Claiming an Ally Ch. 03bytitania123©
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His breathing was harsh as he inhaled and exhaled quickly. He looked down at his hands; his knuckles were covered in blood. Beating her until she fell limp made him feel better than he had in a long time. Despite the fact that his manipulations of the heads-of-state were producing the inevitable conclusion he sought, namely to kill Edrich and take the thrown, drawing blood from beautiful women had always given him a secret, unparalleled pleasure.
He took out a rag and wiped the blood off on the white linen and tossed it to the table. He regarded her again. She was quite beautiful. For a moment he considered keeping her to himself. He would have been happy to repeat that afternoon's performance with her again, and again. His women didn't usually last long, but that was to be expected considering how much he took from them in their short lives. However, he knew she would be the greatest weapon against Edrich than any others he could create.
Despite his efforts, the girl in front of him had given him no information. She was tough. He knew she worked for that weakling king of Adalynd, obviously a spy. He had been a fool to think that idiot would have taken his word about Edrich moving onto Adalynd territory without any proof. Clearly, the man was wiser than he normally appeared and had sent a spy to confirm or deny his claim. He had overheard enough from the alley to know this spy thought Edrich would be willing to discuss a truce.
From what he had learned about her from his man Philip, the king had taken a keen interest in this young lady. Apparently on the march there, she had saved his life twice, and the king was enamored with her. He heard her voice as she spoke to the older lady; she was enamored with the king as well. Most would have decided attacking and harming her would be treacherous because of the king's severe protective and possessive nature. But Jenner knew something else about the king. Edrich was extremely confident in his ability to rule and control. Edrich's ego would not handle the knowledge of being duped because of her charms. He decided to twist that fault until Edrich was so enraged he would kill her himself and then mount arms to obliterate Adalynd.
He decided to leave her bound as she was to the center pole of his tent with her arms behind her back. He retied the gag around her mouth and left to look for Philip again. Of course he found the overweight man at the cook's tent, chewing on what appeared to be mutton. He signaled for him to follow. Thankfully the tent was on the edge of the encampment and would offer the most privacy. Jenner strode to an old oak some distance away on the edge of a tall grass meadow and leaned against it. "What developments, my lord?" the fat man asked.
"I have decided that we will tell the king of the girl. I need him to think she is a spy intent on manipulating him to surrender to Adalynd, or stealing Edrich's battle plans. If all else fails, she is committed to killing him. I need you to tell the king she confessed to being sent by the Adalynd king. Her mission was to gain as much military information as she could while trying to seduce the king and manipulate him. I will say that I heard as much from her when she sent her accomplice away."
"I understand, but what if it isn't enough?"
"Don't worry," he sneered, "I know exactly where to stick the knife to make Edrich hurt the most. Now, I want you to send a scout out to find that woman she sent off." Jenner had quickly come to regret not stopping the second party the moment he realized what the two were about. "Find out from one of the newly arrived soldiers what she looks like. Bring her back immediately. After you've done that, come to the king's tent. It's time to reveal our little spy." He flicked his hand in dismissal. His thin, drawn face slowly eased into a cruel smile. He imagined the amount of pain and then rage Edrich would be in when he told him. Tonight would be fun.
Linus, looking carefully at the clearing, slowly emerged from the tall grass that surrounded the camp. He didn't know what to make of what he had just heard. Who was the Lord High Marshall talking about? A spy? Though Linus wasn't sure who the person was, he thought it sounded as though the Lord High Marshall was going to lie to the king, but he wasn't certain. He mused over the words of the two men as he carried the firewood back to the tent.
"You Highness, may I speak with you a moment?" Jenner appeared at the king's tent.
"Yes, Jenner, come in." The king waved him in and offered a chair. He didn't really like Jenner and had been for some time thinking about how to replace him. A distant cousin of his late father's, he had held the position as the Lord High Marshall since Edrich could remember. He remembered as a boy being afraid of him in a way he feared no one else. There was something he didn't trust. He seemed to fit in with the criminal element he was charged with arresting.
