The countries of Krypton and Cadmia had been in a tenuous dance between peace and war for centuries. It started when King Gregory Luthor denied the offer of betrothal to the Princess Delia El, bleeding bad will between the neighboring nations that would set precedence for the recurring disputes between trade and land that lined their shared border. Sometimes there were Kings and Queens who sent offerings of peace, hoping to stop the constant conflux of bad will between the two nations, and then their children would order a trade stop or deny soldiers in a time of aid and the line between them would fray once more.
King Zor-El had been trying to patch the line for years.
It wasn’t easy. King Lionel Luthor could be cold and calculated in his rule, and invitations to balls or gifts of Krypton’s fastest horses did nothing to soften his heart.
Eventually, the King of Krypton found his weakness.
A tournament between the two nations, calling their fiercest warriors for contests of skill and strength. Battles of archery and jousting, with food aplenty for the thousands of people in attendance. The first tournament was held in Krypton and after the first they switched the burden of hosting and travel twice a year.
Princess Kara Zor-El loved the tournaments. She could barely contain staying in her seat beside her father when the swordsmen came out to fight, her arms burning with restless energy as her muscles tensed and flexed with every hit.
“Stay still, Kara.” Her father laid a hand on her shoulder and looked at her with amusement. “You’re distracting me from the fight.” She knew he was speaking in jest by the twinkle in his eye, but she sat back farther in her seat all the same.
“I’m going to fight like that one day.” Her bright blue eyes tracked who would be the winner. She was sure of it, his movements graceful but full of force. The other man wouldn’t last more than another minute. She felt slightly disappointed at the realization, as the more skilled man wore the colors of Cadmia, but she dismissed the feeling in favor of admiring his skill.
“That’s what you keep telling me.” Her father said. “But at least not for a few more years, Princess.”
“Father,” She whined slightly. “I’m fourteen, not ten. Cousin Kal was fighting in the tournament -.”
“When he was fifteen.” Her father finished her sentence with a stern look. “It’s bad enough that I let you train with my men, Kara. Your mother would have my head if I let you enter next year.”
“I’m good enough.” She defended.
“Seventeen.” He said, giving her a look. “Please. Do it for my poor head.” He rubbed his neck. “I quite like it attached to my shoulders.”
She rolled her eyes and sighed, looking down below. “Fine. Seventeen.”
He squeezed her knee before standing up as the fight ended below. “There you have it. Another one fell by the Luthor’s blade.” He motioned to her. The guards around them moved in tandem as she stood up and walked out of the stands with her father. “Let’s go congratulate the King in his son’s victory.”
Kara followed along, looking around curiously as they moved to the opposite side of the arena. This was the second time she’d been allowed to travel with her father to Cadmia for one of the tournaments and she still wasn’t used to the different styles of clothing and types of food that were common in the nation.
They arrived before the royal family and Kara bowed along with her father. She wished she had been allowed to bring her sword so that she would have somewhere to place her hand, but settled on clasping them behind her back as she’d seen her father do so many times.
“King Lionel.” Her father nodded his head. “Congratulations on the victory. Your son fights ferociously. You should be proud.”
“That I am.” The King nodded. “Perhaps next time Krypton will bring a champion that can hope to best him.”
Zor-El laughed at the obvious dig and Kara wondered again how her father did it. He let any disrespectful comment slide off his back as if it didn’t matter. He’d told her once that the Luthor’s were like wildfire, that to get close with them you would always be burned but that they were beautiful to admire from afar. There were risks with every interaction, but it was in its nature for fire to burn you, a natural defense mechanism against enemies who had dowsed water on it in the past.
The metaphor fell apart at some point, but Kara understood the meaning behind it. The Luthor’s would always be cruel, but if you were lucky they would bring you warmth instead.
Kara took a few steps to the left and bowed to the Princess, who she had briefly seen twice before. Lena Luthor was a year younger than her, but acted as if she was already Queen. Her pale skin was like moonlight and her dark hair was pulled up in an intricate braid. At the sight of her sitting there, unaffected and boored, Kara couldn’t help but take a step closer and open her stupid mouth.
“You must be proud of your brother.” She said as she came up out of her bow.
Lena looked at her as if she didn’t know why Kara felt like she could speak to her. Kara just stared expectantly up at her in her seat until Lena let out a sigh and shrugged.
“If you can be proud of this brutish pastime, I suppose.”
“Bruttish?” Kara asked, slightly offended. “It’s an earned skill. Do you not think it honorable to fight for your country? To defend it from its enemies?”
“Do you see any enemies here?” She asked pointedly.
Kara shook her head and glanced back down at the arena, where two other men were gearing up to fight. “Either in battle or in a fair fight for fun, it is an honor to bear your country's symbols and match swords with another.”
They both turned as Lex, fresh from the fight with bright eyes and a grin, walked up to the royal box and waved away the Queen as she went over to inspect his armor.
Kara turned back to look at Lena, who was looking over at them with a slight frown.
“One day I’ll beat him .” Kara said, gaining her attention again. She felt satisfaction at the response she garnered in the other girl. Lena scoffed and raised an eyebrow at her. Kara found herself taking a step closer, enamored by the sight and the idea that she could cause this girl to feel anything, even derision.
“I highly doubt it.” Lena said.
“You’ll see.” Kara raised her chin proudly with a grin.
Lena scoffed again and looked back out at the arena. “I see the rumors were true. Kryptonians are the most humble of people.”
Kara laughed. She brushed an errant stray hair out of her face. “Why be humble when you know you are great?”
Lena looked at her again with a glare and Kara just laughed as she bowed again as her Father called out to her, looking over her shoulder as she walked away. “Until next time, Princess.”
That autumn, Krypton hosted the tournament.
Kara walked throughout the festival with her friends, eating too many honey glazed pieces of fruit with Alex and fighting James with two wooden swords she’d won in a game. Her birthday had come and gone and she was acutely aware that in two years time, she would be allowed to fight with the other knights of the land. James was already signed up for that year, and she knew he’d do well but would probably not get too far in the competition.
Just as they were headed for the stands to watch his first match, Kara caught sight of two people wearing different styles than the Kryptonian dress around them. She caught Alex’s arm and pulled her in their direction.
“Kara, what -?”
“Your Highnesses,” Kara bowed as she made it to Lex and Lena Luthor, standing up afterwards and shooting a bright smile as she caught Lena’s eye. “I’m happy to have run into you.”
“Kara Zor-El.” Lex said, bringing Kara’s gaze to him. He was older, probably nineteen or twenty, but had a friendly smile on his face. “It’s good to see you.”
“This is my sister Alex.” Kara motioned to Alex, who had bowed as well.
“Sister?” Lex cocked his head.
“Soul-sister.” Lena said.
Kara blinked over at her. Lex looked over in confusion. Alex just looked vaguely uncomfortable.
“Right?” Lena raised an eyebrow at Kara, who thought she caught the faintest bit of red in her cheeks.
Kara grinned. “Yes. Soul-sister.” She looked at Lex. “Our families are very close - Alex is of the Danver’s name - and at the time of her birth, she was named the shesur krym of my parent’s first born. My soul-guide.” She translated. “But it really just means that we are sisters in all but blood.”
“Well then, it’s wonderful to meet you as well, Alex Davners.” Lex smiled charmingly. “But I’m afraid we must be off. I have a match soon.”
Kara fell into step beside them. “We were headed to the arena as well.” She looked around Lex and caught Lena’s eye, shooting her a grin before the other girl looked away. “Expecting to take the win again, Lex?” She was young and bold enough to chance referring to him without a title. The small look he gave her, a slight twitch of the brow and a lip curving upwards, let her know that it was a bargain well made.
“Of course.” He said, setting his shoulder back with pride. “I am the best swordsman between our two nations. No one has bested me in three years.”
“Not yet.” She said, grinning slightly. “Wait another two years and I will take the title from you.”
He laughed loudly, but it didn’t stop her from hearing the scoff on his other side.
“Although, your sister has all of her faith set in you.” Kara said. She looked around him towards Lena. “I hope to one day earn some of it, but for now I’ll just have to live with the support of my country.”
Lex wrapped a casual arm around Lena’s shoulders. “It will be a hot day in Cadmia before my dear sister picks you over me.”
They parted ways near the entrance, each of them headed to opposite sides of the arena to their respective royal seats.
