Royal Innocence

The temple of the Moon Goddess was a large grey building resting at the foot of Mount Orabis. It was two stories tall and sprawled across the land in every direction that it could.

Inside it housed five Moon Priestesses, more than any other temple could boast, 300 Ladies of the Moon, and nearly 500 Moonites, as were called the students of the temple.

Valina was a Moonite, but not a usual one, although dressed in the Moonite's grey robes she looked like any other. Valina was in fact, destined to be the next Queen.

All the other Moonite's knew that the heir of Celeve was among their numbers, but no one was sure who it was. It was tradition after all. When the next Queen was chosen she was always sent to the temple to train until it was time to take her place on the throne. It was common knowledge that Queen Sessine was old and her health was failing. It was only natural to assume that the next Queen had already been chosen.

Although Valina had been chosen three years earlier, she was still not used to the fact that she would be the next Queen. They had been a difficult few years for her as well. It had to be kept a secret that she was the future Queen, only the five priestesses knew and a small handful of Ladies of the Moon knew who she really was. She had not been able to make many friends among the Moonites and no close friends because she was always too afraid that she would say something she should not. Her extra, secret lessons did not help matters.

She didn't feel like a Queen, or even a future Queen. She still felt like the awkward, tomboy orphan she had been when she learned that she would become the next Queen. If Valina could have seen herself though, she would have noticed that during her time at the Temple she had developed poise and a grace that befitted royalty. She might also have noticed that she was no longer a child, but a young woman, a far cry from the boyish girl who had preferred men's trousers to skirts. At this point, Valina though anything would be preferable to the drab, scratchy, grey Moonite's robes she had been forced to wear since the day she had arrived.

Valina was currently sitting on her bed in the room she shared with five other Moonites. The bed was small and hard, with only a thin straw mattress between her and a wooden board. The mattress did nothing to soften the bed and had the added disadvantage of scratching and poking. Even after three years, Valina had not gotten used to it. The floor, walls and ceiling of the room were all grey stone and there was only a small fireplace in one corner to heat it, and on every surface of the room lay a thick layer of dust that no amount of dusting could get rid of.

A book, Monarchs: The Good, the Bad and the Insane, was lying open in front of her. Lady Airleen, one of her private tutors, had given it to her as extra reading. Valina had not turned a page in over five minutes. She was instead, listening to the conversation of the other three girls who were currently in the room, and was using the book only to disguise her eavesdropping.

"I can't believe we've finally made it," Carinthe was exclaiming, "Tomorrow we'll be Ladies of the Moon."

"It seems like yesterday that we arrived," Leatha added wistfully, "Do you think that our new robes will be any less scratchy than these?" she tugged uncomfortably at her clothes.

"They have to be," Carinthe assured, "Nothing could be worse than these, and no on could stand these for that long."

"I bet they have softer beds too," Wendelyn chimed in, "Or else harder. Do you think they'll make us sleep on stone beds?" she suddenly looked worried.

Carinthe flopped back on her bed, "What I wouldn't give for a nice feather bed. Or a silk dress," she added after a slight pause, "I bet the Priestesses' dresses are silk. How long do you think it will take to become a priestess?"

"Belanine isn't that old, but she's the worst of the lot. I don't think you're devoted enough to the Goddess if you're thinking of feather beds and silk dresses. You'd be lucky to become a priestess in two hundred years," Wendelyn answered. She was more serious than joking.

"Renounce all comforts and worldly possessions and serve the Goddess with your heart to the Moon," Carinthe and Leatha recited teasingly.

"I am devoted to the Goddess," Carinthe assured, "but I don't see anything wrong with imagining. How long do you think it will take you to become a Priestess?"

"When the Goddess wills it," Wendelyn answered thoughtfully, then she grinned, "But I have no fear that you'll beat me to it."

"What about you, Valina?" Leatha asked. The three girls turned towards Valina, "With all your studying, are you planning on becoming a Priestess?"

