Healing a Princess...13 (Calandra)

           Healing a Princess...13



                                    By Tim Knight 



The Cleveland Court Inn was the largest building in Cleveland Rapids.  A three story building of stucco and dark beams, it made the inn in River Bend West look like a hovel.  Tanner pulled the wagon up to the front door.

 “Monyka, we are here.” Kadyr nudged softly.  Monyka rolled over in her sleep.  “Monyka?..... Monyka, we’re in Cleveland Rapids.” Kadyr whispered into her ear.  Monyka rolled towards him.  Her sleeping face so peaceful and angelic.  Kadyr studied it for a moment, then leaned forward and caressed her lips with his. 
Monyka’s eyes fluttered open, saw Kadyr’s face and kissed back.  Kadyr pulled back.
 “We’re here.” He repeated.

 Monyka looked around.  “Cleveland Rapids?”

 “Yes.  I believe, her Highness, is in this Inn.  Probably driving everyone nuts, in worry about you.”

 “Come on dear.” The blonde urged, “lets get you upstairs.”

 “But I’m not dressed.” Monyka protested.

 “Even more reason to get you upstairs.” The blonde lady smiled.

 Kadyr assisted the Handmaiden down out of the wagon.  Tanner took the wagon around back to the stables while the blonde, Robby, Kadyr and Monyka entered the Inn.

 “Hey Lieutenant.  How was the swim?” a soldier greeted as they entered the main room of the Inn.

 “Cold.” Kadyr responded with a smile.  “Which room is the Princess in?”

 “Up the stairs and it’s the last door down the hall.”

 “There you are, my Lady.  I’m sure the Princess, will be very glad to see you.”

 Monyka smiled sheepishly and disappeared up stairs.

 “Lieutenant.  It’s good to see you survived.” Dyrk greeted.

 “Thanks Dyrk.  Look, these good merchants here were more than kind to help us out last night.  The Captain has asked that we put them up in a good room for the night and have a seat for them at dinner.” Kadyr explained.  “Oh, and there is another one, Tanner, who is putting the horses up.”

 “Not a problem, Lieutenant.  I’ll have to shuffle a few things around, but It shouldn’t be any trouble.”

 “Please, order some food and drink.” Kadyr spoke to the blonde and Robby.  “We’ll take care of the tab.  If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to find my room and get some clothes on……… “Dyrk, where is my room?”

 “Third floor, Sir.  Right above her Highness’s.”

 Monyka saw two soldiers on guard outside the Princess’s door.  They greeted her with warm smiles as she neared.

 “You’re a sight of sore eyes, my Lady.” One of the guards welcomed.

 “Thank you soldier.” Monyka returned.  She opened the door and slipped through.

 Tonya was out of her seat and limping across the room as fast as she could.  When she reached Monyka, she threw her arms around her.

 “Thank the Gods, you’re alright.” She cried.  “Thank the Gods you are alive and safe.  I’ve been worried to death that you might have drown, or been killed.”

 “If it hadn’t been for Kadyr, and some merchants, I might have.” Monyka hugged back.

 Tonya suddenly pushed back and looked Monyka up and down.  “You are alright, aren’t you?” she asked with more concern than Monyka had ever know her to show.

 “I would like nothing more than to take a bath, and get some fresh clothes on.”  Monyka sighed.

 The Princess let her handmaiden go.  “Go sit by the fire.  I’ll have some hot water brought up.”  Tonya poked her head out the door.  “Cavalryman, could you please ask one of the maids to start bringing up hot water for a bath as well as some food?”

 “Of course, your Highness.”

 Tonya closed the door and limped back over to a chair near the fire.  “I want to hear all about it.” She slowly lowered herself down in a chair facing her friend.

 Monyka arranged the blankets around her.  She was just about to start her tale, when a maid knocked and entered with a tray of cheese, bread, and some mulled wine.

 “Thank you.” Tonya waved the maid to place it next to Monyka.

 “Your Highness, the bath is almost ready.” The maid curtsied.  “We started to bring water up as soon as the Lady arrived.”

 As soon as the maid left, Monyka began her tale.  She told her of the darkness, the loneliness, and how incredibly cold she was.  She told her about how Kadyr found her in the river, how he encouraged her, raised her spirits and how he pulled her to safety after she had gone into shock.

“The Lady’s bath is ready.” A maid announced from a side door. 

Monyka got up and assisted in getting Tonya up to her feet.  The two friends entered the side door.  It looked to have once been a sleeping chamber, that had been emptied of all furniture and in it’s place a large copper tub steaming with hot water. 

Monyka shed her blankets and slipped into the hot water.  After a few minutes of silent enjoyment, she continued her tale.

 She described the shivering, the chivalry, and the supportiveness Kadyr showed in their trek through the icy night.  She told Tonya about the blonde lady, Tanner and Robby, but left out the tenderness of Kadyr’s touch, his lips.  Nor did she share how he kindled a spark in her, that even now as she thought about it, warmed her heart.

 Clean skin, clean hair and more importantly, warmth.  Monyka slipped out of the tub and dried off.

 “I have your wardrobe in here.” Tonya called from her room.

 Monyka dressed in warm, dry clothes and felt, human once again.  She placed a chair near the fire and eased down into it, allowing her hair to spread over the chair so that the warmth of fire could dry it.  “With your Highness’s permission, I wish to take a nap.”

