In the torchlight of the grand halls in the highest parts of the castle, two figures hid in the shadows. Both armed, both going toward the same place. They avoided the torchlight, a common enemy of those doing the less than lawful. The drawn dagger glinted as stray light touched it, a beacon to straining eyes. He watched as another shadow passed him across the hall, back turned, completely oblivious that he was now the hunted. His prey hid feebly in curtains that decorated a painting of some great someone. He studied them, readying his own blade.

The figure slinked around a corner, heading towards the royal quarters. It would have to be soon.

The click of a key in a lock. The flash of a blade. A single stab to his neck was all that was necessary, the blood flowing freely as failing attempts at breath were made. But he found himself plunging his knife back into him, over and over again until there would be no doubt. The shimmering red covered his hands, his body, his face. This was nothing new. Nothing was wrong. Then why were these hot tears falling down his face, uncontrollable and unrelenting?

She awoke long before the dawn, tears streaming down her pillow. What was wrong with her? What was the dream? She tried to call back the memories, slowing pulling the strands back together. She had dreamt of him.

"M'lady!" someone shouted. Exhaustion blinded her, but the terror was genuine. "Dear god - M'lady, come quickly."

She followed the voice, instinctively, hardly aware of what was going on. Then she saw it. What used to be a man, lying on the floor in front of her door. He was lying on his stomach, face pressed against the floor. Blood had soaked into the rug on her side of the door and run through the cracks in the grout of the stone floor. A knife was still clenched in his cold, lifeless hand.

"Get the guards." she said softly.

She stood there, mesmerized by this alien sight before her. She had never seen death so close before, so immediate. Seeing the battles at the coliseum was so different. Sitting rows back, laughing and jeering, cheering and applauding. The loss of life was almost forgotten. She hoped, she knew, who had been responsible. The ferocity, the rage in the wounds. No guardsmen would ever stop an assassin without a bribe beforehand.

That was what he wanted to tell her.

"My Lady, there is something I need to tell you." he had said.

Secretly, she had hoped for some words of expression to come from his lips. Of care and devotion like she had for him. But he wasn't that kind of man. Unlike her she was strong.

"What is it?" she asked.

She had watched his eyes carefully, exploring through the dark pupils, trying to find some light to his depth and mystery. They showed regret to her, almost sadness. But as always, the bright flicker of primitive excitement.

"Nothing My Lady." he said after a moment. "I can take care of it."

He had left her then, climbing back down into the depths of the castle, to those stinking drains and catacombs, rather being there than with her.

He sat there now, outside the castle, escaped from his prison, in a shallow pool from the canal underneath the bridge. He had scrubbed himself raw, washing all of the blood and filth from his skin. His shirt, or the cloth that was formerly his shirt was beyond wear, and he let it float away with no remorse. The water was so cold from the night before, making him shiver and shudder as he was waist deep in the chill. Servants were doing laundry, for the dye from the cloth ran by him in long ribbons. A single trail of red rain next to the blue, to intermingle into some kind of purple.

"What a time to wash the reds." he grumbled softly.

Shivering, he dressed himself, left now only a raggedy pair of trousers and sat on the slimy rock walkway next to the water. He listened to the rumbling of his stomach as he grew dizzy with hunger. The thought of going back, hell of begging, occurred to him. She owed him, if only a meal. But fear gripped at him. She had to know. He had just killed a royal guard. How would she, the Queen, believe him? But he had done it for her, to protect her. Why? The thought crossed his mind more than once. Did he really have the remotest of feelings for her? Did he -

"Does it matter?" he asked himself aloud. "Damn it does it matter at all?!"

The clanking of soldiers' boots was heard above him, orderly and precise. They were marching. Chanting their droning morale calls. He hid in the shadows as they passed. They were heading into the town, to make it even harder for him to find any food, to get any fresh air. They are her guards, he reminded himself, she sent them out here. It wasn't fear now, it was rage. Rage in his own foolishness. How had he expected the same loyalty in return? There was no such thing as loyalty to them. It was nothing more than a punch line to them.

It was the typical bureaucracy that followed any disaster. Go to the people, so they can see you care. Have more meetings with the generals where you held their hand and told them what to do. Then, meet with the Prime Minister, and listen to his meaningless whining. Finally, retire to the royal quarters, and be faced with tradition and the old reality.

Today, she had to meet with the new Chief Minister, the Prime Minister's underling. (The Prime Minister had left on official business to another area of the country) He was much younger than the PM himself, but he was wise and she had to value his opinion in this time of disaster. The last thing she felt like dealing with was another meeting, another bureaucrat. She was feeling far from herself than usual.

"Is there something wrong?" Ginny asked, in her old, withering voice.

"Nothing." Genevieve replied.

"Where are you, Your Highness?"

"I'm right here Ginny." she answered.

"No, you're somewhere else entirely." the old cook retorted.

"That would be nice." she said, rising from the table.

"Good luck." Ginny said wearily.

She simply nodded and headed to the Throne Room. A man was standing by the door, smoking heavily on a pipe with a scroll under his arm. He bowed to her and opened the door, careful not to blow smoke at her.

"Your Highness, I know this isn't the best time for this, but the Prime Minister expressed to me that I be frank about this. Many of your people, in your government in particular want to see change. They want this problem fixed and they want it fixed now. They are calling for an extermination, which we are not in a position to do, which you know. Many of our neighboring countries have taken measures to-"

"I know all the facts, about this, I have studied it at length. Please continue to something I don't know." Genevieve interrupted.

