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Blue Mountain Goat Cheese
Ethan did indeed take Tamara in through the servants entrance, but only so that no one would know of her arrival. What he had neglected to tell the princess was that the kingdom was in a state of intense upheaval. King Alex had proved to be a most difficult monarch. Where his father had been content to let his advisors run the country the new King wanted to be involved in every aspect of the government, in fact, he wanted to BE the government. The now displaced advisors had not taken the news well.
To be fair, Ethan HAD tried to explain the state of the affairs to the princess in the hours that they had been riding. He felt that she, as next in line of succession to the throne of the Tronin kingdom (until such time as the king produced an heir), should know what was going on. He had brought this to her attention soon after she had awoken, but she had not at all been in the mood for what she deemed 'palace gossip'.
He supposed that regaining consciousness strapped face down to the back of a horse had done little to lighten her mood, but he had seen no other way to transport her once he had assured himself that the nasty little cut on her head had done no permanent damage. Time was of the essence, even if she refused to acknowledge it. Even when he had stopped and wasted precious time to allow her to sit in the saddle she had shown no gratitude. In that she was very much like her brother had said she would be.
Everytime he spoke to her of her responsibilities to her brother she snorted at him, tossed her head and urged her mount as far away from him as the lead line would allow. He knew she was disgruntled about the knot and laceration on her head and knew she misguidedly blamed him for it when in fact it was her own fault for attacking him and running in the first place. He'd be damned if he was about to apologize to her after the injuries she had dealt him. Besides which, her apparent self centeredness was really beginning to grate on him. She appeared to have no interest in what was going on in her own kingdom, only in how his arrival had inconvenienced her. She was behaving very much like the spoiled child he remembered from childhood. She had even gone so far as to threaten to start screaming once they were in the village surrounding the castle to alert the peasants to her discontent. The thought mortified him. He knew that Alex would not be happy if that were to occur. The King had made it very clear that he had specific plans for his sister and that failure in this matter would result in a very unpleasant punishment, even for his loyal Captain of the Guard and lifelong friend.
Ethan had finally, however, impressed upon the disgruntled princess the need for her return to the castle to remain a secret for the time being. He realized too late that he was all but begging her to remain silent and expected his desperate plea to fall on deaf ears, but to his amazement she had conceded to wear the dark, hooded cloak he offered and to remain silent through the trip through the village. He had to admit that with the disrepair of her gown and slippers and the hood covering her face, no one would suspect that the runaway princess was returning home. He intended to keep it that way.
It was well past midnight when they rode up to the darkened servants wing. Tamara's whole body ached from being in the saddle for so long, though she would never give the infuriating soldier the satisfaction of complaining.
Ethan tethered the horses outside the heavy wooden door and, taking Tamara by the arm hurried inside. The old door was well oiled and slipped open without protest to reveal a long corridor He took a torch from the wall and, still gripping the princess firmly, led her down the hallway to a narrow stairwell and began to ascend. At every landing he held Tamara back sweeping the torch in an arch to make sure no one was loitering in the darkness to oversee their arrival.
When they reached the upper most floor he led her down another corridor to her suite of rooms. Tamara pushed past him and threw the door open. Ethan lunged for the opening slab of wood and managed to grab it just before it connected with the wall. He glared at her as she swept imperiously into the room.
" I thought you understood the need for silence." He hissed as he gently closed the door.
"The only thing I understand, Captain, is that I was abducted and forced to ride without break for hours on end and am now being kept here against my will." She replied heatedly.
"I thought that was the meaning of the word abduction." He returned sarcastically. "What's your point?"
Tamara scowled darkly.
"Don't expect me to make this easy for you." She informed him as she began to rip the coverings off the furniture in the room.
"Oh, please, don't make it easy...Heaven forbid you should actually cooperate with anyone. Let alone your King." His anger was growing by the moment.
"You are not my King." She hissed.
"No, that 'honor' belongs to your brother." he reminded her and her face paled. She turned away from him abruptly and resumed her task, throwing the dusty sheets at his feet.
"Make yourself useful. Find somewhere for these." She ordered as another cover hit the heap already on the floor. He stepped over the bundle of cloths ignoring them and her order. He grasped her upper arm firmly and turned her to face him.
"There isn't time for this. You must see the King tonight.. I'll send for Marisha. She'll get you cleaned up and presentable." He told her with yet another disdainful look at her appearance.
"I hardly think so." She replied haughtily wrenching her arm free. "I've been riding for hours after quite a traumatic blow to the head. The only thing I am doing is taking a bath and going to bed. Alex can wait until morning."
He felt his anger rising again at the way she so cavalierly dismissed him.
"You need to learn some respect. Has your time with the common folk so tainted you that you would disobey an envoy of your ruler?" He demanded. "You disgrace this throne. There are things here that you don't understand...things you need to know." When she walked away and began ripping more sheets off the furniture his tenuous hold on his temper snapped. He closed the distance between them in three steps and grabbing her arm, swung her around to face him.
