Disclaimer: This is a story in progress. Sections will be posted as they are finalized. I have done research on this time frame and the political climate. While I tried to stay true to some of the historical trappings, I took liberties with MANY things. It is fiction first. I apologize to any history buffs and to the people of Spain and France for my lack of knowledge. When I get paid to write these things, I promise to get it exact, but until then, I have a day job and not enough time or money to hire a research assistant.

Copyright – This is an alternative uber tale. No copyright infringement is intended. This is not to be used for profit.

Subtext and Sex- Yes and yes. If the idea of two women loving each other is not your cup of tea; go get a glass of milk and skip this. If you are under the age of 18 years of age or this type of story is illegal in your state or country, please do not read it.

Violence and Language – There are scenes of fighting. The language is pretty mild.

Credits: This story line is completely my own, but the poem that is found as a journal entry in Section Three is by a very talented poet. I inquired if she would lend her beautiful words to this story and she accepted. I cannot tell you how honored and grateful I am. Thank you Renotta. Your poetry is always a source of inspiration.

Dedication: This is for my twin sister. She has been a constant source of inspiration and encouragement and like me, is a huge romantic. You’re amazing.

Thank You: Big hugs to Cindy at ForevaXena, Stacia, and Tracey for beta reading and for your words of encouragement. Kisses to the ex-Guards for all the wonderful feedback and for giving me a home in your talented community. A big thank you to Mary D for the Xippy’s on "Written in My Days" and "My Cup of Tea". I’m a beginning writer and these awards have encouraged my to write on.

Email: dikern@aol.com



Section 4

Maria took one look at her brother’s expression and grimaced. Hatred was the only thing to describe it. She couldn’t believe she’d lost her composure and let her heart override her head, the very thing she promised herself she wouldn’t do. She hated herself for giving into her desire.

"How dare you, Maria!" Fredrick shouted, and started coming at his sister. "How could you bring such disgrace to this house? I have turned my head at your past indiscretions and allowed you your unnatural ways, but you have gone too far this time!"

"Wait, Fredrick!" Danielle shouted.

"Please stay out of this, Danielle," Maria said softly, holding her arm out to keep the princess from moving between her and her brother. "Step away and let me handle this."

"How could you seduce such an innocent young woman and take advantage of her? I am disgusted with you!" Fredrick quickly closed the gap between himself and Maria.

"Princess, please forgive me for not seeing this earlier. I should have warned you about her. I am so sorry you were put in this position. You are not to blame in any way, " Fredrick said, looking over at Danielle and then quickly turning back to his sister.

Maria felt her stomach turn. She couldn’t believe her brother would think that she would do anything like what he was accusing her of. The way he looked at her and the words he shouted at her felt like a knife being plunged into her heart. Nothing had ever made her feel as bad as this, not even the death of her father.

"Aren’t you going to say anything, Maria?" Fredrick asked as he drew his sword, still advancing in her direction.

Maria looked at him in shock. His rage consumed him. This was a look Maria knew all too well. He was beyond reason. In this state he was capable of anything, and the thought that he might hurt her rang true in Maria’s mind. Part of her wished it to be so. Death was the only thing that would bring an end to the anguish of this moment. She considered allowing him to take her life, but she knew that later, when he had time to register what he had done, his guilt at such an action would destroy him. She couldn’t allow that.

The tip of his sword sailed by her neck as a warning.

"Pick up your sword, Maria!" Fredrick demanded.

"I will not fight you, Fredrick," Maria said as she stepped back, away from his assault. "Calm down, brother. You’re scaring me."

Danielle watched in horror, helpless. She wanted to say something, anything, to make this stop. She was terrified. "Please stop this!" Danielle begged.

Cora began barking and made a run at Fredrick. Maria saw the movement from the corner of her eye and yelled. "Stay, Cora!"

The dog came to a halt but continued to bark. Danielle immediately went to the dog’s side and knelt down to hold her in place.

"Come on, Maria," Fredrick yelled, "Try and defend your vile actions."

