He was blazing, his skin a stage for the black flames to dance upon. The weight of unlit time crushed him, shrouding him in its darkness. His body contended with its clutching fingers. He fought to stay upright, to keep his head level so his thoughts wouldn’t drag him down. But the swirling sensation flowing through his mind would not leave. He slung his body violently, trying with all his might to hold onto his being. But he felt the gold ripped from his chest. He watched the radiant heart stretch from his soul and suddenly snap out of his body into the darkness. He felt his life’s energy rush out with it, releasing his being into the void. “Emera!” he cried in unnerving desperation. He reached for the golden light, but it slowly faded away, out into the pitch, illuminating nothing despite is glow.
Emera paced in front of the doors to Edrich’s room. She stopped occasionally to stare in fear at them. His groans and eventually shouts had grown over the past few hours. After he collapsed in the great hall, he was taken to the best guest suite and the royal healer was called. His men were given accommodations, but they took turns keeping guard, one inside to watch the healer, and two outside to control access to his room.
In his newly appointed chambers, he was stripped of his clothes and the old healer applied a compress of some sort meant to remove the infection over his wound. But it was too late to save his mind from the delirium of the fever. It took him from reality and deposited him in some torturous hell. At first, his shouts were just yells, noises of pain. But before long he began calling out her name, screaming for her in demented agony. At last, his call was too painful for her to ignore.
Emera threw open the doors and almost ran to his side. He was writhing afflicted on the bed, little of his clothing remained. “Emera,” his shaky voice called in moaning anguish. His eyes were shut as his head shook back and forth. She reached out and stroked his brow.
“Shh,” she whispered soothingly. “Edrich, do not fret so.”
“Emera,” he called as if he recognized a voice in the distance.
“I am here, Edrich.”
“Princess, you should not be in here. This is not the place for you,” the old croon Belinda reprimanded.
“As the princess, I decide what place is for me. Now, tell me, what can I do to ease his suffering?”
Reluctantly the woman commented, “His fever is too high. He must cool down.”
Emera immediately took a rag from the basin full of water. She began to wash away the sweat. She then realized he was soaked as were the sheets underneath him. “I will make him a broth with the petroselinium. At this point, I’m afraid it is all we can do, my lady. You must make him eat it. Is it fitting for me to leave you to tend to him alone?” she asked, hinting at impropriety.
Considering all that had transpired between Edrich and herself, she bit her tongue and said nothing of the needlessness of the concern. With as much conviction for her words as she could muster, she said in air of authority, “I think it shows great resolve for the alliance that a member of this household would tend to the visiting king.”
The lady studied the young girl for a moment, aware that, while the princess gave a reasonable answer, the political cause seemed to cover a deeper feeling.
“Plus, I doubt he would take advantage of me in the state he is in,” she added dryly.
The woman had begun to turn to leave, but stopped. “Oh, no my lady, uncontrollable amorous feelings can accompany such a high fever with the delirium he has. Do not assume you are safe.”
Emera contorted her brows in disbelief. “Well, there is a guard standing near, should he be needed.” The answer seemed to placate the woman so she left as planned.
Emera relaxed a little when the woman left. Her mind eased into the soothing motion of her hand. She felt calmed, just being able to touch him, though her mind had yet to realize that fact. She did notice, however, that Edrich seemed to ease his tormented movements, and his calls for her were less agonized scream and more breathless longing. Occasionally, Emera would touch his skin with her own, feeling for the fever flowing through him.
His slickened skin was almost scorching. Though his agonized movements had lessened at her comforting touch, she knew he was nowhere near better. And if his fever was any indication, it would last awhile, the worst yet to come.
The night had slipped down across the sky, removing the day like a cleaned slate. The chamber maid had entered before dusk to build a fire and light a few candles as the princess directed. It was then she remembered the guard standing silently in the corner, standing guard over his liege.
“You and your men have had no food. Please, go to the kitchens and you will be served.”
His unaffected resolve to stay near his lord needed no words to communicate. “I understand your reserve. However, I promise to guard him with my life. You know I am as capable as any,” she said, eyeing him with her own resolve. At last, the man nodded.
“One man will remain outside the doors…should you need anything,” he added. She nodded her thanks, and he left. The sound of boot steps carried them away.
In the quiet of the room and the warm, glowing light, Emera was overtaken by the strain of the day. She resisted closing her leaden eyelids, not wanting to sleep and leave him.
While he seemed to lie in peace, Emera seized the opportunity and called for a bath. Though there were questioning looks from the maid and young boy that carried the water, Emera ignored them as she directed the two to set the bath up in front of the fire. They enclosed the area with a screen and then bowed to depart.
After days of heavy burden, Emera sank into the hot depths of the water, holding and then releasing. The suds lifted away the grime and smell and with them, part of the dismal weight. Closing her eyes, she breathed in the material of the glowing room, soaking in his presence.
At some point, the young maiden brought Emera a clean nightgown, robe and slippers. Emera continued to ignore the questioning look full of meaning, appearing, instead as if her attendance to the king was the standard practice for an ill, visiting royal.
