by AJ Marks
Part 15: A Lucky Civil War
Gwen looked at the sunlight stream into the room. It had taken some time for Zoe to fall asleep. She took the loss of her mother hard. Gwen recalled the loss of her own parents and how hard that had been. Her position at the time made it even worse, due to her position in the Royal Family.
Gwen softly stroked Zoe’s back. Her mind drifted to everything that happened last night. So many new questions, especially considering the fact that the King seemed to have left the town along with his son, Derek.
Movement from Zoe refocused her attention back down, watching the girl wake up, slightly confused at first. She looked down into green eyes, waiting for what might happen next. Zoe snuggled closer giving Gwen a squeeze before finally loosening her hold.
“It’s not fair,” Zoe finally said. “I just found my mother, and that happened. I am unlucky personally.”
“No you’re not,” Gwen said firmly, watching the green eyes look up at her, in pain. “You were lucky to have even met your mom, many orphans never do. She never stopped loving you.”
“She gave me up,” Zoe said, in a small strained voice.
“And did you ask her about that?” Gwen asked, softly rubbing Zoe’s back.
“Yeah,” Zoe replied. “Said she didn’t want her bad luck to affect me.”
“She say anything about your father?”
“He was killed before I was born, she said it was due to her bad luck.”
“When she gave you up, she didn’t know you’d have good luck. She wanted what any parent wanted for their child, happiness. And she felt your best opportunity to know happiness was to not know her,” Gwen said, not fully understanding that, but in her brief conversation with the woman, she felt that’s what the woman did. “She told me she never stopped thinking about you.”
Gwen waited for a second, but a knock on the door interrupted any reply. Glancing at the door and then back at Zoe she waited until they knocked again.
“Are you up empress?” a person’s voice said. Gwen frowned at the name wondering where that came from.
Getting out of the bed, wrapping a sheet around her and went to the door, yanking it open to see a member of the Royal Guard standing there. He looked slack-jawed at her, probably due to her appearance. She watched as he looked from her to the bed, where Zoe lay.
“Who are you calling empress?” Gwen asked, getting his attention back on her and not Zoe. “Because I am not the empress.”
“Yes, you’ve said that once already,” Gwen said, her patience running out with the man.
“C-Captain Renold wishes to meet w-with you,” the guard finally managed to squeak out.
“Fine,” Gwen stated, knowing the quicker she talked to him, the quicker she could dismiss such thoughts of her being empress. “Where?”
“The t-tavern across the street.”
“Tell him I’ll be down in a few minutes,” Gwen said, closing the door before he could say anything else.
She walked back into the room looking at Zoe, who had a strange look on her face, along with a smile. She felt glad to see the smile, but also unnerved at it. What was the girl thinking?
Gwen walked into the tavern feeling everyone look her way. She focused on Renold, and walked right to him, sitting down as he watched in silence.
“Don’t call me that,” Gwen said, cutting him off. “I’m not the Empress.”
“Regardless, the king and prince abandoned the palace last night, we have no working government,” Renold said quietly, leaning forward to not be overheard much. “We need someone to assume the royal title before things break down.”
“Find someone else,” Gwen said, feeling Zoe’s hand on her shoulder. “I don’t want it, never have.”
She stood and walked out before Renold could say anything else. Standing outside for a few seconds she looked at the bustle of the street, already wishing for a smaller crowd.
“I see you’re up,” Valerie said, walking up to her. “Heard about what happened last night, how is Zoe?”
“She’s as good as can be expected,” Gwen said, looking on as the woman walked over to her.
“Heard a few other things as well,” Valerie said in a whisper.
Gwen mentally prepared for a verbal sparring between her and Valerie. “What about?”
“That the king and prince fled the town that thought disturbs me,” Valerie said, surprising Gwen.
“What do you mean?” Gwen asked.
“Why did they flee? Isn’t this their capital, their base of power? The rumors are racing through the streets that they killed the queen. Fleeing only makes the rumors appear to be true. And by fleeing their seat of power, does it mean they have concentrated their power in another spot?” Valerie said.
