Healing a Princess. . . 29 ( Trout, Ale, and Magic)

Healing a Princess: 29

 

(Trout, Ale, and Magic)

 

Written by Tim Knight

 

 

HaP 29

 

 

 

Ambassador Zareb sat in his carriage, the two oil lamps provided were lit and turned up to provide him with light to read by. He pulled out another scroll, a proposed treaty and toll offered by the Dwarven kingdom. He sighed and closed his eyes to rest them from squinting at the parchments.

King Tobias sent him on this journey knowing that he was of an age of one who should be allowed to sit by fires telling grandkids stories of great campaigns. This trip, this envoy of peace was his last service to his king. No other Ambassadors had his experience, nor his political insights. No other counsellors, or even courtesans could do what needed to be done on this trip.

He was to hammer, meld, and work together a peace treaty, as well as a war treaty all in one trip. Along with the young, up and coming Captain Kalhoun, he was to cement trade relations and open other possibilities for trade and exchange of goods. He was also to encourage other kingdoms to listen to the young Captain, to persuade them to join Truno in their cause to clear the Elves from the forest around the North West Passage and push them back north and east so that Blaire, Truno and Riponia could trade goods much more cheaply and safely with out the fear, of attack or confiscation.

Zareb scratched his thinning grey hair and wiped his hand over his face. As far as carriages went, this was better equipped than most. It wasn’t as fancy or as comfortable as he imagined the Princess’ carriage was, but it was roomy and offered a comfortable ride.

The journey already seemed like a long one. In his younger days, he would have looked forward to seeing so much of the world in one trip. Before the Lycanthrop pirates took over the Ju-ju islands, he had sailed on an Aukai ship to Malden. A lot of things have changed since that trip. The kingdom of Blaire at that time, had just received a new queen. After generations of Kings, the Kingdom was nervous and excited about it’s new monarch. The Kingdom was now in it’s third generation of being ruled a Queen.

Even back then, Malden was a commerce center. Elves were on better terms with humans then, many took up human partners and lived in harmony with the citizens of the city. Horse lords, whose history no one knows of, lived on the outskirts of the city, but would occasionally enter on business. Seeing a horse with bejewelled eyes walking freely about the city was rare, but not uncommon. Halflings from across the eastern ocean brought exotic peppers, seasonings and pottery for trade. A reclusive race, less is known about them than the Horse lords. Zareb had fond memories of Malden and looked forward to seeing its busy streets and ports again.

The perpetual darkness of this maze under Thame referred to as the Under-Kingdom was starting to wear on the elderly Ambassador. Not as claustrophobic as the Captain Kalhoun, Zareb still had some trouble with not seeing the sky or feeling fresh air on his face. The Princess however, seemed to enjoy the Dwarven Under-Kingdom and its technologies. She relished the time Ambassador Kalgar spent proudly showing her different aspects of his kingdom’s accomplishments.

Zareb stretched his achy body and rubbed at his sore finger joints. One last trip through the Kingdoms before retiring, perhaps he would write a book of his travels, and of the people he had met, the things he had witnessed. Undoubtedly, he would have to submit the manuscript to his Majesty, King Tobias to edit out any sensitive information, but then again, he would have edited most of that out himself. He wondered if the King would grant him a modest house near Bandon, the weather there was milder than anywhere else in Riponia and would ease some of his pains.

He opened his eyes and stared again at the scroll before him. That Duke needed to be grabbed by the scruff of his beard and taught some manners. Zareb could see the Duke’s influence in the document. He scribbled some notes in the margin of the treaty so that he could discuss it further with the Prince and his Counsellor Baldorf.

A blue figure on horse back rode up and matched the pace of the carriage.

“How are you doing, Ambassador?” Kadyr greeted.

“I’ll be better once we get to Malden.” Zareb confessed.

“Only a fortnight till then.”

“A fortnight too long, I’m afraid.”

“We’ll be taking lunch while we are moving. Is there anything that I can ask the cooks to prepare for you?”

“Nothing in particular, just keep it mild and soft. I’m afraid my appetite can’t handle what it used to.”

“Okay, Ambassador. I’ll check on you later.” Kadyr reined in his mount and allowed the carriage to pass him by.

Now there was a good, ambitious lad. Zareb thought. He wondered if he would be able to convince the smart young man that sword work was too dangerous. The Lieutenant would make a very prudent Ambassador for Tobias as well as the future Queen Tonya. If he remembered correctly the young man was born to a minor noble family of Truno. He was accomplished and showed initiative as well as the ability to inspire others to greatness. Zareb of course would be at hand to help shape the man’s future and guide him in areas of foreign policy.

“Ah, to be young again.” Zareb sighed.

 

* * *

 

Prince Caldric guided the Riponian procession along the Northern route that lead from Lakeview to Narva. The Riponians were humans and couldn’t march nearly as far or as fast as Dwarves did, nor could their horses keep up with an arduous pace. That was one of a few reasons Dwarves didn’t have a cavalry, Dwarves had more stamina than a horse and there was little a mounted dwarf could do in the confines of the Under-kingdom.

The Captain felt lucky to be able to strike camp at Lakeview and make it to this cavern in the ten hours that it took. One reason for making such good time was that the road from Lakeview to this little cavern was all one gentle downhill grade. Horses and men didn’t have to labour up or over any hills.

