"No." Ciaran made no effort to hide a frown as he inspected at my current attire. "Not happening."
I pouted and put my hands on my hips. "You disapprove?"
"Would it matter?" my older brother sighed. "Will you at least tell me why you're dressed as a servant?"
I huffed and tossed my head. My distinctive red hair was usually tied up, but I had opted to let it hang free in waves around my face. My royal clothing had been switched out for a dress used by most of our maid servants. "I want to see your princess at her most honest. If I disguise myself as a maid and visit her before the trial, I'll be able to see if she's any good for you."
My brother sighed and twisted the silver ring on his finger. It was a habit he had picked up ever since the ring was granted to him. The band was shaped like a dragon's claw, and it denoted him as the next High King. The sapphire twinkled at me as it caught a flash of sunlight peeking in through a slit in Ciaran's tent. A breeze pushed aside the tent flap long enough for the sunlight to catch in his hair. His red hair shone as bright as mine - a sure sign that we were born of House Ars. "In point of fact," he said "She's not MY princess. She's the people's High Queen, just as I will be their High King. We lead as equals, beholden only to the Kingdom we serve."
I stuck my tongue out at him. "In point of fact? Beholden? You're sounding more and more like a perfect old monarch every day. You may be fine with this situation, but I'm not. Besides, let me have my fun before I'm stuck handling all your work back at home."
Ciaran pressed his fingers to the bridge of his nose, as if staving off a headache. "Dragons below, Cally. It's our duty to serve, and yet every time the subject arises, you complain."
"Who cares about duty?" I let out an exaggerated groan. "I didn't ask to be born into any of this!"
"Cally!" Ciaran warned. Despite my constant trouble making, he rarely raised his voice. "We didn't ask to be born to these luxuries either, but they have still been given to us. In return, we must sacrifice our own desires for the well-being of the people. I don't- WE don't have a choice." I felt a chill rise in the tent, and a light frost crept across the floor with Ciaran at the center. He usually had better control of his Dragongift, and I realized I had probably gone too far.
I clenched my fists and bit back a retort. As much as I hated it, there was nothing to say in rebuttal. Finally I turned away to hide the flush on my cheeks. "Fine. But I'm still going. I'd like to get to know the future High Queen of the realm." I marched out of the tent. Ciaran didn't try to stop me.
As soon as I stepped out of the tent, the noonday sun blinded me. I raised my hand to block the light and wound up hitting someone beside me instead. "Steady there." Whomever I had hit let out a good-natured chuckle. As my eyes adjusted to the bright light, I was able to make out the silhouette of a princess dressed for battle. I couldn't remember her name, a fact that Ciaran would certainly chastise me for. Her blonde hair was pulled back and braided with several leather cords. Her leather armor was dyed the traditional deep blue that symbolized House Mentis. I had only met this princess a few times, but the members of House Mentis were known for their sharp memories and keen insight. I immediately turned away, hoping she wouldn't recognize me, but it was too late. "You're from House Ars, yes?"
I turned to face her slowly. "Yes..."
She nodded and clapped a hand on my shoulder. I tried not to wince at the weight of her gauntlet. "Ciaran is a fine man! You must be honored to serve him."
I allowed myself to relax. She remembered my face, but not my identity. I was safe for now, but I decided not to push my luck. I nodded and murmured a quick "I am," disguising my voice as best as I could.
"Then please wish me good fortune, young one," she murmured. "That I might be elevated alongside your master."
I nodded and pressed two fingers to my lips. "May the dragons of the sky turn the sun's light towards you," I spoke the traditional blessing of the Sky Dragon. She nodded gratefully and strode onto the tournament field.