Authors: Dove Winters
Tags: #Children's Books, #Geography & Cultures, #Royalty, #Literature & Fiction, #Historical Fiction, #Medieval, #Children's eBooks
Against the Reign
Copyright © 2015 Dove Winters
All rights reserved.
This book is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. All names, places, and characters in this work are fictitious.
To overthrow an oppressive king and bring peace to the land, six knights banded together to lead the people into battle. Though one knight did not survive, five knights carried out an impressive conquest. It was decided that the land was too large for just one ruler, and the five knights decided to rule together as one. As a strong force, they feared no one. Peace fell over the land. But in the end, their fall came from within their own walls. Lust for power, control, and riches grew in their hearts, and quarrels broke out among them. War broke out, and boundaries were violently established, splitting the land into five kingdoms. The knights-turned-kings gave their names to their kingdoms, and vowed that their descendants would rule their territories forever. Thus follows the tales of their heirs, and the descendants of the people.
One hundred years since the knights’ conquest
Behind the black curtain is an alley lined with shops and pubs. The king mandated that the curtain be put up to discourage children from going down the alley. Because the town sits so close to the border, foreigners frequent the alley to trade and drink. Fights routinely break out over trades gone wrong, drunken fools stumble around looking for trouble, and murders committed there rarely are solved or punished. The king tries to control the alley by having his men patrol the area, but more often than not, someone will buy them a drink or gift them something of value, and they leave with the word that all is well. The alley behind the black curtain continues its business day after day, night after night. It’s certainly no place for children, or anyone respectable, definitely not a princess.
But here I am.
Maybe a princess wouldn’t usually find herself in the presence of thieves, drunkards, and troublemakers. But I find them to be some of the most non-judgmental people I know. Sure, one has to keep an eye on one’s pocket, and it’s best not to bring anything one isn’t willing to lose. But never once has anyone told me I don’t belong here, or that I should get my act together, or that I’m setting a bad example for the whole kingdom. Here, I am simply Ginny.
And Simply Ginny is dancing to the fast music of the traveling minstrels, downing my second jug of mead, and letting the bittersweet, fruity flavor tingle my brain and lighten the mood. Beside me, Ward—already on his third jug with its contents sloshing each time he hops to the beat—is laughing as he tries to dance with a girl who is as horrible a dancer as he is. A misstep sends him tumbling into the nearby crowd, which scatters to let him fall rather than attempt to help him. He remains on the floor and joins our laughter at his idiocy.
I am having the best time of my life.
“Uh…Ginny?” Ward recovers from his fall and points behind me at the doorway. I glance over and groan. But the new arrival has already spotted us and is making his way over, strutting with his chest out like a buffoon. He greets a nearby girl with a kiss to her hand and she erupts in giggles, hiding her suddenly red face behind her other hand. Ward pretends to heave and I laugh.
“My lady.” Buffoon reaches us and puts on quite a show of bowing, one hand on the hilt of his emerald-encrusted sword, the other across his heart. Behind him, his entourage laughs politely at his sarcasm.
“What are you doing here, Liam? I thought I told you your kind isn’t welcome here.” I greet him in a friendly way. His arms cross defiantly.
“My kind? Half the room is from Etigan and you have yet to kick them out.”
kind. I didn’t say anything about Etigan.” His entourage laughs at my retort and earns a sharp look from him.
“My lady, have I done something to offend you? Surely you will accept my deepest apologies.” His second bow is more annoying than the first.
“Your best apology would be leaving. And don’t come back.” I turn my back on him. Ward pokes his tongue out at him before turning his back on him, too.
“Very well. But not before a dance.”
I yelp when I’m roughly pulled away from Ward. I hit Liam’s chest, feel his arm encircle my waist, and my hand flies to my leg. I would have my dagger on his throat, but his other hand catches mine mid-grab.
“I’d prefer you kept your hands where I can see them.” He smiles, then sighs. “Relax, Princess. I only want a dance.”
“That’s what all the princes say,” I retort.
“Did you take my advice at least and get a longer dagger? You’d be lucky to scratch someone with that tiny thing.”
“It’s well-made and I assure you if I had reason to harm someone, it would hurt,” I say defensively.
“I’m just saying.” Liam puts up a hand in defeat. He glances around the room while we dance; I see that Ward has returned to his partner and is dancing, too. Liam eyes them, then looks back at me. “My uncle is increasing security around the border. I don’t know when I’ll be able to return here after tonight.”
“I shall send him a thank you gift for that,” I reply. Liam rolls his eyes.
“Do you insist on being this insufferable?”
“Yes. Ask my father.”
