As I watched Lord Stebes with my fiancée, I bit my finger and let out an annoyed grunt as I broke through the skin and caused blood to come out. Inside the room, Saria backed up until her knees struck the edge of her bed. She looked up at Lord Stebes with a slightly angry expression.
“This is ridiculous. If you do something like this, you will cause an international incident. My father will go to war with the human realm. Is this really worth it?” Saria appeared to be using her brain despite her discomfort, desperately trying to reason with him.
“Don’t act coy,” Lord Stebes snorted, freezing in his advance. “I know as much as anyone. The King is dying, and that devil who pretends to be our prince lacks the capacity to rule the human realm. In a few years, your elvish nation will be marching on the human realm regardless of what I do.”
“Is that your justification?” She demanded. “You’re all screwed anyway so you might as well have your fun?”
Lord Stebes laughed. “Do you take me for some horny imbecile? I’ve done my research. You were supposed to be wed to Prince David, your country has all but thrown you away.”
Saria turned her head, a bitter expression on her face. This hit too close to the truth that she wanted to deny. Unfortunately, she truly did believe that she had been tossed away by her father when he married her off to the human devil.
“We both know what is going to happen.” Lord Stebes shrugged. “The elf nation has the greatest likelihood of carving out this country and remaining on top. Your father will be my new king.”
“So, you would rape his daughter?” Saria snarled.
“Rape? No, you misunderstand. I plan to marry you.”
Saria’s eyes widened, and so did mine. I had apparently been underestimating Lord Stebes. It wasn’t just a matter of seeing someone he liked and taking them by force. There was a plan involved after all.
“You think father would accept such a marriage?” Saria’s voice broke as she started to realize his plan wasn’t complete lunacy.
“It’s very simple.” Lord Stebes shrugged. “You’ll stay here with me. The King will die soon, the nations will ride, and you and I will make babies. When the elves finally consolidate their land, I’ll make our family’s presence known. The poor, helpless Princess fell for a lord on her way home. Even though she was betrothed to that devil, she decided to stay behind. Do you think the King will look too hard when you present him with his grandchildren?”
“Even if that was your plan…” Saria growled. “Why would I ever agree with it?”
“Why wouldn’t you?” Lord Stebes smirked. “Would you rather marry that devil?”
Saria eyes widened at that; there was truth in his words. “Of course, I will never marry him…”
“It may be a year or two before anyone even suspects you’re here. By then, you will have come to have my children. You will be my wife, and through that, I will grow a connection to the elvish nobility. As a human family member with half-elf children, I would be in a perfect position to help our new elvish conquerors subjugate the human race.”
“You would betray your own race?”
Stebes shrugged. “We will be conquered one way or another. Is it not better that a human aids in ruling the humans. I’ve doing my people a service. After all, I know humans better than the elves do. Who knows, perhaps your gracious father will give me the entire country of Pria to rule… under his kingship, of course. You could be my queen, ruling beside me. Doesn’t that sound more agreeable than any of your previous plans.”
Saria bit her lip, the doubts in her eyes slipping away. “That is… acceptable. However, too many people know I am in your city. There is no way that I can hide, especially with the Prince…”
Stebes shook his head, approaching Saria one more time. “It won’t be an issue. I’ve already dealt with it. Your group will be seen leaving my city tomorrow morning, and by evening their remains will be found. Turns out, you were attacked by bandits. Prince David and all of the men died. We chased after the princess and slaughtered the bandits. We found only the remains of the princess that the bandits left, but they were too horrifying to stomach, so we burned them.”
“The Grand Magus?”
“Drank too much… perhaps there was something in her wine, and she overslept. The devil Prince David in his arrogance decided to press on without her.”
“And you’re certain the bandits can overwhelm David and my brother? They are both powerful fighters.”
Stebes smirked. “Why would I ever leave their deaths up to chance? Your brother and the prince are already dead. So, are your elvish guard. The human guards at the inn will be gathered up and killed before the night is out. The caravan that leaves this place is just men wearing their outfits. Everything is already in motion.”
“You…” Saria’s face was shocked and scared.
Stebes grabbed Saria’s shoulders. “I’ve told you all of this in earnest as my future wife, but as I said, I don’t leave things to chance. Even if you want to, I have given you no choice in the matter. I meant what I said. You are a beautiful woman, and I have some time to kill. If you are good enough at satisfying me, perhaps I’ll only take on a few mistresses on the side. Just be certain to make me an heir soon.”
“Ah…” Saria’s expression flickered helplessly for a bit, but finally, her shoulders relaxed and she nodded. “Yes, my lord, I will service you properly.”
Their lips met, and disgusting wet sounds began to fill the room as he roughly kissed her, using copious amounts of tongue. Wasting no time, he pushed her down on the bed and began to strip her body. As he did so, he roughly kissed her, leaving wet red marks across her pure white body. Soon, he had stripped her of her body. Unzipping his pants, he slid himself into her.
