Healing a Princess. . . 28 (Lakeview)


Healing a Princess 28
Written by Tim Knight
            Monyka pulled the covers up to Tonya’s neck. “I’m going to spend a little time with Kadyr before retiring tonight.” Monyka whispered to her Princess. “Annyka is sleeping in the front room and will be available to you. The Mul Lutala is just inside the front door as well.”
            “Don’t be out all night.” Tonya warned. “I want to be on the road to Lake view early.”
            Monyka nodded. “I don’t plan on being out late, remember I’m the one that has to get you ready for tomorrow. Although I think I will take a nap in the carriage tomorrow.”
            Tonya watched as Monyka blew out the lanterns as she made her way out of the room. The feast wasn’t nearly as bad as Tonya had expected. Sure there were the usual Courtiers who just had to witness the crippled Riponian Princess, but most of the conversation was light, some of it even interesting. 
            Emperor Ramah made a brief presence at the beginning of the feast, but tired easily and by the end of the second course was taken back to his room for the night.  Prince Caldric had taken his place next to his mother and continued the festivities as if his father hadn’t been there.
Most of the food was palatable. It looked as if Empress Bakana’s cooks had been speaking with her own, for there were a few dishes that were very close to what she enjoyed at home. Those were also the dishes that Tonya had noticed the Dwarves looking at curiously and nibbling the first bite or two, deciding if it was something that they might enjoy. 
Annyka was not the only person who was curious of how Dwarven women would eat in public, wearing veils. This feast offered great insight to that custom. It seemed to Tonya that the veils worn by the women tonight were slightly shorter, but not as see through as the veils that they wore in public. The women would then lean over their plate a bit more than what Tonya was used to seeing, doing this allowed the veil to fall forward a bit and a small bite of food could be raised behind it to the mouth. It seemed a bit of work just to eat at a feast, but the women seemed so comfortable with the idea, that it seemed almost natural.
Her Captain and his officers looked brilliant in their Riponian blues. She found that she had a hard time concentrating on some of the entertainment. She kept glancing up to see the dark Captain, either staring at her, or turning his head away from her. She wondered just how much time he devoted to watching her. It was both flattering and unnerving at the same time. Was he just doing his job? Or was he genuinely interested in her as she seemed to be growing to be of him? 
Sitting between herself and Monyka, who was allowed the honour of a Lady, was a Dwarven Architect. Tonya questioned him about the bathing pools, its size, how it was draining and where it was draining to. She drilled him on other ways to keep the pools hot, ways that wouldn’t expend too much energy. Water heated from the ground was free. One only had to find the right kind of water, water that wasn’t too full of minerals, or sulphur. Other than that, The architect suggested heating the water using coal, or if one had too, using wood. Both of the latter alternatives seemed to take a lot of work force, so the earth warmed water was something that Tonya should look for.
            Tonya’s enthusiasm for building the bathing pools in the Palace at Rippon was stiffened a little bit by the news of the expense in maintaining the heated water. There were other much more needed things that the Kingdom could use at that price than for her comfort in such frivolous item.
            Duke Tamon excused himself from the feast as soon as it was politely possible without causing an uproar of indecent manners. A few courtiers followed him soon after. One was a Dwarven lady of some status, by the amount of gems in her hair and by the veil that she wore. Tonya guessed that it was Emperor Ramah’s second wife, Tamon’s mother.
            As Empress Bakana rose to retire, Tonya decided that it would be a good time for her to do the same. She thanked the architect for his advise and insight and nodded to Monyka who was at her side in a moment’s time. Rikki seeing the signal, was soon at her opposite shoulder, ready to assist. When she looked up, she found the whole room of feasters watching her without seeming to do so. 
She looked out across the room, straightened her posture and smiled. “Thank you all for such a warm welcome and a great feast.” She announced. “The citizens of Thame do her proud.” She then turned and allowed Monyka to guide her out of the feast hall. Once they were in the quiet confines of the corridor, did she look to see who was with her. The Mul Takar strode down the hall several paces in front of them, while The mule Lutala silently paced a few paces behind her.  Rikki walked, just a step behind her, while Takoda, Kadyr, and Markys Galyway trailed. Ambassador Zareb chose to remain in the feast, talking and making connections with Dwarven courtiers.
“Are you feeling all right, Highness?” Rikki asked taking a step forward.
“Yes, Rikki, I’m fine, actually I feel better than I have in a long time,” She paused and frowned, “I don’t count the Cherry Blossom Dance. I just wish to retire early so that I can get up and enjoy the bathing pool one last time before we leave tomorrow morning.” She reached out and took his hand in hers. Rikki almost jumped at the intimate physical contact, but relaxed as Tonya’s fingers grasped his.
“It’s going to be another long day tomorrow,” he cautioned.
“Yes, I saw how far away Lakeview is from here earlier today.”
They walked on in silence. His strong hand held hers delicately as if her hand was the frailest of eggs. The harsh calluses on his palm and fingers represented the long hours he had held a sword in her father’s service. 
“You seem to be walking easier.” He ventured.
“It’s the bathing pools.” Tonya remarked. “I’d almost swear that they had medicinal qualities.”
            “You should speak to Brother Tagyrt about them. He might be able to convince your father to build some at Ripon.”
            “Those were my thoughts as well.” She smiled.
            The Mul Takar took up a guard like stance just beyond her chamber door, looking like he had rooted himself into the very stone of the mountain.
            Rikki released his hand from hers as they approached the door and opened it for her. “Good night, Highness.”
            “Good night to you too, Rikki.” Tonya gifted him with a soft, comfortable smile.
            Tonya lay in bed, the light of one lantern in the next room over illuminating enough so that she wasn’t in total blackness. She wondered just how a Princess could be falling for the Captain of her body guard. If it had been someone else, she’d have laughed at the audacity of the situation, but it wasn’t someone else, it was her, and she was becoming very attached to her Captain.
                                                *            *            *
            Monyka exited the Princess’s chambers to find the Mul Takar on guard as well as one of Captain Kalhoun’s men. Somehow the Riponian guard looked like a boy playing soldier next to the Mul. Monyka knew that wouldn’t want to cross blades with the Dwarven half-breed in any kind of fight. 
            Monyka crossed the hall and knocked on a door a few doors down from Rikki’s. After a moment’s wait, Kadyr opened the door with a smile.
            “The Princess let you escape?”
            “As long as I won’t be out too late, I have a job to do tomorrow too, you know.”
            “Would you like to come in?” Kadyr invited. It isn’t large or as comfortable as your chambers, but it is adequate.”
            “Actually I had something else in mind.” Monyka took a hold of his hand and pulled him out into the hall.
