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The Black Knight
Xena: Warrior Princess, Gabrielle, Argo and all other characters who have appeared in the syndicated series Xena: Warrior Princess, together with the names, titles and backstory are the sole copyright property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement was intended in the writing of this fan fiction. All other characters, the story idea and the story itself are the sole property of the author. This story cannot be sold or used for profit in any way. Copies of this story may be made for private use only and must include all disclaimers and copyright notices.
Sex/Subtext: Yes, it is here. Sorry if you feel sickly by a display of two people of the same sex in love. There are sexual scenes, if this will bother you please find a different story.
Violence: If the thought of Xena and violence upset you, I'd like to know how you made it this far, this story does contain some swordplay and some nasty fights.
Foul Language and Such: There are nasty smelling, rude, ugly men involved in this story, therefore I think that is a must.
Joxer Warning: I like Joxer but don't worry I improved him just for this story.
All yadda yadda about this story can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
|Chapter 1-17||Chapter 18-25|
Father Paul: Sal
Sarah lifted the bucket of grain with ease and began to scoop out handfuls to the waiting chickens. She didn't particularly like the peasant life that she'd been dealt but she made the best of it. She looked out the window at the castle walls and thought about the tyrant king who lived in them.
"Bloody bastard," Sarah's blue eyes flashed momentarily as she thought of her brother who worked for the king against his will," Like to spit in your face."
There was a soft nay from the far side of the stables and Sarah turned to see the new horse bought for the kings returning daughter, the one who's off in some school for girls, Sarah thought to herself," Poor thing," setting the bucket aside, she touched the horses nuzzle," if the Princess is anything like her father you're in for it."
Suddenly the stable door crashed inward and a large knight fell to the ground. Sarah looked at the dark armor, it's the Black Knight!
Sarah then saw the five guards that were chasing the Black Knight, they all had their swords drawn and moved to surround the injured knight. Sarah thinking quickly picked up the forgotten bucket of grain and slammed it into the nearest man's head. The other guards turned to see what was happening but as they looked corn and other such grit from the bucket got into their eyes.
The Black Knight seizing the opportunity drove his sword through the closest guard's stomach. Blood gashed over Sarah's apron and she backed away in horror. The Black Knight continued to fight with the men until he was the final one standing, only then did he turned to Sarah. Taking off his helmet, a grisly old men smiled at her," Thank you young Sarah."
Sarah, at a lose for words, curtsied and stuttered," Welcome my lord."
He sat gingerly on a sack of feed and looked at her seriously," Please, don't call me that," he smiled," reminds me of that nasty buggar in the big castle outside."
Sarah returned the smile," I'll try not to remind you of such slim...then what should a call you?"
"How about by my name?"
"And what would that be?"
The old man once again smiled," Gabriel," he extended his hand," And it's a pleasure to meet you Sarah."
Sarah felt the color rise in her cheeks," Gabriel," she thought for a moment," I had a grandfather named Gabriel. He died though several years ago."
Gabriel gave her a dazzling smile," Oh, he's not dead, not yet."
Sarah gave him a confused look," You know him."
Gabriel looked at the floor," Yes, I do," he paused," He's me."
Sarah was taken aback," It's not good to lie to uneducated girls, sir."
Gabriel moved closer to her and squatted in front of her," Look into my eyes you'll know it to be true," Sarah looked into the bright blue eyes," they're just like yours, Granddaughter. I've come here tonight to find you because, as you can see, I'm getting to old for this sort of thing. I need a replacement."
" I've talked to all the men in your village, Sarah, they say your the best with a sword and your brother being in the guard would put the Black Knight were we need him most. Sarah, will you help your fellow countrymen," seeing the raised eyebrow," and women, in defeating the king and putting someone on the throne that actually will not abuse it?"
Sarah thought of the dreams she'd had since she was a child. The one of the warrior woman who defended the weak. Sarah remembered the games she used to play with her brother and other boys, where she was actually that woman. Sarah turned to Gabriel," I'll need training..."
Gabriel smiled and montioned her to the door," Well that's why I'm taking you tonight to my house in the woods, you will be the next Black Knight, Sarah."
"Yes, I will be."
Chapter 1: 10 years later...
The King slammed an angry fist down upon his desk causing Bennet, head of the royal guard to flinch," Dammit, I thought you said that the Black Knight was taken care of!"
From his bowed position Bennet stared into the King's blazing eyes," We lost several men that night in the stable. The Black Knight couldn't have survived the attack, Your Highness."
The King flung his goblet across the room," You bloody idiot," the King screamed," It's very apparent that the Black Knight is still alive and I think your going to bring him to me."
Bennet frowned at the King but answered the King," As you wish."
Claire rode, with blonde hair flying, in the pasture that was behind the stables. Her horse was fidgety and Claire kneed it hard to get it under control. The horse reared up, dumping it's cargo on the ground.
"Stupid thing," Claire cried," Why won't you let me ride you?"
"Maybe it's because you try to control the horse instead of letting it run."
Claire turned to see the stable hand, Sarah, closing in on her. Claire hurriedly got to her feet and glared at the peasant woman," I'm the princess," Claire swung her arm to take in the horse," That's my horse. She should listen to me not the other way around."
Sarah shrugged and grasped the horse's reins," Maybe you should just be more polite to the things you take for granted."
The double meaning of the statement was not lost on Claire," What do you know?" Claire scowled," Your just the stable hand."
Sarah bowed her head in defeat," I'm sorry, milady."
Claire began to walk towards the stables," Take my horse and clean her and whatever else you do. I want her shining by tomorrow."
Sarah again bowed her head.
Sarah finished taking care of the Princess's horse and thought of how well the horse had aged in the time she'd worked for the King. Of course, not counting the two years she took off to train with Gabriel. Like he promised Gabriel taught her everything he knew. Healing that he'd learned from a monk in the Austrian mountains. Material arts he'd learned from a slave Chinaman in London. Swordplay came to him naturally though and he passed his skills down to Sarah.
A few tears fell down her face for her mentor that had past on that winter, the many years of action finally catching up with him. Before he died though he gave his armor, sword and horse to Sarah telling her that it was time to pursue her destiny.
And pursue it I did, she thought as she saddled her black mare and rode out of the stables.
Claire watched, with green eyes, as her father stormed from one part of the castle to the next. Black Knight strikes again...
Claire spotted her brother walking down the hall, fusing over one his shoulder puffs," Charles can you come here?"
Charles looked up and made his way towards her," You called?"
Claire rolled her eyes at her prissy brother and tried not to say what she was thinking about his 'highly in style' dress. The more Claire saw of the stylish dress her brother wore, the more she was sure if he got the throne that the country would go to hell on a bread basket.
"Is father upset by the Black Knight again?"
Charles brow came together," Ah, yes, Sister," he began to play with his frill cuff," It seems that the Black Knight stole from the food caravan and took all the money and food."
Claire thought carefully for a moment," Charles what do you think father would do if we caught the dreaded Black Knight?"
Charles mouth fell open and he scratched his chin," Oh I think that he'd probably be extremely happy and then would throw one hell of a party in our honor."
Claire smiled at him," So I get us a wagon and load it with kitchen supplies and food and we'll go tonight."
Charles looked at her very seriously," What do you think I should wear?"
Claire looked at him and smiled," Try clothes."
Sarah downed her jacket of chain mail and pulled on her heavy black boots. Then working from her legs up, she covered her body with the black armor. She lifted the breastplate and strapped it into place. She sheathed her sword and strapped it to her back.
Finally, she picked up the helmet. She turned it over in her hands and looked inside. The clothe she'd put in to make her voice deeper, was secure. She had also taken out the eye mesh and left the eye holes open, not only so she could see better but so anyone who saw her saw her bright blue eyes. Putting the helmet on her head, she felt the power that the armor gave her and she loved it.
She walked outside into the forest where many of her men were mingling around outside," Saddle up."
The men went about seeing to the horses and readying their weapons.
Claire had had a terrible time saddling her horse since the lazy stable hand decided to leave early that night. Her brother had bribed a few of the guards to come with them on their journey to capture the Black Knight. They lifted the saddle for her and tried in vain not to laugh as the flustered princess secured the saddle.
Claire had managed to talk the guards into stealing the royal carriage and two white horses to pull it. She knew that they wouldn't be missed until the next morning.
Dressed in her riding clothes she sat high in her saddle trying to keep the insubordinate horse under control and keep the seven men with her quiet," Listen you fools! If we locate the Black Knight and bring him back here, think of the reward you'll have," she told them," But, if you continue to be unruly we'll never get out of here and I'll tell the king that you were trying to kidnap his children, steal his coach, and his horses..."
That shut the them up, Claire thought to herself. She took the lead as they rode out into the night and as she neared the forest her brother rode up beside her," If we get attacked it'll be your hide, Claire, not mine."
"As if you'd be man enough to accept the blame, Charles."
Her brother mocked her and made his horse prance beside hers," To bad you'll probably fall off your stupid animal in the state of an emergency."
Claire's horse nipped at Charles's and the stead bucked slightly," Better control your horse there, brother, wouldn't want you to make a bloody fool of yourself." She patted her horse's neck and it nickered back at her," Good girl."
They had just entered the darkened forest when a cool breeze picked up and sent a chill through Claire's body. Oh, you're close aren't you? It was dark and made it almost impossible for to see anything but Claire still looked out into the trees, hoping a slight movement would give away the Black Knight's hiding place.
She heard a soft buzz noise and turned back to look at the coach. The guards clutched to their chests and cough up blood spattering it on their clothes and on the horses.
Claire let out a scream as the branches seemed to give way to the attackers.
Sarah couldn't think of a better raid, these people were definitely no the normal guards that traveled with the royal carriage. It's almost as if they want me to find them, Sarah thought. Their horses could fetch a pretty penny another clothes to if I can get them unmarked, she smiled, probably not.
Sarah pulled the crossbow up from where it was resting on her leg and nudged Bennett to do the same," Take aim at the drivers," she whispered," we should stop the wagon before we attack."
Bennett nodded once showing that he had understood and in unison they shot the two unfortunate men reining the horses," NOW!"
The brush and low laying trees exploded with movement as Sarah and her ten best men tore towards the coach. There was a scream and Sarah had guessed it had come from the inside. She jumped to the seat and drove the carriage off the road to the waiting men, who would take it to the village and sell it.
She returned to the battle to see that her men had the upper hand but they seemed to have trouble unseating a young looking man on a golden mare. The young boy shrieked and tried to steady the frightened animal. Sarah looked closure and realized that it was the princess on top of her mare. Stupid girl, she trying to get herself killed I swear it, "Stop you men there," she called," that's the princess. Don't make her fall."
Her men nodded and began to speak calmly to the startled animal," Easy there, girl."
"Calm down, lady, we're nice people," they cooed at the horse.
"The hell you are," Claire roared, tears streaming down her face," Get away for my horse."
Sarah stepped forward scening the princess' dispair," We won't hurt you, milady," her voice booming in her ears, she could only wonder what it sounded like to Claire," We have no quarrel with you, only your father and his unfair taxes..."
Suddenly fro behind came an estranged voice," My father, will kill you."
Sarah turned to see a very bloody and angry Prince Charles and he was charging.
Sarah pulled her broad sword from it's stealth and prepared for the princes wild charge. The prince ran madly at her, apparently not thinking too straight... Sarah waited patiently for him across the wide road. He stalked over and looked Sarah over with a disapproving eye," Now, your highness, let's not do anything rash." She mocked him through her helmet mouth grill.
