Without a king

The Missing Ring
Year 418
Chapter Seven - Lord Co's Point of View

     He noticed that his ring was missing as he reached Triben.

     It wasn’t entirely his fault, he tried to convince himself. He was so used to wearing the Order ring that he no longer felt it, so not noticing that he could no longer feel it wasn’t that odd.

     Lord Nata sighed and leaned against the side of his ship. He had left his home city, Co on Crele island, to visit some of his old friends on the mainland. Just a few days earlier it had been Lord Malte. Now he was meant to be meeting Lord Triben. The ruling families of Co and Triben had been close for generations, and Nata had been excited to once again see Lord Laynon. Unfortunately, his missing ring had put a damper on his enthusiasm.

     The ring was important. It marked him as having passed through the Order, marked him as part of an old tradition. During his time there, he’d been one of the best students. Dedicated to his education and training. Losing his ring almost felt like losing that part of himself.

     Nata hardly paid attention as the ship pulled into the port. The captain and crew were all Crelans, adept sailors who didn’t need Nata’s help with the ship. The next thing Nata knew, the ship was docked and the captain was touching his shoulder lightly to get his attention.

     “Lord Co? Lord Triben has come down to meet you.”

     That shook Nata from his thoughts. He turned around to see that the captain was holding out his green cloak. Nata draped it over his shoulders and did up the silver clasp. Instantly he went into the persona he always put on in front of other people. He strode down the gangplank like nothing at all was wrong and walked down the docks.

     Lord Triben greeted him with a firm handshake. “Nata, always a pleasure.”

     Nata smiled. “Thank you for having me, Laynon. Congratulations on becoming Lord Triben.”

     Laynon laughed. “Thank you. I must say, I’m pleased it worked out how it did. I’ve been trying to convince my mother to step down ever since father died.”

     “And how is she?” Nata asked. The two men, flanked by their guards, started walking towards the city. Nata knew both of   Laynon’s parents very well. Laynon’s mother, Lady Linta, had inherited the position of Lady Triben when she was fairly young. She had married one of Nata’s uncles who had died a few years earlier due to an infection.

     Thinking about Laynon’s new position only reminded Nata of his missing ring. He, too, had inherited the control of his city. Usually, people in line to inherit did not train at the Order, but Nata had not been in line until his older brother had drowned. Nata tried to stop thinking about it and concentrate on his friend’s words.

     “- doing very well,” Laynon explained. “She’s still very involved, of course, but she’s letting me make the final decisions these days. Any news of your family?”

     Nata shook his head. “Not much changes on Crele.”

     “I hear Crelans have been revolting.”

     “Only a few,” Nata said. “But I calmed it down quickly enough. It was a group of fisherman who wanted more money for their fish.”

     “And did you give it to them?”

     “Their fish aren’t worth more money, so there wasn’t much I could do,” Nata said. “And most of my money goes into the navy. It doesn’t help that I’m losing people, either.”

     “To shipwrecks?”

     “Some. But mostly the Crelans are choosing to leave. They’re moving to the Draulins, where the pay is better.”

     “Have you spoken to the lords about it?”

     “I’ve been writing to Lord East Draulin,” Nata said. “He needs them to sustain his own navy, but he isn’t really paying them any more than I am. West Draulin’s the real problem. Have you heard of the Captain Roland?”

     “Tandrael’s man?”

     “Aye,” Nata replied. Occasionally, he slipped into a slightly Crelan way of talking when he was agitated. After all, he’d grown up surrounded by more Crelans than Teltans. “He’s a bit of a legend around Crele, and many of the younger sailors hope to move to West Draulin and have a similar life. What they don’t seem to understand is that Roland is an unusual case due to his friendship with Lord West Draulin. They all think they’ll find their fortune in West Draulin. Become friends with lords or become knights like those two – I can’t recall their names.”

     “Captain Roland’s nephews? They’re part of Tandrael’s guard, are they not?”

     “Tandrael’s son’s guard,” Nata corrected. “They’re young still. Maybe sixteen or so. That said, the older son, Tandrin, has a Crelan in his guard as well. Or a half-Crelan.”

     They had entered the upper part of the city by then. Nata found the different city styles fascinating. Triben was like Zianna, an old Ziannan walled city. The cities on Crele were different. There was no upper or lower city, no solid divide between classes. Every city was designed around a port. Co was the largest city on the island. Buildings clung to the cliffs, and narrow roads zigzagged down to the port.

