Go to Chapter 10
Saturday, November 28, 2015
The journey to Yalera's Nandian estate was only about a day and a half. It was out of their way in that it was straight east from the palace, but not too much out of their way since it placed them more or less directly north of their estate in Rubidium. From what Yalera could see, it was a small but rich jewel that would have been perfect for a Princess to bring her children to in the summers.
The steward patiently went through her holdings with her and helped her understand the household accounts. That took almost a week, but once she felt she understood what it was that she owned, she felt much better about basically handing it over to her husband's women. It would be plenty to sustain them for the rest of their lives and their children would grow up happy.
The steward promised to send her regular status reports and defer to her for all major decisions, but otherwise understood that he now had four new mistresses to advise him and make decisions if necessary. Yalera left her estate feeling confident that she would always have a home if she ever needed it.
Her party got back on the road a little before midmorning the next day. Yalera still yawned sleepily and stretched as she rode Yuna's back. Ando shook his head and decided to just ask her his most pressing question.
“And... why don't you have a horse to ride?”
Yalera laughed. “I did! But after we started getting harassed by Prince Hugh, it was just easier to ride my beloved smilodon. She keeps me far safer than a horse could. I figured that since I have to bring her home with me anyway, why bother bringing an extra horse?”
Besides, her horse was now being used by Marlena. While the horse Rohan had started with was now being used by his wife. Hannah trusted that Rohan wouldn't let his cat hurt her, but even so, she wasn't quite brave enough to ride it with him.
That night when they made camp, Yalera lay in her tent feeling strange. Her tent was still the bigger one she'd had during their journey to the Nandian palace, but to save space in their luggage, she didn't have the bed – that her mother insisted on keeping for her journey back home. Thus, she was laying on a thick pad that could be rolled up for easy travel. Both Yuna and Rune sprawled out on either side of her, snoring.
Normally, she'd probably just go right to sleep. Or she might lay there listening to Rohan breathe for a bit before she went to sleep. This night – however – was probably the first time in her life that she was sleeping completely alone. She didn't count the nights when she slept in her husband's bed because his women were in the apartment and could come running if she needed anything.
On the way to her Nandian estate, the women had shared her tent, thus she hadn't been alone then either. Even though she was in a camp full of people – her brothers, their wives, Baethan, and the soldiers under Yemry's command – she couldn't really just ask any of them to share her tent. The one that felt almost painful was Rohan. Her entire life, he had been pretty much right there next to her, and now he was in his own tent with his wife.
She rolled over and pulled her thin pillow over her head. It didn't help in the slightest because what she was hearing wasn't actual sound... it was more like the echo of her twin's emotions. At the moment, his thoughts and emotions were definitely private, but she was close enough to him that she picked up on them without wanting to.
“Argh!” She growled softly as she tossed her pillow back onto the pad under her head.
Something wrong? Rohan asked her mentally.
Yalera held her breath for a moment because she hadn't realized that he was picking up on her emotions too. No... Just can't sleep.
Even as she was thinking this to her brother, Ando stepped into her tent. “Is something wrong, my Princess?”
“No,” she growled a bit defensively. “I just... I'm not used to sleeping alone.”
Ando sent a wry look to each of her cats. “You're not alone.”
Yalera snorted a soft laugh. “No, I suppose not.”
“And just remember, if you need anything, I'm right outside,” Ando stated. As her bodyguard, he had placed his bedroll directly in front of her tent. She found it silly, but in a way, it was reassuring to know that he was near enough that she could whisper to if she had to.
“Thank you,” she murmured. “Good night.”
“Sweet dreams, Princess,” Ando bade her before exiting her tent.
She tried to sleep, she really did, but when Ando's soft snoring alerted her to the fact that she was still staring at nothing in the dark about an hour later, she decided that she'd had enough of trying. She ruffled Yuna's fur and gently bit the smilodon's ear.
“You want to go for a run?” She whispered. Both Yuna and Rune perked up.
Even though the two of them were up during the day most of the time, they were still technically predators with excellent night vision for hunting. She had no doubt that the two of them could find her and bring her back to camp even if she got miserably lost.
“Don't step on Ando,” she commanded them in a whisper. A few seconds later, she peered through the door of her tent, trying to figure out how to step over Ando without waking him. His snoring stopped abruptly.
“Going somewhere, Princess?” He asked, sounding as wide awake as if it were noon.
“Just to... you know...” She blushed, though he couldn't see it. “P-p-pee...” This wasn't technically a lie because she really did have to go. However, she also planned to go running with her cats, and she didn't think that he'd approve.
“No problem,” he stated, throwing back his bedding and getting to his feet.
“You don't have to go,” Yalera protested softly.
“A bodyguard must stay with his charge at all times,” Ando insisted.
“Very well,” Yalera accepted with a reluctant sigh. She led the way into the forest.
Baethan was one of the soldiers on watch. He saw her coming, and even though she had a bodyguard, he got to his feet. Yalera groaned when she saw this.
Baethan chuckled. “Sorry but Yemry gave orders that if you wanted to leave camp for any reason during the night, one of us should accompany you.”
“But I have a bodyguard!” Yalera cried out softly so that she didn't wake anyone.
Baethan shrugged. “Two sets of eyes is better than one.”
Yalera sighed, tempted to have Yuna attack him. Without a word, she walked into the forest until she located a thick bush to give her some privacy. To her great relief, both men let her maintain her privacy rather than insisting that they couldn't let her out of their sight. A soft sound even let her know that they were emptying their bladders too. She was seriously tempted to sneak away while they were occupied, but she knew that they would see her cats follow her, so it would be a useless attempt.
A thought occurred to her that made her grin. So far, no one had tried to stop her or dissuade her. This made her wonder if she really was in charge. If she was, they couldn't stop her.
“How are you at running?” She asked them a few moments later when she had finished her task and smoothed out her thick, warm, night outfit. Unlike when she was at home, here, she was wearing a functional pair of pants and a shirt. She would be able to run no problem.
Baethan groaned but Ando merely shrugged. “I am proficient, my Princess.”
“As am I,” Baethan added, obviously reluctant. “But it's the middle of the night! My shift is almost over and I'd like to get some sleep.”
“So would I,” Yalera informed him haughtily. “But I can't, so I'm going to run. You can feel free to return to camp!”
He groaned again but shook his head. “Not a chance! Yemry would kill me!”
Impressed that neither of them tried to tell her no, she looked around. Most of the forest was dark, but that made it strangely easier to see a path. It seemed like the moon itself was leading her. She pointed out the path to the smilodons. Each licked her once before taking off.
Running between them, Yalera easily kept up with their pace. They weren't going slow, but they weren't running at top speed either. This was the type of speed one used when they wanted to get somewhere quickly, but didn't want to be exhausted in the process.
Yalera kept following the path for a long time. She wasn't keeping track, but if she had to guess, at least a quarter hour passed before they burst into a clearing. By this time, Yalera was starting to feel a little winded, so she slowed down and then came to a full stop. Her cats kept on going until they reached the large lake.
“Oh wow...” Yalera exhaled reverently. With the moon shining on the lake and a small waterfall off to the side, the place looked magical. She walked up behind Yuna, petting her as the cats got a drink.
