The Last Descendant Ch. 04byElianna©
Elenna awoke long before dawn to the deep breathing of her bedmate. At least he wasn't snoring violently, though he still smelled of liquor. For a moment she tried to close her eyes and fall back asleep, but she was acutely uncomfortable in his arms.
No, she definitely couldn't go back to sleep.
She squirmed out of his embrace slowly, doing her best to avoid waking him, but the intoxicated prince didn't even move. He'd obviously had way too much to drink, and used his inebriation as an excuse to abuse her, and take liberties with her body. How could he do such a thing? He was supposed to be her love! Her soul mate! In her dreams, she'd imagined him holding her close, protecting her, loving her. Gods! Could reality be bitterer?
Her future husband was an arrogant, self-serving, manipulative...ass!
She donned her slippers and dressing gown staring about the silent room thoughtfully. She knew the castle and its secrets far better than the rotten prince and his people. All it would take is a few prayers, a slight sacrifice, and she could escape. Surely his guards weren't as powerful as he was, and these people didn't seem to understand the power of Druids. Escape would be so easy. His pawing hands would never again touch her flesh!
His breathing changed with a slight snort and he moaned, nuzzling into the pillow.
Elenna froze. Did he know what she was thinking? Was he waking up? That was the problem with magic; she wasn't experienced enough to know what could be done with it.
She stared at him intently, but he continued to breathe deeply and evenly. Though she was pretty sure he was asleep, her eyes lingered on him, as though she couldn't force herself to look away. She found herself noticing how his golden hair was tousled and his face had softened in sleep so that it seemed sweet and gentle. He was beautiful; just the way she dreamed he'd be those endless lonely nights. Her fingers itched to brush one of his blond waves from his cheek, to feel the warmth of him under her fingertips. His lips were slightly parted, and she found herself blushing as she recalled how they felt against her skin. They had been soft as velvet, and the way they caressed her face, her lips...
No! She wasn't going to think about it. Resolutely she turned away from him, but her body trembled as she recalled the way hands; warm, strong, slightly calloused from using his sword more than expected of a prince...
He moaned softly in his sleep startling her yet again. She bit her lip in resolve.
He was the enemy. He was her captor. He was boorish and abusive. She was going as insane as her father. She had to escape. She couldn't let him... she shuddered. Her body was betraying her, but she couldn't let it. Any woman who faced a future of trial and death would use the opportunity to escape. The Emperor of Haladon was going to kill her! Those were the laws! She had to run!
Her soul screamed it so loudly that she almost fell to her knees. She couldn't understand. Why couldn't she flee? Why was she so bound to him already? Surely fate had not destined her to be his toy?
She closed her eyes and whispered a prayer to her ancestors; for strength and guidance. Perhaps to see a little of the future, too? Was it too much to ask the ancestors to give her that much? And yet her only answer was the same resounding 'no' as before. Her fate was now tied to Prince Entrari of Haladon.
Angry and confused, she flopped into one of the chairs before the fireplace. The logs had burned out, and it was cold once again.
She jumped in surprise and stood at once.
"Easy, princess," called the voice again. A guard's head peeked in the doorway and he smiled kindly at her.
"Who are you?" she asked, wrapping her arms about her body protectively.
"My name's Gosta," he replied. "Are you okay?"
She looked at him and then looked away. She wasn't so sure.
"Can I come inside?" he asked her.
"I'm your prisoner," she returned bitterly.
He chuckled. "Actually, you're Prince Entrari's prisoner."
"If you're not comfortable with me coming in, I won't," he said.
She looked at him cautiously. He seemed kind, but...
He walked inside the room slowly as though he sensed how wary she was of him. She reasoned that he was no bigger or stronger than her own people. His armor was more glorious, and his sword was different, but he still had the grace of a trained warrior. She willed herself not to take a step backward as he approached, but she found herself feeling very tiny standing in only a dressing gown and slippers before this powerful man.
"If you like, I can stir the fire for you," he offered.
She nodded. He moved slowly and stooped down before the fire, stirring the coals, adding kindling and some logs and then blowing upon the embers to start the fire anew. She watched him silently, finding that his presence had a calming effect. Something about him exuded kindness and gentleness. For a moment she closed her eyes and reached out with her spirit. In her mind she glimpsed a soft white light, shrouded somehow.