            The heaviness of the air reminded him of the stinking fog that they had to make their way through on the way to Roberton, under the attack of men, some dressed as elves. This air was much warmer than the air of that horrible night. The soft roar of a water fall echoed through out the cavern. 
            Monyka wrapped her arms around the Lieutenant’s neck and brushed her lips against his. She parted and looked into his eyes. “I have been thinking about this all day.” She grinned, as her eyes flashed with mischief.
            Monyka untied her bodice slowly, looking up through her long eyelashes at Kadyr, who stood astonished by her daring and beauty. She loosened the laces, just enough to allow the overdress to slip and fall to the stone floor. Standing in her chemise, she approached Kadyr and began unbuttoning his Riponian blue dress jacket.
            “Here, let me get that.” Kadyr’s hands tried to insert themselves. Monyka batted them a way.
            “No, Let me do it.” She admonished. 
            She unfastened the last of the buttons and slid the jacket from his shoulders and tossed it onto a bench near the wall. Before Kadyr could do anything else, she pulled his shirt out of his breeches, and pulled it up over his curly hair and tossed it on top of the jacket. Her hands lightly caressed his chest, feeling the muscles that rippled and flinched under her soft touch. Her lips touched his chest, kissed it as her hands slid to his waist. She unbuckled his belt, as her kisses made his breath quicken under her ministrations. The belt and sword she wound and gently laid on the bench before standing before him again. 
            Her lips found his as her fingers again traced over his chest, down his abdomen and to his breeches, which she loosened and slid over his back side, dropping them to the floor. She crossed her hands over her abdomen, grabbing a bit of fabric in them, and peeled the chemise off from her body and tossed it over on top of the bench along with his clothes.
            Her breasts revealed, she pressed them against him in a tight hug and again found his lips. Her tongue touched his lips, which he parted, allowing her access. Her long delicate fingers raked and combed through his curly hair as they embraced one another in passion.
            After a long moment, she withdrew and pulled away from him. “Take off your boots, Kadyr, and get into the water.”
            “He nearly fell to the floor, trying to get his boots off as she simply slid a slipper off from each foot and placed them next to the wall.
            While Kadyr worked on not falling on his face while getting his foot wear off, Monyka picked up the clothing that ended up on the floor and quickly folded and placed it on the bench. 
            She turned towards the pool and was taken by surprise as Kadyr, boots off, took her in his arms and kissed her passionately. She returned his passion and guided him to the edge of the pool, their lips still locked in a sensuous embrace.
             Monyka managed to pull away, not only so that they could enter the soothing waters, but also to catch her breath. Kadyr quickly descended the steps into the deeper water and turned to watch as his brunette goddess slowly descended the steps, her hips swaying countering the swing of her braided hair, tinkling with baubles in the dwarven fashion.
            Once both were in the water, they quickly found one another, their lips embraced as their hands explored one another’s body.
                                                *            *            *
            Hand in hand, Tonya and Rikki walked down the long corridor. She gently squeezed his hand sending a signal of her love. Rikki turned and looked down at her a gentle smile lit his face, bringing a sparkle to his eyes. The end of the corridor was now in sight. Two doors stood closed at its terminus. 
            At long last, they came to stand in front of the two doors. 
            “This way.” Rikki pulled her towards the left door.
            “Why that way?” she looked puzzled.
            “It’s the right way.” 
He opened the door to show a dark room in Ripon. Tonya sat upon a large cushioned chair rocking a baby in her arms. Two more children played at her feet. A boy with Rikki’s dark hair played with toy soldiers while a girl with chestnut hair dressed a doll. Rikki sat at a table next to Tonya looking over a strategy game board across from an older blonde girl.
            “Father, it’s your move.” The blonde girl, with intelligent eyes looked up at Rikki.
            The Rikki in the scene before them had grey in his hair, and sorrow in his eyes. His hand had been resting on Tonya’s shoulder. He gave it a squeeze and returned it to the game, moving his game piece.
            “Okay, children,” Annyka as a young woman entered the scene, “Time for bed.” She scooted the children off to bed and patted the older blonde girl on the shoulder. Annyka then took the baby from Tonya’s arms and handed it to Rikki who carefully tucked the baby in the crook of his arm. He smiled down at the little bundle and cooed at it, before looking back at his blonde opponent. 
            Annyka brought a walking staff over to the Tonya in the scene and helped her slowly gain her feet. Once she was up, Annyka dashed over and brought a wheeled chair up close and helped the Tonya into it.
            “I’ll join you in the bathing pool in just a few moments.” The Rikki in the scene said. “I’ve got to teach this one how the Elves took Truno from us.” He grimaced at the game board. “Hopefully she won’t make the same mistakes we did.”
            “Don’t be to hard on yourself, love. None of the other saw what the elves had planned, nor could they stop it once they started.”
            Annyka wheeled Tonya over to the table where the blonde poked her tongue out in concentration.
            “Good night, love.”
            “Good night, momma.” The blonde stood up from the table and placed a kiss on Tonya’s forehead. “Don’t worry, momma, I’ll keep the Elves from getting to Riponia. Even if it means building enough ships to build a wall around the island, I promise.”
            Tonya, in the corridor looked up at Rikki, “What is behind this door?”
            “I don’t know, but I like what down this path.”
            Tonya reached out, opened the right door, and looked in. 
            Rikki in strange armour advanced down a large throne room and paused before a dais. An unknown coat of arms woven into a tapestry hung behind the throne. The Tonya in this scene, also in strange armour looked up from a counsellor and smiled briefly at Rikki. A puckered red scar, similar to Sergeant Takoda’s, ran down the left side of his face, distorting his once good looks. The view turned slightly and Tonya could see that the Captain was missing his left arm at the elbow.
            He saluted her with his sword arm and gave her a quick bow, “We have taken them, Majesty.”
            The Tonya in the scene stood up and quickly closed the distance. She threw her arms around the Rikki and embraced him in a fierce kiss. 
            “I knew it was a farce. They won’t be trying anything like that against us.” She said after pulling away. “I want to celebrate; shall we go for a run?”
            “Don’t you ever get tired of running?” the Rikki asked.
            “Do pigs tire of mud?” she raised an eyebrow. She took his hand in hers and briskly led him out a back door of the throne room. 
            The scene switched to a warm spring afternoon. Tonya and Rikki shed their armour and stood before rolling hills, covered in tall grass, and spotted with wild flowers.
            “Race you to the river.” She squeezed his hand. “Last one there has to listen to the generals complain about border patrols.”
            “You’re on.” The Rikki in the scene dug his foot into the soft earth, to get ready.
            “Go!” Tonya called racing out over the grassy plain.
