Monthly Archives: October 2014

Arc Three Chapter Nine

Story Arc Three: Chapter Nine

Bastion and Riva were alone in the room, after the others had left to see to the arrangements, and for a while they were silent. Bastion stood by the window, looking out over the city. Riva was close to becoming frightened again when Bastion sighed. “Riva, you need to stop keeping secrets from me.”

She nodded, tears falling. “I’m sorry. I wanted to tell you everything, but I was just so afraid… afraid that you would surrender to your duty and that you would come to resent me.”

“Riva, why didn’t you tell me about…” he didn’t know what words to use any more than she did, he supposed, “about Rina and Lenne? You said that you were hunted, but you didn’t tell me that you had been Cursed, as well.” He turned to look at her and was stunned by how pale her face had become.

She trembled visibly, still sitting in the chair. “D-dramsol told you about the Curse?”

“He told us, all of us, that there was a Curse, but he did not explain what it did or how you suffered because of it. He merely said that you would not wish to tell us about it. He also said that you had suffered in ways that only a woman alone can and…” he looked back out the window, trying to maintain his composure, “and I pray that I misunderstood what he meant.”

Silent tears fell down her cheeks. “You probably understood his meaning quite well, then.”

Bastion put a hand over his face, showing his anger in the shaking of his hands. “Tell me whoever did it is dead now.”

The tears fell faster. “I cannot. Too many times across too many worlds and lifetimes. Oh, a few times a friend found me and… and made the culture pay for the atrocity, but he was not at my side at all times, or in all places. I didn’t even know that there was a Curse behind it all until recently, didn’t know that something evil had been placed on me to draw them in and encourage their darkest depravities.”

Bastion struggled to restrain his need for violence. “Did my brother…?”

She wiped the tears from her face. “What do you mean?”

He took a deep breath and turned to face her, determining to approach the question a different way. “You are frightened of my brother.” He made the statement sound like a question.

She nodded, still slightly confused. “Yes. He has strength, but no compassion.”

“You were not frightened of him before before you ran. You were frustrated with him; you wrote often of it. You were not frightened. What happened?” She was silent and he turned to face her. “What did he do to frighten you?”

She sighed. “It wasn’t what he did so much as how he did it and why. It… it was stupid, a – a stupid twin-conflict thing compounded by a male ego thing. But I don’t know how this matters, the Curse was broken before I rode to find my friend, before I was caught by Wolf Eyes.”

“What did he do, Riva?” Bastion was insistent.

She looked down at her hands. She didn’t want to see his face, his expression, his eyes. “He kissed me. Knowing that it had been at least ten years plus however long I had been in that cavern. Knowing that I had been dreaming of you. Knowing that I was running from Pallantia to go to you. And he made it abundantly clear that he could have done much more and that I could not have stopped him. I could only have killed him afterwards, but it would have been afterwards. And he implied that my brother would not have had any problems had he taken it that direction. As if all that weren’t bad enough, he did it as a way of getting to you, a way of marking territory, making sure that anything you received he had tainted first. He – he wanted me to remember.” She was shaking and couldn’t seem to stop talking, so she abruptly closed her mouth and held it closed for a moment. “I can’t seem to forget.”

Bastion sighed, somewhat ashamed that he was so grateful that it had stopped at merely the kiss. “He always started the fights when we were children.”

“He was dominant, wasn’t he?”

“Yes. And I put up with it all until… until the day we were transported here. I broke free of him then. I don’t think he ever forgave me. I’m sorry that you were put in the middle of our private war.”

“I can’t hate Marus, but I could very easily hate Gabriel.”

“I would rather you didn’t, Riva, he is my twin brother, after all.”

“I’m sorry.” She paused. “He considered it, you know.”

“Considered what?”

She looked very uncomfortable for a moment. “Doing more than… just what he did. I-I could see it in his eyes. H-he was weighing options. He didn’t, but he considered it. I think,” her voice grew very soft, “I think he wanted to.”

Bastion sighed and covered his eyes for a moment. He was close to being genuinely angry with his brother, and he didn’t need that to be his dominant emotion right now. Being angry wouldn’t help Riva, it wouldn’t change the past, and it would probably scare her more. He started to say something when there was the sound of shouting and a clanging through the hallways as the claxon sounded out a warning that was swiftly followed by the deep rumble of an explosion rocking the palace.

