[Story] PRINCESS DRIANNA Chapter 7
Ifeoma Isabella Okeke
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My conversation with Timmy repeated over and over in my head. I knew that someday soon, I would have to leave the manor and Gadel. News of the war came almost daily. My father’s armies were defending Danubae well but there were heavy casualties on both sides.
A company of Groithians were occupying my precious palace and scouring the countryside for my parents. It was only a matter of time before one or both of them were found.
I suppose my worries brought a cloud over my happy demeanor and Gadel sensed it, but never pressed the reasons behind my somber moods. But one night we were dining- or he was dining and I was picking at my food- and he could take it no longer. He asked me what was wrong.
“Nothing,” I mumbled.
“Don’t lie to me, Havara. You’ve been moping about for weeks now. You hardly ever smile, you barely touch your food, and I know that you haven’t been sleeping. I hear you go out at all hours. Is it the dreams again?”
I shook my head. I had been having the dreams and they’d been growing more vivid but they were not the cause of my depression. Gadel looked pleadingly at me. “Tell me what’s wrong, Havara.”
The pain in his voice stabbed at my heart and I closed my eyes to hold back the tears. “You know I love you, right?”
“Of course. And I, you.”
“Sometimes…sometimes people- no matter how much they love each other- can’t be together. They’re too different.”
“What are you saying?”
I shook my head. “I don’t know.”
He frowned. “You do. Tell me.” His voice was low and commanding. I could tell his frustration with me was making him angry.
“Do you love me enough to let me go? If you had to, I mean.”
“You mean…set you free? You know I would if I could but that’s father’s choice. I have no power over that. But you know you’re not a slave to me. Have I ever treated you as one?”
“No. But that’s not what I mean. Do you love me enough to let me leave here?”
Gadel studied me carefully. “Where are you planning on going?”
“Nowhere. I…I’m just saying if there came a time when I had to leave, would you let me?”
He growled. “You’re talking in riddles, Havara. I don’t understand what you’re saying. Maybe I would if I knew more about you, but…” he let the sentence hang.
“I can’t tell you,” I whispered, choking back tears.
He pounded his fists on the table and his chair screeched as he pushed it back and rose to his feet. He was angry and rightly so. I knew everything about him and he knew nothing about me. We were in love and now I was talking about leaving him. He was scared and confused and I didn’t blame him for being upset with me.
“Why can’t you tell me?” he demanded.
“I just…can’t.” My throat constricted as I fought back a sob. I couldn’t stay in that room any longer. I jumped from my seat and with a tearful, “I’m sorry.” I ran from the room.
Gadel called after me but I didn’t stop running. I had no destination. My feet carried me out of the house and past the stables. I passed the field which would lead me to the stream and ran instead into the thick woods at the edge of the property. I didn’t stop until I was well into the forest. When I paused, leaning against a tall silver tree trunk, panting breathlessly, I realized I was utterly lost.
It was dark and only a few stray beams of moonlight filtered through the dense treetops. A fine mist covered the forest floor and made it hard to see. Just as I was beginning to panic, a gruff voice came from behind me.
“What’re you runnin’ from, ‘Vara?” Nealp asked, stepping into a beam of moonlight.
I was almost glad to see him. It meant I wasn’t lost. But one look at his face as his eyes looked me over was enough to make me panic again. I pressed my back against the tree trunk.
“I…I’m a little lost, Nealp…could you help me get back to the manor?”
He nodded and I breathed a sigh of relief. “But not yet.”
“Nealp?” I stumbled away from the tree, trying to back away as he moved closer to me.
“‘Vara’s awful pretty,” he said, nearing me. “Nealp liked ‘Vara, ever since ‘Vara came to village.”
“Nealp…take me back to the manor, now,” I said in my most commanding voice.
He shook his head. “Want to play.” A large hand clumsily shot out at me, ripping at my gown, managing to tear a sleeve and part of the shoulder off. I stumbled away from him.
“You don’t want to do this. Think Nealp. You know you don’t want to do this. Master Gadel will have your head. Stop now and we can go back to the manor and forget it happened, OK?”
But my efforts to talk him down were futile. It was as if he didn’t hear me. He didn’t miss a step, in fact, his pace quickened and suddenly I found myself pinned between him and a tree trunk. His breath was hot and fetid on my skin and in my nostrils. I struggled to be free of his grasp but he had both my hands pinned above my head with one of his.
I cried out but my only response was a grunt from Nealp and my own voice echoing back to me. With his free hand, Nealp ripped the bodice of my gown down the middle, leaving only my corset between us. He growled, obviously flustered with the many strings and knots that laced the undergarment.
“Please stop,” I begged as he abandoned attempts at my corset and pulled my skirts up, running a clumsy hand up my thigh. A new rush of fear surged within me and I realized that my face was streaked with tears. I opened my mouth to scream though I knew it was futile. I got out a short screech before his mouth was over mine. I grimaced and frantically tried to turn my head and kick him away but to no avail.
But suddenly, he stilled. The powerful hand around my wrists loosened and fell away as he slumped to the ground. Dazed, it was a moment before I saw the sword through his middle and the violet ogre blood seeping onto the leafy ground.
