We are coming close to the end of this book. If it were a paperback in your hands, I think you’d look at the pages held in your left hand compared to those in your right and moan knowing there’s only so much of this story left before it’s over. I know, sad! If you’ve somehow missed all the chapters leading up to this one (or haven’t read them with all the changes that have found their way into the manuscript), here they are listed in order to enjoy. Forever & a Thousand Times will only be on my blog and Wattpad until the entire book is complete and been through editing/final revision. After that, you’ll need to head to Amazon to enjoy it. But it’s free to read for now, so I hope you enjoy!
By Night We Run
They met no one in their mad dash, and it wasn’t until he pulled her into the rose conservatory that she realized where they were. She’d no idea of the time, only that most in the castle would be asleep or participating in Fortnight. The section of the castle where the royal family’s chambers were only housed Ismene, Othniel, and the king. The dowager queen mother had long since moved to her own tower of chambers for privacy. No one would be around to hear the scuffle.
“Where is Helein?”
Kendric’s abrupt demand distracted Ismene for only a brief second. “Not with me.”
“She’s safe, then.” A soft something like relief tinged his voice.
Ismene couldn’t make out Kendric’s features or his expression in the darkness of the room. “I-I don’t know. She refused to be a part of the games tonight.”
“I’d hoped—” Kendric pulled her away from the door. He lowered his voice. “She is your maid, after all.”
Ismene frowned, her breathing raspy from running. “She was supposed to be in the servant’s quarters, but do you think she is in danger because of me?”
“Possibly, but if she did not plan to participate, she may yet be safe.”
“We must keep her from harm. But we have to go back.” Her insistence was steeped in fear even she couldn’t deny.
“No, we cannot.”
Her chest heaved as she struggled to catch her breath. “We cannot leave Othniel.” She pulled against Kendric’s hand and wondered when she’d started thinking of Othniel by his name and not his title.
Kendric sighed, a heavy, frustrated rush of air. “We must,” he said in the midst of it. “It’s only a matter of time before they and every other man at Lady Grentich’s command come after us.”
Ismene yanked her hand free of Kendric’s. “You cannot stop me. Traitor.” Her voice trembled, contrary to the vehemence of her words. And even while saying them, she pictured that stubborn, idiot of a girl that always got her in trouble. She really shouldn’t listen to that girl. But this was Othniel, and that girl might be the only one who could save him tonight.
Kendric stepped between Ismene and the door, at the same time pulling the knife from her death-like grip. She spun to face him.
“I cannot allow you to do it, Ismene—My Lady.” His soft imploring tone nearly broke her resolve. “He made it very clear, and I have every intention of keeping you safe.”
“And so, you leave our sovereign to die?”
Kendric’s frown deepened, the bright light of the high moon illuminating his face through the canopy of windows above. “Is that all he is to you, Ismene?”
The continued softness of his voice—the unsaid question in it—struck her heart. He opened his mouth to speak again but shut it. Ismene knew deep down what he was really asking, but she could not think of that now.
After a few seconds staring contest where neither could read the other’s face, Ismene’s iron will won out, and Kendric stepped back with a frustrated huff of air and jammed his fingers through his hair.
“We cannot stay here any longer. They will have gone for help by now. All exits will be blocked if we don’t get out this minute.”
“I cannot let him die. I—” No. She couldn’t say it. The words choked her, and she’d never said them to the one who should hear them first. “What will this do to the kingdom?”
“Nothing good, but Othniel isn’t as helpless as you seem to think. And besides, it cannot be helped right now.”
Kendric reached for her hand, but she stepped back and pressed her palm to her abdomen. He’d said right now. What did that mean?
Kendric sighed again, more frustration shimmering off him in waves. “Would you believe me when I say that they will likely not kill him if you are not there, and I am not in their clutches?”
Ismene measured his words even when her mind told her time was short.
She stiffened at the bodiless third voice, her heart skipping a beat. Seemingly by instinct, Kendric stepped around, his back to Ismene and his sword drawn against the intruder within the rose garden.
“Bimala?” Ismene hesitated to move.
“Yes,” Bimala said, stepping out of the deeper shadows. Her open face illuminated by a small candle she slowly uncovered. The garden maid and the concerned look she wore were a welcome sight as far as Ismene was concerned.
“Put your sword away, sir. Bimala is no threat.”
“The prince trusts her, so I do also.”
Kendric slid his sword back in the sheath and said, “Lady Bimala, is there another way out of this room? I assumed a servant’s entrance, but . . .”
Bimala looked between the two of them, her furrowed brow deepening, its shadow more pronounced in the darkness. “I don’t understand.”
“It’s all right, Bimala, but we cannot explain now. Only . . . the king and prince are in danger.” Ismene paused as Bimala gasped. “And we need you to gather what servants you can. Only those you can trust.”
