1 - Knights and Kings
Duck left, avoid his punches, punch lower ribcage, tackle down, and give him a good smack in the head. As he lunges towards me I did what I was thinking a second ago and in 5 seconds he was down and I emerged victoriously. I was enjoying my soldiers cheer when the King's attendant called and told me that he's holding an emergency meeting. I expressed my annoyance in a series of sighs and hand gestures that hopefully never reaches the King's eyes.
I put my armor back on my body and nested my swords on the hips to look appropriate. It was quite a long walk from where I am to the King's tent as the rowdiness of our enjoyment in this God-forsaken land was, of course, too loud for his ears and probably bad for his heart too. He's quite old.
The ground is solid, scarce from plants. I hurried my steps to the comfort of the tent and away from the scorching weather. The smell of rust, sweat, and blood slowly transforms into perfumes and foods. There were only a few steps left when I felt a tingling sensation on my neck, a sensation of being watched, not just a glance but the feeling of an intent glare. Disturbed and alarmed, I turn my head to the source but there was nothing there, perhaps it was just my feeling but then again they were rarely wrong.
The knights guarding the tent let me in and instantly every pair of eyes were on me. My King's, his generals, the councilor, and they stared at me for a bit longer than usual, odd I thought. Something's wrong and it's involving me, I didn't recall any mistakes nor irresponsibility. Are they having second thoughts about me, about my abilities? My skill? But that can't be it, I led the last attack and it was a success. But something is wrong because the King's fidgeting unusually and some of the generals look worried but some are oddly smirking. Damn. I continued my steps to my chair and sat on it. Like a boss, if I might add.
"Evening gentlemen" I nod, hoping someday I get the chance to say 'ladies' in this meeting.
The King clears his throat, he was old with lots of white hair. I have no more words to describe him as he will probably be dead anyway. I poured myself some wine to relieve my parched tongue.
"As we were discussing before, the Tallies outnumbered us, we cannot win against them" the King spoke and I took a sip, the sweet taste tickled my senses. "They have marched and surrounded our capital city with about 150.000 men while we are fighting here, fending the invaders. One wrong move and they will set our home on fire" he took a quick nervous glance at me before looking at Commander Kairon, my mentor, and when he turns his gaze to me, I know something bad is going down.
"General Valeryie, the Tallies have requested a truce, they are offering an alliance between our Kingdom"
That was not what I expected but every eyes were on me. The Tallies are known for their military power and prosperous land. Their large number is a threat and we cannot win against them as we are now so an alliance between us is good news since we have bigger problems such as foreign invaders to take care of, and dead men do not fight wars.
Myhtica, the country I was born in and now serves is located on higher grounds, summer is hell and winter is even worse. Our army is strong but our numbers dwindle. The Tallies know they could win this fight by sheer manpower but we were not to be trifled with, if we're going down, we go down with a fight. They brought an awfully large number of soldiers to surround the city to form a truce. Why Myhtica though? If they want a truce or a deal that will benefit both countries, why go through all the trouble of imposing war?
The men were getting restless in their seats waiting for a response and I'm just outright confused by the Tallies motives and frankly, the council's concern about a piece of perfectly good news.
"That's...good right?" I looked around and some had the audacity to pop a smile, what the help is wrong with them? Did I hit my head in the spar earlier?
"They are proposing a marriage alliance" Kairon replied after staring daggers at the man that laughs.
"Even better then, we'll be able to secure lifelong alliance, who will we be marrying?"
The King of the Tallies, I have only heard rumors about him. In 5 years of his reign, his people prosper in the economy, agriculture, and military. I heard he banned slavery but that could be just a baseless rumor since slavery exists everywhere. Why would the King marry himself to a small country like us, it seems like such a shame and-
"We don't have a princess" that I said out loud.
"They're not asking for one"
"A noble then?"
Awkwardness and silence fills the air. Even the King took a sip of wine disregarding his advanced age. What's more uncomfortable is the fact that everyone is staring at me in silence, as if waiting for something. Clearly, they're not getting anything except my brows furrowed in confusion.
"You mean, the King is.........keener on his own gender?"
Kairon rolled his eyes. Oh no. That's bad.
"No general, they're not asking for royalties or nobles"
He's getting annoyed but I'm also getting annoyed, just spit it out, it is unlike him to beat around the bush like this.
"Isn't it usually done between royalties of the two countries? Why else would they ask for a marriage that is not mutually beneficial?"
"Well, yes that would be the natural thing to do"
"Well then, who's marrying him?" My mouth felt dry due to the amount of gaping these last few minutes so I took another sip of that sweetness to ease myself, waiting for answers.
