I can't actually remember how long ago I wrote this, but the (lovely, lovely really well characterised) piece of fiction in the previous entry reminded me of it, so here it is.
Title: Hidden Depths
Fandom: David Eddings (Elenium/Tamuli)
Characters: Talen, Danae
Word Count: 1720
Summary: Talen makes a discovery, a decision and takes a chance. Post-series.
Disclaimer: I don't own any of the characters, because I'm just not that good. (God, to be that good.)
Spoilers for the Elenium and Tamuli.
The young man was at home when the message reached him. The sun was hot, and the air thick, and he was hiding in the hayloft. Not from fear, but from the chores. It never failed to amaze him that, with so many people in the house, the women still managed to find something tedious and entirely pointless for him to do every time he arrived home.
The sun slanted through the beams above him, and he shifted sideways as a thistle prodded him in the ribs, enjoying the lack of noise or interference.
A screech from the house broke through his peace. He pulled his jacket over his head but a second screech seeped through the fabric, in a different voice. The briefest of pauses, and a third wail, twice as loud, carried on the summer air and reached his ears.
The young man swung down from the loft and landed heavily on the haystacks beneath him, bouncing from heap to heap and coming to rest at the door of the barn. Blinking and shielding his eyes from the sun, he focused on the horse tethered by the door, his brother’s horse. Knowing that he’d be found if he remained in the loft, he pulled himself together and headed through the open kitchen door. The three people in the kitchen glanced his way as his shadow appeared on the floor, and as the women went back to their happy squeals, the young man between them crossed the room and took his brother by the hand.
‘Good to see you, little brother. I thought you were at the motherhouse.’
‘And you, Kay. I thought you were off on some guard mission.’
The older man smiled wryly.
‘Well, we were, but when Felas accidentally shot the man we were supposed to be guarding, they sent us home.’
The two young men walked towards the pantry, on a search for sustenance, and the younger shook his head.
‘The unreliable crossbow?’
‘But of course. What are you doing back here?’
‘The tactics lecturer came down with a mysterious illness three days ago. Then the quartermaster caught it, and then a couple of the chaplains…’
His older brother placed a hand on the young shoulder beside him.
‘What did you give them?’
One look at the bearded face told the younger man that lying was useless.
‘Our revered preceptor happened to mention a spell he’d used in his youth to get out of classes and I … expanded upon it. They quarantined us all, and I took my leave over the back wall.’ He held up one hand to stop the inevitable scolding. ‘And don’t look at me like that, Kay – it was you who showed me that exit.’
‘Fair enough, little brother.’ There was a loaded pause before he spoke again. ‘I brought a message from the city – you might be interested to read it.’ With that, he walked off whistling, a sly smile playing around his lips.
Back in the kitchen, the women had their heads together, talking closely and making emphatic points with both hands. The ‘interesting message’ lay unheeded between them. Picking it up, the young man read it through, and with a speed that surprised even him, ran to saddle his horse and tore out of the farm gate like the demons of hell were chasing him.
The women began laughing as they watched him go.
‘That’s lit a fire under him.’
‘Well, my son always was a passionate boy.’
The first woman smiled tenderly. ‘He gets that from his father.’
Pausing only to fix his travelling cloak more securely around him when the wind rose, the young man reached the city gates in record time, and tore through the streets like a madman. Those who knew him were astounded to see him move so fast, though not as astounded as those who thought he was still quarantined. His greetings were perfunctory and his entrance rituals hurried and absent minded; he was a vision of panic. Disposing of his horse with barely a backward glance, he hurtled through the building that was his second home, and headed for the tower. Finally at his desired destination, the young knight tore up the stairs to the Preceptor’s room, and flung himself through the door, stumbling to his knees and lowering his head.
The senior Pandion Knights broke off their conversation and looked down at the panting figure at their feet.
‘Talen, what in God’s name do you think you’re doing?’
Sparhawk rose to his feet, and closed the door behind their young friend.
‘Give him a chance to catch his breath, Kalten, I want him to make perfect sense when he explains himself.’
The blond Pandion poured a glass of water and offered it to Talen as he rose to his feet. Still breathing heavily, Talen spoke slowly.
‘Sorry, Sparhawk, I guess I got a little carried away.’ Talen took the water and the seat next to his friends. ‘Good to see you both, how are the wives?’
‘No, no, my friend. Explain yourself, and then we’ll talk about the regular things. What are you doing hurtling around like this? We heard you came into town like a whirlwind.’ The Prince Consort returned to his seat and looked upon his young charge with an interested eye.
