The Warrior and the Princess Pt 4

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Princess Prittie, sole remaining royal family member from the southern quarter forming one of the four Kingdoms of Gillion, only child and beloved daughter of the late King Mestian, heiress to the throne, survivor of the bloodiest, most life costly battle that any kingdom in Gillion had witnessed for generations, lived. All due to the resolute, loyal, heroic actions of one man and a solemn vow he had sworn to honour long ago for his king.

It was when the mounted horse guards from the Marshtop garrison during a regular routine patrol, had heard a hysterical screaming female voice, that they went to investigate. The instant they recognised their lord, their captain, Jules d’Gravernaugh of the elite household guard, did they realise who the rather unkempt, ragged looking young woman was, she was of course their most beloved, beautiful, and treasured, Princess Prittie. The sergeant of the guard had quickly barked out orders to his men, and within seconds of doing this had secured the situation. The hateful, demonic beasts were both vengefully and brutally slain.

While the princess was bourne to safety the horse guards came to the aid of their captain, on discovering he was well enough to ride, they retrieved his spear and dagger, he was then helped up onto a horse by its rider, and after making sure that no life remained in their enemy, rode with haste back to the garrison.

The Marshtop garrison, a colossal round, smooth bricked structure, was so called because it literally stands atop solid earth and is surrounded by boggy marsh land from all conceivable sides, so in effect, the marsh serves the same purpose as a moat would serve for a castle or stronghold; it would prevent any direct attack upon it. This highly rare, unusual terrain feature, had huge strategic significance for the kingdom and could not be easily attacked by any invading army, and for this reason and this reason alone – upon its discovery – was it decided by King Emullien during his reign to build a fortified garrison there. In all its history the garrison has never fallen from southern Gillion’s control.

There is only way in, and only one way out, this being a secret, closely guarded hidden pathway known only to the southern kingdom, and any diversion from the true path would result in a terrible drowning for any unwary, unfortunate trespasser. At the garrison’s gate a huge eighty-foot drawbridge had been erected that, when lowered, would form the beginning of the true pathway on exit and vice versa. This made for a extremely secure, impenetrable fortress.

The princess, now safely inside the garrison was closely followed by the other riders; the drawbridge was instantly raised. She was escorted by the resident courtesans to the royal chambers where she would receive medical treatments, a bath, a change of clothes, and much needed rest; she had been through more than she had any right to. As the princess was being attended to, captain d’Gravernaugh was busy having his shoulder patched up by the garrison’s physicians while at the same time debriefing all the officers present of the recent, unexpected, tragic events that the garrison could not have possibly known had transpired. Everyone’s jaw had dropped upon hearing his tidings that their King, Mestian, was now dead. Their kingdom, their future, their culture, now lay entirely in the innocent hands of a twenty-year old princess.

It had been mutually agreed, that when captain d’Gravernaugh had rested, taken sustenance, and regained his clarity of mind, an emergency counsel would be held in the main chamber to discuss and debate what would be the wisest course of action they should next take to regain their besieged royal castle. It also went without saying that the princess would remain at the garrison for an indefinite period until the castle and the royal grounds were deemed safe once again, but for the foreseeable future this would not happen anytime soon.

The sobering news of the king’s death spread like wild-fire through the garrison, it became the topic of conversation and everyone there began an unofficial spell of silent, subdued mourning. Most, if not all the soldiers, courtiers, courtesans, and all other staff in general had known somebody who either resided or worked within the castle grounds, all of them were reported as now dead or missing. An immense sense of loss and dark foreboding slowly permeated through the walls into every chamber within the garrison touching upon the souls of its occupants sending involuntary shivers up and down their spines.

The day moved on and the early evening turned into night, the hour of ten found the princess wide awake and busily eating a hasty meal which had been prepared for her. Once her meal was finished her courtesans helped her dress into a deep red, low cut, floor length evening gown, and this was decorated with a gold necklace bearing the blue stone of southern Gillion. She wore cream coloured slippers on her feet, her hair was bunched up, but had delicate plaits hanging down from just above her ears. Her face had been made up only to highlight her natural beauty. The courtesans escorted her out of her room, once out, two resident guards appointed by d’Gravernaugh himself walked either side of her.

Soon the garrison was graced not with the ragged, unkempt looking woman who had entered earlier, but with a beautiful vision of feminine perfection befitting someone of her royal standing. All eyes were upon her as she gracefully descended the stairs and headed for the counsel chamber. The royal guards and soldiers all knelt in her presence paying their respects not only to her, but to her deceased father, their king. The princess gave the slightest nod to all who knelt and braved the best public face she could wear in an attempt to disguise the highly emotional, tumultuous residues of her most recent ordeals. She was still trying mentally to come to terms with all that had transpired, which, in turn, were threatening to eat away at any resolve or courage she felt that she had left.