 “Given.  I’m just glad that you are safe.” Tonya smiled.


 Kadyr lay in the copper tub that the occupants on the third floor shared.  The water was growing tepid, but it was still much warmer than what he was in last night.

 A knock came at the door followed by Sergeant Galyway entering.

 “How are ya doing, Kid.” Markys asked.

 “Tired.” Kadyr smiled.  “I need to get out of here, before the water gets as cold as the river.” 

 Markys handed the Lieutenant a towel and sat down on a bench.

 Kadyr dried off and started to get dressed.  “What happened to you?”

 “Huh?  Oh.” Markys smiled and touched a deep gash across his cheek.  “Just a scratch.  One of those so called pirates got lucky.”

 “What did they do attack you enemas?” Kadyr asked.

 “Something on those lines.” Markys grinned.  “Takoda asked me to come in and see that you have everything you need.  And to inform you that the Captain wants us to meet with him over at the Mayor’s house in a bit.”  Markys was quiet for a moment.  “I guess you had a pretty harrowing night last night, huh?”

 “Cold.  Very cold.”

 “You know, I used to think that you Cavalry guys were pansies.” Markys confessed.  “You guys have really shown me different.  Fending off a river attack, fighting just as well as my men,  pitching in with the heavy labor.”

 “We aren’t very different from your heavies.” Kadyr buttoned up his blue coat.  “We volunteered for service just as you did.  We just serve in a slightly different way…… And we may be a little smarter about it.”

 “I wouldn’t call diving into an icy, flood stage river, smart.” Markys smiled.
“I would call it gutsy and brave however……. You are a good soldier, Kadyr….. and a good man.”

 Kadyr was stunned by this last remark. “Why thank you, Markys.  I am deeply honored that you would say so.”

 Markys stood up.  “Lets get to that meeting before the Captain gets upset.”

 The Mayor’s house was a nice house by rural standards.  It was a two story structure made very much like the inn.  It’s one great bonus was a large meeting room.  Sergeant at Arms Takoda, was already there, speaking at length with Ambassador Zareb, trying to calm the elderly man down.  Yeoman Baely, and Ambassador Kalgar spoke together at a table, when Sergeant Galyway and Lieutenant Kollyns arrived.

 “Welcome the conquering hero.” Kalgar exclaimed upon seeing Kadyr.

 “I didn’t know that doing something stupid was called heroics.” Kadyr replied, taking a seat at the table.

 “Good afternoon.” Captain Kalhoun greeted.

 “Captain.” The others returned.

 “We have a few things to go over quickly.” Rikki said taking a seat at the head of the table.

 Zareb and Takoda quickly found seats and gave the Captain their attention.

 “I have received a message from King Talison.”  Rikki looked to each of them.  “He regrets that we had to leave so quickly the other night, but understands that things happen.  He informs me that the Elven ambushes are increasing in scattered parts of the realm.  He knows we are going through the Underground Kingdom.  Apparently a Duke Taibor has sought the King’s favor and is asking us to partake of his hospitality in Roberton.”  Rikki spread a map out on the table.  Hands from around the table, held the corners down.  “Tomorrow will be our first day of traveling by road.  I don’t expect we will be able to get too far on our first day, so I am planning on reaching Crossroads by nightfall instead of by midday.  If we get their earlier, then great, but don’t plan on it.  We will be organizing and reorganizing the entourage as we go, making sure our weaker links have what they need to keep up. Etc…”  Rikki looked to each of them, then back at the map.  “Regardless of what time we reach Crossroads, I want us up and traveling by daybreak the next day.  We are going to have to push it a bit to reach Roberton in enough time so that we don’t offend our gracious host.”  Rikki looked up to meet Kalgar’s gaze.  “Ambassador, Would you say that Bolton is a day’s trip from Roberton?”

 “Aye.  Less than that usually, but with a company this size, I’d say a day.”

 “From Bolton, how long will it take to get to Sherstone?” Rikki asked.

 “About four days.  The first day will be a bit slow, you being new to the charms of the underworld, but there is no sun down there.  Days can be stretched or shortened according to the need.  There are times when a day down there is three of these up here, just because of your loss of time.  Why do ya think we dwarves have the reputation of stamina?” Kalgar chuckled with a twinkle in his eye.

 “So we are about a week out from Sherstone, then.”  Rikki seemed to be mulling this over, storing it for further examination. “There will be a service for Cavalryman Dobry at sunset……. We will hold on to hope for Danyel and Aaryk for a few more days.  After the service, we will be dining in the Inn’s private dining room with the Princess, Mayor’s family and three merchants, who helped Kadyr and Monyka last night.”  Rikki rolled up the map.  “The attack on the Princess last night will not happen again.  To ensure this, I am having Takoda, make up a rotating watch list.  There will be at least six guards watching the Princess at night.  Gentlemen, each of us will have to take a turn as well.”  Rikki took a seat and leaned back.  “How are the preparation for tomorrow coming?” he asked.

 A light knock came at the door.  Tonya looked up to see Captain Kalhoun step in.

 “Your Highness, a note from King Talison.” He held our a small piece of paper.  Monyka was stretched out in front of the fire, snoring softly.  After her excitement last night, she needed a good nap.

