Writings: The Lost Last Princess of Ravelin (Part 2)

Previously posted on my Patreon.

This is the second part of a three-part story about disability and living a life in public in order to make ends meet. I hope you enjoy it.




Meirin leaned back against the bar, relishing the chance to sit for a moment and rest her aching leg. This little backwoods tavern was dark, dingy, and dirty; the floors were sticky with stale beer; and the restroom was a smelly outdoor outhouse she didn't dare visit without taking a guard.

After what felt like weeks on the road, it was heaven.

She flipped a copper piece over her head--a neat little trick of the thumb that Kyne had taught her--and heard it land on the bar behind her. It rattled until the bartender's hand slapped down to collect it and another beer was passed down the line. She sipped happily as she watched a bard on the tiny center stage play a ballad she knew by heart. The song was about two love-struck star-crossed girls who traveled the world to find each other and kept tragically missing the other at every stop. He was just getting to the happy ending where they reunite for good and--big sap that she was--she didn't want to miss that part.

"I miss Rhyzuk," Ereth grumbled beside her, scowling at the sour beer in his hands. "Didn't expect that."

"Well, I did and I do, too," she told him in a low voice, still watching the bard. "But we knew when we met him that he didn't want to go on adventures forever! I've decided to look at it as a 'good news, bad news' situation. Good news is we returned the crown jewel to the king, Rhyzuk got concessions for his people to not be preyed upon by the next baron they install, and the rest of us got a decent amount of compensation for our trouble. Bad news is, even though we won, we're all a little lonelier for it."

"Not nearly enough compensation," Kyne put in from the other side of her, chuckling softly.

This was true. They could've gotten a larger reward for their troubles if they'd been willing to stay in the capital longer to milk the situation for all it was worth, but Meirin had been concerned that the captain of the guard might ask more questions than she wanted to answer about her and her companions. With Ereth on the run from a murder he didn't commit, Kyne a member in good standing of a thieves' guild, and Meirin having accidentally run out on a debt she was struggling to pay, she had reasons to value their privacy. A smaller sack of gold was worth getting out of town alive while gratitude still ran high.

"I still miss the little guy," Ereth resumed his complaint, his frown softening not one whit. "He was good with a knife. We made a good team; he'd stab people in the knees and then I'd finish them off."

"You're gonna make me feel bad," Meirin teased, tugging playfully on one of the elven barbarian's long braids. "I stab things too, you know. But, shh, I want to hear the song!"

The girls found each other in the song, as lovers should. She felt a melancholy pang in her chest at the happy ending. Ceridan would have liked this song, she thought, then she wondered why she would think that. Of course he would know the song already; the ballad was as old as she was and as famous as she wasn't. Her sweet one-time lover had already seen and experienced everything she could possibly show him. He was a nice boy and she'd liked him a lot but Meant For One Another, they weren't.

"Play something new, Farados!" An older woman in the small audience playfully heckled the bard, raising her glass in toast. "One you didn't learn on your mother's knee!"

"They're called classics for a reason, Alena," he responded with dignity, but couldn't help chuckling. "But fine. Here's a little song that's taking the capital by storm. You heard it here first."

Meirin perked up as the first string of lively notes flowed from the man's nimble fingers. A new song from the capital? Not one she'd heard while they'd been there, but there'd been so much to see and experience while they were there; she must have missed this one. It was about a girl, beautiful and brave, with a cloud of wild nimbus black hair and midnight-blue eyes. An adventurous wizard traveling the land righting wrongs and doing good deeds. The songwriter was in love with her, but knew he had to let her go; he watched her ride away with tears in his eyes as the pink dawn light gleamed from the... metal brace... on her leg.

Kyne leaned in close to whisper in her ear as the awareness hit them both at roughly the same time. "Uh, Meirin?" She waved a hand at them, straining to hear every word, her mind a whirling daze.

He knows he'll never see her again,
She's destined for greater things than him.
But he'll always hold her in his heart,
That lost, last princess of Ravelin.

