Chapter 8 - The Festival of the Goddess
March 17, 1645
The Walled City of Arcadia, Capital of Ivaris
-King Seth Liam Ivaris XV-
What have I done?
I looked around me and I was in my study. I came here after the scene at Adrienne’s room. I slowly sat on my chair and was about to place my head in my hands. But I saw the blood.
Adrienne’s blood coated my hands.
It seems that I couldn’t do anything right. I hurt her. She almost died for me and I hurt her. She saved my life and I rewarded her by tearing open her wounds. Gods, what should I do now? She’s going to hate me. And knowing her fiery spirit, I’m in for a lot of hate and for a really long time.
“She told me that I did my part and that you’ll protect me now but she was wrong!” her words were like a blow to my gut. It hurt worse than any of the wounds I’ve incurred in battle. I wanted to protect her. Something in her calls out to me. I wanted to protect her. I wanted to hold her close. I wanted to be with her. But what I did was to hurt her instead.
“A woman talked inside my mind! Her name was S-s-selene... She t-told me that I have to p-protect you! She called you Aiken and then showed me a vision of what was to happen!”
Those words were what surprised me the most. I thought I was going mad before! I kept on dreaming about two people. I was the man and a woman who looked so much like Adrienne called me Aiken while I called her Selene. I’ve had many dreams about her and she and Aiken seemed to be lovers.
Gods, what sorcery is this! What do these dreams mean and what role does Adrienne play in all of this? Am I being made a fool or is there some sort of greater power at work here?
“Destiny.” A husky voice said in my head.
I clutched my head in my hands. I really must be going mad and I’m hearing voices inside my head. No, this can’t be! I’m the King of Ivaris!
With one swipe of my hand, all the stacks of papers, instruments, ink and quills on the desk came crashing down on the floor. I grabbed one of the papers from the floor and not caring whether it was some important letter, I used it to wipe the blood off my hands.
Afterwards, I poured myself some brandy and then sat back in my chair and downed the contents in one gulp. Then I poured myself another one.
I kept pouring and drinking until I was numb.
Until I forgot everything.
“Hush now, child...” the healer said softly as she tended my wounds. The pain was so intense that I felt as if my back was being burned.
The healer clucked as she removed my bandages and saw the wounds. “I’ll have to stitch this again.” She declared. I looked at her with fear in my eyes and my hands were shaking. “Do not worry... I have some salve to numb the pain. You won’t feel a thing.”
I nodded to her in thanks for I could not speak as of the moment. I was too much in shock at what the king did.
Maybe I shouldn’t have saved his life after all.
The healer went to the fireplace and added more wood. Then she stoked the fire until warmth flooded my room. After that, she washed her hands and started to work on my back.
“What the king did was wrong... But you have to understand that he’s a warrior. He’s trained that way. He needs to be stern for his people and also for himself. Many people out there want to kill him and he couldn’t let that happen or Ivaris will fall. Also, word reached me that before the Baron died, he told the King that you were part of the scheme to kill him.
My eyes widened in horror. “I was not!” I replied to the healer. How could the Baron say that when I never knew him? How could he tell the King I was part of all of it! Now, I understand why his treatment towards me suddenly changed.
“I believe you, child.” She said and gave me a warm smile.
“Let me tell you something about the king... I’ve known him a long time... I was the midwife when his mother birthed him. And I’ve tended all his illnesses and wounds since then. Mind you, his father was strict. When the former King trained him, he often came home bleeding. He did not have a normal childhood for he had the weight of the whole kingdom on his shoulders. What he is now, it’s how he was brought up to be and it’s all he’s ever known.” The healer told me as she stitched my wounds again.
I nodded to let her know that I’ve heard her.
“You should see him when he’s in battle. That’s where he outshines everyone else. Some say he fights with the strength of fifty men. Some say he’s indestructible. Aye, maybe the indestructible part is true. He came to me many times with different wounds. Sometimes, I thought he would die but he always recovers.” The healer said then she laughed.
