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Generated: Mar 30, 2019 5:09 PM
Post last updated: Mar 30, 2019 5:09 PM
griffinmarsh
Emma and Ivan in Chronicle
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Princess Emmalina of Griffinmarsh is her parents' pride and joy.

She's as beautiful as anyone could wish, even if her hair color isn't quite the fashionable shade of blonde. It's long and flowing and perfectly tended and really, no one will mind if it's just a tad too dark. And her eyes are so unique, aren't they- and hazel is coming into style now, isn't it, so it won't matter a whit that cornflower blue is still the current trend.

Her multitude of tutors did their work well. She's not flawlessly graceful, of course, but she dances quite nicely nonetheless. She's as courteous and gracious as they could hope, even if she's sometimes a tad snide for polite company. And her watercolors are more than adequate, particularly that one of the river from the east tower (though wasn't the view from the west tower better? Well, the room's been empty for years, this was more practical, isn't she thoughtful.)

And she's certainly never any trouble. All those stories you hear- of course Cimorene's rather a dramatic case, but didn't that girl two kingdoms over recently run away from home to marry her girlfriend? Can you even imagine? Her parents must be so mortified. Thank goodness Emmalina's such a good child; she might talk back too much, but she's never done anything like that.

Really, her parents couldn't ask for a better daughter.

If only she would get married.



Emmalina doesn't think it's her fault, exactly. Griffinmarsh is very... average. Average size, average population, average wealth. Average princess, if she's being honest. And they hadn't had any of those recurring griffin problems in years, no matter the gossip. But for a kingdom, it's still rather... left out, if such a thing is possible. Not to mention that the marshes are rather hazardous to the unprepared; they don't get a lot of visitors. How Emmalina is supposed to marry someone when she never meets anyone has never been explained to her.

Her mother's latest plan is promising, she thinks, but it still seems to be missing a few pieces.

"Tourneys are downright thrilling," the queen assures her. "I met your father at one, back in the day! And this is one of the largest tournaments in years. They've had to split the bakeoff into two, can you imagine? Surely someone will find you to their liking."

"But we have to get there," Emmalina reminds her. "We can't exactly take the carriage through the marshes."

"The merchants have found a new route," her father tells her smugly. "Very promising. I'll send you and your mother through in a carriage with an escort, you'll be there in a week, no problems at all."

In Emmalina's experience, saying 'no problems' was just asking for them to appear. She's almost surprised an evil fairy doesn't materialize on the spot.

"You can't spare a full escort for a month," she points out.

"Well," her father says uncomfortably, "we'll only send half an escort. But you know as well as I do the griffins haven't appeared in years."

"To hear Princess Iradwel tell it, we've been attacked yearly for centuries," Emmalina says sourly.

"Emmalina," her mother says sternly. "Just because our neighbors indulge in rumor mongering does not make it appropriate for you to belittle them."

"Sorry, Mother," she sighs.

"It's all right, dear," the queen says. "Just do try to be careful at the tournament, won't you? Gossiping is unseemly in a princess."

"No, Mother."

"Very well, then. You'll be attending the grand tournament two months hence. I'll make the travel arrangements." The king beams at her. "And then we can put all this nonsense about you being unmarried behind us."

"Yes, Father."



Emmalina and her mother depart for the tournament exactly on time. The carriage was ready for them, as her father had promised, with the half complement of guards he could spare. (Emmalina's maid had confided that there had been more than a few fights over the honor of escorting them; the promise of watching the tourney was, apparently, more than enough incentive to brave the marshes.) They're packed, loaded and out the gate before Emmalina is even fully awake.

Her mother chatters as they drive about all the eligible young men who have registered for the tournament. Prince So-and-So is nice, but a little too old- princes marry later, of course, but hasn't it been a little long even for a prince? And Sir This-and-That is ever so handsome, but obviously an actual prince is much to be preferred. Emmalina tunes her out. She's sure she'll hear it at least twice more before the end of the trip.

She's far more concerned by the marshes.

They're huge, and treacherous, and most of the reliable paths eventually submerge. The griffins are mostly gone, but one can never really be sure, and everyone says that the presence of armed men will set them off and-

Emmalina worries.

She worries the whole time through the marshes. It takes them three days to get all the way through, and she barely sleeps. When they make it through with no more casualties than a single bag that got thrown too far over a horse, she breathes a sigh of relief and goes for her first good night's sleep in a while. They've made it out of the marsh, and out of the griffins, and now getting to the tournament will be straightforward.

Or it would have been, anyway. No one could have predicted the dragon.

Waking up was very unpleasant.



Half an escort might have been enough to handle bandits or even an unlikely griffin, but they were definitely unprepared for a dragon. Emmalina wakes up carefully bundled in the dragon's arms, still wrapped in her blanket, and promptly screams.

"Hey!" The dragon says indignantly. "Why all the yelling? I was very nice about this, you know."

Emmalina doesn't respond. She's busy screaming.

"I even brought your blanket," the dragon says, sounding aggrieved. "I didn't have time to file my nails, and I wouldn't want to damage you after I went to all the trouble of fetching you in the first place."

Emmalina pauses her screaming to catch her breath, then starts again. "Don't eat me! Please!"

"Eat you?" the dragon asks, confused. "Why would I eat you? I just said I'd gone to all this trouble! No, no, my last princess finally got rescued last month, and it's rather annoying having her gone. Helpful creatures, princesses. So I've been looking for a new one. I must say, I didn't think I'd have to go all this way, but here you are, so it all worked out, didn't it?"

"Not for me!" Emmalina wails. "I'm supposed to be at a tournament with my mother! I'm supposed to meet princes and knights and fall in love and live ha- happily ever a- afterrrr."

"Tournament?" the dragon says. "No, no, there's no tournament near here. No self respecting dragon would fly past that many knights! Don't be silly."

This shocks Emmalina almost into silence. "But- but I was going-"

"You were right where your father said you would be," the dragon says happily. "And you'll meet all sorts of knights and princes when they come to rescue you, and until then I'll have a princess to help with the cooking and tidying. Won't it be nice?"

"Of course," Emmalina mutters, because that's polite, she's always polite, she's a good daughter-

She cries the rest of the way to the Mountains of Morning.



The dragon, who introduces himself as Morath, helps Emmalina settle in. Once she accepts that Morath truly has no interest in eating her, it becomes easier. Her fury with her parents is surprisingly motivating; she sets herself to learning how to be a dragon's princess, and who cares if her parents would approve, because at least Morath is honest about it all. She learns the basics of cooking, and Morath has an enchanted broom and mop that help her through most of the cleaning. There's only two other princesses in the caves near Morath's, and Emmalina is polite to them whenever they appear to socialize, but they seem to find her parents' plan helpful and romantic, so Emmalina silently resolves to never be their friend.

Days turn to weeks. Emmalina adjusts to life with Morath well enough to have some free time outside cooking and cleaning; she reads, or organizes Morath's treasure. He doesn't have a lot of treasure- he's not particularly rich as dragons go- but he's good enough about keeping magical items separate that she can play dress up with the safer pieces, which she finds quite entertaining. Some of the older pieces are just stunning. Leave rings here, shields there, weapons in the back corner... She can do this. It's easier than keeping track of the relative ranks of dukes, counts and barons, if she's honest about it.

Weeks turn to months. Emmalina's far from home, and word only spreads through the knightly grapevine so quickly; she's had just a handful of would-be rescuers. Morath is very nice about it. He defeats them neatly, never damaging them too badly, but sends them back looking just injured enough to tell tales and garner sympathy. Emmalina hasn't decided how she feels about it all. It might be nice to be rescued. Certainly if she met a rescuer she liked enough, which she hasn't yet. She would be more than happy to never pull out the enchanted mop ever again. But on the other hand... then her parents would get what they wanted.