            “I wanna go too, Aunt Tonya.” A curly  haired boy raced after the two adults.
            “Come on, run with us, or the elves will get you.” Rikki teased.
            “Uncle Rikki, Everyone knows that the Elves would never come here. They’re too scared of you.” The boy giggled as he ran to catch up to his Aunt and Uncle.
                                                *            *            *
            Tonya woke a strangled cry in her throat. She closed her mouth, and swallowed the scream. Her bed clothes and pillows were drenched in sweat.
            “It’s okay, Tonya, I’m here.” Monyka quickly came over to the bed. “Was it that old dream again?”
            “No.” Tonya hissed in a whisper, hoping not to wake Annyka in the other room. “This one was totally different.”
            “What was it about?”
            “I have to choose a path.”
            “What kind of path?” Monyka brought her a drink of water.
            “One path leads to a happy family life on Riponia with lots of children but isolated from friends and allies. A lot of people were killed, and I’m still crippled.” She took the cup and drank from the glass.
            “And the other choice?”
            “Living in a strange land, being able not only to walk, but to run. I don’t have children, but I am a powerful queen. A lot of my friends are maimed and it looks like they have lived through a war. Most of my friends however, are safe under, or within  my protection.”
            “Sounds like the Gods are having fun with your dreams.” Monyka took the water from the princess. “Do you need to urinate, while you’re awake?”
            “No, I’ll be fine. . . I think.”
            “So was I in your dream of choices?”
            “Not exactly in it; At least I didn’t see you. In one of the choices, you are one of the missing people. In the other choice I could feel your presence, and your love, but you were far away.”
            “You have a tough puzzle to figure out, don’t you?”
            “I guess I do.” Tonya looked to the ceiling. “Tanek, why do you do this to me?” Tonya looked back at her friend. “What are you doing up?”
            “I just came in. I’m getting ready for bed.”
            Tonya pulled the sheets open next to her. “Can you sleep with me tonight?”
            Monyka smiled. It was like they had just reverted back to little girls in the Ripon palace. She nodded. “Let me get ready for bed.”
                                                *            *            *
            Tonya was ready and waiting by the time the carriage was harnessed and lined up in the cue of Riponia’s parade. 
            Prince Caldric and Hammer Kleng along with a small retinue were joining them on this next leg of the trip. The Dwarven Prince wanted to show the humans first hand the hidden staging area behind the hidden gate of Lakeview.  Prince Caldric ordered half of the Muls to stand down and wait behind to protect Empress Bakana and Emperor Ramah.           
“We’re ready for you, Highness.” Grymm greeted.
            “Its about time, Corporal.” Tonya huffed. “If I had known it was going to take this long, I’d have stayed in the bathing pool for a while longer.”
            Corporal Grymm didn’t remark, but walked two paces behind the Princess as she with the help of her walking staff and Monyka, made her way down the corridor.
            “Mul Lutala, did you get any sleep?”
            “I slept yesterday, Princess.” The Mul replied.
            “How about you?” Mul Takar?”
            “I will sleep tomorrow, Princess.” Takar’s deep voice answered.
            Empress Bakana stood out on the platform in front of the main doors to the palace to see them off. “I would like it if you and I could see one another again sometime, Tonya.”
            “I’d like that very much, Bakana.” She leaned down and gave the Empress a big hug. “I’ll be asking for engineers in a year or so to help build a pool in Ripon.”
            “They will be yours.” Bakana assured her.
            Rikki stood on one side of the carriage door, while Corporal Grymm stood on the other. They both smiled as she approached. One smile of awe and loyalty the other of respect and love.
            The procession paraded through the streets again as they made there way to a different wide corridor. The road they now travelled was not as wide, nor as tall as the underground highway. It angled down at a fairly steep angle. Tonya reviewed the map in her head and reasoned that it was so that they could cross under the river that split the two mountains. They were also, she realized, crossing out of Thame and into Hasslemere. After the visit to Lakeview, they would again cross back under Thame as they travelled along the Underground Highway north to Narva.
            Tonya lit the lantern in the carriage and pulled out her book to study. Monyka was already curled up in one corner of the carriage breathing heavily as she slept.
               Tonya’s mind kept wandering from her studying to the unnerving dream that plagued her last night. She had two paths to pick from. One of them led to lots of children and a wonderful family, the other led to a warrior like queen but with no off spring. The path with the family showed her still crippled, needing the help and support of a serving woman. The other showed her running, caution blown to the wind, healthy but the survivor of something momentous. 
            Once choice was between walking and remaining crippled. That was easy. She would rather be healthy and walking.
            Another choice was between having children and not having children. She wanted children. Not only did she have to give birth to an heir, but she wanted children of her own, lots of children. She grew up an only child. Often she felt isolated and alone especially at state functions. She was more often than not, the only child in attendance, bored and wanting of distraction. She often wished that she had an older sibling and several younger ones. Siblings that she could confide with, share stories with, get into trouble with. She wanted to surround herself with children and grand children as she grew older. Holidays where her family filled an entire room, babies crying, children giggling and adults laughing and joking, all together, all one big wonderful family.
            Then there was Rikki. Both paths showed her with him, but they were vastly different in character. In one Rikki’s spirit was broken, beaten down, lost as a general who has lost a war and took every death personaly. He was a good father, but half of him seemed to be missing. The other path showed his spirit alive and fighting, but his body was ravaged, scarred, he seemed full of responsibility and confidence, but at what cost?
            Then there was the feelings that came with the dream. Feelings of people who no longer lived in one, of whole kingdoms raided, occupied and destroyed, the people she knew there, gone, or missing. In the other she had the feeling that a lot of people that she knew were still alive, some were distant, others just changed.
            “Tanek, please don’t make me choose.” She whispered to herself. “Tanitha,  help me, guide me to do what is right. I just don’t know which path to chose.”
                                                *            *            *
            Rikki closed in on himself. This rode was so much smaller then the underground highway. Two wagons could barely squeeze by one another on this road. The ceiling on the underground highway was barely ever visible, He could reach up and touch the ceiling in places on this route. 
They were heading down, down under a river. Rivers were meant to be crossed on top of or over, not under. What if the rock gave way and the water came crashing in? Would the mountain or what ever was above them collapse and crush them as well? Now he was thinking about being crushed and drowning at the same time. He shook his head to try and clear the horrible thought from it. He had more important things to worry about than his petty fears.
He absently rubbed at his arm. It still twinged with pain every once in a while as a nerve misfired. The itching was abating thank Tanitha. He never thought that blasted itching was going to subside. He lost many hours of sleep due to that infernal itching.