“Princess,” Kendric said, warning filling his voice, “no. You have no idea who can be trusted, and the longer we linger, the further risk we face. We must go.”
“You are in danger as well, Princess?” Bimala asked. “From who?”
“Many men, Lady,” Kendric said, stealing the air from Ismene’s would-be reply. “They wish the princess harm, and Prince Othniel wants your mistress safe.”
“Then you must heed his words, Princess.” Bimala’s matter-of-fact tone left no room for argument.
“I . . . all right. I will obey. But only for now. I need to think, and if you are speaking true, Lord Kendric, that Othniel is in more danger if we stay, then we must go. For . . . only for now.”
Bimala spun around and marched into the darkness. Kendric grasped Ismene’s hand again and pulled her toward the other end of the conservatory, following behind Bimala through the fragrant paths.
Memories of Ismene and Kendric’s first real encounter at the castle invaded her thoughts. She didn’t fully understand why she let him pull her away from Othniel, but she desperately wanted to believe the words he said, that keeping her distance would prolong his life. She’d no idea how to help him, and dying would not be the answer. If she stopped long enough to think it through, she might realize how thorough the danger of death was to her and the prince if she returned alone.
Bimala pulled open a hidden door to the servant’s entrance; it lay behind a decorative shelf of potted roses. Once through, they entered a long, thin empty hall with four doors along both sides and lit by two dim candles in wall scones. Bimala snuffed the lights as she passed, and Ismene imagined the act mirrored the course of this night with a darkness more sinister than the physical could explain.
“They say they will frame you for his death,” Kendric whispered once in the hall, “and then kill you to cover the evidence. They say they need my name and wealth as ‘future Lord Selin’ to maintain their hold, which I assume means a mercenary army that will enforce Almighty knows what. But if we are not present, they’ll be forced to halt their scheming and rethink. They will come looking for us, and that very act will stop them from moving forward. But time is limited.”
Ismene struggled to wrap her mind around his words. All she could picture was Kendric holding Othniel’s arm, keeping him from coming to her. She couldn’t see past her utter shock of discovering how Kendric secretly worked with Lady Grentich until that decisive moment. She could not grasp his motives for why he now risked his life to save hers and possibly prevent Othniel’s death. Why help the enemy then appear to change his mind?
“How long?” she asked. How long did they have? How long had Kendric been a traitor? How long had she loved her husband? How long until she lost everything?
They stopped at the end of the hall where another door stood closed before them. Bimala motioned for them to remain silent. They pressed to the wall, hiding in the shadow as she opened it and stepped out. Bimala disappeared around the door and Ismene held her breath. She should not be here with Kendric. She should be in that room, doing everything she could to help Othniel.
“If you’d stayed, you would be dead right now, and so would he,” Kendric said as if reading her thoughts.
Ismene shivered again, her skin prickling. She could see half his face illuminated by the light shining through the cracked door. Earnestness filled every line of his serious expression; she’d not recognized it before and decided to set aside her growing doubts. “How long? How long until they change this plan of theirs and murder him with or without me?”
“It’s already changed more than once. They’re devious.” Kendric turned away, looked to where Bimala had gone only a few seconds before. He slumped against the wall, his defenses temporarily down. “I—”
“Come,” Bimala whispered, her head leaned around the open door.
Bimala led them from corridor to room to corridor, always vigilant to check them before allowing Ismene and Kendric to proceed. They went this way until they exited into a paltry alleyway outside the keep but within the outer bailey. The overpowering stench of rotting matter and waste struck Ismene, and a blast of cold air blew through the folds of her beautiful, archaic-style gown that proved regrettably useless against the dropping autumn temperatures.
“I will gather who I can, Highness, and we will come to you,” Bimala said, sending furtive glances back within the hall.
“Get Helein,” Kendric said.
“Yes. Don’t let them hurt her.” Ismene’s urgency redoubled at the thought of Helein in danger because of her.
“We will be at the Four Feathers near the postern gate. Ask for Lillith.” Kendric grabbed Ismene’s hand, dragging her away.
Ismene allowed him to lead her, but she cast one last look back at Bimala who waved once and disappeared.
Ismene took a deep breath and jerked Kendric to a halt in the midst of the darkness. “Answer me.” The stench permeating the air reminded Ismene of death and choked her of breath for reasons beyond putrescence. “How long?”
Kendric huffed, his reluctance more than clear in the way he scrubbed his fingernails along his scalp before answering.
“Sunrise, Ismene. Whatever else happens, they will surely kill him at sunrise.”
Tap here for Chapter Fifteen (coming soon)
As always, comments are welcome, as well as suggestions, questions, and pointing out of typos at this stage! Thank you for reading my story!