Red had snuck off. Again.
Honestly Chromia was just getting irritated. Every time there was something to do, a fitting, a sample of food the girl was nowhere to be found! Honestly, where did she always go?! Storming through the halls, the woman tracked down her husband, stationed at the doors and looked at the man directly. "Where did she go?"
"Oh, now Chromia-!"
"Don't you 'Now Chromia' me!" The maid barked. "She ran off again! She needs to try on the dress!"
"Look, she didn't come through here. If I see her I'll stop her, I promise Chromia!"
The woman inhaled sharply. "Very well. Please, do so." And thus she went back inside.
Ironhide exhaled, and without looking spoke, "You know kid you can't keep avoiding her."
Red popped out of the bushes, leaves stuck in her hair. "Sorry ta' make ya lie Ironhide. I need the break!"
"Well make it quick. She'll sniff you out if you don't hurry up and guess who's going to be the one in trouble for it?"
"Ack. Don't worry. I'll be back in the shake 'o a lamb's tail." Red reassured the guard. "An' I'll bring back something sweet for ya. Chromia will know nothing!" She darted around to where she'd tied up her horse, Mac Lir and quickly mounted him. The gates were open, allowing the stream of people in and out in preparation of the coronation ceremony in two day's time. Making a beeline, the girl made her escape outside of the castle confines and across the bridge over the moat. Clicking her tongue, Mac Lir broke into a fast trot and she whooped in triumph.
The girl had been stuck within the castle confines for too long. She needed a break! The town within the walled-in city was bustling with people, many stopping to wave as she road by on her own. Red waved back, and slowed Mac Lir as they ventured into Iaconia's Capital City. Many people crowded as they saw her coming, calling out to the girl as she rode by. She was still finding it slightly off-putting when adults did it, but the sight of children eagerly rushing up to see her made the girl grin. Wee lambs, impressionable yet earnest. Red had always adored children most of all. Arriving at a shop that sold sweets, the girl dismounted and walked up.
"Aye, how much for some of those pies?"
"The pies are three shingles a piece." The shopkeep looked like he'd seen Red sprout a second head.
Red grinned. "Well, give me two apples!"
"But- but for you, your majesty, it's free! On the house, our welcome and honor to you."
"Aw, heck." Red chuckled awkwardly, unsure of exactly how to take it. Free pie? "Well, thank ye kindly but, if I drop in again, no more free things! I'm still a customer."
"Think nothing of it Princess Cellina."
The wince on her face made the alarm on the shopkeep's face grow. "I-is there something wrong?"
"Please, don't fuss. I just prefer me nickname, that's all. Red."
"Well, er, Princess- Red, here." He handed her two warm ones, and she inhaled the smell of apple and cloves. Oh there was no way one was going to last until she got back!
"Oh yes. This smells delicious. An' here." She dropped a pile of coins into his still outstretched hands. "My gratitude. Keep it." And without accepting another word, she ventured out. "Well Mac Lir, I almost got free pie!" The girl spoke to her horse, and put one pie in her bag, the other she looked at hungrily and licked her chops. People crowded around initially, but then backed up in alarm when they saw her pull out a knife! But she used it to slice herself a large wedge, cramming half of it into her mouth.
The crowd murmured and an eyebrow shot up her forehead as she gazed at the citizens. "... Have you lot never seen a Celt eat?" She tried to joke after swallowing. Then saw a small girl in the front, and smirked. "Oi, you, c'mere." Everyone stared at the small one, who swallowed nervously and seemed to shrink in on herself, but nervously shuffled forward. "'Ere. Have a piece." She cut into it, stabbed the portion and held it out for her to take.
"Thank you, y-your majesty!" She piped up with a slight lisp.
More kids suddenly appeared, all clambering around as the adults watched with a mixture of surprise, awe and even a little fear. Red wasn't daft. She'd heard the rumors circulating about her. The long-lost daughter of their good King and Queen, raised by Celts and was a 'barbaric princess'. She'd killed a Clansman twice her size, and not only that but slaughtered the Mad King Nemesis where he'd stood. It both bothered her and yet made her swell with pride. Bothered her, of course because many didn't know what the bastard tried to do. Made her swell with pride, because the little ones looked up to her with awe and impressionable respect.
"Why do you carry a sworwed?" The girl with the lisp asked, peering at the hilt.
Red finished her slice, wiping her mouth with the sleeve of her tunic and grinned. "It was a gift from me mother. She gave it to me on the day I became a woman, an' completed my trials." She pulled out the weapon, holding it out for them to see. "Don't touch now. It's sharp enough to cut off wee fingers!"
