Angela shifted once more in her seat, adjusting the baby inside to relieve the ache. The royal court sessions seemed to be getting longer and longer each week, yet she knew that they all lasted the same amount of time.
A warm breeze wafted through the open windows from outside the castle walls. The sun shown brightly through the cloud dappled sky. Midday was almost here. She could take a walk soon and do something more active, provided Kithra would let her.
Between lying in bed and sitting in meetings, she was becoming weary of resting, yet Miranda and Kithra would let her do little else this far along. Angela had already had to sneak off three times recently just to walk and stretch her legs a little. With Miranda gone to town, Angela might be able to convince Kithra that a short walk would not be too much.
Angela sighed as she listened to Lord Crailen, the regent from the Va Rista Region, pleading his innocence against a claim that he is siding with Lord Ristan in this war and sending him men and provisions with which to fight. Angela already knew his story and how he had been caught.
He governed the western edge of Rista and had vowed allegiance to Derrick and Angela at their coronation and the beginning of the war. However, Lord Arnette’s men had discovered that several of the prisoners they had caught swore allegiance to the regent. A watch was set. A band of men and supplies departed the regent’s keep at Va Rista in the late watches of the night and were followed to Rista Castle. Lord Crailen was now trying to convince Derrick and Angela that he had no knowledge of this.
“Lord Crailen,” King Derrick interrupted. “I do not understand how, if you were attending your duties as you claim, that you could not have known about so many men and supplies leaving your own keep in the middle of the night. Even given that what you claim is so, your pledge of men and supplies to us has fallen far short …”
Angela quit listening at this point and began slowly scanning the room. They had already discussed this at length and decided that his keep and regency would be taken from him and that a contingent of king’s soldiers would be stationed there to govern the region and use the keep as a command center for the war in the northern area. This would support Lord Arnette and provide a wall against movement of opposing troops around the west mountain range. Lord Crailen would be held at Ring Keep in the southwest until the end of the war or until more solid proof could be found that he was doing more than simply providing men and supplies.
Angela felt Derrick’s hand on top of hers and turned back to find him watching as Lord Crailen was being taken away. Lord Crailen seemed to be quite in shock.
“Do you want to dismiss court early,” Derrick asked quietly without glancing her direction.
“No. I’m sorry. Midday is almost upon us. I am fine,” Angela replied quietly.
“You will let me know if that changes, won’t you?”
Angela smiled softly. “You will be the first.”
“Your Majesties,” the herald began his announcement of the next petition. “Arif Mikailes of Halalas request an audience to come before the King and Queen to bid the Queen farewell before his journey home and to present a gift.”
Angela became intrigued, sitting forward a little. Derrick gave her a questioning look and she returned a shrug.
“An audience is granted,” Derrick replied.
The herald brought in five unarmed large men. The leader was tall, with a heavy but muscular build and strange yellow hair. Angela straightened slightly in her chair, holding her breath for a moment.
“Arif Mikailes and his men, your majesties,” the herald announced.
They bowed and waited.
Derrick nodded to them. “You may rise. Arif Mikailes, I have not heard of Halalas. Where would this be?”
“Thank you, your majesty,” the tall man began. “Halalas is far across the ocean, many moons travel. We had heard of your country and had come to see it, now it is time for us to return. We wished to say farewell and wish God’s Blessings on you both before we leave.”
“Your service is finished then,” Angela asked.
“No, your majesty, but we have been released from our service to return home.”
Angela nodded and turned to Derrick.
“Your majesty. If you have no objections, I would like to speak to these gentlemen in private for a moment, that is if you do not mind finishing up the court this morning.”
Derrick looked at her a moment with an obvious desire to ask her who these men were and what this was about. But this was not the time and she hoped that he would not.
Derrick stood and extended a hand to her. “I can find no reason to object so I grant you permission to retire at your leisure, my queen.”
Angela smiled and took his offered hand, standing, and then turning to step down from the dais. Devon, Jatera, and her escort moved into place, Devon extending an arm as escort. Angela then moved toward Arif Mikailes.
“Come with me,” she said quietly as she walked up beside him, “all of you. We shall go somewhere more private.”
Angela walked at a measured pace out the main hall doors, leaving Kithra to nearly run to catch up as had been standing to the other side of the main hall. Arif Mikailes and his men joined her escort as if having done this many times before. Angela picked up her pace as she walked down the hallway.
