Chapter 1: Introduction
The known world of Cadmium was surrounded on three sides by water and the fourth side by mountains so great and treacherous that no man had made it over and returned alive. Every ship sent to sea out of sight of the coast was never seen again. As far as the people of this land were concerned, the borders of humanity began and ended with the waters and mountains.
In the very beginning of their written history, a ruling monarch emerged. The people lived in peace under the crown of their king. The more fertile southern lands produced food easily with hardly a chill to kill the crops. The northern lands, especially near the mountains, produced much or the raw materials for building and forging. Very little crime appeared on the roads because the king was able to keep them guarded well without war in his land.
Several generations of peace were shattered though when one King died without an heir. He became known as the Heir-less King, his name lost to history. This meant that his younger brother would ascend the throne. However, his brother was only eight years old at the time of his death.Until the boy came of age, twenty by the laws of the land, the elder sister would rule. She was already twenty-two even though the laws dictated that the crown would pass to the male heir.
These were the last years of peace the people of Cadmium had known. The Queen ruled the lands so well that she became adored by many. Many also forgot about the boy still growing and learning to become King. The Queen ruled the country from the Winter castle nestled in the foothills of the northern mountains and by the Kings River that cut through the land. She left the boy to grow in the Summer Castle with his tutors and advisors.
The Queen held court daily and knew her people well. When she was being asked to give up her crown to a King they had never met, the people rallied to her. Soon the lands were divided. With the northern lands ready access to weapons and the ore to make them the common people quickly took land enough for food. War broke out for the first time. A Queen who had ruled for years and a young King fighting for his birthright.
This was the beginning of the war that divided the peaceful land of Cadmium. The northern lands adopted the name Krypton after the beautiful rare jewels found deep in the mountains, a treacherous jewel that many who set out to find it died or were never seen from again. The lower lands kept the name of their history. Krypton adopted new laws, mainly the law that the crown was passed to the first-born female child. Most queens did marry for love but on occasion, a marriage was made to ensure the support of a house that lived on the borderland.
Briefly, a King might rule in the place of a Queen if a queen died suddenly. This happened most with childbirth. The King would rule until the daughter became of age. It was decided that it was best for queens to rule the people while the princes ruled the armies. The princes were actually happy with the arrangement, relieved of most duties except what came most naturally to them, fighting.
In the most recent history of Krypton, the Queen died without an heir so her brother rose to rule. His marriage was political in nature to ensure a strong ruler and the loyalty of a household with disputed lands. Lionel Luthor married Lillian. A child conceived soon after their wedding vows gave hope for a true queen on the throne but instead a boy was born. He was named Alexander. The Queen grew ill after the birth of her child and returned to her family estate to escape the pressures of court. The King would visit his queen several times a year but she did not return to court until ten years later. When she did she had a beautiful girl not much younger than the prince. It was speculated that the reason for her illness was having a second child so quickly after the first.
The people were overjoyed at the prospect of having a queen sit the throne once more. The joy was dampened by the sudden loss of the King. A hunting accident. A mountain lion had been stalking villages near the mountains so the King in his men set out to kill the beast. In one of the narrow passages of the mountain villages, the King was separated from his men. The lion fell on him from above and overpowered him. The hunting party arrived too late to save the King.
The power of rule was left to his queen. She took to it readily and easily. Her children grew strong and diligent. The prince exceeding most in sword and tactics, the princess learning to lead the people into a better future. When the princess turned twenty she was crowned as the queen in waiting. She would begin assuming responsibilities of all nature in preparation for her ascension to the throne when the Queen passed away or she reached the age of twenty-six, according to the traditional laws of the land.
Cadmium still strove to restore order to their land, for they still saw Krypton not as a kingdom by itself but as rebels who still refused the rule of their King. This constant burning hatred caused the war to rage for over a century, neither gaining the upper hand. So battles raged, turning more and more land between the two lands into wild country, occupied by only desperate people and those who deserted the armies on either side. Cadmium refused to treat with the rebels so a land that was once whole was divided by war with no hope of peace.
Chapter 2: Kara- Re-assignment
I stared into the dented plate of metal that served as a mirror. I picked up the sheers to begin the work on my hair. A monthly procedure that was habitual and necessary. A ritual that allowed my thoughts to wander to the memories that plagued me in most my waking hours.
The lush grass of the meadow cushions my feet as they pound after the steps of the fair-haired boy in front of me.
"Kal, wait!" I call out. He looks over his shoulder and grins.
"Kara, you know the rules. The last one to the river does all the chores this week." He calls back.
Kal was a year older and had the long legs to match. So naturally every time we played this game I lost. Our parents trailed behind with the picnic basket with our lunch.
Suddenly mud was squishing between my toes. I was at the river bed. I glance around in search of my brother when I am forced to duck as a mud ball sails over my head.
"Kal!" I squeal in protest.
I scoop up my own handful of mud to retaliate. Mud begins to fly as we bob and weave our way closer to the water. Kal grabs two handfuls of mud and hops on a rock that juts above the water surface. He throws one ball and it splatters on my summer dress. Then he jumps to the next rock, they lead like stepping stones across the lazy water. I can hear Mama and Papa's laughter in the meadow as they stroll hand and hand towards us.
Kal ducks a ball of mud from me and throws his own. Kal casts about in search of more projectiles. Two more rocks and he would be on the other shore. The next rock is further and higher than the others. Kal flashes me one last mischievous grin before he makes the leap. I watch him fly across the gap in what feels like a second that stretches into eternity. Kal's mud-slicked toes slip from the edge of the river-smoothed boulder. A loud crack sounds across the water as Kal's head hits the hard surface then disappears into the water.
I blink and I am at home again, sitting on my mother's lap. Papa is on the other side of the dust-streaked window, shoulders hunched as he finishes patting down the small mound of dirt. Mama presses her cheek to my hair and a dampness seeps through to my head.
Crowds press in on all sides and Papa's hands grip my legs tightly as I am perched on his shoulders. The man on the platform holds a parchment that he reads from. I am too distracted by the men in shiny metal suits on either side of him to pay attention to the words. Papa quickly puts me down and pulls me through the crowd, away from the shiny men.
The splintered chair pricks my bottom and makes me squirm as Mama stands behind me. Tears fall down my cheeks as my hair falls off my shoulders to the floor. I do not understand what is happening other than Mama and Papa are arguing and crying and packing what little we own.
The small cart bounces along the open road as the old donkey pulls against Papa's reins. Mama's body fends off the chill of the night better than the thin blanket wrapped around us. Our hut shrinks in the distance, illuminated only by the pale moonlight.
The pants are hot as I work with Papa. I haul logs back and forth as he splits them with the ax.
"Papa, I am so tired. Please, can we stop? Kal used to help and it was easier." Pain explodes across my face and whips my head to the side. Papa gruffly grabs my shoulders with his scarred hands.
"Never say that. You are Kal. Kara died." he says just as harshly as the slap. tears well in my eyes.
"Kal," his voice softens. " It is the only way to keep us safe, to keep you safe. Now, we must make you a proper man."
I set the sheers down and look in the mirror. My blonde hair that used to flow in waves down my back as a child now stops at the nape of my neck. The freshly cut strands float in every direction, giving it a tousled look. I pull the loose nightshirt over my head and grab the cloth strips and begin to wrap them around my chest and torso. I still remember the first time Mama did the same.
The dark hut was lit by the only two candles we could afford. my mother wrapped the cloth tightly around my chest and then my stomach. It flattened my newly budding breasts so when the loose tunic is pulled over my head I am as flat-chested and scrawny as all the other twelve-year-old boys in the village.
"Remember my beautiful child, no one must ever know. Otherwise, you will be taken from us." her whisper in my ear barely makes it past the lump I hear in her throat.
The light from the candle was dim. I had painstakingly earned the right to my own tent long ago. It had the luxuries of being completely enclosed, tall enough to stand straight up in, and have a small cot and writing desk. It was not yet dawn and soon the camp would be stirring.
The chain mail clinks softly as it slides over my under tunic. I methodically begin to strap on the plate armor. I can see light beginning to form outside the tent walls. I adjust the sword baldric over my shoulder and hear a knock on the wood post in the doorway. The knock that comes every morning at the same time.
"Come in, John," I say, my voice purposefully pitched downwards. I do it so much that it feels natural and sometimes I fear it may be permanent. Sometimes when I am alone I practice my reading out loud to hear my own voice.
"Sir, before we set out, the Prince has requested all the sector leaders to meet at command." I nod at the dark face of the boy poking through the tent flaps.
"Start your duties. Pack everything and saddle my horse. I will be back shortly."
I walk the narrow path between tents. Mud sucking at my feet with every step. The ground was turned and uneven from the thousands of men and animals that had passed over it the past couple of days. Men rolled from small tents only big enough to hold two prone bodies. I could see some women picking their way through the low tents back to the outskirts of the camp where most camp followers resided. I had to keep the sneer from my face at the implications of what their presence meant. Even though I was drafted at the age of fourteen, I was never able to become completely desensitized to the what went on among the men. Even the other officers were more than happy to sate their needs in such a way.
I was admitted to the command tent by the Prince's guard. They knew me on sight. Most men in the army knew me. I was the first to arrive, one of the upsides to training my body to only need three hours of sleep every night. All so I would be in bed after the men and up long before them. The prince looks up at me with his dark eyes. His dark hair had grown shaggy during the campaign. He gives me a nod then continues to read the parchment in front of him. The other officers begin to file in as they are roused and dressed by their own squires. Silence remains among us because we know the prince hates interruptions. He starts writing on a blank parchment, not even acknowledging the rest of the men who filed in.
"There will be some changes in command. One of my most successful and fast-rising officers has been called to court." The middle-aged men exchange looks and my heart beat picks up.
"There was an attempt on the Queen-in-Waiting's life. My sister's life." sharp intakes of breath are heard around the command tent.
"Our enemy in the south, Cadmium, abhor the idea of female rulers so much that they wish to eliminate the Queen-in-Waiting. With this latest attack in the heart of our beloved Krypton, the Queen Regent has called Sir Kal to court to protect her daughter, protect my sister, and protect the throne. In his departure, the troops under Sir Kal's command will be distributed..."
I am dumbfounded. I cannot hear Prince Alexander's words any longer. My place was not at court, it was heard in the field. The heat of battle had drawn me in ever since I picked up my first sword. Enlistment decrees had spread across Krypton, one healthy male from every family was to be taken into the army and trained for the ever-growing war with Cadmium. This was my second life-changing decree that the crown had made.
The first was the one that gave me the name of my dead brother. My parents drilled it into me so they wouldn't lose both children. Families with female children between the ages six and nine were to have those children taken and the families banished. No one knew the reason but speculation was the King had an affair after he was married and conceived a daughter. In Krypton the crown was passed to the oldest daughter, no matter the side of the sheet the child was born on. Many children and families were destroyed the following year. Dark times fell on Krypton and shadows of it can still be seen today. No such child was ever found according to the general knowledge of the population.
Even now occasionally a woman was found dead, all bearing the dark hair and eyes of the royal line. Love of the princess, now Queen-in-waiting, is what any man caught claimed. No one wanted a threat to the throne but I always hated the senselessness of it. A small kernel of hate formed in the pit of my stomach for a girl I never met because our rulers let such acts occur.
Because of the insane decree, my parents resurrected their dead son in me. Their daughter left for dead in the small dark hut with the first cut strands of hair. I picked up a sword after the second decree and never looked back at the lost little girl. Kal had protected our family so did my best to make him proud. He had always dreamed of being a knight, so when the war opened the door for me to become one, I stepped right through. I became the best, no one defeated me.
The Prince recognized that as officers told him of my accomplishments. I quickly rose through the ranks. Soon I knelt in front of him, in the carnage of a battle, as he dropped a sword on either shoulder. Then telling me to rise as a knight, all for saving his life.
My feet carry back through the camp without my permission after being dismissed from command. My troops divided among the greedy old men that served under the prince. Men were saddling their horses and tents were being packed away. Smoke from banked fires still hung lazily in the air.
John held the reins to both our horses and without a word I mount my white charger. His smaller working horse had a small cart behind it with our meager possessions. I turn my horse with the ease of long companionship and head the opposite direction of where the army would be moving.
"Sir? Isn't the head of the army the other direction?"
"It is." I nod with the simple reply.
"Then where are we going?" he asks.
"Have you ever been to court?" I respond with my own question.
"Well, we are about to change that. I have been assigned to protect the Queen-in-waiting."
Chapter 3: Kara- Arrival
It took nearly a fortnight to make our way to Kandor. The army had been deep in disputed boarder lands. Luckily some of my training included map reading and navigation when I began to show promise for command. I had never been to Krypton's capital city so I had to rely on that training to get us there. When we crested the last hill, I made us halt for the night, looking down on the flat lands that surrounded the walls.
"But there is plenty of light to make it before dark." John protests, no doubt hoping for an actual bed.
"I have never been to court, but I plan on doing it without weeks of travel and dirt on myself and my horse." John dismounts, I don't and he looks up at me questioningly.
"Start setting up camp. I am going to the stream we passed at the bottom of the hill. When I return you will go and bathe also." He nods and begins unloading the cart attached to his horse.
My horse makes the easy decent quickly. The sun was still high in the sky when I reached the stream. The stream was deep and the water still cool despite the heat of summer. I find a place where trees and undergrowth live close to the water. I unsaddle comet and allow my beautiful white horse to wade into the stream to drink. I strip myself and grab the bar of soap I made sure to keep in my saddle bags. I made it a point to seek out soap makers in major towns we passed near on campaign. I wade into the water next to Comet, where it comes up to my waist. I wash my hair and body, feeling the dirt and dust wash away in the slow-moving current. It felt so damn good. Then I wash my wrapping and tunic, laying them both on a flat rock to dry in the sun. I grab my wooden travel bowl from the saddles and use it to shovel water onto Comets back. By the end, I barely have enough soap left to hold. I make a mental note to search the capitol for some when I get the chance.
I lead Comet back to the shore so he can dry himself. I dress in spare clothing that are loose and little used but will do for tonight. Using fresh straw in the saddlebags, I rub Comet down to dry him. Saddled, I walk beside him back up the hill to see how John is doing.
John has done a lot. Both of our tents are erected, a fire burns hot between them, and his own horse is groomed and tied to a tree so it can graze on the lush hillside grass. I hand John the last of the soap and he descends the hill on foot. I tie Comet with John's horse and unsaddle him. I find my bow in my tent and descend the opposite side of the hill in search of game. We had dried meat and hard loaves but I wanted something more filling.
Within an hour I manage to kill a rabbit, a clean shot through its eye. I make my way back to the fire and have the rabbit cleaned and roasting on a spit before John returns. I leave John to tend the meat and dig out the rest of our rations for an actual meal. I compose my last letter to the Prince from the isolation of my tent. Letting him know we arrived at the city and that this would be my last report to him. I had sent letters during our travel as John and I stopped in various towns. I would have him send the last when we arrived tomorrow.
When I emerge again I see that John actually fetched water and was making a thin soup with the fresh meat, a few shrunken vegetables, and the rest of the dried meat. He had the dry loaves ready to soak up the broth. However, the boy had wits enough to keep some of the fresh meat out of the thin broth. John rolled a log to either side of the fire for seats. He hands me a leg being kept warm on a flat rock near the flames.
I give John a small approving nod and sit with him. I had learned early to hide my emotions, allowing almost nothing but battle rage to break my calm exterior. John now sought out these small gestures once he learned it was the only approval he would ever receive from me. After the leg, I have a small bowl of soup and one of the three hard rolls. I let the growing boy eat the rest. Then I send him to bed and take first watch while I polish my armor. I hadn't worn the full plate mail since leaving the army an I was starting to feel nervous. I had some training on how to conduct myself around royalty and had spent time with the Prince, but proper conduct was very loose surrounded by men on a killing field.
I wake John for his watch and sleep restlessly for a couple hours. Then, like always, I dress myself in full armor for our arrival. John was disappointed his first few weeks as my squire. when he arrived to find me dressed without his assistance. but soon he came to accept it with every one of my other quirks. I believe that he thought it was my low birth and lack of a formal education.
We move about the camp in a comfortable silence. A rhythm that only people who had spent a year traveling together could have. We reach the moat surrounding the city before noon. The city was in a large flat valley, surrounded by grasslands and rolling hills. The river cut through the land on the west side of the city. Any attackers would be completely exposed long before reaching the outer wall and moat. The moat closes at sunset each night, which is part of the reason I stopped early the day before.
Soldiers halt us before we cross the bridge. After presenting them with the parchments from both prince and Queen, riders are sent ahead and soldiers fell in alongside us. The capital city was sectioned off in four concentrate circles of walls. Each wall rose taller than the one before, the castle on the crest of the hill in the center of the city. The guard changed at each new gate. Obviously status and money increased at each new level of the city. The sun was sitting low in the sky by the time we reached the final gate. Crowds pressed in about us, barely moving out of the way for the armored men shoving through, as they finish their shopping and business for the day.
The final gate groans open in front of us. The doors were easily taller than me five times over. Each took two large plow horses on the other side to pull open. I was beginning to realize the castle was a fortress and also how hard it would be for an assassin to breach the walls. From my short education, I knew the castle had never been taken in its history. Most sieges could barely pass the outer wall of the city.
In the large cobblestone courtyard, young stable hands took our horses and our latest vanguard led us into one of the biggest building I have ever seen. I refused to look up because I knew whatever I saw would break my calm composure. Out of the corner of my eye, I can see John's head craned back, mouth gaping. I adjust the baldric over my shoulder and lift the hilt slightly to check and see if it was clear of the scabbard, a nervous tick that I could not kick. I focus on the back of the guard in front me, refusing to be impressed or allow my low birth to show. In my peripheral vision, I see us pass through a grand entrance hall, down a large corridor, and stop in front of a large oaken door. Guards on either side pull them open so we can file through. Our steps echo loudly in the large open room. Tapestries hang the length of the room bearing the royal families crest. A black diamond-like shield on a field of emerald green. Emblazoned on the shield is an ornate letter L embossed in gold.
Two thrones sat on a platform, one clearly larger and more ornate than the other. Around the thrones stood a few men and women, richly dressed and standing tall. Each one, however, was put to shame by the women sitting in the middle of them. On the more ornate throne was the Queen. A cold power emanated from her. My knees grew weak at the gaze of her dark eyes. I felt like she could see all of me, my deepest secrete. They trapped me and I could not look anywhere else because I feared if I did she would expose me.
"Presenting Sir Kal El Ward. Sworn knight of the Prince, Protector of the Queen-in-waiting. " The page announces, his voice carrying easily and surely in the large room. I kneel, now formally introduced, and bow my head. I feel every eye in front of and behind me searing against my skin.
"Rise, Sir Ward." An emotionless voice says above me. It is sharp and clear but leaves me on edge. I do as the Queen bids, drawing back to my full height, chin held proudly upward. I meet the cold azure eyes that bore into my own. I have to force my face to remain expressionless while the queen examines me in the silence of the hall.
"You were not born to be a knight," she states, I fear my voice would betray so I simply nod.
"But you have bested all the men serving my son and proven your worth time and time again." I nod.
"All with no formal education, only the necessary skills needed for command." Another nod.
"Which is why you fear to speak." The last question catches me off guard. I clear my throat and finally open my mouth to speak.
"Yes, your majesty." I choose the safest most formal address I knew. The corner of the queen's mouth twitch, betraying her amusement.
"Good, he can speak. That will make this much easier. You are expected to learn everything you need for court while protecting my daughter, your future queen." At the mention of the Queen-in-waiting, I finally look at her.
My mouth goes dry and my heart thuds in my ears. Her eyes are so green and sharp that I feel them pierce into my soul. Behind the coldness in them is an emotion I cannot quite decipher. Was it resentment, hate, or maybe even just indifference? The sharp features of her face are framed by wavy hair, as black as raven's wings. She wore a green dress that perfectly matched her eyes and the color of the Luthor coat of arms. She sits with her back rigid and no emotion in her features. I see her make a small movement that I take for a nod and return my gaze to the queen with some trouble. Breath fills my lungs again that I did not know I had lost.
"Now for your tutors. You will spend every morning before daybreak with a different one. Lady Catherine will teach you proper court behavior, manners, and whatever else she sees fit. Master Winslow will see to your reading and lettering. Sir James is our Master at Arms and will continue your training. Every fourth morning you will report to me with your tutors to review your progress."
As Queen Lillian spoke each name, the person belonging to it gave a nod. Lady Catherine was a stick of a woman, her face hard and hair pulled back in an intricate braid. She looked like a proud woman, one I should never cross. Master Winslow was a small, pale man with light brown hair. A smile barely kept from his face was enough to show me someone who loved his job. Sir James was a dark-skinned man, head shaved close to the scalp, his armor the green of the Luthor's with the crest emblazoned on the chaste plate. Suddenly I am aware of how damaged and cheap my own armor is. Sir James seemed just as happy as Master Winslow but was better able to hide it.
"Now Sir James will inform you of our safety measures and familiarize you with the castle and surrounding grounds."
Sir James descends the platform, stops next to me, and turns back to face the group he just left. He bows, I follow his lead, just a breath behind. The Queen dismisses us with a wave of her hand and I follow the master at arms out of the hall.
We walk briskly through the castle, even so, the tour takes up the rest of the day remaining. Sir James talking the whole time, bothered by the one-sided conversation. Torches are being lit when we finally reach a dead end hallway. The entrance to it is guarded by two men on either side. At the end of the hallway is another large double door, on one side is a smaller door.
"That is your room, right across from the princesses. Sorry, Queen-in-waiting. I watched that girl grow up and I am still not used to the new title. She turned twenty-five but to me, she is still five years old running around the castle barefoot." he seems to realize what he just said and clears his throat.
"Be at Lady Catherine's personal chambers tomorrow morning. After that, you will start your duties, send your squire to me if you require guidance. I will also help you in our own sessions. Dinner will be severed in an hour in the lesser hall." Without a further word he turned and left.
I open the door to my new home. My belongings are already at the foot of my bed in the small chamber. John must have been the one to bring it up because nothing is unpacked and he knows I do not like my stuff touched. I throw the bolt on the door and make a mental note to have something stronger put in place. I began loosening the straps on my armor and placing it carefully on the bed. I find a washbasin in the corner and smile at the warm water, meaning John had it heated for me. He knew how much I hated being dirty, I spent much more of my pay than I should have on those soaps I love. It was a luxury not many could afford or would try to. I had no more now but I stripped completely and used the soft cloth to wash the sweat and dirt from my body.
I dressed in my bust tunic and boots, well best of the three I owned. I descended to the hall that Sir James had shown me earlier. I sat in a corner and a serving girl placed a plate laden with food in front of me. I pick at the rich fair that is almost too much for my stomach. I grew up on plain food and lived on army rations since I was fourteen, I feared the rich food would make me ill. Instead, I pick up my tankard of ale and watch the hall while I sip it slowly. I watch interactions of the people in the room. Most the men are loud and boisterous, the women fair and flirting. I felt a stranger looking on a different world.
Suddenly my view was blocked by a grinning, bright-eyed, man. My eyes focus on Master Winslow's face and I stare unblinkingly back. Some of the eagerness leaves his face at my expressionless features but he speaks anyways.
"I cannot believe you are actually here. Rumors of your deeds of valor have reached us even this far north. I mean, I can not find any other account of a peasant boy rising so high and so quickly. I should know, I am the court scribe and bookkeeper. I have read thousands of reports and..." He trails off at the lack of reactions from me.
"You are a very serious man." I nod. Somehow he finds this funny and laughs.
"I think I am going to like teaching you." I stand and look down at him.
"Goodnight, Master Winslow."
"Winn," he says and I give him a questioning look.
"My friends call me Winn."
I nod and leave, my feet growing heavier with every step on my way back to my room. I throw the bolt and quickly strip and fall into bed. It was the softest thing I had ever felt and I fell quickly into a deep sleep.
Chapter 4: Lena- Betrayal
I watched the blond man's back as he left with James. The rest of our party left shortly after the two knights. Leaving me alone with mother and my two guards.
"I do not need another guard mother. I do not even wish to have the ones already I do." I say icily.
"I do not care what you wish. An attempt was made on your life and this constant cycle of guards is dangerous, hence the personal guard. Not only that, a guard who has fought our enemy, who has learned how they think and gone above and beyond to defeat them. Sir Kal has proven his worth so you will be protected by him. Now return to your ladies. Tomorrow night will be a feast welcoming the war hero home." Queen Lillian leaves no room to protest as she purposefully strides out of the room. Leaving me in an empty hall with only the silent guards. Lillian Luthor had a way with long-winded speeches that did not let the other person respond.
I sigh and head to the sitting room where I know my ladies-in-waiting were anticipating my return. Planning the feast fell to us so the room becomes a flurry of activity. Pages are sent out to invite Dukes, Earls, and anyone else with any remote royal standing or titles. Most the ladies leave to set about the necessary tasks such as decor, entertainment, and food. I am left with the one person I trust fully and the guards standing just outside the door. She is the only friend I have too. Jessica continues to work on the embroidery in her hands, a bandage still wrapped around her palm. It slows her movements and causes her to wince occasionally. I sit and stare into the fire. The stillness of the room and the soft cracking of the flames cause my thoughts to wonder.
Jess and I were walking through the royal gardens. They were closed to all but those of the royal court. She was babbling on about some knight in the army that was rumored to have fought through twenty men to each the Prince, who was surrounded with only his squire to protect him. It all sounded so embellished and ridiculous but Jessica was ecstatic so I nodded and smiled and made all the approving sounds a friend should. Around the bend in the path, a tall figure appears. I nearly run into the man but draw up just short. Jessica stops next to me as well, her feet at the same time as her mouth.
"Jackson!" I exclaim, a grin spreading across my face. His expression matches mine. He takes my hand and bows to place a soft kiss on the back of it.
"My lady, we have talked about this. Please call me Jack." Jack's hand lingers in mine just a moment too long but the feel of his skin sends heat through my entire body. From the corner of my eye, I see Jessica step back a little as Jack transfers my hand to his arm and begin to walk the way he came. Jessica stays a few steps behind us as we stroll arm and arm through my favorite place in the castle. The gardens were always so peaceful and one of the few places I could be myself without prying eyes of gossiping servants and members of the court.
We walk down the path, I point out different plants and each time Jack whispers that it isn't as beautiful as me, my smile grows with each compliment. I had known the man since we were children. His family lived in the southernmost lands of Krypton but Jack and his father were often at court. We knew it was purposeful, our parents conspiring to have us married but we were both fine with that. He was the tall dark and handsome type that every woman swooned for. A strong jaw covered by a well-groomed dark beard. Dark eyes that never strayed from mine even when surrounded by fawning women. Jack always danced with me and no other at any feast or celebration. I knew one day soon he would ask my mother's permission to marry me.
We stopped just short of the door that led back to the castle. The gardens were nestled in the courtyard surrounded by the sprawling walls of my home. The only entrance was where we stood, guards posted on the other side of the door. Jack turns toward me and tucks a loose strand of hair behind my ear. His hand rests on my cheek. I know what comes next. It had never gone further than a kiss but I always craved more. Jack refused me only to claim the defense of my honor. I close my eyes and lean into him.
My head snaps to the side as my shoulder hits the door hard. A scream rips through the air and when my vision focuses again I see Jessica standing over me. She grips the blade of a knife that Jack pulls back from her grasp, causing it to slice deeper into her flesh. Another cry escapes her lips. Jack roughly pushes the brave, stupid, girl to the side.
"I am sorry Lena. But they have my family. If I do this they will let them live and grant us lands and titles in Cadmium."
I do not even have time to think of a response before the loud thunk of metal hitting flesh and bone. Jack crumples and Sir James appears behind him, fist still extended from his own downward strike to Jack's head.
"That's Queen-in-waiting to you." James pulls me to my feet and guards outside the door follow him in.
"My lady? My lady?" a hand on my shoulder shakes me from my dark thoughts. Jessica of course.
"My lady, it is time to dress for supper." I nod and allow her to lead me to my rooms. I nod and allow her to lead me to my rooms.
A man exits the only other room in the hall. He was dressed in a blue tunic with gold trimming. It looked well worn and a little out of place in the ornate castle. His blues eyes pass over me as he turns back to lock the door he just exited. They are made all the sharper by the cloth he wears. His hair was so yellow that it was almost golden, which was also out of place this far north, especially among the nobility. It was Sir Kal. He was leaner than his armor had lead me to believe. Sir Kal turned the key in the lock and left without sparing me a second glance.
"That's him. The man who saved the Prince." Jessica whispers as we enter my chambers.
Chapter 5: Kara- Guest of Honor
"Now, tonight is a feast in your honor. It is up to me to make sure you do not make a fool of our Queens, or more importantly, me." Lady Catherine had already berated me for my attire, my stature, and my commoner accent. She scared me more than when I was starring down blood covered, armed men. Proper etiquette was everything to Lady Catherine and I had learned much.
Before our time was ended, just as the light was beginning to appear out of the window, several women enter Lady Catherine's study. Suddenly I am swarmed by hands and clicking tongues. I am glad that I had the forethought to stick the roll of cloth between my legs like I usually do when I am out of armor because one of the women runs her hands up the inside of my leg as she takes measurements. I look down at the intrusion and she flashes a mischievous grin before continuing her work. I look then at the woman presiding over the fray.
"You must properly dressed for the court. Sir James is also having new armor made for you. A suit that is worthy of protecting our future Queen." Just as suddenly as the women appear, we are alone again. The Lady Catherine dismisses me as well. I return to my rooms to dress in my own armor. I exit my room to find John waiting for me like he did every morning.
"Sir, I am not entirely sure my place here at court, or what I am supposed to do." The young boy looked as unsure as I felt about the whole thing. I cock my head to the side as I think.
"Go see Sir James. See if he will continue your sword training. Also, see if he knows your daily duties because I am unsure. This is new territory for me also." The boy grins as he leaves, no doubt dreaming of the glory that most boys do.
He left quickly, most likely running as soon as he turned the corner. I stand outside the Queen-in-waiting's door. Several women enter and exit the room over the course of the next hour while I wait. I adjust the baldric over my shoulder and lift the hilt of my sword to check it was clear of the scabbard.
I still my fidgeting as the double doors open, revealing the women I am to protect. I feel my pulse quickens as the Queen-in-waiting gracefully exits her chambers flanked by what I can only assume are two of her Ladies-in-waiting. Man, a lot of waiting went on in royalty, I think. I bow slightly as Lady Catherine showed me. When I straighten, Lena nods her head and swoops into the hallway. I silently fall in behind the three women as we descend through the castle.
We stop outside a small door here one of the women leaves us. The one that remains is a dark haired, dark skinned girl who opens the door. We are behind the thrones that the two queens sat in upon my arrival. This time the Queen-in-waiting sits in the larger, foremost chair. The girl stands to her left and I move to stand on the right. I was still very unsure of what was happening but I decided just to go with it.
Soon, however, it became apparent. Men filed in from the side door and sat at a table below the dais. The only women among them was Lady Catherine. When she entered I realized that this was the privy council that Catherine told me of earlier. The Queen-in-waiting was holding court. A time when common people could petition the crown for help in their own lives, anything from loans to dispute settlements. It was late in the morning before we finished. I had lost count of the people who had been paraded through the hall. Queen-in-waiting Lena handled each one with such grace that even those who she could not help thanked her as they left. I began to understand the devotion of her people. She tried so hard to be fair to all and seemed to really love her people in return.
Together the three of us make our way to the smaller dining hall. Again she sits on a platform above everyone. Serving maids bring food and wine. Jessica, her Lady-in-waiting I had learned, sat on her right, leaving the large ornate chair to Lena's left for the absent Queen. The women sat and talked all through the meal, it was the most expression I had seen in Lena's face all day. I stood silently behind them, an ever-present shadow. Serving maids are clearing away the dishes when Sir James comes up behind me.
"Go eat in the guard dining hall. I will relieve you for a few hours so you can rest. I will try and do it twice a day for you. Take your time to get to know the guards. You will form your own protective detail once you are comfortable." I simply nod in response and work my way into the crowded bustling kitchen.
The guard dining room was off the kitchen and much smaller and stuffier than the one I had just exited. That did not seem to bother the men gathered in it though. They were rambunctious and loud.. This was the best place to learn the secrets of the castle, only second to the kitchen cooks. I sit quietly in a corner and listen. I always had strangely good hearing and pick up almost any conversation I focused on.
Men talked of what nobles the saw entering and leaving the castle, who was courting who, and who had tensions between each other. Surprisingly I hear my own whispered and my ears perk toward that conversation. I glance that direction and hide a smile as a group of men push one of the smallest of them towards me. The man looks back at his friends for encouragement before hesitantly walking towards me. I methodically set my goblet down, turning my icy blue gaze to meet his dark eyes. Donovan, I think I heard his name was. He stops short like most people do. The blue was such a foreign color this far north and I worked hard on the whole intimidating thing.
"I...is it true?" he stammers out. I raise an eyebrow at his vague question.
"Did you really kill twenty men to save the prince?"
"No," I say and his shoulders slump in disappointment.
"The final count was twenty-seven." Donovan's mouth falls open and then he hurries back to his friends with the new bit of gossip he gained with his bravery.
I leave them to go relieve myself in the privacy of my own chamber. I had been worried about this issue when we left the privacy of the woods. I throw the bolt on the door and strip down to my undergarments to allow my skin to breath. Near naked, I decide now is the best time to do my daily exercise routine. I carefully stretch each limb, then begin the movements my father taught me so long ago. I remember struggling so much at first but now they came so easily that I had to conceive new ways to push my muscles.
On the tips of my fingers and toes, I drop my chest to just above the ground then push back up. I repeat the process until my hands cramp and my limbs quake. I stand and shake my arms and legs loose again. Next, I stand on my hands with my legs resting the rough stone wall and repeat the meticulous up and down. Ten exercises later I dress again. My father believed this was the only way to build muscle as fast as the rest of the boys. Now it was the best way for me to relieve tension and focus my mind.
Once I had locked the chamber door behind me, I asked the guards in the hallway if Lena had returned. They said no, but directed me toward the royal study and sitting rooms occupied mainly by Lena's Ladies-in-waiting. After much giggling, whispering, and staring the ladies finally direct me to the royal gardens. When I reach the hallway with only one door, I stop. In front of the door stand two guards at attention. In front of them stands the Queen-in-waiting, Lady Jessica, and Sir James. Lena stares straight ahead, not moving.
I walk down the hallway with my armor clanking abnormally loud in the silence of whatever private turmoil the Queen-in-waiting was experiencing. When I reach them, Sir James simply nods and leaves the way I came. I do not say a word except to nod at Lady Jessica. Time seems to stretch as we stand there in silence. I take the opportunity to study the door ahead.
The details are amazing and intricate. It depicts a garden full of blooming flowers and wildlife. The dark wood was painted so life-like that I almost expected to see the flowers blowing in a breeze. The sun was shining down on the peaceful scene.
Suddenly Lena turns and leaves, causing Jessica and I scramble after her. Lena returns to the room with her ladies waiting inside. I see an immediate shift in her demeanor. The shift is minor but the smile on her face does not quite reach her eyes. The ladies inside do not seem to notice the mask on Lena's face but continue to giggle and whisper as they glance at me where I stand behind Lena's chair.
I feel an intruder in this circle of women, each gossiping as their fingers move, seemingly independent of their bodies. I never learned to do the embroidery work that these ladies had been doing since they could hold needles. My father never allowed my mother to teach me those things, even in private.
Now watching them I was glad I never had to. they sat and talked and ordered tea and pastries and talked some more. For all the words, they never said anything of substance. It was the most boring afternoon of my life. It actually made me miss the long, grueling, forced marches of the army. A knock on the door and one of the young girls who wait on the ladies answer it. Sir James steps through the door.
"Excuse me Ladies, My Lady." He bows first to the room then to Lena Personally.
"I have come to relieve Sir Kal so he can ready for the feast."
"Of course Sir James. You may go Sir Kal. Do not be late, you are the guest of honor." I think I detect a hint of teasing in her voice. It felt a little forced but I was not sure because I had only known her for a day.
"Sir Kal, Your new armor is waiting in your room. Your squire took it there for us. He is a good kid, shows a lot of promise with the sword. I believe that comes from you." he says knowingly. I had been working with the boy the best I knew how. I nod in response, then bow to the future queen as I exit the room. I hear Jessica's voice before the door shuts.
"He does not speak much, does he?"
"No." comes Lena's thoughtful response.
In my chambers, each piece of armor is laid carefully out on the bed. Warm water is in the wash basin and I silently thank John for his ability to know just what I need. After washing myself I turn to finally take in the armor. It was one of the most graceful things I had ever seen. Although I had to give myself a mental shake as Lena's face inexplicably flashes through my mind. The steel was dyed a deep emerald green. The Luthor crest was emblazoned on the chest plate. I hold it up to the firelight and see repeating ornate letter L's etched in gold around the edge of each piece. It was amazing and well beyond anything I could ever afford.
Still, I hesitate. I had fought in the war for myself and my family. Now I was going to be marked as one of the Luthor's, the people who had changed my life. Putting this on would mean I would no longer be fighting for my self or my brother. I would be fighting for the Luthor's and that scared me for some reason I could not figure out. Almost like I was giving up what little freedom I had left.
I breathe deeply to steady myself. Then I begin to strap the armor on. The familiar movements calm me even more. Once clean and dressed, I exit my room to find Sir James waiting for Lena also. James grins at my appearance.
"Now you look fit to serve the royal family." His smile is actually so infections that I feel the corners of my mouth twitch.
"Thank you, Sir. This is... I cannot even tell you what this means to me." Sir James laughs a deep clear laugh.
"Well, next will be to get you a sword to match." I look down at the hilt under my hand. It looks even more battered and worn next to the new armor.
"This sword saved my life and saved my prince's life. I could not bear to part with it."
"In that case, Sir Kal, you should at least allow the master armorer to repair it. I'll take you to him tomorrow after your lesson with me." I allow myself a small smile at the thought of fighting again.
"Look, he does have more than one expression." Sir James teases me.
"Only when combat is involved." I joke back.
Suddenly the door opens and my mask is back in place. Sir James and I bow towards the Queen-in-waiting. She was beautiful. I had spent so much time with men that being near a woman was an odd sensation. Lena's dress was an emerald green, embroidered with gold in the shape of vines and leaves wrapping around her body. Her lips were tinted with rouge, eyes made into a piercing green by the dress. Lena's hair was pulled back into multiple intricate braids that became one that fell over her shoulder.
Lena nods in our direction then sweeps out of her rooms, Lady Jessica behind with Sir James and I following. We descend through the maze of corridors of the castle. I was growing more and more appreciative of the fact that I had not gotten lost yet.
We stand outside the doors leading to the great dining hall, opening up right behind the raised dais of the high table. Music and laughter seep through the doors to reach our ears. I hear three strikes of metal against marble. Miraculously, quiet falls. A voice booms over the crowd that I know is just on the other side. Lady Catherine had given me a brief education on how to behave and what was expected of me during my lesson.
"Queen-in-waiting Lena Luthor. Escorted by Sir Kal El Ward, Hero of the Battle of Argo, Protector of the Royal Family."
I take a deep breath as Lena rests her hand on my outstretched forearm. We walk through the doors as the swing open, Sir James and Lady Jessica right behind us. The noise is deafening as men and women cheer, clap, and bang ale mugs on the tables. I bow to the center, then left and right of the room. Cheers renew with each one. When some of the noise subsides Lena and I sit at the high table. She sits to the right of the Queen who is already seated at the center of the table.I then sit to the right of Lena. Sir James stands behind us to serve as Lena's guard. Lady Jessica sits just below us with rest of the ladies. When we are settled, the queen rises from her own ornate chair.
"We are here today to honor the return of a hero. Sir Kal has saved my son and now returns to court to protect the rest of my family. Our enemies in the south and have proven that they can and will turn our own against us. Now, more than ever, we need to stand together. War has ravaged our lands, but always at a distance. Now they have entered our courts. We need more heroes like Sir Kal. So tonight we honor him and all the heroes to come after."
With that doors on all sides of the hall open for servants bearing trays laden with food. Music begins again from the minstrels and conversation and laughter fill the room. I feel so out of place sitting with the two queens and the royal advisers. On my left, both queens remain silent. Both picking at food but neither really eating. On my right sits a slightly rotund man with mousy brown hair. To break the tension I feel building up inside of me, I finally turn to the man.
"I apologize, sir, I believe we have not been introduced and now must share a meal together. My Name is Sir Kal El Ward." The man smiles broadly at my outstretched hand. He grasps it firmly.
"Oh, I know who you are, boy. Everyone knows who you are. The name's Otis Berg. Advisory to the queen in matters of the Common People."
"Really? And what does that job entail?"
That was all it took for the man to talk. Otis rambles on about how it is his job to make sure that decisions made by the crown are taken to the people in a way that they understand and the people needs are made apparent to those making the decisions. Otis goes into great detail about different aspects and all I need to do is make an occasional noise to keep him talking. Several course pass and I have barely had to say a word.
"You know, his job is not that interesting. Mostly he just puts formal decrees into simpler words." I choke on the wine I just tried to drink. Otis does not seem to notice when I answer the Queen-in-waiting.
"People enjoy the feeling of being heard, especially by their heroes. It makes them feel important."
"My, we think a lot of ourselves, don't we?" I turn to the women and meet her green eyes.
"No. I did my job. I protected my country and my prince. Others see me as a hero. I see myself as a man who did his job by killing other men doing their own jobs." Lena looks hard into my eyes, then after a moment, I see them soften slightly.
"We are supposed to share a dance, traditionally, since you are the guest of honor." I look to the mass of people moving through the open dance floor in the center of the hall.
"My Lady, I do not even know how to dance. I grew up with a carpenter for a father and a seamstress for a mother. I have been in the Army since I was fourteen."
"Well, with your training you should be light on your feet. Just follow my lead." Lena grips my hand tugs me from my seat. Luckily it is late enough in the meal that no one pays attention to us.
Lena separates from me and curtsies. I follow with a bow. She leads me elegantly through complicated steps and turns as we weave through the people surrounding us. I feel my brow furrow in concentration but keep my feet from tangling in each other or hers.
"Breathe, Sir Kal. This is not a battle." I exhale the breath I did not know I was holding.
"You are right. Battle is much easier." She laughs a rich laugh that makes me smile myself.
"Oh look, he can smile, and a nice one at that." I frown at the comment."
"Everyone keeps acting surprised that I have emotions. I just choose not to let them rule my life." That and my father drilled the importance of it into me that emotions were a women's way, not a man's.
"That is a very bland way to live life."
"You should stop calling the kettle black my lady. You hide your own emotions behind a mask of royalty." She stops for just a heartbeat, long enough for me to get jostled from behind. She resumes the steps again but will not meet my eyes. I know I stepped too far and mentally berate myself for being so brash and informal. When the song ends, Lena breaks away, curtsies, and returns to the table. I watch her go and debate whether I should follow.
"There he is." a slurred but energetic voice says behind me. A hand drops on my shoulder and I have to still my sword hands reflex.
"Master Winslow." I turn to the bright-eyed man.
"I want you to meet some people." He steers me in the direction of the tables without allowing me to protest.
The rest of the night becomes a blur of faces and names that I struggle to memorize. I eventually find an opportunity to make a graceful exit. The relief of the quite is enough to make me smile. I stroll through the castle, taking in the rich tapestries and artworks. Even the carpets that line the hallways were detailed around each border. After wandering around I make my back to my room. I turn my key in the new lock I had installed when I hear a small creek behind me. Lena Luthor stands in her doorway. She is wrapped in a red silken robe that contrasts with her pale skin in the moonlight streaming in a hallway window. Her hair hangs in loose waves from the braid she had worn for dinner. Lena leans against the door she did not open, still standing halfway behind it.
"My Lady." I bow slightly.
"You were right. Jessica is my only friend. The only one I trust. The only other person I trusted tried to kill me. So yes, I will hide behind my mask of royalty and be the queen my people need. Love has no place at court." I try to speak but I was shocked by her honesty.
"Now, you Sir Kal, have climbed your way to the top of the social ladder and are loved by all. Yet you seem to be the most unhappy man in all of Krypton. Why is that?" The curiosity is genuine in her face but it brings back the pain and shock of yellow and red swirling in the water.
"Goodnight, my lady," I say and abruptly enter my room, locking the door behind me.
My fingers quickly loosen the familiar straps on the armor. I flop on the bed in the pitch black room, my eyes stare at nothing and tears silently escape the corners of my eyes. When I can begin to make out the rough stone of my ceiling I rise and begin my daily exercise routine without any sleep. After I put on my armor and my feet find the path to the practice yard without much direction from me. It is still so early that torches are still burning low in their holders from the night before. In the practice yard, a lone figure waits for me. Sir James stands shrouded in the half-light of pre-dawn. He looked much more intimidating than the cheery man I met two days ago.
James moves when he sees me and extends the hilt of a practice sword to me. I remove my own sword and set it aside before taking the one from Sir James. Apparently, we were saving words for later, which was fine by me. With both of us ready James bows, his head towards me and I follow his lead. Suddenly a flash of movement and I barely get my sword up in time. The impact shocks my arms and I am more convinced of why Sir James is the Master at Arms.
Soon I feel sweat dripping down my face as we clash again and again. We dance back and forth across the yard, neither able to gain the upper hand. Just as suddenly as the battle began, it ended. Sir James caught my sword on his, stepped close, sliding his blade down mine. Then with a twist, my sword is ripped from my hand and clatters to the ground. The tip of Sir James' sword at my throat. The only sound left in the yard is our heavy breathing. My hand stings from the sudden removal of my sword. A grin spreads across his face and he laughs. I feel myself smile at his laughter.
"Well, you certainly do have a lot of talent. Now I know how you became a knight." He stoops and picks up the practice sword and I grab my own sword and strap it back on.
"What are we doing next?"
"Next I am taking you to the Master Armor to get that sword of yours repaired."
With my own sword gone the Master Armor gives me a spare sword for the time being. After that, I leave to wait for outside Lena's room. I fidget with the unfamiliar sword at my side. Sunlight is streaming through the window when the door finally opens. I bow and look up at the women in front of me.
"Sir Kal, we must not do this every day. How about a simple 'Good Morning' instead?" I smile and nod.
Lena cocks her head and squints her eyes to look at me closer. I fear my eyes are red from lack of sleep. I unflinchingly stare back. Lena seems to shake her head and turn and walk down the hallway. I stride quickly to walk next to her. I nod to the two men as we pass by who guard the hallway. One of them is the man from lunch yesterday, Donovan. We move through the castle in silence, the day playing out the same as the one before. Sir James relieves me for lunch.
"Try to eat with the men. You will need to find some you trust to put in the personal guard rotation for our future queen," he advises as I leave.
When I get to the guard dining hall it is as loud as the day before. I find Donovan with the men he was with the day before. I sit on the outskirts of their group. They stop talking and stare at me.
"Sir Kal, good to see you again," says Donovan. I nod.
"Kal is fine, Donovan. Sir is so formal and I hate formal." He grins and the group resumes their conversation.
They were all fairly large men, boasting about training, skirmishes, and tournament wins. Suddenly they fall quite and I feel all their eyes on me. I set down my fork and look from my plate to their faces.
"Kal, will you tell us how you saved the prince?" I take a deep breath after Donovan's question.
"Honestly, I don't remember much. Only what my men have told me." They stare intently at me, obviously, that was not enough.
"They call it a blood rage, when the heat of battle becomes so intense that a man blacks out, everything becomes instinctual. The enemy had the prince and his squire pinned against an abandoned barn. They were separated during the raid on the enemy camp. Apparently, I stole a team of horses and used them to trample seven of the men. In the chaos of the stampede, I moved among the scattering warriors, taking them out one by one before they knew I was there. Only one man made a stand against but was inexperienced and fell easily before my sword. I only remember the prince shaking me after I fainted from exhaustion. That is all. Battle is not as glorious as the stories and songs make it seem. It is dirty and deadly."
They stare at me with a mix of emotions, awe, horror, shock. I clear my throat and stand, they watch me leave. That is why I do not talk, I start to ramble and overshare. Well, that and I fear someone will realize that my voice is just a little too feminine.
I return to my Queen-in-waiting in the same place she was yesterday, outside the royal gardens, starring. Sir James leaves and Lady Jessica is nowhere to be seen today. We stand in silence.
"I used to love these gardens. Now I cannot even bring myself to open the doors." Lena's soft voice breaks the silence.
"This is where the man I loved and trusted tried to kill me." I have no idea how to respond. Lena turns and starts to leave when I catch her arm. She looks up with a mix of anger and sadness in her eyes.
"My... my sister died when we were children. We were playing in a river, she slipped and hit her head on a rock. After her death, I refused to cross any stream we came across, my father had to carry me. Eventually, he had enough. My father made me train for the army by using the stream that ran behind our cottage. It nearly broke me but eventually, I got over my fear. The first step, however, was realizing it was the memory, not the place, that scared me." As I talked, I guided Lena back to the door. I nod to the guards stationed there and they open the doors. The fragrant smell of flowers pours through the opening. It is mixed the rich smell of earth. Green assaults my eyes after so much stone in the castle.
