Charde looked extremely strong; with his tall build, powerful muscles, and battle scars running down his bare chest and face. The origin of his name, char, was shown in the way his black hair was streaked with brilliant orange blazes.
Raine shifted the blunted sword in her hand before crouching down and holding the blade in front of her with two hands. Charde took this as a sign to commence, as he rushed at her, storming right past her as she sidestepped out of the way. The crowd booed, but Raine tuned them out as Charde spun around, panting like an angry bull with blazing eyes.
He rushed at her again, but this time Raine was not quick enough to dodge, and his blade crashed down at her, sending spears of pain lancing down her arms as Charde's sword pushed down on hers.
Her knees began to shake.
Charde was a much stronger fighter, but Raine had the advantage in speed. She let her knees buckle, and rolled through Charde's spread legs! Charde hesitated a moment in surprise, but by the time Raine had risen to her feet, he had spun around and was landing blows on her. She barely managed to defend herself, her arms starting to freeze up due to the powerful blows.
Raine weathered the storm and, miraculously, Charde's attacks started to slow, sweat poring off his forehead and sometimes into his eyes. In a particularly sluggish blow, Raine was able to bring her sword up and smash it against the hilt, crushing a few fingers.
Charde howled in pain, dropping the sword. Raine brought her sword up to his throat, lightening fast.
"Dead," she whispered. Charde stopped all his movement completely frozen in shock that a woman had beaten him. A woman!
Hearing of the outside world slowly came back to her, and she could hear the cheering of the crowd. It was the women who were mostly cheering, a good number of the men not cheering at all, immobile in disbelief.
She pivoted until she met the eyes of Guntin. She chucked her sword on the ground, where it skittered across the ground to lay before his feet.
"I'll be taking what I need from your stores and leaving," she deadpanned.
She walked out of the circle of people, heading for an orange tent that looked as if it held food.
"That was quite the performance," Anthony commented, as they made their way down the relatively gentle slope.
Raine just shrugged. She was feeling much more comfortable in Anthony's presence than before. Before, she would continuously be on edge, waiting for a sharp remark to come her way.
They rode in silence for a while before Anthony broke it.
"What was your life like back in your world?"
She thought for a moment before answering. "I was the Marquis second daughter. It was not as glamorous as people seem to believe. I was living in my sister's shadow, but I did not begrudge that. Whilst she loved going to court and flirting with all the eligible men, I would rather be curled up next to the fire reading a book, or out riding on my horse Sungrass. I found court boring and trivial, and the way all the ladies fought over the Crown Prince! It was disgusting! He was just a self-absorbed brat, not even taking an interest in the country he would eventually rule!" She paused and took a deep breath, trying to get herself to stop her angry tirade. "What is the Crown Prince like here? I heard he ran away. Sure, if I were destined to rule I would think of running away, especially with a father like that! But I would think of the people first. The people seem to be suffering, looking malnourished. Running away is a bit selfish, don't you think?"
"Maybe he ran away to help the people! Do you have any idea how hard it is to keep up with the court games? The pressure drove me mad!" Anthony burst out. "Well… That's what I… heard," he finished lamely.
Raine was taken aback by his outburst. What would make him defend the prince so steadfastly? He obviously was caught up in the 'court games' as well. She felt a shot of pity pass through her.
I know exactly what he means, how tiring it is to continuously be on your guard…
Raine was silent after that.
The next day, Bellus was within their sights. She could only see it when they crested a rise, but the glimpses she gathered showed that the city was magnificent. It lay spread lazily across a wide, gentle sloping valley. The tiny rooftops looked like a myriad scattered gems, all of them glittering and glistening in the sunlight.
Raine looked around, noticing the many different people heading into the city; the farmers with their mournful, depressed faces; the fat merchants sitting astride their glamorous horses; the reclusive nobles, peering through the rich velvet curtain of their curtains every now and then; gypsies and entertainers wearing their brilliant, vivid costumes.
The crowd slowly grew, until the sped slowed right down. They topped another rise, and Raine caught her first long look at Bellus. She gasped and reined her horse, ignoring the muttered obscenities aimed her way. Anthony stopped next to her, with a small, prideful look on his face.
The city looked even more magnificent close up. She could spot the brightly coloured stores lining the road, and the millions of people crowding the streets, dressed in countless different colours. The palace was by far the most astounding. It sat in the very middle of the city, all the streets leading up to it. It looked as if it was projecting its own rainbows, and Raine couldn't look at it for long, especially with the sun shining right at it. Four tall turrets rose from the main castle, reaching up as if to poke the sky. Banners flew from the tops of each of the towers. The flags were half blue, half gold, with a crown dangling from a sword bisecting the two.
All together, it was a magnificent site.
"It's beautiful isn't it? This is the country's pride, it's heart. You'll see more of it in the days following, but we had best hurry now before the people get more aggressive," Anthony murmured, nudging his horse forward. Raine followed, still dazed by the enchanting beauty of the city.
Once at the gates, Anthony again hypnotized the guards, and they barely flinched as they made their way through.
The exotic smells and raucous sounds of the city hit Raine as she rode through the gate. Breathing in, she could smell thousands of different scents: the sweet smell of honey and flowers, the luxurious smell of freshly cooked bread, the tangy smell of a multitude of spices.
Vendors were everywhere, yelling out their wares with massive flourishes.
Raine looked ahead and saw Anthony. It would be very easy to lose oneself in a crowd this big, and she had no plans of loosing Anthony. A slight panic went through her when she lost sight of him, but when she turned the corner she caught site of him again, weaving through the crowd.
Raine couldn't remember how long they were riding through city for, so caught up in the beauty of it all. She almost went past the inn where Anthony had stopped and was walking his horse through a small gate. Raine quickly caught up with him, and they handed their horses to two waiting stable boys, who quickly went about their duties when Anthony gave them a few gold coins.
Anthony paid for a room and they went up the stairs, passing doors until reaching their room. It wasn't overly rich or dirty, just had a sort of homey feel to it. Raine spotted the big bed dominating the room and ran towards it, leaping onto it and landing on the soft feather stuffed bed with a content sigh.
"Bellus really is amazing," she breathed, her first words since entering the city.
"Yes, it is. You look really tired, you should get some sleep," he said, his eyes boring straight into hers. Raine twisted uncomfortably.
"I'm actually not all that tired. I would quite like to explore—"
"And end up like last time. Nay, I think you are tired." His eyes again pierced her, and she could feel herself begin to get extremely sleepy.
"Actually, I kind of am…"
She was fast asleep before her head touched the pillow.
A/N: I'm sooooo sorry everyone!! I know I haven't updated for about five weeks but I can explain!! My brother broke my laptop, so it had to be repaired…. Good enough excuse? Believe it!
Thanks to all the reviews and especially Soccer Diva with that wonderful email! That made me update this story, rather than my other ones!!!!!