Claiming an Ally Ch. 01bytitania123©
Hello! So this is my first submission, I'm extremely nervous, interested in feedback, blah, blah, blah. With all that said, I wanted to let you know the first chapter is mainly plot and character set up, the 'good stuff' will come along in the following chapters, slowly building up. I've put a lot of work into it, so I hope you enjoy it. Thanks
Emera took one last look out her father's balcony which viewed the castle's gardens, the lake, and forest beyond, and finally the mountains that separated her kingdom of Adalynd with Lidio, ruled by the powerful King Edrich Mather. And it was that treacherous kingdom she was bound for, to change the courses of both their destinies. For decades, the borderlands had been squabbling and feuding over land rights. Those of Adalynd maintained their properties extended to the river that ran near the foothills on the south side of the Glass Mountains. Those of Lidio, however, were not inclined to give up the rich, fertile soil between the river and the mountains. There was also the fact that the mountains facing Lidio held a vast wealth of gems buried deep within their bellies. The old king of Lidio had been a merciless, greedy ruler who often encouraged his citizens to take what they could, which he in turn taxed highly. The atmosphere began to breed ruffians no longer belonging to either country, but instead making a living by pillaging the less protected villages on the borderland.
Her own father, who was of a timid nature, avoided confrontation and settlement of the issue until at last the violence in the borderlands grew; he sent soldiers to maintain as much land as possible. When the old king of Lidio died, his son Edrich ascended. He seemed less blood-thirsty, but more military driven than his predecessor. His military presence was stronger at the border. While his men overcame any outlaw threat they encountered, they also slowly began encroaching into and claiming Adalynd, village by village. Her father was at a loss of what to do, never having spent the time or money maintaining a strong army.
However, Emera was not one to easily give up. With her mission firmly planted in her mind, she was soon on the road with her maid Glenna and a king's messenger named Alistair. They traveled with only a large bag filled with essential items, and the princess' bow and quiver. Strapped to her thigh was the dagger the captain of the guards had given her after she had trained with him. Eventually they left Alistair, who stayed behind in a small village on the north side of the mountains, ready to act as a fast relay back to the king when Emera had news to report. Before long, they were walking through the last free-held village. "Miss, what is your plan for finding information about the king?"
"Clearly, we can't stay here and gather accurate information about him. We need to reach another village now under Lidio rule. I've heard the guards say the land past the miller's hut is off limits since there are reports of marauders lurking in the woods. Obviously, that is where we need to head. We can leave once darkness has set." They rested for the remainder of the day, and at nightfall began making their way into the thick forest that was the last barrier between free and occupied Adalynd territory. In the morning light, wearied and starving from travel, Glenna began building a fire while Emera went to hunt a pheasant. She was stalking through some bushes when she happened upon a river. Her eyes were focused, waiting for the rustling of bushes before the birds flew when splashing drew her attention. Emerging from the water, a man hard-cut from stone began walking to the shore. All thoughts evaporated from her mind as she stood mesmerized. He was the most beautiful person she had ever seen. His black hair was shorter than most men's, barely touching the nape of his neck. Her conscious mind faded away, and she did not realize her heart rate and breathing had increased. A thrumming rush of heat and swelling pulsated through her and her skin lit on fire. An ache began to grow deep in her core and she clenched her intimate muscle to ease it. As she was to the side of him, she only saw the muscles rippling down his flank, though she was surprised as she realized she wished she could see all of him.
Then he stopped, frozen. She wondered at his behavior, until she followed his gaze. A boar with enormous tusks had emerged from the brush and had spied him. Unfortunately, the beast was between the man and his pile of clothing where his sword lied; he was defenseless. He stood motionless, waiting for the beast to move on. However, the fowl she had been on the search for chose that moment to fly not two meters from the naked man, startling the boar in the process. Seeing the threat, the beast charged. The man took a position as though he would wrestle it to the ground. Without hesitation, Emera stepped from her hiding place, drew her arrow and let it fly, piercing the hog in the heart. It slid to a stop in front of his feet.