“Some even claim that he is the reincarnation of the God of Warriors himself. I know for a fact that many ladies would kill to be his mistress. ” The healer laughed again and I rolled my eyes.
“You wouldn’t laugh when you see him on the battlefield wielding that claymore of his. That I guarantee you.”
“No... I don’t want to see him in action. I don’t want to see him ever again. I hate him. I’d do everything I can to get out of this hell and away from that demon king!” I shouted. The healer stopped talking and she finished dressing my wounds in silence.
When she left, I pondered on my fate. Before Amaranth fell, I had a great life. I lived in the province and it was quiet and peaceful. I was betrothed to the Captain of the King’s Guard whom I loved so much.
What would’ve happened if Amaranth was not invaded? Would Duncan and I be married now? How different could my life have been? Would I have all these visions, still? Maybe not... For those visions started when I met the evil King of Ivaris.
He was the one who turned my life upside down. It’s because of him that I’m like this. It’s because of him that I nearly died. And when that wasn’t enough, he set about opening my wounds as thanks for saving his life.
Well... No more.
That won’t happen anymore for I’m getting the hell out of here. No matter what happens, I’ll escape or I’ll die trying.
I stood up and looked around the room for anything I could use to get out the window. My room was only in the second floor so I don’t need a long length of rope. I checked the sheets but they were too short. I checked every nook and cranny of the room but there was nothing to use.
I gave up and then just pulled my chair towards the balcony. The sun was setting and it cast a reddish glow on the horizon. I sighed and then looked to my right. Vines crept across the wall and I saw a purple orchid on one of the crevices on the wall.
That’s it! I tugged on the thick vines near the balcony and they seemed to be strong enough to hold my weight! Escape may not be so hopeless after all!
I ran towards the door and rang for a maid. I asked the maid to bring me assorted cakes and some bread and cheese. I said that I was really hungry and that she better bring lots of food. Then, as I was waiting, I packed a change of clothes and grabbed my wool cloak. It would provide much needed warmth on the cold nights. I also changed my slippers into sturdy, fur-lined boots and changed my gown into a clean shirt and breeches.
The maid returned and knocked on the door. I didn’t allow her to enter the room and just grabbed the food from her instead. I bundled the food using an old gown and then tied the gown around to make some sort of bag. Then I slung the bag over my arm.
I must make my escape now. I can make it far ahead before the effect of the salve wore off. I felt no pain now and that’s great because I doubt I could climb down the wall with my back and arms burning from intense pain.
I stepped over the balcony and took a deep breath. Then I grabbed the nearest vine and tested my weight on it again. The vines were thick, as thick as my arm and they could hold my weight. Silently and slowly, I climbed down.
A few steps later, I was exhausted and my arms were aching from carrying my weight. I gritted my teeth.
I must not fail. I must not surrender. I could escape and find my way back to Amaranth. Maybe Duncan’s there and maybe he’s looking for me. We could start all over again.
I pushed myself to the limits and climbed down. I did not look down for I was afraid of heights. I took slow, measured steps. Then my feet hit solid ground and I almost jumped and danced with joy!
I crouched low over the bushes and walked towards the courtyard. Good thing it was dark and I was able to hide in the shadows. Guards were scattered everywhere and I was afraid of being caught. Then I saw a basket near the bushes and it gave me the perfect opportunity for a disguise.
I went to the stables and grabbed one horse. Then I mounted and headed towards the gate with the basket held on my arm. The guards on the gate stopped me and looked at me. I kept the head of my cloak low and the guards looked at the way I’m dressed.
“Where are you off to, lad?” the guard asked.
“Market. Errand from the cook.” I replied changing the pitch of my voice to keep the illusion that I was a boy. My heart beat furiously inside my chest at the thought of being caught but then the guard just patted the rump of my horse and it broke off into a trot.
