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The Warrior Princess. Chapter 6.
By
AnnaMayZing

The Warrior Princess. Chapter 6.

“Princess Anna!” she cried, “it is you!”

Rather than gallop out of the end of the tunnel and risk death after startling my people I halted and dismounted, leading Fleet-Foot slowly through the archway and out into the main cavern,

As I looked around a lump formed in my throat and tears welled in my eyes, I had only been away for a few days and now the scene before me broke my heart. The store cavern was full of sick and dying men, women and children.

The women and children were mainly dying from malnutrition, the men were wounded and infectious from unclean water.

The smell was sickening and the sound of people in pain and suffering was more than I could bear.

I led Fleet-Foot slowly through and out into the main courtyard. The scene here was not much better. My people were sitting or laying on the ground and the steps. Their strength almost gone and their spirits broken. How could these weak and hopeless people possibly be expected to fight the well-fed army outside?

I took a deep breath and fought back the tears. I had to find my father and brothers., and find them quickly.

I walked on, through the desolation and despair until I reached the steps that rose to the great oak door that was the entrance to my father's residence. My companions stood around me and I passed Fleet-Foot's rein to Ereward who took them in silence.

I began to ascend the wide stone steps, slowly, my feet heavy as I climbed each one until I reached the huge door. There should have been guards but there were none, so, taking the large ornate iron ring I turned it and pushed the door, my heart pounding with fear and anticipation.

Nothing, the door didn't move. I lifted the ring and banged it hard against the solid black timber, once, twice, three times the sound could be heard echoing inside the hall.

Footsteps approached, shuffling along the stone floor then, a creaking of hinges as the inspection hatch opened in front of me. An old, wizened face appeared at the grill and peered out.

It was one of the servants from the kitchens.

“Elenia, it is me, Anna!” I exclaimed. Her eyes narrowed as she squinted then, suddenly, opened wide in recognition.

“Princess Anna!” she cried, “it is you!”

The hatch snapped closed, a bolt was drawn back and the smaller door opened quickly inwards.

“Come, My Lady, come inside.”

I stepped through the door into the dull interior of the huge vaulted chamber.

“Where is my father, Elenia?” I asked urgently. Her face fell, staring at the floor.

“ I am sorry, My Lady,” she replied quietly, “Your father was taken by the fever just three days after you left.”

Tears once again welled in my eyes.

“My Brothers?” I asked, “What of them. Where are Hadrir and Zandrir?”

“At the walls, My Lady, They are there all the day now, watching and leading what is left of the garrison. They have not rested since the passing of King Wendell.”

Her words faded behind me as I had already turned and run back through the door and down the steps. Grabbing Fleet-Foot's reins from Ereward I leapt into the saddle.

“Come on,” I shouted, “with me!” and spurred my horse to ride swiftly to the walls and search for my brothers.

I could hear a battle raging outside the walls and soon I saw my brother.

“Zandrir,” I shouted, “Zandrir”.

He looked around then saw me below.

“Anna! Wait there.”

He ran to the steps as I dismounted and I waited as he reached me and took me in his arms and held me.

“Anna, you are back safely,” he said, holding me at arm's length.

“Yes,” I answered him, “but hurry, there is no time to lose.”

“What do you mean?” he frowned, “For what?”

“That battle out there is the Princess Astrid, from Mallagen. We have to help her. She has come to help us!” I pulled at his sleeve, “Come on.”

I looked about.

“Where is Hadrir? we need him.”

A darkness passed over Zandrir's face.

“He is dead, Anna.” he spoke softly, “He was defending the outer gates against an incursion. He was cut down as he fought. He died bravely and the incursion failed but he paid the ultimate price to save the city, our city.”

“Then come, gather all the men you can and we will avenge his death!” I again tugged his sleeve.

“But Anna,” he replied, “There are barely enough to defend the city walls and they are weak, so very weak.”

“Zandrir,” I shouted at him, “If Astrid fails we will not need to defend the city. Samerron will have enough men any day now, to storm the city with such might that we will all die!”

I looked him in the eye and nodded encouragingly.

“Yes,” he said, “you are right.” He turned and ran back to the wall, barking orders as he went and before too long the courtyard was filled with armed men, some mounted on horses and some just on foot.

I stood in the stirrups, raised my sword above my head and screamed:

FOR PELENGRATH!”

I turned towards the great gate and, as the huge timber doors swung open, pointed my sword ahead and spurred Fleet-Foot into an immediate gallop.

In the short time available, Zandrir had amassed some three thousand men and behind me, they poured through the gate, wheeled to the left and, within moments, rode directly into the battle.

The nine hundred woodsmen from Mallagen were fighting valiantly, the bodies of Samerron's men were strewn around them, but they were hopelessly outnumbered.