“Perhaps I shall. Perhaps I will ask him for your hand. Then I could put you in your place, Princess.”
“Except I would overthrow you and take your crown.” I shrug as if that were an easy task.
“Using that dagger, I suppose? I shall quiver with fear, then.”
“You shall. Why is your uncle increasing security?” I ask only to change the subject.
“He’s been paranoid since…” Liam’s voice trails off, and I cringe at my own lack of compassion. Liam’s father, King Declan of Etigan, was murdered a year before. Tensions have been high between our kingdoms for decades, but after the king’s murder, they had nearly spilled over into war. The death of his father had hit him hard, and Liam turns away from me as I open the fresh wound.
“May the king rest in peace,” I say respectfully. Liam looks at me gratefully.
“May the king rest in peace,” he repeats, then clears his throat and blinks. “I just came tonight to tell you that. In case you should wonder why I’m not here later.”
“I would never wonder about you,” I reply, back in my sarcastic tone. A small smile creases the corner of his mouth, and I feel his hand on the small of my back gently nudging me closer. I clear my throat. “So, these minstrels—what do you think? I like them. They’re different.” Liam doesn’t answer, but we’re so close now I’m stepping on his toes. His intense, emerald-green eyes stare at me, and I find myself again thinking how fitting it is that he is Etigan’s heir. I look away before I lose myself in them. “Usually we get one singer, but there are four of them up there.”
“Ginny!” Ward shakes my shoulder and I’m grateful for the interruption. “We had better go!”
“You’re right. It’s late.” I break away from Liam, not missing the look of disappointment on his face. “When we meet again then.”
“My lady.” He makes to bow again, but I grimace.
“Shall I not show my respect for the future queen of Newrock?”
“The kingdom would bow to your uncle in Etigan long before they would ever bow to me,” I reply. I had intended it to be a joke, but the bitterness in my voice is evident. Before Liam can push the matter further, I take Ward’s arm and we hurry from the pub.
The alley is as busy at night as the regular streets are during the day. We walk casually through the street, swerving only once to avoid two men who are obviously disagreeing with each other. They pay no more attention to us than we do to them, just a sideways glance in passing. We’re soon out of the alley and back on the quiet streets of the border town of Thumbstole.
Well, mostly quiet.
We’re about to enter the livery stable when a commotion catches my attention. A woman screams, but the scream is cut short. Exchanging a concerned glance with Ward, we rush to the end of the road and turn the corner.
A large pile of straw obscures our vision, but we can see three boys on the other side. Although Ward grabs my arm and tries to stop me, I hurry around the pile to see what they’re doing. A girl about my age sits in the dirt, one arm raised above her head in defense. My eyes find the largest of the three boys, a sandy-haired boy with sun-darkened skin who I recognize immediately.
“What’s going on?” I demand.
“What’s it to you,
?” He sneers the last word. His hands are already balled into fists, but at least now they’re aiming at me and not at the other girl.
“Get away from her,” I say calmly but firmly.
“This is none of your business!” The bully screams, spitting in his rage. I can smell his breath from where I stand—he’s obviously been drinking. No surprise there.
“This is too my business, Hassal, because this is my kingdom. Since when did you start beating on women anyway? I thought your pleasure was stealing coins and sweets from small children? A target more your speed,” I say.
“Watch it, Ginny, unless you want a piece of this, too!” Hassal yells, sticking his face in mine. Ward steps between us quickly.
“How dare you speak to the princess like that!”
Hassal laughs. “And what are you going to do about it, Ward? Knock me to the ground I suppose?”
The other two boys laugh at Hassal’s remark and I grimace. This isn’t the first time we’ve crossed paths with Hassal. And it wouldn’t be the first time Hassal knocked Ward out. Lanky and uncoordinated, Ward is no match for Hassal’s well-earned strength. Hassal is a field-worker, and the constant use of his arms has given him the strength to back up his threats. I step forward.
“That’s enough! Hassal, get out of here before I call the guards.” I dismiss him with a wave, pushing past him to help up the girl. I turn my back on him, but know better than to let down my guard. Before Ward can even call out to me, I’m aware of the attack and expect it. I dodge Hassal’s blow to my back and catch him in the face with my elbow. Enraged and bleeding from the nose, he draws his sword. My dagger is already out and I deflect his blade. With his friends cheering him on, he strikes again, but I knock his blade to the side. Another strike and a block, followed by a thrust. I jump to the side, grab his sword hand, and knee him hard in the groin, ending the fight.
“That’s cheating!” he grunts out before putting his face in the dirt to hide his pain.
“Since when have I ever adhered to the rules?” I point out, and I see him nod to agree. I raise my dagger to his friends. “Wanna go?” They both shake their heads quickly. I motion to Hassal. “Then take this scum and get out of here.”
