The Nightmare Rider - chapter 03

 

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Chapter 3 of
 
  The Nightmare Rider

 

 

 


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Chapter 3

 
 
 

"Daemon. Stall," Patrick ordered.

The robotic horse stepped back into the space then stopped. The small panel behind its left foreleg opened and a cable unwound. Patrick took the end and plugged it into the receptacle. The horse shut down. Patrick turned and went to the wardroom.

Jenette Wazley followed him inside. She took his helmet and set it on the shelf of his cupboard then hung the shield on the back wall.

Patrick took off his gauntlets and passed them to her, which she put away then moved around behind him.

"Anything hurt," she asked and began unfastening the torso section.

Patrick shook his head, "I'm fine. Thanks for asking."

"Just earning my pay," Jenette replied taking the front and back pieces and setting them on the stand.

Anyone else would have laughed or made some snide comment since she wasn't a Solo. Patrick was a Solo, and that was actually the correct response.

Patrick sighed and rolled his neck as the right arm pieces were disconnected. Long ago, when armor was made of conventional iron and steel, a full suit was extremely heavy. There was a specific order to the application and removal. Feet, legs then hips in that order. Forearms, upper-arms then torso followed. Gauntlets and helmet were last. Normally the helmet was not donned until on the field and removed when coming off or immediately after the contest. After both his arms were free of the armor he rolled his shoulders. The hip section was slowly removed yet one hand lingered.

Patrick had closed his eyes as he had been working out the slight stiffness he felt in his left shoulder and asked, "something wrong?"

"No. Something VERY nice," a smooth voice purred.

"What's on your mind Doucet," Patrick asked flatly.

The Countess and Head of Student Council tried not to giggle, "there was something before I came in. I've gone totally blank though."

Patrick sighed, "right. I do want to finish getting out of my armor."

"NOVEL IDEA," Fiona exclaimed.

She continued to remove the remaining pieces for his legs and boot coverings and set them in the cupboard then looked over at him. Patrick toe'd off his boots and she set them inside the cupboard. his socks followed but were dropped into a laundry bag.

Patrick wore only a pair of small shorts and an undershirt. He pulled the shirt off and dropped it into the bag. Fiona Doucet leaned back against another cupboard and watched him. Patrick took a towel from the stack and looked over at her.

"Shower," Patrick said to her.

"OKAY," Fiona said enthusiastically, smiled and began to unbutton her jacket.

Patrick shook his head, "just me Doucet. What did you come to talk about?"

The Countess pouted slightly, "spoilsport. You know profit and fun can happen at the same time."

"I doubt I'll meet your expectations and have to give the money back," Patrick commented.

Fiona smiled as she tapped a long nailed fingertip to the edge of her teeth and purred, "you don't know what my expectations are."

Patrick sighed and went to the showers. Fiona moved to stand at the end of the row as he stepped inside one and removed the shorts and hung them and the towel on a hook outside. She waited until he was finished. He was mostly dried and came out with the towel wrapped around his waist.

"One day you're going to run that noble mouth of yours to the wrong person and wind up on the floor making a racket considered to be beneath your station," Patrick remarked.

Fiona reached in and took out a clean pair of the shorts to hold them out for him, "oh?"

Patrick wanted to shake his head as he took them from her. She acted like she was trying to peek hoping the towel slipped free. It was game she often played. He had been informed of her antics when he met the other Solos. The Countess had taken her position as Council Head in her third year and immediately began to make her own mark. Other females had held the position but none were overly friendly towards the Solos. Some even commented that she secretly envied them. The speculation about her virtue was a quiet joke, but no one would ever speak that she was anything other than virgin. Mostly the gossip was that she was the consummate tease and her favorite targets were underclass men of any rank and Solos of any year. Patrick, with his looks, immediately caught her eye. The revelation of his skill kept it. She had even gone so far as to say she hoped he made it to tournament and did well so she could ride against him.

Countess Fiona Doucet was admired both on the field and off. On the field she was formidable, with both strength and technique, frequently unhorsing her opponents. Off the field she was beautiful, charming and kind. She also had the reputation of being more than a little playful in her interaction with males. She enjoyed her flirting when it was taken with grace and returned in kind. More than one noble, and even a royal, regretted it turning sharp when they became lewd towards her. She seemed to always know something embarrassing about them that they didn't want known. That was something the Solos didn't share. They had no embarrassing secrets and couldn't be backed down.

