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."
"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."
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-
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.
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.
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?"
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?
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.
"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.
"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."
"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.
"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."
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.
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?
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."
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."
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."
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.
"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."
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."
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."
...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.
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.
"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."
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."
"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."
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.
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.
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?"
"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."
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?"
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."
"-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.
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.
"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?"
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!"
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.
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.
"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.
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.
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.
-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.)
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.
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.)
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."
"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.
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."
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.
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."
She grimaces at the sight, and then turns back to Jann. "So..." she says blankly. "Those were the Caves?"
"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.
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."
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.
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."
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."
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.
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.
"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."
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."
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.
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.
"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."
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!"
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.
"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."
"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."
"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?"
"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."
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."
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."
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?"