AN: Hey all, sorry for the delay. I know I said I would have Deveron up but I was unhappy with DT (now titles Ekeron: A Proposal). Because of this I have rewritten large portions of the story and am reposting it. I will post a new chapter every few days until the whole story is up, new ending and all. I'll also be sure to put an AN with the update stamp on it for easy reference. With that…enjoy.
"My dear, you look absolutely stunning," her father said as she came down the stairs.
Diora and her mother both smiled. They had spent hours since the elaborate invitation from Their Majesties had come designing and creating her outfit and it had turned out perfect. Her ball gown was a rich sapphire that matched her eyes, with silver trim and embroidery that highlighted her porcelain skin. The cut was fashionable without being too revealing, and the sapphire star necklace accented the dress beautifully. The hair piece was quite literally a work of art; a collage of small beads with delicate feathers framed her midnight hair and finished off the ensemble.
"Indeed you will surely catch the attention of every bachelor there," her mother added with a grin.
"Yes, well, we have to find one worth catching first mama," Diora replied with a grin of her own. Her mother had already been forced to listen to her complaints about the lack of worthwhile bachelors present for this cordrie.
Her cousin Jeremee gaped upon his arrival, only belatedly realizing his mouth was open. He quickly closed it, and offered her his arm while giving her a wry grin. Her parents had declined acting as her escort, so Jeremee had volunteered his service in their stead. They had been close growing up as her parents were also his wardens. When his parents had died suddenly her family took him in and the two were raised as siblings. Once he came of age he reclaimed his father's title but he still spent every holiday with her family. That alone would have made him an obvious choice, but he was also a few years older than Diora, and had been in charge of keeping her out of trouble as long as either of them could remember.
Or at least trying to, Diora thought as they said their farewells and set out.
Diora was through her first cup of juice by the time everyone else began to arrive. Being one of the first guests at an event was a habit she had learned from her ever punctual mother even when fashion said it was better to be a bit late. She decided it was well worth the wait as the political parade began.
People say politics is like dancing but I have to wonder if it isn't more like mating season instead, she thought as she took another drink.
All of the nobles were dressed like peacocks, strutting about, pretending they were important and trying to get noticed. It was hard to tell who was worse, the young nobles trying to get into the ladies' beds, or the old men who were afraid of losing the illusion of importance. It was foolish in her opinion, but it did provide entertainment. She watched a while longer before allowing herself to join the actual dancing that had finally begun.
She didn't notice when the foreign delegation had joined the party, but she did notice the shift in her fellow nobles' attitudes. They all shot looks of disdain and disgust towards the delegation, as if they were uncouth savages. As she danced, she tried to spot them, but she failed to get a good look. As soon as was polite, she excused herself from her current partner and made her way towards her cousin while listening to what was said.
"Just look at them, barbarians the whole lot of them."
"It is said that they kill their children if they aren't healthy enough as babies."
"One would think they would have taken the hint and left by now."
By the time she reached Jeremee, she was greatly concerned. As the daughter of a diplomat, Diora had a fair understanding of the necessity of allies, along with a happy noble populace. Unfortunately, not only did negotiations seem to be going poorly, but the nobles were ostracizing the delegation purposefully. The gossip was ridiculous and Diora could not imagine it being anything but false. Yet the girls and matrons still refused to dance with them or socialize. The men called them "pigs" and were quickly heading towards a more physical confrontation. What made things worse, was that these men were normally firm allies of Ekeron. They lived on the mainland where most of this country's trade passed through and Diora highly doubted it would be good to lose that commerce.
"Jeremee, what is going on?" Diora demanded as she got close.
Jeremee glanced down at her, looked around, and pulled her off to a quiet corner. While only a minor noble, Jeremee had a good head on his shoulders and tended to know all when it came to gossip and affairs. His easy-going personality made it so that anyone could talk to him, and his quiet nature meant that those with loose lips said more than they intended.
"It's not good D'," he said, his brown eyes watchful even as he spoke to her. "Some of the girls called them brutes, and you know how they get. One says something and suddenly all of them are saying it. All the delegation did was wear formal leathers to court, as is their custom. Then the men started getting out of hand. It doesn't help that the younger girls turned it into a game and began egging them on. Their Majesties also appear to be in a bind because a lot of the older nobles refuse to consider a new treaty, but that appears to be what the delegation is asking for. From what little I can gather, they are not proposing huge changes, but you know how stubborn they can get. Either way, it isn't good."
