Healing a Princess. . . 37 (Out of the bag)

 

 Healing a Princess. . . 37
 
 
(Out of the bag)
 
 
By Tim Knight
 
 
 
 
            Rikki leaned against the timbered north wall of Lyonsgate and looked out over the sea of grass waving in the golden morning light.
            “Do you think they have the guts to try a raid in the middle of the day?” Sergeant Galyway asked as he handed the Captain a trencher of eggs, bacon, cheese, and fresh strawberries drizzled with honey.
            Rikki took a bite of cheese shook his head. “I’ve been trying to figure that out all night, Markys. They know where we are at, they know we have at least one person with royal blood. They know that they have handicapped our strength. All they need to do is to wait for us to stick our nose out of our den here and they can get all that they want.”
            “So what are we going to do? We can’t just wait here. Sooner or later, they will throw all of their force at us and decimate this place.”
            “If we left in two days, how many men would we have to leave behind?” Rikki inquired.
            “Two days?” the Sergeant was surprised. “At least seven, maybe as many as twelve.”
            Rikki thought while eating the bacon. “If we left wagons behind and took only horses, how many would have to be left?”
            “Too many.” Markys shook his head. “Making a mad dash for the goal isn’t the answer, Captain.”
            “I know it may not be the best answer, but it is an option. Our goal is to get Princess Tonya and Princess Adiah safely to Malden.”
            “At the risk of all of those lives? The retinue as well as the soldiers?”
            “Everyone knew what they were signing up for. It is one of the reasons we didn’t take any who had family to support at home.”
            “There has to be a better way, Rikki.” Markys pleaded.
            Rikki silently finished off his breakfast, tossing the last scrap of bread to a passing dog. “I want you to talk to Skot and come up with a total of eight cavalry and yeomen as scouts, and have them meet with me at the Widow’s Peak for lunch.”
            “You want any of the senior staff?” Galyway asked.
            “No. I want to keep this as quiet as possible. Besides, Takoda isn’t speaking to me at the moment. I hardly think he’d want to be in a meeting with me at the moment.”
            “You going to let me in on what you’re planning?”
            “When the time is right.” Rikki looked back over the grass. “There’s a lot I still have to work out.”
            “Captain Kalhoun!” a voice cried. “Captain Kalhoun!”
            Rikki looked down as a young soldier hardly old enough to shave came charging up the ladder. 
            “Captain Kalhoun.” He tried a salute on the ladder and lost his balance.
            “Yes?”
            “Captain Dobry wishes your presence at the South Gate.”
            Rikki looked to Markys questioning, He scrubbed his hand through his dark hair and sighed. “Tell Captain Dobry, that I’m on my way.”
            The young soldier nodded and half jumped to the grown and splashed through some remaining mud puddles as he went to deliver his message.
            ::So’ryn, do you know what Dobry wants?::
            ::A messenger just came in a few minutes ago.:: So’ryn stated. ::Want me to ask him?::
            ::No, I’m on my way to meet him.:: Rikki sighed. ::How are you doing?::
            ::Just fine. My Princess Ka’mya however, is a bit out of shape and more than a bit angry with me at the moment.::
            ::Does she know that it is for her own good?::
            ::I don’t think she has thought past wanting to kick in my face at the moment.:: So’ryn chuckled.
            “Coming, Sergeant?” Rikki called over his shoulder.
            Markys caught up quickly. “Didn’t think I was invited, sir.”
            “I need someone to step into the leadership of the Cavalry since Kadyr is gone.” Rikki dodged a cart and avoided a mud puddle. “I know you aren’t cavalry, but I would like you to spend some time with them and get to know their strengths and personalities.”
            “Sir?”
            “I don’t want you trying to take Kadyr’s spot, just to get the men to trust you so that if we are put in another nasty situation, that they won’t hesitate when you give orders.”
            “Yes, Captain.”
            Rikki nodded a greeting to Captain Dobry as he approached. “You asked for me?”
            Dobry nodded. “We just got word that those dirty savages attacked a village South of here.” Dobry paused. “They killed every living thing except for a young girl who was discovered by one of my scouts.”
            “The whole village?” Markys questioned.
            “Not a dog, cat, or goat left alive.” Dobry spat. “Scouts confirmed it early this morning.”
            “How far from here?” Rikki asked.
            “Three leagues.”
            “Thanks Captain.” Rikki sighed. 
            “Captain Kalhoun!” a tiny voice sounded from behind him.
            Rikki whirled around to see Annyka running towards him only half heartedly trying to avoid the mud puddles.
            “What is it, Annyka?”
            “Princess Tonya asked me to have you go to Ambassador Zareb’s room.” She stated a little tremor in her voice expressed some fear.
            “I’ll be there shortly, Annyka. I promise.”
            The young girl dipped a tired curtsy and turned to run back the way she had come. She stopped short and turned back to the Captain. “She said to bring Sergeant Takoda, and the rest of your…. senior staff.” She tried to get the Princess’ words as exact as possible.
            “Okay, Annyka. I’ll find as many as I can.”
            She nodded and took off again.
            “See who you can round up, Markys. I don’t know what this is about, but if she is demanding it, it has to be important.”
           
