Disclaimers: Mine, mine, all mine.
Sex: But of course! J I’d say pretty much NC-17 on this puppy, too, so don’t read at work.
Note: I decided to do a short story that was a wee take on one of my favorite movies, The Princess Bride. You will see some similarities, and that is on purpose. Even so, the overall story is my own. Enjoy!
If you’d like to tell me what a wonderful writer I am or that I royally suck, feel free at: XenaNut@hotmail.com.
As You Wish
~~ ONE ~~
Lord Robert Wynton rode into the keep, his horse’s hooves clicking on the cobble stones laid out in the impressive space. The surrounding stones of the walls made the sound echo, helping to announce the presence of the nobleman. His journey had been long and tiring, but all worth it to win the hand of the most beautiful – and eligible – lady in the kingdom of Torai.
“Good ‘morrow, Mi’lord,” the horse handler Thomas said, hurrying to the side of the mighty beast Robert dismounted.
Robert didn’t bother to respond to the young man, instead removing his gloves one finger at a time as he made his way up the stone steps that would take him within the castle proper. It was a powerful structure, built back during the Viking raids three hundred years before.
Wynton passed guards along the way, each stopping to salute him as he passed. He gave a few a curt nod of recognition before moving on. He had a meeting with the King, after al, and nothing would keep him from it. Today they were going to set up the beginning steps for Robert to court the King’s daughter, Rachel. She was the oldest sister of the King, and the one next in line to marry, so states ancient proclamations: once a girl turns sixteen summers old, she had exactly twenty-four months to find a suitor and then husband, or she loses all rights to the throne.
“Good ‘morrow, Lord Wynton. The King awaits you this way,” said Timothy Ashton, the King’s trusted advisor, and a slimy little man that Robert detested, but tolerated because he knew Ashton was on his side, and all for the marriage between the houses of Tork and Laird, two families that were once ancient enemies, but who had made peace during the Second crusades, each helping to lick the other’s wounds after the abysmal failure of King Louis VII of France and Conrad III of Germany.
In the one hundred years since that tenuous peace, it was decided that this marriage would be the best for not only both families, but for Lord Robert Wynton, as well.
“In here, My lord,” Timothy said with a deep bow, standing outside the door to the King’s Library.
“Thank you, Ashton,” Robert said, breezing past the still bowed man, trying not to roll his eyes at the show of exaggerated respect.
“Robert!” King Jerome said, standing from the table he’d been sitting at, looking over his daily parchments: requests and complaints he had to deal with. “Welcome, my boy.”
“Thank you, Your Majesty.” Robert bowed, much in the same way Timothy Ashton had just done to him, not getting up until prompted by the King. The two men sat at the heavy, intricately carved table. “I trust you received my gift, Your Majesty?”
“Indeed I did. The new servants are certainly a welcome sight after many of ours perished after the round of sickness that ran through the town of late.”
“Aye, I heard of that. So sorry, My Lord. So terrible.” In truth Robert didn’t give a rat’s behind about dead servants, but knew the King – for whatever reason – tended to be unique in that her respected the lives of those low enough to work for him.
“We are also grateful for the weapons.”
Robert gave another, smaller bow in acknowledgement.
“Now then. Let us get to business, shall we?”
Rachel held her tongue as Tamara, her lady in waiting finished up with the intricate braid that was her long, blonde hair. She watched in the large looking glass that was mounted on the vanity she sat in front of. She watched the image of Tamara, a short, squat woman with an aquiline nose and hawkish features. She didn’t care much for Tamara in all truth, but she was a wonderful lady in waiting so she tolerated the older woman’s impatient nature and brewding presence.
“I’ve word Lord Wynton has arrived,” Tamara said, her voice loud and annoying, as usual.
“Have you, now?” Rachel asked, not caring in the least. She’d heard her closest suitor was handsome and from the family of Laird. None of which mattered to her, as she had no desire to wed in the first place. She knew better than to fight it, as it was a battle she’d surely lose. Even so, that didn’t mean she had to help it, or welcome it with open arms.
“Aye,” Tamara continued, finishing the hairstyle, which Rachel had to admit was quite beautiful. “Still going for a ride, are ye?”
Rachel nodded, standing from the padded stool she’d been sitting on for the past two hours. Her rear end hurt, and she was anxious to escape the castle walls for her afternoon ride. “Please tell Roger to have Azrael saddled and ready,” she called over her shoulder, disappearing behind the dressing screen as she donned her riding frock.
“Aye, m’lady,” Tamara said with a curtsey, then left the massive bedchamber.
Allison stood near the door to the stables, watching as the new servant mucked the stalls. He’d been part of the gifts Lord Wynton had sent to try and soften the King’s heart and purse. The young princess was mesmerized by the new servant, whom she didn’t even know his name. He was tall, his face always smudged from the hours of hard work he had to do.
“You’re so much more handsome than the last stable boy,” she said at last, entering the dark, smelly stables.
The servant stopped his mucking and turned to look at the youngest daughter of the King, running the sleeve of his shirt across his face to try in vain to remove dirt. He said nothing, only stared at her.
Allison took his silence for interest, so she went with it. After all, interest from men was nothing new to her, merely a game and hobby. She gave him a coy smile, walking around him in a measured circle, sure to wave her skirts ever so slightly.
