Her Highness

Once, the Five Kingdoms of Albion had been at peace, but that peace had started to shatter when the Court of Camelot was broken by the treachery and evil of one Knight, Mordred, and his greed for power.
Now, it’s been almost ten years since Mordred slew Arthur Pendragon at Camlann, ten years since Ygraine and Duran fled Camelot in search of safety. It’s been six years since Mordred found and captured them.
But Ygraine Pendragon is bordering on twenty years old, and she is through with the whole of Albion thinking her and her brother are dead. She is the daughter of the great King Arthur, and she is done with allowing her cousin to sit on the Throne of Camelot, the throne which he usurped.
When bonds are broken, betrayal occurs, hard decisions are made, and lives are lost, who will lose and who will conquer? How will the Princess, a lost heir to Camelot, fair when this become more than just an effort to rid the Kingdoms of Mordred, and instead become a war between light and dark?

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24. 21

 

 

 

 

21

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“My rooms?”

    Lochru nodded. “Your rooms: a main bedchamber, bathing chamber, and dressing room.” 

    I grabbed one of the door handles, which was shaped into a ring, and pushed the door. It opened smoothly and silently, the floor transitioning from dark stone to limestone, which contrasted nicely with the dark stone that made up three out of four walls of the main room—the forth wall, the one on my right, was covered by a dark wainscoting. Along the walls were lit sconces, and hanging from the centre of the ceiling was a huge, candlelit chandelier.

    I moved into and around the room, completely speechless at the decor of the room. After almost six years of living in a dungeon cell, this room was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. A quarter of the way into the room was a line of columns made from the same limestone as the floor, and near the bottom of the room there was a long dining table, dark oak, on a angle between two columns. The dining table was surrounded by four chairs, and the far end was a few feet away from the edge of the huge lit fireplace that looked as if it had been carved out of the wall it was against, though it had smoother edges and refined corners. Along the far wall were two wide windows, one on each side of a pair of glass doors that I could just see a balcony through—for it had turned dark outside—and were partially covered by thick, red drapes. In front of the glass doors was a writing table with an x-frame chair behind it. On the far side of the wall with the fireplace was a door-shaped opening, which I knew would lead to, most probably, my bathing chamber.

    “By the Triple Goddess, look at that bed!” I squealed. The bed in question was positioned on a raised platform along the wainscoted wall, and was a half-tester large enough to fit four people in comfortably. Its canopy was of the same material as the drapes, and the bedding was a rich red with a gold brocade, half covered by a thick fur throw. I shuffled up onto the platform and fell onto the bed, curling myself around the throw. “It’s so soft!”

    Lochru laughed and came to sit beside me. “I was surprised that you didn’t run straight for the bookcases,” he murmured and gestured to the long shelving unit by the door. It was full with leather-bound books.

    I sat up on my elbows and glanced over the foot of the bed. There was a trunk there, large and wooden, and on the lid lay my sword and dagger—a servant had taken them when they’d taken my satchel, which I couldn’t see but could guess that it was in the dressing room. “Is this going to be my weapon’s trunk?”

    “I’m guessing so. I expect it will be full soon enough.”

    I smiled at the prospect of owning more than two weapons. The more weapons I owned, the safer and stronger I felt. “Do you have any weapons, Lochru?” I asked, looking back towards my best friend.

    “Only a blade for self-defence,” he answered. “You know I’m not a fighting man.”

    “You’re a devout young man to the Faith. I’m surprised you’re not a priest.”

    He shook his head. “Priests cannot marry, and I have no interest in not getting married.”

    “Oh?” I sat back up and crossed my arms on his shoulder. “Is there any woman?”

    “Not yet.”

    “Well, I’m sure there will be soon enough,” I smiled and leant up to kiss his cheek. “You’re a handsome young man. Any young woman would be lucky to have you!”

    “And what about you?” he said quietly. “You seem awfully close to Cyrus.”

    I straightened back up, my eyebrows in my hairline, before letting out a peel of laughter. “Cyrus? We’ve known each other a few weeks. We’re just friends.” That was easy to say, but I couldn’t ignore how I felt around him. Well, I could, and I would. Because I had to. “I can’t—I can’t think about courting or anything like that right now, I have too much going on right now. I’m in Lothian; I have a battle to train for and a bastard cousin to take the head of. And trust me, I will kill Mordred, the others can injury him but I will deliver the death blow.”

    “I don’t doubt it.” Lochru stood up and walked over to the bookcase, pulling a couple out and flicking through them, only to replace them back on the shelf. I took to just watching him, watching as he ran a hand through his hair and dishevelled it. “You’re staring, Ygraine,” he said and glanced over his shoulder.

