Once upon a time there was a princess who had been turned out of her kingdom by an evil sorcerer...
But that was another story, now.
"Here, we've got some bracken down so you should just need a couple of these against the chill." The corsair picks out a couple of sheepskins and gently guides her over to the back of the overhang, which has been piled up with bracken to give some elevation over the dusty ground. "Mind your head," he warns her as he crouches and sets the sheepskins down in a gap between other piles of bedding, some with napping corsairs. "Here you go."
Liliana ducks just in time. "Ah, yes," she stammers, before sitting down to spread out her sheepskins. She leaves one underneath her, just so she won't be feeling the itchy bracken - not that itchy sheepskin is so much better, but she had all too much of sleeping on grasses and ferns on the way here. At least wool is something she can remember being in some of her mattresses and quilts at home.
(And also at her earlier home - but she's too tired to think about that.)
She glances around and decides to keep her hair scarf on. Hopefully this'll only be for a few nights and then...
But she's too tired to make her dreams even slightly realistic. She slips in-between the sheepskins. It's muggy and cold, of course, and the bracken isn't anywhere near as soft as her bed at home. But she's still tired enough that she's asleep before too long.
"You're welcome," replies the greeter to Selma.
"I'm afraid you missed dinner time but I'm sure we can sort something out," says her escort, heading to Tiana's tent. "Tiana!"
"Oh, you've got the other one? You saw where the bedding is, right? There are some flatbreads over from the meal that were going to be part of tomorrow's breakfast, the potted meat is where it always is if they need something more substantial."
Theee is indeed a small pile of flatbreads on a plate with a cloth over by the fire.
Selma smiles a tired "thank you" and takes a piece of flatbread. "Will the meat still be there tomorrow? And..." She looks up with a mix of fear and awe. "Do you have magic?"
"Yes, there's plenty, everyone hates it," replies her escort, "and not personally, but you'll find the Empire is full of it, I'm afraid." She thinks for a moment. "Oh, we recently made membership in the Hand of Dumon illegal, something something idolatry. So we do try not to do, like, the bad kind of magic."
So they don't do magic themselves. She's a little disappointed, but reassured.
"Good," she says aloud. She pauses, her head nodding for a bit, before she stands up. "I suppose I can peer more at my new life in the morning, if you don't have anything more to ask?"
If not - she seems quite used to the bracken and sheepskin bedding; unlike Liliana, she makes a point of taking off her wimple before settling down.
"Let's just get you settled," she says.
The night is uneventful - there's some noise as Yasmina brings the squad she was with back to camp, but everyone settles down quickly.
As the sun rises, people start getting up, and shortly thereafter the smell of cured meat cooking wafts gently through the camp, which appears to be a gentle wake up call that gets most people out of bed.
Liliana starts suddenly out of her sheepskins at the sound of people getting up around her, and then settles, rubbing her eyes, as she remembers what'd happened the previous day. She's in the Empire, where she wanted to be. Well, where she'd chosen to be, when everyone else had rejected her.
Either way - she'd started in a new world once; hopefully she'd be able to make a better life for herself here.
With a few glances at the people around her and a longer look at Selma where she's still asleep, Liliana runs her hands over her wimple (without taking it off her hair), tries to smooth out the worse wrinkles in her dress, and frowns at the stains.
After a couple minutes, she finally asks, "Where's breakfast?"
As she gets up, she hears a couple of people tell each other, "The lady's awake!", and one corsair in particular shows up and starts hovering nervously.
"Over by the fire, grab a flatbread then go round to the bacon, or there's mushrooms in the other pan if you don't eat bacon," he replies, glad to have something obvious to do. "Come with and I'll show you?"
Lila smiles at the thought of bacon - she's got lots of good memories of bacon, from both her lives - and follows.
Breakfast is being served with, well, some approximation of military precision. Most people have wooden plates, but some are just using the flatbread as a plate substitute, which seems to be what is expected of her.
The bacon has a hint of exotic spices to it, possibly some cinnamon and cardamom.
Her - guard? minder? - picks up breakfast as well and keeps a general eye on her, but doesn't interrupt her eating.
Liliana sniffs curiously at the spices, but she doesn't let that hold her back more than a moment. She devours the bacon and flatbread hungrily.
After a bit, she asks the... guard?... "What should I be doing today? I'd like to thank that lady who was leading the people who rescued me?"
"Once she's done with breakfast, we'll head to the command tent, yes. Ideally along with the other woman you brought with you - but it can wait until she's had enough sleep."
Liliana doesn't try to talk to anyone for the rest of breakfast. She's lost in thought, thinking of her home, her lost husband... and what she did to Rosalyn. Hopefully she's happy now, at least, even if everything else's fallen apart. The story said she wouldn't be, but the story also said Liliana would be happy... so it has to be broken by now.