"Wow." I exhale and Lena allows me to pull her forward. Sh stays a hesitant step behind. I breathe the fresh air deeply that the greenery creates. It amazed me that such a place existed in the center of a stone castle. I feel Lena's fingers tighten on the leather of my vanbrace.
"Breath in. Breath out. The man who tried to hurt you is gone. I am here to keep you safe." We make it past the entrance and down the path that keeps the greenery back. It feels like we are alone in the world. Birds sing from the trees and insects chirp underfoot. Colorful flowers that I have never seen before bloom all around us. I look down at the slightly smaller women. Tears escape her eyes and leave trails down her cheeks.
"Do you wish to leave?"I ask and Lena shakes her head. I continue down the path, her arm in mine.
"Is that why you are so unhappy? Because your sister died?" I cringe, berating myself for telling her so much, but for some reason, I cannot stop the response.
"And my parents. They died shortly after I left for the army. A raid on our town in the night burnt everything to the ground, they died in their sleep."
Lena stops walking, pulling me to a stop. I force myself to look into the pity filled eyes I know are waiting. Shocked, I see my own pain reflected there instead. It was mixed with the understanding of personal tragedy. My brow furrows and then the look is gone, wiped from her face with the mask of a queen.
"I am sorry for your loss. Our enemies always resort to terrible warfare tactics."
Lena drops my arm and walks back the way we came. The loss of contact is so abrupt it leaves me routed in place, then I have to hurry to catch her before she makes it back to the door. I follow her to the sitting room with her ladies again. I begin to fear every day is the same for royalty. I stand at attention behind the Queen-in-waiting, tuning out the senseless chatter of women who's greatest worries were what was the latest style of dress and who was courting who.
At dinner, I stand behind her chair again. It is a much less lively affair than the night before. The queen does not even choose to attend, instead of taking her meal in her private rooms. Once the sun is well down, I escort Lena to her room. She hesitates after opening it, turning back to me I see the conflict on her face.
"Good night, my lady." I try to save her from whatever she was torn about. Then I unlock my own room and disappear inside.
Chapter 6: Lena- Shopping
I stare at the back of Kal's door. How could I man I had known for two days almost pull my biggest secret from me? His honesty had wormed into me and it was scary. I enter my rooms to find Jessica in my bed. Well, our bed. We had shared one since we were children. Today was the first day of her moon-blood and the pain was always so intense that she never left the bed. I change quickly and hear her stir from her fitful sleep.
"Lena?" comes a drowsy voice in the dim light of the dying fire.
"Yes, it's me, Jess. Do you need anything?"
"Just hold me. That always helps the cramps."
I crawl into the bed next to the poor girl and wrap my arms around her. Jessica relaxes a little and falls back to sleep. I stare off into the embers of the fire as the memory resurfaces in my sleep. My earliest memory.
The heat of the flames scorch my face. Strong arms pull me backward. My scream mingles with the others trapped in the small burning hut.
"Mama!' I cry, somehow I know she is in there.
I want to run to her but the man in cold metal pulls me away. I am then wrapped tightly in a blanket and thrown in the back of a cart. Cold seeps in as the cart jerks away from the burning building. The blanket is so tight I cannot wiggle free. Tears lull me to sleep with the rocking of the wheels. In an hour I stand in front of the tall women as she examines me. I hold tightly to the blanket that still smells like smoke.
"Yes, this is the one. Our future Queen."
Jessica wakes me as usual in the morning. Pastries and hot tea sit a the small table next to the stoked fire. Jessica begins the long process of readying me for the day. Today we were not holding court, I wanted to venture into the town. Spending the crown's coin on local shops helped give back the money they paid in taxes. Also seeing the royal family among them inspired trust and loyalty.
When Jessica is done fussing over me she dresses herself. We exit my chambers to see a boy handing a sword to Kal and taking the one he had apparently strapped on this morning. The boy grins at the small coin pressed to his hand and hurries off.
"New sword?" I ask as he adjusts the baldric on his shoulder. I see him almost unconsciously lift the hilt and let it settle back in.
"Old sword, just repaired by your Master Armorer." I nod and head down the hallway.
Kal looks confused when I take a different turn to go to the courtyard instead. I had sent for the horses to be saddled and waiting earlier. Kal does not say a word but follows like an ever-present shadow. When we emerge into the sunlight the horses stand in the center of the courtyard with two stable hands. Two of the horses are the deep chestnut brown of the royal stock. The third is a barrel-chested white warhorse that I had never seen before. Kal's face lights up with more emotion than I thought was possible for him. He practically runs down the steps. The horse recognizes him and whinnies happily. It breaks free of the stable hands meets Kal at the bottom of the staircase. He nuzzles into Kal's chest and almost knocks him backward.
"I assume you know this horse?" I ask as Jessica and I descend at a more elegant pace.
"Comet and I have been together since I found him as a colt in a raided enemy camp. He had been abandoned and has been by my side ever since. This is the longest we have been apart." My joy at his apparent happiness was dampened by the last comment. Kal was man taken from everything he knew in order to protect me.
"Well, we will have to make sure you get more time with him. For now, we are headed to town."
"What for, my lady?"
"Just shopping. Shopping and generally good relations."
Jessica helps me mount then I watch her mount as well. Sir Kal swings into his saddle as easy as if he were sitting in a chair. Kal schools his face again into a mask of calm.
I lead the way through the gate and onto the road that heads through the smaller manors of visiting nobles. The next gate leads to the upper-class merchants. the streets were wide and clean. Most of the storefronts have large glass display windows.
Jess and I dismount and I hand the reins of our horses to the extra guards that walked on foot with us from the castle gate. We wander in and out of shops, buying small things to be loaded into the saddlebags. Sir Kal seemed to be hovering closer than ever because of the people moving about. I think he will be stuck to my back when we venture lower into the more populated parts of Kandor. People there packed the streets so tightly that you can barely walk.
In a nearly empty candle shop, Kal actually leaves Jess and me to wander while he talks with the owner. When we are headed back to the counter at the front I see Kal shake the man's hand with a gold coin nestled in his palm. The shopkeeper hides his shock fairly well as Jess and I approach. Kal steps back to allow us to pay for the scented candles we selected.
"What was that about?" I ask as we leave the store. Jessica carries our goods back to the horses.
"I am looking for something. The man gave me good information and was kindly willing to do so. I was just helping to give back." Kal actually winks at me.
"What are you looking for? You could have asked Jess or me." Kal clears his throat and hesitates to respond.
"Umm... well, soap actually." I stifle a laugh.
"You know we have that at the castle, just ask any serving girl."
"Yes, the harsh plain soap that feels like it sticks to my skin after I try to wash it off and makes me itch all day." This time I do laugh and Kal looks a little hurt at my amusement.
"I have never known a man to care so much about his own cleanliness."
"A women in a village we saved gifted me with bars of her soap, it was all she had to give. Once I started using it, it was all I ever wanted to use. Since then I have been able to find a maker in most the larger cities." Kal swings into his saddle as he talks, leaving me looking up until a guard assists me up.
"Okay, lead the way." Kal grins and lightly taps his horse with his heels to start making our way lower into town.
We pass not one gate but two. Five soldiers in front clear the way, two on either side keep the throngs from pressing in and five more guards behind. We left our horses at the second gate for the extra guards. Merchants take up most the street with carts and blankets to sell their wares. Kal moves with purpose down the winding streets, never hesitating when directing the guards and soon we turn off the main road onto quieter streets. The entire trip people bowed and stared, I did not normally venture this far from the castle.
"Sir Kal, are you sure you know where we are headed?" Jessica asks, voicing my own concerns. He just nods and keeps walking.
"Ah-Ha! Found it!" He stops and enters an unremarkable building. A sign hangs above the door of what I can only assume are different herbal plants.
We follow closely behind Kal. He stands next to the counter and waits for the girl there to turn to him. She is putting small jars filled with various powders on a shelf. The girl turns and her mouth falls open at the sight of a knight in what I can only assume is an apothecary shop. Kal waits while she searches for words.
"Hello, I am Sir Kal. This is Lady Jessica, and this is Queen-in-waiting Lena." He says when the women, definitely old enough to be a woman, continues to gape. When she turns to me panic fills her eyes and she bows so quickly I fear she might hit her head on the counter.
"M..mmm... m'lady. I am sorry. I was not expecting people of such stature to ever come into my shop." She is still bent over at the waist as she speaks.
"Rise, we came unannounced. Sir Kal here seeks something and he heard tell you have it." I say, trying to put the women at ease. Her eyes turn back to Kal.
"I hear you make the best soap in all of Kandor."
"Oh m'lord. I don't know about the best but I do make them. Scented with different herbs and flowers."
"Kal is fine, but I do not believe I caught your name."
"Rosemary, Rose to friends." Kal takes her hand and bows to place a kiss on the back of it.
"Rose, what a beautiful name." The girl blushes and I feel a small seed of anger in my stomach at the knight's open flirtation. Did he wish to swindle his girl out of her soaps? She turns to get some out of the cabinet and starts describing them to him. Kal keeps saying things to make the girl giggle and blush. Rosemary packs away half a dozen bars into a box and hands them to Kal. Kal hands over a small coin purse.
"Now I want you to let me know when you have new ones. Send a message to the castle for Sir Kal El Ward." He lifts the box from the counter. Once we are back outside I turn to Kal.
"Did you just trick that poor girl into letting you pay less?" Kal actually laughs at my indignation.
"No, my lady. I paid Rosemary twice what they are worth. She should be able to buy better ingredients now. Also now she will let me know when she has more. It cost the last of my army pay but it will be worth it." I blush at my harsh judgment.
"You still should not let that girl believe you favor her."
"My lady, I know that nothing will ever come of it, she knows nothing will come of it. But it makes people feel better, feel desirable, if every once in a while someone pays a little bit more attention to them. Why does this stress you so, my lady?"
"It does not bother me. I only fear my personal guard being caught in a scandal." Kal's face darkens slightly.
"You have no fear of such a scandal from me, my lady." Kal then strides past the guards to wind his way back through the streets, leaving the rest of us to follow in his wake.
"That was odd, wasn't it?" whispers Jessica.
"Yes, I have a feeling there is more to Sir Kal than meets the eye." The guards, Jessica, and I make our way back to the main street. Men, women, and children press in tight on the circle of guards.
Many do not even notice us now as they hurry about their day. I let the world outside the guards fade away as I listen to Jessica. She goes on and on about the necklace she bought and how she cannot wait to wear it to the next feast. Then she starts on how we should have another feast. Then on to the food, we should eat. Each new topic sparked another one. I loved the girl but she had a very simple view of the world from how little she knew of it.
Suddenly, the guard in front of me is gone, dropping like a stone. A line of red blooming across his throat. Time feels like it has slowed to a crawl. The guard next to him begins to turn as the knife continues its path and slices through his neck as well. I meet the eyes of a madman. A beggar. Thin hair standing in all directions, cracked peeling lips parted to reveal a mouth devoid of teeth. The stench of his clothes envelops me.
A bloom of red covers my vision as something hot hits my face. I blink. The man lays screaming beneath us. Kal stands over him, sword extended over a bloody lump on the ground. I realize it is the hand of the man lying next to it. People all around us push back away from the screams. The man clutches the stump left to him to his chest as the bystanders stare. Blood pools around my shoes as life begins to leave the man.
"Take him to the Gates, stop the bleeding. I am sure the queen will have her questions." Kal grabs mine and Jessica's hands and pulls us forward, around the man.
Kal does not stop moving or watching the crowd. At the gate he commands men to ride ahead and clear a path, we mount our own horses and follow close behind, moving much faster than we should. My world is narrowed to just Kal's back as he rides. Then I feel his strong arms pulling me from the horse. He does not set me on the ground. Kal carries me through the castle and up to my rooms, never slowing. I can hear Jessica talking to me but it sounds muffled. The only thing clear to me is the soft waves of Kal's hair. They bounce slightly with each step and I have to force myself not to touch them.
I feel like I am waking from a dream when I feel Jessica pulling at my dress and then replacing it with a much simpler summer gown that drapes over my head instead of the intricate lacing of most my dresses. I look around and realize we are in my room. With a shock, I realize Kal is there while Jess is dressing me. His back is turned as bends over the fire, stocking new flames to life. When he is done he keeps his back turned and stares into the flames.
Jessica sits me in the armchair next to the fire and dabs at my face with cool water from the wash basin. I see the cloth come away red with blood. Jessica then removes my shoes and cleans the drying blood from my feet.
"Kal..." my voice is so soft I am not even sure I spoke allowed.
"Yes, my lady." He still does not turn. I clear my throat and try my voice again.
"Where did you go? You can turn around now." He turns with a mix of emotions in his eyes that I cannot quite read.
"As I left you, I saw the man. I had noticed him earlier but did not think much of it until he reappeared. Once you started on your way back to the castle he began to follow you. The man had no idea I was following him also. But I was too slow, blocked by a stopped merchants cart. Those men..."
Kal's voice trails off and he turns back to the fire. I stand and Jessica tries to protest but I cut her off.
"Jessica, please take these clothes out of here. I do not care to see them ever again." She gathers the clothing and hesitantly leaves the room. I walk over to him and rest my hand on his shoulder, the metal is cold beneath my fingers. Kal turns to me, his face is composed but a turmoil of emotions play in his eyes.
"I almost failed. I almost lost you too." The sadness swimming in the pool of blue hurts my heart. My hand touches his cheek without my permission. It is surprisingly soft when he leans into it. His eyes flutter closed then fly open again as he steps quickly back.
"Kal, you saved me, just as you were meant to."
"Yes, My Lady." His eyes go flat, almost dead, as he even manages to remove his feelings from there.
"Do not shut me out." I try to command. Something about him drew me in and I could feel him pulling away again.
"Yes, my lady." Nothing changes. So I mirror him instead, my face just as expressionless.
The door to my room bursts open. Mother strides in, followed by several armed men. Anger plain on her face. Kal quickly drops to a knee as the queen strides toward us. For the first time, I notice the blood splattered across his breastplate.
"You were almost killed and failed to come to me immediately!" The queen roars. I keep the mask in place on my face.
"I apologize mother. I wished to change before presenting myself to you." Although I had not even thought of seeing her. The queen manages to break from her cold anger and wrap her arms around me in a more appropriate reaction of a concerned mother.
"I am sorry dear. I was just so afraid." I stand stiffly wrapped in the equally stiff arms. She always insisted on playing the loving mother. Finally, she steps away. Her cold eyes move from me to the man still kneeling with his head bowed.
"Report, Sir Kal." So Kal repeats the details quickly, only leaving out the specific shop that we visited on his personal errand.
"Thank you for doing your duty." The whole time Kal stayed bowed because mother never gave thought to allow him to stand.
"Rest now, my dear. You never have to go past the castle walls again." Lillian Luthor sweeps out of the room as suddenly as she entered. I look down at Kal.
"You can stand now. She is gone." I say.
He seems to shift slightly but does not stand.
"Kal, she is not that terrifying. Stand."
"I...I cannot. I hurt my ankle jumping the cart. The armor is heavier than my ankle can bear to lift."
I stare at him for a moment before reaching out a hand. He hesitates before grasping it and standing awkwardly. He had to keep his weight off his right foot.
"Thank you, my lady." I feel an unexplained tension between us as we stand close. Kal takes an uneven step backward and breaks it.
"May I be dismissed, My Lady?"
"Do you need a healer?"
"No, my lady."
"Go for tonight. I am not leaving my rooms. I will see you tomorrow."
Kal leaves the room with a slight limp. When the door closes behind him I sit once more before the comforting warmth of the fire. Silent tears fall down my cheeks. I almost died a second time. How could this keep happening? At some point I fell asleep, only to wake to Jessica pulling my dress off and helping me to bed. She wraps her arms around me and her breathing slows and lulls me back to sleep.
Chapter 7: Kara- Testing
In my room, I throw the bolt to lock the door.
"Fuck!" I throw myself on the bed.
When the throbbing subsides some I manage to stand again and remove the heavy plates of armor. I finally sit and look at my ankle, I cringe. Black and blue splotches already bloom all over it. It has swollen so much that I cannot even see my ankle bones. From under my bed, I pull a small chest and open it. The chest is filled with various cloth scrapes that I gather for my moon blood. I usually burn them while men slept during that week.
I grab one of the longer scraps with a tight weave. I use it to tightly wrap my ankle and keep it stable. The pressure relieves some of the pain. Exhaustion overwhelms me. I only take off my under tunic, leaving my chest wrapped, my arms too tired to work at un-weaving it. I doze lightly, the throbbing in my ankle keeping me from a deep sleep.
A scream tears through my room. I bolt upright, grab the sweat-stained tunic from the floor and throw it over my head. I pull my sword from the scabbard on the floor. Quickly I unlock my door and dash across the hall. I throw my should against the door as I burst into the room. Inside I cast about, looking for the cause of the scream. Lena sits up on the bed, breathing heavily, Jessica holds her hand while rubbing her back in a comforting way. I scan the darkness for anything out of place.
"It was just a nightmare." Lady Jessica whispers to Lena. I glance at them again and quickly turn back around as my cheeks grow hot. Queen-in-waiting Lena Luthor was completely naked.
"Excuse me, my lady. I... I was not aware..." I hear a sharp intake of breath and the rustling of the sheets. I carefully move to the door, keeping my back turned the whole way.
"Kal, thank you for coming," Lena says in a small voice. I nod, still not looking than see myself out to return to my own room.
I try to sleep but after tossing and turning I give up and begin my daily exercises. This morning I also had to report to the Queen in her personal chambers. It was short seeing as I had only been here a couple of days. I also had to relay to Sir James the events of the day before. The Queen sat silently through it all except to dismiss me. Her dark cold eyes always made me uncomfortable. I take a deep breath when I leave to try and shake the feeling of judgment.
"Have you found anyone to be on your personal guard?" Sir James asks as he catches up with me.
"Donovan. I Like him. He has an eagerness to prove himself. Other than that, no."
"Excellent choice. That boy of yours, John, He is doing well. Surpassing all the guard trainees his age. You trained him well."
"Thank you, Sir James. He had a lot of natural talent, to begin with."
"Pleas Kal, Just call me James. We should be friends because we will be seeing a lot of each other.
"Okay, James. Is there anyone you suggest for me to check into?"
"Hmmmm..... I'll make a list for you. I have to go to the practice yard. Have a good day Kal."
Good was not the term I would have used for my day. After meeting Lena at her room, she leads us to a study with a large ornate desk. Books line the walls, two large armchairs sit in front of an even larger window that floods the study with daylight.
Jessica moves immediately to the chairs and picks up some needlework that she had apparently left from a previous time. A large stack of parchments rest on the desk Lena sits behind. Not knowing exactly what to do I just stand at attention by the door. After a few minutes, Lena sighs deeply.
"Please Kal, I do not believe that a dagger-wielding beggar will burst through the door. Sit down. Read a book if you would like. These reports will take most of the day." I linger at the door until Lena gives me a hard look.
I nod and walk to the books and scan the titles. Despite my ability to write short letters and read commands I still struggle with most words. I see a book on strategy and pull it down then sit next to Lady Jessica. The hours stretch on as I struggle through the book. Most of the words are familiar but it is still slow going. Lena's quill scratches on parchment and Jessica's needle silently weaves through the cloth.
"Reading is not easy for you, is it Kal?" Lena's voice breaks the silence.
"No, my lady. Your brother had one of his pages teach me enough to write and read orders. Now master Winslow is teaching me."
"I keep forgetting that you were not born with such privileges. You handle yourself so well. Almost as if you were born for court.
"Thank you, my lady."
"Kal please, call me Lena in private. We are going to be spending a lot of time together and titles are tiring. Besides, you saw me half-naked last night." I know Lena is teasing but I feel my face flush none the less.
"Yes, my... Lena." She chuckles at my stumble.
We lapse back into a comfortable silence. Eventually, Lady Jessica sends for food. Several servants bring plates of steaming meat and soups. Slowly cooked vegetables and fresh fruit. There is a wedge of hard cheese and fresh bread with a pitcher of a sweet red wine. To my delight, a platter of sweets is brought up also. Jessica takes a little of everything.
"Help yourself Kal. I know you must be hungry." I grin but Lena does not even look up from her work. I pile a plate with food and set the book aside to concentrate on eating and give my brain a rest. I always had to eat a lot of food, I do not know why. That is why I had to learn to hunt and trap because army rations were never enough. I could out eat most of the biggest men in my company.
The sun moves across the sky and I pick at the remaining food. Lena, on the other hand, had hardly touched her plate of fruit and cheese and bread. She had a look of intense concentration as she methodically poured over the reports. At one point I started pacing to avoid losing my mind in the stillness. I glanced over at what Lena was doing and saw she had reports from all over Krypton. Grain invoices, mining reports, troop movements, death tolls. The variety and importance of each one were astounding. I sat again to avoid distracting Lena although I am not sure if she even noticed my restlessness.
Dozing lightly in my chair, I hear Lena's chair scrap backward on the stone floor. Servants had come long before to clear away the plates and platters. they also came and lit the chandelier of candles over our head as the sunset. It was nearing time for supper.
Lena called for her page who seemed to miraculously appear as if knowing she would need him. Which I guess he probably did.
"Take these reports to Queen Lillian," she commands.
The boy awkwardly lifts the large stack and hurries out of the room. He nearly spills the whole pile as he almost runs into James on the way out. James smiles and tousles the boy's hair before stepping out of the way.
"My Lady." James bows to Lena.
"Sir James. What brings you here?" she asks.
"I have come to relieve Sir Kal for the night. Also here is the list of names for you." The last part was directed at me. James hands me a rolled up scroll.
"Thank you, Sir James." I bow my head slightly at him then turn to face the women in the room.
"Good night, Lady Jessica. Good night Your Highness."
"Good night, Sir Kal," they say almost in unison.
As I walk I unroll the scroll. The list is sadly short. How could there be so few trustworthy men in the castle? As I scan the list I realize that most of the names are Donovan's friends. I get to the bottom and stop mid-stride. Jonathan Jones. Apparently, James thought that the boy was ready. He had already hinted several times that he thought John was good. Better than most.
I tuck the scroll away and continue to the guard dining for food. I easily locate the group of men I need. Quickly I grab a slice of bread and wedge of cheese and scarf them down. A small swig of wine from a pitcher to wash it all away. When I approach the men, their conversation falls silent.
"Follow me." Is all I say.
They do. Good, they are willing to follow orders. I lead them to the practice yard. I pick up two blunted swords from the rack of training equipment. I toss one to Donovan, who nimbly catches it from the air.
"I am going to spare with each of you in turn. Ready?" I nod to the young man. He seems unsure but his face grows serious. He raises his sword.
I press hard, trying to see where each man stands in their training. They were good for men who had never seen real combat. But they were too rigid, everything was precise and basic. I could easily flow through their stiff guards. When we were done each man was in various states of weariness. Some still short of breath. To me, however, the battles energized me after a day of nothingness.
"You, sir, are a force of nature." Donavon is still panting slightly.
"But what was all this for?"
I study each man closely. I liked the determination each had fought with. All fought clean and fair, the product of honest men.
"To test you." They look at me questioningly.
"And you all pass. Sir James wanted me to find men to guard the Queen-in-waiting. I choose you."
Grins spread on the men's faces. There are eight of them in all. I send two of them to ready to take over guarding Lena's hall, then talk to the rest.
"We will personally be responsible for protecting the Queen-in-waiting. Only you men will rotate through the guard. For her rooms, for whatever room, she enters, or for her alone. We will guard her every step. I will also teach you to fight like me, like men who have everything to lose. Donovan, Anthony, you will take over guarding the Queen-in-waiting rooms at midnight. Andrew and Conner at dawn. I will send a page with further instructions. Tomorrow right after supper you are to report here. That is when we will train. Dismissed." The men quickly leave the yard but I soon hear laughter from the men who were excited about a new duty in life.
In my own rooms, I use my new soaps to wash the sweat from my body. Then I begin to clean my armor, determined to take good care of the wonderful gift. My eyes grow heavy after two sleepless nights. I re-wrap my chest and dawn a nightshirt and loose cotton pants. I just finished tying them around my waist when someone knocks softly at the door. I am surprised when Lady Jessica's face greets me. She is in her nightdress, sleep glassing her eyes.
"My lady cannot sleep. Every time she tries she sees the man with the knife. My Lady wishes for you to stay in her chambers tonight to help put her mind at ease." I nod.
"Let me put on something more suitable. I will be right over." Jessica turns back to the still open door of Lena's chambers. I put on a comfortable tunic and my boots. I grab my sword and pull the baldric over my head.
When I enter the room, Lena stands staring into the dying flames of the fire. She wears a red nightdress with a matching shawl draped around her shoulders. She does not turn at my entrance so I place a hand on her shoulder.
"My Lady, please go to sleep. That man can no longer hurt you I will stay here all night. Tomorrow I start training your own personal guard of men I and Sir James trust."
"Lena." she sighs.
"Please call me Lena. I never get to hear my own name. It makes me feel like less of a person." She looks at me sadly.
"Lena. Sleep. Lady Jessica and I are both here." Lena nods her assent to my plea and climbs into the large bed with Jessica.
I settle into the overstuffed armchair by the fire, sword across my lap. I had already resigned my self to getting very little sleep tonight.
"Will you be here when I wake?"
"I am sorry my... Lena. I have lessons with Lady Catherine before dawn." She nods and lays down. I settle in for a long uncomfortable night.
Chapter 8: Kara- Secretes
My days began to blur together. Lessons before dawn, court in the morning, watching Lena and her ladies in the afternoon. After dinner each night I began training with the men. I had to teach them to be able to adapt to battles, not everyone fought with honor and that took a lot of time to break them of that notion. Nearly a fortnight passed before any real change occurred.
Lena's Ladies began preparing for the End of Summer Festival. A week-long celebration that celebrated the start of harvest. Most of the noble families would return to court with their households, most common folk would travel to Kandor from all over Krypton. Tournaments would be held and celebrations would last all night, every night. It would also celebrate the return of Prince Alexander. The army had managed to set up strong defensive lines along our border and Cadmium had drawn back to resupply for winter months. The Prince was using the lull in the fighting to return home.
The bustle of the castle begins to put me on edge. So many new people in and out of the castle. New faces crowd the halls and the old are never where I expect them after I had memorized their routines.
"You know, when you are nervous you fidget with your sword."
We were in Lena's private study as she checked reports. I was pacing back and forth when Lena spoke and I stopped and turned to her.
"Also you get this cress between your eyes when you are worried. Right here." She points to her own forehead. I roll my eyes.
Still, the comment makes my heart start thudding in my chest. We spent so much time together that I had come to notice all her little habits. How she gets so concentrated that nothing else matters to her. How it breaks her heart to disappoint those she has to deny. She was filled with compassion behind an icy royal exterior. It seemed she had been watching me also.
"I have a right to worry Lena. This castle is full of strangers. All potentially here to kill you."
"Kal, I trust you, and the men you trained. You need to trust them too. Now come here and read this to me."
Lena kept insisting on making me read despite Winn's teaching. Winn had grown on me during our time together. His positivity was endless. He loved the books he cared for and he was a genius at breaking and making the coded messages for the army. We went out nearly every night I was off. It was nice to be able to have a friend to talk to. Somehow Winn managed to introduce me to a new woman every night. I would laugh and talk with them before letting them down easy in the end.
Lena was sending the reports she had finished with the page. Lady Jessica was off overseeing feast preparations. We were alone except for the two guards outside the door.
"So are you competing in the tournaments?" Lena asks as she carefully puts her quill and ink away.
"No, I have no training in such things and wish not to attempt and make a fool of myself."
"Well, there is one you could do. The open brawl. It has almost no rules except not to kill." I consider the suggestion.
"That seems a difficult task, all those men surrounding you and not killing them. But I suppose it would be doable."
"Wonderful, I will have Jessica enter you. Your squire, John, I will make sure he gets everything you need." She says energetically.
"Lena, why is this so important to you? she sighs.
"Because whatever brute wins is rewarded with the place of honor next to me each night of the festival. Which means I am then obligated to speak with them or dance with them if they ask." I chuckle softly.
"So I am a brute now, am I?" We had long since lost the pretense of hiding our emotions and we actually teased each other in private. It was a banter that seems to flow easily between us.
"No! Of course not. You are the person I would much rather celebrate with because it would be a celebration instead of me dreading every minute."
"There is no guarantee I will win." I point out.
"I believe you will. That is enough." She says it so seriously that I almost cannot respond.
"Anything for my future Queen."
Lena rests her hand on mine. The contact surprises me when I realize we are both leaning forward on opposite sides of the desk. I clear my throat and take my hand back by adjusting the baldric again.
"Where to now, my Lady?" Intentionally not saying her name to break whatever spell had fallen over us. Her eyes darken slightly but she says nothing about me pulling away.
"Now we go to welcome my brother home."
After the very long formal Ceremony that was basically a big parade of mummers dancing, men marching, and women being put on display for the prince. The prince then takes his place on a throne next to his mother and sister. The ceremony dissolves into a feast that is more drink than food. When relieved of my post next to Lena I find Winn where we agreed to meet to head into the city. Our favorite tavern was The Kryptonite.
The food was great and the ale was sweet. Winn and I talked in a corner. Somehow Winn always knew the latest gossip. I had a feeling he read things he should not have but it kept me informed of the goings on in the castle so I did not complain. After several hours we begin the long walk up to the castle.
"I have something you may like in my room. Its a book on different herbal remedies I acquired from a healer. I have it memorized now so I do not need it anymore." At least I am pretty sure that is what I said. Winn was talking about how he wanted to learn about healing techniques. The ale was making my mouth feel like it was a little behind my thoughts.
"That would be a-maz-ing." He grins and stumbles slightly when he looks at me.
That puts us both in a fit of laughter before we resume the walk. It seems to take forever in the alcohol-induced haze but we finally make it all the way to my room. The guard's eye Winn but let him pass. When we are in my room I dig through the chest at the foot of my bed for the book.
"Here it is. Of course, it was at the bottom." I stand and turn back to Winn. He is standing closer than I thought and I give myself a shake. Maybe I drank more than I thought.
"Thanks, Kal." Winn's voice is kind of high like he was nervous.
He grasps the book but does not take it from me. I feel my head cock to the side in a question. Winn lurches forward and his lips clumsily meet mine. I jerk back and push him at the same time. Winn sprawls on the ground.
"Oh Rao, Winn I am sorry. I did not mean to push you so hard."
"So you aren't into me. Rao what have I done." Winn scrambles to his feet and tries to leave, but I step in front of him.
"It's fine Kal. Either you're gay or you're not. You obviously are not and I just ruined our friendship."
"No, it is not like that. I am but not in the way you think."
"What is that supposed to mean!" He is angry and hurt and it is plain on his face.
"I...I can't tell you."
"Whatever Kal. Move. I want to leave." I know if he leaves nothing will be the same and I will lose my only friend. I chew on my bottom lip as I contemplate what I am about to do.
"Winn, can I trust you?"
"What?" He nearly spits the question.
"If I tell you why I need to know that I can trust you. With my life. Because if you tell anyone it will mean I will lose my life." Winn's face slowly moves from anger to deep thought and then softens back into the gentleman I know.
"Yes, Kal. You can trust me." His slow response shows that he really did consider his answer and I know it is true.
"I...I am not who you think I am."
"Kal, just say whatever it is. I am way too drunk for obscure words." I sigh.
"Winn, my real name is Kara. I am a woman." I believe every emotion possible plays across Winn's face as he processes what I said. Then he laughs.
"Wow, oh Rao, you almost had me there. That was so out there I almost believed you. This has to be the strangest way someone has turned me down."
"Winn," I say seriously to get his attention. I take one of his hands and press it against my chest. I know my breast were never large but they were still there. I see Winn's eyes widen at the soft mound under his palm.
"Kal... Kara. Oh, this is fantastic. It explains so much too. No wonder you turned down nearly every woman I through at you. No wonder you were not attracted to me. Wait, no, why aren't you attracted to me?" I grin at his rambling and at the way he is waving his arms about.
"Really Winn? That is your first question?"
"Wait you said you were gay, just not the way I thought. Who then?" I blush and look down, Lena's face flashes across my vision.
"Kara no! The Queen-in-waiting?"
"Yes," I say in a small voice.
"Oh jeez, Kara."
"Well Winn, now you know my two biggest secrets."
"Oh Roa, this isn't like an 'I know too much and I have to die now' situation is it?" I laugh.
"No Winn. This is a 'you have to be my friend forever' situation."
"Oh, wonderful. Now you know my biggest secret too. Same sex relationships are very frowned upon."
"I know. Which is also why Lena should never know my feelings. Or my secrete. I have lied to the crown and that is treason."
"I understand Kara. But hey, you won't have to hide with me."
"That will be great Winn. I'll see you tomorrow." I finally step out of his way because somehow I know everything will be okay.
Winn pulls me into a tight hug and I stiffen at first. No one has hugged me since my mother died. Slowly I wrap my arms around him also.
"Kal. Just call me Kal. It is safer that way." Winn nods before leaving. I lock my door and fall into bed. I feel like a great burden is lessened a bit. Not that someone was taking it from me, but Winn was helping me hold it up.
Chapter 9: Lena- The Brawl
The Brawl was the first day of the Festival. It was open to all for either competing or watching so the crowd was flooded with common citizens. Most were too poor to watch the other tournaments or had to return to the farms and families left behind after a few short days. Alexander and I sat under a wooden pavilion next to the open field. We had spent the whole feast talking and I did not even realize Kal was replaced by Conner until I was ready to retire.
"So how is my best officer doing now that you stole him away?" Alexander teases.
"Lex, I did not steal him. Although I believe court life suites him. He is doing splendidly. These men behind us are apart of the personal guard he trained. Also, Kal did save my life."
"Kal? Should I be worried my little sister is smitten with a peasant knight?" I roll my eyes.
"No Lex. We spend a lot of time together and saying 'Sir' every time I address him is tiring."
"Okay, okay, you know I just tease because I love you. Where is this Savior anyway?" I nod to where men begin to file through the gates that help contain the chaos about to erupt.
"He is competing now."
"What could possess the Queen-in-waiting's personal guard to compete in the most dangerous tournament?"
"Because I asked him to." I feel a blush creep into my cheeks.
"Sister.." Lex raises an eyebrow at me.
"I swear it is just because I could not bear the thought of having to share a meal with one of those brutes."
"You swear?" I roll my eyes.
"Yes, big brother." Lex leans over and kisses my cheek then settles into his high backed chair.
I missed this. Alexander had been my best friend, besides Jessica of course. The best brother I could ever ask for. We had suffered together under mothers wrath. Now Lex was hardly ever home so I stood alone against the cold cruelty.
The rules of the brawl were simple. Only blunted weapons are to be used. Nothing ranged, hand to hand combat only. Avoid killing and permanent maiming. Last man standing wins.
The men are mingling in the field now. Some are even laughing and joking with one another. Some already stood in fighting stances, eyeing their neighbors. I see Kal leaning against one of the fences, arms crossed over his chest. The men around him give him a wide berth. They seem uncomfortable with his brooding demeanor.
Once all the participants were inside the gate, the crowd was called to silence. The page with a war horn stepped on the platform next to Alexander and I. I nod my assent in replace of my mother, who would never be caught at something like this. The boy takes a deep breath and blows.
Chaos erupts as the deep note echoes across the crowd. The packed people roar in a deafening sound that hits my ears and blocks out most the clashing of metal. Many men fall immediately, struck from behind by the very comrades they were just laughing with.
My eyes fix on Kal. His green armor standing out in the mass of silver metal and brown leather. He has not moved since the sound of the horn. He stands like a rock in a forest during a storm. It feels out of place and eerie. Kal slowly lifts his eyes to meet mine. I can barely see the blue fire burning in them but I know he is looking at me.
A small man tries to take advantage of Kal's seeming distraction. He diverts from the main fray and charges Kal with a raised sword. Panic rises in my throat as I realize that Kal still has not drawn his own. The man holds his sword with two hands, using his weight and momentum to do the maximum amount of damage.
Kal calmly pushes off the fence and sidesteps the man. At the same time, he grasps the back of the man's neck and uses his own momentum to slam the man's helmeted head into the post. The man crumbles to the ground, the impact knocking him unconscious. Kal slowly draws his sword then picks up his shield where he left it at his feet. It is emblazoned with our house crest, much like his armor. Kal moved into the fray with a chilling calm.
Men began to fall around all around the knight. He would kick out knees and then hit their heads with the flat of his blade. Kal would disarm then punch the man as hard as he could, dropping them like rocks. I even saw him break several limbs. The only time Kal took blows were to his shield. He was like a force of nature, tearing down everything in front of his path.
"Yes, that is why a peasant became a knight and one of my best officers." Alexander breaks my focus. I look at the excitement and awe on his face.
"He is a natural born Warrior."
"You know Leelee, Sir Kal would make an acceptable husband now that he is knighted, despite his birth." I laugh.
"You just said that you would hate the idea."
"Only because I am your big brother."
"Lex... The last man I thought I would marry almost killed me."
"Leelee, that is no reason to shut everyone out. I saw the way he watched you at dinner. He may not know it yet but he sees you as more than just his future Queen." I blush, then I realize how quiet it is.
Men groan in pain but the clashing of metal on metal has stopped. In the middle of the field stood two men. One was Kal, standing in mud and blood splattered armor. His helmet had been lost somewhere.
The other was a bear of a man. Muscles strained against the skin of his naked arms. The leather jerkin he wore protected very little of his immense torso. A half helm covered the square head that connected directly to the boulders that served as shoulders.
Kal looked like a child next to the man wielding a war ax, the blade the size of Kal's own torso. I reach across and grab Alexander's hand. I dread what is about to happen, regret fills my heart. Kal should not die but accidents do happen. I was selfish to ask this of him. Servants scamper like ants to clear the field of unconscious and wounded men.
Suddenly the man roars his rage and charges Kal like a bull. I was sure he would be trampled. With incredible speed, Kal steps out of the path. Kal drops his sword point to the ground, catching the mans leg and sending him sprawling. The bull jumps up, roars, and charges again. Kal dances around him like a river flowing around a rock. The large man calms himself enough to realize brute force will not work. He begins hacking at Kal like a child chopping flowers in a field.
One slash is almost too fast. Kal just gets his shield up in time, The ax bites into the shield, splitting it almost all the way down to Kal's arm. The impact drives Kal to a knee. I feel my fingers tighten in Alexander's hand.
Kal twists the shield and nimbly rolls backward. The move rips the ax from the hands of a now worn out giant. Kal removes the burdened shield from his arm and lets it thud to the ground with an audible thunk. I see the crowd cheering and clapping but all I can hear is my own heart thudding in my ears. Kal straightens again, raising his sword between the two. The large man raises his own fists, unwilling to surrender. He swings one towards Kal, Kal swings his sword to meet it. the impact is accompanied by the sicking sound of bones breaking. The large man howls in pain, then he instinctively lashes out with his other hand. Kal smashes that hand also. The animal of a man is brought to his knees, then his eyes roll back into his head as the pain of two shattered hands becomes too much.
Alexander releases my hand and stands. He projects his voice to be heard by the masses.
"I give you our Victor. Sir Kal El Ward!" Trumpets sound and cheering explodes. Kal bows, a little self-conscience at being the center of attention. Then he exits through the gate, cheering continues even when the man it is for is out of sight.
"So Leelee, are you sure you will not consider him?" I roll my eyes at Alexander and head back to the castle. Kal's men trailing close behind.
Chapter 10: Kara- Honesty
I pull the small box from under my bed. It contains all the healing herbs I learned to use for my own wounds. I grab a small handful of the bittersweet leaves that a village healing woman gave me. Soon the ache in my shoulder fades to a dull throb. I know I need to stabilize it. I had to pop it back into place after I left the field and so I also pull out the long strips of cloth I have stored. The leaves form a ball in my mouth as I chew them, the juices relieve the pain as they make their way down my throat.
I growl in frustration as I try to twist in a way to wrap my shoulder and torso but still allow my arm to move. In exasperation I throw a roll across my room, only to see Winn ducking in surprise.
"Hey hey hey. I just came to see if you needed anything." I must have left the door unlocked in my haze of pain.
"Winn, jeez you should knock. If it was not you I may have had to kill whoever came through the door." Only slightly teasing.
"Well good thing it is just your best friend. " He grins and locks the door behind himself. Winn eyes my partially wrapped shoulder.
"Would you like some help? At the rate you are going you will miss the entire feast." I roll my eyes but nod.
I help guide Winn's hands through the process and he does a splendid job. Afterward, he helps me dress since my movements are so limited. Lady Catherine had made sure my wardrobe was full of appropriate clothing for court. I was little unsettled by the way they had just appeared in my room and John seemed not to know how. Tonight I was off duty so I decided to forgo the armor, besides it would need to be cleaned still. I tug the brush through my hair as I look in the small looking-glass Lena had sent to me. I would need to cut my hair again soon, it was brushing my shoulders.
Winn helps me into the deep blue overcoat that matched the tunic underneath. Both were trimmed in gold. He tugged the fabric straight and fussed over me like a mother hen.
"Thank you, Winn, this would have taken forever without you."
"You should have told me your secret earlier, I could have been dressing you for dinner instead of those poor excuse for outfits you used to wear." I grin and gesture for him to exit. I lock the door behind me.
"I'll see you at dinner Winn, I am waiting for Lena."
"Alright buddy, see you later." He winks and heads back down the hall and I turn to knock on Lena's door.
It takes a moment but I hear footsteps on the other side. Some faint murmuring as those inside talk. Then the handle turns and Lady Jessica peeks out. She smiles at me then disappears back inside.
The door opens again and I feel like the wind is knocked out of me. Lena is absolutely stunning. She is dressed in a deep blue dress, gold threads create intricate patterns over her bodice. A long braid of hair is pulled over her shoulder with a simple ringlet of gold nestled on top of her head. I blush when I realize how well we match and mentally curse Lady Catherine.
"My lady, may I escort you to supper?" She smiles a soft smile that I have foolheartedly begun to think she saves just for me. I offer my uninjured arm and she takes it, Jessica following just a few steps behind.
"I still cannot believe you beat that man," Lena says as we walk through ornate hallways.
"Big men all fight the same. They rely on their size to intimidate and swing hard and fast. That always tires them in extended fights."
"Still that was incredible. Jessica will not stop talking about it."
"Oh?" I look back at her and raise an eyebrow. She blushes deeply and slows to create some distance. When I look back again, she has stopped to chat with some women in the hallway on their own way to dinner.
"I believe you have embarrassed Lady Jessica." I tease Lena.
"I do believe she is enamored with you." An awkward silence falls as Lena seems to search for her next words.
"Would you be open to courting her? I mean, she is a sweet girl and grows impatient waiting for me to marry. I worry she may make a poor decision if I do not find someone for her soon." I feel my face grow serious as the importance of her words fall on me.
"No my lady. Marriage and a family are not an option for me. My duty must be my only love."
"Why is that?" Concern colors her features.
"It is a very long story, Lena. The simple answer is that such a future was taken from me as a child and it is out of my power to change that."
"I am okay Lena. I came to terms with it a long time ago. I am a knight who protects my queen and I am happy. Also hungry so can we please go?" Lena gives me another soft smile and nods.
We continue to the great hall and we are announced much like we were my second night in the castle. As we eat, Lena begins pointing out prominent families to me. Most had not been to court yet during my short time there. The hall is loud and crowded, minstrels play on the raised platform. Jesters and murmurers weave through the rows of tables, causing laughter to break out wherever they stop. Serving women and scrub boys dash about the chaos. My cheeks burn from the wine and I see Lena's are rosy as well.
"Will you dance with me, my lady?" I hear myself ask.
In response, Lena simply grabs my hand and pulls me from my chair. I am much less nervous, partly due to the wine, partly due to the lessons I have been having with Lady Catherine. The dance floor is crowded, hot bodies press in on all sides. We are forced to stand close, Lena's body pressed against mine. A small part of my mind worries about this being a good idea.
"Thank you for winning. I dread this week every year. Always being forced to eat and dance with some beast of a man who usually ends up placing a hand he should not." She rests her head on my shoulder, alcohol clearly lessening her inhibitions.
"Anything for you, my lady." she sighs.
"Lena, is it so hard for you to use my name?"
"Only when you stand this close." I bite my tongue too late.
Why would I say that aloud? She opens her mouth, then closes it again. We dance through another song in silence then return to our table. Dessert has been left for us that is so sweet I only manage to eat two pieces of the simple berry pie. Lena hardly touches hers, just picking at it with a fork.
"Kal, I believe I am ready to retire," Lena says.
"Would you wish for me to find Lady Jessica?" I start to scan the room for her. Donovan had asked her to dance an hour ago and she never returned.
"No, it is fine. Will you just escort me back?"
"Yes, my... Lena. Yes, Lena."
She is quite the whole walk back. I had waved off Andrew, her guard for the night before we left the hall. No need to have both of us. Noises from the hall and the ruckus from the town fade as we plunge deeper into the castle. Fresh torches burn to light the way. When we finally reach her chambers the silence is killing me. We have hardly said a word to each other since leaving the hall.
"Kal...I..." Lena actually seems at a loss for words.
"I do not know your story, but I do know what I see. You are a brave and honest man. So I need you to be honest with me."
"About what?" panic floods my mind and fills my chest.
"About this." Lena Leans up and kisses me.
It was shocking but I found myself leaning into her as well. Her full lips are soft and hot. They draw me in. I feel her hands move to my waist and that is enough to help me pull away. Sadness fills Lena's eyes. She moves to open the door to escape my apparent refusal of her.
"Lena." I grab her hand back from the handle.
"I...I wish I could... that we could. Believe me. You are beautiful and kind and pure. But because of who I am, of my past, I cannot let it. Please understand. I told you this already, I have no future but with my duty." I feel the pleading in my voice. Not knowing how truthful my words were until I spoke them.
"Goodnight, Sir Kal." She pulls away in one swift motion opens the door.
"Thank you for being honest." Then the door closes behind her.
I collapse on my own bed and chew more of the leaves to relieve the pain seeping back in. It does not help the ache in my heart. I curse the late king. It was his fault that I had to become my brother. If that had never happened I would never have had to be a knight. I would never have had to serve at the castle. I would never have fallen in love with a Queen. I could have lived a simple life, married a man, and had a family. Damn the King.
Jessica did not return until the early hours of the morning, shoes in hand. She entered quietly, no doubt expecting me to be asleep, but found me sitting in front of the fire. Tears had traced paths down my cheeks and dried. I felt a fool, I felt weak.
"Lena, why are you up?" She asks in something like a whisper but not quite.
"I could not risk having the dream again while I was alone. I simply could not bear it." I do not look at her, just continue gazing into the fire.
"Well, I am sure Kal would have come to stay." I shake my head.
"Why not? I know having a man alone in your rooms would be bad but only I would have known and I know Sir Kal would be honorable." I shake my head more vigorously.
"Lena Luthor, you tell me what is the matter this very instant." She crouches in front of me to make me look at her. I bite my lip I never kept secrets from Jessica.
"I kissed Kal." She squeals a little.
"That is good, is it not?"
"Except he told me earlier that he could never marry and I kissed him anyway. I thought he was just making excuses but he stepped away and told me the same. I just do not know what to..." I trail off unsure how to end the thought.
"Oh, Lena..." Jessica puts her arms around me.
"Come to bed." Jessica urges me out of the chair and into the soft cold bed. It chills my skin to be away from the fire until Jessica wraps herself around me. Sleep comes quickly after that.
In the morning a soft knock on the door wakes me. I feel Jess leave to answer it.
"My lady has taken ill. She will be staying in her rooms today and wishes you to have the day to yourself." Jessica shuts the door without waiting for a response.
"Thank you," I whisper to her, she just nods into my back as she settles back in.
We stay in bed most of the day. A page brings some documents in the late afternoon that I study in the small, cramped office off my bedchamber. The rest of the day I spend with a book I had not touched in weeks. I begin to feel better as I immerse myself in a world that is not my own. I grow completely unaware of the world around me.
An odd noise in the quite stirs me. Blackness is outside the window and Jessica is sound asleep. I have almost lost most the light in my room. The noise sounds again and I realize it is from the hallway. Tentatively, I open the heavy door.
This story is already being well received so here are a couple chapters today. Enjoy!
Chapter 12: Kara- The Kryptonite
"My lady has taken ill. She will be staying in her rooms today and wishes you to have the day to yourself." Jessica shuts the door again without waiting for my response.
I stare at the wood, uncomprehending. I could not sleep the night before. I had suppressed any feelings I had for most my life. I would not risk my life for such a thing. When I was knighted it made it harder to walk away. Serving the royal family, impossible. Then Lena kissed me and opened the floodgates. I struggled all night with that inner turmoil. Now Lena refused to see me.
I walk down the hallway and head to the practice yard, not knowing where else to go. I had not been without Lena for more than a few hours since I arrived. It was freedom but painful and empty at the same time. I watch the sparring men as I stand next to Sir James.
"Shouldn't you be guarding our Queen-in-waiting?" he asks.
"She is ill and has told me to take the day off."
"So you come here on your day off?" James asks with a laugh.
"It is how I relax." That garners another deep laugh from the man.
