Knights in Shining Armor (And Princes in Love)

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viii

Things were in a flurry in the Dazeriatt Palace now that the Crowning Ceremony was approaching fast, with the decorators struggling to cover the palace grounds in time for the preceding banquet and following ceremony event and the seamstress and outfitters flittering in and out of the Crown Prince’s fitting room.

Veran found himself making too many rounds at the mercy of the dressers, the only relief coming in the form of gruelling combat practice for hours where he could meet up with Cirthe and stay informed about anything regarding the attack on him or the group responsible for it. He did have to mind his every move seeing as three additional guards were appointed to him ever since news of the ambush spread. He wasn’t too fond of the fact that most of the guards around him were Amon Knights but he also knew others were busy with the ceremony preparations and going over safety protocols.

“Most of the paperwork will be done by tomorrow, Your Highness.”

Over the course of the past few days, Veran had to admit he had grown to be grateful for Adler with the way the older man had managed to assist him in the majority of the paperwork, making things much less tiring. The man had even created a regular window of a break for the prince to take a walk through the gardens.

“That’s the best news you’ve given in a while, Adler,” Veran said as he leaned back from his desk, arms stretching to the side and upwards till the muscles felt like they were on the verge of cramping.

“I aim to please, Your Highness. In addition, tomorrow’s paperwork is mostly regarding the Mages of the Etria nation. There’s already a file maintained on the basic information of the last meeting our advisors had with them. You merely need to review it.”

“Etria? We haven’t maintained contact with them for a while now. Is there anything specific the Mages require of us?”

Adler’s hesitation made Veran all the more curious about the matter. Mages were not a thing commonly discussed in Tretho as far as he knew. There were nations who had friendly relations with Etria where the majority of the Mages resided, using their magic for advancements of their weaponry or military prowess in exchange for financial and combative stability of Etria. Tretho, however, had maintained a distant, almost non-existent relationship with the nation from what Veran knew. Something about their values and beliefs not aligning the historical records said, though Veran rarely believed that biased paperwork created and maintained as they were by shrewd old men like Lord Vanshire.

“They have been trying to offer their help with the safety of the Crown Prince ever since the ceremony date was decided,” his assistant told him, “And since the news about the ambush spread, they’ve been even more eager to build relations with Tretho.”

“Father isn’t too fond of them, I presume?”

“That’s right. Our relations with Etria were never too strong even before your father, His Majesty came to power but there was a complete cease of contact once he did.”

Veran found himself wondering what could be the cause of that but he knew there would be no reliable source for him to gather any answers from regarding the matter.

“I see. Well, I’ll look over the meeting details tomorrow then. I’m curious to know what their strategy is.”


As quiet as Cirthe knew others found her to be, she doubted most would know about her love for celebration and pleasant chaos. Her memories of her childhood years are fuzzy at best but she always had an inkling that her likeness towards ceremonies and festive events had to do with the place she was born in. She imagined it was a place where festivities took place often, buildings and shops barely having the time to take off decorations for one occasion before having to start over again for something else. Veran was all too aware of it which is why she would often find herself getting dragged to any festivities going on in any of the towns with him when they were allowed to.

“My Lady, you need to get to the fitters before noon!”

Cirthe turned away from the tall window looking out into the courtyard that was covered in unlit lights and fancy lanterns, and back to the short young woman nagging her. Greta was one of the ladies in waiting Cirthe had come to spend time with whenever she was free from her duties. It had been difficult for her to approach them initially, being more used to the rough ways of the other knights around her than the working women in the palace staff. However, they were more than happy to spend time with her, including her in their circle of mindless chatter and humorously harmless gossip. With little to no female friends of her own, Cirthe found herself swiftly becoming fond of the ladies and began looking forward to meeting with them in the kitchens or the staff quarters.

