Geh'Rahg, Seldarra; year 1258
Unity Kentigern leaned against the cool stone of the balcony railing, absently pushing back the thick tendrils of blonde that obscured her vision. It was King’s Day and the knights would soon begin their long procession from the palace to the marketplace where the day’s festivities would soon begin. She had barely been able to find sleep that night, tossing and turning in anticipation. It sent chills down Unity’s spine to see the mounted knights ride through the streets in their crisp lines, wearing their stark white surcoats with the golden sun emblazoned on the front, and holding up the colorful banners of their individual households. She could always feel her heart begin to pound when she saw her father’s banner snap in the wind as he rode by on his gilded warhorse, Javelin. She always imagined herself riding alongside her father, their banners flying identically over the rest, with armor just as silver and a just as white. They would be the envy of the crowd and the pride of King Theon. If only she were a man, then it would be possible.
“Mistress, your mother wishes you to come back inside and break your fast.”
Unity scowled, stepping away from the railing and turning to stare at the mousey, middle-aged woman that had stepped out to join her. “She knows the parade is today. Tell her I’ll be in afterwards.” She returned to the railing, staring past the iron fence that encased her family’s winter home. The fields beyond Geh’Rahg were too dangerous to endure during the frost months as the heavy snows barricaded roads and burdened their food supply. She disliked their summer home, preferring the noise of the city and the proximity to the young knights.
The servant lingered behind the young girl. Unity knew she would stay until she relented and returned inside. It was far easier than continually going back and forth between mother and daughter, a charade that had begun when Unity was eleven. Now fifteen, Unity had garnered patience and often outlasted her temperamental mother.
“Look! Here they come!” Unity sprang back from the railing and grabbed the servant’s arm, hauling her forward to show her exactly what she had been waiting so anxiously for. She ignored the stiff feel of shock in the woman’s arm as she pointed towards the shimmer of steel rounding a street corner. “It’s like finding a piece of silver jewelry on the street. Wouldn’t that be something?”
Beside her the maid nodded; even the smallest piece of silver was probably more than she earned in a year service.
She held her breath as the clatter of horse hooves against the cobblestone roads resounded off the stone houses and watched in fascination as the men guided their horses neatly down the avenue. They always managed such tight, straight lines. As a unit, they were perfect.
“Oh, there’s father!” She clapped and called his name, waving at the column as he passed. He did not respond. He never did. “And there’s Sir Gearald and Torin. Oh, Torin looks so silly. He’ll never make a good knight,” she confided to the servant. She had seen Torin practicing with her father in their courtyard and knew that he was mediocre at best. He was only a novice so far, but he was predicted to be knighted within the next year or so. “I’d make a much better knight than him.”
“Of course, mistress,” the woman answered faithfully.
As the rear of the column passed by Unity’s bedchamber balcony, she scrutinized the last pair of banners to parade past. “The king’s banner? But he never—” The banner was white with a black fist surrounded by a simple, golden ring. It was, however, slightly different than the king’s. Around the wrist of the extended hand was a ring of what looked to be thorns. “The prince! The prince is riding with them! It’s a shame they’ve got their helmets on, isn’t it? He’s very handsome.” Only the novices rode without armor. Tristan must have been recently knighted.
She sighed as she watched the procession disappear past a cluster of houses at the other end of the road, the glitter of steel fading into shadow. “I wish I was a knight.”
An uncomfortable silence drifted between herself and the servant before the woman finally announced a second time that her mother was awaiting her for their morning meal.
“Help me dress,” Unity instructed and hurried back into her adjoining chambers.
Her rooms were spacious and thankfully not barren. The otherwise cold, stone floor was adorned in a thick rug of red and yellow, her family’s colors, into which her slippered feet sunk cozily. Brightly colored tapestries depicting noble fights hid hideously uneven walls, and colorful cushions atop dark, elaborate furnishing completed the pleasant feel of chambers. Expensive jewels and clothing were tucked away in artistically chiseled trunks and armoires that were intermittently inlaid with gold or silver. All of this would eventually go to her intended husband, Torin, son of the elated war hero, Gearald Hewney, an idea Unity regarded with some resentment; while it was a worthy name to marry into, Torin was a bumbling oaf she could easily live without.
