Great section, as usual. You have a way of keeping everything in just the right proportions: dialogue, descpritions, action... it's simply very well balanced. Not much to comment on this section save for the fact that I thing Rhia managed to surprise them with little effort. These are two experienced fighters, I'd expect maybe Sommir to be harder to trick and even when disarmed, I'm sure they have an ace or two up their sleeves to pose a threat to Rhia. Does that make sense? Otherwise, brilliant!
“Your hands, Lieutenant. Keep them where I can see them” Her eyes were hard, her hand steady.
“Is she doing what I think she’s doing?” Sommir said, voice muffled.
“Shut up.” Makki said.
“Shut up,” said the Princess at the same time. Makki’s head spun. He knew something was happening, but his mind seemed unable to put meaning behind what his eyes saw. But he knew when someone intended to use a blade. “I think this might be a good opportunity for you to answer some questions I have, don’t you lieutenant?”
“Very clever, Your Highness.” He said, raising his hands, wishing he had something metal in one of them; he really ought to start wearing rings. What am I thinking? That’s Princess Rhiharu! I can’t strike her down! “We are unarmed and Meluphotia can’t change form in such a small room.”
“You seem to have a habit of underestimating me. It may yet prove fatal, Makki.”
“From now on then, Princess,” Sommir said. “When we’re all together, you can undress first.” For a wonder, Rhiharu smirked. While he wasn’t looking had someone replaced the Princess with some doppelganger?
“Does he always talk so much?” She asked him.
“Only when he’s not eating.” Makki said.
“Or kissing a beautiful woman.” Sommir added.
“He talks while he kisses the ugly ones.” Makki said. The banter was instinctive, adding to the unreality of it all, as was his assessment of the situation. The window at the rear of the room was too far away, and certainly too small to dive through. The nearest metal was Sommir’s armour, but sewn into the leather it was all but useless as a weapon. He could slap the blade away left handed, roll right, but she had already shown how fleet of foot she could… (Hmm while the Princess is definitely a clever one, I’d say she cornered two experienced fighters way too easily)
“We’ll start with something easy. Who sent you?” Makki frowned, confused, before he realised that not once had he mentioned his orders. The tension in him evaporated, like someone had cut a set of ropes banded across his chest. It all made sense now.
“Of course! My apologies Your Highness for not saying sooner. We were sent by the King to protect and support you.” He said. Rhiharu’s blade didn’t waver.
“Protect and support?” She said. There was something in her tone Makki didn’t like.
“Protect foremost. When His Highness found you had ‘absconded’ yesterday morning he surmised you had undertaken some final act on behalf of Kavernath.”
“And you found me, how?”
“His Highness told us of the hidden passage by the Eastern Bridge on Brightwater Keep. He said it would be the most likely escape route. As for spotting you – Dragon Riders are used as scouts for a reason.” Even as the words came out, each one a piece of truth, he tasted their inadequacy. Makki tried to put himself in her place, fleeing and scared, and realised that he hadn’t said anything meaningful.
“You have a letter? Signed documents? Surely my Father would have given yousomething.” Makki’s looked at the floor.
“He had a lot on his plate at the time.”
“Do – you – have – any – proof?” Why didn’t he think of that? A seal, a stamp, a scribbled note. Blessed Hand, even a lock of hair would have been something. Makki chewed up some excuses and swallowed them.
“Nothing but my word, Your Highness.” He said.
“Your word? Well, now I’m convinced.” She said. “How did you escape? Brightwater Keep would have had five armies besieging it at the time, not easy to escape, let alone unnoticed. Especially on a Dragon.” She was mocking him, he was sure, but she had that right. It was true; other than a badge of rank and a Kavernathi accent he had nothing to identify himself.
“When the Mathir breached the dock doors, your Father fortified the Eastern wall. He held it until the Mathir were inside so Melu could fly out unchallenged.” He said. Never before had the truth felt so hollow, and the truth was his only defence.
“Who was your Superior, Lieutenant?”
“And the Dragon Rider Captain?”
“Mare Konree. Look, your Highness, I can…” Makki said, but the Princess rode over his protest.
“I’m sure you can. Now Sommir, your role in this would be what exac…”
“Your Highness!” He said, loud and forceful.
Rhiharu swung her attention back to him, eyes fiery and as sharp as the blade in her hand. Makki realised he had no defences at all. “Your Highness, I’m afraid we won’t be able to give you the proof you need. For anything we say there will be a reason for doubt. We might be able to name the entire staff at your palace in Kaver, but that does not mean we couldn’t have found out by some means other than in service to Kavernath. For you to believe us takes two elements. We can supply information and truth, but you, Princess, have to believe we could be truthful.” Slowly Makki sat down, keeping his hands in sight, palm upturned on his knees.
“I see, I think.” Rhiharu said. (Well, they already fought side-by-side once and saved each others’ lives. Doesn’t that earn them some trust from her?)
“Not entirely, I fear.” Makki said. “You Father’s last orders were to protect you. All I have left of Kavernath now are those few words. Without them I’m…we're…just more refugees. You will do what you must, Princess, but you must know we will too. If you believe us, then all is well. If not and you choose to send us away, we will still follow at a distance honouring both your wishes and those of your Father. The third way...well…I don’t think it needs to be said.” Makki stared at his hands. He felt oddly lighter, as though proving his honesty was heavier than his life. But his heart raced, hammering at his ribs. He stared at his hands, the white rings of calloused flesh, the rough skin inside coarse from nearly ten years of clinging to a Dragon.
The room was silent but for the soft breath of Melu on the bed and muted voices, caught in conversation, floating up from the common room below. Then after a pause, Rhiharu took two steps. The glimmering tip of her sword pricked the front of his tunic; dimpled his flesh beneath.
“Place both hands on the blade, Lieutenant.” Makki stared at the beautiful craftsmanship. Folded steel drawn out into a smooth edge, ever so slightly curved. She couldn’t. He was an honest servant of a Kingdom still alive in maps and memories. Her Kingdom. But a servant he was and he raised his hands, clasping the sword between as though in prayer.