Fredrick swiped his blade in Maria’s direction twice more. She darted out of the way, backing up each time. His anger was building and his movements were becoming more threatening. Out of frustration, she picked up her weapon, but only to block the blows that might come from Frederick’s sword. She could not allow him to physically hurt her. She hated to do it, but the only way she could think of to defuse this situation was to agree with him.

"Fredrick," Maria said calmly "You’re right. I have disgraced you and this family. Allow me to leave here. I will not return. Someday, I hope you will forgive me."

As she spoke she felt her heart turn cold. The look from her brother devastated her. She never thought he could despise her in this way.

"How could you do this, Maria?" Fredrick shouted in utter frustration as he lunged at Maria with his weapon fully extended.

Maria blocked the blow, but was stunned by the force of his actions. He’d meant to harm her that time, and it sickened her.

"Please, Fredrick, stop this before something happens that we won’t be able to walk away from," Maria pleaded, feeling herself weaken in shame and grief.

Cora was struggling in Danielle’s arms, barking as she fought to break free. Danielle held on as tight as she could but the dog’s will to protect what she loved was too great. Cora jumped up hard, and slipped through the small arms, on a dead run for Fredrick.

"I will never forgive you," Fredrick cried out and stepped toward Maria as he pushed the sword forward once more.

"No, little one!" Danielle yelled.

Maria watched in horror as her beloved dog came between her and her brother.

"No, Cora!" Maria yelled, but it was too late.

Cora let out a high pitched yelp and fell to the ground.

Fredrick staggered back, as shocked as his sister. He felt the tip of his sword enter the flesh of the dog and immediately withdrew the blade. He shook his head and blinked his eyes like he was waking up from a bad dream.

"NO!" Maria yelled, dropping her weapon and falling to her knees. She looked down at Cora, watching as blood began to darken the ground beneath the dog’s limp body.

Fredrick looked over at Danielle, who was visibly shaken. She looked back at him with tears in her eyes. Fredrick staggered back a few more steps.

"What in heaven’s name is going on out there?" Rosa called from the doorway. She looked at her son and then to the ground where Maria sat hunched over.

Running over to them, Rosa saw the injured dog and Fredrick who still held his sword in hand, blood dripping from the tip. "Fredrick, what’s happened here?"

Fredrick couldn’t speak. He looked from his mother to Maria and then to Danielle. He turned and ran for the stables as quickly as his feet would carry him.

"Maria, what in God’s name is going on?" Rosa asked, the emotion welling up inside her causing her voice to crack.

Maria slowly and gently picked up Cora and without a word walked toward the villa.

Danielle was in shock. She felt responsible for everything that had just happened. Her heart was breaking with guilt and sadness. She started to follow Maria but Rosa reached out and touched her arm.

"Danielle, what is going on?"

Before Danielle could answer Fredrick, poised atop his horse, flew by in a fast gallop. His eyes were diverted, but Danielle could tell were tears had fallen on his cheeks. Losing control of her emotions, she pulled away from Rosa and ran to the villa.

Danielle walked into the kitchen, where all eyes were on her. Unnerved by the silence, she asked the cook where Maria had gone and followed the pointing finger to a room adjacent to the kitchen.

Maria laid Cora on a blanket on the table. She wrapped a strip of linen around Cora’s front leg, bringing it underneath the dog as carefully as she could, then placed a folded pad over the wound where the blade had entered, holding it down firmly. Finally, she tied the strip tightly around the shoulder. Cora whimpered in pain.

"Hang on, mi amiga." Maria spoke in soft soothing tones. " I’ve got to get this bleeding stopped and see how bad this wound is, my brave little friend."

The door swung open and Maria looked up. Danielle stood in the doorway with tears streaming down her face.

"I’m so sorry, Maria," Danielle said, through her tears. "What can we do?"

"Haven’t WE done enough?" Maria muttered, and turned her attention back to Cora.

