(Author’s commentary): Why yes, I am still working on my newest novel; The Seven Kingdoms. For those of you who are new here, a little background. This is my attempt to not only write from a mostly female perspective for the first time, but to steal the princess genre away from the Disney Corporation and fairy tales. My kick-ass crew of princesses are fighting an evil empire and making their world a better place. I mean, when the very first chapter introduces you to a teenage princess who fights with a staff like a freekin’ ninja and then knees her soon-to-be-husband-evil-prince-fiance right in the family jewels and runs off, and soon is raising a rebel army to battle the forces of darkness, you gotta show her some respect.
And as long as I am on the subject, my blog friend who was editing this novel had passed away. I need a new editor… one who will work for a free, signed copy of the book, with a sweet cover page dedication written however the hell you want me to write it, and also all the blog love I can send you…
Oh, and just so you know, you can read the entire novel so far by clicking on the button called: The Seven Kingdoms… up there… in my top bar thing.
The Seven Kingdoms
Chapter Thirty Two
The commander of the town garrison was rousted from his bed. He quickly dressed and joined the stream of sleepy soldiers heading for the docks. He briefly wondered who all the soldiers were that were heading in the other direction, but that, he decided, would have to wait. He was happy to see, by the time he arrived at the pier, that it looked as though a good portion of his command was already formed up in long lines, standing at attention. They didn’t look too bad, given the circumstances.
He went and stood rigidly in front of the two princes, neither of whom he remembered ever seeing before. He began to introduce himself. The shorter prince held up a hand to silence him.
“Don’t care. Busy now,” Nudge said over his shoulder without turning to look at the man.
The garrison commander stood and waited. More of his men came streaming onto the pier, joining the three long ranks behind him. He watched as the last soldiers disembarked from the ship in front of him, and heard more soldiers leaving the ship on the other side of the pier behind him. He watched as longboats continued to row troops ashore from ships and barges in the bay. He couldn’t understand why there were so many of them. Had the invasion been defeated or cancelled, or were these troops from somewhere else? All he was sure of was that he wasn’t going to anger the two princes by asking any questions.
Suddenly, the younger of the two princes turned back to him. No, not to him, the garrison commander decided. The prince was looking past him. The prince gave a nod. The garrison commander could hear sounds behind him, men were moving, weapons and armor were clanking and rattling, there were astonished gasps and stifled mutterings. He longed to turn around, but he didn’t dare.
Then, strangest of all, a young woman appeared on the top of the boarding ramp, above and behind the two princes. She was wearing a strange uniform and armor, all dyed in shades of green. It must be her, the garrison commander realized! Hildread Halfmoon! The princess who had given them so much trouble! No wonder the two princes were eager to put on such a show. They had done it! They had captured the renegade princess!
Hildy walked down the ramp and passed between Nudge and the princely imposter. She stopped in front of the garrison commander. She smiled at him. He couldn’t help but smile back out of common courtesy, but his smile was a little lopsided. He had begun to sense that something was not quite right.
“Please tell your men to proceed in an orderly fashion to the big warehouse over there,” Hildy said politely, indicating the large building set beside the shore end of the dock. The garrison commander glanced at the warehouse. Then he glanced at the two Skull princes, hoping they would clarify the situation.
One of them did. “You heard the lady,” Nudge said lightly.
The commander turned to look at his men. They had all been disarmed. Their spears were piled up behind a fourth line of soldiers who must have come off the ship tied to the other side of the pier. Those men still held spears, and those spears were pointed at the backs of his own men. Other men with spears lined both sides of the pier closer to shore, marking a path to the warehouse. Thus is was that most of the eight hundred or so men guarding the port of Middletown found themselves locked in a building, under guard, without so much as a drop of blood being spilled. Most of the rest of those troops were rounded up as they reported for duty.
While all this had been going on, Tolly Caster had been running through the streets of the town. He was part of the first group to disembark. Their orders were to get swiftly to the castle before word of this strange invasion could reach the man who now ruled this kingdom, Cronan Vardigo Skull.
The guards at the gate of the castle looked on in amazement as hundreds of other Skull soldiers ran up the hill towards them. What was causing their comrades to flee in such a manner? Was there and uprising among the townspeople? Or a fire, perhaps? The guards began to grow nervous. Should they sound the alarm and wake the officers and the five hundred soldiers sleeping in tents spread around the castle?
Before they could make any decision, the first of the running soldiers reached them, surrounded them, and disarmed them. The twenty guards around the gate had never even noticed the local people who had been quietly gathering, fingering knives hidden under their clothing. These people, now that the gates were secured, quickly began to lead the first resistance army soldiers into the castle to secure the royal family.
Tolly was among these soldiers rushing inside, while most of those who were following behind began to spread out around the castle, joined by more locals who had been hiding in the woods, taking prisoner the Skull troops still peacefully sleeping in their tents in clearings around the old fortress.
