Here is Coridel in a much simpler outfit. To read the next part of the story click below:
“Sir, I demand that you at least provide me with fresh clothing.” Coridel approached Rastruan after a week, interrupting a meeting. “I am your hostage, and as such you should take better care of me. I have been wearing the same outfit during my whole stay here.” She gestured to her worn dress.
Rastruan glanced up briefly from his map.
“Honson, I believe the Klevar troops will head north.” He said, deliberately ignoring Coridel and speaking to the man on his right. “I want you and a small band to stake out the mountain path there. Ambush them if you can.”
“My clothes are about to fall apart! I demand you give me a new costume.”
“And I think,” Rastruan continued, “That you might take young Vlad with you. I think he will do well as a scout.”
Coridel seethed. Her face turned bright red in anger. “Sir!”
“That’ll be all, Honson. Thank you.” Rastruan sent the man off.
“Ah, Princess Coridel.” He bowed to her, “What a pleasant surprise. Can I do anything to help you?”
Coridel snorted, “Can you help me? Weren’t you listening?”
“No, I’m afraid not. I was going over important plans with my second-in-command. Generally people do not interrupt me.”
“I need new clothes.”
“Yours look fine.”
“They are filthy. They were not made for this sort of wear and tear.”
“Does my camp look like it would be able to provide a dress for you, milady?”
“There were multiple dresses in the chests you stole from my carriage. Return to me one of them.” She demanded.
“I’m afraid those dresses have gone to better use.”
“Better use?” She scoffed, “Did you sell them for money?”
“No.” He said sharply, “They were given to those with nothing to wear at all.”
Coridel had no words.
“You might start thinking about others, princess. You are not the only one with troubles.”
“What were you saying earlier about border raids?” Coridel asked, suddenly breaking the quiet. She was sitting on her rock, and as usual Rastruan had chosen to take his supper next to her.
“You have not heard the reports?”
“As far as I knew our borders were safe.”
“Then the Klevar rulers are very clever. With one hand they agree to peace with your father and with their other hand they smite the mountains.”
“Why has it not been brought to my father’s attention? If it is such a problem, surely you could spare a man to serve as messenger.”
“Three men were sent as messengers a year ago. They were stopped at the palace gate by the steward. He accused them of raving.”
Coridel bit her lip. She could imagine the King’s steward doing just that. He was very protective of the palace and believed a man’s worth was told by his clothes. He also had married a Klevar lady; perhaps he was not as loyal to the crown as her father believed.
“In previous years we tried to alert the king, but we have no men to spare.” Rastruan continued, “Klevar raiders are hidden in many parts of these woods. I have lost men who wandered off alone to hunt; instead they became the hunted.”
Coridel shivered. “How long has it been happening?”
“Long enough, lass. Not a child under the age of ten can remember living in safety.”
The next day Coridel, wearing the same dirty gown, sat on her rock with a bowl of stew. She watched the gray sky, thinking it would rain.
“We’ve sent a letter of ransom to your father, the king.” Rastruan declared as he sat down on her boulder. Coridel pulled her bowl of soup onto her knees and edged away from him. “How much did you ask for me?”
“Fair treatment of the peasants, reasonable taxes, and protection against border raids from Klevar.”
Coridel glanced at him in surprise. “No money?”
”Princess, you have lived with my men for a week now. Surely you do not cling to your delusions of us being greedy thieves. Look at my men.” He gestured with his arm. “Look at how they help each other and truly care for each other. We are closer than brothers. I would trust any of them with my very life. Can you really see them and believe that they are nothing but money-grubbing tricksters?”
Princess Coridel bit her lip and was slow to answer. “I suppose not.”
“But you are not convinced, highness?”
”I don’t know.” She knew she was being unfair in her judgment. Because they had imposed on her and delayed her mission she chose to believe the worst of them. But her constant observation showed that the men were much more than just thieves.
“Let me show you something.” He said, jumping off the rock. He pulled her to her feet and struck off down the path. “I want you to see what these men do with everything they steal. We only use the leftovers; the best of everything is given to their families and friends, and those who really need it.”
“Why don’t the men live on farms? That is how a law abiding man would provide for his family,” argued Coridel.
Rastruan answered gravely, “At one time each one of these men did have farms, and families who helped them work in the fields.”
”You don’t know?”
”Of course not. Why should I?”
”Several years ago the king changed the taxes. He required that the majority of all farm produce be given to the crown, along with a tax on the land itself.”
Coridel was confused. “I remember my father creating the tax. I have read it and approve of it. A farm is able to provide a large surplus, and by giving so much to the crown the farmers have insurance during famine. The food is stored and redistributed during times of need.”