From over my cup, I see The King straightens his back and looked me in the eye. Kairon takes a deep breath and sigh. A sad and solemn look touched his features. In all the years I knew him, he only did that twice. One was when I fell down and broke my legs and the other one was when I joined the army without his permission. But why would he look sad? Wait, why are they all looking at me like that? Oh no, no way. I choked my wine, it burns my throat and made me cough uncontrollably.
"You can't mean- they asked- for me?!" still coughing
"Specifically, yes, they asked for you. General Valeryie Angus" The King replied.
"WHAT? With respect, my King, I'm a general, not a broodmare. I belong on the battlefield and not in some King's chambers. Besides, I'm sure there are other royalties more suitable for the King of Tallies" I was dumbfounded, dozens of emotions flew on my face instantly, sarcasm being the strongest one. Wait. Are they joking right now? trying to make fun of me? Because I'm the first female general? But Kairon looks genuinely sad so they can't be joking. This is crazy. This is shit. Un-fucking-believable.
Kairon stood up to hand me a letter with the Tallies symbol on it, a one-winged lion with its mouth biting a sword.
"Brought to us by their men this morning," he said
The piece of paper felt foreign and cold on my palm, my heartbeat was keeping up the pace with newly formed cursed words on my head. The letter states-
Good day, King James of Myhtica,
We have surrounded your capital, 150.000 in total, and are ready to raid and set it on fire unless you agree on our terms.
We wish to form a marriage alliance between I, the King, and one of your own. Specifically to General Valeryie Angus, leader of your calvaries. We want her and only her. Negotiating is not possible. By the time you get this message, you will have half a day to decide before we arrive there to pick the General. Agree and we shall celebrate this alliance and join our forces to fight the invaders. Refuse and your capital shall burn, your camp laid waste and you will die.
King Orion of Tallies
Rage choked my vocal cord, unable to say anything. I processed this information while suppressing the tremble invading my muscles. Nothing has ever prepared me for this. Ever since I could remember, I imagined dozens of ways to get eliminated and ostracised as a woman but not in this way, never this way. I never even thought of living like normal women, much less a Queen. Why would he want me? Is he lacking advisors? I'm more useful on the battlefield. And I fought for this position, I just wanted so much more.
I would understand if he wants me as a soldier but he wants me as his wife so- "Why me?"
I'm Valeryie Angus and I've never turned my back on my Kingdom. This is not the time to get sentimental, thousands of lives would be spared from this truce. I tried to think logically and positively and it still made me feel sick and nauseated. Should I just say fuck it and let them all die? After all, half the men at this table would be happy to get rid of me. But I can't carry that on my conscience.
I was looking at Kairon searching for something, anything. "Are you sure about this?"
He regained his composure and tried to look emotionless but his gesture of patting my shoulder says otherwise. This is my call and he would support anything that I chose.
The King interrupted "You have no say in this General Valeryie. I am ordering you, not asking. We need their army to fight the invaders, we can't afford two wars at the same time. Remember where your loyalty lies"
There was nothing left to be said. I must have clenched my hand too hard since it starts hurting and bleeding. The once smooth piece of paper, crumpled in a bloody mess. Mirroring my anger and resolve.
"I will accept" and quickly added "Not for you, but for Kairon and the citizens, I could care less about the rest of you bastards and that includes you, your royal assness"
Some men rose from their seats cursing me out but when one of them grabs the hilt of their sword I threw the ball of paper to the table. "I'm to be a Queen, you better watch it"
The old fart came in to defuse the situation "Calm yourselves and sit down!" When all were seated, he continued "Is there anything you'd like to say general?"
"My men will be under Kairon's command" he nodded "And fuck you" I walk out of the tent with mockery escorting my way out, which actually made me feel a bit better.
Inside my tent, I cleaned myself from the dirt covering my body. I rinsed my long black hair and kept my head underwater longer than needed, maybe this is all just a bad dream but the sharp pain in my lungs says otherwise. I got up from the tub, bathwater flushed down my body and the cold air hit my skin in a shivering wave. The glint of mirror piqued me to stand in front of it. I don't see a woman, I see a warrior covered in scars. My scars never btohered me but I just can't figure out why the King wants me. What's his motive?
It bother me since I don't recall ever meeting the King of Tallies. All my life, I've been at Myhtica and there were no instances where the King would visit my country, at least not that I remember. Have my ruthlessness in battle spread that far? That would be nice but it seems unlikely. What is he like really? I'm not one for gossip or idle talks. Some say he looks like a brute but some say he looks like Adonis himself. Well, whichever it is, I'm about to find out in less than 3 hours. It'll be nice if it was the latter.
A servant came in and disturb my thought with a dress in her hand.
I grit my teeth and look at the piece of cloth seethingly. If I'm going tor be traded off to a King, I'm not going to stand idly like a girl and certainly not dressed in stupid frills.
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