The following is a background story for the Flight of the Armada series. There really isn’t a good place to put it in the series so far, so it’s just going to be one of those extra things, sort of like the outtakes DVD’s have added, right after “Scene Selections” and “The Making Of.” It also serves to explain how Sandan Medina got his extraordinary size and strength, and how he was able to survive the emergency flight in Book Five.
(If you didn’t follow that last line, go here: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/138335 ) There. Then read the five books before it. And now, on with the story of Balard and Sonnet:
Thuringi nobility originally received titles for military achievement during the early Rules. Later Rules also issued noble titles for outstanding work in the sciences. Somewhere during the Twentieth Rule, noble titles ceased being granted. King Farrod Phillipi de Trapis disliked the disdain nobles showed toward ordinary non-nobles, so he stopped the practice altogether during his Rule. Few titles were given in succeeding Rules.
Sandan Medina was the last Duke of Fellensk. His mother Melina Medina de Saulin was the descendant of the family of the sister to the King of the Fifteenth Rule. Balard Saulin had a passion for playing the vo and enjoyed playing it outdoors in the gazebo of his family’s back garden. When Princess Sonnet Phillipi de Hallid stopped in for a royal duty call on Balard’s vicar father during the Fourteenth Rule, she was drawn to the sweet low sound of bow drawn over string.
To Sonnet, the young man seated behind the vo was attractive and his robust and heartfelt playing style intrigued her. She invited him to play for Royal Court and returned with him to Arne, travelling in separate linspar (train) coaches as proper young men and women did in those days.
Balard played for the court and was confused to find the king and queen did not appear to be pleased despite his best effort. Afterwards he packed up his vo and was prepared to board the next linspar back to Fellensk when the princess stopped him.
“Wherever are you going?” she asked.
“Back to Fellensk, of course. I shall not stay if I am such a displeasure to my king.”
“What do you mean? Your playing was divine. The whole court was agog over it.”
“Your father and mother were not agog. I have never seen such frowning in all my life and the fact that it was royal frowns chills my heart.”
“I do not understand. Balard, please do not leave. Come with me and we shall sort this out.” She led the reluctant musician back to Grace Castle, where they found the king and queen out by the fountain in the Royal Garden. “Wait here by the gate and I shall motion for you to join me when the time is ripe,” she instructed. She hurried out to the fountain. “Father, do you have an appreciation for grand music?”
“Of course I do.”
“Then why did you frown so when Balard Saulin played? There was not a sour note in the score.”
“I know that. The lad’s skills are marvelous, but…”
“But what? Are you upset that he played during Royal Court, was that a breach of protocol? I have never heard of such.”
“No; it was a pleasant break from the grind of decision.”
“Then what is it? He awaits over by the gate, upset at the very notion that you were displeased.”
“He what?” King Theroll thundered. “Here you lad! Come at once!” Balard walked as briskly to the royal family by the fountain as carrying the heavy vo case allowed. “So you are the vo player, are you?”
“Yes, Your Majesty.”
“Frankly I am astonished that you are so brash to be here at all.”
“Father!” Sonnet was appalled. “Why, you said only moments ago that his skill at the vo is marvelous!”
“At the vo, yes,” the king snapped as his son Prince Colwin rode up on his favorite gakki. “What I do not appreciate is some young noddy who is admittedly passionate for my only daughter, showing up at my Royal Court!”
“When did I say such a thing?” Balard squawked.
“This sounds interesting,” Colwin said to no one in particular.
“Of what do you speak?” Sonnet demanded.
“I heard you say not five minutes before Royal Court began that this young man felt very passionate about you!”
“He is very passionate when he plays, Father; when he plays! I have no idea where his other passions may lie!” Sonnet said, her face turning a very delicate pink. Colwin snickered.
“I do not think it seemly to simply ask him,” the queen said, noting that the same shade of pink now flushed Balard’s face too.
“Oh, but I do!” Colwin declared. “Sir, where do your passions lie concerning my sister? Is she of interest or is she a total bore?”
“Colwin!” Sonnet squalled. “You are no help whatsoever!”
“I am from Fellensk,” Balard said in a clear unhurried voice. “It is not seemly to suggest either notion is applicable to the princess of Thuringa, especially if one has never met her before to know one way or the other.”
“I am not a bore,” Sonnet told him sternly.
One of Balard’s eyebrows rose and he pursed his lips firmly together. It was plain to the royal family that he was straining to keep from asking if he might find her interesting instead, but was too well brought up to do so. On the other hand, he might have thought that she was a resounding bore but was too well brought up to say that, either. After a moment Colwin Phillipi burst into laughter so raucous he fell off his gakki and onto the thick well-tended lawn.
