Mid-morning sunlight shone through the window, picking up the sparkly bits in the pink stone of the waiting room. Soft green curtains were blown by a light spring breeze, matching the two cushioned chairs that stood by the window. The room was empty except for two people.
Valerie sighed and fingered the thread that she could pull out, causing her skirt to fall away and revealing the pants underneath. Miette caught her at it. One finger out that she shook at the taller woman, her other wrapped around her protruding stomach, she glared at Valerie. "Do not dare, Val! I will not have a repeat of the incident with the Unsupani ambassador."
She sighed, and smoothed her hands down the white skirt embroidered in gold and overlaid with lace. "It looks like you've got the angry mom finger shake down. You're clearly ready for your baby any time. And besides, you know I only did that because he wouldn't stop with the proper lady comments."
Miette's glare intensified. "That was no reason to challenge him to a duel. You nearly caused an international scandal."
Valerie grinned. "That was the beauty of it. He'd never say anything because then he'd have to admit I beat him. It was perfect."
A knock at the door cut off further argument, the pursing of Miette's lips having promised it. Valerie jerked it open to reveal a grinning Isaac, looking handsome in green and white embroidered with his personal device of a rooster. He wore a long sword at his hip and had mischief in his eyes. Then he got a proper look at Val and whistled low. "Nice Mi. You managed to make her look like someone who hasn't spent the last two years dragging their feet over this."
Valerie's hands dropped to her hips. "I wasn't dragging my feet. We were busy. First there was clean-up after the war, then rebuilding the army and the palace, then there was the eastern rebellion. Then Darren finally asked, and then we had to wait a whole year because of the stupid tradition."
"And the last year was what?"
Her chin rose as her cheeks went pink. "I had some things to settle first."
He would have pushed her further but a puff of purple smoke appeared to their side, disappearing to reveal Darren's godmother, dressed in a ball gown of shimmering lavender. "Tinka," he said. "It's good to see you."
She smiled. "Isaac. I had thought you were waiting in the hall."
"Nah, I'm Val's escort to this," he replied, grinning.
The godmother turned to Valerie who nodded. "Satinka."
She returned the nod. "Valerie."
The silence stretched for a long moment. Isaac rolled his eyes. "I really wish you two would stop being so damn stubborn and just learn to get along."
Satinka nodded again and pulled out a plain silver ring which she held out to Val. "Your present. Turn it three times to the left and it brings you to the palace. Three turns to the right will take you to your family home."
She took it carefully, staring at it. Then she looked up. "Thank you. Sincerely, thank you. I…you really shouldn't have…"
The godmother snorted slightly. "You have done well by this country and its people. Regardless of our relationship. For that, this is at least part of what I owe you." Then she disappeared in another puff of smoke.
"See, she can be nice," Isaac said, stretching his arms out in front of him.
"No, it's her being civil. We've both been like that since our truce."
"Ah! Speaking of civils, Rish, Faal, Haxi, and Kerra are here. I saw them land around dawn."
She winced slightly. "How's Err?"
He smiled. "Fine. It helps Kerra's cute and like any other small child, curious and playful. And that the dragon he killed was a feral."
Valerie shook her head. "I still have trouble picturing him losing himself enough to go and fight a dragon singlehandedly."
Isaac chuckled. "We all do crazy things for love. And really, you destroyed an alliance because they got between you and Darren. Him slaying the dragon that killed his boyfriend is no worse. Heck, if Darren is ever killed, I'm betting on you going on a dragon style rampage and laying waste to the continent."
She made a face. "I wouldn't. I'd just kill every person who had a hand in it. Slowly and painfully of course."
"Of course. Now come on, there's a hall full of people waiting for you. You might as well go ahead Mi, I have a feeling she's going to take her sweet time getting there."
Miette nodded, slipping off while Valerie glared at Isaac. "Don't think I won't hurt you, dress or not."
He offered her his arm, which she took despite her fierce stare, and laughed. "Before you get too snippy, I saw Konah, Amorrt, and Rabar on my way over here."
