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Monday, May 14, 2012
The Warlord's Daughter - Chapter 5
Adira stretched out next to the fire with a sigh. She knew she should be training some more, but she just couldn't. Now that it was spring again, she was allowed to herd the sheep all by herself. This was the perfect opportunity to practice her skills until she dropped from exhaustion. Hell! She could even go pick a fight with the local wolf population!
But no... her thoughts had forced her to stop training just as it was time to light a fire and make sure the sheep were all accounted for. She felt silly, but talking aloud seemed to help her think.
“I like kissing them. Each time I do, I feel like I want to keep kissing them until...” she shrugged, not quite able to describe what she wanted to happen.
A self derisive snort escaped. “Until one of them dares to show me what happens next, I suppose!”
Natan was the one most likely to do so, but knowing this made her shy away from him. She was very careful not to be alone with him anymore. Marek seemed to like stealing kisses whenever possible, but he never pressed her for anything more.
Then there was Amin... He watched her like a hawk, but he kept his distance. It seemed like he didn't trust himself to keep his hands off of her if they found themselves alone again.
This both disappointed and relieved her. On the one hand, she really did want him to come out on the roof with her again, and then run his hands all over her body, but on the other... She hadn't been lying when she told him that she couldn't let herself fall in love with anyone just yet.
Dael let her kiss him, and snuggle up to him whenever she could manage to do so, but he remained a perfect gentleman. He once confessed that he couldn't get the image of her mud covered and battered body out of his mind. He'd been the one to hold her and keep her warm until they got her home, and he'd been so afraid that she was going to die. It was hard for him to treat her like a girl after knowing what had been done to her.
This made her feel guilty that she continued to let them think that something so terrible had happened when it really hadn't. By now she trusted them all enough to tell them the truth, or at least most of it, but how could she ever admit that she had lied to them for so long?
She sighed in depression, and thought of nothing at all until Tobin's grinning face entered her mind. He was sweet; always bringing her things like pretty ribbons for her hair. He was handy with yarn – which he spun from the wool they sheered from their sheep – and had made her a couple of shawls. She liked kissing him for the fun of it, but felt like he might actually be the one that she regarded as simply a brother.
Which left Hemi... There was something about him being younger than her that made her want to tease him. She liked to play pranks on him, and then kiss him whenever he blushed. It was a unique experience to be around a boy his age – or of any age really – that didn't defer to her as a commanding officer. Boys his age were usually squires, and as such didn't usually associate with her.
For so long, she had been the second in command of an army. Even during her first battle – when she was supposed to be a simple archer – she had taken command without a second thought. The officer who was actually in charge of the archers let her do as she pleased because she saw through the enemy's strategy and managed to come up with an effective counter attack.
He also didn't want to risk her complaining to her father... Which was another thing. Her entire life, people had treated her a certain way because of who her father was. He wasn't just a powerful Warlord, he was a Prince. Younger brother to the King, and third in line for the throne – after the King's two sons.
When she spoke, everyone jumped to do as she commanded. Things were so very different now... For one, her father wasn't around to keep her motivated.
His death still enraged her. She still wanted to get revenge for the way he was murdered. Had he died because he lost the battle, that would have been honorable, and a natural consequence of war, but he had been ambushed during a time of supposed peace, and then drugged so that he couldn't defend himself.
Adira purposely hadn't thought about it practically at all since it happened. Honestly, this was the first time that she was truly alone, and now... she couldn't stop thinking about it.
Her rage and anger built until she couldn't take it any more. She screamed, roared, and then cried until she fell asleep. In the morning, she felt like a whole new person!
“Maybe I'll just... stay here. Maybe I'll just forget about getting revenge. Maybe I'll confess that I lied about not remembering anything and beg Jomin to let me stay anyway.”
Adira sighed, and then squared her shoulders. “I can do it! I can tell them everything! Even if they decide I can't stay, I owe them the truth.”
“Can I help you?” Jomin asked the leader of the group of strangers.
“I hope so. I'm looking for my niece. She's a short girl about so high. She's 16, and her name's Adira. Have you seen her?”
