A Royal Sacrifice Ch. 05
Author's Note: Thank you for the comments, votes, and emails concerning this chain story. I am very glad the readers, as well as the writers are enjoying it as much as I am. I look forward to the upcoming chapters, not only from the writers that have already contributed, but to a few more that will soon be following. Please fill free to contact me via Lit, or leave a comment if you feell so inclined. Votes are appreciated too, but mostly I just hope you enjoy this newest chapter. ~ Red
"Your Highness, we should turn back," Rebecca whispered, tugging gently on Evelyn's brown tunic, an item borrowed from one of Rebecca's brother's chest of clothes. Evelyn turned slightly, grabbed her handmaiden's hand and dragged her closer to her, at the same time she pressed them both back to the wall of the castle. The moonlight splayed over both women; then just as quickly they were shrouded in shadows as clouds swung lazily over the glowing shape.
"Rebecca, I told you to stay behind, but you insisted. I probably shouldn't have said anything at all to you yesterday, but it is wise to bring you. For if I don't then our 'Royal Excellency' Chancellor Benedict would surely accuse me of laying down with someone unworthy." Evelyn's voice rolled sarcastically along her handmaiden's ears. "Now come along and be quiet. All will be well. You may ride with me on Brilliant." Evelyn noted her friend and companion's face pale slightly. She smiled, squeezed the woman's trembling fingers and tugged her gently across the courtyard, dodging behind various shapes to keep themselves hidden.
The two women reached the stables, each keeping their apprehensions to themselves as they waited for a sign that all was well and they could continue on their journey. When the Queen of Vix tugged again on Rebecca's hand it was to signal her to follow. They darted into the stable, Evelyn pulling the door closed behind her. The sound of it meeting the other made a grinding noise which brought a gasp from Rebecca's lips. Evelyn frowned and pushed her handmaiden toward a pair of barrels that she'd scouted out earlier. Once more the two were hiding from any prying eyes that would stop Evelyn from reaching her goal.
John looked up from the small table where he had been working. The parchments, ones that the local Priest had allowed him the pleasure of reading, remained gently clasped in his hands. He eyed the door of the stable, noted it had closed unexpectedly and wondered if the nightly breeze had grown more forceful during his downtime. He took the papers and laid them to the side. His attention now focused on the horses in his care. Rising he placed his right hand on the dirk resting in his belt and cautiously walked across the front of several stalls, pausing only to glance inside them. The light, from the lantern he carried, cast into the shadows giving him assurance that all was well. It wasn't until he reached the end of the barn that he was able to hear a sound that did not belong in his domain.
The short breaths and stifled gasps he heard, he assigned to a pair of mischievous lads, neither wanting to be found. His initial thoughts were that the two boys were up to mischief that he really didn't want to witness, but he also knew with the arrival of several visitors over the last two weeks, there very well could be two traitors in his mist. The thought of protecting his Queen filled John with pride and he began to form a plan in which to capture the two invading bodies. His lips formed in a circle and he casually walked away, whistling a tune from his childhood.
Evelyn watched the stable hand, John make his way back toward the table at the far end of the stable. The breath she'd been holding relaxed as did Rebecca's. She turned and smiled softly at her handmaiden and then gazed back at John's retreating figure. He stopped at his table, rested the lantern on its hard surface and then picked up the parchments he'd been reading earlier. Evelyn frowned, wanting him to leave the area so she and Rebecca could ready Brilliant and take off, but sadly he seemed to be fixed in his musings.
"Wait here," Evelyn whispered and pushed Rebecca back as far as she could to the wall and into the shadows. She then scooted out from behind the barrel. Slowly she crawled along the floor; her legs, covered in borrowed trousers helped to carry her silently across the front of several stalls. Once more she was in front of the doors, easing one open, intent on causing a distraction outside to bring John running. Just as the door was being pulled and a sliver of moonlight flittered in Evelyn squeaked.
Her hazel orbs grew wide in their sockets as she stared at the gleaming blade that was stuck in the sleeve of her shirt, now anchored tight in the wood of the door and her lids fluttered at how close she'd come to being wounded. She twisted her head and stared into the full figure of John. His stern gaze fell on her upturned face. Immediately she grimaced as his eyes scrapped over her disguised form and dirtied face; he fell to his knees; one hand swept across his chest to then rise and rest on his heart, the fingers clenched tight in a fist. "Your Majesty, I beg your forgiveness. I had no idea. My life is yours to end," he gasped, lowering his head further as if offering it to her to hack away at.