“Tell me that you're not about to declare that you want a bath!” Baethan muttered insistently.
Yalera giggled. “I was actually thinking that it would be nice to go for a swim... except that the water's probably far too chilly.”
She bent over to scoop water out of the lake to drink for about half a minute, and then straightened up again. “I was right, the water's very cold. On the plus side, it tastes really good!”
Before she could decide what she wanted to do next, something thick shot out from the water and wrapped itself around her right calf. She almost didn't have time to squeak in surprise as she was pulled toward the lake, but Yuna struck out as fast as lightning. Just as Yalera landed on her butt on the sandy shore, Yuna pulled an astonishingly long and thick snake out of the lake.
The snake let her go abruptly so that it could fight for its life, but it was no match for the two cats that tore it to bits in a matter of minutes. Yalera stared at it in shock for a long moment – her two guards also in shock and not sure how or if they should help the cats. Unexpectedly, she started to giggle.
“Well! That would have been a dire and tragic way to get some sleep!” She joked.
“Permanent sleep!” Baethan blurted out, unable to believe that she was joking at a time like this.
“I guess bathing in this lake is out of the question!” Yalera added, still laughing.
She got up to hug her cats in thanks, only to fall abruptly to the ground again. Sharp pain made her inhale a soft gasp, but her hands were already investigating the cause. “Oh dear... Looks like I've sprained my ankle.”
Baethan scoffed. “You say that as if you've just spilled tea on your dress! 'Oh dear, now I'll have to change...'” He did a fairly good impression of Rolanna as he said that. “If you're in pain, it's not bad to cry about it.”
Yalera shrugged. “This is nothing compared to the time I fell out of a tree and broke a rib. I decided back then that so long as breathing didn't hurt, I'd never complain about pain again.”
“That's not normal for a girl,” Baethan stated with a confused frown.
“You got me!” Yalera confessed with a laugh. “I'm actually a boy like my twin!”
“Not funny,” Baethan grumbled.
“Do you need me to carry you back to camp, my Princess?” Ando asked. A suspicious look made Yalera wonder if he suddenly didn't trust Baethan.
“No,” Yalera denied with a shake of her head. “If I need to, I'll just ride Yuna.”
Yuna growled at her.
“After you've finished eating, of course!” Yalera assured her.
Yuna huffed, and then returned her attention to the snake the two of them were still eating. Yalera ran a hand along Yuna's rump.
“Does it taste good?” Yalera asked.
Both Yuna and Rune meowed in a way that sounded like they were saying: Oh... so so...
“I should bring some back for breakfast,” Yalera told herself, a hand covering her stomach, which chose just them to growl hungrily.
“I wouldn't,” Ando stated flatly. “Snake is an acquired taste.”
Yalera shrugged. “If it's anything like the snakes I've eaten before, then I'll probably like it.”
“Blech!” Baethan blurted out. “Give me a good leg of lamb any day!”
The smilodons suddenly leapt to their feet in a defensive position between Yalera and the forest. Both growled threateningly at something Yalera couldn't see. She carefully got to her feet, and then stood on the one that wasn't injured as her guards prepared to defend her from whatever was upsetting the smilodons.
Slowly, a third smilodon stepped into the clearing. It was growling at them, obviously torn between driving them away and coming closer. Yalera almost laughed because it looked tiny in comparison to her cats, even though it was still about seven feet long and a good three and a half feet tall from its shoulders to the ground. The head added nearly another foot, or would when it stopped crouching it toward the ground.
In a slow and steady way, the new smilodon showed that it didn't intend them harm even as it got ever closer to them. Rune and Yuna continued to growl, but it was a soft growl that was more of a warning to behave than actual dislike. Rune stepped forward and angled her body so that the new cat would have to be creative in order to get to Yalera, if that was its intent.
“It's a boy!” Yalera gasped in sudden understanding.
The new smilodon seemed to confirm this when he arrived next to Rune and gently tried to bite her neck. Yalera was tempted to jump for joy. Her ankle hurt too much for that, so she clapped instead.
“It's a boy! Rune! Yuna! You can have babies!”
Yuna looked at her as if taken aback by this suggestion. Meanwhile, Rune was definitely warming up to the idea. She nudged the newcomer with her head, growling in a way that almost seemed flirty.
“Oh don't give me that look, girl,” Yalera laughed, patting Yuna's rump. “Go on, I know you want to!”
Yuna swiveled around to give Yalera a quick kiss, and then nearly jumped on the male smilodon before running off. He chased her, Rune running after them. Yalera would swear that they were all giggling like little kids during a game of chase.
“Was that wise?” Ando asked, not sure whether to be relieved that they were gone, or dismayed that they wouldn't be around to defend Yalera if anything else dangerous showed up.
“Definitely!” Yalera cheered with a grin. “Besides, that was the first male they'd ever met. I probably couldn't have stopped them if I wanted to!”
Suddenly, a yawn so deep overcame her that she felt moisture sting her eyes. She wiped the moisture away; giggling even as she muttered derisively at herself.
“Now I wish I'd had one of them bring me back to camp first...”
Ando sheathed his sword since the potential threat was gone. “As I said, I can carry you, Princess.”
Yalera laughed. “Is it wise for my bodyguard to have his hands full?”
Ando turned his back on her and knelt. “My hands won't be full.”
“Oh...” Yalera murmured, blushing as she took the hint and climbed onto his back.
Baethan looked decidedly grumpy as he sheathed his sword, but when he saw Yalera looking at him curiously, he shook his head. A moment later, he shrugged and blurted out the first excuse he could come up with. “I was just wondering... Don't cats have to be in heat in order to have babies?”
Yalera chuckled. “You wouldn't ask that if you'd seen my tent. It looks like they murdered something in there!”
“That's probably what attracted the male smilodon,” Ando murmured as he adjusted his grip on her and straightened up.
“Thank the Gods he did show up to our camp!” Baethan blurted out.
“No kidding!” Yalera exclaimed with a tiny giggle. “Although... that might have been fun to watch... Guards panicking and running amok!”
Baethan snorted. “That's not called fun, that's called sadistic!”
Yalera simply shrugged. Ando started the trip back to camp, Baethan following.
“Let's just hope that there aren't any other male smilodons around!” Baethan muttered
Ando nodded in agreement. “I could see that being a big problem.”
“I'd be surprised if there were,” Yalera murmured sleepily. She rested her head against Ando's shoulder.
The trip back to camp took a little more than twice as long as their jog away from camp had been. Yemry was now on duty and took Baethan aside to interrogate him. This left Ando alone with Yalera as he carried her into her tent. It took him a bit of careful jostling, but he was soon able to lay her down gently on her bedroll.
“Rohan...” she mumbled in her sleep, her arms wrapping around Ando's neck and holding him tightly.
“I'm not Rohan,” Ando stated softly as he tried to pry her arms loose.
“Rohan,” she repeated almost insistently.
“No,” Ando replied, finally managing to remove her arms from his neck. She pouted in her sleep and rolled over, which made it slightly easier for him to cover her with her blanket. “Goodnight Princess.”
