A Royal Sacrifice Ch. 17byRedHairedandFriendly©
Rain fell steadily across the stain glass windows of the gallery. Evie moved quietly through the brightly lit room, her gaze drifting slowly over various paintings of Vix's former leaders. When she came to a portrait of her birth parents she stopped and studied first her mother's face and then her father's. Both wore stern expressions, yet Evie had a feeling that her mother's expression would be softer if she'd not been stuck posing with a man like Richard. She had never met the couple, but from the stories Muriel had shared with her, she knew her mother was not a cruel hearted woman. Her father, she learned was greedy, selfish, and cared only for himself. "I pray I never turn out like you," she whispered to the well-crafted portrait.
Evie's pulse quickened. She turned and took in Drest's appearance at the gallery's threshold. "Good day," she greeted him, then moved away from the picture to stand in front of one of the decorated windows. She watched the water flow down it's warbled surface. Her fingers reached out to trace the haphazard pattern as her mind tried to not focus on the man behind her.
His footsteps echoed through the room as he walked across it's polished floor. Eventually he reached her side and stood quietly beside her. "It seems our plans to ride this afternoon have been stolen from us."
Evie shrugged her shoulders and sighed softly. "Yes, it has. Perhaps another day."
"Oh, no doubts there. But since we can not ride, then perhaps there is something else we can do?"
She closed her eyes, pushing away the tempting thoughts that always seemed to assail her whenever Drest was present. Yes, there were many things she'd rather do. Things that he'd made her dream of since the first touch of his skin to hers, and the first kiss, the way he had licked her flesh and teased her body. Yes, those things were a constant on her mind and then 'that woman' would suddenly appear in her thoughts. Viviane. The very idea of the busty mongrel and Drest together, made her stomach twist into knots. Evie shuddered and wrapped her arms around herself, then moved away from Drest.
She stopped, stiffened and waited for him to speak his mind.
"Will you ever forgive me?"
Evie bit down on her lower lip. She had been asking herself that same question during the wee hours of her many sleepless nights. "I am trying," she whispered.
She felt him close the distance between them. Her lip trembled as his hand rested on her shoulder. He squeezed it gently and urged her to turn toward him. Evie remained steadfast in her place, refusing to move.
"Evelyn. I could not help myself with her. I admit this to you. It is something I will always regret. I too am disgusted with my actions, but if you only knew. . .if you knew the power within her touch, then perhaps you would understand better."
Evelyn swallowed the lump in her throat and shook her head. "I do understand power. Rebecca was forced to do things she didn't want to do. Vile acts that no woman would ever desire or want to enjoy. . ." Her words ended in a whisper as she told the lie.
She knew Rebecca hadn't enjoyed the things she'd done with Bagdemagus, but she knew during those last few days of Rebecca's life, she'd enjoyed secret meetings with Cedric. Evelyn hadn't been privy to the actions themselves, but she was very much aware of what had gone on during those morning hours, afternoon dalliances, and late night interludes. Experienced she was not; living in a village surrounded by women and men that made coin by offering themselves however, left little to the imagination.
"Are you so sure?"
Drest's question brought Evie back to the feel of his hand on her shoulder. She felt herself leaning back into him, pressing her back to his chest. His fingers crept up to her neck, the pads of them brushing lazily against the corded muscle and flesh. "Rebecca cared deeply for Cedric. He provided her with hours of pleasure, drove out the nightmares that Bagdemagus had driven into her," Drest whispered against her temple.
"Do you have nightmares? Of you and Viviane?" Evelyn asked, her voice somewhat breathless as his fingers continued to slide lazily across her skin, pausing to caress circles into the flesh.
"No. I do not. I don't dream of her, nor do I want her. She's been removed from my life. I do not miss her, especially now that I am desiring someone else. . .this time with my own free will."
Evelyn closed her eyes and took several deep breaths. She wanted to believe him. Her desires for him were growing more and more each day, yet to give him all of herself, meant that she would have to trust him. Trust was such a difficult thing to give. Only Cedric and Muriel did she truly trust and even they were kept at a distance, simply because she felt it kept them safer. She'd loved her foster parents. Bagdemagus had killed them. She cared for Rebecca and she too was now dead. Who would be next?