And they don't deserve it.
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Jann is on his way to the Caves of Fire and Night, where he will retrieve the Water of Life, bring it home, and return his dad to life. ...This would be a more appealing prospect if he'd ever met the guy. He's probably great, but it might be weird. It'll definitely be weird.

Acceptable forms of procrastination include: rescuing princesses from dragons.

"Hulloa!" Jann calls into a dragon cave that is rumored to have recently-ish acquired a princess. "Stand forth and do battle!" Is it home? He hopes the dragon's home, he doesn't like loudly uttering challenges to nobody.
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Morath has had to fly to the Enchanted Forest and back twice already today. He has no intention of moving from his bed for anything less than the threat of dragonsbane or an order from the King herself. "Emmaaaaa," he calls plaintively.

Emmalina's rooms are close enough to Morath's that she's there almost immediately. "Morath? Is everything okay?" she asks carefully.

"There's a knight here," Morath says grumpily. "I can smell him. He's yelling outside. Make him go away?"

"Whatever you say," Emmalina agrees, and turns to go.

"You're not wearing your crown," Morath reminds her with a yawn. "Need the crown t'be official..." and his eyes close again. A small snore escapes him. Emmalina chuckles and goes to fetch her crown; she doesn't bother with it around the caves much, but Morath's probably right that she needs it to be acceptably Princessly. So she fetches her crown, secures it to her hair and heads outside.

She emerges from the cave, blinking at the extra light, and peers around her. "Hello? Prince...knight...person?"
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"Hi, Princess!" Jann bows. "Sir Jann of Raxwell. Here to rescue you. Is your dragon about or should we sneak?"

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Emmalina curtsies politely. "Princess Emmalina of the dread dragon Morath," she tells him, "who is here, actually. He's just... not disposed to fight at present." She then eyes him rather warily. "...might I ask what prompts this rescue attempt?"

The last two knights turned out to have been sent by her parents. Why bother with the dragon at all if you just send the rescuers? Do they think Emmalina will be grateful?
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"In the mountains on non-princess-related knight business," shrugs Jann, "heard you were, as you say, captive of said dread dragon, thought I'd drop by. I am at a total loss on etiquette slash safety procedures on a dragon who is home but feeling lazy."

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Well, that's surprisingly encouraging. "Sorry," Emmalina apologizes with a smile. "I'm not too familiar with knightly etiquette, I'm afraid I can't advise you. Are you done with your knight business, then, that you're stopping to find a princess?"

If he'd said anything about her parents, she would have discouraged him immediately. But he seems like a nice sort. And she knows she can't stay here forever, there's no stories about dragons with old princesses. She can't drive everyone away. She'll give him a chance to talk her into it.
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"No, I'm doing this on my way. I suppose I could camp out until your dragon is feeling more energetic? Make it sporting? Or just come back when I'm leaving the Mountains again if you're still here."

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"Oh, I'm sorry, I just assumed- your knightly business wouldn't be interrupted by a princess in tow?"

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"It's not particularly time-sensitive, I'd take you home first, of course. Unless you really want to see the Caves of Fire and Night."

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"I've seen them, actually," Emmalina admits. "Morath's taken me through a few times. The darkness was unnerving, the first time."

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"I've heard that it does that, yeah."

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"...what would you do if I didn't want to go home?" she asks abruptly.

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"What, if you want to stay here? I'm not going to kidnap you, I'm a knight, not a dragon. Bit peculiar but not my business."

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"I just-" she sighs. "You're right, I know. It's peculiar. And I don't know if I can stay here, not forever. I'm not exactly Queen Cimorene. But I can't go home either, so." She shrugs. "No refuge camp for stray princesses where you're from?" she jokes weakly.

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"I mean, if you want to get married that's a whole 'nother thing but that isn't an invariable package deal with the rescuing part and I for one would need to think about that, not that you don't seem very nice," says Jann. "...Queen Cimorene didn't stay with her dragon forever, she got married and queened. How refugee-ish are we talking here? If I bring you home Raxwell's a pretty nice place to live but it doesn't have, ah, established public services for stray princesses, really."

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It takes Emmalina a few minutes of blushing and stammering to come up with a response. "Sorry, not what I meant- I mean- you're very nice too?" she manages, then takes a second to compose herself.

"I meant, I don't really have useful skills," she clarifies. "If you think there's somewhere in Raxwell I could learn as I go, at least? I... think I could do that. Would rather do that. I did all right learning cooking." She's not going to be a famous chef, but she's decent.
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"I don't know, like, a restaurateur who I can put in a word for you with," says Jann, scratching the back of his neck. "I'm guessing the duchess'd probably take enough of a shine to you to help you along some but I haven't got a speck of detail, this has never happened before."

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Emmalina shrugs. "I suppose it's worth a try?" she says tentatively. Unspoken is the thought that, in the worst case, she can always just... come back. Unless Morath picks up a new princess with miraculous speed, she knows enough about dragons to guess he'd welcome the bragging rights about 'reclaiming his lost princess'. And this is her first knight to show any interest in something other than taking her right back to Griffinmarsh to claim half her kingdom from her parents. "If you want, I mean- I'd feel bad, delaying your trip to the caves."





Inside the cave, Morath cracks an eye open. Emmalina's been a good sort as princesses go. And this knight seems like a reasonable fellow, for a knight. Not like those others. Greedy, that's what they were, the lot of them. Just in it for the gold or the kingdoms or what have you. This fellow's a real knight, just like the good old days. Morath indulges in a fit of nostalgia for a moment, then sighs when he hears them still talking. Was this not enough of an excuse? Is he going to have to go out and nudge them? He hopes not. He'd really rather not move.
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"I'm not in a hurry. Dad's not getting any more turned to stone."

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"...oh," Emmalina murmurs. "I'm so sorry."

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"Happened before I was born, don't worry about it."

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"...he'd be in the cave with the well, right?" she asks, blinking at him. "That's not that far... do you have a map?"

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"He's at home, I need to bring the water back. I do have a map."

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"I can just... take you there? If you want. I don't want to delay you."

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"Really? That's very nice of you! But what about your dragon, hadn't I better wait for him to be fightable and then fight him, there's a procedure for making off with a princess while the dragon isn't home but you said he's home."

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"He was sleeping when I left..." Emmalina says doubtfully. "You could probably call that 'not here', if you want. If you stretch it?" She smiles. "I wouldn't tell. But I should grab a few of my things, so, I can check on him if that would help?"






Elsewhere, Morath rolls his eyes. Fake snoring is annoying. All that focus on not puffing out smoke from his nostrils. Can't they get on with it already?
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"Mmm... grab your stuff, if he doesn't wake up we'll treat it like he nipped out," says Jann, nodding decisively.

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Trying not to think about what she's doing- she's trying to escape from a dragon, what if he's mad, what if he eats them- but he said that's not done any more? Ugh, not thinking about it- Emmalina goes to fetch her things. It only takes a few minutes; she didn't exactly pack for her move here. Some spare clothes and keepsakes and she's all set. She pauses on the way out, staring thoughtfully at the bed. It wasn't bad here. There were good times.

She tiptoes past Morath's room and breathes a sigh of relief to hear his snores.



(Snore, Morath thinks tiredly. Snore, snore, more snore.)




Good enough, Emmalina decides. He shouldn't wake up soon, if he's that deeply asleep. Besides, he's always groggy when he wakes up; it will give them extra time. And surely he wouldn't expect them to head for the Caves, either? She returns outside to Jann, smiling timidly. "I... I have everything. And he's still dead asleep."



SNORE.
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"Swell. Off we go. My horse is tied up thisaway."