    “I thought you dead for almost six years, I will stare at you all I want because you are alive.”

    “I’m not going to disappear on you, fireball.”

    I smiled, albeit a little sadly. “I know, I know. It’s just . . .” I glanced down at my hands, gathered in my lap, and took to wringing them. “It’s just . . . you might well be the only brother I have left, my brother by choice. I’m so pleased that you are alive, don’t think that I am not, but . . . I can’t help but think that Duran is dead . . . so I have you, but I don’t have him. And please don’t think I’m not grateful that I have you, because I completely am, but I—I . . .”

    “It’s alright, I understand,” he whispered. I looked up to see that he was now kneeling in front of me. “We may be close, like siblings, but you and Duran have been inseparable for as long as I’ve known the both of you. So, though I may not understand what it’s like to not have him with you, I understand that you’re in pain. Your pain and sadness is evident in your eyes: such sad green eyes.”

    I bit my lip to stop myself from crying. I knew I could let myself cry, Lochru had seen me cry numerous times before, but I wouldn’t. I had to be strong; I had to not let my vulnerability show. Not an immense amount of it, anyway, or else my armour would be shattered. I couldn’t let my armour shatter, not when I’m spent years making sure it wouldn’t. “I hate this not knowing whether Duran is alive or not. I keep worrying that he is dead.”

    Lochru took my hands in his, twining our fingers together. “We cannot assume and accept death with properly knowing, or else we are doomed.”

    “But that’s just the problem,” I cried out weakly, “I don’t know!”

    “Would you rather know that he was alive, or dead?”

    I thought about that, and the words tumbled from my mouth before I could stop them. “I would rather know that he is dead, than alive and being tortured. I’d rather he be dead than have become a play-thing for Mordred. It would be better that way, kinder. Peace is better than pain, always. And yet I hope that he is alive, that he did escape and is simply not here because he has to lie low. I also know that I just want him here!”

    Lochru was about to say something, but was interrupted by a knock at my doors. I hastily wiped under my eyes before calling for whoever it was to come in. After a few seconds one of the doors opened, and Aoifa strolled in, only to stop short when she saw me.

    “Ygraine, are you alright?” she asked tentatively and came over to sit next to me. Lochru leaned back to sit on his knees.

    I pushed all thoughts out of my head. “Yes, I’m quite alright. I just had an emotional moment, but Lochru helped calmed me down,” I said, my voice slightly wobbly. I cleared my throat. “How did you know I’d be here?”

    “I reckoned it wouldn’t take too long, after I’d left with the boys, for you to find your way to your rooms. Do you like it?” She glanced around the room, a smile in her eyes. I had to smile; Aoifa was like a light that could illuminate even the darkest moments. In my years of knowing her, I’d come to learn that she was a rarity upon this earth, kind and unconditionally caring, but also fierce and protective to the point that it was almost scary—if she loved you, there wasn’t anything she wouldn’t do to keep you safe, which involved threatening those who caused you hurt, no matter who the person was, and with her position she was the queen of threats. I admired her greatly.

    “I love it. Especially this bed.” I flopped back down for dramatic effect, burying my face in the softness of the many pillows.

    Aoifa laughed. “Wait until you see your bath. Granted, it’s not as large and deep as mine, but it is marvellous. Fit for a Princess. Would you like a bath, Ygraine?”

    I perked up and felt some of the tension roll off me. “I would love one.”

    “Good, you need one,” Lochru barked. I mock-scowled and pushed him hard in the shoulder. He merely laughed and stood up. “I’ll see you later, fireball, or tomorrow. I’m sure you’ll just fall asleep after bathing and having something to eat.”

    “I’m trying not to fall asleep now.”

    He laughed again and leaned down to press a kiss to the crown of my head. “Relax and get some rest. You need, and deserve, it.”

    I nodded. “As you command, sir.”

    He rolled his eyes before turning around and leaving the room.

    I looked at Aoifa after a moment. “So, bath?”

    She smiled brightly. “Bath.”

 

X

 

The bath, as it turned out, was this gigantic circle in the centre of my bathing chamber—which was through the opening—on a raised platform, and it was that deep it not only had steps up to it but also ones descending into it. Aoifa had also used the bath as an excuse to introduce me to my three ladies maids. Two of them were young, perhaps younger than me, whilst the other was an older, plump woman with grey-streaked hair and an infectious smile and laugh. Her name was Silva, named after the Goddess of the Woodland for it had been where she’d been born, and I knew that we would get along well. The other two were sisters, called Brianna and Bridget.

