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
Flagley jumped off his mount before the horse had even fully stopped, eager to get the news to Conley. The trio were seated in the cave, quietly eating a wonderful-smelling stew.
“Saved you some,” Conley said, nodding towards the bit of thick stew left in the small iron pot the men carried in their gear.
“Well, eat quickly because we will soon have company. Wynton suspects who has Lady Rachel, and he’s madder than a hornet on fire.”
Conley sighed, chewing the last bit of rabbit stew. He figured this would be the case, though he’d hoped to be able to wait until dark to move. He thought for a minute, trying to decide what was the best and safest way to work. Were it just he and John, they would stand and fight. He glanced over at Rachel, who was looking back and forth between the men, eyes wide. Though much improved, she was still very weak.
“Alright. We’ll move out within the hour.” Conley set aside his bowl and headed out to ready the horses. Rachel followed.
“M’lord!” she called out, much of her energy zapped in her haste to reach him. She was out of breath and had to lean on a large boulder for a moment to collect herself.
Conley looked at her, about to assist but decided not to. She would resent such help, and he knew it. “M’lady, you should be getting ready to go.”
“Leave me here,” she said, gaining her strength. “If Robert finds you, he’ll kill all of you.” Her eyes were wide with her fear. “Let me go to him. Perhaps it’ll stop him from following.”
Conley was incredulous. “And makes you think he won’t kill you, M’lady? If you don’t recall, that is exactly what he was trying to do to you – kill you.”
“My life is not worth three. Please, let me go to him.”
Conley studied her for a long moment, his old feelings beginning to rise. “I see. So, yet again you’d rather go with that wretch than with me?” The words were out and regretted before he could think.
Rachel looked at him, baffled. “M’lord?”
Conley returned his attention to the horses. “I’m sorry, M’lady. I will not follow your orders again.” He glanced at her, business in his eyes. “We do this my way.”
Rachel grew angry. She had just offered to sacrifice herself so the other three could escape, and here it was being pushed back in her face. Her royal breeding was rising to the surface. She walked over to where he tended to his horse. “How dare you speak to me this way! I was trying to be helpful!”
Conley sighed, in no mood for a confrontation with the princess. “And your help is not needed in this situation, M’lady.” He looked at her, daring her to argue. He should have known better.
“Then perhaps Tamara and I should go on by ourselves. We do not need a rogue who treats me as such.”
Now Conley was beginning to lose his temper. He turned to her, bending down so they were nearly nose to nose. “As you wish,” he said, voice low and dangerous. He knew he was going to say something else, so stormed off into the trees to cool off.
Rachel stared after him, mouth hanging open in shock and confusion.
“M’lady,” John Flagley said, hurrying over to the princess to stop her from following his friend. He had heard the entire thing, and knew things were going to get far worse before they got better. “We must not tarry. The situation is very bleak.”
Rachel turned to him, not seeing him for a moment as she blinked away tears. After a moment she meekly nodded and headed back into the cave.
~~ TWELVE ~~
“You must make haste,” the midwife hissed to the young servant. “Ride as fast and hard as you can, lad.” She thrust the wrapped bundle into his arms, as well as a sack filled with what he would need.
Without a word, the boy scurried out of the house and towards the stables, ever watchful to not be caught. He was on a mission of grave importance.
The midwife watched him go, relief filling her once the horse raced off into the distance. She hurried back to the upstairs bedroom where the body of Lady Allison was being cared for. She only prayed that Lord Wynton was as cold and callused as she was counting on him to be. Word was he was nearly to the estate, so everything had to be taken care of before he arrived.
She didn’t have to wait long.
Robert stormed into the house, intending to pen messages for help from nearby armies of the ruler of his lands. He was nearly to his study when the servant woman Nancy approached him.
“Lord Wynton,” she said, her voice low. The older woman had been part of Wynton’s household since he was a boy. He felt a certain fondness for her. A certain kindred spirit.