His first thoughts when the violence in the borderlands had increased were to fire him. But somehow Jenner had convinced him that it was due to misfits from Adalynd causing trouble. He had suggested the king there was not fit to control the lands and that the borderlands would best be protected by Edrich. That's what he had been led to believe, and yet, within the last two days, an unknown girl had convinced him otherwise.
He breathed deeply at the thought of Em. She had disappeared before he could find her to ask her to stay. He still didn't have a plan as what to do with her. He only knew he didn't want her to leave. But she had disappeared and no one could find her in Clearvalley.
He turned his attentions to the matter at hand. "Tell me, Jenner, what is the state of these lands? My men ran into a small gang of men just yesterday eve. What do you have to report?"
"Sire, my men are spread thin, capturing the outlaws. Though some still remain, the peace increases with our presence," he offered. Edrich gave a small frown of consideration and nodded for him to continue. "However, Your Majesty, I have something great and pressing to bring to you. I have just this very afternoon captured a spy from Adalynd."
The king severely frowned at that. "A spy? Who? How?"
Jenner began to lay down his lies. "This spy, Your Majesty, was sent by the king himself to steal your battle information. I heard myself as the spy gave instructions to the accomplice to report to the king your current location, the number of your troops, your weak points." He said the last more slowly with meaning. "Unfortunately, this spy has been successful in fulfilling the mission. She was also meant to manipulate you and your decisions by whatever means possible. I know I have not travelled with you these past days, but I understand she did just that." His eyebrows raised in question, perhaps slight accusation.
Edrich had been about to deny any manipulation had taken place. He had only spent the past two days with Em. When Jenner said 'she' Edrich's heart began to slam harder in his chest. He began to shake his head in denial. No, Em is not a spy, he thought.
Jenner knew the king understood who the spy was but was trying to deny the possibility. "Think, Your Majesty, since you have known this girl, has she asked about the camp? Your men or what you are doing?" Edrich knew she had, but had thought it was simple curiosity. She seemed so interested in everything. "Has she given you her opinion on what you should do with Adalynd? Perhaps she has tried to discourage you from war? Did she display any skills or traits that would be remarkable of a normal young lady? As I heard it, Your Majesty, she was traveling alone, deftly used a bow and arrow to save your life, not once, but twice, and allowed herself to become a camp follower when clearly she needed no protection." Jenner was a master at manipulating the vulnerable emotions he saw in people, pushing, pulling and poking in exactly all the right places. Slowly, all the tiny questions and doubts Edrich ever had about Em, her behavior, talents, and comments all began to come together with meaning. But still his desire for her, and maybe even his heart, were all clashing against the implication. He continued to shake his head, anger at this man for attacking someone he held dear.
Phillip called from just outside the tent. "Your Majesty, my man interrogated the girl. Would you like to hear what he has to report?"
Still unable to believe the beautiful woman that had saved his life and passionately kissed him was a spy, he consented. He needed to hear more proof. "Enter. Tell me," he said to the kneeling figure before him, "what do you know of this business?"
"Your Majesty, my lord here asked me to question the spy he captured. At first she was reluctant to talk, but then she confessed that she was gleaning military Intel. She took down all the information of your troops and movements and what plans you were making. Apparently she had snuck into some of your officers' tents and copied maps and plans they had. She also said, my Lord, that she was to manipulate you. Evidently, the skills she excels in are intrigue and seduction. She was to seduce you and either make you act as her king wanted or..." he dramatically stopped, leaving the door open for Jenner.
Edrich waited for the man to finish and then looked to Jenner. "I am sorry to say that before I was able to apprehend her, she also told her accomplice that once you had ordered your troops as she suggested, that she would finish her mission." Edrich's painful unease increased, waiting for Jenner to continue. "To kill you, my king." Jenner answered, the unspoken question.
Some sickening emotion surged through his veins. His stomach clenched as he shook his head. "No," he said in a voice roughened by emotion, "no, she saved my life. Why would she save me if she planned to...to kill me? It doesn't make sense." He was staring at the floor as he tried to make sense of the information.
