Author's note – the "M" rated stuff isn't really going to show up until later chapters, though, if this were a movie, it'd probably get a "R" just for language. I could possibly have this listed with a "T" but I think it'd be an awfully strong "T" and would prefer to err on the side of caution with the rating until I've actually finished the story.

This is an original work of fiction. Any similarities between real people or events are completely coincidental.

Please enjoy the story! And review me, too!

Chapter #1 – Unwanted, Impending

If there was one thing that Princess Deirdra could not stand, it was her father discussing her upcoming marriage with Prince Emirgon like it was something she had begged for. She did not even know Prince Emirgon, despite her parents' insistence that they met when she was a child. Well, that was when she was like six and there was little she remembered from her childhood because, to her, it had just been a lot of predetermined pomp that was beyond boring for her. If she had met her future husband – who, by the way, was twice her age! – then it was not something that stood out in her mind.

On her sixteenth birthday, which was merely two months away, she was to get married to Emirgon. He was the heir to the throne in the Kingdom of Kasnelìh, a land to the east on the other side of the Great Bay of Therunar. He would be turning thirty-one on the day of the autumn equinox, about two months after their marriage. Sure, he had not been married yet – he had apparently asked to be betrothed to her when he first met her as a child. His parents had apparently been aghast by this, saying all he was doing was trying to delay a marriage. But it seemed he had not been lying when he said he was interested, for the wedding was nearly fully planned and seemed to be unfolding the way she had been told it would.

What bothered her the most, though, was that, despite the closeness of their kingdoms, she did not think she had even seen him since their initial (and, to her, forgotten) meeting. She was being made to marry a complete stranger! She could not stand it! But, being a princess with royal duties and all that baloney about being a god-forsaken woman, she really did not have a choice in the matter. It was driving her mad.

The one thing that she had to fall back on was her all-too-inappropriate sword fighting lessons with the one person she trusted beyond all others in the castle – Swords Master Riloyis. He had come to the castle to join the guards when she was nine and had blatantly offered to train all the queen's children if they wished. He tried his best to not treat her like a woman. He trained her as hard as the men that were part of the castle guard and her two brothers – her older brother and heir to the throne, Ideon, and her younger brother, Regnor. Her two younger sisters did not want to have anything to do with weapons and were content to spend their days embroidering and sewing and reading books and other things that real princesses were supposed to be doing.

As soon as her first dress fitting was over with and her father was done with his banter on the other side of the folding screen about how wonderful her soon-to-be husband was, she changed as quickly as she could into more comfortable clothes – a pair of trousers and a simple blue shirt and her well-worn riding boots (which really did not see that much action). Then she was admonished by her maids and she rolled her eyes as they put a skirt over top the pants before she could flee her room. God forbid someone see her legs!

Deirdra trudged down to the training room where she knew Riloyis was waiting. She was late and that annoyed her, too. One of her maids hurried to keep up with her. God forbid she be alone with any man other than her father or brothers either! Everyone was so terribly worried she was going to fall for the handsome swordsman and run away with him. They had a very platonic relationship, though, and she often thought of him as a brother and he said many times he hoped to have a daughter like her one day. But no one believed that.

When she burst through the doors, Riloyis was there on the other side of the room, leaning against the wall by the practice swords. And, yes, he was handsome. His dark blonde hair was long enough to be back in a ponytail. He was well-built from all the training he did. He was taller than her by more than a head, which put him at about six and a half feet. He was in his usual black shirt and black pants. She rarely saw him in anything else but black. He usually did not have facial hair, but today he had a considerable amount of stubble, like he had not shaved in a few days. She actually thought it made him look a little hot – but that was probably just because she liked facial hair on a guy.

The swords master did not lift his dark brown eyes to her when she entered. Instead, he lifted a length of cord. Usually she wore her long hair down but, since it could get in her eyes as she practiced it was secured out of her face for her lessons. Today, though, her auburn hair was already in a bun. She touched his hand, making him look up. She silently tilted her head to show the bun then grabbed her usual practice sword and stalked to the middle of the room to start the session.