“I would not be so stupid as to presume such, Princess Sonnet,” Balard replied at last. “Yet I have not the boldness to assume the other.” He took another glance at Colwin, who rolled around on the lawn chuckling all the while. “Is His Highness unwell?”
“Usually,” Sonnet said as she gave her brother a warning kick on the shoulder.
“Sonnet, do not abuse your brother. Colwin, get up! You are the Crown Prince, not a dallah performing tricks.”
“But Father! This poor fellow came to play the vo for you and very well too, I might say. He had no way of knowing that Sonnet evidently finds him quite the face! She had to figure out some way of bringing him to your attention!” Colwin shrewdly deduced.
“I truly hate you, you unredeemable snout!” Sonnet declared.
Balard dropped his vo case and hastened to pick it back up. King Therrod noticed the man seemed pleased at Colwin’s observation but flustered at the public revelation that Sonnet did not deny.
“I understand you are a doctor,” Therrod said.
“Yes, Your Majesty. I served in the military medical corps for eighty years before I transferred to civilian care.”
“Why did you not remain in the military, may I ask?”
Therrod nodded. Sendenar experienced a terrible outbreak of Lash Fever, a condition given to victims who developed large welts on their bodies as their fevers came to a peak. With constant care the fever could be controlled until the condition ran its course. Most physicians preferred to stay in the military, where glory and honor awaited. “Are you considering a return to the military?”
“Perhaps not. The military has an admirable string of worthy medicals already as do the port cities. The inland cities have less physicians and asked me to stay. Also, my family is from Fellensk and the orchestra is likely to strike me with my own bow if I should leave without finding a replacement.”
Therrod laughed. “I imagine so, with a talent like yours!”
“Oh, that is not what I meant at all! I make no boast about my playing, sire. It is my vo. It has a quality to it that is unsurpassed. We gained it from a D’tai merchant who said it was from the last of their wildwood.”
“That is what they get for the wholesale destruction of their own habitat,” Queen Nayanda said. “Wildwood made the best instruments. They domesticated the lovely hum right out of their trees.”
They spoke at length about D’tai wildwood and instruments, which gave Sonnet another opportunity to slip in another kick at her brother. Colwin got to his feet and elbowed her playfully.
“So you like this fellow, eh?” he whispered in her ear.
“Hush!” she whispered back furiously.
“Oh come now; he’s a lot more interesting than some of the frightful examples I’ve seen squiring you around lately. A man who passes up the chance to gain a title and glory in order to serve civilian patients? Sounds like a decent fellow to me.” Sonnet glanced at her brother warily, and he winked at her. “I am very picky about who gains my sister’s heart but say the word and I shall subscribe to your campaign.”
“Then start by not being so difficult!”
“I say, Father and Mother; it is close to dinner time. Why don’t we invite the good doctor to dine with us and we can all learn more about wildwood?” Colwin suggested.
“Excellent idea! Dr. Saulin, is that agreeable to you?” Therrod asked.
“Indeed it is.”
Balard was an entertaining guest full of interesting conversation and good manners. After dinner he again played the vo, and Sonnet soaked in happy admiration of him. “Must you return to Fellensk soon?” she asked. “I imagine the orchestra of Arne is no less grand than the one there.”
“It is indeed grand but there is my task to consider.”
“Oh, of course. So you chose medicine rather than the vicary?”
“No, the Academy Masters chose medicine and I am rather glad they did. I am too fainthearted to become a vicar.”
“Too fainthearted to be a vicar? How?”
“Have you ever really seen what vicars must endure? Word, I would have gladly been on the front lines of a Shargassi ground assault rather than face a nest of upset Elder women on a scolding spree.”
The laughter that sprang from Sonnet was neither forced nor planned; she was honestly delighted in the reply. Colwin glanced at his parents and nodded.
Balard returned to Fellensk but corresponded with Sonnet often. She attended the Festival games of Fellensk the next year and discovered to her dismay that other women corresponded with Balard Saulin as well. Of course he was not beholden to place his princess ahead of all else any more than she was expected to for him. It was understandable that such a pleasant fellow should have love interests from before his meeting Sonnet. Still, the princess did not like the women who commanded his attention.
They preen and coo like little rheamor except that their claws dig far deeper than our noble creatures ever tried, she wrote Colwin. I think he tolerates them, perhaps he even likes one in particular, but that will not deter me. Unless he tells me directly that someone else owns his heart, I will see about the purchase for myself.
