Editor's note: We continue the tall tail of OFG and the Adventures in the Good Land. New readers may begin this part of the story here with The Mark of the Warrior. And next here, A War on Two Fronts. The backstory begins here, then Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.
“You mean to tell me that Commander Zander is in love?”
“Yes.” The troubadour Little Mo nervously stood in front of OFG. He was her constant companion in the Great Hall. Little Mo was rarely out of her reach. He was no fool but he always told her the truth. He had to be the one to tell her. So he did.
With wide set eyes, and his pupils nearly always dilated, Little Mo always had the look of one who had just been surprised. His small mouth had the ends upturned so as to appear he was always smiling. But he had such a sadness about him. His face was one of contradiction.
He was watching her face closely. He understood her light and shade. He read her emotions as they crossed her face, first shock, then anger, then a sort of acceptance. Then....there. He was waiting for this. Little Mo smiled quietly to himself.
“A good love match would mean a marriage....” She said thinking aloud, “...and then there would be puppies.”
It was a fact that OFG loved all small creatures and she especially loved the babes. She adored her time with both Princess Kai and the young Zander when they were small. She doted on them constantly and insisted on caring for them herself. She would shrug off her battle gear at the entrance of the Great Hall and immediately take up little Zander, swaddling him close. And she always had with her a sippy cup of broth for him. She'd carry on her duties of ruling the realm with Zander in her arms. She governed at a slower and much softer pace. And always with the pup snuggled close to her heart.
Some who were not familiar with this side of her snickered behind their hands... and the courtiers could be catty about this unexpected softness. But none of her own questioned her directly. She normally had a hard look in her eye so all of her subjects enjoyed seeing OFG's more gentle side. They did not doubt her ability to lead, even if she was speaking babytalk to a snuffing, wiggling pup.
There was once a visiting rouge who was not well known to the court. He had thought to tease OFG about being so tender, so doting. She had been exhausted from being awake for the second night in a row with the fussy, teething young Zander. Hoping to sooth the pup she was walking the Great Hall late one night, cooing to him while the rest of the court slept. She worried because the pup had a fever.
“What's this? The great warrior now playing nursemaid? You must be loosing your touch, going soft, eh?” The scoundrel said mocking her.
“I would not say such things if I were you.” She replied in the same sing-song voice that she had used to coo to the pup.
“Why not?” The stranger laughed, sneering, “What are you going to do? Slay me with your sippy cup?”
“No.” She said raising her eyes to look at this insulting cur for the first time. She adjusted the sleeping Zander on her shoulder.
“I'll use my sword.”
In a flash it was over. The rouge's face still held a surprised look when his head hit the floor, now separated from his body. As she walked away she motioned for a page to clean up the mess lest dear little Zander have to see such a gruesome sight when he awakened. From then on everyone knew that under the mantle of her mother's love OFG still wore her warrior's fierceness. Its one of the reasons they were all so devoted to her. They all knew she would protect them with the same ferocity.
Little Mo saw that his liege was lost in her thoughts of little ones.. “Sir?” He asked.
“Hum?” She answered a bit dreamily.
“Your orders?” He motioned to the scroll he was holding. “Do you want to see what Commander Zander asked me to write?”
“Yes....yes, thank you.” She took the scroll and began skipping thru the lines... “every beat of my heart”..... “forever be mine”.... “until we meet”... It certainly looked like a love song.
“But who is this for? Little Mo, did Zander tell you who this love song was for when he asked you to write it?” She asked, half distracted as she tried to think who the young Zander could be so smitten with. No one in her realm came to mind.
“No. Only that she was far away and that he'd only seen an image of her. I don't even have her name, my liege.”
This was a riddle. Certainly OFG had noticed that Zander was a bit preoccupied but nothing else seemed out of the ordinary. She had been so busy managing The Good Land and with the drought she scarcely had time to think about anything else.
“Kai! Kai, come in here please.” OFG called knowing the Princess was nearby.
Kai trotted in, her eyes shining as bright as her tiara. She was carrying a large leg bone and picking off the last of the roasted meat.
“Hunting again, dear?” Asked OFG proudly, already knowing that Kai had brought down a deer who had been making trouble. Kai nodded her head and continued to gnaw on the bone.
“What's this about your brother and some sweetheart?” Asked OFG lightly wondering just how much Kai knew.
“Oh that.” Answered Kai rolling her eyes. “He's been mooning all around about some trollop. Its getting to be so tiresome.”
Kai looked up at OFG and made a face, “Oooooohh I just looooooooove her!” She mocked a bad impression of her brother. Then laughed at herself and shaking her head. “Just tiresome.”
She went back to gnawing at the bone. “I hope he gets over it soon. I don't know how much more I can take.” The Princess said between bites.
“Who is it, Kai? Who is this young lass who has his heart?” OFG was already dreaming of the wedding, the celebration, the nursery, and the new puppies...so many puppies.... OFG only ever wanted puppies all of the time.
“I dunno...” Replied Kai absently, still chewing on the bone.... “Cow Belle, Clara Belle.. something that reminds me of cows. Some girl from the country.”
“You mean Clara Malleus Racoonorum!” OFG jumped up from her chair. “You can't mean Clara from Bourbon of the Red's household?” This was entirely unexpected and OFG was clearly shocked and befuddled. How could this be?
