Healing a Princess...14 (Road to Crossroads)

          Healing a Princess...14 

           (Road to Crossroads)


                                   By Tim Knight 




Sergeant Takoda knocked on the Captain’s door.  When there was no answer, he let himself in.  The room was warm, but the bed was un-used.  Two candles at a small desk were burned to nubs. Other than the candles having been used, the room was empty.

 Damn, Takoda swore to himself.  The Captain needed sleep.  Instead he was up all night doing Gods knew what.  He went down the hall, ignored the two sentries and knocked on the door.

 “Ah, Good morning, Sergeant.” Monyka blushed when she opened the door.

 “Have you two eaten breakfast, yet?” Takoda asked.

 “Yes, Sergeant.” Monyka was confused by Takoda’s abruptness.

 “Have you seen the Captain, yet?”

 “He came by earlier to make sure we were getting ready,……. Is there a problem?” Tonya interjected.

 Takoda let out a breath.  “No, No, I just wanted to talk with him….. How long will you two need until you are escorted down stairs?”

 “We’re ready now.” Tonya looked around to make sure everything had been hauled down.

 “Okay, your Highness.  I’ll send someone up for you when your carriage is ready.”

 “Thank you, Sergeant.”

 Takoda blinked and squinted against the bright morning sun.  He grumbled, his attitude not matching the weather.

 “Good morning, Sergeant.” Kadyr greeted.

 “Lieutenant, Have you seen the Captain?”  Takoda almost growled.

 “Yes, Sir, he’s in the square, there, getting the train organized.” Lieutenant Kollyns pointed. “Sergeant, about last night….” Lieutenant Kollyns began.

 “Lieutenant were you on duty while in your room last night?” Takoda interrupted.

 “Ah….. No.”

 “Then I don’t care to know about it.”  Takoda stalked off towards the Captain slowly riding up and down the square calling out orders.

 “Sergeant, your horse.” A Cavalryman ran up handing him the reigns.

 Takoda swung up into his saddle and spurred his mount into a gallop to catch up with Captain Kalhoun.

 “Good morning, Sergeant.” Rikki greeted.

 “Don’t give me that horse shit.” Takoda growled.  “I had someone take your shift, so that you could get some sleep.  I just went by your room and your bed wasn’t even sat on, let alone slept in, Captain.”

 “I had duties to attend to, Sergeant.” By the time I finished, It was time to greet the glorious sun.” Rikki looked up and squinted at the golden rays peaking over the eastern mountains.

 “Captain have you had any sleep since the raid on the river boat night before last?”

 “No, Sergeant, I don’t believe I have, but, there is always tonight.”

 “If you show any signs of weakness or sluggishness today, I will have you hog-tied and thrown in the back of a wagon to sleep.”

 “Sergeant, are you threatening me?” Rikki looked sternly at Takoda

 “Only if you wish to take it as such.”

 “Well, I don’t, but I appreciate the concern….. Yeoman Baely, go ahead and send out your scouts, we’ll be leaving this place within the hour.”

 Baely saluted and rode back to his group of scouts.

 “I’ll go see to the wounded.” Takoda turned his mount.

 “They’re already loaded or mounted and ready, Sergeant.  I just have to load up Princess Tonya.”  The Captain signaled the royal carriage and the color-guard to proceed to the front of the Cleveland Court Inn.

 Captain Kalhoun swung off of Sefu, handed his reins to Grymm  “Is the walkway ready?”

 “Yes, Sir.”

 Captain Kalhoun entered the common room. “I would like this common area cleared out for the Princess’s safety.” He informed the innkeeper. 

 “Not a problem, Captain.” The innkeeper started shooing out locals who wanted to see the Princess.

 The Captain was greeted by two Cavalrymen salutes in front of the Princess’s suite.  “Is she ready to go?” he asked.

 “Yes, Sir, she has been waiting for word from you.”

 Captain Kalhoun opened the door to six pairs of staring eyes, and a silence as if he had walked into a tomb.

 “Calandra.” Rikki muttered under his breath.

 “Oh, there you are, Captain.” Tonya greeted with a smile  “Calandra, brought us some baked goods for trip, wasn’t that nice?”

 “That was very kind of her, your Highness.” Rikki forced a smile, while feeling the hairs on the back of his neck stand straight out.

 “When She mentioned that she was going to Crossroads today to visit a sick aunt, I insisted that she join us.”  Tonya smiled.  “She’ll be riding with Monyka and I in the carriage.  I had one of the Cavalrymen already pack her stuff.”

 Rikki forced a smile, even though one face smiled at him with mirth, the other with malice.  “Well, the royal carriage is right outside awaiting your departure, and I asked for the common room to be cleared for your comfort, your Highness.”

 Monyka took the basket of baked goods from the Princess, and handed her, her walking staff.

 “It will be a moment, Calandra, if you and Monyka will take the lead, We’ll follow right behind.” Rikki smiled.

