Somewhere Else Entirely -133-

It is the day that all of Palarand has been waiting for, the day when Garia, Baroness Blackstone, is married to Keren, Crown Prince of Palarand and becomes his future Queen. Unfortunately, it is also the morning after a violent night before, when an intruder was slain barely strides from where she was sleeping. Can she put this distraction aside and make her day a happy one?

Somewhere Else Entirely

by Penny Lane

133 - Princess of Palarand

Disclaimer: The original characters and plot of this story are the property of the author. No infringement of pre-existing copyright is intended. This story is copyright (c) 2011-2015 Penny Lane. All rights reserved.



Garia woke. It wasn't a pleasant feeling. Her head was spinning. Her eyes felt as if they were full of sand and that cat had slept in her mouth again. She groaned.

"My Lady?"

"Uh? What? Go away, leave me alone."

"My Lady, you must wake." It was Jenet. "In less than a bell Mistress Shelda will arrive and Lady Dyenna will not be far behind. You must wake, bathe and break your fast! We have much to do this morning."

Garia groaned and rolled over. "Go away!"

Jenet's words sank in and she opened her eyes to slits, peering at her senior maid. The events of the previous night came crashing back and she closed them again as she realized how much sleep she had lost. Feteran and Gullbrand had insisted that she go back to bed and sleep, since today was so important, but somehow she couldn't stop thinking about what she had seen and her sleep had been fitful.

Oh, no! Keren will see me looking like this!

She groaned again and struggled to a sitting position. She yawned.

"Oh, God. Jenet, I do feel awful. What am I going to do?"

"It is your Call, Milady, I am sure of it. Oh! You did not take your potion last night, did you? That may explain why you feel so bad." Jenet turned. "Lanilla, run and fetch the pot Mistress Margra left for Lady Garia, together with some more water."

"Aye, Mistress Jenet."

As Lanilla left at a run Jenet began pulling back the covers.

"Come, My Lady. Let us clean you up and then you can have a refreshing cup of pel. You must have a clear head today of all days."

Garia groaned once more and swung her feet down to quest for her slippers.

"What happened last night, Jenet? Do you know?"

"I do not, Milady. Feteran and Gullbrand were most insistent that we leave the matter to them and for the rest of us to return to bed. Oh, some of the men were set to walk the streets around the mansion but I do not think anything else occurred. Come, shall you stand?"

With difficulty at first, Garia was helped to bathe and then dress in a fluffy robe for breakfast. A spoonful of Margra's potion had smoothed away most of her symptoms but she still felt as though she had not slept at all. Reluctantly she joined the others downstairs for breakfast. The first person she saw was Feteran, who looked as bad as she still felt.

"My Lady! Come and be seated. You need food inside you to prepare you for the day ahead."

"What about -"

"I will describe what we have learned once you have started eating, Milady," he said patiently. "I will tell you now the man was Vilken and that there is no further danger."

"Vilken? How - how did he manage to get in?"

"Later, Milady. For now, you must eat."

Garia looked at the pot of grain porridge on the table and made a face.

"No, not that stuff, not today. Get me some dry toast, please, and - where is that pel?"

The second piece of toast had butter on it and the third had preserved fruit. Garia's spirits began to revive and by the time she had drained her second cup of pel she felt able to ask, "I've eaten enough, Fet. Tell me."

"As you desire, Milady. It seems that Vilken evaded our watch last night by the simple process of climbing the mansion walls somehow and crawling over the roof. There are very few in the city who could have attempted that feat." Feteran made a face. "I regret to have to tell you that the man on the courtyard balcony last night, Berin, was taken by surprise and murdered. We believe that it was his blood on the knife that was found in Her Highness's room. Vilken then entered the building and made his way to Her Highness's suite, surprising her there. I believe he thought to force her to accompany him but Her Highness was unable to give me a clear account last night."

"I'm not surprised. When you've just been woken up like that, it can all seem a bit confusing."

"Aye, Milady." Feteran paused. "I have to ask, how is it you were awake? You reached the corridor before most of the others."

"Heliga woke me. She said that a bad man was in the building."

"Heliga? Strange." Feteran shook his head. "And what was she - I must ask her for her account, it seems."

"She woke me before the shot, Commander. I had gotten out of bed and was reaching for my swords when Eriana's gun went off." She looked embarrassed. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have been out there just in a nightgown, should I? Suppose he hadn't been alone?"

Feteran's response was apologetic. "Milady, none of us thought of arms at all. We were all at fault."

"So, that's about all we know, is it?" Feteran nodded. "It's a nuisance. There will have to be an investigation and people crawling all over the house and so on. It's the last thing we need, today of all days."

"I know, Milady, but we are offered a small relief. Since all the participants - with the exception of Berin - are Einnlanders, Gullbrand has offered to handle the matter while we are elsewhere today. I have sent a runner to the office of the City Watch with a note explaining the circumstances, and I have sealed Her Highness's chamber. With luck you should have departed before any interest is shown, especially today."

Garia nodded. "And the palace?"

Feteran sighed. "I have sent a rider there also, Milady. What the King will do to Prince Torulf I cannot imagine."

"I don't think it was anything to do with him, Fet. I don't think, if you would excuse the expression, that he has the balls to do something like this. I bet Vilken lost patience and tried to get hold of Eriana all by himself." She stopped as a thought struck her. "Or did he? I can't see Eriana just going along with someone like that, can you? There must have been more of them."

"As you say, Milady." He shrugged. "We searched the buildings thoroughly, of course, all of them, and found no-one who should not have been there. Outside we found nobody either, but that does not mean that no-one had been there. The sound of a gunshot would have alerted a deaf man standing in the streets."

