Author's note: Somehow, chapters 13 and 14 got marked as uploaded when they weren't so I'm posting both now and should be read before 15 (if you haven't read it yet)
Fists looked around the throne room. They were waiting for the arrival of King Kamlia. There shouldn’t be any surprises this time. Fists’s best friend was the head of the kingdom’s spy network. Rejenn should know if Kamlia was planning anything. Of course, he should have known about Jaidu’s age the last time. He had done his best to look into her, but the information was sparse. Few paid much attention to the youngest daughter in a land where women were seen as less important.
Fists glanced at the women in the room. Ann and Jo had both excelled in Andy’s karate class. Tylan, Jaidu, and Sapphire were part of his self-defense class. When they still lived in Thager, Fists, and Vor had also worked with Sapphire. The Yarbs would do well not to underestimate them, but they probably would.
Many in the room they would probably underestimate, but that was by design. Fists and Merton were the only two in soldiers’ uniforms. Remtani was known to be a soldier and he was large so he was often intimidating. Emeton had also once been a soldier, but that was often forgotten about. He still trained and was impressive. His wiry frame hid his strength. Fists had been impressed when he’d sparred with the king.
Bacna sat with a cane across his lap. He hadn’t used it when he entered, but people often underestimated him when they saw it. He sat near Tylan’s throne to help encourage associating the “lame” prince with the women. Janta stood near their father looking unassuming. Both princes had trained with the soldiers and were skilled fighters.
Andy stood beside Remtani along with Ann. He was probably a better hand-to-hand fighter than anyone in the army. He wasn’t as skilled with weapons, but he was learning. Pt’this and Sapphire stood at Jaidu’s side. Pt’this was also a soldier of the Baj-tisk army. It wasn’t his primary occupation but he could fight when needed.
Nim was also a soldier for the dragons. He was normally a quiet, meek man. But Fists had seen him in battle. He could skillfully combine magic with his claws. Next to him was Tercala. Fists had never seen him fight, but he was a white wyrm like his niece. Never mess with a dragon, especially when that dragon’s magic is stronger than the immortals.
Shunati and Thailyn stood off to one side. They were there if anyone needed healing, but both would fight if it came to that. Jaidu was Thailyn’s sister. All dragons were overly protective of family. And Shunati had been there since Emeton was little. Most saw him as family and the feeling was mutual.
Fists glanced at Merton. The other guard’s eyes danced around the room. While Fists was doing a mental inventory of skills, the other guard was doing an inventory of weapons. Both guards were armed, of course. There were swords hidden in both thrones and some in hidden compartments in the dais the thrones sat on. Bacna’s cane contained a sword. It was the other reason he had it. Fists would bet each of the women had daggers hidden in their skirts. Andy did better without a weapon. There was enough room for the dragons to take true form if they chose. And most present were mages.
“I think it’s sweet that Jo introduced Ann and Andy and then Ann introduced her to Nim,” Jaidu said. They were trying to keep her from getting nervous by telling her how couples met. They had already discussed Fists and his wife Loti, Pt’this and Sapphire, and Shay and Mishtali.
“I think that’s sweet too,” Tylan agreed.
“How did you and Emeton meet?” Andy asked. “You lived in Thager, didn’t you?”
“Kith introduced us,” Tylan said. “He brought me to help test palace security and I met Emeton and it was love at first sight.”
Pt’this snorted. “That’s the short story.”
“Yeah, it is,” Bacna agreed.
“What do you know?” Emeton demanded.
“Every detail. Mirimar and I shared a healing room for a week once.”
Pt’this growled. “That woman.”
Thailyn growled too. “That’s my sister you’re talking about.”
“Mine too,” Tercala added.
“So you know what she was like,” Pt’this insisted, although Tercala had never met her.
“How did you meet her?” Jaidu asked.
“I don’t remember much,” Pt’this claimed. “That was five hundred years ago.”
“Thailyn do you remember?” Andy asked.
“Sorry. That was my first bout with my atrophied heart. It was a bad one. I don’t remember much.”
“I was there,” Nim said. “They didn’t get along.”
“He called her a whiny brat in his journal,” Andy said.
“He called her worse in person, but there are ladies present so I won’t repeat it. He’s just lucky Mishtali didn’t speak Baj-tisk at the time.”
“If you knew what she did…” Pt’this started.
“I thought you didn’t remember,” Janta challenged.
“I don’t want to speak ill of the dead. She was my wife after all.”
“I was there. I know what happened,” Nim said. “I won’t go into it. Given the situation both actions were understandable. Mostly it was a misunderstanding that they were able to work out.”
“Shunati, what about you and Sinta,” Janta asked. “One day, you were single and had never mentioned being pledged, and the next, you were getting married.”
“Our parents arranged it. I wasn’t able to get home to meet her for a while, so when I went back to Erilu to vote, she came to the polling place to meet me.”
“When we were up in Erilu for the treaty, and Princess Ann found out Lady Sinta was an unreadable, she mentioned it to Queen Deyama. She said she’d tell your parents,” Merton added.
“Merton, you weren’t supposed to tell him that we were involved,” Ann insisted.
“We, Princess? I was on the other side of the field. Captain Crito was with you.”
“Crito told me what you said shortly after you three came home,” Shunati admitted. “Your consideration was appreciated.”
“Thailyn, how did you and Darina meet?” Jaidu asked.
“We met in a tavern. She was trying to pick my pocket.”
“How did she go from thief to mate?” Remtani asked.
Thailyn waved him off. “Some other time perhaps.”
“He told me that too,” Ann said. “I’m still waiting.”
Before Thailyn could say any more, a page ran into the room and announced the arrival of the delegation.
Those who had been relaxing stood, moving into a more precise formation. Fists glanced at Merton who nodded. Keep your eyes open, was the message.
King Kamlia entered a short time later. Jaidu stepped forward, “Father, welcome. It’s good to see you,” she lied.
Kamlia frowned at the sight of her. “It’s good to see you too.”
Fists seethed. His own family life had been difficult. Too many mouths to feed, and too little money for food. His parents had been gone a lot trying to make enough to feed them all. Fists had given up his childhood to work to keep his family close. This man had everything he could want and he barely tolerated his own daughter. He caught Merton’s look. Calm down. Do the job. Protect Emeton’s family, distantly his own family now.
Jaidu was introducing everyone. Kamlia greeted them politely.
“Where’s your mother?” He asked when she was finished.
“She’s in Baj-tisk, helping Mishtali.”
Kamlia nodded. “When will she be back?”
Jaidu shrugged. “In a few days perhaps. Before the wedding. She’s helping with the young ones.”
Kamlia didn’t like that answer. Did he want her back? He’d been reluctant to let her stay. They would have to keep a close eye on him and Shay when she returned.
Emeton stood and stepped off the dais. “Kamlia, it’s so good you made it. I think you’ll be proud of Jaidu and how far she’s come. We’d discussed her lack of education the last time you were here and how Shay needed to correct that oversight. She’s done such a wonderful job with it, they asked her to tutor young ones in Baj-tisk. It helps that she can talk. I don’t know why you didn’t have that worked on. And not having to hide…”
His voice faded as he led the foreign king out of the room and Jaidu muttered, “five minutes down, five days to go.”
Then Fists heard “Shay, it’s so good to see you,” from the hall. He groaned. Their job suddenly became much more difficult.