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The Conqueror Series

Tale Two: The Petal of the Rose

By LJ Maas

Chapter 14: He Had Subdued the Amazons by Force

"It itches," I complained.

"Oh, it can't possibly be that bad, stand still." Delia commented on my remark.

"It itches I tell you, and it's too tight!"

I tugged on the collar until a silver button popped off. One of the maids scrambled for the loose object, and I began to pace the room. Two young maids were assisting my seamstress, Anya. And Delia, well, Athena only knows why she was there, but as the situation now called for her brand of diplomacy, I saw the wisdom in it.

"I'm sorry, Lord Conqueror." Anya apologized, to which I felt about half a head tall. "Perhaps I didn't take into account the fact that your neck . . . uhm . . .is . . ."

"Yes?" I arched an eyebrow in the young woman's direction. It's funny how one of those looks can make a soldier in my army cower in fear, but does seemingly little for the women in my employ.

"Well, rather the neck of a proud warrior." Anya finished nervously.

"What she really means is it's stiff and stubborn." Delia huffed.

"Hades! When will this be over with?" I whined. Yes, it came as much of a surprise to me as it did to those around me. I truly did whine.

"Xena, we need to talk." Delia stated in a commanding tone.

I looked around the room at the young women with their heads bowed to the floor, afraid to meet my eyes. Delia walked into the other room without even checking to see if I was following. Gods! When did I lose such control over my own household? A woman giving me orders . . .me!

They asked me to come in for a fitting for my wedding uniform. It was a stunning outfit of silk and leather. Anya really did a wonderful job, and the short jacket was perfect. I don't know what had come over me the last few days. Everything was going very well. Solan and Gabrielle were talking a little easier, my son was beginning to exercise on the practice field, and my wedding was scant days away.

Right now, I was watching as my friend retreated into the next room, leaving me feeling like a scolded child, as opposed to the Ruler of the Greek Empire. There was nothing to be done, but to take my medicine, and follow Delia.

"Xena, sit down." She ordered the moment she closed the door behind me.

"I prefer to stand, thanks."

"Sit!" she barked.

I immediately felt myself bend at the knees. It's amazing really how one woman can sound so much like a mother. I flopped down on a stool and scowled.

"Xena, what's wrong?" Delia asked gently as she sat down before me. "And," she raised her hand, "if you tell me nothing I'm walking right out that door."

I took her admonition seriously, but couldn't keep from grinning a tiny bit at her motherly ways. "I don't know," I said honestly. "I know I'm being a jackass, but I can't seem to stop myself."

"Have you and Gabrielle had a row?" she asked.

"No," I responded quickly. "Things couldn't be better between us. The Empire is thriving. Personally, things couldn't be more wonderful. I mean in a few days I'm about to marry a wonderful girl, life should be great, right?" I asked the rather rhetorical question.

 "And you're not worried about that at all?"

"About the Empire? No, we seem--"

"Xena, I mean about your impending nuptials." Delia smiled.

"Ohhh!" I could be so thick sometimes. "Worried . . .me? No, of course not."

Delia's smile grew and it was clear she'd caught me. "Xena," she drawled.

"Not worried. Terrified is more the word for it." Suddenly my shoulders slumped and I rested my head in my hands. "She's such a tiny thing. How does she possess the ability to scare me so much?"

"Xena," Delia chuckled. "It's perfectly normal, a marriage union is a daunting thing if you let yourself think about it too long. The significance of it is frightening, but you need to look at the benefits as opposed to the fears. You've been alone too long, my friend."

"I'm becoming painfully aware of that. I love Gabrielle, truly I do. I can't understand why I suddenly feel like bolting from this whole thing." I confessed.

"I wish Galien were here. I think he might know exactly what to say to you." Delia said of her long departed husband.

"I miss him. He would have loved Gabrielle," I said.

"I miss him too, everyday. You're right; he would have loved your Gabrielle. He would be very proud of you, Xena. He loved you as a daughter."

"I know it pained him some days, to see what I'd become," I answered. I truly did miss that man. He was the closest thing I'd ever had to a father. I hoped he could hear our thoughts, and know how changed a woman I was now.

"So, what would Galien tell me about my fears?" I asked with an amusing smile.

"Hmmm, let's see. Well, with the exception of the vulgarities you warriors seem fond of," she gave me a wink and I chuckled. "I think he would tell you to remember your first battle. Not Amphipolis, but the first fray you entered once you had your own army. Do you remember?"