     “I never thought of Crelans as knights,” Laynon said. “Of course I know they fight in the navies, but ocean combat is very different.”

     Nata nodded. “It is,” he agreed. “I’ll have to speak to Lord West Draulin, but I don’t think he’ll be able to do anything about it.”

     “Have you taken to not wearing your ring?”

     Nata had been so distracted with their discussion that the ring had slipped his mind. “No. I’ve misplaced it,” he admitted.

     The men hesitated as Laynon’s guards opened the gate to the castle grounds. “Zianna is full of thieves,” Laynon commented. “All the mainland cities are. Were you in the lower city at all? Visiting a brothel, perhaps?”

     “No,” Nata said, shaking his head. Suddenly he remembered something. “Although, there was a boy who… I was walking in the upper city with my mare and I ran into Kadem and a Native boy approached us. He was talking about my mare and I just thought he was just some merchant’s son, but it must have been him. I can’t think of any other possibility.”

     “You should report the theft to Lord Meyat,” Laynon said.

     Nata agreed. “I’ll write a letter. I’m set to visit Zianna again before heading back in Co, in any case.”

 

     Nata and Laynon spent most of their time together talking politics. Laynon held multiple big feasts and invited all the lesser lords and ladies from the surrounding areas. Nata was charismatic and polite and pretended to remember everyone’s names, but he kept being distracted by thoughts of his ring.

     When the time came to leave Triben, Nata sailed back to Zianna. It was true that he had a few more things to do in the capital city, the trip wasn’t all about his missing ring. However, his first stop was. He went straight to the Order’s headquarters. At the gate, it took the guards a moment to let him in, since he was missing his ring. Finally, he was back within the walls that had been his home for four years. He left his horse with a few of the servants, and walked into the building. He was headed for Lord Malte’s office, since he wanted to speak with his friend before talking to the Director himself.

     Nata turned down the hallway that lead to Malte’s office, but stopped suddenly. There was a boy leaning against the wall. Nata didn’t immediately recognized the boy, but then he saw the flash of blue on the boy’s hand. “Lord Tandrix of West Draulin, I presume?”

     The boy glanced up at him. He was one of those important young lords who most of the nobility knew, even if they’d never met him. The Tandran boys looked enough like their father that it was easy to tell who they were. They shared his mannerisms, too. Nata remembered the first time he’d met Lord West Draulin. It had been for Nata’s ceremony, when he became Lord Co. He remembered Lord Tandrael being a little cocky, leaving his knights behind and exploring the city at his own leisure. It wasn’t the type of behaviour people expected from lords. From what Nata had heard, Lord Tandrael’s sons were very much the same.

     “Lord Co,” Tandrix replied. He didn’t sound as arrogant as Nata had been expecting. “May I help you with something?”

     “I’m here to speak with Malte,” Nata said.

     “He’s in a meeting. Of sorts,” Tandrix said.

     “Is it important? I must speak to him immediately.”

     “I’ll get him,” the boy offered. He disappeared down the hallway.

      Nata stood and waited. He started to tap his foot impatiently, and the sound was loud in the empty corridor. Distracted, Nata didn’t notice when, hardly a minute later someone walked right into him.

      It was another boy, who took a nervous step backwards and muttered, “Sorry, sir, I-“ before cutting himself off. Nata stared down at the boy and wondered briefly whose son he was. A lesser lord from around Triben, maybe? The boy certainly looked familiar.

     “Lord Malte is ready to see you, sir,” Tandrix said.

     Nata nodded. “Thank you,” and walked down the hall. He could hear the boys whispering but ignored them. At Malte’s office, he knocked before pushing open the door and entering.

     Malte was just clearing up some papers from his desk. He got to his feet and greeted Nata at the door. “What is this urgent news?”

     “Well, it isn’t quite news. Last time I was in Zianna, I believe my ring was stolen. I was in the city anyway, and I believed-“

     “Stolen?” Malte cut him off. “By a Native thief?”

     Nata could tell Malte was in the midst of some realization. “What is it?”

     “That boy – Finagale. I knew something was wrong.” Malte led the way from the room, talking all the while. “I knew he didn’t belong here, but he had the ring and no one had reported one missing.”

     “The boy I just saw?” Nata asked. “With Lord West Draulin’s son?”

     “Precisely.” As they walked, Malte called to a few guards. When they reached the courtyard, a small crowd was already following the two men. Malte walked straight for the gong in the middle of the courtyard. He started hitting it and the noise echoed through the clearing. To Nata, it brought back memories of being woken up in the middle of the night for training.