    I’d had to explain my leg injury when I’d undressed, which had led to Silva, once my hair had been thoroughly washed, pouring a little of some purple liquid from an assortment of vials on a shelf into the water, saying it both relaxed muscles and healed injuries. Just as had been predicted, the cut healed with a scar.  Another one to bear.

    I’d stayed soaking in the heat of the bath for a very long time, and would have stayed in for longer, but I’d been ushered out so I’d be dry and clothed before food arrived.

    I was draping a robe over myself, my body clothed in a nightdress of dark red silk that fell to the floor, when Aoifa re-entered the room from my bedchamber.

    “You have a guest,” was all she said before goading me out of the room.

    Leant against one of the longer sides of the table was a figure wearing only a black tunic and trousers, his head turned downwards until I entered the room, for he then looked up at me. The saddest expression I had ever seen was on his face, and my heart gave an uncomfortable twitch and ache at it. I wanted to wipe the look straight off of his face, straight off of Cyrus’s face and never have to see it ever again.

    I turned to Aoifa, asked her if the food for Cyrus would be brought to my room instead, murmured a thankful and watched them all leave the room, before turning my attention back to Cyrus. He was now sitting just on the edge of the table, no longer meeting my eyes.

    Neither of us spoke a word, there was no need to speak, to ask how he was, for the unspoken communication of the way his posture said it all. I crossed the floor, not feeling the coolness of the limestone for I had slippers on, and moved to stand in front of him.

    Silently, I brought up my hands to cup his face, gently making him look up at me before I kissed his brow. My hands moved from his face then, with one going to his hair and the other to his back, and I pulled him forward until his forehead rested against my chest. I felt his eyelashes flutter against my skin as he closed his eyes.

    We stayed like that for what could have been minutes or what could have been hours, until I looked up and saw a tall bottle just behind him. I pulled away and leant to grab it, raising it to my lips to take a sip even though I was fairly sure of what it was. When the bitter sweetness touched my tongue, my suspicions were correct. I sloshed the wine, around the bottle, making an estimation that there was only two fifths left.  

    “Where did you get this?” I asked. “You know what, I don’t care. What I care about is that almost all of this is gone. Did you drink it?”

    Slowly, he nodded.

    I sighed and put the bottle down, before cupping his face once more and stroking his cheeks with my thumbs. “Cyrus, drinking that—it isn’t the answer. I realise that you’re confused and hurting, but drowning your troubles in a bottle of wine will never be the answer. Trust me, I know, I’m all too familiar with the effect of wine on the minds of men.”

    His hands reached to wind themselves around mine and brought them down. “It doesn’t matter anyway. I can’t get drunk.”

    “What?”

    “Magik folk seem to have an extremely high tolerance to alcohol, Warlocks especially. So, I can’t get drunk.”

    “Oh.” I drew back slightly, just enough to give us some distance but for our hands to still be together. I was about to say something else when there was a knock at my doors once again, and I knew straight away who it would be and what they would be carrying. “Have you eaten anything at all yet?” I asked as I dropped our hands and made for the doors.

    “Not yet.”                         

    I nodded and opened the doors. On the other side were two people, each carrying a large tray full of platters of foods and flagons of drink. I smiled and stepped aside, allowing them to enter the room. It took them only a couple of minutes to set out the food, which varied from bowls of fruit to roast pheasant and pies and fish from the lake. They poured us each a glass goblet of wine, as well as water, bowed and left the room.

    Silently I moved to sit at the end of the table, in a chair with a high and cushioned back, whilst Cyrus took a seat on the x-framed chair to my right.  

    “Your fire is getting low,” he said quietly, not touching the food—unlike me, who was all but shovelling it onto my wooden plate, pretending that the cutlery didn’t exist as I striped pieces of pheasant off the bone with my fingers.

    “I’ll put more kindling in it after we’ve eaten,” I said after I’d swallowed. As hungry as I was, I still countered manners high enough to respect them.

    Cyrus shook his head faintly and brought his hand up, swaying it side to side with his eyes focused on the dying embers of the fire. His eyes flashed a golden-orange for a moment, and the fire shot up the grate before levelling out.

    “Or you could just do that,” I said. “Thanks.”

    “No problem.”

    My right hand wound around the stem of my goblet as I watched him lower both his hand and his head, staring at his still empty plate. “You should eat, Cyrus,” I murmured.

    “I find I’m not particularly hungry.”

    I bit the inside of my cheek. “At least eat some pheasant. Please, Cyrus, just eat something. Even if it’s just a grape.”