 Two Cavalrymen led the two ladies down the stairs into the common room, followed by Captain Kalhoun, with the Princess gingerly held in his arms.  Once on the main floor, Rikki eased her to her feet.  She hitched herself up on her walking staff and slowly hobbled towards the door.

 “There may be a send off for you, your Highness.” Captain Kalhoun warned.

 Tonya stopped in her tracks, sighed heavily and nodded to the Cavalrymen to open the door.

 Out side, several bales of hay had been laid down and topped with some wide planking, leading from the door of the inn to the carriage.  Riponian blue uniformed men stood on both sides of the planking, every other soldier, held a standard with the Riponian Royal crest.  Halfway down the isle, The Mayor with his wife, Marie, waited with eager smiles. 

 Tonya expected half the town to be gathered out there as well, but other than her entourage and a few locals, the muddy street was fairly empty.  Tonya took a few steps down the walkway and stopped in front of the Mayor, who bowed slightly.  Marie, with skirts in her hand, curtsied beside him.  Tonya took her hand and caught her eye.  Marie stood and looked up at the young Princess.

 “Thank you for such wonderful hospitality, and for your company at dinner last night.”

 “Your welcome, Princess.” Marie smiled back.

 The Mayor beamed at his wife and then up at the Princess.

 “Thank you, Mayor for dispersing those items for us.” Tonya smiled as he bowed his head in thanks and acknowledgement.

 Tonya stepped on to the carriage.  Takoda stood to one side holding the door open for her.  He took her walking staff from her, while she hoisted herself into the carriage.  Tonya scooted over to the well padded bench seat and waited while Monyka gathered her skirts and made herself comfortable, followed by Calandra.

 Takoda peered inside to make sure that the three young ladies were
comfortable before closing the door.  He saluted to the driver, who snapped the reins, starting Princess Tonya on a new leg of her trip.

 “Is it always like that, your Highness?” Calandra asked.

 “Thank the Gods, no.” Tonya rolled her eyes.  “Calandra, while we are in this carriage, I am not ‘your, Highness’.  I am simply Tonya.  Besides, Princess Adiah is Truno’s Princess, not I.”

 A cheering sounded from up ahead.  Tonya, Monyka and Calandra looked out the windows of the carriage to see most of the townsfolk of Cleveland Rapids lining both sides of the road, tossing cherry blossoms, and waving.  The three young women waved and smiled back as they passed.

 Tonya looked around and found her book tucked into a leather pocket under a window of the carriage.  Another pocket contained her needlepoint and supplies.

 “You’ll have to forgive me, Calandra, but I love sweets.  Monyka is there anything to sate my yearnings?” Tonya indicated the basket of baked goods.

 “Well, lets see.” Monyka peaked under the top cloth.  “Ooooh, fruit tarts.  Apple?” she guessed.”

 “They are my mother’s recipe.” Calandra beamed.

 “Then by all means, pass one, over.” Tonya licked her lips in anticipation.

 “Mother says the secret is in the crust.”

 “My mother says the same thing.” Monyka offering one to Calandra before taking one for herself.

 Tonya bit into the flakey pastry, which still had some of it’s warmth.  Small bits of apples in a sugary sauce brightened her smile.

 “How are you faring, your Highness?” Captain Kalhoun smiled in through the window.

 “Fine, Captain.” Tonya covered her mouth with her hand as to not show the food in her mouth.

 “Rikki,” Calandra smiled.  She held her tart out for the Captain.  “My mother made these this morning.”

 “Those are your mother’s?” Rikki’s eyes sparkled with interest.

 “Mmmhmmm.” Calandra sucked at some of the juices on her finger.

 Rikki reached and took the tart from Calandra.  He looked from the tart to her, looking for malice.  Finding none, he took a bite of the tart and savored it with ecstasy.   

“The Gods only know how much I miss your mother’s cooking.” His eyes rolled skyward.  “We are making good time, so far, your Highness.” He said around a mouthful.  The Captain then spurred Sefu towards the head of the line.

“How do you know the Captain?” Tonya asked.  She just had to get to the root of this relationship.

“Rikki?” Calandra thought.  “Lets see…… He and I first met three, or was it four years ago.  He was only a Cavalryman when we first met.  He and his patrol were riding through on their way to patrol the border.  The cavalry usually stops in Cleveland Rapids for supplies and for a little break from riding the border.” She spoke proudly.  “We are far enough from the forest that the Elves don’t attack and close enough that they can usually get back to the forest with in a couple of good days  riding.”

 Tonya motioned to Monyka for a drink.  Monyka dug around and found a bottle of apple juice, and handed it to the Princess.

 “How did you two meet?” Tonya probed.

 “It’s kind of embarrassing.” Calandra looked down, smoothing her skirts.

 “Oh?” Tonya’s eyebrows raised.

 “I tripped over him in the temple, while he was praying for a friend who had fallen.” Calandra began to blush.

 Monyka’s heart leapt at this news.  Could the Captain have been praying for the princess?

