28 April, 2011

Assorted Chaos and Sundries

Well, that was an interesting weekend.  Basically, it was madness, thus precluding any chance I had of being productive this week as we dealt with things.  So, my awesome resolution to religiously post every weekday has been dashed...*sigh*

I shall get back on schedule, undaunted and with new determination.  Perseverance is the key to success, no matter the industry or field.

Can you tell I've been reading old timey books?  I said 'shall' the other day in conversation and everyone looked at me like I had two heads.  It's such a fun word.  There are tons of cool words that we hardly use anymore, either because they have fallen out of fashion or become redundant.

Reckon, that's a good one.  Rather is another I like but I can never seen to find a place to use it that doesn't make me sound like a prig.  And I don't mean as in: "I'd rather eat broken glass than lima beans."  But: "Well, that was a rather interesting, movie, yes?"  It makes me sound like I'm trying to sound smart, which I am, but only serves to make me sound not smart.  Does that make sense?

I think I need a nap.

E. T.

25 April, 2011

Cousin of the Crown, Chapter Three

Here we are, at the third chapter of my first short story.  There is a bit more back story and then we resume the real time action.  As always, thank you for reading my work.  Please leave any comments or questions you may have.

Also, you can find the complete story under "Cousin of the Crown" at the top of the blog.

E. T.

Cousin of the Crown: Chapter three

Smitten was too strong of a word.  If anything, Prince Terran seemed mildly interested in Lahdel, but nothing out of the ordinary.  I attracted more attention from shopkeepers than he showed to his potential wife.

It pained Lahdel for a few weeks.  I told her to stop being foolish.  If, I reasoned, he professed undying love at once, would she believe it?

She thought a moment.  “No.” She said finally.  Men professed undying love to her every other day, nearly.

“Better you get to know him, form a true friendship, than have him falling all over himself because you smiled at him.”

Lahdel went pink.  She knew that I knew that she sometimes used her beauty to get men to do things she wanted.  I was no better.  My voice was deep and rich, at odds with my wide soprano range.  I knew just how to inflect make a man lean in to listen, his eyes for me alone.

Terran was friendly enough, though.  He took Lahdel and me both out on many excursions to let us get to know his subjects and his city.  When he could, he spent afternoons with us, talking with Lahdel about her home, about his life, books they liked, anything.

I listened absently, knowing she would ask my opinions later.  Her one flaw, I thought, was her need to be reassured in everything she did.  I tried not to indulge her, but she was so heartbroken about the prince, I had to comfort her.

He and I were often alone together.  We circled each other warily for a while, like two cats who met in a narrow street.  He was a nice man, but my first responsibility was to ensure my princess’s comfort and happiness.  His was to his throne.

“What is your favorite piece of music?” he asked one day as we tarried in a garden.  Lahdel was with his mother, the queen. The woman had Lahdel spend many hours with her, doing who knows what.  The woman wasn’t fond of me; I was too loud and boisterous for her tastes.  Lahdel’s quiet grace was more to her liking.

“That is an impossible question.” I told him flatly.


“How can I choose just one?”

“Give me a selection, then.” He said, leaning on a pillar.

I shrugged.  “I love anything by Khula.  The Morning Masses are breathtaking.  Rolin’s symphonies.”

He grunted.  “What’s your favorite character?”

“To sing?  Or watch?”

“Sing.” He said, his eyes on mine.  I would normally have found such a steady gaze a little unnerving and blush-inducing, but there was nothing in his look or tone showing he was flirting with me.  Prince Terran didn’t flirt with any woman.  Not even Lahdel.


He was surprised.  “Doesn’t she kill her husband and her lover and jump off a cliff?”

I laughed.  “Yes.  Doesn’t that sound grand?”

His eyebrows met over his nose.  “Not very.”

I made a face at him.  “Aren’t you boring.  I suppose your favorite is some sort of pedantic hero, who always does exactly as he’s told.”

Terran’s eyes narrowed, that hint of a smile on his mouth that proved he was really amused, not pretending.  “I wouldn’t say that.”

“Who is it, then?”

“You have to guess.”

“Unfair.” I declared.  “There’s no way I could possible know!”

He cocked his head.  “Why not?”

“I don’t even know you,” I protested.

“I think you know me well enough by now.” He said dismissively.  “You’ve been here, what, two months?”

I sneered.  “I think you would like Fairen.”

He laughed, his chuckles rolling around the garden.  “The king of the damned?”

I tossed my head, my hair loose and blowing crazily in the wind.  “He was never very nice to young maids, either.”

Terran snorted his amusement.  “No, he was not.”

We both turned as steps came toward us.  Gulin appeared, his eyes flicking between his brother braced against the pillar and me, sitting well away and looking scornful.  The younger man’s mouth relaxed, smiling.

“There you are, Lady Alea.” He said, coming to kiss my hand.  “I have been looking everywhere for you.”

“Why?” I asked warily.  Gulin did flirt with women, especially me.

“I have a proposition for you,” he said with a grin.

“What?” I stood, still wary.  He’d tried more than once to get me alone somewhere.

He held out his hand, waiting for me to take it.

“If your highness would excuse me,” I said, curtsying to Terran.

“Of course, Lady Alea.” He said graciously, nodding at us both.  “Have a…pleasant afternoon.”

I scowled at him.  Gulin’s stare was challenging.  Terran seemed oblivious and went away, whistling.

“Lady Alea, dance with me.”

I looked up to Prince Terran’s face.  “Of course, your highness.”