In a state of profound relief, Ando exited her tent and crawled back into his own bedroll. As he closed his eyes, he couldn't help but think: She's lucky I take my duty seriously! I could have taken advantage of her very easily just now! Somewhere deep down, he hoped that after her year of mourning was up, he'd have proven his trustworthiness to her so that she would choose him as her next husband. In that way, he could continue to protect the wife of his best friend for the rest of her life.
“Someone wake Yalera so we can get moving already!” Yemry called out, looking significantly at Rohan, who looked mildly worn out rather than chipper like he normally did in the morning.
“You wake her,” Rohan grumbled. “I actually wouldn't mind going back to sleep for a bit.”
Yemry looked surprised at this. “You wouldn't?”
Rohan blushed and looked away as he rubbed a hand on the back of his neck. “Yeah, well I kept waking up during the night for some reason.”
Yemry laughed, put an arm around Rohan's shoulders and murmured in his ear. “So did I, but that's no reason to lag about.” Louder he added: “We should get going as soon as possible.”
“We can't,” Yalera stated firmly as she emerged from her tent – which Ando took this as his cue to get up and start putting away his bedding. She smiled at a drowsy looking Marlena – who was holding out a cup of tea for her. A few limping steps carried Yalera over to the tea, which she drank gratefully.
“What do you mean we can't?” Yemry asked with a frown even as his wife asked: “What happened to you?”
Yalera smiled at Marlena again. “Nothing too bad, I simply sprained my ankle when a snake tried to drag me into the lake and eat me.”
“What?!” Marlena and Hannah blurted out incredulously.
“When was this?” Rohan wondered with a concerned frown.
“Last night...” Yalera answered, turning to smirk at her twin. “Just before a male smilodon wandered over to us and started courting Rune and Yuna.” She turned to Yemry even as Rohan blurted out: A male! “Which is why we can't leave. They're not back yet.”
“They aren't?” Both Rohan and Yemry asked in surprise. Yemry had heard what happened from Baethan, but he had figured that the smilodons would have returned within a couple of hours.
Yalera shrugged. “They were in heat, so they'll probably focus on mating for the next couple of days, and then they'll come back.”
“A couple of days?!” Yemry protested. “We can't wait that long!”
“Why not?” Yalera wondered with a frown. “The whole point of me having my own entourage was so that I could take my time.”
Yemry groaned as he took a calming breath. “I just really want to get home before winter sets in.”
“We will,” Yalera stated confidently, although she had no idea if she was telling the truth.
Rohan noticed his sister grimace slightly, and since she was now sitting in front of the morning campfire, he shifted until he was sitting in front of her. He seemed to gaze at nothing for a moment as he used his ability to read her mind. With a nod of satisfaction that he was right, he pushed up her right pant leg just enough to show a copious amount of bruising.
Without much sympathy, he poked and prodded her calf and ankle. This made her inhale a soft hiss of pain, but she didn't protest. He huffed in a knowing tone of voice.
“This looks like it was pretty badly swollen last night, but it's gone down. It's almost normal, but I wouldn't blame you if you wanted me to make you a crutch. That must have hurt a lot! I'm surprised I didn't feel it,” Rohan remarked, biting his lip in thought.
“Well,” Yalera responded with a shrug. “We were at a lake a good 15 or 20 minutes jog from here, so I bet I was too far away. And it didn't hurt nearly as bad as when I broke my rib, so I could bear it.”
“Maybe, but that's stupid!” Rohan chided her, lightly pounding on her head with a fist. “You're always doing things like that. I bet you walked back on it rather than let on that you were hurt!”
“Well I would have,” Yalera muttered defensively. “But I didn't have a chance. Baethan and Ando found out about the sprain when I did, so Ando carried me back after Rune and Yuna took off.”
“Baethan was there?” Rohan ground out angrily, glaring at the man in question.
“Hey!” Baethan protested, holding up his hands. “I was just acting as a guard.”
“So you say, but I think you must be bad luck or something. A troublemaker!” Rohan growled as he got up and rummaged through their supplies.
Yemry and a few of his soldiers laughed at that. Yemry pounded his best friend on the back. “I think he might have you there!”
“Whose side are you on?” Baethan grumbled unappreciatively.
Yemry didn't have a chance to respond though, because Yalera interjected her opinion. “I thought you were a capable guard. It certainly wasn't your fault that there was a giant snake swimming around just waiting to eat me.”
“There you go being too nice to him again,” Rohan complained as he sat back down and wrapped Yalera's leg up tightly in a thick bandage.
Yalera stuck her tongue out at him. “I'm not being too anything! He did an excellent job despite a snake attack and a wild smilodon showing up. And do you have to wrap that so tightly?”
“Oh you won't whine about the actual pain, but you'll whine about this little discomfort?” Rohan asked with a look like she was being silly again.
Yalera rolled her eyes before dropping the argument. She removed her foot from Rohan's lap, and then pointed at Hannah. “Is one of those plates for me?”
Hannah blushed and looked away. “Actually, I made up a plate for me and a plate for Rohan.”
“Hand it over then!” Yalera demanded with an impish grin. She held a hand out expectantly.
“I don't think so!” Rohan exclaimed, snatching his plate before Hannah could give it to Yalera. The twins stuck their tongues out at each other.
Hannah wasn't the only one who was laughing. Most everyone was chuckling at this childish display. Except Baethan, who seemed to be sending up a prayer of thanks that he was an only child.
“You two are so funny!” Hannah exclaimed. “Here, take my plate Princess, I'll make another.”
“Thanks,” Yalera murmured sincerely. “But don't call me Princess. You're more of a Princess than I am, and besides, we're sisters now.”
Hannah reached over to take one of Yalera's hands. “And we're going to be the very best of friends I just know it!”
“Don't forget me,” Marlena insisted, taking hold of Yalera's other hand.
Both Yemry and Rohan smiled to see that their wives got along with their sister so well. Everyone ate at their own pace, but when they were all done, Yemry ordered his soldiers to spar. Rohan joined in, enjoying the chance to use his sword skills.
The day passed slowly. The night was every bit as awkward for Yalera as the previous one, but she resisted the urge to leave camp. Eventually, she fell into a deeply restful sleep. The next day, Yemry took a peek into Yalera's tent before even suggesting that someone wake her. Seeing that the smilodons were still absent, he simply sighed.
“I suppose that if we're not going anywhere again today, we might as well spar until we drop!” Yemry announced. Everyone but Rohan groaned.
“Yes!” Rohan hissed softly.
Ando, having gotten more sleep than Yalera, took the opportunity to spar with the soldiers before breakfast. The longer he was with this group, the more he truly liked Yalera and her family. They were a generally carefree lot that enjoyed life.
Yalera emerged from her tent when the smell of breakfast was too delicious to ignore. She yawned hugely and stretched. Never a morning person, she was grumpy from lack of sleep.
“If I can't sleep tonight, will someone please knock me out!” She begged in a grumble.
“I couldn't allow that to happen, Princess,” Ando informed her smoothly.
“Figures,” she muttered unappreciatively.
