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by Carolyn Ann Aish
Description: Who is 'Angel'? And who is 'Captain K'? From the moment they meet, sparks fly. Barbarian raiders come to take over the kingdom and this contrary couple has to hide. But they are discovered... Adult themes with battle violence in early medieval times set in an inspirational action novel.
eBook Publisher: Writers Exchange E-Publishing, 2011
eBookwise Release Date: May 2011
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [191 KB]
Reading time: 121-170 min.
Angelina frowned. She remembered her father telling her, "The day you appreciate flowers, my girl, will be a day to remember. It will be the day you turn into a woman."
She watched as Leda gathered roses, dark, blood-red roses. From where Angelina brushed her horse, the roses looked an inspiring contrast to the white of Snow's thick mane. Dropping the brush, she drew a small sharp dagger from her belt. With a flick, the blade sprang open. She approached the rose vine with caution. The roses had long, spike-like thorns.
Such a new thing for Angelina, picking flowers. Leda drew a deep breath in surprise, watching her niece. Leda had been there when Angelina's father had made his 'prophecy'. "This is the day," Leda said under her breath.
Angelina had owned Snow for six weeks now, and already the gentle creature looked so much healthier. Snow had been purchased from a horse dealer who advertised the animal as meat fit for human consumption, or else 'dog meat'. The mare had been hard worked and was aging. Angelina had believed that Snow could be nourished back into condition, and would be most useful for some years. Today, her belief had come to full-term.
Taking the roses to where the horse, tied to a long leather lead, grazed at the side of the square where the grass was lush and long, Angelina turned her attention to the roses. The horse would have eaten them but Angelina quickly stepped out of reach where she placed them on the ground. Taking a half-dozen, Angelina began to fix them, one by one, into the horse's thick, white mane.
"Here, bend for me," Leda said.
Angelina obliged and Leda pushed a small bunch of the roses into the untidy knob on the top of her niece's head.
"Smell them," Leda urged, lifting her bunch towards Angelina's face. The smell was a pure rose-oil aroma. Angelina inhaled and closed her eyes.
''Unclipping Snow from the long lead, she fixed the reins and mounted the horse. It would be good to gallop out in the open air. Under the small arch she steered her, and soon they were galloping in the long grass of the meadow outside the village walls. She slowed Snow to a canter, then to a walk, not wanting to overextend the mare. "I don't know what you can do yet, girl, but I'm sure you will have a lot of stamina if you are at your full health."
She walked the animal back into the village square and fixed her with a short lead. "You've eaten enough," she said softly as she stroked her mane.
A shrill yell interrupted the morning air. It was the voice of a small boy. "Soldiers and horses! King's Soldiers!" He scampered through the archway. "They're coming! They're coming!" He ran for the safety of his home and his mother's arms.
Leda hurried across the square to where her husband stood. Angelina stayed beside Snow. Cries and shouts sounded out as towns-people rushed from the square, seeking the relative protection of their stone dwellings or anonymity in the narrow dry mud-caked streets behind walls and in doorways.
Leda and Eugene with their small group of followers moved closer to the place they had pitched their eight tents.
Mounted soldiers, resplendent in their gaudy scarlet uniforms rode under the archway and into the village square. Within seconds they surrounded the area, blocking the one town exit and the lanes leading away from the town center.
As one, the mounted men drew their swords, gripping the reins with one hand whilst holding their swords with the other, pointing their weapons upwards.
Watching this invasion with interest, Angelina perceived that the soldiers' stances were non-threatening. She guessed that a mandate was to be read.
A young man, riding a huge black stallion, entered under the arch. Angelina wondered who was the more magnificent creature, the horse or the man. With brassards dotted all over the arrow-proof vest on his broad chest, it was easy to see that he was the leader of these unannounced invaders.
Footmen in pairs ran from outside the town, under the archway and into the square. One of the two went right, the other to the left until there were no gaps for any person to escape between. They carried loaded crossbows and ran as if to predetermined places, four footmen for every horse. They stood pointing their bolts at the greatly diminished number of people who still occupied the square.
Angelina felt these men to be more threatening than those on their mounts. If all those with crossbows let their bolts fly, everyone left in the town square, including her, would be killed. Her heart thumped in her chest, its rate increasing every second. She swallowed and clenched her fists, unclenching them and flexing her fingers. The air was filled with uncertainty and danger. Step by step, she began to make her way across to Leda.