I smiled. I'd forgotten the faces and names of a great many people and places over the seasons, but I can recite every battle in which I'd ever engaged. I remember where, with who, and all the particulars in between.

"I had an army of fifty, big for those parts. I was seventeen." If I closed my eyes, I could smell the jasmine from the mainland, and the salt blowing in from the ocean. I could almost remember the way the sun felt on my back and the ocean breeze against my face, as we charged down the hill on that garrison of Roman soldiers.

"And how did you feel?" Delia asked knowingly.

"You mean before or after the fighting started," I asked. Suddenly I knew where she was headed.

"Before." She chuckled at my attempts to stall.

"Like I was going to toss my breakfast up. I was nervous and edgy, barking at everyone."

"And what would Galien have said to you about that?"

I smirked at her, remembering her husband's no-nonsense attitude about everything in life. "He would have said to suck it up and relax. You always feel afraid like that. It's a fear of the unknown, and it's natural. You put one foot in front of the other, and pretty soon you're in the thick of it. By then, you forget all about your nerves."

When I looked up again, Delia had tears in her eyes, and I know she was thinking those words sounded very much, like what Galien would say.

"Sorry," I muttered in embarrassment.

Delia took one of my hands and gave it a quick squeeze. "I think you owe the same words to the women in the other room."

I nodded, at the same time filled with dread at that prospect. I rose and Delia followed me into the next room where all the women quickly jumped to their feet.

"I . . . uhm . . . think my temper got the best of me, you know, earlier. I--I apologize." It wasn't much as apologies go, but I was slowly getting the knack of saying I was sorry. It was a slow process, but it was coming along.

"I have an idea, Lord Conqueror," Anya said. "Perhaps if I were to line the collar with silk, then it wouldn't fret you as much."

One couldn't help but smile at the women in this palace. They tended to be a good-hearted, agreeable bunch. I wondered briefly if Gabrielle was rubbing off on them, or if they had always been here, right before my unseeing eyes.

"Yes, Anya, I think that will do nicely. Thank you."

"Message for the Conqueror, message for the Conqueror!"

I recognized the voice before the youngster burst into the room. Petra worked as a palace messenger, and his cry of 'message for the Conqueror' always caused people to scramble out of the way of the speedy boy. He skidded to a stop before me and held out a rolled piece of parchment.

"Take a deep breath, boy." I grinned at the out of breath youngster.

"It's the Amazons, Lord Conqueror," he said breathlessly.

I scanned the note from Atrius, who had already sent word to Gabrielle. Indeed, it was a delegation of Amazons. All the neighboring nations were sent invitations to the royal wedding, but few could send more than token emissaries because of the great distances involved. According to Atrius, the Amazon's were at least a hundred strong, and led by their Queen.

"Real Amazons." Petra whistled through his teeth.

I smiled at the boy's enthusiasm. I had a hard time feeling the same elation. The Amazon Nation and the Empire teetered on a very thin branch. Our alliance, as we both liked to call it, was precarious at best. Queen Melosa was a few seasons older than I was, but Atrius had quickly written to tell me that she was heading the delegation herself. There was certainly no love lost between the two of us, but I thought it odd that the Amazons would come all the way to Corinth to wish me well. I thought it very odd indeed.

"Well, ladies, as much fun as we've been having," I fixed a charming smile on all of them. The maids blushed. It was amusing how that rakish grin had the ability to have so many of my bad manners forgiven. "I must go and attend to our guests. Petra, find Atrius and tell him I'm going to change clothes, and Gabrielle and I will be on the main steps of the palace directly. Tell him to have our Amazon friends meet us there."

"Aye, Lord Conqueror." Petra gave me a small salute and dashed off.

"Ladies." I excused myself and made my way upstairs to my own chambers. What does one wear to a meeting with a Queen that you conquered so many seasons previous?

* * * * * * * * * *

"Real Amazons?" Gabrielle repeated for the third time.

"Yes, love," I chuckled. "They most certainly are, and they're going to be upset Amazons if you don't finish dressing quickly."

"I'm nearly ready," Gabrielle answered.

I watched as she brushed her hair, deftly pinning it atop her head. This girl was no fool. Gabrielle knew she looked more regal, even older looking with her hair pulled back that way.

"I don't know very much about Amazons, Xena."

"Not many people do unless you've lived among them. They're very secretive about their ways, and the training their warriors receive."

