Wednesday, December 9, 2015
Yalera the Brave - Chapter 14
Lord Willow nearly gulped in apprehension when he walked out his front door to find King Bruno at the head of part of the Royal Army. He smiled curiously after looking around. His attention focused on the King as the King dismounted from his large, black warhorse.
“May I help you, Majesty?” Lord Willow inquired mildly. He exuded an air of innocence and gentility.
“Lord Willow, you are under suspicion of treason and will remain here in custody while my men search your home for my daughter in law,” King Bruno announced, gesturing for two of his most trusted men to arrest the Lord.
“My King, I assure you that you are mistaken!” Lord Willow protested.
“Liar!” Rohan called out, pointing at a few of the mercenaries gathering behind their Lord. “I recognize some of them as the ones who ambushed me!”
Lord Willow looked over to the boy sitting atop a huge smilodon. He gave Rohan an intrigued smile even as his hands and feet were shackled. “You must be the twin. I'm told that you are an impressive fighter! Too bad we can't have a match here and now. I wonder... do you murder as easily as your sister?”
“Where is Yalera!” Rohan shouted, both smilodons roaring as if emphasizing his question.
Lord Willow shrugged. He tilted his head, an insane gleam in his eye as he stared at Rohan. “She's dead.”
“You're lying again!” Rohan yelled. “I can feel her!” He closed his eyes and tried to talk to his sister through their mental link, but he couldn't. It was as if there was a mental block in the way. He had no idea that Yalera had had to retreat far into her mind ever since her abduction in order to cope.
Soldiers rushed into the Lord's home and searched it until they found Yalera and her bodyguards in the torture room. “By the Gods!” They all cursed, more from the sight of the gruesome implements than the actual sight of the prisoners – who were relatively unharmed at the moment. No one needed to be told that things had gone very badly in this room.
The soldiers were able to unclamp the two men from the wall and help them get dressed before other soldiers were able to fully untie Yalera. She stood and accepted a drink of water. Relief so profound filled her that she was tempted to cry, but she resisted this urge.
“About time Yemry rescued us!” Baethan muttered loudly.
“Yeah,” Ando agreed. “Although it looks like he did the smart thing and ask for help from the King.”
“Yes,” a soldier confirmed. He was a man that Ando knew and had gone drinking with before, but wasn't actually friends with. “It's good to see you again, Ando.”
Other soldiers nodded in agreement. Ando had been best friends with Prince Crispin, which made him well known among the soldiers. He was also a friendly and likable man, so was thought well of. Lastly, his skill was fairly renowned, so it was surprising to the soldiers that he was found clamped to a wall.
However, they had seen for themselves that there was a large mercenary army here, which meant that Ando hadn't had a choice once captured. They intuitively understood that Ando was biding his time for the right moment. That moment was obviously now.
Ando got to one knee in front of Yalera and bowed to her. “I am so sorry, my Princess. I hereby vow that I will never let anything like this happen to you again.”
Yalera nodded vaguely. She was struggling to hold herself together. The sight of her companions being tortured was almost more than she could handle, and she was biting her lips to stop herself from crying. Ando saw this clearly on her face. He also knew that she was recovering from many injuries and likely exhausted from a lack of true sleep and stress.
“Would you like me to carry you, or would you like to walk?” He asked.
Yalera literally shook. Her body quivered from all the emotions running through her. She also ached quite a bit. With a slow nod, she closed her eyes and whispered. “I'd like to be carried...”
“As you wish,” Ando stated, getting back to his feet. He then scooped her into his arms.
“Wait,” a soldier protested. “You were just whipped. Are you sure you wouldn't prefer someone else to carry her? We could whip up a makeshift palanquin.”
“No,” Ando stated. “She is my charge, and I will never fail her again.”