I sighed in relief and when the castle was no longer visible, I spread my arms and laughed with glee.
I cherished the feeling of the cold wind on my cheeks and then urged the horse into a faster gallop. The horse obliged and feeling a bit daring, I let go of the reigns and then spread my hand outwards.
This is it!
Finally I’m free! I rode hard and fast until there was still a bit of sun in the sky. Then when the darkness crept in, I looked for a suitable campsite. I found a small cavern and placed my things there. There was a small stream near the cave and I led the horse towards it to drink. While the horse drank, I splashed some water on my face and refilled my water canteen. Then I went towards the cave and tied the horse to a nearby tree.
I gathered some sticks for firewood and then tried to start a fire. I kept on rubbing the sticks until my fingers were raw but still I was not able to manage to get a fire started. I tried harder but still there was no fire. I sighed and then gave up.
I opened my pack and nibbled on some bread and cheese. Then I huddled in the far corner of the cave, away from the harsh wind and pulled my cloak closer to conserve my body heat. The night was so cold and I found myself shivering. I tucked my knees on my chest and tried to relax but it was getting more and more difficult since my back started throbbing again.
I closed my eyes and willed myself to sleep before the pain came back fully. In a few minutes, I was able to sleep but I woke up frequently during the night because of the pain and the cold.
March 18, 1645
The Walled City of Arcadia, Capital of Ivaris
-King Seth Liam Ivaris XV-
The festival was at its highest and everyone was gathered at the meadow. They wore brightly colored clothing and masks as they twirled and danced underneath the stars. The stars were bright and numerous in the sky tonight and dozens of torches were lit, illuminating the dancers as their bodies undulated.
A statue of the goddess the people worshipped, the one whose festival they are celebrating tonight, stood in the middle of the meadow and the women danced around it. It was a stone idol of a woman with large breast and wide childbearing hips. Her stomach bulged outwards and her hands were curled protectively around it. I smiled at how the idol looked. Hmm. Definitely it was far from the real thing. Nothing can compare to a goddess.
My eyes scanned the gathering for a familiar face and my heart skipped a beat the moment I saw her. She was wearing a silver gown which made her skin shine. She looked like one of the stars: bright and glowing. A smile lit her face when she saw me and she walked straight towards me.
She’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. And she’s mine.
My heart skipped a beat at the thought and then beat a furious rhythm when she laid her hand on my arm. The skin tingled at the contact. “I’ve been waiting for you, Aiken.” She whispered playfully and then she stood on the tips of her toes and dropped a kiss on my cheek.
“I thought you’d miss the festival.” She said with a pout and I lowered my head and kissed the stubborn pout away.
“I know how important this is to you. I’d never miss it.” I replied and another smile lit her entire face. She gave me another kiss, this time on the lips. Her lips hovered over mine in a chaste kiss but I pulled her closer to my body and dipped my tongue inside her mouth to taste her honeyed-sweetness.
She moaned and I deepened the kiss even further. My hands roamed down and I felt her nipples harden beneath my fingers. I heard her sharp intake of breath and then felt her fingers on my chest as she gently pushed me away.
“Aiken!” she laughed. “Stop it! I have to go to the festival! I’m important, you know.” she chastised and then wiggled her eyebrows at me. I took one step away from her and did a gallant bow.
“Sorry for keeping you, milady.” I said with a smile. She looked at me with a twinkle in her eye and then walked away. Before she was too far away, she looked back at me and then mouthed ‘Later’ and I threw back my head and laughed.
The women in the festival began to chant and hum. I noticed there weren’t any men so I went towards one of the trees and hid there. I watched as Selene took her place in the middle of the circle, near the statue. The women’s chants became louder and louder and Selene smiled and raised her hands. She looked even more beautiful and radiant and it was as if she outshone the stars tonight.