      Many of the trainees were already in the courtyard, so they began to gather. People left the main building to join them. It wasn’t long before most of the people in the Order were standing out in the courtyard, looking at the two men. Malte stopped hitting the gong.

      “We have a thief among us,” Malte said, getting straight to the point. “The Native who has been seen with Lord Tandrix. He’s been wearing a stolen ring in order to blend in, but you have probably all noticed discrepancies. His behaviour, his dialect and his lack of certain knowledge will have probably made you suspect him. Now, we must search the grounds. He has knowledge that cannot leave this brotherhood. Find him.”

     The boys scattered first, excited by the change of pace. The men started to head out in an organized, systematic way. Nata saw Tandrix running towards one corner of the grounds. Malte had started ringing the gong again, so Nata walked swiftly to where Tandrix had gone. When he neared the buildings, he called out, “Lord Tandrix?”

     “He’s not here! I’ll check around the next corner!” Tandrix shouted back.

     Nata hesitated. The boy had no reason to be lying to him. But at the same time, he had known the thief personally. Nata started forward again, just as Tandrix came around the corner of the building.

     “You know this boy?” Nata asked. He wasn’t quite sure how to properly address Tandrix. On one hand, the boy was young. On the other, he was a Tandran, and his father outranked Nata. The proper etiquette was confusing.

      “I thought I did,” Tandrix replied with a shrug. “’Suppose I was wrong. I’m going to keep searching.” He brushed past Nata, who didn’t stop him.

 

     In the end, they didn’t find the thief. Nata was given a new ring, but it didn’t mean as much to him. Every time he looked at it, he was reminded of the time he lost his ring and shamed by the trouble he might have caused his brotherhood. Who knew what harm the thief could do with the information he’d learned.

 
First Impressions
Year 419
Sir Acen Meeting his Wife

     Acen was nervous. It wasn't every day he was called before Lord West Draulin. In fact, the man had mostly ignored Acen and his group since Tannix had gone to Zianna, trusting them to continue training. Being called could only mean a few things. He had done something well, he had done something badly, or something had happened to Tannix.

Acen offered a quick prayer to the Goddess, asking her for good news. If something had happened to Tannix - Acen didn't want to think about it. He wouldn't be to blame, but he would still feel guilty about not being there when his lord needed him.

     Instead of going to the large meeting room, Acen went to Lord Tandrael's smaller office. The door was flanked by two of Lord Tandrael's personal guard, older men well respected in the castle. Acen paused before knocking on the large wooden door, and glanced over himself quickly. He had made sure to put on his uniform, the slight armour and short blue cloak that represented his position as Tannix's guard captain.

     One of Lord Tandrael's guards chuckled. "Calm down, Atricen. You aren't being tested."

     Acen smiled sheepishly. "I don't know what to expect, Sir Yorc. The message wasn't very detailed."

     Sir Yorc grabbed his shoulder. "A good captain knows how to hide his nervousness or fear. This is a good time to practice."

     Acen nodded. Sir Yorc had been Lord Tandrael's guard captain for nearly forty years. If there was anyone to take advice from, it was him. Acen took a deep breath to calm himself, and firmly knocked on the door.

     "Come in," Lord Tandrael called.

     Acen pushed open the door and stepped inside. As the door swung closed behind him, he bowed quickly. "My lord, you called for me?"

     "Yes. Take a seat, Atricen. I have something important to discuss with you."

     Acen sat down in the chair facing Lord Tandrael's large desk. The desk was very neat, cleared of everything but a quill, inkpot, and a few pieces of blank parchment. Lord Tandrael was reading a letter. "Is it about Lord Tandrix, my lord?" Acen asked.

     Lord Tandrael glanced up and shook his head. "No. Tandrix is doing very well, you'll be pleased to hear. But I called you for an entirely different purpose, and... an unusually personal one. I admit, I almost chose not to discuss this with you. It isn't really my place, being neither your father nor your lord. But without Tandrix to speak with you, the duty falls on me."

     Acen was even more confused. Lord Tandrael's words weren't helping. "What duty, my lord?"

     Lord Tandrael sighed. "Well, Atricen, Lord Vasel has written to me. He would like to bring our families closer together with an arranged marriage. He wants to marry his youngest daughter, Lady Gallea, to you."

     Acen just managed to hide his shock. "Me?"