The other woman was Layla Rebaum, a gakki trainer who also played an instrument in the Fellensk orchestra. She played a tesserad, a lively instrument with keys to press as air was brought in and out of it like a bellows. Tesserads were difficult to learn and its musicians were well respected for their mastery of their chosen instrument. Layla taught dressage to Ground Command gakkis, something not required but highly desired in the animals. Other worlds attended Command Review days expressly to see the wonderfully prancing Ground Command gakkis, and the best trainer at that time was Layla Rebaum. She was no strain on the eyes, either. Attractive, talented, smart and accomplished: Layla Rebaum’s abilities were enough to make Princess Sonnet Phillipi want to vomit.
Oh, but what can I do? I am the princess of the realm but all that really means is that I can expect him to bow to me at formal occasions. I am not a musician, at least not compared to either of them! I appreciate music but I never really studied it; I was too busy learning multiple Stellar Council languages to do much more than poke at a mellior. Why should the Stellar Council hold that sort of talent dear to heart; every Thuringi royal is supposed to learn them. It does not seem nearly as exciting or admirable as teaching a gakki to dance and trot at precise tempos. And she is so pretty! Oh Colwin, this is a most depressing situation. Balard has no need of me. He already has the Ideal Woman right here. I wish I could say she is hateful or vain or stupid as a stick but she is not.
His reply was succinct. Well, what is it you want me to do? Fall in love with her myself? I have a love interest already and there is no room or inclination for another.
She fired back You are no help!
Colwin’s answer to that made her stop to think. Stop worrying whether you can measure up to her; why compete in kind? Give him a choice. He can choose someone who is pulled in many different directions, or he can choose someone who is dedicated to serving Thuringa. It seems to me that he would have better chance of being well-loved if he is not merely another item on a long list.
Sonnet looked in her mirror. “He’s right. If Balard wishes to be simply another accomplishment and then wait for his turn to be utilized, then he deserves her!”
She went to Festival with her head high and her spirits low. She had a brief chance to smile at Balard before being whisked off to observe this contest or that Kellis match or present award after award after award. Each presentation made her feel worse. Why, there are hundreds of people more capable than I! The one thing I can do with exception is the very thing I cannot do in public. Arda power has no place on the brag.
She danced with every man present each night or so it seemed to her, except with the man with whom she most wanted to step in time. She saw him either in the orchestra or on the dance floor with a number of ladies and he made no move toward Sonnet. She was so tired by the time she returned to the inn she fell asleep as soon as she was prone on the bed.
For four days she continued the pattern of observation and duty. Every night she saw Balard dance, more often than not with the accomplished Layla Rebaum. By the fourth night she was low in spirits and the Elders worried about her health.
“Princess Sonnet, perhaps we have called upon your presence too often. You look unwell,” one Elder said.
“Indeed no, Lord Korreia. I gladly do my duty; it is only among such robust people that I appear pale in comparison.”
“Begging your pardon, Your Highness, but I took the liberty to bring in an expert in such matters.”
She glanced up and suddenly realized that Dr. Balard Saulin had been summoned and was now reaching to check her pulse. “You’ve been a very busy woman,” Balard noted. “I do not think you have missed a single event.”
“It is not the crown’s way to miss any if one can help it.”
“Ah, but perhaps you should help it from time to time. All this activity has you rather drawn out.”
“I’m sorry. I cannot be everything to everyone,” she replied, on the verge of being cross.
“No one expects you to, Your Highness. May I fetch you a drink?”
He was back in a minute with a glass of juice. Beside him was Layla Rebaum.
“Are you ill, Your Highness?” she asked.
“Not exactly.” Sonnet sipped on the juice. “It is to be expected from time to time.”
“Do you suffer from a weakness?”
“I suffer from being a royal lacking in personal accomplishment. If that is a weakness than I suppose I do.”
Balard knelt beside her chair. “We would never call Your Highness weak. Your stamina is admirable. Even now you fight to continue a perfect record.”
“Well, it is her duty, after all,” Layla pointed out.
“Not true! Even His Majesty only takes in a handful of events a day,” the concerned Elder spoke up.
Sonnet abruptly got to her feet. “I must prepare for tomorrow. I shall retire for the now –” Her vision blurred as she felt her knees giving out.
Balard caught her. “You are going to bed. Tomorrow will have to discover what you can or cannot do.” She made only a whimper of protest; she knew he was right. “I’ll just place her on her bed and cover her with a comfort spread,” he explained to the Elder.
“Do you need help?” Layla offered.
“I think not.” He carried the princess away, explaining to people from time to time that she was worn out from duty and sorely needed rest. She heard well-wishes as if in a fog.
“I’m not weak,” she moaned.
“Of course you aren’t,” he told her.
“I simply can’t do anything.”