The chorus repeated three times, wrapping around the lies she'd made up for Ceridan and the truths he'd seen with his own eyes. Her hair, her eyes, her staff, her brace, her crippled leg. The orphanage just this side of the Ravelin border. Her 'royal' parents, slain in the military coup which had, in fact, occurred when Meirin was a small child. She'd adapted her silly story to the real historical details she'd known, because it would make a more amusing lie. Here, now, it was presented as truth alongside the reality of the tiny star-burst scar on her neck from a childhood mishap. Both equally real and true, both a part of her identity.

She was a sainted angel in the song--nary a mention of furtive thievery or questionable companions or sweaty rolls in linen sheets with earls she'd only just met the night before, no sir. The songwriter's love was passionate but with an air of chaste denial to his sharpened need; he begged the stars for 'just one kiss from those cherry lips' but the stars only blinked their cold witness to his eternal love. The song was the worst sort of melodrama, the kind of tune that would linger in the public imagination for years to come.

Somehow, impossibly yet unmistakably, the song was about her. By the middle, a few of the more observant patrons had turned to stare at her with open curiosity; at the end, after quite a few elbowed nudges and surreptitious nods at the pretty out-of-towner and her two adventuring companions loitering by the counter, she had the attention of most of the bar. Nervously, Meirin shifted her leg but the movement only caught candlelight glinting from the metal of her brace, drawing even more attention. There was nowhere to hide from those prying eyes.

"You didn't tell us you were a princess," Ereth noted without concern, nor indeed without lowering his voice one iota. He gestured for a refill and threw another copper on the counter. "Did you tell the king when you spoke with him, or did he already know? I'd guess your kings care about that sort of thing, right?"


"Being upgraded for free to the best room in the inn certainly has its perks," Kyne observed, bouncing easily onto the bed and stretching to take the entire space from side to side. "Not a bed bug in sight."

Ereth was less sanguine as he paced the room looking for weak points; hefting the bar for the door, he knocked a fist against the wood and looked displeased. "It's going to be harder to protect Meirin while everyone knows she's a princess," he pointed out. "The song was pretty, but impractical for our purposes."

"Yesss, the song," Kyne pointed out in a slower tone, watching Meirin where she stood helplessly by the door. Their eyes glittered with amusement. "Meirin, is there anything you want to tell us about the song?"

She spread her arms wide, feeling helpless to explain. "I don't know! It's the first I've heard of it!"

"Yes, I could tell," they persisted, the tiniest smile in their corner of their mouth; Kyne loved teasing her and normally she loved when they did. "But do you have any idea why someone might have written a song which seems so clearly about you? Even barring the, ah, princessly details, I know very few adventuring wizards with black hair, blue eyes, a distinctive scar, and a metal leg brace. Only the one, really."

"Did the king have it commissioned after we left the capital, do you think?" Ereth asked with a frown, having moved on to checking the security of the windows. "At least we're not on the ground floor, so that's a point in our favor. Someone could climb up, of course, but the wall seems fairly slick. Not a lot of hand-holds."

Kyne was still watching her with dancing eyes; help wouldn't come from that corner. Meirin cleared her throat and wished her cheeks weren't burning quite so much. "Ereth, the thing is... I'm not a princess. I mean," she added, the words spilling in a rush. "I don't know that I'm not. I could be, but it's unlikely."

He turned to look at her, mild confusion creasing his lovely brow. "But the song said your parents were royalty. And they were coming back for you, but the evil army commander turned on them."

Meirin nodded, trying to ignore Kyne's smirking. "Yeah, it... it said that. And there was a coup in Ravelin when I was a child, and the king and queen were murdered. But, uh, I don't know that they ever had a secret baby. That story, the one where I'm a princess and my parents had to give me up but didn't want to...? That's just a story I made up to tell myself at nights when the orphanage was dark and the younger children were crying and my hands were chapped and sore from pulling a double stint on kitchen duty."