The leader, his glossy black hair showing from beneath his plumed helmet, hair with a sheen matching that of his mount, rode into the center of the square from which the occupants moved outwards, that is, all save Angelina and her uncle and aunt.
"You! Are you the leader of this illegal band?" the man on the black horse demanded.
With dark tanned skin, his blue eyes seemed out of place. Angelina was reminded of a vulture, a handsome vulture, she thought as she looked upwards at his aristocratic features, his large straight nose, high cheekbones and square clean-shaven chin. She estimated him to be in his mid twenties. He seemed too young to be leading this large contingency of militia.
"I am, Sir," Eugene replied bowing slightly.
"Your name?--and tell us from where you come!"
"Eugene is my name, Sir, and I was born in Italy."
"You're a long way from home."
"Italy is no longer my home, Sir; I live a nomadic life now."
"You teach illegal doctrines," the man accused.
"You have an advantage over me, Sir--you know my name, but I do not know yours."
"I am Captain K., First Captain of His Majesty King Kahn's Tenth Legion. What answer do you give to the charge?"
"The charge, Sir? Are you saying that we are on Karistahni land?"
"The townspeople may differ, and certainly our neighboring kingdom friends, but this town, Stonewood, is in Karistahn. You have entered the Kingdom of Karistahn to propound your illegal religion," the captain accused.
"Illegal? Since when is a man's beliefs illegal?" Eugene's wife asked.
"I did not address you, Madam, but as you have spoken, I will reply. For over twenty years, it's been illegal to teach religious doctrine in Karistahn. The penalty is death." Captain K glared at Leda and pronounced his sentence, "The men will be executed quickly, and you women folk will be taken as slaves." His eyes moved outward to scan the group of twenty men, women and children, and he added, "the children will be relocated to receptive homes to be adopted."
"We-we scarcely realized that we are over the border, Sir," Leda spoke again, a slight sob in her voice this time.
Angelina knew this was not entirely true. It was believed, in the neighboring kingdom of Tertonia, that Stonewood was a neutral town with residents from both kingdoms. Eugene had determined to bring his religion into Karistahn and he had begun with a divided town that he did not believe would be affected by the Karistahni laws.
"Sir, I cannot lie. I entered Karistahn, knowing that your kingdom leaders would not welcome me. I believed that Stonewood was out of the jurisdiction of the legalistic views and the good news I bring was worth the risk."
"Good news? What good news?" Captain K asked, then said quickly, "No, don't answer that question! I don't want to hear it. Not one word of it. Your kind uses many wiles to pass on your propaganda. The good news today is that Stonewood is under our kingdom's laws. It's against Karistahni law to worship anyone other than our king. Your acknowledgment of your crime is enough. We'll take the men outside the town walls and after they have dug a communal grave, they will be executed. If the women folk wish, they may come and fill the grave in. The children will remain in the town square here."
Three women, their children clinging to them began to wail and sob.
Looking directly at Angelina, who now stepped beside Leda, her face stony and unemotional, the captain asked, "How old are you?"
Angelina frowned. She could not remember facing such an arrogant man, other than her own father, but she did not count him. Fathers were supposed to be bossy, especially those in high positions of power.
"Are you people so ignorant that you don't know how to answer with a captain's title?" His sapphire blue eyes swept the group, which was many times dwarfed by the huge company of soldiers.
"Nineteen, Sir, Captain K--Your Royal Highness!"
The captain started so much that his horse felt his master's shock and skittered sideways. Pulling it back into his control, he walked it right around Angelina, staring down the straight of his nose at her. She turned with him, smiling up at him and raising her eyebrows.
"Do I detect mockery?" he demanded.
"Yes! Sir!"--she replied, using a military voice, looking up at him and then across at Eugene. "I mock you all." She spoke loudly and gestured with one hand, sweeping it across the scene to include them all. "These feeble tent people who speak of unity and peace, and carry no weapons to create such peace, and you, such a brave Captain with your soldiers who come armed with swords and arrows to kill those who could not and would not harm you but would love you to death and would pray for you while they were dying."
"And the title?" he asked, nudging his horse to step closer to her.