“Yes, Nancy, what is it? Make haste, woman, as I haven’t time for chat.” He pushed past her and continued on to his study, the servant wench following.
“Lord, I have grievous news for you.”
Wynton threw himself into the chair behind his desk, blowing out a heavy sigh. He was tired, as it had been an early, and long day. “What is it?”
“Lady Allison gave birth this morning, M’lord.” She waited for his reaction to such news, and there wasn’t much to speak of. “Nor she nor child survived the ordeal, M’lord.”
Robert stared at the trusted woman for a long moment, the news slowly sinking in. Allison was dead? He cared not for the child, as it would have been considered a bastard anyway. But Allison was dead? To his surprise, he felt a slightest ping in his chest. A touch of sorrow.
“I see,” he said quietly. Not only was it an emotional loss, it would prove most distressing for the King, and to Wynton’s situation. Things were dire, if not lethal. “Thank you, Nancy. Leave me.”
Nancy curtsied then hurried from the study, shutting the door behind her.
Robert sat alone, trying to rethink his plan and figure out where it had gone so wrong.
The four rode on through the day, into the night and early morning hours. Much distance had been made, but at a heavy cost to the horses. They were tired and ridden hard, and had very little left to give.
“We break here,” Conley said, slowing his steed down near a clearing. They’d have to camp out in the open this night, as there were no good caves nearby, nor refuge of an inn. “Flagley, we’ll put the women between us.”
Wordlessly, camp was set up, a fire made and wood gathered. Conley had spoken not one word to Rachel during the whole of their travels that day, nor had she spoken to him. Soon, hopefully the entire situation would be finished, and they could both ride their separate ways in life.
Everyone was exhausted as they lay in their bedrolls. It had been such a long, trying day. The night was cold, and though John and Conley were used to such conditions, Tamara and certainly Rachel, were not. Rachel was shivering badly, the cold ground seeping into her bones, and the cold air blowing down on her. She opened her eyes and saw the dark form of the Mercenary in front of her. He was facing her she knew, but she could not see his face, though she tried. The moon was not full, the night terribly dark. Suddenly she felt as though she were being watched.
“Is all well, M’lady?” Conley asked softly, so as not to wake the others.
“I am well,” Rachel lied, even as she continued to freeze.
“M’lady shivers,” he said, compassion filling him. “Come, M’lady. Let us warm you.” He drew the frail body to him, wrapping her in both his arms and his cloak.
Rachel buried her cold face in a warm neck, sighing at the wonderful feeling of warmth. She felt so safe and secure within the embrace that she soon fell to sleep, able to forget about the dangers they faced in shadowy bliss.
Conley felt a gentleness wash over him, that which only Rachel seemed to pull from him. She always had. He stroked her golden hair in long, comforting strokes. He wasn’t sure whom it was comforting more: Rachel or himself.
For a moment it crossed Conley’s mind that he should tell Rachel his true identity. What would happen? What would be her reaction? Relieved happiness the he was alive? Bitter anger that he did not die? How was it that Tamara figured him out? He still intended to ask her that question.
At long last sleep claimed Conley. He held Rachel tightly against him, wrapped in strong arms of protection.
As the morning fell to afternoon, two horses and four riders made good time. The day was far warmer than the night had been, and the land was drying out from the two days of rains. They had just started up again after stopping for lunch when they heard the sounds of yelling and whinnying horses.
Conley glanced over at John, who had also heard it. They edged out of a thicket of woods to see a group of three armed men on horses who had pinned in a young boy, a bundle held tightly to his chest.
“William!” Tamara breathed, focused on the boy.
One of the men had dismounted his horse and slashed the throat of the boy’s horse, causing boy and bundle to fall to the ground as the mount fell out from under him.
“Do not lie to me!” the guard yelled, kicking the boy in the stomach with the toe of his boot. The boy cried out in pain. “By Lord Wynton’s orders, deserters must die.”