The soldiers could only nod in understanding. They filed out of the room before the newly rescued prisoners, rushing to report to the King. Ando took his time, his body more sore than he was willing to let on. Baethan followed him silently, slipping his hand into Yalera's for one moment to squeeze her hand reassuringly.
“I'm sorry,” Yalera whispered. “I couldn't stop him...”
“I know,” Baethan whispered in return.
“It's not your fault,” Ando informed her.
The sun stung all their eyes as they emerged from the large manor. Ando paused to let his eyes adjust. Yalera buried her face in his chest, and Baethan covered his eyes so that they wouldn't sting.
“I hadn't realized that it'd been so long since we last saw the sun,” Baethan murmured.
“Lord Willow!” King Bruno roared angrily. “Your treason is confirmed! I will need to think on an appropriate punishment for you!”
“Your Majesty, if I may make a suggestion?” Ando called out, slowly walking forward once more.
“You may, Ando,” King Bruno permitted.
“I think that Princess Yalera should be allowed choose Lord Willow's punishment,” Ando stated, knowing with all certainty that only she truly had the right to decide.
King Bruno sighed in disappointment, assuming that a delicate Princess would choose mercy and leniency. “Very well,” he permitted reluctantly.
Lord Willow started to roar with laughter. “Oh this is just perfect! I couldn't have planned it better if I tried! So tell me, my dear, which of the many things I did to you will you have done to me?!”
Ando set Yalera on her feet. She was still shading her eyes from the sun, but she could clearly see the man who had thoroughly abused her. She cast a look over at King Bruno.
“Am I allowed to do anything?” She asked.
“Of course,” King Bruno stated, frowning in concern as he wondered what things Lord Willow was referring to.
Yalera stopped shading her eyes and squared her shoulders. She stared coldly at Lord Willow. “You know, part of me would dearly love to do everything to you that you've done to me, but I don't have a few weeks to waste on such unpleasantness... Hmm...” Yalera sighed in thought. She tapped her lip in thought as she looked up. “Ando, I'd like a staff, and Baethan, please find my bow.”
“Yes Princess!” Both agreed without any hesitation.
The kind guard that was Yalera's favorite called out to her. “I have one here, Princess.” He walked over to her and then held out the staff she had used so often when she first arrived. Ando took it from him. “Please give M'Lord a good strike for each one of us too.”
Yalera took hold of the staff from Ando and nodded to the guard. “Oh I will,” she promised. “I well know that he deserves to be punished for so very much!”
His own mercenary army formed a circle around him so that Lord Willow couldn't escape. “Do I get a staff?” The Lord asked. “What about these shackles?”
Yalera paused to think about this for a moment. Even though he had bound and tortured her quite a bit, he had always been honorable enough to give her a weapon when she was fighting. She made a decision with a shrug.
“Why not?” She pointed to the King's soldier wearing a large ring of keys. “Please release him.”
“Sire?” The soldier asked in confusion.
King Bruno shrugged. “I did promise that she could do anything.”
As the reluctant soldier did as he was asked, Rohan, Yemry, and his men gathered around the circle of mercenaries to watch what their sister had in mind. Yemry looked to Rohan, his eyes clearly asking if Rohan knew anything.
Rohan shrugged and shook his head. “She won't let me in,” he whispered. Personally, Rohan felt that it was exceedingly strange for Yalera to not have thrown herself in his arms the first moment she could.
By the time Lord Willow was free, the Royal Army had crowded around the circle too. King Bruno was in the front of the circle with the mercenaries – well mostly in the front except for his two bodyguards, who insisted on shielding him from any danger.
“I don't think you have it in you, my dear,” Lord Willow informed her with a pleasant grin.
“Have what?” Yalera asked even though she didn't really care what he thought.
“The capability for cruelty. I don't think you can punish me quite as thoroughly as I deserve,” Lord Willow stated.
“Oh I already know that,” Yalera stated in the same tone of pleasant conversation. “I told you, I don't have time to give you what you truly deserve. I want to get home before winter, and you have delayed me far too long as it is.”