Danielle knew Maria was distraught and wasn’t surprised by the tension she felt between them. She came closer to the table. "Oh my, little one, I’m so sorry" she said as she tenderly petted the dogs head. Cora’s eyes opened slightly at the touch.

"Will she be all right, Maria?" Danielle asked hesitantly.

"I have no idea." Maria said quietly.

As she looked up at Danielle, a scowl furrowed her brow as Maria’s frustration came to the surface. "I begged you to leave me alone, didn’t I? I told you we couldn’t act on the feelings and yet you pushed and you pushed and now look what’s happened! God help me, I should have left last night!" Maria shook her head in disbelief at how quickly everything had unraveled.

"I’m so sorry, Maria," Danielle said, through her tears. She felt both of their emotions sitting on the surface.

"Everything I’ve loved is changed forever and it was all because of a moment’s weakness. How could I have been so foolish? My brother will never think of me in the same way again. I have made such a mess of this." Maria said.

"None of this is your fault, Maria," Danielle said, her voice shaking.

Maria knew she needed to be alone. Her anger would only cause her to say something she’d regret later. "Please leave me alone, princess. There is nothing you can do here. I need to be with Cora. She needs my full attention."

All the horror, the outrage, drained out of Maria leaving her oddly numb. She walked away to gather more cloth and warm water.

Danielle fell silent as she watched Maria walk away. She hadn’t missed the use of the word "princess" instead of her name. She could think of nothing to say to make any of this better. She felt responsible for causing this ugly war between brother and sister and for letting Cora slip through her hands. She didn’t blame Maria for hating her or for building the wall back up between them. It hurt her but she understood the reason. Slowly she turned around and left the room as she continued to cry.


Rosa stepped out of the way as Danielle ran past her, heading toward the staircase. She was deeply disturbed by what she’d seen in the garden and now the look and tears on Danielle’s face made her more upset. Rosa could only imagine the worst. Stepping through the door, she saw Maria caring for the fallen dog.

"Maria, is Cora all right?"

"I don’t know, Mother. I’m trying to get the bleeding to stop. I can’t tell if the blade penetrated any organs." Maria sighed. "The blade didn’t go all the way through."

Rosa stepped closer. Maria’s hand was covered in blood where she held the packing down. Looking in her daughter’s eyes she saw tears of emotion. Maria loved this dog. They’d been inseparable from the moment that her husband brought home the small pup and placed it into Maria’s hands. Now was not the time to question her child about the events leading to this.

"Why don’t you let me do this while you ride down and get Doctor Sanar," Rosa offered. "He’s very skilled and you know he’d do anything to help Cora. He has that medicine that makes the blood clot. That could make a difference here."

Maria looked over at her mother, feeling the depth of her caring and wondering how much longer she would have that once Fredrick told her the truth of the morning’s activities. ‘Will she hate me also?’ She needed her mother’s love and strength, which had always been a source of inspiration to Maria.

"Thank you, Mother," Maria said as her mother’s hand replaced hers on the wound. Before she left she turned and put a small kiss on her mother’s cheek. "I love you."

"Hurry now, Maria!" Rosa said urgently, as she watched her daughter leave. From the look in her daughter’s eye, Rosa knew that whatever had taken place that morning between brother and sister had everything to do with Danielle. Shaking her head in worry, she used her free hand to pet Cora. In a soothing voice she whispered words of encouragement to the dog. "You must be strong, little one. This family needs your courage. We have a lot of healing to do."


Maria mounted her horse and took off down the dirt road. She’d gone less than a quarter mile when she saw the doctor’s carriage coming in her direction. Before she could say anything, the doctor addressed her.

"Maria, your brother said that there’s been an accident and Cora’s been hurt badly. Do you need my help?" the doctor yelled from the window of his carriage.

"Yes . . . I . . . I can’t get the bleeding to stop," Maria said. She wasn’t out of breath, but stunned that Fredrick would have gone for help. She couldn’t believe that somehow through his rage he had managed to care at all about what happened to Cora. It gave her a glimmer of hope.

"Let’s not waste any time. Lead the way, Maria," Doctor Sanar said hurriedly.


