Healing a Princess. . . 30 (Propositons)

 

Healing a Princess. . . 30
 
(Propositions)
By Tim Knight
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
            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.”
            “How is your leg feeling?”
            “Better, thank you.” Tonya told her new assistant.
 
*          *          *
 
            Rikki struggled to swim through the darkness of sleep. The sounds of footsteps outside the stall that he was sleeping in helped to pierce the fog of sleep. His heavy eyes opened a crack only to squeeze shut again at the glare of a lantern being held aloft just outside the half stall door. His four legged friend shifted back from the light and tossed his dark head, not excited about the bright light either.
            “It's morning, Captain.” the voice behind the bright light spoke.
            “How can you tell.” Rikki mumbled only half coherent.
It was a few seconds before the owner of the lantern could decipher his garbled question. “The Dwarves are all getting up and starting to make their morning meal, Sir.”
            Rikki scrubbed a hand over his face and rubbed his eyes. He sighed heavily, and stood stretching his aching body and sore arm. “Send Corporal Grymm to me.” He said during a large yawn.
            “I'm right here, Sir.” Grymm answered from the dark a few feet behind the horrible lantern.
            “How do you do that?” Rikki yawned again.
            “What's that, Sir?”
            “Show up before you are needed?”
            “Lots of sister's, Captain.” Rikki could almost see the smile in the tone of Grymm's voice.
            “I need something to eat.” Rikki stated.
            “I believe Sergeant Galyway has something cooking for you.”
            “Tell Lieutenant Kollyns to get the men packed up and ready to move out, Corporal.”
            “Uh, Sir?” uncertainty laced Grymm's tone.
            “Yes?”
            “No one has seen Lieutenant Kollyns since last night. He never made it to his bed.”
            Rikki lowered his voice, “Did he end up in Monyka's room last night?”
            “I. . . I don't know. . . Sir.”
            “Be discreet and check, could you?”
            “Yes sir.” Grymm turned and disappeared into the darkness.
            “You are dismissed too.” Rikki relieved the cavalryman holding the nasty bright object.
            “Won't you need light, Sir?”
            “I'll be fine once you leave.” Rikki assured him.
            The Captain watched the lantern bob as it disapeared. He stretched again ans sighed. He wanted to get this day over with. More than that he wanted to be out from under this mountain and have stars as his ceiling. 'I won't complain about sleeping in the rain ever again.' he promised himself. Sleeping in thick, sticky, cold, mud was not something he ever wanted to experience again but he was almost to the point of trading the oppressive darkness for even that hell.
            Rikki closed his eyes and leaned against Sefu. He hadn't slept well in days. Between the burning in his arm and the constant anxiety of being buried alive, he felt like he was moving at a snails pace in a rabbit's world.
            “Are you doing okay, Captain?” Takoda's voice woke him from his introspective meandering.
            “Just tired, Sergeant.”
            “Galyway's got some food for you, come on.” Takoda opened the gate to Sefu's stall.
            The Sergeant at Arms led Rikki out of the inn's meager barn and over to a glowing camp fire. Smells of food alerted Rikki's empty stomach. The growl of it's protest at being empty could be heard several feet away.
            “Here, Captain.” Sergeant Galyway handed Rikki a piece of toasted flat bread that held eggs and some kind of fish. Rikki nodded thanks to the Sergeant and found a seat near the dying embers of the fire.
            “Captain?” Grymm called. “Captain.”
            “Over here Corporal.” Rikki's mouth full of food muffled and muddled the words.
            Grymm's outline showed up across the fire. “The Lieutenant and the Lady Monyka are both missing.”
            “Missing?”
            “Yes, Sir. Her Highness says that Monyka left her rooms last night to enjoy the music in the pub and never came back.”
            “Did anyone see her leave?” Rikki's mind was trying to race ahead to a simple explanation but was bogging down.
            “One of the bard's said that he saw them leave the pub last night.”
            “They probably went off to spend some alone time with one another and fell asleep.” Rikki assured his Corporal.
            Grymm nodded.
            “How is her Highness doing this morning?” Rikki asked.
            “She complained of leg pain. Annyka said that she woke up early this morning with it and had to take some kind of medicine.”
            Rikki didn't like hearing that. If only he could have held on to her while on that roof, none of this would be happening.
            “Corporal, spread the word that I'm looking for the Lieutenant, and have the Royal carriage hitched and ready for her Highness. If her leg pain woke her up then she'll need a more comfortable ride.”
            “Yes, Sir.”
            “Are you doing alright, Captain?” Galyway inquired.
            “Just not sleeping well, Sergeant.” Rikki tried to wave it off.
            “For how long?”
            “A couple of days.” the Captain admitted.
            “I'm taking your watch tonight, Captain.” Galyway stated sternly. “Once we figure out where we are going to stay, you are to get a bath and find some shut eye.”
            “I have too much to do once we get there. I'll be fine until tonight.”
Sergeant Galyway looked dubious. 
            “Get the men moving, Sergeant, I want to be on the road, within a candle mark.” Rikki got to his feet and walked to the small inn.
            The tables of the inn had been cleared of used mugs and food scraps, the floor swept and the tables looked to have been wiped clean. A few of his men lingered over porridge and tea. Nevyre sat close to the fire with his booted feet propped up against the hearth.
            “Has anyone seen Lieutenant Kollyns?” the cavalry Captain interrupted all conversation in the room.
            Quiet mouths and sleepy eyes was all that he gained by his interruption.
            “The last time I saw him he was speaking with her Highness' Lady.” Nevyre stated, “Last night.”
            “Anyone seen them this morning?” Rikki pressed. Even Nevyre looked away without comment. “Okay, get packed, we're leaving in half a candle mark.” Rikki turned towards the stairs as short benches scraped across stone floor and boots shuffled out through the door.
            Rikki wearily climbed the short steps to the second floor. One of the Muls stood guard outside the Princess' door. The large half breeds scared him as well as awed him. An army of these warriors would be a major power to reckon with in battle.
            “Is the Princess almost ready?” Rikki inquired the large armored guard.
            “I do not know, Sir.”
            Rikki knocked on the door.
            “Yes?” Annyka asked opening the door a crack.
            “Is her Highness ready?” Rikki could see that the poor girl hadn't had a full night's sleep either. He sure would be glad when they were in open air again. Maybe everyone would sleep easier.
            “Almost, Captain.” Annyka nervously bit her lip. “Have you found Monyka?” She whispered.
            Rikki shook his head. The young girl sighed heavily.
            “I'm sure she'll pop up before too long.” He tried to comfort. “The carriage should be out front in just a few minutes.”
            The girl nodded.
 