He chuckled. “Right now; no.” The inn owner opened the door for Balard and went to get another comfort spread in case she needed it. Balard gently laid her on the bed. “My poor hardworking princess! Rest now little one.” He patted her hand. “Ah! I knew I should have tried to ask you to dance days ago, but I didn’t know you would wear yourself out so thoroughly.” She squeaked in protest, unable to reply. He kissed her forehead.
“Here now! If anyone needs one of those it would be me,” Layla joked.
“You have had plenty in your time. Since you are here, slip her shoes off. I would rather not do it myself.”
“Nonsense! You are a professional medical.”
“I am a man. It is unseemly to be so close to her toes even with a medical degree.”
“Why not? You’ve seen toes before.”
“None that interest me.”
Her voice took on a sharper edge. “Not even mine?” When he did not reply, she snorted in disbelief. “Oh, so the allure of the crown extends to her toes does it?”
“Stop behaving so ill-tempered, Layla.”
“I thought I had the right to behave –”
“Oh, very well! I’ll remove the damn things myself.” He quickly slid Sonnet’s slippers off and let them drop to the floor. “And just so you will be clear on the matter, you have no more right to behave that way than anyone else. I happen to admire her and the crown has nothing to do with it. In fact, it is the only thing I do not take into consideration.”
“You are a scoundrel!” Layla said with a stamp of her foot before she stormed out.
“I do not care,” he called after her. “Oh,” he said in a quieter tone of voice, “that was too loud next to slumber.”
“I’m not asleep,” Sonnet mumbled.
He smiled. The innkeeper and her Naradi brought in a comfort spread and they placed it on top of the tired woman.
“See to it that she is not disturbed for the rest of the night, will you?” Balard quietly asked the Naradi, who nodded. “Does she always work so hard?”
“Yes,” the Naradi whispered. “They all do, you know. She’s just more stubborn than most.”
“Am not,” Sonnet grunted.
“Ssh you,” Balard cautioned as he brushed a stray lock from her face. “And you must sleep in as long as your body requests, even if there are twenty bindas under your window crowing their accomplishments.”
To Balard’s dismay Sonnet was up the next morning well before the first event was scheduled. He knew this because he slept on the couch in the front parlor of the inn and the Naradi awoke him. “What did I tell you? She is up and moving about in her room readying for the day. I said she was stubborn.”
Balard went to her room and knocked on the door. “I told you to sleep in.”
“There were twenty-one bindas.” For a moment he did not understand but when he did, he laughed aloud. She emerged from the room looking as fresh as a garden flower. “I promise I will not push myself so hard, but I really do like to see what people can achieve. If it makes you feel any better, you can join me and scold whenever you think I need it.”
“It wouldn’t make me feel better exactly but in case it does, I shall when necessary.”
She was curious to know more details about his surprisingly unstable relationship with Layla but did not ask. If he wanted her to know he would tell her, and he already knew she heard what was said.
The morning events were good, but toward the early afternoon her strength waned. “Her Highness has tried to keep pace with the entire Festival but is wearing herself out,” her Naradi told the crowd. He won a sharp look from her but he ignored it. “His Majesty feels you would understand if the princess withdrew from a few events of the day.” The crowd applauded and several voices called out encouragement.
“We quite understand!”
“You are admirable, Princess Sonnet!”
“Rest up for the dance tonight!”
She waved in gracious acquiescence and followed her Naradi back to the Inn. “You are a glorious stiff-necked tyrant,” she told him.
“Garins always are. And His Majesty gave me firm instructions to inform him of any unusual events so do not try to fly insubordination in my face.”
“You mean you actually told Father on me? Oh glory.”
“Uff! Who is the stiff neck here? Of course I told him. You appeared in good order until last night when you suddenly turned absolutely ghastly within minutes. Do not try to tell me you did not feel ill because you certainly looked it.”
“Oh, very well but it was not until I sat down that my body committed mutiny. I honestly thought I was doing well but I fooled even me.”
“All right then. Ah, Dr. Saulin!”
“Good afternoon, Captain Garin. Your Highness, I am trying my best not to claim I warned you but there it is: I warned you.”
“So you did. You have won this spare.” She went straight to bed and slept for a few hours. When she awoke she felt good. She dressed in her prettiest dress and walked out into the hallway. Captain Garin was apparently on break so she cheerfully headed for the lobby. At the top of the stairwell she stopped at the sound of angry hushed voices from below.
“… you been here all afternoon! Does she need two guards to watch her sleep now?”
“I’ve been talking to Captain Garin. Is it necessary for me to clear my schedule with you?” The second voice was Balard’s but the first voice was not Layla’s. Whoever it was continued.