They hurry to help Hassal to his feet and the three of them limp off into the night. As soon as they’re gone, Ward slaps his leg and bursts into laughter. I turn to the girl, who had covered her mouth with her hands during the fight. She now uncovers them, and I see she is laughing, too.
“Are you alright?” I help her to her feet.
“I’m fine, thanks to you.” Her accent is foreign. She has strawberry-blonde hair pulled back in a messy braid and she’s much too thin. She dusts off her dress and straightens it, and I can see it’s in poor condition. She’s not even wearing shoes. “Sorry for the trouble.”
“What are you doing out this late anyway?” Ward asks.
“I have a baby and he’s fallen ill with a fever. I heard there’s a healer in the alley that could cure him, but I never made it that far before that beast started bothering me.” She shoots a look down the road where Hassal disappeared to.
“This isn’t exactly a good town to walk around in alone. Do you live here?” I ask.
“Why didn’t your husband come out instead?” Ward adds.
The girl eyes us both before answering. “I don’t have one. I’m alone.”
I immediately feel bad for her. I glance at Ward and see he feels the same.
“I’m sorry—we’ve been so rude. We haven’t even asked your name.”
“I’m Marguerite.” She holds out a hand.
“My name is Ward, my lady.” Ward takes her hand first and plants a kiss on it. Marguerite recoils slightly, but I roll my eyes and nudge him away.
“He’s just trying to be charming. My name is Ginny. Nice to meet you.” I shake her hand.
“Why do they call you princess?” No sooner do the words leave her mouth than the recognition crosses her face. She immediately drops to one knee. “I’m so sorry, Your Highness! I didn’t realize at first!”
I quickly help her back up. “It’s okay! Really. So, about your baby—where is he?”
“I left him with a woman I’ve been living with. She had a spare room, but unless I can find a job soon I’ll have to leave. I can’t pay her.”
“Take us there. We’ll get him and you can come with us.”
“Your Majesty, I…”
“Please, just call me Ginny. We have a physician who will take care of your son, and I can find you work. I promise.” I watch grateful tears brim Marguerite’s eyes. She hurries away and we follow her down the road.
Soon, we’ve retrieved the baby and are in a carriage heading back to my castle. It’s about a half hour ride, but the road is fairly smooth, and the gentle sway helps the baby sleep. His small head is hot to the touch, and I’m glad I suggested we take him to our physician. Marguerite looks exhausted; as we travel, I see her eyes drooping. I offer to hold the baby so she can rest, and she hands him over. Within minutes, she’s asleep.
“Do you think this was a good idea?” Ward whispers to me.
“What was I supposed to do? Let her go wondering alone through the alley and risk getting injured or worse?”
“What are you going to do with her now?”
“She can work in the castle.”
“I don’t think there are any positions open. And I don’t think the king is going to take kindly to you inviting some stranger in off the streets. Not now. Especially if the king of Etigan is tightening security all of a sudden.” Ward makes a good point. I didn’t think this through. But we are already entering Benakarsa, our castle town, and I’m out of time.
The carriage leaves us in the streets at my command. We wake Marguerite and she takes the baby for the walk to the castle. We don’t go to the main gate; it’s heavily guarded and since we snuck out, we don’t want to be seen. Instead we follow the perimeter stone wall around to a secret entrance that only we know about. Ward pushes the loose stones aside and we slip through. Then we hurry to the servants’ quarters.
We all jump to find the small servant kitchen full of guards.
“What’s going on?” I demand. They immediately bow and I quickly wave them to stand. A man with a mostly gray beard steps forward. My father’s right-hand man, Rayner.
“The king would like to speak with you. Now,” he says.
I’m in trouble.
“Very well. But this woman I brought has a baby that needs immediate care. She is to stay with Ward and his family here in the castle until I give you further notice. And she will be treated with the same respect as the other servants.” I eye each guard in the room as I speak. When I finish, they respond with a chorus of “It will be done.” I nod firmly. “Good. You,” I gesture to a random guard, “go fetch the physician.” He hurries away and I turn to Ward and lower my voice. “Will you take care of her?”
“Of course. My mother will make sure she and the baby are okay.” He smiles reassuringly. I turn to Marguerite.
“Go with Ward. You’ll be safe there. I’ll check on you tomorrow.” With them gone, I turn to Rayner. “He’s waiting for me?”
“He has been all night, Princess.”
I cringe. “He knew?”
“Let’s not keep him waiting, Princess.”
I take a deep breath and follow him, Ward offering a “Good luck!” as I leave.
It’s going to be a long night.