Guarded Love

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Chapter 50: Endgame

Cade was out in the field when the first raven dove through the sky. The band around its leg denoted it was carrying a message, the black color said it wasn’t good. Without anyone questioning it, he shot the bird down before it finished its flight to the castle.

“King Alistair gravely injured. Near death. Send reinforcements quickly.”

Crumpling the note up and tossing it to the fire, he kicked the dead bird into the dirt, snagged the best horse the palace owned and headed towards the west. He’d never been privy to the King’s private getaways, the leader of an army not what one wanted while off doing whatever decadent and immoral thing royalty got up to. But Cade knew how to find it, knew every tiny hamlet and small shack that cropped up across Ferelden.

Pulling the horse to a standstill, he tumbled off the thing three days after snagging the raven out of the sky. Others had flown above him, a few he shot down and left to rot where they landed, but some slipped past. There’d be people on his heels, the Chancellor no doubt taking the message followups seriously and perhaps wondering what happened to the first. But they didn’t know Ferelden the way Cade did. They sat in their tea parlors and glass houses sipping the wine carted out of the fields off the backs of men like Cade.

A handful of servants scurried back and forth in the courtyard of the lodge. Most didn’t bat an eye at the man in uniform, but one of the larger types was left in front of the door.

He extended a hand out and said, “No one’s allowed to enter unless they’ve already got clearance.”

“Clearance?” Cade snickered, “Listen here, boy. I’m the blighted Royal Commander and there ain’t a scrap of this land I’m not allowed on.”

“Uh,” he squeaked, glancing over his shoulder as if someone more superior would back him up.

Growling, Cade shoved his arm into the kid’s side. The boy skidded away, unable to stop the man peering around the place. Chairs sat clustered around a fire, but no one sat in them. He wouldn’t be there, they’d have him somewhere secure -- the biggest bedroom, of course. Hauling up the stairs two at a time, Cade counted his steps. He’d spotted the fancy pants giant glass window outside which had to be for the master bedroom.

Right smack dab in the middle of the lodge, so servants could scuttle from one end of the place back to it lickety split. This had to be it. He closed his fist and drew out the sword, grabbing onto his scabbard to silence the sound. No one else roamed the hall, a lucky break. Get in, and finish this quick. He’d find a good story for why he came out here in the first place later.

Drawing the blade tight to his chest, Cade pressed an ear to the door. Voices broke through the wood: one unknown, one annoyingly familiar, and the last one right on the other side. That cursed woman, how in the Maker’s name did she wind up here? Then again, perhaps it was the Maker’s own grace that led her here, to allow Cade to finish this all in one go.

More of the inane chatter erupted behind the door, when Cade grabbed onto the latch and yanked it forward. Shoving with his shoulder, he caught glimpses of the participants in the room but his real prize barely stepped away before he grabbed onto those bird-like arms and drew his steel to her elfy neck.

Silence clattered through the room as Cade kicked a foot against the door to slam it shut behind him. Some tiny servant stood back in the shadows, a hood drawn over the head, but she wasn’t important. No, all his focus was upon the man sitting up in bed.

Alistair.

That penurious, addlepated bastard was still alive. Sure, he looked like shit, his skin drawn and sallow with bloodied bandaged wrapped around his gut but somehow he was still breathing. And Cade had a pretty good idea he knew why.

“Commander, what do you think you’re doing?” the bastard asked.

“What I should have done months ago. What any right thinking Ferelden would have done a year into your reign. What is right for the good of this country and its future,” Cade snarled. The elf tried to worm out of his grip, but he drew the blade tighter to her neck and she froze. He expected to find a puddle of piss curling down her boots -- they weren’t a very hearty stock.

Cade wanted to see fear in the King’s eyes, but all the man could manage was to look disappointed as he sighed, “You did it. For the love of the Maker, Cade. Why? I trusted you, put my security in your hands. My kid’s.”

Cade sneered. He’d worked on the plan for nearly a year. Threaten the King’s life with some easily dispatched assassins who would never finish the job, let Brunt get close, learn the bastard’s movements and ferret out the quickest and easiest way to dispatch him. Finding the pointless street scum to put the blame on was easy, and there’d even been a few convenient scapegoats in those frilly ambassadors he could point the finger at if the King ever grew a brain. But no, all that work, all that planning down the drain because of her.

