The sun was high in the sky when the small group that had accompanied the queen rejoined the rest of the soldiers who made up the escort. Valina had taken the carriage with Brigail without complaint but she was feeling testy towards Dainen again because he refused to tell her anything about what the noise was all about that morning.
The intruder had been gone already by the time anyone from her escort made it out to the stables. Dainen had already questioned the stable hand by the time Brigail had found Valina a dressing gown and allowed her out the door.
When she asked Dainen what the commotion had been he had merely told her, "Nothing you need to worry about, My Queen." It was hard, but Valina managed to honor the vow she had made only a few minutes before and bit back the angry retort as he walked away to talk quietly with his men.
He had dispatched the men to the town to see if they could find out any information, which told Valina that something of concern had happened. She had tried to question him further once the men had left but he had ignored her and instead asked the innkeepers to have a tub and hot water brought up to her room.
"I don't want a bath," Valina had protested, "I want answers."
She turned to him stubbornly when they reached the door to her room.
Dainen Reached past her and opened the door while saying, "I suggest you take advantage of the privacy and hot water while you have the time to enjoy it. I cannot guarantee you'll have the opportunity again any time soon," he ushered her into the room and shut the door behind him before she could protest further.
She could not argue that the steaming tub looked inviting and she knew it was true that she was unlikely to have this luxury again before they reached the capital.
Resolving to get all the news out of Dainen later she allowed Brigail to help her undress and enjoyed the bath immensely. She was still soaking three quarters of an hour later when Dainen knocked on the door and told her to be ready to leave in a quarter hour.
Now they were back at the main camp where the men had been long packed up and were waiting for Dainen's return. Dainen had ridden ahead of her carriage and by the time she reached camp he was well entrenched in the middle of his men, giving orders and getting reports.
Valina climbed out of the carriage to stretch. Even the short trip back from the inn confirmed her beliefs that it was not a comfortable mode of transportation. The seats were hard and narrow and the roads were rough and pitted which effectively ensured that she was perpetually uncomfortable.
Unfortunately a day spent on the back of a horse was not an attractive alternative. Either way she was going to be uncomfortable but one way guaranteed another argument with Dainen. She resolved to be a good little Queen and take the carriage. She would however have a talk with Dainen and insist he tell her everything he knew about what happened this morning no matter how trivial.
The only problem seemed to be getting a chance to talk with Dainen.
She had the suspicion that he was avoiding her but could not quite be certain. He had sent one of his men to informed her that they would be departing shortly and to get ready instead of telling her himself. Then during the entire morning trip he had stayed just far enough away that she could not call him over. He was still keeping a close eye on her, she was sure of that, for he glanced her way often, but did not let his gaze linger long enough for Valina to signal him over.
Throughout their morning ride Valina kept a close eye on Dainen hoping to catch him slip up and be forced to stop avoiding her and answer her questions. He was careful though and she never got her chance. However while watching him she noticed how weary he looked and could not help but remember finding him standing guard outside her door that morning.
She was still convinced she had caught him snoozing but he clearly had not intended to be. If he had spent the entire night outside her door it would easily explain the slump of his shoulders and the occasional nodding of his head.1
Valina felt sure that none of his men had yet noticed how tied their Captain was. She had to give him credit that he was hiding it well. Unless she was not the only one watching him so closely no one else would have picked up on the subtle signs. Valina felt fairly certain that by the afternoon though he would be showing his exhaustion far more clearly.
To solve both of their problems, Valina devised a plan.
She waited until they had stopped for lunch. It was well after noon but they had gotten a late start and she was sure that Dainen was anxious to make up for lost time. She only half expected for Dainen to join her for lunch, and when he did not immediately appear she wasted no time sending a soldier off to him with the message that she wished to speak with him immediately. He might be able to avoid her but he could not avoid his men, and he would not dare show her disrespect in front of his men.
Valina smiled smugly when a few minutes later she saw Dainen trudging towards her.
Brigail and the Queen were sitting on a richly quilted blanket next to the carriage. Her escort surrounded them but at enough distance that Valina would be able to speak to her Captain privately.
As he drew her closer she gave him a friendly smile and patted the blanket next to her indicating for him to sit. He looked at her warily as if understanding her motive.
"You've been avoiding me Captain," she stated with a slight grin, once he was seated.
"Never, Your Highness," he responded solemnly, "I've merely been busy. There is much to do."
"Good, then you won't mind accompanying me this afternoon. There is much I would like to discuss with you."
"Impossible!" Dainen protested, looking very appalled at the idea, "I am needed out with my men."
