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Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Warlord's Daughter - Chapter 9

Chapter 9

Hang this from there!” Taryn pointed to a window several floors above the main entrance to the Palace, and then thrust her husband's head into the arms of the first guard she saw.
He paled, heaved once, and looked ready to vomit but managed to say, “Yes my Queen!”
Good,” she stated just before he ran off to obey her. “I want all to see him on display there and know that I am not a woman to be trifled with!”
She turned in a circle so that she could be sure everyone was paying attention to her. “I give my word that no other Kingdoms need fear us. I will not invade nor conquer any new lands! However, that does not mean that I will allow anyone to waltz in and conquer us either! I demand peace from this moment on! If even one person disagrees, they may step forward and state their case to my sister!”
No one dared to make a sound lest the new Warlord think they had a death wish. Adira let just one moment pass in silence, and then started issuing orders for the prisoners to be locked up, the mess to be cleaned up, and for the now chattering crowd of nobles to shut up and go back to bed if they had nothing better to do.
Plenty of the Palace residents were indignant at her command, but obeyed nonetheless, grumbling as they returned to their rooms now that the chaos was over. Soon, most everyone was gone or busy following orders.
Adira's two top Generals, her Aide, and her brothers – plus the Captain of the Palace guard – approached her warily. The men – excepting her brothers – got to one knee, and clasped one fist over their hearts.
We pledge to follow you, Princess Adira, as our Warlord. As always, our loyalty belongs to the Queen!” They intoned formally as if one person.
Amin and Natan hung back nervously. Taryn narrowed her eyes at them, puzzled that they dared to stand before Royalty. She settled her attention on her sister.
I accept your pledge, and promise to always command you to the best of my abilities,” Adira accepted, then turned to her sister.
Taryn stepped forward until she was standing next to Adira. “And I vow to do my best to always be worthy of your loyalty. Now... if you'll please excuse us, my sister and I desperately need a bath!”
The men chuckled. “Yes my Queen!” They quickly got to their feet, and made themselves busy.
Amin and Natan stepped forward cautiously. Adira closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and then released all of her tension with a long exhaled sigh. She reopened her eyes, and smiled at them.
They mimicked her sigh, relieved that she wasn't turning them away, and returned her smile.
Adira,” Amin addressed her. “Are you hurt?”
Taryn was astonished that anyone dared to speak to her sister so informally, especially a mere soldier!
Adira chuckled. “No Amin, I'm just fine. None of this blood is mine.”
Natan placed a hand on her shoulder. “Do you want to talk about what happened?”
Adira placed a hand on his hand, touched by his offer of an ear to listen. “Natan... maybe after my bath, but right now, I really don't want to talk about anything.”
Natan nodded, and then hugged her tight. “I was so afraid that you'd get killed, or worse!”
Amin nodded. “Me too! When word reached us that someone was working to open the Palace gate and to be ready, we rushed to be at the front in case you needed us.”
Adira still savored Natan's hug, and pulled Amin closer so that she could hug him the moment Natan let her go. “Thank you both for worrying about me.” She held a hand from each of them, and then kissed them each once on the cheek.
Taryn was almost bug-eyed with disbelief! When did my gruff warrior of a little sister turn into an actual woman?!
Adira turned to Taryn and caught her look. “What?”
Taryn shook her head and made her face smooth and expressionless. “Nothing!”
Uh-huh,” Adira stated. “Didn't you say something about a bath?”
Taryn nodded, tucked her sister's hand into the crook of her arm, and kissed her on the cheek. “I'm so happy to see you again!”
At some point, someone had let their mother out of the locked room she was staying in. She rushed out of the Palace now as if the hounds of hell were at her feet.
Oh my babies!” She squealed as she flung her arms around them. They sandwiched her between them in a tight hug. At half a foot shorter than Adira and a whole foot shorter than Taryn, they towered over her, nearly hiding her completely from view.
She pulled free, and then gasped at their blood soaked clothes. She turned and started screeching orders for a hot bath to be prepared at once!
Both her daughters giggled, following her back into the Palace. Adira beckoned her brothers to follow them. They stared at the main entrance in awe for a moment, but then rushed to catch up with her.

