Title: Not Coming Home
Series: Quick, Painless and Easy
Summary: If Cain wants answers, he'll get answers. But he may not like them.
Length: ~1170 words
Author's Notes: See the first part for disclaimer and notes. Additional notes at end.
Pushing his hat up from his eyes, Cain shoved off the wall as Princess Azkadellia and her detail passed him in the hall. Lt. Clayton Tayborne, head of her detail, gave him a sharp nod of acknowledgment as he fell into step beside them. "Captain."
The Princess, fixated on getting to her rooms as quickly as possible before her ruined dress dripped all through the palace, never noticed the additional presence. Their speedy pace did seem to be thwarting the variety of wet things slowly sliding down her body (not a few of them in her hair), but other things had already dried and were flaking away, sometimes in surprisingly large chunks.
"Is that mashed potatoes?" Cain asked his lieutenant.
"I believe so, sir."
"At least you have some on you this time."
Mouth forming a hard line, Tayborne glanced down at himself but didn't respond.
"We need to talk. I'm sending the new kid, PJ, to fill in for you. Figure out who to leave in charge."
Cain slowed his step, letting the Princess' party outpace him a few feet before turning around to go back to his office.
"So you want to tell me what's going on?" Cain said as Tayborne stepped into what was euphemistically being called his office.
It had been an office at some point, but it had been attached to a bedroom probably meant to house a visiting dignitary . A visiting female dignitary. When he'd first stepped foot inside what would be his headquarters, both the outer and inner rooms were covered in pink flowers in various stages of bloom competed with kindly Gillikin folk who danced with fairies. The effect was…busy to say the least.
Cain had insisted on stripping the wallpaper even before installing a desk or a coat tree. The Queen, coming to check the progress of this new military branch, had sighed when he'd led her through the main area still being set up, and into his office to speak privately. "I'll tell you a secret," she'd said as he settled himself into a chair opposite, thoroughly uncomfortable sitting behind a desk in her presence. "I used to save these rooms for the most supercilious courtiers and officials. I suppose I'll have to find another to fit that purpose."
Cain had been disturbed to find out there was more than one suite like it in the palace.
Pulling off his hat, Tayborne sat on the other side of his captain's desk. "You know Princess Azkadellia's working on that project for the anniversary."
"Seems the good people of Central City are taking the opportunity to show their displeasure at the Princess-not-hanged by pelting her with their overripe foodstuff."
"I've seen the Princess. I figured that part out of my own. What I want to know is why it's still happening."
Tayborne slowly shook his head. "She won't let us stop'em, sir. So long as it's not something that'll hurt her physically we're under orders to let folks be."
Eyes narrowed, Cain leaned back in his chair. "That so?"
"And have there been any incidents?"
Tayborne nodded. "Two so far. Including today."
"And how'd you handle it?"
"We've changed how we guard her to incorporate the Tin Men assigned to the courtyard as lookouts. When they spotted something fishy, they called the alarm and we go the princess down. There's been a few false alarms, which I think gave the Princess more grief than actually getting hit with rotten fruit."
"Stuff got all over her projects and she had to fix it."
"That shouldn't be a problem. She waves a hand over and its gone."
"That'd be true if she were using her magic, sir."
Cain swore softly. "Forgot about that. All right, so Tin Men on the walls calls a warning, you get the Princess down and out of the way… then what?"
" 'Pending on where the perp is, one of us or one of the Tin Men picks him up. And before you ask, you haven't seen any perps in holding because Princess Azkadellia ordered that it not be charged as a crime against a royal."
Cain swore again, not as softly. "And you let her go on with this because…"
Tayborne shrugged. "Seems to please her, sir."
Eyebrows raised, Cain said, "Being pelted with rotten tomatoes, eggs and moldy bread makes her happy?"
Tayborne shook his head. "Maybe 'pleased' isn't the right word. She's not happy to be covered in filth, and rotten squash actually makes her sick. Just that, more than the working of her project, being an outlet for the people seems to feed something in her. Maybe she feels like it's just penance, or its some Royal thing us peasants can't understand. But for all that she hates how she looks and feels when the day's done, she stands up straighter than she did before she started." Shrugging, he said, "She looks more settled. Kinda like the Sorceress without the evil. She knows who she is."
Cain ran a hand over his mouth and chin. "I don't like this Clayt. I feel like it sets a bad precedent to allow this kind of thing to happen to a monarch, even if she'll never be Queen."
"But I almost can't blame them."
"Neither can I."
"Neither can she," Cain said, sighing. "Well, the Royal Couple haven't said anything to me, though I've seen the Queen watching Princess Azkadellia extra hard lately."
Tayborne nodded. "The Consort pulled her aside the other day on her way out. I couldn't hear what they were saying, but he shot us a dirty look while they were talking. I thought he'd have words, but he let us all go."
"I'll talk to them. See what they want to do, if anything. For now I'm trusting your judgment."
Hearing the dismissal, Tayborne stood. "Yes, sir."
"See you at dinner, Clayt."
"Yup, you too, Cap." He started for the door and stopped. "One thing."
"You know I don't much like the Princess—"
"I'd be more surprised if you did."
"—but watching her do this, I respect her more than I did when she came up from under the Witch's hold. What's she's doing is stupid, and it scares her more every day—we can all see it—but every day she's out there the same time, stays the same, keeps at work, and goes back to palace covered in filth without complaining, without retaliating though I swear sometimes I see her ready to react. If she's punishing herself, she's taking it like a grown woman."
"I don't know about that, but it's certainly something," Tayborne said, jamming his hat back on his head. "Later, Cap."
AN3: This is genuinely new fiction written within the last month or so. I caught up to my 2 year old backlog in the previous story, "Surety". I make no promises for how long this story train is going to run but, in my head at least, the series is nearing its end. Thank you for still reading. I can't tell you enough how much I appreciate it.