 “I tore a hole in my dress when I fell.  He felt horrible about it and insisted upon paying to have it repaired.  We started talking and before I knew it, I was meeting him for a picnic lunch.” Calandra finished.

 “That is so romantic.” Tonya handed the apple juice to Calandra.  “If only I could meet someone that romantic.”

 “You’re the Princess of Riponia, I’m sure you have plenty of young lords itching to have a picnic with the heir to the throne.”

 “That’s the problem, Calandra, they are itching to fall in love with the throne, not the heir.”

 “I guess that could be a problem.”

 “Come on, Calandra, you are in almost  the same position, that I am.” Tonya looked at the beautiful young woman.

 “What do you mean? I’m nothing but the daughter of a small town mayor.”

 “Calandra, you are arguably the most beautiful woman that I have ever laid eyes upon.” Tonya looked to Monyka, who nodded.  “You could have any man, or Lord in the area, and I have even heard Prince.  With all of those incredible possibilities, why the Captain of my bodyguard?”

 “First off, he wasn’t some kind of lap dog, like so many of the others, lapping up any attention, he might get.  In fact I have had to pursue him.  Second, is that he is so loyal to, and caring about the men he rides with.  Even when I first met him, a lowly Cavalryman, he showed nothing but dedication to his King and to his Company.  And when you get him alone, someplace secluded, private, he is so……….. Well he is a klutz.  He is so clumsy, and I don’t mean that he doesn’t know how to act or be around women, because believe me he does.  It’s just that he trips over his own feet, or slips and falls, or drops food in his lap.  When you start to believe he is nothing but a graceless serf, he gets up in his saddle and then you see poetry in motion.  Have you ever seen Rikki ride?  I mean really seen him ride?” Calandra asked her two confidants. 

 Monyka shook her head.

 “Oh my god, he has the best seat I have ever seen.  He rides as if he and Sefu are one creature.”

 “Sefu?” Tonya asked.

 “That beautiful stud that he rides, Rikki named him Sefu……….. It’s Elven for sword.”

 “Well, I guess that is fitting.” Monyka smirked.

 “And then his lips.” Calandra leaned her head back and closed her eyes.  “His lips when they touch yours, Its like time stands still and speeds up at the same time.  Your heart starts beating as fast as the wings of a humming bird.  You hope time never starts again, dreading for his lips to leave yours, because when they do, you’ll  hunger to feel them embrace yours once more, to taste them once more.”

 Monyka closed her eyes, remembering again, the way Kadyr’s lips felt on hers last night.  She flushed as she realized that she did hunger to feel his lips against hers.

 “So you are powerless and all jelly like, when ever they are around.” Tonya stated, shaking her head in disbelief.

 “Yes and no.” Calandra looked at Tonya, then out the window with a far away look.  “You get all jelly like, because you want nothing more than for them to encircle you with your arms, to hold you and to protect you.  To feel their warmth and the security that they can provide.”

Monyka’s thought of Kadyr holding her in his arms, trying to warm her up, trying to protect her from the elements.

“Then there is the other side.” Calandra shattered the spell of that memory. “When you are with them you feel like you can take on an entire forest of Elves.  They are there to watch your back and to help out in what ways they are able, but you, you can become a gryphon protecting her nestlings, ferocious belong belief and to the last breath.”

 Tonya watched Monyka’s serene face.  Monyka’s eyes opened and a hint of red touched her cheeks as she saw Tonya’s eyes upon her.

 “And right when you feel like the most powerful and safest woman in the world, they go and do something absolutely brainless and stupid, making you want to strangle the very life out of them.” Calandra’s voice took on bit of acid.  ‘Or they say something so insensitive and ludicrous, that you wonder if they have a brain in their head.”  Calandra took a drink of the apple juice.  “This is a really cool carriage.”

 “Thank you.  My father had it built especially for this trip.” Tonya beamed.


“Captain, may I speak with you?” Kadyr rode up beside Rikki.

 “Of course, Lieutenant.  What’s on your mind?” Captain Kalhoun looked to his friend.

 “I would like Takoda to be in on this too.” Kadyr waved Grymm over.

 “That serious?” Captain Kalhoun looked up and down the line making sure everyone was in their proper place, and able to keep up.

 “Grymm, could you ask Sergeant at Arms to join us?” Kadyr asked.

 “Yes, Sir.” Grymm spurred his mount into a gallop.

 “It’s nothing urgent, Sir, but it’s been bothering me, and I felt I needed to bring it up.”

 “Okay, Lieutenant.”

 “What’s going on?” Takoda asked as he reined in along side the two.  “I was enjoying a bit of a snooze.”

 “I’m sorry, Sergeant.” Kadyr grimaced.

 “The Lieutenant has something on his mind.” Rikki looked from Takoda to Kadyr.

 “It’s the whole river boat raid.” Kadyr began.  “I didn’t bring it up yesterday, because we were licking our wounds and had so much going on, but didn’t it seem suspicious to you…..”