"Surely there is someone else that you could leave in charge for an afternoon," she suggested trying to keep her tone as gentle as possible. She knew he would not be easy to persuade, but if she kept her temper in check she was certain she could convince him eventually.
"My duty is to lead these men. We just left for the capital yesterday. It would undermine my authority to pass it over to someone else so soon."
Valina struggled to keep from sounding as exasperated as she felt, "It is only for an afternoon. Your men would understand that you're doing your duty by discussing matters with your Queen."
"I don't believe we have anything important to discuss."
"How much sleep did you get last night?" Valina asked, deciding to go about this matter another way. Dainen looked surprised at this sudden change of topic, and was clearly struggling to find an answer. "If I recall correctly, I found you this morning guarding my door. Your men looked well rested this morning. I bet if I asked them none of them will tell me they shared the duty with you," she did not mention that she had caught him sleeping on her door, and knew he would not bring it up either, even thought it countered slightly her insinuations that he hand not slept the previous night.
"You're exhausted," she continued, "Your men will respect you more for discussing matters with you Queen, then for falling off your horse because you fell asleep riding." Dainen opened his mouth to protest but Valina was not interested in his excuses, "You'll join me this afternoon in the carriage to get some rest, and tonight if someone must stand guard for me then let someone else do it, or at least share the duty. You're of no use to me or anyone else if you're too tired to think straight."
It was a testament to how tired the man was that he did not argue further, he merely sighed and said, "Fine, I will ride with you, but I will be the one to explain it to my men, and I want no interference from you."
Valina grinned triumphantly and nodded her agreement. He probably expects me to say something disgraceful, Valina thought. She could understand his worries about loosing the respect of his men. At his age the respect that he did have must have been hard earned, and tenuous at best.
The agreement being made, Dainen stood up and walked off to make arrangements for someone else to lead the escort for the afternoon.
While he was away the two women finished eating and cleaned up, storing the quilt back in the carriage. Around them the soldiers were remounting their horses and preparing to depart.
"Do you think you'll really ride in the carriage with us?" Brigail asked as they waited outside for Dainen. Neither woman wanted to spend more time then absolutely necessary inside the stuffy, uncomfortable carriage.
"He will if he doesn't want me to make a scene he'll regret," Valina responded calmly.
Brigail frowned, "You really should try to be nicer to the Captain. He is trying his best and you don't make it any easier on him."
"I know," Valina agreed regretfully, "I'm just not used to having someone always underfoot. I thought I had it bad at the temple but I had far more freedom there then I do here. Dainen is in charge of everything I do, and I find him so exasperating at times."
"I'm sure he could say the same about you."
The Queen nodded, "I know, I know. That's mostly why I want to talk to him today. Maybe we can come to some kind of understanding.
Her maid laughed, "I thought you wanted to find out what he knows about last night."
"Well," Valina grinned sheepishly, "there is that, but it's the only reason."
"Look, here he comes," Brigail said nodding in Dainen's direction, where he was weaving his way through mounted soldiers. She still sounded surprised that he had come.
The soldiers nodded to their Captain as Dainen passed by but he acknowledged none of them. He seemed intent on reaching his goal as quickly and with as little attention as possible. He was scowling at Valina the whole time.
"Get in," he said gruffly as soon as he was past his men.
"Yes, sire," Valina said with a mock salute, but she regretted it when Dainen's scowl turned even more fierce. She turned quickly and nearly jumped into the carriage, followed closely by Brigail.
The two women shared the rear-facing bench, leaving the opposite side free for Dainen. Valina usually occupied that seat, but she was willing to make the small sacrifice to make Dainen more comfortable, especially considering the look he had given her.
As Dainen climbed in he banged on the side of the carriage signalling for the driver to start. He had barely sat down when the carriage began to move. One of the wheels immediately hit a hole, bouncing the three passengers harshly and causing Dainen's head to hit the roof.
"I'm supposed to get rest in here?" he scowled.
"If you're tired enough you can sleep anywhere," the Queen retorted, "At least in here you can't fall off your horse."
"Brigail offered meekly, "It'll get a bit better once we're back on the road."
Dainen looked anything but assured, however he made an effort to get more comfortable. He pulled the curtains aside once to quickly glance outside. He seemed content with what he saw and made no comment.
Stretching his legs out as best he could in the cramped carriage, Dainen tipped his head back and closed his eyes.
Valina frowned. She had not expected him to go to sleep right away. If she let him, he might not wake up again until they stopped for the evening, and she might never get a chance like this to talk to him again.