“We’ll see about that.” Kara called out to them. Lena turned her head and looked back over her shoulder, and Kara caught her eye. She’d never seen such a color green.
A hand shoved her shoulder back and broke her trance. “Come on, you idiot.” Alex grumbled under her breath, hoisting her up the steps. “Stop staring.”
“I wasn’t staring.” Kara defended. At Alex’s look she rolled her eyes. “So what if I was? How can you not stare at someone who looks like that?”
Alex looked at her for a moment before she shook her head and shoved her again. “Move along, Princess . We’re going to miss James’ match.
Kara saw her again at the end of the night. She was walking through the city with Alex and James and shoving them in their laughter, when she did a double take to her right.
Lena Luthor was sitting alone in the moonlight, her face half hidden by a large hood as she sat on the edge of a stone fountain, facing the water swirling below her.
“You guys go on.” Kara said softly as her feet turned.
“What?” Alex asked.
“Go.” She shoved them and walked towards Lena, hearing them shuffling and scoffing behind her before they eventually walked away. Kara knew Alex wasn’t really going, but would give her some semblance of privacy.
Kara clasped her hands behind her back as she neared and stopped a few steps away. Kara watched her for a moment before she cleared her throat.
Lena looked up, her eyes almost blue in the reflection of the water.
“Princess.” Kara nodded and bowed slightly. She looked around, seeing no guards around. “Did you get lost?”
Lena looked away from her, and trailed her fingertips in the water. “No.”
Kara nodded and took a step closer. “How’d you lose the guards?”
She saw Lena’s lips turn up slightly. “Are the guards really that much smarter in Krypton?”
Kara stepped forward and sat down an appropriate distance away. “Not when it comes to keeping track of princesses.” She said. “That’s why they stuck me with Alex. She’s smarter than them all.”
Lena raised her eyebrow. “Good thing I don’t have one of those.”
Kara hummed. “Depends on where you're standing. No matter what country you’re in, it’s not safe for young girls to be alone at night.”
“You’re not alone?” Lena asked.
Kara turned her head and squinted, pointing when she saw Alex down the corner. “Alex is over there.”
Lena turned to look. She looked back at the water and trailed her fingers through it again. “Sometimes it’s nice to be alone.”
Kara nodded. “I know what you mean.”
Lena sent her a look.
“I might not act like it, but I am a princess, you know.”
Lena let out a huff of a laugh. “You certainly act like it, don’t worry. All of the entitlement and none of the propriety.”
“I’ll take that as a compliment.”
“It wasn’t meant as one.”
Kara just shrugged and smiled at her.
Lena rolled her eyes.
Kara cleared her throat again and looked over at Alex. “Could I walk you to your quarters?”
She sighed and stood up, pulling the cloak closer. She started walking and Kara jumped up and followed, catching up and walking beside her.
They walked silently the whole way, and Kara stopped at the bottom of the steps as Lena continued up. She paused briefly at the door as if she would turn back, but Kara didn’t see anything but the back of a cloak until the door was almost shut, when she caught a glimpse of green through the slit.
That next spring saw her riding along towards Cadmia for the next tournament. Alex had been invited this time, but she had been recently promoted to be a Captain of the Royal Army and had a skirmish on their eastern border come up. Daxam was terrorizing their southern towns again and Alex had taken three hundred soldiers with her to end it.
Kara had begged to go along, but had been denied. Although her training was progressing, her Father always hesitated to let her go out on the battlefield. She would be a Queen one day and she needed to act like it, she knew, but all she wanted was to wear the same Captain’s badge that Alex now wore and defend her country with her sword.
One day, she reminded herself. Once she was allowed to fight in the tournaments, her father would not be able to deny her the ability to fight with the guard. And she knew her aunt, General Astra, would fight for her to have a spot in the army while she could still fight, before the responsibilities of her country settled on her shoulders.
Instead, she had accompanied her father along with her mother this time to the tournament in Cadmia. The closer she got, the more Kara couldn’t stop thinking about green eyes that were almost the same color as the springtime fields they passed along their journey. She rode up front with other soldiers for most of the journey, waiting for the site of Cadmia villages and eventually the capital of Mercer with it’s dark castle rising above the rugged land.
As they entered the festival grounds, Kara promised her father and mother that she would see them in time for the games to start and went off with a couple of guards trailing her, James being one of them. He had also been promoted in the past year, and had been established as one of her personal guards after she had submitted the request to her father. James was more than happy to be one of the people responsible for her safety, had even asked for the position himself, and took up the mantle of it when Alex was gone. Not that Kara thought that she needed much protection, she just liked to be surrounded by her friends. As they walked, she grabbed some smoked meat to eat and set off through the festival, searching the large crowd for dark hair and green eyes as she made small talk with James.
Kara didn’t understand why her heart was beating faster and her hands were sweating. The other Princess had never been anything but rude or indifferent towards her, but there was something about that gaze that drew her in. She just wanted Lena to look at her again.
Eventually she realized that her quest was pointless, so she asked to borrow a wooden chair from a nearby stand before sitting down before the door to the arena, smoothing out her tunic and trousers as she waited for the Luthor family to arrive.
“What are you doing?” James asked as he leaned back against the arena wall with his arms crossed.
“Waiting.” Kara said shortly.
He just looked at her amusedly and then went back to looking out at the crowd.
Kara knew it was beyond propriety for her to seek the royal family out like this. She should wait for her parents to walk over to them after the final match of the day, but Kara had never been able to gain the patience her mother had tried and tried to instill within her. If Kara wanted something, she had to have it as soon as she was able, and she would do anything to have it happen sooner.
Luckily for her, Lex always liked to arrive early and Lena usually accompanied him.
“Your Highnesses,” Kara jumped up and walked over to bow for them both.
“Princess!” Lex smiled and reached out to grab her hand, squeezing her forearm in the traditional greeting. “Welcome to Cadmia.” He looked between her and the chair behind her curiously. “Were you waiting for someone?”
“Yes.” Kara looked past him at Lena, who was already looking at her like she was the biggest idiot she’d ever met. “I was wondering if the Princess would mind showing me what Cadmia has to offer here at the festival? I admit, I’m usually quite lost when I’m here with my Father and I usually just keep to the arena. I was hoping to see a few more things while I’m here this time.”
Lena raised a singular eyebrow at her and Lex did the same, both of them looking so similar that it was slightly creepy. Lex suddenly broke out in a grin and laughed, clapping her on the shoulder and moving past, looking back over her shoulder at Lena, “I think my sister would love that, wouldn’t you Lena? Weren’t you just saying that you were dying for some of the cider they always serve here? Why don’t you show Princess Kara where it is?”
“I didn’t -.” Before Lena could finish, Lex was off, chortling to himself, and Kara was left standing in front of Lena with two sets of guards surrounding them.
Lena sighed as she watched him disappear before she looked back at Kara.
Kara took a step forward so that she could lower her voice. “You don’t have to come if you don’t want to, Princess. I’ll leave you be if you would rather join your brother in the stands.” She licked her lips and swallowed down the sudden nerves in her throat. “But I would love the opportunity to walk with you, for a time.”
Lena looked up at her for a moment in confusion, searching her eyes before she let out a breath and looked away. She turned and waved a hand, motioning for her to join and Kara jumped to walk beside her. “You are disarmingly genuine for a member of the royal family, Princess.” Lena said, not looking at her. “Be truthful - is it an act? A Kryptonian maneuver to settle political strife? I’ve seen your father do much the same.”
“I cannot speak for my father,” Kara began, her hands clasped behind her back so that she wouldn't fidget with them. “But there is nothing political about my desire for honesty and forthrightness. It is something I strive for everyday. I dislike to lie.”
Lena glanced at her. “Again, that is surprising for a Princess.”
Kara shrugged. “I often don’t think of myself as a princess. I want to be a Captain in our army, like my sister. I know that one day I will be Queen but I do not yearn for it.” She looked at Lena. “I envy your position. The crown will fall to Lex and you will be free to do as you please.”
“I wouldn’t say that.” Lena murmured. “Freedom is a hoax. Noone is truly free. People like us are bound by duty and tradition. And people like that,” She waved her hand at the people around them, laughing with friends or arm-in-arm with lovers, “are just as bound to their own responsibilities. If they do not work, they cannot feed their children. If they do not have children, their name will die with them.”
Kara hummed thoughtfully. “I do not think that responsibility negates freedom.”
“No.” Kara shook her head. “Although I am bound to certain titles and my future is all but set in stone, there are things that will always be mine.”
