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The Warrior Princess. Chapter 8.
By
AnnaMayZing

The Warrior Princess. Chapter 8.

“I was there when you confided in your horse. I heard everything you said..."

Anna and Astrid are prepared for the final defence of their Realm and freedom itself. Trumpets blare and the shout goes out. Is this to be the final battle?

I awoke with a start. The trumpets were still sounding! Astrid, too, was awake and sitting upright.

What was going on? Was that an alarm, were we being attacked?

I leapt immediately from my bed and donned my cloak. Grabbing my bow and quiver I ran out of the chamber and into the courtyard. The trumpets were blowing loudly and urgently and men were lining the city walls.

I ran up the steps and stared out over the battlements, shielding my eyes from the low, early morning sun and trying to see through the mist. As my eyes adjusted I saw them. Horses and men! Moving slowly towards the city gate, a banner flying at their head. The banner, which was flapping in the morning breeze, had a depiction of a castle with two round towers, one surmounted with a crown, the other a coronet. It was the symbol of Pelengrath! They were the crowns of my mother and father, our army had returned! I ran down the steps and to the gate.

“Open it! Quickly!” I shouted to the guards.

With much creaking and grinding, they raised the portcullis and swung open the battle-scarred outer gates and shortly afterwards the troops marched back through the city walls.

They walked tall and proud but were beaten and bloodied, grim-faced but satisfied and as they entered the city I watched and there seemed to be so few of them.

I became aware of a hand upon my shoulder and I turned to see Astrid there leaning on a stick and supported by two serving girls.

“Astrid!” I exclaimed, “What are you doing here!? You are in no condition to be out here.”

“I couldn't stay inside when these brave men returned. I need to know. Where is Fabian and your brother, Zandrir?”

“I don't know,” I said with more than a little concern, “I have not seen either of them yet.”

The line of men finally passed and the gates were closed once more and the portcullis lowered.

I turned and we looked at one another, fear and sadness in our eyes but as I opened my mouth to speak, the words didn't form. A great creature swooped down low over the city and landed in the courtyard. Folding its immense wings and lowering itself to the ground, it placed its head on the stony ground before us and both Fabian and Zandrir stepped down and walked to us, smiling broadly. I ran and embraced each of them in turn then Fabian held Astrid carefully in his arms.

Turning once again to me, Fabian said,

“I have something for you, Anna.” He turned and gestured to the magnificent beast before us which stood on its hind legs and was holding something in its talons.

“Go on,” he said. “It won't harm you.”

I walked slowly forwards and saw that what it was holding was a sword. I didn't recognise it and turned to Fabian, a searching look on my face.

“Take it,” he urged. “You deserve it.”

I reached up and the Draaken held out the sword to me. I gripped it with both hands as the giant claws released it with a gentleness that belied the great beast's enormity.

I looked at the ornate pommel and cross-guard, solid gold encrusted with fine jewels. Drawing it from the scabbard, it appeared brand new. There were no marks or notches on the blade and it gleamed and flashed in the morning light.

I returned it to its sheath and looked up at the beast. It lowered its head and I gently stroked its scaly nose, its breath warm on my arm.

Turning away I walked back.

“I don't understand,” I said to Fabian. “What? Why?”

“Because,” he replied, “without you, I would never have been able to take it from its owner.”

“Samerron!” I cried, “It is Samerron's sword!” His lips widened into a grin. “You defeated him!”

I ran forwards and embraced him,

“Then it's over?”

“It is over. Once his slave army realised that he was not invincible, they turned on him. He was finally slain by one of the plains folk, a giant of a man who said Samerron had slain his wife and children. He took the sword and asked me to give it to you. He said you were a fine warrior and leader and he owed you his life and freedom. He never said why.”

I smiled as I remembered the battle at the Gorge of Karaden.

“I had a dream last night and the one before.”

I told them of the dreams I'd had.

“Anna, how could you possibly...?” Zandrir spoke, incredulous.

Fabian took up the story;

“On the first day, when we set out from Mallagen, I headed west with the intention of observing the road ahead and returning to you as we arranged. After some time in the air, I saw, in the far distance, a number of Draaken. I flew toward them and saw, as I approached, that they were young, as yet untrained so I had an idea that maybe there would be men of the Landesmark riding them. I circled and sure enough, I saw a few mounted on horses following the young Draaken.

