Romantic Alliance

jjinxx

Is your "nom" Fai-approved?
Taew as Kritsanan Kaewburisai
- Royal family of the South; niece to the king

Mario as Atsawin Kongsangchai
- Crown Prince of the North

Kim as Ratana
- Sister to Nan

Ken P as Thee
- Cousin to Nan

James J. as Ada
- Crown Prince of the South

(feel free put a face the characters according to your preference)


Chapter 1

The king lay dying in his tall tower, surrounded by healers—who were not living up to their titles at the moment-- his councilors, the queen, and his son.

Nan’s father, Lord Rachakrit, brother to the king, was also ill, though he hadn’t been convinced he needed bed rest until he’d collapsed in his study room. His wife and one of his children anxiously watched over him, while she was riding the city instead of joining the vigil. As much as she loved her father, Nan knew she could do nothing for him at the moment and the heavens knew how much the city was in need of repair.

The past year had brought a disease to the south; many highborns had suffered, and many more peasants, which meant that food continued to grow scarce without the work forces out sowing the lands. As Nan oversaw members of the City Guard distributing coin to the small folk, she couldn’t help feeling it was all for naught. What would those spare coins buy when food prices had risen? Things were not so bad for those such as herself who were able to afford everyday comforts but the poor would never survive. And there were so many of them, so many peasants arriving in the gates of the capitol, seeking refuge. She did not know if the royal stores would be able to feed all of them if the people continued to trickle in. The matter grew direr with the looming ill health of the king.

“My lady, the rations have been distributed and the coin too.”

She was lucky to be the daughter of the lord who oversaw coin and trade, elsewise they would not have allowed her to participate in the city’s matters. She nodded to the captain of the City Guard, Captain Winai, and turned her horse to ride back inside the Royal Castle. Above the gate flapped a blue flag with a silver dove at its center, the royal symbol of House Kaewburisai.

While the king’s health failed, the decisions of the realm were handed over to the next eldest brother, Lord Somchai. Nan wished she could say that her Uncle Somchai was effective in these trying times; however, he seemed to have found other matters more pressing than the starving citizens. She was not allowed to sit in on his councils though, so she did not know if he was brewing up trouble. She supposed she should be thankful he had at least sent a portion of their army to help the southern folk.

Being blood of royalty, her family had been invited by the king and queen to live at court for the past six months, during which they were not supposed to have to worry about the threat of disease, but that claim had obviously been disproved. Her father had set to helping the king increase commerce and trade to Krungthep, until he fell ill himself.

Reaching the stables, Nan dismounted and handed the reins over to a stable boy. She did not bother changing out of her riding breeches before entering her parents’ apartments.

“How is he?” she inquired of her cousin, Ada, crown prince.

He shook his head, jaw covered with stubble and eyes heavy with want of sleep. “No change. Where have you been?”

“Seeing to the city’s need.”

“You know you do not have to be out there.”

“The people need their leaders. They inquire of their king. Am I to let some servant answer their questions and hide away as if they do not matter? As if their concern is meaningless?”

He eyed her wearily but sternly. “I am not hiding.”
“I didn’t accuse you of it. I know you have your hands full sitting in court and dealing with the demands of the lords. It’s just that someone has to show our people that we are aware of their pain and provide moral support.”

“I never knew you to be so openly sentimental.”

“This has nothing to do with sentiment. This is duty.” She strode past him into her father’s chamber.

Lady Rutsee sat on one side of the bed, her eldest daughter Ratana guarded the other side. Healers in heavy grey robes came and went tending to the limp form on the bed.

Father, Nan’s heart clenched at once. Had he deteriorated so much so soon? Where once her bear of a father had been all muscle and bulk, the sick fellow on the bed was gaunt and grey. She had not so much as taken a step towards them when the doors opened once more and a squire entered.

He announced, “Lord Somchai commands the presence of Lady Rutsee, Prince Ada, and his nieces at once.”

Nan noticed a shadow pass over her cousin’s face. He was as annoyed as she was that their uncle had dared command Ada. Ada’s father was not yet dead and when he was, Ada would take his place, and it was not for a king to obey others’ commands. But Ada simply nodded and held out his arm for his aunt. The four proceeded to the council room, a large circular hall that gleamed like gold, with high windows overlooking the city on one side and distant forests on the other. Her youngest uncle, Lord Kamon, along with Queen Sara were already present, looking drained and stressed.

When all were seated, Ada asked, “For what matter have you called us here uncle?”

Somchai peered at all of them in the face. Nan could not help tensing at the ominous way the other councilors sat with eyes cast toward her uncle.

“As you all well know, the city is facing desperate times. The disease is retreating but at a slow pace, the crops are dying without workers to tend to them and the people are restless. To make matters worse, our king is fading away in his rooms, leaving no one to control the city.”

“My nephew is prepared for whatever might come,” Lady Rutsee spoke in her clear tone, soft yet reaching every corner of the room. No one found it strange that she should speak up for Ada in place of Queen Sara. The queen had always been too gentle of heart and quiet of voice to intrude on anyone, though it was in her power to do so. “As prince and heir, he will do what it takes to restore the realm and its people to order.”

“Of course, my lady,” Somchai graciously inclined his head, but his cold smile lingered. “However, as a trusted advisor to my brother, the current king, in his absence I have made many grave decisions which I believe are all in the realm’s best interest.”

Rutsee replied, “And do inform us of these decisions at once.”

His smile curved into a smirk. “Right now, a third of our men are marching north to claim the northern lands.”

Ada’s hands curled in a fist. “What have you done?”

“Nothing except what will return our beautiful kingdom to its former glory, along with spreading our command beyond our lands into the old territories of the north.”

“Tell me this is some cruel joke of yours,” Rutsee demanded. There was a sharpness that would make many men cower. “You are not foolish enough to think we can defeat the forces of the North.”

“Ah, but are you forgetting that we are just as powerful, and followed by just as many old houses here, if not more, as the northern realm? I have sent another third of our forces to request our followers’ strength and prepare for war.”

“This is madness!” Ada pushed up from his seat. “Have you lost your mind?! You told my mother that you were sending men forth to find healers for my father and uncle, and to aid the peasants in the south. Yet now you confess to lying and send two thirds of our army away to war without notice? Might I remind you that my father is king and I am your prince?” In his fury, he reminded Nan so much of King Kraimon, and her own father, his deep voice, his glittering eyes. She thought he would indeed need to grow into a king soon, in order to amend their uncle’s mistakes.

“Your Highness, I assure you, it was completely for your benefit that I did what I did. Think about it,” Somchai circled over to one of the windows. “Our population dwindles, and now we are running low on resources. We must find more strength and to do that we must bring the northmen into our command. Their lands that are ripe with fruit will fill our stores once more and their people shall replace the loyal men we lost to disease.” He turned to them with eyes of triumph. “Tomorrow, we shall ring the bells of war, and the people will cheer for this noble cause.”

The people will weep for their loved ones, who will perish in a war they did not ask for. Nan could barely restrain her disgust for her uncle.

Lord Kamon stood and their attention diverted to him. “Your Grace, when I heard what Lord Somchai planned, I tried to stop him. Unfortunately, I arrived only yesterday and was not in time to prevent this foolishness. I request that you allow me to ride north and order, in your name, that the planned attack be stopped at once.”

Queen Sara lifted her chin, seeming to be revitalized by this new threat. “Do so. Ride at first light tomorrow.”

“It is too late,” Somchai declared. He linked his fingers together in front of him, appearing almost pure as The Monk. “By now, the northmen closest to the border will have met our army. No doubt, their savage king will hear in no time.” He looked so mad in his triumph that Nan’s hand itched to strike some sense into the man. She could not believe that simply due to his being the elder of her two uncles, and therefore, named the King’s First Councilor, everyone would have to endure the consequences of his grievous actions.

Nan glanced across the table to her elder sister. Ratana’s cool expression hid her displeasure, and Ada still towered gloweringly. Too bad Ada was not going to be able to fix this mess anytime soon.

The next morning, the bells of war rang across the city, each echo bringing death closer and closer.


“My lady, Lady Rutsee requests your presence for the evening meal.”

Nan looked up through sweaty locks of hair plastered to her forehead. She had been practicing with her sword for the better part of the morning and afternoon, not even taking a break for the midday meal. It was the same as the day before and the one before that. She knew she could not avoid her mother this time. The courses were probably already being served, late as it was.

“Tell her I will be there shortly.” Nan handed her blade over to the sword-master, shedding the light breastplate. She didn’t like wearing armor while practicing, as it hindered her movement but the sword-master had convinced her it would be beneficial to get used to the weight and build strength.

On her way back inside, she shook out her long mane and bound it back with a strip of cloth, not even bothering to bathe before entering the small hall where the royal family usually dined, because being late would irritate her mother as much as being dirty.

“Nan,” Ratana said when she came into view, her gentle voice clipped with disapproval at the state that Nan was in. She ambled to the table, sweeping down to mark a quick kiss on her sister’s temple before seating herself.

From the time Nan was born and able to walk and talk, she excelled at the elegant manners of a lady. Yet, she had defied all the lessons and expectations of a royal person, of being the quiet and pretty face that other highborn women could embody. She practiced minimally at sewing, singing and other feminine pursuits which Ratana enjoyed. Nan didn’t have the patience to sip tea with other nobility. She much preferred being outdoors.

Why get stabbed with needles while working on a piece of embroidery when Nan could be out riding with her uncle, or practicing the sword, or hunting with her cousin. More often than not, she was ‘borrowing’ and never returning Ada’s breeches that served her so much more functionally in her hobbies than the heavy or multilayered or silk gowns that her mother and sister donned regularly. Doubtless, her mother was displeased with her preferences, and was determined to rid Nan of her ‘unhealthy’ habits, but the better a rider she grew to be and the more opponents she struck down with her sword in the yard, the more her father indulged her--buying Nan her first steed, taking her on hunting parties, gifting her with a real steel sword. Her Uncle Kamon laughed on various occasions that they were right to have named her after her father.

Ratana favored their mothers’ natural caramel skin that gleamed with sunlight, silky hair and light-as-honey eyes, just as Ada and King Kraimon and many southerners did. Nan took after her father, fair complexion under her tan, wavy curls brushing her back, and bearing the dark earthy eyes of House Kaewburisai. Ratana was a reputed beauty in the south, with all curvy hips and a generous bosom, but Nan was less shapely, and leaned on the short side. Over the years, she had learned to not let her height be a disadvantage while sparring.

“I told you I wanted you in the temple with us.” Rutsee eyed her daughter over her wine cup.

“I told you I was not going to be there.”

“There is a war raging within a league this very city. The least you could do is pray with us for the safety of your brother and uncles, and for peace.”

“Yes, and the most I can do is prepare myself for battle should our brave men fail to keep you and my dear sister safe.” She met her mother’s gaze unflinching as she bit into a slice of glazed steak.

“Don’t be silly. Your place is beside us and The Monk, praying in these trying times. I will not have you killed over your childish desire to be a heroine.”

“The Monk is one way of speaking to gods, but were we not taught that gods hear us wherever we are?”

Rutsee placed her hands in her lap, sitting regally in her chair. Even at the age of fifty, her beauty had not waned, her eyes still danced with liveliness and right now, they were fixed with disapproval upon Nan. “I will say it one more time, Kritsanan. You will no longer ride through the city. The peasants can take care of themselves and I do not need you catching the disease. You will not spend any more time in the yards playing with your sword.” Rutsee quirked one brow high, observing her daughter leaning back in her chair with one leg resting on the other, manlike, with her dirt-stained breeches and wrinkled tunic. “And if you wish to appear before the people, you will look like a proper lady for once, so they will have no need to question the authority of the royal family.”

“Nan,” Ratana urged her quietly. Nan had lifted her soup bowl to her lips instead of using a spoon and her sister was tugging on her elbow. Sighing with a roll of her eyes, she set the bowl down.

“What the people need to see is that we are still paying attention to their needs, therefore, I will be riding the city. I will not discontinue my sword practice, or archery, and I will not be doing these in a gown, therefore, mother, I regret that we will have to disagree.”

For a moment, the queen’s eyes flared at this display of disobedience. Rutsee swiftly rose to her feet, exiting the dining hall, maids trailing after her.

Ratana turned her large eyes on Nan, lips pressed in delicate frustration. “Can’t you do just one thing mother orders? You are truly testing her and goodness knows she is stressed out enough.”

“I am not the one bringing up pointless issues when the real problem lies outside our gates. If mother thinks me dressing up will win this war, she should pray harder.” She slurped her soup before mixing up her bowl of rice with the remaining steak and peppers, and spooning it to her mouth. A day of practice had left her famished.

Ratana sighed resignedly, watching her sister gorge herself. “You don’t even try to act properly. Honestly, sometimes I think you are doing this on purpose and I would like to know what mother has done to deserve such willfulness from you.”

“Funny, that is the same question I ask when mother scours me before a feast and squeezes me into silk pieces that only a jester should be allowed to wear and only so he can trip over his cartwheels.” Nan saw that her sister was not amused and reminded herself that Ratana loved dressing up in stylish gowns. At the moment, she wore a light yellow satin dress that brought out the gold flecks in her eyes, elaborate beading shining on the front, sleeves without a single wrinkle.

Nan washed down her food with some fruity water. “Look, we both know what is coming. I am doing all I can to prevent further harm falling on the city, but nothing will bring us back to before Uncle Somchai made this disgusting mess. Now is not the time for mother to be making a lady out of me.”