Lord Willow shrugged and chuckled. “If you did have time, what would you do to me first?”
Yalera thought this over quietly for a moment. “I don't think I have the stomach to do any of it really. Although, I have to wonder how many times you can drown before you actually died. That could be interesting to see.”
Lord Willow looked around at his disloyal men. “Was anyone keeping count? How many times did she drown?”
“I lost count around 30,” a man stated.
“That sounds about right to me,” Yalera remarked with a cold fire in her eyes. “Now stop trying to make me mad and defend yourself.”
Yalera leapt forward and feinted a blow in one direction only to hit him somewhere else. It soon became abundantly clear that the Lord had no real skill when it came to the staff. He wasn't able to block a single strike, so Yalera was basically beating him, and she wasn't being nice about it either. His men cheered her on, encouraging her to give him blows for them too.
Eventually, Yalera felt more or less vindicated. He was panting from pain and exertion, and bleeding from a few places, such as a split lip. She smiled at him a bit too angelically.
“Now it's time for me to teach you something!” Yalera announced and then held out her hand. “Baethan, my bow!”
“Yes Princess!” Baethan agreed, happy to comply.
Yalera took hold of her bow and aimed it at Lord Willow's leg. “Ando, how many wounds do I have?”
“At least thirteen,” Ando stated with a bow.
“Thirteen eh?” Yalera reiterated. “I'm going to need another arrow.” She then shot all twelve arrows in her full quiver into Lord Willow's body in places that wouldn't kill him. She especially delighted in shooting him in the buttocks. When she was done, she held out her hand expectantly for the last arrow that she'd need. One of the King's bodyguards – both of which were nearly gaping at her because they were so impressed by her skill – handed her the arrow that she needed.
Yalera studied Lord Willow's body carefully, trying to determine the best place to shoot him next. She shook her head and snorted derisively. “I should order my smilodon to eat you alive. I wonder how long she could take? Maybe if I told her to take small bites...”
Lord Willow tried to laugh, but his lungs were slowly filling with blood, which he coughed up. “That could be fun too...” He was now on his hands and knees because the wounds he bore made it hard to remain standing.
Yalera sighed in disappointment. “You're right,” she muttered. “It's no fun if it's easy, but oh well. Anywhere in particular you want me to shoot you?”
“Through my heart,” Lord Willow stated with a wry grin. “I daresay, after all of this, it belongs to you anyway.” He forced himself to straighten up so that she would have clear access to the target.
“Ew! No thank you!” Yalera cried out with clear repugnance in her voice. She chose his right eye, knowing that at this close rang, there was almost no way he'd be able to survive it. But even if he did, she had a hunting knife in her quiver to end his misery. She wasn't like him, she didn't enjoy the suffering of others.
A moment after she released her arrow, he fell to the ground, dead. Yalera nodded in satisfaction. She already knew that she would have nightmares about this day for the rest of her life, but hopefully when she had to go to her Gods and answer for her actions, she would be able to hold her head high and explain that she only gave him what he deserved.
To her astonishment, the mercenary army got the their knees all around her. They all clasped a hand over their hearts and bowed to her. “Princess Yalera! We owe you a debt of gratitude for killing Lord Willow.”
Yalera turned in circles as she looked at them. Her favorite guard nodded at her respectfully. “We also understand that you were merciful. He deserved so much more, but you are far too kind to sink to his level.”
Yalera gathered up the energy to smile at them. “Your families are safe now?”
“Yes Princess,” a different guard stated. “He kept them in a building out back, so we can go free them in just a few moments.”
“I'm glad,” Yalera stated with another smile. This one was almost genuine.
“Yalera the mighty!” They cheered, bowing to her once more before getting to their feet and rushing off.