After she had eaten her fill – and made a quick trip to the bushes – she sat looking through her sketchbook as she contemplated going back to the lake to sketch the waterfall.
“I see your ankle is doing better today,” Rohan remarked, leaning on a pair of staves that he'd been sparring with until his partner asked to take a quick break to find a tree to water.
“Yep, good as new,” Yalera agreed, stretching the leg in question and wiggling her foot.
“Excellent!” Rohan cheered, a bit darkly. He tossed a staff at her, barely waiting for her to catch it before he attacked her.
She rolled to the side, leapt to her feet, and then backed away slightly as she held her staff at the ready. Rohan attacked and she defended herself pretty well. She never was quite as good as him with the staff and especially not with a sword, but she could probably save her life if she had to.
“It's been ages since I've had a good fight!” Yalera announced with a giggle.
“I can tell!” Rohan teased her. “You're so bad that I could probably bash your skull in without even trying!”
“Am not!” Yalera protested. Her steady defense, even though she kept backing away from him, proved her right.
Ando watched her in utter shock. “Rubidium women learn how to use weapons?!”
Yemry shrugged, subtly pointing out that his soldiers were also stunned. This made Ando feel a little better. Even so, he was genuinely gobsmacked that Yalera knew how to use a staff.
“It's not forbidden for women to learn how to fight,” Yemry informed him. “It's just not encouraged either. That said, there have been quite a few famous female soldiers throughout history.”
“I thought those were just myths...” Ando murmured, letting Yemry know that he had heard of those famous soldiers. He shook his head. “I would feel all sorts of shame if I was such a weak soldier that my sister had to learn how to defend herself.”
Because Ando was so focused on Yemry as he said that, the twins silently agreed to punish him for his bad attitude. Without any indication that Yalera wasn't paying full attention to the fight, she winked at Rohan. Together, they both stuck their staves behind Ando and swept his feet out from under him. Then they pressed the hard, metal capped ends into his chest.
“You don't seem to understand,” Yalera growled menacingly. “We are twins, that means that we are one person that the Gods decided to split into two. We do everything together. Our father could no more stop me from learning how to fight than he could stop Rohan from learning how to –”
“Yalera!” Rohan cut her off hastily. “He doesn't need to know that!”
Yalera cast an impish glance at her twin. Why not?
It's a little embarrassing!
So you know how to sew; it's not like that isn't a useful skill, Yalera pointed out.
Even so, no need to tell this stranger all our embarrassing secrets, Rohan insisted.
Yalera sighed. “If you say so.” She set her staff next to her and leaned on it slightly as she held out her hand for Ando. “Anyway, before you say anything else in the future that is degrading to women, you might want to think twice and hold your tongue.”
“Yes... my Princess...” Ando murmured contritely. As much as he was embarrassed to be taken down by his charge during an unguarded moment, he was even more intrigued as to what was said silently between them.
Yemry was also curious, but knew better than to ask. If Rohan was going to confess to anything, it would be later on when the two of them were alone. He changed the subject with a sigh.
“Well, if we're going to be here much longer, we're going to have to hunt,” he said. “Do you want to try to hunt as a group, or should we send out just two or three small teams?”
“I think that sending all 12 of your soldiers out at once would probably just scare the prey away,” Yalera stated. “So... Why don't Rohan and I form one team, you and Baethan can form another, and everyone else can remain in camp.”
“That's not fair!” Baethan protested. “That makes it sound like a contest, and if that's the case, there's no way we can win it!”
Yalera giggled. Yemry scowled at his best friend. “Are you saying that I don't know how to hunt?”
“Not at all,” Baethan assured him hastily, waving his hands. “All I'm saying is that I've seen your sister shoot her bow, and...” He looked away and left the rest unsaid.
Rohan was tempted to heckle Baethan, but a glance at the flirty expression on his wife's face changed his mind. About hunting anyway. “And I've seen you use a bow! I don't think you could win a contest against my sister if she helped you! But it doesn't matter to me, I'm not going hunting today.”
“Why not?” Baethan asked solely to stop himself from grumbling over Rohan's heckling.
“I am so terrible with a bow that I don't think I've ever shot anything in my life,” Rohan stated with a shrug.
“Of course you have!” Baethan protested. “I've seen you!”
“Have you?” Rohan asked with a smirk.
“Well yes, I... wait...” Baethan frowned and bit his lip in thought. “Haven't I?” Even now, he didn't want to come out and say that he had once claimed one of Rohan's kills as his own to get into the King's good graces.
“Nope! I never even bother carrying a bow,” Rohan informed him. “I'll carry a quiver or two so that Yalera has extras, but I leave the shooting to her.”
“If it's going to be a contest,” Yemry murmured in thought. “Then we should send out four teams, one in every direction. Yalera, which direction do you want?”
“I'll take that direction,” Yalera stated, pointing in the direction of the lake. “That way, after I've won the contest, I can keep and eye out for Yuna and Rune and sketch the waterfall before I send for a group of soldiers to come carry back my winning kill.”
Yemry laughed. “So you think you're that good, do you?”
Yalera kissed her older brother on the cheek. “I know I am!” She looked over at Rohan – who had grabbed her bow for her and tossed it at her.
“If you find a boar, that's what I'd like for dinner!” Rohan informed her with a smirk.
“Will do!” Yalera promised with a cheeky grin.
Ando paled in fear on her behalf. “Are you crazy! Taking down a boar is extremely dangerous!”
“I know that,” Yalera replied in a deadpan voice. She didn't want to get mad at her bodyguard when he was simply concerned for her safety, but she was starting to lose patience with him. Sighing, she beckoned to him. “Come on, let's go.”
With a small nod of acceptance, Ando followed his charge while Yemry chose the other teams and sent them out.
Go to Chapter 10
Go to Chapter 10
Thursday, November 26, 2015
Yalera had been given the strange task of informing Prince Crispin's other women about his death. She was escorted to his apartment, which now belonged to her, and then basically abandoned. She looked around in amazement at the rich decorations. The place seemed to be empty.
“Um... Hello?” Yalera called out.
A woman of about 21 emerged from a door near the back of the apartment. She held a little girl in her arms and frowned in confusion at Yalera. The little girl coughed, groaned, and then buried her face into the woman's chest.
“Can I help you?” The woman asked politely, although the look she gave the collar around Yalera's neck stated that she correctly assumed that this must be the Prince's new wife – and thus her mistress.
“Uh... I don't quite know how to say this...” Yalera murmured as she walked closer to the woman.
The woman looked around with a curious frown. “Why hasn't he carried you into his bed yet?”
“Prince Crispin...” Yalera began, and then took a steadying breath. “He, uh... he died...”
“What?!” The woman demanded in shock. Behind her, another woman in the doorway inhaled a gasp. A pair of younger women pushed that one out of their way as they piled out of the room. All of them held a child in their hands.
Yalera studied the children curiously for a moment. The women were all more or less the same age, but the children weren't. The youngest was a babe in arms who was suckling a breast. As for the other two, one was just barely a toddler while the other was almost out of the toddler stage. The two toddlers looked flushed, and coughed a moment later. Yalera frowned in concern.
“What do you mean he died?” The woman with the oldest child demanded again.