Gwen gave it some thought. Her cousin had never been one to abandon anything. Valerie had a point, why did he leave? His power should be here. Zoe walked up to them, and Gwen heard Valerie strike up a conversation. She ignored it trying to figure out what might be going on. The bigger question, did she care enough to get involved. The last two years she spent trying to hide her past.
“How about breakfast, my treat,” Valerie said, breaking Gwen out of her musings.
“Sounds great,” Zoe replied, steering Gwen away from the tavern and towards another eating area.
She walked into a high-class area, watching as the servers glanced their way, looking her and Zoe over. Gwen guessed her leathers were not the typical clothing to such a place. She spotted Lori and Dennis already sitting down, looking on.
“Lori, how are you?” Zoe asked, seeing Valerie’s latgic.
“Fine, but how are you?” Lori asked, rising to give Zoe a hug.
“Hurts,” Zoe replied honestly, getting a sympathetic look from Lori.
“I never knew my parents,” Lori said. “So I envy you a bit.”
Gwen sat down next to Zoe, who sat next to Lori hoping the conversation would help Zoe out. Gwen held her hand, as Zoe talked, hoping the contact helped her out. Valerie ordered some food for them all. The group’s conversation went around to their parents, and Valerie knew her mom, who was living comfortably thanks to Valerie’s business, and now knew her dad. Denyse knew her father, but lost her mother to her birth. She had been born into slavery.
Gwen shrugged, as they looked over at her. “What’s to say, I knew my parents, until they died three years ago,” she told them, recalling something one of the bounty hunters said, that their death might have been planned. Had Derek done so much planning?
“Things are pretty tense, how long are we to remain?” Denyse asked, looking over at Valerie.
“Well, we have rescued the damsel in distress, what do you say Gwen?” Valerie said, looking over at her.
She felt Zoe looking at her waiting for the answer. “Guess soon, don’t want to stay around too long.”
“Thought so,” Valerie said, her tone a bit flat but nothing else, even as Zoe continued to stare at her. She could not look back, knowing the disappointment she would see reflected in the eyes.
Their food arrived, and she selected a biscuit and some fruit quietly eating, though feeling slightly guilty due to Zoe’s stare. However, Gwen knew she was not leadership material. The people would not trust her, and they could find someone better than her. She ate in silence letting the conversation go over her before they made their way back to the inn with the agreement they would leave in an hour. Zoe was not pleased as she packed up, not saying anything to her.
“I’ll be right back, going to check on the horses,” Gwen said, not able to take the silence, unable to face Zoe.
Once in the lobby she noticed the innkeeper along with a few others, heavily armed people, who seemed to be watching the events outside. She took a look and walked out into the streets, feeling the tension in the groups of people walking quickly to their destinations. It made her only more determined to leave as quickly as possible.
Passing by every group she heard rumors of what was going on, people anxious about the latest gossip. Feeling a group of fighters coming she quickly reached the stables, seeing the owner looking outside as two groups met outside.
“Things going downhill faster than a spit wheel on grease,” the stable owner said, looking outside at the two groups.
Gwen said nothing but looked at the horses, seeing that they were ready to go.
“Leaving eh, can’t blame you one bit,” the man said, giving a nervous glance outside. “Power vacuums, never a good thing for us common folk, eh?”
Gwen did not reply, not wishing to get sucked into the conversation. It was best for everyone involved if she left the town.
“You’ll want to be quick though, heard the other three empires are massing for an invasion, plan to split us up between them,” he said. “Part of some plan of theirs or something like that.”
Gwen turned hearing the group now fighting outside the stable.
“Hey you lot, get outta here if you’re gonna do that,” the owner said, swinging a metal pole at them as he raced towards them.
“You shouldn’t’ve done that old man,” a young punk said, a knife in his hand.