I had only around five hundred mounted but they fanned out around the fray and charged into the battle at full speed. The enemy had not expected this and many lost their lives to swords and lances but five hundred against five thousand was too great a difference and soon the charge was halted but it had been enough for the beleaguered force to regroup and fight with renewed vigour.

Shortly after the initial charge, we were joined by the men on foot.

Axes and swords clashed, the clang of steel against steel, the cries and shouts as men fought hand to hand. I rode through the battle cutting and stabbing, Fleet-Foot remaining true and steady in the clamour until, without warning, he reared up then fell to his knees.

I tried to hang on but I could not and as he dropped hard onto his knees and I was thrown forwards over his head.

I landed heavily on my back, the air expelled from my lungs and I lay, gasping for breath. My eyes were swimming and all around me seemed vague and unreal.

As my senses slowly returned to normal I saw that Fleet-Foot had an arrow through his neck.

I had no time to react for as my eyes focused a saw a group of enemy soldiers running toward me. I climbed unsteadily to my feet and drew my dagger with my free hand.

The first one reached me and I swung my sword but he was ready and with a swing of his axe, neatly parried my attack but as the weight of his swing carried him on I plunged the dagger into his neck, severing his jugular vein and bringing him down instantly.

By this time two more had reached me. They weren't wanting to take me prisoner now, no, I was fighting for my very life. I turned quickly and jumped behind Fleet-Foot, using him as an obstacle between me and my assailants, the first of whom tried to jump over him but, instead, ran onto the point of my sword which pierced his tunic and passed easily through his heart and lung, killing him instantly.

The second had run around after me and as the first fell, I guided his body around and pulled out the sword as he went down in front of me. The second was delayed long enough by the obstruction for me to move away a little and reposition myself better to engage him and as he ran toward me I swung my sword with all the strength I could muster, The was a loud thud as it was parried by the shield he was carrying and he stabbed at me with the short blade he was holding in his other hand.

I managed to deflect it with my dagger but he then hit me with his shield, sending me flying backwards. I stumbled and almost fell but managed to retain my stance and lift and swing my sword again as he ran towards me. Again, he blocked the swing with his shield and stabbed out again. This time I jumped back, avoiding the thrust and swung my sword upwards. It contacted with the underside of his shield and tore it from his arm. He yelled in pain but stopped only to pick up the axe of one of his fallen comrades and came at me again. I lifted my sword and swung as hard as I could. The was a loud clang and my sword sheared just below the cross guard leaving me almost defenceless.

I stood my ground, the broken sword in one hand and my dagger in the other, daring him to come near.

“You fight well, My lady,” the voice course and grating as he sneered, “Your people have fought hard and true but they commit suicide. We are decimating them!” He laughed as he advanced toward me, “It's almost a shame to kill you.”

I lunged at him dagger held out ahead of me. He brushed my arm to the side and grabbed my wrist, twisting in one swift movement, making me release my grip on the dagger, as his other hand grabbed me by the throat and began to squeeze. The blood was blocked in my jugular and the air in my lungs was taken from me as his thick, powerful fingers held me ever tighter,

My head began to spin, stars danced in front of my eyes. I couldn't breathe and the life began to drain from me. Through the haze, I heard a screeching cry, and suddenly he released his grip and I fell to the ground, gasping for air, where I remained on all fours, my head bowed, swimming,

Slowly, as my head cleared, I looked around. There was no sign of my attacker! I shook my head, still hearing the screeching. I looked up and all became clear, the Draaken!

Fabian had come at last and there was not one but a hundred creatures, soaring and wheeling in the dark sky above. Dipping and diving down to snatch Samerron's men and flying high with them before releasing their lifeless bodies to smash onto the ground far below.

The battle raged on and I picked up the sword of a fallen comrade, running once more into the fierce fighting.

The arrival of the Draaken had turned the tide and surely enough, Samerron's army was beginning to falter. Gradually, the remaining men either threw down their arms or fled into the forest.

I was exhausted and leaned heavily on the sword I had found.

“Anna?” a gentle voice behind me caused me to turn suddenly and stumble,

Strong arms grabbed me and steadied me. I smiled weakly.

“Fabian, You arrived at last,” I allowed myself to lean gently against him as he held me.

“Did you not have faith in me, Anna?” his bottom lip pushed outwards in a mock pout.

“I thought...” paused to gather my senses.

“Thought what?” He frowned, “That I had deserted you? Anna! I would never do such a thing!”

I shook my head slowly from side to side.

“I thought something had happened to you. That you were captured, or even...”

“No,” he smiled, stroking my hair, “It's a long story. Have you seen Astrid?”

Astrid! I had been so busy trying to survive…

“No!” I exclaimed. “Have you?”

