Chapter 9 - King Calin
She closed her eyes letting the steam clear her head, not daring to think about how Fain was still bound up against the tent pole because the thought alone made her feel helpless and she knew it wouldn’t do her any good right now anyway.
“Are you ready to get out?” The maid asked bringing her back out of her daze and she looked around at her. Suddenly she realised how much she missed Mira and hoped she wasn’t in trouble because of what she’d done.
She nodded and the girl held a towel up for her to wrap round herself. She gritted her teeth, knowing she’d have to stand naked in front of her and part of her was very alert to the fact that the other side of her tent were literally thousands of men and that thought alone made her feel incredibly vulnerable.
She stood up letting the water drip from her and quickly wrapped the towel around before stepping out. Then the maid got another towel and dried her exposed skin, rubbing her down while she just stood there not knowing what else to do.
“Here.” She said holding a flimsy looking silk dress up. “Hold your arms out.”
“I’m not putting that on.” Alice said narrowing her eyes.
“King Calin has ordered it.” The girl replied and Alice shut her eyes and looked away. It felt like she was stuck on a runaway train and there was only one way she was getting off.
“Fine.” She muttered and did as she was told. The maid wrapped the dress around her, tying the strings into a bow behind her back and Alice instantly hated the way it clung to her. It felt like lingerie, silky and far too intimate. She wanted to run, to find Fain and hide safe in his arms but all she could do was stand there in that ridiculous dress and endure it.
The maid led her through from the tent and across to King Calin’s. Alice closed her eyes feeling every one of the soldiers around her watching as she took each step.
“Your Highness.” The maid said after opening the tent and curtseying. Alice met his eyes as he sat on his carved wooden throne and she gritted her teeth before walking in feeling the damn dress clinging to her with every step. He was old, older even than High King Uther. His short pointed beard was all grey and the little hair that was his head was wispy.
He watched her saying nothing but noting the lack of curtsey.
“Did the High King teach you no manners?” He asked after a moment and she met his eyes with a glare.
“You’re hardly one to talk of manners.” She said keeping her voice steady but holding her ground.
“I have treated you with every courtesy.”
“Really? Is that what that cage was? A courtesy?”
“The Iron Cage was a mistake. An error on my son’s part.” He replied.
“And this?” She asked holding her wrist up where the Iron band was still burning away at her skin. “Is this an error on his part too?”
He sighed looking at her. “I do not wish to argue with you.” He said simply.
“Then what do you want?”
“Sit and I will tell you.” He said motioning to the chair across from him. Alice sighed before going to sit down. It wasn’t like she really had a choice, she thought, and at least if she was sat then she didn’t feel quite so exposed in the damn dress.
“I want to offer you a deal. An alternative to what you have right now.”
“And what is it you think I have right now?” Alice asked.
“A different cage from the one we put you in. It may not be made of Iron but it is a cage nonetheless.”
Alice frowned but said nothing.
“I want to offer you an alternative.”
“If you were my Fae I would grant you more freedom.” He said shrugging.
“Who says I am not free?” She retorted.
“The High King keeps you as his prisoner, his weapon, that he wields out whenever he needs you before putting you back into your box when he is done.”
Alice narrowed her eyes. What he said was true but she didn’t want to show him that she agreed to any of it. Besides, she wasn’t stupid enough to think that it would be any different if she switched her allegiance.
That’s how all of them saw her, just a possession, a weapon they could use to their advantage and she wasn’t going to kid herself otherwise.
“If you were my Fae I would let you live, let you have a real life.”
“I have a life.” She said.
“You have an existence. No more.” He observed calmly.
“What do you care? I thought by laws of this land all Fae belonged to the High King.”
“Perhaps it is time we changed some of our laws…”
“Why? You were High King Uther’s ally. You fought beside him in the Great War. What has changed?”
“You know of the Great War?”
She shrugged. There was no point lying to him. “I know a little.”