Evelyn sighed, pulled the dagger from the door and rested the hilt in her palm. "John, please rise. But do be quiet. I've no need to see your head on my platter come morn. Rebecca come out, please. It seems my disguise was not good enough."
John paled slightly as the other "lad" rose up and made her way toward the Queen. "Lady Rebecca," he whispered. He remained on the floor, until Evelyn sighed and demanded in a soft whisper for him to rise immediately. "Mistresses what are you doing here?" he asked and then wanted to apologize again for questioning his Liege's presence.
"John I have a desire to visit my family and friends in the village. Ready Brilliant for me and then we will be on our way," Evelyn stated, her back going ramrod straight as she tried to recall the lessons Muriel had drilled into her. She was the Queen, therefore she was supposed to act as if all were expected to do her bidding. It was not a personality trait she enjoyed - the bossing of others.
John frowned and wanted to question his Queen's request, but he also knew he was a simple man and to do so could mean punishment. He quietly made his way to Evelyn's most trusted and loved steed. Soon Brilliant was saddled and bridled, then led from her stall. "Your Highness, might I be so bold as to accompany you?"
"There will be no need of that," a voice drawled out lazily from the door of the stable.
The three occupants turned as one and all eyes focused on the blond locks of Prince Drest. "Damn," Evelyn muttered, crossing her arms as she faced the man who seemed to be shadowing her every step. "Go away," she muttered, stepping around John and taking Brilliant's lead.
"Lady Rebecca, a pleasure as always," Drest replied, not bothering to acknowledge Evelyn's wishes. He then turned to look back over Evelyn. "Your Majesty, such language and your state of dress. . . though it leaves nothing to one's imagination, I am quite sure the Kingdom of Vix is not so poor that you are required to peddle your wares at night. But, if that is the case, surely one of your finer gowns would bring you more coin."
His lips rose in a smirk just as Evelyn's lids slanted and her hand came up to deliver a swift blow to his cheek. Drest acted quickly, catching the slim wrist of the Queen and hauling her against him. "Your mount waits anxiously," he whispered against her ear, then chuckled as he spun her around and pushed her not-so-gently toward Brilliant's stall. As Rebecca and John watched Evelyn, Drest turned away and rubbed the front of his trousers, where another type of mount had made itself known. Once he repaired his state of dress, adjusting his body so the evidence of having Evelyn close to him was less noticeable, he turned and spoke to John.
"Kind Sir, if you would see to Demon's gear, I will accompany the ladies on their adventure."
Upon Drest's words leaving his lips, Evelyn spun around and placed clenched fists on narrow hips. "You are not coming with us," she hissed, her gaze firm and her eyes demanding Drest obey her. The lift of his lips spoke of his intentions to do as he wished. "Fine, but remain quiet or all the kingdom will know of my leavings!"
Drest snickered and watched as she helped Rebecca into the saddle and then swung up behind her. He wouldn't have stumbled across the pair had he been able to sleep, yet again it had alluded him. He'd been at the castle two weeks and each day he found himself wanting to spend his hours with Evelyn. This was good for both their countries, yet there was still the underlying desire to spend his life with his sister.
"Tell me Evie," Drest watched her gaze flare angrily at the familiarity he took with her name, "how were you planning on going through the gates? The Chancellor has this place guarded well, not only with your men, but my own stand watch. Not to mention the disguise you chose does little to dispel who you are." He angled his head to one side and noted her chest. Again his lips rose in a smirk as he shook his head and stifled a soft laugh. "Bind them did you?"
Evelyn blushed but said nothing else as she pushed her horse past Drest and through the stable doors. There were several others outside the building and Evelyn pouted. No one stopped her, but many lifted their palms to hide their whispered words as she rode by. Come morning, she knew Benedict would know she was out all night, but at least she had brought Rebecca. . .and sadly she now had Drest with her too.
