The morning came before the sun could usher it in. Bleary-eyed, Emera went about stoking a large fire, setting out the food Leonard prepared and cleaning the few utensils used. As the men moved into position to shove off, a youth of less than 13 came rushing up to Leonard. He whispered to him before the old man turned to Emera. “Dear, this boy here says you are to follow him. The king wants to see you.” In quick reaction, before she thought, she straightened her skirts around her and tucked a few wayward strands of silk back behind her right ear. She glanced up to Glenna who was settling in the wagon seat. Her eyebrows were raised, shooting her a ‘be careful’ look.
Eventually, she and the boy made their way forward and stopped at another wagon. “This wagon is for the king’s tent. You are to ride up here today.” He held out a hand to help her up. However, she looked surprised and gazed around, trying to spy the king. Her independent nature wanted her to refuse, but logic won out as she decided perhaps she could learn something more today than yesterday. She quickly scurried up the side of the wagon and gracefully seated herself next to the driver without the boy’s aid. As she was situating herself, taking in the surrounding company, the boy left without another word. She introduced herself to the gruff wagon driver. He was polite, but not sociable. Motions and sounds were made and eventually the camp was moving forward once more.
Despite her best efforts to engage the man next to her in conversation, her riding companion gave nothing more than monosyllabic responses. After waking early from an unrestful night’s sleep following a grueling day of marching, Emera found sitting still coupled with the relaxing breeze a recipe for sleep; soon her head slowly dipped forward, her eyes shutting of their own accord.
“I shouldn’t be surprised that one foolish enough to travel on foot alone would also be foolish enough to fall asleep atop a moving wagon, risking falling off and breaking her neck.” His condescending voice slapped her from her dozing. She sat up straight, arching her back to stretch. Edrich’s breath caught at the sight of her lithe figure contorting hypnotically. Trying to distract himself, he spoke. “I see you are appreciating my great concern for your well-being.” He tried to distance himself from the effects of her allure with his condescension.
“Your great concern?” She nearly rolled her eyes; he really was too much.
“Yes. I noticed you did not fare well walking on foot all yesterday. I have arranged for you to ride here. Great concern and effort to arrange it.”
“Roger,” she spoke to the driver.
“Who normally occupies this seat next to you?”
“No one, Miss. It is usually empty.”
She turned back to the king as he rode his horse next to them. “Empty. I wonder at the effort it takes to have a messenger find one person to fill an empty seat.” Her face was blank, waiting to be contradicted over his great effort.
He frowned at her. “Very well. Then, at the very least, you should be impressed that not only am I attentive to the needs of your body, but I can satisfy them with little effort.” His dark brown eyes were glittering.
She made no argument, partly because he was right, but also because she had the distinct feeling his words held a double meaning she was too ignorant to understand. “Your thoughtfulness, though perhaps unnecessary, is appreciated. Thank you, Your Majesty.”
Again, her half thanks satisfied him somewhat as he could see they were more than she wanted to give. “Unnecessary? You prefer to walk, then?”
“I prefer to remain busy, my Lord.”
“Then how do you find working for Leonard?”
She laughed somewhat. “Well, I am not afraid of hard work, my Lord, but I fear that I am not qualified to assist him in any cooking whatsoever. My maid is better suited to that.” She looked down at her hands, smiling.
He watched her closely. He could tell she was an active girl. Hell, her perfectly toned body revealed in the setting sun just the evening before had given testimony to that. He began to see that his concern and effort to protect her body were actually robbing her of much desired exercise. They remained silent a few minutes more. “We did not camp in a very sport-rich site yesterday eve. Our scouts had difficulty finding enough food for this evening’s meal. There are better hunting grounds near tonight’s destination. I plan on taking a few of my best hunters with me to bring back dinner.” She nodded in understanding. He seemed nervous, as though he wanted to say more. She turned, giving him a curious look. “It is a shame that you are not helpful in the kitchens.” She attempted to defend her place in the cook’s tent but was cut off. “Is it not sad that you don’t possess other skills?” He rubbed his chin. Again, she tried to argue that she had skills when he stopped her. “Oh, yes, as I recall, you are somewhat capable with a bow and arrow, are you not?”
The man was a mystery. Had he been hit in the head with a blunt object since yesterday morning when she felled the charging boar? Somewhat capable with a bow and arrow, my foot, she thought. He felt her anger building. “Well, if you would like to join us for our sport this afternoon, provided you stay out of the way and don’t slow us down, I suppose you would be welcome.”
