Now that Sarah is married to the love of her life, Jesse Divakar, *distant sobbing* I hope to be a little less scattered in my blogging. Hey, one can dream, right? ;) We'll see how long THAT lasts. :P
But now, since you've probably skipped all the introduction anyways, onto to chapter seventeen of my book "The Princess & I". If you missed a part, be sure to read it in the "Stories in Progress" page. There you'll find links to all the parts published on this blog site.
NOW onto the story. ;)
As the days stretched into a week, we did steadily draw nearer to the place we knew the king and his men camped. We stopped frequently to rest since Steven still didn’t have the strength he was used to having. Any time we did stop, he would protest that he was still fine and that we should keep going. Of course, William paid him no mind. Though it wasn’t true, I let Steven declare that the stops were for me and the horses, if only to keep him from wasting more of his waning strength on arguing.
As evening fell, William called another stop under the sparse cover of a few trees and as usual Steven made his loud protests.
“I’m fine! We should keep going!” he told his brother as he was pulled from the saddle, placed firmly against a tree and given one of our water skins to quench his thirst.
William and I exchanged a weary look, and I gave myself the liberty of one longsuffering sigh. Remember, it was with me and on my horse that he had been riding all this time.
“We’re going to reach the camp before we rest again,” William said. “I’m not going to kill you in order to save the princess. What would our mother say?”
“A little more riding wouldn’t kill me,” Steven muttered.
I sighed again and sat down next to the suffering boy. “You don’t know your own strength,” I told him firmly. “We trusted you to lead us up until you broke your leg…can’t you return the favor and trust us the rest of the way to the king’s camp?”
Reluctantly, Steven nodded his head.
The horses were allowed to graze for a little while, and we ate our supper. Steven’s leg was still doing well, and he hobbled with some help from me or with a hand in one of the horses’ manes . William had taken off the brace for while we were riding, but he told his younger brother to not put any weight on it at all. What he threatened he would do to him if Steven did, I don’t know…but whatever it was, the threat was effective.
We mounted again, Steven behind me on Duke, William in front with his horse, and we traveled yet again towards the setting sun.
Darkness began to make our traveling harder. The slower we went, the more pain I saw in Steven’s face. William couldn’t have noticed it with the night falling so quickly, and I was afraid to tell him because it would hurt Steven’s feelings.
Thankfully, I was spared that decision.
Out of the trees we were passing under, six men jumped on our horses. Bedlam ensued. Steven’s arms tightened around me, and I looked back to see his face white with pain. One of the men was holding onto his wounded leg. Anger bubbled up and out of me.
“Get your hands off of him!” I shouted. “He’s got a broken leg! You’re hurting him!”
“Leave them alone!” William added from where he was imprisoned by three of the men.
“Who are you and what are you doing here?” One of the men stepped forward, holding a lantern high and squinting at us.
“I’m Lady Megan, lady-in-waiting to Her Majesty, Princess Christine,” I informed them haughtily, my eyes flashing.
William’s warning look came too late. It suddenly dawned on me that we didn’t know if these were the king’s men or not. After all, we were deep into the lands of the Duke now, and just as the king was in danger, so were we. I bit my tongue, wishing the words back into my mouth, but knowing it was too late for that.
Behind me, Steven groaned audibly. The men around us burst into laughter. My face flamed in embarrassment and fury.
“Oh, you are, are you?” the same man replied, doubling over with laughter. “Well, begging your pardon Miss High and Mighty, but let me introduce myself. I’m Solomon the Wise at your service.” He turned to his men. “Take their weapons. We’ll bring them to the Duke.”
I saw with dismay my beloved Safeguard taken from me, though the guards mumbled in surprise that a lady would carry such a weapon. Steven lost his dagger and crossbow; William his sword. We were bound and dragged to the vicious men’s camp.
They tied us securely to a stout oak tree, paying little mind to Steven’s injury, and I watched helplessly as he bit his lip in pain until blood came. I was sandwiched between Steven and William, and could feel my face still burning in humiliation.
“We’ve got to escape,” I hissed to William when our captors were satisfied that we wouldn’t be going anywhere anytime soon and returned to the brace of rabbits they were cooking over their fires.
“I know,” William replied grimly. “But how?”
Something cold and sharp was pressed to my hand where they were tied to the tree. I glanced over at Steven in surprise and found his eyes alert and gleaming. “Look away,” he ordered. “Otherwise they’ll suspect something.”
Slowly, as if dejected, I turned my eyes away from him and lowered them to the ground. I looked as if I had no hope, but inwardly, my mind was racing. “How did you get your dagger back?” I asked.
