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
(NOTE: Just an FYI: for those of you who don’t follow the Academy of Bard’s Halloween Invitational, I submitted a novel called After Shadow. Go check it out!)
~~ THIRTEEN ~~
Conley could feel Rachel shivering against him as the party of four made their way through the increasingly brutal winds and snow. It had begun snowing the night before, and hadn’t let up all day. They were close to the caves, and Conley and John’s main hideout, but the weather was getting worse.
Conley slowed his horse, waiting for John and Tamara to catch up. He leaned over close to Flagley to be heard above the howling winds. “I don’t know how much longer the princess and baby can take this!” he shouted.
John glanced over at Conley’s passengers, and could feel the lady-in-waiting shivering behind him, as well. He nodded. “I agree, but we’ve got to make it to the caves! There’s nowhere else to stop and take sanctuary.”
Conley nodded. “Alright. Let’s keep going, but make haste!”
The two horses were kicked into gear again, the two continuing to trudge through the strengthening storm.
Captain Hashtrid pulled tried to keep her cloak from blowing away from his body, which felt half-frozen. His boots made deep footsteps in the fallen snow, but were quickly once again covered by the new snow and blowing winds. He used the tip of his blade to lift the tail of the tunic the dead man on the ground wore.
“Ours,” he said, confirming what he’d already suspected. When the fifth party had not arrived to meet the other groups within two days of the planned meeting, he knew something was wrong. Barely visible beneath the snow were the bodies of three more. He knew there were only four in the party, so who was the fourth?
The frozen face of a young servant boy the captain recognized from the Wynton house stared back up at him. Hashtrid knew there was no way a young boy could have killed three trained soldiers. He stood erect, looking out around them. Not much could be seen, as there was nearly a total white-out, but he had a strong feeling.
Hashtrid hurried back to his horse and mounted up. This would have to be dealt with later, as he and his men needed shelter to ride out the storm.
Between the knowledge of the two warriors and their horses, John and Conley managed to miss all their traps, set for anyone who should want to attack their hidden fortress.
Conley was nearly frozen to death as the horses clomped their way into the stone confines of their stable. He dismounted, helping Rachel and the baby off the large animal. He looked at the princess, alarmed to see that her lips were blue.
“I’m sorry, M’lady,” he whispered, quickly rubbing her arms to try and breathe some heat into them. “We shall have a fire started shortly. I’ll get you into the hot springs, as well.”
Rachel nodded, her teeth chattering. Tamara hurried to her lady’s side.
“Come, M’lady,” she said, her own teeth chattering and body shivering violently.
John helped Conley get the horses settled and fed, then hurried after the women so as they wouldn’t get lost. They all ended up in the large living space, John moving around the room lighting the mounted torches, illuminating the way. Both Rachel and Tamara looked around in awe, having no idea that what seemed like a simple cave was actually a posh fortress.
“Come, ladies,” Conley said, taking a torch from one of the sconces and leading them down a dark corridor, the stone walls cool, the space smelling of minerals and earth. “I will show you where you’ll be staying until the storm passes.”
Rachel was still cold, but she was so amazed by what she was seeing that she was able to forget about it for a moment. Besides, at lease she was no longer in the driving snow.
“Will this do?” Conley asked, though it didn’t matter the answer, as it was the best there was to offer. The torchlight revealed a huge, beautiful bed at the center of the large space, the canopy rising high into the dark depths of the thirty-foot ceiling. “I can bring in a cot for you, M’lady,” he said, nodding to Tamara. Turning back to look at Rachel, Conley realized that she was still shivering violently. “Come.”
Rachel handed Emily to a waiting Tamara, then followed Conley out of the beautiful, natural space, back into the dark corridor, Conley lighting torches in the bedroom area on the way out.
“’Tis so quiet in here,” Rachel said, trying not to be frightened as she was led deeper into the fortress. Her voice was little more than a whisper, as she felt to speak up would be inappropriate somehow.
“Aye,” Conley agreed, continuing deeper into the recesses of the cave.
