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[left [pic https://i.pinimg.com/236x/45/7d/55/457d554b9defd00fca295fa0168595d1.jpg]] Patiently Yunaesa listened to the answer. Patience and no small amount of anxiety. A man barely known to either of them, this Prince Lucien Avbruma. Yet in a short while Yunaesa would find herself bound to him as his wife. Strong, proud, of this she knew or could guess herself.
The polite, vague attributes that could be applied to almost any noble man that Yunaesa could think of where no help. Those were the sorts of things she had been told before. None of Marissa’s initial attempts eased the slight frown creasing the princess’s brow. Yes, the prince was a fine gentleman, and eligible bachelor. His virtues had been sung to her for weeks now. He was a good match for her, or more accurately his kingdom was a good match for Salum according to her father.
Not that he consulted her, but things had reached her ears back home regardless of whether they were meant to. Musings on Bruma using Salum’s crescent island as a foothold to expand control of the seas. That the combined empire could attack Bruma’s rival Petra from every side, and then no one could challenge the grand empire they would build. It was the grand plan. What did her feelings matter with an empire to build? Well, they mattered to her.
That last bit, rattled off without much thought, finally brought a little smile to Yunaesa’s face. Then that smile grew to a short laugh which she tried to stifle behind her hand. Delicate golden bangles adorned with many colored semi-precious and precious gems glittered on her wrist in the light from the hearth. That moment of horror for the appointed attendant was one of relief for the princess. “Indeed? My apologies. I do appreciate your candor, Marissa.”
Yunaesa gripped the edge of the blanket to keep it over her shoulders. She was still dressed in the fine, lightweight fabrics of her home. They flowed beautifully when she walked, and served very well in the desert heat. They were not very practical in the frigid area she was in, but nostalgia had her reluctant to abandon the airy silks for heavier materials worn by people here. It left her cold, but people stared at her, mutterings about her exotic beauty followed where she had gone that day. “I would be relieved if it were only nerves. I do wonder though. Are there… perhaps…” The princess tilted her head slightly, cream colored hair slid from her shoulders while she considered how to phrase her next question. Finally she continued, her words even softer than before, though she didn’t really want any of their conversation overheard,”Allow me to be direct. Are there other women?”
A concern at the forefront of her mind, since her father had taken so many lovers. So many brothers and sisters, none with the same mother as her. It caused so much strife at home. Would she find herself in the same position her own mother had been in? Protecting her child or children from her husband’s mistresses.
[left [pic https://i.pinimg.com/236x/24/ef/3e/24ef3ed3e1cb9023ae6bfa9c471e4139.jpg]] “Naturally. I also took the liberty of ensuring a quick exit once we’re finished.” The last thing they wanted was to be caught in the castle when they shouldn’t even be in Bruma at all. Quite the scandal, but not the scandal they were planning to cause.
No, they needed up to the princess and out of the castle without being seen. Aimar had done his job well. A gate that he learned was left open for the increased deliveries of food in preparation for the wedding was their point of entry. A scullery maid had mentioned it being left unlocked, and so it was. He’d spent much of his day among the servants, charming bits of information out of them in the guise of someone excited for the upcoming wedding. It was the servant’s passages that Aimar used to get them in and upstairs. Rather than the grand stairs guests used, and as royalty Láncelot would have customarily taken, the two crept up the much narrower stairs just off the kitchen. In the morning the cramped staircase would be busy, crowded with servants attending to the royalty and nobility housed above. Tonight the two crept up unobstructed to the third floor where Láncelot’s princess was being kept.
The danger was palpable in the silence while they moved. Instead of teasing his prince, Aimar’s jaw was set. He was alert, a bowstring pulled taut. He motioned for Láncelot to stay when he heard the creak of armor from the hallway around the corner. Guards, which meant they were likely enough in the right area. The maid had spoken true. Aimar pulled out a little mirror that fit easily in his palm and used it to get a look around the corner. “Only two, highness. Not a grand welcome, where are their manners?”
