Break the Gilded Cage Ch. 05byElenia26©
He was travelling in the wilderness after Beaumont, the next town after Newcastle, before he finally caught up to her. He didn't approach her right away, just followed her at a distance, keeping an eye on her whenever she could. She seemed like she could handle herself, and he didn't interfere.
Once she was ambushed from the forest when traveling down a road. She handled them quickly and efficiently, drawing a talwar sword from her scabbard and fighting them off gracefully. He had considered helping, but decided to wait and see if she could actually fight before joining. As it turned out, she didn't need him and did just fine.
Afterwards, though, she crept off into the woods. He watched, concerned, as she dropped to the ground – and threw up. He realized that was the first time she had ever killed anyone. He started to approach her – then realized she probably wouldn't want him or anyone else to see her in her moment of weakness.
And it only lasted a few minutes. She wiped her mouth, and took a drink of water. He saw her angrily brush a few tears away from her eyes, and return to the scene to remove their pouch belts.
As he followed her, he began to get to know her, albeit at a distance. She was adventurous, and often laughed out loud. She wasn't shy, but she was reserved. She spent nearly all of her time alone, eating alone, sleeping in common rooms to conserve money. She gave to beggars frequently. She talked to little children and won their trust easily. And she avoided the men who hung around her constantly, avoided them with skill and elan. She didn't seem to be interested in any of them.
One night he was having a drink at a tavern, with his hood pulled up. At the opposite end of the tavern, he could see her sitting at a table having her dinner. Her back was to him, and she was sitting alone. He usually watched her like this when he could, and then ate his own dinner after she had already gone up to bed.
He leaned forward as three men approached her. They said something to her, and she studiously kept her head down. They took seats all around her, swaggering insolently. He saw her half draw her sword, and one of the men firmly put his hand over hers. He saw her flinch, and he summoned the barmaid over and paid for his drink.
When he looked up again, she was being escorted tightly between the three men. Her arm was held in a strange way, and from the slight look of pain on her face he surmised they were hurting her.
He quickly got up and followed them out, at a distance. They half pushed, half-dragged her up the stairs, and she had no choice but to go with them. They went down the hall and as he poked his head around the corner, he saw them go into room four.
No one had noticed this little play, but then no one had been watching as closely as he had. He casually walked down the hall and listened at room four.
For several minutes, he heard droning voices, and occasionally a much softer answer – her voice, he presumed. People walked by, and he pretended to be picking at his nails. He wondered what they had dragged her in there for.
He got the answer soon enough. His reverie was broken by the sound of a palm hitting a face, and a scream. Suddenly the room descended into bedlam, and he started to try and bash the door in – then thought better of it, and withdrew from his pouch a set of lockpicks. If he could sneak in when they weren't watching, so much the better.
His concentration was broken by a shrill scream, though – a scream like he had never thought to hear from her. He dragged his attention back, and carefully inserted the pick.
He heard a grunt and running feet, and then the sound of someone being tripped and a body hitting the floor. He turned the lock, and the door opened. Cautiously he stepped in, closing the door equally quietly behind him, and was greeted by an awful sight.
One of the men was sitting on the floor, his hand clutched tightly between his legs. Another man was standing with his back to the door and Julian, holding a now crossbow.
The third man was laying on top of a struggling Alania. Julian was surprised at the rage which swelled up inside of him. He could see blood pouring from a wound in her arm, where the bolt had hit.
He stepped up and tapped the shoulder of the man in front of him. When the man turned with a comically surprised, "Huh?" he cocked back and smashed his fist right into the center of his face. The man crashed to the floor. He was shocked at how good it felt.
He strode across the room to Alania, whose tormentor had crawled off her and was now backing desperately into the corner, waving his arms. "Nononono! I'm sorry! She wanted it, you know! They all do!"
Julian resisted the urge to belt him. "On the floor, on your face." He did so, and he quickly turned to Alania.
She had gotten up and made for the door. She threw it open, and screamed, at the top of her lungs, "Guards! Rape! Rape! Help!"
He heard the sounds of booted feet on the stairs. Suddenly the first man, the one who he'd belted in the face got up and tried to make a run for it. Alania didn't hesitate. She took a step forward, spun in a full circle, and kicked him in the face. He went down again.
