The Prince of the Rose
Chapter 8

Copyright© 2012 by R22CoolGuy

Aaron, Tanith, and Dana were up before dawn and back in the saddle before the sun had chased the shadows from the road. Unfortunately for them, Diana and Kalliste, their pursuers, had risen even earlier and were already on the road pushing their mounts hard. The gap was closing rapidly. The two groups of travelers were on a collision course to meet at the edge of the swamplands known as the great marsh. Meanwhile, back at the castle, Lady Rachel was putting the finishing touches on her plan to remove the only obstacle between her daughter and the throne of Tarra. Well, the only one she knew of, that is. True, it would be one of her daughters ascending to the throne, but really it would be hers to control.

The first day of the week in the kingdom of Tarra was a holy day of obligation and so the temple was full of the faithful. The Most Blessed Mother was just finishing a sermon on the evils of male autonomy when the eternal flame behind her flared brightly. All present in the temple genuflected before the living flame as the Most Blessed Mother turned and addressed the living embodiment of their Goddess.

"Oh Blessed Goddess, we your children await," she proclaimed before joining the faithful in supplication.

"I hear my children's prayers of adoration," a voice within the silvery flame announced. "It is like balm to the chaffed skin and cool water to the parched throat."

"I know some are troubled," the voice continued, the light flaring brighter, "but fear not for She that has no name has heard the cries of the faithful and will soothe them in their time of need."

"We, your children, thank you for watching over us," Lady Rachel replied. "How may we serve you better?"

"By continuing to do my will, in all things," the voice commanded them, stressing 'my will'. "By putting the needs of the many above the needs of the few or the one."

"We will do as you command, Holy Goddess," Lady Rachel proclaimed.

"Queen Ariel, do not fear," the voice encouraged the queen. "You will find succor in my bosom."

"If it will aid my people in their time of need, then I am ready, My Goddess!" Ariel leaped to her feet proclaiming her intent in earnest.

"Be at peace, Oh Queen," the voice replied. "Your duty to your people is duly noted. There may come a time for that but it is not now."

"Be at peace, my children," the voice faded as the flame died down.

"Go in peace in service to She that has no name," Lady Rachel encouraged the assembled as they stood in preparation of the procession out of the temple.

The congregation rose and followed the Queen out of the temple, while Rachel remained. After the temple was empty she had the main doors closed and turned toward a set of ornately decorated doors to the rear of the main sanctuary. Opening the doors she entered the Holy of Holies, the inner sanctum of She that has no name.

"My Goddess, why?" her high-priestess cried, flinging herself to the ground before the large manifestation of the Eternal Flame.

"Humility, My Priestess, humility," the voice in the flame replied flaring into life and for the first time two eyes, bronze in color and swirling in an ever changing hypnotic pattern, appeared in the flame. "Know that the best laid plans oft go awry. My will, not thy will, be done in all things."

"Yes, My Goddess," Rachel replied, still prostrate before the flame. "What would you have me do?"

"Be ever vigilant and patient, my child," the voice encouraged her. "The opportunity will present itself, never fear. You will know when the time is right."

"Yes, My Goddess," she replied, head still bowed.

"Go now and do your Goddess' bidding," the voice commanded as the eyes faded into the flickering flames.

Rachel stood and backed out of the inner sanctum closing the doors. She turned toward the audience chamber, where her day awaited.

The Queen left the temple in a state of confusion. Did The Goddess reject her as an offering? She was fairly sure that her aunt had intimated that The Goddess would require an offering to assist them when the Elfen returned. But, when she offered herself up to her Goddess she was told that her people needed her more. Perhaps her aunt had found another way, a way that did not include a sacrifice. It was too confusing for she was sure, as sure as knowing the sun would rise, that her aunt planned her demise. But, Ariel did not mind if, and only if her people were spared in the bargain. She wished she had better news from within the temple, but she had just learned that her source was not in residence. Her source away on temple business and had left without telling her where or why. She would just have to wait it out and go about the business of ruling. She sighed knowing it was going to be a long day.

The trio were an hour from their agreed upon stopping point when Aaron stopped to look over his shoulder. Seeing nothing he shook his head and continued on. He was feeling antsy; he could not put his finger on the why for the way he felt, which exacerbated his feeling more. He continued to look over his shoulder to the extent that Tanith finally stopped her horse and turned to look at their back trail.