A fierce sob escaped my throat and I slid to the ground, letting out my anguish in long wails. I didn’t even look up at my savior. I knew who it was. I could feel his presence- his eyes watching me. Gadel knelt at my side, placing a tentative hand on my bare shoulder.
“Havara? Are you all right? Did he hurt you?” I shook my head. “Did he…?”
“No…you came in time. How did you find me?”
“I saw you run into the woods. I thought to give you some time to yourself…then I heard you cry out.”
“Oh,” I mumbled, wiping the tears from my face. I looked up at him, finding that his eyes were not full of compassion and worry as I’d expected. They were angry.
“Don’t you ever do that again,” he commanded.
“Do what? Almost be ravished by a half-ogre in a forest?”
“Run off into a forest by yourself at night! You scared me! Don’t you know what it’d do to me if anything ever happened to you? It was stupid and don’t ever even think of doing it again!” The anger gradually faded from his countenance to reveal the real fear he was feeling. He pulled me to his chest and kissed my forehead brutally.
We sat there for a long while until finally he said, “Let’s get you home. You must be freezing.” And he lifted me into his arms and carried me out of the woods.
When we reached the house, he carried me up the stairs and to his chambers. I gave him a warning look. “Gadel…”
“I’m not letting you out of my sight. Don’t worry. I’ll be a perfect gentleman.” He grinned. “Unless…”
I rolled my eyes and rested my head on his shoulder. I wanted to protest but I had little energy. I’d wanted to protest being carried all the way back to the manor, too but I’d realized that I probably wouldn’t have been able to make it on my own.
He lay me carefully on one side of his stately bed. With gentle hands, he removed my slippers and the tattered remains of my gown, leaving me in my corset and shift. I knew I’d never be able to sleep confined in the tight stays so I carefully loosened the knots enough to where I could breathe easily.
When I had, and laid back into the soft pillows, I felt the bed shift as Gadel lay down beside me. With a quick glance over at him, I found he’d discarded his shirt and the scar from where he’d been wounded at war was apparent across his abdomen.
“You told me it was just a scratch.”
“Huh?” I looked purposefully at the long, red scar that stretched from under his left arm to an inch from his navel. “Oh…it was just a scratch. I barely felt it at all.”
I rolled my eyes. “Sure.”
He sighed and threw an arm about my waist, pulling me to his chest. “Go to sleep, Havara.”
“How did it happen?”
“How’d you get the scar?”
“An axe did that?”
“I dodged it in time. Go to sleep.”
I sighed and snuggled back against him and soon fell into a deep sleep. But it was not a peaceful sleep. The most vivid dream I’d ever had came to me that night. It began as the others. I was a child, sitting in the garden with Aliqua and Shane. The sky turned black and my mother appeared to me. But this time, I could hear her words.
“It’s your time, Drianna. It’s your time.”
“I can’t,” I cried out to her.
“You must.” She smiled kindly at me. “You are my daughter. This is what you were born for. Take it. Follow him.”
But she vanished and I was left alone. But I wasn’t alone. There was someone there, on the edge of the garden. I looked, but I could not see them. My mother’s voice echoed in my mind. “Follow him.”
Gadel’s hand on my shoulder woke me. I opened my eyes to find him leaning over me with a concerned countenance. “Another dream?” he asked.
I nodded and sat up. My skin was damp with perspiration and my breath was ragged and my birthmark stung painfully. I reached around and fingered it, hissing at the pain it sent through my skin.
“What is that?”
“It’s just my birthmark.”
“Why is it glowing?”
Startled, I strained to look at the mark on my shoulder blade. I could just see a faint blue light emanating from it. “I…I don’t know…”
“It’s fading,” Gadel said.
I looked and indeed, the light was growing fainter and fainter until finally it was extinguished. I frowned. “I don’t know what it was…let’s just go back to sleep.”
But I did know what it was. It was a sign. The time when I’d have to leave Colias Manor was nearing. I didn’t want to think about it. I snuggled against Gadel’s chest, resting my head under his chin, and pushing all thoughts of leaving from my mind. But I wouldn’t be able to for much longer- in fact, not a day longer.
I went to pick blackberries for a pie that morning. I hummed happily to myself as I carried on my task, despite the traumatic events of the previous night. Sleeping and waking in Gadel’s arms had put me in a light mood. I’d decided to live for the now and not ruin the time I had left with him with thoughts of leaving.
So I cheerfully filled my basket and carried it back to the manor. As I neared the front courtyard, I noticed an unfamiliar horse hitched to a post beside the steps. I frowned in bewilderment. Gadel wasn’t expecting company as far as I knew.
“Who’s here?” I asked Timmy as I handed her the blackberries.
She shrugged. “A stranger arrived while you were out. I don’t know who he is. I think he’s just passing through. Master Gadel took him into the parlor for some coffee, I think.”
Curious, I crept down the hall to the front parlor and stood just outside the door, listening. I could hear the muffle of Gadel’s deep voice and then another one- lighter with a melodious quality to it. I listened harder and could just make out the stranger’s words.
“…looking for a girl. I was told she might be around these parts.”
It couldn’t be. I peeked around the doorframe and my eyes fell on a fiery red head in the armchair in front of Gadel’s. He stopped speaking immediately as I took one, hesitant step into the room and rose from his chair.
I gasped. “Shane…”
To Be Continued…
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