Valina looked up in surprise. She had not thought that they even noticed she was in the room. She returned their gaze easily but inside she was struggling to come up with a suitable answer. She was reminded anew why she avoided conversations with the other Moonites. It was too difficult to be always thinking up lies. She couldn't very well tell them that she was not going to be a Priestess; she was not even ever going to be a Lady of the Moon, hopefully. Finally she answered, hoping that she had not taken too long to respond, "Not everyone becomes a Priestess," she promptly returned her gaze to her book, still not reading the words, and hoped that the other girls would not press her further.

Corinth, Leatha and Wendelyn exchanged glances, shrugged and began giggling amongst themselves about whether or not it would be considered vain to try to curl their hair before the ceremony. Valina was left alone to ponder a much more serious problem. How she was going to get out of the ceremony.

She had been at the Temple for the required three years as a Moonite before becoming a Lady of the Moon; everyone would expect her to participate in the ceremony. Valina was not supposed to become a Lady of the Moon though; she was supposed to become the Queen of Celeve. She supposed that none of the heirs before her had ever stayed as long as she at the Temple. After all, no one had expected the current Queen to live this long.

The priestesses must have a plan, she told herself consolingly.

As if on cue the door opened and Lady Caroleve entered the room, "Valina, Priestess Tyndine wishes to see you."

Valina nodded and stood up trying to ignore the suspicious stares of the other Moonites. They were completely understandable. Moonites were rarely called to see any of the Priestesses and never to see Tyndine, who was the eldest of the five Priestesses. Valina of course had been taught privately by all five of the Priestesses, but she had never before been summoned to them in front of any of the other Moonites. Keeping her eyes fixed straight ahead, she followed Lady Caroleve out the door.

The Priestesses chambers were on the far side of the Temple from the Moonite dorms and it took several minutes of brisk walking before they reached it.

When she entered Tyndine's chamber she was shocked to see a man standing next to the Priestesses desk. She tried not to stare to openly and concentrate on bowing and addressing the Priestess properly but she had not laid eyes on a man in three years. They were strictly forbidden from entering the Temple. Yet here one was.

"Rise, child," Tyndine said waving Valina to her feet. She seemed oblivious to the fact that there was a man beside her, but Valina certainly was not.

He was a tall man. Valina, who had never been considered short, knew that she would only just reach his shoulder. He was also very broad, much broader than she could ever remember seeing before and she had been much smaller herself when she had last laid eyes on a man. He had jet-black hair cut unevenly to a length that reached on average from the middle of his ears and back to just past his collar, and he had the bluest eyes that she had ever seen, blue eyes that were currently fixed on her.

Even under his piercing stare Valina did not turn away, it was just too unusual to find a man in the Priestesses chamber. She did not blush either, but then she was not embarrassed and she had never understood why other girls got so silly around men anyway.

Belatedly Valina noticed the sword hanging from his side. It was mostly hidden by his dark cloak, which explained why she had not noticed it immediately, that and the fact that he carried it as if it was an extension of him. Now Valina was even more intrigued than ever. Tyndine and the other Priestesses would never allow a weapon inside the walls of the temple.

Valina broke her gaze away from the man and looked back at Tyndine, hoping she would get some answers, "You wanted to see me?" she asked, aware of how late her question seemed.

Tyndine smiled and answered simply, "Yes Valina, it's time."

Valina did not stop to think before asking, "Time for what?" as she did realization dawned on her and she finished with, "Oh."

"The Queen's been dead a month, but it's taken that long for word to travel and for the arrangements to be made," Tyndine told her, "We have just enough time for a very hasty and informal coronation, but it will do until you reach Navare, and then you must be on your way. The Ladies and Moonites are already assembling in the Great Hall."