"There," he said quietly. "That's better."
She nodded mutely.
"I probably shouldn't ask you, but did the prince..." he paused as though searching for the right words. "I heard you crying last night and..." his voice trailed off and he looked at her uncomfortably.
Of course; the entire bodyguard had probably heard her sobs as the prince molested her. "Does it really matter?" she said bitterly.
"Doesn't it matter to you?" he asked.
She looked at him in surprise. Why should he or any of his people care what happened to her? Looking into his deep brown eyes, though, she knew that, at least to him, it mattered. Elenna bit her lip angrily. She wanted to hate these people. They'd conquered her country, murdered her father, but she couldn't bring herself to hate people who seemed to care, especially this gentle man. "He...he didn't," she whispered.
"I'm glad," he said, and she could tell in his voice that he meant it. "I get the feeling you're something special."
She bowed her head as her confused feelings overwhelmed her once again. "I'm nothing, save a pet for your prince."
He sniffed in amusement. "You're a little prickly for a pet. Do you mind if I sit down?"
"Aren't you supposed to be guarding something?" she asked curiously.
He shrugged. "We're in hostile territory. I'm one of many people outside that door. I just happen to be the highest-ranking person out there."
He sat down in the chair beside her and stared into the flames quietly.
They said nothing for several moments and it seemed to her that both of them soaked up the heat gratefully. After a while she felt the gentle prickling feeling on her back; that feeling that told her he was reaching out with his spirit. She finally pulled her eyes from the flames to look at him cautiously.
"You have a powerful aura," he said in explanation.
She smiled a little and looked at him curiously. "Yours is..."
She nodded mutely.
"It is my oath to the Imperial Family," he explained. "My power is tied to theirs."
"What will happen to me?" she asked quietly. "Why is the prince doing this?"
He didn't take his eyes from the flames. "I don't know if I can tell you. But I will tell you this: Entrari has never taken a woman in his bedroom and not taken what he wished from her. Most women beg him for his attention, but there have been a few who weren't too keen on the idea." Finally he turned to look at her. "I don't presume to know what he's doing, but I think it means something."
Elenna took a deep, shuddering breath and nodded. He was right. It was something, though what, she wasn't sure.
"I know you're scared," he continued. "Entrari's a difficult man to live with under the best of circumstances, and he's one of my best friends."
"I thought you were a bodyguard, not his friend."
Gosta smiled. "In Haladon, only the prince's closest friends are his bodyguards. It's been that way for centuries. Actually, I'm an archduke among my people, and so is Kelda. The rest of his guards have similar titles." He shrugged a little. "Like I said, he's not easy to deal with. He takes what he wants when he wants it," he paused and looked her straight in the eyes, "except for you."
"Why are you telling me this?" she asked bitterly.
He shrugged. "After all your tears last night, I thought you could use a little comfort."
She wanted to lash at him. She wanted to scream at this man, this Druid, who was supporting her captor, but Elenna held that little demon inside her this time. Instead, she smiled at him wanly. It was more for his benefit, to please him, since he'd come to console her.
"That's better," he said. "Even if it's a forced smile, your face is beautiful wearing it." He stood then and inclined his head to her. "I'm going to resume my post. It's still several hours before dawn. You should probably go back to bed."
"I don't think I can willingly climb into bed with my captor," she said shaking her head.
"Your people are proud. Don't let it get you into any more trouble. I'll not force you, but Entrari isn't going to be happy if he wakes in that bed and finds it empty."
She nodded. "I understand."
Gosta chuckled to himself and left the room once again.
For a while, Elenna stared into the flames thoughtfully, but eventually snuggled wearily into the chair and fell asleep.
Entrari had a rotten headache and his stomach was definitely sour. There was a fire crackling in the room, but it seemed far too loud. He moaned miserably. Whatever had possessed him to drink that much? Sure, it tasted good going down, but several hours later...why did he always have to drink enough to make him sicker than a dog in the morning? He tried to remember what had pushed him over the edge this time, but all he could think about was the damn woman from his dreams. In his mind she was as beautiful as always, but those eyes that had always stared at him with passion were now tinged with hurt, rage and fear. He hated seeing her like that, and he reached out for her miserably, only to find his bed empty.