 “Thank you, Rikki.” Tonya took the small piece of paper, broke the tiny seal of wax and unrolled it.  She scanned it’s tiny, but neat penmanship.
 <strong><em>Dear, Tonya, Crown Princess of Riponia
We were saddened by your early departure from truno, but understand situations do arise.  we understand that you will be traveling the dwarven underground.  how exciting.  our dear Duke tAibor has exteNded his Gracious hospEtality foR yOUr uSe at his estate in roberton.  please send adiah home from roberton.
 In service of Truno,
 Dianthe, Queen of Truno.</em></strong>
 Tonya, looked up from her note to Rikki.  “I assume you received one of these as well.”

 “If it refers to Duke Taibor’s dangerous hospitality, and Princess Adiah, missing?  Yes, your Highness.”

 Tonya re-read the letter.  “She warns of Taibor, but doesn’t say what to watch for, or be wary of.” Tonya looked back up to her Captain.

 “I’ve got three men already on their way up to the Dukes lands, to ferret around and find out what is going on.” Rikki smiled.

 “Keep me advised of what you find out.” Tonya rolled the note and slipped it into a hidden pocket in her skirts.  She hobbled over to a chair by the fire.

 “I have asked the three merchants who helped Monyka and Kadyr last night, to join us for dinner.”  Rikki advised. “I know I should have asked your permission first, but I thought it would be a nice gesture.”

 Tonya eased into her chair.  “That was appropriate, Captain.  Thank you for the warning.  I take it we are putting them up for the night, here in the Inn?”

 “Yes, your Highness.”

 “What kind of wares do they sell?” Tonya inquired.

 “They are rug merchants, your Highness.”

 “Are their rugs of good quality?”

 “Decent.  Nothing to put in a palace, but they are sturdy and quite colorful.”

 “I think the families of Cleveland Rapids are in need of some decent rugs, Captain.  I’m sure the families who are putting up some of our entourage will need to replace the ones that we have soiled.”

 Rikki grinned, “Yes, your Highness.  With the mud and the dirty boots, I’m sure it will be easier to replace the rugs than clean them.”

 “Are we leaving in the morning, Captain?”

 “Yes your Highness.  They have just finished putting your carriage together and are loading non essential into the other wagons.”

 “What is being done about the dead found in the river as well as the ones who attacked us?” Tonya looked with sorrow.

 “The dead are already being buried.  We will be having a service for Cavalryman Dobry before we join you for dinner.”

 “The wounded?”

 “Taken care of, your Highness.”  Rikki shifted his weight.  “We will be leaving two of our wounded behind, the rest are fit for travel.”

 “What of the pirates?”

 “They will be taken back to Truno for trial, and hung.”

 “Any news of the two missing soldiers?”

 “Not as of yet, your Highness, but we aren’t discouraged just yet.  The town folk of Cleveland Rapids are aware and will be on the look out for them.  If they are still alive, they should be able to catch up with us, before Bolton.”  Rikki sensing that the conversation was through, went to the door.

 “Rikki?” Tonya called, looking over her shoulder.

 “Yes, Highness?”

 “Thank you.”

 Rikki scanned the common room of Cleveland Court.  Not as smoky or even as dark, the common room was a pretty comfortable place.  Cavalrymen and soldiers, finished with their duties, lounged at tables drinking the local ale re-telling their part in the previous night’s battle.

 “Is everything alright, Captain?” the owner of the inn hurried over to Rikki.

 “Everything is very nice, thank you.”

 “The Princess, she is comfortable?”

 “I just came from her room.  She is very content.” Rikki assured with a smile.

 Rikki slipped out the front door and into the open.  Fresh sweet air filled his nostrils, cleaning out the smoke and scent of ale.  The sun was out and working on drying up some of the water, but the excess foot traffic of his soldiers as well as those of excited towns folk, kept churning the ground to thick, sticky mud.

 “Is it?….. Could it be?….. Is that you Rikki Kalhoun?” a voice of velvet called out.

 A shiver of excitement, and memories raced down his spine.  Rikki turned to the voice and almost caught his breath.

 “Well, I’ll be.  It is you.” The young woman greeted with a smile.

 “Calandra.” Rikki smiled. “Wow, It’s good to see you.”

 Blue eyes sparkled at him from under a veil of dark hair.  Hair so dark, it appeared blue in certain light.

 “I’m hurt that you didn’t come find me when you got in, Lieutenant Kalhoun.” Full red lips pouted playfully as she looked at him through those long black lashes.

 “Well, Calandra, it’s now Captain Kalhoun, and I have a lot of duties to see to…… Still.”

 A smile lit up the creamy completion of the young woman.  “Captain… Kalhoun.  My, that does have a ring to it.”  Calandra entwined her arm around Rikki’s. “You must have done something incredible to get your Captain’s status.”

 Her sweet scent brought back waves of emotions and memories, he hadn’t enjoyed in quite a long time. 

“I was next in line.” Rikki smiled, enjoying the sight his eyes beheld.

 “Are you too busy to enjoy talk of old times?” She winked.

 “Umm…… Well….. I’ll see what I can do, Calandra, but I lost three men last night, in a river raid.  Dobry was killed…….. You remember Dobry, don’t you?”