"Do they have a library, do you suppose?"

"A what?"

"A library. A place where they keep their own collections of stories and histories."

I looked at her face just then, and Gabrielle seemed to be in her own world. I smiled at the wistful expression on her face. If I was a Conqueror, then Gabrielle was certainly an explorer. The thought of learning something new caused her as much exhilaration as a good battle did to me. I frowned when I realized that Gabrielle would probably never get the chance to read those Amazon scrolls.

"Gabrielle, I need to tell you a few things about my history with the Amazons before we meet with Melosa." I wasn't sure exactly how to begin this small tale, especially since it would have to be a quick one. As always, Gabrielle made it easy on me.

"That you betrayed the Northern Amazons when you were much younger." She stated simply, placing a comb in her hair.

"Yes," I admitted. "You know they were times I'm ashamed of now, but--"

"Xena," Gabrielle interrupted. "I know you would change your past if you could. You don't have to explain, or try to right anything with me."

"Thank you," I answered.

"Tell me, though, why didn't you ever try to destroy the Southern tribes?"

I shrugged my shoulders. I thought back to the hundreds of bloody campaigns against the Amazon Nation. "It seemed as if I'd met my match, but I was never ready to admit it. I had more pride than brains in those days. Melosa was good, and her warriors put most of mine to shame, but I had numbers on my side.

I put a bounty out on the head of any Amazon caught outside the land they inhabited. There were plenty of takers, and slowly the Amazon numbers started decreasing. Melosa was good, but even she couldn't hold back the whole Empire. I had too many allies on my side. I think the turning point came when Melosa lost her sister.

Her name was Terreis. She was a good warrior, not quite as seasoned as Melosa, but good. I heard that she was in a group patrolling the border of the Amazon territory, and some Centaur archers attacked them. I'm not sure I believed the story at the time. Centaurs had never been the kind for sneak attacks like that. Of course, the Centaurs denied it, but that didn't stop the Amazons from capturing who they thought the culprit was. I can't remember the boy's name, but he was a young, good-looking stallion.

The Amazon's tried him, found him guilty, and slit his throat. Phantes!" I suddenly snapped my fingers together. "His name was Phantes. Well, that pretty much started it. It was tit for tat for quite a few seasons between the two nations. An occasional Amazon would be caught outside the protection of her land, or a Centaur would wander too far into Amazon held territory.

By then, I had taken Athens and set up my rule in Corinth. Every territory around those two nations cried to me to do something about it. When I was younger, I had hoped they would kill each other off. Now that I was ruler of the lands, I guess everyone expected me to handle it. So, I went in as peacemaker. Of course, I took an army of a thousand with me. Trust me. Neither Centaurs nor Amazons are stupid. They knew when I said to form a truce or I would form one for them that it wouldn't be good for them if I did.

They formed a treaty between the two nations, swearing allegiance to the Empire. In return, I let them pretty much rule themselves. You can see why I'm not overjoyed at the idea of a hundred Amazons on our doorstep. In addition, we're expecting Kaleipus and his delegation any day now. This could get rather involved."

"We'll simply do our best to accommodate them all."

"Accommodating Amazons isn't always easy," I answered.

Gabrielle was standing before me, her hand stretched out, offering to take my own. I had been talking so much I hadn't even noticed that she'd finished getting ready. She looked as regal and beautiful as any Queen I'd ever seen. She wore the necklace of emeralds that I had given her only last night as a sort of pre-wedding present.

"You'll take their breath away," I said. I rose and kissed her lightly on the lips.

"As will you, Conqueror." Gabrielle pointed to my own formal attire.

Dressed in all black leather, with the exception of a white silk blouse, I knew I looked imposing. I strapped two swords to my hip for this formal occasion. One, a short Amazon blade presented to me by Melosa after our treaty had been signed. The other was my customary blade with the silver Lion's head.

"Shall we, My Lord?" Gabrielle asked in a coy fashion.

"Lead on, My Lady." I laughed, hoping we still felt this joyful at the day's end.

* * * * * * * * * *

Flanked by half a dozen of the Royal Guard, Gabrielle and I were announced, and made our way to the palace steps. I recognized the masked figures, standing in tight formation before us. Gabrielle's hand squeezed mine, and I squeezed right back in reassurance. The masks did it. I remember the soldiers in my army back so long ago. Those Amazon masks scared the Tartarus right out of them.