--o0o--
 
            Monyka snuggled closer to the chest of Kadyr. His long slow breaths told her that he was still sleeping, she just hoped that her movement wouldn't wake him. His musky scent filled her nostrils, relaxed her, brought a smile to her lips. She wanted to burrow her face in his chest and breathe in nothing but his bouquet. 
            The soft rocking of the boat was soothing. So soothing that after they enjoyed one another, they drifted right off to sleep.
            “I've got to use the facilities.” Kadyr stretched.
            “Just a moment more?” Monyka begged.
            Kadyr relaxed and wrapped a arm around Monyka, his fingers twirled a braided tress of her hair.
            “It sure is quiet.” Monyka noticed. “Is it morning yet?”
            “It's hard to tell in this darkness.”
            “You'd think we'd hear the fishermen on the pier getting ready to go out.” Monyka yawned.
            Kadyr unwrapped his finger and unwound from Monyka. “I'm sorry, but I have got to take care of this.” He picked up the rope that tied the boat to the pier and gave it a pull, but it gave no tension. “Huh?” he pulled the rope hand over hand.  A free end came up out of the water in his hand.
            “Tanek's ass!”
            “What is is?” Monyka asked.
            “Somehow, the rope that tied us to the pier snapped or broke or something.”
            “What?” Monyka sat up in alarm. The charms in her hair tinkled.
            “It's too dark. I can't see anything.” He threw the rope into the water. “We've been sent adrift on the lake.”
            “What? How?”
            “I don't know. Can you see anything?”
            Monyka peered into the inkiness that consumed them. A soft glow from just under the water was the only thing that she could see “No. just a glow from that fish.”
            Kadyr turned and squinted out into the darkness behind them then above, “I can't even see the glowing of the ceiling.”
            “What are we going to do?” Monyka asked. Tonya was going to give her hell for this. The Princess must be going crazy not knowing where she was.
            “Hello!” Kadyr cupped his hands around his mouth. “Anyone out there?!”
            Except for the water lapping against the boat, silence.
            “Hello!?” Monyka called.
            She strained her ears to hear a reply. Not even an echo.
            Monyka closed her eyes tight and concentrated on slowing down her breathing and heart rate. She had to keep calm. Going mad in this situation would not be helpful for their getting rescued. If she could only see where they were or where they should go. Calm. She had to keep calm. Kadyr didn't need an irrational woman on his hands to complicate things.
            “Well we have oars.” Kadyr's voice broke through her thoughts. “Any idea as to which direction we should go?”
            I need to see.  Monyka's mind concentrated on keeping her breathing relaxed. I need to see which direction to go. I've got to be helpful some how.
            Monyka took a deep breath and opened her eyes. A glowing fish, brighter than others she had seen before, appeared near the boat washing Kadyr in it's eerie light. 
            She gave Kadyr a nervous smile as he secured an oar in an oar lock. More of the bio-luminesent fish were coming to the surface. “Is it feeding time for the fish?” Monyka wondered aloud.
            Kadyr looked out across the water. “I don't see much of a difference.” he sighed.
            “There seem to be a lot more than there were a few minutes ago.” Monyka nodded. She looked out of the lake. Hundreds of glowing orbs moved under the water's surface. “Much more.”
            “You're eyes must be better adapted to the dark, I only see a few,” Kadyr shrugged.
            Monyka stared off into the distance trying to see how far she could see the fish. A light of a different hue caught her attention on the horizon. “There might be something out there.” She pointed off to one side.
            “Where?” Kadyr asked.
            Monyka pointed. “It looks like a light on the horizon. It could be a lantern, or even a fire.”
            Kadyr squinted then shook his head. “I don't see anything.”
            “It's there.” she insisted.
            “I believe you, I just don't see it.” Kadyr turned the boat in the direction that Monyka was showing him. “Tell me when to stop.”
            “There.” Monyka instructed. 
            Kadyr began to pull on the oars as Monyka stared out into the darkness. 
 
                                                *                      *                      *
 
            Tonya eased herself onto the bed in the carriage. Although better than earlier this morning, her leg still ached a bit. More bothersome however was the disappearance of Monyka. Where could her assistant and friend have gone off too? The nagging of worry ate away at her stomach as the throbbing ache in her leg ate away at her nerves and patience.
            She opened her eyes and lifted her head as horse hoofs neared the carriage. “Any sign?” She asked.
            “Not yet.” Rikki answered. “Prince Caldric has some men looking for them and questioning locals.”
            “Where could they have gone? What could have happened to them?”
            The Captain shrugged. “I'm sorry Highness, but we have to get moving so that we can get to Narva.”
            Tonya nodded. “Proceed, Captain.”
            “I'm sure they'll find her soon.” Annyka tried to sound optimistic. 
            Tonya lay back down on the bed and braced herself as the carriage was softly jerked into forwards motion.
 
 
            The entourage along with the Dwarven Prince and his guard moved out of the cavern and back onto the underground highway. 
            The long tunnel that they had been following through one cavern after another opened up into one of the larger caverns that they had seen yet. If Rikki hadn't known that they were underground, he'd have sworn that they were riding by a lake at night. The water lapped softly up along the shore adding to the symphony of hooves, marching boots and carriage wheels. Glowing pools of light rose and sank in the dark water.
            “Captain.” Grymm called reining in his mount.
            “Yes, Corporal?”
            “A Dwarf fisherman has noticed a rowboat missing from the pier.”
            “A rowboat?” Rikki wondered what Monyka and Kadyr would be doing with a rowboat. He suddenly blushed. He was getting tired and his brain wasn't working as it should. “Have any of the fishermen seen or heard anything of them?”
            “Not that anyone has said.”
            Rikki nodded. “Thanks, Grymm. I'll go talk to Caldric.” Rikki rode up beside the royal carriage, “Your Highness?” he called softly.
            “Yes, Captain?” Tonya bolted up and winced at the pain that the movement caused.
            “It may not mean anything but a report just came in that a rowboat was missing from the pier. Can you think of any reason, Monyka or the Lieutenant would use a rowboat?”
            “Do you think they are lost on the lake?” Tonya inquired.
            “My thoughts lean that way too.” he confirmed. “Just wanted to keep you informed.”
            “Thank you, Captain.”
            Rikki spurred Sefu away from the carriage and forward.
 
            “That is a pretty large lake, Captain.” Prince Caldric shook his head in disbelief. 
            “I can't think of anywhere else that they could have disapeared too, Your Highness.”
            “I'll ask the fishermen to keep an alert look out for them.”
            “That is all that I ask.” Rikki nodded thanks.
            “Pikeman.” Caldric called.
            A Dwarf jogged over to his prince. Prince Caldric explained the situation to him giving the fisherman orders to bring the two, if found directly to Narva. A small reward would hopefully increase the interest in finding the two lost humans.
            “Thank you.” Rikki bowed. He backed away a step or two from the marching dwarves before mounting Sefu and trotting back towards the oncoming carriage.
 
