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In The Service of the Queen

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In Service to the Queen

The hunting party moved quietly through the forest in search of the stag that had one of the largest antler racks seen in many a year. They had been following the tracks of a large herd for two days already, and only this morning had spoken with a farmer who reassured them that this herd did in fact have a very large stag leading it and was near by.

The Royal Hunts Master raised his hand to stop all movement. Stealthily, he moved forward, slowly parting the bushes to peer into the clearing next to a stream. Slowly moving back to the group, he approached the only one with a weapon at the ready.

“You’re Majesty; the herd is at the stream with the stag standing watch. He is closer to us than the others. If we can clear the underbrush, you shall have a clear shot.”

“What fun is there in that? All stay here while I advance.” The monarch answered.

“Yes your Majesty.” The Royal Hunts Master bowed and backed away.

The Royal leader approached slowly on soft boots, being sure to avoid errant twigs and dry leaves while making their way up to the bush. There was a small opening through the center through which aim was taken. The monarch pulled the string back as far as possible and let loose. Within seconds, a loud thunk was heard by all as the herd thundered to life, scattering from the downed stag.

The hunting party all moved forward into the clearing by the stream to find a clean kill of the stag, the arrow through the heart.

“Excellent shot your Majesty!” The Royal Hunts Master crowed.

The crowd parted for the archer to make their way to the downed stag. Slowly, lowering to their knees, a hand is placed reverently on the shoulder, “We must all give thanks for this majestic beast giving its life so that we may provide meat for our people.”

Almost as one, the hunting party lowered their heads, removing hat and helm. The gathering is parted down the middle as a small figure approached with a staff topped with a stone comes to the front.

With staff raised upon high, the priestess intones, “Great Mother, we give you Thanks for the sacrifice made this day by this magnificent King of your realm. We honor him and you this day, our covenant is made with you this day that the bounty will be shared amongst the most humble of the kingdom!”

There is a moment of silence in the glade. As the staff is lowered, the Priestess moves to the side, so that the servants brought to help with the kill can move forward and start to dress the beast.

The Royal Hunts Master assists the Priestess take a seat on a nearby boulder while the servants do their job; securing the head and antlers as a trophy to hang in the Royal gallery, the skin to go to the tanner and the meat to be taken to the butcher – from there to be distributed amongst the poorest of the furthest villages.

This hunt had also started the season of hunting to secure meats for the winter for as many people as they could, with the dual benefit of culling the herds to stop over grazing and the destruction of farmer’s crops.

“Your Majesty, I believe that the Priestess is not well.” The Royal Hunts Master approached the reigning monarch.

“Put her on my horse, and have her taken back to her village.” The hunter walked over to the seated Priestess, “Mother, you have my heartfelt thanks in joining us on this arduous trek. Please, let us see you home safely. I’d like to offer you the use of my steed to carry you home.”

“Thank you my child, I truly appreciate your kindness.” The priestess replied.

Turning to speak to the Hunts Master, “See to it that she gets home safely. Send one of the more seasoned grooms with her. They can bring my horse back to the castle.”

“Yes your Majesty. How will you get back to the castle? Shall I procure another steed for you?”

“No, no need for that. I will walk as the rest do. Just make sure the good mother makes it back unharmed and that all meats get to those who need it the most.”

With instructions given, the Priestess is assisted up on the monarch’s horse and then escorted out of the glade. The ruler stood, placed the bow over the head and across body and started walking with few noticing.

Back at the castle a few days later, the Royal Hunts Master paced the court yard. The monarch had not returned to the castle and he was worried that he had made a huge mistake in not staying with his ruler.

“It’s going to be my head rolling across this court yard before long.” He raised his head as a lone horseman gallops into the opening. “Any luck?” He called out.

“No, my liege.” Was the answer softly given as the they come even with each other, “I’ve searched the remaining routes from the hunt site and have found no tracks, no remnants of cook fires, no signs of anyone in the area.”

The realms monarch had not been heard from since the end of the royal hunt days before. All roads from the area, back to the castle had been searched with no signs.

“See to your steed.” The Hunts Master replied. “Thank you for your assistance in this matter. Discretion is key.” He reminded the rider strongly.

“Yes my liege.” The rider answered as he dismounted and lead his horse to the stable.

The Royal Hunts Master kept pacing, repeating over and over to himself, “No, No, No, No, Nonononono… This can’t be happening.” He stopped pacing – hands on the sides of his head, pulling on the little bit of hair he had left.

After a couple hours, the sun was setting and the gate about to be closed when a shout was heard from outside the strongholds walls, “Hold the gate!”

With head snapping up, the Royal Hunts Master’s face breaks into a smile. “Praise the Goddess!”

A bedraggled but triumphant monarch comes through the gate, a string of rabbits and pheasant looped around and around. Good hunting had evidently been had!

“Your Majesty! Welcome home!! We were worried something untoward had happened to you!” The Hunts Master rushed forward with a kitchen girl to assist with the bounty.

“Nonsense, Henri! You should know nothing would happen to me. Afraid you were to lose your head?” The hat is removed; a cascade of long, red hair fell to cover the monarch’s shoulders. “You have known me all my life and you know I never get lost on my family lands and can take of myself old friend. After all I was taught to hunt and survive by one of the best! Your father!” The Queen teased her old friend.

Henri smiles, “Yes your grace. I should know better by now, but in these uncertain times with the border skirmishes, I…” He lowers his eyes.

“I’m fine Henri. And you know to call me by my given name when just the two of us. You are my dearest friend who I used to catch tadpoles with in that same stream near where we found the stag.”

“Yes your Majesty.” Henri bowed deeply.

“Stop it.” The Queen stops ,and turned . Henri is punched in the shoulder none to gently.

“Yes Nicole!!” Henri yelps clutching his now bruised shoulder.

“Better.” Queen, Nicole Catherine Margarita Louisa Haught strode forward, removing her gloves, handing them off to her hand maid while she made her way into the castle, leaving the man behind. “Oh, and Henri, join me for dinner. Rumor is we are having a fresh roast rabbit.” She paused, just long enough to smirk with a slightly raised eyebrow.

“Yes your Majesty.” He called out with a smile, knowing that the queen was rolling her eyes at his response.

Nicole made her way to her rooms, calling for a hot bath is to be drawn. She had enjoyed her time out in the forest alone, with only her own thoughts and hunting. That was one of the things she really enjoyed. To be able to hunt without reprisal from the King was freeing. This wasn’t the first time she would say to herself, “It’s good to be the Queen.”

While waiting for a proper bath to be drawn and sipping a from a goblet of cool ale, Nicole gazed from her window, one of her advisors briefing her on the goings on that happened while out of contact.

“And lastly your majesty, the King to the north continues to make noise of war if we don’t agree to at least meet with him and his advisors soon.”

“We both know that old curmudgeon is just trying to get me to marry that sickly little son of his. Good god the man and his son are a good head shorter than me!” Nicole turns quickly from the window, hair wiping around, “Why would I want such a weak, nasty little man as my husband. He probably wouldn’t even be able to string my bow! And the thought of consummating the marriage!?! Makes me lose my appetite!”

The advisor quickly hid the smile that broke out, knowing full well what the queen had stated to be true. “Your Majesty, can a mere man be held at fault if his stature does not compare to what the Goddess has blessed – and his strength pales to that of a demigoddess such as yourself?”

Nicole refilled her goblet to the rim with the golden brew picking up an over ripe apple, “Really Jeffry? What has gotten into you and Henri? Is it something in the air that you suddenly feel I need to be treated like I was my Father? He loved that entire sycophant bowing and scraping, I do not.” She threw the apple at Jeffry, hitting him squarely in the chest. Jeffry winced.

“You deserve that and you know it Jeffry.” Nicole intoned as her friend since her youth feigned being gravely injured. Jeffry chuckled.

Taking a deep draw of the liquid, Nicole is hit with a brilliant idea. “Jeffry, invite the small king and smaller prince here. Arrange a banquet and joust, calling on all nobles from the north and all friendly countries to come here as well. Get Henri to gather a large hunting party for additional venison and boar for the table. I don’t want the current plans we have for meats to be changed in the hunting parties. That original order of supplying food for villages still stands. We will show them I am not a weak little girl as I welcome them into our kingdom. We cannot and will not be considered a weak country that can be bullied and told what to do!”

“Excellent idea, my liege.” Jeffry bows, quickly backing from the room to make it so and avoiding any more ‘reprisals’ from his Queen.

Sipping from her drink, Nicole had to congratulate herself on that idea. Even though food had been tight over the past couple years, the herds were bigger than expected after a bountiful summer. She felt she could do this while her people still had enough to get through the winter; as long as the freeze did not go deeply. She had a chuckle herself over the rotten apple hitting Jeffry in the chest. Growing up they had gotten into such mischief!

Changing tracks of thought, “I’ll need to make sure that we have a better yield next year as far as the crops. I will go and see the good Mother tomorrow to see what will be needed for the Goddess to bless us.”

With that, Nicole turned to see her tub was ready. She was more than ready to shed the road from her body. Motioning for her ladies in waiting to leave her she dropped her robe, stepping into the tub and sank gratefully into the warm water with a sigh.

It had barely been a fortnight since losing her Father the King. After having lost her Mother last year, it hadn’t been a surprise that Father died. He had lost his will to live after losing his other half. If only one or more of her brothers had survived. She was the oldest but she had grown up with three brothers; all taken at some point; illness, hunting accidents, war. They would have presented a stronger front against this latest attack against her sovereignty by King Wesley to the north.

‘If only’ never got anyone anywhere!’ Blowing out a deep breath, Nicole allowed herself to slip completely under the water and relax.

Weeks past; the hunts increased and the Royal smokehouse was packed to the rafters with meats brought in from successful hunts for the banquet being held by Queen Nicole. She had met repeatedly with her Hunts master, Butcher and kitchen staff to make sure it all came off without hitting any shortages.

Her meeting with the realm farmers and Head Priestess had gone well. Laying out plans of what could be done to possibly increase yield in the coming year. Messengers had been sent out to the all farms in the realm of what needed to be done to help in accomplishing this feat. From gifts to the Mother Goddess to enriching the soil, plans were made, and communicated across the land

The ball was planned for after the feast had been laid out in great detail with the finest minstrels invited to play from across the kingdom. It was only a day before arrivals would be seen. All rooms were freshened up and ready to receive the nobles who had travelled days to reach the castle.

Queen Nicole had been out, procuring additional staples for the banquet, travelling to personally thank those providing the resources to pull off the feast and joust; only the best in everything - from baked good, vegetables, wines, ciders and ales. They were ready to show that the country was in top shape and in no way weak.

No one was expected to arrive until late afternoon, so Queen Nicole put on some of her brother’s old clothes to go out for a walk through the countryside and do a little light hunting and maybe try for a fish or two. She tied her hair up and shoved in into a farmer’s hat, put on her soft boots, after securing the leg wraps around the bottom of her trousers and set out for the day. She stopped in the kitchen to grab a small loaf of bread, chunk of cheese and a couple of apples.

She turned to make her way out of the kitchen door and was struck from behind by a wadded-up rag. A sodden wadded-up rag. She turned slowly to see the displeased countenance of Trudy, the head cook. Nicole fought the smile from her face, as a look of horror came over Trudy’s face when she realized she had just beaned the queen in the back of the head with a wet, dirty wash rag!

“Your Majesty!! Oh my! I… My.. oh dear…” Trudy struggled to say anything while attempting to get down in a deep curtsy. “I thought you one of the farm hands your Majesty! I mean, oh dear! I never..”

Nicole started chuckling and rushed to help the poor woman up before she had a heart attack. She was after all, rather Rubenesque and old enough to be Nicole’s mother.

“Trudy! Please! How long have you known me? Only all my life! No need to go to such lengths... How were you to know it was me as I’m purposely in disguise?”

“But you don’t look, I mean, I compared you to..” She burst into tears; being sure the Queen would have her head. She had served in the kitchens all her life and had never crossed the line of decorum before this. She was mortified!

Having assisted the woman back to her feet, Nicole gently guided her back until she sat on a kitchen stool. She handed Trudy a towel to dry her eyes and taking her hand, gently kissed her cheek.

“Trudy, I hold no ill will toward you. You have made me see that my disguise is indeed very good and should be safe as I run out to escape for a little while before the weight of running the kingdom comes crashing down on me as we are over run by nobles from surrounding kingdoms today and tomorrow.” This all said while the cook sniffled and a small hiccup or two was heard.

“I have known you all my life and think of you as one of my family dear Trudy. Please, do not upset yourself so.”

Watery, bright blue eyes look up at Nicole and a small smile lightens the older woman’s face. “Truly your Majesty! You are too good to me!” Getting off the stool and bustling into the pantry, Trudy retuned with a small flask. “You take this with you. Mind you don’t allow yourself to get too thirsty out there.”

Nicole removed the cork and sniffed of the contents; her favorite ale. “Dear Trudy – you have always spoiled me so.” With a wink, Nicole headed out the door to find a little peace before the onslaught.

The Queen wandered down to a stream that ran past the castle, she relished the rising sun that was bringing early autumnal warmth to the land, lifting her face upward to drink in the bright rays, she set off at a brisk pass.

While munching on one of the apples from the kitchen, she thought over the past year and permitted the pain of losing both parents to surface and let the tears flow freely. In the castle she felt under constant scrutiny and not allowed to show any weakness. Not that grieving was a weakness, but some did consider showing an outward display of emotion weak. Something an unwed, young Queen could ill afford at the start of her reign.

She had spent most of her time since his death stepping into the shoes of her father left behind and had the kingdom to take care of. Things had been improving over the summer with the help her advisors, the state of most of her people seemed stronger; that was until Wesley started creating problems. Hopefully a show of force at the joust will dampen his ideas that she was an easy target.

Growing up, Nicole had trained alongside her brothers, learning to use a long sword, archery, as well as physical fighting. While Mother had never fully approved, she would deny her only daughter nothing. Nicole understood the strategizing that goes into warfare and had no illusions of what it would take to win battles. She had spent the past year strengthening her kingdom for just this. Yields had been getting stronger for the farmers, wild life had been flourishing. Now was a good time to show she could run this country as well as protect it.

Three times a week, she still sparred with her Master at Arms not allowing him to pull any punches. In battle, no one would give any slack as it was kill or be killed. Her body was agile and flexible with well-trained muscles that would react faster than thought.

As the sun climbed into the sky, the air warmed up. Nicole stopped to drop a line for fish. Enjoying the sounds of the forest and stream; the heady scent of pine, she felt her entire being relax and melt into the sand she sat on. Catching a couple brook trout, she stoked a small fire to life to cook them for her midday meal, to have along with the bread and cheese.

Nicole enjoyed her small feast and after finishing off the flask of ale, she leaned back against a fallen log and closing her eyes, drifted off into a restful sleep, the first really to be enjoyed in almost a year.

She dreamt of someone with hazel eyes that would look at her with such warmth, love and burning passion. They kissed ardently which aroused Nicole’s sleeping body and set it on fire. In the dream, the eyes would change color with rising passion, becoming a bright green. By the time Nicole returned to the wakened world, the sun was lower in the sky than she had anticipated. She had sleep for several hours and well past the time she needed to return to the castle.

