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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9. 7

 

 

 

7

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I woke up hardly remembering ever going to sleep.

    After my heart had stopped racing, and I’d washed the dirt away from my flesh using a bar of soap that, dried myself off and dressed myself in a nightgown I had found in my satchel (Ser Tomas had really, generously, thought of everything), and Cyrus had come back into the hut we’d talked until I apparently fell back to sleep, since I woke up under the wolf’s pelt and covers of my bed.

    With a yawn I stretched and sat up, rubbing at my eyes as I did so, and realised with a start that I was alone.

    I shot out of bed and threw the door open, only to be blinded by the bright winter sun blaring lowly through the bare branches of the trees. I threw my head over my eyes to block out the sun until my eyes adjusted, and then scanned the landscape; everything around me was covered in a heavy coating of frost and the pond by the side of the hut was frozen over.

    Despite the glaring sun it was beyond freezing outside, but before I could go back to retrieve the pelt the crunch of dry, frosted leaves snapped my attention. In haste I grabbed the first thing I could and held it out in front of me, a repeat of last night.

    “Who goes there?” I asked, holding my newly acquired weapon in front of me.

    There was a laugh before a voice answered my question. “First a spoon and now an unsharpened stick. You’re lousy at choosing actual weapons.. Plus, you’re facing the wrong way.”

    I released the breath I hadn’t realised I’d been holding and dropped the stick on to the ground, before turning around. Stood in a small clearing between two trees was Cyrus, carrying some wrapped items in his arms. I couldn’t tell what he was wearing, because he’s clothes were covered by a long black cloak trimmed with a fur collar. Even from a distance I could tell it was faux fur.

    “Where have you been?” I muttered when he reached me and, upon seeing that I had started freezing, ushered me back into the house. I threw the pelt back over my shoulders.

    “I went into the local town before dawn, to buy you a few things.”

    “With whose money?” I asked, looking over to my satchel.

    Cyrus placed the items on the table in the centre and turned to me. “Mine, of course. Work may be small, but when it comes the pay is plentiful.”

    “You work?”

    He shrugged out of his cloak and hung it over the chair. “More like I did. I used to be in steady work.”

    “What did you do?”

    “I was a healer—I still am a healer. Like my father my speciality in magik is to heal. It’s not the only thing my magik can do, but it’s what is at the very core of who I am—I’m a healer, I’ll always be a healer. I pride myself with my ability, but people like you—”

    “Like me?” I asked, sitting down opposite him on the other chair.

    “Those born without magik, those fully human.”

    “Oh.”

    He shook his head slightly before continuing with the main part of his impromptu speech. “Since Mordred assumed the Throne and used his magik to basically ruin the Kingdom, the people born without magik began to fear those with magik. They went as far as creating lynch mobs and burning possessors of magik at the stake just because one man corrupted the use. My father and I only stayed out of the line of fire because we’d dedicated our lives to helping and healing those in need—but we still experienced stigma, and even those who had known us for years became weary of us, so the townsfolk only ask for my assistance now when they have no other option.”

    I stared at him for what seemed like a long while. “I’m sorry,” I whispered, reaching forward to place my hand over his. When he didn’t flinch away, I curled my fingers around his wrist. “It’s tragic how so much prejudice and hurt can be caused by the actions of one man, and the power of the influence those actions have.”

    “Mordred isn’t the first man, and he certainly won’t be the last. There will always be people who feel the need to appoint themselves dictatorship.”

    “Sadly.”

    After that we were both silent, simply looking at each other in comfortable silence, until Cyrus cleared his throat and spoke once more. “This day soon went macabre.”

    “So it seems.”

    “Anyway . . . the reason I went into town was to buy you a few things.”

    I perked up at that. “You bought me something?”

    “That’s what I said, yes.”

    I smiled. “Why?”

    He shrugged and took the parchment that was covering the items away, revealing a pair of sturdy looking leather boots, a plain red cloak with a ferret fur collar, a simple underskirt which I guessed was to keep me warmer, and a pair of gloves.

    “Three of these I understand the need for, but I already have a cloak,” I said.

    “The cloak you came here with was that of the higher class. From what you told me whilst we were talking last night, you need to keep your identity a secret, and you’d look a little conspicuous parading around hamlets and small towns in a fine lady of the Court’s cloak, now, wouldn’t you?”