Ratana’s beautiful face fell, lined with worry, but then she looked up with a small smile. “Father’s breathing is getting stronger. And his skin is not as hot as it was last night.”

“Truly?” Nan pushed back from her chair and raced out of the hall, leaping up the stairs two at a time without caution. She was breathless by the time she reached her parents’ chambers and looked upon her father.

She recalled the tales that men and women recited all over the kingdom, of her father’s valiant battles, his many victories, the songs of his bravery, power, and honor that were sung at feasts and festivals. She wanted her father back, she wanted the lord of songs to return and put everything right.

She placed a hand on his brow. His eyes fluttered at the touch but remained closed. “Father,” she breathed, heart climbing up her throat to fill her eyes with tears.

Her father had loved watching her practice at her sword and boasted proudly the day she first made a squire yield beneath the point of her blade. Her mother had never approved of her father encouraging her staying outdoors so much, but he had understood Nan better than anyone and knew what she needed in order to love life. “Stay strong. Stay with us, with me. Be my strength so that I may be theirs.”

“Nan…” her father’s weak voice rattled.

Nan sat and clutched his large hand. “Father,” she gasped when she found his eyes looking back at her, shining very much with life.

____ End chapter


Why, asianfuse, why does your formatting have to be messed up???

In light of RRHLT's end, I'm having OhTaew withdrawal. :(
Funny that I'm putting the two of them in a medieval theme after they were in a Japanese theme. Heh. I know it's not everyone's cup of tea. Much of the medieval setting and culture in this fanfic is inspired by Game of Thrones but I'm not going to be anywhere near as brutal or mythical as the actual series, so no worries there.

jjinxx
 
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jjinxx

Is your "nom" Fai-approved?
Chapter 2


“War,” Rachakrit repeated, ignoring the goblet of medicine and bowl of
broth set in front of him.

“Kamon is leading the vanguard against the North’s attack. Ada has gone
to defend our western lands.” Rutsee was perched on the edge of the bed, her
face grim.

“Bring me that bastard Somchai. He presumes to start a war under our
name, so I will have him flayed and tossed across the border as a peace
offering. Bring him to me!” Rachakrit lurched forward, breath heaving,
shoulders trembling with rage. Everyone had always agreed that when tempered
with, Rachakrit’s rage could measure up to the stormy sea, which was befitting
as he was Lord of Sattahip, the center of the trading ports in the south,
overlooking that sea that could be both calm and feral.

The High Healer held him back against the pillows. “Please, my lord.
You must not exert yourself.”

“Would you call axing my brother’s head off his shoulder exerting
myself?”

“I’m afraid that would fall under the category, my lord.”

Rachakrit shook off the Healer’s and Rutsee’s hands, eyes shut in
agony. “Five battles lost over three months and our men dying just outside the
city.”

“The capitol remains stable, my lord,” Rutsee soothed, “Prince Ada will
return with news of the war’s end. I have faith in him.”

“Then you’re as wretched as Somchai. Chiengmai! They will not stand
this insult. When we are done, the lands of Praya will be soaked with blood and
every man, woman, and child will curse the name of my brother, their king.” He
buried a hand in his thick hair. “Leave me, all of you.”

Rutsee hesitated, but saw her husband would not be placated at the
moment. As the others filed from the chamber, Nan was the last one, but instead
of following, she shut the door closed when they were gone.

“And why are you still here?” Rachakrit asked.

“I assumed you meant everyone except me.” Her father’s chuckle turned
breathless, coughing. “Here.”

“Ah, put that pisspot away,” he growled, seeing her bring him the
medicine.

This pisspot is going to
make you better.”He sent her a sullen look full of doubt. She sat herself next
to him, folding her legs. “It’s true. It’ll fix you, and you’ll grow strong
again, strong enough to leap over our city walls, charge into the battle and
send all the northmen and Uncle Somchai across the border.”

Grudgingly, he accepted the cup and threw back his head to gulp all in
one. Wiping his mouth in disgust, he threw the cup aside, “Pisspot, what’d I
tell you.”

Smirking, she gave him his broth.

“Girlie,” as was his affectionate name for her, but his eyes were
demandingly stern, “promise me no matter how close the fighting comes, you
won’t go out there.”

“Father, you know I hate disappointing you.” That is why she couldn’t
make that promise. She was his daughter after all, stubborn to the end. He
wouldn’t expect anything less from her. She leaned over and pressed a kiss to
his short scratchy beard.



------
She listened outside the doors as her father raged and roared his
wrath, breaking things against the walls, a short scuffle that was broken
quickly, more angry roaring—anybody would think Lord Rachakrit was completely
restored to health again. After a long while, Lord Somchai stormed out.

“---out! Go! Don’t show your face in front of me again you useless
piece of –“ Rachakrit was screaming.

When she went in, her mother was calming him back into bed and he
looked like he’d spent half his strength.

“We’re all going to die because of that ass!”

“Father, please,” Ratana pleaded for him to hold his tongue, and he
gruffly sat back in the bed, eyes hard with ire while she adjusted the pillows
and called for more warm water. And there was the difference between her and Nan.
Nan would have joined in on her father’s ranting after trying to settle him
down. Perhaps her sister had always been the wiser of the two, even if she did
believe in fairy tales and heroes and the god’s mercy. Nan had long found that
putting faith in anything except yourself was foolishness.


------
The northmen were returning to camp from yet another battle, this time
hard-won, but successfully driving the southerners back.

Ser Rawee was a battle-worn knight, who had fought his fair share in
war. He was a champion in the north and well-known throughout both kingdoms,
but just as he always wondered in the past after each day of fighting, he
wondered again tonight if this war would be his last; if bloodlust and war
drums would finally send him to the honorable death that all boys dreamed of,
growing up. There was no point ignoring the high possibility that tomorrow’s
fight or the next would draw him his last breath. But he would not go down
without fulfilling his duty to protect his kingdom, his beloved Chiengmai.

After having his most recent wounds tended to, he joined his king in
the royal pavilion set up in the middle of camp. “Your Grace, I predict we
should be able to take the castle on the morrow. Our cavalry shall lead and the
infantry can swarm their east and west gates.”

The king was a fierce man to behold. No one could doubt he had been
born for war. He was tall and dark, hair laced with shocking silver but if it
spoke of his age, it did nothing to deter his ferocity. Half his face wore a
jagged scar from brow to a jutting jaw that was obvious beneath a cropped black
beard; his shoulders were massively broad, stretched beneath a clean black
surcoat. He was often sung of across the lands as a god of war or a god of
death—Rawee thought the two were really one.

“Lord Wayu will have reached our camp by dawn. With his additional war
horses and men, we will ride forth and put an end to this treacherous war.”

Rawee nodded. For the rest of the evening, his king went over war
tactic and instructions for tomorrows attack.

“Your Grace. What will you do when we have defeated them?” There was no
longer any doubt that the north would win. The south’s forces had slowly
dwindled in the past year from disease and the common folk were not the type to
fight against trained warriors.

King Wattana’s eyes hardened. “We will have to teach them a lesson.”

“I think they’ve already been taught enough from us, father.”

Rawee’s eyes fell on the prince. While the discussion was going on,
Prince Atsawin had remained in the background, inspecting the various weapons
that hung on the rack by the wall. He did not dress like one would expect of a
prince. A roughspun tunic of grey was layered with a white doublet that
pictured a black stallion—the sigil of House Kongsangchai, and grey breeches,
along with well-worn boots. The only thing that contested to his royal persona
was his easy grace and build. With another year or two, Atsawin would be identical
to the king in height. He was a good enough mirror image to make all of Chiengmai
readily hail him as their future king. Barely eighteen, he was already
well-known for his honor, skill in warfare and his beauty—a shock of black hair,
close-cropped on either side, which perpetually fell upon his forehead when not
combed, eyes nearly as dark as his hair but which lit up when he smiled, and
that was often enough that many felt comfortable in his princely presence. He
was the ideal heir to the vast and free north lands.

“I will not let them get away with starting a war. Old King Kraimon
will rue the day he allowed his cursed brother to invade my realm.”

“Father, they have grown weak as they are. What more can you do to
them?”

“They attempted to take our lands and claim my people as slaves so I
will respond in kind.”

“You would lower yourself to act as foolish as them? They only attacked
because their leader was desperate. We do not need their lands, nor should we punish
them for following their lord’s orders by taking away their only way of making
a living.”

“Then what are you suggesting? That I let them off for this show of
dishonor?” Wattana ground his fist into the table before him. “Two hundred
years of peace gone to waste! If I don’t punish them my people will think I am
weak.”

“I doubt that defeating them in these past three moons, driving them
across the border, and tomorrow, taking their castle, will make you appear
weak. But to truly conquer the south, this war will have to go on for at least
a year. You know that some of the southern lords want no part in this war. But
if we invade them any further, they will fight
us twice as hard to protect their homes and we will all lose more men.”

“I cannot just pardon them for this treachery.” The king crossed his
arms in disagreement.

“Then demand justice from the man who was the true cause of this war.
King Kraimon’s First Councilor and brother, Lord Somchai. Show the south that
you have honor, that you do what needs to be done in defense of your kingdom
and will only hurt those who deserve to be hurt. They will fear you and respect
you.”

Wattana sat back in his chair, fingers linked and brooded on his son’s
advice. “I will demand Somchai to be brought to justice, yes. And I will bring
back hostages to hold the south to their word of peace, if they yield on the morrow.” He went on at length as a scribe
jotted down all of his peace conditions.

Rawee was grateful for the prince’s quick words. He admitted that as
much glory as war brought him, the years found him equally yearning for his
home and wife, and he knew the prince had done a great mercy for all of Wattana’s
men as well.


------
Their battering rams could be heard even deep within the castle where
they huddled upon seats that lined the Great Hall, hammering at the gate. It
was inevitable then what would happen next.

Lord Rachakrit had insisted that he ride to the outer wall to perform
his duties and direct the army in battle, going against Rutsee’s anguished
pleas. He was half the size he was before he fell ill and had only been able to
walk steadily three days ago.

A member of the City Guard entered the Great Hall where the highborn women
and children were holed up while the battle raged outside.

“Where is my father?” Nan demanded.

But he didn’t answer and instead informed Queen Sara, “Your Grace, they
have breached the walls.”

“Nan, no!” Her mother screamed but she was gone, gone out the doors
that the guard had forgotten to close. She was racing down the corridor, bursting
into the shield room where she fastened armor on. Heart pounding beneath the
metal pieces, the sword at her waist heavy with foreboding, her shield strapped
to her left arm, she passed through the broken gates.

Outside the Royal Castle, the streets were filled with the song of
steel and Death was plucking lives left and right, an image further darkened by
the black cloaks of northmen that seemed to outnumber the blue colors of the
City Guardmen.

With no hesitation, Nan unsheathed her sword and joined the massive
butchery around her. Her eyes landed on the black knights that fought as hard
and fast as the stallion dancing on their shields, her arm swinging at them;
slicing one’s arm here, stabbing another in the chest, parrying a deathly axe
blow, bringing up her shield to hold another sword at bay, driving her blade
through another’s neck and wrenching it out to shower herself in blood. On and
on, she pushed through the attackers, anyone eager enough to meet death fell to
her sword. The battlefield widened into the grounds beneath the two hills where
tournaments were usually held. Over and over, she lifted her sword. When it
grew heavier and her arm grew slower, she willed herself to numb away her
tiredness. Her father needed her to be strong now. Her uncle, the king, needed
her to protect the castle. Her mother and sister needed her to not give up.

She could feel a sharp pain in her shoulder where a brutal northman had
smashed her shield and swiped a deep cut into her flesh. But a daughter of Praya,
the oldest lands of summer, did not weep in front of enemies.

She had never trained long in armor and the weight of the protective
metal gave her extra work. Nan’s legs ached and her sword arm was begging for
respite, yet she continued, cutting down those who stood in her way, shedding
her own blood in return but not once daring to think when she might be Death’s
next victim. A warhammer caught her from behind, sending her head over heels to
the ground. Blood and dirt filled her mouth, yet she still managed to push
herself up. An arrow bounced off the curve of her armor, and an unbidden prayer
of thanks fell from her lips. Where was her sword? She looked around and
reached for the familiar leather hilt, gripping it with determined fingers.

She yelled, dodging arrows, clubs, lances; her blood pulsed with the
lust of battle. If she was going to die, she would die worthy of her father,
with a sword in hand.

She staggered when a dagger hissed straight through her armor, buried
deep in her shoulder. She barely ducked in time to avoid a club that was aimed
at her face, though it caught her helm, ripping it from her head, leaving her
feeling bare and unprotected.

She was so tired, but there were too many of them, there wasn’t any
time for rest.

Suddenly, a shield rammed into her chest, lifting her off her feet to
land hard on the body-strewn ground. Her foe was cut down by one of the king’s men.
Nan panted. Air seemed to resist in her lungs. She squeezed her eyes against
the pain. She noticed the black clouds above her that seemed so much to favor
the northerners’ side.

Somehow she managed to regain her footing. It was for naught though. A northerner
was coming at her on a great destrier—she could see him vividly, and he looked
like a black giant, a shadow, a messenger of death itself. And before she could
even accept her fate, she was off her feet once more, being carried across the
battle field.

------
 
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fun

YGfamily
It is difficult to read. Is the format messed up when logged into a laptop or computer? Right now Im on my mobile phone.

