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Thread: XX Royal Lies [Alura and Koti~] IC M

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    Default XX Royal Lies [Alura and Koti~] IC M

    Rated M for adult themes, alcohol, drug use, and violence.

    OOC

    Early Morning

    8 years.

    I had been 8 years since he had witnessed his family killed, and Damanius had gone into hiding as Diana. The take over by Sinal had been ruthless and efficient, his strange new magic of fire and thunder having torn through the troops and even castle walls had been nearly unstoppable. The screams still echoed in his mind, the vision of flying bodies etched into his eyes anytime he closed his eyes. Damanius allowed a sigh to slip out as he sat in front of the mirror, allowing his maid, Grueta, to apply the fresh layer of makeup to his face, the image in front of him having grown into comfort for so long. Today was a day that would leave a mark in history, for the better or worse, as both panic and hope burned deep in his eyes. News of the announcement had already been spread through the kingdom, but today would be the official announcement.

    “Now, do ye remember ya part?” Grueta asked him, drawing his attention away from the less than pleasant thoughts. With a sigh, Damanius nodded his head, keeping the movement subtle and soft as the finishing touches were applied to his eyes and lips, washing away the traces of himself again. While Sinal had been the one to spread the news, it would be his words that sealed the message out to the kingdom. It wouldn’t be until noon that the announcement was made, but already he could feel his stomach twisting into knots. Already he knew, today was his chance to escape the castle proper. During major events, security had always been light on the outer edges, and today would be even more so with how world breaking this would be.

    “Grueta, promise me, no matter what, you’ll stay safe.” Damanius made the older woman promise him. The woman, startled by the seriousness in his eyes, gave him a minute nod. The two had become close as family, sharing a secret that would have killed them both. Damanius knew that she would be left behind tonight, but there was no way the both of them could escape together. The punishment she had endured from his own misgivings had left her hobbled and scarred. He held her hands tight to his, feeling the missing fingers with a heavy heart as he let silence comfort them both for a moment, before the guard called them to the courtyard. Giving her a tight hug that surprised the old maid, Diana moved from the chair, Damanius buried once more as she answered the guards' summons. It was time to put on a show again.

    Noon, City Square

    “People of Hymnascal, may I introduce your King, Sinal Balaser.” The herald called into the waiting crows that had gathered around the raised Dias, drawing quiet discontent from the crowd. The mad king took no time taking the stage, his heavy armor glinting in the sunlight as he moved to the center, his hand resting upon the sword at his side. He smiled down at them, cold and harsh as he allowed them to soak in his presence.

    “My loving people of Hymnascal, I come bearing great news for you all. Over the past few months, I have been hinting at news that would bring great peace to this broken land. Many have been spreading the rumors of a princess of the late king Aminan. I wish to confirm that these rumors are true, but that is not the announcement I have gathered you here to say. To mark this momentous day, I shall let the princess herself make the announcement. If you would please, Princess Diana.” Sinal spoke the last part to the carriage still waiting in the guarded envoy.

    Diana let out a held sigh, steeling her nerves as the driver opened the door, flooding the carriage with light, mixed with the crisp air of fall. Building herself up, she allowed herself to be guided out, one hand holding up her dress so she could step out, the other taking the offered assistance of the guard. She stood tall, her jaw set with a polite smile as she looked upon her people for the first time in ages. Her eyes locked with several of them as she moved forward, registering both shock, hope, joy, and dismay. Already she could feel the anguish and dismay at the announcement she would make, but didn’t dare breath a word as she moved onto the dias. She took her place besides the bastard and rested her hand gently upon his own, repressing a shudder at the intimate gesture.

    “My dear subjects, I am Princess Diana, daughter of the late king Aminan and his Royal Mistress. I beg your forgiveness as to my secrecy, but it was done with the utmost care to not bring shame upon the late king and current king.” She began, eyes roving the people, feeling bile rise to her throat as she lied about her heritage and father.

    “I come before you all today with an announcement. In three months from the day, on the eve of my 17th birthday, the king and I shall be united as a couple under the blessings of the church and our lord.” She began, already having to raise her voice as dissent and anguish washed over the crowd, several people letting their rage known with vicious words and gestures.

    “As the last living child of King Aminan, our union shall bring the lineage of Sinal and Aminan into one, bringing the..” The words barely left her mouth as the rock nicked her scalp, pain pulsing through her as the crowd grew even more violent, the words sickening them. Pandemonium broke out then as more people began to take up the response, stones and other projectiles joining the air targeting the two of them. Diana didn’t let this phase her as the kings men moved then, several ushering her back into the carriage while others began moving into the crowds, striking down those who had started the actions, scattering the crowd as the royal procession began. Diana dabbed carefully at the bleeding spot that now dotted her head, feeling that the announcement had gone well enough, trying to shut out the cries of panic and pain that swam around her as they moved.

    That evening, Engagement Party

    The smells of rich food and heavy music flooded the castle grounds, a huge party having been announced in celebration of her engagement to the King. Diana sat quietly in the chair, following decorum as she looked out upon the people, forming allies looking for riches, and new faces there for the hope of gaining favor of the king. She could still feel the pulsing pain in her forehead, a white cloth having been applied tactfully to the spot that she had been hit. Her fingers rested in her lap, coiled tight as she watched the people moving around her, false laughter broken by the consumption of food. The night air could be seen through the open castle walls, the firelight spilling out onto the grounds, competing with the half moon to light the night.


    “Your majesty, if you pardon my absence, but I feel I must lie down.” Diana finally began her move, looking to the rather sauced man sitting in the large chair next to her. He looked to her, lecherous eyes, roving her body through the liquor.

    “Are you still fearful of the people who attacked you earlier? Fear not my sweet rose, those men have been punished dutifully for attacking.”He spoke to her, resting a hand upon her shoulder, his thumb brushing against her collar bone. It took unimaginable willpower to resist socking the man hard in the throat.

    “It is not that, your majesty. The blow has still left me disorientated, and my vision has begun to swim with the sounds and sights around me. I beg your forgiveness, but I do not feel well.” She lied while letting out a soft groan, both at his tightening fingers and heated breath that had moved to close for comfort.

    “Ah, my apologies.”

    “You, servant child, escort my lady to her chambers to rest. Make sure no one disturbs her rest.” Sinal demanded of a nearby servant, snapping his fingers to get the girl to move. She responded quickly, taking Diana’s hand in offer and helped guide her through the well lit castle to her room. Diana was quick to dismiss the woman once they entered her room, requesting silence as the woman left her, closing the door tight and locking it, caution having born the need.

    From there, Damanius moved, steady feet striding to the dresser as he pulled the bundle of needs he had secured earlier, a satchel of gold and jewels from the kingdom's treasury, knowing they would not be missed. An oiled bow and new arrows sat in a leather tube hidden behind his dresser as he began slipping out of the tight fitting dress, feeling the chilled air strike his form. Tonight, with his presence now announced to the kingdom, was his chance to escape. Knowing that he couldn’t reveal his true self to the world, Damanius began pulling the riding dress quickly into place, a deep blue that would blend well enough into the darkness, hoping to rely on drunken guards and the passing clouds to allow him the cover to make it to the southern wall.

