“An appropriate witness, Your Highness?”
“Sal-nedo (Esteemed Sister), I suggest strongly that you all wait for this witness before making any more claims concerning my little niece’s adventures in Royses.”
“I hardly see how it will make any difference, Your Highness,” Mára told my aunt. “It remains clear we cannot have this monster entering the sacred royal grove. We should immediately detain her and send her back to Orestania as they have requested!”
I couldn’t stay silent any more. I demanded, “As who has requested?”
She tipped her nose up as she declared, “We have an official request signed by three ministers of Orestania for your immediate capture and return!”
Three ministers… I cringed internally at that claim. It meant Parna had other Privy Council members joining in, now. Externally, I kept my composure.
“That is a serious thing you just said, My Lady” I told her. “As a royal knight of King Owen, I should like to know exactly which ministers have conspired to usurp the king’s authority.”
“How would ordering the capture of a fugitive be usurping the King’s authority?” Tenre inquired. It was delivered as a simple question, not a retort.
“No minister has the power to order the arrest of a member of the royal family,” I explained. “I am the Second Prince’s sworn betrothed. By Orestanian law, I have already become his princess. Similar to the way things work here, I can only be arrested by order of the King.”
Or the crown prince, but there is no crown prince at the moment. Since Ged has yet to marry, he’s still officially ‘First Prince’, not ‘Crown Prince’.
Mára’s lip curled. “The communication stated that the Privy Council has revoked your nobility and disapproved your engagement.”
I swallowed, as my throat went dry. But, I kept my composure and held my ground. “They cannot undo an engagement after the vows are exchanged.”
But of course, it depended upon whether anyone knew we had already exchanged the betrothal vows. And that… probably depended on whether Rod had filed those signed and witnessed engagement papers.
There was a part of me that was thinking, Wouldn’t it be great if Fate magic had made him change his mind and destroy those papers instead?
That part was, of course, Robert, still secretly wishing to escape the marriage. But the Tiana part of me, despite also hating the marriage, dreaded a betrayal by Rod even more.
The weird mixture of emotions swirling inside me at that moment was horribly distracting and confusing, so I had to force it out of my mind.
Mára smirked, “Isn’t it also the case that one who is neither noble nor royal can not marry royalty in Orestania? A mere concubine is not a royal.”
But I replied with with Rod’s reasoning and a smile. “A princess of Faerie is a royal, is she not?”
“And we say you are no princess!” she declared, triumphantly circling back to the beginning.
My smile grew sweeter and I tipped my head. “My Lady, whose opinion do you think the King of Orestania respects more in that regard? Yours, or the Fairy King’s?”
Her eyes grew wide, but no retort came out.
“Personally, I’m certain he fears the Fairy King’s wrath far more than yours… especially with my mother standing at his side to reply to any threat that you might pose.”
As Mára’s expression grew sour, so did a few others. Then I heard a gentle chuckle which slowly grew louder. I looked in the direction it was coming from, an empty spot near the edge of the stone circle, and saw nothing but empty air. The other fairies were confused, except Tenre, who was simply scowling at that same empty location as the chuckle grew into something close to a merry “ho ho ho ho…”
Like myself, she had long since identified the voice before Lady Serera dropped her stealth and strode into the circle.
“Well-stated, Your Highness,” she declared to me, then turned to Tenre and bowed.
“Your Highness, your father’s servant greets you,” she declared, then straightened once more.
“Lady Serera,” the princess nodded in return, then turned toward me. “Is this your witness, Felhe?”
For a moment, my brain skipped a beat. I knew she was addressing the voice, but she had just called him ‘son’, when he was calling her ‘sister’.
After that momentary confusion, I remembered that fairy siblings can be separated in age by a thousand years or more. They sometimes have more of a parent-child relationship with each other during the younger’s childhood, and address each other accordingly. As is sometimes the case, the voice had switched to ‘Esteemed Sister’ once he grew up, while ‘Esteemed Sister’ was still calling her little brother ‘Son’. She probably called my mother Celhe, ‘Daughter’.
Serera immediately looked confused– well, it did look like I was the one Tenre had just called ‘Son’– but that was cleared up as soon as the prince replied.
“She is, indeed,” the voice affirmed. “A good day to you, Lady Serera. I am Manlon of the High Forest.”