A young woman stepped forward, and knelt with one knee to the ground. She looked up, and tilted the mask back on her head until I could see all of her face. I never forget a warrior, especially a good one, and I remember Ephiny as being one of the Amazon's best. We were about the same age, but she looked to still be in as good a shape as I was.

"Lord Conqueror, the Amazon Nation greets you on the occasion of your bonding ceremony. May I present the leader of the Southern Tribe, Queen Melosa." Ephiny rose and stepped back a pace.

Melosa came forward, flanked by four of her own Royal Guard, two on either side of her. I knew it was Melosa from the Gods awful mask she wore. Some said the red streaks dripping down the front of it came from the blood of slain enemies. I only knew that it unnerved even me to fight the woman when she had the thing on.

Melosa removed her mask, and I could tell the seasons had been kind to her. She was a handsome woman, more than beautiful, but she was charming. I suspect it was the charm that caused her never to want for a young woman to warm her bed.

She inclined her head, bowing slightly, and I did the same. Releasing Gabrielle's hand I descended the steps, my Guard flanking me in much the same fashion as the Amazons. I thought I'd be magnanimous and offered my arm first.

"Melosa," I said.

"Conqueror," she replied, taking my arm in a warrior's clasp. I never once heard the words 'Lord Conqueror' pass her lips.

I turned back to Gabrielle, and held my hand out to her. She descended the steps and stood beside me.

"Queen Melosa, let me introduce my betrothed. Gabrielle of Potidaea, Melosa, Queen of the Amazon Nation." I finished formally.

Gabrielle had a genuine smile on her face, and held her hand out to the older woman. Melosa took the smaller hand within her own and bowed slightly, releasing the young woman. The Amazon Queen spoke to me however.

"I see the tales they tell are all true, Conqueror. She is gracious as well as beautiful. You are a lucky ruler indeed. Please allow me to introduce my second in command, Ephiny."

Ephiny stepped forward, again dropped to one knee, and quickly rose. "Lord Conqueror," she said flatly.

"Yes, Ephiny. I never forget a good warrior's face."

We clasped forearms, and I could tell that I surprised her with my amiable comment. She surprised me even more by again kneeling, rising in front of Gabrielle.

"Lady Gabrielle," she said.

"It's a pleasure to meet such a fine Nation of warriors." Gabrielle replied with just the right words to fluster the blonde Amazon.

Ephiny stepped back and a young woman all but bounced up to stand beside Melosa. Her mask was removed, revealing a young woman, perhaps sixteen or seventeen summers of age.

"May I present my daughter, Princess Timara." Melosa added proudly.

The young girl bowed deeply before me. "Lord Conqueror."

"Your Highness," I responded.

"Lady Gabrielle," she bowed also to Gabrielle.

"Your Highness," Gabrielle repeated my words.

I noticed just then that the young girl's cheeks blushed red as Gabrielle took her hand in greeting. Another one smitten, I thought to myself.

"Well, now that those formalities are out of the way, Melosa, will you allow us the pleasure of your company here in the palace?" I asked, knowing what her answer would be.

"Thank you, Conqueror, but your Captain has already shown my Amazons to a fair piece of land on the hill beside the palace. My tents are being prepared as we speak."

"Then at least join us in a dinner," Gabrielle chimed in. "You and any in your party you would care to invite, are welcome to dine with us this evening."

"How does one refuse such a beautiful woman?" Melosa smiled. "We would be honored."

Atrius came down the steps to stand beside me, and leaned close to whisper in my ear.

"Well, this day just seems to keep getting better and better, doesn't it?" I whispered back.

"Is there a problem, Conqueror?" Melosa asked at my behavior.

"Melosa we've run into a small situation, and I'd like to remind you that you are here for our wedding ceremony. All I can say about this situation is that I request that you let the past remain buried, and I do apologize ahead of time for this difficulty."

Everyone but Atrius looked at me as though I had Cerberus's three heads on my shoulders.

"Xena?" Gabrielle questioned.

The answer to everyone's question came when the large gates to the palace courtyard opened up, and nearly thirty Centaurs trotted into the open area. Just when I was trying desperately to figure out a way to avoid certain disaster, Gabrielle saved me again.

"Of course we'll have no trouble, Xena. The Queen isn't the kind of woman, or warrior, to let old wounds ruin this occasion for us." Gabrielle finished by taking a step closer and laying one gentle hand on Melosa's forearm.