Gwen found herself torn, she had to get out, but she could not allow this to happen in front of her. Stepping forward she allowed her fighting power to come forth, knowing that several of them felt it due to the fact they stopped their fighting.
“Get lost before I get mad,” Gwen growled. One group ran away, but one of the others stepped forward.
“I’d be careful which side you choose, that is if you want to live,” he said, reminding Gwen a lot of Stephos. “When I take over, well, you’ll wish you were on my side.”
With that he left, taking a last look at the stable owner. She recognized the look before heading back into the stable.
“Bad things, bad times ahead,” he said. “Time for me to pack up and leave before war breaks out.”
Gwen paused for a second then continued placing the saddles on the horses. Things were going from bad to worse. She thought about it all, reminding herself that there was nothing she could do about it. She almost believed it.
Gwen steeled herself at the door to her room, prepared to face Zoe. Walking into the room she looked around, seeing their stuff packed, and Zoe curled up on the bed. Quickly walking over she sat down, hesitating for a second before reaching out to stroke Zoe’s hair, watching as she turned over.
“So, we’re really running away?” Zoe finally asked, her eyes red from crying.
“I’m not leadership material,” Gwen replied, hearing Zoe snort.
“You rescued me, helped out two families at war, a kid, Valerie, and a town which needed help,” Zoe said. “You have the skills.”
“I just did what had to be done,” Gwen said, repeating her mantra again.
“Running away will only cause more death, I don’t want that,” Zoe said, her green eyes pleading with Gwen.
“I’m not a hero, or a leader, I can’t do that stuff,” Gwen said. “I’ve been on my own for too long now.”
“You are a hero, and a leader, and you’re not alone in this,” Zoe said, her hand closing around Gwen’s. “People need you now.”
“I-I just can’t,” Gwen finally said, hoping Zoe would drop it. Thankfully the girl did, but she had a feeling her lover was not finished with this conversation.
They quickly headed down to Valerie’s room, where she was waiting.
“Let’s go, if we’re going we need to get out of here quick,” Valerie said.
“Yeah,” Ottis said, his presence surprised Gwen. He moved over to Zoe. “I took care of your mother’s body.” He said gently. Gwen watched as Zoe held back some tears, but nodded her thanks.
“Let’s get going,” Gwen said, surprised to see Brice and Zeltran at the entrance to the inn.
“Not you two as well,” Gwen said, her group kept getting bigger.
“We’re not staying around with everything deteriorating like it is,” Brice said, causing Gwen to groan. She would not feel guilty for this. Instead she motioned for them to get moving and headed towards the stable.
She spotted a group of youngsters, looking more like thugs, running towards one of the buildings. Outside the building she saw an elderly couple pleading with the group and knew what was going to happen. One of the thugs tossed something on fire into the house. The couple screamed at the group, and tried to get back in.
Gwen found herself running forward even before she thought about it, striking the leader of the thugs shocking them all.
“You bitch, stay outta my way or you’ll find the same thing happening to you,” he said, picking himself up off the street.
“You ass, you’re going to burn down the entire city,” Gwen said, watching his stupefied expression along with the others. “Do you not see the buildings are all connected?”
She groaned watching as they looked up and realized the entire block was connected.
“My house!” one of the thugs said, suddenly moving into the building. “It’s on fire, come on, help me.”
Gwen watched as the group suddenly wilted as the leader glared at her one last time before running off with a few thugs.
“You, head over to the water supply, get others to help, perhaps we can find a water mage, but get some water to fight the fire, go, now!” she said, watching as they took off.
The others with her already moved, Ottis heading inside to check the fire, the older couple also going in. Gwen moved in quickly seeing a few pieces of furniture on fire.
She watched as Ottis tossed a piece of furniture on fire through the door and into the street. They now had a few pockets of fire, which they quickly started to beat down. It seemed like forever before a bucket of water was tossed on the flames, then another. She then felt it raining inside the room and turned to see a man standing there, his arms outstretched chanting slightly, a water mage.