 Calandra’s hair glimmered in the weak sunlight as she shook her head no.

 “He was the young soldier, who had the Elf arrow sticking out the back of his shoulder the last time we were through here.  Your friend was kind enough to remove it for him.”

 “Oh no,… not him?..... I’m so sorry Rikki.”

 Rikki wondered how she could make a frown look so beautiful.

 “We are having a service for him at sunset, then I have to join the Mayor, and some dignitaries for a dinner.”  Rikki thought of a stuffy dinner among stiffs.  “I’ll see if I can get out of dinner early.”

 “I’ll wait for you in our special spot.” Calandra leaned up and kissed the Captain on the cheek.  “Until tonight, Captain.”  Calandra unwrapped her arm from his and walked off in another direction.

  Rikki took a deep breath and tried to organize his thoughts again.  He made his way to the Mayor’s house

 Calandra.  Wow.  Rikki hadn’t thought of the raven haired beauty in quite some time.  Flashes of memories ran through his mind.  Memories of her satin lips against his.  The scent of her hair as she lay in his arms in the hayloft.  How she giggled as he caressed behind her ear with his lips.  The tender touch of her soft fingertips as they slowly traced designs on his chest.  He was definitely going to have to excuse himself from dinner.

 The sun lay low on the horizon, just about to touch the hills in the west, it cast everything in warm colors of gold, and orange.  All but two members of the Riponian guard stood in ranks of blue, there to pay their respects to a fallen comrade.  Some knew Dobry from when they patrolled the borders of Truno.  Others newly acquired friends from the boat ride up the Palriada River.  Ambassadors Kalgar and Zareb stood beside Princess Tonya and Monyka, both wearing Riponian blue.  The Mayor of Cleveland Rapids stood on the edge of the group, wanting to show his support, but not wanting to intrude in the solemn event.

 At the water’s edge, Dobry’s body, in Riponian blues, lay atop a neatly stacked pyre of oil soaked wood. 

 “We all benefited from Dobry’s presence.” Captain Kalhoun looked down the line of soldiers.  “From his easy laugh, to the way he listened to his fellow Cavalrymen……..  He has saved a few of our lives and would have willingly done so  again, if given the chance……. He was proud of his profession and proud of his country.  Loyal to both…… Above all, Dobry was a good friend.”  Captain Kalhoun turned to face the river bank.   He heard Sergeant Takoda call the men to attention.  Grymm, pushed the raft free of the river bank and wiped his eyes.  Captain Kalhoun snapped his arm to his chest in salute and heard the same being done behind him.  A flaming arrow arched across the sky.  It’s arch crossing the sinking sun as it sank behind the hills, before landing and lighting the floating pyre.

 “Good bye, friend.” Rikki said softly.  He then snapped his arm from his chest to his side, which was then echoed by those behind him.

 “At ease…….. Dismissed.” Takoda ordered.

 Rikki could hear soft talk and the sounds of boots, milling about in the mud.  He watched the smoking pyre pick up speed as it entered the main current of the river.

 “May the Gods take him into their embrace.” Rikki said softly.

 “He will be……… missed.  It looks like he was well liked.”  A voice said beside him. 

 Rikki looked to the person speaking.  It was one of the merchants that helped save Kadyr and Monyka.  Rikki searched for his name. He was the quiet one, Robby.

 “He was a good friend to any who knew him.” Rikki sighed.  He still hadn’t written a letter to Dobry’s family.  How could he put to paper, the thoughts and feelings of loss, or how Dobry’s death did mean something….. That he didn’t die in vain.

 “You okay, Captain?” a grizzled voice asked from behind him.

 “Does it ever get easier, Takoda?” Rikki asked.

 “Never.” Takoda sighed.

 The two men stood staring down stream in silence.  Grymm still stood by the river bank clutching to the staff as if it was keeping him upright.  The sun disappeared behind the hills altogether, casting a dark shadow across the river, darkening it’s muddy waters.

 “Captain, we’ll be expected soon.” Takoda said breaking the silence.  “I’ll be there in a few minutes, I’ll see to the lad.” Takoda nodded to Grymm.

 “Don’t be too long, Sergeant, I’m not in the mood for small talk and rich foods.”

 Rikki turned away from the River.  In a way he felt like he was turning his back on a friend.  A friend, that he could no longer help.  Slowly he walked through the sticky mud up to Cleveland Court.

 A hush fell over the common room as he entered.  Rikki cast off his introspection and looked about the room.  Riponian soldiers filled the room with their blue and white.  Each had a mug and looked to their Captain. 

 “Here, Captain.” Markys handed him a mug.

 “To Dobry.” Dyrk raised his mug.

 “To Dobry!” the chorus went up in echo.  It was followed by silence as they toasted their lost friend.

 Captain Kalhoun finished his ale and handed the mug back to Sergeant Galyway.

 “Thank you…… Don’t stay up too late, men.  We ride at sun rise.”  Captain Kalhoun worked his way through the crowd to a door in the back.  He was halfway down the hall when he heard the men raise a toast to Riponia. 

 “Ah, there you are Captain.” The Mayor said approaching him.  “I was sent to retrieve you so that we could get started.”

 “Sorry, Mayor, I wanted a few moments alone.”