“Then you will know why I can no longer be loyal to Uther.”
He met her look with a hard stare.
“In the Great War we stood side by side, as though we were brothers. But now, Uther tries to steal my land from under me, using any means he can.”
“He has stolen none of your land. You invaded these Islands not the other way round.”
“He invaded our lands first. We are merely fighting back, defending ourselves.”
Alice shook her head. “Why would he? What would he gain from it?”
“Our land is rich. Half the lesser Kings would kill to possess it.”
“Uther is not a lesser King.” She replied.
“No and yet he betrayed me anyway.”
“What proof do you have?”
“I do not need proof to see Uther’s hand in it.”
“You see what you want to see.” She said crossing her arms and then instantly regretting it. It felt like she’d just exposed even more of her cleavage and she gritted her teeth.
“Then who sends the Spectrals? Who sent the Witches? You think that’s a coincidence?” He stated his voice cold. “He is no longer the Uther I knew. To use Black Magic and against me…”
“You think the High King sent Spectrals to your land?”
“Who else? He sent them here too. He set them on my army, not caring if he killed any of his own soldiers in the process.”
“What happened to these Spectrals? If the High King sent them here, why are they not raging through your camp?”
King Calin shrugged.
“I’ll tell you why, because I destroyed them.” She snapped. “I destroyed every one of them.”
“You think I would believe that?”
Alice shrugged. “Believe what you want. It’s true.”
King Calin sat back in his throne assessing her. “Why would he send you to destroy them?”
“Why would he send them in the first place?” She retorted deliberately brushing over the fact that Uther had not sent her because it wasn’t like that would do her any favours right now. He looked at her but said nothing.
“Have you considered an alternative?” Alice asked after a few moments of enduring him still watching her.
“That perhaps you were mistaken. That perhaps it was not the High King who invaded your land with Black Magic. That perhaps, this whole thing was a trick, to set the two of you against each other…”
“What would there be to gain from that?”
“I don’t know.” She shrugged thinking out loud. “Only that you two were allies, strong allies, and now look at you. Both of you are weakened by this fight.”
“What are you suggesting?” He narrowed his eyes at her.
“That perhaps someone had more to gain from you being enemies than they did letting you remain friends.”
“Who?” He asked leaning in.
“Niseri?” Alice said repeating the name she’d heard so many months ago back in the dungeons. Calin’s eyes flashed with anger momentarily.
“Niseri is dead.” He stated.
Calin sat back no longer looking at her, clearly deep in thought.
“If what you say is true, why has the High King not told me this himself?”
Alice shrugged. “I can’t answer for him. But ask Prince Fain. He’ll tell you. Niseri is back.”
He narrowed his eyes. “If this is some trick…”
“There’s no trick. Ask him and you’ll see.”
King Calin snapped his fingers and a guard came running from beside the door. “Bring High Prince Fain here.” The guard bowed before running to follow the order.
He got up agitated and walked around the tent. Alice stayed seated watching him and hoping that whatever the hell she was attempting to do it was going to work out and not backfire the way everything always seemed too.
Calin poured himself a drink and sipped it before looking back at the Fae Girl who met his eye but didn’t get up. She was insolent, he thought, but perhaps Uther liked her that way. Part of him could certainly see the attraction, he thought.
He turned as they hauled High Prince Fain in, still bound up but evidently putting a good fight. Alice stood shocked when she saw him and he frowned at her taking in the revealing dress and noting the Iron bracelet still burning at her wrist.
“Untie him.” He said to the guards and they moved quickly to follow his instructions. King Calin sat back on his throne and looked back at Alice.
“Sit.” He said to her and she gritted her teeth before doing as she was told. “And remain silent.” He added before looking back at Fain who glared at him.
“I’ve been having an interesting discussion with your Fae.” He said slowly.
“About what?” Fain replied keeping his voice level.
Calin sighed before he answered. “I want you to answer my questions honestly.” He said and Fain frowned at him before glancing at Alice.