Because of that knife-eared bitch in heat. She stumbled into it on accident, forcing Cade to have to take out the assassin himself with his crossbow. Which turned the Zea Dogs, who were tired of their own taking a fire nap, on him. Fearing one of them would talk, Cade had to secure his future. It was a pity about the mage, having a maleficarum in his back pocket had done wonders over the years for his career. But that fucking rock chewer of a spymaster was circling the dogs ever closer and he had to clean house.

Then imagine his luck when the prickly little elf goes and changes her mind. Flight of fancy lets him slot in what he’d been hoping for for months.

“You were supposed to die,” Cade hissed, glaring at the impotent King confined to his bed.

The disappointment fled in an instant and the man folded his arms up. “Turns out I’m harder to kill than you thought. Maybe try two assassins in bodyguard clothing next time.”

“Bitch born, rabbit fucking pissant!” Cade cursed, his words drawing a dark anger to the King’s face. Good, let him feel worthless before he cut him down. “You’re a disgrace to this country. To your people, who you turn your back on for...for them! First it was the robes, but that wasn’t enough. Because fearing constant abomination attacks isn’t enough for Ferelden. No, now you’re letting the elf savages take whatever they want.”

“Last I checked, all of ′them′ were Ferelden, same as you and me,” the little boy in a man’s body spat out, his credulous eyes narrowing.

Cade shifted his stance, tightening his fingers around the elf’s arm to stop her from moving. Whatever hidden weapon she thought she could pull wasn’t going to happen. One flick of his wrist and she was dead.

“They’re outsiders, disease carrying mongrels who’ll destroy us from the inside out. Ferelden’s rotting away with the rats and robes free to roam wherever they want. I’m taking back my country, even if I have to kill you to do it.”

He expected the King to squirm, or begin screaming for help, but no, the man only groaned and tipped his head down. “You’re dead set on this?”

Why wasn’t he panicking? He should be beside himself with terror, he was going to die. Cade glanced around the room, trying to spot any hidden soldiers but it was nothing aside from the tiny woman. The only threat in the room was him.

“I’m going to slit this one’s throat, and while you watch your knife-eared play thing bleed out on the floor I’ll finish what Brunt started,” Cade growled, spittle splattering against the back of the bitch’s hair. “After that, it’s quite easy for me to say your elven lover went berserk, killed you, and I -- in trying to stop her -- had to finish her off. I’ll be the hero, able to guide the next Queen of Ferelden on the proper path where humans, proper humans, are all that matter.”

The man curled his limp fist on the blanket, his fingernails scratching against it as a sneer fought against that always loopy smile. Lifting his head, Alistair stared dead set into Cade’s eyes. There was no fear there, but a hatred flickered. Cade flexed his bicep, prepared to draw the first blood the second the King opened his mouth to scream.

“Please,” the man begged, barely a whimper in the voice, “let’s not kill anyone.”

“Ha,” Cade chuckled mirthlessly, “that’s no longer for you to decide, milord.”

“Oh,” he shook his head, “I wasn’t talking to you.”

“Wha...” Even as Cade’s mind began to wonder just what the tiny woman was doing in the room, his arm moved to draw the sword against the whore’s throat, but it froze. His entire body locked up, like it was under one giant cramp. As if knowing Cade couldn’t slit her throat, the elf wiggled out from under the blade. Shaking his muscles by sheer willpower, Cade threw off the cursed magic holding him in place.

He was about to swing when a rabbit punch knocked into his nose. “Fuck!” he cried, another following the first, and then a third that finally shattered the bridge. Blood gushed down his cheeks, but he had the blade. Ignoring the pain, Cade drew his arm back, about to bifurcate that fucking elf once and for all.

Freezing cold wrapped around his bicep, then traveled and splintered like a frozen river up to the wrist. His arm froze in place, the ice thickening against him like a storm from the heart of winter. Whipping his head, he watched the little mage aiming both her hands at him. She’d lost the hood, revealing a stomach dropping familiar face.