 “Understandable, Captain, understandable.”  The Mayor led him into a large dinning room, lit brightly by candles and a warm fire.  “Captain Kalhoun, may I introduce you to my wife, Marie.”

 The Mayor’s wife, though in her middle years was quite beautiful with ebony hair, and blue eyes.

 “And this, Captain, is my youngest daughter, Calandra.”

 Rikki’s eyes snapped to Calandra, who smiled mischievously at him from beneath her dark lashes. 

Daughter?  The Mayors daughter?  Rikki’s heart skipped a beat.

 “Father, the Captain and I have met.” Calandra smiled.

 “Really?” The Mayor was astonished.

 Calandra stepped forward and wrapped her arm through Rikki’s.  “The Captain has been through our small town a few times, father.  In fact, he was here last year, but then he was a Lieutenant.”

 “How silly of me.  I thought you looked familiar, Captain.”

 “Who is the young girl, all over the Captain?” Tonya, inclined her head toward the dark haired beauty.

 “I believe she is, Calandra, the Mayor’s daughter……. Beautiful isn’t she?” The blonde merchant whispered.

 “I guess, for a village such as this.” Tonya’s voice was tinged with contempt.

 “She’d be beautiful anywhere.” Monyka added.  “I’d bet she could interrupt traffic in Truno.”

 “They seem to know one another.” Tanner commented as he approached the conversation.  “I’ve heard that she has had several offers of marriage from several local courtiers.”

The Blonde merchant picked up a glass of wine and took a sip.  “She has turned them all down.  I hear she is waiting to hear from Crown Prince Frydmond.”

 “He’d never…..” Tonya was becoming upset. “With someone like that?”

 “She is quite beautiful.” Monyka repeated.  She watched as Rikki smiled down at the dark haired beauty on his arm.

 “They do make a cute couple, don’t they?” Tanner remarked.  He turned to Tonya, “Princess, may I assist you to your chair?” Tanner abruptly changed the subject.

 “Why, thank you.”

 The Princess easing into her seat, signaled the others to do likewise.  Rikki escorted Calandra to the end of the table and held a seat for her.  Calandra sat with a grace, that Tonya could only dream about.  The village vixen smiled secretively up at the Captain with perfectly shaped lips, rouged to match her red dress.  The Captain of her bodyguard took a seat across from the Mayor’s daughter. Their faces lit up as they looked across the table at one another.

 “I think I’m loosing my appetite.” Tonya whispered to Monyka.

 “I’m sorry, I’m late, your Highness.” Lieutenant Kollyns bowed to Tonya.  He then sought out a seat next to Monyka and waited until everyone else was seated to take his.

 Ambassador Zareb stood up, and held his glass up.  “May the Gods bless this food, the hands that prepared it and may their grace shine upon us all.”

 “May their grace shine upon us all.” The room repeated.

 “To Us…….” Tanner interjected before anyone could drink.  “That is, ah….. To us, who share this table, Royalty and commoner alike.”

 “To us.” The group repeated and drank from their glasses.

 Kadyr stood.  “Please charge your glasses for a few more.” He pleaded.  The glasses were quickly refilled and raised.

 “I would like to make a toast to some very special people, who went out of their way to help perfect strangers in a very desperate situation.” Kadyr looked to the three merchants.  The eyes and smiles of the others at the table followed his.  “Their kindness proves that there is still much good in this world.  Thank you, Tanner, Robby and….. ah….. “

 “Anita.” The blonde merchant smiled.

 “To Tanner, Robby and Anita.  May the gods shine upon you.”

 Tanner snorted and almost sprayed his wine across the table.  Once he regained his composure, he smiled an apology.

 Kalgar stood and held his mug aloft.  “To Dobry and to our fallen friends, may the gods show them mercy.”

 A silence fell over the room as they drank.

 “Now are we going to toast all night, or are we going to eat?” The dwarf asked.

 Warm humor returned to the room as the doors opened and servants brought food in to be served.

 Kadyr suppressed the urge to jump as he felt a hand on his thigh.  He looked to his right and found Monyka smiling at him.  She gently gave his leg a squeeze and left it there, resting lightly.

 “Mayor, do you know anything of Roberton?” Tonya asked between bites.

 “Not too much, Princess, although we hear dark rumors of the place, but by the time they reach here, I’m sure they are so exaggerated that it’s laughable.”  The Mayor chuckled.

 “What stories are they telling?” Tonya urged, taking a bite.

 “Oh, there are rumors of children missing, and monsters in the woods, that sort of thing.”

 “It is such a pleasure to have the Princess of Riponia in our quaint town, isn’t it?” Marie smiled at her husband, trying to change the subject.

 “Oh, yes, it is.” The Mayor smiled.  “The whole town will be a buzz for weeks about it.”  The Mayor looked to the Princess, “The gifts for the towns people were more than generous, Princess, I hope there is some way we can feel worthy of such generosity.”

 “The hospitality of Cleveland Rapids has been outstanding, Mayor. Thank you again for setting up a make-shift hospital and helping to tend my Honor guard.”

 A young Cavalryman entered the room quietly.  After bowing to the Princess, he made his way directly to Captain Kalhoun.  The Cavalryman saluted, handed the Captain a note, and left with a respectful bow to Tonya.

 A smile lit up Rikki’s face as all in the room watched him read the note.

