[Story] PRINCESS DRIANNA Chapter 17
Ifeoma Isabella Okeke
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Two days later the battle ended. We were victorious. The army picked up camp and began the march back north. The journey was a long one. The knights were weary and we stopped often to rest. But I didn’t mind its length.
It allowed Shane and I precious time together. I enjoyed it, but secretly marveled at how different it was than my time with Gadel. Gadel was all playfulness and youthful exuberance. Shane was calm and sweet with an underlying passion that was kept in check. With Shane I lacked the blissful ignorance of the carefree days I’d spent with Gadel. There were important matters hanging over each of our heads but we found solace in each other’s presence.
Most days, we rode together in comfortable silence, feeling no need for words. But then, during the nights when we stopped to camp, I would visit him and we’d talk into the hours before the dawn. We’d reminisce about our childhood adventures or comment on the day’s ride. I discovered his wry humor and ability to bring a smile to my face effortlessly. It was a time of contentment.
“Why did you come to Groithia to get me yourself? Why didn’t you send someone?” I asked one night as we lay on our backs on a pallet of grass, staring up at the glittering sky.
Shane rolled onto his side and shrugged. His fingers idly fiddled with the sleeve of my gown and he spoke, “I wanted to.”
“But why? You were needed with the army.”
“I didn’t want some stranger coming to find you…it didn’t seem right. After all those years, it should’ve been someone you knew.”
I was thoughtful before voicing my next question. “Were you…were you very disappointed in me when you found me?”
He heaved a sigh and for a long while he was silent. I began to wonder if he’d not heard me or if he was just not going to respond. But finally he answered. “I was more hurt than disappointed,” he said quietly.
“Because of Gadel?”
Visibly, he flinched at the name. “Partly. And because some unrealistic part of me had thought foolishly that you’d be waiting for someone to save you from that life. It’d never occurred to me that you would’ve accepted and settled into it. I certainly never thought that you’d find happiness in it…nor love.”
I heard the twinge of pain in his voice and a leaned up, planting a soft kiss on his cheek. “But this is where I belong now. You know that there’s no where I’d rather be, right?”
“Truly?” he asked skeptically. “No where? Not even a little bit?”
“Not even a little bit.”
“You don’t wish to return to Groithia?”
I shrugged. “Maybe someday,” I felt him stiffen in my arms. “if you were with me. Wherever you are is where I belong.”
He smiled and pressed a kiss to my temple. “Are you just realizing this, then? Because I’ve known it all along.”
“You have not!”
“I have. From the moment I first lay eyes on you-”
“Shane Raphen! That is a lie! You don’t even remember the moment you first lay eyes on me! You were two years old!” I exclaimed, shoving him playfully in the chest.
“I do so remember! I remember the day you were born and mother took me in to look at you. I remember seeing you wrapped up in a little white blanket, wriggling and making all those little baby sounds. And I reached out and touched your face and I knew then that I wanted to protect you and love you the rest of my life.”
I found myself struck dumb by his words. Tenderly I brushed his face with my hand and ran my fingers through his tangled hair. “You’re amazing, you know that?”
He broke into a grin. “Yes. I do.”
I laughed. “Be serious…I have to ask…have you been in love with me all these years?” He nodded without hesitation. “So…in Elphame…that night on the porch? You said I’d never felt the kind of love you feel.”
“That love was for me?”
“Of course.” Shane looked at me, dumfounded. “You thought there was someone else?”
I shrugged and looked away. “It was eight years… There was really no one?”
He sighed. “No one of consequence. Oh, I had my trysts as any young man but I never had a beloved.”
“What trysts?” I asked with a frown.
He only laughed. “Jealous?”
I felt his lips brush my temple again. “You’ve nothing to be jealous about. You’re the one I want in my life.”
I smiled and snuggled into his arms.
Before we knew it, we’d returned to the fortress in the north. I had to adjust once again to the cold and the snow but was very glad to have my own chambers back with a soft bed to sleep in.