“What in the…?”

Riva’s face grew pale. “Ah Elar, it can’t be him. Surely he doesn’t think…?”

A voice could be heard, a shout far louder than any human voice could sound. “Goldeneyes! Where are these bastards keeping you?”

She stumbled to her feet and Bastion reached out to try to pull her back. “Riva, where are you going?”

“I’ve got to stop him! I’ve got to stop him before he destroys the city trying to find me.” Her feet weren’t the most steady in the world, but she quickly ran with Bastion close behind her. “I’m the only one who can save everyone.”

They ran to the central courtyard where a man stood, holding off the unified might of the castle guards with simply a wave of impossibly dark magic. Bastion’s eyes widened as he saw the man clearly and his jaw nearly dropped. “Damn, that’s a big son of a…” He never got the chance to finish the exclamation because he saw that Riva hadn’t stopped and was running straight for the man. “Riva! Wait!”

The man was huge, taller and respectively larger built than Bastion himself and he was no small man, to be certain. His hair was a grey color and his eyes glinted yellow in the light. He turned his head to see Riva running for him with Bastion following her and he roared with rage. “Get away from her!” He held out one hand, dark energy gathering at his palm as he readied a spell of some sort.

“Simon! No! Simon, don’t! They aren’t trying to hurt me! No one here’s trying to hurt me!” Riva didn’t stop, merely ran straight through his magical barrier and up to the man, wrapping her arms around him to bury her face in his chest. “I’m alright, Simon. I’m alright. They saved me.”

The man, Simon, lowered his hand slowly, letting the energy dissipate from both the spell he was readying and from the barrier that he held against the guards. He reached his arm out to wrap around Riva, holding her gently. “You are certain? You are unharmed?”

She nodded. “Yes. How did… how did you know about what happened? I can’t imagine that Destiny would tell you since I didn’t need rescuing.”

Simon chuckled low. “I may work with her, but I don’t trust her, Goldeneyes, even if she is your sister. I heard your shout for help and she told me that she’d sent her bard son to find you, and set your Dragoon on your trail too. There’s no telling when he’ll make it here, but I’ve got my own people clearing his path as best they can and sent some to look for that scamp of hers. I’ve been looking after your two girls in the meantime.”

Bastion slowed to a walk and approached the two cautiously. He nodded his head to the man. “I understand that you are a friend of Riva’s?”

He nodded, his eyes measuring the Castellan knight for a moment. “You could say that. I’m not certain that the term goes far enough, though.” His eyes narrowed slightly in thought. “And you are?”

Riva’s voice was muffled from where she still hid her face against Simon’s chest. “His name is Bastion, Simon, and he’s… he’s my friend, too.” She sighed deeply. “Can we please talk about this inside? So we can at least keep control over who hears us, Simon?”

— — —

The discussion took place in King Ainmire’s personal library and Riva made absolutely certain that she was seated on the other side of the room from Simon before she told him that she’d been forced to actually kill to defend herself.

As it turned out, that was a very insightful precaution on her part because his first reaction was to roar and step towards her. “That’s it, I’m taking you back to that crystal hideaway of yours and I’m never letting you out again!”

“Simon, don’t! I need to be here! Please!”

Bastion stood up and put himself between the two. “She is quite capable of defending herself, you know, and I’m not going to let anything like that happen again, not so long as I am able to protect her.”

“You have no idea what it costs her!” Simon raged at him. “How she’s not burning this whole city to ash, I don’t know, but taking a life damages her very soul!”

Bastion’s face lost all expression for a moment. “What?”

Riva sighed deeply. “It’s the Empathy, Bastion. When I kill… I feel the death as if it were my own. It causes my magic to go beyond all control and I lose my own identity. It takes a while to recover, but I’ve had lots of practice the times that Simon wasn’t able to find me before I had to take steps of my own.” She took a deep breath. “The only thing I can say is that the cost for killing one man and the cost for killing a hundred is the same, so if I have no choice… I try to get every bastard that needs it at once.”

