“We can’t put it off any longer, Keladry.” Baron Piers of Mindelan said quietly, watching his youngest daughter as she stared out of the window, her hazel eyes far away. He cleared his throat gently and she jumped slightly, startled, before smiling ruefully.
“I’m sorry, Papa. I hear you. I was just thinking.” She turned away from the window, restless energy giving in to the need to pace. “I’m finally a knight! I should be riding for the border right now, not running away back to the Yamani Islands.”
“You’re not running away, Kel.” Piers scolded gently. “Your mother and I warned you of this possibility after Princess Chiskokimi died in that earth-quake, poor child. She had completed the Progress, the people of Tortall had accepted her, and she had only returned home briefly to receive her father the Emperor’s final blessings. His Imperial Majesty had agreed to the terms of the treaty. It was with his blessing that you were allowed to complete your training at all. Now it is time to fulfill your side of the bargain and duty.”
His heart broke as two tears rolled down her face before she took a deep breath, briskly wiping them away and stilling herself into calmness. “Very well, Papa. May I have time to finish a letter to Neal and to Prince Roald? Neal is my closest friend, and the Prince, well–they both deserve to learn the truth from me. I owe them that much.”
By the time you receive this letter, I will be gone, on my way back to the Islands. You know that my parents have been critical in negotiating the marriage treaty between the Yamanis and Tortall. After the bad luck of the death of the Imperial Princess, the Emperor has not been willing to offer another of his daughters. So, my parents suggested a compromise.
After my mother saved the Swords of the Gods, my family was adopted into the Imperial household, making me, by association, a low ranking princess. A very low ranking one, to be sure, but in the eyes of the Emperor, still of royal blood–and thus of high enough status to be betrothed to Prince Roald.
Don’t you see, Neal? It’s the perfect arrangement. I belong to both worlds, can abide by both sets of customs, laws, and obligations, yet by definition and society dictations, I fit into neither. Sayuko is laughing hysterically right now.
The Emperor has decreed, and I must obey. I am on my way for my formal coronation and blessing, and then I will return to Corus for my official coming-out. My parents fought long and hard for me to complete my training as a knight. Warrior women are honored in Yaman, as they are not here in Tortall. Still, I fulfilled part of my dream, and am still serving my country in the most ancient and traditional of ways.
I will see you again Neal. Take care, and eat your vegetables.
Finished, she folded the note and sealed it before pulling out a fresh sheet of parchment. This would be the hardest of the two to write–how was she to explain to the man who had become her friend and would be her future king that their fates were now hopelessly entwined?
Prince Roald was at his desk, going over some last minute correspondence, when he saw the envelope. It was sitting on the corner of his desk, held down by a little glass figurine of a horse with flattened ears and bared teeth. Frowning, he picked it up and studied it. He had given it to Kel as a Midwinter gift, during her first year as a page. So why had she returned it?
Setting it gently down, he turned his attention to the envelope, and the letter it contained. The fine Yamani parchment was a pleasing contrast to the bold, no-nonsense, neat handwriting that adorned it. A bundle of contrasts–much like the woman who had sent it, Roald mused absently. Curiosity high, he began to read.
I don’t know how much you have been told, but I still felt you should hear the news from me first, if possible.
You know that my parents have been instrumental in negotiating a peace treaty between Yaman and Tortall, contingent upon the marriage of you to an Imperial Princess. After Chisko died, the Emperor was understandably wary about sending another of his daughters to a foreign land.
In desperation, my parents offered a compromise: Me. As the daughter of the woman who saved the Swords of the Gods, I am considered the equivalent of a (very) low-ranking Princess, and thus was deemed suitable to be given for this honor.
I am by birth Tortallan, but by nature Yaman, a noble lady and a lady knight. I am from both worlds, but belong to neither.
Roald, this is as much a shock to me as it is to you. My father had mentioned the possibility, but I never truly believed in the reality.
I am, as you read this, on my way back to the Islands to be officially inaugurated and blessed and acknowledged by His Imperial Majesty. When next we meet, it will be on a different type of battlefield. I’m depending on you to help me traverse it. (Lord Raul never included this in his lessons!)
I know that this is not what you had pictured for your marriage, and for that I am sorry. We are lucky in that at least we know each other, and are friends, I hope. The rest, we leave to the Gods.