           
                                                --o0o—
 
            “Will I always be this hungry?” Monyka asked.
            “It all depends upon how much of the gift you use.” Gemma sipped at some tea. “The more strength you have, the more of the gift you can use, the more you will need to eat to compensate.”
            “I’ll blow up to the size of a mansion.” Monyka sighed.
            “You’ll be lucky to keep as much as you have now. You are very powerful, so you will be eating twice as much as some of the hardiest soldiers.”
            A knock at the door interrupted their breakfast. Malana came in followed by Annyka.
            “Is the Princess alright?” Monyka asked worried. 
            “She is, My Lady. She sent me to fetch you to Ambassador Zareb’s room.”
            “Is he. . . . Is he dying?” Monyka fingered her necklace. “If he is, why would she want me there?”
            “He’s suddenly gone mad.” She looked frightened. “Her Highness asked me to send for you as well as Captain Kalhoun, and Sergeant at Arms Takoda.” She bit her lip in worry.
            “Go ahead, dear. I’ll catch up to you.” Gemma began clearing the table. “Take this to eat on the way,” she handed her a wedge of cheese.
            Monika, wearing the white blouse tucked into trousers that was fashionable in Blaire, swung her cloak around her shoulders and followed Annyka with a slight limp out into the street.
            “How are you doing?” Monyka asked the young girl.
            “Tired, My Lady.” Annyka admitted.
            “It was a late night.” Monyka agreed. “Has she been treating you alright?” She slipped the cheese into a pocket of her cloak for later.
            “Yes, My Lady.” Annyka looked at her with anxiety. 
            “Stop calling me, My Lady, Annyka. I’m just as common as you. I’m sorry I haven’t been around to help you more lately.” She apologized to the girl.
            “It’s okay. I know you have been busy.”
            “Annyka, there isn’t any reason to be afraid of me.” Monyka winced at the wound in her leg. 
            Annyka’s face paled. She darted a wide eyed glance at Monyka then back to the road they were walking on. “I saw what you did out there.” Annyka cringed at the thought.
            “We need to slow down, my leg is hurting.” Monyka deliberately slowed her stride. “I scared a lot of people out there, including me, Annyka. I’m starting to learn what happened and how to control it so that it never happens again.”
            Annyka dared another look at her.
            “I promise, I’d never try to hurt you or Tonya, ever.” Monyka stated. “Ever.” With extra emphasis.
            The two walked in silence for a few moments. Before they knew it they were in front of the inn.
            “It smells really bad in there.” Annyka warned. “I almost threw up.”
            “I hope no one does, that would just add to the smell.” Monyka smiled at the girl.
            “Do you know what’s this about?” Yeoman Bayley asked as he joined them.
            Monyka looked to Annyka then back to the Yeoman. “Apparently her Highness and Zareb want to tell us something.”
            The Yeoman opened the door for the two. Monyka gave him a smile and entered. Entering the inn was like walking into a fog except that this fog was a horrible smell not a cloud. 
            “Ick, that is horrible.” Monyka’s stomach soured. She looked to Annyka then raced back out side and heaved her breakfast.
            “Is it that bad?” Sergeant Takoda asked coming down the road.
            “I’m usually not this sensitive to smells.” Monyka admitted. She accepted a mug of water from Annyka and washed out her mouth.
            “This is what I’ve been using.” Annyka handed her a strip of cloth with a drop of mint oil on it.
            “Thanks.” Monyka tied the strip around her head placing the oil near her nostrils. The stench was still there but not nearly as over whelming.
            Rikki came out of the back room looking a little green from the odor. He looked to be trying to brave it without a mask. “Skot, you, Markys, and Annyka, stay out here. It’s kind of a small room and it’s too stuffy and nasty smelling to have all of us in there.” He instructed. “Takoda, you and Monyka were requested personally by the Ambassador.”
            Monyka took a deep breath before following Takoda into the room. Tonya sat next to his bed. Ambassador Kalgar leaned against the wall in the corner looking solemn. Tonya looked exhausted. Monyka wondered if the Princess had slept more than three hours since they left the Under Kingdom, how ever many days ago?
            “They are all here, Ambassador.” Rikki spoke loudly and slowly for the dying man.
            “Monyka?” Zareb’s ruined face and scorched throat made his speach thick and slurred.
            “I’m here, Zareb.” Monyka announced. Why he would want her in attendance, she did now know. He rarely spoke to her, let alone acknowledge her existence.
            “Tonya. . . my Princess?”
            “I’m here, Ambassador.”
            “I’m tired.” Zareb paused. He took a deep breath and squeezed Tonya’s hand. “I have one last bit of information for you, my Princess.”
            “Zareb? . . .”
            “May your father forgive me.”
            “All is forgiven, Zareb. I pardon you in my father’s stead.” Tonya’s voice cracked causing Monyka’s heart, that she thought numb, to tighten in her chest.
            Monyka knew that Tonya thought of the Ambassador as an uncle. One that she didn’t always like, but one that she respected.
            “Your father, is a good man, Highness. . . .” Zareb swallowed hard and tried to wet his cracked and devastated lips. “Your father is a great King, I am proud to have served him.”
            Monyka dipped a clean rag into some water with her free hand and lightly wet his lips. 
Zareb turned to her.  “Thank you.” He squeezed her hand as a weak fit of coughing wracked his body.
“You should rest, Ambassador.” Monyka tried to calm him. She anchored her core and slowly released a trickle of the gift into the dying man. 
“I need to tell you.” Ambassador Zareb grasped her hand. He turned to Tonya. “I need to tell the both of you.”
“Tell us what, Zareb?” Tonya asked looking uncomfortable in this situation.
“Your Highness, Monyka is your half-sister.” The trickle of power snapped back into Monyka’s aura.
A stunned silence, like an avalanche, crashed over the room.
“What?” Tonya looked from the Ambassador to Monyka.
Monyka’s heart skipped a beat.
“His Majesty. . . “
“Zareb, you forget yourself!” Takoda suddenly boomed startling Monyka.
“I have been burdened with the secret long enough, Takoda. I wish to go to the Gods with a clear conscious.” Zareb barked back. His body shook with another wracking cough.
Monyka looked across the bed at the blonde Princess meeting her just as stunned face. Could the two of them really be sisters? How could that even be possible? Monyka looked to the Sergeant at Arms who’s face was as red as she had ever seen it. Rikki looked from Tonya to her and back to Tonya. She could tell that his mind was working over every scenario, past, present and future.
“Zareb, are you sure?” Monyka heard her voice speak as smooth as silk and without the shock that her mind was screaming.
“Only a handful know the truth.” Zareb wheezed. “His Majesty had relations with a young kitchen maid while Queen Isabella was pregnant with Tonya.”
“Zareb, that is enough!” Takoda demanded.
“Hold your tongue, Sergeant!” Tonya glared. She kept the Sergeant under a hard stare and softened her voice. “Ambassador, are you sure that Monyka is my. . .” she paused keeping Takoda pinned with a stare, “my half-sister?”
Tears leaked out of Zareb’s eyes. “I swore an oath not to tell anyone, your Highness. I hope your father will forgive me.”
Monyka was dumbfounded. Her eyes kept darting between Tonya, and Zareb. Her mother had an affair with King Tobias? Could it be possible? Could that be why her mother never told her who her father was? It would explain so much.
Her Majesty must know, that is why she had treated her so coldly all of these years. The general knowledge of her being King Tobias’s bastard daughter would not only be a slap in her face, but would be scandalous in Ripon which prided its self in its purity. 
Monyka looked down at the necklace that she was fingering. The necklace that her father had given her, that King Tobias had given her. Her eyes were filled with tears.
“Your transgression is forgiven, Ambassador.” Tonya looked white with panic. “Rest easy in the knowledge that your conscious is clear and that the Gods will embrace you in their arms.”
“Thank you, Highness.” Zareb’s breathing seemed more relaxed. “Thank you.”
Monyka still didn’t know what to do. She looked from Takoda to Tonya to Rikki and back. “Rest easy, Zareb.” She managed.
The Ambassador took a deep breath and slowly released it. His hand went limp in hers.
“Is he?...” Tonya asked.
Monyka looked closely. “No, he’s unconscious.” She looked up to see Tonya looking at her, no, studying her, analyzing her.
Monyka didn’t know what to say.  
Tonya slowly stood and walked around the bed. Monyka braced herself. She made sure her core was anchored and prepared to protect herself. She didn’t know what or how, but she knew that if came to that, her mind would work it out.
Tonya looked past her to Takoda. “Is it true?”
Takoda turned red and clamped his lips as if they might betray him.
“Sergeant, is what the Ambassador said the truth?” She demanded.
Takoda’s muscles began quivering.
“I’m ordering you to tell me, on your oath to my father and my family. Is it true?”
Monyka watched as the Sergeant at Arms physically sagged, looking defeated. He dropped to one knee, bowed his head. “It is true, your Highness. Your father made the Ambassador and me swear never to tell. The Ambassador…” he didn’t finish.
Tonya turned to Monyka and studied her for a moment.
Monyka suddenly found Tonya embracing her and holding her tight. Her mind reeling, it took a second or two before she realized that Tonya was crying. Monyka wrapped her arms around her Princess; her sister.
Tonya pulled back and looked held Monyka’s eyes with her tear blurred ones. “This explains so much.”
 