"Whoa, bad fitting, huh?" He grinned as he, too, grabbed a sword. He gave her a once over. "Surely you didn't gain that much weight since you were measured."

She bared her teeth. "Shut up and let's get this started. I need to pound you to get out some of my frustration."

"Oh, I like when you're mad. Your lessons are so much more fun then." He casually walked to the center of the room and stood opposite her, still grinning from ear to ear. "I'm going to try extra hard today."

The two of them went over ten rounds. To the onlooker, it would have seemed like the princess was actually coming up the victor more times than not. To Deirdra, she knew that Riloyis was throwing the matches instead of "trying extra hard" like he said he would. She knew he was just trying to make her feel better – but it only made her madder. She was pretty sure that was why she ended up cracking his nose with the edge of the guard.

Riloyis stumbled back as blood started flowing from his nose quite impressively. "Nice one." He pinched his nose and tilted his head back. "I definitely wasn't expecting that. You haven't hit me on the nose since you started training."

"Throw another round and I'll crack your skull," she said with venom. She had her sword poised to start another round right then.

"Hold on there, Dee." He looked back at her in shock, still holding his nose. He was the only one allowed to call her "Dee," she did not even let her parents or siblings do that. "What has you so damn riled up?"

Deirdra's maid cleared her throat upon hearing the swearing but they both ignored it.

"I'm getting married in two months to a blasted stranger, Ri! What else do you think would have me so mad?" She did not drop her sword. She wanted a real fight, like they had not had since he nearly broke her forearm several months earlier when she had been in a similar fit after she was measured for her wedding dress. She was sure that was why he was going easy today and she nearly snarled at him. "Now fight me!"

But he dropped his sword to the floor with a clatter and backed away, both his hands up. His nose seemed to have stopped bleeding. "Look, Dee, just calm down and why don't we talk instead of you trying to kill me in lieu of the people arranging your marriage?"

"I'm sick of talking, because no one lets me say anything." She was still ready to fight, her sword leveled point-in-line. "Now retrieve your weapon and come at me!"

"Dee…" His voice was calm and he lowered his hands to his side, looking at her kindly. "You know I'll listen, even if I'm pretty sure I know all of what's bothering you. I'd prefer to let you yell at me than have you try to break my nose, cause you've already come damn close."

There was a little cough from her maid, a little more forceful than when she cleared her throat. It made the muscles in Deirdra's neck tense as she scowled and she wanted to round on her maid and hit her in the nose as well. What was so bad about the word "damn" anyway? It was not like he said fuck or bitch or a whole string of swearing. And it was not like she had not heard those words before – or used them herself…

"Fine." She threw the sword to the floor loudly. "Then let's talk."

"Outside?" He looked at her cautiously when he suggested it. "The orchard?"

The princess was not really in the mood for this and turned toward the door, rolling her eyes. "Whatever."

Politely, Riloyis took her arm, even though she initially tried to pull away from it. He patted her forearm lightly with his other hand. "It'll be alright, I promise, okay?"

"That's what everyone keeps telling me," she said bitterly as he guided her out of the training room, her maid following close behind. What she would give to have a few minutes alone with him to really speak her mind, because she was not allowed to use swearing and she had a few choice words she wished to use at the moment about her entire situation.

They emerged into the yard of the stables where there were a few horses out being exercised. They passed them and went through the kitchen garden, where everyone that saw them bowed to her. On the other side of that was the orchard where there were all sorts of fruit and nut trees that were still a few months away from giving their fruits but were mostly past the flowering stage. Her favorite was an apple tree that had a low-hanging branch she could easily climb up onto. Riloyis knew to head for that tree and once she was under it, she pulled up into the branches. He leaned against the trunk below her.

Deirdra glanced at her maid and was happy to see she was at a decent distance that they could talk low and not be overheard much. "I really wanted to beat your ass into the floor."

"So I noticed." His voice was low, too. "And you've been getting more and more upset the closer the wedding gets these past few months."