As he drifted closer to consciousness, something about the empty bed was bothersome to him, and the thought nagged at him more and more. Slowly it occurred to him that the girl from his dreams wasn't just a vision anymore. He recalled last night, her sobbing beneath him as he kissed her passionately.
He hadn't taken her, had he? He hadn't been that drunk. The more he thought about it, the more he realized that he'd had just enough alcohol to turn into a complete, barbaric ass. It served him right that she'd...
He sat up even as bile rushed to his throat.
Oh GODS! The girl was gone!
"Gosta!" he cried, his own voice ringing in his ears. "Gosta!"
"Your Highness!" cried his friend rushing into the room at once. Gosta's face was startled and concerned. For a moment Entrari wondered how bad he actually looked.
"The girl! Where's the girl?" he demanded.
Hung over and miserably guilty, he felt his spirit sink even lower. She'd run away. He'd driven her away.
He forced himself to roll out of bed, though his stomach turned once again. He swallowed his sickness and forced himself to stand. "Get the men together. We have to find her!"
He stumbled towards the wardrobe. "Damn it! I was an ass last night," he lamented. "I was a complete ass!"
"What woman wouldn't run from a man who almost raped her?" he continued as he opened his wardrobe and found his trousers.
He groaned as he pulled his clothes from the wardrobe, his body ached. That was it. No more alcohol. Never again.
"Entrari!" cried Gosta, loud enough to make him wince.
Entrari turned angrily. Couldn't Gosta see that he'd just lost the girl? And she wasn't just any girl; she was the girl. "What!" he demanded somewhere between despair and rage.
"The girl's right here," he said.
Entrari's blurry gaze swept past his friend to finally see the young woman standing behind him, her hair awry, and her gray eyes wide. Even mussed and alarmed she was more beautiful than his best dreams—and she was the enemy. His shoulders slumped, and he sighed in relief and despair as he passed his hand over his eyes.
"Are you all right?" he demanded hoarsely.
The girl didn't answer for a minute. Finally she simply said, "No."
He nodded. "Neither am I."
He stumbled back to bed and collapsed upon it miserably. His stomach had decided to start roiling and the last thing he wanted to do was vomit his guts out.
"Would you like me to fetch someone to heal you?" asked Gosta quietly.
Entrari shuddered. Using magic to heal from a hangover was worse than the hangover itself. "Did you really need to ask?"
His friend chuckled. "I thought perhaps to save you from the girl's nursing skills. I'm sure she's as accustomed to nursing a hung-over man as she is to being a servant."
"I'm broadening her horizons," Entrari replied sarcastically. He opened an eye and looked at her standing cautiously behind Gosta, as though the large soldier would somehow protect her. Surprisingly, he felt a surge of jealousy. The girl was huddling behind his best friend seeking protection, but she was his!
"She speaks our language," he barked more sharply than he intended. "Watch what you say around her."
Gosta nodded. "Shall I bring her something to eat?"
Entrari nodded. "Then leave me alone for a bit until I've had a chance to nurse this."
Gosta nodded and bowed, but Entrari couldn't shake that possessive sense of jealousy. How could his best friend have already won the girl's trust? Granted Gosta could charm a wild horse if he wanted to, but not...her.
"Get me some water," he called to her.
He heard the rustle of her gown and the soft patter of her slippers on the cold floor. His mouth watered as he heard the sound of liquid pouring from the pitcher. The rustle of her gown and her soft step drew close, and he noted slight hesitation as she neared the bed.
"I'm not going to hurt you," he said, keeping his eyes closed.
"You say one thing, but your actions prove otherwise," she replied.
"I have treated you better than any conquering lord would," he groused irritably. "Maybe it's you. You're disobedient, disrespectful...stubborn. You couldn't have been this difficult for your father. It wouldn't be tolerated. Women have no say in these lands."
She paused in replying, as though she couldn't quite make out what he meant.
"And yet, for all your faults, your people adore you," he added thoughtfully.
Again the girl did not answer him, so he opened his eyes, even though the light shot through his brain like a knife, to look at her. She had frozen; her face stricken. Her beautiful eyes had changed from the fiery gray storm clouds he'd seen earlier, to colorless orbs of grief.
He cursed and reached out to take the cup from her, draining it at once.
