The Captive Pt. 14byJaynaVixen©
Thank you for your patience. Despite my writer's block, I have been hard at work on several projects and then fell quite ill this month. Although I had hoped to get further before posting, I decided that this portion is enough. Thank you to those of you who wrote in to encourage or give ideas. A huge thank you to those of you who suggested I look into publishing as your support and kind words have actually completely changed my life. My published work is doing well and the sequel will be coming out in a few months. I am also still working on RW, never fear, I will finish every writing project I have started at some point. Can't rush the muse! I currently have about 6 stories in various phases of development, so if you enjoy my writing, never fear, there will always be more as my creative well springs eternal.
Lord Blackhawk rode into the royal keep with a rather large accompaniment. He was received in a polite, if not overly formal fashion, at the gate. His party of overdressed ruffians was shown to a communal building that adjoined the main castle, with the explanation that due to the number of guests in attendance, the less opulent structure was the only one that could house them. It was a blatant affront, and Blackhawk seethed with rage as they were settled with little fanfare. To the man's increasing consternation, the servants sent to him were old and haggard, wide of hip, and long of face.
"Blast!" Blackhawk swore. This was not going as he had planned at all. He and his son had been robbed! No doubt the infamous Mercenary and his wayward bride were housed within the royal keep as though they were honored guests! Blackhawk spat upon the ground angrily. One way or another, he would have his revenge. None stole from him without paying dearly for their transgressions. Once he had his hands on the girl, he would punish her, while her husband watched helplessly. The older man stalked to the keep flanked by his son and a scar-faced guard. He would demand audience with the king immediately. There would be a trial, and Devon would have to see reason.
Once the Blackhawk party had been sighted, Ryder would not let Johanna from his sight. She was feeling ever more the captive as he watched her broodingly from across the chamber. She sat in the window seat, peering wistfully at the lovely grounds below. Finally, she could take the heavy silence no longer.
"I would like some air."
"It is not safe."
"You could escort me." There was a challenge in her voice and she knew he detected it.
"I do not like this plan. I do not like him being here."
Johanna sighed. "I refuse to let him make me a prisoner again, and I am no longer your captive." She strode to the chamber door, half-expecting him to stop her. Instead, Ryder seemed to snap out of his glowering mood at her words.
The brisk walk put some color in her cheeks, and Ryder had to admit he also felt much better...until they returned to the hall. They seated themselves at the king's own table, although he was absent. Ryder signaled to the serving girl to bring him some stew.
Johanna turned her nose up at the idea of a full meal, but her stomach had a peculiar gnawing feeling inside, and she knew that she must eat. She was just opening her mouth to request tea and biscuits from the young servant who tended them, when a familiar drawl sounded behind them.
"Ryder, my dear." Melinda stood expectantly, forcing Ryder to rise to greet her formally. He lifted her hand to his mouth and Johanna was shocked at the rush of hot anger that flooded her body as he touched the other woman.
"Child," she greeted Johanna, her tone lapsing into boredom.
Johanna rose as well, and then dropped into a slight curtsy. "It is a pleasure to see you again, Duchess," she managed to reply politely; even though the woman made her senses prickle with an uncomfortable tension. As if sensing danger, her fingers dropped almost involuntarily, to the small, jeweled dagger that Ryder insisted she carry beneath the wide belt cinching her gown. The small weapon was comforting, even though Johanna knew she would be hard-pressed to use it, even given real peril.
"We were just preparing to take some food," Ryder said dismissively, as though he expected her to leave them be. Clearly, Melinda had no such plans. She indicated that she would sit, and he pulled out her chair for her, stifling a groan.
"What will you have? Cook's stew is excellent this time of year," she directed the question to Ryder, pointedly ignoring Johanna. "My, the last time we dined on that together was years ago!" She laughed, sending Ryder a sly wink that she knew the girl noticed.
"I recall," he said heavily. Ryder wondered what she was up to. Surely, Melinda had better things to do than converse with them.
"And your, er, wife, milord Ryder? My, she is so thin! She looks like she could use a good meal."
Johanna clenched her fists with rage at the condescension in Melinda's tone. This woman clearly disliked her and was making a point to offer that she had history with Ryder. Johanna refused to be disrespected by the woman, but she knew instinctively that angering the Duchess of Six Trees would not be wise, so she fought to hold her tongue. As the serving girl approached, Melinda spoke for Johanna, which was the last straw.