She pulled herself away and turned to face the man she was falling in love with. Evelyn took a deep breath and forced her emotions down. "Prince Drest, I know that you have helped me with many things. You have aided me in swordplay, archery, and advised me on the ways of politics both when dealing with those in my counsel, but also with Bagdemagus. Benedict alone makes you worthy of a medal," her last statement was said with a soft, though weak smile, "I think it is best that you and your entourage return to Ural."
Drest's frown told her that he was set on arguing with her. She lifted her hand to cut off any words he thought of offering to her. "I know you feel responsible for me, but you are not. We are not betrothed, nor have you made an offer. . .and no that is not some secret feminine hint for you to. I simply feel that Bagdemagus is my problem and therefore I shall have to thwart him myself."
"Evelyn. I am not leaving and I will offer for you, but right now is not the right time. There is too much happening, too many unanswered questions, and most of all, you do not yet trust me. Only then will I ask for you to be my wife. On the topic of Bagdemagus; he may be Vix's problem now, but if he succeeds in his plans, what makes you think Ural will not be next to garner his attentions? Or perhaps Wilshire? Taxing? Coral Peak?"
"Those are small kingdoms; what would he gain from them?"
Drest shook his head. "What would it matter? To him it would just solidify his strength. Why stop at one keep when you can conquer hundreds?"
Evelyn frowned. "You are correct. Again you point out to me another reason I am ill fit for this position."
"Evie," he whispered, stepping into her personal space and placing his hands on either side of her arms, "you are very fit for this position. You just don't want it."
She looked up at him and knew he spoke the truth. She had never wanted to be Queen. She had always lived as a peasant and had enjoyed it far more than she enjoyed leading the people of Vix. Her shoulders sagged and she lowered her head in shame. "I wish there were another to take my place."
Drest's fingers moved to her chin and he tipped her face up. "There is no one, but you. Will you ever accept that?"
Drest looked behind her and nodded his head. "The rain has stopped and the sun is peaking out. Perhaps we should practice your archery. Help rebuild the confidence I see growing every time you come closer to hitting my mark."
She grinned. "I am getting closer."
"Aye, you are. Are you ready to wager against me, yet?"
Evelyn laughed. "Am I ready? I am sure Prince Drest that I was the first to offer a small wager."
"Yes, you were. However your wager was not small. If my memory serves me right, you wanted a night of self-indulgence at that local tavern."
Her lips rose in a wider smile. "And I shall get it. What is it you wish to have from me? Though it is pointless, since you will lose."
"I ask for nothing. Because I will not lose. There is nothing you offer that would make me forfiet a wager to you. You wager your safety."
Evelyn's eyes became slanted. She stepped away from him, his arms no longer touched her petite form. "Nothing?" with a raised brow, she turned and sauntered her way out of the room, pausing briefly at the door to look back at him, "that's quite sad, for I was willing to offer you everything." She closed the door and walked back to her room, where a young maid waited to aide her in preparing for whatever desire she wished to indulge in.
Drest watched her leave. His chest tight as he contemplated her words. He could have asked her to wager anything and when he won, she'd been honor bound to deliver. A simple kiss. A warm embrace. Those things were safe to take from her, but they would have meant holding her. Breathing her in. Touching. Tasting. Possessing her. These things he wanted to do, but knew they would lead to his downfall. He had sworn to himself to remain distant to her. She could have a home in his heart, but she could not own it.
He left the room, making his way to his own quarters. Once there he took a few minutes to himself to think about the woman he would make his wife. She would be a great leader for Ural. She was a great leader for Vix. Yet, he knew it was not something she longed for. Even if she didn't have to rule Vix, there was still Ural. It was a smaller kingdom, less formal, less invasive when it came to the personal lives of the royals. Her responsibilities would be great, but as the wife of the reigning Prince, she would not have the weight of the people entirely on her shoulders. For the first time since coming to Vix, he too wished she were not the Queen. A knock on his door brought him out of his musings and he rose from the edge of the bed.
"Benedict, what brings you to my humble abode?" Drest said after opening the door and taking in the disheveled appearance of the Chancellor.
Benedict frowned and pushed his way into the room, shutting the door tightly behind him. "You are a fool and I regret ever taking your words to heart!"
