If you missed a part, go to the "Stories in Progress" page and you should be able to find the missing link there. Otherwise, read on and enjoy! :)
William had already gotten two men down by the time I joined him, and they were quickly joined by three more when I joined. I had never killed any person before, but I knew when I began learning how to use Safeguard that there would be times when I would have to kill in self defense, or for the lives of others, and this was one of those times.
The moon came from behind a cloud and illumined the somewhat chaotic scene. Blades flashed in the firelight, and it was soon clear that William and I had the upper hand. We both new more sword tricks then all eight of the scouts combined. I almost felt as if I was cheating when yet another of the men had his sword flicked harmlessly to the ground and was driven to his knees with my blade between his shoulders.
The remaining guards took to their horses and escaped into the night. William and I didn’t bother following them, and instead buried our enemies who had died. Two of the six men we had overcome were only wounded, so we tied them up and put them on one of the remaining horses that were still tied to the tree.
Into the night we rode.
Thankfully, we didn’t have another incident with enemy soldiers. The next time we were stopped in the woods was by one of the king’s watchmen, and he only kept us long enough to ask our names and business.
“Who are you?” William demanded this time. He didn’t want to risk us being caught by the enemy again.
The man came up and gave him a long look. “William?” he asked as if hardly believing his eyes. “William Price?”
Recognition dawned in my teacher’s eyes and he leapt from his horse. “Martin! How’s the sword practicing?”
The younger man slapped William on the back with a wide grin. “Not as well as I should like. Malcolm’s been doing his best to help me when he has time, but that’s not very often. I don’t suppose you could spare some time for me?”
“I’m afraid not,” my teacher answered, his voice tinged with regret. “I’ve got urgent business with King Frederick.”
The watchman frowned. “How urgent?”
“I can’t give you all the details…although I’m sure the king will when he sees fit, but tell him it has to do with his daughter.”
“Princess Christine?” he asked, his eyes widening.
“Yes, and we’re in a bit of a hurry.”
“Follow me then.”
We were led through the darkness into the fire lit camp. Torches were tied securely to stakes located at the front of various tents and to the biggest tent the watchman led us.
He ducked inside and we heard a murmur of low voices, but couldn’t make out what was being said. Martin came out and gave William a curt nod. “The king will see you now. Malcolm is with him.”
My heart leapt and the thought. I would be seeing my brother in moments!
William nodded. “Did Steven make it safely?” he asked.
“Your brother?” Martin’s face held only confusion. “What would he be doing in our camp? Did he stow away with us to quench a sudden urge for adventure?” he asked with a grin.
The joy of a moment before fled when I realized what this meant. “He isn’t here?” I asked breathlessly.
“No,” Martin answered, still confused. “Should he be?”
Briefly, William told the young watchman what had taken place in our journey. Martin grew serious, his grin disappearing.
“We’ll send out some men to search for your brother,” he said once William had finished our tale.
“I’ll join them as soon as I speak with the king,” he said.
I slipped off the horse. “William,” I began tentatively, “why don’t you go search for him now? I can speak with the king and tell him our plans. He’ll understand.”
My teacher gave me a grateful look. “Thank you Meg,” he answered. The two men turned their horses and left my sight around the corner of a tent.
I took a deep breath and entered the king’s tent.
The sudden light of several different torches and lanterns made me stand in the doorway and blink for a moment. My eyes had become so accustomed to the darkness that they had to have a minute or so to readjust to light again.
King Frederick was sitting in on a wooden stool behind a sturdy table that was also made of a solid oak. Beside him, likewise on a stool, was a bearded stranger. Only when he ran towards me and enveloped me in a great big bear hug and exclaimed, “Oh, Meg! I can’t begin to say how happy I am to see you safe and sound!” did I realize that the man was my brother Malcolm.
Tears of happiness trickled down my cheeks and onto my brother’s shirt. “Same here Malcolm,” I whispered into his comforting figure.
My brother tore out of my hug and pulled me over to a seat in front of the king who had been watching our exchange with a mixed expression that contained amusement, joy, and sadness.
“Sit, sit!” he urged. “Tell us how you came here, why, and what on earth the princess has to do with it all. Martin was very vague.”
I launched into our story. The betrayal of Sir Alfred, the kidnapping of the princess, our journey through the forest, Steven’s fall, the scouts we ran into, Steven’s flight to the king’s camp, the fight, and our arrival to safety only to find that Steven wasn’t here.
While I spoke, I watched the king’s face. Anger mixed with worry as he listened to our adventures. Once, he even brought his fist down with a crash onto his table, but apologized and urged me to continue when I faltered. Malcolm’s expressions were almost identical to the king’s, and when I finally finished, his eyebrows were meshed together in a ferocious glower that made me glad I hadn’t been the one who dared steal his betrothed.
“So the traitor Sir Alfred is taking her to the Duke Of Devonshire?” the king asked in a dangerously quiet voice.