Her long strides quickly ate up the ground as she returned to the castle. She ruminated on the dream and realized this wasn’t the first time she had dreamt of eyes the color of hazel. Subconsciously Nicole would look for those eyes in a crowd or with every new person she met. She had many suitors over the years, but none had measured up. Little did she know; the fates had a twist in store for her that would set her world upside down from her assumptions of her life ahead.

Stepping quickly back to the castle, she made good time. As she approached the castle gate, she noticed a lot of activity that she was not expecting. Maybe she had slept longer than she thought. She rerouted to a side gate, where luckily she ran into one of her ladies maids.

“Your Majesty. We have been searching for you everywhere. King Wesley has arrived earlier than expected. He has been storming around demanding to see you! Currently he is with your advisors in the library.”

“Oh for the love of…. I can’t go into the castle dressed like this!” Nicole fumed. Of course Wesley would show up early. The weasel!

“Take my dress.” The maiden pulled her Queen into a side shack just off the stables and started unlacing the back of her bodice. You go on in, I’ll hide in the stable until I can enter without being seen.”

They switch clothes quickly and the maiden assisted Nicole in putting her hair up in a quick twist in the back. Nicole made her way into the courtyard, which was now filled with troops and horses. To look at it, one would think Wesley had planned a small invasion and had advanced deeper into her country more than she would have allowed before receiving the invitation. She was so engrossed on getting into the castle that she almost failed to notice the appraising looks she was getting as she passed through courtyard, from one knight in particular. Ducking her head to try and hide her face as she passed, she quickly made her way through the entry way into the castle. Before she got too far she overheard a comment regarding ‘drinking from a chalice’. This added to her ire as she headed up to her rooms. She had heard this type of comment while growing up and her mother explained it when she became old enough to understand. Her other lady in waiting rushed forward to aid their Queen as she rounded the corner into the hallway where her rooms were found. As she walked into her room, she was unlacing the bodice and calling for her chief advisors to attend her immediately. Stepping behind a dressing screen to get out of her brothers’ old clothes and into a dressing robe. Jeffry was the first to arrive.

“Your Majesty. Where have you…” The Queen cut Jeffry off mid question

“I want to know immediately where all these troops were, that they were able to get here so quickly. Wesley wasn’t expected until tomorrow and yet, here he is with more troops than needed for a social visit.”

“Yes your Majesty.”

“And Jeffry, know that I am furious about this. Did he leave early to try and catch us off guard? When are we expecting the other nobles?”

“Yes your Majesty. I have actually already obtained answers for one of your questions. King Wesley had his troops at the border when the messenger went through to deliver the invitation. That much I know from when the messenger returned.”

Nicole whipped around, her hair swinging out of her maids’ hands a fiery blaze which was reflected in her eyes. “And I am just hearing this now? Explain yourself Jeffry.”

Her eyes were snapping at Jeffry for an explanation. For the first time it hit Jeffry, his childhood friend was the Queen. Truly, deeply, completely at that moment – he saw that Queen clearly with the lines no longer blurring. He dropped to one knee, so moved at the sight. She was the spitting image of her Mother.

“My liege! My deepest apologies in my lapse in judgement!” Jeffry kept his eyes to the ground. At that time the Master at Arms and the Queen’s other adviser came it, stopping short at the sight of Jeffry on his knee. They both went down on one knee, almost as one. Nicole turned back around facing away from her advisors, eyes closed in frustration. This was the first time she had ever lost her temper to this degree. She took a deep breath and without looking at the men by her door.

“Do get up all of you. We need to present a strong front to stop King Wesley thinking he can come in to our kingdom and take hold.”

“Jeffry, go and get a meal together from Trudy. Richard, make sure that all the knights are in top form with armor polished. I want the dining hall to have a full contingent lining the wall. I want you there in your best to find out what you can from your counterpart.”

Turning back around to her maid, in a soft voice, “Jeanette, go and rescue Roslyn from the stables. I need her and you both dressed to attend me at dinner.”

“But your Grace, your hair?” Jeannette faltered.

“I will wear it down with a circlet. Very simple, understated yet making a statement all its own.” Nicole answered. “Now go. All of you.”

The men rose almost as one to leave. “Richard, you will be expected to join at the head table as I believe Wesley has brought his Master at Arms?”

“Yes indeed he has my lady. I will be there as requested.” Richard answered, and then left to do as he was bid. Nicole walked to her dressing table, picking up her brush started to brush her fiery hair out until it shone.

Back in the courtyard a mere moment after the Lady in Waiting had passed, King Wesley’s Master at Arms turned to the companion leaning against the wall. They had both watched the woman enter the castle, one with more than just appreciation in their eyes.

“I wouldn’t mind drinking from that chalice, eh Roderick?”

“Are you kidding me? She is like a full head taller than you!” Roderick answered the Master at Arms.

Master at Arms Waverly smirked, “When has that ever stopped me? You know once they are on their backs…” She waggled her eyebrows up and down with a devious grin.

They both straighten as they heard a throat being cleared behind them. “Gentlemen, may I remind you we are here on a mission here and I expect you both to be on your best behavior.” King Wesley’s chief advisor censured them both.

Waverly turned and with a small salute, acknowledged what the advisor had said. Not really liking the female Master at Arms, the advisor looked down his thin nose at her for a moment, then with a loud sniff, turned on his heel and left.

Waverly closed her eyes in annoyance for a moment, then turned back to face the court yard. “And that is why we are here. That idiot is telling the King that we need to take this kingdom, by force if necessary.” She said softly to her companion.

“It’s too bad advisors don’t have to earn their positions as you did. He wouldn’t have been able to win a duel to save his life.’ Roderick responded.

They had been waiting for quarters to be assigned to them, making sure that the foot soldiers were given a bed before heading into the castle in search of the house keeper who would assign rooms. Of the soldiers, they were the only two to sleep in the castle; hopefully close to their king should he need them.

The rest were placed into barracks. King Wesley has brought so many though, the Queens men were vacating beds to make room and double bunking with their mates.

A scullery maid started to walk past, Waverly called out stopping her in her track. “You there, can you get us both a tankard of ale?” Almost as an afterthought, she added “Please. It’s very hot standing here in the sun encased in metal.” Waverly smiled what was a genuinely warm and charming smile and tapping the metal breast plate she wore and won a shy grin in return. The girl turned around, returning shortly with 2 cool tankards of ale.

“How the hell do you do that?! I can’t for the life of me understand what all these women see in you! I mean – you have no equipment!” sputtered Roderick. “I don’t think I will ever understand any of it for as long as I live!”

Waverly took a deep draught of her ale and smiled at him with a slight shrug of her shoulders. “Of course you don’t Rod..” It wasn’t long after that the house keeper came looking for them, the rooms that they were to occupy were ready.

Being needed in the dining hall shortly, Waverly picked up her helm and put it under her arm, while taking one last draught from her tankard. Handing it off to Roderick, she sheathed her sword, picked up her saddlebag and followed the house keeper into the castle. “Make sure that all the troops get some sort of bed to sleep in, even if it’s a pile of hay on the ground before you go to find your room Roderick.”

She paid attention to the twists and turns up and down hallways and stairs. She wanted to make sure she understood the lay of the castle. Before too long, they stopped in front of a stout door, the house keeper swung it open to show a small, well lit room with what looked to be a well stuffed bed.

Waverly walked in while the house keeper remained by the door. “Will there be anything else?” She asked turning away not waiting for an answer.

“Actually, there is.” Waverly turned, spoke up. “Since I am expected at the dinner with my liege, is there any way I can procure a bucket of water to wash up with?” she asked, once again adopting the charming smile that always brought people her side of things.

The house keeper seemed to relax just a little, “There is a communal women’s bath available for you to use if you’d like. I’ll send one of my girls to show you where it’s at.” She turned and left, leaving the door open.

Waverly turned and started the task of taking off her armor. No need to wear it all into the bath. Her gambeson and trousers would be decent enough to walk through the castle halls. She carefully placed her armor on the bench along one wall so that it would not sit on the floor. As she hung her sword belt from a peg on the wall, the maid came to the door.

They went down to the baths and Waverly found a place to lay her clothes so that they remain dry. Sinking into the warm water of the bath was a luxury after bathing in a cold stream most of the time. She dunked under, making sure her hair was nice and wet to get all the dust out. On the edge of the large bath, there was a jar of scrubbing salts that Waverly then attacked her scalp and skin, scrubbing until rosy.

Making a note to get back to the bath as much as she can while there, Waverly climbed out, the water sheeting off her smooth skin. Her well-muscled form glided effortlessly across the floor toward the wall with sheets hanging on pegs, Waverly reached for a sheet to dry off with.

Just as she was toweling her hair, she heard a squeak from someone who had just entered. Looking through strands of hair, she found a tall, lithe woman with long blonde hair, wearing a light shift.

“I’m so sorry. I didn’t know someone else was here.” Roslyn stood like a deer transfixed and afraid to move.

Waverly smiled to herself thinking here was another possible prospect to help keep her bed warm tonight if things didn’t play out as she hoped. “There is no harm done. Please come on in. I’m sure you have somewhere to be soon just as I do.” She turned on the charm a little. She wanted to try and get a little information about the girls’ Queen and also that tall red head she had seen in the courtyard.

Waverly continued to dry her hair, turned three quarters away from the maid. She heard rather than saw the girl get into the pool of warm water. She dressed in the clothes she wore down to the baths. Sitting to slip on her boots, she called out to the girl, “Do you mind answering a question for me?”

“No, I suppose not.” The girl answered.

“This is my first time here in your fair country and I know very little of your Queen. Tell me, ah, sorry – what is your name?”


“Roslyn. Lovely name; tell me Roslyn, how does your Queen treat you? I mean is she one to take good care of her people? Making sure all are fed? That kind of thing.”

“We are treated very well. We always have been, even by her Father and Mother before. She takes care of everyone in the realm. It wasn’t that long ago she led a hunt to start gathering meats for those in need.” Roslyn answered, eyes wide like saucers as if not understanding the question on some level.

“Very good. I also saw a Lady in waiting earlier in the court yard, tall, very much your height, but with red hair. Can you tell me her name?”

“Red hair, my lord? No one comes to mind who is a Lady in Waiting to her Majesty.”

“I see. Well, thank you Roslyn. Will I see you in the dining hall?”

“Yes my lord.” Roslyn answered, her cheeks reddening a little.

Smiling, Waverly turned and made her way back to her room to get ready.

She took out her boot brush and oil, and made quick work of cleaning all the dust and grime from travel off the leather, she then used a mixture made up of oils, plant based dyes and bee’s wax, and then brushed vigorously to get a bit of shine. Her Father had taught her that trick and as well as how to make the boot oil.

Dressing quickly in her best tunic and trousers, she put on her breast plate, which she had brought to a shine, along with her sword belt, then threw her cape over all of it. She had gone with her hair loose around her shoulders as there would be no fighting to worry about and it would dry faster if not tied up.

Just as she was reaching for the door to open it, there was a knock. Opening it, Waverly found the same maid who had shown her to the baths. She was there to lead Waverly to the Dining hall.

Waverly entered the brightly lit room, paused for just a moment just inside the threshold. She looked around, taking in those who were already there. Spotting her King, she strode directly to him to make sure all was well.

“Your Majesty, is your room to your liking? Is there anything for which you want?” Waverly asked. The King turned and before he could speak, his son spoke up.

“Wankerly. So good of you to join us. Late as usual.” The thin, gangly young man said in a nasal tone.

“Now Gardner, Master at Arms Waverly is not late. She is a welcome sight in this room of strangers.” The King corrected his son. “Sir Waverly, how is your room? Is it comfortable? Do I need to put in a word with the Queen?” he asked.

“Thank you your Majesty. It is quite comfortable and just down and around the corner from your rooms’ sir should you need me at any time for protection.” Waverly nodded.

“Waverly, I need you to find out as much as you can about the state of realm. How is the Queen treating the people and all that.” King Wesley informed his Master at Arms in a hushed tone. “If the people are unhappy, it will be easier to stir something up and step in and place Gardner on the throne.” He finished and turned to Jeffry as he came up to speak with the King.

Waverly stood aside, as her job at these was to watch, and speak to her counterpart from the Haught kingdom, Richard, Master at Arms. After a moment she spotted Richard and went over and struck up a conversation.

Richard extended his hand in welcome and they briefly embrace as equals.

“Well met, Sir Richard.”

“Well met, Sir Waverly. Welcome to Haught Castle. I hope you have found everything to your liking?”

“Thank you, yes. Beautiful surroundings you have here. I want for nothing!”

“It is an honor that you have joined us. Your reputation precedes you. Will you be taking part in the joust while here?”

Waverly chuckles, “My reputation? Not sure of what you speak, but no Sir Richard, I will not. I will remain with my King in the Royal viewing box this time around.”

A tray of wine came around. As Waverly reached for a goblet, Richard stopped her, and pointed to another tray coming behind that clearly had ale. Ale over wine was always welcome.

Just as Waverly took a drink of the fine ale, there was an announcement of the Queen joining the party. She turned to the entrance in time to see a tall, statuesque woman walk in, with burnished red hair almost to her waist, in a deep green dress and the most expressive dark brown eyes she had ever seen. Choking on her drink, Waverly almost forgot to bow so overwhelmed by the vision. Realizing she was staring, she bowed deeply from the waist to the Queen.

“Oh dear Goddess what have I gotten myself into?” Waverly thought to herself. That ‘chalice’ she had admired earlier in the day was none other than the Queen, not a Lady in waiting.

IV Queen Nicole strode in, determined that the evening would go in her favor. She was still miffed that Wesley had come early, with a show of force, and one of his soldiers made that rude comment as she entered the castle that afternoon.

Of course, they didn’t realize who she was, but even her ladies in waiting were never to be subjected to that base behavior.

Not pausing to make small talk, she strode purposefully into the room and stopped within a couple paces of King Wesley. Taking a breath and glancing quickly around the room, she pitched her voice for all to hear. A couple more nobles had come in the short amount of time that had transpired since returning and had joined for diner.

“King Wesley, honored noblemen from countries to the east, I bid you welcome. I am honored you have made the trek to join me as we remember the legacy that was my Father in a celebration of life. The joust to come the day after the morrow will be joyous.”

The crowd applauded politely with a huzzah heard here and there.

Stepping closer to Queen Nicole with his hand extended, King Wesley took her hand and bent over as if to kiss the back, lips never quite touching the skin. “Dear Nicole, you look amazing tonight. Leadership looks to agree with you.” He stated in quiet tones. “I hope to speak with you on matters of state that I feel would benefit us both.”

“Thank you my Lord, you are too kind. If we don’t speak at dinner, we can always arrange to meet tomorrow and discuss matters if you wish.” Jeanette approached at the moment and offered the Queen a goblet and gave her the opportunity to leave Wesley and greet her other guests.

Taking the goblet from the tray, “Thank you Jeanette. King Wesley.” She turned to go further into the room to speak with other minor kings who had joined the gathering.

Haught and Wesley had the two strongest realms in the country. For the most part, the realm of Haught was on good terms with most immediate realms. Wesley was the only one that seemed to always be at odds with all others.

As she glided past Waverly, Queen Nicole paused, recognizing the Master at Arms as one of those that had been standing by the castle entrance this afternoon when she heard the comment made. Richard, noticing the hesitation, mistook the reason behind it and quickly stepped forward to make introductions.

