For the next two days Cadell had been the perfect gentleman, his attentiveness to her needs seeing all those in her palace soften their opinions towards him. Tialla however, continued to hold herself aloof. While she ensured that she was always polite, she never allowed herself to be alone with him, not sure how long her hard fought-for indifference would last if they were.
He had watched her with eyes which seemed to be amused in the way she would stand stiffly beside him, or avert her eyes – and hand if his ever landed on hers. While she hoped she was coming off as regal, she had the impression that he was humouring her the same way one would with a huffy child, this thought making her want to hit the man. Why did he get to her so?
On the third day, as was the tradition of her kingdom, the two, having sent out proclamations of their intended union, moved together onto the large balcony overlooking the palace courtyard. Tialla was touched to see as many of her subjects congregated below, her eyes not missing his soldiers strategically stood on the periphery of the assembly.
While the people had been peaceful towards the soldiers, both were only too aware how quickly that could change. Hostile armies were never fully welcomed, although their kindness and helpfulness to the population had gone a great way to stopping any signs of unrest. Even so, Tialla knew that the next few minutes would be crucial. It was important that her people accept Cadell, her mouth firming – even if she did not.
Tialla raised her arms. Instantly a hush descended upon the throng. Beside her Cadell held his breath. The fact that the people below loved and respected her was clear to see, their expressions rapt, waiting for their princess’s words.
“People of Leando.” Her voice, while normally soft, carried over the crowd, her words spoken with an authorative note. “It has been a tumultuous few days to say the least.” A small ripple of laughter moved through the crowd below, Cadell feeling the tension lesson slightly. “We find ourselves between two great warring armies, our little province by no fault of its own thrust into the middle of a war.”
He could see the way people fidgeted, their looks flicking briefly to his men. “We found ourselves attacked, with no warning”, the words full of accusation as Tialla briefly cast her look to him. “Fortunately, we were lucky not to suffer any fatalities and those injured have received assistance.”
Now her features became sadder, more melancholy. “Unfortunately, the ease with which we were overpowered shows how ill-prepared for such attacks we are – how easy a target we are.” Taking a deep breath, she held a hand up indicating Cadell. “The leader of the army who attacked us is Cadell of Karok, and he is in dispute with a warlord who some of you may already be familiar with – Garel of Drakel.”
From the crowd he heard some gasps and even a few low screams. It seemed that some were indeed familiar with him. Lifting her hand once more for silence she ploughed on. “As strange as it may seem, we should consider ourselves fortunate that it was Lord Cadell who first entered our province. It has however highlighted a major problem we have, and while my uncle has offered his support…”, again her eyes flying briefly to his, the message clear that she was not going to be pushed around, “It is perhaps better to take a more long-term approach.”
For the first time Cadell could see a slight tremor in her hand, she quickly bringing it down and holding both together. “Therefore, it has been decided that the province of Leandro and that of Karok should be united in marriage.”
From below there a moment of silence before the crowd erupted in cheering. Cadell felt himself breathe out. That had been far easier than he expected.
When the noise died down Tialla once more cleared her throat. “May I introduce you to Cadell of Karok – your next king.”
As she spoke she turned facing him, her head bowing respectfully while her lovely eyes glared at him.
Cadell felt his lips twitch. She really was going to be a handful. Tialla would never be a woman who meekly obeyed. She would always fight her corner, challenging him, Cadell strangely looking forward to it.
With humour now in his eyes he stepped forward, the people below once more becoming hushed. “People of Leando, sometimes when one is steeped in war, we forget that there are those for whom violence and bloodshed are not a fact of life. We forget that there are those who live peacefully, creating a society we all crave – a society worth protecting. Leando with its culture of beauty and peace is one such province.”
He paused, Tialla surprised to see what seemed like real regret cross his handsome features. “If I could turn back the hands of time, then I would approach your princess with an offer of protection and not take those actions I did”, his eyes passing over all below.
Tialla saw how her people seemed to be enamoured with the man, her hackles rising. Damn him and his seemingly endless charm. “However, I do have it in my power to make amends, and I intend to offer my armies in the defense of Leando. Lord Harbin and I have talked at length, and we feel confident that with his and my forces united that we will ensure that Garel thinks twice before marching on Leando.”
A loud cheer rose from the crowd, Tialla seeing the relief in her people’s features. Now Cadell held out his hand to her, she forced to place her own in his as he pulled her by his side. “A wise man once told me that winning a war is not the hardest part. It is keeping the peace, and I must agree. It takes a very special person to win the peace. I have learnt of the many initiatives your princess – soon to be my queen – has implemented, and the many more she has proposed. I consider myself blessed to have found such a wonderful person, and it will be my greatest pleasure and privilege to support her in the future.”
(next installment 14th Mar)