Garia relaxed. "Thank you, Commander. It sounds as if you have everything under control."

Feteran gave her a faint smile. "So it seems, Milady, but I am in sore need of sleep, as are many of our men. I trust that we can still provide the escort you are entitled to today."

"We'll figure something out, Commander. Oh, how's Eriana?"

"Still asleep as far as I know. We shuffled some people and some rooms and found her somewhere else to sleep for the rest of the night."

"Does she know who she shot?"

"I do not think so, Milady. She seemed shocked and confused. Doubtless we will discover what she knows when she awakens."

Merizel sat down across the table from Garia.

"Excuse me, Commander. Good morning to you both. How are you feeling this morning, Garia?"

Garia's smile was somewhat forced. "I feel like... not that good, Merry. I didn't really get back to sleep properly after all that last night. You?"

"A little better, I deem. I arrived after it was all over, of course, so missed the excitement. I heard the Commander's explanation. Would those Einnlanders really dare to come out here and do all that?"

Garia shrugged. "One of them obviously thought he could. Pity they didn't know about the pistols, isn't it?"

Feteran said, "Milady, if not for the pistols then mayhap Her Highness may have been kidnapped. I doubt she is the sort to jump out of windows."

"I only managed that because I did it before those men had gotten into my chamber," Garia responded. "I don't think Eriana had that chance, he was in her room before she woke up." She smiled faintly. "Besides, I think you are wrong, Commander. Eriana would jump out a window if that was what was required, but of course, being Eriana, fighting back is her immediate response to something like that."

Frando entered the dining room and approached Garia's table. "Milady, Mistress Shelda has arrived."

Garia considered, then said, "Okay. Send her in, please, but I'm going to have another piece of toast and some more pel before I do anything else today!"

* * *

"What is that smell?" Shelda screwed up her nose as she arranged Garia's hair.

"We had an intruder here last night," Garia explained as she held her head steady. "It was necessary to use one of the new guns to stop them. Unfortunately, the intruder was killed."

"Inside the mansion, Milady? What a terrible thing! And do those guns all make that same smell, then?"

"They do, Mistress Shelda. And a whole lot of noise and smoke, too."

"How awful! Here, let me look at you." Shelda came around Garia to examine the front view. "I must say, these new mirrors make my work much easier, Milady, but there's still no substitute for seeing the result with my own eyes. Aye, that looks very good, if I may say so. The Prince is a very lucky man. Now, all I have left is the Karzal-nut oil -" She frowned and inspected Garia's face. "My Lady, you have rings under your eyes, doubtless because of the interruption to your sleep. I know your opinions about face paints, but I wonder, if just for this one day, you may consider using some."

It's a thought. One day can't hurt and I want to look my best for Keren.

On second thoughts, this body hasn't much longer to go, has it? Even if I am heavily poisoned it shouldn't make much difference. Yeah, let's do it.

"Mistress Shelda, I think today I'll take your advice. Only a little, mind, since everyone is used to seeing me without face paints."

"Of course, Milady. Your complexion is so good that I do not think you would normally require such enhancements. Let me apply the Karzal-nut oil and then I will delve in my box of paints."

There was a little of what an American woman would call a 'concealer', a cream-based substance which was applied with a small suede pad and blended over her cheeks. There was also a red liquid which Shelda assured Garia was just berry juice. This was painted onto her lips, making them stand out against her pale skin. As this was being applied there was a bustle in the corridor and Feteran poked his head into the room.

"My Lady, Lady Dyenna has arrived, together with her assistants. With them is Captain Merek, who has information."

"Ah, thank you, Commander. I think we are about finished here, aren't we?"

Shelda nodded. "Milady, I have finished, with the exception of your cap. I must needs fit that after you have put on your gown."

"Of course. Commander, if you could gather up the other girls. We'll be dressing all together in the dining room today. No sense in breaking our necks on the stairs."

"As you wish, Milady."

"I'll have a word with you and Merek before we close the doors, I think. Will that be okay?"

Feteran nodded. "It will suffice, Milady."

Garia stood at the foot of the stairs as the other women trooped down, all wearing their fluffy robes. With her were Merek, Feteran and Gullbrand. As the door into the dining room closed, Garia gave her attention to the men.

"My Lady," Merek saluted. "I regret this had to happen, today of all days."

"Yes, Captain. I'm guessing he hoped to take advantage of the fact we all had other things on our minds. You have news?"

"Aye, Milady. It appears there were four of his men with him. Two were found by the City Watch during the night wandering the streets, having become lost. They claimed they were looking for any tavern that might still be open so were just conducted back to the palace. Two more were apprehended attempting to climb the palace walls - to get back in. By that time we had word from here what had happened and arrested all four, who are now in the cells. All proclaim innocence, Milady."

"I bet they do. Well, the dead are going to stay dead and," she smiled, "I seem to have this important appointment later this morning. Gullbrand has offered to handle House Blackstone's part in this, as all involved are Einnlanders."

Feteran said, "Milady, do not forget Berin."

"I haven't Commander, but he isn't in the palace cells, is he? That's what I meant. Um. Technically you could take Her Highness with you, but I'm betting wild dranakhs wouldn't keep her away from the ceremony, would they? You'll have to wait until this afternoon before she can give you her account."

Feteran nodded. "Aye, Milady. I have already spoken to her and she has departed to prepare herself."

Garia asked, "What about Torulf?"

Merek replied, "He knows nothing, Milady, as you suspected. We have sought to keep the information from him until he is brought to formally identify the body."

"But we already know -" Garia paused. "Yeah, I get it. Where is the body, by the way? Still upstairs?"

"It is, Milady," Gullbrand answered. "Captain Merek proposes taking it back to the palace with him when he returns."