Drest snickered, but said nothing as he watched the normally well-suited man pace back and forth in front of the fireplace. "That woman! No woman at all, especially that one is worth this!" Benedict spread a fisted palm down his muddied clothes.
"What did she do?"
"She... she... she asked me to rescue a damn sow!"
Drest doubled over. His arms clutched his stomach and his laughter filled the room. Benedict stared at him with dagger filled eyes. "When you are finished. . ." he muttered.
It took Drest several attempts to stop his chuckling, but eventually he did. He walked over to a closet and produced a worn blanket, which he laid on a chair. "Take a seat. . .and then make this story quick. You are a bit rank."
Benedict snarled, but did as Drest suggested. Once he was settled on the chair, he tried to look regal, though he too had to admit it was hard when one smelled of pig dung. He cleared his throat and began his tale.
"I was walking through the village, trying to find something for Muriel. It was you who suggest I give her things... things she'd like, to win her heart."
Drest stopped him. "No. I suggested you show her a part of yourself that you do not show others."
"Well, yes, but to do that I needed an opening. A reason to approach her."
Drest lifted a brow, and then a finger, indicating for Benedict to continue.
"As I was saying... There I was minding my own business browsing the pitiful wares of the villagers...wishing some gypsies had been in the area, because they often have the most unique oddities available at a small sum."
"Benedict...the cost isn't what is important."
"Really?" he asked as if a great secret had suddenly been revealed to him, "but Muriel is nothing but a housekeeper, well... now the Queen's trusted Lady's maid. She has little that is truly her own, most all things, we, the kingdom, have given her and can easily take away."
Drest growled and rose to his feet. "You are an ass! When are you going to learn she is more than a Lady's maid? Or a housekeeper?!"
Benedict sighed. "I know; forgive me for my insult."
"It is not I you keep insulting. But enough... how did you come to rescue the fair pig."
"I rounded a corner and there she was arguing with an old man."
"Muriel?" Drest asked.
"Of course Muriel. She was standing there, her hands on her hips, clenched in fists. Her face was bright red and her body was ramrod straight," he sighed, "she looked magnificent."
Drest chuckled. "She is a lovely woman."
"Aye, she is indeed. But we digress. I approached, curious as to what she was doing and somewhat angered she had no escort. Of course, I did escort her home, though I looked like this and it was anything but romantic."
"I'm sure she was honored to be seen at your side." Drest smirked.
"She should have been; all of Vix saw me looking like this and I would not do this for just anyone. Not even that girl that calls herself a Queen." Drest formed a clenched fist and Benedict quickly retracted his words with a quick "forgive me". Drest said nothing more and waited for Benedict again to relay his story.
"I asked her what ailed her and why this man was so deserving of a tongue lashing. It seems there was piglet cowering under a trough, how it got there, is beyond me. But there it was, wedged tight and there was the farmer with a blade about so long." Benedict spread his arms to mark the size of the weapon. "Muriel explained to me that a young girl had been running through the village with the piglet under her arm. She ran smack into the her and the girl fell, Muriel almost did, and the piglet ran away. The farmer was fast on the girl's heels and tumbled to a stop, barely catching himself from toppling into Muriel. I tell you, if that had happened, he would have been beaten for such clumsiness."
Drest shook his head in amusement. "Benedict... I have training with Evelyn. Please get on with it."
"The farmer kicked the girl, pulled her up to her feet by her hair and hit her again. He then lifted a crop to inflict more pain on her and Muriel quickly stepped in. She almost got hit too, but the man stopped the descent of the tool and backed off, dragging the mite with him. Muriel however, could not stay out of it and demanded the girl be left alone. The farmer yelled at her, words were exchanged and before she knew it, according to Muriel, the farmer was selling the girl to her. So now Muriel has a village whelp living in this castle! I told her she had best be a silent whelp. But that isn't how I got filthy."
"The pig Benedict... please!"