 

 

Rikki reviewed the map of the Under-Kingdom in his head and sighed gratefully. They were to rest at the edge of a lake that they would be travelling under on the morrow. If the Prince had intended them to camp under the lake, Rikki would have put Kadyr in charge and travelled on ahead to Narva alone. There was no way he was going to sleep underground, under a lake.

Princess Tonya, Prince Caldric and the ambassadors had taken the few rooms that the small inn had to offer. None of them had human sized beds, so Rikki had no idea what Ambassador Zareb was going to be able to do, let alone the Princess. The rest of the retinue, servants and soldier were setting up a camp around the inn and stables. There weren’t even enough rooms in the inn for him and his officers. They would have to sleep with the others out on the cavern floor. That they were sleeping on the ground didn’t bother him as much as not being close to his Princess. How was he going to be able to keep her safe if he wasn’t even sleeping in the same building? He was just going to have to trust the two Muls and his own guards to challenge anyone trying to do harm to her Highness.

Seeing that his bed roll and saddle bags had been taken care of, Rikki led Sefu over to the stable.

“Is there room for this mighty soldier?” he asked.

“Are you referring to your self or the horse?” the stable master raised an eyebrow.

“My horse.”

“I think I can find a place for him, Captain.” The stable master turned and looked down the short line of stalls. “Boy! Come get the Captain’s horse.”

Adiah poked her head out of one of the stalls and smiled. She quickly came up and took Sefu’s lead.

“How are you doing today?” Rikki asked the princess with a wink.

“Very well, Captain, thank you.”

Rikki followed the princess and his horse as the stable master went back to his work. “You want to ride up with Tonya, yet?”

“No, Sir, I am enjoying my time and work with the horses.”

“Is everyone treating you alright?”

“No one beats me or yells at me, if that is what you mean. Yes, everyone treats me just like a stable boy.” Adiah led Sefu into a stall with Lieutenant Kollyns’ horse. “These two act like best friends. They take comfort in being near the other.”

“How can you tell?”

“Sefu breathes easier, and sleeps a little longer.”

“I wish more stable hands were as observant as you.”

“Thank you, Captain.”

“For what?”

“Allowing me to stay here.”

“You’re welcome, Adiah.”

Rikki left the stables behind and went in search of his officers. It would still be a bit before the cooks had a meal cooked and he wanted to get reports of what his officers had observed during the long day.

“Grymm.” Rikki met the new corporal

“Yes, Sir?”

“Gather up the officers and ask them to meet me in the inn.”

“Yes, sir.”

Rikki noted where his bed roll was a second time and ducked into the Waterstone Inn.

Nevyre sat with his feet propped up by the fire, while a servant sat near by polishing his boots. A fried lake trout steamed on a plate in front of him. A young dwarven lad was re-filling a goblet of wine.

“Good evening, Captain.” Nevyre greeted.

“Didn’t you find a place to sleep?” Rikki asked.

“Yes, I’ve got a room.”

“There aren’t any more rooms. The Prince, Princess and Ambassadors have all of the rooms.”

“Well, it’s not a room per say. More of a bed.”

“Where are you getting a bed?” Rikki looked with disbelief, who’s taking care of your horse, and where did you get a trout dinner?”

“One at a time, Captain.” Nevyre took a sip of wine. “You have to ask the right kind of questions of the right people. The inn keeper has an extra mattress, but no frame or room to put it in, so they are going to bring it out and allow me to sleep next to the fire here in the common room.” Nevyre rolled his eyes a bit. “As for my horse, one of Sergeant Galyway’s men owes me money from a game of dice, instead of making him pay up, he is taking care of my horse. As for the trout dinner? On our way in to this cavern, we passed a fisherman who was carrying a basket of his catch. I simply paid him for the fish and asked the gracious cook here at the inn if she could fry it up for me.” Nevyre looked from the Captain to the fish and back at the Captain. “Did you want some?”

“Yes. I mean no.” Rikki looked flustered. “Who is this, polishing your boots?”

“This is one of the Ferrier’s apprentice. He ran into a bit of a misunderstanding in Sherstone. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time and helped him avoid any embarrassing results. He’s simply returning the favour.”

Rikki looked at the friend of Kadyr’s and wondered how these two could have ever been friends. “Finish your dinner and leave for a bit. I need to have a meeting with my officers.”

“I’ll be as silent as a church mouse, Captain.” Nevyre cut a piece of white flaky meat off from the fish and popped it into his mouth. Nevyre closed his eyes and savoured the fresh catch. After swallowing, he looked up a the Captain. “Would you like your boots polished too?”

“What?. . . No.” Tending to his boots was a chore that Rikki rarely delegated out. Every once in a while he would have a cavalryman polish and buff them, but he felt it was his responsibility to take care of his own uniform.

“Gerdie, this trout is devine, are you sure you never cooked for the palace?” Nevyre smiled at the inn’s cook.

“No,” she flushed behind her veil. “Prince Caldric would love this. If I was able to get some more trout, would you cook it for the Prince?”

“For Prince Caldric?” she went white.

“I really think he’d like it.”

“Well. . . I guess.”

“Gerdie you are too incredible.” Nevyre shifted his look to the apprentice. “If I gave you a few silver, could you find that fisherman and buy his catch?”

“I think so.”

“I’ll see if Gerdie can cook you up a fish too.”

The apprentice stood up. “I’ll track him down for you Nevyre.”