Dressed, with her long hair falling down her back in dampened clumps, Emera emerged from behind the screen and made her way to Edrich’s side. He had begun to grow restless again, kicking the last of his sheets away. She worked at soothing him, but he was grabbing at her, pulling her from the chair next to his bed. Eventually, she succeeded in easing his distress by sitting next to him, her body lying over his torso, her fingers running along his face and into his hair. Her name was still low on his lips, but the ache in him seemed to relent in her arms.
Much to her relief, the door opened and the old lady returned. Belinda pushed a cart with the soup and various dinner items on it. “Here is the broth, my lady. I also took the liberty of bringing you food since you ate no dinner when the king took ill. And it is now quite late.”
“Yes, it is. Thank you. I should feed the king first, since I have my strength.”
“Very good, your Majesty. Then, as he is in capable hands, I will depart for the night. I will see him in the morning. Besides that broth, the best thing for him now is rest.” The lady curtsied and left.
Emera took the lid off the large pot and dished out the broth into a bowl. It was a greenie-yellow and smelled medicinal. Emera scrunched her face, the smell bringing back, not only unpleasant memories of being sick as a child, but the vomit-inducing flavor that hung in the back of the throat after swallowing it. She was thankful to not be sick, though, I wish he weren’t sick either.
Her mind began wheeling, trying to unravel the meaning of that thought, which lead to the analysis of her entire concern with his current state. There was unease and apprehension, but buried beneath that was fear and pain. If he dies I… She caught the thought and waited for the completion. If he dies, shouldn’t I rejoice? My evil tormentor is dead? That should be a good thing, right? The world rid of just another villain. She waited for the feeling to accompany that thought. But no feeling of the sort came, only the quiet, lingering pain. She watched his face as the thoughts drifted in and out.
Why would I be hurt?
Because I want him. Because I like him.
But he hurt me! She raged.
Yes, he did. But that doesn’t change how I feel about him.
It should, she harrumphed. Emera felt angry by the undeniable, unbreakable pull the brute had on her. She did not react, did not think or feel as she believed she should.
So you care for him. Is that wrong? Is he evil? Maybe he made an evil choice, but he is remorseful. You saw the guilt and the mental anguish in his eyes. And now, look, he is even willing to accept any punishment you decree, any verdict you render. He subjects himself happily to any treatment to purge your anger with him. He cares, too!
With sorrow-filled eyes, tormented by her own internal war, she watched Edrich, wishing she felt nothing for him while simultaneously wishing he would comfort her. “Edrich,” she called, trying to rouse him. “Edrich, take this broth, it will heal you.” He stirred at her voice, but did not open his eyes. She touched his face, his cheek, his lips. “Edrich, awaken,” she pleaded softly. He wrestled against his slumber more, but remained secluded in his sleep.
Thinking she may not be able to rouse him awake, she took a spoonful of the broth and brought it his lips. They were parted enough that the liquid slipped from the silver to run into his mouth. He coughed slightly, but began making eating motions with his mouth. Encouraged, Emera tried again. This time he swallowed as he should and spit none out nor coughed on it. He took half the bowl before he seemed disinterested. Proud of what was accomplished, Emera let him rest.
She turned her attention to the food meant for her, but had no stomach for it. She yawned and stretched her back. She wondered if he should have an attendant through the night, and if so, would it be improper if she were the one to stay? Desirous to be near him, and in defiance of her earlier argument with herself, she extinguished the few candles about the room, slipped from her robe and lied in the bed. As large as it was, the distance from edge to edge was enough to sleep four grown men. And yet, despite the freedom of space, Emera scooted until she almost touched him.
On her side so she faced him, an arm curled under her head, she reached out to delicately trace the profile she had unwittingly fallen in love with. What’s not to love? He’s too incredibly handsome for even a blind girl to not find him attractive. Emera closed her eyes and gave into the calling sleep, praying one last time to awake in the morning with no feelings for him, while at the same time content in being near him so peacefully.
In the deep of the night, Emera was overcome by the slowly building, delicious ache spreading through her body. Her body began to move sensuously against the erotic heat at her back and delightful pleasure in her breasts. It was the electrifying shock through her core that caused her to stumble out of sleep and fall into the dark night. It took her a moment to orient herself.
His breath at her neck drew her mind instantly into reality and she realized she was once again in the arms of her captor, being tormented by her traitorous body. He was pressed against her back, grinding his crotch against her buttocks as his hand wrapped around her massaging her breasts. Her heart was drumming out as the last of sleep slipped from her mind. “Edrich?” she said, her voice quivering in fear. He only moaned softly in her hair.
She quickly came to reason he was too sick to know what he was doing; his mind was suppressed by the fever and his body was left alone to respond to its natural desires. She felt his body, in searing heat, rub erotically against hers. She needed to extract herself from his hold. She turned over, his hands gliding possessively over her as she did. In the dim light, Emera could just make out the beautiful features of his face. His eyes were closed, and his breath rushed out from his slightly parted lips. He was asleep.
She began to ease away from him, stretching out his arms as they clung to her. When she was at the end of his reach, she almost sighed in relief, but Emera felt his fingers close tightly over the flesh of her arm and buttock. His long, inescapable arms pulled her back into his embrace.
