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Rated: 18+ · Chapter · Sci-fi · #2174782
Burtrend meets Chumley and Firkus. Princess Jenniah learns a hard truth.

Chapter 8

The loud creaking and jostling from the worn-out shocks of an old steam wagon greeted Burtrend when he finally woke. Each sound and movement caused aching pain in the back of his head. Why? Why is it always my head? Through the pain, he managed to open his eyes and then he wished he hadn't. The light of the sun stabbed his eyes and momentarily blinded him from the sight before him. He was lying on his side with Darline beside him and he could easily see the dried blood and hair matted to the back of her head. Their hands and feet were bound tight with coarse rope that irritated and rubbed his wrists raw.

Reaching for Darline's shoulder, he shook it with no response. He shimmied closer so that he could discern whether she was alive or dead. He checked her throat for a pulse, found a weak one, and saw that her breathing was very shallow. The blood came from a small gash along her hairline above her ear that appeared to be festering already. He felt her forehead and found her feverish. Grateful that Darline was still alive, if even barely, he laid back down with a sigh. I have a chance to repay my depts.

A loud chorus of rough, cackling laughter suddenly reminded him of the men that had attacked them. Straining to hear them through the ruckus of the shocks on the rough road, he could barely catch their excited whisperings but couldn't understand them through the other noise. A large rut in the road suddenly bounced him and Darline hard against the wooden bed of the steam wagon, making his head feel worse.

"Did yah feel tha' one?" the short one gruffly yelled back at them, followed by more laughter from both men.

"Stupid blighters, they though' they could ge' the slip on us, eh Chumley?" the shrill voice of the skinny one sounded out.

Burtrend closed his eyes and tried to rest, hoping to be more clear-headed when they finally stopped for the night. He listened to their conversation, but it was riddled with useless information about people and places in their lives. Still, it helped to determine that these men were not sent by any god. There were little similarities between the cold, determined killer at the inn and these two simpletons.

The day wore on and, as Burtrend had hoped, his headache slowly waned. Angry stomach growls and a parched throat now plagued him, though. He was grateful when the wagon stopped in the evening.

"Wha' do yah mean I go' to ge' the firewood? I did i' the las' time." The taller one whined plaintively.

"No yah didn', Firkus! Besides, if yah weren' so darn bad startin' fires I'd go ge' i' jus' to stop yur whinin'!

"Well, leas' I don' burn the food!" Firkus retorted as he wandered into the small strand of trees. Burtrend could still hear him complaining to himself the whole time as the burly one named Chumley started the fire and set up the camp. He wondered when their captors would remember them in the cart. Please stay alive, Darline. I will repay you for saving my life, I swear.

"Go see if either of them is awake." Chumley ordered as soon as Firkus was back with the wood.

"Yah don' need to order me around like tha', yah could ask me nice like."

"Please go see if they're awake. If yah don' I'm gunna kill yah, and feed yah to the wolves. Then, I'll kill me some wolves and make some nice coin off the hides." It was quiet for a moment after Chumley said that.

"Why are yah always so mean?" Firkus finally said as he walked to the wagon.

"Well, yur gunna be useful one way, or the other."

The skinny, drawn face of Firkus appeared as he made his way to Burtrend and Darline.

"Hey Chumley, the man's awake." He looked down at Darline and nudged her a little. "I think yah might a killed the woman."

"I told yah, I didn' kill her, jus' hi' her real good. Hurry up and ge' him down."

The next few moments were quite embarrassing to Burtrend. Firkus grabbed the rope tied around Burtrend's feet and pulled him off the bed of the steam wagon. For a moment, Firkus smiled, showing off his yellow and black teeth that sat crooked in his mouth, and then he tried to stand Burtrend up. So sore and cramped from hardly moving all day, his legs refused to work. Burtrend promptly collapsed and fell on his face.

After struggling to get him stood up with his feet tied, Firkus gave up. Taking his knife out, Firkus sawed the rope binding the feet together until it finally came apart.

"Idiot! How we gunna stop him runnin off in the nigh'?" yelled Chumley. "We aren' gunna be able to tie him up again, tha' was our las' bi' of rope!"

