King Wolfric Eberhand is enraged. His secret weapon—the one that will win him this war once and for all—has escaped, nearly killing his eldest son in the process. Now he must find a new way to destroy the Dothans.
Princess Bethany Kavadh, youngest daughter of the royal family of Dothan, is finally free. After spending months as a slave in King Wolfric’s home, and then later as his son’s fiancé, Bethany has escaped. Now, with the help of her rescuer Sir Erin Caldry, all she has to do is cross the great peninsula to return to the safety of her family.
Sir Erin Caldry has spent his life groveling to King Wolfric in the hopes of saving his sister, but when he learns that she doesn’t want to be saved, he finds himself without a purpose. Through a series of unfortunate events, Sir Caldry finds himself on the chopping block. Rather than be executed, Sir Caldry escapes, taking the captured princess with him.
Little did they realize, their journey to Dothan will be fraught with danger. Will Bethany find her way home? Will Sir Caldry find a new purpose? Or will they both become forever Lost?
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Cal cringed as the manacles clinked against the stone wall of his cell, pausing a second to make sure no one had noticed. Most likely the other prisoners were too far gone with fatigue and malnutrition to notice a little extra noise, and the guard lying on the floor of his cell was truly unconscious. Cal bent down and checked to make sure the man was still breathing.
He was but, though this was good, it wouldn’t save him from the punishment coming his way. When the authorities discovered that the unlucky guard had let the prisoners escape, he would likely be beheaded, or at least put in the stocks.
Cal stooped to search the guard’s pockets. He didn’t find much, but he did take the man’s sword and dagger. His own superior weapons had been confiscated, of course, when King Wolfric had found him dragging the captive, Princess Bethany Kavadh, from the burning wreckage of the weapons depot.
Princess Bethany was the daughter of Wolfric’s enemy, the last king to stand against him on the enormous peninsula. She had come to Wolfric’s household as a slave after being captured during an ambush by slavers on her caravan. After many months of slavery her true identity had been discovered and, up until a few hours ago, she had been engaged to the heir apparent, Prince Féderic, in a scheme to bring down the Kavadh family from within.
But the rebellious woman, who couldn’t appreciate what fate had brought her, had ruined it all, and taken Cal down with her. She had set the weapons depot on fire and was stupid enough to stay and watch her work. Wolfric and Féderic had arrived at the scene of the crime just as Cal pulled her out of the burning building, and they had jumped to the conclusion that Cal had been involved in the offense.
Hence the prison cell.
Cal strapped the sword to his side, double checking the binding of the belt to be sure it wouldn’t fall from his hip as he made his escape. He slipped out of the cell and silently crept down the long row of cells toward the half-opened door leading into the small quarters where the guards slept and ate.
He paused at the door, listening to the soft snores of the other guard. Wolfric kept two guards on duty at any given time, but the guards often took turns sleeping, especially during the night shift. As Cal had expected, the second guard was fast asleep and unaware of the silent mayhem occurring in his prison. Like the man lying in Cal’s cell, this guard would likely receive a severe punishment for letting the prisoners get away.
Cal slipped into the dimly lit room and tiptoed toward the other door, which opened up to a tiny landing at the bottom of a narrow stairwell. Cal climbed the stairs, taking them two at a time, and emerged into the dark bailey. There wasn’t a sound from any of the darkened corners. All the castle’s residents were fast asleep.
The knight set out in the direction of the stables, determined to get out of the castle as soon as possible. By now every member of the castle would know that Sir Erin Caldry had been sent to the dungeon and sentenced to death, along with the princess. Wolfric seemed to think that they were lovers. In reality, Cal hated Bethany just like he hated all nobility. They were all the same—out to steal the lands and wealth of those beneath them, to take the purity of any woman they fancied.
Cal knew. He had experienced it himself as a young lad when Wolfric’s army rolled through his Domhain home, killing his parents, and enslaving both him and his sister. If it hadn’t been for the accident that put it in Cal’s power to save the king, he would still be a slave. Instead, the king freed him and gave him to a knight as a squire. Cal wasn’t grateful to the king for freeing him. It didn’t make up for enslaving him in the first place, and it definitely didn’t make up for turning his sister into a whore.
He had finally tracked his sister down and earned enough money to buy her freedom, only to discover that she was now the mistress of a local lord and perfectly content to remain as she was.
Cal ground his teeth together as he crossed the bailey when his feet stopped on their own accord.
If he left, what would become of the princess?
I don’t care, he told himself firmly as he forced his feet to move again.
He made it three steps before the disturbing thoughts returned. Cal knew what was happening to Bethany now. Prince Féderic had come to the dungeon and taken her away for the night. “To have their wedding night before she’s beheaded,” he had said to Cal as he had hoisted her limp body to his shoulder.
How many times had Cal’s sister, Catrina, endure the same treatment? How many times had her masters forced themselves on her to make her what she had become?
Whatever the princess’ faults and crimes, she didn’t deserve this treatment. No one did.
Cal swallowed the frustration making its way up from his gut before turning back to the castle. He may die for the choice he had just made, but it was better than living a long life with the guilt of leaving a woman behind to be raped and beheaded. Besides, his escape would be more likely to succeed if he had a few provisions.
