Daughter of the Wolf-head
YA adventure fiction
Agata watched in dismay as he got to his feet and without haste moved to meet her at the end of the long dining table. She turned to her uncle but he merely nodded and resumed his conversation. With a sense of creeping helplessness, Agata allowed her hand to be tucked into the crook of Prince Gurgen's arm and accepted his guidance out of the great hall and into the long corridors leading to her bedchambers.
To her relief Kait and Pilar followed her out. From the corner of her eye she saw that Kait's hand rested on the pommel of her sword.
In silence Agata and the prince paced down the corridor and into the next. Prince Gurgen stopped. With the flicker of a glance at Agata, he turned to the two women walking behind.
"Why do you follow us?" he demanded.
"We are our lady's guard," Kait answered through gritted teeth.
Agata breathed in and opened her mouth to speak. She would tell the prince to go, her women could see her to her room but Prince Gurgen was quicker.
"Do you think I mean to harm the princess?"
His stare was hard.
"No, lord," Kait's lips hardly moved.
Without looking at her, Agata knew her jaw would be tense, eyes glittering.
Agata glanced up in time to see Kait manage a credibly humble nod. Of course. Kait had been part of the Imperial Guard for years. Serving princes and kings provided many opportunities to practise a smooth answer when inside you just wanted to explode. Agata knew the feeling well.
Kait and Pilar stared at him and then at Agata, a question in their eyes. Kait squared up and crossed her arms but Prince Gurgen barked again.
"Leave us," he was every inch the haughty lord with flashing, tawny eyes.
Agata licked lips that were suddenly dry.
"Very well. Pilar, go to fetch a morsel for Q'ursha. Kait, see if word has arrived about my brother. Return to me in my chambers."
Both women placed a right arm across their chests and dipped their chins in respect. With slow steps, they walked away.
Agata looked after them for a heartbeat and then turned forward. The corridor with its arched ceiling was quite empty. She was alone with the detestable Gurgen. She tried to still the hammering in her chest. What would he do anyway? What could he do to Iberia's princess?
A low laugh sounded high above her head.
"If I wanted to take you, I would. Princess or not."
A gasp flew from her mouth. Had he read her mind?
"Your thoughts run across your face most clearly, lady."
Agata frowned. She glanced up and the jumping fear in her increased. Prince Gurgen watched her with the intensity of one of the half-wild, hunting falcons in the mews. She tried to take hold of herself. Why was she so intimidated by this unpleasant prince? He had a presence that rattled her composure. The knowledge brought a fine crease between her eyebrows. Her resentment grew.
"Cease trying to frighten me and escort me the rest of the way to my rooms."
She forced her thoughts onto the time she'd ambushed General Kazan himself. His dark face rose before her. He'd been a formidable enemy, her nemesis but even he hadn't sent the terror seeping into her bones like this man did. Thinking of him steadied her and kept the quiver in her heart from reaching her voice.
"You were wise to do that."
She began walking, "To do what?"
"To do my will and send your women away," he paced beside her.
The whorled pattern of his crimson felt shoes was visible in the gloom of the winding walkway. They made no sound and somehow this frightened Agata even more. She would welcome the sound of booted feet on the flagged stones, declaring their presence. The emptiness pressed on her and she quickened her own steps, anxious to reach her chambers. Whatever he might say, if Kait and Pilar were here, she'd feel safer.
She felt rather than heard his pace pick up until his sleeve brushed her arm and a his thick fingers wrapped around her arm.
"My lord!" she exclaimed, "release me."
A cold laugh was his reply. He leaned over her and Agata retreated, step by step, with the Prince hovering over her until her back hit the tall stone wall.
I am a caged bird. I am trapped.
Truncated thoughts skittered crazily through her mind. Her free hand fell to her belt, reaching for the knife that wasn't there. She cursed her stupidity. The only protection she had was herself. She'd grown lax under Prince Ren's roof.
"You were a fool to think you could retake Iberia alone."
His eyes were fixed on hers and he was so close she could feel his breath on her face.
She pushed mightily but his grip was like a vice.
"I only tried to survive the occupation of my country," she protested.
"Nay, you were prideful and foolish and thought to be the equal of a man. You were wrong, Princess."
Her mouth opened to answer but no words came. The pressure on her wrist increased until she bent over, white to the lips but she refused to cry out. He lifted her upright by taking her chin in his hand and pushing it up. The pain in her arm made her dizzy but the pressure of his body forcing hers against the wall cleared her head.
"Get back," she gasped.
"I'm going to tell you what will happen," he snarled, his lips centimetres from hers, "we will go to Prince Ren and inform him that you are to be betrothed to me."
The rasp of her own breath filled the pressing silence of the corridor and with all her being, Agata prayed for rescue. She thrust her head forward in an attempt to strike his. He forced her arm up against her throat, pressing and pressing until Agata gasped and choked.
"Do we have an understanding?" he demanded.
Agata searched his eyes desperately. The tawny brown of them were ringed with cold, black rims. The eyes of a predator. He pressed her arm again until her throat spasmed in protest. She coughed and her knees buckled.
The pressure eased.
"Do we have and understanding, princess?"
"Uh..uh," she wheezed, trying to suck air into crushed windpipes.
"I can't hear you," he mocked.
A flickering glow lighted the end of the corridor before she heard the sound of booted feet on the floor. Voices echoed, breaking the deep quiet. The prince stepped back, still encircling her wrist. Fear and anger gave Agata a burst of strength. A sharp twist of the imprisoned wrist broke his grip and she darted under his arm. With chest heaving, she whirled to face him.
"Stay back from me, cur," she spat hoarsely, "I will not be terrorised into marrying you."
The torch-bearer rounded the corner and Lord Izak lifted the light high.
The scene before him was telling. Agata knew that in one glance he'd seen everything. The menacing pose of Prince Gurgen; Agata's flushed face, her spare hand massaging first her wrist, then lifting to the reddened column of her neck.
"Princess Agata," Lord Izak was startled, "is everything alright?"
She tried to answer but her vocal chords froze. She made an attempt to clear her throat, as Kait Tamm and several armed guards came marching in Lord Izak's wake.
Prince Gurgen gave an grunt of exasperation.
He turned on his heel, "You and I will finish this conversation, Princess Agata. Remember the benefits of obeying my will."