“Yep, that's the one. Clara. She likes cows. Wait! Her name is Clara CoonHammer? Ha! CoonHammer my eye... more like RaccoonSnuggler or something.” Kai harrumphed.
“Oh for heaven's sakes.” OFG sat down hard. This was most unexpected. If there were an enemy to slay or a battle to fight she'd know exactly what to do. But this... this.. OFG was not well suited for this kind of thing at all.
“I don't know what he sees in her. She has bad markings and a pointed face....” Kai was now whining and pouting a bit. She didn't want her brother to be taken with some cow dog.
“Now, Kai. Be kind. And ...she...if Zander marries her then she could be your sister on day.” Said OFG still looking confused and wondering just what to do about all of this.
“Sister!” Kai dropped the bone and leapt up and began pacing. “Oh no. I don't need a sister! And definitely not that girl. She probably doesn't even hunt! She probably hasn't even killed anything! She is not going to be my sister.” Kai got that stubborn look in her eye that got under OFG's skin.
OFG tried to reason, “Why not have a sister? You could teach her to hunt. She has a noble name. Perhaps she will be a good hunter. She could come and live here – we could all be together. It would be wonderful. And besides... if there was a marriage there would be... puppies.”
Kai's mouth dropped open. Her mother had lost her senses. Entirely. A sister? Who wanted a sister? Kai had her brother, Zander, and that's all she needed. And who wanted a litter of squirming brats? Kai immediately shook off the ridiculous notion.
“Oh no.” Said OFG quickly as she remembered something.
Kai looked up, they caught each other's eye, and then Kai finished OFG's thought, “Colonel Ti.”
OFG looked flustered and put her face in her hands. Kai started giggling. Col Ti would not approve of this match at all. He and Bourbon of the Red still had unfinished business...they hated each other and this would just make things worse. Her most trusted military adviser and closest ally had a longstanding feud. Managing the two of them when they rarely saw each other was difficult enough. But for her young Prince Zander to wife one of Bourbon's household? Nothing good could come from that.
Quickly OFG took up pen and scroll and hurriedly scratched out some lines. “Bourbon should at least hear this news directly from me. Kai.” OFG handed the scroll to the Princess. “Now. Take some men and ride tonight for the North. Make all haste and return with his answer immediately.”
“By your leave, Mother.” Kai was already on her feet, she tossed her head as she turned to go, and carelessly called over her shoulder, “I'll be back before evening on the third day...... Grandmama!” And she was gone. But OFG could still hear her laughing as she raced off.
“For heaven's sakes.” Said OFG looking at Little Mo. “For heaven's sakes.”
Little Mo just looked down at the floor. He did not like conflict. This would not go well. Not well at all. The sadness crept back over his face.
OFG had done her best to keep busy and away from Colonel Ti's questioning gaze. They had known each other for too long and she could not keep secrets from him. He would know something was afoot. So OFG had sent Col Ti on a dozen small errands while she kept careful watch to see if Kai had returned with Bourbon of the Red's response.
A marriage between their houses would be most beneficial...it would strengthen their alliance and ensure a lasting peace. None of their enemies would dare rise against them – their joined lands would stretch across most of the known world.
But on the other hand. Bourbon of the Red may not want one of his own to be tied with Zander's fate. A warrior's life was never easy. A chosen one such as Zander would require a strong mate, one who would endure much, sacrifice everything, and would have no guarantee of a normal life of hearth and home.
Finally late in the evening of the third day OFG was in her inner chambers reciting evening prayers with one of the friars, a young cockerel named Ignatius.
Suddenly, her door burst open and in strode young Kai. Still a bit breathless from her journey home, her eyes were laughing and she was grinning wide – as someone who already knew how a joke would end. She sat back on her heels and smiled wide, holding out a scroll to OFG with Bourbon's seal.
“His answer?” Asked OFG, rushing to take it from Kai and quickly opening it.
OFG read quickly, “Oh no.” She read it again, and looked up at Kai who was still grinning. “Oh no. But....Oh no.”
Kai covered her mouth but she was giggling and finally broke.
“So it seems that Bourbon has other plans for Miss Clara Cow Belle.” Said Kai enjoying this news just a little too much. Kai smirked as if she won some secret game.
Behind them Little Mo ushered the protesting Ignatius out of the room and closed the door. “What is it, Sir?” He asked OFG eager to know the news.
“It seems that Clara is destined for the convent.”
Kai could not contain herself anymore and burst out laughing. “And that is the end of that! No country cow girl for my dear brother. Whew! He can do much better than that anyway. I have in mind for him this young warrior I know....”
Just then Col Ti stormed into the room, saluted, and demanded “What's all this I hear about Bourbon of the Red and some strumpet of his coming to this Good Land? You're not going to allow this are you?”
OFG opened her mouth to answer when next the young Prince Zander barged into the room knocking some of Col Ti's men at arms aside and rushing to his mother. “What's this about a sister?” He asked excitedly. “Will I really have a new sister?”
OFG stood, her mouth still opened, trying to find the words. She exhaled loudly and turned to Little Mo. Little Mo just shrugged and looked at her with his wide eyes.
The room was silent as they all waited for her to say something. Finally all she could do was shrug ineffectually and drop her arms uselessly at her sides and say, “For heaven's sakes.”
OFG turned from them and just shook her head. The room erupted with the rest of them shouting over one another to each make their case. “No good could come from this at all,” she thought.
Little Mo made his way over to her and sat at her feet looking surprised and a little sad.