Masked Truths

Chapter 8: I'll Be Right Beside You Dear

Author: DarkEris

"speaking" *thinking*

**WARNING** This chapter could be considered rated "R" for Violence. Please do not read if this bothers you. No, really. Don't. Otherwise, please enjoy ;-) **WARNING**


"She couldn't scream while I held her close. I swore I'd never let her go"- The Killers


The morning found me with a mouth as dry as if I had been swallowing cotton all night. I pulled myself up a bit and found that my head also felt peculiar. Not painful, just very full- like it was stuffed full of packing paper and kind of wobbly on my shoulders. I sat up sluggishly against the headboard and poured myself a glass of water from the side table. As I drank deeply, I fingered the locket hanging at my throat.

I leaned over to replace my glass and the locket popped open in my hand. I listened to the soft, sad melody and smiled, thinking of the bundle of paradoxes in a gorgeous package that was Hayden. I kept vacillating between wanting to choke him or to simply kiss the breath out of him. *Who am I kidding? More than anything, I would just like to make him smile.*

I ran over the previous day in my mind. What a long day that had been. I did not even remember how I had gotten to bed.

*Wait a second? How did I get to bed?* Things were a bit muddled after a certain point.

I reviewed yesterday's events, starting from dinner, and by the time I remembered how exactly I 'had' gotten here my face was burning scarlet. *I got drunk and very nearly threw myself at him. Oh great.*

I slid down the head board and threw the covers over my head. *I am so embarrassed. Perhaps I can just hide here for the day and hope it all goes away.*

"Good morning, Peren," called a sing-song voice.

"Nope. World's still here," I grumbled and poked my head out. "Good morning, Lianna."

"I let you sleep a bit later today. I thought it might do you some good. Looks like I was right." I mumbled something in response, but Lianna just smiled and kept talking. "I brought a light breakfast for us both. In a couple of hours it will be time for the midday meal. Hayden said you would be joining him in the sunroom for lunch."

"Wonderful," I sighed and blushed again slightly. "Thank you Lianna."

I crawled clumsily out of bed, nearly tripping when one leg got tangled up in the sheets, and made my way carefully to the table. Lianna had just finished setting the food out and waited for me to join her with an amused smile.

I sat down, pushed a wild curl out of my face, and looked at her suspiciously. "How is it that you are so chipper this morning? You had as much wine to drink as I did."

Her smile widened, "Yes, well, not all of us have your delicate constitution."

I glared comically, "Yes, yes, I get it- alcohol bad. Quiet you."

She laughed at my attempt at seriousness and I soon joined her. "Besides," she said, "I'll bet that I have a little more experience in this particular area than you. You should see dinner in the servant's quarters. It is a little rowdy, but always entertaining, particularly when Cook drinks." She smirked, "That woman has even less tolerance for alcohol than you."

I took the jibe in the stride. "Well I may do that, or," I grinned, "perhaps I'll just let the generals in on a little tidbit about a girl who can not stop swooning over them."

She became very flustered, "Oh no Peren! You can't do that! I will not make fun of you about the wine anymore I promise, just please don't-"

I interjected, "It's alright Lianna. I am just teasing you." I giggled, "But I will hold you to that promise! Now let us eat."

We laughed and gossiped and carried on as we ate. For once, I didn't feel so out of sorts. I felt less like a lost little girl with no memory of her past, who is being told that she is queen of a strange place and wife to its even stranger ruler, and more like a normal young woman chatting with a good friend.

She plied me for details on what happened after Hayden carried me off the night before. I reluctantly gave her answers for which she once again teased me mercilessly. I smiled inwardly, *What are friends for?*

She left me to my bath, promising to return when I had finished.

Julius and Adrian came in soon after with steaming buckets of water.

"Good morning boys," I greeted them affectionately, happy to see both them and the bathwater.

"Good Morning Mistress," they intoned as they relieved themselves of their burden.

