Writings: The Lost Last Princess of Ravelin (Part 5)

Previously posted on my Patreon.


"Wyrus says we'll be in Ravelin tomorrow," Kyne declared as they eased onto the camping cot next to her. "We're making good time, all things considered." Meirin stared at the tent canvas stretched above them, not answering them and feeling like an ass for it. But 'all things considered' was a nice euphemism for the fact that Meirin's leg had slowed the army's pace to a crawl, and was a quite literal sore spot with her.

On some parts of their journey this was fine. The group needed to move slowly through populated areas in order to pick up dissidents for the cause. Many country folk living along the boundaries between Ravelin and her neighbors had fled during the coup when Meirin was a baby. To her surprise, the families they met along the circuitous route which Wyrus had set were raring to carry on the fight again. Intervening years which seemed like ancient history to Meirin had not soothed their complaints at being driven from lands which had been seized as spoils by the victors. She met more farmers than she could count, made impassioned speeches over home-cooked dinners, and watched with mixed feelings as her rebel army grew with every step of the long march.

Yet Meirin's leg had proved a liability by slowing the entire group down to a crawl in uninhabited areas they needed to traverse quickly. The army was not equipped with horses, and the only beasts available in this country were poor farm stock unaccustomed to long marches over unfamiliar back roads. With no mount to ride, Meirin was left to limp alongside the troops as she struggled to match their pace. Ereth carried her in his arms when he could, arguing that a tumble on treacherous terrain would slow them down far worse, but Wyrus would not allow the barbarian elf to carry Meirin more than absolutely necessary. It was crucial, he argued, that the princess not be seen as weak. So Meirin grit her teeth, tightened her leg brace, and stared into the middle distance as she tried not to notice how much pain accompanied each step.

"May I?" Kyne's hands hovered over the laces at her waist, poised to help ease her trousers off so they could apply medicinal salve to her leg. Turning her head away to face the tent wall, she nodded; Meirin didn't want to be looked at, not while the day's agony still washed over her.

"Kyne? Do you think I'm weak?"

The question would have met loud objections from Ereth, who was always ready to enumerate the many missions she'd been on with them and all the times she'd saved their lives. Sometimes she needed that answer. Now she closed her eyes and waited for Kyne to speak, knowing the orcish cleric never held back the truth from her, even when it hurt.

"I'm not sure I know the meaning of the word," Kyne said, their voice soft as they worked cooling cream into the angry red inflammation below her knee. "If you mean 'can you walk the Ravelin border without considerable pain' then, no. Demonstrably you cannot." Even with her eyes closed, she could hear the gentle smile in their voice. "But what wizard needs to? A party does not recruit a wizard because of their upper-body strength or long-distance running skills. And when it comes to wizardry, you are far from weak."

"And when it comes to princessing?"

Kyne chuckled in the closeness of the tent. "I imagine your majesty will be able to afford horses and drivers. And if not, we'll find you a nice levitation spell for you to learn. All this walking is temporary, beloved. You're allowed to be weak at a handful of things. No one expects you to be perfect--except yourself."

"Wyrus does," she countered, opening her eyes to look at them. "Wyrus wants me to be an eight-foot tall giantess with an axe to rival Ereth's and the ability to march twenty leagues without breaking a sweat."

"If you were all those things, you wouldn't be you," Kyne pointed out, putting their salves in their medicine bag and stretching out beside her on the bedroll. "And you wouldn't be a lost princess left at an orphanage because of a birth imperfection." Their warm eyes sought hers, holding her gaze with a gentle question.

She knew the question because it was the one she'd been asking herself over the past few days since their first encounter with Wyrus: Did she actually want this job, this princess role offered to her? What she lacked was an answer, the pieces of the equation tumbling forever about her head without resolution.

"If we pull this off, we'll never have to worry about money again," she murmured, curling closer to Kyne. "We won't go hungry. We'll have warm lodgings in winter. We won't have to budget for new clothes, new shoes. I'll be able to study my magic, and you and Ereth will be able to do, well, whatever you want. He can be my bodyguard and you can be my personal chaplain, or we can adventure in style. There' must be dragons and liches that need killing in Ravelin. Who says a wizard-queen can't get her hands dirty?"

Kyne wrapped an arm around her as she snuggled close. "You grew up in an orphanage with an uncertain future. You've had to scrimp and save and steal your whole life, just to get by. It's reasonable to look at this as the ultimate prize: security, safety, and community all in one package. And you'd be a good queen, Meirin. You're smart, with an intelligence tempered by compassion. You've seen poverty and you'd work to take care of those in need. Everything we've heard on the road is that this Talatas who usurped the king and queen rose to power promising to care for the poor, then promptly broke his promises to them. You wouldn't."

"I wouldn't," she agreed, her voice soft in the privacy of the tent. "But... I wouldn't be free anymore."

They nodded again, their eyes understanding. "Queens are a special kind of prisoner. We'd be by your side, but it wouldn't be the same as it was before. You'd be constrained in how you dressed and behaved, in who you met with and what you'd be allowed to say to them. There would be limits."

Meirin sighed and closed her eyes, tucking her head under their chin. It was getting dark in the tent, the last rays of the orange sunset fading behind the canvas walls. Soon Ereth would slip into the tent and climb into the cot with them, warming Meirin's back with his steady heat. Sweet dependable Ereth, who loved her and loved her leg. He had found friends among the soldiers, bonding with them over shared worship of the princess. The Ravelins wished to learn more about the mysterious girl who would be queen, and Ereth regaled them with stories. His shyness fell away when he spoke proudly of Meirin's magic, her bravery, and her cleverness which had gotten them out of a dozen deadly scrapes whilst adventuring together. Of the three of them, he was the happiest at the moment, pleased to find company with people who viewed Meirin as someone good and whole and worthwhile, rather than the haughty nobles who saw only her disability and embarrassed circumstances.

She thought of those nobles only distantly now, though it had been just a few weeks ago when their last client gawked at her unsightly leg. 'There would be limits,' Kyne had said, on what she could say and do as a queen, but hadn't there always been limits on her? She couldn't tell a client to fornicate himself when he treated her like a freak; even if they'd been financially secure enough to turn down paying work, she couldn't risk being shunned by other nobles out of class solidarity. As an orphan and then as an exiled princess, she'd been polite in the face of constant rudeness. At least as queen, she might have a few more options other than simpering fake gratitude.

This was the disconnect which Ereth had never fully understood. She wasn't disabled in the sense that she couldn't manage on her own, given enough time and a few assistive devices like her brace and cane. It was society that demanded she fill a certain role, behave a certain way, and acquiesce with a smile to prodding. As long as her leg looked and performed the way that it did, society would demand that of her whether she was an orphan or a wizard or a queen. At least, as a queen, she could make demands back. She could improve the quality of her life--and others--and that wasn't nothing. Maybe it was enough.


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