Clearing her throat, Yalera tried to explain. Tears welled in her eyes, making it a bit harder to speak. “He... he was poisoned by his brother Hugh...”
All four women gasped in dismay. One started bawling, but the first one was still in a state of shock and disbelief. She shook her head.
“Impossible!” She carried her child to a corner where a rope dangled from the ceiling. She gave it two urgent tugs, and then paced as she waited for a response.
Yalera wasn't sure what to do, so she simply watched them in sympathetic silence. A minute or so later, a maid entered the room. She looked around expectantly.
“I need to speak to the Queen!”
The maid wrung her hands nervously. “I am certain that her Majesty is not feeling very well at the moment.”
The maid sighed reluctantly. “I can pass along your request, but I can't guarantee that the Queen will come.”
“I know that!” The woman stated impatiently.
“As you wish,” the maid murmured before leaving.
“Uh...” Yalera murmured. Above and beyond the awkward conversation, she was tired and not sure what to do. She wanted nothing more than to change into a comfortable robe, and then drink some relaxing tea.
One of the women – who was softly crying as she rocked her sleeping little toddler – beckoned to Yalera. “Follow me.”
Yalera followed her to a door which opened to reveal a small hallway and two more doors. The woman pointed to the door on the left.
“That was the Prince's bedroom. This other one is intended for his wife, but he planned to have you in his room with him for at least the first year.” She shrugged. “I suppose that you can choose either one of them. Your trunk arrived earlier and was set in the Prince's room for now.”
Yalera nodded in understanding. “I see. Thank you.”
The woman nodded, silent tears still pouring from her eyes. “I don't know what you were expecting, but we were fully prepared to accept you as our sister and mistress. Please do not hesitate to ask us if you need anything.”
“I just need to change... Wait, some relaxing tea would be lovely,” Yalera murmured.
“I agree,” the woman stated with a tiny watery smile. “I'll brew up a pot for all of us.”
The other woman with a toddler cleared her scratchy throat. She was crying as well, but trying hard not to let that stop her. “I'll help you undress, since the buttons are along your spine.”
“Thank you,” Yalera murmured gratefully.
A few short minutes later, Yalera was changed into a thick and soft robe as she sat at a table with the four women drinking tea. Aside from the baby – who was still nursing – the other children had been put to bed. The five women weren't quite sure what to talk about.
A knock interrupted them before anyone could think of something to say. The one with the oldest child quickly rushed to answer the door. It was the Queen.
“Oh Your Majesty!” The woman cried in relief, kissing the Queen on the cheek.
“My dear...” the Queen murmured, holding her hand. Her face was streaked with tears and her eyes were puffy. Just looking at this evidence was enough for the woman.
“So it's true then!” She gasped out, and then succumbed to sobs.
“Yes,” the Queen confirmed grimly. “My son is dead...”
Even Yalera started crying again. The group of six women cried on each other's shoulders for many hours – in between caring for sick children – before sheer exhaustion prompted the Queen to return to her quarters. Yalera took this as her cue to go to bed. As she lay drifting off to sleep, she fingered the golden leash dangling from her collar.
“Now what?” She muttered to herself just before sleep overtook her.
In the morning, she was summoned to eat breakfast with King Bruno, his most trusted advisers and Lords, and most of the visitors from Rubidium. None of the attendants or soldiers were there, but everyone else was, including Baethan.
Yalera entered the room to find that she was pretty much the last person to arrive. Rohan and his wife were a step behind her. She stopped to look at him curiously.
You look pretty happy this morning, she remarked silently.
He shrugged. I am. Wait... Why aren't you?
You don't know? Yalera wondered with a frown.
Yalera sighed and kissed him on the cheek. My husband was poisoned and died last night. King Bruno is trying to decide what to do with me now.
Rohan looked shocked and slipped his hand into hers. That's terrible!
Yalera nodded and looked down sadly. Hannah watched the silent communication curiously. She looked around and noticed that everyone was acting a bit strangely.
“What's going on?” She whispered since she wasn't sure if she was allowed to talk in front of others now that she was married and no longer a Princess.
“Please sit,” King Bruno called out, slightly impatient to get started on his breakfast.
The room was fairly quiet as people ate their breakfast. Yalera looked around at her family, still certain that they would be leaving her behind in just a day or two. Yemry felt her looking at him and looked up to return her gaze. He blushed ever so slightly when his wife slipped her hand into his.
Yalera smiled at him, wishing that he could hear her thoughts too. Looks like Yemry is happy with his wife too.
Even though he wasn't able to read her thoughts, he could guess at them. He returned her smile faintly, raised his wife's hand to his lips, and then kissed her hand softly as if saying: I am happy.
Quite abruptly, King Bruno decided that he was ready to talk. “I've decided that I shall honor all contracts. The marriage contract stipulates that the bride shall be given an estate and money should the groom die before she produces and heir, and well...” He shrugged and spread his hands wide as if saying: We all know that has happened.
Yalera cleared her throat. “King Bruno, may I speak?”
He smiled at her fondly. “Of course!”
Yalera noticed that quite a few of his people looked surprised at this – except for his wife, who smiled at her kindly.
“Well... I was just wondering if I'd be allowed to go home. I have no need for another estate to look after, and I'd far prefer to be with my family,” Yalera informed him.
King Bruno looked up as he considered this. “Hmm... I suppose... If you promise to honor our tradition by mourning your husband for a full year before even considering marriage again. Then I suppose that there's no harm in letting you go home. You'll be considered a Nandian Princess for as long as you remain unmarried and wear that collar.”
“Thank you,” Yalera murmured in relief.
King Bruno smirked at her. He was a jolly man by nature and even his grave sadness couldn't erase his humor completely. “You know... If you're still unmarried in five years, maybe you could come back and marry my new Heir.” He placed his hand on a boy of about 11 or 12.
“No!” The boy stated firmly with a hint of a growl. “I am not marrying an older woman who has already been married!”
King Bruno laughed. “You might change your mind.”
“Not likely,” he muttered darkly.
Yalera smiled at him. “Don't worry, I also think it would be awkward to marry the brother of my husband.”
One of King Bruno's advisers cleared his throat. “My Princess, if I may be so indelicate... I feel I must inform you of something important...”
“Yes,” Yalera murmured expectantly.
“As King Bruno mentioned, you will be expected to honor your husband by remaining unmarried and... untouched... for at least one year. If you become involved with a man, you will invalidate the peace treaty.”
“I see,” Yalera stated, and then gave him a tiny smile. “I don't think that is really something I have to worry about.”
The adviser nodded his head to her with an air that – while respectful – made it clear that he had doubts.
“Well,” King Eric stated, changing the subject. “As I understand it, you plan to have the funeral tonight, and then we'll be leaving in the morning.”
“Yes,” King Bruno murmured in agreement. It was clear to all that he was bereft and struggling to act normally. His wife slipped her hand into his.
The day passed strangely. Yalera was expected to remain in her husband's apartment with his other women as they prepared to attend the funeral. They told her that the only reason they hadn't attended the wedding was that their children were sick, otherwise she likely would have met them when she met all of Crispin's sisters. They called for some maids to come look after their children – three girls and a boy, he was the older of the two toddlers – while the women took turns brushing each other's hair and putting it up in buns.