     "You," Lord Tandrael said with a nod. "He was asking for Tandrin at first, but I refused. My brother Tandar married Lord Vasel's sister-in-law, and I felt the connection was a little too recent. Then he heard about you." He glanced down at the letter. "Apparently Sir Jalor mentioned you. They're cousins, as I'm sure you're aware. You're a good match, a young lord with a direct connection to my family."

     "I'm not inheriting any land," Acen pointed out. "I doubt I'll have time for a wife. I had sort of given up on the idea of getting married."

     "You don't need to give up on it," Lord Tandrael said. "And you don't have to marry Lady Gallea. I'm not trying to force you into anything, Atricen, it isn't my place. I'm simply asking you to ride to Vasel and meet with her. You can decide to court her, if you'd like. You can decide to marry her. I'm leaving it all up to you."

     Acen nodded slowly. "It would be in your best interest if I agree to marry her, wouldn't it, my lord?"

     "It would be a good arrangement, yes," Lord Tandrael said. "But its worth remembering that once Tandrix gets married, you'll be moving to East Draulin. A marriage will connect all three families - Tandrans, Macreds, and Garolles."

     Acen didn’t bother pointing out that it would connect his family, too. He was a lesser lord, after all, important in some ways but not nearly as powerful as the other three families. After a pause, he nodded. “I’ll go meet her,” he agreed. “May I travel with anyone?”

     “I trust you to make all the arrangements,” Lord Tandrael said. “Take all of you men, if you’d like. I’m sure they’d appreciate a trip.”

     “I’m sure they would. Thank you, my lord.”

     “And thank you, Atricen.”

 

     Acen quickly made arrangements with the knights. They were all excited to accompany him, bored of the day-to-day life of a personal guard without anyone to protect. Acen did his best to turn the trip into a learning experience, but it didn’t work. The twins and Evrik, eighteen and nineteen respectively, had no interest in training. The spent the entire trip fooling around, and Acen grudgingly allowed it. They deserved some time off, he decided.

     Mandell, on the other hand, wanted peace and quiet. He rode far ahead, or let his horse trail behind, so that he wouldn’t be bothered by the younger knights. Acen and Jalor ended up setting the pace. They travelled at a decent speed, letting the other four knights go ahead or fall behind, as long as they were within sight or earshot.

     “I’ve never been to Vasel,” Acen admitted one afternoon, when the city was visible on the horizon. The road they had taken cut straight through the farm fields, and the ground was flat, making it easy to see the walls of Vasel up ahead. “I’ve never been this far away from West Draulin, to be perfectly honest.”

     “It’s a nice city,” Jalor said. “Smaller than West Draulin, of course, but loyal. The people out here love Vasel.”

     “So your villa is near here?”

     Jalor nodded, and waved off to their left. “In that general direction. My family owns quite a bit of land out here. We rent out to the farmers, and we’re well liked. The farmers owe us a portion of their harvest, but my father always makes sure they have enough food for themselves. And if any of them ever need help, they’re welcome to come to the villa and ask.”

     Evrik trotted up beside them. “I’ve realized something,” he said, letting his horse match their pace. “We’ve talked about Vasel and me being a farmer, but I don’t think we’ve ever addressed the fact that my family lives on your land.”

     “They do?” Jalor asked.                                                                                          

     “Well, I just made the connection myself. I was a boy when I left, so I didn’t care which lord we paid. But yes, they do. Who knew that one day one of your subjects would be your equal?”

     “I don’t have subjects,” Jalor said. “We own the land, not the people.”

     “Regardless, strange to think we may have seen each other as children. It’s a small island.”

     “It’s a large island,” Acen corrected.

     “You know what I mean, my friend. We’re all connected somehow, aren’t we? You two may even be cousins soon.” Evrik laughed and urged his horse into a gallop so he could join the twins ahead of them.

     “He has a point,” Jalor said after a moment.

     “She has to agree to marry me, first.”

     “Oh, I’m not concerned about that,” Jalor said, smiling to himself. “Really. You’ve just got to make a good first impression.”

 

     In the city, Acen gave the knights leave to do whatever they wanted. Jalor accompanied him to the castle, and Acen was grateful. Most of the guards recognized Jalor and let him through, meaning Acen didn’t have to explain himself over and over again. Finally, they were let into Lord Vasel’s meeting room.