 “Well, Captain?” Tonya prodded, trying to keep impatience from her voice.

 “Good news,” Captain Kalhoun smiled.  “Cavalryman Aaryk is alive.  He was fished out of the river in River Bend West and is on his way to Crossroads.  He should be joining us tomorrow night.”

 “That is great news, Captain.” The Mayor joined.

 “To Cavalryman Aaryk.” Kalgar raised his mug.

 The room echoed the sentiment.

 “You’ll toast anything, just to drink, won’t you?” Kadyr leaned over to the dwarf.

 “Am I that transparent?” Kalgar grinned, wiping foam from his beard.

 “As a ghost.” Kadyr laughed. He lay his hand in his lap and sought out
Monyka’s hand.  Once found, he stroked it tenderly. Monyka smiled and tried, with difficulty, to concentrate on her food.

 “How did you find shopping in Truno?” Marie asked.

 “The Princess, Adiah, helped us in finding the most wonderful books.” Tonya’s eyes lit up.  “We even found a book on Dwarven science.”

 “I’m sure it’ll be out of date.” Kalgar said between mouthfuls.  “They usually are.”

 “Ambassador, could you show us some of the scientific wonders while we are down there?” Tonya asked.

 “I’ll show you what I can, Princess……. Some of our newer inventions, however, are still secret.”

 “What are the ladies wearing now?” Marie asked.

 “Pretty much whatever they please.” Tonya put down her goblet. “From the Trunonian Toga to Ladamorian sideless sur-coats.

 “How was the Cherry blossom festival?  I’ll bet the ladies looked like dancing flowers.”

 “It was very pretty.” Tonya agreed.

 Waves of excitement pulsed throughout Monyka’s body as Kadyr’s fingertips caressed the inside of her wrist.  

“Do you get many rainstorms like this?” Zareb asked the Mayor.

 “In the spring, we get several.” The mayor helped himself to another quail egg. “This last one was one of the worse we have seen in years.  As is evident by our washed out pier.”

 “I went to the Cherry blossom festival once.” Marie went on. “It was so beautiful…… Everything seems a blur now.”

 “I know the feeling.” Tonya smiled.

 “How long will it take you to rebuild the pier?” Zareb asked.

 “Oh, about a week or so.” The Mayor replied.  “We’ll use some of the lumber from that building that was washed out.”

 “Do you really have to leave tomorrow?” Calandra asked Rikki.

 “Yes.  We have fallen a day or two behind because of the storm.” Rikki sighed.

 Calandra’s foot slid up the Captain’s inner thigh.  “That really isn’t fair.” She pouted.

 “Well, we can’t keep Ambassador, Kalgar from Thame too much longer, and we need to try and get her Highness to Malden as soon as we can, so that we can get home to Riponia.”

 “Have you thought about rebuilding the pier out of stone?” Kalgar asked the Mayor.

 “We would love too, but we lack the knowledge and the money.” The Mayor looked down the table to Kalgar.

 “I’ll talk to Ramah, and see if we can do something about that.” Kalgar emptied his mug.

 “How is Queen Dianthe?” Marie asked.

 “Wonderful.” Tonya swallowed a bite. “She had her dressmaker come up to the palace and start on some dresses for us…… We’ll pick them up on our way back.”

 “You’ll stop here on your way back, won’t you?” Calandra pleaded Rikki.  Her foot between his legs slid a little farther.

 “We’ll see.”  Rikki smiled, somewhat unsure of how to react.

 “We would love to see you again, Princess.” Marie smiled. 

“If we can we will stop.” Tonya looked down the table at the Captain and the seductress with disgust. “But we can’t promise anything.”

Rikki pushed back from the table, winked at Calandra and slowly got to his feet.  “If I may have your leave, Highess, I should check on the wounded, in the temple.”

“Of course, Captain.” Tonya nodded.  “Let them know that my thoughts and prayers are with them.”

“Yes, your Highness.” Captain Kalhoun bowed and left the room.

Rikki found only a fraction of the Cavalrymen in the public room.  Most playing cards or rolling dice.  The rest he knew were getting sleep or making preparations for tomorrow. 

The night air still seemed heavy with moisture, perhaps promising more rain tonight or tomorrow.  Rikki made his way across the muddy street and cut across the grassy park to the temple devoted to the goddess of love, fertility, and the harvest.  The priests were kind enough to erect a place to tend to his men.  The golden sandstone of the temple seemed washed out in the limited light.  Rikki mounted the stairs and opened the hammered bronze door. 

The Temple, warmer than outside, stank of sweat, fever, and the metallic smell of blood. Under it all was the sweet scent of perfumed oils, failing to mask the smell of battle.  Three priests, and two town’s women scurried about, trying to make his men comfortable, whether changing bandages, helping them eat, or holding a hand to give some comfort from the pain.

“Good evening, Captain.” A familiar voice greeted.

Rikki turned to see Brother Tagyrt entering through a side door carrying a pot of steaming water.

“Good evening, Brother.  How are my men doing?”

“Well……. Ah…. They seem to be ah…… well, they seem to be eager to leave tomorrow.”

“Are there any who should stay and recuperate?”

