Go To Chapter 8
Monday, June 4, 2012
The Warlord's Daughter - Chapter 7
Adira kept everything together through the long day, riding in front of her men as they returned to their hidden camp. They didn't reach it before night fell, and so they set up a temporary camp as it got dark.
Adira gave orders as necessary, and discussed the situation with her top officers. She acted like nothing had happened since they received word of the cease fighting, except that her father was now dead and she was leading an army to reclaim their Kingdom.
Finally, a tent was prepared for her, and her aide made sure that she wouldn't be disturbed. She hadn't even had time to bathe, and the dried blood from earlier made her itch.
“Men...” she muttered. “They all know that I was made to marry and bed that man, and that I am covered in his blood, but do they offer any sympathy or even give me five minutes to clean up?”
She looked around her tent, and realized that there wasn't even a basin of water and a sponge. This was not so surprising since they hadn't brought such niceties with them, but it made her feel... angry. Furious! She stripped off her dress – once her favorite of the few that Tobin had made for her – and tossed it into the fire. Thankfully, they had thought to bring her a change of clothes; a uniform she'd often worn during battle.
Now naked, she used a rough towel to scrub the dried and flaking blood from her body. It worked surprisingly well even without water! Soon, she was sitting on the blankets provided for her. It was no more and no less comfortable than sleeping on the ground when herding sheep, but she felt like there were sharp spikes poking into her body wherever it touched the ground.
Tears welled up in her eyes, but she kept brushing them away. I have no use for weakness and tears!
The giant appeared before her as if he was physically standing there. “You're finally awake! I thought I might have somehow damaged you after all when I held you by the throat. I have good news... My King has made you my bride. See for yourself.”
He handed her a thick and sturdy parchment creased from the folds that made it fit in his breast pocket. She read it numbly, still half dazed from passing out.
I hereby decree that if Adira, daughter of my enemy's highest Warlord, should happen to still be alive, she is to forever after be the wife of my highest Warlord.
After the decree, there was the actual marriage certificate, signed by the giant, his King, and a high priest. Nothing more was required to make it irrevocably official... except consummation.
“Please don't,” Adira whispered, bracing herself for the terrible reality she knew was going to happen.
“Don't be afraid,” he replied gently, stroking her hair. For that first time, at least, he tried to be a good husband. He tried not to hurt her. He even tried to make her feel pleasure, but she was numb with shock.
When it came down to it, he was simply too much bigger than her for there to be no pain, especially for her first time. He was also not a patient man, and quickly became rough and demanding. Adira endured it silently, a plan forming in her mind, a plan to rescue her sister.
She shook her head almost violently. “My plan is no longer possible!” She beat her forehead with the heel of her palm. “I refuse to think about him any longer!”
Beating her head seemed to help, so she continued until she could not stop the tears any longer. “I refuse to think about him!” She whispered desperately, but the tears wouldn't stop. She buried her face in her pillow, and sobbed as quietly as she could.
She cried until she threw up – careful not to get any on her bedding – and then she felt inexplicably better.
A month later, Adira looked around her tent appreciatively. Now that they were actually in position to lay siege to the palace, they'd set up a relatively permanent camp just out of firing range. Her tent was the large command tent that had served her father so well for so long. The memories were warm and comforting, even as they made her sad that she would never see her father again.
Tossing the tent flap aside to make a dramatic exit, she strode straight to the group of waiting officers. The enemy King was still occupying their palace and capitol city, probably because it was more centrally located than his own now that practically the entire continent was united as one Kingdom. This gave her a tactical advantage.
As if no time at all had passed since their previous planning meeting, Adira continued their last discussion. “Remember, we don't want to risk hurting or starving our loyal citizens, so we will make this a peaceful siege... at first. We simply need to control all entrances and exits. If we do not allow them to receive supplies or aid of any kind, we will weaken them.”
Heads nodded in agreement. The officers supported her decision, and the regular soldiers – who were allowed to listen in – were touched that she cared enough about the civilians to try to minimize the trauma they would go through until the siege was over.
“We'll give the enemy King a few days to think about his situation before we increase the pressure on him to act. Let him think he is relatively safe in our well fortified city! Let him –”
Adira was about to launch into a rousing speech when she was cut short. Her aide cleared his throat almost timidly. “A word, my Princess?”
Adira nodded, but only because she noticed Natan and Amin standing next to him. She finished her speech quickly. “I have faith in our men and our ability to win this battle. We will take back our Kingdom! Dismissed!”
The soldiers cheered her for a moment, and then she walked back to her tent. Her aide gestured for her brothers to follow him as he followed her.
“What are you doing here?!” Adira roared. “I very clearly told you to go home!”
Natan crossed his arms and stared her down. “Unless you really were lying about everything, you're part of our family now. Of course we want to help you! Amin can join the healers, and I can join the archers or the staff fighters.”