“It is an idea that works well in the southern lands.” Rastruan conceded, “But here in the mountains it will never succeed. A farmer here can hardly produce enough from this rocky soil for his own family, and often times the border wars keep the harvest from being brought in or cause the fields to be destroyed. Most of my men lost their farms because they could not pay the tax. Garold, the cook, was fighting Klevar raiders and when he returned his wife and children were almost dead from starvation and living in the woods because the farm had been taken for the king.”
“You lie! My father would never do that.”
“I speak the truth, princess. Klevar bandits burned Jethro’s fields; the king impounded him for a year and then released him with no farm. His family and another were living off of rations hardly substantial enough for one family. And there are more stories I could tell you. Each one of my men has lost family or farms due to the king’s taxes and his inability to protect them from Klevar.”
Coridel swallowed hard. “I begin to believe you.” She said. “Everything you say corresponds with what I have heard the men talking about. But how could my father not have noticed it?”
“He is a busy king, Taglyn is a large country. It would be easy, though hardly forgivable, to overlook the mountain peasants.”
“You are too gracious. As soon as I get home I am going to look into this matter. Perhaps I can do something to help.” She declared. “That is…” She added as an afterthought. “If I ever return home.”
Rastruan turned to her with a comforting smile. “You will get home. It should not be too long before our messenger returns.”
Rastruan led Coridel to a small encampment of women and children. Several men, also, were there. Coridel recognized many of them from the Dragon. They were bringing hides, venison, clothing, and more supplies to the families. Several were thatching roofs or mending furniture. Rastruan explained to Coridel that these families had no one to care for them. The husbands or fathers had been put in jail or had died in border skirmishes.
“My men are happy to supply for them. Everything they kill is brought here first, and only when the women and children have full bellies do we bring it to the camp for our own meals.”
One of the children ran up to Rastruan. “’Struan, ‘Struan!” The little girl cried; she squealed in delight as he swung her up. “I rode a pony today, ‘Struan! I rode really far!”
“Is that right, sweet Delia? I’ll bet you could have ridden to the border and back.”
“No, only to the stream. Jarnik wouldn’t let me go farther.” She pouted slightly.
Rastruan smiled. He said to Coridel: “This is my niece Delia. My brother, her father, died two years ago.”
“I’m sorry.” Coridel said softly.
Delia glanced at Coridel. “Is she like mommy?” She whispered loudly in Rastruan’s ear.
“What do you mean?” Rastruan asked curiously.
“Mommy loved daddy; does she love you?”
Rastruan laughed boisterously and Coridel blushed.
“No, child.” He corrected her. “She is a visitor from far away. She is going to help us.” He glanced at Coridel, as if to affirm the truth of his words. She nodded with a small smile.
“Oh.” Delia put a finger in her mouth. “I think she’s pretty.” Then she squirmed down to the ground and ran off, yelling over her shoulder: “She should be like mommy!”
Rastruan chuckled, “She’s a funny little girl, isn’t she?”
Coridel knew her cheeks were bright red. She tried to change the subject. “As soon as my father hears about this there will be changes.” She assured.
Rastruan looked at her for a long moment. “Thank you.” He said simply.
As soon as they returned to camp Coridel requested parchment and a quill. She spent the rest of the daylight hours working on a plan of action to present to her father. She slept only when Rastruan escorted her to her tent, but upon waking she began immediately again. Rastruan brought breakfast to her, but she waved it away.
“I’ll eat later.” She said, “Right now my mind is too full of ideas to stop writing.”
Rastruan had apparently told his men what she was doing. Garold, the cook, was the first one to approach her.
“Milady,” He said hesitantly with an awkward bow.
“Garold!” Coridel cried in delight.
He looked at her cautiously. Even though she was helping them now he didn’t trust her tongue to remain sweet. “I wanted to thank you for what you are doing for us.”
“Garold, I’ve written as much as I can about my own observations. Will you tell me what you think needs to be done most for your people?” She pulled up a stool, “Sit here and talk to me.”
Garold stuttered, “I, well, er, I don’t think I’m quite qualified to advise you, princess.”
“Nonsense.” Coridel cried, “You are affected by the tax, surely you have thought about how to remedy it?”
“Please tell me.”
For three hours Garold explained to her what had happened to him and what he felt should have been done to prevent it.
“And almost worst of all that has happened is what’s been done to Lord Rastruan.” He finished up.
“Lord Rastruan?” Coridel asked, “Why do you call him Lord?”
