tagSci-Fi & FantasyCinderlove Ch. 04

Cinderlove Ch. 04


Grazia allowed Leywis to take her back to the castle. When they managed to get inside without being cornered, she thought she was safe.

"Hello, Daughter."

She froze and clutched Leywis' hand in a tight grip.

"Mother, good afternoon. I was just on my way to finish my lessons."

"Indeed? Pray tell, then, why your tutors came to me over two hours ago to inform me that you and Mikona had vanished?"

She took in her mother's stormy expression and opted for truth. "I don't know where Mikona is, but I left without permission. I couldn't take one more minute of that, that fake politeness!" She turned to Leywis. "Our Captain of the Guard was kind enough to come and retrieve me while reminding me that I made a promise and needed to keep it."

Her mother gave Leywis a sharp look. "Did you now?"

Leywis nodded. "Yes, your Majesty."

"Tell me, Captain, where did my daughter go?"

"She had taken a wrong turn and had gotten lost on the forest outskirts behind the castle. Luckily, I found her with little trouble and escorted her back. I apologize for the delay in her studies." Leywis bowed.

Her mother snorted. "Yes, my darling daughter seems to do that a lot. Oh, very well. Get to your lessons, Grazia, and no more running away or you shall be punished."

"Yes, Mother." Grazia murmured. She didn't speak until her mother left. "Whew! That was close," she giggled.

Leywis stopped and spun around to face Grazia. "We are lucky to escape your mother's wrath. Don't think that Mikona or I will always be there to make sure everything is all right! There is always the possibility of something going horribly wrong!" He gave her an aggravated stare.

She gasped, surprised by his tone. This was not a side of Leywis she was used to seeing. She didn't like the way it made her feel. "I'm sorry," she stammered, heat making her flush as she looked away. "I know that."

Leywis thought for a moment before he spoke again. "Princess, I understand the urge to wander like you do. Mikona and I will be there to help you as much as we can, but there will be dangerous situations. I just want you to realize this and be more careful in where you decide to go and in what you decide to do. I don't like seeming harsh, but I want to make sure you don't carelessly get yourself in trouble." Leywis' voice softened as he explained his stance.

Grazia sniffled, but she did understand. "Yes, Leywis."

"Well, Big Brother, never thought I'd see you make a woman cry." Mikona chided as she appeared from a side corridor.

Leywis looked over at Mikona. "There is always a first time." he said with a smirk. He turned slightly and faced them both as Mikona joined the group.

"Princess. Sister. You'll have to excuse me, but I have other responsibilities to attend to. Farewell." With that, Leywis turned and headed off through an adjoining corridor.

Mikona sighed and touched Grazia's shoulder. "He worries about us."

"I know. Let's go, the tutors are waiting." Subdued, Grazia said nothing more as she went back to the garden and her instructors.

* * *

Antoni was glad to get the garden back into respectable shape, but the kitchen was still a mess. After Grazia and Leywis left, he made his way back inside to see about getting the house cleaned and fixed before his stepbrothers, and more importantly, his stepmother, came back.

"This is worse than anything they have done this before." Antoni worried to himself. He set about trying to cleanup the mess first, working to get things done quickly.

Denimael exited the carriage in a flurry of pomp and skirts. Her hat with its colorful plumage, complimented her velvety white dress. Her trip into town had been fruitful and if things continued as she hoped, not only would she get more money, but she would be able to get rid of her troublesome stepson as well. Pleased with herself, she tipped the coachman and headed inside.

"Antoni! Antoni, you lazy boy, where are you?"

Antoni's ears caught the screech of his mother's voice and he began to panic. He was far from being finished with the kitchen and all his work would come to naught now that his stepmother was home. His mind began to spin, trying to think of a plan to get things done without being noticed. He quickly ran out of the kitchen and into the living room where his stepmother now stood and forced a smile.

"Y-yes, mother?"

Denimael eyed Antoni. She saw the fear in his eyes that he couldn't quite suppress. It was intoxicating. It also betrayed his nervousness. "Why did you not answer the door when the carriage pulled up?"

The gears in Antoni's head turned. "I was fixing dinner for you and my brothers since I knew that you would be home soon. That's all it was."