“Is that what’s been going on with you, then? Why you’ve been so scared of everything?”

She nodded slowly. “Oh, I’d still be an emotional wreck from what… what almost happened, but I wouldn’t necessarily be this bad if I hadn’t had to kill three of them on top of tripping several deep emotional trauma scars on the way. I will get better. I just… I’m very vulnerable right now. Every nerve on edge, so to speak.”

Simon’s eyes narrowed. “Do you have any girls at the moment, Goldeneyes?”

Riva colored brightly and shook her head. “No, I don’t. But I don’t really need any at the moment, either. I can’t spare the attention to keep guard of Rina the way she needs and I’d rather not separate her from Lenne. And without my magic to be able to take certain precautions, I can’t risk it either.”

“What do you mean? What happened to your magic?”

“Wolf Eyes sealed my magics before he tossed me in that cavern to die. All I’ve got right now is some of the minor Illusions.”

Simon’s expression firmed. “I should take you away from here. You know I should. And I should tell that interfering sister of yours that she owes me more than she’s prepared to pay for not telling me where you were the moment she found out.”

“Please don’t, Simon. I- I trust Bastion. He’ll help me keep it from happening again. He’ll help me keep myself safe, if anyone can.” She bit her lip nervously for a moment, looking for a way to distract him from that train of thought. “Y-you said that Destiny had sent someone other than Dramsol to find me?”

“Yeah, your Dragoon. That biker boy of yours. No one knows when he’ll be able to reach here, though. His was a longer path.”

“Kenshin? He’s coming here? But he’s not…”

“I presume that interfering female forced his potential awake so that he could Travel. Goodness knows he’s been following you long enough to have gained the ability by now. He’ll find his way to you if he has to fight past death to do it, and he’s proven that already.”

She paled. “Cearnach…”

“Yeah. Cearnach, and Conn and Nebby and now Kenshin.” Simon looked Bastion in the face. “So you had best get used to the idea that you’re not the only one in her heart or I’ll just end this charade now. No matter what you are or will be to her, and you’d damned well better make sure that you are what she needs to you to be, you’re gonna have to accept the fact that she’ll always have her girls and that she’ll always have her Dragoon.” He smirked slightly. “Hell, between the two of you, you just might keep her as safe as I would.”

Bastion wasn’t quite certain how to respond to that.

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Arc Three Chapter Eight

Story Arc Three: Chapter Eight

Riva arrived at Bastion’s rooms with her curiosity ablaze and no small amount of worry. Kian had not given her much in the way of explanation, just that she was needed, and it wasn’t like she was going to be able to take that nap she’d been trying to catch. She looked at the gathering, though, and felt the sudden clenching of fear.

Kodran was holding the betrothal documents, though they were still sealed, and the King was present. Most frightening of all, though, was the complete absence of emotion on Bastion’s face. If they told him about the betrothal then he would uphold the expectations, he would do his duty, but she would never know if he would have chosen her freely.

She swallowed carefully. “Kodran-da, is aught wrong?”

Kodran set the documents on the table and stepped over to her, motioning for her to sit in a nearby chair. “Riva-girl, we’re worried is all. What happened to you that makes you so frightened now? We have been told that there is one who seeks your life.”

Riva looked at Bastion, suddenly afraid for him. His honor was everything to him. If he had been commanded to surrender one loyalty for another… “How do you know about that, Kodran-da?”

Kian came to the rescue. “Your Captain refused to tell us, refused to surrender your secrets. Dramsol was here. He said that there was one who hunted you, both of you, and that you are his kinswoman, and that while the one who hunts you seeks only his death, this one would seek your torture as well.”

Bastion fell to his knees in front of her and took her cold hands in his. “Please, Riva, tell them. I cannot. I will not.”

Riva sighed. “Once upon a time I called him Brother. His name is Wolf Eyes Dreamsail, third son to Northwind Dreamsail by his first spouse. I was adopted into the House, but because of what I am and what I did before I became what I am now, the bloodline claimed me and made me one of them in truth. It’s why my hair is the way it is.” She took a deep breath. “Wolf Eyes was one of the ones who stood by me when I… when I shattered after I killed the first time.”