"Perhaps the child would like milk, Ryder? Nellie, bring this child some-"
"Thank you for your concern, ma'am, but I am no child, as you can clearly see," Johanna said tightly. With a possessiveness she surprised to feel, she placed her hand on Ryder's arm, in much the same way she had observed the Duchess doing before. "I will take my tea with honey and lemon, Nellie. And blackberry jam for the biscuits, if you please."
Melinda's eyes widened first in surprise and then in anger as Johanna traced a small circle on Ryder's forearm. Calling her "ma'am" referenced Melinda's age, and accurately underscored the fact that she was indeed, older than Johanna. Melinda glared at Johanna, but the chit refused to return her angry stare, focusing instead upon Ryder's rippling arm.
Ryder too was taken aback at Johanna's behavior. She had not willingly touched him since-since...Ryder choked on his ale, recalling the night he had awakened to find Johanna wrapped around him, her legs thrown wantonly around his hips as she pressed her full mouth to his. He shifted in his seat as an uncomfortable bulge grew in his breeches. Both women regarded him curiously and then thankfully, Nellie arrived with their sustenance. Ryder had a vague feeling that he was in the middle of some sort of skirmish, but he chalked it up to the aggression he felt towards the Blackhawk men, who had arrived and were surely settled by now.
* Devon sighed heavily as the horses and carriages came to the gate. There would be no prolonging this game any longer. Lord Blackhawk would start making demands right away. He checked in on Johanna and she looked somewhat anxious but full of conviction. Ryder was a little more off, his intense gaze fixated on the girl he had repeatedly stolen. Devon prepped his friends, and then gulped down a strong draught. He would need the calming effects of the brew to ward off the stench of Blackhawk's foul nature.
Lord Blackhawk paced the small study, where he had been escorted and left to wait without even a glass of water. The elder Lord was fuming. Where the devil was Basil anyhow? Frustrated beyond measure, Blackhawk continued to pace like a caged animal, clutching the false contract in his gnarled palm. Then, a sound caught his attention. A voice-a woman's voice echoed through the wall. Blackhawk stiffened as he moved closer to the wall. Her voice...
"Please, my king! You must believe me. I had no idea that my father had incurred so much debt! There must be something I can do!"
The king's voice, sounding ominous and cold, carried through the walls easily. "Your father's debt was so large as to constitute a personal slight to the crown. My predecessor was far too lenient with Seacliff. Your husband will forfeit all of his holdings. Any children you have will be sent here, to serve under my command. You and your husband will be allowed to remain on the estate as its caretakers, but Seacliff will be under my rule. I will likely house part of my army there, as it is quite fortified."
"Please, King Devon, isn't there any other way?!"
"Not that I can see. Unless you have something else you would forfeit. Do you have any other holdings?"
"You know that I do not!"
"Well, then. Let us clear up this mess between Blackhawk and Moreland. Whoever takes you to wife will be responsible for your debts."
The voices faded into the background. Lord Blackhawk was stunned. How could this be?! From his shock, true to form, Blackhawk became enraged. That girl, the little whore, had ruined his whole plan! To insist upon their claim to her would require giving up many of his holdings, which were important to his quest for wealth and status. Blackhawk paced, growing more and more angry and frustrated as he tried to think of a way to achieve what he desired. Footsteps approached and the king's man entered the study.
"I apologize on King Devon's behalf, my lord. He has been detained. The king requests you and your son to attend him in the grand auditorium, this evening."
"Yes, yes, of course," Blackhawk said nervously. He rushed out past the man. He had to find Basil, post haste!
"Do you think he heard?"
"Oh, most definitely, my dear!" the royal keep manager said, his eyes twinkling. "He ran from the study so fast he nearly knocked me down!"
"I hope you have judged the man's character right, Devon." Ryder found that he was suddenly gripped by a white-hot fear as he considered what would happen if Blackhawk did not behave the way they expected he would. The marriage would be contested. Even though Ryder had consummated the marriage, Blackhawk could still lay claim to her unless she was with child, and that was impossible given the girl's slim waist and the fact that he had only lain with her the one time. He stifled a groan as his manhood surged at the memory. It was a gamble-that was certain.