Many royals and nobles were often hypocritical, which was looked down upon. The slightest compromise of their honor was something that could be exploited. Solos were different in that they had a code that they didn't make up as they went along. It was set and they adhered to it, which was documented. For a Solo it was all about the deal. A deal made was a deal kept to the very end. The only time there was any deviation was after the terms were met. A Solo could refuse a pay out if they chose, but had to have a better reason to refuse than accept. That was the reason Fiona was in the wardroom with Patrick Fotens currently. She had her suspicions but wanted to know for sure.

"That was quite the contest out there," Fiona said watching Patrick get dressed into his uniform.

Patrick was buttoning his shirt, "I'm sure you were quite entertained."

"Oh you have NO idea what watching you cross lances does to a girl. I even heard, from somewhere close to me, that a certain girl was going to go change when the match ended. Didn't quite catch who that was," Fiona said seductively.

Patrick grunted in acknowledgement but thought to himself, 'and if I asked who, she'd say herself and invite me to inspect her underwear.'

Fiona knew he wouldn't take the bait and giggled when he didn't disappoint her.

"Alright. Alright. I am curious about something. When Princess Weyden challenged, you stated you wanted a hundred coins and her sword. The heirloom sword. You won the contest and took the coins. Why did you change claiming the sword to sending it home to her family," Fiona asked.

Patrick had put on his pants but not buckled the belt as he sat down to pull on his uniform boots. Fiona handed him one.

Patrick pulled the boot on, "a few reasons. If I had the sword it would be a point of contention for her family. They would try to deal with the Academy to get it back. Another is that others would challenge for the sword on a constant basis to have leverage on her and her family. Three; it would reinforce her attitude but even more personal. Finally her family towards her. Instead of correcting the issue they would be hostile to her. She took something that wasn't about me and made it so. Her family should take something about her and keep it so."

"So you know that her parents will inquire about the match to Dame Ayalla for the truth," Fiona hedged.

Patrick had pulled on the other boot then stood up and stamped his feet to settle them inside then buckled his belt, "I have no doubt."

Fiona walked over and adjusted the front of his shirt but left the top two buttons open, "ah. They'll want to know the real reason, even if she does tell the truth. Which she more than likely will. They'll be very angry and take it upon themselves to; instill a sense of propriety that they missed."

Patrick shrugged into the jacket she held behind him, "I know the story. What happened was normal. Her extended family members weren't even ill treated. Yet she holds the Solos in grudge because if they hadn't been hired then the other kingdom may not have won the battle."

"That's the quick and dirty version," the Countess said as she came around and brushed away any lint or debris from Patrick's shoulders.

"Its not that she thinks nobody can touch her," Patrick commented as Fiona adjusted his jacket collar. "She believes that nobody should be allowed to touch her. THAT'S her problem."

Fiona ran her fingers through his hair carefully to loosely comb it, "a problem you're going to cure her of when you face her after Lorenz Dante."

Patrick pulled his shirt cuffs from the jacket sleeves and gave a non-committal grunt.

"I've read the statements from your regiments and I've seen you myself here in contest. You could have launched her from the back of her horse almost into the stands. As hard as you hit her shield, her pride took more damage. When you face her again you're going to shatter her completely," Fiona summed up.

"That'll be up to her. I'm going to take her off her horse three times in a row. How it affects her will be all on her. She can take it as a loss or she can take it as something else. It won't be my concern. At the end of the day its all business, same as always. I did what I did for a reason and knew what I was doing the whole time. Weyden is bad for business," Patrick stated.

"Oh," Fiona continued to fuss with Patrick's appearance.

"Doucet. Doucet. FIONA," Patrick said to get her attention when she didn't stop.

Fiona paused, "yes?"

"I'm dressed now. My hair is fine as well," Patrick said.

Fiona looked him up and down, "so you are. LET'S START ALL OVER!"

Patrick shook his head, "pass. Anything else?"