She was about to yell a thousand miserable words at him when his ploy suddenly began to dawn on her. He recognized she wasn’t happy or fit in the kitchen and was giving her an opportunity to do something she was happy and fit in; hunting. The anger melted off her. “Yes, thank you, Your Majesty. I would be most happy to assist with this evening’s kill.” His face showed no interest, one way or the other, but accepted her agreement with a slight nod and then abruptly rode on. Despite still being tired, her countenance brightened and she stayed awake, surveying all she could. When the sun was high, she shared food with Roger who had opened up a little to give a brief history of his service to the king. He concisely detailed being a favored soldier when he was younger. However, a battle wound gave him an inescapable and costly limp. Favored as he was by the king, he was allowed to serve in any capacity of his choosing. As such, he became the king’s valet.
Within two or three hours of stopping for the day, the king rode up once more. “It is time, Em.” He held his hand out to her as her rode next to the wagon.
“Time for what, Your Majesty?”
“To go on the hunt. We need to advance ahead of the men to make time; when the men arrive at the camp site, we will have the kills skinned and ready to be cooked. There is too much travel and not enough day to postpone the hunt until we arrive.”
“Am I not to have my own horse?” No, of course not, you idiot, she thought to herself. Ride with a man! Never! Her mother would roll over in her grave at the very idea. It was one thing to buck convention and ride straddle on a horse as opposed to side-saddle. It was quite another to be intimately nestled between the thighs of a man she had not known for more than a day, let alone was not married to.
The king grew impatient. “Come now, Em, or you do not go on the hunt.” He was stern.
She’d broken so many rules of a demure princess that at this point she couldn’t see that it would hurt anything more. She reached out and made a small leap, landing in his firm arms. He settled her so that her right leg was bent around the small pummel of the saddle, her left leg hanging down, gripping the horse. Not exactly side saddle, not exactly astride, but still very naughty in feel. He urged his horse at a sprinting pace forward, breaking away from the marching men. She then realized he had been surrounded by a group of five other men on horseback the entire time.
Once acclimated to the rush of joining a group of strange men on a hunting expedition, Emera became achingly aware of the intimate position she was in. The king held the reigns in his left hand as it rested on her thigh. His right hand firmly held her around the waist, pressing her tightly against his body. She felt heat and arousing strength surround her as he leaned forward, urging the horse on. She could smell his heady scent, and it was intoxicating. And added to all that, she was tightly positioned between the king and the pummel. With each stride of the stallion, it rubbed her sex against it until it throbbed in aching desire. Focus!, she chided herself. Most of their travel was through a bright wood with tall, old Beech and Adler trees. Occasionally, the path was strewn with fallen logs which the king’s horse flew over gracefully. Those powerful, jostling movements only served to heighten the arousal of her body more painfully, setting every part of her on fire.
For Edrich, the ride was a glorious nightmare. It had excited him as he planned their excursion together, imaging the feel of her in his arms. Naturally, he fantasized the progression of liberties allowed; a hand on the waist, the other on the thigh, rubbing soothingly. He would hear a soft moan and skillfully move his hand to her breast, her head back against his shoulder, head tilted away giving him access to her neck. He imagined the intoxicating taste of her skin as his mouth glided up it while he firmly knead her breast, causing her to arch into his grip, moaning sensually. He had stopped the fantasy there, his erection growing as though he was an undisciplined youth.
Now, however, in the reality of full, round buttocks pressing intimately and firmly into his groin, the heat of the fantasy wilted away when compared to the scorching fire he found coursing through his veins, igniting a fierce hunger for more. His blood was pulsing to his turgid member, and he had to fight the rhythm of the horse that caused their bodies to move in a mock-fucking form. This is what he had wanted, but now he realized, unlike his fantasy, there were surrounded by his men and despite the passion Em showed, she was still a maiden and not likely to allow him to bed her. Frustrated, he leaned more into her, his nose near her hair inhaling her scent comfortingly into him.
Eventually, the forest thinned out to a large accommodating clearing. Obviously, this is where they would make camp for the night. He swung down and then reached up, taking her by the waist. He let her slide down slowly, pressing her into the side of his horse with his own hard body. She felt every inch of him and prayed the agonizing torture would end. His gaze had turned dark again, but she knew it wasn’t with anger. Her face was heated, and she felt as though she might faint. She never had before, and she wouldn’t start now. She dared to look up at him, forcing herself to appear braver than she felt. He lingered, looking down at her. She thought he would say or do something, but after a time, he stepped back and called for Drake. The soldier came forward with a bow and a quiver full of arrows. The king took it and handed it to her silently.