Jomin felt his heart sink. It was only a few months short of a year since they'd found Adira, and he had long since accepted her as his daughter. For her family to come for her now... it was heartbreaking.
“Yes. We've been caring for her ever since we found her at death's door. If she'd been able to remember anything, I assure you that we would have returned her to you,” Jomin insisted.
“Oh, so that explains it,” her uncle smiled. “When we realized that her body wasn't with the others, we wondered why – if she was still alive – she hadn't come home.”
Jomin nodded sadly. Adira's uncle looked around expectantly.
“So... where is she?”
Jomin chuckled nervously, glancing around at the royal insignia on all the men accompanying Adira's uncle. The 10 men were all soldiers in the King's army, and he was a pretty high ranking officer by the looks of it. Their suspicions that she was an important lady were now confirmed.
“Adira's herding sheep, and isn't due back until tomorrow. It would probably be best if you all waited for her here. I don't have much, but you can sleep in the barn, and certainly I can provide food,” Jomin informed them hastily, trying to divert attention from the fact that a well bred Lady was working like a commoner.
“That'll be fine,” her uncle assured him with a soothing smile.
The next day, after their chores were all finished, Jomin and his sons all sat in the barn laughing and joking with Adira's uncle and his men. Her uncle especially was genial and warm. Even so, it was hard to believe that someone so short was related to someone so tall!
Adira hummed as she entered the barn in search of them. She immediately gasped, and turned to run away. Two men jumped down from the loft to block her exit. Deciding that running was cowardly anyway, Adira faced the men once more.
“You...” she ground out, her voice dripping with hate.
“Adira,” the giant purred. “How lovely to see you again.”
“You murdered my father!”
“Yeah, about that... how are you still alive?”
“Sheer will!” Adira spat at him.
He chuckled. “I believe it!” He smiled graciously as he invited her to sit. “Get comfortable, I have an interesting story to tell you.”
“No thanks, I prefer to stand,” she declined scornfully.
The Giant shrugged, tossing his shoulder length red hair over his shoulder arrogantly. “My King is a brilliant strategist. He brokered a temporary halt to the fighting in order to prompt your King to recall his brother. You see, so long as that demon of a Warlord fought, our country was certain to lose the war. He needed to be dealt with.”
Adira glared at him, but said nothing.
“So, we set up an ambush. My orders were to kill the Warlord and his demon spawn of a son. I had no idea that you were actually a girl! If I had, I wouldn't have had you beaten and left for dead!”
“Am I supposed to be grateful? You are a coward and a murderer!” Adira reminded him.
“As you say. The way I see it, I was merely defending my country from an invading army. But let me finish telling my story. After I ordered my surviving men to leave, we went straight to your uncle's palace. There, under the guise of presenting a peace treaty, we isolated and killed the Queen and her two sons. We let your King suffer the agony of knowing they were dead for a while, but eventually, we killed him too.”
Adira clenched her fists, and fought to control herself. An angry outburst now would not help anyone. She glanced to her adopted family as they gasped at the news. She'd quite forgotten they were there!
They were currently and subtly being guarded by more men. Men they hadn't realized that the giant had snuck into the barn during the night. Men that had hidden in the hay loft and waited for the opportunity to ambush her.
“Not angry enough to attack me yet?” The redheaded giant asked with interest. “Hmm... then perhaps this will do it. After killing your King, my King cemented his claim to your Kingdom's throne by marrying your sister. She resisted, of course, until we threatened to kill you mother and then everyone in the Kingdom one at a time. She agreed fairly quickly... Quickly enough to spare your mother.”
Adira couldn't stop a relieved breath from escaping her.
“Even now, your sister carries my King's child.”
“You're lying!” Adira accused. “If you had really overthrown the King and conquered our Kingdom, the news would have spread like wildfire!”
“No. We timed it so that the heavy winter snows kept people from leaving the palace and Capitol city. I assure you, I'm not lying,” the giant replied.
Adira had to reinforce the grip she had on her temper.
The giant withdrew the sword from his belt. “Do you recognize this?”
Adira bit her tongue so she wouldn't say anything.
“Such a fine sword,” he praised. “Worthy of a demonic Warlord.”
“My father was not a demon!”
