A/N -- Yeeha! I just got back from seeing Star Warsa few hours ago (Much better than episodes 1 & 2, bwt.), and I'm wired. Even though it's two in the morning. No, this is not in any way relevant to the story. But since I'm stillup, I'm updating.
El woke up with a start several hours later to the din of clashing swords and frightened horses. The red glare of a fire came flickering through the otherwise dark cracks. It took her half of a disoriented moment before she realized that a rescue attempt was probably being made. Lielinda was sitting up also, with a look on her face halfway between terror and hope.
"Come here," El whispered loudly over the noise.
Lielinda glared at her.
"Come here," El repeated in exasperation, "so I can get those ropes off your wrist, and you can unknot mine."
Lielinda moved reluctantly over to her, although she was still glaring ferociously. Apparently her loathing of El was not strong enough to overcome her dislike of having bound hands though, because she cooperated. Using a combination of teeth and her own tightly roped hands, El managed to loosen Lielinda's bonds enough for the woman to squeeze her hands out.
Lielinda then turned grudgingly to untie El's. She hadn't made much progress when the door flew open with a slam, and they both jumped. "Hurry," a silhouette at the top of the stairs urged in a vaguely familiar voice. Lielinda ceased her half-hearted attempts to untie El, and the two women made their way quickly across the earthen floor toward the stairs. As they approached the bottom step, a stray moonbeam struck their rescuer's cheek, and El inhaled sharply and stopped short. It was her errant bodyguard.
That meant that–
"Who are you?" she asked, almost without thinking.
There was a dangerous silence as he looked down at her. "I am King Christoforo Demetrius Winston Erasmus the third of Audin. I think the question, milady, is 'who are you?'."
There was a peculiar lightheaded feeling making its way through El's head that was making it difficult for her to form any coherent thoughts. Someone hollered something nearby, and he reached down to grab her still-bound wrists. "Unfortunately, I do not have the time to ponder the question at the moment."
He jerked El roughly up the steps, and made a sort of half-bow to Lielinda. "If you'll follow me, milady?" he said to her. Lielinda was looking entirely too delighted for her own good as El allowed herself to be limply drawn after the man who called himself the king.
It was night outside, and a heated skirmish was taking place as he slipped around to the other side of the building, where two horses were loosely tied. Lady Lielinda mounted the first with no urging, and the king boosted El none-too-gently onto the second, before springing up behind her. "You, milady, are riding with me, because I don't trust you not to try to escape before I get my answers."
El would have liked a few answers herself, but remained silent, wedged rather uncomfortably between the saddle horn and his body. She sat up stiffly, trying to make herself as small as possible. "We're going to be meeting my reserve guards in a minute," Kit said to no one in particular, "so that they can escort us back to the capital." With those words he turned, and led the horses away from the battle and into the woods.
They rode in silence for several minutes through the dark trees until the forms of two men on horseback materialized out of the gloom ahead of them. "Atrick?" Kit called uncertainly. One of the men murmured an affirmative. "Where are the other three?" Kit asked, sounding vaguely worried. His painful grip on El's arm loosened slightly.
"We ran into the lookouts on the way here," the guard explained softly, "and they stayed to fight. Callen said for us to go one and meet you, and not to linger, highness. The group was a little larger than they originally thought it would be. They're going to meet up with us if they can."
Kit nodded. "All right then. Let's ride." He spurred his horse onward, and the others followed behind.
"Well, milady...." Kit leaned down to breath into her ear. "It would appear, at least, that you are not in league with these particular troublemakers. That still doesn't explain what you were doing with your little charade. Who are you?"
El remained stubbornly silent, and he laughed shortly.
"How do I know you're really the king?" El finally asked grimly.
"Just ask my uncle, the regent," said Kit coldly, "or better yet, read the several years worth of correspondence between myself and my late father. It was certainly enough to convince the entire court. I should think it would be enough for you as well."
El, rather unfortunately, believed him. "I'm much more curious about you, milady," he continued quietly. "Are you some over-ambitious village girl? Or are you part of a plot? Something must have led you to believe I was permanently out of the way. Perhaps you met up with my courier, who carried my ring and cloak to my uncle with the message that I'd been delayed on the border? He seems to have disappeared, you know, except for my ring, which seems to have found its way into your hands. Impersonating the king is a hangable offense, milady, so you'd better have a good reason."