Garia raised an eyebrow. "So that you can watch Torulf's face when he comes to identify it? Okay, then, gentlemen, I have to go now. Captain, I'll see you at the Shevesty Field. Gullbrand, you know what needs to be done. Commander?"

"Aye, Milady. Spit and polish today, as you once told us. Then the carriages will be made ready for your procession."

In the dining room all the tables had been stacked to one side to make space for the women to dress. They all clapped as Garia appeared and made her way through the small crowd to greet Lady Dyenna.

"My Lady," she curtseyed. "Let us begin."

First came the petticoat, which Garia had worn before. Garia carefully stepped into it and Dyenna pulled it up, settling it about her body before tying the tapes that secured it.

"Milady," Dyenna remarked, "I deem the weather is good enough today you should not require any extra layers beneath. It will be warm enough today for you to wed in comfort."

"That's good news," Garia said. "I had hoped it would be."

Next came the shoes, which were white and had been polished to a gleam. Garia had worn them in so they already fitted her comfortably.

Her gown was, literally, a work of art. The original plain silken dress had had designs painted on it in wax before being dip-dyed up to the breast-line seam. This meant that the top was almost white while the skirt became progressively more green towards the bottom. The wax masking had then been boiled away and the remaining patches painted with exquisite care by one of Palarand's best-known artists, so that the final gown was a painting of flowers and plants, all seemingly growing out of the ground around her feet.

"Wow! That's amazing!"

"Aye, Milady, Kelverin's work is beautiful, is it not?"

"I know I have to, but I'm almost afraid to wear that thing. It looks too precious."

"It is only the very best for the woman who will become our next Queen, Milady. You are worthy of it like, if I may say so, no other who has become Palarand's Queen in recent memory."

Garia chuckled. "I bet you wouldn't say that in front of the Queen!"

"She has seen the gown, Milady, and she is of like mind. Now, if you would raise your arms..."

As the gown settled and closed around her body Garia experienced the most incredible emotional rush that almost brought her to tears. She made herself stop before she destroyed Shelda's work but it was difficult.

Oh, wow! This is amazing! I never felt like this before. Now I know why Earth women like wearing white dresses. It fits me so well and it is so appropriate.

Yes! Now I'm ready to meet my Prince.

She stood tall as Dyenna fumbled at the back with the unfamiliar closures. Once closed and tugged into position she smoothed down the skirt, running her hands over the silk with pleasure. As before, when she turned the others were standing in a semicircle around her. Shelda took the silk cap, already decorated with flowers, their stems woven into the filigree mesh, and carefully fixed it into Garia's hair with two long silver pins. The others clapped.

"You do look wonderful, Garia." Merizel said.

"Aye," Milsy agreed. "Fit to wed a Prince, I deem."

"I should certainly hope so!" Garia replied. "I'd hate to go through this for somebody else, wouldn't I?"

All the other women and girls were wearing gowns of the same design, but each of theirs was only a single color and every color was different. On the Shevesty Field, they would present a veritable rainbow for the people of Palarand to enjoy. Garia spotted Heliga in the crowd, one of the youngest of her attendants.

"Heliga."

"My Lady?"

"I must thank you for your warning last night. We were not in time to stop what happened, unfortunately, but at least I was already awake when it happened."

Heliga curtseyed. "Thank you, Milady. As you say, Milady."

Garia looked at the rest of her attendants. "Okay. Let's not concern ourselves any more with what happened last night, because what is about to happen is much more important." She smiled. "Or so I have been told."

There were some giggles from her audience.

"You all know what you have to do? Good, because that's more than I do... only partly joking, but then if any woman becomes too familiar with the marriage ceremony she must be doing something wrong."

This time there was laughter. Garia turned, looking for someone who could tell her what she next wanted to know, but of course all the women were in the room with her.

"Uh, Jenet? Merry? What time do we have to set off?"

"Milady," Jenet replied, "The carriages may be ready but we must needs await a call from without... they may not enter for fear of disturbing us in a state of undress."

"Good point. Perhaps someone had better open the door and tell them we are ready, then."

One of the armsmens' wives opened the door and held a short conversation with whoever was outside. She returned and curtseyed to Garia.

"Whenever we are ready, Milady."

Brazan, wearing ceremonial dress but no armor, opened the door and saluted. "Milady, if your attendants would follow me."

The women curtseyed and then began streaming out of the door. Garia made to follow but Jenet gently laid a hand on her arm.

"Milady, you must ascend last. In any event, your carriage will be brought to the entrance."

There was a profusion of men in uniform in the hallway but matters seemed to be organized. An interruption at the front door brought Tanon and Merina, with Jaxen close behind.

"My Lady." Tanon bowed. "You look wonderful today."

"Thank you, Master Tanon, and thank you again for the loan of the carriages. I seem to have a ridiculous number of attendants."

"Not so, Milady. Were you a daughter of a noble house, or of the King, you would have many more attendants than those I see in your courtyard. Of course, a maiden often marries in the demesne of her betrothed so the numbers of attendants can vary greatly." He inspected Garia's gown. "My! That is such a beautiful design. Have you decided what will become of it after your wedding?"

"No chance to think of such things, Master Tanon. We've all been too busy with various matters, mostly connected to the war." She frowned. "Did you hear the disturbance last night, by any chance?"

"I did not, Milady, but my night watchman told me that something had occurred. As we walked here we noticed your men patrolling the streets." He glanced at Garia, his expression serious. "Why? What has happened?"

Garia sighed. "One of those Einnlanders who came with Prince Torulf broke in here last night and tried to abduct Princess Eriana - we think. Unfortunately nobody told him she keeps a Personal Pistol on her nightstand. The upstairs still smells of gunpowder."

