Lady Sting Ch. 03byFlowsnake©
Regeneria met the clergyman outside the tomb in the cemetery. Unlike the dueling ground, this place was well kept. The lawn was like a billiard table beneath her feet. Tufts of snow dotted the area. The pair sat on a granite bench.
"I am Father August. Your father and I were somewhat close. He was angry at you, of course, but in quiet times after prayer he would express remorse to me. Your departure grieved him."
"He would trade me to a dotard and weaken our whole tribe just for selfish gain. His laments were for his broken dreams, not for me."
"Our Lord Christo teaches that we should forgive our enemies."
"Then he and I share a pragmatic world view, for I have just done so. The assassin walks free."
"I wasn't talking about that. Can you find it in your heart to forgive your father before we lay him to rest? It is the Christian way."
Regeneria pondered this. She was familiar with Christianity, of course. King Sigobert had welcomed the clergymen into his manor when he learned of tithing. She had attended some services and heard about Lord Christo. Indeed, he had given her the idea for gaining an edge in judicial duels. She saw images of thorns in his feet and decided to toughen her own.
It was a singularly odd religion, claiming one god, shunning violence, and restricting sex. None of it made sense to her, but for one thing: claim one god and you can unite the people. Just as Regeneria planned to do with Monrovius and the Franks.
"Father August, I will not cast aside the agreements my father had with you. Indeed, I wish to support the spread of your gospel. You have tended to these grounds better than my own people have tended to the Manor. I would offer you a permanent home here in Rupii Ilse. And each tribe I conquer, I shall carve out land for your men to preach from."
Father August seemed pleased at the idea. "If I may... there is an atoll near the base of the Kuttenblade. It is a pleasant spot with a calming view of the foothills. It is some ways from here but well within your realm.
We Cisterians thrive on labor; it is a tenet of our order. I would establish a monastery there, by your leave. I would build an orchard or some such and turn over to you nine tenths the fruits of our labor as payment for the land you bequeath us. It is not the result, but the work that appeals to us."
"The atoll -- I know it. It is indeed a charming spot. Very well; you may have it and a share of the surrounding lands. Now leave me to my grief so I can prepare for this eve's ceremony."
The clergyman hastened away as Regeneria entered the tomb. Her father lay on the table, still and composed. He was a man no longer, but a shell of skin and muscle and bone. She prodded his midriff with disdain. He'd gained some weight, but the strength beneath was still obvious. She sighed and muttered aloud "you utter fool."
Stricken by melancholy, Regeneria sought Marquess Illona but could not find her. She decided to visit Garrick in the storerooms. She walked through rows of arms and rounded a corner. Regeneria was surprised to find Marquess Illona there, on her knees in a pile of straw with her white frock bunched around her waist. Torchlight warmed her pale shoulders and the white swells of her large breasts. Illona was cupping her tits together and Garrick was feverishly plunging his ruddy cock between them. His distended, purple head glistened with saliva. It continually surged in and out of Illona's tightly pressed cleavage. Illona clucked and mewled in encouragement as she pinched her large pink nipples together and let a stream of saliva fall from her bottom lip. It pooled in the vee of her breasts, lubricating Garrick's thrusting cock.
His tunic was off, exposing a barrel chest luxuriant with coiled, tawny ringlets of chest hair. Sweat glistened from his brow and his face was red. A spasm of apprehension crossed Garrick's face and his thrusting slowed. He wriggled his hips and dragged the mushroom edges of his sensitive cockhead back and forth across Illona's nipples. He grabbed the base of his cock and slid it underneath her tits, pressed against the warmth of her breastbone, until just the pisshole was peeking out. The purple button of flesh quivered and spat ropes of cum wildly into the air. Two splashed across Illona's cheekbones. The others writhed in the air and nestled atop the blonde tresses of Illona's braided hair, suspended in fine wisps of gold.
The sight had lifted Regeneria's spirits and she retreated. That evening passed in a blur. There was a ceremony in the church, then the burial service where Regeneria had the grace to look sad.
Shortly afterward was the crowning ceremony. Regeneria again raised the bladed scepter and cleaved the air thrice in a fleur-de-lis. During dinner many people paid their respects and congratulations. Regeneria fielded them all numbly; not from disinterest but because she was so tired. At the end of the evening she went to her chamber, left her dress in a heap on the floor, and fell immediately asleep.