She didn’t slow or stop, forcing many in the hallway to move quickly or be run down. After a short distance, she called to Mikailes to join her. He moved up beside her.
“Mikailes. I had not expected to see you again. And certainly not in my court. You have taken a very big risk.”
“Yes, your majesty,” he responded and nodded to her. “I had not thought to see you again either. But I spoke with my men and we agreed that we could not leave without coming to say farewell. Somehow, it didn’t seem to be the honorable thing to do.”
Angela smiled for a moment and glanced his direction. Then she came to an abrupt halt. Everyone with her stumbled to the side to avoid running into each other.
“Devon. We will go this way,” she said indicating the door in front of them and to their right.
“Your Majesty?” Devon queried. She glared at him. “Yes ma'am.”
Devon opened the door to the garden room and Angela walked in, followed by Mikailes. He then stepped back up beside her.
“If this is a problem, we can leave now, your majesty.”
Angela looked over at him for a moment and continued on at the quick pace she had set.
“You should stay and talk with me before you leave. I don’t get many visitors to speak with in private anymore. War has a tendency to make that very unwise, particularly when caring the heir to the throne.”
As they walked through the downstairs garden walkway, a young lad and lass sprung up from the bench in the middle of the garden and bowed, straightening clothes and hair.
“Good day, your majesty,” they both managed.
Angela had reached the stairs and begun to climb them, glancing over at the two young people.
“Lady Kera. Lord Meldin. I do not believe I have seen the invitation to your wedding yet. I may have to speak to your father, Lady Kera. It will come out soon I hope.”
“Yes your majesty,” they both replied quickly.
Angela had now made it up the first set of the stairs leading to the second floor but was slowing as she went. Mikailes reached out to offer a supporting arm. Angela smiled at him as she accepted.
“Good,” she said as she finally reached the top of the second set of stairs. “I would hate to have missed the occasion. It had better be soon or you two should find a more private place to meet. Still, this room is about to get very busy. I suggest you two go somewhere else for now.”
“Yes, your majesty,” they both chimed from the first floor as their gaze followed her procession cross the second floor balcony.
Angela glanced down as they arrived at a small door and saw that they had taken her word and had quickly left. Devon stepped forward and tried to open the door, but it would not budge.
Angela sighed. “Stop Devon. It will never open that way.”
Devon stopped and stared at her.
“I would do it myself but they would have fits if they found out. Just pull this lever back this way, push into the door that way, and then push it back this way.” She indicated the directions as she spoke.
“I special latch, your majesty,” Mikailes asked.
Angela smiled as Devon managed to open the door.
“No, it just sticks really well. Has for many turns but no one has ever bothered to get it fixed.”
Angela proceeded across the hallway to a closed set of double doors and stopped.
“I haven’t been in here for almost two turns, but it will be a good place to speak uninterrupted for a short while.”
Devon and another man opened the doors, which opened with a groan. Dust covered much of everything. It was a large room shaped in a v fashion with a large table to one side, and chairs with smaller tables to the other side. Devon, Jatera, and another guard began lighting the two torches and several of the lanterns.
“Devon. Open one of the windows in the back,” Angela called as she stood and watched them. “Mikailes. Would you and your men go sit over there and I will be right with you? I need to speak with Devon and Kithra a moment.”
Mikailes nodded and, after a short bow, moved that direction with his men. Angela motioned for Kithra and Jatera.
“Kithra, would you go to my room and get the silver medallion off my bedside table? Also bring me the new bag I just received and the sword with the pretty blue sheath and gems that Lord Tristan just gave me. I would like to give a gift.”
“Jatera, leave me your sword and go with her, would you? And be quick both of you or you will not make it back before court is dismissed.”
Jatera looked at her with a questioning look but unbuckled his sword and handed it to her. Kithra looked suddenly very concerned.
Angela shooed them off. “Thank you. Now hurry and get going.”
“Devon,” Angela called and then spoke quietly with him for a few moments. Devon studied her for several moments and then finally nodded. He and several men stationed themselves with swords drawn along the wall beside the doors as Devon closed them. Angela walked over to the chairs.
Mikailes and his men had remained standing, waiting. They each gave a short bow and then sat after she chose a seat. Angela had chosen a chair with a view of the doors.
“Arif Mikailes. You went by lieutenant Michaels before,” Angela commented as she placed the borrowed sword across her lap.
“Yes, your majesty, I did. Mikailes is much harder for your people to say and confused them. My captain dubbed me Michaels to make it easier in your King’s tongue. You say it very well though. Your herald tried four times before getting it right.”