"Well, of course, Sire, you were no use to her dead at the moment. She needed information, she needed to direct plans, guide your decisions. She couldn't do that if you were dead," Jenner's smooth reply came.
The moments dragged on as conversations and looks and memories of kisses flew through his head. Slowly, the sickening emotion that was probably fear transformed into anger. It built as he thought that everything she said or did had been deception. Rage slammed through him. He was boiling and wanted to see her, to wrap his fingers around her neck. "Bring her to me," he ground out. He stood and began to pace wildly, raking his fingers through his hair. He would question her personally. Otherwise, he couldn't accept it. But the rage slammed in his chest over and over.
Jenner gave a small bow and left to fetch the prisoner. During his interrogation of her, he learned she was more stubborn than the king and prideful as well. She was innocent of the duplicitous and malevolent schemes he was accusing her of. He would use that in combination with her pride and stubborn nature against her. He quickly organized his thoughts before entering his tent.
He found that she was awake, though definitely worse-for-wear and in considerable pain. However, her haughty chin told him his manipulations would work. The two idiots would play well into his hand. As he squatted in front of her to study her battered face better, he was becoming rather happy that the dopey old king had sent a spy. Things couldn't be going better if he had planned them.
"Aren't you a beautiful sight? Well, let's just hope it's enough to satisfy the king. He really wanted you bloodied." At that, her spine stiffened and she inhaled. He gave a small smile. Perfect reaction. "What do you expect? A man only keeps a woman like you around for one reason? Did you honestly think it was for your conversation?" He could see she was struggling with what he was implying. "Oh, poor dear, you did think that. You thought you were such a good little spy, feeding the king little tid-bits, when all the while he was just think about your tid-bits. You must feel like such a fool knowing he laughed at your use of the bow to his officers." She shook her. "More than one man has told me how Edrich had to fight his annoyance of your continual insistence that you were fit enough to defend him. Couldn't fight off two men? Did you really think that you were his only hope of survival?" He harrumphed at that and shook his head. He had begun to slowly pace like a disappointed parent giving a scolding.
"You really were quite blind to what he was about. He told me you actually thought he wasn't going to make war on Adalynd. He was quite proud of himself for that one. Your king is dumber than we originally thought. Edrich sent me to give that dope of a king information that would play right into our hands. Of course, we hadn't counted on him sending a spy to check the information, but no matter. We have you, and soon we will have your accomplice, and before all is said and done, Adalynd will fall to Lidio and become less than a memory to those in this land." His voice dripped with venom and caused Emera to shake. "And all that pretending just so he could fuck you." He shook his head again and then gave it a noncommittal tilt with a shrug of his shoulders. "Well, now that he knows you're nothing more than a spy, I'm not sure what he has in mind for you. He had talked about throwing you to some of his more...unsavory soldiers. You know, the ones that can't even pay to get it. But we'll see what he decides in the end."
He reached behind her, untying the restraints. He grabbed her hair gruffly to enjoy her wince. He stood, hauling her up by it. She fought him, trying to wriggle away as he viciously dragged her to the king's tent.
The king was standing, his back to the tent entrance. Jenner shoved her forward though the flap, causing her to trip and fall, landing at Edrich's feet. Her fear for her lands and her ruined mission began to give way to hatred at the baleful man staring down at her. Her eyes grew with enraged passion and she stared hatefully up at him.
For Edrich's part, his heart was torn, not wanting to believe the poisonous words of his men, but not knowing what else to make of the information they presented. The moment he saw the fire raging from her eyes, he knew they spoke the truth. This woman had no feelings of love for him. His heart turned to stone. He would burn her alive. He wanted to face the humiliation of being duped alone, so he gave a dismissing hand to Jenner. The man did not want to leave, but decided to keep an ear open just outside, in case the sparks of mistrust and accusation needing a helping fan.