Lena’s brow furrowed slightly. Kara had the urge to reach out and smooth it so she clasped her hands tighter behind her.
“Like what?” Lena asked.
“I choose my friends as I choose to love them.” Kara said honestly. “I would do anything for them. My sister is my own and she is no one else’s. My sword is my own and I choose to wield it in a way that is honorable, to never kill unless necessary and only in defense of the people I love.” She paused for a moment and then dared to say the words on her tongue. “My heart is my own. I am free to give it to whoever I choose.”
She chanced a glance at Lena who was staring up at her with something unreadable in her expression. “Is it really? Your parents will not choose for you?”
Kara shook her head. She stopped them with a gentle touch on Lena’s arm and faced her. “My Mother has promised me since the night I was born that I could love whomever I choose. My marriage will not be set for some political purpose. We have no need of one and even if we did it is an archaic tradition that we no longer honor. I will choose with my heart, as will my children and their children after.”
Lena looked away with a slight frown. “Not everyone is so fortunate.”
Kara swallowed and took a deep breath, catching something spicy that lingered in the air. Lena smelled like her favorite winter drink, like crisp and cool air.
“Are you coming in the autumn?” Kara dared to ask. “To the next tournament?”
Lena looked at her from the corner of her eye, not moving her head. “Perhaps.” She reached up to smooth the hair behind her ear. “I don’t think I would miss the opportunity to see Cadmia best Krypton again in feats of skill.”
Kara grinned at her. “Then I will see you there?”
Lena blushed faintly and looked down, but Kara saw the small, partially hidden smile. She swelled up with the pride of putting it there. “I suppose you will.”
“I look forward to it.” Kara said genuinely, her eyes not moving from Lena’s face. “I’ll show you the flowers that only grow at the peak of autumn, the ones that remind me of you.”
Lena looked up at her. “Remind you of me?”
“They bloom in the cool air.” Kara said softly, reaching out to tuck a black strand of hair behind Lena’s ear. “Pale and beautiful. But they duck back into their blooms as soon as the sun comes out.” She grinned.
Lena scoffed slightly and looked away. “Although it might not seem like it, the sun does appear above Cadmia.”
“How could it not?” Kara asked. “When it has such beautiful flowers to look upon?”
Lena looked up at her and opened her mouth, but no word came out. Kara swallowed hard and traced the lines of her face with her eyes. A loud cheer from behind them caused them both to jump and take a step back.
Kara cleared her throat and looked back at the guards who were behind her, each of them looking around at the crowd but occasionally looking her way. She caught James’ eye and scowled at his amused look.
“I should be going.” Lena said.
Kara looked back at her and nodded. She bowed slightly. “I shall see you after the tournament, Your Highness?” It was a question, but also not. She already knew the answer.
Lena’s lips curved up and Kara knew she did too. “Certainly.”
Kara watched her walk away with her own guards until she disappeared into the arena. She sighed wistfully and glared over at James when she heard him snigger. She shoved him in the shoulder. “Shut up.”
“I didn’t say anything.” He held up his hands with a smile.
They walked a few paces.
“What happened to that cider?” James asked and Kara reached over to punch him in the shoulder.
Kara sighed and started off for the opposite side of the stands, but there was a bounce to her step that nothing would cause to go away.
“Queen Alura.” King Lionel leaned forward and kissed the hand she offered him. “It’s a pleasure to see that you have joined us this year.”
“My husband and daughter had convincing arguments.” She said with a smile. Kara saw the polite nods exchanged between her and Queen Lillian. It was no secret that they weren’t very fond of the other, but they were always polite in their snide glances and underhanded compliments.
Kara glanced over at Lena and briefly caught her eye. She smiled and bowed in her direction and Lena nodded at her before looking at her father, their conversation and friendless from earlier ignored for propriety’s sake.
Kara glanced over to Lex, fresh off his victory, who sent her a wink. Kara shook her head at him, the promise of their future clash written on her face. Rao, she wished she could compete sooner.
A throat cleared to her right and she looked up at her mother, who was giving her the side-eye. Kara straightened her back with an apologetic smile and looked back to the King, not missing the way her mother’s eyes lingered on the two younger Luthor’s and her daughter.
It was autumn and Kara was sixteen. She’d spent the summer attending council meetings with her father and spending hot days under the sun training with Alex. She was taller and stronger and she knew that her father had been right in having her wait. By the next year she knew she would be even stronger.
The festival came to Argo City with fanfare. Everyone delighted in the biyearly celebration of the treaty between Krypton and Cadmia. Merchants used the opportunity to present their best wares to traders from the neighboring country, and men across the land sharpened their skills in hopes of the grand title.
Kara watched the city come to life from the castle with anticipation in her heart.
The first day of the festival came and Kara set off, following the colors of the royal family.
When Kara and her family went to Cadmia, they stayed in housing provided by the royal family next to the other large homes of their nobles. When the Luthor’s came to Krypton, they usually stayed somewhere similar, in the gated area to the right of the castle where other council members had homes.
Kara set off down the castle steps and towards the walled area. She had rarely had guards following her around in Argo City, as Alex or James were always with her, but lately she had been permitted to go out completely on her own without any sort of guard. She appreciated the faith her father was putting in her, but she knew that it was a small freedom he was giving her at the end of her youth. Soon her world would be much bigger than waiting for the chance to fight in festivals and talk to pretty girls.
She hoped that some things stayed the same, when everything changed.
Kara nodded at the guards at the gate and walked into the street, spying the green and silver of the Luthor flag down the street and setting off for it.
She stopped at the guarded doorway and put her hands behind her back, straightening her posture and addressing one of the guards.
“I’d like to call on the Princess Lena.” She said clearly.
The guard looked at her, his eyes raking over her Kryptonian colors. She had worn one of her best tunics that day, a nice pair of trousers and her shiniest boots. A red cape clung over her shoulder, her family’s crest on the clasp by her shoulder. His eyes fell on it and he nodded shortly before turning away and walking inside.
Kara bounced on her toes as she waited.
The door opened and she was waved inside. She bounded up the stairs and into the home, glancing around at the fine interior.
“Princess Kara.” Lex walked down the stairs in front of her. “You’re lucky my father has already left this morning.”
“Really? I was hoping to see him.” Kara held back a smile.
Lex barked a laugh and leaned against a wall, eyeing her over. “You’re trouble.” He winked. “I think I’m in good company.”
“Does your sister share your sentiments?”
Lex pursed his lips. “Not exactly. You’ve got your work cut out for you.”
Kara raised her chin. “I can best any challenge.” She gave him a look. “Including you. I hope you haven’t forgotten that I will be taking that title from you in a year’s time.”
“Oh, I could never forget a declaration like that.”
“Lex?” A voice called from above them. Kara glanced up and saw Lena start walking down the stairs, her hair loose around her shoulders and wearing a green dress that matched her eyes. “When are we -.” She cut herself off as she looked over and saw Kara, her eyes widening slightly as her foot stuttered on the step. She regained her composure quickly and continued down the stairs, smoothing out one of her sleeves as she reached the landing. “Princess.” She curtsied lightly. “What are you doing here?”
Kara smiled hopefully. “I was hoping that I could return the favor.” She gestured to the doors. “I was wondering if I could walk with you to the festival this morning, since you graciously walked with me in your own city.”
Lena narrowed her eyes at her. “Lex, would you mind if the Princess joined us?”
“Actually, Father wanted me to join him this morning.” Lex said, moving towards the door. “Something about grain trade or some other boring thing.” He left with a wave and a wink in Lena’s direction. “I’m sure that Princess Kara would be more than happy to escort you this morning, though.”
Kara looked at the door that had closed behind him and then over at Lena. “I think he likes me.”
Lena snorted quietly. “That’s not a compliment.”
“I’ll take it as one.” Kara countered. She took a step forward, always forward, and held out her arm. “I would really love the pleasure of your company this morning, Princess. If you would do me the honor.”
Lena stared at her for a moment before she slowly took her arm. “Lead the way, Princess.”
Kara grinned at her and pulled her in the opposite direction of the front door.
“I’m sure this isn’t the way to the festival.” Lena said as Kara led her into the kitchen.
“We’re not going there.” Kara said as she smiled brightly at the two servants that were inside and moved to the back door. She opened it and waved her through. “I promised, remember?”