    “Ancestors, please watch over Grueta and me as I leave this accursed place. Most importantly, do not let harm befall her for my actions tonight.” Damanius allowed himself a small prayer as he moved to the castle window, looking to the long drop. Pulling the bundled sheets he had been sneaking from the castle laundry, he let the tied ends fall to the ground before securing it to the sill. While not the best climber, and even more so in a dress such as this, he made his descent to the ground, his plans now in full swing for his escape.

    Last edited by Koti~; 02-10-2021 at 04:11 AM.

    "Even Dreams, can be a nightmare"
    Spoiler: Click it, I dare ya! 




  2. #2
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    Noon, City Square
    A splinter of wood dangling between her lips, Horatia Hast leaned her elbows back against the low stone wall that cordoned off the large castle square from a notary and merchant buildings allowed to operate within the country's seat around a secondary courtyard. Of the small group with her, one of them let out a derisive hiss of air between his teeth and another snorted. The fourth remained silent, but he was no fonder of the Usurper King than the rest of their quartet. Rolling her head to crack her neck, the woman stood and watched with narrowed eyes as the royal procession moved away. She took particular note of the number of guards and other soldiers who moved with them. A considerable obstacle, to be sure, but most of them had grown somehow cruel and soft together under the new king's leadership. They sparred with each other and often their 'fights' were only with those non-combatants who put up little in the way of real resistance. She wondered with a little thrill how they would fare against their own band, against someone willing to really fight back...

    "Come on, Ratty. If you stare any harder you'll start more fires than the Witch King."

    Throwing a punch into the meat of the towering speaker's shoulder, Horatia squinted. "Call me 'Ray', Brand, or you'll be speaking through a bloody lip."

    Smirking down at the hazel-eyed woman's threat, he huffed a laugh as she shrugged deeper into her leather coat and smoothed her hair with her fingers. Her eyes shot to the others smothering their laughter with a heavy glare. "That goes for all of you."

    The man on the end seated up on the same stone wall chuckled out loud and Horatia furrowed her brow and moved to step around their mountainous companion who raised an arm between them as the woman's fingers closed around the seated man's collar.

    "Oh, come on, Riga's been needling me all day. A little rearranging can only improve that ugly face of his."

    Riga gasped and made to grapple her from the wall, but Brand intervened and pushed them apart despite the slaps and pinches they aimed at one another.

    From his casual stance near them, Alfson Beck let out a long-suffering sigh and nodded his head towards the dais. "King's about to speak."

    Straightening up smartly, they all resumed their sober watch from the wall at the backs of the crowd. One stoic merchant eyed them disapprovingly and had the nerve to make a shush sound at them. Horatia raised her brows and took a step forward in response, but the man turned around quickly and guided his wife further into the sea of people milling about the platform. Rolling his eyes, Alfson tapped her shoulder to indicate Horatia should fall back in line against the wall.

    "At this rate the guards will throw us out like drunkards before we've even heard what they have to say. Pull it together: this is too important to ruin."

    Sulking, Riga pulled his cap down low over his eyes and Horatia pulled at her queue in annoyance. Brand merely folded his massive arms and watched the Usurper rise to speak over the heads of the crowd.

    “My loving people of Hymnascal, I come bearing great news for you all. Over the past few months, I have been hinting at news that would bring great peace to this broken land. Many have been spreading the rumors of a princess of the late king Aminan. I wish to confirm that these rumors are true, but that is not the announcement I have gathered you here to say. To mark this momentous day, I shall let the princess herself make the announcement. If you would please, Princess Diana.”

    The splinter fell from Horatia's lips and the little band exchanged amazed looks. It was true then... the rumours were true after all. The princess was alive. Her eyes were riveted to the girl as she spoke, along with the rest of the assembly. When she spoke of marriage, the crowd began to shift and roll like a mob. The horsewoman's own hands balled into fists. Surely this was Sinal's doing. A sobering quiet had fallen across their lively group in the middle of the angry shouts and jeers surrounding them, but the princess continued.

    “As the last living child of King Aminan, our union shall bring the lineage of Sinal and Aminan into one, bringing the..”

    Lunging forward as a rock grazed the princess, Horatia's arms pinwheeled as Brand caught the back of her coat and hauled her backwards.

    "Not yet," Alfson hissed in her ear. "Get yourself under control, Ray. You do no one any good if you give away our intent before the right moment to strike. We'll get her." He patted her shoulder reassuringly, "We just need a little patience."

    "We've been patient, or else what's all this waiting for... A rock might well be the best of it before those tin knights ever decide to move. The time is now, Alfson!"

    Jabbing a finger into her sternum, Alfson pointed to the four corners of the square and to the overlooks swarming with guards. The king's men were already moving, breaking up the gathering and arresting or bludgeoning those holding sticks and stones. "It's suicide now. We move when it's time and not a moment before."

    Slapping his hand away with the back of her forearm, Horatia shrugged her coat out of Brand's grasp as well and raised her hands in surrender.

    "Fine." Scanning the chaos around them, she realised they were probably right. Even if they managed to get close in the distractions around them it was unlikely they could retrieve the princess from the mass of fighters now covering and surrounding the dais. "Alright."

    Riga threw an arm over her shoulder and began chatting about one of the wine merchants whose shop surrounded the courtyard they strolled across on retreat, but Horatia turned to look over her shoulder once more as the princess was ushered off the platform. She'd be damned if that manipulative despot ever sat the throne through the blood of the slain king. For their people, and for all those who had died to hold the blessed line in power. Alfson slapped her back as he passed her to walk beside Brand, trading an understanding look. She flushed slightly. At this age, she'd thought she'd mastered herself. She knew they had all come to the castle town for the same reasons, and that they were all dedicated. If Alfson said it wasn't time, then it was because he saw another opportunity on the horizon. She'd be patient. Blowing out the last of her frustration in a breath, she lifted her right arm around Riga companionably and darted her left hand to pinch him in the side. He yelped mid-sentence and laughed as he doubled over, "Damn it, Ratty!"

    "Sorry, Rigsley, but you left yourself open again."

    Their name calling devolved into good-natured scuffling as they followed the other two members of their band to meet with the old knights. They'd said there was something they needed done tonight that required not just their little quartet, but all of the members of the resistance who had joined them. Perhaps with the location of the princess confirmed, they would finally get to see all of their planning start to pay off. The horsewoman was more than ready to shed the long inactivity and set about some real work.