Prince Caldric and Hammer Kleng were good solid thinking leaders. They could see the risks involved and what needed to be done. The Duke however, seemed to not understand that just because he lived below the earth, that he wasn’t part of it. 
Rikki just wanted out of the Under-Kingdom. The claustrophobia was bad enough, add to that the intrigues of Dwarven court and he wanted to race for the first opening and throw himself out of these Tanek blasted tunnels.
            Rikki looked back at the royal carriage. The windows glowed with the lamp light. Tonya was probably reading her Dwarven science book. The memory of her hand in his made his palms begin to itch.
            “Great first my arm, now my hand.” He muttered to himself.
            Her soft skin and delicate fingers fit so perfectly in his. He could still feel the ghost of her touch as they walked down the corridor.
            “What are you thinking,” he berated himself. “She is a Princess, you just a horse riding sword. She can’t be looking at you for anything other than as a distraction, a toy.”
            “What was that, Captain?” Takoda asked from nearby. “Were you talking to me?”
            “No, Sergeant, just muttering to my self. Trying to get my mind off of where we are.”
            “Getting night sweats?” Takoda asked.
            “I wasn’t, but this narrow hole will probably keep me up all night.”
            Rikki glanced back at the carriage again. He caught sight of the two Muls guarding the Princess. Ramah’s idea was brilliant, to create the ultimate fighting force. The process however was abhorrent.   Sacrificing women to make killing machines, no matter what the woman was guilty of was just wrong. He knew that he would soil his armour if he ever had to fight a Battleaxe let alone a co-hort of Muls.
            The morning, passed relatively quickly. The line or soldiers, Ambassadors and retinue, now used to the long distance covering pace that they had set were performing nicely. No one even complained anymore about food, sore feet or saddle soreness. If they were tired of walking, they found a wagon to hop onto, or sometimes they would be boosted up behind one of the cavalry. If saddle sore, they would dismount and walk or even jog along side their horse. 
            The dwarves designed the roads to have watering holes along its length. As they came to each of these areas, servants would hurry forward with buckets and water the horses as quickly as possible. It was at one of these watering holes that Rikki asked the cooks to pull out and distribute food for lunch. The soldiers having been in the field before, thought this was almost a holiday. In the field, they would live off of field rations and dried meat for days if not weeks at a time. On this assignment, they were fed three meals a day, meals that didn’t require jaws of steel and saliva of strong acid to break tasteless food down.
            The parade marched on, it seemed like months since he had been outside in the open air, to feel the wind in his face, the sun on his back. Yes he had been exposed to a bit in Hobro, but he didn’t really count being at the bottom of a deep hole. He his eyes wished for a horizon, wished to see for leagues in any direction. Rikki even missed the trees of the forests of Hasslemere, even with the danger of elves lurking around every tree.
            “A few more days.” He told Sefu as well as himself, “just a few more days and you will be able to run until you are lathered with sweat.”
            He took his turn, as did all of his officers, to ride up and down the line, to show the servants and retinue that they were still thought of, that they weren’t alone in this dark underworld.
            Pitr with his caged pigeons rode on the tail of a wagon. The young boy talked to them as if they were friends, or family. For this orphan of a boy, they probably were very much his family. 
The boy smiled up at Rikki, “Do you have something for me, Captain?”
“Not as of yet, Pitr. I will let you know. How many of the birds do we have left?”
“Twelve, Sir.”
“Then perhaps I’ll wait for a day or two more before sending out the next message. Twelve isn’t a whole lot when we are this far from our destination.”
“Just let me know when, Captain.” The boy saluted.
“Pitr, you are doing a fine job. I wish more pigeon handlers were as adept and as caring as you.”
“Thank you, Sir.”
Rikki nodded and let the wagon roll on ahead of him. “Now to check on that little weasel, Dianthe.” He muttered.
Rikki rode further back in the line, all the way to the end, where the spare horses tethered together came in a double string. “How is your stable boy doing?” Rikki asked the stablemaster.
“He was starting to get lax the last few days, but the rest in Hobro and Sherstone did him some good, Captain. He has a knack with the beasts, I give you that.”
“Where is he now?”
“Probably with the Princess’ horse, Captain. He has a affinity for that one.”
“Thank you stablemaster.” Rikki let the string make its way by and made out the white shape of Comyn the Princess’ beast. Sure enough, the Adiah was beside her, talking to her in a way similar to Pitr with his birds. “How are you feeling today, Adiah?”
“Much better thank you, Captain.” She grinned. “Rose was very nice to me. She let me sleep, and then she forced me to eat, even if I wasn’t hungry.”
“You were starting to look like a scarecrow.”
“She wouldn’t even let me go see the sights at Sherstone.” She complained.
“You didn’t miss much.”
“I would have liked to see the bathing pools.”
“You have bathing pools in Truno,” Rikki stated, “If I remember right, they are built using basic Dwarven technology.”
“But It would have been cool to see the ones in the cavern.” Adiah raised her chin in defiance.
“We’ll be in Narva in a few days,” Rikki told her, “Would it make up for it if I made sure you were able to go to the market there with a bit of coin?”
“It might.” Adiah sighed. “What do they have in Narva?”
“They make some of the best glass in the world, as well as the finest weapons money can buy.”
“What would I do with a weapon?” Adiah asked.
“You might learn how to use it to defend yourself.”
“I’ll be surrounded by a bodyguard, they’ll protect me.”
“You might want some privacy, or a smaller guard, so it might be handy to show your parents that you can protect yourself.”
“Like with a sword?”
“It isn’t becoming for a princess, or even a queen to walk around with a sword. I bet you could do with knives though.”
“Who would train me?”
“I’m sure if you asked my Sergeant Takoda, or Sergeant Galyway, they might be able to have someone show you.”
“They’d show a peasant boy how to use knives?”
“First off they know who you are.” Rikki stated. “Secondly, they’d show anyone who showed an interest.”
“I’ll think about it.”
“Don’t take too long. The longer you take to decide to do it, the shorter the time you have to master it.” Rikki patted Sefu’s neck. “By the way, you’re spoiling my horse. Until we get out of this hole in the ground, I would like you to not feed him so much. With out the room to run, he’s getting fat.”
“Yes, Captain.”
“Remember, Adiah, I can pull you out of here at any time and coop you up in the carriage.” Rikki thought he saw her lose some color. It would be good to remind of her choice in travel.
Rikki gave Sefu some rein and let the horse gallop back up the line. He had a little difficulty in keeping him to just a gallop. 
