A/N The challenge at the Tamora Pierce Experiment forum this month was to write a romance in a battle. Come to our forum and check out the challenges; a new one is posted each month and there is a lovely group of people to chat with (you can find the link in the 'forum' section of my profile!). This is based entirely off the prologue in Trickster's Choice; if these characters are mentioned elsewhere in the novels, I did not use those references and I apologize for any inconsistencies. This story ends up taking place approximately 300 years before the events of Trickster's Choice, in what were then still named the Kyprish Isles.
168 H.E. – six years before the luarin invasion
Ashaina watched her Queen closely, worry etched in every line on her face –which were much more considerable, now, she thought ruefully, than when they first stood on a battlefield together. Too many years had passed since they were girls riding into the midst of carnage and fury and valour together for her to view war as anything but a waste, an exhausting waste, until sometimes even as she rode into yet another battle, all she could think was that this was never going to end.
They had grown up together, and in the Kyprish Isles, that meant going to war together, because there was always a battle to fight. Ashaina was always at the side of her Queen, but as the same war was fought over and over again, between different people who all wanted the same thing, until there were more slaves on the Isles than free people ... their enthusiasm for battle had vanished long before this round of negotiations had fell through.
Then news had came that open conflict had broken between the army of Imiary's cousin, Dilsubai, and the party with Imiary's husband Rodek and that Rodek had been slain... Ashaina glanced at her friend's grief-worn face again. Eleven years ago, Ashaina had sworn her life in defence of her queen. She would stand by her until the last breath left her body and would die to ensure that Imiary survived the coming battle, no matter what the other woman wished. But this was her friend as well as her queen and she wished with all her heart that she could erase the sorrow from her face that the death of her consort and lover, Rodek, on this very battlefield had etched there.
"One more battle, old friend," Queen Imiary said.
"Yes, Your Majesty."
They had said the same thing before every battle for the past twenty years. Ashaina Dodeka did not think this war would ever end.
Imiary sat straight on her warhorse, her eyes locked on the combat in the field below, trying to concentrate on her minister's words as well as the patterns he was pointing out to her. Long practice at war had taught her strategy she had put to use too often, but her eyes continued to rove, trying to pick out the distinctive green banner and crested helmet Rodek wore to battle, as she always did when she joined him on the field. Every time her mind caught up to her heart and remembered the message she had been delivered that morning, that her Rodek had been struck down on this field of battle, she felt her heart constrict. All she wanted to do was break down; scream until she could breathe through the restriction on her throat, break things until she felt whole, cry until she could sleep again and dream of his face... but she was their Queen and her people looked to her for strength.
She nodded at her minister's recommendation and prepared to ride to battle once again. At least the fresh pain of Rodek's death meant that she couldn't feel the old sorrow of yet another negotiation rejected by those hoping for her crown; those wound would ache again, later... For now, she rode towards the battlefield and prayed for something, but whether it was triumph or a final peace, even she wasn't sure.
It was always so loud. When, as a girl, she had played at being a warrior, Ashaina had never thought about how loud thousands of swords clashing and people dying would be. In the midst of it, she turned and saw a man – his sword in his hand – step up to her Queen and she knew Imiary would never hear a shouted warning over the din surrounding them.
Regardless, Ashaina opened her mouth to call out a warning to her Queen, even as she swung her sword into the thigh of the man she was fighting, crippling him long enough to escape the reach of his blade so she could leap to her Queen's defence. She knew it wouldn't be enough time, but she leaped anyway, and only just in time recognized the green banner the small group carried, and the crested helmet of him leading them.
There was a cry – its tones of held-back sorrow and joy almost lost in the noise of battle – and Imiary threw herself into Rodek's open arms. He caught her and pressed his face to hers, whispering something in her ear that Ashaina couldn't catch.
Rodek's men and the Queen's guard quickly fell into a loose circle surrounding their Queen and her Consort, allowing them what could only be a brief moment to be together once again before risking their love on the battlefield once more.
But that is what love is, Ashaina thought as she deflected an assault and countered with blows of her own. Taking joy in every moment you have with them, fiercely, because the world was a dangerous one, and it could be lost at any moment. Only seconds passed before both were again in the thick of the fighting, but Ashaina knew that if they both survived this, they would love all the harder for having almost lost what burned bright between them.
And that was as it should be.
"I thought that I had died," she admitted. One arm was wrapped around his waist, the other stretched up to his face so she could trace his familiar features over and over again. He did the same to her, pausing every few minutes to kiss her cheek or forehead or lips. Both were exhausted from the battle – one which had been neither won nor lost, but would continue the Isle's strife into the future, like all the others – but neither wanted to sleep and lose one moment with the other.
"When I found you?"
She nodded. "And I thought... he was right here waiting for me."
"Just like I promised."
"Just like you promised." Imiary's eyes were drifting closed, even though she tried to keep them open, and Rodek leaned down to close them softly, kissing each of her eyelids.
"I promise to serve you faithfully," he whispered, lulling her to sleep with his familiar vows. He had spoken them to her the day she had placed her crown on her head, in a private hallway where he had found her crying where no one could see her. He had said them again the night they had been married, alone in her bedchamber. He had held her close while she wept tears of relief and pent-up sorrow when they had found each other on the battlefield after she had spent the day grieving his death. "I promise to treasure your life always above my own. I promise to give my life to preserve yours and your Crown. And, since we must someday die, I promise to never part from your side until we can be together again in the Peaceful Realms, forever."
"I love you, Rodek," she said as she drifted into sleep.
"I love you, My Queen."
"You know I don't like that one, Sarai," Dove said into the silence that followed her sister's story. "It is too unbearably sad."
"But he was alive," Aly said, feigning ignorance. "They were back together again."
Dove leaned up on her elbow on her bedroll beside Aly's. They were sleeping on the floor in the main hall again, driven downstairs by tight quarters and the heat. "Yes," she said, "but two years later Imiary was killed by Queen Dilsubai, the last raka queen of the Copper Isles. Dilsubai murdered Imiary herself, in her rooms at the palace before she took the throne."
"What happened to Rodek?"
"He died there with her, defending her life." Dove rolled over and closed her eyes, her voice already slow and heavy with sleep. "See? Too sad a story to retell."
Sarai and Aly both followed her lead and slipped further under their blankets, ready for sleep.
"Though, if they had to die," Aly said through a yawn, "it is better that they died together."
Sarai smiled at the ceiling. "I always thought so, too."