“You will think ‘clear my schedule’ when Layla catches up to you! I’m not nearly as mad at you as she is!”
“I do not care either way,” Balard said evenly. “You are both simply jealous because she is selfless and pretty.”
“And a princess!”
“One cannot help to whom one is born. According to Captain Garin, it is a terrible responsibility to be a royal.”
“Well, it is also a terrible responsibility to be practically devoted to one woman while having an eye on another!”
“I am not devoted to anyone, and I will thank you to mind your own business. That is your responsibility, Cara.”
Sonnet heard a door open and Captain Garin say, “Oh! I thought you were upstairs! Who is with the princess?”
“She was still asleep when Lady Cara asked to speak to me,” Balard said. “We took the conversation to the stairs so as not to disturb her.”
Sonnet fled for her room, where she checked the mirror and tried to calm her racing pulse. So much information to process; so much good news to consider! When she finally heard footsteps in the hall stop outside her door, she opened it and could not withhold a smile. Balard and Captain Garin bowed to her.
“You look better rested than ever,” Balard noted. “Are you ready for dinner?”
“I certainly am! I could eat a tree and not even pause at the twigs.”
It was the final night of Festival dance and Sonnet danced with many men, but Balard danced with her the most. Finally Captain Garin stepped in to dance toward the last of the evening.
“This has been a good Festival for you, hasn’t it?” he asked. “Despite the illness?”
“Yes, it has.”
“Good. I told your father only minutes ago that you were much better and he was very relieved to hear it. He said he was very proud of you and that he could have not have done it any better.”
“Is he back from Thelan, then?”
“Yes, he came in this afternoon. He asked how you like Fellensk.”
“I love it. Don’t tell anyone but I think it is even prettier than Arne.”
“I don’t dare tell a soul! Arne would be most displeased.” He smiled. “Or is it that Fellensk has something or someone that Arne does not?”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
“I think you do. I did not think it would take you this long to connect with Dr. Saulin despite his attempts all week long to do so.”
“It seemed every time he attempted to come your way, one of the townswomen steered him in another direction. Ah, to be a most petitioned man! It must be dreadful.”
“Perhaps not. He looked happy enough in their midst.”
He waited until they danced past a group of people before replying. “The Saulins and particularly those of his clan are known for their grace under pressure. Of course he would do nothing as painful as making a public scene but he was quite upset by the distance between the two of you.”
“How could you tell all that if he is so skillful at masking his feelings?”
“We spoke at length today while you slept.”
“And what do you think of him, Captain Garin?”
Bard Garin favored his princess with a brilliant smile. “I credit you with the good sense and taste to encourage him at every turn, Your Highness.”
“Then perhaps I should be dancing with him and not my matchmaking Garin guard.”
“Ha! Well met.” He maneuvered her over to the doctor. “Would you look to the lady? Now that she has adequate rest she is wearing me to a nub.”
Balard bowed. “I would be honored.”
Balard Saulin and Sonnet Phillipi enjoyed a very proper courtship followed by the requisite two-year devotional period. They enjoyed the opportunities to get to know each other; he especially needed the time when he learned what her Arda power was. It was during a camping trip to the mountains with Prince Colwin and his friends from the Air Command. A rainstorm came up before they could gather wood for a fire. Balard was mystified that Colwin and Sonnet did not appear concerned that the wood was soaked and therefore unburnable.
As Colwin and the warriors finished setting up the tents, Sonnet winked at Balard and whispered, “Now you will see something.” She snapped her fingers and the wet wood roared into a blaze.
“Word!” he exclaimed. “What manner of action is this?”
“This is Arda power, or at least what I can achieve with it.”
He gazed thoughtfully at the fire. “So that is how you did it.”
“What is that?”
“Lit my heart aflame,” he replied, and kissed her.
When they were married, King Therrod proclaimed that henceforth Balard and Sonnet would be known as the Duke and Duchess of Fellensk, and each eldest child would bear the title appropriately. This was known as a Gentry Noble. It was purely an honor and did not credit them with extra land or other amenities save a gracious building in Fellensk. Marzidae served as home for each successive generation until a personal home was built. Six Saulin dukes or duchesses lived there; the rest desired their own homes as was the case of Melina Medina de Saulin. Sandan’s lovely hereditary home was shattered and burned to the ground one Thuringi year to the day after the first Shargassi attack occurred. At the time he planned to rebuild it in all its glory, but as hope for peace dwindled and survival was even in question, he gave up on his plans. He would make a new home on Farcourt, he decided. Perhaps he was the last Duke of Fellensk and would be without Gentry Title, but that did not matter. To him it would privately be Marzidae, Reborn.