It was getting close to dinner time when the weary travellers entered their destination, Lakeview. Lakeview wasn’t a bustling city like some of the other places that they had come across on their trek in the Under-kingdom. Lakeview was a gigantic hollowed out cavern taking up what seemed a large portion of the mountain. Two large tents had been set up at one end of the cavern, one flew the Dwarven coat of arms, the other Riponia’s Dwarven cooks had set up another tent and had several fires going. Two of the firers roasted hog, while a third roasted large cuts of beef.
“I had a retinue sent here yesterday.” Prince Caldric explained. “There aren’t any inns here, and only a small community is kept here for keeping this place.”
“What was this place?” Rikki asked.
“This is where the Muls were raised and trained. This large floor area is where they were drilled and learned to fight.” Hammer Kleng informed them.
“Not only is it a perfect staging area for your upcoming war,” Prince Caldric added, “but your men will have a little room to train in here as well.”
“What about horses?” Takoda asked, “Is there a place to keep and tend to a few thousand horses as well?”
“There is another level above us that can serve that purpose.” Hammer Kleng nodded. “We aren’t a horse society so we didn’t build stables, but I think the space will do.”
“Where is this gate?” Rikki inquired.
“See that wall of the cavern over there?” Caldric pointed. 
“Two thirds of that wall is the gate,” Prince Caldric chuckled.
“The gate is that wide?”
            “Aye. We’ll show you once night is upon us and we dim some of these lights. We don’t want any elves finding out our little hide away now, do we?”
            “Two thirds of that wall.” Rikki shook his head in disbelief.
            “Come, let us get some food and some ale.” Prince Caldric guided.
                                                *            *            *
            Tonya was surprised to find a large tent fully furnished waiting for her comfort. There was even a screened off section with a large metal bathtub in it. A large human sized bed, with lots of pillows and soft fluffy blankets dominated one side of the tent. At the opposite end of the tent, two smaller beds were available for her assistants. Exotic rugs from Ladamore covered the cavern ground and a small brazier burning coal stood atop a table in the center of the tent.
            The Mul Lutala entered the tent first and after a quick search, took up a post just inside the tent flap. Tonya had no illusions that the Mul Takar was guarding the other side of that flap.
            “Oh, it is so good to be out of that carriage.” Tonya stretched once inside her pavilion. “There isn’t to be a banquet tonight is there?”
            “Not that I have been informed.” Monyka dismissed the servants who carried in the Princess’s wardrobe.
            “Annyka, could you ask the Prince if he had any plans, for supper. If not, I’d really like to take mine here, in this comfortable tent.”
            “Yes, Highness.” The blonde girl dipped a curtsey and exited the tent.
            “What are your plans for the evening?” Monyka queried.
            “I want to work on my notebook. I’ve been studying the dwarven book, comparing it to what I’ve seen, and I’d like to work on some ideas. Could you unpack my quills, ink and paper?”
            “Of course.”
            “What about you? Are you and your Lieutenant going to sneak off somewhere tonight?”
            “Why, do you want alone time with your Captain?” Monyka quipped back. She was rewarded with a glare from the Princess. “I doubt there will be someplace private here. Besides, I think the Captain will have him busy discussing strategies and details for their battle.”
            Annyka entered the tent a few moments later. “The Prince says that if you are more comfortable dining in your tent, to make yourself comfortable.” She quoted. “He also says that if you require anything that all you are to do is ask.”
            “Thank you Annyka.”
            In a matter of moments, Tonya had her ink, paper and quills at a small dining table. A oil lamp and two bowls of glowing fish illuminated her and her work station. Monyka scurried around the tent organizing it in a more calming manner. While Annyka supervised several Dwarven boys bringing hot water to fill the bathtub.
            A little later, three dwarven servants were admitted carrying silver trays of food which were placed on the opposite end of the table from the Princess. Monyka ended up taking one of the trays that wouldn’t fit and setting it on a foot stool near by.
            Tonya nibbled on some of the food, but was too engrossed in her work to take time to indulge in a meal.
            “Your Highness?” Takar raised his voice, “Captain Kalhoun to see you.”
            “Come in Captain.” Monyka greeted.
            Rikki ducked through the flap and took the room in at a glance. Monyka stood before him. Annyka sat near a brazier studying the flame, while the Princess was leaning over some paper with a quill.
            “What is it, Captain?” Tonya asked without looking up.
            “The Dwarves are about to open the gate to show us where it looks down upon and what kind of terrain we will be negotiating. I thought, you Highness, would like to see it.”
            Tonya’s head snapped up with a smile, “How far is it? Can I walk there?”
            “It’s just across the other side of this cavern, Highness.”
            “Annyka, my cloak. Monyka, my walking staff.” Tonya dictated. She pushed herself up and twisted her face at the pain of moving her leg after being still for so long.
            “May I escort you, Highness?” Rikki offered.
            “You may, Captain.” Tonya nodded with a smile.
            Rikki led the Princess out of the tent and into the darkness of the cavern. Soldiers spoke in hushed tones to muffle the echo of their voices.
            Everywhere, Soldiers were blowing out candles, or concealing their small fires. Lieutenant Kollyns, Takoda, and Sergeant Galyway followed their captain and princess as they made their way to the other side of the cavern.
            “Good evening, Princess,” Prince Caldric greeted, “I hope you are finding your quarters comfortable.”
            “They are perfect, and quite considerate, Caldric.” Tonya bowed her head.
            “You ready to see yet another wonder of Dwarven architecture?”
            Tonya nodded. 
            “Open the gates.” Prince Caldric instructed Hammer Kleng.
            “Open the gates!” The Hammer’s voice boomed.
            Tonya heard a bit of groaning and scraping for a moment followed by the sound of a crack.
            “The outside is still iced.” Hammer Kleng apologized.
            “Tonya felt a cold gust of air, then a cool breeze as she noticed a section of wall that wasn’t as dark as the rest grow wider.
            “Please take care not to go out into the snow.” Hammer Kleng requested. “The Elves don’t know that this is here, and I don’t want them noticing footsteps coming from or going into a large cliff face.”
            Tonya could see stars twinkling in the night sky, as well as grey and white clouds that obstructed the some of the view of the heavens. It had been a few days since she had seen the sky. The last time was out on the lake at Hobro.
            The gate opening continued to gape wider and wider. Rikki calculated that he could send eight, or even ten mounted cavalrymen abreast, comfortably through the gate. A wide area in front of the gate was cleared, but in front of that, was forest. The dwarves, afraid of discovery dared not to clear a way to the road at the foot of the mountain.
            Over and through the tree tops, spread a vast lake, Lake Mere. She wasn’t sure, but she thought she could see lights from the town of Lakemere on the island in the lake.
            “That is why we call it Lakeview.” Prince Caldric stated.
            “If you look to the East there, you can see the snow covered peak that dominates Lewiston.” Hammer Keng pointed. “I think your cavalry could cross that distance in a short time, don’t you, Captain?”