Emera knew her fate included death. Torture depended upon whether or not she was cooperative and civil. Screw that. "Is this, oh king, how you repay those who have saved your life? Is this treatment indicative of the worth of your life? Truly, this conduct only befits cave men and ruffians, outlaws. But a king?" She huffed indignantly. "You're not a king. You are a monster! You are a putrid blemish on the face of this earth. There is nothing great or honorable about you. You are worthless." She was breathing hard in her torrent of rage, watching him as he had begun to pace and then stopped, anger-stricken. Here it comes, she thought. Two steps closer, he would reach down, take her by the neck (the neck she had allowed him to stroke) and snap it like a twig.
"You have no right to speak to me, let alone in such a manner. Because you saved my life is the only reason I haven't sent for an executioner yet."
"Why put it off?" The two continued to stare bitterly at each other. "You have no right to treat me like this!" she screamed at last.
He took the two steps then. Reaching down grabbing her by the neck, he pulled her level with him. Her hands were clawing at his, struggling to be free. "No right!" he thundered. "I have every right! I am the king! You, spy, have no rights here. Or do you deny it!" he threw her down at that. She struggled to breathe. She righted herself and looked up at him. He was still staring at her, expecting an answer. "Are you from Adalynd?"
She stood up calmly. She straightened her shoulders and tilted her chin high. She looked him in the eyes. "Yes."
He turned and raked his hand through his hair again. How he wished she would deny it, explain it away and ease his soul. Without turning around, he continued. "Sent from the king?"
He stood, silent, calming, thinking. "What information did you send him?" When no reply came, he turned around and gave her an angry, incredulous look. She only softly shook her head. She looked defeated finally, and he wondered what that meant. He strode to her. "What information did you send?"
Emera refused to tell him she was the princess. Firstly, the bastard didn't deserve to know anything more about her. She had given him so much and he only ended up crushing her in spite of herself. Secondly, if she were to believe Jenner, though she was remiss to do, he had set her father up, making him treacherous and not to be trusted. If she told him she was the princess, and he actually believed her (which was yet another reason she chose to not even start that line of argument), he might use her against her father, either through ransom or threaten with further torture. Her father was too soft to hold out against the threat of his daughter and would gladly sacrifice anything, even Adalynd. No. He thought she was just a spy and a spy she would remain.
"I told the king you said you weren't interested in Adalynd, that you were only concerned with the peace in the borderlands."
He grunted at that. "And that's it?"
"And why don't I believe you."
"Most evil and dubious men find it difficult to trust others," she sneered.
"Oh, yes, especially when they are duped into trusting their enemies' spies."
"You say spy as if there is only one kind. As if the simple fact I am from another country seeking information makes me evil."
"Doesn't it? And it's not just any country. We were...no scratch that, we are on the verge of war. How can you possibly not be a threat?"
She wanted to tell him her reasoning. She wanted to tell him it was her idea, not her father's, because she wanted to know what sort of man he was first-hand. However, she didn't think that saying any of these things would make her present predicament better. In all likely cases, he would use the knowledge against her and her country.
Edrich mistakenly took her silence as a yield to his claim that there was nothing honorable in her intent. Finally, he had all the evidence he needed. He convicted her in his heart and was ready to sentence her. He looked at her. In the glow of the candle light, the blood from her nose and mouth was dark. The large amount of dirt that covered her face belied the smooth, youthful skin underneath. Her clothes were also dirty as well as torn. For a moment he acknowledged the small tinge of regret and pain at seeing her like that, maybe even a little anger at Jenner for abusing her so. But when he saw the higher tilt of her chin, he squelched any compassion his previous relationship with her might have instilled. He reacted violently against being made a fool of. Therefore, all that was left in its place was a burning rage at her betrayal. And perhaps, just a little bit of lust. He was then decided. He would punish her alright, and he would make himself feel better in the process. Or rather, she would make him feel better.
"Jenner," he ground out. The man reappeared quickly, trying his hardest to not seem overly zealous and happy. He needn't have bothered with hiding anything because Edrich's eyes never left Emera. He wanted to watch her reaction to his sentencing. "I have decided to take over the punishment of this prisoner. See to it that the other woman is found and brought to me as well. I need to hear everything in the letter she carries." He waved another dismissing arm. He continued watching her. Her face, though slightly distressed never revealed any internal thoughts. "Robert!"