She walked outside seeing Zoe and a few others standing there. “You found a water mage,” Gwen stated looking at Zoe.
“He was nearby, and looked like a mage,” Zoe replied, giving a slight shrug.
“Things are only going to get worse,” Brice said. “We better get moving.”
Gwen watched them start to move towards the stables again, but remained still. Thinking about everything that could happen, things she might be able to prevent. She did not want this responsibility, but she reasoned with herself she could temporally take charge until someone else was placed in permanent charge.
She saw Zoe stop when the girl realized Gwen was not with them, followed by a few others until they were all looking at her strangely. She looked at Zoe, seeing a spark of something in her eyes.
“I must be crazy, cause what I’m about to do is insane,” Gwen finally said.
“What?” Brice asked.
“I’m not going,” Gwen said, turning to head towards the palace. “I’ve got some sort of stupid sense of honor.”
“No, you’re a good person,” Zoe said, catching up to her, placing her arm in hers and leaning in slightly to her.
“I think you’re biased.”
“So, that’s a good thing.”
She made her way through the streets, which were both quiet and uneasy, as if something would happen at any second. She felt the fear from the citizens, who watched as she passed, not fear of her, but of the situation.
She turned slightly to see the rest of the group following her. She raised an eyebrow at them wondering why they were following her.
“I can help you,” Ottis said.
Gwen thought about that for a second, before realizing he was right. Neither Brice nor Zeltran said anything, and she suspected they would never say. Valerie merely shrugged.
“Safer in groups,” she said, sounding very logical.
Continuing she met one of the palace guards, who stopped her.
“Can’t let anyone in,” he said, standing to bar her entrance.
“Inform Captain Renold that Gwen is here,” she said, hoping to use a commanding voice.
He faltered slightly, looking at her, then back at the palace. She noticed Renold walking towards her, and the relief of the guard’s face. He looked at her, then at the others waiting. The silence stretched on until she finally decided to do something.
“Round up the royal guard, and gather the palace guards as well, we have a lot of work to do,” she told him.
“Of course Empress,” he said, smiling a bit.
“Don’t call me that,” Gwen said, looking back at him.
“As you wish,” he replied, giving a slight bow much to Gwen’s annoyance. She looked down at Zoe, who smiled back at her. It would be a rough day.
Gwen looked at the gathered guards, and Royal Guards. They were looking strangely at her, unable to figure out if her plan.
“All right, we have a city ready to erupt in chaos, first order of operation, regain order in the city. Captains, draw up sections to patrol, and send troops there,” Gwen said. “We have to show the population there is a running government.”
“Why should we listen to you?” one of the guards said.
“Fool, that’s the king’s niece, Ruth,” Renold said sharply. “Be respectful, she’s of royal blood.”
The tone of Renold and the fact of who she was caused a few of the guards to pale.
“But, isn’t she the one responsible for the Queen’s death?”
“Idiot, have you not listened to anything this morning?” Renold said.
“Enough,” Gwen said, stopping him from anything else. “We have a city erupting into chaos, it’s your duty to prevent that, right?”
Gwen stepped right up to one of the ones who had questioned her. She wanted to remind him of where his loyalties should lay. He nervously shook his head in agreement.
“Good, begin your work, we don’t need the city burning down,” Gwen said. “Place water mages around the city with some of the Royal Guards. Last bit, Ottis take charge of the guards.”
“What about the palace?” Renold asked.
“I’ll be helping, and if we act fast, things will calm down quickly,” Gwen said. “Get going.”
She turned motioning for Ottis to come over along with Renold.
“Ottis, gather the captains, and get to work on the patrols at once, the quicker they get out in public view the better. Renold, the royal guard will work with the guards, we need to be working as one team, not fractured,” Gwen said to him. He looked at her for a second before acknowledging her.
They both went back to their men as Gwen made her way back inside the palace where several servants and aides were lined up watching her. She realized the amount of work needed now. With a brief glance at Zoe, who seemed to understand, she made her way with several aides to a meeting room, surprised when Valerie stayed with her.
