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The Warrior Princess. Chapter 3
By
AnnaMayZing

The Warrior Princess. Chapter 3

I slowly raised my arm and touched the great beast with my fingertips.

There was no point in trying to sleep. I had rested well the night before and my nerves were on edge anyway, thinking about what lay ahead.

About me, I could hear the sounds of preparation for battle and wondered what the next few days would bring and, turning my head to the side, I looked across to Astrid who was lying on her back, the sword belt around her waist and the gleaming hilt, shining above its scabbard in the slender beams of light which penetrated the gaps between the thin willow twigs which served as a blind at the window.

As if tuned to my thoughts, Astrid turned her head toward me and gave a half smile.

"It is not easy to rest with so much at stake," she said, grim-faced.

"No," I replied, "It is not."

I lay for a while, just looking at her as she lay quietly, her dark eyes shining as she looked back at me, her pretty face, grim and serious.

"Tell me about, Fabian," I asked her eventually.

She smiled and studied my face.

"You like him, don't you?" she asked. I paused, considering the question, before replying.

"Yes, I do. He is a good man. Twice he has saved my life. I owe him a lot."

"I don't think he will see it that you owe him anything. He is a brave warrior and will fight to the death for his people if he has to."

I was puzzled, what did she mean by 'his people'? I must have frowned for almost immediately she continued with a surprised tone in her voice.

"You don't know who he is, do you?"

"Should I?' I replied, even more puzzled than before.

"You must know of Haraldson, thane of the fallen realm of Landesmark?"

"Yes..." I answered her slowly, not seeing the connection, "He was slain by Samerron himself at the battle of Longshadows some two score years ago. That was the moment the Landesmark was overrun and its people were enslaved."

"That is right," she retorted, "Fabian is the only living son of Haraldson, and Samerron has sought him ever since, for he knows that his people will follow him and rise up again if he is reunited with them."

This was so much to take in.

"The Landesmark was well known for the Draaken," she continued. "Its people treated them with respect and in return, they had a good relationship with them. They had nothing to fear until they were overrun and the Draaken were captured and broken to be used as winged steeds for Samerron's spies and generals. they were encouraged to take the horses of the Landesmark and even attack its people."

"So why, then," I enquired, "was that one so easy to calm?"

Astrid put her hand to her chin as she considered the question.

"I can only assume," she answered, slowly and thoughtfully, "that it is is an older creature who still remembers the friendship with the Landesmark. it is possible that he may pass this memory on to the other Draaken. We can only hope, but it would be a wondrous thing if we could win back their friendship. This could be just the help we need!"

I pondered for a minute then suddenly said,

"The sword!"

Astrid looked bewildered, saying,

"What sword?"

"Fabian's sword!" I exclaimed, "The cross guard. It is formed like wings, Draaken's wings!" I paused for a moment then continued, "and your sword... Draaken's heads."

She smiled as the realisation showed in my face.

"The people of the Landesmark learned many generations ago, how to fly Draaken and my forebears, through their friendship with the Landesmark, helped to breed the Draaken, hence the heads on my sword."

As she spoke she turned away and stared up at the roof as if remembering long forgotten times.

"When this battle is won," I asked, unable to consider any other outcome now, "will you and Fabian marry and cement the alliance of your people?"

Astrid gave a wry smile and remained staring up at the rafters.

"I don't think so." She paused, as if deciding her words carefully.

"I think he has his eye set on another."

"But who, Astrid? I had the impression that you two were very close. Friends at least."

She laughed gently.

"Yes, we are close but not in that way. We have grown up together more like brother and sister. I love him in the way a sister would but I think he has made it plain that you are the one he wants."

"Me!" I exclaimed, "I have only been here two days, how could he possibly fall for me in such a short time?"

"I think he fell in love with you when you were attacked by the enemy and almost captured. He saw the spirit and strength in you and realised that you were the woman he wanted."

Astrid raised herself up and sat on the side of the cot, her head in her hands.

"There is another reason." she continued slowly, "I too have someone else who means so much to me that I cannot now imagine being with another, someone who I cannot even tell how I feel."

My heart seemed to stop beating for a moment and an odd feeling of disappointment ran through me, making my blood run cold and producing an almost imperceptible shiver.

For some unfathomable reason I was afraid to ask but I couldn't stop myself and, with a slight tremor, spoke slowly:

"Can you tell me?"

Astrid didn't look up but spoke to the floor.

"I... I don't know, Anna."

There was an awkward silence, I didn't want to seem inquisitive and she didn't say any more.

"Come," I said eventually, my heart heavy, "If we cannot rest we may as well make use of the time we have left."

I stood and held out my hand to her but she did not take it. Instead, she looked up at me with what seemed to be fear in her deep brown eyes.

"It is you, Anna..." Her voice trailed off.

I frowned, not understanding.