His horse is a strawberry roan and noses her in a friendly way when they get closer.
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"Oh, aren't you just the prettiest girl?" Emmalina says delightedly as she walks up to say hello to the roan. "Yes, hello, it's nice to meet you too."

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"Her name's Morganite!" says Jann, untying the horse. "I can walk while you ride, if you like? I don't think I want her carrying two in rocky territory like this."

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Emmalina giggles as Morganite lips at her hair, then extracts herself and sobers. "I'm not sure you can even bring her in the Caves?" she says as she sizes up Morganite. "I don't know how she'd take the darkness, or the magic caverns, or anything. And the rocks will only get worse."

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"Yeah, but it's a ways from here to the entrance, isn't it? I'd rather find somewhere nearish the caves to park her."

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Emmalina nods. "There's a closer entrance but I don't know the password and there's always dragons around." She looks at Morganite's gear and shrugs helplessly. "Thank you for the offer, that's very nice of you. Whatever's faster, maybe? I can't imagine I walk faster than you but without a side saddle I'm not sure riding's any better."

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"We can both walk, give her a break." He takes hold of her reins. "Lead the way, princess."

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Emmalina ties her satchel to Morganite's saddle and takes the lead. She doesn't usually go through the farther door, since Morath always uses the dragon's entrance, but she knows where it is. It's the not-actually-official official entrance for knights and princes; there's always questers coming through, and the dragons prefer them to at least to be in a predictable place.

After a couple of minutes, Emmalina decides to break the silence. She's has had many years of etiquette classes, and she knows the rules of small talk. "So, tell me about Raxwell?" she prompts.
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"Nice place. Ruled by a duke and duchess because it's technically half a kingdom - other half is currently called Ferdinandia. Crown broke in half when they split, whole long story there, everyone wants them back together but it's a bit tough going."

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Emmalina frowns thoughtfully. "I think I've heard something about a broken crown. There was an adoption and a marriage involved, right?"

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"Yup. Standard-issue princess ran away from Ferdinand-winner-of-now-Ferdinandia, adopted one married him, crown took exception. Conveniently, the current heir of Raxwell and current duke of Ferdinandia are adorably in love. Inconveniently, both men; unclear if they'll satisfy the crown."

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"That does sound cute. I guess there aren't spells to check that sort of thing..."

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"Not really. If they get married and that doesn't solve the problem they might have to have kids. They're planning to consult those three princesses of the Enchanted Forest."

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Emmalina laughs, but it comes out rather pained. "My parents had conniptions when they heard that story."

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"Huh? Why? I thought it was cute."

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"Me too. But it didn't fit with how they thought the world should work, I suppose."

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"It is rather nontraditional."

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"Well, since making deals with dragons is apparently traditional, I don't see the appeal." Emmalina realizes she's getting close to ranting and takes a deep breath. "...sorry."

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"You were a contract abduction? Those... well, they happen, but it's not actually customary."

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Emmalina shrugs and looks away uncomfortably. "Well. They've at least happened before. Which was good enough, I suppose."

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"I'm sorry."

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"It's not your fault, but thank you." She smiles at him. "You rescued me, so it's rather the opposite of your fault, actually."

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"It was a sneaker rescue, so I won't award myself full marks, but thank you."

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"Fine. I deduct 5 points for sneaking and award 10 for not being sent by my parents."

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Jann laughs. "Thank you, Princess, that's very generous."

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"I do my best."

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"If I were still in school I'd want it in writing so I could bring it back for extra credit, but I think my relatives will take my bare word on the subject."

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"What was school like?"

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"It was great! Learned all your standard knight stuff, made friends - only it was a pity my cousin couldn't go, he's under this curse that would make it very dangerous for him to even try. Wicked fairy."

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"That's awful. What does he do instead? Can he learn at home?"

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"Not knight stuff. Well, he can ride a horse. But he's very good at chess and he'll make a good duke-or-king-whatever-depending-on-crown-opinions."

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"Oh, one of the dukes is your cousin? I must have missed that. No wonder you think the relationship is cute."

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"Oh, yeah, my dad was the duke's brother, so my cousin'll be duke next."

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"Well, tell him good luck with the crown thing? It sounds like they have a shot, anyway."

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"I'll pass it on."

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"How's life after school? Is there, I don't know, a knightly letter that goes out with quests on it? I don't know much about knighting."

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"I bodyguard m'cousin occasionally - Milo, his name's Milo - and I'm qualified to rescue princesses from dragons while I'm in the neighborhood and if something else in Raxwell or possibly Ferdinandia came up I'd be the go-to."

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"I do appreciate the rescue, truly." The trail narrows and Emmalina focuses on picking her way rather more carefully before resuming the conversation. "Do you enjoy it, then? Being the go-to?"

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"It's all right. I didn't have anything else I wanted to do and I like knight stuff."

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That's not the most enthusiastic endorsement Emmalina's ever heard, but it's a fair step above her opinions on princessing, so she lets it pass. She considers asking if he's excited to meet his father, but drops the idea instantly; she doesn't want to talk about her father, it's hardly fair to interrogate him on his. Instead, she looks up at the sun, and winces. "We're not making the best of time... I'm sorry, I know it's really rather my fault."

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"It's all right. I might get to the entrance faster without you but then I'd only fumble around for a week looking for the water, mm?"

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"I'm sure you wouldn't take nearly that long. I mean... you said you had a map, didn't you?"

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"It's not a very good map. And I don't see very well in the dark."

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"Well, my advice for the dark patches is just to stay put, so I think it'll work out somehow."

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"Okay. I can stay put, that is one of my knightly skills."

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"I'm very impressed! What about sitting down, that one too?"

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"I can sit! On, or off, of horses!"

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"Well, now I'm picturing you standing on horseback. I'm sure Morganite appreciates your restraint." She moves closer to the horse and strokes her mane. "Don't you, pretty girl?"

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"I didn't pick up any trick riding. Much, I'm sure, to Morganite's relief."

Morganite whickers.
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"I guess she agrees."

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"She's pretty agreeable."

Is that the cave entrance up ahead there?
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It totally is!

The cave entrance might have been subtle once, but it's now far too well trafficked for that. The dirt is beaten into a path right up to the entrance, which is 'camoflauged' with a scattering of rocks and bushes. There's even a tree stump in the next clearing that looks suspiciously hitching post-like.

Emmalina smiles. "I don't think they're even trying any more."
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"Who's they?" wonders Jann, tying Morganite to the stump and detaching some bags from her nonperson.

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"Morath said the dragons control the Caves of Fire and Night. I mean, I'm sure he's probably biased, but... who wants to argue with a dragon?"

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"In most cases it is best avoided." Jann puts a bag of oats within munching distance for Morganite and shoulders what-all else he seems to expect to want. "Shall we?"

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Well. She's guiding, in theory. She should probably go first.

...She's never been in here without a dragon before. Nothing messes with a dragon.

It'll be okay. It'll be okay, right? She's with a knight.

She gulps and heads for the door before she can think about it overmuch.
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Jann accompanies her well within easy bodyguarding distance.

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Emmalina really appreciates the bodyguard. She smiles back at Jann.

They get a bit farther then she expected before the first wave of darkness rolls through. She suppresses a shiver and stops in place to wait it out.
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"We just sort of park, yeah?"

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"You don't have to, really. Morath knew his way through all right, but I'm not Morath. So yes, unfortunately."

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"There's worse things than standing around."

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"I could be Morath."

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"That would be such a thing!"

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Emmalina chuckles, then sobers. "He was actually nice enough, as dragons went," she says contemplatively. "Some of the younger dragons were nasty." She scowls invisibly in the dark at the memories. She liked that dress. It was not improved by the claw marks.