“You’re not leaving?” Gwen asked her.
“Nope, have a good feeling staying with you,” Valerie said.
“All right, but don’t blame me if you’re bored,” Gwen finally said, heading into the meeting.
Gwen left the meeting room feeling a bit better, though now she had to meet with the nobles, who were concerned about the recent events. She felt relieved that Valerie decided to attend. She made some very wise suggestions, but then she also made such decisions in her business.
“Any way you can help with the nobles?” Gwen asked.
“Don’t think so, they’ll be looking for reassurances that the economy is stable, and for leadership, otherwise they’ll want to take over,” Valerie said, something Gwen already thought of.
“Thought so,” she said, seeing Zoe walking towards her along with Dawn.
“Staying out of trouble?” Gwen asked, giving Zoe a hug which she returned.
“Yeah,” she replied, her tone indicating something wrong. Gwen stood there being supportive as Zoe cried a bit before stepping back. “S-Sorry, you have an entire empire crumbling and I go and do that,” she said, wiping her eyes.
“Its natural, you lost a very important person to you,” Gwen said. “I can take a timeout for you whenever you need it. If you say we leave, we leave.”
Gwen looked down into green eyes knowing she said something right. Maybe she’d understand this love thing after all. A lot of work, but the reward seemed worth it.
“Go on and meet the nobles,” Zoe said, giving her a push.
“All right,” Gwen said, bending down and giving Zoe a kiss before heading off.
Ottis stood waiting nearby so she detoured despite the protests of the advisor, Tinis. Walking up to him he looked at her then at Tinis still protesting.
“What’s up?” Gwen asked, ignoring Tinis and focusing on Ottis.
“Thought you might like to know, the patrols are up, and things appear to be calming down,” he told her. “But I worry about where the king went.”
Gwen thought about that for a second. True, the king and prince left, but she also knew there was an army mobilized not far away. If they decided to attack, things could get messy.
“Send word to Celia, tell her to mobilize the men, we might need them, and see if you can get Brice to send out a few of his men to patrol the outer areas for the military,” Gwen stated.
“I can do that,” Ottis said, turning to carry out the orders as Gwen turned back to Tinis and headed off to meet the nobles. Things were going to get messy real soon. She made a mental note to gather up the remaining generals and see where their loyalty lay. A fight was coming and she appeared to be in the middle of it.
Entering the room she spotted several richly dressed men and women, who looked up at her entrance. Some frowned, probably due to her dress, she still wore her leathers and had yet to change. Perhaps it would project an image of power. Sitting down at the head of the room she waited to see what any of them might say.
“So what is the situation out there?” one asked.
“I saw several gangs robbing and beating people up, this isn’t good for business,” a woman said, speaking up. “I’m in fear for my life, or worse.”
Several agreed and began talking at once. Gwen rubbed her forehead trying to think of a diplomatic way to get them to shut up. Finally she stood pushing the chair over.
“Now that I have your attention, patrols are going around getting things under control, both the guards and the Royal Guard are helping out,” Gwen said to them. “Second, things are not all okay. We have a king and prince who went back to an army waiting for them, and I would not be surprised if they turn around and come back here to attack the city.”
The idea of the city being invaded by their own army seemed ridiculous.
“Are you trying to take over?” one asked.
“No, trying to save your hides,” Gwen replied back at him.
“Or perhaps, he’ll invade because you’re here,” a woman said.
“I don’t care, if you want suffering, I’ll leave. If you want that uncertainty in the streets costing you profits, I’ll gladly leave. Make up your mind,” Gwen growled at them. She would not help ungrateful people.
“We know about what happened Ruth, you killed the queen.”
“No, I didn’t, and it appears I was set up for that, along with many things,” Gwen said. “Though why I still don’t know.”
“Are we supposed to believe that?”