“Edrich, Edrich, you know not what you do. Edrich, let me go,” she whispered afraid another would hear her in the mammoth castle, afraid to let her voice slip into the dark. But the only one that heard was the delirious Edrich as his lips grazed down into her hair, seeking out the silky skin of her neck.
“Emera,” he moaned. His blistering fever warmed her thoroughly, drugging her into giving up her resistance momentarily. “Emera,” he breathed into her, his lips connecting in beautiful agony with her skin. His mouth hotly devoured the sensitive flesh, causing her to shake with growing need.
Make him stop this. This cannot be happening. He doesn’t know what he is doing. Don’t give in, don’t stay. You won’t survive. “Edrich,” she pleaded once more. “Edrich, let me go.” She began more fervently wrestling out of his grip, but found that only incensed his fight. He quickly rolled on her, forcing her to her back, pinning her with his glorious weight. She made to call out to him more loudly, but found her breath stopped by his mouth.
Emera was immediately caught up in the overpowering sensation of his tongue and lips and breath. A most intimate and delightful feeling she had been too long without; she had no desire to resist him. Her heart was fluttering in her chest, painfully and pleasurably. She grabbed his tongue and suckled, luxuriating in its velvety texture.
Edrich growled, pushing his taut body into her even more. His pelvis dug into her thigh, and her body mindlessly adjusted so she cradled him into her yearning tenderness. Edrich’s roving hands ran down her body forcefully, digging in erotically.
She dragged in a breath to strengthen her resolve. Alright, this has gone on far enough. Make him stop. You cannot allow this to continue. After all, you are no longer a prisoner locked away in his tower. You are home and free. Free to control your life. Free to choose.
Free to choose…, the thought rolled languidly through her mind.
Then I choose this she decided with a sigh as she felt his hand edge her gown up her thigh. She suddenly was overcome by the desire to feel her skin set alight by his. She wiggled purposefully, allowing him to hitch the material even higher, reveling in the ever-increasing touch of his body. Soon, it was around her waist. She helped him by reaching down and then tugging up, and then flung it off the side of the bed.
His skin, inflamed by his fever, seared her breasts as he crushed himself against her. His mouth left hers and was devouring her neck. His hands were fanning her growing flame as he grabbed and squeezed her breasts. He plucked the nipples, pulling until she felt the electric cord burning into her core.
His body slid down hers as his mouth devoured everything in its path. At last he latched onto a nipple and was suckling it lovingly. His hand continued its attention, effectively stacking up the aching need within Emera. Her muscles clenched in reaction. She suddenly was painfully aware how empty she felt without him.
She called to him through his fogged mind, like an erotic nymph beckoning him from beyond this world. He looked up, his eyes open, though Emera knew he didn’t see her, didn’t truly know. His eyes were heavy with his fever-driven lunacy. But behind the delirium, she saw his ever-present longing for her. Will he ever lose that hunger for me? the thought came quickly. She shook herself mentally, and reached for him, dragging him forcefully to her.
She placed a hand on his jaw and his shoulder, clinging and guiding. She captured his lips with abandon, knowing this to be the moment to give herself unrestrained to him. He would have no knowledge of it to use against her. There would be no shame because there would be no consciousness to remember. She could have him and give to him completely, only the quiet dark holding the memory.
She absorbed his life while he in turn ravaged her lips. His body was undulating against hers, driving his hardening shaft against her slit that was flooded with her heady cream. She could feel him spreading her slick essence, coating him thoroughly. To relieve the sweet torture, she had begun grinding against him. His breathing was harsh and when he hit that sensitive bud, she gasped vocally.
“Em,” he sighed against her mouth. She opened her eyes and pulled away to look at him. His eyes were open too as he tried to make for her mouth, to reconnect to the source of such pleasure. She saw it in him, and wanted to be entirely consumed by him. As he had no thoughtful drive, only reacting in their sensuality, she knew she would have to be the controlling force, and it thrilled her, to know that their combined pleasure was within her power.
Her roaming hands trailed down between their gyrating bodies and wrapped her fingers, not quite touching, around the thick girth. He was slick with her need and she couldn’t resist squeezing him up his shaft, and then down, milking out his own pre-cum. His hips were thrusting into her hand as his face fell into the crook of her shoulder. “Em,” he continued to chant in desperate yearning.
“I’m here Edrich,” she whispered in reply, guiding the heavy knob into her swollen folds. His pounding against her made her delicate work difficult. But when he was in deep enough, stretching her in aching ecstasy, he caught into the rhythm, surging fully in. She cried out in pleasure and let her head fall against his. Her entire being clenched in the excruciating bliss thrust upon her. She wrapped her legs tightly around him, squeezing him to her. She felt his right hand trail down her body and grabbed her thigh firmly, pulling her into him even more securely. His left arm was wrapped up and around her head, pulling her down into him with each thrust.
There was none of the artistry he had shown before, none of the finesse in his drives into her. He thrust brutally, in long, complete strokes. His hand guided her hip to pull away and arch back to him, working in concert with his own movements. She wrapped her arms around him, holding on to be carried along the rushing river. She clawed his back as she felt the divine build up.