Valina was stunned. Queen Sessine was dead, and had been for a month. She was about to be crowned the next Queen! She was suddenly very aware of how unready she was for this. She was so completely shocked that she had forgotten completely about the man in the room, but now Tyndine had risen from her seat and was bringing him before her.

"Valina, I would like to introduce you to Captain Dainen. He's the captain of your Royal Escort and your personal bodyguard," Dainen fell to one knee before her, took her left hand in his and pressed his forehead to the back of her hand.

My what!? she asked herself, her mind reeling. Thinking for a moment she could vaguely remember learning about a bodyguard and escort, but it had not seemed important amongst everything else she was required to learn. Now she wished she had paid more attention. She did not want or need a bodyguard or an escort, "That's silly," she said as calmly as she could, "I don't need a bodyguard, I'm perfectly capable of taking care of myself. Oh, do stand up please," she added to Dainen who was still kneeling at her feet.

He slowly rose and looked her straight in the eyes, "My life is to serve you My Queen," his tone carried proper respect for the position she now held, but his face told her that he was not about to be pushed around by a young and na?ve girl, even if she happened to be the Queen. Valina suddenly felt every bit as young as her mere seventeen years made her, and she turned away from his piercing stare.

"Don't be foolish," Tyndine scolded, "You're the Queen now of course you need a bodyguard, and an escort," Valina had to suppress a grin. At least Tyndine was not treating her any differently now that she was the Queen of Celeve. She doubted anyone else would dare scold the Queen. Stealing another glance back at Dainen she changed her mind. He looked as though he would be willing to give her a good tongue lashing, as long as it was not in the presence of a priestess.

Valina sighed and answered, "I suppose it's tradition, isn't it?" she had never much like tradition but as Queen she realized she had better get used to it, fast.

"Yes it is," Tyndine answered harshly and added, "Have you learned nothing in your three years with us?" Valina opened her mouth to answer that yes she had, but there was so much that she could not possibly have remembered all of it, but she was cut off, "No, never mind. There's nothing to be done about it now and we haven't the time to waste with scolding. Here," she thrust a bundle of white fabric at Valina, "You'd better get changed so we can start the ceremony," Valina turned to walk out the door she had entered through, but Tyndine stopped her, "You've no time to walk all the way back to your room, you can change in there," she jabbed a finger at the door on the other side of the room. Valina knew that it lead to the Priestesses sleeping chamber. She had never entered there before but she did not bother arguing with Tyndine. She hurried into the adjoining room and closed the door.

She nearly burst out laughing when she saw the room that the Priestess slept in. It had the same grey stone floors and walls that the room she had lived in with the other Moonites, and had on small window high in the far wall. The bed was exactly the same as the one she had slept in for the past three years, scratchy straw mattress and all. The room was considerably small than the ones in the Moonite's dormitory but it only contained one bed, a wooden chair and a small metal wash basin and stand. Corinth, Leatha and Wendelyn were sure going to be disappointed.

She unfolded the bundle of white fabric that Tyndine had given her and stared in awe at the most beautiful dress that she had ever seen. That was saying something coming from Valina who had never like dresses.

It was made up of several layers of material, only the bottom one being solid. The other layers were a translucent filmy material that hung at different lengths from the waist in wide curvy strips. The bodice was made up of just as many layers but they were sewn together as if they were one and had wide crisscrossing laces up the front threaded through silver eyelets. The sleeves were made of the translucent material, several layers, each of which was stitched with ribbons of the solid material.

Valina, who years ago would have avoided wearing a dress by any means possible, was now quite eager to abandon her Moonite's robes for that dress. She laid it carefully on Tyndine's bed and hurried out of her robe. Beneath it she was wearing only a loose fitting grey shift that she knew would never work under the dress so it quickly joined her robe on the floor at her feet.

Quickly she loosened the laces on the front of the dress and then carefully lifted it over her head and let it slide down her body and into place. As soon as she touched it she realized that the solid layer of the dress as silk and she sighed as the smooth fabric embraced her. It was a huge improvement over the rough material of her robe.

