“Just about.” Ayalah pulled on the Naralian-style dress shirt and slacks Rin had given her for the occasion and strapped her sword belt to her waist. She walked to the door and opened it. “Ready.”
Greyson nodded. “Good. Monty should be here any moment.”
Greyson, too, was wearing Naralian-style formal clothing; Rin had gifted it to him as a thank-you for the beautiful armor he’d been working on for her. The Naralian outfit was tighter fitting than his usual clothes and much cleaner. He was freshly bathed and scrubbed for the occasion, too. “You look nice,” Ayalah observed.
He flushed. “Thanks. You look—”
The sound of the innkeeper hailing Monty’s carriage cut him off.
“Well,” he shrugged. “Better not keep him waiting.”
She nodded. Monty had insisted on picking them up and wouldn’t listen to any arguments, despite how ostentatious a horse and carriage was in their part of the city. He had declared that it was a momentous, special occasion and must be marked with the right amount of pomp and ceremony—so they squeezed into his carriage, the wheels clattering on the uneven road and Monty chattering nonstop as they approached the palace.
When Rin had discovered that Ayalah and Greyson were not officially citizens of Naraloth, she had insisted that some rules be bent and that the previous restrictions against them be waived. Red, the guard shadowing Greyson, had been moved back to his post on the city wall, and Ayalah and Greyson had begun hurried preparations for their citizenship ceremony. Most of the challenge had been finding someone of high enough ranking to vouch for Greyson, but Monty had generously volunteered and then prepared the two of them for the ceremony.
The ceremony was all for show, Monty had explained. The true granting of citizenship required a simple certificate and a few signatures and oaths, but because Ayalah had conveyed insider’s knowledge of Miltinoth (and because, Princess Rinnah admitted, she had personally insisted), Their Highnesses wanted to give her a special ceremony to mark the importance of her transition to Naraloth. They also—and this was the part that made Ayalah bite her nails in anticipation—wanted to make her a warrior of their city. The day was thus devoted to the ceremony, and the night to a party thrown in her honor. She wondered if, like Prince Roran, she could skip the party. But then, it might be worth it to hear herself addressed as Warrior Tarall by all in attendance.
They entered the palace amid much fanfare. Lines of warriors flanked the Great Hall, and a dais had been raised in the center of the room for their use. She and Greyson mounted the dais and bowed to the king, who was seated on his throne at the front of the room.
A man with a booming voice began: “Presenting Lady Ayalah Tarall and Smithy Retnik Greyson for Your Majesty’s consideration of citizenship.”
The king nodded and moved his lips. Prince Komma, who stood next to his father, leaned over to listen. “He requests that you proceed,” Prince Komma said.
“Lady Tarall and Smithy Greyson have been living in Naraloth for the past several months, Your Majesty, and they have proven…”
Ayalah tuned out the announcer and looked around the room. The princes and princess were arrayed around the royal throne, looking regal and serious in their formal robes. The king looked feeble and shaky, barely able to sit up straight on his own; Ayalah understood immediately why she’d never seen him before. He was thin and sickly looking, though his broad shoulders intimated the great presence he must have had as a younger man—the kind his firstborn had inherited. Prince Komma wasn’t tall, but anytime he stood up straight and began to speak, everyone stopped to listen. It was clear that, standing beside his father’s shrunken form, he was the one truly in charge. He nodded periodically and appeared to be listening intently to the list of reasons the announcer was giving for why Ayalah and Greyson were worthy of consideration. Yet despite all that, he caught Ayalah studying him and gave her a brief smile, one with genuine warmth.
She looked around next at the warriors lining the room. They looked as uninterested as she was in such formal proceedings, with their eyes glazed over: she would fit in perfectly. She liked their uniforms, different though they were from what she was used to. Red’s uniform had been worn and faded, but the warriors in attendance at the palace all wore crisp, clean uniforms. While the warriors of Miltinoth wore black leather pants and a black leather tunic with red stripes down the legs and arms, the warriors here wore plain, brown leather pants and a fitted white linen shirt. Over the linen they wore a sleeveless brown leather vest, and each forearm was equipped with a leather gauntlet for protection. Their uniforms, Ayalah was pleased to see, looked much more comfortable than her Miltinian one.
The two commanding warriors, at the front of each line, closest to the king, wore the same uniforms as their fellow warriors, but theirs had a few flourishes the others lacked. For one thing, their boots were tipped with steel: shiny, deadly weapons useful in close combat. For another, they wore bits and pieces of plate armor, the kind Greyson was using to make Princess Rinnah’s full suit of armor. These warriors were probably the ones to charge into battle first, Ayalah reasoned, so it probably made sense that they might need more protection than the lower ranks. Their gauntlets were made of metal rather than leather, and they had matching shoulder pads and knee braces. She was impressed; these men looked truly intimidating.
“Lady Tarall, do you agree with all that has been said?”
She looked up to find everyone watching her. If the ceremony had been progressing as Monty promised, then all she needed to do now was agree. “I do.”
“And do you, Smithy Greyson, agree with all that has been said?”
Greyson nodded. “I do.”
“Would the Lord Steedemont please step forward? Will you vouch for this smithy, for his honor and good intentions?”
Monty nodded. “Absolutely. These two are already Naralians at heart!” He gave a toothy smile.
A corner of Princess Rinnah’s mouth twitched up; Prince Komma did not look amused.
The king stood slowly, with the caution of one who has discovered that his old bones, once strong, may no longer be capable of supporting him. Prince Komma jumped forward to lend his father an arm. “Lady Tarall,” the king wheezed with obvious effort, “Smithy Greyson. We are proud to call you citizens of Naraloth.”
She and Greyson bowed their thanks, and Prince Komma lowered his father back into his chair.
“There’s one more thing,” Prince Komma said.
Rin stepped forward. “A surprise for you, Lady Tarall.” She smiled and beckoned forward a servant, who carried a bundle awkwardly in his arms. “Or should I say Commander Tarall?”
Ayalah stared. It was true: the servant carried not only the standard Naralian warrior’s uniform, but also the plate armor that signified the commanding warriors. She wasn’t sure what to say. King Mathais, after years of her hard work and proving her worth many times over, had never deigned to grant her this honor. Yet the rulers of Naraloth, after such a short time, had already recognized her potential.
She bowed deeply. “Thank you, Your Majesty. Thank you, Your Highnesses. I will do all that I can to prove that you have not bestowed this honor in vain.”