"Thank you, princess," he said handing her the cup. Then he moaned miserably, pulled the covers over his shoulders and rolled on his side, doing his best to sleep it off.
"Your Highness," Gosta's voice invaded his sleep. "Your Highness."
His guard was shaking his shoulder, but Entrari surely didn't have any intention of waking up. Whatever Gosta wanted, was just going to have to wait.
"Entrari!" Gosta called his voice sharp. "You have to wake up. We've got a problem."
He moaned, rolled over, and mumbled a curse.
"Just heal him, Kelda," Gosta said. "We don't have time."
Entrari's eyes snapped open at once and he rolled over to stare at the tall knights standing over him. Kelda's face was pale, but his eyes were clear. Considering his best friend had consumed half a bottle of the strong drink the barbarians favored, he knew that his clarity was magic-induced. Something had to be very wrong for Kelda to tolerate the spell.
"What's happening?" he demanded.
"The contingent you sent to the pass is...gone," said Gosta quietly. "One soldier managed to make it back, but he was too injured for anyone to heal him. He said there was only one, but..."
"One is enough," Entrari finished for him.
Even sick his thoughts were whirling. Damn. The pass has already been in use. Damn. Fifty men...dear gods!
"Do the spell, then," he said. Even the thought of the magic made his stomach lurch. "We've got to get moving."
Kelda nodded and put his hand on Entrari's already sweating forehead, whispering the incantation. The force of the magic crashed into him, knocking the breath from his lungs. For a moment, he just shook and then he gasped as his gut boiled. Gosta was ready with a bucket as Entrari violently emptied the remaining contents of his stomach. He retched painfully over and over again, his hands shaking, body trembling, eyes watering. Gods! He could barely breathe as he heaved again in agony. Finally, he gasped and pulled away wiping his brow. His body was drenched with sweat, his limbs throbbed painfully, and his eyes watered. For a while he could only sit and pant as the agony continued, but as his head cleared he forced himself to start barking orders.
"Get the regiment ready to march," he said. "We'll leave as soon as we're assembled." He stood, stripped out of his soaked underclothes and doused his head with the water in the pitcher beside the wash basin. The water was icy cold, but after sweating out the alcohol, it felt heavenly. "Double the guard here at the palace, and I want a show of force on the streets tonight. No tolerance for anyone breaking curfew." He went to the wardrobe and dressed quickly, leaving his finery aside for the sturdier clothes of battle once again.
Rhogan and Trestin quickly helped him into his armor while Gosta and Kelda started dispatching commands to his officers and getting the soldiers ready to show force in the city in his absence. They unrolled a map of the region, planning their path, making strategic decisions.
"What are you going to do with the girl?" Kelda interrupted looking up at the prince.
Entrari looked at the young woman hovering in the corner of the room, her face pale. He'd been caught up in the anticipation of the moment and had forgotten about her. Damn.
"Elenna," he called. "Come here."
For once, the girl listened without question, curtsying appropriately as she approached him. Her sudden compliance made him suspicious; this would be the opportune time for her escape. He and his warrior/sorcerers would be otherwise occupied and she had the power and resources to flee. He tried to read her; feel the intentions of her body. He reached out tentatively with his spirit, but he could only sense her power, not her intentions.
"We could put her back in the dungeons," said Trestin as he adjusted one of the leather straps on his breastplate.
Entrari thought about that. She'd not fared well in the dungeons last time. She'd been barely alive when they brought her out. Her wretched condition made him sick to his stomach, as did her broken eyes. He couldn't imagine tossing her back into the cold, black filth of prison. Besides, he'd made a promise to the Archpriest—no dungeons.
"No," he said slowly. "No dungeons. She might have to come with us."
Rhogan looked up in surprise. "She's just a girl," the older knight protested. "Your Highness," he said, "she isn't built to see these kinds of things. The dungeons would be better than facing that kind of evil."
Entrari looked at the pretty girl, feeling a strange pain in his heart. He wanted so desperately to protect her and keep her safe, but at the same time his responsibilities weighed heavily upon him. His soul screamed at the thought of dragging her into battle with him to fight against a demon. However, it screamed at the thought of locking her in a dungeon bound and gagged once again, and yet it raged knowing that she would escape him if he didn't pick either alternative.