Buri faced criticism for much of her life. K'miri training methods are not exactly gentle, and she was raised to be the best. She was raised knowing she would someday die for their princess, and for that she pushed herself harder than any of her trainers could.
If they were going to sentence her to a fate that promised death, sooner or later, she was going to do her best to make it later.
As a child, it was always, your legs are too far apart! Your grip isn't tight enough. No, duck! Faster, stupid child.
When she went to join her mother and brother with the princess, there was a new form of criticism. Hold your head higher, girl! No, no, step more carefully. Rearrange that tunic—I can see the imprint of your knives! We're not supposed to look armed, silly child! Gradually she adapted to be not only a fighter, but a guard. In a way she liked this life far more than that of a mere tribeswoman—for one, the palace was far more interesting than the simple camp where her people had lived, slowly being pushed back by settlers year after year. Life was more difficult, but in all the right ways. She no longer had to worry about chores like gathering food or helping dig a new trench for a new latrine. Now, she could focus on her fighting. By the time she was thirteen, Buri felt she matched any warrior in the tribe for skill. Her mother agreed that she had talent.
Then her family died, and Buri found herself on the run with a princess that was determined to do everything possible to make her life more difficult, right up to adopting random children off the side of the road. For once, she was the one voicing the criticism.
Fortunately for all involved—Thayet maintained long after the event that she had been on the verge of strangling Buri for being so heartless regarding the orphans—Alanna showed up and whisked them off on an epic journey before bringing them home to Tortall like a fairytale come true. Thayet was married in what felt like a matter of days, and Buri was left a little adrift. New, harsher criticism came from every direction. Comments on her black eyes, tanned and weather-toughened skin, the way she wore breeches as if she was proud of being unladylike. How like the Lioness, to bring back another barbarian woman. What a savage, have you seen the state of her skin? I can't imagine why the princess keeps her around!
That alone Buri could have lived with—she was a tough woman, even if she was just fifteen—but here in Tortall she had to be harder on herself than ever. She was no longer Best Warrior, and Alanna wasted no time at all informing her that her swordsmanship was abysmal. She improved, but not like before. Now she was no one special, just another foreigner in a court bigger than her entire tribe.
Then she realized how terrible most of the people of Tortall were at riding. They all sat atop lofty, barely-controllable stallions and wispy mares, just barely able to keep their seat and prevent their horse from breaking a leg at the same time. The King's Own was an absolute mess, comprised of weak-willed young men looking for heiresses, and the young new dark-eyed commander was only just beginning to whip them into shape. Her new home was clearly not as adequately protected as she'd thought, which meant her princess wasn't as safe as she had believed. Suddenly Buri had a purpose again, and when Thayet approached her complaining of boredom and proposed the idea of the Queen's Riders, Buri immediately jumped at the opportunity.
Years passed and the kingdom settled into an uneasy peace at the idea of women serving as warriors. Criticism, though it never faded completely, became less and less common, and she settled neatly into her place. She wasn't married, which would have been a little scandalous, but then, nobody cared if she wed. She rather suspected they were grateful that the barbarian hadn't snagged any of their precious sons. For the first time, Buri was completely happy, and had every expectation of remaining that way.
And then she went and did the unthinkable and fell in love.
It was stupid, really, and she was fully prepared to dismiss her feelings and pretend she'd never come to any earth-shattering revelations. And so Raoul, of course, asked her to go with him to a family party. As a friend.
Well, she couldn't refuse, could she?
Somehow over the course of the night she ended up tripping over a pair of unfamiliar heels and he caught her, and they kissed, and they wound up tangled in the sheets of his simple bed, sweaty and hot and oh so wonderful. If she'd been another woman, she might have angsted and worried that maybe he'd just wanted a lay, maybe it didn't mean anything.
Buri, fortunately, was not just any woman. They said hurried goodbyes after realizing they were going to be late for a lunch with the king and queen. That evening, Buri showed up on his doorstep and informed him that he better not be planning to forget about her, because she intended to be around for a while. She added her best glare to drive the point home.
Raoul smiled widely, dark eyes twinkling above a sunny smile, and opened his arms. Buri hugged him tightly, and then he turned around, shifting her smaller frame into his room, and he closed the door behind him.
I was hoping you'd say that, he whispered into her hair, and she smiled too.
His family, though ultimately relieved that he was marrying at all, was not happy about the match. She faced some of the worst criticism of her life after their engagement and again later, when she calmly refused to take her tiny silver charm off for the first five years of their marriage. In all of this, however, Buri discovered a secret: criticism was easier to take if you have someone you loved to turn to, someone who would reassure you that even your faults were something that they loved.
And the best thing about Raoul, ultimately, was that what other people regarded as her faults were the things he loved most about her.