Revanth asks his uncle to end the war and retreat. Just Olster agrees, a burning missile is launched from the castle. Several more hit, but suddenly one goes out, then another, before they hit.
Looking around for Alton, he spotted a pale, terrified face at the edge of the camp. “Astrid! My love!” Running over to her, he tried to hold her, but she shook free. “Astrid!”
“Here comes another,” she whispered. “No!” she commanded, pointing at the fiery ball. This went out, falling with the others.
Haggard and weak, she stumbled. Revanth rushed to her side, catching her as she fell.
“My love! Stop. You’ll kill yourself.”
“I must. I can’t have you hurt,” she whispered.
Another fireball flew straight toward them. It stopped in midair, spinning wildly until it went out. It crashed to ground like the rest. Alton stood outside the tent, leaning on the standard pole. Teeth gritted, he pushed himself upright.
“Fugging stop!” he bellowed at the night, pointing both hands at the castle. The flaming orb was in the catapult, ready to fly, but it went out and the catapult didn’t release. “That’s it, Astrid. You and I are going there now, to see if we can put a stop to this nonsense.”
“Not at night,” Velda said, emerging from the trees. “They’ll kill you at night.”
“She has a point,” Revanth agreed.
“Then, I suppose, it must be light enough for them to see us.” Alton twitched a hand at the pile of pitch covered orbs. They burst into white flames, but were not consumed. The night grew bright as noon. “Horses!” Alton bellowed.
“Four of them,” Revanth commanded a nearby sentry.
“Only two. You aren’t going and Velda will stay here to make sure you stay put. I won’t put you in harm’s way by taking you to the enemy camp. Stay here, watch after your uncle.”
“Will be fine. I’ll protect her.”
His friend pointed to the blazing balls of pitch. “Do you have any doubt I can do as I say?”
Instead of speaking, Revanth kissed his wife, hugging her close. Velda did the same. She could feel the energy thrumming through Alton’s body.
“Be careful, my love. Such power can consume….”
“I know, my sweet. Don’t worry. For the first time in my life, I feel as I’m supposed to feel.” He kissed her deeply, and went to meet the man with the horses. Helping Astrid mount, he saluted Revanth and followed her up the hill to the castle.
They were met at the gate by a worried captain of the guard. “Princess! We saw you coming from the enemy camp. Are you all right? Have you been held hostage?”
It took some explaining, and repeating, because no one wanted to listen to the entire explanation. Everyone wanted to ask questions. After Astrid repeated herself three times, Alton had had enough. Fingers to lips, he whistled sharply.
Amazingly, they were. Adopting an imperious demeanor, Alton ordered the men about.
“Take us to King Hels and his lady wife. The Princess owes you no explanation.”
“Of course, my Lord. Begging your pardon, Sir,” the captain bowed and scraped.
Leading them personally to the king’s quarters, the captain took up a post outside. Alton suspected he intended to listen. That was fine, as long as he was quiet about it. The king and queen were in their dressing gowns, having been woken from a deep sleep when the first of the missiles went out.
Racing forward, Queen Sarai hugged and kissed her daughter. The king’s reaction was far less overt, but he was just as glad to see her.
“You are well, child? He didn’t—harm you?” her mother asked, ducking her head.
“No, Mama! I love Revanth. We’re married. So, you see, all this fighting is unnecessary. We can go back to the way it was—only with us together, not apart.”
“You’re what?” The Queen wasn’t happy. “To that rapscallion? How has this happened?”
“Mama, Papa, I love Revanth more than my own life. He has saved me from harm more times than I can count. He and Alton came to save me and Velda when we were prisoners….”
This took more explaining. Alton grew weary of all the talk. He wanted the matter settled, over, done. There had been too much killing and he’d had his fill. Not only humans were suffering through this. The animals, as well as the magical folk, were being harmed. When they army cut down trees to build their siege engines, they killed the dryads who were a part of them. The land and water ran red with blood, saturating it for years to come. After, perhaps, twenty minutes of talk, he cleared his throat.
She understood what he wanted and nodded. “The war is over, Papa. Declare it to your men. Release any prisoners. Let Prince Olster go home with his injured, and call it a draw. No loser, no winner. Revanth and I have gone through so much to prevent this war—yet here it is anyway. For me, Papa. Stop it for me.”
King Hels sighed heavily. “For you, my daughter. I should have stopped it before it began.”
“It’s my fault,” her mother sobbed. “I pushed and goaded. Queen Melisande and I should have allowed you to wed whomever you like. I suppose it’s too late now to hope that you’re still pure.”
Astrid laughed, kissing her mother’s cheek. “Not for many weeks. I am happier than I have ever been, Mama. I love Revanth, and he loves me. And, unless I am very mistaken, he and I will welcome a tiny prince or princess in a few moons’ time.”
“Already?” Sarai smiled, taking her daughter in her arms. “What are you waiting for, Hels? Send a messenger to Olster. Now! And invite my son-in-law to visit. A baby!” Clasping her hands, she started babbling about plans for nursery, leading Astrid toward a chair.
“What a night,” Hels said.
“Indeed. This is a good thing, Sire. A fine thing.”
Alton rode out with the messenger, only to meet Revanth with one of his own. The leaders were sent for. By dawn, king and prince were seated in a field near the burning mound of pitch balls. The queen had sent out breakfast to them and their generals, who gathered there.
“Will those ever go out?” Revanth asked Alton.
“Any time I like,” his friend replied. “But they give a festive air. Besides, it’s cold and I don’t have a cloak.”
After many hours, an agreement was drawn up and Prince Olster’s army broke camp. Revanth stayed with Astrid at her father’s castle, but his mother and uncle would return in a month’s time to celebrate their marriage. A huge party was planned. The queen would have liked another wedding, but settled for a formal blessing by their priest.
© 2019 Dellani Oakes
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