"Looking pretty as ever Lady Peren," Julius smiled from ear to ear. "You do look a bit like you've had a rough night though."

"Julius!" Adrian ground out under his voice, and cast a worried look at me.

"Yes Julius," I laughed, "I believe that I am now convinced in the evils of alcohol. At least where I'm concerned."

"Oh can't hold your drink?" He jerked a thumb at his friend, "Adrian here can't either. He always throws up. Now me, I can-"

"Julius!!!," Adrian nearly shrieked. He was too flustered to say anything more. He just shook his head back and forth, mouth opening and closing soundlessly. He blushed and looked at me apologetically before grabbing his shorter friend and dragging him away.

"Enjoy your bath!" Julius called jovially before he was pulled out the door. I could hear Adrian yelling at him outside. I couldn't help but smile at their antics.


The bath was wonderful. I had soaked for a long time, letting the warm, sweet smelling water rejuvenate my mind and body.

Now I was finished and standing in the bedroom with a crimson towel wrapped around my hair and a robe around my body. Lianna stood before me holding the doors to the wardrobe open. "So what would you like to wear today?"

"Umm," I stared at the vast array of dresses thoughtfully. "I do not know, perhaps something a bit more simple and comfortable than yesterday. I am hoping that Hayden will let me go riding today."

She flipped through a couple of hangars before holding out one in triumph, "How about this one!"

It was a simple but pretty dress in light, flowy material. It was the color of the sky on a nice day with a few pale sunny yellow accents for variety. "That will do nicely," I said happily.

Another point in its favor was the fact that it laced up the front. As Lianna pointed out jokingly, I could take this one off by myself.

The yellow piping made a "v" at my waist and from there the soft material fell loosely around my legs. After tightening the yellow laces, the dressed hugged my torso tightly yet comfortably. It accentuated my small waist while pushing my full white breasts up and out. The neckline was another yellow "v", just high enough to remain modest. The sky blue material was loose around my arms except where it was cinched with a yellow ribbon above each elbow.

"Another lovely choice Lianna, thank you." I pulled the towel off of my head and let my still-damp hair tumble down.

"You are quite welcome," her eyes gleamed, "now shall I fix your hair?"

"Well, you do a wonderful job, but you really do not need to go to the trouble of-"

"Sit!" she ordered.

Her face was a mask of resolve; I was not going to win this one. "Yes Ma'am," I joked, and sat obediently before the mirror.

"I will just get it out of your face," she said and went to work. She parted it down the middle and took the upper, front sections on each side. She quickly braided them and connected the two braids at the back of my head, leaving the rest to hang down my back.

I escaped with out makeup.


Soon afterwards I made my way to the sunroom for lunch with Hayden. *I will not blush!* I promised myself.

I let myself down.

As soon as I entered the room my eyes caught his and I could feel my cheeks heat up. He was sitting at the round table wearing a flowy white shirt. It was left open at his chest, where the ties hung down uselessly, and at the cuffs around his wrists. His long silken hair fell around his face and shoulders and contrasted with the white of his skin and his shirt. He stared very intently back at me.

When I was finally able to break the stare I noticed Deo and Thanos both sitting to his left. They were wearing the same colors as they were when I had met them; icy blue and white, and crimson and black, respectively.

*Good to know no one ever breaks from the color scheme around here.*

I joined them and sat to Hayden's right. The twins greeted me warmly. "Well met Lady Peren. You are looking quite lovely today," said Deo pleasantly.

Thanos grinned and interjected, "I would say that is an understatement. My brother's attentions are currently riveted elsewhere, but any man worth his salt would find it hard to maintain their gentlemanly composure in your presence. You look positively ravishing." His eyes sparkled with merriment as he raised a dark brow in Hayden's direction. "Wouldn't you say so my friend?"

Remembering last night, I felt the blush spread across my cheeks. The corners of Hayden's sensuous mouth curved up softly, "Of course. She is the most beautiful creature to ever lend its song to this place. Did you sleep restfully last night Peren?"