She was so aroused, his thrusting made quick work of her. She could contain none of her moans or cries. “Edrich.” His name spilled through her lips in broken pleasure. His assault became more urgent and less rhythmed. She knew he was nearing the end and she reached for his mouth, wanting to cry into him as he poured into her.
He was grunting against her and then he growled her name into her mouth as she felt his hot seed erupt into her, filling her. His spasming body dragged chaotically against her, sending her into her own throes. Her legs tightened as she was overcome by her orgasm. The sensation of the overwhelming intimacy of looking him in the eyes as she did so flamed her cheeks. She felt freed in him by her lack of shame, her ability to share with him the intense, privately personal response her body had to his. Though she knew he wasn’t fully aware, she thought at least it was a start.
His straining body relaxed on top of her, and her own climax had begun to subside. She felt the reeling pleasure slowly bring her down, landing her softly in his arms. The world of thoughts began to gradually form once again. She lie, with her arms still around him, her finger tips softly caressing the exhausted muscle under them. She had allowed him to fuck her again, and while that particular need was sated, she found there were others. She exulted in the feeling of him at her finger tips, to touch him, tenderly, lovingly.
It was not some minutes afterwards that she realized she was struggling to breathe. The giant man of stone lying atop her, while pleasant in feeling, was slowly crushing her. She pushed at him with all her strength, managing to nudge him up. His sleeping form responded by rolling over, freeing her at last.
She laid uncovered, panting in the cold dark. The sweat from their amorous activity evaporated from her skin, causing goose bumps to form, sending a shiver racing through her. She looked over at the king who was in a similar state. Though, he probably needs to cool off, she mused. She quickly got out of the bed and redressed in her nightgown. She stoked the fire back to life and laid herself on the large fur in front of it.
She watched the flickering, deep in thought. With her sexual needs met, some normalcy of thought returned. Good lord!>/i>, she moaned, I just raped him!
Surely not. He was the one that initiated it. He was the one caressing you, remember? You even tried to get away but he overpowered you. It isn’t wrong that you stayed to enjoy it.
Yes, but he’s incapacitated! He is so sick he isn’t aware of anything, let alone what he is doing!
True, but he always wants sex from you. Sick or not, if you had been lying in that bed he would always try to seduce you.
Regardless, he wasn’t culpable. If the roles had been reversed, and I had been overly amorous in my sickened nature, it would not have been honorable if he had taken advantage!
Fine. You took advantage, but only of his own nature. You didn’t rape him.
Not fully convinced, but not overly guilty in feeling, she left the subject to other troubling thoughts. Why was she so eager to be close to Edrich, to allow such great intimacies? She wondered if any man would want her now that she was no longer a virgin. What does it matter? The only man I want, wants me she thought.
She gave a small smile as she thought about the man she wanted. She truly had come full circle from her initial attraction to her justified hatred, to her now joyous desire for him. But where did that leave them?
<i?When I was his prisoner, he said he would keep me, forever. But why? Did he only want me as a slave for his sexual need? Now that I’m no longer at his disposal, no longer able to keep a liaison, would he forget about me and move on? Or, would he want more?” That familiar fear at losing Edrich was creeping back causing her heart to race.
Perhaps it had been a mistake to give in once again, though she regretted none of it. But she knew it only strengthened the pull he had on her. Not again, she decided. Not until I know his desire for me matches my own. I can’t lose my heart if he won’t keep it. She sighed, sadden she couldn’t join in him in bed. Though she would not leave his side, she wouldn’t keep exposing her heart to possible disappointment that would most likely kill her.
Emera stood and walked over to his side. He laid naked, arms strewn out and legs tangled in sheets. She pulled, dislodging the material from around his legs before flinging it into the air, sending it billowing out sail-like to fall silently back down to the bed, covering his body, but not hiding his form. She adjusted his head so he looked more comfortable. She leaned in, running her lips ever so gently over his, bidding him goodnight. She stretched herself out on the large chaise that sat near the fire and drifted to sleep.
Her father found her in the afternoon. She was sitting on a chair next to his bed, her body fallen over onto his mattress, her arms tucked under her head. He approached the charming scene and gently rubbed her shoulder, stirring her awake.
“Emera, my dear, wake up.” She sat to with a jolt, her chest heaving from fright.
“Oh, father, you scared me,” she chuckled, clasping her hand to her chest. She could feel the thudding of her heart.
“Sorry. How goes it with our guest? Belinda reports he is still having fits?”
“Yes. He woke me this morning, screaming incoherently,” she said as she looked at the subject of their discussion. Despite his battle, or perhaps because of it, he was resting peacefully, the look of terror gone from his now placid face. Emera restrained the urge to reach out and stroke his cheek, knowing her father would most likely find it inappropriate.
“I see. Emera, dear, I am very pleased you have been able to make a friend with this man. However, I don’t know that it is entirely proper for you to stay here with him…alone, tending to him.”
She spoke quietly as she continued to look at the man she wished nothing was improper between them. “He saved my life. He is sick, because of me, because he fought for me. He killed nearly ten men, father, trying to ensure my safety. I know it may seem untoward, but I cannot leave him, not when I am alive because of him.”