    That evening, Engagement Party
    If only she had known what that 'real work' would entail, perhaps she would have been more understanding with the wait. As it happened, Horatia would as soon have dived into the midst of the royal guards in the city square that afternoon than donned this particular disguise for the engagement ball. Not that it was entirely a disguise, really. Her father was still a favourite of the Duchess and did make appearances to support her when requested. As a result, he felt that his daughter could use more opportunities to mingle in polite society, which in turn gave the Resistance the perfect cover to insert her along with a few other minor families into the guest lists. Once in a great while he'd mutter about her finding a good, sensible match; but by and large they had plenty else to argue over and his disillusionment with marriage among other things in their kingdom made him ambivalent enough about the matter that he did not often find it worth discussing.

    Other Resistance members had been planted amongst the pages and other servants who waited upon the prattling nobility that paraded under the nose of Sinal Balaser and his minions. They kept surreptitiously wary eyes on the princess and the attendees around them for any signs of trouble. The servant who poured the king's wine, for example gripped the pitcher a little more roughly than necessary as the king laid a hand on the only clear hereditary heir to the Hymnascal throne. Alfson's lips pressed into a thin smile as he poured another blood-red cup at the Usurper's elbow and kept his gaze lowered with feigned respect.

    Having endured the endless teasing of her peers, Horatia by contrast had attired herself in the summer-yellow colours of the duchy her family was beholden to and even accepted - reluctantly - the golden jewelry her mother had worn on such occasions. A heavy ametrine stone cut beautifully nestled above the cut over her dress and the small coins stamped with her family's crest dangled from her ears and glinted from the matching pins in her dark hair. It was all heavy and unwieldy - she had even had to ride side-saddle to keep up appearances, which had somehow been the greatest offense of all.

    Her sun-darkened skin was a stark contrast to most of the finer ladies, but she stayed near behind the Duchess and quietly kept watch with the others. When the princess retired, she looked about for the others. Brand would be impersonating a guard near one of the gates and Riga was off somewhere joking and charming his way through the evening like a proper page. She should have come as a page. Her eyes caught Alfson's between the immense hairstyles of some of the most formidable noble ladies and he cocked his head to one of the doors to the room indicating she should follow the princess and her escort. Casting about for one of the others, they were annoyingly absent in the finery and opulence of the invitees.

    Drifting quietly from the Duchess's party as the older woman regaled a laughing collection of notables with tales of the rooster that had recently run loose through her estate manor, terrorising the inhabitants, Horatia stepped past the two stiffly-armoured men who guarded the corridor. It stretched off in both directions with some doors dotted by equally silent sentinels. It was impossible to say which were the mad king's men and which were theirs behind the shadowy visors.

    Taking a leaf from Riga's book, Horatia allowed herself to drift a little, finding drunkenness quite easy to fake while weighed down by what she assumed was ample fabric to dress an entire chamber. Leaning around the corner at the end of the hall, she noticed the light held aloft by the princess's servant grow faint around the next intersection of corridors. Noticing that the guards seemed almost to disappear this far into the residential quarters of the castle, she slipped around the corner and scooped her skirts into her arms to quicken the pace.

    She could see the dismissed maid leave what she assumed was the princess's chamber as soon as she came around the final turn - only to be delayed by running into the Earl of Swelter's middle son who seemed both inebriated and keen for a private conversation with any pretty thing in a dress he could corner. Batting him playfully back, she smiled at the thought of breaking his nose. What was he even doing here? Sniffing around the princess's rooms most likely. She brushed his familiar hand from her shoulder and side-stepped as he leaned in to admire her necklace. After what seemed like forever, when cracking him across the nose quickly started to filter to the top of Horatia's resolution strategies, a door opened and closed. She leaned past him to crane her neck to the left of the princess's door as a giggle trailed back to them.

    "Oh, my! Is that Lady Tinan without her corset?"

    This scandalous suggestion drew away his attention and she called, "Right behind you!" as he staggered away to inspect this phenomenon for himself. All things considered it wasn't the smoothest distraction, but she was not gifted with the charm Riga possessed. Knocking at the chamber door, she waited quietly. When there was silence, she knocked again. At the third rapping, when there was no response she feared that somehow something had gone wrong. Drawing a thin blade from her boot, Horatia threw the lock of the heavy door after a few frustrating minutes of fumbling and shouldered her way into the room.

    "Princess?"

    There was no response. In fact, the room was empty. Furrowing her brow, she wondered if she had somehow mistaken the door? How was that possible? She shivered in the cold air of the room a moment before she realised that it was a draft that chilled her. Shutting the door and barring it, she stepped further into the room. "Hello?"

    Still nothing. Moving to the window, she looked out into the night, stars drifting in the wind that whipped along the stone walls of the castle. The sound of a shoe scraping rock caused her to glance down. What she saw caused her to gasp. The princess was suspended from the sill by a string of knotted bedclothes. Face paling a little, Horatia felt the world tilt. What could have possessed a princess to do this sort of thing? It was far too dangerous. She didn't want to distract the royal climber who was nearly to the ground, but she had to do something. Even if she reached the ground, what then? Where was she going? There were guards at every gate - she'd never make it unless Brand saw her first. There was no time to find Riga or warn Alfson. A gentle knock sounded at the door and Horatia stepped onto the sill, resigning herself. Calling out would give them both away, and staying put would only get her caught.

    Hand over hand Horatia lowered herself, hissing a whisper now and again to the princess to "Wait!" while throwing worried looks above her at the empty room. She doubted the lock would fare any better against someone even moderately stronger or more adept at lock-picking than her basic skills.
    Last edited by Alura; 02-09-2021 at 10:37 PM. Reason: Typo Gremlins!

    Spoiler: Completely Unsolicited, Contextual Praise Definitely not Acquired via Torture 

  3. #3
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    Damanius would have been on the ground if not for the sounds of leather against stone, the last section of bedsheets rattling in her hands. His eyes darted upwards, panic filling his mind as he spied the woman now shuffling down the same rope he had just used. His mind filtered out the woman's words as he ran through every idea he could, his hands gripping the sheet tight. Who was this mysterious woman now following him. It was clear that she didn’t belong to Sinal, as the alarm would have been sounded. Was she here to try and kill him, a member from the crowd earlier that was pissed at the idea of Diana marrying Sinal? Maybe one of the nobles from the party that wanted to steal her for their own gain in power?

    A very small part of his mind thought it could be someone wanting to help him, going by the desperation she commanded that she wait. It was an idea that was quickly smothered under years of paranoia and panic. He forced his body to move, loosening the grip upon the rope and dropping the last few feet, allowing the shock to run through his body before pushing off the ground, not trusting his voice to send the woman scattering back up the rope. Already crossing the grounds by himself would be tricky, but he knew these grounds for nearly a decade. He had them mapped in his head, the path of the guards as worn into his mind as the path they actually tred.

    He needed to get to the southern wall, but with a trail, there was no hope of making it safely. He cursed himself silently that he had not thought of bringing his blade with, worried that the hefty metal would slow him as he spurred himself onwards, feeling as though he had yet to regain his footing from the fall. There was a good two bells before the shift in the guards, and the lighter skeleton crew would make escaping through his route feasible. The muckers door, narrow to allow one man abreast move from the southern stables into the area beyond. It was kept guarded by at least one man, as the door was kept unlocked to allow the workmen slip in and out without disturbing the king. He had learned of this place when he was but 6, and not even the Usurper king had bothered locking it. What royal in their sane mind would use such a door.