When she shook off the haze fogging her brain, she realized the other men had left and only she and the king remained. After tying off his horse with the others, he gestured with his head, indicating she was to follow him. They veered off the path where the forest became thicker and trudged through the growth as quietly as humanly possible. At one point, she aimed for a fowl taking flight, but he lowered her bow. In a hushed voice he explained. “We have too many to feed. If we caught enough pheasant for them all, we would spend an eternity plucking and cooking them. We need large game.”
She never realized that. She nodded, understanding. They eventually spotted a small herd of forest deer. By that point, she had veered off to the right and was standing at one end of the herd. They looked at each other, nodding. Both drew their arrows. He let his fly first, causing the herd to scatter quickly. The buck she had her eye on turned away from her and dashed off. Damn! She quickly ran another few meters to the right to get a better angle at its body. She let her arrow fly, penetrating it deeply in the animal’s side.
“Mine fell instantly. Looks as though we’re going to have to chase yours down,” he taunted smilingly.
“Yours was standing still, only a couple of yards away.” She held her chin high. “Plus, mine will feed more.”
“Only if we can catch it,” he chuckled, and they headed off in the direction the animal had flown. They followed the blood trail until it led up into a craggy hill with tall boulders surrounding it like a crown. Then the trail stopped. They spread out searching for it. “Found it!” he shouted from the other side of the hill. She climbed to the top of a small boulder to spy him. She smiled wide when she saw him waving.
As she hopped down to approach, the quick jerk of his right shoulder back was the only warning something was not right. She watched in horror as he looked down, blood pouring from an arrow pierced in his shoulder. She drew her bow, quickly scanned their surroundings, and then fired at a man sitting atop the tallest boulder, shrouded by trees. He fell and tumbled violently to the ground. She spun back to Edrich to see three men jump from behind a boulder, kicking him to his knees. Two of the men grabbed either of his arms while the third held him by his hair, forcing him to bare his throat to the dagger the man held.
She had already pulled another arrow from her quiver and had it aimed at the man. For a moment, no one spoke. “I don’t think you are quite in the position, you think you are, missy,” the man with the dagger grated out.
“Neither are you.” Her voice was unwavering.
The man grunted at that. “Really think you can kill all three of us before we slice open your lover boy’s throat here?”
“I know I can kill all of you, regardless of what you do to that man.”
“Not disputing that, honey, but you should be asking yourself, do you really want to watch him die?”
“No, the question you need to ask yourself, is do you want to die?” She drew the bow back even tighter in threat.
“Seems we are at an impasse. And the only thing I can think of to get us out of it, without the loss of life is a trade.” He smiled leeringly at that.
“Trade? What sort of trade?”
“You discard your bow, walk over here, and we let him go on his merry.” The king began to furiously thrash at the man’s suggestion.
She looked into his eyes. No! he clearly told her. Her breathing increased finally. Trade herself for the king? Was there no other way out? She began to frantically look about, trying to find some way. But there was none. And for the first time, in an absolutely long time, she felt helpless. She looked at him, and he knew she had given up. He began to thrash even more violently, despite the arrow piercing his shoulder. He was able to throw one of the men off momentarily, but they regained control of him, striking him in the process. His brow and nose were left bleeding.
It never crossed her mind to wonder why she was desperate to save him, to give up her own life. She never once questioned if this was the solution to her problems, to rid herself of Lidio’s king. She never considered denying their request to run for her own safety or even for help. In that moment, she was driven only by the deepest desire to protect him from harm. She lowered her weapon and threw it away. She watched his desperate face as she walked solemnly across the clearing to them. Be at peace, she willed him. She no longer thought of the men, just easing his heart. She knelt in front of him, wiping the blood and sweat from his brow, her hand gently stroking down his cheek. She was overcome by the need to give and receive solace from him. She hedged, only for a moment, and then leaned in, her lips grazing across his ever so slightly, and then deepened it briefly.
He broke the kiss to lean his forehead against hers. His breathing was harsh and ragged. “Do not do this,” he begged.
With fixed determination she quickly stood and looked at the man with the dagger with deadly calm.
“Let him go, now.”