"Oh- um, yes. Thank you for, uh, taking care of me last night. I am sorry that I was a bit, um- out of sorts."

"No thanks or apologies needed little bird; taking care of you is my duty and my joy."

I felt the warmth on my face deepen, but then my attention was thankfully diverted from that wide, lush mouth. The servants began bustling through, carrying things in and out. Lianna approached with water and began filling glasses, starting with Hayden's first. She performed her duty with no mishap, but I laughed inwardly to see the way her eyes kept darting between her task and the generals.

I stopped her when she came to me. I reproached her playfully, "Now Lianna, have you forgotten last night? I had hoped that you would be joining us for lunch."

She looked somewhat stricken, "But, I-"

We both turned to look questioningly at Hayden. "Quite right," he supplied. "As I said last night, it simply isn't proper for my Queen's lady to be serving food. Please join us from now on."

I smiled my thanks to him and he inclined his head slightly. Lianna quickly finished with the water and hurried out to get a plate of her own. Adrian and Julius approached the table with platters balanced in their hands. Julius grinned at me as he set his down, "Did you enjoy your bath Lady Peren?"

Adrian glared a warning at him. I answered good-naturedly, "Yes, thank you Julius. You and Adrian do very good work." The tightness in Adrian's shoulders eased and he smiled gratefully, "Thank you Lady. We do our best."

Deo spoke up from the other side of the table, "Well no wonder I haven't seen you two around the stables lately. Has Quinn given you over to the household staff?"

"Only for a short time," said Adrian. "He didn't need us," added Julius.

Deo's lips quirked into a smile, "Well he is very capable. I shall be sure to let him know what a good job you boys are doing."

Adrian and Julius smiled knowingly at one another and returned in unison, "Thank you sir."

As they left, Lianna returned with another place setting. She timidly sat to my right, which also put her next to Thanos. I made introductions. "Gentleman, this is my friend and confidante Lady Lianna. Lianna, these are Lord Hayden's generals and close friends, Lord Thanos and Lord Deo."

Deo smiled and nodded politely from his seat. "Pleased to meet you Lady Lianna."

Thanos greeting was much less reserved. "Peren, how could you neglect to tell me that you have such a gorgeous friend?! I'm hurt, truly." I just laughed and shrugged, Lianna smoothed down her white apron self- consciously. Thanos continued to his leader, "Hayden, you truly leave a charmed life to be in the company of such beauties."

Hayden turned to me and gave me one of those knee-weakening smirks, "No argument there my friend."

Thanos clasped Lianna's hand lightly in his own and bent to lay a kiss on her knuckles. He looked up at her through his ebony locks and spoke in a low voice, "It is a great pleasure to meet you my lady."

Lianna gulped and looked somewhat star struck. "Umm, thank you. It is very nice to meet you both."

It was an understatement if I had ever heard one. She looked like she was about to fall out of her chair. I was happy for her, and highly amused. I would definitely tease her later.

We began a meal filled with good food and good conversation. I smiled to notice how Lianna kept darting glances at Thanos when he was occupied, and was pleasantly surprised to notice that the dark-skinned playboy was glancing back. This had definite possibilities.

As lunch began to wind down, conversation made its way back to horse-back riding. "So," I said, looking hopefully at Hayden, "Could we go on that tour today?"

He stared back, silently and openmouthed for a moment, and shook his head, "No, absolutely not."

I was dumbfounded, "But, but why? It can't possibly be too late. It is only just noon."

"Because I said so, because it isn't safe."

Thanos looked like he wanted to say something, but I interceded.

"Safe?" I blurted out, my voice rising. "I would be with the two leaders of your kingdom's army and that is not safe enough for you?! What place is safer?"

"Here," he said, voice growing louder to overpower mine, "In the castle where I have told you to stay!"