    I laughed. “I suppose so! I had not thought of that. Though . . . you must have received odd looks from the person you bought these from?”

    “Oh no, I often buy women’s clothes and footwear and parade around the town in them.”

    I raised my eyebrows. “Really?”

    He shook his head. “No,” he laughed. “I simply told the woman I bought them all from that I was looking after an injured woman, and bought her a few essentials for when she leaves my care and heads to where she needs to go.”

    “Thank you.”

    “Of course, however, I didn’t say that that woman happens to be Ygraine Pendragon and that she is on her way to Lothian.”

    “Did you say anything, though?”

    “I told the woman your name is Imogen and you’re heading off to work in a brothel in Caerleon because you’re a travelling prostitute.”

    I stared at him, wide-eyed and terrified. “You haven’t?!”

    “Not quite. I did say your name is Imogen, but I didn’t say you’re a travelling prostitute.”

    I nodded and rolled my eyes. “Of all the names you could have chosen, you chose Imogen! Sure, it’s a nice name . . . but Imogen!

    “It sounds like Ygraine.”

    “In what Kingdom? My name is Ygraine, with a Y—not Igraine, with an I! And there is no m or o in my name.”

    “I know that.”

    I shook my head. “You’re unbelievable.”

    “Thank you, my Lady.”

    I scowled at him before I stood back up and headed over to remove a plain lilac dress from my satchel. “If you don’t mind, I wish to get dressed,” I said.

    “The dividers over there,” Cyrus muttered.

    I glanced over at the divider and then straight back at him. “Well, can’t you go outside of something whilst I dress?”

    “It’s an opaque divider, I can’t see through it.”

    I stared at him and clutched the dress to my chest.

    He sighed and stood up. “I’ll go stand over here,” he murmured, moving to the herb table and turned around to face the window. “See? I cannot see you now. Go dress behind the divider, I won’t look.”

    “Promise?”

    “Promise.”

    I moved behind the divider and shrugged out of my nightgown, recovered my body with the lilac dress. I hadn’t realised, however, that there was a long row of buttons to fasten on the back, so once I’d managed to go up to the amount I could—to near the bottom of my shoulder blades—I stuck my head around the divider and called out Cyrus’s name.

    “Yes?”

    “I need you.”

    He glanced up at me with wide eyes. “Pardon?”

    “Can you—can you fasten up the last few buttons of this dress?” I asked, stepping away from the divider and turning around. I looked back at him as I gathered my hair and held it up. “Please?”

    “O-of course.” He coughed and came to stand behind me. His fingertips brushed the skin of my back as his fastened up my dress, and his accidental touch made me shiver.

    “Are you cold?” he asked.

    I shook my head. “Quite the opposite—I put that underskirt on.”

    He laughed and I heard him back up a few steps. “All done.”

    I turned back around to face him, a half-smile on my face. “Thank you.” I grabbed a fistful of my dresses skirts and twirled slightly. “How do I look?”

    “Like a peasant.”

    “Oh. Really?”

    He shook his head. “Not quite a peasant, but definitely not a Princess either. You look just like the regular townswomen.”

    I put my hand on my heart and gave out a little, fake gasp. “Why, that’s the greatest compliment anyone has ever given me!”

    He raised his eyebrows at me.

    “Well, maybe not the greatest compliment anyone has ever given me, but townswoman is the look I’m going for.” I searched around the room with my eyes then. “Cyrus?”

    “Hmm?”

    “Do you have parchment?”

    “Um . . . I think so.” He moved over to the kitchenette and started to rummage through the few cupboards, whilst I sat back down at the middle of the table and watched him. “A-ha!” he exclaimed, holding out a piece of slightly-crinkled parchment. “May I ask as to why you need it, milady?”

    “I need to write a letter to my dear cousin Gawain, King of Lothian, to tell him that I am well and will be heading on route to Lothian shortly.”

    Cyrus nodded and produced a quill and ink jar from the same place he’d found the parchment, and brought them over to me, setting them out in front of me. “I’ll leave you to write then,” he said. “I’ll be out gathering the last of the vegetables, shout for me if you need me.”

    I nodded and watched him go before setting about with my letter.

 

X

 

About ten, maybe twenty, minutes later, I had finished my letter and was reading through it for mistakes. It read:

 

Cousin Gawain, King of Lothian.

