Chapter 3: (Grace)
I had awoken to a rather unpleasant scene-unfamiliar hands in uncomfortable places. More commonly known as my thigh. I saw an older face, not too aged, but wise, look up in surprise, obviously not expecting my awaking. I jerked back with a scream, landing a powerful kick to the man's stomach.
"WHO ARE YOU?!!"
Pain burst up again from the wound, and I cursed myself for being so stupid. Nick scrambled to get through the door.
"Grace, calm down. This is Maximus. He's a doctor and a good friend of mine. He's just gonna fix you up."
I did calm down, only by the knowledge that King Stephen's men didn't get me. And that I wasn't dead. And that Nick wasn't dead.
I didn't have the strength to argue with him, as much as I'd love to. Instead I fixed him a defiant glare as I slid back down to let Maximus do his work. It was painful, but I had been through worse. Besides, I didn't want to appear as the helpless damsel in distress they all thought I was. Nick leaned against the door, watching me with his usual attentiveness. Maximus finally wrapped my leg with a soft cotton wrap.
"You needn't fuss over me so. I'd be just as happy with rags."
"I'm saving those for your-"
Nick threw him a warning glance.
"Partner here. He's got some minor injuries. Besides, you wouldn't want to get an infection."
"If she's back to her usual hot-headed self, it can't be long now," Nick says to me. He smirks playfully. I roll my eyes and look outside the small window. Maximus finished up and walked out to give us some privacy. Nick walked over and sat down next to me on the little cot.
"You hangin' in there, champ?" He asked with a sweet smile.
"Perfectly well," I replied, "Thank you for coming back for me. Even if it was a stupid thing to do, I owe you my life."
"Eh, it's no big deal. That's what we're for. To look out for each other. Right?"
I nodded and sat up properly against the wall.
"Where are the troops?"
"Many survived. They are going to meet up with us in four days time so we can continue our mission."
"And you've informed the King?"
I walked outside in the peaceful stillness of morning. Limping badly, but feeling better. Maximus had given me a crutch to use, but it felt awkward and looked disdainful.
"Good morning, Sunshine."
I turned to see a very self pleased Nick leaning up against the door frame. Seriously, what is it with this kid and doors?
"Good morning, Charming."
It was a rather sarcastic comment, but Nick took it well.
"Charming? Is that what you're calling me now?"
He pushed himself off the wall with his shoulder and came over.
I tried to walk without the crutch, and smiled back at him.
"Because you've rescued a gal in need, been on a mission for the kingdom, and can use a sword. Charming it is."
I stumbled and fell forwards suddenly. Nick quickly pulled his hands out from where they were crossed on his chest and caught me.
"Easy, Princess. Don't want to injure that leg any more."
I stood up hurriedly and steadied myself. My face flushed with embarrassment, and I turned to stutter-step quickly back to the house.
"We leave in 2 days. Be ready for battle."
It was the day before the final battle. This time Nick was the one to wake me, putting a hand on my shoulder. I sat up as he read off battle plans. I couldn't help but notice him keep glancing up at me over his notes. I know why. Mornings can make most people ugly, but my messy hair and forlorn expression always expressed beauty. He had finally finished, but lingered for a moment, standing by the door.
"Is there something you have to say?"
Nick turned back around.
"Grace...you know you can tell me anything, right?"
"There's no secrets between us, as partners."
"Secrets are different than misgivings. I admit I have things to hide, but nothing that concerns you."
Nick looked up with a hint of disappointment, but simply nodded and stepped outside. I looked out the window again, hoping that tomorrow would come soon.
Chapter 4 ( Nick )
I awoke to the sound of a bird singing into the day. Beautiful how nature has its own choir. I got up swiftly as to make my breakfast and get on with the day. After all it was going to be a boring one. I opened the door slowly and carefully as not to awake any of the other members of the household. I looked out and saw the normal living room I've seen so many times. Max and Crystal were kind to allow us to stay while Grace recovers. She wasn't going anywhere on the leg for a while. But I knew she would try. Tough gal she is. If only she knew. She probably does at this point. There might be a chance though I thought. It doesn't matter emotion can not interfere with your job. You know this. I kept saying this to myself that way nothing would go wrong but I know eventually something will.
