Towering Darkness (pt 3)

If you haven't already, you may wish to read part 1 or part 2 of this story before reading on.



"No sign of him?" asked Fiden.
"He's gone deep into the forest, impossible to track him."
"Leave him, I'm sure he'll head home, or run into a bandit. So much for your brave defender, my Lady. Now it's just you and us, oh what fun we'll have. Tie her hands."

At camp that night the Guard didn't bother with the royal tent, tying the princess to a fallen tree as they feasted and drank. After they had filled their bellies they looked for entertainment. One of the guards, staggered over to the princess.
"Let's have a look at you then, no use hiding under that hood anymore."
He grabbed the cloak and roughly pulled it clear, dragging the princess' head with it. Beneath a rich bonnet of chestnut brown hair was round mask of ivory. Defiant as ever, she focused her ebony-brown eyes firmly on the guard, barely concealing her rage, never once uttering a word. He slapped her across the face.
"Don't you dare look at me like that. You are a beauty, though, I'll give you that. I'm gonna enjoy having you, hearing you moan in pleasure or scream in pain. What say we get started?" He fumbled with his breeches.
A rough hand pulled him back.
"We're not supposed to touch her," growled Fiden.
"But, Captain, look at her."
The princess, back rod straight, lifted her head to stare Fiden in the face. He licked his lips.
"Besides, whose gonna know?"
Fiden didn't take his eyes off her.
"All right, but I'm first."
He shoved the other guard away, towards their fire. As he spun back to face the princess an arrow took him square in the chest. He slumped to the ground.
Rael, brandishing his sword in one hand and a hunting knife in the other, streaked out of the shadows and charged at the guards, stunned, they barely reacted. A few yards out he let out a high pitched scream, this woke the guards and they immediately gathered their weapons.
Rael sliced his sword down the nearest man, splitting open his chest, twirling, he ducked a wild swing from another and sliced across his belly, opening his guts. The last two came together and he met both blades at shoulder height. Twisting his left wrist he rammed the hunting knife home into a guard's chest, rolling his right, then reversing the motion he sliced the throat of the last guard. Rael stepped clear of the bodies and waited to see if anyone rose. As their lifeblood left them the guards slowly became silent and still.
Reaching the princess, Rael quickly located her bonds and slashed them.
"My apologies for leaving you, my lady. On the road I stood no chance, I may have got one or two of them, but I would have been dead and then no one would know that you were in trouble. I had to wait for the right time."
He looked at the red patch on the side of her face.
"I'm sorry I couldn't stop them hitting you, I have some ointment, but first we should leave this place."
The princess didn't take her eyes off him.
"Can you stand?"
"Yes." She got to her feet.
"I just need to get my horse, I'll be back shortly."
He disappeared into the woods for some minutes before returning, leading his horse.
"Now I'm just going to check them for supplies and anything useful."
Rael rummaged through the soldier's packs, their horse's packs and their clothes, taking anything he deemed of use. Finally he lead the pack animal and two other horses back to the princess.
"Time to go now, mount up, my lady."
She did so without a word, or a backward glance, and they rode from the clearing.

Rael lead the princess on as far as he dare before finding a place to rest well away and hidden from the road. He hobbled the horses and searched through his pack, pulling out a small clay pot wrapped in cloth.
"If you sit down I'll apply some of this salve to your face, it'll numb any pain and help reduce the bruising."
The princess sat, leaning up against a tree. Rael knelt beside her and rubbed his hands together to warm them, he unwrapped the pot and scooped out a small amount of its contents. He leant in close and, using his fingertips, rubbed the ointment into the bruised area, which was already beginning to discolour, making sure to use only enough force to spread it out in an effort to avoid causing any pain. Backing away he found himself staring at the princess, suddenly he realised what he was doing. He dropped his eyes to the floor.
"I'm sorry, my lady, please excuse me, I'm a simple farmer and not used to seeing women of your beauty."
He absentmindedly rubbed the excess ointment between his palms. Still avoiding eye contact:
"Can I get you something to eat?"
"No... thank you, I'm not hungry."
Rael returned to the horses and removed a couple of blankets. He spread one out next to the princess. He offered her the second blanket.
"Then might I suggest you get some rest? I'll stand watch."
"I don't feel tired."
"You've had a pretty nasty ordeal, my lady, and I don't know if we'll face any more challenges before we reach Edlenser, it would be a good idea to be ready to face them, just in case."
"You are right, I should be ready."
Taking the blanket from Rael she moved to the one already spread out on the floor, covering herself she lay down.
"Your name is Rael, is that correct?"
"Yes, your majesty."
"Thank you for what you did this evening, Rael."
"I'm sorry it happened at all, but I gave my word I would see you safely to Edlenser and while I draw breath you can count on me doing so."
The rest of the night passed in silence. Rael, though tired now the adrenaline had stopped flowing, was restless, his mind was whirling away, trying to figure out what was going on. Who wanted the princess so much? Was it purely for blackmail, or something else? Had the king known about this threat, and if so, why hadn't he told Rael of it? The one he kept coming back to was how to proceed. Would there be others waiting for them? Would they be hunted and would they be safe once they reached Edlenser? Rael was well past wishing he had stayed at home. Just get her to Edlenser, then you can go home, he thought.

Part 4 of this story has now been published.

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