She panted, weeping softly. Her dress was torn, and he grabbed the blanket off the bed on the way over to her. She flinched away from him at first, but then recognition dawned. "Julian?"
Her lip was puffy, too. They must have hit her. He gently wrapped the blanket around her, covering her. "It's all right, now, Alania. I'm sorry I took so long."
She opened her mouth to say something, when the inn guards thundered into the room. They raised crossbows, shouting, "Get down! All of you!" One waved it menacingly at Julian, and Alania moved fast.
In a heartbeat she was standing in front of him. "Don't fire! He saved me! It was them," she said, pointing at the three on the ground.
An older man in a uniform pushed his way through. "I'm Captain Torin miss, of the city guard. Are you all right?"
She nodded. "I am, now. These three men forced me to come up here. They held a knife to my side, and then they tried to accost me."
"And him?" The Captain said, eyeing Julian.
"He came in after me, and saved me."
"Is he a friend of yours, miss?" She nodded. "Yes, Captain. I'll be fine, I think."
He nodded, and motioned his men to pick up the three assailants. "These men will be going to jail. I just need to ask you a few questions." She nodded, but unconsciously her back stiffened. Julian, watching the proceedings, hesitantly put his hand on her shoulder. Immediately she leaned back ever so slightly into him.
The Captain went through his questions quickly, obviously embarrassed to be bothering her at this point. Finally he shut his notebook with a snap, and nodded. "Very well, Miss Marienne. I don't think we'll need you anymore. I'm sorry about all of this."
She nodded, and they left. She turned to Julian. He spoke, first. "Do you have a room here?" She shook her head. "Not yet."
"Come to mine, then." She nodded, and together they picked up her things which had been dropped on the floor.
They walked down to the room he had taken, the blanket still tightly wrapper around her. He kept one hand on the small of her back, and he felt her trembling.
Inside, he set her things down, and drew her over to the bed. He sat down next to her, and put his arms around her.
She stiffened in surprise, and pulled back, but he was stronger than her, and didn't let go. She hesitated, and then rested her head on his shoulder.
He felt her trembling increase. Soon she was shaking, and her fingers curled tightly into his chest as she began, softly, to sob.
She cried that way for several minutes, her head curled into his shoulder, wetting his shirt. She didn't cry loudly, or continuously, just soft sobs which soon receded into sniffles.
Finally she looked up at him. Their eyes met, and he realized this was the very first time he had ever looked into those green eyes with her guard down. No wonder she was always cautious with those eyes. It seemed he could see right down into her soul.
"Thank you, Julian." He shook his head.
"You don't need to thank me, Alania. Are you alright? Your face looks bruised."
She nodded, wiping the tears angrily. "That fat man hit me when I wouldn't..." she reddened. "When I wouldn't do what he said."
He cupped her chin, and as he did so, he noticed the blanket had slipped partially off her shoulders. He was jolted into awareness to realize her dress had been ripped enough to expose one small breast, and the hint of pinkish brown of her nipple.
He realized his body had instantly responded, and he mentally scolded himself. Bending, he kissed her softly on the forehead.
She smiled up at him, gratefully. "How long have you been following me, Julian Alexander?"
He started, then smiled. "About a month, Princess. I didn't approach you before because I didn't want to interfere."
She shook her head. "You are the finest of gentlemen, my Lord. Thank you – I think I needed that time. And thank you for choosing this moment to come out of hiding."
She sat up away from him. Noticing her dress, she quickly pulled the blanket to cover her and darted a sideways look at him to see if he had noticed. He had guessed her actions, though, and had already looked away.
"All your things are here, Alania. Would you like to take a bath? Get changed?"
She nodded. "I'd love that. Would you mind terribly if I didn't go to my own room just yet?"
"Not at all. Actually I'd prefer you stay here, at least for the moment."
They shared a smile. Neither of them were prepared to admit it, but they were genuinely happy to see each other.
He cleaned up his room and put away her things in the corner while she bathed and changed her clothes. By the time she came out, he had ordered dinner and placed it on the table.
To his surprise, she was wearing shorts and a tank top. The white shorts were not indecently short, but they were not overly long, either. The tank top was a sweet peach color which set off her dark hair magnificently.
