Father and Daughter
Briana took a seat next to her father, and the page ushered in Slammert. “May I approach my betrothed to bestow a kiss of greeting, mighty Archimage?” he said.
“No, you may not,” Alodar answered through gritted teeth. “Words of your deeds precede you. What is this about?”
“From the tone of your greeting, I infer your daughter has thought it better for me to announce the wonderful news. Here, look at the document I bring. I am sure you will find it in proper order.”
Alodar quickly read the contract, looked at Briana, then back to Slammert, and scowled.
“I have not consented to this,” he said.
“But consent was given, venerable Archimage. Perhaps with the distractions of state, you have lost track of the time. Your youngest daughter is of age.” He smiled at Briana. “She has been for some time.”
“I will abrogate the agreement,” Alodar thundered. Briana had never seen him like this. Usually, he exhibited complete control.
“But you cannot.” Slammert smiled. “You know that very well. The Archimage is not a despot holding sway over all of Murdina. Your decisions are accepted by those who rule because of the respect given to you — accepted only because of that respect. You cannot arbitrarily reverse something freely agreed to by another. The matter is concluded. It is done. Time for you to move on to your next crisis.”
“Decisions are altered all the time,” Briana burst out. “New information is not ignored.”
“It has taken years of reasoned logic and gentle prodding,” Alodar said, “but even the kingdoms to the south have seen the value of what I have espoused — the value of open borders, free trade, the expansion of commerce. Even the Iron Fist is now an inn for tourists.
“Except for the ceremonial palace guards,” the Archimage continued, “standing armies have been disbanded throughout the world. There is no longer any need for the expense. Everyone abides by what I decree. For that to work, I must be beyond reproach. I, more than all others, must abide by the law.
“This crawling slug is right, Briana.” He sighed. “You have been most foolish, but you have agreed. You are bound.”
There was a moment of silence, then Alodar said “Slammert, why exactly are you here?”
The lord glowered at Alodar. “Perhaps to remind everyone why the wedding must go forward as planned.” He smiled at Briana. “And to inform you, my beloved, that in your honor, I will be replacing one of the posts of our wedding bed with a new one. The old lumber is almost already notched from top to bottom. Yours will be the first on the new. Then every time we spend the evening together, you can count for yourself how many other notches have been added for those days we are apart.”
Slammert’s tone hardened. “Make no doubt about it, wench. I always get whatever woman I want. Always!”
Rage contorted Alodar’s face. He curled his fists in frustration. “Get out,” he managed to command through clinched teeth. “Somehow… somehow, I will find a way to get this undone.”
“That we shall see.” Slammert bowed. “As you wish, mighty Archimage, I now will leave. I have other kings and lords to visit and extend invitation to the wedding — and remind them also about the agreement you must honor.”
After Slammert had left, the silence hung like a dark raincloud over the two who remained.
“Am I not worth something more to you than a mere pawn in the world of politics, Father?” Briana asked.
“Of course you are,” Alodar said. “But in that world, you are only a beloved daughter, not a wielder of power.”
“You do not command armies either.”
“Yes, but it is my knowledge, my experience, my reputation that serves instead.”
The decision rushed into Briana’s thoughts and solidified. She twirled a loose strand of her hair in her fingers while she decided what to say. “Let me be the one who ascertains the situation with the exiles, Father. And after that, there are other tasks you could give me, too. Then, the royalty and their lieges could understand why you broke the betrothal, why I have value more important than the desires of a border baron, value of importance to all of Murdina.”
“What? The exiles? No, that is impossible. No one knows if what this cloaked visitor says is even true. A proven champion is needed.” Alodar brow folded in a fatherly frown, and then he managed a weak smile. “Someone who has a very good chance of returning unscathed.”
“But wouldn’t that be the proof you needed? An example of what my worth to everyone would be? Reason enough to nullify the agreement made with Slammert. Everyone would understand.”
Briana continued without thinking which words were tumbling out of her mouth, words she did not even know were there. “I want to go on an adventure, Father, as you did before becoming the Archimage, before checking off all the steps in the same boring ritual: courtship, marriage, children, and then old age. I want my name to be added to those in the sagas, triumphing over adversity, righting great wrongs, saving the world… or at least a little part of it.”
She smiled, “Tales like those recorded of the deeds of my famous father. You were scarcely older then than I am now.”
Alodar startled at the words. “Aeriel warned me it might come to this — that is, if we had had sons as well as daughters.”
“How can you say that?” Briana exploded. “What difference does the gender make? Was not your final victory as much because of what mother did as you?”
Alodar was silent for a while and then answered softly. “No, you are right. Of course, I would not be here today. The world would not be as it is now if not for her. And to this day she completes me still.”
“And so, I want to be the one who goes through the portal and visits this other orb. The natives look almost the same as ourselves. It could be a woman’s task as well as a man’s.”
Alodar started to answer, but then frowned. “Wait a moment. You said, ‘One traveler at a time.’ How do you even know that?”
“From the writings given to us by the shrouded one on his first visit last year.” Briana shrugged, trying to make light of it. “A library page has been kind enough to gain me access.”
“I have studied the tome well,” she continued. “There is a dictionary, a tutorial on one of the dominant languages, what the alphabetical symbols look like, and a pronunciation guide.”
“Yes, yes, you are an apt student, able to discover secrets from even the most ancient of texts. Few of your age are your equal. But — ”
“And most important of all, the natives are primitive.” Briana rushed on. “They have no knowledge of the five crafts. Even if they did, the laws would be the same as they are here. I would not be going to another realm. It will be easy to explore a world that is like ours. How hard could that be? I will be back in a few days.
“Unlike other magical items, this portal has controls, settings for where and when to go and such,” she continued at a slower pace. “I have studied that also. After all, we have had these parchments for a year.”
The Archimage shook his head, “We have only the shrouded stranger’s word that the natives do not use the crafts. I do not trust him… at least not yet. Not until whomever makes the journey reports back what he has learned. Trust me. I will somehow find another way to correct the error you have made.”
He placed his hands on Briana’s shoulders, paused for a moment more, and then said softly, “The answer is no.”
“You can’t do that!” Briana yelled back. “Even the Archimage has limits to his power. You admitted as much yourself. You cannot order me around like some serf of an Arcadian lord.”
“I do not order you to stay because I am the Archimage,” Alodar said. “I do so because I am your father.”
Briana felt the anger well within her like a brush fire suddenly out of control. She clinched her teeth so as not to say more. The library page had a key to this council chamber, she thought fiercely. It might take more than a single kiss to get it, but that is what she would have to do.