Two would be easy enough. It would be best to avoid bloodshed, Aimar knew Láncelot was not in favor of unnecessary deaths. He was a peaceful, cheerful soul, and that was something Aimar vowed to protect. Not that he’d said anything directly, but he’d told himself if there was dirty work to be done, the prince’s hands should stay clean of it. His conscience should remain clear. The redhead pulled a pair of long, thin knives from his bag and unsheathed them, dropping the leather scabbards back into the bag and shifting it back to his back. He held one carefully with the pommel pointed at Láncelot,”Mind the blade. One nick and you’ll sleep for some hours. Quite potent, but it shall leave our friends none the worse, save perhaps a headache and a scolding.”
It might be bad enough to go after the princess like this, but if they came in slaughtering guards it would make tensions [i far] worse between the kingdoms. And the whole point was to avoid starting yet another skirmish with Bruma. They just needed to surprise the guards and take them down as quietly as possible.
Aimar had a plan for that too,”You take the one that comes looking, I’ll rush the farther one.” A little stone, pocketed earlier when they had slipped through the gate, would be the tool. He pulled it out, and after feeling the angles of the rock through leather gloves he gave an underhanded toss to a decorative vase on a table opposite and not far away. The vase and colorful bouquet would be an acceptable sacrifice, he figured. The vase tipped over, spilled water, rolled, and miraculously stopped right at the edge of the table. Aimar held his breath, hoping the clatter without the crash would be enough to draw their attention.
Something petty, rarely publicly directed towards nobles let alone their royal counterparts would come to be as Marissa's eyes set cold with minor annoyance at the Princesses of Salum's displeasure in the snack she had prepared. Such behavior would have her chastised, even by her own tongue could she have noticed with her mind wandering elsewhere. [i Elves,] she could almost hear her father's voice in her head - an obnoxious garble of chauvinism and bigotry. [i So picky. All they want to do is talk.] Of course that never stopped him from gawking at the foreign and quite beautiful ladies of their kind, nor did it stop him from propositioning them should he have enough drink in his belly or lust in his loins. [i But of course, it's all done for the gold. Everyone needs to eat, and we just happen to have enough and more to spread.] It's terribly hard for a child not to pick up their parents intolerance, but all it left Marissa was an indifference more than likely gifted to her from her mother who also agreed that enough coin could make anything [i spread,] even kingdoms.
Marissa would hurry to comply, already mussing up her first task so she wasn't in a rush to fail again; Taking a seat across from Yunaesa, Marissa would at first look as a child might, preparing for a scolding but as the question tumbled out her eyes widened for a moment with understanding. Yunaesa was asked to come to this castle in the same way Marissa was, a piece to someone elses over complicated puzzle that already had far too many pieces to begin with, to play a part and obey. Neither invitation was very much asking, more a flowery version of telling. A command. Marissa swallowed, already regretting any sympathetic ties that had been applied just then.
[#044bbe "You wish to know more about our kingdom's prince?"] Deep eyes flicked back towards the door with wonder at how far castle guards might be, and from how far away they might pick up 'treasonous rabble' or even 'heresy' for which she may be tried. [#044bbe "Well it's not like I know him personally, I only started here just a bit before you arrived..."] Marissa hoped that would be enough of an excuse to exempt her from saying any more. She took a deep breath, taking in the princesses' worry and cursed herself. The hand maid would crack and continue with a slight pout. [#044bbe "He's a strong man, Prince Avbruma, he's loyal to his people and very proud."] She would pause, peeking over to see if the affirmations were easing Yunaesa any. It certainly made [i her] nor feel much better. [#044bbe "My father and brother have both outfitted him, he's a rather quiet gentleman. He apparently enjoys hunting, is good with a bow. Not a surprise for someone of his blood, though, he probably knows quite a bit of everything this kingdom has to offer - you probably have more in common than you think."] Marissa coughs into her hand, feeling her throat grow dry. Going out of her way to actually try and help someone else in this castle felt [i odd.]
The handmaid's cheeks flushed with embarrassment. [#044bbe "Come now and cheer up, your highness. He isn't some plague ridden rat, he's probably just shy around pretty girls. Afraid of driving them off with broad shoulders and muddled words or something else that got stuck in his head as a boy! They're simple creatures like that."] She closed her eyes, and crossed her arms nodding as if it must be true then got a chill, realizing how grievously she had spoken out of turn. She had both compared the future king of her country to a diseased vermin [i and] called him but a simple stuttering boy all in one foul swoop.