"The man is dead?"

"Oh, yes, quite dead, as is one of my armsman, Berin, who happened to come across him as he swung off the roof onto the balcony."

All three looked shocked.

"On such a day, too!" Tanon sympathized. "Do you need assistance handling the matter? My men -"

Garia held up a hand. "That's all right, Master Tanon. Gullbrand is dealing with it as, apart from Berin, everyone involved is an Einnlander."

"So true! Then let us turn our thoughts in more happier directions, My Lady. See, I believe your man is trying to attract your attention."

It was just as well Garia had chosen a large mansion because the courtyard, and the workshop yard behind, were both crammed with carriages. So much so, in fact, that the frayen her escort would ride had to remain in the stables until enough room was made for them to emerge.

All her armsmen were wearing their best uniforms with brightly polished helmets but no armor. For today, each man bore a bow of multicolored ribbons pinned or sewn to each shoulder. Every carriage was similarly adorned and the dranakh that pulled them had ribbons wound through their harness, the brasses of which gleamed in the morning light.

Terinar joined her as she waited in the porch with Jenet and Lanilla. As the son of a Duke he wore a neutral tunic, but his sashes today were the colors of Dekarran. Like all the men who would attend today, his scabbard held a functional sword rather than a purely ceremonial one. That lesson had been learned after the City Assembly Ball.

"I think almost everyone is seated now, Garia," he reported, "Uh, apart from yourselves, of course. Master Tanon, if you would like to conduct your wife to your own carriage, I believe you will be leading the procession behind the honor escort."

"I'll take them, My Lord," Jaxen told him. "I'm driving them today, don't want any mistakes, even though the men all wanted the job. Who's giving me the signals today? Brazan?"

"Aye, Jaxen. You two have ridden together, you know what to expect."

"I do, My Lord. Master Tanon? It is time for us to gain our carriage."

Tanon had two carriages for his own people and these were presently outside in the street. Brazan stood in the archway observing and when Jaxen gave him the sign he blew a double note. Tanon's carriages moved off and those within the courtyard began to stream out behind. When the last one reached the arch Brazan blew a single note and everyone came to a halt.

In front of the porch now was the State Carriage, lent by Robanar and Terys, which Garia would ride to the Shevesty Field and in which she would return to the palace with her new husband. This had more generous sizing but had also been modified for the occasion. The upholstery on the rear seats had been removed and a box mounted on the base with a plush upholstered bench on top of it. On the widened floor another box was positioned for Garia's feet. This meant that she was positioned about a foot higher than normal and would be easily seen by everybody.

Jenet climbed in first and helped Garia to mount, not easy with both wearing long gowns. Garia made herself comfortable as Lanilla climbed in and her two maids sat on the front seat facing her, but at a much lower level. The carriage rocked as Briswin and Toranar took the servants' seats behind Garia. She didn't know the driver, a seasoned palace man, but she had been assured that he could handle an unusual event such as that of today.

Tord was beside the carriage, already mounted, and at his signal all her other armsmen who were still standing climbed on their beasts. At a nod from Toranar to say that the bride was ready, he signaled the driver and the carriage jolted into motion. Brazan blew a double note as they passed through the arch and then took up position on the other side of the carriage to Tord.

What was that expression of Maralin's? Jumping off a cliff. There's no going back now, is there. Not that I would want to, of course.

There were watchers in the street, waiting for the procession, but not as many as Garia had expected. She was briefly upset by this until she realized that most were probably making their way to the Shevesty Field, if they hadn't already arrived there and found a good vantage point. Those who had remained, however, managed to give her a good send-off with waving and cheers before falling behind the rearguard to follow them to the field.

Because the procession had set out from her mansion it couldn't follow one of the standard processionary routes through the city, as the Harvest Festival one had done, so to begin with the streets and buildings they passed through were of a type used by merchants and factors. Eventually they came to a wider thoroughfare she recognized and began rolling right down the middle of it. There were more people here, and these joined in the waving and cheering before adding themselves to the sizeable crowd now following the procession.

Two turns into now crowded streets and they reached the outer edge of the Shevesty Field. Men in palace colors directed all the carriages to a reserved lot where her female attendants began disembarking. Their men, who had largely ridden behind their spouses' carriages, dismounted and handed their reins to attendants before adjusting their attire.

Outside each end of the Field a closed pavilion had been erected, in addition to the open one used two days previously. Garia and her retinue entered the one at the side of their lot to await events. There was a certain amount of giggling and apprehension as each made sure the others were ready to fulfil their part. A posy of flowers was handed to each of the women except for Jenet and Lanilla, who would be ensuring that Garia did not trip over her train. Tanon and Merina joined the group, standing out in their best clothing against the brightly colored silk which everyone else was wearing.

At the other end of the field in the open pavilion, a crescent of sturdy chairs was provided for the visiting rulers with their companions and aides standing behind them. The center pair was occupied by Robanar and Terys with Gilbanar and Vivenne seated one side and Visselen and Sindenna the other, as relatives of the ruling house. At this point Keren was in the other, much smaller closed pavilion, with Willan and Stebanar keeping him company. In other circumstances this would have been Terinar's job, but he was now too closely associated with House Blackstone to qualify.

A herald with a long horn blew a fanfare and the noise of the crowd which seeped into the pavilions tailed away. Brazan poked his head into Garia's pavilion.

"My Lady, it is time."

Tanon and Merina led the way, followed by the youngest of her attendants. The women streamed out of the pavilion to walk into the center of the Shevesty Field. Soon, only Garia, Jenet and Lanilla were left. Garia felt as if the entire galaxy was poised, waiting for this event to take place. She settled her posy into her hands and turned to her maids.

"Come on, girls. Let's do this."

