There was only one outfit that Delo-se née Linkæl ever wore.
This is to say, there was only one outfit that Delo-se ever wore in public—she wore something different to bed, of course, and while her typical ensemble was being washed, and secretly in the comfort of her own home—but these are hardly worthy matters of historical note. There was only one outfit that Delo-se was known by, and this was her Hero’s garb, a uniform so brightly dyed and nontraditional in cut and that it seemed straight out of a fairy tale.
An attempt to list its components follows; they include: boots, leather, tall, a practical feature, keeping out water when wading through swamps; leggings, burlap, cotton-lined, not as warm as they looked, but comfortable; an undershirt, silk, white, high-collared, cozy; mail, an unknown alloy, light but strong, golden in colour; gloves, leather, fingerless, featuring an ornate pattern despite their utility; an overshirt, cotton, Lincoln green, with a wide square neckline that cut across her upper breast; and a matching hat, just as verdant, pointed in style but poorly constructed (or perhaps just old) such that it flopped every which way instead of remaining vertical as it ought. The outfit’s stitching and fabrics were constructed as if through magic, resisting any manner of wear or abrasion; indeed, as she had received the garment straight from the Spirit Velon himself, this seemed likely to be the case.
Ten years ago, Delo-se had singlehandedly led a charge against an encroaching onslaught of forces of darkness incarnate without bringing along so much as a change of clothes. Her exploits as a warrior had earned her rank and admiration across the kingdom, and although she mostly spent her days now relaxing in the village of her childhood, her Hero’s uniform was seen as a symbol of the courage and determination that the best of humanity had to offer. Bearing this symbolic weight was no small responsibility, but it was one Delo-se carried with pride. So long as she appeared each day in her fabled attire, she was in everyone’s mind indefatigable. Without it, well…
…Well. There was a reason she was having difficulty bringing herself to open the door.
Before her time as The Hero Chosen By The Gods, Delo-se had been a humble farmhand at the village ranch. She had grown up wearing rough-cut pants and a sleeveless tunic—clothes designed for days of hard physical labour. Fancy clothes, girly clothes, dresses, simply didn’t suit her. The dress she was wearing now, a light blue lacy affair, certainly didn’t suit her. At all. And yet, here she was, hand on the door handle, quivering with the uncertainty of a young girl about to embark on her first date, perhaps more afraid than she had ever been in her entire life.
To be fair, she was heading to dinner.
Digging her nails into her palm and biting her lip one final time, she tugged the door open and stepped through its frame. The brisk autumn air quickly enveloped her, sending a shiver down her spine. She became in that critical instant acutely aware of two facts: first, the extent to which her back was exposed, and second, that she had been sweating profusely just moments before. She almost turned back then and there and called it a night.
But her moments’ panic was interrupted fortuitously by the call of an old friend. “Delo-se!” It was Etl-da né Kolen, a sprightly blond boy six years her junior but nevertheless one of her closest companions. Having grown up together, they were on a given-name basis, but as neither were married they publicly avoided such practice to keep up appearances. Etl-da ran up to her side, studying her face with intent. “Right, it is you. Where you headed?”
“Hello, Etl-da,” Delo-se said weakly. Etl-da wasn’t one to care about such things as clothing, but there was no way she could escape now. “I have business with the mayor over dinner. I was heading there presently.”
“Enough about that, what’s with this getup!? The tomboy Linkæl in a dress? I never thought I’d see the day—I had to double-check it was you!”
“Yes, well, it is a formal dinner.” That was her excuse. Of course, the mayor had not specified as much—not that telling Delo-se what to wear was normally an effective tactic anyways. But the mayor’s daughter, Saryæ-si née Ilya, was doubtless to attend, and, well. Y’know. She had spent the past seven years in Kaliko, a village far to the northwest, helping it rebuild after the invasion, and today marked her homecoming.
The dinner, of course, was unrelated. “A formal dinner, eh?” Etl-da rolled his eyes. “Our village has a population of… what? Fifteen? We don’t do formal.”
“Maybe you don’t.” Delo-se raised her chin adamantly. “Some of us are cut from a different cloth.”
“Oh, shut up.” Etl-da shoved her shoulder. “You can’t pull that one on me. I’ve seen you playing around in manure.”
“I’ve seen you in diapers,” Delo-se said.
“Yes, well, I’d be seeing you in diapers right now if it wouldn’t make you late for dinner,” Etl-da shot back.
“Oh, yes, dinner. Speaking of.” Delo-se reached up and ruffled Etl-da’s hair. He was taller than she was, now, which was freaky. “I had best be going,” she said.
“Riiiiight,” Etl-da said, brushing away her hand. “Wouldn’t want to keep the fair maiden waiting.”
He knew her too well.
Delo-se knocked three times. The door was opened by none other than Saryæ-si herself, who gave Delo-se a quick once-over with her eyes. “Delo-se!” she said, stifling a chuckle. “You look… nice.”