“Your Majesty, may I present Sir Waverly of Wesley, Master at Arms for her King.”

“Your Majesty.” Waverly bowed her head, still keeping her eyes lowered.

“Sir Waverly. Welcome to our home. I hope you have nice time here sir. Sir Richard, a word.” Queen Nicole stated with an unmistakable edge of frost to her voice. Richard stepped aside.

“Thank you your Majesty. May I say, being here has been a warm and enjoyable experience.” She looked up and directly into the Queens eyes. “I am looking forward to the rest of our time here.”

Nicole held the gaze of Waverly for a moment before answering, startled by Waverly’s hazel eyes. “That is good news Sir Waverly. Excuse me. Richard?”

“Your Majesty?” Richard asked as they stepped away from Waverly. “Has something upset you, your Majesty?”

“As I entered the castle this afternoon, I overheard Sir Waverly make a rather suggestive comment. Now while I was dressed in Roslyn’s dress, I do not appreciate that type of behavior toward my ladies. Please address this and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

Richard could hear the Queens voice shaking so he understood her to be more upset that she let on to those around. “Yes my Queen. I’ll take care of it right away.”

Nicole made her way through the crowd speaking to everyone at least once. Heading up to the head table to signal that the staff to start serving the meal as well as guests to take their seats.

King Wesley was shown to the right of the Queen who sat in the middle of the table, next to him was his son, and then followed by the Master at Arms.

Richard pulled Waverly up short, “I would like to speak with you at some point following the meal.”

Waverly nodded to him as they split apart, each going to their seats at opposite ends of the table. She rather suspected what the content of the conversation would be. Her false bravado was about to come back on her.

Dinner was relatively a light affair, with quail, fish and assorted breads and vegetables. The big feast was scheduled for the following night. Nicole leaned over to Jeffry at one point to tell him to commend Trudy on pulling the meal together on such short notice.

As sweet breads were making their way out to the tables to top off the festivities, Nicole stood to address the room.

“I’d like to say thank you once again for coming and gracing us with your company. In the following days, I hope we are all able to enjoy the festivities as well as getting to know one another- forging new alliances as well as strengthening old ones.” She raised her goblet in a toast, the people in the room followed suit.

With that, people were now free to move around more freely and mingle. All advisors left to convene in a different room to discuss state topics, before Richard could get out of his chair to go speak with Waverly she sat down next to him in the recently vacated seat.

“You wished to speak with me?”

“Indeed. Before dinner, the Queen wished that I address an incident which occurred this afternoon in the court yard.”

Waverly put her head down a little having guessed before that this was going to be the topic of discussion.

“I can assure you Sir Richard that will not happen again during our stay. At the time, I had no idea that the lady was actually the Queen. Not until I saw her enter this room did I even realize!”

“Please realize, the Queen does not take kindly to anyone speaking so of any of her people, Ladies’ in Waiting or otherwise.” Richard followed up sternly.

“You have my word.” Waverly stated. Picking up a nearby pitcher of ale, she topped off Richards goblet then her own. “I truly apologize, and will do so to your Queen if that will assist in smoothing things over.” She offered.

“I will see if this is something she wishes.” Richard responded, rising from his chair. They both got up, heading in opposite directions once more. Richard to speak with his Queen and Waverly headed out to the garden for a breath of air.

The Queen had stepped out into the garden for just a moment of peace after a trying dinner sitting next to Wesley and Gardner, both insinuating how weak and poorly run her country was. “Why look Father, not even a proper meal. No boar or venison, just a few quail and fish.Not proper food for a real man.” She had wanted to reach across and cuff that little snit across the face when Gardner had said that. Luckily Jeffery had said something so she wouldn’t have to try and be civil.

She brought her goblet up to her mouth for another drink and found it was empty. ‘Just my luck tonight.’ She thought to herself. Taking a deep breath, she turned to head back in, instead running into someone. A hand grabbed her arm rather roughly, the fingers digging into her upper arm.

“Imagine running into you Nicole.” The nasal tone of Gardner grated across Nicole’s nerves.

“That would be Queen Nicole or Your Majesty, Gardner.” She reprimanded him. “Please release my arm.” She tried to pull away from him, but he was deceptively strong and his grip increased just a little.

“Listen Nicole.” He put an emphasis on her name, “You and I have several things we need to discuss. I had planned on waiting until after I won the joust, but seeing you slip out here gave me the perfect opportunity to let you know how things are going to happen after this is all over with.”

“Just who do you think you are Gardner? Unhand me now before I call my Master at Arms! You really don’t …”

“Gardner, unhand the Queen this instant!” Waverly stepped out into the garden. “I don’t believe your father the King would approve of your behavior toward the Queen of Haught.”

Gardner stared at Waverly, defiance and hatred painting his face purple. “You may have my father fooled Waverly, but you are a mere woman who should never have been allowed to become Master at Arms. What a joke you have made of my father and our kingdom.”

Waverly took another step toward Gardner, one hand on her sword, the other landed squarely in the middle of Gardner’s chest. With steady pressure, she started to push him back away from the Queen. “As I said, unhand the Queen. You are lucky it is me and not Richard who has come upon this display. With me, you could walk away.”

Gardner held on to Nicole’s arm for a moment more, and then dropped his hand as he heard his father’s voice. King Wesley and Richard stepped out in time to see Waverly’s hand still in the middle of Gardner’s chest, hand on the pommel of her sword. The Queen was rubbing her arm and Gardner’s arm was moving in a downward motion.

“What is going on here?” Richard stepped forward to stand between his Queen and Waverly, his sword partially drawn.

The King remained quiet waiting to see what played out. Internally he was a little upset that Waverly was here. That was one thing he hadn’t planned on.

“Sir Richard, please escort Gardner to his room and post a guard outside his door. He is not to leave without escort at all times.” The Queen stated coldly emotionless.

“What is the menaing….” Wesley started to say.

“My liege, I came upon Gardner attacking the Queen. I intervened before, I hope Queen Nicole…” Waverly ventured a glance at her majesty, “Any real damage was done.” Waverly explained to King Wesley.

“Unfortunately the minute Gardner placed his hands on me without permission, harm was done.”

Richard called guards from the dining hall to carry out the Queens orders, escorting Gardner back to his room. This left King Wesley , Waverly and Sir Richard with the Queen until Jeffry and Henri stepped out to see what was going on.

Waverly had retrieved the goblet the Queen had dropped along with her own; which she had dropped as soon as she had seen what was occurring.

The King was furious, “This is a declaration of war Queen Nicole! Having my son locked up in his room? All for what? He tried to get your attention when you wouldn’t pay him any mind at dinner?”

“Pardon Sir Waverly, is that ale?” Nicole all but ignoring Wesley.

“Yes, your Majesty, it is. Shall I get you a new…” Raising her own goblet toward the Queen.

The Queen took the offered goblet for a quick drink. “My thanks.” Nicole handed the goblet back to Waverly. “King Wesley. If you feel you need to go to war over your son being locked in his room instead of the dungeon after attacking me, feel free.”

More nobles had quietly joined as a small audience on in the garden at this point.

“I will not allow such an assault to go without action King Wesley. Gardner was not simply attempting to get my attention during the dinner. Gardner was attempting to bait me with comments of how ‘poorly’ I run my country.” Nicole stopped for a moment to breathe deeply and center herself. “Now is not the time to discuss this. Jeffry, assemble key advisors as well as King Wesley in my library to have a meeting on this matter.”

“Gentle people, my most sincere apologies to have the evening come to such an abrupt end for some of us at least. Please, continue to enjoy drink and music whilst we adjourn to discuss matters at hand. Sir Waverly, a word.”

Queen Nicole stepped aside, taking a seat at a bench under nearby trees. She was quaking with what she kept telling herself was anger, not wanting to admit that what Gardner had done had shaken her. Waverly had gotten a new goblet of ale from Roslyn and offered it to the Queen.

Waverly dropped to one knee, “Your Majesty, before you speak, I wish to extend my deepest apologies for the incident in the courtyard this afternoon. I deeply regret my actions. Twas boasting to a comrade at arms. I swear it shall never occur again!”

Waverly kept her eyes down, truly feeling the pain she may have caused.

“Look at me Sir Waverly.” The Queen stated. “I hope that you are truly as contrite as you seem. You of all people in the service of Wesley should know… Maybe you wouldn’t know.”

Taking a moment, the Queen paused, “Please do get up Sir Waverly. What you did this evening, going against your own Royal Prince and King in my defense, tells a different story of your character than the thoughtless words uttered in the courtyard.”

Waverly kept her eyes averted from looking directly at the Queen until that last sentence. She made and held eye contact with the Queen, feeling grateful that she had been there to intervene. For the Queen to see the true character Waverly always thought she had, but would hide due to those she served and who she grew up with, took her by surprise.

Nicole taken aback at the intensity of Waverly’s gaze. She felt she had seen that look before, but at the moment couldn’t place where. “Sir Waverly, I want to thank you for your bravery this day, it will not be forgotten.”

She rose and stood in front of Waverly for a split second, until Waverly bowed and stepped back to let her pass.

Queen Nicole walked briskly into the dining hall, gathering Jeanette and Roslyn behind her as she went through to the library to meet with those she had called together.

Once in the room, the fresh decanters of wine and a cask of ale were brought in. Richard had two guards posted outside the door to prevent interruption. Waverly entered a moment after the doors had been closed. She stood by the door next to Richard while the others sat around a table in the middle of the room.

King Wesley remained standing, to try and take control of the floor. He had a speech at the ready. As he opened his mouth to start, before everyone was fully seated, Queen Nicole spoke up, “Please sit down Wesley. This is not a formal complaint or all nobles would be included.”

King Wesley’s advisor stood and whispered into the Kings ear. Both sat, albeit grudgingly.

The Queen was weary and it showed in her countenance. It had been a long day, even with the nap she had enjoyed just – what - only that afternoon? It seemed a lifetime ago. She looked around the table at all the faces assembled there. Some were friendly; her advisors, some were guarded or outright hostile.

She glanced at the door where the two Master of Arms stood; Richard towering over Waverly, yet she had as strong a presence as he. They both stood eyes forward with the occasional sweep of the room as if searching out danger. ‘I wonder how such a small woman was able to secure a position of such strength.’ She thought to herself.

“Sir Jeffry, if you would please start us off. I am hoping we can come to a quick conclusion to this evening matter. I do not wish to be here all night.”

Jeffry stood and went over what was known to have happened, calling on the only other witness to the event, Waverly, for clarifying content. He was brief and succinct. A scribe busily jotted all down on a parchment to transfer later for a declaration, should a declaration be made if agreements could not be reached.

“I object to this! All of this!” King Wesley jumped to his feet the moment it seemed Jeffry was done with his statement. He wobbled a little have been imbibing a little too much wine over dinner and now in the library.

“What is it exactly you object to Wesley?” Nicole asked standing. “Nothing has been said that would call for such. Do you object to the fact your son attacked me in my own garden? Do you object to your own man preventing Goddess know what may have transpired? Please, do enlighten us.”

King Wesley’s nearest advisor placed a hand on the king’s arm, to get his attention. “Sire, please, won’t you take a seat?”

The Queen walked over and filled her own goblet of ale, then over to the window to look out into the darkness, thinking of how her Father would have handled this, she spoke knowing the path to take, “Here is what I am willing to do. While you and your contingent remain on my lands Wesley, all will be either under lock and key, or in the case of you and your son and advisors, will be accompanied everywhere you go. Gardner will be able to participate in the joust as planned. But you will leave the moment it is over, regardless of the outcome. My soldiers will escort you all out of our kingdom.” She turned and her gaze bored into Wesley, frost almost visible in her eyes.

“Should you or Gardner step foot in my kingdom again; any of your troops for that matter, it will be an open declaration of war and I will take your country from you. If you do not agree to my terms, you will be escorted immediately to your borders, with a declaration being sent out to all surrounding kingdoms of what has transpired here tonight. You will not know a moment’s peace for the rest or your days if I can help it.”

Wesley’s chief advisor cleared his throat, “Ah-hrm, your grace, may I have a moment to confer with my King?” He requested.

Queen Nicole nodded in the affirmative.

Nicole returned to her seat at the table, leaning over to speak with Jeffry in confidence. “The good Sir Waverly was there to intercept Gardner in a timely manner Jeffry, almost suspiciously so. I want to make sure that all happenings are exactly as they seem. Find out what you can about Sir Waverly. Get Richard to assist if need be. I want to know why she is with Wesley and if it’s above board.”

“Yes your Majesty.”

King Wesley and his advisor returned to the table. “Your Majesty, Queen Nicole. At this time, we would like to accept your generous offer of remaining and participating in the joust. First thing in the morning, we will send a majority of our contingent back to the kingdom of Wesley as a show of good faith, keeping a small guard with us for travel. We would ask, in light of this and hopefully best behavior from here on out, that you allow the King to attend the banquet after the joust.”

Jeffry spoke up for the Queen, “We will take it under advisement, and give you our answer at the joust King Wesley. Your cooperation in this matter speaks volumes.”

The night ended with all departing the library with the exception of Richard and Nicole. She stood looking out at the night with a sad expression. Richard, while he had been headed toward the exit, noticed and held back to speak to his old friend.

“Your Majesty. Nicole…” He stepped up to within an arm’s length from her, “How are you doing? Is there anything I can do for you?” Concern written all over his face.

Nicole took a moment, and sighing turned to face Richard. “I’m alright, thank you Richard. I have to say, the evening events were nothing if not surprising. I never thought King Wesley and Gardner would make a move inside my own walls. I’m afraid my arm will be bruised where he grabbed me... And this goes to show, I will need to step up my game on this going forward. I was lucky tonight.”

“I have a remedy that may help in the bruising. I will have Jeanette or Roslyn fetch it from my quarters and bring it to you.” He motioned for one of the ladies to him, described the jar and they left the room to do just that. “What else can I do for you? Outside of looking into Sir Waverly’s background that is. As for the game, we were always very good at those when we were kids, just the stakes are much higher now. You are not along Nicole.”

“Nothing, my friend. Who would have thought we would end up here, eh Richard? When we were playing at sword fighting with our sticks as children.” She said sadly. She reached out and touched his arm, as getting a hug from your Master at Arms was just not done. But that is what Nicole longed for now more than anything. Just a hug. For someone to tell her this was a small blip in her future as Queen and not everything would be such a trial.

“Good night Richard. I think it time for me to take my leave and try and get rest. You as well. There will be more to do tomorrow with the added strain of constant supervision of the Wesley contingent. See that your second assign a small escort to the Wesley troops leaving in the morning. I want them out at sunrise.”

“Good night your grace.” Richard bowed slightly and left the room.

As Nicole left the library, she could hear the music playing softly in the dining hall. This meant some people still were up and enjoying themselves. She headed down the other way to her private garden to sit outside for a little while until her nerves calmed. Outwardly no one would ever guess the Queen had actually been shaken by Gardner’s attack, but she was.

She went to her favorite rock by a small stream and sat. She had a full tankard of ale as well as a few sweets she had grabbed from the kitchen as she passed. Taking her crown off, she ran her fingers through her hair to release it from the hold it seemed to have on her head. Her scalp felt tight and restricted, but eased as she did this.

