Chapter 13

Immersed in a sea of fluffed pillows and sweet-smelling sheets, Cassandra was awakened by a series of stacatto knocks at the door. She rolled over, groaning defiantly. Sitting up slowly, she was caught in the haze of slumber and the soft, fuzzy world of a comfortable mattress. 

"Princess ... Your Highness .... are you decent?" came the sharp, high voice of the nameless man from yesterday, his words hinted with the sharp edge of impatience.

"Umm..." She rubbed the sleep from her eyes, running a hand through mussed, mangled hair. "I suppose."

Without a moment's pause, the door swung open with one brisk motion and he stepped just inside the chamber. Stern, cool eyes took one distasteful glance over the Princess' appearance, and began promptly, "The King summons you to share breakfast with him. I suggest you prepare yourself with considerable haste."

He crisply turned on his heel and left, snapping the door closed behind him. Cassandra looked to the wide bedroom windows, the first light throwing a deep, rusty glow over the chamber. Who was this man? It had been less then a day since her arrival and he was starting to bother her.

{~}

After a considerable amount of grooming, Cassandra presented herself in the King's chamber for the morning meal. It was quite casual; her grandfather relaxing in a comfortable chair and appearing substantially more rested. With a crooked, gesturing hand, he offered her a nearby seat and the food spread out before it.

"I apologize for waking you at such an early hour, Princess." King Lander spoke first, picking up a steaming cup.  "I hope you had an otherwise peaceful sleep?"

"Yes, thank you, Your Highness." She nodded politely, taking a glance over the offering of food for herself.

He waved a careless hand before blowing at his drink, "Go ahead. There is no need to wait for me."  He sipped cautiously, only to retract from the hot liquid and continue, "You are ... family, after all."

Cassandra smiled slightly, unsure of how else to respond, and slowly reached for the nearest bisquit, warm and buttery. Placing it on her plate, she proceeded to nibble at it, all the while aware of the King's ever-watching gaze.

"I see why your mother named you after Cassie," King Lander said softly, forcing the Princess to raise her head. "You have her eyes - your aunt's eyes."

She did not answer, groping her mind for a suitable reply. She had heard little of her mother's sister - she supposed it was a painful subject, just as the topic of the man before Cassandra at this very moment.

"She died quite young, Cassandra - my daughter," he offered his own explanation, looking into the depths of his tea. "Elitha was understandably close to her, as was I, and the agony of her death ... was unbearble, for the both of us. Especially after ... losing my wife - your grandmother."

"I'm sorry," murmured Cassandra.

He sighed, "Someday I will join them in the Unknown beyond this life of ours, independent of this throne ... or maybe it will haunt me even in death ...," He was drifting off again, fading into the oblivion of his own thoughts.

"Your Highness?" Cassandra prodded gently, sitting aside her plate and leaning towards him.

King Lander jerked awake, shaking his head as if to cast away stray cobwebs. "My apologies, Princess. I am ... not as sharp as I used to be."

There was a soft knock on the door, smoothly opening before any reply. A stranger, elaborately dressed in robes of a certain importance, stepped inside. Seeing Cassandra sitting there, he paused.  "Oh, excuse me, Your Highness - I did not mean to disturb - but...,"

"Never mind it, Nather. Come join us." King Lander summoned the man in.  "You have never met my granddaughter, Princess Cassandra of Aedryn. I have just met her myself. Princess, this is Lord Nather, my chief advisor. We usually meet every morning, but this morning ... is different."

Lord Nather approached; a tall, narrow figured-man with a long, thin face. His most striking feature was icy, wintery blue eyes, lighter even than the color of sky. There was something about them that drew your immeadiate attention. It felt as if they were staring right into your very core.

Standing, Cassandra allowed Lord Nather to bow, take her hand and lightly kiss it. "An honor, Princess," the advisor said with a certain suave, a practiced, manly grace.

"An honor as well, Lord Nather," Cassandra inclined her head, offering the gesture of respect before returning to her seat. At the King's approval, the Lord found himself a chair of his own. A young maidservant rushed forth from the shadows, bringing an extra set of diningware for the new guest.

"I have heard of your arrival for a long while, Princess." Lord Nather began, turning to the lady in the room. "I must apologize for not giving a more formal welcome. Certainly, this whole nation must apologize for lack of the appropriate pomp and ceremony - Your presence here should have warranted a great celebration in your honor. I must admit that some of this is my fault."

Cassandra was quick to reply, "Oh, it is alright. None of that was necessary. I am far more comfortable with circumstances as they are, if you understand my meaning."

"Of course. Your point is correct - this is much more relaxing, and sensible, than the wild parade of a party." He took a leisurely drink of his tea, stark blue eyes still remaining alertly observant of the Princess.

"We have not had such a party in years," added the King. He adjusted in his seat, slightly grimacing as he did so. "I fear this place has become quite drab because of it. I no longer have the energy or attitude for such things any more."

"And the money. This is not the time for frivilous spending sprees." Lord Nather's quick eyes flicked over his master now.

King Lander ran a thin hand over his face. "Not now, Nather. I am full aware of our economic problems - you lecture me about numbers and taxes and figures each day but it's always the same, no matter how you want to say it."  

"I say it because it is true - truer and truer every day." He sat aside he cup, pulling himself straighter in his seat. "It won't be long before Gherion morphs into just another piece of Navarn."

"Huh?" Cassandra could not contain herself. She immeaditly regretted it as the two men turned to her, Lord Nather's eyes staring straight through her.

Lord Nather blinked, sudden realization bittering his expression. "Once again, I am obliged to give my apologies. I let my mouth run wilder than I anticipated ... aspects of our business should not be discussed in front of guests, especially of your status. It is boring and impolite..." A different sort of light seemed to go off in his mind, and he stood up abruptly. "I am sorry yet again, I must excuse myself. Your Highness..." He bowed elegantly to the King, and then turn toward the Princess to make a similar motion. "...Princess."

Both bowed their own heads before he made a brisk departure. Cassandra gave her grandfather a curious glance, and he shook his head slowly, "Don't mind him. He means well, and always has the most unusual of ideas. I suppose ... that is his job."  

"Hmm," nodded Cassandra thoughtfully, taking up a fresh cup of tea.

The End

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