I had hoped to do all this unseen, but just before I uncloaked, the door opened in front of me. Fortunately, it was Sir Belgar. Although he did blink and his hand did travel to his sword for a moment, it was all reflex, because he hadn’t expected a sudden appearance right in front of him. But, Belgar already knew all about me. In fact, it was he who had first put the idea in Tiana’s eight-year-old head about becoming a royal knight.
He gave me a nod which was a half-bow. “Lady Tiana.”
I returned it with a curtsey, since I was in a gown. “Sir Belgar.”
Scowling past my shoulder he noted, “It looks like you came here yourself?”
“I’m afraid His Highness’s carriage never appeared. My attendants are on their way by foot.”
Belgar’s frown grew deeper. “I can’t believe that boy…”
I cleared my throat. It didn’t bother me that he was referring to Rod as if he were still one of the kids running around the castle, but someone else might overhear him.
He gave me a chuckle, and then an appraising look. I think if Robert had pulled such an inspection I would have felt a bit sullied. I don’t think Rod could pull it off either, although he might have been more suave. Belgar, though, had a particular style that allowed him to take me in, head to toe, without seeming the least bit lecherous.
“The new Lady Knight’s Court Formal truly favors you, Lady Tiana.”
I again got confirmation that some of Tiana’s crush on him still survived inside me, because I blushed as he stood aside to hold the door open for me. The Tiana reaction was, frankly, irking me.
“You flatter me, Sir Belgar,” I told him as the lower half of my face disappeared behind my fan
“Not in the slightest, My Lady.”
I always worry that a knight or other noble will offer their arm to escort me. When they do, I have to take it, out of courtesy, but it’s horribly embarrassing.
Yup. Sir Belgar did exactly that.
I accepted it because it would have been an embarrassment to him if I refused it, but as we walked through the lobby to the entrance into the Hall itself, I said, quietly, “Sir Belgar, I am a fellow knight, not a frail maiden. You don’t need to escort me.”
He humphed. “You can be a fellow knight after we enter the hall, My Lady. At the moment, I am taking pride in escorting a noble and beautiful daughter of the Palace.”
I could see myself in the massive mirrors in the lobby as we crossed it. The royal blue of my uniform matched Sir Belgar’s perfectly, of course, but mine was an elegant gown with a flared skirt over several stacked petticoats and a backless, strapless bodice that could cling impossibly to my bosom only via the miracle of magic, with detached sleeves and a gold braid aiguillette draped over my bare shoulder, attached on its innermost loop to my cloth choker.
And yet, somehow, with my knight’s badge strategically positioned at the base of the décolletage, with the twin rows of brass buttons on the stiff cuffs and down the middle of the bodice and with my sword hanging from a brightly finished black leather sword belt, I was still obviously and unmistakably a royal knight.
I was glad that Mother’s amulet was a tasteful piece of fairy-made jewelry. Thanks to the plunging vee, it was on open display. With any luck, eyes would be looking at it rather than the scenic valley where it nestled. The support cups built into the bodice gather things together in quite an eye-catching manner.
Yes, I know. Who am I fooling. They’re not looking at the amulet.
“I’ve heard you aren’t fond of the new lady knight’s uniforms,” Sir Belgar commented when he noticed me studying the mirror.
“I’m not fond of standing out,” I said. “When I’m in uniform, I should simply be another knight.”
He chuckled. “A beautiful woman stands out regardless of attire, My Lady. But be at ease that you are not alone in wearing that uniform.”
“I will be alone here in Copen,” I noted.
“That is not the case, My Lady,” he countered as the doormen opened the hall for us to walk in.
I flashed him a puzzled frown, but I wasn’t able to ask what he meant. A harried looking woman was rushing up to meet us.
“Sir Belgar! Are the rest of the royal knights here now?”
“I’m afraid Lady Tiana has arrived on her own. The rest were escorting the Royal children, so they will all arrive together.”
“They were supposed to already be here!” she protested. “Did we communicate the time to them?”
“We did, Miss Adena, as the presence of My Lady demonstrates,” he stated, indicating the girl on his arm.
With a slightly embarrassed smile, I detached myself from said arm, took my skirt in hand, and gave the woman a curtsey. “A pleasure to meet you, Miss Adena. My name is Tiana Pendor of the Royal Knights. I also have the honor of attending this academy beginning this year.”
I didn’t introduce myself as a ducal daughter, because I was in uniform.
She did a simple head-dip, which I had already been told to expect from teachers here, and responded, “Is that so? You’re entering the advanced school, then?”
A little surprised, I blushed and answered, “Ma’am, I am only fifteen years old.”