Anyway I really like period setting whether in books, films or dramas. Nan and Prince Atsawin seems like they will see eye to eye and end the war. I wonder why the Prince would target Nan out of all the people he can pick on the battlefield. Did he think.she was the general? Well Im just making an assumption that the mysterious man who swept her off her feet on the battlefield is the Prince

Looking forward to your next update.
 

jjinxx

Is your "nom" Fai-approved?
The format is messed up on this particular thread for some reason :/
 
Chapter 3

 
 

 
King Wattana rode his horse through the throne room, followed in by his
knights and men, who separated to either side to stand in front of the
southerners who remained at court. The war was over.

 
King Kraimon, feeble and grey with illness, was yet wise enough to see
there was nothing to do but forfeit. With as much dignity as a monarch could,
whilst Ada and Lord Kamon supported him on either side, Kraimon faced Wattana
and declared the castle yielded.

 
 

 
The satin coverlet rustled, falling aside, and coolness settled over Nan’s
hot body. Her left shoulder throbbed as she shifted away from the light of the
sun. Sitting up was a struggle of breath as her stiff limb refused to
cooperate. Only after properly reclining against the cushions and downing a cup
of water which had stood at the bedside table, did Nan kick off the coverlet,
groaning when she placed weight on her feet. Making her way to the window, she
shed the robe covering her so she was in her thin night gown that gave more
freedom for movement. Squinting against sunlight, she studied the city below
her. This morning, Krungthep’s castle appeared to be alive with commotion, but
something was off. The color or something seemed different.

 
War, she reminded herself.
Suddenly, her stomach clenched impossibly tight. What day was it? Where was her
family?

 
Just as she whirled, about to sprint for the door, it opened.

 
 

 
Atsawin wasn’t sure how he found himself in the room of the young lady.
One moment he was discussing bringing all the northmen together for the journey
back home, and the next, he found a few spare minutes during which he aimlessly
walked through the castle, not really pausing to appreciate its gardens or the
beautiful red stonework. He supposed it was only right that he was concerned
for her health, seeing as he it had been he who took her off the battlefield.

 
Now they were face to face. The first thing she did was stoop to
retrieve her robe and cover herself. He had observed this passively but all of
a sudden, she threw the empty goblet at him.

 
“Watch it!” he called out.

 
“Who are you? What are you doing here?” She quickly took in his black
attire. “You’re…you’re one of them!” Nan very quickly tensed. What was he doing
here? Why was she here instead of in her own chambers? “Get out!”

 
She threw her weight at him but he did not so much as stumble, encircling
her with arms like steel, squeezing a yelp of pain from her. “You’re hurting
me!” she snarled, not having first considered the size of him.

 
“You shouldn’t have attacked me,” he brusquely replied, releasing her.

 
Nan bit down another moan, cradling her left arm.

 
“You’re not well.” His touch was gentle, but she shied away.

 
Who are you? What have you
done with my family?”

 
“You should be more concerned about yourself.”

 
Her frown twisted. “Do all northerners give so little thought to their
families?”

 
“If you care as much as your uncle Somchai does, I’m not sure your
family will be grateful.”

 
Fury lit her dark eyes. “Don’t you dare talk of royalty that way.”

 
“A prince should have daring, wouldn’t you agree?”

 
She blinked. “Prince?”

 
He swept a small bow. “At your service. I am Prince Atsawin of
Chiengmai, Kingdom of the North.”

 
Nan’s mouth hung open in awe, for the moment unable to comprehend the
meaning of having the northern prince in her presence, why he should be the
first one she sees after waking up, why he should be talking so casually to
her.

 
 And she was angry. She didn’t
know what was going on, what had happened to her loved ones, what would happen
to her, and she was injured. That was
the worst part, being weak in the face of an enemy.

 
“The war,” she gritted against trying to throw him out of her window,
“what happened?”

 
As if reminded of a small inconsequence earlier, the prince cocked his
head in thought. “Ah yes. King Kraimon, forfeited.”

 
Nan clenched her hands. “And?”

 
“Your family is safe. Aside from Lord Somchaikrit, that is. He was
captured and confined to the dungeons, guarded by our men.” As an afterthought,
he added, “He will have to be executed,” while watching her closely, as if
expecting her to break down in a puddle of tears. When she simply glared out
the window, he continued, “You were fighting.”

 
She glowered at him.

 
 “I saw you cut down many men. At
first, I sought to vanquish you, the mystery knight, so small yet so quick.”

 
“I’m not small,” she snapped in earnest. She was shorter than her
mother and sister.

 
He strode towards the window, and as if making a point, Prince Atsawin
glanced down as he passed her. Forcing
down a huff at the display he made of how much taller he was than her, Nan continued
to glare up at his silent smirk.

 
“And then you lost your helm.” He leaned against the stone, peering
with hooded eyes out into the courtyard, turned back to her, arms crossed
against a barrel chest. He smiled like the memory was a source of amusement.
“And I captured you.”

 
“You did not!” Even as she denied it, the nightmare of a black knight
running her down and snatching her off of the battlefield assaulted her mind.
He met her eyes, one brow quirked in challenge.

 
Refusing to yield, she turned on her heel and wrenched the door open,
determined to seek out her family. The guards outside the door tried to stop
her, but Prince Atsawin waved at them to let her go.

 
 

 
Nan confirmed what the prince has told her after seeing Ratana and
their mother in their chambers. The northerners really had taken the city, and
now they sat with her king, uncle, and father to create a peace treaty. She
would have thought her mother would be too relieved the war was done with to
scold her for rushing out to fight, but she was wrong.

 
“Mother, it’s useless now. Everything’s done,” Nan huffed, fighting to
remain still while her sister and a handmaiden changed the bandaging on her
shoulder and arm. She ached all over.

 
“You could have been killed!” Rutsee repeated, clearly irritated that Nan
was not more humbled by her near death experiences, “Did you even think about
me or your father or sister before hurling yourself at death?”

 
“It was because of you that I
was out there!” She had had enough. She was nearly seventeen in years, no longer
a child who couldn’t make decisions for herself.

 
“What do you think the King hires guards for, if not to protect his
family? What do you think knights are for?”

 
“Knights can die just as easily as anyone,” she retorted. Why couldn’t
her mother understand that she was trying to protect them?

 
“When your father gets here—“

 
“Yes, where is my father,
pray tell.” Nan hadn’t managed to get around her mother’s telling-off long
enough to inquire after Lord Rachakrit.

 
Rutsee’s lips thinned. “He is negotiating with the Northern King.”

 
“You mean discussing how to execute Uncle Somchai without bringing
shame to the family name?”

 
“Nan, you shouldn’t say things like that,” Ratana said, tying up the
bandage.

 
Nan scoffed, “He deserves whatever the northmen give him. He brought
this war and nearly got us all killed. You should be lecturing Uncle instead of
me, mother.”

 
At that, Rutsee seemed to lose patience, gathering skirts to return to
her own rooms.

 
From the side, Nan caught her sister’s exasperated gaze. “It’s the
truth.”

 
“Sometimes you should guard your tongue against the truth.”

 
“That’s stupid. If we can’t even accept the truth, then we’ll never
survive in this world.”

 
“We’re not all as strong as you, Nan,” Ratana stroked a lock of hair
from Nan’s forehead, and Nan listed her head against her sister’s palm. Her
sister had always been the gentlest person, always handled her with patience
and the maternal instinct that Nan thought she herself lacked. Whenever she
drove their mother to her wit’s end, Ratana was there to make peace between
them.

 
“I do not mean that I will like it. But what Uncle Somchai did was
wrong.”

 
“I know.” Ratana looked so much older then, so much like their mother,
so much poise holding up where others might have been overwhelmed. “I just hope
father, Uncle Kamon, and the king can get through it.”

 
Nan thought, if it was her sister who was going to be executed, no
matter what wrongs she might have committed, she would grieve deeply.

 
 

 
“Bring him in.”

 
The whole ordeal left a bad taste in Nan’s mouth. Her uncle Somchai,
the one responsible for all this war and bloodshed, who had been under the
northerners’ own guards, was now dead, but not by a formal execution. Some
commoner had snuck in, disguised as a guard, and set fire to the prison cells.
By the time the fire was put out, only a charred corpse remained of her uncle,
the late Lord Somchai.

 
They led in the culprit, a dirty and bald man nearing middle age, with
wild eyes and a confident walk.

 
When they questioned him, he didn’t hesitate. “I don’t regret it. Half
the realm wants him dead anyway; I figured I’d do them all a favor.”

 
“It was not your duty to judge him.”

 
“The gods already judged him. All that was needed was for someone to carry
out the cleansing, and you high lords were taking your sweet time,” the man
spat.

 
“You will be punished as befits your crime.”

 
“A man removes the war lord from the realm and is accused of treason.
Kill me, if my crime was truly that great. I know that the gods will reward me
in heaven.” He laughed as they led him away to the very same cells he had
burned.

 
“This is wrong,” Ada murmured, just enough for Nan to catch.

 
She agreed. The man was caught alone, but who knew if there were others
that participated in this arson. And to act without leave of their king, it was
basically the same thing Lord Somchai had done. Nan didn’t want to imagine that
there were citizens out there who might seek to harm the rest of her family for
allowing Uncle Somchai to tear their lands apart. And if people continued to go
against law, no matter how noble the intentions, the realm would fall to chaos.
King Kraimon was barely regaining his health as it is, and had relied heavily
upon Lord Rachakrit and Lord Kamon to sort out the treaty with the North.

 
 

 
Some may argue that it was grossly inappropriate for two opposing
participants in war to hold a feast together. But this was some show they had
to put on to ease the people’s minds.

 
The treaty held as follows: fifty Northern knights were to command in
Krungthep’s City Guard and thirty more Northern lords would be in charge of the
navy. No southerner was to set foot beyond the borders without strict
permission from Lord Karn, King Wattana’s warden of the forestlands. Ten children
from ten noble families in the South were to be betrothed to ten families in
the North. And for one complete year, Praya must consult with Chiengmai before making decisions for their trade,
domestic conflicts, and relations with the lands beyond the sea.

 
“They do realize they are giving themselves more work, right?” Nan
scoffed after hearing the terms. “They’re going to make decisions for us while
running their own kingdom.”

 
“Only for a year, to rebuild the trust between Praya and Chiengmai,”
Ada put in, his moody eyes gleaming as gold as the wine that he was swirling in
hand.

 
“Don’t pretend like you’re pleased that your own kingdom will be controlled
by the North. You will come into power soon enough.”

 
“My father is not dying.” But the tightness around his mouth spoke of
his own fears for the king, who barely managed to move without assistance.

 
For the love she bore her cousin, Nan didn’t push the subject. The feast
had already gone on for three hours. Northmen were drinking, eating, dancing
around the great hall with fervor, and why not? They were the victors and they
would arrive home as the heroes who’d suppressed the South. Nan tried to tell
herself she didn’t care about her family name, that she was just glad the black
knights and the Northern king and his damned prince would be leaving soon, but
part of her pride was wounded by the defeat nonetheless. She was a child of
Praya, loyal to the core. And afterward, her father and uncles would have to
repair the realm, try to feed the people, and restore wealth to the lands
again. It was not going to be easy in the least, and she had no patience for
this feasting.

 
A hand appeared in front of her. “May I have this dance, my lady?”

 
“Thee!” Nan’s arms laced around his shoulders in a heartbeat. Her
cousin laughed the booming laugh he’d inherited from Lord Kamon, returning her
embrace fiercely.

 
“How have you been?”

“You’re the one who was forced to march in war away from home. Oh dear god,”
she held his face in both her hands, “You’re not looking too shabby.”

 
“Were you expecting to find me without a few limbs?”

 
She smacked him. “Don’t joke about that.”

 
Nan didn’t know if it was by default that Thee was her favorite cousin
simply because he was the son of her favorite uncle, Kamon, but ever since she could
remember, Thee was as close as a brother to her. Only a year older than she, he
shared practically all of her interests, and where Ratana and her mother would
discourage her outdoor endeavors, or Ada would ride with her but strictly
remind her to keep up with her sewing lessons, Thee allowed her absolute
freedom in the same way her father and Uncle Kamon did. She could not think of
anything she wasn’t able to say to Thee, no secrets or complaints or dreams she
couldn’t completely put in his trust. And more often than not, he was there to
guide her out of her sadness, or teach her a new way to appreciate life. Only
seventeen, and she looked up to Thee more than the Monk.

 
He sobered, eyes softening. “I’m fine, and so is father.”

 
“Yes, we met with him yesterday.”

 
“Come, let us catch up while dancing.”

 
She wrinkled her nose at having to mingle among the northerners. It
made Thee chuckle. “You wouldn’t want all the black brothers to enjoy our
lovely music for themselves would you?”

 
She smiled and let him lead her onto the floor. “Black brothers?”

 
“A name for the northerners. In case you hadn’t noticed, they are a
dark bunch.” At the moment, they had set aside their shadowy cloaks and armor
for everyday colors, but Nan remembered vividly waking to see court teeming
with the northerners in their black wools and velvets.

 
His hand was warm, clasped over hers, and for the first time since the
war, Nan felt some sense of safety.

 
“Tell me you are not leaving court so soon,” Nan said to Thee. Lord
Rachakrit was needed to help fix the realm, and Lady Rutsee did not wish for
their family to part, so Nan was not about to see her coastal home any time
soon. Ratana did well amongst the dense population of highborns here in the
Royal Castle, but the war had exhausted Nan. She didn’t want to participate in
the droll days of court life anymore. She wanted to ride freely along the
shores of Sattahip, and hunt in the forests she grew up exploring in; to
practice her sword and shoot with her bow freely in the courtyard of her own
castle.