Drest followed quickly behind her, signaling two of his most-trusted guards to flank Brilliant's side. He heard the Royal's groan in disgust but say nothing about the added security. He watched the women ride ahead of him, noting that Evelyn sat atop her steed with much skill. Lady Rebecca, a title she was only given because of her service to Evelyn, was very much afraid to be on the massive, yet gentle creature.
The more he watched the Queen, the more he found himself enamored by her. Her figure was trim, well-toned and though a more amble woman was desired by those of his ilk, he liked his ladies diminutive and easily controlled. A frown formed as he thought of controlling Evelyn. It would be a chore, but in time she would come to realize, he was what was best for her and for Vix. After all, hadn't he just saved her from scandal by accompanying her into the village at an ungodly hour? Yes, Evelyn would come to heel and in time she would be thankful for his interest in her.
Evelyn and her unwanted entourage made their way through the thick woods; the clouds above moved away to reveal the startling moonlight. It's rays filtered in and out of the dense branches. The sounds of the forest wrapped tightly around Evelyn and she embraced it. She had spent many nights in these woods. She knew every nook and cranny. She and Cedric, her childhood friend, had spent many hours fighting villains and playing games, hiding from their parents, foster parents in Evelyn's case, and each had spoken of their dreams while harvesting spring mushrooms.
A soft gasp of fright brought her out of her reverie and she rolled her eyes. "It is but an owl, Rebecca.," she whispered into her handmaiden's ear. "Sit still. Brilliant can sense your fear. The trip will go more smoothly if you but trust me." Rebecca swallowed the lump in her throat and shook her head, the only inclination she gave to her Queen that she would do her best to obey.
"Lady Rebecca is more than welcome to ride with one of my men or myself, if she is a hindrance to you, Your Highness," Drest offered.
Evelyn glanced back at the young Prince who was invading her space and glared. "Rebecca is fine where she is. You however are free to leave. I have traveled this path many times and need no one to guide me."
"It was but an offer sweet Evie; you do not need to show jealousy."
Evelyn's eyes grew wide. "Jealousy? Surely you jest."
Drest shrugged his shoulders. "What other reason would you have to not allow young Rebecca the comfort and strength of strong arms to keep her safe?"
"She is safe with me. I am a fine horsewoman and she does not need to be in your arms!" Evelyn turned her attentions to Brilliant and urged the beast onward. The soft chuckle of a cocky Prince filled the forest and made Evelyn's pulse race. She was getting tired of his chuckles and the way he always seemed to be near her. The only place she had sanctuary from him was in the gardenrobe or confessional. He had even insisted on walking her and Rebecca to her bedchamber, something she was sure the Chancellor would frown upon, but he had said it was an excellent idea and now it was a constant thing.
The group of five, a much larger group than Evelyn had wanted, entered the village. The sound of the nearby pub brought a smile to Evelyn's lips. She recalled the times she and Cedric would sneak away from their homes and watch the comings and goings. They knew who was bedding who, who played dice fair and who didn't. They knew when Old Slim watered down the ale and when he pulled out the finest he had to offer, which was not all that fine. Cedric and Evelyn had sampled both. She also knew that during all this time she was always safe, even now she was and a part of her balked at the idea. Just once she would like to truly be on her own.
Eventually they wove their way through the village and to the edge where Evelyn had grown up. She slid off her mare, ignoring the look of annoyance that Drest threw at her. She then bit back a quick retort when she watched him pluck Rebecca from Brilliant's back. Her lids slanted as she saw his hands rest easily on her handmaiden's hips. "Rebecca," she hissed, her gaze flashing toward Drest. "She's steady; now release her," she demanded. Drest laughed, bent his head and stepped away, rewarding Rebecca with a smile and Evelyn a salute.
Evelyn rolled her eyes and captured Rebecca's hand. "Come with me, before his head swells any more. The way you blush at him, one would think you would lay your life down for him. Think of that man from your dreams. He's certainly sounds more charming then this Prince." Drest's laughter rippled through the air as Evelyn plodded toward the door of her foster parents home. She knocked quickly on it, identified herself and eased the door open.
Immediately she sensed all was not well. She pushed Rebecca behind her and stepped in. One of her hands gripped the dirk at her waist, another item stolen from Rebecca's brother. She had planned on confessing her sins in the morning to the Bishop, but now she was thinking only of thanking the Lord for her weapon. "Quiet," she whispered to her handmaiden when she feared Rebecca was about to speak. "Mother," she called out, not too loud, but not quite soft either. "Papa?"