 “That only the Princess’s boat was attacked and that they knew exactly where to find her?” Rikki finished.

 “So, I’m not alone in my concern?” Kadyr stated.

 “Not at all, Lieutenant.” Sergeant Takoda squinted up at the sun.

 “Go ahead, Kadyr.” Rikki urged.

 “Well, Sir, for a bunch of  river rabble and pirates, they seemed to know the layout of the boat pretty damn well, and they seemed to know the exact location of the Princess.  They also created a pretty good diversion on one side of the boat, allowing for the others to get in quickly and as deeply as they did.” Kadyr looked Rikki in the eye.  “Sir I think there was an informant, or someone on the boat who was an insider.”

 “Well, he’s got some brains under that pretty mop of blonde curls.” Takoda looked behind him to the wagons pulling up the rear of the wagon train.   

“Did you interrogate the prisoners we took?” Kadyr asked his Captain.

 Rikki looked to Takoda, who spat into the grass.  “They all said they were working for the guy that was holding the Princess.  They took orders from him and didn’t know where he got his information, just that they would be well paid.”

“Well, it couldn’t be anyone from the guard, we’ve been through too much together and have proven our loyalties.  Besides, they would have too much to loose.”

 “Would they?” Takoda posed. 

 “What would they gain by it?”

 “Trunonian gold is awful pretty. Especially when it is grouped together with a  lot more Trunonian gold.” Takoda smiled.

 “The guard was hand picked by the Captain and yourself, Sergeant.  I don’t think between the two of you, a traitor could have weaseled his way in.”

 “So you’re saying that it could be one of the servants or cooks?” Rikki asked, allowing the Lieutenant to try and puzzle it out.

 “Didn’t you and the Sergeant select the civilians as well?” Kadyr asked.

 “We took volunteers and interviewed them, yes.” Rikki stroked Sefu’s neck.  “But we can’t put servants of the King through the same kind of interviews as we can the military.”

 “Sergeant Takoda, Don’t you know most if not all of them?” Kadyr asked.

 “Most of them, yes, but not all of them all that well. The palace is a big place and has a lot of servants to keep it running, besides some of our volunteers have come from outside the palace.”

 “Well then maybe that’s where we should start.” Kadyr stated.

 “Hold your horses, Lieutenant.” Rikki cautioned.  “We can’t just start pulling people off to the side and interrogating them.  Especially since we don’t have any evidence.”

 “It could also be that the raiders overheard something said either on the docks or in a pub and put two and two together.” Takoda  put forth.  “A lot of river boats are built in a similar configuration.  There weren’t many differences in the three that we hired as it is.”

 “All you can do for now is keep your eyes and ears open, Lieutenant.  Watch for someone who might have a bigger purse than they should or someone nosing around where they shouldn’t be.” Rikki cautioned.  “Besides we have some bigger worries to consider right now, although they may be linked.”

 “What’s that, Captain?” Kadyr looked up from his horses mane.

 “We received a correspondence from Queen Dianthe yesterday.  Encrypted in that note was a warning.  This Duke we will be staying with is, in her Majesties word, ‘dangerous’.  We have no further information on this Duke.  She doesn’t say how he is dangerous or what to watch out for.” 

 “What do you want us to do?” Kadyr asked.

 “I have sent three Cavalry men on ahead yesterday, with instruction to find out what they can about this Duke, from the inhabitants in the area.  Until then we need to come up with a way to keep the Princess safe.”

 “Can we bypass this Duke?” Kadyr put forth. “Camp a few miles away?  We’re going to be pushing it to get there before nightfall as it is.”

 “We would risk offending him and possibly causing more problems for us as well as for the Crown of Truno.” Takoda watched the Riponian banners flapping in the wind above the mounted heavy fighters.  “Dianthe didn’t warn us to stay away, only that he could be dangerous, Right?”

 “What about a body double for her Highness?” Kadyr posed.  “She is, after all the one who needs the most protection.”

 “Who?” Rikki asked.

 “Who knows her and her habits better than, Monyka.” Takoda stated the obvious.

 “Even if Monyka would agree to do this, what shall we do with Tonya?” Rikki pondered.

 An uneasy silence fell between the three soldiers.

 “We could always hog tie her and throw a tarp over her.” Takoda grinned.  The look of shock on Kadyr’s face started the old sergeant to laughing.

 “I think her squeals would cause too much attention.” Rikki joined the Sergeant’s mirth.

 “Can we hide her amongst the servants?” Kadyr asked.

 “I’d be afraid that one of them would accidentally slip up and show her reverence.  Besides, didn’t you just say that they can’t yet be fully trusted?”

 Takoda shook his head. “With that crippled leg of hers, she’d be singled out almost immediately.” 

 “Do we know if this Duke was in Truno while we were there?” Rikki scratched at his ear.  “What if he was at the Cherry Blossom Festival? Or any of his servants, or spies?”