I landed near them and was amazed to discover that they were a patrol sent ahead of a larger group who had been ordered to meet with a battalion of Samerron's elite guards on their way to reinforce the planned attack on Pelengrath, They took little convincing that they should fight with us, not against us so they led me back to the main force who had other Draaken ready for battle.

They told me that the invaders were several days away from Pelengrath so we agreed to come directly here and join the battle that you had already planned. We arrived after the battle had started and the first thing I saw was you, Anna, being held by the throat. I flew down and my steed took your attacker but I didn't know if we were in time until I saw that you only fell to your knees and were holding your throat. We let him fall, alive, to punish him for what he tried to do to you.”

Fabian looked at his feet for a moment, not wanting me to see his anger and lust for revenge.

I held out my hand and touched his arm, a signal that I was not angry with him.

“It's all right,” I told him. “Now I know where he went. I was puzzled but I was also a little hazy.”

He smiled at me, I could see he wanted to say something but whatever it was, he kept it to himself.

Clearing his throat, Fabian continued.

“As you know, the following day we rode out to intercept Samerron. We now had the support of the Landesmark against him and, therefore, the advantage of the Draaken but his force was so large we were not certain to defeat him.

When we found him he was taken totally by surprise. Because we had intercepted him so soon after the battle of Pelengrath, he was totally unaware that the siege was broken and we rode straight into him, doing considerable damage, before he managed to regain control and fight back.

Without the Draaken he was at a considerable disadvantage but his superiority of number was giving him the upper hand. We were being slaughtered until, without warning, thousands of Plainsmen arrived, led by a tall man on a horse, and at that moment, the tide turned.”

 

Zandrir took up the story.

“Yes, and it wasn't long before Samerron himself was toppled. I saw him, standing in his stirrups, shouting orders, so I rode hard at him, intending to cut him down but my horse was brought down and he saw me fall and galloped toward me. He had death in his mind and I was helpless to prevent it but Fabian had seen me fall and flew down, the Draaken carrying me to safety. I didn't see what happened then.”

 

“I found out afterwards, that Samerron was killed by the Plainsmen's leader,” Fabian continued. “Samerron was so intent on killing your brother that he failed to see the pike before riding at full speed onto it. It pierced his horse's chest, killing it instantly and, as he pitched forwards the Plainsman severed his head with one stroke.”

 

I listened intently as the story unfolded, I had dreamed the whole scene and now I knew who was who. I was shaking, unable to understand.

Astrid put her hand on my arm, calming me, having seen the look on my face. She said nothing, she didn't need to.

 

I looked at the three of them. Fabian, his eyes gleaming but tired, Zandrir, my brother, his silver armour dented and part missing and Astrid, leaning heavily on her stick, supported by the servants, exhausted but happy. I loved them all.

“Today,” I said to them, “we rest and recover our strength and tomorrow?” I paused, reflecting on the past weeks. “Tomorrow is a new dawn. The beginning of a new era. An era of peace and solidarity that will never again be broken.”

 

The following day, work began on repairing and rebuilding the city. Astrid's forest folk returned to Mallagen, leaving her to recover and Fabian returned to the Landesmark to rebuild the dwellings and rekindle the alliances with the Plainsmen.

Over the following weeks, Astrid regained her strength and soon, it was also time for her to leave and return to take her place as the queen of the woodland realm of Mallagen.

As we had arranged before he left, Fabian returned to Pelengrath for a very special celebration, the coronation of my brother as king.

 

The evening before was warm and, as I stood on the battlements looking out over the forest, watching the sun sinking in the west beyond the trees, Fabian came and stood beside me.

“You know, Anna, without your courage and determination in leaving this place, alone and unprotected, we would not be here now, enjoying this sunset.”

I said nothing, remembering that long, lonely journey so many weeks ago. I remembered the first time I met Fabian, how he saved my life, and Astrid, the connection I had with her.

I could not now imagine being without her but tomorrow she would return to her home. My heart sank with the thought.

Fabian spoke again.

“Anna, I want to ask you something.”

I turned to him.

“Will you marry me?”

I wasn't shocked. It was logical really. Out two realms joined in matrimony.