I walked out of my room and heated the fireplace. I decided today would be a good day to train for tomorrow. Crisp morning air, mist still hanging low, perfect morning for training. I finished my breakfast and went over the battle plan with myself and decided to talk it over with Grace. I knocked on her door. No answer. I opened the door and saw her sleeping peacefully and comfortably. I knew I had to go over the plan so I woke her. I tapped her shoulder and she awoke with a startle.
"Jeez, Nick, you scared me," she said while relaxing.
I smiled. "At least you didn't put a sword up to my throat."
"But you're smart enough not to scare me of all people," she scolded.
I immediately lost my sense of humor. I straightened my posture and made a straight face.
"Sorry, Grace, I didn't mean to scare you. I wanted to go over the battle plans with you." She raised her eyebrow at me and looked me up and down. I can tell she thought something was up with me.
"What do you have?" she asked.
"Well the carrier is moving tomorrow as you know. I was thinking if we put our men in the trees and bushes for stealth, we could immobilize the cart and surprise the enemy." A stole a quick glance at her. She was relaxed and thoughtful. Carefully considering what I had just said.
"It'll work. Send a message to the men and have them ready. Tomorrow we fight."
"You got it." I got up and started to leave. I stopped half way through the door.
"Is there something you have to say?" she asked with a little impatience behind it.
"Grace," I chose my words carefully, "You know you you can tell me anything right?"
"No secrets between us, as partners."
"Secrets are different than misgivings," she said, "I admit I have things to hide, but nothing that concerns you." I shed a little disappointment off of that. I simply nodded and walked out closing the door behind me.
"Why don't you tell her?" Max asked out of nowhere. I whipped to my left almost in surprise. Then I relaxed after seeing it was Max.
"You know why," I said with a sad tone.
"No secrets correct?" Using my own words against me.
"You know I only keep things that could jeopardize my goals. If I tell her how I feel she could do multiple things."
"Remove me from combat. Put me in the front lines to try and get me killed. She probably doesn't even care for me," I said hanging my head.
"Do you feel like she is hiding something?"
"Max, you know me. I think everyone is hiding something from me. If you're asking do I think she is hiding emotions for me, no, I don't think she is." Max and I stopped. We froze for we heard something. We heard the creaking of the old wood floors. It was only once but it was enough to alarm me. Max straighten and said, "Just the wind." I knew it wasn't. I quietly observed anything that was out of place. Nothing. Perhaps it was the wind. I put myself in a chair to relax and quieted my thoughts.
"Time to get to training," I said. I jumped up and went out.
Chapter 5 (Grace)
I heard my name murmured a little too loudly from the living room. I shifted my position slightly, with a hint of curiousity. They were talking about me again.
"...if I tell her how I feel she could do multiple things."
I crouched behind the door, with interest. Tell me what?
"Like?" Maximus asked.
"Remove me from combat. Put me in the front lines to try and get me killed. She probably doesn't even care for me," Nick replied.
I almost laughed. The fact Prince Charming over here thought of me like some kind of Princess-I had never even considered him having these feelings. All business, not even partially self-centered. And he thought I would hate him for it.
"Do you feel like she is hiding something?"
"Max, you know me. I think everyone is hiding something from me. If you're asking do I think she is hiding emotions for me, no, I don't think she is."
I realized I had been crouching for way too long. I stood up awkwardly on my cramped legs, putting my hand on the wall to maintain my balance. A floorboard creaked loudly and I silently retreated to my bed. They were quiet for a moment, said something about the weather or such, and walked out to train more.
Nick and I were finally on our way to regroup with the men. We bid Maximus goodbye, and were on our way with what little we had. Maximus gave us one of his horses, a beautiful white and black mare he named Feather. Nick rode Dasher, which he had become very attached to over the few days.
"So, where are we meeting them?"
"We shouldn't discuss it now. You never know who could be overhearing..."
"So what's with your bracelet?"