She slowly retied the laces on the front of the bodice and marveled at how perfectly it fit her. It was snug, yet not tight and it followed every curve of her body. Without thinking she reached up and undid the strips of leather that held her hair back and it cascaded over her shoulders in golden waves.

For the first time in her life she wished there was a mirror to look in. She felt beautiful, but she had never considered herself beautiful before and was sure it was just the dress. She knew if she looked at her reflection, the same old, plain, tomboy Valina would be staring back at her. The only difference was the dress.

Running her fingers quickly through her hair to remove the tangles, Valina took a deep breath and then walked back through the door to Tyndine's public chamber.

"What and astonishing transformation," Tyndine exclaimed and Valina was forced to blush. She stole a glance at Dainen but his expression had not changed. Valina scolded herself for it. What did she care if the man found her attractive? What did she care if any man found her attractive?

Tyndine was still stunned by her appearance and was nearly gushing about it. Valina thought she was behaving very oddly for a Priestess, "Why I remember when you first came here. I thought there was some mistake and that they had brought me a boy. We could hardly get you out of those awful trousers. Now look at you. You look every inch a Queen," by the time she was finished Valina was bright red, "Well let's get on with it then," she finally said and ushered Valina and Dainen out the door.

By the time they reached the main hall Valina had forgotten all of Tyndine's praises and was terrified. She was not sure which frightened her more; that she would soon be revealed to her peers as the heir of Celeve, or that she was about to be crowned Queen, "I think I'm going to be sick," she groaned, clutching her stomach queasily. She was starting to look a little green.

Tyndine gave her a pat on the shoulder and said, "You'll be fine child. Just take a deep breath."

Dainen just gave her a disapproving look.

They stopped just outside the doors that lead directly to the front of the Great Hall. Tyndine told them to wait there while she went and explained to everyone why they were gathered.

"I really think I'm going to be sick," Valina said gravely looking to Dainen for assistance.

He in turn looked around helplessly, but it was just the two of them. Lamely he repeated what Tyndine had told her, "Just take a deep breath."

Valina tried to do just that, but ended up taking several short quick breaths and was soon gasping for air in a panic.

Dainen gave her a stern look and said, "Calm down, you'll be fine," of course this had no effect on Valina's breathing. With a sigh he faced her and put a hand on each of her shoulders, "Look at me," he commanded. She managed to return his gaze, but only just barely through her gasping breaths, "Good, now breathe with me," he began breathing very slowly and deliberately, trying to get Valina to follow his example.

After several long moments Valina's breathing began to return to normal. She smiled up at him thankfully, feeling much better. Then suddenly she was depositing the contents of her stomach down the front of his robe.

In one very swift motion, Dainen's hands left her shoulders and he took several steps backwards. Valina just stared at him in horror of what she had just done, "I'm so sorry," she stammered.

At that moment Tyndine opened the door and poked her head out, "It's time for you¡­oh!" she exclaimed when she caught a glimpse of the front of Dainen's cloak. Valina could tell from the pained expression on her face that the Priestess was struggling to keep from laughing, "Are you alright, child?" she managed to ask Valina.

Valina nodded. Truthfully she was feeling much better now that her stomach had ridden itself of breakfast. With a glance back at Dainen who was carefully removing his cloak, she gave him a brief apologetic look that he either did not notice or ignored, Valina expected it was the latter, and then followed Tyndine into the hall.

It seemed that Valina had never quite appreciated how many women lived at the temple, but looking out over the sea of faces she certainly did now. There were hundreds of people staring at her. She could see several of the Moonites whispering amongst themselves. Then they eyes shifted to something behind her before she had even reached the small raised platform at the front of the hall. Even the Ladies of the Moon began whispering together. Valina knew without a doubt that Dainen was following her into the hall.