“What’s your name, boy?” She glanced up into his eyes, marveling at the color of the sky that looked back at her.
“I have stables to muck, m’lady,” came the soft reply.
“I asked you a question, boy,” Allison said, irritation marking her voice. “What is your name?”
“Allison, leave him be.”
Both princess and stable hand turned to see Rachel standing in the doorway of the stable, wiggling her fingers as she tugged her riding gloves on.
“Boy, saddle my horse,” the elder princess glanced at the boy Allison was trying to get her hooks into, then intended to look away, but instead her gaze returned to him, only to be met by the bluest eyes she’d ever seen, made even brighter by the dirt smudges on his chiseled face.
The stable hand looked at her, and in a soft voice said, “As you wish.”
Rachel couldn’t speak but could only nod in acknowledgement. She was struck, felt as though she had been pinned to the spot by a dagger through the hem of her riding gown. She vaguely registered the presence of her younger sister moving up beside her.
“Handsome, isn’t he?” Allison whispered, watching with appreciation as the boy saddled Rachel’s horse. Rachel did not answer, instead turned and headed back out into the cool, calm day.
Moments later, Rachel was on her steed, galloping freely through the fields of her father’s lands. John, one of the King’s private guard in charge of Rachel, rode alone side, mere feet away. Like a shadow, he protected the princess wherever she went.
“John?” she called out, giving the guard permission to fully approach and interact with her. His horse quickly pulled up alongside Azrael.
“I want you to find out how things went today with Lord Wynton here.”
“Aye, M’lady.” John didn’t dare pull his mount back into place again. He’d been guarding the fair Rachel since she’d been a child, and always knew when she called for his counsel there were usually many things she wanted to cover, all of which she covered in her own good time.
As expected from her personal guardsmen, Rachel was silent for a few moments, and then broached the true subject that was on her mind. “John?”
“M’lady?” John said, playing along with the polite surprise that his lady should speak to him.
“Where did that stable boy come from? I remember not seeing him before.”
“Aye, M’lady. He was part of your courting gift from Lord Wynton. Conley was in the bunch of four other servants, M’lady.” John gingerly guided his mount around a stand of trees the cut the trail in two. Soon his steed yet again walked beside Rachel’s.
“His name, M’lady.”
“I see.” Rachel’s curiosity satisfied for the moment, she pushed her mount on ahead, ready to feel the wind through hair and shaking earth at her feet. John followed along at a discreet pace, his knowledge no longer needed.
It had been a long day and Conley was tired. Though the conditions seemed to be better than the last master he’d worked for, the days were longer and the tasks more demanding.
He walked into the tiny room that was his new home. Outside the castle walls – near the stables in his case – were a long building made of mud brick and thatched roofing. The building was dissected into tiny one-person rooms that fit not more than a cot, wash tub and a small pot-bellied stove in the corner. Conley didn’t mind the small spaces, as he was used to that. He’d borne of a whore and a stable hand, his mother dying at his birth. Raised by a father who owned indentured servitude to a number of different masters his whole life, he’d taught Conley how to be the best servant possible. Conley had worked in kitchens, stables, blacksmith shops and had plowed more fields than he could count. Though he was a free man, he knew nothing else other than service for others, so as long as he could find a decent wage, he was happy enough.
Even still, he had to admit he resented being “given” to the King. Granted, he could have refused, but then he would have been out of a job. Wynton had not only given the King servants, but he’d also paid the wage for the four to the King’s coffers so the few pence wouldn’t come out of the King’s own monies. It was likely that after that year was up the four would be out of a job, anyway, unless they were able to prove to the King that they were useful.
Conley lit a fire in the stove and poured some water into the iron tea kettle, the only ting that had belonged to his mother that the owned. He was tired and sore and was craving a hot bath – something that he demanded of himself, while most bathed twice, if not once a year.
An hour later Conley lay in the washtub, luxuriating at the feel of the heat lapping against his sore muscles. As always, the water level in the tub reached his upper chest. That made it easier for him to not have to remember, and keep his identity in tact. No one knew but himself, his mother and his father. Now both of them were dead, so Conley was the sole person alive who knew his secret, and he intended to keep it that way.
A long, low groan escaped his throat as his body was finally allowed to fully relax and gain some equilibrium. The stables at the King’s palace were in horrible shape. He didn’t know who had been the stable master before – or who was now, for that matter – but they should lose their head, if they already hadn’t. The building itself was in disrepair, not to mention the stables themselves. Piled high with rotting hay and thick, hardened chunks of muck tucked into the corners. Tomorrow Conley had decided he’d begin a restoration project on the building. The King had a long of horses, and undoubtedly they were sick often.
Conley’s train of thought was interrupted by a pounding on the door to his room.
“Aye?” he called out, nearly shooting out of the tub and pulling on garments he needed, fear surging through his system.
“You’re needed at the castle immediately,” called the heavy voice from the other side of the door.
“Aye. Two shakes,” Conley called back. Relieved, her heard the heavy booted steps of a guard moving further away and finally out of the building.