Arnold sighed, knowing he would not be able to persuade her away from his side. He let her continue her vigilant care over Edrich with the agreement she would eat with him at dinner. They discussed terms of the treaty and improvement of security for the borderlands.
Through the next two days, Emera attended to Edrich with Belinda’s guidance. She ensured he had the broth, washed him from his fever-induced sweat, and comforted him when is nightmares returned. But she never lied next to him again, knowing she was not to be trusted. Edrich had lucid moments when he was able to communicate his thirst or the fact that he was freezing from chills. Emera attended to each need, speaking reassuringly to him that his illness would pass, that he would feel better soon.
Robert and Glenna arrived at the castle early the second morning of Edrich’s condition. Robert was brought to the king’s chamber, surprised to find the princess sitting on the edge of Edrich’s bed, talking soothingly to him. “Please, Edrich. Shh, my love, you are safe.” She was stroking his face with a wet cloth, touching him reassuringly. The king was thrashing wildly, screaming out.
“May I be of assistance, your Majesty?” he asked as he approached the disconcerting scene.
Emera looked up in surprise, relief washing over her features. “Robert, you’ve brought Glenna?” When he nodded, she smiled. “Thank you,” she said with meaning. She turned back to Edrich and chuckled, “Out of the frying pan, no? Yes, you can help. Dish me out some of that broth. Belinda, our healer, has put calming herb in it. It seems to help relieve his anxiety somewhat.”
As Robert obeyed he asked, “What has happened?”
“I was attacked during my escape. So many men, and I couldn’t outrun them. Though I was able to kill one, I couldn’t have fought them all. Edrich came. He saved me and then he told me how Glenna had been captured and explained everything.
“Hold him, so I can get him to take it,” she instructed once Robert handed her the bowl of the steaming liquid. She blew on the spoon and forced it in his mouth. Together, they continued to force the soup down him until the bowl was emptied. Robert released him and Emera began wiping his face, cleaning away any of the spilled broth. He was still muttering to himself and shivering slightly, but his fight was gone. Emera tucked the sheets and coverlets around him tightly and then threw on a fur for extra measure. “Shh, Edrich, rest,” she said, stroking his brow.
Content that he was at peace, she led Robert to the sitting area. “Where is Glenna?”
“She retired to her rooms, I believe. A bath, she said, was the first order of business.” Emera smiled, happy to know her faithful servant was safe.
She noticed Robert’s attention on Edrich. “He was injured during the fight, you see. Stabbed quite deep in the side. Though it didn’t damage anything internally, he caught an infection. He rode like a man determined to bring me safely home. He collapsed upon meeting my father,” she giggled at the double meaning in that. “He has been seeing things for the past day and half. Our healer says he will recover, but I…”
Robert turned to watch the pained emotions dance across her face. She was looking into the fire, slightly shaking her head.
“Is it foolish? To feel as I do about a man that has treated me villainously?” She asked, before directing her gaze to Robert, an incredulous smile on her lips, tears in her eyes.
“You care for him?” Robert asked, not overly surprised after witnessing the princess’ care of Edrich in the past half hour.
She smiled genuinely at that. “Truth be told, I think I love him. But how?” She looked down, trying to reconcile the emotions deep within her.
“When Edrich was only 17, he led a small group of his best warriors out to find and destroy a small gang of men near our western border. The reports regarding their deeds were chilling, to even the most stalwart of men. But my king was not afraid. He knew there was evil and he was charged with plucking it from his country. At last, we had trailed the men to a very small farming village. Upon breaching the valley it sat in, we saw the utter destruction only capable by mad men. The fields were burned and the livestock were slaughtered in grotesque ways. I will save you the hearing of what we saw, but believe you me when I say no man ate dinner that evening for the sickness that came at such a sight. When we entered the village, we saw no one. There were tracks and signs of great struggle, but the villagers were gone. Edrich ordered we spread out and find what we could.
“Someone called from the far end and we all rushed to the source of the cry. The small meeting house was on fire. But what had caused the alarm was the fact it was chained from the outside. Cries could be heard from within and Edrich bolted forward, using his sword to undo the binding. When the doors flung open, people fell out. Some were on fire. We rushed in, carrying out as many as we could. The building was beginning to collapse, but an old woman started screaming her husband was still inside. Of course, we all thought he was dead, and as the timbers groaned and started to fall, only one rushed in to save the old man.”
Robert stopped his story, his voice constricted with emotion. Emera sat, watching in a mixture of amazement, fear, and anticipation. Robert cleared his throat and continued. “Just as the last of the walls caved in, Edrich emerged, carrying a small man over a shoulder. They were both blackened from the smoke, and Edrich struggled for breath when he sat the man down.
“When we returned, after having found the gang and slaughtering them (which was less than they deserved), the king wanted to flaunt his heroic son by giving him a large gold medallion and a celebration in honor of his victory. Do you know what Edrich demanded instead? He wanted that the money that would have been spent on his prize be instead given to the village to help repair the damage, and to be given relief of their taxes for that year.” Robert laughed at that. “Of course the king wouldn’t allow not making money from his subjects, but he did agree to give the reparations in place of the medallion. Edrich was also able to talk him into sending a few of his less needed soldiers to help with the replanting of the next season’s crops.”