They emerged into a smaller chamber, the warmth meeting their chilled skin before they had even rounded the corner. Rachel’s steps slowed as she looked around in awe. At the center of the chamber was a small pool, steam rising from the naturally warmed waters.
“What is this place?” Rachel asked in wonder.
“Hot springs, M’lady. You can bathe here and warm yourself.” Conley lit one of the mounted torches, lighting the chamber up even more.
Rachel walked over to the pond edge and leaned down, tentatively putting a finger into the water. She moaned softly as warmth enveloped her. She stood and with trembling fingers she tried to unclasp her cloak. She was getting frustrated as her fingers were not working.
“Here, let me, M’lady.” Conley placed his larger hands over Rachel’s cold, trembling ones to still her attempts. He smiled at her frustrated gaze, then unclasped the cloak for her. “Stay in as long as you wish. John and I will gather supper, and Tamara is caring for young Emily.” Conley was about to leave the chamber when a hand lightly grabbed his arm. He turned to see Rachel looking at him. “M’lady?”
“Thank you for all you have done for us, M’lord. I know not what even to call you.”
Conley smiled. “Call me a friend.” With one final smile, he left her alone.
Rachel stood where she’d been left, still staring after the Mercenary long after he’d gone. What was it about him that was so familiar to her soul? Why had she wanted to ask him to stay, and not leave her? She felt what was almost like an old abandonment wound open up again, though she couldn’t understand from where it stemmed.
Conley turned the corner, headed back to the main part of the fortress, but stopped, leaning against a wall and his eyes closing. It took several deep breaths for his heart to get back under control. How was it that the princess still had such an effect on him? It had been nearly a year, and a great deal of blood and water had passed under that bridge. Surely it was over?
With a sigh, he pushed away from the wall and headed back towards the living area, passing the bedchamber he had given up for Rachel and Tamara. He would not tell them, but he would be sleeping on a cot near the hot springs through the duration of their stay, giving up his own bed and privacy for their comfort.
“M’lord?” Tamara said, catching Conley as he was about to pass by the natural archway into the chamber.
Conley stopped, turning to the older woman, who rocked baby Emily in her arms, the infant deeply asleep. “Aye, M’lady?” he said, smiling down at the cherubic face of the child, despite himself.
“I wanted to thank you yet again for your kindness in this.” She indicated the sleeping babe with a quick glance. “You’ve taken on much more than you bargained for, me included.” She gave him a soft, genuine smile. “You‘ve a good soul. I always knew you did.”
Conley was truly touched by the older woman’s words. “I thank you, Tamara. That is very kind of you.” He gave her a genuine smile and was about to continue on to discuss details with John of their next move, when he stopped, stopping the older woman from turning back into the bedroom chamber. “Tamara,” he said, waiting until he had Tamara’s attention. “How did you know?”
Tamara smiled. “’Twas in your eyes, Conley, and I do not mean their color.” With those words she turned away, off to lay the infant down.
Conley smirked and walked on to speak to John.
“So,” Flagley said, sipping from his mug of mead, sitting at the large desk at the center of the room. A fire had been started in the fire pit, the flames dancing and snapping warmly. He slid a similar mug across the glossy finish of the desk until it was caught by Conley’s hand. “What now?”
Conley flopped down in John’s matching chair, putting his booted feet up on the desk edge. He took a long drink then set the mug down. “We wait out the storm, then get the princess home.”
“That easy, eh?”
Conley could tell there was something on John’s mind that he wasn’t saying. He glanced at his friend, a brow raised in question, even though it couldn’t be seen behind the mask. “What is on your mind, my friend?”
John sighed then turned to his friend. “Is it wise to have them here?”
Conley met his gaze. “We had no choice, John.”
“Aye, that ‘tis true,” John conceded, taking another drink, which finished off his mug. He slammed it down on the desk with satisfaction. “Be mindful of our precarious position, my friend, and you shall wish to keep your head.”
Conley studied his friend, surprised by the venomous warning in his voice. “What are you saying?”