Greta, the youngest of the group she found herself becoming friendly with, was a delicate-looking girl, her head barely reaching Cirthe’s shoulders. Her mother was said to have passed away working as one of the staff when Greta had barely learned to walk, and so, the other women had practically raised her as their own within the palace. Much like Cirthe, Greta barely had any solid memories of her mother or father, claiming she never felt their loss with the affectionate company she’d been brought up with all her life. If she were to be honest with herself, Cirthe envied the young girl at times, though she never said it out loud.

“How many times have I told you to refer to me by name?” Cirthe ruffled the younger girl’s copper hair, knowing it would annoy her.

As predicted, Greta made a noise of protest as she patted down her hair and glared at Cirthe. The young girl had become fussy about her physical appearance recently and Cirthe had an inkling a certain blonde girl was the cause of it. She had overheard the others teasing Greta about it and she had made a mental note of the same for later.

“It’s a habit and you know that. If only you weren’t always dressed like some noble knight heading out for a tussle.”

“A noble knight would not tussle . They would spar. There’s a difference.”

“Only to you, Ciri . And that’s not the issue here!”

“Then what is? You have to start speaking directly, Greta. Maybe practice on that blonde girl you’re always trailing, yes?”

Cirthe laughed lightly at the flush creeping up on the younger girl’s face rapidly while she fumbled for a reply.

“Oh do stop teasing the poor thing, Ciri.”

She shrugged innocently as the oldest of the ladies in waiting, Helena, chastised while tucking in a stray hair strand on Greta’s head in a soothing manner.

“I just wanted to get her to try the dresses on and this is what I get,” Greta grumbled, dodging Cirthe’s attempt at pinching her cheeks.

“I’ve already told you, haven’t I? I have no need to try on dresses when I have no plans on wearing one for the ceremony.”

Cirthe didn’t have to take turns looking at each of the seven ladies around her to know they were all wearing various shades of disapproval on their faces. Ever since Cirthe became friendly with them, they all had made it their collective mission to make her try on dresses of all designs, claiming they had never seen her in one.

“Well, why not?” Bree decided to join in on the conversation now that she was done with her duties. Closer to her own age, Bree was usually the quieter of the bunch but always managed to gather some energy when the rest were cornering Cirthe with something.

“Because I’m not used to them. And I see no need to wear them for the ceremony.”

“Well, you won’t be standing guard at the Crown Prince’s side anymore so you will have the chance to enjoy yourself, you know.”

Cirthe could feel her mood tanking at Bree’s words despite the truth in them. Ever since she was dismissed from Veran’s side as his personal guard, she had found herself with too much free time and too little to do. It wasn’t until she was no longer by his side that she realized how much of her life was entwined with his own. Too often she found herself worrying about his safety and general well-being after not being able to meet him for days.

“She means well, Cirthe,” Martha’s words did little to help with her mood but she understood where they were coming from.

After they had gotten comfortable with her, Greta admitted to thinking that she seemed lonely to them whenever they would get a glimpse of her beside the Prince. They thought both the Prince and his guard looked too in their little bubble when together but too lost and lonely when apart. Perhaps that was why the ladies had embraced her in their little group after she was dismissed.

“Yes, well,” Brushing a hand over her rough shirt, Cirthe nodded towards Greta, hoping to change the subject, “I have plenty of spare time today according to Sir Adras so I suppose I could humor you and your dresses for a bit.”

The answering grin from the younger girl would be able to make up for Cirthe’s discomfort for the next few hours.

Thirty minutes later, while she was forced into yet another form-fitting silk dress in the room of the fitters, Cirthe started to despise giving into the pleading earlier. Although she was used to wearing clothing that was skin tight on her lean form, most of the time her knight uniform had protective coverings on parts of the body that didn’t really leave the clothes underneath on display. With the silk cloth of the teal dress sliding on her skin like cool water, Cirthe felt almost naked with the lack of weight it carried. She would have chosen something heavier with multiple layers but with the heat as severe as it was in the current season, she had no choice but to try on the ones made of lighter fabric.