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"Yeah? Which ones were worst, I can pass it along that those ones should be prioritized when they've got princesses."

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Emmalina immediately names two, then adds one more after some thought. "There was another one, but I can't imagine it will matter. It wasn't even old enough to pick a gender yet."

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"Noted. Princesses will presumably thank you."

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"That was the hope."

The darkness rolls back, and she looks back at Jann. "I... suppose we can continue?"
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"Lead the way! I appreciate this escort enormously, you know."

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Emmalina blushes. "You're welcome. I mean, I appreciated the rescue? And you've been nothing but nice and I know the way, it seemed the least I could do."

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"I wouldn't go in here without a quest," Jann says. "It's not trivial."

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"I had 'do not annoy the dragon into eating you.' It was a kind of quest? If you squint?"

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"Why did he want to bring you into the caves anyway?"

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"He didn't at first. Then one of the younger dragons tried to poach me. It's not done, she got into a lot of trouble, but after that Morath decided it was easier to just bring me along if he was going to be gone more than a day or two. The caves aren't meant to keep dragons out, just knights."

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"I'd think they'd be a little cramped in places for a bigger dragon."

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"Cramped?" Emmalina looks back at him, confused, and then it clicks. "Oh! Not here! Morath's cave, I meant, if he'd left me. That cave is just supposed to keep out wizards and knights." She has a brief, vivid image of what Morath's face looks like whenever wizards are mentioned. "Mostly wizards."

She sighs as the darkness returns and sweeps back over them. She stops and leans against the wall, trying to make herself comfortable. "And these caves," she says grumpily, "just hate everyone equally."
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"Well, at least they're fair-minded." Jann clanks to a halt. "I had definitely heard that dragons and wizards did not mix well."

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Emmalina grins, not that Jann can see. "They're allergic, can you believe? Of all the things."

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"That I didn't know! To wizards, huh. I suppose they have a well-established ability to sniff out all kinds of people. Not that they're infallible."

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"To their staffs, mostly. Morath said the staffs steal their magic and it makes them sneeze." She shudders. "I'm glad no wizards ever stopped by. Dragons sneeze fire, and I am flammable."

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"Oh, yikes, that would be really scary. I know how to tell where a dragon's going to breathe fire on purpose, but if they're sneezing? Yikes."

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"I'm not sure they do sneeze without a wizard around," Emmalina says uncertainly. "So- don't fight one with the Wizard Staff of Hayfever and Pepper?"

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"Okay! I'll keep that in mind."

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Emmalina can't help laughing. "You have one in your cellars I talked you out of using?"

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"No, but you never know what you'll run across, knighting around."

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Well, she certainly can't argue with that. "What sorts of things have you run across, 'knighting around'?" she asks curiously.

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"Haven't done that much knighting around yet. But speaking of what's in the cellars there's a magic carpet that turns people into rabbits if they touch it."

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"You didn't!"

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"It wasn't my fault! I was a little kid and my cousin wanted me to grab it because he was too short, and we figured it had to be a flying carpet, you know, harmless, so I grabbed it, and next thing you know - rabbit."

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When she's stopped laughing helplessly, Emmalina gasps, "That sounds adorable. How did they unrabbit you? Unless they didn't and you've got a really convincing knight disguise."

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"It's so convincing. You wouldn't believe how long it takes to get all the prosthetics on. Nah, you de-rabbit by going out under the new moon, I was fine."

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"That... sounds pretty harmless, as magical misadventures go. The other princesses were always full of horror stories- "the ring turned her into a tree!" "the slippers made her dance every night!" "the makeup jar had a genie in it!", you probably know the type."

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"Yeah, I was lucky. As penance m'cousin turned himself into a rabbit later. He was very fluffy."

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This time the light comes back before Emmalina is finished laughing. "Your cousin sounds like an adventure," she tells him. "Ready?"

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"Yep! To both."

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They make it one more cave.

Then, suddenly, there is a very large cave spider waiting for them.

Emmalina manages to swallow most of her shriek, then gets out of the way as fast as she can.
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Jann, of course, draws his sword and advances on the spider, which advances in return.

It's a pretty fast spider. Its fangs glance off his vambrace; he shaves a few hairs off its front left leg. It chitters. It has a lot of eyes.

And then everything goes dark.

"Drop to the floor so I don't cut you if it moves in your direction!" Jann barks.
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Emmalina scrambles to the ground. Her skirts catch on something, she thinks the hem is torn, but she's already torn it in at least three places walking through the caves; one more rip is hardly a concern compared to giant cave spider. She gulps down a whimper and scrunches herself against the wall as much as she can, doing her best to avoid cutting her hands on the rocks on the floor as she moves.

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Jann keeps his sword high. There's a noise that sounds like he might have gotten a leg; more fang-on-armor sounds. Emmalina gets stepped on by a spider foot, but not bitten.

When the light comes up again Jann has his sword thrust through the center mass of the spider; it's twitching, but not getting anywhere.

"Are you all right?"
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Emmalina gets to her feet somewhat dazedly. She dusts herself off- yep, that's another tear in her dress hem, a far off back corner of her brain notes- and then shuffles back over to Jann. And then semi-collapses on him in a hug.

"Thank you thank you thank you," she says in a rush. Dignity ceased to matter somewhere around the time the cave spider's foot landed on her forearm. "That was- Thank you that was terrifying."
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Jann... lets go of his sword, since it can probably prevent the spider from being dangerous all by itself, and hugs her back. "Hey, it's okay. I can handle a spider."

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That earns him a weak giggle. "You can. I get to be shaky for a bit." She shivers. "I'm glad you're good at this."

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Pat pat. "Do you want, like, a knife, I have a knife."

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"...are you likely to need it? I mean. I appreciate the thought, it's very sweet of you. But between me being slightly nervous and you missing a knife...? Second one's worse."

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"If I lose my sword." The sword is still sticking out of the spider, which is no longer twitching. "Or if something goes after us in close quarters. But not usually."

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"That's-" Emmalina looks at the dead spider, swallows, and looks away. "Yes. Please."

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He hands her a little sheathed dagger.

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Stepping away from Jann, she takes the weapon with a small smile and a quiet "Thank you." She's somewhat awkward with it, but eventually figures out a way to wear the sheath without it digging into her side. Then she looks at the sword, the spider, and at Jann, before taking a deep breath and asking, "So. I suppose- now we continue?"

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"Yep."

He plants his foot on the spider's face and tugs out his sword. It comes out clean and shiny, presumably for magic reasons. Back at his waist it goes. "Which way?"
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Emmalina points resignedly towards one of the tunnels. Suspiciously large spiderwebs are visible hanging from one of the walls. "I don't know if there will be more," she admits unhappily. "They always avoided Morath."

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"I'd avoid Morath too, if I was a highly flammable spider. Maybe they'll have the sense to avoid me too. If they don't, I'll stab them, don't worry."

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Chatting, now there's a good distraction. "You're a highly flammable knight and you didn't actually avoid Morath," Emmalina points out, amused. "Or I suppose you did by accident, but it wasn't the plan."

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"I'm not that flammable. I'm only modestly flammable."

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"I suppose," Emmalina starts, then blushes and looks down. "I shouldn't tease- you rescued me. I'm sorry."

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"Hey, it's all right. I'm not offended. And you don't have to walk on eggshells around me because I happened to not actually fight a dragon on your behalf, really."

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"Well. You seemed to want to, and I was the one to suggest we skip it."

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"One of these days I'll rescue somebody from a dragon and have to actually fight the dragon over it."

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"Am I just the latest in a string of dragon rescues, then?" Emmalina asked with a faint smile.