Yalera stood over the body of Lord Willow simply staring at it. She wanted to feel remorse, but she couldn't. Well, that wasn't entirely true. She did feel incredibly sad. Not just because she had killed again, but because the reason he did all of this to her was to avenge his son's death by her hand. If she hadn't shot his son, all these men would still be trapped under his tyranny. Not to mention, with a father like this, the son must have been horrible too! If not for her, these men might never have been free.
“Princess,” Ando murmured softly.
She looked up at him. “Sorry... I was just thinking that he deserved a funeral pyre.”
“Yes,” Ando agreed with an expression that stated he thought the man deserved to be thrown to the pigs. “In any case, it's over now. You should mount your beloved Yuna and resume your journey home.”
Yalera nodded, and then sighed heavily. “King Bruno? What do you plan to do with Lord Willow's property?”
King Bruno was still reeling from shock that his sweet looking daughter in law had it in her to half torture a man to death. He tilted his head in confusion for a moment as he processed her words. Finally, he shook his head clear and responded.
“Uh... I'm not sure, why?” He asked curiously.
“I'd like the manor burned to the ground and the lands split up amongst all the mercenaries, if that's not too much to ask,” Yalera suggested.
“I'll think about that,” King Bruno murmured. And he would think about it, but already he was mostly sure that he'd prefer to give the property to a Lord far more worthy than Lord Willow had apparently been.
“Yalera,” Rohan murmured hesitantly. The way she still shut him out had him worried to no end. He slipped his hand in hers, which was all it took to tear down her defenses. She threw her arms around him and sobbed on his shoulder.
“About time,” Baethan muttered under his breath as he sighed in relief.
Rohan slowly wrapped his arms around her and held her tight.
Ando cleared his throat. “I'm sorry to interrupt, but please be careful not to jostle my Princess. You might reopen one of her wounds.”
Yalera turned and shook her head at him, tears making her eyes sparkle. “It's too late for that. I could feel one tear back open when I was fighting earlier. I overdid it...”
Ando turned to bow at King Bruno. “Your Majesty, may I trust your bodyguards to keep an eye on my Princess for a few moments while I go back inside and retrieve the necessary medical supplies.
“Certainly,” King Bruno stated. He was frowning with curiosity. “Were you serious earlier when you said that she had 13 wounds?”
“At least,” Ando stated grimly, bowed again, and then rushed off.
“I'll come with you!” Baethan called out. “I can carry food. No matter what else could be said about the evil bastard, he kept us well fed!”
“That he did,” Ando agreed, not slowing down in the slightest.
Yalera watched them go with a strange feeling. She was half afraid that she would never see them again. After all they had been through together, she had no idea what she would do if she lost either of them now.
Still hugging her twin, she rested her head on his shoulder. “I don't ever want to hear that you dislike Baethan ever again,” she murmured. “He has proven himself trustworthy. He and Ando both should be rewarded for keeping me alive. I may well have succumbed to despair and died a long time ago without them to tend to my wounds and try to keep my spirits up.”
“Alright,” Rohan whispered, stroking her hair. To his great relief, he could feel her emotions again. She still wouldn't let him read her mind, but she wasn't shutting him out completely either. It was enough for now.
When his hand brushed over her right shoulder, she inhaled a gasp of pain. Rohan pulled the oversized dress away from her skin so that he could peek at her back. A gasp of his own had him hastily slapping a hand over his mouth. He felt utterly sick by what he'd seen!
“What?” Yemry demanded. All the little hints combined with Rohan's reaction made him want to go over and kick the corpse of the sadistic Lord. He didn't wait for Rohan or Yalera to answer him, and instead stole a peek of his own. He also had to slap a hand over his mouth as he was tempted to vomit. He had to take several deep breaths.
King Bruno was unnerved by both their reactions. He was torn between wanting to see it for himself and preserving his peace of mind. He ultimately decided that he would forego seeing the real thing and simply be content with a thorough report from Ando a little later on.