Lena stepped out into the back alley and looked around. Kara could see the sudden nervousness in tensing of her shoulders and the way her eyes darted around. Kara stopped and turned to face her, suddenly reminded of two summers before when she had heard that the royal family had been attacked during a visit to Daxam.
“Lena.” Kara dared to say. It made Lena’s eyes snap to her own, widening slightly. Kara grinned and put a hand on her sword. “Don’t you remember what I told you? I am a better swordsman than even your brother. You have nothing to fear.”
Lena relaxed just slightly as she raised an eyebrow and looked at her dubiously. “That’s still a claim you have yet to uphold. I have never even seen you hold a sword.”
“You should visit outside of the tournament sometime.” Kara said. “Then you can see me in the training area.”
Lena blushed slightly and Kara looked around to make sure that they were alone before she took a step forward. “You have nothing to fear.” She said quietly, holding her gaze. “I will protect you.” Always . The depth of the sentiment ran through her and she bit off the end of it, knowing that it was too soon, too fast for such things.
Lena finally let out a breath, and with it the rest of her tension. “Are you going to tell me where we’re going?”
Kara grinned and offered her arm again. “Don’t you remember?”
Lena took it and followed her down the street and through the neighborhood, letting out small huffs of laughter at the show Kara put on to hide from guards when it was completely unnecessary in her own kingdom, in her own capital no less.
“Through here.” Kara said, coming to a small grove of trees that were attached to the castle gardens. She led Lena into the shade of them, the cool breeze even chillier in the shade.
Kara looked around the ground, trying not to be distracted at the warm weight of Lena’s arm through her own.
Kara’s eyes lit up as she caught sight of them. “There!” She reached over and grabbed Lena’s hand, pulling her along as she ran off the road and crouched under a tree.
“Kara!” Lena laughed and swatted at her shoulder. “Warn me next time. Princess don’t run .”
“They do for these.” Kara felt herself smile even wider at the way Lena had said her name and picked a flower and stood up again, holding it in front of her. In the shade of the tree and with the chilly breeze blowing through the air, the flower had opened, exposing tender white petals that shone in the shadow.
Lena looked down at it and she sucked in a breath. “Oh, is this-?”
“The dovrrosh-raol .” Kara said softly. She held it out and Lena took it from her, her fingers brushing against Kara’s. “People search hours in the night for them. We’re lucky that this one was still open this late in the morning.” Kara brushed a finger against the petal, her hand lingering on Lena’s where it held the stem. “We use them for healing salves, and I often go out into the woods to find them for our healers.”
“Why?” Lena asked, looking up at her.
“Sometimes it takes all night for me to find one.” Kara said softly. “It feels like an age passes.” She swallowed. “But then I see one and it feels like no time has past at all, or as if all the time means nothing in comparison to how it feels to finally see it again.”
Lena raised her face slightly, away from the flower that they were no longer talking about. “I’m sure there are other flowers that are much the same.”
“No.” Kara shook her head. “I have never seen anything so beautiful. As soon as it’s out of my sight I want to turn around to see it again.” Kara felt a blush rise. She was being forward, too forward for a princess.
But onward she went.
“Maybe you are just enamored with its beauty.”
“I am.” Kara agreed readily. She dropped all pretense. “But I want to hear your voice. I want to know what you think of everything. I want to speak to you for hours. I keep doing incredibly stupid things just to see you because I can’t stop thinking of you.”
“This is terribly inappropriate.” Lena said softly, but her face was not closed off. She looked up with something like the yearning Kara felt in her chest.
“I do not care.” Kara whispered. “I would do anything -.”
A sharp voice caused Lena to take a step back. Kara took a deep breath before she turned around to see Alex walking quickly towards her.
“Captain.” Kara nodded at her.
“What are you doing out here without a guard?” Alex frowned as she noticed Lena. “With the Princess no less. I apologize, Your Highness. Would you like an escort back to where you are staying?”
“Please.” Lena nodded and walked forward towards the guard that Alex motioned to. She looked back at Kara briefly, catching her eye for just a breath, before turning and walking towards the city lights, a flower still in her hands.
Kara watched her go. She leaned back against the tree behind her and sighed.
“What are you doing, Kara?”
“Pining.” Kara said. She smiled over at Alex. “Wooing.”
Alex frowned at her. “You should be careful how you act around her.”
“Why?” Kara shot back. “Because people will talk? They will say that I have untowards intentions towards her?”
Alex nodded. “Yes.”
“Let them talk.” Kara said shortly. “Maybe I do have intentions.” Kara didn’t glance over at Alex. “Maybe I intend to ask for her hand.”
“ Kara .” Alex said. “You’re sixteen -.”
“Not now.” Kara looked over at her with a frown. “Of course not now.” She looked away. “But someday.” She nodded and looked over at her sister, certainty in her heart and her voice. “Someday I want to marry her.”
“Oh, Kara.” Alex sighed and slung an arm around her shoulders. “Give it some time at least, all right? How many times have you met this girl?”
“She is not just some girl, Alex.” Kara defended. “She’s a princess. You should refer to her as such.”
“Fine.” Alex said. “How many times have you met the princess?”
Kara counted in her head. “Four times.” She didn’t count the times she had seen her before the tournaments, when they hadn’t shared more than a passing glance.
“ Four times.” Alex nodded. “That’s not a lot of times, Kara.”
“It doesn’t matter.” Kara shoved off her arm. “She’s - I can’t explain it, Alex.” Kara shook her head. “I cannot get her out of my head. I have seen her twice a year since I was fourteen and she is all I think of, all I dream about, inbetween.”
“I thought you dreamt about battling Daxamites.”
“Well, that too.” Kara said with a wry smile. She nudged Alex’s shoulder with her own. “I’m not going to act on it anytime soon, okay? I know we are both young and we haven’t spent a lot of time together. But many marriages have been built on less.” She added.
Alex just shook her head and they both walked off towards the castle.
The next Spring brought rain and more rain. Kara would have been miserable traveling in it if she wasn’t thinking about what was waiting for her at their destination.
It was the last tournament she would have to attend without competing.
And she was going to see Lena.
It was still raining in Mercer, but they had erected tents around most of the stands and the arena itself had been given a roof. Kara bounced around the festival as she looked for the Princess.
Kara was eyeing a stand for cider - she still hadn’t tried it - when a voice sounded behind her.
“I’d try the pear.”
Kara spun around so fast that she slipped in the mud and fell to one knee. Laughter sounded above her and she flung her hair back out of her face and grinned up at Lena, who was standing there looking down at her with clear amusement in her eyes.
“Lena.” Kara said, standing up and trying to brush off the mud. “Hi.”
“Hi.” Lena said softly.
Kara smiled dumbly at her for a few seconds before she was able to shake herself out of it. “I've been looking for you.”
“Have you?” Lena tilted her head. “Well, you found me.”
Kara grinned and motioned at the stand. “Pear, you say? Is that your favorite?”
Lena hummed and nodded. Kara reached out a hand. “Would you like to join me for a drink, Your Highness?”
Lena smiled, a faint blush on her cheeks. She took Kara’s hand and tucked her hand in her arm. “I could be convinced.”
Kara felt like she had the sun inside of herself, burning through her skin and coming out as pure bliss. She grinned down at Lena and they walked forward to order some cider.
That next autumn, Kara looked and looked for Lena, but she was nowhere to be found. Before she knew it, she was being ushered by Alex into the arena for her first fight, trying to shake off the frustration and disappointment as she got ready.
To Kara’s surprise, even for all of her voiced assurance, she still didn’t think she was better than everyone in the kingdom, surely not most of them.
But she was. She definitely was.
Fight after fight, Kara had them on their back or their knees in minutes, feeling elated at the cheer of the crowd as she held up her Kryptonian flag.
She scanned the stands for Lena and didn’t see her until she realized that it was time for the last fight of the day and she was facing Lex Luthor.
Kara saw Lex wave jovially at her from the other side of the arena and then jumped up from the bench she had been resting on. She looked up at the stands to where King Lionel sat for Lex’s last fight, and there .
Kara bounded up the steps until she reached the royal family. King Lionel brow raised in surprise and Lena looked at her like she was the biggest idiot.
She was, Kara couldn’t even deny it. But it was so good to see her.
“Your Majesty.” Kara bowed, catching her breath. “Forgive me, but I was wondering if I could have a word with the Princess before the final match begins.”