Mini and Penn were there, serving my needs and the young maid was full of gossip, as usual. The morning after my return, she eagerly broached the subject of Shane once again.
“So…has the general made any proclamations, miss?” she asked.
“Perhaps,” I responded, unable to hide the smile that came to my face.
“Oh! I knew he would! I just knew it! Leo, General Raphen’s manservant, told me just this morning how happy the master is! He actually smiled! Certainly it’s you who’s caused such change in his disposition!”
I chuckled. “Indeed, I have not. There’s been no change in his disposition- only a willingness to show his true character. In truth, as I’ve known him, he’s always been a happy man…though often adverse to showing it.”
“Do you love him, miss?”
I blew a happy sigh and relaxed in my seat. “I do. I truly do.”
“Then I’m happy for you. And I’m happy for General Raphen.”
I went down to breakfast, taking my place at the table at mother’s right, and smiled sweetly across the table at Shane. He grinned back at me and we settled in to eat. Our happy mood was not contagious, however. Mother’s rule of never discussing the war whilst dining had been abandoned in these, the last few days before the most important battle.
The lords and generals argued over strategies and to my disappointment, Shane joined in. I listened silently, unwilling to voice my opinion at so public a setting. Mother did the same, merely eating her meal stoically while the debates raged around the table. There would be time enough for tactics and strategies later.
But then, Lord Knowlu’s loud voice rang above the rest, asking, “Most sensible princess, why don’t you bestow some of your wisdom on we poor fools? What do you think of the looming battle?”
The banquet hall hushed and all eyes turned to me, waiting expectantly. Calmly, I lay my fork beside my plate and dabbed at my lips with my napkin. “I think,” I said, folding the cloth in my lap, “that it is best discussed away from the breakfast table.” A buzz of murmurs filled the hall and I spoke up again. “Soon it will be all we speak of…can we not escape it during our meals as my mother has insisted on before? I feel it is necessary. Let us not over-contemplate…for then we might very well miss the simplest plan.”
They considered my words for a long moment before the chatter began to grow again- this time about more pleasant topics. I resumed my meal but was uneasy, feeling a pair of eyes on me. I looked up, finding Shane’s awed gaze fixed upon me.
Then he said softly, “Spoken like a true queen.”
“We should attack from the south! They won’t be expecting it!”
“They won’t expect it because it is impossible! The trees are too dense to move our army through with any speed!”
“They provide excellent cover!”
“We don’t need cover! We need speed!”
“He’s right! Attack fast and hard! That’s what we need to do!”
“Well, I still say to come from the west.”
“Do you know how large the moats are on that side? While we’re busying rowing, their archers could very well-”
“Come in the cover of darkness!”
“That would take too long! Fast and hard! Fast and hard!”
I sighed, clutching my throbbing temples. The council had been arguing for three hours on the best method of attack and had so far succeeded in making no progress at all.
“Are you all right?” Shane whispered in my ear.
“A headache. How much longer are they going to continue this?”
“I have no idea.”
“They’re going in circles.” My fingers rubbed my forehead, striving to release the tension behind my eyes.
“Gentlemen! Your majesty!” Shane’s voice rang out across the Great Hall. The council and my mother ceased chatter and looked to him. He stood, taking my hand and pulling me to my feet as well. “If you will excuse us, the princess is feeling unwell.”
“Fetch the healer!” someone cried hastily.
“No, no. A breath of air should make right her malady. Excuse us.” He bowed and within moments had whisked me out into the cool corridor. Once there and out of sight of the others, he pulled me into a short embrace. “Better?”
I nodded. “A bit. Thank you.”
“Shall we walk?”
He threaded my arm through his and led me down the corridor. “I want to show you something.”
“Be patient. I said show you, not tell you.”
He led me through a door, up a steep wooden staircase, all the while clutching my hand so I didn’t fall. The stair wound up and up until finally, when I thought we’d reached the clouds themselves for certain, we came to a door. On the other side I found a plain room- round in shape as my anteroom and bare of any furnishings.