 
                        *                      *                      *
 
            “Are we getting any closer?” Kadyr was starting to breathe a bit heavier now.
            Monyka squinted off into the distance at the light that she had seen earlier. “It's kind of hard to tell. I think it's getting bigger.” When she had first seen it the light looked to be little more than a pin prick in the black curtain that shrouded the lake. Not it seemed like it was more of a dot than a pin prick. The fish slowly churning the water around the boat seemed to be unafraid of their presence. They kept clear of the oars, but other than that, they lazily eeled their way through the dark waters occasionally breaking surface to grab at an insect or to gulp some air.
            “Let me work at it for a while.” Monyka suggested.
            “Work at what?”
            “The rowing. You sound like you could use a break.”
            “I'm fine.” Kadyr assured. “Besides, it'll rip your hands raw in no time.”
            “I'm tougher than I look.” Monyka warned, with an edge to her voice.
            “Oh, I know.” Kadyr smiled. “I followed you down a cold river one night, and seen you through a couple of battles.”           
            Monyka couldn't decide if he was just placating her or adding levity to her words.
            “When I get a bit more tired, I may take you up on that offer.” Kadyr added after a pause. “You sure I'm rowing in the right direction?”
            Monyka nodded.
            “What are your plans after the Princess gets healed?” Kadyr pulled on the oars.
            “She and I spoke about it.” Monyka sat back in her seat. “She still wants me to be her assistant.”
            “Full time?” Kadyr inquired. “Will you have more freedom? Live your own life?”
            “One of the reasons we recruited Annyka was so that I would have more freedom as well as more responsibilities.”
            “Will you still be sleeping in her chambers?”
            “I think Annyka will take on that role. Or Tonya may be well enough to move Annyka into the servant's quarters.
            “What about you?” Kadyr asked.
            “I don't know. I guess I'll have to see once we get back to Riponia.”
            “So what kind of responsibilities are you going to take on?”
            “Tonya said that she would like me to be more of an advisor than a mere servant. I was tutored along with her. My numbers and figure skills are better than hers.” Monyka smiled with the memory of her scoring better on an exam.
            “So you'll be like a secretary.”
            “Not really. I've also developed a network of connections all through Ripon. I am Tonya's eyes and ears in a lot of cases.”
            Kadyr nodded with a new appreciation of the intelligent woman across from him. “I didn't know you were the Princess' spy.”
            “Not a spy, just and observer. And no one knows. Please keep it that way.”
            “To betray you would be to betray my Princess.” Kadyr nodded. “What do your informers say about me?”
            “Nothing that you haven't told me.”
            The quiet of the lake descended on them. Only the steady swish of the oars broke the silence.
            “Have you ever thought of a life away from her Highness?” Kadyr asked.
            “No. Ever since I was a young girl and given the opportunity to serve her Highness I have known that I would be in her service all of my life.”
            “Wow, that is a pretty serious thing to know and deal with as a little girl.”
            “Tonya helps to make it bearable.”
            “Oh?”
            “Once you are past her barbs, she is a very likable and sweet person.”
            “I'll have to take your word on that. Not many of us get to see into that world.”
            “I know.” Monyka shook her head lightly, charms and gems tinkled around her head. “It is a shame.”
            “Are we making any headway?”
            Monyka looked over his shoulder. “Not much, I'm afraid.”
            Kadyr stopped the oars and sighed. “Alright, My Lady. I'm going to take a break. You want a turn?”
            The boat rocked a bit but the two made the switch without incident.
 
                                                *                      *                      *
           
            Nevyre stretched in his saddle. The mattress that he had slept on was comfortable enough and being near the fire was relaxing, but too many other patrons took advantage of the space available. Too many snored, or spoke in their sleep. The trout dinner had been a good idea, but it had been taken out of control. The party and revelry lasted too long into the night.
            Then to wake up to the news that not only Kadyr was missing but also the Princess' handmaiden. The news was uprising to say the least. Nevyre had spent too many days gallivanting over Southern Truno with Kadyr to believe that his friend was in any danger. The two would show up. The question was when and how.
            The Princess chose to ride in her carriage today. It was out of character to do so. She was so interested in the Dwarven underground Empire. Nevyre wondered if it had anything to do with the missing couple. 
            Narva was their destination today. It would be an up hill trek for most of it, after they skirted this seemingly endless underground lake. When he heard of it, he thought it might be a large pond, a small lake perhaps. This he had not counted upon. The lake its self was pitch black and seemed to absorb any light that might be cast upon it. Here and there pools of light from the glowing fish could be seen, but other than a few specks from a lantern on a fishing boat way out in the water, not much else could be seen. He had no idea how wide this body of water was, but so far it's length stretched on and on. 
            Nevyre was hoping that they would call a halt for a mid day meal and a rest. Narva was rumored to have a market of art that rivaled any on the surface. He was running a little low on funds and had called on 'favors' instead of payment over the last few days. An extended break would be perfect for a dice game to fill his purse.
            The rogue's stomach began to grumble. It was almost midday by his stomach's reckoning and they still weren't around this body of water. He pulled a piece of bread from his saddle bags and began to gnaw on it, wishing for a some meat other than fish or grubs. A nice piece of juicy lamb perhaps, or maybe even a nice slab of steak. Dwarves only raised chickens, pigs and grubs for their main food diet.   Beef was considered a luxury. 
            Nevyre pulled his horse over to the Ambassador's carriage. “How are you doing, Ambassador?” he called to the old gray haired man.
            “Who are you?” Zareb asked looking out the window.
            “I'm called Nevyre.” Nevyre dipped his head. “How are you faring?”
            “What business of it is yours.” the Ambassador demanded.
            “Let's just say that I try to make everything my business so that I can assist people in making their lives more, shall we say, comfortable.”
            “You're a opportunist. You take advantage of peoples wants for your own gain, I know who you are now.”
            “An opportunist, yes. For my own gains? Well that is for each to decide, I provide things that they would want, so they are gaining too.”
            “You are a swindler.” Zareb sneered.
            “I don't swindle I provide services and find items of value which I pass on to those who need it for a nominal fee or service in return. . . In a way, Ambassador, you and I are the same.”
            “How dare you.” Zareb growled.
            “Hear me out, Ambassador.” Neyvre smirked. He was enjoying this too much. “Your King, needs to make an alliance or secure some aspect of a treaty, he sends you to represent him and to find out how to best achieve those ends, right?”
            “There is more to it than that.”
            “Oh, I will not argue that. But that is what it boils down to.” Nevyre nodded. “I just have to work a little harder. The cook at the pub last night, for instance, needed a certain herb for that trout dinner. She was out of said herb and knew that no one else in the cavern had it. I, on her behalf sought out one of her Highness's cooks and was able to secure just enough of that herb. It wasn't free however. I had to promise her Highness's cook to bend the ear of a certain infantry man. That Infantry man is in need of a new pair of socks, his socks you see, have more stitches from darning than material. He promised to give the cook attention if I were to secure a new pair of socks. 
            So, I visited the laundry woman, Rose, and begged a few scraps of material. Rose doesn't keep scraps but had some wonderful, soft felt. She promised me the felt in exchange for a few hours of labor with the washing. Since she doesn't trust me with the actual washing, I had to find someone else. A certain nameless cavalryman owes me some money for a debt that he is unable to pay in a game of chance. So I canceled his debt with me, in exchange for his assisting Rose. So I had the fabric, but not the socks. I needed someone to sew them. There is a certain member in the retinue who doesn't like saddling or brushing their mount but is very deft with a needle. I was able to convince her to sew the socks last night with the promise of not having to deal with the care of her horse for the next week.”
            “So you are going to care for her horse?” Zareb asked, trying to get to the end of the story.
            “No, I have someone who is caring for my horse.” Nevyre grinned, “He owed me a favor however, I happen to know one of the stable boys who wants to learn certain aspects of slight of hand, which I do happen to know how to do.” Nevyre smiled. “So with a few minutes of my time a day the cook of the pub got her herb for the dinner that everyone enjoyed.” Nevyre stood up straight and bowed to the Ambassador. “And a few people along the way got things or services that they needed.”
            “And that compares to what I do?” Zareb asked.
            “I'm sure you have to go through similar things when you work out treaties or trade agreements.”
            Zareb was quiet. A smile creased his face, a low gravely sound broke between his lips as he began to chuckle. “I believe you are right after all.” he continued chuckling.
            Nevyre laughed with him.
           