Saria gasped out a moan, just a light tinge of pain on her face. Soon, Stebes was thrusting away inside her. The bed started to creak, and Prince David could only turn away in disgust.
“I’ve seen enough.” Saria whispered through clenched teeth, “Unhand me.”
I let go of Saria, and she took a step away from me. Her face was red, although it was impossible to tell if it was from embarrassment or anger. Then again, the scene both of us were watching from the door to the room was enough to make anyone blush.
“Man… he is going to town on that pillow.” I shook my head in disbelief. Won’t that cause chaffing?”
A few moments before, Stebes had been slowly cornering Saria. A moment before he grabbed her, I pulled her arm and put a large body pillow from the bed in her place. He had grabbed onto that, while I pulled Saria quietly to the door. However, while we were getting some distance, the illusion had apparently worked too well and now Stebes was raping a poor pillow.
Saria’s face really did look like a blush this time. “I didn’t need your help. I was more than capable of handling myself!”
“I know,” I responded, slowly closing the door on the erotic scene of man on pillow. “However, you’re my woman, so I couldn’t call myself a man if I didn’t step in.”
Saria snorted, but her face dimmed to a pinkish color that might have been shyness. “You used an illusion. A real man would have challenged him and cut him down.”
“Be lucky I did. I’ve given us a window of time to escape.”
“So, you believe what he said about the guards?”
I nodded. “I had underestimated Lord Stebes’ gall. I had thought he let me into the castle as a last-ditch plan B. I never suspected that he actually had aims to assassinate me, but it makes sense.”
“What of my sis- my brother?” Saria quickly spoke.
It was a testament to how perturbed she was that she allowed herself to make this slip. Normally, she would never have been so careless, but after learning the lord’s true plans, it was clear she was caught unaware as I was. Had I not stayed the inn last night, it’s possible I might have picked up on it, but that was in the past. At the moment, we needed to leave the castle quickly.
I took one last look at the blood rune I had inscribed on the door. I had no clue how long Stebes’ illusion would last. It could be until he climaxed, or it could be the second I walked away.
“Of course, if he knew you better, he never would have fallen for that illusion,” I spoke my last thoughts out loud.
“What was that?” Saria asked as I turned away from the door.
I shrugged. “Lord Stebes doesn’t know you. You never would have tolerated the death of your sister or your guards. I’ve been traveling with you. As much as you hate your brothers, you love your elvish heritage and you would never betray the elvish nation. Furthermore, your sister means everything to you, even if you have a funny way of showing it.”
Saria paused for a moment. “You know… about her?”
“I can see the worry in your eyes.” I shrugged. “Should we make sure she is okay? She likely took the trap that was meant for me.”
Saria didn’t say anything, instead, increasing her step. I joined her and we headed back the direction I had come. I remembered just enough about the castle that I was able to lead her back. When we turned a hallway, that was when we were confronted by a stream of dead bodies. They were guards, and there were many of them.
The hallway was eerily silent, so we could only keep walking until we found Bala. There were six dead bodies at her feet, and she was standing in the center with her sword drawn. Blood dripped from the sword onto the carpet. She rose her head and looked over at the pair of us walking own the hallway.
“It took you long enough.”
Saria crossed her arms. “Sister! How dare you speak to me that way! If you were so concerned, you should have come over and rescued me yourself.”
Bala’s eyes shifted to Saria, and it was only then apparent she had been talking to me first. “Sister, I am pleased you are safe and well. The guards attempted to kill me. I killed them instead. I also believe they poisoned the food and wine, but I refused to taste any.”
Saria’s mouth fell open. It came as a complete shock that Bala’s attention hadn’t been on her specifically. Rather, she spoke to me with some familiarity, and Saria was the kind of girl who picked up on these kinds of things easily.
“Lord Stebes was trying to rape your sister, so I intervened.” I explained to Bala quickly.
“You protected my sister?” Bala’s words were flat, but they had a bit of an edge to them.
I shook my head. “She would have taken care of it. Likely by stabbing him with that poison blade she’s been stroking, even right now.”
Saria’s hand jerked from her dress, her eyes widening even more. Then, she narrowed them again and shot both of us a suspicious look. Finally, she turned to Bala.
“When did you betray me?” Saria demanded.
Those words broke through Bala’s emotionless façade, and she turned away with a hurt expression on her face. However, she didn’t voice an answer.
“I am your future husband, so Bala helping me is the same as helping you. She has betrayed no one.” I growled. “But this is not the conversation we need to be having right now. Rather, Lord Stebes said he had the rest of the elvish guard killed. Is that the case?”