Nevyre took a few silver from his purse and handed it to the apprentice.

“I’ll be back.” The apprentice took off out of the inn.

Nevyre took another flaky piece of fish and savoured it.

Rikki took a seat at one of the low tables and arranged his legs so that he didn’t bump his knees. He looked around for a serving woman to order a pint of ale.

“Where does a Dwarf under ground get a basket of trout?” Rikki wondered aloud.

“There is an underground lake nearby,” Nevyre explained. “Some how, the Dwarves created a drain in the bottom of the lake and channelled the water from the lake above into a large cavern, creating an underground lake.”

“So not only will I have a lake above me tomorrow, but a lake beside me?”

“Or it could be under us.” Nevyre posed. “There could be a level below us that has a lake. Think about it, if there is, then we’d be walking underwater and on top of water at the same time.” He grinned. Nevyre popped another bit of steaming fish into his mouth.

Rikki looked around again for a serving woman.

“Gerdie,” Nevyre called, “Could you bring the Captain a pint?”

The Dwarven woman poked her veiled face around the edge of the door, “Hmm?”

“The Captain here, could use a pint of ale.”

“Sure, sure. Coming right up, Captain.” She disappeared back into the kitchen.

She hurried out a moment later and handed Rikki a tall mug of ale, smiled at Nevyre and hurried back into her kitchen.

One by one his officers joined him in the small smoky common room.

Gerdie made two more trips getting drinks for them.

Three Dwarves entered the inn. A blonde female dwarf, was lead by another. A third dwarf came in behind with a sour look on his face.

“Hello, Gerdie.” The dwarf leading the blonde called out.

“Well, hello there.” Gerdie greeted. “Its been a while since I’ve seen you three.”

“It has been a long while since I’ve seen you.” The blonde dwarf’s face broke into a smile from under her veil.

Rikki then noticed the milky white eyes of the woman dwarf. The smile on her face, touched her eyes, but they didn’t sparkle as one who could see.

“I’m afraid I don’t have anyplace to put you.” Gerdie apologized. “Prince Caldric and the Riponian Princess have taken all of the rooms.”

“And every where else this hole of a cavern has to offer.” The sour dwarf mumbled. He set a heavy pack down on the floor and stretched his back.

“Is there a stall in the stables or perhaps room in the loft?” The blonde asked.

“I’m afraid the soldiers have taken every available space, Tinahna.”

“You have that pallet.” Rikki suggested.

“Aye, but that has already been spoken for.” Gerdie darted a look over to Nevyre.

“Has he paid for it yet?”

Gerdie was quiet.

“The way I figure it, these bards are regular patrons of this inn and perform here in exchange for food and shelter. I believe that many of my soldiers,” Rikki looked around the table at his officers, “might like to be entertained tonight.” He looked back to Gerdie. “Give the pallet next to fire to the bards, Nevyre can swindle himself another bed.”

Gerdie looked from the Captain to Nevyre and shrugged an apology.

“You can find your own fish.” Nevyre sneered, then bent to pull his boots on.

Rikki turned back to the bards and nodded to the young dwarf who had been leading the blonde. The dwarf dipped his head with a smile of thanks and led her to a spot near the fire.

“Mint and ginger tea, Tinahna?” Gerdie asked.

“Yes please.” The blonde smiled in the general direction of Gerdie.

The dour dwarf moved the heavy pack near the fireplace and sat down heavily. He eyed the humans in the room with suspicion.

“Where are you heading?” Kadyr asked.

“We’ve just finished some business in Blaire and are heading to Ladamore.”

“How is it in Blaire?”

“The damned elves are raiding the North Eastern part of the kingdom.”

Gerdie came sweeping back into the room, “Here’s your tea, Tinahna” She set a mug of steaming brew in front of the blonde.

With a tentative fumble for the mug, Tinahna took the mug and sipped a bit of the brew, “Thank you, Gerdie.”

“I got the trout for you, Nevyre!” the apprentice bounded into the room with a basket.

Nevyre looked with disgust at Rikki. “Go on and give it to Gerdie, and let her know that you are to have one.”

The apprentice beamed under the praise and strode across the room and disappeared into the kitchen.

“Are they raiding small towns? Or larger ones?” Kadyr asked the grumpy Dwarf.

“Mostly small towns and large farms. Farmers and ranchers were trying to defend their property, but the raids come without warning.” The dwarf sighed. “Some neighbours are joining forces, leaving one farmstead up to be raided. They’ve moved their valuables and animals to the other and are helping to guard and fight to save the other. So far, they are succeeding, but I’m not sure how long they will be able to hold the forest fiends off.”

“Hasn’t the Queen of Blaire sent troops to fight the Elves and patrol the borders? What about the Horselords? Has she asked them to help?” Kadyr inquired.

“Aye, she has sent a lot of troops out, but she is also battling her Dukes for control of their troops. They apparently feel that they need to protect their own lands instead of protecting their farmers and ranchers.”

“What of the Horse lords?”

“Aye, she sent word to Adwanna. Queen Esmeralda has sent as many as she can, but she also needs to protect her Southern and Western borders against the Lycanthrops.”

“I’ve heard a rumour that she has even sent her own daughter to patrol the Blaire border.” Tinahna added.

“I’ve never met a Horse Lord.” Kadyr admitted. “What are they like?”

