|The Prince of Rothenberg
Author: PristinelyUngifted PM
Darken Rahl is the crown prince of Rothenberg, and it is time for him to choose a bride. AU. Spoilers for the entire series, but especially for "Princess."Rated: Fiction T - English - Humor/Romance - Cara & Darken R. - Words: 3,852 - Reviews: 7 - Favs: 12 - Follows: 2 - Published: 02-04-11 - Status: Complete - id: 6714855
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Written for the seekerrarepair exchange. This is a pinch hit, so it's not very long. Nothing meaningful here, just some AU silliness. No beta on this one and I wrote it in four hours. So. _ If there's enough interest, I may do an expanded, longer version of this eventually.
Coverart is available on my profile page.
Prompt: AU, The Margrave's Palace, "Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth."
Disclaimer: General disclaimer applies. For specific disclaimer, see my profile. All recognizable lines of poetry from the episode "Princess" belong to the appropriate parties.
The Prince of Rothenberg
"Brother! Get up! Wake up!"
Darken groaned. He had been awakened thusly every morning since his little sister, Jennsen, learned to speak.
It had been adorable when they were younger. He had gloried in her adulation. But really. She was nearly a woman grown now. It was a bit much.
"Aren't you supposed to speak in rhyme in the presence of the Margrave?" he asked sardonically, opening bleary eyes.
"You aren't Margrave yet," she answered coyly, lying next to him in his bed. She was fully dressed, her voluminous skirts taking up all the room, leaving him one small corner to lie upon. "And father will never let you inherit the throne," she continued, "if you don't get up and get ready. Your potential brides will be here soon!"
She giggled, and Darken reflected that whoever had written the Law of Right and Good, specifically the section about women having to speak in rhyme, was a genius. He was quite certain that if Jennsen had to think of rhymes to wake him up with, he would get to sleep much, much later into the day.
"Is that today?" he asked, face split by a yawn. He sat up, pushing the covers away to move to his clothes chest. Jennsen demurely averted her eyes.
"Yes, it's today!" she scolded him from behind her feathered fan, two spots of color high on her cheeks.
You'd think she would be accustomed to his casual nudity by now. She was, after all, his sister. But if he were completely honest, he only did it to bother her, a small payback for the early morning wake up calls.
"I don't have the patience to choose a bride from all the empty headed princesses that father has called to the kingdom," Darken griped as he selected an ensemble from among his many opulent suits of clothes. "I would much rather that you simply pick one you like. You'll spend more time with her than I will."
"What an awful thing to say, brother! For her sake, whoever she is, I hope that you don't mean that."
"On the contrary," finished dressing, Darken went to his mirror to arrange his hair, "you will be her lady in waiting once she is queen. I'll only be visiting the brainless thing until an heir is conceived. Then Richard can have her, for all I care."
Jennsen huffed, her face turning a blotchy red as she thought of their other brother. "Richard should take care before he gets a chamber maid with child. Mother would whack him with her fan so hard there would be an imprint on his cheek forever."
"Precisely the point, sister. His reputation for conquest is surpassed only by how low his standards are. An idiotic princess should suit him well," Darken approached the bed, tugging Jennsen's fan down to let her know he was presentable.
"I'm a princess, and I'm not idiotic," she pouted.
"A rare thing indeed," Darken smiled at her, a small upturning of the lips that let Jennsen know it was genuine. She leaned forward to press a kiss to his cheek.
"Come, brother," she said, "let us go play with my kitten until father calls for you." Her eyes twinkled with mischief, "He will not think to look for you in my solar, and so you can delay your fate a few moments longer."
Standing, Darken offered his arm to Jennsen, escorting her to the door. "For this kindness, sister, the next time I know Richard is having a tryst in your room, I shall warn you."
She crouched in the bushes. Waiting.
If she had read the trail correctly, the stag had to be around here somewhere. She flexed her fingers around her bow.
The stag leapt from the underbrush, bounding away. Cursing, Cara turned.
"What is it, uncle? Can't you see I'm practicing?"
Zeddicus, the Duke of Thryace, huffed to a halt. "I sent the servants after you ages ago. We must depart for Rothenberg, or you will be late. Your father is counting on you to win the prince's hand – "
" – to replenish the kingdom's treasury with the bride price being offered by the Margrave of Rothenberg to any maiden willing to wed his less than charming eldest son. I know, uncle."
Cara exhaled, blowing blond hair from her face, "Has it ever occurred to anyone that I don't want to be married off just to line my father's pockets with gold?"
Zedd's face softened, and he placed a hand on Cara's shoulder. "You know he wouldn't ask this of you unless the kingdom was in dire need," he smiled ruefully. "Unfortunately, Thaddicus has never been the best with money. I told him that investing in that merchant's shop was foolish. Now come, we have to make you presentable."
