Disclaimer: Still not mine.
Author's Note: Takes place during the dinner with the Prince of Renselaeus, Bran, Mel and Vidanric. I'm taking bits of dialogue from the book but also adding my own ending to the dinner.
And a warning; Mel may be a bit out of character. I talked with my friend and we both thought that she wouldn't ever outburst in front of any other than just her brother, but for this little AU dinner she's going to.
"I'm not going to Remalna-city," Meliara cut in quickly.
My gaze shifted from Branaric to her too fast for me to stop it. I knew that Branaric and my father couldn't fully understand at the time why she was so set upon not going back to the Court - I had been there when she stood before Galdran. Fearless as she was, I knew, in part, at least, that Meliara blamed me.
She said, "You're the one who always wanted to go there. I've been." And stared down one of the most disgusting men I have ever known. "Once. It's not an experience I'd care to repeat." An experience that opened up my eyes undoubtedly, one that showed me you possessed courage beyond anyone I knew. "You'd be fine on your own," she finished rather lamely.
All I knew of the eldest heir of Tlanth was his bluntness of speech and his reluctance to go to war. Almost the opposite of his sister. Branaric wouldn't survive as King. In Court, maybe, because he didn't care what people thought of him - but if I had learned one thing about Meliara since I first met her it was that once she set her mind on something she wouldn't give up until she achieved it. That included warding off that fool of a Baron for weeks, thwarting off his forces, and mine for that matter, for just as long. That also, to my hopeful desire, included trying for a crown.
Branaric's voice drew me out of my reverie. "Mel, I don't know what to say. Where t'start, burn it!" He looked as agitated as ever from his tone. It was at times like these I was glad that I was an only child. "Usually it's you with the quick mind, but this time I think you're dead wrong."
I had no way of knowing if Meliara would ever see it like her brother did. If she didn't, I suspect by then the courtiers who favored her courage that day in Court (if we did in fact succeed in killing Galdran), would take her side out of admiration for her heroics.
If trying to kick a greedy king off his throne by outnumbering an army that was twice my country's size, protecting Tlanth in the process, and keeping an eye on Arthal Merindar and Duke Grumareth wasn't enough to keep me occupied - my Court mask, (which I knew was impermeable to Meliara to my great relief), did not fool my parents for an instant.
"On the contrary," my father said calmly, giving me a quick glance. "She makes cogent points." If he didn't stop there I would have to poison his dinner. "And there will be others aside from the loyalists in Tlanth who will, no doubt, share a similar lack of partisanship."
Why did my father have to be so sharp when it came to detecting my emotions? Whether he found out from my actions, (to which I must admit were sparked by my hatred for Galdran and his ways, and my feelings for Meliara), or my mother told him, I didn't know.
What I did know was that if I hadn't been Court-trained since childhood, both Meliara and Branaric would have been able to read me like a book.
"You point is taken, Father," I nodded to him. "It is an issue that I will have to address."By telling her I loved herif she would just stop fighting with me. First things first - she didn't even know how I felt at the time. She surely didn't appreciate my trying to shelter her people from further invasion by offering to bring her brother here to straighten things out. And, I may not be an expert in spear-handling, but Meliara would have made a formidable opponent had she chosen something other than a candlestick to hurl at my head.
A bruise would occupy my palm by next gold, no doubt.
I watched Meliara carefully as my response settled into her. One thing I was sure of if I ever did get to tell her how I felt - there would be no lies that I could not catch. She looked between my father and I - my Court drawl gone for the moment, she didn't seem mad, just questioning.
Then her expression changed, and I knew at once what was coming. Her fiery side. "How do you plan do address that?" she asked. Surprisingly, her expression still remained questioning though I could tell she wanted answers. There were no heavy objects near her - save her glass - that she could throw at me. Though I knew, as independent and stubborn as she had been to my father when I introduced him, she wouldn't attempt another stunt like the candlestick incident again in front of him.
I had to smile to myself then - no woman I knew, or most likely would come to know, save Meliara, would treat me as an equal like that in an argument. I didn't know how disputes were settled in Tlanth, but the fact that she would no think twice about my status, or rank for that matter, sparked something in me that I couldn't even name. Yet.
Deciding against my Court drawl, I replied carefully, "Tlanth is one of the most secluded counties that have political ties with Remalna. One of the issues at the moment is that only Galdran's favorites take part in Court, though their opinion to him, I am sure, matters little. When this is over," I paused, seeing that same gaze that day in the dungeon - a one of wariness and fear, "it will be made sure that all nobles from all counties have a say in government, particularly by reinstating the process of hearing out Petitioners. Something I hope will make them feel more apart of the doings in their Court."
It was a carefully picked answer - one that I had thought about a great deal since I realized that Meliara and Bran's mother was a descendant of royalty from one of Remalna's previous ruling families.I knew that both heirs had the hearts of all the people in Tlanth, and if, aside from the king and queen ship the government were divided equally would put an end to the rift between countries.
Meliara didn't respond immediately, I could tell she was searching my face for any trace of what I felt on the matter. Finally she sighed and glanced at her brother before replying.