    I am well. I am alive. Mordred has not recaptured me, as he has probably done my brother, but instead I am staying with a young Warlock named Cyrus Edmunds until I am quite ready to make way for Lothian.

    I hope my brother is well, and I pray in my thoughts that he too escaped the hands of my murderous cousin, your treacherous brother, and is safe on his way to your great castle. But, on the awful chance that he isn’t, I will pray that he is alive and has not been acquainted with the noose or the axe. I don’t know how I’ll cope if that is the news. No, I pray for his life.

    I earnestly look forward to seeing you once more, dear cousin. May the Faith grant me safe passage to your Kingdom before the blizzards arrive. And may they also grant our victory against the tyrant False King.

Ygraine Pendragon

 

I folded the paper up once the ink had fully dried, knowing that Gawain would know it is from me because the way I write my signature cannot be faked by even the greatest of forgers, but for the life of me I couldn’t see a stick of wax to burn and make a seal with. I had my signet ring for the design, but no wax, and I couldn’t well go rummaging around a house which I hardly know.

    Instead I called for Cyrus. He came in covered in a mixture of frost and dirt, holding an assortment of vegetables in both of his hands. “Yes?”

    “Do you have any sealing wax?”

    He put down the vegetables on centre table and dusted himself off as best as he could before saying, “Oh, you don’t want to send a letter by herald, there’s no telling who could get a hand on it. Plus it would take a few days to reach its destination, and anything can happen.”

    “So, do you have any seal wax?” I repeat.

    “No.”

    “Don’t you send letters?”

    “Yes. Just not the type that need a seal, and not by herald. Besides, what would I be doing with a seal?—I’m only a humble working Warlock, not a Lord or a Duke.”

    “Then how do you send letters?”

    He smiled and moved over to the longest window. “I find the fastest way to send letters is by feather.” He leaned out of the window and whistled loudly.

    “What are you—?”

    “Wait a few seconds.”

    So I waited, and waited, and was about to turn around when a large black shape swooped in through the window and settled on Cyrus’s shoulder. It stretched its great wings and let out a loud caw from its hooked beak. Cyrus reached up the strokes the birds midnight feathers, whilst I stood stiff to the bone staring at the creature.

    “Well, don’t just stand there,” Cyrus said, extending his arm and holding out his hand for me. “He won’t bite you.”

    My eyes widened. “Why do you have a crow? Do you know what their omens are?”

    “Aye now, Aconitum is not a crow—he’s a raven.”

    “Same difference. Both birds carrying the same omen—death and bad fortune. And you’ve even named him after one of the most dangerous plants in the world!”

    “It’s a fitting name,” Cyrus said. “He can be quite dangerous to people he doesn’t like. But, it seems he likes you.”

    “How do you know?”

    Cyrus smiled wryly. “He hasn’t tried to claw your face off.”

    I rolled my eyes. “That’s . . . reassuring.”

    “And even if he didn’t, you can easily find a way into his heart merely by feeding him.”

    I let out a peal of laughter. “They do say the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach . . . I just never imagined it would account for ravens as well.”

    “The way to my heart is not through my stomach.”

    “Oh?”

    He shook his head. “Pass me your letter, milady.”

    “Why?”

    “So I can roll it up and attach it to his foot, of course.”

    “Oh,” I murmured, passing over to the letter into his hands. “How do you know your raven won’t be shot down by enemy arrows?”

    “Dozens upon dozens of ravens cross Albion’s skies every day, journeying from one corner to the next and across the Long Sea to the Island of Five,” he said as he rolled the parchment up and gathered a tiny piece of string from his jerkin pocket. “Besides, I have no enemies, milady.”

    That is quite true, but you be found with me and you’re bound to gain some.

    “But how do you safely know he will certainly not be shot down?” I asked whilst he tied the letter to his bird’s foot.

    “Aconitum here, well he has a . . . talent, shall we say?”

    “A talent?”

    “He’s extremely brilliant at . . . defying those and things that can kill him.”

    I raised my eyebrows. “And is it magik that allowed him this?”

    “How did you guess?”

    I shrugged and sat back down in my chair. “Defying death doesn’t come as a natural talent—not even to a Warlock’s familiar.”

    “Eh now, Aconitum is not a familiar.”

    “No?”

