Her lower lip protruding in a pout, Briar Rose shook her head no. “His family insisted on reading the banns. We were worried it would alert my father, but Frederick’s family is worried that if all the protocols are not followed then my father will use it as an excuse to have the marriage annulled.”
Knowing that the reading of the banns at least three times was a mortal custom of announcing a pending wedding in their churches before a couple could be joined, I understood her frustration. Why did mortals have to complicate things so? If there was a connection of body and spirit, then that should be all that mattered. Who cared about the rules of society or silly customs?
Perhaps I should follow my own advice.
Was I not complicating my feelings for Troylus, Regin, Gripir and Sigmun? Had these men not proved to me that we all shared some sort of connection? Wanted or not? Was I not still fighting them and it? Fighting the delicious thrill of pleasure and pain that each encounter with them brought me?
“His family probably knows best. You must not return again till you are safely married.”
“I am resolved, Briar Rose. This is my duty and I will not be swayed.”
“Where is Hrafn?”
“He figured you would seek out Theodora once you escaped the fortress, so he brought me here after I insisted. Theodora must be collecting mushrooms by the dark cliffs, so he went in search of her.”
Before I could respond, the thundering sound of hoofbeats shattered the calm of the glen. I never imagined they could track me down so soon. “Dammit. It is the kingsmen!”
Briar Rose gripped my hand. “Perhaps we can fall upon their mercy? They may help us.”
There was a part of me that was certain they might do just that but there was still a risk. My newfound feelings of pleasure may be blinding me to reality. If it were only my life, I could perchance take that risk, but I could not with the life of Briar Rose and the others.
“No. I am still not certain they can be trusted. I must continue to hold them off and distract them until you are safely wed.”
“Zellie. Please, there must be another way.”
“No. I am resolved. Now stand back. I do not have the power to return you to Frederick’s side, but I can send you to the dark cliffs where you will find Hrafn and Theodora. Remember, stay on the north side of the cliffs,” I admonished. “The south side leads to the den of the enchanted wolves and therein lies danger.”
Briar Rose nodded, having heard my warning about the wolves countless times since she was a child.
“And do not speak to any of the huntsmen if you should encounter them. They are no friend of the king’s or any monarchy for that matter, but we cannot have them spreading tales.”
Again, Briar Rose nodded. She gave me one more earnest hug before taking several steps back. Taking a deep breath, she nodded.
Raising my arms, I began, “Hear me now….”
A swirling green cloud enveloped her middle; with each revolution, it became larger and larger till only the top of her head and the hem of her dress were apparent.
Just then, the door of the cottage crashed off its hinges onto the floor.
The tiny cottage was quickly filled with four very large, very angry men.
But they were too late…. with a clap of my hands the green cloud disappeared…with Briar Rose.
“By all that is evil! It’s the princess!” cried out Regin as all four men stared in disbelief at the vanishing form of Briar Rose.
In unison, they turned their infuriated gazes on me. It was obvious from their disheveled and bedraggled appearance they had made great haste in their pursuit of me.
“Well, well. I must admit I am impressed. How enterprising of you all to find me so very quickly. Should I be flattered at the heat of your pursuit?”
Troylus approached the scarred wooden table in the center of the cabin. Keeping his eyes on mine, he carefully placed a black crystal in the center.
It was both a threat and a peace offering.
“We all saw the proof with our own eyes, lass. Enough of your games.”
“That hardly seems fair. I’ve been playing your games for several days now,” I countered with mock affront. “When will it be time for my game?”
“Why do I have a feeling it is us who’ve been played by her this entire time,” grumbled Sigmun to Regin. I gave them both a knowing wink.
Regin sighed with frustration. “Zella, enough. It is obvious Briar Rose is alive if not unharmed. Release her. We will protect you. We have brothers-in-arms in faraway lands. There is no need for you to stay here.”
It was a shame I had to continue deceiving them. If it were only me, I would have actually been inclined to believe them. For all their faults, they were loyal men of their word, that much was obvious. It especially pained me to continue to deny Regin. Out of all of the men, he seemed to be the one most determined to have me bare my soul. I also seemed to be forever disappointing Troylus, who continued to hope I would see reason. I was not as concerned about Sigmun. I doubt he took much of this very seriously and seemed to only be amused. I did so enjoy that about him.