Chapter 1: Elina
It was the pounding of the hooves, the heavy metal blade, and the smell of the dewy field at sunrise that made me truly feel alive. A grin played at my lips as the sword flipped in my hand. I felt the clash of the metal as my blade connected with Rowan’s. The horses passed each other, and I sat back, using my seat and legs to ask my gelding for a rollback. He did a perfect spin, and before Rowan could ask his horse for a turn I was back on him, my blade at his throat. He sheathed his sword, and pulled his helmet from his head. Sweat coated his forehead, causing his hair to stick out at funny angles.
I pull my own helmet off in return and flash a smile. “You need more control of your seat, your Majesty.” My blade slides into its holder, I click my horse forward, but in a matter of seconds Rowan has slid up next to me, and his hand grabs the back of my neck pulling my lips to his.
“I think I have pretty good control, Captain,” He release me, and I let out a huff.
“No, you don’t. You aren’t sitting back enough during the rollback. When you ask Onyx to rollback don’t use your hands. That’s not how I trained her, while using your outside leg, sit back and put your weight into whatever hip you’re asking for the roll on.” Rowan switched from teasing to serious in an instant. Once I was done explaining, he nodded.
“Okay, like this?”
We handed our horses off to Murry, their shod hooves hitting the ground in a noise that brought nothing but comfort to me.”Where to now, my Lord?” He rolls his eyes at his official title.
“A meeting with my parents, they want to discuss the war with the Tyrinians, a new battle broke out yesterday apparently.” I nod to myself, we head across the palace square. I turn to head to my quarters.
“I will see you in the Throne room?” I call out as I head up the private staircase to my room. I enter through the wooden door and kick it shut behind me. I hear a muffled grunt and turn my head.
“Sorry Anna, come on in.” My maid enters into the room, her pretty dark hair tied back in a simple braid. She smiles at me, carrying my coffee and breakfast on a tray, and I see where my banging of the door caught the tray. I frown. My biscuit got coffee on it.
“Yes Ma’am, you finished early in training today.” I nod at her as I pull my armor over my head. I get it to my shoulders and find myself stuck. I clear my throat and bend over, and Anna hurries to set the tray down and pull the heavy metal from my shoulders. I slide out of the rest of my clothes and into my uniform. It consists of black riding pants tucked into well oiled leather boots, and a maroon Captain’s jacket. Anna has precisely [laced all of my metals. She sits me down and runs a brush through my tangled blonde hair, and expertly braids my bangs back from my face before pinning the rest of my hair into a pristine bun on top of my head. I touch some oil to my dry lips, as she sprays a touch of perfume to my body before I pull my gloves on. Anna tightens my belt and puts my polished show sword onto my left hip. I straighten my shoulders and nod at her.
“Captain, you’re ready for battle.” I roll my eyes as she bows her head.
“I’d rather run my blade through twenty Tyrinians then go sit through yet another of King Henry’s boring-”
“Be careful my dear, you know they say He can hear everything said in the castle. I turn and see Rowan standing in my doorway. His tall frame takes up the majority of it. I roll my eyes at him as well. He just smiles and holds out a white gloved hand. He looks dashing in his uniform that matches mine in everything but the number of metals. I have him outdone in that since, but I don’t have the crown on my head. He has a simple band with red jewels perched on his dark locks of hair. I take his hand and we begin our walk down the stairs, leaving Anna with my dirty armor.
“So, I was thinking after our meeting, maybe you would have dinner with me tonight.” He says, and I can feel his green eyes on me. I shake my head.
“I would love that, but it may have to be later tonight because I have a meeting with the guard. We are going to be running through some new drills, and I have three new trainees vying for one spot. But if you’re still up by the time I am done, I’m sure I will be starving by then.”
“Sounds good. And tomorrow is the horse sale. Since we retired five of our horses last week I’m planning on going, and I would love to have an escort.” I snort at his week attempt to ask me out.
“You just know that I’m a better reader of confirmation that you are you pratt.” He chuckles low in his throat and we make it to the massive wooden doors of the throne room. Two sentinels open the doors for us.