                                    --o0o—
 
 
Rikki’s mind was a jumbled mess. Monyka was Tonya’s half sister? He now had four Princess’ behind a meager timbered palisade manned only by a small garrison and three score of bloodied and exhausted honor guard. Could the Ambassador be delusional? He thought so, until Sergeant Takoda confirmed it. 
Takoda was on his knee looking defeated, the two reunited siblings were embraced in a hug. Ambassador Kalgar stood in the corner shaking his head, his long beard swinging back and forth.
He needed fresh air. It was hard to believe that he could become used to such a foul stench. He slipped out of the door to stand next to Kama Takar.
“Kama.” Captain Kalhoun dressed the Mul down with his eyes.
“Yes, Captain.” The half-dwarf’s voice sounded like a rumbling avalanche.
“I want you to protect Monyka as if she were the Princeess Tonya.” Would that be enough? Would the Mul accept that order?
“Sir, my orders were to guard only the Princess Tonya.” The Mul questioned.
“I know, but we have just learned that Monyka is just as important as the Princess.” Captain Kalhoun explained. 
Takar just looked straight ahead.
“Will you guard Monyka as you guard Princess Tonya?” Rikki asked.
The Mul was silent for a moment. “Yes, Captain. I will. I was told that you were my new commander. I will protect Monyka as I protect Princess Tonya.”
Rikki nodded.
::So’ryn, did you hear what just took place?::
::No, I’ve been busy. What is it, Captain?::
::We’ve got another Princess to protect.::
::What?::
::It just came to light that Lady Monyka, Princess Tonya’s assistant, is actually her half-sister.::
::Four Princess’?::
::I’m surprised the elves aren’t here in force to capture or sacrifice them. Could they not know?:: Rikki asked.
::They know that there are at least two here. That alone would be enough to bring half their force against us. Help wouldn’t get here in time. It looks like we need to retreat, perhaps divide the Princess’.::
::Are there any other Princess’ that I haven’t hear about?:: Rikki asked. ::Perhaps there is a secret Princess summit in Lyonsgate that we weren’t informed about?:: 
Rikki heard So’ryn’s dry chuckle in his head. ::I’ll bring my Princess in. She’s tired enough to drop anyway.:: I don’t believe she’ll be much of a problem for the rest of the day.::
::She’s your problem.:: Rikki stated. ::I have three of my own.::
Sergeant Galyway stood up as Rikki entered the common room of the inn “Have we lost the Ambassador?”
“Not yet, but I don’t think it will be too much longer.” Rikki scrubbed a hand through his hair. “Sergeant, I want every able bodied soldier that we have, on the wall. No, change that. I want every soldier who can swing a weapon, fire a slingshot or throw a punch on the wall as soon as possible. Six hour rotations.”
“What is going on, Captain?” Yeoman Bayley inquired.
“Our situation here has changed.” Rikki stated. “Skot, I want all scouts, not otherwise deployed or spoken for to range around this city staying within a league. I want them reporting back every four hours.”
“What has changed, Captain?” Galyway asked.
Captain Kalhoun ignored the question. “I want a senior staff meeting in one hour.” Rikki looked around. “We’ll have it here.”
Galyway and Bayley exchanged looks.
“On the double. Dismissed.” Captain Kalhoun growled.
The two soldiers saluted and dashed for the door.
“Where’s Grymm?” Rikki called after them.
“Out side the door, Captain.” Galyway called over his shoulder.
“Grymm!” the Captain called.
The young bandaged Corporal hurried into the room. “How are you feeling, Grymm?”
“A little sore, sir.”
“Can you run a message for me?”
“Yes, Sir.”
“Go find Captain Dobry and tell him that we have some new information that is vital to the protection of Lyonsgate. Tell him I need to see him here as fast as possible.”
“Yes, Sir.” Grymm saluted.
“Senior staff meeting here in one hour. I want you here, Grymm.” Captain Kalhoun called after the Corporal.
::So’ryn, can you join us here in an hour?::
::Wild fillies in heat couldn’t drag me away.::
“What’s going on, Captain?” Annyka’s quivering voice sounded, breaking Rikki’s thought process. The Captain turned to see the young girl sitting next to the fireplace.
“I’ll let Princess Tonya tell you.” Rikki said in a soft voice. “It’ll be better coming from her.”
“Ya got your hand and your feet full.” Ambassador Kalgar observed as he joined the Captain in the common room.
“Any ideas? Suggestions, Ambassador?”
Kalgar pulled out a seat and hopped up into it. “I’m a diplomat, not a soldier, sorry.”
“You don’t fool me, you old gray beard.” Rikki shook his head. “I’ve seen you handle an ax.”
“Aye, I can fight, but I’ve only strategy for planning word wars, not bloody ones.”
Rikki sighed.
Princess Tonya followed by Princess Monyka joined them.
“Your Highnesses,” Rikki made a leg. “I would like you both together where Kama Takar can protect you.”
“I need to get back to Midwife Gemma.” Monyka protested.
“I need you to remain alive and safe.” Rikki countered.