The next morning Regeneria rose and called for a meeting of court. Aside from the people she knew there were dozens of nobles assembled. She rose to address them all.
"You have honored me with your patience these last days. I know you all have questions and matters of import to discuss. Yet I will be largely absent from you and this court. Turn your eyes not inward, but across the plains of Bohemia. I shall march... nein, I shall fly across these plains with fury, reclaiming our lands and reuniting our people. To those who assist me, I offer shares of the taken lands."
The room stirred with incredulity.
"Yes, you think to yourselves: how can a teenage girl unite the Franks? What resources have we to mount a war? Your disbelief will be short lived. For now, leave me alone to prepare the reclamation of our honor. Are there any questions?"
It was clear that there were many questions, but at the moment none were voiced.
"Here then are the priorities. I need the outer wall in good repair. The stores need to be consolidated and protected. The windows need battened. Prepare our home against retaliation. There will be some, but it hardly matters at this point. Any who wish can waltz right in."
She left them to their preparations and asked Robeart to join her. "Let's go have a look at the men."
They walked through the courtyard to the training grounds. A handful of the Royal Guard were grappling. Some were polishing weapons. All of them looked at Regeneria passively and without much enthusiasm. Robeart whistled sharply and the men formed three ranks. The first rank was the thinnest, with older, hardened men. She surmised that these were the ranking officers within the guard. Regeneria paced before them and tuned sharply.
"An assassin got through and killed my father. She almost killed Monrovius and me. Who is responsible for this?" The men shifted uncomfortably. "Who commands you?"
She saw the eyes of one of officers glance towards Robeart. She was on the man in an instant. Regeneria lashed out, catching him square in the gut before sweeping his feet brutally from beneath him. The man fell hard and rolled out of the way, preparing to fight back, but she was on him too quickly. Regeneria pinned his legs and snapped his joints into a fingerlock. Immobilized, he stared into her scalding eyes.
"Robeart is the Captain of the Guard, but he does not command you. I do. Do you take issue with that?"
"No, Queen Regeneria."
"Back to ranks, then." She stood and let the man return to his place.
She pondered his words. "Queen Regeneria... Yes, that is true. But I am a Queen Regnant. I will not hold this title long. So I step from the dais and walk among you as a fellow soldier. I call myself better than any of you."
The demeanor of the men hardened. A couple stepped forth, glancing at Robeart for permission. He turned to the side, ignoring their unspoken question. Regeneria spat on the ground and the men rushed her.
She waited a beat then rolled under one of the men, hooking his arm and flinging him into his fellow guardsman. That man lay still on the ground, so she squared off against the first who had scrambled up. He charged her, pummeling at her face with precise and vicious fists. She merely dodged out of the way, deflecting once or twice with raised forearms. She allowed one blow to glance off her cheek as she surged in close, nudged him with her hip, and shot her arm straight upward under his jaw. He grunted as his head snapped backward. She elbowed his abdomen sharply and flipped him over her hip, gripping one hand in a fingerlock as she slammed him into the ground. She kept her foot on his head and his face in the dirt as she addressed the ranks again.
"You are my Royal Guard. If Monrovius should fall, you shall fall to a man. Furthermore, I march to war soon and need field commanders. War is coming to you, whether here or afield." She glanced at the man under her foot. "Now see to these men."
Then she left the training ground. Regeneria noticed that Basina had been watching from a rampart and waved her down. Basina inclined her head and stepped back into the shadows.
They sat on a bench with a discreet view of the training ground, so Regeneria could watch as the injured guards were tended to. Regeneria waved Basina's minder away then did the same to her own guard. The two men leaned against the rampart, keeping a sharp eye on the women. Regeneria noticed that Basina's guard had a gun trained on her.
"And so your freedom begins," Regeneria observed ruefully. "Do you want to be truly free? To live under the sun and join the fight anew?"
"You want me to give up my fellow assassin."
"That, and I want your fealty. You came here to end our monarchy for good. You have seen my retort. Are we still enemies? Can we not stand side by side?"
Basina tugged at her black locks for a moment. "Like you I yearn to unite our people again under strong rule. Preferably mine. But neither you nor I will ever be crowned High Queen. Monrovius is as good a man as any. He will be raised by you now."
The pair sat in silence. All three of the men Regeneria had faced were ambulatory. Two were going to be perfectly fine in a week or so. One seemed in bad shape.