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"Did I not tell you about the time m'cousin got carried off? He got carried off. Apparently he smells like a princess to things, we're not sure why. I had to go fetch him because it would've been the height of awkwardness if somebody else had done."

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...that is absolutely not what Emmalina was expecting. She wants to respond but she can't help herself. She starts laughing helplessly. "He. He smells like a princess? That's- what?!"

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"He does! He smells like a princess and the dragon was old and blind and deaf! This wasn't even the first time, a giant got confused too, but Milo was able to talk his way out of that one."

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"Your lives sound wonderfully absurd," Emmalina tells him rather wistfully.

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"I'm not sure he found it wonderful, but I find it a funny story."

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"It sounds like it ended well. So now you can laugh as much as you like."

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"And he did enjoy organizing the dragon's library!"

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Emmalina blinks at that. "...was it a particularly interesting library?" she inquires. "I organized Morath's treasure sometimes, but half the appeal was seeing history's poor fashion decisions. And I'm guessing- hoping- your cousin was not wearing the books."

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"I don't think so. He's the bookish type, though."

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Emmalina is about to respond when the darkness comes rolling back. She sighs and stops in place, one hand on the wall. "I was so hoping the last one would be it, we're almost th-" she is cut off by a familiar chittering.

"-down, sitting down now, help spider," Emmalina breathes out in a rush. She curls into a ball on the floor, back against the wall, dagger retrieved and held carefully in front of her.
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Sound of drawn sword! "Ow." Squelch. Clank. Clank. Squelch. "Say something, which direction are you in -"

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"Here, I'm here, it was-" she thinks frantically- "ahead of me, a little to the left?"

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"I've touched it since then, just wanted to make sure I hadn't got turned around, don't want to take my sword out of it till it stops twitching -" Clang. "And it's easier to pin down with the ground helping."

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Emmalina nods jerkily, remembers he can't see her, and manages to gulp out, "Okay, so it's- good. That's good."

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"Yeah, I got it, we're fine," he assures her.

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Unfortunately, fighting spiders is a loud activity, which attracts spiders. Either they are sneaky or their approach was quieter than the thrashing of the dying one on Jann's sword. Either way, Jann now has two more spiders to deal with, and one has found Emmalina.

When the spider brushes her arm, she shrieks and wrestles her dagger free. It's dark, too dark, she can't see anything, but she can feel it moving and maybe she can't kill it but she will stab anything that gets close to her.
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"Shit," says Jann, and he resumes spider-stabbing. "Are you okay, did one bite y-" Scrape of fang on armor. "How many of these things are th-" Stab. Slash.

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"It's-" she feels spider hairs on her arm and stabs for them, "-trying but-" it steps on her leg and she even manages to connect the dagger this time, "-hasn't gotten-" she can feel it move towards her face, swallows another shriek (mostly) and slashes wildly in front of her, "-just yet?"

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"I'll be there in ow a sec -"

He dispatches one of his foes; the other has managed to poke him in the eye with its leg, which is really uncomfortable.
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Sure, they are large and unfriendly and have scary teeth, but they are not poisonous. That would just be excessive. Jann's eye will not suffer (extra) damage.

Emmalina is setting no records for fine swordsplay, and she's certainly not capable of fending off the spider, much less killing it. On the other hand, she is waving a sharp metal object with terror-powered force, and it's sufficient to keep the spider from jumping her outright. She's starting to get a little winded, but the adrenaline's helping. "Knife's keeping-" stab, "-it off-" slice, "-for now!"
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Jann kills the second spider. "Can you, I don't know, kick it in my direction, something like -" The light comes back. "Nevermind." He spears it in the abdomen and removes it from Emmalina's person.

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He gets another hug. A shaky, rather bloody hug, admittedly, but still a hug.

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Pat pat pat. "Let's get as far from here as we can before it goes dark again."

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Emmalina nods, pulls herself together as best she can, and starts off down the tunnel again. She has to pick her way over the dead spiders to get through the tunnel; the one that attacked her gets a vengeful stomp on one of its legs as she goes.

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That is entirely reasonable of her.

Hurry hurry hurry.
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Either Jann has wiped out all the nearby spiders or the others have learned to leave well enough alone; they are not bothered by further creatures. After three more caves, two more dark patches, a waterfall of molten gold, and a distressingly unstable rope bridge Emmalina's doing her best not to think about ever again, they make it to the well.

The cavern's enormous, full of large blocks of granite scattered haphazardly throughout the cave. Emmalina eyes their disorder uncomfortably. The dragons move the boulders away from the well periodically, or it would get too crowded to approach, but dragons are not tidy creatures and there isn't any rhyme or reason to it.

She tries to put the scattered boulders out of her mind and waves at the circular basin at the end of the room. "There you go," she tells him. Other phrases float through her mind- good luck, don't use the gold dipper, congratulations, aren't you glad you made it- but they all feel wrong, somehow, and she keeps her mouth shut.
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"Thank you very much," says Jann, and he heads straight for the beat-up tin dipper on the wall, takes it, dips some water into a canteen he brought along for the purpose, and then says, "On the way out we'll have help with the spiders, at least," and starts dipping more water onto all the boulders.

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As soon as the water drips on them, the boulders turn back into men. Most are wearing armor, though there's the usual mix of fortune seekers, middle sons and even what looks like a magic user or two. They cluster around Jann, all of them are effusive in their thanks. Emmalina presses back against the cave wall, feeling out of place and uncomfortable.

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Jann introduces her to them as "my guide, Princess Emmalina of Griffinmarsh" when he's gotten all the rocks and put the dipper back. Several of the ex-boulders collect some water of their own to take home, this time all managing to remember to use that one and not the gold and jewel-encrusted one, and look at her to lead the way.

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She's- she's not a leader, this is Jann's quest, how did she wind up with a crowd following her, she's-

-she's a princess and she will deal with it.

She straightens her spine, dusts off her dress even if she's resigned to the spider blood, and manages to herd the lot of them into something resembling an organized group. It would be the most exasperating thing she'd ever done if she hadn't had to manage Morath and his friends; she sighs internally at the comparison. Once she decides they'll be able to move through the caves without tripping over each other, she starts back the way they came.

(Slowly. While watching for Jann. He's the one she knows, in this crowd of strangers; this is much easier when he's near.)
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He stays near the front of the group and helps with herding them, but she's the one who actually knows the way; he's only been through the once and there was a lot of darkness in the relevant time period. He makes sure that not too many people are trying to cross that rope bridge at the same time, though, which means he's the last person across. It doesn't break. He shoulders to the front again when they're all on the far side.

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The spiders are gone when they get back to the relevant tunnel. That's- concerning. She knows it's the right spot, it is, she can see the smear in the dust where she'd curled against the wall, and the bloodstains on the floor. But she doesn't want to think about what could have taken the spiders, so except for a nervous glance at Jann, she keeps them moving.

They're louder now than when it was just the two of them, but a crowd of armed knights is a much less appealing target. That's what she's going to repeat in her head, at least. There's more men here than in Griffinmarsh's entire castle guard, unless she's badly miscounted; she's safe.

(Her walk drifts her closer to Jann anyway. She doesn't know these men, even if they have swords.)
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Jann, too, is concerned about the missing spiders. He sticks close to Emmalina. "Everybody look alive," he calls to the various knights and princes. "Could be something bitey here, we had trouble with giant spiders on our way in."

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"I'd kill a helluva lotta spiders if it got me a guide looked like that!" one of the men at the back chuckles loudly.

Emmalina blushes, she can't stop herself, but she knows better than to engage. She sets her mouth and keeps moving.
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"Somebody didn't pass his etiquette classes in knight school," mutters Jann under his breath. Walking a bit faster now, slightly between Emmalina and the ex-boulders.