Fiona rose up on her toes and kissed his cheek lightly, "this was VERY enjoyable. Are you SURE you're done? Classes are over now you know."

Patrick finally rolled his eyes and hooked a thumb over his shoulder, "out Doucet. Something went very wrong in your upbringing. You seem to want spankings now."

Fiona walked over to the door then looked back and taunted him by twitching her hips with a smile then walked out.

Patrick shook his head and muttered, "the real question is who would have to pay whom if I did it."

Suddenly he felt very tingly inside and had to sit down. A sense of calm settled over him but felt invigorated at the same time. The feeling lasted for several minutes then eased. Patrick stood up then made his way out. He thought back to early that morning. The feeling was the same but this time on a smaller scale. He went out through a smaller gate and hurried down the road. Going through town he nodded curtly to the few familiar faces that caught attention. At the edge he felt alone so hurried even more and began to run after gaining the path in the treeline.

 

~*~*~*~

 

Inside the house he quickly barred the door then stripped and ran into the darkened room. The Glamour of Patrick fell away to the true form of Phoebe as she took up the cloak. Daalumos was standing outside of a shadow and quivering.

"Did you feel it too," Phoebe asked.

The demon chuckled, "OH YES!"

Phoebe took her place on her throne as the feeling swept over them both again.

"Is this Prayer," She asked.

Daalumos tossed his head, "it feels WONDERFUL!"

Phoebe closed her eyes and sought the source. Her vision filled with the shrine of the fallen mortal and a young girl kneeling in front of it.

"Lady Nightmare please hear me. I want to be strong. I want to fight. Help me please so I won't be afraid to fight," the girl asked.

The girl heard a whisper in her mind, "return when the moon has risen."

Phoebe left the girl and felt her presence return to the room.

Daalumos chuckled, "what have you learned?"

"A young girl. She was praying. Well, more like trying to summon. We will visit her after nightfall," Phoebe said.

The demon laughed as Phoebe went to the other room and its large bath. She washed herself thoroughly then put on her armor and sword. Finally she wrapped the cloak over her shoulders.

"Are we to be off now my Mistress," Daalumos asked excitedly.

Phoebe could understand and relate to the Lust's excitement. All of this was new to her as well. She climbed onto his back.

"Yes. Go Daalumos. Follow my feelings. I can hear the girl's crude summons already," Phoebe said.

The bound demon ran through the darkened archway and into the night. In and out shadows he ran leaving the trail of hoof prints in flickering flames.

 

~*~*~*~

 

"Lady Nightmare. I came back as you said. Please help me," a young girl knelt in front of shrine again.

For several minutes nothing then she heard the beating of hooves. She looked up to see the frightening sight of a smoldering horse enter the graveyard and trot over to her. On the monstrous horse with flames slipping all over its body and eyes like glowing coals, sat a beautiful young woman that seemed to have a dull glow about her.

Phoebe looked down, "so I have come child. Why is it you call for me?"

The girl curtsied clumsily, "please Lady. I want to be brave so I can fight. They said you made him so the soldiers were afraid. I want that!"

"He gave me a small offering. I gave him a small boon. He was always mortal child. He was killed. If you fight you can be killed. One day you can become fearsome indeed. I can even add to that. I cannot make you immortal. Warriors fall in battle. That is the way of battle. You must accept that you will still be mortal," Phoebe said.

"Yes Lady. I understand that I'll die one day. Can I still be a great Knight? How can that happen," the girl asked.

Phoebe thought about it then answered, "first you must learn how to fight. Then you must become a Knight. Much of this will be done yourself but there will be times that I help you. You would become a WarPriestess. What of your mortal family? Do they know your wishes?"

The girl shook her head, "I have nobody. They took my mama two months ago. She was all I had. I do things for people to eat and I hide in barns or empty houses to sleep. I can sweep. I can wash things. Will that be enough for you?"

"No neighbor in this village will take you in," Phoebe asked.

The girl shook her head, "I'm a stranger. I ran all day to come here when I heard about you."

Daalumos commented, "she has much anger within her small body."

The girl pointed, "your horse talks!"

Daalumos laughed, "I am no horse mortal child! I am a demon bound in service to my Mistress you have called to."

"A DEMON? A REAL ONE," the girl trembled.