Jeremee glanced around them again to make sure no one was paying them any attention as Diora digested his words. It had never failed to amaze Diora how much Jeremee could find out, and his understanding of it. She had always thought it was a pity he was of minor nobility, for he would have made a good advisor with a little training.
"I guess it will be an interesting night then," Diora said as she walked away.
Jeremee watched her go before returning to his previous spot to watch the night's events. However, he couldn't help but have a bad feeling about this.
Diora rejoined the dancing, but she could no longer enjoy it. Her mind frequently returned to the problem of the delegation until finally she could not stand it anymore and decided to take action. It took her another dance to come up with an idea and then she headed to find Jeremee once more. However, this time he was nowhere to be found, so after a few moments she decided to implement her plan without him. She drifted towards Their Majesties, waiting to catch them when there were relatively few people around them. Finally, her chance came and she moved forward to present herself to them. Their Majesties raised their eyebrows at her lack of escort, but the herald announced her to them anyway.
"Your Majesties," she said, curtsying deeply and bowing her head.
"We are glad you could make it tonight, though it saddens Us that your parents were unable to attend," the King said with a small smile.
"I am most grateful for the invitation. My parents send their regrets, but wished me to tell Your Majesties that they will be sure to make it up to you next time."
The Queen chuckled."I will look forward to enjoying her company then."
Diora smiled in response. Her mother and the Queen had been good friends growing up, and continued to be even after their marriages. In fact, Their Majesties were her wardens. If anything were to happen to her parents, they would assume responsibility for her welfare. She was counting on their closeness to keep her from scandalizing anyone with her next request. She phrased her words carefully, not wanting to accidentally take any liberties with her wardens in public. They were always careful to maintain proper protocol when others' eyes were on them.
"Your Majesties, before I leave your company, I have a request to make, if you would hear me out," Diora said, curtsying again.
The couple looked at each other before His Majesty nodded tentatively and declared, "You may ask, though We promise nothing."
"Thank you. I was hoping Your Majesties would be so kind as to introduce me to the foreign delegation. They are from Deveron and I am terribly curious about them, however it seems I have lost my escort, and it would be wholly improper for me to introduce myself. I fear that I do not know anyone else who could introduce me to them properly..." Diora paused and was struck by an idea. "Or perhaps if Your Majesties could introduce me to one, who could then introduce me to the rest." She stopped herself, realizing she was speaking too quickly, and rambling somewhat. She waited, head bowed, eyes glancing up only now and again while she waited for their decision.
After what seemed like an eternity to Diora, the King chuckled. "Is that all? We would be more than happy to aid you in the predicament you find yourself in."
"Thank you, Your Majesty. But, may I ask what you find to be amusing?" Diora asked mildly. It was the most polite way she knew to ask a monarch publicly why they had laughed at you.
"We had thought you meant to ask us something more serious, such as aid with an engagement. You seemed quite nervous after all."
"Oh," was all Diora could come up with for an answer, as she was somewhat surprised. The thought had not even crossed her mind. Then she couldn't help but smile impishly. "Well I had considered asking His Majesty for a dance, as a belated birthday present, if that counts. But this seemed easier, if a little less discreet."
Their Majesties only chuckled as they waved an attendant over and whispered something to him. The attendant bowed and walked towards the delegation where he then asked for the person he was seeking. He delivered his message and then returned to serving the other guests. After a few moments of speaking with his companions, one of the warriors separated himself from the rest and walked over to where Diora and Their Majesties waited.
"Your Majesties," the man said as he inclined his head slightly. "You asked for me?"
He was tall by Ekeronian standards, but fairly thin with muscles like iron oak cords. His black hair was worn short, and was so dark it reflected purple and blue. His eyes were a matching color of obsidian, with swirls of color raging deep inside. While he was being polite, he definitely was not happy to be here, either at the revel or in Their Majesties' presence. Diora cringed inwardly at the task she had taken on, but she never let her smile wavier from her face.
"The Lady Diora D'Cephali wishes to make your acquaintance. Lady Diora, this is Captain Tamer of the Drakenguard. Lady Diora is the heir of an old noble family that has been loyal to the crown since its founding."