“They look just like any other horse, except they have a magical grace and incredible eyes.” The Dwarf helping Tinahna leaned forward, “They’re eyes are the colors of gemstones: Sapphire, Emerald, Ruby, Amethyst, and Topaz.”

“They also have an air of intelligence about them. If you stood them side by side with a normal horse, even if you didn’t see their eyes, you would know which one was a Horse Lord.” The grumpy one spoke up.

“Kanet, don’t forget about their mind speech.” Tinahna told the grumpy one.

“I was just getting there.” Kanet grumbled, “Who’s telling them this in the first place?” he turned to Kadyr and his avid audience, “They don’t talk like you and I. When they talk you hear it in your head. It’s the darnedest thing. Their mouths don’t move or anything, you just hear it.”

“Well, not everyone can hear it.” Tinahna’s helper added.

“Will you let me tell it, Torber?” Kanet grumbled. “Only a third of the Humans, Dwarves, and other races can communicate with the Horse Lords. Everyone else has to guess as to what they want.”

“Why did Queen Esmeralda North instead of keeping her on the Southern border? I thought Horse Lords are immune to Lycanthrops.” Sergeant Takoda joined the conversation.

“Centaurs are immune to Lycanthrops, Horse Lords just die if bitten. The Lycanthrops saliva is a deadly poison to them. Centaurs, being magically created, can’t be changed by their diseased bite.”

“So Queen Esmeralda sent her daughter to the North to avoid death by poisoning.” Kadyr nodded understanding.

“That is the rumour anyway.” Kanet shrugged.

 

* * *

 

“What are we going to do about this tiny bed?” Monyka asked Tonya.

“Can we take the mattress off and put it on the floor? I think I might be easier to sleep that way than to have our legs hanging over the ends.” Tonya sat in a chair in front of the small fireplace. A bowl of glowing fish sat upon a table next to her.

Monyka with Annyka’s help, pulled the mattress off the bed frame and moved it closer to the fire. While Annyka made up the mattress, Monyka lifted the frame on it’s side to give them a little more room.

“That’s much better.” Tonya smiled.

“Is it true, that we’re going to be travelling under a lake tomorrow?” Annyka sat down next to the fire and looked at the Princess.

“Yes, isn’t it exciting?” Tonya smiled, “We’ll be most of the day under a lake, then we’ll be in Narva, the art capital of Thame.”

“What do they make in Narva?” Annyka asked.

“Swords, and weapons, lots of glass stuff, and statues. Most of the statues that grace the palaces of the world are made in Narva then shipped.” Monyka explained.

“What kinds of glass?”
“Anything that you can think of to make out of glass,” Tonya rubbed at her sore leg, “Bowls, patters, figurines, if you can think of it, they can make it.”

“A griffon? A Dragon?”

“Anything, Annyka. Would you like something of glass?”

Annyka nodded.

“Think long and hard tonight, and tomorrow, we’ll go ask them to make it.” Tonya sniffed the air, “What is that heavenly smell?”

“I don’t know, but it sure smells good.” Monyka agreed.

“Annyka, could you please go down and find out what that aroma is?”

“Yes, your Highness.” Annyka dipped a curtsy and left the small room.

“Did you order anything from Narva while you were in Hobro or Sherstone?” Tonya asked Monyka.

Monyka shook her head, “I’ve already over spent. I got that flute for Kadyr, remember?”

“But surely you would like something for yourself.”

“I have it. In Kadyr.” Monyka blushed.

Tonya smiled, “I wish I could feel that way about someone.”

“You can. You just have to open your heart and give in a little. I’m sure your Captain would reciprocate.” Monyka snickered, then dodged a thrown pillow.

Annyka entered the door her face a bit flushed.

“You don’t have to run up the stairs,” Tonya chided, “You are the assistant to me. The only time you should run is if I tell you to, or if there is danger.”

“Yes, Highness.” Annyka looked down at the floor.

“So what did you find out?”

“Your Highness and Prince Caldric are invited to the common room for a fresh trout dinner and entertainment put on by three bards who happen to be passing through.”

“Mmm, trout.” Monyka raised an eyebrow.

“Will Prince Caldric be attending?” Tonya asked.

“Yes, your Highness.”

“Then please walk down and ask the Captain if he can help me down stairs when dinner is ready.” Tonya instructed.

 

 

Tonya found Monyka and herself seated at a raised table near the fireplace in the common room of the inn. Prince Caldric and Ambassador Kalgar were seated at a Dwarf sized table near by. Crystal goblets of water, glass mugs of ale and a crystal glass of white wine were waiting for them.

“Did you smell this up stairs too?” Prince Caldric asked.

“Doesn’t it smell delicious?” Tonya nodded.

Two Cavalrymen were pressed into service as servers for the Royal members. Tonya looked across the common room to the door of the kitchen which was slightly ajar. A veiled face peered out of the crack as the dark blue plates of trout were placed in front of her and Caldric.

Tonya smiled at the hidden face and watched as the door was suddenly closed. She looked over to see Monyka place a fork full of white flesh into her mouth then close her eyes.

“By the three Gods this is good.” Monyka announced.

Off on the other side of the room, a harp began making a soft sound as the player tickled the strings.

Tonya cut into the bread encrusted fish releasing a cloud of steam. She picked up a piece and placed it in her mouth. Flavours exploded in her mouth. She chewed slowly savouring each layer of flavor as it unfolded on her taste buds. “The love of Tanitha ! That is heavenly.”