"Oh, and you think that calling my father terrible, untrue things are not rash," He scoffed at her," You bloody peasant, I'll teach you."
He moved to fake Sarah with a jab but Sarah turned to the side, and with a flip of her wrist, whacked the prince on his backside. He fell into the mud along the side of the road face first. The band of men that remained of Sarah's men laughed at the prince as he floundered on his stomach," You bloody...bloody..." He cursed.
Sarah leaned up against a near by tree and spoke very clear into the crisp night air," Don't attack me again dear prince for you might receive more than you bargain for."
The prince through himself to his feet and leapt at the Black Knight. Sarah raised her right hand guessing where he'd come close to landing...Soon the prince was sprawled on the forest floor, holding his crotch, and making unpleasant comments.
Sarah smiled and turned back to the princess," If you promise not to turn my men in, two of them will escort you back to the castle."
Claire stuck her chin out defiantly," And if I refuse?"
Sarah shrugged her shoulders, hearing the clank of the metal she wore there," Then I will leave you here to find your own way home, night milady."
Claire practically lunged at her as she turned," I just asked what would happen if I'd refuse, I really didn't."
Sarah leveled her eyes so that they were equal to the princess'. Sarah knew that the moonlight was reflecting off her blue eyes, she could she them in Claire's eyes," Then God speed, your highness," she vaulted up on to her horse," By the way thank you for the horses and carriage, the money they bring will be put to good use."
"No, for the people who can't afford to pay your taxes."
Claire was scooped up by one of the other men and began riding towards the castle. But Sarah had seen that look, the look of understanding.
Claire clung to the young man she was riding with. She was riding more on the horse's rear then anything else and with every step she slipped a little farther back.
Her brother had it worse than she did though. Using her horse the had tied him around the horse's middle and blind folded him. Claire giggled at her brother's plight, Serves the idiot right, he shouldn't have insulted the Black Knight like that.
Claire turned her attention to the boy sitting in front of her," What is your name?"
The boy turned to her and gave her a half smile," If I told you I'd be breaking my vow of silence to the Black Knight."
Claire cocked her head," Tell me about him?"
"The Black Knight, we might as well talk about something while we ride," Claire replied trying to sound as nonchalant as possible, after all she was just trying to strike up a conversation.
The boy again twisted in his saddle,"What makes you think that the Black Knight is a man?"
Claire shrugged against him," I don't know, are you saying that the Black Knight is a woman?"
The boy shook his sandy blonde hair in front of her,"I didn't that, I just asked why you think the Black Knight's a man."
Claire thought momentarily," Well I think it's because the Black Knight is in charge of a group of, excuse me for saying, unsavory men...."
The older blonde man that was pulling her brother's horse laughed," We've been called much worse."
Claire smiled at the man," Anyway, the Black Knight also took down my brother....He's usually pretty good with a sword I don't know what happened to him tonight."
The boy laughed good heartedly," He got his arse kicked is what happened!"
Claire smiled and joined in the laughter.
Why do I think the Black Knight is a man? she thought, is it because I got the unusual feeling in my legs when I saw him or was it the way mouth flooded when he crashed through the trees? Maybe it was those piercing eyes that she'd seen so plainly in the moonlight....Who else could she have these feelings for? Certainly not anything less than this mysterious Black Knight.
Her thoughts ended as the boy pulled thier horse to a stop," This is as far as we go, milady."
"Thank you," She told the boy as she was helped down," for your kindness. I didn't exactly give the best first impression to the Black Knight tonight, would you extend my apologizes?"
The boy nodded and covered his heart with a closed fist.
The older man cut her brother lose and he fell bonelessly to the ground. Claire walked over and began to revive him,"What should I call you if I ever meet you in the street?"
The boy smiled and replied,"William, milady. Should you ever need me, I live in the village just south of here."
The old man scolded the boy and they spurred thier horses back towards the forest. Claire took the reins of her horse and kicked her brother," Come on we better go talk to father."
Charles moaned and stood up on shaky legs.
Charles threw the doors to his father's study aside as he plowed into the room," Father, I must speak with you."
The king looked up from the scroll he was reading and leaned back in his high backed chair," My son, what troubles you?"
Claire took up a position against the far wall, hoping against hope that the wall would shallow her not leaving a trace. He'll blame me for everything, Claire thought as her heart sunk, Father will not take it well. Let's see how many things did I do wrong tonight....One, I lost Father's priced horses and carriage. Two, I put his precious son in danger. That'll be the big one, Claire looked up at her Father as he shook his head.
"What pocessed you to do such a foolish thing son? I've got guards that will do that kind of thing for me. I don't need the ire to my throne to be run through by the Black Knight's sword," the king loving touched his son's face.
Charles smiled and turned to Claire. Oh God be with me the dickless coward is going to do it. "Claire," Charles turned back to his father," She convinced me that it was a good idea to chase the Black Knight. She clouded my judgment, sir, it will never happen again."
The king's face was a lovely color of reddish purple by the time Charles was finished," Go to bed, Charles, I want to talk to my daughter alone."
Claire slunk forward as her content brother brushed by her. The look on his face was of utter amusement, I could kill you, you stupid.... Her thoughts were interrupted by her father's clearing of his throat," Come closer my daughter."
Claire came almost toe to toe with her towering father. She tried not to shiver under his cold stare," You are not to put him that kind of danger again. Do you understand me, daughter?"
Claire bit her lower lip and nodded," It won't happen again," she mumbled.
The king cocked his head," What was that, daughter, I couldn't understand your blubbering."
Claire looked up, her eyes hard," I said," she spat," I understand and it won't happen again."
The king nodded once," It had better not," he turned and began to walk back to his desk," Bennett can take care of the Black Knight, you are to stay here," he sat heavily in his chair," and try to find some rich duke or something to marry."
Claire glared defiantly at her father," When I marry I will marry for love, not for some tradition that I am forced to up hold."
The king's hand slammed down on his desk and his stood, his long strides quickly eating up the distance between he and his daughter," Stupid, ungrateful," His hand shot out and Claire face jerked under the blow," Never say that to me again. My, if your mother lived to see what you turned out to be..."
Claire was raging inside, Don't you talk of the woman, the kind woman, who was forced to marry you, "If my mother had lived," Claire screamed," I wouldn't have turned out like this."
With tears streaming down her face, Claire ran from the hateful room. She ran all the way to the stables, she was sure she could've run farther but her pant leg caught on the corner of a troth and she collapsed to the ground. She lay there, listening to the sounds of the night.
She inhaled and held it trying to calm her nerves. At first she thought it was the wind but again she froze, listening. She wasn't crazy someone at this time of the night was in the stables humming softly, beautifully.
Claire stood and pushed the door to the stables open, just enough to see inside. There stood the stable hand, Sarah, brushing down her golden mare. How did she know that she'd need a rub down. She wasn't here when we left, there is no way that she'd know about the little misadventure.
Claire leaned on the door, deep in thought. The hinges squeaked loudly, announcing her presents to the stable hand.
" You can come in if you like?" Sarah said quietly," It's not like you're not allowed."
Claire blushed at Sarah's comment. Sarah was a quiet person who never said much when she came for her horse. Mostly all she said were offers of assistance, which Claire refused," Do you mind if I just watch you for awhile," Claire stammered," It's not often that I can see my horse being good. She's often," Claire felt flustered by her babbling," Oh it's stupid."
Sarah continued to brush the mare," You want to know why she acts well around me and not you."
Sarah turned her dirty face to her," You try to control her. You don't let her run and enjoy herself. She doesn't like being in here all day and is overjoyed when you come to take her out. But then she becomes frustrated when you won't let her take some control."
Claire looked at the woman, surprise evident on her face. Maybe I misjudged her, she seems really smart.
"That's amazing," Claire said in awe," Where did you learn that?"
Sarah's eyes showed Claire she was battling with herself," I...um..."
Claire smiled and looked at the stuttering woman," It's alright."
" You can read a horse's body talk, when it fidgets and such it unhappy but when it's loose it's happy. Reading the horse's body language is important."
Claire sat on a near by bail of hay and watched as Sarah continued to brush the horse till it shined.
Sarah was startled by the question and turned to Claire as she repeated it," Do you know a boy named William?"
Sarah looked at the princess, noting the big watery eyes and the large hand print on her face. Bloody bastard he shouldn't hit her. She wasn't doing anything wrong. "Yes, milady, I know of a William."
Sarah turned back to the saddle she was repairing," The reason I'm asking is, I met a William tonight, while I foolishly tried to capture the Black Knight."
Damn William, that kid has such a big mouth. "So you were the one's that bought us the party...."
Claire sat up, as if interested," Party, what party?"
Sarah turned keeping her face neutral," The Black Knight came into our village tonight with a large sum of money. My village is celebrating in the Black Knight's honor. We're going to have the festivities tomorrow night since the Black Knight didn't come in time for the purchase of the party supplies."
"What can you tell me about the Black Knight?"
Sarah turned back again to the saddle," I'll tell you this much if the Black Knight is captured, many of my friends and family will suffer. And I'd be chest high in pig shit..."
Sarah was sure her heart would stop at the sound of the princess saying her name for the first time, really saying it," Yes, milady?"
Claire was digging the toe of her boot into the ground," Tomorrow will you teach me to read Apollo's movements?"
Sarah smiled inwardly," Of course, milady."
Claire looked at her very seriously now," And tomorrow night will you take me to see my father's people, so I can see first hand the damage he's caused to them?"
Sarah gave her a small smile," I would be honored."
Claire smiled back and walk towards the door, only to stop," You know he hit me don't you?"
Sarah turned to see the sadness in the young woman's face and in her green eyes," Anybody who'd see you would see the mark, milady."
Claire nodded and said," I thought so, it hurts like the dickens."
With that the princess left the stables and Sarah laid down in the hay. Princess, if I could take the hurt away I would.
The next morning Claire made her way to the stables. She walked tiredly through the halls from the last night's adventure but she thought of riding her horse and clearing her head. She turned the corner and ran into Bennett, the head of her father's royal guard.
"Your highness, pardon me," he blushed and bowed out of the way good natureedly. Claire looked at him dumbfoundedly for a moment and he stared at her confused," Is there something wrong, Princess?"
Claire cocked ehr head to one side as she tought," What can you tell me about the Black Knight?"
Bennett glanced up nerveously," Why would someone like you, be worried about someone like that?"
Claire blushed and looked down a her clasped hands," I had a run in with the Black Knight and was wondering what kind of man he is?"
Bennett pulled Claire to the side of the hall and stood in a doorway," Your highness, the Black Knight's gender has never been proven so it is unwise to assume that the Black Knight is one or the other. Most people think of the Black Knight as a ghost, someone who was killed by your father's army for not paying thier taxes. The Black Knight is very dangerous and is unperdictable. I would advice you to stay away."
Claire looked into the captins eyes," Have you met the Black Knight before, sir?"
Bennett smirked down at her, "Aye, I have milady," he reached for his sleeve and pulled it to his elbow, revealing an ugly scar," Last time we fought I was given this," Covering his arm once again he smiled," I try to stay far away from the Black Knight now, I'm not as crafty with my sword and no where near as talented. The Black Knight would be a wonderful assist to your father's army should he allow it. But thinking of the Black Knight's recent ativities, I'd doubt it."
Claire nodded to Bennett," Thank you, Bennett, you've been a great help."
Bennett bowed and made his way down the hall in the opposite direction.