    Upon hitting the wall though, he knew his only chance of driving the woman away was to fight her off. The woman's dress would make it harder to maneuver about and avoid arrows aimed at her. Second, with his back against the inner wall of the courtyard, he knew the shadows would leave him mostly hidden from their view, while the woman would be completely exposed in the yards. With practiced ease, he pulled out the bow that rested inside its container, tensioning it and drawing an arrow with ease. Slipping two into his front grip and notching the third, he pulled it taught with a deep breath, steeling his nerves as he faced the woman, leveling the arrow at her chest.


    “Just leave me alone and return to the party. I’ve not let this chance come to not kill another.” Diana whispered loud enough for her words to carry, narrowing her eyes and tightening her fingers along the warm bow, holding her body firm and strong.

    In his mind though, he was panicking. A dead body would draw the guards like moths to the flame. The alarm would sound, the entire grounds would lock down, and his chance to escape would be foiled. Grueta and that lowly maid would be punished for trying to aide in the princesses escape. Even worse, a guard would probably be posted by her room, if not fitted with iron to lock her in completely. It would be three months of dread leading up to his eventual death when the truth was discovered upon the wedding night.

    Those fears were waylaid by one truth though, one that honestly stayed his hands. The act of killing another human was easy to do. He dreamt many a night of killing the sick bastard who had taken away his family for months on end. From a dagger across the throat, to even more brutal of having him drawn and quartered across the kingdom, head raised on a pike to parade around town for months.

    This though, was different, an innocent woman driven by another nobles goals, or her own delirium for power. Just another pawn upon the chess field, hapless in his eyes other than a sure foot and worried glances back to his former room. Could he truthfully rob another of life, much as he had lost so much. As much as he wanted to deny his own emotions, to let them burn away and kill this woman for following him, there was no amount of mental fortitude that could allow him to easily kill this woman.

    He guessed it was the one thing separating him from the Usurper king.

    “Just act as you’ve never seen me, and return to whatever noble that has pulled you into this game of power that you can’t fully grasp.” Diana ordered the woman again, shifting her feet to better offset her balance. She tried to clear her mind as much as she could, thinking this person in front of her was nothing more than a bullseye to be speared in the center, a target to practice. She would have to kill at some point, so why not on the night of her escape. Let the king himself know that she was not some hapless pawn, that he had underestimated her desires to see the man burn in hell eternal.


    "Even Dreams, can be a nightmare"
    Spoiler: Click it, I dare ya! 




  4. #4
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    If anything her warnings only spurred the princess to move more quickly. Her heart dropped into her stomach as the royal released her makeshift rope and dropped to the ground fully. It hadn't been far, but it was still enough to turn an ankle or break something if she was not careful. If anything happened to her...

    Mind buzzing as she made decent time toward the end of the rope, the idea of jumping the rest of the way crossed her thoughts. Horatia did not trust herself to make a clean landing wound up in finery as she was and kept her steady progress.

    When the princess recovered from her landing, she shot off across the grounds at a speed Horatia did not at all anticipate. Excellent, now she was afraid and on the run. Rolling her eyes, the cavalier wondered what sort of idiot assassin would come dressed as she had. Her sigh was deep as she finally managed to land on the lawn, gathering up her skirts and breaking into a run after the scurrying noble. She wanted to shout again, but did not for fear that someone beside the fleeing princess would hear her.

    For a moment they scurried together apace, one giving chase to the other across the night-darkened landscaping until they moved nearer the stable yards. To the casual observer, which seemed blessedly absent, it might have looked something like a noblewoman in a deep blue riding dress being pursued hotly by a strange, buttery-yellow emu muttering curses under its breath and screeching inelegantly every time it stumbled over the unknown paths in the dark.

    If she ever wore another gown or pair of thin, dainty boots in her lifetime, she hoped someone did the decent thing and set her on fire. Fortunately, despite the wild inconvenience of apparel and the speedy flight of her quarry, Horatia finally managed to draw in closer as the princess ran into a wall. It was exactly the sort of foolishness she might've expected from the fleeing bride-to-be, until she wheeled about - armed! - and demanded that she leave her and return to the celebration.

    "Your Majesty!" Horatia breathed in what could have been pride as much as shock. The turn was so unexpected that she went from angrily trying to untangle her skirts to a fit of snickering.

    "Really? Do you always take aim at those trying to help you? What sort of a fool girl runs off in the middle of the night when the castle guards are at least doubled. If you try to step one foot outside the wrong point, you'll be worse than fucked."

    She reconsidered her phrasing based off of the impending nuptials and made an effort to straighten her expression. "You'll be worse than married, Your Majesty. And where will you go, even if you make it outside the gates? You need friends on the outside." She recovered lamely, trying to take a step forward and side-stepping awkwardly as a pebble added a sharp nuisance to the skirts twisting around her. Perhaps she was not the best suited to lecturing another woman on her ill-advised choices, but there it was.

    Bowing forward a bit and shuffling towards the wall beside Princess Diana, Horatia leaned against it and hefted her skirts up to unwind them roughly. "How do you bloody run in these, anyway? Gods, you were like a damned arrow yourself. I'm cinched seven ways to hell here. It's like someone stitched bedsheets from creeping vines!"

    Again it dawned on her who she was addressing. Shaking out the last of the recalcitrant clothing, she spread her hands in apology.

    "Forgive me, Highness. This is not how I imagined this meeting. Normally Alfson handles these sorts of... You know, you'll understand better when you meet him. It will all be better once you meet the others." Kneeling and dropping her head, Horatia did her best imitation of Alfson. "Please allow me to escort you to safety. We can hide you until you are ready to return to claim your birthright. We have been waiting, hoping the rumours were true. More importantly, we can reunite you with the rest of your supporters."

    It was a lot of rebellion to be throwing into the cold air of the castle premises, but it beat an arrow to the heart. She already counted herself lucky that the princess did not seem overly jumpy about letting fly despite her recent flight and her back quite literally to the wall. Drawing the thin blade from her boot again, she laid it at the princess's feet in lieu of a sword. "You only need to accept our aid and you can be free, acknowledged for who you rightfully are, tonight."

    Spoiler: Completely Unsolicited, Contextual Praise Definitely not Acquired via Torture 

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    "Really? Do you always take aim at those trying to help you? What sort of a fool girl runs off in the middle of the night when the castle guards are at least doubled. If you try to step one foot outside the wrong point, you'll be worse than fucked."

    Damanius bit his lip, more than eager to rip into the woman who addressed him as such, taken by her harsh words. He didn’t start though, giving the woman a chance to respond, and keeping his distance a fair bit at the woman moved towards the wall, fidgeting with the skirts of her dress. A small part of his mind could understand how frustrating those were to get set in the right place.

