© Copyright 2015 - Lobo De la Sombra - Used by permission
Storycodes: M+/f; fort; hist; naked; chained; collar; captive; exchange; revenge; rescue; cons; X
It was a small courtyard, at least compared to others she'd seen. Glancing around, she doubted even five hundred could fit here, no matter how closely packed. This smallish fort near the border was never meant for the kind of meeting about to take place. This was a place for soldiers, not show.
Around her were nearly one hundred people, their rich clothing a sea of reds and yellows. Beside her stood the focus of this gathering, his own clothing even richer and brighter than those around him. Like the rest, he watched the front gate, on the far side of the courtyard.
In contrast to the bright colors around her, she wore only gold. Gold encircled her wrists and ankles, gold chains connecting them. A gold collar encircled her slender throat. Aside from this, she wore nothing, her body gleaming in the morning light as she, also, watched the gateway.
"Of course," said the man beside her, "if he refuses this meeting, your life is forfeit."
The woman shrugged. "You obviously don't know him, Thrarrston. He will be here, and he will reclaim what is his."
"That's King Thrarrston, wench," snarled a man behind her. He raised his hand to strike, only to pause as Thrarrston shook his head.
"No," he said softly, "you will not touch her. She may be my prisoner, but she remains above the likes of you." He glanced toward the woman. "Still, it wouldn't hurt for you to show proper respect."
"To you?" The woman shook her head. "You," she declared, "are not my king, nor will you ever be." The sound of the gate creaking open stilled any further words she might have spoken.
As the crowd watched, the gate slowly swung open. Through the opening strode a single man. In stark contrast to the bright colors of those already there, this man wore simple black, the leathers of a common huntsman or soldier. Even the buckle of his belt was black. Only the healthy tan of his skin and the gray of his hair and beard offered contrast to the otherwise unrelieved darkness of his appearance.
Alone, the man strode across the courtyard, halting before the crowd. "Thrarrston," he said softly, "I believe you have something of mine." Briefly, he glanced at the chained woman, then turned his attention back to the man beside her. "I want her back."
Thrarrston grinned. "What? No negotiation? And where is your retinue? Surely it is beneath even you to come here without your retainers."
"Retainers? You mean like yours?" The man smiled wryly. "I've never really understood this. What do all of these people do?" He pointed. "What does he do?"
Thrarrston looked toward the man indicated. "He," was the reply, "is in charge of the royal wardrobe. A king should always be dressed properly for any occasion."
"He is in charge of the royal kitchen. A king must always be properly fed, after all."
The man in black laughed. "Who actually runs your kingdom?"
Thrarrston frowned. "I do, of course."
"Do you? You have someone who tells you what to wear, someone who tells you what to eat. Is there someone here who holds the royal shaft when you pee?"
"How dare you," Thrarrston snarled. "You come here, insult me, when you are entirely at my mercy. With one gesture, my archers can fill you with shafts."
"Your archers. And where would they be?"
"They're....." Thrarrston,'s words died as he looked up. Archers did indeed line the walls of the courtyard, but these did not wear the reds and yellows of his men. Instead, these wore unrelieved black, their arrows aimed directly at the brightly clad group below.
"That," said the man in black, "is the difference between us, Thrarrston. You surround yourself with people who make you feel powerful, important. They make you feel like a king. The people around me...." He raised one hand over his shoulder. Immediately, black clad figures poured through the gate, forming close ranks behind him. "The people around me," he went on, "help me to act like a king."
For a long moment, Thrarrston stared at the men now arrayed before him. "How....?"
"Your men," came the reply, "are quite colorful, with your reds and yellows. They are also quite easy to see. Mine, on the other hand, are harder to detect. And some," he glanced up at the walls, "are like ghosts.
"Last time we met," he went on, "I spared your life. Return what is mine, and I will spare it again. Anger me again, and your son will be the new king."
Before Thrarrston could reply, the chained woman beside him stepped forward. Ignoring the eyes on her naked body, she walked calmly forward, halting only when she stood facing the man in black.
"I knew you would come for me," she said, smiling.
"Not just me." With a grin, the man facing her looked toward the walls and waved his hand. Immediately, one of the faces there vanished. Even as the woman turned, a powerful man strode forward, his bow slung at his back as he reached for her.
"Damn you," he growled softly. "Can you go nowhere without losing your clothes. Sometimes I truly believe you live to be seen naked by any who would look."
As the archer removed her chains, she glanced to one side. "Father, are you going to let him talk to me that way?"
"He's your husband," came the reply. "You deal with him. For now, we should go. General?"
One of the men behind him stepped forward. "The men are ready to depart," he said, then nodded toward the woman. "Your Highness."
"Lord Wayholt." Now free of her chains, the woman wrapped one arm around the archer's waist. "How fares your lovely wife?"
"Poorly. She has yet to stop apologizing for letting you leave the palace alone. She blames herself for the fact that you were taken."
"So," the woman said with a grin, "spank her."
Emeric, Lord Wayholt, laughed. "Useless," he replied. "She enjoys it too much."
"And what of me?" At this, the small group turned toward Thrarrston. The archer growled softly and stepped forward.
"Balian," the woman said softly, "father has already said, he is to be spared."
Balian paused. "Very well," he said softly, then turned his attention to Thrarrston. "Isolda," he said slowly, "is Princess and heir to the throne. As such, it is within Hardwin's rights as King to spare you. She is also my wife. If anyone of yours so much as touches her again, I will skin you like a freshly slain deer, and your whole army won't be enough to stop me. This is a warning from a servant of the king."
Suddenly, his right hand lashed out, knocking Thrarrston to the ground. "And that," he said, his voice cold, "is the reply of a husband."
Turning away from the stunned crowd, Balian wrapped his arm around Isolda's waist. "Come, pretty one. Let's find you some clothes. And please, try to keep them on until we get home."
Sandwiched between her husband and her father, Isolda laughed. "Of course, my love. Although I do expect you to remove them again in short order once we get there."
Hardwin laughed. "My daughter," he said, "is shameless." He glanced toward Emeric. "General, order the men. Let's go home."
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