Bastion didn’t stop until he was at Keara’s bower. When he entered maids cried out in surprise, but Keara came running up to them. “What happened?”
“She was attacked on her way back to the Palace from Kodran’s.” Bastion knelt to set Riva on a chair before he met the worried gaze of the Princess. “Lord Kian is seeing to the guard and the bodies before he returns here.”
Riva took a shuddering breath. “I killed them. I actually…” She bit back a sob. “I knew that he wasn’t going to kill me, not with the knife at my neck, but I knew… I knew that the knife was going to demand blood. The neck is a threat; she only kills when she goes for the heart.”
Bastion was very worried. He didn’t like the distracted way Riva seemed to be rambling. He took her face in his hands. “Are you all right?”
She looked at him and tears filled her eyes. “I was just so scared. They said… they said that they were going to give me to…”
He interrupted her quickly. “I know. We were warned in time. Dramsol warned us. It didn’t happen. It’s not going to happen.” He looked up at Keara. “Do you have something clean and whole for her to change into?”
Keara nodded. “Yes, I have something, if you will give us a moment of privacy.”
He sighed and shook his head regretfully. “Use screens for modesty’s sake, if you must, but until I know that those ruffians have been rounded up, I am not going to leave her open to another attack.”
Keara nodded, a half smile teasing her expression. “Very well, then, Captain.” She motioned to her maids and they brought several sets of screens out to create an enclosure where Riva could change clothes.
Bastion dearly wished for a chance to speak to Riva alone, or should he now think of her as Dauris? but with Keara and all her maids it was not possible. Keara found a dress from somewhere, something in blue and golden brown, and quickly came over to coax Riva into the screened enclosure.
Riva stood on shaky legs and pressed the stick she held into Bastion’s hands. “Here. It protected me… until they got it away from me.”
Bastion nodded. “I’ll be right here.”
She disappeared behind the screens and he took the opportunity to take a look at the stick, and the runes carved into it. His eyes widened as he read the name. “Riva, did Kodran…?”
“Yes, he did. It means a great deal to me.”
Bastion swallowed carefully. “It might just mean more to him. Riva, this means that to the dwarves, you are one of them.”
There were gasps of surprise in the room and Keara emerged from behind the screens to look at Bastion in curious confusion. “Captain?”
He met the Princess’ eyes. “She’s been named Kodransdotter, Lady Keara, and gifted a weapon from her father’s hand. It’s as binding as blood.”
Keara’s eyes widened and then narrowed in thought. Just then, though, Riva emerged from behind the screens and Bastion felt his heart squeeze. In Keara’s gown, Riva looked every inch a princess. Bastion almost wondered aloud how he could have been so blind.
There was a commotion at the door and they turned to see Kian enter with Dalziel and King Ainmire close behind him. The King looked at each of them in turn and then nodded to Keara. “Daughter, if you will be so kind as to dismiss your maids…”
Keara bowed her head to her father and then nodded to her maids. “Thank you. I shall call you back when I am ready.” They each curtseyed to her and then to the King and Kian before leaving the room.
When the last maid had departed and the doors were closed behind them, King Ainmire turned to Bastion. “What happened, Captain?”
Bastion bowed to him. “Forgive me, Majesty, Princess Dauris was attacked when I should have been protecting her.”
“When did you find out that your friend was the Imperial Princess?” The King’s voice was low, merely curious, not threatening.
Riva answered for him. “Sometime between the time I left his side to retrieve proof of my former name and the time he arrived to rescue me from the squires and their gang. I thought… I thought I was going to have to actually tell him myself. I have every confidence, Uncle, that had he known beforehand then he would not have allowed me to walk outside the Palace without him. As it was… I was not unaccompanied.”
The King looked around. “Who was with you?”
Dalziel bowed. “That would be me, your Majesty. To my shame I was unable to aid her.”
Riva spoke up quickly. “They ambushed us using an immobilization spell, Uncle. There was nothing anyone could have done. As it was… I was able to fight back only because of Kodran’s name-gift to me.”
King Ainmire blinked. “Name-gift? The dwarves have gifted you with a name?”