"We need to control them My Lady. It appears they have forgotten who is superior and who is not. For my perspective, they have taken advantage of your kindness towards them."

"I know." she sighed. "And now look at what has happened. Did this do them any good? Besides, it was only a few riled - savages that sent the whole city into chaos."

"This is so true M' Lady. And perhaps they have seen what these actions give them, but do we want to risk a stronger attack?"

"If we tame them, Minister, we will keep our work force thriving. There is a reason our people are so wealthy, as they don't have to pay their workers. And we all know of the population crisis. Organize work camps." she announced. "What we need is stability and order, and perhaps we can get ourselves back to normal. I still have a whole country to run."

"Yes M' Lady." The Chief Minister replied, but he seemed less than pleased.

They both left the room empty, but neither knew that there was a third party to their conversation.

She had brunch with the duchesses, a treat at the palace for them. Not as if they deserved it, but they weren't good for much else. They were good conversation, completely unrelated to anything diplomatic, or of any real substance. One was being married off to duke in the neighboring province. Her sister was chattering about her new husband and his accomplishments. Another was contemplating having her first child, but was so uncomfortable with the process.

"I mean dear god what is this world coming to." she cried shrilly.

"We should be feeling sorry for you, Your Highness." another said.

"It is unfortunate, but they only pick the tame ones." Genevieve replied, half listening.

"Bunch of savages they all are."

"Wish we could just be rid of them."

She retired to her room, as she hit a mid-day lull. Her mind was far too busy for one person to handle, but it was her job. Her job alone. She had barely closed the door when she was jerked around violently to face him.

"What are you -" she hissed.

"Is that what you think of us, of me? As animals that you have to tame?"

His dark eyes pierced through hers with such an anger it was frightening. She had never felt this fear as her heart jumped to her throat. She backed towards the door, expecting to find it open only to feel the hard wood against her back.

"No, of course not." she pleaded.

He grabbed her hand, stopping her from escaping him. She could remember the strong, rippled body she had seen before, all of the muscles she had taken in, all the scars, even the 145 on his neck. There would be no running from him. She tried to look away from him, to avoid his horrible glare but his large, rough hands forced her delicate face back towards him.
"Is this what you are using me for, some-some charity cause for you to make yourself feel better? Is that all I am to you?" he was just above a whisper now, but not anymore calm.

"No, I-"

"Do you know what I've done for you? Do you have any idea?"

He demanded, holding her even tighter, closer to him. She reached for his hands, both trying to loosen his grip and to hold them, to offer him any kind of solace or comfort. He could never understand the political world she had to live in, that kept her from everything she wanted.

"Yes. It's not like that." she pleaded softly.

Especially him.

But he seemed deaf to her words and numb to her pleads. He was overcome with rage, all the pain he had been feeling so long. Why did she bring everything out in him? She already owned him, she was the reason for all of this. She was so tantalizing, so addictive, but she was one he could never have.

"Do you even see me, that I'm a man the same as them? Hell even better? I can't give you all that they can but I can give you what you really need."

"I know." she choked, her voice lost in her throat.

Her lips seemed so inviting as they lay slightly open from disbelief. He looked down her body, taking advantage of their proximity. The stiff collar of her dress couldn't hide the beautifully full bosom it held from him. He could hear her barely breathing while he was taking in all of her, her look, her smell, her touch. She watched him hopefully, wanting him to do something, anything. She wanting him to wrap her into his strong arms, but -. Did it matter anymore? The branded numbers on his neck and arm were a solemn warning, a reminder of the taboo.

Their eyes met awkwardly after they realized the silence that had engulfed them. She closed her eyes as he lifted her chin up to him. He had to, he couldn't let this moment go.

So, he took the dive.

As everything he did, it was strong, powerful. His lips reached out for hers, pressing for entry into her mouth. She loved the stiff, prickly hair on his cheeks that gently tickled her face. She loved the scent that always surrounded him, despite the work and places he had to endure. Their tongues wrapped around one another as he began to lose himself with her. His hands wandered freely, yes freely along her body. He could feel her breasts spilling over the stiff bustier, her wide, full hips. He began to hastily lift up her dress as she wrapped her arms around his neck, brushing his numbers.

He yanked himself away from her, touching his lips trying to replace the pressure he had suddenly lost.

"What is it?" she asked. "What's wrong?"

"Everything's wrong." he scoffed, running his hands nervously through his hair as he turned back to her. "You-you don't see me. You don't want me. You want what's in my pants. That's all I am, a machine for you people. Then you'll just toss me back to the damn sharks."

"You people? Is that what I am to you?" she said questioningly in disbelief. "Now I can't imagine what you have gone through, I can't even pretend. But you're a machine? What do you think I am? I'm a baby maker, that's all I am. I have to have a child by my twenty-seventh birthday or I am dethroned. I lose everything, everything." She tried to hold him but he pushed her away, refusing to even look at her. She sighed. "We live in different worlds. You have no idea what mine is like."

At this he scoffed "You're right, I can't imagine having servants to do my bidding. My only job being to look beautiful and important and prance around for all to see. No, I can't understand."

"You're cruel. If nothing else you're cruel." she said coldly. "Get out of my sight. I don't want to see on my grounds again."

I am sorry for the delay but writer's block is a bitch you know.