Chapter 2

When Kinrou returned to his room, he found Kishandren and Aldiara holding up clothes and then tossing them onto one of the three growing piles on the bed. One of the piles seemed to be made up of fancy, high quality clothes. The smallest pile was rough clothing. It was the sort of thing a proper princess would never be caught wearing. It was the kind of clothing she had worn the day they’d met the first time. He knew it was what she preferred to wear out of all the things in her wardrobe. The pile in between was a mixture of the two. It had nothing overly fancy or elaborate as near as he could tell, but it was of decent quality. The clothes were well made and durable. To Kinrou, this meant travelling clothes.

“I see you’re already hard at work packing,” he observed.

“I thought it would be best,” Kishandren said without looking away from her task. “Aldiara stopped by for a visit not long after I started.”

Kinrou glanced from the piles of clothing to the two sisters. “I’m impressed you got this much done.”

“Most of what Father brought for her are unsuitable for a journey such as this,” Aldiara said, holding up something made of black silk and silver ornaments. For the life of him, he couldn’t imagine how it would be worn.

Kishandren made a sour face at it. “It’s quite cathartic to sort these out. I haven’t had the chance since coming to Karath. This is as good an opportunity as any.”

“Are you certain you want to go?” Aldiara asked, tossing the black silk onto the first pile.

“I am.” Kishandren nodded. “Don’t worry, I’ll make sure I’m back before your coronation.”

“That’s not what I’m worried about. When you leave, I’ll be alone. Sahiren has been so busy these days that I’ve had no one but you to talk to. My personal guards don’t seem comfortable with the idea of having a personal conversation with me.”

“You haven’t made many friends, have you?” Kinrou asked.

Aldiara shook her head sadly, her long blond hair swaying from side to side. “I understand why most of the nobles and Imperial advisors don’t much care for me. I didn’t do what I did to earn their favour. I worry about the ones willing to speak with me. It’s difficult to say whether they’re interested in me or simply currying favour with their prince.”

“Talk to Chounen,” Kinrou suggested. “She’s a noble and a woman, but is otherwise decent. She might be able to help you adjust to Telvanite society. If nothing else, you could play with Toef.”

“I’d not thought about Chounen,” Aldiara mused.

“To be honest, any of the Dragon Warriors would do,” Kishandren advised. “I found Nahiro to be easy to get along with. My conversations with him made my journey with them much easier. He makes an excellent confidant.”

“He does,” Kinrou confirmed. “He’s not much for talking, but he’s a good listener. When he has something to say, it’s something good.”

“I appreciate your advice. Perhaps I will seek them out when I have a spare moment.” Aldiara sighed. “Sahiren isn’t the only one with a busy schedule.”

“What’s been keeping you busy?” Kinrou asked.

“Shinjaloye’s advisors have taken it into their heads to educate me on Telvan’s laws, history, and customs. The laws are fairly similar to Shanshiire’s, so that isn’t difficult. It’s important to know as I will one day be Empress, ruling at Sahiren’s side, but a part of their education involves teaching me to dress and behave like one of their own nobly born ladies.”

Kishandren snorted in disgust. “The only thing I hate more than Kasheran high fashion is the Telvanite concept of dresses. I’d never been more uncomfortable in my life!”

Aldiara sighed again. “I’m glad it’s not just me.”

“It’s not,” said Kinrou. “Even Chounen refuses to wear what society says is proper for someone of her birth.”

“My advice is to ignore them,” Kishandren told her.

“What?”

“You’re a member of the Imperial house of Shanshiire. Be proud of your heritage. Shake up these overly stuffy Telvanite nobles. Shock them. Be yourself, Aldiara. True, it may alienate some, but I think the people will respect you all the more for it. You’ll likely have to put on some of those horrid dresses from time to time, but don’t let them tell you what to wear outside of that.”

“That’s sound advice. I’ll need to give it some thought, though.”

“While you’re at it, convince Sahiren that you need a shrine to Kal Berash. It doesn’t need to be anything large or elaborate, but you still need one.”

“Why?” Kinrou asked.

“When your brother married Ishalaad, he had a small shrine to Kal Valorn built for her out of respect for their people’s beliefs. She also often dresses in the Jiinalese style. Our nobility was scandalized for many years. The birth of our nephew mollified them somewhat.”