[center [Pic http://i.imgur.com/ecKAx9l.jpg?1]]
Fortune found Lánselot and Aimar arriving in one of the few friendly provinces of Bruma, greeted by a woman of skin fairer than marble bundled in heavy furs and fabrics dyed a light lavender. The woman's hat was enviously warm looking and oversized, to the point where she had to move it out of her ruby eyes. Through this province, and their princess, Lancelot was able to secure a safer escape route for once they finally secured their prize.
The port in Rubis was frigid, the chill set to the bone but Lánselot would not let that instill any hesitation in him, seeing the break of day they arrived upon as more a sign than anything that this was a beginning he simply could not turn back from.
Rubis' own princess hosted them in a quiet villa, she was charmingly waifish and sweet in her own way. Her name was Stockholm and she was pleased to have guests, reassuring them that most had already traveled further north to the castle's out skirting city in preparation for the ceremony - and that had she not gotten Lánselot's letter she herself would not have stalled heading up for as long as she had, had she not received a letter of grave importance from prince Lánselot himself. And it was not because of some sorted history between the two, no something so much simpler, something sweet; Stockholm's family had land in Petra, they had been both here and there and all the islands between for centuries prior, and Stockholm once visited the castle of Petra. Visiting she met a young Lánselot and various other noble children and played for the whole day, a simple pleasant memory bid her to aid the prince's scheme.
A simple memory, and a sweet maiden with nostalgia in her heart was all Lánselot needed to seize the moment. He tugged at her heartstrings in a letter:
[center [i [#fc9cf2 Dear Stockholm,]]]
He started, dropping all formality into the deep end knowing that the most direct approach would be the most effective.
[center [i [#fc9cf2 With hopes that this letter finds you in good health and humor, it certainly has been quite a bit since we last spoke and for that I deeply apologize. Stresses all abound these days, I suppose. Nonetheless I have need of your help. I wish to visit, and it's a matter of the heart. With all my being I need to meet with the princess of your sovereign Kingdom. I wish to ask that you grant me pardon, or at the very least forgiveness to come and go as I please.]]] [center [i [#fc9cf2 - K]]]
And in nearly no time at all he received her reply as he prepared to leave, just a third day from when he had decided he would leave:
[i [#d49ede [center Hello Sweetie,]]][i [#d49ede [center I was expecting something like this to happen. Or maybe I prayed it would. So exciting! I know you couldn't possibly mean any malice to anyone you softie, perhaps if love could win out the world could become a softer and more lovely place. Your matter of the heart is in the right hands, come forward, our ports are open to all!]]]
She had signed back, not her name or initial, but a heart with grace found in her fanciful handwriting which had always put his quick penmanship to shame.
In his letter Lánselot had told Stockholm a half truth, this was in fact a matter of the heart, but not in a romantic sense. His heart ached at the possibility of more bloodshed, and he simply had to get this across to the future queen of not one nation but of a newly born empire. He supposed this was enough for her to be [i his] princess though, as Aimar teased.
Their stay in Bruma's capitol city was far less ideal, keeping their hoods up and heads down - skulking about and mostly letting Aimar handle the reconnaissance. Sitting on his own hands made Lánselot antsy. He wanted to be able to do more in the situation. And when his guard finally returned and let him know it was time for action, the prince felt charged with energy.
[#fc9cf2 "It's time then. We move fast and quiet, Aimar."]
[left [pic https://i.pinimg.com/236x/45/7d/55/457d554b9defd00fca295fa0168595d1.jpg]] “Thank you, Marissa. Please, sit.” Tea and cookies. At another time she might have enjoyed them more. Well, perhaps not [i this] particular tray. The princess reached for the delicate porcelain cup of tea from her wrapping of a blanket pulled from the bed and brought it up as if to take a sip but paused. She was certain now it was the tea and not the cookies that smelled of ginger. Without drinking any of it she set it back down,”I wondered if you might indulge my curiosity.”