"What is me?" I asked her.

She paused and I thought that her eyes were beginning to fill with tears but no, surely not, a trick of the light perhaps.

Once again she lowered her head and stared at the floor.

"It is you that I care so much about."

"Me?" She seemed so vulnerable as she sat there but still I did not comprehend as I continued.

"I do not understand, Astrid. Why does caring for me keep you from marrying Fabian?"

She looked up at me. her face betraying her inner thoughts. She appeared so full of turmoil that I knelt in front of her and took her hands to reassure her.

After a moments silence I repeated;

"Astrid, I don't understand. Explain it to me... please." I virtually pleaded with her.

Finally, she answered.

"I don't just care for you, Anna. I would die for you. Since you arrived I have experienced feelings I have never felt before. I don't understand it myself but I don't want to be with anyone else. Only you, Anna, only you."

She gazed deep into my eyes and suddenly, leaned towards me and kissed me on the lips, gently.

As our lips touched a strange sensation ran through me, like a spark, beginning at my lips and shooting down to the bottom of my stomach. Suddenly, everything became crystal clear. All the things I had felt in her company suddenly made sense. Was this what love felt like?

I could feel her hands trembling as she sat back and waited for my reaction. I didn't know what to say or what to do so I slowly stood and drew Astrid up to her feet.

She stood before me, tall and proud, yet nervous and trembling. I looked straight into her eyes.

"I don't really understand," I began, "but I do know that I have felt things, when you are near me, when you touch me, feelings that are so nice and warm which I want to experience again and again and yes, Astrid, I want to be near you."

I leaned towards her and returned her gentle kiss. Shivers ran up and down my spine and my knees felt weak. Sparks seemed to fly around my head which felt light and dizzy and all I could do was pull her closer to me, holding her as if to never let her go.

When, finally, we separated, we stood for a moment, holding each other tightly, enjoying the moment of togetherness and, at last, I understood. I had never felt this way about any man, never wanted to be so close and intimate but now... now it just seemed natural and felt the way I imagined it would when I found my perfect man, only Astrid wasn't a man and that was the part that I didn't understand.

I didn't want this moment to end and I held her so tightly that she finally and gently, pushed me away, saying,

"I can't breathe."

I looked deep into her eyes and saw that the fear was gone and had been replaced with such joy, the like of which I had never seen before and what I saw in her face was what I felt inside. The feeling that I had found the person I didn't know I craved, the one person with whom I wanted to share everything, my life, my love, everything.

Suddenly, a dark cloud descended upon me as the realisation dawned that we could not be together. This thought must have been reflected in my face for Astrid took my chin in her hand and asked;

"Anna? What is wrong?"

I didn't answer right away, I didn't know how.

Slowly, the look of fear began to return to her face.

"Anna?" she repeated, "Are you angry?"

I sank slowly down to sit on the cot and stared at the floor.

Astrid followed me down and knelt in front of me, taking my hands in her own, the fear in her face turning to one of concern, panic even.

"Anna," she said again, shaking my hands urgently, "Anna, please speak to me, tell me what is wrong!"

"Astrid," I began, shakily, "I don't know what to say, how to say..."

I was trembling, lost and now, I too was afraid.

I stood quickly, without warning, causing her to stumble backwards and jump to her feet, crying out.

"Anna!"

"We can't, Astrid," I sobbed, "We can't!" and fled into the great hall and out into the forest to find Fleet-Foot, the one creature I told everything, my confidante, who listened to all I said with infinite patience and free of judgement.

 

My horse looked up as I entered his stall.

I threw my arms around his neck and I thought he pressed his head toward me but was probably just my imagination.

"What am I to do, Fleet-Foot?" I talked into his neck, "I have, at last, found someone I want to be with, forever. Someone who loves me and is everything I need. Someone I cannot be with!"

Fleet-Foot stood patiently, as if listening. I knew he did not understand but he was a comfort to me and I swear he could tell when I needed a friend.

He nodded his head as if agreeing as I continued:

"I came here to find an ally against the enemy but I have also found love. A love that is beyond reach, unattainable."

I released him and stroked his flanks.

"I know," I told him, as if he had spoken to me, "I have to be strong. My people are my first priority. This will have to wait."

Again, Fleet-Foot nodded his head, as if in agreement. I patted him and turned.

"Fabian!" I exclaimed. "I didn't hear you. have you been there long?"

He was standing in the doorway, a little grim-faced.

"No," he replied, "I just got here. Are you all right?"

"Yes, I'm fine." I lied, "Just checking on my horse before we set out."

Fabian didn't reply so I continued;

"How did you manage with the Draaken?"

"Very well," he answered. "Would you like to see?"

"Yes, indeed," I replied, glad of the distraction and followed as he turned and walked away.