He swung around, tension, perhaps anger splayed across his face. When he spied her, he straightened and his face fell blank as he analyzed the girl before him. He watched her, noting the bow her hand. He watched as fierce concentration from shooting at the charging animal faded away to more of a sensual, heated look. His head nodded in a sort of acknowledgment of her saving actions. But still neither spoke. The rush from the charging boar was quickly converted to a delicious desire fueled by the sight of the ever-increasing arousal of the beautiful woman. Without much thought, he slowly approached, curious and a little hungry. Her innocent, yet erotic inspection of his body was burning him and his growing arousal was proof of his mutual attraction to her.
She had never seen a naked man before, much less one as divine and powerful as the one who stood before her. Though she tried to discipline herself to only watch his eyes, she couldn't keep hers from the now turgid prominence before her.
Just as he was about to reach out and touch her, angry blue eyes shot to his. He was taken aback by the unexpected emotion until she spoke. Her voice was warm and husky. "Would you mind putting your clothes on, sir?" Her annoyance amused him slightly, though his ego pricked a little at being spoken to by someone who should tremble in fear of him if he so wished it. Eyeing her thoughtfully, he doubted she would ever tremble in fear. He reluctantly walked to his pile of clothing. He had had his morning fun and it was now time to be about his business. Once dressed, he belted his sword around his waist and turned to her again.
Though she faked it greatly, she still didn't have much control. Her breathing was slowing somewhat, but her heart thumped so gloriously hard in her chest she had to take deep breaths to concentrate. Hunting had never exhilarated her as much as the moment he stood before her. As he turned back towards her, she finally noticed his uniform and the military issued belt holding his sword. "You are a soldier?" Her voice was easing some as her focus rapidly shifted to her preexisting mission. He nodded. "You are camped near here?" He squinted his eyes in scrutiny, and then nodded. She too nodded as nonchalantly as possible; he was becoming suspicious. "My maid and I have left our home, in Waybridge and are traveling to Clearvalley."
"Two women, traveling alone? It is nearly four days travel and your are still at least two days away."
"Yes, well, with no family left here, I must relocate."
"I see." He began slowly stalking back towards her. Her moment of indignation had faded and he could see the returning lust. Even as he approached her, he silently rebuked himself for becoming so easily distracted; his mind should be on battle. But he had never been quite so strongly drawn to such a lovely form before. Not to mention, she boldly saved his life, and her obvious delight in his naked form was too arousing for any man to not respond to. He was close enough to see the long lengths of her black lashes, and the growing pink that spread across her cheeks. "These woods aren't safe, not even for a woman who can shoot a bow. You, and your maid, should come with me back to the camp. We happen to be traveling to Clearvalley. We can offer you protection, in exchange..." His change of tone, suddenly hinting at something less than noble, slapped her out of the trance he had put her in.
"In exchange for what?" She felt disgruntled, even though she wasn't quite certain what he was trying to suggest.
"In exchange for saving my life, of course. Plus, maids can be very useful to a camp full of soldiers." His voice was growing lower and fuller the more he spoke. "Surely you know how to make yourself useful, right? In ways that do not require deadly weapons."
She felt his voice run like warm caresses down her neck, and yet his actions remained harmless. Though she may have been innocent, she certainly wasn't immune to his allure. And she immediately resented him for using it on her. "I'm sorry sir," she ground out, "but other than shooting an arrow," her grip tightening around her bow, the leather glove squeaking as she did so, "I don't know what other abilities I possess."
He noticed her agitation, and found it amusing. He could have sworn, not a moment before, she would have readily let him bed her. Now, however, her slightly indignant tone suggested his touch would be unbearable. He smirked to himself, this wench was extremely haughty, and though he knew he should focus on the immediate state of his foreign relationships, he couldn't resist the challenge of taming the passion he saw ignited so brightly, so easily, as she gazed upon him. "Come, come," he purred, "I'm sure you are an excellent...cook."
"Cook?" her face implied she had never heard the word before, let alone done anything to suggest she knew how.
"Miss! Miss! The fire is ready!" Glenna stumbled through the brush and stopped dead in her tracks.