“Ciri, how come the Crown Prince likes you so much?” asked Greta, hands busy fiddling with the dress but her attention still on the conversation.

“Well, we’ve both known each other since we were kids,” Cirthe grumbled as the younger girl took her by the hips and turned her around before tugging at the material on her back. “I knew no one here when I first came. Ve-- Prince Veran was a year older than me but his mother, the later Her Majesty, had taken a liking to me and wanted me to be friends with the Prince.”

“What was she like?”

“The late Queen?”

At her nod, Cirthe frowned. It made sense for Greta to be curious about the Queen since she was merely a child when she passed away. It wasn’t an easy topic to broach among the staff which explained her curiosity and Cirthe couldn’t blame her. There were large, beautiful portraits of the woman all around the Palace walls yet her name rarely crossed the lips of those in the capital. Although she was quite young herself when she first met the Queen, she still remembered being quietly awestruck by her. With russet locks usually plaited in a thick, loose braid and rosy skin that almost glowed in the sun, the late Queen was known for her lovely appearance. Cirthe, however, was more taken by the way she carried herself, with a certain grace that never seemed distant and a warmness about her person.

“She was kind and compassionate. I was young when she was alive so I have little knowledge about her role as Queen but she always treated me warmly, as if I wasn’t a child who had no known family background or social status. The Prince reminds me of her, with his soft nature and selfless actions.”

“How did she pass away?”

At this, Cirthe paused with a quick glance towards the other workers in the room. The late Queen was someone people rarely talked about but the circumstances surrounding her death were even more of a taboo subject. She could handle herself but she didn’t want Greta to get in trouble over innocent curiosities.

“There was an assassination plotted against both the King and the Queen,” Cirthe started in a voice quieter than before, continuing only when she was sure no one else was in hearing range, “While His Majesty managed to subdue the attacks against him, the Queen was separated from him and cornered in the palace grounds. Regrettably, the attackers succeeded.”

“That’s awful.”

Greta’s face was pale, hands stilled in horror against her lower back. Cirthe grimaced in regret, wondering if she should have avoided the whole conversation in the first place. Sometimes it was hard for her to remember not everyone was used to violence and death like her. Greta had been just a young child a few years ago, her world limited to the peace within the palace.

“It is, yes,” Cirthe hoped that would be the end of it.

“Did the attackers get caught? The ones who planned the assassination?”

She should have known better than to hope for the easy way out. Cirthe turned around with a sigh to face the girl, aiming to draw the topic to a close.

“Unfortunately, no. Sir Adras said they never got to know who was behind the attacks nor did they get a chance to capture those responsible and start an interrogation. It was guessed to be an attempt at capturing the throne, I presume.”

Greta nodded solemnly and Cirthe found herself relaxing until the younger girl went to open her mouth again, most likely to continue the uncomfortable conversation. She braced herself.

“It’s a bit eerie, isn’t it?”

“What is?” Cirthe turned her face to the side to hide her grimace. She looked out of the window the room absentmindedly, eyes falling on the number of guards patrolling the pathways.

Greta was still speaking, hands back to tugging at and adjusting the dress around her form.

“That the King and Queen were attacked all these years ago, and now there’s all this news about the Crown Prince being ambushed out of nowhere.”

Cirthe was half paying attention by now, eyes narrowing at the different crest on the guards’ chest. Amon knights, she guessed. For some reason, she had noticed the increasing number of Amon Knights standing guard around the place. She knew the influx of them recently had been for added security with the ceremony coming up, the presence of the knights symbolizing the budding relationship between the two nations. And yet, Cirthe felt something off about it all.

“That’s the risk of being from the royal family, Greta. Someone is always out for your head and the power that comes with it.”

A lone figure caught her eye, the dark hood concealing the person’s identity. She could tell from a distance that the person was of short stature, perhaps a woman. They were too far away for her to pick anything else out. As the figure started heading towards one of the building entrances, Cirthe saw a familiar Amon knight step in their path. The shiny, long blonde hair was all too familiar to her, used to pick it out at the Crown Prince’s side whenever he was out and about.