The doors to the counsel chamber were swung open by the two guards stationed there who then stood to attention when the princess passed through. Inside, the chamber was lit by candles placed on a long wooden table which had high backed chairs set around it with a throne seat at one end. Flaming torches hung from the walls all spaced out evenly, and the light from their flames cast shadows that danced around the walls of the room. A huge open fire place positioned in a wall running parallel to the main table crackled fiercely with spark and flame radiating a welcoming, comforting heat into the chamber.

The chamber was empty save for the presence of the sergeant of the guard who was busy instructing a courtier and courtesan in what refreshments should be brought to the table once the counsel had begun. The sergeant’s head turned toward the two big doors when they swung open, he hastily broke off his conversation with the staff and walked over to the princess, he knelt down on one knee before her, bowing his head, acknowledging her entrance.

“My Princess,” he said in greeting, “my name is Hiam Duncante. I am your sergeant of the guard here at the garrison, please accept my condolences for the loss of your father, our King, Mestian. He was greatly loved by all his subjects, words could never adequately express my own grief over his passing.”

He then removed his sword, balancing the blade flat on the palms of his open hands, he lifted it high above his head and offered it to her.

The princess was quite taken aback by this unexpected gesture, lifting a hand to her mouth in a shocked reaction. She had seen it performed many times in the past when officials or soldiers of the court visited her father, it served as a stark reminder to her, a sudden, exemplative slap in the face that she, and she alone, now stood as the figurehead to all people in the southern kingdom. She quickly composed herself as this realisation came flooding over her.

“Sergeant Duncante. I gratefully accept your sword, I am honoured that you should offer it freely and as quickly as you have. Please stand.”

The sergeant did as instructed by the princess only to put her in shock yet again by his enormous height, he towered over her by a good foot and a half. The princess suppressed an urge to giggle at seeing his enourmous stature and met with his eyes. The sergeant, realising his mild indiscretion, took a respectful few paces backward.

“I thank you Sergeant for your kind words regarding my father. My hope is that I may be equal to the task of rule in his stead.”

“My Lady, You will never be alone,” stated the Sergeant. “You will receive as much, or as little help as you deem fit to ask for.”

“I thank you again Sergeant for your support,” the princess replied.

She then glanced around the room noting it was indeed empty, she looked to all four corners of the room then came back to rest her gaze on the sergeant.

“Tell me Sergeant, where is my captain,” she asked, looking slightly nervously around her. “I would dearly like to see him before the counsel starts proper, is he preoccupied with something, do you know?”

The sergeant nodded.

“I will send word out immediately My Lady that you wish to meet with him. Please excuse me while I make the necessary arrangements.”

He took his leave of the princess and went over to one of the guards standing by the door and whispered orders in his ear. The guard saluted and exited through the door and was gone.

The princess walked over to the throne seat at the head of the table, she caressed the top of the back rest, tracing the contours downward with her hand while momentarily losing herself in her own private thoughts. She tentatively pulled the throne seat back and gingerly sat down upon it like someone dipping their bare feet into cold water, testing the temperature. This was a symbolic moment for her, and being inwardly honest with herself, she did not know if in actual fact she was up to the task at hand. Being totally unprepared for queendom as she was, she had to remind herself of her historic lineage to the southern kingdom of Gillion and rise up, come what may, and be the best – the bravest that she could possibly be.

With all these thoughts racing through her mind, she now sat on the throne seat absent mindedly watching the servants preparing the table as they came and went, all scurrying about performing their given duties. Each time one of them came back to the table with something they would pause, then bow or curtsey at the princess, she smiled at them while waving them on with a gesture telling them not to trouble themselves with her; they understood her meaning and did as she requested.

Suddenly the double doors swung open and in bounded Jules d’Gravernaugh, high lord and captain of the elite household guard. He looked a different man than the one she had travelled with earlier in the day, his body armour had been removed and he now wore his crimson uniform of office retrieved from his secondary wardrobe held at the garrison. No other sign was there that suggested he had ever been in a desperate fight for survival, the only exception was the heavy bandage on one of his shoulders and a few surface scratches on his face; his sword remained ever dangling at his side. He appeared rested, bathed, well fed, and looked very relaxed. His eyes fell upon the princess causing him to smile broadly at the lovely vision before him.

“My Princess,” he beamed. “What a sight for sore eyes. Pretty Indeed you are. Let no other man dare say otherwise or he’ll have me to answer to.”

He strode up to her then taking her outstretched hand, kissed it gently while bowing his head slightly. The princess, obviously more than happy to see him again, looked upon him with huge affection while giving him her most warmest smile.

