Army At The Gates*

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"The awareness of our own strength makes us modest."
-Paul Cezanne

Soon,
Illyria thought.
Straightening, the Princess paused by the balcony, glancing down at the entrance hall below. She noted a few familiar faces in the high-societal crowd, and let out a breath.
After tonight my life will finally fall into place.

Pulling lightly at the hem of her traditional Rowland gown, Illyria adjusted her stance slightly so that her jewel-encrusted silver blade lay flatter against her thigh, hidden and concealed away in its usual spot by the many layers of her modest, blue garb.

Her rich, crimson coloured hair had been pinned and piled high atop her head for the celebration, It was a party in her honor, for tonight was the eve of her wedding.

"Here we go,"
she muttered to herself, rolling back her shoulders.
Through the door, she heard the brief blare of coronets before her name was called out.

"Introducing the Princess Illyria of Rowland!"
There was a smattering of polite applause as she glided through the open doors, everyone's eyes turned up to watch her emerge from the balcony. The staircase curved around the left wall, its plush red carpeting a stark contrast to the ballrooms white marble floor below. She entered the ballroom with little sound accompanying her, save the brisk steps of her sturdy heels.

Walking to her usual place beside her Uncle's throne, Illyria kept an unreadable expression upon her face, hands folded behind her back, surveying the crowd with expert ability-an unofficial body guard hidden in plain sight.
"Ah, my dear niece, perfect timing, per usual, "
King Hal greeted cheerfully.
"I'd like you to meet Baron Edward Dalphner."
He motioned toward a stout man in his mid 30's, with a short, weak brown beard and brown hair that looked as if it had recently started to thin.

"I am honored to meet the woman soon to become my wife," the Baron said, giving her a curt bow, of which she returned with a formal curtsey.
"The honor is all mine,"
Illyria responded politely.

"Would you care to join me for the next dance, your Highness?"
"Of course." she smiled, placing her hand into his smooth outstretched one. Trying her best not to shudder when her strong, callused hand came in contact with his soft, limp, and slightly sweaty one. It was obvious he was no warrior, and had probably never picked up a sword or even a staff in his life, but he had money and power, and those were qualities enough to suit her purposes.

She followed her betrothed to the middle of the ballroom, keeping the customary space between them. They joined in with the stiff, formal dancing that was expected of Rowland Royalty; hands remaining flat whenever they met, and never touching, keeping a proper distance to form the correct formations with the rest of the dancers.

The Baron didn't exactly cut a striking figure. He wasn't much to look at and wasn't very interesting to converse with. Edward was a dozen winters older than Illyria, too, but these things mattered not to her. In fact, they barely occurred to her. He was a good match politically, he was pliable, had much land, and also had strong genes seeing as his brothers had all bore healthy children.

Those were the only things that that mattered to the women of Rowland. They were an aloof breed, infamously stale, with no concept of love or romance. It was a foreign idea to this prim and proper nation.

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