He took my hand and led me to the dance floor.  I stared ahead as we waited for the rest of the dancers to set themselves.  He was staring at me.

“Yes, your highness?” I asked, turning my head to look at him out of the corner of my eye.

“I am going to ask Lahdel to marry me.”

The opening flourish sounded.  He put his hand on my waist and we started the dance.

“When?” I asked.



He gave me an odd look.  “Why wouldn’t I?”

“I can think of several reasons, but tell me yours first.”

He gave me the smile that meant he thought I was being impertinent.  He had many different smiles, which he employed as the situation called for. 

“Alright” he said.  “I think she will make a good wife.  She has the training and experience to make a decent queen.  She understands the importance of the treaty we are creating.  And she’s nice.”

“Just nice.”

He shrugged, still smiling.  “Have you met some of my other options?”

I winced.  “Unfortunately, yes.”

I expected him to laugh.  He glared at me instead.  “What have they said to you?”

I met his eyes for a long moment, hard and angry.  “Nothing I’ve never heard before.” I admitted.

A scowl flashed across his face.  “Who?”

I shook my head.  “I don’t need you to fight my battles, your highness.”

“Who does then?  Gulin?”

I felt my cheeks flush and it made me furious.  Terran’s hand tightened on mine, his arm holding me in place; otherwise I would have jerked away.

He laughed softly, signaling his return to good humor.  “I know you’ve been instructed to try for him, my lady.”

I made a face.  “Not that he needs encouragement.”

Terran grinned.  “No, he doesn’t.”  His eyes strayed to where Gulin was standing with a woman, his head tilted down to hers.  “You don’t seem jealous.”

I rolled my eyes.  “Why should I be jealous?”

“Don’t you like Gulin?”

“Weren’t we talking about you and Lahdel?” I snapped waspishly.  He laughed again.  He was having too much fun at my expense tonight.

“True.  Will you prepare her for me?”

“Prepare her?”

Teran shrugged.  “She is…delicate.”  He grimaced at my expression.  “You know what I mean.”

He had me there.  I let out a long breath.  “I will speak with her.”

“Thank you,” he said, squeezing my hand again.  “Truly.”

We were silent the rest of the dance.  He staring at a point above my shoulder, I at his chin.

“Lady Alea?” He said as he handed me off to the man waiting for his turn to dance with me.

“Yes, your highness?”

He searched my face for a moment.  “I am glad you came here.  I am glad she has someone like you to help her.”

“Thank you.”  I watched him stride away into the crowd.



The sun was sinking when I could control myself again.  I leaned until my head rested on my pillow, drained, exhausted.  My voice was completely gone now.  I could feel the raw quality in my throat that meant I wouldn’t be singing for days, if not an entire week.

What had happened?  What had been different about that touch, that moment?

There was a knock at my door.


I closed my eyes.  It was Lahdel, coming to check on me.

“Alea, are you asleep?”

I stood and checked my face in my mirror.  My eyes were a little red, but there was nothing I could do.  I opened the door.

“Alea!” Lahdel exclaimed.  “Are you unwell?”

“Just tired.” I said, with a convincing yawn.  I was, soul-wrenchingly weary, as if I had lived a thousand years for every moment since then.  “Is your ankle better?”

“Yes,” she said, looking a little abashed.  “It is almost time for dinner.”

“Of course.  I’ll be down presently.”  She nodded, smiling again.  She was easy to please.  I shut the door and turned back to my mirror.

I rang for my maid.  She clucked over the state of my hair, never easily tamed.  Now, it straggled around my face, tangled.  I undressed and took a cool sponge bath, watching the water stream over my skin.

I was beginning to look as my mother had warned.  My arms, face and neck were darker than the skin of my body and legs.  If I wasn’t careful, I would be mistaken for a common laborer.

My maid’s hands were gentle as she brushed out my hair.  She dressed it quickly, tucking it up on my head in a simple knot, the only way it seemed to lie obediently.  Anything more elaborate and it rebelled, escaping in wisps, then long locks of dark brown.  She chose a simple white cotton gown, wonderfully light and cool in the hot afternoon.

“There,” she murmured, setting the jeweled pins that finished my hairstyle in place.  “As lovely as the princess.”

I disagreed.  But then I always disagreed and rightfully so.  The princess was the loveliest woman I knew or had ever known.

My flash of jealousy was so unexpected, so overwhelming, that I staggered going into the dining hall.  I caught myself against the door frame, the guards there watching me with blank faces.  I straightened and strode forward, curtsying to the king and queen before taking my place at Lahdel’s side.

“You are feeling better?” the queen asked as I sat.

“Much, thank you.  A touch of sun.”

“You do look pink,” she said, eying me.

My flush had nothing to do with the sun setting brilliantly behind the glass windows and everything to do with Terran’s cool gray eyes as he glanced to me and away.

“A little burned, perhaps,” I said, laughing.  I took a long drink.  I was thirsty and hungry, two things I never thought to feel again.  The world still felt numb, even if I could see how the guards sweated in the heat, the servants sending long wafts of air over the table.  “And hoarse!  Too many songs today.”

“We can never hear enough of your voice.”  The king said, lifting his glass to me.

I smiled my thanks and turned back to my cool dinner.

Lahdel and Terran were talking, as they usually were, just too low for anyone else to hear.  I had mastered my initial surge of raw rage, but it simmered now, deep within me.  Her voice was light and pleasing; it scraped across my skin, each small laugh and giggle piercing me.  It was the only thing I could hear, drowning out the small noises of the silver against the porcelain, the murmur of the other diners, the faintest sound of the servants in the kitchen getting the second course ready.

