With the freedom of Lender's Dale, Java thinks she is done. But she should have known better.
The Saga of Java Mountainstand book 3.
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Format: Trade Paperback
Format: Trade Paperback
What has Gone Before
After five long years of war, the Duchy of Lender's Dale is finally free of Emperor Frander's army of occupation and his magical control of the people. Duchess Samantha Lender is firmly on her throne, and her ravaged duchy is beginning to rebuild thanks to the help and generosity of Samantha's guardian, Princess Java of Hiddendell, better known as Java Mountainstand.
Java was originally a runaway servant who had become a mercenary in a bid for independence. It was Java who had rescued Samantha, the last survivor of the royal family of Lender's Dale, and been made a lady as a reward and in acknowledgment of her guardianship over the young duchess. And it was Java who had won the hearts of her comrades and commanders, and been adopted by the childless Duke Arten and Duchess Naria of Hiddendell.
Finally, with peace and maturity, Java's life is settling down. She has accepted that, whatever her plans had been, being made a princess has irrevocably altered the course of her life. Her resignation from the Firewalkers has set in motion yet another round of changes, starting with her proposal of marriage to her longtime lover, Jah'Moke Cawfy.
Marta Freeholm, founder of the Firewalkers, retired and accepted the position of Lady High Chatelaine of Link County, Java's holding in Hiddendell. Shair Skyhaven, Java's beloved lieutenant, has also retired, and accepted the position of Lady High Chatelaine of Mountainstand County, Java's holding in Greencastle.
For Java, who had counted on both Marta and Shair's council for years, keeping them with her was a relief beyond her ability to express. For the two retiring mercenary officers, it was both a shock and a blessing.
Emperor Frander sat on his throne with an extremely puzzled expression on his face. Before him stood his most powerful followers, his generals. Each was a force to be reckoned with in his own right, but their devotion to Frander was unquestioned.
"Why do they fight me?" he asked. "I am bringing about a utopia on Dracana, and I can't grasp why anyone would oppose me?"
"My Emperor, it was just Lender's Dale. You know they have never been considered to be very civilized. Throw in Greencastle and they may as well be a back-woods tavern. We shall retake them."
"But how did we lose them? Why did we lose them? This makes no sense to me," he told his generals, "I must know why they did this. I must know how they did this. I must know what magic they possess that I do not."
All six generals bowed deeply before the leader said, "We shall discover this information for you, My Emperor."
Home. No matter where it is, home is always the best place to be.
Master Scholar Princess Sharindis Zel'Andral, "Travels with Stavin"
CHAPTER 1: THE RETURN OF THE PRINCESS
Peace. The concept seemed almost alien to Java. For the first time since she had run away from Equintain, her future seemed peaceful. Lender's Dale was free of Frander, and Greencastle was no longer in danger. No one knew what his next move would be, but that was a problem for the future.
Nothing had been heard or seen from Frander's forces since they had broken and retreated from Lender's Dale. For the Army of Lender's Dale, the war was over. For now, at least.
And Java felt like she was done. Her main goal of freeing Samantha's duchy had been accomplished. And even though Greencastle was now her duchy in a very real sense, she was going home to Whitehall to embrace the destiny that had been pressed upon her. And that, as strange as it seemed, didn't sit well with Java.
I'm never going to have any more fun.
Princess Java Mountainstand of Hiddendell took her leave of the Firewalkers and Firedale, accompanied by the people who had made her what she had become. Jah'Moke rode close on her right, and Robin rode knee-to-knee on her left. Marta Freeholm, Shair Skyhaven, and Sabrina Derinsham followed close behind. Behind them, in a column of twos, came two hundred Firewalkers, escorting their princess and former captain back to Hiddendell. There they would take up residence in the compound that had been the Firewalkers' home since Marta had formed the company twenty-three years before. Sabrina was the only member of the procession who was not a Firewalker, but her relationship with Shair made her family to Java.
