[Story] PRINCESS DRIANNA Chapter 15
Ifeoma Isabella Okeke
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It seemed that in no time, we had reached the southern swamplands. Sitting astride my horse, I gazed over the thick bog as my soldiers picked through its dense vegetation and soggy mud on the way to the battlefield. Lord Knowlu was astride his own horse, giving silent commands to the troop leaders, navigating them through the marshes.
“Are you nervous?” mother asked, riding up beside me.
I nodded. “A bit.”
She smiled warmly at me and patted my hand. “It is understandable. But I’ve every confidence in you. You’ve made me very proud, daughter, the way you’ve taken charge these last weeks. You’ve earned the men’s- and my- respect.”
I couldn’t help but feel that I’d deserved the compliment. Over the two weeks’ march into the south, I’d taken charge as I felt I should’ve. I encouraged the men when they were tired and longed for a rest from marching. To show that I was not above the laborious duty myself, I often dismounted my horse and tramped along with them through first the snow, then the grass, and finally the mud. When we stopped for the night, I helped set up tents and campfires and many a time I was invited to sit around the flames with the men and enjoy a bit of grog. I of course, declined the invitations but was most gracious for the thought.
It’d been a long three weeks. I was tired, but knew that the work was yet to come. I regarded the impending battle with mixed emotion. On one hand, I was thrilled at the opportunity to command my men and hopefully defeat the Groithians. But on the other hand, the possibility of failure on my part terrified me. I was afraid, not so much for my own life, but that my foolish mistake might cost others theirs.
“I’ve had news from the eastern front.” Mother’s words drew me from contemplation. Shane’s army had been battling for three days now on the shore of the Gensai. Eagerly I asked of the news and mother handed me a parchment. I unfolded it and read Shane’s jerky script silently.
I write to inform her majesty of the progress of the troops on the eastern front.
Our aim of achieving the element of surprise was successful and we began with the advantage and have thus far maintained it. As I write, the fighting is still heavy and we have suffered many casualties, though, I believe it is safe to say that the enemy’s losses greatly outnumber ours. The future of the battle is promising and I can say with confidence that it will end in our favor.
I wish you the best of luck on your conquest and assure you that once mine is complete, my troops shall be at your disposal.
-General S. Raphen
For a long moment, I stared at his signature. The first letter of each word was large and flamboyant, the others barely legible. Without thought, my fingers traced the name as I recalled the last time I’d been in the handsome General’s presence.
It’d been the day the two armies had set off for battle from the northern fortress. That morning she’d awoken and reached across her bed for the familiar body but found only her bedclothes. They were still warm to the touch and she groggily raised up on her elbows and opened her eyes. Shane was perched on the edge of the bed, pulling on his boots.
The shifting of the bed made him glance back at me over his shoulder. “Go back to sleep, Dri.”
“Where are you going?”
“Back to my chambers before either my manservant finds me missing and alarms the whole castle or your maid walks in and finds enough dirt to gossip on for the next ten years.” He rose to his feet and turned to look at me. A small smile played on his lips. “Rest. You’ll need it.” And he left.
I next saw him in the snowy camp, barking orders to his men as he sat astride his charger. When he saw me, his face lit into a beaming smile and I couldn’t help but return it. He dismounted, landing gracefully on the ground and turned to me.
“You haven’t changed your mind about doing this?” he asked seriously. I shook my head and he sighed. “Stubborn woman… Just…be careful, eh? Don’t go getting yourself…” I could see that he couldn’t voice the last word. But I understood and nodded, taking his hands in mine.
“Same goes for you. You may be a seasoned general but that doesn’t make you indestructible. Be careful.”
“You know I will.” For a moment we stood simply staring at one another. So many thoughts passed through my mind that I longed to put into words but had not the courage to. He had redeemed himself in my eyes by being so free and open with me the previous night. I felt I’d regained the friend I’d lost so long ago. But I was beginning to doubt whether friendship was all I really wanted from him.