"Where are you from? Who came with you?"
Basina sighed and looked past Regeneria. "We are Merovingian. Beside myself are the twins, Athene and Mellora. In truth they have not the same convictions as I. But they know the status quo and understand that I offer them something better." She looked again at Regeneria. "They will like you."
"Where are they now?"
"In the woods. If I do not return this fortnight, they have instructions to move forth and slay Monrovius. They can be patient for they have nowhere else to go. Mellora is quite a shot with the longbow. She would stalk him from afar."
"It is high time I returned to the wood. Very well. I will meet you at the front portico."
Regeneria went past the stables to find Garrick. He was hewing away at a post with a handsaw, sweat dripping from his brow. "Garrick, I need you to accompany me into the wood. I know where the other assailants may be. Gather a wagon and a horse and arm yourself. Come to the front portico when you are ready."
She went next to Robeart and the guardsmen. The injured one had broken ribs and a cracked collarbone. He was not pleased to see her.
"Captain, I know where the other assailants may be. Also, I needs get this man healed. So both of you arm yourselves and come with me."
"Your Highness, this man cannot fight."
"I'm not sure if he can or not. He was knocked out by his own man before I had a chance to test him." The officer winced but smirked a bit. "But no, he will ride in a wagon. This is not a hunt. Think of it as a scouting expedition. By the way, guardsman, what is your name?"
"Highness, I am Braeden."
The men followed her to the front portico where a horse and cart were waiting next to Garrick. Basina detached herself from the shadows and her guard followed suit. Basina and Regeneria took the lead, with their minders close by, followed by Garrick and Robeart, with Braeden in a wagon trailing. Robeart asked "where are we going, again?"
"Into the wood," Regeneria sighed, "to retrieve some things I left behind."
* * *
The group soon came to the clearing where Regeneria had found the dead man. Basina winced in embarrassment before they passed on. Afternoon sun filtered through the leaves. It was calm and cold, free of the buzzing of summer insects. Four hours passed, then Basina halted them with her raised hand. The group drew closer together for a consult.
"I feel we are being followed. The twins may have found us. They will not come out if they think I'm being held."
Robeart was quick to dismiss that notion. "We'll not simply free you to hunt us again at your leisure."
Garrick was tense as well. The man was no stranger to combat or ambush and he knew a setup when he saw it. The two minders held their guns openly at the ready, scanning back and forth to cover faceless enemies.
That is when Regeneria rang out a clear whistle and called "Step forth, Brand! You and your rabble best face me and pay for your crimes!"
A man emerged from the trees and beamed widely at her. Regeneria ran forth and he wrapped her in a rough hug. He thumbed the shiny welt on her cheekbone, left from her tussle with the guards. Several men appeared on all sides of the scouting party, guns at the ready. They looked like giant moss balls with arms and legs.
Brand spoke to Regeneria while everyone else stood awkwardly. "So, you are alive after all. I thought they were to shoot you on sight, or parcel you up to ship to the Von Bruens!"
"Their fire went out when my father drew his last breath. But now is not the time. We seek two women with bows. Have you seen them about?"
"Nein, Lady Sting, but we have seen their arrows in the throats of our men. I have an idea of where they lay. We won't reach it by this night."
"That is just as well for I needs get this man to the grotto. The quicker the better."
"Then let us get him on a bier and make haste!" Brand gestured at two of his men. They cut staves from saplings and wound their cloaks to make a bier. Robeart was now losing patience, as was Garrick.
"You will let these men take an officer of the Royal Guard?" Robeart accused, as Garrick spat out "Lady Sting?"
Regeneria looked between them and called over to Brand. "The bier shall be born by my guardsmen here. " She gestured to the men who had been minding her and Basina. Basina smirked behind her hand. "Have your men guide the horse and cart to us. Now make haste!"
With that, the shadows reattached themselves to the trees and faded away. Brand walked in the open, chatting aimlessly with the two guardsmen and Braeden. Garrick pounced on Regeneria once more.
"So, 'Lady Sting,' what have you been at these past years? Consorting with brigands by any chance?"
"Consorting? No. Honing more like."
"You mean to tell me that you are responsible for the raids on our wagons?"