“Well, yes. But it’s almost like the past is repeating itself! The crowning ceremony is not far now and whoever planned against the Prince chose a dramatic time to do so.”

Faintly, Greta’s words rang terribly in Cirthe’s head. But before she could mull over them any further, her attention was snatched by the knight and the unknown figure outside. The Amon Knight appointed as one of the two guards to Veran was dragging the hooded figure away. She found it odd that none of the other guards around even reacted at all.

It was only when the Knight started moving further away, almost disappearing from her view along with the stranger that Cirthe moved, brushing past Greta who was startled enough to not stop her as she ran out the door.

It was a good thing she hadn’t yet tried on the dangerous-looking footwear Greta had suggested so she quickly found herself crossing the distance to where the Knight was shoving the nervous figure out of sight.

“You there!”

Neither of them expected anyone to interrupt them if the surprise on the knight’s face was any indication.

“Strar--!”

She came to a stop a step away from them, briefly glancing over the hooded figure for any injuries.

“That’s Knight Strar to you. And who is this your escorting if I may know?”

Despite the questioning tone, all three of them knew Cirthe hadn’t exactly asked as much as she had demanded.

“No one of importance, Knight Strar--”

“My Lady! I’m an emissary from Etria.”

Cirthe raised a curious brow at the feminine voice, finally able to see the face hidden by the hood. It was a girl, possibly a few years older than herself. Her silvery hair was a shock to the eyes, the color uncommon in Tretho, though not completely strange a thing to Cirthe for some reason. Her skin, however, was not the pale shade Cirthe was expecting but a color tone similar to her own, if a smidge darker.

“What is an emissary from Etria doing exactly in Tretho?”

“I came to request a meeting with His Majesty and the Crown Prince of Tretho, my lady.”

Ignoring the title, Cirthe shot the Amon knight a cold look of suspicion when he made to grip the girl’s arm again as if to unnerve her into silence.

“You can take your leave, Sir Abel. I will be taking a moment to discuss this lady’s request.”

“My lady, she’s already been turned away--”

“By whom?”

Cirthe was often told by Veran that she had a particularly stony look that made others lose their cool, and she guessed he had been right, going by the way the Knight seemed to stumble over his words.

“I--by Prince Veran. He said he does not have enough time to spare for such meetings. He has other important matters to focus on.”

Cirthe nodded but found she could not get herself to relax fully just yet. There was something off about the entire matter.

“I see,” she stood up straight and fixed the knight with a stern look, “If that’s the case, I’ll be escorting her out then. You can go back to the Prince’s side, as you were appointed to .”

The man hesitated as if to protest but she knew the mention of the Prince’s safety took priority for them all, regardless of their other duties. She watched him leave, not taking her eyes off of his back until he disappeared from sight before turning to the short girl beside her.

“Now then, let’s escort you out, shall we?”


“Your Highness, you really should not be tugging at your hair like that.”

Veran blinked at his assistant blankly, his focus going to the hands in his hair only a moment later. When did he start doing that?

“This is really frustrating, you understand Adler?”

“Yes, Your Highness.”

“...No, you don’t. You’re just agreeing because you’re being paid and you want to go rest.”

The silent look his assistant sent him was a bit too cheeky for his liking but it made him smile nonetheless.

“You’re a horrible assistant.”

“On the contrary, sire, I’ve proved myself to be quite an excellent assistant. I scoured all the files on the Mages of Etria and the nation itself, did I not?”

Veran couldn’t deny any of it so he settled on grumbling to himself in complaint.

The files were helpful indeed. Veran knew about Mages barely from the stories his mother told him when he was a young child but the details were hazy and not exactly reliable seeing as they served more like bedtime stories than anything. But there were details in the files that he doubted most knew of in Tretho, maybe not even his father. It was all so fascinating to Veran, and he would have liked to read more into it but he was short on time and schedule so he had to suffice with the surface level information.