*****

Adira felt so much better after their bath. She spun lightly in her fancy dress to remind herself that she actually was a girl and not a demon spawn. Taryn laughed at her, and then grabbed her hand and pulled her all the way to the dining hall.
As they approached the small nook near the hall where the royals often took the meals when they wanted privacy, they heard their mother verbally fileting someone.
... makes you think you are allowed in here? This is a private room reserved for Royalty! Are you so freshly conscripted from the most rural part of the Kingdom that you have no manners.
Adira entered the room to see both Natan and Amin at a loss for words. They had both been given new clothes and a bath and instructions to meet Adira here. “Mother! Enough!”
The tiny woman looked up at her younger daughter, startled.
This is Amin and Natan. They are two of my brothers,” Adira stated cryptically. “They belong here because I say they do.”
Brothers?!” Her mother questioned incredulously.
Yes,” Adira confirmed with a smile. “If not for Jomin and his sons, I would not be standing here today. I would have died from the Giant – my husband's – ambush. I owe them my life, and in return, they made me part of their family.”
Her mother inhaled a soft gasp. “Husband! Oh my poor baby...”
Adira looked to the floor for a moment. “I know that he hurt you too... but I have killed him so he will never harm any of us ever again.”
Taryn raised a fist to the ceiling, her eyes blazing fiercely. “May we both be carrying daughters so that those men have no chance to pass their horrid legacy on to a new generation!”
Their mother was near tears. She took Adira's hands in hers, and gestured for everyone to sit as she guided Adira to a nearby chair.
Tell me everything. Don't spare any details. I was married to the Warlord for many years and am no stranger to the gruesome reality of war.”
Adira nodded slowly, taking a deep breath to prepare her for the onerous task. “It all began when a cease fire was called, and we were ordered to return to the palace.” She continued on sparing no detail.
When he was shot with that dart, a moment after I was, he faltered, and then fell. There was nothing I could do as he was beheaded.” Adira briefly described being beaten and left for dead. She let Amin talk about rescuing her, and then returned to her tale.
I let them think I had amnesia... I lied and used them to protect myself from the man I was certain would come looking for me at any moment. Just when I relaxed and dropped my guard completely, that's when he came...”
Adira paused, her eyes lowered to her hands fidgeting in her lap.
We let you be captured!” Natan burst out. “He fooled us completely, and in our stupidity, we handed him the tool he needed to defeat you!”
Adira shook her head. “No, it wasn't your fault. I chose to surrender.”
Amin scoffed. “Only after you'd clearly beaten him and he threatened to kill us if you didn't surrender.”
Adira looked away from him, her eyes closed as she fought to regain control of her emotions. “In any case, he took me away... I knew that it was in my best interest not to fight him until after he'd brought me right to the Palace. I planned to rescue Taryn and kill the usurper, and so... I let him claim me as his bride...”
She hurriedly moved on to her rescue and the siege. Lastly, she explained all the details of how she snuck into the Palace and rescued her sister.
Taryn took over, “I know that it grieved you to no end, mother, to know that I was in the hands of a monster every night, but you needn't worry any longer. I killed him with my own two hands, and now he will never bother anyone anymore.”
Their mother had tears streaming down her cheeks, and she squeezed a hand from each of them proudly. “My strong and courageous little girls! You have so much of your father in you... As horrified as I am to know that you both suffered at the hands of men, I am glad that you overcame the hardship, and stand here victorious! I'm certain your father is watching over you proudly from the afterlife.”
Adira and Taryn both nodded in agreement.