Outside, the silent crowd caught sight of Garia as she reached the long axis of the field proper. A roar went up as she began to walk along the strip of grass between her and the open pavilion at the further end. Either side, an armsman in either palace or city colors and wearing ribbons on their shoulders stood five paces apart, lining the route to the thrones at the far end. Garia's attendants peeled off to either side between the guardsmen, forming an honor guard and providing a colorful spectacle.

Someone had thoughtfully dribbled a line of sand across the grass so Garia knew just where to stop and await the customary challenge. The priest, Parissan, stood on the field in front of the pavilion, facing Garia.

"Who speaks for this woman?"

From one side, Tanon and Merina entered the cleared lane beside Garia and bowed and curtseyed to Parissan.

"Father, we do."

"You are not the parents of this woman, then."

"Father, we are not. We are those who first discovered her, many months ago on the road from Moxgo. She is not of this world, she is from somewhere else entirely."

"Then how may you answer for her character?"

"Father, we cannot. If you require answer for her character, you had best ask the King or Queen."

"As you say."

The priest turned to face the line of rulers.

"Who shall answer for the character of this woman?"

Without exception, every person in the line stood up, which took the priest aback. There was a murmur from the crowd as they took in this show of support. Garia's legs began to feel somewhat wobbly as she again experienced a spontaneous demonstration of support.

Terys said, in a clear voice, "I will answer for her. There is no doubt of her character, none at all."

As the rulers sat down again, the priest turned back to Garia.

"Advance, if you would."

Garia, with her train held by her two maids, walked slowly to stand in front of the priest.

"Do you enter this marriage of your own free will?"

She raised her voice to speak clearly, even though she knew that most of the crowd would not hear her. The people in front of her, the important ones, they were the ones who needed to hear her voice.

"Father, I do."

"Does your liege lord consent to this marriage?"

"Father, my liege lord, Duke Gilbanar of North Palarand, has consented to this marriage."

The priest turned to find Gilbanar, who stood.

"Your Grace, do you confirm the marriage of your vassal Garia?"

Gilbanar inclined his head. "Father, I do."

The priest bowed and then faced the audience again. "Who seeks to marry this woman?"

From the other closed pavilion, Keren walked forward with Willan and Stebanar either side. The three stopped at the end of the line of rulers.

"Father, I am Keren, son of Robanar, King of Palarand. It is my desire to marry Garia."

"Then advance and stand beside your bride."

Keren walked forward and stood at Garia's right side. The priest asked him, "Do you enter this marriage of your own free will?"

"Father, I do."

"Does your liege lord consent to this marriage?"

"Father, my liege the King has consented to this marriage."

The priest turned to face Robanar. "Sire, do you confirm the marriage of your son Keren?"

"Father, I do."

The priest bowed to Robanar and then turned to address the assembled audience.

"In order to follow what we believe to be the Maker's plan, it is desirable that men and women should be legally joined for the raising of the next generation. These two who stand before me now desire such a union. Shall any here object?"

There was complete silence in the field.

"Let us begin. Keren, do you confirm your desire to be joined to Garia?"

"Father, I do."

"Garia, do you confirm your desire to be joined to Keren?"

"Father, I do."

"I must ask if you both understand that your joining may be dissolved at any time by consent of the King, unless you bring forth or are otherwise possessed of children. Once you are possessed of children, then you must needs remain together until the youngest of them becomes an adult. Do you understand?"

"Aye, Father, I do."

"Father, I do."

"Keren, shall you take Garia as your wife, knowing that one day she may become Queen, care for her, support her in all her works, attend her if she be well or ill, cherish her all her days?"

"Father, I shall."

Behind the priest, Robanar said formally, "Heard and witnessed."

"Garia, shall you take Keren as your husband, knowing that one day he may become King, care for him, support him in all his works, attend him if he be ill or well, cherish him all your days?"

"Father, I shall."

Robanar again said, "Heard and witnessed."

"Do you have tokens to exchange to seal your joining?"

"Father, we do."

Keren pulled out a small silk purse and shook two plain gold rings into the priest's hand. He looked at the rings and handed one each to Keren and Garia.

"Repeat after me, if you would: 'With this ring I pledge myself to you.'"

Each repeated the pledge and then place the rings on each other's ring finger. Parissan smiled, took Keren and Garia by the shoulder and turned them to face each other.

"Then by the Maker's Grace and the laws of Palarand, from this moment you shall be accounted husband and wife."

The roar of the crowd was thunderous. Garia's knees buckled.

"Whoa! Garia, are you all right?" Keren's expression was of concern as he held out hands to steady her. "Perhaps we should have waited a day or two, until, you know..."

"I'm okay, Keren," she replied, their voices barely heard over the din. She forced herself to stiffen her legs, stand up as straight as she could. "Had a bad night, that's all."

Parissan smiled at them. "Shall you kiss her, Highness?"

"What? Oh, of course."

Keren wrapped his arms around her and nearly lifted her bodily from the turf. Their kiss made no concessions to the crowd, which made the noise double. When they came up for air, Robanar chose his moment and stood. As if by magic, the sound from the crowd faded away, the effects rippling to the outermost edges. Everybody knew exactly what the King was about to say.

"My people! You have just witnessed the joining of the Crown Prince of Palarand, my son Keren, to the only person he tells me he will ever love." There were cheers at that statement. "As is customary at such joinings, the lesser is always raised to the rank of the greater, and so I give you my decree with great pleasure: From this moment forth, Garia wife of Keren shall be known by the title and style of Princess, to bear all the responsibilities and enjoy all the perquisites that accompany that title. In time, if the Maker permits, she may even become your Queen. My people, greet our newly married couple, Prince Keren and Princess Garia!"