I watched in awe as this small woman, who I held in such high esteem, literally tamed the wildness from Melosa's heart. The Amazon's jaw was set as she watched the Centaurs warily ride in. I could see the expression on her face soften at Gabrielle's tender touch, and her easy words.

"Do you still wish us to dine with you tonight?" Melosa turned to Gabrielle.

Even I wondered how the small blonde would now answer; knowing Solan's adopted father led the Centaurs. We couldn't possible refuse to dine with either of these leaders.

"Of course I still wish it," Gabrielle answered as if she'd been using these diplomatic skills all her life. "It seems, however, we will have other guests joining us also, but there is room enough for all around our table."

Gods, she was good! I thought to myself. Melosa stood there practically biting her lip. To refuse to dine with us now would not only be an offense to us, but appear childish and petty as well.

"Very well. As you request it, My Lady."

With a few short nods, Ephiny had the rest of the Amazons following their Queen from the courtyard. They passed by the Centaurs with nary an Amazon flinching under the hard stares. That must have taken some doing too. Centaurs can be huge beasts, and they towered over the Amazons.

From the corner of my eye I saw Solan rush from his hiding spot along the castle wall, out to where Kaleipus stood. The large Centaur engulfed the young man in an embrace, and I could hardly contain my smile. Solan's embarrassment was that of every young man being hugged by his parent in front of other men.

Kaleipus ignored the young man's discomfort, and I felt for my old nemesis just then. It was, and had always been apparent that the Centaur loved the boy greatly. It must have broken his heart that Solan was not of his own flesh.

Gabrielle was literally grounded to the steps beside me. I realized with some amusement that she'd never seen a Centaur before. I figured that as long as she didn't have to sit atop one, she wouldn't be too afraid of them. Kaleipus and two lieutenants walked our way, with Solan beside them. Gabrielle backed up a bit, and at first, I thought it was fear that caused such behavior. In reality, she stood on nearly the top step to put her virtually shoulder level with the large Centaurs. I took her hand in mine for reassurance, as her eyes were unable to hide her level of excitement.

"Lord Conqueror." Kaleipus lowered his head in respect, as did the two younger stallions alongside him. This show of deference touched me. In the past, the good-natured Centaur greeted me as a warrior and an equal, usually slapping me on the back hard enough to break bones in a weaker woman. It was when he finally looked up at me and winked his one good eye that I knew he hadn't changed at all.

"You look older every day, Conqueror. Is that gray hair I see?"

"If it is, you put it there." I bantered back.

This was more the exchange I was expecting. It took a long while for me to become accustomed to Kaleipus's sense of humor. He had always been the serious one, but he confided in me once that as age crept up on him, he felt the need to laugh more and more. He was a number of seasons older than I was, and at the time, I didn't quite understand him. Now, of course, I knew exactly what he meant. Ah, perspective. What it can do for one's perception.

"He looks good, eh?" Kaleipus cuffed Solan affectionately. "I thought when you said that he'd been injured, you'd finally managed to beat some sense into him."

Before I could answer, Solan jumped into the conversation.

"It's a rather long story, Rä."

It shouldn't have surprised me, the term of affection the boy used. It was a well-known term among the Centaurs meaning, adopted or second father. Kaleipus had more than earned the name where Solan was concerned, but I must admit, it pained me somewhat. How odd, considering I hadn't had one maternal thought in the last twenty seasons. Perhaps it was Solan's willingness to be civil, or even the way he asked me for instruction on any number of things of late. Whatever it was, I was feeling as if the pain would be far reaching, should the moment come when Solan told me he did not wish to acknowledge me as his mother.

" Rä, I would like you to meet someone very special." Solan continued, much to my surprise. "Lady Gabrielle, the leader of the Centaur Nation, the warrior Kaleipus." The young man introduced the Centaur to Gabrielle. No one was more surprised at that than I was.

"So, this is the one." Kaleipus said rather gently. "The one who tamed the heart of the Lion." He bowed low at the waist, which is not an easy feat for a large Centaur. His forelegs bent as he moved low enough to reach for Gabrielle's hand.

"Perhaps now that you have tamed the Lion, I finally have a chance at besting her on the battlefield." He said in jest.

Not one to see my reputation weakened at all, Gabrielle kept pace with the Centaur's dry humor. "But you do that at your own risk, my new friend," Gabrielle replied. "For can anyone ever really tame the wild from a creature as fierce as the Lion?"