The room was silent as she struggled for words. “I didn’t even think I was capable of it, but a woman I called Sister was in danger, terrible danger, and I killed a man to protect her. Wolf Eyes was one of many who worked to keep me from madness.”

Her voice faded in sorrow. “We lost him in the Massacre, but he was not killed. It would have been kinder if he had been killed. He was stolen away from us, stolen and tortured and broken to serve the one who seeks to subjugate all existence to his sole control. To serve his new master, Wolf Eyes became a kinslayer and corrupter.”

Her hands trembled in Bastion’s grasp. “I am linked to the power that created us all, well, to the feminine component at least. Wolf Eyes caught me as I was riding to find a man. He- he was a dear friend of mine and we had history together, and unfinished business. Wolf Eyes could not kill me outright, but he bound the magic that is my birthright so that I cannot use it and he sealed me in a cavern that stole my years from me one day at a time, slowly causing me to dwindle into childhood and ultimately into nothingness.”

King Ainmire looked troubled. “But you were taken from that cavern by my sister, Grainne, and her sons.”

Riva nodded. “Illian and Mother found me; even then I knew that Jules and Marus would be trouble.” She sighed. “Wolf Eyes found me again and corrupted Jules, trying to get to me. When he died I collapsed again.” She gripped Bastion’s hands desperately. “Wolf Eyes corrupted the squires, not that they had very far to fall, corrupted Bannon so that he was willing to aid him in destroying me. He will not stop trying until I am dead or he is redeemed. He will try again, and again, and again.” Tears coursed down her face and she fell silent.

King Ainmire took a deep breath, steadying his voice. “We will protect you.”

She shook her head. “I do not know that you have the strength for that, Uncle. Besides, in this place you are more important than I am, you and my cousins. I would stand to protect you.”

“You believe Captain Bastion to have such strength?” The King looked at her seriously.

“Yes.” She looked at Bastion and smiled. “Bastion I trust to protect me from anyone or anything, even himself if he were ever compromised. Kodran-da I trust as much as I trust Bastion, though for different reasons. I doubt that even Wolf Eyes could deceive the dwarves.” She chuckled weakly. “I would know the strength of the dwarves, there was a time that I walked as one of them calling myself Mardis Firegold.”

Kodran blinked in surprise, his face turning pale. “I – I have heard tales of a woman named Mardis…” he gulped slightly. “She rose with wings of fire and defeated a dragon a thousand years ago.”

Riva sighed deeply. “Yes, that was me. So this is the place where I had gone during that time… Cearnach traveled with me, then. He… he found the process of rebirth to be fascinating and I… I didn’t know if he could truly become a Dwarf without having been born one. Even for me the transitional process takes time.”

Bastion looked troubled, and he wasn’t the only one. “What of my brother? He guarded you.”

Riva forced her stomach to settle, but still it clenched in sudden fear. “If I had to choose between Gabriel and Wolf Eyes, I do not know which would be worse. Gabriel, like Marus, would protect me from Wolf Eyes, and he has the strength to do so, and he would protect me from anyone else who came along. But who would then protect me from him?”

There was silence in the room for a moment as all considered her words. Then Kodran spoke up, his face serious. “What about you?” he asked.

“How do you mean?”

“Right now you are a danger to yourself and others, my daughter. What do you suggest that we do about you?”

She sighed. “I will recover, Kodran-da, but it will take time. Large crowds would not be a good idea right now. But other than that…”

Bastion looked at her hands, still clasped in his. “What was done for you before? You said that you collapsed after Lord Jules died. What was done then?”

She couldn’t meet his eyes, afraid for him of his own sense of responsibility. “Marus stayed with me. Mother needed Illian more than I did at that point, and Marus was starting to show signs of overprotectiveness. Gabriel was with me all the time anyway, but Marus held me as I slept. I’ll never be able to hate him, not after that.”

The King glanced at Bastion and met his eyes for a silent moment. Then Bastion nodded slowly and stood next to Riva, putting his hand on her shoulder. “You won’t be alone here. I swear it.”

Kodran nodded to the King. “Bastion-lad has my approval and we have the documents from Pallantia. We can have this settled by the evening.”