"You mean to say that the only courtiers who are ever safe - if there can be such a state with Galdran on the throne - are those of wealth that offer their support in reinforcing his unfair taxes and laws." There was an edge in her tone, I knew she was thinking about all the courtiers she had faced in Court that day, and how they had all remained silent. But she had managed in so little words to sum up the tense atmosphere that had become life in Remalna-city.
"Galdran's only ally is himself," I replied, knowing that I couldn't keep my tone from deviating at that moment. "You could be his favorite card playing opponent one day and a spy for his many enemies the next week and be executed for it." I saw Branaric wince as he returned to picking at his food, but Meliara held my gaze as I continued. "I am sure that many, if not all, of Remalna would support a different, and more refreshing rule from Galdran's tyrannical grip on the country that has been so for too long."
Glancing at my father I could see the sides of his mouth twitch in an attempt to hide a smile. The meaning beneath my response, I knew, would be masked enough so Meliara would not decipher what I truly meant. But I almost bit back my words when I saw Branaric's head lift slightly, a questioning look in his gaze. I had used the word refreshing describing his demeanor when I spoke with him earlier. It was clear that he knew he did not want to rule - which meant I had used my own vocabulary against me in implicating his sister.
To my immense relief, he stayed silent. And to an even greater relief, Meliara only glanced between the three of us, not understanding what had just gone on. Slips like this could cause more speculation than safe if she ever does venture to Court again, I thought wryly. I didn't mind, but I knew there were certain others that wanted the crown for less honest reasons.
Though she seemed to understand my seriousness about Galdran's attitude, she said, "It's our own fault - Remalna's and probably Tlanth's as well - that Galdran has remained king all this time. If it is a public execution those Courtiers feared when I was brought to face him, what should change their minds to finally speak out if they have stayed silent for so long?" she demanded. I winced inwardly, knowing that this was most likely only a fraction of the anger she felt towards Court because of her unfair treatment when I first brought her to Atharanel.
I'd saved her from the execution of which she spoke of, but not the humiliation.
Branaric's head snapped up as he looked between Meliara and I, wondering where her outburst had come from. I continued to watch her carefully but before I could reply her brother spoke up.
"Life, Mel! What's gotten into you?" he exclaimed. "From what he's told me," Branaric pointed to me, "you've been making a fool of both that greedy dolt and his cousin the past weeks. Not to mention outwit Shevraeth's riding that was sent to find you in the first place. And it ended up taking them almost as long anyway. Why pick a fight about something that happened so long ago?" Oh, he did not know what was coming.
Meliara looked down for a moment, I knew she was fighting against tears; she only ever fiddled with her hands when she was trying to avoid showing emotion. Though I did not know if the tears were of anger or pain. I looked quickly over to my father, who seemed to be having the same reaction as me - wondering whether or not she would storm out and leave, or stay and argue more.
I knew which one it was.
When she looked up again her face was set like stone - an expression I had never seen before, and worse, one that I couldn't read. But her tone and glittering eyes betrayed her.
"When you finally stop loading yourself down with bluewine, get your head back into the battle, go scouting to try and help your people, get caught by someone who is apparently your ally," I took that as progress that she didn't see me as an enemy, "get dragged before a throne room filled with stupefied Courtiers, threatened by a greedy pig, thrown into a dungeon, manage escape only because you have loyal friends," I knew she was referring to her spy, "almost get caught countless times trying to escape even when you were aided, do your best not to implicate one of the kindest and probably bravest families you've ever known while trying to survive, nearly kill yourself trying to outrun half an army on one good foot, finally get caught, almost tortured, until finally you were saved and brought into safety into a shaky alliance," by now Bran looked like he had seen death, regret etched in his features. "Then you can ask what's gotten into me."
Meliara's entire recap made my heart ache for her even more. I had done everything I could to try and help her and even through all of that I knew she would never forget half of those memories.
She stood, without warning. Branaric followed suit, "Mel, please-"
Then her expression fell, and her eyes glittered with tears. "Let me know when you do all of that and come to me then." Her voice quivered. Then she turned to my father, "I thank you for the dinner, Your Highness, and I regret to inform you that my brother and I will be leaving at First Light next gold." And with that she got up and left, leaving the three of us in silence.
Branaric stood there, looking stunned. He didn't protest at the dismissal, and the arrangement made to leave as he turned to me and in a weak voice asked, "Did she really go through all of that? Facing Court and the dungeon and the chases?"
I didn't know what to say - and I didn't trust myself to say something neutral in that situation. Thankfully, my father answered for me.
"Your sister has faced more than she should have ever endured, Lord Branaric. If you would allow me to say so, I know that the events sound grim, but I fear were it anyone else they would have given up." In two sentences my father had managed to say everything that I had wanted to the entire length of the dinner.
Branaricsighed and then glanced down for a moment. "Mel always did have more guts than I ever knew - I guess that's what Papa feared, that she'd try fulfill his dreams for him."
Little pieces like this of Meliara's past I treasured, and hoped that I could use to better understand how she came to be whom she was. But I knew that that moment was not the time to question Branaric further.
And I knew on the inside I felt just as horrible as he did.
Author's Note: Please don't shoot - I did say that Mel dipped a bit out of character on this. But for now I don't really know what I'm going to do with this - whether or not I should continue it in Vidanric's POV or just leave it as a one-shot. Depends on whether or not you like the variations I put in.