“Come to think of it, I don’t think I will. This bastard’s given us too much trouble. But I will collect on your offer, just the same.” He leered as he stepped around the men to reach out to her. Liar! Rage shot through her as she thought only a moment before grabbing the nearest man’s sword. In one motion, she pulled it out of its sheath, turned to slice across the leader’s throat and on the returning arc skewered the belly of man she stole the sword from. Edrich used the distraction to throw the last man to the earth with his overpowering strength, pulling his dagger from his belt and plunged it into the man’s heart. For a moment, the only sound was her ragged breath as she struggled to maintain control. He looked at her and then bounded forward, embracing her tightly.
She was momentarily dazed at his powerful show of emotions before she pulled herself back. “We have to get you back to camp and see to your wound.” Her voice was raw. She trained her thoughts to address the problems at hand, and not to be swept away with emotion. She looked about her, slightly confused as though she was looking for something but didn’t know what. She began muttering to herself, something about “who knew killing a man…” and her actions became indecisive and frantic. He knew she was disintegrating and pulled her roughly to him again. She began to sob violently, clinging to him for support. He fully embraced her, letting her emotions take possession of her. Eventually, her tears dried up. He pulled her back, took her face in his hands, and gazed down into her eyes.
“Shh,” he whispered. “It’s over, my brave little savior,” he continued to gently shush her. He cupped her face and kissed her eyes, then her tear streaked cheeks. When his lips nudged at the corner of hers, his pupils dilated and he looked into her eyes. For a moment they held, and then he crashed into her like a wave coming to the rocks on shore. He could feel her desperate need for him. Her innocent mouth opened willingly, an innate knowing of how to respond perfectly. Her tongue followed his lead. She moaned delicately and he growled in response. In frenzied need, Edrich’s arms forcefully hauled Emera to his body, but his pain shot through him and broke through his haze of lust. His arms loosened, but he still held her. He tried to breathe through the pain, holding it and letting it gently pour out of him. His chin resting on the top of her head, he whispered, “Aw, Em, what am I going to do with you?”
She took a decisive step back. “Well, I know what I am going to do with you. I’m taking you back. Now, come along, don’t dawdle.” Before he realized it was happening, she transformed into the know-it-all girl of action he was becoming so familiar with. She quickly turned, picking her bow and quiver as she left the area on her way. She marched forward, hoping he wouldn’t catch up to her. Her mind was racing, her heart was slamming so hard in her chest it ached. She knew she was too far over her head. She was damned! She was falling for the king. How was she going to deal with him in the future when she became queen? How was she going to leave him? She had never let a man touch her as he had, let alone kiss her so thoroughly she could die happy and perfectly satisfied with life, well, almost perfectly. She didn’t know how to proceed. She was still uncertain if her country could approach him and expect reasonable peace talks; let alone what he would do when he discovered who she was.
She hadn’t planned on getting so close to him. She had only set out to find out about him, his political perspective, not how warm and soft his lips were, or how his mouth was more addictive than the strongest wine. Her mind was muddled, overcome by his presence. She needed to distance herself from him and walked even faster.
Edrich found her behavior concerning. Had it been too much? She kissed him first. She willingly sacrificed her life for him. Clearly, she must have felt something for him. And when he kissed her, she clung to him, nearly sucked his life from him. She wasn’t disgusted or even startled. She wanted him. Why then did she now act as though she wanted nothing to do with him?
They reached the clearing, the others having arrived a half hour earlier. She marched towards the cook’s wagon, not looking back once. He made to follow her, but a few of his soldiers saw his injuries and rushed him. Before he could stop her, his men ushered him to his tent that had just been put up. The doctor saw to his wound and stitched him up. His face would heal on its own. At some point, he sent two of his men to bring back the two deer they had slain. Edrich had a bath and then met with his general. He tried to focus on the discussion. He managed to decide to send two squads out to split up and scour the forest for any more outlaws. However, all he could think of was Em. Finally, he was resolved and sent the same page back to the cook’s tent to have her join him for dinner in his own tent.
Emera’s immediate reaction was to refuse. She wanted to keep as much distance from the dangerous man as possible. Her attraction to the king scared her but he also drew her as well. At times, it felt as though he had wrapped a cord around her and was pulling her to him, despite her reluctance. She balled her fists, determining to stay in control. She still had unanswered questions, she reminded herself; she couldn’t let her fear stop her mission. She nodded to the boy, indicating she would follow. Thankfully, she had washed the sweat and grime from her body when she had returned earlier. Would he kiss her again, she wondered. Would she stop him? She had ten more days, no, make that nine. Nine days were a long time to keep up a wall, holding back the gut-wrenching fire that he so easily built. She bit her lip in thought as she entered his tent and then stopped mid stride. Her thoughts evaporated when she saw him. He was standing at a desk reading a paper.