“You!” Cade screamed at her. The damn woman didn’t even acknowledge him, just kept spraying more ice until it coated his entire lower body. He couldn’t move an inch, the sword stuck to his fingers that were locked in a block of ice. “You’re supposed to be dead,” he shrieked, refusing to believe he could fail. That any of this was real!

Her, the fucking Hero of Ferelden, shrugged and stopped her spray of magic. “Oops. I guess you miscalculated about all those filthy robes stumbling around fucking things up.”

The elf snatched onto his hand and without care ripped the sword from his frozen fingers. Ice cracked away, pulling layers of skin with. Blood oozed off his hand, but its warmth couldn’t melt the unholy power the mage encased him in. Examining the blade a moment, the elf drew it tight to Cade’s throat. Those inhuman eyes glared death into his as she twisted the edge nearer and nearer to his jugular.

“Reiss,” the King shouted from his bed. “We need him alive.”

Snarling, the good elf walked back on her leash. She twisted the sword down and turned to the King when suddenly, spinning in place she landed a punch hard as stone against Cade’s jaw. Encased in the ice, his head couldn’t snap back and the force echoed from the impact site all the way to the back of his brain.

With a shrug, the elf folded her arms and said, “I didn’t kill him.”

“Lanny?” the King glanced over at his pet mage. She held a hand out to him and together Alistair rose to his feet. It might have been almost impressive if he weren’t wearing fuzzy duck shaped slippers. That was the man that outsmarted Cade, the man that caught him. Maker’s breath, he’d rather they killed him now.

“I don’t get it,” Alistair sighed, shaking his head. The mage clung to him as support while the elf stood ready to cut Cade down should the need arise. “You had years to dethrone me. I’ve been sitting on the blighted thing for over sixteen. Why now?”

“We thought we could enact change through the next generation, but no, you couldn’t even get that right,” Cade hissed, all feeling in his body lost to the cold. His eyes darted over to the mage that was still spinning her fingers, making certain the ice wouldn’t break.

“You...” Alistair gulped, his tiny brain catching on, “you’re saying I had to die because I spent time with my children? I was teaching them how to like people.”

“How to like the wrong people!”

“He said we,” the elf spoke up. Fuck her and those fucking ears that heard everything. All elves were just little spidery spies. “That means there are others out there, others involved in this.”

“Which is why we put on this little farce for you, Cade,” Alistair smiled. “See, Reiss here, that degenerate and other words I should scrub your mouth out with soap for using, she figured it out. Figured you out. And we knew you’d be watching and wondering. Couldn’t kill you, no. There’d be questions, and I’m certain you have a few friends waiting in the guards who are itching to try their hand at a revolution.”

Shuffling on his legs, the man leaned so close to Cade, the King’s breath was the only warmth across his body, “But no one will care, no one will rise up. You tried to kill a King, that’s really high on the naughty list. And, most of all, this is the part that’s really gonna sting, you were defeated by an elf.”

Cade sucked in his saliva about to spit it in Alistair’s face, but as the loogie flew past his lips that fucking magicker froze it midflight. Splattering onto the ground, it exploded in ice crystals without even touching the man.

“Commander Cullen, you can come in now,” Alistair called. The door Cade was certain no one was standing behind flew open. He couldn’t see the man, but he knew that voice growling as a hand grabbed onto him.

“About time, took you forever to give the signal. If something had happened,” Cullen lectured the King even while trying to yank Cade’s frozen arm back. The robe waved her fingers and the ice melted. Before Cade could even think to wrench it away, manacles slapped onto him, each one binding him tighter and tighter to the inevitable headsman’s axe.

“You think I’ll tell you anything? You can’t break me,” Cade cursed. “You’ll get nothing from me.”

The mage waved her fingers around, fire dancing on the tips as a demonic grin took hold. “You’d be surprised what a robe can do, especially one that’s walked inside the fade.”

“Get him out of here,” Alistair jerked his chin. Without any fanfare for who Cade was, or what he nearly accomplished, two men snatched up his manacled arms and dragged him out of the room.

The next time he saw the sunlight, it’d be with his eyes staring up out of a basket.

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