Johanna looked at Ryder curiously. He looked to be in some degree of pain, but the tall warrior looked away when she tried to meet his eyes. Oddly, over the last few days at the royal keep, they seemed to have lapsed into some sort of...friendship? At least now, there was no threat of forced relations, and Ryder seemed to be genuinely concerned for her welfare. As he had been...before. While she was certainly wary of him, the feelings she had once held for the man who had treated her so cruelly were beginning to return. Rather than fight them, Johanna found herself allowing the tiny tendrils of hope to bloom. Perhaps, just perhaps, she could have a decent future with Ryder. As an added bonus, Devon seemed to feel protective of her, and as long as they stayed here, at court, being married to Ryder was becoming rather tolerable.
However, there was the issue of Melinda. Something about the Duchess made Johanna quite unsettled, but she was not sure what it was. Whatever the case, she did not trust the buxom blond. Not one bit. Johanna was positive that no matter how simpering and sweet Melinda portrayed herself as, she did not have Ryder's best interests at heart. For some reason, that feeling bolstered Johanna's own sense of protectiveness toward Ryder. It was strange to feel the need to protect such a large, foreboding-looking man. From beneath her long lashes, Johanna looked at him again, thoughtfully. While Ryder was certainly big and strong on the outside, beneath the brooding gaze and tense jaw, the warrior's feelings ran deep. All in all, although he had been callous and brutish, his behavior suggested that he was trying to prevent greater harm to come to her, just as Devon had said.
The king was right, Johanna decided. While Ryder's actions had caused her physical and emotional pain, and had resulted in the loss of the one thing she had left to give, in a most dissatisfying way, perhaps these behaviors were the result of his damaged soul. Ryder was naught but a lost little boy beneath that gruff exterior. He did not trust, and he was afraid to love. These behaviors could only be the result of enduring unspeakable hurt himself.
Thinking back to how her new husband had flinched at the touch of well-wishers during the celebration of their union, Johanna could only speculate at the horrors the tall warrior had experienced as a child. For it was true, no one was born this way. Not even Blackhawk. No, children were born pure of heart and light of spirit. Johanna could only wonder at what led to the level of corruption in Blackhawk's shriveled old soul, but certainly his twisted tutelage had tainted his own son, Basil.
Even though she, herself, had suffered abuses of her flesh and of her heart, Johanna was startled to feel the impact of her past hurts sloughing off, like a snake shedding its skin. I can choose, she thought suddenly, and it was like a light exploded behind her very eyes. Ah, this was what wise Alena had alluded to during their conversations. I can choose! I will choose to let the suffering of my past go by the wayside, so that I may turn my face to the light and shun the darkness.
Feeling much lighter herself, Johanna let out a long, healing sigh, attracting the attention of the others. Her spine stiffened and her shoulders squared confidently. Moving to stand next to Ryder, who sat beside Devon, she placed her hand on his forearm. Pleased, she noticed that there was no imperceptible flinch in response to her light caress. Rather, he gazed at her, the surprised expression on his face melting into something else as he looked from her softly placed hand to the gentle smile on her face. How odd, she thought, as the remainder of her epiphany floated into her consciousness. That one who looks so strong and tough, is really quite fragile inside. And I, so small and comparatively so much weaker, have more strength in my heart than I realized!
"What do we do now?" she asked.
"Now," said Devon, with a cunning smile, "Now, we wait."
* Lord Blackhawk practically flew to his quarters in search of his errant son. The few servants that had been appointed to his party scattered upon seeing the wild look in the man's eyes. He was not surprised to find Basil in the servant's quarters, chatting up a very young scullery maid. Basil's predilections were for the very young, and while he preferred boys, girls would do, as long as they were undeveloped and frightened enough. Normally, the elder Blackhawk enjoyed watching Basil's young victims beg and plead, but this time, he had more important matters to attend to.
The young girl scurried off without a backwards glance at the arrival of the older lord. Surely, she was thanking her lucky stars to be leaving with her maidenhead intact. Basil watched her go, annoyed that one so young and small had escaped his lecherous grasp. "Father, I certainly hope you have good reason for chasing away my plaything," he said, in a bored tone.