The King looked at her for a moment, before nodding to her slightly. The Queen was looking at her like she wasn’t a princess who had the station to get away with asking for such things. Kara bowed again and walked over to Lena, knowing that anything they said would be heard by the King and Queen.
“Princess.” Kara bowed and smiled up at her. “I have a request.”
Lena raised her brow and waved a hand for her to continue, glancing over to her parents out of the corner of her eye.
“I was wondering if you might give me your token, for good luck.” Kara said boldly. Onward. “So that I may wear your colors as well as my own when I become champion.”
Kara heard rustling to her right, as if the King or Queen was moving to get a better look at her or motioning to have a guard escort her out, but she only had eyes for the girl in front of her.
Lena laughed, a beautiful light sound that let Kara know she had truly and completely surprised her. “You ask for my token, so that you might have luck in defeating my own brother?”
“Yes.” Kara nodded. “But it is not just for luck. I want to share in my victory with you, wearing your good faith.”
Lena blushed and looked away for a moment. “You are bold, Princess.” She said softly, looking back at her with something like fondness, like something that made Kara feel like she could tear down entire armies to see it again.
“I could be nothing else for your favor.” Kara said. She heard a sound of surprise from her right. Her father was going to kill her.
Lena pursed her lips and stared at her, but Kara could tell she was taken, thoroughly amused with the spectacle Kara was clearly making of herself, her boldness and intentions on full display for the King of Cadmia to see.
“Very well.” Lena said softly. She reached up and unwound the scarf that had been around her neck and acting partly as a shawl for her hair. She held the green silk out and Kara walked forward and took it, their fingers grazing as she did so.
“You know this means you must win?” Lena asked after she leaned back leisurely. “To lose wearing a Princess’s favor would be disrespect of the highest decree.”
“I have always known I would win.” Kara said confidently. She tied the scarf to her belt and ran her fingers through the silk before she locked gazes with her again. “But now it is certainty.”
Kara jogged down to the arena and donned her armor, letting her hands run along the green scarf every few moments. She felt full of sunlight, as if she could jump and would take off into the sky.
She faced Lex, who sent her a wink before his expression went feral as he swung his sword around. Kara parried it with ease and kicked him in the chest, sending him back a few paces. She advanced, feeling sunlight in her veins.
Six minutes later, Lex was kneeling at her feet, his helmet discarded across the arena as he stared at the blade pointed at his throat in astonishment and then gradual elation. He laughed loud enough for the crowd to hear.
Kara threw off her helmet and looked up at the stands, meeting a green gaze through the sea of people with a grin.
The royal convoy had chosen to hold off another day before traveling, so Kara was pacing her room as she tried to think of a way to see Lena again before she left when there was a knock on the door.
“Come in.” She called out.
A servant opened the door. “The King requests your presence.”
Kara nodded. She followed him out of her room and down the hall. Word had reached him, then, she thought to herself. Kara had been bold, too bold, earlier before her fight. While it had won her clear affection in Lena’s eyes it had certainly not won her any favors with her father.
She entered her parent’s chamber and saw them both in the sitting room. Her mother motioned her forward and pushed her shoulder so that she sat down on the couch and then perched on the cushion next to her.
Her father looked visibly frustrated, but sat down on a chair next to the couch with a sigh. Her parents shared a look, and her father opened his mouth as he met Kara’s eyes for the first time since she walked in, and Kara couldn’t help herself.
“I want to ask for the Princess’s hand in marriage.” She said quickly, boldly.
Her father raised his brow. “I had gathered that.” He shook his head and sighed. “It’s usually prudent to have discussions of this nature with your parents before you go off and cause a spectacle before the King and Queen of Cadmia, Kara.”
“I had to.” Kara defended. “I didn’t plan on doing it in front of them, but I couldn’t find Lena all day.”
“And you just had to, did you?” Her mother asked with a look.
Kara swallowed. “I wanted to.” She amended. “I’ve wanted to marry Lena since the second time I met her, I think. I keep doing stupid things to get her attention, and I know this was the most stuipd thing I’ve done yet, but I don’t regret it.” She looked down at her clasped hands. “I understand that it was improper, but, like I said, I keep doing stupid things to get her to look at me like that.”
Her mother put a hand on her back. “Like what?”
Kara looked up at her. “Like she sees me the way I see her.”
Her mother smoothed her hair back with a sigh. “Rao, you’re just like your father.” She sent him a look. “He was hopeless the second he met me.”
Her father scoffed. “I was not.”
“You spilled wine all over your velvet coat.” Alura said. She looked at Kara. “ White velvet. Your mother pulled you out by the ear.”
He laughed and Kara relaxed slightly, looking between them both. “So, you’re not mad?”
“Oh, I’m furious.” Zor-El said. He shook his head with a sigh. “But your mother’s right.” He walked over and leaned down to press a kiss to her head before he ruffled her hair. “You’ve always been your father’s daughter. I was useless the second I saw your mother.”
They shared a look over her head and Kara smiled at them. “So I can do it?”
He perched on the arm of the couch beside her. “Do what?”
She swallowed and stood up, walking to the fire and staring into it for a few moments, her hands on her hips. She turned on her heel and looked at them both. “I want to ask Lena if she will be my wife. Not now, I know we’re both young, but in the future. After I’ve been made a Captain and have been able to spend more time with her. But that’s what I want, eventually. I want to marry her.”
Her parents shared a look. Her mother smiled gently at her and waved her over, running a hand through her hair once she was sitting between them once more. “Honey, why does it seem like you’re expecting us to say no?”
Kara shrugged. “Because of the history between our families? This is the longest Krypton has ever had peace with Cadmia. We’ve spent centuries fighting with them for the smallest things.”
“And you think this is a bad thing?” Her father laughed. “Kara, if we didn’t have your best interests at heart and were planning on using your marriage as a political bargaining tool, who do you think we would be picking for you to marry?”
“Prince Mon-el?” Kara couldn’t hide her grimace at the thought of marrying a Daxamite.
“Princess Lena Luthor.” Her father corrected. “It is the smartest move we could make. To bind our countries in a way that will uphold this peace we’ve found…” He shook his head and put a hand on his shoulder. “I am glad that you are doing this out of love, but Kara you’ve just made the next few centuries easier on our countries.”
Kara let out a breath and leaned back. “If she says yes.”
Her mother patted her on the knee. “Do you think she won’t?”
Kara shrugged. “I only ever see her at tournaments. She might not like me without all the fanfare and if she sees me more than twice a year.”
“Well, there’s only one thing that I can think of that will fix that.” Zor-El said. “Captains often patrol the borders of our country, you know. And with Daxam pushing into our land in the north, I imagine that we will need to send up a troop soon to our Northern border, to make sure that they don’t push farther.”
Kara stared up at her father. She swallowed. “Captains?”
He smiled and clasped her shoulder. “We have a big day tomorrow, Kara. I think you should go get some sleep.”
The next time Kara stepped into Cadmian soil, she wore a new tunic that sported a badge of silver she had dreamed of wearing since she was a girl.
She rode with Alex and a few others, carrying a message from the King in regard to the frequency of Daxam’s attacks. Cadmia, with Krypton to its south, had been plagued by the Daxamites attacks on their eastern border for years, but the new Queen was relentless. The country of Daxam was long but not wide, and she had nowhere to expand but into the countries to the west with the sea on their eastern border. And Queen Rhea wanted to expand. It seemed at any expense.
It got colder and colder the further north they rode. It was the middle of winter, and Kara was sure she had never seen snow so deep or felt a wind with such chill.
“I am again glad that I was not born in this damned country.” Alex said through chattering teeth as they rode side by side.
“Perhaps you get used to it?” Kara asked. He shivered even in her warm fur coat. “And I’m sure their clothing is better suited to this weather.”
“Maybe their blood runs cold as well.”
“Watch your tongue.” Kara snapped.
Alex was silent for a moment. “Sorry.” She eventually said. “The cold is making me cranky.”
Kara let out a sigh, the breath fogging before her. “I tire of it as well.” She glanced over at her sister. “But I will not abide by cruel remarks towards the Princess, no matter how foolish you think I am for my feelings.”
“I don’t think you are foolish.” Alex said. “I think you’re young and stupid.”
Kara laughed. “Well, I’ve never denied that. I am very stupid. Even more so in her presence.”
Alex laughed with her and they continued on.
They reached the capital city of Mercer the next day. They rode through the walls and were then escorted by guards to the castle. They left their horses with the castle stables and walked into the castle that was slightly warmer than outside.