Then something draws my attention. One of the armored guards. He beats opponent after opponent, using only as much effort as necessary to dispatch each. Soon the nine men around him are panting and drinking deeply from water skins. The champion removes his helmet and I actually laugh aloud.
"John Jones?" I ask James.
"I told you he was good."
"Is he ready?"
"That is up to you. Be my guest." James makes a grand gesture towards the young boy who seems to have become a man in just a few short weeks.
He has grown taller than me, his shoulders filling out with the new muscles gained from his intensive training. I grab a spare practice helmet and shield. Then free a practice sword from one of the racks. I cross the open sparing ground to the young man taking a drink. When he turns back his eyes meet mine and he grins. I make sure to show no emotion. John dawns his helmet again and picks up his sword, his shield still strapped to his arm.
I nod at him and that is all we need to start. We circle each other, each of us looking for an opening in the other's guard. John grows impatient, stepping in and taking a wild swing. The boy he used to be showing before he centers himself again.
I counter strike and he deflects it off the shield. We cross back and forth across the yard, exchanging blow after blow. James was right. John had grown into quite the swordsman. I started making more and more complicated moves, testing his abilities to block and adapt.
Finally, I decide to end it when I see sweat flowing down John's face. I let him take another swing, I spin quickly after he has committed to the downward movement. I whip my shield quickly in a tight circle. It smashes into John's sword arm, knocking the blade free and John to the ground. I lower my sword point to the ground
"Well done John." I offer him my hand to help him up.
"Thank you, Sir," John says, taking my hand. I look around to see which of my men are in the yard.
"Conner, show John here to the armorer. He will be needing new plate mail." John looks at me in confusion.
"You are the tenth member of the Queen-in-waiting's guard." John looks like he might actually hug me but thankfully thinks better of it. He follows Conner out of the yard.
"You are taking one of my of my best fighters." James jokes.
"And I am the one who brought him here. Only the best for the Queen-in-waiting."
"Fair enough. Would you like to get a drink tonight? Some of us are going to the Kryptonite later."
"I would love to if I make it back in time. I think I am going to take Comet for a ride outside of the city. "
"Yes. I hardly ever get to be alone."
I ask a couple stable hands to ready Comet and go to change into my riding leathers. I pass through the kitchen to get food for the day on my way back outside. I grab a couple apples, bread, and a small wedge of cheese I wrap it all in a cloth to protect it from the saddlebags. When Comet sees me he rips free of the poor lads and canters up to me.
"Comet! Oh, such a good boy. I have missed you. Ready to ride?" He snorts and nuzzles into me I take that as a yes.
I swing up into the saddle with a practiced ease, Comet side steps with excitement and I have to reign him back in. Making our way through the town is painfully slow. The last gate finally opens onto the open fields. With nothing in front of us, I put my heels to Comet's sides and let him have his head.
The ground falls away beneath us and a laugh is torn from my throat by the wind. The speed and freedom always makes me wonder if this is what birds feel like when they fly. All too soon we are at the nearest foothills but Comet barely breaks stride as he climbs the first gentle hill. I have to slow him at the top so he cannot injure himself going back down at such a speed. Having all his excess energy expelled, Comet was happy to walk and simply enjoy being out of the city. We spend hours exploring the surrounding countryside. Eventually, we take a break to eat. Comet happily munches on the apples before grazing in the soft green grass.
When I see the sun start to sink I turn us back to the city. Comet gallops happily across the open plain, though it is not the wild ride that we had leaving the city. We make it back just before dusk and just before the gates are locked for the night. The city is much less crowded as people ready for the night's festivities which makes it easier to work my way back to the castle.
In the courtyard I look up at the immense stone walls, still blown away by the sheer size of such a structure. I sigh and head to find food. While I am in the common dining hall, Winn finds me. He is talking before I even know he is there.
"Going through old law books and it says nothing about the gender of knights." I cough, almost choking on the food in my mouth.
"Keep your voice down." I hiss.
"Sorry, but there is no law that says a knight must be a man."
"Winn I know where your mind is going but there is a slight problem. Okay, multiple problems. One, I was supposed to be taken as a child by the royal decree. Two, I have lied to the crown about my gender. And three, when has something that minor stopped a hanging?" That seems to deflate Winn a little.
"Winn, thank you, but this is my life and I accept it. I accepted it long ago. I have a friend now who knows who I really am, what more can I ask for?" Winn grins again.
"What are you doing tonight?" he asks. I remember James' invitation.
"Sir James invited me to join him and some guards at the Kryptonite. You want to come?"
"With Sir... Sir James?" Winn swallows hard.
"Yes, is that a problem?"
"No, no that's fine. It's fine. I'm fine." I raise an eyebrow but say no more.
Alcohol hazes my vision and heats my cheeks. The crowded bar was so full that the people spilled into the streets through the wide double doors. I sit across from James and Winn. The more Winn drank, the more Winn talked. I am not sure if it is the alcohol or what is going on with Lena, but I believe the rambling is Winn's very clumsy attempt at flirting.
I excuse myself late into the night and head back up to the castle alone. My vision was swirling slightly. I see grins spread on the men's faces when I pass by Lena's guards. I can't even place their names at the moment but they realize that their no fun, always serious, leader is drunk. I try a serious face.
"Shhay one... word... and I'll have you stooping shit... in the trenches... for a month," I mumble out and I see them trying to suppress laughter but it is not something I can deal with tonight.
Outside my door, I struggle with the key. The hole keeps moving every time I try to put it in. Cursing I pound my fist against the wood. I lean my back against it and slide down the wall. The cool stone was soothing against my back. Suddenly a figure squats in front of me. Lena's pale, soft, face comes into focus. Worry draws her eyebrows together.
"Kal are you alright?" I grin widely at her.
"Lena! Fancy meeting you here." I gesture to the empty hallway, the guards far out of hearing.
"Hmmm, pretty." My fingertips reach up to touch her cheek.
"You're drunk." Worry leaves her face all at once.
"I tried to open my door but the hole keeps moving." I lift the key still clutched in my fingers. She sighs and takes it from me.
"Careful, it's a sneeakky door." I draw out the word and giggle at it.
"Let me see if I have better luck." Lena turns the key with little effort and swings the door inwards. I gasp in excitement.
"That was amazing! Lena, you are amazing."
"Uh-huh. Let us get you to bed." She reaches her hand to me and helps me struggle to my feet.
"Lena, I mean it. You are amazing. And beautiful, very beautiful." I see her blush in the near darkness, the room only lit by the sliver of moon outside the window.
"And you, Sir Kal, are very drunk. I pray you do not remember any of this in the morning." Very seriously I turn to her.
"I could not forget a single moment with you." Her eyes stare into mine and I almost lean in when a wave of nausea hits me.
"But now you must go before I embarrass myself further." She nods and leaves quickly. I barely make it over the chamber pot in time.
Chapter 13: Kara- Hangover
Winn and I sat across from each other, both of us resting our heads on the table. Thankfully my lessons were with him this morning and Winn was much worse off.
"Never again will I go drinking with guards."
"Yes, you will." I roll my head to look at him. He rests his chin on his hands.
"Three words. Sir. James. Olsen."
"I... I don't know what you are talking about."
"Winn relax, I know you too well for you to deny it." he groans and puts his forehead back to the table.
"Is it that obvious?"
"Only to me my friend. You know my secrets and I know yours." Winn laughs, then groans.
"Ow, okay back to not talking." I am so glad I have time before I have to appear put together because my hangover throbs in my temples.
I cannot bring myself to meet Lena's eyes as she exits her room. True to my word, I do not forget what happened with Lena the night before. Everything is hazy except her face. That was clear and sharp and burned into my mind's eye.
"Where is Lady Jessica?" I ask, determinedly keeping my eyes forward.
"She asked for a day to venture into the city. I believe Donovan asked her to accompany him. That surprises me and I glance at her before quickly looking away.
"Today is his day off," I confirm for her.
"And how was your day off?"
"Very well, You have a new personal guard."
"Whom may that be?
"John Jones, my former squire."
"He seems like a nice man. Would you trust him with your life?"
"Yes, but more importantly, I trust him with yours."
"What else did you do?" She seemingly ignores my statement, searching for something.
"I took Comet riding for most the day outside of the city. Then Sir James invited me to... a tavern." I feel my face flush.
"So you still remember last night," she stated.
I swallow hard and nod. I feel her eyes searching my burning face. We are outside the door that leads to the throne room where Lena holds court. With nowhere else to go, I am forced to face her and meet her eyes. The green seems to pierce into me.
"Kal, why do you refuse to let yourself feel what I know you must?" I bite my tongue, trying to answer her without lying.
"My lady, I have... I have secrets that I have carried my entire life. Secrets that may cause either you or the queen to pass judgment on my life." Concern colors her features.
"Should I be worried?"
"My secrets are only a danger to me, my lady. You must know that I will give my life to protect you and you will never need to question my loyalty." Lena stares into my eyes for a long moment.
"Okay." she relents at last. Lena turns and opens the door. I take a steadying breath and follow her in.
Chapter 14: Lena- John Jones
THese couple of chapters are short since I bounce around POV so I'm just adding a bunch. Enjoy -FB
Kal's words bounce around in my head. I was hardly able to focus on the people speaking in front of me. What secrets could a man who grew up in poverty have? I had just begun to completely trust him, but now doubts began to seep in.
I grew agitated and dismissed the petitioners early, using the excuse of enjoying the festival. As we enter the dining hall one of Kal's men approach him. Most of the palace guards where plain silver plate mail with a small Luthor crest just above the heart. Kal's men matched that of Sir James. The Dark Green metal with the Luthor Crest taking up most the breastplate. Those in my personal guard were set apart from the others and were only to report to Kal or Sir James, taking orders from no one else. The two exchanged a few short words before Kal left with a bow to me. The guard then took his place beside my chair. I looked at the man and realized that this must be the new guard. He was much younger than I expected, perhaps fifteen or sixteen. Jessica was gone so I decide to strike up a conversation with him instead of sitting in silence.
"So you are the tenth man in Sir Kal's guard." The boy smiles.
"Yes, my lady."
"You seem a bit young for such a responsibility," I state, trying to see if he can defend himself well.
"Yes, my lady. However, out of all the palace guards, only Sir Kal and Sir James can defeat me in single combat." I raise an eyebrow, defend himself indeed.
"That is impressive. Were you not Sir Kal's squire beforehand?"
"Yes, my lady. He began to teach me long before most would have."
"So would you say you know him well?" He laughs a deep laugh.
"No one knows Sir Kal well, my lady. However, yes I most likely know him best."
"Why does no one know him well?" John hesitates.
"He is a very private man, my lady. All I know personally about him is that his sister died when he was young and his parents died shortly after he was brought into the army."
"But you trust him?" I know I was asking a lot of questions but I had to ease my fears.
"With my life, my lady." The boy grows very serious. The seriousness of a boy who had seen death in a war he should have been too young to join.
"Good, then I can trust you also." I turn back to my plate of food, feeling a little better about the man who kept secrets even from his future queen.
Chapter 15: Kara- Rambling
"You added a new guard to Lena's protection?" The queen sits on a platform above me.
"Yes, your highness."
"Who is this man?"
"My former squire, John Jones. Sir James took over training him since we arrived here at court. He has now completed his training."
"I see. Are you being cautious with all these new people in the city?"
"Yes, your highness."
"Excellent. Dismissed." I bow and leave, trying to shake off the chills that I usually get when faced with the Queen.
My stomach growls. The Queen had summoned me then made me wait for hours before seeing me. She claimed it was other meetings running long but I doubted it. She used her power to make me wait before asking me tow questions. I head to my room and dress for the third night of festivities.
Again Lena steals my breath away. Her hair flows in waves over her shoulders. Her dress is free of any embroidery that distracts the eye. The blood-red silk matches the rouge of her lips and hugs every curve of her figure just right. The white of my tunic made her dress all the bolder. Lena takes my arm without a word. Some small voice in my mind spoke the truth, she continued to steal my breath because she had already stolen my heart. I could hear my fathers voice though, shouting the whisper down, shouting down the feelings.
"Where is Lady Jessica?" I ask when I realize what felt a little off as we walked through the corridors.
"I believe being escorted to the feast by Donovan."
"Well, they are spending a lot of time together lately."
"Yes, and Jessica is absolutely giddy about it." We lapse into silence at the unspoken words between us.
The food tastes bland at the feast. I know I should enjoy it more but most my plates go untouched. I need to say something, anything, but there are too many listening ears. I do not know what I would say but I know I feel Lena pulling away and I know I do not want that. How could she trust me when I admitted to secrets that she could hang me for?
"May I have this dance?" I ask Lena.
She looks a little surprised at the abrupt question but nods. The dance floor may be crowded but there are so many people and so much noise that words do not drift too far. She is close again, too close.
"Lena..." I hesitate, looking for the right words.
"Kal, it is okay. I trust you. Why else would I be here?"
"Lena, I just wish I could tell you, but if I did you will despise me. Or send me away. My parents and I always feared what would happen if the secret was known. Now I am alone in that fear. I just..."
"Your parents?" I wince, I could not stop rambling around her.
"Never mind. I have said too much." I look away from her searching eyes.
"Kal, I do not think I could ever hate you." I look back at her and smile, trying to convince myself it was really true.
A glint of light off metal catches the corner of my eye. Suddenly time slows down. I shove Lena behind me and catch the hand holding the knife with my own. I meet the eyes of a man dressed in servants clothing. The cold confidence in his eyes though says otherwise. This was a man not just sent to kill, but trained to. I pull my fist back to aim a punch at the face staring at me with determination. Pain explodes in my side as a second knife in the man's other hand grazes my side.
I recover quickly and jab the man in his throat. The man wheels backward, I follow with a punch to the stomach, then face again. He topples unconscious to the floor. I see guards converging on us as people scatter away. I grab Lena's hand and pull her from the hall. I race through the corridors and back to her rooms, tugging her behind the whole way.
"Every single one of you is to be in the corridor immediately." I bark to the men on duty, not bothering to see who it was.
"No one gets passed you." One of them takes off to gather the others.
I pull Lena into her chambers, I think she had been protesting the whole way but I did not hear it. I check every corner of her room. Under the bed, behind curtains, the balcony, even the privy and small office.
"Kal! Please stop. Look at me." Lena finally breaks through my internal panic. I look at her standing in the middle of the floor. Concern drips from her and finally makes me walk over to her.
"Are you okay?" I ask
"Me? Kal, look at yourself. You are bleeding."
I look down. Red blooms across my white tunic, soaking it through. The sight shocks me. Suddenly my head begins to pound, my legs feel too weak to support me. My knees give out and the floor rises up to meet me.
"Kal!" I hear Lena call my name but darkness descends before I can respond.
Chapter 16: WInn- Panic
I thought I might let you guys stew on that cliffhanger but eh... here's the next chapter, enjoy- FB
Suddenly the music stopped and I jerked my head up. The nameless girl I was pretending to flirt with was immediately forgotten. People surged back from the middle of the room, screams were scattered throughout the crowd. I jumped onto the table to see what was happening, Kal stood over a man on the floor. His once white tunic now had a tear in the side and blood poured out. he grabbed Queen-in-waiting Lena's hand and pulled her out the door behind the high tables.
The gash makes me panic. Kal would not be able to see a normal healer. I begin to force my way through the surging bodies. As so as I reach the now cleared dance floor, I begin sprinting after them. Corridors rush by. At one intersection I have to stop and catch my breath. I look down and see blood splattered on the wood floor. I know they are headed to Queen-in-waiting Lena's rooms and I just hope I catch them before that. I round the hallway just in time to see one of the guards take off. the other draws his sword and drops into a fighting stance. I try to stop but my feet slide on the polished wood floor. I almost face plant on the floor at the man's feet.
"Leave! Now!" I peer under the helmet.
"Conner, buddy! It's me! Winn?" The sword points lowers to my chest.
"No one enters."
"Conner, please. Kal is hurt. He will need help." I see the panic in Conner's eyes but he is trained too well, the sword does not waver.
"Stand down!" comes a deep voice behind me.
John, Kal's former squire, approaches behind me. Conner does not move except to shift his glare to the man towering above me. Conner slowly sheaths his sword and steps aside. John rests a hand on my shoulder and steers me through the opening.
"Hey, hey, hey. Watch the tunic. It's new."
"Do you know?" he ignores my protests and I swallow hard.
"Know what?" my voice raises an octave and I curse my inability to lie.
"I will take that as a yes. He needs us before the Queen-in-waiting finds out."
"Kal!" A harsh cry comes from behind the heavy doors.
John rushes in and pulls my arm roughly behind him. Queen-in-waiting Lena kneels over Kal's unconscious form. His tunic was more red then white at this point. I stand frozen in the doorway. John rushes to flip Kal over.
"Winn, grab his feet." John's words spring me to action.
"Wait! Where are you taking him?" Queen-in-waiting Lena's voice is filled with panic.
"My lady, we have to stop the bleeding and he has supplies in his room." John tries to quell her panic.
"So go get them." She tries to force command into her voice. I take her shoulders and look deep into her eyes.
"My lady, if you trust Kal, if you want to protect him, please let us take him from here." Tears are moments from spilling out of her eyes when she nods.
Quickly I scoop up Kal's feet. John lifts his shoulders and takes most of the weight before we back through the open door. We set Kal back down outside his own door. John pulls slightly bloodied keys from one of Kal's pockets and quickly unlocks the door. Just as swiftly John lifts Kal again and I follow him into the room. We gently set Kal on the bed and John practically dives under it. He comes up with two small chests. He opens them both. One looks to hold cloths and the other a mix of herb and plants.
"Lock the door," he commands as he moves to dig through the chest at the foot of the bed.
When the bolt is securely in place I turn back to see John searching through the wardrobe.
"Dammit, Kal. Where did you put it?"
"What are you looking for?" I ask.
"A book on herbs Kal had. I know there is one that stops bleeding but I am not sure which one.
"Oh, I know this! He gave me the book. Hold on." I look into the box of herbs, trying to remember the page. I have to peer closely in the dim light. Finally, I find it.
"Aha! Now we need to grind it with water to form a paste."
John had been pressing some of the cloths to Kal's side and nods for me to take over. Again he begins to search through Kal's belongings and finds a stone pestle and mortar. He begins with the small leaves I found, then adds in a little water from the flask on the bedside table.
"Okay, that should be good. Take off his tunic and I'll spread it on the wound. It should stop the bleeding so we can wrap Kal's chest." John hands over the pestle.
John actually just rips open the fabric instead of lifting it over Kal's head like a normal person. I scoop the green paste into my hand and use a cloth to wipe away as much blood as possible before spreading it on. My stomach turns at how wide the gap is in the skin. Once the seal is in place John lifts Kal's shoulders and I quickly remove the ruined warp and replace it. I knew Kal wrapped his chest and the extra fabric just may have saved his life.
"What now?" I ask John.
"Now we wait." John begins to put away the boxes and grinding tools. We both sink to the floor, no other seating was available in Kal's sparse possessions.
"How did you know?" I ask John.
"I was his err... her squire. I had my suspicions. Then one day I was sent to get Kal for an emergency. She was bathing in the river, deep in the woods. I backed away and began calling out to give Kal time to dress. I never told him, her, because Kal was the best. She deserved everything she earned. Plus, despite the few words and even fewer emotions, I grew to love her. Not in any romantic way, but like family. She taught me everything."
"Him, just use him. Kal told me about his secret. He may be shocked that you know."
"Well, hopefully, he lives to be shocked."
Banging on the door makes us both jump to our feet. The door shakes again with the force of it. John grabs a fresh tunic from Kal's wardrobe and tosses it to me. I struggle briefly to pull it over his head before finally getting him back into a laying position. When Kal is settled John opens the door. A furious Jessica stands in front of an almost distraught Queen-in-waiting.
"What is happening?" Lady Jessica demands.
"We think we stopped the bleeding. Now we have to see if he will wake up. Please, my lady, do not come in. If you respect Kal at all, then go wait in your own chambers."
"Just let me see him. See him breathe." Lena says in a small voice. I pull the covers up over Kal just before John lets the door swing wide.
Lena comes just far enough to see Kal's short labored breaths. Her hands fly to her mouth and she turns into Jessica's shoulder. John guides them both gently back to the Queen-in-waiting's chambers. I slump to the floor and rest my back against the wall by Kal's head.
"Come on Kal. You cannot go out like this. I am so close to finding a way for you to be you."
Chapter 17: Kara- Healing
Surprise! Kara/Kal lives. Anyway, the last chapter I'll post today. -FB
An odd noise reaches my ears. I realize it was a moan escaping my own lips. A face comes into view over me. I try and blink away the blurriness. A more than ecstatic smile appears under glinting eyes. Winn is much closer than comfortable.
"Kal! You're awake!" His voice pierces into my skull and I wince away.
"Shhhh... Head hurts. What happened?"
"You stopped an assassination attempt but you were stabbed in the process. You lost a lot of blood." A deep voice says behind Winn.
"John." I breathe out as panic fills my chest.
"Relax, John has known for awhile. We pulled you out of Queen-in-waiting's room before she found out." Winn says when he sees my eyes grow wide. I stare down at my hands.
"I always had my suspicions, but I saw you bathing once on accident."
"Are you going to report me?" I ask, still not looking up at the boy who I had watched become a man.
"Never. Kal, you taught me better than any man could. I see the goodness in you that is absent in so many others. You are family to me. Mine burned much like yours so you are all I have now." I look at up the man. He towers over me but squats next to Winn. Tears blur my vision again but I swallow them back.
"Thank you, John. You are my family too."
"Hey, third-wheeling over here." Winn chimes in. I laugh.
"You too Winn." I struggle into a sitting position. Pain throbs across my side.
"Lena?" I ask.
"Worried sick in the next room. We kept the truth from her, but barely. She has demanded to see you once an hour for the entire night." Winn says.
"Okay. Give me a heavier tunic. And some water, please. My mouth tastes like dirt." Winn laughs and hands my the water skin. John pulls out a heavy blue tunic from the closet along with an extra blanket. He tosses the tunic to Winn and spreads the blanket over me. Winn helps me pull the tunic over my head. The bandages around my torso are tight and constrict on my chest as I move.
"How did you stop the bleeding?" I ask Winn.
"Comfrey Poultice. Luckily I have been studying that book you gave me." I laugh.
"Yeah, good thing. You're the only doctor I can see." Winn laughs.
"Guess we have our only little team of three then. The inner circle." Winn gets a wistful look. I roll my eyes.
"Should I go get the Queen-in-waiting?" John asks. My open emotion must have weirded him out. He looked uncomfortable.
"Yes John, please. Winn, drag the chest over here so she can sit." Winn nods and John exists. Winn huffs and puffs as he pushes the heavy chest into position.
"We need to work on your upper body strength." I tease. He collapses hard on top of it.
"Not...Funny. Books... I deal...with books." he pants out.
I laugh but a knock on the door makes me school my face. Winn takes a deep breath and stands. He crosses to the door and opens it, stepping out of the way with a small bow to his Queen-in-waiting. Worry creases Lena's normally passive face. When she sees me sitting up relief floods over it.
"Kal! You're awake." She rushes to my side. Her hands look like they are unsure what to do so she sits and I grasp her hand.
I hear the door click shut and look to see that Winn left us alone. I look back into the green eyes that sparkle with unshed tears. I squeeze her hand trying to comfort her. She lets at a bark of a laugh.
"Of course you are trying to comfort me. You almost die and you are trying to comfort me."
"Lena. I am fine. I may be out of fighting shape for awhile but I am fine."
"Okay. You are sure you will be okay?"
"Yes. Now please stop harassing Winn and John."
"I was not harassing them."
"Please, I know you were at that door every hour. You probably wore a path in your floor, pacing all night. Did you at least allow Lady Jessica to sleep?" Lena rolls her eyes, tears long forgotten.
"She chose not to."
"Oh, I am sure of that." We sit in silence for a few moments.
"Lena, please do me a favor."
"What is that?"
"Write a royal decree, or whatever it is, that should anything happen to me, John will take over my post. He will protect you just as well as I. Maybe even better. He is young but just as good as myself and Sir James, and still getting better."
"Nothing is going to happen to you." Lena protests.
"Lena, promise me. No matter what happens to me." I stare into her eyes, willing her to agree.
"Yes, I will make it so." She relents finally.
I settle back into the pillow behind me. I close my eyes and breath. I feel her hand try to tug out of mine.
"Don't go yet, just a few more moments." She relaxes and I hear her settle back onto the chest.
A knock on the door a few minutes later causes Lena to break contact with me and I open my eyes.
It's Winn holding what smells like a freshly baked bread loaf and what is something hopefully stronger than water. The pain in my side was throbbing but I did not want to risk asking Lena to get my herbs for me, lest she finds or suspects something she shouldn't. He grins and bows his head to Lena.
"I should go, I am expected to be in court in an hour." Lena stands and leaves, Winn steps out of her path and shuts the door behind her.
"Sorry to interrupt. I just thought you should eat something." As if on cue my stomach grumbles.
"It's fine Winn. We weren't even talking. I can't talk to her without almost spilling out my secret every time. " He laughs and tears off part of the loaf for me. He hands me that and the skin he held in his other hand. I take a swig.
"I was hoping this was something stronger." I saw after swallowing the water.
"John insisted, you lost a lot of blood. The cut was deep."
"Just get my herbs, I have some leaves that suppress pain." Winn pulls the chest from under the bed and hands it to me. I practically inhale the loaf of bread as he does.
I stuff the leaves into my mouth and chew them into a wad. I nestle it into my cheek so I can continue to talk with Winn. Apparently, the entire guard was still on duty, well, taking breaks one at a time. Three were guarding the hallway and the rest were with Lena. The castle went on lockdown and the Queen canceled all festival celebrations within it. When John comes back to check on me I tell him to release the men, keep only two on Lena and two at the end of the hall.
"John. You are in charge. Lena is writing out the command for you to be at the head of the guard if anything happens to me in the future also."
"But sir, the others have been apart of the guard much longer than I." he protests.
"And have any of them bested you in single combat?" I ask.
"No, but they are older than..." I hold up a hand to stop his argument.
"And they must deal with that. My men were always older than me. John, you are the best. Protect our future queen as I would. Get used to the command and if the others do not accept it send them to me. I have a feeling I can still beat them even now." John bows and leaves but I see a grin play at the corners of his mouth.
"In case something happens?" Winn asks.
"I came too close last night Winn, to both death and my secret coming out. A clear line of succession must be made or else Lena may be left unprotected. Winn, Lena must not be left unprotected." Winn sighs and nods, not even denying that it was a possibility.
After a few more minutes Winn leaves as my eyes grow heavy. I slid back down to rest my head on the pillow. My side has faded to a numb ache but I sleep fitfully. After a few hours I try to stand to use the chamber pot, that just reopens the wound and I have to bandage it again. Finally, I settle back down and finish the other half of bread from Winn. I doze in and out. I think at some point Winn even brings more food because I find a tray of cheese and fruit next to my bed, this time there is wine, thankfully. It helps numb me quickly and sleep comes just as fast again.
According to Winn, the fourth day after the assassination is when I finally leave my chambers, dressed in full armor. The hours blurred together the first day and a half between sleep and half-awareness. By the third, I was restless. Winn and John tried to beg me to stay in bed and I relented to do so for one more day. After that, I was confident that I was fine. The wound was well scabbed over and there was color in my cheeks again, blood restored to my body.
John had kept the guard schedule going while I was stuck in my room. Lena had checked on me several times but was pulled away by various matters after a short conversation. Winn practically lived with me by the end, books were stacked precariously in corners and under my bed, he even had a bedroll against the wall.
I glance out the window to the sun, knowing where Lena will be right now. I head for the royal gardens. I pass by four guards, two of them my men, and two of the palace guards that are always stationed here. I wander down the stone paths, enjoying being up and moving again. The fresh air was wondrous. I find Lena in the back corner of the gardens, sitting on a bench, reading. A pond is set in the ground with small fish swimming through the clear waters. I chuckle at how regal her posture is, even in private. I lean against a tree to see if she will notice me. She is concentrated so closely on whatever the book is in her hands. Finally, I clear my throat.
"You get scary still when you concentrate. Very statue-like." Lena turns a page.
"I heard you coming long before you decided to interrupt. Metal plates are not exactly stealthy." I push off the tree and walk closer.
"Maybe I should learn to fight without them then. May I?" I indicate the vacant side of the bench.
"I suppose." Lena closes the book and looks at me while I sit.
"Should you not still be in bed?" she asks
"Most likely, but I cannot stand that stuffy room." Lean rolls her eyes.
"At least I am sitting." I point out.
"I said nothing." She stares into the water of the pond.
"I could hear your thoughts of protest from here." I tease her.
"At least I know you are not completely stubborn." Now it was my turn to roll my eyes.
"Only for you, My lady." Lena grows serious and looks at me again.
"I was so worried about you. There was so much blood..." She trails off and looks down. I lift her chin back up with a finger.
"Do not worry. It will take much more than a knife to kill me. Do you know what the men in my unit used to call me?" She shakes her head slightly.
"The Man of Steel. Almost no blade could pierce my skin and I walked away from nearly every battle without a mark. Now I will finally have a scar that I can brag about, I got it saving the Queen-in-waiting." Her eyes darken and she backs away from my touch.
"I am sure it will make the women swoon," she says with venom in her words.
"It might. If I had any interest in telling them." I hesitate knowing I will regret the next words out of my mouth.
"The only woman I would brag to already knows about it." Lena meets my eyes and leans in closer to me like a force was drawing us together again. I stand and bring her hand with me so as not to rebuke her completely while trying to break the tension.
"We should go, we do not need guards gossiping about how much time alone the Queen-in-waiting and her knight spend together." Lena breaths out heavily and nods. She grabs her book and stands. We walk through the gardens arm in arm.
When we make it to the exit we step apart, both of us placing our emotionless exteriors on our faces. My men follow us to the next destination, Lena's security had been increased in the past couple of days. When we reach the sitting room, the men stay outside while Lena and I enter so she can meet with her Ladies-in-waiting. They excitedly gossip about the festival, although none of it was happening in the castle anymore. I stand behind Lena's chair, it was the longest I had been upright and I could feel sweat forming at my temple in a short amount of time. Lena looks up at me and frowns.
"Sir Kal, please, sit down. I hate having you loom over me like that."
"I am fine, my lady." I protest.
"Kal. Sit. That is an order." Leaving me little choice, I sit on one of the chairs in the corner of the room.
I had to keep the relief from my face as my weight leaves my aching legs. I look at Lena and I see a glimmer of relief in her own eyes before she returns to her conversation. Hours stretch as the women talk and stitch, needles moving independently of their bodies. They summon food and drink and laugh among themselves. As evening approaches they begin to excuse themselves one by one to attend the festivity in the city. Lady Jessica is the last to leave when a knock on the door reveals an off-duty Donovan who arrives to escort her.
Lena had long ago moved to the daybed in the window sill that overlooked Kandor. She watched the streets come to life with torches and lanterns. People crowded every walkway despite the growing darkness, or maybe because of it. Lena sighs deeply and stands.
"Join me for dinner?" she asks.
"My lady, I go where you go." Lena rolls her eyes.
"Lena." she corrects.
"I mean, remove your armor, dress in something appropriate, and sit with me. With no more feasts, the hall will be near empty tonight and I do not wish to dine alone. I suspect my brother will be attending various parties that I cannot leave this castle for." A smile breaks my mask and I nod.
When I return to her to take a seat, John stands above Lena while she sips on wine and waits on the dais. Lena was right about the dining hall. Only a handful of older scribes and teachers gather in clusters among the tables. Even fewer serving staff flit between the groups. The High table is empty except for us. As we eat, we talk without prying ears listening. She asks me about the army and how I came to have Comet. I told her tales of drunken stupid men and raising my only friend. Lena spoke of riding lessons and court etiquette and lessons on how to rule a country. She occasionally slipped in stories of antics with Lady Jessica. Still, Lena was more focused on my life and I had to be careful with my words.
Torches began to burn low and servants had long since cleared the hall. I hear a faint clink of metal and look back to see John shaking himself awake. That pops the little bubble that had formed around us. The dull ache in my side becomes more insistent but I laugh when I realize the rest of the hall is empty.
"John, go to bed. I will escort Lady Luthor to her chambers." John looks relieved to be dismissed and hurries off.
"Poor boy. I did not realize the hour was so late." Lena looks slightly abashed.
"It is good for him. Tests the endurance." I dismiss her sympathy as I stand and offer my hand to help her up.
Lena loops her arm in mine as we walk through the corridors. They are almost as empty as the dining hall. We occasionally pass a person stumbling along the hall, attempting to find their bed after a night of celebrating. We even come across a man who gave up and curled into a corner. Eventually, we pass into Lena's guarded hallway and into the darkness of the unlit corridor. Only faint moonlight filters through the thick windows. I can barely see in the gloom but Lena's eyes are bright. They shine like the rare Kryptonite gemstones. Jewels that men have died trying to find. My lungs start to burn and I realize I have forgotten to breathe.
"Goodnight, Lena." I manage to get out.
"Goodnight." She exhales. neither of us moves.
Her pupils have dilated, almost completely wiping out the green with black. Small white teeth bite a red lower lip. My stomach clenches and my breath halts again. I know I need to walk away right now. My feet refuse to obey.
"I am going to regret this," I whisper. I see Lena's brow start to furrow in a question but I give her no time to ask it.
My lips meet hers and I feel all the tension leave the air like a sigh. Lena steps into me and I can feel every curve pressed against me. Her hands reach up to both sides of my face and mine weave into her hair. Her tongue traces the curve of my lips and mine darts out to meet hers. We only part when my lungs begin to burn for air.
I hear voices down the hall, then Lady Jessica's laughter. With enormous effort, I step away from the raven-haired woman. Before completely breaking contact, one hand traces down her arm and I bring her hand to my lips.
"Goodnight, My Lady." Lena almost protests the formlessness when Lady Jessica comes into sight.
"Lena, Sir Kal! You are still up?" Lady Jessica exclaims.
"Yes Jessica, So are you." Lena points out and I swear I see Lady Jessica's cheeks flush, despite the darkness.
"Goodnight Ladies." I bow slightly and unlock my room. I hear a small sequel of excitement before the door shuts.
I collapse in my bed with a groan, the faint tingling of Lena's lips still on mine.
Chapter 18: Lena- Late Talks
I stare at Jessica with my mouth open. We both sat on the bed staring at each other. I hugged my knees to my chest, mirroring Jessica's posture.
"You did what?" I ask.
"We sort of... had sex." She whispers, even though we were alone. Her cheeks grow even redder if that is possible.
"When? How? Where?" I ask, still stunned at her confession.
"Umm... Tonight, a lot of wine, in one of the gardens in the Royal housing district." Jessica says sheepishly.
"What was it like?" I was suddenly very curious about what a man would be like. Jessica and I had... satisfied each other in the past. Nothing ever romantic but it was more abour exploring how our bodies worked. Also, it tended to be a good stress reliever for me. But a man? That had to be completely different, especially one you were romantic with.
Jessica starts giving more details than probably appropriate but I was hooked on every word. We talk late into the night, well later because it was already so late when Kal kissed me. My cheeks flush again at that thought.
"What is that look for?" Jessica asks, breaking her tale of dancing in a crowded tavern. I bite my lip as I hesitate.
"Kal kissed me." Jessica squeals.
"Wait, is that a good thing. Doesn't he supposedly have this big secret that could get him killed?" I say and throw myself against the pillow.
"I know! I know. But when I am with him my stomach flips and my heart pounds in my ears. I feel like every piece of me is reaching out to him." Jessica squeals.
"Lee, I feel the same about Donovan. I think you are in love." I groan and roll over to hide my face in the pillow before looking at her again.
"Jess, I just met him a couple of months ago."
"Longer than I have known Donovan." She points out.
"I don't know." I roll away from her and I feel her comforting arms wrap around my waist and we fall asleep in the fading darkness as the sun begins to push it back.
A soft knocking woke me from my sleep. Light streams in the windows. The knocking sounds again, a little louder. Jessica was still fast asleep next to me. I force myself from the warmth of the bed and wrap the robe that hangs over the chair around me. Knocking again, even more insistent. I unlatch the door and come face to face with a concerned Kal. He is dressed in his full armor. Concern on his face is immediately replaced with a bright grin that I am sure is reserved only for me. My heart flutters in my chest.
"Good, you are alive in there. I was beginning to worry when the two of you missed lunch."
"Lunch!" I exclaim.
"Yes, my... Yes, Lena. Lunch."
"Oh dear, why did no one wake me sooner? I missed court! Oh and the reports. And my ladies!"
"Lena, the only one officially who can wake you is Lady Jessica. Court was handled by your advisers, reports will still be there when you have time, and your ladies have gone to town and do not plan on returning unless you wish to send pages to call them back." Lena's panic deflates a little.
"Well, you have been busy then."
"Yes, I spent the morning sparring, instructing my men to notify me if you emerged. Then I began to worry."
"You worry about me?" I ask, I almost cringe at the horrible attempt at flirting.
"Always," Kal responds seriously.
I look back into the room at Jessica's sleeping form. Then I stick my head out to see the backs of the two guards, too far away to hear and focused on outside threats.
"We should talk. About last night?" I say, dropping my voice so not to wake Jessica. Pain crosses Kal's features.
"My lady, nothing has changed. I just had too much wine to be of sound judgment. This, us, cannot happen." I feel like a knife stabs through my heart.
"Kal... is that really what you want? There not to be an us?"
"No." He whispers, looking away from me. I look at him to try and search his face.
"What I want and what is right are two different things, Lena. Please, let this go. We cannot fall for each other because we can never be together, not like what we should."
"I could command you to marry me." I was growing desperate and stupid, panic fills Kal's eyes.
"Please, Lena, find a suitable match. Someone you can truly love." He meets my eyes, the pleading clear in them.
I am almost certain he will fall to his knees to start begging next. Before he can, I hear Jessica start to stir behind me. Kal steps away, somehow we were drawn together during our whole conversation, whispering the whole time, but Kal's words scream through my mind.
"Okay Kal." Relief floods his face.
"We are staying here until the farewell feast for my brother tonight. Have food sent up for us, will you?"
"Yes, my lady." The title cuts through me as I shut the door.
"Lena?" comes Jessica's sleepy voice.
I crawl into bed with her and weep without explanation for the man who I love but refuses to love me. Jessica holds me until the tears subside and I tell her what just occurred. We stay like that until a knock on the door makes Jessica leave the bed. She comes back with a tray of food that I can no longer stomach. She grabs a few things and then joins me again. Too soon it is time to dress for the feast. A feast to bid my brother farewell again. I had barely been able to spend time with him while he was home. He was busy recruiting knights and nobles to join the war or to donate funds. I also heard rumors of him bedding many women and that made me roll my eyes. Men could always sleep with whomever they chose and women were sluts if they slept with one man outside of marriage.
Jessica fretted over me and I let her. I barely ever did anything when it came to my appearance. Jessica did choose my favorite dress, the emerald green with black and gold making intricate patterns around the hem and on the torso. It looked so much like our house crest, the crest my father made me proud to wear, at least before he was taken from me. After much time and much prodding and poking, my hair was piled on top of my head, makeup covered my features, and shoes squeezed my feet. Beauty was painful.
A knock on the door and my heart leaps. Was that Kal? Could he really be that stubborn as to still escort me to dinner? Jessica looks at me, I nod for her to answer it and she slowly walks over. I was almost as if Jessica could read my mind, my hesitation. I turned away from the door, unable to face Kal again.
"Well someone certainly has grown up while I have been away." I turn to face the deep voice.
"Lex!" A smile spreading across my face.
"May I escort the Queen-in-waiting to dinner?" He asks offering his arm, despite us being a room apart. I hurry to his side and loop my arm in his.
"Always, dear brother. You know you have seen me multiple times this week. It cannot just be occurring to you that I am older."
"Oh, but it stuns me each and every time. You really do look like a Queen in that gown. So much like father." He adds the last part softly, pointedly not saying I look like mother.
"You look just like him also, at least from what I remember. You have his strong jaw, except that scruffy beard hides it." I tease, trying to get away from the serious.
Lex really had let his beard grow, and his hair. It was so lush and full that I could not believe that he would ever bald as young as father had. My big brother, I look up at him and smile. I have missed him so much and he had been gone for so long. We walk out into the corridor and four guards stand post, two follow with us. I see one is John.
"John, where is Sir Kal? He usually comes with me to dinner."
"Sir Kal is with Sir James. Neither wants a repeat of the last feast. They are coordinating guards and having each entry manned to confiscate all weapons. Also, every person attending must have an invitation." John's deep voice has taken an authoritative edge since stepping up to lead while Kal was injured. I am glad I did as Kal requested and had John legally bound to take over the guard should anything happen to Kal.
"My, that sounds like a lot of men on duty," I say.
"Every single one." I hear a small sigh from Jessica as she trails behind, no Donovan for her tonight then.
"Looks like we won't have much to worry about then, and I can have you, dear sister, all to myself tonight." Lex teases, he is too insightful for his own good.
"I would not have it any other way." I smile back at his smug face.
Chapter 19: Kara- Haze
Organizing the entire guard was difficult. These were men unused to following commands. Sure, they followed ones about where to be and when, but they had lived in peace for too long this far north. I resolved to ask James to be able to make changes. I was also playing with the idea of using my newly trained men to test the guards, get them back on their toes.
I circled the main dining hall, checking every entrance, then made my way through the kitchens, then back out to the entry hall, varying my pattern each time. I also directed guards to change their patrol. Regular patrols were easy to slip through. I glance up to Lena at the high table, laughing with her brother. I could not hear it but my mind filled in the sound because Lena's laugh was so rare that my brain memorized it, craved it. I shake myself and check to make sure that John and Andrew are still standing behind the royal family, both have hands on swords, eyes darting, never settling.
Noise pressed in on all sides, blinding one of my sense and I did not like that. Laughter and music and words all created a wall that my ears could not penetrate. It kept me on edge, always circling, my hand kept fidgeting with my sword.
"Anything?" James asks from behind me.
"No. But I will not be happy until this castle is back to normal. The entire royal family will not be in the same place again for who knows how long again. This will be the best time for an attempt to wipe out Krypton's royal line."
"I know. Keep your eyes open." James moves away to resume his own rounds about the people.
I weave into the crowd of people, trying to cross the room. Many were already drunk and it was only the third course. Isles were crowded and the dance floor was a mass of writhing bodies. Weaving in and out of them took a lot of concentration. Then something felt wrong. I froze. Casting about, something was wrong but I could not figure it out. My eyes were failing me so I close them and try to listen past the chaos. Thud. A noise out of time with the music. Thud. Yes, defiantly not right, but where was it coming from? Thud. I absently brush at my head as a fly lands on it, trying to focus on where the sound was coming from. Thud. That damned fly again. Thud. In annoyance, I look up at the culprit breaking my concentration.
Panic strikes me. The ceiling high above us is cracking. Thud. More cracks as stone fragments shower down on us. I bring my fingers to my lips and whistle as loud as I can. Only the immediate people around me notice. I look at the high table and see John's eyes on me. I point up. His eyes widen at what he sees and he leaps over the table, scattering food and drink, then leaps to the platform with the minstrels, silencing them. All eyes turn to him and John points to me.
"Everyone, move!" I yell into the newly obtained silence.
I point up to the cracks in the ceiling. Thud. Eyes widen as the closest people realize something is very wrong. Thud. The crowd surges backward. Thud. A chunk of stone falls to the ground. It is silent on its long descent before crashing into the floor. Thankfully whoever would have been hit was gone. Thud. More stone falls. I draw my sword, staring up at whatever threat was coming through. My men try to fight through the crowd to reach me. Thud. I see stars through a hole in the ceiling. Thud. More stone cascades down and I have to shield my eyes. When I look back up ropes hang down.
Men dressed in all black slid down the ropes. It was almost like watching someone fall in slow motion. I unstrap my shield from its place on my back and put it on my arm. My paranoia of this exact thing was what caused me to bring it, even Sir James scoffed. Now I stand alone, sword at the ready. My advantage is that the enemy descending are completely vulnerable until they reach the floor. I take a deep breath. Boots hit the ground and my sword whistles through the air. Most men would wait to face another head on, but I am no man.
The slash goes directly across the man's unprotected back and he falls with a cry. Thud. I wheel on the next man, just getting his hand to the hilt of the sword strapped to his side. The hand never makes it, I cut it off with barely any resistance. Blood splatters against me but I am already in the haze of battle, taking out each man as they descend. Soon I realize that more and more are hitting the ground and some even draw swords. I become surrounded by naked blades glinting in the lantern light. Every eye was focused on the man who had already downed so many of their comrades.
A cry sounds from the back of the group, I turn towards it. John appears in the midst of the men. He had struck someone down from behind. I small part of me was proud that I could teach him that there was a time and place for honor. More of my men followed, coming in from all sides. A full on battle had begun in the middle of the great dining hall. The haze of battle covers me as my muscles react before my eyes can tell them to.
Silence falls all at once. Heavy pants can be heard all around. The masses of people had managed to escape. The royal family still stood on the platform with Sir James and some his guards circled tightly around them. I carefully turn about, bodies lay scattered but luckily I do not see any of our own among them. Most of the prone forms are clearly dead, some moan with fatal wounds that were taking their time in bleeding the life from each man. I sheath my sword and look at each of my own guards. Relief floods faces as the desperation of battle leaves them.
"John, go see if any of the healers can save any of these men. We will need to question them."
He nods and starts to turn away. I see fear cross his face again as he turns back to me. Every breath stretches into the next. I turn to see what causes the reaction. Pain pierces my stomach. A dying man had used his last breath to plunge a dagger deep into it. The man falls to the ground dead and I stare at the dagger. I hear my men scramble towards me as I pitch backward. From the ceiling, a stone tumbles down from a shadow blotting out the stars. My last thought is to get my shield above my head. The stone hits it, jarring my shoulder and forcing my head into the floor. Pain explodes in the back of my skull before blackness covers me.
Chapter 20: Waking
I watched the battle from the doorway. Unable to leave one of my only friends. Kal was like a god. He cut down each man like death incarnated. Then John joined him and they were like twin storms, tearing down trees in the forest. It was gruesome. It was mesmerizing. It was death. Carnage lay at their feet as blood pooled across the broken marble. For the first time, I knew that the rumors about Kal were true. It all made sense now why no one saw Kal as a woman. When I found out I began to notice a few things. Kal never had any form of stubble on his chin, his hips swung just a little too much when walking, and in plain clothes, he had just a few too many curves. Now I know why no man would see that. They would not be able to admit that a woman was that skilled, that powerful.
The last man falls under Kal's sword. I see he him turn, looking for anyone else. Kal straightens and speaks to John. I am too far away to hear the words being said. I am also too far for my cry to reach Kal's ears in time as I see the man at his feet lunges. Fear fills my heart and dread causes my stomach to clench. As he falls, I see another chunk of ceiling fall, somehow landing on Kal's shield but still causing his arm to hit his head and his head to hit the ground. He doesn't move.
I do. My legs carry me as fast as they can. One guard quickly beheads the already dead man with an underhanded swing. The rest circle around. John falls to his knees and drops his sword with a clatter. He presses his hands flat around the knife, debating whether or not to pull it out. I almost slide into the two as I hit my knees on the blood saturated floor.
"Do not pull it out. It is helping to keep the blood in." I command, my voice on the verge of panic.
"Conner! Go get the healers!" Conner hesitates.
"Now!" Johns voice booms out.
I move to look at Kal's head. I peer into his closed eyes, they are unresponsive but he was breathing. I feel the back of his head, it was tender but nothing felt broken. I think the blow just knocked him unconscious. Footsteps come running towards us. I look up and I realize what is about to happen.
"John," I say in a harsh whisper.
"I know. But it is this or his life." John says in a defeated voice, head bowed over Kal's prone form.
"It may very well be his life either way," I say.
"This will at least give him a chance, even a small one."
Tears form in my eyes as I stand to make room for the healers coming. I rub my face and step away. I head to the archives, hoping to find something to save the life of Kal El Ward.
I stood paralyzed, clutching Alexander's arm. He stood bravely in front of Mother and I while palace guards closed in around us. Swords were drawn as people panicked and tried to escape the hall. Kal almost patiently waited for the man sliding down the rope from the ceiling, then lashed out with a sword to dispatch him. Kal was astounding, almost beautiful in the haze of blood that surrounded him. A warrior with little qualms about what his duty was.
"Do you still question his knighthood Mother?" Alexander asks quietly of the Queen. She does not respond.
Silence falls. At this distance, I cannot hear Kal but I see the man rise from the floor and drive a dagger into his stomach. Alexander tries to turn me away but he is too late. I see Kal fall and the blood start to pool before I am yanked from the hall and swept through the castle to the royal family sitting room, one of the safest places in the castle. The walls were built twice as thick and deep in the heart of the castle. Food stores were there in times of emergency along with weapons. Men took up stations inside and out. Mother casually moved to pour herself a glass of wine and sit gracefully on one of the large ornate couches.
Alexander guides me over to the one opposite it and sits me down. He sits on the table in between the two couches and grabs hold of my hands. I stare at them in shock. The image of Kal being stabbed keeps replaying over and over in my mind. Tears fall down my cheeks and Alexander brushes them away.
