I decided to give you the next part of "The Princess & I" because I felt so bad... :)
And also, next week will be the first chapter of an all-new short story "Ocean Mist"! You may have seen pictures of Nicole and Dillon (you'll find out who they are soon!) in THIS POST I wrote recently on my main blog, and now you'll actually get to meet them through their story!
Well...you'll meet Nicole at any rate. You'll have to wait until chapter two to meet Dillon. *puts hand over mouth* But enough spoilers there! ;)
But now...although you probably already skipped to here...I give you the next part of "The Princess & I"!!!
A Traitor in Our Midst
I felt the blood drain from my face. Instinctively I glanced up at William, who looked exactly how I felt at the moment. He was an unnatural shade of gray, and we both thought of the princess’s predicament at the same time.
All three of us rushed away from our forgotten supper and burst into the princess’s quarters.
William reached the closed door first. It was locked, but that did not stop him. He heaved himself against the door until it crashed apart under his terrific onslaught.
I was only a few feet behind him as he stood stalk still with his sword drawn in the princess’s private chambers. The fire was still blazing from the same log I had put in it less then an hour ago, but the window was open, and a slight evening breeze chilled my still damp gown. Steven was right behind me, and the three of us stood in the deafening stillness that shrouded the room like a cloud.
“No,” I said softly. Disbelief and horror finally made it past the numbing shock. “No, no, no! There has to be some mistake! Alfred is one of the king’s soldiers! He’s a knight! He’s supposed to have undying loyalty to his sovereign!” I began pacing around the room, trying to work out in my mind the confusing turn of events.
William sheathed his sword and a dangerous look came into his eyes. “He may have had undying loyalty to his sovereign, but I doubt his sovereign was King Frederick.”
“No,” Steven agreed, coming up to me. “He’s one of Duke Of Devonshire’s men.”
I turned to the boy and sat him down. “Tell me all you heard,” I ordered frantically.
Steven sent a questioning look up to his brother, and William replied with a curt nod. The younger boy had sudden fire leap into his eyes and he began speaking in hushed whispers.
“I was bedding down a few of the horses in the stable tonight, and one of the mares was near giving birth so I was planning on staying the night in her stall just in case…I must have dropped off to sleep, because the next thing I knew, two men were talking in the stall next to mine.
“I remembered that the horse in there belonged to the soldier Alfred who had just arrived, and I was about ready to get up and ask if I could do anything to help them when Alfred mentioned the princess’s name.
“‘Christine shouldn’t give us any trouble,’ Alfred was saying to the other man. ‘All I need to do is convince her to come with me to see her father and she will come willingly. If not, I have some sedative seeds I bought from Mother Donna that should do just as good a job.’
“‘When are you planning on this kidnapping?’ the other man asked.
“Alfred tsked and answered, ‘Kidnapping is an ugly word, and I prefer the term “borrowing for political reasons” myself.’
“Here the other man snorted something under his breath before saying out loud, ‘Does it really matter? We’re doing the same thing either way.’”
“‘Hmm, yes,’ Alfred said. ‘But to answer your earlier question, the princess requested my presence alone this evening in hopes of learning more about her poor father’s condition as well as the truth about the state of the soldiers…and, I’m sure, her beloved Malcolm.’
“‘Her poor father’s condition?’ the man asked in confusion.
“‘Yes, I invented a story. No need to look so shocked,’ he added sarcastically. ‘Her father had been struggling last week with a slight fever. He’s fine now, but I’m using his supposed failing to lure her into coming with me willingly to the Duke’s castle.’
“‘And once there?’ the man asked eagerly.
“‘That, my good man, is not for you to know. We are only the princess’s escort to his home. I might add,’ Alfred continued, ‘the princess is not to be harmed in any way, shape, or form. The Duke would prefer the girl in good health. He does have some honor.’
“At this point I had heard enough,” Steven said. “I thought I would come to you before Alfred and the other man had time to carry out his plan. Unfortunately,” the boy sighed in deep disappointment, “Alfred and his friend heard me leaving and the last thing I remember after trying to outrun them is sparks flying in my eyes and everything going black.
“As soon as I regained consciousness, I came to you as fast as I could, hoping desperately that I wasn’t too late…but I was.” The boy looked downhearted, and I gave him a smile.
“You did your best,” I said in hopes of cheering him up. “Better then I might have done in your place.”