The doctor worked on Cora behind closed doors while Maria assisted. Rosa sat in the kitchen, waiting for Fredrick to return.

Time passed with no sign of Fredrick and Danielle still in her room. The rest of the villa was beginning to stir with the usual morning activities and Rosa was still in the dark about the cause of the tragedy.

Finally the doctor walked though the door. Rosa stood. "Is she all right?"

"We’ve got the bleeding stopped and I don’t think any organs were injured. She won’t be able to use her front leg for a while, but I don’t think she’ll have any nerve damage," the doctor said. "She’s a very lucky little dog."

"Oh, thank God," Rosa let out a deep breath and brought her hand to her chest. "Thank you so much for your help, doctor."

"It’s no problem. I’m always here to help you," he said as she escorted him to the door and out to his waiting carriage. "I’ll check back later."

Rosa waved goodbye and walked back in to check on her daughter who was coming out of the small room, carrying Cora gingerly in her arms.

"I’m taking her to the stables, where I can make her comfortable and keep an eye on her," Maria said to her mother.

"I’ll be out in a minute, Maria," Rosa said, smiling at her daughter. "I’m so glad she’s going to be all right."

"Me too, mother," Maria said, very softly.

Rosa planned on giving her daughter a couple of minutes alone with Cora to get her settled, but then she was going to get some answers from her - or at least try.

Maria made a bed of hay and covered it with a horse blanket, then placed Cora on the bedding. The little dog looked out through half closed eyes as Maria made sure that Cora was resting peacefully. The thought of losing her pet as well as her brother was too much to take. Her hands began to tremble as she looked down at her best friend. "Don’t you ever disobey my orders again. You hear me?" Maria said shortly. Tears came to her eyes and she wiped them away with one hand – with the other she stroked Cora’s head.

Danielle watched from her second floor balcony as Maria carried the little dog to the stables. She couldn’t tell what shape Cora was in and it worried her beyond belief. She wanted more than anything to be with Maria right now. The depth of her emotions for Maria would not allow her to stay away even if Maria hated her. She deliberately slipped out of her room and through the front door, managing to avoid the kitchen, the staring eyes, and Rosa.

Maria sat next to Cora, her elbows were on her knees and her head in her hands. The events of the morning kept playing over and over like a nightmare. ‘What did I think I was doing? I was so strong. I almost made it and then – I kissed her. Oh, God, I kissed her and she . . . she kissed me back.’ Maria swallowed hard at the memory.


Rosa started to walk out the back door but stopped when she spotted Danielle coming around the corner of the villa. ‘Lord, this is not going to be easy is it,’ she thought to herself. ‘These two are going to be the death of me yet.’ She backed up and went back inside, deciding to let them talk before she got involved. ‘Please, dear God, don’t allow this to tear my family apart.’

Danielle glanced over at the villa and around the gardens. There was no sign of Fredrick or Rosa, so she continued on to the stables that were just beyond a row of dense trees. Her thoughts were on Maria as she approached the big wooden doors. Suddenly, she felt herself pulled back by a strong arm as a large hand covered her mouth. Surprised and alarmed, she did what Luc, the Captain of Guard, had taught her and brought the heel of her shoe down as hard as she could along a shin and into the foot of her attacker. The large hand fell from her mouth and she heard a moan from behind her.

She struggled but the arm still held her.

"Maria, Mari - " she screamed, but suddenly a terrible bright pain in her head caused the light to become darkness.


Maria jumped to her feet and ran to the doors, her heart pounding uncontrollably. The sound of Danielle’s scream sent a sudden chill through her blood. Maria looked around but all she saw were marks in the dirt indicating a scuffle had occurred and grooves in the sand that could only be heel marks. To her horror she realized that a limp body had been dragged behind the trees. Running past the grove as fast as she could, Maria caught a glimpse of three horses with riders, one carrying the hunched over figure of what appeared to be the princess. They rounded the bend and disappeared out of view.