Kara was led into through a few halls and then entered a large set of ornate double doors.
“Princess Kara Zor-El.” King Lionel greeted her as she entered the throne room.
“ Captain Zor-El.” Kara bowed as she stopped in front of his thorne. “If you will, Your Majesty.”
“Ah.” He raised his eyebrows and nodded. “Very well. What news do you bring, Captain?”
She pulled the letter out of her jacket pocket. “From my Father.” A guard took it from her and brought it up to the king. “He questions if we should prepare for these attacks to increase even more than they have these past seasons.”
He looked at her over the piece of paper. “He asks if we should prepare for war, you mean.”
Kara inclined her head slightly. “If he does not say it plainly in writing, then I will say it before you.” She tightened her grip on the pommel of her sword. “They grow in confidence with each successful farm and village burned. It is not a question of capability - we could take Daxam and win - but it is a question of necessity. War brings death and stress to everyone in a nation, those who fight and those who toil at home to send grain. We do not want war if it can be avoided.”
He stared at her for a moment before he nodded. “Neither does Cadmia, Captain Zor-El.” He folded the paper and tapped it against the armrest of his throne. “I will think on this. Will you stay for a reply or will I need to send a messenger?”
Kara tried not to look too eager. “I was hoping that I might stay and experience the city of Mercer outside of the usual festivities, Your Majesty.”
He nodded. “Certainly. You may stay in one of the guest quarters.” He looked at a nearby servant who nodded and stepped forward. “I will have my reply ready by the end of the week.”
She bowed before following the servant out of the room.
Kara found Alex up in the quarters she had been given.
“I’m going to go check on the horses and the men.” Alex said after they’d bathed and eaten. “Don’t leave the castle.” She said, giving Kara a stern look.
Kara smiled. “Everything I need is in this building.”
Alex groaned and left the room. Kara laughed softly at her sister’s reaction before sitting down on a chair nearby. She took a deep breath.
She’d never talked to Lena outside of the tournaments. She’d seen her twice before, when they were younger and her father had traveled to Cadmia on official business, before the tournaments had been put in place as a bridge between the two nations. She was nervous to see her here, in her home. Lena might have heard that she was here by now. Was she expecting her? Where should she go? Should she just wait for her?”
Kara shook the thoughts out of her head and stood up, walking out into the hall before she could talk herself out of it.
She walked the halls of the castle for a while, exploring and nodding politely at servants who stopped and stared at her. At one point, she asked one for the direction of the library. She made her way there and walked quietly through the large room when she arrived, staring up at the tall stacks of books as she made her way to the back of the room, her eyes peeled for a familiar figure.
Eventually, she turned towards one of the back corners and Kara saw her then, bathed in the setting sun. Her hair was up, putting her elegant neck on display, and she was wearing the most casual dress Kara had seen her in.
Kara wiped her suddenly sweaty hands on her pants and walked quietly in her direction. She paused a few feet away before she softly cleared her throat.
Lena jumped slightly and looked up, her eyes widening in complete surprise. “Kara?” She asked in disbelief, the book falling into her lap from her limp hands.
Kara smiled. “Hello Princess.”
Lena stood up and took a step forward before she paused, taking in a breath. Kara looked around and, seeing no one around, took a step forward (always forward) and grabbed Lena’s hands in her own. She curled hers around Lena’s, reveling in the soft skin and squeezing them softly as she looked up, suddenly shy. “It’s good to see you again.”
“What are you doing here?” Lena asked.
“Message from my father.” Kara said. “I was patrolling the border when I intercepted the messenger. I decided I was going to come deliver it myself.”
Lena shook her head and let out a disbelieving laugh. “Of course you did.”
“I wanted to see you.” Kara said softly, seriously.
“I thought it would be months before I saw you again.” Lena said softly, reaching up to lightly brush her finger against Kara’s jaw. She cocked her head. “Did you say you were on patrol?”
Kara smiled, regaining her breath from when it had left her at Lena’s touch. “I got a promotion.”
Lena raised an eyebrow. “Really?” She asked dubiously, looking her over. Her eyes caught on the captain's symbol and she reached down to trace over it. “Is it Captain Zor-El now?”
“To most.” Kara nodded. “I’ve never really liked Princess anyway.” She leaned closer.
“Most?” Lena asked. Her hands went up to smooth out the cape over her shoulder, pressing gently into her.
“Others just call me Kara.” She said.
“Who are these lucky people, to know you so informally?” Lena teased.
“My parents, definitely.” Kara said. “My sister, my friends.” She took a small step closer.
Lena hummed. She moved her face up and brushed her nose against Kara’s for just a moment before pulling inches away.
“There’s one other.” Kara said softly. Her hands moved to grab her waist, gently encircling it as her fingers ran over the soft silk. She pressed into her back lightly and Lena sucked in a breath. “Although I’m not quite sure what to call her.”
“No?” Lena asked. “I’ve heard the people talk. Many say you are friends, acquaintances.”
Kara hummed. “I don’t think that’s right.”
“Why ever not?”
“I don’t usually feel the urge to kiss my friends.” Kara admitted. Stupid, she was so stupid. “And I want to kiss her. Desperately. All the time.”
The side of Lena’s mouth tilted up in a smile. “Well, Captain…” She moved her hands to graze her neck, one hand coming up to graze her jaw again, moving to trace the shell of her ear. She leaned forward slightly. “I think you’re right.” She took a step back suddenly, Kara’s hands falling limply to her sides as she watched Lena retreat to the couch with wide eyes.
Lena sat down and smiled up at her as she picked up her book. One eyebrow cocked. “It certainly doesn’t sound like you’re just friends.”
Kara was done for. She was gone, completely and suddenly, with nothing left but a beating and bleeding heart held out in her hands, offered to the woman in front of her.
Word came that winter that King Lionel had contracted a strange and serious disease. His wife fell to it sooner after he did.
King Zor-El and his family made their way up to Cadmia, dressed in the appropriate black of mourning.
Kara rode into Mercer at the front of the group. Her mother and father were behind her and she had been told repeatedly that she was not to enter the castle ahead of them.
She broke into a trot as soon as she was through the city walls and quickly lost the rest of Krypton’s convoy behind her. She rode up to the castle gate and was led through. A stable hand ran up to take her horse.
Kara thanked them and asked to be led to the Princess. They didn’t question it, which made her think either Lex or Lena had thought to let them know that she was allowed to see Lena without the usual fanfare of a throne room.
She was led to a door and the guard knocked softly, announcing her presence.
It opened and Lena was there, looking tired with dark circles under her eyes. She waved her forward, a nod to the guard, and after she shut the door behind Kara she was in her arms.
Kara wrapped her arms around her tightly, pushing her nose into her hair as Lena’s buried her face in her neck. “Lena.” She said quietly.
Lena just held onto her more tightly.
“We received word from King Lex this morning.” Zor-El said after Kara had sat down at the dinner table. Kara’s head shot up. “Daxam has increased the frequency of their attacks on their northern border. It’s the most vulnerable point of contact between them, as it’s almost uninhabitable in the winter, but Daxam has claimed part of it as its own last fortnight.”
“Do they ask for aid?” Kara asked.
“No.” He shook his head. “But he might, soon.”
“I will go.”
“You will not.” He said sternly. “Think with your head, Kara.”
Kara let out a breath through her nose. She knew he was right, but the thought of Daxamites any closer to Lena…
“I’ve already assembled troops for a counter strike.” Astra spoke up. Kara raised her brow in surprise.
“We are going to war?” She asked.
Astra shared a glance with her father. “Daxam has crossed the line with no intentions of stopping. We must do something.”
Kara nodded. She looked to her aunt. “You know I will fight.”
“I know, little one.” She smiled tightly at her. “We’ll see.”
Kara put down her fork as they kept talking logistics, looking out the far window as she thought of the first war Krypton had fought in five decades and what it would mean for her and for her country.
“I would like to officially request for the Princess’s hand in marriage.” Kara announced after she had sat down to dinner.
Her parents paused and looked over at her. It was just the three of them that night, her Aunt Astra having left the week before to prepare the army.
“Oh?” Her father asked. “While we are preparing for war?”
“Yes.” Kara said, glancing over at him.
He leaned back in his chair. “Because you worry that we will not go to their aid if our houses are not officially bound.” It wasn’t a question and Kara didn’t reply. “We are allies, Kara. We will aid them.”
