Some things are more important than your own dreams, no matter how precious those dreams are.
When she was very young, Kalasin didn't even know what the word meant. Duty was a vague, far off concept, for parents and aunts and uncles to worry about, not for little princesses who chase their brothers around in the courtyards and are scolded by their mother for getting their dress dirty but still manage to steal a hug and a kiss.
For as long as she could remember, Kalasin had wanted to follow in her Aunt Alanna's footsteps. Every time she saw pages and squires in the practice fields, or a majestic figure decked out in armor, a thrill traveled all the way down her spine and through her arms and legs straight to the tips of her fingers and toes, and she thought to herself, Someday that will be me.
Her father, whenever she spoke of this dream, got a funny little smile and told her, We'll see when you're older. Kalasin had always assumed that meant 'yes' - after all, didn't he tell her everyday that she was his most precious treasure of all? Hadn't he always seen to her happiness? So Kalasin eagerly awaited the year when she would finally, finally be old enough to begin her training as a page.
Which was why she stood there in shock, not moving, not speaking, when her parents took her aside one day and told her, No.
No, you cannot become a page.
No, you cannot follow your dreams.
Kalasin wept and screamed at them that they were horrible parents to crush their daughter like this, that they were unspeakably cruel for denying her the one thing she wanted most in her entire life, and why, why, why were they doing this to her?
And then her father spoke one word.
And her mother repeated it.
Tortall was changing, had been changing for years, ever since Alanna had been revealed to the court as a woman. But the lands around Tortall were not. Many were already uncomfortable with the fact that Tortallan noblewomen were allowed to become knights, though none had stepped forward yet. If the royal princess tried for her shield, Tusaine and Carthak and the Copper Isles, Tortall's most powerful would-be enemies, might become more aggressive. Might attack Tortall. Might kill Tortallans.
Her mother and father told her this, told her that her position as royalty gave her many privileges, but also many responsibilities. The royal family had to protect their subjects, even at the expense of their own happiness, their own wants and dreams.
And slowly, reluctantly, resentfully, Kalasin repeated that one word.
Duty to her country, and her subjects. Duty to her parents, who loved her above all else, and duty to her brother, who would have enough work running the kingdom without a trouble-causing, selfish sister. Duty to all those who looked to the royal family for guidance and stability.
These words Kalasin repeated to herself as she learned all the tedious rules of etiquette - when to curtsy, how long to how it, how to receive gifts from a married man and a bachelor, which forks to use and when, and how to eat neatly, without spilling a single drop or crumb.
She repeated them as she went through what seemed like millions of dance steps with her instructor, trying to remember them all and knowing that despite her efforts she would still end up stepping on his toe or forgetting the next position.
She repeated them as she watched the pages going through blocks and strikes with their staffs, or squires challenging each other to mini-tournaments. She repeated them louder and louder until it nearly drowned out the small voice in back of her head which whispered, That could have been you.
And she repeated those words to herself as she walked on to the ship that would take her to her new husband - Kaddar, the emperor of Carthak.
Kalasin descended from the ship slowly, one hand on the railing, the other gracefully holding up her gown - the latest Carthaki fashion, of course. Kaddar rose to meet her as she set foot on the dock. He raised her hand to his lips, and their eyes met.
Kalasin had met him before, at parties and balls and such. He had been courteous and gentlemanly and everything that was expected of him, and she had thought that perhaps she could love him. Now, though, she realized something.
She could not will herself to love this man.
He was handsome, and intelligent, and Kalasin liked him well enough. She had no dread of living with him, or of having him as a large part of her life. But she could never love him, not truly. Not when with every glance they exchanged that small, spiteful voice at the back of her head would be saying, If not for him, you could have had your dreams.
Kaddar must have seen something in her expression, for he smiled a half-smile, mysterious and secret and a little bit regretful. Kalasin returned it with a wry little twist of her own mouth, and had a feeling that they were both thinking the same thing.