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Authors: Nicole MacDonald

Feel the Burn (14 page)

BOOK: Feel the Burn
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Of course!

Walking to the other side of the desk, he crouched behind it and worked at the loose back, tugging the wood away. A tangle of feathers and thread fell softly to the floor, dislodged from its hiding spot. Yes, he thought and he plucked the charm from the floor, grinning with a vindictive sense of delight. The way to vanquish a ghost and make himself successor. Why aim for advisor when a crown beckoned.

In the end I packed only a shirt of Alek’s to sleep with and a change of clothes for under the chainmail. Ignatius hadn’t returned and the room shook with loud thumps and clangs from outside the door and the decks above; all the while men bellowed instructions to each other.

‘Your Highness?’

I glanced up to see Leseach standing in the doorway and with some anxiety I said, ‘Leseach, I wanted to ask if you could lower the dosage of my evening drink? I don’t want to be vulnerable when we’re out there.’

Her eyes rarely changed from their steady gaze and they didn’t now.

‘Do you wish to take it at all?’ she asked in that throaty voice.

‘Yes. I need some sleep.’

A massive thud and cursing from down the corridor made us both look toward the door.

‘They’re rather high strung,’ observed Leseach.

‘They are.’

I stood, lifting the small pack and the chain with my ring swung forward catching the light.

Leseach stared at the ring.

‘Are you wearing that into battle?’

‘Maybe.’ I was tempted. ‘Have you done anything like this before, Leseach?’

‘Like what?’

‘This battle. Have you been in battles before?’ I sat at the table and gestured the other chair in invitation. More bangs and thuds sounded outside and Leseach twisted to stare at the door, the muscles in her arms and back twitching. Even with the cooler air she hadn’t changed her costume, still favoring the tiny shorts and crisscross top. Turning back she didn’t sit but stood closer.

‘No, we have no reason for major battles. We do have some fierce hunts, which can be like battle. Occasionally other tribes venture onto our lands and we hunt them down.’

The casualness with which she said ‘hunt them down’ nearly made me shiver.

‘Do you kill trespassers?’

The surprise at the question lifted her stern expression and softened her face.

‘Yes, of course. Our reputation stops other tribes from stealing from us. My tribe is ruthless when necessary, our reputation cannot be tarnished.’

A loud knock stopped the conversation and Rashid opened the door without waiting for a response.

‘Highness, Kassie and Rumal are ready to fit the griffons with their armor, will you come assist?’

‘Of course.’

Rashid stepped aside, allowing Catherine past and waited for her to disappear in the crush of soldiers moving through the corridor.

‘Rashid.’

His ear prickled at the sudden close proximity of the Northerner and he turned to find her vivid eyes on his.

‘Leseach.’

‘Her Highness has requested a lesser dosage of her evening drink.’

Rashid nodded though the unease rose again at the thought of dosing the heir to Elion’s throne drink with that poison. It appears to do her no harm, he assured himself. And Leseach keeps watch of it, not just Ignatius; two sets of eyes are better than one.

Rashid hadn’t believed Ignatius when first told about the poison. Seeing the package marked with the Sorceress’ ring astonished him that first afternoon at sea and then after Ignatius’ disastrous first attempt at dosing the Princess’ drink. Yes, he thought with a sense of relief. At least Leseach keeps hold of the drug.

‘Good,’ he said aloud when she stared at him, appearing to wait for verbal confirmation. He watched in amusement at the faint perplexed expression she made. Though he showed no outward sign of it, his heart thumped at a greater pace having her so close. He smiled pleasantly.

‘Yes?’

A tiny flicker of annoyance showed in those striking eyes that haunted his dreams and she stepped back, regarding him still.

‘I’m going to pack.’

The long blond plait she wore hit the center of his chest when she made an abrupt pivot and left.

‘I’ve heard of soldiers driven to embrace one another,’ Ignatius said conversationally, sauntering up to Rashid’s side while watching Leseach march off. ‘But what you aim at is insanity.’

‘Not all of us desire the meek and mild, Ignatius,’ Rashid said coolly.

‘Who said I desired meek and mild?’

Rashid snorted in amusement.

‘Forgive me, I didn’t realize your wife was so feisty.’

The Lieutenant glared at Rashid then gave an odd smirk.

‘What goes on behind closed doors,’ he said with relish and stalked off.

‘Takes all sorts,’ Rashid muttered. The idea of Ignatius’ lovely, yet very subservient wife attempting ‘feisty’ in the bedroom made him shudder as he headed for the stock room.