Conley jumped off is horse before the mount had stopped, a full run at the fray. He was too late for the boy as the solder’s blade sank deep into his med-section. Conley body slammed the guard, surprising him for only a moment before they began to fight in earnest.
John dismounted his own steed, running full speed to help his friend. He ran towards one of the men who was still on horseback, knocking him off and to the ground with a loud grunt.
Rachel watched in fascination as their two protectors fought the three men. As she watched the man in black, something came to her. She watched his fighting style, realizing he used his blade as little as possible, preferring to disarm his opponent, not kill him.
She had seen such fighting before. As she watched the man in black, she felt as though she were watching a memory come to life. But where had she seen it? Her mind was beginning to recover, but kept everything – including many of her past memories – seeming to be far away, and just out of complete understanding and recall.
Conley knew that the men had to die, as they were Wynton’s men. He didn’t want to have to kill them, but there was no other way. The men would follow, or would be able to tell others which way the princess had gone.
Everyone was startled when the cry of a baby broke the afternoon. For just a moment the fighting stopped, everyone looking to the bundle by the dead servant boy.
Conley pressed the advantage of his distracted opponent and cold-cocked him with the pommel of his blade. The man went down, falling to one knee. The soldier saw the death blow coming, and only seconds too late tried to block it. He fell to the ground holding his mortal wound.
Tamara ran to the bundle, bravely running through the fray until she grabbed the child and hurried back to where Rachel waited. Together they looked at the swaddled infant.
“Allison’s child,” Tamara whispered.
Rachel nodded, knowing in her heart of hearts that it was in fact her niece or nephew. “What is it doing out here with that boy?”
The lady-in-waiting shook her head. “I know not. Unless Allison is trying to protect it from it’s father.”
Rachel looked at her. “It’s father is dead,” she said, her voice bitter.
Tamara shook her head vehemently, at both declarations, though Rachel was not aware of the second. “No, M’lady. This child was not fathered by Conley. This child owes it’s roots to Robert Wynton.”
The princess could only stare in disbelief.
John dispatched the man he’d been fighting, leaving only one to face both he and Conley. The fight was over quickly, the man trying to run but was caught by the long legs of Conley. He went down with a soft groan, mortally wounded, but not dead. Conley wanted answers.
He crouched down in front of the dying man, holding him up by the front of his tunic. “Why did you kill this boy?” he asked.
The soldier looked at him, blood falling from the corner of his mouth like drool. “Lord Wynton wanted anyone dead who escaped his estate,” the soldier said, followed by a cough.
“You know who I am, don’t you?” Conley asked, seeing the man’s nod. “How many more parties of you are there?” The man didn’t answer, coughing up more blood. “Tell me and we can get you medical help.”
More blood dripped from the man’s lips. “Four,” he barely managed before his final breath sighed from his lungs and he fell limp.
Conley let him drop, disgusted.
“It’s too late for the boy,” John said, walking over to his friend. “He’s dead.”
Conley sighed with a nod. “Aye.”
Tired and spattered with blood, Conley walked over to the two women, wiping his bloodied blade on the tunic of one of the men he passed. “What is this child?” he asked, looking into the tiny face of the newborn. “Very young.”
“Maybe a day old,” Tamara said. “’Tis Lady Rachel’s –“ she checked the sex of the child. “niece.”
Conley felt a slight burn in his belly, as this child was purported to be his. He would have lost his life – and certainly did lose his love – because of it. “Why was it out here with that boy?”
“We know not,” Rachel said, taking her from Tamara’s arms. She looked into the tiny face, so wrinkly and red. “She’s so beautiful.” She placed a soft kiss upon the forehead.
“My guess is either Lady Allison did not survive childbirth and the child was sent away, or she sent the child to the King, knowing she would be safe there.”
Rachel looked at her sister, eyes wide. “Are you saying my sister may be dead?”