In a clearing ahead I could hear the Draaken as we approached, his breath loud, interspersed with occasional snorts and when he came into view he looked resplendent with a bright breastplate of armour, carrying the crest of the Landesmark, and a bright helmet to protect his head. His great red eyes flashed brightly as he moved, watching us as we approached.

Fabian took my hand and led me towards the fabulous beast.

“Come,” he said, as we walked. “He is still nervous but he is not afraid of me anymore. Just don't make any sudden moves.”

As we got near, Fabian raised his arm and the Draaken lowered its head.

“Stroke his snout, gently,” he said. I slowly raised my arm and touched the great beast with my fingertips. Its eyes closed, as if in pleasure, and he breathed gently as I ran my hand up his long snout to the edge of his protective helmet.

“You see?” Fabian spoke after a while, “He is not to be feared, just treated with respect.”

He stroked the side of creature's long neck and whispered into its ear and without any further command, the Draaken lowered itself to the ground and waited patiently.

I looked at Fabian who looked back at me as if waiting for something to happen and eventually said;

“He is waiting for you to climb up.”

My eyes widened.

“Climb up!” I exclaimed, “But what if I fall?”

“You will not fall,” came the soft reply, “He will carry you safely, you have no need for fear.”

I stepped astride the long, scaled neck that was stretched out along the ground and as I settled, with a gesture from Fabian, the huge creature raised it's head and got to its feet with the grace of an elf.

Fabian was right, I had nothing to fear and the Draaken held me safe and secure as he moved around the clearing, finally returning to the place I had mounted him and sitting down to allow me to dismount.

I stepped off and stood beside his head, my hand on the horned ridge that ran from his forehead to the back of his massive skull.

“He trusts you.” Fabian stood beside me, placing his hand beside mine on the Draaken's neck, “As do I.”

I looked at him and saw in his eyes the very emotion that Astrid had described.

I was embarrassed and lowered my eyes before turning away. I felt awful. On the one hand, here was a man who wanted me and adored me and would make a perfect husband for me, bringing our two realms together but, on the other, I didn't want him. I liked him, of course I did, but I wanted Astrid.

I turned back to him.

“I have to prepare.” It was all I could say, “You have worked wonders with him.”

I walked quickly away, unable to look back for fear of him seeing the grief I was feeling for all the hurt I was causing.

 

~*~*~

 

When I returned to the Great Hall, Astrid was not there. Her cot was empty and all her weapons were gone. My sword, bow, and quiver lay beside my cot where I had left them and my grey cloak was folded neatly on top. My heart was heavy. I should have told her, been honest with her, instead of fleeing like a coward. Now she doesn't know what I feel, that I love her as she loves me, and probably thinks I hate her.

I picked up my heavy sword and buckled the thick, strong leather around my waist, Threw the cloak over my shoulders, pulling the hood up over my head, put the strap of the quiver over my head, settled it across my back and picked up my bow.

I then took a deep breath and straightened my back. Drawing myself up, I stepped out into the fading light. It was time!

I returned to the stable to find Fleet-Foot and as I entered the wooden shed I saw a figure sitting in front of my horse, head bowed as if in prayer.

“Astrid?” I spoke gently.

She looked up, her eyes full of sadness.

I went to her and took her hands, drawing her to her feet.

“I am sorry,” she said quietly, “I should not have told you how I felt about you. I knew you could not possibly feel the same.”

“Oh, Astrid,” I replied, softly, “I do feel the same.” I pulled her to me and put my arms around her, comforting her.

“Then why did you run away?”

“I was afraid,” I told her, “I was so glad that I had finally found the answers for my whole life, then realised that we cannot be together. I panicked and didn't know what to say, how to tell you.

When this battle is finally over,” I continued, “We will work this out but for now, have no fear, I love you and will defend you to the death if need be.”

Astrid then stood tall and proud and once again looked very much the Warrior Princess that she was.

I took Fleet-Foot's reins and walked him outside and, with Astrid at my side, felt invincible.

When we reached the clearing, Fabian was holding the Draaken.

Astrid spoke first.

“Is he ready?” Indicating the beast.

“He is ready.” came the reply.

“Then come, the time is upon us!” She spoke with authority, The same strong woman I had met so recently yet seemed so long ago.

“Fabian, Take the Draaken and check the route out of the forest. If we can leave without being seen, then so much the better but if we have to fight it is better we know where the enemy is beforehand.”

Fabian bowed low to her then turned to me.

“Take care, fair lady,” Then took my hand in his leather glove and kissed it gently, released and turned to mount the giant winged beast.

With its massive wings spread wide, it crouched then leapt into the air with a mighty rush of wind and was gone.

For a moment, Astrid and I were alone so I turned to her and said:

“Well, this is it. The beginning of the end. I just hope it spells the beginning of a new age of peace.”

She smiled.

“And for us, Anna, new hope.”

“Yes,” I replied. “New hope.”

 

 

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