Talen’s face, still pink with exertion, took on a sheepish expression. ‘I was wondering if you’d allow me to speak to your daughter. I have something important to discuss with her.’ The young man dipped his head, obviously embarrassed and so missed the knowing look that passed between the two older men.
Collecting himself, Sparhawk nodded solemnly.
‘Of course, Talen. I’m sure the Princess will be pleased to see you.’
Recognising the urgency in the boy before him, the preceptor gestured toward the door.
‘Go now, if you feel you must, but try and enter the palace with a little more decorum than you exhibited here.’
Talen scrambled to his feet and bowed quickly. ‘Yes. Yes, of course. Sorry.’ He lunged for the door, and jerked it open, pausing to flash a grin at his friends.
The door swung shut behind him as his footsteps faded and Kalten and Sparhawk began to laugh.
‘It seems he got the message. What exactly did it say?’ the blond Pandion asked his friend.
‘I’m not entirely sure, but it seems to have worked.’ The Preceptor took a drink and smiled tolerantly. ‘She always gets what she wants.’
The young Pandion, now clad in his new black enamelled armour, was granted an almost instant audience with Her Royal Highness, Princess Danae of Elenia, and her cat.
As the maid withdrew, Mmrr, now a rangy grandmother a few times over, prowled over to Talen and sniffed his boots. Apparently satisfied, the cat settled in a patch of sun, and promptly went to sleep.
‘Hullo Talen. You look – flustered.’
Talen made a mildly indignant face. ‘Hullo Danae. You look… short.’
The princess made a face, waving her impertinent visitor toward a chair by the window, and sitting in a similar chair on his right. ‘You wanted to see me?’
Talen opened his mouth to speak, and then shut it again, unsure of where to start. Danae rolled her eyes and sighed, a technique she’d perfected over her sixteen years as a Crown Princess.
‘Get on with it, Talen.’
The young man clenched his jaw, and nodded tightly. ‘I… There was a message. At my house. Khalad brought it.’
Danae nodded encouragingly. ‘Yes, I think I know of it. Go on.’
‘Is it true? You’re to be betrothed?’ Talen blurted the words out at high speed.
‘Yes.’ The girl beside him nodded again, slowly this time. ‘It’s my sixteenth birthday tomorrow, and my mother wrote to yours for aid in making me into a ‘suitable bride’.’ The princess spoke the last words with distaste, her tone of voice making it very clear how she felt about suitability. ‘She wants to begin the search for a husband now that I’m officially a woman.’
Talen dropped his eyes to the floor, uncomfortable with the idea of a womanly Danae. She caused him enough trouble as a child. The princess was silent also, lost in her own thoughts as the silence between them stretched. Talen was the first to speak, his eyes trained on the carpet.
Danae shook her head and blinked, disconcerted. ‘I beg your pardon?’
‘Don’t search for a suitable husband for the newly suitable you.’ He raised his head and looked her straight in the eye. ‘Take me. I like you like this.’ A smile touched his lips. ‘Unsuitable.’
Danae gaped at the young man beside her as he dropped to one knee on the carpet, taking her hand in his, and looking up into her face.
‘Take me. I’ll be a terrible husband, we’ll argue constantly and I’ll always complain when you beat me at chess, but I love you.’
The princess looked down at the man before her. ‘Well, how could I turn down a proposal like that?’
Talen’s eyes widened hopefully, his face breaking into a smile. ‘Is that a yes?’
Danae dropped to her knees beside him, and echoing his smile, kissed him soundly. ‘Yes. Yes!’
He made a noise somewhere between a shout and a laugh and leapt to his feet, disturbing the cat, and dumping the princess unceremoniously on the floor.
She began to laugh as he rummaged in the heavy cloth bag he’d brought with him, feverishly searching for something and finally emerging with a small, carefully wrapped parcel. Crossing the room, he held out the package to her, a strangely triumphant look in his eyes.
She sat back down and slowly unwrapped the gift as he stood by and watched. Unfolding the last of the wrapping, Danae found herself gazing at a set of roughly hewn wooden pipes.
Her mouth fell open once more as she looked into his face. The young man was smiling, a wicked smile that she hadn’t seen since he was a young street thief, the smile of a man in complete control.
‘And you thought I’d forgotten.’
He took a seat next to her, legs outstretched and arms behind his head. Closing his eyes, he smiled up at the ceiling.
‘Happy birthday, Aphrael.’