Princess Isabel glanced out the window, watching her sister enter the palanquin and go away from the Maiden Palace forever. No longer would Yolande be here at nights, to tell her stories, or share sweetmeats with her, or sing along with Isabel’s harpsichord playing. From now on, she would only see Yolande on state occasions. Isabel held back a tear. It was a good thing that her sister was marrying, to continue the Royal Line of Tintagel. It was an especially good thing she was marrying the Prince of Leonais, uniting the two lines and quite possibly creating a kingdom that could truly consider itself the heir of the Holy Empire.
But she still would miss her sister.
“I hear Prince Amfortas crossed blades with the Dark Lord Cthonique--and lived!” announced Princess Edith excitedly.
Isabel gave a frustrated sigh. Well, more exactly, she would miss her eldest sister. “Of course, he lived, Edith,” said Isabel patiently. “If he didn’t, he couldn’t marry Yolande, now could he?”
“I know that!” snapped Edith. “The point is--he fought with a Dark Lord! Sword to sword! And survived! Even Emperor Aurelian didn’t do that! It must have been so exciting!” She leaped from her seat, picking up a knitting needle, and did a bit of mock sword-play, dancing back and forth on the floor. “Ya! Yaah! Ho ha!”
Isabel leaned back in her chair, rubbing her eyes. “Do sit down, Edith.”
Edith pouted at her sister. “Well, you are being a great big spoilsport. The Great War is starting, and soon the Light shall triumph over the Darkness, and everything will be beautiful and glorious forever and ever, and you are just sitting there, knitting, and not enjoying how incredibly exciting all this is!”
“Very well, Edith,” said Isabel with a sigh. “You are right. This is all tremendously exciting. Now will you sit down? Please?”
Edith returned unhappily to her seat. “Think about it, Isabel. Soon our soldiers will be in the Lands of Night, cleaving Erl skulls, and slaughtering Goblins!” She clapped her hands together. “I wish I could be there! Killing things!”
Isabel rubbed her temples. Her sister was… a rather disappointing princess, on the whole.
“Is everything all right, my dears?” came a familiar, slightly high-pitched voice. “I heard… shouting.”
Isabel turned towards Mote as the palace’s Chief Eunuch entered the room. “Edith is being a little beast,” she announced calmly.
Edith crossed her arms angrily. “I am not! I was just saying how exciting it is to have Prince Amfortas here, and the Great War starting!”
“While jumping about like a savage!” said Isabel. She turned to Mote. “She wants to be in the Lands of Night! Slaughtering Nightfolk!”
Mote chuckled gently, his thin chin shaking ever so slightly with mirth. “My dear Princess Edith--that would be most improper behavior.” He stepped forward and tussled Edith’s hair. “You should be glad you won’t have the opportunity. War is, I’m afraid, horrifically unpleasant.” Isabel was enjoying a smirk, when the eunuch turned towards her. “And you should not tattle on your sister for such minor matters. She is blood of your blood, after all, and the pair of you are likely to be spending a great deal of time with each other in the years ahead. I think you’ll it is more pleasant if you try to avoid spiting one another.” He clapped his hands together. “Now, let us get ready for the wedding feast, shall we?”
Isabel rose grimly from her chair. “Of course, Mote. As you wish.”
Mote rested his hand on her shoulder. “The Queen does love you, Isabel. And if the laws of Tintagel permitted, she would let you--and Edith--stay with her. But they do not. Still--you have each other, and me and all the rest of the palace staff.”
Isabel took his hand, and pressed it gladly. She knew people said that Mote and the rest of his fellow eunuchs had far too much influence in the court these days--that they were a scheming lot of wretches who were ruining the country, the way eunuchs always did when they got their hands on power. But she could never credit that--not for Mote who was so good, and kind to her and her sisters. Her mother had died when she was a very young child, and her father had died not long after, and the chief eunuch had stood in the place of both.
Of course, she could never tell him this, but she figured he already knew.