The gods were laughing at them, both Karigan and Zachary had decided.

Identical twins.

Two girls, Isen and Brienne, came into the world on a stormy winter's day. The harsh northern winds had slammed against the stone of the castle, issuing an eerie echo throughout the corridors but all attention was on the queen's difficult labor. Karin was kept far from the royal apartments to spare her the undue stress. Willis had taken her down to the Rider's common room with Flake, who quietly had accompanied her small charge.

After a morning and afternoon, the twins made their entrance shortly after darkness fell.

Karigan had felt only a faint glimmer of unease when she did not birth a male heir, but such thoughts were banished when she saw Zachary's awestruck expression as he sat with both babies in his arms. He had scowled heartily at the implication made by the midwife that perhaps the next would be a boy. He gave Karigan a wink, 'I do not think anyone would dare call any female of our collected families soft or weak, thus I have no doubt Karin will make an excellent monarch. There is no law to hinder her ascension.'

The future queen in question had been fetched and she proclaimed her baby sisters beautiful in her limited toddler babble. She gently pressed sweet kisses to their wrinkled foreheads when Zachary offered them for inspection.

After the twins had fed, Karin curled into her mother's side and promptly fell asleep clutching Karigan's hand. With Isen in Zachary's arms and Brienne with Laren, Karigan leaned back into her nest of pillows and grinned with a mixture of contentment and utter exhaustion.

6 months later . . . .

Karigan stretched in the open courtyard, wincing as she felt the muscles in her upper back strain uncomfortably.

There had been no point putting off the inevitable ache that would plague her for the next couple of days. She had slimmed back down to a more normal size, albeit a bit curvier, but she had recovered much of her endurance with Drent's jogging regimes. The real test would be to see if muscle memory aided her in returning to the practice ring.

Karin watched her mother solemnly from her perch on a bench; the twins were with Sara while Karigan took her daily practice. The eldest princess had batted her blue eyes at her Weapon and thus, she was able to play spectator to her mother's skill.

The queen flipped her braid over her shoulder and glanced around the ring. Most were studiously ignoring her presence as she went through her paces.

The hair on the back of her neck prickled as she finished with a huff, mentally berating herself. She closed her eyes and undid the top laces of her linen shirt, allowing her heated skin to cool. Her eyes opened, to Zachary's heated gaze following the movement of her fingers.


Gulping, she wiped the loose strands of hair out of her face and watched him come out from the shade. He was dressed for practice as well, but instead of coming towards her, he made directly for Drent.

The men exchanged a few words quietly, their eyes shifting over to Karin who stared back at them curiously. Drent heaved a sigh and disappeared into one of the storage rooms briefly, coming out with a tiny wooden practice sword and a regular practice sword.

Karin's eyes widened in delight as Drent assisted her off the bench and brusquely offered the hilt of the little sword to her. Her chubby little fingers hesitantly wrapped around the hilt as she looked up uncertainly at Drent, biting her little lip in consternation.

Karigan grinned. Wait for it.

Drent's gaze softened minutely. He reached down around her and adjusted her grip, holding her hands aloft a little higher. She giggled, the sound carrying across the courtyard and stopping more than a few sparring pairs to observe the first sword lesson of the princess. Karin felt the eyes of the onlookers on her and backed into Drent's arms shyly.

Drent looked up and glared daggers at the observers, who immediately attempted to look busy again.

The queen shook her head and chuckled, readjusting her grip on her own sword, but dropping it when a large calloused hand closed over her own. She whirled in place and instinctively moved to strike the individual behind her.

Zachary quickly blocked her punch and held her arms behind her back with a cheeky grin. 'My queen is a little slow with her reflexes.'

Resisting the urge to stick out her tongue, Karigan jerked her head in Drent's direction. 'He won't be happy if he sees you with your arms around me.'

Zachary looked towards the sword master and smiled wryly, 'He is presently engaged. Our eldest daughter has inherited her mother's feminine wiles. She will be a fearsome queen.'

Karigan smiled sweetly up at him and stomped on his boot, eliciting a groan from her husband as he fell on his posterior, but achieving her escape. She picked up her fallen sword, sheathing the blade and placing it with the rest of her gear while giving him an apologetic glance.

Zachary scowled at her, 'Hardly an honorable way to fight.'

Karigan shrugged a shoulder, 'I need all the help I can get if my reflexes are so slow—'

'Boy! Let the girl practice on her own! She does not need your pretty face distracting her,' Drent barked.

Zachary turned a shade of pink as he glared at Drent, who had resumed his tutelage of the princess.

Drent lifted his head and stared back, rather unimpressed.

Karigan gave Zachary a toothy grin and stretched her arms above her head provocatively, highlighting her enhanced curves.

Zachary's almond eyes narrowed as he picked himself off the ground and closed the distance between them. She winked and took off at a sprint, heading for the stairs that led to the upper floors, the king in hot pursuit.

Karin watched them go with her little brow wrinkled. She looked up at her teacher. 'Mama an' Papa pway?'

A few trainees coughed discreetly into their sleeves as Drent rubbed his forehead, muttering under his breath. With a roll of his eyes, he crouched back down and adjusted Karin's stance, 'Eyes forward girl. We've some work to do on you.'