"Title?" she asked.
"Title, what?" he demanded.
"Sir! Captain K! Your Royal Highness," she replied with a smirk on her face that she hoped would aggravate him. She wondered why he was so enraged. Usually, naming someone as royal made the recipient puff up with pride.
"That title--the last one," he said, now so close that she could have reached out and touched his shiny black boot. A boot that glittered its jeweled buckles in the sunlight. She looked up at him with defiance in her eyes.
"You have the appearance and attitude of a king's son," she said, shading her eyes from the sun to look at him now that he had moved his horse so that the sun was above and behind him.
"Thank you," he said, a cynical smile crossing his handsome face. "A lowly captain like myself is very flattered."
"I do not mean to flatter you, Sir, Captain K. Royalty is to be scorned and mocked above all other vocations, perhaps, that is, other than evangelism."
"Then what are you here for?--What are you doing with this group for whom you show no regard?"
She did not reply and while his eyes traveling over her peasant-style costume, he demanded, "Are you a resident of Karistahn?"
"No Sir! Captain K."
"Then where on earth are you from, girl? Where were you born?"
"In Razolia, Sir."
"That's three kingdoms away!" He walked his horse around her again, staring down his nose at her.
Angelina was unaware of the perfection of her figure and beauty of face and hair. Her large green-brown eyes glowed with mystery and intrigue. Red lights in her dark brown hair seemed infused with fire. Rebel strands framed her perfect face and the red roses in the top of her hair made her appear more of a princess than a peasant.
"You're nineteen?" He asked.
"Almost nineteen, Sir," she tendered.
"Then, the good news for today is that I shall take you, alone, and, the rest of you will all go free. For your trespass here, we will confiscate your horses and your carts, your tents, all of your belongings, in the name of His Majesty, King Kahn." He swept his hand across the stunned group and said, "Just begin walking--under the arch over there--and onwards past the border. Don't stop, don't look back--you'll be permitted to leave Karistahn with your lives and your freedom. Propagate your religion somewhere else, not in Karistahn." He looked down at Angelina, claiming, "I shall keep you. What did you say your name was?"
Protests broke out from Eugene, Leda and the group. As one, they stepped closer to the captain. The half-dozen small children clung to their mothers' skirts, hiding behind them.
"Silence!" the captain shouted, "Keep your distance!" He signaled the footmen and the cavalry and as one they began closing in.
Protests died and the captain signaled the advance to halt. Drawing his sword, he said, "We have made a ruling. If you want your lives, and the lives of your men-folk, you'll leave now." Turning to Angelina, he demanded, "Tell me your name!"
"Excuse me, Sir, but I don't believe I'm permitted to go with you," Angelina said, smiling. Her smile seemed to send an aroma up to him, but it was a battle aroma, not one of romance. "You can't keep me, Sir, Captain K."
His face showed that he was infuriated!
Pivoting his horse in a full circle in the small space now afforded him, and staring at the twenty individuals all looking up at him, then across to the company of over three hundred, he said, "You have six men, eight women, including yourself, girl, and six children. How do you think you'll prevent us from keeping you and driving the rest of your rabble from our kingdom?"
"You want me--to be your--slave?"
"You belong to someone here?" he asked, and said, "That would be the only reason you should protest. Point him out to me and I shall challenge him to a duel, with you as the prize." Angelina laughed aloud, scoffing, and said, "I belong to no one! Even less to you, your lord, Highness, Captain K! I'm no one's prize!"
"A great prize, to be broken like a rebellious horse!" he returned, then asked, "Which one of you is the leader?"
Eugene stepped closer, replying, "I am, Sir."
"Why does this girl claim that she can't go with me?" the captain asked.
"We, that is, my wife, Leda, and I, we have been entrusted to return her to her parents, in Razolia, Sir."
"She has parents?" he asked, adding, "I thought such a contrary girl would have been fostered by the north wind, or, a pack of wolves! Tell me, why do her parents allow her to travel with you if they don't agree with what you teach?"
"Her parents agree, Sir, it's just that she does not agree, Sir."
"Eugene. What do they call her?"
Eugene stared at the trampled grass beneath the horse's feet and spoke dolefully, "They call her 'Angel'."