“I’m saying I’ve seen how you look at the princess, Conley. History need not be repeated.”
Conley felt his anger build, even as he knew John was right. “Rubbish,” he exclaimed, booted feet hitting the floor with a loud thud. He got to his feet, heading off into the cave.
John sighed again, grabbing his friend’s unfinished mead and swallowing the last gulps.
The snow had continued throughout the night, nearly burying the entrance to the cave fortress. Travel was impossible. Food gathering was impossible. Flagley took stock of their food reserves, and was confident that they’d been alright for three or four days, but then hunting and gathering would have to be done. As it was, milk for the child was already running scarce. The four adults had spoken earlier in the day about a remedy for such a problem.
Conley leaned against the wall of the main room, stroking his chin with his fingers as Rachel and Tamara talked amongst each other.
“It has been done before, M’lady,” Tamara assured.
Rachel looked at her, doubtful. “But, Tamara, neither of us was pregnant. How is it possible for either of us to breast feed Emily?”
“Trick the body, M’lady,” Tamara explained. “Have the baby suckle daily. The body will adapt.” She smiled shyly. “Seen it done amongst animals, I have.”
Rachel studied Emily – whom she held in her arms – for a moment. “I’m not sure this will work,” she said quietly, running her fingers over the softness of her niece’s face. “But, I suppose we must.”
“We’ve got but a couple days of milk left, M’lady. We may be able to get more if the storm ceases.” The lady-in-waiting glanced at Conley, “but we do not know if it will.”
Rachel chewed on her bottom lip, trying to decide what to do.
“I have seen it, as well, M’lady,” Conley added. “When a mare has been killed or died, I’ve seen other mares take her place, nursing the foal.” Both women turned to the man in black. “’Tis worth a try, anyway.”
Rachel looked down at her niece once more, deciding to give it a try. She nodded, decision made. “Alright.”
Left alone with John once more as the ladies left to begin their new regime, Conley turned to his friend. “Tomorrow let’s you and I go out hunting.”
John nodded in agreement. “Aye. It will help greatly if they can find a way to feed the child. I know not what to feed a child, other than milk.”
Conley shrugged. “Nor I.”
~~ FOURTEEN ~~
Lord Robert Wynton sat, waiting for the rest of his men to gather. All present were ready to go, horses packed and saddled, men armed and anxious. The cacophony of men’s voices was nearly deafening in the Great Hall, and every second that ticked by made Wynton more and more antsy, feeling as though he were about to jump out of his skin.
“M’lord,” his second in command, Sir Dexter, walked up to him. “All have gathered at present, and await your command,” he said with a deep bow.
Wynton nodded acknowledgement and cleared his throat, preparing to speak to the army and give orders. “Quiet!” he shouted, his voice booming in the catacomb-like space of the hall. The men immediately quieted, all eyes aimed at Wynton, waiting for his command. “We leave today. We have word where the scoundrel is hiding my beloved wife, and we will get her back!” An uproarious cheer went up, echoing off the walls. Wynton grinned, glad to see his men were so enthusiastic. He waited once again for silence to reign, then continued. “We have word from our other comrades who have been held up in an inn, waiting for the storms to pass. They have gathered word that not only did the scoundrel Mercenary stay at that very same tavern with Lady Wynton, but also with the traitorous servant woman called Tamara.”
Another round of cheers and jeers filled the space. Wynton listened with satisfaction.
“The woman Tamara’s life has been forfeit for her deceit in helping the scoundrel,” he continued, voice booming and filled with passion for the kill. “The man they call Mercenary,” he spat out the name, “is mine.”
Even Dexter looked at his master with a strange eye. He’d never heard such blood lust before, and he’d been a soldier his entire life. Knowing he had to abide by Wynton’s commands, he backed up the words. “we fight!”
The men raised their weapons and voices in a show of solidarity, their voices deafening. Wynton’s grin was glacial.
John ran through the forest, frantically looking for his friend. He knew it wouldn’t be hard to spot him, considering it would be dark clothing against a white, winter wonderland, as well as the sharp sounds of an axe biting into tree flesh. Soon he spotted Conley’s horse, and ran in that direction.