Conley made his way to the castle, heart pounding as he went. He always hated being beckoned to the master’s quarters late, never knowing for sure what was in store for him. Over his nineteen years as a servant he’d been called late at night for emergency help, for a beating, and to entertain one of the ladies of the house who might fancy him. That actually happened quite a lot. Conley lost his virginity at age twelve for just such an event.
The castle was like so many Conley had seen: large, cold and drafty places that were far too high and mighty for a simple man like him. The large, overstated rooms and furnishings did nothing to impress him, and in fact made him realize how petty and trite men really were. Defense was one thing, peacock feathers, quite another.
He was led to the King’s offices, where the large man was sitting behind an even larger desk, quill in hand.
“You called for me, Your Highness?” Conley said quietly, bowing to one knee in respect of the regent for the land he’d been brought to.
“Aye. Come in, my boy.” The King set his quill and parchments aside, resting large hands across them as he studied the servant who now sat across from him. “As you know, you were given to me as a courting gift. I’ve watched you and the other three – all of which have been called in here as well – over the past weeks, trying to decide what the plan really is.”
Conley was confused. “Your Majesty?”
“See, whenever I am given a gift – be it of a material nature or that of a living, breathing creature – I always wonder what the point is. I am King, all know this, and the King often is given many gifts, but to what end?” he rose from his chair, the large signet ring on his finger catching the torch light. “I’m a cautious man, Conley, and don’t trust easily; especially those who give me gifts.” He stopped, giving the young man a small smile, most of which was hidden behind his red beard.
Daring to speak, but believing he understood what the King was saying, Conley spoke. “You’re wondering why Wynton gave you the four of us. What deficits do we have. Am I correct, Your Majesty?”
The King looked genuinely surprised at Conley’s assessment. “Aye,” he said with a nod. “Why should I keep you? Are you good at what you do?”
Conley nodded. “Aye, Your Majesty. The best.”
“Is that so?” The King sat on the edge of his desk, studying the handsome young man before him. “Then why would Wynton wish to give you up?”
“Mayhap he wishes his King to have only the best,” Conley suggested, taking a chance and meeting the King’s eyes.
The King was amused. “You are quite bold, aren’t you, boy?” Not waiting for – or necessarily wanting – a reply, he moved back around to sit behind his desk. “I’ll keep an eye on you, Conley. We’ll see if you are in fact, the best.”
“Aye,” Conley bowed in supplication, not wanting to appear too arrogant. In truth, a man’s worth to him was not his rank or title, but who he proved himself to be. He’d seen the best of men in a simply town idiot and the worst in the highest of rule. “I have a request, Your Highness.”
“Do you, now?” The King had nearly had enough of this boy’s attitudes. A part of him respected the obvious self-respect the young man had, but at the same time, he was speaking with the King. “And what is that?”
“Aye. I’ve been working in the stables of late, and I’ve noticed they are in dire need of repair. Might I have your permission to do this, Your Majesty?”
The King studied him for long moments, sitting back in his over-sized chair. “What is your plan?”
Conley felt like he was walking on a cloud as he made his way back to his room. The King had agreed to his plan, and had not only given him permission, but also extra resources to all but re-build the stables. It had been an incredibly successful meeting, and he felt that perhaps he had also just secured a long-term position for himself.
Whistling a simple song, Conley removed his outer garment, leaving his scratchy shirt, breeches and boots when there was a soft knock on the door.
“Bugger,” he muttered, walking over to it and pulling it open. To his immense surprise, Allison stood out in the dim hallway. “M’lady,” he said in surprise. “Are you not well?”
Allison smiled, holding her cloak closed around her vaguely-dressed body. “I am, sir. May I come in?” Her asking was more of a formality than actual politeness, as she brushed past the stable boy and entered his room.
Conley wasn’t sure what to say, so said nothing. He closed the door behind the girl, as he knew it would not do to have others see her entrance, regardless of her reasons. He waited, a breathless tension beginning to fill the air.
Allison looked around the small space; nothing new here as she’d seen many more before. Finished with her minimal visual tour, she turned back to her host. She gave him the smile that she knew could drop a man to his knees. By the clenching and unclenching of Conley’s jaw muscle, she figured he was no more impervious than anyone else.
Conley could feel his heart beginning to pound a bit, the purpose of Lady Allison’s visit becoming very clear. He watched as the younger princess approached him, a knowing look in her green eyes, much like her older sister, but lacking so much of the depth that were the pools of Rachel’s gaze.
“Conley, is it?” Allison asked unnecessarily, wrapping one of the ties from the laces on the stable boy’s shirt around her finger, playfully tugging. She knew full-well what the handsome man’s name was.
“Aye, M’lady,” Conley said, his voice quiet and cautious.
“Clever me found it out,” Allison said, leaning her body slightly into his. “Clever, clever me.” She looked up into his sky-blue eyes. “Do you find me clever, Conley?”
“’Tis one word, M’lady,” he said, his gaze falling for a moment to see the revealing flesh not-so-cleverly hidden beneath Allison’s cloak. It didn’t seem the lady was fully dressed.
“Is another word beautiful?” Allison asked, running her hands up and over Conley’s upper chest.
“Aye that, M’lady. That you are.”
Allison’s smile was blinding, and almost predatory. “Let me show you my gratitude for your kind words, sir.”
