“The time has come to readdress the treaty,” Dayne said regally, and everyone quieted down at his deep voice.
All attention turned to him as he spoke. It had been five years since he had taken control of the throne; the future of the Kingdom of the Ryne rested on how well this meeting went. Nya, now the Queen of Thiol, sat opposite of Dayne at the other end of the table. She was clad in warrior’s armor, sleek leather to shield her yet keep her mobile, though it was decorated extensively with intricate designs and inlaid shiny metals into each piece. She looked a warrior queen, ready for battle, yet she sat relaxed in her chair. I hoped this meant she was eager to continue our wary peace. Seeing her was odd, yet pleasant, as our history was long and entangled. But now, she was more of an old friend than an old flame, and we held nothing against each other. She seemed happy, and I was glad for it. She deserved as much, especially given everything that we all had been through over the years.
It had been difficult since Dayne became King. We had a whole country to rebuild, almost thirty years of grievances to account for, and the creation of many new practices. I welcomed the change, though some didn’t, as is expected with any government. Not every single person can be made happy, not when you must consider thousands of people. But, Dayne did his best, consistently holding court and addressing the concerns of the people. It helped that Pellia Raghas, the previous rebel leader and namesake for Dayne’s late mother, was the voice of the common folk. She came to advise Dayne often, working hard to make sure that whatever new law we were implementing was truly beneficial to them. She was here at the table even now, representing the interests of the citizens as she always did.
Our army had recovered and then some, though the allies of Dobridland had sent home their forces. Dieter Kampstaff, King of Dobridland, still visited often as an ally, even though his army was no longer in our country as it had been before. Dieter’s friendship with Dayne’s late father, Oskar, extended on towards Dayne. We retained good relations with Dieter, and he offered his input on many foreign diplomacy matters. His experience, along with many others, helped Dayne become the King he was today. He had to lean on his advisors to rule, as he hadn’t been raised to run a country like many other monarchs before him. His unfortunate childhood on the streets and then in the Naga gang hadn’t prepared him well for the minute political nuances of ruling, though it had provided him with a unique perspective on the well-being of the country and the needs of the people.
Liss now ran our army, assuming a role very similar to his station when he served Zante Urion. He trained new recruits – willing volunteers – and turned them into competent soldiers. His task force was still young, as expected for a country that had only been reborn for five years, but the potential was very strong. Liss sat to my right, his fatherly presence soothing my nerves as he often did. Though he lived here in the palace, he had travelled to his home in the Telago islands to search for his family. By some miracle, he had found his wife and daughter, alive and well, and had brought them to the palace with him, and they’ve been living here with him ever since. I’d never seen him so happy. I initially had thought that when he had brought his family here, I would’ve been jealous. After all, this man was my father figure when I was growing up as a Suryan Mage, guiding my magic and my physical training until I’d become High Suryan Premiere. Then, he became a trusted friend and subordinate. But, when he showed up on the palace steps with his family, he was so obviously radiant and ecstatic about seeing them again that I could feel nothing but happiness for him. It didn’t hurt that his wife and daughter were delightful people who loved to hear about all of Liss’s adventures during his time at the palace. I was happy to oblige them and regale them with our stories.
Liss spared me a glance, his expression pleased and patient, easing my fears with his fatherly stare. He must feel quite relaxed, and that comforted me. Though this peace had been steady for us, it wouldn’t be impossible that Nya would wage war, now that the allotted time period was over. She was an excellent strategist, just like her mother had been, and while I didn’t see an advantage to being at war, it was still possible that Nya did. I wanted this peace to continue; the country was just beginning to flourish. I hoped that Liss’s ease was indicative of what would happen at this meeting.
“We have upheld our word for these last five years,” said Queen Nya, reclining in her chair comfortably. “Nothing but peaceful actions and no ill will.”
And she had; no actions of war had been made against us and vice versa. Each of us had behaved well.
“As have we,” spoke up a familiar voice.
Renn. She sat tall and confident. She no longer wore the face paint I’d always seen her in as The Raven, but instead was fresh faced, her dark eyes staring straight into Nya’s. She was always straight and to the point, effortlessly capable. Or at least, it seemed that way. Our relationship as sisters had been rocky throughout the years, but despite everything we’d been through, now, we were finally able to mend the past. We’d become close, and she’d let me in on her secrets, her histories that I’d missed, and it felt like I had a sister once more. I never realized how much I’d missed it until I had it again. I admired her strength and her perseverance; she was a woman I wanted to be like. Her hair, rid of the illusion that Dayne had placed on it long ago, flowed long and black down her back, loose. It looked just like mine. I took comfort in the fact that we looked more like sisters, now. I felt that it brought us closer again, as silly as that sounds.