            Commotion towards the front of the column caught Nevyre's attention. He excused himself from the Ambassador and rode forward. “What's going on?” he asked a cavalryman.
            “The Lieutenant and the Lady Monyka have been found.”
            “Found? Are they all right?” Nevyre questioned.
            “I didn't hear that they were harmed. Just hungry.”
            A wave of relief washed through his body. Just hungry was a good sign. 
            “Thanks.” Nevyre waved. He snapped his reins.
 
                        *                      *                      *
 
            “I'm so sorry, Highness.” Monyka squinted against the bright lanterns.
            “What happened?” Tonya stuffed a pillow behind her back as she resettled making room for Monyka in the carriage.
            “I'm not sure. We um. . . we were kissing in a row boat and the line keeping it attached to the pier must have snapped. When we realized what had happened, we were in the dark, not knowing where to go.”
            “The line snapped?”
            Monyka nodded.
            Tonya shook her head. “This looks really bad, Monyka.” She tisked. “Everyone is talking. . . It looks bad. . . Not for just you, it looks bad for me too.”
            Monyka closed her eyes and sat back. She didn't remember the lanterns ever being this bright. Maybe it was from her being on that dark lake for so long.
            “This little adventure of yours is now public. Very public. It wasn't too private to begin with, but now, even the Dwarven army knows.”
            “I know.  I'm so sorry.” Monyka apologized.
            “Now that it's out in the open, you will need to make sure that your behavior is appropriate.”
            Monyka nodded. Part of her relieved that Tonya wasn't demanding that she end the relationship, the other part wishing her eyes would stop burning.
            “Are you all right?” Tonya asked.
            “It's too bright in here, my eyes are killing me.” Monyka explained.
            “Too bright? The lanterns are only at a quarter of their normal brightness.”
            “I must be getting a headache.”
            “Hungry?”
            Monyka nodded.
            “Annyka could you see if you can get some food and a bit of wine for her?”
            Annyka nodded. “Sure, your Highness.” She opened the carriage door and stepped out onto the step, closed the door and hopped down off from the moving carriage.
            “So what really happened?” Tonya inquired.
            Monyka dared to open her eyes and looked at her friend through heavily lidded eyes. The glare from the lanterns were almost as bad as looking into the sun.
            “What really, really happened?” Tonya lay her head back.
            “Your leg bothering you that bad?” Monyka asked.
            Tonya nodded. “I had Annyka try and rub it down this morning, but she isn't trained, yet. I missed your fingers.”
            Monyka leaned forward and turned the wicks of the two lanterns so that their light was extinguished.
            “I can't see anything.” Tonya complained.
            “There is still one lamp lit.” Monyka sighed, “It's still very bright in here.” She adjusted on the cushions lifted the skirts of Tonya's dress and began to work her fingers into specific muscles in Tonya's leg.
            “Ouch, Oh, oh that hurts, but feels so much better.” Tonya winced and sighed. “So are you going to tell me what really happened?”
            Monyka smirked, but kept quiet.
            “Annyka will be back soon.” Tonya prompted.
            “It was. . . incredible.” Monyka grinned now that light wasn't causing her head pain.
            “Yes?”
            Monyka told her about sitting on the pier, then their idea of getting into the row boat, and about waking up and realizing that they were adrift somewhere in a pitch black lake with no idea as to where to go.
            The carriage slowed to a stop. The door opened and Annyka climbed in. As soon as the door shut the carriage lurched back into motion. 
            “It's not much but I should help.” Annyka held out a small basket with some thrown together good and a small bottle of wine. “I got some herbs for your head ache too.”
            “You're an angel. Thank you.” Monyka took the offered herbs and washed it down with some of the wine. She devoured the cheese and started on the bread. “What?” she asked as she noticed the others watching her. “I didn't have breakfast.”
            The two giggled.
            “How can you see anything in here?” Annyka asked.
            “What are you talking about?” Monyka asked around a bite of bread. “It's as bright as a sunny day in here.”
            “It must be the headache.” Tonya stated. “If it isn't better by the time we get to Narva, I'll have Brother Tagyrt take a look at you.”
            “No.” Monyka groaned, “I'll be all right by the time we get there.”
            “Annyka,” Tonya squinted through the dim light to see the girl's features. “Could you go see if someone might have bear root salve?”
            “Of course, your Highness.” Annyka dipped her head and exited the carriage.
            “Bear root salve?” Monyka questioned in a low tone.
            “It will keep her busy, while you finish telling me about your adventure.” Tonya smiled.
            The angle of the carriage tipped as the column of soldiers and retinue began it's up hill assent towards Narva.
            Monyka told her friend about how after a while in the darkness she was able to see something that looked like a fire or a lantern in the distance and about the two of them taking turns rowing.
            A little while later there was a knock on the carriage door.
            “Yes?” Tonya called.
            Annyka opened the door and looked nervously at her Princess. “I. . . I was unable to find anyone who knew anything about Bear root salve.”
            “No one?” Tonya asked.
            “No.” Annyka kept her eyes lowered. “I did get your leg salve out of your chest. Will that help?” She offered up the small bottle.
            “That will be fine, Annyka.” Tonya sighed. “If no one has Bear root salve then no one has it. You did good taking the initiative and getting this.” Tonya accepted the find. “Perhaps Monyka can instruct you on how best to rub it in.”
 
