The sound of slippered feet slapping the marbled floor rang through the corridors of the Tarsian Palace. Servants turned their head ignoring the middle-aged slave making her way to the Princess' rooms. Her blue gold dress marked her in the service of the royal family. Rina carried a flute tucked under her left arm. The ancient bards of Cartonian legends were long lost, but the family had been surprised when a bard showed up at their gates and volunteered to educate the Princess. These services could not be purchased and would provide the finest education that could be found.
Rina entered the Catharyn's rooms to find her stretching from her lessons on the pianoforte. Bard Darron smiled at his pupil fondly, "You're coming along just fine, My Lady. Ah, thank you Rina, but I think it's time for your Geography lesson." Catharyn groaned as Darron laughed, "I know you prefer the music, but we need to keep your education well rounded."
Rina laid the flute on a table and retreated to a nearby corner.
Catharyn was a typical Ardini, tall and blonde haired many referred to her as statuesque. She looked at the world through eyes that were forest green. She belonged to one of the upper houses of Ardinia, Greco. Darron pulled down a map that had been cleverly designed to unroll and roll with a tug downward and pointed to a map of Western Ardin, "We live in the Greco Province, controlled by your family. Your family rose to prominence by controlling the gold and silver mines located in the mountains in that province."
Cathy dutifully recited previous lessons, "Draco was an early trading family and built the ports in north eastern Ardin and building a large commercial fleet. Chiros family allied with what would eventually become the Alessi family and set up trade cavern routes into Cartoni. Bolros allied with the Draco's with their deep forests and ability to build the ships with the timber."
"Good, now, the Alessi family currently has a problem. The Grand Duchess Martina has no female heir, and other than a grand nephew, whose name escapes me, has no children and no heir. Recent changes in Ardinian Law allow her nephew to inherit, but he will need to marry someone very powerful," he sighed. "But, that is politics not Geography. Today, we cover the southern trade routes and the southern country Cartoni. This vast, and powerful desert country demands tribute from its neighboring countries. Ardin was at war with them until your great-grandmother negotiated peace."
"Which is why I'm going there next year to spend the next three years as a 'hostage'," Catharyn stated astutely.
"Spices and silks are their trade. They believe its fair considering the amount of slaves Ardin took over the years. Of course that doesn't seem to count the large merchant community here in Tarsia. Most of whom are descendants of these slaves."
"Prince Alexander rules with an iron fist."
"Well, yes and no, keep in mind that every government, no matter the composition, has a bureaucracy. They're the ones who run things. Now, tomorrow is a rest day for me. I'm going into the conclave tonight to find lodgings for the celebration."
"Mind if I go with you?"
Preparations for the Princess to travel into the city were extensive. She insisted on just one guard as they traveled through the city. They arrived at the Cartonian enclave not causing much comment. Many Ardini nobles shopped there. They approached a shop that had fabrics and dresses displayed at the window. Catharyn stopped and announced, "I'm going inside."
A tiny bell tinkled as they entered the shop. They heard laughter come from the back room as a girl emerged from the doorway. She lifted the curtain as she saw her visitors. To Cathy's surprise the girl fell to her knees and pressed her forehead to the floor, "My Lord, you honor our house with your presence."
"Madam, rise, the sun will rise and the music will play, it's magic will stream through your house bringing the Gods blessings and joy upon you and your family." Darron said, obviously completing a common ritual. Darron had mentioned that Bards were considered the equivalent of any King.
The girl bounced to her feet and immediately curtsied to her other guest, "Your Highness, we are honored. How may I help you?"
Cathy immediately spotted a dress in the corner as another girl emerged from the back room. The dress was made of a soft yellow silk with red rosettes on the hem and the collar. "That's beautiful, how much?"
The other girl started to intervene. "Two hundred gold Canari," the first girl quickly replied. "My name is Adrianne, this is my sister Theresa."
The two girls couldn't be more different. They were both dark in coloring as was common to Cartonians, Theresa was tall, graceful, with beautiful straight black hair. Adrianne was short, clumsy, with unruly curly brown hair. The most striking feature on either girl was Adrianne's eyes, they were as green as emeralds in the ring on Cathy's hand. Cathy heard Darron's sharp intake of breath as she slipped into a dressing room to have the gown fitted. Darron looked at Adrianne. "Is that your debut dress," he asked slyly.
She had the grace to blush, "Theresa can make another. Besides, that'll be the best advertisement there is."
"I'm looking for lodging for the New Year's celebration. Do you have any suggestions?" he asked lightly.
An older man emerged from the back room, "We would be honored to have you stay with us, My Lord," he said. He laid an affectionate hand on the young woman's shoulder. Yes, that dress was for the debut ball at the Grand Duchess Chiros'. My daughter is an enthusiastic merchant."
The prophecy rang in Darron's ears, "A desert daughter and an icy queen, both with eyes of green…" He shook his head as Cathy emerged from the dressing room.
"The dress will be ready in a fortnight, Your Highness," Theresa was saying.
"Thank you," Cathy replied. "Darron, are you coming?" she asked. He shook his head saying that he had found lodging for the night. He watched as she exited the building, and he wondered if the time had finally come.