“That would depend on the question…”
“Naturally.” Calin replied. “But for the sake of our ongoing peace, I would demand it.”
“Peace? You speak of peace when your actions have brought about war.” He snapped.
“And this is why I ask for honesty now.” Calin replied.
“Fine. What is it you want to know.”
“The Witches, and the Spectrals, do they attack your lands as well as ours?”
“And today, the Spectrals, did they attack your men too?”
“Your Fae told me that she destroyed the Spectrals. Is this also true?”
“Yes.” He replied again glancing at Alice. “Anything else?”
“One last one, and this is possibly the most important. Is it as your Fae says, is Niseri back?”
Prince Fain barely flinched at her name but he met Calin’s eyes as he answered.
“Yes. It is.”
“Then why did your brother tell me nothing of this?” He hissed.
“That is for the High King to answer, I cannot speak for him.”
“But you fight for him.”
“Yes I do. As you did once, if you recall King Calin.”
Calin stood up off his throne and turned away from them both, thinking it over before he turned back around and placed his hands on the back of it.
“What do you mean?” Fain retorted.
King Calin turned looking at Fain as though he was sizing him up. “I want an audience with the High King. Can you arrange it?”
Fain frowned. “Now? Now you want an audience?”
“Unless you see the need in continuing this pointless war?”
Fain shook his head.
“Good. I will write our terms and you will take them to High King Uther.”
“Can you ride or do you want to rest first?”
“I can ride.”
“Fine. We will have the horses readied. I will send my retinue with you to escort you and ensure safe passage.”
“As you wish.”
“And I will keep the Fae Girl with me until we meet with Uther.” He added.
“I cannot agree to that.” Fain stated keeping his eyes on Calin though he itched to look at her. Itched to see if she was okay.
“You do not have a choice in the matter. She will remain here. She is my insurance to guarantee Uther will show.”
“What makes you think he would not? You know him, you have fought beside him for years.”
“Things change. People change. The Fae Girl stays here and that is final.” He replied and Fain sighed knowing he was right, he had no choice.
“May I at least speak to her for a moment before I go?”
“Make it quick. I’ll write out our terms while you do.” He replied and got up to pull paper and a quill from the table behind him.
Alice got up from her chair and walked towards him. He pulled her further aside and as far from King Calin as he dared.
“Have they hurt you?” He asked quietly.
She shook her head.
“Have they touched you?” He asked delicately and she frowned.
“Worried your weapon has been damaged?” She said gritting her teeth and he shook his head.
“That’s not what I meant.” He stated calmly.
“Then what did you mean?” She snapped back.
“I don’t want to argue with you. Not here. But if they’ve hurt you, if they’ve done anything to you then I won’t leave you here.”
“You heard what King Calin said.” She replied looking away. “You don’t have a choice.”
He glanced over at Calin and saw that he was sealing his papers. They were almost out of time. Looking back at her he sighed. “I will always want to protect you, you know that don’t you?”
“And I will always want to protect you.” She said looking back at him. “That’s all I was trying to do.” She added and he frowned slightly.
“Let’s hope the High King sees it that way.” He said.
“High Prince Fain your time is up.” King Calin called and they both looked at him. He offered his terms, now sealed with a dark wax seal for Fain to take.
“The horses are ready for you outside.” He said as Fain took them and tucked them safely away.
“If you hurt her…”
“Relax Prince Fain, she may be our leverage but we will treat her with every respect.”
“Be sure that you do.” He warned before looking back at Alice and quickly leaving the tent.
But as he went Alice felt suddenly very alone and very vulnerable. She felt herself shaking slightly and mentally tried to pull herself together but without Fain, without him there… she shook her head slightly, unable to even put her fear into coherent thoughts. She needed to be brave, or to at least pretend to be she told herself, after all she had gotten herself into this mess but something told her that if held her nerve she might be able to get herself out of it and potentially even be able to stop the fighting.