Bala managed to recover her expression and looked back. “They used underhanded methods and their men have some skill. As a will user, I felt pressed at times. If the other men faced similar treatment, they would undoubtedly have fallen.”
“In that case, we’ll be leaving the city tonight.”
Bala nodded and began heading the direction towards the exit to the keep. It looked like they had put everything into their ambush, as we faced no opposition as we walked through the keep. When we reached the entrance, the guards were looking the other way. They seemed to be surprised by our emergence, but they didn’t stop us from leaving. That meant Stebes hadn’t passed the orders yet. Once outside the keep, we sped up the pace, nearly running to the inn.
Bala didn’t say anything, while Saria kept looking at the pair of us with narrowed eyes. In a single moment, she went from having everything in her control to being the one forced to follow. Her soldiers were dead, and even her trusted sister seemed to have turned on her. It was still day out, so our movements would be seen. There was no helping that. I wanted speed, not quiet.
As soon as we entered the inn, I turned to Bala. “Get the horses. The carriage is at the keep, abandon it.”
“David, what is the matter?” Mother came running across the common room, her hand immediately touching my cheek intimately when she got close.
“We’re fine, but the Lord’s invitation to the city was a tad shorter than I wanted. We’ll be leaving immediately. Go get your things. Let Aeryn know, and make sure Baba is told as well.”
I didn’t like barking orders at my mother, but I felt like time was getting shorter by the second. To my surprise, she turned and left for the stairway without a single word of protest or admonishment. My mother would ignore, embarrass, and question me in all things, but suddenly when it was important, she fell in line perfectly. It was a tad laughable.
“Who are you?” The words caught me off guard and caused me to turn back to Saria, who was the only one still beside me.
“What is that supposed to mean?” I asked.
“The boy known as Prince David was an arrogant Momma’s boy, with more pride than brains. This is what everyone said. I had met him, and his reputation matched his actions perfectly.”
“You saw what I wanted you to see…”
“I thought that at first too…” Saria admitted, “But after dwelling on it longer, I realize you can’t be Prince David.”
“Why would you think that?”
“Don’t get me wrong, your identity is nearly perfect. You only made one mistake.”
“A mistake?” I raised an eyebrow.
“The you now would never have been in this desperate of a situation. You’re too smart, too cunning, and too dangerous. Had you been you… even just for the last year, then I feel like your place on the throne would be solid, and there would be no talk of a war.”
“So, my only mistake is that I made no mistake?” I asked, causing Saria to blush. “Then I must ask, what do you plan to do about it?”
“What can I do?” Saria sighed, “It appears like I am in a corner with no choices.”
“I’ve found that people who have been pushed into a corner are the most dangerous,” I responded. “You are my fiancée. I plan to visit the elvish capital without you. What happens after that is up to you.”
“You won’t push me down? Force me to drink your blood? Enslave me? As you did my sister?”
I couldn’t stop the shocked expression from flickering across my face, but it was too late. Given the look she had, it was clear she knew why her sister had betrayed her.
“Let me guess, her betrayal was too perfect?” I responded wryly.
“Something like that. I studied devils in great length before I came to visit you. I had fears that you would do this to my sister. That was one of the reasons she came dressed as a boy. As soon as you revealed you knew her to be a woman, her betrayal only made sense.”
“Would it have any meaning if I said that she asked me to enslave her?” I offered. “I don’t make it a habit of enslaving others.”
“Then, I will follow you for a while longer, at least until we meet my father.” She paused for a second and then turned her back to me. “You do owe me a date, after all.”
“Very well. Let’s get a move on then.” I said as I saw Aeryn and other walking down the stairs with their packs of stuff.
The soldiers had also been roused and soon everyone was taking stuff out the horses in front of the inn. The only notice we seemed to warrant was the innkeeper, who looked relieved that the devil was finally leaving his inn. As I was standing outside in the light, I noticed some burn marks on the lower right corner of the inn. Bala was nearby and she noticed me looking at them.
“I didn’t stop by your room until I was certain the riffraff was sent on their way.” She explained.
Baba had to be carried out of the inn and strapped to a horse, as she was still sleeping in from the previous night. I paid the innkeeper nearly half my coin, which would be enough to buy his inn in some towns. We also bought two additional packhorses and a horse for the elf princesses to ride.
Everyone mounted quickly, and only fifteen minutes after reaching the inn, we were riding away and heading for the first gate. That was when the bells started ringing.
“What do the bells mean? Did Lord Stebes finally come to his senses?” I asked.
“The bells are a warning to close all gates,” Bala explained. “It is usually there in case of an invasion, but considering the timing…”
“It’s to keep us in the city,” I spoke with a sigh.
“That would be a reasonable assumption.”
“What do we do then, my lord?” Captain Moar asked.
“We need to take a gate and open it by force!”