“Your Highness –”
“Prince Keldrick, I must insist –”
“If you please, Your Highness,” asked a general, “how are we to refer to you?”
“Captain Firthing will do,” answered Keldrick mildly.
Captain Firthing, thought Selby. Interesting – she had not thought of Keldrick as having achieved a military rank.
But of course he would. As a third son, Keldrick would have been expected to serve in the military, just as her brothers had. Captain Firthing. She forced the smile tugging at her lips to keep from overtaking her face. Her stomach fluttered.
She could not help it – he captivated her. And as Queen, that was not good. Should anyone suspect – anyone but Durain, of course – her reputation, her integrity would be forever, irrevocably stained. Finally, Selby put her foot down, for they were to stay in RainsCourt now, and she could not be seen in any other than her chambers.
She watched Keldrick answer questions. He answered to Captain Firthing, Your Highness, and Prince Keldrick. Selby was not accustomed to his being the Royal in the room. He was so calm and firm, so strong… and they nearly forgot she existed. For once, she was practically invisible.
She tried not to sigh aloud. Another War Council. This one would take up at least an hour, while she wanted to press ahead and move on to RainsCourt. Selby was tired of feeling naked and exposed out here, camping where Ormish or Ambsell could attack her. She longed for the safety of four walls again. Though she did not relish viewing the walls where her three brothers and her father had died less than a year ago, and by Ambsell hands. Selby blinked, trying not to narrow her eyes with fury at the thought of that.
Keldrick – Ambassador Keldrick – introduced her to the Eastern Alliance men then. She smiled graciously and told them how grateful she was for their presence.
And she was. Near forty thousand men from the East had just joined her ranks. Forty… thousand. That took her breath away. Her ranks on the field were sorely depleted over the last week, fighting the Ambsells. At least five thousand men dead, some two thousand wounded. But Selby knew they had killed that many or more. ’Twas an equal fight, she was told by her War Council, or what was left of it.
And then the Ormons came through the pass. Once the Ormons came through the pass, the Ambsells paused in their fighting. That gave Selby all the time she needed to send her troops south toward RainsCourt. There, they could regroup themselves. They couldn’t fight both the Ormons and the Ambsells at the same time. She needed more men.
And now she had them, thanks to the gods.
Finally. She had been able to slip out of camp.
Durain was not happy about this mission but he accompanied her nonetheless, as Selby had known he would.
Keldrick was oblivious, being surrounded by men from the Eastern Alliance. It had afforded her the perfect opportunity to leave camp without his watchful eye. And tomorrow night would be too late, for they would be in RainsCourt….
Selby loved the night wind in her face, the wildness she felt as they galloped across the foot of the Mourning Mountains, but they had finally come to a stop, for scouts would be posted here.
Durain signaled to her to wait until he checked ahead. Selby nodded and slid off her horse. She stared up at the full moon, watching as wisps of clouds drifted across it. Minutes began to stretch out interminably. Had Durain been captured? She couldn’t turn around now that she had come so far.
And then a night bird sounded once, twice.
Selby glanced around. Ah. Durain stepped into view. He placed a finger upon his lips slowly, indicating the need for silence, then beckoned.
She sucked in a deep breath. Durain gave her a stern stare. He raised an eyebrow. Selby nodded and stepped after him.
Then… she lost track of all time.
When finally she found Hewett, she was sitting atop him, covered in blood, her knife to his throat.
“You!” he grated.
“Ah. Me.” And she held her free finger up but drove her cleaver into his throat deeper. She placed her hand over his disgusting mouth again. “Just so you know, Hewett, I’ve nicked the vein in your neck so that if I move my knife even a little, blood will spray everywhere and you will die so, so fast.
“But first, I want you to know that, just as you took all three lives of Clemongard’s sons, I have taken all three lives of Ambsellon’s sons.” Hewett’s brown eyes widened in shock, then fury. He purpled with rage but didn’t dare move. “Oh, you needn’t worry, Hewart, they died hero’s deaths.
“Now, however. Now it is your time. Just as Ambsellon took a King from Clemongard, now Clemongard will take a King from Ambsellon. A father and three sons for a father and three sons. I quite like it, don’t you? No?” Selby asked. “Hm, that’s too bad, Hewart, perhaps you should have thought of that when you decided to have my father and brothers killed, for now I am killing you and I’ve killed your sons as well.
“Did you know, Hewart, what they call me now, in Clemongard? The Cleaver Queen. I think that, after tonight, I will have earned that title.”
Hewart’s eyes in the lantern light of his tent were both furious and frightened.
“And no one, Hewart, to take over your throne, not a single son left. Pity, isn’t it, knowing that you haven’t anyone left to inherit Ambsellon. At least my father left the throne to me after my three brothers passed.”
His eyes narrowed with disgust.
“But I know one Queen who might be interested in your Throne… they say ice runs through her veins, Hewart. I wonder if the Ice Queen will keep the name Ambsellon or if she’ll change it to Ormon….”
Hewart’s eyes bulged in fury and Selby sliced his neck just then….