"Perhaps we could talk a bit first," Valina suggested quietly. She almost wanted to just let him sleep. For sure he needed it.
Dainen cracked one eye open and looked at her sceptically, "I thought I was here to rest, Your Majesty."
"And to talk," she added, "I did mention that too. If you forgot you can't blame me."
The Captain sighed, "I supposed I won't get a moment's peace unless you've had your say. Very well, let's talk," he sat up straight and gave her his attention.
"Tell me what you know about last night," she said firmly, meeting his gaze directly.
"It was nothing--"
Valina cut him off, "You've already told me that, and I don't believe you. If it had been nothing you would not have held up our departure today so your men could investigate further."
He sighed again, "Fine. There was a man who came to the stables last night and was poking around our horses. He woke up the stable hand who went to investigate and the man began to ask him questions about you. He was trying to figure out if you're the real Queen or not I imagine, from the questions he was asking. The stable hand would not tell him anything. He riled up the horses and shouted a bit, and managed to scare the man off. That's all. Not very exciting is it?" he finished blandly.
The Queen was not put off, "What did your men find out in town?"
"Nothing unexpected," Dainen shrugged, "The man was gone. They found out that he showed up just after the fake Queen left and has been asking questions around town about you as well."
"Well at least he knows that the last Queen was a fake," Valina laughed, "It would be nice if the Innkeeper had."
Dainen did not share her humour, "The reason he knows she was a fake is most likely because he is working for her and is trying to stop you so you can't prove she is a fake."
A startled look crossed Valina's face, "Do you think I'm in danger?"
"Of course you're in danger. Did you not learn a single thing at that temple of yours? Why else do you think you have an escort of a hundred men? Just for fun?
Valina looked hurt, "Of course I did," she said quietly, "I just didn't pay much attention to the travelling part. It hardly seemed important next to everything else, especially considering no one expected the old Queen to die so soon. I thought I had more time."
"Ah, a wise Queen we have here. Help us all when you reach the capital, if you make all your decisions like that.
Although she had tried her hardest to hold them back she could not stop the tears that brimmed in her eyes and spilled down her cheeks as she protested against his cruel judgement of her character, "Do you think that I wanted to be Queen? Do you think that I haven't wondered everyday why they picked me? That I don't question my ability to be Queen! I didn't ask for this responsibility, but I'm doing my best, and you're far from perfect either."
She sniffed and looked down at her lap wishing he were not seeing her cry. With the sleeve of her dress dabbed at her tears.
A white handkerchief appeared under her nose. Valina glanced up at Dainen, "Here," he said, shaking the bit of cloth at her.
Gingerly she took it and mopped up her tears, "Thanks," she said stiffly.
"I'm sorry," Dainen apologized, "I should not have said that. I did not mean to make you cry. I guess I'm just tired," he added with a smile and a wink.
A slight bubble of laughter escaped Valina before she could stop it and smiled back, "Perhaps you should get some sleep now then."
Dainen agreed and settled down as comfortably as he could in present conditions. Despite the constant bumps, Dainen was soon fast asleep.
Valina watched him sleep wondering if she ought to apologize as well. It was not as if Dainen had said anything untruthful. She had not studied her books as well as she should have, and thinking she had more time was a pretty weak excuse. She probably would make a terrible Queen, although she would not have distractions to worry about and could focus on her responsibilities, what did she know about running a country? She imagined what she had learned would be fairly useless when she actually found herself in the position of ruling.
Yes, she probably should apologize too. Dainen and she had clearly gotten off to a bad start and as Captain of the Guards he promised to be around for a long time. Perhaps if they apologized they could start over on more friendly terms.
She glanced over at Brigail to find that her maid was also fast asleep and felt herself ready to nod off as well. The time in the carriage passed much more pleasantly when one was asleep.
Her eyes felt heavy but as she leaned her head back against the seat she felt agitated and uncomfortable. The stuffy carriage was suddenly stifling. She pulled back the curtain to get some fresh air, but seeing the scenery pass by her backwards made her feel nauseated.
The young Queen eyed the space next to Dainen longingly. He was leaning to one side and certainly not taking up the whole seat, there was plenty of room left for her. It would have been no question except that she anticipated Dainen's reaction when he awoke and found himself in even closer quarters with her. Oh well, she told herself, it was perfectly harmless, he would have to put aside his stuffy behaviour to accommodate his Queen's comfort.
She slid swiftly across to the spot next to the Captain and instantly felt less ill. She shifted slightly to make herself more comfortable and quickly joined her companions in sleep.