Serera was still puzzled by the disembodied voice, but gave a slight bow vaguely in my direction. I turned the back of my neck toward her, pulling my hair back, and hooked my index finger at the formation. Her puzzlement turned into amusement. I’m sure the formation was quite visible to her fairy sight, once I pointed it out.
“Your Highness, your father’s servant greets you,” she stated, with another bow.
Kiki picked this moment to drop her stealth and settle down onto my shoulder. Several of the fairies who had been looking at me showed surprise once again.
It was understandable; a pixie should not have such high-powered stealth. But they didn’t know how far off the charts this particular pixie could be.
“Let’s see,” Prince Manlon mused. “How was it stated? ‘The report is that she escaped the law in Atianus after attacking several mortals, assaulted and badly injured a fairy knight serving an Orestanian duke, then attacked a duly convened noble hearing in Royses, before fleeing here.’ Did I quote you accurately, Sal-nedo?”
Tenre thought, then nodded. “That’s about right.”
About right? I thought. I had high confidence that he had just delivered a word-for-word quote.
Manlon noted, “If I’m not mistaken, the royal knight who took her into custody at the border would be you, Lady Serera.”
Serera nodded. “That is mostly correct, except I did not ‘take her into custody’, Your Highness. I summoned her and Lady Feraen of the Old Grove to appear before the King. I was escorting them to Tëan Tír when that aforementioned noble hearing obstructed us, interfering with a royal knight in the performance of her duty.”
With a sweet smile, she added while addressing Mára, “I did warn your granddaughter that she was offending the crown. As she ignored the warning of a royal knight and even attacked us, I do intend to report it to his majesty as an act against the crown’s authority.”
Mára’s eyes grew dark and her hand rested on her sword pommel.
“You dare raise a charge at that level against my grandchild?!” she demanded.
The temperature had ratcheted up so suddenly, I nervously wondered if we were about to break into a fairy duel right there.
“Enough!” Tenre snapped. “This is the sacred circle! There shall be no violence on this ground!”
The two fairy knights continued glaring at each other, but seemed to relax very slightly. I breathed out the breath I had been holding.
I noticed a number of the fairies doing the same.
Serera placed her attention back upon Tenre. “I take it you intend to impede me as well, Your Highness? I am acting in my official capacity.”
“We merely intend to ascertain the facts, My Lady,” Tenre answered, her lips curling into a smile. “The Fairy Court is not an autocracy. The nobles are not be ignored.”
Serera shook her head. “This is a repeat of that fake trial in Royses. The Forest and Field clans are playing political games again.”
“I do not represent any clan, nor any faction. My position as the authority of this valley, by the command of my father, obliges me to be a strictly neutral actor.” Tenre raised her chin. “Do you claim that your Sky and Water clans are innocent of such games?”
The fairy captain replied firmly. “The Sky and Water prefer to leave such pastimes to mortals. This cheap imitation of human power games isn’t to our tastes. My noble father looks after the clan, I serve the king and my sisters manage our lands. The remainder of our clan attend to their own matters, as it has always been for the Fair Folk. The great majority of our kind, on all sides, have not the slightest care about these petty fights of the nobility.”
My aunt tipped her head and asked, “And yet these nobles are concerned. As the Lady of the Valley, I have the obligation to respond to their concerns.”
The fairy captain pressed her lips together and looked at me, then smiled and turned back to her. “Your Highness, I understand whom it is I address, but remember that I speak with the king’s voice until such time as he elects to overrule me. On that authority, I declare: this child shall not be harmed nor imprisoned nor cast out of the valley while I go to meet with my liege.”
The faces of all the fairies listening to her in the stone circled turned dark. Remembering how little her position as royal knight had mattered to the fairies in Royses, I wondered for a moment if she would be ignored again.
But Tenre, it seemed, respected it.
“I understand, My Lady,” Tenre replied with a regal nod. “We shall await my father’s word.”
Many of the fairies present looked dissatisfied, but Serera nodded with satisfaction and turned toward me. “Your Highness, head back down the valley to the House of Gold Leaves. You should easily obtain directions to it from those you meet. I shall meet with His Majesty and then find you there.”
It looked like the other fairies were unable to object. I gave Tenre a curtsey of acknowledgment and turned away.
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