Chapter 10 - Axel
I followed her as she walked to her room, my eyes picked up every detail. Every maid that walked by me I committed their face to memory. I constantly felt on edge, I had to keep my guard up. I thought that this would be easy protecting the Princess, but she surprised me at every turn. A princess wanting to be able to fight and protect those close to her? I had to admit I admired her bravery. It just made what was coming next that much harder. I remembered the note I found in my window that morning. It had said “Meet Tonight, by the river. 1 o’clock.” No one had signed it, but I knew who it was from and what it meant. We had a plan.
I felt as though I spent years staring at her door, I knew that this was going to be most of the job, but there was nothing I could do to prepare myself for the boredom of it. Finally, Hayther came to relieve me, we saluted each other. I turned to walk away but before I left Hayther’s voice followed me.
“Watch yourself Axel Wood.”
I stopped, unmoving for a moment, before I turned around and whispered.
Hayther looked upset, his eyes were dark this does not look like the man from a few hours ago sparring with the girls.
“You think I didn’t see the way you looked at her? It’ll never happen.”
“You’re mistaken, sir” I sneered at the thought of being attracted to her.
“I know what you are.” he paused. “A Delgurian orphan found in Carastil. Just because Bracen took you in, and the king trusts you doesn’t mean I do.”
I tensed at the sound of his name, he and his wife had shown me nothing but kindness and love since they found me. Especially Bracen pushing me to train harder, become stronger. If only he knew what I would become. Blood was thicker than water I supposed.
“You don’t know anything about me, except that the king chose me himself. Maybe he likes me better, you jealous?” I sauntered off not waiting for his reply. I saw the hurt and jealousy in his eyes. My mind felt sharper, I had a purpose, a mission. Now I knew one of my enemy’s weaknesses, and that I needed to tread carefully around him.
As I walked towards my room in the guard’s barracks, I suddenly didn’t want to go there yet. I changed my course and headed for the cottages that laid next to the castle for the nobles of court. My stomach grumbled at the thought of Ellen’s handmaid’s dinners. They were always my favorite and the food from there was better than anything I could find in the guard’s barracks. I passed three cottages; each one their windows dark their occupants were already quietly tucked away. The fourth though had a candle or two still burning. I jumped up the steps and knocked on the door. It took a moment but eventually a small girl opened the door.
It was Poppy, Ellen and Bracen’s house maid. She was a little older than me with soft brown hair that she kept in a bun at the nape of her neck. Ellen always loved the way Poppy looked at me, she believed that she was in love with me. I stepped into the house as Poppy scurried off to go make some tea. Ellen sat in chair near the fireplace, she was reading probably another romance novel and Bracen was reading military training reports.
“Poppy who was that at the do-” She looked up and saw me standing in the entryway. “Oh Bracen! It’s Axel!”
She jumped up, the book forgotten thumps to the floor, Bracen got up and made his way towards us. I was now wrapped in her arms and Bracen put a firm hand on my back. He gave me a wink, his blue eyes sparkling at the happiness his wife had right now. A pang of guilt bloomed in my chest for not coming as much as I should. I squashed it down though refusing to feel guilty.
“Hello Ellen, Bracen.” I said a little breathlessly since she hadn’t let go of me yet. Poppy came back in with a tray of tea cups.
“Oh Poppy! How splendid!” Ellen ushered me to have a seat near the fire. She and Bracen settled into their chairs.
“So how has it been guarding the princess?” Ellen took a sip of the tea Poppy put in her hands.
She sighed content and gave Poppy a knowing smile.
“It’s interesting that she has decided to learn how to protect herself and it was even more interesting to watch the lessons today” I glanced sideways at Poppy and she looked away coyly.
“It was interesting to say the least.”
Ellen agreed, nodding along “Yes, she seemed quite determined this morning at the meeting. I was so proud seeing you stand behind her!” Bracen laughed “I hope you didn’t do anything to embarrass him Ellen!” Ellen shushed him, and I took a sip of the tea, it tasted like honey and roses my favorite ever since I was little. I would always have a place in my heart for the kindness they have shown me, but it didn’t deter me from what was coming.
Poppy brought out a plate of her Shepherd’s pie, knowing that was the real reason I was here. I listened halfway to Bracen talk about how new recruits were doing in training and how the king was. I didn’t really pay attention until I heard him say the name Eric.
“The interrogations are coming up with nothing. He’s strong, but strength can only last so long.” The last bite of my food soured in my mouth and laid heavy on my tongue. I swallowed it and wiped my mouth with napkin standing to go.
“I better try and get some rest before my next shift begins.”
Ellen got up “Of course! Of course!” She wrapped her arms around my waist, now that I’m older I cradled her against my chest instead of the other way around.
“Axel try to visit more often?” Her blue eyes looked up at me pleading, I gave Bracen a firm handshake and slipped back out into the night. As I passed outside through the courtyard, torches burned bright and casted an orange glow over everything. Other guards nodded to me, I had raised no suspicions about myself to anyone except Hayther. They all accepted me as one of their own.
I got to my room and let my hair out of the pony tail I put it in when I was watching the Princess spar. My blonde curls brushed against my cheek, as I stripped out of guard’s uniform, and reached for my black trousers and a black cotton shirt. As I slipped my trousers on the image of Everose in her pants flitted across my mind.
I literally stumbled a little and almost tripped myself. I straightened up and pulled my shirt over my head.
I sat down atop my hard bed filled with straw. It crackled, and a small smile escaped, it reminded me of when Ellen and Bracen first found me. I picked up my sword and my sharpening stone and began my nightly ritual, I grinder the stone against my blade. SCHLIK. SCHLIK. SCHILK. My muscles knew the motions, I traced the path in my mind that I would take to get to the meeting. I knew every step along the way, I just had to make sure no one followed me.
My trance was broken when the bell tolled out one lonely ring letting me know that it was time to go. I laced my boots and slipped a dagger into each boot, just in case I encountered any trouble along the way.
I slipped through the guard’s barracks now only filled with the sounds of loud snores and weapons being sharpened. I dashed quietly through the trees straight towards the river, the moon was large and bright, casting long shadows across the pale landscape. When I got about 20 feet from the river, I heard the soft noise of water rushing over rocks, I crouched down next to some bushes with blue and purple death bells growing in between them, trees tower up into the sky and blocked out any view of the moon. I cupped my hands to my mouth and made a bird call. I waited to see if anyone responds back. 10 yards to my right a reply ring off the trees. I carefully treaded over, I saw Lettie standing in a small clearing.
“Lettie, I thought Trent was coming too?”
“Are you disappointed it’s only me?” Lettie laughed his tan skin making his white smile seem like it was glowing. He shook his head, he looked so young even though he was 20.
“Have you got anything to report?” he asked pulling his pony tail over his shoulder. His hair looked longer than the last time I saw him it hung almost to his belly button.
“When are you going to cut your hair?”
“When you stop dodging my questions.”
I stiffened a little, but Lettie was all smiles, he must have known something I didn’t.
“Not much” I said. “I heard that Eric isn’t giving into any torturing. But besides that, I haven’t heard much. Everything would be much easier if they had gotten rid of the correct guard, that Hayther is a pain in my arse.”
Lettie chuckled. “Not losing your skills, are you? Cause we’ve heard that Eric is set for execution in a week from today.”
“So, in a week is when this farce is over?”
Lettie’s smile grows even bigger “Get ready, here’s the plan...”