He was shirtless.
His form was hypnotically male; long and lean. His shoulders were wide and muscled. The bandage for his shoulder seemed to be wrapped to accentuate his finely sculpted shoulder, arm and chest. She saw him as she had the day before and was painfully reminded of what a perfect being he was.
Edrich observed her response to seeing him half naked and knew he had not been wrong about her. He saw the desire, but he also saw her reluctance. Why did she resist what was so natural and overpowering between them? He saw her stifle her desire and looked at the surroundings with resigned eyes.
The king’s tent was warmly lit with many candles. The table was set with plates and a platter of the meat and breads. There were a few roasted root vegetables along with fruit and cheese. Emera took several deep breaths in attempt to push down her apprehension and focus on the task at hand. Eventually, her eyes swept back to Edrich, who still hadn’t bothered donning a shirt. He held his hand out, offering her a chair. She took it.
“Do you usually eat in your tent?”
“No, usually I join the men.”
“Then why here tonight? Are you not cold?” she said somewhat agitated that he still hadn’t put a shirt on.
He saw her eyeing him warily and looked down at his chest. He chuckled before answering. “It hurts more than I care to admit to put one on.”
“Ah, but didn’t you just admit it?” her eyebrows raised in question.
He sat back and smiled. “Wanna dress me?” his caressing voice asked. There was that tone again, suggestive and seductive. She got the feeling his meaning was more along the lines of removing clothes rather than putting them on. To distract herself she took a bite of food and contemplated her meal. They began eating slowly; she was searching for words and he was studying her intensely. “May I ask Your Majesty a question?” He nodded his consent and she proceeded. “What will you do once your men have reached Clearvalley?”
“What soldiers do.”
“That is a little noncommittal, isn’t it?”
“You seem to be making a habit of it,” she mumbled. “How long will you remain in Clearvalley?”
“That hasn’t yet been determined.”
“Why does not your Lord High Marshall deal with the bandits? After all, soldiers are for keeping peace between nations, not tracking outlaws.”
He chuckled. “And you know what soldiers are for? Two days with us and you are already an expert. Unless of course your father or brothers were soldiers?”
“My father did not make a very good soldier, I’m afraid, thus my present predicament.”
“I see. I’m sorry to hear that. If you had been his son, I’m certain you would have made him proud.”
“I would hope, Sire, that I make my father proud, regardless of my gender.”
“I’m sure you do. Yet another reason why I’m sure you would have made him proud.” They continued eating in silence, both weighed down by the thoughts running through their minds. She chanced to look up at him, but his intense gaze held her captivated. “Thank you,” he said low.
She held his gaze for a moment before returning as nonchalantly as possible, “You’re welcome, Your Majesty.” She tried to focus on the food. Chew, chew, chew, swallow. But found her throat wouldn’t properly work.
“Despite my gratitude, I would like to tell you of my displeasure in your actions. However I am finding it difficult.”
Her head shot up at that. Just a hint of anger came out when she spoke, “Displeasure, my Lord? For what?”
“For your selfish actions, of course. In your grandiose attempts to save my life by sacrificing your own, did you not stop to consider how I would have felt at the outcome of that? Did you think it would be honorable to let me live the rest of my life knowing it only existed because you gave up yours? How did you expect me to sleep at night? Or command my men or deal with various heads of state, knowing that my every breath belonged to you and that I had no choice in the matter? You would have enslaved me eternally. I would have been a soulless man walking.”
“Forgive my stunned expression, my Lord, but I would have thought a king would have expected such a sacrifice from a lowly subject,” she had become impassioned by his speech and was letting her anger slip.
“A king might of one of his subjects, but not a man of the woman he-“ he couldn’t finish because he wasn’t quite certain of where his thoughts were leading. After a moment, he proceeded. “You kissed me.”
She gently shook her head, trying to find the words to argue with, but what was there to say? Somewhat defeated, she consented. “Yes, my Lord.”
“Why not? I was handing myself over to men who would have not only killed me but done…horrible things to me. I didn’t want you to fight. I wanted you to go freely, safely. Plus, I was afraid and needed to feel safe…one last time.”
The image she conjured of the men ravishing her brutally only further angered him. He knew his possessive feelings for her were ridiculous, but he couldn’t shake them. “You knew I didn’t want you to, yet you decidedly ignored, once again, my wishes.”