“Could we split her from the group with a small guard and circle Roberton?  It would keep her safely out of the Dukes grasp.” Kadyr suggested.

 “Still too dangerous.” Rikki negated.  “If she could ride more than just half an hour, It might be worth looking into.”

 Another long silence descended among them.

 “Why don’t we ask her opinion?” Kadyr inquired.  He exchanged long looks with each of his superiors.

 “He has a point, Captain.” Takoda smiled.  “Why don’t you invite her for a ride?”

 Rikki sighed heavily and scrubbed his hand through his hair, then nodded.

 “I’ll go get her horse.” Kadyr turned his mount and headed towards the rear of the wagon train.

 “I’ll select some escorts.” Takoda reached over and slapped the young Captain on the shoulder.  “Just keep your cool, Captain.  After all, she isn’t a viper coiled to strike.”

 “Then why do I feel like she is every time I get near her?”  Rikki muttered, but the Sergeant was already out of hearing.


 “Your Highness.” Rikki greeted, smiling through the windows of the carriage.

 “Captain.” Tonya acknowledged.

 “I was hoping that, your Highness would join me for a refreshing ride?” Rikki asked.

 Tonya couldn’t help the pleasure that sparkled in her eyes.  She looked to Monyka, then to her guest, Calandra.

 “Go ahead, your Highness.” Monyka smiled.  “It’s been a bit since you’ve been in the saddle.  It’ll do you some good.”

 “Please don’t let my presence, keep you from much needed freedom.” Calandra voiced, hearing the seriousness in Rikki’s voice as well as Monyka’s persuasive tone.

 “Alright, Captain, I would love to go for a ride.” She beamed.  “I’m not exactly dressed for one though.” She looked down at the gown she was wearing.

 “I believe your subjects would be to awed by your riding to care what clothes you rode in, your Highness.”

 “Is my horse ready?”

 “I have him, right here, your Highness.” Kadyr smiled as he cantered up leading, Komyn, one of Tonya’s prized studs.

 Captain Kalhoun signaled and the line of wagons slowly came to a stop.  As soon as the royal carriage halted, the door was opened by Cavalryman Grymm who assisted the Princess slowly out of the carriage, then proceeded to giver a lift to her seat upon  Komyn.

 “What are we stopping for?” Zareb demanded from the wagon behind the carriage.

 “Patience, Ambassador.” Tonya admonished.  “We stopped just for moment, so that I could get some air.”

 “Captain, is it wise, that the Princess be so…… so exposed?” Zareb questioned.

 “Would you rather I close her in a steal trunk for safe keeping, bring her out for special occasions, Ambassador?” Captain Kalhoun snapped.

 Tonya looked to her Captain, surprised at the venom in his voice, trying to defend her right to a little freedom from the carriage.

“After the attack on the river, I would think that you would be more cautious.” Zareb defended, his voice as hard as steel.

 “We lost two good men defending off an attack that should have never happened.” Captain Kalhoun  growled.

 “Ambassador, we are in the middle of  “no where” with a show of force as well as a riding escort for the Princess.  She will be protected.” Takoda inserted, trying to calm tempers.

 “If that is going to be the case, I want it be known, that I’m against this.” Zareb, sneered, before turning his back and climbing back into his carriage.

 Captain Kalhoun signaled the procession to move forward.

 “I’ll race you to that tree.” Captain Kalhoun smiled to his charge.

 Tonya grinned and spurred her mount.  Komyn nearly reared before taking off at a run.

 Rikki urged Sefu and gave him his head.  Sefu’s muscles rippled as he gave chase to Komyn, slowly gaining on the fleeing princess.  Rikki was pleased to see that the Princess, rode with an easy, practiced seat.  She may not be able to ride for long periods of time, but the small bits of time she would be able to ride, he wouldn’t spend worrying about her falling.  Rikki looked over his shoulder to see the selected escort riding at a fast gallop, not wasting their mount’s energy on this frolic.

 Rikki watched as Tonya rounded the tree and slowed Komyn down to a canter.  His breath caught as he watched her golden blonde hair bounce and sway with the horse’s movement.  Her face was slightly flush with the exhilaration of the ride and her smile lit up her face.  A smile touched Rikki’s eyes as he noticed that she seemed not to care that her skirts were hiked up, exposing her calves.  then to a walk as Rikki caught up to her and rode beside her.

 “That was hardly fair, your Highness, you had a jump start.” Rikki teased.

 “Oh, but that felt wonderful.  Thank you Rikki.”

 “I figured after being cooped up sick in that cabin on the river, a nice ride would suit your needs.”

 Tonya smiled.  “What did you want to talk to me about, Captain?”

 Rikki glanced over to see calculating eyes along with the smile.  “Takoda and I were discussing this issue of the Duke.”


 Rikki explained the concerns that he, Takoda and Kadyr each had discussed.

 “Excuse me ladies.” Kadyr looked into the carriage as it rolled along the muddy road.