Yalera's tent was set up on the most beautiful spot of Lord Willow's property. The tranquil chirping of the birds falsely suggested that nothing bad had ever happened here. Yalera knew better but she did her best to push bad memories out of her mind and enjoy the peace.
Her tent was enormous considering that it was meant for her alone. One good thing about this was that it was designed so that a flap could be lowered to cordon off the back half of the tent and allow for some privacy when needed. Ando insisted that she be given a cot to go with her thickly padded bedroll. He also had a wooden tub brought into the back of her tent and filled with very mildly warm water.
“I managed to find your robe,” Baethan told her as he held it in his arms. “They'd washed it and you almost can't tell that it was full of blood.” This was a half joking lie meant to cheer her up. She took the robe with a laugh.
“Sure you can't!” She exclaimed sarcastically.
Baethan, Yemry, and Ando got comfortable in the front half of the tent while Rohan helped his twin bathe in the back half. Baethan told his best friend a little bit about what had happened as Yalera relaxed in the tub, letting her mind wander. Rohan washed her hair and continually swore under his breath as he washed her back.
“I need to go back and kill that Lord all over again!” Rohan roared abruptly as he was drying her off after her bath.
“It's not a pretty sight,” Ando agreed solemnly.
After Yalera was dry, she lay face down on her cot, glad for the soft bedroll. In fact, compared to the hard bench in their cell, this was practically plush and luxurious! Rohan covered her buttocks with the towel to preserve her modesty, and then stepped around the flap the divided the tent in two.
“If you want to see her wounds, Yemry, now would be a good time. Where's that salve, I'll rub it on her.” Rohan held out his hand to Ando, who handed over the jar without comment.
The two brothers tended to their sister in anguished silence. Both fervently wished that they could have taken her place and spared her such a horrible ordeal. She occasionally hissed in pain, but otherwise enjoyed their healing touch. Yemry's hand shook when he rubbed ointment on the brand burned forever into her skin. He swore colorfully and wiped a couple of tears from his eyes – careful not to get ointment in them.
“It's ugly, right?” Yalera stated more than asked. “It's probably a good thing that I've already gotten married. I really don't think a man will want me after they see all of this.”
Rohan let out a small sob of anguish and pulled her into a sitting position so that he could hug her tight again. “Don't think like that! I don't think that King Eric would dare arrange another marriage for you after all of this, and so someday – when you're ready – you'll marry a man who can accept you for who you are, scars and all.”
“Oh Rohan!” Yalera cried out with clear hope in her voice. “Do you really think so?”
“I do,” Rohan assured her firmly.
She squeezed him tightly in return. I missed you so much!
Rohan nearly sobbed in relief that she finally let him back into her mind. I missed you too!
Yemry was relieved to see that the twins were talking mind to mind again. He knew that so long as they had each other Yalera would eventually recover from her trauma and move on. He ruffled her hair affectionately, and then grabbed her robe and draped it over her shoulders.
“If you're ready, Marlena and Hannah would like to see you,” Yemry informed her.
“In a few minutes,” Yalera insisted. “Ando and Baethan have tended to me and kept me alive, so it's only fair that I tend to them,” Yalera said as she pulled her robe on and tied the sash. “Hand me that salve.”
“There's no need,” Ando assured her. “We're both fine.”
“You're not fine!” Yalera cried out almost angrily. “I was tied up and forced to watch you both be whipped, and I went through that, so I know what you're going through!”
By this time, she had tossed the flap aside and marched out to the front half of her tent. “Turn around and take off your shirts!”
Both sighed reluctantly, but complied. Yalera sighed in relief when she saw with her own eyes that neither had gashes, only an astonishing multitude of angry red welts. She slathered ointment on them, rubbing it in with a gentle hand.
“Thank you, Ando, for sewing my wounds shut,” she murmured gratefully. “And thank you, Baethan, for forcing me to eat when I wasn't hungry, even though I hadn't eaten all day.”
