Book 1 The Queens of Love and Beauty

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fourteen.

March the 26th 281.

One Month and Three Weeks Pregnant.

Ashford, the Tower of Joy.

Helen, Merlin’s mother, stood before my father and the court in the throne room. My father sat on his kings chair, looking down at the woman. I stood beside Lya, not too close, as people had began to talk badly of our relationship, hence why my father had crowned Rhaegar as Prince.

Helen was from Nightsong, we ruled most of Dorne, we ruled from Ashford to Sandstone. We ruled all these places; Ashford, Nightsong, Kingsgrave, Blackmont, Starfall and Sandstone.

“The winters are harsh in Cider Hall, and there are many little children. Some of them just won’t be strong enough to survive. We barely have enough food as it is, and if Kanen takes our harvest, our children won’t live to see another week. Please, please, we need your help.” Helen said to the council.

“Cider Hall is in Cenred’s lands, not ours. Your safety is his responsibility.” My father said.

“We’ve appealed to our Lord, but he cares little for the outlying regions. You’re our only hope.”

“I have the deepest sympathy for you and would have this barbarian wiped off the face of the earth.”

“You’ll help us then?”

“I wish I could.”

“Surely we can spare a few men?” Rhaegar asked.

“Resources are not the problem.”

“Then what is?” Lya asked.

“For an army of Ashford to enter it would be an act of war.”

Helen dropped to her knees. “I know you’re a good king, a caring man as well. I’m begging you, help us, please.” Helen said.

“The accord we’ve struck with Cenred was years in the making. I cannot risk hundreds of lives for the sake of one village. I’m afraid Ashford cannot help.”

Lya glared at my father and escorted Helen out. I walked after them, Gwen beside me.

Rhaegar and myself looked out over Ashford. Merlin joined us, smiling at me handsomely. I gave him a friendly hug.

“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. If it were up to me, we’d be on our way there now.” Rhaegar said, as Merlin and I looked at him.

“You tried, Rhaegar. And thank you for getting an audience with the King.” Merlin said.

“I wish that Ashford was able to help people regardless of how far away they lived.”

“I’m going back to Cider Hall.”

“Of course. You too I imagine?!” He looked at me, I nodded back.

“It’s been an honor serving you.”

“You’ll be coming back.”

“Well, she’s my mother. I have got to look after her before anyone else. You understand?”

“I’d do exactly the same. Well, you’ve been terrible. Really, I mean that a lot. The worst servant I’ve ever had.”

“Thank you, Your Grace.”

“Merlin, Roxy. Good luck.”

Later.

Gwen and Merlin were in Gwen’s house, Lya and myself had changed, and were stood inside the doorway. Gwen was helping Merlin a pack for his trip. Gwen handed Merlin a sword. He started to reach for the blade and she sucked in her breath. Merlin grabbed the hilt of the blade.

“Tell me how it feels?” Gwen asked.

“Yeah. Yeah that feel...that feels really good. It’s very, em, you know...swordy.” Merlin said.

Gwen raised her eyebrows. “I’ve packed some armor for you.”

“I won’t be able to carry all that.”

“You won’t have to. We’re coming with you.” Lya said.

“What do you mean?”

“You’re going to need all the help you can get. I can mend armor and sharpen swords.” Gwen said.

“And I know how to fight.” Lya said.

“But y-y-you can’t. I mean, why would you?” Merlin said.

“If it was the other way around, you’d help us. You already have. You saved my life.” Gwen said.

“And you helped me get the Druid boy out of Ashford and home. We owe it to you. Both of us.”

Myself on my snow white horse, Lya on her snow white horse, Gwen, Helen and Merlin all rode for Cider Hall. Lya and myself rode beside each other, with direwolves behind the horses racing behind us as we rode.

At night, Merlin and I sat at the campfire with his mother, the others were asleep.

“They shouldn’t be here. Especially the Lady Lyanna.” Helen said, knowing I could take care of myself, and always had. “Isn’t she the King’s ward?”

“Not that you’d know it. She’s one of the two people I know who isn’t frightened of him.” Merlin said.

“It won’t make any difference to Kanen that they’re women.”

“I know. But I couldn’t talk them out of coming.”

Merlin looked at his mother’s face, looking at the healing bruise on her face. Touching it softly, then pulling his hand away.

“I want to make him pay for what he did to you.” Merlin said.

“Promise me you’ll be careful. No one can find out about you.” Helen said.

“I know about him.” I said.

“No one else will. They never do.” Merlin said.

“Get some rest.” Helen said.

Helen then went to lay down. Merlin took a burning stick from the fire and blew some flecks into the air. The glowing flecks took the shape of a dragon. I sat down beside him, looking at it, smiling at its beauty. I looked at Merlin.

“It’s beautiful. I have magic myself.” I said, then putting my hand out, palm down, and blew, creating a bigger dragon, red as rubies.