"Tears should not be shed for a man doing his duty. Tears show weakness. You are not weak, are you darling?" mothers cold voice penetrates into me.
"Men died tonight, Mother. Men died for me." I snap back at her with little grace.
"Lena, dear, control your anger. It does not become you." I feel my anger flare again
"Yes, Mother." adding ice to the title.
Her eyes narrow at me but she says nothing else. Alexander keeps trying to comfort me, rubbing my hands, shoulders, brushing away tears.
"Kal is strong. He will be fine." He whispers.
A small part of me hopes it will be true, but there was so much blood. The hours stretch on. Men report into Alexander as per Sir James' orders. They are searching the castle for the man who escaped off the roof, the one who dropped the stone on Kal. They are also searching for evidence of any other attack. Twelve people were killed in the panic to flee the battle, trampled underfoot. Two guards were found dead at their posts on the battlements. No word of Kal was reported. Mother drank until she fell asleep around midnight. At some point, I fell asleep against Alexander's shoulder. I stir when he tries to lower me to the couch because he is trying to stand.
"Where are you going?" I ask sleepily.
"They say there is news on Kal. I must speak to Sir James." He whispers, not wanting to wake mother.
"I am coming too."
"No, sleep. I will wake you as soon as I know something." He disappears before I can argue and my heavy eyelids drift shut before I can form another thought.
I wake to Alexander shaking my shoulder again. I try to speak but he holds a finger to his lips, nodding to Mother. I nod my silent agreement not to wake her. Alexander takes my hand and leads me out of the room. He does not stop there. Two guards fall in with us as we walk.
"Where are we going?" I whisper, not sure if I should speak.
"So Kal is alive?" I ask him, knowing hope was bubbling up.
"Kal is alive. Kal is... You need to see Kal." Alexander was holding something back.
"What are you not telling me?"
"You will have to see Kal first." at that we lapse into silence as Alexander leads the way.
The infirmary is made of smooth marble on the floor. Highly polished in order for easy clean ups. Beds line either wall, twenty on each side of the long room. The last bed in the far corner has the curtain drawn around it. It is the only occupied bed, meaning all the other men in the battle had died or were not injured at all. Kal was the only injured on our side. Sir James stood outside the curtain, barely visible in the faint moonlight. A candle behind the curtain lit the figure propped up in the bed. I walk towards the bed, my pace picking up in my eagerness to reach Kal.
"My lady, wait." Sir James steps in front of me and my irritation must be plain on my face.
"Sir Kal told you he had a secret, correct?" I furrow my brow and nod.
"I had no idea that Kal did. Nor could I have guessed it was something so substantial. Now the truth is out. The damage has been done. However, your brother and I thought you would prefer to learn of it from Kal. Allow Kal to tell you why, before we report to the Queen."
Panic fills me as I nod to Sir James' words. My chest constricts as I begin to walk closer to the closed curtain. Sir James and Alexander head back towards the door, still in sight but well out of hearing for whatever Kal and I say to each other. I see him sit up taller at the sound of my footsteps, the folds in the curtain distorting the shadow. With a deep breath, I draw it back.
The first thing I notice is his bright eyes, shining in the candlelight. His hair is like a wild mane, no one bother to touch it after the fight. His cheeks are flushed. Good, he did not lose too much blood then.
"Kal." I breathe out in relief.
"Hello, Lena." Kal's voice quivers.
It is such a foreign sound that I look back to his eyes. They are not bright, they are wet with tears. Tears that trace paths down his cheeks through dirt and blood. He looks down at his hands, breaking our eye contact. My eyes follow his but I draw up short. Something is not quite right. Bandages wrap around Kal's torso, stopping the bleeding and holding the knife wound closed. A small swell on Kal's chest, however, is evident in his shirtless state. My mind takes a moment to process what I am seeing. Breasts. Kal has breasts. That means Kal is not a he. Kal meets my eyes again and he knows that I know now. Or she knows. My head begins to spin.
"Yes, Lena. This is my secret. This is why my life is the price for my deceit."
My legs feel weak so I sit in the chair next to the bed. My mouth still hangs open in shock, trying to form words, any words. My head was having trouble wrapping around this new revelation. Kal looked at me warily but I could not meet her eyes. I stare into the palms of my hands, working my jaw.
"Say it aloud," I say.
"Sorry?" Kal asks.
"I need you to say it so that I know it is true." Kal takes a deep breath, knowing what I need to hear.
"My name is Kara Zorel Ward. I am a woman who became a knight." The silence stretches between us.
"Why?" is all I can ask.
"Why what, my lady? Would you like to know my whole story?"
"Yes." I look up into her eyes, they were so bright with sadness that I almost lost what little resolve I had to not stand and leave.
"My brother died when we were children, just like I told you my sister did. Then when the decree went out that all girl children were to be taken, my mother and father took me away. We moved and I became Kal, my brother. My parents thought it as the only way to keep me safe. Then when the second decree went out, drafting an able-bodied man from each family, I was taken away anyway. My only survival lay in keeping up the charade I had been living most my life." Kal's story is interrupted by his own empty laugh.
"I guess I was too good at pretending. Too good at being the hero. I almost believed myself so many times. And then there was you. Never had I wanted to be what I had pretended to be then when you kissed me." My head snaps up at that to meet her eyes again.
I had kissed Kal...Kara. I thought I had fallen in love with Kal. Now Kal was Kara and I was not so sure. Kara chews on her lower lip and looks at me. I know her story is done but a pit settles in my stomach. Kara had this life because of my family. Because of me. Kara is still looking at me. waiting for any sort of response.
"I know that this is the end of my life. I have done more than most and I have tried to do good. I knew I would die young. I knew I would die alone. What I did not know was that I would fall in love with the future Queen of Krypton." I intake a sharp breath,
"Lena. No. I am done with hiding. I know it is unfair to you but I need to say it. I love you, Lena Luthor. Maybe one day you will find it in your heart to forgive me for lying to you. I expect nothing from you, only that you remember at least the good I tried to do. Try to remember Kal the knight. My brother deserves that." Kal stares at me a long moment.
"Goodnight, Lena Luthor." Kara reaches over and picks up the candle and hands it to me.
She rolls her back to me and settles in to sleep. I take the candle and leave without a word. My footsteps echo in the silence of the large room. Alexander and Sir James still wait for me. Sadness creases both of their faces. When I get to them they both watch me carefully, waiting for my response.
"What happens now?" My voice is calm. My face feels expressionless. My heart is screaming.
"That is up to Mother, I suppose. If Kal lives or dies, the choice is hers." Alexander says quietly, his voice is tired.
I nod an leave, guards falling in behind me outside the infirmary doors. Alexander and Sir James let me leave. I go to my room and not back to the royal sitting room. When I get there guards are stationed outside of it. In my room, I shed my dress and crawl into bed next to Jess' sleeping form. I wrap my arms around her. Her hair soaks up the tears that finally escape my eyes.
Lena's footsteps fade as she leaves my bedside. My mind latched on to every detail of her face. it broke my heart. With every word her face went from shock to disbelief, to flashes of sadness, then I saw her retreat into herself. The expressionless mask that she saved for the public was put into place, blocking me out. Resolve filled her eyes as she distances herself from me, first emotionally, then physically.
I cried again after she was gone. Every fiber of me hurt. I knew I should run. Escape. But I was so tired. Tired of hiding, tired of fighting, tired of being who I was. The only escape I allowed myself was sleep.
I wake again in the Infirmary. This time I am greeted by the grim face of Sir James and several guards. They move me down to the prisoner cells, deep in the bowls of the castle. The stench of the place penetrates my nose, even with the cells near empty. Apparently cleaning them in between prisoners was not a priority to the crown. I am shoved into a cell, a tunic that is more like a sack for vegetables is tossed on the floor behind me before the cell door is locked. I lay on the straw in the corner, thankfully that at least is fresh, and fall back asleep.
I ran as quickly as I could to the royal quarters. I knocked briskly on the door to the sitting room. My eyes were straining. I had spent hours searching scrolls and books. The only things I could find were slight miss-wordings and ambiguous meanings. The door opens and I bow after catching a glimpse of the Prince's face.
"Rise, Mister Schott." He says in a tired voice.
"May I speak to you, my Prince?" Prince Alexander steps aside and allows me entrance to the sitting room.
Queen-in-waiting Lena was seated on a couch. I bow to her also. She nods in my direction.
"Please sit, Mister Schott. What seems to be the cause of your haste?" Queen-in-waiting Lena's voice is proper but strained.
I hesitate and glance at both of them. Doing this will be admitting to being knowledgeable about Kal's deception. Both the royals watch me and the weight of their combined gaze makes me swallow and take a seat. I clutch the scrolls and ledgers to my chest.
"Th...thank you for s...seeing me." The Prince nods.
"Umm... you see... I have been..."
"Winslow, please. We have to meet with the Queen so please say what you need to say." The Prince says levelly.
"I know Kal is not Kal. But please, I beg you. Kal is my only friend. Do not let her die." Queen-in-waiting Lena turns from my gaze but Prince Alexander holds it.
"It is out of our hands. Kal may have saved us but he has committed many crimes against the crown."
"But that's the thing, maybe she has not." They both look at me with questions plain on their faces.
I scramble with the documents in my hands, trying to find the right places. Both of their eyes are intent on me. My movements are awkward and stressed. I point to various places as I start to speak.
"I have found nowhere in our laws, in our history, that a knight must be male. Not even is there a law that the soldiers must be male, it was all just assumed. So most of Kal's assumed crimes were just that, assumed. Yes, she is guilty of lying to the crown, but all she has done is protect the both of you."
Both of the royals lean forward to examine the places I had indicated. Both were enraptured by my words and the ones that are written. Each exchanged pages as they read what I had brought. Weeks of work were compounded into hours as I had frantically searched for these documents. They were ancient, dating back to the beginning of Krypton's rise to its own country. Luckily those who came before me cared just as much for the books as I did so those documents were well taken care of.
"Please save my only friend. At least spare her life, even if it means I can never see her again." I stand to leave.
"We have to convince mother." I hear Queen-in-waiting Lena say before the door swings shut behind me.
Chapter 21: Kara- Trial
I pace the cell. My whole life was avoiding discovery. I should have run when I first got the order to come to court. I should have run after I came to in the ward. I could still see the men cascading down from the roof that they just caved in. I could see my men drawing swords and fighting towards me. Flashes keep racing through my mind. Boots on cobblestones strike there way down the dark hallway. A torch brings light to me, light I had not seen for two days since they stuck me down here. Grim faces of palace guards greet me. I step away from the door as they unlock it. One snaps shackles over my wrists to keep my arms pinned behind me.
"Come on." The one with the torch says as he leads the way. The one behind me keeps a strong grip on my upper arm.
The journey back up through the castle seemingly takes forever. Servants stare and whisper. I hear a great crowd gathered in the hall before we even enter. Silence falls just before the doors open. A wide path is cleared when the doors swing open. All three thrones are occupied at the far end. All three faces showing a range of emotion. The Advisers all sit below the royal family. My trial is about to begin. The soldier behind me forces me to my knees. With my arms restrained I almost fall on my face. I am tempted to keep my head bowed but I decide that I have nothing to be ashamed of. I was forced into this life but the very people passing judgment on it.
"Sir Kal El Ward, if that is your true name, you have been accused of high treason for crimes against the crown. Lying, sabotage, attempted assassinations, and attempt at corrupting the Queen-in-waiting. How do you plead against these accusations?" The queen's voice easily carries over the quiet crowd.
I look at Lena, she was still beautiful. Tears flowed down her cheeks and she would not meet my eyes. I look back to the queen. Resolve hardens in my chest.
"I am not guilty of sabotage, assassination, or anything else that would betray the crown. I chose long ago to fight for this country and do not regret that decision. I am guilty of only being a woman, forced into a life I never wanted due to Your Majesty's Royal Decrees. I am guilty of falling in love with the Queen-in-waiting but I never laid a finger on her. I will accept whatever punishment you choose but I choose to no longer lie so I will not accept all the charges against me." I force my voice steady and clear, everyone can hear it. They can hear that I no longer try to drop the tenor of it. The rest of my life will be short anyway, I might as well hear my own voice.
"Still those crimes you have been accused of are a death penalty." The queen's voice is sharp and knifes through me. They have no proof of any betrayal so only those I claim will kill me.
"If that is your wish, my queen."
"Wait, mother. This man... sorry, women saved my life. She saved Queen-in-waiting Lena's life also, multiple times. I do not know how the assassins managed to get inside the castle, but each time, Kal was throwing herself in harm's way. She never asked to rise through the ranks, I did that. Please show mercy." Prince Alexander begs of his mother. I almost want to hug him for his intervention. Lena remains silent, avoiding my eyes.
The Queen sits in deliberation, the advisers whisper among themselves. some moving up and down the table to share the whispered words. Whispers that could mean my life or death. Finally, Lady Catherine stands and ascends the dais to whisper in the Queen's ear. The Queen nods and dismisses her with a wave.
"My son and advisers seem to be of the same opinion. You are still a War Hero and you have saved Lena's life on more than one occasion. In return, I will give you your life, but a punishment must be made. Twenty- five lashes tonight. Then You will have three days to recover and leave. You are henceforth banished from the lands of Krypton." Gasps are mingled with mummers all around the throne room. I finally bow my head.
"As you wish, My Queen."
"Guards, take her to the courtyard." The two men by me roughly grab my arms and pull me to my feet. I half walk, half dragged out of the hall. The platform in the courtyard is already erected. They are swapping out a noose for a lashing pole. One of my hands is unshackled to be redone in front of me. The heavy iron links between the two are stretched up above my head to be placed on a hook. It is so high that only my toes touch the ground, allowing my back to stretch to be completely exposed. Someone cuts away the thin shift leaving my front just as bare.
The crowd is reforming outside. I look up and can see the royal family on one of the balconies overlooking the entire ordeal. A man silently holds up a piece of thick leather to my mouth. I open and then bite down on it. This is going to hurt by I resolve to not pass out from the pain that is coming. If I did, they would just wait for me to regain conciseness before resuming. A practice snap of the whip almost makes me flinch.
"Begin." The queen intones.
The first lash feels like fire against my skin. I bite down hard on the leather. The second was just as bad as the first. By the fifth, I grunt with each one. By the tenth, tears stream freely down my face. When I look to find the only comfort I have in this world, she is gone. Lena left me to my punishment. How could I blame her, how could she love a woman who deceived her with every breath? Numbness sinks in then. The numbness of loneliness that does not allow you to feel anything else. Suddenly my arms are released from above my head and someone catches me before I fall to the ground. They lift me over their shoulders and carry me. Not to the cell like I thought, but up. Up to my own room and to my own bed. As soon as my head hits the pillow my body gives out.
When I come to it is still light. I lie on my stomach and something feels like it is pressing into my back. I try to sit up but a hand rests on my shoulder.
"Not yet Kara. We have to make sure the wounds close."
"Winn?" I ask.
"Yes, John is here too. He has already packed for you. Rest now." I fall back to sleep, and actual sleep this time.
The next time I open my eyes it is dark. Winn lies on the floor below me, John is asleep leaning against the wall. I feel tears form in my eyes again. I have to leave the only friends I ever had. I had to leave them and travel to enemy lands to live out the rest of my life, however short that may be. I sit up, my back screaming in pain, and move to the wardrobe. A pack is already there in front of it, John had actually got it ready. I dig deep into the back for my old tunics, the ones from before I came here. After I dress I also silently strap on my old dented armor, leaving the Luthor armor behind. Once or twice, both of the men stir but neither wake. With one last glance, I silently leave the room. Conner and Andrew are stationed right outside Lena's chambers, both avert their eyes when I glance over at them. The walk through the castle is long. but I head to the stables to get Comet. Two stable hands doze in a corner. When I enter they jump to their feet.
"I have come for my horse," I say when they look at me questioningly.
"You ain't gotta horse." says a gruff voice from a figure walking up from the back. A large man, almost as animal as the beasts he tames.
"The White War Horse. He's mine." I say
"Not no more. Queen's orders. That horse is now apart of the royal breeding stock. He will make some fine steeds." Anger flood through me, of course, she would not make my banishment easy. Of course, she would take away my last remaining friend.
"Can I at least say goodbye?" The man looks at me harshly, then softens.
"All right, I know the bond between horse and rider, but make it quick. I ain't gettin' in trouble for no wannabe knight." The man leads me to Comet's stall. He neighs as I approach. The stable master leaves us.
"Hey boy, be good okay? This will be better for you. Lots of hay and a warm stable. Plus looks like you will be getting all the horsey tail you desire." I laugh through the tears that started to fall and bury my face in his mane. We stand there for a bit before I force myself to tear away. I know Comet senses my sadness and he tries to get close to me again, stopped by the stall door.
"No, you stay here. I need to go and you cannot come." Comet makes a sound that might have been a whine.
I turn my back. I hear him paw at the door, trying to get to me. I can hear his cries even outside the stable and it breaks my heart. Thank goodness it is dark because tears fall freely down my face. I walk to the main gate and the guard on duty lets me through with no questions. Everyone knows of my banishment at this point. The streets are quite as I walk. At the last gate, I have to wait until morning so I sit with my back against the outer wall. I chew on some more of the pain revealing leaves, my supply is dwindling quickly. I riffle through the pack to pass my time. John packed a change of clothes, a bedroll, flint, steel, a waterskin, some dried meats, hard rolls, dried vegetables, my healing herbs and a map of the kingdom with marked roads. I keep digging and find a small box. My soaps. I smile at that. John knew how much I loved these. In the box was something else, A pouch filled with coins, it was more than what I had from my pay. John must have added most of his as well. Winn may have helped also, knowing him.
At daybreak, the gate is raised and I leave Kandor, leave my only family behind, heading south to enemy lands.
Chapter 22: Lena- Gone
I woke up on the last day Kara was allowed to be in the city. I do not know why I felt the need to see her leave but I had Jessica dress me anyway. I went down to the courtyard and waited. No one showed up. Then I saw Sir James walking across the yard, he spotted me also. He was sad, I could tell. He could not mourn the loss of a friend who had lied and was banished. Even if Sir James forgave his friend, the world, and Kara, would never know.
"She is gone, your Majesty." He says without allowing me to ask.
"When?" I ask, disappointment inexplicably rising in my chest.
"Early yesterday morning, long before the sun even rose."
"But Comet is still here. I saw him in the stables just last night." I try to protest, James shakes his head.
"Orders of the Queen. Comet is the crown's property. Kal left on foot with only what he could carry."
I try to swallow past the lump in my throat. I leave Sir James without a further word and go back to my room. Jessica follows just as silent. I cannot quite figure out my emotions. I used to be so sure of how I felt, nothing for the most part. Now ever since Kara walked into my life I was so unsure about everything. I was sad that she left secretly in the night, not being able to see her one last time. A part of me foolishly thought that seeing her leave would make my emotions clearer. I was angry at Mother for sending her away, banishing her to enemy lands. If they were enemy lands, a voice whispers in the back of my mind.
Alexander and I hurried to mothers study with the papers left by Mister Winslow. They held the only chance of sparing Kara's life. I do not know why I wanted to save the girl who lied to me but the fact that Lex wanted to save her too was all I needed not to question it. We found mother sitting calmly in her study, staring out the window to were the gallows were being erected for the already decided trial.
"Mother," Lex says with such authority that it actually makes her turn.
"Yes, my dear children? You look out of sorts. I know this has been harrowing but it will all be over soon." poison seems to seep off her words.
"We cannot kill Kal," I say.
"We can and we will." Mother turns her icy glare on me.
"No Mother, she has done nothing besides lie to the crown." Alexander retorts back.
"Nothing? She claimed to be a man and infiltrated my army. Who knows what else she could be hiding."
"Mother, without any proof of anything else, we cannot hang Kal. Nowhere in the laws of the land does it say a knight must be a man, or a soldier must be a man." Alexander says levelly
"That matters not. No one but the scribes and us would know that."
"Mother, this is a human life! Not some dog that must be put down! Kal has done nothing but serve the crown!" I practically yell at her calmness.
"But has he?"
"What?" Alexander and I say at the same time.
"I have suspicions that Kal is not as loyal as he seems."
"What are you saying, Mother?" Now I was just as confused as I was angry.
"I have spies in Cadmium that whisper of someone inside our castle who works to remove our family from the throne. I believe this person is Kal."
"Why would you believe that?" Alexander asks, disbelief plain in his voice.
"How convenient is it that he saves the day three times in the short time since arriving here?"
"You are the one who requested him by name!" Alexander explodes.
"Because you praised him so highly. Oh Rao, her, you praised her so highly!" Never did Lillian invoke the god's name in vain. This was actually heated, despite Mother's calm voice.
"So what? Kal was put into our armies as a child spy and climbed the ranks in hopes of one day being sent to court to save the Queen-in-waiting time and time again, nearly dying twice?"
"I do not know, but I am looking for proof. Most likely he was approached by another spy and recruited."
"So now we are at not just one, but two spies." Watching Alexander and mother argue was like watching to warriors clash. It was dangerous to be this close.
"Why not? I have a whole network in Cadmium." Mother shrugs nonchalantly.
"We still have no proof." Alexanders completes the circle of this roundabout argument.
"We are not saying not to punish her. Just do not hang her." I say, finally finding my tongue to bring some reason to this argument.
Mother sits back in the chair and stares out the window again. An uneasy quite falls on the three of us.
"Very well. Banishment then. But you will protest the hanging in front of everyone. That way the people can see my justice and mercy for themselves. They can see the crown is fair to all."
"Yes, Mother," Alexander says.
He scoops up the papers and leaves the room, me right behind him.
Doubt still plagued my mind, even though Mother had no such proof. When we get back to my room, Donovan stands guard outside. Jessica stops to chat with him and I continue inside. I sigh. Jessica was so in love that it was cute. For some reason, it also hurt. Damned emotions were so jumbled I could not separate ones I felt for myself for those I felt for others. Jessica enters with a dopey grin on her face and sighs a more happy sigh than my own.
"Do not scowl at me," she says, much to my confusion.
"I was not scowling." Trying to school my face into a neutral mask.
"You are always scowling Lena. Ever since the trial."
"Am not." is all I can retort.
"Yes, you are." I feel like a child again and want to throw a tantrum but I flop on the bed instead.
"It is not fair. I do not even know what I feel and she was gone before I could even hope to figure it out." Jessica flops down next to me.
"You know what you feel, because if you did not feel what you feel you would not be conflicted."
"Excuse me?" I ask, trying to follow what she is saying.
"You still love Kara. You love who Kara is, not that she is a she."
"A woman cannot love a woman Jessica, it is not done." Jessica laughs.
"What?" She is doubled over clutching her stomach.
"You! 'It is not done.'" she mocks me with a deep serious voice.
"Jessica, it is not done."
"Yes, it is. Actually, it is very much among the common folks. Yes, it is frowned upon among nobles and royalty because most want heirs to each inheritance without making a mess of it." I look at her.
"You are lying to me and I do not appreciate it, even if it is to comfort me."
"Lena, please. Even you and I have participated in such activities, platonically."
"But that was just..." I trail off, unable to protest.
"But I do not love you, not like that."
"But many do. Lena just admit that you love Kara Ward." I roll away from Jessica's knowing eyes.
"I cannot. Not yet."
Chapter 23: Kara- Boarder
My entire body hurt. The chain mail and plate chaffed against the still open wounds of my back and stomach. Three days of travel on foot wore at me. I decided to finally stop in a small town to stay in an Inn instead of on the side of the road. It is a small two-story building. The entrance leads to a low ceiling tavern that is filled with towns folks drinking after a hard day of labor. The room quiets a little at my entrance, no doubt very few strangers passed through such an out of the way town. I was taking an indirect route to the border just in case the queen decided to have me killed anyway.
I place a couple copper coins on the bar to get the attention of the portly man behind it. He is carefully cleaning it, no doubt having spent most his life in this place and proud of what he built. He eyes me as he wraps up his conversation with the man across from him before making his way to me at the end.
"What can I get for you son?" I almost roll my eyes, I guess I was not quite Kara yet. It was safer to be a man while alone so I do not correct him.
"A room and a hot meal. Just for the night."
"What brings you here? Most people don't travel so far from the Queen's road."
"You don't look like someone moving."
"I am starting over." The man gives me a knowing look.
"Ahh, some pretty lady broke your heart." A faint smile plays on my lips.
"You could say that." He looks confused at my wistful smile but it was almost a joke to me. The most beautiful woman I have ever seen broke my heart and all because I was born a woman instead of a man.
"Very well lad. Would you like to eat here or in your room?" I consider that. I wanted to drink too to ease the constant throb of my entire body.
"Here is fine. But can someone take my pack to my room? I have been traveling hard for days."
"Boy! Here!" He hollers.
"First door on the right."
A boy around the age of eight or nine scampers up from somewhere. I hand the boy the heavy pack that he staggers under. Before he scampers off I grab his arm and slip a coin into the boys pocket. I put my finger to my lips to quite him. No doubt the man would take it if he knew. The boy scampers up the stairs to the second floor. When I turn back to the bar I see a large mug of ale and a plate of steaming food. I carry it to a corner watch the room. I get a few stares but no one tries to talk to me, thankfully. When my first mug is empty I wave for a refill and tuck into the food. Roasted lamb, mashed potatoes, and a gravy that made my mouth water. The man obviously took great pride in everything he owned. I guess small towns meant that this was one of the only places to eat and drink.
The second ale goes down faster than the first and finally, the constant ache begins to fade. I wave for a third. A lyre player plays in the corner for coin, the notes just barely making it over the din of conversation. A couple serving girls expertly weave through the crowd. A third mug of ale appears in front of me with a smiling face. I almost bite my tongue off to keep from saying Lena's name. The girl has dark hair just like hers, but that is where the similarities end. Her eyes are dark, face a little more round and scared hands of a working girl.
"Hello," she says almost nervously.
"Good evening." I focus on her hair, it frames her face just like Lena's. It is just as long and shines in the faint candlelight.
"Where do you come from, stranger?" My drunken mind barks a laugh before I can stop it.
"Nowhere really. Its been a long time since I called somewhere home." I see interest spark in her eyes. She gets up from the bench across from me and sits in the small space next to me, forcing me to slide over a bit. She sits so close that only my plate mail separates our skin.
"Sounds lonely." Her eyes fixate on mine and in the near darkness of the room I can almost pretend they are Lena's.
"It wasn't for a brief time. Now I am alone again." The girl leans in closer. This was a mistake.
"Brief is better than nothing." Her breath hits my lips as she sighs out the words.
He lips meet mine sloppily, not with the elegance of Lena's. Still, I pretend. I pretend the hair I wrap in my fingers is hers. The hands pressed to my neck are hers. Somehow she pulls me from the bench and through the crowd. We go up the stairs and stop outside my room. The girl presses me against the wall and meets my lips again. Suddenly how this would play out explodes into my mind. I was not the mysterious man she thought I was. And this was not Lena. I pull away.
"I'm sorry. I can't"
"Whoever she is she still has your heart." I smile a small smile and trail my fingers down her cheek.
"She never thought to give it back, and I left before she could."
The girl places one more kiss on my lips before disappearing down the steps. I enter my room and wedge the only chair under the handle since it lacked a bolt. I strip naked and attempt to find a comfortable way to sleep, avoiding my back and stomach.
After a few hours of a deep sleep that only a bed can provide, I rise before the sun. Dressing again, I leave a gold coin on the bedside table. More than enough for the room and food, but my coins would be no good once I reached the border. Cadmium had different coins and neither country accepted that of the other. Border towns filled with black markets usually did, melting and forging new coins for whatever direction they needed them. I quietly leave through the empty tavern and walk through the town before the half-light of approaching dawn.
My feet find the path south. Each step carrying me further from Kandor, from Lena. Each day began to blur together. I avoided towns after my mistake in the tavern. Camping, hunting, walking, repeat. I thought of trying to buy a horse but my heart wouldn't let me. I hoped Comet was happy. Hopefully, he would forget about me soon.
It took twice as long to make it to the borderlands as it did to get to Kandor on the horse. Nearly a month had passed and I could feel the cold coming. Days were shortening and leaves on trees were turning colors. I was walking through one of the ramshackle towns built in the ruins of civilization. I carried a small doe over my shoulders, hoping to trade it for Cadmium coins. Dust from fires long since gone swirled at my feet and through the burnt out streets. I followed the pillar of smoke to a man who was selling meat. After much back and forth we settled on a small purse of coins, mostly copper, but some silver was thrown in. He also threw in some cured meat for my travels. As dusk began to fall I tucked my self into the corner of a shell of a hut, sword hilt gripped firmly in my hand. I fell into a shallow sleep, my ears ever listening to approaching sounds.
When the scuffling comes I jump to my feet, sword already out. But someone drops on me from above. I can only glimpse the multiple figures standing over me before something heavy hits my head, knocking me unconscious. When I come to, I have been gagged and bound, stripped to my underclothes and bounce in the back of a wagon. I try to sit up but a boot comes down on my chest. Out of the shadows of the dark covered wagon comes a crooked grin and a foul little man.
"Easy there, pretty lady. You were hard to track. Can't have you getting away again. No doubt the Banished Hero of Argo will get us some good coin." He laughs a greasy laugh.
Suddenly I roll over, the man falls to his face as his leg is taken out from under him. In a swift move, I bunch my legs to my chest then use all my effort to throw them to the ground and my torso upwards. Hoping on my bound legs to the back I can almost see the ground falling away behind the moving cart. A club hits my stomach and I fall to the side, I almost throw up against my gag.
"Not so fast." A large man looms over me, then kicks my stomach for good measure.
The two drag me back into the back of the wagon and bind my hands to my feet, completely hobbling my movements. The two watch me from the corners of their eyes as they settle in a safe distance from me, both now armed. I resign, too tired of fighting, and try to lose consciousness, thankfully my wounds had at least scabbed over. I knew we were headed south, the temperature already rising despite the night.
Chapter 24: Kara- The Pit
I woke up in the near darkness. My entire body was sore from bumping along the cart. My head throbbed from where the men knocked me out. My armor was no doubt already sold for gold. Sweat made the dust of the stone floor cling to my skin. Why was Cadmium so hot? I try to push up off the floor but my hands were still bound by the rough ropes behind my back. They must have rebound me and put me here while I was still unconscious. I think I was taking too many blows to the head. I roll over and sit up.
"Look, boys, there's a new lady in the pit." Comes a deep greasy voice.
"Careful, the last lady down here killed three of us." A smaller, weaselly voice.
I blink and my eyes begin to adjust to the half-light pouring in from above. It really was a pit, stone walls rose all the way up, at least ten times what a man could jump. Surprisingly it was clean for the most part. Four other men sat on the other side of the near-perfect circle. One stands and begins to walk towards me. He was a large man, scars covered his face and seemed to spread down his entire torso. At least what I could see through the tattered undershirt that he wore. Quickly I tuck my knees to my chest and roll backward, in the same motion, I bring my arms underneath me. I spring to my feet with my arms now in front of me. The man laughs.
"Oh, she's got some moves. Let's see how well she plays." The shock of she being used pierced into me and reminded me of everything I had lost.
The man pulls a knife from the waistband of the nearly ruined paints. It glints in the faint moonlight. I crouch slightly to be ready. Take down the biggest and the rest would fall in line, a lesson I had to learn early growing up among soldiers. He charged at me and I let him. The fight was quick, he went for my head and I ducked, ramming both my fists into his charging torso. It knocked the wind from him and he staggered backward. Unfortunately, he still held on to the knife. As his one arm pinwheeled to balance himself, I grabbed the wrist of his knife hand and twisted. The move was awkward with my hands still bound but it wrenched his shoulder and caused the scarred man to twist with it.
I jump and manage to wrap my legs around his neck, using his own arm to balance myself. With the extra weight, the man falls backward, my own back hits the ground hard but the knife is still in control. My tightening legs caught off his air. While he struggles to breathe I run the ropes binding my hands against the sharp blade. They part with little effort and I take the blade from him with even less. Once freed, I roll backward and spring to my feet. Before the man can stand I am back on his chest, knife pressed under his chin. I press just hard enough to see a small drop of blood run against the steel.
"Can we be done now. I have had a hard few days. Or would someone else like to try?" I direct the last part to the other men who had half risen. They seemed to think better and sit back down.
"Now where am I?" I question the man under me.
"The Pit." I roll my eyes.
"Obviously. But where is that?"
"The heart of Cadmium. Daxam, the capital city." My blood runs cold. I was deep in enemy territory.
"What is the purpose of the Pit?" I ask, still keeping the knife firmly to the man's throat.
"To contain the most dangerous fighters, well those who are not willingly participating."
"Fighters? For what?"
"The fighting pits. Damn, are you thick? Do you know nothing?"
"I am Kryptonian. We have no such thing as this." The man actually rolls his eyes with a knife to his throat.
"Well then know this, you fight to survive. They will come for us in the morning. Get ready for the rest of your hellish life. The last girl didn't come back after her first week. Can I have my knife back?"
"No, I think I'll keep it. After all, you were irresponsible enough to lose it."
The night is long. In the morning, food rains down on us. Partially rotten fruit, stale bread, and several water skins. Quickly I scoop up my own skin, an apple in good condition and a loaf. I brandish the knife to keep the others back. The men quarrel over what little is left before settling down. I tuck the knife in my boot and pull the pant leg over the hilt. Luckily my captors let me keep that much. The light shift rubs against the still healing scars on my back, the lashes had cut deep but at least I was able to keep my life. The pain brings Lena's face to my mind's eye, the hurt and betrayal written all over it. She may not have given the order, but she did not stop it. Still, my heart yearned to return to her side and protect her.
Before the sun is too high in the sky, shadows appear over the hole. I look up to find the opening ringed with archers, bows drawn taught. A rope ladder is lowered over the edge, the men line up at it and begin to climb one at a time. I get in line last, right behind the scared man.
"What is happening?" I ask him.
"The fighting pits are opening soon. We go or get used as a quiver." He nods to all the arrows knocked on bow strings.
"Whats your name?" I ask him, suddenly feeling a need to have someone know mine in case I don't make it back.
"Benjamin Krull." We step forward, clearly only allowed to climb when the person ahead reaches the top.
"Ka...Kara." I almost said Kal, but I won't be needing his name anymore.
"How did you get here?" I asked.
"I tried to assassinate the Prince when his armies burned my village, my wife and I were trapped inside, somehow I lived and she died."
"Oh, I am sorry. My parents died in much the same way, but no one knows whose side it was. We lived in a border village." Benjamin grunts.
"How did you get here?" He asks after a few minutes. I almost laugh.
"That is a longer story. Let's just say I lied to the crown, was lashed, banished, captured, then sold." He actually turns to me and raises what I would assume is an eyebrow but it was long since gone, replaced by scars.
"Damn. Well, you might just survive this then."
And I did. The fighting rings were loud as people jeered and hawked and cheered. Men and women alike placed bets on the winners of each fight. Most of the fighters were there willingly. They got a little bit of profit and food and beds to sleep in at the end of the day. Prisoners did not. From what I could tell, each ring was separate, linked only by underground tunnels where armed guards shuffled us through. Each fight left me bruised and battered. At some point, the wounds on my back reopened. Thankfully I was allowed to have that bandaged.
According to Benjamin, they did not want me to get an infection and die. Prisoners were their most profitable income in the fights. That's why every day while we fought they cleaned out the pit and made sure our wounds were taken care of, well the major ones that did not actually kill us. At the end of the day, we were herded back to the hole in the ground where they kept us. I collapsed and dug up the water skin a had buried this morning, finishing it after a long draft. I push my back against the cool stone of the walls and sleep on my side.
Sometime during the night, I hear soft footsteps that bring my mind to conciseness. A hand is placed by my side and another gently lifts my pant leg. I move like a snake, pulling the knife from my sleeve and jamming it into the hand next to me, pinning it to the ground. My other hand quickly covers the mouth of the man leaning over me to muffle his scream. It is still loud but hopefully won't draw the attention of the guards most likely standing above us.
"Did you think me so foolish not to keep the knife at the ready?" I ask Benjamin. He makes a sound that is neither a yes or a no. Slowly I pull the knife from his hand. Blood flows out of the hole as he cradles it to his chest.
"I have killed more men then I can count, all of them much larger than you. Do not test me again." Benjamin retreats to the other side of the hole, cursing the entire way.
The next morning brought the same routine, food rained down, several small scuffles from the men, then the ladder. I was the last to climb. When I get to the top, the archers had already departed. I stand alone in a walled off courtyard with an armed guard. Something glints in his eye and immediately I am on edge. my fight or flight instincts battle each other while I stand motionless.
"Now what I want to know is how such a pretty girl ended up in such a dirty, dirty place." The man saunters toward me. He is much bigger than I originally thought. My eyes are level with his plain chest plate and he is probably as wide as two of me. This was a man who got what he wanted by sheer force. He lifts a hand and draws a finger down my jawline, instinctively I turn away.
"I could help get you out of here, my beautiful girl. I just need a small favor." He steps even closer. I can feel his manhood pressed against my stomach, already hardening. I swallow.
"Actually I rather like it here. Free food and water, I put those men in their place, and I get to hear crowds calling my name."
"Oh, I can get you all the food you would like, a bed to sleep in, and I could be calling your name." He leans down and whispers in my ear. My flesh prickles at the implications. My hands reach up and grab the top edge of his mail, right at the neck.
"How about.." I trail off as he looks into my eyes.
Suddenly I jerk him forward as I bring my head towards him. The man's nose collides with the top of my head and then I push him staggering back. Blood rushes out of the now clearly broken nose.
"Bitch!" He yells and draws his sword. I draw my own dagger, not that it would be much help. He charges toward me with a wild swing.
Suddenly the man lays sprawled at my feet, I look up at the figure that was standing again, having just tripped the man in his mad charge. Whoever they are, they are shrouded in all black. They walk over and give the man a kick to the head, knocking the dazed man unconscious.
"Thank you... whoever you are," I say to the hooded figure.
"Come with me." says a distinctly feminine voice.
"Who are you?" I ask still unsure even though the women just saved me. She turns back and lowers the hood. Dark red hair is cut short, perfectly framing the sharp features.
"Alexandria Danvers. But you can call me Alex." She disappears in a shadowed doorway, forcing me to follow if I want more answers.
Chapter 25: Kara- Daughters Enabling Others
"But who are you?" I try to whisper.
The red-haired woman just holds up a hand to silence me. The whisper bounces off the walls of the tunnel. The doorway led down into the tunnels connecting the fighting pits. The woman pulls up her hood, obscuring her features. She grabbed my hand and pulled me along behind her. She must have known these tunnels well. Without hesitating she navigated through them, she only stopped to let patrols of men pass by, us hiding in the shadows of un-lit corridors. After what seems like an hour, we are at a dead end, and she begins scaling a wall, I am confused until I see the some of the bricks are slightly jutting out, each creating small handholds. At the top, she lifts a section of ceiling and crawls through.
"Well, come on then. Or stay and get thrown back into that hell hole." Her face reappears in the opening, shadowed by light beyond.
I take a deep breath and find the handholds with my fingers, my arms are weak from little rest and nutrition and they shake with it by the time I reach the top ten yards above me. Alex grabs my arm and hauls me up the last couple of feet. We are in a small cellar. Casks of different sizes are stored in the room. Alex closes the wooden hatch and moves a barrel to cover the top of it, by the grunt it seems heavy. She then heads for a narrow staircase leading to the floor above us. The stairs creak under us and Alex lift another hatch.
We spill out into a bustling kitchen. Women hurry to and from fires, one stood in the middle of the chaos wielding a wooden spoon like a staff. The large woman pauses her commands to nod at Alex and Alex nods back before leaving through the back door. We pass through a small yard then to an ally way. I lose track of where we go after that. The city sprawls in an irregular pattern that makes little sense, not like the symmetrical circles of Kandor. I stay silent through the entire trip, still trying to figure out what was going on.
"How well can you climb?" Alex suddenly asks before turning into another alleyway that is barely wider than my shoulders.
"Never had much cause to. Now I am probably at me weakest also." I eye her suspiciously.
"Well, hopefully, you are a fast learner then and hopefully your weakest is strong enough." With that, Alex turns to the wall and jumps straight up.
I watch in amazement as she hops back and forth between the two buildings, pulling herself up on window sills, and then disappearing over the top of the three-story building. My arms already ache at the thought of the effort it will take but again the mysterious woman leaves me no choice. I eye the wall, looking for the handholds that Alex had used. My assent is much less graceful, my hands are scrapped raw when I make the final leap to the roof. Blood causes me to slip and my heart seizes as I begin to fall back.
Alex appears in front of me and grasps my flailing arms. She pulls me over the ledge and I fall on top of her. I hear an audible release of air as my weight hits her stomach. She shoves me off with a laugh then stands.
"That was entertaining." I glare at the women, still on my back.
"Why did we do that?" I keep my voice neutral out of habit.
"That is because I need to get back to the base and if you, Kara Ward, want to know what is going on, you have to follow."
"How do you know my name?" I say with a little too much shock.
"Everyone has heard the rumors of the banished hero. Then when I saw you in the fighting pits I knew it was you."
"So why rescue me?"
"Patience Kryptonian. We will explain everything back at the base." Alex rolls her eyes at me.
"Rao." Is all she says before turning her back on me.
She starts to jog and then sprint, leaping to the next building. She does not stop to look back. I follow her at a much slower pace. Only when she is several buildings away does she pause. I try to hurry to her but also I am distracted by the city. On my right it stretches past what I can see, disappearing over the horizon. Buildings are packed closely together, some rising higher than the others. On my left, I see several rows of buildings before they bump up against a sheer cliff face, blocking my line of sight. The landscape is so foreign and unfamiliar I feel like I am dreaming. Alex watches me as I catch up to her. Then she begins to make her way toward the cliff face. Again I am left behind and try to catch up. Sweat pours from me and drenches the rags I wear as clothes.
"Good job rookie. Your first test is over." Alex says. She leans against the rough stone of the cliff, arms crossed.
"Rookie?" the word is foreign to my ears.
"It's what we call new recruits." Alex holds up a hand to forestall further questions.
"All your questions will be answered inside."
With that Alex reaches into a deep crevice in the rock. A small creek reaches my ears and a section of rock swings into the cliff. A dark tunnel only about as high as my hip is behind the secret door, invisible to the untrained eye. Alex disappears into it, mumbling about fixing the hinges. This whole following thing was getting old. The tunnel is short and leads into a rounded chamber carved into the cliff face. Alex waits for me, as soon as I appear she throws something at me and I catch it. The wad of clothes is black just like the ones Alex is wearing.
"Change." Command slips into her voice.
"Umm... Do you mind?" Alex shrugs and turns her back.
I pull the soft black tunic over my head, the pants are just as soft and I marvel at them. The only difference is that I do not have the cloak like Alex does. I clear my throat and Alex turns and smirks at me. Then without another word, she leads me down a narrow hallway to another round room lit by soft candlelight. My stinking rags left in a heap without a second thought. Pillows and soft carpets litter the stone floor and ornate tapestries hide the walls. Several women lounge and talk and laugh. They grow quite when I enter the room with Alex. One of them stands and walks over to us. I stand still as the shorter women circles me, scanning me.
"Well done Danvers, you actually found her."
"Don't get too excited, she doesn't know anything so she hasn't said yes, yet," Alex replies to the smaller women.
"Interesting, yet you still followed Alex all the way here." the shorter woman speaks to me.
"I had questions," I respond flatly.
"So you want answers." I nod.
"Okay kid. Let's start from the beginning. Well actually the beginning is kind of boring so how about the middle." The woman stands in front of me and I just stare back.
"Maggie. Just start somewhere." Alex says.
"Okay, okay. Listen, kid. We are a group of women who are trying to protect the people of Cadmium from the ruling class. The government is corrupt and its poison seeps through the very lifeblood of the city. We try to protect those who cannot protect themselves."
"Okay... but why just women?"
"Women are the lowest of the low in Cadmium, no matter what class they are born into. We are invisible. We can go places that men cannot. Besides, men are power hungry, sexually driven, idiots." Maggie grins and it almost breaks my facade of uninterest.
"So who are you?"
"Well, that has been up for debate for a while," Maggie says.
"But for now, since we are women who are trying to help others, we call ourselves the DEO. Daughters Enabling Others." Alex chimes in. Maggie rolls her eyes
"It's lame but it's all we have," Maggie says and I nod.
"So our question is, would you like to help us."
"What happens if I say no?" I ask, still not sure about this.
"We knock you out and drop you somewhere randomly in the city so you cannot find this place again." says a blonde girl from the cushions.
"You can have a night to think about it. We have food and a bed for you. Ask any questions that come to mind" Alex says.
"Okay, I will think about it."
Grins spread on each woman's face as I nod. Alex leads me into another room with a low table and more cushions around it. Food is spread on the table, steaming and smelling delicious. Everyone sits around the table, talking to each other excitedly. Alex sits me at one end, Maggie on her other side. There is more than enough food. As we eat I try to learn as much as I can about each person. Alex and Maggie are more like soldiers in the field along with Susan, who only went by her last name of Vasquez, Sara, the blonde, who was training Thea, a new recruit. Apparently, Thea's big brother tried to play hero one night and save a shopkeeper being robbed. Oliver ended up being shot with a crossbow bolt and died. This left the already orphaned girl alone. The DEO saved her from being kidnapped and sold to a pleasure house.
Felicity Smoak was basically a master forger and decoder. She did not fight but she provided almost any document needed. Caitlin Snow helped her some but she was mostly the healer. Lucy Lane was actually the daughter of some duke of a land I did not know but joined because her mother was killed for crimes she did not commit. Lucy did not spend much time here but came when Alex sent word of finding me. Apparently, not all members lived here, just the few that were homeless or had no other family. I learned that there were twenty members in all, including the chef who hides the comings and goings of the members in the tunnels the run below her eating establishment.
"So how do you actually make a difference in the larger picture then? I mean saving people from terrible fates one at a time is good, but that is not enough to change Cadmium." I ask Alex.
"We have longer missions also. Lucy has been whispering in many men's ears. Felicity is able to get us deeds to properties to give to honest people. But..." Alex hesitates.
"But what?" I ask flatly.
"There are some necessary... accidents that must happen."
"You're assassins," I state.
"Yeah kid, some of us are. Each one is carried out with great care and planning. Each only to someone who is so corrupt and evil that we cannot wait for them to be removed from power or die of natural causes." Maggie chimes in, not trying to honey coat anything. Alex gives her a small glare that is mixed with appreciation.
"We do not act alone. Each decision is made together, each plan to cause as little disturbance as possible. Only those who are willing to commit the act. Nothing will be forced upon you."
"I have taken many lives."
"Not like this, I assume. Killing from the shadows, in cold blood, that is hard to carry out and then to mentally and emotionally handle." Alex grows solemn, she has been one to perform such acts.
I see Maggie's hand slip into Alex's and it makes my heart hurt. I quickly look away and focus intently on my food. When my plate is clear I look up and find a smiling Alex laughing at something Vasquez had said.
"May I sleep. I have had very little in recent weeks." I ask Alex.
"Of course. Let me show you to one of the spare rooms." Alex kisses Maggie's temple before standing and leading me further into the tunnels.
The carved out space seems very organized. Most of the openings even have doors to close them off. According to Alex they painstakingly worked at night to create the first antechamber. Then as the organization grew they added on. Even the kitchen area channeled smoke to an opening behind the chimney of another house to disguise it. Several ventilation shafts throughout the area led to the top of the cliff or the sides by the outside of buildings to provide air. They even found small gold veins running through the rock that Felicity was able to turn into coins. They had enough bedrooms for each member, a library filled with books and scrolls that the group had collected during their five-year operation, a kitchen that was actually well equipped for cooking, and the sitting room I had been brought through earlier. Apparently, the entrance we came in is the main entrance but there are several other tunnels leading into the city. We stopped outside a door.
"This room is hardly ever used. The girl it belongs to spends most of her time as a servant in court so she cannot stay overnight." I nod, wanting to ask a question that was much more personal. I open my mouth then shut it. I feel a blush start to creep into my cheeks. Alex searches my face.
"Do you have any more questions?" Alex asks. I hesitate before shaking my head.
"You want to ask about Maggie and me." She states simply but I do not respond.
"About our relationship?" the word makes me bristle.
"Goodnight Alexandria. Thank you for saving me." I turn the handle of the door and disappear inside.
The room is sparse but clean. The sheets on the bed look fresh and clean clothes sit on the trunk at the foot of it. I look for a way to lock the door but there is nothing I can wedge under it or heavy enough to move in front of it. I give up, a headache pounding in my temples. If they wanted to kill me they would have already. In fact, they never would have saved me. I lie down and try to sort through the new information I had gained this night. I had nowhere else to go. This may be my only chance left to do something good. To save others. Before sleep takes me, I decide to join the DEO.
Chapter 26: Kara- Fight the Power
Each day was completely different but yet the same. The first week was strange. The women who lived in the secret cave were oddly close. I felt like an intruder even though they tried so hard to include me. Alex seemed to take me under her wing. We spared every morning. It was hard at first, hand to hand was not my strong suit but the DEO women were very against unnecessary violence. After that, she would take me through the city. Running from rooftop to rooftop. Scaling sides and appearing and disappearing into crowds. It was dangerous. Guards patrolled the streets and they were always on the lookout for us. Not many people knew of the small organization of women except knights and guard captains. Apparently, they still kept this information from the Royal family. Women were supposed to little more than something to be seen and not heard so a rebel group of them would be cause for many powerful men to lose their heads.