“I heard a different version last night and not the one we’re used to hearing, and from the prince himself,” another man said, speaking up. Gwen looked over unsure if she was relieved that someone overheard it all.
She watched as the nobles seem to separate in groups glaring at each other. So the nobles were not united. She might be able to use that to her advantage.
“You can argue amongst yourselves, but there is a threat to the empire, if not from the king and his son then other nations which are watching, looking for weakness,” Gwen said. “And if they invade, you’ll be wiped out first.”
She knew they understood that part, and looked back at her.
“And if the king controls the army, what army will you use?”
“The rebellion’s,” Gwen answered truthfully.
“Only if we don’t act together, it’ll be hard, but we can do it,” Gwen said. “After which we can look at setting up a real government.”
That seemed to interest some of them, and Gwen would have to watch them carefully. They were the ones who were looking to gain power over all others. She recognized a few of them.
“So, you are not taking over then?” another one asked. Gwen thought about it, stating the truth to this group could be dangerous. They had the money and power.
“We’ll see, for now I am,” Gwen said finally, going against her usual comments. “We have work to do.”
With that she stood and walked back out, knowing they were probably not satisfied. She had a battle to plan for, and an unknown enemy someone out there, either with the king or some other group.
“Empress,” an aide asked, causing her to look over at a young woman hurrying up to her.
“Yes,” Gwen said, ignoring the ‘empress’ part.
“The generals have replied to your questions,” she said, handing a stack of papers.
“Thank you,” Gwen said, heading to a table to read them. There were ten general of the empire, most controlling the boundaries between the empires. She wanted them to remain on duty, and increase patrols. They reported they would, but were cautious about what was going on internally.
Only one did not reply, and Gwen assumed he was the only loyal to the king. Two others were openly hostile in their assessment of her taking over the government, and three supported her. The other four were indifferent and cautious.
Drumming her fingers she thought about what to do next. Finally making a decision, she quickly wrote back to one with what she wanted him to do. Giving it to the aide, who quickly went off to send the note off.
Stretching Gwen wondered what the rest of the day would be like.
Gwen looked up seeing Zoe walk into the room and over to her.
“You haven’t eaten,” Zoe said.
“What time is it?” Gwen asked, having been going over reports all day.
“Too late,” Zoe replied, turning a bit as Dawn walked in carrying a tray of food.
“Thanks,” Gwen said to her, watching the girl blush, bow and then quickly exit. “She’s still working here?”
“She says she’s my personal servant,” Zoe said, shrugging her shoulders. “She does a good job.”
“She has a crush,” Gwen said teasing Zoe.
“Yeah, on you,” Zoe said.
“I was talking about you,” Gwen replied, wondering who was correct. Instead of dwelling too much on it, she grabbed a bit of the sandwich realizing how hungry she was. She finished off the first before looking over at Zoe. “Did you eat?”
“Yeah,” Zoe replied.
“And how are you doing?” Gwen asked, taking a moment to focus her attention on Zoe.
“As good as expected, I mean I didn’t know her that well,” Zoe said.
“But it still hurts to have her ripped away like that,” Gwen said. “She told me that she didn’t want your life tainted by her magic.”
Gwen recalled when her own parents passed away. The emotional pain that caused. To want a parent all your life, only to find one and then taken away.
“There’s still a lot to do,” Zoe said.
Gwen pulled Zoe onto her lap, content to hold the girl for a few seconds. “Say the word and we walk away,” Gwen said to her. “I walked away from this life once, I have no problems doing it again.”
“People are depending on you this time,” Zoe replied.
“Don’t care, the only one I care about is in my lap,” Gwen replied back to her. She watched Zoe struggle with the weight of her words. Sitting in silence Gwen felt comfortable cuddling Zoe. True, a lot of people were depending on her, but at this moment she meant what she said.
“So, when are you coming to bed?” Zoe finally asked after several minutes of silence.
“I’m sure I can be persuaded, especially if it’s by a green-eyed, blonde,” Gwen stated, tickling the side of Zoe, earning a small squeal of protest.