“I’ve made my decision.” She said, taking a bite of her food. “I’ll take some men and head for Mercer in the morning.”
There was a pause where there was just the sounds of clattering silverware.
“If you’re certain.” Zor-El eventually said. “Then you have my blessing.” He gave her a suddenly soft look. “You have always had my blessing.”
“And mine.” Her mother reached over and covered her hand with her own. Kara looked up and saw nothing but understanding in her mother’s eyes.
She nodded at them both. “Thank you.”
Alex went with her, along with a few others.
It was a week’s journey with the full caravan they traveled with for the tournament, but on horseback with just a few people they arrived at the end of the fourth day.
She made her way to the castle and as she was let inside she turned to a servant, “I’d like to request a meeting with the King at his convenience. Please inform him that Captain Zor-El is here with an offer.”
The servant nodded and walked away, and Kara looked back to share a look with Alex, who turned to the other men and asked one of the other servants to lead them to the guest quarters. As Kara turned away Alex caught her by the arm. Kara turned and Alex was pulling her forward into a firm hug before pushing her off with a smile.
Kara made her way up to Lena’s rooms, nodding at the guards along the way. She paused at the door, took a fortifying breath, and knocked.
It opened a few moments later to find a surprised Lena.
“Kara?” She asked, her eyes wide as she raked them over her before she glanced around the empty hallway before pulling her into her room and shutting the door. “What are you doing here?” She asked as she hugged her, laughing slightly in disbelief as she pulled back. “Do you have any idea what time it is?” She frowned slightly. “Is something wrong?”
“I have a question that will not wait.” Kara said, grabbing Lena’s hands in hers. Lena had obviously been in bed or getting ready for it, with her hair down and curling around her face and a dressing gown thrown around her.
“Okay.” Lena said, still with a slight frown.
“I think I have loved you from the moment I met you.” Kara said. “Well, maybe not when I was ten, but that first time at the tournament, I was fourteen and completely enamored as soon as I saw you. I didn’t know why and I didn’t question it. I followed my heart and it always seemed to be pointing in your direction.”
Lena squeezed her hands before she reached up to reach around her neck, her thumb caressing the skin under her jaw.
“I have been a Princess for twenty years.” Kara said, reaching up to cup Lena’s cheeks and press their foreheads lightly together. “And a Captain for two.” She swallowed and leaned back so that she could really look in her eyes. “But I have never wanted to be anything more than I want to be your wife.”
Lena’s eyes widened. “Kara.” She breathed out slowly, her expression slowly falling into something like wonderment. “Are you-?”
“Lena Luthor,” Kara said, reaching into her pocket with one hand and pulling out a bracelet she had made when she was sixteen and already in love. “Will you do me the honor of becoming my wife?”
Lena’s eyes teared up and she surged forward, pressing their lips together in a firm kiss, wet form the tears leaking out of both of their eyes. Lena pulled back and looked down at the bracelet. “ Yes , of course, but Kara -.”
Kara slipped it on her wrist and tangled their fingers together, pressing their joined hands to her chest. “I know. I haven’t asked Lex yet, but you’ll know he’ll agree.”
“There is a proper way to do things, you know.” Lena teased, wiping a few tears as she laughed. “Especially for Princesses.”
Kara shook her head. “I’ve never seemed to care about proper when it comes to you.”
“Thank the gods.” Lena choked out, reaching up to pull her down for another kiss. Kara pressed into her, enveloped her, and felt held in return.
A knock on the door startled them both. Lena wiped her eyes and stepped back towards the door. She opened it to reveal the same servant Kara had asked to get Lex.
“The King will see Captain Zor-El now.” He said before taking a step back.
Kara turned to Lena and wrapped an arm around her waist, pressing her face against the side of her head and then a kiss to her temple. “I’ll see you in the morning?”
Lena smiled up at her. She reached up to fix an errant blonde curl and nodded. “Of course.”
With one last look, Kara left her rooms and followed her down the halls.
Lex was in his office. The servant let her in and then bowed before leaving. Kara reached back and shut the door.
“Captain.” Lex acknowledged, leaning back in his chair.
“Your Majesty.” Kara bowed. She moved to stand right across from him.
“I heard you have a proposal for me?” He raised an eyebrow. “Color me intrigued.”
“Not for you , specifically.” She amended.
His brow raised in realization. “Ah, I see.” He leaned forward. “Go on.”
Kara clasped her hands behind her back and lifted her chin. “I have come to propose a union of our houses. I would like to have Princess Lena’s hand in marriage.”
Lex stared at her for a few moments before his mouth curled up into a grin. He let out a laugh as he stood up and rounded the desk, pulling her into a surprising hug. “Finally!” He leaned back with his hands on her arms. “What took you so fucking long?”
She laughed in surprise. “I couldn’t really find the right timing.”
“And the beginning of a war is good timing for you?”
She shrugged. “I suppose so.”
He shook his head and moved back to his chair. “I knew from the first time I saw her with you. She’s never looked at anyone like that.”
“With so much disdain?” Kara asked wryly.
He acknowledged his head. “And then you kept coming back. And then you fucking beat me. Me !” He shook his head and leaned back in his chair. “You are welcome to this family, Kara. We’ll do the proper royal waiting period idiocy.” He waved his hand with an eye roll. “And officially announce our acceptance in a week’s time. But unofficially,” He grinned at her. “Welcome to the Luthor family, Captain Zor-El.”
Not a day after she’d returned from Cadmia, the castle was buzzing. Guards were antsy, some walking quickly to and from unknown places, and Kara intercepted a harried servant to ask what was wrong.
Kara barged into the council room. She knew she looked wild, because she felt it.
“Why didn’t you send for me?” She demanded.
Her father sighed. “Kara, we cannot be rash-.”
She interrupted him as she reached the table across from him. “An attack on Cadmia is -.”
“ Not an attack on Krypton.” Her father interrupted her. “Because they have not yet officially accepted your proposal, Kara. Our houses are not joined. Even if you were betrothed, you’re not married .”
Kara slammed a hand on the table and clenched it into a fist as she tried to stop her trembling. It was no use. “An attack on Lena is an attack on myself.” She said lowly, looking up at her father. “They infiltrated their capital, their castle.” Kara took in a shaky breath. “I will go with or without our men. You said we were allies. I was just there .” She added, her control slipping and her voice with it.
Her father exchanged a look with her mother, who acknowledged her head in Kara’s direction.
“I will send 500.” Her father stood and motioned to a guard along the wall. “I was planning on waiting for updates from our own border, but we will wait no longer. The men can leave today. Send for General Astra to give word. Captain Kara Zor-El will lead them to Cadmia.”
Kara met her father’s troubled gaze with her own, nodding once at him before spinning and walking quickly towards the door.
“Kara.” Her mother called out.
Kara paused and turned her head.
“We would have heard if any of the royal family were dead.” She said. “Have hope.”
Kara didn’t reply, just nodded slightly before continuing out of the door.
On the way to Cadmia, Kara stopped even as everything in her urged her to keep going. Her horse and her men needed rest, and she could fight no one if she didn’t eat or sleep.
It was almost useless to try, though. She spent the nights imagining Lena bleeding out on the castle floor, her dead brother behind her.
As soon as Mercer was within their sights, Kara held up a hand to stop her troops. “We’ll stay outside the city tonight.” She said, eying the eastern horizon and seeing tents in the distance. The Daxam troops are a few miles out. I’ll go into the city and see what’s become of it. Wait for my signal.” She looked at Alex who nodded at her.
Kara whistled her horse forward into a gallop, leaving her troops behind and heading straight into the city.
Cadmia colors still rose above the walls, and Kara waved her own flag as she got closer to the walls. She was let inside by a few haggard looking guards.
“I bring reinforcements from Krypton.” She said as soon as she was in the gates. “All we know is that the castle was infiltrated; what news do you have?”
“We fought two nights, but pushed them out.” The guard said. “They recuperate miles outside the city. There’s not more than two hundred left.”
Kara nodded. “I expect they’ll leave once they see our number. What of the King and the Princess?”
The guard wouldn’t look her in her eyes. “The King is well enough. He led the defense in the castle. The Princess lives, but…”
“But what?” She asked sharply.
“It’s rumored she was wounded.” The guard said quickly. “But there’s been no official word.”