El shuddered. Lielinda cantered up beside them just then. "She wouldn't tell me either, highness, no matter how much I asked." She beamed adoringly up at Kit, and El had to fight down her sudden feeling of nausea. Kit leaned down to El's ear and breathed, so softly that only El could hear, "That is how a lady is supposed to act; and so, milady, I think that you must not be a lady."
El jerked backward so fast that she knocked painfully into his jaw. He let out a groan. "Don't try that again," he threatened, and moved closer to her, so that she was flat against his chest, and suddenly aware of the mingled scents of sweat and sandalwood.
"I knew you must be more than a bodyguard," Lielinda was saying happily. "You just seemed much more – knowledgeable than a bodyguard. Something about your aura. You've always had such a presence. I'm surprised I didn't figure it out myself." She let out a small titter. "But then, I suppose the little imposter had us all fooled."
"Yes," agreed Kit in a flat monotone.
"Who do you suppose she is?" Lielinda asked curiously. El felt Kit shift restlessly behind her.
"I don't know, but I intend to find out."
His words sounded like nothing more than a thinly veiled threat to El, but Lielinda laughed as if he had said something clever. "However did you find us?" she asked then.
El perked up a little. It was the first sensible thing Lielinda had asked that day. "It wasn't that difficult," said Kit dryly. "First, we found the rat in the castle – a new footman – and got the entire story from him. Apparently these particular bandits were hired by Vandös to try to foul up our trade relations with Milist. But whoever hired them didn't make a very good choice – they were disorganized and sloppy."
"After that, we set scouts on their trail, found the agreed meeting place, and shadowed the rebels from there to the camp. If it hadn't been for you, Lady Lielinda, we might not have bothered."
El growled indignantly, and Lielinda tittered again.
Presently Lielinda began to chatter about less substantial things, and soon, wearied by stress and physical exhaustion, El slipped into an uneasy sleep, lulled by the steady movement of the horse.
She jerked awake some time later to find the moon almost directly overhead, and her head nestled comfortably into Kit's shoulder. El pulled away with a start, only to be startled further by Kit's soft laugh. "What's the matter, milady?" He asked quietly, his voice rough. "Something troubling you?"
El did not answer; merely sat up as straight as she could manage with Kit's arm around her middle. "We're going to be stopping soon for a few hours anyway," he told her.
Sure enough, several minutes later, one of the guards rode quietly abreast of their horse. "There's an excellent spot just a little ahead, highness," he said. It took El a moment to remember that he was addressing Kit and not her.
"Excellent," said Kit softly. "We'll stop there for the night. Any sign of the others?"
The guard shook his head. "It's possible they weren't certain which way we went, milord," he said. "I don't think we'll be bothered anyhow. We should make it back to the capital without a problem." Kit nodded. "This is the spot," the guard added, and reigned in sharply. The other horses came to a halt also.
They were in a small clearing with a creek gurgling by on one side. The moonlight bathed everything in silver as Kit dismounted. El twisted around to watch him assist the Lady Lielinda off of her horse, then he returned to El and swung her down. Much to her dismay, her knees nearly buckled under her weight, and she made an odd sort of hopping motion to catch her balance, her wrists still uselessly bound behind her. Kit studiously ignored her as he took a bedroll off the horse, and went into the clearing to assist the guards in setting up a makeshift camp.
"Traitor," Lielinda hissed at El, before following the others into the clearing.
They ate a cold supper of bread and dried fruit, because the guards were too cautious to want to attract undue attention with a fire. One of them unbound El's hands while she ate, but as soon as she was through, rebound them and directed her to her bedroll. She vaguely heard Kit and the other guards arguing about watch shifts, and was dimly surprised that he should be taking a shift at all, but dropped to sleep before having the time to ponder it further.
El awoke suddenly several hours later, and remained unmoving for a time. The moon had disappeared completely behind the tree line, and the stars were beginning to fades. It looked to be only an hour or two until dawn, and the entire camp was silent and still. She mentally replayed the events of the past few hours, and groaned silently. Her escapades were over, and she doubted very much whether anyone would be interested in hearing her story. Besides that, if she told them who she was, someone might decide to exact punishment on Tallen for her own foolishness. She levered herself cautiously up on one elbow. Both of the guards were sleeping, and Kit was propped up against a tree with his eyes closed. Now would be the time to slip away, if any. El hesitated a moment, then shrugged. It would be hard to get into more trouble than she was already in.
