This one I’m not sure of. Take a look:
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When she was ten years old, Kehera Elin fell in love. She fell in love with Captain Ité Korastan, as he rode triumphantly through the city and up to the foot of the palace steps, where she stood beside her father. Beyond the open courtyard, the city spread down the hill: cobbled streets lined with low, square buildings of pale gold stone, steep roofs of silvery pine shingle shaded by great oaks and slender goldenthorn. Beyond the city, the mountains rose vast against the eastern sky, tawny in the low-angled light of early afternoon. It all seemed to Kehera like a fitting backdrop for the youngest and most dashing of her father’s captains.
Ité Korastan lifted his sword high in salute to Kehera’s father, a salute that to Kehera looked somehow at once proud and ironic and self-deprecating. He waved forward his standard-bearer, so that the whole enthusiastic crowd could see the golden Cat of Timir snapping out in the wind below the Griffin of Harivir and know that Timir’s stolen banner had been recovered and could now be restored to its people and its place.
Kehera fell in love with Captain Korastan right then.
Ité Korastan was her first love, and her brightest. She held her love silently to herself, a secret, painful joy in her heart. She didn’t even tell her companion Eilisè, though she told Eilisè everything; nor even her brother Tiro, though she told him everything she didn’t tell Eilisè. She didn’t even mind sharing her love with half the grown-up ladies of her father’s court.
That fall, when Ité Korastan was killed in yet another of the interminable skirmishes between Harivir and Emmer, Kehera thought she would die, too. She knew she would never fall in love with anyone again.
By the time she was fifteen, Kehera understood that heirs did not marry for love. Nor did they marry captains, even if the captains were young and dashing. A princess who would be queen married a duke or a duke’s heir, a man who would bring her important family connections and who would strengthen the tie between his land’s minor Immanent and the great Immanent Power of Direïniy-Ciör. Love was not something a queen could consider when planning marriage.
But Kehera could not quite see whom she should marry herself. The Duke of Risaniòn was too old and too grim; Kehera didn’t like either him or his Immanent Power and doubted he would make a good king. The Duke of Lanis was impossibly annoying. He couldn’t tell minor annoyances from major disasters and complained about everything equally, an constant irritating whine of disapproval and disappointment.
Kehera did like Duke Riheir Coärin of Hereil, who was always kind. He wasn’t so very old, only ten years older than she was. She liked his voice, which was cheerful and warm and never whiny. He’d taught Tiro and her how to make wonderful things out of paper, swans and fish and stags, and he’d taught them how to make and fly kites; he’d made her a beautiful one she’d hung on her wall because she liked it too much to fly it. But then Duke Riheir married a woman from his own province. The woman was pretty and soft-voiced and pretty; she had a daughter right away, and then a son. Then she died, but Duke Riheir wore black and lavender afterward, so Kehera knew he was not planning to marry again for a long time.
There were two boys Kehera thought might do. One of them, the heir to Viäriny on the coast, was bright and funny, and she thought she might like him, but he was also only nine years old. The other, the heir to the important town of Timir that sprawled along the southern edge of Imhar Bay, was tall and handsome and a year older than Kehera, but he was not very clever. Kehera supposed the little one would get older, whereas the dull one probably wouldn’t get smarter, but she was not eager to marry a boy barely more than half her age.
It was difficult to figure out what would be best for Harivir and for herself.
When she was seventeen, Kehera decided she was old enough to put aside childish dreams of love. She told her father she would marry whomever he decided was best. He rather kindly said that she was still very young and there was no need to rush forward into the future, by which she knew he also thought the heir of Viäriny would do, but might as well grow up a bit.
Two months before she turned twenty, Kehera found out that everything she’d thought she’d known about princesses and marriage was wrong.
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Now, is that too romance-y? Actually there is an important romance in this story, but it is not, well, a very romance-y romance, if you know what I mean. Kehera meets the male lead about a third of the way through the book, but in a decidedly non-swoony way. They are both determined to defeat the bad guy and save the world, but “together” is not a thing for them for a long time.
This is also an oddly time-has-passed beginning for me, almost like a two-page prologue. In just another page, we hit the beginning of the adventure story.
I will add, I initially wrote this one as a reaction against irresponsible, flighty princesses who are told they must marry for the good of their kingdom, have a hissy fit and refuse, flounce off in disguise, get thrown together the guy they were supposed to marry, and fall in love with him after all. (I don’t remember which particular book sparked my rebellion against that plot; I probably hit a run of similar fantasy novels all at once.) Kehera is all about responsibility, and the farthest thing from flighty you can imagine.