 “Yes, Lieutenant?” Monyka greeted looking up from some needlepoint she was working on.

 “I was wondering if I could steal the Lady Monyka away for a little ride of our own.”

 Monyka quickly glanced to Calandra, then back to her needlepoint.

 “By all means, Lieutenant.” Calandra made the decision for the lady in waiting.  “I could use a nap after the late night and early morning anyway.” She lied.

 “Grymm found you a roan to enjoy.” Kadyr pulled the mare up next to the carriage.  Monyka opened the door and leapt from the carriage astride the horse.  She smiled to Kadyr who tossed her the reins.  She took a moment to adjust her skirts before following him. 

Kadyr signaled an armored guardsman that he was taking the Princess’s lady into the trees for a few minutes.  The guardsman nodded his assent.  Once out of sight of the wagons.  Kadyr reached for Monyka’s hand.

“I needed to be near you.” He smiled at her.  Kadyr leaned towards her.  His hand cupped her head and brought her lips to meet his.  The touch of her lips, sent a warm flood of sensations storming throughout his body.  His horse shifted his weight.  Kadyr struggled to keep her sweet lips in his embrace, almost falling for his effort.  Of all the young women he had the pleasure of kissing, none had lips as soft or as sweet as Monyka’s.  Her lips were intoxicating, making his head spin and his heart leap for joy.  A potion this potent could never be brewed by the healers.  The more he partook of her magic, the more he wanted of it.

“What about her Highness and the wagons?” Monyka gasped between kisses.  She was trying to be responsible, responsible for Tonya, but she was always responsible to Tonya, when could she be responsible for her self?  The memory of Kadyr’s lips burned as he pulled away and looked into her eyes.

“We’ll catch them up later.” He again brought her lips to his.  Monyka’s heart raced and beat hard against her chest as she yearned even more for this blonde soldier. 

“Are you sure that is what you want to do?” Rikki looked to the proud princess.

“I think that it is the least risky and the least complicated way to go about it.” She glanced up at Rikki.  Seeing him watching her, she forced her head higher trying to show a more proud confident side of her even though she was feeling anything but.

“Will you accompany me on a ride tomorrow, Captain?”

 “Of course, your Highness.”

 “I’m afraid my time today is about finished.  I can already start feeling my leg complain.” 

 Rikki’s face soured at the comment.  Tonya realized her error and wished she hadn’t mentioned it.  “Come on, I’ll race you back.” Tonya needled.

 Rikki spurred Sefu and took off across the field.  After about fifty yards, he reigned Sefu in, just slightly so the Tonya could pass them by.  He wanted to keep an eye on her at all times and if it meant Sefu loosing a race then so be it.  He’d have to give him an extra handful of honey-oats tonight. 

 Tonya’s Komyn slowly passed he and Sefu.   A bubbly laugh erupting from her as they took the lead.  The Princess’ laughter healed the earlier words about her leg.  Blonde and silver curls bounced and fluttered behind her as she raced Komyn on towards the wagon train. 

Concern for her safety hit him like a splash of cold water in the face as she veered off from the route they were taking and headed for a large fallen log.  Rikki turned Sefu to follow.  His heart leapt into his throat as the Princess urged Komyn straight at the log.  His heart actually felt like it stopped as Komyn leaped the obstacle and landed with Tonya still in an easy seat and laughing at the top of lungs.  Sefu launched himself into the air clearing the log with ease and continued on after Komyn.  Rikki started to breathe a little easier.  This little crippled princess continued to amaze and frustrate him.

 Rikki signaled for the wagons and escort to halt as they neared.  Rikki noticed that many of the soldiers and most of the Cavalry were smiling to see the princess ride the way she had.  Rikki reigned Sefu in next to Komyn, leaping from his saddle at the same time.  He took Komyn’s reigns and stroked his neck.

 “I win again, Captain.” Tonya beamed.

 “You had me a bit scared back there, but you cleared that log beautifully.” He smiled up at her.

 “Not bad for a cripple, eh?” she smirked.  The smirk was replaced immediately by concern as she watched Rikki flinch at that remark.  “Could you help me down, Rikki?” She asked softly, trying to soothe the hurt written on his face. 

 “Of course, your Highness.”

 Tonya swung her leg over Komyn’s neck and slid out of the saddle, trusting Rikki to catch her. 

Rikki’s hands wrapped around her waist as she slid towards him  Her skirts brushed against his knees while her bodice inadvertently brushed against his chest.  Her arms slid around his neck for support as the scent of her hair filled his nostrils with vanilla and a hint of cinnamon.  Instead of easing her to the ground, he turned with her in his arms and deposited her on the top step of the carriage.

“Thank you, Captain” Tonya smiled.

Calandra sat up in the carriage and looked out the window.  “Oh, Rikki, there you are.  Is everything alright?  Would you like another sweet?” Calandra smiled sweetly, but the urgency in her voice hinted at something else altogether.

