As they finished their conversation, an announcer stepped into the dining hall.

”The Imperial Army Commander, his Highness Prince Jochi. ”

It wasn long before a tall, capable looking man strode into the hall. This time he was not in full armour as per his usual look.

He was younger than the emperor and had a completely different appearance even though the two were brothers. It was the same with Kamaria and her siblings since they had different mothers.

Although the man had a scar running down from just above his eyebrow to his cheek, when he smiled, he just seemed like a gentle giant. Kamaria was excited as soon as she heard the announcement.

”I see everyone is here enjoying a meal without me, ” he commented jovially.

”The Commander never announces when hell see us for purposes other than business, ” said the empress with a small smile. The troops had returned a few days earlier and on the day he had come to issue an imperial report to the emperor and officials. After that he went back to his town residence without a word of return.

”Im merely here due to Madam Generals request, ” he insisted while walking around to Kamarias side of the table. He always playfully referred to his wife as the Madam General.

”Princess Zorya is here as well? ” asked the empress.

”She wanted to have a word with your Highness, ” he said after turning to the empress consort.

”With me, Commander? ”

”Theres no mistake, she headed towards your Highnesss Spring Palace. Of course, Princess could come in your Majestys place as its just a small matter. ”

The empress consort smiled and suddenly understood the situation. After she nodded, her steward sent word to have refreshments prepared and Kamaria stood up from her seat. Velia gave the empress a look, clearly meaning that she wanted to go along to see what was happening.

Princess Zorya always had interesting gifts to give. It was unfair for Kamaria to see her alone. The empress gave her daughter a sideways glance which made Velia disappointed but then her mother suddenly spoke up.

”Won she see the other princesses as well since shes already here? ”

”Don worry your Majesty, like I said, its a small matter. ”

Kamaria then curtseyed to the emperor and his wives as the commander held out his hand.

”Shall we, Princess? ” he asked, and Kamaria tried to contain her smile as she took his hand. Rose and Lily faithfully followed them out of the dining hall. It was not long before they were out of earshot of the maids and guards near the dining hall. No one would be gossiping about their conversation as they headed toward the empress consorts wing of the palace. Even so, they kept the volume of their conversation to a minimum.

”Look at you, already a young woman and not even bothering to invite me to your dinner. Im deeply disappointed. ”

”Surely Uncle jests, I know he was too busy to think of such silly things. ”

”But really Kamaria, you should have at least insisted on some grand old event. You only turn eighteen once. ”

”Its past already, theres nothing more to be done is there? They
e already preparing for Khayris event. ”

Her uncle gave her a worried look, never had he seen such a calm young lady. Even when this brilliant young woman was being utterly disrespected, she always kept a composed demeanour.

Not to say that her words were not harsh at times, but they were always disguised with a gentle and calm delivery. Her calm manner sometimes scared him especially in someone so young. He wished that she could be just a little selfish, impatient and spoilt as other rich young women were. After a certain incident, it seemed she had grown up too fast.

She broke his train of thought when she playfully linked arms with him as they headed toward the garden.

”Don tell me Uncle is still thinking of such unfortunate things. Besides I won be turning nineteen next year, Ill only be celebrating my first eighteenth birthday anniversary, ” she insisted with a bright smile.

The man laughed at the brilliant answer. How he had missed her outstanding humour. He resisted the urge the pinch her cheeks as she would complain about her makeup getting ruined.

The weather was bright and cloudless, perfect just as the princess had predicted. The early blooms that surrounded them in various colours brought different fragrances that were carried by a certain crispness in the air signalling the last days of winter.

”The clowning duo finally arrive, ” gracefully said another womans voice as she sipped on her tea.

Kamaria turned and saw the commanders wife sitting in a pavilion in the garden. She smiled, a smile that reached her brown eyes as she released her uncle.

”And just like that, Im discarded. Its dangerous to run Princess! ”

Kamaria however was already halfway to the pavilion and threw herself into her standing aunts arms as soon as she could. The older woman could only smile at the silly girl. Everyone else thought she was so mature, but she knew better. Kamaria might as well have been her own daughter. Maybe if she had been, she would have acted less like an old noble lady.

”My best girl, ” said Princess Zorya with a playful squeeze.

”Don tell your cousin-sister I said that though. ”

Kamaria almost laughed as they sat down. Rose and Lily finally made it to the pavilion as running after her or warning her not to run would not have made much of a difference.

”I see the two flowers are here as well, its nice to see you girls. ”

Rose and Lily both curtseyed at the acknowledgement. It was nice to be treated like humans for once by someone other than Kamaria. They replied simultaneously.

”A pleasure your Highness. ”

”Officer Radka is out of uniform as well, ” commented Kamaria.

”Its nice to see the Princess, ” said Radka with a smile and a martial bow something not out of place for a battle maiden such as herself.

”Lets sit down and eat, Im sure you were hungry at that breakfast table, ” insisted Princess Zorya.