She stood up slowly, and made her way carefully through the dew-drenched grass of the camp in the direction of the stream, with a vague idea of following it until she came to civilization. She could come up with some story about a bandit raid to rouse sympathy from the next person she met, and it would even be partly true. From there she could figure out how to slip away back home.
Holding her breath, she inched further and further away from the camp, until she was among the trees next to the stream. She sped up then, until she was moving forward in a dead run, or as much of one as was possible through the thick undergrowth with bound hands. She carefully dodged a few low tree branches, and continued on. She had escaped.
With a muffled thud, something very heavy tackled her from behind. El lay stock-still, panting, her heart thudding in terror as a familiar voice growled "I don't think so, milady." Kit, looking very angry, rolled her over onto her back, and El panicked. She lashed out furiously with one of her legs; felt it connect. Kit let out a fluent curse as she tried to wiggle away, and pinned her with his weight. El squirmed, but he pinned her more firmly until she stopped, panting. He felt heavier than a ton of rock, and his face was only inches away from her own. "I wouldn't try that again, milady," he suggested, an almost feral glint in his eyes.
"Let me up," said El breathlessly, trying to sound haughty, but only managing to sound scared.
"I will personally carry you back to Valiant if that is what it takes to keep you from escaping," he told her. El froze. His face was only an inch away, and his eyes had darkened dangerously as he stared down at her.
Kit inhaled an oddly ragged breath. He seemed about to say something, then stopped, and muttered something impolite. They both stayed there, stock still, staring at each other for a long, interminable moment. Later, El was never quite sure who moved first, but suddenly he was kissing her roughly. After a brief moment of shock, El found herself drowning in the warm sensation as his hands ran through her hair and down her shoulders. . She inhaled the scent of sweat and sandalwood again, an oddly alluring combination, and shifted restlessly, wanting her own hands free to explore his tousled hair. His mouth moved more urgently over hers, and then he lifted his head. El let out a muffled protest. He shushed her, breathing rapidly, and groped frantically for the knotted rope that was still cutting into her wrists.
Then suddenly he stopped, as though the implications of what he was doing were only now occurring to him. El sucked in a shaky breath, and he looked expressionlessly at her for a long moment. Then he pulled himself abruptly away, dragging El up and after him so suddenly that her head spun. He didn't say a word, merely pointed back in the direction of the camp, and began propelling her silently through the trees.
El was still trying to clear through the haze of surprise and other less welcome feelings that his kiss had suddenly aroused. Her little escape had not gone as planned.
"Sit," he ordered roughly, pointing at her abandoned bedroll as they came back into the clearing. El sat, with no second bidding. He ran a distracted hand through his hair, and stalked over to the opposite of the clearing, where he sat back down beneath his tree, his face closed and expressionless. El let out another shaky breath, and waited for the rest of the camp to awake.
A/N – Thanks, as usual, to all you reviewers out there.
Cloverluck11 – lol, glad you're enjoying it!
Wild Child – thank you very much! And here's your update.
Ember's Fire – well, this isn't as soon as I had been planning on updating, but it's better than I usually do. Thanks for the review. D
Brooke Oriley – Lol, glad you liked the chapter. My rough drafts don't do me much good, 'cause I usually end up changing a lot of it, but I can pretend, at least....
Fiorenza – What, you don't like Lielinda? I wonder why.... Lol, thanks for the review.
Pixy-dizzy – Kit will come to his senses eventually. Yup. (He'd better.) (I am going to have to find that story of yours and read it. Tomorrow. When I'm actually awake and not half-asleep. :p )
Celyn – Oh dear.The typos of doom. I'll try to watch for more of that, thanks.
BuffLie – Another person who doesn't like Lielinda! How strange! No, really. Ha, no, actually, it's not. Yes, kidnapings are very fun. :D
Blacksunrise – Poor Lielinda. Everyone seems to be in favor of beating her up. I haven't quite decided on her fate yet though. (Evil grin)