“Because he is one! His grandfather had his title revoked due to some grievance or other, but the land stayed in the family because of a royal promise several generations ago. Lord Rastruan is of as noble blood as any prince. And he’s done more than anyone else would have done to help and protect us.”
“He never mentioned that.” Coridel mused. “Thank you for letting me know.”
After Garold left, Coridel began writing again. That afternoon she was interrupted by three other men who wished to thank her, and all three she made stay for interviews.
“Lord Rastruan?” Coridel called as she approached him three days later. He glanced up, surprised by her use of the title. “If you have the time could you read over my plan? I would like to know if I have encompassed all of the needs of the men and women here.”
Rastruan took the papers from her. “I would love to read them.” He laughed quietly, “This is rather like a dream come true. Who would have thought that by taking a princess hostage I would be able to help save the lives of so many?”
Coridel smiled, “I hope it works. I’m sure my father will change the laws when he reads this and hears my own observations. And I want to implement a survey in all the parts of Taglyn to make sure that nothing similar is happening anywhere else.”
Rastruan grinned, “I don’t know how to thank you, Princess.”
“You don’t have to thank me. This should have been done long ago. If my Father and his advisors had been more diligent then your men and their families would never have had to suffer so much.”
“Even so, I thank you.” Rastruan insisted.
“You’re welcome, my lord.” She turned to leave.
“Wait.” He held her back. “Why are you calling me ‘lord’?”
“Because you are one.”
“Who told you?”
“Garold let it slip.” She smiled, “Is it supposed to be a secret?”
“Not quite, but I’m not really a lord. The title was revoked two generations ago.”
“And soon it will be reinstated. My father ought to be so impressed with what you have done for these people that he will give you anything you ask for.” Coridel told him.
“I only want my people to be cared for.”
“And who will care for you?”
He glanced at her sharply. “What do you mean?”
“You do so much for them. You could do even more with a title and a generous allowance from the king.” She glanced at him and frowned, “And beyond that, you won’t be doing them any favors if you let yourself get sick and die. When was the last time you slept the whole night through? It seems as though every night you end up running into the woods to check on an accidental warning. You should delegate your jobs and give yourself time to rest.”
“That’s what my sister-in-law says.”
“And she’s right.” Coridel agreed firmly. “If you don’t say something to the men then I will order them not to interrupt you at night.” She threatened. “They can’t disobey a royal order.”
Rastruan sighed, he did feel exhausted. “Very well, princess.”
“And another thing,”
“Do you think you could call me Coridel?”
He smiled slowly, “It would be a pleasure… Coridel.”
The messenger returned four days later. He urgently dismounted his horse and ran to Rastruan’s tent, ignoring the greetings of his friends.
The king, he said, had misunderstood their letter of ransom.
“Misunderstood? What do you mean?” Rastruan asked.
“He believes there to be a real fire-breathing dragon, he has sent out a notice that whoever rescues the princess by slaying the dragon will receive whatever he desires, up to half the kingdom.”
“But that is insane! A real dragon would simply eat the princess, not hold her for ransom.”
“Nevertheless, sir, these woods will be full of knights and princes before the week’s end.”
Rastruan sighed. “This could cause some serious trouble.”
He spoke with Coridel directly afterwards.
“So soon?” She gasped, “Oh, but I haven’t completely finished my research for the new Act. And I promised Delia that I would teach her to weave a flower crown.”
“Surely you are jesting!” Rastruan declared, “A week ago you demanded that I return you to your Father at once.”
“And you know as well as I do how much things have changed since then. Send another message to my Father saying I wish to remain.”
“It’s not as simple as that, Coridel.” He hadn’t told the princess about the dragon misunderstanding. “The King believes that a real dragon has kidnapped you. There is a great reward out for anyone who can rescue you.”
“Rescue me?” Coridel laughed. “That’s preposterous, Father knows dragons don’t keep people, they merely swallow them whole.”
“That’s does not change the fact that we will be soon overrun with want-to-be-heroes.”
“What will we do?”
“Return you to the King and have him retract all these men.”
“It won’t be that simple.” Coridel sighed,
“Things never are.” Rastruan agreed.
“When will we leave?”
“In the morning.”
“I’ll go finish up my notes then.”
“I think we’ll have a party tonight; for the men, you know. It will help their morale if they can celebrate the possibility of a better life. And they would probably lynch me if I let you leave without a farewell party. They’ve become rather attached to their ‘sharp-witted princess’.”
Coridel smiled, “I am going to miss them.”
“We’ll miss you as well.”
“Perhaps I will be able to come back for a visit.”
“It won’t be the same.”
“No,” She agreed with a sigh. “It never is.”