    At that he leant forward and pulled a grape off the bunch, twirling it around his fingers before dropping it onto his plate. I closed my eyes and sighed.

    “I’m not going to force you to eat, but it would be better if you did.”

    He glanced at me and my breath was stolen away from me. His eyebrows and lips, and there was a glistening in his eyes. My heart gave another uncomfortable lurch. I took my hand off my goblet and reached forward, curling my fingers over his left hand and squeezing.

    “Tell me what is on your mind,” I whispered.

    “It’s all a mess,” he murmured after a while. “I . . . I don’t know what’s true and what isn’t anymore.”

    “Is this . . . is this about your father?” Honestly, I was still wrapping my head around Merlin being his father.

    Cyrus nodded. “Who just happens to be the most powerful Warlock in all of Albion, if not the world, and one who’s been lying to me all my life.”

   Oh, Cyrus.

    I pulled myself out of my seat and moved to crouch down by his side, taking his hand in mine. “Do you want to talk about it?”

    “No.”

    I nodded. “Then we won’t talk about . . . that.” I looked again at the food on the table, thinking to myself that what was left could go to feed the poorer in the slums, because even cold food was better than none in these winter months. “Can you please eat something, Cyrus, even if it’s just a bite of the pie or a few strips of pheasant? Not for my benefit, but for your own. I understand that you’re hurt and angry, but you have to eat.”

    When he reached forward to pick up some of the pheasant and pulled it apart with his fingers like I had done, and ate it, I sighed with relief and gathered myself back onto my feet, placing a chaste kiss on the crown of his head before returning to my seat.

    “Have you had a chance to wash?” I asked minutes later as I cleaned my fingers, watching Cyrus as he took a long sip of water. He’d managed to eat another pheasant breast and half a pie.

    “No,” he murmured when he set his glass down. “Lochru found Robert and I walking through the castle, and brought me here.”

    I ran a hand through my hair, which was still a little damp. “Come on, I’ll run a cloth over you to rid you of any dirt, and clean the traces of your injuries away. Only to your waist, minds though, and then tomorrow you can have a long, hot bath.”

    “You don’t have to,” he said in-between a yawn.

    I stood and took his hand, pulling him his feet. “I want to. I know you’re tired, and you look as if you’re about to suddenly fall asleep, but it’ll only take a few minutes. It’ll be nice to be at least half clean after all these days.”

    After a few seconds he nodded and walked with me into my bathing chamber, his hand in one of mine and the flagon of water in my other, since no water had been left by my maids.

    I found a deep washing bowl and poured half the water into it, leaving the rest in case I found myself in need of a drink in the middle of the night. The water was cool, warmed slightly from when it had been near the fire, but not warm enough to be suitable for wiping skin.

    “Can you heat that? Just so it’s temperate. I would but, evidently, no magik,” I said as I searched for a cloth. After a moment I found one amongst a stack of towels. When I tested the water again it was just the right temperature so, after giving Cyrus a small smile of thanks, I dropped the cloth into it and scrunched it up. “Can you take your tunic off, or do you want me to do it?”

    Cyrus’s eyes went wide for a second. “I-I’ll do it,” he mumbled and shrugged the material off over his shoulders, dropping it to the floor as he leant against the side of the tub.

    I tried not to blush at him being shirtless in front of me, and I certainly did my best to conceal the catch in my breath. His torso was as tanned as the rest of him I had seen, which wasn’t much, and his chest was lightly muscled, his stomach slightly toned, and his collarbones well defined. After a moment of distraction, I realised that there was a scar across his chest.

    “How did you get this?” I asked, absently running my fingertips along the pale and slightly jagged surface of it. I felt him shiver, and had a feeling it wasn’t from any cold because he hadn’t done so when he’d took his tunic off.

    “Remember when I told you how some people were prejudiced to magik folk as a whole, due to the actions of Mordred?”

    “Yes,” I answered.

    “Well, this scar is the handiwork of one of the people. When I was fifteen, some villager blamed me for the death of his wife and sliced a dagger across my chest. It cut deep, deep enough to leave this scar, but luckily not so deep that I couldn’t heal myself.”

    “I’m sorry,” I whispered.

    He shrugged, albeit lethargically. “It was a few years ago.”

    “What happened to the man?”

    “He wasn’t punished or anything.”

    “He should have been,” I said as I wrung out the cloth and wiped it over his neck and chest. “He attacked you; he should have been punished for his crime.”

    “Not all people are like you, Ygraine. Not all have grown up surrounded by magik in their day to day lives.”

