Chapter 35: Moving Beyond the Page
Alexandra fastened the overly large helmet to her chin. The eye slots were barely within her range of vision. The chain shirt and thick pauldrons made intricate movements difficult. Slipping away from her guards was easy enough. Making her way with Balaam to the nearly empty armory presented no problem. But standing five feet four inches in armor meant for a six-foot man was nearly impossible.
I don’t give two rat’s asses what father thinks, I’m not leaving him to die on the battlefield. Through her obscured view she found the weapons. None were as ornate as her father’s blade but they would serve. Heavy maces, bastard swords with blades nearly the length of a child and huge shields were well apparent, but tugging at the handles proved to her that she needn’t bother trying to pick them up. Then, from the corner of her eye, she spotted a dagger, stuck into a closet door. She tossed off her pauldrons and closed her hand around it. It fit perfectly. She yanked it from the door and stumbled back. Her helmet fell to the ground and rolled up next to the Logos scroll that she had left near the doorway. Alexandra bit her lip as she glanced at the oversized manuscript.
Samuel left it in my keeping. I can’t fit it on me, and well, this place is no good at all. She looked around for somewhere safe, unnoticeable, where the scroll might be kept. Her eyes fell on Balaam.
“Balaam! I need you to take this.” Alexandra picked up the scroll and moved towards the donkey.
“I’m not a courier M’lady. I’ll stay by your side as is my duty.”
“Well, I’m going to the front lines,” she replied.
“I’ll be happy to carry your message elsewhere,” Balaam chuffed. “But this scroll is much more than a parcel.”
She pushed it into his saddlebag lying across his flanks.
“I know. That’s why I need you to take it somewhere safe, or to someone who can keep it so . . . the boy, I think. Maybe he would be the one if he’s still alive.”
“Are you sure there’s no other treasure you’d like me to ferry about?”
“A ferry can move, at least. I have no other options. If Samuel was right, the boy must have these.”
“You fancy him, don’t you?” Balaam asked.
Alexandra took a step back. “The boy? Why would you ever think that?”
“I’ve noticed the way you sometimes look at him. A bit of fancy I suppose is no bad thing.”
“He’s hardly at my station, Balaam,” she chided him.
“Aye and when has that ever stopped you from doing what you liked?” Balaam scoffed. “Of course the Chief Warrant Officer has eyes for you too, so you have your pick of the litter.”
“Egan and I are friends, he’s loyal to my father.”
“Yet he spends his days checking on you.”
“Balaam, he’s at least ten years older than me.” she said and smiled, the thought had crossed her mind before but she never presumed their playful banter while training over a year ago was more than that.
“Eight by my counting, but I’m only a donkey” Balaam huffed.
“Excuse me, but the last thing I need right now is to be courted. Especially from some strange lad who can barely speak or a would-be warrior, playing patrol through the city.” Alexandra immediately bit her tongue, her harsh words already stung false.
“Egan has risked his life for us, my lady.” Balaam replied quietly.
“I’m sorry. You’re right.” She nodded. “I suppose my duty as future queen would be to find an acceptable suitor.”
“Not your duty, princess. Just your heart - it makes no difference to me who you favor. Chief or boy.”
“Can you find the boy? Can you help him?” Alexandra put her hand on Balaam’s mane.
“Doubtful. I’m a donkey, not a tracking hound, but I can try. I know the witch spoke of Korah’s Maw, if he still lives perhaps I’ll find him there.” The donkey nodded and moved to the doorway.
“Thank you, and Balaam?”
The donkey paused. “Yes, M’lady?”
“Take care of yourself as well,” she said, wondering if she would see her companion again.
Balaam bowed his neck low. “It’s been an honor . . . my queen.” He turned and walked out into the night.
Alexandra gathered her helmet and followed a few minutes later, deciding to leave the pauldrons off. Barehanded, she could hold a horses’ reins and her weapon more easily. As she moved across the empty, rain-swept courtyard towards the stables, she paused to look around the empty grounds. The mob had dispersed at the sight of the king and some order had returned, yet she felt like everyone was saying goodbye as if some great chapter of her life was coming to a close, and she was left behind to close the book.