            “If we can clear a wide trail down to the road, We could make even faster time.” Rikki ventured.
            “Without the Elves discovering what we are planning?”
            “We could clear it in the guise of loggers. Have them take out trees along the whole side of the mountain, but concentrate on a road of sorts.”
            “You could even use the timber for building boats to transport the troops from Lakemere to Lewiston and the lakeshore.” Takoda pointed out.
            “A two in one strategy, I like that.” Prince Caldric grinned.
            “It would put people to work in Lakemere as well.” Galyway added.
            “I’ll have to speak with the ???? about that, but I think he will see the benefits.”
            “Shall I close the gates to keep from our newly laid plans from being found out?” Caldric looked to Rikki and Tonya.
            Tonya nodded.
            “Close the gates!” Hammer Kleng again boomed.
“Thank you, Prince Caldric, for taking the time to show us these gates.” Tonya swept her hand at the closing gates. 
“I wanted to show the Captain, here, just how large they were so that he understood how fast he and his troops can disembark to take care of those nasty forest freaks.”
            Tonya and her assistants slowly made their way back to her tent. All around the back part of the cavern began to glow as soldiers unshielded their fires, and re-lit candles and lanterns. Once in the tent, Tonya shed her cloak and went back to her table to work on her drawings and notes.
            “Would you mind if I left for a bit?” Monyka asked.
            “Hmm?” Tonya looked up from her drawing.
            “Would you mind if I left for a bit?”
            “No, go on, just don’t be out all night. It was pretty boring in the carriage today with you doing nothing but snoring.”
            Monyka gave Tonya an indignant look.
            “Your Highness,” Annyka spoke up. Tonya looked to the young girl. “Your bathwater is getting cool, should I have it bailed and refreshed?”
            “I had a good bath this morning in the bathing pool. You can take one if you wish.” Tonya smiled, and then turned back to her work.
                                                *            *            *
            Kadyr walked with Rikki back to the Captain’s tent. “Can you believe the size of those gates?”
            Rikki shook his head. “These dwarves are amazing when it comes to working with stone and steel, aren’t they?”
            “They cut that huge door in the side of a mountain and you couldn’t see a seem or even a crack.”
            Rikki just shook his head.
            “How’s your arm doing?”
            “It’s fine.”
            “Has anyone looked at it since Bolton?”
            “No need, Its doing just fine.”
            “Captain,” Kadyr used Rikki’s title, “If you don’t let me look at it, I’ll get Markys Galyway and Takoda over here to sit on you.”
            Rikki’s shoulders slumped a little, “Alright, come on in my tent, so we can get this over with.” Rikki entered through the tent flap and turned up the oil lamp that has been glowing softly. He took off his jacket and slowly pulled his shirt off.
            Kadyr waited for him by the lamp. He looked closely at the wound. The good new was that there didn’t look to be any infection. Parts of it were scabbed over while other parts were a nice healthy, meaty red color, meaning that the wound was receiving plenty of blood and nutrients.
            Kadyr had Rikki turn around and checked the back side as well, and found that the Captain was in fact healing quite well.
            “You should let me put a poultice on that while we are here.”
            “You are beginning to sound like an old woman.” Rikki complained.
            “If you want, I can get your Princess in here and have her clucking about.” Kadyr threatened.
            Rikki was already digging through a small chest. He came up with a tin of salve that was to promote healing and tossed it to his Lieutenant. “I picked it up in Hobro,” he admitted.
            Kadyr gently rubbed the salve over the burn and still raw flesh. “Do you have a bandage I can wrap this up with?”
            Obediently Rikki handed him a roll of bandages that he had been holding in his other hand.
            Kadyr wrapped the bandage loosely, but tight enough that it would stay during a night of rough sleeping.
            “Heading for Narva tomorrow?”
            Rikki nodded. “We will only get half way. I hope there is a small town or at least a clean inn that we can stay at before we go under that lake. It’s bad enough being underground, trapped beneath all of this rock, but to put a lake over my head on top of it all? I’ll go nuts.”
            Kadyr smiled. “I’m sure you won’t even know you are under it.”
            “If you see me racing Sefu off in the distance, you’ll know why. You can take over command until you get to Narva.”
            “You’ll be fine, Rikki.”
            “I’m just saying, just in case I lose it.”
            “If you go nuts, I’ll take over command until we catch you up in Narva.”
            Rikki seemed to relax after that.
            “Get some sleep, Captain.” Kadyr went to the tent flap. “If you are going to go nuts, you’ll need your strength.”
            Kadyr ducked out of the tent and saw Monyka coming towards him, her braided, bejewelled hair bouncing and jingling as she walked.
            “What were you planning to do this evening?” She slipped an arm around his.
            “Thought I’d relax next to a fire, perhaps play a bit on my flute.”
            “Would you like some company?”
            “Won’t people talk?” Kadyr questioned.
            “Most everyone in the retinue and among the servants know. I don’t think it will cause many more tongues wagging.”
            “Then, my Lady, I would be quiet delighted with your company.” Kadyr took her hand in his and led her two tents down from the Captain’s. “Wait right here, I’ll be right back.”
            Kadyr entered his assigned tent and quickly went over to a little table set up with a pitcher and basin of water, towel, cup and a small mirror. He splashed a bit of water on to his curls and fingered them into place, he checked to make sure none of his dinner had been caught in his teeth, and dashed to his small wardrobe chest, where he opened a small vial of scented oil, and dabbed it at the base of his neck. He grabbed a bit of mint and chewed on it while he darted to pick up the case containing the crystal flute. He took one last look in the mirror before taking a deep breath and exiting his tent. 
            Monyka’s smile lit up her face as her eyes darted to the box in his hand. Kadyr offered his arm to the Princess’s assistant and led her to a fire nearby. Markys was there finishing his third helping of the roasted pork. Kadyr led his lady to a camp stool. Markys began to stand up.
            “Sergeant, please sit down. We’ve been on this journey for how many weeks? You needn’t stand on formality. I thought we talked about that?”
            “Sorry, M’Lady. Just a habit I suppose. I guess I’ll stop being formal, when you stop calling me Sergeant.” Markys grinned.  He looked at Kadyr and his flute. “You going to grace us with your playing tonight?”
            “I thought, I’d practice a bit. I’ve been getting rusty.”
            Markys looked to Monyka. “The guy should have been a court minstrel, but instead he wastes his talent in the cavalry.”
            “It could be worse.” Kadyr’s eyes sparkled, “I could be a soldier in the infantry.”