"I didn' think about tha'. Hey, where would he run to?"

Burtrend ignored them and slowly half walked, half crawled to the fire and sat down as they continued their pointless argument. They are Faynecians, what should I expect? I need to find out what they plan on doing with us now. After Firkus and Chumley finished arguing, they finally realized that he had been sitting quietly by the fire the whole time. Both decided to join him.

"So," Firkus spoke excitedly, "Why were yah in chains coming off duh ship? Are yah a spy? Did yah kill someone importan' on the motherland?" Crickets chirped with the dusk, adding an uncomfortable element to Burtrend's silence. "I don' think he knows how to talk, Chumley."

"Yah don' think. Tha's the problem. He's Vitarri, of course he don' know how to speak like us. I reckon tha' all he heard was a bunch of gibberish." Downhearted, Firkus fetched Burtrend a canteen of tepid water. He needed to pry apart his dry lips and peel his parched tongue from the roof of his mouth before he could drink.

The water went through him faster than he expected, and it was only minutes later when he had the sudden urge to urinate. He knew he hadn't gone all day otherwise he would have really stunk.

"I need to piss." Burtrend decided to state.

"See Chumley, he can talk."

"Well, since yah're so smar' yah can go help him."

"But I go' him from the wagon!" Firkus objected.

"I swear, I will shoo' yah if yah don' listen to me." Chumley stood as menacingly as he could with a clunky, slightly rusted pistol in hand and a scowl on his face. Burtrend looked back as Firkus quietly led him away and saw a great big smirk on Chumley's round face.

Burtrend stopped when they finally reached a distance away from camp that he knew Chumley wouldn't hear them.

"Perhaps you could do me a favor?" Burtrend quietly asked, holding up his bound hands to Firkus. "Could you untie this? It would help so that I don't piss all over myself." The tip of Firkus's dagger hovered over the rope for a moment. Quick as lightning the dagger was back in its sheath, the ropes uncut. Burtrend saw Firkus looking back towards camp and knew then that he feared Chumley more than he would admit to.

"No. Jus' make do with them tied."

Once they returned, Burtrend found that Chumley had busied himself with maintenance on the steam wagon. Afterwards he brought out a sack that contained the evening's meal. It was almost worse than the food fed to him in the brig. The tall, half-starved Firkus suggested waking Darline so she could eat as well but backed down when Chumley barked at him again.

"Alright Vitarri," Chumley said after he ate most of the food, "Who are yah? Don' try and be quiet, we know yah can talk."

"Before I tell you who I am I would like to know what you plan on doing with me. If you can tell me that then I will be happy to tell you whatever you want."

"I's a grea' plan! Isn' i', Chumley?"

"Of course, i' is! I's my plan." Chumley replied gruffly. "We seen yah come off the ship, see? In all yur shackles and chains."

"And we knew yah're someone importan'." Firkus said excitedly, incurring a hard stare from Chumley.

"We don' know how yah go' tha' pretty girl to help yah, or why yah burned down half of Sobeck. They're questions tha' need answers." Chumley had turned his glare to Burtrend now.

"You still haven't told me what you plan on doing with me and the girl." He replied.

"Ransom yah!" Firkus piped up again, apparently unable to stay quiet any longer. He donned the broad, decaying-toothed smile again, which slowly faded when he saw Burtrend's confused face. "We're gunna ransom yah."

"To whom?"

"Wha' yah mean, to whom?" Chumley sounded enraged. "To the Queen, of course! Yah're a prisoner of war. They'll want yah to hang for the trouble yah caused."

"You would look less like outlaws and more like heroes if you would take me there without asking for a ransom first. I hear your Queen is a kind and rewarding person."

"Yah know Chumley," Firkus said excitedly, "tha' isn' a bad idea. He's righ', we could be heroes." Chumley looked like he was going to explode into a fit when he heard that. Burtrend was sure it was because the hero idea wasn't his plan.

"You fine men have a hopeful future, something to look forward to, just imagine the gold the queen will reward you with." Chumley's anger deflated at the thought of more gold. "There's just one small problem." Burtrend could see curiosity eat at them until he thought Firkus would burst.