“Not yet.” He took my arm, “Let's see if we can find her.”

I let the sword fall. It wasn't mine and didn't fit my scabbard.

We walked among the dead and dying in silence. I now had time to look about me and see what horrors had befallen us. Thousands of men lay around, most dead but some crying out and being tended by others.

The defenders intertwined with the attackers in a grotesque embrace, hacked and torn.

Some just sitting, exhausted.

As we passed, men looked up and smiled, nodding in satisfaction.

“My Lady, Anna.” I barely heard the weak voice.

I looked down at a barely recognisable face.

“Halberad!” I dropped to my knees beside the almost lifeless form.

“I told... you,” he said weakly, “that I would follow you... to the death.”

“But...” I couldn't think what to say to him. He was so badly wounded that death would surely come soon enough and the tears began to fill my eyes.

“You are a brave man, Halberad. It has been my honour to fight alongside you.” It was all I could think of.

“Find the Princess, My Lady,” he whispered. “Together you...”

His voice trailed away as the last breath was exhaled from his lungs and his grip on my hand relaxed, his arm falling gently to the bloody soil.

I reached across and closed his unseeing eyes.

Fabian helped me to my feet and I turned to him.

“We have paid such a high price, Fabian and it is not over yet.”

He didn't answer but smiled and wiped the tears from my cheeks.

As we stood, a flash of lightning rent the sky followed by the sharp crack of thunder and on the ground something caught my eye in the flash of light, something gold lying amongst the bodies.

I walked to it and saw it was a sword. I recognised instantly the Tanzanite gem in the pommel and the Draakens head cross-guard. My heart stopped and my hand went to my mouth, it was Astrid's sword!

I screamed out:

“Astrid!” I waited, nothing. I called her name again. I couldn't breathe and my heart was pounding now.

“Please, no.” I whispered, “Don't let her be... ASTRID!”

“Anna.” A small, almost imperceptible sound.

“Astrid, where are are you?”

I heard a movement and saw her hand appear from under a pile of bodies.

“Fabian, quickly, help me!” I pulled at the top body and struggled with his dead weight but between us, we moved the three and found her, pinned to the ground, a spear through her upper thigh and into the soil beneath.

She screamed as we pulled the last body from her as he was still holding the haft.

“Get it out, Please, Anna, get it out.” She screamed.

I looked at Fabian.

“We will have to lift her with it in place and take it out from the back. It will have an arrowhead tip.”

He nodded agreement. By this time her screams had attracted others and between them, they lifted her gently onto a pallet.

Whilst I held her head and hand she screamed as the spear was pulled through her leg and a tourniquet was applied to stem the blood.

My heart was breaking to see her like this. I stroked her hair and comforted her before realising she had stopped moving,

“Astrid...” I panicked, “Astrid, don't leave me! Not now. Not after all we have done together!”

I leaned over her face and just barely felt her breath on my cheek.

“Come on!” I shouted, “Get her to the Palace, quickly!”

She was carried through the gates and straight to my chamber and, as we passed through the throne room, I shouted;

“Elenia! Elenia!”

My voice echoed throughout the great stone room and within seconds the tapping of feet hurrying across the stone floor.

“Coming, My Lady,” she called as she ran and when she saw the prone figure on the pallet she stopped dead in her tracks, her hand covering her mouth.

“She needs your skill as a healer, Elenia,” I said gently, “You must use all your knowledge to save her.”

Elenia turned and ran quickly towards the kitchen

Moments later she reappeared followed by several serving girls carrying clean sheets and pails of steaming hot water.

In the meantime I had Astrid placed upon my bed then with my dagger, I cut away the thick, brown leather of her leggings and gently peeled it away from the wound. It looked bad but the lance had missed the bone.

Elenia lifted her knee and placed a wad of cloth beneath the wound then, on her instruction, I slowly began to release the tourniquet. I prayed it would be Ok and as the blood was allowed to flow again, I held my breath, The wound began to ooze dark red but it didn't spurt. Elenia looked at me and smiled.

“The wound is not serious, My Lady.” She said, “The main vessels are not broken and the blood will stop but the lance was dirty and already the infection is taking hold. I will pack the wound with Kingswort and dress it but only time will tell whether she will heal.”

I looked at her beautiful face, already seemingly lifeless. It couldn't end this way, not now.

Turning to Fabian I looked up at him from where I sat beside the bed.

He said nothing but looked back at me, his eyes creased with anguish. After a moment he spoke.

“Anna, she is strong. A fighter. She will pull through this.”

“Do you love her, Fabian?” I asked him.

“Yes, Anna,” he smiled, “ I do love her, very much. She is like a sister to me.”