Sometimes we would save some poor women from an attacker or steal back a shopkeepers coin from tax collectors who would use fear to take too much. Some harrowing and close encounters got my blood pounding and I could almost see red at the edges of my vision while we knocked out soldiers and made our escapes high above the streets.
Broken bones and bruises became a norm for me rather quickly. Falling from rooftops helped me to quickly learn to keep my balance. Alex never lets up though. Even with my arm bound she uses that to her advantage and grips me and throws me to the ground. I cry out as the bones scrape together. Her grinning face appears over me and she offers a hand. How Alex can be so violent and kick my ass repeatedly while still somehow being guiding and caring completely baffles me. Maggie laughs from one of the overstuffed cushions at my pain.
"Okay, that's enough for today. We do not need you rebreaking your arm before it heals." Alex pulls me to my feet.
I nod and begin unwinding the bandages on my arm to reset the planks on either side. Alex and Maggie head off to find breakfast in the kitchen. Sara walks in then and sees me struggling to tie off the knot one-handed. Sara rests her hand on mine and quickly takes the ends from my hand. She stands way too close and my breath gets caught in my chest.
"Here, let me do it." She says in a breathy whisper.
I swallow hard. As soon as the knot is tied I drop my arm and try to take an inconspicuous step away. Sara's eyes narrow and her head cocks to the side. Then a knowing look crosses her face.
"Who broke your heart?" A smile teases the corners of her mouth and I know she genuinely is curious.
"Someone who could never love me. Not the real me." I manage past the lump in my throat.
"Ah, someone who fell for Kal, not Kara." I nod.
"Time heals a lot of wounds Kara. You have only been here a week. If you ever feel a need to... forget... come find me." Sara winks and walks away, leaving me speechless and uncomfortable.
That, however, was the only advance she made. As the weeks begin to slowly crawl past I begin to fade into the background of the group. As soon as most my training is done I bath in the hot underground pool the women had found and then hid in my room until dinner. After dinner, I return almost immediately to my room. Occasionally it is my turn to work on the back-breaking labor of constructing rooms. Everything is carefully planned out by Felicity and we usually work in pairs. The work is slow as to not wear anyone out. The stones are brought out of a gentle shoot that is loaded on a cart and then taken to a quarry just outside the city to be sold. The wife of the Quarry master makes sure that no one finds out where the extra material comes from. It is then sold cheaply to poor families to build homes with.
More and more often I find myself paired with Alex on those long working hours. She seems determined to make me talk to her, or befriend me. I am not sure. I am not really sure of anything anymore. I just keep trying to keep my head above the water as life whisks me down the river. I answer most of Alex's questions directly, not offering any extra information, not asking a question in return. Sometimes I see the frustration she must feel but she keeps pressing. Most of it is about my time in the army, some about my childhood. Every question feels like a small jab into me, about a life I led that was not my own.
"So why the name Kal?" She asks between swings of a pickax.
I falter at the sudden question. We had been working in silence for the at least half an hour. Also at how it manages to strick right to my heart. I swing a few more times with my own pickax. We were lengthening the hallway to begin the process of adding two more bedrooms. Alex remains quite, I can almost feel her silently willing me to answer without her asking again.
"It was my brother's name." I take a slightly wilder swing and the ax ricochets off the rock and slips from my hand, clattering to the floor. I still didn't have full strength back in my arm but the bones were healed and I didn't need the splint anymore.
"Was?" She stops to watch me pick up the fallen tool.
"He's dead." I swing at the wall again.
I feel Alex watching me before she returns silently to her work. After about another hour she stops me and works her way back to the marker that Felicity had set on the wall. Alex paces out the newly covered distance. She goes back and does it again. Then a third time. It amazed me how accurate these women were. Almost nothing was wasted, not even space.
"Okay. That's enough for us. Thea and Sara will be able to finish the hall tomorrow before we start on the rooms." I nod and grab the towel to wipe the sweat from my brow.
"Kara?" I look at Alex.
"I am sorry about your brother." I decided that I will share a little more with the woman who has been so open with me.
"It's okay. My parents are with him, in Rao's light." Alex's mouth hangs open briefly before she responds.
"I guess I should have guessed you were an orphan. Or else your family would have been banished with you, or killed." I just nod again, opening up again was too painful.
"My father was killed too, soldiers claimed he didn't pay enough taxes and then when he had no more they said his life would do. Just me and mom now. She leaves in a small village about half a day away."
"How did you end up here?" I surprise myself with a question.
"Literally ran out of town. If being a woman is bad, being a woman who loves other women is worse. Its easier to hide in the city but in small towns, there are no secrets. Maggie was passing through and we met in the small tavern, drinking led to more physical things, which led to me finding out women are much better than men. Mom was just happy I found someone who made me happy but after Maggie stayed for several weeks rumors began. Then someone found us behind the Tavern one night. We ran to my house to get food and clothes, kissed my mom goodbye, and left. That was the second time Maggie had to flee somewhere. Her parents banished her when she was just a child after she admitted to having feelings for her best friend. At least my mom still loves me. I sneak back in sometimes to see her."
The amount of personal details Alex shares with me is astounding. She must have seen a crack in my hard exterior, not fully back in place after Kandor, and she was pouring herself in to open me up. I rest a hand on her arm and squeeze it gently.
"I am sorry for that." Then I walk past her and head to my room to wash off some of the sweat and dirt.
Alex does not follow but I had a feeling if I looked back she would be grinning. This was the first time I had touched her outside of training and I doubt it went unnoticed. Physical contact was something I loved as a child, Kal and I had shared a bed in our tiny home until he died, but after that any touching was dangerous. I knew how messed up my upbringing was but I could not get passed everything ingrained into my thoughts. Touching Alex's arm though, that felt oddly familiar. Like how it would feel when mama would run her fingers through my hair, or the warmth Kal's back pressed against mine at night.
I shake it off and shut myself in my room. I wash up from the basin and dress in the light cotton clothes that we all have. The texture was still so different from the rougher men's army issued clothes I wore most my life or even the rich silks that Lady Cathrine had given me. I sit in the chair at the small writing desk and stare at the blank parchment surrounded by crumpled ones stained in ink. I had started so many letters to Lena. So many half-finished apologizes. So many fake assurances of my well being. I don't know why I felt compelled to write to her but I was on my last piece before I would have to find a way to get more. I pick up the quill in the ink pot before hovering of the page.
Queen-in-Waiting Lena Luthor ,
Honestly, I am not sure why I am even writing this. I doubt I have a way to get this to you, let alone why you would accept it. However, I feel compelled to and I believe that the only way to end that compulsion is to at least try. If any small part of you still cares for me in anyway I hope you read this letter. I do not require a response, no messenger could find me even if you did.
I am in Cadmium, I arrived five weeks ago. I am alive and adapting. I will not say well. I do not know if I will be well ever again. I have found people who accept me but I still fear that I am too empty to find love within me again to even begin to love these women as a family. I am too broken to be well.
I am sorry that I am so blunt but I have sworn to not lie to those I care about anymore. Despite everything, Lena Luthor , I love you. Even broken, I love you. I am not sorry for my actions though. I will never be sorry for my life choices. Choices that were thrust upon me with death on either side. If I had to do everything over again I would do it just the same way, if only to know you for the brief time that I did. See, still broken and I would do it again, break again.
I am surviving. I am even still serving you in my own twisted way. These women I am with, they wish to remove the royal Grand family from power. They wish Cadmium to be more like Krypton, where women are in power and are not treated like dogs at masters feet. The only thing that keeps me going is the small good we do to rescue the downtrodden from this oppressive rule. I hope one day, there will be peace in the world again. I fear I may not be able to see that day come but I can see it in my mind's eye. You, Lena Luthor , will be a Queen to change the world.
Kara Zorel Ward
With a shaking hand, I place the quill back in the ink pot. When the ink dries I carefully fold the paper and set the wax over the flame to melt. I hesitate, not sure if I should bother with a seal, not that I have anything to press into it. I take the wax off the flame and set the tin down. I walk away and leave the letter half open on the desk. In a huff, I flop onto the bed and stare at the low rock ceiling.
I had written down my looping thoughts and it actually helped to quite them. Now if only I could figure out a way to send it. I roll over and stare at the wall. Suddenly my stomach decides to protest. I had skipped dinner, not feeling like interacting with the others. After another growl and the start of a gnawing pain, I stand and work my way through the barely lit passages. The near constant darkness was an odd sensation at first, now it was just muscle memory to navigate the halls of my new home. A low fire burns in the kitchen hearth and I quickly find an apple to bite into.
Laughter breaks out from the next room. I follow the sound, curious by it. I hide in the darkness of the doorway and see nearly all the women who live here lounging on the cushions. Something seems different though. I then see the cups each woman hold or is setting near them. Several empty wine bottles are tipped over throughout the room. I stifle a laugh, I had not imagined them as a group of women who would drink in excess. My laugh still grabs the attention of Sara, who locks eyes with me.
"She emerges!" Sara exclaims, standing swiftly. Sara walks over to me and grabs my hand to pull me into the room. I try to protest, but her grip is like iron. Cheers chorus around the room.
"What brings our little shadow into the light?" Sara asks.
"Uhhhh.... food." I awkwardly hold up the half-eaten apple. That seems to be hilarious as many of the women doubled over in laughter, Caitlyn is even sprawled on the floor with it.
"Well, if you did not skip family meals you would not be so hungry." Thea slurs before taking another sip.
"I don't think this family meal would have filled my stomach in quite the way I would like," I say levelly, another round of laughter.
"We had food first, but dinner comes with wine. And wine goes great with more wine." Says Felicity, her head in Thea's lap as Thea plays with her hair. It seemed very sisterly, very much like family. It caused a longing in my heart that I was becoming all too used to.
"This elite group of women, who are trying to reshape society, are drunk." I try to clarify.
"Ah, its all part of the plan. Women are not supposed to get drunk in Cadmium. Fight the power!" Sara directs the last part to the women, who repeat it, fists pumping into the air.
"Fight the power," Sara says again as she hands me a cup.
I am caught up in the emotions of the room. The need to be actually apart of something is drawing me in. I look down at the dark red liquid and breath deeply. Then I bring the cup to my lips and drain it.
"Fight the power," I say. Cheers erupted from the room.
Suddenly my cup is full again, thanks to Sara, and I am downing a second cup. With the third, I cross my legs and settle on to the floor. Sara leaves the bottle next to me and tells me I have to catch up. I do very easily on an empty stomach. Soon I discover that a very thankful wine merchant had provided the women with many bottles after they saved him from thieves and would be killers. He said it was a small price for his life.
Alex and Maggie are the only ones missing from the group, heading to bed shortly after eating. The rest of the women are content to leave me be, silently watching and reacting to each new story. At some point the conversation turns serious, wine and late hours will do that. Each woman begins telling about people they had lost under the royal family. Every person is a tragedy. A reason for fighting.
"Kara, do you want to share anything?" Thea asks.
Felicity long ago fell asleep in her lap. Apparently, Felicity was supposed to marry Thea's brother but they both ended up here after his death. Even without marriage, they became sisters.
"I..." My tongue feels heavy with wine, but then my mouth is speaking before my brain can process.
I tell them about Kal, and my parents, and the decrees that forced me to be a man. I tell them of the army and leading men into battle. It began to feel like a weight had lifted off my chest. I stop short of telling them about Kandor though. I stop after recounting what actually happened when I saved the prince's life. Apparently, rumors had spread here also, even wilder than the ones in the north. The women hung on to every word. I felt bare to them, but not vulnerable.
"What happened to get you banished then?" asks Caitlyn. I bite my tongue, I am not that ready to share everything.
"Not tonight. But long story short it was pretending to be a man."
Caitlynn looks ready to push but I see Sara give her a pointed glare. Suddenly Felicity sits up and runs to the nearest container, an empty water pitcher, and empties her stomach into it.
"And that is the cue for bed," Sara says, she moves to help Thea carry a nearly un-conscience Felicity out of the room.
The rest of us file out behind them and disappear one by one into our own rooms. Before I collapse on my bed, I move the chamber pot next to it and blow out the candle, hoping I do not copy the smart blonde women who had to be carried to bed.
Cold water wakes me abruptly from my sleep. I sit up and find Alex standing over me. That is another shock, no one ever comes in my room. Alex always respected my space.
"Time for training," she says flatly, although I see a smile pull at the corners of her mouth.
I groan and flop back into my soaked bed. Alex laughs now and glances about my bare room. Nothing hangs on the walls and the floor is bare stone. Only a trunk at the foot of my bed and my writing desk decorate the room. Habits from the army to keep everything simple and unsentimental. Alex's eyes settle on the crumpled papers and the one neatly folded.
"Having trouble with your diary?" Alex asks.
"Letter," I say as I shake my head.
I clamp my mouth shut, not willing to say. I am afraid that Alex may read it as she hesitates before looking back at me. She must see something on my face so she stays where she is.
"Well if you want to tell me, I can have it delivered. But I do actually have to know who I have to get it to." I shake my head. Alex shrugs and walks back to the door.
"Training, two minutes, or else you will wish that you were doubled over that chamber pot like Felicity." I groan and stand to dress quickly, knowing Alex did not issue idle threats.
Despite me being on time, training was brutal. My headache raged and was worsened by each blow to my body. Then while sprinting across rooftops I thought my stomach would turn inside out. I think Alex took pity on me. At least after putting me through as much hell as she could.
We rested on the top of a high building, one that clung to the cliff face as it rose several stories above the street. Our legs dangled over the edge. Alex shifts and hands me something. A stick of greasy, wonderfully smelling, chunks of meat. It still steamed and made my mouth water.
"How... how did you get this?" I ask her.
"Well, most people trade different sorts of goods for coin," Alex says, very sarcastically. I roll my eyes.
"I mean when. We were together the whole time, when did you get these." I motion to the one she holds as well.
"I haven't taught you everything yet, stealth and misdirection. Don't worry, we will get there."
I take a bite of the meat and a sound escapes my throat that must have been a moan. The meat had to be beef, slow-cooked over a fire. The grease slid down my throat and immediately began to ease the queasiness in my stomach. My mouth watered as I took a second bite. Then a third. It was gone too fast and I dejectedly looked at the stick that used to spear the delicious food. I hear Alex laugh and turn to see her holding out her own half eaten food. I smile but it falters as I try to decline it. Alex insists and actually lets go of it, letting the beef start a long descent to the ground. I snatch it before it moves far though and then sink my teeth into the tender meat. Another laugh from Alex.
"So you do hold back at meals." I pause my chewing to look at her.
"You never eat as much as you need to. I noticed the way you quickly eat your first helping and never go back for seconds." I swallow.
"Why is that?"
"Because... I could probably eat everything by myself and still be hungry. I hate... I... I eat a lot."
"And I don't want you guys to have to worry about feeding me." Alex laughs.
"Kara, we can bring more food in. We just don't like the waste. If you need more food we can easily get more. As long as you promise to eat it." Alex raises an eyebrow at me.
"Yes, I can eat it." As if on queue, my stomach rumbles.
"Come on, let's go see Sheila. How many people should we say to increase our food order by?"
"Ah, three?" I guess.
"So like three big burly army guys right?" I bite my lip self consciously and nod.
Alex stands and offers me a hand up. Then it is off across the rooftops again, back to the Inn that we first popped out of when Alex rescued me. Sheila was the chef who owned and operated the Happy Hog Inn. She also managed our food deliveries and helped to hide our comings and goings. The tunnels that led to the fighting pits also led to many places all over the city, which the DEO had been mapping out as much as they could. Also, it helped with sneaking innocent people out of the pits, less dangerous ones that weren't trapped in the Pit like I was.
Sheila's eyes get real big as Alex makes the request, not expecting so large an increase in the regular order. I am too far away to hear the conversation but Alex gestures towards me and Shelia's booming laugh echoes across the bustling kitchen. A feel a blush creep into my cheeks because I know it's about me. A kitchen boy runs up to them with a sack that Alex swings over her back before rejoining me.
"What's in the bag?" I ask.
"Food for you, to hold you over until our delivery next week." Alex elbows me to get me moving.
We walk the few blocks back to the outside of the base and climb to the rooftops. Soon we slip inside to the soft glow of the lanterns that are a stark contrast to the late afternoon sunlight. Alex only pauses to give Maggie a kiss before heading to the kitchen. We set about making dinner, using some of the additional food to fill it out. My mouth was already watering with the smells.
At first, the women wouldn't even let me near the kitchen. I only knew how to cook over an open fire, and to cook bland. Soon Alex and Maggie began teaching me more and more. They still didn't leave me unsupervised but I had been learning more each time. The DEO had an assortment of spices, a stove, and an oven.
Maggie and Alex were soon laughing at nothing really as they cooked, both just enjoying each other's company. I watch them from the corner of my eye, a pain of longing mixing with something new. A happiness for them? It was an odd sensation. Alex must have seen me watching them because she gives me a strange look out of the corner of her eye. She leaves Maggie and comes to sit next to me. My stomach had been protesting so I decided to nibble on some cheese while I waited for dinner to finish.
"I still expect you to actually eat. I wonder if I am actually able to beat you in a fight or if you were just too weak from lack of food"
"Don't worry. I had to learn how to hunt so I could supplement army rations. I can eat whatever you set in front of me."
"Speaking of your time in the army, I hear that I missed the suddenly over sharing Kara last night." I blush.
"I...I don't open up easily."
"Really? I couldn't tell." Alex drawls out.
"Well, wine helps. Or beer. That's how my best friend found out."
"Kara Ward has a best friend?" Alex looks genuinely shocked.
"Yeah, Winn. He was my tutor at court. Actually, I think he and Felicity would be best friends. He does most the code-breaking and bookkeeping. He also knows a lot about a lot." Something had happened to me last night, I no longer felt the need to hide pieces of myself. Sharing was like opening up a floodgate. The water poured out slowly at first then rushed out all at once. Alex seemed to be hanging on my every word.
"And he knew who you were?"
"Oh yeah, it was actually kind of funny now, looking back. He thought I was a guy and tried to kiss me. I didn't even realize. Then I told him the truth and he was really embarrassed. He was looking for a way that I could be a woman and not get killed for it before everything went to shit." Alex laughed at the story of Winn then placed a tentative hand on mine at the end.
"Did anyone else know?"
"My former squire, John. He knew without me telling him. Now, if the Queen-in-Waiting kept her word, John should be the captain of her personal guard."
"So you were protecting her when you were banished?" I look away from Alex's intense eyes.
"Yes." It barely came out as a whisper.
"You fell in love with her." It was a statement, not a question. Alex had figured it out. I remain quiet.
"The letter is for her."
"Yes. I didn't say goodbye. Not to her, or Winn, or John. I thought it would be better if I just... disappeared."
"Well, I can get letters to any of them if you want me to."
That's when Maggie decided to ring the dinner chime, saving me from answering right away. The small tinkling echoed through the stone corridors, calling whoever was home to the kitchen. Small sounds of surprise came from most of them as they saw the extra food on the table.
"Are we expecting extra people?" Thea asks.
"No, it seems someone has been starving themselves so as not to be an inconvenience." Maggie nudges me as she sits down. For some reason she and Alex sat on opposite sides of me, no doubt to make sure I eat. My face heats with a blush and my eyes almost bore holes into the table to avoid the women's shocked expressions.
"That little thing? She can eat all this extra food?" Asks Sara.
"Yes," I say in a small voice that gains laughter from around the table.
"Oh, I cannot wait to see this," Sara says through her laughter.
I pace myself slowly through the meal. My stomach hadn't been really full since I left Kandor. As the others went for seconds I filled up my third plate. Then fourth. I was subject to a lot of teasing through the meal. It didn't bother me though. For the first time I felt at home, I felt like I belonged to this group of women. Maybe writing down all my feelings had begun the healing process. Maybe getting drunk did. Maybe both. Either way, all the food was consumed and I think I was closer to having real friends then I had since I was a child.
"Alex, how can we send the letter?" I ask, turning her attention from the others. Everyone was laughing, it amazed me that so many broken people could find joy in each other.
"I'll show you after dinner. We have to go to the top of the plateau." Alex squeezes my knee below the table, her only sign of knowing how hard it was for me to ask.
She leads me to a tunnel I had yet to explore. It dead ends at a vertical shaft with a wooden ladder leading up into the darkness. Alex climbs first. The shaft is narrow and feels never-ending. Finally, we emerge outside, on a flat barren plateau. Stars light up the sky above us, no longer blocked by the lanterns lights of the city. A small building wooden building is just a few feet away. Building is the wrong word though. It is an open structure with little more than a roof on it. Before I can ask, Alex makes a clicking sound with her tongue. Out of the shadows of the building stirs a dark form. I jump back as it flies towards us. A falcon lands on Alex's outstretched arm.
"Kara, meet Killer."
"You have a hawk. Named Killer."
"Not just a hawk, Killer is a beautiful, carefully bred, hunter. She can find anyone or anything. Isn't that right Killer." Alex strokes the side of her head and she leans into it. Intelligence is clear in the bird's eyes and I have no doubt that this is much more than a hawk.
"So she can find the Queen-in-waiting?" I ask.
"Yeah, just tell her where, as specifically as possible. Killer will find her."
"Killer," The bird swivels to look directly at me.
"Queen-in-waiting Lena Luthor spends almost every afternoon in the private royal gardens. Usually alone. They are in the center of the castle in Kandor, open to the sky. She sits near a fountain in the northmost corner." The bird blinks.
"Was that enough?" I ask, feeling a little silly talking to an animal.
"Yes, now hand me the letter." I hand the rolled up parchment to Alex. She sticks it into a hard pouch on the birds back then adds another note to it before fastening the lid on it.
"This protects it from the weather without interfering in Killers flying. The note explains that Killer will wait two days for a response before returning to me." She explains.
"Killer, Deliver. Wait Two. Return." With a sharp cry, the bird beats its wings and launches into the night. We stand and watch her until she is long gone, over the horizon to the north."
Chapter 27: Lena- She's Alive
"My Lady, please. You must attend court or your mother will have my head." Jessica begs from the doorway to my study.
It has now been sixty-eight days since Kara left. Sixty-eight days since I realized she took my heart with her. Since then I had avoided Mother and Alexander until he returned to the war front. I also managed to avoid most public appearances, including court. Apparently, Mother had been threatening Jessica to get me there. I sigh and look at the woman who had been my only comfort and friend these past few weeks.
"Okay, Jess. But I want the council to handle everything. I am just there to be seen." Jessica smiles in relief.
"Yes My lady. I will let them know." She hurries from the room. I follow at a much more leisurely pace. John falls into place next to me.
"She wouldn't want this for you. She would want you to be happy. To rule your country." John says softly.
"Sir John, I have not been happy for most my life and I am not the Queen yet."
"I told you to not call me Sir. It's bad enough I only got the title because Kara was banished."
"You deserve the title after how you fought. Besides, the Captain of my personal guard should be appropriately titled." John made a grumbling sound in his chest as we had the same argument for the tenth time.
"Do you think she knew, when she asked me to make you my next captain, that she would be caught?" I ask him quietly. I avoided speaking Kara's name out loud, it hurt too much.
"It was her biggest fear in all the time I knew her. Then I saw that fear change. Her biggest fear became you dying. Yes, she knew that one day she would be caught, but that did not matter anymore, as long as you were safe."
The rest of our walk is quiet. The hall was cold and drafty when we reached it. Winter was definitely settling in. Soon the fires on either side of the throne will have to be lit for these occasions. I wrap my shawl tighter around my shoulders as the council files in. A stern look from Lady Catherine is all I need to know how much she disapproves of my actions. I force myself to remain unreadable. Lady Jessica stands on the opposite side of John behind me. The constant stream of commoners began and I sat silently through them all.
The hours seemed to stretch. After the last person of the day, I stood and left without so much as a second glance at my advisors. They had handled each case, I barely even heard what was said. They had been handling pleas for nearly three months now so I was not going to interrupt that.
"Jessica, send for soup and bread to be sent to the garden. And some mulled wine. I wish to read in peace. Also, tell my ladies I will not be joining them today." Not that that was much different. I had not spoken to most of them in almost as long as I had not been to court. Their constant gossiping tired me so I chose to take my leave of them. I am sure they felt slighted but I could not bring myself to care.
John walked with me to the gardens. Jessica caught up to us just outside, holding out my warm cloak and gloves along with my current book. She herself had already draped her own cloak over her shoulders. The pair of them had become almost constant shadows, trying to take Kara's place. They stopped at the first bench along the path and left me alone to make my way to my favorite corner alone. They were always within shouting distance.
The pond had long been drained in preparation for the freezing temperatures already biting at my nose and cheeks. I wrapped the cloak tighter around me before settling into the seat. The book was interesting, it was about the origins and architects of the Castle. It was speculated that many hidden passageways honeycombed the walls. Although none had been knowingly found. Many "secret" passageways were just so servants could move quickly from one end to the other without having to be seen.
A silent shadow blocking out the sun caused me to look up. I jumped as a flurry of wings swooped down and landed next to me on the bench. A hawk, or so I thought, sat there looking intently at me. Slowly it turned away, showing me the hard casing that was attached to it's back. Tentatively I reach out, very wary of the strange actions of the predator. When I unclip the clasp, the bird does not even flinch. A tightly rolled parchment is nestled in the small container. I pull it out and unroll it. The tightly disciplined handwriting makes a lump form in my throat. It was unmistakably Kara's handwriting after her strict tutelage under Lady Catherine. There were actually two pages rolled together so I started with the first.
Queen-in-Waiting Lena Luthor,
Honestly, I am not sure why I am even writing this. I doubt I have a way to get this to you, let alone why you would accept it. However, I feel compelled to and I believe that the only way to end that compulsion is to at least try. If any small part of you still cares for me in anyway I hope you read this letter. I do not require a response, no messenger could find me even if you did.
I am in Cadmium, I arrived five weeks ago. I am alive and adapting. I will not say well. I do not know if I will be well ever again. I have found people who accept me but I still fear that I am too empty to find love within me again to even begin to love these women as a family. I am too broken to be well.
I am sorry that I am so blunt but I have sworn to not lie to those I care about anymore. Despite everything, Lena Luthor, I love you. Even broken, I love you. I am not sorry for my actions though. I will never be sorry for my life choices. Choices that were thrust upon me with death on either side. If I had to do everything over again I would do it just the same way, if only to know you for the brief time that I did. See, still broken and I would do it again, break again.
I am surviving. I am even still serving you in my own twisted way. These women I am with, they wish to remove the royal Grand family from power. They wish Cadmium to be more like Krypton, where women are in power and are not treated like dogs at a masters feet. The only thing that keeps me going is the small good we do to rescue the downtrodden from this oppressive rule. I hope one day, there will be peace in the world again. I fear I may not be able to see that day come but I can see it in my mind's eye. You, Lena Luthor, will be a Queen to change the world.
Kara Zorel Ward
Tears had started to flow after the first paragraph. Kara thought I hated her. She thought I would never want to hear from her. My heart squeezes at that. Kara was broken and alone in a foreign country. She was still fighting to serve people because that was who she was. Kara fought to protect those around her. Then even though she thought I hated her, she still believed in me. I had to rub my eyes to clear them to read the next page.
A lot has changed in the two days since I wrote the first letter. I thought of burning it and starting again but writing the first letter helped me. It helps me accept what I could not change. It prompted a healing. I will still never be whole without you in my life. If one true love exists for people, you are it for me.
I believe though, I have finally found a family. I know I said I did not think I could but I never truly tried. Now I know that even if this life I live kills me, I have loved and I have found a family. I do not know if you feel the same as I, I never gave you a chance to say, but I hope you do find love and rule as well as I know you can. Lean on Lady Jessica, she loves you and will support you. If John is still with you then trust him to protect you. I did not lie. I see a bright future ahead of you.
Kara Zorel Ward
If it is not too much, tell John and Winn that I am sorry. I should have said goodbye but I could not bear to see the sadness in their eyes. Tell Winn that he will always be my best friend.
I actually laugh. Kara was... okay. I could not even form words in my own thoughts. How was I supposed to reply through a letter if I could not reply mentally? How was I supposed to respond? With a jerk, I looked at the bird, still patiently watching me, wondering why it did not fly away. Then it turned and seemed to indicate something else was in the case. I reached in and found a small slip of paper. The handwriting was different, not Kara's.
This is Killer. She will wait exactly two days from delivery before returning. After securing response in weatherproof casing simply say "Killer, Return."
PS If anything happens to my bird I will personally come to Kandor and ensure that the people Never have a true Queen sitting on the throne.
Putting the last threatening part aside in my mind, I look at the strange bird.
"So you will wait for a response." I felt ridiculous talking to the bird, but that was alleviated by the slight nod she gave me.
Standing, I quickly go to find John and Jessica. They stand when they see me approaching. Concern colors their faces at my short time before returning
"My Lady, is everything alright?" Jessica asks.
"Everything is... okay. For the first time, everything is okay."
"My Lady?" John asks.
"Kara, she wrote to me." I hold out the letters to the two of them.
"I do not understand." John says.
"She sent some sort of falcon or hawk, it found me in the garden. She is okay, she has found a place with a rebel group in Cadmium. John, she says she is sorry she left without a goodbye." A grin spreads across his face.
"She's alive." Relief is evident in his voice. Apparently, all his reassurances to me had only been for me to believe, not himself.
Suddenly, John scoops Lady Jessica up in a hug and I can audibly hear the breath leave her lungs.
"She's Alive!" He laughs a deep laugh.
"I have to hurry and respond before the delivery bird leaves." I call over my shoulder as I brush past them to head to my study.
Chapter 28: Kara- Winter Solstice
"Anything yet?" I ask as I walk into the kitchen.
Alex had been sending me on errands on my own this week. One of the longest weeks of my life. Waiting for Killer to return. Not only was I not sure if she would find Lena, but also I had no idea if Lena would read the letters or respond. Despite my anxiety, I was trying now. I was trying to be apart of the group that had adopted me into their ranks.
"Not yet Kara. Have patience. It's a long way to Kandor from here." Alex gives me a sympathetic smile.
"Okay. Hey, what do you guys do for Winter Solstice?"
"Winter Solstice? Nothing. Why?" Maggie asks back.
"Nothing! How do you do nothing? It's one of my favorite holidays. At least it was when I was a kid." I exclaim.
"How is the darkest day of the year one of your favorite holidays?" Alex asks.
"How is it not? All sorts of lights twinkling in the street, fires burning in every corner of every village. Everyone gathers and give thanks to Rao. We give gifts to share Rao's light. Families sing and eat together, all to fight off the darkness until Rao's light shines again."
"Wow, that sounds... like a fairy tale," Maggie says.
"Apparently it is in Cadmium," I say, downhearted by knowing that I may not be able to celebrate Winter Solstice again.
In the army, it was usually just a night off for the men with a lot of drinking. I hid in my tent and lit candles for my missing family. I had looked forward to seeing Kandor lit up so bright that night would turn today. I had heard stories of the celebrations every since I was a kid. Now I would never see it.
"I'll see you guys later. I umm... I'm going to go for a run." I leave the two puzzled women and head back outside to clear my head by jumping across the rooftops.
I watched from across the street as the woman discovered her bag of coins on the counter of her fruit stand. Almost as soon as the guardsmen had left I had swiped the purse from the commander, only earning a shove to the ground before the men moved past. It was almost dark and I had no desire to return home.
"You are getting good at this." Alex's voice comes from the alley behind me.
"I love watching how happy they get. The hope that sparks in their eyes." I nod to the woman who is near tears as she casts about, trying to figure out how her coin purse found its way back to her.
"Is that all you want to do? Make people happy?" I think about Alex's question and the meaning implied behind it.
"No. I want to make a difference." I see Alex nod out of the corner of my eye.
"Okay, well your time may be coming soon. But you won't be alone." Alex says solemnly.
I start walking and Alex follows. We wander through the streets as the night starts to come to life. People still bustle to and fro because it is still early, but the darkness has already descended. The air had become cooler as the weeks passed but Alex had told me she had never seen snow. The weather hardly changed here. A commotion up ahead caught our eyes so without a word we weave into the crowd. Soldiers with torches are hanging up posters and One of them addresses the crowd.
"Attention! If anyone has seen this woman, please report to the nearest Guard Post. She is a dangerous, banished Kryptonian. She is only known by the name of Kal Ward and anyone with information leading to her capture will be rewarded. Kal may be a danger to the crown and a danger to our society, so please do not confront her."
I stiffen at my brother's name and pull my hood higher up on my head. I look at the picture on the posters, now clear in the torchlight. I almost do not recognize the face that used to stare back at me as I cut my own hair. They must have found someone who could describe me from right when I came to Cadmium, probably from my short time in the fighting pits. I still look very much the man I had tried to be. My hair was short, expression neutral, and eyes fierce. I had to admit the likeness was good. Now, however, my hair was much longer and I knew my face had softened from actually being able to eat and the happiness I had found.
"Don't worry, it doesn't look like you anymore," Alex whispers to me.
"But why are they doing this now?"
"I think they are trying to find you to get to us. The commanders of the guard are frustrated. Constantly short on taxes, men missing their guard duties because we drug them, and the crueler ones... disappearing. If they find you then they may be able to get you to find us."
"Alex, I would never," I say firmly.
"I know, that is just my theory."
"Ward is not a Cadmium name. I thought if I ever needed it though it would be fine, I mean some villages near the borders could have it as a family name. Now though, with my face being plastered up under it, I will never be able to use it."
"So take mine."
"What?" I ask, not sure if I understood her right.
"Kara, you are my sister now. You may not have wanted this life but I know you are here for a reason. From the moment I saw you fight I knew you would do great things. I have watched you change so much in so little time. You may not have your real family anymore, but this family chooses you. I choose you to be my sister if you want it." Alex had placed her hands on my shoulders to make me look at her.
Her eyes burned into mine and I felt like something squeezed in my chest. My vision blurred for a moment before tears slid down my cheeks and I nodded. I was vaguely aware of the crowd dispersing all around us. I wrap Alex in a tight hug and she doesn't hesitate to put her arms around me.
"Thank you, Alex," I whisper into her shoulder.
"Come on, Kara Danvers, it's time to go home."
Alex came to my room the next morning to let me know we were not training. She had to go do something with Maggie that she shared very few details about. So I dressed in my street clothes and headed into one of the marketplaces. I had heard rumors of a merchant selling books, precious commodities that were very limited outside of royal and titled circles. I sought him out and was able to barter with him for a historical manuscript about the split between Cadmium and Krypton and also for a fictional story about a man who was selected by a magical sword to lead a country.
The trade took most of the allowances I had been saving up but I had missed books. The DEO had very few and the absence of them just made me long for Kandor and Lena's study even more. I took my new treasures to a public park and curled into a corner to read. The fictional book was amusing and easy before I knew it the story was over. I delved into the manuscript which was much more tedious and caused me to stumble over many of the words. I only stopped to get food from a nearby vendor. When darkness fell I packed everything into my small sack and made my way back home. Loud, excited voices greeted me before I made my way out of the tunnel.
"Surprise!" a chorus of voices shout as my eyes adjust to the brightness of the usually dark cave.
"What is going on?" I ask the women facing me.
"Well, you seemed upset yesterday, so we..."
"Excuse me?" Maggie interrupts Alex.
"Fine, so I thought that to cheer you up we could celebrate Winter Solstice with you."
I look around the room. Candles cover almost every surface. The small table from the kitchen has been moved and is heavily laden with food. Packages wrapped in colorful clothes sit in one corner. My mouth hangs open and I can't think of what to say. It is better than I thought I could ever have again. My jaw works as I search for words and concerned faces stare back at me. I burst into tears.
"Hey, hey, hey. What's wrong? Is something wrong? Did we do..." Alex rushes to me to grip my shoulders as I vigorously try to wipe away my tears.
"No! It's... It's... it's wonderful. I never thought... I can't... Thank you!" somehow that doesn't seem like enough.
Relieved laughter erupts from everyone. They all, in turn, hug me and for once it does not put me on edge. Soon we gather around the table but I stop them before everyone eats.
"Do we have an unused candle?" I ask Alex.
"Let me check the kitchen." She hurries away and I hear cupboards opening and closing.
"What are we doing?" asks Felicity.
"Before the meal, we always say a prayer. I know that none of you know it but it got me through a lot of very dark times." small nods from everyone present.
Alex returns with a candle and a long splinter of wood to light it with. I take it from her and carefully set it onto the center of the table. All their eyes focus on me. I close mine and take a deep breath, remembering the words that helped give me strength so many times. Words I could still hear my mother speaking as she lit a candle every Winter Solstice. I open my eyes and focus on lighting the candle myself as I speak the prayer.
"Rao binds us to those we love. He gives us strength when we have none. In the darkest place, He guides us. Rao, protect us so that we might protect others. And we shall rise, a fire in His hearth, burning and free." I let the silence sit comfortably among us after the last words for just a few moments.
"Okay, let us eat," I say with a big grin at the thought of food.
"Kara, that was beautiful," Thea says and I blush.
"I really like that. Its kind of like us, protecting others and rising free," adds Sara, Alex stands with her glass held up in front of her.
"We will rise, burning and free," she says with determination on her face. I stand and touch my glass to hers.
"Burning and free," I repeat. Almost at once, everyone else stands and does the same. Cups are banged together and then everyone drinks deeply.
After that, the meal continues with a lot of laughter and teasing. The food disappears quickly, mostly to me, but drinking continues long after it is all gone. Soon Kaitlyn and Felicity scoot the pile of what I can only assume are gifts, closer to the table.
"You just said something about giving presents so we weren't really sure what that meant. We got something for everyone."
"It's different with every family. This is perfect Alex, thank you. I couldn't have asked for a better present than this night."
Everyone opens the package with their name on it and find an array of different items. Sara and Thea have matching knives. Kaitlyn gets a new herb box that has intricate woodwork and her initials carved into it. Felicity a small pile of books, Maggie gave Alex what appeared to be some sort of bracer, but then I got too distracted by my own. Inside the small box was a tightly rolled scroll with a wax seal that I would know anywhere.
"She wrote back." I turn to Alex.
"Yes, it came today." I hold the paper in my fingers and stare.
"Open it, Kara." Alex urges.
With my thumbnail I pick at the wax, popping it off and letting the page uncurl. I almost cry again at the sight of Lenas tight, elegant handwriting perfectly spaced on the page. A sob threatens to escape my throat at the greeting.
My dearest Kara,
Oh, the joy I felt at seeing your words. At knowing you are alive. Guilt has wracked my soul at not being able to speak to you before you left. I am so sorry that fear froze me from saving you in that courtroom. How I wanted to run to you and let you hold me one last time. To my shame, it was Winn who saved you. He found ambiguous writing in the old laws of Krypton that never specified gender for Knights. It was my mother's cruel pride at being deceived that forced you away.
I swear once I am the queen you can return to me. How treasonous that thought would be if any but you read those words, but I do not care. I love you, Kara Zorel Ward. I want you by my side. For now, make the difference that you can. Protect those you can because you are a hero. You always have been. When you can return to me I will make sure that you will be a knight again, council be damned.
There is so much more I wish to say but I do not think a quill will be able to do it justice. For now, my love, stay safe, stay alive, and figure out who Kara is without Kal. I, for one, cannot wait to meet her.
Tears trail down my cheeks as I read the words over again. And again. I feel Alex's hand on my shoulder.
"She loves me," I whisper.
Chapter 29: Kara- Dresses
"Okay kid. I have taught you all I can. It's time for you to step up if you're still willing." Alex says at the end of dinner one night. All eyes turn to me. I set down my fork and steady my gaze on her.
"I am all in Alex. I will do whatever needs to be done." Alex nods at me and I see serious faces all around the table.
"Pack your bags then."
"Excuse me?" I ask, suddenly very confused.
"You and I, we are moving into the castle."
"The castle?" my voice goes higher without my permission.
"You and Alex are going to integrate yourselves into the castle staff to be in a position for us to start to make changes to power in the government," Maggie says.
"We have work papers and two accounts set up for you in the castle ledgers. As far as anyone is concerned, you and Alex are sisters looking for work after your farm was burned down near the borderlands and Lucy Lane brought you to court after finding you on the road. You two can create the rest of your story." Felicity hands us papers that are requesting jobs for us, signed and sealed by Lucy at the bottom.
After that, we quickly dispersed to our own corners of the base. I went to pack my few belongings and hesitate of my few books when someone knocks at my open door. Its Alex leaning against the frame.
"Don't bring them. Books are way too expensive for a servant farm girl. Also, we should probably be illiterate. Nobles are a lot less careful when they think servants can't read."
"Good point." I pick up the books and set them back on the desk.
"I just came to make sure you are okay, leaving and all."
"Me? I haven't lived anywhere permanently since I was thirteen. Are you okay leaving Maggie?" I ask.
"It will be hard. But Maggie and I both know it is part of the job. It's not the first time we have been away from each other for long periods of time." I nod and start to fold some of my clothes to go in the small pack,
"Ah actually, you won't need those either. Women must wear dresses in Cadmium, especially in Daxam, and doubly so in court."
"Alex, I haven't worn a dress since I was a child." Alex laughs at the look I know is on my face.
"Relax Kara. I'll be there to help. You said you took some etiquette courses in Krypton?"
"Yeah! As a man!" I exclaim.
"But you have a general idea of manners that are expected. Plus we are supposed to be farm girls so any lapses shouldn't be too suspect."
"But dresses Alex!" I complain, Alex just laughs again.
I nervously run my hands down the rough fabric of my skirt as we wait for the small man in front of us to examine the documents. He peers at them through the small spectacles on the end of his nose. Thin white hair blows in the small breeze that passes for Cadmium's winter.
"Lady Lucy has asked for jobs for the two of you?" He asks as if it wasn't on the paper in front of him.
"Yes, sir. We need jobs to send money back home to help pay for the farm." Alex repeats our vague story.
Our parents sent us to the city for work so that we could send money back to the farm to pay for repairs and so our parents could buy new land to plant on. The old land was burnt to the ground during a raid on the small town. Of course, the money we were 'sending away' would really just go into one of the DEO's many accounts around set up under aliases. Our time here depended on when the farm would be ready again but would probably take a year. It was vague enough that we could leave earlier or later without much suspicion.
The whole point of this was that we would be here and already apart of the staff so as not to draw attention to ourselves if we needed to act. Alex and I had been studying various poisons and other plants and herbs with a woman named Pamela Isley who ran an apothecary. Some we're healing. Some would just make someone very sick. And some we're deadly. Pamela showed us how to use various powders and liquids made out of the plants. It took three weeks of intensive study before she had found us ready. After that was when Alex told me we were moving to the castle.
"I see. Well, we always need more workers. We have a room for you two to share. You will report to Ms. Harriet Cooper, our head of household staff. She will find the best-fit jobs for you." The man says, rousing me from my thoughts.
"Thank you, sir," I say.
"Richard here is her nephew. He will lead you to her offices." The man gestures to a boy of maybe twelve. He is slightly lanky and awkward in his movements, obviously still adjusting to a growing body.
"Dick." He says.
"Excuse me?" Alex asks, choking back a laugh.
"Everyone calls me Dick, short for Richard. It was what my dad was called too. Richard 'Dick' Grayson." A large grin spreads across the boys face as he proudly explains his name.
"Okay. Lead the way, Dick." Alex says.
He takes us into the castle and into a cold stone hallway. We had gone in a side servants entrance when we arrived so I did not get a good look at the large building I would be living in. From what I did see it was bigger than Kandor. That hurt my head to think about. The structures still amazed me. We made our way through dimly lit plain corridors that were obviously just used for servants to pass through the castle unseen.
"So Dick? You don't have to answer but you said it was your dad's name. Did something happened to your parents?" Alex asks to break the silence.
"Yeah. They were killed by someone not satisfied with our show. We were traveling mummers. A Baron or something was drunk and said they broke some laws or something. I don't really know. I was still pretty little. Somehow I ended up here with my aunt. She says one day I'll be in charge just like her. But for now, I can run and play as soon as my chores are done. There are so many passageways here and so many things to do..." the boy begins to ramble on about what he does in the castle and I am able to tune him out, trying to memorize the passageways.
Soon we open a door into a hallway back in the main body of the castle. A red carpet runs the hallway, mirrored by portraits and artwork on the walls. Dick knocks on another plain door and a voice calls for us to enter. Inside is a squat woman, enjoying a morning tea while looking out the window. Her hair was a fiery red where it wasn't speckled with gray.
"Oh hello, dears. I am Ms. Harriet, but everyone calls me Aunt Harriet. You must be the new hires." aunt Harriet extends a hand and Alex steps forward to shake it.
"I am Alexandria Danvers and this is my sister Kara." Aunt Harriet moves to shake mine as well.
"Well, why don't we sit and figure out where you fit best into my household. Lady Lucy seems very fond of you."
We sit and begin to chat with the older woman. We retell our tale on how we ended up here and she makes sympathetic noises. I actually grow quite fond of her rather quickly. She seems to genuinely care about the people who work for her. In the end, she assigns Alex to be one of Lady Lucy's handmaids while she is at court and me as a scullery maid in the kitchen. Mostly I would just be washing dishes apparently but it would involve errands around the castle for Mr. Carr.
When we left Dick was still outside, tasked with showing us to our rooms and around the Castle for the rest of the day. He continued to ramble on and point out different doors and show us the passages that made up castle walls. The room me and Alex would be sharing was rather small. Only room for the two narrow beds and trunks at the foot of each. Dick left us alone, telling us he would be out in the courtyard for the rest of the day with the rest of the children if we needed him. Alex and I set about unpacking our meager belongings in relative quiet.
"How are you doing?" I laugh at Alex's question.
"You really have that concerned older sister thing down." She lets out a soft chuckle.
"Yeah, I always wanted a sister. My father died before my parents could give me one. What would my mom say if I came home and told her she had another daughter" that really gets Alex laughing.
"Well, she wouldn't be happy that I would eat her out of house and home."
"She might actually love it. Having another mouth to feed. She always wanted more kids but she couldn't make herself get married again after dad."
I sit on the bed and look at my hands.
"It has been great having a family again. Thank you, Alex. For saving me." Alex sits across from me at my suddenly serious voice.
"You're welcome. But as soon as I saw you, I knew you were family. So did everyone else." She grabs my hands and I look up at her soft smile.
"Now sister, how about we go try and make some new friends." I smile and nod as Alex pulls me back to my feet.
Chapter 30: Lena- Duty
My cheeks hurt from laughing at the joke Winn just finished telling. It amazed me at how Kara's friends just found me and integrated themselves into my life. Jess sat on the small couch next to me, Winn across from us in a chair, James sat in the chair next to him. John was even here, rifling through the books of the sitting room. Ever since Kara's trial, Winn had been insistent on making sure I was fine. Then Jess found out and insisted on inviting him for tea. James soon followed and John was almost always with me anyways. For the first time, I had real friends. Not those pretend Ladies-in-waiting that I knew reported back to my mother everything I said and did.
"I have to get going. Shift change is soon and I like to be there for that. It's the most dangerous time of day. " says James.
"I'll walk with you," says Winn, jumping up from his chair, a little too quickly.
James just smiles and nods as they leave. Jess bursts into laughter as soon as the door is shut behind her. I look at her a little startled. John even chuckles.
"That boy has it bad," John says in his deep voice. It had dropped remarkably quickly from the first time Lena had met him.
"Excuse me. Am I missing something?" I ask. Jess laughs even harder.
"My lady, you are hopeless. Winn likes James." I feel my mouth fall open at Jess' statement.
"No wonder you never figured out Kara was a woman, even after you kissed her. You, my lady, are blinded by social constructs of what love is."
I blush at her truthful statement. The whole same-gender relationships thing was not very common in the upper classes or spoken of much. But then there was Kara. I fell in love with her smile, and her drive to learn, and her protectiveness. It was amazing how she began to stutter whenever Lena stood too close but was so cool and calm in the practice yard whenever Lena had watched her from the window above it. Lena had begun to realize how obviously feminine Kara was but how well she hid it with peoples preconceived assumptions.
"You are doing it again."
"Hmm..." I respond as Jess pulls me out of my thoughts.
"You are thinking about her again even though no one even mentioned anything about her," Jess says.
"I don't know what you mean." I blush, knowing full well that Jess knows me better than anyone. John was sitting and reading a book, pretending not to listen.
"Lena, you are a hopeless, lady loving mess."
I open my mouth to retort when the door opens. The smile falls from my face as my mother enters. John and Jessica leap to their feet, only to bow deeply. I rise much more slowly and bow my head to the Queen.She stops just inside the doorway, her guards already positioned outside with two of my own. Lillian glares at John and Jessica.
"Leave us." She commands and they quickly move to exit the room, the door shuts behind them and the silence hangs heavy in the room.
"What is this about mother?" I finally ask, sitting back down on the couch, having enough of her piercing glare already.
We had hardly spoken since Lex had left, even that wasn't much since Kara's banishment. Well, we hadn't really spoken for most my life now that I think about it. She had, however, made known her disapproval of my new friends. Actually went out of her way to stop me in the garden, the one place she never goes, to lecture me on proper relationships for a future Queen to have.
