A/N - Well, here it finally is, my first chaptered Nix fic! Thanks for the great reviews I got for my oneshots, they inspired me to write this. I hope you enjoy, and to fans of JPMD, don't worry, I'm not abandoning it, Chapter 18 will be heading your way soon, and I'll probably be doing a D/G fic after that!!
This isn't going to be hugely long, don't expect a day-by-day account of an entire year! It should be about 10 Chapters and 30,000 words. Riddle Xx
Not Just A Princess: Ellimere's Tale
It was the end of a fine, summer's day, and, at the Perimeter, a girl sat perched on a hard metal bench with her back to the door of a communication's trench. She was a very pretty girl, with long, shining black hair and a pale complexion, and deep blue eyes. Her cheeks were lightly dusted with freckles, courtesy of a term's worth of the bright summer sun and plenty of outdoors sports. The girl sat upright, her posture perfect, the only movement her hair as it was gently tossed by the evening breeze coming from the sea, seemingly unaware of the interest with which she was viewed by tourists- who trained their binoculars on her from the required distance- and soldiers- whose interest was rather less academic- alike. She wore leather breeches designed for riding, well-worn boots with a sensible low heel, and a red-and-gold striped waistcoat cinched in over a white blouse that set off her dark hair perfectly. By her side was a battered leather knapsack embroidered on the front with the Royal emblem, though the golden thread had faded to a pale yellow-brown. Next to it was a sword whose magical origins were clear in the light of the late afternoon sun, and a set of saddlebags containing all those possessions that never left her side- her books, letters, and other seemingly worthless items, like the little glass snowglobe that her brother had given her for her last birthday- a crude representation of the Palace in silver wire, with little flakes of gold paper tumbling around it like autumn leaves. She reached for it and shook it, watching the golden lights dance in crazy patterns not unlike Charter Marks, and then replaced it in its bag silently when she saw a soldier looking at her curiously.
Half an hour later, Ellimere still sat quietly, waiting for her passport to be approved and an escort of Perimeter Guards to be arranged. The Perimeter certainly wasn't the most attractive of places, but Ellimere had a way of seeing the beauty in almost everything, and passed the time admiring the shadows cast by the sun through the mess of tangled wire that marked the scarred and pockmarked lines of trenches. She sighed. She couldn't remember it taking this long before, but then, the last few years had been difficult around the Borderlands.
She remembered her father's last letter, and reached her hand into her pocket to check it over for the thousandth time. She smoothed out the crumpled paper, and touched her fingers to her own Charter Mark, which flashed brilliantly just as the sun sank over the horizon, and was answered by the Mark on the paper. Then she heard her father's voice, near and close; and behind him she could discern sounds that marked him as recording this letter on the balcony of his chambers, which overlooked the parade grounds. Her own bedroom, high up on the North Tower, had a rather more distant view and she and her maid often watched practises in the evenings, sharing their views of all the young Guardsmen, though they knew it wasn't their place to look- Ellimere's status, for the most part, was too high for them, her country-born maid's was too low. She suddenly felt a wave of homesickness for both Wyverley College and Belisaere, as her father spoke into her ear.
"Ellimere, dear, I'm sorry I wasn't able to see you during the... Easter... holidays" Ellimere smiled- her father still had problems with certain Ancelstierran concepts, religion being one of them. "Your mother and I both wish we could see you more often. However, I shall soon see you, as this summer you will be at home and ready to help your mother and me in running the Kingdom.
"I know a letter isn't the best way to tell you this, but when you come back, I would like to hold the ceremony that will elevate you to the official status of both Regent, in my absence, with Jall Oren until you have the hang of it, of course, and more importantly, Heir Apparent. This will mean a lot more responsibility and work on your part, so we'll discuss it when you get back, but I wanted you to hear it from me first, and have some time to get used to the idea. If I have time, I will take some time out from duties in Belisaere to pick you up myself.
"I want you to promise me you'll be careful on the journey, Ellie. There has been trouble around the Borderlands for the last few years, not only from the token Dead and Free Magic creatures, but from bandits and looters too. Keep yourself out of trouble, and keep yourself armed. I know you can take perfectly good care of yourself, but you know how I worry. See you soon."
Ellimere felt rather than heard her father's smile as his letter ended, and, for the thousandth time, smiled to herself as she put it back in her pocket.