Captain Tamer raised an eyebrow as Diora made an annoyed face; she disliked flaunting her lineage in that fashion and would rather be known for her character, not that anyone normally asked her opinion on it. He then offered his arm, as was polite, but said nothing. After curtsying once more to Their Majesties, Diora set her arm lightly on his and allowed herself to be led away. Once they were out of ear shot, Diora smirked a little and gave a small, ladylike snort.
"Don't let them fool you. My family has supported plenty of rebellions over the years. We always just picked the winning side," Diora said, smiling wryly.
"I would think it would be an honor for them to speak of your family that way," Captain Tamer replied, once again raising an eyebrow in question.
"Well yes, but they only said it because there is not anything else they could say. My family hasn't done much in the recent generations. We have been an ideal obedient noble family," Diora said, putting on a proper tone of voice, and nodding her head delicately. She held it for a few seconds before looking up at Captain Tamer. Then she smiled and the Captain slowly smiled back at her antics, relaxing a little in her presence. "And please, call me Diora. I feel odd being called lady by everyone."
"This must be your first season then," Tamer replied.
"You could say that. It is my first cordrie. I believe our cordries are shorter than your seasons, since we have two a year versus one."
"From what I can tell, that is correct," he replied with a thoughtful expression on his face. "If you wish, you may simply call me Tamer. In Deveron, we go by our family names," he said, glancing at her.
"So that is how your men will most likely introduce themselves and prefer to be called correct? I had heard that, but I am glad you could confirm it for me so that I would not be making any assumptions."
"And how would a daughter from an obedient noble family hear of such things?" Tamer asked quietly.
Diora ignored the implied suspicion in his tone when she answered. "My father used to work for Their Majesties in a capacity where he traveled a lot, though he stopped after I was born. He told Their Majesties that I was the only job and excitement he needed.
"Keep in mind that I was born within a year of his marriage to my mother, so I'm sure part of it was that he was ready to settle down. However, he opened up our home to travelers from all around the world. Many of the people that come through use our home as a permanent part of their route, so I saw them all quite frequently as I was growing up. I have numerous adoptive aunts and uncles because of that you know," she said, pausing in her story to look at Tamer.
He was looking at her with only partially concealed shock. That an upper noble would happily admit to consorting with lower classes was one thing, but this girl was entirely over the top, and as far as he could tell she was being totally honest about it. It was possible that she had really approached her monarchs to ask them to introduce her to him and his men, out of sheer curiosity.
What a strange child, Tamer couldn't help but think as she explained her childhood. When she stopped talking, he continued to look at her while still in shock, and tried to regain his composure.
"My apologies. I'm afraid I've scandalized you," she surmised, "Father did warm me about watching my behavior in polite conversation. Oh dear! Whatever will I do now?"
Tamer just looked at her, the picture of a distraught young noble girl, and couldn't help it. He started laughing. Diora looked up slowly at first, and then she started giggling with him. By the time their laughter slowed, they had reached his companions who were now staring at them, looking very confused. This nearly caused Diora to have another fit of laughter, but she managed to rein herself in. She looked to Tamer and tilted her head to which he began gesturing to each man, giving their surname, rank, and a little bit about them.
Once they saw that their Captain was comfortable with Diora, most of the men started relaxing and joking with each other over the introductions, although a few still remained silent. After the commotion quieted down, the men took a good look at Diora. When they did, they all went quiet and Diora was extremely confused for a moment before remembering what she was wearing. She silently ranted to herself about being excessive with her clothes, all the while blushing and ducking her head shyly.
Tamer cleared his throat and fixed the situation for her. "M'Lady, do you like to dance?"
"Yes, I love dancing," she said, giving him a grateful look.
"Would you care to dance then?"
"I would love to. In fact, I hope you will all do me the honor of dancing with me at least once. I am in need of better partners you see and until now, none have been forthcoming," she said, looking at the others as innocently as possible. I promise I'm harmless.
"I am sure they would be happy to oblige you, M'Lady," Tamer said smoothly, drawing her out to the dance floor. Once there, they picked up their previous conversation.
"I do apologize for causing the outburst earlier," she said with a grin.
"Not at all. You merely startled me."
"Maybe I should startle you more often, for I do believe it is the only time you have smiled or laughed all night. This is a revel you know. You are supposed to have fun," Diora said, mock sternly.
