Chapter 13 - Begging for Mercy
She walked with Nela across the camp and to the High King’s tent.
“Good luck.” Nela said before leaving her outside. She gave her a small smile and took a deep breath before she walked in. This is it, she thought, time to face it.
High King Uther sat with Prince Fain next to him and just Jelric in the room. Clearly he didn’t want an audience for this. She gritted her teeth and made sure she curtsied low.
He narrowed his eyes at her and motioned for her to come forward with his hand. She did as she was told and stopped just before the three of them, her stomach in knots at what he might say, what he might do and she could barely conceal the fact that she was trembling.
“Well girl. What do you have to say for yourself?” He asked, his voice so cold it sent a shiver down her.
She met his eyes and swallowed. She wasn’t sure she’d ever seen him this angry before, even when he’d been banishing his own wife at Rillon’s trial.
She got on her knees. “Please don’t collar me.” She begged and he scowled.
“Give me one good reason why I should not.”
“I promise I will never disobey you again.”
He shook his head. “Your promises are worthless to me. You already agreed to obey me remember and as soon as you had the chance you betrayed me.”
“I betrayed you?” She retorted. “You were the one who made a deal with me. Remember. You said I could have my freedom if I promised to fight for you.”
“I did say that. But the war is not over girl. You are not free yet.”
“Right, but that wasn’t enough for you. You ordered Fain to…” She fell silent and looked away at the ground, feeling the shame of it, the shame at what he’d wanted Fain to do. “You did that. Despite what you agreed with me.”
“And Prince Fain refused.” He retorted.
“Yes but your intent was still there.” She said back at him.
“And so was yours when you disobeyed me.”
“I did it to save him. To save your brother. Does that not mean anything to you?”
“So what would you have me do?” He growled back. “You want forgiveness is that it? To just pretend you didn’t run off when you were specifically ordered not too?”
She shook her head. “I want you to treat me like an actual person, an actual human being and not just some damn possession.”
“But that’s what you are. You are Fae.”
She looked at him, feeling a tear escape and run down her cheek before she could stop it. “Is that all you ever see?” She asked quietly and he narrowed his eyes and watched her for a moment as though he was thinking something over.
He looked at Jelric and then Prince Fain. “Leave us.” He said.
Fain frowned and glanced at Alice before back at the High King.
“I said leave us.” Uther repeated and Fain got up and sighed before walking to where Alice was still kneeling. He kissed her on the top of her head and squeezed her shoulder before looking back at his brother and giving him a hard look. Jelric followed behind him and they heard the tent fabric shut as they were left alone.
Uther stared at her and she bit her tongue not daring to speak now.
“Do you love him?” He asked quietly.
“What?” She asked confused.
“My brother. Do you love him?”
She met his eye and shrugged. “I don’t know.” She said honestly because she wasn’t sure what she felt exactly.
“Yet you disobeyed me, and you risked your life just because you thought he might be in danger?”
“He was in danger. There were five Spectrals right where he was.”
“You didn’t know that at the time though. You only knew that he might be in trouble.”
“What’s your point?”
“That you did all that yet you won’t admit to me that you love him?”
“Because I don’t know. I don’t know how I feel. I just know that when he was in danger, when I thought he was, all that mattered was getting to him, to help him.”
“I see.” He said sitting back. “Did you even consider the consequences?”
She shook her head.
“Did you even think that you might get hurt, that you might be captured or even killed?”
“No.” She said quietly.
“So you’re telling me you didn’t think about anything but helping him?”
She sighed. “What does it matter anyway? It won’t stop you from collaring me will it?”
“I want you to feel that for me.” He said after a moment.
“What?” She balked.
“That love. That loyalty, whatever you call it. I want you to have that for me.”
“What are you saying?” She narrowed her eyes.
“I’m saying that if I agree not to collar you, will you agree to be that loyal to me. To fight for me the way you fought for my brother?”
She looked at him frowning.
“I want you to be willing to risk your life, to throw yourself into danger with no regard for your own safety but for me.” He stated. “Can you do it?”