The harpist missed a note, at the outburst, but recovered and continued the soft ballad. Tonya was half way through the fish when the kitchen door opened and the servers brought a plate of roasted vegetables. A few moments later a steaming pastries were set before them. One of the servers followed the pastries up with glasses of a dark red wine, poured into what looked to be Gerdies personal crystal.

The harpist’s notes melded into a more up beat song. A blonde, veiled dwarf stepped forward, her fingers tickling the strings of the harp and opened her mouth. A note as pure as any she had ever heard enveloped the room. The Dwarf’s voice ranged up and down the scale, going as low as a tenor and as high as a soprano. Tonya forgot to eat as she closed her eyes and listened to the voice that must have been a gift from Tanitha.

As the last note rang out, and diminished, nothing stirred. The people in the common room held their breath as they relished the music, trying to commit it's loveliness to their memories.

“Well sung,” Prince Caldric was the first to break the spell, “Well done indeed.”

The room as well as the cavern outside the inn was engulfed in the roar of applause. The blonde, sightless dwarf cutsied to the head table then whispered something to the other two bards. She handed the harp to one of her partners and began a more lively piece the other quickly joined on a flute. Dwarves in the room began to softly hit the tables with their fists in time with the music. The Riponian’s picked it up as well as the blonde bard began singing a song about marching off to a victorious battle.

At the chorus, the dwarves beat hard on their tables and sang loudly. By the third time through, the Riponian soldiers picked up on the tune and joined their friends by beating on the table. Monyka and Annyka joined by clapping their hands and smiling encouragement. Tonya just smiled and laughed as some of those near by messed up the words.

A cheer at the end of the song, from those in the common room seemed to shake the walls and as well as the floor as Dwarves lifted their mugs and drained their ale. The echo of their cheer could be heard bouncing around the cavern outside in the sudden silence.

The blonde took a drink of her own and began another rowdy song which her friends picked up on their instruments. Dwarves wiping suds from their beards laughed in recognition of the new tune.

Kadyr laughed, “I know this tune. We have different words to it.” He explained to a dwarven neighbor.

Tonya could hear voices raised out in the cavern. The Dwarven bard's lips curled into a smile as she too heard the commotion. She didn't however, change her lyrics.

A clammor of boots stomping the floor and fists pounding the tables deafened the diners. Dwarves and men or Riponia pounded one another on the back.

By the time the song was done, Tonya could swear that there was more ale on the table and floor than in a mug.

Prince Caldric stood, and poured a glass of wine. He walked around the table and up to the dwarven bard.

“Wet your devine throat, after such a performance, it must be dry.” He placed the goblet into the woman's hand.

“Thank you, your Highness.” the blonde bowed slightly, accepting the offered cup. She sipped from it and smiled, before finding her way back to peers.

The void left by the musicians was quickly filled by talk and laughter. When she was finished with her wonderful meal, Tanya sent Annyka to inform her Captain that she was ready to retire.

The room full of Dwarves and men stood as she stood to leave the table. Tonya paused and looked over the room. “Thank you for sharing your lovely meal and entertainment with me.” her eyes lingered on Prince Caldric before hobbling over to the bottom of the staircase.

“Do you want me to clear the room?” Rikki asked.

“No. I don't want to interput their evening than I already have.” Tonya handed her walking stick to Monyka and leaned on Rikki a bit more. Her heart beat a bit faster as he easily lifted her off of her feet. Cradling her gently in his arms, he climbed the stairs to the second floor before easing her to the floor.

“Thank you, Captain.” Her arms lingered around his neck a second longer than needed.

“You welcome, Highness.” Rikki nodded. Rikki stood a few seconds not wanting to leave her presence before taking the stairs back down to the common room.

“You should have invited him in.” Monyka muttered.

“To do what? Play cards with a crippled Princess?”

“I'm sure there are other things you two could do other than play cards.” Monyka touched her necklace as she followed Tonya into her room.

Tonya reached into her purse and pulled out some coin, “Go make sure that whomever cooked that excellent dinner is rewarded.”

“Yes, you Highness.” Monyka bit her lip.

“Oh, and please appologise and offer this to that woman bard. I'm afraid I caused her to bumble through that one song.”

Monyka curtsied and left the room with a swish and a flair of her skirts. “I wish you'd get over yourself and admit that you like him.” She closed the door behind her before she could hear a response from Tonya.

 

Monyka paused partway down the stairs. The haunting sound of a flute pierced the air of the common room. Dwarves and men alike sat in stoned silence as Kadyr blew into the crystal instrument. A pang of jealousy stabbed at her heart, but Monyka quickly pushed it aside. She bought the instrument for him to play. Not to play just for her. She took another step but the creak of the riser seemed too loud. She waitedwhere she was until the music stopped and Kadyr pulled the crystal away from his lips. It was a moment or two before the dwarves and men applauded and cheered the Lieutenant's talent.

Monyka quickly stepped down the steps and ducked into the kitchen. The cook, Gerdie was a shy and bewildered Dwarven woman. She had begun to refuse Tonya's payment when Monyka assured her that it would be her own hide that would stung if the cook was not properly paid for such a lovely meal on such short notice. Gerdie took the coin and curtsied to Monyka.

“Money for the road, Gerdie?” a Dwarven dishwasher spoke up. “I knew that one day you'd leave this place for better service. I'm just sorry I can't go with you.”