I clenched my silverware, the food in my stomach rising up, choking me.  I hated her.  I hated her laugh, her perfect smile, her smooth ivory skin-


“Yes?” I turned and smiled on Prince Gulin.

“We, Henry and I, are going into town this evening to watch the fireworks.  Would you care to join us?”

“What are the fireworks for?”

Gulin shrugged.  “Who cares?”

I laughed.  “No one’s birthday?  No distant aunt come to…grace us with her presence?”

Gulin winced.  “No.  Aunt Milalia is very far away on her estates.  Thankfully.  But you have to come!  There’s dancing and singing, plus the fireworks.”

I couldn’t help glancing over to Gulin’s brother.  Terran was looking across the table at his mother, but something in his attitude made me know he was listening.  Intently, desperately waiting for my answer.


I grinned at Gulin.  “Of course I’ll come!  I love fireworks.”

“Are you well enough?  I heard you took too much sun.”

“I can never have too much sun.”  I declared stoutly.  “Just ask my mother.  When are we leaving?”

“Right after dinner is finished.”  Gulin’s smile was warm and excited.  He leaned around me.  “Did you wish to join us, your highness?”

Lahdell shook her head with a pretty, rueful little smile.  “My ankle is not up to a long walk.  Thank you, though.”

Gulin grinned back, easily charmed, before turning to me again.  “Will you sing?”

“I cannot.” I said firmly.  “Can’t you hear?  My voice is completely gone.  I sound like a frog.”

Gulin scoffed my self-deprecation.  “You have the loveliest voice I have ever heard.  I could listen to you talk all day.” His eyes slid away from mine, the faintest blush on his face.  "Besides, if you can’t sing, I can keep you all to myself.”

We all jumped as something slammed into the table top, followed by the sharp crack of breaking glass.  Terran swore under his breath, looking at the blood dripping from his hand.

“Slipped right out of my hand,” he declared with snort.  “Ow.” He added as he pressed his napkin into the wound.

Lahdel was panting, her face turned away.  I steadied her as Terran stood and followed a servant out of the room.  She fanned her face, white, her lips bloodless.  I patted her hand briskly.  “Come, dear, don’t be so missish.  It can hardly be serious,” I assured her.  “Why, I say worse things when I bang my toes on my washbasin.”

Chuckles rolled up and down the table, easing a little of the surprised and alarmed atmosphere that had fallen over everyone.  I felt it at least.  I handed Lahdel off to Sirria and Cour.  Gulin was hovering anxiously.

“What?” I asked, laughing.

“You are still coming, right?” he said, sounding much too serious.  My stomach turned.

“Of course,” I said.  “Lahdel hardly needs me to rub lavender water into her temples.  She’ll be herself again in no time.”

“Half an hour?” he asked, turning to leave.

“I’ll be there.”

He grinned at me and strolled away, whistling.

I added a light cloak to my outfit.  The wind was steady off the lake and could turn quite cool despite the summer sun.  My maid let my hair down, knowing it would all fall out before the first dance was even over.  She pulled it back, tying it pertly with a ribbon.

“Try to come back with your dress intact,” she pleaded.  “It is just muslin, but still!”

I wrinkled my nose at her and left, my light steps belying how my heart lay listless and still inside my chest.  I hadn’t felt it beat since that afternoon, only throbbing dully, barely enough to keep me alive and moving.  If it stopped all together, I feared I would come to pieces, torn apart, scattered on the wind like chaff.

Gulin took my arm and led me down the wide steps to the main gate.

“No carriage?” I asked, looking around.

“I thought it would be fun to walk.” He said easily.

“You won’t think so at midnight when you’re half drunk and footsore,” I told him.

He laughed.  “I’m sure I can find us a way home.”

Henry, each arm around the waist of court beauty, joined us at the gate.

“You’re late.” He said, glaring pointedly at me.  I made a face at him and we stepped out into the city.

It was several hours until full dark, so we walked the streets, looking in the shop windows.  Gulin and I moved with the others in a little bubble of protection, their guards not glowering, but definitely warning everyone to keep their distance.

A crowd had gathered in a large square.  It overlooked the long sloping beach that lead to the lake, filled with fishing boats lying on their sides on the sand.  A barge had been floated a little ways out from shore, the fireworks ready to be primed and lit once it was dark enough.  A dance had already in full swing. 

“Dance with me!” Gulin insisted, grabbing my hand.  We whirled into the set, the others pausing in their spins to bow and curtsy.  A man with the calloused hands of a laborer claimed me next, grinning, showing gaped teeth.

“Let’s show that blue-blood how to really dance.” He drawled, winking.  I laughed and followed him back into the dancers.

Gulin was there in the brief pause as the musicians debated their next tune, the crowd all shouting their own opinions.  His grip on my hand was tight.

“Don’t be jealous!” I teased him.

“I’m not.” He snapped.  He shook himself, his smile a little forced, but better than the tight set his mouth had had.  “Besides,” he continued.  “How can I be jealous when you don’t show anyone any preference?  You’ll never be married at this rate.  You’ll be an old maid.”

I rolled my eyes.  “And who would you have me marry?  The exchequer?  He’s dour enough to tame me, don’t you think?  My spirit would be crushed within a fortnight of our marriage.”

