Malina and the Border Banners, Chapter 14 (A Story for B)

Began here.
Chapter 2 here
Chapter 3 here.
Chapter 4 here.
Chapter 5 here.
Chapter 6 here.
Chapter 7 here.
Chapter 8 here.
Chapter 9 here.
Chapter 10 here.
Chapter 11 here.
Chapter 12 here.
Chapter 13 here.

Malina paced.  “This is – this is strange,” she complained. 

The silks of her new clothing brushed across her legs with every step.  The sandals made shhussshing noises on the tile floor. 

That in itself was strange. Everything was different from her normal clothing, from her normal floors, from her normal shoes.  The carved stone screens were like nothing she had at home. The bed, even, was made differently from any bed she’d ever slept in before last night.  Everything was like living in a storybook, which – 

You were named to this position.  We have been waiting for you.

“I feel like i’m in a story,” she muttered.  “I feel like I’ve fallen into one of those books where the main character is secretly, oh, I don’t know, the daughter of a Queen – except I already am.  I’m already a Princess.  Shouldn’t this be on a pauper, on the daughter of someone who has no trade or something?”

The cat laughed at her.  It opened its mouth and it laughed.  “Stories have truth in them, but stories also have a lot of decoration. Sometimes the best person for the job is the child born into poverty. Sometimes, it’s the child taught to rule. Sometimes, neither of those things have anything at all to do with it.  Sometimes it’s more a matter of Oh, this person has exactly the magic we need.  Which, of course, you do.”

Malina did not stop pacing. “I don’t know anything like any of this. I don’t know anything about anything.”

“You know plenty about plenty,” the cat countered, “and the rest, I will teach you.  Now.  Pick up your scepter and your crown and let’s tour the buildings.  This place needs to know that you are here.  It needs to know that you’re ready to take command – and don’t say you’re not!  At the moment, it’s best to just know that you’re ready.  The actual skills can come later.  If that makes sense.”

“It doesn’t, not particularly, but I can, mm. I can make an attempt,” Malina offered. “I can pretend well enough.  That’s part of being a Princess,” she added, a joke between her father and her that didn’t seem quite so funny right now. 

“That will do.  Here.”  The cat batted at a cupboard.  “In here, in here should be your regalia.  It’s important, even if nobody sees you but the dust and the sprites.”

Malina looked at the cat. He seemed nervous.  He was pacing back and forth in front of the cupboard, looking at it and then looking back at her.  His tail was lashing.  It’s important.  

She opened the cupboard.  Inside sat a scepter and a crown and another stick-like thing – it was a sickle, she realized, but made out of gold, or at least plated in gold, its handle decorated with fine stones. The three items were displayed carefully, the scepter and the sickle crossed in the back and the crown sitting on a small platform. All three were made of gold and decorated in patterns that looked a great deal like the patterns on the carved screens.  If she shifted her vision just so, she could see a landscape in the patterns – a landscape of mostly shifting dunes, dunes that actually shifted when she put her hands on the crown. 

“This place needs to know that you’re here,” the cat repeated.  His tail was lashing so badly, she thought he might hurt himself. His nose was twitching, too.  “Because if it doesn’t…”  

“I think you need to tell me,” Malina offered, as gently as she thought reasonable. 

“If the place here doesn’t understand that you’re here, and who you are, one of three things can happen.  It might just reject you.  Send you back out into the sand, back into your own land.  It wouldn’t be awful for you; someone would find you quickly, I believe.  But it would be awful for it, for all of the border lands, and for me, for us.  It could fold itself back into the hole in time, and you and I with it.  That would be, ah.  That would be bad.  We would, if we were lucky, sleep.  If we weren’t lucky, something else might happen, and I’m not sure what.”

“You said three,” Malina prodded, when the cat seemed unlikely to say anything else. 

“Three.  Yes. Or the place could turn against us.  This place has all of its own defenses, and they are very strong.  If it turned against it, if we were lucky, we would die.”

Malina huffed. “Nice place you’ve brought me to, here.  It wants to kill me, it wants to feed me dinner, and it wants me to clean up its paperwork.”

“That is more or less the summary,” the cat agreed.  “But once you have taken claim, well, it will still want you to clean up its paperwork, but it won’t want to kill you anymore.  The crown is the first step.  Then the scepter, and then the tour.”

Malina frowned at the cat.  His tail was still lashing.  He was pacing back and forth. 

“The crown,” he prompted.  

She picked up the crown and very carefully put it on her head. A feeling like being in the middle of a windstorm rushed over her.  She closed her eyes against the sand that wasn’t coming, and the whole land spread itself out in front of her.

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