Sighing, she closed the distance between them and rested her hands on his strong arms, looking up at his gentle face. "I was lonely, Ereth. I wanted a reason why I was abandoned. Something better than 'because my mother didn't want me' or 'because my leg made me useless as a farmer' or 'because my father was violent and I was safer on a stranger's doorstep'. So I made up stories, lots of them. In one of them, I was a princess. That doesn't mean it's true. It's just a make-believe tale I told myself so I could sleep at night."

Ereth's gaze softened as he understood, and he wrapped his broad arms tightly around her. "I'm sorry. I wish I could've been there to hold you and tell you nice stories. So you wouldn't have been alone and sad."

Meirin tried not to chuckle at the mental image; Ereth was young for an elf, but he would have been at the same level of physical maturity twenty years ago as he was today. The image of her lover cradling her as a baby was sweet but not one she wanted in her head. She shook it away, settling for a kiss on his cheek instead. "Thank you. I'm glad you're here now. And I'm glad you're not angry to learn I'm not a princess."

"Never," he promised, and if she hadn't loved him already she would simply because of how fervently he meant it. Ereth was a good man. Better than she deserved, if she were being honest with herself.

"The thing is," Kyne interrupted, their laughing tone tempered with soft affection as they watched their lovers being earnest and awkward at each other, "who's to say you're not?"

Meirin gave them an exasperated look, but they held up a hand. "Wait, just... hear me out. Ravelin is gone. Oh, the kingdom is still there, but they're calling it Adarax now. The coup was almost two decades ago, and the royal family is long dead and buried. No one remembers them as people anymore; old King Delowen and Queen Yiail have reached a sort of mythic status, floating in and out of bardic songs as set pieces. 'In the happy years when Queen Yiail still smiled' is a time period, not a statement about a person."

She nodded, unsure where they were going with this. "Well, yeah. I guess that's why I made up my own story around them. Everyone else was doing the same, so it felt natural."

"And now someone--", Kyne didn't say the earl's name, but their eyes danced again and Meirin knew they guessed precisely what had happened and when and where and how naked she was when it did, "--has used them as a set piece to make a 'natural' song about you. A brave and beautiful adventuring wizard who just happens to also be the lost last princess. It was a catchy tune, you know. Tragic and bittersweet and lovelorn. You're going to have your work cut out for you, if you plan to fight it."

"What else can I do?" She frowned. "I mean, we could go back to the capital and ask Ceridan to retract the song but once these tunes are out in the wild nobody cares if the songwriter has regrets."

"Meirin, you being a 'princess' just got us a room with a big enough bed that none of us has to sleep on the floor tonight. The reward from our last job isn't going to keep forever. We've been keeping an eye out for more work as we go but without a letter of recommendation from our employer--who is not likely to write one for us, given that our testimony landed him in prison for crimes against the crown--we're in competition with every Jack who can swing a sword or throw a fireball."

She blinked as the angle of the scam slammed at last into place. "But a famous wizard, who is also a legendary princess, is more likely to get in the door to interview for the spot, if only because it's interesting."

Kyne's smile was beatific. "And once we're through that door, beloved, it's just a matter of closing the sale."


"Well, of course, I never knew my parents. I was a newborn when they left me at the orphanage, and they died before they could return." Meirin tilted her head slightly, letting her face settle into a pensive frown that worked well to convey to clients the tragedy of her whole story without edging over into melodrama.

"My goodness, you must have been only a baby when the coup took place? Such a nasty business." The countess settled into her chair across the desk from the three adventurers, leaning forward once seated to pour herself a drink from a crystal decanter. Meirin winced at the effort it must take the woman to keep her chin up under the sheer weight of hair and jewels piled on top of her head; every time she moved, Meirin prepared for an hail of expensive hair accouterments to hit the floor. "And they left you because of your leg?"

