Caena is the heir to the kingdom of Brün; the northern lands of the continent of Iriani. The country has been at war for almost ten years, and in that time Caena has risen in the ranks of her father's army to be respected by her comrades and feared by her enemies. Her father orders that she must find a husband; a way to show their people and their enemies that the country still stands united. Caena, however, doesn't want to seek out a husband; she wants to stand by her father and fight. At least in battle, you know who your enemies are.


1. Caena

“You look beautiful, darling!” I do not want to look beautiful, I think to myself, but bite down on my tongue to keep myself from snapping the words at my father. He’s doing what he believes is right for the country, and for that I cannot fault him. It does not, however, mean I must agree with him. “Dad... please, I don’t want to do this. I don’t want a husband – I don’t need one!” I plead. Gods, I want to cry; it’s a nightmare. “I don’t want to be sold off to the highest bidder, I-” “Caena! I would never do such a thing to you; you know that! I’m doing what I can to keep our country together; yes, I’m your father, but I’m also King of Brün. A royal engagement is precisely what our people need right now, so you will go to the ball tonight and find a husband, do you understand me?” I nod, resigning myself to my fate. A Royal Engagement would give the people a distraction; our country is at war, and we must show a unified front. We must be strength where our enemies are not. That, I understand. Some royals have gentle natures and their element is the ballroom where they can be clad in delicate dresses and gorgeous jewels, but I am not among those numbers: I am not a princess whose life has been spent in a palace with her handmaidens, picking out which precise shade of blue would match the pink curtains... I am the Princess of Brün, the heir to a throne crafted by the bones of our foes. My dance is not a waltz or a tango, but one in which my blades sing and my voice is a battle-cry rather than a gentle harmony. He takes my shoulders with his broad hands and turns me to face him more fully. “I am sorry, princess. I truly am... but this is the only way to show that we are not threatened by the enemy forces. I know you understand me, and I know you see why I’m doing this. Please, do not hold it against me.” “I am a shieldmaiden, father. I am no housewife, and I will never be one,” I confess, “what kind of man wants to wed a woman whose skills are in slaughter rather than sewing?” “A clever man; that is who.” He coaxes a smile out of me with those words. Again, I nod, but this time I feel a little more comfortable with the notion of marriage; “I simply hope there will be a clever man there to see such things.” When my father leaves, my handmaiden smiles gently and continues working on my hair. Try as she might, Vérith can only do so much to hide the truth of who I am: there are still small, silver slips of scars decorating my body, I can still see the outline of hardened muscles dormant under my skin, and I can still see the gleam of a warrior in my dark eyes... but that, thankfully, is where it ends. My skin is brushed with a dust that gives it a coppery glow, my eyelids decorated with gold smoke, and my lips are darkened and rouged to the colour of a ripe cherry, plump and sweet. Not all battles can be won with leathers and blades; some must be fought with a steel wit and sharp tongue. Tonight is one such night, and though I loathe the strange, alien face staring back at me in the mirror, I know it to be necessary. “The kingdom looks to you for hope... you are our future ruler, Caena.” Vérith’s soft voice is like a balm to a sore wound, cooling and welcome. Her words are not. “We need this. Your people need this.” I try to ignore what she says to me, but I can feel the words prickling at the skin on the back of my neck; she’s right. While my father still rules, I am not required to be seen so often, but whenever I make a public appearance, I must bring with me a hope for a better and more peaceful future. My eyes flicker back to the outline of my muscled arms and I swallow; the illusion of peace will shatter as soon as any gaze linters on me for a fraction too long. What kind of man would want me to be his wife? A fighter. A warrior. A rebel. I will make a terrible wife, of that I’m certain. I don’t know how to care, or how to love, or how to behave however people think a woman should behave. A knock on my bedroom door startles a yelp of surprise out of me – surely it cannot be time yet? – and a small, timid girl peers into the room. Vérith places a hand on my shoulder, a reassuring action, and squeezes. The messenger girl smiles nervously and curtsies. “Your Highness, King Amonhoteph has requested your presence in the Grand Hall.” I stand, smoothing down the fabric of my dress which, despite myself, I cannot help but look at in admiration. A rich, shimmering shower of gold cascades off me in waves; the neckline plunges between my breasts to show the full, round curves of my chest, and though there are slits in the sides of my skirts that show the length of my legs with each step I take, I can’t bring myself to mind. I look like someone has poured molten gold over my body, it clings to my curves so perfectly and runs off my hips like a waterfall. Brün is known across Iriani for our gold mines – though the mining has started to dwindle in the face of war, another way in which I can be a beacon of hope to my people – and I wonder briefly how much of the metallic fabric I wear is laced with the real element, before I can tear my gaze away from the mirror. “Very well, I will attend shortly. You may leave.” I sound almost mechanical as I speak to the girl, but if she notices she says nothing of it before she curtsies again and slips out of the door like a mouse scurrying from a cat. I clasp my hands tightly in front of me, hoping beyond all else that it would disguise the jittering nerves I can feel dancing up and down my back, or at least hide my shaking a little. “I have faith in you, Your Highness,” my handmaiden tells me quietly. She knows all too well how uncomfortable I am; she has been my handmaiden for so many years that she has picked up on every nervous habit and tick I have developed, regardless of how well I tried to hide it. Her words help. My body half-turns back to her, and I flash her a small smile which I hope seems convincingly confident. She shakes her head, that warm grin of hers thawing the ice in my veins a fraction. I can hear the echo of a laugh in her words as I leave the room and start making my way down the corridor; “try not to stab anyone with your fork at dinner, Caena!”
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