She loved watching the twinkling lights in the stream that were the moon and stars reflection. It had a hypnotic effect and helped relax her. Nicole sat there, her head thrown slightly back, as if looking up into the sky but her eyes were closed. The cool breeze blowing over her face and neck felt rejuvenating.

There was a very soft foot fall that reached Nicole’s ears. Thinking it was one of her ladies, she called out, “I’m fine ladies, I will be to my room shortly but you go on to bed. I am more than capable of putting myself into my own bed.”

Waverly stood still as the Queen exited the castle and into the garden. She told herself she needed to make herself known, and yet, hesitated as the Queen sat by the stream. She watched, spellbound as Nicole removed her crown and ran her fingers through her hair, letting it fly a little behind her with the motion.

Waverly was transfixed, her mouth went dry. She had never beheld someone so beautiful. She had a not totally unpleasant burning sensation in her chest. She was breathing but felt as if she held in her breath. She didn’t even want to think about fire building between her legs. Never in her life had she reacted to a woman this way. She didn’t really understand what was happening.

She made to leave, trying her very best to make no noise, but the queen heard her and called out, thinking it was one of her Ladies in waiting.

“Beg pardon Your Majesty. I did not mean to intrude.” Waverly said softly. “I was restless and found myself here after I wondered the castle. I will leave you to your solitude.”

“Sir Waverly. You do find your way around don’t you?” The Queen said in a low voice. “Please sit.”

Waverly removed her sword belt and cape and set it down on the grass, then sat a short distance from the Queen.

“Welcome to my private garden Sir Waverly. You do have a talent for turning up don’t you?” The Queen had a tired smile.

“I meant no intrusion. I did not realize this was a private garden.” She made to get up to leave, but the Queen motioned her to stay.

“No, no.. it really is ok. I’m just tired, and maybe I’ve imbibed in a little too much ale tonight.” She gives a short laugh. “Well obviously if I’m telling you this.”

“If anyone has a right to, it is you your Majesty. You have had a rough day I believe.”

Nicole brought her tankard up for another drink, Waverly following suit. They sat in silence for a couple minutes.

“If I may say, your Majesty, this is a lovely garden. So peaceful.”

“For the sake of conversation, shall we drop the formalities for tonight Sir Waverly? I shall call you Waverly and you shall call me Nicole.”

She smiled again. Waverly could see she was very weary. “Of course Nicole. As you wish.”

“Tell me of yourself Waverly. How did you come to be in the employ of King Wesley?”

“I’ve been told my mother and father ended up in his employ when my father was still quite young. He signed on as a soldier coming from a faraway land. They both spoke with this bit of a lilt that I worked very hard to not have as I grew up. With my father constantly training with the troops, I would be there along with him and others my age. I was good with a sword, bow and physical fighting right away. My mother died when I was still young, so it was just me and my father. It was natural to join the troops. My father had worked his way up to Master at Arms. I wanted to follow in his footsteps – so continued training and worked at it until I won the position when he stepped down.”

“That’s pretty much it in a nutshell.” Waverly grinned shyly at Nicole.

“Do you like working for King Wesley?”

“Do I like it? What do you mean?”

“I mean you must know he doesn’t see women as his equal. How does that effect how you serve him?”

“Ah yes. Since I had to win my position, outfighting all other applicants, I believe I did win a little respect from him. Not so much from Gardner…”


the Queen laughed.

“Yes, obviously. But the men all respect me. Roderick, my second, and I grew up through the ranks, so he backs me up when I need it – which is rarely.”

“You must realize what you did this evening is very rare. You stood up to your monarch to protect a rival. You took me by surprise quite frankly.”

Very softly, Waverly replied, “I would do the same for anyone being unfairly attacked or mistreated. What Gardner did was unconscionable. I couldn’t just sit there and allow…. Well I had to step in.”

Nicole looked at Waverly who was throwing small pebbles into the stream. She was unaware of the scrutiny she was getting from the Queen.

“Were there to be an opportunity to leave the employ of Wesley, would you take it?” Nicole asked with a calculated look in her eyes.

Waverly almost snorted, “And were would your Majesty suggest I go?” She sounded almost bitter as she softly answered. “You make it sound as if I have a choice in the matter. Once in the employ of King Wesley, the only way out is to die. Just like my Father did.”

“I see.” Nicole answered.

They continued to sit in companionable quiet for a while longer. The Queen picked up her crown and made to stand up. Waverly jumped up to assist her, and then stood back.

“My thanks for the company Sir, I mean Waverly. I’m sure we will run into each other again once the sun is up.” The queen said as she walked away and into the castle.

Waverly watched her walk away, stooping to pick up the tankards along with her cape and sword, she followed suit, depositing the tankards into the kitchen on her way in.

The next morning dawned sunny and bright; most of King Wesley’s troops were already assembled and ready to leave. Richard had arranged for a dozen of Haught soldiers on horseback to escort them to the border.

Waverly was giving the troop leaders their orders to go swiftly and not cause any problems. Exit the country peacefully and the rest of the party would be back in less than a fortnight.

King Wesley and Gardner didn’t make an appearance at the courtyard, but instead were found in the dining hall already breaking their fast. The escort discretely at the corners of the dining hall, looking like that’s where they would be standing any given day.

The day proceeded with the preparation of the joust and feast for the following day. Lots of work would be done this day so most could be enjoying the joust. Henri had arranged a small hunting party for any of the nobles that wished to join in. They wanted to take a couple more boars for the feasting since most caught up to that point had gone to people of the kingdom.

The Queen came down, bypassing the dining hall took off to the stables to take a ride. Her head was a little tender after all the ale and wanted to get fresh air to try and clear it.

She ran into a groom on her way out, instructing him to get her horse ready for a ride. Then she ducked back into the kitchen for her usual apple, cheese and bread to break her fast.

As soon as she cleared the gate, she urged her horse into a cantor and headed up to a small lake up in the hills to the east of the castle. It was a favorite ride of hers and she always found that a good swim in the icy waters to be invigorating. It didn’t take long to reach the spot that had a nice if small sandy beach. Dismounting and leading her horse over to a grassy glade, she let him graze while she prepared to take a swim.

Dropping her clothes and bag with her lunch, she ran into the water, diving in once deep enough. Emerging several feet further into the water from her dive point, she surfaced with a gasp. With the cooler weather approaching, the water was much colder than she expected! Diving back under, she started to swim further out into the lake.

When she started to tire, she allowed herself to float on her back, enjoying the freedom and the warm sunshine. Hearing her horse whicker, she started her swim back to the beach. Just as she was getting to where she could walk, someone rode up to the clearing from the opposite direction. Evidently they only saw her horse, as then went straight to him, and didn’t dismount.

Nicole swam as far as she could until she had to stand, then ran to her clothes, just managing to pull shift up to cover herself when she noticed the rider turning around.

“Once again, you find one of my secret locations Sir Waverly.”

Waverly closed her eyes, “Unbelievable!” she muttered. She had gone out for a ride after the troops left to get away from the castle. Richard had told her of this lake and she had thought maybe catching a couple fish, enjoying some down time since her king was under constant guard, would be good. Last night gave her much to think about and she did her best thinking out of doors.

“Apologies Your Majesty. I was here doing a bit of fishing after the troops left. I will leave posthaste!” She said loud enough for the queen to hear while pointedly looking away from her form.

The Queen was busy dressing, facing away from Waverly. She spoke over her shoulder, “Did you get lucky?”

“Your Grace?”

“Did you catch any fish? They would go well with what I have to make a meal.”

“Oh yes, your Majesty. I caught 3 good sized trout. I had come back this way to get a fire going because of the beach. Thought I might enjoy a beachside meal.”

“Well then, what are you waiting for? Dismount and get a fire going. Roasted fish sounds delightful.”

Waverly threw her leg over her horse and slid off, landing softly on the sand. She gathered some firewood quickly and got a fire going, creating some roasting sticks from a willow branches.

The Queen sat on a fallen log and took out her contribution to the impromptu meal. She pulled a sharp knife from her boot, and cut the apple up into small wedges.

It wasn’t long until the fish was cooking and Waverly had pulled out a flask of something to drink. She popped the cork and offered it to the Queen, “Your Majesty?” Nicole turns to look and accepts the flask, taking a sip of the fluid.

“It tastes like apple. But not like any apple cider I know. Bit of a kick to it.” She said.

Waverly smiles, “It’s something my Father used to make. You start with apple cider, but once it ferments like wine, you get this… I think he stumbled upon it by accident truthfully. We all have sweet apple cider, but in cleaning out our house after Mother passed, he found this and well.. let’s say I found out it was hard.” She held up the flask, “It is a nice change of pace sometimes to ale or wine. I brought a small cask of it when we came here.”

They fall into a companionable silence, each lost with their own thoughts; Waverly was thinking of the question Queen Nicole had asked her the previous night. ‘Were there to be an opportunity to leave the employ of Wesley, would you take it?’ She didn’t know how many times during her life that she had wondered if there would be a time she could get away. Go and find a place to have a home. A real home. Thinking about her future is what brought her out on a ride.

She was in search of solitude to try and find a little of herself, even if for a little while. To pretend she didn’t serve under a monster of a man and his spoiled, hateful git of a son. Instead, she managed to stumble into the privacy of a woman she was beginning to feel drawn toward.

“I think those fish are about done, don’t you?” The Queens question broke through Waverly’s reverie. She rolled forward, and quickly grabbed the willow branches, pulling the fish away from the flames. She offered one to the Queen, laying the fish on a large basswood leaf to use as a plate. “Careful, it’s hot.”

Waverly took her fish and sat a little closer to Nicole, as she had the bread, cheese and apple there on the log. They ate with no conversation, just the sound of the bird song and wind through the trees.

“Your Majesty, I have a question. You asked me last night if I had the opportunity to leave the employ of King Wesley, would I do so. Why would you ask that of me? Knowing I am King Wesley’s Master at Arms. Why would you take that risk?” Waverly tossed what remained of her meal into the fire; she stood and paced a little.

Nicole rose and followed suit. She walked to the edge of the water remembering having asked question, but not yet ready to disclose the reason behind it.

“Sir Waverly, I do remember that question from last night, and would ask if you give me until after the joust tomorrow to give you an answer.” Nicole said, then thinking to herself ‘As after that I may not have to…’

“As you wish, your grace.”

“It’s getting late. I had better get back to the castle and see how preparations for the joust are coming along. I hope you enjoy the rest of your day Sir Waverly.” Nicole gathered her horse and walked him over to the log to step on to mount her ride. Usually she would just pull her skirts up, get a foot up into the stirrup and there she was, but having company made her a little more aware of her station. Then she headed off in an easy lope away from the lake.

Waverly stayed on the little beach after the Queen headed back. She decided to take a page out of the Queens actions and go for a swim. She stripped down and headed out. While the water was brisk, she really enjoyed the workout of swimming. Having had swam out and back a far ways, she wrung out her hair as she walked up to the shore and decided to stretch out and enjoy the sun, allowing it to warm as well as dry her.

She ended up dozing off, not feeling a need to be on guard. This was one of the first times since losing her father that she felt that way; that she was able to fully relax. Little did she know a rider came walking their horse up to the edge of the beach. They stopped as Waverly turned over in her sleep, showing her back. The rider let out a quiet gasp. Her back was crisscrossed with scars.

The Queen had been about half way back to the castle when she decided to go back and talk more with Waverly. She didn’t quite understand the draw that this woman held for her, yet wanted to do anything she could to make sure she had the time to find out what it was. There was something in Waverly’s eyes that drew her in and held her. They were so clear and piercing every time she would look at Nicole.

When she reached the shores of the lake, Nicole saw that Waverly had evidently been for a swim and now lie asleep on the beach. As she debated waking her, Waverly rolled over with her back to the Queen. Her back was a road map of deep scars! Nicole gasped at what was before her. Her horse backed up and whickered softly, countering his rider’s reaction.

For a split second, Nicole was unsure what to do and then decided to head back and figure out a way to find out what – or who – was behind the scarring. She would mull it over as she rode home.

Waverly woke, thinking she had heard the hooves of a horse. Seeing no one there with her, she decided it must have been her own horse walking around. She stretched the kinks out of her warm but still tired muscles. She dressed, mounted her horse and started her way back to the castle.

She arrived to find Roderick playing a game of chance with a couple of the local guards. She made sure the remaining troops under her command were all good, not wanting for anything and most seemed to be enjoying the relaxed atmosphere of the barracks. Sir Richard came up even with her as she was heading back into the castle.

“Sir Waverly, I hope you enjoyed your ride. Did you find the lake?”

“Indeed I did Sir Richard. It was lovely. I caught a couple fish which I grilled up right then and there. Went for a swim. You are lucky to have such luxury so close to enjoy.”

“ “It is good you came back when you did. Your presence has been requested in the dining hall. You have a little time before dinner is to be served during which time you may wish to clean up.” Sir Richard’s nose wrinkled up a little bit.

Waverly grabbed a handful of hair and brought it to in front of her nose. It did smell strongly of fish. Having been riding she knew horse was going to be strong to. “Thanks for the suggestion.” She said to Sir Richard as she headed into the castle; first stop her room then the baths.

She slipped into warm water and allowed her body to sink. Her hair fanned out around her under the water. She really needed to see about cutting it as it was getting far too long. She swam over to the jar of bath salts and found someone had added what looked like lavender. That hopefully will take care of the fish smell in her hair. She did love the warmth of the baths here. Another luxury she would miss once they went back to the Realm of Wesley.

Reluctantly, Waverly climbed out of the pool on the side of the sheets. She grabbed one and started drying her hair as she walked to her clothes.

Roslyn entered as Waverly sat down on a bench, “My Lord, I had thought I might find you here. I stopped by your room and found it empty. The Queen sent me to make sure you are aware to be in the dining hall for the evening meal.”

“Thank you Roslyn, Sir Richard caught me in the court yard and informed me of the same.” Waverly told the lady in waiting. She stood and turned and heard a gasp from Roslyn.

“My Lord, your back!”

Waverly was so used to never needing to keep the scaring hidden, she was momentarily mute. Roslyn mistook the quiet as Waverly disapproving of her outburst.

“Begging your pardon my Lord, I was out of line.” She bobbed a curtsy.

“Roslyn, it’s all good. I am so used to everyone knowing – I was just taken aback by your reaction.”

Feeling emboldened by not being censured, Roslyn spoke up again. “May I ask sir, how did you get those marks all over you back?”

Waverly finished pulling her tunic over her head, sat down to pull on her boots. “Not sure if you were all aware of a skirmish that King Wesley was involved in several years ago?” Waverly looked up at Roslyn for an answer, the young woman shook her head in the negative. “I was new in the ranks. It was my first battle.”

“We had been out in the field for longer than originally expected and rations were running low. The King decided to go into a small village and procure some rations. Turns out he wanted to sack the place. As I walked down a lane, I heard a woman screaming. I rushed into the home to find Gardner raping a young woman. I smacked him over his shoulders with the flat of my sword. I struck him hard enough the edges nicked his skin. He fell back, and yelled. His personal guard came in and grabbed me, dragging me out. I was trussed up and taken back to camp.”