"Wha' problem?" Chumley finally said in his gruff tone.

"You are going to need to explain to any guard we meet on the road why there is a dead Faynecian girl in the back of the wagon."

"I told yah she was dead!" Firkus shouted at Chumley.

"She's no' dead!" he shouted back.

"You are right," Burtrend broke in, "she's not, but she will be soon if she isn't taken care of. It would be terrible if you went through all this trouble to capture me only to be arrested for murder on the way there. Please, let me help her. At least let me try." Firkus looked nervously at Chumley who just sat there with a mean look. "Please, she's been unconscious all day. She needs water and her wound cleaned."

"She should die for helpin' you." Chumley said quietly. "She's nothin' bu' a traitor."

"I understand why you would say that, but do you think the guards would believe you? No matter how much they torture me I will deny that she ever helped me. That is, of course, if you can convince them that I'm from Vitar and not Iddea." Shocked over those words, their eyes sized him up for a minute. "Oh, and if she does die, I'm going to make sure they know you killed her. I'll say that you murdered her in cold blood. I'll make sure you get hanged for it." He let Chumley digest everything that he just said. With his level of intelligence, this will take a while. They stared at each other.

"Alrigh'," Chumley finally gave him a nod, "Firkus, go help him care for the girl. If he tries runnin', shoo' him."

Burtrend couldn't help feeling relieved. He slowly stood so that he didn't startle them. The last thing he wanted was bullets flying his direction. He hobbled to the wagon with Firkus right behind. He felt her forehead and found a small fever.

"Please," he said quietly, turning to Firkus and stretching out his bound hands, "She has a fever, she needs help." Firkus nervously looked toward his friend sitting at the fire. "Look at me, Firkus, I'm not going anywhere."

The poor man fidgeted, but only for a couple of seconds. Firkus put his old pistol down on the open tailgate. He slid out his pocketknife and cut Burtrend's bonds.

"Thank you," he whispered while rubbing his wrist for a moment. Then he turned his attention to Darline. Gently he picked her up and brought her over to the light of the fire. There was another stare down with Chumley when he noticed Burtrend's free hands, but Chumley switched his gaze to Firkus.

"Wha' do yah need for her? How can I help?" Firkus ignored the large man's gaze.

"Water, some alcohol, a towel if you have one and a blanket would be nice." Firkus hurried to assemble everything under the watchful glare of Chumley.

"Wasn' no towel, but I found an ole tunic of mine." He put everything down in front of Burtrend and stood back to watch with worry on his face.

First Burtrend cleaned the wound with the small flask of cheap whiskey, binding the wound with strips from the tunic. Next, he tilted her upon his lap and poured the water into her mouth. She choked, sputtered, and coughed the water up, but it woke her enough for her to start swallowing. When she finished drinking she opened her eyes, looked deeply into his, and gave him a soft smile. With the smile still on her face she closed her eyes, leaned her head into his chest and with a soft sigh went back to sleep.

Burtrend took Firkus's offered blanket and covered her with it to keep off the chill of the night. He sat there, holding her, wondering how this could have happened. Here was a Faynecian woman sleeping, curled up in his lap. He was a Vitarri, her mortal enemy. It didn't help that he couldn't stop thinking about her beautiful, perfectly shaped lips that had smiled up at him. They had smiled just for me.

It was hours later, when the cold ache in his legs caused him to stretch. Burning and tingling consumed his legs. He looked at the two men that had fallen asleep. Firkus had loyally sat near him, waiting in case he needed something else for Darline. Now he was curled close to the fire to stay warm, snoring quietly. Chumley, wrapped up in a blanket, was snoring and snorting loudly. His pistol lay in the weeds beside him.

He gently laid Darline down on the ground, being careful not to jar her. It was then that anger over what Chumley had done to her consumed him. It took only a few long strides to reach the pistol left forgotten in the back of the steam wagon. He checked the bullets before he walked over to Chumley and picked up the second gun. I could easily kill both of them, he thought as he pointed a gun a short distance from the sleeping man's head. Angry as he was, he knew that Firkus was really a kindhearted, ignorant man that tried to do the best by people despite Chumley's insatiable greed and degrading manner. He felt that Firkus deserved a second chance at life.