Steven waited until our guard passed before giving me a quick smile. “I didn’t,” he answered. “This is an extra I always carry in the inside of my boot. Because I was hurt, they didn’t bother to search me as thoroughly.”
William quietly whistled in admiration. “You’ll never cease to astonish me!” he declared.
“When should we escape then?” I asked.
“Not until they have mostly fallen asleep,” William answered thoughtfully. “Under the cover of complete darkness we’ll cut the ropes and try to slip away.”
My brow creased in sudden worry. “What if they happen to all wake up?” I asked.
My teacher gave a slight nod towards a tree about ten feet away that we had seen our captors put our weapons. “Make towards that tree and grab a sword. I think the two of us could fight our way out. There are only eight men that I counted.”
He paused to let a few of the men drift further away from where they might be able to hear our plans.
“They must be only a scouting group from the Duke Of Devonshire. We should warn the king about them though. Where one scout group is, others will follow or they may already be in the area.”
We fell silent as the man who appeared to be the leader, the one who mockingly called himself “Solomon the Wise”, came up to us suspiciously. “Here you!” he said warningly. “Enough of your whispering. The Duke’s a fair man, and you won’t come to any harm as long as you behave yourselves and answer his questions truthfully.”
We said nothing in reply to this, and soon he walked back away, mumbling something what terribly thirsty business being a scout was.
Three prisoners as we were, food was not a delicacy they thought we deserved. My stomach growled in longing at the sight of the nicely browned rabbits, and I realized the food we had eaten a few hours ago for our supper might have to last until we made it into the king’s camp. I wondered if they would give us water ever.
Eventually, the men around us dropped off into drunken slumber. All but the two who were guarding us. I saw our horses on the opposite side of the camp along with the enemy horses, and I realized there was a wrinkle in our plans.
“William,” I began in a barely audible whisper. “We need a horse to get Steven out of here and they’re all tied on the far side of the camp.”
My teacher perceived the problem immediately. His brow furrowed. “Would you be able to loose the horses while I retrieved our weapons?” he asked.
I frowned. “Duke could get loose,” I said. “I taught him and Prince to untie themselves when they were mere colts so I could play practical jokes on Malcolm. I haven’t asked him to perform since Malcolm began working for the king…so I don’t know if he’ll still remember the signal.” I regarded the oblivious horse thoughtfully. “I suppose it’s worth a try.”
Quietly, I whistled. Two slow, high notes, one longer low note, and then three quicker, high notes. Duke’s head came up from where he had been grazing by the tree. His ears swiveled towards where I sat. Please God, have him remember, I pleaded silently. Duke nickered softly, and then his head dipped towards the rope that secured him to the tree.
I held my breath, hardly daring to hope. One of the ropes to the tree snapped, and Duke was free. As I had taught him, he stood as if he was still tied, but would bolt the minute someone other than me dared to put a hand on his bridle.
Now, I worked on my own bonds. The two guards were playing a game of chess, casting glances at us every once in awhile, but obviously thought we were a waste of time to bother watching. Their confidence would be their undoing.
My ropes snapped loose almost silently, and I frantically worked on Steven’s, freezing my movements and pretending to be asleep whenever the guards happened to look our way. William was next, and soon we were rope free, though our hands were still behind us in pretense.
“Call your horse,” William ordered. “But wait until I get my sword. The minute Steven is on Duke, set them towards the king’s camp and come join me fighting. There’s no way we’ll be getting out of here without a fight.”
“At least we’ll have surprise on our side,” I said.
“They won’t be expecting a fight with two sword masters, that’s certain,” William answered with a wink towards me.
I turned my head before rolling my eyes so he wouldn’t see my unladylike reaction to his comment. “I’m not a sword master,” I replied.
William waited until the guards glanced in our direction once more, and knowing he wouldn’t look again for another minute or so, William bolted as silently as possible towards the tree with our weapons. The minute William made it back to our tree with his sword and mine, I called Duke.
The camp came to life even as Duke trotted towards me. While William kept the guards occupied, I hoisted Steven onto the horse, thanking God again that the boy was as light as he was and still had the use of both hands and at least one leg.
“Ride!” I commanded.
“What about you and William?” he asked.
“We’ll come later,” I promised.
“I won’t leave you!”
I slapped Duke soundly on his rump and the poor horse bolted at the unexpected treatment from his mistress. The boy and horse disappeared into the surrounding trees.
I turned and caught Safeguard from William. A new energy flowed through my veins and I began fighting.