Sir Elizabeth is the only female knight in the kingdom, and she's had to fight for the right to participate in the competition to win the princess's hand, alongside the other knights. The problem is that Princess Cordelia isn't interested in being "won" by anyone. The scene below comes from their first conversation, after Sir Elizabeth nearly defeated the dragon and "won" the princess—only to be sabotaged by Cordelia.
"Princess. Do I have permission to approach? Another knight is coming. We don't have a lot of time."
"Another knight?" Cordelia's dark skin turned ashy. She leaned out the window and glanced toward the road. The dust cloud had gotten closer. She looked down at the dragon, and then shifted her attention to Beth. "Yes," she said. "Please come up to the windowsill."
If Beth had been less exhausted, she would have taken comfort in discovering that at least Cordelia wasn't cheering for the new arrival. However, the only relief she could feel at this point was in her shoulders, when she finally freed them of the weight of her entire body and suit of armor.
She found a relatively stable position in the window and let her arms fall bonelessly to her sides. It didn't feel as if she could lift them so much as an inch, not even if her life depended on it. That made this conversation all the more important.
"You don't want me to defeat the dragon," Beth said bluntly. The other knight's imminent arrival gave her little time to mince words.
Cordelia had the grace to blush. "You would have," she offered.
Beth returned a weary gaze. "Yes."
"I'm sorry." Cordelia sounded genuine. Now that Beth sat close to her, she couldn't help imagining what it would be like for them to live as spouses. Beth could envision them dividing the labors of ruling, but she wasn't sure what it would be like to share a bed with the woman in front of her. Would she be expected to, given that the traditional means of producing an heir wouldn't be available to her? On the other hand, maybe it would be seen as weakness or a sign of division if she never visited Cordelia's room at night.
She looked at Cordelia's face and imagined herself caressing it. When Lady Jeanne had gotten married, some people had talked about it being unnatural for two women to be together that way. Beth had used Lady Jeanne to make a point with the guard, but she hadn't spent much time picturing the realities. Beth had kissed and been kissed a few times in her life, with and without passion. She wondered how it would feel with Cordelia, wondered if the contact would strike the spark in her body that would fuel her for deeper, more intimate exploration.
She was getting way ahead of herself.
Beth took a deep breath. "Is it personal?" she asked.
"What do you mean?"
"Is it because you don't want to marry a woman? Or you're in love with someone else? Or you think my nose looks weird?"
Cordelia gave Beth an odd, unreadable look. "Is it personal for you?" she asked, her tone sharper than anything she'd used so far.
Beth swallowed. She didn't love Cordelia, and the woman deserved better than to be lied and pretended to. At the same time, she truly was trying to remember that the princess was a person and not a prize, that a spouse was a partner and not a political convenience. "I'd hoped maybe it could be," Beth said honestly.
Cordelia's expression softened, taking on a touch of the affection she'd shown toward the dragon. "Good answer," she said. Her fingers twitched, and for a moment Beth thought Cordelia might reach out to her. Then she turned away abruptly, leaving Beth with little to interpret beyond the smooth, apparently untroubled line of her shoulders and the carefully embroidered filigree that ran down the back of her gown. "It's just what a knight ought to say when sitting on a princess's windowsill."
Surprise coursed through Beth, and the sting of accusation. "You think I'm lying?"
"I think you'd make a good politician. A good ruler. I see why my father recognized you with the title he did." Her voice took on a bitter cast. "I see why he didn't stop you from trying to win my hand."
"It isn't personal." Cordelia's body was tight and controlled, but her tone made it clear that there were thoughts and feelings she couldn't contain. "Of course, it isn't. I can't really afford personal in my position, can I? You understand the world enough to see that."
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