His hand began to tremble and almost couldn't pull the trigger, but he looked over at Darline again. She couldn't come with him on his travels, but she wouldn't be safe in Fayneland with Chumley left alive.

*** *** *** *** ***

The Great Hall of Morak was not as vast as her castle home, but it was warm at night instead of drafty, and it was cool during the hot summer days. A breeze that blew through the open doors freshened the air with the memory of wildflowers. Princess Jenniah found the Mordloks to be great artisans, especially of wood. Under their fingers the roughest chunk of wood or stone became like clay, they masterfully carved it into glorious patterns that wove together like a well-written song. She could easily imagine that the whole roof was supported on pillars of music.

Despite the Mordloks being short, hardy people that enjoyed nothing more than a good battle, it seemed that they were also kind, generous and enjoyed their times of peace as well. That is what Jenniah found there, peace. It was in the sound of young boys training for combat, the horses neighing, the soft summer breezes warm with the scent of flowers, and it was even in the loud roars of laughter during dinner.

It was there that she first experienced what it was like to walk free of judgment. Back at home there was always someone watching in the shadows, in the crowd, or even right beside her. The nobility, servants, slaves, heralds, even the guards loved to gossip. The insufferable and oppressive weight of being under constant scrutiny had defined her childhood. There were still watchful eyes here, but it wasn't to see what dress she wore or whether or not she slouched while eating. Everyone wanted to know what type of person she was. They wanted to determine if she is honorable and kind, or haughty and spoiled. Jenniah thought it odd that her earlier mistakes did not condemn her with these people like it would have at home.

With the gentle wind caressing her face, Princess Jenniah stood at the entrance to the Great Hall looking out over Nygaard and the workings of the common people. It had been only a week since she first met Morak, but it still amazed her how he walked amongst the people and talked to them as if they were family. Daren had warned her that there was no true hierarchy other than the clan leaders and Morak himself, but it had been difficult for her to understand without experiencing it. Everything here was all so wonderfully different.

Basking in the beauty of the afternoon, she was not surprised to see Morak striding purposefully up the hill. Avron walked alongside him, strong-willed, focused, and handsome with his strong jaw and dark, braided hair. Jenniah couldn't help but feel enamored by Avron's presence. Despite being half head shorter than her he towered nearly a head taller than his own people, except his father. Avron's broad shoulders and muscular arms made her feel tiny and weightless every time he asked her to dance during the revelry they've had since she arrived. She watched wistfully after Avron as he walked past her into the hall. Morak approached her instead of going into the hall.

"I've thought about the treaty thing you spoke of earlier." Morak's voice was rough and hoarse. The sound brought with it the image of a man yelling at the top of his lungs while charging headlong into battle. At least, that's what Jenniah saw and heard in him.

"Have you reached a decision?" she asked quietly.

"I have a question about it. Your mother asks us to be at peace with your people, but only so that we will make war on your enemies. Enemies we will likely never meet, since they are an entire ocean away. This is not about peace. Would it not be better named a 'War Treaty'?"

"My mother, Queen Rheanna, believes that the term 'peace treaty' is better received and accepted, especially by common people."

"It shows her ignorance, Mordloks see prolonged peace as a weakness. War is our life and battle is our blood. The beat of the war drum might as well be the beat of our hearts. But a war for no good reason brings the dead warriors dishonor. My people will not rally behind a cause that they cannot make their own." Jenniah could see the treaty slipping away as the possibility of failure made her face grow hot.

"Then I ask that you do not see it as her asking for a peace treaty. I, Princess Jenniah implore you to unite the Mordlok tribes and fight with the Faynecian army."

"Why should I?" He had asked that before, when she had presented the treaty to him the first time. It was just as frustrating to hear it this time, as it was the first. "Vitar has never done us ill and we have nothing to gain from it but death. When you know why we should do this for you, then we will speak again, but this war will need to be worth it." He turned and began to walk away.