"I thought you must be hungry." She nodded, and walked up to him.
"Please bend down." He looked at her, surprised, then bent down obediently. Thinking she must want to whisper something in his ear, he turned his head. Instead, she put her hands on both sides of his face. Turning his face to hers, she pressed her lips lightly against his.
Her lips were soft, warm and moist. He could smell her, smelling fresh and clean from her bath. Her skin glowed with good health.
Blushing, she said, "That's for saving me."
He grinned, and bowed deeply. "I am, as always, at the lady's service. Especially if that is going to be my reward."
Slowly, she grinned back.
They had their dinner, and then he turned to her.
"Shall we talk, Princess? Perhaps we should move to the couch, what do you say?"
"I think that is an excellent idea." They sat on opposite ends of the couch, and she took off her shoes and tucked her legs underneath her. Her damp hair trailed over the back of the couch, and he thought she looked very pretty.
He spoke first. "What do you plan to do now, Alania?"
She looked down at her lap, then back up at him. "I do not know, Julian sahaab. Let me ask you what you plan to do."
He grinned at her. "Well, I plan to continue doing what I've been doing, of course."
She cocked her head. "Following me?"
"Did my Uncle put you up to this?"
"Well...yes and no."
"What does that mean?" She looked curious.
"It means – yes, he asked me to do this. But I am not doing this for him."
She half-smirked. It was a very bitter expression, and did not sit well on her pretty face. "Then why are you doing it?"
He reached out and took her hand. Very gently, he asked, "Aren't we friends?"
The bitter expression was wiped from her face, and her mouth opened. She looked down, ashamed, and then looked up at him again. "Of course we are, Julian. I'm just not that used to having friends. Oh, that sounds terribly self-pitying. I mean, ever since I left home. I mean – oh, never mind." She grinned. You know what I mean."
"So if you are going to continue to follow me-"
"And I plan to continue to travel..."
"Couldn't we just travel together? I mean, perhaps I am presuming, my Lord, but it seems to make sense."
"Would you like to have me along, Alania? I don't wish to intrude."
"Oh, but you wouldn't be! I would have liked you to, anyway, but..."
He answered gently for her. "You didn't want to make any more demands."
She nodded. "You'd already done so much for me, Julian. I couldn't stay at Uncle's. I was angry at him, and I still am very angry. What can I say? I think what he did was terrible. Plus, I've never ever been alone. I was truly glad to have the month to myself, even if you did follow me, but lately..." She sighed.
"Lately I've been feeling a little lonely, even if I wouldn't admit it to myself."
She looked up at him, and smiled. "So you see, I would be very happy if you wanted to travel with me – but only if you really wanted to."
"I would love to travel with you Alania. Any destination in mind?"
She got a slightly dreamy look on her face. She leaned back against the back of the couch, almost unconsciously stretching her legs out in front of her. Her feet were small, and the legs long and limber. He could see quite a bit up her thighs before he forced himself to look away.
"I want to see the world, Julian. I was trapped in that cage for so long, I want to break out! And see everything, do everything, that there is to do. Mountains, Julian. Snow. I've never seen these things."
He put his hand gently on her foot. He felt her start, and he spoke softly. "I could take you there."
Her foot was soft, and warm under his hand and he was surprised to realize how good it felt. How long had it been since he had so much as touched a woman's foot? Six years, that was it. Six years since Elizia had been killed.
His memories jolted him and he jerked his hand back. He looked into her face and caught a brief glimpse of something. Hurt? Sadness? He wasn't sure, and it was gone before he could identify it.
He sat back without commenting on it though, and waited for her to respond. She seemed to be thinking deeply. "Julian?"
She nodded decisively. "I would love to travel with you."
He grinned. "Wonderful, then. To start with, you can sleep on the bed, and I'll sleep on the couch."
She looked away, not meeting his eyes. "Is there something wrong with that? Do you want me to take another room, perhaps?"
"No!" She grabbed his arm, seemingly to stop him from leaving, then looked embarrassed. "Please, don't go."
She shook her head, looking down. He placed his hand over hers. "Alania, you've never been this reticent. Please say what you wish to."
She nodded. "You are correct, of course. Please...what I meant to say was, you need not sleep on the couch unless you wish to. Are we not both adults?"