I’d sworn my heart would always belong to Gadel but was that really a thing of the past? Would I ever see him again? And if our paths did somehow manage to cross once more, would he still want me? Even more importantly, would I still want him?
For a while now, my thoughts and dreams that had usually centered around Gadel now featured Shane. Even before the honesty of last night and even while I professed to disliking him so, a part of me saw in him what he was and what he could be and liked it.
But such thoughts should not be professed minutes before marching off to war. I pushed them from my mind and gave Shane a soft smile before squeezing his hand and walking to my own steed. But his voice halted me.
“Dri!” I stopped and turned back to face him. He seemed ready to speak, but faltered and said weakly, “Good luck.”
That was three weeks ago. Over that time, I’d found myself missing him terribly. When word came that the fighting had begun in the east, I spent a day worrying and praying for his safety. Receiving this news, written in his own hand, was comforting.
“You care for him deeply, my child,” mother observed. She’d been studying my face as I read the note. “It’s plain on your face.”
“I do care for him…but…”
“The other…Gadel, was his name?” I nodded. “Do you love him still? Truly? Or have you only been telling yourself that you do?”
“I don’t know. I’ve been trying to work that out in my mind.”
“Do think on it, child. But another time. I won’t have you on the battlefield if your mind is elsewhere,” she said sternly.
“I shall be on task. Don’t worry.”
And I was on task. When the first cries of war rang out and my troops descended upon the unsuspecting Groithians, I was among the first wave of our ranks to reach the enemy. Such a thrill as I’d never felt before surged in my veins and I acted and reacted without thought. As I parried my attackers and swung my daggers wildly I could only replay a miserable scene from my childhood over and over again in my mind.
“What do you think, Jokil? Would she be of any use?”
“Maybe in a few years. Put her with the others.”
“What about the old man?”
“He won’t last the trip back to Suraad. Put him in a cottage.”
The soldier’s words rang in my ears and it seemed that every enemy I encountered had his face. Furiously I thrust and stabbed and hours passed. I was sweaty, dirt and blood clung to my tattered clothing but I still felt the rage boiling within me. Only when my mother’s voice came to me in my haze, did I come back to reality.
“Rest in camp, the fighting shall continue.” She led me from the battling soldiers to a base camp, set up on a hill overlooking the field. For the first time I noticed it had grown dark and I marveled at the black sky, hanging serenely over the chaos below. We passed the healing tent and I heard the cries of agony within and cringed, recognizing for perhaps the first time that day the true reality of war.
“What’ve I done?” I wondered aloud, thinking of the men, the elves, the dwarves, and the ogres I’d killed or wounded that day.
“You’ve done your duty to your people, Drianna. You fought bravely…and…I wager, your soul has found a little peace now?”
I looked at mother. She was calmly watching me, the wisdom of her years evident in her eyes. With sudden insight I nodded. “It has.”
After my first bloody day, I found I could regard the battle with objective eyes, as a leader should. I helped my mother command and occasionally battle, but never again did I resume fighting on the front lines.
A week into the battle, word came that our armies were victorious in the east and would be coming to our aid soon. We didn’t feel we needed assistance; the battle was clearly in our favor though only marginally so.
But I looked forward to Shane’s arrival and eagerly awaited it. However, it was unknown just how long it would be before he would reach our camp. So, things continued normally- or as normally as they could in battle.
But one day, I found myself farther in the front lines than I’d intended. The fighting was heavy around me. I could hear the cries of rage and screams of agony around me and frantically I fought my way through the line, trying to get back to camp.
Just as I thought I’d reached a break in the line something cut through the air before me and suddenly a white-hot pain spread over my abdomen. I cried out in distress and looked down to see an arrow with green and blue feathers protruding from my side. Blood so red it looked black seeped from the wound, pouring down my hip and leg.
Helplessly I fell to the ground, clutching the arrow’s shaft. As blackness descended upon me I heard a nameless voice cry out, “Your highness! Quickly, someone fetch a healer! She’s been hit and it doesn’t look well…”
To Be Continued….
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