“Look, I'm touched that you want to help so badly, but I simply don't need you,” Adira replied bluntly. “I have plenty of soldiers... I have plenty of healers... There's no need for either of you to risk your lives.”
Her aide frowned in confusion. There was once a time when Adira would have gladly conscripted the entire male population of their Kingdom in an effort to win the war even a moment sooner. Her motto was that the greater their numbers, the greater their might.
“Princess? May I respectfully disagree? I think there is no such thing as too many healers. Should we encounter...” he faltered at her glare.
Adira closed her eyes and then turned her back on all of them. “If you want to enlist, fine. There's not really much I can do to stop you, except have you arrested. I warn you though, once you do, you will be nothing more than soldiers under my command. There will be no talking to me as if you are somehow special, and there will be no favors from me. If you cannot hold your own, you will be discharged! Understand?”
“Adira...” Amin murmured. “Even you need someone to talk to. Someone that you can confide in.”
Adira snorted in disbelief. “Look around! I have more people to talk to than I can count!”
Amin shook his head with a sigh. “Why wouldn't you let me give you any herbs to heal the damage that man may have caused?”
Adira was silent. Is he referring to physically or is he referring to the possibility of a child?
“It's not too late. I can still help,” Amin offered, cryptically confirming her suspicions.
Ironic, huh? I keep bemoaning that no one has offered me any sympathy, and here I pushed away those who were trying to... But I can't let them near me now. If I do, I'll never make it! I'll never be able to win back our Kingdom without breaking down and crying... without seeking comfort and forsaking all else.
She finally addressed her aide. “Major... Am I mistaken, or are two potential soldiers trying to be overly familiar with me?”
He hesitated, able to sense that there was so much more going on here, and that her adopted brothers were probably right when they insisted that she needed them. He alone had heard her sobbing at night – when she thought everyone else was asleep – too concerned to leave her alone, but unable to actually intrude.
“My Princess... maybe it would be prudent to consider what they are offering... They just want to –” He switched tactics abruptly. “You want nothing more than to rescue your sister, right?”
“Of course!” Adira stated emphatically.
“She is your family, and you would do anything to help her, right?”
“Yes...” Adira replied slowly, turning to look at him with narrowed eyes.
“From what I gather, these two helped save you when you were dying. They took you in, and they adopted you. They would do anything to help you,” he pointed out.
Adira was silent once more, her gaze focused on the ground. She couldn't argue the point. She had never tried to argue that point. She simply couldn't allow herself any weakness at the moment.
“When I have won... When I have rescued my sister, and I have the time and the luxury... That's when I'll let someone back into my heart. Until then... just leave me alone.”
Natan walked up to her, saying, “You've suffered nightmares for months. I'm sure they've probably gotten worse...” He pulled her into his arms. “Let us be there for you to wake you up when you start screaming.”
Adira rested her head on his chest, clutching his shirt in her hands. She stiffened, preparing to push him away. She took a deep breath, and sighed. “Fine... you can both be my personal bodyguards. Or dream guards, I suppose. You'll sleep in my tent and wake me up whenever I have a nightmare.” (Note: It took me three days to write that paragraph since I couldn't decide if she was going to accept them or push them away!)
Pushing Natan away, she stepped back. “During the day, you'll be assigned to the staff fighters, and Amin can serve in the healers' tents. Just... don't talk to me much. I don't want the men to get distracted wondering about you two when they should be focused on the battle that will eventually occur. Understand?”
Natan nodded his head, and Amin looked relieved as he replied. “Of course...” he faltered, unsure whether to call her Princess or Adira.
“Good,” Adira stated. “Major, show them around the camp, and let their superiors know what's going on.”
Her aide saluted. “Yes Princess!” He gestured for Natan and Amin to follow him, leading them to a private place to talk.
“Thank you!” He praised them sincerely. “She's needed someone by her side, and yet pushed everyone away. I – for one – am glad that you managed to talk some sense into her!”
“I'm just glad she listened,” Amin muttered, hurt that she seemed to push him away the most.
“Don't touch me!” Adira screamed in her sleep. “I swear I'll kill you!”
Amin snapped awake and rushed from his pallet on the ground to the small but plush bed Adira thrashed about on.
“Get your hands off me, you beast! You monster!”
“Adira!” Amin whispered urgently to wake her without attracting attention. Well, at least not more attention than she was probably already attracting.
No longer yelling, but not yet awake, Adira seemed to be struggling to get away. Amin decided that gently shaking her awake would probably be more effective. He grabbed her by her shoulders, but didn't have a chance to shake her.
“I told you not to touch me!” Adira growled menacingly as she crushed Amin's hands in hers.
Amin gasped at the unexpected pain she caused. “Adira! Wake up!”
Natan quickly came to Amin's rescue by applying pressure to Adira's wrists. “Adira!” He quietly barked her name as he shook her.
Adira moaned, the nightmare finally releasing her. She slowly figured out what was going on, and opened her hands to release Amin. “Sorry.”