    "You'll be worse than married, Your Majesty. And where will you go, even if you make it outside the gates? You need friends on the outside."

    Those words made him lessen the grip upon his bow, feeling the words cut deeper than he had thought they could. It was true, that even if he managed to escape properly, there would be the problem of finding allies that would help his cause instead of their own. Friends was a concept that he didn’t care for at all, knowing that the few people he had even dared call friends betrayed him for ill gains, and family was beyond precious as only one was left for him to protect. The bow went slack as he looked around the grounds, running in his head just how long he had left.

    Glancing at the moon, he knew it was not long before the patrol would be out, the shift changes taking place. Even if he ran, it would be risky to make the door, and that was if he could ditch this woman now. His mind worked frantically, ignoring the woman as he scanned the guards, watching for the subtle changes in the routes as the next round of soldiers and guards would come. He let the woman prattle on herself as he tried to judge the distance, knowing that his window grew smaller still as he wasted time on this woman.

    His eyes fixed back on her as her words took his attention, the mess of her dress fixed again.

    "Forgive me, Highness. This is not how I imagined this meeting. Normally Alfson handles these sorts of... You know, you'll understand better when you meet him. It will all be better once you meet the others. Please allow me to escort you to safety. We can hide you until you are ready to return to claim your birthright. We have been waiting, hoping the rumour's were true. More importantly, we can reunite you with the rest of your supporters. You only need to accept our aid and you can be free, acknowledged for who you rightfully are, tonight."

    The woman's words drew him up short, looking down upon the short blade she laid between them, an offering he had seen other knights and nobles present to both the bastard king, and his father before him. It left a sour taste in his mouth, and even more confusion with him. She spoke of supporters who wished to protect him until he could reclaim his birthright, and laying their hopes on rumors. The simple idea of another basing their entire hopeful future on simple rumors were alien to his logical thoughts. Even more was even the thought of having supporters. The knowledge of Diana were bare at the start, and even now they only knew of her by the announcement made where he had planned to marry Sinal. Even now his mind didn’t give up the ticking window growing ever shorter as he stood there, baffled and perplexed by this woman.

    The instinct to run, to stick with the layered plans that he had spent so long working on when Sinal had announced his plans to marry Diana.

    The barest ideas of where he would even go from there to recruit allies and soldiers enough to take down the bastard that sat in his fathers throne.

    The woman now offering the service of unknown supporters and safety that held just as much possibilities of a clear glass of water to him. All as his mind kept working the time it would take it get to the muckers doorway.

    “Guar, damn it you wench of a woman. Months spent pouring over all the movements and actions of guards, fucking wasted!” Diana swore quietly, dropping the bow to her side as she turned her back upon them, anger coloring her words as she let the anger bubble through her, knowing that the chance to escape was now gone.

    “Do you think me an invalide without a shred of damn sense, that I decided upon waking today that I would run away without a fucking care or thought?” She kept at it, letting the words drop as she worked the bow and arrows back into their tube, letting her shoulders slump some as she let the anger work through her a few minutes longer. A small numbness began building in the back of her throat as she strode the distance between them, picking up the blade and raising it to eye level, testing the weight of the blade. It was thin, a wisp of steel, much lighter than the steel she had handled before.

    “I will accept neither your aid, nor your apology yet. I have no reason yet to trust you or those who you work for, as you have shown only the need of your words in the moment. Escort me away from this gilded grave and I will grant you your apology so long you don’t betray me.” She spoke softer than, the harshness softened to a tempered voice, a calmness brought about by years of caution and betrayal. As long as the woman could still get her out of this place, she would follow her.

    “From there, I will see if your aid is what I desire.” She spoke softer then, a hesitant hopefulness in her tones, something she had not had dared for in so long.

    "First though.. what name shall I address you by?"



    "Even Dreams, can be a nightmare"
    Spoiler: Click it, I dare ya! 




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    Horatia was not certain what she had expected out of the heir, but it was not what she was seeing tonight. Indeed, if anyone had told her that she would one day be tearing across the gardens in a festive gown and bad footwear in an effort to wrangle such a wayward filly, she would have laughed in their face. It still seemed a little funny now, almost, if it weren't so exasperating.

    As she pondered these things, kneeling in the dirt, Horatia wondered if the princess had forgotten her presence. Tilting her head slightly to look up from the corner of her vision, she saw the other woman frowning, apparently from either deep thought or displeasure. She did not have to wonder long.

    Through the muttering and cursing under her breath, and the accompanying sound of an arrow re-entering its leather quiver, the princess continued airing her annoyance.

    "Do you think me an invalide without a shred of damn sense, that I decided upon waking today that I would run away without a fucking care or thought?”

    “I will accept neither your aid, nor your apology yet.


    Sitting up and rocking back onto her heels, Horatia pursed her lips. Hadn't she done that correctly? She had seen likewise other such promises, pledges of fealty. It was an uncommon thing to be rejected, and she really did not care for the royal's tone. Her teeth on edge, she began to rise, dusting off stray blades of grass and bits of earth from her.

    "I have no reason yet to trust you or those who you work for, as you have shown only the need of your words in the moment. Escort me away from this gilded grave and I will grant you your apology so long you don’t betray me.”

    The Duchess Epona was a relatively fair-minded and considerably bold character at court despite her conformity to all of the expected rules. Her productive farmlands and renowned horse breeders gave her some measure of security despite the change of leadership that had been ushered in at the deposition of King Aminan. Because of this, equally colourful language was not an entirely foreign concept. Still, that made it no less a surprise that it came from no less rare a mouth than that of Princess Diana.

    The horsewoman's initial response was, predictably, anger. All of their planning forced waiting to rescue her if she surfaced and a lecture on this girl's impeccable planning was the result? She parted her lips to fire back a retort on sodding best-laid plans thrown off by a single party-goer, but gave it a second thought. She had only just embarrassed herself in the castle square earlier in the day and had no desire to feel that again so soon after the lesson. Besides, she knew exactly how it felt to be isolated, to feel powerless. This girl must be about the age she had been when the Usurper had... Her eyes softened and she swallowed her outrage.

    “From there, I will see if your aid is what I desire.”

    Horatia stepped forward and gingerly reached to pluck her blade back from the princess's hand. Not that she suspected she might use it, but more because... well, better to be safe. Sheathing it once again in her boot, she lifted Princess Diana's hand on the back of her own and bowed over it before rising nearly nose-to-nose to whisper conspiratorially. "I am Horatia. We go!"

    With that, she clasped the princess's hand in her own and scooped up those damned skirts to propel them quickly back across the grounds, careful not to follow the exact path they had come. When they neared the stables again, Horatia released Diana's hand and pulled the shawl that wrapped her shoulders, draping it over the other woman's hair to help shield her face.