Kamaria gladly sat down and started by tasting a bit of each dish before fully digging in and savouring the delicious food.

Although the food in the hall had looked appetising, the company just didn make for a good appetite. If there was one thing that Kamaria did not need to be told twice about, it was good food. After they were done eating, Princess Zorya gestured to Radka at her side.

”Well then, time for the real reason that we
e here. Happy birthday Kamaria. ”

Radka pulled out a large square wooden box. Kamaria wondered what this was all about and was excited as it was placed on the table in front of her.

Rose carefully opened the box, and they caught a peek of midnight blue lining on the inside and beautiful folded metallic brocade. She opened it further and revealed that the material was in fact a dress.

It was an amazingly astounding silver with an intricate pattern Kamaria did not recognise. Kamaria was no expert, but she knew a few things about material and trends in the patterns and embroidery. Since they were young, they had been required to take embroidery and sewing classes after all.

”I see you
e trying to guess where its from, lets just say a completely different empire, ” said her aunt. She knew her niece had a sharp mind and was already trying to decipher the dress.

”Auntie, this is too much, ” she said in an awed voice.

”Don be silly, if this overbearing little father[1] of yours had it his way, we would have come with a cartful of things and even that wouldn be enough. ”

On top of the dress sat a headdress, a beautiful thing with crystals, organza and silver. In fact, the sides of the headdress reminded her of wings and when she looked closer, she realised they were indeed wings. Delicate and intricately designed organza wings with silk flowers all around them. It even had little feathery antennae covered with small crystals. The wings should have made it a butterfly, but the fuzzy antennae made her guess it was a moth themed headdress. In all, putting on this costume would make her seem like some sort of fairy which brought a smile to her face.

She had never had the chance to be so extravagant. Even living in the palace, her clothes always paled in comparison to her siblings since they always managed to have a first pick of things.

”Im glad I lived to see the day the little Princess was this amused, ” commented her uncle as he sat back. Kamaria could only hug her aunt once again.

”Princess Kamaria will have to be leading the Luna festival this year. The Moon goddess approves, ” she insisted.

”This would be the most beautiful little moth Ive ever seen, ” the commander added with a smile. They didn ask about how, why or when but they knew that Kamaria would somehow be at the festival. They had learned not to question her methods but just trust her instead.

Having been born around this time was the young womans saving grace. Even if she never got to have a birthday celebration, she could at least enjoy fireworks and good food later when the Luna festival came around.

Besides the adventurous young men, the people in the palace barely ever left the palace even during such an occasion but they still made offerings and cooked once a year foods and desserts to enjoy at a banquet with other invited guests.

”If that boy Urien were to see you, hed have to get on his knees immediately and propose. ”

Kamaria became a little shy at her aunts words as she lightly touched the beautiful headdress.

”Don ruin my good mood talk about that little- ”

”Uncle, Urien is nice, ” insisted Kamaria but the Commander rolled his eyes.

”Anyway, on that point of gifts, I got the Princess a gift as well. ”

Radka once again produced another wooden box, this time smaller than the first. It was also quite simple but was lined with a forest green velvet, inside it, were two almost identical daggers.

The difference in the daggers was the variation of the intricate silver design on the black sheaths. The commander was still a military man, it was safety above all else even for his niece. Next to the dagger were a pair of leather archers gloves and Kamaria was even more delighted. The pavilion was showered with white flower petals as she smiled making a lovely scene.

”Such a boring man to give a young woman something like this for her birthday. ”

”Your aunt says so, but she gave me another child when I gifted her a custom sword for hers, ” he casually commented to Kamaria.

Kamaria giggled at the couple; they were one of the few people she knew who got on this well as a couple but even then, they never interacted this way in public. The view was exclusively for those very close to them. They heard a few voices headed towards them and the bigger box was closed and put away. Princess Zorya shook her head and stood up, carefully taking out one of the daggers and handing it to her niece.

Kamaria hesitated but finally took it in her hands. The weight was perfect, and the cool handle sat comfortably in her hand. They must have been custom made making them even more special to her. Unsheathing the blade, she studied the two sharp edges, polished finish and the engraved pattern running down the length of the blade matching the sheath. The voices from before were now much closer as they headed toward the pavilion.

”I think we should test these highly questionable gifts from the Commander, ” whispered Princess Zorya. Kamaria moved the dagger from one hand to the other trying to get a feel for it. She turned slightly to look out the corner of her eye as if hesitant about going through with the suggestion and then suddenly whirled around, throwing the dagger towards the entrance of the pavilion.

The uninvited guest shrieked and fell back into her attendants arms at seeing a weapon hurtling their way, but it had embedded itself in the wooden pole pinning a flower petal on the way. Velia froze in place as she stared at the dagger that had come from nowhere. Had her younger sister just tried to openly kill her in front of so many people?

”Oh, Princess Velia, this princess apologises for my rudeness. Was there any injury? ” asked Kamaria although she was standing in one place and not rushing to help her sister up.