Before too long, Selma comes out to breakfast, looking better-rested than Liliana. She looks totally unsurprised at seeing Liliana's blank stare into the sky, and takes her bread and bacon over by her to murmur something about the beautiful clouds.
"But Achard..." Liliana begins.
They murmur to each other for a little while (Selma eating in the meantime) before Selma stands up and says aloud, "If you're going to keep talking like that, Liliana, you might as well tell it to someone. I think someone's interested in hearing from you?"
"Happy to listen and pass things on, or I can check if the boss is free yet."
Their escort catches another corsair's attention and looks meaningfully at the command tent; the other corsair heads over that way and ducks his head into the tent to check.
"- Check if he - she - is free?"
The other corsair nods.
"Looks like she'll see you now, follow me," says their escort, heading towards the command tent and holding up the canvas of the entrance for them to head inside.
It's a pretty well-appointed tent, white canvas and square so you can stand up throughout, and with what looks like an actual bed over near the back; in front of it is a desk covered in various notebooks and folders with papers spilling out of them (and currently a plate with a flatbread and some mushrooms), and there are a couple of folding wooden chairs for guests. The white canvas lets through a decent amount of light, but the desk is also supplied with several glowing crystals.
Behind the desk is Yasmina, who looks up to greet them as they enter.
"Thank you, Camilo, if you can keep an eye out in case they need anything else?"
The corsair escort, presumably Camilo, nods and leaves the two guests in the tent.
There's a minute's silence, before Selma nudges Liliana.
Finally, Liliana bursts out, "You know who I am? - what I did - well, some of that - I really did want to get away. It wasn't another plot. So... what're you planning to do with me?"
"Actually," says Yasmina, "I only have the faintest idea who you are - some kind of nobility, house is on the outs or possibly just yourself, I imagine you've done all kinds of terrible things because that's just how Confederacy Lords and Ladies are.
As for what I'm doing with you, that's pretty much down to you. We're due to pull back and resupply soon. I could let you go fend for yourself in the hills again, but it didn't look like that was going very well for you.
Or I could bring you back to Anduz - that's the nearby city, at ox pace it's a couple of days from here - and I imagine a number of people would like to talk to you about internal Confederacy politics, and so on. They might even suggest you head all the way to Anvil, if you've got any kind of Ambition you want to pursue.
Or you could suggest some other way you'd like this to go - I am open to suggestions, I wasn't exactly planning to rescue a noblewoman from the refugees we're trying to protect. The ones that sign on with us will also be heading back to Anduz, but we'll keep you apart, there's no need to invite trouble."
Liliana sinks down. This isn't her story anymore. Not that it ever was, wholly. She needs to keep reminding herself of that.
"I'm not sure I should have ambition anymore. It didn't go well last time. I thought I could overcome - er - myself and do some good, but I got so wrapped up in the plotting and all, and by the time I realized what I'd done, it'd all gone wrong."
"That does sound like politics, yes. Why I tend to keep out of it, these days. Not that I should be encouraging you to give up on a Virtue because of it, I guess.
I promised to be back with the refugee camp at some time this morning, so you'll have some time to think about it before we move out. What do you need to know? Or would you rather I pick entirely - in which case, I call Camilo back in, you stay put until we start packing up, and you'll come to Anduz with us, and probably eventually on to Sarvos to the Ambassador.
Who will probably not try to forcibly repatriate you if you don't want that to happen, but I can't make any promises on his account."
"The Ambassador from the Confederacy?" She tries to remember who he is. "Either way - I'll come with you to Anduz, at least. It's better than staying in the hills with everyone who recognizes me angry at me."
She sighs. "But is it a virtue anymore? I don't know anyone who was involved who came out better. Not me, not Achard, not Rosalyn, not my parents, not even Selma -"
"Ambition remains a Virtue whether any individual ambition worked out or not, or so the sutannirs keep trying to convince me.
You'll need to get acquainted with the Virtues if you are going to stick around in the Empire, but I'm sure any of the corsairs will talk your ear off about them, or we can get to it on the road.
The Ambassador to the Confederacy - at least I think it's still a Leaguer, I am generally out of touch and it might have changed hands since then."
(The Imperial Ambassador was some kind of venal merchant type that was willing to overlook anything as long as it made a little profit, but was recently been replaced by someone a little more dignified and noble about the time that relations with the Empire worsened - due to the awful fuss the Empire decided to make about slavery.
It's not like the Confederacy used slavery that much, just some captured orcs that would rather fight for their captors than die, but apparently that was bad or something.)
"Oh - er - let's not talk to the Ambassador. At least not now. I should probably apologize to him at some point. I was the one who made up that scandal about him and Rosalyn - I wasn't even thinking about what it'd do to him."