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
~~ FOUR ~~
The tavern smelled of rotting souls: wine, sex and opium smoke. The den was filled with the filth of the streets and commoner. Two figures sat in the deep shadows provided by the overhanging balcony of the stairway.
“Why has it not been completed?” one figure asked, his breath smelling of cheap wine and even cheaper women.
“Yet did not succeed!” He slammed a fist into the rickety table, shattering a clay mug on the floor. He reached across the table, gathering the front of the other man’s shirt in his fist and pulled him halfway across the table. “You finish this or the price will be your head.”
The second man nodded vigorously, knowing full well the threat was not an empty one. “Aye, sir.” He was shoved back into his seat, nearly knocking him and the chair backwards.
“You’ve got one more chance, and then it’s your head.” The man finished off his wine then pushed back from the table, disappearing into the throng of sinners.
Conley did as bade and fell to one knee. The newness of the freshly-forged chest plate he wore made movement awkward and somewhat stiff. The stiffness of his own body didn’t help matters any. The cold steel of a sword blade was tapped onto his right shoulder then left and back to his right.
“By the power invested in me, King of Torai, I invest in thee, Sir Conley to defend with honor, strength and valor.” The King looked down on his newest knight, a fire in his eyes that was undeniable, even if the seriousness of his expression belied it. “Rise.”
Conley rose to his feet, hiding the grimace of pain as he did so. He wished his body would stop hurting and finally heal!
“My Knight, turn and face the people for which you are entrusted to protect.”
Conley turned, the Great Hall filled with the royal court as well as the commoners who had come for the festivities. He heard the sound of steel cutting through the air and turned, instinctually raising his blade to meet the blow of the King. Blades locked, the King smiled at him.
“You are a brave one, Conley,” he said, lowering his blade and openly showing his approval. He held out a hand in brotherhood, which Conley took. “Welcome, Knight.”
“Thank you, Your Majesty.” Out of the corner of his eye Conley could see Rachel standing in all her royal finery, looking every bit the queen she would one day be. He gave her a quick smile and nod of acknowledgement, but he knew now was not the time for her, as much as he wanted to share the day with her. That thought was made more so as Lord Robert Wynton moved up beside her, putting a possessive hand to her back.
“Come, everyone!” the King bellowed. “Let us celebrate such bravery!”
Many hours of dancing and wine later, Conley found himself dancing in the arms of a beautiful noblewoman named Catherine, who seemed dead set on driving him mad with her flirtations and floral scent. Every time Rachel had entered his mind and need, he’d drank another glass of wine, to the detriment of his common sense and good bearing.
Rachel stood with Robert, who had been glued to her side since the end of the ceremony, and surreptitiously watched Conley’s behavior. He was quite the attraction at the ball, all the woman – available or not – hanging on his every word or glance. She found it rather disgusting and irritating.
“Are you alright, M’lady?” Robert asked, noting the look of contempt on his wife-to-be’s face.
“Fine, no need to worry.” She graced him with a smile then politely excused herself, claiming she needed a break to the privvy. It was the one place she knew Robert would not follow her, though he did seem to feel the need to escort her out of the hall, despite her protests that she knew her father’s home quite well.
Conley noticed Rachel and Robert leaving the hall, which enflamed his jealousy, which had already been a constant companion throughout the night. Catherine whispered into his ear, planting a smile on his face. With a hand on her back, he escorted her out of the Great Hall and out into the cavernous stone halls of the castle.
They found a small nook in the wall where no torch light could touch upon them. As soon as they were hidden in shadow, Catherine grabbed him and pulled him down into a heated kiss, fueled by wine and close dancing.
Rachel looked at her reflection in the looking glass: tonight she had dressed for Conley, her finest gown flowing from her body in satin waves. Her hair was bound atop her head, emeralds sparkling in her ears and throat to match her eyes. Her lips were full, ready to be kissed. Perhaps when she returned to the festivities she would ask Conley for a dance. She wanted to see his eyes trail over her as they had been every other woman in attendance.
To her immense surprise – and relief – Robert was not waiting outside for her when she finished. Rachel was about to head back to the Hall when she heard voices further down the corridor – a woman’s voice, and a voice that she knew all too well.
Hot anger and jealousy burned through Rachel as she followed the noise. Soft moaning met her ears, putting visions of murder in the princess’ mind. The noise led her to a nook around the corner, the torchlight unable to break the shadow barrier. She didn’t have to see what she knew was happening inside.
Scurrying back around the corner, she headed back towards the nook, her steps echoing loudly as well as her innocent call of Catherine’s name.
Conley was enjoying the overspill of clearage with his mouth, his hand reaching down tug the noblewoman’s skirts up. She was trying to help as much as she could, half leaning back against a window sconce, no candle in place. She was ready for him and would do whatever it took to claim her prize.