“You're leaving?” Monyka asked.

“The Prince himsef, offered her a position in his kitchen.” The dishwasher answered.

“I don't know if I can do those fancy recipes.” Gerdie admitted.

“You don't have to.” Monyka told her. “My mom is the head baker for the King. Believe it or not Royal people tend to have a taste for simple food. You'll be just fine.”

“Thank you my Lady.” Gerdie dipped again.

“Your welcome.” Monyka smiled. “Do you know where I can find that bard with the heavenly voice?”

“She and the others are taking a break out back.” Gerdie jutted her chin towards the back door of the kitchen.

“Thanks.” Monyka crossed through the familiar bustle of the work area and slid out the back door.

The dark cavern would have been engulfing if it hadn't been for the bowl of luminating fish sitting on the table. Two of the bards looked up from their meal.

“Hi.” Monyka fingered her necklace.

“It's the crippled Princess's girl.” one of the males informed the female.

“Monyka isn't it?” the woman asked, not moving her head.

“Yes,” Monyka approached.

“Please come and sit, Monyka.”

“I didn't want to bother you.”

“You're not a bother, dear.” she patted the bench next to her.

Monyka settled next to the blonde. Her veil had been pulled away and tucked behind one ear so that she had an easier access to her mouth. A chill crawled down Monyka's spine as the unseeing eyes seemed to pierce through her to her heart.

“Um,” Monyka began, “The Princess Tonya asked me to seek you out.”

“Nice girl, that Princess.” the blonde nodded.

“Yes, well she asked me to make an appology for her and to give you this as a token of how much she enjoyed your music.”

“Did she now.” The bard seemed amuzed.

Monyka gently took one hand and brought it up so that she could place the coins in it with the other. She felt the bard's hand sandwich hers between them.

“I have something for you,” The blind dwarf smiled.

“I don't need anything,” Monyka began.

“But I insist.” The blonde dwarf siezed Monyka's hand and began to hum.

Monyka tried to free it but to no avail. For short stubby fingers she had a very strong grip.

“Easy now, Lass.” One of the male dwarves soothed, “Relax and this will be much easier.”

“What are you doing to me?” Monyka's eyes felt heavy. She looked frightenly at the blind dwarf and was caught by her gaze. Her milky white eyes swirled with color. A bass voiced blended with her saprano. Monyka tried to pull her gaze away from the blonde dwarf's but couldn't. She wanted to see who else was singing, but the bass voice as well as the saprano eminated from the blonde's throat. She tried to keep her eyes open but the weight of the lids was too much for her. Her captured hand began to tingle as the bard's voice took on the sound of a small choir.

“Relax.” the voice repeated.

Monyka's whole arm felt like it did after a long day in court.

“That's it, relax.” the voice said from near by.

Monyka tried to open her eyes to see where the large choir was that was singing but her eyes were just too heavy. Her chest began to feel tingley as well. It felt warm and as if a thousand needles were sticking into her skin. Colors. Beautiful colors, spinning out of the bard's eyes. The sound of the choir cresendoed as the tingley feeling spread through the rest of her body. Darkness. . .

 

Monyka blinked her eyes open. “The Princess wanted you to have these.” She told the blonde bard.

“Why thank you.” she said accepting the coins. “I didn't think that it was that great of a performance.”

“I don't try and figure out what Princess Tonya likes and doesn't like.”

“Please thank her for us.” one of the male dwarves spoke up.

“Sure.” Monyka nodded. “Now if you'll excuse me, I should get back.”

“But of course.”

Monyka got up from her seat and smiled back at the three bards before entering the kitchen.

“What were you doing out back there?” Gerdie asked as she entered.

“Just speaking to the three bards.”

“Were ya now?”

Monyka nodded.

Gerdie shrugged her shoulders in disbelief as Monyka passed her to enter the common room.

“There you are.” Kadyr greeted her, wrapping his arms around her. “Where have you been?”

“Out back, talking to the Dwarvven bards.”

Kadyr looked at her funny. He looked up and over to the fire place. “How? They have been here the whole time.” he looked back down at Monyka. “Are you sure that you weren't talking to some other bards?”

Monyka followed his gaze and was shocked to find the three sitting across the room, laughing at some jest. “But. . .” She looked behind her at the kitchen. “How?”

her thought was disrupted by Kadyr's lips tasting hers.

“Thirsty?” he asked.

Monyka nodded.

Kadyr guided her to a table not too far from wher the three bards were talking with a couple of dwarves and cavalrymen. He poured her a mug of ale and watched as she drank.

Monyka kept looking at the three entertainers as she listened to the men talk.

“Are you sure they have been in here the whole time?” She asked her lieutenant?

“Are you okay, Monyka?” Kadyr asked, “Those three have been sitting in that location since you and the Princess left to go up stairs.”

Monyka shook her head trying to clear the seemingly false memories.

 

 

* * *

Rikki quietly made his way to the top of the stairs and peered around the corner. One of the Muls was standing outside the door eyeing him as if he might make a charging attack. Rikki nodded acknowledgement to the guardian and slipped back down stairs and passed the more subdued crowd casually sipping from their mugs.

Outside, men and dwarves burrowed into their sleeping rolls, or spoke quietly to one another. Rikki made his way to the stable.

“Captain?” Adiah greeted from a shadow.