The thing that caught his attention the most was the nature of the relationship between Etria and Tretho. Supposedly, Mages were well sought after in Tretho two Kings before his father’s rule. The Mages were said to be powerful individuals but rarely greedy in terms of financial wealth and political power. Etria was surpassingly not ruled by a sole ruler, but instead was governed by a group of High Mages who looked over everything. The records rarely mentioned violent events taking place in Etria, not by the citizens themselves. They had been attacked several times, however, the Mages of the nation powerful enough to ward them off most of the time. Their relationship with Tretho came into question after his mother’s death apparently.

“So, they were suspected of playing a part in my mother’s death?”

“Yes, Your Highness,” Adler’s voice was solemn, with a hint of caution as if the mention of her death would set him off somehow.

“But there was no definite proof so my father chose to severe contact with the nation instead.”

“Yes, sir. It wouldn’t be right to declare war against them over mere suspicions, not without other nations speaking up in protest.”

Veran nodded, but he wasn’t exactly satisfied with the new information. He understood the logic of it all, but couldn’t help the bitterness that spread through his chest like a sickly disease as he thought of his father choosing his precious political peace over the justice of his wife’s murder. Kings and their emotionless want for power.

“I need some fresh air, Adler. Or I’m going to lose my mind. No one would want that just a few days before the ceremony, would they?” Veran knew the smile on his face was dry and forced but he honestly could not be bothered to attempt anything real and genuine.

“As you wish, Your Highness,” Adler bowed, taking his leave after giving him a worried glance.

His shoulders slumped as soon as the door shut as if a weight was lifted briefly. Perhaps it had, the weight of being the precious Prince weighing particularly heavy in front of others. It seemed to leave him briefly whenever he was alone. He didn’t wish to mull over what that meant, having enough existential issues to worry about as it was.

“Alright, let’s make the most of this break, shall we?” He muttered to himself as he did a quick stretch of his limbs before stepping out of his room only to be immediately flanked by his personal guards. He was used to it by now, not that it made it all any less uncomfortable for him.

“I’ll just be taking a short walk around the courtyard.”

That was all the warning they received before he was striding forward, breathing in the crisp morning air gratefully. The heat would turn it warm and acrid soon enough.

“Er, Your Highness.”

“Yes?”

“There was a visitor for you earlier.”

Veran frowned, wondering who could it be. It was true that he’d told the knights appointed at his side to prevent any visitors from visiting his office while he was busy with other work. But his confusion came from the fact that there was a visitor at all, seeing as there had been none allowed for the past few days because of the approaching ceremony work.

“Who was it? Have they been escorted out already?”

“It was a Mage, sire. From Etria,” The head of the Amon Knight informed. “She’s been told of your busy schedule at the moment but she insisted.”

Prior to the information, he had come to know about the history of Tretho in relation to Etria and its mages, Veran would have been more than willing to make time for the visiting Mage. But the possible involvement of the nation in his mother’s death rang too fresh in his mind for him to do so.

“Send her back,” he ordered, continuing on his way after a moment of hesitance. “I’ll see to their matters of concern once the ceremony is done with.”

The knight nodded and split from them on the next corridor. Veran watched him leave and wondered if he made the right decision after all.

“Your walk, Your Highness,” One of the other two guards reminded him and he sighed before continuing on his way.


“You’re not really escorting me out, are you?”

Cirthe spared the woman stumbling along beside her a quick glance before facing forward, steps never halting as she led them out to the traveller’s shed area. It was a fairly empty area, only a few of the horse-keepers and actual horses the only occupants most of the time. Cirthe had all the plans of sending the strange visitor back to where she came from since it was the Prince’s orders, but she also had to get some answers to her own curiosity before the woman left. The shed was perfect for both.