Phoebe chuckled, "he is indeed child. What price will you pay for my rewards?"

"Anything my Lady. I want to be a fierce Knight and kill the ones that took my Mama and hurt her to death. They threw her down and tore her dress off. All of them laid on top of her and bounced. Mama screamed a lot. I had went out to milk the cow and was behind the hay when they came. When I saw them kick the door I jumped into the hay pile and hid. I could see them still. They went inside when it got dark and started breaking things. We didn't have money so they came back out and beat Mama asking where the money was. Mama kept telling them there wasn't any. One of them hit mama so hard I heard a loud noise. Like a stick in the fireplace and Mama made a strange cry. Then they got back on their horses saying they were coming back with more men for her and left laughing," The girl told them as she cried.

"What happened then child," Phoebe asked.

The girl sniffled, "I crawled out and went over to Mama. She told me to run away. Far away. She told me that they looked like men from Ranom. They all wore the same thing. Mama pointed and said to go that way away from them. Then Mama stopped talking. I thought she was sleeping but she wouldn't wake up. She wasn't doing anything. I ran inside and took what I could and ran away like Mama said. A lady told me that Mama had died when I told her what happened. She wanted to take me back to find out everything. Mama told me to run away so I did. I heard some men talking about you so I came here."

"Stay here child," Phoebe said then turned Daalumos around.

Phoebe closed her eyes and reached out with her thoughts, 'Mortal. Mortal who honored my dead! Come to me now! Bring your Lord and Captain!'

Phoebe's thoughts were so loud that Daalumos had heard them as well and shrieked so loud it was almost deafening. After they waited for what seemed like an hour horses could be heard coming. A group of knights raced to the graveyard and pulled their horses back when they saw her.

The young man jumped down and ran over and bowed, "My Lady! I brought my Lord as you commanded."

Phoebe looked over at them standing their horses back, "come unto me Mortal!"

The Lord dismounted, straightened his cloak and strode over then nodded to her, "you wished to see me Lady of Nightmares?"

Phoebe stared at him then said, "Tam Malzeek. You have no daughters. Only one lame son."

Malzeek cleared his throat, "yes Lady."

The Noble did love his son, but felt like a failure that the boy could not follow him.

Phoebe looked back, "come forth child."

The girl came around Daalumos and stood between them and Tam Malzeek.

"I charge you Mortal with this child. Raise her as a daughter of your own. Provide her the finest education and home as if she were of your own. Who leads your army?"

A Knight came forward, "I am Lord Malzeek's captain Lady."

Phoebe nodded, "You are to teach her the way of war. She is to become a Knight. Ranom is her enemy. No friend of yours, yes?"

Malzeek nodded, "they are not Lady!"

"Then you share in an enemy. The girl will be my WarPriestess. Care for her. Teach her. Guard her. Provide her a place of her own to pray unto me. When she is ready for training at the place you send all children to become the best of warriors, make her armor of my service," Phoebe instructed.

"You wish her to become a knight," Lord Malzeek asked to be sure.

Phoebe looked down at them, "I do. I understand you must give that place some tribute. I will provide it."

Malzeek looked down at the girl, "child what is your name?"

"Sania. That's all I know," Sania answered timidly.

The Captain asked, "Miss Sania how old are you?"

Sania looked down, "eleven Sir."

"I will give you my name if it pleases your Lady. Sania Malzeek," Lord Malzeek said.

"It does. Child, he is now your father. Take the name he has given you for your own. Learn well to be a lady, priestess and warrior. No man is to touch you as a woman unless I tell you he may. Mortal. In two of your months I will come to the place you have given her to pray. She will summon me. This is the answer to your prayer child. I am Phoebe. I am the Nightmare Rider," Phoebe declared.

All of the men went down on one knee. Sania knelt down too after seeing them.

"Yes Lady Phoebe. I'll do everything you said," Sania said.

Daalumos felt Phoebe's thoughts and reared up on his hind legs and shrieked as a rush of fire swept up them then fell as shadows enveloped the two and hid them from sight. Daalumos stood very still. He had understood Phoebe wanted to wait and see what the mortals did with the child.

