Chapter 11 – Audience

I was shocked, surprised, confused… look, the princess of my country had just wrapped her arms around me, and her tears were dropping on my shoulder. I claim every right to the empty-minded befuddlement it put me in. Deciding it couldn’t possibly be a breach of etiquette, because I defy anyone to show me the established etiquette for what to do when one is hugged by a crying princess, I began patting her on the back.

I had to do something, after all. I needed to keep my mind off another problem. For Tiana, this girl was a childhood friend– an adoptive sister, actually– but for Robert…

My chest is by no means small, in fact, I suspect it to be on the large side for a fifteen-year-old, but it doesn’t compare at all to Amelia’s abundance, and those cushions were pressed into me, causing my inner male all sorts of issues.

I sent Robert to timeout and tried to concentrate on the more important details.

“I was so scared…” she managed at last, then went back to sobbing.

Looking to the two girls flanking her didn’t help. They were both moist-eyed– the tall brunette one had a tear running down her cheek, too– and they were looking at her with gentle concern, not shock or dismay.

Well, it’s a good thing somebody here knows what’s going on.

Beyond them, the King and my mother were looking on with patience, and did not appear the least bit upset at what had happened. One of the aides looked very dismayed, the other simply directed his attention elsewhere. Well, if the upset one blames it on me, I’ll just refer him to the Duchess of Pendor. You’ll find her standing directly to your right, sir.

“Your Highness, there is nothing in this room to be scared of,” I told her, giving her hair a reassuring stroke. “Everything is alright.”

She finally let me go and backed away. Tipping her head down slightly, she gave a small smile. Then, gathering her very princess-worthy aplomb, she put herself back into order almost in an instant, squaring her shoulders.

“Forgive me for my unseemly behavior, My Lady. It was not worthy of a daughter of the Crown.”

I shook my head and told her, “You have no obligation to apologize to me, Your Highness. I am merely your father’s servant.”

The ship of her princess-hood back on even keel, Amelia grabbed my hand and commanded, “Come along.”

I was still very short on explanations, but of course, I followed. She turned back toward the King and company, as did the other two girls. She still had a hold of my hand when she resumed her seat, and, to my consternation, insisted that I sit next to her. Mr. Angry glowered at me, but the King nodded consent and gestured for me to sit, so I dematerialized my wings and sat.

Look dude, Uncle Owen is the king. You’re just some dude.

I finally recognized the disinterested guy as a fellow knight, specifically one of the knights assigned to the King’s security. This other guy though, I did not know him.

“Sasara, please have a seat as well,” the King directed. Yes, the King spoke in that familiar a way to my mother. That’s one of the reasons I was already sure he and Mother were secretly a thing. If she were just another vassal, she would have been “Lady Pendor” or even just “Pendor”. At the absolute least, “Lady Sasara.”

“Yes, Your Majesty,” Mother answered, and slipped into the settee on the King’s left. By the way, she had her wings hidden because, although it is generally known that I am half-vampire, the public thinks my mother is simply a powerful human mage. The King knows what she really is, of course, but for the greater populace, the whole fairy thing is kept quiet.

It’s understandable. It would cause considerable public concern. Fairies often toy with humans. They are well-known for enticing young women into inappropriate behavior and tricking young men into throwing their lives away. They aren’t often associated with fair-minded, amiable conduct. Mother is a bit unusual in that regard.

“I’ve returned, Mother,” I told her, bobbing my head.

The platinum-haired beauty gave me a smile, but with an odd shade to it I didn’t understand. “Welcome back, Tiana.”

I looked back and forth between my mother’s amethyst eyes and King Owen’s blue ones while I waited for an explanation for any of the oddities so far. The King provided one at last. More or less.

“Amelia,” he said, “You said that you do not think she recognized you.”

“Yes, Father,” she agreed. “She was focused only on defeating the bandits and saving all of us.”

The King looked at me. “But the fact is, you did save my daughter, and ten other of my subjects, and captured or killed the perpetrators. You have my profound thanks.”

“Wait…” My mind finally caught up to the conversation. Stunned at what they were saying, I looked at Amelia. “Your Highness… were you one of those girls, this morning?”

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Most of the girls had come nowhere near me, and I had been concentrating on the bandits and the soldiers. Really, I doubt I took a clear look at any of the girls. Although Tiana hadn’t seen Amelia much in the last three years, I was still amazed that I hadn’t noticed that this girl whom she had grown up with had been among them.

Amelia shuddered, but she nodded. “Tied to the back of a wyvern and headed for heaven only knows what. I was still so petrified even after you rescued us that I couldn’t call out to you.”

“My Lady,” the tall brunette girl said to me, “You have my deepest thanks as well. We were traveling with Her Highness, and were captured along with her.”

Hearing ‘we’ made me look to the petite redhead next to her. She bowed her head. “You rescued me as well, Good Knight. I am most deeply grateful.”

Amelia told me, “We were on the road home after visiting my mother’s family. Our carriage had lost a wheel and overturned, so we were out in the open when they attacked.”

What kind of a coincidental fantasy fiction development is that? A damsel in distress that I rescued just happens to be the King’s daughter?

“I am Clara, daughter of the Lord Mayor of Atius,” the redhead told me, with a curtsey and lowered head.

“Erin, daughter of the Earl of Heverthe,” the brunette stated, doing the same.

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“I am Tiana Pendor, Royal Knight of Orestania, at your service,” I answered, giving a deep head-bow since they had caught me off my feet. Having been directed by royalty to sit, I couldn’t stand to curtsey in return.

“My Lord Colin,” the King said, and Mr. Angry drew himself to attention. He circled the settee my mother was sitting in to stand and bow to me.

“I am Colin, son of the Baron of Tellmont and senior aide to the Privy Council. My Lady Tiana Pendor, by consent of the Privy Council, you shall receive a per diem increase of two crowns, to be paid whenever His Majesty requires your service, and an additional reward to be communicated to you in private by His Majesty. However, we ask that you remain discreet regarding the involvement of Her Highness and their Ladyships in the incident this morning.”

My eyes had probably grown huge when he told me the pay raise. They were tripling my active duty pay. Because a normal knight had to pay his retainers and helpers, the standard one crown per diem for a new knight was already enough in one day for a family to live quite well on for a week. A typical high-skilled laborer earns an eighth of a crown per day. So does a knight when he isn’t on active duty. It’s called his ‘stipend’.

I glanced at the King and at Mother, but both of their faces were neutral. No explanations would be coming from that direction.

Nothing in my knowledge borrowed from Tiana told me what her response would be– perhaps that meant she wouldn’t have known how to respond either– so I just bowed my head again and stated, “My Lord, please communicate my humble thanks to the Privy Council. And please assure them that, on my honor as a knight, I shall remain discreet.”

But what was this ‘additional reward’ that needs to be communicated in private?

- my thoughts:
Another key character next chapter...
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