    "One moment, don't move." She crouched and started to move away before backtracking to lean in to whisper again. "And bloody well don't run." So saying, she darted around the edge of the main stables towards the campfires and tents the attendants from many of the guests had raised for the celebrations. Ostlers and pages milled about, squires running drink between the largest tents emblazoned with the crests of the less important knights who had not merited rooms within the castle - or those who insisted it better suited them. A well-aimed stone flung at one of the passing ostlers earned her a glare before he recognised her. Squinting, he moved towards her with a laugh.

    "Ray? What are you wearing?"

    "Oh, come off it, Jonas. Things are moving a bit ahead. We have to go now. Where's Capilet?"

    "Left the saddle on 'im like you asked, M'Lady." The man with the reluctant moustache grinned, enjoying the sneer he received for his jibe. Nodding off to the pied tent to their right, he thrust his thumb over his shoulder behind him. "Sword's in the tent. Didn't want to risk it. Reach under the edge. I'll send him back this way. Better be quick, don't want people to think you're sneaking off to meet your knight in shini- Oh, who's your friend?"

    Grin broadening, he lifted his chin and winked, waggling his fingers in greeting to Diana before combing his straw-coloured hair - whether to tame it or to show off the arm well-muscled from labouring was anyone's guess.

    "It's Riga, you dolt." His fellow rebel bit out impatiently.

    Jonas sucked his teeth and immediately cleared his throat. "Best be about it."

    Horatia rolled her eyes at his departing back and quickly made up the distance to the tent, groping underneath the edge and pulling away her sheathed sword. Tucking it discreetly in the folds of those damned skirts, she quickly made her way back to Diana about the time Capilet nosed past the stables. With a quiet, musical whistle she called to him, and he snorted and moved to them quickly. Thrusting her sheathed sword into place where it could easily be drawn, she mounted, tucking her hand and bending to extend an elbow to assist the princess.

    "Time to go. Hurry up behind me, we haven't got much time before they realise Brand isn't who he is pretending to be."

    Spoiler: Completely Unsolicited, Contextual Praise Definitely not Acquired via Torture 

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    Damanius was surprised at the womans adherence to following the pomp of the castle etiquette. It was strange to see both the roughness of man in this woman with her words and actions, yet the common care of a lesser noble woman. He didn’t have to wait long to hear the womans name, Horatia, and felt something stir in his mind. The woman had to have some sort of noble lineage to enter here, or enough favors to enter the party. From the elaborate dress yet lack of comfort in movement pointed to the latter. He didn’t have long to ponder this as their hands intertwined and they were off, following a much different trail than what he had begun. Panic bloomed through adrenaline as they neared the main stables, wondering if he should have stuck to his first plan, when she released his hand.

    He blinked a bit in surprise as the woman's shawl was draped over his head, instructions laid out to stay put and not run. A retort of that plan having already been ruined was on his lips moments before he was abandoned to himself away from the light. Already used to hiding himself, he began working the shall through his hair, turning the simple cloth into a headdress that covered his hair.

    His nerves had not yet settled as he began studying the grounds, taking in everything he could. Counting tents and those milling about, the bored guards looking over the festive foods and luscious women. The lands were never short of young nobles looking to impress their equals or better with scant ladies draped like jewelry across them. The scent of intoxicating wine and roasted meats split the more subtle of the topiary and gardens meant to welcome all who may enter. Even with the memories of the place, he could still see the carnage that had bathed this place so long ago.

    Reality quickly reclaimed Damanius as his attention was brought back as Horatia rejoined him, noting the crease of her skirts, and the barest shift in weight. When her arms moved again, he was surprised to see the sword handle resting above the fabric, surprised by the weapon there. Had he misjudged this woman more than believed. To be gifted with a sword was more than most women ever earned, even further adding to that niggling thoughts in the back of his mind. He didn’t dwell much on it as Horatia let out a simple musical whistle, drawing up a rather sturdy horse. The ease as she mounted the horse was a bit of a sting as she settled herself down before offering an elbow, beckoning them to mount quickly.

    Time seemed to freeze for the moment, his heart pounding loudly in his ears now. While he would never admit it even to himself, he was truthfully scared of this moment. All these years kept in here, having to walk the halls where his family had been killed. Castle walls that housed the bastard around every corner had been his world. There was some security in the knowledge of what he would be facing every day, even if he had to walk around as though a dagger was pressed into his spine.


    Now though, an offered elbow promised to remove him from that world. To break apart what had been his entire world, thrust him into the unknown that awaited just beyond the circle. Diana had been allowed into parts of the city proper, it had always been by carriage and armed men. There was no space for him to breath by himself. This now was different, worlds away from what he had ever been through before.

    Diana moved through, grasping the elbow and scrambling upon the horse with the grace of a blind infant. She situated herself as best she could behind the woman, unaccustomed to the girth of the creature as she moved up close to Horatia. She instinctively wrapped her arms around her waist, holding tightly as she kept her head up, not wanting to miss a moment of this. She took a deep breath, trying to calm the nerves burning through her, wanting to show her strength in front of mounting fear.

    “Fair it to say.. I’ve never ridden before.” She spoke softly, feeling the need to say something as she tried to relax tensed muscles, though her eyes showed determination to move forward.


    "Even Dreams, can be a nightmare"
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    In the quiet minutes as Horatia waited for the princess, wary of her darting off again, the adrenaline rushing through her seemed to throw strange details into focus. The way the yellow scarf covered the girl's red hair, how her soft brown eyes were wide and reflected the flickers of torch light that glimmered between the tents: it was all thrown into relief in those heartbeats before the royal finally gripped her elbow and struggled as Horatia pulled her up behind her, careful she didn't unseat herself in the process of catching her balance.

    Turning her head and resting her hand over Diana's wrist for a moment, Horatia warned her, "Hold to me and don't let go no matter what happens. Keep your face hidden. I'll get you away safe."

    Nodding in what she hoped was a reassuring way, the horsewoman thanked that loon Riga for having the sense to trade her side saddle for something more sensible before stabling the steed. Breathing out a tense breath, she could feel Capilet jig beneath them. He felt her mood and the nervous energy infected him also. With a light touch of her heels to his sides, he was off like a lance, eating up the ground as they made a course for the eastern gate.

    It was more likely to be guarded and not so inconspicuous as the muckers' gate, but there were at least two Resistance men there. It would be open for the festivities and Brand would help them move through. Illness, she had already decided, that would be their excuse. A little strange for two ladies to be out in such a fashion, but with enough wine consumed and a little luck they should be able to pass as two minor patrician daughters off for home with one of them a little too overwhelmed by her first party.

    Slowing their pace as they neared the gates, Horatia straightened and moved smartly. She could feel the princess's heartbeat at her back and forced an easy smile onto her face as they continued through the gate. As they passed through, one of the armoured men moved in their path, holding a hand up to halt them. Reining in her mount, the cavalier complied.

    "Good evening," He began, "Where might you be off to unescorted?"