Delo-se felt her face flush. “sry sry,” she stammered. “i knew this was a bad idea i look terrible in dresses im going home now kthnx by—”
Saryæ-si grabbed her arm. “Linkæl, stop. I mean it. You look nice.”
Delo-se glanced up at her face. “Thanks. You too.” And she did. She was dressed more elegantly than Delo-se had ever seen her before—she looked official, like a court ambassador—but some things never changed. Her dirty blond hair was still cropped short, and more than a little unruly, and her eyes… well. She turned and walked back into the house; Delo-se followed her inside.
The dining room was gorgeous; Saryæ-si’s touch, no doubt, as the mayor was never much one for aesthetic. The sun’s last rays shone in through the window as the world outside descended into twilight. Delo-se looked away. The table was set for four; one of the places would go empty. Candles flickered in its center. Saryæ-si took a seat on the far side; Delo-se sat down across from her.
“Father will be just a moment,” Saryæ-si said. “He’s putting the finishing touches on dinner.”
“Mm,” Delo-se mumbled in response. The mayor was cooking dinner? She wasn’t sure whether to be excited or terrified. “You been back awhile?” she asked.
“I got in perhaps two hours ago,” Saryæ-si replied. “Long enough to get ready.”
Delo-se nodded. “How’re things there?”
“Good.” Saryæ-si sighed. “The hot springs are an attractive feature, so we’ve been able to draw people in from Castle Town, get a few new residents. The economy is almost back on track.”
“Yeah, well, glad your efforts are paying off.” Delo-se got the sense that talking about her work was wearing Saryæ-si out, so she didn’t press the issue further. “Missed having you around.”
“Oh, don’t give me that,” Saryæ-si snapped. “I was around for three years while you were off gallivanting with the Princess Hailutl, and it’s not like you stopped by to see me then. There was plenty of rebuilding to do here too, you know.”
“Well I’m sorry, but after saving the kingdom you kind of get stuck in the royal guard!” This was old history; Delo-se was surprised that Saryæ-si had brought it up. “Don’t tell me you were jea—”
At this moment the mayor burst into the room, carrying two enormous plates of food. The conversation ended abruptly. He looked from one girl to the other with raised eyebrows. “Well,” he said. “I see you two have wasted no time catching up.” Next to them he looked painfully underdressed, his muscular arms emerging from an oversized sleeveless tunic, his pants stained with mud and grass. He took a seat to Delo-se’s left, and the table shook with his weight as he sat down. “Food’s ready,” he said. “Let’s talk while we eat.”
The food was—to Delo-se's surprise, delicious. Turkey and honeyed biscuits; pumpkin pie and apple cobbler; mugs of hot cider and glasses of wine—frankly, it looked a bit much for three, but she recalled the mayor’s appetite and held her tongue. While an admirable suggestion, talking while they ate soon fell out of the question, as the next thirty minutes passed without anyone uttering so much as a word. On the thirty-first, however, Saryæ-si pushed aside her plate and filled a glass to the brim with wine. “So,” she said. “To business.”
“Right, right.” The mayor was far from finished eating, but he made a show of setting aside his fork and napkin. “So, as you are probably aware, it is harvest season, and that means it is time for our annual tribute to Hailutl Castle. It is also the tenth anniversary of the Twilight Invasion.”
Delo-se nodded her understanding. “Right. So we should do something special, no? Show how far we've come.”
“…Well.” The mayor looked uncomfortable. “Not exactly.”
“We should withhold the tribute and demand formal recognition from the princess,” Saryæ-si said bluntly. She took a swig of wine. “You may have gotten a royal promotion, but the rest of us haven't received so much as a word of acknowledgement from the castle. We were all on the front lines—the ranch loses most of its livestock; Kaliko loses most of its inhabitants, and do we get so much as an ounce of compensation? If it hadn't been for Malå we would've all gone under.”
“Um.” Delo-se took a bite of pie. “I have some issues with this plan.”
Saryæ-si crossed her arms. “Thought you might.”
“I just… really don't think it's a good idea to get on Zeitl-da's bad side? You realize that we have no means to resist if she decides to send forces here, right?”
“Not true. Kaliko and Ordone are Hailutl Castle's only points of access to agricultural production and, thanks to Malå's success, we have a considerable stake in their commerce. Furthermore, the Zåla tribe has ties with Kaliko going back generations; we can persuade them to maintain a stance of neutrality in this affair. But, of course—” Saryæ-si gestured with her glass. “We'd rather it didn't get to that point. That's why we need you on our side.”
“But why now? It's been ten years—I thought we'd largely put the war behind us.” Delo-se was surprised that Saryæ-si was so serious about this. A direct challenge to the royal family? She hadn't thought it possible.
“Maybe you have,” Saryæ-si shot back. “I've been reliving it every day. Aside from it being a notable anniversary—” She emptied her glass and began pouring another. “Now is when we have the economic strength to actually pull something like this off. We have the backing of