We are a terrifying sight. Everyone in the realm of Aratonan and Tyrin knows us. The Crown Prince Rowan Amaury and his Captain of the Guard Elina Aglovale. We are a fierce combination, and a presence that few dare to mess with. We have trained together since birth. I was a ward of the state who had been taken on by the king. King Henry had found me in an outlying Aratonan village that he was saving from a Tyrinian raid and had taken pity upon me. He began to train me up, Rowan and I had made immediate friends. I had become one with the horses and the blade, and by the time I was sixteen, Rowan was an adult and had become crown prince while i became part of the guard. When we were on patrol, I had saved Rowan’s life, and almost lost my own. The Captain of the Guard at the time had been killed, and so King Henry named me the first female captain of the Guard. But Rowan and I had been in love for years before that. I saw the king and queen staring at us as we sat down. Rowan at the King’s right hand, me at Rowan’s left.
“Nice of you two to join us.” King Henry says. His voice is booming, and most may be intimidated by his broad frame and soldier appearance, but Rowan and I have grown up at this man’s side. He’s Rowan’s literal father, and closer to my father than anyone else I would ever know. We both just nod at the king in sync. “As I am sure you have heard, there was an attack on the lower east town of Hyral last night. We had a few soldiers present, and they ended the battle, but the problem is that they attacked in the first place. I have decided to dispatch a squadron to go out and see what exactly happened and to report it back to us immediately. Rowan, you and The Captain will lead the group. Ready yourselves to ride out at dawn, take your pick of six sentinels, Captain.” I stand, and bow nodding my head.
“Yes, your highness.” I leave swiftly, heading to my meeting with my guard. I pull a servant aside once I step outside of the throne room. “Grab Anna and tell her to prepare my battle gear.” The young lad bows and scampers off. In Aratonan we have servants, but no slaves. THey get fair wage, and are allowed to leave at any point they would wish. But anyone lucky enough to have a job in the palace would never be fool enough to quit.
My feet carry me down the concrete steps and outside into the fresh air. I cross the cobblestone courtyard and head around the side gates to the back of the palace. In the center of the elaborate garden Queen Elana had built is my yard. I grin at my sentinels. They are four full squadrons, each man hand picked from the army by me. Each one trained to perfection, and they are all loyal to the point of hanging. The stables are behind the square a bit farther, but close enough that I can hear the neighs, and it bring s simply comfort.
When my sentinels see me approaching they straighten up and stand at attention. “At ease.” I tell them and i slide my sword from its sheath. “Tomorrow at first dawn, The crown prince and I are setting out to Hyral to see exactly what sort of attack was made on the town. I have been instructed to pick six men to go with me. The rest shall stay here and train with Derrick.” The men all nod, and Derrick steps forward a bit. He is my second in command. An older man, one who easily could have been Captain but never wanted to be anything more than a guardian.
I pick out my six men, five of my most trusted men, and one newbie. I pull Marcus aside as I instruct the men to go attend their animals and take the rest of the afternoon off. I am not a short individual, but rather long and lean. I was built for smooth and quick motions, and although Marcus is younger than me, he towers over me. What he lacks in brains, he makes up for in stature.
“Tomorrow is your first assignment. I want you to prove yourself. You are still on the brink of not making the cut, if you do well tomorrow I will have you officially branded a sentinel. If I see anything short of stellar, that is it. I believe in you Marcus, do not let me down.” He simply nods, his blond hair falling in his eyes. I wave him off, and head towards the stables.
Of my own volition, I have taken over the role of trainer and overseer of the stables. I grew up without a real family, and surrounded myself by the beasts in the stables. I became so akin to their every thought and motion, that I feel more at home on their backs than on my own two feet. I enter the stables, the straw and smell immediately soothing my adrenaline.
I head over to the two stalls I know best. Both horses are Chargers. Bred for battle. They are the best of the best, although I pick nothing but perfect horses for my sentinels, these two were bred and raised for nothing but war. Well, nothing but war and to take Rowan and I on our picnics. Both horses and tall, and both are pure muscle. I place my hand on Reno’s nose.
