“You have done a lot of stupid things in your day Doranand, but I never thought I would live to see the day where you would do something this bold.” said one of the soldiers coming off his horse.
Doranand stiffened as it seemed that recognised the speaker. He dropped his hands from behind him and turned around. "Father?” he asked.
Milos turned to face the soldier who had taken off his helm. The family resemblance between the two was obvious. Handsome seemed to run in that family. Apart from the slightly greying hair and a few well-placed wrinkles, father and son looked exactly alike.
“Lord Whitby,” said Aliana who look partly relieved, part sad but completely unhinged as she had been interrupted midway her most recent tirade.
“Your Highness,” he bowed and then turned back to his son. “From what I hear I should probably be bowing to you too son. Congratulations on your marriage.” said the man as he placed his arm around his son.
The muscles in Doran’s jaw tensed but he didn’t say anything. The earl continued. “I had always hoped that you would gain the favour of the princess. When you told me that you would, I had my doubts since Arro-Bar was already making an alliance with Chrisoncor but you really came through for our family. No one will dare question the strength of the house of Whitby when you become king.”
“Doran, what is your father talking about?” said the princess as she came closer to the two men. “What did he mean by you told him that you would win my favour? Was that what our friendship was about?”
“Clearly it was.” whispered Milos who had taken his hand from behind his head but kept close to his horse.
He stepped away from his father and took hold of her shoulders, which had slumped slightly from the betrayal. “Not entirely. You are my friend Aliana.”
“But that wasn’t good enough, you also wanted to be my king.” she said sounding slightly broken. Milos almost felt sorry for the girl who was obviously still naive to the machinations of the court. “You never intended to accompany me to Nilian did you? You were going to bring me to Whitby. That’s why your father is here isn’t it?”
“Yes, I couldn’t in good conscience allow you to cross the border and endanger your life for naught.”
“It wasn’t for naught, I thought you more than anyone else understood that, understood me.” she looked into his eyes looking for something or someone who wasn’t there.
“Aliana be reasonable.”
“Don’t you dare call me that! It is Your Highness to you.” she said as she pulled away from him. She wiped away a tear and straightened her shoulders before turning to face Lord Whitby. “I am sorry my lord that you and your men took the trouble to come and collect your son and me. I have no intention of accompanying you to Whitby. You and the rest of the court are under the misconception that I had eloped with Lord Doranand, but as he can tell you that such rumours are false. He and I are not engaged and the chances of us getting married are at this time non-existent.”
“I knew the rumours were fake.” said Milos still leaning on his horse.
Lord Whitby glared at his son, but his resolve was not deterred as another wicked plan had formed in his mind. “You may not be wife to my son as yet, Your Highness but you will be.”
“I fail to understand you my lord?” said Aliana who Milos thought to her credit looked unintimidated by the earl.
“You are queen in waiting, but also a maiden who spent a week unchaperoned by my very healthy and virile son. It would be hard to convince the court that nothing happened between you two.”
“And nothing did.” she said still steady but it was hard to hide the blush creeping up her neck.
“No one would want to marry someone with a tarnished reputation.”
Milos knew that he should keep quiet and mind his own business, but the princess had backed herself into a corner and was about to be devoured whole by this man.
He strode over to the group and came to stand by the princess. “Usually for any other maiden or lady of the court that would indeed be true, but Princess Aliana is going to be queen. Any man having ambition would marry a maiden, even one no longer in possession of a maiden head, if it gives him the opportunity to rule. All one would have to do is wait a couple of months to ensure that she isn’t with child, as it would be quite scandalous for the heir to be a bastard, I would imagine.”
The older man’s eyes narrowed as he looked over at Milos. “And you are?” he sneered.
“Milos. Magistrate and thief at your service my lord.” he said bowing slightly.
“None of this concerns you.” said Doranand who had suddenly regained his voice.
“It does, since it involves two men trying to force marriage upon the future queen of this country. That my fellow soldiers should concern you since this here bony lass can have your heads for treason if you aid this attempt at kidnapping.” he shouted so the others could hear.
There was an uncomfortable murmuring among the men.
“No one is kidnapping anyone. The princess is free to leave on her own accord.” said the earl.
“Very well then. Princess after you.” he said pointing her towards the horses. To his great relief she didn’t hesitate to leave. Milos was quick on her heels mounting his own roan mare.
“You would rather leave with an admitted thief and liar than to marry me!” shouted Doranand.
“Thief he might be but liar he is not, well most of the times. At least with him I know what I am walking into. Goodbye Doranand.” she said as she spurred her horse forward.
Milos looked back at the men and then followed her into the trees. “Did I just hear correctly, or did you just quote me Your Highness?” he said after catching up to her.
“Not in the mood Milos.” she said as she pushed the horse into a gallop.