The crowd gave another roar. Garia, for the first time, looked out properly over the sea of faces that filled the amphitheater. There were many more than had been here two days previously, only possible because they were packed together with no room for activities like sitting down and eating food. She realized that, as the wedding had been known about months beforehand, many must have traveled from all over central Palarand and possibly even further in order to be here today.

I forgot. This is a State occasion, after all. I was mad to think that only those from the city would be here today.

There was a small matter of a legal document. A big legal document. Made, Garia thought, from the whole hide of a pakh, the palace scribes had already written most of the required details and it only needed the signatures of... everybody, it seemed. Parissan signed and dated the document first at the top and then Keren and Garia wrote their names. Below the body of the document came the signatures of every ruler who attended and it was an impressive list.

"Eriana! How are you feeling?"

The Einnland Princess smiled at Garia. "An unpleasant night, Your Highness, but I would not miss your wedding! How could I? I have recovered, it seems, but I may disappear sometime later for a nap, I deem."

"Lucky you! Think I'll get the chance?"

"Ladies!" Robanar intervened. "You discuss important matters, it is true, but there are more who must needs sign."

"As you say, Your Majesty."

A familiar whine came from behind the King.

"Why does she have to sign, then? She tells me she wants nothing more to do with her father's land!"

"Torulf, dear," Terys explained, "When Eriana received sanctuary here she retained her title as Princess. She is entitled to sign the marriage decree of her two friends as a Princess of Palarand while you sign as representative of your father. You do desire to sign, do you not?"

Truculently, "I suppose I must." Then realizing who he was speaking to, "Uh, Your Majesty, of course I must sign. Where do I..?"

Kendar placed a finger at the spot and Torulf signed in the angular, rune-derived script used in Einnland. Underneath he wrote his name and title in the Valley script. Once everybody had supplied their names the Great Seal of Palarand was used to validate the document. Unlike the weddings of the previous day, there would be no certificate for the couple to take away, it being deemed unnecessary.

Once complete, and the sealed wax cooled, Kendar held the document aloft and the crowd cheered again. It was official!

"Ready, love?"

"Hm?"

Keren took Garia's hand and led her forward. To leave the field, they would have to retrace Garia's route along the center of the field which was still lined by her female attendants, with members of the Palace and City Guards to help control the crowd.

"This side first, Keren."

Garia headed to her right, where the Blackstone party had been given seats and positions of honor. Bleskin had tears streaming down his face and the female members of the party were little better.

"Captain. I only went and did it!"

"Aye, lass, so you did. I may have been slow to notice at first, but by the time you departed Blackstone I was certain. I just wondered how this fine young man would solve his father's riddle."

"That's something to talk about when we visit, Captain," Keren said with a smile. "I'm sure father won't mind."

Garia told the party, "It's far too noisy to talk now. Wait until we all get to the palace."

The members of the party stood and bowed and curtseyed as Keren and Garia turned away. She immediately headed for the seats of honor on the left side. The Einnlanders there gave the newlyweds a roar of their own as they approached.

«Your Highness, we told you that we would be back for your wedding,» Lars told her.

«So you did, and I hope you're enjoying yourselves today,» she replied.

«We are, Highness, and we will have a good party tonight, by your leave.»

«Two things,» she said with a straight face. She held up two fingers. «Don't kill anyone and don't burn down the palace!»

The men roared with laughter. Lars said, «Aye, Highness, we will try and be careful!»

Then it was necessary for Keren and Garia to walk the length of the Shevesty Field, between the mass of cheering people. As they reached each of Garia's attendants, each took their place at the end of the growing double line of attendants following the couple.

When they reached the far end of the field, the heralds blew again. Keren and Garia turned. The field slowly quietened as Robanar came to stand in front of the other rulers.

"So, my people. My son is wed at last! He will take his new bride back to the palace for his wedding feast and we must needs follow. For the rest of you, there are booths in the fields around you, if you desire food or drink, and of course every establishment in the city will soon be open for business - once their owners return from the field! Enjoy yourselves, Palarand has a new Princess!"

* * *

It took nearly half a bell before the State carriage, with Keren and Garia aloft on the bench, traveled from the pavilion to the entrance to the Shevesty Field. This was because many of those who had stood at the outer edges of the crowd left immediately the ceremony was over to try and get a good position along the route to have a closer look. Thousands of them. What with all the other processional carriages, including those that had brought the King, Queen and the visiting rulers to the field, there soon occurred what any Earth person would recognize as gridlock. Fortunately the crowd was good-natured and many more of Palarand's citizens were able to gain a closer look at the happy couple than they had imagined.

Once on the familiar route to the palace progress was a little better. Here the cheering crowds at least kept to the sidewalks and the carriage rolled along at a standard dranakh walking pace. However, there were frequent stops and starts and by the time the palace gates appeared Garia had firmly decided that next time, she would marry someone less important.

"At last!"

"What's that, my love?"

"I'm sorry, what did you say?"

"Huh? I can't hear you for the noise, Garia."

All of the palace servants who could be spared were lining the steps, dressed in their best uniforms, waiting for the happy couple. Many more were busy inside, of course, preparing the wedding feast which would occur in about a bell or so. The other carriages pulled past and Keren helped Garia down from the carriage at the foot of the entrance steps to enthusiastic clapping. As they set foot on the lowest step the servants all bowed and curtseyed.

Keren smiled at his new wife. "Well, Your Highness, shall you enter your new home?"

"Technically, I guess. I've only been living here what, nine months or so already?"

"Ah, but this definitely won't be the same." As they mounted the steps Keren muttered, "We turn round at the top and wave to the crowds."