Angela smiled. “I am good at tongues. It has been a gift from God since I was small. Still, Mikailes is a difficult name. I do not wish to call you Michaels either as then I would want to add the lieutenant. I shall call you Makea. It doesn’t mean anything and should sufficiently confuse everyone else, but it sounds good. I shall say it means honorable friend. Do you mind if I call you this?”
Mikailes smiled and nodded to her. “I am honored that you would do so, your majesty. I understand that receiving a name from a Cherine is quite an honor in the Garin tribes.”
Angela smiled again, nodding. “You have been studying my people quite well if you know this. I may have to rethink my meaning for Makea. Still, why are you returning home now and why stop to visit me? Certainly you must have known this to be very dangerous just now.”
“Yes, your majesty, we did.” He nodded his agreement. “When the war began in earnest, and you became Queen, my men and I spoke together and decided that we would not fight against you. To fight against a King we did not know after committing ourselves to our Captain’s service was one thing. We did not always agree with everything that happened but then who does who serves another.”
Mikailes’ hand swept to his side, motioning her and there as he spoke.
“But when things changed and it came to fighting you, your majesty, we agreed that this was not right and we could not do so. So we informed our Captain that we would continue to do what we could but would not engage your men or fight against you.”
Angela studied him a moment in surprise.
“That was just as dangerous. I’m surprised you are alive to be here.”
“Well, we were prepared to fight our way to safety if needed. However, the Captain is a wise man, your majesty, and after some thought he agreed to release us from our service on the condition that we would not join your forces either but return home to our land. We agreed.”
Angela nodded, glancing at the sheathed sword in her lap and remembering her own encounter with this strange tall dark Captain.
“Yes, I have seen indications of this wisdom of your Captain. Your Captain is an excellent warrior. He has been very difficult to keep at bay. It is fortunate that many of the Lord holders fighting against us are not as well learned in the art of war or this would be a much bloodier war with many more dead.”
Angela sighed, pulling her thoughts away from the blood and sorrow of so many good people lost and focusing back on the men in front of her who had been so kind to her in her own past troubles before the war.
“So Makea, have you come up from the Southern lands then and where are you headed?”
Mikailes smiled as if caught with his finger in the cooking mix.
“Yes we have, your majesty. We were told at Cris Port that a ship for Halalas would be leaving in six weeks from Port Fimos.”
“How fortunate for you they should know.”
He nodded again, this time all of them glancing down or at each other.
“Fortune did indeed shine on us, your majesty. A ship had arrived from Fimos just before us.”
Angela squinted a little at him and tightened her jaw for a moment.
“Makea? There are many times I have hated hearing someone say ‘your majesty’ so many times in such a short conversation. However, when I hear you say it, it is not a title. Your words are respectful and sincere. It seems right when I hear it from you. Thank you.”
Mikailes nodded to her. Just then the doors burst open and Kevin charged in, weapons drawn. Devon and his men quickly responded, moving in front of him and blocking him, swords drawn against him.
“Stand down!” Kevin shouted angrily.
“We cannot do so as long as you are armed,” Devon replied somberly. “I am sorry my lord.”
Angela sighed and stood slowly, pulling the sheath from the sword.
“Makea, you and your men stay here a moment.”
Mikailes and his men stood with her.
“If being here is a problem we can leave, your majesty. Do not do this on our account.”
Angela smiled at him. “Makea, you will not make it past that door alive if I do not do this. You would not have made it out of the castle gates if you had left after court had dismissed. For the same reason you felt honor bound to stop and see me, I am also honor bound to see that you make it safely to your ship. Now, please just do as I ask and let me handle my cousin.”
Angela turned, sword in hand, and walked around the chairs to the open space between the large table and the chairs. Kevin stood just inside of the doors with his sword and a dagger drawn and ready. Devon and his men stood in front and around him, their swords drawn on him. Behind Kevin stood several men of the King’s guard. In the middle of them stood Kithra and Jatera. Kithra did not have the items that Angela had requested. Angela returned to focusing on Kevin.
“Kevin, if you throw that dagger, I will take it.”
Kevin looked at her grimly, anger showing vividly in his face and stance. “You will not make it in your condition.”
“Maybe not. But I will give it my best. We both know what the cost of that may be.”
Kevin glared at her and then, after a moment, turned his dagger back to his arm and lowered it. Angela nodded toward Devon.