    Cyrus shook his head and moved to the window, murmured something softly and quietly to his bird, and then the raven spread its wings and took flight out of the window and into the skies. “He’s just a raven. One I’ve reared since he was a chick and he was left behind by his family because he wasn’t able to fly.”

    “But he—”

    “I gave him the power of flight. As well as speed and a home, and in turn he gave me loyalty. He’s not my familiar, but instead a friend.”

    I smiled. “Can he understand what you say to him?”

    He nodded. “I gave him intelligence. I cannot understand him, however—I don’t speak raven.”

    “You don’t speak raven,” I muttered, half to myself with a shake of my head.

    “Why, can you? Hmm?”

    I sat up straight and raised my chin in a haughty fashion. “As a matter of fact, dear Cyrus, I . . . I can’t. No.”

    “Didn’t think so.”

    I stuck my tongue out at him and suddenly blurted out the words, “I like you Cyrus,” before I could think about what I said.

    “That’s good to know.”

    “I meant—you make me laugh and smile, which is unusual.”

    His brow furrowed. “Why?” he asked, and sat back down across from me.

    “One,” I said, and held up a finger. “One, I’ve known you all of a day, you’re practically a stranger. Two” – I flicked up a second finger – “I don’t smile and laugh genuinely and easily, not anymore. And three—”

    “Everyone needs to smile. Everyone needs to laugh. They make even the darkest day, the darkest situation, the saddest moment, a little brighter and happier.”

    I shook my head. “I thought I’d forgotten how to smile, how to laugh. But here am I, and here you are—someone I hardly know—and you make me forget all my turmoil. The past is the past, but it doesn’t mean it doesn’t stop hurting.”

    Cyrus reached forward suddenly and cupped his hand around my cheek. My eyes darted up to stare at him, wide. After a moment he moved his hand away as quickly as if my skin had burnt him. “Sorry.”

    “No—no, it’s quite alright. You’re warm.” Wait, what?

    “Thanks, I think,” he said, and an awkward silence prevailed whilst I internally argued with myself for saying such a stupid thing. You’re warm. Dear me, I’m stupid. Well done, Ygraine. Truly magnificent.

    “So . . . you don’t smile often?” he asked, breaking the deafening silence. I hate the stuff.

    “Not often. I used to, a couple of years after my father died, but then my closest friend was murdered by Mordred’s men in front of my eyes, I was captured and imprisoned—I never smiled again, nor did I ever laugh again,” I murmured, blinking back the tears. Father. Lochru. I miss you. “Before that time, when I was free, and even further back when people used to flash me a pitiful smile that said ‘I’m sorry you’re father was murdered. I’m sorry your mother betrayed you. How sad you must be’—there were people who will say I smiled back, that I wore a smile despite everything. And yes, I did wear one. I did wear a smile. But it was simply a mask, and no better than a painted smile—one worn to hide the damage, and I wore it so that I didn’t appear weak: Pendragon’s are not weak. I wore it to show hope, to show that I was not defeated, to show that I could cope.

    “But I had lost my father, my mother had turned her coat more or less, I had been ripped from the my home and seen courtiers, Sir’s and ladies and dukes and the like—that I had known since I was small—and their children, that I used to play with, be killed as I escaped: I was anything but fine. It was all fake, my smile and my calmness—everything. I kept a smile so my friends, my remaining family, thought I was fine, but the smile was cracked and broken and only the closest of people would have seen its falsity.”

    “Ygraine,” Cyrus whispered, so quietly I hardly heard him speak my name for the first time.

    “I wasn’t happy. I haven’t been happy for a very long time. What does happiness feel like, Cyrus?—for it is a gift, and I have felt little of it.”

    He reached forward again, completely silent, and took a hold of both my hands in his two, moulding his over mine. “I will endeavour to make you happy.”

    “You hardly know me.”

    He shrugged and smirked. “Then there is more of a challenge, is there not?” The smirk fell and he raised our hands to press his lips to the backs of mine, whilst I watched on with wide eyes. “You were so young to have suffered such hardship. You still are.”

    “Life is hard,” I said and brought back my hands, tucking them together on my lap under the table, “but we bear is because we must and it is a wheel. From the ashes of misery rises glory, like a phoenix reborn. The wheel can land us at the bottom, but then it can raise us to the top once more.”

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