Gulin’s hand tightened even more on mine.  “I know.” He was all he said, an odd response.  “Let’s go.”

We danced until the dusk finally deepened and the first crack of the fireworks drowned out the music.

I watched the colors flash across the sky, rockets making gleaming trails like shooting stars.  I followed one as it sped off toward the palace, the towers dark against the stars.

Its countless windows gleamed, flashing in time with the aerial display over the lake.  I could see the pennants flying from the towers whipping lazily in the wind, their scarlet cross on white hidden by the darkness.

“Alea?”  Guling touched my arm.

I blinked and dragged my attention back to the cacophony before me.

“Aren’t they beautiful!” I praised, clapping with everyone else.  I knew Gulin was still watching me.  I stared straight ahead, unseeing.  Which window hid him?  What was he doing now?  Sitting with Lahdel, smiling on her while his palm ached, pulsing in time with his heart?

A final deafening boom shook the city and we all clapped heartily.  Gulin steered me away from the crush.  Henry and his companions had disappeared long ago.

“Shall we walk back up?” He asked when we had moved away from the noise and could hear ourselves again.

“Please. I am tired,” I admitted.

He didn’t take my arm was we walked, for which I was grateful.  I liked Gulin much more than I should.

The palace grounds were hushed after the roar of the city.  We paced along the wide approach, the gravel under our feet crunching.

“Would you like to walk in the gardens?” Gulin asked, touching my arm to get my attention.

“No, thank you.” I said as lightly as I could.  “I really should get to bed.”

“Thank you for coming with me.” He said, that unbearable seriousness in his voice again.

“Anytime!” I said gaily.  “I love fireworks!”  I could see him smile, then he bowed and went into a garden alone, flanked by his guards

The door guards opened the small nightdoor for me.  It was cool inside, the heavy stone walls keeping out the lingering heat.  I yawned, rubbing my face.  I brushed my hair back; my ribbon had vanished even before the sun had gone down.

I put my hand on the banister of the grand stair.

“Lady Alea.”

The air solidified around me, holding me in place.  No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get my feet to move, my head to lift, even my lungs to breathe.

“Did you enjoy the fireworks?”

Time rushed forward, leaving me gasping.

“Yes, your highness.” I said, looking up to where he stood at the top of the stairs.  “They were beautiful.”

He only nodded.  I climbed up, again surprised that I wasn’t trembling, that I wasn’t a gasping, weeping mess in his presence.  He was coming down the stairs on the far side, his own hand sliding down the smooth stone banister there.

We didn’t look at each other as we passed halfway.  I didn’t want to look.  I stepped up onto the next floor, the tension in my face easing, my smile slipping.

“Good night, Lady Alea.”

I turned and nodded.  “And you, Prince Terran.”

I blinked at Lahdel’s door, not remembering the walk between the stair and here.  I went in, moving to the bed.  She was sleeping already, the hour very late.

Once in my own room, I slipped out of my clothing, leaving them in a heap on the floor.  I didn’t bother to wash, though I smelled of sulfur and ash.

My sheets were smooth and cool, my pillow soft.  I laid my head down and closed my eyes.

23 April, 2011

Books By Their Cover

So, I've been thinking a lot the past few days about titles to things, specifically titles for books and my books in particular.  Of course the adage, 'don't judge a book by its cover' comes to mind.

It is an oft repeated phrase, usually used to warn people against judging others unfairly and to give things a chance, be it a new haircut or your best friend's new boyfriend who looks like a total jerk/dweeb/moron.

I, however, have had reason to doubt this well-verse phrase.  I have judged a book by its cover.  It looked totally awesome.  The cover art was cool.  The bit on the back made the plot sound exciting.  The reviews had the appropriate number of stars/thumbs-up/etc, with some high action verbs and adjectives thrown in, such as "Riveting!" and "Intense!"

Thus swayed by these readers' opinions, I shelled out 9.95 and downloaded it to my reader device.  I planned to read it on a plane trip I was taking, a disgustingly early flight across the country.  One where I was super nervous about the interview waiting at the end and needed something to take my mind off how I couldn't sleep and felt queasy.

In short:  The book sucked.

It was really bad.  Like: holy crap, I'm going to skip a chapter or two and see if it gets better, oh no wait, it doesn't, I can't believe I just spent ten bucks plus tax for two hundred pages of this garbage, I'm deleting it now and would rather spend the next three hours reading the in-flight magazine cover to cover, sort of bad.


This book had a super cool title.  One I thought was wasted on such bad writing.  Well, I won't say that.  The writing was fine.  All the verbs were in the right spots and there were even some crafty prepositions sprinkled over the lot.

I know I like a certain style of writing and I am dubious of modern fiction in general.  Ironic, yes, as I write modern fiction, but I was willing to give this one a shot, just to see if I could stumble onto something new that I loved.  Not so much.

But, that title was so cool, I think I'm going to write a book for it.  I'm going to write a story fit for that title.  It deserves a complex and interesting plot to back up the awesomeness that was its cover.

I won't be using the same plot, of course, because that's illegal and it's cheating.  And I won't tell you what the title is, because someone did work hard on it and this is all my own personal opinion.  But I am going to redeem my favorite part of this book, the cover, by making its insides worthy of its outsides.

I might even write a few fake reviews with little clip art stars underneath to reinforce how terrific it is.  I don't think I'll even let anyone else read it, let alone publish it.  It will be just for my satisfaction.

Now I'm the dweeb.