Robert watched Emera as she processed his story. He sighed as he tried to mold his thoughts into his purposed speech. “I say all this, your Majesty, to tell you, I know not what the king has done to you, nor do I know all that you have done to him. But my experience of knowing him since he was a boy is that he is a good man, an honorable one that fights for the right and just cause. Yes, he may be a bit arrogant, but he is also at times humble when he has made a mistake. If you find yourself torn by your feelings for him, trust your heart that he is a good king, a good man.”
He stood and bowed. “Now, I am off to locate the kitchens,” he said with a smile. As he reached the door he turned to her once more. “I am happy to see you are not broken, but well.”
Emera was touched by his sentiment. Robert was a good and reliable man. She reasoned that such a man would not be loyal to a bad king, nor was he likely to be duped into believing his king was good when he was in reality a villain.
Throughout the day, Edrich began to slip in and out of sleep, waking to ask for water or to stand to relieve himself. He was never hungry, but was cooperative when Emera told him he should eat the broth as it was making him better. When Emera joined her father for their midday meal, he broached the subject again.
“Emera, I know you have been very loyal to your new friend, but now that his man is here, he can attend him. With Belinda’s skills, hopefully, the king will be well enough to join us for dinner tomorrow night, and you may see him then.”
In spite of her superior argument and reasoning skills, Emera tempered her obedience often, and chose very few battles with her father, thinking this made her bargaining power even greater when she chose to use it. She knew he was right, even though she did not wish to leave Edrich. Deciding rest would be good for her, she agreed, and retired to her own chambers. She called for her chamber maid and ordered a bath and to be waited upon. Usually, Emera tended to her own needs, bathing herself, dressing herself, occasionally finding her own food if she was riding out for the day. But she knew there were times that pampering did wonders for her spirits.
There was also the small, slightly hidden motive that she wanted to appear as the royal she claimed she was when Edrich felt well enough to join them. He had only seen her as a rugged, capable maiden, often times caked in mud or sweat, or occasionally a half-drowned rat. Was wanting to be thought of as beautiful wrong? The decadent grooming session lasted for the better part of the evening. Emera was lightly napping on the chaise in her room when a knock at her door awoke her. Slightly drowsy, she stumbled to the door and straightened immediately upon seeing Glenna. She broke into tears and grabbed her maid in a crushing hug.
Glenna was overtaken by similar emotions. Emera dragged her in, seating them in her sitting area. “You are well, my lady?” Glenna asked, touching her cheek maternally.
“Yes, oh Glenna, I am so relieved you are safe. If I had known the journey would have been so treacherous, I never would have allowed you to accompany me. I never meant for you to be in harm’s way.”
“Oh, dear me, no, my lady. I am so happy to have been able to help you. Though there were parts that were uncomfortable, I am glad to have been able to convince his Majesty that you were the princess. When they took me to the castle,” she said, tears beginning to well in her eyes, “I feared for you so. I was certain you had been unjustly murdered.” She began crying fully then. Emera smiled sadly, knowing their journey had been more than likely unnecessary. “But the king, he didn’t yet know you were the princess. When I showed him your letters to prove you weren’t the spy he thought, he realized who you were. And when he realized you weren’t trying to steal information, only hoping to trust him, the look that overcame his face,” she said, her eyes wide as she shook her head.
“Yes, well, I believe the king is very sorry for accusing me, for the entirety of his behavior. In the end, I think we have been successful. The king is willing to negotiate. Glenna, I am glad you are here, because I wanted to discuss certain aspects of our trip. My father, well, actually no one, knows of how Edrich responded, of what transpired. Everything is fine now, and therefore, for the sake of the peace of our country, please, please speak to no one of what happened.”
Glenna, understanding the need for discretion, nodded her head in her consent. “Yes, your highness, as you wish.”
The two parted and Emera walked out onto her balcony. She was where she had hoped she would be, though not exactly in the same state. There was still work to be done, both inside her heart and between their countries. She sighed when she was summoned for dinner, leaving her sanctuary for thinking another time.
That night, Emera asked that Robert and Glenna be allowed to dine with them, telling her father they had done her great service over the past week and should be rewarded so. They dined pleasantly, and Robert, following Emera’s lead, regaled the king with funny and heroic stories of Edrich. Per her plan, her father was quite eager to meet the dashing king.
In the morning, Edrich found himself clear of fever. He had no aches or chills and thought clearly, though he was tired from the ravages of the illness. He had no memory of the past two days, but was relieved to see Robert at his side. He relayed to the king much of what had occurred, reporting he brought Glenna with him and the welcomed reception he and Edrich’s men had received.
Edrich dressed and was welcomed at the breakfast table with Arnold. Emera, however, was not present. Not wanting to appear overly attached, he made no mention of it, but tried to remain pleasant with the older man. Eventually, their talks turned to the treaty signing. Edrich shared with the king his original concerns regarding the protection of the borderland. Arnold consented that he had been too lax in the protection of his lands. He continued amiably discussing all his many faults as ruler until Edrich was amazed that Emera was his daughter. The two were completely different in their approach. Adalynd would be lucky to survive Arnold’s reign, and blessed once Emera took over. If only she could rule with me, he wished sadly.