Cal slipped back into the castle, using a narrow door which led directly to a set of stairs that wound up to the highest levels. He ran up them as fast as he could, his breath coming in gasps by the time he reached the top-most level of the castle where his quarters were. He stole down the hallway and into his room where he scooped up a spare cloak and flung in over his shoulders before kneeling beside his bed and digging amongst the numerous boxes and chests. He found the small one he wanted tucked behind a trunk of seldom-used summer clothing. He pulled the key out from its hiding place and quickly opened the chest. Mostly he stored documents in this chest, relating to his search for his sister, but he also kept a small bag of coins tucked under the papers.
His day-to-day life seldom required money, and, therefore, most of the wealth he had procured over the last decade or so of being a knight in the king’s good graces was kept with a banker in the city. He wouldn’t be able to get it now, but at least this little bag of gold would allow him to bribe the guards at the gates. He grabbed a few coins from the bag and hid them in his boot, letting them slide until they rested uncomfortably against his ankle.
Though he wanted to grab a few other items from his room, he didn’t know how long the guard would be unconscious. He didn’t have time to pack up silly memories. He had his chainmail on his back, and his own weapons were beyond his reach—likely stored in the king’s own chambers—what else did he actually need?
Cal hurried of his room and raced back to the narrow stairwell. Though the slaves often used it as the fastest way from one level to another, it was abandoned at this late hour. He reached the level where the royal family kept their chambers and entered the corridor. Unlike his own level, this hallway was brightly lit. It made it easier for the royal family to have “guests” in the middle of the night.
The knight slipped up to the corner and peered around the edge, happy to see that Prince Féderic had dismissed his guards; evidently, he didn’t want any more witnesses than necessary to his indiscretion. Wolfric would not be happy if he heard his son had taken a prisoner from the dungeon, whatever the reason.
Cal slipped up to the prince’s door and cringed as he heard the cries of the princess. In one swift motion, he slipped into the room and drew his borrowed sword. As he expected, he found Féderic on top of the princess, oblivious to Cal’s sudden entrance. Cal grabbed the prince by the hair, pulling him off his victim while his other hand brought the sword down onto Féderic’s back. The sword, while dull from improper care, opened the prince’s back until Cal thought he caught a glimpse of bone. Without immediate care, Féderic would bleed out within minutes.
Cal didn’t feel any remorse.
He glanced up to look at Bethany. The skirting of her dress was torn and her legs were bare to the world. He quickly pulled his gaze up to her face, which was red and streaked with rivers of tears that had made tracks across her temples toward her hair line. Her elaborate braids were mussed and half torn out. Cal spotted a quiver in her bottom lip and knew she was about to break.
“Come,” he ordered softly but firmly, hoping movement would keep her from falling apart. He couldn’t get them to safety if she didn’t hold it together.
Strangely enough, it had a different effect. The princess suddenly looked peaceful as she lowered her head onto the feather-down mattress and sighed. She was giving up, he realized.
“What’re you doing?” he demanded as he grabbed her shoulder and propelled her off the bed. He saw fresh tears begin to make new streaks down her cheeks, but he chose not to worry about how she perceived his rough treatment. He needed to keep them moving. He could apologize and coddle the princess once they were safe. “We have to run.”
She followed him, but he suspected her mind wasn’t in control. She moved like someone sleep walking.
At least she’s moving, he told himself as he poked his head out the door to make sure no one had heard the clamor.
The hallway was clear.
They scurried toward the slaver’s stairwell, but before they could make it, Cal glanced back to find Bethany leaning against the wall and staring at her hand. Her small fingers were covered in blood. It took him a second to realize where the blood had come from. The blood was the result of her recent trauma. It would heal with time. Cal pushed his focus to her face.
Her bottom lip was quivering again. He clapped a hand over her mouth and pressed her against the wall.
“Listen to me, Ann,” her ordered, using the name she had given when she was slave out of habit. “You are alive. The bleeding has stopped. Hold it together and we BOTH live.”
Cal was surprised to watch her nod mutely. He hadn’t expected his admonition to have any effect on her muddled brain. She was still crying, but she was doing it quietly. Cal took her arm and dragged her toward the stairwell. Seconds late they arrived in the bailey, near the stables. He hauled her to the stables and pushed her toward a corner.
“Stay here. If someone finds you, scream. As loud as you can,” he ordered.
He wasn’t sure if she would be able to handle being left alone for a few minutes, but it would be safer for her in the dark corner than in the stables where the workers slept.
He didn’t wait to see how she would respond, but slipped into the long building. He jogged to Éimhin’s stable, grabbing his saddle and bridle as he passed.
“Sorry, boy. Wish I had time to groom you,” he whispered to his horse, who nuzzled him affectionately. Cal saddled his horse in record time and led him out of the stable to the sound of the worker’s loud snores. On the way out, Cal grabbed an extra blanket.
Bethany was still hiding in the little corner. When she emerged, he draped the blanket over her shoulders before hoisting her up to Éimhin’s back. His war horse was one of the largest he had ever seen. There was no way she would manage the climb herself. At least, not in her current state.
Cal didn’t have the time or inclination to worry about her terror; he mounted his steady horse, wrapped an arm around her tense body, and urged Éimhin forward in the direction of the lesser-used back gate. At the gate, he spotted the single guard and tossed him the bag of coins.
Just as he expected, it was a guard known for taking bribes. The man didn’t even look up. Instead he flung open the iron gate, just large enough for a single horse, and closed it behind them. It was a long, dark journey to the other side. Wolfric’s castle walls were thick as well as tall.
A few minutes later, they emerged from the tunnel. Cal kicked his horse into a canter as they crossed the wide swath of land between the walls and the beginning of the city of Tolad.
As they entered the narrow streets, Cal breathed a sigh of relief.
They were through the worst.