            Markys’ laughter boomed through the cavern. Monyka couldn’t help but laugh with him. Kadyr’s heart soared when he heard her laugh. It was light and full hearted, a laugh that could catch you up in, and take flight.  
            Their laughing died down as Kadyr took a seat on the ground near Monyka.
            Markys wiped his eyes and looked back into the flames of the fire. “Leave it to the Dwarves to find rocks to burn.” He poked at the coal burning in the fire.
            “Imagine what the Princess will have built once we get home.” Kadyr thought aloud.
            “She’s in there right now, drawing up plans of what she has seen, and has ideas on how she wants to incorporate it into something Riponia can use.” Monyka nodded. “One of the first things to be built will be some bathing pools. We almost couldn’t get her out of them while in Sherstone.”
            “I couldn’t get around to visiting the public ones. I was too busy.” Markys admitted. “Were they nice?”
            “They were wonderful. I could see spending an hour or two in them on a regular basis.”
            “What were you doing in Sherstone?” Kadyr asked the large man.
            “Ordering some weaponry and armour.”
            “What’s wrong with what you have?” Monyka inquired.
            “Oh, about the same difference between a cart horse and a war horse. What we have is pretty good, for the level of armourers in Riponia, but the Dwarves have a way of working the metal so that it is so much better, stronger, flexible and keeps an edge longer.”
            “Monyka,” Kadyr picked up, “It would be like comparing your mother’s bread to the bread of a house wife.”
            “Really, that much?”
            Markys and Kadyr both nodded.
            “What did you order, Kadyr?” Markys asked.
            “A sabre and some knives to gift or trade when we get home.” Kadyr took up the crystal flute and admired its craftsmanship with his fingers as much as with his eyes.
            “You going to play?” Grymm entered the fire light.
            Kadyr nodded.
            “Mind if I sit and listen?”
            “Not at all.”
            “Did you bring your mug, Corporal?” Markys gave Grymm a sly look.
            Grymm smiled back, “of course.”
            Kadyr put the flute to his lips and gently blew into it, not causing a sound but to just barely feel the vibrations it gave off as if it was waking from a slumber. He watched as Markys pulled a wine skin out and poured some into the Corporal’s mug.
            “Oh, good, just in time.” Nevyre plopped down between Markys and Grymm. “Good evening, Monyka,” He nodded to her. “Good to see you mingling with us, I’m sure it gets a bit stuffy in the Royal carriage and tent.”
            “Watch it Nevyre.” Kadyr paused in his warming up to glare at his friend. 
            Kadyr went back to blowing into the flute, this time he started playing a scale.
            “Markys, Markys, Markys,” Nevyre shook his head, “When are you going to stop drinking that swill and become a connoisseur.” 
            “You have something better?”
            Nevyre un-strapped a canteen from his shoulder and handed it to the large fighter. Kadyr chuckled to himself as he prepared to see the reaction from Markys.
            Markys’ face turned red as he gasped, trying to clear his throat. “Tanek’s buttocks that’s harsh.” 
            Nevyre, Grymm and Monyka laughed at the big guy’s expense.
            “Where did you find that? In Sherstone?”
            Nevyre smiled, “In the woods on the way to Bolton.” I bought it off of a homesteader.”
            “That’ll strip your teeth.” Markys chuckled.
            Nevyre passed the canteen to Grymm who took a small swig and grimaced as it went down before handing it back to Nevyre.
            “May I?” Monyka asked.
            Kadyr stopped mid note. “That is pretty powerful stuff, Monyka. It out does Dwarven ale, by a long shot. Even Dwarven spirits aren’t as strong as that.”
            “I would still like to try.” Monyka thrust her chin out stubbornly.
            Nevyre was already holding it out to her. Kadyr watched as she sniffed at the contents of the canteen. He grinned as she wrinkled her nose and pulled back in a flinch. All eyes were on her as she lifted the canteen to her lips and took a small sip.             Markys’ hearty chuckle was deep and hearty as they all watched her struggle to swallow the harsh drink. She managed to get it down and took a gasping breath as her eyes opened wide.
            “Tanek’s buttocks and his balls, but that is foul.” She wheezed.
            Grymm smiled and Nevyre looked surprised and pleased that she had tried. Kadyr felt himself actually feeling proud of this lady; that he hoped would someday be his wife. He was suddenly shocked. He had just now considered her his hopeful wife. He hadn’t felt that kind of ownership of her up to this point in their relationship. He pondered what this meant.  Did he want to spend the rest of his life with this woman? This beautiful woman who thirsted for knowledge of life? Could he love and live with this crazy, wonderful spirit who wore periwinkle togas in Truno, who had her hair braided and bejewelled like the Dwarven women of Thame, who would probably adapt some fashion of Blaire?
            His mind wandered. What would Monyka look like in the tight trousers and high heeled boots of Blaire women? He imagined her strong thighs encased in tight pants, the curves of her legs practically exposed under a thing layer of fabric. The tightening in his groin gave him his answer. He could spend the rest of his live loving this one woman. He would give his heart and his solemn vow to her. But would she have him? She, after all was the Princess’s assistant. A Lady to be reckoned with. Who was he, other than a Cavalry Lieutenant? His family came from noble Trunonian blood, but he was not inherent of that blood. Could this beautiful, intelligent woman accept him?
            “You okay, Kadyr?” Monyka caught his attention, “You looked like you were far away.”
            “I’m fine, thanks. I was just doing some thinking.” Kadyr began playing on the flute again. 
He almost paused his playing when he saw her take another swig from Nevyre’s canteen before handing it back. He started in on playing a favourite song of the cavalrymen. Cavalrymen from other fires joined his fire circle and began singing along with the piece. Monyka seemed to glow in the firelight as she listened to the men’s tenor, baritone and alto voices singing together with Markys’ bass vibrating below everyone else’s.
By the time he reached the next chorus, his fire circle was surrounded not only by infantry soldiers, but yeomen, and even some of the servants, all singing with smiles on their faces and eyes that sparkled at one another. 
He finished the song and revelled in the sound of laughter. Cavalrymen and infantrymen began calling out requests. He looked up to Monyka who seemed to shine like a bright star in the firelight. He picked a tavern drinking song and began playing it. After only a few notes, his audience began to laugh and joined in raising their voices. Soon the whole circle was clapping their hands in time as they sang.
The next song he played was for Markys and his infantry, ‘Owain’s shield’ song was a favourite of the heavy fighters. It was about a giant of a man who went into sparring matches and tournaments with a shield that was so large that no one could get a good shot at him. It went on about the giant of a man using a barn door as a shield and that only the top of his helm and his feet were visible as he came at you.