Kara gripped the reins tighter. “Send a man out to my second, Captain Danvers, and tell her what you’ve told me.” She kicked her heels lightly and she was off, moving through the mostly empty streets with ease.
She jumped off her horse and threw the reins at a guard near the stables before sprinting up the castle doors. She ran inside and made her way up towards Lena’s rooms, but she paused as she passed by the office that she had been in just days prior. She opened the door to see Lex sitting behind his desk, his head in his hands.
He looked up with bloodshot eyes that widened at the sight of her.
“A deal not made has still been honored.” Lex said dully. “Welcome, Captain Zor-El.”
“I care not for deals.” Kara said. “Tell me she’s alright.”
He sighed and it was as if his strength went with his breath, as if it was pulled straight out of him as he sank into his hands yet again and slumped in his chair.
“Alive.” He said.
Kara let herself be relieved for just a moment. “But?”
“Injured.” He said, running his hands down his face. “I could not get there before some fucker had a knife in her stomach.”
Kara felt her face whiten. “Where is she?”
“Her room.” He said, his eyes downcast towards his desk. “She hasn’t woken yet. They don't know if she will.”
Kara turned and walked out without another word.
Lena was pale in her bed, even whiter than she usually was. There was a doctor and servants milling about when Kara entered, but they quickly went into the sitting room when she walked into the bedroom.
“She just needs rest.” The doctor, an old man with balding patches of hair, told her as he passed. “There’s not much we can do for her except wait. I’ll give you a moment alone.”
Kara didn’t look at him as he left, closing the door behind him. She moved slowly to the side of the bed and sat down in the chair pulled up to it. She reached out and traced over the hand nearest her, feeling the cool skin with her fingertips before she grabbed it gently in her own. She brought it up to her face and pressed a kiss to her knuckles, skimming her nose along her skin before her eyes caught the silver bracelet on her wrist, visible as the sleeve rolled down with gravity.
Kara choked back a sob and pressed her face into Lena’s hand. She took a few deep breaths and slowly placed her hand back down. She gave herself another moment before she stood up and leaned over her. She pressed a kiss to her forehead before she brushed a few pieces of hair behind her ear. “Lena, zrhueiao . Please wake up.” She squeezed her eyes shut and brought their foreheads together. “Please.”
She pressed another kiss to her hair before turning and leaving the room, returning to her troops and praying to Rao that those Daxamites stayed for a fight.
Kara was right. Once Krypton’s forces came into sight, the Daxamites turned and fell back. Kara spoke with Alex and another commander after she’d returned to their troops and decided that they would camp outside the city for a few days to see if they would come back and wait for either King to send word with orders.
After Kara had sent a messenger back to Argo City with her news, she turned back to the city before her and urged her horse back inside.
She spoke with Lex briefly. He had four hundred troops coming back from the north and six hundred more from the west that would be there within the week.
After, Kara moved back into Lena’s room and took her seat. Kara spent the night nodding on and off, always waking up to see Lena’s slumbering face, too pale in the moonlight.
On the fourth day, Kara was reading one of the books she’d found on Lena’s bedside table when movement caught her eye. She looked over to see a finger twitch and quickly put the book aside and leaned forward over her.
“Lena?” She called softly, grabbing the hand that was moving. “ Zrhueiao , are you awake?”
Lena’s head moved towards her, and Kara was holding back tears as Lena’s eyes started fluttering open.
Kara laughed as she finally did, her green eyes looking confused and hazy as she looked up at Kara.
“Kara?” She asked, her voice low and croaky.
“Hello my love.” Kara said with a watery smile, foreheads pressed together. “Welcome back.”
Lena reached up to run a hand over her cheek. “What -?” She winced suddenly as she moved.
“Don’t move.” Kara said, putting a hand on her chest and pressing her gently down. “You’re hurt.”
Lena let out a breath and winced. “I can see that.”
Kara pressed a kiss to her forehead and leaned back slightly, pushing her hair out of her face. “You had me scared, zrhueiao . I would like it if you didn’t do that again.”
“I’ll try very hard not to get stabbed again.” Lena said gasping, her eyes getting brighter and brighter by the second. “Gods, I feel horrible.”
Kara grabbed her hand and pressed a kiss to her knuckles. “You’re going to be alright.” She said, brushing her nose against the skin.
Lena’s eyes were the sweetest color. She was going to be alright.
Krypton sent word two days later that Daxam had infiltrated their southern border at the same time they’d attacked Mercer. They were officially at war.
Kara was ordered to lead her troop alongside the others in Cadmia and attack Daxam as they retreated. She did so gladly.
“Be careful.” Lena could sit up by then, and was well enough to worry.
“I’ll be fine.” Kara leaned over and kissed her gently, smiling as Lena chased after her when she pulled back. “I’m the best swordsman in the land, remember? I bested your brother, the five-time champion of Cadmia.”
Lena gave her a look. “That means nothing when you’re facing hundreds of soldiers instead of one.”
“I will have hundreds as well.” Kara pointed out. “Probably more than Daxam, if our scouts are correct. I will be fine.”
Lena caught her hand before she could turn away. She put something cool in her hand before closing her fingers over the chain. Lena pulled Kara’s hand to her lips and kissed it. “Just come back to me.”
“Always, zrhueiao .” Kara said, running a thumb over her cheek before turning and heading out of the castle.
She looked down and saw a silver chain with a small pendant as green as the eyes she always longed to see. Kara slipped it over her head and tucked it into her shirt as she rode out to her troops.
Kara had never seen war before. Krypton had known peace for so long that her father and his father had not seen it either. She hoped to never see it again.
It didn’t take long with the combined forces of Krypton and Cadmia, and victory was almost assured with their numbers, but the land of Daxam stretched along the border of both countries, and Queen Rhea was strategic in the placement of her troops.
It was exhausting, having to move constantly from one battle to another, trying to fortify the border between both countries. And it took time.
“Do you think this will be the last one?” James asked, looking out over the dark cloud of troops on the horizon. It had been an entire season since they left home. Kara couldn’t remember what it was like to be clean or what her favorite dish tasted like back home. She reached up and pressed the lump under her shirt, the jewel pressing into her skin.
“We can only pray.” Kara said, looking out at the number.
“Rao, I fucking hope so.” Alex said. “I’m tired of looking at all of you.”
Kara laughed and shoved her shoulder. “You’ve been looking at my face all my life.”
“Not when you smell like that.” She said.
James snorted. “She’s got a point.”
“You definitely smell worse than me.” Kara defended, looking up at him.
He shrugged. “But you still smell.”
Kara shook her head at both of them and prayed that this would be the last one. She prayed that she would get to go home with both of her friends at her side.
It wasn’t the last one, but the next one was.
They went home as summer began, the warm sun shining as if it was welcoming them home. They were at the southern end of Cadmia at the time, and Kara turned her horse Southwards to lead them home, even as she glanced longingly to the north.
They were welcomed into Argo City with parades and cheers from the people, celebrating an end to a short war that still took too many lives. Kara rode up to the castle and spent about an hour inside, taking a bath where she scrubbed the lingering dirt off of her skin and hair and then embracing her parents and giving her father a report, before she grabbed a fresh horse and rode north.
She met a few other groups of Kryptonian troops on their way home and a few Cadmian ones after she crossed the border. She waved at them all but continued on.
The city of Mercer looked much the same as it did when she left, although more repairs had been made and the people were certainly happier. She shared nods with various guards as her horse trotted up through the city and eventually through the castle gates. No one tried to stop her, it had been a long time since anyone in Cadmia had questioned her presence in Mercer, and so she bounded up the steps of the castle and through the doors after she hastily asked a stable boy to care for her horse.
She debated where she should look before deciding to head to the library first, since it was still before noon. She jogged along the halls before she made it to the large double doors and pushed through them.
Kara tried to calm her heart as she walked at a slightly slower pace to the back corner Lena frequented so often. She reached up and pressed the jewel into her skin as she had so many times in the past few months before she walked past the corner of a bookshelf and stopped still.
Lena was sitting in the sunlight, her hair down and curling around her face. She was reading, sitting casually on her favorite couch as she lazily turned a page. Kara felt her whole body relax as she smiled at the sight.
Kara took two steps forward and clasped her hands behind her back, as if she was still a cocky seventeen year old who knew what she wanted but wasn’t quite sure how to get there. She cleared her throat lightly.
Lena froze and looked up. Kara’s gaze met her favorite green and she smiled more surely.