They were headed to Greensboro first to petition Duke Kaster to ennoble Shair and name her Lady Skyhaven. The trip was uneventful except for the hostility of some of the village mayors and headmen to the company of mercenaries that filed through their territories. The people of Greencastle felt that the mercs were a necessary evil, but an evil nonetheless. Now that Frander was no longer an immediate threat, the very people they had been hired to protect were making them feel unwelcome.
The mayor of Lone Pine, the closest town to Firedale, and the only town that had existed before the war in the marginal territory that had become Mountainstand County, greeted them before they entered the town and set the tone for their trip.
"Just keep on going. We've had enough trouble out of you lot."
Java rode forward and dismounted. She had never met the mayor before. "Who are you?" she asked as she stood and looked up into his face. He was easily as tall as Ander Lesten, but where Ander was smoothly handsome, this man was as rough as a dirt-clod. Sporting a five-day growth of whiskers, his face looked dirty to Java, and his bulbus nose was speckled with black spots.
"I am Mayor Cavenal. Who in the hells are you?" the mayor snarled, his hostility toward the mercs making him surly and careless.
"I am Princess Java, and the Lady of Mountainstand County. Watch your tone when you speak to me." Java's angry blue eyes bored into the mayor's brown eyes. "You will convene a meeting of the Town Council immediately. Is that understood?"
Mayor Cavenal looked down into Java's face and stepped back. He had never met the princess, but the girl in front of him matched the description he had been given. "You're really Princess Java?" he asked in a cautious tone.
Java drew her hand up and tapped the twin ducal brooches that were pinned to her sash. The light was poor, but the mayor could make out the emerald of the Greencastle brooch beside the sapphire and topaz of the Hiddendell brooch. "Do you need more proof?"
The mayor licked his lips nervously and dropped briefly to one knee, shaking his head. "No, Princess. No, I believe you," he said as he backed away. "I will convene the council at once, Your Highness." He continued to back away, never taking his eyes off Java.
Marta rode up beside Java and smiled down at her as the mayor finally turned and ran back into town. "You seem to be getting used to being a princess, Java."
Java grinned up at the woman she would always call captain and shrugged. "It has its uses, Sir."
Lieutenant Maren Kelven, as the senior Firewalker officer and commander of the detachment, ordered her women to pitch camp outside of town. While the troops were busying themselves setting up tents, she walked over to Java and her party.
She bowed to Java before saying, "The hostility of the mayor is an unpleasant surprise. During the war, Lone Pine was more than glad of our presence. And our silver. With your permission, Princess Java, I would like to be part of this. Captain Rivers is going to want to know what is happening."
Java nodded. "Yes, Sir. You're welcome to come along if you promise to stop calling me princess when you don't have to." Java's sour look made the women around her laugh.
"As you wish, Java," Maren replied, smiling at the slight figure beside her, her teeth gleaming in the light of the setting sun.
The Town Council members were all present in the Alder Tree Inn when Java and her party arrived. The innkeeper, Valden Coopersmith, was a member of the council and a distant cousin of Sabrina's. He saw her with the mercs and quickly went to her side. "Sabrina, what are you doing here? Is that really Princess Java?"
"It is," Sabrina said softly. She looked at the slight figure striding through the common room and nodded. "Watch your step, Valden. She's not to be trifled with."
Java stopped when she was facing the council, and the mayor quickly called them to order. She swept the room with an angry scowl before speaking. "I am Princess Java Mountainstand, Lady of Mountainstand County," she said, pausing to scan the faces before her again. They don't look happy to see us. "The greeting my party received tonight will not be repeated. Is that understood? I consider the Firewalkers to be my family, and the Vandals and Thunderfeet to be my friends. Any insults you offer them will be considered an insult to me personally."
The mayor cleared his throat and stood to bow. "Princess, please forgive me. I didn't know you were among the group that was approaching the town, otherwise I would never have greeted you in such a manner."