Sarah sat on a low stool, reshoing her horse when she heard the large stable door creak. From where she sat she could not see the person that was entering but by the light step of the booted feet, she could tell it was the princess.
Not looking up from what she was doing she called," Over here, milady, in the stallion's stable."
The princess steps stoped andshe leaned over the rail," How did you know it was me?"
"Call it a luckky guess," Sarah said quietly," Your horse is ready to mount all I need to do is finish this shoe and we can begin."
Claire looked down at the timid stable hand and watched as she skillfuly finished placing and nailing the shoe. The worn hands then found the large saddle and settled it upon the patient horse. Fastening the under strap and downing the bridle, Sarah turned to meet the eyes of the princess," Are you ready?"
"You're really good at that you know?"
Sarah found a spot on the floor to look at as her face turned a pale rose color," I've done this most of my life your highness."
"What do you call your horse, Sarah?" Sarah didn't like being put on the spot and was glad that the coversation had turned away from her," I call him Shadow Chaser, Chaser for short."
Claire walked forward slowly and raised a hand to the horse's nuzzle," Hello Chaser, you are a very beautiful horse."
The horse threw his head back in startlement and Claire's frightened eyes turned once again to Sarah," What did I do wrong, I talked gently yo it and let it see me and...."
Sarah laughed softly at the princess," What would a man say if you told them that they were beautiful?"
Claire cocked her head for a second then turned back to the fidgeting horse," I mean you're a very handsome horse."
The stallion ducked his head again so the princess could rub it again. There came a bump from the stable across the barn and Claire smiled," That's the first time she's ever demanded attention from me."
Sarah took the reins of her horse and led him out of the stable," Not the first time, just the first time you've noticed."
Sarah missed the hurt look the princess gave her as she walked out into the mid morning sun.
"I thought that Apollo was the name of the Sun God in mythology. Your horse is a female," Sarah said from the back of her larger horse. Their horse's contrastedwith each other. Claire's being a light mare with a well keep saddle, while Sarah's was a jet black stallion with a very tattered saddle. Claire had been quiet as they rode across the countryside. This was her attempt of getting a conversation started.
Claire reined in her horse, causing it to stop," How did you know that?"
Sarah looked over at the astonished princess," Just because I'm lower on the ladder doesn't mean that I'm of a lower education," Sarah replied," I own one book, it's written by Homer. It took me three years to finish it."
Claire couldn't help the blush that crept up her neck," My apologizes, I didn't realize." She tugged on the front of her riding shirt," I just assumed..."
Sarah urged her horse to walk again and shruged her broad shoulders," You can't change what you've been brought up to believe, why should you be different then your family?"
Claire glared at the stablehand," How dare you say that," she demanded, her green eyes flaring," the fact that I even acknowledge your presence and allow you to ride with me is proof enough that I don't think like them."
Now it was Sarah's turn to let her mouth drop," I guess it's my turn to say I'm sorry."
They rode in silence for several long moments. Sarah felt the tension that surrounded them. She let her thoughts wonder to why she was here, why she'd taken the job as a stablehand. What am I supposed to do to get her to see that she can't trust me. That I'm here to destroy all she has. Why can't I just turn her away and pretend like I'm just the stablehand. Why did I get into the middle of my own mess. I can't attack the castle if she's there and how could I convince her that she should leave. Why do I have such feeling for her.
"Sarah," the princess interrupted her thoughts," Sarah are you awake?"
Sarah shook her head to clear it," No, I was just thinking," she turned to face Claire," Did you need something?"
"I was going to ask you if you wanted to race to the stables?"
Sarah turn to look at the stable, it's thatched roof was just peeking over the horizon," I think my stallion would beat your horse, even if it run backwards."
Claire's eyebrows shot skyward," Oh really," She turned her horse towards the stables but her eyes never left the face of Sarah," Then I guess I should have a head start."
Claire spurred her horse and it took off toward the stables. Her hair blew back from her face. Sarah smiled, counted to three and let her horse run after the princess's. Within minutes the horse's were equal, both straining to over take the other. A giggle erupted from the princess and it caused Sarah to chuckle as well. They rode like that together all the way to the stable. Finishing together, as one.
Once back inside Sarah busied herself with unsaddling and cleaning the horses. Putting them into their separate stalls and dropping some hay inside. Claire watched her as she worked and noticed that Sarah moved with the stealth of a cat. She worked quickly but did a good job, which surprised Claire. She watched the way the back muscles bunched and eased through the thn cloth that covered her back. Setting the saddle on the stall wall she picked up a brush.
"Where were you last night, an hour or so after supper?"
Sarah's head turned to take in Claire's face, does she know? "I was called home by my brother, he had to go out."
Claire cocked her head to one side, cuasing her blonde hair to fall to one side," Whose your brother?"
Sarah, not looking up from her brushing answered," Bennett."
Bennett was Sarah's brother!? Then maybe she knows something more about the Black Knight," Your brother showed me a scar this morning that he received from the Black Knight..."
Sarah turned to Claire and smiled," He's lying to you I gave him that scar a couple of years ago. He likes everyone to think that he faced the Black Knight but in all honesty he's never seen the Black Knight in action." Becuase evertime I go out he has to stay at the castle..
Claire thought about Sarah had just said," You talk as if you've met him before."
Sarah put a confused look on her face," Of course I've met my brother..."
Claire smiled at Sarah's lack of thought," Not your brother, I mean the Black Knight, you act as if you've met him."
Sarah turned once again to the horse she was tending," I haven't met the Black Knight in the general sense of the word but I have seen what the Black Knight does for my village. Believe you me, it's a lot more than you father does."
Claire frowned," I know what my father has done to your people because he has also done it to me. I am unwelcome in my own home. Unloved and not respected."
Sarah put down the brush she'd been using and placed an unsure hand on the princess's shoulder, surprised at how firm it was," Is that why you're so interested in the Black Knight? You see him as a way out of your family?"
Claire leaned into Sarah and felt the stablehand's body tense under her," I see him as everything I wish that my family stood for and I would like to tell him that I think what he's doing is important to the people, my people. If I was given the opportunity to lead my country, they wouldn't suffer as they do under my father or will under my brother."
Sarah brought her strong arms up around Claire and held her. To Claire this was the first time since her mother's death she'd felt safe. She began to cry, for many different reasons. For the new friend she'd found in Sarah. For her mother's death. For he father's cruelty to the people. For those people who were surviving because of the Black Knight. For the Black Knight and the bond she felt that they shared. She cried for all of these reasons and through it all Sarah stood there with her. Never letting go and for that Claire cried harder.
Once she'd subsided a little Sarah began to rock and sing to her. She had a beautiful voice and Claire let her eyes fall shut and listened to the crisp voice of the stablehand. When she grew quite Sarah began to speak," There's going to be a celebration in the Black Knight's honor tonight in my village, would you like to come?"
Claire lifted her head and smiled," I'd love to."
Claire stared into those deep blue eyes for many moments and suddenly the thought came to her, is it possible to fall in love with two people in as many days?
Not wanting to spend this moment with Sarah thinking about it she laid her head back on the woman's chest and closed her eyes.
Sarah pulled away, finally letting the uncomfortable tension get the better. She looked down into the tears streaked face of the princess," I'll be here till a couple of candle marks after dinner. Come back here and we'll leave. I don't know how long the party will be. Do you think anybody will notice you're gone for a long period of time?"
Claire looked up into Sarah's eyes," If they noticed, nobody will care. I may be the princess but I'm not the important part of the family. I won't be leading my coutry. I'll meet you here at eight in the evening, alright."
Sarah smiled," Whatever's good for you, I can go to the party anytime, you're the one who wants to go."
Claire began to walk towards the door," Till tonight then, my friend, and thank you."
Sarah waved as the princess left and took a deep breath, till tonight.
Claire picked at the food that the servants had put in front of her. She wished that she was in her riding clothes and not the puffy sleeved dress she was in now. All around her dukes and nobles mingled around the table talking of how great life was in their kingdom. Wonderful for you maybe, she thought sarcastically, not for Sarah and her friends and family. Not for me whose forced to live with your lies.
"Claire," the king said again, his dark eyes growing darker when she met them," Claire are you listening to me?"
Claire turned to face her father who sat at the head of the table," Sorry sir, I was thinking."
The king scoffed at her," It's not in a woman's place to think girl, you leave that to the men," He lifted his glass and a servant hurried to refill it. When he drank from it drops of wine clung to his beard. Claire tried not to cringe," Claire, there is someone I'd like you to meet."
He motioned with his hand behind him. A pale man walked forward with an equally light beard and a vague gray eyes," This is Sir Thomas from Scotland and he has asked for your hand."
Claire jumped to her feet and her chair toppled to the floor," And did you consent?"
The king smiled cruelly," Of course I did, daughter, this will bring our two kingdoms closer together."
Claire's eye's filled with tears," All you think about is you bloody kingdom, you never think of how many people you hurt to make yourself better looking or more comfortable. All you worry about is yourself and the money you steal."
The king stood red faced and slammed his cup on the table top," Silence, child, one day you'll understand what it takes to run a kingdom. Of course just being a woman you'll never get the chance."
Claire turned and ran for the room and ran towards the stables. She ran from the life she didn't want and ran to the one she did. A rock tripped her up and she fell, tearing her expensive london bought dress. She began to pull herself up when she heard heavy footsteps behind her. She rolled over to see Sir Thomas walking towards her," Come here little girl." He reached down and yanked Claire to her feet by her hair.
Sarah heard the princess crash through the courtyard and turned to meet her. But as soon as she turned the noise had stopped and the princess didn't enter the stables. Sarah shrugged her shoulders and finished shooing one of the king's horses. After she put the hoof down and stood from her low stool she heard a cry. Sarah leapt to the door and pulled it open, not five paces away Claire was being pulled back towards the castle by a fiery hared man.
Sarah thought quickly, okay you can't blow your cover if they see it's you they'll send you away and you'll never be able to attack the castle from within. Sarah run back into the stables and looked for anything that she could use to hide her identity. She searched frantically and finally came upon a feed sack. While she ran to the door she tore two holes in it and threw it onto her head.
Outside Claire was putting up fight and the pair had not made much progress towards the castle. The man brought his hand back to strike Claire but Sarah reached out and grasped the bony wrist," Now that's no way to treat a lady, now is it sir?"
Sir Thomas moved his head to see this new attacker and shoved Claire away," I don't know who you think you are, but I think you need a lesson in manners." Sir Thomas drew his sword and held it front of him," Come now, this will be your first lesson."
He moved his saber from left to right and Sarah watched his movements carefully. The wheels inside of her head turning, he has some idea of what he's doing, to bad I don't have my sword....he never switches hands, doesn't like the left side...maybe I can get to that side.
Before she could finish her thought Sir Thomas charged at her. She threw herself to the side as his sword brushed along her back. Bringing her right arm back, she caught the saber in her elbow. Having the sword stopped for the moment Sarah delivered a blow to his side with her left. Sir Thomas shied away, tearing his sword from Sarah's trap.
Sarah hissed as she covered the jagged cut the sword left, well not the effect I was hoping for but I can work with this. Claire was now standing by the fence watching the two fighters in awe.
Sir Thomas came at her again and she bowled her body around the blade. While in the position she smashed her fist into his nose, drawing a large amount of blood. While Sir Thomas was still in shock, Sarah turned quickly with a round house kick. Sir Thomas stood up straight for a few moments then his eyes rolled up into his head and he fell back.
Always double check, Gabriels words echoed as Sarah bent down to make sure Sir Thomas was taken care of. Striping off her mask, she found the princess walking towards her," You...you beat...him."