"Responsible? I am not. The raids would occur regardless. But I led those raids and many more. I understand your ire at having your hard-earned goods stolen, but I have preserved them far better. Instead of fattening our enemies through our own labors, we now have an edge."
That sent Garrick into a reverie. The four took a moment to eavesdrop on the men ahead. Brand held the stage. "And there we were in our nethers, staring down this slip of a girl with jam all over our faces. And do you know what she said?"
"Surely not," Braeden said with a smirk.
"Sure as the world, she said 'Gentlemen do not eat jam in their underwear.'" And she walked right up and beat the snot out of us, then took the jam. I thought she'd kill us. But no, she taught us manners right enough. Well, here we are."
The groups converged in front of a large hillside covered in mossy boulders. Ancient, massive trees dotted the hillside. A riverbed wound between two of the largest boulders into a cleft in the hillside. As Regeneria walked through the cleft she delighted in its earthy smell. Then she broke through and relished the gasp that came from Garrick.
The rift led to a massive natural cavern that went deep into the hillside, lit by an enormous moat of flame in the floor and scattered beams of sunlight from holes in the roof. Neatly arranged along one wall were crates, barrels, and bags next to a long row of empty wagons stacked like firewood. Drying strips of meat hung in lines. Along the other side were hundreds of enormous yurts. Cooking fires and long tables dotted the central floor. Several men, tiny in the distance, were training with longbows while others threw axes overhand into man-shaped targets. It was a small city. Regeneria beamed at Garrick. "We call it Wohn-Grab, The Living Tomb."
Some brigands came forth as soon as Regeneria entered the chamber. They were abuzz with curiosity and trepidation. Several tossed hostile glances upon the guardsmen and Garrick. More than one lecherous eye found its way to Basina. Robeart turned to find that Brand and his men were now covering them with longbows and rifles.
"Where have you been, Lady?" said one particularly gruff man. Mats of tangled black and gray hair coiled around his face, which was scarred and misshapen.
"It's none of your concern, Moshii."
"It's plenty my concern if you bring this lot in here." Moshii tossed his head at Robeart. "You may be leading us now but that can change quickly if you're bringing the law into our place. Maybe they won't find their way out of here." An extremely large and slow-looking man behind Moshii giggled and nodded. Regeneria's party had their hands firmly on their axe handles and rifles. Braeden said nothing from the bier. Regeneria drew herself up fully and stared Moshii down. She turned full circle to address them all.
"Who did you think you were working for these past years? Have I not ever promised you retribution against the monarchs who wronged you? Have you not lived well under my guidance? Is a single one of you better off without me? Think hard because I am no longer Lady Sting. I left you a brigand and return to you a Queen!"
This stunned the brigands, even Moshii, who soon regained his composure and spat on the floor. "What is this madness. Queen of what?"
"I am Queen Regeneria von Rupii Ilse and these men are my royal guard."
The men started whooping now, some in fear, some in euphoria. Several ran into the chamber to pass the word throughout the brigand camp. Brand came forth and stared at Regeneria.
"It all makes sense now. You were the crown princess. Now you are a Queen. I thought you were exaggerating your lineage to distance yourself from us." He turned to his men. "Escort this man to the grotto. We will follow shortly."
Moshii and the brigands parted to let the men through then regarded Brand. He spoke again. "We shall have council tonight. We need to catch her up anyway."
"Yes," Regeneria said, "now let me tend to my guardsmen. It is good to be back, Brand." She hugged him quickly and headed for the back corner of the cavern.
* * *
At the back of Wohn-Grab was a spring. It streamed from a series of pools and waterfalls along a path paved with round pebbles and rocks. Its roar echoed from the close stone walls of the cavern. Garrick looked from side to side with uncertainty. It seemed that the water glowed of its own accord in spots, but the illusion was gone when he looked again.
"You have not gone mad, my friend. The water does glow. Or rather, the moss beneath it."
Then they crested a rise and Garrick gasped anew. The path led down into a shallow bowl of smooth sand rimmed by torches. A pond lapped gently at the sand, leaving bits of fluff which glowed with blue-green light. If Garrick looked too closely the light was gone. But there was no mistaking the glow of the pool itself. Somewhere deep below a spring was bubbling up, kicking a constant churn of phosphorescent moss from the depths. Some of this light played dully off the dampness of the cave walls. Garrick was compelled to watch the churning aqua light which writhed and coalesced against the white sand beneath.