Before Tamara could respond, Conley stepped between them, looking down at Rachel with hard eyes. “Do not cry for that loss, M’lady. She was a treacherous viper who helped to put you in the situation for which you are now.”
There was such conviction in the man’s words that Rachel couldn’t make herself argue. She looked into his eyes, wanting so badly to remove the mask he wore.
“This child is a gift to you, M’lady,” he continued. “Raise her as she would not have been raised by her mother and father.” With those words, he walked away, heading to his horse. “We mount!” he called out.
As night fell they neared a small village, which looked friendly enough. There was a single tavern in town with an inn attached, and John promptly booked two rooms. A woman would stay with each of the warriors to guarantee their safety, as there was not a room large enough for the four of them, plus a newborn babe.
Rachel requested the presence of the man in black, as she felt safe with him. Conley, f course was not keen on this and ignored the snigger from both Tamara and Flagley. They had settled into the tiny room they’d been rented. Against one wall was a small bed, barely big enough for two. A small table rested against the other wall, a chamber pot atop it and a simple candle and holder.
“This is quaint,” Rachel said softly, looking around the drab room.
“Aye,” Conley agreed, still trying to figure out how he was going to manage this. How could he not remove his mask and not draw attention to the fact that he refused? He supposed he could do as he had done the previous nights: remove it once the room was dark then make sure he was up first.
Rachel looked at the bed, chewing on her bottom lip as she tried to imagine if there would be enough room. She was terrified having the child with her, as she knew nothing of children and how to care for a newborn.
“Worry not, M’lady. You and the child take the bed. I’ll sit in the chair and keep watch over you.”
Rachel shook her head. “No. You’ll be exhausted tomorrow, and we need you strong and alert. What if we’re attacked again?” She shook her head again. “There is plenty of room.”
Conley sighed, knowing better than to argue. Rachel was nearly full-strength, and her mind was nearly as sharp as it had once been. Certainly her stubborn streak was in tact. “I’ll get us food and something to feed the child. Get settled in.” Without another word Conley left the small room, in search of dinner for a family.
He snickered. A family. What rubbish. There was no family here. Other than perhaps Rachel and her niece, and maybe Tamara. After the princess was safely delivered to the King, the rest of their gold would be picked up and Conley and John would be off to fight another day.
He felt sadness wash over him as he placed their order at the bar. As he waited he sat down, looking out over the dark room, looking for any sign of trouble or unwanted interest. His mind drifted back to the woman upstairs. What made him almost more sad than anything was knowing that no matter what outcome would have occurred nearly a year before, the Lady Rachel would never have loved him. Could never have loved him. She would have been loving and living a lie, just as Conley had done his whole life
“I’m a fraud,” he muttered, self-hatred and recrimination abounded. Rarely anymore did it rise to the surface, as there usually wasn’t need for it to. Rarely did anyone see him as anything other than a cutthroat thief and, well, mercenary. It was the reputation he’d worked hard to bring to pass, and now that it had, it was all he had.
“Your dinner,” the barmaid said, setting down a small pot of stew, plate or bread and large flask of mead. A mug of fresh milk followed.
Conley paid her and made his way up the stairs, nearly running John over in the process. His friend put a hand to his arm.
“Good luck, my friend,” he said, a smile curling his lips.
Conley shot him a dirty look and continued to his room, John’s laughter following him. Inside, Rachel had managed to make a bit of a make-shift bed for the baby by fashioning one of their saddle bags into a bassinet. The child was sleeping soundly, comfortable and safe, surrounded by soft warmth from the blanket it had been swaddle in, as well as Rachel’s cloak.
Rachel sat on the bed, looking rather nervous and like a little girl.
“Hungry?” Conley asked, trying to put her more at ease. He set his offerings on the small table, opening the flask of mead and taking a healthy drink. Soon Rachel joined him there.