 
“I will stay for as long as you need me,” he promised. He glanced up at
the high table. “That one keeps looking at you.”

 
She glanced over her shoulder, where Uncle Kamon was in conversation
with Prince Atsawin. At the same moment, the prince chanced to return her gaze,
and she could make out a tiny smirk curving his eyes. She rolled her eyes back
to Thee. “He thinks he captured me.”

 
Thee smiled wryly, “And is it true?”

 
“Most certainly not,” she replied, indignation dipping her lips in a
frown.

 
Thee caught her eye sternly. “You should not have been out there,
fighting.”

 
“If you’re going to say it’s because I’m a woman—“

 
“I am saying it is because you are my dear cousin, my sister and friend
and I nearly choked the man who brought me the news. I almost turned back for
the royal castle, no matter that they called me coward, just to make sure you
weren’t getting killed.”

 
She lifted her chin stubbornly, “I fight well, you know that. I wasn’t
even scared.”

 
“Well I was. And so was your mother, sister and father.”

 
If Ratana was a second mother to her, Thee had  the knack of chastising her the way her
father did once in a while, and that made her feel more guilty each time,
knowing he wouldn’t be so strict if he didn’t truly believe she had done wrong.

 
“I’m not sorry I fought.”

 
“But?”

 
She sighed. “I do feel bad for upsetting you. And mother. I know I put
her through a lot.”

 
“You also know that she loves you with all her heart, right?”

 
Nan returned his grin, leaning in close as they swayed in spot.

 
The dance came to a close, but before the musicians could start up a
new song, King Wattana and King Kraimon rose for attention. “All the good
people of the two kingdoms,” Kraimon addressed them. Nan and Thee reclaimed
their seats. “It gives me joy to see the harmony displayed in this great hall
tonight. After the unpleasant events of the past months, as a ruler, I cannot
express enough that I am pleased to see this war end on a good note.”

 
“No war ends on a good note,” Nan heard Thee comment quietly. She
agreed. War meant there were winners and losers, and there would always be
someone unhappy with the results. She observed the King of the North closely while
King Kraimon continued to speak of peace. King Wattana looked every bit the
warrior. His basic demeanor dared anyone to offend him. She couldn’t help
thinking that he was a king who any knight would be proud to fight for. But
more than that was her grudging admiration of the respect he showed towards her
father and uncles.

 
King Wattana spoke next, his thick voice reaching to every ear. “I can
only put faith in the good King Kraimon. And in order to reach a new level of
friendship, I propose a union of our royal families.”

 
Even before he could clarify his words, the hall rose in hushed murmurs
of curiosity and speculation, distracting Nan enough to almost miss what came
next.

 
“I am honored to announce that my son, Crown Prince Atsawin, is
graciously requesting the hand of the daughter of House Kaewburisai.”

 
Thee and Nan exchanged awed looks, before immediately seeking out
Ratana. They are asking for Ratana to
marry the prince,
Nan thought.

 
“…and hope that the young Lady Kritsanan Kaewburisai will accept this
proposal in light of the relationship the North and South have strengthened
throughout the years.”

 
Every eye turned to Nan.
 
-------
Thanks for reading!
 
jjinxx 
 

Stunningmoon

sarNie Egg
I'm really liking where this is going. I can't wait to read what is going to happen next...keep up the good work!
 

jjinxx

Is your "nom" Fai-approved?
Chapter 4





“I won’t.”


Rutsee laid a hand on her younger daughter’s shoulder. Nan turned and
eyed her mother warily. “Don’t tell me you actually want me to…to accept this outrageous idea.”


“Why did the prince choose Nan?” Ada asked, pacing down the small hall.
The family had convened to consider King Wattana’s proposal.


“I don’t care why the
pigheaded prince does anything. I will not
go north.”


“Calm down dear.” Only at her father’s soothing rumble did Nan huff and
drop into a chair. “We will not force you to do anything against your wishes. On
the morrow, I will relay to King Wattana that we cannot agree to this term.
Whether he accepts the refusal or not, we shall see.”


Ada snorted, but the irony was lost on Nan as she stewed in annoyance.
Why did they have to drag her into this political game? One thing was sure. She
refused to be traded like cattle.





The evening air was perfumed by the temple’s bountiful garden.


Nan was joined on the stone bench by Rutsee. She let her mother tuck a crimson
flower into her hair, brushing away stray curls that never seemed to be tied
back properly.


“You think I should go,” Nan said after a time of silence.


Rutsee gently turned Nan’s face in her hand, gazing at her youngest
child with the wisdom Nan recognized ever since she could distinguish mother
from father. “Nothing would ever force me to hurt you. I love you as much as a
mother can love her child.” Nan waited for her to keep going. “Every separation
tears at the hearts of mothers. Sons, husbands and brothers are lost all the
time, but none of it is preventable as war.”


“We couldn’t have prevented it.”


Rutsee smoothed out Nan’s collar. “Do you remember the story of the
Dove?”


“She was imprisoned by the Dark Knight, but she offered her eyes to a
blind white bird, in exchange for sending a message to the gods to warn them
about the attack on Heaven.” Afterward, the white bird and its kin were named
after that angel, Dove. Nan had grown up hearing many legends of the kingdoms
and heavens. Some of her favorites featured brave knights, like the infamous
Ser Theeradeth, her cousin’s namesake, said to be the ancestor of House
Kaewburisai. And there was nothing more inspiring to her young adventurous soul
than the tale of Queen Ravina, who led the Battle of the Wild Isles. But while
the latter stories were a part of history, the story of the Dove, an angel of
heaven, had always been more of a fairytale to Nan. “She was very strong.”


“As all women should be. Nan, do you know the duties of a woman?”


Trying not to roll her eyes, Nan recited, “Honor her family, love her
husband, and nurture her children.” Ever since she learned to walk, she was on
horseback with her father and uncles, listening to stories of battle and hunts.
The freedoms she practiced set her standards of life in different ways from
traditional women.


“Do you know, my father gave me the choice of marrying who I wished?
But when your father’s father asked for a betrothal, I did not refuse.”


“I’m glad you didn’t refuse. Father is a good man.”


“Indeed.”


“But,” Nan added thoughtfully, “you did not know him. Your first time
speaking with him was a week before the wedding.”


“Aye. I could not have been sure we could be happy as we are today. I
thank the gods for this good fortune, and for you and Ratana. But at the time,
I did what I did for my family. We could not afford to insult a house as high
as your father’s. Rejecting the betrothal would have shamed us.”


Her mother was a warrior in her own way. To put her trust in a man she
didn’t know, and then later, to love him so much; to raise Nan and her sister
with patience and virtue; to council her husband’s brothers every day.


Nan could not fathom that kind of duty, especially with someone who was
so recently their enemy shook her head. “But this prince. He is a northerner.
We come from completely different places.”


“My dear, you say that as if he comes from another star.” Rutsee
smiled. “If anyone could conquer the north, it is you. You have never ceased to
prove your strength to me.”


Nan looked around her, the stars and inky sky blanketing the brick
walls that circled the garden and the temple. What choice did she have? Only
within these walls, would there ever be peace.





Nan knocked on the door of her father’s solar, and was summoned inside.
Uncle Kamon and Thee were within, but rose when she entered.


“We can continue tomorrow,” Kamon said. He went to Nan and placed a hug
upon her that relayed how fond he was of his niece, and that she had his support.
Next, Thee took her hands in his, pressing his lips to them.


“Do not stay up too late tonight, sweet cousin.”


She nodded. Finally, she was alone with Rachakrit. “Girlie, come.” They
seated themselves by the dying fireplace.


“Father, I do not wish for you to refuse King Wattana’s offer
tomorrow.”


Rachakrit appeared as if he hadn’t understood her, and sat silent for a
full minute. Then he leaped to his feet. “What are you saying?”


“Father, hear me out.”


“I will not hear of it. I do not know what you are playing at, or if
your injuries have had an effect on your mind, but I suggest you go back to
your chambers and rest.”


“But—“


“There will be no more talk. It has been decided.”


“Father—“


“Young lady, do as you are told.”


“My lord!”


That froze him in his tracks. Nan rarely, if ever, addressed her father
by his lordly title.


Drawing a deep breath, Nan stood up to her full height in front of him.
“I wish to honor King Wattana’s request.”


“You do not know what you are doing, asking this of me.”


“I am not asking. I am telling you it must be done.”


He shook his head, turning away once more. “No. Anything but this. If
you are bored of the Royal Castle, I will send you back to Sattahip. If you
wish for a new horse, I will buy you one. If it is your wish to marry…I will make
you a betrothal. One that will last a decade,” he said under his breath. She
heard it anyway and couldn’t help chuckling, bringing him to face her. “I
cannot bear for you to leave me, my daughter.”


“It is a woman’s duty to leave her home,” she said, failing to keep the
bitterness from her voice.


“But why should you want to go north?”


“You and I both know there will always be tension between us and them.
It may not grow into a full-fledged war again soon, but it is in our best
interest to maintain whatever good relations there are between us and the
North. We cannot risk more bloodshed.”


He knew she spoke truly, could not refute. “It doesn’t have to be on
you.”


“It would be an honor to serve my kingdom.” Nan held her head high.


He rested his hands upon her shoulders, hit with the full truth that
his youngest child was now a grown woman. Her eyes lit up with fire, she was
beautiful, and better still, she was brave. “The North does not know it yet,
the glory they are gaining by receiving you.”


She smirked.


“Are you sure you want to do this?”


For a moment, memories flashed behind her eyes: her childhood; she and
her sister playing hide-and-seek in the castle of Sattahip; climbing trees to
look out to sea with Thee and Ada; racing on horseback with Uncle Kamon; the
pride in her father’s eyes as she knocked her opponent to the ground during
practice; the seashore calling for her to play; eating cakes with her mother.
She would be leaving behind the ones she loved, the places she loved and
everything she knew.


But Nan was nothing if not a fighter. If she had to leave all she knew,
she would simply learn until she knew
more. And this was not only her duty as a woman. This was her duty as a loyal
servant of the realm.


“I’m sure.”





That night, as Nan readied herself for bed, Ratana came to her room,
already in her night shift and robe. It was an old tradition, though they had
not shared a bed since they were children. Maybe
I am more a child than I think
, Nan thought, affection soaring for her
sister, whose warmth she welcomed beside her on the feather mattress.


Ratana slipped her hand into Nan’s. “I do not want to doubt your
resilience, but are you sure you are right in choosing this? Father will do all
in his power to keep the peace, even if you don’t marry the prince.”


“I know father will try, but I would not allow myself the right of
being called his daughter if I didn’t try just as much.”


Ratana kissed her on the forehead. “Sister, you have always been
father’s daughter, sometimes more than is good for you. You have always made me
proud.”


Nan laughed shortly. “I have always bordered on disgracing myself.”


“You are a Kaewburisai. As long as you hold on to your integrity and
uphold your family, the people will have no doubt in respecting you.”


“Ratana,” her sister’s name would always be her comfort, “Take care of
mother and father.”


“You have my word. Promise you will not put yourself in danger. Even a
princess is mortal, and you do not know their ways up North.”


She realized she would really be a princess, once she wed Prince Atsawin.
The thought roiled her stomach. She was rarely even a proper lady, now she had
to bear the weight of being a princess. This moment she was making the biggest
decision of her adult life, she had no energy to waste on doubting herself. Ratana
thought she was strong, and so she must uphold that high respect. Nan admitted
she and her sister did not always understand one another, but they always loved
one another.


The sisters fell asleep together, hand in hand.





At the grey dawn, the sisters were awakened by tolling bells. They
dressed in robes and met their mother in her chambers.


Lady Rutsee confirmed, “The king has passed on to peace.”


Ada was now the new monarch of Praya.


The death of the King and coronation of Ada put the wedding on hold.
The temple inside the royal castle filled with mourners and royal monks,
praying for the late king’s soul.


The mourning continued on the third day. Nan stepped out on her balcony
and breathed in deeply. They had endured a war, deaths seemed to continue
piling up. Now one more was added. Her uncle, King Kraimon, had served the
kingdom well before he passed. She could hardly imagine the stress that Ada was
feeling.


Movement below caught her attention. She recognized a black cape in the
fashion of the north. It was Prince Atsawin.


She reached the garden and paused. Prince Atsawin was patting freshly
turned dirt on the ground.


“What are you doing?”


Atsawin looked up. “Planting a tree.”


“Why?” Nan asked. Surely people didn’t just randomly get the urge to
plant trees in the north.


He stood and brushed dirt from his hands. “It is a custom of the north.
More than dropping flowers into graves, we plant trees to honor those who have
passed. Their spirit will nourish the trees and live on in the open air.”


Nan visualized it – her uncle, kind and stern, embodying a tall oak, or
gingko. The image agreed with her strongly. She strode closer to Atsawin and
held out her hand. “I’d like a seed.”


Atsawin couldn’t help smiling at her demand. He reached into his pocket
and slowly placed the seed in her hand. Nan examined it, and Atsawin’s smile
grew. He liked the way she seemed to be trying to see into the seed’s future,
to assure herself of its strength.


Nan sat down on the ground, grabbed the hand shovel and hacked away at
the dirt.


“A little deeper,” Atsawin advised. He sat opposite her, supervising.
She ignored him and concentrated on her digging.