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Emmalina glances backwards. "No armor, no sword," she says softly. One of her Princessly Skills is the ability to be able to speak quietly without looking like she's talking. "He's probably a forester out to make his fortune, someone's middle son maybe?" She looks back at Jann. She doesn't smile, but the stress lines around her mouth loosen a little. "The knights I know are perfectly polite."

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"Hey sweetheart, do you-" the man at the back starts, before someone near him clocks him on the head and angrily hisses something about ingratitude. Emmalina rolls her eyes and lets herself smile, just a bit. "I should probably be upset by the violence," she tells Jann, sounding completely unbothered.

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"As long as they don't start trying to kill each other it's all just a slightly informal tourney. For, in this case, your honor."

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Well, that gets a laugh out of her. "That would be a first," she says.

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"Really? Can't scarcely credit it."

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In retrospect, that might have revealed a bit more than she meant to. Too late now. "There's not a lot of knights in Griffinmarsh," she says. "I was supposed to meet more, at the tourney, but- well. Morath."

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"Very bad timing on his part."

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Emmalina shrugs slightly. "The tourney didn't actually exist," she tells him. "So I suppose my alternative was more embroidery, not socializing. But it might have been nice," she adds, trying not to sound wistful. "The marshes made it hard- we didn't travel much."

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"...The tourney didn't exist?"

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"Dragons don't usually abduct princesses in the vicinity of a tourneyful of knights," she says with a smile she doesn't feel. "But it meant I was in an easily spotted carriage."

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"...Oh, one of those. Setup arrangements. I don't quite get the mentality there. I mean, it seems to set some people up all right, but couldn't they just be... introduced in some politer way, I don't get it."

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Emmalina looks down at her hands, which seem to be clenching her skirts rather more tightly than usual. "I've. Never had the chance to ask." She knows she probably sounds a little curt, but it's that or start ranting about her parents, and if there was ever a place to not do that, leading a score of knights out of the Caves of Fire and Knight would be a strong contender.

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Jann takes the hint. "Mm."

On tromp the score of knights.
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Emmalina greatly appreciates his hint taking. First, it's nice of him, and second, then she doesn't have to be mean to him, which would be horribly ungrateful. He gets a small but appreciative smile for his tact.

The group emerges from the caves almost entirely unmolested, except for the usual attacks of cave-walls-in-darkness. A couple times there were eager shouts of beasts glimpsed in corners, but if such even existed, they seemed to have the sense not to bother quite this many knights and promptly disappeared. Arriving at the entrance- exit?- of the caves is anticlimatic, but very bright.

Emmalina covers her eyes with her hands, hissing with annoyance. "...sun," she grumbles. "Sun, ow."
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Jann winces too. "Ow," he agrees, "ow, ow, look a shadow." He ushers her into the shadow, which helps a little.

Wincing knights and miscellaneous disperse into the late daylight.
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"Thank you," Emmalina says gratefully to Jann, and lets herself relax, eyes closed. When the bright white circles have started to fade from her eyelids, she opens them again, much more slowly and carefully. When she can see again, she looks down at her dress, and immediately wishes she hadn't. Dirt, dust and spider blood are not a winning combination, and the hem is torn well beyond hope of repair.

She grimaces at the sight, and then turns back to Jann. "So..." she says blankly. "Those were the Caves?"
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"Those were the Caves. I'm not sure why they get talked up so much as a tourist destination. Give me a nice trail ride in the woods any day."

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"But just think how disappointed the locals will be."

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"And dragons are famous for inviting tourists to come in greater numbers."

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"You're not a tourist, I mean - eh, it was a terrible joke, not worth saving, I'm sorry."

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"It's all right. You didn't do it on purpose. Sorry to be- I know that's not what you meant."

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"Anyway. Where am I escorting you?"
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This? This is why her parents needed Morath, Emmalina thinks a bit wildly. She is so bad at this, even in the social situations she's been trained in. This whole- talking to people, making friends, even the bare minimum of not making a conversation Horribly Awkward for no good reason. Apparently that's just out of reach, for her, she needed practice and never got it, and now she's stuck meeting people through a dragon, and even then she goes and makes it awkward. And now it's something entirely outside her mother's lessons, they're in the middle of the woods in dragon territory outside the Caves of Fire and Night, she's been attacked by spiders and rescued a troop of knights, and she still can't even hold a normal conversation to save her life. What he said? It was a joke. She knew it was a joke, and she still- ugh. Ugh.

"I. I suppose Raxwell. If that's all right?"

Unless she goes back to her parents, she doesn't know where else she would go.
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"Can't scare me. Takes a few days, not that long. You can go ahead and ride the horse. I know a river we can go past, rinse off the cave gunk."

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"Oh, we can bathe?" Emmalina sighs happily. "Yes please. If I never wear this dress again it will be too soon."

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"I... don't have a spare dress for you."

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"And if you did, I would have questions," she laughs. "But unless the horse has walked off, I have a couple in my pack."

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"Oh, okay, then we're good. Horse, horse. Hello Morganite," he says when they find her. She has not walked off. Jann helps Emmalina into the saddle.

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On the plus side, her dress is already ripped beyond repair. On the minus side, this dress is still not designed for this saddle, and she's feeling rather self conscious about her legs. And she's still blushing from having to be lifted into the saddle; she's not used to casual contact, and there's no dead spiders to distract her. She focuses on Morganite's mane very intently and strokes the horse's neck. "Hello Morganite," she murmurs to the horse. "Thank you for the ride."

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Morganite whickers.

Since Emmalina does not seem comfortable on the horse, Jann picks up the reins and leads her along, down and away from the Mountains of Morning.

And after about an hour of walking they come to a river.

"You can go first, I'll just go behind that tree till you say otherwise," says Jann, indicating a tree, which he then goes behind.
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Emmalina cleans herself off, selects the plainer of her two dresses (riding astride wasn't easy on her first dress, and she'd like one of her outfits to come out of this intact) and gets herself tidied up. "All yours," she tells Jann. "So much better."

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He emerges. "Excellent. Behind the tree with you," he says, waving her in its direction.

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Behind the tree is actually rather peaceful. Emmalina amuses herself by starting on a daisy chain.

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Eventually Jann calls, "I'm decent!"

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Emmalina reappears, smiling. "I already knew that." She didn't have time to make a long enough chain for an actual necklace, so she's wearing the flowers as a slightly-too-large crown instead.

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"Aw, lookit you, that's pretty. Are we making jokes about my moral character now?"

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Emmalina blushes. "Why thank you." Ever the good princess, she sweeps a curtsy. Of course, since her curtsies presuppose that she is wearing an actual crown, rather than a daisy chain, this unbalances the chain forwards off her head. It winds up draped half on one ear, half on her nose, and she fixes it with a resigned grin. "You've saved me how many times now? I think I'm allowed."

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"It's true. Being rescued entitles you to a one-year subscription to making jokes about my moral character. Of course you read all the fine print."

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"Do I get extra years for the spiders?"

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"Of course! One per." He helps her back onto Morganite.

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There is some skirt adjustment that needs to happen, now that she's in a dress not torn to pieces, but she manages to seat herself after some maneuvering. Morganite gets a hello neck pat. "How long will it take us, do you think?"

She's well educated, she's a princess, she knows where everything is on the maps. But it's all somewhat vague, with a careless approach to borders, so she's good at relative distances and sizes but the practicalities of actual travel are harder.
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"Walking pace, maybe five days. Maybe better if I borrow another horse for the leg through that little bit of Linderwall."

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"If you do that, maybe a sidesaddle?" Emmalina suggests tentatively. "I know I'm slowing us down, and I'm sorry. It's strange riding astride."