Annoying Nick had become a fun little game for me during these long, endless journeys. He looked over curiously.
"Oh, that? I've had it ever since I was a baby."
"My parents gave it to me."
I could tell he was starting to get flustered.
"Well, they aren't around to make you wear it now, so why don't you take it off?"
"It's just something to remind me of them. Something else to fight for."
"That's kind of dumb."
He chuckled with amusement and I looked back at the trail ahead, satisfied that he had been properly annoyed.
"So what's your story then?"
"Hey, I don't do that mushy, heart to heart stuff. I've had a past, outgrown it, and now I'm right where I want to be."
Nick 'hm'ed in reply.
"So you've always wanted to be a thief, or runaway, or whatever you are now? Never wanted to belong to anything?"
The steady clomping of horse feet kept time with my thoughts.
"As much as you think you know me, Nicholas, I actually do have loyalties. Not only to myself."
He looked over, wondering what I was getting at.
"So I guess that includes Maximus?"
"Owe him my life."
"Owe you my life."
Nick paused, and I could feel it coming.
Shoot. Think of something.
"There's something I was meaning to-"
"Hey, wanna race?"
Nick, caught off guard, almost stopped his horse.
"Come on, first one to the river wins!"
I started at an even pace, letting Nick catch up again, and then went forwards full speed, my wind blown hair back and head bent.
Chapter 6 ( Nick )
Almost. So close to telling her. I rode at a fast pace behind her but I was going to let her win. She knows my competitive nature but I was going to allow myself to lose for once. I was too lost in my thoughts. The wind still blowing on me as cool as ice. I saw the river ahead, snapped out of it, and kicked Dasher. I sped up as fast as I could but Grace had pulled ahead at the last second. She had won. I was surprised. The way she rode was so natural, beautiful even. All in control.
I looked at her and smiled.
"Still yet to lose," I joked.
"You simply can't accept defeat," she said playfully.
"Lies," I replied.
"I only tell the truth," she said proudly.
"That itself is a lie," I corrected. She looked at me sideways.
"Is this where the men are supposed to meet us?" I asked.
"Yes," she said cooly, "Should've been here by now." We looked North, South, East and West but saw nothing. Then we heard the pitter-patter of hooves hitting the ground.
"That's them," I said.
"Your time to yell at them," Grace said, with an attitude.
"Soldiers, you're late."
"Sorry Sir. We ran into," he paused and looked at me and at his men. He was hiding something. I could tell. "Terrain issues. The horses took a while getting up the hill." Something was wrong.
"Alright soldiers. Setup the ambush."
They jumped to work, and I pulled Grace aside.
"Grace," I said. She looked at me with concern.
"I have something you might want to know."
"Is it regarding the mission?"
"How so?" I quieted my voice.
"There aren't any hills North of here from which they came from. He looked worried when he was talking to us. He's hiding something. I think something's wrong." She looked at me with an eyebrow raised and her arms crossed.
"Why would you think he's hiding something?" she asked.
"I just have a feeling."
She blew me off.
"Oh, Nick, so smart yet so paranoid."
I was annoyed.
"I'm not being paranoid. I know a lie being told when I see it."
"We'll see, won't we." With that she stalked away.
One of our men perched on the top of a tall pine, on lookout. Waiting for enemy scouts to come by. I knew something was up.
But I couldn't tell what. We heard movement.
"North-West as predicted. Prepare for attack," said one of our scouts.
Right on time. Everything was in place: the men, the weapons and traps. Everything. Except something was poking at me in the back of my mind. The way Grace blew me off like I said nonsense surprised me.
"Incoming," a whisper came from my right. Donovan, my training partner. Also, a good friend of mine.
"You ready?" I asked as steadily as I could.
"Of course not," he said with a chuckle. I almost laughed at this. Almost.
"Donovan, what actually happened that took you so long?" I asked. He hesitated, guilt passing over his face like a shadow.
"I hate to keep things secret between us, my old friend. But there's something you should know..."
I listened, ready for the worst.
