“Hmm? What is it you want?” I asked in confusion, blinking through my tired eyes.
We had completed an entire day of travel, and my butt was sore, especially after the way that Lucy rode the horse and expected me to hold on. Everyone had made camp, and they naturally continued to go the isolation route. That is to say; I wasn’t offered any resources I didn’t bring with me. While the others set up tents and had bedrolls while eating full meals, all I had were the goblin provisions, a hole filled blanket, and dried meat that I hoped wasn’t rat.
Olivia didn’t have the same circumstances. They gave her resources befitting a princess, with fresh clothing, a tent, a guard, and the same meals that the prince ate. In fact, the prince remained quite close to her since this morning, and it was to the point where she became forceful to keep from sleeping in his tent.
“My tent has more than enough room, my lady. Do not worry. I am an honorable man.”
“No, Nya! It’s not appropriate.”
At this point, she had realized that every time she shot me a look, the Prince grew a bit icy, so now she had a distinct look like she was trying hard not to look at me for help. Yet, her eyes held a certain degree of pleading in them. Lucy was watching this exchange with a disgusted look on her face. To her, this sort of behavior was disgraceful, and it was clear what she thought of this man and his supposed flirting. Gantar was a playboy in her mind, and Olivia should just handle him violently as she did.
I suddenly nudged her forward. Lucy shot me a hateful look.
“What do you want?” She hissed.
I sighed and then nodded to Gantar and Olivia. “Invite her to your tent, idiot.”
“Who’s the idiot?”
“Aren’t you her sister? It wouldn’t be odd for the pair of you to share a tent. Would you rather I invited her to my bedroll?”
Lucy shot me a hateful look, but she fortunately, agreed with my sentiments. Olivia was her sister, and it was disgraceful watching this ridiculous playboy try to take advantage of her. Having Olivia sleep with Lucy resolved all of the issues. Thus, she stepped in of her own accord. Gantar was unhappy about the development, but he didn’t tie it to me, so all he could do was smile while hiding his unhappiness behind those frightful eyes of his that never quite matched the features of his face.
Although I had jokingly mentioned inviting Olivia to my bedroll, I didn’t actually mean it. Yet, there she was in the middle of the night, standing over me.
I had to make my own fire, which was sadly not as impressive as I could manage when Olivia had helped me. Furthermore, all I had was the goblin blanket. It wasn’t too bad, because this was all Olivia and I had slept under for a week. Yet, at that point, we had each other to cuddle against. A lot of those nights, I had my arms wrapped around her. Adding to that, the tendency for me to be joined by Aeryn or my mother before then, and I had grown used to sleep with a woman next to me.
Therefore, I was sleeping very lightly when I felt the movement approach. I didn’t think it would be something like an assassin, but when my eyes did open, I didn’t expect to see my sister either. After asking my question, she suddenly dropped a pile on top of me. I reached down and touched it to feel a pillow, thick wool blankets, a change of clothing, and even some provisions. While I had been worrying about myself, it seemed like Olivia had been swiping provisions for me. It was only now that it was the middle of the night, and no one was watching that she was able to deliver them.
Frankly speaking, there was nothing wrong with giving me provisions. I was a prince, and if I made a stink, they would hand me whatever I demanded. I deliberately didn’t ask. As to why it was a bit of a game I was playing with Gantar. No one realized, maybe not even Gantar himself, but the second he had entered the picture, a game had begun. If I snivelled, complained, and demanded assistance, Gantar would win.
Was this game simply a matter of the clash of our individual pride? Would it amount to nothing in the end? Time would tell with that one. Yet, whether the game was real or imagined, I wouldn’t bow down and accept Gantar’s aid. My sister’s, however, would be a giant slap in the face to Gantar. I happily took the items she gave me.
“Thank you, my beautiful sister.”
I couldn’t see her face in the dark, but I was sure she blushed, fidgeting uncomfortably. There was suddenly a hushed call out for her. Back at her tent, which was lit with a magical stone, Lucy was standing there with her arms crossed. I didn’t need to see her face to know there was a frown on it. She wouldn’t admonish Olivia for giving me some aid, but she wouldn’t like it either.
Olivia snapped out of whatever state she had fallen into and then turned and walked away, her tail whipping back and forth as she swayed sensually back to the tent. I didn’t know if it was that I missed her touch and was imagining things, or if she was intentionally trying to entice me. I reorganized my blankets and got into a position that was much more comfortable. Not knowing when I’d get more provisions, I only ate a small portion of what she gave as a snack before rolling over and going to sleep.
A pair of eyes on me from the other side of the camp had been on us the entire time. Gantar had watched the entire exchange with Olivia. When two ladies slipped their arms around him and begged him to come back to bed, he shrugged them off and then walked off into the dark. He only came back a few hours later. By then, his lady friends had already gotten to sleep, but that never stopped him before. He stripped them and had his fun before finally going to sleep.
