Bastion escorted Riva back to his chambers while the search resumed for the rest of the gang that the squires had managed to build. He had quickly decided that he wasn’t going to allow her to be alone while there was the slightest risk that they might decide to return to complete the task and steal her away.
Once inside the small set of rooms Riva sank gratefully into a chair while Bastion made certain that the door was closed securely. When that was done he found another chair and sat down nearby.
The silence quickly became unbearable.
“Please,” she murmured, “please talk to me. I can’t hear you think and it’s starting to scare me. I know… I know that you have every right to be angry.”
He sighed. “Part of me is angry, but not at you. I’m furious that you were hurt, that it could have been so much worse, that I failed to protect you. I am stunned and I am confused, but I am not angry at you. You tried to tell me, that day I was told about the proclamation, didn’t you?”
She nodded. “I wish I could have seen your face when you finally realized the truth.”
“And I wish I could have seen your face when you were told about me. How did you get away?”
“I ran that night. I kept Gabriel in sight so he didn’t have a chance to warn Marus and then left him with Illian, who probably bought me an extra couple of hours. Illian was always on my side; he always believed in my dreams. I was so angry with Gabriel. He knew. He knew I dreamed. I asked him about you when we were introduced. He let me believe that he didn’t have a brother.”
“Did you hit him?” Bastion felt a detached sort of curiosity.
“Yes. It wasn’t as satisfying as I had hoped. He was wearing armor at the time. If he ever, though, catches me in the side when he’s swinging at you… I am going to knock the hell out of him.”
That caused Bastion to sit up, startled. “What do you mean?”
“In my dreams. Every time. I’m trying to stop him from killing you and get caught in the side by his blade. I told him that if it ever really happens that I’m going to knock the hell out of him.”
Bastion stood and started pacing. “How much about all this did you dream? The term ‘Castellan dreams’ is fairly vague.” He found that if he concentrated on something that he could bring his scattered thoughts into something resembling order again.
“For me, because of what I am and how I see the world, I dream in stories. A sequence of events that flows in dramatic order. Sometimes you were a Knight who rode to my rescue, sometimes a Pirate who flew in to steal me away. There was a time when you were a Prince, who fought at my side to stop a war between our lands. In each and every dream, though, you had the same face, the same scar, and you were always fighting with a twin brother named Gabriel. And I always got hurt trying to keep him from killing you.”
Bastion almost laughed. “I considered becoming a Pirate for a while. If you hadn’t already been in Castellan… I probably would have.” He sighed. It was time he asked the question he had been avoiding. “How… how did you dream of me?” The words sounded as awkward as he felt. “A Castellan dreamer is customarily given what she dreams of. I want… I want to know what you expect of me.”
She sighed. “I want nothing more from you than you choose to give me. Obligation is meaningless without choice, at least to me.”
“I am your Knight, I made that choice four years ago. I will protect you, my Princess, with my own life if necessary.” He paused. “How do you wish for me to call you, when we are in private?”
“You may call me anything you wish, Bastion. That is your right.”
“But what name do you prefer? Riva? Dauris? Some other name I do not yet know?”
She sighed again. “I’m partial to Riva at the moment. Dauris… Dauris never believed in her dreams. She wanted to, but she didn’t. When I looked up into your face, and knew that you were real, and that you were the one in the letters… I believed.”
He slowly looked up to meet her eyes. “Do… do you carry rings, Riva?” He had to ask, even though the thought of her betrothal to someone else made him feel as though his heart would shatter. It was the custom in this world for the bride to provide the rings, as a representation of her dowry, he supposed. It was usually part of the betrothal ceremony, the sealing of a divine blessing upon rings that the girl would carry upon a chain around her neck until the day of her wedding.
She took a deep breath. “Yes. I carry rings. My brother saw to the betrothal papers before I escaped Pallantia, even against my repeated statement that such was unnecessary. I… I left them with Kodran before I started back to the Palace.” She looked at him. “I can still burn them, though, and throw the rings away. I am not bound by anything I do not choose to be bound by.”
“Who is this man your brother has chosen for you?”
Riva felt her heart skip. She didn’t know what to tell him. That Illian believed him to be her dream-promised True Love? That she didn’t know whether she even had the right to such a thing with how many loves she’d lost over endless centuries? That there was another man with as much a claim to her heart as he could have?
“Does it matter? I have every right to negate any choice my brother has made. It’s in the betrothal documents. I must first choose to present the documents to him and then he has to choose to accept them.”
“No, he wasn’t present for the blessing.”