“Captain,” she said, containing her inner excitement. “My most loyal servant. It gladdens my heart to see that you are safe and well. A second father you have been to me all these long years, looking out for me, keeping me from harm with never so much as a looked for thank you from me. But what you have done for me these past few days honours the oath you once swore to my father a thousand fold. I am unable to find the words that would adequately express my gratitude for all you have done. Your honour, your unwavering loyalty, your deeds, your inner strength and resolve, your bravery, are totally beyond reproach. I am, and will remain, forever in your debt Captain d’Gravernaugh.”

The princess knelt before him paying him the ultimate tribute that any king or queen could ever publically show to a subject, and deservedly so.

The captain laughed out loud as he took her hand and helped her to stand again.

“My Princess, such noble words for someone so young,” he said, still laughing. “I am honoured indeed, but I ask for no reward, nor do I seek any gratification for my endeavours. It is enough that I be so privileged to serve the house that I do, like my father and his father before him.”

He gave her a knowing wink as he always did since she was a little girl after such an exchange of words.

“Well, that may well be My Captain, but please accept my deepest, sincerest thanks regardless of how you feel.”

She winked back at him being careful not to let the servants see her do it, she then looked directly at both of them while they busied themselves at the table.

“Please leave us for a little while, there is a matter I wish to discuss with my captain in private.”

The servants stopped what they were doing and silently left the counsel chamber. The guards at the door were also bidden to leave.

The princess watched as the guards left and closed the two big doors behind them, she then swung round to face d’Gravernaugh.

“Jules,” she now addressed him as she always did when out of earshot from others. “I got your message when I woke that this counsel meeting was to take place tonight, but what am I supposed to do or say during such a meeting,” She asked, searching his face questioningly.

d’Gravernaugh lead her to the table and sat her down in her chair while occupying the one next to hers. He took hold of one of her hands and gently smiled. She waited, looking expectantly at him.

“Pretty, nothing is required from you here tonight. Everyone knows and understands your predicament, we are holding this counsel in order to decide or to ascertain the best way forward for you, and for our kingdom. We also need to decide on how to retake the royal castle, the demonic enemy will have to be driven out one way or another, it is intolerable to think that they remain there. I requested your presence to serve as a reminder that we as yet, are not defeated and are still answerable to the sovereign.”

The princess still looked doubtful.

“But Jules, what do I say to them?” I have no knowledge for strategies in battle, and furthermore, I certainly have no clue as to what the best way forward should be.”

d’Gravernaugh chuckled at her lost little girl look. She smiled pathetically back while blushing, trying not to look too silly.

“Pretty, you need only to begin proceedings. After that, look to me for help and guidance, if I suggest to you that an action or plan which has been mooted is deemed appropriate and sound, then so endorse it, you trust my counsel do you not?”

She looked startlingly at him as if what he had just asked wasn’t even a question, she then raised her eyebrows in a frown.

“jules, you know I do,” she responded, loudly and looking hurt. “What a thing to ask! All I am trying to get clear in my he…..???”

He cut through her.

“Calm down Pretty, calm down.” He said assuringly, while patting her hand. “Just follow my lead and all will be well, ok?”

The princess reverted back to her normal self again, looking slightly embarrassed by her emotional outburst.

“yes, yes of course Jules. Please accept my apologies.”

“My Queen of hearts, no apology is necessary I can assure you,” he affirmed. “You have been through much these past few days, more than by any conceivable right you deserve to go through. Once this meeting has been dealt with and all decisions made, you will be left in peace to mourn for your dead father, and properly come to terms within yourself all the tragedies that has blighted and befallen our fine kingdom.”

A knock at the door was then heard. d’Gravernaugh looked to the princess who nodded her consent.

“Come! Enter!” Boomed the captain.

The doors were once again swung open and an orderly influx of people entered the counsel chamber. All faces were grim as they silently filed in and took their places just behind the chairs they would be occupying. All acknowledged the princess, the next sovereign, the rightful queen of southern Gillion. The princess stood up tall and proud, d’Gravernaugh followed suit and waited in silence; all eyes were on their future queen.

“Gentlemen,” she said, in a strong, unwavering voice. “We have gathered here on this night to decide the fate of our beloved kingdom and country. Let the proceedings begin.”

On saying this the princess then sat down closely followed by all in attendance. Once everyone was settled, d’Gravernaugh stood up to address the counsel.

My Lady! Lords and Gentlemen. What is to become of our fair kingdom?” he asked, looking around at all the faces. “Is there anyone here who possesses the courage to take back what is already ours? This is no time for faint hearts. I ask you again, does anyone here possess the courage to speak? Only a coward would remain silent.”

He suddenly sat back down amid the loud murmurings coming from all gathered. He looked at the princess and leant over to her and whispered in her ear.

“That should shake them up enough!”

The princess smiled in amusement at his bold audacity. This was going to be a long night for sure.

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