“To make the story short, the King had me flogged for striking the Prince. I was lucky my Father had stepped in to stop a hanging.”

Waverly hung her head, remembering the part that she hadn’t told; would never tell if she could help it. “It really is miraculous that I have been able to become the Master of Arms for the King.”

Roslyn seems shell shocked. She stood motionless. “My Lord, I… I don’t know what to say. I feel honored that you felt you could tell me.”

Waverly stood “I would ask a favor of you Roslyn. I’m parched! Can you possibly bring cool ale to my room?” She asked with a wink.

“It would be a pleasure my Lord. I’ll be there posthaste.” Roslyn stated, hurrying out of the bath to head to the kitchen.

Waverly went back to her room, and was just polishing her boots when Roslyn knocked on her door with a kitchen maid holding a tankard of ale upon a platter.

Taking the ale, “Oh Lovely! My thanks!” She immediately takes a deep draught from the beverage. “I needed this!”

As Waverly closed the door, the two women turned to leave, one headed to the kitchen, one headed back to her mistress.

Dinner was a lighter affair as far as the mood in the room than what had occurred the previous night. This dinner had been fully planned including boar, venison along with salmon. The only one not at the dinner was Gardner as he was in his room per his fathers instructions. All the nobles were there from the surrounding kingdoms, so Queen Nicole did not have to endure King Wesley sitting next to her. They had placed a smaller table for the Queen and her advisers up on a platform with a long table for the nobles, including King Wesley just below that.

The meal went off with all eating their fill, laughter and music in the background. Sir Richard, Waverly and all the attending Masters at Arms all sat at one table together swapping stories.

After the meal, the tables were all pushed back to the open the middle of the room for dancing. The minstrels started playing tunes that dancing was known to go with. Since there was no King and as the Queens chief advisor, Sir Jeffry stepped forward and offered his hand to the Queen to get the dancing started.

They stepped into the center of the room and danced for one stanza and then more couples joined in.

They finished the lively dance with most a little breathless and laughing. The ale and wine flowed freely and most were looking forward to the joust the following day. The only folks not imbibing heartily were those who were to be competing – but they were all pretty merry!

Waverly had a dark cloud hanging over her and while she smiled and acted jovial around her counterparts, the smile never made it to her eyes. She watched the Queen dance with Sir Jeffry, thinking to herself what a strikingly beautiful woman she was. She had really enjoyed the few quiet moments they had shared in the past two days. Roslyn came up to the queen and whispered something into her ear. Queen Nicole burst out with a deep belly laugh, lightly cuffing Roslyn on the arm. Roslyn blushed a little, pleased that she had made her Queen laugh so. She had rarely had reason to laugh as of late.

Shifting her focus to Roslyn, Waverly found that she no longer thought about getting the lass into her bed. She felt something had changed in her very core. Suddenly feeling like she was suffocating, Waverly made her way to the garden to get some air and see the stars overhead just to know she was not confined.

It was cooler in the garden as compared to the dining hall. Crickets chirped their hello as she walked out and crossed to a bench that just last night the Queen had sat. Once seated, she closed her eyes and tried to let her mind wander. The Queens question from last night and recounting a small portion of her past to Roslyn today and dredged up some pretty strong ghosts. Tonight she did not feel like the warrior she had worked so hard to turn herself into, but a lost girl of 15 who stopped a monster from attacking an innocent woman and then paid a king’s ransom in price.

She grieved for the girl that she had been at that time allowing tears to silently spill down her cheeks. ‘Just for a moment. To relieve some of this pressure.’ She thought to herself. Then heaving a huge sigh, she emptied her tankard. She roughly wiped her face on her sleeve and fished the flask from her belt and emptied the contents of that into her tankard. A part of her really wanted to drown her sorrows, yet didn’t wish the after effects of such action in the morning.

“Now I still have drink and time before facing the crowd in there.” She said aloud to herself.

“Do you now?” a laughing comment came from in front of her. Queen Nicole had seen Waverly take her leave to the garden, and was compelled to follow. Queen Nicole was feeling no pain by this point, but had stopped drinking any more ale as she didn’t wish to feel poorly for the joust the next day.

“Your Majesty I take it you have been enjoying the festivities?” Waverly asked

“Why yes I have! And am wondering why you have not?” The Queen sat down next to Waverly on the bench, so close that they were almost touching.

“My apologies your Majesty. I seem to have a dark cloud hanging over me this evening.”

“I had noticed that at the lake.” The Queen replied, becoming somber. “I do hope nothing I have said to you has caused this gloomy mood Sir Waverly.” She followed up quietly.

Waverly didn’t know how to respond to that. In a way, her Majesties question had triggered some of it. Even so, you do not blame a ruling monarch because you were allowing the past to bring you down.

Having enough of the pity party, Waverly stood and bowed deeply from her waist, “I realize this is unseemly your Majesty, but would you care to dance? This is one of my favorite tunes.” She extended her hand to Nicole.

The Queen chucked deep in her throat and took Sir Waverly’s hand. She stood up and they launched into a lively jig to match that of the music. By the end of the dance, Waverly was in a much better mood and both were out of breath.

“Thank you your grace for honoring a lowly servant with such joy in allowing me to dance with you!” Waverly bowed deeply to the Queen.

“Sir Waverly! You are a wonderful dancer! Where ever did you learn?” The Queen sat back down on the bench. “Now I need a drink, I’m parched!”

“I shall return.” Waverly ducked indoors and re-emerged with a tankard and goblet of ale. “I grabbed this from Jeanette.” She said having Nicole the goblet.

Nicole took the goblet and took a drink, “Thank you Sir Waverly. I appreciate the dance and enjoy my time with you but I guess I should head back in and check on my guests.”

Sir Waverly escorted the Queen back into the dining hall where the dancing was still in full swing. Someone almost immediately asked the Queen to dance. Waverly watched for a moment and then decided to head to her room to get some rest. She gave a small wave and smile at Roslyn and Jeanette as she exited, who giggled and waited for their Queen to finish her dance.

The morning of the joust sprang to life as a beautiful early autumn day. With just enough of a nip to the air that would make it very comfortable to sit out all day and not get too warm. Everyone Waverly passed while making her way down to the dining hall was jovial and smiling. Finding the dining hall empty, she followed her nose outside.

Big roasting pits had been dug and were already full of meats roasting up to perfection. Food would be made available to any and all attending the celebration today. People had travelled from all areas of the kingdom to watch the games. It wasn’t often that games were held so it was a big deal to attend and enjoy!

Snagging an apple from a passing kitchen maid carrying a basket of them to one of the roasting pits, Waverly winked and took a big bite from the fruit. The maid turned red from blushing and giggled as she ran along. Many of the young women around the castle had heard all about Waverly and what a flirt she was from the members of her troops. Those that were so inclined throughout the castle thought she cut a fine figure in her armor. A very fine figure indeed!

The morning was taken up with the archery and sword competitions. Waverly wandered back and forth keeping an eye on her men and how they were doing in the competitions. How they did here could impact where they could end up in the ranks of the army. She and Roderick met up and discussed what they were seeing over a tankard and a bite to eat.

Since Waverly wasn’t participating in the joust, she assisted Roderick into his armor, getting one of the lower ranking soldiers to carry all the lances and armament out to the arena. Time to start was not really all that far off. Then Waverly supervised the groomsman while he saddled and prepared Roderick’s horse. All was looking good.

She left to take her place in the viewing stands, just to the side of the King. Somehow Wesley had managed to sit next to Queen Nicole. By the time they took their seats, the king was already quite inebriated. The contestants came and went quickly. The victors worked their way through the rank and file until they found themselves at the final four riders. In drawing straws, they were matched up against each other. Sir Richard happened to draw against Gardner, while Roderick was against a rider from one of the other kingdoms.

Roderick and his counterpart went first, Roderick unseating his opponent neatly three times in a row. Waverly had let out cheer on the final that earned her a dirty look from the King.

Next up were Sir Richard and Gardner. The first pass saw lances broken but both riders stayed on their horses. The second, Gardner fell back but did not fall off, his foot hung up in the stirrup.

There was a momentary lag before the third pass. Both riders were getting a piece of armor tightened or adjusted. They took their places. The horses were pawing at the ground, the flag dropped and the horses surged forward except Gardner’s horse veered toward the viewing stand, his lance leveled at the Queen.

Waverly saw this, and jumped in front of the Queen, knocking her out of her chair. Nicole fell and bumped her head hard enough to lose consciousness. In the meantime, the lances aim is true and goes through Waverly’s side as she turned to face the oncoming Gardner, the lance becoming embedded into the wood of the chair. The impact of the lance into the heavy chair caused Gardner to lose his seat on his horse. He fell back, hitting hard enough to knock the breath out of him. Sir Richard comes quickly over to the viewing stand, dismounting quickly and pulls his sword to keep Gardner under guard.

Roderick, having watched the entire thing from the sidelines, ran up to the viewing stand and vaulted over the railing to Waverly. She is affectively pinned to the chair, unable to move. She remained conscious albeit barely.

Roderick leaned in to his old comrade, “Wavs, what were you thinking? Our allegiance isn’t to the Queen.”

“I couldn’t allow.. not right… you know…” she coughed, blood dribbling from the side of her mouth “ you know me and beautiful women!” and she tried to give a smile.

“Brandy!! Bring brandy!!” Roderick yells. A goblet is placed in his hand and he helped Waverly take several gulps.

“You need to drink more Wavs! You know we have to pull this lance loose of the chair! The brandy will help dull the pain” he urges her to drink more.

Waverly managed to take several more deep drinks of the brandy which work quickly on her in her weakened condition, her eyelids drooping even more. Working together, Roderick, Sir Jeffry and two other guards, were able to free the lance from the wood of the chair. By then the physician had checked out the Queen and she was on her way to her quarters with her Ladies in waiting.

Before Waverly was down on the ground, the physician had them hold her in a standing position, then two men manning the lance, the other two and physician holding Waverly steady, the lance was pulled steadily out of Waverly’s side. Waverly cried out and lost consciousness as soon as it was clear, the physician jumped in and wrapped her in sheeting – tightly – to try and stop the bleeding. She was then taken into the castle quickly to see if her life could be saved.

Roderick turned to aid sir Richard with Gardner who is now trying to get away. The two of them subdue him and Sir Richard calls a squire over to remove Gardner’s armor. They march him to the castle to spend some time in the dungeon.

All the while, King Wesley stumbled out of the viewing stand and made it to the stable. It took him a few minutes to locate his horse and then tried to saddle her. Of course he had no idea what he was doing and being so totally in his cups, he slipped and was stepped on by his own horse. He was found in the morning by the stable boy who came in to muck the stall.

The Physician did what he could for the King, but it was looking like an infection was setting into the leg so he was thinking it might not end well. He was keeping the King as quiet as possible with syrup of Poppy. Otherwise the King was quite a nuisance yelling about Queen Nicole killing his son and that they were now at war. At least the physician only had two patients at that point. The Queen was up and moving around without any problems so she was no longer to be kept in her rooms. She kept pacing in the infirmary to the point where the physician kicked her out, telling her to go to her throne room and do something queenly.

She sent Roderick back to the kingdom of Wesley to bring the kings own physician back. She wanted the King under the care of his own people in case he died, she didn’t want that causing any issues.

In the meantime, while the nobles from the surrounding kingdoms remained at the castle, they started meeting in regards to the flagrant attacks that had been mounted against Queen Nicole, the actions of Gardner and what they would do with King Wesley, provided he survived the infection. There was also the problem of his kingdom being more or less without a monarch by all accounts.

Waverly lay in a death-like state in the infirmary. Roslyn and Jeanette would stop in periodically to see how she was doing, under the guise of infatuation; all the while reporting back to the Queen.

Queen Nicole wasn’t sleeping well. She was having a reoccurring dream of hazel eyes. Each dream revealed more of the owner of those eyes. This morning she awoke knowing that they were Waverly’s. She went through her day in a daze, meetings were a blur. Sir Jeffry attributed it to all that had happened, with the attacks being made on her person. He escorted the Queen from the room and suggested she retire for rest. He would keep her apprised of what was going on.

The nobles all agreed that Gardner was not to be released, but there was a split on hanging him or lifelong imprisonment. King Wesley was to be deposed, but they weren’t sure what to do with the kingdom. Do they look for a distant relative to take the throne with advisors from each kingdom? Do they find someone who was already trained for the throne? Discussions were on going and sometimes heated. Nicole excused herself from them for the afternoon. It was not important to her at this moment when a life was on the line; the life of someone who selflessly threw themselves in front of danger to save the Queen. Nicole wanted nothing more than to go to the infirmary and sit with Sir Waverly.

The Queen entered the infirmary with a resolution to make sure Sir Waverly was as comfortable as possible. She pulled her physician away to the door, and had a discussion on whether Waverly staying in the infirmary was best or would a more quiet, comfortable room and bed be better for her recovery.

The wound was finally looking less red and angry, yet she had not awakened. The Queen suggested moving Sir Waverly to her rooms, Roslyn or Jeanette would give up their bed and she would have them both there for care as well as the physician. He had been comparing treatments with the Wesley physician and they were trading remedies. For the remedy that needed more attention, moving Waverly would be ideal.

By nightfall, Waverly was in her new room, with warmer surroundings. The Queen sat down next to the bed, in a chair she had ordered there for that exact purpose.

“Sir Waverly” She whispered, “Waverly.” She had no idea what to say to her, but Nicole just wanted to talk to her. She felt so drawn to this young woman and her dreams haunted her waking moments to the point she needed to talk to someone, so the unconscious Waverly was her choice.

“So, as you can tell we moved you out of the infirmary. You’re in one of my private rooms. You always do find a way to find your way into my private sanctuaries. Roslyn and Jeanette will be helping to take care of you along with the physician. Your wound is healing. We just are not sure why you haven’t awoken yet.”

The only indication that Waverly is not dead is the slow rise and fall of her chest as she breathes. Nicole speaks to her in starts and stops.

“I’ve tasked the Beer makers to try and make some of the fermented cider that you shared with me. We already make apple cider for the those who do not drink ale or wine, so how difficult can it be.”

“We have Gardner in the dungeons. I’ve left it to the other nobles to decide what to do with him. I can’t weigh in as I have too many feelings about the situation; what all he did – to me, to you…”

“Wesley was stepped on by his horse…”

“Dammit Waverly! I need you to wake up! I don’t know what is going on. I want to talk to you. I enjoy talking with you. I want to understand what in the world happened to you that left your back so scarred up. I want to understand why you haunt my dreams.”

Roslyn chose that moment to come to the door of the room. “Your Majesty? Did I hear you call for me?”

“Roslyn, can you bring ale?”

“Yes Ma’Lady.”

Nicole sat, lost in her thoughts, thinking through the evolution of the dreams she had been having. Had it really been only days since all this started to play out? It felt like so much longer!

“Ale, your Majesty.” Roslyn set down a tray that also contained some meat, cheese, bread and apple. “You missed your evening meal Ma’Lady, so I brought you a tray.”

When the Queen didn’t reply Roslyn continued, “Ma’Lady, if you wish, after you have eaten, might I suggest a warm bath? Jeanette or I could stay with sir Waverly.”

