Once Isabel learned that the Alliance had agreed to treat her subjects as equals she became cordial towards the prince again but only just. She felt raw from crying her heart out all night and was in the mood for a fight. Isabel listened and interjected with any ideas she had to offer and established the instructions she would give her men, but that was all. The damage had been done and she was simply going through the motions. She and Alaric would take the main ship while Nancy and Iskander would captain the second largest ship. The third largest ship would be lead by Ladki, right hand man of the former king of the Shumi. Isabel was a bit uneasy about Nadhir’s choice for the position for the hulking man seemed the most angry not to have been chosen as Isabel’s life-mate during the coronation. Nadhir insisted that the man knew how to command and was loyal to his queen. The little warrior had been trustworthy and reliable thus far so Isabel consented. The delegates from Kinfos, Mistmoor and Ardingstoke were en-route to pilot the smaller and faster ships. Isabel’s ship would have Nadhir and a choice selection of Shumi to fight and guard her, while the remaining forces would join the rest of the Alliance troops in battle. Word had been sent that the Shumkarja warriors were a lethal fighting force who were loyal to their cause and would be treated as such. While no special treatment would be necessary, ill treatment of any kind would be severely punished.
As the final preparations were made to leave Isabel leaned against the rail on deck of the main ship nervously chewing her lip. She had played the part of queen like the most accomplished actress, but tomorrow would be the true test and she was afraid she would fail miserably. It wasn’t the possible humiliation of looking like a fool that concerned her. At this point Isabel couldn’t give a damn what those come-mierdas thought of her. Her fear lay in the potential for waste of human life. Her people could die if she screwed up. She understood her instructions and knew the game plan and she wasn’t the type to panic under pressure. She also knew she would not run and hide with her tail between her legs like her useless father. Still, there was plenty of room for error, especially for a rookie like her. The Shumi depended on her, trusted her, and she did not want to let them down.
Isabel shivered against the morning chill; more internal than external, and felt familiar hands place a fur cape around her shoulders. She stiffened and reached up to close the cape around her throat. “Thank you, Alaric.”
The prince came around to stand beside her as she looked out into the desert. “This will be your first major battle, milady. How do you feel?”
Isabel hesitated then sighed. “Truth be told, I’m scared, your highness.”
Alaric placed a hand on hers as it rested on the rail and sighed when Isabel quickly drew it away. “There is no need to be afraid, Isabel. You have the finest men here to protect you.”
Isabel chuckled and shook her head. “I’m not afraid for myself, Alaric. As you’ve said, I’ve never fought in a war before much less lead anyone into battle. I know what it is I’m supposed to do but…”
Alaric smiled, “First time jitters are natural and concern for your men is the mark of a true leader. I have been watching you since we arrived, milady. Keep doing what you are doing, follow your instincts, and there will be nothing to fear.”
Isabel felt slightly more reassured and smiled. “Thank you, Alaric.”
The man’s eyes sparkled in a way that made Isabel’s heart flutter and she knew, try as she might to rail against it, she still loved him.
She turned to a lively servant girl who was rushing past and instructed her to find Nancy and Iskander so they could be on their way.
“I need to get changed.” Isabel said and started across the deck.
Alaric sighed and scrubbed his face. While Isabel didn’t seem to be going out of her way to avoid him, it was apparent she had closed her heart to him. Though they saw each other often, and a single wall separated his bedchamber from hers, the distance that yawned between them nearly drove him insane. What more could he do? How could he demonstrate his love for her? For Alaric realized Iskander was right, the Prince of Lothiari had fallen in love with the Lady of Kendra.
