’t have to repeat the events of the Fall Festival, or the sparring matches that had taken place since then, in the training salles, under the carefully watchful eyes of the Knights-Captain, when she had repeatedly handed his backside to him without even trying hard.
Kenneth sighed. He knew that he was going to go along with things; he just hoped that they wouldn’t get out of hand in the process. How in the world had he ended up with friends like these?
— — —
Bastion had begun to pace nervously as he waited for Riva’s return in the central courtyard in the Palace. The unusual activity had drawn attention and Prince Kian appeared with a curious expression on his face.
When Dougal explained, respectfully, to the Prince what was happening, Kian’s expression became carefully blank and he looked at Bastion, his eyes narrowing in consideration. “Are you prepared for what will be revealed?”
Bastion paused in his pacing and faced Kian. “What do you mean, my Prince?”
“I mean, Captain, that things aren’t always what they seem to be, and that sometimes what you expect is not what you receive. My cousin… my cousin is not like other girls her age, not like Keara, not like anyone else here.”
Bastion sighed. “I know that better than you do, my Prince. I am the one who has guarded her secrets. But why… why did she entrust Riva with her hiding when all she had to do was come to me?”
Kian closed his mouth firmly for a moment, considering his words before he continued. “She had the courage to run away, the courage to escape from her too-doting brother and to disappear. Do you have the courage to hide her so that no hint of her presence reaches him? If Marus learns for certain that she is here, there could be war.”
Bastion came to absolute stillness as he considered the political ramifications. He closed his eyes in pain. “An offer of Piracy has been made… to us both. The skies and the seas could hide us for a long time.”
“But not forever.” Kian sounded slightly sorrowful. “Unless she were to completely renounce her heritage and rights then she would have to emerge eventually or risk being found unprepared.”
“There are places we can go… eventually. Places that Riva can take us to where Emperor Marus would never find us, would never threaten us.” He knew that Riva was still unable to Travel, but she had told him that Traveler powers did not stay bound forever.
The thought triggered a connection in his mind and his eyes opened wide in stunned reaction. His Princess had bound Traveler powers, completely sealed so that she was trapped. Riva was similarly sealed, even to the lack of Traveler hearing according to Riva’s explanation. The earrings that she wore, so like the ones that he had given to his Princess. The way her eyes had paused on his brooch before looking up at his face when they first met. The joy in her face that day.
His mind followed back over all the similarities he had seen over the months of his friendship with Riva, the way she always seemed to be hesitantly expecting something, her fear of meeting the King face to face. Even her familiarity with Kian and the initial awkwardness of Keara’s greeting that day in the dancing salle.
It was impossible.
Well, no less impossible than his becoming a true Knight in Shining Armor on a world so different from the one of his birth.
Bastion looked at Kian and forced himself to stand straight. “We will decide the path we will take. I will protect her no matter where she goes or who she becomes.”
Kian slowly smiled. “Have you finally opened your eyes, Captain?”
Bastion was about to respond when they were interrupted by a voice in the courtyard. “Captain Bastion! Riva needs you. If you hurry, you can still get to her in time!” All three men turned to look at the man running towards them, his red-gold hair strikingly offset by the streak of white and his face marked by an expression of sincere worry.
Bastion turned immediately. “What happened?”
The man reached them and tried to catch his breath. “That’s just it. It hasn’t happened yet, but if you hurry you can get to them before anything permanently damaging happens. Please, Riva and Dalziel are going to be attacked by the squires, and if you don’t hurry they’ll kill Dalziel and Riva will end up in Revier’s Tower and I can’t get you in there to get her out again.”
Bastion and Kian looked at each other before moving as one towards the doors. Kian paused long enough to grab hold of the man’s arm and pull him along with them. “Where?” Neither of them questioned trusting the man, each for different reasons.
“They’re just starting back from Kodran’s. They’re going to take some shortcuts through some alleyways. One of them is the ambush spot.”
Kian nodded. “I’ll need to borrow a sword from one of the guards…”
The man sighed and reached into the air and pulled a sword from it, and then put the sword into the Prince’s hands. “Take care of her. A friend… a friend gave her to me a long time ago.” He pushed the two of them forward. “Now hurry. Please.”
Kian nodded. “How are we to call you?”
He smiled. “In this time and place, I am Dramsol.”
They took off running and Dramsol vanished behind them.