"Really? Then let me see what you have prepared." She reached over, grabbed his arm, spun him around and forced him to walk or be dragged as she headed for the kitchen.

Antoni knew he was in for it now. "But, mother...I-I'm not finished yet and need some more time t-to finish," he begged, hoping to buy time.

She pushed open the door and studied the kitchen. He had made a little progress, but not enough to even be considered as any work done. She released his arm and stepped completely inside. She had known, of course, about the devestation. When she had forbidden Jatin and Kyros from attacking him, she knew her beloved sons would go on a rampage. The only way for them to really strike back at Antoni was through the garden and the kitchen, two areas he couldn't control.

She stopped and placed her hand on the cutting table. Egg still dripped down one side, flour was everywhere and several dishes were broken. She glanced over at Antoni still standing in the doorway and she smiled. "I've been gone all day and yet, you couldn't be bothered to clean until now?"

Antoni stood and thought. He could tell her the truth, but would that really matter? Even though he had managed to fix the garden, thanks to some help, and was beginning to work on the kitchen, Antoni knew she wouldn't care. He hung his head, ready for whatever punishment she had planned for him.

"Nothing to say? You must be the dumbest person I have ever met, Stepson. And useless. If your father could see you now," she paused and sniffed dramatically, "he would die of shame. No food for you for the next three days. Water only. Oh, and since you insist on making a mess like a pig, you can sleep outside with them as well. I will not tolerate this laziness, Antoni!"

Antoni nodded in acknowledgement, bowing his head lower. "Yes, mother," he answered in a broken tone.

Antoni waited a moment to see if she would think of anything else to torment him.

She gave him one more menacing glare before sweeping from the room.

* * *

Four days later....

Lhan'strou stood cloaked and watchful in a corner of the Zibethal Merchants' Way market. He was waiting for Khan'strou to arrive so that they could be escorted to King Cidell. Things were heating up and in less than three weeks, the Kingdom of Lysky would be theirs. He could almost taste the sweet bite of victory. This was owed to them. They deserved to rule while others bowed at their feet.

Khan'strou made his way through the crowd, followed by two soldiers. As he moved the crowd parted for him almost by instinct. The slight hood darkened his features as he spotted his brother. Khan'strou waited until he was right upon the meeting spot to act or speak, the guards still behind him. "Brother, we have our escort."

Lhan'strou was surprised a bit by the two guards but voiced nothing. He trusted his brother's wisdom. He moved from his position by the wall and fell into step with Khan'strou. Fifteen minutes later, they were outside the palace's back entrance. He rapped twice, once, and then three times. After a moment, the door creaked open. Lhan'strou went inside first and spotted the person who had opened the door. It was a young girl, no more than ten years old who stood staring at him with wide brown eyes.

Her gaze swung from him to his brother and the guards. She waited until everyone was inside before closing the door. She moved back to the front and without a word, walked toward the staircase.

He didn't speak, but only gave a small gesture before following the girl up the stairs. The route she took was full of twists and turns that were meant to confuse them. Unfortunately for the girl, Lhan'strou was very good with directions and would be able to find his way back, no matter how much they tried to disguise the way to the meeting room.

Finally, she stopped at a plain oak door, knocked once and pushed the door open to reveal a large room with a huge table in the middle. Twenty-four chairs ringed it and four seats were empty. Lhan'strou entered as did his brother. The guards took up positions outside as the girl closed the door before scampering to the side of the man wearing the eye patch.

Yomlin smiled coldly at Lhan'strou. "Please, take a seat and relax. We are waiting on the last two."

"Is your king not going to speak with us directly? I thought we sought the same ends? I don't take kindly to being double-crossed." Khan'strou calmly stated as he leaned back in the seat.

Yomlin grinned and his grin was full of teeth and malice. "OUR king, is a little busy at the moment. The two left to come, will speak on his behalf."

Lhan'strou snorted. Was King Cidell getting cold feet? That could bode ill for their cause if he did.

The door creaked open and all eyes turned to the door. Lhan'strou forgot to breath as he watched two of the most beautiful women walk in.

Khan'strou's eyes fixated on the two women. His curiosity ate at him, but he said nothing. He waited as they crossed to the other side of the table and sat down.

"Gentlemen, may I present to you, Queen Mystale and Princess Tystale. They will speak and answer any questions as the King's representatives."