Natan released her hands as Amin shook his head to assure her that it wasn't her fault. “I could make you a tea to promote dreamless sleep.”
“Can you do that without impairing my senses?” Adira asked.
“No,” Amin replied. “It would put you into a deep and restful sleep.”
“I can't have that. I need to be able to wake up quickly if they decide to attack us in the middle of the night,” Adira explained morosely. Clearly she longed to have at least one night of peaceful sleep.
Amin nodded slowly. “How about I give you a tea to promote happiness instead? That won't leave you drowsy or impaired. Given time, it might help rid you of your nightmares.”
“Happiness, huh?” Adira murmured. Happiness used to be making my father proud of me, and now it's ignoring my problems and tending sheep. Can you really make a tea for that?
Out loud she agreed. “I guess it's worth a try, but it can wait until tomorrow. Right now, we should all get back to sleep.”
Natan and Amin nodded and then settled back into their pallets. They all dozed lightly for a few hours – all of them almost afraid to sleep in case another nightmare came. Just when it seemed like it was peaceful enough to risk a deep sleep, Adira groaned and sat up.
She held a hand to her mouth for a moment as she tried to fight the urge to be sick, but it inevitably grew too strong to resist. Tossing the blanket aside, she rushed to the basin. Thankfully, it was empty at the moment.
When she was done transferring the contents of her empty stomach to the basin, she held both hands over her stomach in an attempt to settle it down. The nausea was horrible!
At some point, Amin had sat up to watch her. She groaned as she looked at him.
“If you really want to help me, Amin, find a way to stop this!” Adira demanded. “This is the third morning in a row that I've woken up nauseous and I'm frankly surprised that I haven't lost weight since absolutely nothing looks good to eat! Is this happening because I can't sleep well, or is this a symptom of the grief I can no longer escape?”
Amin was quiet for a moment as he looked away from her, but then he squared his shoulders and faced her once more. Natan – who had also been sitting up watching her – looked incredibly sad.
“Morning sickness... is one of the earliest symptoms of pregnancy. If you want, I can certainly give you herbs to get rid of it,” Amin offered.
Adira literally reeled from the shock. She swayed and stumbled until she fell back into her bed. “I knew that this could happen, but I didn't realize...” I didn't let myself think about this possibility because I don't know what to do! “I need time to think.”
Amin nodded in acceptance.
Natan grumbled. “Then we should all try to get a little more sleep. The sun will be up soon.”
Adira chuckled. “Actually, here, we start our day before the sun rises. In fact, don't be surprised if –”
There was a knock on the wooden frame of the tent. “My Princess?”
“Breakfast arrives,” Adira finished her sentence. “Come on in.”
A woman – one of several that traveled with the army in order to cook food and support the healers – entered the tent.
“I brought you – Oh! I didn't realize there were others in here with you!”
Adira knew this woman was trustworthy, and good at keeping secrets. “These are my adopted brothers. They've come to guard me while I sleep,” she informed her with a smile. “That is not information to be shared... unless asked. I'm sure the men will eventually grow curious about my brothers, and it's better to just tell them rather than let them assume the worst.”
“I see,” the woman replied with a kindly smile. “Well anyway, I noticed that you haven't been eating much of anything lately, so I've brought you a glass of milk.”
“That actually sounds really good right about now!” Adira sat up and accepted the glass gratefully.
“Should I bring you a proper breakfast?” The woman asked.
Adira took a moment to think this over. “Hmm... yes, I think I would like to try eating. Bring enough for my brothers.”
“And me please,” her Aide added as he walked into the tent.
“Yes Princess; Major,” the woman nodded obediently, and left the tent.
“Princess, I've come to discuss your plan,” the major stated, clearly uncertain about actually discussing it in front of her brothers. It was a top secret plan after all.
Adira took a good look at Amin and Natan, who were both sitting up in their pallets at this point. It was not that she didn't trust them to know the plan, it was just that they weren't technically high enough ranked to sit in on the meetings that weren't open for everyone. At the moment, she simply didn't care.
“What about the plan?” She asked as she moved from her bed to sit at the table. The loose-fitting pants and shirt she wore while sleeping was wrinkled, but at least her hair wasn't a mess. Not that she really cared about her appearance, but it was important that she look like she was in charge of an army at all times.
“I've finished selecting men, and they're ready when you are,” the Major explained after sitting at the table. He had waited for her to gesture permission first.
“What about the scouts?” Adira wondered.
“They report that the way seems clear.”
Smiling at the first good news she had heard in a while, Adira took a deep and refreshing breath. “Good!”
The woman returned with her breakfast just then. “You seem much more cheerful now, Princess.”
Adira didn't say anything in return. She simply gestured for her brothers to join her at the table, and then thanked the woman for her service. It was true though. Now that she had a workable plan, everything seemed brighter.
Go To Chapter 8
Go To Chapter 8