"That you would greet any of the mercenaries in such a manner is inexcusable!" Java snapped irritably. "These men and women have been fighting for you, keeping you safe, for more than five years. If they had pulled out after the second year, when their initial contracts ran out, every man here would have been pressed into the Guard, and Frander would have taken Greencastle." Her cold blue eyes scanned the Town Council and the spectators. There were a number of robust young men among them who should have been with the Guard, but had never been called upon.
Java turned and held out her hand to Shair, who stood to join her. "This is Shair Skyhaven. She is accompanying me to Greensboro, where I shall ask Duke Kaster to name her Lady Skyhaven. She will then be returning as my Lady High Chatelaine for Mountainstand County. Mayor Cavenal," she said as she fixed the mayor with a stern glare, "I would suggest you remember her face. Each of the mercenary companies has volunteered a force to aid her in the administration of the county." A slightly nasty smile curved her lips for an instant. "The next mercs that knock on your door may well be Tax Collectors."
The mayor and council members looked at each other nervously. Java was in her Dress Uniform, sash and knives resplendent in the lamplight, and Shair, Marta, and Maren were also in their Dress Uniforms. That the princess was still wearing the uniform of the Firewalkers was a surprise.
The mayor swallowed nervously, then bowed to Java and Shair. "Princess, it is your right, of course, but a mercenary?"
"Mayor Cavenal, I have been a mercenary for seven years. Choose your words carefully." As soft as it was, her voice carried considerable menace. "As for Lieutenant Skyhaven, her qualifications are unquestioned and unquestionable. She has retired from the Firewalkers, and will be my hands and eyes in this county. Her word is my word, her decisions my decisions." Java looked a question at Shair and received a nod. Stepping back, she left Shair to deal with the council.
Shair's bright blue eyes bored into each of the councilors as she spoke. "I'll be returning in a few weeks to take over. Until then, Princess Java has given temporary control of the county to Captain Rivers of the Firewalkers. A report of this incident has already been dispatched to Firedale, and will also be reported to Vandalburg and Thunder Ridge."
The mayor again stood, bowing slightly to Shair. "Your pardon, but did you say Captain Rivers? I thought Captain Freeholm led the Firewalkers."
"I did," Marta replied, standing and stepping forward to stand by Shair's side. "I retired a few weeks ago and Princess Java has prevailed upon me to take the position of Lady High Chatelaine of Link County."
The mayor and councilors looked back and forth among themselves, then quieted again. The mayor bowed and seated himself, unsettled by the changes.
Java waved one hand in a dismissive gesture, and the council scattered. She saw Sabrina talking to a man in an apron and walked over. "I would like to purchase two casks of beer for the Firewalkers camped outside of town. Have them delivered by your people."
Sabrina smiled and said, "Princess Java, this is Valden Coopersmith. He's a member of my clan."
Java nodded. "I saw the dragon on the sign, Sabrina. How much for the two casks?" she asked, looking at the innkeeper.
Valden bowed and said, "I ask for two silver royals for each cask." Java looked at Sabrina and she nodded, so she put the four coins in the man's hand, then turned away.
Maren smiled as Java returned to their group. "I gratefully accept on behalf of my women, Java. Lone Pine doesn't have room for the two hundred of us in the inns." Maren's smile deepened as she looked at her princess. Little imp knows she's also saving us the coin in our pouches.
Much the same greeting awaited them in four of the six other towns they passed through on the way to Greensboro. Only Danington and Perrin's Bridge greeted the Firewalkers with any semblance of friendliness. Java refused to stay in the towns where the Firewalkers were not welcome, making sure to let the mayors know exactly who they had insulted and how displeased she was. And that Duke Kaster would know how she felt as soon as she arrived in Greensboro.
The Guardsmen at the gates to Greensboro saw the mercs coming and prepared a greeting. Java's previous visit to Greensboro was a well-remembered sore spot. Seeing the young women riding at the front of the column had the men straightening their uniforms and coming to attention as their officer stepped forward.