"Err... your highness?" it was a young lieutenant, of the age that always seemed to get flustered in the face of a pretty, dark-eyed, exotic-looking Princess- even one who looked as though she was dressed for stable duty.
"Yes, that's me" said Ellimere, smiling at him.
"Your brother has just arrived, and General Marsh will want to talk to you, a formality-"
"Yes, yes" said Ellimere. "I know General Marsh. Would you be kind enough to show me down?" The lieutenant was blushing furiously by know, and Ellimere suppressed a smirk. She and Sam would always have a good laugh when Ellimere tried her charm tactics on the soldiers of the Perimeter. She felt a little sad as she realised that this was her last such journey.
The formalities were over quickly after that, and Sam grinned as Ellimere flirted outrageously with every junior officer that they came across, the men reacting with different degrees of nervousness, shock, and roguishness. General Marsh, an old friend of their mother's who had known them since childhood, shook his head with a smile and ordered the Scouts into formation.
"How many guards are escorting us to Barhedrin?" said Ellimere, smoothly taking authority as she usually did, without even noticing that she was doing it. It was the quality that caused her father to bring her out into society (as his protector, he claimed) before she had even reached her twelfth birthday, and the quality that coined Sameth's childhood nickname for her- "Slavedriver". She didn't much mind. It was better than "Prince Ellimere", anyway, at least in her opinion. After all, she could hardly help it that she was so much better at fighting than her brother. She was just highly competitive.
"Four, your Highness" said Marsh, with familiar respect. "All highly ranked, naturally, and all of your retinue at the Palace, for security. Forty soldiers including eight Mages will join you at Barhedrin to escort you to Belisaere via Abhorsen's House" he inclined his head to Sameth, who looked like he had swallowed a lemon all of a sudden.
"And the planned route?" said Ellimere, not leaving out a detail, as usual.
"From Barhedrin, the usual route will be taken to Abhorsen's House via the Old North Road. We have ordered the Qyrre ferry to take our company to the town itself, and then a full complement of six guard boats will escort you up the Ratterlin to Chasel, where the second complement of Royal Guards will be waiting. After a rest day, the procession will continue under Royal colours due east to Aunden, and then the normal route will be taken north to Orchyre, where the King's Guard will join us approximately three days later. The procession will then proceed as normal to Belisaere through the High Gate" Ellimere nodded.
"Thank you. May we proceed, General?" she caught the familiar twinkle in Marsh's eyes as she resumed her normal courtly tone in front of the two sergeant-majors who had just come within earshot.
"Certainly, your Highness" said Marsh, following her lead. "FARTHAM!" he barked suddenly, and a nervous-looking young man with the pips of a second lieutenant dashed out of a trench to their left.
"Escort Princess Ellimere to the Crossing Point"
Lieutenant Fartham stepped nervously up to Ellimere and performed the traditional salute of the Kingdom faultlessly, which made Ellimere lessen her haughty stare just a tiny bit out of approval and smile at him. He managed a tiny smile back, just before Marsh barked "EYES UP FRONT, LIEUTENANT!" causing Fartham to jump and avert his eyes for the rest of the two hundred and fifty yards that he was required to walk with her.
"To his credit, though" said Sam that evening, when the pair were repairing to their chambers in the Barhedrin Guard base. "He managed to ignore the wolf-whistles"
"Sergeant Greer" said Ellimere "deserves a good Princess put-down! Perhaps a fake letter of dismissal from Nick's uncle? Could you fake it for me?" Sam grinned and bade her goodnight. Ellimere smiled to herself. Though the pair didn't have much in common, their sense of humour was identical, and she hoped that Sam's bitterness over her powerful position and the favouritism shown to her by her father- even she freely admitted it- had abated slightly since they had last seen each other.
She settled into the rock-hard bed with a sigh- it was extremely uncomfortable, but she knew that the guards themselves were far worse off and so picked a clean shirt out of her pack and arranged it so that it took the weight off her shoulders slightly.
"Ellimere! I thought someone said you had arrived!" said a voice at the door and Ellimere's head snapped up. Not because it had made her jump- which it had, although she would never admit it- but because there were only a select few people who would dare to open her door without knocking, and the woman at the door was one of them.
"Tonin!" she squeaked, but the tall guardswoman hurriedly shushed her.