“What will happen to you now?” Yalera wondered.
The oldest one shrugged. “The Queen sent a note informing us that we'll likely be sent to your estate.”
“You're coming home with me?” Yalera asked in astonishment.
“No,” she stated with a shake of her head. “I mean that you were given an estate here in Nandia for those times when you need a break from life in the palace. Well, since we belong to you now, we will be sent to live in your estate.”
“I didn't know that,” Yalera murmured, still slightly in shock.
“It works out well for us,” the youngest woman murmured. “We'll be able to stay together and care for our children.”
“We'll take good care of your estate – which we heard you don't want anyway,” another added.
“And you won't have to worry about us either.”
Yalera sighed, relieved that this part at least was true. She had never been responsible for another life before – at least not like this. “Are you sure that you wouldn't rather come back to Rubidium with me?”
They all shook their heads.
There was a soft knock on the door, which opened to reveal a maid. “I'm sorry to intrude on such a day, but there's... a man here to see Her Highness...” The way the maid glanced apprehensively over her shoulder let Yalera know that there was more than just one man. For a moment, she wondered if this was a mercenary hired by Hugh before he died.
The oldest of Crispin's women sighed. “We are no longer considered sacred and unseeable. I suppose that this man may enter here.”
“Wait,” Yalera added. “Who is it?”
Hannah poked her head in the door. “It's my husband, your brother.”
Yalera sighed in relief and beckoned for them to come in. Rohan was wearing a blindfold over his eyes. Yalera giggled.
Rohan shrugged. “I'm told that I'm not allowed to see the Prince's women.”
“We belong to the Princess now. I don't think the rule applies any longer.”
Hannah shrugged. “No matter. If Rohan continues to wear the blindfold, then he cannot get into trouble if it decided that the rule does still apply.”
As she said this, Rune and Yuna entered the room. A quartet of terrified shrieks announced that this was a fearsome sight. Yalera giggled softly again and hugged her cat.
“Oh Yuna, I missed you so!” She announced as if she hadn't seen her smilodon in far longer than the full day it had actually been.
“Both Yuna and Rune were restless. I've taken them outside – there's a forest nearby for them to run and hunt in – but they clearly wanted to see you,” Rohan informed his twin. She kissed his cheek.
“Thank you for bringing them.” The twins held hands even as they both petted their cats.
Hannah giggled. “I think my brother would have been beaten had he ever held my hand!”
Yalera smiled at her. “Prince Crispin gave me a Royal Decree allowing my brothers to touch me without consequence.”
“He always was the kind and generous brother,” Hannah murmured, looking down sadly. “What I remember from when we were littler anyway.”
Yalera tilted her head and rested it against her brother's temple. If you had known things were going to turn out like this, would you still have gotten married?
Yes, Rohan confirmed, nodding his head. Even though I'm still a bit shocked by getting married so suddenly, I really like my wife. She's funny and interesting and almost everything I would have asked for in a wife – if I'd thought to ask.
Yalera grinned. “That's good.”
And she's patient, even as I fumbled to figure out what to do on our wedding night, Rohan admitted with a blush.
Yalera laughed softly. Maybe you should have talked to dad again before slipping away from the banquet.
“No!” Rohan burst out. “I'm still hoping that both our parents assume that nothing happened!”
Yalera laughed again as she tugged on the chain around Rohan's neck. “I'm told that this here means that it did.”
Rohan blushed again, but Yuna prevented him from saying anything by nudging Yalera with her head so insistently that she tumbled to the ground.
“Aw Yuna!” Yalera protested with a laugh as Yuna licked her face.
Hannah giggled at the sight, and then smirked at Yalera. “I take it you two were talking about me?”
“Only good things, I promise,” Yalera assured her between giggles as Yuna playfully attacked her.
The maid was not the only one watching this scene in dismay, but she was the only one brave enough to speak up. “My Princess? Should I call for some guards to defend you?”
“No!” Yalera blurted out with a laugh. “But maybe you could order about ten pounds of raw meat for each of them and some sausages to be delivered here as soon as possible!”
Rune joined in on the play attack for a moment before Yalera shrieked in defeat. “I give up! Rohan, a little help?”
“Rune! Sit girl!” Rohan ordered, pointing to the floor where he hoped Rune was. Rune growled unhappily, but complied.
“Yuna! Enough!” Yalera insisted between laughs. Yuna sighed, then curled herself around Yalera before laying. Yalera reclined, using the large cat as a pillow. “Better.”
Rune licked her face a couple of times before trying to lay on the two of them.
“Ooph! You're so heavy!” Yalera groaned with a laugh.
Hannah giggled softly. “Even having seen a similar scene with my husband this morning, I still can't believe how brave you are to let those huge cats maul you like that!”
Yalera scoffed and shrugged. “These two are like sisters to us.”
“That's what Rohan said!” Hannah exclaimed with a laugh.
Just then, the maid returned with a large platter. Yalera was tempted to giggle as she realized that the maid must have been truly terrified that the cats would eat her to have rushed so much. The maid stood trembling just inside the doorway.
“Here, let me,” Hannah offered, taking the platter, uncovering it, and setting it on the floor a few feet away from the smilodons. Both perked up immediately, crawling over to the platter.
Yalera also crawled over to the platter so that she could divide the bounty in half. She stuffed one of the many sausages in her mouth as she held another out of the way so that it wouldn't get eaten until she had a chance.
“There's about two dozen sausages here. You want one?” She asked her twin.
“I could eat a few,” Rohan murmured. Using a sort of mental trick, he managed to catch the string of four sausages that Yalera tossed him, despite being blindfolded.
“Kitty!” The little girl gasped incredulously before she sneezed. She wiped her eyes with a hand before wiping her nose. Her other hand held a well loved stuffed toy.
“Come here,” Yalera beckoned. The girl complied even as her mother gasped in dismay. “Don't get near her face while she's eating – she may think you're trying to steal her food – but you can certainly pet her back.”
The little girl stroked the coarse fur, murmuring: “Kitty...” reverently. Her mother watched her with nails digging into her cheeks in terror.
When the cats were done with their meal, Rohan yawned and stretched. “I should probably take them outside again for a while.” He lay his stomach across Rune's back as he reached out. When he found his sister, he kissed her temple. “I know you've got to get dressed up for the funeral.”
Yalera grabbed his hand and squeezed it. “Thanks again for bringing them for a visit, I needed cheering up.”
Rohan chuckled. “Just think, we won't have to outrun a mercenary army on the way home!”
“That's true!” Yalera exclaimed happily. She stopped leaning on Yuna, also yawning as she stretched.
“Girls,” Rohan beckoned with an enticing purr. “Come on, let's go outside!”
The smilodons sat up eagerly. Yuna took a moment to lick the little girl petting her, and then nudged her away before standing up. Yalera grabbed hold of the little girl, who was protesting the fact that the kitty was leaving.
“Do you want to stay here?” Rohan asked his wife, correctly assuming where she was standing. “It can't be your idea of fun to go running around with a pair of large cats on the hunt.”