“Send a guard with her and Kama Takar can remain with me.” Tonya suggested. “I am beyond exhausted and need some sleep. Monyka doesn’t need to be bored to tears while I sleep. After I’ve rested a bit, She and I have a lot to discuss, don’t we.” She looked to her half-sister.
“Fine. I don’t have time for this.” Rikki stated. “Takar, please escort Princess Tonya and Annyka back to their rooms. “You,” he pointed at Monyka will stay here until I can find you an escort.”
“But…” Monyka began to protest.
“When it comes to your safety and security, I am in charge.” Rikki shifted his gaze from Monyka to Tonya.
“He has a point.” Tonya sighed. “You don’t have to like it, but he is right.  Come Annyka. I am tired.”
“Don’t breathe a word of what just took place to anyone.” Captain Kalhoun’s eyes moved from one to the other begging cooperation. The two young women in his charge glanced at one another before nodding to the Captain.
Rikki nodded and watched as Princess Tonya and Annyka were followed out of the inn by the Mul.
Rikki rounded on Monyka. “I’m sorry, your Highness, but I don’t think it’s safe for me to show you proper respect at this time.”
“Rikki, please.” Monyka did that woman’s thing where they cry, roll there eyes and stomp all at the same time. “I just found out that I have a half-sister, and more importantly, a father. The last thing I am worried about is that you bow and scrape to me as if I was Tonya.”
“But you are a Princess now, Monyka. Like it or not. Certain things are going to be required of you, one of those things is that you have to allow and even expect people to treat you with an air of decorum due your station.”
“But not from you, and not at this time.” She pulled a piece of cheese out of her cloak and began gnawing on it.
“Fortunately for you, it isn’t safe for anyone to know until we reach Malden. We need to keep it hidden until then.” He gave her stern look. “You understand, don’t you?”
“Yes, Captain.”
“Captain?” Grymm entered the inn. “Captain Dobry will be here shortly.”
“Thanks Corporal. Find me an available soldier to escort Monyka to the Midwife’s house.”
“I can do it, Captain.” Grymm volunteered. “That is, if it doesn’t bother Lady Monyka.”
Rikki nodded.
“I would appreciate it Grymm as long as you aren’t uncomfortable.” Monyka smiled.
Grymm shook his head. “No, My Lady.”
“Find a soldier to replace you, Grymm I want you back here for the meeting.”
“Yes, Captain.”
Rikki soon found himself alone in the common room of the inn with Sergeant Takoda. “Are there any more Princess’ I should know about?” he asked.
Takoda just glared at him.
Rikki waited for the Sergeant to speak, but the grizzled man just stared coldly at him. The Captain grew tired of the Sergeant’s game. “I have to go talk to some scouts. I’ll be back in an hour.”
Rikki made his way to the Widow’s Peak. It was a tavern where he heard the soldiers of Lyonsgate frequented. Eight Riponian soldiers greeted him from a table.
Rikki waved one of the bar maids over and handed her some coin. “Please bring us four pitchers of ale.”
The soldiers at the table looked at their Captain with questions written all over their faces.
“Relax,” Captain Kalhoun smiled. He waited until the barmaid had returned with the drinks and left them alone. “I have a mission for you and it could be very dangerous. If you don’t wish to undertake this, you may leave now.” Rikki waited for someone to move. No one did, they didn’t even look at one another, testing their comrades.
Captain Kalhoun nodded. “You four,” he said looking down one side of the table, are going to take the road East to Evalynton. I want you to hire boats for our party and horses to sail down to Malden. If you come under attack from elves, you are not to engage, but to flee to Evalynton as fast as you can.”
The four nodded.
“If we don’t arrive within four days, you are to take the boats on down yourselves. I’ll meet you down there as soon as I can.”
“Do you want us to send what guard is in Evalnton to clear the road and aid your arrival?” One of the scouts asked.
“No.” Captain Kalhoun shook his head. “Just get there safely and get those boats.” He turned to the other side of the table. “You four are to ride South to Spruce Springs. I want you to do the same thing. Get there safely and get enough boats to transport the Princess’s and retinue along with our horses down to Malden.”
The men nodded.
“I want both groups to leave tonight.” He told them. “I want you all to meet with me for final orders before you depart, okay?”
A murmur of ‘yes Sir’ was heard around the table.
Captain Kalhoun poured the ale down his throat and set the empty mug on the table. “Enjoy the rest of this, and I’ll see you tonight.” He got up and exited the Widow’s Peak.
            ::Rikki,:: So’ryn’s voice interrupted his thoughts.
            ::What is it?:: He became alert.
            ::Dobry just received a report of another village south of here being annihilated. Apparently only a teenage boy and his little sister survived. It sounds like they are attacking everything north of Sprucesprings.::
            ::Thanks, So’ryn. I’m on my way to the meeting.::
 
