[Story] PRINCESS DRIANNA Chapter 14
Ifeoma Isabella Okeke
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The next morning, Mini woke me with a gentle shake. I grumbled sleepily and buried myself deeper under the covers.
“Come now, miss. It’s time to rise. The rest of the castle’s awake already. You’ve missed breakfast and the Queen’s very cross about it. But I brought you up a tray.”
I yawned and sat up against my pillows, rubbing the sleep from my eyes. Mini sat a silver tray on my lap and my stomach growled loudly at the sight of the steaming bacon, eggs, and biscuits. I immediately set to work on them and in no time they were gone. They were delicious, but I preferred Shane’s cooking.
At the thought of him, my stomach clenched. What had happened the previous night? Was he about to kiss me? Was I about to let him? No! I loved Gadel. I couldn’t be unfaithful to him. Even if it would be years before we met again, I would remain true. I was determined.
My mother’s voice echoed in my mind. “Don’t let your dwelling on past loves hinder you from new ones.”
“Are you all right, miss?” Mini asked, interrupting my thoughts.
I nodded. “Just thinking.” She seemed satisfied with the answer and went about taking up my tray and sitting it by the door.
“What’ll you be wearing today, miss?”
“You may choose. I have no preference.”
“How about your green gown? It’s awfully pretty,” she said, disappearing into the closet and coming out with the dress draped over her arms. Her plump fingers played with the smooth material. “I think it’ll bring out your eyes.”
When I’d slipped into the gown and Mini began busily working at my hair, she broached the subject I suspected she’d been wanting to all morning. “Did you have a pleasant meal last night, miss?” I glanced at her in the mirror. She appeared innocent, only continued to brush out the tangles in my curls.
“It was pleasant enough.”
“You seemed very merry when you returned to your chambers last night.”
“Yes…I suppose I was.”
“General Raphen seemed rather merry, too.”
I sighed, growing tired of her games. “What are you getting at, Mini?”
“Me? Oh, nothing,” she said innocently. “It’s just…the General seems rather fond of you, miss.”
“I told you. We’re childhood friends. Of course he’s fond of me.”
“No, miss…I mean…very fond of you.” Mini sighed. “May I be blunt, miss?”
She lowered her voice to convey what she surely thought was most secretive news. “It’s rumored that General Raphen is very much in love with you, miss.”
I was strangely prepared for her words. I’d expected them. My face maintained a calm demeanor and I said simply, “Where’d you hear such a thing, Mini?”
“Oh, it’s all the buzz about the castle! I heard it from Sipsy, one of the cooks. She’d heard it from her brother, Frond the stablehand. He was told it by Maprel, the General’s private horse trainer who heard it from Leo, the General’s own manservant who said he’d had it from the General himself!”
I chuckled. “I’m sure those are very reliable sources, Mini, but I wouldn’t lend myself so easily to idle gossip, if I were you.”
“So you don’t believe it’s true, miss?” Mini couldn’t hide the disappointment in her voice.
“I shall remain indifferent either way until I hear such proclamations from General Raphen himself.”
“But last night…”
“Last night he and I had taken a bit too much wine. That is all,” I stressed firmly.
There were a few moments of silence as Mini finished tying back my hair with a simple ribbon. She placed a band of gold around my head, similar to the one I wore the night before. As I stood and shrugged on a fur robe for extra warmth in the drafty castle, Mini asked hesitantly, “If the General did make a proclamation of love to you…would you return it?”
I had not been prepared for such a question. I was tempted to answer honestly, with an explanation of with whom my heart truly lay. But that could only lead to more gossip amongst the servants and perhaps a questioning of my authority and allegiances if the nationality of my love was discovered.
“I should go to my mother. She is cross as it is at my lateness.” And without another word, I left the room.
I found mother and Shane in the Great Hall, they were studying the same map as before and when I entered, they offered me only brief glances before turning back to the map. Shane’s finger traced a line across the page and as I approached, I heard him say, “Reports have said that they’re in this area.”
“Yes, but how long ago was that?” mother asked.
“But three weeks I’m told. Surely with a great army they could not have gotten far.”
“If we defeat them here and here, there’s only the troops at Iae Wiltur left to conquer.”
“They will be the most difficult.”
“And the most important.”