Kaleipus looked at the small young woman as if in shock, then he leaned his head back and roared with laughter. "She will keep you on your toes, Conqueror!"

That's when he slapped me on the back hard enough to nearly knock me over.

* * * * * * * * * *

Once again, I was sitting at a formal dinner with Gabrielle leagues away at the other end of the table. I hadn't been in the best of moods lately. The situation with the Centaurs and Amazons, both showing up at the same time for the upcoming wedding, wasn't helping my disposition any. I was nervous, tense, and edgy. Well, that's certainly not new. I thought I was hiding it rather well. I always think that, though.

So, I sulked and brooded, while those around me talked, ate, laughed, and drank the evening away. I was much less nervous about Gabrielle. She seemed to actually be enjoying herself, listening intently to the animated conversation of Princess Timara. As always, Gabrielle was a rapt listener, her thoughtful smile occasionally gracing her features. I could see the slight flush of excitement on her face, however. While to me, Amazons and Centaurs in one room made for a tense, on edge sort of evening, Gabrielle could hardly contain herself. I teased her as I escorted her out to the open air balcony earlier by reminding her to take an occasional breath.

Knowing that Kaleipus and the Centaurs would be visiting for the wedding, the carpenters had already been hard at work. The tables were quite massive. The chairs were stools that Gabrielle had to practically scale, to sit upon. The tables were large and high to accommodate our equine-bodied guests. Delia, as was her style had ordered the kitchens to prepare plenty of grains, fruits, and fresh vegetables. There was plenty of variety for all, since our friend had been overseeing the rest of the palace cooks since early morning when our guests first rode through the castle gates.

The late season weather had remained unseasonably warm, and so the large outdoor veranda situated off the banquet hall served as our banquet hall. Torches and lamps had been lit, and placed around the perimeter of the area. It caused a bright and cheery effect, pushing back the darkness. Gabrielle insisted on musicians. Not raucous tavern music, but something light. As she put it, background music. She was right, as I was becoming accustomed to her being. The harps that accompanied a young man's lyre blended perfectly with the natural music of the cicadas.

I suddenly realized that a royal change was in order. I was feeling a little forlorn without Gabrielle by my side, and the conversation down at the Centaur end of the table was getting a little dull. Seems young Centaurs only want to talk about the same thing old Centaurs want to talk about, and that's war. Time was, I would have been more than happy with talk of strategy and weapons all night. I was certainly in a bad way because all I could think about now was Gabrielle. Why in the known world did we have to sit on opposite ends of the huge table anyway? Who started that ridiculous tradition? Probably, some King who didn't want to be around his wife in the first place.

As I sat there, I glanced down at her again. She was nodding at something one of the Amazons said. I felt it just then, just as she must have, for she looked up. She searched the faces at the table quickly; surely looking for the one she felt was calling to her. I would never have allowed myself to believe in that romantic nonsense in seasons past, but now . . . well, perhaps I have become that romantic she accuses me of being after all.

Gabrielle's eyes found mine, and I looked at her in a way that said I expected her to feel my thoughts. She grinned a bit, and then she did something that caused me to grin back. She winked at me. When she saw my smile, she went back to her conversation as if it had never happened, but I knew it had. I felt that little gesture all the way down to my boots. Now, I have to ask myself. Why is it when I am looking most like a lovesick fool, someone catches me at it?

"You're grinning like an idiot, Conqueror!" Kaleipus leaned over my left elbow to tell me.

Well, I could have denied it, huffed it off, or even glared at him in my best intimidating manner. The best thing about growing older, however, is having people who know you so damn well, that those tricks are no longer necessary. Kaleipus had become more than an ally over the seasons, and for all my cold-heartedness, I think he always knew something more was in me.

I looked him in the eye, realizing now that he quite possibly sent Solan here on purpose. That perhaps he'd heard of my ways softening a bit. I smirked at him and arched one eyebrow.

"She's worth grinning over," I replied confidently.

"I'll just bet she is," he added with a smile.

It wasn't the scream I heard next. It was a sound that filtered through the air, just heartbeats before her pained cry, which caught my attention.


I immediately stood up to shout a warning, but the moment I met those green eyes, I knew it was too late. The sound that I heard was the noise an arrow makes as it cuts through the air.

TBC in.......Chapter 15: There Is No Other Way, Let That Be Plain

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