There really wasn’t much of a way to hide her disappointment with the tea. Yunaesa was not fond of ginger. The scent and taste reminded her of feeling ill. They always forced her to drink strong ginger tea when she was sick. As if that weren’t unpleasant enough, it also vividly reminded her of a poisoning attempt when she was a girl. Violently ill from the poisoning, and then made to watch a woman executed for trying to kill her. Days of little besides ginger tea and other medicine.
The prospect of cookies with either no tea or ginger tea was less appealing, so she didn’t touch them at all. Under the intense blue of Marissa’s gaze she offered some explanation,”I’m afraid that I am not very fond of ginger. An unfortunate childhood incident. Another tea won’t be necessary.” There wasn’t any blame, how could Marissa have known? She was nearly a stranger. Yet still the only one to spend much time with her beyond polite greetings.
The whole castle was so busy preparing for a royal wedding. Too busy to pay the bride much mind beyond making sure she would be dressed appropriately. It was going to be quite the event, the joining of Bruma and Yunaesa’s home of Salum. Both kingdoms vast empires in their own right, but together would control most of the continent. That was what this was about, not Yunaesa’s feelings or preferences. She was a piece in a game, little more. Once she was queen she expected to have more power, more control over her own fate. That expectation, that hope, was starting to dwindle while she watched what she could of the man she was to marry.
“I have been wondering about my…” Hesitation before the word left her mouth, a giveaway about her feelings on the marriage in general,”Betrothed. What sort of man he is. I’ve scarcely been able to speak with him.”
He had seemed uninterested in conversation each time she tried. Polite enough, as befitting a prince, but aloof. Did he simply detest small talk, or was it her he did not care for? She pulled her arm back into the fold of the blanket, violet eyes turning to the fire that danced and crackled merrily. It alone seemed to find some joy in the night. A joy she could not capture for herself,”I thought you may have some insight.”
More to confirm her suspicions than anything. Yunaesa doubted that anything Marissa could say that would truly be able to assuage her concerns about life being married to Lucien.
[left [pic https://i.pinimg.com/236x/24/ef/3e/24ef3ed3e1cb9023ae6bfa9c471e4139.jpg]] The prince was clever. More cunning than people gave him credit for, usually. Aimar had come to enjoy watching Láncelot and figuring out what was going on under that smile. Often some scheme, or hiding a scheme, as they had both done until leaving. Aimar went without questioning [i if] they would go through with whatever the plan was. His questions were always asked with the aim of seeing whatever wild plan to the end. A checklist of supplies.
The kidnap of a princess promised to be quite the adventure, and Aimar had enjoyed the journey, the familiar thrill of escaping the confines of the palace, for quite some time. Until he found himself wondering if he should have asked more persistently about preparing for the cold. Bruma was even colder than Aimar had thought. But aside from that little detail he felt they were ready. The bag of supplies was strapped to his back. Just yesterday he had managed to glean the location of the rooms Princess Yunaesa would sleep in until the wedding. Aimar could charm such information easily enough from the servants. He had a disarming smile, and a trusting demeanor. He’d gathered quite a bit of information from some talkative and flirtatious maids, and relayed that information to Láncelot for them to formulate their plan.
“It is late enough, highness.” When it was just the two of them Aimar was more relaxed about formality, sometimes dropping it entirely. Not out of disrespect, rather a closeness that extended past what duty required. “Your princess should be alone now. According to the maid by now her attendant should have left. We should strike soon. We want a nice lead before they realize she’s gone.”
He had taken to teasingly referring to Princess Yunaesa as Láncelot’s princess, since his plan was to take her back to Petra. What Aimar could not have found out or anticipated was that Yunaesa was staying up later than usual that evening, and keeping her attendant longer to finally ask a few things.
A soft gasp, and muttering of words that weren't quite curses escaped the Elven Prince's lips as his guard found him stuffing additional rations into his bags for a long and cold journey. Were it anyone other than Aimar, heavens forbid especially the royal vizier Séna, then Lánselot might have suffered heavier guarding and a sharp talking off of his ears. With Aimar he could [i explain] himself, he was much more than a guard at this point, Aimar was his friend, and possibly the only person in the castle who was not only amused by his spritely antics but also fed into them.
