Daughter of the Wolf-head
Daughter of the Wolf-head Episode 2
Agata breathed in deeply, filling her lungs from the expanse of air hanging before her. Grit stirred under restless fingers as she leaned out over the great, stone rampart of Prince Ren's mountain fortress.
"Iberia," she whispered and felt the stirring of a cool zephyr slip past her cheek, "I will return to you."
The same breath lifted her hair and sent it dancing in streams of living red-gold down her back. That breeze came from the direction of her country; down across the mountains, over the valleys and through many miles of country away from where she stood in the protection of her uncle's castle walls. Iberia, where General Kazan and his fierce Marauder warriors enjoyed their triumph over her army.
The tiny, winding road, stretching out beneath, lay empty. Not a single rider, or wanderer on foot, stepped along its narrow, rocky path.
Still her eyes gazed, restlessly seeking for something. Surely, some of her women survived the battle and would come to their princess in the Far Reaches.
"It's been too long," she thumped her fist on the unyielding rock.
The first rapturous reunion with her nurse, Baba Gu, and the burying of resentment against her uncle had given Agata a measure of peace. The wondrous feeling of safety lost its appeal as one long, tedious day followed another. But Agata must stay put. She had no army and must wait until the lords and princes loyal to her uncle sent their men. Prince Ren refused to send the letters she penned to the lords and princes hiding from the Marauders in the mountains of Iberia. She had nothing to do but pace the ramparts of the castle and wait.
Out there, beyond the horizon, lay Iberia. It was her country and now it lay in the hand of the fierce warlord, General Kazan and that corrupt Greek, Abbess Shingli. The abbess knew that Princess Agata survived her suicidal leap to escape General Kazan.
The sound of a light footfall caught her ear.
Her hand leaped to her waist. Her fingers clasped thin air and brushed against the hard, metal of the pretty, golden belt. Her mouth twisted down and her heart longed for her sword. A quick glance told her a friend approached.
"Your instincts serve you well, Princess," Kait Tamm grinned, her eyes glinting in mischief.
She released her hold on Qu'rsha's collar and the immense hound bounded to Agata, thrusting his muzzle under her hand. For a time he had lost Agata but the faithful hound traced her from the mountains of her Lair to the foothills of Armenia. Before the fortress walls he had found her and now he hated being anywhere other than at her side.
"Bah! I want to cast this dress off!" Agata thrust a handful of sky blue fabric away and scowled, "Give me my sword, saddle my horse and let us be away from this place."
The laugh vanished from Kait's eyes, "You must do what's best for your country now."
"Sitting here like a canary in a gilded cage helps neither me nor Iberia, Kait," a note of desperation entered her voice, "I will go mad from all this sitting about. Any news of my women?"
Kate breathed a sigh that went all the way down to her toes.
"No," she said quietly, "but the story of your jump from the cliff top has spread like wildfire. All believe you are dead including General Kazan."
"And my brother? What news of Pertinax?"
Kait shook her head, "Nothing."
Agata held her bottom lip between her teeth. Frustration boiled in her chest.
"That makes no sense! Why did my uncle send him and way and where?" Fear rose. She turned to Kait, anxiety in her eyes, "Perhaps he killed him."
"Now that makes no sense," Kait assured her, "be patient, Princess. We will learn, sooner or later."
Agata's fists clenched and her eyebrows twitched into a terrible frown.
A sigh gusted from the depths of her soul and Kait grimaced in sympathy.
"You are safe, Princess, which is something I never thought to see. Your escape from the sacking of Narikala saved your life from the Marauders but you gained a taste of something few royal women experience--"
"Freedom!" the words burst through Agata's teeth.
Kait nodded and an odd smile played about her lips. She held up a hand. A long, silver sword gleamed dully in the muted light.
"Here," she threw it to Agata and clasped the sword's brother in her own hand.
Agata snatched the sword from the air and drew the blade in a spinning arc. Her eyes gleamed. She grasped a handful of trailing skirt in her spare hand and moved around Kait Tamm with supple grace.
The blades met with a ringing crash and Agata laughed aloud.
"This is being alive, Kait," she cried, "I must stay strong and ready to lead an army."
With quick steps, Kait slashed, leapt forward and slashed again. Agata parried each stroke and sent Kait dancing away from her own attack. Neither saw the watcher standing in the shadows, observing all with a keen eye. Izak, Lord of Klarjeti, vassal of Prince Artak, made it his business to know exactly what the princess of Iberia did and with whom. He noted the skill of each woman with astonished interest.
The princess and her chief warrior kept up their restless pacing punctuated by sudden swift battles of tempered steel until their breath sucked great hollows in their throats and sweat darkened the lines of bound up hair.
"You've lost none of your speed, Princess," Kait lifted her blade up in a salute.
"This keeps me sane. Promise never to allow my uncle to divide our paths."
"He wishes to send Pilar and I in a delegation to the Tuli."
Kait's words fell into a pool of startled silence.
Princess Agata looked at her, a storm cloud gathering on her face and swept over to the rampart once more. As always, she gazed toward Iberia. Her uncle, Prince Ren, had spoken to her two days ago.
"Prince Pertinax is safely placed with guardians. There is no longer any need to keep you hidden. You will be the one that the armies of the Far Reaches rally behind."
"No, Uncle. Pertinax should be with me. I'm his sister. Give him back to me."
Her uncle's eyes were firm but held a ruefulness at the back of them.
"It is safer for him if you don't known his whereabouts. You will be the beacon, Princess Agata, you must make a strong alliance to gather support and strength-"
"I do not wish to marry, Uncle!" The exclamation burst from her lips, "I cannot-"
"It is your duty, niece. I cannot forge an army for you unless you marry one of the princes."
Now on the ramparts a chill wind blew around Princess Agata. She turned back to her faithful henchwoman, her companion through many past dangers, and gazed at her with fiery eyes.
"He dares instruct my own women without my knowledge? I won't allow it," she flared, "my uncle has no reason to send you other than to render me completely friendless."
"Prince Ren seeks only to place you on Iberia's throne, my princess."
"No. He has said that I shall come out of hiding and form a marriage alliance with whomever he thinks should rule my country. And the less support I have, the more compliant I will be."
"Hah!" a snort erupted from Kait, "He doesn't know you very well, then."
A distant bell tolled, once, twice. On the fifth peal, Agata shrugged and handed the sword back to Kait.
"Time waits for no one. Baba Gu will be waiting to dress me for dinner."
Still leaning against the shadowed column, Lord Izak gazed unseeing, fingers moving from one knot to another in the short rope draped in his hand. He knew, of course, that Prince Ren wanted the princess separated from her companions of sword and shield. However, nothing had been discussed about giving the princess in marriage, or to whom. Perhaps Prince Ren wanted to keep him ignorant.
His eyelids fell covering eyes of steel. His own liege lord was urgent about knowing one thing; Prince Ren's plans for the princess and therefore, Iberia. The fingers ceased their restless fidgeting, clenching hard over a particular knot. The princess was a prize. Her undeniable right to the throne of Iberia would give her husband the crown.
The footsteps of the women faded into the distance. His eyes snapped open and he eased broad shoulders off the solid pillar. The princess must not be left friendless and alone. Dinner approached and Prince Ren must be made to talk. This evening.