Tam Malzeek let out the breath he had held, "This was not what I expected when you said she was summoning us here. I was concerned she had taken anger of something or other. Sania. When was the last time you dined?"

"Dined? Is that like eating," Sania asked.

Malzeek knelt down, "yes Sania it is. Where did your Lady find you?"

Sania looked down, "here Sir. I ran all day to find this place when I heard men talking this morning. I came here and asked for the Nightmare Lady to come."

Sania told them how she came to be there and pleading for Phoebe's help. Malzeek sighed and nodded.

"I understand now Sania. Come home with me. We will take very good care of you. Your Lady will be pleased and I will do my best to make you happy. If you want you may call me Papa as my son does. I have a wife. Lady Celia Malzeek. She will be happy to help you the way your Mama did. Will that be right for you," Malzeek asked.

Sania nodded, "yes Papa."

"If you would mount your horse Milord I'll hand her up to ride with you," the Captain offered.

Malzeek nodded, "of course Aldo. Quick thinking."

The Lord climbed onto his horse.

Aldo lifted her up, "not to worry little Mistress Sania. In two months I will begin your Knightly teachings myself. I will teach you all I know to prepare you for the Academy. I was a tournament champion when I graduated. You be a fine student when you go there and come out ready to become a great Knight! Up you get Mistress Sania. Tomorrow I'll pick a fine horse for your own!"

Sania gave him a shaky smile as she settled in front of Malzeek, "thank you."

"My name is Aldo Raggins. You are to simply call me Sir Aldo Mistress Sania," Aldo said.

"Yes Sir, Sir Aldo," Sania said.

"One of you men ride ahead and go to the kitchen. Tell them to prepare a meal for our new Mistress then have a maid inform Lady Celia. She'll want to personally see to the preparing of her new room and a bath," Aldo called out.

"SIR," one of the men answered and tore for the castle.

"Walk steady Stanzo. Castle," Malzeek ordered his horse then said to Sania, "not worry. He'll give us a gentle ride for you."

Sania finally seemed to calm down, "yes Papa. Is it far?"

Malzeek smiled, "no my child. Just up the way, we'll be home in just a few minutes."

Aldo looked over and said in a low voice, "my Lord. She has fallen asleep."

Tam sighed, "as well she should Aldo. When we get to the castle, if she will awake we'll feed her quickly. If not I'll have Celia and her maid get her bathed and in bed. Tomorrow will be a very busy day. I have a daughter finally. Celia had lost all hope."

"And of her quest to avenge her mother," Aldo asked.

Malzeek looked down at the sleeping girl, "we will honor it. Train her well Aldo. Make sure my daughter comes back us after her vengeance is served."

The men faded into the distance. Daalumos and Phoebe came out of the shadow as they disappeared.

"And so we have a true beginning now," Daalumos remarked.

Phoebe shifted on his back and nodded, "if they stay true, so shall we Daalumos. Let's go. I'll have to make the most of the coming battles. A full stay at the Academy will take some doing."

The Lust turned and began to trot away with a chuckle, "to collect those trinkets, we will have to conduct much more of our Business. What is it you said? Now we have our Market?"

Phoebe laughed, "indeed! Now that we do have our Market, we must Corner it!"

 

~*~*~*~

 

Early the next afternoon Jessica Weyden came out of the library and ran right into someone.

"Excuse me," Jessica mumbled then looked up, "Vaan!"

"And a WONDERFUL good afternoon to you Jessica! Isn't it a simply SPLENDID day," the fourth year Prince asked.

Jessica found herself in an immediate quandary. She was caught between the urges to slap, hug, strangle or cry on the shoulder of the Prince.

Vaan Arento was the oldest of two Princes and one Princess for Scavlic. He was as over-the-top as anyone came. He took great pride in his blonde hair that hung to the middle of his back and was always impeccably dressed. His uniform bordered between male and female as did his hairstyles, though much of the time he favored a feminine style for his hair. Many of the girls of the Academy fawned over him. That wasn't surprising, he was more than handsome. For a young man he was actually beautiful and he usually made quite sure that it showed. His closest friendship was with Countess Fiona Doucet the Head of the Student Council.

Most of the student body were convinced Prince Vaan was actually bi-sexual and he himself openly admitted to finding both sexes attractive but only on a case-by-case basis.