The drums beat faster in a heavy rhythm and Selene clasped her hands above her head. She placed one foot in front of the other and then began to move her hips seductively. Blood surged to a certain part of me which now pulsed and throbbed underneath my breeches. The women around Selene also started to dance and their bodies undulated in the dim light once more.
They continued to chant and moan and their dance was so seductive and provocative. But I had eyes for only one woman. And she was the best dancer of them all. Her body moved with grace and ease. She made dancing look easy and her body glistened with her sweat making her look more beautiful, more seductive, more desirable.
I licked my lips as she raised her hands and arched her back, her breasts thrust upwards. My hands itched to hold them and feel their weight on my palm.
That was Selene’s promise and I can’t wait for the festival to be over so we could be together. I’ve missed her so much and I’ve not seen her for a long time because of the wars I’ve fought. I looked at Selene again and this time the drums slowed.
Selene had her eyes closed and her hands were roaming over her body as she moved her hips slowly. She touched her neck and then her hands went down to her breasts, further down to her waist and then back up again until she settled them over her head. Dammit. I controlled myself for I wanted to be the one to do those things. I wanted my hands to be the one to touch her.
The drums picked up the pace once more and they beat a rhythm even faster than before. The women danced to its beat and Selene moved her feet and twirled in time with the pounding of the drums. The rhythm picked up speed and became faster and faster until the women were panting to catch their breaths. But not Selene. No, not Selene. She never missed a single beat and she still moved with grace. Her arms were swaying as she moved her feet faster and danced around the stone.
Then suddenly the drums stopped and Selene opened her eyes. They were golden now and I felt a sensuous energy in the air. She raised her hands above her head once more as she uttered some words of blessing. Then, I felt the air hum with desire.
The women cheered and laughter rang across the meadow. Then they went towards the statue and paid homage to the goddess. They placed flowers and offerings on the stone idol and then they bowed. I could hear their giggles as they walked back to the village.
Selene was smiling as she walked towards me and she seemed even more radiant. I took her hand and clasped it in mine.
“What happens now?” I asked her and pointed towards the women. “They are going back to their village, to the waiting arms of their husbands and lovers.” Her tongue shot out and licked her lips. My eyes were drawn to the movement and I wanted to lower my head and kiss her and then take her right there on the grass, beneath the night sky.
“...Then they are going to make love until dawn, until their lust is sated... And then they are going to pray that their goddess would grant their wish for a child.”
I raised my eyebrows at her and she stepped into my arms and placed her head on my chest.
“And will the goddess grant their wish?” I asked.
“Yes... Of course.” She replied and her eyes gleamed with mischief. “Now... I believe we have our own celebrating to do.” She said as she pulled me down on the grass and kissed me as if her life depended on it.
“Wake up, man!” a voice shouted and then someone slapped my shoulder. I groaned and then covered my ears for the man was speaking so loudly it felt as if my head would burst.
“You drank two bottles of whisky?!” the voice said again.
“Shh! My head’s about to burst from your screaming.” I said and then groaned again when the world tilted after I lifted my head.
“Pull yourself together!” then suddenly there was a loud splash and I was drenched in freezing water. I sprang up instantly and then glared at the offender.
“Malcolm, if you weren’t my friend, I swear you’d be dead now!” I bellowed. That tone would’ve sent my army running... But not Malcolm for we’ve known each other our entire lives.
I looked outside and it was still dawn. “What?!” I asked as I grabbed a towel and dried my face. My head hurt from drinking too much and my muscles felt as if they weighed a ton.
“We’ve got a problem.” Malcolm replied.
“Go straight to the point!” I commanded and Malcolm flinched.
"WHAAAAT!?!” I shouted. Malcolm took one step back.
“How could she be missing? She has a guard on her door! There are guards outside the castle! Ravenswood is a fortress!”
“Her guard said that she didn’t exit using the door. She must’ve climbed out the balcony. We’ve already searched the entire castle for her but she’s nowhere to be found.” Malcolm explained.