“Does your father know?” Merlin asked.

“What would he do if he knew, Merlin? Do you think he would just turn the other check because I’m his daughter? He won’t! He would kill me like he has killed so many with magic. Rhaegar and I are mine and...a friend’s only hope of being able to use our magic for good. We do not wish to use it for evil.”

“I don’t wish to use mine to evil, either. I don’t use it for bad. I have always used it for good.”

“I know you have. You don’t have to make a case with me. I’m not the one wanting to kill every magician in the whole world. That...that goes to my father.”

“Would you let your father die, if you knew that magic would be restored in the world?”

“Yes.”

Someone put against my back. I turned and I saw Rhaegar, and he put the sword in its scabbard. Rhaegar sat down next to me, hugging me lovingly.

“How much further to Cider Hall is it?” Rhaegar asked.

“Er, maybe a few hours.” Merlin said.

“How many men does Kanen have?”

“Er, I’m not sure. I think, from what my mother said, maybe as many as forty.”

“You should get some rest. It’s going to be a long day tomorrow, I can promise you that.”

“Thank you. Er, I know you didn’t have to come.”

“Get some sleep.”


March the 26th 281.

Rhaegar, myself, Merlin, Lya, Gwen and Helen all rode for Cider Hall that morning. Rhaegar threw a sword into the post behind Kanen as we arrived, dismounted, fighting the bandits. Merlin rode up and dismounted too.

“Kill them!” Kanen said.

Merlin fought a bandit. Merlin was caught against a door in his sword fight, myself watching as I took out my first man. I stopped, watching him.

The bandit’s sword heated up. The bandit watched him, then dropping his sword. Merlin killed him. A bandit attacked Rhaegar from behind, but Lya parried and killed him.

“Bring back memories of when I used to beat you?” Lya asked to Rhaegar.

“That never happened.” Rhaegar said.

Kanen mounted. “You’ll pay for this with your lives! All of you will pay with your lives!” Kanen said.

“Merlin! Gather the villagers, I need to talk to them.”

“Yeah, in a minute. I’m just talking...” Merlin said.

“Now, Merlin. There isn’t much time.”

“Yes, Your Grace.”

Rhaegar addressed the villagers, who now stood in front of him; men and women both. “I know Kanen’s kind. He’ll be back. And when he is, you must be ready for him. First of all, we have to prepare for...”

“Am I the only one wondering who the hell this is?” Some kid said, his name Will, I think.

"I’m Prince Rhaegar of...now...of the Tower of Joy.”

“Keep quiet, Will. He’s here to help us.” Helen said.

“But he’s made things worse. Kanen will be back, and when he is, he’ll be looking for revenge. You’ve just signed our death warrants.” Will said.

“He saved Matthew’s life!”

“That’s alright, Helen. This is his village. What would you have us do, Will?” Rhaegar said.

“We can’t fight against Kanen. He has too many men.” Will said.

“So what’s the alternative?”

“Give him what he wants.”

“Then what? Those of you who don’t starve to death will face him again next harvest! And the harvest after that.”

“We’ll manage. We’ll survive.”

“How?” Villagers called out.

“The only way he can be stopped is if you stand up to him.” Rhaegar said.

“No. You just want the honor and glory of battle! That’s what drives men like you! Look, if you want to fight, then go home and risk lives of your own people, not ours!” Will said.

“Will.” Merlin said.

“I’ll follow you. If I’m to die, then I want to go out fighting.” Helen said.

“That goes for me too.” Matthew, one of the villagers said.

“You can count me in.” Another man said.

“I’m in.” A woman said.

“Me too!” Another villager said.

“Yeah!” Villagers said.

Later.

Most of the party that had come from Ashford were sleeping. Myself, Rhaegar and Merlin were laying awake.

“Have you always slept on the floor?” Rhaegar asked Merlin.

“Yeah. The bed I’ve got at the Tower of Joy’s a luxury by comparison.” Merlin said.

“Must’ve been hard.”

“Mm. It’s like rock.”

“I didn’t mean the ground. I mean, for you. It must’ve been difficult for you.”

“Mm. Not really. I didn’t know any different. Life’s simple out here, Rhaegar. You eat what you grow and everyone pitches in together. As long as you’ve got food on the table and a roof over your head, you’re happy.”

“Sounds...nice.”

“You’d hate it.”

“No doubt. Why’d you leave?”

“Things just...changed.”

“How? Come on, stop pretending to be interesting. Tell me.”

“I just didn’t fit in anymore. I wanted to find somewhere that I did.”

“Had any luck?”

“I’m not sure yet.”

“We’ll start training the men tomorrow. It’s gonna be a long day. Get the candle.”


March the 27th 281.

Lya and I dressed ourselves, putting on the little armor we did have, while Rhaegar was dressed by Merlin. Lya looked over, smiled at me then smiled at Rhaegar.