After two more bawdy songs, Kadyr switched it up and began playing a ballad. The women in the group sighed as they heard the lovely song and either looked at their loved one, or off in to space thinking of those dear to their heart, left back home on a small island. Some of the men of the group searched out their own fires or their bed rolls, others sat down nearby and listened in silence.
“That was beautiful.” Monyka commented after the last note died out.
“Thank you.”
Kadyr resettled himself in a more comfortable position, half reclining near the fire. Monyka got up from the camp chair and lay down next to him laying her head on his chest as he began the next ballad.
The solemn melody lifted up and filled the cavern with thoughts of home, of family, of quiet nights gathered around a crackling fire. Even the horses seemed to quiet as they heard the music envelop the darkness, making it less frightening. The notes came to his fingers and his lips as easily as breathing, allowing him let his mind drift. 
Kadyr felt Monyka’s breathing slow as she rested there, her silky face against his chest, her braided hair slightly tickling his side. As he played, he thought of her, thought of making her his wife, of building a life together, whether in the palace or not. He would quit the Cavalry if he had to. He just knew that he wanted to be with this woman.
The final note echoed out to silence. Not a soul seemed to move, or even breathe in the cavern. Then a horse shifted and broke the magic of the moment.
“That was amazing.” Monyka dared to breathe.
“It was one of my mother’s favourites.” Kadyr realized.
The canteen made its way around the fire again. Kadyr was relieved when Monyka waved it on, and nestled herself against him.
“You going to play some more?” Markys pleaded.
“Just a couple more, I need my sleep. I didn’t get much of it last night.” Kadyr’s eyes strayed to Monyka, who blushed. He put the flute to his lips filling the cavern, once again, with its magic sound.
                                    *            *            *
Monyka rested her head on Kadyr’s chest. The sound of the flute sounding near her ear didn’t bother her. The sweet notes that Kadyr was making was almost like a lullaby in its sweetness. The slow steady beat of his heart kept a steady cadence to the sound drifting down the corridors of Lakeview. Underneath it all, more of a feeling than a sound was a low humming from the flute, as if the flute itself was adding to the resonance of the music played. Monyka thought it was weird hearing that inaudible hum, but it seemed innocuous to Kadyr and to those listening. 
Markys across the fire smiled gently at the two of them, Grymm closed his eyes and allowed the music to wash over him.
To think that these men, these wonderful, kind hearted men were trained killers who fought for her king, to protect those she loved from harm, it just seemed unthinkable. If she had met Markys in the market, she would have guessed him a humble blacksmith, whistling away as he strolled along the stalls. Grymm she would have guessed would be more comfortable at a scribes table than on the back of a horse, more at ease with a quill and ink than a sabre and knives. The thought that these gentle souls lazing around a fire sharing spirits and song were deadly, trained soldiers was almost laughable. She however, had seen just how deadly that these two were in a battle. 
Kadyr’s song dwindled to an end and melded into a new one. She stifled a yawn, and grinned sheepishly at her tiredness, hoping the others didn’t see it. 
Lieutenant Kadyr Kollyns. Tonya called him ‘her lieutenant’. Just a few short weeks ago, she hadn’t even known who Kadyr Kollyns was, and now she lay against his chest, madly in love with the curly, blonde haired man. She had a hard time with believing Kadyr was a cold blooded killer too. Here was a man who played a flute better than most minstrels, who went out of his way to make sure that she was comfortable, a man who had shown how gentle and in control of himself he could be in how he touched her, as he had the other night in the cave of wonders. She smiled to her self at the thought of that night, of the night that she would always remember and hold special to her heart.
She began to feel herself drifting into that abyss between wakefulness and dreams. She took a deep breath and opened her eyes to see Sergeant Takoda taking a swig of Nevyre’s canteen, then smiling down at her and Kadyr. The grizzled old war veteran was more of an uncle to her than the much revered and respected Sergeant at Arms. She had memories of the scar faced man sneaking sweets with her and the Princess. She still had the wooden eagle that he had carved with his own hands. She kept it in her private chest in Tonya’s quarters back at the palace in Ripon. Tonya had a carved horse from his hand among her possessions.
Kadyr held the flute to his lips as the last note died away. Once he could no longer hear its echo, he lowered the crystal instrument and smiled down at Monyka.
“Time to get you back to Princess Tonya and a soft bed.” Kadyr stretched.
Monyka lay against his chest for a minute more memorizing the sound of his heart, the scent of his skin before slowly pushing away. 
“Let me help you.” Sergeant Takoda held out a hand for her.
She took his gnarled, yet strong hand and pulled herself to her feet.
“How is our Princess doing?” Takoda inquired.
“She is totally wrapped up in her machines and Dwarven science and technology.” Monyka shrugged. “The bathing pools did seem to help her a bit, so don’t be surprised if they start construction on them when we get back to Ripon.”
“I might even spend some time soaking in them,” Takoda sighed, “They’d do my joints some good.”
Kadyr had put his flute back in its box and came up to touch Monyka’s arm.
“I’m sure, his Majesty, would gladly welcome you to his artisans when you tire of sword work, Lieutenant.”
“Sword work pays better.” Kadyr smiled.
“It can kill faster too.” Takoda sighed.
“Have a good night Sergeant.”
Monyka leaned up and kissed the Sergeant at Arms on the cheek, “Good night Takoda.”
“Sleep well, dear.”
Kadyr took Monyka’s hand in his and steered her back to the Princess’ tent.
“What a waste,” Takoda sighed.


Thanksgiving Day Thanks...

...for continuing the story, and for giving us some more to think about with the dream sequence. A previous dream suggested that Rikki might lose his own mobility in restoring Tonya's; this time it's an arm. But there seems to be at least a word missing from Rikki's introduction to the second room:

Tonya, in the corridor looked up at Rikki, “What is behind this door?”
“I don’t know, but I like what down this path.”

The way I read that, Dream-Rikki seems to be telling Tonya he'd willingly trade everything -- his allies, his friends, Tonya's chance at recovery, even his conscience -- to live in the left-hand room rather than the right-hand one, which leaves the elves vanquished and Tonya whole (though childless) but costs him his looks and arm. While it's not the real Rikki making that selfish decision, it seems surprising to me that Tonya would imagine him thinking that way.

(Also, there's a "????" in the text, where I assume we need the title of Lakeview'a chief executive.)

Interesting further description of the dwarves' engineering prowess: a gate two-thirds the size of a mountainside and apparently quiet enough opening and closing not to attract attention in Lakemere town.

I'm a little surprised that they're not planning to take another morning before leaving (since we've been told they're more than a day's journey from Narva anyway) to look at the upper level, let the horses exercise and perhaps do some advance planning with the dwarves and muls.

Appreciatively, Eric

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