He was completely taken aback. "Are you certain?"
She smiled. "I would not trust any other man the way I trust you, Julian Alexander. And anyway, we are husband and wife. Really, it is not a problem for me, but if you prefer, you can sleep on the couch."
He was quite astonished to see a hint of a devilish look in her eyes. Why, the little minx was teasing him! Well, he would just call her bluff then.
"Very well, then, I thank you. The couch can be quite uncomfortable, and I would prefer the bed anyway. Let me change into sleeping clothes, then." He was gratified to see the look of surprise on her face.
He went into the bathroom and washed up. Then he changed clothes into what he normally wore to bed, which was just a loose pair of pajama bottoms. He thought about wearing a shirt but decided he'd rather tease her some more and exited the bathroom bare-chested.
She had already climbed into bed and was putting her hair up in a bun, quickly and efficiently. It was a very loose bun, curled at the base of her neck. She glanced up, did a quick double-take, then looked away, then looked back again. Her brow furrowed.
"Something you dislike, Princess?" he asked, dropping his clothes on the couch and crawling into bed.
"Not at all, my Lord. I am looking at your scars." For indeed, he had a few, from various campaigns. Most of them were shallow but he thought he knew which one had caught her eye.
"This one?" he said, pointing to the three scratches directly over his heart.
She nodded. "What is that from?"
"I fought a mountain lion. It came into our camp while we were sleeping. Snuck right past the guard, it did. Anyway, it pounced on me, and nearly tore my heart out before we could kill it. The only thing that saved me was the heavy blankets I had over me."
She was looking at him with some awe, and he reminded himself of her young age. "May I?" she said, and he nodded, although he was unsure exactly what she was asking of him.
She reached out and traced the scars with her fingertips. He inhaled, and felt himself immediately respond to her touch. She must have noticed something, for she withdrew her fingers a few centimeters, and said, "My Lord?"
He shook his head. "It's nothing, you just surprised me, that's all. I don't mind," he said, staving off the obvious next question.
She nodded, and went back to touching it. "Did it hurt? Did it bleed a lot?"
"It hurt horribly, but not so much when it actually happened. I was rather stunned and immediately busy fending the lion off. He scratched me in several other places before they pulled him off me, but this was the deepest. The next day it hurt very badly, though. And yes, I thought I was like to bleed my heart out."
"He certainly tried." She smiled up at him. "Thank you for telling me the story. Now, can you be comfortable here?"
She stretched out. She was still wearing the little tank top and shorts, and she looked beautiful with the blanket pulled up to her waist, and tendrils of her hair escaping from the bun. He laid down next to her, noticing they were sharing blankets. She didn't seem to mind, though, so he didn't say anything. She blew out the last candle and turned on her side, facing him. As his eyes adjusted to the darkness he could see her, still looking at him.
"Yes, dear?" He bit his lip. He hadn't meant to add the term of endearment, but it had just slipped out. He waited to see her reaction.
It came hesitantly. "Am I your dear?"
"If you'd like to be."
Another pause, and then very softly, "I'd very much like to be your dear."
He chuckled, and said, "What were you going to ask me?"
She took a deep breath. "There's another reason why I didn't want you to sleep on the couch."
"Why is that?"
Her voice, when it came, trembled. "I was frightened. Of what those men wanted to do to me today. I-I couldn't stop them."
Pity and sympathy filled his heart. "Oh, Alania." Without thinking about it, he reached out and took her into his arms. She didn't hesitate at all but rather came eagerly to his arms. He cradled her head on his shoulder, and wrapped his arms around her shoulders.
She didn't cry, but nestled into the circle of his arms. One hand was resting on his ribcage, and he willed himself not to get an erection. It wasn't working very well. This was young, innocent, yielding flesh, and his body seemed to be only able to think of one thing.
If she noticed, she made no response, but snuggled close to him. He heard her murmur his name.
"Do I have to sleep so far away?"
He hesitated, thinking he should put her back there, then reconsidered. Whether his body reacted or not, he could tell she needed comfort and was taking it from being held. He sometimes had trouble remembering the ordeal this young girl had gone through, first fleeing her father, then her uncle, then traveling alone in a strange land, and now this.