*~*~*

Chapter Ten

‘Hold on! I’m nearly done,’ I hollered, pulling the leather strap through the enormous buckle with both hands while wobbling precariously on Loushka’s shoulder. The two centaurs holding the massive breastplate in place grunted in acknowledgment.

‘Hurry, Cat. They’re starting to slip.’

‘Almost done.’

‘Aha! All good.’

Both centaurs groaned and let go, swinging their arms and rolling their shoulders. Slipping down Loushka’s leg, I winked at them.

‘Not done yet, boys.’

They scowled at me and the blond shook his head.

‘You know we only let you get away with that because you’re a royal brat.’

His dark haired mate swatted him.

‘Don’t say that!’

I laughed.

‘Nah, you only let me get away with it ‘cause I can fry you.’

The blond centaur grinned.

‘Yeah, that too.’

Grabbing a leg greave, the two of them held it in place on Loushka’s foreleg while I fastened the straps, thinking to the griffon.

‘Good thing I have a full suit of mail, otherwise sliding down that would really chafe.’

Loushka laughed, the husky sound causing both centaurs to step back in surprise.

‘How are you going to handle wearing all that?’
I thought, stepping back to examine the armor. The dark-gold colored armor covered her nearly fully, her tail looking strangely bare amongst all the heavy pieces; breast plate, leg greaves, wing greaves, and a layered neck guard that flattened her mane; little tufts of red squeezing out here and there. Spikes extended from her ankles, shoulders, and from the wing tips too. Loushka twisted to look at me, the neck guard sounding robotic with the way the plates slid past each other.

‘It’s charmed, Cat. Like your armor, so it doesn’t weigh too much.’

‘What?’
I thought indignantly.
‘Then what were those guys moaning about?’

‘It still weighs something,’
Loushka regarded me in amusement.
‘Feeling better?’

‘Yeah,’
I looked out at the ever closer land.
‘Soon I’ll get to see the others; and then I guess, I’ll get to see him.’

‘Not nervous?’

‘No. I just want to make sure I do it really well. She has to be dead. I don’t want anything ruining their lives once we’re gone.’

‘We’ll do it right. What if you survive?’

I shot her a skeptical look.

‘Then I’d suspect I didn’t do it right.’

‘Stranger things have happened.’

‘Hmm,’
I wrinkled my nose while staring over at Sian’s ship, able to glimpse my tiny friend strapping Sito into his armor.

‘If it does happen, Loushka, I guess we’ll deal with it then.’

‘Hey! I didn’t say I’d survive.’

‘Stranger things have happened,’
I thought mockingly.

With all the activity aboard preventing anyone getting to bed early, Leseach ground the leaves for the Princess’ drink late that evening and Ignatius stood annoyingly close like usual.

‘Can you add some more wormel? She was restless last night.’

Adding another pinch of the herb to the bowl Leseach said, ‘You know she’s asked for a reduced dosage once we’re ashore.’

She kept her eyes on the herbs in the bowl but observed the sudden tensing of his body.

‘Why?’

Curious, she glanced at him.

‘To be ready for action. Naturally.’

All the military men she’d encountered here, and in Elion, looked similar in bearing to Ignatius. Back straight and shoulders squared with a tendency to clasp their elbows behind their backs. Rashid did it all the time too. Tonight, however, Ignatius couldn’t keep still, and it irritated her. Leseach paused grinding, waiting for him to stop touching the various containers of herbs that sat out. He held the one with Elena’s herb above, gently swirling the bottle and watching its contents move. The smirk with which he met her gaze suggested he knew full well her feelings toward him. How the Princess can spend anytime with that cretin is beyond me, she thought, grinding the herbs finer. Rashid at least knew his place.

‘Why did you put it in liquid?’

Ignoring him always amused her and she focused on the task at hand, tipping the powder into the mug of nellor and stirred it. The silence felt heavy and tense, humoring her. After the last trace of herb vanished she looked up and met his eyes.

‘It makes the herb absorb faster.’

She kept her voice calm, knowing it annoyed him even more when she appeared disinterested. The familiar angry flush rose at the back of his neck, and she couldn’t resist the hint of a smirk when she offered the mug.

‘Here you go.’

Ignatius’ lips looked thin as he glared at her, and he plucked the mug from her hold, making the liquid slosh. He inclined his head.

‘Thank you.’