“What about the guards outside the wall?” I asked.
“They said that they didn’t see a girl go out. The only one who went out was a boy who said that he was going to market. He went out at sunset yesterday and hasn’t returned yet.”
“I’d bet my entire kingdom that it’s her. That little fool! She’s injured! And she’s all alone in Glenn Forest where there are wolves, bandits!” I ranted as I gathered my weapons. I quickly changed into warmer clothes. I strapped the two claymores behind my back and then placed some daggers on my belt.
“Saddle, my horse. Quickly!” I instructed as I tugged on my boots. The footman outside my door bowed and then ran towards the stables. “Should I alert the men?” Malcolm asked.
I shook my head. “No. I’ll find her. She won’t make it far.” I said and then strode outside and quickly mounted my horse as soon as they’ve saddled him. Then I rode fast towards Glenn Forest.
The foolish woman didn’t even cover her tracks! She really made it easy for me. I just hope that I would be the first to find her and not some rogues or thieves, and most certainly not wolves. Terror gripped me at the thought of what could happen to her so I spurred my horse faster.
Dawn broke and I gave up on sleep. My back was hurting so much and it was so cold that my teeth chattered. I retrieved some oat cakes from my bag and ate quietly as I watched the sun rise.
Where should I go now? I don’t really know the way towards Amaranth. I’m so stupid; I didn’t even take a map with me. I could get lost in this vast forest but I guess that’s a better fate than staying with that evil King.
I sighed and then packed my things. Maybe I could head east. I’d just follow the direction where the sun rose. I’d encounter a village sooner or later and then I could ask directions there. I took care of my needs on the stream and then I was off again on my journey.
After a few minutes of riding, I felt a tingle in my neck. It was as if someone was watching me. I also noticed that the entire forest grew still. It was as if the animals sensed the danger and they all went away.
I should move as far away as possible too. “Yah!” I shouted to the horse and dug my knees into its flanks to spur it on a run. Before the horse could run, a man jumped down from the tree and grabbed the reins of my horse.
A tug of war ensued between us but he was stronger. I almost fell down from the horse so I just let go of the reins and held on to the horse’s neck. I urged it to go to the left and sidestep the man but more men jumped down from the trees and startled to circle us.
“Where are you off to so early, lad?” the first man asked me and then he drew his sword. I remained silent and patted the horse’s neck to soothe him. The horse was bucking wildly now and I feared that he would unseat me. I looked around and saw that there were about thirty men who were now surrounding us. Judging from their clothes, they were mercenaries; hired soldiers.
The man raised his sword and used it to draw back my hood. The hood fell back and my hair was unbound from its confines and tumbled down my back. I heard the men’s sharp intake of breath as they looked at me.
“We’ve got a beautiful one! I take her first!” the man in front of me shouted and the others grumbled. “Bah! You’ll have your turn but I’ll have her first!”
“No!” I shouted and then urged the horse to run again but they effectively blocked my path. I felt a hand on my leg and then a sharp tug and I fell off the horse and into the ground. “No use fighting, lass.”
“Help! Anyone!” I screamed but the men just laughed.
“Who’s going to hear you? The squirrels?” their leader said in a mock squeaky voice and then they all laughed once more.
“Or maybe she thinks the wolves will help her.” Another interjected and they all guffawed.
“No! Please don’t!“I pleaded as the leader kneeled on the ground before me and began to touch my legs then my arms. He placed his hands on the neck of my shirt and then tugged and the fabric ripped in two. I felt the cold air on my chest and I struggled to cover myself.
“No need to be covering up something that beautiful.” The leader said as he settled himself over me.
“Please no!” I screamed. Rough, callused hands mauled my breasts and I struggled to fight but he was just too heavy. His lips were near my cheek and I could smell the man’s putrid breath.
“Nooooooo!” I shouted and the men laughed again. The leader’s hand went up and covered my mouth as he molested me. I felt him tug on my breeches and I struggled and bucked hard to get him off me.
