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Kalasin of Conté

By @TortallMagic

Chapter 1

“Marriage is for noblewomen with nothing else to do.”

― Tamora Pierce, Trickster’s Choice

I gasp as the laces are pulled tighter, restricting my breath beyond the point I think possible. I grit my teeth against the feeling of ribs creaking, and look in the mirror. I sigh, why couldn’t I be just like my mother? She is beautiful in every way and everybody adores her. If I was in any way like her in attitude and behaviour then I would please not only my parents, but also the people. It is what is expected of me, even if I never asked to be what I am. I glance once more at my reflection and wince. Yes, I have many of my mother’s features, her long raven tresses, petite face, her nose; which suits her so perfectly and yet does nothing but dwarf the rest of me.

“My Lady” says the maid, “if you would please step into your dress…”

“Yes, yes Margaret” I reply, not really wanting to; but it must be done, I can’t displease my parents today, not after what I did.

It will be the first time they see their daughter again, after a long sentence at King’s Reach, a castle far inland and away from all my friends. But I have learned much, and I shall never cause them reason to doubt me again, or send me away. I do admit that what I did to Kaddar was wrong, but I wasn’t ready for what he proposed, what Mother and Father had arranged. They had promised me my own choice, and had skipped to conclusions…was I wrong to have mislead them and him on opinions of my feelings? Apparently I mislead the whole realm, but I think they were exaggerating; I mean, seriously? Banishing me to King’s Reach for four years? I thought I would just receive a slap on the wrist for my trouble, but I guess they were sick of my behaviour and disobedience…

But that was in the past, and the important thing is right now.

My thoughts are interrupted when Margaret stops fiddling with my hair and steps back. Murmuring thanks, I stand up and look at myself in the full-length mirror beside my dresser. I must admit that she has done well. I doubt some of my friends would recognise me. What I see is not a careless girl who sneaks out of her room at night to go to secret parties with friends, or who picks up and drops men as she grows tired of their endless fawning and vows of undying love. The person staring back at me is a woman. Four years away from the capital helping the Countess of King’s Reach run her household and training with her ladies has refined my features and browned my skin. My hair is piled high on my head, unlike left hanging down my back like a maiden which had been my preferred style. My father’s Conte blue eyes are framed with sweeping, dark lashes and my mother’s mouth is coloured in a soft, rose red. I raise a brow as I take in my dress. It is a wondrous affair of dark purple silk, pleated and bunched to perfection. It is covered in the lightest of black spider lace which, at every joint, houses the tinniest of diamonds. The bodice is also dark purple, with a black lace-up at front and diamonds edging the low, square cut neck line. I had thought Margaret would portray me as the innocent daughter, returning to her parents pure, chaste and full of forgiveness. It seems she has decided that they would see through that in a second and instead painted me a woman. Strong and grown and ready for the future.

A look of determination crosses my face; I can do this.

I’m ushered to the huge doors that every girl in the entire realm of Tortall wishes to pass through. A number of others are here as well, and as I am positioned at the front of the line, the whispers start. I hold my head high; let them gossip, someone else with some other scandal will soon be on their lips. It’s the way the court has always been. They will soon tire of me when they realise there is nothing to gossip about.

The steward bangs his staff on the floor, my name and title are read, and the doors are opened. At once my senses are overwhelmed by the sight that greets me; thousands of people, all crammed into the great hall, each and every one of them, dressed to impress. All talk ceases as I become the centre of attention, this is the moment the whole court has been waiting for; the return of the disgraced princess.

I point my attention forward and everybody else fades into the background. I have walked this floor before and the noise and fixated stares barely bother me anymore. I notice my siblings, the heir Prince Roald, Princes Liam and Jasson and the Princesses Lianne and Vania are seated with the King and Queen. Great, we can have a staged family reunion for the realm. While my family is sometimes considered strange by those with rods up their behinds and who are sticklers for tradition, tonight will be made to satisfy them. Inwardly sighing, I start to ascend to the raised platform my family resides upon. With each step I near closer and closer to an uncertain situation. Will I be welcomed with love? Or with distaste and memories I have long wished buried?

I have finally reached the end of the red carpet; literally. My walk of attention is finished and now the interesting part begins. I sweep my skirts out around my body as I curtsy, I stay in my position, almost sitting on the floor, it is not proper of a princess to do so, but I feel I must display regret and remorse for the people silently judging me.

My mother’s voice breaks the awkward silence that has fallen upon the gathering.

“Kalasin darling, rise and retake your rightful seat amongst us; your family.”

With these words, the breath I do not know I am holding expels, and I gather myself together. My reaction I know is being closely watched, so I calm my face and as I take my seat on the familiar cushion, applause resonates throughout the room. A smile breaks free despite my careful restructuring of my face but the people can take it as they wish, relief or happiness, either works in my favour. The tension that had been thick in the air only seconds ago disappears and is replaced with joy and happiness; all is as it should be.

I watch with interest as the rest of the ladies are announced; some mere girls, only just entering society. I cringe slightly as I realise they have the bad luck to be presented tonight. Hardly anybody will take notice of them with me preceding them, my name will be on everyone’s lips and they will be brushed aside. But seeing their excited faces I cannot help but remember my first time; the doors opening, the crowds growing hushed as the eldest princess was announced, mother, father and Roald, all looking on with expectation. I recall walking slowly, blinking rapidly, trying to gather my thoughts and appear graceful; the image of ladylike elegance. I also remember the stares of the males present, the young men, one thing on their minds, the elder, housing haughty glances; a constant reminder of who I was and what was expected of me.

Shuddering at the memory I turn my gaze to the crowd, listing in my head those who I am acquainted with, and those who I am not. It is amazing how so much can change in the space of four years. Those I hold as friends look on me with disdain and men I once flirted with have grown up and found wives. I notice a baby bulge on the bellies of many of the girls my age; their dresses tailored and re-fitted to accommodate their growing torsos.

I myself would be the wife of the Emperor of Carthak right now, if I had not embarrassed him and my family with my refusal. Kaddar is, I’ll admit, a good catch; he is handsome, wealthy, smart…all that a girl like me can wish for. But I was young back then and not yet ready to settle down, let alone become Empress! Both Kaddar and my parents had expected too much of me, I was only a child, not yet eighteen for Mithros’s sake; I didn’t know what I wanted to do in life. I knew what was expected of me, but what if that wasn’t what I wanted? I never wanted to be a princess; my only goals in life to meet eligible men and create fashion. I never wanted to marry and have children; Goddess bless I wanted to be the first female knight since Alanna the Lioness. It had been my dream since first meeting Daine at Pirates Swoop, when she had stopped the enemy from taking me hostage and using me as an excuse to start a war between Carthak. Daine is strong, and she can do amazing things; shape shift into an animal for example. Wherever she goes, Daine helps as only she can, bringing happiness and joy to both people and animals alike. She is my inspiration, my drive to help the weak and to prevent something like the war from ever happening again.

I turn my attention back to the hall and glance at my brother Roald sitting beside me. He has certainly grown up in the four years since I saw him last. Gone are the awkward features and gangly limbs. I smile. Roald looks like the perfect heir to the throne. If he can grow up then so can I.

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