"Why do I have to be forced into marrying someone that I've never met? He doesn't even send me letters! He's done nothing at all!" She leaned against the trunk as she sat astride the branch she was on, one leg on either side. Oh, she was sure her maid was having a silent tizzy over it, too, which made her smile a little inside. "It's like he doesn't care about me at all."

The swordsman bit his lip and looked down. "I'm sure he does. Maybe he's just that busy."

"My big brother was never too busy to go see the woman he ended up marrying. To court her properly. To send her letters and gifts showing his affection." She closed her eyes. "It's not fair. My parents never even considered calling it off because they need the allies. I understand that. But sacrificing my happiness for it?"

"You don't know that you will or won't be unhappy after you marry him." He looked up at her, trying to seem reassuring. "You two might mesh like you never imagined."

"Ri! He's fifteen years older than me!" She threw up her hands. She knew the wedding was mere weeks away now, but she felt that the person she considered her best friend should not just be repeating everything everyone else had been telling her. "What could we possibly have in common?"

More than you might think, was what he almost said. What he ended up saying was: "He really should have come to court you properly. He's such an ass." His voice had been quiet, but she heard it anyway. She was looking down at him when he looked up smiling at her. "Well, you like me and I'm seventeen years older than you."

"But I'm not marrying you, am I?" She groaned, putting her face in her hands. "Talking isn't making me feel better, Ri."

"And I am sorry." He looked down, feeling a little mad at himself. "I guess I've just resigned to you having to marry him, too."

"I'm the only one that hasn't just given in to this marriage, it seems." And that hurt. But what could she do? What could Riloyis do? That was why she had wanted to take her anger out with the swordplay. All she still wanted to do was whack him with her sword some more.

Then a thought came back to her mind that she had been thinking on and off for years. Ever since Riloyis had come to the castle and joined the guards and become the castle's youngest swords master ever, he had often ventured off with his best friend to go adventuring. Riloyis had told her about how he and his buddy would go seeking what he simple called "the lost stuff" around the continent. Sometimes he would be gone for weeks. Ever since he had first come to the castle to be a guard, she had wanted him to take her away with them on one of their trips. She wanted to run off to be an adventurer like them. But she was a princess and that was just so unbecoming of a female member of the blue blood.

Still, nearly every time Riloyis had left, she had watched from a distance while the two of them rode off. She had always found his adventuring buddy sort of handsome and mysterious. The fact that her instructor never really mentioned his name made him even more so to her. She had a feeling he might be a wanted man which was why he never told her – a thief, hopefully, and nothing worse, like a murderer…though she doubted her the swords master would be friends with someone that was cruel. She had never really gotten a good look at him, always seeing him from afar, but, if she had fallen in love with anyone before her wedding, it was this mysterious man. If there was any risk of her running of to elope with anyone, it was with Riloyis's friend. And, when she really thought about it, it was a crazy idea because he was nearly as much of a stranger to her as her future husband.

Her mind was still on that man when she spoke again after a long silence. "Ri…"

"Hmm?" He looked up at her, wondering what the softness in her voice was about.

Deirdra was not looking down. Her eyes were trying to see the world beyond the castle's wall that had surrounded her for her entire life – a wall she had very rarely ever ventured beyond. "Do you think you and your friend are going to be leaving again before my wedding?"

And he sighed, looking back down. He was pretty sure he knew what she was going on about…again… "You can't come with us. Your parents would hunt me down if I took you."

"I didn't ask that." Granted, she had wanted to. She knew it would have been in vain, though. "I just asked if you think you two will be going off again."

It took him a minute to say anything again, wondering what she was mentioning this for if not in the hopes she could run off with him and try to be free of her impending marriage. "Yeah, I think he'll be coming back in a month or so."

The princess's heart fluttered at that thought and her cheeks felt a little red. "Do you think I could meet him when he does?"

"Maybe," he said, sounding like he really meant he might finally let them come face-to-face. He also smiled up at her, which made her smile in return.