With Tiana Full Battle Mode no longer active, I was beginning to go back into the funk I had been in since leaving the Hero’s Party. Arken sent regular reports to the Palace, so they knew all the details, but I had a duty to report my failure in person.
My mother has a small house in the capital… small in comparison to the Palace, I mean. To be frank, it’s a huge mansion…
“Young Mistress! Welcome home!” the first maid to spot me called as soon as I landed. It took about three minutes for an entire flock of maids to surround me.
“It’s so wonderful to have you back!”
“You look terrible! Where did all this blood come from?!”
“We’ll take this bag for you… this is your armor? We’ll polish it later.”
“I’ll take the travel bag, Young Mistress!”
“Let me wipe this blood off your face.”
“Your hair is a terrible mess, Young Mistress. We’ll have to spend extra time on it today.”
“Let’s get your gloves off.”
“I have your crossbow.”
“I’ll take your sword belt.”
“Sit here. I’ll take your boots.”
“This way, Young Mistress! Your bath is ready!”
“You seem cold… let’s get some tea into you!”
“I’ll have the kitchen send up a snack.”
“We’ll get this dirty thing off you, too.”
“Oh dear, these panties are in terrible shape. We’ll dispose of them.”
“In you go. We’ll have this blood off you in no time.”
The dialog above is the abridged version, but yeah, somehow they had gone from greeting me with excitement to forcibly immersing me in the gigantic bath in my suite without a clear transition that I can recall from one thing to the other.
One of the great blessings for Tiana when working away from home was not being treated like an object to be stripped, scrubbed, rubbed, pampered, powdered, preened and flower-scented by the maid brigade. Being allowed to bathe and dress herself was heaven for her. The moment the maids started in on me, I saw her point. This was humiliating.
Did I mention that the bath was huge? There was me and five maids in the water, and we all fit with lots of room to spare. I could swim laps in the thing.
After a thorough cleansing and a lengthy shampooing and conditioning process involving multiple oils, soaps, treatments and floral rinses, I was marched, splendidly nude, to a cot in my solarium to keep my delicate skin warm while they applied lotions and powders. During that event, the head maid came to inform me that Mother was at the Palace.
Just hold on! Wait a minute! How’d Tiana get so insanely rich?!!!
Yeah, I may have left out a teensy detail.
The vampire who impregnated Mother had caught her drunk and defenseless with the intention of converting her into a blood slave. She had woke up inside his inner palace, surrounded by a hundred or so beautiful blood-slaves, and realized what her one-night-stand had done and what he was trying to do. She proceeded to destroy the bastard and all his underling vampires in an afternoon, before she flew home to Relador, the land of mages and fairies.
Yup. Mother is strong.
That would have been the end of her involvement in modern Orestanian history, but she had become pregnant in the process. After she gave birth to me and I had been around a few months, my vampiric nature became known and her fellow fairies could not tolerate having a half-monster in their midst. So, Mother took me and returned to the Kingdom to demand reparations for what the King’s vassal, a high-ranking nobleman, had done to her.
Fortunately, while Mother was busy in Relador giving birth to me, the knights investigating his death had discovered the vampire’s secret and highly illegal blood slave harem of more than one hundred missing citizens. They also unearthed all the other horrid things the criminal had been doing, including where he had disposed of hundreds of deceased blood slaves. Thus, killing him had made Mother a hero instead of the murderer of a noble.
Well, any common citizen might have still been considered a murderer anyway, but…
The King was happy to oblige her demands, because the vampire in question had left no heir. The bastard had apparently delighted in torturing pregnant blood slaves until they miscarried or died. So, his death had left his territory without a lord. The King made a strategic decision to give Mother the duchy as compensation instead of charging her with murder. It wasn’t as if he stood any chance of arresting her, anyway.
As I said, Mother is strong.
The public knows my father made and kept blood slaves and committed many other crimes, so I won’t inherit unless my mother gets bored and abandons it before making a male heir. She’ll get bored eventually– she’s a fairy– but until then, the King has a super smart and powerful advisor and ally. And since the Queen passed away in childbirth before we arrived in the Kingdom, my gorgeous mother also became his escort at functions and ceremonies where a queen would normally be at a king’s side.