Nicole took a deep drink of her ale, then a bite of the bread Roslyn had brought. “That sounds lovely Roslyn. A bath would nice. Let me know when it’s ready.” She kept eating what Roslyn had brought her even though she didn’t really taste anything. She was weary. ‘Maybe it’s something left over from that knock to the head.’ She thought to herself.

Her gaze fell back to Waverly. “What is it you are to doing to me?” She asked softly.

A throat is cleared as someone enters the room. “Your Majesty, your bath is ready.” Jeanette announced “I will stay with Sir Waverly whilst you bathe.”

“Thank you Jeanette.” Nicole said, she rose to exit the room. “I will return once I’m done.”

“Very good Ma’am.”

Nicole sunk down into the warm water until up to her chin. She felt the warmth work into muscles she didn’t realize had been so tense. Jeanette or Roslyn had put some lavender into the water so it was working on her senses to relax her totally. She put her head back and closed her eyes. A bath was a great idea.

She dozed off into a dream of Waverly’s hazel eyes once again. In the dream, they walked along a stream, their horses trailing behind them. They are holding hands and talking softly to each other lovingly, as if they had been together for a long time. There was a comfortable familiarity between them that each could predict what the other needed at any given moment.

Dropping the reins to her horse, Waverly takes both of Nicole’s hands into her own. She has a mischievous smile as she draws Nicole into over to a grassy area. As she lowers her body down, she softly pulls Nicole with her.

“You are so beautiful.” Waverly whispers to Nicole, pushing her hair away from her neck and leaning in starts to nibble up and down her neck starting at her earlobe. Nicole’s breathe catches in her throat and all thought leaves.

In her dream, she knows they are far from the castle and all inhibitions are left behind, as Waverly starts to undress her. Waverly has also lost all clothing and Nicole reaches her arms around Waverly’s torso to pull her closer. She puts a finger under Waverly’s chin and draws her mouth up until lips meet and the intensity increases. Waverly’s tongue darts out to ask entrance, and Nicole gasps, tongues touch and the fire ignites deep in Nicole’s body.

Tongues duel for dominance until Waverly breaks away panting, starts kissing and sucking her way down Nicole’s body. Nicole feels like she is going to scream as Waverly kisses and suckles the tender skin on her inner thigh. With a firm swipe of her tongue, Waverly parted the folder of Nicole labia and started to suckle her clitoris. Nicole starts to buck against Waverly, her back arching.

As Nicole comes, she screams out in real life, awakening to the water splashing out of her tub, and Roslyn rushing in thinking her mistress is in distress.

“Ma’Lady! Is everything alright? Are you hurt?”

With a huge sigh, Nicole sat up straighter, her body humming. “I’m alright Roslyn. Thank you. I dozed off and think I had a bit of a nightmare.” She fibbed.

“Yes your Majesty. Is there anything I can get you?” Roslyn asked.

“No, no. I’m fine. I’ll be getting out now.” Nicole said wondering if she stood would her legs actually be shaking. In a seated position, she felt like they were wobbly.

Dried and dressed in her nightgown and robe, Nicole went back to Waverly’s side. She pushed the chair closer to the bed, sitting she took Waverly’s hand in her own and held it. She had already bid Jeanette and Roslyn good night, so she knew there would be no interruptions now that night had fallen.

“Seems you and I are fated in some way together Waverly. I’ve had the strangest yet exciting dreams. You are a big part of them.”

Nicole drew a throw over herself, and leaning back into the chair, closed her eyes, all the while holding Waverly’s hand.

A few hours later, Nicole is awakened by a slight tugging on her hand. She awakens to see Waverly’s eyes are open and she is looking at Nicole. She opens her mouth as if to speak, but nothing comes out.

“Do you need a drink?” Nicole asked, picking up the goblet that still held some ale. “It’s warm, but better than nothing.” She sat on the side of the bed, and putting an arm under Waverly’s shoulders helps her sit a little. Nicole raised the goblet to Waverly’s lips and tips it so the liquid flows into Waverly’s mouth in a small stream.

She takes a small sip and swallows. Nicole remains where she is, offers another sip which Waverly accepts. She raised her hand to let Nicole know that she was good.

Nicole moves back to her chair, “You gave us quite a scare Sir Waverly.”

“So we are back to sir?” Waverly whispers in a husky voice. “I would have sworn you have been calling me Waverly as I lie here.” She offers a small grin, “But maybe that was just a fevered dream.”

The Queen got up and called out to her ladies in waiting. “Jeanette, Roslyn. Sir Waverly is awake. One of you go to the kitchen and get some broth and ale, the other fetch the physician at once.”

The physician reached the room first and started to examine Waverly and her wound. Shortly after, Roslyn came in with a tray containing a bowl of broth and a couple slices of bread, along with a pitcher of ale.

“Looks to me the Queen has taken very good care of you Sir Waverly. I strongly recommend you remain quiet and no moving around. I will stop in again in the morning to check on you.” The physician stated, “Your Majesty, I would recommend you get some rest as well as you are still healing from that nasty bump on the head.”

“Yes of course.’ Nicole replied, having absolutely no intention of doing that. The physician knew this and rolled his eyes as her as he left.

Roslyn had pulled the small table over bedside to assist Waverly sip some broth. She had also brought a smaller bowl in which she placed the bread in to soften up and make it easier to eat. With the assistance of both ladies in waiting, Waverly was reclining more than lying down, so she could sip the broth from the bowl without a mess being made. Roslyn would also offer small bites of bread sopping with the same. Once in a while, a sip of ale was taken.

Nicole allowed her ladies to do all the work and sat watching, filling in Waverly on what had transpired with Gardner and King Wesley. As his master at arms, she had a right to know her king was close to death as was Gardner, as the nobles were leaning toward hanging him.

The effort of eating was exhausting for Waverly and it wasn’t long before her eyelids started to droop.

“Roslyn, I believe that’s enough as Sir Waverly is about to fall back to sleep in her broth.” Nicole mentioned. “Sir Waverly we have much, much more to discuss. But that can all wait until the sun rises and if you are stronger. Roslyn, will you and Jeanette take turns staying in here with Sir Waverly to make sure her needs are met for the rest of the night? Call me if there is anything I can do as well.” She crossed to the door. “Good Night Sir Waverly. It is good to see you wake.” She left the room as Waverly’s drifted off to sleep a healing sleep, feeling immense relief that Waverly had awoken.

Waverly slept peacefully; dreamlessly and awoke to a room already filled with sunlight. She wanted to ease up a little so as not be laying out flat on her back but didn’t want to break up open the wound.

At that moment, Nicole came to the door and looked in.

“You’re awake. How are you feeling this morning?”

“Sore. Thirsty. Hungry! I would like to pull myself up a little and be propped.. Would I be able to see Roslyn or Jeanette to help me?” Waverly said, with her voice still husky from disuse.

Nicole entered the room and went to the head of the bed, sitting on the edge, and putting her arm under Waverly’s shoulder. “Let me ease you forward so I can get into a position to aid you, please you do nothing.”

“No Majesty. You mustn’t.” Waverly protested weakly.

Roslyn came by at that moment and saw what the Queen was trying to do and rushed to assist her. Together they were able to get Waverly up a little higher into the bed and placed a few pillows behind her shoulders and head so she was propped up. Nicole eased out from behind her, and stood.

“Roslyn, Sir Waverly is hungry. Can you go to the kitchen and have Trudy get a tray for her? Also bring a flask of my reserved ale for the good Master of Arms.”

Nicole moved to the chair and sat down as she watched Waverly. “I am indebted to you Sir Waverly. You have saved me twice; both times against your own ruler.”

“Your majesty, it was my duty. I could not sit idly by while Gardner tried to kill you. I have come to admire you, your Majesty. You are fair and you treat your people very well which I find so very different from how we are treated.”

“Well, you have my thanks Sir Waverly. And I offer you a boon. While you rest here in my castle and heal, I’d like you to think about what you would like to do next. The Kingdom of Wesley will more than likely be dissolved, so you will be free to do whatever you wish. I offer you a helping hand to aid you in getting on your feet.”

Sir Waverly didn’t know how to respond to that. Wesley was the only home she knew. To be offered a fresh start was more than she ever dreamed of, “Your Majesty is too kind! You have given me much to consider.” She answered Nicole.

At that moment, the physician entered the room with Roslyn following behind.

“How is my patient doing this morning?” He asked rather jovially.

“Ma’lady, you are requested in the library with the other nobles.” Roslyn curtsied to her Queen.

Queen Nicole straightened her back a little, “Well, should you need for anything Sir Waverly Roslyn here will be more than happy to help you. Till later.” She stood and left the room.

The physician examined Waverly and the wound. He had Roslyn call for a guard to aid in getting her up. The wound looked well sealed over and he wanted to see her get up and sit in a chair for a while.

Waverly moved gingerly forward toward the edge of the bed, and Roslyn aided in swinging her legs over the side. Waverly had been prone for close to 7 days and needed to move slowly. She caught her breath for a moment, then with a nod, the guard stepped in and assisted on the wound side, placing a hand under Waverly’s bicep, and offering to hold her hand with the physician on the other side and they raised her up slowly, Waverly wincing a little at the discomfort.

With a shuffle step she made the couple steps to the chair and they eased her down. A light sheen on her forehead showed the effort it took her. Jeanette came in with a tray of food along with a pitcher of ale. Roslyn poured a goblet of ale first and Waverly gladly took a large gulp.

Waverly was looking a little pale from the exertion of moving to the chair. Jeanette offered to stay and assist in getting the food into Waverly. She draped a blanket over her lap to help keep her warm. The physician opened the window wide for fresh air.

The physician turned to leave after giving orders for her to stay in the chair for as long as she could, then call for help to get back to the bed.

“Sir, you have my Thanks for all you have done for me. May I know your name?”

“Certainly, I’m Morgan. Morgan of Earp.”

“Earp? I’m not familiar with that kingdom.”

“It is one that no longer exists. It was taken over by a war lord when I was a lad.” Morgan sat down on the edge of the bed, “I hadn’t thought anything of my past in sometime… My father had been the king over the land. It was a small kingdom a long way away from here. Back then, I had this lilt to my speech. Let me see if I can remember it.” He fell silent for a moment.

“I think it went something like this.” He spoke aloud again with a lilt to the words. It was a lilt that Waverly was oddly familiar with.

“Anyway my brothers and I ended up scattered across other lands. I came this way as I had heard years ago that my eldest brother had come this way, but I have never found him.”

Waverly was looking thoughtful yet very tired. Morgan rose from the bed, “Well, you try and sit up.. eat as much as you can as you need the fuel to heal. I’ll stop in later to see how you are faring.”

“My thanks again Morgan.” Waverly answered. Jeanette had set the tray on a table next to Waverly.

“Sir Waverly, shall I assist you with dining?” Jeanette asked.

“Thank you, no. I think I can manage. If you would be so kind as to put the table a little closer to me?”

Jeanette did just that, then telling Waverly to call if she needed anything, exited to the next room, pulling the door to a little.

Alone in her room, Waverly picked at the food, trying to eat. She had more success in drinking. The ale was strong and helped dull the pain. She was able to down half the meal and all the ale, all the while thinking of Morgan and the lost lilt. It had sounded just like how her Mother and Father had spoken.

She looked around the room and noticed all her belongings had been brought to the room. She wanted to have her sword. She remembered as a child, her father wrapping the sheath and handle with a thin layer of leather in addition to what was already there. He had told her it was to protect them – a family secret. He never wanted her to remove it.

‘Odd that I would suddenly remember that.’ She thought to herself. She looked to where her sword leaned against the wall. It wasn’t that far away. If she was careful and took it slow she was sure she could get it.

She inched her way slowly to the edge of the chair. Very gingerly she started to pull herself up using her arms on one side of the chair. Getting her legs under her, she tried to stand. It was painful but doable.

By the time she reached the sword, she was drenched in sweat and out of breath. She leaned against the wall to rest. She felt herself start to slip down the wall as her legs wouldn’t support her any longer. She felt arms go arms her and heard as if down a long tunnel, “Jeanette!” then the darkness over took her.

When Waverly woke up, she was propped up in bed with several pillows behind her.

“You gave us quite a scare Sir Waverly.” Jeanette said rising from the chair. She went to the door. “Your Majesty. Sir Waverly is awake.”

Queen Nicole walked into the room, already dressed for bed. Crossing into the room, she made her way to the chair so recently vacated by Jeanette.

“What will we do with you Sir Waverly?” the Queen asked quietly. Jeanette exited the room and pulled the door partially closed.

“I’m afraid you opened your wound. Physician Morgan is afraid of infection setting in if you do not remain quiet and rest.”

“I beg your pardon your Majesty. I was attempting to retrieve my sword. I had a memory of when I was a child that involved it. I was only trying to verify what I remembered.” Waverly said penitently.

The queen rose and retrieved the sword. She brought it to the bed and laid it across Waverly’s lap.

Waverly looked over the sheath carefully and located the spot where she could start to undo the wrapping of the leather. It was firmly attached and in her weakened condition she struggled to get it undone. Nicole handed Waverly her bodice blade. With the blade in hand, Waverly slipped it under the edge and was able to pry the leather up. Then she started to remove the thin leather cover.

What came into sight to both was a high quality, thick leather sheath that had hand tooled designs all around it. About a quarter way down was what looked like a crest. It was worn and aged, so details were not easily apparent.

Morgan came in at the moment to change the dressing on Waverly’s wound. He took the sword from her, and put it to the side, then gingerly lifting her tunic over the right side, removed the bandage that was there and bright red with new blood. “I believe I told you to rest Sir Waverly, not try and dance a jig.” He scolded.

Waverly gasped a little as cool water with herbs was gently applied to the wound. It was slightly feverish from reopening. “I wasn’t trying..” She started to defend herself and then nearly blacked out as the new poultice was applied. ‘Oh gods!” she breathed.

“There now, no moving around Sir Waverley.” Morgan warned. “What’s so special about this sword you put yourself in danger?” Morgan picked it up and squinted at it. He stood and took it to the lit candle for better light. “This looks familiar..” He muttered to himself. Wetting his thumb, he rubbed over the faded crest. Turning it this way and that, his eyes opened wide, “Oh my!” he whispered.

He turned slightly and looked at Waverly intently. “Begging your pardon Your Majesty, may I have a moment with Sir Waverly?”

“Surely.” Nicole answered; she retrieved her bodice blade and crossed the room exiting.

“Where did you get this sword?” Morgan whispered harshly at Waverly, his lilt coming through.

Confused, Waverly responded, “It was my Father’s sword. Why?”

“This crest? This is the crest of Earp.” He almost hissed. “Who was your Father?”

“My Father was the Master of Arms in the service of King Wesley!” Waverly was starting to lose her patience.

“His name! What is his name girl!”

“His name was James.” Waverly answered in a clipped tone.

“Was?” Morgan’s tone softened a little. “Was? He’s passed?”

“Two years gone. Along with my Mother.”

Morgan sat heavily in the chair, having lost the fire that had lit him up just moments before.

“Sir, please explain yourself!” Waverly demanded, albeit weakly. She was feeling weaker by the moment from her earlier exertions. Her eyelids were quickly drooping.

Morgan stared at the sword. “James.”

Waverly drifted off to sleep as Morgan sat holding the sword. “James was my older brother.” He said softly. He looked to Waverly and saw she was sleep. “Which makes you my niece.” He finished softly.