"Princess Mountainstand?" he asked with a bow.
Java nodded from her saddle. "Yes, Lieutenant?"
"Princess, welcome to Greensboro. I must get permission from Duke Kaster for your party to enter the city." He was nervous and sweaty as he looked up at Java, and kept glancing behind her.
"That's all right, Lieutenant. We'll wait," Java said, smiling down at his handsome young face.
The lieutenant looked startled, and blurted, "Princess, you don't have to wait. Only the armed women." He gestured back to the Firewalkers.
Java laughed. "What do you call these?" she asked as she gestured to her knives. "I'll wait with my friends, Lieutenant."
The lieutenant swallowed nervously and bowed to Java. He had heard of her skill with her knives, as had every member of the Guard. A rider arrived within moments. The young lieutenant dismounted and went to one knee as he looked at Java.
"Princess Java, you and your party are asked to stay here. Duke Kaster is coming to greet you personally."
After a short wait Duke Kaster and Duchess Werrin, followed by General Warles and a cadre of senior Guard officers, arrived to meet Java at the gate. "Princess Java, welcome to our city once again."
Java had dismounted and handed Sugar's reins to Robin, then stepped forward to curtsy to the duke. "Duke Kaster, Duchess Werrin, I am honored to once again set foot in your city."
Werrin laughed and stepped forward to hug Java. "We knew Arten and Naria were up to something, but adopting you was the last thing we expected. Welcome to the family, Java." Werrin kissed Java's cheek, then surrendered her to Kaster.
Kaster was less reserved than Werrin. Hugging Java, he swung her off her feet in a circle, making her laugh. "That adopted father of yours has a few things to explain, such as why he didn't tell us. Hells, we didn't find out until a month after the deed was done. Come along. We have some things to discuss." The duke kept his arm around Java, guiding her toward the palace.
General Warles stepped forward, facing Marta Freeholm. "I have been instructed to offer your command accommodations in the Guard Barracks, Captain."
Marta's smile was tight as she said, "I'm no longer the captain of the Firewalkers, General Warles. I turned over the command to Captain Rivers almost a month ago." She motioned Maren forward and introduced her to the general. "This is Lieutenant Kelven. She is in charge of this detachment. They are to be the security force to fulfill our contract with Duke Arten."
The general rocked back on his heels at that news. "Well! Well indeed. No one told us. Why are you traveling with the princess, Marta? Going home?"
"In a way. Princess Java has asked me to be her Lady High Chatelaine in Link County. Shair," she motioned to her side, "is going to fulfill the same function in Mountainstand County. Java is going to ask Duke Kaster to name her Lady Skyhaven."
The general was again rocked by the news. "And he'll do it. Oh, this is a fine mess. There's been a great deal of discussion concerning the princess and her multiple roles." The general turned to go, motioning for Marta and Shair to accompany him. "The disposition of Mountainstand County while she is in Hiddendell has been a major source of contention among the lesser nobility. A number of good men have been waiting for the chance to approach her about the very post that she's chosen you for," he said, looking at Shair. "If you'll forgive me for asking, why you?"
Shair smiled softly. "I've been Java's lieutenant since she joined the Firewalkers. She is very much like a daughter to me, and she feels much the same toward me. I have the pedigree to make me acceptable to the nobility." Shair grinned, not volunteering her true name or nature.
The general simply shrugged. He assumed that Shair, like a number of other mercenaries he had met, was a noble bastard. That didn't bother him. He had a few bastards out there as well. "And these?" he gestured back to where Robin and Jah'Moke bracketed Sabrina.
"Lady Mage Robin is Java's closest friend. Jah'Moke is Java's betrothed. And Sabrina is my lover," Shair replied, making the general choke.
"The hells you say!" General Warles said as he stepped away from Shair.
"Oh, come now, Evand," Marta said as she laughed, drawing the general's glare. "You know there are a number of the Le'Ah among the Firewalkers. Your men accused all of us at one time or another."
