Disclaimer & Notices: See Prologue.

In Love and Into War
By Red Hope

 Chapter 3

“That is excellent, your majesty!” Captain Cynewear commended. He continued observing the queen’s ability to fight more than one opponent at a time. He had instructed the three soldiers to be careful with the queen. However, he wondered if that was the best idea since she seemed to be besting them. He wished all his students were as apt as Queen Aurora.

Two soldiers were sparring against the queen. A third one would occasionally be signaled to enter the sparring or trade off with another soldier. Sometimes only one soldier sparred with the queen. It simply depended on the captain’s orders.

Aurora stamina as a fighter had grown quite well since her start many moons ago. She was practicing more in the past week, starting at noon rather than mid afternoon. Her desire to learn the blade and arrow had her pushing herself hard.

“I think that is perhaps enough for today,” the captain ordered the group.

Aurora had barely registered the order. She was already executing her moves. She hit one soldier hard in the stomach. She second opponent she quickly caught his blade in her cross guard. She then surged forward with her pummel coming to his face. It would have hurt, but Aurora kept from harming him. She then used her left leg to go behind his feet, giving a solid yank.

The soldier hollered as he went down, hard. His armor knocked the air from his chest. He lost his sword and wondered how any of this happened to him. After he blinked the world back into focus, he saw a hand held out to him. He took the queen’s smaller hand and was up on his feet. In that second, he noticed her unsuspecting strength.

The captain approached the group and grinned at the fallen soldier’s dazed look. “Thank you, gentlemen. You can take a small break before you return to duty.” He dismissed them.

Aurora sheathed the unsharpened sword.

“You have come a long way, my queen.” Captain Cynewear was proud of her.

Aurora grabbed the top of her tunic and shook her tunic a few times. She enjoyed the cool air moving across her damp skin. “Thanks to your teaching.”

The captain grinned and argued, “I cannot teach drive, only the skills and technique.” He then moved in closer so he could speak more quietly. “Avery has your leathers prepared.”

“The first set then?” Aurora was openly excited to hear so.

“We could stop there before the archery lesson,” Captain Cynewear suggested.

The queen brightened and gave a firm nod. “I am ready.” She started to the barracks.

The captain hastened to the queen’s side. He considered what the leathers would be like, but he knew they would be better than his imagination. He and the queen organized their supplies for the archery lesson. Again, he preferred to ride out there than walk. Shortly, he and the queen took saddled horses through the city to the tanner’s workshop.

At the tanner’s workshop, Avery was stirred from her work. She came out of the back when she heard the two sets of footfall in her shop. She smiled upon seeing the captain with Queen Aurora. She warmly greeted them and promised to return in a moment with the leathers.

Aurora was excited and grew wide eye when Avery came back with a black leather jerkin. The jerkin was designed to the queen’s measurements and had a front that laced up to the queen’s bodice. Throughout the jerkin, red leather had been added for color and gave the jerkin a feather like pattern. Red piping followed along the front of the bodice slit and over the shoulders. The last touch included small silver buckles across the waist and lower chest.

“I did add one design to the back,” Avery mentioned. She moved closer to the queen and turned it over to show the back. Only one of the straps from the front actually wrapped around to the back and was sewn into the center. Higher up, Avery pointed out the silver ornament that had been sewn into the leather.

Aurora peered up in surprise at the tanner.

Avery cleared her throat and softly explained, “I thought perhaps it would remind you of the Moors.” Like many, she had heard the queen’s favor over the Moors.

The queen traced her fingertips over the leaves, down the branches, and finally to the trunk and roots of the beautiful tree. It was a perfect symbol of her love for the Moors. She smiled at Avery. “Thank you.”

Avery was relieved that it was the rest choice. She handed the jerkin to the queen. “Please try it on while I get your boots.” She started to the back but called, “You can wear the jerkin with a tunic or something heavier like a doublet.” She vanished into the back.