"What? No tea? No pleasantries? Do you really despise my company so much that you wish to be rid of me so quickly?"
"Mother we have no more tea and you only speak to me when you need something." Lillian rolls her eyes and sits across from Lena.
"What I need is for you to fulfill your duty to the crown." Lena sighs.
"What does that even mean Mother? I am in charge of almost everything at this point. For my next birthday, the council is going to move for you to step down so that the blood-heir will finally sit on the throne. My coronation ceremony will be for my actual birthday. How could I not be fulfilling my duty to the crown?" Lillian's face grows serious.
"There is restlessness on the borders. We need you to go and bring hope to the villagers."
"You want to send the heir of the crown to the war front?" I ask, shocked at what I was hearing.
"Not alone. Lex is sending a whole battalion to meet you, also you won't be going all the way to the front, just some of the outlying villages. You will be taking supplies like food and water among other things. We cannot lose the support of the people." I fall silent as I way her words.
"This is not a request Lena. This is an order from your queen." I sigh and stand.
"When do I leave, Your Highness?"
"Tomorrow at dawn. The supplies are already being gathered. Your personal guard will accompany you as well as a small unit of the palace guard until you meet with the troops closer to your first destination."
"May Lady Jessica accompany me?" I ask, not willing to be without her for the first time in my life for one of my first times outside Kandor.
"I suppose. We don't need your maidenhood questioned being among that many men alone." I barely keep from rolling my eyes.
"Thank you, Your Highness. May I take my leave to prepare for the journey?" The queen nods and I calmly leave.
Once in the hallway, I silence Jess' questions with a glare and gracefully storm off to my room, John and Jessica in tow. I command John to wait outside and Jess follows me in. Angrily, I tell her of the conversation with my mother.
"She wants you, the heir and center of several assassination attempts, to leave the castle and go closer to the war front?" Jess sums up nicely.
"Yes!" I exclaim.
"That makes no sense."
"I know, but 'the queen commands it'" I mock.
"Okay. Let's get packed then." I try and smile at my best friend but utterly fail. Jessica begins moving about the room with a purpose.
The carriage bounces over the road, making the words on the page in front of me bounce with it. The third week of our journey was just as boring as the last two. Traveling with so many men and supplies slowed their pace much more than I would like. Jessica was stretched out on the padded seat with her head in my lap as I read aloud to her. Men's voices were a dull thrum all around us as they spoke and laughed with each other. The closest to the carriage was always my personal guard, John sits vigilant on top of the carriage with the driver. The trip had been very uneventful. Most of the day was spent in the carriage, stopping once only to eat at mid-day. By the time the carriage stopped for the night, my tent was already erected with a steaming dinner waiting for the only two women in the company. I was nearly always inside, not that it was much different than life at the castle since the assassination attempts.
Jess and I both dozed off before being roused by John after the sun had set. Once we had eaten, I began to pace, feeling restless after three days of confined spaces. Jess lounged on the large cot with a book but watched me instead.
"Lena, darling, please relax." I roll my eyes at my best friend.
"I can't. This whole thing is ridiculous. Plus I have too much energy after being trapped for three weeks." Jess sits up.
"I have an idea of how we can burn some energy," Jessica says in a sultry voice. I roll my eyes again.
"No Jess, you have Donovan. It wouldn't be right. Besides, I have... something... with Kara."
"Ugh, you are no fun." Jess flops backward, I continue my pacing.
"Jess, I love you. But I think everything is different now."
"I know you're right. But this is going to be a long boring trip."
"Hopefully," I say.
"I am reading one more chapter, then I am sleeping. At that point, The lamps are going off. You can continue to pace in the dark." Jessica reopens her discarded book. I grunt an acknowledgment as I try to calm my worried thoughts.
The first town we stop in is overwhelmed with refugees seeking new homes away from the ever-changing border. Wood is unloaded from the carts for more houses to be built. Grain is taken to the local mill to be given to those in need of it. I allow the men to take the crown coin to spend as they see fit in the two local taverns. I can see hope in the faces that this morning were drawn and weary. The soldiers buy meals and drinks for those they see. The whole atmosphere becomes very much like a festival as the sun sets. Midway through the day, the advance scouts from Lex's army arrived, meaning the rest of the battalion was only a few days behind. They would be meeting us in the next town.
Despite my protests to mother's plan, I was quite enjoying myself. Children ran through the torch-lit streets of the small village as Jessica and I laughed and ate with John and Donovan at a table outside one of the taverns. It was so odd being outside the castle, even more so being outside Kandor.
The rest of the townsfolk still gave us a wide berth, despite my reassurances to treat me like one of their own. Most of these people had never been close to even a duke, much less the future Queen. Though their joy was evident, their apprehension around royalty was clear. I didn't let it bother me. Instead, I indulged in my newly found friendships and enjoyed the simple meal placed before us by a more than grateful owner.
"And then she slapped the poor rookie on the ass with the flat of her blade. His face hit the ground so hard he broke his nose. Never again did some newbie call the Great Kal El short." Donavon finishes in a fit of laughter.
I have no idea how we got onto stories of Kara but the drinks were flowing freely and I didn't question it. I was glad that even after the trial, Kara's friends still stood by her. It showed so much to her underlying character.
"Walk me back to my room?" Jess asks Donovan.
Jess and I were sharing one of the nicest rooms in town, which was a nice change from the tents. Donovan nods with an ecstatic grin spreading across his flushed cheeks. Jess stands and takes his hand, leading him back inside and up the stairs.
"Yeah, I should probably turn in too," John says.
"No way. I need at least ten minutes before I go up there and you are not leaving me alone here." I say.
John laughs and settles back into the chair he began to rise out of. We start talking about the next day's plans until I deem it safe for him to escort back to the room. Thankfully the hallway outside the door is vacant and there aren't any noises coming from inside.
"I'll stay until your night guard gets here. Goodnight, my lady." I roll my eyes at John, he knows I hate when he uses titles like that and now he just does it in private to annoy me.
"Goodnight, sir." I emphasize as I kiss his cheek and enter the room. Jess sits reading on the bed reading as she waits for me.
"Took you long enough." She mumbles before flipping the page.
"I needed to be safe. Last time I followed right behind you and Donovan I had to burn the image out of my mind with scalding water." Jess chuckles and blushes before giving up and shutting her book. She stands and helps me remove my dress. Even the simple travel dresses I brought were still annoyingly intricate. I could do them myself but a helping hand was always welcome. Once dressed again and settled in the bed, Jess wrapped her arms around me and we both fell promptly to sleep.
I woke, from the warmth that came from body pressed against my back. I roll over to try and look out the window and see if its dawn yet. I relax when I see night still pressing against the thick window pane. Something feels off though. I can't place it. I move to shake Jess awake. A shock of blonde hair stills my hand. Gently I brush it away from the hair covering her face. I stare and feel my heart stop.
"Kara." I breathe out. This can't be real.
"Shhh... Lena. Just five more minutes." She grumbles out.
"Kara," I say again. Kara opens her eyes and they are even bluer than I remember.
"What is it Lena?" the crinkle appears on Kara's forehead had she looks at me puzzled.
I can't stop myself. Real or not, there is no way I am passing this up. My hand cups her cheek and her breath hitches. My thumb brushes Kara's bottom lip and the heat of the touch sears my skin. Suddenly it feels like all the air had been sucked out of the room. Kara surges up and her lips meet mine. It's better than I remember. Kara's tongue immediately seeks entry into my mouth and I gladly let it. Kara pushes me into the mattress and trails kisses to my jaw. She pauses to suck softly at the skin of my neck. A moan escapes my lips.
"Lena." Kara pulls away with a very serious voice, that isn't hers.
"Lena, wake up." Jess is shaking me awake.
"Damn it, Jess."
"Well, you can't be having dreams like that while sharing the bed with me. You were moaning in your sleep."
"It was a good dream." I blush at the thought, Jess laughs.
"I could tell. Now go back to sleep, I think we still have a few hours before dawn."
I roll over and try to resume the wonderful dream that Jess interrupted.
The next morning we leave just as the sun is tinting the night sky. Jess and I are in the carriage again, bouncing along as the road gets rougher this far from the palace. We settle into the stillness of days of travel. Jess has started on a new book and I study letters sent to me from the castle and the war front. Different troop movements and supply trains. One is supposed to meet us in three towns, a place called Smallville. I chuckle at the on-the-nose name. Time passes slowly, but it does. Just before sunset, we stop again for the night, surrounded by armed men as Jess and I sleep in a tent.
The night erupts in screams and the flickering orange of fires burning out of control lights the outside of the tent. Jess and I scramble to pull robes over our sleeping shifts and shoes onto our feet. John Bursts into the tent and grabs my arm, pulling me roughly behind him, leaving Jess to follow as closely as she can.
"What is happening!" I yell over the clash of metal on metal. Horses screamed into the night as men's yells rumbled through my bones.
"Attack. Cadmium soldiers way over the border. I am getting you as far away as possible." John yells back over his shoulder.
In mid-stride, John cuts down a screaming man in boiled leathers as he runs towards us. John is headed towards two of the only horses still tethered to posts, straining to escape the licking flames of the fire on nearby tents. Jessica and I quickly work at the knots while John guards our backs. The horse I was working on rears up, the rope snaps and goes limp in my hands. I watch as the horse's tail disappears into the black woods. A shout stirs me from my stunned thoughts. John has crumpled to the ground and six men surround us. Two have Jess by both arms.
"Now, now princess. You better come with us." The one standing over John sneers. I round my shoulders back and stand straight.
"That is Queen-in-waiting to you." Luthor pride rearing its head, despite the circumstances. A glint of steel appears at Jessica's throat.
"Doesn't matter to us. Now come quietly or your little friend here won't ever speak again."
I drop the broken rope still clutched in my hands and step towards the man. I couldn't risk Jessica's life. Her eyes go wide at seeing me comply but a hand over her mouth muffles any protests. John Moans on the ground. One of the men kicks him hard. I lunge for the man and a sharp pain cracks across the back of my head and I hear a muffled cry from Jessica before blackness covers my eyes.
They are drugging me. A small voice in my mind thinks as I struggle back to conscience again. Time had lost all meaning. I fought to get to the surface of my mind. I lost track of how many times I had tried. The only thing that marked the passage of time were the periods of rocking and bumping changing to a hard still surface. I thought I heard a familiar voice trying to call to me, coaxing a coolness into my mouth, but the darkness was too heavy.
Bright light pierces through my eyelids, escalating the throbbing in my temples and making me just as aware of the almost painful dryness in my throat. My mind is sluggish to wake. The first thing I notice after the bright light is the softness on my back then the warmth covering me. The air is warm also. Much warmer than it should be, even for the end of winter.
I struggle to open my eyes, opening one before squeezing it back shut. A moan escapes my parched throat as I try again to open my eyes. I blink past the light and sit up, which only increases the pain in my head again.
"Rao, my head...." I mumble.
"Yes, it will take awhile for the last of the drugs to wear off, especially with how long they were used on you."
I jolt at the cold voice sitting just across from me at a small table. I meet the equally cold dark eyes set into a stern face. A pale woman with curly dark hair sits regally in the simple wooden chair, placing her teacup back on the saucer. I know this woman. My mind races to place where I could have seen her before.
"Queen Rhea." I try for the most neutral voice I can manage.
"Princess Lena, or is it Queen-in-waiting? Your hierarchy has always escaped me. Passing a throne from father to son was always less complicated, as long as a strong Queen stands behind them both."
"I will never stand behind a man," I growl out.
"Oh, but my dear, you will. That is why you are here. My son requires a queen, and your mother wants her first born on the throne. Her only born on the throne."
My head snaps up at that. No one was to know. All the servants and soldiers who were there when I was brought in were killed. This woman has somehow discovered Queen Lillian's most closely guarded secret. The echo of flames burning down the little hut flash through my mind. The day my happy, simple life ended. The day my mother was burned alive and Lillian Luthor began grooming me for my father's crown. I was a way to appease the people who had been calling for a true heir. The unrest was growing every day until the day Lillian appeared with me by her side. Suddenly years of anger dissipated in relief, securing the family on the throne and empowering the people to resume the fighting against an outside enemy.
"Yes. Your mother and I have been communicating quite a lot recently. You see she planned this whole thing. We both are wearisome of the constant fighting. We have found a way to make peace."
"I will not marry your son. I am to be Queen in my own right. I will not bend a knee to a man. Krypton is mine."
Queen Rhea laughs. It is a cold laugh that seems to drain heat from the stifling room. As if on some unspoken queue, the doors open. Two guards carry in a limp form. Dirty and in a torn dress, shackled by both hands and feet. Jessica falls to the ground with a sharp cry as the men drop her.
"Jess!" I stumble to her side, my legs weak from days of disuse.
"Yes, your Lady has been very vocal about everything. We had to keep her restrained after she almost killed one of my men. Thank you for bringing along sufficient motivation. As long as you behave, Lady Jessica will live in relative comfort in my dungeon. Food, water, bedding."I believe I know the answer to my next question but I ask it anyway.
"And if I don't? What if I just let you kill her and refuse to marry?"
"Oh, I won't just kill her. Any misbehavior will bring punishment to her. You will behave like the future queen you are. This must be real for the peace to last. A marriage between Krypton's Future Queen and Cadmium's King will finally unite the country again. My son will make history as the King who ends the war."
I stare at the regal queen with as much hate as I can muster. I was to choose between a life of torture for my best friend or my country. I scramble to find a way out. To save Jessica and I. Jessica moans something into the floor. I try to pull her upright.
"Jess..." I push her matted hair out of her eyes.
"Just find us some time. You will save us all."
"Yes, yes. Believe in yourself, blah, blah, blah. You can do it, blah, blah, blah. Hope is a dangerous thing ladies. It is what crushes you the most. Remove her." The queen stands. The men drag the limp Jessica from the room.
"You will be given a new handmaid. Armed guards will escort you everywhere."
"Just like home." I interrupt, my voice dripping with sarcasm. The Queen shoots me a look.
"No one will know you are the future queen of Krypton until the wedding ceremony, which will be after the appropriate three month courtship period. For now, you are Lady Ellena Colby, the daughter of the Duke of a small outlying land. You are here for the Orange Festival. Now, I must be going. Your Handmaid will arrive with dinner in a few short hours. Tomorrow, I will summon you for a proper welcome to Daxam."
The Queen quickly exits the room and leaves me on the floor, alone. My head was trying to understand what was happening and my eyes betrayed me with the tears that needed shedding.
Chapter 31: Kara- First Time
Thank you all for the great comments and kudos. My grandma past away today so I really have needed them. I may not respond to everyone, mostly because I don't know how without giving anything away, but trust me, I read them.
Thank you, Love FB.
"Ugh, my hands haven't been this calloused since my first week of training," I say as I flop on the narrow bed next to Alex.
"All part of the act."
"Yeah yeah. But Snapper runs me around like crazy. Dishes to errands and back again. I spent most the day running through the castle."
"Which is good. Then people won't question if you are somewhere most of us shouldn't be."
"You get to work with Lady Lucy." I roll my eyes.
"Yes but I still have to work, despite our friendship."
I heave myself up and move to change. Tonight was the night. The first move we were making against the crown. A low nobleman had come to Daxam with a retinue of slaves to sell. I was to remove the nobleman, Alex to save the slaves. We both managed to have the night off and were taking some of our hard-earned coins into town.
"Are you ready?" Alex asks, seeing the look on my face. I had fallen out of the practice of hiding emotions and Alex knows me too well now.
"Yes. I'm nervous but ready." Alex nods.
She dresses much more simply than I do so as not to draw attention to herself, whereas I need all eyes on me. The other members of the DEO had been working since yesterday to gather all the information that they could. The guards would be simple enough to incapacitate but the problem was the slaves' manacles, all fifteen were connected to each other and the only Key was on the nobleman's person at all times. The man was never alone, except in his Inn room, and even then the rumors had it that he always had company, stereotypically blonde.
I pull the corset tight, lifting my breasts as best as I can. The blue gown was expensive, but not so much to be worth more than what Alex and I could pool together to afford with our meager wages after nearly two months of work. The smooth fabric feels foreign on my skin after the rough spun cotton from my working clothes. Alex begins applying rouge to my cheeks and lips. Charcoal to my eyes. The exaggerated sweeps of color change my appearance from the simple farm girl to one of at least some wealth of a merchant, much more likely to be seen and less likely to be recognized later.
On our way out of the castle, I pull the hood of my cloak up, so does Alex. Though we are allowed to leave, the fewer people who recognize us and can say that we did the better. Alex leads the way to the Inn that the nobleman was staying in. The slaves were kept locked in the stables out back. The bottom floor was a lively tavern, filled with drunk men and women alike. Most of them merchants or people from the court. Servants intermingle also since it is one of the safer places to drink. Guards posted at the front door barely spare Alex and I a glance as we press into the growing crowd inside.
"There he is." Alex points to a slightly portly man with graying hair. He may be one of the best dressed in the room. Slave trade had its perks, I guess.
The man already had two women hanging off his arms, a red-head and a brunette. He laughed loudly and drank deeply from his mug.
"Well, this just got so much harder," Kara whispers back to her sister.
"You'll be fine. Use all that feminine charm."
"Alex, I spent most my life as a man."
"So you have the perfect insight to what he likes." I roll my eyes.
"Go wait in that corner. He'll be able to see me walk the whole way there. I'll get the beer."
Alex wonders to the corner, I head for the bar, as close to the man as possible. I lean into, using my arms to push my chest out even more. I see the man glance my way, twice.
"Two of whatever you have. Something sweet." I say in the most innocent way possible.
While the barkeeper pours the drinks I turn my back and lean against the bar. My eyes sweep the room and land seemingly by accident on the man. I can see a hint of desire in his eyes and I smile back at him. The drinks thud heavily behind me. I slide a few coins to the man behind the bar.
I pick up both mugs and head towards Alex. To do so I have to walk past the nobleman. Just as I approach him, I meet his eyes and wink. I don't look back until I reach the table, his eyes had followed me the whole way. I pass the drink to Alex and throw my head back in pretend laughter, letting my neck be on full display.
"You are good. Look, he's already dismissed the redhead." Sure enough, the redhead had found a new lap but didn't look happy about it. I lean in to whisper in her ear.
"I have come to the conclusion, that men are worse than dogs." Alex laughs as I pull away and wink at the man still staring at me.
"Well, there is a reason that I am with Maggie. Well, that and woman are just so damned attractive."
"Hello, there pretty lady. May I have this dance?" The nobleman has now appeared at my elbow.
"Well, I think you shall." I let the man take my hand.
"Sister, watch my drink," I say over my shoulder to Alex.
The crowded dance floor pushes us together, the man's hands wondering a little too far down. I laugh and twirls in his arms, suppressing the urge to vomit. I try finding the key in his robes but feel nothing. He takes my touches as advances and hands wander a little more.
"Do you have a room upstairs?" I whisper in his ear as the third song ends. I know full well where his room is upstairs. The man grins.
"Eager little devil aren't you."
"Well I can't wait long, soon my sister will look for me and the last man she found me with is no longer considered a man. Would you like to live on the edge with me?" A glint appeared in the man's eye, I had just made myself forbidden fruit. He liked that, clearly.
"Yes, I have a room upstairs." I purposefully catch Alex's eye and use one of our hand signals to tell her to distract herself.
"Come on, we have at least an hour before she tries to take me home." I pull the man's hand and he follows me to the steps. Once we reach them I let him go up first, nodding to Alex as she looks my way again.
Outside the room is two armed guards. When one sees his master approaching, he turns and unlocks the door.
"Oh don't mind them, they are paid very well to be discrete." the nobleman says as he sees me eyeing them. When we enter the room his sloppy lips immediately latch on to my neck and I fight a grimace.
"Actually I have a way to increase your pleasure if you let me."
"Oh?" says the man.
"Oh yes, but it takes a little trust. Will you trust me to please you?" The man was clearly already aroused with the flush of alcohol in his cheeks. He nods.
"Okay, go lay on the bed." eagerly, the man obeys.
"Now this is all about sensory deprivation, this includes touch and sight. I am going to tie a blindfold over your eyes, then tie each of your limbs to the bed. Most men find the restraints to be cumbersome at first, but the pleasure they receive more than makes up for it." I try to keep the man from spooking.
He seems unsure, but alcohol clouds his judgment and he lays back. I strip the curtains from the windows and use the two sides to tie the nobleman's arms to the bedposts, then I do the same using the sheet with his legs. The soft cloths shouldn't bruise his limbs later. I remove the ribbon I tied around my wrist earlier. I climb up on the bed and slowly straddle his chest I look down with a grin and hold the ribbon between us. He grins as well and opens his mouth to say something. In a swift move, I quickly push the ribbon into his mouth and tie it behind his head as he lifts it in surprise. A muffled cry escapes his lips, I moan as well to cover it up. His eyes question the noise and his arms strain at the knots I had been tieing since I was fourteen.
"Oh no, they won't be able to tell your cries for help from those of pleasure. Those men expect to hear noises and they will hear what they expect." The man tries again and I moan as well.
Quickly I climb off of him and begin to rifle through the desk, then the chest, and his wardrobe. Occasionally I let out a faked sound of pleasure to make sure the guards are kept at bay. It only helps that the nobleman continues to struggle, causing the bed to squeak and knock along with his cries. When I can't find it, I walk back to the bed.
"Now where is the key, I know you keep it close. The one that holds the slaves." the man's eyes flick briefly to his crotch before meeting mine again.
"Oh, come on. Really? I was hoping after I left Kandor that I would never have to see another penis."
I start to untie the belt around his waist, his struggles increase. Once his pants are removed I can see the key tied to the inside of his thigh. With nimble fingers, I untangle the knot and grasp the warmed metal. I walk towards the window and open it. In the yard below stands a cloaked figure. Alex turns her face up to me and I toss the key out the window. Then return to the bed where the man has finally stilled.
"Now that those slaves will be freed, it's my job to make sure that you can't just go steal more people from their lives."
Fear enters the mans widening eyes and I swallow back nausea I feel rising in my stomach. Inside my sleeve, I remove the vial that Kaitlyn provided me and I stashed in the hidden pocket.
"Now, this lovely liquid is a simple sort of poison. Slow and basically untraceable. Those who find you in the morning will think your heart just gave out. To you, it will feel like falling asleep."
I climb back on top of him. He bucks and I moan. I uncork the vial and hold his head still. With some effort, I manage to drip it into his mouth past the ribbon and then plug his nose so he has no choice but to swallow. He thrashes and I pretend to scream and moan. Soon his thrashing slows and his eyelids droop. I begin to untie each bonding, replacing the curtains and pulling the sheet back over his body. I tie the ribbon back around my wrist. Right now the nobleman would just be in a very deep sleep. In about two hours the paralytic will stop his heart and breathing, by then the DEO will be long gone. I mess up my hair purposefully and wrinkle my skirts even more. I blow out the lanterns left in the room and open the door, pulling my cloak tight around me, forcing a blush into my cheeks. The guards look at me with knowing smirks. I duck my head and hurry away from the laughter behind me.
I quickly weave through the still gathered drinking crowd and back out to the street. I hurry to the place where someone was to stash a change of clothes and find them wrapped in oilcloth, wedged between a broken cart and an ally wall. I change and leave the dress in the open, let someone else have it, or sell it. I pull my hair back and tie it with a strap of leather. I use the cart to reach up and begin my climb to the rooftop. If all went right, everyone should be back in the cave within the next hour.
"Hey, there she is" Comes Sara's voice as I walk into the kitchen, the smells of cooking meat waft through the air and my stomach growls despite my lingering nausea.
"How do you feel?" asks Alex.
"Sick," I say, picking up a chunk of roast beef and shoving it in my mouth.
"Oh, you look it." Teases Maggie.
"I eat when I need to distract myself."
"Beef is not what Alex eats when she needs a distraction," Maggie says and Alex elbows her, I roll my eyes.
"But really how are you?"
"Better if everyone made it out."
"No losses for us, I gave travel documents and a small bit of coin for each person. They should all be able to make it home or start new lives." chimes in Felicity as she looks up from the book she's reading. I exhale a sigh of relief.
"Then I will be okay."
Sara sets the last of the food on the table and we eat together for the first time in a long time. It feels like coming home, it is coming home. In the early hours of the morning, Alex and I walk back to the castle to get ready for the day's work.
Only a small stir occurred in the castle when the nobleman's body is found. He was alive and sleeping when a guard checks on him after a mysterious blonde leaves his bedroom. Sure enough, the royal physician believes his heart gave out in his sleep. I move about my day, trying to ignore the guilt I feel for taking a life the way I did. My only comfort is the cause, which Alex feels the need to remind me of throughout the day, actually seeking me out to do so.
It's easier the fifth time. I had to scale the outside of the castle during the nightly guard shift change. Alex and I had been timing it during the last week while scouting out the handholds. I make it up with ease, my now calloused hands protected from the rough stone. The latch on the window is easy to slip since it's just meant to keep the window shut and not to guard against intruders. My target is one of the councilmen. An old man who will be replaced by a younger man that Lady Lucy had been swaying to our side for the past three months. He was much more sympathetic to the people and the oppression they were suffering under.
The soft leather of my boots barely makes a sound as I drop from the sill to the floor. I make my way through the nearly black bedroom and stand over the still form on the bed. The man breaths in and out, unaware of the number of his breaths. That is until I take one of the pillows and cover his face. He jerks into awareness, his cries muffled by the plush down filling the fabric. He kicks but finds no leverage, his feeble hands are no match for mine, strengthened through years of training and the hard labor of the past few months. I am counting in my head. I have six minutes left to make my escape. Finally, the movement under me stills, growing weaker by each second. Complete stillness enters the room, interrupted only by the pounding of my heart. Five minutes, thirty-two seconds. I remove the Pillow, straighten the blankets again over the man, and close his eyes, now staring at nothing.
Four minutes and twenty-six seconds. Going down is so much harder than up. My fingers and toes ache from wedging them in the barely noticeable cracks or from hanging on to ledges much too small. I am still ten feet from the ground when I run out of time. I can see the torchlight rounding the lower wall of the tower. I drop and roll, muffling the thud and choking back a cry as the hard earth jars my entire body. Then I run. Gone before the guard can peer past the light of his lamp to see what could have made the noise. I wore my DEO clothes, mottled with various dark grays and blacks to help break up the human shape in the uncertain light. The soft leather boots Alex taught me to use without making a sound, even while I sprinted away. I grab the simple dress I left hidden outside a servants entrance and slip back into the castle. I make it back to Alex and I's room without seeing a single soul at the late hour of the night, or early morning depending on what side of sleep you were on.
"Done?" Is all Alex asks as she looks up from needlework she has to do for Lucy.
"Done," I confirm as I strip the servants dress and then the tunic and pants off and stash them in a secret compartment in my chest. I throw on a thin shift to climb into bed.
"How do you feel?" Alex asks with concern. She took her role as big sister very seriously.
"Shitty, but I am okay. I just hope one day, everything we do makes a difference in people's lives. I hope that one day the people here can have a ruler that cares about their well being."
"Someone like Lena?" Alex teases and sets aside what she is working on.
"I wouldn't object. What's next?" I ask.
"Don't know yet. I'm being reassigned tomorrow. I guess there's this new Lady in the castle and her handmaiden fell extremely ill on the journey here. Lucy wants me to get a feel for her, where she stands on different issues."
"All right. Now I am going to get a few hours rest before dealing with Snapper tomorrow. I swear the only reason he learned my name is so he could yell at me all day and send me on his own personal errands."
"Good night Kara," Alex says with a small laugh and turns down the lamp until it goes out and plunges the room into darkness.
Chapter 32: Alex
you guys are all amazing!!!
The knock on the door is timid. I continue to sit in the daybed, legs tucked to my chest, and stare off over the city. I don't respond. The knock comes again, slightly louder. After I still don't respond, I hear the door creak open.
"My apologies, My Lady. I was told to bring dinner and to leave it if you were not available." I look over to the red-haired maid. She is tall and broad-shouldered, definitely, someone used to hard labor. My tears had dried an hour ago but my bones still ache with grief and loneliness.
"No need, just leave it on the table." I turn back to the window. I hear the tray of food the woman carried settle on the table. Then soft thuds as the woman piles wood in the fireplace. I watch her sure movements for a moment before turning to the window once more. A soft rustling and I know she is turning down the bed. Finally the women's movements around the room still. I feel her eyes on me.
"You may go," I say without turning. I hear no movement so I turn to see the woman watching me. I raise an eyebrow at her.
"My lady, please forgive me for being forward, but are you well? I was told your handmaiden fell ill on the journey. If you aren't feeling well I can go fetch a court physician."
"There is no cure for my ailment... I'm sorry, I do not know your name." Concern crosses the woman's face but she curtsies and bows her head.
"Alexandria Danvers, my lady."
Just like that, hope rears its head in my chest. I try to squash it but I can't. If this is the same woman who sent me Kara's letter than Kara could be close. Oh, Rao. Kara.
"Quite a long name. Is there a shorter one I may call you in private?"
"My sister calls me Alex, my lady."
"Yes, my lady. She also works here in the palace."
"Are you close with your sister?" I think my line of questioning is confusing the woman but I have to know.
"Yes my lady, I'm very protective of her."
"Yes, you seem the type." Confusion crinkles her brow further.
"You seem the type to threaten if someone causes harm to anyone you love. Sister, mother, bird." The women's head snaps up.
"Elena...Lena," she whispers, barely audible.
Suddenly I am surrounded by long muscular arms that so remind me of Kara.
"How... why... I..." Alex tries and I burst into fresh tears. Her hand rubs my back and I grip on to hope for dear life.
"K...kidnapped." is all I manage to get out. Alex holds me until I can reign control again.
"I need to find Kara," Alex says.
"She's here? In the castle?"
"Yes. We've been here for several months."
"Alex, I need..."
"I know. I'm going. Stay here. Eat. I'll get her up here. Then you can tell us everything."
Alex disappears through the door and I can feel the hope growing. It's almost too much.
"Yes, Mr. Carr. My lady has requested more firewood. She requests though that no men be allowed in her room. May I borrow Kara to help me carry it all?" I hear the gruff man grunt and then Alex is pulling me away from the hot soapy water where I was scrubbing dishes.
"Alex, what is this about?" I ask as she drags me out the back door to the nearby wood pile.
"Don't ask questions. You'll understand in a moment." Alex starts piling wood into my arms and then her own.
I try to ask Alex questions but she shushes me each time. Alex practically sprints through the servant's corridors, me trying desperately to keep up with the wood piled in my arms. She leads me into one of the towers that spiral up to amazing views of the city. I had only seen them a few times while running errands. Guards stand outside the doors at the top of the tower. Alex opens the door without hesitation. The guards barely spare us a glance. Alex quickly moves into the room, practically dropping the wood before moving back to shut the door behind me.
"Alex." I hiss at her carelessness as I focus on balancing the other wood.
"Kara." I freeze. Slowly I look up and meet green eyes.
"Lena." The wood clatters to the floor.
She stands there in front of the windows. Her hair is a mess, her dress is crumpled and dirty. Her eyes red from what I can assume is crying. Lena Luthor stands in the middle of a tower, in the middle of Daxam, in the heart of Cadmium. And she is beautiful.
In a rush, I step over the fallen wood and cross the room to pull her into my arms. She melds into me and I can already feel the tears running down my cheeks. Her arms lock around me in a death grip and sobs shake her body. I'm kissing the top of her head, her forehead, her cheeks. Her lips find mine in a bruising, salty kiss. I hug her again and we sink to the floor as we both try to stop our tears. Alex watches silently, unable to do anything else.
"Lena, how are you here? Why are you here?" I finally manage to ask. She takes a deep breath and looks from me to Alex and back.
"My mother. She had me kidnapped. She wants her son on the throne in Krypton so she promised me to the prince of Cadmium under the guise of ending the war."
"Her son?" Alex asks.
"I am not Lillian's daughter. I was a bastard taken from my mother to secure the people's faith in the crown. Bastard daughters are still more legitimate heirs to the crown than trueborn sons."
"Lena, why didn't you tell me?" I ask.
"My mother has killed everyone who has ever known. Not even Jessica knows."
"Jessica. Where is she?"
"Somewhere locked away. Queen Rhea is keeping her to keep me in line. No one knows I'm here besides you two and the royal family and my mother."
"John?" Lena bursts into tears at my next question.
"I don't know! We were ambushed. He was knocked out, then I was. That was the last I saw him or the rest of the men." She sobs. I hold tight to her as she tries to quite herself.
When she does she tells us what she knows. Queen Lillian suddenly deciding to send her out to villages. What she remembers of the ambush. Days of unconsciousness. Then the plan for her to marry the prince. It just takes a few minutes but my eyes never leave her.
"Kara we have to go before the guards get suspicious. I was told Lady Elena likes her privacy so that no one should bother her but me but now I have a feeling there are other reasons." Alex says, resting a hand on my shoulder. I nod.
"Lena I have to go. Leave your window unlatched. I will come back tonight during one of the guard changes."
"My window? Kara, it's like twenty stories from the ground." I actually smile and wink.
"I know. Trust me, I've picked up some neat tricks." I kiss Lena's forehead and stand.
Alex opens the door for me and we walk out of the room, leaving Lena alone in her high tower. I hadn't seen her in half a year and she is still just as beautiful as she was dancing in my arms in Kandor.
Chapter 33: Kara- First Time (For Real)
"The future Queen of Krypton is here? In Daxam?" exclaims Caitlyn.
Everyone in the DEO headquarters was crammed into the kitchen. Twenty-three currently. We had been growing fast and my room was no longer my own. Most had normal jobs but more and more people were living here. I couldn't even name everyone now. Soon we would have to expand the communal spaces too.
"Yes. From what we were able to gather in our short time, her mother is using her to end the war but also to remove her from the throne so that Lillian's trueborn son can sit on the throne. Lena is only the late king's daughter, still first in line for Krypton's throne according to their laws." I explain as quickly as I can. Alex and I risk punishment by coming here during dinner but this can't wait.
"So why is she complying?" asks Maggie.
"We don't know yet. I'm sneaking back in tonight."
"Without preparation? That's reckless and dangerous," comments Thea.
"I'm going back in tonight. I have already climbed that tower once. She has two guards posted outside her room at all times. Alex has access to the room and will take Lena tea before bed. We will get the full story then."
"Kara..." Sara tries to start.
"Enough. I will not leave her up there alone. This is time sensitive. We need to know how sensitive."
"We will report back what we find out. Now Kara and I have to get back before we are missed." Alex stands and kisses Maggie.
We leave swiftly, running along rooftops to hasten our return. Soon the roofs thin out as we move from common buildings to those of rich merchants then nobles. We are forced back on the main road and slow our pace to that of a brisk walk of servants on errands.
"This is reckless," Alex says when we finally catch our breaths.
"I love her. I left her in tears. She is scared Alex. I need to. I can list fifty other reasons if you want me to continue." Alex sighs.
"No. But your big sister is very worried." I reach out and squeeze her hand.
The rest of the walk is silent. We enter through the servant's gate and I hurry to finish the tasks I left undone before Snapper can yell at me for the umpteenth time today. Alex hurries off to find dinner to bring to Lady Elena. As soon as I finish everything I'm out the door of the kitchen, only to run smack into Snapper.
"Where are you going Blondie?" He growls out. I bow my head and fold my hands in front of me.
"I'm sorry sir. I finished my tasks for the night so I was going to find my sister."
"Well, I have a special request from Lady Lucy to re-assign you. Lady Elena is new to the castle and had to travel without her ladies. Lady Lucy insists you are to be the one to help acclimate her because your work for me has caused you to learn almost every inch of the castle. I tried to protest but what do I know, I'm just the kitchen master." I stand gaping at him. This couldn't be this easy.
"Why are you still standing here? Go clean up and report to your Lady." He hands me a letter of referral then shoves passed me. The jostle shakes me out of my stunned silence. I sprint back to the room. Alex wasn't there so she must still be with Lena.
Quickly I change into a clean dress and try to walk as calmly as I can. Lena's tower is almost on the other side of the castle, ensuring that no one could just happen to be there. It was in a place that you had to be there for a purpose or it would be suspicious. The walk is agonizingly long. The stairs just as long. They spiral up and to the right. There is no other rooms or doors that branch off. Lena is in a prison, a luxurious prison but still a prison. When I come into view, the guards raise their spear, at their hips are short swords.
"State your business." One commands.
"I've been reassigned to Lady Elena's service." I bow my head and hold up the later that I read on my way. It was written by Aunt Harriet and signed by her and Lady Lucy. The one who spoke takes the letter and reads it.
"Stand down." He says to the other man. They both relax and allow me to open the door.
I open the door to see Lena and Alex sitting in front of a fire. Both are quite, Alex sewing and Lena just staring into the flames. I take a moment to just look at her. Lena is as beautiful as when I left her. She looks very sad though. I walk quietly over and rest my hand on her shoulder. She doesn't jump, just rests her cheek against my knuckles.
"You came back."
"I'm not leaving you again." I move to squat in front of her and take her hands.
"How did you get past the guards?" Asks Alex. I hand her the parchment.
"Lucy pulled some strings. I'm now assigned to Lady Elena." My eyes never leave Lena's.
"Now Lena. We need you to tell us everything you know. Start from when your mother sent you out of the castle." I say and Lena takes a deep breath.
"Lillian came and told me I was to go inspire hope in our people. The first couple weeks were uneventful. Our first time was welcoming and threw a party in our honor. On our way to the second village, where we were supposed to meet with a small portion of my brother's army, we were stopped for the night. We were attacked by Cadmium soldiers. They stopped us before we escaped. I-I don't know what happened to John. They knocked me unconscious. I was kept drugged for most the journey. I woke up here yesterday morning. Queen Rhea greeted me and told me my mother was using me to end the war and to remove me from Kandor. With me here, my brother would take the throne. I am to be known as this alias of Elana Colby through my 'courtship' with Prince Michael. In three months time, we are to be wed. At which point my real identity will be revealed."
"But why are you going along with this?" I ask.
"They have Jess. If Queen Rhea even suspects I am misbehaving then they will torture her. Not kill her, they will keep her in as much pain as possible." Tears had started to fall down Lena's cheeks. I brush them away with a thumb.
"Alex, before we get Lena out of here, we need to find a way to save Jess."
"Is that everything Lena?" Asks Alex.
"That's all I know." Alex stands up.
"Okay, I'm going to go update everyone. It shouldn't be suspicious if you stay. Most noble ladies keep handmaid's with them all night, especially with guards posted outside. Speaking of which. I'm going to move them to the base of the tower. There is no reason for them to be up here. Lena, I am glad to meet you. I wish circumstances were better. Goodnight you two."
Alex leaves but leaves the door open as she converses with the guards. Saying the Lady Elena wishes to have more privacy and that they should move to the base of the tower. They argue that they are commanded to guard her.
"Who's going to get to her up here? A bird? If someone figures out how to get in that window you can do nothing out here. What happens if someone comes up those steps and kills both of you. No one could know for hours. At least if you are standing downstairs it is easier to raise an alarm." The guards sputter, trying to come up with a defense. Finally, I hear them descending. Alex peaks her head back in.
"Goodnight Lady Elena. Goodnight sister." She pulls the door closed behind her. We are alone at last. I look back to Lena's eyes.
"Sister?" She raises an eyebrow.
"Long story. But she and the other women I work with are like family. Also, they have wanted posters for Kal Ward all over the city. It doesn't look like me anymore but I couldn't use Ward as my last name. So here I'm Kara Danvers and Alex is my sister." Lena reaches up and touches my cheek.
"I am so happy you found happiness, Kara."
"I am still happier with you." Lena's wet eyes meet mine.
She grabs the collar of my dress and pulls me in, her lips are so soft, softer than I ever remembered. This kiss is better than the ones before. There is no lie between us, no fear of what she would think. Lena knows who I am now and she still wants me. Still loves me. I cup the back of her head and pull her in to deepen the kiss. Lena's tongue brushes against my lips and I let it tangle with my own. Searing heat spreads from it all the way into my bones, raising goosebumps on my skin. I feel Lena's fingers tugging at the ties on the front of my dress, loosening them. I pull away a little out of breath and rest my forehead on hers.
"Lena, I've never..." I trail off, blushing. She raises an eyebrow in question then it seems to dawn on her.
"Oh, Rao. Of course, you haven't I mean clearly you couldn't. Do you not want to? We don't have to. I frankly am just excited to have you here and alive and..."
"I want to." I cut her off.
"I just don't really know anything and I don't want to disappoint you and..."
"Kara, you could never. We will go slow. If you want to stop just say so."
"So you have?"
"Yes, but can we discuss that later?" I bite my lip and nod.
Lena stands up and pulls me by the hand over to the bed. She is wearing a simple dress that is easy for her to let drop to the floor and step out of. My heart hammers in my chest as Lena stands in just her small clothes in front of me. I swallow hard. Lena unties my own dress and slowly lets it drop to the floor, each movement almost a question, asking me if I want to stop. I don't. When the dress pools on the floor Lena guides me onto the bed that Alex had already turned down and under the covers. The sheets are cold until Lena slides in next to me. She lays on top of me and kisses me slowly. Her hands stay firmly on my neck but one of her legs is between mine. Lena just kisses me until my hands begin to wander up and down her back, my fingers tracing her spine lightly or touching spots that cause her to squirm a bit. When I start doing that, Lena leaves my mouth and kisses down my jaw.
Everything is so slow and careful. I am in awe of the woman pressed against me and the love I feel in each touch. Her hands slide down to my waist as her lips move across my clavicle. Down my chest. Then she is kissing the soft flesh of my breast. I gasp as her teeth graze a nipple. The noise causes Lena to pull her leg up higher, pressing it against the moist heat between my own. I bite my lip to prevent another gasp as Lena moves to my other breast. My fingers tangle in her hair just so I can hold her better. When she is happy with the work she's done, Lena comes back up and kisses me. Her fingers trail lightly down my stomach, stopping at my navel.
"Are you sure you want this?" Lena asks. I bite my lip and nod.
"Yes." I manage when she looks for a verbal response.
"I am going to touch you now then," Lena mumbles into my lips before kissing me again.
Her fingers finish their path down, sliding easily into the moist slit between my legs. They brush something sensitive that causes my hips to jerk and moan to escape me. Lena smiles into my lips, touching it again. Softly she begins to circle in a steady pattern, all the while kissing me through the soft noises I can't help but make. My hands have settled on her waist as Lena supports herself on one elbow, kissing me and making me moan at the same time. Pleasure causes my limbs to start to twitch. After several minutes, Lena finally moves her fingers even lower, teasing my entrance.
"Are you ready?" she whispers.
"Yes." I exhale.
One finger slides into my entrance slowly. I moan at the intrusion but tighten my grip on Lena's waist. Lena pauses, giving me time to adjust. She kisses me again and then starts a steady rhythm, moving in and out. Lena keeps a steady pace, all the while tangling her tongue with mine. One of my hands sneaks up to cup the back of her head, holding her to me. I can feel a tightening in my gut. Giddy pleasure begins to move through my blood, traveling from the tips of my toes all the way to my head. My moans turn to cries and I can no longer kiss Lena. She turns her lips to my neck, kissing me hard and grazing her teeth against my skin. Lena's thumb begins brushing against the sensitive spot she found before with every movement of her hand.
"Rao Lena, I'm going to... I'm going to..." I try to speak.
"Cum for me Kara." She whispers in my ear.
Her finger curls inside me and pleasure racks my body, making my limbs shake and Lena's name to fall from my lips over and over again. She continues to kiss my neck as her hand stills along with my own movements. Slowly she pulls her finger out. She kisses me again.
"Are you okay?" she asks, concern all over her face.
"More than okay." I smile up at her and she smiles back. Lena rolls off me and leans on one elbow to look at me.
"Good. I was worried we would never be able to do that. I was worried I would never see you again." She grows sad. I cup one of her cheeks.
"I'm not going anywhere again. We will get you out of here and back on the throne of Krypton, where you belong." I say determinedly.
"My knight in shining armor." She smiles and I laugh. I lean up and kiss her, my hands finding her waist and pulling her against me. Then my lips trail down her neck.
"Kara you don't have to." She says, though her breath hitches when I suck at the spot where her pulse is.
"I want to. You were always a great teacher Lena. Teach me this." I hear her swallow hard.
"I am glad you are a fast learner." She says as I roll her on to her back and my fingers find her breast.
"I'm a hands-on learner," I whisper in her ear and she laughs.
Chapter 34: Kara- Morning After
I wake in the near darkness of before dawn. The sky was turning a deep purple outside the window. Just enough light penetrated the dark room for me to see the pale skin of Lena's face. The worry that usually marks her beautiful features is gone. Her arms wrap around my torso and her head is pillowed on my chest. I know soon Alex will return but I can't bring myself to disturb Lena. Last night was amazing. I have never felt anything like it before. Not just the sex, Rao the sex, but the acceptance. My whole life I had been hiding myself. Even here in the castle, I wasn't completely myself as I kept up a double life with Alex. But now Lena saw me, all of me.
Then a small voice in the back of my mind said no. She didn't know what we had been doing here. The men I had killed in cold blood. I swallow dryly at the thought of telling her. I had sworn to be honest with the people I care about and that meant telling Lena this. Lena stirs and grumbles before looking up at me through half-lidded eyes.
"What's wrong? Your heart is racing." Damn.
"I umm... I have to tell you something." Lena's eyes open fully and she props her chin on her hand on my chest. Concern colors her features.
"What is it, Kara?"
"It's about what we have been doing, what I have been doing, here." I bite my lip as I try to find the right words. Lena just watches me intently.
"The women I work with are a small but growing organization called the DEO, Daughters Enabling Others. It was small even when I joined. I started with simply saving people abused by those in power, returning taxes taken wrongfully, saving women from rapists and criminals. I trained for months with Alex. Then we came to the castle to be able to take more extreme actions when the need or opportunity arose. Our mission is to change how the government runs, and, eventually, remove the royal family who couldn't care less for those they rule."
Lena is silent, her brow scrunched in thought. I struggle to control my breathing as I wait for a response. She opens her mouth, then shuts and her brow furrows even more.
"So... you're an assassin?"
"I suppose. I mean it's not like a 'Killer for hire' situation. We are more like revolutionaries I guess."
"Okay." Lena nestles back down onto my chest.
"Okay? Lena, I just told you I have been killing people and your response is 'okay'?
"Kara it just means you are even more equipped to get me the hell out of here and to help me take back my throne." Lena looks back into my eyes, fire burning in their green depths.
"Will you help me take back my kingdom?" she asks.
"I would do anything for you."
Lena's lips meet mine in a fierce, bruising kiss. Her teeth pull my lower lip and my moan lets her tongue slip into my mouth. I roll her over so I can kiss down her neck. My fingers find hers and pin her hands on the pillow next to her head. With one last nip at her lip, I began to pepper kisses down her jaw and then gently scrape my teeth on her earlobe. Lena gasps and brings her thigh up to meet my bare center. The contact causes a moan to escape my lips and she uses the distraction to roll me over and straddle my hips.
Lena takes control and kisses down my neck and across my collarbone. I hiss as she gently pulls a sensitive nipple into her mouth. When she is satisfied she moves to the other one, I can feel the heat of her pressing hard into my hips. She taught me so much the night before, she had learned a lot from her times with Jess which I was slightly jealous of though she assured me when Lena realized her feelings and Jess was being courted by Donovan they didn't continue. Between that, the gossip of her ladies, and a few educational books in the castles vast Library, Lena had learned a lot.
Lena begins trailing down my stomach, leaving wet open-mouthed kisses the whole way. She shifts, moving even lower and straddles just one leg. She kisses both of my hip bones before placing a tender kiss right above my cunt.
"Lena what are you doing?"
"Something new for you. Stop me if you feel at all uncomfortable." I nod as I watch her.
She dips her head lower, unconsciously I part my legs slightly. Lena watches me too, looking for a sign of hesitation but the throbbing between my legs was growing as I tried to figure out what she had planned. She lowers her head more and I can feel her hot breath hit my exposed slit. She pushes her tongue through my lower lips and licks up through them, hitting my already swollen clit.
"Fuck." I throw my head back and close my eyes.
"Good?" she asks.
"Yes. Fuck." I respond as she does it again.
Her tongue begins to dance around the nerves, tracing different patterns, only occasionally touching it directly. I shift and press my thigh into Lena. She moans into me as my leg brings her small relief. Lena begins to occasionally suck on my clit, drawing strings of profanity from my mouth each time. She also begins to rock against my leg and I can feel her wet, hot, arousal spreading across my thigh. My muscles try to clinch at nothing and suddenly Lena's menstrations are not enough.
"Lena..." I gasp out, Burying my fingers in her raven hair, she looks up at me with eyes so dark they might as well be black.
"Lena, I need... I need you inside me." I swear I see her smirk, half buried in my pussy.
She complies by slowly sliding a finger in my entrance, my hips buck into it, throwing off her careful rhythm.
"More." I manage. On her next thrust, Lena slides another finger in.