“Yes, Majesty,” Bastion said, and showed him the shaped walking-stick carved with dwarven runes.
The King took the stick and looked at it carefully and then handed it back to Riva. “What do you intend to do now, Niece?”
She lifted her chin and faced him. “I am not returning to Pallantia. I would rather… I would rather run away again as to return to that city while my brother keeps a pet scientist who is studying at the feet of the one who corrupted Jules.”
She heard a hiss of indrawn breath and wasn’t certain who it had come from. King Ainmire blinked in surprise. “Niece, what would lead you to believe that I would allow such? You belong to Castellan, as your dreams, and the dreams of your mother, have declared.”
Riva wavered slightly on her feet and Bastion reached out to steady her before stepping back again. To suspect that she dreamed was one thing. To hear it confirmed was another. “My mother…? When? How…?” She paused. “Oh, the letter she gave me. That was why she wanted me to deliver it personally. But… I wasn’t able to.”
King Ainmire nodded. “Your mother, my sister, dreamed that you would run to Castellan. We walked a razor’s edge, Niece, at the funeral four years ago. I was prepared to fight for you then and I am no less prepared to fight for you today. I ask again, what do you wish to do?”
She sighed and looked at Bastion, who kept his expression carefully blank. “I do not know, Uncle. I do not wish to bring war to Castellan, and my brother is powerful, and very possessive. He will… he will seek to reclaim me, eventually. I was… I was content to remain a streetling.” She looked back at the King. “But now Bastion knows and… and my decisions won’t just affect me. If I declare myself and openly flaunt my brother’s proclamations, then there will be war and I fear that Castellan would not be ready to meet the Imperial armies. If I remain silent then perhaps my brother will contain his possessiveness and leave Castellan be and we will have time to prepare. I… I have dreamed of war, more than once, and though the details varied it was always sought as a means to gain power.”
“Power?” Kian asked. “What form of power?”
She sighed. “Treasures. Relics. The use of them to dominate the world.”
Dalziel grinned. “Now treasure is something I understand, sweet Riva.” He looked at the others. “I’m a Pirate. Finding treasures is something I do by second nature.”
“Can you aid us in hiding this one?” Bastion looked at Dalziel and wondered for a moment if he was the one Riva loved. Just because she had dreamed of him did not mean that she had dreamed of him that way.
Dalziel nodded. “Aye, Cap’n, I will help you hide this treasure, if that is her decision.” He looked at Riva. “Is this your decision, sweet Riva?”
Slowly she nodded once. “For the time being it would be best if I remained the streetling, at least to those who do not already know.”
Kian sighed. “There is a slight complication, Cousin, in that your correspondence with Bastion is something of an open secret in the Palace. There are no less than three betting pools going, quietly of course, over when Bastion would fly to your rescue to steal you away from your brother. There are probably at least that many wondering whether or not you dream.” He glanced at Keara and then continued. “And there is one that I know of, among the ladies of the court, that wonders about your true identity.”
Riva trembled, but forced herself to remain standing, even as she clutched the walking stick so tightly that her knuckles turned white. “It is only a matter of time, then, before the truth is known.”
Kian nodded. “Yes, Cousin.”
She took a deep breath. “I will not openly provoke my brother to war. When the time comes I have no doubt that he will manufacture excuse without my aid, but I will not encourage war. As long as I am able, I will remain the streetling Riva.”
“Niece,” Riva forced herself to meet King Ainmire’s eyes and he continued, “I wish to ask you if you would be willing to make public your loyalty to Castellan. I am offering you a place within the Order of Knights.”
Riva blinked. “Aren’t there formalities and such?”
“There are, and I am willing to speed them along as I am able. It has been done before, in the case of those who show exceptional talent and ability, and you have proven to have both in abundance.” He shrugged. “It has already been suggested by no less than three other Captains, though I believe that it has as much to do with the fact that they are pleased to finally have someone to bet on against your Captain in the sparring pools as it has to do with your ability.”
She looked at Bastion. “Should I?”
Bastion smiled at her, but it was a very small smile. “I am hardly without bias in this, my Princess, but I believe that the Order would benefit from your inclusion.”
She nodded then, to the King. “Very well.”