When Captain Kalhoun returned to the inn, his senior staff was waiting, Dobry, Sergeants Takoda and Galyway were studding a map of the area.
Captain Dobry looked up, “It’s been reported that another village has been destroyed.” He growled.
“So’ryn told me.” Rikki wrinkled his nose at the smell emanating from Zareb’s room.
“I’m sending out scouts tonight. I want to leave first thing in the morning.”
“We’ll have to leave some of the wounded behind.” Galyway was not pleased.
“It’s something we have to do. We need to get as far from Lyonsgate and the Elves , before they bring their whole weight down and slaughter everyone here. The Princesses safety is the only thing that matters.”
::My military heard will be going with you. They are mostly Horse Lords, but I have a squad of Centaurs that will be with us.::
::Lorcan?::
::He’ll stay here with a small squad to help scout for and defend Lyonsgate.::
Captain Kalhoun took a deep sighing breath and scanned everyone in the room. “What I’m about to say does not leave this room.” He waited for his officers and Captain Dobry to nod. “It was revealed this morning that the Princess Tonya’s assistant, Lady Monyka, is actually His Majesty Tobias’ illegitimate daughter.”
Galyway swore silently. A few others were visibly shocked, some confused.
“This means that Monyka is a Princess of Riponia and to be protected at all costs, the same as Princess Tonya.” Captain Kalhoun paused. “Having said that, I don’t want anything said, or for you to treat her any differently until I say or we reach Malden. If the Elves find out that we have more than one Princess, we will be doomed to fail our mission and go down in the histories as the honor guard that was so inept that it got four Princesses killed.”
Rikki went over to the map and studied it. “How many wagons survived the ambush?”
“Four.” Galyway stated.
“How many do we absolutely have to have?” Rikki asked.
“What do you mean?” Yeoman Bayley asked.
“Can we travel with out wagons if need be?”
“Not well or fast, we’d have to hunt and or buy food from markets and farmers.”
“Besides,” Galyway added, “Her Highness has a lot of chests and there’s the gifts to the various rulers. That blue marble is quite heavy and fragile.”
“I’ll speak with, her Highness, and see if we can get away without some of her things.
“What are you planning, Captain?” Sergeant Galyway asked.
“I just want to make sure that we aren’t tied down to anything. If we are put into another situation similar to what happened the other day, I want to be able to leave the wagons and get the Princesses as far from the danger as possible. Leaving behind a few wagons needs to be a viable option.” That was only part of it. He didn’t want to tell anyone what his real plans were just yet. He had a gut feeling about what the elves were planning, but he needed to keep everyone in the dark so that they wouldn’t betray the real plan.
::You’ll need to shield your thoughts better than that, Captain.:: So’ryn interrupted his thoughts. ::Ka’mya could pick up on that and let it slip to your Princess, who could let it slip to someone else, then the whole town would know.::
::So, you know what I’m planning?:: Rikki asked.
::Yes. It will be tricky with the timing, but I think it will work.::
::Have you scouted that area before?:: Rikki’s eyes scanned a section of the map.
::No. We concentrate on the border. I could have one of my herd do that.::
Rikki shook his head, forgetting that So’ryn wasn’t in the room. ::No. I don’t want anything to tip off those nasty pointed ears.::
::I’ll go get my herd ready to depart tomorrow.::
“Will the Princess be riding in a carriage?” Markys asked.
“Yes, but I want her mount, Comyn, saddled and kept nearby for a fast get-a-way if needed.”
The Sergeant nodded.
 