Sarah smiled," So it's seems I did, would you like to go to the party now?"
Claire stared at the crumbled man laying in the middle of the yard as Sarah pulled her away. She'd only seen one person fight that well, Claire shook her head, I can't feel this for two different people, can I.
After the incident in the court yard Claire waited idly by as Sarah saddled both their horses. Claire noticed that she only used her right arm when absolutely necessary, kept it covered, and out of Claire's sight.
"Does it hurt?"
Sarah turned to look at Claire from across the long row of stables and shrugged," Naw, it's just really messy, I don't want you to feel faint for the party..."
Claire stood from the bail of hay that had been her perch and walked down the long aisle," May I see it?"
Sarah didn't move as Claire reached her pale hand forward and glided it along her forearm," It needs to be sewn up and with it being an arm wound, I'll have to wait till we get to the village," she tried to explain.
Claire's hand continued to move and it reached the clothe that had been tied haphazardly to Sarah's elbow," I can sew, you know, and it would be like paying you back for saving me back there."
Claire unwrapped the clothe and with every layer she took off it got more and more blood covered. When she'd reached the last layer it stuck to the dried blood. Sarah hissed in pain, betraying her cool cover," Shh, Sarah look at me," Claire cooed," Come on look at me...concentrate on me, just me."
Sarah met Claire's eyes and forgot all about the pain in her arm and shooting through her body. Claire continued to talk in a hypnotic voice causing Sarah to lose all track of rational thought. The whinnies of the horses died away, as did the thought of her mission here. The Black Knight had fallen from it's charging steed because she'd drown in the sea green eyes of the princess she was supposed to destroy.
" There now that wasn't so bad," Claire said pulling Sarah back to the present," Now I need some string and a needle. And a wash clothe and water."
Sarah cleared her head with a shake," There's a bucket over there and you can get the water from the well over there," she pointed in the directions the items were," You can use a piece of the horse's hair the sew me up, the saddle needle is over by my tools."
Claire went about picking up the items," I didn't have time to get my riding clothes, what am I going to do about that?"
Sarah thought for a moment," Your brother left a pair of riding pants in here a while ago and I think you could wear them."
Claire walked back over to the stablehand," What about a shirt, I'm not going to go topless."
Sarah smiled to herself," Didn't I tell you," Sarah turned away from Claire thinking her smile would give her away," These things are done nude."
Claire dropped the bucket she'd been caring and splashed water onto her dress," In the what?"
Claire covered her mouth," Sarah, I don't believe you didn't tell me," Claire turned under," I hope their not expecting me to be there...."
Sarah touched her hand and she turned around," Sweet Claire, it was just a jest, nothing more, I'm sorry."
Claire melted as Sarah said her name, oh Sweet Claire, she thought, I really enjoy the sound of that," Come over here, so I can sew you up."
Sarah walked over to the bail of hay that Claire was sitting on. She sat on the edge of the stall wall across from the princess and held her arm out. Claire took Sarah's arm in her hand ever so carefully and began to dampen the wound with the wet clothe. After she was done cleaning it she stitched it with the horse hair and saddle needle, making them neat small.
Sarah looked over the wound and smiled," Well," she smiled at the princess," I'm impressed."
Claire turned to wash her hands in the bucket and Sarah didn't noticed the blush that crept up her cheeks.
After the princess and stablehand got out on to the road their conversation dwindled. Sarah, always unsure of what to say, was lost in her own thoughts. Claire, was busy trying to find a reason why she suddenly felt uncomfortable around Sarah. I'm have this feeling in the bottom of my stomach, burning when I think of her. I want to be with her all the time and when I'm not with her I feel as if something is missing. But how could this be I just really met her a few days ago. Of course you could say the same thing for her, she's the one whose risked her life for you. Which make me even more curious becuase she speaks only in harsh tones about my father, wouldn't she feel the same feelings for me?
Claire stared out on the dark road ahead and thought of all the times Sarah had to use it, alone, to get home. Had anything ever happened to her while she was coming home? Had she run into trouble? I wasn't there for her, I was so cruel to her.
Sarah looked down at her from her much taller horse," Yes princess?"
A cool breeze blew through the shirt that Sarah had let her borrow," Have you ever been scared coming home alone on this road?"
Sarah looked at the road," I was when I was smaller..." Before Gabriel taught me to defend myself without my sword," I grew out of it. You know if you travel a road enough times you don't mind the length of it anymore. You can let your thoughts roam, think back on the day you'd had. Maybe a beautiful princess had stopped by to ride her horse and you were thinking back to the words she had said to you..."
Claire blushed a lovely pink and smirked," I wonder what she said...Probably somthing like,'I want to see my face in my saddle by morning.'"
"And then of course they didn't come back 'til a week later."
Claire scoffed at her," I had to visit a dying aunt, that was not my fault."
Sarah smiled back at her, this was a real smile Claire noticed of pearly white teeth," Yeah, sure."
They turned around a stand of trees and now could plainly see light at the far end. Happy melodies floated in the air around them and both women spurred thier horses to quicken their pace.
Sarah jumped down from Chaser and one of the smaller boys of the village collected the horses and took them to the stable. Sarah wrapped her arm around the princess' middle and guided her towards the town square.
Suddenly a very drunken Duncan sawdered over to her," Ello, miladies," he bowed deeply at the waist and about lost his balance," With which one of you do I get the pleasure of a dance?"
Sarah pushed past him," Niether you drunk," she said cooly," Sober up and find the Black Cirlce," she leaned in closer to Duncan," then meet me in the inn but bring William here to entertain the princess."
Duncan's face had gone from sloppy fool to serious second in command in a matter of second," Aye ma'am."
"What was that about," Claire asked when he moved away.
Sarah shook her head," I have some business to attend to later I was telling him to get everything ready." A tray of food and drink past by and Sarah stanched a piece of lamb and a mug of ale off it," Here eat this, you can eat all the nasty palace food you want but nothing compares to Mama's lamb."
Claire held the lamb in her hand and looked it over," Is she your mother?"
Sarah laughed at the thought. Mama was a large black woman who was brought over on a slave ship long before anybody at the party had been born," Mama is a village elder of sorts," Sara turned to her side as she and Claire slipped through a crowd of people and made thier way to a table," she's in charge of our parties and other things. She watches over all of us. She's our healer. After my father past on, Mama took my brother and I in."
Claire slid into an empty seat and bit into the lamb carefully. She chewed slowly, deciding weither she liked it or not. When suddenly her eyes went big and she attacked the lamb like a wolf. Sarah was seated on the edge of the table and bowled over with laughter when she saw the princess' reaction," I take it you like it."
Claire looked up at Sarah with Mama's special suace on her chin," Yes, very much."
Sarah smiled again as she saw William make his way to her," Well, I'll have Mama fix some extra and I'll bring it to you tomorrow."
Claire's eyes brightened but she couldn't reply becuase her mouth was full of the wonderful food she was eating. Sarah turned to meet William and then made her way to the inn.
Sir Thomas pulled himself slowly to his feet. He had a dull pain in his side and smashing headache. He brushed dirt and straw off of his clothes," Well, it seems that my beloved princess has a protector."
He picked up his bloodied sword and stared at the blood that was there. Well at least I got the bastard before he kicked my ass...A wound to the elbow would be very rare...Making this avenger very easy to locate...I'll have him and next time the outcome will be different. Sir Thomas sheathed his sword and walked towards the castle.
Claire took another gulp of the nasty tasting ale as she sat with William," So have you knocked off anymore royal carriages?"
William smiled and looked to his lap," No maam," he looked up at her and smiled," of course that was easy prey."
Claire took another drink, noting with the more ale she drank the better it tasted," I thought everything came easy for the Black Knight and his band of merry men."
William laughed and waved the comment off," Only when you plan far ahead is it easy and only when were in such good company are we merry."
Claire blushed at the dashing teenager," So how long have you been with the Black Knight?"
William smiled and tipped back another glass of ale.
"Fine, then how many people here are in league with the Black Knight?"
William looked out on the crowd. Some were dancing others were sitting around the tables that were placed around the square," Well anybody here has been in league with the Black Knight."
Claire watched the buzzing activities all around them," Does that include me?"
William smiled," Your horses sponsored the party milady."
Claire watched the bodies on the small dance platform slow and began to sway to the music," Dear William, would you like to dance with the princess?"
William almost choked on his mouth full of lamb," Why, milady, Id be honored."
William stood and pulled Claire to her feet and they made their way through the crowd. Claire flung her arms around Williams neck, noticing that he was slightly taller than she. She felt Williams arms slid around her waist and they moved back and forth to the melody. Claire looked over Williams shoulder and noticed that on the far side of the floor some couples were of the same sex. She watched them as they turned. One of the women couples were doing a little more then just dancing with each other and the sight caused Claire to blush. A male couple were dancing in an animated fashion and Claire chuckled at them.
William turned his head to her and asked," Whats so funny?"
Claire indicated with her head and William glanced over," Oh thats just Paul and Michael," William smiled," They like the..alternative lifestyle. Would you like me to do introductions, were friends."
Claire shook her head," No, not yet," She continued to watch the couples," You dont seem bothered by them."
William shrugged under her hands," Why should I be," He pulled away and looked to look at her," Its not a crime to be in love, or is it?"
She smiled," Im not sure but I can ask my father if youd like."
William smiled and pulled close again," Naw, milady, I think that wouldnt be a good idea."
Sarah sat at the end of the long table that took up the middle of the inn dinning room," Were going to have to move the attack up."
A chorus of replies rang out all over the room. Sarah held up her hand and brought the room back to order," The princess is to be wed, we cant allow this. If were going to put her on the throne after the attack she must be unmarried."
Duncan stood," Our men wont be ready, we dont have enough weapons yet. We still have no battle plan."
Sarah glared at him and he sat with and huff," I think we should bring the princess in on the plan. She already is a major part of it, shes here now and shes told me that she supports the Black Knight and not her father."
Bennett stood next," I agree," he said," Shes shown me her interest in the cause, I think we should tell her."
Daniel who was lounging of the other end of the table," Where is she now?"
"I left her with William," Sarah replied.
Father Paul stood next to Sarah," I think we should vote on it."
Sarah nodded," All those in favor." Positive replies came from the majority of the men," All right, give me enough time to put on the armor and bring her here."
Daniel and Bennett stood and left the room. While Father Paul and Sarah talked with the other men present.
William pulled away from Claire, who had just finished her third cup of ale," Princess were being hailed."
Claire turned her groggy head to look where William was looking," Well, should we go over there or stand here and gawk at them?"
William smiled at the princess and began to walk towards Daniel and Duncan. Duncan watched the swaying princess make her way through the crowd," Its nice to see youre having fun princess."
Claire waved him and leaned heavily on William," Nosence, I am perfectly fine. Now why did you call us over?"
Daniel was scratching at his beard as he watched the princess," See, theres a certain knight thats taken interest in you and theyd like to see you now."
Claire pondered over the words from a few moments," Really," She leaned in close to Daniel," Could it be the Black Knight?"
"Why, milady," Daniel offered her his arm," Youre quicker than you look."
Claire patted his cheek and laughed," Oh you little man," She chuckled again," Youre as dumb as you look. William."
Daniel watched awe struck as William walked forward to the princess side and took her arm. He glanced back at the two men still standing at the edge of the dance floor and smiled.
Duncan laughed so hard he doubled over," Shes as sharp as a dagger and boy o boy did she cut you."
