Intrigues of a Princess
In the end, it was decided that the remainder of the summit would be held at Egzardia's capital. A few days before the two week delay would have been up messages arrived bearing both good and horrible news from that country. Everyone already knew of Tellot's death but most were stunned to hear that the untimely death of his first born son had been a shock the ailing king couldn't bear and he too had passed. It made sense to hide their dishonesty about the timing of the king's death this way. His death took on an all the more tragic tone by its cause. It also cemented the notion of Tellot being his son. If there were any lingering rumors still out there, they would be silenced forever.
At the bottom of the announcement was notice of Marqesita's coronation. She was to be crowned queen in a brief ceremony a day after the funerals.
Since everyone would be traveling to Egzardia to attend both events, it was judged prudent to simply finish summit business there. To Eries, it was almost a moot point. Her voting bloc remained strong, unified more than ever after the events of the first part of the summit. Their opponents were scattered. Ironically, Zaibach and its steadfast General Adelphus had more credibility than Basram and Cesario.
Eries was still happy to go. It wasn't only the political victory that waited that was enticing either. She wanted to be with her friend both on Marqesita's days of mourning and triumph, though according to Marqesita, Egzardian funerals weren't the somber affairs that Asturian funerals were. Her father and brother's lives were going to be celebrated. All that the two men had been would be glorified and remembered by their people forever.
Her main reason for wanting to leave was entirely personal. Her father had moved quickly, announcing his daughter's courtship by Allen Schezar to a stunned nobility after gathering them for a small dinner party. There had been a lot of gasping and slacked jawed staring. Meiden, Eries recalled, had just shaken his head. The rest of the dinner had passed in polite conversation with the nobles struggling to come up with compliments for the out of favor Schezars.
After the dinner, it had been another story. Gossip had started flying. The handmaidens that had served Eries for years were suddenly confused as to how to act around her. When Allen was with her, it was as if they'd forgotten even how to breathe. Apparently, the official coupling of the Ice Princess and the notorious Caeli was so strange no one knew how to take it.
Dryden and, rather surprisingly, Aston were enjoying themselves thoroughly. Dryden liked being labeled 'The Respectable One' for a change. Aston, while initially displeased, soon came to see all the chatter as proof that his decisions still moved the country. Besides, a lot of the initial gossip involved questioning Allen's reputation. Since he could no longer cast these aspersions, it was nice for others to pick up the slack.
It helped that Eries had promised to follow some of his advice. She would not rule from the shadows but she would speak with Dryden. The position Marqesita and Bennor had created to control Egzardia's parliament might find a suitable counterpart in Asturia's council.
That would surely create another round of gossip and Eries was tired enough from the first. Going to Egzardia would be a welcome respite and, as their previous trip there had been one of Eries' fondest memories, it was a fitting first place to visit with Allen as an official couple.
She had some regrets in leaving. Celena was not happy to find out she was not part of the travel plans. Eries tried to spin it into something positive. For Allen to let her stay at home alone meant he must trust her. Celena hadn't fallen for it. Having Aelia and Gaddes around her at all time hardly constituted being alone.
And she wanted to travel! The Schezar estate was nice but there was a big world out there that was nice too. She was Leon Schezar's daughter after all.
They'd made a compromise. Millerna selflessly had offered to let Celena spend time at the palace with her and Dryden. Dryden had traveled extensively. He was full of stories and would be able to keep Celena occupied, perhaps show off (or unintentionally donate) a souvenir or two. Millerna insisted she was thrilled to do this; it's what sisters were for. As for Dryden, she claimed he'd be thrilled once she told him about, approximately five minutes before Celena was to visit.
Eries smiled at remembering how casually Millerna had joked about her husband. The two were spending more time together since the summit's recess. Dryden was so loathe to give up the pleasure of his wife's company, he'd passed on resuming his seat at the summit. While Eries was away, he and Millerna would be planning those trips he'd tempted her with at the party at Allen's.
That didn't mean she'd be traveling alone with Allen. Aston was feeling sufficiently recovered to make the trip to Egzardia with her. He thought it important to show respects to a fellow king. He also wanted to show the world he wasn't anywhere near being in the same condition. A short leviship flight was hardly solid evidence but according to him, not putting in an appearance would have been all the proof anyone needed that he was bedridden.