"But you are being unreasonable," I said more softly, trying to rein in my temper. "Those can not possibly be the reasons. What are you trying so hard to hide that you need to keep me locked away in here like a prisoner? To have me constantly watched over by the household staff?"

"My reasons are none of your concern. You need only know that I have my reasons and that I have given my answer." He looked at me from behind that cold, hard mask. "Now we shall speak no more of it."

He immediately went back to eating as though the exchange had never taken place. I sat there fuming silently, and the others at the table looked at each other uncomfortably, as if they felt like they should say something but knew better than to actually do so.

Finally, the servants began taking dishes away and Gwendolyn approached to ask if everything had been to our tastes. "Yes," we all intoned lifelessly.

"Did you sleep soundly last night Mistress Peren?" she asked cheerily.

"Yes," I answered dully.

"Is the Master treating you well?"

I just twisted my head to glare at him. He seemed to be keeping himself occupied, staring at some invisible spot on the wall in front of him. Gwendolyn 'tsked' under her breath and swatted him lightly on the back of the head before she left. He chose to ignore it and took a sip of his water.


I was walking back to my room after the tension-filled lunch. I was still somewhat angry, but the heat of my anger had quieted and been taken over by cold deliberation and curiosity. There was obviously some greater reason why Hayden did not want me touring the grounds, some secret that he was hiding from me. Quite possibly, it was a secret that could give me some clue to my past. I had to find a way to get outside.

It was then that I remembered something; before lunch there had been no members of the house staff inconspicuously following my every movement, as there were most of the time. And when I thought further back I realized that my domestically-inclined spies were always absent before meals. They must be too busy with preparations to be able to follow me around and pretend to dust or mop things.

By the time I made it back to my room I knew what I was going to have to do. Before dinner, when everyone was busy, I was going to sneak out and find out exactly what I wasn't allowed to know.

I searched through my wardrobe and found a sturdy brown cloak that would have been perfect, but then I decided to forgo it. It would have been difficult to explain if I 'did' happen to run into anyone in the halls.

I lay on my bed for a while, wasting time, and thinking about everything that had happened since I awoke in this place. After a bit, Lianna came in to check on me. I steered the conversation away from my argument with Hayden and, instead, asked what she thought of the twins. As if it wasn't obvious that she was completely smitten; especially with our handsome dark clown, Thanos.

I teased her playfully, and I smiled to see the way her face brightened as I told her about the way Thanos kept looking at her during lunch. I felt bad that I could not confide in her about my plans. I knew that she would sympathize, but I also knew that it would put her in a very difficult position. I couldn't do that to her.

So we carried on, laughing and talking girlishly until a loud rap on the door interrupted us. Lianna rose to answer it and there stood Hayden, his height and broad shoulders filling most of the doorway. She gave me a comforting smile and tactfully slipped out of the room.

He entered the room and hesitated for a moment before sitting next to me on the bed. He reached out a hand as if to stroke my arm, but then let it drop back into his lap. I sat looking at him docilely, waiting for an explanation.

"I'm sorry," he started, "if I came across as harsh earlier. It is not my intention to upset you."

I felt a twinge of guilt, "But you still won't let me out, will you?"

He gazed into my eyes and shook his head sadly, "No little bird, I am sorry. But I do not do this to punish you. Please do not see it as such. You are my Queen here and anything you desire shall be given to you."

"Right," I smiled bitterly, "I'm your songbird in a gilded cage, and as long as you make the cage pretty enough I am not supposed to realize that I am a prisoner."

He looked stung, "That's not how it is."

"Then how is it?" I asked vehemently.

"I am only trying to do what is best, for you and for my kingdom." He raised a hand to tilt my chin up and look into my eyes. I was struck by the sincerity I saw in their beautiful depths. For what little it mattered, I did believe him. He let his thumb graze softly over my cheek and lowered his hand to slide down my arm. He left it there, lightly holding my hand.