Nan placed the seed into the hole she made, as if putting a child into
bed, and covered the hole. She wiped at her brow. Lifting her head, Nan found
Atsawin’s hand close by, pushing her hair away from her eyes.


Someone coughed. They turned.


Thee stepped forward, bearing a shawl in his hands. “Nan, what are you
doing?”


“I planted a tree for Uncle Kraimon,” she said, pointing to the dirt
patch. Thee smiled gently. Nan guessed that Thee probably knew about the
northern tradition. He had always loved studying lands and cultures.


“Here.” He placed the shawl around her shoulders and helped her up.
“You’re all dirty. Your mother was asking after you.”


“Let’s go back in.” She paused and glanced back at Prince Atsawin.
Thee’s hand on her elbow steered her inside.
 
Last edited:

jjinxx

Is your "nom" Fai-approved?
Chapter 5
 
 
Rachakrit looked on grimly, while Rutsee attempted to smile big enough for the both of them, as King Wattana and King Ada announced the union of their houses.
 
There were members of court who looked at Nan with pity, but she refused to meet any of their eyes. None of them mattered except her family. Ada tried to look diplomatic. Uncle Kamon clearly wanted the affair to be done with for her sake. Ratana was beside her, holding her hand just as they did the other night, and her grasp kept Nan grounded. Thee was the one she watched determinedly. Her cousin never broke eye contact, silent words of encouragement rolling across the room from his eyes, and underneath the veil of his own courage, she saw his sadness.
 
Her family was reacting to her betrothal like a funeral. Good thing the great hall masked it with music, dancing, and lavish foods and wines.
 
When Nan found herself seated at the high table, she thought she had walked into some strange alternate universe. Ratana and the maids had laced her up in a gown of white with palest gold embroidery all over the bodice and skirt, the whiteness contrasting heavily with her dark eyes and hair, which Ratana had somehow managed to tame into soft waves piled on her head and tendrilling down her neck. Beside her sat Prince Atsawin.
 
“Would you care to dance?” Prince Atsawin asked when they were being served the fourth course.
 
“Honestly,” she twirled her fork, and answered, “no.” She didn’t care if he was offended. Let him know her bluntness now rather than later.
 
Unable to make cheerful conversation with her family, Nan consoled herself with her wine cup. By her second refill, she could feel the deep flush on her cheeks and her gown was uncomfortably tight. Some time during the tenth and eleventh course, her betrothed had left the table, perhaps to entertain himself with a more willing dance partner.
 
She got up, gripped the back of her chair momentarily to regain balance, and let Ratana guide her across to the doors. Midway through the hall, they were interrupted by a knight, some son of some lord that she vaguely recognized seeing among her father’s ranks, asking for Ratana to dance.
 
“Go on, Ratana, I will be fine.”

Ratana made to protest, but Nan weaved through the hall and made it through the doors without further barriers.
 
The stars were out to greet her as she inhaled deeply. They sparkled like that night she sat in the garden with her lady mother.
 
Nan found the patches of upturned dirt where she and Atsawin had planted trees. She wondered if she would be back to see her seed grow into a sapling.
 
“Will the stars be the same in the North?” Her hand brushed a bush o red blossoms, just like the one her mother had woven in her hair. “Will the flowers smell as sweet?”
 
The tree above her danced with the breeze. “Will the forests be full of game? Will I ever see the summer sea again?”
 
The wind played with her hair. The pins holding up her black tresses had dug painfully into her scalp all night and now Nan tugged them out, telling herself the tears pricking her eyes were due to the pins and she would feel better once relieved of their pinching. Sighing loudly, she forced back her tears. She had not cried when in battle, she would not cry now like some child—at
least in marriage, she only had to face one man. Right?
 
 
Atsawin peered down at the lady, watching her savage her hair before seeming to give up, leaving her curls half-free. And beautiful, came Atsawin’s unbidden thought, as she lifted her face so the moonlight played upon her distressed brow.
 
When she had entered the great hall earlier, Atsawin was surprised at how much difference a gown could make. Her sister, Lady Ratana, had the natural grace of a noble and the beauty that many admired. Next to her, Lady Kritsanan seemed stiff in the dress, as if it were a cage too small for the ferocity in her soul. There was a quality of independence that set her apart from other highborn ladies. Her refusal to dance with him had not come as a surprise, had actually made him smile into his cup. She was clearly as unafraid of him as the first time they met.
 
He recalled the battle outside of the castle wall when he’d spotted her, a woman, fighting amongst men twice, thrice her size. Then, in the hard metal armor, she had moved fluid as water in comparison to her small measured steps while gowned. He had sought her out on the field as a skilled enemy. Atsawin thought with irony, She will do
well in the north.

 
He jumped from the tree, nimble as a ripe fruit letting go. She whirled at the sound of his landing.
 
“What are you doing here?” she asked.
 
“Getting some fresh air, as I imagine you must be doing also.”
 
She eyed him silently before turning away.
 
“Might I accompany you?” He fell in step with her.
 
“You already are,” she answered shortly. After they had circled the yard once, she paused, looking at him as if he were a particularly annoying fly. “Shouldn’t you be inside with the others instead of climbing trees and
following me?”
 
“The others might argue that my place is beside my betrothed. Say, will you still deny me a dance?”
 
“You may have as many dance partners as you like, but count me out. Your Highness.”
 
“It’s not a shame if you lack the skills. I assure you I’m a very patient teacher.”
 
“I can dance,” she worded sharply, for she excelled at all things physical. “I merely find the current offer unappealing.”
 
“Well I have my own doubts about my offer but you don’t hear me complaining.”
 
She stopped abruptly and rounded on him. “You have my permission to un-accompany me.”
 
“Yielding so soon? I thought you Southerners had more perseverance.”
 
“What we don’t have is time to waste on fool northerners.”
 
“Careful  now. Soon, my lady will be a member of the fool northerners.”
 
Nan stopped once more. “Tell me, why did you choose me? Or was it your father’s decision to bring me back as a hostage?”
 
She was sharp, he’d give her that. He would have denied it if he thought it would do her any good, but they were two individuals who saw things clearly for what they were. He approved that she could at least accept a hard
truth.
 
“You were the best candidate.” He shrugged.
 
Atsawin had always known his eventual marriage would stem from political intent. At least he would have some small satisfaction knowing he’d had a hand in picking his bride. Kritsanan was a descendent of royal blood and
had the social and familial qualifications of uniting into his royal household. If she proved to be unworthy as queen, well, he would deal with that dilemma if it arose.
 
Atsawin wasn’t aware she was leading him anywhere in particular, but when they reached the yard that held stands of weapons, she ordered the servant boy that had been polishing the weapons to leave.
 
Nan plucked two blunt practice swords from their holders, and tossed one at him. He caught it without even blinking.
 
She stood sideways, pointing her sword at him. “Fight.”
 
“Seriously?”
 
“No, I was hoping to carve you up while you just stand there.” The look she quirked at him said he was stupid. “Let’s fight.” She lunged at him.
 
He had already witnessed her in real action. But he hadn’t been on the receiving end of her attacks until now, and was highly impressed by her skill. She moved quickly, each step, each turn purposeful. Her swings were powerful
and calculating. He could see her lithe muscles straining under her sleeves. He was having more fun than he should be, while letting her press him back.
 
This was the first all day Nan actually felt alive. Her breath grew ragged, sweat trailed down her neck, and her opponent was…
 
“Stop defending!” she commanded, swinging at him in a wide arc. Her shoulder ached, but she ignored the burning sensation of her wound.
 
He stepped back just in time and stopped the stab that came at him.
 
Her following moves were harsh and frustrated when he still made no move to attack her. And her damned gown was restricting her movement. She struck with the strength of two hands, but Atsawin brought up his sword to stop
her, bringing their faces within inches of one another.
 
“You’re good with a sword,” he said.
 
“You haven’t seen anything yet.” She pushed away and made the attack once more. This time, he struck back and forced her to retreat once, twice, and three times until she was up against the wooden fence. She twisted away when he
swung down, hitting wood instead. He pivoted and jabbed, close enough to her head to catch the ribbon there. Now her hair was flying everywhere while they danced with their swords.
 
Nan’s next dive forward was too hasty. Her foot tangled in her skirts and she went down very suddenly with a loud ripping sound.
 
“Curse this gown!” she muttered, before hearing the sound of voices approaching. The ground underneath her was shaking, but when she realized she was on top of Prince Atsawin and that it was his chest that was shaking with
laughter, and that they were now surrounded by castle guards and her father, Nan flushed bright red.
 
She scrambled off Prince Atsawin, who rose to his feet gracefully.
 
“We heard the sound of swords and came to inspect,” one of the guards said.
 
“What’s going on here?” Rachakrit asked of his daughter. She could see that he was not pleased.
 
------
 
“Not only did the two of you leave the feast, but you thought to bring out swords and play like children without paying mind to the guests?” King Wattana’s deep voice was harsh as he addressed his son.
 
Meanwhile, Nan was being silently scolded by her mother, who no doubt was out for murder, seeing as Nan’s gown was torn, her hair a mess, and dirt smeared her in odd places.
 
“We meant no harm. It was only a bit of fun, father,” Prince Atsawin drawled unworriedly.
 
Nan glared at him. It was precisely that sort of comment that would fuel the gossip going around the guests at that very moment: that the prince and the lady had snuck out together; that they had sought to be alone; that the young lady’s father and a half dozen guards had seen the two of them rolling around the dirt doing inappropriate things, taking advantage of their betrothed
status. No one cared that they had been sword-playing, though that might cause an even bigger scandal between the north and south.
 
Nan clarified, “We were sparring.”
 
“I’ll say,” Thee murmured with innuendo. His jaw had hung open freely earlier, seeing Nan lying on top of Prince Atsawin in the courtyard.
 
Her eyes cut at him next. He coughed to hide a laugh. Supposed to be on my side, she fumed at her cousin.
 
 “I apologize for disrupting the feast,” Atsawin said, looking every bit sincere. “I wanted some fresh air and
found that Lady Kritsanan had the same intentions. I admit, I took this as an opportunity to spend some time with her.”
 
Rutsee spoke up before Nan could stand up for herself. “Your Grace, I suggest both children get cleaned up and rejoin our guests in the great hall. We do not want to keep them waiting and…speculating that something has come
up.”
 
In the end, Nan was washed, combed, and dressed up again, this time in a blue silk with trailing sleeves and a lacy neckline.
 
She accepted a dance with any lord, knight, or squire who approached her, pretending that nothing had occurred, that she was a blissful young woman eager to celebrate her impending marriage.
 
Atsawin performed likewise, the perfect gentleman, making all the female hearts swoon, and all the male eyes envious. He was graceful, tall and dark, smiling and talking to everyone as if they were friends. He appeared completely at home with the very same southerners that, only a few weeks ago, had been his enemies. To Nan’s disgruntlement, she found her people were
warming up to him.
 
“I do believe you have danced with every man in this hall, except for your betrothed,” Thee commented while they moved around the other dancers.
 
“He asked once, I said no. He hasn’t asked again.”
 
“Nan,” he spoke with the slight lilt used when she was being stubborn, even while tickled by her belligerent interaction with the prince, “what will the people think, seeing you two so at odds with one another?”
 
“I do not care.”
 
“You do, otherwise you would not have asked Uncle Rachakrit to agree to this whole engagement in the first place.”
 
“Well what do you want me to do? Be sweet and play a perfect little wife?”
 
“I won’t set myself up for so much disappointment.” This earned him a slap to the arm. “I’m joking, Nan.”
 
She sighed in discontent. He chucked her chin, raising her eyes back at him. “You are your own person. But I know you are not beneath compromise. You have shown that by being here right now. But there is still so much you have not seen in the world. You have to know when to put up a fight and when to go along with things.” He took a deep breath, eyes twinkling mischievously, “Now, about earlier. I assume you enjoyed your spar with Prince Atsawin?”
 
She tried not to sound overly proud. “My stupid gown tripped me, otherwise the North would be less one prince.”
 
He winced playfully. “I’m sure he found you to be a formidable opponent. Don’t try too hard to skewer your future husband though.”
 
She punched his arm.
 
“Is Lady Kritsanan abusing you, ser?”
 
The cousins looked up in surprise. Nan instantly frowned, but Thee offered a smile.
 
“I doubt any abuse my lady cousin gives me can compare to what she will do to you, Your Highness”
 
Nan glowered, not sharing in the humor of the two young men.
 
“I’m stepping in for this next dance,” Atsawin announced. Thee bowed his head and released Nan, who simply looked at her betrothed with contempt.
 
A corner of Atsawin mouth curved. “You were so eager for a fight out there. I did not think a simple dance might scare you, my lady.”
 
“Dancing does not scare me, and neither do you.” She haughtily held her head high as she accepted Atsawin’s hand, not about to be called a coward by anyone.
 
He was smart enough not to let his triumph show. “I like your cousin, Ser Thee.”
 
“I used to too but he has been denoted from my favorite people list.” How could Thee joke around with the man that had forced her to this marriage.
 
“And how does one obtain the honor of making this list?”
 
She answered, wanting to put him out, “They have to be family, first and foremost.”
 
“Then I top your list by default.” His hand at the small of her back guided her close, close enough that their fronts brushed—at this proximity, she had to lift her face to look full upon him with his head tilted down so that their eyes reflected one another’s image. “Is a husband not a wife’s family, first and foremost?”
 