"What is it, beloved?" Tanith asked peering along their trail with her true-sight and finding nothing out of the ordinary. "What do you sense?"

"I do not know," Aaron tried to shake the feeling. "I have this feeling... , like ... Gods! Like I do not know what!"

"Let me check," Dana also had stopped.

She lowered her head and closed her eyes trying to find her center. After centering herself she tapped into the flow of Eldritch and then held her right hand out palm down, fingers splayed with her index finger pointing. Eldritch filled Dana and flowed outward through her finger and back along the trail, searching. Little tendrils of power flowed along the path searching, touching, investigating everything and anything they crossed, relaying the information back to Dana who stood motionless in a deep trance. It was several moments before she heaved a big breath and looked up.

"We have a tail," she announced as Aaron gave her a skin of water. "A priestess and another. They are about a league behind and gaining fast."

"Hmm," Aaron closed his eyes for a second and reached out with his senses, in a different fashion then Dana. "Yes, two travelers, both Witches and close. They are not using Eldritch to track us, so they must be doing it the old fashioned way."

"What do you want to do?" Tanith asked smiling to show she already knew the answer.

"Trap them, interrogate them," Aaron shrugged, smiling his feral grin.

"How?" Dana asked intrigued.

"The same way I trapped you," Aaron smiled. "Well, mostly the same way I trapped you. The end result will be different."

Aaron dismounted and stood in the center of the road and began to draw power in preparation of the work he had in mind. After satisfying himself he held enough power he began to scribe runes of warding and entrapment, releasing the power which flowed out creating a type of web. When he was done he looked up and smiled.

"Now that that is done, we will move up the road and wait," Aaron swung back up into the saddle and turned and trotted up the road.

Tanith looked at Dana who smiled and shrugged. They turned their horses and followed after him. After several moments Aaron stopped, dismounted and walked his horse into the shrubbery at the side of the road. Dana and Tanith followed suit and waited along side of him. Aaron closed his eyes and waited.

Kalliste was following behind Diana, who was leaned over in the saddle following the trail. Kalliste's responsibility was to ensure they did not run into trouble while the huntress was focused on the tracks. Diana's two dogs were flanking her and to the front of their position acting as scouts in case of ambush. They had maintained this position for the last few hours as they moved ever closer to their 'prey'.

Diana called a halt about the time Kalliste felt a slight tingle. She shrugged off the feeling and waited while Diana inspected the tracks in the middle of the road. Diana carefully dismounted and squatted, checking the hoof prints in the area.

"They stopped here not more than an hour ago," Diana explained looking around. "They turned their horses around here and someone dismounted."

"Something does not feel right," she said as she stood and began scanning their surroundings. "Be ready, Sister Kalliste."

Kalliste looked around nervously as the dogs began to growl, their ears flat against their skulls. She started to draw power and realized that she could not access the flow of Eldritch.

"Lady Diana, I cannot access Eldritch!" Kalliste exclaimed breathlessly.

Diana looked up and furrowed her brows in concentration and tried to access the flow herself, and failed.

"I cannot either," she replied drawing her sword and spreading her legs and settling into a defensive stance.

The priestess only had a ceremonial dagger which she drew and tried to calm her horse which was prancing around, clearly agitated.

"Be warned, someone approaches," Diana called out. "And calm that horse, you are a distraction."

Aaron felt when the trackers entered his wards, and after handing the reins of his mount to Dana, he stepped out and started walking back up the road toward his trapped victims. Dana shrugged at Tanith and both followed after him. As they approached the ambush site Tanith could see two women; one mounted trying to control a nervous horse, while the other was crouched in a ready position, sword drawn. She also saw two large dogs growling, watching them approach.

"Aaron, watch the dogs," she called out. His nod was the only response.

"Good afternoon ladies," Aaron called out, arms casually crossed. "Nice day for travel, is it not?"

"Stand aside, slavey," Diana called out dismissively, keeping her gaze on the two women trailing behind him.

"Lady Diana, be easy," Kalliste cautioned her and then addressed the male. "I am Sister Kalliste, a priestess of She that has no name. Who are you?"

"Finally, politeness," Aaron remarked. "My name is Aaron. Why are you tracking us?"

"Princess Dana, is that you?" Kalliste asked looking at Dana in astonishment as she rounded the bend, completely ignoring Aaron's question.

"Kalliste? What are you doing here?" Dana asked in astonishment.