“Hmmm……… Let me see…….. Well…….. There is one Cavalryman, who……. Ummm…… Well, ……. If we can have him ride in a….. wagon for a …….. ah….. well for a few days……… I think he will be alright…….. To travel.  He has a ……..pretty nasty, gash to his…….ah…… to his leg.”

“Is that the worst of it?”

“Ah…….. well……For the most part……… all can travel, it…….ummm….is just a matter of how…….ah……. how comfortable and…..ah……for how long.”

“Thank you, Brother Tagyrt.”  Rikki clasped him on the shoulder, then went in to see his men.

 Calandra breathed a sigh of relief as she exited the Cleveland Court.  The crippled Riponian Princess, spent so much time picking at her food and small talking, it was a wonder that they were finished with the meal as it was.  Calandra slipped her cloak over her shoulders, pulled her hair out from under it, and tried to stay out of the mud as much as possible. 

Her thoughts went to Rikki,  She hoped that he was in their private place.  Oddly enough she had never shared that place with anyone else.  Other places in and around town were frequented often by many a different promising young man, but this place seemed special.  Too special to share with anyone but the now Captain.

 Calandra didn’t realize she was holding her breath as she entered the tack room.  The smell of worn leather was almost overpowering.  She released her breath slowly, happily, as she spotted the familiar silhouette straddling a bale of straw, deep in thought. 

 “I’m sorry I’m late.” She whispered, resting her hands upon his broad shoulders.  Her fingers kneaded at the knots rippling across his back.

 She felt the Captain sigh heavily, leaving only Rikki in his place.  Calandra leaned down and brushed her lips across the back of his neck.  He trembled under her touch.

 “I’ve missed you, Rikki.” She scarcely breathed.  Her hands slid over his shoulders and massaged at the muscles of his chest,  Her breasts, pressing into the back of his neck.

 “Calandra….” Rikki began.

“Shhhh,” Calandra breathed into his ear, her finger delicately brushing his lips silencing them

Rikki turned his head towards her.  A veil of dark hair fell across his face, framing her beautiful, scarlet lips.  He looked up into those beautiful, heavy lidded, eyes.  Her lips came closer.  He found his reaching to meet them.  Her satin lips sent a charge coursing, like a burning poison, through his body.  Such a light touch, had such an awesome power.  He found himself wanting more.  He closed his eyes and succumbed to his body’s desire.  His desire of her.  Calandra slid around his side and sat in his lap, the fingers of one hand stroking the back of his neck, the others,  rested delicately, lightly, upon his muscular sword arm.


“I’m having trouble sleeping.” Monyka groaned.  “I should be exhausted after last night, but I think that nap has done me in.”

“I knew I should have awoken you sooner.” Tonya yawned from her bed.

“I think I’m going to go downstairs for a bit.” Monyka pulled on her robe and slipped on some slippers.

“Don’t be up all night, and be careful.” Tonya snuggled back down in her bed.

Monyka slipped out the door.  Two Cavalrymen were there, on duty.  They smiled, but didn’t say anything.  Monyka went to the head of the stairs, but instead of going down, she lightly made her way up.

Kadyr answered the knock on his door and was pleasantly surprised to see Monyka standing there, blushing slightly.

“I don’t normally knock on men’s doors at night, but I had to see you.” She flushed.

Kadyr took her hand and led her into his small room, shut the door and pulled her into his arms.  Monyka felt wave after wave of pleasure blast through her veins as Kadyr’s lips pressed against hers.  She held him tight, wanting to be closer to him, no, to be a part of him, to feel their bodies become one, their souls entwine into a knot with no beginning, no end.  Kadyr backed her up until she bumped against the wall.  A cry of surprise and of pleasure escaped from her eager mouth.  Kadyr’s tongue pleaded for entry and was welcomed past her incredible lips.  Her fingers grabbed for a hold on his back, so that she could merge any space that may lie between them.  Kadyr’s fingers tangled themselves in the hair at her nape.  He pulled back slightly causing her to arch her back, forcing her hips to press tighter against his, feeling the desire full between his legs.  His lips left hers and trailed down her chin, to the unprotected hollow of her throat.  Monyka shivered and cried out softly.  Kadyr’s other hand quickly unfastened her robe.  With his teeth, he ripped the laces of her night gown.  Monyka’s hands cupped his blonde curls, pulling his mouth in to her breasts as he nibbled, and caressed her bosom.

“Lieutenant?.... Oh… Sorry, Lieutenant.  My lady.” Takoda said from the door.  “Uh, Kadyr, I just wanted to remind you that you have first watch tonight……… Sorry.”  Takoda closed the door, leaving Monyka red as a beat and Kadyr’s mouth agape, stunned.

“Oh my God.” Monyka pulled away from Kadyr and gathered her robe around her.  “Oh my…… Takoda knows……. What if he tells Tonya……… Oh God.”

 Calandra slipped one arm from the sleeve of her bodice, followed by the other.  With a gentle push, the scarlet dress slid from her curvatious body and pooled at her feet.  Rikki’s breath was nearly taken away by the beautiful person standing before him.  He had thought Calandra’s body was already etched in his memories, but the memories, he had didn’t do this vision justice.  Dark hair spilled over smooth, milky, skin, creating a lace of midnight over breasts.  Calandra smiled at him as she stepped from the dress at her feet.  A smile of knowing what she could do to men, for men.  A smile which lit a sparkle of longing in her eyes.  Calandra stood above Rikki.  She knelt down on the bale between his legs and cupped his head in her hands.  She brought his lips to hers and sought comfort in their embrace. 