E. T.

22 April, 2011


So, today I sat down with one of my beta readers and really hashed through my first novel, cutting out big chunks, making decisions about plot and timing.

It was really hard, but I was strangely relieved when we got done this afternoon.  Even though some of my favorite bits were chopped up and some flaws brought out into the light, I think the finished project is going to really be pretty awesome.  If I say so myself...

The other day I was preparing for this session of sending my manuscript through the shredder, so I read my novel again.  I think I've read it fifty times since I finished it a couple months ago.  Someone commented on it the other day, that I seemed to read it every couple days.

I like reading my own work.  Mostly because it's mine and I'm proud of it.  And also, by reading it, I learn the bits that aren't so great and can tumble the dialogue around my head, weigh adjectives and contemplate timing.

So my advice, if any of you are writing anything, read it.  A lot.  Know the plot details and the reasons for everything.  It's a little daunting, but it also really helps.

E. T.

20 April, 2011

Writer's Block gets its butt kicked.


I repeat: hah!

I've been wallowing around with my the novel I am working on.  I couldn't get the plot adjusted just right.  The characters were not fleshing out like I wanted and they kept doing stupid things that didn't make any sense.  Then they wouldn't listen when I tried to make them follow the outline I wanted, instead developing pointless side characters who had no real purpose.

But today!  Today I sat down and glared at my protagonists through the computer screen.  They whimpered in terror and promised to obey from now on.  I even thought up some titles, a task I hate.  They're even good.  So, hah! Take that!

In other words, no big post today.  I was busy creating breath-taking panoramas, intense, sophisticated action and witty dialogue.  There might even have been an explosion or two.  It was very exciting.

E. T.

19 April, 2011

Word of the Week

Today I used a word that I rather like, but it doesn't seem to work in many situations.


From wiktionary.org: Lacking energy, spirit, liveliness or vitality; languid, lackadasical.

It's one of those words that I like the sound of, too.  Languoooorous.  It sounds just like it means, doesn't it?  Like someone is just lying around doing nothing.

I think it's the 'L.'  So many words that start with 'L' are related to languorous.  Lazy, lay, lullaby, languid, luxury, loll, lounge.  In my part of the world, at least, an 'L' at the beginning of a word is a long, guttural sound.

The excellent definition at wikitionary aside, languorous, to me, carries with it a connotation of arrogance.  When someone 'lounges languorously,'  my mental image always gives them a  cocky smirk, like they're being lazy just to spite what ever other character is in the scene.

Indolent, that's how I would describe languorous.  Indolent, conceited, smug.  Can you use adjectives to describe an adjective?  That's like saying azure is just like cobalt.


17 April, 2011

Cousin of the Crown, Chapter Two

This is the second chapter in my first short story. It skips back in time, giving a little history before we pick back up with the action/drama. Enjoy!