Eries almost had argued he was exaggerating but she'd learned not to doubt her father's knowledge of the ways of gossip. She wouldn't begrudge him a chance to get out and show off either.
There was one more set to attend. The Caeli tournament had been scheduled to resume after the royal entourage returned from Egzardia. Lord Ramkin would not officially retire until it had concluded with the introduction a new Caeli so as to keep the number at twelve. This left his successor free to make the trip. Of course, Alucier had been the head of security for the summit. It only made sense for him to be part of the guard for the king and princess.
Even if Lord Ramkin had turned his request down, Alucier would have found someway to attend Marqesita's coronation. He would have dyed Revius' hair, shoved a pair of glasses on his face and forced him to impersonate him if he had to.
Fortunately, no such extremes were necessary. He was welcomed aboard the leviship set for Egzardia as warmly as the other passengers. Revius was kind enough to send him, making loud whopping noises as he wished for Alucier to have loads of fun celebrating the coronation. The other passengers pretended to ignore him. Aston listened, comforted by the fact that there were definitely worse Caeli for his daughter to become involved with.
They arrived in Egzardia with little fanfare. Too many other preparations were going on to spare expense for lavish welcomes. A few Parliament members (none of whose names triggered any memory for Eries of the lists Marqesita had made of potential suspects) had made it out to the leviship port to greet them and the carriage ride into the palace took them through streets where Egzardia's flag and banners of the countries colors streamed down. It suited the Astons fine. Eries had never cared for formal greetings in the first place and her father preferred to save his energy for necessary appearances.
They settled quickly into the suite of rooms they'd been assigned, Eries and Aston each with their own room while Allen and Alucier had to share and the few servants that had come with them lodged in another. The weather was warmer here than in Asturia allowing them to take advantage of the open nature of Egzardia's architecture even this late in the season. Exterior walls were hardly walls at all, more like banks of large windows that opened out onto a massive balcony that ran the length of the palace. It didn't allow for much privacy, but when you enjoyed the company of your neighbors, privacy wasn't an issue.
The Freidian delegation had arrived before them. Chid was already out on the balcony with Nuri and Kaja watching the sun set when Eries took a quick peak out. He spotted her instantly and insisted she come join him. They were planning on taking their dinner out here. She told him she would see if any of her party would like to join her first. Chid was fine with that. Having more family and friends with him would be worth the wait.
The hesitance Aston had had about seeing Chid was entirely gone. He claimed he was going because it was easier to go out to the balcony rather than navigate the halls and stairways of the Egzardian palace with his wheelchair. True enough, but it would have been easier still to take dinner in his own room. Aston didn't wait for Eries to push him out too. He wheeled himself out without the benefit of any buffer between him and his grandson.
Alucier couldn't go. While the Egzardian royals seemed to be preoccupied, Marqesita had taken the time to write a quick note to Alucier asking him to join her instead.
"I technically did get this invitation first," he said.
"As if you need an excuse to oblige Sita."
He smiled. He didn't. "This is crazy though, isn't it? Expecting it to work?"
"Maybe," his temporary roommate said. Allen then moved to stand by Eries and wrap his arm around her waist. "But crazy things seem to be happening lately."
"The entire trip here," Alucier mused, "and Aston hardly glared at you at all. Revius thinks you're slipping something into his medication but I'm choosing to think if you two idiots can fumble your way towards each other, anybody can."
"I think he means me from all the years I was oblivious to how I felt about you."
"No," Alucier said slowly, shaking his head. "I meant the both of you. You weren't aware of Eries' broody, love struck side, but as the person who bore the brunt of it, trust me, idiot is not an incorrect label."
"And to think I was going to wish you well," Eries sniffed. She did anyway, though the pat on his back for luck had more punch to it than usual.
"Do you really believe that it will work out between them as it is?" Allen asked after Alucier left.
Eries was surprised by this bit of private pessimism. He was the one who'd used them as an example a minute ago. "It'll certainly be difficult, but I wouldn't call it hopeless."