“We are not married yet,” she replied, putting distance between them. But that was impossible without bumping into other dancers, the floor having become crowded as people grew eager to dance one last time before the night was done.
 
Once the music ended, Nan pulled herself away without a word and headed for her seat.
 
Atsawin had no problem keeping up with her. “You were not lying. You dance well.”
 
“Of course.”
 
“You will not return the compliment?”
 
Recalling Thee’s words, Nan reeled in her instinct to bark at him to leave her alone. Instead, she swept into a curtsy.
 
“I thank you, my prince, for giving me the most exhilarating dance of my life.” She looked liked a perfect lady, but he was the only one who heard the biting sarcasm, and as she proceeded for the table, he followed with a growing grin.
 
-------
 
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Is your "nom" Fai-approved?
Chapter 5
 
 
Rachakrit looked on grimly, while Rutsee attempted to smile big enough for the both of them, as King Wattana and King Ada announced the union of their houses.
 
There were members of court who looked at Nan with pity, but she refused to meet any of their eyes. None of them mattered except her family. Ada tried to look diplomatic. Uncle Kamon clearly wanted the affair to be done with for her sake. Ratana was beside her, holding her hand just as they did the other night, and her grasp kept Nan grounded. Thee was the one she watched determinedly. Her cousin never broke eye contact, silent words of encouragement rolling across the room from his eyes, and underneath the veil of his own courage, she saw his sadness.
 
Her family was reacting to her betrothal like a funeral. Good thing the great hall masked it with music, dancing, and lavish foods and wines.
 
When Nan found herself seated at the high table, she thought she had walked into some strange alternate universe. Ratana and the maids had laced her up in a gown of white with palest gold embroidery all over the bodice and skirt, the whiteness contrasting heavily with her dark eyes and hair, which Ratana had somehow managed to tame into soft waves piled on her head and tendrilling down her neck. Beside her sat Prince Atsawin.
 
“Would you care to dance?” Prince Atsawin asked when they were being served the fourth course.
 
“Honestly,” she twirled her fork, and answered, “no.” She didn’t care if he was offended. Let him know her bluntness now rather than later.
 
Unable to make cheerful conversation with her family, Nan consoled herself with her wine cup. By her second refill, she could feel the deep flush on her cheeks and her gown was uncomfortably tight. Some time during the tenth and eleventh course, her betrothed had left the table, perhaps to entertain himself with a more willing dance partner.
 
She got up, gripped the back of her chair momentarily to regain balance, and let Ratana guide her across to the doors. Midway through the hall, they were interrupted by a knight, some son of some lord that she vaguely recognized seeing among her father’s ranks, asking for Ratana to dance.
 
“Go on, Ratana, I will be fine.”

Ratana made to protest, but Nan weaved through the hall and made it through the doors without further barriers.
 
The stars were out to greet her as she inhaled deeply. They sparkled like that night she sat in the garden with her lady mother.
 
Nan found the patches of upturned dirt where she and Atsawin had planted trees. She wondered if she would be back to see her seed grow into a sapling.
 
“Will the stars be the same in the North?” Her hand brushed a bush o red blossoms, just like the one her mother had woven in her hair. “Will the flowers smell as sweet?”
 
The tree above her danced with the breeze. “Will the forests be full of game? Will I ever see the summer sea again?”
 
The wind played with her hair. The pins holding up her black tresses had dug painfully into her scalp all night and now Nan tugged them out, telling herself the tears pricking her eyes were due to the pins and she would feel better once relieved of their pinching. Sighing loudly, she forced back her tears. She had not cried when in battle, she would not cry now like some child—at
least in marriage, she only had to face one man. Right?
 
 
Atsawin peered down at the lady, watching her savage her hair before seeming to give up, leaving her curls half-free. And beautiful, came Atsawin’s unbidden thought, as she lifted her face so the moonlight played upon her distressed brow.
 
When she had entered the great hall earlier, Atsawin was surprised at how much difference a gown could make. Her sister, Lady Ratana, had the natural grace of a noble and the beauty that many admired. Next to her, Lady Kritsanan seemed stiff in the dress, as if it were a cage too small for the ferocity in her soul. There was a quality of independence that set her apart from other highborn ladies. Her refusal to dance with him had not come as a surprise, had actually made him smile into his cup. She was clearly as unafraid of him as the first time they met.
 
He recalled the battle outside of the castle wall when he’d spotted her, a woman, fighting amongst men twice, thrice her size. Then, in the hard metal armor, she had moved fluid as water in comparison to her small measured steps while gowned. He had sought her out on the field as a skilled enemy. Atsawin thought with irony, She will do
well in the north.

 
He jumped from the tree, nimble as a ripe fruit letting go. She whirled at the sound of his landing.
 
“What are you doing here?” she asked.
 
“Getting some fresh air, as I imagine you must be doing also.”
 
She eyed him silently before turning away.
 
“Might I accompany you?” He fell in step with her.
 
“You already are,” she answered shortly. After they had circled the yard once, she paused, looking at him as if he were a particularly annoying fly. “Shouldn’t you be inside with the others instead of climbing trees and following me?”
 
“The others might argue that my place is beside my betrothed. Say, will you still deny me a dance?”
 
“You may have as many dance partners as you like, but count me out. Your Highness.”
 
“It’s not a shame if you lack the skills. I assure you I’m a very patient teacher.”
 
“I can dance,” she worded sharply, for she excelled at all things physical. “I merely find the current offer unappealing.”
 
“Well I have my own doubts about my offer but you don’t hear me complaining.”
 
She stopped abruptly and rounded on him. “You have my permission to un-accompany me.”
 
“Yielding so soon? I thought you Southerners had more perseverance.”
 
“What we don’t have is time to waste on fool northerners.”
 
“Careful  now. Soon, my lady will be a member of the fool northerners.”
 
Nan stopped once more. “Tell me, why did you choose me? Or was it your father’s decision to bring me back as a hostage?”
 
She was sharp, he’d give her that. He would have denied it if he thought it would do her any good, but they were two individuals who saw things clearly for what they were. He approved that she could at least accept a hard
truth.
 
“You were the best candidate.” He shrugged.
 
Atsawin had always known his eventual marriage would stem from political intent. At least he would have some small satisfaction knowing he’d had a hand in picking his bride. Kritsanan was a descendant of royal blood and had the social and familial qualifications of uniting into his royal household. The north had leverage over the south. As his father had said, if Lord Rachakrit wants to keep his daughter safe, he best work hard to prevent another war from starting. If she proved to be unworthy as queen, well, Atsawin would deal with that dilemma if it arose.
 
Atsawin wasn’t aware she was leading him anywhere in particular, but when they reached the yard that held stands of weapons, she ordered the servant boy that had been polishing the weapons to leave.
 
Nan plucked two blunt practice swords from their holders, and tossed one at him. He caught it without even blinking.
 
She stood sideways, pointing her sword at him. “Fight.”
 
“Seriously?”
 
“No, I was hoping to carve you up while you just stand there.” The look she quirked at him said he was stupid. “Let’s fight.” She lunged at him.
 
He had already witnessed her in real action. But he hadn’t been on the receiving end of her attacks until now, and was highly impressed by her skill. She moved quickly, each step, each turn purposeful. Her swings were powerful and calculating. He could see her lithe muscles straining under her sleeves. He was having more fun than he should be, while letting her press him back.
 
This was the first all day Nan actually felt alive. Her breath grew ragged, sweat trailed down her neck, and her opponent was…
 
“Stop defending!” she commanded, swinging at him in a wide arc. Her shoulder ached, but she ignored the burning sensation of her wound.
 
He stepped back just in time and stopped the stab that came at him.
 
Her following moves were harsh and frustrated when he still made no move to attack her. And her damned gown was restricting her movement. She struck with the strength of two hands, but Atsawin brought up his sword to stop her, bringing their faces within inches of one another.
 
“You’re good with a sword,” he said.
 
“You haven’t seen anything yet.” She pushed away and made the attack once more. This time, he struck back and forced her to retreat once, twice, and three times until she was up against the wooden fence. She twisted away when he swung down, hitting wood instead. He pivoted and jabbed, close enough to her head to catch the ribbon there. Now her hair was flying everywhere while they danced with their swords.
 
Nan’s next dive forward was too hasty. Her foot tangled in her skirts and she went down very suddenly with a loud ripping sound.
 
“Curse this gown!” she muttered, before hearing the sound of voices approaching. The ground underneath her was shaking, but when she realized she was on top of Prince Atsawin and that it was his chest that was shaking with laughter, and that they were now surrounded by castle guards and her father, Nan flushed bright red.
 
She scrambled off Prince Atsawin, who rose to his feet gracefully.
 
“We heard the sound of swords and came to inspect,” one of the guards said.
 
“What’s going on here?” Rachakrit asked of his daughter. She could see that he was not pleased.
 
------
 
“Not only did the two of you leave the feast, but you thought to bring out swords and play like children without paying mind to the guests?” King Wattana’s deep voice was harsh as he addressed his son.
 
Meanwhile, Nan was being silently scolded by her mother, who no doubt was out for murder, seeing as Nan’s gown was torn, her hair a mess, and dirt smeared her in odd places.
 
“We meant no harm. It was only a bit of fun, father,” Prince Atsawin drawled unworriedly.
 
Nan glared at him. It was precisely that sort of comment that would fuel the gossip going around the guests at that very moment: that the prince and the lady had snuck out together; that they had sought to be alone; that the young lady’s father and a half dozen guards had seen the two of them rolling around the dirt doing inappropriate things, taking advantage of their betrothed status. No one cared that they had been sword-playing, though that might cause an even bigger scandal between the north and south.
 
Nan clarified, “We were sparring.”
 
“I’ll say,” Thee murmured with innuendo. His jaw had hung open freely earlier, seeing Nan lying on top of Prince Atsawin in the courtyard.
 
Her eyes cut at him next. He coughed to hide a laugh. Supposed to be on my side, she fumed at her cousin.
 
 “I apologize for disrupting the feast,” Atsawin said, looking every bit sincere. “I wanted some fresh air and found that Lady Kritsanan had the same intentions. I admit, I took this as an opportunity to spend some time with her.”
 
Rutsee spoke up before Nan could stand up for herself. “Your Grace, I suggest both children get cleaned up and rejoin our guests in the great hall. We do not want to keep them waiting and…speculating that something has come
up.”
 
In the end, Nan was washed, combed, and dressed up again, this time in a blue silk with trailing sleeves and a lacy neckline.
 
She accepted a dance with any lord, knight, or squire who approached her, pretending that nothing had occurred, that she was a blissful young woman eager to celebrate her impending marriage.
 
Atsawin performed likewise, the perfect gentleman, making all the female hearts swoon, and all the male eyes envious. He was graceful, tall and dark, smiling and talking to everyone as if they were friends. He appeared completely at home with the very same southerners that, only a few weeks ago, had been his enemies. To Nan’s disgruntlement, she found her people were  warming up to him.
 
“I do believe you have danced with every man in this hall, except for your betrothed,” Thee commented while they moved around the other dancers.
 
“He asked once, I said no. He hasn’t asked again.”
 
“Nan,” he spoke with the slight lilt used when she was being stubborn, even while tickled by her belligerent interaction with the prince, “what will the people think, seeing you two so at odds with one another?”
 
“I do not care.”
 
“You do, otherwise you would not have asked Uncle Rachakrit to agree to this whole engagement in the first place.”
 
“Well what do you want me to do? Be sweet and play a perfect little wife?”
 
“I won’t set myself up for so much disappointment.” This earned him a slap to the arm. “I’m joking, Nan.”
 
She sighed in discontent. He chucked her chin, raising her eyes back at him. “You are your own person. But I know you are not beneath compromise. You have shown that by being here right now. But there is still so much you have not seen in the world. You have to know when to put up a fight and when to go along with things.” He took a deep breath, eyes twinkling mischievously, “Now, about earlier. I assume you enjoyed your spar with Prince Atsawin?”
 
She tried not to sound overly proud. “My stupid gown tripped me, otherwise the North would be less one prince.”
 
He winced playfully. “I’m sure he found you to be a formidable opponent. Don’t try too hard to skewer your future husband though.”
 
She punched his arm.
 
“Is Lady Kritsanan abusing you, ser?”
 
The cousins looked up in surprise. Nan instantly frowned, but Thee offered a smile.
 
“I doubt any abuse my lady cousin gives me can compare to what she will do to you, Your Highness”
 
Nan glowered, not sharing in the humor of the two young men.
 
“I’m stepping in for this next dance,” Atsawin announced. Thee bowed his head and released Nan, who simply looked at her betrothed with contempt.
 
A corner of Atsawin mouth curved. “You were so eager for a fight out there. I did not think a simple dance might scare you, my lady.”
 
“Dancing does not scare me, and neither do you.” She haughtily held her head high as she accepted Atsawin’s hand, not about to be called a coward by anyone.
 
He was smart enough not to let his triumph show. “I like your cousin, Ser Thee.”
 
“I used to too but he has been denoted from my favorite people list.” How could Thee joke around with the man that had forced her to this marriage.
 
“And how does one obtain the honor of making this list?”
 
She answered, wanting to put him out, “They have to be family, first and foremost.”
 
“Then I top your list by default.” His hand at the small of her back guided her close, close enough that their fronts brushed—at this proximity, she had to lift her face to look full upon him with his head tilted down so that their eyes reflected one another’s image. “Is a husband not a wife’s family, first and foremost?”
 