Conley grunted with each thwack of the axe blade into the trunk of the tree he was felling. His horse waited patiently by, a rough-hewn sleigh tethered to him, piled with already cut firewood.
“Conley!” John exclaimed, out of breath by time he’d reached his friend. Conley stopped mid-swing, looking at his friend. John bent over, hands on his knees as his breaths came out in white puffs.
“What news?” Conley asked.
“Wynton is sending his entire army this way,” John gasped out, finding it hard to gather his breath as the cold temperatures stole it from him. “We’re outnumbered grossly.”
“How close are they?”
John shook his head. “I know not.”
Conley sighed, looking out over the forest around them. “The storms have stopped, but the heavy snow will slow them down.” His words were quiet, almost as though speaking to himself. He sighed, bringing a hand up to swipe at his red nose. “We’ve got to get word to the King.”
John looked at him, surprised. “Why don’t we wait him out? Wynton will never be able to find us.”
“Because we’re running out of resources, Flagley,” Conley said, his voice hard. “The child would never survive the trip to the castle, so we must bring the King to us.”
“You mean to try and stop a war,” John said, understanding dawning in his brown eyes.
Conley grinned, shaking his head. “I mean to start a war. Wynton’s pride will not allow him to stop until he gets his property back, and his vengeance is sated. He must be stopped now, or Lady Rachel will be forced to return to her husband.”
Fully understanding, though not necessarily agreeing, John nodded. “Do you wish to go, or shall I?”
“You’re a better rider than I, and you know the back ways, which Wynton and his men will not.” He put his axe on the sleigh and took his horse by the reins. “Come.”
John Flagley had headed out with a message for the King half a day ago, and Conley was left to protect the precious prize of Rachel, Emily and Tamara. Stress was on his shoulders, as a bad feeling had settled within the pit of his stomach. Something bad was to come, and now it was just a matter of waiting for it. The cave fortress was well-armed, that is, if Wynton and his men were able to find it at all. It was well-hidden, and many traps – some quite deadly – had been set up all throughout the area for just an occasion.
He had been soaking in the natural springs for nearly an hour when he’d gotten out. Fully dressed, Conley grabbed the fabric of his mask, getting ready to put it on when he heard footsteps behind him. On instinct, he turned to see who was at his back, only to meet the astonished green eyes of Rachel.
Rachel could only stare at the ghost that stood before her. Wide, frightened blue eyes – eyes that her heart immediately recognized – stared back at her. She was filled with a mixture of shock, love and a great deal of anger. As all these emotions warred within her, all she could do was turn and hurry from the chamber.
Conley could only stare after her, filled with a mixture of relief and dismay. “Bugger,” he muttered, running a hand through his wet hair. He was trying to decide what to do when quick footfalls in the dark corridor gave way to Rachel reappearing. All he could do was be still and look into her anger-filled eyes.
“You!” she accused, pointing a finger at him. Conley waited, wanting her to get it all out so they might talk rationally. “You died! Killed by guards.” She couldn’t wrap her mind around the fact that the man she’d been protected by for many long days was the man who had stolen her heart, then broken it.
Conley waited, but when there was no more coming, he spoke. “Aye. That ‘tis the story that’s been told, from what I hear.”
“How is this possible?” Rachel shook her head, finding it difficult to understand. It made her angry, as she felt she should have known. Should have been able to see Conley in the man before her.
“I escaped the night I last saw you. No one saw me leave. Your husband” – the word bitter and accusatory – “had threatened the lives of the guards, should I escape.”
“So, you chose to murder another inmate to lie in your stead? They said there was a body.”
Conley nodded. “Aye, there was, but I did not harm anyone on my way out.” He could see the doubt in her eyes. “Rachel, I could barely keep myself alive, let alone kill a man.”
Understanding, Rachel nodded. “So the guards killed an innocent man so as not face the wrath of Robert.” Conley said nothing. There was nothing to be said. Rachel’s gaze turned from inward understand to the moment at present, and a long ago heartbreak. “Have you watched me, tending to my niece, laughing at the fact that she is your child?”