As Tolly raced to the doors to the great hall, passing other civilians who held guards at knifepoint, he happened to glance at another soldier as they jostled each other in the rush to get inside. He nearly dropped his spear. There was Lawry, dressed in Skull armor and uniform, her hair hidden under a black helmet. She saw him recognize her, and cast him a big smile.
“Hildy is going to be really mad,” Tolly said, grinning back at her.
“Let’s go find my parents and my sister,” Lawry shot back at him, beating him to the steps by a single leap. She rushed up the flight of stairs, passing other soldiers in her excitement. Tolly stayed on her heels. She bolted through an archway and into a hall. She was surprised to see two Skull guards, unarmed, and being held at knife point by several citizens. She hurried past them and into her mother and father’s sleeping chambers, and came to a shocked halt.
Lying in the big bed were not her parents but rather her sister and the man Lawry was supposed to have married. They were being watched by a small group of locals, all carrying knives. Lawry was suddenly embarrassed. Why had she expected her parents, who were no longer the rulers of the kingdom, to be living in the royal bed chambers?
For their part, the couple in the large bed were not at all happy with the situation either. Cronan Skull was wise enough not to argue with the armed civilian intruders when they had entered the room a short while ago, but he perked up when he saw armed soldiers wearing the black uniforms and armor of his own forces begin to file in. “Arrest these people!” he screamed at the top of his lungs. He leapt out of the bed. The sight of his pale legs and knobby knees sticking out from under his black nightshirt caused Lawry and Tolly to burst out laughing.
Narya Skull suddenly sat up in bed, still clutching the blankets to her throat. She had recognized that laugh. “Lawry, what are you doing here? And why are you dressed like that? What’s going on?”
“We are here to rescue you,” Lawry proclaimed, going over to the side of the bed to stand by her sister.
“Rescue me?” Narya demanded. “I am in bed with my husband. I was sleeping soundly. Rescue me from what, exactly?”
Lawry stared down at her sister in shock. It had never occurred to her that her sister was anything other than a prisoner. “Where are mother and father?” she asked sternly.
Prince Cronan chose this moment to interject, finally realizing exactly who it was that was speaking to his wife. “I don’t know what you are doing…” he began to say to Lawry.
Lawry turned on him in a flash, and in her anger, she drowned out the rest of his words. “No, you don’t know anything, and if I were you, I wouldn’t make me mad right now.”
“You can’t speak to my husband that way, he’s the king now,” wailed Lawry’s little sister petulantly.
At that moment, more people burst into the already crowded room. Leading them was a small man with very brown skin and a long, black mustache, wearing a plain, white tunic that had seen better days. Behind him were more men dressed in Skull uniforms. For an absurd moment, Lawry and the men with her didn’t know if this was a force of real Skull soldiers come to rescue Cronan and her sister, or more resistance army troops come to help secure the prisoners.
The question was answered when the group proved to be escorting none other than the true king and queen of Middle. “They were quite safe, and being held in a small room in one of the towers, princess,” the very tan little man said.
“I’m sorry, but I don’t know who you are,” said Lawry, wanting the man to get out of the way so she could fling herself into her parents’ arms. Even so, she found herself wondering how the man knew who she was.
“Just as well,” replied the man cryptically, giving her a quick bow and a wink with one twinkling eye. And with that, the man turned and was out of the room as if he had never been there at all.
Even as Lawry grabbed her parents in a fierce, three-way hug, Hildy appeared at the door. She squeezed her way in and was swept up in a heated family argument of a nature and intensity seldom seen. She got so caught up in the unfolding drama that she forgot, for the moment, to be furious at Lawry for being here against her direct orders.
Lawry’s sister and her short, pimply husband began yelling demands. Lawry and her parents began yelling back at them, all at such a volume that very few individual words could be plucked from the air. All of this was being watched by a packed room full of spectators, soldier and civilian alike, who added to the din with comments and discussion.
Hildy closed her eyes for a moment. She was tired from running up the hill to make sure her friend’s family was safe. She had a slight headache. So far, no one had even noticed that she was in the room. She pushed her way closer to Lawry. As she passed her soldiers and they recognized her, they sprang to attention. Lawry saw this from the corner of her eye. She turned and also came to attention, facing her friend and commanding officer. The rest of the family stopped yelling, not quite sure what was happening.
Because none of the troopers were wearing rank insignia on their captured uniforms, Hildy couldn’t tell who was in charge. She simply addressed all the soldiers in the room. “Take the prisoner down to the great hall and hold him there. And make sure that all the Skull troops in and around the castle have been rounded up. Send them down to the docks, under strong guard, and put them in the warehouse. If it’s too crowded, commandeer a second one.”
Two of the soldiers grabbed Cronan Skull by the arms and started to take him from the room.
“You can’t treat my husband that way,” wailed Narya from the bed. “He is the king!”
“Not any more he isn’t,” Hildy said to her, not unkindly.