“We are not married yet,” she replied, putting distance between them. But that was impossible without bumping into other dancers, the floor having become crowded as people grew eager to dance one last time before the night was done.
 
Once the music ended, Nan pulled herself away without a word and headed for her seat.
 
Atsawin had no problem keeping up with her. “You were not lying. You dance well.”
 
“Of course.”
 
“You will not return the compliment?”
 
Recalling Thee’s words, Nan reeled in her instinct to bark at him to leave her alone. Instead, she swept into a curtsy.
 
“I thank you, my prince, for giving me the most exhilarating dance of my life.” She looked liked a perfect lady, but he was the only one who heard the biting sarcasm, and as she proceeded for the table, he followed with a growing grin.
 
-------
 
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Introducing
Toey Jarinporn as Suchin
Phet Thakrit as Dan
 
 
Chapter 6
 
It was another five days until the army from the North was ready to depart.
 
Nan would be leaving Krungthep too. The decision was made that the prince and his future bride were to travel to Chiengmai’s western province of Sukothai and oversee the castle there.
 
Nan’s trunks were packed and stored in one of many wagons, along with supplies and food for the month-long journey. She had only two trunks, as one maid of King Wattana’s household suggested she pack only necessities; after all, she will become a princess, lacking for nothing.
 
The morning which dawned on her last day in Krungthep for who knew how long, was crisp and warm, a day left over from the legends of old. Birds weaved through a cloudless sky that had only just greeted the sun.
 
Ratana and Rutsee found Nan in her bedchamber, gathering the last of her personal possessions in her saddlebag: soft leather riding gloves; a thin bundle of letters Thee wrote to her when he’d been away from home; a purse filled with coin; and a child’s bracelet her mother gifted to her for her fifth birth day. Last but not least, her sword, freshly sharpened and lying beside her bag, would remind her of her father’s pride in her.
 
“You will travel in the wooden carriage,” Rutsee reminded, seeing the saddlebag. Nan have her mother a knowing look.
 
“The last time I traveled in a carriage, I was three and you forced me.”
 
“Thereafter, you rode alongside your father whenever the family traveled.” Rutsee’s chiding was lost in the pride reflecting in her eyes. “Have the maids give you a clean bandage for your arm. Do not ride off alone. You do not know the roads well past the Midlands. Make sure you dress warmly every morning. Find a reliable handmaid. Send us letters, yes?” Nan nodded, not trusting her voice.
 
“I love you, my dear.”
 
“I love you too.” She tightened her grip around Rutsee, feeling like a child again. Nan only half-listened to Rutsee’s instructions because there was too much yearning welling in her chest. Her father was her idol, but her mother was the person she wanted least to disappoint. She would give almost anything to relive that day’s ride in the carriage, fidgeting but holding her mother’s warm hand.
 
Next, Ratana embraced her. “I miss you already, dear sister.” She held her at arm’s length, looking her up and down with that wispy smile. Nan had dressed in a riding gown of green wool, the material light and sliding like a second skin over her body. Her hair was woven in a braid to keep out of her eyes and the brown cloak with silver trimming was pinned by a silver dove pin below her collar. Her sister possessed an identical pin, identifying them as daughters of the old and noble House Kaewburisai.
 
“You look beautiful.”
 
To Nan, Ratana would always be the beautiful one. When she was young and a visitor of the royal family had commented on the inequity of the girls’ looks, Nan had been embarrassed and wished she could be pretty like her sister. But she grew to pity the people who did not admire Ratana more for personality and kind heart, for they would never be able to truly appreciate her sister. But she did.
 
 
 
They entered the courtyard that teemed with activity in preparation for the departure of King Wattana’s party. Half of the northerners had left the day before so as not to congest the road.
 
Nan bowed to Ada, who was there to send her off with Queen Sara. She clasped Uncle Kamon as he murmured for her to remember he was hers to call upon in need. Then she looked up to see Thee lead out her grey mare, Sephyr—she would be taking her faithful steed north with her. Thee dropped the reins and embraced her. She hid her face in his shoulder, nodding her head to his requests for her to take care, don’t do anything reckless, and keep in contact.
 
“When have I ever failed to correspond with you, cousin? I will write to brag of my adventures in the northern mountains, and when I see you again, I shall finally be able to outshoot you.”
 
“Just promise not to use your prince as the practice target.”
 
She shrugged. “He has to give something in return for my hand.”
 
“He is a man of honor.” He glanced past her to the large assembly waiting to leave. “I know I should not like him after the war we fought, but I have to at least respect him. And he does not seem unkind.”
 
Nan sighed and pecked him on the cheek. “I wish you were coming with me.”
 
“Hold on to that thought,” he smiled.
 
Lastly, Rachakrit swept her into his arms, lifting her feet off the ground. “If you desire to come home, you write me and I shall ride at once to retrieve you, you hear?”
 
“What if they do not let you past the border?”
 
“To hell with their border.” His voice rumbled in his chest, comforting her. “I’ll fly if I have to. Doves have wings, do they not?” His large hand pushed away the hair from her face, and she remembered each and every callous that marked the palms and fingers that had lifted her back to her feet every time she fell as a child. “Should you change your mind, know I will be here. Remember, you are not yet bound in matrimony.”
 
“No, but I am bound by the honor of our house to fulfill the peace terms. Do not worry about me. This stubborn daughter of yours will look after herself.”
 
“To me, you will always be the pint-sized critter chasing after rabbits in the woods, and skipping down the shorelines. Remember that I love you, girlie.”
 
“That I have never forgotten for one second.”
 
Rachakrit lifted her onto her horse, walking with her over to Prince Atsawin.
 
“I promise to keep her safe, Lord Rachakrit,” Atsawin swore.
 
“I will hold you to a man’s word. We will be riding north for the wedding in less than three month’s time.”
 
Thee inclined his head, glanced at Nan to signal his lead, then led her to the procession. They flowed past the castle’s massive walls. Just once, Nan looked back at her family, before turning to the front to face all that would come her way.
 
------
Two handmaids from the royal household had been assigned as Nan’s personal maids.
 
“Are you certain you do not wish to travel in the carriage, my lady?”
 
They had made camp for the fourth night since the journey began. Tents were erected, dinners warming over firepits as owls hooted.
 
Nan sat upon a log near the fire just outside her tent, accompanied by Maree and Leela.
 
“Would you not be more comfortable sitting on cushions?” Leela asked.
 
“Definitely not,” Nan answered firmly. She had no taste for carriages especially in comparison to riding horseback, which allowed her freedom, fresh air, and an unhindered view of the landscape. She realized this made her more visible among the other travelers, the majority consisting of men, from knights to regular smallfolk who had joined the war. There was also a small population of camp-followers, attaching themselves to some of the more well-to-do men in exchange for services of cooking or pleasure, or both. Nan didn’t know if they found her preference for horse-riding odd or not. They kept their distance, aside from greeting with a, “Your Highness” whenever she passed them. She herself found it hard to get used to the title and often had to remind herself they were talking to her.
 
“I have no objection if the both of you would like to ride in the carriage,” she said.
 
“That would be most improper,” Maree clucked.
 
“No one would care. Anyone who objects I’ll have tied up to be dragged behind the thing.”
 
The two giggled, but Nan was pretty serious in wanting them to be comfortable. They had been forced to leave their homes just to serve her and enter into an unknown territory and people. She wanted them to be well-cared for.
 
“Will my lady be wanting a bath tonight?” Leela asked.
 
“I will not bathe tonight. There is said to be a stream nearby for me to wash up.” When they got up, she urged them to sit back down. “No need. You should both rest.” Neither Maree or Leela were as good of riders as she was, having been bred to serve ladies in castles instead of mastering horses, and the day’s ride had been long.
 
Nan made her way alone to the edge of the camp, into the growth of trees where the men had mentioned a stream. When she could see the water glisten in the starlight, there came a sudden cry and splash.
 
Hurrying forward to investigate, Nan made out a person rising from the stream. “Who’s there?”
 
There was a small shriek and then the person hurriedly climbed onto land. “Y-your Highness. Please excuse me for being in this state!”
 
From the moon’s rays, Nan recognized the woman taking shape. She must be one of the young highborn ladies that were being sent to marry in Chiengmai. “What is your name?”
 
“Suchin, as it please Your Highness.”
 
“I am not so horrid to look upon that you need to keep your head down.”
 
“I wouldn’t dare!” Suchin raised her eyes to see Nan with a teasing smile. The girl looked deeply embarrassed. “Please forgive me, Your Highness.”
 
“There is nothing to forgive. Come, we best get you out of those clothes.
 
“I’m so clumsy. I hope you are not offended by seeing me like this, Your Highness.”
 
Nan shrugged. “I’ve been dirtier than that before. And call me Nan. We are of an age and besides, of equal status.”
 
“Oh, but you are the princess of the North.”
 
Nan sighed. “I am not yet wed. It would please me greatly if you should consent to call me by name. Please.”
 
Suchin looked surprised by her plea, but nodded. “Yes, Nan.”
 
“And I shall call you Suchin. I see you did not choose to reach Chiengmai by sea.”
 
“No, Your Highness, I mean Nan. My father had few men to spare and he thought it better for my safety to travel with the large party.”
 
Most of the highborn sons and daughters who were promised to marry in accordance to the peace treaty had departed by ship to Chiengmai, and would be received by their new families there.
 
“Princess, you are back so soon,” Maree said when they approached.
 
“Please aid Lady Suchin in drying up and find her a dress. Suchin, are you camped nearby?”
 
“Yes, Y—I mean, Nan.” She looked both torn between her manners and reminding herself of Nan’s request. “My tent is just beyond that fire with a few maids.”
 
“Maree, run and inform Suchin’s party that she will be staying with me tonight.”
 
“Yes, my lady.”
 
Suchin looked up with eyes wide like a doe’s. “You would really like my company?”
 
“If you do not mind, of course.” Krit sensed the relief and gratitude as Suchin nodded, with the glisten of tears in her eyes.
 
“I would love that. It—it has been a dramatic change in my life, this betrothal. I feared I would be lonely.”
 
“Then we shall both keep each other from the clutches of such darkness.”
 
While Suchin was changing, Nan returned to the stream. She splashed water on her face, running her fingers through the hair that the wind had tangled. The journey would last another three weeks, two to cross the border and another few days to reach Sukothai Hall.
 
“You shouldn’t be out here alone.”
 
She spun in her crouched stance to see Prince Atsawin leaning against an oak tree. His eyes glowed silver as the moon reflected in them.
 
“Are you going to start telling me what to do now?”
 
“I’m merely concerned for your safety.”
 
“I’m touched.” She wiped her mouth on her sleeve and made for the camp. “I’m sure you have bigger things to worry about.”
 
“Well, you are quite small.”
 
She resisted rising to the bait. “If you’ll excuse me, it is time I turned in for the night.”
 
“I hear you are keeping the Lady Suchin as a companion. It is a good idea. She is betrothed to my uncle.”
 
“Your uncle?” Nan had not asked Suchin about her betrothal. Did the girl know she was being given to such a high lord?
 
“My Uncle Veerathep is a lord of highest standing. He is my father’s closest and most reliable councilor and has done much for our realm. I think my father is hoping to give him a complete home with this bride.”
 
“And what of the bride’s hopes? What of the home she wants?”
 
Atsawin looked at her softly. “Uncle Vee is a good man.”
 
Nan twisted her mouth at his reassuring tone. “Also twice her age.”
 
“It’s not uncommon for there to be an age gap in a married couple.”
 
“It’s not uncommon for women to wed men they don’t like,” she grumbled quietly. The stopped before her tent, where Leela bowed to Prince Atsawin.
 
Nan paused. Was she supposed to thank him for walking her to her tent? It wasn’t like it was a difficult job. “Good night, Your Highness.”
 
“Win. If I’m going to be the man you don’t like but are wedding anyway, we might as well put formalities aside between us.”
 
Things could not be turned back so she had best get used to it all. “Alright. Win.”
 
“Kritsanan.”
 
“Nan,” she corrected.
 
He gave a quirk of his lips and kissed her hand. “Good night, Nan.”
 
 
 
“Prince Atsawin seems like a kind man,” Leela sighed wistfully.
 
“Of course he is kind. He is a prince. All princes are gentleman,” Maree said, pulling back the covers for Nan and Suchin.
 
Nan frowned, “You do not begrudge him defeating our lands?”
 
“War is a part of life. I am just grateful for my family and for the mornings that greet me each day,” Maree said, with the resignation and seasoned wisdom of an elder.
 
As the moon drew higher in the sky and the camp quieted, Nan heard Suchin’s soft voice.
 
“My lady, are you awake?”
 
“Yes. What is it?”
 
“Are you afraid? Of where we are going.”
 
“No,” Nan replied. “No harm will come to us.”
 
“I suppose not.”
 
“Are you afraid?”
 
Suchin sighed. “I am afraid I will not be permitted to see my family ever again.”
 
“That is impossible. I will ensure you can visit home.”
 
“Truly?” the hope in her bated breath made Nan more determined to keep to her words.
 
“Yes. We will see our summer lands again. I promise.”
 
Only then did they both fall into sleep, eased by the comfort of a friend’s breath.
 
------
While she rode the next day, Nan found a knight at her side.
 
“My lady, these are for you.” He offered a fistful of wild flowers to her.
 
She accepted the arrangement of red, white and yellow blossoms, “Thank you, ser.”
 
“Ser Dan,” the knight offered with a carefree smile.
 
