Chapter 48: A Bloody Reunion
I rode into dusk leaving only clouds of dust in my wake. Not stopping for even a single second, I kept up a pace fast as possible. Pulling on to the reigns, I made the horse; I was seated on the back of, fall into a gentle trot and navigated him into the denser part of forests; known to line the back of the castle housing the royal family of the prestigious Estercrest Empire.
Carefully, I jumped off the horse back. Dried leaves and twigs snapped under my weight. Gripping the leather of the reigns, with a gentle quality, I proceeded to fasten it around the nearest tree trunk. The stallion nuzzled the base of the pine tree; probably searching for food. Sparing the graceful animal one last glance, bringing my lifelong familiarity with the forests to use, I headed out towards the castle.
The sun was sinking into the depths of the mountains, leaving ever growing shadows in its wake. I quickened my pace, wishing to reach my destination under the guidance of the faint glow from sun. Limbs of darkness caressed my being as I neared the stone walls of the castle, the gigantic structure towering over me.
I could barely suck in a relaxed breath, when my ears picked up the subtle sounds of leaves rustling, feet shuffling, and wood snapping. I flattened my back against the cold stones of the wall. A shiver ran down my spine leaving goose bumps behind. I witnessed the movement of more than a dozen figures bathed in shadows. With the shadows aiding their mission, the figures stealthily skipped over the walls making the rear of the castle. As my eyes traced the commotion around me; a certain feeling of dread settled into the pit of my stomach. I was uncertain of how to define the feeling taking over me, but what I could determine was that if I did not stir into action I might have to live through something that may kill me on the inside.
Cautiously and noiselessly as possible I scurried up the tree I found myself closest to. Using my arms I propelled my body onto a high branch, and worked on gaining stable footing. Taking a deep breath, I looked at my surroundings and analyzed all courses of action open for me. From my vantage point I could see a small group of men proceeding into the complex architectural depths of the castle. Putting speed into my movement, but without losing touch with caution, I placed one step after another on the hardness of the wall, and circled the building.
As per my suspicion, the inner side of the main entrance to the castle stood witness to horrendous sights; slipperiness was becoming a permanent feature of the grounds as an ever thickening layer of red enveloped the solid slabs forming the castle flooring, More than tens of hundreds of soldiers clad in royal uniforms stood defending the castle and their king; blocking every path leading to the interior part of the majestic castle, while a considerably smaller but exceptionally skilled and brave army of the prince’s followers speared their way into the castle; gaining an inch at a time. Sounds of metal clashing against metal were all one’s ears were met with. Amputated limbs and mutilated bodies fell to ground every now and then, topping the layer of blood with one of their own.
Amidst all the chaos, radiating courage and unparalleled grace stood alongside my father and brothers the man who had complete possession over my being. Vincent’s sword swung with dexterity, delivering fatal blows to the opponents; one after another. Blood trickled down his forehead staining his clothing, but doing nothing to dim the fight inside him. I could see multiple gashes open all over his body, but, I did not have the opportunity to fixate on them for I had much more pressing issues to deal with.
From the corner of my left eye I could make out numerous figures advancing towards the rear of Vincent’s army. It was not hard to figure out what they planned to do, especially while witnessing them slaughtering the more or less unaware men fighting for the love of their prince. King Cedric was cunning and more devoid of honor than I previously thought him to be, that I had to give him credit for.
Within a matter of moments the bow weapon formerly resting against my chest was swung off my shoulder over my head, and rested in the grip of my hands; arrow loaded and string taut. Adrenaline built up in my bloodstream lending clarity to all of my senses. Fluttering one eye close, I took an aim of my target and let the arrow find its way into his chest. I would have liked to give myself a celebratory clap on the back for such great aim, but sadly I did not have even a moment to waste. Reloading the bow, I took aim for another head that was busy extracting life from clueless soldiers, and shot. Reload, aim, shoot, and repeat; the cycle continued till my hand came empty from the quiver. I let out a string of expletives audible to no one but myself.