"Prepare to fire!" our lookout interrupted. I looked and there was the cart. I drew my arrow and aimed. My sweaty palms threw my aim off a little but it wouldn't matter where I was aiming.
"Now!" we heard Grace yell. Arrows fell from the sky. Killing any living thing that was hit. I jumped out with my sword in hand. More men followed, and I cut them down and fought my way to the carriage. I swung open the door and looked in, stepping back in complete surprise. Nothing in it. This made no sense.
"Nothing in it," I said puzzled.
"That's impossible," Grace said, taking someone out and coming over. She checked as well. "But how?"
The sound of the sword being unsheathed cleared my mind.
"We set you up." The sword was at the back of her throat. Ready to pierce her if necessary. Four archers pointed their bows at me. I knew there was no way out except one. Our men stopped fighting and also pointed their weapons at us. All but Donovan. He was pushed aside roughly, unarmed.
A thick wave of betrayal swept over me.
"I told you something was up," I said to her.
"You wanna play like this now?" she said it with a temper. I knew what I had to do.
"Grace, when I look at you I need you to say, 'Quentitellpez', got it?"
"What? why?" she struggled to look at me. There was a sad kind of fear in her eyes.
"Just trust me." She looked at me and turned back around to our captors. It was a spell. I learned a little magic while in school. Friends also taught me here and there, Yet nobody knows I use it. As soon as she said those words, I pulled a small bottle of potion smoke. It was a teleportation spell. She would be safe. I needed to fight so I got ready.
Two archers perched on the ledge above us. Another man stepped out and said, "Real warriors, aren't they now?" I grabbed the first soldier's sword and pierced it through him. Donovan and his men joined me in our fight. I saw the next man. He was swinging his sword high at me. I ducked and dodged the blade. I slit his arm and he fell. I grabbed his sword and fought off two more men with two swords. I heard something. I quickly rolled to my left. An arrow just barely missed me. Two arrows shot at me and I batted them out of the air with my swords. It was just me and Donovan. We hit back to back and prepared to fight.
"You knew about this?!" I said frustratedly.
"I wanted to tell you, but I feared for my life. I didn't know enough information about what they were planning, because they kept me away from their plans. Please forgive me."
"I do. Let's even the odds," I said.
We sprung off each other and fought like hell hounds. Pouncing on each of our attackers and killing each one. I looked over my shoulder and saw him fighting with great technique. I couldn't have been more proud of my friend. The man in front of me was lurching in pain from the cut I gave him. I was better off helping Donovan than finishing the job. I ran to help him clashing my sword against his enemy's. Another one had come out of nowhere and sliced my leg with his blade. I fell to one knee. He was swinging a second time to finish the job but I wasn't letting him finish. I blocked my leg with my sword. I pushed him off with my blade and kicked him down with my good leg. He fell hard onto the ground. I quickly took the opportunity to stab him. Dead. He want getting up again. I looked over at Donovan. He had just finished his opponent. We nodded at each other.
"Need some help with that leg?" he asked.
"You a doctor?" I asked.
"Can you wrap a bandage?"
"Then get wrapping."
He smiled and wrapped my leg up.
"You'll be fine in a few days if not tomorrow. Just a cut. No different than a-" His words cut off by the arrow piercing his heart. I spun and saw my foe. The enemy I didn't finish. It came back to haunt me. I ran over to him and stabbed him vigorously. There was no way he ever got up. I ran back to Donovan.
"Stay with me, lad," I said softly fighting back the tears.
"Nick, you can't save me."
"Yes, I can. Don't you say that." Tears were forming. I knew this wasn't going to end well.
"Just promise me one thing," he said in less than a whisper.
"Kill the King," he said quietly again.
"Which one?" I asked, confused. After all there were many kingdoms with many kings.
"The one that set us up..." he coughed up blood. He was going. I could feel the tears swelling in my eyes.
"King... Oscar. Nick?"
"I love you… my… brother."
He was gone. I let the tears flow. I couldn't help it. I put my head down and cried. Nothing was stopping me. My best friend through school had been killed all because of me. My brother. A loved one. Dead because our own King had betrayed us. I hung my head in shame. I felt anger and sadness rise through me like a wave. I promised him I would kill him. King Oscar was the one that gave us the mission in the first place. We were betrayed.