He continued on, "Know that I do have reasons, and that they are as much for your sake as for anyone else's. And as King, I am forced to make certain decisions that cannot be questioned, not even by you. But I will try to be more open and understanding to your questions. Understand?"

I nodded and gave a half smile. I pushed away the bit of guilt that I felt. I did understand, but it did not change what I had to do. He may honestly believe that keeping my memories from me was for the best, but he was wrong. People need a background, they need roots, good or bad they need to remember. Otherwise it is like being cut adrift in the middle of the ocean, with no idea where you are or where you belong. I needed to know where I belonged.

His lush mouth curved into a smile, "Good." He rose from the bed, still holding my hand, "I shall see you at dinner. We'll have it in the sunroom since you seem to prefer the more intimate atmosphere. I promise that it will be a much more pleasant affair."

With that he dipped to kiss the back of my hand and left me alone to my thoughts.


Sometime later I peeked out my door into the darkened, empty corridor and knew it was time. I slipped on my shoes and hurried out. I had decided to take no candle and, instead, rely on memory and the dimly lit wall sconces to make my way to the front door.

I arrived at the massive doors quickly enough and without incident. I am certain that there were other portals of escape, and I would have chosen a less conspicuous one had I known where any of the others were.

I pushed one of the heavy doors slowly open, wincing at the creaking of the old hinges, but no one came. As soon as I had it open far enough, I slipped out and let it close as softly as possible behind me. I was outside.

The air was damp and the sun had almost set. The moon was beginning to rise, full and bright above the castle. I went cautiously down the stone steps and about ten feet away I was enveloped by the fog that lay heavily around the perimeter. The mist was thick and wet and I found myself unable to see more than a few feet in front of me.

I moved carefully through the soupy fog, relying on what I could see of the moon to make sure that I did not get turned around. After a while the fog began to clear and I found myself standing in a small copse of trees at the edge of what appeared to be a forest.

As I stepped forward I was grabbed roughly from behind by a pair of thick, strong arms. I instinctively began to struggle, lashing out with my arms and legs at anything I could. Finally, I managed to connect with an elbow and a heel. I heard a deep grunt before I was thrown violently to the ground. Rocks and twigs jabbed into me through my thin dress and scraped my palms.

Before I had time to react, a heavy boot smashed into my ribs. I cried out in pain when I heard at least one or two of them crack. Tears came to my eyes and it hurt to breathe. I cried out again as I was hauled to my feet and had my back slammed against a tree trunk.

I cracked open my eyes to see the man who held me there. He was a dirty, mercenary type, with beady eyes and a balding head. He was short for a man, which was still a good bit taller than me, but what he lacked in height he made up for in width. He spoke to someone off to his left, "Well, well, looks like she came to us. This job's turnin' out easier than I spected."

"Are you sure it's her?" a higher pitched male voice questioned nervously.

"Oh, I'm sure," the man in front of me grinned, showing rows of yellowed teeth. "Ain't nobody else got eyes like that." He gave me a once-over and the grin widened. "And won't ya just look at 'er. Ain't she a beauty? I think I just might have to have myself a taste."

At that point I came back to myself enough to start struggling and screaming for help. The man clamped a big, grimy hand over my mouth and held me against the tree. He called out to his companion, "Come help me hold 'er, woncha ya ninny?"

His partner seemed to hesitate before coming over into my field of vision. He was somewhat younger. He was tall and lanky with a thin face that looked as if it was always wearing the worried expression that it had now. "I dunno, our orders were just to bring her to them," he said, but took hold of my arms in a surprisingly strong grip.

"And we will," answered the short one, "We'll just tell 'em that she struggled too much so we had to rough 'er up a bit. Sides, I'll let you have a turn so stop yer complainin."

He brandished a knife in front of my face and licked the blade suggestively. He brought his face close to mine and as he chuckled the stench of his warm, foul breath filled my nostrils. Mixed with the pain and his insinuations it was enough to make me gag. My eyes rolled wildly as I tried to think of some way, any way, out of this. I strained against my captors, but the taller man held my arms locked above my head and the shorter one pressed his body against mine, restricting my movement, and held his hand over my mouth.