The captain shook his head and then laughed loudly. Throwing his head back as if to look at the sun, he laughed even louder. Some of his company joined the laughter and the name was passed around in mirth.
Angelina was enraged.
When the laughter died, she said, "It's not Angel!"
"No, of course not! More likely, 'Devil girl'."
"Sir, Captain K, you don't want Angel, Sir. You wouldn't want her Sir."
"By heaven, man!" he said, and cursed. "You're in no position to tell me what I want or what I don't want." He looked from Eugene to Angelina, then across at Leda. "You woman. You're Eugene's woman?"
"Yes, Sir, Captain K," Leda replied, "I'm Eugene's wife. My name is Leda, Sir."
"Then, Leda, take your husband by his arm, and walk him from this town, or I swear by the stars, I'll see him dead!"
Eugene, his face grave, looked across at Angelina, who grinned back at him. Captain K caught this wordless interchange and frowned.
Dropping to his knees, Eugene cried, "Kill me now, Sir. Push your sword through my chest, but do not take Angel from us."
"What have we here?" the captain demanded, confused. "Is she your young mistress, Eugene? Shall I fight you for her? What shall we use? Our fists?"
"You'll--you'll be sorry, Sir--if you take her..."
The captain grinned broadly, and then he frowned. "You're not making any sense. Let's square it away with our fists, then, shall we?"
"This is ridiculous! You're behaving like a child!" Angelina said, stamping her foot. She looked across at the soldiers, so close, still with crossbows trained on them. There were too many for her to take on, far too many. Her martial arts skills would do little in this situation other than to get her guardians and their small band of friends killed. She sighed. As much as Eugene and Leda were committed to her well-being, she was pledged to stay with them.
"Who are you saying is behaving like a child?" the captain asked.
"You, Sir, that's who. And you, Eugene. For goodness sake, get up and stop groveling. Behave like the man you used to be. Go with your band, leave me here. You know that this man can't keep me. I'll catch up with you, I promise. You know I keep my promises, Eugene. Go now, there's a good fellow. We'll get more horses and tents, later when I join you again." Her gaze darted across to her mare, Snow, then up to link with the captain's eyes. He was listening to this exchange with great interest. It was as if he was mesmerized by the way Angelina argued and contended.
Standing to his full height, Eugene said, "Where will we meet with you?"
"Remember Cloud? I'll meet you at Cloud." Although Angelina spoke softly, the captain heard the word, 'Cloud'. He grinned a grin that seemed to say to her, Perhaps if I grow tired of her, she'd be permitted to meet this man at Cloud.
Her eyes darted hatred at him as she asked, "Am I permitted to farewell my friends?"
"You may--quickly--and they will leave," the captain said, heaving a sigh as if exasperated that it was taking too long.
"Don't do anything rash," Leda said, and gave Angelina a hug.
"Don't hurt anyone," Eugene said. His voice dulled of hope, he added, "Promise?"
"I promise not to hurt anyone until you're all safely out of this backward place," Angelina said, her voice louder. She knew the captain was listening. She did not appreciate his interest in her.
Angelina received hugs from the women folk and the children. Then, turning back, she stepped to the Captain's large black horse and stroked the velvet nose. He nudged up to her and would have taken a bite of the roses had she not tipped her head back out of his reach. The stallion instead nuzzled his soft nose into her neck. While petting the horse, she watched Eugene and his wife walk away, the others following.
Leaving their tents and horses behind, the band passed between rows of footmen and cavalry to the archway where the men parted to allow them passage. Angelina felt strange. She had never been close enough to any humans before to miss them. Now she would miss this previously unwanted company led by her uncle and aunt. Her gaze followed their departure and she stepped towards the archway, her rebel eyes misting.
"Do you wish to fetch something? We'll be burning the tents and the contents before we leave Stonewood," the captain said, making Angelina jump. He had dismounted and stood close to her, a head taller. He was so close she could smell mint on his breath. She wondered if he ate mint, and if so, in what form. He was so close, she could think of nothing else but his larger than life presence.
"From your tent," he offered when she did not answer.
Having watched the last of the travelers disappear, and without a word, she hurried across to her tent. Kneeling down, she rummaged in a trunk, selecting a large cloth bag, underclothes, her hairbrush and personal items.
A whistle of surprise startled her.