                                    *                      *                      *
 
            “You doing all right, Lieutenant?” Takoda inquired.
            “I'm just tired. I'm not used to rowing boats hours on end.” Kadyr admitted.
            “Well you're going to have to stay up a bit longer. Your little stunt last night has put you on the top of the nights duty rotation.” Takoda instructed.
            Kadyr groaned inwardly. He wanted to do it audibly as well, but knew that he deserved the punishment. Reluctantly he nodded agreement to the Sergeant at Arms.
            Takoda pulled his horse closer to the Lieutenant. “The Captain hasn't been sleeping the past few nights. I'm surprised he hasn't fallen asleep in the saddle. We have got to get him to relax and to sleep.”
            “That won't be easy until we get out of this Underworld.” Kadyr explained.
            “I know, but we have got to try. We are getting him into his quarters as soon as we get to Narva. A full meal and plenty of liquor should help.”
            “Have you spoken to Nevyre?”
            “He doesn't have contacts down here.” Takoda stated.
            “No, but I'll bet he can get some of what you need a bit faster than anyone else.”
            “All we need is some food, liquor, and a soft bed.”
            “If you say so, Takoda.”
            “You picking anything up in Narva?” The old man asked.
            “Now that you mention it, If I can have an hour or so before taking over my duties, I could get all of my orders plus one so that I don't have to go scurrying around tomorrow.”
            “What all did you order?”
            “Well, like everyone else, a few blades. I figure I'd pick up some glass and maybe a small sculpture. But I might not have enough money.”
            “Then why did you order all of that?”
            “I need to find another item that might keep me from picking up anything else in Narva.”
            “What might that be, boy?” Takoda's eyes twinkled.
            “Sergeant, You know Monyka pretty well, right?”
            “She's like a daughter to me.” Takoda nodded.
            “She is?” Kadyr was slightly startled.
            Takoda nodded again. “I've been guarding her and watching her grow into the beautiful young woman she is since she was about nine or ten.”
            Kadyr swallowed a lump.
            “Since I didn't have any children of my own, I kind of adopted her in a way.” Takoda went on.
            “Mmm.” Kadyr's mouth went dry. “Um. . . ah Sergeant? Would it be. . . Well, Do you think it is possible?”
            “Yes? What is it?” Takoda was biting the inside of his cheek trying not to smile.
            “I'd like to ask you if it would be alright if I asked Monyka to be my wife?” Kadyr spat it out in a hurry.”
            “You haven't asked her yet?”
            “No.” Kadyr shook his head, “I wanted to do it right, and since you are the closest thing she has to a father. . . “
            “By all means ask her.” Takoda grinned. “But then you two will need the approval of the Tonya and possibly his Majesty as well.”
            Kadyr gulped a larger lump. “I'll need his Majesty's permission?”
            Takoda nodded. “She is Princess Tonya's chief Lady in Waiting. Anyone who wishes her hand will have to ask King Tobias. Don't look so ill, Kadyr. If Tonya approves, you'll have me at your back.”
            “You'd go with me when I ask his Majesty?” Kadyr inquired.
            Takoda nodded. “As long as you remain true to your honor and code, yes. You'll probably have to be transferred from the cavalry to the palace guard though.”
            “What?”
            “Monyka is not only like a daughter to me. She is like a sister to Tonya and almost like a daughter to the King. You don't think Tobias would allow her to leave the palace do you? Or be preoccupied worrying about you when she needs to be attending her Highness?”
            “No, I guess not. But the palace guard?”
            “It's not so bad.”
            “It's just not being part of the cavalry.”
            “Well that is something for you to think about.” Takoda stated. “Which is more important to you, the freedom and prestige of the cavalry, or your love of the Lady Monyka?”
            “My love for Monyka.” Kadyr announced.
            “You sure?”
            “Yes.”
            “Then start getting your things in order. I will talk to Tobias after we return to Ripon on your behalf.”
            “You will?”
            “You'll still have to go before the King, but I'll set the foundation.”
            “Thanks Takoda.”
            “You are welcome.”
 
                        *                      *                      *
 
            Monyka lay with a pillow between her head and the corner of the carriage. They had to turn the lanterns up a little so that she could show Annyka where to rub and how to rub Tonya's leg. The Princess although still in pain was throughly enjoying the extra attention.
            Monyka kept her eyes closed and concentrated on keeping the pounding in her head at bay. Even with her eyes closed the lanterns seemed to hurt. 
            What is wrong with my eyes? She asked herself. Why is this light burning them? Stop. Stop burning. She commanded. I wish they would just go back to normal so that I can see without pain.
            She must have been more tired than she thought. Or it could have been the wine and the herbs. Her head felt a bit dizzy. She squeezed her eye lids tight against the dizziness and decided it would be better to just slip away into a nap.
 
                                    *                      *                      *
 
            The long procession slowed as it reached the outskirts of Narva. With the Prince of the Underworld and his troops in front of the Riponian entourage, the citizen dwarves cleared to the sides of the road and watched in wonder as the humans from a distant land entered the cultural art center of the Dwarven world.
            Prince Caldric led the Riponian procession to the entrance of one of his estate homes.
            “It would do me a great honor if the Princess and her officers would make themselves comfortable in my home.”
            “You are too kind.” Captain Kalhoun dipped his head. “I'm sure the Princess would find it delightful to spend her evening here. Thank you.” Captain Kalhoun turned to his officers who had gathered a few paces behind him. “Grymm? Please have the royal carriage brought up at once so that we can get her Highness into her rooms.”
            “Yes, Sir.” Grymm jumped back onto his mount and raced off down the column to find the Princess.
            “Who is in charge of the organizing the men and retinue?” he rubbed at his red eyes.
            “I'll take care of that, Captain.” Galyway stepped forward. “Lieutenant Kollyns has an errand to run and then he will be running things tonight.”
            “What are you going to do, Takoda?”
            “I'd thought I'd check on Brother Tagyrt and see how Taelah is doing.”
            “Ah, I'd forgotten about Tagyrt and the wounded. I'll go see them with you.” Rikki yawned.
            “That is all right, Captain. I think you will be more useful if you'd get some sleep.” Takoda deflected. “I'll let them all know that you will check on them in the morning.”
            The royal carriage, led by Grymm and flanked by the Muls made it's way to the front of the column.
            “Sergeant?” Rikki waved one hand towards the carriage and stifled another yawn with his other.
            “I'll take care of it Captain.” Galyway turned and barked some orders. The infantrymen turned and formed a line on either side of the courtyard, framing a barrier of protection for their Princess.
            “Lets get you into a hot bath, a good meal into you and get you to bed.” Takoda told the Captain.
            “I'm alright.” Rikki insisted.
            “Captain, you are about to fall off your horse.” Takoda warned. “If you don't do as I say, I'll have Galyway and three of his goons haul you off of your mount and carry you to your room.
            Rikki eyed Galyway who stood in a very imposing stance and glared at him. With the way he felt, he was sure all it would take was Galyway by himself to carry him to his room. He then looked at Takoda who looked very stern.
            “Fine.” Rikki half fell from Sefu's back. He held on to the saddle for a few seconds longer than normal to get his feet under him and walked up the two lines of Infantry to the door.
            “Right this way, Captain.” a Dwarf in the Prince's livery gestured.
            Takoda watched as Captain Kalhoun followed the man into the lantern lit hall then turned to see Galyway and Lieutenant Kollyns assist the Princess out of the carriage.
            “Are you going to need your chair or stool?” Monyka asked.
            “No. I'll be fine. I'm sure it won't be that far.”
            The two Muls fell in step two paces behind the Princess and her ladies.
            “Carry her if she needs help.” Takoda spoke to one of the half-breeds.
            “Aye.” was all the Mul said.
            Takoda turned to Lieutenant Kollyns. “You have two hours to gather your purchases. I'll cover your shift until then.”
            “Shouldn't I see to the Princess?” Kadyr asked.
            “Galyway, Grymm and I've got it. You have some important business to take care of.”
            Lieutenant looked to Monyka assisting the Princess to the Sergeant at Arms. “Thanks Takoda.”
            “Hurry back, I want a meal and a bed too.”
            Kadyr took the reins from a stable boy, leaped into the saddle and started off towards the market.
            Takoda turned and caught up with Galyway. “I'll take over here, Sergeant. Go see to the men.”
            “Yes, Sir.” Galyway dipped his head in acknowledgement and went about his duties in getting the soldiers as well as the retinue set up for the night.
 