“I don’t know.” She said quietly. “I need to trust you and I don’t think I can do that…” She said honestly even though she knew it wouldn’t help her cause in anyway.
“Perhaps we both need to learn to trust each other.” He said.
Alice sighed. “So how do we learn to do that?”
He gave her a hard look. “Go. Let me think on it.”
She got up slowly and curtsied before leaving the tent confused by the conversation and even more confused that he hadn’t just decided to collar her and be done with it.
She stepped out from the tent’s shadow into the sunshine, feeling the heat, feeling the warmth of it and then it felt like something shifted inside her. She stumbled momentarily, shutting her eyes and the Spectral flashed in her mind. She gasped, clutching her chest like she was suddenly winded and the moment passed.
Fain watched as she left the tent and saw stumble from where he’d been waiting for her. “What’s wrong?” He asked going up to her but she shook her head.
“It’s nothing.” She replied. “I’m just a little tired that’s all.”
“What did the High King say?”
“He’s thinking it over.” She replied.
“So he’s not going to collar you?”
“It’s more complicated than that.” She stated. “He…” She scrunched up her face because she didn’t know how to explain the conversation she’d just had.
“Let’s go to my tent. It’ll give you a moment to think.”
She nodded following him. Wanting to get out of the sun, wanting to get out of the heat.
They walked in and she sat down, grateful to be taking the weight off her feet. He handed her a drink and sat down beside her. Watching her. He saw for the first time the weariness in her and it made him angry at himself. After everything she had gone through how had he not realised the toll it was having on her.
“What is it?” She asked looking back at him and noticing the strange look on his face.
“Tell me what he said first.”
“Fine.” She replied taking a huge sip of her drink and then she looked down at her feet because she wasn’t sure she could look at him at that moment. “He asked me if I loved you.” She said quietly.
“Please don’t interrupt because this is going to be weird enough as it is.” She stated quickly.
“Fine. Go on.” He said and she frowned slightly feeling like she was one of his Generals that he’d just ordered to finish a report.
“I said that I don’t know. Because I don’t. I just know that when you were in danger all I could think about was getting to you. Of helping you.”
“And what did he say to that?” He asked not showing any emotion to what she’d said.
“He said that he wanted me to feel that for him too.” She said meeting his eyes.
“What?” He growled.
“Not the love, well not exactly. I think he meant the loyalty. He said that he wanted me to fight for him the way I fought for you.”
“He said he would agree not to collar me if I promised him that.”
“And did you?”
She shrugged. “Not exactly. I said I couldn’t trust him. Because I can’t.” She added seeing the look on his face.
“What did he say?”
“He said that we both need to learn to trust each other.”
Fain looked at her then and he pulled her over onto his lap.
“What is it?” She asked leaning against him as his arms wrapped around her.
“You’ve fought so hard, not just for me but with that Spectral and I don’t think I realised till today what we’ve all put you through.”
“What do you mean?”
“The Spectrals, the Agnai, that Iron Cage the Sharns threw you in.” He said looking at her before adding “Rillon.”
“What’s your point?” She said gritting her teeth.
“I think we’ve asked too much of you.”
“I think you’re a little too late with that.” She replied.
“No, I think we need to give you some downtime, some space. You’ve been going at a million miles since you got here and I think some recouperation would do you some good.”
“So you want to send me away?” She asked turning to look at him fully.
“No, I want to take you away, from all of this. Only for a few weeks. But I want you to get strong again.”
“I am strong. I defeated those Spectrals. All six of them.”
“And the last one nearly killed you.” He replied gently. She bit her lip because she knew deep down he was right. The last one had nearly killed her.
“You’re exhausted and you can’t keep fighting like this.”
“We’re in the middle of a war. We can’t just go off like that.”
“It’s no different now to when we were at Montefore. The Sharns are back as an ally. Now is as good a time as any. And it’ll only be for a few weeks max.”
“Where do you suggest we go?” She said sighing.
“Nind Castle. It’s not too far from here. A couple of days ride at best. Prince Hal is there too so it’s safe.”
“Do you think the High King will let me?” She asked.
“I’m not going to give him the option of saying no.” He replied before kissing her gently.