    Gentling her voice and laughing lightly, Horatia combed her hands through Capilet's mane and canted her head towards the figure behind her. "Afraid little Rhiannon's not used to the excitement of these parties, Sir. You know how the young overextend themselves sometimes. Poor angel."

    Sure to use a flattering term of address for the guard, she patted the princess's leg affectionately.

    "How far do you go?"

    "To the Lady Marwen's residence in the town, just a little way. I hoped to put her to bed in the castle, but you know how... restless things can be."

    Chuckling, the guard nodded. "Just a moment and I'll have one of my men escort you. You!"

    "Oh," Lifting a hand in protest, it died on her lips as the massive frame of her friend hulked into the light from the sconces that burned along the walls. Could their luck really be so good?

    "Really, it's not necessary."

    "Nonsense! I'd never forgive myself if two sweet ladies came to harm."

    Moving near the guard bowed over her hand, his lips grazing it a little against propriety. Flushing and withdrawing her hand as quickly as she could without seeming rude, she batted her lashes and inclined her head to him graciously. "Really, you are too accommodating, Sir."

    Likely half-sunk in the same wine that moved about the stable yards and castle halls, he smiled magnanimously and moved away as the big man accepted her reins from her hands and began to lead Capilet into the night beyond the gates.

    She let out a breath she did not realise she had been holding as a voice barked out for them to stop. With effort she kept her spine loose as her fingers felt for the sword hilt near to hand. Brand slowly sauntered around in his heavy armour to look behind him as she turned to look back as well. The man who seemed to be the captain of the watch for the castle guard was drawing near them again.

    Spoiler: Completely Unsolicited, Contextual Praise Definitely not Acquired via Torture 

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    More than happy to bury his face into Horatia’s back, Damanius focused on keeping his breathing slow and steady. The nerves in his body had reached their pitch, so remaining silent was the easiest part as his supports talked with the guard, making lies as easily has he told them. He was built up to be nothing more than a young girl having come to party, getting drunk on mulberry and ale. Hearing Horatia speak so kindly was a bit strange, though a small comfort as her hand patted his leg, a comfort he had only felt from Grueta was a bit strange. It helped him relax some.

    When orders came for an escort, Damanius felt his stomach bottom out in fear. It would mean having to keep his head buried the entire time, and if any of the guards got a good look at him, the chance would be over. Even as Horatia welcomed the soldier, he didn’t feel relaxed, despite the woman's words. Lying was an art form that he had built over the years, but confidence was hard earned, and his strung nerves would make it even harder to remain calm in the stress. He took his cues from his rider though, and just tried to stay relaxed though as the two exchanged pleasantries. If the woman guiding him right now was calm, he would have to act it as well.

    He let out a soft sigh as the small party finally began moving forward, a jittery feeling growing in his stomach as they began moving again. The eastern gates loomed ahead, his fingers shaking lightly as they moved closer, the last moments of living inside this castle were finally ahead, and he would finally be free of it. Would it really be that easy? Were they just going to walk out of this place without a single guard stopping him? A simple horse ride into the night, a party behind him that was celebrating the coronation between Princess Diana and the King? All those years spent dreaming of this, and waking moments spent planning his escape.

    And they were just going to walk out of this place?

    “Hold a moment.”

    Damanius swore under his breath. Of course it couldn’t be that easy. The captain was approaching them once more, the sound of his boots heavy in the night air. Damanius could feel the tension between all three, wondering what had drawn his attention once again. Fearful of being seen, he waited, one hand slipping free of Horatia’s waist towards where he could remember the dagger being hidden away. He could feel her shift, a quiet gesture to hold her steady, to not act in haste.

    “Sorry to trouble you once again, but troubling news. It seems someone has broken into the royal treasury. I know you wish to see this young woman safe and resting, but I must insist on allowing us to search you.” The captain spoke, causing Damanius to swear and tense. He knew they were at risk then, the gems and coin he had stashed away would be a dead give away.

    Would now be a good chance to strike? Render them dead and be branded both a robber and killer? Sure, they might be hunted, but he would be hunted by daylight regardless, so this wouldn’t be a hard risk. His eyes stared at the back of the woman, hand moving again to draw the blade Horatia had hidden, hoping the woman was ready to move as well. It was only the words of their escort stopping him from moving further.

    “I shall do it captain. We don’t need any thieves getting away.” Brand spoke, moving himself between the captain and towards Diana. The guard whispered carefully, promising to be gentle as he began feeling along her body, checking the folds of her clothes carefully. Diana began to panic, fearful every second that this night would find worse than just the gems he had stored away. She needed to act, needing to find some way to stall him quickly. The panic and anxiety had frozen her body, her unmoved hand digging tight into Horatia as he looked to Brand, the pure fear echoing in her every movement. She willed everything she could for the man to finish now, to stop from getting any closer! She almost drew the blade there as Brand's hands rested around her waist. Every cell in her body was screaming at her to draw the blade, slit this man's throat, and force this woman to ride forward, questions be damned. Her fingers were just a mere skirt twitch away from yanking the dagger free, tension heavy in her body as she felt her world tilt horribly, vertigo beginning to grip her even as Brands hands moved onwards, traveling down her thighs now.

    From his heightened panic though, he more felt the subtle shift in the air. Music had died out, though the others had remained so focused on the two girls they had yet to notice. Damanius felt his world freeze as the tension in the air seemed to shift suddenly. It was just as Brand had finished with his body and moved onwards to Horatia that the first sound of a gong broke the suddenly silent air. All heads save one turned back towards the castle, becoming frozen in confusion as the second gong sounded.

    The captain was the first to move, though only by a few seconds. He turned to the three of them, his hand gripping tight onto the hilt of his sword as he began moving with even more urgency than before.

    “I’m sorry, but I will not be able to let you leave ton-” Were the only words spoken before Damanius moved next, adrenaline and terror forcing his limbs. He knew that gong, having heard it twice before in his life.

    Both had been sounded when he had tried to escape prior, on much less successful attempts to leave. The gong rang for a second time as he moved then. His hand yanked the dagger clean of its hold, not caring for the drag against skin as he twisted in his seat. Years practiced as a marksman made for practiced ease, and the closeness the man had made the shot easier as even more soldiers had begun pouring from the castle doors, the gates beginning to close upon the third.

    Damanius didn’t have time to process the dead captain, dagger hilt protruding from his throat on the lucky shot fueled by pure terror. Damanius locked eyes for a scant second with the guard Brand, panic meeting pure shock. Sucking in breath, he pulled back and let loose a strike, feeling pain echo as his fist cracked against the side of the mans helm. It forced the man down, pure shock mixing with blistering pain looking to them.

    “RUN!” Diana bellowed at Horatia, knowing that it wouldn’t take long before the gates closed completely. She wouldn’t allow her chance to slip by again, as there would be no other chance after this.


    "Even Dreams, can be a nightmare"
    Spoiler: Click it, I dare ya! 




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    “Sorry to trouble you once again, but troubling news."

    Horatia smiled as sweetly as if her teeth were made of sugar, hoping the gesture gave off an intimation of having nothing to hide.