"Greetings, everyone." Queen Mystale replied as she and the princess took the remaining two seats, putting them directly across from Lhan'strou and Khan'strou.

Yomlin stood and began speaking. "Everyone in this room has, at one time or another, suffered oppression or defeat at the hands of Lysky's royal family. It is our unfortunate that the current regime under King Reglasky has been a peaceful one."

"Unfortunate? In what way?" demanded a raven-hair man in his mid-forties.

"Because peace feeds a soldier's discontent. They train for battles that they will never fight. We, however, will be changing that."

Khan'strou only grinned. "Regalsky's reign as king may be a peaceful one, but as a prince, leading his father's armies, the man was cold-blooded. I watched that day as that man and his troops rampaged through my home village. He may have peace now, but he will finally suffer for the pain he caused my brother and I as children." Khan'strou's face showed a twisted smile, anticipating revenge.

The other members murmured their own versions of agreement while the Queen and Princess kept unreadable expressions on their face.

"We have heard that the King plans to throw a ball in his daughter's honor. We wish to crash his little party and topple his government all in one swoop. I know, as well, that you two have been planning something for a while. I am here to offer you support. Whatever you need, it's yours." Queen Mystale added.

Her gaze was focused squarely on them. Lhan'strou decided right then and there that she was the one he would have to watch out for. She was the type that would stab a friend in the back without qualm.

Khan'strou listened calmly and leaned back in the seat. "I appreciate the offer. Any help you can provide will be very useful in toppling his throne. My brother and I have resources to check upon, but we will keep in touch to make this downfall happen." Khan'strou replied in a calm demeanor. "Do you have any questions for us?"

"Only one. Will you be killing the entire royal family or did you have some other plan in mind for them?"

Khan'strou's smile spread wide across his face. "They will all eventually die, but not before we have a little fun with them. It's no good to throw away a toy without at least playing with it."

The mocking and cruel laughter filled the air. Yomlin vocalized his amusement. "That's what I always admired about the Strou family line. Bloodthirsty and practical. Always a scary combination."

Khan'strou stood. "Now if you'll excuse us, my brother and I must take our leave."

"By all means. We will send messengers with more information as the time draws closer." The Queen assured him.

Lhan'strou stood and bowed. "We humbly say thank you for all your help."

"As long as it is to our mutual benefit, why not offer to help an ally?" The Princess spoke.

"Why not, indeed." Lhan'strou mused before walking out of the room. They were met by their guide who took them and their escort along a different route. Soon they were outside the castle and Lhan'strou let out a sigh.

Khan'strou waited for a moment as they continued on their way out of the outside town. "You are concerned about our dealings with our new ally." Khan'strou painted his thoughts as he continued walking.

"I fear they may turn on us when convenient. I urge caution, that is all."

Khan'strou chuckled. "It is reasonable to understand your concerns. The queen is a very shrewd and ambitious woman and will trip an ally to get away from a lion. I don't walk into negotiations without a few tricks hidden away. We will be ready if there is any trickery on their behalf."

"I believe in you, brother." Lhan'strou stopped and looked about. "This is where I will take my leave of you. I will be in contact with you again as soon as I hear from our allies about their next move."

Khan'strou nodded. "I will be waiting." Khan'strou separated from his brother and headed off in another direction. He had other contacts to make and needed to sow some further distrust and misinformation into the king and queen and their army. Raising one army and contacting shady allies would not be enough.

Lhan'strou watched his brother leave. Without turning around he spoke. "Following people is a bad habit you might want to consider breaking."

He heard a giggle and then felt the softest of touches and then their invisible follower was gone. He sighed and was glad that they had not been talking about anything in particular that could come back to haunt them later. He pulled his hood back up over his head and headed for the shadows and the outskirts of town.

* * *

Antoni continued moving about the house, working at his chores. His step-brothers hadn't given him any major trouble for the last few days and it started to eat at him. When were they going to do something? Antoni stopped in the kitchen and admired his work. He had managed to fix everything back and it gave him satisfaction to know he could undo their damage most of the time. Noticing the time, he went out into the garden to gather some vegetables. Lunch would need to be fixed shortly.

A loud knock rang out, shattering the silence in the house.