"The Queen gave it to you?"
The small boy's question made Red chuckle. "No, not the Queen. I was raised by the Clan's leader, Arachnia. She was-" Red paused, trying to find the right words to convey how her adoptive mother was. "Cunning. Like a fox, very sly an' crafty. But she raised me right, to be strong, to honor the elders an' respect 'em. But, she also taught me that if something didn't feel right, I had every right to tell so." She smiled down at the children.
"Did you- you really cut off King Neme-Nemes-iz-?"
"Did I cut off the Mad King's head?" Red finished the next child's question. "Indeed I did. Clean off. One swipe 'a me blade." She noted that some in the crowd were becoming uncomfortable, and she sheathed her blade. "But only in defense. He was try'n ta' kill me y'see. An' he was responsible for many deaths 'a my Clansmen."
"My mama says you're a crazy bar-bar-i-an princess!"
"Then she be right. In the sense that I am, after all a princess. Start'n next week." She stood up, stretching. "Now away with ye cheeky things! I'm off ta' see some friends!" She waved them away and with giggles, they dispersed. But the crowd didn't. Even as Red mounted her steed, she saw their eyes fixated on her. She knew those looks. She'd gotten them from the king's men as a child when they took things away from her home. With her grin wilting, she clicked the reins and made her way through the crowd. They all saw her as a savage.
Rumors claimed her to be an impostor. They claimed she wasn't fit to rule, that she drank the blood of her enemies and feasted upon their flesh and bones. True, only if the blood of her enemies was instead mead. And the enemy's body was a boar. And most were confused and unsure of her current living arrangements; Red had lived in the Predacon village outside of the city. She was their leader first and foremost, helping them set up their new home and even with the garden. When summer had begun however, two or three months back she'd been summoned back to the city. As her eighteenth birthday was approaching (weirdly she discovered it was late into the season), High King Optimus and Queen Elita-One wanted Red to live with them, learn a few duties she would need to do as future High Queen -diplomacy and the sort- before the coronation ceremony. Reluctantly she'd agreed but stole as many chances as she could to go back to the village and check on her people.
It had been a good fortnight since her last visit. In her absence, she'd entrusted Rattrap and Emery with leading and helping settle small disputes. Anything bigger would have to wait until she returned. As she approached the final gate to get out of the town, a few soldiers halted her and Red groaned. "Hello Jazz."
"A pleasant afternoon m'lady! Where are you headed?" He was smirking the whole time.
"The Well 'a AllSparks. I'm go'n ta' see the Clan, where else would I be go'n?!"
"You know Jarless Promethea and her family are coming today."
"They'll see me all week!" Red groaned. "They'll understand if I'm not back 'till dusk. Now please, if ya don't mind?"
"Of course. But I'm not vouching for your absence like last time."
"I bribed Ironhide with a promise 'a pie." Red smirked and clicked her reins as the guards let her by. The drawbridge was already open in expectancy of the incoming nobles.
"And you haven't eaten it yet?"
"Didn't say it'd be from here." Red grinned, clicking the reins and they rode off, into the country outside of the walls.
"Oooh, where is she?!" Elita murmured in dismay as she hurried through the castle's hall. Behind her, Arcee, her Castellan trailed, as did Nautica, her Clerk. Both were working out the final details and preparations for the Coronation Ceremony at the end of the week.
"She snuck off again m'lady! And I am very certain I know where." Chromia called out, dragging her husband by his ear over to the High Queen. "Now, you speak. And no lies!"
"All right, all right! She did slip off." The man moaned in pain as his ear was released by the angered woman. "But she said she'd be back soon."
"Of course." Elita sighed. Her daughter's priority was to her Clansmen first. They were of course her family, and Red was their leader. "Did she at least say how long she would be this time?"
"No m'lady, I'm sorry." Ironhide apologized, bowing. "If you want, I will go get her."
"That won't be necessary. Promethea and her kin will be arriving soon. I will give Lady Solstice the option of retrieving her." Queen Elita sighed. "We can hold off on the final fitting until she returns."
"It's not just her arriving today m'lady." Arcee spoke up quickly as a messenger behind them departed. "We just received word that High Queen Charlotte's family will also be attending."