    "It seems someone has broken into the royal treasury. I know you wish to see this young woman safe and resting, but I must insist on allowing us to search you.”

    Lips parted to spin a gentle protest, Brand saved them by offering to perform the search himself. Unable to communicate with the princess without raising more suspicion, the horsewoman only smiled and waved a hand lightly, her fingers easing from the hilt of the sword shielded by her gown. She maintained the smile with teeth clenching as the other woman's fingers dug into her. She could only hope her nerves would hold. The silence behind her could mean anything.

    Horatia had noticed the music's end also, Capilet's snort of unease reflecting her own feeling. It was nearly impossible to mask such things from the horse. With a quick glance back towards the silence, Horatia smiled at Brand. His eyes held the same tightness around the corners that hers must, but she knew that hurrying would only implicate him also - not to mention give them all away. She was not to have long to dwell on that consideration, however, as the strange sound of a gong reverberated through the quiet night air.

    "Well, what on earth could that-" Horatia would never get the chance to finish the thought, as the second strike of the gong pealed out loudly. What happened next, was the complete reversal of their fortunes. The captain began to move and she willed herself not to look at the big man at her side.

    “I’m sorry, but I will not be able to let you leave ton-”

    Little used to carrying others beyond his rider, Capilet tried to rear as the movement behind Horatia brought an end to the captain's speech. Her attention momentarily drawn away to soothe him was a moment too late to even dream of intervening in the man's death. When her head swiveled, he was gurgling and clawing at the blade in his eye. Brow furrowing in confusion, she craned to look at Diana open-mouthed. The princess was not looking at her, and the tide of soldiers suddenly rising from the castle became the more apparent issue.

    The slump of Brand's massive body caused her to shout, "Stop!" It was no use to the mountain of armour he had become, groaning as he staggered to his knees beside them. Capilet whinnied and Horatia quickly recovered his reins, Diana's command deafening behind her. The princess's arms were tight around her so she had no fear of her falling as she pressed her lips into a hard line and urged her horse.

    It took little encouragement for him to bolt, kicking through the downed Brand who tried to roll clear as they passed. They flew through the last gate, picking up speed as they bore down on the castle town.

    No help for it, no help for it now. Horatia's mind was in tumult. Can't go back to the tavern now. Ignatio's? No... No, that needs to remain a secret. If anyone sees us. These damned clothes, they'll recognise us easily. Further... Whittling through their options, she clattered through side courtyards and avoided the square, narrowly missing drunkards and other late strollers of the town. Mud, small stones, and worse pelted back, the hems of their gowns heavy with it as they took the back alleys favoured by the poor and seedy. Not home. I wore the Duchess of Epona's colours, so they may look for us there. What will they do to father if they notice me missing? Maybe nothing... You go off a lot, and he has no idea... He likely had some idea, but despite their sometimes stormy relationship the Usurper would be the last he would sell his kin to willingly. Willie's out, still in the duchy. Old Byron.

    "Old Byron." She blurted the name out to no one in particular, and it was snatched into the wind and out of hearing to anyone but herself. Her destination set, she left the wild interlacing through byways and headed for the nearest town gate. She could get them out of the town by more subtle methods, but that would require giving away information critical to the Resistance. It was up to them to get themselves somewhere the princess could wait until the others could reconcile the changes to their plans. It was a considerable ride - they would be hard pressed to reach it before morning - but unavoidable. He could keep the girl safe if she could get them off the roads by morning, when no doubt the inquiries and patrols would start.

    All streaming tail and thundering hooves, Capilet responded and thrust through the side gates of the town. No doubt those would be shuttered also, but for tonight they had managed to outpace the guards even with their delay. They did not stop for the sleeping watchman to rouse himself, nor his young assistant to hurry himself from wherever he'd slunk off to under the carelessness of his master. Gone beyond recapturing, they fled into the main road off on their way further east and away from Horatia's home territories. When they had put some distance between them and the town, Horatia slowed their course only long enough to turn back to the princess.

    "We have a long night ahead of us and a hard ride before morning. If the patrols start while we are still on the road and they find us..." She did not finish what Diana had clearly already puzzled out for herself. "We'll leave the road at the next village and forge the river's tributary there. We'll never cross the river as we are, so we'll have to risk the bridge. If we press we should get there in time."

    She looked back once more and tried to read the other woman's face in the dark. "You'll be safe."

    With that, she bent forward and Capilet surged beneath them, a dark spot in the night. When they reached the little sleeping village, Horatia guided them from the easy journey along the road and through the edge of the woodlands, tracing back their path and even jumping the low fence of a pasture to confuse their own trail with the startled horses. They had startled at the intrusion and candlelight had flickered in the village, but they were gone before they were seen. The sleepy farmer, assuming a small animal had disturbed them simply scratched his chin and returned to bed after a quick turn about the land.

    When they had gone far enough that it felt like there was nothing but sweetgrass and meadow surrounding them, they ventured towards the growing sound of running water. The small tributary was easily crossed, hardly a stream. A frog croaked a deep warning bass and splashed into the waters as they passed. It might have been enchanting if not for the desperation of the journey. Unable to cross the broader river garbed as they were with a horse into the reckoning, Horatia turned them to walk along the water's edge until they reached the Broad Bridge, named very unimaginatively as precisely what it was.

    They reached the other side as the night started to fade into deep grey and purple. By the time they passed the mill town and two other villages that separated them from safety, the blue-grey of impending dawn was upon them. Driving them from the road, the last leg of their journey took them to a friary secluded from the nearest village by pine woods and the large, forking eastern-most tributaries of the great river they had crossed along the Broad Bridge.

    Shivering with cold and sore, Horatia surrendered her sword to the portly man all robed in brown who silently came to them and turned to Diana. "Give him your weapons. All of them."

    Running her hands along Capilet's coat, she whispered to him as she had through the night, thanking him and promising to repay him for a job well done. Tired and run out, he bowed his head under her praise.

    As a second resident of the friary dressed the same as the first approached them with a pitcher in his hands, he gestured for them to follow.

    "Go," the cavalier urged the princess. "Eat something. They'll give you bread, clothes. I must tend to Capilet and I'll follow. You're safe here."

    It might have been helpful to advise the princess that the brothers had all taken a vow of silence, but by the time the idea rolled through her sluggish brain, Capilet had already allowed himself to be led away and they were nearing the stables.

    It was some time before Horatia resurfaced again and entered the hall with a roaring fire and a long, plain table where bread, cheese, and a venison stew had been set out for them. Her soiled yellow skirts muddied the floor as she stepped inside, eager to occupy one of the table's long benches nearest the fire. As the heavy door began to close and her eyes adjusted to the dim light, she let out the first truly easy breath since she had left the engagement party.
    Last edited by Alura; 02-12-2021 at 02:46 AM.

    Spoiler: Completely Unsolicited, Contextual Praise Definitely not Acquired via Torture 

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