Daniel put his hands on his hips and smiled at the shorter man," May I bleed to death by such a pretty thing."
"Aye, but you do realize that shes taken."
"And I wouldnt dream of stealing her from the Black Knight."
Sarah, now dressed in her armor stood waiting for her men to return with Claire. Mama walked in to refill her glass even though she couldnt drink from it with her helmet," You gonna bring the child in on your little adventure, Sarah?"
Sarah turned to address the older woman," Mama," her voice was deeper from the clothe in front of the mouth slits," She wants to be here, wants to be part of what Im trying to build. I cant pass up this opportunity."
Mama picked up the plates from the table and put them on the tray she was carrying," Remember, child, shes one of them. Are you certain that you can trust her?"
Sarah walked over to the massive fireplace that filled the back wall. Putting her arm up on the ledge she studied the flames," How can I tell you," She turned to see Mamas open gaze," How can I tell you that everything I want in the world is centered on her. That without her I no longer want to breath."
"You dont have to tell me, Sarah," Mama placed a loving hand on Sarahs gauntlet," I can see the way you look at her. You two seem to glow with an aura. Just be careful, shes young she might not understand what shes getting into. You dont want her to regret this so much that she pushes everything else away."
Sarah touched the side of Mamas face and turned back to the fire.
"So what youre saying," the king said sitting on the edge of his desk," is that my daughter was saved by this masked man that you believe is the great Black Knight?"
Sir Thomas spread his arms wide," This is what I ask, your highness," He sat in a chair in front of the king and sat forward as he began to explain," I believe what this peasant told me. I believe that there is a festival taking place now, as we speak, in an outlying village. They are celebrating the Black Knight, all I want is man power. Enough to take care of the village to show the rest that such behavior will not be tolerated."
The king brushed his thick, black beard and smiled," I love it," He smiled at the man sitting in front of him," Welcome to the family, Sir Thomas. Now go show those ungrateful bastards what the newest member of the royal family is like."
Sir Thomas stood bowed his head and went to assemble his force.
Sarah heard Claire and her friends come into the room. Williams soft voice filtered through the room first, followed by the beautiful noise of Claires laughter. She turned to them, noting that Claire had not yet noticed she was there. Daniel and Duncan came last and sat themselves at opposite ends of the table, both taking long drinks of the ale Mama had left for them.
Claires startled gasp brought Sarahs eyes back to her," Oh great sir," she managed to get out," It is truly an honor to be in your..."
Sarah held up her hand to quite the princess and motioned her to take a seat. William stood watch at the door and glanced over to see everyone had settled. Sarah stood, her armor making it uncomfortable to sit. Claire was sitting next to Duncan," Ive brought you here, milady, to ask you your intentions."
Claire sat straighter up in her chair," My intentions," She spoke," Are honorable. I wish to be joined with you, not my father."
Sarah nodded through her helmet," Would you be willing to lead after we took your father from power?"
Claire nodded curtly, any traces of the earlier drinking gone now. Her face was that of a diplomat talking about a treaty," Yes, I would lead but I would make the request that you and your men be in my royal guard. I wouldnt feel safe any other way."
Sarah turned to Duncan, who nodded. She than looked to Daniel who rose his glass to her," We seem to be in agreement. Of course Id have to check with the rest of my men but I think we can come to some sort of arrangement."
Claire smiled," So now that Im in league with you," She looked to all the men in the room," Do I get to know your true identity?"
Sarah smiled into the clothe," Yes, milady, you do." She reached for the clasp of her helmet and began to unhook it. As she began to pull it off her head when a shriek came from outside. She pushed the helmet firmly back on to her head and yelled to William," What troubles the people?"
William, with his sword drawn, turned to her,"About thirty of the kings men."
Daniel jumped to his feet with a grin gracing his features," Oh boy," He said as he pulled his sword," Now its a party."
Duncan was following him to the door,"Aye, I got your back," Duncan slapped William in the arm on his way out," See you outside lad."
Sir Thomas slashed at another body as he made his way to the town square," Listen all of you," he shouted over all the people," You brought this upon yourselves. Side with us and find life. Side with the Black Knight and find death."
When no one made the move to his side he spurred his charger into the crowd.
Claire clutched at the Black Knight," I really dont believe this!" She was standing at the door with William," Please know that I didnt bring this upon you."
The Black Knight looked to her, the ice blue eyes turned warm," I know."
The Black Knight ran the back of a gaunleted hand over her cheek," When will I see you again?"
The Black Knight paused for a moment," Tomorrow in the stables at the same time you met Sarah this evening, meet Bennett, and hell bring you to me."
William took Claires arm and rushed her to Apollo. The horse was calm even with the excitement going on all around. Claire looked over her shoulder as she and William rode hard away from the town. She the Black Knight attack an unfortunate member of the royal guard and then move to another.
Daniel jabbed at a rather heavy man and watched as the man entrails fell to the ground before him," May God forgive you," he said. He drew back his fist and smashed it into the mans face. Feeling another opponent behind, him he swung his sword over his left sword and felt it lodge in the mans shoulder," And so goes another." He stepped over the same coat of arms that had killed his father for not paying his taxes and moved on to the next man.
Duncan picked up a burning log from a near-by fire and shoved it into the face of the man he was fighting. The mans hands went to his face and Duncan cut the man through his ribs. Seeing another red coat not to far away he moved toward it. The scarred man seemed unafraid of Duncan as he came at him. Duncan stood in front of the man, sword ready. The man quickly lost his nerve and charged. Duncan moved to one side and slammed the back of the mans head with the hilt of his sword. As the man fell, Duncan slashed across the mans back. Wiping the blood from his face," For my beloved," he mumbled. Remembering his wife who was trampled by royal guard horseman in her fifth month of pregnancy.
Sarah charged into the crowd trying to get to the man who was blindly swinging at people in the square," Hey Red!" The man stopped his attacks and turned to her," You looking for me?"
He smiled as the people spread to leave an open lane between the two combatants. He spurred his horse and charged at her. Sarah stood her ground, holding the handle of her mace behind her thigh. He swung down at her and she easily moved away from the blow, bring the mace up with her. The hit his back plate with a loud thunk and it ripped away from the rest of his armor as his horse continued to move.
He pulled his horse to a stop and looked over his shoulder at his bare back. He looked up as he heard a sword pulled from its sheath," Come on, Red."
Sir Thomas dismounted and ran at her. Sarah once again held her ground. When he was within three strides she pulled her throwing knife and let it fly. It sunk deep into Sir Thomass stomach and the man sank to his knees. Blood gushed from his mouth as he pulled the knife from his torso. He fell back on to the ground and Sarah caught him by the collar of his shirt," Thats for the cut I received in the courtyard and by the way, Claire is mine."
Sir Thomas tried to speak but was drowning in his own blood and soon his body went still.
William had seen Claire safely back to the stables and thinking about how she felt safer here than anywhere else she laid down on a pile of straw and used a blanket shed found in Sarahs duffel. She pulled the blanket around her and she could smell the stable hand on it. What had happened to Sarah, Claire didnt know and that worried her. Sarah was quite possibly the only person in this world who cared for her. Claire hoped with all her might that Sarah was alright and thought of her until sleep overcame her.
Claire woke at the sound of the stable door opening and sat up to see who it was. The Black Knights shiny helmet came into view and Claire jolted to her feet," You shouldnt be here, what if they see you?"
The Black Knight held up an ungloved finger and pressed to her lips. Claire felt the strong arms reach around her back and she didnt fight as she was drawn to the broad chest. Ever so slowly she was lowered into the straw with the wonderful feeling of the Black Knight laying on top of her. A wool covered thigh found its way in between hers and her hips bucked against it.
Claire groaned as her clothes were taken from her and the Black Knight used its hands to feel every part of Claires body," Kiss me." Claire pleaded as she ripped the helmet from the Black Knights head. A cascade of black fell on to her bare chest and her back arched into the touch.
" Is this alright, milady?"
Claire looked up into the questioning, blue eyes of Sarah and smiled," Yes, love, this is perfect."
Sarah brought her mouth down the meet Claire when a loud bang brought Claire out of her dreamscape. Apollos face was mere inches from her and the horse seemed to be studying her. Again came the bang as Apollo knocked her hoof against the stall door.
Claire rolled over and buried her face in her arms," Bad horse, very bad horse."
Sarah had watched over the clean up of the battle in the village. All the bodies had been deposited in a wagon and driven to the castle wall and then dumped. Sarah had attached a note telling the king to keep his men in the castle walls if he wanted to see them alive. There were no real causalities in the village. Daniel has sliced across the back of his hand. As Duncan was sewing it Daniel turned to Sarah and smiled," You know that scars attract women."
Duncan shook his head and laughed," Just don't get to many, friend."
Duncan's hidden meaning was not lost on the sober Sarah. She patted Duncan's back and moved to the forest line. As she stood looking out into the woods she had flashbacks of the battle. Why am I so possessive of Claire? She's not another plan to execute. She's real. More real then anything you've met before. Face it, oh great Black Knight, you want her. You know she doesn't feel the same, she's fallen for the helmet and armor not the person behind it. Your afraid if you touched her she'd disappear and you can't live without the light she lights you up with.
A galloping horse brought Sarah back to reality and she turned to see William return to the village. William walked over to were Daniel was sitting with Duncan and took a shallow of someone's ale. He smiled at something that Daniel was saying but Sarah was to far away to hear what was being said. They are my men, Sarah thought, I can't abandon them. They depend on me to lead them and I can't let other things cloud my thinking. But Claire isn't a thing, she's a person. The person I'm in love with and I can't deny that. Can I?
Sarah walked back over to were her men were mingling," We can't stay here."
Daniel nodded, lighting a pipe. Taking a deep inhale, he let it out as he spoke," I'll gather up the rest of our men that are in the other villages."
Duncan sat forward and whispered," What of Bennett? We can't leave him in the lions den if we're not there to protect him."
Sarah smiled at Duncan's quick thinking, he was a wonderful asset to her rebel force," He's going to bring Claire to me tomorrow night and he'll stay with you."
William glanced at her," What about Claire? I don't want to leave her there anymore than I want to leave Bennett."
Sarah was taken aback momentarily. William had taken a liking to Claire. That surprised her. What did Duncan and Daniel think of the situation?
"I was going to bring that up," She said quietly, not meeting the eyes of her comrades," Do we want Claire to be with us or do we just want her to be the person to take the throne?"
Daniel smiled," How do you feel about Claire, Sarah?"
Sarah sat heavily on a tree stump," I can't lie to my men."
Duncan smiled at her from across the distance between them," Then don't, sweetling, tell us what you think of Claire."
William smirked as the bravest knight he'd ever had the pleasure to know , the one who saved his life from his drunken father, waded and wrung her hands," Sarah," he softly said," If you love her that much I think we cant make the arrangements to bring her with us."
Sarah's head shot up. She saw the content looks on the men's faces," Do you all feel the same?"
Daniel gave her a toothy grin," If you don't love her," his smile grew bigger," I do, so I bring her with us?"
"Aye, she reminds me of my sister," Duncan spoke up," I'd like to teach her to ride better 'cause somebody's not doing a very good job. She needs to be looser."
William smiled as Sarah's mouth dropped. He hit her leg and stood," I'll go get Chaser, get out of your armor. Your princess awaits."
Sarah looked yet again to Daniel and Duncan who nodded at her. They all laughed as the great Black Knight about fell over itself trying to get back to the inn.