            Large glass columnss of water filled with the bio-luminescent fish stood like beacons of pale light along thecorridorss or Caldric's home. The Princess was led towards the back of the home to a pair of doors. Grymm stepped ahead while Takoda had the Princess pause outside.
            “All clear.” Grymm re-appeared at the door.
            The liveried servant followed the Princess inside. “There is a refreshing room to the side if you wish to use it. I was informed that the Princess may wish to enjoy our markets. There is still some time before they close for the day, and His Highness Caldric would like to invite you to dine with him this evening.”
            “Thank you.” Takoda told the servant. “We'll take care of it from here.”
            The servant bowed to the Princess's back and slipped out of the door that was being guarded on the inside by one of the Muls.
            “How is your head ache?” Tonya asked Monyka.
            “Much better thank you. I think the nap is what I needed.”
            “I need to use the facilities. A quick washing and then maybe we should enjoy some of the market before dinner. How does that sound?”
            “I'll keep the carriage out front.” Takoda nodded. “How long will you need before you are ready?”
            “I'll be quick Takoda. Oh and Sergeant, keep my body guards to a minimum please.” Tonya begged.
            “Yes, your Highness.” Takoda left the suite.
            “Are you sure your leg is up to shopping today?” Monyka asked.
            “I'm better now. I took a nap when you did and I had another pinch of herbs.”
            Monyka made a face at the mention of the herbs. She had to take those nasty herbs on a few occasions.
 
                        *                      *                      *
 
            “Thanks for your help, Nevyre.” Kadyr said swinging off his horse in front of Prince Caldric's home.
            “I was only glad that I could be of help.” Nevyre smiled.
            One of the Prince's grooms took their mounts and led them away.
            “Lieutenant Kollyns.” a Corporal called from the doorway.
            “Yes, Corporal?”
            “Sergeant Takoda asked me to remind you that you were to take over quarter master duties as soon as you returned.”
            “On my way.” Kadyr sighed. “Where is the quarter master located?”
            “follow me, Lieutenant.” the Corporal started off.
            “See you later, Nevyre, and thanks for your help.”
            “Are you sure about this?” Nevyre asked.
            Kadyr smiled big and nodded.
            “Poor sap.” Nevyre teased and headed off to find game of cards or dice.
            Kadyr fingered the small pouch in his breast pocket. He was so excited he felt like bursting. Now he had to figure out just how to ask her. Should it be private, just the two of them in some quiet nook? Or should he do it with all entourage watching?
            “You're late.” Takoda growled.
            “Sorry, Sergeant. It took a bit of work and lot of money to get it.”
            “So, lets see it.” Takoda waved his hand.
            Kadyr reached into this coat and pulled out the small pouch and untied its strings. He emptied the small red gold ring into the palm of his hand. 
            “What is that?” Takoda asked pointing to a softly glowing stone set in the ring.
            “It's a diamond that has some of that bio-luminescent stuff in it.”
            “So you bought a flawed diamond?”
            “Its not flawed, it's . . . enhanced.” Kadyr was now uncertain. “Will she like it?” he asked the Sergeant at Arms.
            “I think she will love it. Kadyr.” Takoda's voice was soft and warm.
            “Really?”
            Takoda nodded. “You did good, son.”
            Kadyr touched the ring lovingly before slipping it back into the pouch and back into his breast pocket.
            “Everyone is assigned quarters in these two inns.” Takoda got down to business. I have asked the soldiers to go into the market place in shifts so that the merchants won't feel like we are invading them.”
            “I saw a few while I was down there.” Kadyr nodded.
            “The Captain is in his suite near the Princess's, sleeping. He is to be left alone unless the Princess is in danger or the palace catches fire. He looked like crap.”
            Kadyr nodded. “Anything else?”
            Takoda nodded. Prince Caldric is hosting a dinner for the Princess and officers. The Captain won't be attending, so you are the senior officer.”
            Kadyr gulped. “What time?” he didn't mind formal dinners, but he had never been the senior officer at one. “Wait, you are Sergeant at Arms. You are senior.” he remembered.
            “Only in Ripona.”Takoda smiled. “Other kingdoms don't recognize my rank as our King does.”
            “Oh. Where are you off too?”
            “I'm going to check in on Brother Tagyrt and the injured then to take Taelah to the market.”
            “What's going on between you two?”
            “What do you mean?” Takoda asked, “We are essentially the same age, so we have a lot in common.”
            “But she is half elven.”
            “She is also half human.” Takoda countered.
            Kadyr shook his head not understanding.
            “I have someone coming to relieve you before the dinner starts.” Takoda took his leave.
            Kadyr sighed heavily as he saw the mound of paperwork that needed to be seen to. He had hoped to avoid paperwork and figures when he joined the cavalry, but it seemed that as he rose in rank he sank equally in the amount of paperwork. He sat down at the desk and tried to concentrate on the task in front of him.
            After reading the same paragraph for the fourth time, he pushed it aside and pulled out the ring again to admire it. It had cost just about all that he had, plus a few favors that he now owed to Nevyre. His friend had a way of being very affluent or very desperatly poor. He could swing from one extreme to the next in a few days. Kadyr couldn't live a life such as that, there was absolutely no stability. 
            Could he offer stability as a cavalry officer, or as Takoda had suggested, an officer in the Palace Guard? He knew that some palace guards had families and that they lived modest lives. Would Monyka be able to live in a more modest home than in the Princess' suite. Could she love a mere soldier when she could have minor lords vieing for her attention as a stepping stone towards the Princess? 
            His stomach knotted in on its self again as he thought about the obsticals of a having a life with Monyka. He couldn't think about a life without Monyka either.
 