I did the only thing that I could think to do. I bit down and tasted blood in my mouth. "Bitch!" he cursed, and yanked his hand away. I was able to cry out for help only once before he belted me across the face, slamming the back of my head into the trunk and busting my lip. Pain blossomed across my cheek and he replaced his hand over my mouth.

"Now listen here," he said, brandishing the knife again, "Do that again and I'll be forced to use this."

My head and side throbbed, and I felt dizzy and nauseous. I could only manage a whimper in response.

He took the knife and sliced easily through the yellow laces on the front of my dress, exposing my breasts to the damp night air. He made an admiring sound, I whimpered again. Tears coursed down my cheeks and stung the cuts on my face.

*Please, this can not be happening! I need- I need someone. Please, stop this. Someone-* I thought, as my mind began to retreat and crumble in on itself.

He fondled my breast and leaned in to kiss my bruised cheek.

*No, stop. Please-* I thought, and suddenly he was ripped away from me. A large black blur shot across my vision as the shorter man was shoved to the ground.

When the black figure turned, I saw that it was Hayden. He was wearing a black cloak with the hood pushed off of his head. His chiseled face and white shirt formed a long gleaming strip between his crow-black hair and the flaps of his cloak. His face was contorted into such a look of rage as I had never dreamed possible. Though part of my mind registered that he was my savior, I found myself afraid of him.

He stalked towards the slender man and me, eyes filled with liquid fire. The man released my arms and backed away slowly. Without him holding me I found that my legs couldn't seem to support my weight and I sunk down against the tree trunk.

As Hayden neared the nervous man he reached his right hand across, into his cloak. His eyes were filled with malice; the eyes of a killer.

He drew his hand back out of his cloak and, with it, a sword from a sheath at his left hip. In the same movement he brought it quickly around in front of him and slashed the man across the stomach, spilling out blood and darker things. Continuing the movement, Hayden spun around gracefully, bringing himself in closer to the man. From somewhere, a dagger appeared in his left hand and ripped across the man's throat. Blood sprayed over Hayden's face and down the front of his shirt as he finished the spin, bringing himself even closer to the man. He threw down his weapons and for a moment they were locked in an almost intimate embrace before Hayden snapped the man's neck and let him fall to the ground. It had all happened in a matter of seconds. The man was dead before he knew what was happening.

My eyes took in all the dark red and refused to translate what they were seeing. They were too out of focus and my head hurt too much. Or maybe it was a safety mechanism, helping me hold on to my last shred of sanity. I just stared dumbly at the man's face, his eyes staring up into the treetops, never to blink again.

Task completed, Hayden turned his attention back to the shorter, wider man. The man had pulled himself up to his knees. His eyes widened in horror as he saw what had happened to his companion and as he looked upon the blood- splattered fury that had now fixed its gaze upon him. "No!" the man whimpered. "Not you! Oh please not you!"

Hayden picked his sword back up and hefted its weight before moving predatorily in the direction of the prone man. "I will not let you take her from me," Hayden ground out in a low, dangerous voice.

The man stayed on his knees and clasped his hands together as though he was begging for his life; which he was. "Please Highness, it ain't us that wants 'er. We was just doin our job. Let me go and I'll go back an' give our boss yer message."

Hayden halted and glanced back at me. Out of his bloody visage, his wild eyes met my tear-stained ones. I shrank back and tried to pull the gaping front of my dress together, to cover myself. He swung back around to the man and advanced on him more quickly.

He let out a loud, animalistic growl. "You- you touched her!" Hayden spit the words out bitterly, as though they disgusted him. Before the man could respond, Hayden put a black leather boot to his shoulder and shoved him backwards onto the ground. Then Hayden raised his sword and plunged it straight down through the mercenary's gut, pinning him to the cold ground. The man clutched the blade and shrieked in agony.