Sarah rode hard back to the stables and Chaser flew under her body. Her hair blew back from her face and her eyes shown with an unnatural light. Never before had everything been so clear to her. She finally knew what she wanted and she wouldn't let it go.
Claire was slowly brought back to consciousness by the rhythmic brushing of a horse's hide. She kept her eyes shut and took in a deep breath, she could smell the horses and the hay. She also smelled the faint sent of roses, no lilacs, she couldn't be for certain. She pulled Sarah's blanket further up on her body, trying to keep it's warmth close. Suddenly, there came a coughing and Claire's eyes flew open and she sat up. Across the stable stood Sarah. Claire watched her back muscles ripple as she worked. Sarah coughed again and Claire stood up," Sarah," the beautiful stablehand turned her head and smiled at the princess," I was worried about you."
Claire dropped the forgotten blanket and run to the open arms of the woman," Hey there," Sarah cooed in her ear," I'm fine, your fine. No need to get upset."
Claire pulled away from her and slapped her arm," Where in bloody hell were you last night? You say,' oh I'm going to the inn for a minute' and then you never come back. You leave me with William. I got drunk, Sarah."
Sarah put her hands on either side of her face," I was at the inn the whole time and then when the raiding party came I went out to fight with all the other men."
"Why didn't you take me back here, why did William have to bring me back?"
"I told you I was busy with other things."
"But you're not hurt?"
Sarah spread her arms wide to show Claire," Nope, fit as a fiddle."
Claire pulled herself to Sarah again and cried on her chest. She was more worried for this woman then she first thought. What did that mean? She realized that this woman was more important than anything else in the world but could they..? Could they be in love with each other? Like the women she saw at the party last night, could they be intimate? What about the dream, Claire thought, remember how you felt in the dream? That wasn't just a dream to live and forget, it was something that you've got to hang on to. Sarah is something I've got to hang on to. Claire buried her head in the valley between Sarah breasts and inhaled deeply in calm her nerves," Don't ever leave me for that amount of time again."
"Yes milady," Sarah responded while lowering her chin to the top of Claire's head. Claire smiled at how well they fit together.
Bennett walked into his room that adjoined the prison below the castle. He took off his sword and laid it on the table in the of the small room. It's like a cell for the good guys, Bennett thought, to bad for the king that I'm not. A wicked smile crossed over his features and he chuckled to himself.
"Friend," came a voice behind him," What would be so funny?"
Bennett pulled his small boot dagger and turned to the voice. His smile grew when he saw Daniel lounging on his bed," How did you get in here?"
Daniel scoffed at him and sat up," Like the lock on your door could keep me out."
Bennett put the dagger down by his sword and turned back to his friend," Why did you come here?" He looked around the room," It's dangerous, if they saw you with me it would definitely put a bump in the road."
Daniel stood and stretched," More like a mountain," He rubbed his lower back and winced," That's the bed you sleep in? They prison's gotta be better than that."
Bennett crossed his arms over his chest," The prisoners don't get beds, now why are you here?"
Daniel rubbed his mustache," Because your beloved sister says it's time to come home and you know that I would do anything for her."
Bennett walked over to his trunk and swung it open," More like you'd do anything to get her into your bunk, you nasty bastard."
Daniel leaned against the wall and watched Bennett throw his clothes into his duffel," Like she'd give me the chance," He hesitated," Besides, the princess and her are tight, no chance for little old me now."
All the color drained from Bennett's face," What," seeing Daniel nod in confirmation he went into a fit of rage," Do you realize that this could become a problem for us?" Bennett threw his hands up in the air. He known that his sister was attracted to woman but this woman," Is she crazy? We're here to destroy all that she has, not cuddle up with her."
Daniel held his hands up," Now, Bennett," he said soothingly," I've met this girl and she wants to help us. Sarah thinks it's a good idea and so do I. We want to put her on the throne after we get rid of the rest of her family."
Bennett held up a finger to silence Daniel," I've met her too. She's a kind hearted girl but she will not understand the fact that in order to get rid of her family we have to kill them."
Daniel nodded," Yes, I know," He put his arm around Bennett's shoulders and led him back to his packing," But she'll adapt and if not we'll think of something else. And to answer your question...Yes, your sister is crazy, for the princess."
Sarah pulled away from the princess and smiled," I am supposed to take you to the Black Knight's chambers."
Claire gave her a puzzled look," I thought Bennett was to take me."
As if on cue Bennett and Daniel walked into the stables. Daniel smiled at the princess and kissed the back of her hand," Long time no see, princess."
The princess gave him a devilish smile," Not long enough." She brushed past Daniel and nodded to Bennett," So you're in league with these," Claire motioned to the two behind her," people."
Bennett nodded," From what I've gathered so are you."
Claire bowed her head slightly," If the Black Knight allows me to, yes."
Sarah started to saddle her horse and Daniel was putting the bridle into Apollo's mouth," We really should be heading out," Sarah stated," We need to get to the stronghold before dark."
Claire looked at the group in front of her. She watched how well they worked together. She watched as Bennett said something softly and made Sarah laugh. She had a beautiful smile and Claire's heart fluttered whenever she saw it. Claire was awestruck by them and the fact that they had asked her for help. Sarah turned and smiled at her and she returned it wholehearted. It's amazing that you can care for someone so much in such a short time.
Once they had cleared the walls of the castle they headed north towards the forest. Daniel whistled a lively tune that went with the beat of the horses steps. Sarah recognized the song as the one Mama sang while cooking in the kitchen. Bennett began to hum to it and Sarah felt inspired to sing. Her crisp voice cut through the air and Claire turned, wide eyed, towards her. The trio finished the song and smiled at each other," Boy," Bennett smiled," Nothing is wrong with the world when I hear that song."
"Sarah," Claire said," that was beautiful. You have a wonderful voice."
Sarah blushed deep and shrugged off the comment. The warmth in her face fell to her stomach as the princess touched her thigh,"Really, Sarah that was beautiful."
"Look out," came Daniel's voice.
Up ahead in the road was a group of the king's guard, mingled in the center of the road," What do we do, I'm not allowed to this far from the castle without father's written permission."
"Bloody hell," Sarah muttered under her breath," Okay, Bennett, you talk to them I'll go with you. Daniel, you stay back here with the princess. The first hint of trouble and we spilt for the fall back spot."
Daniel nodded and maneuvered his horse over beside Claire," We'll follow the creek that runs just through those trees there. You going to able to handle it?"
Claire nodded, I'd rather go with Sarah but I'll go with you since I don't have the choice.
Sarah rode up on her other side and kissed her quickly on the cheek," Til I see you again."
Claire touched her cheek and smiled dumbfounded. Before she could respond Sarah had ridden up the road with Bennett. Daniel's horse fidgeted as they watched the encounter. Out of a saddle bag, Sarah pulled out a small cross bow and shot the lead in the face. Claire didn't even have time to see the man fall to the ground as her horse was pulled after Daniel's into the woods.
Sarah rode up to where Bennett was engaged in a heated conversation with the man who rode lead," What do you mean? I don't understand."
The man looked at Bennett as if he was retarded and started again," You were seen this morning with an outlaw and you've been thrown out of command. The prison and the royal guard is mine and you are under arrest."
Sarah smiled at the man as she slipped her hand into the saddlebag on her left side," There must be some mistake, sir, my brother has been with me all morning."
The man turned his attention to her freeing Bennett some movement to prepare for the on coming fight," Are you calling me a liar, wench."
Sarah carefully hid her emotions, she hated being called wench. She looked over at Bennett and smiled at him sweetly," I really don't like this man, brother."
Bennett smiled and nodded," Figures," he turned back to the men," My sister doesn't like men at all, she's a ladies woman."
As the men laughed at Bennett's remark, she brought up the cross bow a shot the shaft into the face of the man who called her a wench. As he fell she reach forward and drew his sword. Behind her she heard Daniel and Claire crash through the trees. With the useless cross bow in one hand and a sword in the other she spurred Chaser into the middle of the fury of men.
Bennett had already taken down two men, which left five. Doesn't seem fair, Sarah thought as she smashed the cross bow into a man's face, for them. Charging at the next man she was caught off guard as the man turned to her. She deflected most of the blow but the sword ran through her shoulder. She brought her blade down on his head, neatly relieving it from his shoulders and with her small throwing dagger she stabbed the man the Bennett was fighting.
As the last man fell from his horse to the ground, Bennett smiled over at her. It quickly faded when he saw the blood that coated her shirt," Oh bloody mother of Christ!" he shouted and walked his horse over to where she sat. He sheathed his sword and pulled the clothe from around the wound," I think you'll be fine, if we can get to Duncan before you lose much blood."
Sarah pushed him away and put her sword into her belt. After sliding off her horse and collecting her dagger she looked up at her brother," Get the swords and...."Her words faded as her eyes rolled into her head and she fell to the ground.
Claire followed Daniel as they rode in the middle of a shallow creek. It gruggled quietly and made Claire slightly tired. Daniel often pulled them to a stop and listened to the sound of the forest. Satified that he heard nothing he would again urge his horse forward. Claire stared at the back of his head and thought of Sarah, wondering if she'd make it to the Black Knight's camp. She was nervous about the upcoming meeting, even tough she'd met with the knight yesterday she was still concerned. What if I disagree with a part of his plan? How will he take it?
Daniel flanced back at her and smiled," So, you ready?"
It wasn't much of a conversation starter but Claire was thankful for the distraction," Yes," she studied her saddle horn," Daniel, may I ask you a personal question?"
Daniel stopped his horse and waited til they were side by side before going again," Sure Princess, what troubles you?"
Claire shallowed her pride and looked very sheepishly up at Daniel," What if I said I was interested in Sarah in an alternative fashion?"
Claire saw a mix of emotions cloud Daniel's face," Well," he started then stopped to rub his beard," I was under the impression that you were after the Black Knight. At the party the only person you got mushy with was..."
Claire cut him off in mid sentence," But things have changed..."
Then Daniel cut her off," Over night that doesn't seem very believable..."
"Damn your smart mouth," Claire cursed," I thought I was in love with the Black Knight but last night while I waited for Sarah's return I had a dream about her." Claire stumbled over the last few words and Bennett touched her hand," I know that I'm in love with Sarah now and I need to know if she'll accept me."
Daniel smiled at her and leaned close. It looked as though he was going to whisper a secert into her ear but they were the only one's riding in the dense wood," I think that if you told her what you just told me you'd have her by the throat."
Claire smiled at him as he pulled back," Well," she huffed at him in a good natured way," That's not the most romantic way to put it but I'll takle it as a yes."
They rode in silence for several minutes more and they came to a turn in the creek. Daniel smirked over at her," You ready?"
Before she could answer they made the turn and Claire took in the sight before her. There were a few tents on the ground level but there were also cottage like shelters in the trees above. In the center of the camp was a large fallen tree that several men sat upon.
The foliage to Claire's right blew apart as Bennett's horse crashed through it. Claire looked anxieshly from Sarah following him but she never came through. With a puzzled look, Claire looked back at Bennett's horse and saw Sarah's limp body drapped over the saddle.
"I need Father Pual," screamed Bennett as he tore into camp with Daniel and Claire behind him.
Daniel threw himself to Bennett side and held Sarah's head and chest as he and Bennett carried her to a near by cottage. Claire followed and couldn't help the tears that flowed down her cheeks. Please don't leave me now that I've found you, Claire thought.
Daniel and Bennett raced down the dirt stairs into the cottages interior. They put Sarah carefully on to the bed and Father Pual tore open Sarah's shirt," Hit something important there didn't they, Sarah?"