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"It'll depend what they have, but I can ask, sure."

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"I suppose horses are more common than side saddles."

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"Just a bit. And whether I can borrow one mostly depends on whether there's somewhere I can leave it where it'll wind up returned, and whoever returns it is less likely to ride sidesaddle."

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"No roaming bands of side saddle equestrians in Raxwell?"

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"Well, stranger things have happened, but I haven't heard of that one in particular."

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"Well, now I'm curious."

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"Oh, did I tell you about the time m'cousin turned me into a rabbit?"

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"Magic carpets and moonlight? I'm starting to think it made an impression."

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"Ah, I've used up all my best stories, I should start keeping closer track. Writing them down or something. Did I tell you how my best friend got into knight school early?"

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If he did, she's forgotten, so she just shakes her head. "Do tell?"

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"Usually they take you when you're fifteen. But there's an exception, you can get in at any age if you beat an instructor in a duel. Glynn decided that was too pedestrian and beat two of them."

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"...how?"

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"He's some kind of martial genius! Top of his class. Very sharp, knows all his stuff. Even kept on with archery, half of us drop that. And he can beat Milo at chess, occasionally, no mean feat."

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"I'll take your word for it, I don't know hardly anything about fighting. But he sounds impressive. How long have you been friends?"

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"Since he started! There's a mentorship thing and he was assigned to be my junior."

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"Oh, so for a while then. Do you still see him, now that you've finished school?"

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"Sure. He comes and hangs around and plays chess with Milo."

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The conversation carries from there, Jann happy to reminisce about his school days and Emmalina fascinated by the life he's describing. She doesn't have close friends the way he does, nor did she have any real peers growing up; she drinks in his stories with a sad, wistful envy. It all sounds so nice, his cousins and his friends and his school. She wishes there had been princess schools near Griffinmarsh. Even just a friend.

It takes them a day to get close enough to civilization that Jann can find someone who'll lend them a horse; after that they move considerably faster. The villages are loud and lively in a way the Griffinmarsh castle never was, and she doesn't quite know how to react. Everyone's very helpful and friendly, she'll give them that, even if she knows she's being quiet. No one seems to question Jann appearing with a rescued princess at his side. Emmalina wonders if he's rescued other princesses before, not just his cousin. The thought makes her feel small, and she doesn't ask.

The whole trip goes rather more easily than she expected. Jann's obviously traveled this way before, and he's organized and thoughtful, and if it weren't for her sore muscles she could almost forget that this is an escape, the end of a quest, rather than just a ride out in the country. She tries to think of it that way- just a fun excursion, nothing more. Not the glaring unknown that waits for her at the palace. She distracts herself by asking Jann more questions; it's a bit of a shock to realize that, late on the tail end of their third day, they're already at the castle.
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"Well, we certainly made excellent time," Jann comments. It's dark, but there's plenty of moonlight. "Here you go -" He helps her down off the horse, and then leads her and Morganite both past the gate guards, nodding to them as they shine a torch at him to identify him.

"Sir Jann and...?"

"And Princess Emmalina of Griffinmarsh," says Jann.

"Aha," says the inquisitive guard, winking. And the gate is opened and Jann hands Morganite off to a stable boy who is up late and then:

"I can put you in a guest room, it won't be a bit of trouble."
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"That would be- wonderful. Thank you." She looks around, eyes wide. "It's been so long since I've been in a castle. It's almost strange."

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"I'm told it's a bit confusing to anyone who doesn't know their way around, but I'll leave notes where notes need to be about you being my guest and anybody will give you directions," says Jann. "Tomorrow might be a little hectic what with, ah, my father, just to warn you."

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"Of course," Emmalina assures him. "Can't have our cave adventure going to waste, after all."

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"Yes. But I'm not waking anybody up about it tonight. He's not getting any more made of stone." Here is a guest room. "Unless Milo has someone over... no, here we are, good. Does this look all right, do you need anything?"

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Emmalina suppresses a mildly hysterical giggle. This is already so much, she can't picture possibly needing anything. But saying so would imply she didn't appreciate what Jann had done, surely, so she just shakes her head. "This is more than enough. Thank you." She pauses, unsure, and adds simply, "Good luck tomorrow."

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"Thanks," he says, preoccupied. "I mean, I'm sure it'll be fine. Sleep well."

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"You too."

And then Emmalina goes to acquaint herself with the bed. Large and soft and actual palace bed. Is it legal to marry a mattress? She's considering it.
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The mattress is emotionless but very cozy. Perhaps they will only be bestest friends.

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Emmalina will just have to overcome her disappointment by burrowing into the mattress as deeply as she can manage. She'll come back out tomorrow. Eventually. Maybe.

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Well, nobody is going to wake her, but if she should wake of her own accord and open the door there will be breakfast waiting on a tray.

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Emmalina doesn't often sleep late, but it's a really nice bed, and she doesn't have much else to do. By the time she retrieves her tray it's probably closer to lunch than breakfast, but she won't be thinking about that.

Now that she's less tired- thank you, fluffy mattress- and better fed, she starts to remember exactly how little she knows about what's going to happen to her for the rest of her life. Then she sets to work distracting herself from that train of thought. Her food gets arranged into a only faintly passing resemblance of the Griffinmarsh flag; she eats it crankily until she feels better. Then she washes herself up, puts on her remaining dress, and wanders the palace. She doesn't need any particular goal- the staff keep worriedly offering to direct her somewhere, but she's just exploring. The palace is pretty, the gardens are stunning, she can amuse herself appreciating the scenery for a while.
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If she looks out the window, she might spot Jann escorting a giggling ladyfriend to a side door of the castle.

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When she sees Jann with his... friend, she flushes bright red and turns her back on the window immediately. None of her business none of her business she can be disappointed (...she's disappointed?) but none of her business. She locates a servant to point her to a nice spot in the gardens (far, far away from that side door) and amuses herself exploring instead.

The time outside is calming; she spends a fair bit of her time lying on her back in the grass with her eyes closed just... doing nothing. No cooking, no watercolors, no cleaning, no dancing. No one expecting her or expecting things of her or waiting on lunch or upset that her dress is grass stained. (...it's going to be so grass stained.) She makes daisy chains and names clouds and often finds herself grinning for no reason at all.

She's rather lost track of time, but her stomach eventually reminds her that time still exists. She brushes off what leaves she can and heads back inside. She doesn't think it's a meal time yet, but there's probably something available in the kitchens, and she's competent enough in a kitchen after Morath that she can probably meaningfully offer to help as a thank you.

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Jann is in the kitchen blowing on a hot bun. "Hullo."

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Emmalina smiles and bobs a nice-to-see-you curtsy out of reflex. "Good..." she stops. "Well, I suppose it must be afternoon, but I, um. Kinda lost track. Your gardens are lovely, by the way."

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"Aren't they? We pay the head gardener a lot, so she doesn't run off."

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"Is that a common problem?" Emmalina wonders. "We're fine at home, but uh... there's not many places to run off from Griffinmarsh."

She eyes the hot buns consideringly. Choices, choices.

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"She threatens to start a magical succulent nursery or grow a hedge maze to hire out. Help yourself, by the by, that's what they're for."

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"There isn't much demand for those back home," Emmalina admits. "My parents are a bit stodgy about magic... or most things, really."

She does in fact take a bun, but does not immediately take a bite. "Thank you," she says with a smile, "but I was, uh, more worried about the temperature." She nods at his. "Yours looked hot."

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"Yeah, maybe give it a minute. Stodgy about magic?"

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"Not a lot of folks want to live in a marsh," Emmalina shrugs. "Everything was just... traditional. Old fashioned." She rolls her eyes. "Morath gave me such grief for thinking he'd eat me."

