Daughter of the Wolf-head
YA adventure fiction
Daughter of the Wolf-head Episode 3
The brush caught on a snarl, sending a shooting pain into Agata's scalp.
She jerked her head away with tightened lips.
"What vexes thee, Princess?" Baba resumed smooth strokes through the thick, copper hair, her shrewd old eyes catching Agata's in the mirror.
Agata held her gaze, allowing the frustrated edge of her soul to appear. She kept silent.
"Tsk, tsk," the old lady reproved, "so young and so furious but I don't think it's the hair-pulling that troubles thee."
Agata looked down and away. She was in no mood for prevaricating. Even as she sat here, a captive stuffed into the prison of an evening gown, Marauders strengthened their hold on Iberia. Her kingdom.
"I don't wish to sit idle any longer, Baba. My uncle bides his time while my people languish under the iron fist of my enemy."
"Ye have forgotten the prince works for thine own good, Princess Agata."
Agata lifted an impatient shoulder, dismissing Baba's words. She would confront her uncle over evening repast. When he was replete and sipping over his wine she would demand he take action.
Baba clearly read the expressions fleeting across the smooth face of the girl who almost writhed where she sat, like a caged tiger.
The sharp sound penetrated Agata's maelstrom of emotions.
She sprang to her feet and whirled on old Baba. At the back of her mind she noted that she could now see right across the top of Baba's head.
"I won't sit here any longer," she cried, "my people are dying there."
She stabbed a finger in Iberia's direction.
Baba gazed back unflinching, "So? Will you thrust into your uncle's dinner table and throw all those restless emotions on the table? For certain, Princess Agata, that is the way to be weighed, measured and relegated to the ranks of volatile womanhood."
Her uncle's face rose beside Baba's as clearly as if he stood there. With all her might she resisted but logic stole through her hastily thrown up barriers. Baba was right. Uncle Ren found it difficult to comprehend that Agata commanded her own army. He passed over her victories and honed in on her great defeat. General Kazan had easily beaten a raw, inexperienced girl foolishly facing up to his forces, decimating all her female warriors.
Prince Ren did not believe a woman was born to lead.
Agata took a deep, shivering breath. She whisked away from Baba's all too knowing eyes and moved to stand by the window, fighting to regain inner calm.
Anxiety crept in. Baba was so right. If she rushed into her uncle and revealed all that gnawed away at her heart, he would see only the emotion. He would seal his belief that a female was too delicate for the business of war. Agata shivered. She suspected his delay in gathering the promised army was due to the reality of her youth and her gender.
Daily she appeared at his meal table, dutifully gowned with hair intricately bound. The tan of her cheeks faded back to paleness, the hands so recently used to scramble through the forests gripping a sword, had quickly become smooth. She examined her nails, so polished and clean. A smile lifted the corners of her lips as her thumbs brushed the hard calluses at the base of her fingers. Practising manoeuvres with her sword kept her hands hard.
"Thank you, Baba," she said quietly.
She breathed in deep and released the pent up air slowly. She bit the inside of her cheek and held it in her teeth. She must be calm. She must think. Rather than heading straight for her goal, she must be clever. Prince Ren intended to help her, but not the way she wanted.
She turned her head toward Baba, still pacing before the window, "I won't marry at his whim."
Her jaw hardened over the words.
Baba put the brush down, sighing in her turn.
"What will you do then, Princess? He is your uncle. Your guardian. He has the right to--"
"He has no right," Agata interrupted but her heart lay heavy, squeezing her stomach.
A wave of nausea snatched her breath. Her uncle did have the right and her only hope was that he was kinder than her father had been.
She stepped in front of the mirror, staring at the refined reflection looking back at her. The rich gown, the perfectly dressed hair. The eyes caught her attention. They held the frantic gleam of a trapped bird.
"This is not what I want, Baba."
She turned to the woman who'd been her nurse from childhood.
"I won't be thrust into a marriage for the sake of the family like my mother."
Baba Gu straightened the brush on the table until it perfectly aligned with the combs and other hair dressing tools. Agata watched, knowing her nurse had something to say and waited for her words to fall.
"What will you do?"
The question was gentle but more cutting that the sharp, two-edged blade of Princess Agata's sword. What would she do? What plan did she have? The captive bird's wings fluttered helplessly against the bars of her cage.
Seeing defeat in her charge's face, Baba softened.
"'Tis the way of the world, child. Men lead. Women follow."
Agata's lips tightened, "I led my women, Baba."