Reno is my horse. Rowan and I believe he was built by a raging river. He has unmatched strength and stamina. He is more loyal than any sentinel. His black nose nudges at my hand and I oblige, taking my hand and scratching at his red coat. Then I look over at Onyx. She is a bit bigger than Reno, and although she almost matches his strength, he is built a bit nicer. Although Rowan would never agree. He really loves his mare. She has a sleek black coat, with a small white star in the center of the forehead. I grab a pitchfork and clean out both stalls, then toss fresh hay and water. After I grab a hard brush and run it over Reno’s coat. My finger finds the place on his neck that it always finds.
He was a young horse at the time. Still in training. I don’t consider a horse old enough for battle until they are seven and their brains calm down a bit, but Reno had flying colors. He was my favorite by far, and it was just supposed to be a simple patrol, but we had been ambushed by thieves. We were aught completely unaware, and we payed for it. The previous Captain of the Guard had been shot straight through the heart. I had been directly behind him in the lineup on Reno, and with the Captain down, Rowan was left in the open. THe ambush was coming from the left side of the dirt road. I had kicked Reno forward, and he had lunged, responding perfectly to my leg. The yelling of the sentinels and the clash of swords drowned out all other sounds.
Then I saw him. A man running straight towards us with his sword ready. Rowan was busy firing arrows back at the archers in the woods, and his eyes were elsewhere. The thief caught sight of Rowan and thought nothing of a young girl. I had kicked Reno forward, and as he lunged I threw myself onto the thief. I kicked us both to the ground, but in the fall I had lost my sword. I grabbed his hand holding his sword and pushed against him. He kicked his leg out, sending me straight onto my back and knocking the breath from my lungs. But I bucked around wildly, getting free and pushing him away before taking his sword to his body.
When I looked up the battle was ending, and Rowan had climbed from his mount to help me up. He frowned down at me and offered me his hand. I took it.
“You could’ve been killed.” His voice was grave.
“Well, I wasn’t” I said, a bit flustered. Rowan and I had an ongoing thing about my being part of the guard. Then we heard it. The familiar creaking of a bow had me snapping my head to look behind Rowan. I caught sight of the thief. And I was an idiot. I shoved Rowan straight down. The arrow caught me in the meat of my shoulder, dangerously close to my neck. It would’ve hit Rowan straight in the heart. I fell backwards and felt hands grabbing at me. The bow notched again. And my brave, stupid, sweet horse trotted over to me, and stood directly in the way of the arrow.
I trace my hand over the scar, then touch my own. Both of us had taken a long time to heal. Both of us had almost died. While I was sick with infection Rowan had nursed my amazing beast back to health. After I healed I received three things from the royal family for my deeds. The Queen gifted me my wonderful horse, and said it was only fair. The Kind promoted me to Captain of the Guard, saying such bravery was rare and needed. And Rowan gave me a lecture in stupidity, saying I was a complete fool. He also gave me a kiss.
“Thinking about all the fun times, I see.” I turn at the sound of his voice. His face is strained. As it always is when he thinks about two years ago.
“I love reminiscing.” Is my response as he steps into the stall and pulls me into a kiss.
“I love you.” Hem mumbles into my hair and I grin against his chest, reciprocating his statement. “You ready for tomorrow?” He asks as he steps over to Onyx and begins to brush her down.
“Absolutely, I’m going to head in early and get some rest.” I pull at the pins holding my hair in and allow the blond locks to fall down my back.
“Sounds like a plan. I’ll make sure all of our gear is ready, if you don’t mind doing me a favor.” I step out of Reno’s stall and in front of the door where Rowan is very seriously staring at me.
“What?” I ask, impatiently waiting for his request.
He takes a step closer to me, and looks down at me. His green eyes drive holes into my soul. “Stop being so beautiful. It’s distracting.” I give him a slap on the arm and a kiss on the lips before heading to my bedchambers to prepare myself for bed. I sigh in the quiet of being alone. Then Anna says hello and my chin drops to my neck.