Hayden left him pinned and shouted at him with pure rage, "What made you think that you could touch her?! She, who is truly innocent in all this. She is life, and joy, and all that is light and you tried to destroy that! To take her from me! How dare you hurt her! I will crush you for that." Then he placed a foot on the man's chest and used it as leverage to wrench the sword back out. This pulled another scream from the wounded man's lips.

"Please," said the man, raising his head to look at Hayden, "She's not hurt that badly, we just-"

"And I shall make sure that you never hurt her again," Hayden interrupted in an icy voice and lopped off the man's head with one strong swing of his blood-stained sword. The head rolled a few feet until a tree stump halted its progression.

Hayden stood in the growing pool of blood with his back to me. His shoulders heaved and his ragged breathing was the only sound in the quiet glade. He let the sword clatter to the ground. When he whirled to face me, I was frightened to see that his eyes were still narrowed ferociously and his face was still contorted in anger.

He stormed over to me and grasped my upper-arms, yanking me swiftly up off of the ground. "How could you?!" he yelled at me. His hands tightened around my arms and he shook me, causing my teeth to rattle and my head to pound harder. "I told you not to leave the castle! That it was for your own good! Now look what's happened!" he snarled. "Are you happy now?!"

The pain shooting through my ribs and the fear I felt were enough to bring me back to reality and rip a broken sob from my throat. After that it was as if a dam was broken and they just kept coming. I sagged in his hands.

Hayden froze and the anger fled from his eyes, leaving him with some mix of shock and concern on his face. His grip relaxed, but still kept me on my feet. "Oh Peren," he said in a soft, pained voice, "I am so very sorry. I didn't mean to- I just," he sighed and looked me over. Then he removed his cloak and wrapped it around me, pulling me into his arms.

I fell into them. Unable to do anything but cry and choke on sobs, I lay against his crimson-stained chest. He continued, "I was just so very scared. If anything more had happened to you-," he hugged me tighter. "I won't let anything happen to you ever again. I'll take care of you. I will not let them take you from me. I promise."

I lacked the strength to do anything but give a small nod. Apparently that was enough. He gently wiped my tears and kissed my forehead. Then he swept me up into his arms and carried me back to the castle. I let my head rest against his chest and, despite the monstrous things I had just seen him do, I felt safe.


Hayden burst through the front doors of the castle. Thanos and Deo sat inside and, upon seeing their King covered in blood, rushed to his side.

He tried to assuage their concern, "It's alright, it is not mine."

When they looked worriedly at me, cradled in his arms, he quickly said, "It isn't hers either. The borders have been breached. I believe that I 'took care' of the immediate threat, but I need for you to talk to your men and increase patrols."

They nodded and went off to handle it immediately. Hayden continued on through the castle, careful not to jostle me.

We were met at my bedroom door by Gwendolyn and Lianna. "Majesty, what happened?" asked Gwendolyn in a shocked voice.

"Peren!" Lianna called out in concern from behind the matronly woman.

"Master," Gwendolyn said when she got no answer, "You must let us see to the girl."

"No," he answered brusquely, and entered the room, "Leave us and get some warm water and bandages. I will take care of her." With that he closed the door, shutting them out.

He laid me carefully on my bed, and I immediately curled into a ball, unable to stop trembling and crying.

He sat on the bed and shushed me quietly, "It is alright now little one, you are safe and I will keep you from harm." He produced a handkerchief from somewhere and gently wiped the dirt, tears, and blood from my face. Then he rubbed his hand across my back in comforting circles. I think it may have been as much to assure him that I was still there and in one piece, as it was to comfort me. When a knock on the door signaled the arrival of medical supplies he seemed loathe to leave my side even for a second.

He returned with a box of supplies and a basin of warm water. Then he went to fetch some clean towels from the bathroom. "Now dearest, I shall need for you to tell me where you are hurting so that I can fix it."