Elita almost groaned aloud, but bit her tongue. Of course. They were a family under High King Ultra Magnus' domain, of high standing. Since Optimus was a relative of King Magnus, and Red a friend of Perceptor and his wife they'd turn up. But she hoped they wouldn't. They were, for a lacking of better words, stuck-up pricks. Not that she'd ever say that aloud. Gone were her days of wagging her tongue loosely and telling off any soul who dared cross her or anyone tread upon. She wasn't like her daughter anymore. Soon, Red would also have to learn to hold her tongue for the sake of alliances, treaties and the such. But deep down she doubted she would. Red also had her father in her, as vague as it seemed. Optimus could be a stubborn man, he was loyal and held fast to his beliefs. And while he was far more passive aggressive, he could in fact make a friend or an enemy with a fell swoop of his words. Red had those traits. And they presented themselves strongly. She feared what would happen should one of the relatives make a comment about Red's heritage, accent, anything that wasn't 'true royalty'. But nonetheless they were guests. And it was important to host nobility to recognize their daughter as the future ruler.
"Very well, attend to their accommodations-"
"My lady," Nautica spoke up as she peered out the window, "Excuse my rudeness interrupting you but the Knights have returned!"
A loud groan did erupt from Elita. Oh. It was just going to be one damned thing after another that day, wasn't it?
Red, after a good half-an-hour's ride into the countryside on the main road, turned off onto the bridge over the swift brook, crossing it, whistling an old tune as she did. The country air was fresh and clean. The vast openness was a comfort she hadn't had the luxury of in awhile. Grinning, she jerked her reins and made her horse break into a fast trot, whooping.
Her cape fluttered out behind her in brilliant red and purple plaid, as did the ponytail her hair was kept in. She whooped again, approaching the outskirts of the village and the centuries whooped in response, raising their spears. She tugged on the reins and her horse slowed to a stop a few feet away as she dismounted in a swift movement. "Aye, Quiaux, Skyquake good ta' see ya lads!" Never formal, she hugged both warriors in greeting.
"It's good 'ta see you too miss!" Quiaux grinned. "But there's a problem."
"And what would that be?" Red asked in concern.
"I think her queenship's been gone so long, she forgets how much her people enjoy presents." He winked and she rolled her eyes.
"You're worse than ya mother was." She pulled out the pie. "I got it for ya. Don' eat it all ya greedy gobber. Everyone in the fields?"
The sentry took it, grinning and the older boy licked his lips. "Aye. The potatoes are be'n picked as we speak."
"I'll go 'an help." She mounted her horse again, clicking the reins. "An' if anyone comes look'n for me, I ain't here. Ya don't know I exist."
"Will do." Quiaux said, eyes fixated on the pie.
Skyquake eagerly reached for some as she rode by, but his hand was swatted away and the man let out a curse. Red chuckled. Ah yes. She was home. Song floated to her ears, and she smiled all the more as the fields came into view, the crops green and swaying in the cooler wind. The day was still warm, clouds dotting the late summer sky. She dismounted, and called out. "Tá mé ar ais!"
Everyone looked up, and excitedly called out greeting as she dismounted, tied Mac Lir to the post and rushed over. Rattrap and Botanica's children rushed over, calling her name and hugged her legs. "Ah wee lambs! You've grown so much!" She crooned, kneeling down to hug each one. Botanica approached, the newest of their litter in a basket she carried with gentleness only a mother could have.
Shona was born before the first spring thaw. No one had known Botanica had been pregnant until she was three months along, with everything that had happened. That made nine- well, eight. Red felt a stirring of guilt from the thought of Therma. The little one was named in memory of their lost daughter and her husband. "Red, welcome." The Druid said, smiling warmly as the younger girl stood up and bowed her head slightly.
"Sorry it took me so long ta' get away this time."
"It is no trouble." Botanica reassured. "We have done fine since you last left. But thank you for dropping by."
"One more week an' this'll all be over." Red sighed in relief. "I needed a break though. Anything I can do ta' help?"
"We do need a few more people to pick. I have to nurse Shona so I will be gone for a little while."
"'A course." Red grinned, taking off her cape and set it in the grass. "Show me where an' I'll get go'n."
It was the perfect day to pick vegetables. Not too hot nor too cold, and everyone was in good spirits. Red was set right next to Rattrap, as the man gave her a quick side hug. "So how goes the princess lessons?" He asked with a wink and Red rolled her eyes.
"It's all a load 'a cac capall, but apparently it means something to the English." She explained as she dug into the warm dark earth with her hands. "Lotsa posture ta' begin with. Back straight, eyes forward, yadda-yadda." She waved her hand around, now caked as she unearthed a big fat potato. Wiping it with her tunic she set it in the basket between them. "All these lessons on manners 'an how politics work. An' then they try ta' make me lose the accent, the one tutor me parents hired. She was all, "ya can't pronounce it like that no one will understand ye". I says, "well if you can at least tell when I speak Celtic an' when I don't, that's good enough". She got all flushed an' sputtered like an asp!" Red chuckled as did Rattrap.