"You need to listen." He growled, his face mere inched from hers.
"And you need to quit man handling me." She retorted. "You speak to me of respect and yet here you are, laying your hands on your princess, the heir to your grubby little throne. Do you know what the punishment for that is? I could have you put to death for the offense." She was seething. Her face reddened in anger. She jerked her arm free and stood, staring him down. In that moment, with her eyes blazing and her body held imperiously erect he saw her father in her, not the man he had been at the end of his life, a lacsidasical man consumed more with matrimony than with matters of state, but the King he remembered from childhood. The old King had been a fiercely commanding leader in those days long ago, who had kept Tronin free of the invading forces of Sirrus Blackpool, and later Sirrus' son Dirk ,relying not on negotiation as he had in the last years of his life, but by leading the proud soldiers under his command to victory in the field.
Ethan chuckled. She stared at him in disbelief, her anger growing as his chuckle turned into a full belly laugh. She gripped the covering in her hands so tightly that her knuckles were white.
"What's so funny? " She demanded, the wind literally taken out of her sails.
"Alex told me you would be difficult. He saw it when your father died and you left for school." He said after his mirth had calmed.
"Well, if I am so difficult then perhaps you should've just left me where I was to be someone else's problem." She hissed.
"Oh what a glorious, if misguided thought. " He sighed wistfully. "However, your brother would never have let you go so easily. As the heir to ...how did you say..this grubby little throne, you're far to important to the kingdom."
"Important?!?" Tamara barked the word in a bitter laugh. "So important that I was sent away? All but banished? My father had just died in my arms....his body wasn't even cold..." She choked on a sob and turned her back to him.
Ethan felt for her. He knew that the former King had doted on her, favored her above all the other children. His first princess. Alex had been resentful of that and all arguments to the contrary, the entire kingdom knew that sending the princess away before her fathers funeral had been a form of punishment for the favorite child, a way of letting her know that things would change now that their father was dead. Privately Ethan thought there was more to it than that, but knew it was wiser not to bring up the subject with the new King.
"His majesty thought you would be safer..."
"Save it. " She interrupted coldly. "I know why I was sent away and it has nothing to do with my safety. It's not worth re-hashing." She turned and walked toward the bathing chamber, Ethan hot on her heels. She glanced back at him with a raised eyebrow. "And do you plan on standing guard over me while I attend to this business as well? I assure you that I haven't needed help with this for quite a long time." She told him, some of the amused haughtiness back in her voice. She delighted in the color that flooded his cheeks and barely contained her laughter as he backed away and stumbled over the pile of discarded cloths.
"Of course not. I..I'll send Marisha right up." He stammered.
"Don't bother." She replied as she pushed the door shut and engaged the bolt. "I have no intention of meeting with my brother anytime before morning." She declared to the empty room, relishing the small victory of denying Ethan presenting her to the King tonight. She heard his infuriated footsteps retreat back through the outer chamber and almost felt sorry for him. She knew that he would feel honor bound to inform Alex that she was within the castle walls and that he would take full blame for her uncooperative state. She did not know why, but she found herself hoping that with Ethan's status as her brothers life long friend, in fact his only friend, that the king would go easy on the Captain. She put the troubling emotion down to the swollen, aching knot on her head and moved further into the spacious bathing chamber.
She stripped out of the ripped and soiled dress and stood in front of the long mirror in just her plain cotton under dress. She looked at her reflection and was suddenly struck by what a different person she had been the last time she had stood in this chamber. That girl would never have dreamed of doing the things she now did out of habit, running her own bath, cooking her own food...or what passed for food when she cooked.
She walked closer and pulled her hair aside to look at the nasty contusion on her head. Something in her hair caught her attention and she reached up and pulled a limp wild flower out of the mass of tangled waves. She was amazed that it had stayed with her through the days ordeal. The dance with Erik, the flight from Ethan, the ride to Tronin.
She put the flower to her nose and breathed deeply it's faint, sweet scent. Erik filled her thoughts.
'There are things you don't understand' Ethan had said, just as Erik had said the same words to her in the meadow. Now she was sure she would never understand what the dashing prince had wanted to tell her. She thought of what the infuriating Captain had told her, all thoughts of mercy for him from her brother banished. Ethan had told her how excited Erik had been when making the plans for their dinner together. Now she imagined him, sitting at that special table, waiting for a princess that would never arrive. She could clearly see the hurt in his eyes as he realized that she had stood him up, could feel his heart hardening against her at the humiliation she had unwittingly caused him. Tears stung her eyes as she imagined him leaving the Tavern in anger, wondering if this was her way of getting retribution for past mis-deeds.
It was then that she realized she may never see him again. She put her hands to her face and wept openly. The thought of Erik being out of her life forever was more than she could bear. Combined with the other stresses of her day it was her un-doing. She fell to the floor, collapsing into sobs that wracked her small body, and lay there curled on the cold stone floor until her exhaustion took over and she fell into a fitful sleep.
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