King Jarek was scarce for the next few days as was Princess Lavinia. Nerissa and Lennox knew they had to work fast to thwart the goblin invasion. With the Silver Fleet in enemy hands their efforts seemed pointless but whether from stubbornness or stupidity they were still compelled to try.
The night the Festival of Pavrak was set to begin, Lennox visited with the dwarf captain, intent on warning him to avoid drink that night, only to discover they had already been ordered to stay on duty and doubled the watch. Lennox noticed many of the soldiers were heavily armed and one regiment was preparing to move out. Lennox smiled to himself. Perhaps the old coot had some sense after all.
Royalty or no, Lennox had been prepared to thrash Jarek for the way he spoke to Nerissa. She had always been a compassionate woman, ready to lend a hand, and was loyal to a fault. While anyone else would have balked at relinquishing their crown to a cousin from one day to the next, Nerissa did so with the grace and sincerity that made Lennox fall for her in recent years. She had been destined from birth to wed Prince Alaric so Lennox knew to steel himself against his desires. However, since his friend married Lady Isabel, bless her, Lennox’s heart could barely be contained. It pained him to know how unworthy he was. She was a princess from a long line of blue bloods. He was a nameless horeson dumped on the step of an Ardingstoke orphanage and only knew the life of a soldier. She would never consider him.
As Lennox left regimental headquarters he all but collided with King Jarek.
“Lennox, have you seen Nerissa?” the king asked.
“I have not, though I suspect she has gone away to think.”
“Ah yes, the waterfall. I never will understand her fascination with that thing.” He surmised.
“Your majesty, I noticed your men appear to be preparing for battle.”
“Yes well, once I calmed down and had a think I realized Nerissa was right.” Jarek coughed, suddenly looking sheepish. “I consulted with Ilythia and arranged for some of your guard to join mine in giving Torquil’s army a good shock when they step through that portal.”
The old dwarf chuckled and Lennox couldn’t help but do the same.
“I have been a fool, Lennox, and I wish to apologize to you both.”
“No need, milord. Receiving that sort of news about a loved one would be a shock to anyone.”
“I never meant to hurt her.” Jarek said solemnly.
Lennox clapped a brawny hand on the dwarf’s shoulder and turned to leave when a dwarf clad in armor marched up to the king and saluted him saying, “Your majesty, Princess Lavinia has disappeared. We cannot find her anywhere.”
Jarek and Lennox exchanged glances and a cold lump formed in the man’s stomach. They knew exactly where she was.
Nerissa sat on the ground of the cool damp tunnel and leaned against the wall. Her tears mixed with the mist wafting on to her face.
I blew it again! In trying to save my friends I have only managed to alienate myself from them. Can I do nothing right? She knew her news would be hard for Jarek to swallow for he always doted on his family but this was the first time he truly made her feel like an outsider. It was good that the war was finally coming to an end one way or the other. After today Nerissa didn’t think she could spend another moment in Abiloth. She didn’t know where she would go but she did know she would never be a burden to anyone again.
“I thought I would find you here. You are nothing if not predictable, Nerissa.”
Nerissa turned her head to find Lavinia standing over her with a dagger.
“Oh, are you crying? Did daddy hurt your ickle feweeings?” Lavinia mocked. “Good, that is what you get for betraying me, you mewling bitch!”
“I betray you? Are you not currently betraying your own people, your father?”
“Screw them, they never gave a damn about me! As far as I am concerned they have this coming!”
“And what about you? Do you really think the Goblin King will not have you killed the instant he has captured Abiloth?”
“Torquil loves me. Once he has killed my father, he and I shall rule Subtera together. He told me so himself.”
Nerissa laughed. “And you believe him?”
“Why would he lie?”
“Perhaps to get some mewling clod-brained wench to do his bidding and grant him access to the one kingdom he has always wanted?”
Lavinia’s face went red. “Shut up! What do you know about anything? No one loves you. No one has ever loved you. You are nothing and nobody!”
