The term “mess uniform” makes it sound like one wears it while crawling through the mud and mucking out the stables. In reality, it’s the second fanciest uniform a soldier can wear. It’s the ‘mess uniform’ because you wear it for formal dinners in the ‘mess’, which is what they call the dining room.
Within an hour of receiving Arken’s letter, I had changed to my new mess uniform, also duly modified, and was waiting in the King’s private chamber with the letter in the pocket of my cloak. I stared at my tea on the coffee table and worried about what they would say. After all, the rational response of most parents would be, “No, dear, now that you’re betrothed and attending school, you mustn’t go doing dangerous things.”
Or would they respect my status as a knight and understand that it is my duty? That I needed to obey the knight’s oath that I swore? The King had raised my per diem. I assumed that meant he did expect me to go on missions from time to time.
A moment after thinking that, I realized how fully I had been thinking in ‘Tiana’ mode just now. Nothing at all like Robert Stewart. Was I losing his personality? I was thinking that ‘I’ had sworn the oath that Tiana had taken. I certainly felt honor-bound to uphold her oath, but in reality, I was not the ‘I’ who had sworn it.
I really didn’t want Robert to disappear. But, how much of him was even of any use to me in this world? Wasn’t I better off just giving up and letting the Tiana personality take over?
While mired in depressing thoughts like that, I failed to notice that someone had entered the room. It wasn’t until after he sat down in the settee opposite my chair and steepled his fingers with his elbows on the chair arms that I noticed him.
Jerking my head up, I exclaimed, “Your Highness!”
“It’s Rod!” he retorted.
I steadied my breathing, and gave a wry smile. “Sorry. I hadn’t noticed you come in.”
“That was pretty much obvious. And my name is…?”
“… Prince Roderick.”
I let out a little chuckle.
“Is that the new female knight uniform?”
“After I had it altered to slightly higher moral standards, yes. I could never go out in what Mother originally had had them make. I don’t think Uncle’s other female knights would, either.”
“Why not?” he asked in what sounded like completely innocent seriousness.
I glared at him, knowing that he knew better. “Other than me, the current Lady Knights of Orestania consist of a married thirty-year-old, a mother in her late forties, and two semi-retired grandmothers. I doubt any of them would wear a wide neckline that dropped down to here.”
I jabbed my index finger into a spot on my sternum about an inch above my solar plexus.
He laughed. Then told me, “Stand up and model it.”
Glowering to one side, I asked, “Must I?”
“Consider it an order from your prince.”
I twisted my mouth to one side, then said, “You would have done a whole lot better calling it a request from my big brother.”
But I stood up anyway, walked toward the door, turned smartly enough to cause the hem of my cloak, and probably my skirt too, to fly out a bit, then walked back. I stopped and gave him my full curtsey, mostly because it occurred to me I hadn’t checked something critical yet.
Glaring up at him from my crouch, I asked, “Please give me an honest answer, Rod. Do my panties show when I do this?”
He smirked for a moment, pointed his eyes to the ceiling, and wondered, “What to do… should I tell her?”
He smiled down at me and said. “Since you called me Rod, I’ll be nice and give you an honest answer. I see nothing. But I suspect you are only just barely out of harm’s way. You may want to have the hem lowered a bit more, just to give yourself a safety margin. Good Knight, you may rise.”
I rose, brushing down the skirt, and sat again.
“Incidentally, this uniform really becomes you, Ti.”
“Thank you, Your Highness. But the true test of it is whether it becomes Lady Beryl, in her late sixties.”
Rod opened his mouth, probably with a smart-ass response, thought the better, and closed it. Then he nodded. “You’re right.”
Maybe the jerk really had grown up a little.
I finally took a sip of my tea and discovered it was only lukewarm. It had been sitting there longer than I realized. It occurred to me, this was another sign of Tiana changing me. I hadn’t given a crap about tea on Earth, but Tiana, it turned out, was a tea snob.
With a sigh, I put it back down. It was at almost that same moment that the door opened again, to admit Mother, and then…
I rose quickly, “Your Majesty!”
He waved me to sit back down. “This is my private chamber, Tiana. ‘Uncle’ is more than sufficient in here.”