No matter what Lánselot asked it never seemed too mad for the guard to put a stop to or even disagree from indulging in the activity itself, which is what made it seem to the prince that Aimar [i wanted] to come along and wasn't [i just] doing his job of keeping an eye on and protecting him. From swordplay, to a ride through the temperate beaches besides the near crystalline blue waters of the shore to nearby villas and towns which Lánselot would someday rule over. Even the most ridiculous activities like rope-shimmying up the palaces marble pillars to get to the top were at the very least humored to Séna's chagrin.
So when Lánselot straightened up and faced Aimar with his usual laxidasical smile of course it could only be assumed that he was about to propose something absolutely ridiculous to anyone else, but none could assume how preposterous he would start the proposition off:
[#fc9cf2 "Aimar, good timing! I was just coming to get you, this will make sneaking out of the castle so much easier!"] Lánselot would grab his cloak up off the collection of bags before him, revealing a familiar gaggle of travel bags belonging to Aimar himself. [#fc9cf2 "I've nabbed up everything I could think of that would be needed, as well as secured a ship to get us to our destination."] On that note, the prince with eyes a shade of blooming pink roses lifted up his own bags. [#fc9cf2 "Now don't fret on the details too much dear friend, I've hyper-fixated on this plan for weeks ever since I first came to hear of the betrothal and no, I know what you're going to say! It IS a crazy thing, stopping a political marriage with THEFT of a maiden. How terrible and yet dastardly courageous you must be Lánselot! -- I thank you for the flattery but is that not my duty to best serve my people?"] Lánselot would go on a tangent, as he did when nervous but set on his path. When like this, nothing could convince him he had any other move to make, no matter how seemingly irrational. To the prince this was certainly the only way to avoid full out war. By stopping immediate relations from forming maybe he could hold off the bloodshed even by just a few months later.
[center This was the day Lánselot and Aimar left the safety of their kingdom Petra with plans to kidnap Princess of the desert Yunaesa from the frigid and brutish mountain kingdom of Bruma.]
[center [Pic http://i.imgur.com/MfbwJH8.jpg?1]]
The make shift handmaid came to the princess, with a pot of ginger tea and a platter of complimenting cookies which by nature were incredibly dry on their own but wafted a pleasantly fresh vanilla bean scent. Marissa had been selected for this specific duty as soon as the agreement of marriage was talked about, she heard every detail but had no say in anything, her own autonomy was not a factor whatsoever - as always. [i Our daughter is a nice girl,] Marissa's mother would coo to the queen as she helped her into todays fashion. [i It might mean the world to the princess to have a feminine form to talk to since your majesty is oft busy. And she does mind her manners well.] That day was far colder than any winter, as her mothers eyes picked at her like a hungry scavenger telling Marissa she [b would] play the part and she [b would] behave. And behave she did, ever since the princess first stepped out of of her carriage the seamstress of noble family had been at her side, swallowing her words and keeping on edge. Serving a royal was in no way where the young woman wanted to be just out of principle of self preservation, in truth she had no idea where she would prefer to be, but regardless this was [i certainly] not it. She placed the platter carrying all of the goodies onto the nearby side table to keep warm closer to the hearth.
[i [#044bbe "I hope this is alright, your royal highness."]] Marissa pinched the edges of her fanciful dresses skirt in a curtsy, keeping a rigid tone to her voice in an attempt to stay as respectful as her temperament would allow.
Outside of her very gorgeously made dress, Marissa's eyes were by far the most striking quality of her. They were a blue like a thunders flash that deepened and darkened into the center, eyes like these were very rare in this kingdom at least, only seen in select courtiers and some nobles like her. Fewer still knew how such pigment in eyes came to be, and still it was an easy sign to disregard or miss. But in fact her stunning eyes came from the practice of charm magic being used on her over many years.