Cara looked down at her worn breeches, her soft wool tunic. They were nice, comfortable. The clothes she liked best.
But not the clothes of a princess.
"Are you going to make me wear the pink one?"
"You know that it's the one you look best in, no matter that you like the blue one more," her uncle answered. "And on the way there, we must review the Law of Right and Good, and practice your dactylic tetrameter."
Cara groaned, but began walking back toward her father's palace, where a princess' clothes, manners, and impeding doom awaited her.
Sometimes she really wished she had been born a goatherd's daughter.
Jennsen swatted Richard's arm with her fan to get his attention.
"Ow!" he glared at her, taking his eyes from the posterior of a passing courtier.
"Richard, promise me that if any of the ladies that come here for our brother today drop their hankies, or, or their garters or put anything into your pockets, you'll tell him. He deserves a lady that will be faithful to him!" Jennsen sniffed.
"Do you think that's a good idea, sister?" Richard asked, still rubbing his arm. Mother had whacked him there earlier, and with Jennsen's additional thumping a bruise was forming. "I mean. Won't it, I don't know… upset him?"
Jennsen whacked him again.
"Alright, alright, I promise!" he yelped. He'd have to tell the ladies that bruise was from training, or hunting. "But if Darken gets mad, I'm blaming you."
"Rest assured, brother," Darken stepped up behind Richard on the royal dais, making Richard jump, "I won't be angry. I'm rather hoping you'll take the creature off my hands once my heir is secure."
Richard shivered, "Creator, I hate all the 'behind you' nonsense you're always pulling. Can't you ever just walk up to someone like a normal person?"
Darken smirked, causing Richard to roll his eyes.
"And besides," Richard continued, voice softer, more serious, "I wouldn't cuckold you. There are some – " Jennsen snickered, and Richard grinned ruefully, "Okay, a few things I wouldn't do, and cuckolding my own brother is one of them."
Darken made a noncommittal sound, and Richard filled in the blanks, used to Darken's hummed responses whenever they conversed.
"I don't know why you'd want to know about it though. If it were me, I'd sooner be oblivious and happy."
"And there is the difference between us, brother," Darken said as he surveyed the courtiers gathering to see who he would choose as his bride. "Rather than love, rather than money, rather than fame, give me truth. If there was such a woman among all the empty headed poppets gathered here today, I would choose her."
The grand doors opened, and an array of brightly colored dresses could be seen in the entrance chamber as the maidens arranged themselves to be introduced. Looking at them, Darken sighed.
"Unfortunately, I think I will find everything but truth today."
Richard snorted, and Jennsen thumped him with her fan. He complained, and then was thumped again by Queen Taralyn, who sat straight and regal on her throne.
"Quiet all three of you," she hissed at them.
"I didn't do anything!" Richard protested.
Taralyn thumped him again.
Cara stood with her uncle in the opulent hall of the palace of Rothenberg, waiting for her turn to be introduced to the royal family. A parade of princesses had gone before her. None had been asked to stay.
"Are you listening, Cara?" Uncle Zedd prodded, worry in the wrinkle of his brow. "This first impression is vitally important. Only those that catch Prince Darken's interest will be asked to stay for the garden party and the ball."
Cara sighed, suppressing the urge to roll her eyes. "I'm listening uncle, but I don't know why you try. I'm never going to get the hang of dactylic tetrameter by the time our names are called."
"Oh this is my fault," Zedd fretted. "Your mother made me promise to make sure you were taken care of. But I've let you become a ruffian!"
Startled into a snorting giggle, Cara tried to comfort her poor elderly uncle. "You did a fine job. I might not be able to speak in rhyme, or spin lace, but I've always been happy. And," she said, with a spark in her eye, "I have much more practical skills."
"The Countess of Dunstable!" the herald cried.
"Oh dear!" Zedd said. "We're after them! Get into position, don't slouch, remember to count your syllables, and for Creator's sake, don't mention anything about hunting!"
"Yes, uncle," Cara replied, half amused, half dreading.
Margrave Panis raised a hand, signaling the herald to hold the next candidate at the entryway. He then jerked two fingers at his eldest son, waiting for him approach to whisper, "Now what was wrong with that one?"
"She was as uninteresting as the rest," Darken drawled, not meeting his father's eyes.
"And the one before that?"
"Was wearing a ruff I strongly suspected to be made of cat fur. I couldn't in all good conscience expose my sister to such a thing."
Panis gritted his teeth.
"There's only two left. I don't care if they have lazy eyes or beards. You're asking them to stay, and you'll choose between them."
Resigned, anger in the way he held his jaw, Darken bowed silently. Queen Taralyn watched him resume his place on the dais, worriedly snapping her fan open to hide the lower half of her face.
"It's his own fault for turning all the others away," Panis said gruffly, as if to himself. He raised his hand, allowing the herald to continue.