We’d been through so much, and life was messy. We weren’t always happy with each other. We’d had our fights about all of the different wrongs we’d done to each other. But I was just so happy that I was able to have those fights with her, that we were able to air out all of that bad blood, that it almost didn’t matter that we had our differences. She and I, though effectively polar opposites, were complementary in our strengths. We worked well as twin Grand Generals. Our combined knowledge made us a formidable foe, although we hadn’t had need to test our strengths in actual battle. I hoped we would never need to, but I wasn’t naïve enough to think that we never would. War would come one day, and Ryne would be prepared. We wouldn’t be so easily conquered, never again.
Nya nodded in response to Renn’s words, accepting their validity. “I welcome this peace, and peace we shall have from here forward,” she said, her voice ringing with the truth of her words. “But, remember this,” Nya supplied, warning. “We who are peaceful cannot be called peaceful unless we are capable of great violence. Otherwise, we are but harmless.”
Everyone at the table nodded in silent agreement of her wise words. She stopped for a moment, considering what to say next.
“We all have achieved this peace through the cost of our violence – through the cost of the deaths of each of our family members, no less. I do not weigh this lightly,” she sighed, her words heavy as she doubtless recalled the murders of her parents, by the hand of the Renn who sat at the same table with her.
I admired her ability to make peace with somebody who had done such a thing to her. Though, I was not one to speak – I too have expected forgiveness from somebody I should not, and even received it.
Nya broke her self-imposed moment of silence, saying, “I will not forget how it came to this, but I will value our friendships and our future. I will honor this treaty until my last day, as I hope will you. I, and Thiol, stand beside you as a friend until shown otherwise.”
Everyone at the table relaxed, breathing deep as the promise of continued peace relieved every attendee’s worst fears.
“Agreed, Queen Nya,” Dayne said solidly. “Ryne and Thiol shall be allies henceforth. If you require our help, you only need ask.”
“And the same to you, Dayne. I will always help a friend in need,” she answered, giving him a knowing look. “I also propose that we establish trade relations...”
The meeting continued well into the afternoon. The advisors discussed the logistics of trade, and overall, both representatives from each country were satisfied with the outcome. We all stood as the meeting came to an end. The foreign dignitaries chatted with each other, mingling with strangers and filling the room with a comfortable din of idle chatter.
Dayne beckoned me over as we took our leave of the room. He offered me his arm; I accepted graciously, mocking his overly formal behavior.
“Sorry,” he laughed, “It’s a habit. Care to follow me somewhere?”
“As I’ve said before,” I squeezed his arm playfully, “I’d follow you anywhere.”
He led me up some stairs, around a few hallways, and we ambled leisurely around the castle. As usual for us, we enjoyed a companionship that didn’t require the silence to be filled with useless speech. He and I both enjoyed the comfortable quiet. Eventually we reached the balcony, one of my favorite places. It was early spring now, the time of rebirth and renewal. We looked out over the balcony, observing the teeming city, abundant with growth, the green, vivid landscape, spotted with expressively leafy forests, the farmlands thriving visibly. I sighed, taking it all in. This was one of my favorite places for another reason than just the exquisite view – this was also the place where Dayne had taken me after I’d given my sister back the life I’d taken from her, and where Dayne had announced his love for me for the very first time. I leaned forward on the balcony and closed my eyes, breathing in the fresh air that wafted through the wide, open windows.
Something nudged my leg. I opened my eyes and turned in the direction of the nudge, where I saw nothing but Dayne, perched on one knee, grasping in his fingers so tightly that the knuckles were white, something glinted in the lazy afternoon rays.
“Will you marry me?”
Shocked, I stared at him. This was more than marriage that he was proposing. This, as the King of the Ryne, and one who followed in the Rynish tradition, said that he saw me as an equal. That he saw me as the one person he wanted to rule this Kingdom with. I had no money, no familial connections, no alliance that I brought with this. He wanted to marry me because he felt that he and I would make the best team for Ryne. That concerned me for a moment – did he only want to marry me because he thought I was a good leader? Though that was touching – I had always aimed to be a good leader – it dismayed me. I furrowed my brows and pursed my lips, eliciting a concerned look from Dayne. What if he didn’t want me for me?
“Uh, I know this is a huge thing to ask... so take your time... but could you at least say something?” He shook slightly in the uncomfortable position I’d left him in.
“Dayne, we’ve been through so much together,” I said, shuffling my feet, staring off out the balcony over to the landscape that lay below. “I am in love with you, and I you know that.” I chanced a peek through my eyelashes at his expectant face, still kneeling at my feet. “I want to help you foster this country’s prosperity... but I have to know if you want me, too.” I avoided his gaze, my eyes darting all over the hills rolling throughout the countryside.
Boots scraped against the stone, a huff of breath exhaling from his lips.
“Larke, I’ve been in love with you since I met you. I would be asking you this if I were a King or a thief.” His fingers gently caressed my jaw as he silently asked me to turn to him. “I ask again, as a man, as your lover, as your friend.” He lifted the simple band, inexplicably reflecting all light, twisting it in his fingers.
“Will you marry me?”
I smiled, and for once, the I felt hope in the future.
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