"No, I wouldn't either but one in one country the other in another…The more it does work, the harder it will be to stay apart."
Eries fingered the silver chain around her neck and held the watch piece out. "Forgetting the message of your gift already?"
"No, never." To prove it he held her even closer. "And I suppose you're right. You two are similar. You both gave up so much: you the crown, Sita the line of succession. I should have more faith that you'll have similar fates in love."
Eries couldn't help but laugh. "I didn't give up that much. If everything goes according to plans, I'll have a larger influence as Dryden's right hand then I would have had as a nobleman's wife. And as for Sita, why do you think she's allowing Bennor's position to be as strong as it is?"
Allen thought for a moment, putting himself in the mindset of his politically canny love. "So when one of her children is appointed to the post, it'll be as if she hadn't given up on them inheriting the crown?"
"You're learning," Eries declared. As a reward, she planted a light kiss on his cheek. Nothing too heavy, they were expected out on the balcony any second now.
Aston was already with Chid. He was chatting more with Kaja than his grandson but he'd turn and ask Chid a question or two to include him in the conversation. It was probably the closest the two had been since Marlene's funeral. Eries hoped it wouldn't take more large events like a death in the family or a world summit to maintain that nearness. The Astons and Freids were close family. She wanted them to act like it.
Eries had all the more reason to hope for it now. Allen could never be a father to Chid, certainly not publicly, but he'd be able to fill the role of favorite uncle. It would almost be expected of him what with Chid's fondness for the Knights Caeli in general and Allen's heroics in particular.
Allen had never said anything of this when they'd discussed their future but as she watched him gazing out onto the balcony, she knew it was on his mind.
"Think how happy he'll be to have a new 'uncle'," she said tenderly.
"It's more than I ever had a right to hope for."
"We all have the right to hope to be with the ones we love."
Allen didn't respond verbally. He only stared at Eries intently, a warm but serious look in his eyes. "There was a time I would have argued with you on that – when I wanted to argue with the whole world about how unfair fate could be."
"Oh, I remember. There were times when you did argue, in fact."
"I really don't know how you put up with me."
"I had my hopes, too. And when you weren't brooding, you were quite the charmer."
He chuckled softly. "I always thought you were quite charming yourself. I never understood the nicknames others gave you. An Ice Princess who was so gentle and warm, stronger than steel when she needed to be then softer than down the next moment. Without that…I meant what I said to your father, you know."
"I know…And I don't think you give yourself enough credit."
"I know I never gave you all the credit all you deserve. I wasted so much time that I could have been with you. So from now on, I will not waste another second."
"Even if it means going through those ludicrously long pre-marriage contracts Father's lawyers have been drafting?" she joked.
"Especially so, because you know I'll never be able to understand a word of them without you by my side translating it into something halfway intelligible."
"Oh, Allen," she sighed, recalling the legal help she'd given him with his family's estate. It hadn't been the start of their friendship but it had sealed the deal. "I could almost get the impression you keep me around because you need me for the legal counsel."
"I need you for that. I want you for everything else."
If not for her father and nephew waiting some twenty feet away, she might have grabbed Allen's hand and dragged him towards the nearest priest. But out there they were and she would have to wait. It wouldn't be a problem. She'd waited for years. A few more months of courtship and wedding preparations wouldn't be anything to her.
Because it wasn't just hope that she had, it was the certainty of Allen's hand in hers. It was the certainty of the heartspoken vows they had already made.
It was the certainty of the happiness in her father's voice when he informed Chid that Eries and Allen were courting and would soon announce their engagement, the certainty of the sheer joy in that precious boy's face as he leapt up to hug his aunt in congratulations.
So she would have to wait a little longer. Never again though would she ever have to wait alone.
Author's Notes: Stick a fork in it, after almost three years it's actually done. If I'd had a little more foresight, I would have posted it on August 26th, the seventh anniversary of 'The Secret Life of a Girl's first post date. Yeah, it really has been that long.
Deep thanks to all who have followed this story and the others in the trilogy. Collectively, y'all have been a remarkably supportive and patient group. I don't know if I would have come this far without you.