"We flourished. We experienced victories."
"And now? Where are your warrior women now?"
The inevitable, unavoidable blow landed on Agata's raw, quivering soul.
"Any general, any leader may experience defeat no matter how well prepared."
She flashed her defiance but a single tear escaped the corner of her eye and trickled to her cheek where it glittered in the candlelight like a sparkling jewel.
Guilt cut at her heart, mixed with unutterable sorrow. The faces, their faces flashed before her eyes. Jutta, Veriko, Viyan, Katranide, Pertinax and many others; fighting for her, bleeding for her and many dying...for her.
Lastly the faces of her enemies; Abbess Shingli, the roman churchwoman and General Kazan, war lord of the occupying Marauders.
As Baba watched, her own heart quivering at the necessary truth the Princess suffered, Agata's face grew cold. She would thrust her own knife through the Abbess' wicked heart, no matter what. She couldn't sit here, mouldering in a fortress when her brother was sent away and her country lay in the hands of that woman and General Kazan.
With her jaw clenched and her face hard, Agata faced Baba Gu. Her eyes glittered as she spoke.
"My country is watered by the blood of my slain women, Baba. I am the plant that must grow strong in it."
"Think, Veriko! You fought under Princess Agata Primavera. Where is her Lair? Where did she hide?"
Veriko rubbed her forehead, gingerly passing sensitive fingertips over the jagged, red scar above her temple. She strained to remember but only the same vague images of dark, cave walls came.
"I cannot remember," she whispered.
"You must know. Where is it?"
Pain radiated out from her temple and escalated behind her eyes. Veriko clutched her ears, a groan spilling over her lips.
"I don't know...I cannot...I don't remember!"
Her voice rose to a throbbing shriek.
She jumped up, turning over the chair and sprang to the Abbess. Snatching the dagger from the Abbess' belt, she turned the sharp point into the cloth tunic at her chest.
"Thrust it home," she sobbed, her voice ragged, "end this torment."
The Abbess leaned forward until Veriko felt hot, sour breath on her face. The Abbess' eyes were dark and unblinking, the lids heavy and hooded.
"Endure it, child. You will serve me yet."
The sobs caught in Veriko's throat. She gazed into the hypnotic stare, confused.
"Go to the Far Reaches. Find Princess Agata. She will believe you are a loyal warrior rejoining her."
As she spoke the hated name, the Abbess's nostrils widened as if she smelt something rotten.
"She betrayed us. Left us to our fate," Veriko's words slurred as she struggled to get her tangled thoughts out.
"She did," the Abbess' voice was insistent, "she cares naught for you."
Veriko clung to the vein of hatred pulsing in her heart. Princess Agata must be punished for them. For the lost ones. Veriko saw the field from that day, saw the women lying broken and bleeding, some with swords still clutched in stiffening fingers. Women abandoned by their princess and left to die.
Pain shot through her head again. Her hand trembled as she pressed against her temple, trying to push the pressure away. A fear clutched at her throat.
"What if the princess sees right through me? I am damaged. I can't think properly. She will know that I seek vengeance."
The Abbess leaned close, jerking Veriko by her forearm, "You will go there as a hero, Veriko."
She let go of Veriko's arm and ushered her from her chambers, down dim, empty corridors and into the shadowed recesses of the royal stables.
"You must achieve one thing only; lure the princess back into Iberia."
Her voice was a guttural growl and her serpentine eyes glittered at Veriko.
"That is all. Lure her back and send word. I will capture that red bird and pluck out all her feathers. The princess won't escape her fate a second time."
Awash with pain, Veriko fumbled her foot into the proffered stirrup and automatically swung up into the saddle. Sitting high above the Abbess, she place an arm respectfully across her chest in salute.
"I am sending my servant with you," the Abbess kept her voice low, "He has your money, your carrier pigeons and your weapons. He will take you to the border of Iberia. Then you will ride for lands of the Far Reaches until you gain Prince Ren's walled castle. Find out where the princess is residing."
She squeezed Veriko's leg, giving it a little shake. Something cleared in Veriko's eyes and the Abbess smiled coldly.
Veriko thumped a fist across her chest again and without another word she urged the horse forward.
Amidst the clatter of hooves on cobblestones, the Abbess watched her go. Her henchman looked back and lifted a finger to his forehead. The Abbess dipped her head. Satisfaction wrapped around her, enveloping her in a warmth she hadn't felt for a long time. Providence was on her side. Princess Agata would soon die.