Conley was just about to unlace his breeches when they heard something. They both froze, looking at each other.
After a moment Conley and Catherine appeared around the corner, both flushed from too much wine and blood flooding their nether regions. Rachel was livid.
“Catherine, your husband has been calling for you,” she lied, giving the noblewoman a sugary sweet smile which they both knew was forced. The two women had never been friends, and tonight didn’t help Catherine of Goul’s case any.
Catherine quickly hurried away from the embarrassing scene.
Rachel turned her attention to Conley, her heart pounding both from being in close proximity to him, as well as from her anger and hurt.
“What?” he asked, his pickled brain not clear, nor acting as a buffer towards his emotions.
“You should be careful, sir,” Rachel spat. “Catherine is a married woman.”
A lopsided smile curled Conley’s lips. “And you’re a bride-to-be, yet it seems to matter not to you.”
The slap came so suddenly that it took them both by surprise. Immediately a red welt began to bloom on Conley’s face, overlapping his other bruises. He was struck dumb, but refused to give Rachel the satisfaction of seeing his hurt.
Rachel stared for a moment before getting her equilibrium back. She lifted her skirts and hurried down the corridor towards the family cambers, not looking back.
Quite honestly Conley would have preferred t be back in the hot environs of the stables, mucking the stalls of a hundred horses than follow Rachel around as she shopped. It wasn’t the act of shopping itself, it was the fact that the princess hadn’t spoken to him in the more than the week since the events at the celebration. That is, other than to bark out orders to him.
Not only was the day growing long and his patience short, but it seemed much of what was happening on this day was done on purpose. He’d catch small glimpses from Rachel, a smirk of content on her face as she’d head towards another merchant stall, or back to one they’d already been to three times before. She was exerting her authority and control, that much was obvious.
What made it worse however, was the fact that from time to time if Conley turned away for a moment, when he turned back Rachel would be gone. It had been a tense game of cat and mouse all day. If he didn’t know better, he’d think he was following Allison around. On top of trying to keep an eye on Rachel, he had to keep a watch for everyone else, too!
Conley was brought out of his frustrated musings when once again he noticed that his ward had vanished. “Bloody hell!” he cursed, ducking out of the stall he’d been standing in – where Rachel had been not more than three seconds before – and looked down the row of stalls and merchants, mixed in with the milling crowds peasant buyers.
Finally he spotted a quick flash of green, and knew the princess was wearing a green dress, and few of those were in anything other than the drab earth colors they could afford.
Rachel was fingering a bit of fabric when she was grabbed from behind and drug to a quiet corner of the open-air store. She gasped in surprise and whirled on her attacker, looking straight into the face of a furious Conley. For just a moment she felt a stab of guilt. Perhaps she’d taken her game too far.
“Have you not an ounce of wit?” Conley growled through clenched teeth. “Do you not realize what could happen to you out here?”
Rachel felt her feathers fluff at the rough tone and treatment of her person. “I have more wit in my little finger than you, sir shall ever have in the whole of your body.”
“That may be, M’lady, but at least the whole of my body will stay intact, which is more than I can say for you!” Conley couldn’t recall when he’d been so angry. Usually an even-tempered person, today Rachel had pushed him to his limits. “Do you not remember that someone out there has placed assassins after you? Someone who has yet to be caught, might I add?”
Rachel was startled back into reality by Conley’s harsh, but all too true words. She was about to speak, but her personal guard continued.
“IF you do not begin to listen to me or think for your own safety, I swear I will lock you in your rooms and push supper under the crack of the door!”
Rachel wasn’t sure whether to be angry, glad or amused at Conley’s profound anger. Either way, she knew Conley was right. She bowed in slight supplication. “I apologize, Conley, you are right.”
Conley was surprised by the resignation, and how easily it had come, but he was supremely appreciative. Even so, he wasn’t about to back down now. “Stay with me or lose me as your guard, do you understand? If you find it so difficult to be around me, then perhaps you shouldn’t have requested my presence.”
Rachel’s anger flared up anew. Or, perhaps it was simply her guilt. “Be mindful of whom you’re speaking to, sir. I am your master. Not the other way around.”
“And I will continue to be your loyal lap dog as long as you don’t get yourself killed with your bull-headed stubbornness.”
Rachel studied him for a moment, seeing just how concerned he really was. There was no need of battle of wills here. She was in danger, and it was his job to keep her safe.
“Alright,” she conceded. Conley was about to turn away, but she stopped him with a hand to his arm. When she had his attention, “I do not see you as my lap dog, Conley. You’re…,” she paused as she tried to fight the words, but they came flowing, “so much more than that.”
Conley didn’t know what to say, so he said nothing. He graced her with a smile, then stepped away from her, allowing her to continue her shopping.