The men were indeed excited by the prospect of a celebration. All day they cleaned up the clearing, built up a woodpile for a bonfire, and cooked food.
Coridel spent the day with young Delia and her mother, Aitora.
Aitora was a beautiful woman, it was clear to see where Delia had received her lovely black hair and fair skin. Aitora had a melodious voice and graceful way of moving.
“Have you lived in the mountains all your life?” Coridel asked her, as she helped with the mending.
“Yes, I was born on a farm not too far from here.”
“You have such a beautiful way of moving and speaking, I would have thought you were raised at court and then moved here.”
Aitora blushed, “I’m not that graceful.”
Coridel smiled, “But you are. You are truly beautiful.”
Aitora changed the subject, and they talked of Delia for a long while. Then, on a sudden inspiration, Coridel asked Aitora about the dress she was mending.
“Do you think I could wear this to the party tonight? It is much more festive than what I have been wearing since I arrived here.”
The dress truly was more festive, a beautiful shade of green with cream trim. It was also threadbare; Coridel doubted it would last another washing. Her own gown was much sturdier, as it had been made to withstand heavy travel, and would fit Aitora well.
“Do you really want to?” Aitora asked.
“Yes.” Coridel affirmed, “If I am going to dance I need a dress that’s not so stiff.” She held the gown up to her and spun around, “Will the color look good on me?”
Aitora laughed, “Rastruan’s eyes will pop out when he sees you in that!”
Coridel whipped around, “What makes you say that?”
Aitora just laughed and said: “I know my brother-in-law.” She took the dress from Coridel and held it up judgmentally. “I believe we’ll have to take the waist in. Yours is very tiny. All the men will be surprised to see you wearing this, I think. It’s very different from that drab gown you have on now.”
“I was hoping to give you this dress in exchange, you don’t mind that it’s gray do you?”
Coridel asked, a little worried.
“Oh, heavens no! Gray looks fine on me, but your complexion needs some color. You’ll look vibrant in the green.”
By sunset, Aitora and Coridel had both gowns altered and ready for the party. The two of them left young Delia safely asleep in the cottage and made their way to the meadow with several other women. Everyone was eager for a chance to celebrate.
The clearing was visible from far away. The Dragon had outdone itself with the bonfire. Coridel could not remember ever seeing a larger one.
To the side of the fire sat a small group of men with instruments. Coridel recognized the playful ditty they were strumming; it was a song she had learned as a child.
“Do you dance?” Rastruan appeared at her side. He grabbed her hand and pulled her towards the fire.
“I haven’t heard this song in years.” She protested.
He ignored her and continued to lead her to the clearing. “Attention!” He cried loudly, “Listen up, you grubby old men!”
The men laughed good-naturedly and became silent.
“I want to present to you the guest of honor at our little shindig, our Princess Coridel, savior of the mountain folk!” The members of the Dragon whooped loudly and applauded. Coridel blushed.
“Tomorrow she’ll return to the castle and proceed to present our case to the king. We will miss her presence here,” Several men murmured agreement. “But tonight is for celebration. Let’s dance!”
There was a scramble for partners and Coridel found herself being swung into a fast paced melody by Rastruan.
By midnight, Coridel had danced with every man present. She found it sweet how they each sought her out, and during several dances she changed partners many times to give everyone a chance.
Finally she and Aitora found a moments rest in the shadow of an old oak. They laughed and chattered as they watched everyone dance.
“Rastruan is watching you.” Aitora said suddenly.
“What?” Coridel glanced towards the fire and found it was true. The bearded mountain lord was gazing directly at her. She blushed and put a hand to her face.
“What are the men at court like?” Aitora asked.
“Ah, they are usually very proper.” Coridel said, self-conscious from Rastruan’s attention. “They always wear the latest fashion and speak politely. ”
Aitora laughed, “They sound boring. Rastruan is walking over here.”
“Are you trying to make me nervous, Aitora?”
“Not at all.” Then she added slyly: “Does my brother-in-law make you nervous?”
“Of course not.”
“Then why are you clenching your hands so tightly?”
Coridel kept her back to the party, where Rastruan was sure to be walking towards her. “Because they’re cold.” She lied, relaxing her hands.
Aitora laughed, “Don’t worry.” She said, “I won’t tell him your secret.”
Aitora leaned forward and whispered: “You are falling in love with him.” Then she walked past the princess to join the party again.
“What are you tal-“ Coridel spun around and found herself face to face with Rastruan. Her mouth was suddenly dry and she couldn’t think of anything to say.
She bit her lip.
“Do you want to dance?”
She nodded mutely.