Riva panicked. “No! No, please, don’t command him. Please, I want him to be able to choose. My life, my heart is too complicated for anyone who does not willfully choose it.” Bastion felt his stomach do a double back-flip as he suddenly intuited what she had neglected to tell him.

King Ainmire looked at her, startled. “But Niece, there will be whispers otherwise.”

“So let them whisper! It’s not like the ignorant haven’t whispered things about me before. They hardly need an excuse to whisper about things they do not understand. I’ve heard it before and I will likely hear it again, endlessly again. I am a streetling here. What does it matter? In less than a month I will celebrate sixteen. In another year I will be judged an adult by your standards and at that point we can see where things are. I swear, if you try to command him in this I will burn the documents to ash.”

Kodran looked from her to Bastion and back to her again. “If I didn’t know better, I would say that you did not wish this union, Riva-girl. Haven’t you told him?”

Riva flushed red and Bastion answered for her. “No, Kodran, I have not been told. She said that she was betrothed, that the documents were signed and all was arranged in the absence of the one who was chosen for her. She did not tell me to whom she was promised. Am I to presume…?”

Kodran nodded to him. “Aye, Bastion-lad, it was to you.”

Kian sighed loudly. “I guess, Captain, that I owe you a slight apology. It appears that you are not quite so idiotic as I thought, if you haven’t been given all the pertinent information. Cousin, how did you think to catch him if he didn’t know that it was allowable to be caught?”

Riva colored again. “I’m not sure that your culture would accept some of… of the oddities of my life. I’m complicated to the ultimate degree. And there is still the matter of unfinished business with the man I was going to find, though I do not know if he is still there to find at all. I owe him the search, at least.” Her voice dropped into a hesitant whisper. “I’m sorry.”

Kian frowned. “Does this have to do with… with Lenne and Rina?” He tilted his head in a way that said that he wasn’t certain that he was remembering the names correctly. “Dramsol told us that you would need to explain about them and he said something about others, Jana and Dewberry.”

Riva turned a brilliant shade of red and tried to hide her face behind her hands, though Bastion refused to let go of them. She couldn’t look at him and kept her head down. Not in shame, so much as embarrassment. “Ah Elar… he would tell you about them… I suppose I don’t have a choice anymore.” She took a deep breath. “I’m not sure what exactly to call them since… well, since different cultures treat the relationship differently.”

She trembled, trying to decide how to explain the different women in her life. Might as well take the matter chronologically. “Dewberry was Cearnach’s concubine, in a place called Faerie, and he was my husband, before we were killed by one of Wolf Eyes’ Hunter squads. I found her again, centuries later, and we were friends and… sometimes lovers. Jana was… Jana willingly bound herself to Nebby and myself as a lover. Less than a wife, more than a mistress. But when Nebby died… I set her free to find a future where she could be happy. Lenne and Rina were with me when Wolf Eyes caught up with me, when he threw me into that cavern. I sent them away, told them to run and hide. I didn’t expect to survive the attack and I – I just wanted them to live.” She took a deep breath. “I expect that one day I will go back to find them again. I have found that a heart can be large enough to hold any number of loves.”

She looked down at her hands, still held by Bastion’s. “Illian… Illian thought that maybe the Knight in my dreams would be Cearnach and Nebby reborn… that he would be the universe’s way of returning that great love to me. But I was never certain. I never saw Cearnach in the Knight of my dreams.”

Bastion sighed. “Dramsol was right, you do like to keep secrets. We shall have to speak, later, and I will want the whole truth from you. In the meantime,” he stood and looked at the King and at Kodran, “I appreciate your interest in seeing matters settled, but I do not know that they can be right now. What remains to be done?”

Kodran nodded. “Your signature upon the betrothal documents signifying your acceptance of them and then the wedding itself. Lord Illian was very thorough in preparing matters.”

Bastion thought a moment. “I presume that all this interest in seeing these matters completed means that you intend for the two of us to reside very close? Perhaps separated by no more than a door, perhaps less?”

King Ainmire nodded. “That was my intention, yes.”

