I know it has been some time since I have written, but things have been busy since I arrived in Ishmar. I am constantly in meetings with King Harudan and the other Lords and Ladies of Brenmar. Everything has been decided. By the time you get this letter, the treaty will be signed.
I was able to do as you asked me. King Harudan has agreed to provide resources for us during the winter. It will start next year, but I suppose this is better than nothing. I was surprised at how easy it was to convince him. He seemed so willing just to get this treaty over with. Perhaps he is as sick of this war as we are.
Ishmar, or the castle at least, is dull. As I said, I am always in meetings. There is nothing to do here except spend time in the library, which you know full well that I do not enjoy. It is as if these people have never heard of fun. I miss the balls and the parties we have at home. I miss all of you.
How is my dearest Benj? I hope he is doing well. The young Prince here reminds me of him when he was younger. Except Prince Nerin is far more mischievous. From the little information I’ve gotten off of King Harudan, Prince Nerin has made a habit of sneaking in on important meetings. He’d been hiding in the entrance hall when I arrived, apparently not allowed to greet me with his brother.
It is all far too strange here. Princes unable to do the things I would normally be able to, no balls or parties. They are much stricter than we are. I am glad to be leaving in a few days. I am tired of all the halls and buildings that look the same. There is no colour here, it is all so bland.
I hope you and mother are doing well without me there. I know mother misses me and I promise to spend as much time with her as possible upon my return. I hope you are proud of me, father, I hope I have done well for Minisia. I believe this treaty will be good for us. No more fear or fighting with Brenmar. It will be good.
Rina waited for the ink to dry before she folded up the letter and put it in an envelope. The only seal she had been given was King Harudan’s, but it was better than nothing. She dropped the sealed envelope on the desk with a sigh. Her father would be pleased to hear from her, but the letter wouldn’t get to him for a while. She would try and get it sent with his copy of the treaty.
It was to be signed that night. They’d been able to discuss everything so quickly, it had taken her by surprise. She would sign the treaty and spend a few more days in Ishmar out of politeness and a new, healthy relationship with Brenmar, then she would finally be able to head home. Just a few more days.
She let out an irritated grumble when someone knocked on her door. She had requested the day to herself to relax before the treaty was signed. Harudan had kept her busy the last few days with meetings and tours and the most boring parties she had ever been to.
There’d been music, but it was only two or three people skilled with the lute. Back in Ziya, parties were everything. They weren’t thrown much, only in summer when the city had the resources to spare, but the entire city was allowed to show up and celebrate. Violins and harps and lutes played cheery songs to dance to well into the night. It was something that always brought Rina joy.
Pushing the thoughts from her head, she opened the door and took a step back in surprise. Prince Nerin stood on the other side and the apprentice monk from the Sanctum of Ishin stood silently behind him. The guards planted on either side of her door looked to her expectantly.
“Can I help you, your Highness?” she asked in a language that wasn’t her own, plastering a smile onto her tired face. The boy was entertaining, but she wasn’t in the mood for company. She wasn’t in the mood to speak the Ishini language anymore. It had been far too long since she used her mother tongue.
Prince Nerin grinned back at her. “I was wondering if you were free at all today?” he asked and Rina groaned inwardly. “I realise we haven’t been able to spend much time together. It seems only right for you to spend time with both Princes of Brenmar.”
“What did you have in mind?” Behind Nerin, the monk let out a strange noise and she frowned in confusion.
Nerin smiled again despite it. “Only lunch, your Highness. I was thinking we could take it in the gardens. The weather is nice enough,” he suggested and gestured to the window behind her. The sun was out for once and she wasn’t so cold.
She frowned. She’d wanted to be alone for the day, nervous for the treaty, but Nerin was young and wanted her attention. He was an entertaining boy, from what she had seen, showing up at random times to annoy his brother and the monk that looked after him.
“I suppose I could join you,” she said, her small smile genuine.