“No thanks, Calandra.  I need to see to my men.”

“Where is Monyka?” Tonya asked.

“She rode off with that curly haired lieutenant.” The sparkle in Calandra’s eyes said more than her lips did.

“Are you settled, your Highness?” Rikki changed the subject.

“Yes, thank you again, Captain.” Tonya smiled.

Captain Kalhoun signaled to the front of the line and watched as they started forward again.

“Calandra, could you trade me sides of the carriage?” Tonya asked.

“Of course your Highness.”

“I love to ride, but it takes a toll on my leg.  I would like to lay down for a bit.”

“There isn’t a whole lot of room to be comfortable, your Highness.” Calandra commented.

“Then I’ll have to make some.” Tonya smiled mischievously at Calandra.

The Mayors daughter watched in awe as Tonya pulled two pins from under the cushions.  With the next few bounces from the road, the bench seat slid down and out making a small bed.

“That is ingenious.” Calandra gasped. 

Tonya took a pillow out from under the other bench and lay back on the makeshift bed.

“Grymm!” Rikki shouted.
“Right here, Captain.” Grymm replied from behind him.

“Oh, sorry, Grymm.  Could you see to the Princess’s horse?”

“Yes, Sir.  Walk him a bit before a rub down?” Grymm swung himself up into the saddle.

“Thanks Grymm.”  Rikki swung up to take his seat upon Sefu, who still seemed to be pouting at loosing the race.  Rikki leaned over and patted the stallions neck.  “It’s alright boy.  Sometimes we loose the battle so that we can win the war.”  Rikki swung him around to face the forward and urged him to take his reign and race. 

Mud flew from his hoofs as he sped down the side of the road.  Luckily everyone forward of the royal carriage was also mounted or else they might have been splattered with mud.  Rikki let Sefu pass the lead escorts and race a while further down the road before Rikki took the reign back.  Instead of turning him around, he had Sefu make a large arc across a field and head back towards the wagons at a dead run.  Again, Rikki relished the short spurt of freedom as Sefu’s muscles bunched and released as he sprang forward covering ground faster than most horses could only dream of traveling.

Rikki begrudgingly reined Sefu in as he approached the line of men and wagons.  Sefu was barely winded.  Rikki was going to have to exercise the stallion a little more harshly in the next few days if he was to keep his four legged friend happy.

Takoda rode up along side the Captain.  “How did it go?”

“Better than I had anticipated.  Did you see her leap that log?” Rikki shook his head with a smile as he fought disbelief.

“She does have a good seat.  But how did she take the coming issue?” Takoda pried. 

Rikki explained their conversation as the royal escort rode slowly by.

“Are you hungry, Captain?  Sergeant?” a voice interrupted.  Rikki looked away from Takoda to see a young woman riding up to them with a  large basket in her lap.

“I guess I am.” Rikki smiled at the young woman. 

She smiled back and dug in the basket and pulled out a sandwich wrapped in paper.  “Compliments of the women of Cleveland Rapids.”   She then pulled another out and handed it to Takoda who smiled his thanks.

Rikki caught sight of Lieutenant Kollyns  beside with Monyka  as they rode up the road catching up with the last wagon in the royal escort.

“Is there something going on between Kadyr and Monyka?” Rikki asked around a bite of sandwich.

“I believe so.” Takoda’s eyes glinted with mirth.  “I caught them in, shall we say, a heated situation last night.”

Rikki’s eye brow rose as he silently queried.  “Shall I speak with him?”

“Only if and when it gets in the way of him performing his duties.  I don’t think it will hurt for either one of them to have a ‘secret’ frolic.”  Takoda winked.

“Captain, we have riders approaching!” Grymm called out as he raced down the line towards Captain Kalhoun.”

Takoda and Rikki looked ahead to see three horsemen riding towards them.

“Our forward scouts?” Takoda asked.

“We must be nearing Crossroads.” Rikki searched the horizon then looked to the sun, well past its zenith.  That had to be it.  It was mid afternoon.  They had made good time.  Better than he had expected.  The three riders slowed as they neared the forward guard.  They saluted, and continued on to meet with their Captain.

 “You’ve made good time, Captain.  We weren’t expecting to see you for another couple of hours.” The scout greeted.

“I made allowances for busted wheels, and lazy people, none of which we have had, thank the Gods.” Captain Kalhoun replied.  “I take it we are near Crossroads?”

“Yes, Sir.  We have booked every available room in the village and have warned the pubs and kitchens as ordered.”

“Stables for the horses?”

“Done, Captain.”

“Any sign of Cavarlyman Aaryk?”

“Yes, Sir,” the scout smiled.  “He rode in this morning.  he is a bit battered and bruised, but well enough.”

“That’s good news.” Kadyr smiled as he joined the group.

“How far are we from Crossroads?” Rikki asked.

“It’s just over that next large rise.”