At long last, they left the table to make for the king’s study. They sat and drew up the treaty together, discussing the ins and outs of border protection. Edrich, seeing the king’s deficit in understand tactical protection, guided the old man he had hoped he could call father-in-law. The only times he acknowledged Arnold had a good idea, it came out that it was originally Emera’s. Finally, as the afternoon sun shone through the large windows of the room, the two men had an agreement on paper they were both satisfied with.
As Edrich reached for a quill to sign his name, Arnold spoke up. “There is one more thing, if I may ask, Edrich.” Edrich’s eyebrows drew together in question, but paused and motioned for the king to continue. “You see, for some time now, I have been contemplating who to marry my daughter to. She is such a unique diamond, that not any man I have known would be worthy of her. I must admit my surprise when she so faithfully succored you during your illness. Until your man arrived, she never left your side except to eat a meal with me at my adamant request. I know my daughter, you see, and I recognize her affection for you. I understand if you hesitate, but I would like to put my daughter’s hand in marriage on the table, so to speak.” The king waited, watching the young man sit in utter shock. “Well? What say you?”
“You honor me greatly. There is no greater honor than your daughter’s hand. An honor I would die for,” he said quietly. “However, despite any feelings you believe your daughter may have for me, she does not want me, would not marry me. In fact, I remember at one point her venomous words that she would choose any other choice in the world over staying near me.”
“Well, my boy, that is Emera. I’m sure you no doubt said something offensive to her and she let it be known. She is quite competent at telling you your faults, believe you me. But, I know my daughter well, and she holds affection for you, Edrich, I am sure of it.”
“Perhaps,” he said softly, wishing it were true, “but I will not force her to marry me when she has her reasons why she would not want to. I will never force her.”
“What if you were to talk with her, before you make your decision?” the king offered.
“Because she would know, or at least suspect, that the marriage would be part of the treaty. She would feel obligated. She is very loyal to her kingdom, sacrificing much for them. In the end, she would be feel forced. No, I am sorry, but you must trust me that marrying me is the last thing on your daughter’s mind.”
Arnold sat back in his chair and leaned back. He rubbed his hand throw his short beard and thought. “Well, I suppose if you don’t think it would work between the two of you, perhaps it is best we forget it. I only thought…well, no matter. Shall we sign then?”
Edrich nodded and the two men continued. Though they were happy with their enterprise, the air had turned between them and now lay awkward in the silence. Edrich rose and bowed to Arnold. “It has been an honor, sir, however, I have urgent business in Lidio that I am afraid my prolonged absence has compromised. My men and I will depart presently. If you should need anything, I would be grateful to assist you.”
Arnold stood and was about to argue to keep the man near for a few days more, but, upon seeing the resolve in his eyes, shrugged and extended his hand. They shook as he said, “Thank you, Edrich, my boy. It has been a rare pleasure.” As he escorted him to the door he said humorously, “And Edrich, should you change your mind, the offer always stands.” He slapped him on the back and bid him fair journey.
Edrich raced casually up the stairs, nearly boiling out of his skin in eagerness to escape. Through his illness, he only remembered a few pieces. He mostly remembered Robert waiting upon him yesterday, but he knew, without being told, that Emera had been there, had nursed him to health. He couldn’t remember what was dream and what was real. He had been lost in darkness, battling demons of dubious origin, black and invisible. He had been blind, he had been starved of water, been naked and dead. But through it all, he felt pulled into glowing salvation by golden beauty. Her voice, sometimes her smell, even her touch had penetrated the blackness and pulled him through.
When he awoke that morning, one thing, and one thing only was more certain than the sun spilling through the window; he loved Emera. And realizing he loved her, he was crushed by the harm she had received at his hand. He was sickened to the core. He knew now, he couldn’t have her, couldn’t keep her, not when he had so viciously ripped her being apart. Even if she did return some sort of feeling for him, he wouldn’t trap her to him. He wouldn’t be her captor, never again. Though it would kill him, he would set her free. Free to find happiness again, somehow.
He found Robert going through the clothes he had brought with him for Edrich, trying to decide what to dress his king in for dinner. “Pack now, we leave immediately.”
“Sire?” Robert questioned, caught off guard by the urgency in the king’s voice. “Did things not go well during your talk?”
“Things went very well. The treaty has been signed and we are therefore finished. Everything has been put right, so we are now needed to find Jenner. That traitor will not escape me. So pack, and let’s be off.” Edrich left to find his guards. By the time everyone was packed and the horses saddled, Edrich was saying his goodbyes to the king one last time. They stood in the large hall at the entrance of the castle. As Emera strode by in the balcony in the grand entrance, she paused at hearing Edrich’s voice. She had been told when she arrived from her ride that the visiting king was well, and he and her father had signed the peace treaty. Desirous to see him, she slowly walked to the edge, leaning against the railing, looking down upon them.