"Ortega! You bastard! If you hurt her, I’ll kill you!" Maria spat out as she ran back to the stables.

Luc and Rosa were talking inside the villa when they heard the scream. They ran out just as Maria made her way back through the trees.

"Maria, where’s Danielle?" Luc asked urgently, following the tall woman past the wooden doors.

"Ortega took her," Maria said as she placed some supplies in a bag and threw a saddle over her horse, fitting the bit and reins.

Rosa gasped and clutched her heart.

‘I’m coming with you!" Luc began preparing his mare. "Let me get the rest of the men."

"NO!" Maria stopped what she was doing. Taking a deep breath, she looked directly at the Captain. "I know Ortega. If he sees your men, he’ll kill her instantly and run."

"Then I alone will accompany you," Luc insisted. He walked to her side, placing his hand on Maria’s shoulder and returned her gaze. "I trust your judgement, Maria, and I will follow your lead, but I must go with you. It’s my sworn duty to protect the princess with my life and I will honor that oath. She is in many ways like my own daughter. I’ve been with her since she was an infant."

Maria didn’t have time to argue. Luc obviously loved Danielle and she couldn’t think of a better ally than the man standing before her. "Very well, Luc, but we must do this my way. It’s her only chance and I couldn’t live with myself if something happened to her. We can’t waste another minute." Scrambling into their saddles, the two secured their weapons.

"Please be careful, Maria," Rosa said looking up at her daughter and then turning to the Captain. "He’s a dangerous man."

"Take care of Cora for me," Maria replied.

Rosa stood in the doorway of the stable and watched as the two rode swiftly away. When she returned to the villa, she saw Catherine standing in the garden, a worried expression on her pale face. Walking up to her, Rosa placed her hands on the queen’s shaking arms. "Come inside, Catherine," she said with concern. "Much has happened this morning. We must sit down and talk."

Catherine allowed herself to be led inside as her heart ached with the knowledge that her daughter had been kidnapped. Rosa sat Catherine at the table and asked for some hot tea to be prepared. She knew she needed to gather every bit of strength she had. It would be up to her to keep them from both falling apart with worry.



Danielle woke with an intense searing pain in her head. She tried to bring her hands to her aching skull but her arms wouldn’t function. She panicked for a moment, then calmed when she realized that the pain in her wrists came from the ropes that secured her hands. She struggled a little more, which confirmed that her legs were also tied securely together. She opened her eyes but everything was dark. As her other senses slowly returned she understood that not only was she strapped down, but also blindfolded and gagged. A fear she had never felt before gripped her soul.

Lying helplessly in a strange place, Danielle fought to recall her last clear memory. ‘I was going to Maria, to check on her and Cora, and then a hand, an arm pulling me, and then nothing.’ Lying still, she focused on trying to hear anything that would give her a clue to her surroundings. In the distance she could hear a man’s voice shouting instructions. From the way it was muffled, it came from outside of the room she was in. Horses’ hooves clattered as riders came in and out of the area. Danielle sensed the worst. This must be the same group that had attacked her carriage as they made their way to the villa of Cordoba.

Her lips trembled as she fought back the urge to cry. ‘I must remain calm,’ she thought, holding back her fear. ‘Maria will find me. I’ll be strong, until she gets here. I owe her that.’ She heard a door open and footsteps approaching. Lying completely still, Danielle decided to play dead, hoping that if they thought she was still unconscious they would not view her as a threat.

A hand slapped her cheek and it took all her resolve not to flinch or moan at the pain it caused. She let her head drop to the side and froze.

"Still out, are you, Princess?" Ortega chuckled. "I guess the hilt of my sword hit its mark with a little more force than you figured it would. Serves you right for trying to break free. Look where it got you."

Danielle felt his breath come closer as he spoke. She fought not to react.

"Such a pretty little princess," Ortega whispered, close to her ear. "I bet your lips taste as good as they look."

Danielle felt a callused hand against her cheek. The fingers began to remove the gag from her face. She could feel tears beginning to well in her eyes. ‘God, please not this,’ she prayed silently.