"Yes, ma'am." This wasn't her favorite part, but she'd accepted it as the necessary price of admission. Turning slightly in her seat, she slid her braced leg forward and drew up the hem of her dress shyly. Fabric slid over her knee, revealing the metal and leather supports underneath and, below that, the deep purplish bruises which interlaced over her skin like thick spiderwebs connected by thin veiny threads. "The priests feared it was a bad omen."

The countess didn't recoil as badly as some had: just a little gasp and a scandalized hand raised to cover her mouth. Much better than the lord who had reeled back and dropped his wineglass to shatter on the floor. Meirin still wasn't sure whether he'd hired them out of apology or so Ereth would stop glaring at him; the barbarian tended to take personal offense when people reacted to Meirin with disgust. She could never convince him that folks who took her disability in stride as he and Kyne did were a quiet minority. The nobles--their client base--weren't used to seeing open wounds or bodily imperfections. Why would they? They'd had clerics at their beck and call all their lives.

"Well. Priests tend to think everything is a bad omen," the countess pointed out in a conciliatory manner, her voice turning prim. "Maybe if they'd performed their divinations better, the coup might never have happened."

"I've often thought the same, ma'am." Meirin let her dress slip back over her leg, gritting her teeth against the unpleasant brushing sensation of the material scraping sensitive skin. The sooner they sealed this job and she could get back into sensible trousers, the happier she'd be. "Fate is what we make from willpower and hard work. It's why adventuring is such a good fit for me." Gently, she guided the woman back to the reason why they were all here: her job posting, displayed on rich parchment and good ink on the walls of every tavern in town.

"Oh! Yes, about that," she agreed easily. Leaning back in her chair, drink held lightly in the very tips of her fingers, she set off on the pitch outlining the job she needed done, when she needed it done by, and the amount of money she was willing to lay out for the work. Meirin smiled and matched her movements, keeping every muscle in her body relaxed. The trick was to be so assured that the job was yours that the client never thought to question this fact. Beside her, Kyne nodded as the woman talked, drawing out more details with the occasional small questions. As for Ereth, well... he waited and looked solid. Sturdy. Dependable. He was good at that sort of body language.

As the woman wound down from her rambles, the tiniest of frowns creased her moisturized brow. "Of course, I know it's not glamorous work," she pointed out, faintly sheepish. "Not fit for a princess."

Meirin gave her a gentle smile, struggling to appreciate the sentiment. Her struggle was in vain; no matter how she tried, it grated on her whenever clients brought up this point. They'd been happy enough to hire her without a qualm of conscience back when her lineage was common. Royalty made all the difference to some people. She didn't like it, not really, but it paid their bills--and she was very good at gentle smiles.

"Any work worth doing is fit for a princess," she promised the countess, nodding with warm solemnity. Even Kyne thought this particular practiced speech laid it on too thick, but it hadn't yet failed her over multiple clients. "If my magic can help you in any way, I am honored to aid you in your time of need."

The countess put her hand over her heart, touched to the point of glistening tears. Kyne managed to maintain a straight face. Gold was in their hands just as lunch was served--a free (and remarkably good) meal which Meirin wasn't too proud to turn down. In the antechamber outside, the butler could be heard dismissing the other adventure applicants. Behind her napkin, Meirin smiled.


"Can we do the next job without the princess story?"

"Mmm?" Meirin snuggled closer to Ereth in bed, basking in his steady warmth. On her other side, Kyne snored their soft little whispery snores which she had come to associate with security.

"The next job," Ereth repeated. "After this one. Can we get it without telling them you're a princess? We could give real references now, couldn't we? We have satisfied... patrons? Is 'patrons' the right word?"

"'Customers', maybe?" Meirin offered sleepily. "'Patron' feels more on-going. Kyne would know. Is this about the nobles getting fussy over my leg? You know I don't mind that part."

This wasn't entirely true; she did mind, but she didn't want to mind and that was close enough. The best way to not mind, she reasoned, was to keep carrying on as though she didn't, until such time as the lie became true. Practice was what she needed. Just a little more practice fielding invasive questions and gawking eyes and visceral disgust. She'd endured a whole lifetime of those reactions, so logically she shouldn't need to experience much more to finally reach the tipping point where she stopped caring.