"I am Sister Kalliste now," she replied. "I thought you were dead, lost in the Lowerland."

"No, I was someplace else," Dana replied shaking her head. "Why are you tracking us?"

"We were tracking an Eldritch anomaly," Kalliste replied.

"Well that describes Aaron alright," Tanith chuckled. "Dana, you know her?"

"Yes, she is a cousin and we were playmates when younger," Dana replied.

"Now that we have dispensed with the pleasantries what are your intentions?" Aaron asked letting his hands drop slightly toward the hilts of his swords.

"I am not sure," Kalliste replied. "You have told me your name but you never answered my question. I will ask it again, who are you?"

"Who I am is immaterial," Aaron replied. "What to do with you both is the real question."

The entire time the conversation was going on Diana was weighing their options. She re-thought that and concluded she needed to weigh her own options, Kalliste would have to fend for herself. She knew she could not access Eldritch, but that was secondary because more importantly she felt no need or desire to change the circumstances of this encounter. She felt no desire to fight or flee and she thought she should. Interestingly enough, her dogs although wary and alert had not attacked either. This was very strange, and stranger still, she had no desire to confront the slavey either. She was confused and did not know how to respond, so she decided to wait and watch and see if a solution presented itself.

"I am assuming by now you have realized that you cannot flee," Aaron addressed the woman who was dismounted. "You might as well call the dogs, yours I believe, back to you. They cannot help you either."

"What have you done?" Diana asked. "More importantly, how have you done it?"

"We all have our trade secrets," Aaron smiled. "Are you not going to introduce yourself?"

Diana shook her head thinking this entire encounter was absurd. Here they were trapped and this man, this slavey, wanted to adhere to polite conversational protocol.

"Absurd, utterly absurd!" she thought, shaking her head. "Well, two can play at that game."

Maybe two could play at that game but only one could end it and it was not Diana. She was about to kick the proverbial hornet's nest.

"Lady Diana, at your service," she curtseyed, the smirk evident on her face. "Perhaps we could take this conversational off the road and have tea?"

"Tsk, tsk, tsk," Aaron chided her, with a lopsided grin that immediately turned feral. "Now you are just mocking me."

"I think the pleasantries are just about over," Aaron drew Black Rose, whose runes glowed black. "Black Rose, her soul is yours!"

"Aaron, wait!" Dana cried out as Black Rose leaped from Aaron's grasp and danced in front of Lady Diana.

Diana brought her rapier up to parry but Black Rose was quicker and knocked her sword aside and plunged into her chest, drinking her soul. Kalliste looked on in horror as her companion's face sunk in upon itself as she collapsed to the ground, dead. The sword flew back to Aaron's outstretched hand.

"By all that is holy, he wields Black Rose!" Kalliste exclaimed to herself. "He is the WitchLord of whom the innkeeper spoke! More importantly, he is a Prince of the Rose."

"It was too late for her, Dana," Aaron said, stepping forward and wiping the blood off the sword on the dead body's clothes. "You may decide your playmate's fate."

"Aaron?" Tanith looked at him questioningly, wondering why his attack was so severe.

"Sister Kalliste, what were your plans concerning the anomaly as you called it?" Aaron asked as he sheathed his sword.

"What?" Sister Kalliste replied, quite literally in shock.

"What were your plans?" Aaron asked again forcibly.

"To ascertain the threat and eliminate it if necessary," Kalliste replied quietly, trying and failing to regain her composure.

"There is the answer to your question, Tanith," Aaron replied. "Dana, what should we do with her?"

"She is your cousin too, Aaron," Dana replied, recovering from the ferocity of the attack. "You have just as much say as I do."

"What?" Kalliste repeated herself. "Who are you?"

"I am the one trying to set things straight," Aaron replied to Kalliste. "That is all you need to know right now."

"You wield Black Rose, I heard you. I saw it with my own eyes," Kalliste almost whispered. "That makes you a prince. That makes you a Prince of the Rose! How is that possible?"

"I hear that question all the time," Aaron smiled and turned toward his mate. "Dana?"

"I cannot kill her," Dana sighed, shaking her head. "Kalliste, if you come with us will you make trouble?"

"Come where?" Kalliste asked, looking back and forth between Dana and Aaron.

Understanding finally dawned on Kalliste. She was standing before her prince. However improbable, he truly was the heir to the throne of Tarra and he was searching for the Rose Throne!

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