Jessica turned the prince around, "What have you done with yourself this time? OH FOR THE GODS' SAKE!"

Vaan smiled devilishly. Jessica saw that his hair was braided with purple and white ribbons woven through the length. It was no better than the time he had it in a visible braid style to look like rope across the top of his head and down his back.

"Prince Vaan. Your HIGHNESS," Jessica ground out between her teeth, "your hair is quite the sight. Again."

Vaan stroked the tail end of the braid," Isn't it just? I saw a picture and absolutely HAD to have it Jessica!"

Jessica mentally counted to ten.

"I even incorporated my colors. See," He said proudly, "its simply magnificent! It suits me so well don't you think?"

Jessica was waging an internal struggle not to fall down laughing or scream at him, "Vaan that is a style my mother used to insist on for me at state dinners and balls."

"AH! ITS A FORMAL STYLE," Vaan exclaimed excitedly.

"I was TWELVE," Jessica snarled.

Vaan grabbed her into a hug and stroked her cheek, "oh Jessica please don't be like that. I'm absolutely certain you were ADORABLE! You've grown since then. I bet now the look would still suit you, but instead of the ribbons you should substitute a string of pearls. Yes! A string of gems would be so lovely."

Jessica groaned, "Prince Vaan may I please strangle you?"

Vaan shook his head still petting her, "certainly not your Highness. It took almost all morning to get my cravat to do something besides just LYING THERE. I won't have you ruining it over something so petty as you having a not-so-fun-hair day! It would be an outrage. An insult to fashion world-wide!"

"Only you would say something like that," Jessica sighed in defeat, "at least stop petting me like some domesticated furry thing."

Vaan stopped and looked slightly put off, "oh have it your way Jessica. Do please stop moping about though. You'll ruin complexion!"

The Prince looped an arm around her shoulders and steered her out of the hall and outside to walk.

"Vaan. Honestly; you're nowhere near being the right candidate for grief counseling," Jessica stated flatly.

Vaan laughed, "nonsense! I'm the perfect counselor! Grave matters should be treated trivially. Trivial matters should be regarded with grave import! Look here."

Jessica was turned to face a collection of rose bushes and sighed, "They're lovely Vaan. I'm sure they bloomed just to be in YOUR presence."

"Of course they did! They wanted to emulate my greatness. Unfortunately; they can only come so close. That's beside the point. The point is, they are still beautiful and smell so very sweet. Yesterday was yesterday for them. Today is today. They will do as they do because it is what they do; no matter what happened before," Vaan said as he gestured broadly.

Jessica frowned. As usual he was acting outrageously. The young man was so well known for being flamboyant many were convinced the word was invented for him. In fact the dictionary in the library had a small sticker placed over the true definition of the word and someone even had the label printed to say
 

Flamboyant- (adj.) word used to describe behavior or appearance emulating Vaan Arento, Prince of Scavlic.

No one was actually sure who had done it. Fiona Doucet or Vaan Arento himself.

Jessica sat down on a bench, "I'm sure you'll get to your point before I graduate."

Vaan sighed then crouched in front of Jessica and took her hands in his own, "Jessica the world did NOT end yesterday. You did something rash."

Jessica frowned at him.

"Okay you did something foolish AND rash. You did however face it down. You faced up to your defeat with resolve and met with the price you agreed to pay. On the one hand; the Solo showed you mercy and on the other; he did even more damage. That was yesterday. He has moved on. You too must move on. I understand your hatred for Solos. I don't agree with it,but I understand it. To be honest you are being rather selective. You blame the solos for that loss. That is wrong. They didn't go to your enemy and make a deal. Your enemy went to THEM. When the battle is over the solos collect their pay and leave. What happened to your family had nothing to do with them at all," Vaan stated.

"If the solos hadn't been there the battle wouldn't have been lost," Jessica protested.

Vaan looked her directly in the eyes, "and if your Uncle hadn't been drunk and accosted that King's sister there wouldn't have been a battle to begin with and the solos wouldn't have been there."

Jessica sat up in shock, "WHAT?"