“I just came to check on him.”

“He'll be happy to see you.” Adiah led the way down the row of stalls to where Sefu poked his head and whuffed in greeting.

“How are you doing, boy?” Rikki pulled a piece of carrot from his pocket and held it for the stallion's soft lips to pull into his mouth.

“Are you okay, Captain?” Adiah looked up at him.

“Fine, why?”

“Most soldiers I have seen come talk to their horses when something is bothering them.”

Rikki smiled, “Do they?”

The princess in disguise nodded.

“Can you keep a secret?” Rikki asked.

“You've kept mine.” Adiah nodded.

Rikki patted Sefu's neck, “I have a hard time being underground. It's just not natural.”

Adiah nodded. “There are a few other soldiers who feel the same way.”

“To add to that. . . dislike, we are traveling under a lake tomorrow.”

“Surely the Dwarves wouldn't have build their road under the lake if they didn't mean for it to hold.”

“I didn't say that this. . . dislike was reasonable. In fact It's unfounded, but I still. . . dislike the idea.”

“It's only for part of a day.”

“True.”

“I'm sure you can survive part of a day being uncomfortable; after all, you've been through many battles, haven't you?”

Rikki nodded.

“Can't you think of your. . . dislike as another battle?”

“Put that way, I wonder why I should be nervous at all.” Rikki grinned. “Get some sleep, Adiah. Tomorrow is going to be a long day as it is and there will be lots to see in Narva. I'll make sure that you get some time to look about.”

“Thank you, Captain.”

“Do you have a place to sleep?”

“I'll sleep with Princess Tonya's horse, Comyn.”

Rikki left the stables and found his own bed roll.

Tomorrow evening, they would be in Narva. Many of the soldiers had put in orders for weapons while in Hobro or Sherstone. They were eager to pick up their new puchases. He was no exception, he himself ordered a new sabre, as well as a helm and a bit of barding for Sefu. He was planning on also picking up a few knives for gifts and for trade once they were back home. Good Dwarven craftsmanship would be worth so much more away from the underground empire. It took a few moments to get comfortable in his bedroll, his arm still burned and itched a bit.

He stared up into the darkness at the ceiling of the cave which he could not see, could almost feel the weight it was holding up. Tons of rock, maybe even a mountain was above his head. Tomorrow there would be a lake resting on top of the roof of the cavern. Who knew how many countless gallons of water would be up there, seperated by a roof of stone. He had to think of it as a battle, Adiah was right in that. Just think of it as a battle to get through, as if crossing a river under arrow fire. He didn't have to like it, but he did have to do it. He would do it. He would do it for his Princess were his last thoughts before sleep took him.

 

* * *

 

“Shall we take a walk?” Kadyr drank in Monyka's eyes from across the table.

Feeling slightly tipsy, Monyka nodded assent and pushed herself away from the low table. “Where shall we go?”

“I was thinking about checking out this lake. What do you think?”

“Is it far?” Monyka inquired. “It's been a long day and tomorrow will prove to be just as long.”

Kadyr leaned past a sleeping dwarf sprawled across the table. “How far is the lake from here?” he asked the dwarven bard, Torber.

“Not far. It's just down the highway.”

“Thank you.” Kadyr feeling a bit more than tipsy took Monyka's hand and guided her to the door of the inn.

“Can you give me a hand?” Nevyre's voice came from behind him.

Kadyr turned to see his friend with an old mattress, looking for a place to put it. “With what?”

“To clear a place so that I can lay this out.” Nevyre asked looking at a few of the patrons sleeping in front of the fireplace.

Kadyr grinned from ear to ear. “Sorry, buddy. I have the attention of a pretty girl. Make your own bed.” Kadyr pushed open the door and led Monyka out into a cavern filled the sounds of sleeping men.

 

 

* * *

 

 

The cavern was quiet with the exception of the lake lapping softly against the shore and stone pier. Kadyr held Monyka's hand in his as they walked along the boats. A soft glowing spots in the water indicated the presence of bio-luminescent fish.

“It's quiet out here.” Monyka dared a whisper.

“It's nice after the noise of the inn and listening to horses hooves all day.” Kadyr agreed.

The sound of a dwarf snoring almost caused the two to burst into laughter. Monyka looked over and found the source sprawled out on the deck of one of the fishing boats.

“Pretty big boats for a lake.” Monyka noticed.

“It's supposed to be a pretty big lake.”

At the end of the stone pier the two sat down, Monyka arranging her skirts beneath her. Monyka softly kicked her heels against the stone a couple of feet above the water's surface.

Kadyr leaned in to Monyka. She could feel the heat of his breath on her cheek. She turned her head, her lips seeking his. A spark of fire, of intense heat shot through her body, warming it with his touch. His lips tasted a bit of ale. Not the nastiness of soured ale, but of it's sweet earthiness. His hand reached up, touched her hair, her cheek, caressed her chin, causing her skin to itch for his touch.

“Not here.” She said between kisses. “We need more privacy.”

Kadyr pulled back and quickly looked around. “How about there?” he pointed to a small boat tied, just a little ways away.

Monyka nodded breathlessly, trying to subdue her desire. It wouldn't look good for the handmaiden of the Princess to be caught in a compromising situation on the public pier.