Father Pual went about cleaning the wound and sewed it up. Claire burst through the door in hysterics and Daniel got up to intersect her.
"Bloody hell, Daniel," Claire shrieked while banging on his chest," Let me see her. I love her. If she dies in here and I never get to tell her that..."Again she burst into tears.
Daniel walked her outside and motioned William over to him," Here take her," he said passing the wimpering princess to the young man," I'll send for you if there's any change."
William nodded and pulled the princess towrd the outer premiter of the camp. He found a log a sat the princess down on top of it. He sat on the ground before her and streched his long legs," She'll be alright, princess." He told her softly," Sarah's a quick healer and before you know it she'll be back to driving you father crazy."
It got him a small smile but even William was uncertain on what the outcome was for Sarah.
Sarah was in a warm place she could feel the sweat on her body and the arm that draped over her belly. She rolled to face the person that covered her and was shocked to see that it was Claire. Of all the bloody dreams I've had, she thought, this has to be the best. Claire's eyes fluttered open and she stared into Sarah's," Why?"
Sarah looked at her confused," Why what love?"
Claire's eyes grew wet and tears streamed down her face," Why did you leave me? You're so strong and you died before we could be together."
Sarah sat up quickly," What? I don't understand," Claire began to fade," Claire, no wait! Claire!"
Claire began to speak as she faded," You're our only hope if you go, so goes the country."
Sarah reached desperately for the disappearing princess but she was gone. She sat and tried to understand what had just happened. If I don't survive something terribly wrong is going to happen to my men...and to Claire.
Sarah opened her eyes and regretted it almost instantly. Pain shot threw her shoulder and chest. There was an ache in the back of her eyes and she let them fall shut. She could hear the voices of the men in the room and recognized Duncan's. Again she opened her eyes and noted that the ache was gone but she could not move her arm.
"Duncan," she called hoarsely," Duncan."
The voices stopped and Duncan came into her line of view," Aye," Duncan said," 'bout time you got up, lazy."
Sarah narrowed her eyes," Water."
Duncan reached above her and brought a gourd to her mouth. She drank enough to wet her parched throat but not enough to make her sick," Sit me up." Duncan called Father Paul over to help left Sarah's shoulders and put another pillow behind her," Bring me the princess and my helmet."
Duncan walked over to a door in the far corner and pulled it open. Inside stood her armor and Duncan pulled the helmet from atop. After bringing it over to her, he stuck his head out the door and whispered something to Daniel who stood outside. Daniel turned and smiled at her and took of toward the edge of camp. Sarah closed her eyes and thought of her dream. Of how well princess had her arm wrapped possively around her. Of the smell that clung to them. The sweat the covered their bodies.
The door burst open and Sarah raised one eyelid to see the princess standing, short of breath, in the doorway," Damn it Sarah if you do that again," she began to walk over to her," I shall have to kill you."
William, Duncan, and Father Paul laughed from the doorway and Sarah rose her hand to dismiss them," Hello, Milady."
Claire threw herself upon Sarah's body and hugged the stablehand to her," I love you, Sarah, so very much. I just couldn't let you go without telling you that."
Sarah wrapped her good arm around Claire's shoulders and kissed the top of her head. Her heart exploded at Claire's sudden outburst," I love you too." Her voice cracked while voicing the endearment. Claire began to cry and Sarah rocked her gently, humming softly in her ear. The feeling of holding this woman was so pure like coming home. Sarah realized that Claire was her home and she'd do anything in her power to keep her safe.
Once Claire had quieted Sarah pushed her off her chest and smiled at her," I've got something important to tell you. It has to do with the Black Knight."
Claire licked her lips and nodded, silently telling Sarah to go on. Sarah brought the helmet up from the floor and put it upon her head. Claire's eyes grew large and her mouth dropped," He's you?"
Sarah smiled into the clothe in her helmet," Yes princess, it's me." Her voice boomed in comparison to the hushed tones they'd been using," Is this alright?"
Claire pulled the helmet from Sarah's head and smiled at her," Are you joking? I get to for the price of one. You're all I've ever wanted, Sarah, I'm sorry it's taken this long for me to reveal it."
Sarah slid her good hand up Claire's side to the back of her neck," Would it be alright...?" Her words come out huskier then she intended but seeing the princess' reaction she assumed that it acceptable.
Sarah's sentence was cut short The princess looked at her through hooded eyes and the princess still dressed in her riding clothes straddled the knight's legs. Her mouth lowered to the warriors lips and it was like lightening, both woman stopped all movement and just held in that position. It was timid at first but soon the expressive princess brushed he tongue along the warrior's lips, causing both to moan. Sarah opened her mouth and let the princess control the moment. Their tongues danced together and Sarah moved her hand up and down the princess' back.
Claire pulled away and looked deep into Sarah's eyes," Tell me."
Sarah smiled at the princess and replied with a curt," I love you."
Claire nestled in her neck, sending shock waves right to her core," I don't think I'll ever get tired of hearing that."
Sarah held the princess to her until her breathing became deep and rhythmic. Sarah listening to the breath was lulled to sleep soon after.
Claire woke up sometime later and smiled down at the woman who was curled up beside her. Sarah wore a open expression as she slept. It was unlike the tense face she always wore when awake. Claire thought of how beautiful Sarah looked when she slept," I want to wake up where you are forever, Sarah. I never want to be anywhere other than your side." An arm began rubbing her lower back and Claire smiled down at the closed eyes," How long have you been awake?"
A shy smile spread along the face below her," Long enough to know that I'll be the luckiest person alive if what you is true."
Claire leaned down and kissed one of the closed eyes and as she pulled away she saw it pop open and study her. It traveled up to her hairline and down to her cleavage. Claire didn't usually enjoy being gawked at but this time it was different. All the others had stared at her with lust in their eyes. Sarah stared at her with not only lust but with love and that is why Claire was comfortable. Sarah began to bring her head up to capture Claire's lips but cringed and fell back to the pillow," I can't seem to raise my head that far," Sarah said hesitantly, almost as if she was afraid to ask for help," Could you move a little closer?"
Claire smiled down at her," You mean like this?" Claire brought her lips when in a breath of Sarah's and caressed her tongue along the knight's upper lip. Sarah shuddered underneath her and Claire blew upon the wet area. Sarah brought her head up the remaining distance and demanded entry from the princess. The princess willing gave to warrior her wish and felt the now familiar texture slip onto her mouth. It touched her teeth, her cheeks and then finally her own tongue. She began to grind her hips into the warrior's stomach. The primal need taking over all rational thought.
Sarah lifted her arms to hold the princess but moaned in pain as her injured arm buckled and fell back to the bed. Claire pulled away and looked down into the now deep blue eyes," Love, you're hurt," She cupped Sarah's cheek," We can do that later. Right now you need your rest."
Sarah began to protest but Claire covered her mouth," Please?" The warrior let out a huff of air and wrapped her arm around the princess," I want you to be healthy soon, Sarah," Claire cooed in her ear," Which means not tearing out your stitches for a roll in the hay."
Sarah chuckled beneath her and kissed her cheek," Alright, thank God I'm a quick healer."
The king looked at Sir Matthew who held a rag to his broken nose," You say that Bennett and his sister took out all of you scouting patrol and just left you alive?"
Matthew nodded his aching head. When he had come to all the horses and weapons were gone and very other body but his was cold with death," Yes your majesty."
The king threw his goblet against the wall and shattered on contact," He must be in league with the Black Knight." The king walked around his desk and grasped Sir Matthew's shoulders," And you say that they also have my daughter?"
Matthew again nodded, his head swimming," They took the woods to escape as the others fought, sir," he stopped," Do you wish me to find the path they took and destroy it?"
The king smiled evily," No," he turned and scratched at his chin," I want you and half my army to go to the village that the Black Knight defended two nights ago." He stopped to see Sir Matthew nod," I want you to burn it and kill anyone who tries to stop you."
The evil smile now spread over Sir Matthew's face as he bowed and left the room. The king sat down in his chair and motioned for the servant to get him another drink.
Claire woke to find the warmth was gone. She rolled over to see the morning sun shine through one of the hut's windows. She inhaled deep smelling the scent of Sarah in the bed beside her. She stood and stretched and walked to the door. As she swung it open she was greeted by many different things. There were men sparring in the clearing by the large fallen tree. Some men looked to be playing a game around a table. She saw Sarah talking to William as he sat on to a massive horse. Duncan came out of the hut next door and smiled at her," And I thought Sarah was lazy. You always get up this late?"
Daniel came out after him," Now Duncan," he said putting a hand on his friends shoulder," She had a big day yesterday. Cut her some slack, she's used to life in luxury."
Claire gave them both a dirty look and replied," Actually, gentlemen," she smirked," I was up all night satisfying the great Black Knight."
She began to walk away but heard the two men she now called friends followed her," Next time can we watch?" asked one.
"No, no," replied the other," Can we join in?"
Sarah turned to see the trio approach and noted the slightly red face of her princess," Morning." She bent to kiss the princess but stopped as there was a gasp of excitement from her men," Daniel go count the weaponry, Duncan you can go help...."
There were a few grumbles but the men left and Sarah again bent to kiss the princess. It was just a quick peck because Sarah could tell the princess was uncomfortable with all the staring men.
"You're just in time to see William off," Sarah said easing the mood.
Claire turned to regard her young friend," Where will you be going?"
William gave her a half smile that looked very similar to Sarah's and replied," I'm off to collect Mama, we all want to throw a party in your honor but a party isn't a party if we don't have Mama's food."
Claire smiled remembering the night she'd eaten the lamb," Yes that was good food." As if on cue, Claire's stomach roared in hunger.
William and Sarah smiled at her," Better feed that beast, Sarah," William said spurring his horse," I'll be back before nightfall."
Sarah had fed Claire in the food tree as it was commonly called. Several of the buildings were made in the trees themselves and the dining hall was among them. There was a system of catwalks that led from each building to the next and each had a ladder that reached the ground. Sarah walked with Claire along them and explained what every building was. They stopped in front of the armory, were they could hear Duncan and Daniel murmuring to themselves. Sarah knocked on the door and stuck her head inside," Do you have room for two more?"
Duncan nodded and Daniel wiggled his eyebrows. Sarah opened the door for Claire and let her slip inside. Claire gasped at the long rows of swords, bows, and arrows that lined the walls. There were more then enough swords for the men on the ground below. She noticed that neither Daniel or Duncan wore one and she asked them about it.
Daniel shrugged," We don't need to carry them here in camp, we all have one here that no one else can use but we store them all here while we're here."
At closer inspection Claire noticed that there were names etched into the sword someplace. Looking up and down the rows she smiled when she came to Sarah's. It was a cool blue color and looked like it was well taken care of. She carefully ran her fingers along the blade.
Sarah pulled her hand away and looked deep into her eyes," There was...umm..something else I...um...wanted to show you."
Claire smiled at the two men and they smiled back. As soon as the two women left Daniel handed Duncan a gold coin," Remind me never to bet on those two."
Sarah led Claire to the hut they had shared the night before. Once inside she pushed Claire back against the door with her own body and Claire met her lips half way. Sarah lifted the princess from the ground and felt Claire's legs wrap around her waist. Sarah sucked Claire's tongue farther into her mouth and her knees buckled with the princess' moan. Sarah walked with her bundle over to the bed. Slowly, she lower the woman to it's surface. She began to unlace Claire's top, freeing the ready breasts. Sarah touched one shyly and it harden immediately. Sarah moved on top of Claire and kissed along her jaw line," Claire," she gasped," I want you..."