Unity pictured their wedding day as she sat thoughtfully in front of her mirror, pushing her hair over her shoulder for the maid to brush. If her parents settled for a winter date, Unity would be dressed in velvet and satin of an ivory hue as pure white was too harsh for her pale skin. She hoped for small emeralds to be inlaid on the silver coronet she would wear on top of her intricately braided, blonde hair, even though she knew that her family’s budget would never allow for it; emeralds would set off the green of her eyes marvelously. She would be the envy of virgin brides everywhere. Torin, however, could never be made to look handsome. His blotchy, red face was too angled and one of his hazel eyes looked too far off to the side. His hands were too large and rough and his body too square in build. And he was always dirty. No one would ever envy Torin.
Once the servant had combed her hair and helped her into her morning attire—a simple, green dress ribbed with white lace—Unity pulled on a pair of green slippers and glanced into the mirror. She found dresses to seldom be comfortable and often imagined that breeches and a loose shirt would feel much better on her body. She sighed and smoothed the wrinkles from her garment. Someday the rules would change and women would be able to partake in knightly oaths. Unity swore she would be the woman to change that.
Her mother’s chambers were located directly beneath Unity’s so that her sitting room doors could open directly out into the manor home’s tiny garden. Unity never understood the appeal of spending hours among dead bushes and withered stalks, but if it kept her mother happy, it also kept her too busy to bother with Unity, which also kept Unity happy; with her mother occupied, she was free to indulge in horseback riding and frequent trips to the barracks where she could watch the knights practice.
Ghleanna Kentigern, Unity’s mother, sat opposite a tall, rigid woman in a ghastly, yellow dress that clashed obscenely with her alabaster skin. She wore gold and amber rings on her fingers and amber beads in her dark brown hair, decorations that would have looked nicer in moderation. The woman smiled in Unity’s direction, her heavily rouged cheeks cracked with an abundance of wrinkles. “Did you see the men go by, dear?” she asked Unity. Her only redeeming quality was her smooth, sweet voice.
“Of course, Lady Catia. I never miss it.” Unity curtseyed, kissed her mother’s cheek, and sat down beside her mother. “I saw Torin next to your husband. He looked very stately.” Because Catia was Torin’s mother, Unity was always very careful about praising him in her presence.
“Yes, wasn’t he handsome? I made sure his hair was trimmed and his shirt washed. I’m sure Gearald had him clean his sword. He could have used a bath, but I’m afraid he might get ill in this weather.” Catia lifted her hands from her lap and picked up the glass of berry juice that had been set in front of her. “You’re lucky to be marrying my Torin. Few could do any better.”
Unity had been told this many times, but she still found it hard to actually agree with it. Who would be lucky to marry a pock marked imbecile? She doubted there would be many women offering to fight for their own right to marry Torin. “Yes, I know.” She fixed a smile on her face and looked at her mother. “Will we be attending the fair this year?” They had been unable to attend last year due to a all held at the king’s court.
Baroness Ghleanna was far superior in beauty to Lady Catia. Her hair was a fine, silky black, her eyes large and brown, and her face round and smooth. Her lips were naturally dark red and her dusky skin the exotic trademark of Targ, the only kingdom that touched Seldarra’s eastern border. Lenx, Unity’s father, had met her while battling infidels invading Seldarra’s northeast border. She was the daughter of a rich noble that had helped provision Seldarra’s numerous knights during the war. Unity had clearly inherited her father’s pale, Seldarran features and none of her mother’s foreign beauty.
Her mother shook her head, her full lips pulled down into a frown. Common people attended these festivals and they always made Ghleanna feel dirty. “There will be a celebration at the palace for people of our own stature. It is far more important that we spend the time in preparation for the queen’s company than it is to traipse through the mud with our inferiors. Who knows what diseases they carry. They’re dangerous.”
“What is the point of a festival for the king if he never sees it?” Unity, exasperated, slouched in her chair, immediately collecting a pair of disapproving stares.
“Sit up, Unity. We need the queen to approve of you if you ever want to marry Torin.”
A couple retorts flashed through her mind, but she held them in. Instead, she sat up, making sure her back was straight and her chin slightly lifted. “I’ll look and act my absolute best this evening, Mother,” she promised. “I’ll smile and compliment the queen and her husband. I’ll be the envy of the party.”
“I’m sure you will be, dear. You are very pretty,” Catia reassured her, patting Unity’s arm. “Torin is also very lucky to be marrying such a striking, young woman. What will you be wearing this evening?”
As Ghleanna answered for her, the conversation quickly turning towards Seldarra’s newest fashions, Unity focused her attention on the platter of fruit and meat that had been set out for her. If she were a knight, she scrutinized as she picked up a slice of pear, she would never have to put up with such fruitless chatter.
Now, I know I've been very bad at commenting on other people's work so far (which I actually feel very badly about), but I beg you all to rip it apart!