Kadyr helped her to her feet and jogged to where the small boat was secured to the dock by a rope. He pulled the slack in the rope bringing it closer and hopped down into the wooden boat. He steadied himself in the rocking craft and smiled up at her. The smile of a mischievous boy was so cute, she couldn't help but smile back.

One hand holding to the pier, Kadyr held his other hand up to assist her down into the slightly rocking skiff. Monyka took his proffered hand and stepped heavily down beside him. The boat's sudden movement through her off balance causing her to cling to her Lieutenant.

“Will this work?” He raised an eyebrow at her.

Monyka looked around her feet. The bottom seemed to be dry, and there didn't seem to be any icky slimy things laying around. She nodded and carefully sat down. Kadyr double checked the security of the rope. He let go of the pier and kneeled down in front of her.

Monyka reached up her fingers brushed through his curly locks, grabbed his head and forced his lips to meet hers. His lips wasted no time in arousing her to her previous state of desire as she lay back in the bottom of the little boat. Her fingers worked at the buttons on his coat as his tongue explored her mouth.

Kadyr jerked off his coat, wadded it unto a bundle and placed it behind Monyka's head. He smiled down at her as he unlaced her bodice. She shrugged the sleeves off of her shoulders and yanked at the short chemise she was wearing. She pulled it over her head and stuffed it beside her head next to his coat. The cool moist air of this lake cavern caused her skin to shudder in a chill as it caressed her naked chest. Kadyr lowered himself and hungrily took her breast into his mouth.

“Oh, Tanitha, yes.” Monyka whispered loudly in Kadyr's ear. Her fingers gripped the hair on the back of his head and held him in place as his tongue began to fan the hot flame of her desire.

Oh to be alone with this man. Her brain whirled. To be sent adrift on the lake, just the two of them. No one to check in with, no one and nothing to serve, but their own carnal desires. To be alone where she could scream her pleasure and love without disturbing anyone else.

Neither of them noticed the smell of smoldering hemp. Neither did they notice the thin tendril of smoke rising from it.

The heat between her legs yearned for him. She ached to have him inside of her, filling her. Completing her.

The smoke from the rope thickened as the burning intensified. With a small snap, the rope burned through, separating the skiff from the pier.

Monyka pulled his curls up and sought his lips again as she ground her pelvis against his.

The soft bobbing of the skiff propelled it further away from the stone pier.

 

To be continued.....

 

 

CH. 30

 

Tonya turned over on the small bed and caught her breath as a sharp pain shot up her leg and felt like a metal rod was piercing her spine. She caught her breath to keep from screaming. “Monyka.” She called through clenched teeth., “Monyka?”

A soft glow from the fish bowl softly illuminated the room. Annyka was sound asleep, laying on the hard floor with her head on the edge of the mattress. Only part of the blanket covered her, the rest lay, balled up near the wardrobe.

Another muscle spasm took her leg, making feel as if it was on fire.

“Annyka.” Tonya lightly tapped the girl. “Annyka.”

The young girl rolled over, wiping a bit of drool from the corner of her mouth.

“Annyka.” Tonya shook her again.

Annyka's eyes shot open as she scrambled to her knees. “Yes, your Highness?” Sleep still swam around her eyes, but she was trying to blink it back as quickly as she could.

“Where's Monyka?” Tonya asked.

“Monyka?” It still hadn't registered. “Monyka.” she muttered. “I don't know. I must have dozed off. I'm sorry.”

“Don't be. It was late.”

Tonya sucked air in between her teeth, and tried to force it back out. “Aaahhh.” She gasped.

“What is it?” Annyka asked sleep now forgotten. “What is wrong?”

“It's my leg.” Tonya was breathing short quick breaths through clenched teeth. “Did Monyka show you the ointment?” Annyka nodded. “Grab that and the glass bottle next to it.”

Annyka nearly tore her nightgown as she raced to get the requested items. “These?” She inquired holding up the requested items.

Tonya nodded. She took the bottle from Annyka and took a small pinch of minced herbs and placed it under her tongue.

“I need you to rub that ointment into my leg.” the Princess instructed, sounding funny while trying not to move her tongue.

Annyka pushed the Princess' night shift up and cracked open the tin of gooey, potent smelling stuff. She put some on the leg and began to rub it across the skin.

“Harder.” Tonya instructed. “Work it deeper into the muscle. . . ahh, yes. Much better.”

Annyka's little hands were hardly strong enough, nor large enough to work the muscle the way that Monyka had been taught all those years ago. Along with the quick acting pain herbs, they were enough to help take the edge of the pain away.

She grabbed the chamber pot and spat the foul tasting herbs into the pan and bit back a yelp as Annyka hit a tender spot.

“What time is it?” She asked.

“I don't know. Would you like me to find out?” the young girl asked.

“How are your hands?” Tonya countered.

“Fine.”

“I'm sure they are getting sore. Take a break and see if it is morning yet.”

Annyka stood and bobbed a quick curtsy before going to the door. She opened it and poked her head out. She spoke to someone then closed the door behind her. “The Mul says that there are three more hours of this sleep cycle. Does that help?”

“Three hours before sunrise, I would guess.” Tonya flexed and relaxed her sore leg, grimacing each time. “Where could she be?” She muttered.

“Monyka?” Annyka asked.

Tonya nodded.

“Would you like me to go find her?” Annyka asked.

“No. I'm sure she would be rather upset if I sent you looking for her. Let's try and get three hours of sleep before this cycle is done.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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