Tamer smiled at her antics, but said nothing. Diora gave a mental shrug and continued her attempt. "So what does Deveron look like? Is it as green as the books say?"
"It is only green in the summer, but it can get very colorful. Winters are beautiful as well, as everything is blanketed in white snow that stays for months." Which told Diora very little, for the tone of his voice was neutral and did not match his idyllic words about his homeland.
"I see. It sounds very much like some of the lands here then. Some of the merchants who visited my home traded with Deveronians, and others were book peddlers who managed to obtain books pertaining to Deveron. I loved reading about faraway lands and their histories. I suppose it would be better to say I love reading in general.
"My father is an avid collector of all books actually, so our library is quite large. Add to that the traveling minstrels that frequent our home, and a girl can find plenty of reading material," Diora said before changing the topic to more mundane things like weather and stories from her home. She soon had Tamer at least relaxed again, though he never put his guard down entirely. Diora left it alone, deciding she would try again another time, if such a chance came. They concluded their dance shortly afterwards and she proceeded to her next partner.
If Tamer was considered tight lipped, most of his companions were anything but. Diora merely gave them the opening they needed along with an obvious curiosity and they were happy to tell her stories of when they were young, and about their families. They didn't think they were telling her anything important, for she never asked about politics, government or military tactics. On the few occasions when they would slip she wouldn't follow up on it, instead pretending not to notice or not to understand. It was a mental dance as intrinsic as of any of the court ones she was physically dancing. Diora enjoyed the challenge, and the company she found herself in.
By the time she had gotten all of her promised dances, she was exhausted both physically and mentally, but overall pleased with herself. Most of them seemed to be having a better time than they had been, even if they still couldn't completely relax. She remained with the delegation, swapping stories until her cousin sought her out.
Jeremee wasn't at all surprised to find her with the foreigners. She never could leave things alone, especially if she thought they needed to be dealt with. He smiled, briefly remembering all the trouble she had gotten them into as children. He had been lonely when his parents had died, so Diora had gone out of her way to drag him into every harebrained idea she had. Her poor parents had spent a good many of their younger years chasing down the errant children, though they rarely ever got punished for any of it. Diora's parents had loved the two of them too much to ever stay angry.
As Jeremee approached the Deveronians, they all put their hands to their hilts, and shifted themselves slightly in front of Diora and their captain. He had to hold back a chuckle as he gave a short bow and cleared his throat. Leave it to D' to get in their good graces so quickly.
"Excuse me. I am here to escort my cousin home. I am afraid I promised her parents that we would not stay out too late," Jeremee said as politely as possible.
Upon hearing his voice, Diora began to move through the wall of bodies. While she wasn't overly short, the Deveronians practically towered over her.
"It is alright, really. This is Jeremee, Lord of Aerie Castle," Diora said as she finally reached him. "He was kind enough to escort me tonight as a favor since my parents were unable to attend. And, unfortunately, he is right. I hope I have the opportunity to enjoy your company again," she said, curtsying.
The Deveronians relaxed and bowed in response, offering their farewells and safe trip. Captain Tamer waited until his men had finished before coming forward to say his own farewell.
"M'Lady, I wish you safe travel and fair sleep. May we meet again," he said, taking her hand and placing a chaste kiss on it as he bowed. Then he turned back to his men and disappeared into them. Diora shook her head slightly as she set her arm lightly on top of Jeremee's and allowed him to lead her away.
Jeremee waited only until they were in the carriage before he barraged Diora with questions. By the time they were nearly home, he had gotten a shortened version of the night's events, along with her thoughts on it.
"You just can't keep yourself out of trouble, D'. You do realize this is going to impact any marriage offers you get now," Jeremee said, sighing.
"It is no loss. Any man that cannot see what I have done would not make a suitable husband anyways. Besides, I am done husband hunting for this cordrie. I have already decided that there are none worth my time. You are the only reasonable person of the opposite sex within three decades of my age that is not married. I obviously cannot marry you, so it is no loss," she replied blithely.
Jeremee just shook his head. He often thought that she never realized the trouble she got herself into until it was too late, or already over, if she even did. It was the price she paid for her determination. However, he could not change her, so instead he watched and lent his assistance where he could.
AN: I want to thank Ametystars for betaing this and sticking with me for so long. And thanks again to everyone that has stuck with Diora through now 2 revisions!