He raised an eyebrow at Emera. "This is my maid I told you of."
He suddenly, furrowed his brow. "How is it, a lady, such as yourself, only travels with a maid? Surely you should have had protection."
"Yes, well, as I told you, I have no family left here. So, regrettably, there was no one to protect me, though I would have thought my obvious skills would have precluded the need for another's protection." She mumbled the last bit under her breath, though he heard it, knitting his brow together even more.
He harrumphed, slightly and turned, presumably back towards his camp. He stopped at the beast, reaching down and grabbing it by a giant tusk. "Follow me," his voice commanded, without so much as a look back.
Of all the arrogant, self-important..."For a soldier," she clipped loudly, hands on her hips, "I'm surprised you would have gone so far from the protection your sword provides, allowing yourself to be caught by a deadly animal. Not much tactical forethought, I imagine."
He stopped, and then he did turn around. The audacity of the young, impudent girl made him balk for the first time in an extremely long time. The persons he usually dealt with were soldiers under his command, diplomats that cowered before him, and sultry women that only had heavy-lidded eyes and pouty lips, but certainly no smart-aleck quips. He had no ready comeback, only a gaze full of fire. "Come, no more talking." He made to turn, but her words stopped him yet again.
"And if we decline the great offer of your protection?"
"Your declination would be based upon the presumption that you have any free choice in the matter." He was facing her, silently warning her to not challenge him further.
She was about to do just that when a nervous Glenna grabbed her by the arm and pulled her quickly aside. "Miss," she said in a hushed whisper, "this is the opportunity you have sought. We can get much better information from the army about the king. This soldier is providing exactly what you wanted. Please, don't anger him further, and let's do as he asks."
Emera bit the inside of her cheek, trying unsuccessfully to lessen her scowl at the towering figure watching them. Glenna was right, and so with a huff, she straightened her shoulders and addressed him. "Very well, we accept your offer."
He lifted his eyebrows at them, wondering what the older woman had said to change her mind, and turned and continued on his way. She sighed heavily, communicating her displeasure at his officious manner, but followed on. Glenna stared hard at the back of the tall, dark brute. The look in his eyes, though partly lit by anger at Emera's words, was mostly heated by intense desire she knew the princess was ignorant of. The danger of their mission would increase greatly if Emera continued to draw this sort of attraction from the soldiers they were to subtly gain information from. She was concerned, but held her lip, saving her warning for later.
Upon reaching the camp clearing, all the tents were packed away in dozens of wagons. The soldiers gathered in their ranks, reading to leave for the day's march. He stopped in front of a wagon, where an old man was tying down the last flap of the cover on the back. He dropped the boar on ground before speaking with the old man. He called him Leonard and instructed him the two ladies were to be his help until they reached camp at Clearvalley. Leonard quickly bowed to the tall man as he walked on.
"Oh, now, there dear, look at you. Gone and gotten yourself a job for the king's cook tent," the old man said struggling to lift the pig into the back of the wagon.
Emera rushed to help him and struck up a conversation. "The king! He's here? In this camp?" The old man just looked up at her, dumbfounded. "Tell me," she said, looking about at all the soldiers walking around, "where is he?"
"Why, that were him, the man that brought you here. Didn't you know?"
She shot a stricken look to an equally surprised Glenna. "That-was-the-king?" she could barely speak, the color draining from her face. Damn! Her mission had just become complicated by her insolent mouth and a budding awareness of attraction.
The day passed comfortably enough despite having to walk the whole time. The seat in the wagon was only able to accommodate two people. The old cook had made the young boy that served him give up his normal seat to one of the women. Glenna had vehemently refused to sit next to the cook in the wagon, in hushed tones saying the princess should not have to walk. "It is a ridiculous thing, Glenna, to make a woman of your age walk when I am fit and healthy and quite able. Now, stop fussing, (you are making a scene) and climb up. That is an order," she hissed the last part and watched the faithful servant's dejected face as she hoisted herself up.