They stopped just outside of the shed and Cirthe finally turned to the emissary, watching as she righted herself from the sudden stop before addressing her.

“I most certainly will,” she confirmed, voice low enough to ensure no one overheard them but loud enough for the woman to hear. “But before I do so, I have a few questions I’d like the lady to answer. Truthfully.”

“But, the Prince refused to meet me. I came here to meet him!”

“Though I cannot speak for the Crown Prince as I’m sure he had his reasons for the refusal, I would still like to know what was your purpose for coming here.”

The young woman seemed to waver and her hesitation confirmed Cirthe’s inkling about the nature of her visit. If it had been something confidential, the emissary would have refused her right away as they are expected to when there is a royal order binding their duty. Now, she knew that the visit was less formal but still held some urgency going by the nervous actions of the visitor.

“But, how can I trust you? I’m not even sure who you--”

“Knight Cirthe Strar, formerly the personal guard of the Prince since his coming of age, and the head captain of the Tretho Knights,” Cirthe declared, cutting her off, “I’m also Prince Veran’s best friend.”

She usually despised using her relationship with Veran to gain something or even having it mentioned at all since it usually meant her skills would be undervalued by outsiders. But judging by how stiff the light-haired woman in front of her went at the recognition of her status, Cirthe figured her relationship with Veran as more than a mere knight might help soften up her doubts and hesitancies.

“Oh.”

That was not the response she was expecting but she waited patiently as the woman seemed to make up her mind after much consideration. “I didn’t know I’d be meeting with you, Knight Strar. I’m- this is unexpected. Good unexpected, however, I assure you! Here I was, thinking I’d just be visiting to pass on a simple request. Never did I think our paths would cross! I’m Mage Esther from Etria! Truthfully, I didn’t even know for certain if the--”

“My Lady, you’re deviating from my questions.”

Cirthe started to wonder if the woman was just clumsy and jittery by nature and less because of the task she was sent to do. For all her ramblings, none of her questions were answered.

“Oh! Yes, of course! My apologies! I’m just excited, you see. Never did I think--” Cirthe shot her a look, tired of her never-ending ramble already. “Right! So, I was sent here to discuss a message from the Head Mages of Etria, a request really. I’m not sure how much you know about our relations with your nations, Dame Strar, but we have been trying to reconcile and rebuild things between the two nations since we came to know about the Crown Prince.”

“Why not approach His Majesty instead?”

“We did,” Esther sighed, running a hand through her hair and pushing off the hood in the process. “He’s denied every request for a meeting ever since we first asked for one. But with the Crown Prince having his title officiated soon, our leaders were hoping for an audience with him instead.”

Cirthe narrowed her eyes at her, “What makes you think his response will be any different than the King’s?”

“It is well known in other territories that Prince Veran holds beliefs that are quite different from his father. Though some nations don’t necessarily hold that difference in good favor, leaders at Etria agree with his vision and so, they hope to reestablish our relationship with His Highness.”

She had no reason to disagree with Esther’s words seeing as it was well known that Etria was a fairly peaceful nation, with their consistent economic and public development being their main goal. They weren’t known to engage in political wars of power. She had to admit that Veran’s views matched those leading Etria much more than his father’s ever did.

“And was your task today to get the Crown Prince to agree with the meeting your leaders had in mind?”

Esther nodded, silvery hair falling with the enthusiastic bops of her head, “We don’t expect the Prince to agree to anything even after the meeting. But we also could not miss the chance to relay our plans and extend a friendly hand towards the future king of a powerful nation.”

That was understandable. Cirthe might not be fully knowledgeable on the politics of different territories but she knew enough to understand their intentions. Having a friendly relationship secure with a powerful nation like Tretho would work in the favor of a non-violent nation like Etria. She wondered why, then, Veran refused the visit from Esther.

“Alright,” she took a hold of the emissary’s arm and tugged her towards the shed entrance, her grip firm but not painful. “You can head off now, Lady Esther of Etria.”