"What about gold? Are your people interested in gold?"

"It's useless," He shouted over his shoulder, "A soft metal that no one wants or needs. You value strange things Princess of Fayneland, strange things."

Jenniah didn't know what to say as she watched him follow his son inside. She stood confused and frustrated where she had been happy only a few minutes before. Lost in her thoughts, she didn't even notice Daren until he was already standing beside her.

"Princess, are you alright?" Genuine concern sounded in his voice.

"I'm fine." She tried to sound convincing, but when he didn't move or turn away she knew he wouldn't leave without a better answer. "Morak is frustrating. I expected to be on my way home already. He refuses to agree to any treaty until I can come up with a good reason for him to do so. He laughs, scoffs, or refuses every suggestion I've made, and they don't want gold. Who doesn't want gold?" She finally turned to face him; soft, reddish brown curls, straight chin and his beautiful green eyes softened by a smile.

"So, they don't like gold. What do they value?" he prompted.

"War, but I'm offering them war and he still refuses. I'm so confused, why wouldn't he jump at this opportunity?"

"Maybe it's not war that they value. Maybe it's something else."

"I don't know. Everything just feels so... complicated."

Did you think this was going to be easy? Politics are never easy and the Mordloks are far from simple people."

"So, are you here to remind me how horrible I am at this?" Jenniah asked bitterly.

"No." Daren sighed, "I want to apologize again." She stared at him questioningly until finally he looked away. "I'm sorry that I took over your responsibilities earlier. I never meant to insult you."

"You never meant to insult me?" Frustration bubbled forth from deep in her heart from years of trying to make her mother proud... and failing. "You had to know. You had to know it was going to upset me. This treaty was clearly my task since we set out."

"Was it?" Daren sounded hurt, where he had been calm a moment before. "Was it that clear why you were sent?

"What do you mean?" Fresh confusion clouded her mind. She couldn't understand his sudden burst. "What are you talking about?"

"You were told by Queen Rheanna that it was your duty to get the Mordloks to sign the treaty. It was never my responsibility to teach you to be a politician. I was ordered by your mother to teach you their ways, gain your confidence, and then make sure you could follow through. If you couldn't, I was to step in, finish the treaty, and use you as a marriage bond to solidify the deal with Avron, or even Morak himself if he wanted you." He paused to wait for her response, but Jenniah was speechless. "She gave me the authority to sell you off like a piece of meat. It is my shame that I was ready to follow her orders and was doing everything I needed to make sure it happened. It is for this that I am apologizing, and I will carry it as a disgrace until you forgive me." Now he remained silent, waiting for a response while looking away from her.

"Why are you saying such things? Is this a sort of sick game? Do you delight in tormenting me?"

"You don't need to believe me, but would you believe your mother? Here," he shoved a small bundle of papers at her.

Looking over them, Jenniah easily recognized her mother's seal. Inside was written exactly as he had said. Mortified that her mother would have done this to her, shame constricted her chest and embarrassment burned in her face. Tears welled, adding to the humiliation for a princess should never let her emotions show, especially when distraught. Daren turned to comfort her, but she couldn't look at him. He couldn't know that her mother's disregard for her emotions had wounded her deeper than it should have.

"Princess, I didn't mean..."

"Don't... don't speak to me." She thrust the papers back to Daren and walked off. She wanted to run, but to do so would have meant that her despair had completely taken her over.

She walked aimlessly as she tried to hold back the well of tears, through one street and out another, until she reached Nygaard's gate. Jenniah paused for a moment to look back toward the Great Hall before she walked out into the world. Memories of her mother, in her beauty and splendor sitting tall on the throne, brought the salty tears forth. Fear that someone would see her crying finally forced her to run. She didn't know where she was going and didn't care, but she was determined not to stop until she could run no further.

Blinded by tears, the world was nothing but a blur as she ran over uneven forest floor. Branches whipped her arms and legs, leaves stung her wet face. Painfully stubbing her toes and tumbling to the ground finally forced her to stop. Fresh tears poured down her cheeks from the self-loathing and the pain in her foot. Her eyes were swollen, and she struggled for breath. She couldn't remember the last time she felt this hurt.

