Every time she passed that one suit of armour in the hallway, there was always the smell of Rosemary. Princess Marille had inspected it, once or twice, in her youth. There was not a single scrap of Rosemary anywhere near or inside the shell of that battered old knight.
She had asked her tutors, once, why her family kept that scarred and dented armour when all the other suits of armour were so much prettier and shiny. What she got for an answer was a fairytale about a great knight who fought for the safety of the Crown. In the hour of greatest need, he would rise again and keep the kingdom safe.
It was a servant's duty, on an anniversary of a particular victory, to 'feed' the ancient knight a sprig or a posy of Rosemary by pushing it into his visor. No trace of the herb would be found by the following day.
On the day she reached her official majority, Princess Marille was a scrawny weed of a thing with only her dresses and her long, golden hair to announce that she was actually a princess. But by then, the kingdom was in great trouble. Enemies were on all sides. Gobbling up outlying villages and defeating the Royal Forces and the peasant militia alike.
They 'fed' the battered knight every day, but he had yet to stir.
By the time they reached the capital, Princess Marille had chopped her hair short and donned a pair of britches. Her diamonds had been sold long ago, and now her only jewellery was a pair of onyx sleepers. Mourning jewellery. And indeed she felt like she should mourn, because the Crown was in peril.
She glared at the battered knight. "You were supposed to be fighting for us ages ago," she chided it. "What's the use of keeping you around if you don't do anything?"
And the answer came with the overwhelming odour of Rosemary flowers. Wear me... said a voice. The voice of a thousand fallen soldiers. Royal blood will not be spilled.
She had no aides. She only had the guidance of watching her father don his armour. But the spirits of ancient squires seemed to help her with the padding, buckles, and heavy plate. All of it, and the mighty sword, felt light to her. Light as a feather. Strong as a flood.
What would you have me do? whispered the old soldiers.
"Save the kingdom. Find a peace that will not cause a river of tears," she said.
Half the enemy quailed when they saw the battered knight out on the field. They had heard the old stories, too. When Princess Marille gave orders, the spirits of a thousand fallen generals lent authority to her words.
The tide of war turned. Peasants captured by the enemy turned against them. Forces broke to fighting amongst themselves. Armies crossed the field to follow the battered knight's red banner.
And inside the ancient suit, Marille's womanhood flowered and flowed more red into the field. Royal blood spilled, but not through any wound. It seemed to create a great fury in the old soldiers, and renewed their power to fight.
And it was her fight to stop them once she re-established the previous borders. It would be so easy to conquer those who had tried to conquer her kingdom. But easy was not always the best. She struggled to hold aloft the white banner of parley. Fought to greet the enemy on an impromptu field of peace.
The Count of Tingari was shocked to see a princess inside the armour. He fell over himself to provide a feast, pillows, and some silks to adorn her dented shell.
"I need none of those," she said, ignoring the howls of old soldiers. "I need to know what your grievance was and why you thought you could harm the crown. We have known a hundred years' of peace."
"One hundred years of subterfuge," confessed the Count. "My great-great grandfather, following his loss, thought that he and his descendants might wait until your line forgot how the Battered Knight worked."
Marille had to slap her right arm down so it would not reach for her sword.
The man had the nerve to smile. "I see you are having difficulty controlling it, all the same."
"I've come into my womanhood, and I am bleeding," she announced. "They swore that royal blood would not spill, yet it is spilling into your expensive silk cushions. The old soldiers are angry, Count Tingari. Anything could cause them to fly into a rage."
She could see the moment that realisation sunk in. The Count went pale, and the hair on his head fluffed as it stood on end.
"I surrender," he said, "name your terms."
The old soldiers grumbled, but relaxed. Good. And she had the beginnings of a new peace. Even better. Even so, she would not shed this armour until all soldiers were off the field.