“Devon, you may stand down. Please take the king’s men back out into the hallway and wait. Leave the doors open.”
Devon nodded and moved with the King’s soldiers out into the hallway.
“Kithra, I am disappointed in you. Please go out with them. I will speak with you and Jatera later.”
Kithra looked reluctant but nodded and left the room.
“She was only concerned for you!” Kevin said heatedly.
“Yes, but she did not do as I asked. As a result, I must now face you sooner than I had planned. I had hoped to rest a little longer first.”
“Why! Why do you defend these men! They are enemies of the crown! They took and held you prisoner. You almost died at their hands!”
“Kevin, I only live today because of these men!”
Angela waited as Kevin glanced their direction and then continued to scowl at her.
“Kevin,” she said, speaking more quietly again, “You know very little about what happened during that time. I have not told you what you did not need to know. It was not something I wanted to remember or dwell upon. These are honorable men, who showed me honor and respect. If it had not been for their care and concern for me I would have died long before I ever reached that hilltop at Grine. By all rights I should have.”
Angela paused for a moment, desperately trying to tame the tremor that had begun in both her voice and her hand.
“They are good men who managed to be on the wrong side. Yet had they not been there, I have no doubt that I would have died from the plague when Conor did those first few days. Had I survived that, … Kevin, … things could have been much worse for me. It is because of their sense of honor that they brought Teresa to you, with dignity instead of you having found her lying on the road and half eaten by wild wers. Lord Freemont had given orders for her to be left just so.”
Angela watched as his head lowered somewhat and his stance relaxed.
“Kevin. Your anger is against the wrong people. It should be for Lord Talbit and those Lord holders who side with him.”
Angela paused again for a moment. Kevin didn’t budge.
“Kevin. These men are returning to their homeland rather than fight against me. I have pledged them my protection and safe conduct in our lands. If you still want to kill them, you must go through me first.”
Angela stood with the sword ready.
Kevin still stood poised to charge if the opportunity arose. He looked at her for a long several moments and then straightened, sheathing his sword and dagger.
“I do not agree with you, but I will not fight you either.”
Angela watched him.
“Then you accept the protection that I bestow upon them?”
Kevin folded his arms in front of him and stood almost as if he stood against an invisible wall.
“Yes,” he replied curtly.
Angela turned and began walking slowly back to the chair. “Good! Because I am tired now, after all this, and I really didn’t want to have to fight you today. I am going to sit down again.”
Mikailes moved quickly to her side, a frown on his face. He was closer than Kevin and arrived first. Kevin moved toward her and called to Kithra. He reached Angela, just as she sat down, and took the sword from her. She gave it to him with no resistance and sat with her eyes closed for a moment. Kithra came in quickly, her rapid foot falls echoing across the room.
“Your majesty! You should not have done this! It is too much for you just now. You have taken too big a chance.”
“Kithra,” Angela replied opening her eyes again. As she did, she saw Jasper whispering to Mikailes. “Miranda and I have explained this to you before. The tiredness will come and go as it always has in the Gre women who are with child. I have it a little more than most but this is simply something I must endure. I will be fine in a little while. Now, go and get me the things that I asked you for. Except the sword, you can leave it. I do not need it any more.”
“Yes ma'am,” Kithra replied and rose to leave. Mikailes and his men had remained standing and Mikailes now stood in front of her just a little. Kevin stood beside her, watching everyone carefully. Angela closed her eyes again.
“Why do you tell her this? Is she not your healer, your majesty? Does she not know better,” Mikailes asked when Kithra’s footsteps had died away.
Angela opened her eyes and looked at him for a moment, her head tilted slightly.
“Makea. You did not tell me you were a midwife as well.”
There were several snickers. Mikailes smiled and Kevin looked at him with a bit of surprise.
“Well, your majesty, as you are undoubtedly aware as a healer yourself, healers deal with many different illnesses and injuries. Often times those who are with child need the attention of both the healer and the midwife. Yet you work hard at convincing that young woman that everything is all right and all this will simply pass.”
Angela smiled at him softly and closed her eyes again. “She worries too much. Would you rather I concern her with something she can do nothing about?”
“And if you die caring or delivering this child, will she feel any better about it because you have told her it will be all right?”
Kevin shifted beside her. Angela looked at him and scowled, heat flaring behind her ears.
“And I should worry her if nothing should happen and both I and the child live this time?”
“This is not your first then,” Mikailes asked.