“Run?” Hannah questioned with a tone of intrigue. “Maybe that would be fun, but not right now. I'm sure I'd fall far behind!”
Rohan kissed her cheek. “I thought as much.”
“Oh my baby!” The little girl's mother exclaimed as she snatched the child and fussed over her. “I thought for sure that you'd be eaten!”
“Mama...” the little girl purred.
Yalera was tempted to go take a nap, but instead, she finished getting ready.
The funeral was a solemn affair. It was mostly restricted to immediate family – this was so that all of the women could attend – but the entire party from Rubidium was there too. The same Priest that had performed the weddings performed the funeral rites. At the end, he beckoned for Yalera to come forward.
She was wearing a sheer veil with her crown over it, and of course, her collar and the leash that still dangled from it. Her dress was an interesting black sheath that did not hug her curves, but also didn't make her look like a shapeless sack. She was confused by the Priest's summons, but stepped forward anyway.
“I am sorry to do this to you, my dear, but you are no longer the crown Princess. So...” the Priest trailed off as he removed the crown from her head. He also slipped a tiny golden key into her hand. “You'll be known as a Nandian Princess only by the wide Royal Collar you wear.”
Yalera nodded in understanding. After he gave her the signal to return to her seat, he ended the ceremony and dismissed the guests. They would have all night to commune with the body before it was burned, but Yalera was not expected to stay the entire time. In fact, the Nandians hinted that they would appreciate it if she left after only an hour so that the rest of the Rubidiumites could leave as well.
Yalera took the hint and left them in peace.
Yalera looked around the Prince's apartment sadly. More than half of her mind was obsessed with wondering what life would have been like had her husband not died. The little she had seen of him suggested that he was an interesting man and would have made a good husband. His other woman had also told her that he was a wonderful father.
She was even deeply curious as to what it would have been like to have four new “sisters.” She knew that his women were currently communing with his body, so she would be alone for most of the night. With a sigh, she decided that she should probably just go to bed. Although sleeping in his bed without him was a strange experience.
“It probably would be stranger if I was sleeping in the bed with him,” she muttered to herself.
There was a knock at the door, which then opened to admit the bodyguard that had been assigned to her. “My Princess, a message has arrived.”
She walked over to him even though he was walking to her. She took the message from him and read it. “My King wants me to meet with him,” she murmured out loud, referring to Eric. “But I'm not sure I want to wear this...”
Her bodyguard smiled at her sympathetically. “You are in mourning...”
“That's true,” she stated, and then shrugged. “I suppose that wearing this is probably better than trying to change out of it by myself.” The dress was a simple black sheathe, but it was hot and itchy, and covered in black bead jewels. Even the sheer black veil was covered in an astonishing amount of the tiny jewels, which made it seem heavy. With a sigh, she decided to just go as she was.
Her bodyguard smirked. “I have been trained to help you in any way that you need. If you want me to help you change...” He pulled out a blindfold and held it up to her. “See for yourself, I cannot see through it.”
Yalera shook her head. “I believe you, but I don't have a different mourning dress to wear anyway.”
“As you wish,” he stated with a tiny but reassuring smile. “I just want you to know that I am not upset to be going with you when you leave. I have no family or friends to miss... now that the Prince is dead.”
“You what?” Yalera asked in surprise. “Why are you coming with me?”
“I am to be your bodyguard for as long as you are a Nandian Princess,” he stated with a tone that it should have been obvious.
“Oh...” Yalera replied softly. “I see... You're supposed to spy on me.”
He shrugged. “Yes and no.”
“Very well,” Yalera capitulated with a sigh. “What is your name?”
“Ando,” he answered with a small smile. “I was orphaned as a teen and raised as Prince Crispin's best friend. My real loyalty is to him above all else. I'll only send bad “spy” reports to the King if I feel that you're dishonoring my Prince. Other than that, I vow to be your most loyal and capable bodyguard.”
“Uh... thank you, Ando,” Yalera replied awkwardly since she had no idea what to say to that. “But I must warn you, I'm terrible at sitting back and letting others protect me.”
Ando snorted a chuckle. “Good to know.”
“Also, I have a signed Decree from Prince Crispin that my brothers are allowed to touch me. So if they do, you'd better not try to hurt them,” Yalera warned with a low but fierce growl.
“I understand,” Ando murmured, his face showing his surprise. He hadn't expected the Prince to allow such a thing.
“Lastly, once we leave Nandia, I will be behaving according to Rubidium customs, so I hope that you'll take the time to learn them,” Yalera informed him. “For instance, it is common for me to hold hands with or kiss King Eric on the cheek. I would be very upset if you tried to prevent it or remove his hands.”
Ando chuckled again. “I am surprised to hear this! I had no idea that men in Rubidium were allowed to touch women so casually. However, I will make an effort to refrain from protecting you from, uh... any touch that bears no ill will. Unless the intent is amorous...”
Yalera laughed and waved her hand. “Don't worry about that! I don't think there's ever been a man interested in me!”
Ando pursed his lips and said nothing. However the look he gave her let her know that he felt she was being naïve. She rolled her eyes at him.
“Whatever,” she muttered before beckoning him to follow her. A few minutes later, they were at the suite assigned to the Royal Entourage from Rubidium.
Rohan answered the door when she knocked. She promptly slipped her hand into his as she looked around. Where's Hannah?
Still communing with the Prince's body, Rohan informed her.
She kissed him on the cheek. And Yuna and Rune?
Napping in my room for the moment.
Yalera turned to look at Ando when she heard him make a softly disapproving sound. “This is my twin brother, Rohan. Rohan, this is my bodyguard, Ando. He's apparently been assigned to protect me for the rest of my life.”
King Eric beckoned her to come forward. He held his hands out to her expectantly, but she shook her head. “For as long as I am still in Nandia, I should probably not let anyone touch me.”
King Eric nodded in understanding. He gestured to a seat near him. “Yemry and the others have been telling me about your journey here, my dear. I must say that I'm impressed by your bravery.”
“I'm not really all that brave,” Yalera demurred. “I'm probably just too stubborn for my own good.”
King Eric laughed. “Yes, you get that from your mother!” He took hold of one of Lady Yalena's hands and kissed it.
“I disagree,” Baethan added before he could stop himself, and then blushed when he realized that he was basically interrupting the King's conversation. “About not being brave, I mean.”
The King smirked at him. As much as he disliked Baethan's court jester personality, he did trust Baethan as a soldier. “And why do you say that?”
“Well,” Baethan mumbled and looked away from the King, embarrassed that he didn't just keep his mouth shut in the first place. “Like when the Megatherium came to attack our campsite... Rather than panic – like most of us – she kept her head and rushed to intervene.”
“That's not brave!” Yalera denied with a laugh. “I simply knew that the Megatherium wouldn't attack us unless we threatened her.”
“That's true enough,” her father stated with a smile. “The Megatherium really are gentle giants.”
“With sharp claws!” Baethan blurted out.
Yemry nodded in agreement with his best friend. “Even I will admit that I had no idea what to do. Had it been up to me, we probably would have tried to kill it and ended up losing a lot of lives.”
