We are tired and dusty as we ride through Misthold’s main gate just after twilight, our prisoner still tied in one of the supply carts despite four more escape attempts. Gregor and the battalion will escort him to the city prison; he isn’t coming inside the castle, much less the keep. Since he has a broken arm thanks to his latest attempt, I am confident they will be able to keep him locked up.
So guards, priests, Alan, Taver and I ride on to the castle, straight past both curtain walls to the keep, where hordes of staff descent on us determined to make us clean, presentable, and well fed, all at once. I am tired, so tired, all I want to do is see my family and Thunder and go to sleep. But I find I still have the energy to snarl when the Steward tries to herd Alan away with the guards, who are going off duty. I take hold of his arm and pull him with me, Daver softly protesting all the way to the chamber where father and mother are talking to several knights. When we arrive, a few words from Mynar and the room empties of everyone else, even though it does take Jes physically dragging Daver out to the hall. Alan would have gone willingly, but I won’t let go of his arm.
I am glad Taver is the one reporting, I am having a hard enough time just staying awake. Taver only summarizes the important things since the last dispatch: sending the mercenaries off and Blythe’s acceptance of Conners as Governor. He finishes and looks at me to see if I have anything to add. I will definitely tell them about the drunken riot and the ghost mayor, but not tonight. Even as I am shaking my head, I realize there is one thing I need to warn my parents about.
“A rumor has gotten started that Alan has Stormborne blood.”
“Why would..” father starts to demand answers, but mother stops him with a soft whisper.
“All of which can wait until tomorrow. Adava, let go of Alan so he can go to bed.”
For some reason, Mynar decides he needs to walk me to my room as if I couldn’t find it by myself. Just before he delivers me to my ladies he hugs me and whispers in my ear, “You need to be more careful. I couldn’t face being King if I don’t have you to help me.” He turns and leaves before I can say anything, which is just as well because I don’t know what to say.
It is good to be home, sitting before the small fire in mother’s rooms with my family around me, wiggling my toes in my soft shoes. I may not wear boots again until winter, or at least fall. I have told them about the drunken riot and the ghost mayor; father is both amused and approving of how we handled both situations. I take a breath and look at mother.
“And,” I continue as if reporting more on our trip, “I am going to marry Alan.”
Mynar and Jes look completely unsurprised, mother is unsurprised, and father has to be pried off the ceiling.
“No, absolutely not. I will not have a sorcerer as a son-in-law.” Father continues in this vein for some time; I am impressed at how many ways he says ‘no’ without repeating himself.
“Now Nayan, you know Alan isn’t a sorcerer, he’s a mage.” Father has to quit shouting to hear what mother is saying, which gives him a moment to realized all of mother’s ladies are in earshot. Well, given his volume, so are the various guards out in the hallway.
“Going to marry him, already told him so.” I wonder if I sound smug—yeah, I sound smug.
“And where is he?”
“I sent him and Dryn out to look at the village smithy I promised Alan, to see if it is operable. Alan put off his experiments to accompany me to Blythe, so I decided he deserved some help in getting set up.”
“And you didn’t want him around while we are arguing.” Father doesn’t seem impressed by my forethought.
“It you mean she doesn’t want you scaring him off, then you are probably right.” Mother takes father’s hand. “She wants to marry Alan, and there is no reason she cannot marry Alan.”
Oh, mother is good. Totally true statement that will be totally mis-understood. Ladies and guards won’t talk, but their lack of concern when the betrothal is announced will be noticed, remarked upon, and spread throughout the realm.
Father stomps off to brood. Pretty much what he always does when logic points him in a direction he doesn’t want to go. He starts angry, then broods, then does what is necessary. And this time ‘necessary’ is making his daring daughter, who was given an immense burden at birth with no choice about it, happy. A fact I will remind him of, with suitable theatrics, if necessary.
Not long after father leaves, one of mother’s ladies starts making shooing motions just out of mother’s sight, and Mynar suddenly remembers a new book he wants to show me.
When we reach Mynar’s library, he and Jes sprawl in comfortable seats near one of the windows, so I join them. “What?” I ask, knowing I don’t need to specify, clearly there is no new book.
“Mother gets tired easily these days, hasn’t improved with the softer weather like she usually does.” Mynar stares angrily at his bookshelf, as if talking makes the situation more real.
“She has even stopped talking about visiting Kaskl,” Jes softly tells me, not soft enough Mynar can’t hear, but soft enough he can pretend not to hear.
I join Mynar in staring, in denial. I don’t want mother to go on a month long trip to Kaskl, but I even more don’t want her to admit she isn’t strong enough to go. I feel helpless.
I leave them there, Mynar brooding and Jes keeping him company so he won’t be brooding alone, and the Sword and I go to visit Thunder, because I can count on Thunder not to give me any more problems to worry about.
I take several apples; Thunder remembers me, but hasn’t forgiven me for going away, despite my having arranged for Webb to deliver apples for me while I was gone. But forgiven or not, he takes the apples and accepts ear scratching. We were gone just a little over two months, but Thunder is much larger. So I stand in sunlight for the Sword, scratch ears until Thunder has enough and starts running around the paddock, and refuse to think about people (mothers) getting older.
It is evening before Alan returns, dirty and scuffed looking but grinning. “Dryn says the forge is in excellent shape, and so are the houses and shops. People could move in tomorrow if they wanted to, just a little cleaning and some repairs.”
“Father maintains the nearest villages, just as he does the empty houses in the city,” I explain. “The three villages nearest Misthold consolidated into one after the plague. It has always been planned to repopulate all three, but so far only one of the empty villages has had any people move back in. Faming is much easier than fishing, and the village with your forge was a fishing village.”
“There were no boats?” Alan makes his statement a question.
“Boats were sent to existing fishing villages. There are never enough boats.”
We are interrupted by one of father’s guards summoning Alan. I start to go with him, forcing the guard to both explain that the King has said I am not wanted, and to almost die of embarrassment from having to tell me. So I stay, until they are out of sight.
“He is your King,” my Sword points out when I start to follow.
“I am his only beloved daughter,” I whisper back, “And besides, I’m only going to listen through the door” When I arrive, trailing my guards behind me, the door is already open a crack. When I put my eye to it I can see father is just staring at Alan.
“I didn’t invite you Adava.” He doesn’t even look at me, just keeps staring at Alan.
“I forgive you,” I tell him as I come all the way into the room. Father ignores me.
“Alan,” father starts in his royal mode. “I hereby appoint you to be the Royal Mage of the Court of Abalem.”
Well, I hadn’t expected that. And from the look on Alan’s face, he had expected it even less, if that’s possible.
I hold my breathe for a moment, wondering what he is going to answer, and am very relieved when Alan just bows slightly and says, “Thank you.”
“Well, that’s all then,” father stands to leave and end the audience, but I hug him first. There are some perks to being the only Princess.