These sounds were loud enough that most of the people in the camp could hear them, even Lucy and Olivia. Olivia only could cover her ears and shake. She didn’t find it alluring at all, but rather it made her fearful. This man had set his eyes on her, and he was doing it so loudly only so that she could hear the noises he would one day make her produce. Elves tended to be a bit reserved, making Gantar’s actions a bit low-brow by their standards, but the soldiers were loyal and wouldn’t say anything against the prince.
Lucy was more pragmatic, having grown used to travelling with beastkin soldiers, who would often bring women to their tents at night and showed no reservations. While elves were reserved and liked to do it in private, beastkin thought nothing of unleashing their prowess under the stars in full view. There were even men who considered it a source of pride that they and their mate were heard throughout the night. Okay, Lucy got a little squeamish about it, but she was significantly better at ignoring the noises, and almost considered them as standard night sounds when you travelled in a large enough group.
My eyes had remained closed, and if anyone looked, they would assume I was asleep. However, as soon as I heard Gantar get back to camp, one of my eyes opened. So, he was going to make his move tomorrow. I didn’t know what his plan was, but I had a few guesses. Based on what he chose, tomorrow would be an interesting day. Since he would be moving tomorrow, I was free to sleep that night. I finally allowed my eyes to close and to slip off to an uncomfortable sleep.
I woke early before the light was rising. I was used to having a full night sleep, so this genuinely left me feeling exhausted. However, I felt it imperative that I not sleep while everyone else got up. At best, they’d send a soldier to kick me awake, probably taking aim hoping to break a rib accidentally. If I complained, they’d say something about not realizing how weak a devilkin would be to a simple, friendly kick. Since I didn’t want to add a broken rib to my troubles, I made sure to set my internal clock to wake before the soldiers did.
I didn’t think it paranoia either, since as more soldiers woke up, a few glanced over at me with regretful looks as they already saw me dressed, packed, and ready to go. Maybe some hoped just to leave me here sleeping, while others hoped for an opportunity to embarrass me. I gave none of them that chance.
As for Gantar, I really wanted to check and see what he had done the previous night, but I wasn’t certain of his skill level. I suspected that if I tried to probe him, I would get caught, and that might make the situation even more difficult. Thus, I avoided it. I also avoided leaving camp, as there was the chance that he ordered one of his guards to put an arrow in me. They could always claim they thought I was an intruder during the night.
One could call it paranoia, but it would be paranoia that kept me alive. I longed for the time when Bala was back by my side, and I could relax for just a bit. I wondered how she’d feel if she knew how much I missed her? Probably nauseated.
For the moment, the safest place for me was ironically right next to the person who wanted me dead the most. Lucy was a foreign dignitary, and they couldn’t risk putting her life at risk at all. Hurting her wouldn’t just risk losing any chance at the human realm, but also would bring the beastkin down on them hard.
Since Lucy wasn’t affected by Gantar’s charms, she definitely wouldn’t agree to work with him, even if it did involve a conspiracy to get rid of me. She was like a wildcard, openly interfering with any plans that the man would want to make. From the moment I had seen Gantar, I was glad that I had run into Lucy first. This was a man who would make an attempt to kill me, but not as long as I had Lucy as a shield.
How naïve I had been to think that I could have walked to Greenvale undisturbed. To be fair, only a prince would dare threaten my life, and Gantar had only been conveniently here because of Lucy. I guess one could say that Lucy was both my blessing and my curse.
“We will reach Greenvale by the end of the night by our current pace,” Gantar announced.
Everyone mounted up, and this time Lucy didn’t resist as I got on to her horse. Perhaps Olivia had said something to her the night before, as her attitude toward me wasn’t quite as volatile.
That’s what I thought, but after about a half-hour of travel, she spoke up quietly. “I know what you did to Olivia.”
“Oh? What did I do to her?”
Lucy made a face. “Don’t act coy! You enslaved her! You used your devil magic to bind her heart to your own.”
“If I could do so that easily, then aren’t you scared I’d do the same to you?”
“Hmph!” She made an unhappy noise and then nodded to the man who rode beside her.
Right now, he had fallen back a bit, so he couldn’t hear our conversation. However, he was vigilant and kept close enough that he could be there in a second. I was convinced the man had some animosity towards me. While Gantar saw me as merely an annoyance he wished to get rid of, I felt a barely constrained killing intent emanating from Lucy’s bodyguard.
“What about him?”
“You don’t know him?”
“How could I?”
She made another disgusted noise. “You killed his son.”
“I think I’d remember such a thing.”
“You… maybe you didn’t do it directly, but General Tucci was the man who was in charge of the invasion of Virdainia.”
I rose an eyebrow, “Is that so?”
Suddenly, a few things started to make more sense. This man, despite his age, was probably quite strong. If his son died in the backlash of his own assault, I could understand his anger and humiliation at his defeat.
“So, you understand? You will die when the time is right. I made a mistake letting you live once. I won’t repeat it again.”
“I understand how arrogant and childish a man like him is.”
“How dare you! He’s a better man than you ever will be!”
“And yet he lost,” I responded simply.
“…” Lucy had a bitter expression on her face, but she didn’t respond.