“I... I...” I couldn't find words. I wanted no-one but Astrid but we couldn't be together and protocol demanded that lands were united in this way. Fabian was a good king.

He saw the pain in my face and the turmoil, and before I could summon an answer he placed his finger on my lips.

“I know,” he said. “I understand.”

“You know what?” I asked, puzzled

“I know you don't love me.”

I protested.

“But I do love you, Fabian. You are wrong.”

His finger pressed more firmly on my lips.

“Maybe, but not in that way. I know you love another.” I looked away, trying to hide my emotion as he continued.

“I was there when you confided in your horse. I heard everything you said but it came as no surprise to me. I could see how you two were. Astrid grew strong in your presence. She had no time for love before you arrived. You completed her, I could see that and so could Halberad and anyone else too, had they stopped to think.”

He paused and looked out over the wall.

“The men followed you because they trusted the two of you. You gave them the strength and courage to fight this war because you and Astrid were good leaders. I would never stand between you but you could not be together officially, it is impossible. Marry me, Anna, and she will always be near you.”

 

I couldn't take any more, I knew he was right. I turned and fled. Down the steps I ran, across the courtyard and into the Palace, not stopping until I reached my chamber where I stopped dead in the middle of the room and stood, clenching and relaxing my fists, not knowing where to turn or what to do.

“Anna, What is it?!” Astrid had followed me in, “What is wrong?”

I turned to her, the tears coursing down my face. I threw my arms around her and held her so tightly she was struggling to breathe.

“I love you, I love you, I love you,” I repeated over and over.

“Anna, I love you too but what has happened?”

She wiped the tears from my eyes as I regained my composure.

I told her what had happened with Fabian and she listened patiently.

“Well, I suppose we both knew this moment would come,” she said, when I fell silent. “I have thought about it a lot. He is right you know, we cannot be together. I have my realm and you have Pelengrath.”

“I know,” I replied, sadly, “I have known all along but now the time has come and I cannot bear to be parted from you.”

She looked at me through sad brown eyes.

“Tomorrow,” she said, slowly, “I must leave and return to Mallagen. Now our realms are free, we can still see each other from time to time and Fabian knows about our feelings. He loves us both, he understands.”

I took her in my arms and held so close that I didn't ever want to let her go but I knew I had to.

“Will you marry him?” she spoke softly into my hair.

“I don't know,” I told her, “I can't love anyone but you.”

“Nor I you, but we have to be practical.”

We stood in silence for a while, the tears once again flowing down my cheeks and onto her shoulder, soaking into the fabric of her shift as I sobbed quietly.

“Be strong, my darling,” she whispered. “You have shown yourself brave and fearless in battle and now you have to be the same in love.” A pause. “We both do.”

I lifted my head and stepped back, wiping away my tears.

“I know, but it so difficult,” I choked back a sob. “I can't bear to be apart from you now.”

We stood together in silence, only the sound of the burning timber in the fire grate cracking and popping, the shadows dancing about us.

“May I lay with you tonight, Astrid?” My whispered question broke the silence.

She didn't answer but led me to her bed and we lay upon the covers, my head on her shoulder her arm around my waist. I felt warm and safe with her and, for that moment, nothing else mattered. I drifted off into a peaceful sleep.

 

I awoke to the sound of the door opening and opened my eyes to see Diana, my young servant girl, standing in the doorway.

I had taken her as my personal serving girl and she had proven to be every inch the mature young woman I had seen in her that first day.

I didn't move from Astrid's embrace.

“I am sorry, My lady,” she began. “I did knock but you must have been asleep.”

I began to raise myself, trying not to disturb Astrid, who was still comatose.

“Please, My Lady,” Diana began,”Don't worry about me. I have just brought your tray and night attire. I will leave them here.”

She placed the tray on the chest and my nightwear on my bed and turned to leave.

“Thank you, Diana,” I said as she moved toward the door.

She stopped and paused before turning back.

“My Lady,” she spoke hesitantly. “I just wanted to say...” she stopped.

“Go on,” I encouraged her.

“Well, I saw your run in here earlier and I am afraid I listened at the door.” She hung her head as I frowned at her. She looked up then and blurted out,

“I knew you two were very close and I understand how you feel about each other and I won't tell, I promise but I just wanted to tell you I love you both too and...” she suddenly stopped, lost for words, her face red.