Nerin clapped his hands together. “Fantastic. I will let the servants know,” he said and looked over his shoulder at the nervous monk. “I will send Isiah to escort you when lunch is ready.”
The monk made another noise and the young Prince grinned mischievously. Isiah, that was his name. She’d forgotten in all the hustle and bustle of her week. “I shall see you then,” she replied. “I look forward to it.”
Nerin left then, strutting down the hallway. Isiah stayed for a second to give her a bow before he shuffled after his charge. Rina didn’t close the door until they disappeared around a corner.
Lunch with a cheerful young Prince and his nervous escort. What could possibly go wrong? Nerin had been right when he said they hadn’t spent much time together. Every time he tried to talk to her, Harudan was there as if he was convinced the boy would embarrass them both. He probably would. He was young, and young boys tended to speak whatever came to mind, regardless of the consequences.
It was still a few more hours before lunch would be ready and she spent most of that time lying in bed with a book. It was good to relax with something as simple as a children’s story. At one point the maid Harudan had given her knocked on the door, but Rina shooed her away. She could fix her own hair and clothes, she’d been doing it since she was fourteen.
When the time came for Isiah to escort her to the gardens, she’d pinned her hair up so that it fell down her shoulders in long waves and put on a thick pale pink dress and matching petticoat. It may have been sunny, but that didn’t mean it was warm. Somehow, winters were even colder in Brenmar, not that the Ishini would notice.
Isiah bowed to her again when she opened the door and held up his arm for her to hold. He was silent as they walked, but for once, she needed conversation. The halls of the castle were too quiet sometimes.
“How has your stay at the castle been, Isiah?” she asked as they walked down a flight of red-carpeted stairs.
“Very different, your Highness. I was too used to the simplicity of the Sanctum,” he answered. “But it has been nice. Prince Nerin is kind.”
“I’m glad to hear it,” she replied. She didn’t care much for the conversation, but it was better than the eerie silence. It didn’t take them long to reach the gardens and the second they stepped outside, everything felt livelier.
The dirt track was lined with evergreen trees, casting cool shade across it. The sunlight glistened off the bright grass and the bushes that held beautiful flowers. Against the green, the pinks and blues and purples made a stunning contrast. Rina had been to the gardens a few times since arriving and each time it looked more beautiful than the last.
Nerin sat on a picnic blanket at the end of the path, surrounded by servants with small plates of food. He waved to them as they grew nearer and gestured for them to sit. “I hope you don’t mind if Isiah eats with us, your Highness, I find him to be quite good company,” he said as the monk sat, his robes billowing around him.
Rina gently lowered herself to the ground. “Of course not. I had figured he would be joining us,” she said. Isiah had been there during the more unimportant lunches and dinners, but he never actually ate with them, just watched.
A platter of sandwiches sat between them and a servant placed a tray of fruit tarts to the side. “There’s more coming. I asked the cook to prepare a pie and a quiche for us,” Nerin said.
“I don’t know if I’ll be able to eat that much food,” Rina replied with a chuckle.
“The servants can eat it if we don’t,” Nerin told her and Rina almost laughed at the excited expression on a servants' face as they gently placed the quiche on the picnic blanket. “Are you enjoying your stay, Princess?”
“It’s been lovely,” she lied as she grabbed a sandwich. “Not quite as I expected, but it has been nice. Although I am quite ready to go home.”
“What will you do when you get back to Ziya?” Nerin asked.
She shrugged and hummed. “I’m not sure. I suppose my father would throw a party to celebrate the treaty. Then everything should go back to normal. I will train with my brother. He needs a good sparring partner.”
“Train?” Isiah questioned.
“Yes. Most children, barring the followers of the Old Gods, of course, train with sword and shield now. Just in case,” she explained. It was a good skill to have. The dream of most children was to become a warrior. It had been hers and it was now her brothers. But she would be Queen, she could never be a warrior.
