Chapter Three: The Princess and the Queen
The midmorning tea had been laid out in the south courtyard. Amberfall ran her hands over the fine material. She had requested that Jessimond join her for a private tea at ten and it was almost ten now with no sign of the princess.
She folded her hands in her gown. She wasn't used to the bulky Xandrian styles, but she was here to save the princess, not to be comfortable. She looked back down the path. There was no one there but a few guards.
What was taking her so long?
Female giggling echoed up from the path. Amberfall peered around the hedges, only to find Princess Alse and Lady Lina Lowfallow walking away down one of the many paths. Both of them had their heads bent closer and seemed to be gossiping about something or another.
There was still one thing about this whole plan of Queen Ariana's. Why hadn't Princess Alse been mentioned? Amberfall knew that women could rule Xandria in their own right, but why not mention the princess? She had heard rumours that the princess was to be used in marriage for political gain. Was that still the plan?
Unless...No, it was just completely mental. Still, it was possible. General Irondrifter was unwed, but he wasn't titled. He did, however, have an army. Would Queen Ariana really go that low? It was mad, but not impossible.
"So sorry," Jessimond breathed as she slid out from the opposite direction. "Prince Vicar was just showing me his hunting hounds and, er, hunting trophies. Some of things he kills for fun are just odd."
"Is that so?" was all Amberfall said as she settled down opposite off Jessimond. "And how are you finding the prince?"
Jessimond folded her hands on the table. "Well, he's quite interesting."
Amberfall raised an eyebrow. "Interesting? How so?"
"Well, he enjoys talking about himself and not much of anything else. He thinks he's a saviour or something." Jessimond waved her hands. "Never mind that. I'm sure we'll grow very fond of each other at some point in our lives."
Amberfall took a bite of a pastry. "Is just fondness okay with you?"
Jessimod slowly looked up from her tea that she was stirring. "Fondness is better than nothing."
Amberfall picked up a piece of bread and began to butter it. "This is coming from the girl who used to sneak out to see a common boy. Bevis, I believe was his name."
Jessimond looked back down at her tea. "That was a long time ago."
Amberfall reached around the table, taking Jessimond's hand into her own. "Don't let this cloud your judgment. You can always say no. It doesn't have to be like this."
Jessimond's eyes shifted around the courtyard. "I can't. I know you have my best interests at heart, but I have think about Trelia. You know my mother can't hold onto the throne. You know it's our law to have both a king and queen on the throne. There has never been a sole Trelian leader." She paused. "My mother has told me that our nobles have all come to Samazi, demanding to know when the wedding is going to happen." She looked at Amberfall with wide eyes. "I have to do this. I have to think about Trelia."
Amberfall smiled. "It's good to see you putting your country first."
Jessimond returned her smile. "I have to do this. Besides, Vicar probably isn't as bad as he seems. You always did tell me to judge a personal by their actions, not by first impressions. He braved so much to come and break the curse."
"He also got your father killed." Amberfall tried not to wince as she spoke the lie. She could feel the metal vial building up in the back of her throat. Jessimond still had no idea that her father was indeed alive and well back in Zania.
"It wasn't his fault that the assassin slipped in. He did give Trelia a wonderful gift in my father's name. Our treasury needed the money."
Amberfall bit into another pastry. She wasn't completely against the idea of cash gifts and Vicar probably had no idea where the money had even come from. If he did, he probably didn't care. He had the princess and now he was going to make her his wife, no matter what the cost.
Jessimond stirred her tea. "Besides, it can't all be bad. I'm sure we can catch the assassin. After all, with our countries' combined efforts, it shouldn't be too long before we catch him." She reached for a biscuit. "Would you and Frostfire help us? We could use your magic. I'm sure you'll want my father's killer brought to justice."
Amberfall almost chocked on her pastry. She had no choice, but to smile at the princess. "I'll see what I can do."
"Good. I am just appalled at the cruel nature of this world. It's good to see that there's some good left in it."
Amberfall didn't respond. She didn't know what she was going to do. Sure, she could track the killer without any difficulty, but it was going to lead everyone right back to Captain Morninghelm and the young woman he had hired. If it was traced back to the captain, then it would be clear that the queen was involved and it would expose their plan. She had to make sure that the current course of events changed. She had to make sure that the plan was not revealed or the war would start before they were ready.
Jessimond stood, straightening her gowns. "I thank you for putting this together, Amberfall, but I promised Princess Alse and Lady Lina that I would join them for lunch."
Amberfall nodded her head. "I hadn't realized it was that late. By all means, go and enjoy your time."
Jessimond gathered her gowns. "If I hurry, I can still make it."
Amberfall didn't even have the nerve to tell the princess not to run in public. It just didn't seem to be worth the hassle now, not with all that was going on.
She got to her feet, singling for the servants to clear the table, before turning down the opposite path that Jessimond had just disappeared down.
Frostfire appeared out of the hedges' shadows. "I'm thinking it didn't go as you planned."
Amberfall looked at her most trusted sentry and lover. "We have to find the captain," she whispered. "Jessimond wants us to track King Rauffe's supposed killer."
Frostfire fell into step next to Amberfall. "She doesn't know yet?"
Amberfall shook her head. "It's not the right time." She looked around and upon seeing no one, she leaned close to Frostfire. "King Rauffe is building an army to save his daughter and he's not ready. We aren't going to be able to rely on him."