"I mind." Bending his head, he ran his lips over her hair and she felt the rustle of her wild curls. "I know you've said I shouldn't, and that it's your leg and not mine. But I don't like them looking at you that way. They treat you like you're an animal they want to cage and stare at."

She snorted at the mental image and wriggled to turn sleepy eyes up at his face, trying not to disturb Kyne in the process; tonight's bed was on the smaller side. "You should have seen how they looked at me when I had a bad leg but wasn't a princess," she pointed out with a wry smile. "It wasn't any better, beloved."

Ereth considered this in his slow careful way, being quiet for so long that she wasn't sure he hadn't drifted away on his thoughts. "You hid your leg on that first job. When the baron hired you and me and Kyne to work together. You didn't limp until we were well out of the city, and you kept your brace covered."

Meirin nodded at the memory, stifling a yawn. "I was afraid if he knew, he wouldn't hire me and you wouldn't want to work with me. I thought you'd see me as a liability."


"I know." She laid a kiss on his chest, hoping it would heal the deep hurt in his whispered voice. "I know. But other people would, and I didn't know you then like I do now."

"And you don't know the people who hire us," he sounded out, his eyes tracing the dark ceiling. "So you either have to hide your leg or... let them gawk over it. Is that really how it is?"

"I'm afraid so, beloved. To them, I'm either a liability or a curiosity. They don't see me as a person the way you and Kyne do." Shaking her head, she laughed bitterly. "If it helps, the nobles don't really see you or Kyne as people either. An elvish barbarian, an orcish cleric, and a cripple; we're lucky to get any jobs at all."

His arms tightened around her, as if he could shield her from every blow if he just held her close enough. "And that's why we have to tell the princess story? For the next job and the one after and every job after those? Our past work isn't good enough to land us a job?"

Meirin sighed and twisted her neck until she could study his face in the moonlight seeping in through cracks around the window shutter. He looked so troubled in the dim light, and her heart clenched. Whether or not it was right for him to take offense on her behalf, he wasn't accustomed to this life and that wasn't his fault. "We can try, beloved," she promised, brushing cool fingers over the frown in his brow.

"Really?" His eyes widened in the darkness, surprised and pleased by the concession. "For the next one? We'll try to land a job without the princess story?"

"We'll try," she agreed, very carefully not thinking about how Kyne would react to all this when she told them tomorrow. They were as practical to a fault as she wanted to be, and loved teasing her when Ereth brought out her sentimental side. "But, Ereth... a lot of people have heard the story by now. It may not be as easy to abandon it as you hope. Even if we don't bring it up, a client could still ask."

His arms tightened around her again, this time in a quick happy hug. "If they ask, sure," he agreed easily, unconcerned. "But if they don't, we won't. You can just be Meirin, and not Princess Meirin. Won't you like that?"

Maybe, she didn't say aloud, closing her eyes and letting Ereth believe she'd fallen asleep. She wasn't convinced that being an impoverished commoner was any better than being an impoverished noble. At least the latter came with the occasional hot meal and bigger bed.


The castle was drafty, and this was the one disappointment to which Talatas could never become accustomed. No matter how much wood was brought in to fire the hearths a clammy cold malingered, seeming to emanate from the thick stones of the very walls. You could add as much whitewash and as many tapestries as you wanted to those walls, and order the servants to put down a whole field's worth of hay and herbs on the floors, but you'd still feel a chill in your bones that only got worse with each passing year. He wasn't ancient, but damned if this castle didn't make him feel as though he were.

When he'd been a young man, he believed kings and queens enjoyed lives which were entirely free from discomfort. Only now did he know better. Oh, there were comforts to be had, yes, and he wasn't about to give up the keys to the royal wine cellar, nor to throw open the kitchen doors to the public. The beds, too, were softer than sin, and the company to be had in them was nothing to complain about. But the damned drafts were a constant reminder that even the most beautiful things in life had their blemishes. He'd have been far warmer in his parents' cottage by the moors than he ever was in this blighted place.