“Then make it quietly said,” Bastion said, “that Doctor Revier has taken to stealing gifted youths and maidens for sinister purposes, and that he had made an attempt to steal Riva because of her outstanding ability with weapons, dance, and song. There is safety in numbers and I was just so gifted, though no singer, when I joined the Order. As two streetlings we are staying close to each other. That should satisfy the curious.”

Kodran nodded. “And for the other?”

“Forgive me, but it will take time to grow accustomed to the thought. It is something which I do not want to rush.” He sighed. “It is her wish that I should have the freedom to choose, and I find it to be no great burden to grant her the chance to know that I have chosen my path freely and without compulsion.”

King Ainmire nodded slowly. “Very well. I will see that her belongings are moved.”

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Arc Three Chapter Seven

Story Arc Three: Chapter Seven

Bastion and Guenna followed Annie down the hallways directly to Riva’s door. Bastion felt his stomach knot up in worry. Something was wrong, very wrong. He glanced at Guenna, who shrugged in confusion, and then tried the doorknob. It was unlocked and opened easily. He had made certain she had locked the door before he had left her earlier in the evening. With his stomach in knots and every instinct alert, he edged the door open and followed Annie through.

“Riva?” He called out softly, not wanting to startle her. “Riva, it’s Bastion. Is something wrong?” He looked at the bed in the moonlight through the window and saw that it had been completely stripped of blankets. He heard a thread of sound from below the bed and saw Annie tugging on the edge of a blanket.

He fell to his knees and peered under the bed and saw that the blankets were bunched up. He thought he saw a pale face amid the shadows. “Riva? Is that you?”

The eyes blinked and he saw Riva scramble forward with a sob. “Oh Bastion, it is you. I thought… I thought Wolf Eyes was trying to trick me. I can’t sleep; it’s not safe. Bastion, I’m so scared.”

He held her close and rocked her back and forth gently. “It’s okay. You’re safe. I won’t let anyone hurt you.”

After a moment she calmed down enough to notice Guenna, who looked at her with curious interest. “Who’s she?”

Bastion chuckled softly. “Riva, this is Guenna. She is a friend of mine. You wouldn’t want someone to get the wrong idea about my being here this late at night, do you?”

Riva sighed. “Kodran wouldn’t care, he’d just insist on subsequent formalities, eventually. As for the King, give me a chance to explain matters to him and he’d let things slide, too.”

Bastion felt his stomach drop at some of the implications of her statements, especially in light of what Kodran had said to him earlier. He sighed. “I would care, Riva. I don’t want people saying things that would hurt you, in any way. I must protect you, and that includes your reputation.”

She chuckled. “As you wish.” She considered Guenna for a moment. “Do you trust her? With everything?” She paused. “With me?” The last was nearly whispered.

He held her very close. “Yes, Riva. I would trust her with you.”

“I’ll try to trust her too, then.” Riva relaxed in his arms and began to drift off to sleep. Annie was already curled up nearby, secure in the knowledge that all would be well. “Please don’t leave me.”

“I won’t. I promise.” He watched her face as she fell asleep in his arms, her breathing eventually telling him that she was fast asleep even though she held onto his arms as if they were all that kept her alive.

Guenna knelt down next to him and pulled some of the blankets out from the burrow beneath the bed and gently covered the sleeping girl. “She’s no mere streetling, my friend, is she?”

Bastion shook his head, settling into a more comfortable position, leaning up against the side of the bed. “No, she isn’t. This, Guenna, is the greatest treasure in all Castellan, and we must seek to keep her presence secret as much as possible.” He met Guenna’s eyes in the shadow and the moonlight. “This is the missing Imperial Princess Tresoria Dauris Krellian, my Princess.”

Guenna drew in a quick, startled, breath. “Merciful God, in Castellan?”

He nodded. “And she is a dreamer. She dreamed of me, Guenna, of me and she ran from her brother when she discovered that I was the one she dreamed of, that I was the one who could protect her.”

Guenna felt a stab of ice in her chest at the wonder in his voice. She had known for years that eventually this day would come; she just didn’t expect these circumstances. “Did she also dream that you would love her?”

Bastion sighed. “Is it that obvious?”

“Only because I know you so well.”