*****

Now that Taryn was permanently living in the King's (Queen's) chamber – their mother occupying a room in the chamber – Adira was given the entire apartment assigned to the Warlord. The warlord was almost always closely related to the ruler, and so the apartment was every bit as large and roomy as the royal chambers.
Knowing that she was still likely to have nightmares, she assigned Natan and Amin rooms in her apartment, which caused her sister to raise a curious eyebrow.
The moment dinner was fully eaten, Adira murmured her excuses, and headed straight to bed. She'd been up almost 24 hours straight now, and was extremely tired.
She wanted to undress and get comfortable, but she felt like a zombie and fell into bed before she could even open one button. Her feet dangled over the edge of the bed, but she didn't care in the slightest. She was already fast asleep.
Amin and Natan frowned at her in concern, and then shifted her until she was fully on the bed and covered by her blanket. Then they hesitated – not quite able to sleep in beds so posh! After quietly debating for a few moments, they finally just decided to make a little nest on the floor next to Adira's bed.
A few hours passed in deep relaxing sleep for them all, then suddenly the quiet was shattered.
I killed you, you bastard! Why won't you leave me alone!” Adira shouted. She tossed her head back and forth as she squirmed in her sleep. “Father! Look out!”
Natan and Amin rushed to wake her, but her thrashing made it hard for them to get close. They knew that she could easily hurt them if they weren't careful.
Stop hurting me! Get your hands off me! Dear Lady, let it be over soon!” Adira stopped screaming abruptly, her thrashing ceasing and her sobs bursting forth.
Her brothers shook her awake, but she couldn't stop crying. She clutched one of Amin's hands in hers as she cried on Natan's shoulder. Eventually, her cries ceased, and the three of them snuggled up and fell asleep. The rest of the night was nightmare free.
Birds started singing just before the sun decided it was time to wake, and this seemed to signal Adira's stomach to clench and churn. She groaned, fought to be free from her brothers' warm embrace, and then rushed to the privy closet.
Amin sat up to wait for her return. She wiped her mouth as she climbed back into her bed. Amin took her hand.
Are you still thinking, or have you decided?” Amin asked softly.
Adira was silent for a moment, and then exhaled a soft sigh. “I... can't just get rid of this child. I really want to, but it's not fair to my sister. She has to carry her burden and live with it forever, so I will too.”
I understand,” Amin murmured sympathetically.
Please tell me that we're not about to be served breakfast and then sent off to morning drills,” Natan groaned a plea.
Adira chuckled. “No... we'll all get to sleep in as late as we want today.” She lay back down, smiling when they enveloped her in a warm cocoon once more. Sleep claimed them for a while longer.
Later on, as they quietly ate breakfast in her apartment, Adira made another decision.
As much as I appreciate having you both here to guard my dreams, there's something else I need to do. I can't have you here to complicate matters for me, so I want you to go home. Reassure Jomin and the others that I am fine and that all is well.”
What do you need to do?” Natan wondered unhappily.
Adira simply shook her head and refused to answer.
They argued, but in the end, they simply couldn't refuse an order given by their Princess and Warlord. To even seriously contemplate doing so was treason and punishable by death. Heartbroken that she had decided to push them away after everything they'd been through, the pair left.
The moment they were gone, Adira sighed in relief. “Now I can finally think!”
She paced the Palace halls and corridors – and even the secret passageways and dungeons! – for at least a week straight, until her sullen contemplation finally irritated her sister enough to speak.
Out with it!” Taryn demanded. “What the hell has you so upset?!”
Adira took a deep breath and held it for a moment. “I know that I must find a suitable husband... As the Kingdom's Warlord, I must have Heirs after all... The problem is that I can't think of a single man that I want to marry!”
Taryn nodded in understanding. “Me either... You want to know what I think? I think that we are exempt! We've both been married against our will and carry a legitimate heir in our bellies. Why should we ever have to marry again?”
Adira was astonished! “You mean that? We can shake off tradition and expectations, and live as free women?”
Taryn laughed heartily. “Why not?! I'm the Queen after all, and you are my Warlord! Who could argue with us?”
Adira was so relieved that she started to cry. “I'm so happy to hear you say that!”
Me too...” Taryn murmured in agreement, and then let Adira wander the palace in private celebration.
A half an hour later, the Captain of the Palace guard appeared before her. He held up a bottle of excellent vintage wine, and grinned at her.
I owe you a drink,” he reminded her.
And two favors,” Adira reminded him with a laugh.
He nodded with a cocky expression. “As you say... Shall we find somewhere quiet and drink all our cares away?”
I can't have but a single glass lest I harm my child, but I will certainly be happy to drink it and pray my cares melt away like butter in a frying pan,” Adira agreed to his request.
He grinned, and followed her all the way to her apartment. She located two wine glasses, and held them out for him to fill. Once ready, they clinked their glasses together in a toast.
To a brighter future!” He stated.
To peaceful slumber!” She added.
They drained their cups, and he refilled his.
You know, Princess...” He hesitated, and then bravely continued. “I know one sure way to prevent nightmares.”
Oh really?” She asked with one eyebrow raised in disbelief.
They're about your husband, right, and what he did to you?”
She nodded.
Then you must banish those memories by replacing them with new ones. Better ones...”
She closed her eyes, and thought his suggestion over carefully. What felt like an eternity later, she decided that he was probably right. It was certainly worth a try, especially if it worked.
Taking his wine glass from him and setting it aside, she held her hand out. “Are you certain that you can banish the bad memories?”
I promise to do my absolute best to try,” he replied solemnly, taking her hand.
She nodded slowly, and then pointed towards her bedroom. He led the way, and then spent a good ten minutes just holding her and stroking her hair.
I won't hurt you,” he whispered a vow, and then kissed her.
She chuckled, and turned her head to the side. “Beware... I'll kill you if you do!”
I believe you!” He burst out, amused by her casual yet serious threat. The next moment, their lips were joined together as if they would never be separated again. 

Go To Chapter 10 

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