Chapter five

It had been nearly three days since the final negotiations. The wedding was set for the next morning, and Ari was feeling more hassled then usual. They were to spend the wedding night in the Sha'at kingdom, but the honey moon was to initially take place in the Balvedarian kingdom, at some remote lodging that they had in their forests. Ari was not looking forward to being away for a full week, but she had already appointed the soon-to-be-former queen as her stand in.
"Are you ready for this?"
Kei's voice drifted into the dim study that Ari had hidden herself in, and Ari glanced up from the scraps of paper with a frown. Kei didn't need her to answer, everyone already knew. She was beginning to suspect that even the Balvedarian soldiers knew what she felt by that point. She didn't want this wedding to happen; it would mean loosing Nyala to both status and marriage. But it was what Nyala wanted, so she went along, agreeing to whatever her friend and future queen wanted.
Kei moved further into the study, stopping to light more candles along the way, before she placed herself in front of Ari's cluttered desk. She didn't stop in her note taking, considering it a very important job that she make a note of everything that would need to be tended to with the soldiers and the defenses, and Kei spoke again.
"You know that if you told her you didn't want it to happen, she would drop everything."
Ari gave Kei a knowing look and tossed her pen aside, done for the day. They both knew that Nyala would rather die then let the war continue. In her friends mind, the war was the start of some unknown misery that Ari apparently had, and Nyala was determined to eradicate it. Ari took a deep breath and leaned forward, her face in her hands before she stood. Kei sighed, shaking her head slightly, as if she had some hidden knowledge that no one else did. Ari accepted that.
They left her study to find the couple that had been the center of everyone's topic for the last two and half days, and she wasn't surprised to find them on the training field, going at each other carefully. Zolan had asked Nyala to teach him, and she had agreed with a curious smile. Ari found it amusing to watch if only because Zolan was a quick learner and had found Nyala's weak points after the third match. He had been using them to his advantage ever since.
"Lady Ari, Lady Kei! Zolan and his head guard are sparing! It's amazing!"
Ellie squealed, looking like she had been in search of them, and Ari's curiosity was piqued. Ellie rarely showed admiration for anyone that wasn't part of the royal guard, and Kei seemed to be laughing at everyone even more. When they reached the covered walkway that surrounded the training yard, Ari was able to appreciate why Ellie had been so excited.
The head guard -General Keita was his name, though she didn't know if Keita was his surname or not- moved with grace and contained power. The way he handled the wooden broad sword was drool worthy, and his foot work was almost superb. If she were to ever find a man that she could truly respect in battle, she had no doubt that General Keita, arrogant and prejudice as he was notwithstanding, was that man.
"He certainly is a fine example for a man. What do you think Ari?"
Ari hoped that no one had noticed her pointed ogling -her mother would have beaten her for it- and she shrugged nonchalantly.
"He's well enough. I'm just glad he's on our side . . . sort of. Taking down someone like him in battle would be difficult and such a waste."
She replied, keeping her voice and expression neutral. Kei gave her a side long look, and Ari ignored it, hoisting herself up until she sat lazily on the railing. Nyala sat across from her, watching the fighting men with amusement, and she gave a little wave when she noticed Ari, Ellie and Kei. Ellie waved back, smiling her usual smile, and Ari found that she really couldn't take her eyes off the sparing match after that.
It was clear that General Keita had trained Zolan. They fought in a way that showed that, and Ari wondered for the first time just how old the General was. She had originally pegged him as a handful of years older then she and Nyala, but maybe she had been mistaken?
Zolan slipped past General Keita's guard and clipped him on the shoulder with the handle of the sword, and in return Keita head butted him. They spent the next several moments sweeping their swords out, getting a loud clash of wood on wood,before they broke apart and struck again. The 'sparing match' only came to a stop when Nyala stepped into the ring, drawing everyone's attention. Both swords ended up swinging away from their owners, and Zolan actually stumbled a little.
"While it pains me to interrupt your play, diner will be done shortly, and we must clean up to be presentable. "
Ari almost laughed at that, and watched as people cleared away from the training court to 'clean up.' General Keita was the last one standing in the court, and most everyone had cleared out of the halls, except her and Kei. Ellie had dashed off to join Nyala. When General Keita noticed her, he and the two men that had stayed behind when the others followed after the royal couple stared back at her and Kei. It seemed to her like it was almost a staring match, and it probably would have been if it had been any other day.
"Come along Ari. You are the 'maid of honor' according the queen. You give the first toast tonight."
Ari let her eyes slid over each man slowly before she looked to Kei with a frown and a slight pout, then jumped down from the railing.
"I haven't the slightest idea why I need to be this 'maid of honor.' Why couldn't Nyala make you do it?"
She asked, huffing as Kei ushered her towards her private rooms.
"Because the brides closest friend or female relative needs to do it apparently."
Kei responded. Ari grunted and replied, suddenly nervous. Give her five seconds to come up with a motivational speech int he middle of a raging battle field, and she could have done it in two. Tell her that she had give her best wishes to her best friend the night before her wedding at one of the biggest feasts their people have ever had? She was terrified.
'I'm so going to screw this up.'
She mused unhappily. Needless to say, that battle field scenario started looking really good shortly after Kei shoved her into her room and she found out what she was suppose to be wearing.