That does it. A few more thrusts and Lena curls her fingers, finding what she called my G-spot, and sucking on my clit. My fingers pull at her hair, pulling her closer, as my walls clench around her fingers. I gasp her name as pleasure wracks my body. Lena slows her menstruations and helps me come down from the orgasm. Then she trails kisses up my body, my own arousal on her chin. She kisses me and I taste myself, mixing with the taste of Lena's mouth, and I moan into it. Lena's hips move against my thigh as we continue to kiss. My hand trails down her body to find her near her own climax.
"Rao Lena, you are so fucking wet," I say as I slip my finger into her lower lips, she moans softly.
"You do that to me. Watching you... fuck. I almost came right then."
"You're going to come right now," I growl as I attack her next, kissing and biting and sucking, my finger circling her clit like she taught me.
"It won't take much." She gasps out.
Sure enough, it just took a few strokes directly on her clit for Lena to come, gasping my name into my ear as her limbs stiffened and shook. Her nails on my shoulders dug into my skin in a pleasurable sort of pain, knowing I caused this. I continue to kiss her as she relaxes back into the bed, settling right back into my side with a content sigh. I hear birds beginning to sing in the trees far below or as they swoop by the tower window. The sky has gone from deep purple to an almost reddish yellow as the sun begins a new day.
"Alex will be back soon." I murmur because I feel her breathing already slowing.
"Just a few more minutes." She says sleepily, pulling me tighter to her and firmly placing her head in the crook of my neck. I laugh softly, relenting to just a few more minutes before I get dressed. But Lena's bed is much softer than the narrow one in my room and sleep is harder to fight off with the warmth of Lena firmly pressed against me.
A sharp knocking on the door wakes me. I sit up with a start, realizing the sun is fully in the sky now. The knocking comes again. I rush to stand and pull my dress over my head, to Lena's dismay. I scoop my hair back into a bun before cracking open the door to see Alex's face. She stands holding a heavily laden tray of food and a knowing smirk on her face. I feel a blush heat my face and finish tying the front of my dress.
"Hungry?" she asks.
"Starving." as if on cue my stomach rumbles. Alex laughs.
I swing the door open and notice the trail of the blanket that leads behind her changing screen.
"Is that Alex?" she asks.
"Yes, and she brought breakfast."
"Wonderful, Kara be a dear and grab a dress from the wardrobe for me. I don't know what is in there so whatever is fine."
I open it to find a very sparse three elegant dresses, purposefully I grab the deep green one and help Lena dress while Alex builds the fire back up. We gather around the small table next to it and pick at the food, well Lena and Alex pick while I happily munch on everything. Lena watches me as I dig into my second pastry but turns to Alex to begin asking about the DEO, then if they have any idea how to get Jess out. Alex tells her it may take a couple weeks to get people in place to do so. At last count, we had fifteen people in the castle loyal to our cause and roughly ten guards taking bribes. A castle this size it was almost nothing. Hundreds of staff and an ever-changing retinue of men patrolling made it difficult to find the right people to be turned. Soon we fell into a much more casual conversation as I asked after Winn and James. John was still an unknown.
"Winn and James have taken it upon themselves to be my friends. They would show up in my study everytime they knew I would be there. Jess let them too."
"They always came together?" I ask, trying to assess how Winn's crush developed but I was never sure on James' feelings.
"Nearly, but Winn is almost always with James. Did you know he liked James?"
"Oh yes, remember that time I came back from the tavern?"
"Probably better than you." Lena laughs and I blush.
"I saw it then, that's why I came back alone. But I could never get a read on James."
"Jess thinks they are both in love and clueless, James just hides it better." I laugh.
"I hope they figure it out."
A soft cry pierces the room, making all three women jump.
"Killer!" Alex hops up from her seat to meet her bird who was perched on the window, a tightly rolled scroll clutched in one claw.
Killer extends the claw and drops the scroll in Alex's waiting hand, then with a small flurry of wings, she swoops into the room and lands on the back of Lena's chair, nuzzling into her hair. Lena grins and Alex's mouth drops open at the affection her bird is showing her. Lena reaches for a slice of bacon I had yet to make it to and holds it up for the bird. Lena looks over after Killer takes it and sees Alex's shocked expression. Lena clears her throat.
"Umm... she sat with me while I composed the letter to Kara. I fed her a lot of meaty treats as I read her each new version of the letter. I was so nervous that I figured reading them to Killer would help. It did. But I am sorry I think I spoiled her." Alex shakes her head, obviously deciding to think about this later. She turned her attention to the letter, eyes darting across the page.
"It's from Maggie. The Master of Coin has been spotted heading to the Green Ivy Gardens for a meeting. If we are going to move, now is the time."
"The whore house?" I ask.
"Yeah, the secret one that everyone is very tight-lipped about. Its front is an upscale restaurant for Well-off gentlemen to conduct business. But after the business, there is entertainment of all kinds. Women, drinking, gambling, music." Alex explains that last part to Lena.
"If everyone is so tight-lipped how do you guys know?" She asks.
"We rescued a woman from there. She told us everything she could. Kara, we have to get to the base, we may not get this opportunity again for a while." I nod and stand.
"Here, take this." Lena tosses a heavy pouch to me and I know its gold.
"What for?" I ask.
"I am a lady sending her handmaids to buy new dresses for me in town. I expect you to be gone for most the day." Lena moves to the writing desk to jot something down.
"Here are my measurements and instructions on the styles I like. No one will question you leaving and returning the castle." Alex chuckles.
"Oh, I like her. You're right Kara, she will make an excellent Queen." Alex moves to the door and begins the descent to the bottom of the tower.
"I'll be back as soon as I can." I take Lena's hand and pull her in for a kiss.
"Be safe, I cannot lose you again Kara Danvers." She says softly. I nod determined to do everything in my power to come back to her. One last kiss on the cheek and I hurry after Alex, meeting her just before the last door that opens out to the hallway. The guards stand just outside, barely sparing us a glance as we hurry to make our way out of the castle.
Chapter 35: Kara- We Rise
I take a deep breath, pulling up my hood and adjusting the facemask covering my mouth and nose. It was nearly noon, the streets were crowded below us as we were spread out on rooftops. We all wore mottled tan and gray with soft leather boots. All twenty of us. We waited on the buildings surrounding the Garden for the master of coin to appear. Lady Lucy had been grooming the man in line for the job for months now. Convincing him in subtle ways to use the crowns coin for the good of the people and not just lavish parties for the rich. I still wasn't sure how she did it all. Now was our time. The door opens and everyone drops out of sight. Only Alex stays upright enough to watch. Ten guards she signals with our hand gestures. At another gesture we stand. I see the group below easily making way through the crowd by force. Regular civilians jump out of the way for the men in uniform.
Mentally I check the stilettos up my sleeves. Alex trained me on how to keep them hidden there and hold them there without letting them fall out until I needed them for weeks. Now it was second nature to have the cold daggers against my skin, but times like these made me nervous. At the next signal, we begin to move as one, running across rooftops to intercept the target and his guard. Our goal was only to kill the Master of Coin and disable the men. Then disappear into the crowd before an alarm could be raised.
We stop just a few buildings in front of them where the crowd is the least dense because there is a break in the shops to allow for a fountain and seating area. I look over to the Other ten women across the street. They wait for Alex's signal. My heart thuds, louder with each heartbeat. This was the first kill out in the open. With witnesses. The first time I would take a life that the people would know it is happening. One of my stilettos slips into my right hand as Alex gives the signal to be ready. Counting down for us with small arm movements I see out of the corner of my eye. It's all I see besides the middle-aged man strolling through the streets in fine robes. Robes paid for by people who can barely afford to clothe themselves.
As Alex's count hits zero, I swear time slows down. My heart is all I hear, not that our women would yell. We were trained for silence, for quickness. The leap is not far, only about two stories. I had jumped farther while practicing. My aim is true. The dagger sinking into the man's neck before he could register the crushing weight falling out of the sky. He looks up at me in surprise as his head hits the cobblestones around the fountain entrance. The surprise freezes on his face as his eyes turn glassy and unseeing. Time begins to move again as I glance around me. Most of the guards were knocked out on impact as different DEO members fell on them. A couple were trying to fight off two or three women at a time. Screams erupt all around us as people see the blood slowly trickling into the ground. Only one guard is left with Alex's dagger at his throat. I look around and I recognize Thea's form quickly painting the symbol we came up with on a wall. It's a silhouette of Killer holding two claws full of arrows in front of a flame. Above her is 'We will rise,' and below is 'burning and free.'
Tears spring to my eyes at actually seeing it. The prayer that became a revolution. As Thea works Alex is talking to the man on his knees but saying it loudly for all those still cowering in the square. Many of the women begin to disappear, all taking different ways back to the base.
"You will tell everyone of what happened here. We are done hiding. We are done being abused and taken advantage of! This is the start of the end! The crown is supposed to protect its people, not take everything from them! We will stand no more for this tyranny! We will rise, burning and free!" on the last word, Alex shoves the man face first to the street and the rest of us scatter down alleys and on to rooftops.
I can hear the deep cries of guards trying to make it through the throngs of escaping people. Quickly, I push myself from one wall to the other in a tight gap between houses and Alex follows me up. We sprint from rooftop to rooftop. It takes nearly fifteen minutes to take the roundabout way back to the cave but it's worth it to make sure we aren't followed. Once inside I collapse on the cool hard floor as we wait for everyone else to trickle in. Once Felicity is sure everyone is accounted for Alex begins some inspiring speech I tune out. A face appears above me.
"How ya doin, Little Danvers?" Maggie asks as she holds a hand out to pull me into a sitting position.
"I'm bigger than you." I laugh.
"Still smaller than Alex, so Little Danvers." I laugh and nod to agree.
"I'm fine. It went better than I thought it would."
"I knew it would be fine. You and Alex are an impressive team. But I meant about Lena." I feel a blush heat my cheeks.
"You already had sex didn't you?" Maggie bumps my shoulder with hers. My blush deepens.
"Umm... Last night. And this morning." Maggie laughs as I feel my face burn even hotter if that was possible.
"Look at you go Little Danvers. When you do something you do something. How was it? I mean was it awkward because she was a virgin too right?"
"Ah no actually. On both things. It was fantastic and Lena wasn't, I mean she's never had a romantic partner but she's had experience. Apparently, it's very common for Krypton noble women to have sex with their bed maids. Kind of an unspoken thing apparently."
"Okay, little weird but makes some sense. I guess they're less likely to get pregnant before marriage then. But don't you know her bed maid?"
"Yeah, Lady Jessica. She is great. But they haven't done anything since Jessica started being courted by Donovan, one of Lena's guard, and Lena hasn't wanted to since she realized her feelings for me. We talked about it last night... in between things. They have no romantic feelings for each other."
"Look at you being all grown up and stuff. Well, congrats Little Danvers. If you don't mind I am going to go do things to your sister." Maggie elbows me before standing and walking towards Alex.
"Hey, we only have two hours before the dresses are ready. I am coming in and dragging her out whether you are done or not." I call after them. Maggie laughs and Alex rolls her eyes as they disappear down the hallway. I walk into the kitchen for food.
"Be careful, we aren't stocked to feed your appetite." Teases Felicity as I grab some dried meat and a fresh orange, they were just coming into season.
"It sucks having to hide my appetite again. I swear I spend half my wages on food to keep in our room," I say as I sit down next to her at the table. Felicity pours over stacks of parchment and scrolls.
"What are you doing?" I ask.
"Trying to figure out which guards are on the dungeon watch and which can be bought so we can sneak out the Queen's maid."
"Lady Jessica," I say.
"Right, Lady Jessica. Queen Rhea is doing a good job at keeping that under wraps. I'm afraid that today may also cause her to tighten security around the castle. I am hoping during the actual festival it will be lighter as guards join in the celebration." I make an agreeing noise and let Felicity go back to her work.
After I finish go to change back into my servants dress and then try to find Thea. I needed to see if she could get my clothes cleaned because they were splattered with the Coin Masters blood. She agreed because for some reason she is the best at getting blood out of things. I head back to the common area and settle into one of the overstuffed pillows with a book that had been left. The books in our home were growing in number, much like the people. Just before the two hours are up, Alex arrives in the common room with a big grin and a slight blush still in her cheeks. I laugh.
"Shut up," she mumbles, hurrying to the exit. I laugh and follow her.
"Have fun?" I tease.
"It's been two weeks since I've been able to sneak away to see her. Yes, we had fun." I laugh and Alex just rolls her eyes.
When we are weighed down with new dresses and fresh oranges for Lena we make our way back to the castle. We purposely chose a seamstress on the opposite side of the city from where our attack happened to decrease suspicion. Still, the guards searched through our belongings and asked a bunch of questions. We still had the letter from 'Lady Elena' about her dress needs and that served as sufficient proof of our day.
Once we reached Lena's room Alex relieved me of my burden silently. Inside Alex busied herself hanging the dresses while I scooped Lena into my arms and kissed her. I could feel her worry melting away as our lips met.
"How did it go?" She asks.
"Better than I could have hoped." Lena smiles and kisses me again.
"We brought fresh oranges from town. It's the start of harvest season which is why the festival is next week." Lena groans.
"The festival is to be the start of my courtship to the prince. It's going to be miserable."
"But you forget that I'll be there. We can laugh about it afterward as I fuck you with my fingers and you moan my name." I whisper in her ear. Lena's breath quickens and I pull back to see her cheeks redden. With one last peck, I move to help Alex finish hanging the dresses. Lena moves to sit in the chair at the table, picking up an orange from the basket before peeling it.
"I only had these once before I came here. I remember thinking they tasted like sunshine and I wanted more. But they were acquired in a raid on a Cadmium camp so there weren't many. Only the highest nobles and us were able to try them. Here they are in abundance. It's quite amazing." Lena muses as Alex and I move about different chores and then join her.
"So how did today help?" Lena aks when we are seated with her.
"One of our Daughters has influence in the castle and has been persuading the next in line for coin master to make more investments in the people, not the crown. Now he will be in a position to make those investments. The old Master of Coin was embezzling money for himself and other royals." Alex says.
"Do I get to know who this is?' Lena asks, Alex and I exchange looks, having a silent conversation as Lena looks between us.
"No. I think it's best if you don't. The queen already holds influence over you so the less you know, the better." I say. Lena looks slightly hurt but nods.
"Have you found anything about Jess?"
"Not yet. Someone is trying to figure out what guards can be bought but the men who secure the dungeons are an ever-changing loyal group. It makes it difficult to pin down who will be where and if we can get their cooperation." I explain to her. Lena looks on the verge of tears, knowing her best friend is trapped.
"Hey," I reach over and grab her hand on the table.
"I will kill every one of them to save Jessica. If it comes to that. She will not stay in there and you will not marry the Prince of Daxam." I say determinedly.
"Thank you." She says softly.
"Hey has Kara told you about the time she fell through a roof right into a private bath house and scared a noblewoman half to death," Alex asks, trying to break the tension.
"What? No." Lena laughs.
At that Alex dives into the story since she saw the whole thing happen, standing above me in a fit of laughter as the woman screamed. Then I began to tell a story about Alex. We went back and forth, telling Lena about most of my time here The banter continued for a while until Lena began to fidget.
"What's wrong Lena?" I ask.
"I'm just tired of being stuck in this room."
"Are you allowed out?"
"As long as I take the guards with me."
"Okay. Let's go to the gardens then. They are actually quite beautiful. The warmer weather lets them thrive all year round. You will enjoy it I'm sure."
Lena smiles. I know how much she loves the gardens back in Kandor. Alex and I work to dress her in one of the new dresses, luckily Alex had much more practice under Lady Lucy because I was lost with all the intricate ties and layers. Lena just laughed.
"Too bad you can't wear breeches anymore. Though I do enjoy seeing you in a dress." Lena says with a wink. Alex laughs.
"I am sure it is much more enjoyable than her hiding in all that clothing and wrapping she told us about," Alex says. I blush furiously and they both laugh again.
Soon Elena Colby is properly dressed for a lady of her standing and we are walking through the castle, flanked by two guards. I knew the way well, running messages to and from various important people for Snapper. Just outside the garden door I gasp and bow deeply, so does Alex.
Prince Michael stands there chatting with some noble's son. I glance at Lena who looks confused but bows her head respectfully. The sudden movement of Alex and I draws both men's attention.
"Well hello there. You must be Lady Elena. My mother thought you would venture to the gardens sooner rather than later. I am glad to have caught you so that I may introduce myself. I am Prince Michael." He holds a hand out and bows his head to kiss Lena's knuckles as she grasps his hand as well.
"It's a pleasure, my prince. My wonderful handmaidens were just showing me to the gardens. I adore the ones back home and I am already feeling a little homesick."
"Well please allow me to escort you. I would love to get to know this mysterious beautiful woman who appeared in my castle." I feel Lena hesitate before accepting the proffered arm.
Alex and I stand upright again, following with bowed heads behind the two royals. The guards get the doors to the garden as we enter, leaving whoever the prince was talking to before behind it.
The hour we spent wandering through the rich, beautiful gardens was torture. The prince always turned each conversation back to himself. 'Elena, how is your horse riding? I won a jousting tournament just last week.' 'Elena, have you ever read The Theory of Happiness? I thought it was amazing about the part that you should present to the world who you want to be.' the questions continued like this with Lena hardly replying, occasionally glancing back at us. I had to admit the man was attractive in an objective view. Also very naïve in a way only royalty could be when they cut themselves off from real people.
"Good Day, my lady. I hope I will see you again soon." The Prince says before kissing her hand again before departing down the hallway. Lena smiles and bids him farewell also. Once he rounds the corner she gestures for me to lead the way back to her room. When we are safely inside her chambers Lena visually shudders.
"Oh, Rao that man is horrible. I feel dirty from just being near him."
"Would you like a bath drawn up here?" Alex asks.
"No, I can't ask you two to do that." I roll my eyes.
"Lena we have to keep up appearances. That is something very normal for us to do. We aren't your friends here, we are servants in this castle." I say, Lena sighs and flops onto the bed.
Alex and I make our way to the kitchens to have the water heated and commandeer servants to carry it to the base of the tower. Alex and I were the only ones allowed past the guards so we spent the next half an hour trudging up and down the stairs. Finally, the tub in a small room off Lena's main room was filled with steaming water. The tub stands in the center of the room on feet over a drain that leads to the outer wall, making it easier to drain than to fill. Alex left to find food for us after she helped me get Lena out of her dress. I hold out a hand to help her ease into the water, the oils that we added to the water fill my nostrils with lavender and citrus. She raises an eyebrow at me.
"Aren't you joining me?"
"I umm. I..." I stammer out.
"How do you go from being so confident to a blushing mess?"
"Years of suppression and confused identity?" I try, Lena laughs.
She walks around the tub and presses as close as she can before untying the front of my dress. I swallow as she stares at me with impossibly green eyes, reflecting the torchlight flickering around the chamber. The dress slips from my shoulders to the floor. She slowly pulls my small clothes down and lets them drop as well. Lena grabs my hand and pulls me in with her. I settle into the nearly scalding water that is just on the border of feeling wonderful and searing my skin. Then Lena settles in front of me and it is definitely wonderful. Some of the water sloshes over the side and down the drain in the slightly sloped floor. Lena leans her head back against my shoulder and I wrap my arms around her. She lets out a small contented moan and I sigh and relax into the water.
"I really missed you. Even looking back I can see Kara behind everything Kal said and did."
"I missed you too. I can't believe I found you again, especially here." I kiss the side of her head.
Lena's fingers trail lightly on my leg in the water, tracing soft patterns into my skin. I bit back a moan at her touch. She continues higher. I use my hand to pull back her hair to expose the skin of her neck. My lips find that smooth pale skin, kissing slowly up and down it. Lena leans her head to allow me better access. One hand wanders to her breast and begins rolling the nipple into a hard peak. The other slides down her abdominal muscles and into the soft curls over her mound. Lena's soft moans echo off the stone walls. I bite softly at her earlobe and earn a sharp gasp. Her hips buck into my hand, her fingers digging into my thighs.
I slip my fingers into her folds that are wet from more than just water. Lena moans as I brush lightly over her clit. I scrape my teeth lightly into the crook of her neck before soothing it with my tongue. Slowly I insert a finger and feel Lena's breath hitch. Slowly I begin to move in and out. Lena doesn't seem to want to increase the pace as we both just focus on being here, being together. Her breathing does quicken slightly as I continue the slow movements. She turns her head to me and we kiss deeply, Lena's tongue tangling with mine.
I know that we are running out of time before Alex returns so reluctantly I pick up the pace, pressing my palm into her clit and adding a second finger inside. Lena reaches a hand up to tangle in my hair and the other grips the edge of the tub. Her hips start to thrust, falling into rhythm with me. Water splashes out of the tub as nearly silent gasps fill my ears. Lena goes rigid, her walls clamping down on my fingers as I try to continue to work her down from her high. Then she relaxes back into me and I kiss her temple.
"Alex will be back soon," I whisper.
"I know. Just a few more minutes. Too bad I didn't moan your name, but we can laugh about the prince still." She whispers back as I chuckle softly in her ear.
"I kind of liked the whole quietly coming thing. It was, I don't know, more intimate?"
"In some ways I agree. But also screaming your name is just as good."
"Oh, I fully agree. Now come on. Hopefully, Alex will be here with food soon." I extract myself from the water and pull two soft towels from the stack on the stand next to the door. I help Lena out and wrap her up. The I quickly towel off before slipping my own clothes back on.
I walk out of the small chamber and stop. Immediately my cheeks grow hot. Alex sits at the table covered with food, sipping on tea.
"Don't worry Alex is already here with food." She says with a shit-eating grin.
"Alex... I... We..."
"Hello, Alex," Lena says as she steps around me and behind the changing screen.
"Do you need some help, my lady? My sister seems to be frozen in some sort of shock."
"That would be wonderful. She may just be tired from helping me with something else." Alex laughs at Lena's response.
"I don't know why she is embarrassed, she has walked in on me and my girlfriend a number of times," Alex says as she disappears with Lena. I sit down annoyed at the table.
"Oh do tell. That might explain how she always goes from blushing to dirty and back again so quickly."
"Oh do tell." I mock under my breath, picking at a crusty bread roll. I was in for a hell of a time if those two were going to be friends, I could already tell.
Chapter 36: Kara- Festival
I don't think I have ever been happier. I spent almost every moment with Lena. Still, every moment was tainted with worry and despair for Jessica and for the impending courtship. I saw it seep into the edges of Lena's smile. It hunched her normally proud posture just slightly when she sat reading in the window. Alex always found a way to leave us as much as possible. I was so thankful for that, although I am pretty sure she used any excuse to go into the city to meet with Maggie. Lena and I took full advantage of the times that Alex disappeared. Tonight was the first night of the festival with a lavish party being thrown in the castle for most of the upper class. Lena was going to be seated among the nobles on the floor but we knew the prince would seek her out, following his mother's instructions. We had managed to avoid him for the past couple of days since the meeting in the garden.
The DEO was getting closer and closer to finding a way out for lady Jessica. We knew also that as soon as we did we would have to move fast. Who knew what Queen Rhea would do when she no longer had a way to control Lena. The apprehension was starting to wear on me as I thought of everything that could go wrong. Alex was finishing tying up Lena's hair while I slipped shoes on to her feet. I look up at Lena and she meets my eyes.
"Beautiful," I say with a smile and she smiles back.
"Alex does all the hard work," she responds.
"Trust me, it isn't hard work with you." Alex squeezes Lena's shoulder before moving to tidy up the mess of hair and makeup products on the vanity. I offer Lena a hand to help her stand.
"Don't worry. It is very usual to keep personal servants close at hand here. The nobles don't like to share or wait for help. Alex and I will never leave your side. Alex is very good with names thanks to her time serving Lady Lucy so she can help you with that." Lena nods and smooths her skirt down nervously.
Rumors had begun to circulate through the kitchen staff and soldiers to the rest of the castle about the mysterious noblewomen in the high tower. People speculated who she was, what she was doing here, and where she had come from. Soon enough outlandish tales began to spread. People claiming the woman was hideous or was too beautiful to be looked at directly. Some claimed she was a bastard daughter while others said she was brought to marry the prince. Those were the only people even remotely close to the truth.
The night was loud. Music poured out of every doorway, accompanied by laughter and shouting. Food filled every surface and its smell permeated the air. Beer and wine flowed freely from casks and pitchers as castle servants were constantly moving through the crowd to refill glasses. The people of Daxam really knew how to throw a party. I watched carefully from a distance as the prince took Lena for a third dance this evening. Lena was stiff and keeping her space while still remaining elegant. When the song ended she extracted herself from the prince and dodged a half-dozen other suitors to return to the table. Lena picks up two bottles of wine and hands them to me before grabbing a couple oranges. Without a word we begin to make our way back to her room, clearly, Lena was done with this celebration. Alex manages to disappear before we reach the tower and the guards let us up without a glance.
Once inside I set down the bottles and begin to help Lena rid herself of the heavy dress so she is just standing in a shirt. She let out a deep sigh of relief.
"Ugh, finally. This is as bad as torture. I think I would rather be in the dungeons then pretending to like these people. They are horrible. They act like anyone without titles aren't even people. I mean, did you see that man kick the poor serving girl just for not refilling his glass before it was empty."
"I know, love. That is what Alex and I and the rest of our family are trying to change." A weird look passes over Lenas features.
"What was that look for?" I ask her as she pours two glasses of wine for us.
"It's nothing." But Lena doesn't look at me.
"Lee, what is it? I mean I know what we do isn't very tasteful but I think it's necessary. You said it yourself, they treat everyone horribly and,"
"No, Kara it's not that."
"Then what is it?" I accept the wine she holds out for me. Lena bites her lip which even though she looks nervous it was extremely attractive.
"You said... you called them family. And after all of this, if we make it out alive, if you came back with me I would be taking you away from your family." Lena looks at me with watery eyes. I reach up and cup her cheek with my hand.
"You are my family. Winn and John and James are my family. I would follow you anywhere Lena. And who knows, the DEO may just come with us because it will be very dangerous for them to stay. Distance doesn't mean they won't be my family. I chose them and they chose me. Leaving here won't be a goodbye, okay?" Lena nods and I place a light kiss on her lips before helping her sit.
After a few silent minutes of sipping on wine, Lena picks up one of the oranges and methodically begins to peel it. I watch as she begins to pull apart the segments and lay them on the table. Suddenly she stands and moves in front of me. She takes the glass from my hand and sets it on the table before straddling my lap. She offers me an orange slice only allowing me to bite into half of it as she holds it up to my mouth. I watch her, unsure of what we are doing. As I bite into the sweet orange, I feel some of the juice squirt out and splash on her hand. Lena sticks the other half in her own mouth before repeating the process. On the third slice, Lena gently pushes the whole piece into my mouth, her finger follows and I taste the sweetness that lingers on it. She moans softly as my tongue swirls around it. She bites her lip and it is so much more attractive than earlier.
The next slice Lena places in her own mouth but she gently grips half of it between her teeth. She ducks her head to brush the slice against my own lips and I understand what she wants. Slowly I bite down on my half and my lips brush hers. Rao, I love oranges, I think. The second time Lena does it I have enough of her teasing. This time when I bite down my half I surge forward and complete the kiss. Then I grip Lena's thighs and stand. She lets out a squeal of surprise but wraps her legs around me easily.
"Rao, I love oranges." She says. I laugh.
"That's what I was thinking. But there is something else I think I'd like to eat tonight." Even in the moonlight, I see Lena blush.
"Are you sure?"
"Completely." I gently drop Lena on the bed to remove my dress and then help her pull her shirt over her head.
I immediately go to her ear. Nibbling on it always gets Lena really worked up. We slowly shift to the middle of the bed and Lena nestles into the pillows, soft moans escaping her lips as I switch ears. Nails run gently up and down my back as I settle between her legs. I move down Lena's neck, kissing and grazing my teeth against her skin. I knew I couldn't leave a mark there but it was so tempting. I move lower, down her chest and to one breast. I hadn't had much to drink tonight but I could feel Lena's presence intoxicating me.
"I could do this forever," I mumble into her breast before licking a nipple, Lena arches into me slightly.
"As much as I appreciate foreplay, please don't." I laugh and the vibrations cause her to moan.
"I mean, be here, in bed, with you," I say while switching to the other side.
"Hmm, me too. Oh Rao, do that again." I softly bite down on the nipple again as instructed. Then I move to the soft underside and suck hard, determined to mark her somewhere, even if no one else would see it.
"Fuck Kara." Lena's hands grip my head and keep me close. I smirk into her skin. Lena's hips have been slowly rocking into mine, she was getting impatient. I place wet kisses down her stomach, making my way slowly to the heat I could already feel between her legs. Lena had taught me a lot over the past couple of days but I hadn't done this yet. I hadn't tasted her yet. Goosebumps raise on my skin at the thought as pleasure courses through my own body. Small butterflies make themselves known in my stomach at the new experience.
"Tell me what you need. Guide me."
"Always." Lena's breath hitches as I place a kiss just on her outer lips.
"Slowly dip your tongue in, start near the bottom then go up. You'll know when you reach my clit."
I do as instructed. And Rao I love how she tastes. I've never tasted anything like it and it is so distinctly Lena. Salty with a hint of sweet. When I find her already enlarged clit her back arches off the bed.
"Not so direct. Circle it. A little less pressure. Yes, mmmm, that's it." Lena relaxes into the bed. I glance up and am awed by the relaxed features of her face as she closes her eyes and loses herself in the pleasure. I feel her fingers in my hair after I close my own eyes to focus on the task at hand and Lena continues to emit soft sounds of pleasure.
"Okay, now just slide your tongue down to my entrance or just use your finger." I decide to try my tongue first. The slickness of Lena fills my senses. My tongue dips into her and she moans and her fingers tighten in my hair.
"Same as you would with a finger, in and out." Lena is no longer as relaxed as she was before. I can feel her tensing beneath me as her breath quickens.
I begin to get much more comfortable with it. Pushing my tongue in and out but I feel Lena needing more as her hips begin to move slightly. I move back up to my original position and Lena starts to protest until my finger slides in. Her hips rock against my hand as she moans her appreciation. My finger works much better than my tongue at extracting noise from the beautiful woman under me. Continuing to follow my instincts, instead of just circling the swollen clit, I pull it softly into my mouth, sucking then soothing it with the flat of my tongue.
"Fuck Kara, do that again. Add another finger. Stop smiling down there." I suppress a laugh and wipe the smirk off my face as I do as I am told. My free hand reaches up to knead a breast and I see Lena use one of her hands to do the same to the other, rolling the hard nipple between fingers.
Lena's cries grow with each passing minute. I can feel the slickness between my own legs building with my own arousal. Lena's nails scrape against my scalp as she tenses and calls my name. I feel her walls contract and almost at the same time Lena cums on my face, and it drips down my chin and I do my best to lick up as much as possible, marveling at the taste of her.
"Oh, Rao Kara. I'm so sorry. You just had me so worked up. That's only the second time that's happened to me." I hum and crawl back up to her head.
"Don't apologize. I take it as a compliment." I lean down and kiss the beautiful woman, letting her taste herself still on my tongue. A hand creeps between my legs and I moan as fingers press against me.
"Rao Kara." I am already pressing against fingers that are not providing any relief.
It really doesn't take much for me to cum. Despite my brain being so focused on learning how to please Lena, my body was reacting to her. Once I stopped focusing, all that arousal crashed into me at once and Lena didn't make me wait for it. Kissing me deeply while fucking me with her fingers. Her thumb pressed lightly against my clit and moving with each thrust. It is quick and pleasure wracks my body as Lena helps me come down from the soaring high. Once I begin to relax back into her she untangles herself from me and I groan in protest.
"We have to change the bedding. I love that you made me cum so hard but, Kara dear, I am not sleeping on soaked sheets." I agree reluctantly with her.
I get up and get the extra bed sheets while she strips off the soiled. In a few short minutes we are both comfortably laying together, Lena's back flush with my front. Her head rests on the pillow my arm is tucked under and my other arm is wrapped protectively around her. Our legs tangle together as our eyes grow heavy and we fall into a peaceful sleep.
The next morning I gather up all the laundry I can mix in with the sheets, planning on doing that for most of the day. Lena sits in bed reading, avoiding all contact she can with people in the castle. She was able to get the Master Bookkeeper to let her borrow books from the libraries so she had a nice little stack next to the bed. A sharp cry startles both of us, me out of my staring, and Lena out of her book. Killer is perched on the window sill, one claw grasping a roll of parchment. When I take it from her she flies off immediately to return to her perch. I break the seal that has the DEO symbol pressed into the cooled wax.
We might have a way. Come home.
Maggie's handwriting for sure. I turn to Lena who is already right behind me, reading over my shoulder. I swallow, realizing she is still naked and so close. Not the time, I think. I open my mouth but she beats me to it.
"Go. Start the laundry but have someone else finish because Lady Elena would like a new dress to watch the prince in the final jousting tournament. It will be a rush order since it is only two days notice but I have the gold to pay." She moves away from me to the writing desk to pick up a small pouch of coins. I swear she purposefully sways her hips just a little more, knowing I am for sure watching.
"I'm thinking red to stand out. In whatever the latest Daximite style." I nod and kiss her.
"We will save her. And I will take you home. On my life."
"Just save her. I don't want my throne if it means your life." I kiss her hard again before picking up the basket of dirty clothes and sheets, leaving Lena alone with her books.
We wait two days. Everyone who's anyone will be at the jousting tournament. Guards in the castle will be bare minimum to have the most force in the actual tournament. It was taking place in the secured stadium fields about half a mile from the castle itself. The stadium was huge. Seating thousands of people, the richest near the floor while the poorest were near the sky. At the end of the tournament, there would be a feast right here in the stadium. Classes would mix, drink would flow, and dancing would last until the sun was in the sky again. That is when we would move.
Lena was so gorgeous I swear my heart stopped for a second. The dress was a bright web with a stiff netting the same color wrapping her torso. It fit her form perfectly. The top dipped low in the front but created an almost short cape in the back. On her arms were slipped two red sleeves that were almost like gloves. I smile to myself at her first reaction putting on the dress. 'Rao, is this really what they wear? I feel like my boobs are trapped in a cage.'
Alex and I stood behind Lena and the table she shared with several other women vying for the prince's favor. Lena ignored the squabbling in favor of her wine glass and the cheese and hard meats on the table in front of them. When the prince emerged for his first joust, the other women jumped to their feet and began waving favors for the prince to take. Lena stayed seated until a harsh look from Queen Rhea caught her eye. Reluctantly, Lena joined the others, waving a red handkerchief that matched her dress, standing out from the soft whites, pinks, and blues already being waved. After much showing off and theater like indecision, Prince Michael selected Lena's and tucked it into his breastplate. I don't know how much he knew about his mother's plan but for the most part, he seemed to truly believe Lena was Lady Elena Colby.
The tournament was long. Lasting through lunch and well into dusk. Torches were lit for the finals. The Prince against one of his own men. I never learned the sport but I am pretty sure the challenger through the tournament for his future king. Lena was only needed for a first dance with the prince as his chosen favor. After two dances she extracted herself, avoiding a kiss to let it land on her cheek before escaping from the noise and oppressive crowd with Alex and me.
"Where are you going?" a cold, chilling voice follows us out of the stadium doors. Queen Rhea and her personal guards.
"Forgive me, my lady. I have had a terrible headache from the heat of the sun all day. I am afraid if I do not lie down I may just be ill." Lena recites the excuse we came up with earlier, bowing to the queen with her head while Alex and I curtsy deeply to the Queen dressed in deep blue. A high collar protrudes from behind her head like a cat raising its hackles. The queen looks unconvinced by Lena's words.
"Please, your majesty, it is not this hot where I am from. It turns my stomach in the worst way." Lena tries, the queen purses her lips.
"Well, we cannot have that. At least you were able to enjoy a dance with my son. I expect another one at tomorrow's feast."
"As you wish, my lady." Lena bows her head again and the queen turns back the way she came. A carriage waits to return us to the castle, A line of them waiting for partiers to finally try to stumble home. We ride silently, not daring to say anything with prying ears just outside the carriage.
The plan was simple. I had snuck my climbing ropes along with a harness that Caitlyn had designed in with Lena's laundry. They waited for me coiled under the bed. We would go upstairs as expected and Alex would leave us like usual. Alex would head back towards the celebration, using the excuse of being dismissed for the night if she was questioned leaving the palace again. Just before she reached it, however, she would slip into one of the underground tunnels the DEO had found as they had been mapping them out. Our field agents as we had begun to call them, would meet Alex with a change of clothes for her. Mine were already in Lena's room with the ropes. After frantic and long searches, we had found a tunnel leading to the dungeons. It was little more than a water runoff channel so it was cramped but it would serve its purpose.
Alex and her group would enter from below. The guards would have been slipped sleeping herbs during their dinner and wouldn't be replaced until near dawn. It should be easy for Alex to slip in, pick the lock, and escape with Lady Jessica. I would be escaping out the tower window like I had before with much different occupants staying there. Lena would be hooked to me by the harness, however, not like before. I would have to support her weight and my own on the descent. Luckily, the DEO's greatest minds had come up with an ingenious repelling system that should help.
Apprehension builds in my stomach and my fingers twitch in anticipation. We aren't stopped by anyone, in fact, we see almost no one on our return to the castle. The hallways are sparingly lit with torches. Outside the tower door, with guards as witnesses, Lena dismisses Alex for the night. Slowly we climb to the top. We had to wait, if we left too early and for some reason, the queen decided to check on Lena, then she would know something was wrong. Lena sits in front of a fire I built and I pace, counting off the minutes until it's time to dress. I put on my own clothes, breathing deeply at the relief of them against my skin. The mottled clothing ranging from almost black to moonlight gray feel as much as home as Lena does. She watches carefully as I begin sliding various daggers into my sleeves and boots and behind my back and a dozen other places.Then as I strap on the belt that holds my throwing knives, handles wrapped in soft black leather to prevent any sort of shine. I hand Lena her own set and she looks at me in confusion.
"These clothes are designed to break up the human form to the eye. It will help us blend. Also, do you really want to climb down this tower in a dress?" Lena takes the clothes from me as I help her undress and then redress in the foreign garments.
"They are so soft." She says, running a hand over the opposite sleeve.
"Comfort is necessary when hiding in the same place for hours at a time. Plus they are light and durable. Easy to repair also." I pull my hood up and then the face mask attached to the tunic. Slowly I do the same for Lena and she watches me. Without a word, I retrieve the ropes and begin securing them to the heavy oaken bed frame as an anchor.
"Do you trust me?" I ask when I am done.
"With my life." I exhale with relief and then begin to step into my harness before Helping Lena with her own.
"This will attach you to me. I will do all the work, just hold on to me and don't look down." Lena nods.
I lead her to the window and make her face me.
"Arms around my neck. Legs around my waist. The harness will support most of your weight." I instruct her. Trying to keep my voice as calm as possible as adrenaline begins to course through my veins.
Warning bells thunder through the castle. Loud and deep, shaking the walls. Panic rushes up my throat as I look towards the tower door.
"Shit, they must have found Alex." Lena makes to step away but I have already clipped her to my own support vest.
"Go help her."
"No, she isn't alone and this is the mission. She will find a way. My sister would never forgive me if I left you up here, I would never forgive me." I reach down and pull Lena's thighs up, forcing her to wrap them around me or let us both fall. Her arms tighten around my neck and her face burrows into my hair.
"Is this a bad time to mention that I hate heights?" she mumbles and I laugh.
"Sorry, it's the only way." I gather the rope running through the steel hooks in my harness and step up onto the ledge, my back to the sky.
Slowly, I lower myself over the edge, pulling the rope tight at the top, allowing a loose coil in my left hand while my right holds on tightly above me and the rest falls away out of sight into the darkness. I begin walking down the wall placing each foot with care on the familiar, uneven surface. I hear shouting in the distance and pick up my pace, almost hoping down the wall. Lena tenses with each moment of weightlessness but never looks out. My boots reach the grass with a soft thud and I have to urge Lena to let go. When she does I hold a finger to my lips to stop anything she might say. From one of my pockets, I pull a whistle. I silently blow in the short pattern. No sound comes out but a soft hiss of air but I know its worked when a cry pierces the night. Killer uses her razor-sharp beak to snip through the thick rope. It tumbles into my arms rather loudly for my opinion but It means I am able to hide it in the hedges. I grab Lena's hand and begin to lead us to the small drain that would take us to the tunnels. I couldn't escape over the wall like last time so we were using one of the tunnels we had found in search of the dungeon. It would be tight but it would work.
We are almost there when I hear angry voices and see torchlight. Someone shushes them and douses the flame. In a hurry, I usher Lena into the manicured foliage that lines the wall we were about to turn around. I hear the distinct sounds of metal on metal.
"Hey watch where you point that thing. You won't find them if I am dead." Alex. What is she doing? Would she really turn on me to save her own life? Dark figures round the corner we were headed towards. I recognize Alex's moonlit form surrounded by large men, one with a sword lowered at her back.
"No offense, but I don't trust you." Comes a gravelly response. My heart stops. I know that voice. That voice had followed me everywhere for years. I step out before Lena can protest, pulling down my hood and face mask.
"John..." I say softly. His head turns from Alex to me. I pull down my mask and step closer.
"Kal..." He says just as reverently. A big smile overtakes his face and one spreads on mine. I sun to him and he picks me up in a bear of a hug. He had grown and know stood nearly a foot taller with muscles to match. He sets me down. And looks behind me before dropping to a knee. The others do as well. The others. All of them were my men. The familiar faces now marred with hard lines from who knows what.
"Stand all of you, this is not the time." Queen Lena Luthor commands.
The men rush to their feet. And actually, move to surround us.
"What is going on?" I ask.
"Later sis. They cleared a path from the eastern gate and set a fire at the western one. We have to move now. Once we get in the city we can use one of our larger entrances for our new friend's sakes."
"Jess?" I ask knowing Lena need to hear too.
"Safe with the others and someone named Donovan."
We move as one then. I keep Lena in front of me and behind Alex as half walk half run to the east. The already thin guard was too busy with the fire to be found here. I had forgotten how loud plate mail could be, cringing at the movements of the men around me. Suddenly A figure appears above the gate we are headed towards. I see him peering at us through the dark, trying to determine whether or not to raise an alarm.
"Kara." Alex hisses.
"Too far. Twenty paces than a boost. John, move." He doesn't hesitate, easily following the command and stepping out of mine and Alex's path.
We sprint. On Alex's twentieth step she turns and braces, cupping her hands and bending her knees. I am just a few strides behind. Just like we had practiced I step into her hands and she launches me upwards, never slowing. As we had run, I slipped a dagger from my belt and at the top of my arch, I throw it. I see the man inhale to shout. The exhale never comes. The dagger stops it by sinking into the man's throat and he drops with a soft thud. I tuck and roll as the ground rushes to meet me and turn to see the group stopped several paces behind Alex.
"Come on." I gesture harshly for them to keep moving.
Alex takes the lead now while I fall in next to Lena, taking her hand. The streets are empty outside the castle. We rush through back alleys, twisting and turning. Some are so narrow we have to move in single file and some are wide enough for two carts. Eventually, we stop at the house of a supporter. One Alex and I used frequently to get home. A tunnel ran under her root cellar. Alex knocks and waits.
"There is a fire in my hearth." Comes the voice from the other side, just loud enough to be heard.
"We shall rise, burning and free." Is Alex's response. The woman opens the door to allow Alex in, Her eyes going wide at the men behind her.
"I can't explain now, We just need to get home. It's an emergency."
"I'll say, you can hear the bells from here."
"I know Izzy." With a nod, Izzy lets us in and we quickly use the secret hatch to the root cellar and then into the tunnels underneath.
The trip is long, dark and quiet. I have so many questions. For now, I settle for Lena's hand still firmly in mine and the knowledge that Jessica is safe. We end up at the ladder leading up through the cliff that houses our home. It's a long way up from where we are and Lena looks up the shaft with apprehension.
"I'll catch you if you fall," I say softly as Alex begins the assent.
Lena follows with me right behind and the men behind me. At the top, we follow Alex through our ever-expanding home. She calls for anyone present to go to the common room, what we had begun calling the room with all the pillows and books. Alex's voice echoes through the halls. I see the men behind me trying to take in the intricate maze of hallways. The base now housed forty women on a regular basis and near one hundred if we were all gathered in one place. We had to expand the kitchen and common room as well as adding on bedrooms, training rooms, and a healing room. We pass through the kitchen and into the common room. It is filled with women, including the team who brought Jessica back, who is leaning heavily on a man in steel, Donovan.
"Jess!" Lena calls. She pulls away from me and runs to her friend, pulling her into a tight hug.
"So Danvers. We send you for two women and you bring back nine men. The first men to ever be here I might add," Maggie leans against the wall next to us with her arms crossed.
"Well, it happens when they hold you at sword point and almost ruin a rescue operation."
"I think it's time for debriefing. Felicity, Sara, and Thea gather what food and wine you can and pass it around. The rest of us sit and listen." Maggie says with a hint of authority in her voice. Women grumble all around and soldiers sit with the clumsiness of armor restricting their movements.
I delivered into the short tale of Lena's and I's escape, ending with finding Alex. Food and drink are passed around the crowded room. Alex begins then with rescuing Jessica and being taken by John to lead them to me. Then every eye turns to my former squire and he realizes it's his turn to speak but I can see he is unsure where to start.
"We know up until when you were ambushed and Queen Lena was taken. Start with what happened after." I prompt.
"After the ambush. I woke to a near empty camp. The soldiers had returned to the castle, our guard being the only men who stayed and waited until I woke up almost two days later. We were planning on returning to the castle when riders from further south came galloping into our camp. The prince among them. He had received word on the attack already. We told him what had happened. He was angry. Righteously so. He planned on taking the whole army deep into Cadmium to follow his sister's captors. I stopped him. I pledged my life to protect the heart of the crown and that included him. After several days of arguing and meeting and strategizing, he allowed for my men and I to attempt a rescue. Some of the Queen's Guard heard the attackers saying that they were taking her to Daximite, to Queen Rhea. We spent most of the time simply avoiding every road we could, only venturing into populated areas for supplies and direction towards the capital. When we were finally able to sneak into the city, we learned all we could of the castle. We also found out about the tournament and knew that would be the night to try to rescue the queen. So we set the distraction, scaled the wall and found the dungeons, only to find the guards asleep. That's when we found Alex and now we are here."
"Lex was angry?" Lena's soft voice from next to Jessica.
"Yes, my queen. It took a lot for me to keep him from forcing the whole army south."
"Then he doesn't know. Lex wasn't apart of it." Lena says, almost to herself. John looks confused but I push past it.
"Where is Prince Alexander now?"
"Waiting just on the other side of the border. He was going to have an eastern section of the army push the lines to pull attention from the West to make it easier for us to get back."
"We will leave in the morning then."
"Ah, not to put a damper on things, but Lady Jessica should rest at least three days before travel. She is malnourished." Interrupts Caitlin.
"Besides we need to plan. This changes everything. We probably won't be able to get back into the castle now that Lena is free." Says Alex.
"Alex I swore I would take Lena home." I stand, my voice rising at the thought of them trying to stop me.
"I won't stop you, Kara. But once Queen Rhea knows Lena is missing, the city will be sealed, patrols will be everywhere. We need to think through this before we get ourselves killed." I glare but remain silent, knowing she has a point but not liking it.
"We are not reckless. We always have a plan. And we will for this as well. Anyone who doesn't live here permanently, return home. Keep your heads down and wait for further communications. Sara, show the Queen's Guard to the lower rooms. Caitlin, look after Lady Jessica in the Medical Bay. Dismissed." Maggie commands. Slowly people disappear leaving the Queen's Guard, Maggie, Alex, and Sara with me.
"Kal..." John starts but trails off.
"It's Kara now. Or again I guess." I tell him.
"Kara. We have all missed you. We..."John trails off.
"We want to serve under you again, captain." Connor supplies.
"I'm not a captain. Or a knight." I say.
"But you are. Master Winslow says the vows are for life, and when Queen Lena undoes the banishment, you can return to leading us." Says Anthony. I look at each of them. They all seem sure and in agreement with the men who had spoken. I look at John.
"You all really want that?"
"I will follow you anywhere," John says.
"If my queen will have me, then yes, I'll return." We all look at Lena.
"Kara, I already told you I need you. I need you by my side to take back my kingdom. But I am not Queen yet though my mother will pay for what she has done."
"My pardon, your highness. To us, you are queen. You are the rightful heir and now knowing that Queen Lillian did this, she has no right to rule us." Says John, Rao bless that boy. Lena just nods.
"Sara you can show them to their rooms. I will come by later. I am going to take Lena to see Jessica."
In the medical Bay, Lady Jessica lays on one of the twenty beds with Donovan sitting by her, holding her hand. We hadn't had to use this room really, but Caitlin insisted on its construction. Donovan looks up at our interest and tries to stand but Lena waves him off, focused on Jessica's prone form.
Her cheeks were shallow and her skin was ashen. Her hair was as dirty as her clothes but still, she smiled when she saw Lena.
"My lady. I told you would find a way." Tears roll down Lena's cheeks as she practically throws herself on her friend. Her arms wrap around her.
"I'm so sorry... I... I should never have taken you with me. Then sh...she wouldn't have been able to use y...you." Lena sobs into Lady Jessica's chest. Jessica uses her free hand to soothingly run her fingers through her Queen's hair.