Free for the night, Conley decided to take a ride by himself around the property. When he and Lady Rachel had returned from shopping Lord Wynton’s carriage had been parked on the grounds. When Rachel had asked her father if Robert wished to speak with her, the King had seemed surprised to hear that Wynton was anywhere around, as he hadn’t seen him. To say Rachel had been relieved was an understatement.
It had been a long day and Conley felt weary and cooped up. He longed for the freedom of a ride, the connection between man and beast, along together flying over the grassy plains.
In the stables, he quickly saddled and readied his steed, mounting the horse and leading him out into the cool, crisp night. A glance back towards the stables surprised Conley, as he saw a quick flash of light, as though a torch had been lit then just as quickly snuffed out. In that quick flicker, he’d seen two figures up in the loft, one female and one male.
He smiled as he urged his horse into a trot. Lucky couple engaging in a tryst. Who was he to say anything about it?
The night was cool and felt wonderful against his face, his hair blowing back away from his face. He urged his mount to breakneck speeds, craving the thrill of speed and freedom, the type of freedom that came only with the powerful pounding of hooves on earth.
After awhile, both man and horse were breathing hard, horseflesh slick with sweat from exertion. Conley decided to let the animal water for a bit as he lay on the grass, looking up into the night sky, filled with twinkling stars.
The sounds of his horse lapping at the water in the stream faded away as Conley relaxed, lying on his back, hands tucked behind his head. He had gotten out of his armor as soon as he’d reached his rooms. That was one nice thing about his promotion: rather than having a simple, sparse room in the servant quarters he lived in the guard quarters. He’d just barely avoided the guard barracks due to his position as personal guard to Rachel. His home now consisted of two rooms and his own chamber pot. He had an actual bed, as opposed to a cot, which in all honesty took his back some time to get used to. He’d always slept on either cots or the ground. Softness during the night was a luxury the body complained against at first.
Dressed in simple breeches and a lace-up shirt, Conley stared into the heavens, wondering what was beyond the giant shadow of night. What was the big picture, and where did he fit into it? Granted, he’d never seen his life turning in the direction it was. He was a simple man with simple needs, and had lived a simple life of service for others. What more was there than that?
Though slavery had been outlawed in the and more than twenty years before his birth, Conley often felt like he was destined to live a life of servitude. His life – even in his current position – was based upon the whim of another. When was it his turn to make the decisions? He had no desire to speak for others, but he did want to speak for himself. Would that ever happen?
From there his thoughts turned to Rachel. Inevitably to Rachel. He’d never met anyone like her, never felt the way he did when she was around him. She was likely to be the closest thing he’d ever know to love and happiness, no matter how brief it might be. Soon she’d be married and go off with Lord Wynton. What could Conley do then? Follow? Nay, he’d stay on and continue to work for the King and once again give his life’s service for another.
He must forget Rachel, and bury his feelings for her. She had a future that was much larger than his own, and far more important. That was what mattered, not the heart of a sad and lonely servant, no matter what uniform he wore.
Conley’s musings were interrupted when his horse cried out in a shrill whiney which had Conley on his feet and running over to the downed animal. The hairs on the back of his neck stood on end as he looked around the area, trying to penetrate the darkness with his gaze.
Off in the trees to the right he could hear noise- the sound of booted feet crunching leaves. Before Conley could move, someone was on him. Literally. Arms around his neck held on as the person tried to cut off his air. He struggled frantically to loosen the grip, but it was a death grip. He could feel the breath of his attacker on his neck, hear the grunting as the man used his full strength to try and strangle Conley.
Conley managed to drop to the ground, giving him some leverage against her attacker. They struggled, dirt clouds flying up as bodies scrambled. Finally Conley was able to get the man off him, his lungs grateful as he coughed and sucked in lungfuls of air. His reprieve didn’t last long as his attacker was right back on him. Conley reached down for his sword and felt a moment of panic when he realized that when he’d changed from his uniform he’d removed his weapon. It looked like it be the will of one man or the other.
Conley nearly lost consciousness when his head was pounded into the ground, his assailant sitting atop his prone form. He tried valiantly to get him off, but the man was too heavy and strong. Conley lifted, using powerful thighs to raise his nips and back off the ground, his assailant having to hold on to stay atop. Using every ounce of strength he head, Conley clenched his stomach muscles and flipped himself backwards, the assailant flying off.
Jumping on top of him, Conley sat on his back and grabbed a handful of greasy hair, returning the favor as he pounded the man’s face into the earth – once, twice, three times. The man stopped kicking, his body still. Conley nearly collapsed on top of the other man, his energy gone and head pounding.
“Why is it always me?” he whispered, pushing himself to his feet.
Walking over to his horse, he saw what he had feared. The horse had been sliced open and was dead. Conley sighed, glancing in the direction of the estate. He had a long walk ahead of him.