Claire's hips ground into Sarah's pelvis. Sarah was being assaulted by so many feeling and unsure on how to react. She moved her mouth back to Claire's expressing every emotion in one kiss," Sarah," moaned Claire," Take me, be my first, please."
Her first? Sarah's head swam, I'm going to be her first? Her hand slipped between the princess' waistband and stomach the muscles contracting under her touch. She felt the heat there, at the apex of Claire's thighs. She dipped into it. Suddenly, a scream came from outside and Sarah's head flew up," BLOODY FUCKING MARY!" she screamed. Couldn't wait five more minutes. She looked down at Claire who smiled," Go, Sarah," She kissed her lover's chin," I'll always be here."
Sarah hugged the woman to her," I'll make this up, I promise."
Claire hugged her back," I love you, Sarah."
They rose together and made their way to the door. Outside a frantic William was talking to Duncan," Lad, settle," Duncan was saying," Now try again."
William saw Sarah's approach and whimpered," The village....It's...The king's men."
William was covered in sweat from the hard ride and had numerous scratches on his face and uncovered arms.
Sarah needed no more explanation," I need my horse and sword."
Several men went to do her bidding. Her sword was thrown from man to man till it reached her hand and she swung it to her back. Chaser came pulling to men behind him and stopped before her. Sarah turned to her men," Duncan you stay, you're in charge. William you stay too. You five with me and Daniel, get Bennett."
Sarah turned back to her princess and her eyes pleaded for forgiveness," I promise when I get back we'll start over."
Claire kissed her," Just worry about getting back and we'll go from there." Claire reached up for another kiss and when she pulled away Sarah jumped to Chaser's back. Her men were now ready and as they headed out Sarah turned once more to look at Claire and then spurred Chaser into a hard run.
It took an hours hard ride to get to the village and when they did an awful sight greeted them. The village was now a flat, burned area. Sarah could make out the frames of the inn and a few houses. Several were still smoking. Horses and cows lay disemboweled in the street and the smell of burning flesh was all powerful. Somewhere there was a child crying and Sarah sent Daniel to go find it. Slowly they rode into the center of town. Sarah looked in horror at the trees surrounding the village. From the branches hung the people of the village. Both men and women hung from whatever seems to be easiest to tie a knot around.
Sarah and her men turned their horse's in circles to get the full view. Sarah stopped and Daniel rode up with a small girl wrapped in his shirt. He moved his eyes to where she was looking and moaned in sadness. Mama hung from her wrists, the thick hemp ropes cutting deep into them.
"Cut her down," she croaked and when her men hesitated she grew angry," NOW!"
Two of her men walked over to the corpse of the woman who'd often shared a laugh with them. Who had cooked for them when they came into town. Who had taken Sarah and Bennett in when they were orphaned. Bennett was completely in shock next to her. He hadn't said a word since they arrived. Sarah's heart went to him, his lover Elizabeth lived in this village. She hung from a nearby tree and Bennett made his way to her side.
The men who'd cut Mama down had laid her down beside Chaser. Sarah slid gracefully to the ground and knelt next to the woman she'd had the privilege of knowing. Mama had dried blood on her chin and neck. At closer inspection Sarah concluded that Mama's tongue had been cut out," Always were a talker," Sarah whispered brushing a stray hair from Mama's head," Probably talked half of them to death before they got you."
Sarah's head hung low and tears moved freely down her face," Cut them all down and then bury them."
Sarah's men went to do what they were told and Sarah began to dig and hole for Mama. Bennett walked over to her, his Elizabeth in his arms. He laid her down next to Mama and began to help Sarah with the grave.
Claire finally got William settled in his bunk. He'd been rambling since he'd gotten back and cried uncontrollably. She walked out into the midafternoon heat and smiled at Duncan," He's sleeping alright now."
Duncan nodded," Good," he put his hand on her shoulder," Listen, Las, I think you need to learn to carry a weapon..."
Claire pulled away from him," No," she said curtly," I don't like swords."
Duncan smiled," There's more weapons then a sword. You can learn to shoot the bow and arrow..."
Claire shook her head no.
"Or a staff..."
Claire thought about that," A staff really isn't a weapon," she thought aloud," You could use it for a walking stick..."
Duncan led her to the ladder that would take them to the tree hut that held all weapons. Claire walked into the room and chose one," Alright, now what?"
Duncan smiled at her," Now we go train ya."
In the center of the camp Claire stood across the way from Duncan. She tried not to think about the men who had gathered on the fallen tree or who were mingling in a circle. She twirled the staff around her hand, much to Duncan's surprise.
Hmm, she thought, maybe I should've told him I had to take staff training because my father made me...
She waited patiently for Duncan to make his move and when he did she easily blocked it. He looked at her with questioning eyes and she wiggled her eyebrows at him. This time she went at him. She swung at his head and changed her move at the last moment, slamming it into the back of his legs. Duncan toppled to the ground and the men around cheered. Claire smiled up at them and with Duncan's help was laying beside him. She looked over at him and smiled. He returned it and jumped to his feet," Well princess, it appears you know what you're doing but can you fight me?"
From her position on the ground Claire laughed," Can I fight you?"
Duncan swung his staff down at her and she caught it with her own. She kicked out with her foot and caught Duncan in the stomach and as he stumbled away she rolled to her feet. He attacked again and again and she fended him off. They went back and forth for several long minutes. Finally Duncan threw staff away and smiled at her," I give," he playfully plead with her.
She smiled as the men broke out into cheers around her. She felt welcome among them and she liked that feeling.
The men grew quiet quickly and Claire turned to see the dirty tired men make their way back to the camp. Sarah rode next to Bennett and Daniel, her head down. They were all cover in gore and dirt and none looked happy. Claire had hoped for the best but could now see that the worst had happened. She ran forward with the rest of the men and stopped at Chaser's side. As a man took the reins and Claire reached her hand up to Sarah. Her warrior looked down at her with pale, empty eyes. Claire helped her down from her horse and moved her to the hut that they shared.
Once inside Sarah fell under the strain of her emotions and Claire came with her. Kneeling on the floor Claire held the childlike Sarah to her. Sarah didn't move, didn't cry. She just sat there staring into nothing.
"Sarah?" Claire called to her," Sarah, honey, come back to me."
Sarah turned her head towards her and her eyes grew clear with recognition," Claire?"
"Yes, it's me."
"Mama, she's gone," Sarah's voice was bland, almost not caring," They all died because of me."
Claire violently shook her head," No," Claire said brushing Sarah's hair with her hand," No."
Sarah looked up her with pleading eyes," Can you just hold me?"
Claire smiled at her trying to keep her own tears in check," Of course, you don't have to ask."
Claire wrapped her arms tighter around her friend. Sarah cried well into the night and when she finally slept Claire continued to rock her warrior while she fought battles in the dream world.
Sarah woke on the dirt floor of her hut. She looked around the room disoriented. Her eyes felt swollen and puffy. Claire had her arms protectively around her body, encasing her in a circle of warmth and love. Sarah closed her eyes to sleep again but the face of Mama loomed before her. The faces of Sir Thomas and the men on the road taunted her. Her eyes shot back open and Sarah broke into a cold sweat. She suddenly felt as if the walls were closing in on her and she struggled to get away from them.
Claire moved her head farther up on her chest and now had it tucked under Sarah's chin. The movement calmed her, made her come back to herself. Sarah stroked her hair in return. Claire was her new way of life, her light in all her darkness.
A soft knock sounded from the door leading to the outside and William stuck his head inside. Meeting Sarah's gaze he smiled weakly," Duncan says you have to eat something."
Sarah smiled back," What makes him in charge?"
William laughed a little," You know how maternal he is," William smile grew," You should at least come see him with the young one you brought back."
Sarah nodded that she would come and turned to the task of waking up the princess. She shook her gently at first and harder as the princess didn't respond," Claire, honey, wake up."
A moan filtered through the air and Claire rolled on to her stomach," Nuhmp."
Sarah smiled realizing that her friend was not much of a morning person," Come on, we've got to feed you."
Claire rolled over and looked at her through hooded eyes," I'm hungry, warrior, but not for food."
Sarah chuckled and kissed Claire's forehead," We can do that after breakfast." Claire's hand came up around her thighs and pulled the lower half of her body to Sarah's. Sarah positioned herself so she was sitting on the younger woman's hips, careful not to put her full weight on her. Claire's ever moving hands moved to Sarah's bottom and began to rub her hands up and down," Now, Claire," Sarah started but Claire quickly sat up and caught her lips in a searing kiss. Sarah pulled away," If I don't get some food I won't be able to keep up with you."
Claire rolled her eyes at the comment," Oh but you can take out Sir Thomas with a huge gash on your arm. Or you could take on half of my father's army....I think you're lying, Sarah."
Sarah stood up and smiled,"As soon as breakfast is over," Sarah said walking to the door. Just before she opened it she turned back to the princess," That is if you still want to ..."
Sarah smiled at the grumbling princess as they made their way to the food hut.
Once inside Claire saw most of the men hanging around one of the middle tables. She looked at Sarah but only got a bewildered look. Making their way over they began to her cooing noises and small high pitched giggles. Claire poked her head behind a tall man's shoulder and laughed aloud at what she saw.
Duncan was sitting on the table top with a bowl of mush on his head. Must of it had fallen on to his shoulders and legs but some stuck in his long locks. The little child, that Claire guessed was not much older than three years, was sitting in his lap. He moved his fingers over her ribs to the bottom of her feet. The little girl shrieked in merriment. Claire smiled at Duncan who looked up to see Sarah and her staring at him.
Sarah cleared her throat and Duncan put the child on the chair and quickly stood. He took the bowl off his head and opened his mouth to explain but Sarah cut him off," Duncan," Claire looked over at the woman she loved and was flabbergasted that Sarah was going to yell at Duncan for playing with the table," She's your responsibility now."
Duncan smile grew so big it took up must of his face," That's great," seeing Daniel give him a funny look he changed his mind," Umm...I mean if no one else'll do it."
Sarah smiled at him," What are you going to call her?"
Duncan thought for a minute," I like Gabrielle."
Sarah nodded and went over to where the child sat. Picking her up she looked at her," Welcome Gabrielle," Sarah said softly," Duncan will take good care of you."
Sarah handed the child to Duncan and pushed him to the door," Go get washed off."
Claire sat with her food and watched Sarah pick the seat next to her. She spooned up something that looked like grits and put it into her mouth. It's not bad, she thought. When she swallowed and the after taste made itself known she tried not to grimace, it's not that good either.
Sarah leaned close to her,"We only have this on rare occasions."
Claire swallowed another bite," Like when?"
Sarah pushed her food around the plate," Like when Mama isn't here to cook for us."
Claire now swallowed the lump in her thoart,"Sarah, I'm so sorry. I wasn't thinking..."
Sarah looked at her," No you have the right to ask, you're one of us now."
Claire thought for a moment," Then I guess I should be pulling my weight around here," before Sarah could protest Claire turned to her and covered her mouth," Whose the cook now?"
Sarah thought for a moment," Father Paul."
Claire looked in horror at her plate," He apparently doesn't pray well enough for his food. I'll help him prepare lunch."
Sarah was about to say something but Claire stood, took her plate to the dirty window and walked back into the kitchen. Sarah shoveled another spoonful of her mush into her mouth. Of all the, Sarah thought, guess I'll be alone after breakfast....
To be continued...
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