BOOK II:

By Order of the King

By: Amanda Pate

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PROLOGUE: OF MOURNING AND MARRIAGE

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"Push!" Etta encouraged the young woman lying on the bed. She was swollen with the small life within her and had been screaming for the last eight hours while enduring labor pains.

"It hurts so much!" Grevaine cried as another contraction gripped her body. Her hands, white with pressure, clung tightly to the blanket adorning her bed.

"The baby is crowning, my lady. Only a few more pushes and it will all be over." She called above the shrill screams of the mother, "On three; one, two, three!"

Soon all the physical pain was over and in Etta's arms lay a small child, red from the birthing and full of wailing that filled the entire manor. The midwife took the newborn over toward a wash basin and gently washed the infant with wet cloths along with rubbing salt on the skin to keep out infection.

Etta stared down at the wee babe in her arms and immediately felt love gush from her heart. The child's skin was flawless, wails loud and proud, and already showing an unbelievable long fuzz of red hair upon the brow.

After wrapping the child in fresh linens, she turned back to the woman in the bed. Her dark hair was matted with sweat but in her eyes shown all the excitement of the world.

"Boy or girl?" She asked, eager to know. Grevaine had wanted a girl ever since Etta had delivered her first son some ten years ago. The midwife smiled down at the exhausted yet glowing woman, "She is beautiful, my lady." Etta placed the little baby girl in her mother's arms and as Grevaine stared widely and animatedly at the child, Etta began cleaning her up.

At the sound of a baby's scream, the door creaked open to reveal Gareth, Lord of the manor and husband to the Lady Grevaine. He stepped fully inside and softly shut the door behind him. "What is it?" he asked cautiously, almost seeming afraid to know the answer.

"It's a girl, Gareth; a lovely baby girl!" She held out the wailing bundle for him to hold, eyes glimmering with pride. "Come, hold her."

Lord Gareth came closer and reached for the child to place her gently in his arms. As he took hold of the baby, Grevaine let out a blood curdling scream of pain and both arms flung from Gareth and the baby to clench her abdomen in agony.

Etta cursed in her native language as she began reaching for clean cloths, her hands drenched in blood from the hemorrhaging. Etta looked up at Grevaine, who made eye contact with her. Gareth's panicked cries seemed to become background noise as the silent message was sent between the women's eyes.

There was not much time.

Grevaine turned suddenly to her husband, "Gareth, listen to me." She said calmly and sleepily, lifting her hand to cover his cheek to let it drift down upon the baby. "Anna. That is her name. Promise me, Gareth."

Her husband's eyes swam with unshed tears as the full extent of the situation came crashing down around him. He looked to Etta and then back to his dying wife, "Everything's going to be alright. You'll be fine, I promise." He answered, grappling for any reassurance he could.

Etta watched the couple as the mother's words became more hushed and the pallor of her face dipped to white.

"Grevaine! Do not leave me!" The woman's eyelids slid shut as energy left her, but before she passed on, she whispered one word, "Anna."

"NO!" Gareth cried in anguish, making the baby's screams reach new heights. In one arm he held the babe and with the other he held his wife's body to his.

Etta watched the scene as tears rushed down her face. There was nothing she could do; nothing to bring her back. She watched the emotion run over the man's face; Lord Gareth clutched Grevain's body and rocked her in time to his sobs as he held the new life in his other arm.

She walked over toward the man and rested a gentle hand on his shoulder. "She's gone, my lord." Without looking up at her, he placed Grevaine's body back down on the bed, brushing back her damp hair back from her face. She looked as if she were asleep, her dark hair made her look even that more pale. The widow stood back, away from her; his eyes were blank as he looked between his dead wife and his squealing newborn child. He stood there only a short moment before holding out the crying infant to the midwife.

Etta took the little girl instinctively and cradled her in the crook of her arm as she watched Lord Gareth silently walk out of the room, leaving the door open and behind it, and in the hall, stood two boys: Allen and Arik.

Etta's heart broke for the children of the Lucretian Manor. She used to think that nothing could be worse than losing a parent, but she looked down at the child in her arms, "Anna," She repeated her name through the tears cascading down her cheeks and she couldn't help but think, Nothing could be worse than your birthday being forever remembered as your mother's death. Today should be a day of rejoicing, not of death and mourning.

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22 years later

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The king of Riversiege sat at his hand crafted desk in his study, signing different documents, when a knock at the door disrupted his thoughts, "Your majesty, you summoned me?"

This was true enough; he had summoned his advisor about fifteen minutes ago. "Yes, come in." The king commanded passively as he set his quill by the ink well on his desk.

The man entered, his green and gold robe billowing lightly on the floor behind him. "How may I be of service?" He asked dipping his upper body in respect to his monarch.

He began without hesitation, "I have been thinking about those two brothers in my Guard. They both have impressed me greatly, not only with their skill in armed combat but with their loyalty to the crown. I want to bestow on them titles within my rank. What say you to this?"

"Are you referring to Allen and Arik of the Lucretian Manor, your majesty?" his gray-haired advisor asked intuitively. The king only nodded, waiting for the man's response.

"They are strong fighters for the realm, sire. I believe that is a very redeemable quality, especially in these dark times as men leave the Guard to follow the many bands of raiders." He replied, folding his arms and hiding both hands within the opposite sleeve.

"I thought as much myself. Are there any more brothers in that family of whom I should be aware?" The king asked, looking down at the papers that awaited his signature.

"Only a daughter, sire; Anna, I believe her name is."

"Is she married?"

"No, sire; she is neither married nor spoken for. I believe that she is still living in her father's household, your majesty." The king nodded, grateful that his advisor always knew the information he sought.

The king sat in thought for a long moment as he tried piecing together a plan that tugged at the edge of his mind. He needed more strong men to fight in his Guard since many were abandoning the realm for the countless bands of raiders hiding throughout the highlands. But in order to ensure good men, good breeding must be involved.

An idea began to form in his mind, "Have a missive sent to both Lord Gareth of the Lucretian Manor and Sir Tristan of Briarson. Relay the message that Lady Anna and Sir Tristan are to wed by the end of this month. They both come from lines of good breeding and I'm sure they will, in time, be able to provide the realm with hardy men that will serve underneath their king."

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A/N: I know it's been long awaited!!!! Are you so completely stoked? I am!! Of course, this is only the prologue… I know such a teaser! I have chapter 1 written out. I am hoping to get as many chapters out as I can before school starts on the 20th (when school starts). I am transferring to a new university this fall semester, so I'm hoping that will not cramp into my writing time, but if it does, please forgive me! I love all you guys and I can't wait to hear your feedback! ^_^