"And you think the Duke will accept you as a lady in spite of this?" he asked angrily.
Shair smiled serenely and shrugged. "He has little choice. If not Lady Skyhaven, then I'll simply use my true name and title. Andy said I can if I want to." Shair's smile was impish now, but she was still not going to volunteer the information.
"Do you think being a noble bastard is the same as being a noble?" he asked hotly.
"I'm not a bastard, General," she said softly, then laughed. "I'll tell you the truth, but I ask you to be discreet. There are still some bad feelings at home over the whole situation." At the general's nod, she told him who she had been born as.
General Warles felt his skin chill as he stared at the woman beside him. He had met Ander Lesten years before, and the family resemblance was immediately apparent, now that he had a family to compare her to. "But why...?"
"Because I'm Le'Ah. The Firewalkers were the first people who accepted me for who and what I was. That was when I was fourteen, General. For now, we're late. I suspect that Java has gone ahead with her requests. Patience is one thing I have never been able to teach her." Shair grinned and the general blinked several times before leading them on.
"Princess.., I mean, Lady.., oh, Hells! Shair, this is a shock. In all the times we encountered one another at Firedale, I never once suspected who you are. Or what you are." He briefly glared at Marta. "You've got to stop shocking me like this. It's bad for my heart." He frowned at her, making her laugh. "If Princess Java has not already arranged for you to stay in the palace, I would be pleased to have you as my guests." Looking back at Robin and Jah'Moke, he shrugged. "I imagine the duke and duchess are going to want you two in with the princess."
Robin nodded while Jah'Moke simply rubbernecked. At the general's questioning look, Shair explained. "He's Latté. He's never set foot in a city before."
"And he's betrothed to Princess Java? Only in Hiddendell," he said under his breath, making Marta and Shair laugh.
A young lieutenant came for them before they reached the palace gates. Striding quickly up to the general, he stopped and saluted. "Sir, the duke wants Marta Freeholm, Shair Skyhaven, Lady Robin Cartwright, Jah'Moke Cawfy and Mistress Sabrina Derinsham in the palace as soon as possible."
"Very well." Turning, he motioned one of his captains forward. "Captain Ellison, please see to the billeting arrangements for these women. Remember that they are our honored guests." The general's eyes warned the captain that he would be very displeased if there were any complaints. At the captain's salute, the general resumed his walk to the palace, escorting the duke's guests.
In the palace, they were escorted to a private audience chamber where Java was in conference with the duke and duchess. "Shair, welcome. And Marta. We hadn't heard that you retired until just now." Duke Kaster hugged each of the women. "This can only be Mage Robin, and Jah'Moke," he said, smiling at Robin's wide eyes and Jah'Moke's dumbstruck expression. "And Mistress Sabrina. Well, everyone seems to be accounted for. Come, sit down." He gestured to chairs around a low table and his guests sorted themselves out, Sabrina moving to Shair's side while Robin and Jah'Moke moved to bracket Java.
Duchess Werrin was smiling at Shair, which told them that Java had already discussed her reason for visiting. "Java tells us that she's convinced you to finally rejoin the nobility, Shair."
Shair smiled and nodded, looking at her favorite child. "She has. I was ready to retire to Sabrina's inn and learn how to make beer until Java begged me to stay with her. Or rather, for her."
"A patent of nobility for you seems like gilding a lily, but if you want to be Lady Skyhaven, then so be it. The paperwork will be drawn up before you leave," Kaster said, smiling at his cousin. "Java also tells us that she's convinced you to go to Linkville, Marta."
"Yes, she has. I was unsure at first, but really, what would I do with nothing to do?" Marta smiled at her friends and shrugged. "Naria is going to love this. She's been trying to get me to accept a title for years."
"'With love, you can move mountains,'" Jah'Moke said in a soft tone, quoting a Latté proverb.