Baethan shrugged. “It was the only thing I could do.”
Yalera turned to look at her older brother, only to find him just as unhappy at Baethan's wounds as he was at Yalera's. She pulled both Yemry and Rohan into a hug. It took holding her breath for a few seconds to prevent a gasp of pain as she stretched sore and healing muscles.
“And thank you both for rescuing me before day 14!” Yalera stated, clearly overjoyed by this.
“Day 14? Yemry asked in confusion. By his reckoning, she had been held captive for more than 15 days.”
Ando decided that it would be least awkward if he explained this rather than Yalera or Baethan. “At one point, Princess Yalera got her monthly – women's stuff, you know? Anyway, Lord Willow told her on that day that she had just 14 days before he planned to beget a new heir on her.”
“I think there was only two or three days left,” Baethan added softly.
“Three,” Yalera stated certainly. “He made sure to tell me that that was part of the reason he was shifting his torturous attention to you two. He wanted me as healthy as possible on day 14.”
“Oh Gods!” Rohan gasped, feeling sick again. “Now I can understand just a little bit better why you felt the need to beat him up and shoot him a dozen times before you killed him!”
Yalera kissed his cheek. “Don't worry. Of all the things he did to me, he hadn't gotten around to raping me yet. So yes, I am beyond grateful that you two rescued me in time.”
A loud roar outside the tent announced the fact that Rune and Yuna were tired of waiting outside. Yalera had hugged and kissed them a bit earlier, but she was more than happy to do so again. She let them in her tent and spent a good five minutes just hugging them – alternating back and forth.
Yemry left and returned with his and Rohan's wives, who took turns hugging Yalera. Eventually exhaustion set in and Yalera had to insist that she be left alone. Then she half changed her mind.
“Yemry,” she said, tugging on his sleeve to get his undivided attention. “I know that this may sound... bad...” she informed him, and then shrugged. “But I... I... I really don't think I will feel safe or be able to sleep unless both Ando and Baethan are in my tent with me. You know, out here while I'm back there.” She pointed to the back half of her tent where her cot was set up.
Yemry nodded in understanding. “I can only imagine that I would feel the same way if I were you. If anyone should happen to remark on the unusualness of the situation, I'll be sure to remind them that you have every right to insist on bodyguards literally on hand should you need them.” He ended by kissing her cheek. “Sleep well little sister.”
“I'll try,” Yalera murmured. Rohan gave her a last hug and kiss on the cheek before leaving her tent too. Rune followed him while Yuna lay next to Yalera's cot. Before Yalera lay down, she contemplated her companions. They saw her watching them and exchanged a puzzled glance before tilting their heads and giving her a curious look.
She sighed. “I'm sorry if either of you wanted to be rid of me for a while, and suddenly I'm ordering you to keep guard over me anyway, but it's true. I can't imagine trying to sleep without either of you nearby.”
Ando gave her a look that reminded her that this was literally his job. Meanwhile Baethan smiled at her. “I completely understand, bumpkin. You're probably going to have nightmares, and it's only right that one of us hold your hand and remind you that you're safe now.”
“I agree,” Ando stated in case she thought he didn't.
Yalera hugged Ando and kissed him on the cheek. “Thank you again! I will never be able to repay you for what you've done for me, and I'm so glad that you plan to stay on as my bodyguard.”
She turned to Baethan and hugged him too. “I... I don't know what your plans for the future are, but if you'd consider remaining my bodyguard for the winter at the very least, I'd really appreciate it.”
Baethan returned her hug, glad that she couldn't see the expression of bliss on his face. “Of course,” he replied. “For as long as the King has me in his service, I'll insist that I be assigned as your bodyguard too.”
Yalera kissed him on the cheek and then stepped back. “Thank you,” she stated. “I mean that.” She walked away from them, waving just before she stepped behind the flap dividing the tent in half. “Good night!”
“G'night,” they both called out in return.