                                    --o0o--
 
            Kadyr took the brush to his coat, one more time removing every piece of lint and most of the dust from his days of travel. Dwarven highways may be broad, smooth and very long, but that didn't keep them from being dusty, even underground.    He picked up the coat with one hand and swatted it with the other. Only a little dust puffed into a small cloud from its fibers. The Lieutenant sighed and slipped the blue coat over his shoulders, thrusting his arms through. With deft fingers and years of practice, his fingers flew from one button to the next.
            Kadyr picked up the pouch and emptied the glowing ring into his hand and admired it one last time before his presentation. Lightly he kissed the ring and placed it into his breast pocket. He grabbed a cloth from the bedside and put his booted shoe up on a chair and quickly cleaned his boot then the other. 
            “Well, you clean up nice.” Takoda chuckled when Kadyr arrived outside the Princess' suite.
            “I did the best I could with the limited time I had.” Kadyr apologized. “How are the wounded?”
            “One is still a bit worse for wear, the others will be back to active duty tomorrow or the next day.”
            “And Taelah?”
            “Under guard and frustrated at being cooped up.” Takoda's mind drifted for a moment. “Are you ready for your first formal dinner being in charge?”
            Kadyr swallowed a lump. “It can't be too different than before.”
            “Did you set up a perimeter and a guard outside the dining hall? Do you have an evacuation route in place in case of any trouble? Is Brother Tagyrt on alert in case there is a medical emergency?Are you ready to make small talk and not embarrass the Princess or his Majesty? Did you supply the cooks with foods that the Princess is allergic to?”
            “I have a few men in place outside the dining hall.” Blood drained from Kadyr's face. His mind began to race through horrible scenarios that he was unprepared for. “The Captain does all of that?” he squeaked.
            “And more.” Takoda nodded.
            “I. . . um. . . I didn't -”
            “Don't worry about it Lieutenant, I already took the liberty of delegating those duties.” Takoda smiled. “I just wanted to see you sweat.”
            “Here you are Lieutenant.” Grymm stepped forward with a bundle of Riponian blue fabric.
            “What's that?”
            “I figured you'd need a clean coat, Sir, I took the liberty of having one laundered for you.”
            “Uh, okay.” Kadyr unbuttoned his coat. The Captain was in charge of planing escape routes for formal dinners? He questioned him self.
            Grymm helped him slip into the new coat and quickly fastened up the brass buttons in the front.
            The doors to the suite opened and Annyka stepped forward followed by the Princess arm in arm with Monyka. Kadyr almost forgot to bow as his attention was diverted to the beautiful women before him. Monyka's hair was still in tiny braids all gathered to the top back part of her head in the Dwarven fashion with jewels and metal charms adorning it. Her gorgeous brown eyes looked out over a thin green, gauze veil.
            “Are you ready, Gentlemen?” Tonya asked breaking him from his spell.
            “Yes, Your Highness, everything is in place.” Takoda straightened and smiled.
            Lieutenant Kadyr had heard Captain Kalhoun say those same words but didn't understand the full meaning behind them until now.
            Takoda cleared his throat. “It is customary for the officer in charge to escort the Princess.” He muttered to Kadyr.
            Kadyr hastily stepped forward and offered his arm to Tonya.
            “Thank you, Lieutenant, but if you'd be so kind as to escort my Lady in Waiting, I'd like the Sergeant to escort me.”
            “Of course, your Highness.” Kadyr stepped to one side and allowed Takoda to take the Princess's arm while he took Monyka's. He slipped his arm through hers and gave her hand a squeeze.
He felt a shiver of anxiety as he thought about proposing to this beautiful young woman.
            The Princess leaned heavily upon the Sergeant at Arms as they followed the liveried servant to the dining hall. One of the Muls stalked ahead of them, as if a battering ram clearing all obstacle. The other Mul silently followed behind the party like a quiet moving wall, stopping anyone from trying to move in behind them. The two specially bred warriors both unnerved him as well as made him feel a little more secure.
            Kadyr patted his coat pocket and realized that he had left the ring in the other coat. “Damn.” he muttered under his breath.
            “What is it?” Monyka asked in a whisper as they entered the dining hall.
            “I forgot something in my other coat.”
            “I'm sure you can go without it during dinner.” Monyka smiled.
            Kadyr smiled blandly at her as his heart raced, pounding madly in his chest. How could he have been so stupid? “Grymm?” he called and looked around. Grymm?”
            Why was it that Grymm seemed to hover around the Captain and was at his beck and call when ever the Captain needed him, but when he needed him, he was no where to be found?
            “Here you are, My Lady.” a servant guided them to a seat next to Tonya who was being seated.    “Lieutenant, Your chair is over here.”   Kadyr was led to a seat across the table and two seats down from Monyka. Kadyr looked around and spotted Takoda being seated across from him. The table that they were gathering at was taller than most dwarven tables. He noticed that the Dwarven ladies, their colored veils drawing attention to their beautiful eyes, had small foot stools next to their chairs so that they could better seat themselves. Looking around he realized he hadn't seen so many dwarven women in one place since they had entered the Underkingom.
            Although restricted in many ways, the woman dwarves seemed to hold a lot of power and prestige. Perhaps that was why there were almost never seen in the above world.
            “Hello, Lieutenant.” a voice that he recognized greeted. “We meet again.”
            Kadyr turned to see Bashira, the woman who married the Battleaxe from the stone outpost standing behind him.
            “Hello.” Kadyr smiled back. “How was your trip?”
            “Wonderful as usual.” Bashira nodded. “You're men are mostly healed.”
            “So I have been informed.”
            “How is Captain Kalhoun doing?” She inquired.
            “His wound is healing nicely, but he is exhausted and won't be joining us tonight.”
            “I may come by and see him tomorrow before you leave Narva.” She stated.
            “I'm sure he'd enjoy a visit from you, Bashira.”
            Kadyr found her husband the Battleaxe being seated further down the table. An impatient servant shifted his weight from one foot to the next, waiting to show the human woman to her seat.
            Prince Caldric entered the room causing all of those seated to rise in respect. Kadyr got to his feet and bowed slightly. The Princess remained sitting in her chair but smiled demurely at the Dwarven Prince who took his seat and signaled everyone else to take theirs.
            The room's quiet vanished as everyone resumed their conversations. Kadyr looked up as servers entered the room with trays of food. Four Riponian soldiers and three Muls stood alert at various points in the room, only one of the Muls was one that was assigned to the Princess. He looked around the dining hall for all points of possible escape in case something might happen and he and his men had to get the Princess out of the room in a hurry. There were only three doors. The main entrance which contained a sliding door that slid into a groove in the wall; and two doors that went into the kitchen, one on each end of the room. With all of this worrying, no wonder the Captain was tired. He was probably a nervous wreck.
            Monyka's eyes smiled at him from across the table warming him more than the wine did. He could barely make out the curve of her lips, the white of her teeth from beneath the veil. The smile made him feel naked, exposed without the ring in his pocket. He didn't know when he was going to propose, but he wanted to have it on him in case the opportunity were to present its self.
 
 
            They had finished two courses when one of the Riponian guards tapped him on the shoulder. Kadyr's heart leaped into his throat. What was wrong? Did he need to get the Princess out now? Was she in danger? His eyes jumped to her seat where she laughing with the Prince.
            “Corporal Grymm told me to give this to you, Sir.” the infantryman handed him a small folded up piece of paper.
            “Thank you,” Kadyr managed not to squeak. He opened the paper to reveal the ring he had forgotten to remove from his other coat with a note.
           
