Mission Impossible? I hope not. 🙂
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All the King’s Daughters – by Ashley
The last clod of earth fell into place at the edge of the mound, and three knights bent to smooth it with their own hands, their falling tears turning the dirt to mud.
Prince Konrad of Tholen’s mouth twisted in a sneer. What a ridiculous display of weakness. His knights wouldn’t cry over his grave. Crying was for children and women.
From the end of the mound, Prince Konrad cleared his throat, then spoke, raising his voice to be heard. “Sleep well, my dear brothers, Konner and Kurt, and my nephews Torsten and Esmond! May you wake in the arms of Christ! We will take care that our dear kingdom of Tholen until we join you. Men of Tholen!”
Konrad turned to the assembled knights, men-at-arms, and peasants. “Let us drink to their honor! They were the mildest of men and the gentlest, kindest to their people, brave, intelligent, humble, and courageous!” He lifted his drinking horn high, and as one, they drank the stale beer provided.
Then he dismissed them to finish the massive clearing of the battlefield. Konrad wiped his mouth as he ambled back to his tent.
Around him, smoke rose from smoldering grass and piles of burning enemy corpses, tingeing the blue sky grey and darkening the two moons to a red hue. Konrad’s living soldiers ranged the plain, busy at their post-battle tasks. The mass graves had already been dug and the dead placed inside, and the tall mounds of earth were almost finished. Squires attended to their knights’ horses, others gathered broken weapons to be melted down or repaired. Some soldiers guarded the prisoners of war, who would eventually be ransomed back to their people. Camp women tended to the injured and cooked.
Konrad grimaced as he approached his tent. How much his body ached! The last battle had lasted all day, and even at the rear flank he had been bruised and beaten. And then there had been that boy! What a stupid peasant!
Inside his tent, Azalea was waiting for him. “Poor thing,” she cooed, kissing him and stroking his beard. “You look weary. And smelly.”
“You’ve no idea, my sweet.” He groaned as he sat on a low stool and let her remove his boots.
“But now you’ll get to have so much fun, now that you’re the king!”
Konrad’s laugh came out as a bark. “You are right, my lark. I am the king. I only had to wait for my two elder brothers and both their sons to die in battle.”
Azalea winced. “I’m sorry, Kon. They were such nice people.”
“Nice to a fault. They never had any fun. Always off to church or helping with harvest or writing this or that.”
She clapped her hands. “Will we have lots of balls, now? Not any of those silly foreigners, though. I can’t understand a word they say. Except that foreign tailor. He makes lovely things.”
“We will see. I’ll get the army back up to snuff. We won and lost today. We won for now, but we lost a great deal. Soldiers need to be recruited. Taxes need collecting.”
“Ooh, can I have something pretty to wear?”
“Don’t you have enough, little girl?”
“Not as much as your wife.”
“Well, she is a princess. Queen. Ugh, she’ll be delighted.”
“Too bad she couldn’t have been here. She might have gotten in the way of a stray arrow or rock.”
Konrad automatically raised his hand to slap his mistress, but reconsidered when Azalea cringed away fearfully. “Don’t say those sort of things anymore. That’s treason that even I might not always forgive. She gave me my sons Godric and Leofsige.”
“I’m giving you a son, too!” She patted her four-month belly.
“Yes, but that one can’t be king. Huh. By the fates, Godric is heir! He’s always wanted that so badly. He tried to beat up his cousins several times. Got his back end handed to him, mostly. Well, now he’s got his wish.”
“Now, now, don’t put wrinkles on. You’ll be comfortable as you can wish.”
“So will Aelfgifu and Marietta and Luce.”
“Yes, they will have a little comfort, too. Be generous, as I am. All of you were once poor girls without anything. Why, Luce’s father wanted to send her into prostitution! I couldn’t let that happen, could I?”
Azalea shook her head, not looking at him. She, too, had been a penniless orphan facing a life in a nunnery or on the street when the prince had taken a liking to her and made her his mistress.
“Then we shall worry about that later. For now, I need to rest.” She helped him with the rest of his outer garments and tucked a light blanket around him on his pallet.
He must have slept for only a few hours when Azalea woke him up. “Kon, important people want to talk to you.”
Konrad stretched and rose from his pallet. Why couldn’t they let him rest?
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