“They must not have hit you very hard,” William put in. “We didn’t miss the abduction by much.”
“Is there a chance we can catch them before they reach the Duke’s castle?” I asked.
“A small one.” William became business at once. “Steven, saddle my horse, I’m going after Christine.”
“And mine,” I added as Steven left the room.
William looked at me in surprise, with a small amount of displeasure. “I don’t think you should…” he began.
My eyes pleaded with him silently. “I need to see that she’s not hurt,” I said. “Let me come.”
A resigned expression came over William’s face. “Very well, saddle Lady Megan’s horse as well.”
Steven gave us both a quick nod and bolted towards the stable. William followed him and told me to get ready; we would be leaving as quickly as possible.
I didn’t need too much, simply changing into a riding dress and strapping on my now beloved sword, bow, and a quiver of arrows. Who knew what opposition we would face in rescuing the princess… I would hate to take chances with her life in danger.
I met William and Steven in the stable and was surprised to find not two, but three horses ready and saddled. My face must have registered the confusion I was feeling because a determined light sparked in Steven’s eyes.
“I’m not being left here,” he stated firmly.
I glanced at William, who merely shrugged and grinned. “I doubt Steven will slow us down, he’s a better horseman than I am!”
“I don’t doubt his abilities,” I returned with a weak smile. “If you’re willing to have him along, I would feel safer with both of you.”
William swung up onto his horse with a wounded air that was obviously put on for effect. “You humble me, Lady Megan,” he declared sorrowfully, his twinkling eyes belying his words. “I will never feel proud with you to remind me of my place.”
Had I not known that he was teasing, I would have immediately apologized, but with that safe knowledge I merely mounted Duke and shrugged. “I suppose someone needs to keep your mind on reality,” I said.
William chuckled appreciatively, but Steven urged us both onward. “We won’t help the princess by standing here and passing the time of day.”
With that we rode from the castle with the wind in our face and night falling about us. A dark cloak to veil the deeds done by the night creatures that now made their noises around us as our horses fled through the forest as if chased by a thousand rabid dogs.
William had not lied about his younger brother’s ability, Steven rode in the front and it seemed as if he instinctively knew whenever a tree, rock, stump or any other manner of roadblock came across our path. He warned us of each in low tones, leading his own horse skillfully around them and slowing his frantic pace only twice when crossing bodies of rushing waters that I could hear more than see.
I rode in the middle, thanking God for giving me a father and brother who had been willing to take the time to teach me the fine art of horsemanship. This and prayers for our safety soon became as regular as breathing while we journeyed through the dark trees.
In the back, I heard William offering up his own prayers for our safety, and more than once he asked me if I was all right when we stopped our horses for a brief rest before galloping onward towards the territory of Duke Of Devonshire.
Only when the gray beginnings of dawn touched the edges of the horizon did we stop and eat a meal, which William had thoughtfully remembered to pack.
“Are you all right?” William asked for at least the tenth time that night…or morning was it?
“I am as fine as I can be with the princess in danger,” I answered the same as I had the previous times.
William’s eyes were filled with concern. “Tell us if this pace is too fast,” he said. “We’ll slow down if it is too much for you to take.”
“You’re a wonderful brother,” Steven noted sarcastically from where he sat building a fire. “I’m just fine. Thank you for asking.”
A grin popped out from where it had been hidden, and William’s eyes lit up. “Just build the fire,” he said. “I would ask about you if I was worried, but I’m not.”
“Thanks?” Steven looked up from his handiwork after one last puff of air from his mouth. The fire’s growing flame caught on to the bigger sticks and he stopped just long enough to feed it some larger wood to work with. He leaned back on his feet as he crouched there and squinted up at us where were sitting on a fallen log.
“You’re welcome,” William answered. “Yes, it was meant as a compliment.” He leaned over to ruffle up his brother’s hair, but Steven successfully dodged away.
“I’m a little old for that, don’t you think?” Steven joked. “How would you like it if I did it to you?”
William held up his hands in surrender. “Very well, you made your case. I’ll stop.”
The fire’s comforting heat was making me sleepy. I pinched my arm in the effort to keep awake, and when that effect faded and my eyes drooped again, I shook my head violently to clear it of all fog.
My teacher noticed my exhaustion and quickly ordered a few hours sleep for all three of us, he and Steven taking turns at the watch. Anything further he said was lost to me, for the minute he said I could sleep, I did.