I tried speaking and my voice came out rough and cracking, "My head hurts, I feel dizzy and I can not see straight. And my ribs hurt- I believe some of them are broken on the left side."

He looked angry for a moment, but it was not directed at me. Then he began bustling about, grabbing things. He felt lightly at the back of my head and I hissed in pain as he found a rather large, bleeding knot there. He cleaned the wound with a towel and warm water before applying a strong smelling salve and wrapping it with gauze.

"I think you may have a concussion," he said softly. "You will be alright, but we shall have to keep an eye on you."

Then he carefully cleaned and salved the cuts and scrapes on my face and palms, kissing them lightly and whispering meaningless, soothing sounds to me all the while. Angry bruises were already appearing on my cheek and wrists.

Finally he said he needed to take a look at my ribs. He pulled his cloak off of me and laid a folded towel across my chest to preserve my modesty. Then, with my cooperation, he carefully pulled the ruined blue dress down to my waist. His fingers ghosted across my stomach and tenderly prodded at my side. Despite his care, I could not help a sharp intake of breath at the feeling.

"I am sorry my sweet," he sighed, "They do seem to be broken, or at least cracked. I shall have to bandage them." With some delicate maneuvering, he wrapped my torso tightly, but not uncomfortably. Then he handed me a nightgown and turned his back while it slipped my dress the rest of the way off and slipped into it.

When I was finished, he came over to me and lowered me back onto the bed. He leaned over me, making sure to support all of his own weight. Sapphire and emerald met as he stared into my eyes.

He spoke quietly, "You are so beautiful," his voice broke slightly, "I can not believe that I almost lost you." He tenderly kissed my torn lips.

Then he rose and began to move away from the bed. Suddenly, I was terrified of him leaving me. Panic bubbled up in my throat and I called out, "No, please! Please don't leave me." As much as he would probably play a part in the nightmares that would torment me that night, I could not stand to face them alone. The demons in one's mind could be much more frightening than any in real life.

He turned, startled at my outburst, and smiled somewhat sadly. "Do not worry yourself little bird. You could not force me to leave tonight if you wished to. I need reassurance of your safety as much as you do."

With that he made his way over to my dresser. "Ack!" he cried. "No wonder you are trembling, I certainly look a fright. Why did you not tell me?"

I simply shrugged, aware that he couldn't see me with his back turned.

He cleaned the blood off his face and chest in the water basin and pulled the stained shirt over his head, leaving his torso bare. His chest and abs looked like they were carved out of ivory. He was not bulky, but lean and toned, with long sinuous muscles that belied the power they held. His torso started wide at the broad, muscular shoulders. It tapered in toward his waist and the tight, black pants that wrapped around his slender hips. His dark hair fell like a satin sheet around his shoulders and that heart- breakingly beautiful face.

It was really too bad that my head would not stop pounding enough for me to fully enjoy the view. But I still felt dizzy and nauseous, and I was fighting every moment to hold onto consciousness.

He came back to the bed and pulled the covers up over me before laying himself down to my right on top of them. He curved his body protectively around my smaller one and drew an arm across my shoulders, being careful not to squeeze my ribs.

He nuzzled my hair and whispered softly in my ear, "Now sleep soundly my dear. I will be right here if you need me."

I squeezed his hand in thanks and allowed myself to slip away.


AN: Phew, longest/hardest chapter yet. Sorry for the long delay, my life's been kinda drama-filled lately. Thank you all, for sticking with me this far.

I hope that the content of this chapter didn't put anyone off of the story. I had it planned out, but I was still a bit surprised with how it all turned out. I hope you like it.

Sorry for what I had to put the characters through *huggles them* But the adversity is necessary in my opinion.

So anyways; love it, hate it, confused as hell at where I'm going with this? Lemme know what you think because:

Remember, Reviews make for a More Inspired Jen.