"Stay where you are!" I looked and there were more guards with swords and bows. All pointed at me. I raised my hands in defeat. I didn't like it. Emotion got the best of me. As I always knew it would. They tied me up and bonded me. Now I was a prisoner because of it.
Chapter 7: (Grace)
I was furious. What a dirty trick. That disrespectful, stupid idiot.
You can imagine Maximus's great surprise to see me storm into his living room out of nowhere, mad as a bull, cursing loudly.
"G-Grace??! Excuse me, but where did you come from?"
"Your impudent friend teleported me back here. I outta-"
"Nick?? But that must mean you went into battle?"
"Yeah. Our own men plotting against us. Nick can't make it out of there alive."
"It's a full day's journey. You'll never make it in time."
"Exactly. Do you think you could teleport me back?"
Maximus thoughtfully tapped his chin.
"I don't have the ingredients or time to make a teleport potion...but I think I might be able to reverse the spell."
"That's fine. Thanks again, Maximus."
I closed my eyes and heard mumbled gibberish. The floor suddenly disappeared beneath me. It wouldn't be long now.
I reappeared right at the spot where I had left. Expecting to be thrown into battle, I grabbed my sword and got ready.
It was silence that slammed into me.
"Nick?? Donovan? Anyone??"
There was bodies strewn messily around the clearing, both our own men and the enemy's. I remembered with vengeful anger that our own men had turned on us.
I heard something. Someone. Very softly, someone was breathing.
Didn't take me long to find the culprit-Donovan himself, hardly still breathing. I could tell he was only moments away from death so I talked fast.
"Donovan, it's me. It's Grace. You have to tell me what happened. Where's Nick?"
Donovan took a slow breath in.
"Oscar...tyranny...kill the k-king..."
"Okay, that's great! That's wonderful! Where is Nick!"
"Our men...captured him...went west..."
I patted Donovan's hand gratefully.
"Say no more. I am forever grateful to you, but I must go, quickly."
It took me a little while to trail the soldiers, but eventually I was overlooking the familiar palace that I had ventured into so many times, never belonging. Now I just needed to get inside and find my way to the dungeon...or wherever they had stowed dear Nicholas.
"Grace? Is that you??"
I whipped around. A meek girl dressed in rags peeked out at me from behind a tree.
The girl's eyes widened.
"It is you!"
I ran up to greet her, happily.
"It's been so long since I've seen you! What brings you back?" Annie inquired.
"My sidekick got himself into trouble again. They dragged him in sometime late last night. Have you seen anything?"
"Ah, yes. What's he look like?"
"His name is Nick, and he's...well not exactly short...he is just of small for a guy, you know?"
"Yeah, yeah. Spectacles?"
"Yes. Dark hair too."
"I think I know who you're looking for. They took him to the dungeons."
I paused to pull my hair back, deep in thought.
"Then I believe I've found the right person," I said with a mischievous grin.
Getting past the castle walls was easy, as Annie knew a few shortcuts. The hard part was getting through the dungeon successfully.
"Here's the plan."
Annie drew in the dust, talking a mile a minute.
"We can get through here, by ambush. Knock out guards and steal their armor, like the legends do in their quests. Anyway, he should be placed somewhere along...the third level...hm....yea, that's right, all the traitors are out there..."
"Hey, it's not us that-"
"Yeah Yeah, but it's the Kings rules. Not mine. Here's where we escape. You remember that, it's the most important part."
"Gotcha. Let's go kick some booty."
I aimed a successful blow to one of the guard's heads while Annie took out the other. A third guard appeared behind us, and he unsheathed his sword.
"Annie, look out!"
I jumped in between her and the swinging soldier, using the other man's helmet as a shield. The force of the blow nearly knocked me out, but I regained my balance and snapped his neck with the twist of the helmet. I always hated doing that. I turned to Annie with a forced smile.
"Alright, hurry up and dress, we shall soon find out where our dear friend Nicholas is..."