 Rikki’s body ached to be touched by her again.  The hairs on his arms stood up as she knelt before him.  Her hands ever so gently touched his face and with what seemed like magic, drew his lips to hers.  He pulled her closer to him, afraid to break her, but afraid to let her go. 

How could he be so lucky to deserve the love of such a beautiful woman.  The truth, was that he didn’t.  He was on a mission, to not only protect the Princess, but to redeem his soul.

He relaxed his grip on the young woman, and pulled his lips away from the sweetness of hers.  “I’m sorry, Calandra, I can’t…… Not that I don’t want to, because believe me, I want to, but I’ve got duties to see to.” 

Rikki looked up into the face of shock.  Wide blue eyes, and a mouth agape, not knowing or believing what she had just heard.

“What do you mean?” Calandra looked abashed, “Are you refusing my attention?”

“Calandra, under different circumstances, I would not, could not refuse, please believe me.”

Calandra pulled away and reached down for her dress.  “You are refusing me for the duties you have for the crippled Princess?”  Calandra’s voice took on an edge of sharp anger.

“That Princess,” Rikki pointed towards the Cleveland Court, “That Princess, is Crippled because of me.” He had actually spoken that out loud.  He had never said that out loud.  Not since he was a boy, hiding out in the woods, scared.  Scared of what had happened, of what they would do, What they would do to his father.  Tears glistened in his eyes.

“What are you talking about, the spoiled brat jumped off the palace roof.” Calandra stated, pulling her dress up around her.  She looked up at Rikki with venom in her eyes.  She stopped when she saw the tears building in his eyes.

“I couldn’t hold on………. I tried, but I wasn’t strong enough.”  Rikki cradled his head in his hands, and rubbed at his temples as if trying to erase the memory, yet again.

“You mean, she didn’t jump off the Palace roof in a rage?”  Calandra slowly slid one arm then the other, through her sleeves.

“You can’t tell anyone, Calandra.  Not a soul.  You are the only person who knows.  I have never told anyone before……..Please swear you won’t tell anyone.”

He heard the soft whisper of skirts.  Calandra knelt down in front of him.  “By the Gods, Rikki, what happened?”  Concern replaced the venom in her voice.

Rikki looked up into eyes that had turned from rage, to the look of caring and nurturing.  Calandra put a hand on his knee,  “Tell me, Rikki?” She pleaded.

He didn’t know why, of all people Calandra, but he told her what had happened as he relived it in his mind yet again.

“You have never told this to anyone before?” Calandra asked, with a voice full of adoration.

“No……. No one, but you.”  He looked at her, locking her gaze with his.  “I have to get her safely to the healer, then safely home, before I can ever start to forgive myself……… Don’t you see Calandra?  Everything I have done in my life since then has built upon its self, built up to this moment, this one chance at redemption.  I can not anger the Gods by ignoring my duties, my obligations, to enjoy this………”  His eyes scanned her beautiful face.  “This wonderful temptation.”

Rikki turned away and pulled his shirt over his head.

“Do you lover her?” Calandra turned her back, not sure she wanted to know the answer.

“What?” Rikki looked confused.  “Who?”

“The Princess….. Do you love her?”  Calandra glanced up.

“No.” Rikki pushed his arms through the sleeves.  He looked up and caught Calandra’s eye.  “No. She is the future Queen of Riponia.”

Calandra sighed with relief.

I have a lot to do tonight Calandra.” Rikki stood up and approached the young woman, he had known occasionally over the past few years.  “Maybe, after this is all over, I can come to Cleveland Rapids for a more leisurely visit.”

Calandra’s eyes turned to daggers of flame.  “If you come to Cleveland Rapids, it better be more than for something leisurely….. Or don’t come back at all. Captain Kalhoun.”  She turned on her heels and stomped out the door.  Her bodice still unlaced, her cloak still laying across a saddle in the tack room.

“Ah, Shit!” Rikki swore  He pulled on his Riponian dress Blue coat and sank back down to the straw bale.  He looked up at the rafters, “What else?......... Huh?  What else can you throw at me?”

“He didn’t really mean that.”  Rikki jumped and spun upon hearing the voice behind him.

“Takoda, what are you doing here?” Rikki asked startled.

“Looking for you, Captain.”  Takoda smiled.  “Just wanted you to know, that we have someone to cover your watch.  You’re going to need you sleep so that you can function tomorrow.”

“Thanks Takoda, but I don’t think, I’ll get much sleep tonight.”

“That the Mayor’s daughter?” Takoda pointed over his shoulder.

“Calandra, yes.” Frustration seeping back into his voice.

“She didn’t look too happy.”

Rikki grabbed his cloak and walked past the Sergeant at Arms.  “She’s upset, because I wouldn’t sleep with her.”

“You turned down a lovely filly like that?.............You are either blind,……. like boys,…… or you’re more tired than I thought.”

 “I have duties, Sergeant, I suggest you get some sleep.”  Rikki pulled away from the sergeant.

    Takoda stood in the middle of the mud watching the back of the Captain disappear.  “What a waste.”

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