Nerissa thundered. “What makes you so damn special? You are nothing but a shrew. A vain, flap-mouthed, sheep-biting codpiece who hasn’t enough sense to know when you are being used! I wish Jarek had listened to my warning if only to see your plans thwarted and your lover captured and killed!”
“You shall have your wish, Nerissa.” She heard Jarek say.
Lavinia turned to find her father and Lennox standing in the mouth of the cave with half a dozen armed dwarves pointing their swords at the princesses.
“It is done, Lavinia. We have ambushed your invasion and destroyed the enemy.”
Lavinia’s mouth hung open and she shook her head violently. “Impossible!”
She turned and hissed at Nerissa. “He always liked you best! You just come here swishing your hips and your tiny ass and batting your lashes and you think you can just take my father, my kingdom, away from me?”
She stepped towards her, the point of her dagger touching Nerissa’s throat.
“Stand down, Lavinia!” Jarek barked.
“I will not!” She screeched. “If I cannot have my lover than neither can you!”
She looked back at Nerissa. “On your feet!”
Nerissa rose slowly and Lavinia grabbed her arm, edging her closer to the falls.
“Lavinia, please do not do this!” Nerissa pleaded, her eyes moving from the dagger to the concerned faces at the tunnel entrance.
“Why should you get everything you want? Why are you so much more deserving of his love than I?”
They edged closer. “Who, the Goblin King?”
“My father!” she shrieked, blood trickled down the blade of the dagger as Lavinia tugged her closer.
“But I do love you, my child!” Jarek called.
“Really, even though I helped your enemy try to take the kingdom and have you killed?” She giggled maniacally, “See here, I have pierced the throat of your beloved and make her bleed! You tell me now that you still love me?”
“I do not know where I have failed you, my daughter.” Jarek sighed. “I have tried to give all my children what they need, what they want, because I love you all.”
“You lie! You have been against me from the beginning. Everyone hates me while they adore this outsider!” Lavinia waved the dagger at her father. “Well maybe I should just give you a reason to hate me!”
Nerissa elbowed Lavinia in the throat causing her to gasp and drop her knife. She scrambled for it but the dwarf was on her in an instant. Each with a hand on the weapon the two struggled, scratching and biting each other, as they rolled when suddenly they heard, “Nerissa! Lavinia!”
Suddenly Nerissa realized there was too much of a breeze. Suddenly the mist was begging to drench them. Suddenly the roar of the falls was too loud. Suddenly the floor dropped out from under them as they rolled off the edge of the tunnel. Reaching out she scrabbled her hands against the stone and managed to grasp a part of the wall that jutted out. She felt a tug on her foot that pulled off her slipper and then it was gone. Nerissa looked up, frigid water splashing on to her as she hung in the narrow space between the wall and the thunderous falls above. Her hands were bloody, her body already numb with cold, she couldn’t feel her fingers. Nerissa shouted for help, the first name that poured from her heart on to her lips.
Lennox and the dwarves watched in horror as the unexpected fight between the princesses sent them careening over the edge. Even before they heard the cry for help Lennox was running to the edge and threw himself on the ground. Just below he saw his half drowned princess clinging to the wall for dear life. Lavinia was nowhere to be found.
“I need ye to anchor my legs!” He called over his shoulder.
The dwarves did so as he slid himself out of the tunnel up to his waist and bent to grab Nerissa’s elbows, pulling her chilled body to his chest. With the shivering princess in his arms, Lennox made his way back into the safety of the tunnel. Nerissa trembled, pressing against him as he held her close and rubbed her arms and back.
“Tis alright, my love, you are safe now.” Lennox murmured, kissing her forehead.
She looked up into his eyes.
“You saved me.” She said, reaching up and drawing his head down for a kiss.
Watching the pair Jarek’s heart sank. He had lost a daughter today but then her own actions told him he had lost Lavinia long ago. Today he knew he lost Nerissa too.