“Wait, wait, wait! That’s it? I answered your questions as you asked!”

“And I thank you for it,” she gestured one of the horse-keepers towards them. “However, I never promised anything in return, did I? That was merely a wrongful assumption on your end, I’m afraid.”

She ordered the awaiting man. “Get this lady your fastest horse, please.”

As the man turned away to do as he was told, Cirthe let go of the young woman’s arm, adjusting the cloak around her small figure so it covered her better. The weather was warm in the day but she wasn’t sure how long it took to reach Etria on a horse.

“Dame Strar! I was hoping you would convince the Crown Prince to attend a meeting with us in return for my honesty.” Cirthe couldn’t be sure but it almost looked like the emissary was pouting. She wondered if she had guessed her age wrong. “That is why I agreed to be escorted by you and not that grouchy looking Amon Knight.”

The horse-keeper was back with a well-groomed dark brown horse trailing behind him. After taking the reigns from him and nodding back in thanks, she turned back to Esther.

“Speaking of, you are a Mage, are you not, Lady Esther?”

“Well, yes.”

“Why would you let that man push you around like that then? I may not know much about your magic but surely you could get him to back off with a little warning.”

When Esther frowned, shoulders slumped suddenly, Cirthe wondered if she should have kept quiet about the whole matter in the first place. The emissary seemed nervous again but this time, it seemed less out of excitement and more out of alarm almost.

“I’m in an unfriendly territory, being escorted by a Head Knight of Amon on the orders of the Crown Prince himself,” she muttered, hands coming up to cup her elbows. “Etria doesn’t have the best relationship with Amon. Worse than Tretho, really. Amon Knights are not known to be kind in any scenario and if I had retaliated in any way that he might have deemed insulting, it would be troubling for me.”

Cirthe frowned, uncomfortable with Esther’s confession. The ruthless nature of Amon Knights was one of the reasons Adras had agreed to appoint them to Veran’s side. The same unkind nature left an odd taste in her mouth, however.

“I wish you didn’t have to experience that, Mage Esther,” she placed a gentle hand on the shoulder of the shorter woman. “Rest assured, his behaviour towards you will be reported to the Prince. I know he would not have wanted this kind of treatment for a Mage from Etria.”

“That’s kind of you, Dame Strar.”

That’s protocol’, Cirthe wanted to say but gave up after seeing the cheery disposition of the emissary once again. The woman sure was easy to please.

She helped Esther mount the horse before the woman could start chattering again, not letting go of the reigns just yet.

“I will convey your message to the Crown Prince,” she declared, holding up a finger as the emissary made to open her mouth again, “As a fair exchange for your honesty, Esther.”

“As expected of you, Dame Strar. I knew you’d be kind through and through.”

“Why do you speak as if you knew of me even before we met?” Cirthe questioned the emissary. “Since earlier, you talked as if you knew me. And I would remember if we had ever met before.”

“I think I’ve run out of all honesty for today, it seems,” Esther chirped, taking the reins of the horse from her hand with a seemingly sweet smile. “Perhaps we will need to meet again someday so I can tell you more about it!”

When it became clear that the silver-haired girl was not going to reveal anything more, Cirthe scowled and stepped back.

“You know how to ride a horse, Lady Esther?”

“Well, yes but--”

The rest of her sentence flew off into the air as Cirthe patted the horse on the rump, sending it dashing away at an impressive speed.

It might be a childish act on her part but Cirthe found herself smiling as she headed back to where she had left Greta and the rest.

" Cirthe? "

She paused just outside of the courtyard and turned to the familiar voice. Seeing Veran, flanked by his guards, of course, her smile grew warmer and she started towards them. But the closer she got to where he stood, the better she could see the rosy flush crawling up to his neck and ears, expression flustered. It was only when she came to a stop just a few steps away from him that she followed his gaze down her body and realized she was still wearing that form-fitting silk dress.

“Shit.”


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