    “Still,” I started, running the cloth down his arms, “no one should just randomly attack someone else with a dagger.”

    He gave me a tired look that just spoke of ‘really?’

    “Unprovoked! For the love of the Faith, do not give me that look!”

    He smiled a small smile. “And what look would that be?”

    “That look you had on your face! You know, that ‘really? You’re really saying that look’ look!”

    “I’m pretty sure that was my normal expression.”

    I rolled my eyes but said nothing more on the matter, choosing to instead focus my efforts on carefully dabbing away the rings of crusted, dry blood on both of his wrists. Unfortunately, I couldn’t wipe away the gruesome, pale line that had formed around both wrists. “You’re healed, but the shackles scarred you nevertheless.”

    “They were fashioned from iron,” Cyrus said and attempted to pull his arms away, but I only held onto his wrists tighter. “It was to be expected.”

    “I’m so sorry. You have these because of me, because of what I did. I should never have provoked that awful man, I should have just done what you said and ignored him. I’m sorry.”

    This time he did manage to pull his arms away, for my grip had gone slack, and cupped my face. “It isn’t your fault. If anyone is to blame, it’s me—I’m the one with magik, I should have used it so that those shackles would never have been put on me. No one is to blame for these new scars other than me, so please don’t feel guilty because you have no reason to do so.”

    I wanted to argue, to tell him that he did have reasons to blame me, since I blamed myself . . . but, then again, I’d been told various times by Lochru and Duran years ago that I had a tendency to take on extra guilt than was needed. That didn’t mean that I didn’t feel guilty, because I did . . . it was just that, right now, I found I didn’t have the energy to do so, so instead I merely leant forward until my forehead rested against his chest.

    “Don’t you fall asleep on me.”

    I let of a chuckle and opened my eyes, pulling back just enough so I could meet his eyes. “You’ll fall asleep before me, and don’t you dare deny that.”

    “I may be capable of falling asleep almost anywhere, but I have yet to master the fine art of sleeping standing up.”

    I mock gasped and put a hand the on my chest. “The great Warlock cannot do something? It cannot be true!”

    “Ha-ha, very funny!” He was quiet for a moment before saying, “How is your leg?”

    “I took a bath with healing liquid in it, so it’s healed. We’re both scarred from the events of today, though.”

    “Oh.”

    I leaned down to swipe his tunic off of the floor, holding it out for him, wanting to speak no more about this today. “Put this back on, you can sleep in my bed tonight.”

    “What?” he said, brow going up into his hairline.

    “Your chamber is straight across from your father, and given the circumstances I highly doubt you want to see him, so you can sleep here tonight. And I have a feeling that if you did go off to your room, you’d probably fall asleep halfway there, whilst my bed is about seven metres away, and I’m sure you, as tired as you are, can make it that far.”

    “Where will you sleep?” he asked after pulling his tunic back on.

    “Have you seen that bed?—it could probably fit four people in it comfortably. Obviously I’m going to sleep in there.”

    He didn’t say anything for a few moments, and then gave a short nod. I smiled and took his hand and pulled him back into my main room, only to stop when I remembered something.

    “My maids didn’t warm my bed using a warming pan, so it’s going to be cold,” I said. “They probably didn’t think I’d be going to sleep so early.”

    “You have maids?”

    “Lady’s maids. I have three, but that’s beside the point. That bed is going to be cold under the covers.”

    He shrugged. “Her Highness is forgetting that this poor Warlock lived in a hut for all his life, he has never had a warming pan at hand.”

    “Why are you speaking in the third person?” I said and let go of his hand, walking up onto the right side of the platform and pushing back the covers, testing the mattress. “Actually, it isn’t that cold. Probably because of the fire.” I sank down into it, letting out a long sigh of content. “This is more comfortable than it was earlier, how is that possible?”

    He left and came up to sit on the other end of the bed. “You are right, which means I’ll probably be out before my head hits the pillows . . . so do you want all lights putting out, or do you want the fire to still burn?”

    “You don’t have to extinguish anything,” I mumbled, already half-asleep.

    “Might as well. So, all lights out?”

    I nodded and watched all the lights, with one sweep of his hand, flicker out. The room immediately became submerged in darkness, save for the faint streaks of moonlight that were cast through the windows and glass doors.

    I felt the bed shift as Cyrus settled himself down. After a few minutes of silence I turned on my side to face him, only being able to make out his silhouette. He was breathing evenly, obviously already asleep, so I took to watching his chest rise and fall until sleep slid shut my heavy eyelids.

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