All at once the sky went dark. Isabel looked up to see several giants towering over them from the cliffs, their footsteps shaking the ground. Whether it was to scream or issue orders, Isabel didn’t know why she opened her mouth, but there was no time to do either. The chaos was instant. An endless flow of goblins poured down the cliffs and out of tunnels, sending mothers and their children scrambling for cover as Shumkarja Warriors took up arms. The dragon squadron dispatched immediately to take on the giants but was taken by surprise as a multitude of orcs on dragonback poured down from the sky. Isabel couldn’t believe her eyes. It was as if someone had turned on a faucet tapped directly into Hell. In a burst of feathers a tall familiar figure appeared before her.
“Good morrow, Lady Isabel of Kendra, we meet again!” said the Lord of the Underworld.
“Lord Rakad, I thought you were dead!” Isabel gasped.
“Foolish girl, did you really think you could kill the Lord of the Underworld?” He laughed.
She narrowed her eyes. “You blew up my house!”
“You ran me down with one of those noisy contraptions!” He snarled and then waved a dismissive hand. “Besides, it was an ugly house.”
A pair of orcs struggled with a bloodied Prince Alaric before throwing him down before Lord Rakad. “Ah, Prince Alaric, how good of you to join us.”
The prince climbed to his feet and looked over at Isabel. “Did he hurt you?”
Isabel shook her head.
“So gallant!” Rakad mocked before turning his attention to the orcs. “Where are the King of Shayn’del and the Queen of Rune?”
The creatures dropped to the ground and trembled.
“Mercy sire, we find nowhere!” One of them cried.
Rakad frowned before dismissing them with a puff of smoke. “No matter, we have the Silver Fleet and the Heart of Kendra. My mistress will be most pleased.”
“Who says you do?” Isabel challenged, placing her hands on her hips.
In two strides, Lord Rakad was upon her. He grabbed her by the throat and lifted her off her feet. The prince and the Shumi leapt forward, shouting and cursing as the orcs laughed and Rakad grinned.
“Silence!” he shouted, petrifying them with a look before turning his gaze to Isabel and pulling her closer. “You shall activate the Silver Fleet.”
“I shall make them disappear entirely!” She croaked and gave the deity a hard kick to the groin.
Roaring with pain, he flung Isabel to the ground and dropped to his knees. The orcs flew into a rage and grabbed her arms and legs, preparing to pull her apart.
Gasping, Isabel cried out, “If you kill me you get nothing, not the Heart of Kendra or the Silver Fleet. How will you explain that to your mistress?”
Lord Rakad called out a command that made the orcs drop Isabel and return to their places. As he rose to his feet he regarded Isabel with a look so dark she wondered how much he actually cared what Phaedra would think.
“You are quite correct, Lady Kendra.” He said quietly.
He turned towards Alaric and the instant their eyes met Rakad sank inside his body. He found the prince’s heart and started to slow its pace. The prince’s eyes widened and he grew pale as his heart beat slower still.
“Stop it! What are you doing to him?” Isabel cried, running to her husband.
Not losing contact, Rakad replied coolly. “Activate the fleet or your sweetheart dies.”
Isabel’s eyes widened in horror and she looked back to Alaric. He dropped to his knees and she along with him, holding him in her arms.
“Stop it, I said!” Isabel shrieked.
“The fleet, Lady Kendra!” Rakad hissed.
Alaric shook his head weakly, his eyes closed.
“No,” he whispered.
Tears sprung to her eyes as she watched him growing paler and felt his body grow cold. No, she couldn’t lose him. She hated feeling so helpless. She knew she couldn’t just hand the fleet over to the enemy, but she couldn’t bear to think of life without Alaric.
“Alright,” she sobbed, “I’ll do it just leave him alone!”
“Whenever you are ready, milady.” The Lord of the Underworld smiled.
Isabel called Nadhir over to care for the prince as she rose to her feet. She wiped the tears from her eyes and glared at her captor before crossing to the helm of the ship and raising the amulet above her head. It caught the rays of the morning sun and the entire fleet shimmered as it rose into the air. Isabel glanced at the clammy prince whose color was returning as he lay in Nadhir’s arms and their eyes met.
“I’m sorry.” Alaric mouthed.