Conley was pushed back a step by the passion of Allison’s kiss, nearly hitting the door. He wrapped his arms around the beautiful young woman both to stop them from falling, as well as glad to have the physical contact. The life of a servant could be a lonely one, especially for Conley. Physical contact usually only came in the rare times a whipping came, or the times when a lady of the house needed some attention scarcely given by a husband.
Allison’s carnal appetite was fierce, her knowledge broad as her kiss nearly left Conley breathless, and certainly speechless. She broke away, breath coming in heaving gasps as she looked up into Conley’s eyes. She took a step back from him, her gaze pinning him to where he stood. With sure, knowing fingers Allison reached up and unclasped her cloak, letting the heavy garment fall to the floor. Underneath she wore a thin chemise that did little to hide the young, womanly body beneath.
Conley took in the picture before him, feeling his blood begin to sing through his veins. Allison reached for his hand, moving backwards as she pulled him towards Conley’s small cot.
“I want you,” Allison breathed as she pulled Conley on top of her, their kissing resuming. She reached down between their bodies and began to unlace his breeches, but her hand was moved away, Conley taking over the task.
As he moved from her mouth to her neck, Conley knew he was taking a huge risk. If they were to be caught, it would mean his neck, as taking a lady’s virtue was a crime punishable by death. Even so, he had a strong feeling the Lady Allison’s virtue was long gone. She was far too good of a seductress to be a novice.
Allison moaned softly – not wanting to alert the entire complex of the happenings in Conley’s room – as her love slid inside her, her fingers grabbing bunches of his shirt in rhythm with his thrusts. She was surprised when he found her mouth again, his kiss deep and filled with the passion of youth and vigor. Most men she’d been with found that kissing was simply to allure the woman, and no longer needed once they’d gotten their way. She found it immensely satisfying.
Conley typically liked to take his time with a woman, but he sensed time was not on his side. His thrusts were quick and deep, trying to give Allison as much pleasure as he could while hurrying the act. To expedite things, he licked a fiery trail down along the column of Allison’s throat and down between her breasts, his hips never slowing.
Allison gasped and then groaned as her right nipple was suddenly surrounded by wet heat. Pleasure flooded her body starting at her breast and exploding through her sex as she clamped down on Conley, her hands pressing down on his butt to hold him deep inside her as she quietly cried out her pleasure.
Conley rained kisses down across Allison’s face as her body trembled slightly from the brief, but intense experience. As she came around back to reality, she pushed at his chest, letting him know she was done. Conley turned his back to the lady as he re-laced his breeches, his own body quaking still from the pleasure that coursed through him. He was surprised to hear the door to his room open then softly close. Turning to face the rest of the room, he saw no lady, nor traces of her.
Conley sighed, able to hear his father’s voice in his head:
“Conley, you are a fool. Yet again you’ve put your life in the hands of a spoiled child trapped in the body of a young woman.”
“I know, father.” He ran a hand through his dark, shaggy hair. “When will I learn?”
~~ TWO ~~
Conley managed to stay out of the grasp of Allison for the next month, as he had a strong sense that giving into her had been a mistake. A mistake made all the same, so he decided watching his p’s and q’s was wisest.
He was in the hayloft of the stable, pounding at a nail when he caught sight of Lady Rachel making her way over for her daily ride. Instantly Conley’s heart began to pound in his chest, his palms growing so sweaty that he nearly lost his grasp on the mallet he was using.
Everyday he readied Azrael, the lady’s most prized possession, and everyday he tried not to stare. The King’s eldest daughter was the most marvelous creature Conley had ever seen. Her hair was like spun gold, her eyes the color of the deepest emerald or the spring grass, newly green. She was breathtaking. Conley was never able to say much more to her than to simply acknowledge whatever her request might be, as he felt tongue tied and like an idiot. She shorted out his thoughts and turned his brain to mush.
Wiping his hands on the legs of his breeches, Conley quickly climbed down the ladder to the main portion of the stables and began to saddle Azrael in anticipation of the lady’s request.
Rachel slapped her riding gloves lightly against the skirt of her dress as she neared the stables. She had heard pounding in the building as she’d neared it, but it had suddenly stopped, leaving the morning quiet until she heard movement near the horses. She glanced around, making sure no one had seen her leave the castle without John, whom she’d told to stay behind. She only hoped his loyalty to her would be firm.
The smells of newly mucked and cleaned stalls met Rachel’s nose as she stepped into the shadow of the building. She saw that Azrael was already nearly ready to go, the horse lovingly taken care of by the stable boy. Rachel felt a slight flutter in her stomach as she saw the handsome servant readying her mount.
“Boy?” she called to him.
Conley looked at Lady Rachel, knowing he could be in trouble if he didn’t meet her gaze, if only briefly. “M’lady?” he said softly.
“Do you ride?” Rachel took a step closer to him, the beat of her gloves against her skirts quickening.
Conley looked at the princess, surprised by the question. “Aye, M’lady.”
“Good. You shall escort me this morn. John has come ill.” She had no idea why she was giving such an explanation, as she need not. She did not turn away, no matter how badly she wished to. It was he who looked away first.
“Shall I call you another guard-“
“I can do that myself, boy. I said it shall be you.”