                                    --o0o—
 
“So what was the big rush to see the Ambassador?” Gemma inquired.
“He wanted to leave us with a clear conscious.” Monyka smiled.
“Did he go to the Gods?”
“Not yet. I don’t think it will be too long though.” Monyka hung up her cloak. “Sorry to bother you yet again, Gemma, but. . .”
“You’re hungry.” Gemma finished.
Monyka nodded.
“Have a seat dear.” Gemma bought a plate with fruit, bread and cheese. “I want to have another look at your leg.”
“I tried to feed Zareb some energy.” Monyka’s voice was full of excitement. “I don’t know how well it worked though, because I wasn’t able to give him much. I. . . I kinda got distracted.”
“You shouldn’t have done anything.” Gemma shook her head.
“Why not?” Monyka asked.
“First off, because you aren’t trained. Second because he is a dying man. Your giving him energy will only prolong his agony.”
“I was just trying to help.” Monyka took a big bite of fruit.
“I know, dear, but sometimes, letting them go is helping them.”
Juice ran down her wrist. “But he needed so badly to tell us things.”
“Were those things really that important?” Gemma asked taking the boot off of Monyka’s injured leg.
“To me it was.” Monyka grunted and put the fruit down as Gemma pulled on her leg.
“What is that, Dear ?”
“He told me who my father is.” Monyka fingered her necklace. She still was having trouble comprehending the fact. She needed to talk to Takoda to find out what the story with her mother and Tobias was.
“Mmmm ?”
“He revealed to me and the Princess that my father is King Tobias.”
Gemma stopped and looked up at Monyka in a new way.
“Isn’t that great?” Monyka exclaimed.
“That explains it.” Gemma’s face was filled with wonderment and satisfaction.
“What explains it?” Monyka persisted.
“Your purple aura,” Gemma went on. “Purple has always been considered a mystery, but it also means royalty.” Gemma smiled. “It also explains why you have a guard standing outside my door.”
“So to others with the gift, they are either uncomfortable because of not knowing what gifts I have, but also because I’m apparently of Royal descent?”
Gemma nodded. “Yes, your Highness.”
Monyka was taken back by being dressed with the title. “Gemma, please don’t call me that. Besides, Captain Kalhoun told me that he wants to keep it a secret for now.”
“Then you shouldn’t have told me.” Gemma stood. “finish up a few bites. I want to take you into the bedroom so that I can have a good look at your leg. Has it been bothering you?”
“It’s still quite stiff, and it hurts after a bit of walking.” She took a bite of cheese and followed Gemma into the bed chamber.
“Take off those trousers.” Gemma ordered.
Monyka slipped them off of her legs and lay on the bed. She watched as a mostly green aura surrounded the midwife. 
“Do you use the gift on babies that you are birthing?” Monyka wondered aloud.
Gemma stopped what she was doing and looked at her. “Only once it is has been severed from the mother. Even then it isn’t something that should be done very often.” She paused. “The Gods have blessed the mother with a baby, who are we to interfere with the will of the Gods?”
“So, you wouldn’t fix a club foot or other disfigurement?”
“No. That is the Gods will. If the baby is very weak from the birthing I’d give it a little energy or help boost it’s need to nurse, but that is about as far as we should go. Doing more could have dire consequences down the road.”
Gemma closed her eyes and probed the pink scar on her leg where just a few short days ago, an arrow had pierced.
Monyka tried to lay quietly. She was having a hard time processing the information in her brain. She now knew who her father was, and she had a half-sister, Tonya. She also had a reason why Queen Isabella didn’t like her. She could almost understand the Queen’s reasoning behind it. Still, she was only a product of the situation; it shouldn’t be her that the Queen takes her disgrace out on. As a Princess, she could receive lands in Riponia and with lands, an income. She would be able to free her mother from the kitchens of the palace and have someone else cook and bake for her.
Gemma took a deep breath as she opened her eyes. “It is healing well. I gave the tissue a little more focused energy and eased a few irritated nerves. It shouldn’t give you much grievance now.”
“Thank you, Gemma.” Monyka pulled her trousers back on, tucked her white lacey blouse into them and retrieved her boots from Gemma, which she put on. She flexed her legs and didn’t feel the pull or pain that she had earlier. “Much better.”
Monyka sat back down and finished everything on the table.
“Now that you’ve eaten, dear, Lets begin your exercises. Anchor your core.”
 
                                                --o0o—
 
Takoda was pissed by the time he left the stinking inn where the young Captain had insisted they hold their officer’s meeting. He had been tasked in evaluating the injured soldiers. He had to weed out the ones who could ride and or fight in the coming days. Any not able to hold their own would be left behind to either make their way home through the Northwest passage, or make their way to Malden to rejoin the group there. 
“Young cub, trying to prove he is a lion.” He muttered to himself. He had liked the Captain when they started off, but his coldness towards Taelah and his assisting in her death had soured his look on the young man. The Captain after all had left the entire Riponian honor guard and the Princess’ retinue leaderless during the elven ambush. He claimed that he needed to get the Princess out of harms way, but in doing so, he almost doomed everyone else to death. When he got back to Ripon, he would have to have words with Tobias.
First he would have to explain about Zareb’s betrayal of the oath that they had both taken all those years ago. Tobias would not be happy about that, and Isabella would be nearly impossible to deal with in her shame and spite. The Queen will have to retire to the country estate for a long cooling off period. He just hoped that this Captain would cool off a little before he got anyone else killed.
Takoda went to Lyongate’s walls and spoke to the men there. He had a few demonstrate that they could or could not handle a sword or pull a bow. He then made his way to the infirmary. Several of the men there would definitely have to be left behind. 
Tomorrow was too soon; too soon to go running to Malden in a mad dash to get the Princess to safety. 
The Sergeant at Arms made notes next to each man’s name so that they could be singled out or included in their hope for reaching Malden.
The girls now knew that they were related.  Tonya seemed to have taken it with grace. He wondered if she thought of how the court would look upon her father and mother for the King’s indiscretion.
What he needed more than anything right now was a bottle of brandy. Takoda tucked the list into the inside of his coat pocket and walked into the common room of the inn where the Princess was staying.
A large woman stuffed into ill fitting trousers and a lacey white blouse, stained with wine and perhaps lunch greeted him with a smile. “How can I help you, Sergeant?” 
Takoda placed two silvers on the table. “A bottle of brandy and a cup.” He didn’t bother to smile at the bar keeper.  He didn’t feel like smiling; He just wanted to numb his mind.
 