“You still not learned how to dress yourself?” Lya asked.

“You don’t have a dog and fetch the stick yourself. No offense, Merlin.” Rhaegar said.

“None taken.” Merlin said.

“Right. Let’s get going. We need wood, and lots of it.”

“Of course.” Merlin said.

Later Rhaegar was training the village men. I was knelt with Lya, watching him.

“I will not be able to teach you everything there is to know about fighting with a sword or sticks in your hands, but you can learn the basics: the stance, how to parry a blow, how to land your own. On my count! One! Two! Three! Four! Now, you may have to watch for the feint. So, keep your feet moving, and only stay in range long enough to land your blow. And again. One! Two! Three! Four!” Rhaegar said to them.

Lya, myself and Gwen watched the training as we sharpened swords, myself sharpening my own.

“One! Two! Three! Four!” Rhaegar said.

“There is no way they’re going to be able to hold Kanen off on their own.” Lya said.

“Men aren’t the only ones who can fight.” Gwen said.

“Again. One! Two! Three! Matthew. I want you to organize sentry duty to keep an eye out for Kanen and his men.” Rhaegar said.

“Be glad to.” Matthew said.

“If there’s any sign of attack, I want you to ride straight back here when your done. I don’t want you fighting all on your own.”

Later Rhaegar drew water from the well to drink. I took a cup and drank deeply. Rhaegar took his own cup to his lips and drank his own drink, slowly.

“Looks like the battle’s already fought and lost.” Lya said.

“They’ll toughen up.” Rhaegar said.

“They need to.” Gwen said.

“How are we doing for weapons?” Rhaegar asked, then taking another sip of his water.

“There isn’t much, but we should be able to scrape together what you need.” Lya said.

“It’s not the weapons that worry us though. It’s having enough people to use them. We think that the women should be allowed to fight as well as the men.” Gwen said.

“You haven’t enough men. If they were trained soldiers, maybe you’d stand a chance, but they’re not.”

“It’s too dangerous.” Rhaegar said, then walking away towards the resting men who were being trained to fight for us in the coming battle ahead. “Right, you lot! Back on your feet! Come on, let’s go! Let’s go!”


March the 28th 281.

Rhaegar spoke to the men. “We’re not going to be able to defend Cider Hall with sword and sinew alone. We’re going to need a good plan. We need to find some way of limiting their mobility and drawing them into a trap. If we fight them on their terms, then...” Rhaegar was saying when he was interrupted.

A village woman screamed. Rhaegar and the men rushed outside to investigate. Matthew was slung over a horse. The village men took Matthew down as villagers gathered around. Rhaegar read the note that was on the arrow in Matthew’s back.

“What does it say?” Merlin asked.

“Make the most of this day, it will be your last.” Rhaegar said.

“You did this! Look what you’ve done! You’ve killed him!” Will said.

“It wasn’t his fault.” Merlin said.

“If he hadn’t been strutting around, treating us like his own personal army, this would never have happened!”

“These men are brave enough to fight for what they believe in, even if you aren’t!” Rhaegar said.

“You’re sending them to their graves! You killed one man already. How many more need to die before you realize this is a battle that can’t be won? When Kanen comes, you haven’t got a chance. You’re gonna be slaughtered.”

Later, that night, Rhaegar gathered the men and women of the village, and addressed them.

“Tomorrow morning, the women and children should gather what belongings they can carry and go to the woods.” Rhaegar said.

“We’re not going anywhere!” Gwen said.

“I know you want to help. The women can’t stay here. It’s too dangerous.”

“The women here have as much right to fight for their lives as the men do!”

“But none of you know how to fight.”

“The more of us there are, the better chance we stand!”

“This is your home. If you want to fight to defend it, that’s your choice, not my own. I’d be honored to stand alongside you. Kanen attacks tomorrow. Kanen’s brutal. He fights only to kill, which is why he will never defeat us. Look around. In this circle, we’re all equals. You’re not fighting because someone’s ordering you to, you’re fighting for so much more than that. You fight for your homes. You fight for your family. You fight got your friends. You fight for the right to grow crops in peace. And if you fall, you fall fighting for the noblest of causes: fighting for your very right to survive! And when you’re old and grey, you’ll look back on this day, and you’ll know you earned the right to live every day in between! So what you do is fight! For your family! For your friends! For Cider Hall!”


March the 29th 281.

We all dressed for battle. Merlin struggling into his armor. Rhaegar helped him, smiling, nicely. Myself and Lya came in, seeing them in a brotherly hug.

“Rhaegar. They’ve crossed the river.” Lya said.

Rhaegar, Merlin, myself and Lya went down the line of villagers, shaking hands. Rhaegar stood against Kanen, and killed him, Rhaegar saw that someone had used magic, but they had said it was Merlin’s friend, Will. We rode back to the Tower of Joy.

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