They ate in silence for a long moment before the princess spoke. “You remind me of someone,” she said, taking a bite of the tough rye bread, all the while studying her companion.
“Oh?” Conley said, part of him nervous, part of him very curious.
“Yes. Yes, you do.”
“And, who is this lucky fellow who I remind you of?”
Rachel stared at him for a long moment, trying t put the pieces together in her mind. Who was it, indeed. Then she remembered. “He was a servant, given to my father by Robert, ironically.” She was looking off into the past as she spoke, her voice growing soft and wistful. “He was a kind person. A beautiful spirit.”
Conley listened, lost in the same memories as Rachel. He wanted so badly in that moment to pull off his mask and proclaim that he was there! Right there with her!
“He was beautiful,” Rachel said, nodding as she remembered Conley’s face, so clear to her mind’s eye. “I had thought he loved me,” she said, her voice growing softer yet. “I thought I had found love.”
“What happened?” Conley asked, his voice just as soft, harking back to the stable boy he’d once been.
Rachel looked up, meeting his eyes. Blue eyes. “I was betrayed.”
The simple statement tore through Conley’s heart, ripping the wound that he had thought healed, wide open. He looked down at his hands, unable to look at Rachel. He was about to come clean with her, tell her who he was – who she was. There was no reason to keep the complete ruse from her anymore. Rachel deserved to know.
“Rachel,” he began, but was cut off when the baby began to cry. They both looked over to where the newborn had been asleep in it’s makeshift bed.
Rachel hurried over to the child, picking her up and cooing softly to her as she carried her back to the table.
“Here,” Conley said, pushing the milk over to the princess. They both stared at the mug, wondering exactly how a newborn babe was supposed to drink from a mug. “Wait,” he said, “I have an idea.”
Rachel watched as the man in black removed a clean rag from his travel bag and bring it to the table. He dipped one corner into the mug until the material was saturated. Rachel smiled, beginning to get the idea.
“Nicely done,” she complimented, taking the rag and allowing the baby to suck on it, just as she’d suck on her mother’s breast. They both watched in utter fascination as the infant’s instincts took over, and she began to suckle the saturated cloth, drinking the milk in. Rachel stroked the child’s soft cheek, seeing her sister in the baby’s features. “What were you going to say?” she asked softly, sparing a glance at her companion.
Conley was fixated, watching aunt and niece as the brand new child ate one of her first meals.
Rachel felt her heart swell as love filled it. She felt the connection to the child, and felt she would’ve known that they were kin no matter how she would have made the infant’s acquaintance. “Can I ask you something?” she said quietly, her eyes still resting on the bundle in her arms.
“Of course, M’lady.”
“Do you believe my sister is dead?”
Conley studied her for a moment, trying to decide what to say. “Truth?”
“If she were alive, I do not believe the child would be here with you now.”
Rachel nodded slowly. “I agree.”
After the baby was fed, Rachel changed the diaper cloth, which both she and Conley were desperate to get rid of. Conley ran outside and quickly rinsed the cloth out in a small pond behind the tavern, then left the cloth to dry over the rail in his horse’s stall. When he returned to the room, Rachel had the baby resting peacefully in her arms as she lay on one side of the bed, leaving the other half for Conley.
“She’s almost asleep,” Rachel whispered.
Conley looked down at woman and child. “What will you name her?”
Rachel looked down at the angle who slept in her arms. “Emily. After our mother.” She smiled and placed a kiss on the child’s forehead, then rested her head down on the scratchy pillow.
“’Tis a lovely name, M’lady,” Conley said, blowing out the candle on the table. The room was sent into darkness as he sat on one of the chairs and removed his boots, weapons, then lastly, his mask. He climbed into the small bed, only able to lay on his side – as Rachel was – and not fall off the other side. Rachel scooted back into him, Conley automatically wrapping an arm around her waist, and a lying a protective hand on Emily’s tiny body. Soon, he fell asleep.
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