FOREVER KNIGHTS: #14 Broken Birds

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The Claiming

“Dutiful!”

He gave her a warning glance. Ssh.

“She ran and I never saw her again.” He finished.

“What woman would do this?” King Jonis leapt to his feet. “To leave when her baby fails, rather than stay in the arms of her husband.”

Good question.

“That one.” Mardichi nodded to her. “I’d ask tha’ of her, meself.”

I’ve been waiting decades to know.

“Bring her out.” The King gestured before dropping back to his throne to glare at her.

The guards pulled her into the orange lit room. The scuffle tossing pins from her hair.

The firelight revealed a riot of rich red highlights in her curling black hair and made her hard eyes glitter like jewels. Pink lips parted in shock at what was happening.

“Answer this, Woman.” The king tossed an arm toward Mardichi.

She met the king’s stare unflinchingly.

Refusing to look at me.

“He would’ve blamed me.” She finally answered.

Mardichi’s head spun in shock. Jaw slack. That’s not true!

Her face was sincere.

When he peered into her mind, he found it full of only pain. No deception or hint of plotting.

That can’t really be what she thought? His blue eyes poured over her face. Trying to see there what he couldn’t find in her mind. Why?

“That is why you fled?” He asked softly.

Her eyes flicked to him but refused to acknowledge he’d spoken.

You can’t ignore me forever. His hands clenched to fists.

“The utter shock on his face says otherwise.” The king said in a bored tone. Rubbing the stubble on his young chin thoughtfully.

“I know him better than he knows himself.” She murmured.

I’d thought that true once, myself.

“He would’ve blamed me.” She reiterated.

Never.

“Then you don’t know me at all!” He bellowed. Stepping toward her until the guards crossed spears over his chest to stop him.

King Jonis put up a staying hand but Mardichi had no intention of obeying it.

It was actually Norris’ hand on his sleeve that stilled him from heading for her.

“I’ve nothing more to say about this.” Back ramrod straight, she acknowledged only the king.

Avoid me as long as you can…Soon you won’t have a choice.

“I’m taking it you deny nothing he’s said.” The king scrunched a plump cheek against a thoughtful fist.

“I do!” Her eyes widened. “I deny all of it.”

A bit too late.

“Were that true,” The king said, belying his young years. “You’d have denied it at the get. Not sought to justify your reasoning for the actions he said you took.”

She winced. Gnawing her cheek.

He’s right.

You’re scared. And nervous and making mistakes.

“What do you intend to do with her?” King Jonis asked.

My affair. Mardichi was tempted to tell him so but refrained. Sensing he was winning this moment but inciting the king could quickly turn the tables.

“She owes me a debt. A child. She’ll repay me tha’ debt by givin’ me another.”

“The Hell I will!” She railed. Ripping free of her binding to punch a guard. Knocking him to the ground.

But four or five descended on her, yanking her from the throne.

“He’s right.” The King said slowly. “He does have the only claim to you that matters. In this country we take that union very serious.” His look turned contemptuous. “It’s a shame you do not.”

She opened her mouth to object.

“You’re lucky for my beliefs. Because I certainly had plans for you.”

Mardichi smirked at her. He believes what I’ve told him.

“And you,” the king turned on him. “As the one responsible for this woman and for letting her run loose, I expect repayment for the pound and ten coin she stole from me.” He leaned back in his throne with a sneer. “You can work it off.”

What the Hell does that mean? Mardichi was tight lipped as he nodded. I didn’t exactly let her run loose.

“In addition,” Jonis continued, making Mardichi’s stomach sink. “She’s to be duly penalized for her actions. Either by lashing or by your hand.” Jonis’ eyes brightened with interest at this game.

He wants me to put hand to her?

“Lashing! I can take it.” She shouted. “I don’t want him to touch me! I’ll take the lashing.”

The devil she will!

King Jonis waved a dismissive hand which had his guards removing her. Intent on Mardichi. “I’m listening to you, Old Friend.”

Telling her he’s disregarding her wants.

King Jonis stroked his round chin. “Which would you have? You want another man to lay hand to her? Or do you prefer to be the one to redden her?”

The thought sickened Mardichi, but he could tell from the hard look the king was giving him. He’s not bluffing.

He wanted to have her whipped. Now he wants to make me do it.

“I’ll punish ‘er. She’s mine. An’ me responsibility.”

Nobody touches her. I’ll kill them myself. He turned to rove the room. Assessing how many men he may have to kill for trying.

“No!” She shrieked. “Don’t leave me alone with him!”

Oh, really? That made him zero in on her.

“I’ll do it.”

She shook her head adamantly.

Why? Mardichi’s brows drew together. I’ve never harmed her. Why does she sound so terrified? Like she fears I’ll kill her.

She’d prefer a lashing over my hands to her? That caused a pain he’d thought was far in his past. Tightening his throat.

His eyes were drawn to her as she was forced from the room. He’d have sworn he caught the glisten of one fat tear slicking her cheek.

All I’ve wanted for the better part of a decade was to see her again.

And she’d rather be whipped then be alone with me.

Ouch.

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