“You seem to have made fast friends with Aitora.” He observed, leading her into the crowd of dancers.
“She is very amiable.”
They could not talk during the dance. It was another fast paced melody. Coridel found herself blushing whenever she looked at her partner; she kept hearing Aitora’s words in her mind. She tried to distract herself by remembering this was her last night with the Dragon. It worked. Tears pricked her eyes when she thought of never seeing Garold, or Delia, or Aitora again; or Rastruan.
As soon as the music stopped she pulled Rastruan’s head down.
“Take me for a walk, please.” She whispered in his ear. The tears were threatening to pour forth at any moment.
He stared at her with concern. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine; just take me away for a little while. Please.”
He led her through the woods to a small clearing. She could barely see the firelight through the trees. The tears were running silently down her face.
“What’s wrong, Coridel?” Rastruan asked, stepping close to see her face in the darkness. He put a hand to her cheek. “Are those tears I feel?”
She pulled away, “No.” She protested, “I’m not crying. I just needed to get some air. All the dancing, and whirling and- and the firelight.” She hiccupped. “I was feeling dizzy. I’m fine now.”
“Is that all that was wrong?”
“Yes. I just- I just…” She trailed off, afraid to speak in case she betray herself with a sob. She swiped at her eyes and turned away from Rastruan.
“It’s okay to cry.” Rastruan said softly, pulling her into a hug. “We’ll miss you too.”
For a long time they stood there with only the mountain trees to observe.
“I’m proud of you, Coridel.” Rastruan said quietly, once her tears had subsided.
“That’s an odd thing to say.”
“But a truthful statement.”
She sniffed, “Why would you be proud of me?”
“Because of how much you have changed since you came here. You are fair in your judgments and honest with your opinions. With you arguing our case to the king I have no fear of justice being done. You are the best thing to happen to the Dragon.”
Rastruan took her hand and began to lead her towards the party. “Come.” He said, “My men will be angry at me for stealing their princess away for so long.”
Coridel laughed and followed.
“Well, then.” Said Rastruan, breaking the silence. They sat one final time on the rock for breakfast. They awkwardly conversed; it was Coridel’s last morning and good-bye was imminent.
“I enjoyed the dancing last night.” The princess commented.
“I didn’t think I would; usually I dislike dancing.”
“Why is that?”
“Court dances are stuffy and boring; none of the knights or princes would dare swing me up in the air like you did.” Coridel sighed, remembering that she would soon be returning to that atmosphere. She would miss the gentle boldness of these mountain men!
“Perhaps you’ll have to introduce a few new dances to the repertoire.”
“Perhaps.” She agreed.
“Well, there’s no reason for us to sit here idle. Let’s gather some firewood while your escorts prepare for the journey.” Rastruan stood up and pulled Coridel to her feet.
They wandered into the trees.
“I will miss it out here.” Coridel said, picking up a dry branch. “I have never been so far away from servants and courtiers and castle walls.”
“You will forget us soon enough, I should think.”
“I will not.” Flared Coridel. “Do you think so little of me that you believe I would not remember my experiences here?”
Rastruan shook his head, “No, I know you will keep what you have learned. But you will be busy when you return; you will not have time to long for wooded glades and firesides.”
Coridel sighed, “If I weren’t a princess… no,” She amended, “If I were not my Father’s heir I would wish to remain here and never leave.” She stepped forward into a small clearing where a view of the mountains could be seen. “I would build a cabin in this spot, I think. And my door would face east so I could watch the sun rise over the peaks. And I would have a swing on that tree there; a garden here on the side of my cabin. And here I might put…” She sighed and plopped to the ground. “But I am my Father’s heir and I must return.”
Rastruan knelt by her side. “You will do much good when you take the crown. You are an honest and caring person; I can think of no other whom I would desire to sit on the throne.”
“Thank you.” Coridel stared at the mountains, imagining the sun rising over them and herself sitting in a rocking chair and observing from her own porch. “But I won’t be alone. Father is seeking a husband for me. He might have one found by the time I am home.”
“One of those ever so proper and polite aristocrats?” Rastruan joked with a stiff smile.
Coridel glanced at him quizzically.
“I was talking with Aitora.” He explained, “She mentioned your description of the courtiers. I doubt any of them will measure up to our fierce mountain men.”
Coridel giggled, imaging a prince or lord covered in grime and deer entrails. “I daresay none of them would survive a week out here!”
About the Artist
I'm a full-time wife and mother to twin girls--- a relaxing career after working as a vet tech for nine years! I love to design outfits and fashion for imaginary worlds and, when I have time, to share them with you!
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