When the door shut crisply behind the Lieutenant, she allowed herself a full smile and turned back to the bottles, carefully wrapping and storing them in the basket.

* * *

My fingers trembled while I dressed this morning, the ship still noisy but most of the sound came from above now; the soldiers and allies gathered on the main deck, impatient to get going.

‘Crap!’

The smooth links slipped through my fingertips again as I attempted to seal the back seam. A loud knock on the door made me jump.

‘Highness?’

I hesitated for a second then shrugged; he’d seen me in less than this before.

‘Ignatius,’ I called and he entered. ‘Please, can you help? I can’t get the stupid seam right.’

He paused for an instant mind locking away the image of her—flushed, both arms reaching back over her shoulders trying to join the seam, the gap in the mail revealing her pale wool undergarments. A tantalizingly erotic pose, defenseless and begging for his help, her figure arched and exposed. He grinned and stepped forward.

‘Of course, it’s always tricky the first few times.’

The seam started at the base of her spine and he took his time, carefully fitting the two sides together. It wasn’t how he would do it on himself, but she obviously didn’t know. His hands shook with lust when his fingers brushed past a shoulder blade. He’d kissed all the way up her back in the early hours of the morning. The memory of her pale, fine skin and the gasped sighs she’d made still echoed in his mind. When he swept the hair aside to fasten the neck the urge to kiss that exposed nape hit. A shudder from Catherine broke his focus and he finished the task, mentally berating himself for allowing such thoughts at this time.

My heart rate increased while Ignatius worked at the seam and the sudden inexplicable urge to wrench away hit. I repressed it with a shudder. The sense of panic bewildered me, but right at the moment my skin crawled from his accidental brushes. I breathed a quiet sigh of relief when he said, ‘Done.’

Twisting away I gave a curt nod.

‘Thanks.’

Dragging the points on the sleeves down I hooked the loops over my middle fingers, then sat and slipped my feet into the boots. These too fastened with a seam but I could easily close them myself. Over the knee boots like I normally wore, but heavily armored and jointed at the knees for comfort and ease. Ignatius stood watching the whole time and I couldn’t shake what seemed like an irrational annoyance. Ignoring him, I tossed my hair back over my shoulders and started to braid it. Washing it last night might have been a bad idea, I thought when the hair slipped through my grasp.

‘Damn it,’ I growled, struggling with the silky strands. Ignatius looked questioningly at me and I shook my head. The door, still ajar, pushed open and Leseach entered.

‘Leseach!’ I flashed her a relieved smile. ‘Would you mind braiding my hair?’

The Northerner ignored Ignatius and stepped forward, seizing the Princess’ long hair.

‘Tip your head,’ she instructed with a light tug.

Catherine bent her neck back at the order and her gaze met his then slid away. Ignatius smiled, now understanding.

‘Nervous, Your Highness?’

He received a terse grunt by way of reply while Leseach wove the red hair quickly and he stood forward, squeezing Catherine’s shoulder gently.

‘Not to worry; we likely won’t see anything for a few days.’

She didn’t respond and the quietness of the room, while Leseach wrapped a thin strand of twine around the bottom of the plait, emphasized the thunderous sound of the hundred or so centaurs on the deck above.

Breaking the silence Ignatius said, ‘We hope to reach the cave system by tonight. If we do, we should be at the castle in around two weeks.’

Catherine stood and walked to the windows, stretching on tiptoe to peer out.

‘Is there no faster way?’

He chuckled and joined her, staring out at the gray shore, fringed with scraggly trees.

‘Impatient to get there?’

‘Yes,’ she snapped and turned away, walking to the table. He heard a faint tinkle of metal and looked around to see her lift the chain with that ring on it and fasten it around her neck.

‘Are you wearing that into battle?’ he demanded. ‘It was your mother’s!’

The tone Ignatius used got my back up. I locked eyes with him while slowly and deliberately running a finger under the chain.

‘Yes I am. And it’s MINE.’

He flushed and I marched out, pointedly ignoring him. The sound of him stuttering then striding after me caused a malicious sense of victory. The angry feeling vanished when I stepped through the hatch onto the deck. Everyone stood dressed in armor; the centaurs in brilliant gold; the Nyjens in dark slate with blood red edges; and the goblins in varying shades of tan. Only the little Halenine fae remained unadorned. The feeling of panic rose again, choking me and I twisted back, my eyes connecting with Ignatius’. His angry look faded and he stared at me then reached out and gently caught one of my hands.

BOOK: Feel the Burn
13.05Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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