“Yes…with Iae Wiltur back in our control…”
“Victory.” Mother’s eyes closed with the utterance of the word. When they opened again, they found mine. “Drianna…come here.” I stepped to her side and she gestured at the map. “The Groithians have but three armies left in our land. Here, in the south near the ruins of Hagra. And here, in the east on the shores of the Gensai. There is one last at our palace- the most important. We shall defeat the Southern army then move to take the Eastern.”
“Why not attack both at once?” I asked simply. “Have we not the man power?”
“It’s too risky,” Shane quickly dismissed.
“But if we attack both at once, they’ll have no where to turn for reinforcements.”
“She has a point, General Raphen,” mother conceded. “They would not send to Iae Wiltur. It’s too important a stronghold. And even if they did, and they were given reinforcements, it would only prove to weaken the forces at Iae Wiltur which would be to our benefit.”
“But we’d have to split our army up. It would be at least a two to one ratio then,” Shane argued.
“Perhaps it is too big a risk,” I admitted.
“But if we had the element of surprise…yes…” Mother fumbled with the map. “Here…we could cross the Gensai and enter Groithia…then…we could cross back over and attack them from that side. They’ll not be expecting that.”
“True…but that only accounts for the eastern army. What of the South?”
“The swamps would make for easy cover. Lord Knowlu is from the south. He should be able to navigate the swamps easily.”
Shane was thoughtful. “Very well…if you’re certain.”
“I am,” mother stated solidly.
“Then I shall take half the companies and we shall attack the eastern army.” He glanced at mother. “You will take the South?”
She nodded. “Send a dispatch. We march on the morrow.”
They began to depart and I scowled and voiced my mind. “Where am I to go?”
They both stopped and stared at me as if I’d gone daft. “You’ll stay here, of course,” mother dismissed.
“What? No! I want to go!”
“Don’t be silly, child. You’re the crown princess. You can’t go to battle now.”
“Why not? What have I been training for?”
“To rule when I’m gone- not to get yourself killed before you can assume the throne.” With a whirl of her skirts she left and I looked to Shane.
“I’m going. I should go. It’s only right.”
“No,” he said simply and headed for the door.
“I’m going! You cannot stop me!” I called to his back. He ignored me.
I was more than frustrated. I marched out of the headquarters, into the snowy wild. Though I did not know my way, I was not worried. Penn was never more than a few feet from me, though his large presence was easy to ignore.
The wind was icy and it whipped through my cloaks, stinging my skin but I didn’t care. I had to be away from the castle. I walked away from the camps, in the direction of the snowy cliffs beyond the fortress. They seemed quiet and serene- the exact sort of place I needed to be then.
Finding a narrow path, I climbed over icy rocks and snowy bluffs until I reached a high cliff, overlooking a glacial sea. I sat gingerly on a rock and pulled my knees up to my chest to gaze out across the white capped waves and jagged icebergs.
Lost in my thoughts, I did not register the cold, though eventually my skin and lips were nearly blue and I was shivering violently. The snow fell hard, settling in my hair and on my eyelashes. That is how Shane found me, hours later.
“You really are insane, aren’t you?” he asked, taking a seat beside me. I merely looked at him. “You could die out here. What could possess you to sit in the snow and the ice for two hours?”
“You couldn’t think inside by a warm fire?” I shook my head and he sighed. “No of course not, because then that would make you sane. May I ask the subject of this most dangerous contemplation?”
“I want to fight. I want to go to battle with you and mother,” I said through chattering teeth.
“We’ve discussed this.”
“No. We haven’t. If we had, then you’d know…” I sighed as I blinked back tears. “I have to go.”
“You have to rule. We can’t endanger your life, too much depends on it.”
“But I won’t be endangered! You know as well as I that I’m as good a fighter as any knight in this camp! Better, even!”
“You fight well, I’ll admit. But my answer remains the same.”
“I’m not asking you! I’m telling you as your sovereign that I am going to do this.”
He scowled. “You’re not my sovereign yet. As general, I equal you in rank and with my experience it puts me in a place where I might determine what is best for your safety. You will stay here and command.”
“I will not! How am I to gain the respect of the men if I am not on the field with them?”
His face remained stony and his decision unwavered. I released the tears I’d been holding back and looked him in the eye. “Please, Shane. I must go. You must allow me this. After what they’ve done…”
“Do you know what it’s like? I know you’ve seen the plundered villages but do you know what it’s like to live through the plundering? To hear the screams? To watch the destruction? To have the people you love ripped away from you, locked in your home, and burned? You do know. That’s why you’ve fought as you have. You’re trying to avenge Aliqua, I know. Let me avenge General Akkad. Give me that, please.”