Instead of backing down, Zoe went on the attack, and Gwen found herself in an unexpected battle. Their laughter echoed in the room even as they ended up on the floor facing each other, hands up looking for an opening.
“You’ve been studying,” Gwen stated.
“You, yes,” Zoe replied, catching Gwen off guard.
Zoe used that moment to launch herself at Gwen, knocking her over and ending up with Zoe on top of her.
“Now what?” Gwen asked, with her arms pinned above her. Sure she could easily buck Zoe off, but she wanted to know what the girl had planned.
For an answer, Zoe leaned down and kissed her. Gwen recognized the wanting and hunger in the kiss, and returned it. Flipping them over, she reversed their positions, and looked down into green eyes.
“Let’s continue this somewhere more private,” Gwen whispered, standing up and pulling Zoe with her.
Zoe didn’t argue, and quickly led them to their bedroom.
Gwen looked over the field, Ottis was training the guards, and the Royal Guards were participating as well. So much had changed in the past couple of days. Renold made his way over the moment he spotted her walking towards them.
“Morning empress,” he said to her, getting a glare from her.
“How are things?” Gwen asked.
“Things are doing better, we have a full day, and scouts out looking for any sign of an approaching army,” he said. “Brice came by this morning, said he had not seen anything.”
Gwen listened to the report, but it seemed like nothing much had changed. She felt sure her uncle and cousin had reached the army they had waiting. Now she had to wonder if they were marching on the town yet or not.
“How’s the training coming?” she asked.
“Doing good, never thought we’d work so well with them,” Renold said. “However, I don’t trust that Ottis fella.”
“He’s not from here, but he’s saved my life at least once,” Gwen said, watching Renold look on. “Was hit by a dart by someone who wanted to harm me and Zoe, he was nearby and helped out. Probably saved us both, so he has my confidence.”
Renold looked thoughtful, but unconvinced. Gwen knew it was because of Ottis’ background.
“He was a soldier in the Imperial army, you know that, right?” Renold said.
“Yeah,” Gwen replied, already knowing that. “It’s why he’s in charge of the guards. He was an instructor.”
Renold looked back at Ottis, then at Gwen. She looked up seeing someone approach, and had to think who it was before recognizing Jack.
“Another strange one,” Renold said.
Gwen ignored the captain and looked on as Jack walked up to her. “Reporting in, the army is in position waiting for your orders,” he told her.
“Good, any information about the army my uncle is leading?” Gwen asked, refusing to call him king anymore.
“No ma’am,” Jack said, even as Brice walked up to her.
“This just came in,” Brice said to her, handing her a piece of paper. She quickly scanned through report of an army heading towards the capital. She quickly walked back inside and to the maps checking the location. The others followed her looking down at the information as well.
“He’s plotting to expose the weakness of the capital’s defenses,” Renold said. “Even with the increased numbers, we can’t hold them outside of the city.”
“Then we ride to meet him,” Gwen said logically. “Gather the royal guard and have them meet up with the army, send a message to General Eric, he should be here.”
“Yes ma’am,” Renold said, snapping his fingers as a couple of wind mages came into the room. They quickly received the orders and where to go and ran off.
“I’ll get back and inform the army as well,” Jack said.
“Good, we’ll move to meet my uncle, here,” Gwen said, pointing to a spot on the map.
“You sure, not a great location,” Renold said.
“No, but one place they would never expect, which give us the advantage,” Gwen said.
“Strategy?” Renold asked.
“Simple, the Fifth army will attack from the front, the Royal guard from the sides and the rebel army from behind,” Gwen said.
“Not a full frontal assault?” Renold asked.
“No, the real targets are my uncle and cousin. Take them out and the leadership falls. Once that happens hopefully they surrender avoiding needless bloodshed,” Gwen said to him.
“A wise decision, especially considering the other news I’ve heard,” Brice said, as she turned to look at him. “The Imperial Army is massing along our borders.”