“How interesting,” the Prince replied, lost in thought. Rina hissed as she remembered her words. Just in case. What had she been thinking? She was in the heart of Brenmar, dining with royalty and she was bringing up the fact that all of her people were ready to fight.
It was surprisingly quiet as they ate. She had expected Nerin to be talking non-stop, but he was almost silent. Occasionally he asked her something, but his words lacked the enthusiasm of the past few days. It could be that something had happened over the last few hours, but it wasn’t her place to ask.
Isiah was just as silent, but she wasn’t too surprised about that. The nervous look in his eyes did worry her, but it could easily be brought down to sitting in the presence of royalty. He was only an apprentice monk after all. She ate more than both of them and the majority of the food went uneaten. It would be good for the servants.
She frowned down at her apple tart. “Prince Nerin, may I ask you something?”
He jolted in his seat, as though he hadn’t been paying any attention to their lunch. “Of course, Your Highness.”
“Is everything alright? You are usually quite talkative. Why invite me to lunch if you weren’t going to talk to me?” she asked, her eyebrows crinkling.
Nerin sighed and ran a hand through his dark hair. Isiah looked between them, his face scrunched up with nervousness. Something was wrong. “I- We wanted to talk to you, your Highness,” Isiah said in a quiet voice. “About the treaty.”
“What about it?” she asked. She grabbed at the dress and bunched the fabric with her sweating palms.
“We think there might be something wrong,” Nerin said and Rina’s heart dropped into her stomach. “I overheard my brother and Sir Jonin talking the other night. I don’t know what exactly about, but it sounded like the treaty and didn’t sound good.
“They were discussing whether or not something was the right thing to do. And that whatever it was was dangerous. I don’t know what it is exactly, but we wanted to warn you that we think something bad might happen. We wanted you to be careful.”
Rina almost laughed at the absurdity of the young Prince’s words. Harudan had been nothing but nice to her. They’d made easy and polite agreements on the treaty. Everything would go ahead as planned. She may not have complete trust in the Ishini, but from what she had seen, there was no reason not to trust that Harudan would keep his word.
“Your Highness, what you’re saying is insane,” she said, trying to keep her tone as civil as possible. “You have no proof that what your brother said is about the treaty. There are a great many things your brother must look after as King. Accusing him of these things can be seen as treason and you know it.”
Nerin and Isiah looked to each other helplessly. “Princess, I-”
“You’ve dragged a monk into this as well. I won’t say anything about this to King Harudan, but don’t speak anymore of these childish thoughts. You would be fine, but your monk would surely be killed,” she continued.
“But we’re telling the truth!” Isiah exclaimed. Nerin hushed him and Rina raised her eyebrows. He lowered his head. “Apologies, your Highness, I did not mean to yell.”
She sighed and ran a hand down her face. “I’m sure you believe you’re telling the truth, but the treaty has already been agreed upon,” she explained and stood from the picnic blanket. “If King Harudan truly wanted war, why would he ask for a treaty in the first place?”
Both of them were silent with identical expressions of confusion. They hadn’t thought about everything before they came to her, it seemed. Nerin was a child and Isiah was a naive monk on his first trip out into the real world. They had heard something suspicious and their imaginations ran wild with it.
“I- Princess- I-” Nerin stuttered.
She shook her head at him. “I had better go. Thank you for lunch, it was very nice, but I have a busy day ahead of me,” she said and smoothed out her dress.
Nerin stood in a rush. “At least let Isiah escort you back.”
“You don’t need to do that.” She waved them both away. “I can find my way back on my own.” She sauntered off before either of them could say another word. She didn’t want to hear what they had to say anymore. Listening to them was too dangerous.
She shook her head as she walked back into the cool shade of the castle. The treaty would be signed in a matter of hours. She couldn’t doubt it now, not when she didn’t have any reason to. Nothing Harudan had done gave her any reason to doubt his imaginative brother. But even as she walked back through the halls to her room, a spark of doubt ignited in her mind.