“I am sorry, Your Majesty, that I have not received training to properly handle such situations. I’m sorry that the choices were not of your choosing and that I did what I wanted in the situation, not you. You speak of your conscience, what of mine?” At his confused countenance, she continued. “You speak of how you, a man, would not want to live knowing I had given my life for yours. What of me? Am I any less of a human, with less feeling or sense of desire, regret, or duty that I should have been made to live knowing you died, when I could have saved you? I had no thoughts, Your Majesty, only to see you free. I’m sorry my own desire to not live in a world that you were not in causes you distress. But, as it is, it didn’t come to that since I, once again, saved your life.” She felt as though she were on fire. He had dragged the conversation away from what she wanted to know and forced her to face emotions she couldn’t risk having. She looked away, unable to look into his intense stare any longer.
“Em,” he started slowly, choosing his words carefully, “perhaps I have been foolish to think I was the only one that held such feelings. To think of you going to those men,” he fist clenched tight, knuckles whitening, “was more terror and agony than I have ever known. That pain, I would not wish on you. I’m sorry.” He stopped and waited, gathering his thoughts. They were coming to the place it would be futile to ignore how they felt, yet he didn’t know how to proceed. “When we get to Clearvalley, I would like to meet your family.”
“My family, Your Majesty? What for?”
“To honor the head of your family. You have saved me, nearly countless times. It is the very least I could do.”
“Not so countless, my Lord. I know of only two. I would be most honored to introduce you to my family, but I am all that remains alive, here in Lidio.” Her subtle qualifications to all her answers were the only things that made her feel as though she wasn’t quite lying. She was truthful, he just didn’t know what truth she spoke.
“I am sorry to hear that. I did not realize you were all alone. That does change things, somewhat,” he said softly. “Why did you choose to move Clearvalley?”
“We had heard it was under Your Majesty’s protection. Truly, the safest village of Adalynd.”
“Adalynd…” he said softly, slowly twirling the stem of his goblet in his fingers. He seemed deep in thought, and Emera saw the opportunity she had been looking for.
“Em, I would be most happy if you called me Edrich.”
“Edrich? My Lord, I do not think that would be-“ again he cut her off with a raised hand.
“It would be, whatever I want it to be. Please, I insist. After all, I think the person who seems destined to save my life should call me by my name. Don’t you?”
She looked at him warily, he really was becoming more complex as time went on. “Very well, Edrich, may I ask what troubles you? You speak of Adalynd with such disappointed regard. Why?”
He sighed heavily and was quiet for some time. “I am charged with keeping peace in Lidio. As the king, I am responsible for the well-being of all my citizens. And yet, how can I do such when such a weak hand rules to the north? The borders are crumbling because the Adalynd king is weak. How can I protect my people when lawlessness will still abound elsewhere. I said it true when I said the peace of Adalynd affects us all.”
She thought on his words a moment, and when she judged them against the emotion she saw in his eyes, she knew he spoke the truth. She remembered the words the traitor Jenner had spoken, trying to incite her father into war. She wasn’t completely certain that Jenner hadn’t been sent by the king, but she was coming to recognize and trust with confidence that Edrich was not dishonest nor was he war hungry.
“That is very true, my-Edrich. However, and I mean no disrespect, where will your assertion of power end? I understand your reasoning because I understand you. It is in your nature to assure things, to be responsible for the welfare of others under your rule. Unfortunately, there lies many things out side of your control, and dealing with those things you find is beyond your abilities. And so, in order to ensure what you must, you extend yourself into more and more in attempt to control everything. Am I correct?” She had laid down her observations in such a gentle, coaxing way, that he felt no disapproval from her, only a sweet mind curious to understand.
“I think that is quite possibly true.” He laughed, somewhat frustrated and derisively. “But where does that leave me? So I don’t know when to stop controlling. That doesn’t solve for me how to keep peace when others do not.”
“Is there no way to speak with the king of Adalynd? Is he a tyrant or an idiot that he would not meet with you? Surely, as you are most likely seen as the stronger of the two, he would be inclined to meet with you and discuss options for peace. Unless I am mistaken…my Lord, what do you want with Adalynd?”
He had never truly wanted to take over Adalynd, only insure safety for his people that bordered the weak country, but he didn’t know how to do that without putting those lands under his protection. This strange, young girl, however, seemed wiser in the ways of politics than he would have believed. His eyes narrowed at her. “Tell me, how did you become so savvy in the ways of politics?” There was a slight amused sound to his voice.
“Your Majesty is avoiding my earlier question,” she challenged in an effort to avoid his.
He sobered somewhat. “I don’t want anything to do with Adalynd, other than a country I know will not cause me trouble, either directly or indirectly.”