It was a secret at that time, but she was also in his bed quite often. A secret from the public, that is. Tiana was already quite sure about it.
So, I’m not just a fairy’s daughter. I’m the daughter of one of the most powerful nobles in the Kingdom, Lady Sasara, the Duchess Pendor.
# # #
“Thank you, Benedetta. I am headed there now. Please send word that I will be coming, and then have the staff bring my knight’s formal uniform…”
“That horrid thing with the trousers? Certainly not. The Mistress has procured an alternative design for your return.”
She clapped twice. “Girls, prepare the Young Mistress’s newest court dress!”
“But I have to report as a king’s officer, Benedetta, so…”
“The Mistress has already persuaded His Majesty to approve this new design as the new uniform design for female knights.”
“He did what? When?” It had been decades since the last design change to the formal uniform.
“A month ago, once the dressmaker finished it. And there is no point in demanding the old uniform, Young Mistress. Once His Majesty approved the new design, Her Grace ordered us to dispose of the old one.”
I groaned. Mother’s fairy instincts led her to regularly push the Orestanian clothing standards to their limits. And she delighted in dressing Tiana to her tastes.
They stuffed me into another of my backless tunics so I could take a light lunch in my sitting room. That was a pleasant break that was altogether too short. After that, they dressed me in a knight’s uniform the likes of which the Kingdom had never before seen.
It was indeed in the royal blue of the court uniform of the Royal Knights, but what I was presented with could only be considered a somewhat daring evening gown, accessorized with a sword belt. The gown was backless and strapless. It required a permanent magic charm to remain safely in place over my bust, because it is not natural for a backless gown to descend to the small of the back. Without magic or glue, it is impossible, actually. The sleeves had the same design as the knight’s court uniform but lacked epaulettes because the sleeves were off the shoulder, and were not attached to the dress. Their upper end simply clung to my biceps as if they were long gloves. The most bizarre change to me was the medium-width flared skirt. What the heck kind of military uniform requires stacked petticoats? Or a skirt, for that matter?
Thank goodness Mother seemed to have realized that the widely flared skirt in current fashion wouldn’t allow for my sword, and went with an older-fashioned medium flare, instead. And I am very grateful that Orestania has never evolved the ridiculously extra-wide flares that you see in photos of 19th century women that required hoops. I’m not even sure how one sits down in one of those. Our ‘wide’ is their ‘medium’. But still, a military uniform with a flared skirt, Mother?
A cloth choker imitated the normal uniform’s regulation stiff collar. The aiguillette draped over my bare shoulder, with the innermost loop attached to the choker in such a way that together they looked to me uncomfortably like a fancy dog collar and leash. The brass buttons were also still present, in a decorative row down the middle of the bodice, and on the somewhat unexpected stiff cuffs at the end of the ‘sleeves’.
So it vaguely resembled the uniform, but…
I stared at myself in the mirror as the head maid affixed in my hair the enchanted silver feather that was my armor’s substitute for a helmet and decided that it was very fortunate that Melione couldn’t see this. The poor girl would have died of shock, seeing all this exposed skin.
Incidentally, this was the first time I had looked at myself in the mirror (as Tiana), rather than just having her memories of looking at herself. Tiana considered herself plain-looking, and she had said so more than once in the books. Other characters would disagree, but her belief still made my first actual look at my reflection a shock. I finally realized that she had greatly underrated herself because she compared herself to her full-blooded fairy mother. She may have been right to think Mother had her beaten, but Tiana was nevertheless actually a strikingly beautiful girl.
Is that narcissistic if I’m the one saying it?
The above process had taken more than three hours. Just to bathe, eat and dress. Well, the ‘dress’ part involved multiple pauses for quick adjustments to make sure it fit me properly. I had caught a couple cat-naps between the fittings in my private chamber. Then they attached my scabbard and sword to the belt, pinned my badge to same, and sent me off to the Palace.