No sounds reached the two women. "Wait outside," Evelyn told her companion and watched as the woman shuffled quickly back the way they'd come in. Evelyn worked from memory, finding a candle and then the flint used often to light the fire in the hearth. Quickly the wick was lit and a yellow glow filled the room. A shadow took away some of the light and Evelyn squeaked, spun around and held the handle of her blade with deadly skill. Her shoulders slumped. "Oh, 'tis you."
"What is it?" Drest asked, his own hand held a weapon that would cut any man or beast down with one swipe. "What place is this and why did you send Rebecca out?"
"This is my home; where I was raised. You know my story. The royal who was raised as nothing. There is something wrong here. Here," she said, thrusting her candle toward Drest. He readily took it and then watched as she lit another, then another. Soon the kitchen and the adjoining room were filled with light and the sight took Evelyn's breath away.
The sparse furnishings of her home were broken or turned over. Family heirlooms, meager possessions to any one of noble status, lay in shambles. "Mother! Father!" Evelyn cried out as she pushed past Drest and hurried toward the room that her foster parents had shared. Drest caught her just as she was about to open the door.
Under normal circumstances she would have jerked away and attacked the man with a verbal assault, but something in his voice told her to obey. She looked up at Drest, his dark blue eyes showed there would be no arguments from her. Her gaze then followed his as he glanced down. The glow of the candles seemed to gleam brighter on the soil and rock floor of the cottage. Evelyn's lips trembled as she bent down to touch the liquid that had not yet soaked fully into the dirt floor. Her fingers came away wet and sticky. A cry left her lips, only to die in her throat.
Drest pulled her close, clapping one hand over her mouth. "They still may be here," he told her. He knew it was unlikely. Whoever had entered the home was long gone, but he still wanted Evelyn safe. He pushed her behind him, readied himself and then kicked the door down with one swift blow of his foot.
The wood split easily on its hinges. Drest stepped in and Evelyn followed. A cry of anguish erupted from Evelyn as the light from her candle fell on the two figures on the floor. "Nay!" she screamed, dropping the candle and rushing to her parents side.
The sound of the flame hissing its own private death went unheard as Drest cried out for his men and checked to make sure all corners of the room were free of intruders. He stood over Evelyn, then turned, ordering one of his men to gather as many villagers who were able to scour the woods. The other he sent back to the Castle with orders that guards be added to the search. "The blood is still warm, so the villain could not have gone far."
Another scream erupted and Drest turned to see Rebecca lean against the bedroom's wall. "It is the Wizard. It reeks of his evil ways. His smell is everywhere. Can you not smell it?"
Drest frowned. He had heard of this so-called Wizard. "Enough girl. It was not magic that spilled the blood of these people. It was a man. One that will bleed just as easily as they did." He then turned to Evelyn and went down on one knee. "Come Evie. We need to return to the Castle. It is not safe here."
He pulled her to him. The woman who had been spitting daggers at him with her eyes now clung to him as if she had no will of her own. Drest felt a pang of something he couldn't name in his chest as he held the Queen close to him. He gathered her tighter to him and then lifted her up in his arms. He walked out of the room and gave Rebecca a stern glare. She swallowed and blinked, followed him out, but kept her thoughts to herself.
Once outside Drest saw that several village men and women had gathered in the rocky yard of Evie's foster home. One individual hurried forward and reached out to touch Evelyn's pale features. Drest turned away, refusing the peasant any connection to the woman in his arms. "Who are you?" he demanded.
The lad, a youth Drest guessed to be Evelyn's age, dropped his hand. "I am Cedric, Your Highness. Queen Evelyn and I grew up together. She is my dear friend."
"Cedric?" Evelyn whispered, turning in Drest's arms. Her hands fell away from the Prince's neck and she shoved at his chest. Drest released her, easing her down his body till her feet rested on solid ground. He kept one hand possessively on her hip as if to keep her steady. "Oh, Cedric," she cried, launching herself into the young lad's arms. Drest watched with eyes full of both jealously and curiosity as the two embraced and Cedric led Evelyn away.
"It is true, My Lord. Cedric is her friend."