"Ortega!" a man’s voice called out. "Should we post men in the treetops to keep watch?"

The hand stopped. "Hang on, I’ll be right there!" Ortega replied, annoyed by the interruption. "Until later, my little princess. Besides, it’ll be much more fun to watch you struggle as I take you."

Danielle felt the gag tightened with a quick pull that snapped her head back around. She remained still until she heard the door close. Her heart was pounding so hard, she was sure it could be seen through her clothing. She fought the bile rising in her throat, then took a deep breath to calm herself. She was sure that the next time Ortega returned she wouldn’t be so lucky.


Maria rode to the edge of a pasture with Luc close behind. Ahead of them lay a dense forest with a large lake just to the east; to the west, a rocky mountain range climbed high into the sky. A single path wide enough for only one rider led into the thick trees. Maria dismounted her horse and jumped to the ground at the edge of the forest. Luc followed suit.

"We’ll have to leave our horses here and continue on foot." Maria spoke quietly. "The path you see before us is the only one into this forest. I’ve watched Ortega bring supplies through here for some time. I figure this is his new hiding spot. I’ve climbed the mountain over there and have gotten high enough to see a clearing in the middle of these trees that ends at the foot of a high cliff. From what I can tell, there are two structures, but there may be more. I’m sure he’ll have men posted throughout the grove looking for intruders. The hills and cliffs next to the mountains offer good cover and our best way to sneak in. By the time we get to his fortress it should be dusk."

"What’s the plan once we get there?" Luc asked as they guided their horses on foot to the edge of the mountain range and tied them to two trees.

"We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it." Maria said as she removed a bag and a lengthy piece of rope from her saddle then began to climb the loose rocks at the base of the mountain. "We’ll have to find exactly where he has Danielle hidden. My hope is to distract his men with some diversion long enough to get to the princess and get her out of there."

"I’m right behind you, Maria," Luc said.


Danielle tried to loosen the ropes that held her, but only succeeded in rubbing her skin raw and bloody. Time passed very slowly in her agonized state. No light seeped in past her blindfold, making it hard for her to distinguish day from night. She heard little of the earlier ruckus and it seemed the encampment had finally settled down. She could only guess how much time had passed, but it felt like hours. The only redeeming thing was that Ortega had not returned to continue where he’d left off.

Danielle took deep even breaths and thought of Maria. ‘Whatever happens to me, at least I know that for the briefest of moments when you held me in your arms, safe from the rest of the world, I was completely happy. That was the sweetest sensation I have ever known and it is that feeling alone that lifts me now. I had, if only for a moment, everything I have ever wanted.’ She continued to think of Maria and the kiss they’d shared to keep her calm, praying that soon her captivity would end.


Maria and Luc crawled along the rocks, keeping an eye out for any signs of Ortega’s men. Coming to the edge of a cliff, Maria turned and brought her index finger to her mouth, signaling for Luc to remain quiet and stay still. Hugging the rock, Maria pulled herself very slowly to the edge and peered over. Maria looked out and spied the structures that she had only once viewed from a distance. Two buildings stood a good distance apart from one another. A corral holding at least twenty horses was adjacent to the larger building, which Maria assumed, held most of Ortega’s men and artillery. The smaller structure looked liked a small house, probably Ortega’s private quarters.

The door to the larger building opened and Maria watched as Ortega walked across the grounds. He called to two men whom Maria spotted high in the treetops, asking if they’d seen any activity. They both responded that all was quiet. Ortega continued on and entered the smaller building. Maria backed up slowly.

"Ortega’s in the house below. I saw him enter. That’s probably where he has Danielle hidden. There are two men acting as spotters in the trees. The light is dim enough now that they won’t be able to see us climb down this slope," Maria said as she tied the end of the rope to a large stump that jutted out of the hard rock. "Once we get down there, we’ll make our way to the house and see if we can spot Danielle inside. Once we know where she is, we’ll create the diversion."

"And that would be?" Luc asked hesitantly.