"Aye, they can take ya from us, but they can't take the Clan outta ya." Rattrap chuckled.
"Indeed." Red said, plopping the rest of the potatoes into the basket and scooted around to the next batch. "Not all bad though. I'm allowed to carry 'm sword wherever I please. It's 'for protection' Queen Elita says. So they let it slide. I can practice archery. I can duel with the guards if I want. Just these past two weeks have been hell." She wiped her forehead as she pulled out more potatoes. "Constant fittings, constant practice, constant lessons. Constantly bein' followed by someone, ask'n me if I liked this color, tell'n me ta' try this. It wouldn't be all bad, 'cept..."
"They ain't lett'n me be crowned nowhere but the church." Red groaned. "I kept insisting that since I don't really get that whole blast thing, that I'd rather Botanica or some Druid do the rites. Nope. Not happenin'." She angrily threw the potato she was holding into the basket. "Some priest has ta' do it. An' the clergy keep insisting I gotta be converted before I'm crowned. Hah. Like that'll happen."
Rattrap tisked. "Well, they ain't force'n ya 't, right?"
"Nope. Optimus an' Elita made it clear that my beliefs do not discern my future as High Queen. My culture, sure I'm loyal ta' the Clans first and foremost but that's political. It ain't spiritual."
"Then it sorts itself out." He summarized. "So is that Solstice lass coming as well?"
"Yep. She's also pregnant so no horse'n around!" Red warned sharply. "Relate that ta' Emery. Wait. Where is she?" Red scanned the garden but didn't see her.
"She's out on a hunt with a few others, bringing in a boar for t'night's supper." He explained. "I'll tell Em whatcha said. No playful shocks."
As they worked, the sun peeped out occasionally and Red found herself sweaty, and she couldn't be happier. In the past this is how she'd spend her summer days, working with the clan, training, or hunting. Maybe look after the little ones. And as always, the work was never dull. There were songs to be sung, conversations spoken in their native language, jokes shared and stories told. Breaks with mead and biscuits. Red lost track of time and then, suddenly the sky was darkening. She stood up and looked up. "Ah, cac capall! I shoulda been back hours ago!" She yelped, quickly rushing over to her cape. "I gotta go. Feicfidh mé thú go luath!"
"Slán!" Her Clansmen called out, and Red snagged the last little blackberry pie as untied then mounted Mac Lir. With a click of her reins, she was off again, cape billowing behind her as she rode off.
Red didn't make it back until dark. She dismounted Mac Lir in a hurry and rushed into the palace, hoping she could just slip into her bedroom and-
"Not so fast young lady." Red skidded to a halt. Drat. Chromia was waiting for her. The woman strode up and her nose wrinkled. "Ugh! You're filthy!"
"An' starvin'. Lemme eat an' then I'll bathe." Red said, trying to walk by.
"Now just you wait. We have royal guests and-!"
"Yes, I know, Solstice an' Predaking are here they'll understand!" Red charged for the dining hall, sweaty, dirty and all. "They're from the other Clan after all!"
"It's not just-!" Chromia yelled as she chased her but Red was quicker and she shoved the door open.
"Aye, what's for supper?" She called out. "I'm starving!"
Forks clattered and Red paused, looking to see- well yes, Solstice was there. So was Perceptor, and Drift (she insisted he come along), Promethea, Predaking-... people ornately dressed she didn't know...
"Ah, Red there you are!" Elita said, though she sounded a little- off? "Please, come sit." With a slight shrug, the girl did and took a seat. Elita blinked. "You've got dirt all over you dear."
"Sorry. I was help'n with the pick'n. Lost track 'a time." She instantly reached for the mead and slugged it back in one gulp, hiccuped after and a little loudly. Remembering her manners, she said, "Pardon me. Everything looks delicious!" She reached for the boar leg with an eager hand, but a look from her mother stopped her. What was going on?
She peeked up, noticing that Solstice hadn't greeted her yet. And then she saw the scowls of the ornately dressed nobles. "Thane Edward, Lady Yvonne, may I introduce you to our daughter, Princess Cellina." Optimus introduced, finally speaking up.
Red cracked an awkward grin. "Sir 'n ladyship. A pleasure." Well manners weren't so bad now, she thought. But the looks they had in their faces made Red's blood boil. Just who were these people, and why did they stare at her with such contempt?!