"Indeed," Kaster said softly, looking at Werrin and smiling. "Love can indeed move mountains, young man."
Java reached over and squeezed Jah'Moke's hand. "We have proposed to each other, and I've received his mother's permission to marry him. He has to ask Arten and my birth father before his honor will allow him to marry me, but I don't foresee any problems. Arten and Naria knew about Jah'Moke before they adopted me, and my parents will be happy that they're going to have grandchildren from me. They weren't very happy about Robin and I being together."
"Yes, I imagine so. There are some other people you should meet while you're here, Java. They were off in Winterhaven when you visited before." Werrin went to a side door and spoke softly. When she returned, three young men and two young women followed her.
Marta recognized them and stood, motioning the others to stand with her. Werrin smiled and bowed to Java. "Princess Java, these are our children. Gemin, and his wife, Elissand," a man of about twenty-six bowed, as did the younger woman at his side. "Dena, and her husband, Barten Linvingston," a woman of about twenty-four by Java's estimation bowed, as did the slightly older man at her side, "and Panit. Children, this is your new cousin, Java Mountainstand."
Gemin stepped forward and gave Java a ritual kiss on the cheek while his wife curtsied. He murmured, "Welcome, Princess," but Java didn't think he really meant it.
Dena was next, and much more sincere in her greeting. "Mother told me about you. I'll see you later. Privately." Her grin when she pulled back was feral. Where Werrin reminded Java of a cat, Dena reminded her of a vixen. Barten stopped two steps away and bowed very low.
Panit was last, as the youngest. He was about a year younger than Java, and his kiss was accompanied by a warm hug. "Ignore Gem. He's a prig," he whispered, almost making Java laugh.
"You five should also know who Shair is, seeing that she's going to be a lady of this duchy." Kaster briefly informed his children of their other cousin in the room, and grinned as they stared in disbelief.
"Damn! That is who you look like. Ander. But why the disguise?" Panit asked, stepping forward to hug Shair. Gemin and Dena joined him, feeling less restrained with this blood relation than the adopted child.
"Shair's reasons will wait, Pan. It's supper time. Java, there aren't many lords and ladies here this time. Only Corky and Amel. That they are your neighbors is fortunate. They need to be informed of Shair's placement formally, and this is as good a time as any. Maybe they'll get insulted and leave." Kaster's grin was tight as he spoke of the other lords. They still plagued him about Java's status.
Java quietly introduced her friends to the princes and princesses, watching their faces. Introducing Robin as a Master, as well as Lady Mage, had them all wide-eyed. Introducing Jah'Moke caused Gemin's face to close down as if a shutter had come across it. Dena and Panit, however, were fascinated by him and immediately began pestering him with questions. That he and Java were betrothed surprised them all.
Jah'Moke answered all their questions briefly, but courteously. He was a bit overawed by the whole situation. It was only Java and Robin's closeness that kept him the least bit calm. Being seated at the high table, he watched his host and Java for clues as to what he was supposed to do.
Java spoke softly in Latté, "Relax." He was between Java and Robin, and they were working in concert to help him. The training they had received in Whitehall came forth and they immediately fell into the roles that Naria had demanded they learn.
Once everyone was seated in the dining hall, Duke Kaster stood. "My friends, we greet today Princess Java of Hiddendell. With her is Lady Shair Skyhaven, who the princess has appointed to be her Lady High Chatelaine in Mountainstand County while she is in Whitehall." Shair stood and bowed to the lords and ladies. "At Lady Skyhaven's side is Marta Freeholm, former captain of the Firewalkers." Marta stood and bowed. "At Princess Java's side is Lady Mage Robin Cartwright of Whitehall," he paused while Robin stood and curtsied, "and Princess Java's betrothed, Jah'Moke Cawfy of the Latté." The duke nodded to Jah'Moke, who stood and managed a passable bow. "Also with us is Sabrina Derinsham, Lady Skyhaven's guest."