"The Countess Kahlan of Dunstable, and her companion the Lady Denna!"
When the two women had reached the dais and curtsied, Panis looked to his son, who nodded.
"Gracious ladies, we ask that you stay," Panis said after a prolonged silence in which Darken refused to speak.
The herald announced the final candidate.
"The Princess Cara of Thryace, and her uncle, the Duke Zeddicus of Thryace!"
Not even looking at his son this time, Panis invited the pair to stay. He stood, all others quickly standing when he did.
Darken observed the two noblewomen he had doomed himself to pick between. The Countess of Dunstable was dark haired and fair, her white dress tasteful, if a bit severe. She was beautiful, but boring. Austere, but lifeless.
He rather thought he'd choose her.
The Princess of Thryace was blonde and wearing pink, and though her curves filled the dress out deliciously, she rather looked like one of those princesses that thought of nothing but parties and needlepoint.
"My dear countess," the Margrave's voice rang through the hall, "is your father the count feeling any better?"
The countess answered in bell like tones, her rhymes perfection, her composure absolute.
Bored, Darken began counting the flagstones. Jennsen nudged him.
Panis moved on to the princess. "Princess Cara, I hope your journey was pleasant and safe."
There was an unusually long pause.
Darken found his attention captured, if only to see what idiotic thing would come out of her mouth.
"The journey was lovely," she said.
The tall Duke of Thryace poked her in the back. He may have thought he was being discreet, but Darken could see from his position standing on the dais.
"…with only one minus," the princess continued. "The time it took to travel to the palace of your highness."
Darken felt his lips twitch up.
The Duke looked like he wanted to die.
"The garden is lovely,
Oh Prince Darken, serene.
The flowers the loveliest I've ever seen.
The roses, the lilies, the hyacinths blue,
All gather their beauty in tribute to you."
Kahlan sat in the garden, on a cushioned bench next to Princess Cara, and across from Prince Darken.
She had hoped, when she first entered the hall, that the other prince was Darken, but she had come to find that the charming blonde man with laugh lines around his eyes was the younger prince, Richard.
Darken was handsome, but dark and sharp. He was ever so slightly intimidating, and looked as if he did not laugh easily. The impression was not in the least helped by his penchant for severely cut red velvet.
But still, Kahlan had a duty to her parents to make a match of it. They wished her marriage to Prince Darken to seal a trade agreement between their lands. That was the official reason. Kahlan rather suspected her mother wished to climb higher in the aristocracy more than she wanted a trade monopoly on shadrin horn.
Cara glanced across Princess Jennsen, who sat between them, to observe the needlepoint her rival was working on. They had all been given cloth and thread as a show of hospitality to amuse them, but Kahlan knew their skills were being tested.
"Why princess, I am filled with much admiration.
Please, show Prince Darken your lovely creation."
Cara glared at her in a frightening way, before turning her cloth square to reveal a mess of tangled thread. The look was frightening, but all to the good. Prince Darken wouldn't want a wife with such a sour temperament, Kahlan was sure.
"My humble efforts could never compare,
To something so elegant, simple, and spare.
So filled with the light of the good and the true,
Alas, what you see before you is the best I can do."
Kahlan turned her cloth, allowing the royals and the surrounding courtiers to see the likeness of the prince she had sewn.
Princess Jennsen leaned over, closely examining the stitching. Prince Darken appeared to be bored. After a few moments of examining the cloth, Princess Jennsen remarked:
"Countess, I fear I must protest.
Though this is good, it's not the best.
'Tis Richard, not Darken in cloth you've stitched.
It worries you're here only to soothe an itch."
Jennsen finished with a pointed look to the koi pond where Richard stood, surrounded by swooning ladies. He saw them staring and waved, laughing at something one of his beauties had said. Princess Cara and Darken both snorted, trying to hide their laughter, their eyes meeting once they realized what the other had done.
Kahlan blushed, though she wasn't sure if it was from rage or embarrassment.
Finding her voice, Cara held up her poor embroidery again, though this time it seemed more a point of pride than ridicule.
"When my mother was killed in a fall from the saddle,
I was raised by my uncle on the field of battle.
Though deficient perhaps, in the making of lace,
I've mastered the arts of the hunt and the chase.
Would it be asking a favor too terribly blunt,
To allow me to give you the thrill of a hunt?"
A spark lit Prince Darken's face, which had been noticeably lacking before. He finally seemed alive, and interested in what was happening around him.
"A wife I could hunt with," he grinned to himself. "That would be something worth having. Does a hunt sound like fun to you, Countess Kahlan?"
Darken enjoyed the panicked confusion on her face, watching Cara's reaction out of the corner of his eye. Already, he felt like she was his partner in crime as they both watched the Countess of Dunstable stammer.