Conley began to get angry. There were accusations made from high emotions, and then there was cruelty. He took a threatening step towards Rachel, who took a step back in kind. “Never say that again, M’lady,” he said, voice a low growl. “Watching you – a natural mother – with Emily has been one of the most beautiful things I’ve been fortunate enough to witness. Do not insult me with such rantings. I told you many months ago in that prison cell that I am not the father of that child, and I tell you again.” Conley took a few deep breaths, trying to control his anger. He knew the time had come. “And prove it to you, I will.”
Rachel was startled when Conley took a step back and angrily banked his shirt over his head. A trim, muscular torso was revealed, a thin material wrapped tightly around his chest. She was confused, but then her eyes nearly popped out of her head when Conley unwrapped the fabric, releasing two perfect breasts.
“I don’t understand,” she whispered. “You said you had relations with-“ Her words were cut off when Conley stepped over to her and took her hand, making her grab the hard implement between his legs. She tried to jerk away, but he held her fast.
“Yes, M’lady. I am a woman. This,” he said, squeezing Rachel’s fingers harder around his ‘manhood’, “is merely attached using leather straps and fraud.”
He let her go, and immediately Rachel stumbled backwards, nearly tripping over her own dress. “But why?” she asked, out of breath from her shock.
“Because ‘tis harder to be a woman servant than a man. My father knew this, and did not want the same life or fate for me as that that took the life of my mother.”
As Rachel stared at the freed breasts, also seeing various scars and bruises along Conley’s torso, she felt faint. Before she knew what was happening, she was falling limply to the floor.
Conley gently brushed Rachel’s hair aside as she placed yet another cool towel to the princess’ forehead. She sat next to the fallen woman, who had been laid on Conley’s cot in the hot springs chamber. Rachel’s eyes began to dance behind closed lids, and consciousness began to light.
Rachel’s eyes blinked open a few times before resting on the concerned face that hovered above her own. “What happened?” she asked, dazed.
“you fainted, M’lady,” Conley said softly. He sat back, giving her a bit of space to come about.
Rachel brought a hand up to her head, feeling the wet towel, then glanced at Conley. He, or perhaps better called she, was fully dressed once more, minus the usual mask. She looked into Conley’s blue eyes, and saw such warmth and acceptance there. She felt their pull, just as she had the very first time she’d looked into them in the stables. “Why did you never tell me the truth?” she asked, a question with no accusation.
Conley smiled. “Mayhap I was afraid you’d faint.”
Rachel met the smile. “I know not what to call you. Are you man? Are you woman?”
“I was born one, and have lived as the other. To be honest, I know not, M’lady. Whichever you are comfortable with, I suppose.” Conley shrugged. “To me, I am merely Conley.”
Rachel studied her for a moment, looking over Conley’s face. Such a beautiful face. How did she not see it before? Now that she knew, it seemed so obvious. Conley’s feminine features were unmistakable. She smiled. “’Tis amazing what a person will believe when they’ve been told something.”
Conley nodded. “Aye. I’ve always found that to be true.”
“I am sorry for blaming you for Allison’s pregnancy, and condemning you.,” Rachel said softly.
“And I am sorry for making you feel as though I had betrayed your heart in having relations with Allison,” Conley said, just as quietly. “I vow it ‘twas before I lost my heart to you.”
Rachel smiled. “I believe you.” Something occurred to her, her brows drawing. “Did she know?”
Conley shook her head. “She did not. Other than you, there are only two others who know, and they are both dead.”
“Aye. My parents.”
They sat in silence for a long moment, both reconciling with what had just happened between them. Conley realized that she may very well have just surrendered her life. Rachel would be returned to her father, and the King would have every right and every reason to once again condemn Conley to death, if not for the original crime, than for being a woman who masqueraded as a man.
She couldn’t think about that now. She had to keep her concentration on the mission at hand, and that was to return Rachel to her father safely.
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