“Why would Emperor Marus betroth you to someone in absentia?”
“Marus wasn’t the one who arranged the betrothal. It was Illian. And it was the result of the simple matter that we wished to avoid the complication of Marus making conflicting arrangements. Illian had never met the man.” She took a deep breath. “Neither of us knew who, exactly, he would be, if anyone.”
“And yet he pledged you to him.” Bastion sighed. “You dreamed of this man, didn’t you? You dreamed of marrying him.”
She sighed deeply. “I ran from Pallantia to find the Knight I knew I could trust to protect me, but love is another matter entirely, Bastion. It always has been with me.” She took a deep breath. “I don’t know that I have the right to marry any man when… when my heart is so entangled by scars and long histories.”
Bastion sighed and nodded. “I understand, Riva. I am your Knight, and I will be loyal to you. I hope that you are able to find some good man who is worthy of your love. I hope that you are able to find happiness.”
Riva wished that she dared explain matters more clearly. Bastion didn’t understand. But how could she tell him that she loved him without bringing his sense of obligation to the front and destroying his chance to choose her?
— — —
Kian pulled Keara aside for a few private words. “He was here, briefly. He was the one who warned us about the attack on Riva.”
Keara’s breath caught. “My seer? Did he say anything?”
Kian shook his head. “There wasn’t time. He gave me…” He paused, his hand touching the hilt of the sword which he still wore. “He gave me a sword, though, one that means a great deal to him.” He paused again, lowering his voice slightly. “Do you want to have rings to carry? In case he comes back quickly?”
Keara bit her lip nervously. “I don’t know. What does Father think?”
“I’m not asking Father, little sister, I am asking you. If you want this, I will make it happen.”
“Riva carries rings.”
“I suspected as much, but we are not concerned about her dreams right now. My concern this moment is for your dreams and your heart and your future. Do you want to carry rings for your seer?”
Keara thought about it for a long moment. Then she nodded slowly. “I’ll talk to him about it when we speak next in my dreams.”
— — —
Rounding up the surviving squires and their gang-members took several hours and the aid of every streetling in Castellan. The news of Riva’s attack had spread throughout the city within moments of Dalziel’s visit to Kodran’s shop. By the time the last of them were located the sky was growing dark and Riva’s stomach was a twisted snake-pit.
Kodran himself arrived at Bastion’s chambers to inform them of the capture of the last hold-outs, and he didn’t arrive alone. A wiggling Annie tried to jump from his arms onto Riva’s lap where she held her close as she would let her. She’d been worried about her friend. Kodran looked at Riva a long time. “Are you certain that you are unhurt?” He sounded doubtful.
She tried to smile at him. “Nothing hurt but my pride, Kodran-da. I killed two of them and… and then I killed the ringleader. Our streetlings are safe from them.”
Kodran nodded slowly. “Very well.” He looked over at Bastion. “As strange as it is, I see a great deal of Arie-lass and Tertius in you, Bastion-lad.”
Bastion blinked in surprise. “You knew Lady Arie and Lord Tertius?”
The dwarf nodded. “Knew Gryphon-king, too, when he was a lad on Castellan’s streets. He was full of trouble even then. I traveled with them, on the first journey. It nearly broke my heart when Gryphon gave his life.” Kodran took a deep, sorrowful breath. He sighed, then, and looked up from his thoughts. “Perhaps you could answer a question of mine, Bastion-lad. How did Kian-prince come to carry Riordan’s sword?”
Bastion blinked in surprise. “Lord Riordan? The one who helped restore Lord Gryphon? The…” he paused and glanced at Riva, understanding dawning, “the wanderer?”
Kodran nodded. “That would be him, indeed. He was also nearly as troublesome as Gryphon, though in his own, knowing way. Gryphon was a scamp who discovered responsibility and devotion. Riordan had the soul of a Pirate. How did Kian-prince acquire his sword?”
Bastion closed his eyes. “Dramsol gave it to him, when he warned us about the attack on Riva, so we could get to her in time. He said… he said that it had been a gift from a friend, and that it was important to him.”
Kodran blinked rapidly for a moment before he took a deep breath. “Tell Kian-prince that I hope he carries it with honor. And when the time comes, Bastion-lad, you have my approval.” Then he nodded to each of them and excused himself.
Bastion was silent for a long time wondering just why Kodran had felt it necessary to say those words when surely he knew that Riva was promised to someone else. Or was that the reason Riva had said that she could reject the arrangements her brother had made? But what of her dreams? What right did he have to seek her heart when she dreamed of someone else?