Warrior’s Bride (Pt 9)

Chapter Nine
The guard on the other side stopped her, his bulk blocking her way as she came to a halt, her whole being needing to get away from Cadell. “Escort the princess to her uncle.” His authoritative voice behind her sounded unnerved and unmoved by what had just happened, Tialla still unable to look at him as the guard moved to the side to let her past.
By the time she reached the quarters she knew Harbin to be in, she had calmed down, the thudding of her heart now just a slight beating, her mind chastising herself for allowing Cadell to touch her, never mind… pushing the thought once more from her mind.
Harbin was delighted to see her, his look taking in the way she was now dressed, humour in his eyes. “You look much better than the last time I saw you”, his voice full of genuine warmth, his hand waving to indicate that she should sit. Gracefully, Tialla complied.
Once seated, Harbin’s look became more sombre, his eyes flicking to her finger, a wary smile on his face, she following his look.
“Why?” She had not needed to expand as her uncle regarded her thoughtfully before sighing softly, “Because it is best for you, best for this province and also best for my own.”
Tialla sat forward, a pleading look on her features. “This is not best uncle. The man is a beast. I beg you to withdraw your support… He has no wish to fight you…”
Harbin sat back, his head shaking. “Do not think that I gave my support without considerable thought Tialla. I had no choice”, holding his hand up to silence her as her mouth opened. “Please consider the situation my niece. If he leaves then Garel WILL attack. I had him checked out and the man has a reputation for brutality”, his look hardening. “The last city he marched into, he executed 1,000 people – men, women and children – just to stamp his authority.” Tialla gasped, her eyes widening with shock as her uncle continued. “If he remains then I will be forced to attack him, which will only weaken both of our forces and make both of us sitting targets for Garel. Of course I could sit back and do nothing. But then Garel will attack Leonardo and it will become a battlefield and result in thousands of deaths… Your people’s deaths.”
His voice softened. “So I was left with two choices. First, he remains in charge which leaves you as a deposed leader…and I support him, which I believed to be unacceptable, and not in the interest of your people. The second is for you to marry him, which will send a signal to Garel that he and I are allies. Even Garel would not take on two such powerful forces, and this will prevent a bloodbath.” She dropped her eyes as his hand gently covered hers. “There is another reason I favour the second option Tialla. I am a good judge of character…and I like him.”
She groaned as her eyes sought his. “He is a hostile occupier. He marched into my realm and imprisoned me and my people.”
Her uncle nodded. “And has he been brutal in his occupancy? No. He has shown great restraint and patience, his doctors ensuring that all those hurt in the attack receive medical assistance. He may be a warrior, but he is a good man also, one who will bring security to this province. He will make a good husband for you and by marrying him you will automatically become queen.”
She ran her hand across her brow, her hand shaking. “Only because he will be king.”
Tialla slumped back into her chair, the truth in his words filling her, her look defeated. “You know that he held a knife to my throat”, she muttered as her uncle laughed softly.
“I heard that you pulled a knife on him also.” Her lips twitched as the memory made her chuckle softly. “He asked for it.”
Harbin nodded, his look affectionate towards his charge. Taking a deep breath she sat taller, her look surer as she gave him a sad smile. “You are a wise man uncle.”
Harbin nodded softly. “I have lived a long life Tialla”, his voice gentle, “Give him a chance… I see great things for the two of you.”
Exhaling a long sigh, she stood, acceptance in her eyes. “Well it seems that I have little choice, but you obviously see something within him that I do not.” Her uncle gave a small laugh as he joined her, dropping a kiss on her cheek. Pulling back slightly, she gave him a smile. “Thank you for coming uncle… I dread to think what he might have done had you not intervened”, before she once more moved to the door, the guard escorting her back to her quarters.
While her ladies surrounded her the minute she re-entered her quarters, she sent them all away, the need to be alone swamping her. Sitting, she felt panic fill her. For years now she had successfully warded off all advances of marriage, her mouth curling bitterly. It had taken an act of aggression to force her hand, anger sitting deep within her belly.
Tracing her finger along her lips, she frowned at the memory of his kiss. Why had she reacted? She hated this man did she not? Her head affirmed her hatred, yet something deep inside seemed to hesitate. While she struggled to hold onto her justified hatred, she could not help but wonder about him.
As her uncle pointed out, his men had gone to great lengths to help those hurt or put out by the attack, she having heard stories of soldiers helping citizens to fix damage to homes, and other small acts of kindness. Shuddering, she wondered if the stories he told of Garel, a man till that day she had never heard of, were true. If so, then she should be even more thankful.
Kicking off her shoes, she growled, the memory of his hands on her once more sending the strangest bolt through her, she taking in a deep breathe. She had to shore up her defences against this man, she finding that his charmed assault was far more deadly than his actual invasion. Yes, Cadell of Karok was a force to be reckoned with, her eyes flashing as she tilted her chin up proudly. But then again, so was she.

{Next installment 1st March}