"That which amuses Prince Darken, of course,
To me, of amusement, is the ultimate source."
Darken stood. "Then we shall have a hunt."
He offered one arm to Cara, and the other to his sister, nodding politely to the countess as if to say he regretted he had only two arms.
Richard approached as word of the impromptu hunt spread, offering his arm to Kahlan. "Would you accept my escort to the festivities, dear lady?"
Dropping her embroidery, Kahlan took his arm.
The hunt went well, Cara thought. Uncle Zedd had been furious when he learned that she suggested it, but the look in Prince Darken's eye as Cara downed a shadrin in one shot had gone a long way towards silencing him.
It seemed the Margrave's eldest son was disdainful of traditional, proper maidens.
Cara was as improper as they came.
She had thought that the Countess Kahlan was going to faint when Cara took Darken's knife, casually using it to cut out the liver of the felled beast.
Prince Darken had watched her every move, his electric blue eyes making a shiver go down her spine.
It was when Princess Jennsen approached that Cara began to feel she had triumphed.
"Will you put some in my handkerchief?" she had asked sweetly. "I want to give it to my kitten. He loves liver."
They had returned to the palace for the ball, and feast. Uncle Zedd called instructions to her through the dressing screen as she prepared for the evening.
"And remember, the gavotte is a stately courtly dance! Turn your feet out, not in!"
Annoyed, Cara replied, "Leave it be, uncle! I'm doing this my way from now on."
"But – "
"Did you see Darken's face when I took that shot?"
"Yes, but – "
"Then you know that he's more interested in substance than all the courtly manners in the world."
"But the Law of Right and Good, the Margrave…"
"Curse the Margrave for a fool," Cara said as she emerged from behind the screen, shoving her crown onto her head. "I'm not wooing him, I'm wooing his son, who might not be as idiotic as I first imagined."
With that, they left for the ball.
And arrived in the middle of a scandal.
"Do you know how many Laws of Right and Good have been broken today?" Panis boomed from the royal dais.
"What's going on?" Cara whispered to Princess Jennsen, who was pale and watching the proceedings with both worry and anger.
"Father is displeased Darken allowed women to hunt," she answered, flipping her fan open to hide the bottom half of her face. "And… the Lady Denna and Countess Kahlan were caught in erm… flagrante delicto with my brother Richard."
Cara's brows shot into her hairline. "Both of them?"
"At the same time?"
Cara let out a low whistle.
"Something amuses you, Princess Cara?" Panis rounded at her, in full bellow.
Tired of games, and certain now the marriage was hers by default, Cara shrugged. "Very much so, Margrave."
Looking close to apoplexy, spent from alternately tongue lashing his sons and his guests, Panis nearly screamed, "In rhyme if you please! Enough laws have been violated today."
He narrowed his eyes, "Especially by you. You were invited to my kingdom because I heard you were a modest princess of great beauty and poise, from a wealthy kingdom famed for its prosperity. Instead they send me a woman who can't sew, hunts as if she were a man, and dares to talk back to the Margrave!"
Furious, Cara ignored the frantic shushing motions and shakes of the head of Uncle Zedd, her blood boiling as she answered:
"I prefer breeches to silk dresses, true,
But that's not all, Margrave, I've news for you.
My kingdom's poor, the bride price to save us,
If we be famed, it is not for success.
As to hunting and sex, you're outdated,
Both are skills that should be celebrated.
In short, Margrave, your face makes me sick!
You arrogant, pompous, self satisfied dick!"
She stopped, panting, her breasts almost popping from the low neckline of her ball gown. She was certain she had just sealed her fate in a moment of pique, but then something amazing happened.
Prince Darken laughed.
And laughed, tears streaming from his eyes, clutching his sides.
Slowly the surrounding courtiers began to laugh as well, starting with the high pitched giggles of Princess Jennsen, and ending with the donkey like guffaws of the herald, until all in the room was laughing, save the Margrave himself.
When he could speak again, Prince Darken held out his hand. Striding forward, not bothering with the proper tiny steps of a princess, Cara took it. Triumphantly he walked with her to the royal dais, his voice ringing out, "Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth! People of Rothenberg, meet your future queen."
He smiled at Cara as the people cheered, a small upturning of the lips that Cara would learn meant the expression was genuine, in time.
"I won't pretend to love you," he said for her ears only. "That would be preposterous, having known you only a day. But I will admit, you are far more fun than any maiden I have ever known, save perhaps my sister."
Cara smirked back at him, "I won't pretend to love you, but it is nice to meet a prince with a sense of humor, who appreciates a woman that can use a bow."
Darken chuckled, "Then we're agreed… You know, I have never seen my father turn quite that color."
Margrave Panis sputtered, protesting, absolutely lived, his face white with rage.
"Panis dear," Queen Taralyn said, the first time she had ever addressed him without rhyming. "Shut up."