Bored and blatantly untrusting eyes looked out to Yunaesa. Marissa wasn't sure what aims the princess was trying to achieve with the [i sharing snacks] comment. [i [#044bbe "Is there anything else I can get for you, your royal highness?"]] She was born to a country outlying and eventually consumed by Bruma, from a family of merchants who made their start from a village in the valleys just south of the tundras and close to the mountains branching river streams. Her family became noblemen due to success of her father's craft, and her mother's guile which eventually got them into the good graces of the Avbruma royal family. It wasn't too hard for her mother and father to bed the royals ears while outfitting them, complimenting them in every fit and form. Marissa had to bite her tongue so often now it was starting to drive her mad, arguments were quelled so much easier under the close watch of her mother who had a very [i easy] solution to unruly children. [i The manipulative witch.]
She [i desperately] wished they had chosen her brother in her stead to watch the princess, seeing how trapped even someone born to this was dragged her further into a depression.
[left [pic https://i.pinimg.com/236x/45/7d/55/457d554b9defd00fca295fa0168595d1.jpg]] Cold, cold, cold. Everything here was so hatefully [i cold]. Including most of the people. In particular her betrothed. The journey to this frigid northern kingdom had been long and unpleasant. After making their way north they had gone as far east as they dared until finally going up and through a seldom traveled mountain pass. After that, she knew why it was seldom traveled. Travel eased after that, but her anxiety about meeting her future husband grew as the land grew colder and more barren.
It wasn’t that she had never been cold before. The deserts had bitterly cold nights. She also had a fondness for the cold, and at first marveled over the frost in the morning sun as they traveled. She had somewhat relished that nip in the air at first. It was the relentlessness of the frigid atmosphere that wore her down. A chill that came not only from the air but the people. Meeting the man she was now engaged to had been disappointing, to put it mildly. He was handsome enough, but she did not even like him. Their eyes met and she knew her hopes on the journey were dashed. He was a cold man, uninterested in courting her or getting to know her. The marriage would be purely political. He would take a lover, or many, as her father had. Father children outside their marriage, and she would be forced to grin and bear it as her mother had. That was not the kind of marriage she wanted for herself.
Yunaesa found little comfort sitting by her fireplace. The warmth of the fire could not warm all that chilled her. Nor was the blanket she had pulled around herself sufficient to warm her or ease away the things gnawing away at her mind and heart. She missed her home. Everything here was so strange. Even the chairs by the fireplace were unwelcoming. High backs, dark wood, and a deep red upholstery that was too thin to be comfortable. The fabric wasn’t even that soft either. She wanted a pile of pillows. More than that she wanted some escape from this castle, this life she was trapped in. The castle was like her betrothed. Hard, cold, and left her feeling lonely. Well, at least he had given her one small comfort of sorts.
“Marissa? Would you bring us some tea please? And perhaps a light snack. Whatever you like, we can share it.” He had given her an attendant. It was that woman’s job to keep her company, and see that she would be dressed appropriately for the wedding. Perhaps that’s all it was for Marissa. Just a job. Yunaesa was grateful for the companionship regardless. The attendants from home that had come with her had either left for the desert already or were too busy arranging things with Lucien and his family to keep their Princess occupied. The people here were respectful, but generally distant with her.
Tea and some conversation might help. If not, then surely it would not hurt. She had only arrived recently, and was trying to pry what information she could from anywhere. What Lucien was like, which so far seemed to match her guess. How life was here, if it was as dismal as she feared. Other such things that crossed her mind.
[left [pic https://i.pinimg.com/236x/24/ef/3e/24ef3ed3e1cb9023ae6bfa9c471e4139.jpg]] When he had been assigned to guard the Prince with his life, Aimar had worried, briefly, if it was going to be the most boring assignment they could have given him. Just following along on diplomatic trips, keeping an eye on things that rarely changed, and trying not to fall asleep.
His Prince had proved much more interesting than that. On discovering the secret plan to slip away to the north and kidnap a Princess to ruin an alliance, rather than report what he’d found he had only one question. “When are we leaving?”
That was how he ended up in this dreadful place, bundled up as warm as he could while still maintaining some mobility. It still left him chilled to the bone, following his charge in the dark. He would be glad to put this forsaken place at his back. With a nice story to tell after tonight, he hoped. Along with the Princess they were after in tow. When they pulled this off and came back home with that sort of leverage, no one would be able to really stay mad at the pair for long. Aimar was sure, as sure as he was in the Prince.
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