Suiting action to words, Garia waved to the masses of people who now pressed against the railings to catch a glimpse of them. Eventually, it was time to turn and enter the great building. Inside, the quietness was almost deafening.

"Ah! That's better! What were you saying in the carriage before, Garia?"

"I was just glad we finally reached here, Keren." She yawned. "I had an interrupted night, I'm still on my Call and that ride took about twice as long as it might have."

"Of course, I forgot! But the people needed to see us, my love."

"I know that, and I know my duty, Highness. Now we're here, though, I think I need to... attend to some female matters. I might even take a nap before the feast, if there's time. Where's Jenet or Lanilla?"

A footman stepped forward. "My Lady - Uh, Your Highness, your attendants follow. If you would turn."

She smiled at him. "Strange, isn't it? It's going to take all of us, even me, a little time to get used to the changes. Thank you."

Merizel was the first to reach them, her face streaked where she had wept during the ceremony.

"Well, Your Highness, you finally caught your Prince! I am so happy for you."

"Thank you, Merry. Did you all have a good time?"

"I think we did! We had to stand a while with the crowd looking us over but that wasn't so bad. Are you ready for the wedding feast yet?"

"Uh, no, actually. Female business, you know? Have you seen Jenet or Lanilla?"

Merizel looked round doubtfully. "They are somewhere behind us, I know. Oh! Where will you go? Your chambers have been used by other guests."

Keren smiled at Merizel. "Not so, My Lady. Her Highness's suite is ready and waiting for her. Of course, she has not set foot in it yet so she is unable to describe it to you. Ah, here come your maids."

"Her Highness's suite?" Merizel blushed as she realized what Keren meant. "Oh! I am so stupid sometimes. Of course. Highness, would you permit me to come with you?"

Keren bowed. "Of course, Merry. You are one of her attendants, after all." He added thoughtfully, "Of course it will mean a big change for me. For almost sixteen years those chambers have been mine alone and now I must learn to share them with my wife. I must become used to seeing Garia and her staff enter them without reference to me." They were joined by two of Garia's maids. "Jenet, Lanilla."

Both curtseyed. "Your Highness."

"If you would all follow me. Your mistress desires, I believe, some attention of a female kind."

The procession made its way through familiar corridors. Whenever they passed palace servants, they stood aside and clapped as the Prince and Princess passed. Eventually they arrived at a door facing that to the King's sitting room.

"Shall you go first, Your Highness?" Keren asked with a smile and a gesture.

Garia opened the door and entered... a strangely familiar room.

Of course. Keren's suite must be a mirror image of the King and Queen's. Hmm. Colors are slightly different, of course.

The sitting room was larger than that she had gotten used to in Elizet's old suite, but that made sense. In many respects this room would become the nerve center of a Kingdom in time. Unless -

"Keren, what exactly will happen when your father dies? Do we move over there or what?"

"A morbid question on such a happy day! I understand what you ask, my love. If you so desire, we could move over there... though it may depend on mother's wishes, should she still live. There is no reason we have to move, though, if you are content to reside here. This would become the King's Suite and the other would be assigned as required. As you no doubt realize, both this suite and the King's suite are arranged exactly the same. There are two more like it over there," he pointed through the window at the far side of the courtyard, "which Uncle Gil and Uncle Visselen use when they come to visit."

"Over there? Oh, yes, easy access to the nursery, I guess. So, show me around my new home, husband."

The door nearest the window on the right led into a small pantry, which was how Kenila and Varna could provide pel at such short notice. The other door on that side led to a closet fitted out for a manservant, though presently Keren had no-one in residence.

A single door on the left side led through a short passage reminiscent of those in Dekarran. A door in this passage led to a maids' closet, fitted out with two beds, night stands and hanging space. This meant that the servants could move about without disturbing their masters or mistresses. They moved on into the bedroom. With a window into the courtyard, Keren's dressing room was to her immediate right, while a door to Garia's far left led to a toilet closet. The maids' closet and the toilet closet had high ceilings with skylights allowing a certain amount of daylight to enter.

Facing her was a door into what would be her own dressing room with the bathing chamber to its left. The large bed occupied the rear wall and faced double French doors which opened onto the balcony.

Keren slipped his arms around Garia from behind. "Welcome to your new home, beloved."

She leaned back into his embrace and then remembered why she had wanted to come here in the first place.

"Thank you, Keren, only... I have to go use the bathing chamber, if you don't mind."

His arms released instantly. "Of course, beloved. Um, I'll go wait in the sitting room and intercept any visitors."

Lanilla walked past the pair and entered the bathing chamber, pulling the rope for water. Jenet went into Garia's dressing room to find a fluffy robe as Garia contemplated her new existence.

That bed isn't as big as those in Dekarran but it's certainly big enough. King Size indeed!

Looks comfy enough but if just Keren has been sleeping in it all this time the mattress might not be very flat any more. Unless it's a new mattress?

I wonder if he'll stick his knees in me?

I wonder if he snores? I wonder if I snore? Merry claims I do.

Jenet laid the robe on the foot of the bed and approached Garia.

"Milady - um, Highness, we must needs remove your wedding gown. I do not think we may do what is needful without splashing the design."

"Uh, as you say, Jenet." As her senior maid began fiddling with the experimental closures Garia asked, "How are you getting on with those clasp things? Dyenna didn't like them."

"Highness, they leave a wonderfully flat and smooth appearance to the seam, but I admit they are not easy to do or undo. Mayhap we must needs speak with Master Fulvin, see if he can make some adjustments to the design."

Garia smiled. "For next time, you mean?"

"Highness, you are incorrigible! For the next woman who is to be married, I deem, and all those who may wear such gowns in future. I do not think you will ever be parted from His Highness, if I may say so."