E. T.

Cousin of the Crown
By Elisabeth Treble
Chapter Two

My mother was the queen’s sister, though it was odd to think of the statuesque monarch as my aunt.  She was her majesty, the queen, not Auntie Philippa.  And even with our close relation, my mother stayed on my father’s estates for most of my childhood, so I didn’t see much if my royal relatives in any case.
Queen Philippa and the King had several children, boys mostly, whom I did not care about.  But when their daughter reached the age when she no longer needed a nursemaid, when the princess reached adolescence, it was decided that I would be a good companion for her.  I was a few years older and considered ‘royal’ enough to be worthy of such a position.
I was aware of the honor being bestowed upon me, even at thirteen.  The Princess Lahdel had other girl cousin’s, many of whom would have been happy to take my place.  But not only was my mother the queen’s sister, my father was the king’s most successful commander and one of his greatest political allies.  Such a combination was perfect in a companion, loyalty through both blood and service.
I did not want to leave my father’s house.  It was quiet and cool, full of my own family, my own brothers and sisters and cousins.
“Don’t cry, dear heart,” my mother said gently as I sobbed over the Letter of Summons.  “You will be happy.”
“I don’t want to go!” I wailed, hiccupping.
“It is your duty, my dear one.”
My father squeezed my shoulders.  “And if you don’t go, your uncle, the king, will select Parnissa instead.”
I lifted my head, horrified.  I hated my cousin Parnissa and she hated me.  My parents laughed at my outrage.
“I will go,” I declared, sniffing mightily and wiping my eyes.  I would not let Parnissa beat me at anything.  Especially not this.
As we prepared for my journey and removal to the capital, the thought of living in the palace, of being nearly a princess myself, was enough to squash my homesickness and make the idea tolerable.
I saw both my parents often, in any case.  My aunt and uncle were fighting with several of our neighbors, kingdoms nearly identical in wealth and power.  Nothing pitched; no citizen-raising battles in open fields or triumphant charges of cavalry.  But the constant harrying attacks, stolen ships and trade, and kidnapped nobles were just as draining and demoralizing, if not more.  The countryside simmered with discontent, but no one would risk all out war for a few reckless noblemen.
In the palace, I was shielded from much of the unrest, as was Lahdel.  Though we sat in with the ministers as they discussed treaties that went nowhere, what aid to send to which pirated towns, what soldiers which cities needed, it seemed very distant to us.  Our countrymen had been fighting these wars for a generation; it was less important than our day-to-day personal lives.  But we paid attention and answered our tutors dutifully when questioned on it.
I was always better at schooling than Lahdel.  She never had much head for figures or remembering treaty dates or important heads of state.  But by comparing notes when the tutor’s back was turned, we both did very well.
I had an unfair advantage, as not only was my father a general of some renown, but his estates were on the border itself, on the edge of the great inland sea, a fresh water lake it took days to sail across.  We were always fighting off freelance pirates, the occasional incursion of foreign mercenaries.
The lake itself belonged to no one, but our navy was not as advanced as our uncomfortable neighbors’ and it took much effort to protect our shipping and fishing interests.  And it was the fastest way to travel, the land routes mountainous and rough.  The king and Queen refused to be cut off from our trade.
Once I was settled, life in the palace was easy and sumptuous.  In my estimation, the best part was the opera.  I had always loved to sing.  I would go out into the gardens and listen to my voice echo back from the stone walls, pretending I was singing for hundreds, thousands of rapt listeners.
In the city there were several very lovely opera houses, with full companies and orchestras.  You could go see a handful of different productions a week.  It was only a matter of time until I advanced in my music lessons and started studying in earnest.
Lahdel could never understand how I could stand in front of the entire court and sing or dance nor do anything.  She hated public speaking, which I thought was not the best trait in a princess.  But her mother never spoke to her people either; the king doing most of the talking in council.  I supposed Lahdel just needed a garrolous prince to take care of her.
The day I stood center stage on the smooth boards of the Royal Opera House was the proudest of my life.  The thundering applause made my blood light up as I panted.  The man I had been singing my aria to stood and took my hand, leading me to the edge of the stage to take my bows.
I never forgot that day.  After the opera had come to its overly dramatic finish (I got to die, choking on poison, singing my heart out in my ‘lover’s’ arms), I rushed back stage to be swept into my parent’s embrace.
“My little songbird!” my mother cried, squeezing me breathless.  My father had tears in his eyes, more acclaim than I could ever hope for.
I went back out to bow again, taking the flowers gathered from the stage.  I was high on that success for a fortnight.
It showed Lahdel’s genuinely sweet nature that she was neither jealous nor dismissive of my talents.  I could sing and hail men’s souls from their bodies and she could not.  I think even the idea of being able to reduce someone to tears alarmed her.  She liked people to be happy.
We hardly fought, even though we had become more like sisters than a princess and her companion.  Again, Lahdel was so sweet and earnest, that even my more violent and passionate nature couldn’t be angry at her for long.
It was luck she did not grow up naive or selfish.  If we had been at peace, I think she would have been in real danger of being a moron.  But between me teasing her until she accompanied me on my pranks and her forced involvement in international politics, she learned to be wary of the world and look about with more than a interest in pleasing herself.
Not that she did not get anything she wanted.  She was a beauty, even as a child.  It was a point of contention between us until I grew confidant in my abilities as a musician.  She had hair light gold in color and the deepest blue eyes you could possibly imagine.  She would smile and the whole world felt brighter, more alive.  You wanted to love her and everyone did.  A fitting woman to be a queen one day.
I, on the other hand, once I stopped be gangly and awkward, was brown haired and skinned, as I never wore a proper hat.  I was taller than her and curvy where she was willowy.  I was told quite often that I was pretty, usually by a handsome young courtier behind a rose bush, but I was no ‘beauty.’  I didn’t mind; I could hold a man enthralled in a way Lahdel never could.  I could sing and make him believe it was for him alone.
If our dispositions had been less good, we both could have gotten into much more trouble than our silly palace pranks.  There were no scandals surrounding us, though looking back I’m sure several conniving young nobles would have been very happy to oblige.

One early spring day, we were going about our lives with very little thought but for what the next few months would bring.  I had a new role to memorize and was practicing my dialogue in the gardens.  Lahdel was sitting by me reading, making comments when I forgot a word or she didn’t like my delivery.
A servant came rushing out, interrupting my declaration of love to a blushing gardener.
“Your highness, Lady Alea,” the man said.  “Your presence is requested in the council room.”
I picked myself up out of the gardener’s lap and brushed down my skirts.  “Why?”
The servant wouldn’t say, so we followed, whispering about what it might be.
The king and queen stood in the council room, speaking in low voices.  The ministers and noblemen were standing about, looking awkward.  They turned as one and watched us as we crossed to Lahdel’s royal parents and bowed.
“Your majesties,” we said in unison, Lahdel’s voice light and soft, mine rolling and rich, deeper.
“Lahdel, come sit.”
The princess went to her father and sank to a chair.  I glanced around, taking in who was present.  Despite the different factions the noblemen formed, usually disagreeing on everything, today they all stood expressionless, staring at Lahdel.  And a man by the fireplace.
I blinked, completely taken aback.
He wore the royal colors of Reuss, the red cross over his chest on a field of white.  He was dirty and travel worn, but standing with pride, his chin well up as we peered at him.  I looked and the king held a thick roll of paper in his hand.
“Daughter,” he said slowly.  My stomach clenched suddenly, unusual and unexpected fear at his tone.  “Daughter,” he continued.  “We have had word from Reuss.”
“Yes,” Lahdel said evenly, passing a cool gaze over the stranger.
“It concerns you, my dear.”
I gasped.  I couldn’t help it.  Lahdel didn’t see what the king was driving at.
He took a deep breath and went on.  “We have been talking of a truce for some months.  An alliance.”
“Yes.  You have had word?”
The king nodded.  “And an offer.”
Here her eyes widened.  “What kind of offer?” she asked, finally suspicious.
“Reuss has three sons,” the king said slowly.  “He is offering his eldest, the crown prince, in marriage.  To you.”
Lahdel’s perfect face didn’t flicker.  “What would you have me do?”
The king sat next to her.  “My dear, it would cement our treaty.”
“And it is a sign of goodwill.  You would be queen there, your brother king here.  It would mean peace, safety for your people.”
Lahdel nodded slowly.  She swept a glance over the gathered nobles.  “I will do as my country needs, your majesty.” 