                                    --o0o—
 
Tonya growled and tossed her pillows off of her bed.
“What is it, your Highness?” Annyka asked.
“I can’t sleep. I’m so tired, my body aches, my leg feels like it is on fire and my brain won’t stop or even slow down it’s thoughts enough for me to sleep.
“Shall I bring your special oil?” Annyka asked.
“I don’t think it will do much good now.” Tonya threw back the covers and sat up in bed. “Bring me my dress, I think I’ll go down to the common room.”
“Yes, your Highness.” Annyka went to where the dress was tossed over the back of a chair.
::What are you doing, Ka’mya?:: Tonya focused her mind.
::Wanting to die.::
::What? Why?::
::That stupid Commander of mine decided to torture me.:: Ka’mya’s mind voice even sounded tired. ::He had me doing sprints half the morning, then he had me running laps around Lyonsgate.::
::Whatever for?:: Tonya let Annyka slip the dress over her head and arms.
::For endangering your life yesterday.::
::Why don’t you just say, no?::
::He is my Commander.::
::So?:: The young assistant began lacing up the bodice in back.
“Not so tight.” Tonya instructed the girl. “I’m tired and uncomfortable enough as it is.”
“Yes, your Highness.”
::While I am doing service under him, he is in command. If I tried to pull rank, my mother would have me flayed and rubbed down with salt.::
::Ouch. I’m sorry that I got you into trouble.::
::It isn’t your concern, Tonya.::
::I’d ask you to join me for a drink, but I don’t guess that Horse Lords drink.::
::No. besides all I want is to get some sleep.::
::Me too, but I can’t seem to sleep.::
Annyka helped Tonya into her slippers.
“Ask Kama Takar if he could help me down the stairs to the common room.” Tonya asked.
“Yes, your Highness.” Annyka dipped a small curtsy and went to the door.
::My Ambassador who is on his death bed felt that he should break an oath made to my father and reveal that my assistant, Monyka is actually my half-sister.:: Tonya told the Horse Lord Princess.
::How are you feeling about that?:: Ka’mya asked cautiously.
::I have very mixed feelings. It is one of the things keeping me awake.:: Tonya sighed. She limped over to the door where the Mul was waiting. He effortlessly scooped her up into his arms as if she was a three year old who had fallen asleep next to the fire and descended the stairs to the common room.
::Are you happy to have a sibling or upset?:: Ka’mya pressed.
::I think I’m happy.:: Tonya was so confused. ::I love Monyka, I always have. When we were little we would pretend to be related in some fashion, and now we find out that we are. . . its just very strange.:: she decided.
::Who was born first?:: Ka’mya inquired.
::I was.:: the Mul set her down at the foot of the stairs and stepped back, his eyes watching anyone and everyone.
::So you will retain your status.::
Tonya hadn’t even thought about that.
“How can I help you, Princess?” the heavy, stained bar mistress asked.
“I’d like a bottle of wine and a seat next to a fire.” Tonya gave her a tired smile.
“Right away, your Highness.”
“Annyka?” Tonya looked around for her new assistant.
“Yes, your Highness?”
“Could you please go find Monyka and ask her to join me?”
The young girl made a curtsy and left.
 
                                    --o0o—
 
Rikki walked along side So’ryn as they made their way from the inn to the defensive wall around Lyonsgate.
::Are you going to tell anyone?:: So’ryn asked.
::I don’t dare risk it. You know how elves are, they seem to be everywhere or have ears everywhere. I didn’t like having that half-elf with us, but I was persuaded by my Princess and Sergeant at Arms to allow her to accompany us. You saw how that turned out.::
::You trust your own men though.::
::Yes, but even details of what we are going to attempt leaking out in bits and pieces can be put together again.::
::Your Sergeant Galyway isn’t too pleased.::
::He’ll get over it. He is a good soldier.::
“Edwyn!” what have you to report?” Rikki called as he left So’ryn and climbed a ladder.
“Nothing.” Edwyn stated with a salute. “Not a sign of the dirty bastards. The only thing we have seen out there other than grass, is hawks and eagles circling above the town.”
Rikki looked up to see three dark dots in the sky. He pulled out his field glass, put it up to his eye and found the bird.
::Can elves use birds like they use those Lupidae creatures?::
::I wouldn’t put it past them.:: So’ryn answered after a moments thought.
“Edwyn, pass the word, if any of those birds get within bow range, I want them shot down.”
“Yes, Sir.”
“Captain Kalhoun.” A voice called from below.
Rikki looked down to see Captain Dobry looking up at him. He put his field glass away and quickly dropped to the ground.
“What is it, Dobry?” Rikki fell in step beside him.
“We just got a bird from Spruce Springs.” Dobry took a deep breath. “The elves have attacked the town in force. They were driven off, but the town took a hard beating.”
Rikki pursed his lips and scrubbed a hand through his dark hair. “Thanks for telling me, Dobry.”
The Blaire Captain nodded. “I felt it was important to what ever it is you have planned.”
 
