Since all decorum had been shattered with Princess Melitta's rush toward her first view of the ocean, Princess Lara decided not to have the formal banquet that had planned and instead allow herself, Melitta, and Prince Apobammos to have a smaller meal, at a private table, where they could talk without worrying about appearances.
Prince Apobammos finally learned Princess Lara's name and Princess Melitta told Lara to call her brother, "Apo," when Lara stumbled over, "Apobammos."
There was some small talk then Apobammos asked Lara, "So, how do you feel about being forced into a marriage."
Lara kept all emotion from her voice, "I always knew it was possible."
Apobammos, "As did I, but it doesn't mean either of us has to like it. I don't."
"And you expected what?" Lara asked, "To marry for love?"
Apobammos and Melitta just looked at each other.
The silence started fine, but as it dragged on it grew awkward.
Finally Melitta said, "Our parents did, so Apo and I always hoped..."
"Mine say they were married five years before they even liked each other," Lara said.
"What about now?" Apobammos asked.
"That's awfully personal," Lara said.
"You brought it up," was Melitta's reply.
"They like each other well enough, but as far as I know they haven't shared the same bed since I was born," Lara said. After a pause she added, "We're royalty. Love is not for us."
Apobammos muttered, "We didn't choose to be royalty."
"But we were rewarded for it," Lara replied sharply. "Every time I have to do something that I don't like because I'm royal I remind myself of all of the things, unearned, that have been given to me because I was born royal.
"That's the deal we all get when we're born prince or princess: instead of getting the things we earned we have to earn the things we've already gotten."
The silence was total and Lara realized she'd been far to harsh, she barely knew "Apo" and she was lecturing him. It was too easy to assume the worst of someone who said a few things she disagreed with.
So she changed the subject, "Apo, tell me about your home."
Lara realized she'd chosen the right subject when Apo's eyes lit up.
"Pagorrytos sits at the border of the eastern desert, it is said to be where our ancestors first settled. At its center is the sacred spring, it has no name. It is simply called Kranon, one of the words for spring in the ancient tongue.
"Once it was vital for our survival, now there are aqueducts and the sacred spring is left untouched except for religious rituals.
"The city becomes newer the farther one travels from the spring. Nearest the spring there are no buildings, only tents, said to be--"
"Reproductions," Melitta interjected
"Exacting reproductions of the ones our ancestors used. Now they form our main temple. They're ill suited for the job since they were designed as living quarters and such, but to step into the tent complex is like stepping into the past.
"Around those are mud brick buildings surrounded by a primitive wall.
"Then things become more advanced, as one moves closer to the edges of the city. Our greatest buildings are at the perimeter, sculpted of marble. Beyond them is the current defensive wall, which will some day be abandoned as the city expands and reformed into homes and businesses. But for now beyond it lies the border."
Apo paused and for a moment Lara thought he was done.
"The eastern desert is left as a desert, but with the help of water from elsewhere, farms have been irrigated to it's edge. Surrounding the city on the east is nothing but sand, on the west lush green farmlands."
This seemed like a ludicrously inefficient arrangement to Lara, but she admitted to herself that a sharp line between verdant fields and sandy desert would be a sight to behold.
Also a show of power. The desert and farms would constantly be at war with each other, plants from the farmland trying to expand into the desert, sands from the desert encroaching on the farms. To keep the border strictly enforced would require constant weeding and sand removal, an army of workers. To be able to expend those resources on something that didn't actually matter would impress upon anyone smart enough to understand that the Eraymobatai were a much more powerful kingdom than their name suggested.
There was a short silence and then Melitta added, "And there's a spot, maybe halfway between home and the western border, where the lavender fields go on for as far as the eye can see. Farther actually. When they bloom..." she showed no signs of finishing her sentence she just smiled and seemed lost in thought or memory.
"The beautiful thing about Pagorrytos itself," Apo said, "is the sense of history. To walk from the wall to the spring is to walk through time. To see how building styles and materials have changed in the time since the founding.
"Some say the city clashes with itself, that it's discordant, but they're wrong. The city remembers itself, and isn't afraid to be what it was and what it is at the same time."
Melitta added, "And some say that we all make deals with dark spirits and have flying carpets."
They discussed this for a bit, Lara had a flying carpet and was surprised that Melitta and Apo hadn't even known for sure they were real. None of the discussion in that direction seemed very important to Lara and she forgot most of what was soon after it had been said.
When that had run its course she tried to learn more about her future husband, "Did you enjoy our library?" she asked.
"It's wonderful," he said, his voice full of enthusiasm. "But somewhat strange to me. Your lady, I'm afraid I've forgotten her name--"
"Margarita," Lara offered.
"Margarita," Apo continued, "explained that the moist air is a danger and so most works have to be kept sealed."
"Our libraries are completely different," Apo said, "everything, parchment, tablet, hide, is placed on a shelf open to the air."
"You enjoy libraries, Apo?" Lara asked.
"Books are practically his god," Melitta said. "If he revered them any more it would be blasphemous."
"I prefer adventures," Lara said.
"I like them well enough," Apo said, "but my heart belongs to history, poetry, and philosophy."
These were at least areas that Lara could speak on, and so she did, Melitta excused herself, clearly not interested. Lara was able to find some common ground with Apo, but ultimately was unsatisfied.
The thing she agreed with him on most was not liking that circumstances would force them to marry. In her beloved adventures love and marriage went together, even if she had always known that they wouldn't in her life. Apo, Prince Apobammos of the Eraymobatai, was someone she could see herself becoming friends with, the best of friends even, but she saw no romance there. Fiction always said that was wrong kind of love for a marriage.
Reality tended to indicate it was the best she could hope for. And she'd known much worse was possible. So why was she depressed when she returned to her chambers?