So that was how I found myself in a carriage on my way to X.
As the princess’s companion, I was of course included.  She had an army of women serving her now, but I was her closest and most trusted.  My father was a general and a powerful noble, my mother sister to the queen.  I was a goodwill offering, as well as Lahdel.
I was told many times that Reuss had three sons, each very nice and handsome, so they said.  With the princess and the eldest, a man Terran, our countries would be at peace.  If I should happen to find one of her other sons agreeable…
Here I would usually roll my eyes and say, “I know, I know!”
Then they would say, “You’re twenty-three, Lady Alea.  It is high time you thought about marriage.”
They didn’t like it when I snapped back, “I have been married many times.  You were there weren’t you, when I sang Fildella?”
“This is serious, Alea!”
I would laugh and flounce away.

Lahdel was terrified.
She held my hand the entire first day, her palm clammy.
“What if he’s mean?” she asked me.  I patted her fingers.
“He won’t be.  Aren’t princes supposed to be charming?”
She made a face.  Her youngest brother could hardly be called ‘charming.’  “But what if he’s mean and cruel?”
“Then you won’t marry him.” I said stoutly.  “You haven’t signed anything or promised.  We are going to meet him and his brothers.  If you like their Prince Terran, you will make a decision then.”
“I am glad you’re with me.” Lahdel said.
I made a face this time.  “I am in the same boat you are, Lahdel.”
“That horrid woman, the one married to the Secretary of the Treasury?  She kept slinking up and dropping hints that I should try to capture Gulin or Henry.  That is was my duty to stay by you, should you marry Terran.”
Lahdel’s eyes were round.  “Will you?”
“What?  Marry Gulin?”
“No.  Stay with me.”
I checked my flippant response as her eyes filled with tears.  I sighed.  “I will stay, for a time.”  I promised.  “If you do marry this prince, then I will stay until you are settled.”
“Thank you.” Lahdel said, hugging me close.  “I will not be nearly so afraid with you there.”
“I am rather alarming,” I remarked dryly.
She elbowed me and was in a better mood for the rest of the trip.

  The room was quiet with an expectant hush as we entered.  The kind like everyone was holding their breath.  I loved it; it made my skin tingle with anticipation.  Lahdel trembled next to me, before straightening her spine and gliding forward.
“Princess Lahdel.  The Lady Alea.”  The Major Domo called out.  We walked up the long hall, looking neither left nor right, me a step behind the princess.
The king rose graciously and stepped down to meet us.
“Your highness,” he said as we curtsied.  “Lady Alea.”
I nodded once more to recognize his condescension and straightened.
“My son, Prince Terran.”
A second man stepped down.  I examined him closely.  He was handsome, but not beautiful.  Strong, average height.  He had dark brown hair like mine and eyes that were steady and nice blue-ish gray.  A good king, I realized suddenly.  He would be a good king, straightforward and dutiful.  And I had to give him credit; he was one of the few men I had ever met that did not gape at Lahdel when he first saw her.
“Princess.” He said quietly, his voice deep.
“Your highness,” Lahdel said.  “I am pleased to meet you.”
“And I you.”  He said simply.  “My brothers.”  He waved a hand and two more stepped forward, each so like the first that I knew I would have trouble telling them apart.
Their eyes did widen as Lahdel smiled on them.  I nearly rolled my eyes, but Terran was looking at me now and I couldn’t.  He studied me a moment and I studied him back.  He took Lahdel’s hand and led her to a chair, just below and to the side of the thrones on the dais.
“Lady Alea.”  One of the brothers led me to sit next to Lahdel.
There was a great rustling sigh as the room relaxed.  I didn’t know what they thought would happen.  Did they think Lahdel or I would fly at the king or prince?
Long and tedious speeches followed as ambassadors from each country went on and on about how great this whole thing was.  Lahdel was fidgeting.  I had the restraint of a statue and kept my face as smooth as possible, though every now and then my mouth would twitch involuntarily.
Finally they sat and the food was served.  I heard the brother next to me sigh.
“Praise be that’s done with.” He muttered.  I smiled, turning my head to look at him.  He saw and looked back.  He smiled as well.
“Lady Alea, is it?”
“Yes.  Which brother are you?”
“Hhmmm,” I mused.  “I have been told I should try to marry you.”
He choked on his drink.  “What?” he strangled out when he had caught his breath.
“I am Lahdel’s cousin.” I explained coolly, though I knew my eyes must be giving my amusement away.  “And I have been told repeatedly what a good idea it would be for me to marry either you or Henry.”  I looked over to where the third brother sat, his eyes intent on the woman next to him.  I made a face.  “He looks like a drunk.  Are you a drunk?”
Gulin stared at me, then threw back his head and roared with laughter.  Conversation faltered on all sides as the nobles watched him gasp for breath.
“No,” he said finally, grinning at me.  “I am not.”
“Good.” I said.  “Then I have something to work with.”  I winked at Lahdel and she gave me a fleeting smile.  Terran was talking with her, but she looked too scared to make any sort of response.
“Tell me about your family,” Gulin said.  “You are the daughter of General Full, aren’t you?”
“And your mother is your queen’s sister?”
He watched me eat for a moment.  “Well, if you’re to be my bride, I would know what your good qualities are.”
“My good qualities?” I asked, raising an eyebrow.  “I would think you would want to know my bad traits first, so you know what you’re getting into.”
He grinned.  “It’ll be more fun to explore those…later, don’t you think?”
I blushed.  I couldn’t help it.  “Prince Gulin, you are flirting with me.”
“Yes.” He said promptly.  “Do you like it?”
I rolled my eyes.  “In response to your first question, I have been told I have no good qualities, that I am wicked and loud and rebellious.”
“Wicked is promising.”
“And I am loud and rebellious.  I work hard at it.”
“A good thing you are for me then and not Terran.” He said.
“Terran is very dour and serious; he would not like a wife like you.”
Terran must have heard, because he looked up at Gulin, then to me, then back to Lahdel.  I thought I saw a smile cross his lips before he set them firmly straight again.  My hope for Lahdel’s happiness took a surge upward.
“What do you do that is so rebellious?” Gulin asked, his tone carefully casual.
“I sing opera.”
That was not what he expected.  He winced.  “Oh.  How nice.”
I smiled, every bit as wicked as I claimed to be.  “Do any of your noblemen’s daughters sing?”
“Yes,” he admitted.  He winced again and I looked to where his eyes flicked.  A few sharp faced women sat down the table.  I sized them up; they looked shrieky to me.
“I do so love to sing,” I gushed, clapping my hands together.  I stared at him, just a hair short of a pointed glare.
He looked pained, but did his duty.  “I should like to hear you, lady.  Perhaps after dinner?”
“As it pleases your highness,” I said, looking up at him through my lashes.
“Now you’re flirting with me.” He accused severely.
I smiled and turned to my other dinner partner.