Tyndine reached the raised platform and Valina joined her shortly, standing a little behind her as the Priestess directed with a waver of her hand. Dainen came over and stood beside her. Valina glanced at him briefly but he was staring straight ahead. She noticed his cheeks were slightly pinker than before.

She felt a curious stab of anger towards the other women at the temple and wished that they would stop staring at him. She leaned closer to him and said dryly, "Don't' take it too personally. None of the have seen a man in years. They'd stare like that at anyone."

Finally Dainen turned and looked at Valina. He had a surprised look on his face that vanished almost instantly and he turned away, but not before Valina saw the smirk on his face.

Men! She thought with exasperation. Then she turned her attention to Tyndine who was raising her hand for silence.

"Today," she began, "we have the honour of coronation the next Queen of Celeve. I hope you all understand what a privilege it has been to have her studying among us and what a responsibility it is for us now to send her on her way with the Goddesses blessings."

"We do, Priestess," all the women recited together.

"Valina, please step forward," Valina obeyed and turned to face Tyndine, "Kneel, child," she said much more softly. Dropping to both knees Valina looked up expectantly. Tyndine was taking a silver circlet from one of the other Priestesses and then she was holding it out above Valina's head, "Do you promise to obey the Goddess of the Moon and uphold her teachings?" Tyndine asked.

"I do," Valina answered, but her voice cracked and she blushed. After clearing her throat she answered again, much stronger this time.

"Do you promise to rule all your subjects equally with justness and fairness?"

"I do."

"Do you promise to protect Careve and you subjects in all ways and by any means possible?"

"I do."

"Do you understand what this crown represents and the responsibilities it carries with it?"

Valina hesitated for the briefest of moments. Of course she had read the books and studied the knowledge, but she suspected that much would still be revealed to her in time. Still she answered, "I do."

"And knowing all this, do you still gladly and of your own free will accept this crown?"

She nearly laughed out loud at that. Gladly? Hardly. Who would gladly accept this kind of responsibility? And of her own free will? That was an even bigger joke. True no one had actually forced her to become the heir of Careve, but she had never once felt that she had any say in the matter either. She did not feel that this was any different, so she dutifully answered, "I do."

Tyndine smiled down at her and nodded, "Then Valina, daughter of Careve, I crown you Queen," she placed the silver circlet on Valina's head, "and send you from the safety of these Temple walls out into your Kingdom," she bent and took hold of Valina's hands and then straighten again, "I also pass the charge of your safe keeping from my hands into the hands of Captain Dainen."

Suddenly Dainen was next to Tyndine and the Priestess was passing Valina's hands into his. Valina could only stare at her hands, feeling very awkward and was amazed at how small and delicate her hands looked in Dainen's large calloused ones. To her horror she could feel her fingers tremble no matter how hard she tried to still them. He's just holding her hands! She scolded herself. What's so different between him and Tyndine?

Luckily she was rescued from herself when Tyndine said, "Arise Queen Valina."

Valina nearly jumped to her feet, rising before Dainen could help her, but he made no move to anyway. As soon as she was on her feet she pulled her hands from his then wiped her sweaty palms on the skirt of her dress as discreetly as she could.

"Now you have witnessed the crowning of the new Queen," Tyndine said to the Ladies of the Moon and the Moonites. Then she turned to Valina and Dainen, "Safe journey My Queen," and then to Valina's great shock the Priestess proceeded to bow to her.

"Thank you, Priestess," Valina managed to mumble in return. She forced herself to turn towards the rest of the women in the Great Hall. She felt that she was supposed to say something, but her mind was blank. Finally she just gave a feeble smile and hurried out of the hall.

Well, that's over. She thought with a sigh of relief. At least it was finalized. She had taken the first step in her inevitable fate. She held no illusions that being the Queen of Careve would be easy, but it didn't help matters by worrying about it.

But Valina had no idea just how bad it was going to become. It was beyond her wildest imaginations.