            Lieutenant,
            I found this in your coat and thought you might need it for tonight.
            Good luck.
            Corporal Grymm
 
            Suddenly all of the muscles in his body relaxed. He didn't realize just how wound up and tight he felt until that moment. He stretched his neck from side to side, allowing it to pop to relieve tension. Now he understood exactly why the Captain had asked to promote Grymm. If it was up to Kadyr, he'd be promoted again tomorrow. Kadyr held the ring below the edge of the table and admired it again.
            “What do you have there?” a woman dwarf beside him asked.
            “A ring.”
            “I can see that.” She scoffed. “Who is it for?”
            “The woman I wish to spend the rest of my life with.” he said for her ears only.
            “Which one is she?”
            “The Lady in Waiting to the Riponian Princess.”
            “The beautiful brunette dressed as a Dwarven Lady?”
            Kadyr nodded.
            “When are you going to ask her?”
            “I don't know.” Kadyr answered honestly. “I just got the ring this afternoon.”
            “It is a beautiful ring.” She commented.
            “Is it? Really?” Kadyr asked, “I don't know much about these things.”
            The Dwarf nodded. “You did good, Lieutenant.”
            The sound of someone tapping their wine glass quieted the room. “I'd like to propose a toast.” The voice called. The sound of chairs moving and Darves standing cued the Riponians to do the same.
            “To his Royal Highness, Prince Caldric, may he rule our Kingdom over and under wisely and well.”
            “To his Royal Highness.” the guests repeated.
            Another voice spoke up. “To her Royal Highness, Princess Tonya, May your journey be successful.”
            “To her Royal Highness.”
            “To the Empire of Thame may she blossom under wise leadership.”
            “To the Empire of Thame.”
            “To the Kingdom of Riponia.” Prince Caldric raised his glass. “May she continue to prosper and grow in beauty as her Princess does.”
            “To the Kingdom of Riponia.” Kadyr watched as his Princess blushed under the praise.
            A quiet fell over the room as the guests sipped at their wine.
            “Your Highness.” the Dwarf woman next to Kadyr spoke up.
            “Yes?” Caldric smiled at the woman.
            “This Riponian Lieutenant has a question to ask.”
            Kadyr's heart stopped. His hands and feet turned into ice blocks as the blood retreated to his heart which still hadn't beat. A second later it felt like his heart were a sledge hammer as it kicked back into doing it's work. 
            “Yes, Lieutenant?” Prince Caldric asked curiously.
            Kadyr felt ever pair of eyes in the room on him, including those of the Muls. Tonya, leaning on the table to keep the weight off of her leg also looked at him with curiosity. Takoda was biting back a smile and Kadyr could tell he was trying not to laugh.
            “Well, I do have a question, but it can wait.”
            “No it can't .” The Darven woman next to him poked at him. She lowered her voice, “Go over there and do it right.”
            Kadyr stepped around his chair and approached the head of the table. The two Muls standing on that end of the room tensed ready two spring into action if anything foul was about to happen towards their Prince.
            Kadyr's heart beat like a jackrabbits in his chest. His face felt flush, but his hands and feet became numb. “I'm sorry for this interruption, your Highness.” he muttered to the Prince as he passed and stood before his confused Princess who was growing redder by the moment.
            “With your Highness's permission.” he begged.
            Tonya's eyes were like shards of granite as they looked into his. Their eyes locked for a second or two. His eyes softened and pleaded with hers. With recognition, Tonya suddenly smiled and a sparkle like that of the sun reflected off of the water warmed her eyes as she dipped her chin slightly with approval.
            Kadyr stepped past Tonya and stood before Monyka. “With-” his voice came out in a high pitched squeak. He cleared his throat and started again. “With her Highness' permission I Lieutenant Kadyr Kollyns -” he lowered himself to his knees before Monyka.
            “What are you doing?” Monyka demanded.
            He took her hands in his and forced her to look into his eyes. “Would like to ask the Lady Monyka if she would make him the happiest man in the world, above or below, by accepting him as her husband.”
            The whole room was quiet. Even the sounds from the kitchen had been silenced. Kadyr looked at Monyka with eyes full of love and pleading. 
            “Breathe.” he whispered up to her.
            Monyka exhaled, causing the veil to flutter before her mouth, then she took a deep breath and snapped her gaze to Tonya. Kadyr turned his head to his Princess as well.
            “You have my permission and my blessing.” She stated with a big smile on her face.
            Kadyr looked back at Monyka drinking in her beauty. Even as tears flowed unheeded down her cheeks. “Will you?” he asked.
            Monyka nodded. “Yes.” it was almost a whisper. “Yes.” She said louder. “Yes.” She announced to the whole room.
            “Huzzah!” Prince Caldric cheered.
            Kadyr slipped the ring onto her finger and the room erupted into cheers and huzzahs as Kadyr stood and Monyka wrapped her arms around him. Their lips met in a loving embrace which quickly became more engaged.
            Tonya cleared her throat from behind them, catching their attention. Kadyr slowly pulled away, not wanting to part from the one person who made him feel like he owned the world. He realized that he could feel his hands and feet again. His heart no longer beat like a humming bird's wings, but was swollen with love and pride.
            “Here, Lieutenant, take my seat.” a dwarf offered.  “I couldn't bare to have you sit apart after that.”
            “Thank you.” Monyka touched the Dwarf's shoulder. She lifted her hand to her face and admired the ring. “Oh, Kadyr, it's beautiful.” She exclaimed.
            Kadyr's heart swelled a little more. 
            “It's glowing, Monyka.” Tonya pointed out.
            “Let me see.” Annyka wormed her way closer.
            “It is glowing.” Monyka's eyes widened.
            “It has a piece of that bio-luminescent stuff in it.” Kadyr explained.
            “That is so pretty.” Tonya admired it closer. “Who helped you pick that out, Lieutenant?”
            “Nevyre did.”
            “Well, you two did a wonderful job.” Tonya took her seat. As others around the table did the same.
            “Hold on.” Prince Caldric called out. “I'd like to make a toast.”
            All of the guests stood again and the servers stood still with their trays.
            “To the happy couple. May their love live forever.”
            “To the happy couple.” the room erupted loudly.
            Kadyr assisted Monyka in sitting down then took the seat next to hers. He looked across the and down the table at the Dwarf who had traded him seats. “Thank you.” he said to him. 
            The dwarf nodded and raised his glass to Kadyr.
            “Well, as long as we are making announcements,” Prince Caldric stated drawing attention back to him. “I would like to take this time to thank the Princess Tonya for gracing our highway, and market places with her presence. The Dwarven Empire and the Kingdomsss of Truno, Riponia and Blaire have entered treatiseie together in a fight against the elves.”
            The room applauded and murmured.
            As a token of my thanks for her part in bringing these parties together, I'd like to present her Highness with a piece of Thame's Kingdom.” Prince Caldric reached next to his chair and pulled out a marble box. “Please accept this as a favor from me as well as my Kingdom.” Prince Caldric opened the lid of the box to reveal a nest of silver satin which enveloped a giant sapphire.
            “For the love of Tanitha.” Tonya gasped.
            “Please.” Caldric held it out for her to take.
            Tonya set the box down on the table and lifted a beautiful blue sapphire the size of a hens egg.
            “My mother felt that the sapphire would bring out the blue of your eyes.” Prince Caldric explained.
            “It's. . . It's . . . huge.” Tonya managed to get out. “It's beautiful.”
            “I'm sure your jewelers can figure out something useful to do with it.”
            “Thank you, Prince Caldric. I'm . . . I'm speechless by your generosity.”
            The Dwarf bowed to the Princess and took his seat to resume the meal.
 
                        --o0o--
           
 
 

 

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