True to his promise, Prince Gulin stood when dinner had been cleared away and said, “I have asked the Lady Alea to sing.”
They all politely murmured to each other, some looking bored, others pained. A few looked sharply at me, frowning.
Lahdel was giving me a suspicious look.  I smiled and she laughed suddenly.
“Your highness?” Terran asked, seeing our little exchange.
“Nothing, prince Terran,” she assured him, her lips curved up.  “Only my cousin does so love a captive audience.”
He glanced up to me, looking rather alarmed.  I stared back and he winced, just like his brother had.  “I am looking forward to it.”
After a quick conversation with the Court Musicians, I strode to the center of the room and set myself.  The music was soft, gentle.  I saw several men roll their eyes.  I had chosen an aria from an opera very popular among the younger noblewomen for its absolutely horrid sappiness and unrealistic romance.  I hated the opera itself, but I loved singing it.
I drew in a breath and began.
The dead silence in the room thrilled me to my toes.  Even the few children allowed to attend were watching me with wide eyes.  Servers paused with full trays, gawking.  Captive audience indeed.
I grinned at Lahdel in the breathless pause after I had finished.  I curtsied prettily for the applause and went to my chair.
Gulin was gaping at me as he had at Lahdel.  “Merciful Heavens!” He exclaimed.
“Really?” I asked, seating myself.  Terran and Henry were staring at me as well.  “Why?”
Gulin shook himself.  “That was amazing.” He took my hand and kissed it gallantly.  “Terran can’t have you now.”
I only laughed and turned to talk determinedly with Lahdel.

I was leaving the hall with my princess when a hand stopped me.
“May I have a word?”
It was Terran, looking very serious.  Lahdel curtsied and went on alone, though I could see her flush.  I carefully put some space between me and the prince.  No matter my first impression, I had dealt with enough royalty in my life to know they tended to think overly highly of themselves.
Terran didn’t say anything at first.  Then, “You are close to your princess, yes?”
“I am.” I said simply.  “We were raised together, from adolescence.”
He nodded thoughtfully.  “Then what is your opinion of her?”
I stared at him.  “Sorry?”
“What is she like?”  Terran looked a little sheepish, but not nearly enough to satisfy me.  “All I had been told was that she was beautiful.  She is, do not misunderstand me, but…”
“She is not stupid, if that is what you’re asking.” I snapped, not caring whose son he was.
He shrugged.  “I am asking.  I am going to be king.  I need a woman who will be a queen for me.”
I sniffed.  “Lahdel will be a very good queen.”
“Is that your opinion or your friendship talking?”
I glared at him.  “Both.  Lahdel is the sweetest woman I have ever met.  That she is friends with me should give you some estimation of her character.”
Terran smiled then.  He had a nice smile.  “Well spoken.  I’ve never seen Gulin so flustered by a woman.”
I blushed.  His smile widened and I had to bit my tongue to keep it in my mouth.
“I like you, Lady Alea,” he said suddenly, still smiling at me.
“I am happy for you.” I said scathingly.
“What is she like?” he asked again, softer.
I took a calming breath.  “She is gentle and sweet, forgiving.  She is a true friend, though sometimes I am exasperated with her.”
I shrugged.  “We are like sisters.”
He nodded thoughtfully.  “Siblings are like that, aren’t they?”
I had to smile.  I wondered what Henry got up to that annoyed his eldest brother.
“You have a very lovely voice,” he told me.
“Thank you, your highness.”
“I should like to hear you sing often.”
“I am sure you will.”
He smiled once more and bowed.  “Good night, Lady Alea.”
“Prince Terran.”  I gave him a cool dip of my head and swept away.