I nodded. “William, Steven and I were planning on rescuing her before they reached the Duke’s castle, but his injury put us too far behind to be able to pull off that feat.”
King Frederick raised an eyebrow. “And now?” he pressed.
I cleared my throat. “Well, we were hoping to continue as before, only Steven would stay here and recover from his broken leg. But now that he has disappeared…” I trailed off sadly. “Our plans may be all for naught.”
The king shook his head. “No, I doubt things are as bleak as that. Surely Steven will be found by our men you said were searching for him. I’ll speak with William when he returns and we’ll plan our next step to rescue my daughter. Meanwhile, you look absolutely exhausted Lady Megan. Take some rest and I’ll have food brought to you. Tomorrow things will look brighter and more hopeful.”
I nodded wearily, all the energy that had mysteriously come to me during our fight had long since been drained from my blood. I now felt the effects of too many nights with little sleep. Malcolm put a supporting arm around my shoulders and led me to a small tent behind the king’s tent. There he laid me on a cot and pulled a blanket over me. Almost immediately, I fell asleep.
* * * * *
I awoke to my brother gently patting my shoulder. Groggily, I sat up, swinging my legs over the side of the cot and yawning loudly. Malcolm chuckled.
“Did you sleep well?” he asked.
“Better then I have all week,” I answered truthfully. “Or all month for that matter…in fact, I slept better than I’ve slept since you left to war.”
He smiled and held out a dress. “This is for you to replace the one you’re wearing now.”
My mouth dropped open and I took the soft, but durable gown from him in astonishment. “Where did you find it?” I asked, fingering the brown materiel.
“One of our soldier’s wives that came to be our cook and help with wounded men was about your size and offered a spare dress to be used by you…since you are in sore need of a new dress.”
I glanced down at my ragged apparel. It had a sleeve torn off, the bottom of the skirt was ripped into shreds from all the branches in the forest, and dirt and blood from the wolf decorated the front in gory splotches of brown and rust red. I grimaced at the sight before glancing at my brother.
“Tell me who she is so I can thank her properly,” I said.
Malcolm grinned and stood up. “I don’t think I’ll need too,” he said. “She’s coming here to help you take a bath.”
I sighed ecstatically. “A bath?” When was the last time I had taken a bath? I couldn’t remember. That was a bad sign.
As if the woman was waiting for those words to leave my brother’s mouth, the tent opened, and she walked in with a pitcher. Following her were two soldiers who carried a large wooden tub. They plunked it down on the ground and I saw that it was half-full of water.
Quickly, the two soldiers left and were followed shortly by my brother who stopped only to have a few words with the woman. In reply to something he said, she smiled and gave him a gentle shove out the tent doorway. He shot me a quick wink and disappeared. The woman fastened the tent flaps securely and turned to me.
“I’m Helen,” she informed me. Her eyes were twinkling.
“I’m Megan,” I answered, “but everyone calls me Meg.”
“So I’ve heard,” she said, her lips pressed together as she took my appearance in with one sweeping glance that seemed to pierce right through me.
I looked towards the dress and smiled. “I can’t thank you enough for that dress,” I began.
“Nonsense!” Helen exclaimed dismissively, motioning expressively to my current apparel. “No decent woman would leave another in something like that when she’s in a camp of soldiers. Especially not a young, attractive thing like you,” she added knowingly.
I felt my face grow red and I began peeling off my ragged gown in the effort to hide my embarrassment. “Thank you for the bath,” I said to change the subject. “I can’t remember the last time I had a bath…especially not a warm one!” I exclaimed in delighted surprise as I sank into the water and felt all the grime of the last week loosen from my skin.
“Thank your brother for that,” Helen said. “He seems to think that you deserve only the best. He ordered three soldiers to heat up all that water on the fire and mix it with cold water until he declared it fit for you.”
I sighed, taking the soap from Helen and rubbing the remaining dirt from where it still held onto me stubbornly. “I can’t believe he did that. The poor soldiers,” I added pityingly. “All that work for me!” I shook my head in disbelief. “They’ll probably all hate me now.”
Helen raised an eyebrow and scrubbed my back vigorously with the bar of soap. No dirt would dare escape her onslaught. I bit back a giggle at her ferociousness and merely smiled at my reflection in the darkening water.
“I highly doubt they’ll hate you,” she reassured me after my back felt as though she had scrubbed off all skin on it along with the dirt she saw there. “They might be in a bit of awe though. Be prepared to be a bit spoiled by all of them. They’ll jump to do what ever you need done.”
I stood, and quickly dried myself off with the cloth Helen handed me. The cold air made me shiver, and I hastily pulled the gown over my head to dodge the icy pins that prickled me.
I brushed my wet hair with the comb Helen gave me and pulled it back from my face with a ribbon that she supplied me. Ready at last, I opened the tent door. New adventures awaited me.