Maria reached into the bag she was carrying and removed some old rags and two containers of kerosene. "We’re going to torch the other building," she said, then placed the objects back in her bag.

"Excellent notion," Luc said.

Maria climbed down the rope first, followed by Luc, who drew his pistol with his right hand and unsheathed his sword with his left.

"I’ll cover you," he said confidently.

Maria darted in and out of the trees as Luc kept watch right behind her. As they came closer to the smaller building, Luc pointed to a man standing on the side of the structure. Maria leaned down and removed a knife from her boot. Taking aim, she set sail the blade and with deadly accuracy it pierced the back of the man’s neck, dropping him instantly with a small thud.

Maria quietly removed her weapon from the fallen man. Peering in a small window, she could make out a small figure tied to a bed. Her heart pounded as she felt her blood heat up in anger. She returned as quietly as possible to Luc’s position.

"She’s in there, Luc," Maria spoke softly.

"Is she unharmed?" Luc asked, as he sheathed his sword.

"I can’t tell," Maria said worriedly.

"Make your way to the corral. Open the gates so the horses will run out when the fire starts. Tie two horses to the post over there, we’ll use those to escape," Maria said as she handed Luc the bag. "Soak the rags, light them, and throw them on the roof. Pour some of the kerosene on the door and light that also. Your job is to keep anyone from coming back to the house. I’ll take care of anyone inside it. I’ll meet you back at the horses with the princess."

"Her safety comes first," Luc said seriously.

"There is nothing more important in this world to me," Maria said, taking a deep breath.

Maria watched Luc duck in and out of the trees for as long as the light would allow her to see. She heard small sounds coming from the corral. Finally, she saw the fireballs coming to rest on the roof. Within no time the blaze grew as the wind whipped down from the mountain, feeding the flames. She heard activity from the large building.

"Fire!" One of the men inside shouted the warning.

The call alarmed the entire camp. The door of the small quarters burst open, and a man ran toward the fire. Maria drew her sword and entered through the open door. Ortega’s startled face was looking right at her.

"Surprised to see me?" Maria asked sarcastically.

Ortega drew his pistol and fired, but Maria rolled to the floor and came up untouched.

"Your aim is as good as your hiding place," Maria said irritably. "I’m sick of your games."

"You’re too late, Maria," Ortega said as he pulled his sword. "I’ve won. She’s dead and there’s nothing you can do about it."

Maria flinched at his words. Was he trying to bait her, playing on her emotions to weaken her strength? Could this be the truth? Maria looked deep into her soul and searched for the light that was only Danielle. If his words were true, she knew that she would not feel her presence in her heart. Swallowing hard, Maria let her soul speak the truth. There was no darkness, only warmth and strength. Danielle was alive. Maria felt her.

"In that case," Maria said, advancing in his direction, "It’s only fair that I take your life in return."

With her skill and strength, Maria lunged forward and steel hit steel. She backed him into the corner as a red-hot rage born of many years welled up in her gut. Ortega struggled to get the upper hand, but today was his unlucky day. Maria’s sword became an extension of herself. Air rushed into her lungs with the fierce beat of her heart.

"I know it was you that planned my father’s execution," Maria said through gritted teeth as she sliced the tip of her sword through his cheek. "You told everyone it was the French that caused it, but I knew it was you. You bastard! You went around praising him as a true Spaniard and used him as a martyr for your cause, when it was you that murdered him."

"He was as much a traitor as you are!" Ortega yelled. "He was a pathetic man!"

Maria’s rage came to a head and in one quick move her blade sank deep into Ortega’s chest. He stumbled back and fell into the wall. His eyes widened in fear as he took his last breath.

"He was my hero!" Maria said, as she removed her weapon and watched his eyes close and his body slide down the wall and land in a heap on the floor.

Gathering herself, Maria ran to the door that led to the back room. She forced the locked door open with her shoulder. Danielle jumped at the noise.

"Danielle, it’s me," Maria said reassuringly to the princess as she sat next to her and removed her blindfold and gag.