“She fears love, but I suspect most strongly that it was foreshadowed in her dreams. Her brother saw to her betrothal before she left Pallantia. I have no right… no right whatsoever to seek her heart.” He tried to breathe normally despite the pain in his chest. “I can, though, protect her, and I will.”

Guenna blinked rapidly, fighting the tears that gathered in her eyes, even though she knew that he wouldn’t be able to see them in the darkness. “So you intend to gallantly stand silent? Will you not fight for her?”

Bastion looked up at Guenna and tilted his head in confusion. “What else am I to do? I am her Knight, Guenna.”

Guenna smiled and tried to hide the warble in her voice. “And Lord Gryphon was guardian and protector to Lady Zaira.” She sighed. “You deserve the chance to have this joy. Love deserves to bloom, for no matter how brief a season.”

He was silent for a moment. He knew how painful that brief season could be when it ended, particularly for Riva. She’d told him of her heartbreak, of grief that had nearly claimed her life. “I never thought I would hear you tell me to court another woman.”

“We had our season, my friend, years ago, and I have been grateful for our continued friendship and the comfort we have given each other, but I have known that eventually you would find someone who could give you what I cannot and that I would have to let go.” She took a ragged breath. “I don’t have to like it, though.”

“I never wished to hurt you, Guenna.”

“I know. That makes this bearable.” She sighed. “I will help you protect her, my friend, if that is your wish.”

“Thank you.”

— — —

Morning found the three of them still stretched out on the floor in Riva’s room. Guenna looked at Riva, who still dozed in Bastion’s arms. “Do you think this will happen again?” Guenna’s expression grew very concerned.

“I don’t know.”

“The King will have to be informed.”

Bastion nodded. “I will inform him myself.” He shifted himself slowly so as to gently set Riva down on the floor, cushioned by blankets. “Stay with her, will you?” Guenna nodded and Bastion crept out to return to his room and then to find the King.

— — —

Riva’s insomnia didn’t improve as the days went on. It got worse, and that attracted the attention of more Knights-Captain than just Bastion and Guenna. The trial of the squires and their underlings was accomplished with as much quiet as possible, as was the expulsion of those involved from the Order and from the kingdom. But knowing that they were unable to reach her didn’t cause Riva to calm. She still watched the shadows around her as if they could reach out to snatch her away.

Bastion knew something of the powers of the one the squires called Lukan, from Riva’s description, and wondered how much of her fear was justified. He found Riva walking in the gardens with Keara, and Kian nearby. He nodded to the Prince and Princess before taking his place at Riva’s side. “Are you well today?”

She sighed. “As well as can be expected. How are matters with you?”

“I was confronted on my way here by no less than three Captains and a dozen Knights all wishing to see a rematch between us in one of the training salles.” He tried to smile. “I told them that I would approach you on the matter but that I was not certain that now was a proper time.”

She sighed. “Now would not be a good time at all. I am likely to panic, and that could be dangerous.” She shivered slightly in a way that had nothing to do with the chill in the air of approaching winter. “I could hurt someone and that would only make matters worse.”

Bastion felt a thread of frustration. He had made the decision to court her, to seek her heart and her affection in spite of dreams she might have of another man. He just didn’t know how to go about it, especially since he had to be certain to be absolutely proper where others could see, and others had to see them at all times that they were together.

Riva stifled a yawn and Keara broke the silence for them. “I wish to retire for the afternoon, if I might borrow Riva for several hours.”

Bastion bowed to Keara. “If Riva is willing to be borrowed, Lady Keara.”

Riva nodded. “I am willing.” The two girls walked back to the bower where Riva would attempt to take a nap in the safety of the feminine domain.

Kian walked close beside Bastion as they returned to the Palace by another route. “She isn’t getting better, is she?”

Bastion shook his head. “No, she isn’t. I swear, the only time she sleeps, it seems, is when Annie wakes me to take me to her, and even then she doesn’t sleep deeply. Between them, Captain Guenna and Lady Keara have made matters easier, but Riva seems to only relax when I am present, and that will cause whispers soon or late.”

Kian sighed. “We need to talk to Father. Maybe other arrangements can be made.”