Edrich was shaking her father’s hand. Her smile faded when she heard him say his goodbyes. Her father caught sight of her. “Emera! Do bid the king goodbye. Edrich is departing from us.”
Her breath caught as the weight crushed down upon her chest, squeezing it most painfully. Edrich was looking at her, watching. His eyes were dark and potent, intense beyond bear. He made a gracious bow, took one last look, and marched out the double doors. Emera stood, stunned. Only the fat, hot tear rolling down her face betrayed any emotion. She quickly wiped it off and turned, running down the hall and up another flight of stairs to her chamber. Robert watched her leave, and then looked after his king who was already mounting his horse in the courtyard.
Robert followed, and soon the small party was upon the road, headed towards the mountains. Fortuitously, Edrich’s stallion threw a shoe near the first small village, still within sight of the castle. They stopped at the local smithy and waited while he fashioned a new shoe. Edrich strode quietly away from his men and leaned upon a tree in the back. He watched the white stone of the castle turn soft orange as the setting sun threw her colors upon it. He sighed and closed his eyes, imagining Emera at his side, leaning her head against him.
“Your Majesty,” Robert called, his voice breaking his moment of peace.
“Your Majesty, you know I would never presume to question you in doubt, but, seeing your countenance just now, I am compelled to wonder, what is it that troubles you?”
“I think you know very well what troubles me. I wouldn’t have believed I am strong enough to give up the thing I desire most, especially in the face that it feels as though I will die,” he confided quietly.
“I see. Your Majesty, may I ask you, what you remember when you were taken with fever?”
“Not much, bits and pieces, some of yesterday. But certainly nothing of the day before. Imagine waking up and learning you’ve lost two whole days of your life. Quite unsettling,” he commented.
“Yes, you were taken with great hysterics and delusions. Are you also aware that her highness attended you the entire time?”
“Yes, her father told me.”
“Hmm, did he also tell you, by chance, that she slept with you?”
His face stretched in surprise and then darkened. “No, he did not, nor would he be likely to. Just exactly, what are you implying Robert? And chose your words carefully, old friend, lest they be your last.”
“I imply nothing, your Highness. Only that the guard that stood out your door the first night told me, in strictest confidence, that he heard not only you, but her Majesty…coupling.”
Edrich adamantly shook his head. “You are wrong, she would have called out for help if I had attacked her…”
“And if she did not return your affection…as it was, she made no cry for help,” Robert offered gently. “Not only that, but she remained, even against the bequest of her father, at your side until I arrived, without any emotion but concern and care.” He watched Edrich’s reaction.
“Willingly?” he said in doubt. “Are you saying willingly?”
Robert gave a slow, confirming nod. “I know I am being presumptuous in asking, but did we leave in such haste so you could avoid seeing her? Because you knew but had, what?, grown tired of her?”
Edrich grabbed him by the shirt and slammed him against the fat trunk of the tree. “I warned you, watch what you say,” he growled. He released him and stepped back. “No, I did not know what you claim, and most certainly did not grow tired of her. I left because…because I did not want to see her plagued by my presence. I wanted to leave her in peace, to be free of me.”
“While that is noble, I will tell you one last thing. At your departure just now, she cried. Now, do you think that is the action of a woman who feels freed by your absence, or pained by it.” All the claims Robert had made were wheeling through Edrich’s head.
He had tried to keep hope from his heart, knowing that it, coupled with his own want would be enough to overpower him from what he believed to be the right thing to do, that is, leave her alone. “Your Majesty? Your horse is shod. In which direction do we travel this evening?” Robert asked satirically.
Emera fell defeated in front of her large window, her arms and face resting on the large window seat. She sobbed in loud torrents, tears falling with fury. With her heart shattered into a thousand pieces, the emotions she had fought with her entire being to restrain flooded from her. She clutched her chest, the pain this time would surely kill her. But when her heart beat in the next moment, and then again in the next, she knew she would live, only feeling as though she were dying each moment of her life.
She sat in that position for nearly an hour. The tears would slow, and then stop. When they were almost dry, the river would pour forth once more. Eventually, she was entirely spent, and the energy she had spent the past few days refueling had been depleted. Through the emptiness in her head, rumblings in the hall drifted, but she gave no attention to the quiet commotion.
When her bedroom doors flew open and crashed against the walls, she jumped at the crash and flung her head up to see the bow that had shot the arrows through her heart standing in the doorway, looking around the room.
Edrich quickly scanned the surroundings. His eyes fell upon the billows of skirt that piled on the floor near the window. Her face was streaked with tears and her eyes were red and swollen. He witnessed her agony for all it was. She was in pain because of him.
His face gave way to agony, and Emera could see the sorrow and regret in his handsome features. Her heart fluttered as he strode near to her. “Emera,” he whispered after he squatted down so he could reach a tentative hand out to stroke her cheeks, erase the tears.
Her face eased and her eyes pleaded. “Why have you come back? I thought you had left.”
“Emera,” he paused searching for the words. But Emera saw the emotion in his eyes without them. She flung herself toward him, wrapping her arms around his body. She cried in joy as she felt his arms fiercely hug her in return, crushing her to him, as it should be.