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"I'd be offended too if I were him! Not your fault though."

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"I definitely got a traditional education. I'm not, um, sure I'd say it was useful, though? What with the annoying dragons, and all."

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"I think dragons probably vary in how traditional they are, but princesses weren't ever food, I don't think."

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"And I'm going to tell myself they knew that, or it makes calling Morath on me much less comfortable," she says grumpily around a mouthful of bun.

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"...dunno if it helps but there are traditional ways to do princess assassinations and that's not one."

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She giggles at that, somewhat hysterically. "'Princess assassinations', what a picture... if you put it like that, it's okay. They wouldn't. They mean well." She rolls her eyes. "They always mean well." The next laugh sounds less manic. "End results may vary, from dragon abductions to really, spectacularly ugly dresses and anything between, but they always legitimately think it helps!"

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"Well... you're pretty well clear of 'em now."

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She smiles at him. "I think you get most of the credit there, so, thank you for that."

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"Anytime."

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Well, that face is downright adorable.

(Emmalina squashes that thought firmly.)

"You may have saved me from Morath, but really, the greater feat was saving the world from the lemon yellow lace concoctions my mother insists on buying me."

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"Is it the yellow or the lace?"

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"Oh, certainly both," she laughs, "but the yellow is definitely the worse idea of the two. I think I've got orange somewhere, too. Half the time I think she must be colorblind."

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"So you're saying I shouldn't wear my yellow sweater, not even on crisp fall days."

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"Vitally important. A matter of utmost importance to the health and security of Raxwell," she agrees solemnly.

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"Well, that leaves me the green and blue one with the fringe, then. Is fringe allowed?"

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"If carefully measured."

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"It's a couple inches, the fringe."

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"Permissible," she allows grandly.

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"Oh good."

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Emmalina finishes off the remains of her bun with, in her opinion, entirely the correct amount of relish. She learned the basics of cooking with Morath, but only just enough to get by; proper, castle-quality food is still a luxury on par with her future spouse, the guest room mattress. She sighs happily, but there's still something...

"...is it weird that I sort of miss Morath?" she asks thoughtfully.

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"I think Milo writes letters to Roxim, sometimes. - did I tell you about Milo and Roxim, I forget."

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"Roxim doesn't ring any bells... Milo's your princess cousin?"

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"Prince! But he smells like a princess. And Roxim is the dragon who can't see too well or hear too well and made it all the way home with Milo dangling from his claws before he was corrected on the matter, and couldn't find his way back to put Milo where he'd found him, so I went and rescued him."

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Emmalina laughs. "Yes, you told me about his princess... confusion, I think I just didn't catch Roxim's name. They write letters? Really?"

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"I think so! You'd have to check with him to be sure, I don't spy on his correspondence."

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"Pretending he writes the letters isn't that different from actually sending them!" She considers for a second. "I could, I suppose. He was nice enough. It was more... being there was a routine, you know?"

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"Never having been personally kidnapped by a dragon, no, not especially..."

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"But you and your cousin could make a matching set!"

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"I haven't the figure."

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(Emmalina is not checking out his figure nope not even a little this is entirely his fault.)

"A great loss for dragonkind," she says, then promptly changes the subject. "So, how's your day so far?"

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"Things with my dad are still weird but hopefully that will... smooth out, or something."

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"Oh, well... I'm glad it worked, at least?" She hesitates. "Um. Weird like... do you want to talk about it?"

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"Huh, do I? Maybe. So like - he was turned to stone before I was even born. Mom was pregnant, and he'd been sent off to live with this family in this village since he was a baby since there was a prophecy that turned out to be about him turning to stone and nobody wanted that, but they didn't know that, so they tracked down the fact that he was Uncle Ainar's brother somehow and showed up, and then -" he waves his hand. "So I'd never met him at all."

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"Ohh." Emmalina tries to imagine never having met her father until she was an adult. It won't quite go through. What's a neutral question, here, she doesn't want to push him about this if he doesn't want to talk. "Does that mean the prophecy's fulfilled now?"

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"Yes, all sewn up. He is not expected to relapse."

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Was that a joke or an actual possibility? ...probably a joke, he's all non-stone now. She smiles. "That's good. Does he know what he's doing next?"

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"I assume he'll be... around, doing... something? He wasn't a knight and he's a little old to go to school for it, I'm not sure what else a collateral relative is supposed to do."

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"Administrative... something...? I know ruling is work, just not... what kind."

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"Me either! Milo had better not get eaten by anything that thinks princesses smell tasty, because if he does I'm in for it. Maybe I could make Reko do everything."

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Names, names, names... Reko? She hasn't heard that one. Has she? Please let this not be the stupidest of questions. But context clues exist, she supposes. "Uh... is Reko the other duke?"

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"Right. Other half of Raxwell's his."

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"Does he normally do everything? Or are you hoping because you just... don't want to be a duke?" She sounds a little bemused by the last.

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"He runs his own half and does a good job of it too. I really, really don't want to be a duke, I'd hate it."

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"Huh," Emmalina says thoughtfully. Then she looks apologetic. "Sorry, I don't mean you should, I just, uh. I think that would mystify my parents." She smiles a bit crookedly. "Probably a good thing." And then, less crookedly, "And besides, you make an awfully good knight already."

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"Thanks! Knighting suits me."

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"What's your next, uh, knightly activity?" She blinks. "What are those even called, if they're not a full quest?"

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"Errands, sometimes. Uh, I don't have anything down for the next week, I padded my time estimate for this one and then some to allow - dad time. After that I do some work with the palace guards and sometimes escort people places."

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What does that hesitation mean? Is she supposed to be asking about his dad or dropping it? Small talk is so hard when it's not with, by and large, the same castle full of people you've known your whole life. "Well, I don't have anything down for the next... uh, ever. If you wind up with free time and want-" she almost says company, pictures the giggling face from earlier, and amends to "-a friendly face."

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"I appreciate that. You're neat."

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Emmalina... should probably not be as floored by this as she is, she decides. People get compliments all the time, right? Her tutors used to be impressed with her sometimes! Morath was pleased with her princessing! And 'neat', what does 'neat' even mean, really? But still. Eeeee.

Conversational lessons to the rescue. "Thank you! You're pretty great yourself." She does not add on the bit about how rescuing her clearly proves this, because she's been getting the suspicion she's maybe already thanked him to death for it. She can't quite resist adding, "It's not like I have pressing time commitments; not much call for watercolor or embroidery like there is for knights."

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"You'd be surprised how many embroidered things we have in the house, and we must get them somewhere and I don't think my aunt makes them."

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"Does she not like embroidery, then?" Princesses are expected to know how, but maybe they don't have to, once they're married, if they don't want...? That sounds rather nice.

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"She wasn't a princess to begin with, that might be it."

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"Huh. Probably." Emmalina thinks about it. "You know, I think I'm jealous?"

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"Of her not being a princess?"

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"Yes? No? I don't know. Yes, I think. It's... It does seem like at least it would come with less of a... a constant list of things your parents expect, maybe."

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"Non-princesses' parents can have expectations too, but maybe less - heavy ones? Since there's less tradition and stuff?"

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"You know, if I never hear my mother say the word 'tradition' again, I think I will be perfectly happy."

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"That's probably achievable!"

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She smiles faintly. "I hope so." Having finished her second bun, and guessing this is all she can (should) manage before the next proper meal, Emmalina reluctantly dusts herself off. "I should probably be less grass stained before dinner, but it was nice catching up with you. Thank you for letting me... um, ramble, I suppose." She looks at him hesitantly. "You'll tell me if I can do anything? Please?"

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"Yeah. 'Course. I think the me and my dad thing'll get better with time though."