“Then what will you do to obtain that? As it stands now, you are on the march towards war, and I am afraid you won’t receive the peace you are looking for until you’ve completely conquered Adalynd. Even then, there are always dissidents that never leave the reign of a foreign power at peace.”
He thought. “Perhaps it would be a wise decision to meet with the Adalynd king,” and with that, we finished off his wine. “And now,” his voice changing slightly, “we must decide what to do with you.”
Emera was so enraptured to have confirmation that the king would happily leave Adalynd alone that it took her a moment to focus on his words. “Do with me, my Lord?” He raised his eyebrows. “Edrich,” she corrected herself.
“Yes, I am rather reticent to leave you unprotected, especially now after hearing you have no family to belong to. I’ve grown accustomed to having you under my wing for the past two days, I am reluctant to not having you near.” He looked at her, waiting for her response.
Her heartbeat picked up considerably. “You are not, my Lord?”
“Edrich,” he corrected.
“Yes, of course, Edrich. I must say I myself am a little saddened that we will be parting. However, there is no need for me to remain under your protection. Though, given our recent run-ins with misfortune, I wonder who is protecting who?” She smiled, a little mischievously, a little sad.
“There is more than one type of protection, though I would be lying if I said it didn’t damage my male ego that you have done all the protecting.” He took a deep breath. “But as I said, there are different forms of protection. My name, for example, is a form of protection,” he said slowly, anxious for her reply. Her insides felt as though they were bubbling, lighter than normal and dying to escape in a blissful explosion. She felt light-headed. She stood quickly.
“Thank you for dinner, my Lord. I am very tired after today’s events and must see if Leonard needs any assistance before retiring for the evening.” She attempted a quick and awkward bow before leaving. He caught her wrist and looked up into her face. He watched the fear in her eyes dissolve as they softened into sensual warmth that made his breath quicken. Before he thought, he pulled her onto his lap kissing her fiercely. She responded immediately with the same enthusiasm she displayed that afternoon. He wrapped one hand at her back, the other at her throat; his fingers were splayed possessively and erotically, his fingertips at her jaw. She was sitting sideways on his lap, her head slightly back to reach his mouth.
Emera knew it was dangerous to touch this man and let him touch her. Her senses were overwhelmed by his smell and taste and the magical skill his mouth worked on her. Despite the danger, she had no strength left to fight, even if she had wanted to. She quickly put all discouraging arguments away and rode the waves of pleasure with her whole being.
Their tongues met instantly, pushing and rubbing one against the other. He occasionally drew hers into his mouth only to capture it and suckle. He loved her uncontrolled responses. She moaned and pulled him harder into her with her fingers threaded through his hair. Her fingers developed an arousing rhythm gripping and then releasing. He was faintly aware that her hips had begun to roll on his lap in concert with her fingers. Her moans, too.
The hand at her back kept up its control of her while the hand at her throat slid down until they were firmly claiming her soft flesh under her dress. She arched into him with a slight hiss. The mutual partnership of control ended and Edrich was taking over. The hand at her back snaked up into her hair at the nape of her neck and roughly gripped it. His tongue dove victoriously into her mouth where he took all of her sweet flavor. His hand at her chest was determined to discover each breast’s sensitivity. After cupping her right one, his fingers erotically crept over the flesh to flick the nipple through her dress between his fingers. He rolled it back and forth, demanding a response. The material, though finely woven, was becoming coarse and irritating to her sensitive skin. When he cupped it again, only to take the pebbled peak between his thumb and finger in a pinch, she throatily gasped and leaned into him harder. Her eyes opened at that, and for a moment he thought the spell was broken. But when she continued to kiss him and closed her eyes again, he growled in desperate thanks.
He explored the other breast in nearly the same fashion. However, the torturous rhythm of her hips grinding against his cock was fast sucking his control away. He only sought to relieve her pent-up rivers of desire, but his fingers dragging up the inside of her knee, then her thigh, were overwhelming and in her head her sanity finally broke through her lust-saturated being and screamed at her. Run!
She knew she had to break free quickly and not look back. It felt physically painful to stop the pleasure her body had been greedily absorbing from the erotic god she had melded to. But she knew only disaster awaited her if she stayed longer. She gave him no look, no apology, just departed before he could react to stop her. The king was sitting back in his chair, panting hard and feeling confused. Surely she understood his desire, his want; why did she behave as though she was afraid? Perhaps it was a frightening thought, being involved with a king. After all, she was most likely a virgin, despite her voracious, passionate nature. He was tempted to go after her, but decided she needed time to herself.