"This is very nice," he said. "A bed with nets to keep the bugs out."
He fingered the fine chiffon and lifted it to view the heavy lace edge.
Before he would notice and comment on it, she quickly unclipped the necklace she had been wearing. It was made with a large number of small raw rubies. She dropped it in the bag and pushed more clothes into it. Angelina chose other clothes, hoping to use them as a disguise when she escaped from this egotistical man. She pressed clothes into the bag until it was full, then pulled the strings at its neck and tied it tightly closed. She stood and turned to look at him. His blue eyes seemed to devour her. She hated this man, she told herself again. The sooner she could flip him to land winded on his back, the better, she believed.
Perhaps I shall render him unconscious, she thought. Or, if he comes on strong, I shall break a bone. If I had not vowed against it, I'd break his neck!
He believed her to be a peasant girl, easy game, she guessed. She knew enough about men like him, she thought, to make her determined not to become a slave to Captain K.
Angelina did not want to reveal her skills to him, not yet. If she made an escape now, he would likely chase Eugene and Leda and do them harm. Ten weeks ago, she would have welcomed him to do injury to Eugene and his band, but not now. Angelina realized for the second time since leaving Razolia that she had changed drastically. What her father had planned was happening. The realization took her by surprise.
"This is no peasant's tent, not with these furnishings," he said as he drew the nets apart. "You have a leopard-skin bedcover..."
"I like animal prints," she said.
"This isn't made from one animal, but animals, plural," he said. "From where did you get the funds to purchase such luxury?" he asked. When she did not reply, he said, "Come now, you could not afford this. Did Eugene buy it for you? What favors did you exchange for this? And where did he get such riches?"
"My parents supplied it, all of it," she answered truthfully. "If you fold back the cover, you'll see that I have an embroidered bolster for my head rest, and under that bolster pillow, there's a jeweled dagger with which I plan to stab any intruder near my bed. Perhaps you shall be the first, Captain K, Sir! I won't kill you, but I will wound you, I promise."
He stared at her in disbelief.
"I'm not what I seem," she said, and added, "Neither are you, Captain K. Tell me, what does the K stand for?"
"That's my secret," he said, taking a step toward her.
Lifting the bag to her front and hugging it to her, she stepped backwards and said, "You haven't checked out the dagger. I'm telling you, it's there."
Stepping back to the bed, he crouched, but left his blue gaze upon her. Feeling under the cover, then under the bolster, his fingers contacted hard cold metal.
Looking down now, he pulled out a small but heavy sheathe. Drawing out the dagger, he whistled at it. Although the sheathe had been plain, the handle of the dagger was studded with precious stones, small diamonds, emeralds and rubies. Turning it over, he examined it more closely. The blade was double-edged, strong and thin, a very lethal weapon, especially in the hands of one who knew how to use it.
"Where did you get this?" he asked, his voice filled with amazement. There was no reply. When he looked up, the tent was empty. He had not heard her leave.
"She's like a panther," he surmised as his eyes again scanned the luxury of the tent. "I won't have this burned. It can be packed up and put on one of the carts. Father will be very interested to see how these evangelists live."
Angelina stroked Snow's nose, waiting and watching.
Captain K gave her a brief glance and checked the other tents, one by one. They were different from Angelina's.
"You lived in luxury, whilst they lived so meagerly?" he asked when he had finished. Turning to a young foot soldier, he said, "Burn all the tents, save the angel's. Pack hers up and bring it on the cart. Oh, and, collect up all the books and scrolls first. I saw papers and books in some of the tents." He turned back to Angelina, saying, "You'll ride alongside me, Angel. Ride that white one. I'll take its reins."
"That's dangerous, Captain K. I don't like riding close."
"We won't ride fast," he said, and then turning to his men, said, "Give me a quad as escort, and we'll go ahead. We should reach Ravenview by sunset. I'll expect you to be about an hour behind us."
Angelina felt pleased. Four men to accompany the captain. Five altogether. Five will be easy, she mused. Like a piece of cake, waiting to be eaten. But I'll wait as long as possible, then I'll feign illness, then, I'll strike...
Angelina smiled as they rode from Stonewood, and she knew as the captain glanced at her smiling, he would have no idea what he had taken on. She might have the word 'angel' as part of her name, but her hands were no angel hands...
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