"What about Duke Metody Honoraxe?"Frostfire asked.
Amberfall frowned. She remembered the duke; he was always bragging about something or another.
"Has there been any word on him?"Frostfire pressed.
Amberfall shook her head. "No, I don't know who he will side with anyway. The only thing we can count on from him is that he will restore Trelia."
Frostfire nodded. "And the captain?"
"He's probably still near the barracks. If we can catch him there, we can give him a warning. They are going to want this process to move quickly."
Frostfire and Amberfall quickly rounded the hedges. The air was a lot warmer than it had been in weeks, but there was still a coldness about it. The grass just off the paths was covered in a fine layer of mud. Amberfall was kind of surprised the court let this mud stick around; it didn't seem to fit in with the wonders and riches of the castle.
The chilly air whipped around them. Though above them, the birds sang their beautiful songs of spring. Every once in a while, Amberfall could had sworn their songs turned just a little bit dark, like they were calling out some kind of warning to them.
The number of guards was actually starting to pick up. They were in day wear and carrying what looked like to Amberfall pretty simple weapons. Even though they were simple looking, there was no doubt in her mind that they could kill a person one blow. The bows were also different. These were not the simple short bows and crossbow; no, these were the longbows. She had seen what kind of damage they could do during the Warynian Wars. The Trelians had used these against the Iron Fairies, inflicting just as much, if not more, damage than magic.
Of course, Trelia still lost a lot of land and resources to the Iron Fairies, but it hadn't been nearly as bad as it could had been.
As they made their way deeper and deeper into the guard's training ground, it was clear that there was more besides new weapons going on. The men were training with shields. Amberfall watched as a group of men locked their shields together to form a wall, while another group tried and failed to get through it. These were not the trainings of mere castle guards; these were the trainings the legions. They were getting ready for war and she only hoped they were going to fight for Captain Morninghelm. There was no denying it: these men were deadly.
Captain Morninghelm walked amongst his men, barking out orders, pointing out every flaw that his careful eye caught. He knew of his mother's plan...Maybe he was finally taking up the call to arms and training his own army. Amberfall knew that more often than not that the legions were more loyal to their commander than to the king. Hopefully that was the case with these men.
Frostfire paused beside Amberfall watching as the shield wall reformed itself; this time the shields were locked tighter than ever before. Spears poked out above the shields as Captain Morninghelm walked in front of them, surveying the line. The guards stood ready, waiting for the attack. Amberfall was actually thankful that the spears were just sparing ones and not the real thing. She had never seen a shield wall packed this tightly together. Captain Morninghelm moved away from the line and with the flick of his hand, the lines advanced.
The two lines rammed into each other. Those without a shield would had been killed by the spears had this been a real battle. Then, from behind, something happened that Amberfall had never seen a battle. Mounted cavalry rode in behind, locking the centre in a deadly tight circle. Those in the centre could find any way out, setting the stage for a bloodbath.
If they could do this now, Amberfall didn't want to think about what it would be like once they had gunpowder. She was getting close to having everything that she needed to make it.
"Okay, that's enough!" Captain Morninghelm's voice rang out over the guards, who broke apart. "Take a break!"
The guards moved away, leaving the training guard empty.
Frostfire shook his head. "They are going to be a killing machine."
Amberfall could only nod as the captain made his way over to them. She really did hope that the captain did have his men's loyalty. If this fighting force was to turn their backs on him, it was not going to end well.
Captain Morninghelm crossed his arms over his chest as he stopped in front of them. "I think it's going well."
Amberfall nodded. "I do too. Are they on your side?"
The captain just shrugged. "My father has gotten on the wrong side of Irondrifter. We need something to protect ourselves."
Amberfall looked right into Captain Morninghelm's eyes. "We have a problem."
The captain frowned. "Oh, and what's that?"
"Jessimond has asked me to help her find King Rauffe's killer."
Captain Morninghelm gently grabbed onto Amberfall's arm, steering her away from the training grounds. To the normal onlooker, it would seem that the captain was taking the Fairy Queen on a stroll. Frostfire quickly fell in step next to them.
"And what did you say?" the captain asked, his voice low.
"I had no choice. The king's not ready to come back. My sisters tell me that he's not strong enough and doesn't have the forces to take control of Trelia. Duke Metody Honoraxe has also been quiet. I don't know if he wants Vicar to rule or not. He's normally running his mouth about something."
Captain Morninghelm shook his head. "This isn't good."
"I know," Amberfall breathed.
The captain sighed. "We can't fight all of these fronts at once. We need you to delay the princess's attempts to find her father's killer."
"She knows the spell that I have to use, if I even fake it, she's going to know. If she finds out that I'm involved, Xandria will turn on Zania. Trelia will side with Zania, even if we do produce the king. If we don't time it right, we could be heading to another Warynian War." Amberfall paused. "That's who the Iron Fairies lost. They were fighting too many fronts and couldn't keep up with the demands."
"We don't want that. Maybe play up the wedding. Keep her focus on that and maybe we can a way out of this."
"She already knows that I don't approve of it."
Captain Morninghelm gave Amberfall a small smile. "You're a queen. I'm sure you'll come up with something."
Want more? Storytime will be out via Amazon and Smashwords on December 12, 2017! Once is out now via Amazon and Smashwords!