Edrich had to admit that he needed distance from her as well. This whole time he pursued her like an animal out to sow his seed, but he too lately realized that his feelings for her were more than a bed partner. He wanted her; most likely he wanted her forever. And that thought was terrifying. He never thought he would want a woman in more than one way. He wasn’t sure if he actually loved Em, but he knew he was not ready to part with her and that he would most likely be content if he had to spend the rest of his life with her. But as what? Did she hold a position that would allow him to marry her? If not, would she avail herself to him as his consort? He knew the answer to that. Despite her passion, her desire for him, she was chaste and not likely to willingly bed any man she was not married to. He could take her choice away, he thought. But that idea didn’t actually appeal to him. He had never had to beg let alone force himself on any woman. They all came to him willingly. And he wouldn’t start now. No, he would just have to find a way to convince her to stay, deceptively or honestly, he didn’t quite care. He just knew he had to have her.
Emera raced back to the cook’s tent and found Glenna just bedding down. She rinsed off in the wash basin and changed into her sleeping gown. “Well, my Lady? What news have you?”
Emera was quiet a moment. She wanted to confide, but no longer wanted to share the intimacies of her heart with anyone. She was still extremely riled up from her intoxicating experience with Edrich. She decided to stick to business. “The king says he has no desire to take over Adalynd. He only distrusts the lawlessness that threatens to take over the borderlands. He hasn’t a diplomat’s perspective of discussing all his options, even with those who are potential allies. I think that we can come to an agreement. My father trusts me; perhaps, if he hears Edrich’s view, he will do more to protect his boarder and we can stop the bandits and Edrich will give back our land.” She smiled slightly, trying to convince herself it might work. She still was uncertain of what Edrich’s response would be when he learned who she was, but she hoped that he liked her enough that it wouldn’t matter.
The camp made it to Clearvalley before noon the next day. The large town was already full of soldiers. As the cook to the king, Leonard took over. The tent they carried was added to the existing tent. Emera quickly scouted out the numbers and types of troops.
Eventually, Emera and Glenna were able to give their goodbyes to Leonard and Linus and left as quickly as possible, before the king could see her. It took some effort to convince Glenna that she would remain behind. The plausible explanation was that she needed to stay to keep an eye on things and perhaps continue to persuade Edrich to agree to an alliance. And while the reason was true and logical, she would have argued anything to be able to stay near the king just a while longer. His pull on her was more than she could resist, so she decided to not waste energy denying it and to use her energy elsewhere.
The princess was able to procure a horse that Glenna would be able to take back through the mountains. She quickly wrote a letter to her father, detailing the good news and to write back to Edrich, requesting an audience with him to frankly discuss the matters of their respective states. She then wrote a second letter to her father that read like a common-place letter home, with no information about her mission. Glenna secured the significant letter to her person under her shift, bodice and dress. The second she carried less securely in the satchel.
They were standing in an alley way next to the stables. “Now, the way back to the passage through the mountains that will take you to Alistair, should be straight north once you’ve reached the village of Meadlemeyer. Here is the note for the king. Please, please reiterate to Alistair to tell the king I trust him. That man, Jenner” she said his name with quite a sneer, “lied to the king. Edrich is not evil. We can come to a compromise. Wait for Alistair to bring you a reply from the king and then return to me. Travel safely!” She hugged Glenna and watched her ride away. Now I need to decide what to do with myself, she thought.
Emera was deep in thought as she walked out of the alley. She was taken by surprise as a firm hand grasped her by the arm and painfully forced her back up against the wall. “Who are you!” the disgustingly smooth voice asked.
She looked up startled and angry into the face of the man she recognized as Jenner, the man who offered information to her father. She narrowed her eyes and yanked her arm from his grasp. Then she began to realize this man must have heard at least part of her conversation. “I have nothing to say to you, sir. Excuse me.” She stepped to the side, in an attempt to leave but he grabbed her again. “Let me go, you snake!” He back-handed her. Her ears were ringing and her cheek felt as though it had been seared. She stumbled and fought to focus.
“Bite your insolent tongue! You have no idea who you are dealing with.”
“I know exactly who you are, traitor! Now release me!” He recoiled from her.
Understanding showed in his angry face. “You are from Adalynd?” He stepped back from her. “Guards!” he yelled to the two men standing a few feet behind him. “Take this spy into custody!”
“Yes, Lord High Marshall,” one replied. Before she could react, the two men had approached and taken her away.