Fantastical Page 98

I highly doubted Perdita needing to discuss the week’s menus (which we’d agreed two days ago) was what sent Algernon off to get me. If Perdita needed me, she usually waited until I got home if I wasn’t home already.

Therefore, I wasted no time, turned instantly to take my son from Clarabelle, lifting my hand so Aggie could perch on my shoulder.

Confirming Blanche’s announcement, a loud banging could be heard from downstairs with a shouted, “Princess Cora! Your prince requires you at the castle immediately!”

Algernon.

And it was Tor who needed me.

Hells bells. What was happening?

Clarabelle lifted Hayden to me, I took him from her and he fussed in his sleep for about two seconds as the transfer was made before he settled.

My baby was a good baby, quiet and content most of the time, he let it be known in a weirdly commanding way when he was hungry or wanted to be changed (he got this from his father, I decided). But mostly he was happy to take in his surroundings, although, that said, there was a weirdness about that too considering, since birth, not kidding, he was alert, almost watchful, as if he could see, sense and process all that was going on around him.

Like I said, it was weird but still, it was cool.

I tucked him close to me, bent quickly to kiss Clarabelle’s cheek, murmuring words of farewell, and then straightened and hustled toward Blanche to whom I did the same thing.

Then Hayden, Aggie and I shuffled around Blanche and her son who were moving out of our way so we could quickly leave the room. I headed down the stairs, seeing my personal guard, Geraint, standing at the side of the open door with Algernon in its frame.

Since before Hayden was born, my prince, taking no chances, decreed that if I left the castle and Tor wasn’t available then Geraint went with me.

Geraint was one of Tor’s warriors.

No, strike that, according to Tor, he was the best of Tor’s warriors, tall, broad, muscled, dark blond hair, light brown eyes and entirely forbidding. When I met him, he looked so ferocious, so capable of being all things warrior, I was thinking he would not like his new duties of looking after a woman and child.

I was wrong.

Sure, he wasn’t talkative. He also wasn’t friendly (at all). He was broody and intense.

But he took his responsibilities seriously. He was guarding the future queen and the future (future) king of the realm. This was serious business and he communicated that in every action, every move, every tilt of his head or glide of his gaze. I never saw him when he was not fully armed (that was to say, sword at his back, daggers at both sides of his waist and another knife shoved into the side of his right boot). And I never saw him looking tired, distracted or bored.

Never.

Including now.

“Is anything wrong?” I asked when I was halfway down the stairs.

“We need to get you to your prince,” Algernon answered, his eyes glued to me and mine went to Geraint.

“Geraint?” I called when I got to the bottom of the steps.

“Swift,” he growled.

Geraint, by the way, didn’t do anything but growl and when he did it was usually monosyllabic words. Sometimes he’d string two or three monosyllabic words together but this was rare.

I did not know why he wasn’t very communicative but, considering the amount of time I spent with him, I had attempted to coax this information out of him then, when that didn’t work, pry it out of him. That also didn’t work so I gave up on him and asked Tor.

Tor’s response was slightly more informative but not by much.

“War is war, sweets, and most things that need to be done during war for any soldier are not enjoyable,” he explained then his eyes held mine and I saw his were somber when he went on. “And then there are things that need to be done during war by some soldiers that are even less enjoyable. Geraint was my warrior who did those things.”

I decided, after getting this explanation, that I didn’t need further information.

Therefore, as I did whenever Geraint deigned to speak (or, more accurately, growl), I did what I was told.

I hastened out the door and saw that Algernon was not alone. There was a small guard (if twenty could be considered small) and this did not give me a good feeling since I had never, not once, had a guard of any number except one (Geraint). My feeling got worse when they moved instantly to flank me all around, Geraint taking point, Algernon walking close to my side.

I did not quibble. Instead, with the guard, my son and I moved swiftly up the cobbled streets to the castle, through the gates and I sucked in breath and pulled my sleeping son even closer to my chest as I saw what I saw filling the vast courtyard of my home.

Soldiers…

No.

Warriors.

Hundreds of them. All on horses. All with long, black hair plaited or bunched down their backs, wearing pants made of hides, shirts made of hides, swords at a slant at their backs, knives at their belts, boots on their feet, their dark eyes, fierce brown-skinned faces and immensely huge and muscular bodies all on obvious alert.

They looked like a tribe of giant Native Americans without the feathers and such.

And I knew instantly they were Korwahk.

What the heck?

We had, of course, sent several missives to Circe but we had also not had any communication in return. And nothing we said in our letters would lead to a squadron of gorgeous but frightening warriors taking up the courtyard.

As my gaze moved from the Korwahk, I saw standing on the steps to the castle a motley crew of about a dozen men wearing shirts, breeches, boots and they were also armed. Motley they might have been but they were also all handsome and well-built, just rough around the edges. They, too, were obviously on alert.

And lastly, there was a phalanx of about fifty soldiers opposite the Korwahk. These men were mounted and looked to be from Hawkvale except the colors of the Vale (as well as Bellebryn) were blue and green and those soldiers were wearing red and gold which meant they were from somewhere else.

I quit looking around as Geraint led the way to the steps. I held Hayden close, my guard peeled off and Algernon guided me up the steps to the top where Tor was striding out the front door.

My heart settled at seeing him then skipped at the look on his handsome face.

Yes, if the guard didn’t say it and the courtyard filled with warriors didn’t say it, Tor’s face said it.

Something was wrong.

“Your grace,” Algernon muttered, being far more formal than usual, likely due to the huge audience he had, before he dipped his chin respectfully, lifted his hand silently for Aggie to hop on (and Aggie, clearly feeling the vibe, did this without even a chirp) and then Algernon fell back soundlessly.

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