Blackhawk recounted most of the overheard conversation, leaving Basil pale with shock. "But-what of our plan?!"
"I must think! Let me think on this, Basil."
"I cannot be impressed into the king's army, father!" Basil whined.
At this, Blackhawk glanced sidelong at his offspring, masking his look of loathing. In truth, although he shared his son's fetish for causing pain and defiling innocents, Blackhawk was somewhat disgusted by Basil's weak sword arm and lack of fighting prowess. At least the elder lord had combat experience, and would not shy away from a good fight. A good fight...hmm. Blackhawk felt the tingling of an idea beginning to form inside his overheated, perverted brain. Nay, not a fight, rather a slaying. Blackhawk pieced out his reasoning in his head.
Although he had planned to vehemently contest the marriage, perhaps there was another way. It would be a delicate maneuver, but if he did not insist upon the girl's return, Johanna would remain legally married to Ryder. The Mercenary of Moreland had always been a king's favorite, even before Devon assumed the throne. Blackhawk had heard tales of Moreland's holdings. While he did not openly display his wealth, and he chose to live on a rugged piece of land near the border of the region, Ryder surely had accumulated a great deal over the years. Blackhawk's breath came faster as his fevered brain tried to find a solution to his problem.
Yes, Ryder of Moreland most likely had enough wealth to cover Seacliff's debt to the crown. Blackhawk's insider could confirm this fact easily, and quickly. A slow, evil smile began to spread across his cruel face as Lord Blackhawk came to the most sinister part of his plan. All he had to do was determine the exact amount of Johanna's debt, and what Ryder was worth. If Ryder were to perish, say in a freak accident, his holdings would revert to Johanna. If Blackhawk asserted right of second contract, he would have access to the girl in the event the union fell through due to her inability to produce male offspring, or if, perchance, her husband came to an untimely end.
Blackhawk practically cackled with glee as he clapped a confused Basil on the back. The elder lord's eyes alit with a strange, unnatural glint as the plan formed fully in his mind. Yes, yes, they would humble themselves to Devon, and protest their losses. But, they would not contest the marriage as Ryder and the others surely expected, rather they would merely insist on right to second contract. If they went about this plan the right way, none would be the wiser. Then, once they confirmed that Ryder's holdings would cover Johanna's debts, they would arrange for Ryder to have a little accident. Perhaps a little something slipped into his ale. Blackhawk knew just the person to secure that little supplement!
Oh yes, this was a good plan! Ryder would be out of the way, permanently. The little snag regarding the girl's debts Blackhawk would be conveniently wiped clean. He would at last have access to Seacliff and he would tear it apart until he located the treasure hidden within its high stone walls. When he was through with her, Johanna would spend her days on her back, servicing his guards, until she expired from overuse. Blackhawk glanced again at Basil, who sat sniveling near the hearth. If Devon insisted upon impressing Basil into his regiment as part of the deal, then so be it. The boy could certainly use some toughening up.
Blackhawk rubbed his hands together. Soon, it would be time to meet with the king and his Council of Elders to plead their case. He called for his man at arms, Simon, who was a slimy bastard with a knack for finding out information. He told his man what he needed to know and promised him a just reward upon delivery. Simon slunk out immediately, and Blackhawk knew that upon the man's return he would have all the ammunition he required to be victorious in his quest for Seacliff. He poured two glasses of fine spirits and handed one to Basil, who still looked somewhat confused.
"Don't fret, my boy. I will take care of everything."
Basil visibly relaxed at these words. He knew his father well, and this look was one of triumph. There was no longer any need to worry. Basil clinked his glass with his father's and drained it in one gulp. Then, as the old man exited the room, Basil yawned and stretched his arms before settling upon the heavily quilted mattress. Now was a nice time for a nap.
The Council was in quite the uproar by the time Blackhawk and son were escorted into the auditorium. Over the last few days at court, many of the Elders had become acquainted with the fresh-faced young beauty who had been carried off and forcibly wedded by their own Mercenary. Many knew the story and also knew of Blackhawk. None held high opinions of the man or of his son, for that matter. In fact, the vast majority of the Council felt that Ryder had no choice but to breach Blackhawk's marriage contract by stealing the girl. Upon seeing her in all of her sweet glory, many of the men on the Council knew that they would have done the same.