“Thank you, Cavalryman.” Rikki dismissed.  Rikki looked again up at the sun, judging the amount of daylight left. “Kadyr?”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Give the men an hour to settle into their rooms, then, I want weapons practice.”

“In the town?” Kadyr  questioned.

“If one of the parks won’t do, see about a field on the edge of town.”

“Yes, Sir.  I’ll go warn them now.”  Kadyr wheeled his mount around and headed down the line of the escort informing them of the new orders. 

 Rikki cantered Sefu over to the royal carriage.  He was surprised to see Monyka sitting up beside the driver.

 “Shhhhh.  She’s napping.” Monyka warned.

 “We are nearing Crossroads.” Rikki informed.  “I thought she might want some fore warning.”

 “Thank you, Captain.  I’ll wake her for you.” Monyka smiled down from her perch.

 “Thank you, Monyka.” Rikki swung Sefu around to face the oncoming line. 
Sefu fell in step with the carriage for the ambassadors.  “Ambassadors, I’m pleased to inform you that we are reaching Crossroads safely and ahead of schedule.”

 “Thank you, Captain.” Kalgar smiled.

 Rikki again wheeled Sefu around.  He sat tall on the magnificent black horse and smiled as the support staff started to file by.

 “We’re almost there………….. You all did great on your first day.” He beamed as they walked, or rode by.  “How are you holding up, Rose?”

 “Just fine, Captain. Thank you.”  Rose smiled from her seat on one of the wagons.

 “Pytr, how are the birds doing?”

 “Healthy and well, Sir.” Pytr lightly padded the woven baskets of pigeons.

 “Good.  Come by and see me just before supper.  I’ll have you send out a message.”

 “Very Good, Sir.” Pytr grinned.

 Rikki urged Sefu to ride along the wagon that Brother Tagyrt was riding in.  Several of the more injured rode wearily in the wagon.

 “How are they holding up, Brother Tagyrt?”

 “They…. Ah…….. they seem to…….Hmmmm  ………Well they seem to be doing……… well,  fine.” Tagyrt smiled tightly.

 “But……..” Rikki prompted.

 “It is a bit……… ah……… a bit bumpy for the two…….Um ……..the two more seriously injured.”

 “Do you have any ideas how we can make it more comfortable?” Rikki asked.

 “Hmmm…….. More, padding?” Tagyrt’s face was skewed in deep thought.

 “Well Brother Tagyrt.  We are almost to Crossroads.  Once settled in, how about you go about and find some padding for the wagon.” Rikki patted the cleric on the back.  He reigned Sefu in to allow for the injured soldiers to catch up.  “We are almost there, guys.  Once there, we will get you fed and in a comfortable bed.”

 “Thanks, Captain.” A few of the injured men mumbled through their pain.

 Rikki waited for the rear guard to reach him.  “How did it go?  Any stragglers?”  Rikki asked.

 “No, Sir,  it was pretty quiet all day, back here.” One of the Cavalrymen smiled.

 “Crossroads is just a head.  Try to keep anyone from wandering off until we get rooms assigned.”

 “Sure thing, Captain.”

 Rikki spurred Sefu and allowed the horse to gallop back to the head of the parade.  Tonya was stretching as he passed the Royal carriage.  Monyka was once again inside with her charge, ready to do her bidding.

 Rikki crested the large rise and looked down into the bustling commerce town of Crossroads.

 Crossroads started out as meeting place for merchants to haggle, trade and swap merchandise.  It was a place where four roads intersected.  To the East a road would take you to Charmaine, Tarporley, and the West coast of Truno.  To the South, the road would travel through River Bend West and led on to Truno.  The Eastern road that they were approaching from followed the Palriada river to Cleveland Rapids, crossed the North Palriada river and crossed the Mere river into Hasslemere.  The North road headed up to Roberton, across the North Palriada river to Bolton in Thame.

 A small freshwater spring bubbled up from the ground where these four roads        connected.  A fountain was built over the spring, supplying fresh water for man and beast.  Not long after large Inns were built on each corner where the roads crossed.  Pubs, stables, ferriers, and merchants started building business along these major routes.  Before they knew it, Crossroads had become a commerce town.

 Built for business by business.  The town lacked the central greens and parks,  that most other Trunonian towns and villages made essential.  It had a tiny library and no museums. Temples seemed to have been an afterthought and were and were built away from the city center.  Houses and apartments were small and packed tightly together.  Some were built so close together that their eaves and rooflines seemed to touch one another.

 On the Western road, beyond the outskirts of town were large cattle pens packed with thousands of head of cattle.  A bit closer to town, but not too near, were several tanneries, followed by a few butcher shops. 

 Of all the times Rikki had ridden patrol, he had never made it this far North into Truno.  He was always riding the woods along the Eastern borders.  This would be all new territory for him to experience.  He would have to start relying more heavily upon his scouts and instincts.  Rikki took a deep breath and sighed.

 “Look sharp and proud.” Rikki called out to his men as they crested the rise and began their descent into the trading center.

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