I stood and went over to her, cupping her face with the palm of my hand.

“Don't worry,” I said gently, “You are a good girl and I trust you. We will be all right. Whatever happens, I will ensure you are looked after as though you were my own daughter.”

She smiled and turned away, heading for the door.

“Diana,” I called after her.

“My Lady?” She stopped and turned back.

“Thank you again, for your help and understanding.” I smiled at her.

“You are welcome. It is my pleasure to serve you, My Lady,” and with that she turned and left, closing the door behind her.

I sighed deeply and turned back to Astrid. She lay there, so beautiful. I sighed again and picked up the tray from the chest, taking it to her.

We sat and ate in silence.

 

After we had finished, I placed the empty tray back on the chest and returned to her side.

She lay back and patted the mattress beside her.

“Lay with me tonight, Anna. Don't leave me.”

I lay back as she stretched out her arm, My head rested on her shoulder and she wrapped her arm around me.

“I suppose this will be our last few hours together.” The words escaping like thoughts.

“I don't know,” she replied, “I really don't but there is something else you should know.”

I turned on my side, facing her. My face against her neck.

“What is that, my love?” I asked.

“Your brother has asked for my hand. To cement the relationship between our peoples.”

“Then it is over. Fabian asked the same of me.”

I closed my eyes, my heart heavy.

“I didn't accept,” she said.

My heart seemed to miss a beat and without moving, asked:

“You didn't? Why? Surely it is the correct thing to do?”

“It would be but I told him my heart was not free and that our lands were joined in an unspoken bond that would never again be broken.”

She turned to face me. We lay facing each other, our noses almost touching and I gazed into her deep brown eyes.

“But we cannot be together, Astrid. We cannot rule together. Your people, or, indeed, my people would not, could not, accept such an arrangement!”

“No,” she agreed. “But I cannot lie with someone I do not love.”

“Then I guess that tomorrow, Zandrir will be crowned and afterwards you will return to Mallagen, to your home.”

“I think so,” she replied. “What about you. What will you do?”

I thought for a moment.

“I will marry Fabian.”

Astrid closed her eyes and a small droplet of moisture appeared in the corner and dripped gently onto the pillow.

I stroked her jet black hair and kissed away the tear.

“There will never be anyone else who makes me feel the way you do, Astrid,” I whispered.

She opened her eyes and smiled.

“Nor will there be for me,” she replied.

We closed our eyes and drifted off to sleep.

 

The next morning I awoke to the sensation of a hand on my shoulder, gently shaking me to wakefulness.

“My Lady, it is daybreak.” It was Diana. “You asked me to rouse you.”

“Yes, Diana, Thank you.” I sat up as Astrid stretched and yawned.

“Then it is time.”

I looked at her.

“It is time,” I agreed.

In silence, we carried out our ablutions. Diana and three other servants assisted us to dress. Astrid in her leather garments that had protected her throughout the battles. I had instructed a new pair of leggings to be made as her old ones were beyond use after I had cut them away from her wound.

Her servant combed back her hair and tied it with cord so it resembled a tail such as would be found on a pony.

Taking Astrid's sword belt, the servant buckled it around her waist and once again she stood tall and proud.

I dressed in a velvet gown of deepest purple. The lace sleeves reaching from my elbows almost to the ground and the skirt flared out around my feet with a short train behind. The sleeves were adorned with golden threads and I wore a gold belt which came to a point at my midriff and hung down below my knees.

Next, I buckled my sword belt around my waist, the bright gold hilt complementing the gold belt.

Over the top I wore a shawl of white velvet with gold trim around the edge and on my head a silver circlet, my hair pulled back behind.

 

By the time we were ready to leave for the courtyard, the sun had risen in the sky, bright and warm.

Astrid went to leave the palace ahead of me and, before we passed through the door I suddenly grabbed her arm.

“Wait!” I said, “I don't care what they think. We walk together!”

Outside, a dais had been erected over the main steps up to the palace entrance. A large wooden construction that meant we could see the crowd who were gathered in the courtyard and they could clearly see us.

I could hear my brother telling the assembled throng about how I had made an epic journey to find help and, against all the odds, had returned and Samerron had been defeated.

