Sofia stood with her eyes closed, arms folded across her chest as if in a hug. A barely perceptible change in her expression caused her face to look softer and slightly wilted. Opening her eyes, and in a voice minus the usual arrogance, she admitted. “This is very difficult for me Ronald. For the first time in my life, I am unsure of myself.”
“We have both been thrust into a situation that neither of us has had to face before, Princess. Why don’t we take care of the horses, see what there is in the coach that we can make use of and then eat something. Afterwards we will talk.”
The Princess was uncommonly quiet as they went about their individual tasks. No caustic remarks were made when he took charge and started giving orders to her just as he would to any of his men. Ronald was seriously concerned, not only for her but for himself as well.
They settled down on a couple of overturned buckets in a corner of the barn. A small brazier provided some light and comforting warmth as the rain on the roof could be heard over the moaning of the wind. Ronald glanced over at the Princess and knew he would have to initiate the conversation.
“I think the first thing we need to talk about is your new found power.”
“Power? I have no idea what you are talking about.”
Her eyes never left the glowing coals but Ronald recognized the signs of fear on her face. He had seen it enough times on the faces of the young guardsmen he commanded.
“What are you afraid of Princess?”
“Even if there was something to be afraid of, I won’t let it deter me. I am afraid of nothing, Ronald.”
“Princess, the absence of fear is death. When we feel fear, it reminds us that we are still alive and gives us the strength to stay that way. You cannot deny the fact that you healed Gilfor and myself with something more than herbs and stitches. And what about this afternoon? It was you who stopped my horse dead in its tracks and nearly killed us both, wasn’t it?”
For a moment, Ronald felt his own fear as her eyes locked onto his and was surprised he couldn’t feel the heat from the fire burning within them. The flames flickered and died only to be replaced by shame.
“By the Eyes, Ronald!” she cried.”I didn’t want to hurt you. I was angry and just wanted you to stop. I acted without thinking. I’m so sorry.”
“Apology accepted. At least you have finally admitted to yourself and to me that there is a power in you to do things that others cannot. It is enough for now. What I would like to know is what is so significant about your handmaiden? I agree with you that those men probably had orders to kill everyone, yet she still lives and you have given up your crown to rescue her. Why?”
Sofia leaned forward to add more coal to the brazier, her eyes once again focused on the glowing embers before she answered. “I don’t fully understand it myself Ronald. She carries an item of great power. I cannot describe it since I have never seen it but I have felt its power. Somehow it made me swear to guard her life with my own. I must find her.”
Ronald jumped up and started pacing back and forth, mumbling to himself. “By the Eyes, it must be one of the lost Deluti Amulets of Power. That means the Princess … I never dreamed …” At which point he stopped to stare with apprehension at the Princess.
“Ronald, what are you babbling about? Sit down and talk to me.”
He slowly returned to his bucket, eyes still locked on the Princess, trying to gather his thoughts. How could he convince her that what he suspected was true?
“Princess, I may be a simple soldier but I love to read history, especially the history of the Deluti wars. As you may remember, the High Lord Demitrios ruled the world through the Council of Five. Each of the councilors wore an amulet that helped to focus their power, as a symbol of their position. Toward the end of the war, the councilors gave up their lives by forging their spirits and power into each one of the amulets.”
Sofia was never interested in history, but when Ronald began to speak of the Deluti, the hairs on the back of her neck stood up and she felt something stir deep inside of her. “Why would they do such a horrible thing?”
“None of the Five were as powerful as the Dark Lord, even with their amulets. If he had defeated any one of them and gained the power of their amulet, it would have given him an advantage over his brother Demitrios. After they died, the amulets were scattered and hidden throughout the land. He must not be allowed to gain possession of even one of those amulets.”
“But how would that be possible, Ronald? The Deluti War is hundreds of years in the past. Surely, Scorpios must have passed away a long time ago.”
“Princess, the Deluti are not human. They are immortal beings and can only die at the hand of someone who wields the power of a Deluti. It is said that the High Lord still lives in the far northern reaches of Marlinor and I have no doubt that Scorpios lives far to the south of us in the Stagwood Marshe. Even the pirates avoid the evil that surrounds the South Shore.”
Ronald went to check on the horses and look for more coals for the brazier. He also wanted to give the Princess time to absorb what she had just heard before he shared his conclusions on the source of her power. When he returned to their corner, the confusion was still evident in her expression.
“I must admit that what Floane carries could very well be one of those lost amulets, but what does that have to do with me?”
“The last thing written in the history I read was a foretelling by the High Lord himself. ‘Many generations from now, the blood of the Deluti will return through the line of humans even stronger than before and our time on this world will come to an end.’”
Once again he stood, pulling his sword and holding it point down as he knelt before the Princess who shivered while searching his face for any sign of deceit.
“The power of the Deluti is in you. As long as there is life left in me, I will stand by your side to support you and be your friend, if you’ll have me. In memory of my father who gifted me this sword, this I swear to you Princess.”
“Never call me that again, Ronald,” she whispered. “The Princess is dead.”
Just then a bolt of lightning and the corresponding thunder shook the barn to its foundation. As the thunder continued to echo off into the distance, the two of them shared a look filled with apprehension and no little fear, then smiled.