General Tucci was a wolfkin. His hearing was better than anyone. Although he didn’t react in the slightest, I was completely confident he could hear our conversation as if he was sitting right next to us. Thus, when I spoke, I spoke for both of them.
“I don’t know your general. All I know is his failure. You attempted to kill me and destroy my home. I defended it. How arrogant must a man be to blame the defender for daring to defend himself! If I wanted to, I could have turned your entire undead army on Benatong. I could have let your citizens choke on the foolish choices of their leaders.”
“You wouldn’t dare!’
“Why? You did! You killed innocents first. You would have let the citizens of Virdainia be slaughtered for simply supporting their own species. You did kill the people of Perang!”
“We left the women and children alive!”
“No… you didn’t…”
She looked back confused for a second, but then she understood what I meant, and her face grew even more bitter. “That was you who turned that army on us! If the undead slaughtered them, it was your fault!”
“How? He had prisoners. He failed to protect those prisoners. That blood isn’t on my hands. It’s on yours.”
“I did what I had to do to protect mine. Your general didn’t. It’s as simple as that. Let me guess, his son died right next to him.”
“So, he’s not just a failure of a general, but the failure of a father!”
The sudden ring of steel filled the air as the man himself drew his sword and pointed it at me. This couldn’t go unnoticed by the elves, who all turned. Both horses had stopped, and General Tucci was holding his sword at the back of my neck.
“Take… that… back…” The man himself growled.
“What? Will you strike this prince down? Stab an unarmed man in the back… raining my blood all over your only princess and my sister?”
Lucy stiffened in front of me. She had come to know the effect of my blood on people. General Tucci, having fought on the borders against devilkin for years, already knew it as well. She was literally in my arms. If he attacked me in any way, it would be impossible for Lucy not to become cursed with my blood. In order to kill me, it’d be a lot of blood too. If I was dead, then Lucy herself would likely be driven to insanity before it could be resolved.
“Keep talking, devil.” He growled, his throat emulating the sound of a wolf perfectly.
“I’m sorry your son died,” I responded. “If my family died, I too would be filled with rage.”
His sword arm shook, and he had a surprised look on his face. The apology I gave him was not given lightly. When the sword pulled away slightly and gave me the room, I slid off the horse and moved to his other side.
“If you wish to cut me down, do so now.” I said, “Here, I won’t get any blood on my sister.”
“No!” Olivia cried out, trying to slide off her horse only for two of the prince’s men to move their horses in a way that kept her from doing so.
“Why did you move?” He asked, a strange and uncertain look on his face.
“I already said,” I responded calmly. “I didn’t want to see my sister hurt. If I bled on her, I’d only cause her pain.”
“Enough of your trickery! Do you think that this will save your life?”
“That depends on you, doesn’t it? You’re the one with a sword pointed at me?”
Many of the elves looked at this spat with ridicule. Prince Gantar’s eyes were looking excitedly, just waiting for the moment I was cut down. Only two pairs of eyes were filled with confusion. One of them was General Tucci, and the other was Lucy. Neither could understand what I was playing at that I would leave myself so vulnerable to them.
In truth, I didn’t even know myself. It was just a feeling. It was like General Tucci was not an evil man. I couldn’t say the same for Prince Gantar.
A flash of fury rose on his face, and he lifted up his sword. Prince Gantar’s smile grew while Olivia cried and turned away. Lucy actually reached out, as if she wanted to grab me and pull me out of reach but couldn’t.
His sword didn’t fall. This wasn’t because he had made his decision, but because a noise started to fill the air. It was a rumbling noise. As the noise grew louder, it felt like the ground was shaking. However, it was no earthquake. In his surprised, General Tucci allowed his sword to drop as he looked around. He instinctively moved his horse closer to Lucy. I noticed the way he looked at her and realized now what I had been seeing about him that gave me a feeling he was good.
He looked at Lucy like he would a daughter. In fact, he looked extremely protective of her. Since his son had passed away, perhaps that desire to protect her had grown exponentially.
I didn’t have time to dwell on the relationship between the pair of them, though, because the sound was getting louder and louder. Although the elf guards were uneasy and confused, Prince Gantar had a big smile on his face and was steadily moving his horse away from us. It was then that I noticed a discarded jug lying on the ground. It would be an innocuous thing usually, for a group of soldiers, that something was dropped and abandoned.
This particular jug was filled with liquid but had been dropped in a way that the contents had poured out onto the ground. It had been dropped right at the feet of the horse, right between General Tucci and our horse. I kneeled down and touched the wet, muddy ground, and then sniffed my finger. A pungent smell came from it.
It was only when a massive roar sounded out that I came to the realization. This was a lure, gathered and planted by Prince Gantar last night. When we had stopped to fight, he must have seen it as a good opportunity, so he ordered a soldier to toss the liquid attractant between the two of us and wait. I spun around in time to see a massive lion with massive eagle wings, the tail of a snake, and the horns of a ram. It was about three times the size of the horses.
“A chimera!” General Tucci called out. “Soldiers… run!”