Astrid released my arm saying:

“This is your home and your people. Your moment. You must go out to them.”

“No, my love,” I replied. “This is our moment!”

Once again, I took her arm in mine and together we passed through the door and out onto the platform.

Zandrir turned as we joined him and a great cheer went up.

I raised my hand and the noise began to die down.

“I am so happy that I am able to stand here before you all with my brother,” I gestured towards Zandrir, “and my greatest ally and friend, Princess Astrid of Mallagen. Without her, this would not have been possible.”

Astrid raised her hand in greeting but said nothing.

“I had hoped,” I continued, “that our other ally and saviour, the Lord Fabian would also be here with us today but I have seen no sign of him yet.”

I paused and looked around at the people, looking expectantly at me.

“As you know, we are here to celebrate a great victory.” I continued. “We are also here to celebrate the coronation of my brother, the King.”

I held out my arm towards him.

“Before we do, however, I have an announcement...” My voice trailed off as, whooshing down over the crowded courtyard, the magnificent Draaken appeared and landed. People ran aside as the giant beast came to rest gently amongst them and Fabian dismounted.

He walked regally towards the dais and mounted the steps.

“My Lady,” he bowed to me and then to Astrid.

Turning, he then bowed to Zandrir.

“Your Majesty.”

Zandrir smiled.

“Lord Fabian. Welcome,” he replied.

“My Lady,” He continued, turning back to face me. “I interrupted you, I apologise. Pray, continue.”

I faced the crowd once more and waited for the murmur to subside before restarting.

“Well, the Lord Fabian is indeed here now, as you all saw. I was about to tell you all that he has asked for my hand in marriage.”

I paused as the announcement was met with total silence. Looking at the expectant faces in front of me, I then spoke again:

“I have decided to accept and our two realms will be bonded together as one.”

I turned and held out my hand to invite him to stand beside me. We stood together but still there was no cheer, no words of congratulation.

I didn't look at Astrid, I couldn't. My heart was breaking but I couldn't show my true feelings. This was the only option available to me.

“My Lady!” A voice I recognised called out from the crowd.

“Ereward?” I frowned.

“May I speak, My lady?”

“You may,” I agreed.

“You cannot marry Lord Fabian!”

“What?” Both Fabian and I exclaimed in unison.

“You cannot marry him, My Lady. I am sorry, My Lord. I respect you and like you but Princess Anna cannot marry you.”

“What gives you the right to make such a statement, Ereward!” Fabian looked shocked as he spoke.

“Forgive me, My Lord but I have seen how The Princesses are. They are so close now that they have to be together. Princess Anna would agree to marry you out of duty but her heart lies with Princess Astrid. She thinks her people don't know that and that we would not accept them together but she is wrong, we do. We served with them and would follow them to the ends of the earth.”

He turned and looked about him.

“Am I right?” he shouted.

A ripple ran through the crowd from which I could hear, 'yes' and 'of course'.

I turned to Fabian. He looked sad but nodded, a half smile adding to the resignation showing on his face.

I then turned to Astrid and extended my hand to her. She walked slowly toward me, a tear in her eye. She took my outstretched hand in hers then suddenly, she threw her arms around me and simultaneously a great cheer arose from the crowd.

I pulled away and turned back to Fabian who saw the plea in my eyes.

He smiled and spoke quietly with Zandrir who then turned towards his subjects.

“I have spoken with Lord Fabian and we are in agreement,” he said at last. “We know how these two feel about each other and we will not stand in their way. Pelengrath and Mallagen will be united through them as both realms will be united with the Landesmark in everlasting friendship. Fabian and I give our blessing to this arrangement.”

The crowd cheered so loudly that Zandrir could no longer be heard. Instead, he turned and kissed each of us in turn, as did Fabian.

 

With the ceremonies and coronation complete, we all four returned to the great hall of the palace.

“Fabian,” I said, slowly and deliberately, “You don't hate me, do you? We can still be friends?”

He smiled.

“No, Anna, I could never hate you. In my heart, I knew you belonged to Astrid and she to you. Although I hoped we could be together, deep down I knew it would not be so.”

It was finally decided that I would leave Pelengrath and go to Mallagen with Astrid where we would share our responsibilities equally.

None of us knew what the future would hold but right now I was the happiest Princess ever.

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