As Jenet released the last clasp Garia began pulling at the sleeves. "Let's go, Jenet. I think my needs just became more urgent."

* * *

To Garia's embarrassment, she and Keren were shown to the two thrones in the Receiving Room. For this feast, as in wedding feasts all over the Kingdom, the newly married couple were given the highest honor. Both now wore gold circlets around their brows to indicate their royal status. Robanar and Terys sat beside Garia while Tanon and Merina sat beside Keren.

Their table was a short one, facing the three long tables normally used for dining. The center one of these was occupied by Garia's attendants and their families while the rulers sat at the outside two. The Blackstone visitors were given places at the far end of one of the side tables while Eriana sat beside Torulf at the other side table, which contained many of the young nobles who were Garia's friends.

The wedding feast was a fairly conventional evening meal but the final course brought many comments. Each diner was given a small bowl containing a dessert made with chilled cream and crushed ice, the product of Tarvan's third prototype refrigerator. Over this was drizzled a tart sauce made with preserved berries and there were loud comments around the room concerning the item.

Keren leaned towards Garia. "Is this your doing?"

"When have I had a chance to invent something like this? Besides, I'm no cook, I can just about burn water. I think this is more likely something Maralin has produced once he found out we had started making refrigerators. He was a cook, after all."

"From what I hear, he still is. He has paid at least one visit to the kitchens, I do not know what he might have found." Keren ate another spoonful. "If all Earth food is like this, Garia, I think we'll ask Maralin to come back and introduce some more."

"Hah. Eat too much of that and you'll get fat, Keren. As a treat at the end of a meal it's fine but one can get too fond of ice-cream. A number of other Earth foods, from America at least, are definitely unhealthy. It doesn't mean we don't eat them but there can be unwanted side effects. Remember, our medical system is a lot better than Palarand's."

"As you say, Garia. For a feast such as this one, I deem it a good way to end the meal."

"Absolutely. Oh, what happens next?"

"Some speeches, my love, but," Keren added at the look on Garia's face, "nothing too long or too heavy, I deem. Then we walk the tables greeting everyone who dines with us tonight before the tables are taken away and the dancing begins."

"Oh. Look, Keren, I might be able to manage a dance or two but I don't think I can do a lot this evening. I'm just too tired after last night's fuss and I'm still on my Call."

Terys leaned in from the other side. "My dear, we understand. If you may endure two dances, perhaps, I doubt any will complain if you and your new husband retire early."

Garia reddened to the roots. "Ah, that's not what I - Uh, as you say, Ma'am. It doesn't matter what others think, does it? We know why we'll be retiring."

"Indeed, dear. And you are right, this is a preparation of Maralin, I find it most agreeable. He asked me some days ago if he could make something special as his gift to you."

"Thank him for me, would you?" Garia blushed. "I might be busy, later."

"You will see him when you walk the tables, dear. He sits, as ever, beside Duke Wallesan."

"As you say, Ma'am."

The meal came to a successful conclusion and Garia endured, not the dances but the music that accompanied them. After half a bell or so she rose with Keren and left the Receiving Room to sustained applause. With them went Feteran, Jenet, Lanilla, Geska, Odgarda and four armsmen. At the entrance to Keren's suite she stopped.

"Jenet? You're not coming in with us to stay, are you?"

"If you desire my presence, Highness, then of course I would come. You will need my help getting out of that wedding gown, I think."

"Well maybe Lanilla -"

"Highness, I would rather leave that task to Jenet, if you would permit. She is familiar with the strange fixings and I am not."

"What about me?" Keren asked. "Don't you think I can manage a few hooks on my own?"

"Highness." Jenet regarded Keren with pity. "One day you will doubtless be a fine King, but I deem that matters of female attire are presently beyond your abilities. I will undress Her Highness in your sleeping chamber and when I have finished I shall, by your leave, retire to be with my husband. Lanilla has said that she will remain in your suite in case of need. We will appear as usual in the morning."

"Usual for you, perhaps." Keren smiled. "I fear I must needs become used to the steady tramp of maids throughout my suite - uh, that is, our suite." He waved a hand. "Jenet, you know the routine at least as well as I do. Proceed."

Feteran took the Norse maids to their dormitory while Garia, Jenet and Lanilla entered the bed chamber. Keren sat, as before, in the sitting room awaiting developments. Eventually Jenet reappeared and curtseyed.

"Your Highness, your bride awaits. If you would excuse me."

"Of course, Jenet. Feteran is a lucky man. Good night."

"Good night, Highness."

Keren was excited as he went through the passage into the bed chamber. He knew that he wouldn't be doing anything sexual with Garia that night but it was still going to be the closest bodily contact the two had experienced until now. Opening the door he found Garia standing waiting at the foot of the bed, dressed in the nightgown given her by the ladies of Blackstone. Her body was clearly visible through the semi-transparent cloth, the only clothing under it was her bikini bottom.

She came to him immediately and wrapped her arms around his waist. "Oh! I've waited so long for this moment."

He enfolded her shoulders and kissed her tenderly. "So have I, my love. So have I."

They stayed like that, crushed together, for a short while before Keren said, "My love, you have the advantage of me. I must needs undress and clean myself up before we retire."

Garia considered for a long moment and then nodded. "I think I can live with that, Your Highness."

When he returned to the bed chamber she had pulled down the covers and was lying on the bed.

"I'm sorry. I don't know which side you normally lie on."

Keren shrugged. "It varies. I think we'll have to try both ways and see which is more comfortable for both of us."

He climbed on the bed and she melted into his arms.

"Oh, wow! This is amazing. You have such an interesting body. A lot to get used to."

"Aye, my love. Well, we have the rest of our lives to explore, have we not?"

He kissed her again.



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