“They sense weakness,” Gwen said, now knowing they had to move quickly. “Tell everyone to move out, the capital guards will remain here to protect the city. Brice, do any of your bounty hunters feel like doing some mercenary work?”
“What type of work?” he asked.
“Harassment of the enemy, specifically the Imperial army,” Gwen said.
“Perhaps, there are a few who dislike the Imperials,” Brice said, thinking about it for a few seconds.
“Good, but they only have to do anything if the Imperials cross the border. They don’t have to attack them, but sabotage their supplies, or random hit and runs, anything to demoralize and slow them down,” Gwen said.
“I think I can find a few who are willing,” he said, then walked out.
“You sure about that?” Renold asked.
“If they attack, we’ll need time to reorganize after the battle. I’ve learned a few men can do great harm to an army. They will look for traps, slowing them down, giving us time,” Gwen stated. “Now, I just have to fight the toughest battle.”
“Your uncle?” Renold asked.
“No, my lover,” Gwen replied, knowing that convincing Zoe to remain behind would be extremely difficult. She looked over seeing a puzzled look on Renold’s face. Dismissing it she went in search of Zoe, eventually finding her talking to Tinis.
“Gwen,” Zoe said, happy to see her.
“What trouble are you causing?” Gwen asked.
“None,” Zoe replied, causing Gwen to look at her, then over at Tinis. “Honest. You get information about your uncle’s army?”
“Yeah, and we’re moving out, I’m taking command of the Fifth army,” Gwen said.
“When do we leave?” Zoe asked.
“You are staying here,” Gwen said, watching the green eyes flash and she geared up to argue.
“Empress, if you leave, who will be in charge?” Tinis asked, giving Gwen a sudden idea.
“Zoe will be,” Gwen replied shocking them both.
“What!” they both exclaimed.
“It’s perfect, she has been learning from you for a while, with you guiding her she’ll do just fine for a short term until I return,” Gwen said.
“But she’s not royalty,” Tinis said.
“She is my lover, and can be my queen,” Gwen said, clearly indicating what their future might hold. The admission left both Zoe and Tinis speechless. “Now, I have some battle plans to go over.”
With that Gwen left leaving two stunned people behind her.
Gwen walked into the bedroom after a long day. She had been out among the troops assessing their readiness. However, all that left her mind as she looked at the bed, seeing Zoe sitting on her side, looking back at her.
“Done playing soldier?” she asked.
“Well, I guess so,” Gwen said, taking off the leather armor, feeling hands wraparound her. “What about you, playing ruler yet?”
“That was a sneaky think to say,” Zoe said. Gwen felt her bury her head into the middle of her back. “I’m not a ruler, I have no idea what I’d be doing.”
“And I’m different how?” Gwen asked, turning in the embrace to face Zoe. “I never had any training either. I was expected to take over the head of the Royal Guard one day.”
“That’s more experience than I have,” Zoe replied.
“Not much, never got past training,” Gwen replied. “In fact, I learned quite a bit as a bounty hunter.”
They were silent for a couple of minutes, content to be in each other’s arms, until Gwen’s stomach growled. Zoe chuckled looking up at Gwen.
“Had lunch, but was quite active this afternoon,” Gwen replied.
“Well, go take a bath, and I’ll get you something to eat,” Zoe said, to her, pushing her towards the bathing chamber.
“You say I stink?” Gwen asked, watching Zoe ponder the question for a few seconds.
Before Gwen could reply Zoe had left the room. Shaking her head at the action she turned back to the bathing chamber, seeing a bath had been drawn and waiting for her. Testing the water, it was warm and quickly stripped down and climbed in.
She thought back to the conversation, and the previous conversation. She mentioned it as a spur of the moment, but realized now she meant every word. If she did rule, she would want Zoe as her queen. She briefly thought about how her life might be as ruler with Zoe by her side. She pushed those thoughts aside, for tonight, she’d focus on Zoe, and then, the upcoming battle.
End part 15