"I'm not supposed to be here, I'm supposed to be doing paperwork" she whispered, "but what's more important, bandits or cocoa?" Ellimere giggled and accepted the tankard her old friend handed her with gratitude, then patted the bed next to her. Tonin sat down, arranging her sword so that it didn't poke her or Ellimere in the leg, and grimaced.
"This is even worse than my sleeping mat!"
"I know!" said Ellimere, smiling. She was delighted to see Tonin- undoubtedly one of her closest friends, the two of them had started weapons training with the Guard at the same time, and Ellimere appreciated Tonin's quick wit and snappy observations when she was bored at the Palace. With her waist-length curly brown hair and freckles, Tonin certainly didn't look the part of a warrior, but appearances were deceiving. Tonin had risen quickly through the lower ranks of the Guards and was the youngest female ever to receive the honour of serving in both the Belisaere Trained Bands and the Belisaere Guard at the same time. Though she could be rather blunt and insensitive at times, Ellimere respected and liked her, and the thought of the weeks of walking suddenly seemed rather more bearable.
"It's good to see you! Will you be at home permanently now you've finished school? Archery practise isn't the same without you trying to distract me!" Tonin pulled off her helmet and the red and gold shawl that held her hair back, and rubbed her temples with a sigh.
"Yes, if all goes as planned, though Dad talked about sending me as the Ancelstierran Ambassador when tensions die down a bit."
"Sounds like a riot"
"Oh, naturally. What a fascinating life I do lead. So how have you been, anyway? Are you still permanently based at the Palace?"
"Yes, but I do some duties down at Qyrre and High Gate when they need extra security. Recently it's been quite hectic, really, we're being moved around all over the place. The King has ordered an entire company in High Bridge to dedicate itself just to training new recruits, you know; Johen was furious. He asked to be transferred to the Palace permanently."
"Ever charming, he is" smiled Ellimere. Tonin's brother wasn't known for keeping quiet when he was annoyed "On what grounds did he seek the move?" Tonin smirked.
"He said, and I quote: 'If you think you're saddling me with babysitting duty for the next five years, you are very much mistaken. Sir.'" Ellimere snorted with laughter. "He consented to three months of duty down there training someone to take his place"
"Someone he wanted to avoid in Belisaere, I assume" said Ellimere with a laugh. "Johen isn't known for his sensitivity, is he?" Tonin grinned.
"There are rumours that a nobleman's daughter had taken a shine to him and he wanted to avoid her angry father after a certain incident at the Midsummer Festival."
"That definitely sounds like your brother. How did his commander take it?"
"I think he found it quite funny. In any case, he could hardly complain, as he had requested to be transferred to Belisaere from Roble's Town after that incident with the necromancer."
"They probably just both missed the Belisaere brothels!" said Ellimere, wrinkling her nose at the thought of the lacking morals of most of the Guardsmen she knew. Tonin grinned.
"It wouldn't surprise me. How Johen manages to spend half his time in the Silver Stilken and still be ranked higher to me I can't fathom"
"You're talking to a girl who became second-highest ranked in the Guard as soon as she came of age" pointed out Ellimere. "I'd be a huge hypocrite if I agreed!" Tonin laughed and then stiffened as she heard footsteps outside the door. "Sergeant Liddell" she whispered. "I have to go, I'll see you tomorrow, we'll talk then" Ellimere nodded, her mouth full of scorching cocoa, and smiled. Tonin gave her shoulder a squeeze and left the room. It was the closest the two had ever got to a hug- she confided everything to the guard, but it seemed Tonin hadn't quite got over the barriers between royalty and servants yet. Ellimere wasn't quite comfortable with the idea either. Not for the first time, she wished she had a sister, or a cousin, someone her own age she could be completely normal around. The life of someone as unusual as her was extremely isolating.
She found it difficult to sleep that night. It wasn't the regular role-calls, or the tramping of many boots as patrols entered and left the tower, or even the shrieks of message eagles flying past her window- all that happened far more regularly at the Palace. It was the sense she felt, of isolation. She felt as if she were caught between two versions of herself, the innocent Ancelstierre schoolgirl, and the warrior Princess, who would traverse the Kingdom to protect her domain. She wasn't quite sure whether she liked either idea, and sat late into the night, watching the flickering of the Guard's fires and listening to the quiet rumbling of their voices, until finally exhaustion lulled her into a deep, dreamless sleep.
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