     Lord Vasel was sitting at a large table. He was absentmindedly eating a bowl of stew, while reading through various reports he had spread out in front of him. He glanced up at the sound of the door opened, and smiled widely. “Nephew! Welcome back,” he pushed back his chair and stood up, walking around the table to greet them. “This must be Lord Atricen.”

     “Pleasure to meet you, my lord,” Acen said with a bow. “I’m honoured that you considered me for-“

     “Considered? My boy, I didn’t just consider you, I want you,” Lord Vasel said. “But Tandrael told me that he’s leaving the final decision up to you, and I’ll respect that. I want my Gallea to be happy. You two can dine on the balcony, it has a beautiful view of the ocean. Follow me, boys.” Lord Vasel briskly walked out of the room.

     Jalor nudged Acen as they followed after him. “I told you he’d be excited.”

     “But why?” Acen was suddenly feeling nervous again. “I’m not that important.”

     “Relax. You’ll like her.”

     They caught up to Lord Vasel near a large staircase. He was in the middle of telling a servant to let Gallea know they had arrived. The servant rushed off, and Lord Vasel turned to the knights. “Jalor, will you be staying with us tonight?”

     “Of course. I’ve got to make sure my captain treats my cousin respectfully, don’t I?”

     Lord Vasel laughed heartily. “I suppose you do, my boy. But come, come – you’ll dine with me, your aunt and Galanna. Atricen, this man will lead you to the balcony. Gallea will join you shortly. Or whenever she is ready, you know how noblewomen like to spend hours getting ready.” Lord Vasel walked off, and Jalor followed after giving Acen an encouraging pat on the back.

     Acen followed the servant, trying to think of all the things he could say to Lady Gallea. He needed to make a good first impression, which was something he knew he could manage. He was a lord, after all, and he knew how to be polite and charming and how to pretend to get along with people. But the situation was different than anything he had ever faced in the past. Being called to Lord West Draulin’s office had been nerve-wracking, but this was an entirely different kind of nervous. Quite a bit was depending on this first meeting.

     He momentarily forget about his worries as he stepped out onto the balcony. There was a small round table set near the railing, and beyond it was a fantastic view of the ocean. There was nothing but water stretching into the distance, and the sun was just starting to set. Soon the water would glow with reds and oranges. It was a beautiful spot, a perfect place for a first meeting, and Acen found himself relaxing a bit.

    “Please take a seat, my lord,” the servant said, gesturing the one of the chairs. “May I get you something to drink while you wait for Lady Gallea? Some wine?”

    “Yes, please,” Acen replied. As he pulled out the chair and sat, he added, “And it’s Sir, please. I left behind my title when I became a knight.”

     The servant nodded and rushed off. Acen looked out at the water. He could hear the waves splashing against the cliff far below him, and the cries of seagulls. He let his mind wander, hardly noticing when the servant returned with his wine.

     Before he knew it, the servant had returned and cleared his throat pointedly to get Acen’s attention. “Lady Gallea is about to arrive, sir.”

     Acen got to his feet, slightly startled but doing his best not to show it. “Thank you.”

     The servant smiled and moved aside, just as the door opened behind him, and the most beautiful woman Acen had ever seen stepped onto the balcony. He knew she was young, a few years younger than he was. She was tall and slim, wearing a floor length, dark purple dress. Her hair was done up in a fancy knot unlike any style he’d ever seen his mother or sister wear. Instantly, Acen knew he was going to do something wrong. It simply wasn’t possible that he could impress such a beautiful woman.

     She walked across the balcony to stand in front of him. “Welcome to Vasel, Lord Atricen,” she said.  Even her voice was perfect.

     “Sir Atricen. Acen,” Acen froze, panicked, and perfectly aware that he had already embarrassed himself. “I mean, I’m a knight, my lady, so I prefer to be called Sir Atricen. And most people just call me Acen. Thank you for meeting with me,” he bowed, hoping to somewhat make up for his blunder.

     Lady Gallea rose one eyebrow. “Acen, then. You may call me Gallea,” she said, and then her serene, perfect face broke into a smile. “Or Lea, if I decide I like you.”

     Acen smiled back, but his mind was racing. It must have been a good sign. She wouldn’t tease him if she was already disgusted by him. Remembering his manners, he pulled out her chair for her and once she was settled took his own seat. The servant poured some wine for her and vanished again. Acen didn’t know what to do.

     Luckily, Lady Gallea spoke first. “You’re my cousin’s captain, I understand? How is he?”