Lord Corkston couldn't wait any longer and stood to glare at the duke. "Lord Duke, how long will this continue? Another commoner made a lady? A Latté barbarian at the high table? How many further insults will you heap upon us?"
Java snapped to her feet, her hot eyes obviously surprising Lord Corkston. When she had been there before he had cowed her easily enough, but that was before she had spent a year in Whitehall under Naria's ungentle tutelage.
"Lord Verlis, if Jah'Moke is granted permission from my fathers to marry me, and I foresee no problems with that, then he will one day be Duke Jah'Moke of Hiddendell."
Panit stood with Java, facing Lord Corkston. "Lord Verlis," he said softly, "Princess Java is correct. As Gemin will one day rule here, Jah'Moke will one day rule in Hiddendell. And Elgin will still be the lord of a single county." His grin turned nasty. "If he can handle it."
Lord Corkston was so angry that he couldn't say anything coherent, so he slammed his chair over backwards and stomped out of the room. His wife, Lady Merribel, gave Werrin a venomous glare before joining her husband.
Lord Amel looked at Duke Kaster and Duchess Werrin, steepling his fingers in front of his face. "And here I thought Arten and Naria were trouble-makers." Turning to Shair, he nodded his head. "It would seem that like follows like. I do not foresee a reason that our paths should ever again cross, Lady Skyhaven." Standing, he offered his hand to the young woman at his side. Her tense smile as she stood said volumes to the other women present, though the men didn't seem to notice.
Once they were gone, Java looked to Dena for an answer. Leaning over to get closer to Dena, she whispered her question. "His daughter?"
Dena shook her head. "His wife of about three months. Poor girl. Her family are minor nobles who lost everything in Lender's Dale," she whispered back.
Java sat back, thinking about the girl. Misery was nothing new to her, but she had never seen it so plain on a newlywed. With the absence of the other lords, the meal took on a family atmosphere. The younger royals were somewhat surprised by Shair's obvious affection for Sabrina, but didn't make an issue of it. That made Sabrina relax a little.
Duke Kaster asked a few questions to draw her into the conversation as Sabrina's stiff posture relaxed. "Mistress Sabrina, I understand that Duchess Samantha was using your inn as her base of operations during the war. Did you get to know her very well?"
Sabrina smiled. Samantha was a safe topic for her. "Oh, yes, Lord Duke. The duchess is a, well, maybe wonderful is a bit strong, but a very nice person. She did her best to keep everyone at ease with her. Except the old men who didn't like having women in charge." Sabrina's smile turned impish as she described Samantha's encounter with the men who objected to fighting under the command of women. "She's quite a woman."
Panit sighed, surprising Java. "I'd really like to meet her. Where is the new capital?"
"In Morrisdale, just across the border, Prince Panit," Sabrina answered, more at ease with the younger royalty than the elders. After more than a year with Samantha, Java could understand that.
"Father?" Panit asked, his eyebrows raised.
"You're an adult, Pan. Just take an escort. It's not as safe now as it was when I was a boy." Kaster's grin as he looked at Werrin was sly. "You never know who you might meet."
Panit, Dena and Gemin all burst into laughter, surprising the others in the room. Java looked curiously at Kaster and Werrin, but Werrin waved her away. "Some other time, Java. It's something of a family joke."
Java nodded, accepting that there would always be secrets she would not be privy to. Turning her attention back to Panit, she said, "Prince Panit, before we leave there are a few things about Duchess Samantha that you should be made aware of. We'll find time to speak later." Java's smile was soft as she thought of her 'daughter' with this handsome young prince. Maybe Sam's prospects are looking up after all.
Loren Jones lives near Tampa, Florida. He married Pamela A. Willis in 1983 and they have stayed together to this time, and have three adult children. A US Navy veteran, Loren served as a nuclear reactor operator on attack submarines for six years before his honorable discharge in 1986. Loren makes his living as an instrumentation and controls technician and writes because the stories won't leave him alone.
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