I felt his hard member near my legs and I struggled again. The men just laughed at me. I felt a blade pressed on my throat and I ceased struggling. I just closed my eyes and waited for the inevitable.
“Trust him... He’ll come for us...” said the voice inside my head.
Suddenly, I heard loud hoof beats and the weight above me vanished. I opened my eyes and saw the man flying in the air as the rider of the horse tossed him. The black horse looked so magnificent and so did the rider who was now withdrawing the two claymores strapped in his back.
The mercenaries responded by drawing their swords too. “Look lads. Someone thinks he can be a hero to this damsel in distress.” One of the men said. They leered at my savior who backed up towards me and leant me an arm.
I accepted his help and rose upright. “Hide.” The man said and he turned to look at me. Grey-eyes filled with murderous rage met mine. He was the last man I wanted to see yet now that he’s here, his presence was such a welcome relief that my knees almost crumbled. I looked around and the King was clearly outnumbered. We’ll both die here and it’s all my fault.
I lowered my head. “I’m sorry.” I whispered and the king’s grey eyes softened. He leaned towards me and I was so surprised at the brief touch of his lips on mine. “Hide. Now.” He commanded and pointed towards the trees. He gave me a light shove and I ran for the trees.
The mercenaries closed around the king in a tight circle. They wore smiles on their faces but the King looked calm and collected. He had both his claymores in his hand and he looked as if he was waiting for a move from the mercenaries.
Two of them jumped towards him with their swords raised. I saw a flash of silver followed by a streak of red and then the sound of two thumps as two heads bounced down on the ground. “You’ll pay for that!” one of the men shouted and they all rushed towards the King at the same time.
‘Oh gods, no. Please don’t let him die. Protect him from this.’ I prayed.
I saw the King crouch low with his swords extended at his side. When the men attacked him, he stood up then pivoted. A man staggered back with his hands on his stomach. Then he fell to the floor on his knees and his hands fell. I saw the man’s guts spill to the floor. Three more met the same fate.
Now there were loud sounds of steel against steel as the King fought the men. “Behind you!” I shouted. There was a man behind the king with a raised dagger. The moment I shouted. The king ducked and the instead of the dagger being embedded on his back, it was not embedded on one of the mercenaries’ head.
“You wouldn’t laugh when you see him on the battlefield wielding that claymore of his. That I guarantee you.”
I remembered the healer’s words to me and truly she was right. The King was a sight to behold in the battlefield. He was vastly outnumbered yet he fought his way through without even a scratch.
He held his claymores like it was an extension of his body. He moved with lethal grace. He was fighting yet it seemed as if he was engaged in a deathly dance. He jumped, parried, ducked and attacked and men fell before his blade.
He was now covered in blood yet I know that none of it was his. Only three men remained now and they looked so scared. One even pissed his pants in fear. “Mercy!” they shouted. The King walked towards them and then raised his claymore.
“The Butcher shows no mercy.” He replied in a rough voice and then swung his sword once more. I closed my eyes at the carnage yet when I opened them again, none was standing. The leader, who the King tossed like a small piece of rock, was now desperately trying to crawl away. I saw that his legs were bent at an odd angle and he must’ve broken them when he landed.
The King slowly walked towards him with an aura of murder and menace. “No! Please! Spare me!” the man begged. “Would you have spared her?” the king asked in a gruff tone and before I could blink, his claymore was lodged in the man’s chest.
The King walked back towards his horse and he resheathed his weapons at his back. The two claymores were crossed behind his back and he looked every inch the warrior. A part of me was deathly mad at him but another part was relieved that he came when he did. Right now, I did not know what to do. Should I thank him or should I stick his own dagger in his chest for what he did to me? Should I try to run away again? What if I meet another set of bandits and this time he doesn’t come to save me?
“I told you he’d come... Aiken never fails to protect what’s his.” Selene whispered to me.