Angela sighed and looked down, the heat as quickly dissipating in the cold of her sorrow. “No. But the others were not lost to this.”
Mikailes stood watching her. Finally he knelt down in front of her, holding a wine skin.
“Your majesty. I cannot insist that you do this for me. However. This is a wine we picked up in the Southern Lands that Jasper has grown fond of. It has not yet been opened and there is nothing but wine in it. If any of the trust you once had in me still remains, would you take just two swallows now.”
“Makea. I appreciate your concern, but I really …”
“You do not know of what you speak,” Kevin said adamantly.
Mikailes sighed. “If you will do this, your majesty, it should help restore your strength quicker and relieve the pain in your head. It will not help the churn in your stomach that still plagues you but it will not make it worse either. For that you would need some unleavened flat bread.”
Angela and Kevin looked at him in surprise.
“How did you know? She has not told anyone,” Kevin replied.
“I have seen that look on her face before. Still, it comes with the illness of the weakness that sometimes comes with being with child. Please, try it for me, your majesty. It will not hurt you or the child, but if I am right, there are things you can do.”
At that moment, Talos came through the doors. He stopped there and waited, huffing lightly. Although Angela could see him, she did not take her focus off of Mikailes.
“You are right, it will not hurt to try it and I am now very curious. Kevin, would you mind breaking the seal on this skin as you are the only one here with a dagger.”
Mikailes stood up and handed the skin to Kevin, who began inspecting it closely. Talos quietly walked over, nodding to Angela.
“This is a Grek wine,” Kevin told her as he took his knife, broke the seal, and removed the cork. He then sniffed it and handed it to Angela.
“Jasper has good taste in wines,” Angela said as she took the skin from Kevin. “This is one of Lord Kevin’s favorites.”
“Thank you, your majesty,” Mikailes replied, his head dipping and a hand sweeping slowly and carefully to his side. “This one is more fruity and less of a wine. We try to keep some on hand for healing purposes.”
Angela looked at the skin and drank from it. She then handed it to Mikailes. He did not take it.
“It is for you, your majesty,” he explained. “We had brought it as a gift to you, healer to healer. Still, it will please us more to find that it is of use to you, personally.”
“Thank you, Makea,” Angela said, handing the skin back to Kevin who replaced the cork and tucked it into his belt.
Angela sighed and looked up at Kevin. “The King should have been here by now. Chief elder Talos has arrived first. Did you send word to him?”
Kevin nodded. “Yes, but only where we were. I suspect Devon and Jatera’s report caused Talos’ quicker response. Did you intend to worry everyone?”
Angela smiled and shook her head. “No. But I had expected him sooner. I hope everything went well in the King’s court after I left. I assume you made your way out shortly after I did.”
“Yes,” Kevin replied. “I am certain that Lord Arnette is quite capable of assisting him if he needed. I wasn’t sure why you even chose to sit in court today. It was my understanding that you would not be doing so soon.”
Angela nodded. “Yes, that is true enough. I was not even certain why I chose to until Makea and his men arrived. Then I understood. Had I not, things could have become much more tragic.”
Kevin huffed and Angela smiled. Talos looked intrigued.
“Chief elder Talos. I would like you to meet… hum…” Angela paused for a moment.
“Lieutenant Michaels from the battle at Grine,” Kevin finished.
Just at that moment, Derrick walked in the doors and came to a stop.
“Oh dear,” Angela said. “That is not how I wanted this to go. You may have to give me that sword back in a moment Kevin.”
Kevin glanced down at her. “Not on your life. He might not stop for you to get to him and having the King and Queen battling each other would not be good in any condition. However, I have given you my word and will stand in your place, but I do not think it will be necessary as he has not yet moved to attack.”
Talos looked at them both with a scowl. “Someone will explain this to me eventually won’t you?”
Everyone glanced over at Talos.
Angela smiled. “Yes, I will. Hopefully I will get a chance to explain it to both you and Derrick at the same time.”
“Then I would say it is time to start explaining,” Derrick said a bit heatedly. “I do not know right now whether to be angry, concerned, or simply confused.”
At that moment, Kithra walked up behind Derrick, who still stood just inside the doors, and came to a stop behind him.
Angela sighed. “Well, it all comes together at the same time. If Miranda were here, we might have it all covered. Please, would you all come in here where I can talk with you more easily? And would someone please sit down! I am tired of being the only one sitting and will have to stand up if this continues. It is very difficult to speak to everyone when I am down here and you are all up there.”