“But when we have defeated Samerron, will you join with her and unite the Landesmark and Mallagen?” I pressed him. He dropped his eyes.

“We do not need to be joined for our lands to be united.” He spoke quietly. “I do not love her in that way. Besides...” He turned away, “I must see to the Draaken and make sure they are prepared to leave again.”

“Leave?” I exclaimed. “Why are you leaving?”

“I have to return to the Landesmark forthwith,” he replied, “there is unfinished business there.”

He took a step then turned back to look at me, his eyes full of sadness.

“I will return as soon as I can, My Lady.” He paused, and then, he was gone.

I looked at Astrid as she lay motionless and peaceful and just at that moment I felt so alone.

Elenia appeared in the doorway.

“My Lady, you must rest.” she implored me

“You are a good woman, Elenia.” I told her, “but I will not rest until I know she is safe.”

She turned and clapped her hands twice and four of her servant girls appeared.

“Then, My lady, let us make you comfortable,” and with that, they entered the room bringing trays of food, fresh clothes and hot water.

I began to protest, saying:

“But Elenia, my people are starving, let them have this food!”

Elenia would not be put off.

“My Lady, you too must eat. The food comes from outside, Now the siege is broken food is available for all. The enemy was very well supplied and bread and fruit is being distributed amongst the sickest as we speak.” She bade me stand whilst the servants began to unfasten my sword belt and dagger sheath. These, along with the broken sword within, they placed on the large wooden chest at one side of the chamber.

Next, they began to unlace the front of my dress, slipping it off my shoulders and bidding me to lift my feet so they could remove it. Finally, my chemise was untied and lifted over my head, leaving me naked save my shoes.

They washed me where I stood, carefully cleaning me and drying me with soft towels.

When dry, I was dressed once again in a clean white chemise and a gown of heavy purple velvet, tied at the waist with a heavy cord ending in gold tassels.

Finally, a large, heavily upholstered chair was brought to the bedside and there I sat, waiting and watching for any improvement, however slight.

As the day drew to a close and darkness fell, candles were lit and in the dim light and the dancing shadows produced by the roaring log fire, I stayed by her side as she moaned and turned her head side to side as if having a nightmare.

Her face shone with perspiration as the fever burned inside her, I wiped her brow and held her hand. Her breathing was laboured and the air rasped in her throat as she struggled to breathe.

At times, she would call out.

“No, nooo” she would mutter but still she didn't wake.

The door creaked open.

“Elenia, come in” I spoke softly.

“Is there any change, My lady?” She asked. I looked at the beautiful woman fighting for her life.

“Not, yet,” I replied. “But she is still fighting.”

“She is strong, My lady and young. She will win, you will see.”

She handed me a tray with some broth and crusty bread.

“You must keep your strength up too, you know.” She smiled then turned and left.

Soon after, the door opened again and Fabian was there.

I waved him in and he walked over to us and knelt beside me. The concern in his face was clear.

No words were needed. He took my hand and sat on the floor beside me and there he stayed.

We sat together throughout the night watching and praying until I could stay awake no longer and my eyes closed, drifting into an uneasy sleep.

In and out of my dreams, I saw Draaken, ridden by unseen riders, swooping and diving onto the unprotected men fighting below, taking them in their claws and tearing them, before dropping them back to the earth, now far below, The men were just figures, I couldn't tell if they were friend or foe.

I saw bowmen shooting arrow after arrow from fast-moving horses as they circled the men on the ground who were falling in their dozens, taken by surprise under the fierce and unexpected onslaught from all sides.

I saw a banner fluttering in the breeze as the fierce battle raged around it and, in my dream, I saw a masked rider gallop into the midst of the fighting and as he rode he leaned down and ran his sword through the man holding the banner which stuck into the ground, leaning at an obtuse angle.

The rider then wheeled round and took the banner from its pole and, holding it aloft yelled;

“Victory is ours!”

My dream changed then. I saw a man, clad in dull, black armour, mounted on a gleaming black horse which was also protected by dull, black armour. He was surrounded by unknown soldiers who were fighting an unidentifiable foe.

Swords flashed as they swung and clanged loudly as they clashed together. The black knight raised his sword aloft and yelled something, I could not tell what. It was drowned out by a sudden and fearful screech.

I awoke suddenly. The sun was blazing through the window as it rose above the horizon, the sky clear and blue. No sign of the black clouds that had gathered the day before.

I turned and looked at Astrid. She was no longer groaning and the perspiration had stopped. She lay perfectly still. I took her hand, it was as cold as ice and unmoving.

My heart stopped and the tears filled my eyes. A lump began to form in my throat as realisation dawned on me.

I could not speak and, as the tears began to roll down my cheeks, I leaned forward and lay my head on her still, leather clad-chest.

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