“Your Guard can no longer be trusted; surely even you can understand that. Was it not a member of your own Guard who killed our dear king?” Sorin couldn’t hide his smugness at being able to deliver this news to the crowd. It seemed like everyone drew in a sharp breath at the same time. The crowd began to stir and murmurs of Levi’s absence could be heard.
“Where did you hear that lie?” Amira asked defiantly.
“Lie? Was it not your Guard Levi’s own weapon that killed our king? Where is Levi, by the way?”
Sorin posed his questions as if he were on a stage performing and repeating his lines. But who wrote the script? How did he have the details of the murder and Levi’s disappearance? The crowd was buying into his act and was becoming increasingly louder.
“The murderer has yet to be identified. As for my Guard’s whereabouts, that is not your concern,” Amira said with confidence, trying to convey a calm and strength she didn’t feel.
“It is all of our concern, Princess. Your safety is vital to us all,” he countered. Turning to address the crowd once again, he fairly shouted, “Our princess is in danger from her own Guard. This is unacceptable. While her loyalty is admirable, it is misplaced. Grief clouds her thinking. We cannot know how many of the Royal Guard were in involved in the murder of our dearest king. We must insist on the princess’s safety!”
Sorin had riled the crowd into a frenzy; people were now pushing and yelling. Pleas from the crowd could be heard, along with outrage at the Guard. Things were quickly getting out of hand.
“All right, quiet, please,” Amira addressed the crowd. “Please listen to me!” She had to raise her voice to get their attention; she wasn’t used to shouting, but it was vital that she gain their attention and find a way to calm them. After a couple of seconds, the crowd began to still.
“Arrest the Royal Guard!” Sorin commanded into the quiet before Amira could continue.
“No!” Amira screamed, finally pushing herself between Sorin’s soldiers and her Guard, much to their frustration and attempts to keep her surrounded. “No one touches my Guard!”
Beginning to feel exhausted and completely panicked, she struggled to find an amicable solution. Her people were grieving, making their reaction unpredictable. In addition, an altercation between her Guard and Sorin’s soldiers would only serve to antagonize them further. Even outnumbered, her Guard had a good chance at defeating the soldiers, but considering the circumstances, she couldn’t take that risk.
She took a deep breath and tried to sound reasonable and in control. “Sorin, for my people’s peace of mind, I will allow your soldiers’ protection for the time being. That will free my Guard for the more important task of bringing my father’s murderer to justice.”
She could hear her Guard’s anger and displeasure, but she ignored them, except to give a shake of her head as they once again approached trying to surround her.
She turned to address the crowd. “Levi and the rest of my Guard are not responsible for the death of the king and will not be treated as such or punished in any way.” She made sure her tone was commanding and clear.
Sorin nodded once to his soldiers to stand down. “Come along, Princess,” he commanded, completely ignoring her Guard now that he felt as if he had won.
“I will have a private word with my Guard before they are relieved of duty.”
“I don’t think…” Sorin began.
“That was not a request,” Amira snapped, completely out of patience. She pushed through the group, no one daring to get in her way, and took her Guard into a private chamber.
“No,” was Caeden’s immediate response as the door closed.
“You must,” she tried to sound firm, but her voice wavered. They all began to speak at once.
“We are loyal to you, Princess!”
“This is not acceptable.”
“We can take them all.”
And all sorts of angry grumbling could be heard.
“I know you are not responsible,” Amira began with complete confidence. “This is actually a good thing. Now you will have time to find Levi and clear his name.”
“Your safety comes first. Always,” Caeden said adamantly.
“Please,” she whispered to Caeden alone, looking into his eyes. She took his hand and continued softly. “I need your help. Find my father’s killer. This is important to me and if you aren’t wasting time babysitting me, you’ll have more time to devote to the search. Please, Caeden.”
He had never heard Amira beg for anything; it caused his guts to knot and pain to fill his chest. He was torn between wanting to bring her justice and not wanting to leave her side.
“I don’t trust Sorin or his men,” Caeden made one last objection.
“Neither do I, but since he has sworn to my safety in front of everyone, he cannot afford to let anything happen to me.” She hoped, at least. Amira knew her Guard was not pleased, but she could tell by their grim expressions they would do as she asked. When Caeden started to pull his hand from hers, she felt a stir of panic and tightened her grip. He met her eyes as she whispered, “Hurry back to me.”
“Always,” he vowed. Caeden leaned into Amira until their bodies were almost touching. He no longer cared if they were alone. “Amira…” he whispered, using her given name for the first time.
She couldn’t let him finish whatever he was going to say. “Please, Caeden. This is the only way. I can’t allow you to be imprisoned. I lied. I do need your help… I need you.”
Seeing her fight back the tears in her beautiful grey eyes filled him with an impotent rage and a deep ache in his chest; he felt damn near out of control. He took a deep breath to steady himself; losing control wouldn’t help her. He brought his forehead down to rest against hers and caressed her cheek gently with his calloused fingers, wiping away the single tear, which had finally fallen.
“When this is over, you and I are going to have another discussion about needs.” He kissed her lips softly. “I’ll make this right,” he swore to her, “then we’ll talk.”
She gave him a smile, which didn’t reach her eyes, and nodded to him. It nearly crushed him, but Caeden turned away from her, signaled to his men, and left her in the hands of another.
Amira’s legs collapsed from under her as the door clicked closed behind the last of her Guard. She had used all of her remaining energy standing up to Sorin and then pretending to be strong while sending her Guard away. She knew if they had any idea how weak she felt, she would never have been able to persuade them to leave her. She fell to her knees in despair. Feeling lost and alone, her tears flowed freely.
Find out what happens next for our Princess Amira and Caeden in Divine Merit; available now from Amazon!
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