Yalera giggled. “Perhaps Your Majesty should make it a point to send your men out to the forests bordering our estate for training missions from now on. It might help them learn the difference between a truly dangerous predator and a harmless herbivore!”
Yemry snorted a laugh and reached across the table to poke her in the nose. “Ha! Little sister, you would probably try to pet it if you came across a wild smilodon!”
“But smilodons are very intelligent creatures!” Yalera protested. “Petting a wild one would let it know that I mean it no harm!”
Everyone roared in laughter at this. Yemry shook his head and grinned. “My point is that maybe you aren't the best judge of what is a dangerous animal and what isn't!”
“You want dangerous?” Yalera asked with a much too innocent expression. Then sang out loudly. “Yuna!”
“Rune!” Rohan called a second later, smirking.
The two cats emerged from the room that Rohan was staying in – that the twins had shared before Yalera got married. Even though Ando had been told by Crispin that Yalera had a smilodon for a pet, he was still visibly taken aback by this. He really hadn't thought that they were so huge!
Yalera pointed to Yemry with a devious grin. “Yuna, attack!”
Yuna crouched low to the floor and wiggled her rear end for a moment before pouncing in Yemry's direction. She attacked him by nudging his chest with her head and licking his face. Rohan gave a gesture to Rune, who promptly joined in on the attack, which knocked Yemry out of his chair. He laughed helplessly as he tried to defend himself.
“Alright! Call them off already!” Yemry begged a few seconds later.
“Yuna,” Yalera sang again. The smilodon promptly abandoned her attack and trotted around the table to give Yalera a few kisses. Rune didn't even wait for Rohan's signal, going over to him and gently biting his arm.
“May I?” King Eric asked, pointing to Yuna. Yalera nodded and pointed to the King. Yuna responded by shifting to look at him. She didn't lick him and seemed to be scrutinizing him as if she was deciding whether or not to trust him. He held out a hand for her to smell.
King Eric looked to Yalera as Yuna decided to give him a tiny lick on the hand. “I miss my lion. They look just like him in certain ways – which makes me a bit like their grandfather, I suppose,” he added with a laugh. “I should really send out an expedition to obtain another one, except...” He sighed a bit sadly. “I found him as a cub during an expedition in my youth after his mother had been killed by something – I honestly don't know what. I'd feel terrible if the expedition I sent out tore a young cub from his mother's care. Or worse! Killed her outright!”
Yalera looked up to the ceiling, rubbing her chin in thought. “I think I might like to go looking for a lion cub for you. It might make a lot of sense in the long run, since we can't find mates for Rune and Yuna.”
Lady Yalena gasped in horror. “Absolutely not! Lion territory is a harsh and unforgiving place! Certainly no place for a Lady!”
Yalera looked to Rohan, who smirked at her. If we weren't always so busy running our estate, I'd go with you!
Yalera smirked at her brother in return. With or without your wife?
Rohan shrugged. I think Hannah might like to go with us.
“Stop that right now!” Lady Yalena insisted. “I'll not have you two making secret plans with your mental twin connection!”
Yalera smiled at her mother a bit too innocently. “We weren't.”
Her mother rolled her eyes and shook her head. “Sure you weren't.”
King Eric cleared his throat, still petting Yuna, who was now purring as she reclined against him. “Anyway, I wanted to let you know that it's been decided that our combined entourages would just slow everyone down unbearably. Now that the threat of Prince Hugh has been taken care of, it would be easier to simply split in to smaller groups.”
He took Rolanna's hand in his and smiled at her. “Considering that your sister is pregnant and needs to take it slow, she will be traveling with me and a company of guards. The Lords – other than the diplomats who will be staying here to work on good relations between our Kingdoms – they will be traveling in their own party on the way back to the Palace.”
He let go of Rolanna's hand to take Lady Yalena's hand. “Your mother will be traveling with Rolanna and me, but I'll let you keep Yemry and his soldiers. They'll escort you back to Northinshire before returning to the palace.”
Yalera perked up. “You mean that I won't be stuck with a bunch of fussy old Lords trying to tell me what to do the whole way?”
“Yalera!” Her mother gasped incredulously as the advisers in question harrumphed indignantly.
King Eric laughed. “Well, it seems that you won't need them any longer. Your mission has been accomplished, thus, you're simply on your way home.” He smirked at the group of Lords around the table. “Besides, you are officially a Princess now, so you'd outrank them. I'm not sure they could cope with such a situation...”
“So... I'm in charge again?” Yalera asked with interest.
Yemry sighed and then grumbled. “You do technically outrank us...”
“Yes!” Yalera exalted. “That means I can take my time and sketch all the birds in the forest!”
Yemry, Rohan, and her father all laughed. Her father ruffled her hair. “Please try to take pity on an old man. I'd like to get home before winter sets in.”
Yalera grinned at him, taking his hand and kissing it. “Of course.” She then sighed and looked over at King Eric. “I think I should actually stay here one or two more days. I'm in charge of – well – I inherited Prince Crispin's women. I think I should probably escort them to my Nandian estate at the very least before I abandon them completely.”
“That is entirely up to you, my dear,” King Eric stated with a smile.
“In that case, I should probably set off on my own,” Ronin suggested with a reluctant sigh. “I really do need to get back home as soon as possible.” He looked over to first Yemry, and then Rohan, thinking that it was probably better for them if he wasn't around for their “honeymoon” anyway.
“I understand,” Yalera murmured, kissing her father on the cheek.
With all their plans settled for the moment, King Eric decided that it was time to get some rest. Yalera stood and curtseyed to him. “Safe journey, uncle.”
“Safe journey to you too, my dear,” he murmured with a smile.
Yalera turned to smirk at her twin even as she kissed her mother goodnight. “I'll take both our cats for tonight.”
“Thanks,” Rohan replied with a smile.
“Come here Rune,” Yalera beckoned, snapping and gesturing at Yuna as well. Both cats came up to her and rubbed their heads on her sides. “Let's go.”
Out in the hall, Ando watched in amazement as Yalera walked between the two massive predators – a hand resting on each of their backs. They noticed him following them and stopped to growl softly as they glared at him. He held his hands up as if surrendering.
Yalera giggled softly. “It's fine, my loves. He's a friend.”
Both stopped growling but continued to stare at him suspiciously. With a huff, they decided to ignore him, for now. Yuna turned and gently took Yalera's hand in her mouth to chew on it. Not enough to draw blood, but enough to make Yalera shake her head.
“That hurts, you know,” Yalera stated, but didn't make Yuna stop. She knew that Yuna wouldn't actually hurt her. “I take it that you're hungry again. I'll have a maid bring us some food... and then I suppose that I'll have to take you out for a bit before we go to bed.”
She sighed as she looked at her dress. It was not appropriate for an outdoor excursion in the slightest. She stopped walking once more to roll her eyes and cast a wry smile at Ando.
“Looks like you might have to help me change after all.”
He glanced at the smilodon literally chewing on her hand. “Uh... are you sure they'll let me?”
Yalera purposely gave him an impishly uncaring shrug, and then finished walking to her room.