“So says the demon spawn,” the giant taunted with a smirk. “You fight like a demon. Even as I fought your father, I watched you kill more than half of the hundred men I had ambush your party. Your father was a strong opponent, I fully admit that I had a hard time defeating him. Part of me wonders how well you would have done in his place.”
Adira snorted. “As if the result would have been any different! You couldn't defeat my father, so you had him drugged!”
“Poisoned, actually. A poison so deadly that he was probably already dead by the time I chopped off his head. My question remains, how are you still alive?”
Adira shrugged. “Who knows? Maybe I really am demon spawn. Maybe you can't kill me so easily.”
“That's exactly what my King thought,” the giant stated as he resheathed his sword. “As he tried to show affection for your sister and reward her for conceiving his child, he wondered why she wouldn't stop resisting him. She spit on him and replied, 'You may have killed my father, but my sister is still alive; I'm certain of it!' That's how we found out all about you. My King ordered me to find out if she was right, and so here we are.”
The giant gestured to one of his men, who promptly stepped forward.
Adira couldn't quite prevent an inhaled gasp.
The giant took the halberd from his soldier, and stroked it lovingly. “This is a weapon of sheer perfection. It's made with the finest materials, and can easily cleave a man in two. The handle is reinforced with iron, and it's heavy enough to bash in a skull even when you're not trying to kill a man. However do you manage to wield it when it's half a foot taller than you are?”
Adira couldn't believe her eyes when he tossed her beloved halberd on the ground in front of her. He had to be setting a trap!
“Go on, pick it up,” he insisted.
Adira chuckled menacingly as she lifted her halberd. She examined it for tampering, and then spun it lightly to test it's balance. “You're going to regret returning my weapon to me!”
The giant unsheathed her father's sword once more. “My King wants you to swear your undying fealty to him in your sister's name. I told him that you'd probably rather die. So, here's what I think... If you manage to defeat me, you get to go free, and I'll tell my King that your sister's crazy. You died when your father did. If I manage to defeat you, however, then you'll surrender and do as my King commands.”
Adira was confused. “How... honorable of you... I accept.”
Their battle was surprisingly short. For a man so tall and powerfully built, he lacked the ability to adapt to his opponent. He relied on his strength and sheer force of will to defeat his foes – which worked pretty well when fighting opponents like her father – but Adira was quick as lightning, and knew how to use her weapon as a fluid part of her body.
Soon, the giant was on his knees, panting from exertion. Adira raised her weapon for the killing blow.
“Wait,” he commanded, and she hesitated.
“What? Is this the part where you poison me again, and then behead me?” She taunted, reminding him of his previous cowardice.
“No... this is the part where I point out that your entire adopted family is now held captive by my men.”
Adira glanced towards them, and found that it was true. They were all bound and gagged, and stared at her incredulously.
“We can still fight, but I will win. If I don't, they all die,” the giant promised her.
“I knew you were a coward!” Adira spat at him angrily.
“Surrender now, and I promise that we will not harm them in the slightest.”
“How can I trust you!” Adira screamed.
“They are no good to anyone dead. Here they raise food to feed the palace and the soldiers. Why would I risk causing a food shortage?” The giant reasoned. “On my King's life, they will not be harmed unless they follow us after we leave.”
Adira took a deep breath, and then dropped her halberd. “If I find out you lied, I will make you suffer for an eternity before I finally allow you to die!”
The giant got to his feet once more, and grabbed her by the throat. He lifted her until their eyes were level – her feet dangling 2 and a half feet off the ground. “I've subdued the demon spawn.”
Adira forced herself not to struggle. She didn't want to give him the satisfaction! He gripped her just tightly enough that she couldn't breathe, which meant that he didn't want to kill her. He'd have done so with his sword or by crushing her throat if he wanted her dead.
The moment she lost consciousness, he tossed her over his shoulder. “It's time to return to the palace. Leave a knife for them to cut their binding after we are gone.”
He turned to glare at his captives. “Believe me when I tell you that I will not let you live a second time. If you follow us, you will be caught and executed!”
After that, the group of men left Adira's adopted family in peace.
Go To Chapter 6
Go To Chapter 6