“Fifteen and already a royal knight? How extraordinary!” she replied. Then she formally took skirt in hand and curtseyed. “My Lady, I am Adena of Gria. I am a teacher of divination and medical arts and the advisor to the upper school student council.”
I was a little surprised to hear a commoner was the advisor when that group was almost guaranteed to be full of upper nobility, but I kept it off my face. No doubt she was a top-class mage, if she had anything to do with divination.
And being ‘of Gria’ suggested she might also be part elve. Gria was the main Ljosalfar province, and affiliated with Orestania. I was aware of that because it happened to be Arken’s home. But enough humans lived there that just being from Gria didn’t prove anything. Although she could be of the elven chieftain class that the Kingdom treated as equal to nobility.
She added, “Becoming a royal knight at such a young age, I’m sure a woman of My Lady’s talents will do quite well in our academy.”
Then she turned back to my escort. “Sir Belgar, we really must start the practice soon. It will reflect poorly on the school if the practice is still ongoing while guests are arriving.”
She strode away, summoned at that moment by a couple male students in vaguely military outfits that I assumed were ‘school formal attire’. I turned to Belgar.
“Do you want me to fly around and see if I can find them?”
“If you would. Making you come here early was pointless if the rest aren’t present.”
I nodded and hurried back outside, but as I pushed the outer door open, I beheld the tardy Royal Coach just now turning onto the road that I had flown down to reach the school. I shrugged and went back inside to report it to Belgar.
“Hm. As a royal knight, you could have stayed out there and awaited his arrival.”
A little annoyed, I asked, “Must I, Sir Belgar? He did just stand me up.”
He let out a very quiet snort. “I won’t say anything.”
The contents of the carriage, less the footmen and driver, spilled into the hall a few minutes later. There were no less than five knights, a prince, a princess, and three maids.
Five knights? I thought there were supposed to be six?
I shrugged it off. There were plenty of potential explanations.
Rod rushed over to me. “Here you are, Ti! When we stopped to pick you up, they said you had already gone ahead!”
“Of course I did, Your Highness,” I said with a tone that said ‘obviously‘. I was still pretty annoyed at him. “Royal knights were to be here on the hour. Weren’t you informed?”
He frowned and grew a bit embarrassed. “Well, yes but… there was a delay…”
Amelia swept past him and took my arm, marching me away while saying over her shoulder, “Just go take care of that girl, Big Brother.”
“But, I need to explain…”
The princess halted and turned toward him, her fist propped on her hip. “I left one of my knights with her. She is embarrassed and unable to enter, and whose fault is that, Big Brother? Go.”
He scowled and turned back to head back to the lobby.
“I can’t believe him,” Amelia said as she watched him go. “I thought he was more responsible.”
“What’s going on?” I asked. “What girl?”
Amelia just sighed and shook her head, looking disgusted. “Telling you is Rod’s job. Although I’m sure you’ll hear all about it from others, if he doesn’t. It’s been getting out of hand.”
I was a little mystified, but I was also being beckoned to join the other knights. I gave Amelia a quick curtsey and went over to where they were gathering.
Several of the knights who had just arrived were people I knew from the Palace, who just gave me a cheery nod or wave. I knew most of the others from the time I spent as a squire in Copen.
One of those was Sir Tibor, the person who had waved me over. Standing with him was a younger man I recognized, but whose name I could not remember. Look, it’s a big kingdom, with a lot of knights, you know?
Shortly after a quick round of greetings, Tibor looked over my shoulder and said, “Ah, so it was her.”
I turned to see, next to Rod, a lovely woman with light blue hair only a few years older than me entering the hall. To my surprise, she was wearing the same ‘uniform’ as myself. I had thought I knew all the female royal knights, and none of them were even remotely as young as me. Was it disguise magic? I turned to Tibor and asked, “Who is she?”
“Mireia? She’s a commoner who was placed on the student council. Apparently she scored top marks on the advancement exam from lower school.”
The name sounded familiar, but I was confused. Commoner? The woman was wearing the same lady knight’s court dress as myself. House knights are often commoners, but when a commoner receives a royal knighthood, they become a life noble. I looked back and then realized my mistake. Tibor hadn’t been talking about the lady royal knight.
Walking slightly behind Rod, pink-haired Miss Mireia from Clara’s tea party was looking around with worried eyes. She wore an evening gown of the same design I had seen worn by a couple of female students scurrying around the hall making preparations. This was the women’s ‘school formal attire’.
She saw me and those eyes immediately grew fearful. I remembered the same look from the tea party, when she first learned who I was.
Miss Adena was calling for our attention to start the walk-through of the knight’s pledge. I decided to ignore whatever the drama was about. I would have to wait to learn why Rod hadn’t shown up on time, or how Mireia was involved.