Exhausted, she looked around to see where she was. The branches she had ignored earlier belonged to strange dark trees with leaves so thick they blocked out the sun. Suddenly fearful, Jenniah realized that she had run headlong into the Godwood. The darkness seemed to close in around her. She turned in the direction she thought she had come from and tried to find her way out.

Despite the darkness and the foreboding nature of the wood, her mind kept returning to her mother. I'm the only heir to the throne right now. Doesn't that mean Avron would be the next king? But so many princesses have been sold to solidify peace between people, why should I be any different? Still, I didn't think she would ever do it, not without asking me, or even ordering me to. Why didn't she talk to me about this? Why all the secrecy?

The afternoon waned, and the shadows grew long. She kept walking, sure that she should have been out of the forest by now. The sound of running water drew her deeper into the wood. Her reckless flight through the trees had ripped her fine gown while dirt, pieces of twigs, and bark were snagged in her curly hair and the lace of her dress. It all seemed so unreal that she walked dazed toward the gurgling stream. She barely realized that she had finally found the source of the watery sound until she almost fell in. A wide and shallow stream was rushing over rocks and pebbles.

She collapsed at the edge of it, looked around vaguely for a vessel to use as a cup, and ended up simply using her hands. As royalty, she had never been as improper as this moment. She was sure that if her mother saw her she would be disowned. Despite the improprieties of the situation, she couldn't remember a time when the simple taste of water on her lips had been so refreshing. It was so cold that her hands began to turn numb and it soothed her dry throat. Cupping the water in her hands, she washed her face, and it was as if the clouds in her mind were washed away along with the dirt and tears. I must have been wandering deeper in; otherwise, I surely would have found a way out by now. Should I follow the stream, or the sun? Should I stay here or venture out? I'll be cold either way. Finally, she decided to stay there until morning when she could use the direction of the rising sun to find her way back to Nygaard. She searched for a soft spot of grass or moss large enough to curl up on and sank back into self-pity as the evening became chilly and her stomach began to protest in hunger.

Weeping softly on and off, she tried to calm herself by listening to the sounds of the forest, only to become more anxious and fearful. There were sounds as the rustling of dried leaves and small branches breaking, even the trees creaked in protest to the wind. Since she was unused to the sounds of a forest, she didn't know which ones should be expected and so assumed that every sound she heard was ghostly and surreal. It was then she heard a sound that sent chills down her spine.

"Princess... Jenniah..." whispered softly through the trees in Mordlok. She clung hard to her knees, shaking with fear and cold.

"Princess..." this time it sounded a bit louder. After hearing it a third time closer still, she realized that it had to be someone searching for her. It has to be...

"I'm here! I'm here by the river!" She called out. Hopefully I'm right, or the spirits will be upon me soon. She was not long in waiting when a figure seemed to solidify out of the deep shadows. The features sharpened to show Avron and his jingling braids.

"You are shivering." He had carried her travel cloak with him and wrapped it around her. "What are you doing here? Jaax told me you ran like evil spirits were chasing you, with a face full of tears." His voice was kind and soothing and his beaded hair jingled as he shook his head.

"I was shown something upsetting. It was about my mother."

"Did she die?" He sounded so concerned that she couldn't help but laugh while shaking her head. "Well then what was so terrible that you came here?"

"I didn't mean to come here, it just happened." Jenniah became uncomfortable under his continued stare, knowing he wanted a better answer. Finally, she resigned herself to the inevitable. Explaining the customs of nobility was easier than expected and Avron was patient and perceptive.

"So, your mother wants you to marry me? She wants this for stronger peace between our people?" Her face grew red in the darkness, embarrassed by the truth. "I do not believe that she can force you to do anything you don't want to. You are smart, beautiful, and strong. Decide what you want for yourself. Also, I want you to know, I would not refuse a marriage offer from you as long as that is what you want." He gave her a reassuring smile.