Morgan stood and brushed the hair off Waverly’s forehead and stood the sword against the bed. He vowed he would make sure she knew everything. She was the heir to a kingdom. She needed to know that.

He left in search of the Queen, to tell her of the latest development.

A week later Waverly was sitting up by the window in the chair after promising to be quiet and not attempt to get up by herself. She was impatient to get back on her feet. Roderick had been by earlier that day and brought her up to speed on what had been happening as far as the royalty that he and Waverly had served.

King Wesley was found to be guilty of planning against Queen Nicole, and the nobles had all voted to support her and were now looking for an heir to take over the kingdom. Gardner was being shipped to the kingdom furthest away from the kingdom of Haught and his fate would be decided there. The Queens physician, Morgan had ridden out a week ago, with word that he would be back within a fortnight. Currently, King Wesley’s physician had been treating Waverly’s wound.

She was healing, not nearly as sore any longer. She was hoping to be cleared to move around more shortly. As someone who lived a very active life, sitting quietly day after day was driving her crazy. She hadn’t had many people outside of Jeanette and Roslyn coming by, and they stayed only long enough to provide a meal and to ask if she needed anything.

Queen Nicole hadn’t been by since the day Waverly had reopened her wound. Waverly was starting to feel better, have more energy and not feeling the need to sleep all the time. The problem was, it left her with lots of time to think. Most of those thoughts were about Queen Nicole. Waverly had never felt about anyone, the things she felt when she thought about the tall, red-headed monarch.

She had stopped noticing the women that were around the castle. Roderick had noticed and asked her about it during his visit.

“Wavs, there are women all over this castle talking about you! You interested in some company? I can arrange that you know.” Roderick had said.

“Thanks Roderick. I am to stay quiet. The more I stay quiet, the sooner I get out of this room.” Waverly had answered.

“What? What’s wrong with you man? You never turn down the company of a beautiful woman.”

“I am now Rod. I am now. I’m just…” Waverly hesitated.

“And you’re just what Sir Waverly, sorry to intrude, I had a free moment and wanted to see how you were fairing.” Queen Nicole had walked into the room.

“I’m just not the person I used to be anymore I guess.” Sir Waverly finished awkwardly.

Roderick stood quickly and bowed to the Queen, “Your Majesty. I was visiting for just a moment.”

“That is quite alright Roderick. What you do on your free time is for you to decide.”

“Sir Waverly, Roslyn said you hadn’t been eating well. I’ve gotten it cleared for you to join us in the dining hall tonight. Maybe you are in need for more company to gain an appetite. You are to wait until the guards come to assist you.”

“My thanks your majesty, but I have been getting stronger. As long as I don’t move to quickly I can get by on my own.” Waverly answered. The Queen raised one eyebrow in response and turned to leave.

Now it was moments after Roderick and the Queen had left and Waverly was befuddled. Uncertain of her future; uncertain of her past and suddenly not wanting to be in the company of people right now.

There was a knock at her door. “Sir Waverly, Queen Nicole asked me to stop in to see if you wished to go down to the baths before we dine?”

The thought of a warm soak was very welcome. Waverly answered she would love that. Easing to the edge of the bed, she stood slowly and started to gather her things.

Two guards came in, intent on getting on each side of Waverly helped her to stand then made sure she made it to the baths safely. Waverly waved them off and excused them from their task. She slowly made her way to baths, feeling just a little shaky once in the bathing room. She allowed Jeanette and Roslyn to assist her once in the bath and into the shallow end.

“Ladies, if you don’t mind, if I could take some time alone? I just want to enjoy the warm waters.”

They made sure Waverly would let them know if she needed help, then exited and waited outside the door to the baths.

Waverly relaxed carefully in the warm water. She let her mind drift and not concentrate on anything for a little while. Every once in a while, she would pour a bowl of the water over her head and body, being careful to not soak the wound area much. It felt delicious. Her sore muscles drank in the warmth and eased.

She scrubbed well and when ready to get out, she eased herself up the edge of the pool, pausing if she felt a pull around the wound. Waverly was able to get up out of the pool and dried off without the help of Jeanette and Roslyn.

When they got back to the room and Waverly was able to get into a set of clean clothes. She was feeling better and hunger was beginning to raise its head. She was looking forward to getting to the dining hall.

The guards trailed behind her and Roslyn as they went down to the hall. Jeanette had left to assist the Queen. Waverly made her way to the sit beside Sir Richard and the other Master at Arms for the remaining nobles. Jeanette came down ahead of the Queen to make sure all was ready and noticed this. After securing the Queens Reserve ale at the Queen’s table, she went back up to escort Nicole down to the hall along with Roslyn.

Before Nicole entered the dining hall, she stopped and grabbed two guards to accompany her and the ladies into the room. As she went on ahead and took her seat at the head table, the guards went and escorted Waverly up to the same table as her majesty.

Everyone was settled in and was ready to eat. Many of the nobles that had been there deciding on what to do with Wesley and Gardner had left, but there were just still quite a few that would be leaving in the morning.

Before the food was served, the Queen stood to address the hall.

“Thank you all for all the assistance and kindness you have shown the Kingdom of Haught. We wouldn’t have been able to bring Wesley and his son to justice without all of you and your participation in the investigation. Please, be my guests one final night! Eat, drink and enjoy!”

Nicole sat down as the meal was brought out to the lower tables first. She leant over to speak to Waverly, who was sitting to her left. “Sir Waverly, would you enjoy ale or wine this evening?” Jeanette and Roslyn stepped forward, one with wine, the other ale, and ready to serve both their mistress and Sir Waverly.

“Ale would be fine.” Waverly answered a little uncertain. Roslyn handing first the Queen a goblet of ale, then Sir Waverly. “Queen Nicole, would you indulge a question?”


“I’m curious as to why I’m sitting at your table and not below with the others of my rank?”

“You are my honored guest tonight Sir Waverly. On two separate occasions you have protected me, the second time at great cost to your own life.” Nicole took a drink from her ale. “There is also something of great importance I wish to speak to you about, and thought this would be the perfect time.”

“I am most honored ma’lady!” Waverly answered. They both grew silent as the food was being placed on the table, and Waverly found she was very hungry. Jeanette started to pile food onto Waverly’s plate, not stopping to ask what she would care for. The physician had told Jeanette to get Waverly to eat as much as possible, since she had not being eating well.

The Queen enjoyed seeing Waverly finally tuck in and eat with some gusto. Maybe keeping her in the room for her health, while it kept her quiet, did not agree with her disposition. Waverly needed interaction with people to thrive. She decided then to speak to the physician about getting Waverly out of that room now that she was out of danger.

“Sir Waverly.” Nicole began, “what I wish to speak to you about was your future. What do you think you will do now that the Kingdom of Wesley is no longer?”

Waverly stopped the forward momentum of the fork that had been heading toward her mouth and set it down. “Your Majesty, I’ve thought of little else since you spoke to me the other day about it.”

Before Waverly could continue, Physician Morgan entered the hall, looking travel worn and a little haggard. “Your majesty! Apologies for the intrusion. I have very important news!”

“Morgan, please sit. Have some food, we will speak soon enough.” Nicole told him.

Morgan walked toward the Queens table. “I truly feel this cannot wait ma’lady.” He leant in a spoke quietly in her ear.

Nicole’s eyebrow rose slightly, “Very well.” Nicole said and stood and instructed her ladies to wait in the hall then motioned for Morgan to follow her as she left the dining hall.

Waverly finished her dinner, feeling better than she had in a long time. Since the Queen and the Physician had not returned, she felt that she deserved a trip out to the garden for a little fresh air. As she made to stand, Jeanette stepped forward to aid her, but Waverly waved her off, determined to do this on her own. She then made her way out to the garden off the dining hall with Jeanette following a little behind. Walking over to the bench that just the night before had held Queen Nicole, Waverly carefully lowered herself to the bench for a seat. Jeanette handed Waverly a tankard of ale and stood by.

“Please Jeanette, sit. I am dying for real conversation after being locked up in that room for weeks.”

Looking rather perplexed, Jeanette sat down on the bench, perched on the edge as if she would take flight at any moment.

“Relax Jeanette. Have I done something to make you so uncomfortable?”

“Yes, ma’lord…. I mean no ma’lord.” Jeanette stammered, abruptly standing up.

“Please stand if you feel more comfortable. I would not wish to be the cause of discomfort.”

Jeanette stood, and bobbed a quick curtsy. “Thank you ma’lord.”

Waverly was very confused by Jeanette’s behavior as she had always been very chatty with her while recovering in the room. Before she could open her mouth, Sir Richard came out to announce the return of the Queen to the hall and requested that Waverly to please return. The Queen was going to make an announcement.

Once Waverly was once again seated next to the Queen, Nicole stood and waited until the room was quiet and she held everyone’s attention.

“My good Physician Morgan brought news tonight that may come as a surprise to some here, and not so much of a surprise to others.” She looked around the room; you could tell there were people she would hold eye contact with a little longer than others.

“Please indulge me while I tell you all a short story. Morgan came to the Kingdom of Haught many years ago, when my father was a young man; having fled his own country when it was violently usurped by a rival kingdom. The Kingdom of Earp lost their King and Queen at the hands of the invader and the Princes all fled to the four corners, not knowing what had become of each other.”

“He was never sure what had happened to his brothers all those years ago. Recently, he discovered a clue as to the possible whereabouts of his eldest brother, who would be the Crown Prince, James. He has been out this past fortnight looking into the clue and covering much ground he found two of his other brothers in hiding in kingdoms nearby.”

“At this point, I’d like to have Morgan address you all.” The Queen sat down and motioned Morgan to come up.

Morgan stepped up on the raised platform, turned and took a deep breath to address the room.

“The Kingdom of Earp was in-between the Kingdom of Wesley and the Kingdom of Haught. I was a young man when a skirmish broke out between us and the then border of Wesley. Within a few short days, the Wesley troops broke through our defenses and took my mother and father hostage, while my brothers and I made our escape. We wandered in the wilderness for a while, and then my older brothers went separate ways as we were being hunted by soldiers. I was taken to a country far to the south and placed in a school to learn a trade. That was the last time I ever saw any of my brothers. “

“My studies helped me become a physician some years later. Newly educated, there was a kingdom with an ailing physician, the Kingdom of Haught. I came here and continued to learn from the man who became my mentor and then I became the court Physician. For years, when I could I would search for any word on my brothers, never finding any news. That is until I had a new patient who came from the Kingdom of Wesley. She came bearing a sword with my family crest on the sheath, hidden underneath wrapping.”

Morgan paused then, turned and faced Waverly. “She was given that sword by her father and my eldest brother, the Crowned Prince of Earp, James.” He broke down a little and turned to face away from everyone. He coughed and wiped his face. “In short,” He continued, “Sir Waverly is the only child of my brother which makes her the heir for the Kingdom of Earp.” He concluded.

The room was filled immediately with a murmur that gradually grew louder. Sir Waverly just stared at her physician as if not fully comprehending the implications of what was just said. Queen Nicole watched the nobles sitting around the dining hall. She was trying to judge the reactions to see who may have known about the entire mess. The loss of the Kingdom of Earp must have happened around the end of her Grandfather’s reign or very beginning of her Fathers is what she figured and knew some of the visiting nobles were old enough to remember that time.

Two men walked in at that moment, both older and looking rather travel weary. Morgan continued, “I’d like to introduce my two remaining brothers, Virgil and Wyatt. Since Sir Waverly has already informed me that James has passed two years gone, we three are what remain of my father’s sons.” Morgan stepped off the raised platform and crossed over and stood beside his brothers.

“Your majesty.” Morgan addressed Queen Nicole. “Majesties.” Morgan turned toward the room full of nobles. “On this night, we humbly petition you all to restore our lands to us, with Sir Waverly as Monarch over the Kingdom of Earp.”

A roar went up with a few sounds of descent within the hall. Sir Waverly was still in shock and had turned very pale. With a look from Queen Nicole, Jeffry rose and spoke over the room, “You’re Majesties! Please!”

Silence was obtained quickly in which the Queen stood again, and in a very quiet, tight voice, “Noble’s, we will adjourn to my library and have a vote now. Jeffry.”

Jeffry escorted the Queen out the door and down the hall to her library, followed by all Noble’s remaining. Of those that remained in the hall; the wives, sons and daughters all retired to their quarters for the evening, leaving Sir Waverly, Jeanette, Sir Richard and the Earp brothers.

Morgan walked over, waving for his brothers to follow him and stood before Waverly. Jeanette had refilled Waverly’s tankard of ale, and offered the men something to drink as well. The color had somewhat returned to Waverly’s face.

Waverly was a little slower to rise as all the extra activity was wearing on her. Morgan and Sir Richard both stepped forward, and offered a hand.

“Let me assist you ma’lord!” Richard said.

“Let me assist you dear neice!” Richard said.

“Not you too Richard!” Waverly said.

“I don’t understand ma’lord.”

“Jeanette started that out in the garden, now you… Ma’lord. I’m still Waverly! The same Waverly that sat and talked to you about hunting just yesterday when you came to visit!”

Sir Richard smiled and shrugged and helped Waverly down from the platform. The four Earp’s all sat at a table, in a square and did introductions. There were many questions about Waverly’s Father. They had missed their brother over the years and were hungry for any and all news. More food and ale was brought in to the table and the conversation was heartfelt. To suddenly have a family was a very happy event for Waverly, but soon, the food, drink and length of time sitting up after being recumbent for so long was taking its toll.

Morgan noticed his charge was fading and fast. “I think we had better break this family reunion apart for the night. Let’s get our new Monarch back to her room for some rest. We can take this back up after we all have had some rest. Jeanette dear, can you show my brothers to an open room or two?”

“Of course ma’lord Physician.”

“And Jeanette, my thanks for taking good care of us this evening while we visited.” The elderly physician said.

“Tis my pleasure, Physician.” Jeanette answered with a blush covering her cheeks.

With that the Earp’s all made their way to rooms.

In the Queens library, Nicole was quickly losing her patience. While many of the younger nobles were willing to grant back the lands taken by force from the Earp’s, the older statesmen refused to budge.

“This is getting us nowhere.” Nicole said standing suddenly. “Everyone, your attention please; I would ask those in favor of returning the lands once known as Earp sit down. Those opposing it, come sit at the head of the table so we can get to the bottom of this.”

Over the next couple hours, and several pitchers of ale, wine and trays of food, the concerns were discussed as to why there was dissent. The Earp brothers were brought from their rooms to be included in the talks as Queen Nicole felt it only right that they have a say in what the others were suggesting.

It all boiled down to something very simple - they felt that Waverly had no skills in being a ruler, which was very true. Morgan, being the youngest of the brothers had no training either, but Virgil and Wyatt had been there with James for most of his training.

The Nobles would accept Virgil or Wyatt on the throne as provisionary ruler of the Kingdom of Earp with advisors from the surrounding kingdoms for a predetermined amount of time. This would also mean that Sir Waverly would either need to denounce the crown to pass it along or work with her Uncles to learn the art of rulership.

Of course, all this hinged on Sir Waverly. Morgan, as a physician said that she was not to be disturbed for the night. With that, the nobles adjourned for the night to finish the discussion during the following day.