Conley bowed his head in respect, his heart about to erupt out of his throat. “As you wish.”
Conley did his best to keep an eye out for anything or anyone that could potentially harm the princess as they made. Lady Rachel had taken Conley with her as her escort every morning for her daily ride for the last fortnight. It was a task that was bitter/sweet for him. It was nice to get out and ride for a bit, but it was getting more difficult to be around the princess, as he felt his heart beat quicker and quicker each day.
Rachel, for her part loved having the quiet stable boy around to protect her. His quiet strength was immensely comforting to her. She knew he had begun to carry a weapon, which made her heart smile all the more. She felt supremely confident that should anything go wrong, she would be safe in his hands. Word had not yet reached her father, but she knew it would be a matter of time, and she’d have to deal with it then. A servant should not be her protector, but a seasoned, licensed guard, which the stable boy was not.
“Boy,” she called out over her shoulder so her voice would reach the two horse lengths he kept between them. “We water over there.” She pointed to a small stream where their horses could refresh themselves. Besides, she felt like walking a bit.
The request was unusual, as the Lady Rachel typically led them through their paces in the woods, then headed back straightaway to the stables.
“As you wish, M’lady,” he said, urging his mount towards the stream. Conley dismounted and tied off his horse then quickly moved over to the princess’ steed. He swallowed nervously as he reached his hands out, grasping Lady Rachel at her waist and lifted her out of the saddle and safely to the ground. She rested her hands on his shoulders, their eyes meeting for but a moment before Rachel looked away. She couldn’t afford to get lost in the sky of his eyes, no matter how badly she might want to.
“Thank you,” she said softly, her unusual gratitude coming to cover her very intense reaction to the close proximity of the stable boy.
Conley simply nodded, unable to speak.
“I wish to walk,” Rachel finally said, her voice soft, breathy from the lack of breath she was able to take.
Again, Conley nodded. “As you wish.”
Rachel forced her mind to clear and she turned away from the stable boy, putting precious space between them. She walked along the banks of the stream, able to hear his footfalls behind her.
“Boy?” she called, sparing a glance over her shoulder. ‘Come walk with me.”
Conley’s response was in action, as he moved up to her side, keeping pace with her. He said nothing, simply kept one hand at the hilt of his sword and his eyes peeled to the wooded area around them.
“What do you think of Lord Wynton?” Rachel asked at length, surprising her escort.
“I think not of him, M’lady,” Conley said, careful in his wording. He knew not if this was a trap. He didn’t believe in his heart that it was, but was going to be careful all the same.
Rachel stopped their progress, turning to him. “That’s not what I asked, boy,” she said gently, understanding fully why he would try and stay neutral. She continued walking, satisfied that her stable boy was still beside her. “What do you think of him?”
Conley sighed softly, knowing there was no way to get out of answering this question without honesty. He sensed the lady would know if he were lying. “I do not trust him, M’lady.
Rachel was relieved – and dismayed – to hear her own thoughts echoed back to her. “You worked for him before, yes?”
Rachel stopped them once more, for reasons she did not understand. She met Conley’s gaze full on. “You are to call me Lady Rachel, boy. I do not like such cold formalities of ‘M’lady’.”
Conley met her gaze, his own softening a bit. He gave her the barest hint of a smile. “As you wish, Lady Rachel.”
Rachel felt her breath catch yet again, and quickly looked away, continuing their walk. “Why do you not trust him?”
Conley was still trying to get his equilibrium back when the question came, and he didn’t answer for a moment.
“Boy? I’ve asked you a question,” Rachel said, her bothered state making her impatient. She didn’t fully understand what she was feeling, and why the stable boy had such an affect on her. She didn’t like it one bit.
“My apologies, Lady Rachel. I do not trust him because I’ve seen him hurt many.” Conley hated the words as they exited his mouth, as he knew the lady was to marry the nobleman. However, he could not lie.
He began to feel uncomfortable now, Lady Rachel asking him to go into territory that could surely get him killed. “M’lady…” his voice trailed off, trying to convey in one simply word his discomfort.
Rachel stopped them yet a third time, this time with a hand to the stable boy’s arm, and clear, green eyes looking up into his. “You need not fear, boy,” she said softly. “This conversation goes no further than between you and myself. I ask because I wish to know more of the man I must marry, not because I wish to betray your confidences.”
Conley stared down into the sweet, trusting face of the woman before him. “You are so lovely, Lady Rachel,” he whispered, barely aware that the thoughts words had been said allowed until he saw the look on the lady’s face change from neutral to surprised to that of a blushing bride. Mentally he beat himself. “I’m so sorry, M’lady. That was inappropriate-“ he began to move away from her but Rachel stopped him, tightening her hold on his arm.
“Thank you.” She said softly, for the first time truly allowing her walls to lower with him.
Conley was able to see the kind, beautiful soul beneath the royal entrapments for just a moment, and it made his heart reach out to her, fully giving itself freely. Without thinking or realizing he was doing it, Conley reached a hand up, brushing Rachel’s soft cheek with callused fingertips.