"You think the ransom was so high because of who he was? You are SO ill-informed. You were young when that happened though," Vaan sighed in regret for her not knowing the truth.

"There was a gala and your Uncle was there representing your kingdom. He got drunk and went after the King's sister. He refused to listen to reason and even insulted her upbringing. Ask your aunt. She was mortified at his boorish behavior. By the time your father got involved it was well out of hand. Please keep this in mind for the future: Never call a King's youngest sister a whore. Especially if she isn't and her engagement was announced earlier that evening," Vaan said pointedly.

"NO," Jessica protested.

Vaan shook his head, "yes Jessica. I was there. My Uncle and Aunt had me there because there was someone I was to be introduced to. For later on maybe."

"For the Gods' sake Vaan. Wait. What did you say," Jessica stared at him.

Vaan gave her a blank look, "I said I was there."

Jessica glared, "yes yes yes. I got that part. I meant the part you said you were being introduced to someone, for later on maybe. Are you saying you were there to meet a potential bride?"

A glint came to the prince's eyes, "who says they would be my bride? Don't you think I would look LOVELY in all white? And no snide comments from your Highness. I assure you I am every bit as PURE as the day I was born!"

Jessica lost the battle and began laughing hysterically; picturing Vaan Arento gliding down an aisle in a bridal gown waving shamelessly to everyone and a shocked young man waiting at an altar in horror.

Vaan stood up and looked affronted while turned to the side, "surely you don't think of ME as promiscuous? I'm as chaste as the next! And even more so than SOME around here. I do hear such scandalous gossip you know. I fear my ears may burn off!"

Jessica looked anything but a royal princess as she doubled-over holding her stomach laughing and even began to lightly stamp her feet. She was laughing so hard, tears began roll down her cheeks.

Vaan managed to contain his own smile and skillfully snapped the stem of a rose and brought it up to his nose. He gave a look of deep content as he inhaled its fragrance.

Jessica finally calmed down and worked to compose herself. The Prince looked at her seriously.

"I'm so glad you're now able to rein yourself in. I would absolutely dread having to call for the staff to deal with you in such hysterics. They might even think I had something to do with it," Vaan commented.

Jessica snerked, "perish the THOUGHT!"

Vaan carefully broke the thorns away then wrapped her hands around the stem of the crisp white bloom, "we may not be exactly friends, but trust in me Jessica; I have never been your enemy. I will admit there are people I don't care for much. But that is on an individual basis and it IS because they personally have wronged me. That is how it should be."

Jessica sighed and used the handkerchief Vaan pulled from his sleeve to dab at her eyes.

"My father once told me something that I've found very important. Perhaps you will. Solos do not have politics. They are for hire only. They do not share ideologies, morals or friendship. One thing is always certain. Solos are honest and dedicated. They only take what they earn and they only earn what is agreed upon. If you want truth seek a philosopher, if you want fact seek a teacher, but if you want warriors that will not betray you; pay the Solos. Now be honest. Were Fotens not a Solo; you'd be beside yourself trying to gain his attention. He is a solo though. You could have his attention, for a night; for a price," Vaan remarked.

Jessica rolled her eyes, "I am a Princess. Remember?"

Vaan chuckled, "so? You wouldn't be the first to liaise with a Solo. Where do you think my younger brother came from?"

"NO! Seriously," Jessica asked in shock, "do other people know? Does he?"

"Its not THAT big of a secret. Of course he knows. He even met her not long ago. Father paid handsomely and mother gave her approval after reviewing her ledger," Vaan stated. "She even agreed to tutor him for three months before coming to the academy next year."

Jessica still sat shocked. She had heard of it happening but she never heard of anyone that would openly admit to it.

"Oh my. Speak of a devil. And what a handsome devil at that," Vaan said appreciatively.

Jessica looked over and saw Patrick Fotens walking on the other side of the courtyard, oblivious to them.

"Would it do any good to remind you that even if you did successfully negotiate a night of frolic with him, you'd never get pregnant," Jessica commented.

Vaan pouted, "you say such CRUEL things. He wouldn't have to be told THAT part, would he?"

Jessica shook her head and groaned, "I give up. I need to go to class now."

"Hello your Highness," a pair of girls said in unison.

