King Johann, taken hostage in secret, his kidnapper forges his seal to incite a war. The king, forced to write proof-of-life letters to his queen, hides secret messages in the love letters. The queen, traveling in disguise, embarks on a journey to find her husband.
Queen Isabel’s quivering hands gripped the cedar panel while thoughts of her husband and that wretched war consumed her. It was the third hour of the night and her swollen eyes produced but a single tear from their drought, a result of endless sobs. Why did you leave us Johann? Why did you go into battle?
A spectacle of shooting stars reflected across the still waters of Lake Trinke. Queen Isabel tightened her grip of the windowsill as her thoughts drifted to a fading memory. She thought, my darling husband, your memory has been ripped from me by the enemy of all that is sacred and good on this earth. She drew a breath of frosty air and buried her face in her numbed hands. Her mind strained to replay details of her husband’s departure.
* * * * *
Daylight penetrated the imperial bedroom. The queen’s eyes fluttered. She heard a voice calling from outside a narrow window, adjacent to the royal bath. “Isha! Isha!”
King Johann called out to his wife once more, “Isha!”
Annoyed, she staggered out of bed, her eyes barely open. The loving bride, who had been awake half the night caressing her husband, had lost her sweet demeanor.
She furrowed her brow as she yelled out the window. “What?” Leaning her elbow on the windowsill, she looked down from the second floor. The sight of her husband, mounted on his horse and elegantly dressed with the motif of his army in procession, caused the lines on her face to soften. She stared at his embellished armor, made of bronze and covered with red-dyed leather. His robe draped over his stallion and underneath it, she caught a glimpse of his battle gear. A gust of wind exposed the wooden scabbard that Johann, being left-handed, used for carrying his sword. Covered in red leather, the scabbard fit securely on his right side and had an ornate bronze cap that encased the ends.
The queen, whose mood lightened upon seeing her man in uniform, gave him a smile. “I love you!” She screamed for the world to hear.
The powerful rider held his white stallion in place, gripping the reigns. “Come out here and give me a proper good bye, woman.”
She proceeded to change out of her nightgown, near the window, making sure to remain in his sight. Once dressed, she dashed across the corridor and down a cedar wood staircase.
He stood on the ground next to his horse and waited for her to jump into his arms. After some sloppy kissing, he picked her up and placed her on his stallion, sidesaddle. He walked next to the horse, pulling its reins, leading it down a winding road toward the front gates. Dew blanketed over the blades of grass.
“Are you taking me with you?” She asked.
His only response was a smile.
“We’ve gone off the road,” she noticed, and with a mischievous tone she asked, “Are we going to our secret spot?” She caught him stealing glances like a young man with a crush.
He remained silent.
Her playful tone continued, “If you expect me to undress you with all that gear you have on, I’m going to need some coffee first.”
Coffee had been the queen’s favorite delicacy, regularly brought to the palace from the trade ships.
“No.” He answered nonchalantly.
“No to the coffee or no to the undressing?” She asked.
He stopped the stallion and taking her into his arms, he slowly lowered her to the ground.
“I have something to give you,” he whispered.
He removed a small wooden box from his satchel. It smelled of cedar and had a long scarlet thread tied in a bow.
Isabel untied the bow with her fingertips, removing the silky thread, and wrapping it around her hair. To her surprise, the box contained his ring, the Seal of the King. She looked into his hazel eyes and touched a hand to her chest. “You never exit those gates without your ring.”
He took her hand from her chest and placed it upon his heart. His breath became one with hers, their noses nearly touching. “Flesh of my flesh,” he began in a sibilant tone, “I trust you, Isha. Keep the ring until my return.”
* * * * *
King Johann brought his white stallion to a halt, gripping the leather reins, coming close to the edge of the cliff. He fixed his gaze on the army of foot soldiers below. Rows of hundreds of archers and swordsmen marched along the riverbank.
Michael turned to King Johann and warned, “It’s a trap.” Michael was commander of the royal army and high protector of the king. He was an expert archer and carried a bow across his bare onyx back. His stately physique mounted the chestnut horse like a granite statue. He never left the king’s side. Every senior official answered to Michael.
“I know.” King Johann grunted, and placing his weight on his heels, brought his stallion to a gallop. He started down the ridge of the mountain.
“My lord,” Michael called out, “King Johann!” He followed down the hill. “Don’t you want to warn the others?”
Ignoring Michael’s beckoning, the king rode into the thick holly forest.
While crossing the thick brush, King Johann slowed his horse’s gait.
Michael approached and rode alongside the king’s stallion. “My lord, I implore you, don’t get any closer. You’re at great risk already.”
King Johann studied the army commanders. As he neared the riverbank, a ray of light pierced the holly trees and turned Johann’s eyes golden green. He turned his gaze to Michael. “My father’s army slaughtered the entire male population of Udom.”
“Yes, my lord, but Udom no longer exists.”
“Prince Serpia is Udomite. He witnessed the destruction of his father’s kingdom from this riverbank. He was just a child when he fled to Toipeg.”
“How do you know this?”
“My father let him go. He spared his life.”
“I think he should be a bit more grateful if the great king spared his life.” Michael shook his head. “If he’s looking for revenge, he’s going to have to do better than this. Look at that pitiful army. They’re nothing but a bunch of drunken savages.”
A dark figure on a black horse appeared behind them in the forest. “Oh but you’re wrong.” He projected.
“Serpia!” Michael called out, drawing his sword.
Five men on each side of Prince Serpia immediately drew their swords.
King Johann admonished Michael, “Sheath your sword!”
Knitting his brows, bunching the skin between them into creases, Michael slowly sheathed his sword.
Prince Serpia approached Michael. “Those men out there, the ones you call savages are only pawns.” He turned to King Johann, “My real army is within your own kingdom.”
Letters from the King ... Coming soon!
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