Rachel’s eyes closed at the contact – so soft, so gentle. She could feel the pounding of her heart in her chest, her mouth running dry. She took hold of the stable boy’s hand, wrapping her fingers around his larger ones. She felt a warmth of spirit and body engulf her. She could feel Conley drawing nearer, could feel his warm breath upon her face. As suddenly as she realized he was going to kiss her, he was gone.
Rachel’s eyes opened in surprise when she heard the clash of steel on steel. She staggered backwards, shocked to see the stable boy in combat with an armed opponent.
“Stand back, Lady Rachel!” Conley called out, gritting his teeth against the strength of the man who had dared to attack from behind. They were in a holding pattern as both tried to overpower the other. Conley broke the stalemate with a kick the man’s midsection. With an “Oomph!” the man relinquished his hold and staggered back.
Rachel watched with wide-eyed fascination as the two men struggled, her heart pounding anew with fear for her protector’s life and safety. “Conley!” she cried as she saw the second man rush from the trees.
Conley groaned at the sting of a slash to his sword arm from the cowardly second man. He kicked back, catching the swordsman under the chin with a well-placed boot, knocking him to the ground. Just in time Conley raised his blade to parry the thrust of the first man, their blades breaking the peace of the beautiful spring day.
The second man rose and charged, doubling the attack on Conley, who fought with everything in him. He was worried he was about to be outfought and the princess harmed when he was given a break and the second man caught the tip of his blade in the side, causing a great cry of pain to escape his throat.
Conley used the moment of reprieve to give full attack on the first man, backing him into a tree and finally giving him a hard elbow to the nose, blood erupting from his nostrils along with cries of pain. Conley grabbed him by his dark, oily hair and slammed his head against the tree three times until the man was silenced, falling into unconsciousness.
Rachel watched in terror as the stable boy knelt down by the second man who was still holding his bleeding side. Conley grabbed him by the front of his shirt and planted a fist right in the middle of his face, the man’s shattering teeth cutting his knuckles.
“Don’t kill him,” Rachel begged, hugging herself.
Conley glanced over at her, seeing the terror in her eyes, then looked back at the man who was crying from the pain in his mouth and his side. Out of breath and beginning to hurt as the adrenaline died down, the stable boy stood, grabbing his sword from the ground where he’d dropped it.
“What shall I do with him, Lady Rachel?”
Rachel looked from one man to the other, knowing a decision had to be made. She knew what her father would want. “We’ll take them to the King.”
The ride back was quiet. The unconscious men had been loaded onto Conley’s horse, draped over the saddle and tied on. Conley rode Azrael, Rachel seated safely in front of her. She could tell the princess was shaken, as was he, truth be told.
“Conley?” Rachel said, her voice soft.
The stable boy smiled slightly. “So you do know my name, Lady Rachel.”
Rachel smiled. “Aye. Why do you think those men attacked today?”
Conley thought for a moment before he answered. “Honestly, M’lady, I think they were sent assassins.”
Cold fear trickled through Rachel’s body at those words. “Sent by who?”
“I know not, Lady Rachel. Your father can look into this further. See who would want to hurt you.”
They reached the stables where Conley quickly dismounted. He called over to one of the other stable hands. “Mark! Go get the King’s guard. Move!” The boy bolted out of the stable, and Conley turned to Rachel, holding his hands up to help her down.
As Rachel slid down off the horse, she slid right into Conley’s arms, where she stayed. Now that she was safe, it all hit her just what could have happened on their ride. The tears burst forth in a surprising shower of fear and relief.
Though Conley wasn’t surprised that it finally hit the princess, he was surprised that she went to him for comfort. Perhaps it was only because he’d been there to witness it all, and could truly understand. Or, remembering their moment before the attack, perhaps it was something else. He held her, whispering words of nonsense to try and ease her fear and emotion.
Word had spread around the castle what had happened, which sent many running to the stables to see if Princess Rachel was alright. The masses included Allison, who followed a young guard that she had been otherwise engaged with. She held up her skirts so as not to trip as she ran to see just what had happened, and if her sister was alright.
She stopped short when she saw Rachel in Conley’s arms, the sobbing woman being caressed and whispered to by him. A surge of jealousy raged through the younger princess and her expression of concern changed to that of suspicion.
“What is the meaning of this?” she demanded, making her way through the gathering crowd.
Conley immediately pulled away from Rachel, a spear of guilt slicing through him. Rachel, for her part was unmoved by Allison’s outburst. Nothing wrong had been done, by her or the stable boy.
“I was upset, sister,” she explained, wiping her eyes with her kerchief. “Conley saved my life today, and was there for me.”
“I’m sure he was,” Allison said, eyeing Conley, who refused to meet her gaze. The two had had no contact since their activities in the stable boy’s room many weeks before.
Ignoring her sister’s comment – which made little sense to her – she turned to the gathering guards. “Those two men attacked me today, and this boy was able to stave off their deadly blows and bring them to submission. Take them to my father.”
The guards quickly apprehended the two men, who were both beginning to come around, groaning at their various injuries. Rachel turned to Conley, noting that he, too was beginning to feel the pain of the day’s events.
“Conley, please allow the castle physician to look at your wounds.”
“I’m alright, Lady-“
“Don’t argue with me!” She stared him down, hands on her hips. “You will do this, and you will do this without argument.”