— — —

The King, it turned out, was waiting for them, and he wasn’t alone. Kodran was with him and was holding a set of papers, rolled and sealed. Bastion felt his heart sink. Those could be nothing other than the betrothal documents Riva had said she had entrusted to the dwarf. Had her true fiancé been found?

King Ainmire spoke first. “I require your honesty, Captain Bastion. What happened to my niece to cause such fear in her that she cannot sleep without her Knight nearby? The ones we cast out did not do this to her.”

Bastion shook his head. “They did not. We reached her in time to prevent such harm.” He paused. “Though if they had accomplished such, I doubt that the presence of her Knight, who is also male, would enable her to succumb to sleep.”

Kodran sighed. “There is truth in your words, Bastion-lad, but there is also the matter of her health and safety. We have to know what happened.”

Kian put a hand on Bastion’s shoulder. “Please, anything you could tell us would help.”

The King met Bastion’s eyes. “Since coming to Castellan my niece has been under a great many watchful eyes. I cannot imagine that a trauma this deep occurred here. Captain Bastion, you she trusts. Has she told you anything? Is anything, any hint of this, in her letters to you?”

Bastion sighed. “I will not betray her secrets, Majesty. I promised her that her letters would be safe.” In any event, he wasn’t certain that there was anything in the letters to help them, other than hints of one who hunted the Travelers, one who worked with Doctor Revier, one who taught him the methods of torture he used in his Tower.

“I’m not asking for details, Captain, though I well understand your reluctance. Generalities alone will help.”

Bastion sighed again. “I will not reveal the confidences of her letters; however, my brother was her guardian since the death of her father. There was another before him since just after she entered the Imperial household. Neither he nor my brother would have allowed any trauma in the life of the Imperial Princess. She was even more closely guarded there than here. I do not know what could have happened before the age of five that would cause waking nightmares and terror so strong that she cannot sleep.”

Kian thought a moment. “Dramsol said something about her ending up in Revier’s tower, and Dalziel also spoke of the place.”

Bastion felt very weak. “Do not make me break my word to my Princess, please.”

“It’s okay, Captain. You won’t have to.” Everyone looked over at the new arrival, who happened to be Dramsol. “I can tell them.” He sighed. “The simple answer is that we are hunted, Majesty. The one who taught Revier his current cruelty seeks our lives, though in the case of my kinswoman you call Riva, he also seeks her torture because of who she is and where she comes from. He just wants to kill me, well, kill or turn, it amounts to the same thing.”

King Ainmire straightened and looked at Dramsol. “So, we meet at last. You are the Seer?”

Dramsol nodded. “Yes, Majesty, I am.”

Kodran chuckled softly, drawing attention to him. “It’s been quite a while, Riordan. I must say, I didn’t expect to see you here.”

Even Bastion looked stunned. “Lord Riordan?”

Dramsol shrugged. “Properly Riordan Dreamsail. Dramsol is the old form of the family name. Unfortunately, I can’t stay long. The one who hurt Riva so desperately is on my trail. Talk to her; get her to tell you the whole story. Be careful, though, she’ll try to leave things out to protect you. And some of those things are about as bad as it can get for a woman on her own. Worse for her because… well, because until recently she was Cursed. She won’t want to tell you about that, but I think you’ll need to know.”

Bastion blinked. “I shall keep that in mind.”

He paused for a bare moment. “Get her to tell you the truth about Lenne and Rina, and tell her that she’ll get Jana back, Dewberry too.” Dramsol’s face took on a frightened expression and he quickly nodded to Kian and to King Ainmire. “Ah Elar… I need to get going. I hate to just pop in and run, but I have no choice.”

The King nodded back. “Be safe and return when you are able.”

“Yes, Majesty.” Then Dramsol vanished in a flicker of lights.

After a moment the King turned to Kian. “If you would, please bring your cousin here from Keara’s bower. I mean to have some answers and I mean to have them soon. Matters are more complicated than simply her safety now.”

Kian nodded and then turned to leave.

Bastion looked at his King. “I will protect her. I have sworn it.”

“I know you have, Captain, and I have no doubt of your capability. My fear is that you have been shackled in that endeavor by a lack of formalities. That is why I have called her father here today to stand witness and to give his approval.”

Bastion thought for a moment that his heart stopped still in his chest at the words.

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