"Shhh... I'm okay. It's all okay. They just didn't give me as much food as they should have. No one laid a finger on me. We are going to be okay."
I stand frozen in the doorway. Unsure how to handle this. As Lena's breathing slows, Jessica finally looks to me. Her face scrunches in confusion.
"And who is this?" She asks. I guess I had changed a lot in the months since Kandor.
"Jess, this is Kara." Lena gestures for me to come take her hand. Recognition Dawn's on Jessica's face.
"Kara, oh Rao. Of course. Who else could save the queen? Rao, you look so..."
"Different?" I try.
"Feminine." I laugh at that.
"Well, there wasn't any reason to hide anymore."
"And are you two..." She gestures to us. In response, I wrap both my arms around Lena from behind and nod to the unfinished question.
"About time." Is all she says. Jessica settles back into the pillows and lets her eyes drift shut. We turn to leave the couple be. Donavon had watched me the whole time silently.
"Kara?" He says just as I open the door for Lena. I turn back to him and he stood right behind me. Before I can ask what he wanted, He had pulled me into a tight hug. I sound of surprise escapes my lips before I registered what is happening. Slowly my arms hug him back.
"It's good to have you back." He whispers.
"It's good to be back with you guys."
Donavon releases me after a moment more before turning back to sit next to the bed. Lena grabs my hand outside the room and lets's me lead her to my own room. I grab a torch on the way from one of the walls. I managed to convince Felicity to let me have one near the top of the plateau with easy access to the outside. It was far away from most of the others who lived here permanently. They chose to have rooms closer to the common living areas. I chose to be close to the sky. The room was small, only meant to house me. I had started to actually decorate on various trips back. A rug on the rough stone floor. Books stacked in various places. And expensive paints in one corner with a half-finished canvas of Killer in flight. The painting was new to me but I found I liked it.
"This is... not what I expected. You paint?"
"I'm learning," I say, moving around the room to light various candles and lamps before sticking the torch back outside in a bracket.
"Well, you are quite good." Lena sits on the bed and looks about.
"And you have a lot of books. Is reading better too then?"
"Yes. Thanks to you. And books always reminded me of your study, the days we spent there and you helping me." I sit next to her and take her hand.
"I can see it. I can see you, in this room. I can see you." She says softly and tears spring to my eyes that I swallow back.
"Even the me that can kill a man with ease?"
"I don't think that's you. Not who your soul is. It's your duty. You aren't a killer, you, Kara Danvers, are my hero." I look into her wet eyes and kiss her softly.
"Can we sleep? I'm exhausted." She asks.
"Please. I've missed my own bed. Not that yours is bad, but it's way too soft." Lena laughs. I move and press my back against the rough stone wall and pull Lena into my arms as we lay down. It doesn't take long for sleep to find me after the adrenaline crash I experienced from our escape.
Chapter 37: Alex- Rescue
The tunnel was cramped and damp as we squeeze through it. Everything was going to plan and that made me extremely nervous. I just hoped that Kara could get Lena out safely. One lady was not worth all of this but it was worth it to Lena and in turn, Kara. So that meant I had to try. Soft light filters down from above me, flickering from a torch. This was it. I remove the drain cover as quietly as possible, praying that the guards were asleep. I poke my head up and see rows of cells, most are empty. As the women follow me through I begin to search. Some cells hold men. Only one holds a sleeping woman. Rao, I hope she's just sleeping. She looks thin and sickly in the faint torchlight. I slip my lock pick kit from my belt and work as fast as I can. The woman stirs from the soft jangling of the bars.
"Wha... Who are you?" She asks in a hoarse voice. It sounds like she hasn't had water in days.
"A friend of Kara's" the girl still looks confused.
"Shit umm... Kal's. A friend of Sir Kal's and Queen Lena." I say, struggling to recall Kara's old name.
"My lady? Is she safe? Don't save me, save her." She pushes further back into the cell.
"Kal is saving her. You will see her shortly. Then we will get you both back to Krypton where you belong." I say exhaling as the lock clicks open and the bars swing out.
"Now we have to go. The guards are asleep. It will be tight but we will keep you safe." I hold my hand to the girl still huddled in the corner. She takes in the hooded women around me, ten of us in all, before accepting my hand.
Just as I am helping her through the opening, the door at the end of the hall bursts open. Men in armor and swords flood in. My women draw their daggers. In close quarters like this, swords will be a huge disadvantage. Jessica stumbles into my arms. One of the men steps forward, out of formation.
"Jessica! Let her go!" He commands in a slightly comical way.
"No. She's coming with us. She is done being your prisoner." Lily says.
"Donovan?" Comes a soft whisper next to me.
"Do you know these men?" I ask.
"Yes, they... are... Kal's men." she manages in a voice like rocks scraping over each other.
"Stand down," I say, immediately they all sheath their daggers and the men are left looking uncertain.
Bells begin to echo through the castle, it sounds distant this deep in the castle but I recognize the warning bells. I groan at the meaning. Our stealth operation was blown.
"You idiots ruined everything."
"We came for our Queen and we intend to find her." Says a burly dark skinned man. He looks very intimidating. Something tickles at the edge of my mind, something Kara had told me.
"John, right?" The man looks taken aback.
"Let's skip the dramatics. Kal is one of us. She is saving the queen now. If you will follow us we will get you out of here safely." I cut off his question.
"Not without our Queen."
"For Rao's sake. Okay, ladies. Take Lady Jessica here to the base, I'll lead these men to their Queen. Hopefully, we can catch them before they escape into the tunnels."
"You aren't taking Jessica from me." The first man states. There it is, stupid love. Men were stupid when it came to love. I roll my eyes.
"You can follow them then. Thea, please take over. Quickly now, I'll shut the grate behind."
The man passes right through my assassins and takes Jessica from me. One by one my women hope back down into the tunnels, Jessica is slowly lowered in and the man is last. I slid the grate back over.
"Okay, we have to hurry. The drugs on the guards are going to wear off soon." John motions me forward with his still drawn sword. I sigh and lead the way.
The guards are still asleep, thankfully. As we hurry I have a whispered conversation about how they got in. A minor explosion and fire to draw guards away. They killed a few who lingered at their posts. Someone must have found a body and sounded the alarm. I use my knowledge of the castle to lead us through deserted servants corridors and to the other side of the castle as quickly as possible. When we emerge it takes a second to orient where the water drain entrance is in relativity to Lena's tower. Something sharp pokes my back. I turn to glare at John.
"Hey watch where you point that thing. You won't find them if I am dead." I continue around the corner.
"No offense, but I don't trust you," John says. This is it. The last stretch before Kara's escape. We either beat them or we're far too late. A figure steps out in front of me.
"John..." I hear Kara whisper from a distance.
"Kal..." he whispers back.
Chapter 38: Kara- Traning, Take Two
Sure enough, the next day wanted posters for Alex and Kara Danvers were hanging everywhere. All traffic in and out of the city was stopped, guards were searching everywhere for the kidnappers of Lady Elena Colby. Alex and I had to stay inside while Maggie and Sara did some scouting around to find all this out. We opted to practice in the training room to fight off the boredom of being confined. Lena sat in the corner and read, glancing up now and then to watch. We were practicing with dull versions of a new blade Felicity had come up with. It strapped to the forearm and extended out with the flick of a wrist. It was genius but also hard to get the feel of. One wrong move and the blade would appear accidently. I danced out of Alex's reach, only to stumble into a wall. A wall that laughed. I turn to find John right behind me.
"Actually it's Sir John now. Use the title, he loves it." Lena teases from the corner. John rolls his eyes, clearly not loving the title.
"My lady, please. We have been over this."
"Yes, we have, Sir John," Lena stresses the word. He sighs.
"Lena doesn't like titles either." He says to me.
"Oh, I know, she believes they are quite cumbersome. She did the same to me. Wait should I be worried? I thought that was you flirting with me." I turn to ask her and she laughs.
"Oh, it was with you. But John would use it so much it was exhausting. I had to put an end to it. Not that he really listened." Lena continues with her book, ignoring the room again.
"So this is what you have been doing in Cadmium, rescuing damsels and fighting like nothing I have ever seen."
"Not just that. But we don't have to get into the specifics now. John, this is my sister Alex Danvers, Alex this is my former squire and successor, John Jones." I say, making formal introductions with the two vastly different parts of my life.
"Sister?" John asks but still reaches out a hand to shake Alex's hand.
"By choice, not birth." she clarifies for him.
"What are you two doing exactly? I've never seen this fighting style."
"It's a DEO style. I've been teaching Kara since she arrived here. Now we are evenly matched."
"Ah, the teacher became the student." John rubs his chin, amused at the thought.
"Just briefly. I can still teach you a thing or two."
"Challenge accepted." He disappears. I look at Alex.
"Where did he go?" She asks.
"To get his sword." We wait until deep voices echo through the hall outside. John returns with the entire Guard, minus Donovan who was still by Jessica's bedside. Sure enough, John had his sword. He had also slipped on his chainmail shirt and a shield on his left arm.
"You want an audience for this?" I raise an eyebrow at him.
"They asked. They miss training with you." I shrug and drop into a crouch.
"Don't worry about me. I'm ready. Are you?" John draws his sword in response.
We circle each other, testing the newness of each other's familiar fighting. My entire style had changed and John had a new sense of confidence. No one had beaten him in a while. That would be his downfall. He was too confident in his own skills to anticipate mine. His first strike is quick and he pulls it, just watching my reaction. Good. He strikes again with a little more force and I sidestep it. Back and forth we begin, like a dance. His sword flashes while I turn and spin and step to avoid it. It's a delicate task as he begins using more brute force than before. I step in front of his shield, he lunges out to hit me with it but I roll around. As my turn puts me behind him, I extend my wrist, the dulled blade makes a soft snick as it extends. I slide it easily between links of chainmail like it was designed to do, resting it between the shirt and John's side. He tenses immediately at the cold steel on his skin.
"If this was a sharp blade, you would be dead," I say evenly. I think John stops breathing because he exhales heavily as I remove the blade.
"That...was...awesome!" Says one of the men that now stand behind me. I think it may have been Andrew.
"Guess I have more training to do." Says John as he turns to me, a grin on his face as sweat pours down his forehead from the exertion.
"Only if you plan on fighting us. But we are on your side so I wouldn't worry too much." I say. Some of the excitement drains out of his face.
"What is it?"
"Nothing. I umm... we were just hoping to spar with you again."
"Lee, are you okay spending some more time here?" Lena waved me off without looking up.
"I'll take that as a yes. Alex, do you want to join?"
"And miss showing up a bunch of men?" She teases.
"And I'll take that as a yes also."
Later, after several hours of sparring, when I was getting a snack in the kitchen, John walked in too. He looked happy at first but a hint of sadness crossed his features again.
"All right, whats wrong? I know you, John, that's the same look you had before." He picks up an apple and examines it much more closely than necessary.
"It's nothing Kal, sorry, Kara. Really. I'm just happy to see you again. I really thought one of us would die before that happened."
"John," I say, staring him down like I used to when he didn't do his chores or rub down his horse at the end of a long march. He makes the mistake of looking up, or down at this rate since he seemed to continue to grow. He flinches and hunches his shoulders.
"You... earlier, you said that 'we are on your side.' Like you aren't apart of the Queen's guard anymore. Like we aren't a family anymore. And I... I realized that this is where you belong. These women are so much like you. This is your family." John goes back to staring at his apple. He is still just a kid, a kid with way too much responsibility.
"John, you are my family too. And the other men. And Winn. You all are. And I have missed you so much." I place a hand on one of his shoulders, his eyes snap to mine, I had never touched him like this before, not with such a serious conversation.
"I belong with Lena. Wherever she is. I will follow her. The DEO knows that too, they knew it the moment I found her here. But I have been with these women a long time now so I do think in the terms of 'we.' I am sorry if you thought you didn't matter, or that I replaced you. John, I love you. You were the first to trust Kara and believe in her, even if I didn't know it." John wraps me in a hug so tight he pulls me off the ground.
"I love you too. And I love who you have become. Kal wouldn't have said all that to me." I laugh through the tears forming in my eyes.
"Kal thought it though. It just took Kara to say it. Are you done being all sad and moppy now? I have a beautiful woman waiting for me to bring her an orange."
"Yeah. I am glad you found each other. Lena had me worried for a few months. She hardly left her room. Honestly, she wasn't even this happy with Kal." I smile so wide it hurts.
"Me too. She was the only thing that kept me alive sometimes."
It takes four days of rest and food for Lady Jessica to recover. Donavon rarely leaves her side. They made a cute couple and Lena told me she was already planning on blessing the marriage whenever he worked up the courage to ask Lena for permission. I found the thought of who I would need to ask to marry Lena but quickly shook it off. That was a whole other bridge to cross if we were even allowed, if she even wanted to. No, for now, I had to focus on getting Lena back home and safe.
"Halt!" calls the guard, unnecessarily.
Traffic leaving the city had been crawling at a snail's pace all day. I squeeze Lena's hand in the darkness of the hidden compartment. It was tight, barely enough room to breath between the floorboard and false bottom hatch. Maggie was driving with Sara. Thea and Vasquez were driving a cart several back with Lady Jessica and Alex in its false bottom. The Queen's guard were disguised as mercenaries hired to protect the caravan we had joined. I feel Lena tense as the contents of the cart are shifted above us. I hold my breath and wait. It's over in moments but it feels like an eternity. A jerk and the cart is moving forward again to join the rest of the caravan that has already been searched and is sitting outside the gate.
Its well into the trip that Sara lets us out of the bottom, my whole body feels like a giant cramp. The only positive was that we were out of Daxam and Lena's hand was in mine the entire time. We settle into the back of the cart, we lean against the covered side, Lena's head on my shoulder. I can see Thea's cart behind us. They had caught up since the gates. In the next major city, we would take our two carts and our 'hired muscle' and head west before heading north while the others went east.
When darkness arrives, all ten carts are circled and fires are lit. Our 'mercenaries' aren't the only ones. They meet and set up a rotation schedule so not all of them have to be on watch at once. We build a fire near our own carts like some others, away from the communal fire in the center. We talk softly and share food. Being outside was much needed after being inside for nearly a week.
"Yup, so when enlistments went out, I was taken because my father had lost most of his fingers on his sword hand. That day was the last day I saw my parents. And well, I think my most notable career points have been spoken about at length." I finish explaining my life to everyone. The women knew most of it at this point, but the men were still in the dark.
"Well Kara, I know you have been through a lot, but I am sure glad I was able to serve you." Says John, causing me to blush, only hidden by the firelight and the wine we were sharing.
Before long we settle into bedrolls. Lena pressed to my front to fight off the cold night air. Alex and Maggie settle into another while Sara, Vasquez, and Thea fall in a row to fight off the chill. Other men lay scattered as they sleep until their watch.
"Yeah Lee?" I whisper back softly.
"We could just leave. Disappear. Together."
"I've just been thinking how hard it's going to be. And I love you but I don't even know if we can get married or if the people will hate me for it or..."
"Shhh... Lena, you know you would never be happy hiding. You belong on the throne, it's in your soul. Secondly, I love you, I will be by your side no matter what, even if... even if you must marry another."
"I won't marry anyone else. My brother and his children can take the throne then." I kiss the back of her head.
"We can figure all that out later, for now, We get you back to Kandor.
We all breathe a little easier three days later when we separate from the others. We push faster than we should but none of us want to stay in Cadmium longer than necessary. The men pair off to scout ahead through the woods. When reports of patrols come back, we hid much like when we were leaving Daxam. It becomes much more frequent, the more north we travel. We soon have to rely on the fake papers that felicity provided to get us past roadblocks. Thea was a seamstress and her assistants traveling north to join citizens willing to settle in an outpost being established as Krypton focused on the eastern front. We were in the hiding place when a patrol near the borders calls for us to stop.
"Here are our papers, sir." Says Maggie. Silence follows as he examines.
"Follow me." the man orders.
"I'm sorry sir, is something wrong?"
"Yes, you aren't doing as you are told." Threat clear in the man's voice. Lena squeezes my hand hard.
"Yes, sir." The cart jerks into movement after another moment and I feel it turn off the main road.
When the cart stops I hear a drone of conversation, too far away to hear. Then protests from the women driving the carts as things start to be shuffled above us. They are cut off quickly and I feel the cart rock as things are unloaded from the top. I pull a knife from my belt and press it into Lena's hand.
"Be ready," I whisper. My muscles tense in preparation for a fight.
Suddenly daylight pours in as the hatch is lifted, I spring at whoever opens it. We fall backward, off the cart and onto the ground. The man's back hits and I hear all the air rush out of him. The blade of my gauntlet is out and just under his chin. I look into the eyes of the first man I will kill here. Then I stop. I know those eyes.
"Prince Alexander," I say, shocked.
"Kal?" He asks, unsure. I nod. Still stunned. We shouldn't have reached them for at least two more days. I retract the blade and slowly stand up to look around. We are in a camp filled with soldiers in Cadmium uniforms but I recognize a few faces here and there as ones I used to help lead.
"Lex?" Lena asks from the back of the cart where a soldier helps her out of the shallow compartment.
"Lee!" He calls and stands up, lifting his sister out of the back and embracing her.
"My Rao, I thought I lost you. I will kill every last one of the men who took you." He holds on to her, running a hand down her hair and she squeezes him back. I look around to see Alex and Jessica emerging from the other cart. They join the other three women in a loose defensive circle, it looks casual enough but I can see they are all on edge. John stays near them to try and be a comfort.
"Lex, mother did this. She planned it all. Queen Rhea told me. Mother wants you on the throne, not me." Lena says softly.
"What?" Lex looks back to look at his little sister.
"She was going to use me to marry the Prince of Cadmium so there would be peace and you could rule Krypton."
"But I despise court. I don't want to rule, why would she think I would want that?"
"I don't know Lex. But she won't stop until she's rid of me. You know she never wanted me." Prince Alexander looks around and realized how many people could be listening.
"Let's talk in my tent." He pulls Lena by the hand towards the biggest tent. She catches mine and tugs me after.
"I'll be right there," I whisper. Then I motion for John and Alex.
"John, have the men Guard the tent, no one in hearing distance. Alex, you guys scout the camp and reload the carts. I want to get out of Cadmium as soon as we are done talking to the prince. I am not waiting around to be discovered here." They both nod seriously and I walk to the tent.
Lena is already telling Alexander what she knows from her side of the story, He gives me a soft nod of acknowledgment. When Lena is done I begin telling him everything I know, starting with my kidnapping at the border. I leave out most my time with the DEO, only giving enough information to provide an excuse for serving in the castle and then finding Lena. The daring rescue and slow escape. After all is said, the prince sits back in the chair, absorbing all the new information.
"I can't kill my mother." Is the first thing he says. I look at Lena and she nods.
"I can, and I will." I say, letting the 'with or without you' go unspoken.
"Then we need to get back to Kandor. But we can't have a battle in the city walls. We need to find a way in with no bloodshed. If I return now, mother will know something is wrong." I think silently for a moment.
"I might have a way. But I will need to talk to someone inside the walls first."
"Then let's get our future queen to Kandor. We leave in two hours."
Chapter 39: Kara- Rao, Protect Me
We crested the hill. Prince Alexander on the horse next to me. He was in a variation of our DEO clothes that the Queen's Guard were given after their first day with us. The woman who made our clothes always put our needs first because of the protection we gave and we usually overpaid. We would still do it either way but it was the woman's way of showing gratification. We were wearing light gray tunics and pants, cowls up and cloaks fluttering in the breeze.
"You're sure he knows a way in. If the Queen has already heard of Lena's disappearance she will be on high alert. We will need every man possible because her personal guards are loyal only to her. She's made sure of that. They don't even train with the palace guards or share meals with others. My mother had always been a paranoid woman."
"No, but if anyone does, it's him." I respond to the princess' question. Everyone else was camped in a small shelter of trees about five miles back.
"Be safe. If we don't hear from you in two days we will assume the worst. Kal... I mean Kara, sorry that's still taking some getting used to. Thank you. For saving my sister."
"I would give my life for hers."
"You love her don't you?"
"Yes. With everything I have. I will serve her for the rest of my life." I feel the princess eyes on me but I can't meet them.
"I hope you get the chance to. Don't get caught." I nod and kick my horse into a soft gallop. Rao, I missed Comet. I felt awkward sitting on top of this horse. It was a simple working horse we bought a few days back for just this purpose.
I could see people streaming into the city. All with various packs or carts, either visiting or selling. Mostly it was farm folk or people from nearby villages. I caught up with a farmer in a hay cart and stopped him. I offered him the horse if he let me hide in the hay and kept it to himself. The man couldn't believe his luck. A horse would be invaluable, whether for work or to sell. I settle deep into the straw, near the back of the cart as the farmer ties the horse to it. Three more hours of slow progress, a cursory search of the cart, and then the farmer is in the city. Once clear of the gate he lets me know we are out of sight and I shake off the itchy straw. I shake his hand, pressing a small copper into it before disappearing into the crowd.
Getting on the rooftops is surprisingly easy. In Cadmium, the guards had begun being posted up there their once captains figured out what we were doing. Here, no one had a cause to look up. The walls at each gate were built to withstand a siege, not a lone climber. It was easy to find handholds. It does take most the remaining night to reach the castle. This wall has sentries on top so I have to watch their rounds a bit before sneaking past them. How more assassins didn't get in is beyond me. Then I realize that the Queen probably hired the ones that had. Softly my boots thud to the ground as the sun sets. I had long ago memorized the servant's passageways through the castle. I knew the one I needed was nearby.
I enter the outside door and find myself in a dark hallway. The torches hadn't been lit yet, good. My right-hand traces along the wall, counting the doors and hallways I walk pass before turning for the stairs. Torchlight flickers at the top and I duck backward into a large doorway and still my breathing. Two servants walk past, chatting and turn down the hall away from me. I hurry up the stairs as soon as their backs are turned. I only have to duck into hiding spots a few more times before I reach his room. I knock softly and receive no answer. Picking the lock is simple and I enter the dark room and sit on his simple wooden chair to wait. The moon has risen by the time the door rattles as the key turns. Before Winn can cry out, my hand is over his mouth, muffling his surprised yell.
"Relax, it's me," I whisper. I see the whites of Winn's eyes in the moonlight as they go wide.
"Are you going to scream or can I let go?" He shakes his head then nods it as best he can.
"Kara!" He throws his arms around my neck. I laugh and throw my arms around him.
"What are you doing here?" He turns to light his lamp with a flint and steel. He is much scruffier, and he seemed to be building some muscle like he was spending more time actually outside of the library.
"That is a very long story. Do you have wine in this poor excuse for a room?" Winn laughs.
"I do. You know I'm only here to sleep, and sometimes not even that." Winn head over to a small cabinet and pulls out a bottle and two wooden cups.
I start my story again for who knows how many times. Winn is a great listener. Commenting in all the right places, questioning things he doesn't understand, Winn was a curious person who never passed up an opportunity to learn.
"So we need to find a way to get everyone into the castle without anyone else knowing. I figured if anyone would know, you would."
"I might actually. But we will have to go to the archives tomorrow."
"Okay then, I need a couple hours of sleep first. We've been riding hard and my trek through the city wasn't easy." Winn stands up from where he was still perched on the bed while I sat across from him in the chair.
"Take the bed. I have a bedroll in the closet."
"No Winn I couldn't. It's your bed." Winn rolls his eyes.
"Kara, you have been sleeping on the ground for, what? Two weeks, at least. Take the bed. In the morning, I'll bring some food up here and then we will sneak you into the archives." My stomach growls at the mention of food.
"Yeah okay. But only because I haven't eaten in, umm, way too long. It was this morning before we left camp." Winn laughs and settles down in the bedroll he pulls out after extinguishing the lamp.
Getting to the archives was easier than it ought to be. Winn managed to swipe a simple dress from the clothesline and walked me in with my arm looped through his. If anyone cared we looked like a couple and Winn was simply showing me what he did. If asked, I would gush about how wonderful Winslow was and how smart and how he was showing me all his important work. The tale was easily believed by the little woman guarding the door to a cavernous room. Shelves soared above my head and lined the balconies above us. I hadn't spent much time here since ending my lessons with Winn a few weeks before my banishment. It was still a breathtaking place to be.
Winn dashes about, pulling books from shelves and stacking them on the table in an alcove where he left me. I begin scanning them as he gathers more and more, though there are only about twenty when he is finished. Most are history books that reference the building of the castle and its establishment as Krypton's capital. Winn is still a much faster reader than I am, even if I was better now. As book after book provides no answer, I begin to lose hope. Winn is on his eighth book when he starts to get excited.
"Kara, here. Here." He points to the page and I get up and cross to his side of the table to look over his shoulder.
"What am I looking at Winn?" I ask after a moment.
"Architecture plans for the city. In the moat, there are storm drains that help with rain and sewage runoff in the city. They lead from all over but most are too small for an average human, Except the main channel. It leads right under the main road. From just under the drawbridge to under the castle." As Winn talks, he flips through several pages, tracing an imaginary line at different points to follow the tunnel. Once I knew what I was looking at I understood it better. The intersecting lines were the streets as city planners were going to implement them. Most streets had drains marked to the main sewage line that was five feet wide and eight feet tall. It was to help with the torrential downpours during spring, where it would rain for days on end, channeling the water to the moat, then to the river.
"That's perfect Winn. How did the others not know about this?" Not wanting to say assassins but Winn seemed to understand.
"As far as I know, this is the only record of it. Also..." Winn frowns and concentrates on the page.
"Yeah, also the entrance under the bridge is high up from the water, on a slick cliff with heavy iron bars. Nearly impossible to access." I groan.
"No, no. That's our best option right now. Let's finish these books. If that's all we have then we will have to figure out a way to get past those bars."
It was our only option in the end. Winn was disappointed. Even more so when I refused to stay another night. Now was my best chance to get out of the city. From the small pack I brought with me, I pull my mottled gray tunic and pants to dress in and rearm myself. I test the gauntlet blade and Winn's eyes light up as he watches me.
"What is that?"
"A friend invented it. You would like her. I think you two would be good friends. Maybe You can meet her someday. She's still back in Daxam though."
"I would like that. To meet all these new people in your life."
"You are still my first friend Winn. But yes, you should meet them, perhaps when all this settles down." I pull my hood up and adjust the fingerless gloves on both hands.
"Be careful sneaking out. The guards in the halls have been increasing."
"I'm not taking the halls," I say and I almost laugh at Winn's expression.
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, I'm taking your window." I pull out the climbing rope from the pack and use the special clip Felicity designed to wrap it around a bedpost.
"When the rope goes slack, real it in and keep it safe for me, okay?" I ask as I step up on his narrow sill and peer into the darkness, watching the guards' routes, nothing had really changed since I was here. Humans stuck to patterns. Winn swallows hard.
"Ah, yeah, s-sure, I can do that."
"Thanks, Winn, You are the best. Do me a favor and steer clear of the queen for a while. Maybe stay in the archives. Bye." I kiss his cheek and hop out the window.
It only takes a few heartbeats to reach the ground. Luckily Winn's room isn't very high and this time I didn't have another person. Six times I bounce slightly off the wall before my boots hit the ground. I release the rope and soon it disappears above me into the night. As soon as it is gone, I begin to sprint for the wall. Quickly I use the guard ladder to get to the top and wait for the one stationed there to turn his back. On the other side, I cast about for a way down. Nothing. Below me is the visiting dignitaries stables. It's dark except one lamp, illuminating the large pile of fresh straw. I glance at the guard, He is turning back this way, but the lantern in his hand blinds him past its halo of light. Well, Shit. Rao, protect me. I plead. I jump towards the hay, allowing my body to flatten in the air to distribute as much weight as I can.
I live. The wind is knocked out of me, but I live. All I can think about is how Alex will say how stupid and reckless it was but I am fighting the grin off my face at how scary fun it was. The other walls are much easier to pass, some rooftops are even an easy jumping distance from each. When Lena is Queen, I am going to have to have her let me work on these security issues, but for now, I thank Rao for them. When I finally scramble to the top of the outer wall I am exhausted. No guards are in the middle of this one. They stand spaced far apart, looking out at the plains for enemy armies. I pull off the backpack and pull out the last invention felicity gave me. She claims she tested it and it works but If it doesn't, I shudder to think of what happens to me. I sling the pack back over my shoulders and hold onto the handles as instructed. I sprint from the inner side to the outer, planting my foot on the ledge and jumping out into the air. I spread my arms and the parachute fills with air. It jerks in my hands and I almost let go. Suddenly, I am floating, flying like a bird. I catch a laugh in my throat as I sail across the moat and well off into the plains. I pull down a little on one side to turn towards the foothills that hide my friends. I silently thank Felicity for this wonderful feeling, and not letting me die. When I touch down again, the gate is too far for the men to see me. I begin the long trek back to camp, My muscles already aching and my stomach growling. I hear hoofbeats in the distance, I look up to recognize Alex galloping towards me.
"Need a lift?" she asks when she slows in front of me.
"Thank Rao, yes." I take her hand and she hauls me up behind her.
"I've been watching for you all night. You took longer than I expected."
"I told you two days. I'm early."
"I expected better." I almost protest until she turns just enough in the saddle for me to see her grin.
"I am too tired for this." I groan.
"Tired, not hungry?" My stomach growls in answer and I whine a little.
"That too." Alex reaches into a saddle bag and pulls out an apple.
"Let that keep you until camp. We have venison that John brought down. He had them keep some warm for you."
"Good boy. I taught him well."
"He isn't a boy Kara, He towers over you and is taller than me."
"He will always be one to me. Like a little brother." Alex just laughs and lets me eat my apple in peace.
Chapter 40: Lena- Brother
watched as my brother and the love of my life left the camp early in the morning on horses. I just kept thinking of Kara's beautiful blue eyes and how I hoped that this wasn't the last time I saw her. I hated that she thought she was the only one who could do this. John could go talk to Winn. But Kara was right. John was probably presumed dead and would have to try and lie his way past the guards and then back out again. I hated that she was right. I could feel Alex watching me as I placed near the common fire. Eventually, I gave up and went to pace in my brother's tent, away from prying eyes.
"Hey Lee, I'm back," Lex says as he enters the tent. I rush over to hug him.
"Whoa, I was only gone for a couple of hours."
"I know, but I've missed you so much, over the past couple of years really."
"I've missed you too Lee. And I have you all to myself for the day."
"Sorry about that Lex, Kara and I are very reluctant to be apart after everything." I sit in one of his two cushioned chairs, Lex follows.
"It's okay Lee. I understand. You really love her don't you?"
"Yes, Lex." He reaches over and grabs my hand.
"Don't take this wrong at all, I am so grateful for Kara and everything she has done for you, for our country, but have you thought of how our people will take this? How the council will react?" I sigh and look down, avoiding his eyes.
"I know. I have. I will find a way to marry her or I will not marry anyone."
"What about the throne?"
"I was hoping your children could take it." I look up at him hopefully.
"Lee, I don't want to rule. I never have, which is why mother's plan is so ridiculous."
"You won't have to. Just marry whoever you want, I could teach your daughter everything and when my time has come, she will take the crown. Look, I know you haven't thought much about a family but I'm sure if I could find a way to end the fighting then maybe you could find someone to love and eventually start a family. I'm sure you would want a son to teach and to take your place as the commander of the royal armies."
Lex grows silent at that. I can see him thinking, pondering what I said. He sits back in his chair. He looks so much like our father now. The lamplight casts a shadow on his face and I swear I'm eight years old again, watching my father lay battle plans out in his office. Then Lex smiles and the whole illusion is broken.
"Of course Lee. Let's get you on the throne first though. I'm with you. And you will marry that woman, I'll make sure of it." I grin at my brother.
"Thank you, Lex."
We sit and chat for a bit before having a lunch delivered to his tent. I did miss my brother. We spent very little time together when he was at the castle so we were making up for it now while the woman I loved risked her life for me. That dampened my spirits at spending time with my brother but it couldn't be helped. Kara insisted on doing this alone, much to her sister's dismay.
The hours crawled by as they waited for Kara's return. I knew that she shouldn't be back for two days but this was near unbearable. I slept fitfully in my brother's tent, spending most the night staring up at the canvas ceiling wondering where Kara was now. Morning came with the first cup of coffee I had had in weeks. Lex had a small store of the ground beans taken from a Cadmus camp some weeks ago. Simple army rations accompany it but the rich flavor of the dark liquid was very welcome. Another day of waiting and watching the DEO spare with each other. The women were quite good. It was like watching water dance in a current as they flowed around each other. Men stopped to watch until being yelled at by superior officers to continue their own training or duties.
John returns at some point with a large buck draped over his shoulders and he began the gruesome task of cleaning and cooking it. The roasting meat fills the camp as I sit and read one of Lex's few books. Suddenly I realize that night has fallen and most people sit around eating. My eyes ache from reading in the uncertain light as I stare up at Maggie, she is handing me a plate of steaming venison.
"Hey, little Luthor. How are you doing?" My eyes widen at such an informal greeting but Maggie's smile makes it clear that it is in good heart.
"I've been better. Actually, I'm not sure if I have been better. But I'm worried about Kara."
"Yeah we all are, Alex already snuck off to watch for her. I know they aren't actually sisters but Alex always wanted one. The moment she saw Kara fight in the fighting pits she knew she had to save her. Alex was there right before Kara. She was arrested for stealing from a guard and was thrown in. She had to kill a couple of the beasts down there before we were able to save her. Alex told me, as soon as she saw the determination in Kara's eyes, she knew Kara would change everything."
"Kara never told me that."
"I don't think Alex told her. But look what Kara has done. That girl will change the world, I just know it." Before I can respond, there is a small commotion at the edge of the camp. Alex rides in with a half-asleep Kara clinging to her back. Maggie quickly stands and pulls Lena up with her.
Maggie helps Kara down from the saddle and into Lena's waiting arms. Lena buries her face in Kara's shoulder as Kara rests a cheek on top of her head. Lena can hear movement behind her and Kara pulls away, only keeping hold of Lena's hand, before bowing.
"Prince Alexander," Kara says. The whole journey north had been odd. Kara seemed like a new person for the most part. But whenever Lex came around, it was like all the training as Kal resurfaced, causing Kara to become an emotionless soldier once more.
"Kara. I'm glad you have returned safely. Please, grab something to eat and then meet me in my tent. Bring the DEO, John, and my sister as well so we can discuss what you found out." Lex was just as odd as well. Overly polite and trying to avoid formal. That is why I hadn't spent much time with my brother on the trip, it was always an awkward interaction to watch. I walked with Kara to get food and steadied myself for a long night of planning.
It took three days of planning. We used the wagons we had brought up from Cadmium and took the covers off of them. Two separate teams went to nearby farms and bought as much trade goods as they could to load the wagons. Also, the teams acquired enough clothing for the DEO, John, Lex, Lena, and six of Lex's men to dress the part of traveling tradesmen just looking to sell their goods. The rest of the men Lex had brought with him stayed in camp with Donovan in command and Lady Jessica staying behind.
Both carts rumble slowly across the bridge. We huddle low with hunched shoulders of working people, Lena already secured to me by a safety line beneath our cloaks. We are stopped as expected just before the gate for the men to search our carts. The cart behind us has the rear hatch opened. That's when we move. Boxes of produce and several casks of wine spill out onto the ground, shattering and causing the deep red liquid to go everywhere. The men Lex brought begin shouting at the guards for destroying their wares. Voices are raised and catch the attention of everyone around. I open the secret hatch to let out the men going to take our places as well as a couple from the other cart quickly switching over. It isn't the exact same amount but it will help with the shock of so many people disappearing. As the scene grows more intense, I hook my climbing rope onto the cart before helping Lena slowly over the side. We dangle freely for a brief moment before a shift our weight and swing towards the cliff beneath the bridge. After a few tense moments with Lena clinging tightly to me, I manage to grasp the bars and find footing on the jagged rock face.
The nine others do the same. A brief whistle and the lines to safety are cut as we stand clinging to the bars of the spillway. It is still wide enough for Maggie to work in the middle. She had brought with her a powder that Felicity and Caitlin created that burns hot and fast. Hot enough to melt the iron. She spits on the upper part of the bars so the powder will stick and carefully spreads it around the lower part that sinks into the rocks.
"All right, get as far back as possible and close your eyes," Maggie commands.
The rest of us shuffle to either side of the entrance, feet squeezing between bars one at a time as we switch our handholds. Alex stays by Maggie, supporting her as she uses both hands for the flint and steel to send sparks flying. The commotion above has stopped, replaced by the sound of dozens of people entering and exiting the city at once. I squeeze my eyes shut as one of the sparks grows brighter and hear the sizzling of the various elements working against each other. Maggie repeats the process until each of the five bars she picked has fallen into the water far below us. then she and Alex is pulling each of us into the new opening. I pull out a torch from my pack and Alex does the same. I lead the way through the tunnels as my sister takes up the rear.
Luckily it is fairly easy to navigate and dry because the spring rains had yet to come. The main tunnel is the only one we have to stick to because it is the one that leads directly to the castle. It's faster than taking the crowded streets and passing through the gates, in a few short hours we are standing where Winn and I had determined the castle gardens would be. Not the royal ones, but the ones used for parties or enjoyed by staff and advisors. There is a ladder here for maintenance purposes, I climb up and slowly lift the cover to peer out. It is in a corner, blocked by view from high hedges. I sigh out my relief and snuff out the torch on the stone ceiling before climbing out and gesturing for the others to follow. I look at the faces crouched around me. The Deo all have the hoods of their robes pulled up, we had worn our uniforms under the cloaks and discarded them at the mouth of the tunnel. We had also gone as far as to wear light leather armor under our tunics for the fight that was inevitably coming, I just prayed we would not be alone. I nod to the determined faces and look around. The garden is empty for now, it was still too early for nobles to think about being out of bed, let alone strolling through the gardens, and too late for servants to still be attending chores here. I allow Lex to take the lead. He may not have been at court much, but every soldier new the Commander of the Royal Army. Servants naturally avoided the attention of royals and made themselves scarce. Several times soldiers half-heartedly tried to stop them before realizing who they were talking to and bowed deeply to the man who ignored them and brushed past.
Lex was headed straight to the throne room. I don't know why he thinks his mother would be there but surely word of the prince arriving in the castle moves fast. Lena is still wearing a hooded robe, covering her dark hair and bright green eyes. She strode in Lex's shadow, protected on all sides from the unknown of this mission. Lex stops outside the throne room. The guards usually posted there are gone.
"Rao, Protect us," He whispers before pulling hard on the large oaken doors.
Our meager band is met with easily a hundred palace guard, standing rank and file, and heavily armed. Silence fills the hall except for our boots striking the polished marble as Lex Leads us to the first Line of armed soldiers, who stop his path. On the other side of the small army, Queen Lillian lounges on the throne with a smirk on her face that causes my blood to boil in rage.
"Alexander, my dear boy! Welcome home!" She says with mock cheer and excitement.
"What is this mother? Is this how you greet your son? With armed men?" He asks in a calm and authoritative tone.
"I had to increase the guards around me after your sister was kidnapped."
"You mean after you sold her to Cadmium to be married off like a common girl!" Lex calls to his mother. She gasps.
"I did no such thing, dear boy. I am trying very hard to negotiate for her freedom."
"Are you now, Mother?" Lena says with ice in her voice, stepping out from behind her brother and pulling down the hood.
"You really should have made sure that Queen Rhea wouldn't tell me your entire plan. Then I wouldn't have known you were lying." The color noticeably drains out of the queens face at the sight of her scorned daughter.
"No, you can't be. Im-Imposter!" The queen shouts. Confusion ripples through the palace guard in front of us.
"Seize them!" The queen seems to be panicking.
"Stand down, soldiers. The woman on the throne has betrayed Krypton and tried to kill the rightful heir to the throne." Lex commands. The men shuffle, looking back and forth between the two Queens. Lena steps forward.
"Queen Lillian is no Luthor. She is no longer fit to sit where King Lionel sat and where his children should rule. She has clung to the power for far too long that is not rightfully hers. She attempted to be rid of me because in just a few short weeks she will be removed from the throne for me, the rightful heir, to take my fathers place. If you men had any love for my father, any love for Krypton, then you will seize that woman who had me kidnapped and taken to Cadmium to be forced to marry their future king." Power carries Lena's voice easily over the men. I watch a mixture of emotions play across Queen Lillian's face as men slowly look at each other, still unsure. Those closest to the queen must be her personal guard because they draw swords and look ready to fight any who come near her.
"Seize them!" Queen Lillian cries.
That stirs most of the men to action, turning one way or another as they pick a side. John strikes down a man close to us as he charges in alone. Chaos erupts as the men in the ranks turn against each other, though it seems most have turned away from us and a fighting the queen's personal guard. Three of those guards push the queen out the door behind the thrones and disappear.
"John, protect her. Protect our Queen." I say to him. He nods.
"Alex!" I call, she throws a knife at a man who managed to slip through in the chaos and run towards us.
She sees where I watched the queen disappears and nods. We run around the main mob of bodies, occasionally cutting down a man stupid enough to try and stop us. We sprint into the corridor, I quickly think of possible ways for the queen to escape. She couldn't stay in the castle, most the men had already sided with Lena. the stables, she would try and flee Kandor.
"Follow me," I say and take off down the corridor. Running on a flat surface was easy compared to roofs. My muscles rejoice at the movement after days of planning and sparring. Two of the guards that had escaped with the queen stand at the door leading to the courtyard. I throw a knife and it sinks into one's throat as Alex leaps on the other. I hear her hidden blade sink into flesh as my speed carries me out the door. The last man had pulled horses from a stable boy and was trying to calm them enough for the queen still running down the steps towards him. With a final leap, I knock the queen to the ground and pull back my hood. The guard cries out as Alex's own throwing knife sinks into his chest.
"Who are you?" The queen asks, dazed from hitting her head after I toppled her to the ground.
"Kara Zorel Ward. Better known as Kal to you."
"You should have died in the fighting pits."
"No, I survived. You should have killed me yourself if you wanted that."
"I wanted to rule in peace."
"You wanted power. And to kill the bastard of your husband. You are selfish and you have no right to rule."
"I was going to change the world."
"You did, by scorning Lena you made her strong enough to rule and to find the peace you tried to sell her to get. She will change the world."
"I..." Whatever the queen was about to say as I flex my wrist and the blade sinks into her throat.
"Rao binds us to those we love. He gives us strength when we have none. In the darkest place, He guides us. Rao, protect us so that we might protect others. And we shall rise, a fire in His hearth, burning and free." Kara murmurs as the queen takes one last, wet breath. She falls limp as blood pours out of the wound.
Armored men stampede towards us. I hear swords being drawn and look up into the determined eyes of James. Fire burns there because someone dared to kill his queen, to infiltrate his castle. I could see it. I could see the commitment to killing me and Alex harden in his eyes. I could see no recognition of who I was.
"Halt!" Lena cries from the top of the stairs. Conflict appears with the determination but then James seems to recognize his Queen-in-waiting.
"My Lady, they killed your mother," he says, not looking away from me, sword still poised to strike.
"Sir James, I know. Kara was acting under my command. My mother acted on treason."
"Kara..." James says slowly, realization coming to his face.
"Kara! You're alive!" he exclaims.
"Listen to me! Queen Lillian is dead. She died for several acts of Treason against me and against Krypton. Those who still support her are being arrested as we speak. Kara Danvers acted on mine and Prince Alexander's orders. Return to your posts while we deal with the betrayers." Lena commands over the growing crowd.
"Kara!" I hear Winn shout from a servant's entrance, obviously drawn in by the commotion. He runs to me before stopping before the body of the queen. Quickly he sidesteps it and embraces me.
Lena descends much more slowly and orders two guards to take the Queen's body away. Her mask is in place, much like when I first met her, but pain and conflict creep out through her eyes when she looks from her mother's form to me.
"Kara and Alex Danvers, come with me. James, you and Winn also."
Bells tolled for the death of a monarch. Lena cried in my arms as she sorted through emotions she didn't know it was possible for her to have. The woman who raised her was dead. The woman who stole her from her mother and also had her kidnapped was dead. Lex disappeared for three days. Heralds were sent out all around Krypton to announce Queen's Lillian's death and her crimes against the crown. They also announced Lena's coronation, still planned for her birthday. Today was the funeral. The queen could not be buried in the Royal Crypt due to her crimes, but her marriage meant she could not be buried anywhere else. The solution was a funeral pyre.
James had returned my armor to me yesterday. I stood dressed in it next to Lena, overlooking the burning flames that had long ago engulfed the body. We were to stand vigil until only coals remained. She wore all black and her face was ashen. Lady Jessica stood on the other side, returned to the castle after a messenger was sent to Lex's remaining army in the woods. Smoke hung heavy in the air as the clouds turned to gray. I could smell the rain. In a few hours, it would come down, snuffing out the dying embers and ending this hellish of a nightmare. Queen Lillian had ruined my life and Lena's. It was she who called for the children of hundreds of families to be killed. It was her fault I became Kal and was put in the army when the fighting was at a peak. The last of my old life burned away with the late Queen.
Lena established me as a knight once more, officially in the records. My place was next to her again. This time as who I really was, this time as a woman. Lena had already started moving for the law to allow women into the army. It would be a slow process, but the door was open now. When the rain started and the embers died in fits and spurts, we went inside and ate in the great hall. It was a somber affair. The real celebration would happen with the coronation. Lex reappeared and sat next to Lena while I stood behind with John. Lex held himself proudly, but the pain of being an orphan was evident in his shoulders. Before he left he put a hand on my shoulder.
"Thank you, for doing what I could not and for loving my sister enough to do it." Tears formed in his eyes but he left before I could respond.
Lena left soon after that. I followed her to her room and lingered by the door. She turned and gave me a curious look when she realized I had not followed her inside.
"I know I have stayed here the past couple of nights, but shouldn't Lady Jessica return? I mean this is her room too, right?"
"No, she's been staying with Donovan. Kara, come here. We have been together almost every night since you found me. Why would that change now?"
"Because you are my queen and I am a knight again. Lena, what would the people say if they knew I warmed your bed every night? If you didn't marry because of me?" Lena comes over to me as I stubbornly stay in the doorway.
"Haven't we been over this? I don't give a shit what they think. I want you. I have already talked to Lex about his future children taking the throne. He agrees. Now come to bed, I miss you." I furrow my brow at the last statement.
"You miss me? We have hardly been apart." Lena Leans up and whispers in my ear.
"Not like that love. I miss you, naked and squirming under me." I swallow hard.
"Oh." Is all I manage before nimble finger begins working the straps of my armor. Quickly I begin to help Lena, fumbling a little at not having to do this for almost a year now.
As the last piece falls away, I tug at her dress, loosening the corset and undoing the buttons. We hadn't been together since leaving Cadmium and every fiber of my being yearned to be close with her again. Lena tugs at my under tunic and unties my pants. The shirt is discarded as she slips out of the dress and climbs on the bed in her small clothes. My lips meet hers, hot and passionate, pulling her towards me as I straddle her waist. Lena leans back and settles into the bed while I trail kisses down her neck, she arches up into me. I remove her underwear while trailing from her clavicle to a breast. One hand rolls a nipple while my tongue swirls around the other one. Lena is making heavenly noises above me, noises I had missed so much.
The future queen pulls me back up to kiss her and rolls us over so she can straddle me. I look up at her beautiful naked form and suddenly I am so glad for all the events that led to this. Rao had blessed me in the end with this wonderful woman. It made it all worth it.
Lena kisses me again and wipes my mind clean of all thought. She is all I can think about. How her tongue moves against mine before leaving my mouth and taking in a nipple. I gasp at the sudden transition and grip her thighs harder. Lena pulls my hands off her legs to tangle her fingers in mine as she moves lower, placing hot, open-mouthed, kisses every couple of inches. My fingers squeeze hers when her tongue dips into my lower lips and circles around my clit. Lena was making good on her promise of having me squirm under her. She didn't even enter me and after a few minutes of careful tongue play, I was calling her name.
"Guess... we... have to build my stamina... back up." I pant out when I can manage it.
"You have the best stamina of anyone I know." Lena teases tracing patterns on my skin with a finger.
"You're right. I think I just missed you too much."
"How much?" I grin at her question.
"I'll show you."
Bells rang out across the city in a much more celebratory way as the Queen was seated on her throne. Queen Lena Luthor was where she belonged. Her brother stood next to her throne as the ceremony ended. Soon he would return to fighting an unending war, but, for now, he was proud of his sister. I could see it on his face. The council was still in serious debate over women in the army but I knew now with Lena officially queen, the opposers would loose. Winn was drafting new laws for Lena, including one where we could marry.
Cat Grant had cornered me to tell me that I better marry that woman or she would make my life hell. I believed her, not that I had any reason not to marry Lena. For now, though, we sat at the high table and danced late into the night. The DEO had left yesterday to return to Cadmium. It was tearful for Alex and me, the others too, but mostly Alex. I really did feel like she was the sister I always wanted. This wasn't the end though. The fight isn't over. It won't be over until there is peace and Cadmium has rulers who rule for the people, not over them. Kara Danvers story was just beginning. And I couldn't wait to find out the end.
Thanks for reading everyone. Yes, I did leave this open-ended so that hopefully I can write a sequel in the somewhat near future. Please subscribe to check out the other stories I have coming.