"Oh good! I told them to bring Rabar but I wasn't sure they would. I know it's hard for him to be here. Tolsten's death really messed him up," she replied, sighing. "And I miss having him around. It's been almost six months since the last time I got to talk to him."
"You know those two are doing a good job raising him. Especially since Amorrt's so good with kids. I saw the rest of your little protégés all but climbing him after they were done swarming Rabar. He even let Senera hug him and you know how he is with girls," he said, holding a door open for her.
She led the way into one of the pink halls, following the faint hum of hundreds of people talking at once. "Yeah. Konah's done a good job at getting him calm and I think adopting Rabar helped with the rest. I wish he'd stop being so flinchy though. It makes me feel like a monster."
He chuckled. "You're Lady Ruby, the woman who singlehandedly saved the kingdom, rescued the prince, and has beaten a thousand men into the dirt. You're a legend and some people would say a monster."
She snorted. "The only one who says that is Izarra. And I'm hoping, if all goes according to plan, to be rid of her shortly. If I have to spend another month dealing with her snipping, snide comments, and attempts to manipulate court into doing things her way I'm going to kill her."
"You know Darren won't let you. He still thinks she's sweet."
"Only because she keeps that damn act up. I wish…" she started then sighed.
"I know. Asterria and Brendis would have loved to see this. I think they'd have adopted you even if you hadn't been Darren's princess," he replied quietly, voice sober. "We lost a lot of good people in the war."
Her forehead creased as she watched her white slippered feet, Darren had threatened to find glass ones, as they continued to walk.
Isaac inwardly cursed himself and decided it was time to lift the mood. "But hey, look on the bright side. At least now every country is so terrified of you raising another army, that they don't dare bother us."
"That's not exactly a recommendation," she replied, tone irritated while her eyes remained on the ground.
"Well what's your plan to deal with Izarra? You haven't told me anything," he said, pitching his voice in a half-whine to get her to look up at him.
She did, glaring then grinned. "I found a Thrushbeard. I've been looking for one for a long time. I'm hoping he'll be interested in Izarra and then take her off our hands. I just need to see if she insults him and then I can announce she has to marry the first person to show up tomorrow. Fingers crossed he tries to talk to her."
"You horrible woman," he replied admiringly. "That's why you've been delaying."
"I told you I'm sick of dealing with her. And Enax and Satinka both said I'm not allowed to put her to sleep and dump her in the tower again," she said, taking a deep breath as they opened another door and the sound of people got much louder.
"Having second thoughts?" he asked, hearing her sharp inhalation.
"If they'd let us, I'd have done this privately. But no, we have to do a whole giant ceremony and invite everyone. The worst part is now I have no excuse for telling people to stop calling me Queen Ruby."
He laughed. "Now, now, that's the least of your problems. You'd never have gotten out of this so why worry? I've heard plenty of people talking and this is apparently the event of the century. You're Lady Ruby, the fiercest princess to ever rescue a prince. And he's King Darren the Brave, a man willing to fight a sea serpent by himself and the only person willing to dare your wrath."
"That's only because they don't hear me and you," she retorted. "And the only reason Darren fought the damn thing was because I was busy dealing with the rabid unicorns in the north. Otherwise I wouldn't have let him do anything that stupid."
"Yes I've noticed people here tend to mistake bravery and stupidity. And Armithian princes are known for both. According to Err, the reason Armith is so big is because so many of its princes get killed for doing something stupid that they've never had to divide it between siblings."
That made her laugh, giving her eyes sparkle and making him grin in return. "There you go. And remember, you're only going to have to go through this once. Then you can go back to being the pant-wearing, sword-wielding lady that people love to gossip about."
She shook her head. "Yeah but now I'll be a queen and people will probably try even harder to make me dress and act the part."
He kissed her hand as they stopped in front of the last doors between them and the hall, the buzz of conversation loud enough that they had to raise their voices slightly to be heard. The herald nodded at them and slipped inside, and soon everything went quiet. "Val, this is your fairy tale. Make your own ending and to hell with everyone else."
She grinned at that. "You're right." She took one last deep breath then pushed the door open as the orchestra began playing a wedding march.