Antoni ran back into the house, vegetables in hand. He hurriedly dropped them on the kitchen table before rushing for the front door. He straightened himself a little and dusted off a little dirt before opening the door.

On the other side of the door was Leywis in full uniform. "Good afternoon, Antoni."

Antoni's jaw dropped slightly. "S-Sir?" He could speak nothing more as his mind tried to wrap around the situation.

"May I come in?"

Still speechless, Antoni nodded and stepped to the side. He shook his head after Leywis came in, closing the door behind him.

Leywis looked about and turned to Antoni. "Is your family home?"

Antoni shook his head. "No, they are out, but they should be back soon. Is there anything I can do for you, sir?" he asked, his mind swirling with the worst ideas of what could be going on.

Leywis smiled and it was a kind one. "Yes, go get cleaned up. You're coming with me today."

Antoni blinked. "I, uh, yes, sir." He made his way into the kitchen and grabbed the vegetables on the table to clean. "I have to make sure they have lunch to eat before I go," he half-mumbled.

Leywis followed him to the kitchen and frowned. He walked over and put his hand on Antoni's. "Is this what I asked you to do?"

Antoni stopped. "No, but-but, I need to make, they need me to make, to do....."

"Antoni, you're going to get your first lesson in military protocol right now. When your superior officer gives you an order, you obey it immediately and without question. Understand?"

Antoni took a deep breath and nodded. "Yes, sir." He dropped the vegetables and turned to Leywis. "Please give me one moment to get ready."

"I'll be at the front door."

Antoni nodded and ran down the stairs to his basement room. He quickly scrubbed in key areas and changed clothes. He was almost breathless when he made it back upstairs and to Leywis waiting at the door. Straightening himself, Antoni nodded to Leywis. "I'm ready."

With a curt nod, Leywis opened the door and stepped outside. At the gate were two horses. He turned to Antoni. "Do you know how to ride?"

"Yes, sir." he responded. "I learned from my father before he passed away."

"I see. Well that roan mare is for you." Leywis explained as he went out the gate and untied the reins and handed them to Antoni. He untied his own horse and swung up into his gelding's saddle. "Mount up. We have to go to the registration office."

"Yes, sir." Antoni mounted his ride and followed Leywis' lead along the road towards their destination.

It was a thirty-minute ride to the registration site and neither talked. The silence was companionable and was eventually broken by the sounds of metal clanging and the shouts of commanders grilling the newest recruits. Leywis slowed his horse to a walk and moved closer to Antoni's mount.

"You have nothing to be afraid of here. Just do your best, follow directions and everything will be all right."

Antoni nodded. "Yes, sir. I will do my best." He got down from the mare and surveyed the actions going on around him. "Um, where should I go first?"

Leywis chuckled. "Follow me." He dismounted and led the way toward a rather large tent at the far end of the camp. "Good day, General Octaga. I bring you a newbie." he called out as he pulled aside the tent flap and ushered Antoni inside.

Seated at a square table was a massive man with graying hair and a fierce stare. "Leywis, my boy! You haven't been around in a while. I was starting to think you thought you were too good for us."

"No, sir, been busy keeping the Princess out of trouble."

The General laughed and stood. He slapped Leywis on the back. "That's the spirit. Now, who is this?" He turned his attention to Antoni.

Leywis walked over to Antoni and placed a reassuring hand on his shoulder. "This, sir, is Antoni Powrinov."

Antoni nodded and then bowed. "Hello, s-sir." he nodded again. He remained confused about what exactly to do as this was a completely new experience to him. He stood silently, almost having to remember to breathe because the fear of doing something stupid or angering the general or Leywis swallowed his thoughts.

The General studied him with a critical eye. "Tell me, Boy, what does your father think of you joining the guard?"

Antoni breathed out a sigh. "My father is dead, sir." Antoni blinked half-expecting a roar of anger or some kind of outburst.

The General merely grunted. "And this is something you wish to do? Become a guard and protect our kingdom, especially our Princess?"

"Yes, sir. I want to do what I can to safeguard our kingdom and our princess, Sir." Antoni answered as calmly as he could. He didn't want his timidity to be the main trait the general saw in him.

The General gave him another measuring look. "I'll give you a try, Boy. If you don't live up to my expectations, you'll be cut loose, understand?"

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