     “He’s fantastic,” Acen said, eager to respond to such an easy question. “All of my men are, we were picked by Lord West Draulin himself. Jalor and I are the only nobles in the group, but the others are good men. There was a period of time when I was sure he would become the captain instead of me, I’ll admit.”

     “Why were you chosen?” Lady Gallea gracefully picked up her chalice and sipped her wine.

     “We trained together for years before Lord Tandrix made the decision,” Acen said. “I expect he chose me because I’m better at managing the others. I have a talent, of sorts, for realizing the best way for the men to fight, playing to their individual strengths. While we were training, Jalor always helped me, but I was the one in charge. He seemed happy to let me lead, even though he’s one of the oldest among us.”

     “Really? How old are you, then?”

     “Twenty-one,” Acen replied. He resisted the urge to ask her how old she was, knowing that sometimes noblewoman found the question insulting – although why that was he had never understood. “Jalor’s a very valued member of the group, and he’s certainly one of my closest friends.”

     Lady Gallea smiled. “And does he call you Acen?”

     Acen nodded. “They all do.”

     “I’m glad to hear that he’s in good hands,” she said. “I was scared when he first told us he was going to West Draulin. It seemed so far away at the time, and I was worried he’d join the army, go off to war, and get terribly injured. My cousin desires glory. He doesn’t want to be the forgotten younger sibling in his family line, he wants to be someone important, and who goes on fantastic adventures. Someone the historians will write about,” she sighed. “He’s cocky, that much is certain. But I love him regardless. And it seems like he may be getting his wish, being in Lord Tandrix’s personal guard. I hear the young lord is destined to become Lord East Draulin. Being in his guard will make Jalor an important man. But that’s enough about my ridiculous cousin, I want to hear about you. You’re from West Draulin?”

     “Yes, my family is one of the older ones, we can trace our lineage back to one of the lords who first built the city. We’ve been lesser lords since the beginning, mostly working in the army and with the Tandran family. I’m the third of my family to become a Tandran’s guard captain.”

     “That’s an impressive background.”

     “Not as impressive as yours, I’m afraid. If we-“ Acen paused.

     “Let’s not skirt around the subject, we both know why we’re meeting. If we get married…” Lady Gallea prompted.

     “If we get married, you won’t be marrying into power. I’m sure that’s what you would prefer,” Acen said. The servant returned with their food, two plates of steaming chicken and vegetables, covered in gravy. It smelled delicious, and Acen was hoping the food would put a pause to the conversation.

     Lady Gallea had other ideas. As soon as the servant had closed the door, she said, “Why do you assume that?”

     “Because every noblewoman I’ve ever met wants to marry into power,” Acen said.

     “My cousin isn’t the only one who wants adventure, Sir Atricen.”

     “I don’t think marrying me will be much of an adventure.”

     Lady Gallea cut a piece from her chicken and ate it, chewing slowly. Acen knew what she was doing, his sister had done it all the time. She was taking her time, purposefully making him wonder what her next words would be. Finally, she spoke. “Moving to West Draulin, and then East Draulin, seems like an adventure to me. Besides, what would I want with a stuffy old lord with lots of power? They’re boring.”

     “Not all lords with power are stuffy and old,” Acen pointed out, thinking of Tandrin. He was the kind of lord Lady Gallea was meant to marry.

     “No,” she agreed. “But a lot of them are. And even the young ones are boring. I’ve met plenty of them. Oh, they flirt with me when my father isn’t paying attention, and they promise money and wealth and all the luxuries I could ever want, but they don’t really know what I want.”

     “What do you want?” Acen asked.

     Lady Gallea looked just a little startled. “Most people don’t ask.”

     “I’d like to know,” Acen said.

     She stared at him for a moment, as if deciding whether or not he deserved knowing. “Well, I want someone who has adventures and will tell me all about them, with such excitement and detail that I’ll feel like I was there myself. I want him to bring me gifts, but not jewellery or dresses or fancy perfumes that he’s bought. I want things he’s found on his adventures, and things that will remind me of him when he’s away. I want him to be calm and kind, but also ferocious when he needs to be. I want him to be able to protect me himself, and not rely on his guards to do it. I want someone who can see the good in people, but also recognize the bad. And I want someone loyal, who will love me as an equal, not as a trophy.”

     “I-“ Acen hesitated. She really was perfect. “I can do that. All of that.”

     “In that case-“ Lady Gallea reached across the table to take his hand, “-you should probably start calling me Lea.”

 
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