"Are you okay? Did he hurt you?" Maria asked, concerned, holding Danielle’s face and looking into the green eyes as they tried to adjust to the light.

"I’m alright, Maria," Danielle said softly, blinking her eyes and focusing on the most beautiful sight in the world. "I prayed you’d find me. It was the thought of you that kept me calm."

"We’ve got to get out of here." Maria she took her knife and cut the ropes that held Danielle’s feet and then hands. As soon as Danielle was free, she threw her arms around Maria’s neck. Maria returned the embrace and felt Danielle’s lips kiss her lightly on the cheek.

"Come on, Danielle. We can’t waste another minute. Luc is waiting for us," she whispered urgently in Danielle’s ear. She replaced her knife in her boot and picked up her sword.

Taking Danielle’s hand, Maria led her back through the house and out the front door, careful not to be seen. The entire building was ablaze as men formed a water brigade and tried to extinguish the fire.

"See the horses tied over there?" Maria asked softly and pointed to the spot she wanted them to run to. "We need to make a run for it. Do not let go of my hand and stay behind me. Do you understand?"

"Yes, Maria," Danielle replied. "I’ll be right behind you."

Maria took one more survey of the area and when she was completely sure no one was watching, ran for the horses clutching Danielle’s hand. Luc was hidden behind a tree near the horses and he stepped out to make sure no one went after Maria and Danielle. The women were was almost to him and the waiting horses when he saw the armed man on top of the building behind them.

"Behind you!" Luc yelled and took aim with his pistol.

Hearing the shots, Maria stopped and turned back around, shielding Danielle with her body. She felt a sharp hot pain in her side and fell to her knees, watching as the figure on the roof tumbled to the ground. Clutching her side, she tried to stand.

"Maria!" Danielle yelled in fear.

"Get on the horse and get out of here," Maria commanded.

Luc brought the horses to them as fast as he could. Danielle knelt down and pulled the knife from Maria’s boot. She cut a slit in her dress and tore it off, leaving her legs exposed from the knees down, making it easier for her to ride.

"What are you doing, Danielle?" Maria asked through her pain.

"I’m getting you out of here," she said and without hesitation, took part of the cloth and placed it inside of the other woman’s shirt to stop the bleeding. "Hold this tightly, Maria."

"Don’t worry about me!" Maria said insistently, turning to Luc for help.

"No! I will not leave her!" Danielle yelled and looked hard at the captain.

She quickly mounted the horse and told Luc to place Maria in front of her. Luc swiftly helped Maria onto the horse as Ortega’s men abandoned the burning building and began heading toward them.

"Quickly, Princess," Luc ordered as he jumped on his mount. "Head toward that clearing and ride as fast as you can."

Danielle held Maria as tightly as possible with her left arm and led her horse to the clearing. The full weight of the obviously unconscious woman rested on her chest. The path was thick with trees and Danielle felt the branches tear at her clothing and face as her horse sailed through the dense brush. She didn’t break stride until she reached a pasture. Luc was right next to her.

"Maria?" There was no response. Danielle felt the warm blood on her hand where she held on tightly to her love.

"Luc," Danielle said urgently. "We need to get Maria to the doctor. She’s lost a lot of blood. Do you know the way from here?"

"Follow me," Luc said as he looked over at the innocent girl who had become a courageous woman right before his eyes.

Danielle felt the tall woman’s limp body respond for a moment.

"Danielle?" Maria said very softly.

"Yes, my love?" she called in her ear, holding her tight. "I’m right here, Maria!"

"I’ve never felt . . ." Maria coughed harshly through her own blood. "I’ve never felt anything more wonderful in my life, than when I kissed you, Danielle."

Danielle’s eyes filled with tears as she felt Maria’s body fall against her chest as she lost consciousness again.

Danielle willed her horse to run as fast as it could and followed Luc out of the pasture and down the dirt road to the doctor’s villa.

"I love you, Maria!" Danielle said as her tears fell harder. "You hang, on you hear me! I will not lose you!"

part 5

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