Emera used the time on the ground, walking next to the wagon as an opportunity to obtain as much intel as her eyes and modicum amount of training would allow. She was able to count four troops with several platoons in each. From her rough estimations, she counted just fewer than 800 soldiers in this regiment alone. She wondered at their number. Would they pick up more, leave some behind, or keep their numbers the same once they reached the next village? If the king was leading them, and not just a general, she assumed these were some of his elite. Verifying that assumption with her own eyes, she saw many hulking, yet tactically refined soldiers either on foot or on monstrous beasts clad in armor. The horses were all of them carved from stone and livened by breath from Hades. She had nearly been trampled at one point when she was trying to locate the king. She grew up riding horses, but her own stallion was built for speed. These brutes were as deadly as the soldiers on their backs.
Emera considered her fortune at landing under the protection of the very king she was intent at spying on. She thought back repeatedly to the conversation she had with her father to convince him to allow her to discreetly obtain information about this king and his plans. A man, calling himself Jenner, claimed to be part of the Edrich's council and had information to give her father. He claimed Edrich was an evil man, bent on taking over as much land as possible. The man reported the king was building up his army in several key villages on the border, intent on laying siege to Adalynd within a month's time. Emera had argued with her father that it was dangerous to go to war based on one traitor's claims. "But, my daughter, he provides good information and claims to seek peace. What else can I do?"
"Oh, I don't know, how about speaking with the king before attacking? Is it not possible to avoid war if you first find out what the opposition wants? Can no deal be made?"
"Deal? What deal is there to make? Edrich will only demand the river valley, and once I've given that to him, he'll only demand more. Where will it end?"
"So you would resort to such subversive, dangerous methods before ever meeting the man? I have heard tales of this King. And it is true, all agree that he is harsh and brutal in battle. But many also say he is reasonable and honorable. Surely, a man with such characteristics deserves some faith to at least be given a chance to discuss these matters?"
"Emera, my dear, you are still so young, so naive. If he is anything like his father, there will be no reasoning with him."
"Well, I am happy to report that children aren't always like their parents." The accusation hurt her the moment she said it, and she was sorry to attack her own father's character. She had, thankfully, received none of his cowardice, but she knew she could not, should not hate him for it. "Father, I am sorry." She thought for a moment, walking to the window. "Father, if this is the course you would take, then may I ask a favor, first?" She walked to him and kneeled at his feet, looking up, pleadingly. "Let me go, in disguise, and discover for myself that the King is not a man to negotiate with and that he has rallied his troops as this spy claims. Even if my hope is misplaced, and he turns out to be a man hungry for more land, let me be assured that we are not falling into a trap. Father, please?"
He thought for a moment, and could no longer look into her eyes. He looked away, his gaze falling upon a portrait of his wife. Emera so resembled her, but seemed to be made out of a different cloth altogether. He knew she would be a powerful leader, but only if she had a kingdom left to inherit. "Very well, my child. I know you have been trained well, and can protect yourself. I will trust your report and your suggestion for battle. I will give you two weeks to return. If you are not back by then, I will have to presume I must proceed based on the information we received."
Being part of the king's camp made her mission easier to gain accurate information. It also heightened the danger by being so close to the target, the cunning and merciless king. However, she was confident in the martial skills her father had allowed and then even encouraged her to practice when her natural talent and interest were discovered. She knew she could always handle herself, even with a larger opponent due to her own set of specialized skills. Obviously, given that morning's performance, she was a deadly shot, even at a staggering distance, with her bow. But she was also just as deadly with a short sword. Though she had some success with a claymore, the strength required to outperform her foe with the two-handed sword was all she could muster. She therefore chose a fighting style that was brainy, not brawny and stuck to the lighter weapons.
As she marched along with the wagon, she was lucky enough to be accompanied by the youth that helped Leonard. He introduced himself as Linus, told her he thought he was about 10, and the various jobs he performed for the cook. He had a simple, straight-forward way of looking at things that she thought was charming. Eventually, she was able to ask him where he was normally stationed. "We cook for the king, always. We go where he goes. Master Leonard is quite good at making delicious food with very little." Though he was a quiet type of child, he still had obvious pleasure and pride as he spoke of the old cook.