He stood and it struck me how striking a figure he had, standing there against the wind and the snow. And I felt I had won. “Let’s get you inside…you should rest before we leave tomorrow.”
That night, I was asleep before my head touched my pillow. I’d managed to stay awake long enough to let Mini help me on with my nightdress and then I’d crawled under the heavy covers and immediately drifted off into a peaceful sleep. But it was not to last.
A hurried knocking on my chamber door soon woke me. I groaned and stumbled reluctantly out of bed. A hiss escaped my throat as my bare feet touched the cold stone floor and I padded into the anteroom quickly, pulling open the door.
“What in God’s name- Shane?”
He looked disheveled, to say the least. His fiery hair was nothing but a mass of tangles on his head and his clothes were rumpled. His green eyes were wild and he darted into my chambers without introduction. In bewilderment, I shut the door and turned to find him pacing the length of the anteroom.
“What’s wrong?” I demanded, suddenly wide awake. When he did not respond, I shouted, “Damn it, tell me!” He stopped pacing and looked at me. I could see the torrent of emotions in his eyes and my heart plunged, expecting to hear devastating news.
“You…you will be careful won’t you?”
“In battle…you won’t make any foolish moves? You won’t try to…you won’t put yourself at unnecessary risk?”
“What are you talking about?” I exclaimed, angry that he’d worked up my emotions for seemingly nothing. “Of course I won’t do anything stupid if I can help it! You think I’ll try to martyr myself?”
“No…no…I just…I couldn’t bear it if something were to happen to you.” He gazed at me and his frantic eyes turned solemn and fearful. “I…I couldn’t bear…losing you again.”
It did not escape my knowledge that it had taken a great mustering of strength for him to admit this. And it truly touched me. He’d cast aside his barriers and was now fully exposed, stripped bare before me. My heart went out to him.
“Shane…” In a moment I’d cleared the space between us and pulled him into my arms. He greedily clutched me to his chest, burying his head in my golden mane. “I’ll take care,” I whispered.
“I wish I could be there with you- to watch over you.”
“I know. But you have to lead your troops to the East and I to the South. Do not fret over me. I will be safe. You concentrate on keeping yourself safe.”
It struck me with a painful twinge how anguished I should be if he did not return from this conquest. I wrapped my arms tighter around his neck, resting my cheek against his chest. “Please keep yourself safe,” I pleaded softly.
I felt him nod and we stood there, bathed in the moonlight cast through my window, holding each other. With shock I realized how right it felt to be in his strong arms. I fit perfectly in their folds and my only uneasiness was the thought of Gadel, lingering in the back of my mind. How often had he held me like this? Never. He’d never held me like this. In his arms I’d felt safe and comfortable and most especially, loved. But it’d never felt as right as this.
In Gadel’s touch there was always the nagging command that simply holding me was not enough for him. That I should give myself over completely in order to truly be with him. But in Shane’s arms, merely being held was as intimate an experience as I’d ever had with Gadel.
A surge of guilt washed over me for thinking such things. But really, in my heart I’d always known it. This was not the first time Shane had held me. As a girl, I’d have nightmares sometimes. I would wake, a sheen of sweat on my skin and my heart racing. I’d call to Shane, whose quarters were but next to mine and within seconds he’d be there, slipping under the covers behind me.
Sometimes he’d rock me to sleep, whispering soothing words to chase away my demons. Other times we’d lie awake, talking and giggling. They were special times and their memories were ones I’d cherished for the last nine years. Thinking of them, I couldn’t stop the smile that pulled at my lips.
“What are you smiling about?” Shane asked, looking down at me with his own smirk.
I blushed. “Do you remember…when we were children, how you’d come to my room when I’d had a bad dream?”
He chuckled and I felt the rumbling vibrate in his chest. But he turned all too serious when he saw the next thought forming in my mind. “Drianna…” he warned. “The servants will talk.”
“Let them talk,” I whispered breathily as I led him to my bed. “We’re doing nothing wrong- nothing we haven’t done a hundred times before.”
“It was different then,” he protested even as he followed me. I slipped under the covers and scooted to one side to give him room. “We were children.”
He gazed at me uncertainly before finally yielding and climbing into bed beside me. Once more he took me into his arms and pulled me to his chest. I nestled my face under his chin and soon fell asleep, listening to his heart beat and feeling him gently playing with my hair.
To Be Continued….
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