 
                                    --o0o—
 
“You sent for me, Highness?” Monyka curtsied before the Princess.
“I can’t sleep.” Tonya’s words were slightly slurred.
“You’ve been drinking.” Monyka admonished.
“As I said, I can’t sleep.”
“Because of your leg or because of our new relationship?”
Tonya shrugged, “Al of it.”
“Do you want me to rub your leg down with the oil?”
Tonya shook her head. “I want to enjoy the fire and drink until I collapse. I intend to sleep for a week.”
“What about Captain Kalhoun?” Monyka asked searching for something to get the Princess to return to her room.
“He has been ignoring me.” Tonya sneered. “He tells me that he loves me, then goes out of his way to ignore me.”
“He told you that he loved you?” Monyka was surprised.
Tonya nodded. “Yesterday after Ka’mya and I were attacked by Lupidae. He told me. He looked into my eyes and told me that he loved me, has always loved me.” Tonya poured herself another glass of wine.
“What does he know of love.” A gruff voice startled Monyka. She turned around and spotted Sergeant Takoda sitting in a dark corner, a bottle and cup in front of him as well.
Monyka planted her hands on her hips. I can’t believe you two.” She stated not caring who else might be in the room. “Drowning your sorrows in your liquor when we need leadership the most?” She stormed over to the bar mistress polishing an already shiny glass. “Do you have a private dinning room?”
“Yes, my Lady. Right this way.”
“Sergeant, your Highness, come some place a little more private.” It wasn’t a request.
By the time Princess Tonya was seated with her leg propped under a pillow, the bar mistress had a fire started in the small fireplace. 
The room was small, barely large enough for a table that could seat eight. A dark high board stood on one length of the wall. The walls were plastered but rough and painted a light yellow to help lighten and warm up the candle and fire light.
Monyka filled the Sergeant’s cup and the Princess’ glass and then sent the bottles back to the bar mistress.
“Annyka, please find Captain Kalhoun and inform him that if he needs Sergeant at Arms Takoda or her Highness that they are here.”
Annyka looked uncertainly at Tonya but gave Monyka a curtsy before rushing off.
“Since we are here, alone, we need to talk to you Takoda.” Tonya set her glass on the table.
“What do you want to talk about, Highness?”
“About us. What happened with our father and why it was kept such a secret?”
“There’s not much to it.” Takoda shrugged, but he avoided their gaze.
            This wasn’t where she wanted to go with the conversation but she was curious and this was as good a place as any to learn what had happened. “Where did my father and mother meet?” Monyka asked.
            “In Ladamore.”
            The girls waited, wanting more details.
            “We would like to know the story of it, Sergeant.” Tonya reminded him of his rank and loyalty.
            “I swore an oath to your father to never speak of it.” Takoda protested.
            “I’ll also remind you of your oath to serve me and my family, Sergeant.” Tonya’s voice was ice. “I am to take my father’s throne after he dies. Ambassador Zareb broke the oath. It is out in the open. I will have the truth of the situation.”
            The Sergeant sighed heavily, then looked at Monyka. “Your mother is the illegitimate daughter of a minor lord in Ladamore.” He began. “Your father, King Tobias, was visiting with a trade delegation. I was there to assist in working out military assistance to deal with the Lycanthrops. Your Mother worked as a baker in the palace kitchens. They met when she was sent to deliver some baked goods to his room one morning. His Majesty was immediately smitten with your mother and began inquiries in who this exotic beauty was. Tobias began requesting that Sadira bring breakfast to his chambers every morning. After a while, the two were known to disappear for hours. His Majesty extended his stay with Kumar Zelimir citing that the warm weather was good for his health. I knew better.” Takoda scratched at his unshaven chin and took another drink of brandy.
 “Your mother’s parents, eager and hoping to gain some power were extremely upset when Tobias refused to take Sadira as a concubine. In Ladamore the powerful lords may marry more than one wife or have a few concubines. After we left Ladamore, your mother discovered that she was with child. Your grandfather, outraged at her not being able to wed Tobias, wouldn’t have anything to do with her. Not having anywhere else to go, she made her way to Ripon.” Takoda paused to gather his thoughts. 
“When her petition to see his Majesty was put before Ambassador Zareb, he sent her away with gold to buy her silence.” Takoda looked at Tonya. “You had just been born and your parents were so excited and thrilled with you. You were such a pretty baby.” The old Sergeant smiled. 
As he turned back to Monyka his smile slipped. “Your mother, disheartened, wandered Ripon a few days, perhaps a fortnight before she went into labor with you. You were about a year old when I recognized Sadira in the market place. She had gotten work as a baker for one of the nicer inns in Ripon.” Takoda took a swallow of brandy. 
“When I returned to the palace I reported her presence to his Majesty. He sent for her immediately and nearly sent Zareb into heart failure. His Majesty had me secret her into the palace. Their reunion was bitter sweet; for although they still loved one another, they both knew the consequences if anyone found out about their romance. His Majesty begged Sadira to work in the palace. He could put her to work as a scribe or messenger – anything. Sadira refused knowing the temptation of seeing each other daily. They argued about it for quite some time.”
Takoda took a deep breath and continued. “Sadira finally agreed to work in the palace on three conditions. One, that she work in the bakery. Two, that Tobias tell Queen Isabella of their affair and of you.”   Takoda nodded his head to Monyka. And Three, that you would be provided for and educated.” 
Takoda looked at them both with a smile. “The Queen was told a month later while at the summer estate. You can guess how she handled the news. Zareb and I were forced to swear an oath not to reveal any of it, and we were to treat Monyka as a servant instead of as an heir, which was the Queen’s demand.” Takoda finished. “You were never to have found out, neither of you.”
            “I remember growing up in the kitchen.” Monyka reflected while playing with her necklace. 
            Takoda nodded, “After her Highness’ accident, it was difficult finding a servant/playmate that Isabella would approve of and who was willing to do some of the more unpleasant tasks.”
            “I always wondered why my mother disliked you so much.” Tonya took her half-sister’s hand. “I’m so sorry.”
            “What for?”
            “For all of the horrible things I’ve made you do and all of the nasty things I’ve said.”
            “Had we grown up sisters, it would probably have been worse.”
            The two hugged.
 
                                                --o0o—

 

Great to See This Here...

(Heck, great to see anything new here.)

I posted this comment on the BC site. I'll copy it here:

So now we know, or at least think we do, why saving Monyka was so important to the Three back at the previous river ambush. (Even if they didn't know the reason -- unlikely, since I'm pretty sure they know a lot more than anyone else here -- they probably could have seen the purple aura.)

Interesting chapter. Between Maskalah's secret plans from the last chapter, Rikki's equally secret ones here, and keeping Monyka's ancestry/status a secret (seems to me way too many people know about that one now, and when enough people know, so will the elves), it'll be a real wonder if anyone can sort out anything before it happens.

Monyka of course figures to be the wild card element in defending against the upcoming elf attack (the one on the road or river, if not the distraction planned for tonight). It'll be interesting to see just how much damage she'll be able to do, not to mention whether she can eliminate her friendly-fire problems.

Eric

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