A small band of men under the leadership of Vincent had broken off from the main army, and were steadily making their way inside the castle; hot on their trail were more than a couple of dozen men wrapped in black. Vincent and his companions were too busy fending off the attacks from enemies upfront and moving ahead that they remained unaware of the grave danger closing in on them from the rear end. Things did not look good at all.
Rubbing my palm on my showing belly, I closed my eyes and inhaled deeply. With determination anew I opened my eyes, and began to swiftly descend from the wall; it was no easy task for a person of my state but regardless I managed it. Setting feet onto the ground, I pulled out a dagger from my waistband, and launched an offensive against anyone close enough to cause any harm to my being. In between disposing off king Cedric’s men and saving my own skin, I somehow managed to gather more than a dozen intact arrows; few picked off the ground and most pulled out the flesh of the fallen.
With the weight of a full quiver on my back and a clear path in sight, I made a mad dash on the path where I had seen Vincent disappearing in distance on. Blood splashed as my feet hit puddles of it with every step, my feet hit bodies lying on the ground every now and then, my muscles screamed in agony and exhaustion, and my breathing turned labored, but I refused to let my pace waver.
Finally, excruciatingly long few moments later I could see the signs of the living fighting each other to keep their lives. Most of Cedric’s men lay dead in the feet of the survivors. Less than hundred men in total were breathing and up on their feet. In the galleries and hallways I could make out the forms of my father, brothers and other highly ranked men in the army battling with the soldiers loyal to king Cedric.
The sound of metal clinking and grunts of exhaustion from the two Kozlovsky were echoing within the four walls of the enormous throne room. It was clear that Vincent had the upper hand in the ongoing sparring, and he would be the one to rise victorious if the play remained fair, but fairness was one thing Cedric was known to be not too fond of.
With the aid of his sword Vincent stopped his father’s heavily jeweled sword short of ripping open his chest, and swiftly dealt a kick to the older man’s knee. With an audible pop his knee cap dislocated, and Cedric fell down to the ground; pain marking his handsome features. Taking advantage of his opponent’s inability to fight back, Vincent kicked the sword out of his father’s hand, and slightly pushed the pointy end of his own sword into the neck of Cedric.
In hopes of snatching his king from the very jaws of death and resultantly spending the rest of his life in extreme luxury one of the men in black snuck up on Vincent; sword poised and ready to be plunged into his heart. The time for a moment came to a complete halt, while it also moved with a ferocious speed. I loaded three arrows simultaneously in my bow, and with a whoosh they were released.
I let out a breath I had not even realized I was holding, when two out of the three arrows found themselves buried deep inside the ribcage of the man in black, whereas the third one ripped into the now late King Cedric’s neck.
Three things happened at once; Vincent turned around with bafflement masking his beautiful face; clearly in shock at what just took place, lifeless bodies drenched in their own blood of his assailant and his father fell to his feet, and I rushed into his arms. His arms wrapped around my waist while mine snaked around his neck. A smile found its way onto my lips as I heard a sigh escaped his lips and felt him breathe in my scent.
“Eleanor, you stubborn woman I told you to-“
I knew a scolding was on its way, and I expected it, but when Vincent stopped midsentence worry bloomed in my paranoid mind. Hurriedly, I let go off him, and pulled back enough to get a clear view of his face. Tears glistened in his eyes while his gaze was glued to my belly where his hands rested too.
I caressed his expertly carved features with my fingers as his eyes found mine. The depth of his gaze and the intensity of emotions swirling in his orbs just stole my breath away. There swam happiness, gratitude, fear and lust all on the surface of his eyes.
“Our baby,” he whispered softly.
I nodded in affirmation. A huge grin broke onto his face, and his lips came crashing onto my awaiting ones. He let me in completely; kissing him felt like melding into his soul. I felt an unending layer of love and desires take me into its wrap. Without breaking our kiss Vincent lifted me up into his strong arms and spun me around. I could not help but get lost in the deliciousness of our kiss and the air gently caressing my skin as he spun me around.