Velias attendant scowled as she helped the princess straighten up while in the corner.

Rose and Lily almost giggled at Kamarias question afterwards while Radka tried not to look defeated at the older teaching the younger extremely bad habits.

”What were you thinking? ” Velia started.

She almost went on a tirade, but she held back due to the presence of their aunt and uncle. There would be chances later to deal with the little upstart.

”Im sorry, I was merely trying to be like Aunt Zorya, I guess Im not cut out for it, ” said Kamaria sadly as she walked towards the embedded dagger. She pulled it out as if it had not been deeply embedded in the block of wood.

”Why would you try to be like a General when youve never even had a day of military training? ” retorted Velia as she dusted off her dress.

Princess Zorya was a famed General even if she was barely on the battlefield anymore. With Radka as her second in command, she had conquered multiple battlefields for the empire in her familys name and that was how she had met her husband.

After her third child though, she decided to not retire from the military but rather focus on the strategy and running of things which to some point kept her away from the battlefield. Being a military official and noble at that married to an imperial prince who was the commander of the army, she had her work cut out for her without any of the physical battles.

”Forgive me Princess Velia, I gifted your sister these ornamental daggers. Perhaps shed give them to her husband one day, ” commented the commander.

”Uncle, girls like pretty things, ” Velia stated as she pointed to her bracelet.

It was a gift he had given her after coming back from one of his campaigns and Kamaria was sure that she hadn been wearing this bracelet at breakfast but chose not to say anything about it.

Although she was behaving while standing next to Lily, Rose was almost vomiting blood at the sickly-sweet tone Velia was using.

”Commander, General, Ill be sure to deliver the message and everything else to Consort Mother, ” said Kamaria.

Rose and Lily picked up the two boxes and just like their princess, curtsied before they left the pavilion.

Velia stood thinking for a while. So, Kamaria had only received some ornamental daggers as a gift? That was completely useless but then again, the commander had said something gifting them to her husband. Was the empress consort already working on getting a match? Velia couldn let someone younger than her get married first, she had to make sure of it.

With the boxes safely put away, the trio could go about the rest of their day.

”I bet she almost peed herself, ” whispered Rose after which she giggled.

Her Lady sure knew how to provide never ending entertainment. Lily merely smiled trying not to fall into the trap of making such base jokes with the unfiltered Rose.

”Rose, thats completely improper. How dare you. Princesses don pee, they tinkle, ” said Kamaria with the most serious face and even Lily started giggling.

The giggling attracted the attention of another group in the garden. They couldn see through the bushes, but Khayri knew that giggling from anywhere. He signalled to everyone else to keep silent as he waited for the girls to emerge.

When they were closer, he jumped out but only managed to thoroughly scare an unknown young maid out of her wits. The young lord with him started silently laughing as the prince apologised while trying to help her up which seemed to terrify her even more. His attendant ended up trying to smooth over the situation.

”Your Highness, that wasn very nice, ” suddenly said Kamaria as she appeared from a completely unexpected place. The four young men got a small shock at the uncanny appearance.

”What a surprise to see my wise big sister here, ” said Khayri.

He was supposed to sound surprised but failed completely and sounded suspicious instead. Even his usually serious attendant, Nima couldn help but smile at the ridiculousness.

During the fun, one of the young men was slowly observing Kamaria from her feet all the way up to her smiling face. She looked as pretty as always, and that gentle elegant air about just kept him all the more interested. She felt the studying gaze but tried not to get flustered from it.

”Come on Urien, stop ogling at my sister like a prized possession of yours. Im having a conversation with her, ” commented Khayri and other two laughed smiled.

”Am I supposed to be looking at you instead? ”

”Listen you want to marry my sister, there are fees that need to be paid to me my friend, ” commented Khayri as he draped his arm on Lord Uriens shoulder. Urien smiled at Kamaria and bowed his head slightly as they walked past to which she nodded back.

”Now lets discuss my rates and Ill let you look for a bit longer next time, ” said Khayri said as they headed off in their original direction.

They were equipped with some hunting gear, so she guessed they were headed to the stables to pick horses and go for a hunt. It was better than their other past times. Khayri was the chaotic sort. Although he never got into anything serious but his not being serious was sometimes a problem that got him into trouble. Kamaria caught herself in a little smile as she headed towards her mothers garden.

Although it was nothing official and no marriage talks between the families had been initiated, the people very close to them knew that they had a close relationship since they had all grown up together. For an imperial princess, it was nothing grand marrying the son of a count, but it guaranteed some peace for her. Sure, Velia would likely be married off to the best match the empress could find but for Kamaria, she had long learnt that it would do her no good being ambitious.


[1] Little father – referring to her fathers younger brother, most would say uncle which can also be used, but some cultures consider those on the paternal side as secondary fathers, mothers, and siblings hence also cousin-sister or cousin-brother since they would have the same surname

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