“So, dress how I please and provide Sahiren with an heir. This is your advice?” Aldiara asked, giving Kishandren a puzzled look.

“Yes. Trust me, you’ll be much happier.”

“Plus, I don’t think the bit about an heir is going to be a problem,” Kinrou teased. “I’ve seen how Sahiren looks at you.”

Had Aldiara’s skin been a paler shade, her embarrassment would have been far more visible. Kishandren noticed, but Kinrou wasn’t familiar enough with Kasheran people to pick up on the subtle change to her colouration.

“Stop it, Kinrou, you’re embarrassing her,” Kishandren scolded. “If you aren’t careful, she’ll start asking us if children will happen anytime soon.”

Kinrou paled and shook his head. “I’m still adjusting to having a wife!”

“So, don’t tease her.”

“It’s ok, Kisha,” Aldiara assured her, regaining her composure. “He isn’t wrong. I’ve seen it, too. I know he still wishes I was you, but he seems to be quite fond of me.”

“I think I can take care of the rest of this if you’d like to go,” Kishandren told her. “I shouldn’t pack too much, anyway.”

Aldiara looked at her elder sister, exasperated. “I suppose it’s a waste of time to remind you of your rights as an Imperial princess and your duty to our family.”

“There is no sense in bringing things I either can’t or won’t wear and bog us down with unnecessary weight; however, I won’t take anything that would cause people to think poorly of our family. I’ve told you this already.”

“If you intend to do this, then I need to know you’ll be alright.”

“If she were anyone else, I’d tell you I’d take good care of her, but I’m quite sure she can take care of herself,” Kinrou said.

“If she was anyone else, you wouldn’t have married her,” Aldiara commented. There was a slight smile on her lips as she left the room.

“You’re almost done packing?” Kinrou asked.

“I think so. I just need to put it in my pack.”

“I’ve seen to our supplies,” he continued. “There’s only so much food we can carry ourselves, so most of that is money instead. Our horses are being prepared and they have found a pack horse for us to use. Mienna said she’ll talk to Shinjaloye for us. Rikkala said she would talk to someone she knows in Zalityu to help make this easier.”

Kishandren frowned, pausing in her search for a pack. “Who’s Rikkala, exactly?”

“I don’t know how much I can tell you about her without breaking some rules, but I can tell you she’s important in the Chant.”

“She sounds like Balindren, one of my father’s advisors. I got the impression that she was part of the Chant of Metal, but I’ve never once seen her wear the robes.”

“Hmm. That name sounds familiar from somewhere?” He shook his head. “Then again, a lot of Kasheran names sound similar, so it could just be my mind playing tricks.”

“It could be,” Kishandren agreed. “It helps, I have a similar problem with Telvanite names.”

“My name is apparently Zalite, so no worries there.”

“How do you know that?”

“Someone told me that not long after I became a Dragon Warrior. I certainly look Zalite so that fits,” he said, tugging on his red hair.

“I can’t imagine not knowing who you are or where you come from.”

He shrugged. “It’s not something I worried about growing up. I had Jiken and his mother after all.”

“Part of you still craves family, though,” Kishandren insisted. “The Sky Lords wouldn’t have been able to use that knowledge as an incentive otherwise.”

“I suppose, though to be honest, I think I’m more curious why Leshmiir trying to force Aldiara into that marriage was such a huge crisis. It seems like such a small thing in the long run.”

“Most world changing events look that way at first. If the Sky Lords feared it, then we should take that seriously.”

“I wasn’t suggesting we do otherwise, but I want to know what would have happened if we hadn’t gotten her out of there in time.”

“I admit I’d like to know that as well, but I’m also curious why the Fire Lord is sending you to Zalityu rather than simply telling you what you want to know.”

“I’m sure he has his reasons. Personally, I’m hoping it’s because he’s sending me to meet my parents, or even someone who knows them.”

“I hope that at least one of them is still alive,” Kishandren said.

“Me, too.”

“You should pack some clothes,” she advised, changing the subject.

“That won’t take long. I’ve got simpler needs than you do.” Eyeing the piles of clothes, he added, “And less clothing to worry about.”
Chapter 3