~~ FIVE ~~
Conley looked over at the candle lit on the table, only to see that there were two candles. He blinked once, twice and on the third try the two candles merged back to only one. He looked away from the candle, the movement slow and measured. A glance to the table on the other side of the bed showed the clay mug with the remnants of his medicine in it: children’s fecal matter mixed with honey. The castle physical said it would cure his head ailment.
Conley closed his eyes, a dull throbbing through his head and behind his eyes. It was more than a headache. He’d once had something similar when he’d been bucked off a horse as a child and landed on his head. A swelling inside the head, they said.
He had no idea how long he’d been in the physician’s chambers. The last thing he fully remembered was starting his walk back to the castle, and then he’d woken up on the bed he was on now, and the King’s physician had made him drink that awful concoction. After, everything had gone black again until now.
He started when his cool hand was taken in a warm one. “How are you?”
He looked back to his left, surprised to see that Rachel was sitting there. Had she been there the entire time? “I hurt,” was all he could manage.
“I know.” She brought his hand up and kissed his fingers. “I’m so sorry.”
“What happened?” Conley asked, his voice weak and dry. He closed his eyes as the room stopped spinning that way.
“’Twas another attempt. My father believes he though I was with you, or he was trying to get you out of the way.”
“Where is he?”
Rachel sighed sadly. “He was already dead when they found all of you.” From the confused look on Conley’s face, Rachel explained. “Your horse was dead as was the assailant. When you didn’t report for duty the next day, a search party was sent out and found you.” A tear slid down her cheek. “You were nearly dead, Conley,” she whispered. In that moment she lost her emotions and really began to cry, leaning forward and cradling Conley’s head against her chest.
Conley tried to do his best to comfort her but he was too weak to move. “’Tis alright, M’lady,” he whispered, all the strength he had left. “’Tis alright.” After a moment all went black again, Conley losing consciousness.
Rachel was distracted as she began to shed her layers of clothing and slip into her night clothes. She was exhausted from her days by Conley’s side, and worrying for his safe and speedy recovery, neither of which were happening as she wished they would. Tonight had been the first words for her in days, and though they had been a relief, she still felt so terribly worried and frightened.
“The lad will recover, lady,” Tamara said, helping to loosen Rachel’s corset so she could step out of it. She looked at her mistress’ expression in the tall looking glass. “Do not fret. He’s a tough one, that lad.”
“Indeed, he is,” Rachel said, her voice soft as she stepped out of her clothing. Tamara quickly slid her sleeping gown in it’s place.
“I like the lad,” the lady-in-waiting said absently, seating Rachel at the vanity and brushing out her long, blonde hair. “A good soul, that one.”
Rachel nodded. “Yes. He has risked so much, Tamara. I fear the attack has turned to him, now. Not just I.”
“That might be. Mayhap that’s because he saves you. Might make an assassin’s work easier without the shield.”
Rachel whirled around to look at her lady-in-waiting, her movement so swift Tamara nearly brushed her face. “You think so?” she asked, eyes bright with this thought. “You feel the latest attack was meant to harm Conley?”
“Aye,” Tamara said, taking Rachel by the shoulders and turning her on the padded bench once more. “More than hurt ‘im, M’lady. ‘Twas meant to kill ‘im.”
The King paced, restless like a caged lion from what he was hearing.
“Do you disagree, Majesty?” Robert Wynton asked, watching the King’s path. “Do you not find it odd that Sir Conley happened to be around during both attacks?”
“Odd, mayhap, but I’d say more misfortunate,” the King grumbled, reaching up to stroke his beard.
“Indeed. No offense, Highness, but I do not believe in such misfortune or coincidence.”
The King stopped his pacing and turned to look at his future son-in-law. “Are you suggesting the boy is involved in a plot against my daughter?” At the nobleman’s silence, the King continued. “I see not how that is possible, considering he was harmed badly both times. He nearly died this last time!”
Before Wynton could respond, the door to the King’s study burst open, a sobbing Allison and her handmaiden rushing in. The two men looked at them, startled.
“What is it child?” the King asked, moving over to his youngest. He looked to Sarah, the handmaiden for answers.
“Tell him, Lady Allison,” she said, gently urging her ward towards the big man.
Hearing the loud sobbing, Rachel hurried to her father’s door, standing just inside. “What’s happened?”
“Tell them, child,” Sarah said softly, looking over her shoulder at Rachel.
Conley tried to turn onto his left side but stopped at the pain of his newly-cracked ribs. He groaned and turned back to his back, then nearly jumped out of his skin as the doors to the physician’s quarters burst open, three armed guards rushing in followed by Lord Robert Wynton.
“Take him and lock him up!” the nobleman shouted.
The guards grabbed Conley, dragging him off the cot and to his feet. He cried out in pain as they roughly drug him out of the room.
Rachel stood in the hallway, tears running down her face as she watched them drag Conley away.
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