“This is what you wanted to show me? I’d rather you’d have told me and saved the trek upstairs.”
“This isn’t what I wanted to show you.” He pulled me over to a shuttered window and, throwing open the hinged shade, revealed a view of the same glacial sea I’d hiked up the cliff to gaze at weeks ago.
I gasped and smiled, leaning out of the window, feeling the icy breeze on my skin. I felt Shane behind me and he slowly wrapped his arms around my waist, pulling my back to his chest. “Next time you need to think, you can do it from the warmth and safety of this tower.”
I laughed. “Always keeping me safe…”
“It’s my job.”
“Your self-appointed job, you mean.”
“It’s still my job. It always has been.”
“You saved me from the bee!” I exclaimed, laughing at the memory.
“I’d save you from much more than that…if you’d let me.”
His voice was serious and I craned my neck to look at him. “What do you mean?”
“The last battle…Iae Wiltur…don’t go.”
“What? Of course I’m going! Please don’t do this again.” I pulled out of his grasp. “I have to go.”
“Why? You’ve had your vengeance.”
“But I am no defenseless damsel that stays in her tower, waiting for her knight to save her! I belong with my men!” I was screaming. But I had right to. How dare he put me through months of harsh training and then demand that I not use it!
His face was stony but I saw the hurt in his eyes. “You’re not a defenseless damsel. Not at all. But…Drianna…please…”
“I have a bad feeling about this battle…just…please…stay here.”
“What sort of bad feeling? You think we’ll be defeated?” I demanded.
An anguished groan escaped his throat and he ran a hand through his hair, tousling the already unruly locks. “I don’t know! There’s just something about it…can’t you feel it?” He took two steps toward me and I backed away, still angry with him. With a sigh he pleaded slowly, “Just stop…listen…feel the air…”
I followed his instructions. My eyes fell shut and I breathed evenly. Yes…there was something in the air. The Power sizzled and crackled and I saw deep, velvety blackness.
“What is it?” I breathed.
“I don’t know. But do you understand now why I don’t want you to go?”
I nodded, opening my eyes. “But I’m still going.” It was apparent that he was about to commence on another rant so I halted his words. “Nothing you say will stop me.” His shoulders slumped as he realized he truth in my words. I went to him, pulling him into my arms. “It’ll be all right…you’ll be there with me. You’ll see, everything will be fine.” He only shook his head. I clutched the back of his neck, forcing him to look at me. “Everything will be fine,” I growled before pressing my lips to his in a forceful kiss.
Immediately he returned my motions, answering with angry severity to match my own. But I felt that he was terrified. The coming battle did not bode well. I felt it. He felt it. We parted breathless and I realized I was shaking. Perhaps I was terrified too.
That night I found myself hopelessly sleepless. After hours of tossing, I gave up my battle for rest and climbed out of bed. The floor was cold under my bare feet and the room had a chill to it- the fire having died long ago. Quickly I pulled on a fur robe and pair of slippers and padded my way out of my chambers.
Penn sat outside my door, snoring loudly but when I passed, he woke with a start and moved to stand. “No, no. Stay here,” I commanded. Reluctantly he obeyed and I made my way up to the tower room Shane had shown me that afternoon. The climb up the stairs did not seem so long this time and soon I found myself in the little room.
But I was not alone. Shane was there by the window, the moonlight shining on his handsome face and bare chest. He was striking, standing there gazing out at the icy sea and for a moment I stood breathless just watching him.
A moment later he noticed my presence and held out his arm in a silent gesture, beckoning me to him. Immediately I was at his side and he pulled me in for a brief kiss.
“What are you doing up the late, love?” he asked.
“I couldn’t sleep. And you?”
“The same.” He sighed, turning his gaze back to the serene view. I followed it, watching the bergs float silently in the icy waters.
For a long while we stood there, both lost in our own thoughts. Minutes or perhaps hours passed like that until suddenly Shane’s voice whispered close in my ear, “Marry me.”
To Be Continued….
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