"My lord."

Talatas was alone and then he was not, with no liminal space between the two states of being. He managed not to start in his seat and was proud of himself for his discipline; it had taken him years not to react to Wyrus' sudden appearances in his chambers. "Report," he ordered.

"We've found her. She's been bouncing around cities--including the Durness capital--but right now she's operating out of Redgate taking odd jobs for the noble set. Adventuring work and small-scale wizardry."

"Actual magic, or is that a scam as well?" Talatas asked, raising an eyebrow at the younger man.

Wyrus pulled a small scroll from his belt and handed it over, nodding as he did so. "Actual magic, it seems. Not a lot; we've compiled a list of spells we're sure she knows, and marked a few guesses at the bottom. Probably self-taught or privately-tutored to an apprentice level. Competent at what she does know, though."

"Wonder of wonders," Talatas mused, glancing over the list. "Real magic, and not flash-powder and smoke-sticks. I'd have guessed her a charlatan in all respects."

"Just with respect to the royal lineage claim, so far as I can tell, my lord."

Talatas narrowed his eyes at the scroll, then tossed it aside to land on the bed; he'd read it later in more detail when he had better lighting than the fire in the hearth which did little to dispel the chill in his bones. "And we're quite sure that part is a lie?"

It was rare for the spy to show emotion, but Talatus detected distinct irritation on Wyrus' face. "It's not an easy thing to prove either way, my lord," he admitted. "She has no traceable pedigree whatsoever. She did grow up in an orphanage, and everyone we spoke to swore she was left as a baby without anyone seeing who abandoned her. But she absolutely was not left by a queen who promised to return for her."

"How surprising, when it had been such a likely story," Talatus deadpanned. He let his gaze slide away from the other man and studied the nearby flames as their dances cast shadows in the deep hearth. Twenty years residing in this castle and he still couldn't believe how big the hearths were. But castle hearths were enormous as a general rule; the bigger the room, the bigger the hearth. The bigger the drafts, he thought with a scowl as a chilly gust skittered over his blanketed feet like a spider over a grave.

Wyrus cleared his throat and Talatas looked up at him. "Yes?"

"My lord, it's possible that the tale wasn't the girl's idea," the man pointed out in a neutral tone. "She is taking advantage of the attention the song has brought to her, but I do not believe she commissioned it herself. We tracked down the songwriter--an earl of middling nobility--and he's apparently something of a romantic. It seems he met the girl and she performed some sort of adventuring job for him, and this was his idea of a compliment. Possibly in lieu of proper payment, but we're not quite sure."

Talatas snorted softly, a thin smile playing at the edges of his mouth. "And if it's not her fault, I should just ignore the threat she and this song represent?" he asked, amused. Wyrus, wisely, remained silent and Talatus chuckled. "I thought I was getting old, but here you're becoming downright soft."

"I would be a poor spymaster if I did not warn my king about the potential backlash for each action worthy of his consideration," Wyrus countered in a stiff voice. "Killing a girl who poses no real threat to you, and who may well be mistaken or delusional, could be viewed by the populace as an overstep, my lord."

Talatus swirled the last of the wine in his glass before setting it aside; he'd had enough to drink for one evening. He wanted very much to stand, but his joints would creak and he didn't wish for Wyrus to witness that indignity. "I've held onto this castle and country for two decades, Wyrus. I think I know by now what constitutes a threat. A pretty 'lost heir' with a silver tongue for lies and a clever ballad about her romantic past is precisely what I don't need hanging over my head. My safety, and the security of Adarax itself, depends on squashing this sort of threat early and hard, before it has a chance to spread."

Turning back to the fire, he waved his hand in curt dismissal. "If it upsets your sensibilities, delegate the job to one of your underlings. But either way: get rid of her."


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