Vaan smiled in delight, "and a WONDERFUL DAY TO YOU!"

Jessica shook her head as the identical girls giggled and blushed walking by.

"YUM! Gentry or not; there is ALWAYS an allure with identical twins," Vaan said then turned to follow them.

Jessica went back to wanting to slap him but got up and went towards class instead. Talking with the prince had changed her mood for the most part. He also gave her some questions to ask of her parents.

 

~*~*~*~

 

Patrick had gone from class to class all day and received looks of curiosity. Everyone knew he had to have had a reason to refuse the sword. They just didn't know what it was. Plus there was the talk of Fiona Doucet sneaking into the wardroom while he was there and Jenette Wazley standing outside the door looking as if she had been caught running naked through the dining hall.

Wazley stood next to his table in the class and held out the coin, "Sorry Fotens. Do want this back?"

Patrick waved her off, "you did enough for most of it. Your mouth stays shut and you can keep it free and clear."

"I know nothing," Jenette said and went back to her seat.

"Psst. Hey Patrick. How about we go to that tavern I heard about this evening," Lorcon asked.

Patrick shook his head, "working."

Lorcon frowned. He would offer to help but knew it wasn't allowed. Solos only took assignments for Solos. If a royal, noble or gentry took an assignment for a solo they would be expelled and the poster for the assignment would never be allowed to do so again. He also knew that Solos wouldn't allow someone friendly around while their were on assignment. Even if it were something tedious and boring such as guard duty, they were on the job and would focus on it.

Emin Lorcon had hoped Patrick would join him at the tavern and relax enough to confide why he did what he did. Everyone was speculating why and if he had the real reason it would make him very popular until the next big thing came along.

Dame Ayalla entered the classroom, "take your seats. We have quite a bit of work to catch up from yesterday."

Everyone quickly set to task and made up the work and covered the day's regularly scheduled lesson. There was five minutes left when she closed them out.

"Is there anything else," the teacher asked.

Aruna stood up, "I have a question Dame Ayalla but its off-topic."

The teacher sighed, "very well. Ask your question."

"Thank you. Have you ever heard of a God or Goddess ever building a shrine or something over a fallen worshiper themselves," the Duchess asked.

Dame Ayalla leaned her hip to her lectern, "I assume this has something to do with the battle I'm sure we've all heard about the other night?"

Aruna nodded, "yes Ma'am. We heard that the Nightmare Rider joined a battle and afterward she built some kind of shrine over one of the fallen soldiers. Rumor has it he worshiped her."

"I guess this is a question shared by the majority of the class," Dame Ayalla asked and noted the many nodding heads.

"Very well. The answer to your question is; No. I've never heard of such happening before and there are no historical accounts of it happening either. I've heard the same things you have and made some inquiries of my own. Not much is known about this Nightmare Rider. We do known that the Rider is a woman and she is reputed to be quite attractive. Some speculate she may be some deposed princess or even a demi-goddess. Now it is true that the Nightmare Rider did build a shrine over a fallen man after a battle, but her reasons for doing so are not clear. Currently there are no details for this Nightmare Rider. Now you know as much as I do," Dame Ayalla informed them.

She nodded to the door and the class began to leave.

"Weyden. A moment," Dame Ayalla said.

The rest of class left even quicker, leaving the young royal behind with the instructor.

Dame Ayalla didn't waste words, "you did something very stupid. That's your business. You did it in MY class. That's my business. You will NOT do so again. Am I clear Highness?"

Jessica nodded, "yes Dame Ayalla. I apologize for disrupting your class and any insult you felt for it. I will not do it again."

"The only thing I will commend you on is telling the truth to your parents. They messaged me at lunch. That is the only part they are proud of. Your mother will be here day after tomorrow to collect your sword herself. She has already requested a meeting with Solo Fotens," The teacher informed her.

Jessica wanted to groan. She knew her mother was going to meet with Patrick and give him a formal apology and even offer him a day's battle wage since it was a personal match. The coins she had already given him her mother was ask him to classify as a battle bonus since he had won.

"That is all," Dame Ayalla said, dismissing the royal.

Jessica nodded, "yes Dame Ayalla. Again; my apologies."

Jessica hurried from the room.
 
 
 
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