A/N: The whole story is going to be proof-read by Danaye.
She had been summoned by the king, for what she didn't know, but the page was still lingering on the other side of her closed door, waiting for her to finish dressing.
A royal summon was a serious matter. When receiving it one should not be fooled into thinking that they could stand before the king in warm breeches and a loose woolen shirt. Such as it was, she struggled into the one dress she had and forced it down over her body, growling and hating the light blue cotton fabric.
"Are you finished?" the page yelled to her, clearly impatient and tired of waiting in the back of the stable where her room was located. She quickly pulled a brush through her curly brown hair and, upon noticing her reflection in the mirror, found that it had to be enough. She knew that the king would offend her over her lack of beauty, but when she returned to her work he would subsequently forget and then appreciate her presence as she tended to the animals of the castle.
As she opened the door she found the page standing and rocking his foot impatiently. When he saw her, his face took on a startled expression. She knew what he was going to say and gave him a murderous look. "Don't say anything", she growled to him. She corrected the dropped neckline of her dress while she tilted her head, "Didn't his highness say that it was urgent?"
The page nodded and led the way to the throne room.
Daine entered as the master of ceremonies opened the twin doors and announced her arrival. "Veralidaine Sarrasri", he proclaimed. She turned her head to the small stocky man and wrinkled her nose at him before taking the ten steps down into the throne room where the King of Galla ruled.
Standing alone in the middle of a seemingly deserted room, she curtsied deeply and bowed her head gracefully. "Your Highness," she greeted the man sitting in the lonesome high seat. The king in front of her was the second one left in the royal line. His only heir was a boy of only a few years and not yet old enough to be present at the castle.
The king acknowledged her presence without looking up from the letter he was holding in his left hand. His glasses sat dangerously low on his potato-nose. King Angus was old, very old, being in his mid sixties. His huge, bushy eyebrows were pressed down towards his bright, blue-gray eyes. Suddenly he looked up at her over the tip of his glasses.
"Ah, Mistress Sarrasri – I have something very important to tell you." The king paused so long that Daine began to wonder if he had fallen asleep and drifted away to a land far away, or had simply forgotten that she was present. She shifted her weight from one foot to the other, uncertain how a simple letter concerning her could be something of 'great importance'. She cleared her throat as if to bring his attention to her again.
King Angus lifted his gaze. "Where did you come from?" he asked, looking rather confused. It was the only significant sign that the old man had begun to become senile.
She shifted yet again, altering her balance to try to regain control over her budding nervousness "You summoned me, Your Highness – how can I be at your service?" Daine asked hoping to get the meeting over with as soon as possible.
"Yes, actually, I received a letter months ago and last week another one came to me. I have given it much consideration." Daine was holding her breath by now, waiting for the next words that would leave the kings shrunken lips. "I have found myself in agreement with what they have to say." He paused and blinked his eyes, turning his attention towards the huge windows in the Gallan castle.
"And that is?" she asked, hearing how her voice shook with nervousness as it rippled through the empty and cold throne room.
King Angus met her eyes calmly and she found the look unsettling. "I have agreed that there is to be an arranged marriage between Tortall and Galla. With my lack of female heirs we, King Jonathan of Conté and I, have agreed that there is to be a union between his strongest mage and my gifted wild-mage. The man in question is on his way here with an delegation. They will arrive the next day or so."
Shocked, horrified and baffled she felt her mouth fall open at the end of the talk. She was still standing and gaping when King Angus waved his hands towards the two other women who had somehow become present behind her. Daine shuddered. Was he seriously considering marrying her off to someone unknown? A man that could be – she flinched at the thought – maybe the same age as the king? Her mind was brought back from where a thousand questions lingered as King Angus gestured the two ladies forth.
"They will ensure that you are equipped with all the necessary things." He looked at her shoddy dress, "When it's time to meet your new husband, I expect that you will be wearing something that doesn't resemble something that has been sewn out of an old horse-cloth."
The blood rushed through her veins, making her slightly dizzy. He, the one who had provided her with shelter for all these years, was ordering her to be married. He even spoke disparagingly of her appearance in the same breath! What could she possibly say to that? 'Thank you very much' or 'I'm delighted'?
A small growl lingered on her lips as the king dismissed her. Almost in a panic, she curtsied again and turned to the two ladies in waiting. They seemed to look at her as if she was some mouse that the cat had dragged in. She certainly felt like one.
As she left the throne room she swore to herself that she would make it anything but easy for the man who was coming to court. She looked down at her left hand, not noticing that she walked up the stairs, thinking what kind of ring she would be receiving or if she would actually get one. She heard the two oak doors close behind her and she jumped, looking back to where she had come from.
A few minutes before she had been free, now she was forced into something she didn't have any say in. A bewildered look spread on her face. Was she going to stay at the castle or would she have to leave the one place she had ever called home? She could also just leave, pick up her few belongings, and just go. She could take one of the horses - she turned back as one of the ladies cleared her throat in displeasure over Daine's hesitation. She sighed, taking a horse and leaving wouldn't solve anything.
With no family or money she couldn't possibly live very long on the road, not when winter was approaching.
Lifting her chin up, Daine followed the woman. She resolved not to decide anything before she had seen the man. She would do as the King of Galla had commanded her.