"Thank you, but from my understanding of your people, my marrying you wouldn't affect our peace in any way. It doesn't matter." Hopelessness engulfed her.

"It does! It might not matter to my people who your mother is, but it matters for your happiness. Do what makes you happy." His soothing voice brought a smile on her face, despite her inclination to disagree. "Come, let's get you warm, washed, and fed." With that, he helped stand her up and slung his strong arm around her to help guide her through the dark trees. By the time they reached the edge of the wood, the night had finished its decent and blanketed stars across the sky. Back through the sleepy town they traveled, working their way closer to the inviting glow of the Great Hall where a warm fire burned.

At the top of the stairs in front of the large doorway sat Daren. He looked miserable and had obviously waited for her. His face clouded with concern when he saw them.

"Where was she?"

"Lost in the Godwood." Avron's arm stayed strong around her shoulders as they climbed up. Daren's face moved to shocked outrage when the light finally revealed the untidiness of her dress and hair.

"What did you do to her?" Daren didn't wait for a response, "Take your hands off her!"

"Daren, what is your problem?" Jenniah asked, shocked by his outburst. "He saved me." Never had she seen him this angry.

"And you!" Daren turned to her, "How could you let him touch you?"

"He didn't do anything wrong!"

"If I find out otherwise..." Daren's voice was suddenly cut short by a hard slap across his face. Jenniah's hand stung, but she didn't regret it. She grabbed Avron's arm again and allowed him to guide her inside, leaving Daren to his shocked silence.

*** *** *** *** ***

King Adrian looked down from the inner wall of Warrindal. The last of the Vitarri were being pushed back out of the hole they had created in the outer wall of the city. Many that were lost in the streets had been cut down were they stood. Some surrendered, but not many. He himself was surrounded by the dead bodies of countlessVitarri soldiers. Many were struck down by his own hand, which prevented them from breaching the inner wall of the grand mountain city.

Not so long ago Warrindal had been the capitol of Fayneland, but after Vitar had consumed all of the other countries on the island continent of Seahd, he had suggested the possibility of moving the capitol. When Vitar began the war with Fayneland and gained land, all of the lords conceded to his wisdom and the capitol was moved to Kingsbury on the continent of Asikarra, far from the battle lines of Vitar. He was grateful for his decision because this battle might have ended differently.

As it was, nothing with this battle went right, except the end result. Vitar had sent a decoy, luring him and his men to Thirsten to protect it. Just when they had arrived, Adrian had received word that there were some important civil matters he needed to attend to here in Warrindal. At the time, he was upset that he had to leave his men in Thirsten to come here. Now he was grateful that he had been in the city when the Vitarri army had attacked, so he could send an Olfen's-code message to General Reeves. The Vitarri seemed to be becoming more clever over time. Or, perhaps I'm just getting too old for this.

He did wish to travel to Kingsbury Castle before his only child, beautiful little Jenniah gets married off and isn't his any longer. He wished adamantly that he could have been there for her more, but was sure that his wife was doing a fine job taking care of her. He did miss her sticky sweet kisses and bright brown eyes that twinkled with childish mischief. He had to keep reminding himself that she wasn't that young anymore. Sometimes he wondered if sending them to Kingsbury was truly the right choice. He had done it for her, to protect her. He had done everything for her. Today, as he looked out over Warringdale, he was grateful she wasn't here to see it. He put his sentimentality aside and started to descend the wall to start leading the clean-up.

"Your Highness!" A young, hansome youth in the blue uniform of the Fayneland army ran up to him. "Your Highness, I need to have a word." The young man bowed low before him.

"Yes, young man. What is it?" asked King Adrian.

"I'm sorry." With that, he suddenly stood up and plunged a blade deep into to King's chest, sliding it expertly through a thin slit in the chestplate. "It's not personal, I swear."

King Adrian looked down to see an assassin's kris being pulled back out from his chest. My sweet daughter and beautiful wife, may the gods guide you. The man gently laid the king down. Carefully he cleaned the kris and hid it once more upon his body.

"The King!" he shouted as he ran, "The King has fallen! Hurry! Someone, I need help! The King has fallen!"

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