Conley was amused, but managed to only show a small smirk. “As you wish.”
~~ THREE ~~
The King waited for his guest to arrive. He thought back over the past few days, and what little news and enlightenment it had brought to a most disturbing ordeal. Rachel had been the target of an assassination, and yet little was known by whom or why. A knock on the chamber door interrupted his reflections.
“Come!” he called, his powerful voice booming across the room.
Conley entered, bowing as always until he was told to rise.
“I owe you much, good sir,” the King said, looking at his new servant with new respect. “I hear you fought well, were brave.”
“Aye, Your Majesty. I’m pleased I was able to protect Lady Rachel,” Conley said with a deep nodding bow.
“I’ll deal with my daughter later on the fact that you were with her and not an armed guard, but that is not for you to worry about. You did a fine job, and I commend you. Where did you learn to use a weapon so?”
“My father, Your Majesty. He was a wonder with the blade and taught me well.”
“That he did.” As was his habit, the King wandered around the room, hands clasped behind his back. He brought one heavily-ringed hand up to stroke at his beard as he contemplated an ancestral painting that hung massively over the fireplace. “I have to say that I believe your talents might be wasted on the simple task of tending for horses, Conley.”
Conley wasn’t entirely sure where the King was going with this, so he remained quiet, waiting.
“Have you heard of what the captured men have said?” the King asked, turning the conversation in an entirely different direction.
“No, Your Majesty, I have not.”
“They are loyal to their master.” The King looked at the handsome young man who stood at the center of the room, unmoving. “They have said nothing, and one will no longer speak.” He studied the young man’s face for a moment, noting no change in expression. “He is dead.”
Inside Conley was reeling, but said nothing nor made any show or sign of his turmoil. “It was a brutal fight, Your Majesty,” he said, the quiet tone of his voice the only indicator of how he was feeling.
“Aye, so it would seem. The cowards attacked a woman and a single man.” He walked over to Conley, playing a large hand on his shoulder. “You need not worry about his death, boy. He chose the wrong man to fight against.” The King’s smile was filled with pride. “You’re a good man, Conley, and I wish to repay you for your bravery and valor, especially when my daughter put you into a position you had no right to be in.”
“You need not, Your Majesty. I would do it again,” Conley said, voice strong with the conviction of his words.
“Aye, exactly why I’m going to do what I’m going to do.”
Conley was squatting in front of his pot bellied stove starting a fire when there was a knock on his door. A groan escaped him as he stood, his injuries from the attack still healing, his body sore and temperamental.
To his surprise – and not so much delight – Allison stood on the other side of the door, a bright smile on her face. As before, she didn’t wait for an invitation, but brushed past Conley to enter his room.
“Can I help you, M’lady?” he asked, holding steady by the door.
Allison ignored his question, instead walking over to him, eyes transfixed on his many healing cuts and bruises, his face a roadmap of injuries.
“Oh, Conley,” she breathed, reaching a tentative hand up to touch one such cut on his lap. The stable boy flinched in anticipation of the touch. “Does it still hurt?”
“Aye,” Conley said, in no mood for the games of a little rich girl. “If it be alright, M’lady, I am tired and not feeling well. I’d like to rest.”
Slightly disappointed, but understanding, Allison nodded. “I only came by to congratulate you, dear sir. I heard of your promotion.” She leaned up and placed a gentle kiss on an unbruised portion of his cheek. “Mayhap we will celebrate later.” She gave him a coy smile and made her way around him to the door. “Sleep well, sir, and may sweet dreams be your companions on this night.”
Conley was relieved when the princess was gone, letting out a long, slow breath. He made his way back to the stove, slowly lowering himself down to a squatting position to continue his task of lighting a fire. It had been many a year since he’d been in such a brutal fight as he had been with the two assassins. They were vicious and determined, and to be utterly honest with anyone but himself and God above, he was quite surprised he’d beaten them. Mayhap it was only the knowledge that Lady Rachel would pay the ultimate price should he fail had seen him through the battle.
Another knock sounded on the door, this one a bit louder, more confident.
“Bugger it all!” Conley groaned through gritted teeth, yet again rising to his feet, a bit unsteady. To his shock the very figure of his thoughts stood before him. “Lady Rachel.”
“Might I come in?” she asked, indicating the room beyond the threshold. Without response, the door was opened wider and Conley stepped out of the way. Rachel looked around the Spartan space. “Such little rooms,” she marveled. “I’ve never been to the quarters of servants before.” She walked over to the stove, enjoying the fresh heat coming out of it’s mouth, holding her chilled hands in front of it.
“Aye, but ‘tis home,” Conley said, closing the door and walking to the middle of the room, keeping an appropriate distance between himself and the lady.
“Indeed. Though, from what I gather, not for very long.” Rachel turned to look at him, her gaze settling on the injuries to his perfect face. “Oh, Conley,” she whispered, walking over to him. “I’m so sorry.” He had been ordered by the castle physical to lie low for the past few days, so she had not seen him. As the bruises and cuts healed, they looked far worse than they had the day he’d gotten them.
“You need not be sorry, Lady Rachel,” Conley said softly, a small smile on his lips. “I would do it again and again.”