"The girl wanted the damn pig! Muriel found the farmer, who was poking that blade under the trough, trying to stab the thing and drag it out. Another argument and that is where I came in. She begged me to save the wee bugger and I agreed. The farmer refused to go in and get the vile beast out, so I thought of all you had said and decided I would do it. I climbed in, my chest puffed out and told myself, how difficult could it be to rescue the creature. After all I am a man; it is a pig." Benedict rolled his eyes. "The little thing scrambled out, ran between my legs. I twisted and turned, caught myself before falling and then another piglet appeared out of nowhere. It seems the farmer decided to have a bit of sport and opened the gates, allowing a whole mess of piglets out. They were everywhere. I was dodging them and trying hard to keep my eyes on the prize. Before I knew it was wearing sludge, breathing it in... eating it."
Drest laughed hard, once more bellying over as Benedict finished his tale. "I caught the runt and presented him to the little girl. Then like a fool, offered my arm to Muriel...who smiled, but refused me! After all that... she refused ME!"
"My Lord... look at yourself, breath in your aroma. She's a woman, yes, she's not a Saint! You showed her a part of yourself that you would never have shown another. Rest easy. You've touched her more than you know. Now... please, go wash. I beg of you!" Drest rose from his seat and opened the door to his room. "Trust me... she sees you in a whole new light."
The door closed on Benedict and Drest chuckled throughout the readying of himself for his archery lessons with Evelyn. By the time he reached her side, she was already notching what looked to be her tenth arrow. The targets, several rounded bales of straw and a few stuffed dummies, were littered with deadly marks.
"I see you finally arrived," Evie muttered. Drest noticed the annoyed sound of her voice and smirked.
"Waiting on me with baited breath?" he asked.
"Hardly. I was sure you had decided to forfeit after all, since you know you will lose to me."
He laughed hard and began to instruct her on how to better her aim. The lessons were ones he cherished. They gave him excuses to touch her, something he enjoyed doing, but something he also knew would bring about his downfall. He closed off his heart, or tried to as she allowed him the liberty of touching her skin. Each caress was well placed and he chastised himself for enjoying it so much.
"Are you ready?" Evie eventually asked, lowering her bow and staring intently at Drest.
"For our wager. I will better your shot and in the end you will reward me with a visit to the tavern."
Drest rolled his eyes. "Evelyn. I have been shooting since before you could walk."
"You are not that much older than I. Just more experienced."
"Exactly. You only seek to humiliate yourself."
"It is not I that will be humiliated," she answered back.
"When I win, then this is over. You'll admit defeat and life will go on as we know it. Correct?"
"If you win, I will declare you the greatest archer in all of Vix." Evelyn rolled her eyes sarcastically and then bowed low to pay mock homage to the Royal Highness.
Drest sighed, but took his place on the mark. He lifted his weapon and took aim at the target's beaten center. The snap of the string whistled through the air. The arrow flew, quickly becoming lodged in the heart of the straw dummy. Drest stepped back, bowed to Evelyn and watched as she took her place. He enjoyed the way her fingers gripped the arrow as she held it in her curled fingers. His eyes took in the limber way she moved as she lifted the bow and knocked the deadly weapon. He'd never found the sport to be erotic, but as the weeks had progressed and his lessons with Evelyn had continued, he certainly found the appeal to training a female something that all men should consider.
It was the familiar twang that forced Drest to stop fantasizing about the Queen of Vix. He gaze shot to the mark and his jaw stiffened. Out of the corner of his eye he saw her lift another arrow, caress it's feathers and then gently draw back to release a second shot. It landed next to her first, which much to his shocked expression still rested nestled against his. "A draw," he muttered, knowing that Evelyn would not be satisfied with such an ending and demand another attempt to best him.
"Dear Prince, your eyesight is not so well," Evelyn stated with a small tilt to her head.
"Nay, it is a draw."
"I do believe I am dead center and you are off... just a wee bit." She lifted her fingers to show a hint of space between them.
Drest shook his head, then turned to walk down the length of the range. He stared long and hard at the target. His hands rested on his hips. He felt Evelyn's eyes on his back. She hadn't walked with him and he knew as he stared at her two arrows, closer to the mark than his, that she had no reason to prove who had won. Her eyesight obviously was much better than his, as was her shot. He shook his head in annoyance, spun on his heel and walked back to her side. "We leave this night after supper. You'll speak of this to no one. If anyone hears of our plans, then you will stay locked in your rooms. No one, not even Muriel will know that you will be gallivanting around the village. Bagdemagus's spies are everywhere."