I relaxed, greeted Mother and sat back down. While the two circled around behind the settee where Rod sat, I noticed they were holding hands. Perhaps she had told him the news today…
They detached and Uncle Owen took his seat in the large upholstered chair. Mother took the chair next to mine, snapped her fan open and waved some air at herself.
I hadn’t noticed, but it was indeed pretty warm in the Palace. It had been humid lately.
She commented, “I see that you had the tailor alter the new uniform.”
I nodded. She sighed, “I wish you had left it alone.”
“Mother, on the mess uniform, I did leave the back as is, since the cloak covers it. But the décolletage on your version was just unwise for a young lady to wear in the presence of that many unmarried men, don’t you think?”
“She modeled it for me,” Rod stated. “Why don’t you give them the same, Ti?”
Just before I retorted, I thought better of it and repeated my little show. I went down into the deep curtsey at the end too, but I looked up at Uncle Owen with a smirk, and noted, “Rod suggested I lower the hemline.”
“Well, I don’t actually see anything… ” he started, then turned his head and scratched his cheek. “But yes, that might be a good idea. Rise.”
I rose and he beckoned me back to my seat.
“So, Tiana, you said this was urgent,” he noted.
I nodded, took out Arken’s letter and handed it across to him. As I leaned forward, Tiana’s well-practiced reflexes brought my palm to my chest and that still-daring bodice just barely in time.
He accepted it, then pulled spectacles out of his jacket and put them on. It was a shock to me. Tiana had never seen him use reading glasses before.
“I am embarrassed to send this request to you, such a short time after you were so impolitely dismissed, but I am unable to think of another ally with the resources to aid me here.
“We have suffered a serious hindrance to our mission. Due to the nature of the opponents we face, I am unwilling to post details to you, nor have I sent them to the Palace. I am concerned that my messages may alight in the hand of those who must not read them. Thus I cannot say what I shall ask of you, other than to request you come to Cara Ita, in the Kingdom of Hamagaar and find me by using the means we all have.”
“Do not be concerned about the three who asked you to leave. They will not oppose you for the duration of your assistance. Should this message not find you, I shall send more, for as long as I am able.
Uncle Owen lowered the paper and mused, “He didn’t put his name to it, nor yours.”
“Meaning he truly fears the messages being intercepted,” Mother noted.
“Father,” Rod said, “I can’t accept a request from those people to Tiana. That goes far past rude. It’s hypocritical. I’m against letting her go.”
“Rod, just a minute…” I protested, but he cut me off.
“No! Listen to me! They acted as if they didn’t need you! You have every right to take their word for it!”
“It’s not them asking me! It’s Uncle Arken!”
“He’ll be fine! I don’t care about the rest of them!”
“‘…for as long as I am able’,” I quoted.
“What Uncle Arken said at the end. Think about what it implies.”
Uncle Owen stepped in before Rod could reply. “Roderick, I have to agree with Tiana. Arken would not have sent a message worded this way unless the situation were dire. If he could extricate himself, he would have already done so, and then worked from outside to rescue the rest.”
I wasn’t hearing the ‘you mustn’t go, now that…’ response I had feared. Except from Rod of course. That put me into planning mode.
“I’ll have to go without armor…” I mused. “Or maybe use my old leather armor? But I can’t fly in that…”
“Tiana dear, Firgolmir promised your armor back tomorrow,” Mother noted. “Go to his smithy and see if it’s done.”
Rod wasn’t done. “But that asura could still be out there!”
“Rod, there is nobody else who can find them. We don’t know where they are, and I’m the only one with the means to find them.”
“What means?” he demanded.
I pulled up the pendant I was wearing and held it for viewing. “This. It’s a locator stone. Uncle Arken mentioned it in the letter as ‘the means we all have’. The temple gave one to each member of the party. They only respond to each other, and we can’t hand them over for someone else to use. I’m the only one who can find them, Rod. I have to go.”
“And what about the asura?”
I didn’t have an answer for him, so I dodged the question, instead. “Your Highness, I’m the King’s knight and his subjects are in need of my help.”