“I know you would, Conley,” Rachel said, her voice filled with quiet reverence. “That, sir is what makes you so brave, and why my father wishes to reward you for that bravery.” She reached up, barely touching a bruise with her fingertip. “These are your battle wounds, Conley.” She leaned up and placed a soft kiss first on the bruise she’d just touched, then gently upon his lips. “And that is my gratitude.”
Conley’s stomach flipped at the contact, his heart soaring. He reached up both hands, cupping the pale, soft skin of Rachel’s face. It was the wonderful, beautiful skin he’d ever had the pleasure of feeling beneath his fingertips. “And this, Lady Rachel is my pledge to you,” he leaned in, ignoring the pain in his mouth as he placed a soft but firm kiss on her lips, then continued in a whisper against them, “I shall never allow anything to harm you.”
Rachel was touched so deeply she couldn’t speak. She reached her arms up and wrapped them around his neck, pulling him to her again. As their mouths met her fingers buried themselves into the soft black hair they found. She had never kissed anyone before – not even her own husband-to-be, and would have no clue what she was doing had she given it conscious thought. But as she kissed Conley, her heart seemed to lead her, showing her the way and the form.
After a long moment Conley couldn’t take the pain anymore and had to pull away, a hiss escaping as he did.
“I’m so sorry!” Rachel exclaimed, bringing a kerchief out of her dress and gently wiping away a bit of blood that beaded up from the cut on Conley’s lip.
“’Tis alright, M’lady,” Conley said, taking her hand in his. “Sorry to ruin such a beautiful kerchief.” They both looked down at the small spot of blood. “I’m sorry to have done that, Lady Rachel. You are not mine to be so forward to.”
Rachel shook her head, holding their joined hands up to her pounding heart. “No one has ever made me feel as you do, Conley. Certainly not Lord Wynton.” She looked up into his eyes for a long moment, amazed the combination of gentleness and strength she saw within. “So beautiful,” she whispered, unable to suppress the intense emotions within her heart. “I’ve asked my father to create you my personal guard.”
Conley was surprised by this announcement. “And what was his reply?”
Rachel’s smile was brilliant and lit up the entire room. “He agreed. He’s already making you part of his guard, the ceremony to take place a fortnight from now, so why not give you to me?”
They shared a knowing smile, though Conley’s faltered. “I never meant to kill him, Lady Rachel.”
“Please call me Rachel when we’re in private, Conley. No need for formality, you agree?”
Conley smiled, nodding. “Aye. Rachel.”
The word was said almost like a prayer, which reached right to the princess’ heart, and nether regions. “I know you didn’t, Conley. You mustn’t feel blame or guilt for that act. It was defending not only my honor, but my life.”
Conley looked away, unable to meet Rachel’s loving gaze as the guilt ate at his heart. “Aye, Rachel,” he said softly, knowing she was right, but still unable to face his own guilt. Though he’d been in many fights – both with fists and sword – he’d never killed anyone.
Gentle fingers turned his face until he was looking back at Rachel. “Do not feel guilt, my love,” Rachel whispered, feeling the words to her soul. “You have a heart richer than anything in my father’s kingdom. The assassin died of his own choice, Conley. He chose to attack, chose to take the funds from his master to perform such a bastardized justice.” She cupped the side of his face, mindful of his injuries. “Take heart that by fighting fairly against this foe, you save an innocent life. Perhaps two, as you saved your own as well. That horrible day could have gone so terribly differently. It might be your own death that we mourn, rather than that of a foolish mongrel.”
Grateful for the words, Conley grabbed Rachel in a crushing hug, needing to feel her warmth and strength against him. He smiled at the soft sigh that escaped from the princess, who held him just as tightly. They stood there, bodies pressed together in a moment of solidarity before Rachel gently moved away.
“As much as I do want to stay, I should go.” She looked up at him with deep regret in her eyes.
Conley nodded, his heart falling. “As you wish.”
“Oh, indeed not as I should wish, but what I must do.” She gave him one last kiss then headed for the door. “I shan’t see much of you over the next fortnight, as you’ll be in training after the ceremony. But then,” a smile bright as the midday sun lit her features, “you’ll be my personal guard.”
Conley’s smile matched that of his princess. He gave her a deep bow. “A position which I shall take most serious, M’lady.”
Rachel giggled, her happiness rushing through her like the waves of the sea, crashing upon the rocky shores of their land. She blew him a final kiss as she hurried from his rooms.
Left alone, Conley felt like he could fly, if only he had a window to open to let him out into the night. Through his happiness, the wariness of body and soul could still be felt acutely, and he yearned for nothing more than to undress and bed.
With quiet pain, he removed his shirt, then with careful fingers began to unwind that which held him fast, and held him as a him. He had slept in his bindings more than once, but paid for it in the morrow, as it squeezed too much on his ribs. Now, with ribs broken, he needed to sleep in his bindings, but it hurt other parts of his anatomy in the process.
Taking careful breaths as the pain was attached to every one, he finished unbinding himself, his hands going to the chaffed skin of his chest. No matter how long he was in this body, the fullness that filled his hands never ceased to surprise him. He looked down at himself, no longer seeing the body of Conley, but that of Beatrice Elizabeth Fenton Conley.
Return to the Academy