Waverly woke late the next day, unaware of everything that had gone on while she slept. She was still in shock over discovering her Father had been destined to be a King. Roslyn popped in to see that she was awake. She had a tray with bread, cheese, fruits and cold meats. Stopping to curtsy before entering the room, Roslyn came in and set the tray on the table that sat beside the bed.

“Ma’lord, the Queen has sent you a meal to break your fast. Is there anything more I can do for you?” Roslyn asked.

“Thank you, yes. There is something you can do. Sit Roslyn. Please tell me why you are all treating me so different from yesterday morning? I haven’t changed.”

“Ma’lord, I shouldn’t..”

“Please Roslyn help me understand.”

Roslyn held a soft spot for Waverly ever since they first met in the bath. She reluctantly sat on the edge of the bed, handing Waverly the tray of food, she explained.

“Queen Nicole trusts Jeanette and I implicitly. We all grew up together here in the castle. I don’t wish to betray her confidence.”

“I’m not asking you to betray her. Just tell me why – before Morgan came back to the castle - Jeanette, you, Sir Richard – it seemed like you knew what would come to pass before it did. I am not the high born as you all are treating me as.” Waverly said.

“But you are Sir Waverly, by birth.”

“The Queen had a long discussion with Physician Morgan before he left. He had told her the entire story of the Earp family and how you possessed the sword of the King. We – the Queens closest attendants, knew then that you were no ordinary Knight or Master of Arms. We had advanced notice that the Physician was returning with two others and that he had news.”

“For us, it is a reflex response to show deference to a ruling class.” Roslyn didn’t meet Waverly’s eye and had a light blush to her cheeks.

Waverly took it all in. She understood, as she had that same innate reaction to those who are of the ruling class. To suddenly be thrown into that same pot was jolting.

“I do understand Roslyn and you have my thanks. I ask you though, when we are in private, I am just Waverly?”

Before Roslyn can answer, Queen Nicole came in the room at that moment. “Sir Waverly, good to see you awake. I would like to speak with you – possibly out in my garden once you’ve dressed? We have much to discuss.” Roslyn jumped from the edge of the bed and crossed quickly to stand by her Queen.

Waverly had a look of a deer being caught suddenly in a clearing by the hunter, eyes wide and staring.

“Thank you your majesty. I will see you there.”

“Roslyn, come with me a moment and we will need someone to help in….” as they walked away, Waverly could no longer hear what was being said.

Moving slowly, Waverly eased her legs over the edge of the bed. She was feeling a bit stronger. The pain of moving was not as intense although she was a bit sore and she felt that if she moved slowly enough, she would be able to stand and walk on her own. Using the chair, Waverly slowly stood.

“Not bad.” She said to herself. Holding onto the chair, she took a tentative step forward, then another. She made it to the door and was still feeling pretty strong. As she swung open the door, she found Morgan; hand poised getting ready to knock.

“Waverly, I was just coming to see how you were doing.”

“Morning Morgan, I am feeling much stronger. The Queen was just here and wanted to meet me in the garden - requesting to speak to me?”

“There was much discussed last night in the Queens library. I’d like just a moment of your time to discuss with you. Please.”

“Certainly.” Waverly went back to the bed and sat on the edge.

Queen Nicole was waiting in her garden on her favorite bench, enjoying the fall air and song of the birds. The change of color was starting to show and she rejoiced in the hues.

Waverly came out into the garden slowly, feeling very self-conscious in a new cape and tunic Morgan had given her. It was much finer than anything she had ever worn. As it happened, it was a tunic that had belonged to her father when he was younger. Her Uncle Wyatt had saved and it kept it safely stored in a cedar trunk all these years in hopes of a reunion of the brothers.

Nicole noticed a movement by the door and looked toward the opening. Her breath caught in her throat as she saw Waverly in the deep burgundy of the tunic; her hair with fine braids and looped back lazily, caught to the back of her head. She walked slowly forward toward the bench in freshly polished boots and a grey cape. Waverly presented a very fine figure.

“Your majesty.” Waverly said as she came forward.

Nicole stood, “Waverly.” She responded, her voice breathy.

“Apologies for keeping you waiting Queen Nicole. My Uncle came to my room needing to speak with me.”

“And it looks as if he brought you a package as well. You look very handsome in your family tunic.” Nicole said a bit shyly.

Waverly was taken aback a little. “Ah, Thank you your grace.”

“Join me Waverly. I’d be interested in hearing of your talk with your Uncle. We’ve started talking about your future plans a few times; I’d like to continue that discussion.” Waverly took a seat on the bench next to Nicole.

Queen Nicole told Waverly of all the discussions that had been held the night before in the library. She explained each side of the coin to Waverly as well as her own thoughts on the subject of Waverly taking the throne of Earp. Waverly listened intently, stopped Nicole every once in a while with a question.

After sitting and discussing for a couple hours, Waverly was looking overwhelmed with the latest developments that came with the telling from Nicole. “Honestly your Majesty…”



“With you being the heir to the Kingdom of Earp, we are equals Waverly.”

“Oh. I um, I …”

“A bit much to take in isn’t it? Yesterday you were Master at Arms, and now – next in line for the throne.” Nicole said softly.

“What if I don’t want to sit on the throne?” Waverly said an edge to her voice. She stood very suddenly, stopping with a soft cry of pain.

Nicole reached for Waverly, “Easy there. Sit back down Waverly.

Holding her side, Waverly gingerly sat back down on the bench. Closing her eyes and taking a deep breath. “I shouldn’t do that should I?” She asked a rhetorical question.

“I think not. Roslyn? Ale if you please.”

Roslyn brought a pitcher quickly with two goblets.”

“How long do I have to make an announcement of whether or not I will give up the crown? One of my uncles is much better suited for the throne. I am a warrior. I would die having to sit idly by.”

Smiling ruefully, Nicole asked, “What exactly do you think a monarch does every day? Just sit in a throne room and do nothing?”

Waverly blushed, realizing what she had said. “Ah, no Your majes… Nicole. I…”

Nicole laughed, “It’s quite alright. If you feel up to it, let’s talk and I will educate you on a few things in regards to being a monarch.”

Over the next couple days, Waverly and Nicole spent time walking the gardens and talking; not just about being a monarch, but about everything under the sun. Hunting, fishing, archery, horseback riding, their likes and dislikes. The two were getting to know each other.

It wasn’t long before Waverly made the choice to step down from the throne. An official ceremony was held in the throne room of Haught as there was no way for Waverly to travel horseback yet to the newly renamed Kingdom of Earp – which had been known for a short time as the Kingdom of Wesley.

The newly crown monarch of Earp, King Virgil soon departed along with his brother Wyatt, their new Master of Arm, Sir Richard, and assorted advisors from neighboring countries. Morgan stayed on with Queen Nicole as Court Physician of Haught.

Waverly continued to improve and felt stronger daily. Before you knew it, it was Yule time. A light snow had fallen the night before and made the world seem fresh and new! Waverly had been in the courtyard working with the sword, being challenged – albeit easily - by her good friend and new Master at Arms for Haught, Roderick. She was healing quickly and the flexibility was returning.

She went to the baths to wash up after exercising, at times dropping into the mud to avoid a strike. The warmth of the baths was very welcome to the tired, cold muscles that Waverly currently sported. Waverly would need to decide soon as to what to do with her life since she was no longer a Master at Arms for any kingdom. Finishing her soak, she dressed and headed to the kitchen for a bite. She and Roderick had gotten up when it was still dark and morning had hardly gotten started.

She grabbed a small loaf of sweet bread and some cheese. Heading out through the courtyard, she went down by the stream that ran close to the castle. She felt she would be able to ride soon and wanted a plan on where she would go what she could or would do. She ate as she wandered through the trees. After completing her meal, she knelt by the stream to cup water to her mouth for a drink. As she stood, she heard the hoof beats of a horse cantering nearby.

She continued walking until she heard her name being called from behind. Turning she found Nicole dismounting her horse. Waverly was surprised to see her in a tunic, trousers and a cape. Her boots came to her knees, just like Waverly’s. She had never seen the Queen in anything but her dresses.

Waverly’s mouth went dry as Nicole smiled at her, brown eyes sparkling in the snowfall, the golden leaves hanging stubbornly on the trees behind her, framing her fiery red hair as she pushed the hood from her head. “I’m surprised to see you out here Waverly! What a wonderful surprise!” The queen walked toward her, her horse walking behind her. “Out enjoying the day? I love the snow!” Nicole bubbled.

Waverly broke into a smile at the lighthearted laughter coming from the Queen. She couldn’t help it as her laugh was contagious. “Nicole! Hello. I was just out for a walk and …”

“Mind if I join you?”

“Of course not.”

“I love this time of year!” Nicole chatted. “The snow, the Yule celebrations, sweet breads, everyone is always so happy.”

Waverly smiled, but remained quiet. They walked along the edge of the stream. Chatting about less than important items, the wonderful dinner the night before – Trudy really had outdone herself; ale, and herd count from Henri. Their favorite memories from growing up and discussing the differences of growing up. One was in the castle as a member of the ruling elite the other growing up as a child whose father was serving under a monster. When Roderick rode by with a hunting party, coming back from a successful hunt, the Queen had him take her horse back with them.

Once in a while, one would slip a little on the icy rocks found here and there. The last time, Nicole slipped, Waverly caught her hand. When Nicole was steady, Waverly went to let go of her hand.

“Don’t.” Nicole said softly, keeping her grip of Waverly’s hand. “Please.” Raising her eyes from their entwined hands to look deeply into Waverly’s hazel eyes, “I… I have found you …” Nicole whispered and dropped her eyes, blushing.

Waverly took a tentative step in toward Nicole. “You have found me? I didn’t realize I was lost.” She finished in a soft yet teasing tone.

“When I first heard you in the courtyard, the day you arrived, I found you to be arrogant and obnoxious. I didn’t…”

“I understand. I was a right git, wasn’t I?” Waverly gave Nicole a self-depreciating grin.

“But then you saved me from Gardner. Not once but twice, the second time almost getting yourself killed. I was worried about you.” Nicole reached out and gently brushed an errant hair back from Waverly’s face.

Waverly looked up into Nicole’s eyes and was drawn deeply into their depths. Before she knew what she was doing, her lips softly met Nicole’s.

Their lips lingered for a moment until Waverly pulled back, suddenly very self-conscious of what she had just done. She hadn’t realized that Nicole had kissed her back.

“Queen Nicole, my most sincere apologies, I don’t…” She tried to pull her hands away from Nicole’s.

“Waverly…” Nicole held on tighter.

“Know what I was….” Waverly managed to pull her hands away and started to turn away.

“WAVERLY!” Nicole reached out and put her hand on Waverly’s arm in entreaty. “Please! Stop! You did nothing that I hadn’t wanted to happen.” She pulled Waverly around to look at her.

Waverly turned to face Nicole. “You…. what?” she asked unbelieving.

Nicole ducked her head shyly, “Somewhere along the way, I stopped thinking of you as obnoxious and…” Nicole trailed off, not knowing how to talk about the reoccurring dream she had been having of hazel eyes that looked just like Waverly’s.

“While you have been recovering here and I’ve been able to get to know you, I’ve changed my opinion of you. I find you very - charming.” Nicole finished up with.

‘You stole my heart that first night at dinner, when you entered the room.’ Waverly thought to herself. Giving Nicole a crooked smile, she took Nicole’s hand. “Come on, let’s head back to castle. We have more talking to do – and I think we may as well be in a drier environment, don’t you?”

They entered the castle through the courtyard, both smiling and Waverly telling Nicole a story that had her giggling. As they passed staff, smiles would erupt on faces, enjoying seeing their Queen happy – truly happy for the first time in a long while.

The two made their way to Nicole’s sitting room, to enjoy a noon time bite and to talk. The ladies in waiting were excused after bring in trays of drink and food. A roaring fire was going in the fireplace, and Waverly sat on the floor on a rug in front of the fire. Nicole moved the trays down between them and also sat on the floor across from Waverly.

After sharing that brief kiss, it was as if a flood gate had opened. Nicole and Waverly started talking about everything.

“Do you want children Waverly?” Nicole asked.

“Honestly, I have never thought of it. As Master of Arms of Wesley, I couldn’t see myself settling down long enough to raise a child. I was a different person. I was reckless and didn’t wish to be attached to anyone.”

“And now?”

“To be honest… I have no idea where I am going to land. I am no longer the Master of Arms for Wesley nor for the Kingdom of Earp. I have no idea how being a Royal is done or what I can do now. I stepped down. What can my future be?” Waverly said quietly, eyes downcast. She played with a thread n her old tunic that she had put on that morning. It was becoming a little ragged.

“Waverly…” Nicole reached across and gently took her hand, “There is so very much you can do. You are still a member of court for the Kingdom of Earp. I can teach you how being a Royal is done.” Nicole chuckled at the phrasing of ‘being a Royal’. “You no longer need to be the Master of Arms. You can step in and be Virgil’s General of the Army. You have the military experience where he may not. You have diplomatic experience – you could serve as the Court Diplomat or so many other roles.”

“Diplomat? Not sure about that. A General may work. I don’t know what Wyatt’s background is. As the elder, wouldn’t he get first preference?”

“That depends on how Virgil wishes to run his kingdom. As the original heir, you might get first choice. Until you can ride, meaning that until Morgan clears you for horseback, you can stay here. Shadow me and see what it takes to rule a kingdom. It isn’t just sitting around all day.”

Nicole topped off their goblets with some ale. “At the very least, you can stay through Yule. Spend the time with me?” She asked softly.

A brilliant smile lit up Waverly’s face, “Now that I most certainly can do.” She leant over the space that separated them and kissed Nicole’s cheek.

Nicole smiled brightly for a second, then bit her lower lip and titled her head down to try and hide her blush.

Waverly reached over and tucked her finger under Nicole’s chin, applied pressure so that Nicole’s eyes came back up and looking directly into Waverly’s own. “Never dear woman, never feel you need to hide from me. You are so precious Nicole!” she said in a low, husky voice.

Nicole’s breath caught in a light gasp. Waverly pushed the trays out of the way, and getting up on her knees crawled over to be closer to Nicole. She took her face in her hands and tilting her head back, captured her lips in a kiss. Nicole brought her hands up and caught Waverly’s hips.

As the kiss deepened, Waverly brought her hands down and pulled Nicole up onto her knees, then encircled her torso with her with one arm, the other hand behind Nicole’s head.

Nicole pulled Waverly in tighter. When she felt the tip of Waverly’s tongue touch her lip her mouth automatically opened allowing entry. As Waverly’s tongue explored Nicole’s mouth, she groaned deeply, feeling a wave of desire sweep through her body. She had never felt this before. No one had ever kissed her in such a way. The intensity was almost too much! A deep groan escaped Nicole, releasing a wave of desire that Waverly could taste.

Waverly broke the kiss, pulled back a little and looked deeply into Nicole’s eyes. “Why your majesty, you are quivering.”

Nicole closed her eyes and let a breath out. “Sir Waverly no one has ever…kissed me let alone like that.”

That moment brought crystal clear to Waverly how this strong woman in her arms, was also very vulnerable. She tightened her arms around Nicole ever so slightly. A serious light came to her eyes, “Then we must make sure you have much more of the same as well as so many more wonderful experiences to come.