“Ser Dan,” she said when he kept pace beside her. “You do not have the northern look.”
 
He was tall and slim, with light brown hair and eyes speckled green that reminded her of the Bay of Ancient Willows.
 
“So I’m often old. I take after my mother, who is of Nacir, far in the west. I was raised my whole life in Chiengmai and my lord father taught me the ways of his people—my people.” There was no mistaking the loyalty in his voice.
 
“You have never seen Nacir?”
 
“No, my lady. My mother used to tell me about her homeland but nothing has been more real or more beloved to me than Chiengmai. I am confident you will like it there.” His smile turned cheeky at the sight of her doubtful face. “Win will see to all of your comforts.”
 
She noted his informal reference to the prince. “You are close to him?”
 
“Atsawin? Yes. I grew up in the castle as a squire and was assigned as his companion. We studied together, rode together, and learned the sword together.”
 
Thereafter, Dan approached Nan with flowers most days and they would ride side by side. Through Dan, Nan grew more knowledgeable about her future home; but they also enjoyed friendly banter and Krit realized she couldn’t have found a friend more willing and kind. The other northerners held her at lengths, either due to her status or national origin, but Dan was unbothered by such boundaries, happy to answer her questions, lay quiet to the doubts she hid, keeping her company when the party stopped for the day; they rode ahead sometimes to explore the midlands too.
 
One day, the two of them even convinced Suchin to come along and the trio discovered a doe nesting with her fawn within the Thin Forest.
 
“In the south, they would be suspicious of your intentions, paying so much attention to a lady this way.”
 
“Do all southerners look upon such a courtesy as an offense?” Dan inquired, smiling his constant smile. “You are the princess, our future queen. I cannot see who else is worthier of attention. As for my intention, they are purely to please you while we ride through these terrains which can oft be rough. I admire you for your endurance. Any woman who can ride a horse half as well as your Highness is truly looked up to in Chiengmai.”
 
When Dan took his leave to attend his other duties, and her handmaids were preparing supper, she heard Maree tell her, “Princess Nan, you should not get too close to that foreign knight.”
 
“If he is foreign what would the north think of me?”
 
“But we are people of the Heartland.”
 
“So is Ser Dan,” she defended. “He knows no other home, and he would protect this land as quickly as I would.” 
 
------
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I am still waiting for an update in case you're thinking no one is reading your fan fic.
 

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sarNie Adult
This is so good!!!! I just wish I can open this in iBook so that it'd be easier to get to where I left off! Thank you for such an amazing ff. :)
 

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Is your "nom" Fai-approved?
Chapter 7


About five days into their friendship, Nan began to notice the extra long glance that Dan bestowed upon Suchin when he thought neither of the two ladies were aware. Nan also observed Suchin’s shy eyes and pink blushes towards Dan. The inkling of suspicion played in Nan’s mind: her two friends were attracted to one another.

With this revelation came the prickling of caution. Suchin was betrothed, and she knew Dan was more aware of that than anyone else. But seeing their soft glances, their lingering smiles, and the way they drifted closer together when walking set Nan at ill ease.

“Your highness.”

Nan looked up.

“Prince Atsawin ordered this to be sent to you,” Dan said, holding up a bundle. Nan accepted it and shook it out.

Suchin gasped. “It’s beautiful.”

It was a black fur cloak, light but warm, the hood lined with fine white fur. Nan’s fingers sunk easily into the lush material, and she knew how it would feel even before Suchin urged her to try it on.

As the cloak fell upon her shoulders and flowed down to her feet, she knew it was the perfect riding cloak.

~~~

She could tell they were drawing closer to the border. The trees were more dense and wild looking than in the Midlands. The air was cooling. She woke in her tent one morning to shivers that rolled all over her body. Voices drifted towards her but it was as if bees were buzzing just within her ears so that she couldn’t make out the words of the speakers. Nan’s dreams clung to her, submerging her a long sleep.

Once, she was jolted awake, sensing a warmth that was both comforting and foreign. Her heavy eyelids fluttered open to reveal that she was in someone’s arms.

“No…not the carriage…” she mumbled, seeing that the carriage door was open and the interior prepared for her.

“I’m afraid you have no choice my lady.” The voice was recognizable, and Nan felt a weak urge to struggle away from its owner. But Atsawin had already settled her onto the cushions placed in the carriage. “Until you’re well again, you’ll have to remain in here.”

She was too tired to object.

It must have been a few days before her fever broke.

“My lady, you’re awake,” came Leela’s voice. “Are you feeling alright? Are you thirsty or hungry?”

“Water…”

Her lips were moistened and she gratefully sipped on water, supported by the shoulder that held her up. Once she was satisfied, she leaned back. That was when her eyes caught the person at her side.

“Your Highness…”

His warm breath fanned her. “Knew you weren’t going to be kept too long.” He offered a soft smile. “Once you get your strength back, there will be no excuses though, to forget my name.”

She frowned. “I know your name. What do you take me for, a dunce?”

He seemed to think on it. “Okay then, what is it?”

“It’s Atsawin…” she sighed, sleep reclaiming her. “…Win.”

~~~

“We were worried for you,” Maree said, as the next day she helped tend to Nan, wiping her arm with cool wet cloths. “If you didn’t get well in another few days, Prince Atsawin insisted they stop in Phichit.”

Nan felt miserable thinking she might have been responsible for holding up the party. It was bad enough that she had caught fever due to such a small change in climate.

“Don’t worry, you’ll grow accustomed to it soon,” Maree assured her. “Here.” Just as she was bringing over a bowl of stew, Leela entered the tent.

“Prince Atsawin requests entrance,” she informed them.

Nan nodded to her.

Atsawin came in. He appeared to have been hunting, his clothing dirty and soaked with sweat. “How are you feeling today?”

“Better.” She decided to be more firm. “I’m well,” she said, as if that might convince her body to speed up its healing.

Atsawin glanced at Maree and Leela, and they knew to be dismissed. Once they were alone, Nan wondered if he was going to tell her that she would be staying behind after all, until she recovered completely. She didn’t suppose she blamed him, but regretted feeling so weak at the moment.

“I’ll help you.”

Nan turned her attention back to him and found he had gotten comfortable beside her, the bowl of stew on his lap. She took hold of the spoon while he held the bowl out for her. She ate ravenously to replenish her strength, and felt sleepy after finishing.

“Will we be reaching Sukothai soon?”

“In a week’s time. Dan will be coming with us.” At the mention of his friend, Atsawin set his mouth sterner. “I apologize that I haven’t given you as much attention during the journey. I don’t mean to neglect you.”

She shrugged, biting back a yawn. “Ser Dan and Suchin have kept me occupied.”

He smiled. “Good. But just so you don’t get too preferential towards him, I intend to keep closer company to you myself.”

“Whatever suits your highness.”

Atsawin helped her lie back down and cover her with the fur blanket. Perhaps her fever slowed her reflexes, but Nan barely had time to prepare for when he dropped a kiss to her forehead. She blinked up at him in surprise.

Thee smiled wryly. “Just checking your temperature.” He finally got up and left.

Nan was strangely awake, though she’d been tired just moments before. She’d never been kissed before by anyone except her family members. Strange, that the kiss hadn’t felt unpleasant. She turned over but couldn’t shake away the woodsy smell Atsawin left behind.


~~~

Sunlight slipped into her tent through the space between the flap. When she woke the following morning, Suchin was dabbing her face with a cloth, while Leela poured water into a tub.

“Good morning, my lady. Did you sleep well?”

Nan did feel well-rested. “Suchin, how I’ve missed you.”

“You had me worried. Dan and I have been restless without you.” Suchin brushed Nan’s hair from her forehead, and she was reminded in that moment of Ratana, followed by a yearning for her sister that rang within her chest.

“I’m not that easy to take down,” she teased softly. Suchin indulged her with a smile.

Leela said, “Maree and Prae are helping me draw water for you bath. We are going to continue our journey shortly after cleaning up breakfast.”

“Prae?” The name was unfamiliar to Nan.

“Oh, she is a camp-follower. She has recently left the services of one of the lords traveling with the party,” Leela informed in a measured voice. Nan could tell she didn’t entirely approve of the assistance of a camp-follower, but wasn’t going to complain.

In came Maree and a woman who appeared in her twenties, each carrying a pail of steaming water.

“Princess Nan, I hope you are well. We will serve your morning meal after your bath,” Maree said, emptying her pail before coming over to help Krit undress.

“Are you coming with us to Sukothai?” Nan inquired of Prae as she was lowered into the water.

Prae, who could easily be recognized as beautiful, answered, “No, I shall be heading back to Inthanon.”

“Your family lives there?”

Prae smiled ruefully. “That is where I find work. My family resides just outside of Lampang.”

Curious, Nan asked further, “Do you usually work in Inthanon, or do you…”
“I go wherever men are. That is where my services are needed.”

Nan felt the water’s steam hurry her blush. “I see.”

Suddenly feeling brave, and somewhat defiant of the kiss she’d been bestowed by Atsawin, she asked, “Have you ever…served the prince?”

Prae let out a tingling laugh, and Nan decided if she was a man, that laugh would be enough to draw her into Prae’s arms.

“You don’t have to worry about your prince.” Prae gave a suggestive smile with those red lips of hers. “In the North, women weep their hearts out for his beauty and valor, but his blood must be as cold as winter. I’ve never heard word that he’s ever sought pleasure in any woman before. At least, none that sound credible.”

Maree and Leela sniffed in indignation for Nan’s sake. Suchin appeared perfectly shocked at the way Prae spoke so openly about the prince’s private matters. Nan took the information in stride, not sure what to make of it now that she knew. She supposed she should be grateful that Prince Atsawin wasn’t the type to carelessly seek pleasure in women, then decided she had better things to think about.

Just as the morning meal was cleared, Nan found Suchin hurrying towards her.

“Oh, I was afraid I would miss you before you departed.” Suchin clasped Nan’s hands in her hers. “I shall sorely miss you.”

“And I, you. I hope you have a comfortable trip to the capitol.” Nan refrained from mentioning Suchin’s marriage. She glanced away towards where some men were gathered, including Ser Dan, and could have sworn she caught him looking their way. When she turned back to Suchin, she found her friend’s eyes resting regretfully on Dan too.

“Suchin, you will be happy. I know it.” She didn’t, and it was unfair of her to be sure, but Nan couldn’t bear if yet another person’s life resulted in misery from the war.

Suchin, who’s small face and big eyes always reminded Nan of a child, suddenly grew still with age. “Yes.” She smiled bravely. “I hope we will meet again soon.”

Nan kissed her cheek before she was led away.


Dan watched as Nan and Suchin embraced, before catching Atsawin also taking in the same scene.

“We will reach Sukothai soon.”

“That’s so,” Atsawin said, turning away to saddle his horse.

“You do not look forward to setting up a…what do the women call it, a love nest? With your princess?” This earned him a droll roll of eyes from Atsawin. Dan chuckled. “No need to hide your eagerness. I wonder that you do not spend more time with her. She’s a unique character. You are missing out on knowing her.”

“Oh, I know of her head-strong ways,” Atsawin assured. “I am the one who found her on the battle field after all.”

Dan glanced over his shoulder. “Yes, she is headstrong.”

Atsawin followed his gaze, then shook his head, seeing Nan was not heading into the carriage as he had instructed for her to.

“Going to battle with her?” Dan asked, seeing Atsawin make his way to Nan. “I heard you were nearly taken out the last time.”

“You hush now.”


“How have you been?” Nan laid her cheek against her dear steed’s head. Her faithful Sephyr, tall and muscular, whinnied in appreciation. “You must have been so bored without a rider. I’m back now.”

Maree and Leela protested her riding, for they feared she wasn’t yet strong enough, but Nan was too eager to get out of the tent, and especially avoid the dreaded carriage. So she stubbornly had Sephyr saddled and was about to climb on, when a pair of hands lifted her the rest of the way onto the horse. Nan found Atsawin at her side, but was yet again unprepared for his next actions.

He climbed on behind her.

She caught her breath when his arms slid on either side of her waist to grab the reigns.

Atsawin could feel her stiffen, but went right ahead and urged Sephyr into the line of riders.

As they rode, he glanced sideways at her. The wind danced through her hair, sending loose curls bouncing against his cheek.

“Your highness, I think you might be more comfortable on your own steed,” she said.

“I’m fine where I am. And I won’t have you falling off the horse.”

She resented him questioning her ability. “I’m perfectly capable of riding a horse on my own.”

“We should stick to the safe side. After all, I cannot let ill befall my bride a second time.”

Nan begrudgingly sat silent while Sephyr carried them both onward. Soon, she allowed herself to relax and study her surroundings: the bountiful forest, the bird calls and horse steps of the travelers; voices that responded back and forth.

“Thank you—“

“Do you—“

They cut each other off and paused.

Atsawin continued, “I was going to ask if the cloak suits you, my lady.”

“I was going to thank your highness for the suitable cloak,” she replied with a half-smirk. She felt his arms enclose around her and she sat up straighter. “Your highness?”

“Remember my name yet?”

She whipped her head around, bringing their faces unexpectedly close. Atsawin found himself reflected in her large brown eyes, found himself tempted to claim her lips.

“Atsawin.”

“Yes Nan?”

She sighed impatiently, turn to face front. “You’re too close.”

He finally relented and loosened his arms a bit. “That wasn’t too difficult, was it?”

Nan scowled.

------------
Nearly two years later. :confused:
Happy July!

jjinxx
 
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