Aurora was slipping on the jerkin with the captain’s assistance. She pulled it tight against her shoulders then tied the leather string at her bodice. Last, she adjusted the buckles until they were right.

Captain Cynewear admired the jerkin. He was impressed by the perfect fit.

Avery returned with matching boots in her left hand and something else in her right hand. She set the boots down then held up the leather item in her right hand. “This is a matching pauldron for your left shoulder.” She held it out to the queen. “You can attach or remove it at anytime.”

“It’s more for combat,” the captain explained to Queen Aurora.

“I see.” Aurora looked over the leather meant to protect her left shoulder from exposure. “How does it go on?”

Avery easily showed the queen how it attached to the jerkin and a strap went under the arm. Next, she brought the longer strap across Aurora’s chest and adjusted the buckle to the right tension. “Move around and see how it feels. If it’s too tight or loose then we can adjust it.”

Queen Aurora took a step back and moved her left arm fully. “It is a good fit.” She smiled at the tanner.

“You may have to snug it as you use it.” Avery picked up the boots. “Leather tends to stretch a bit.” She then offered the boots. “Please try these.”

Aurora did so after she slid out of her ankle boots. She put on the knee high, black boots that rolled at the top to show red leather on the inside of them. She noted an usual weight to them.

Avery seemed to read the queen’s mind. “The boot tips have a bronze piece in them to protect your feet during combat or riding.” She then pointed at the soles. “The heel has a thin strip of bronze to add durability during riding.”

The queen looked at the bottom sole and noted how the bronze piece was actually rippled to give it a grip.

“And it should give a nice edge to your kicks,” Avery whispered, a smirk on her face.

Aurora shook her head and smiled at the tanner. “This is perfect.” She surprisingly hugged Avery.

At first, the tanner was unsure but returned the hug to the queen. She expected many things, but a hug. Her cheeks were flushed after they withdrew from each other. “I hope to have your armor ready by next week.”

“That would be great.” Aurora turned to the captain.

The captain untied the pouch of coin for the tanner. He gave it the queen.

Queen Aurora handed it to Avery. “Thank you.” She, Avery, and Captain Cynewear talked for a few more minutes before leaving the workshop. Aurora freed her horse and walked alongside the captain.

Already, Captain Cynewear caught he queen adjusting the leathers. “It takes a bit to break them in.”

Aurora seemed to appreciate the information. She noted how many peasants gazed upon her more than usual. She tried ignoring the glances and other stares.

“They will get use to it,” the captain offered.

The queen huffed. “I am not sure I will.” She was grateful to get beyond the gates. She and Captain Cynewear mounted their geldings and started into a gallop once far enough. When they came upon the tree line, Aurora slowed her horse.

“Do we depart tomorrow?”

Queen Aurora sighed at the topic, but Captain Cynewear was right to discuss it. “Yes.” She edged her horse closer to his gelding. “We will leave at night though.” She noted his concern, but she refused to explain herself. “Have you selected your men?”

“I have,” the captain confirmed.

Aurora gave a firm nod. She tried ignoring the knot in her stomach. Her mission to see King Hubert was a dangerous one.

“My queen, must we make this journey?”

Aurora swallowed hard and considered how to answer him. She tilted her head and asked, “Have you played chess, captain?”

“Not in some time.” The captain shifted in the saddle. “Nor was I very good at it.”

Queen Aurora sadly smiled, but it slid away. “I played it growing up with my aunties.” Fond memories came to mind. “Although they were not very good at it.” She shook her head and amended, “One of them actually was fairly decent.” She noted the tree line close upon them so she slowed her horse. “I only improved with the game in these past years since I have moved to the castle.” She often played with Philip, if they had time. She also played with anybody willing to tempt it.

The captain was off his horse like Aurora and was pulling the reins over the horse’s head. “This is not a mere game of chess, your majesty.”

“However, we have to stay one step ahead of our opponent.” Aurora walked beside the captain with their horses behind them. “If we are to capture their queen.”

Captain Cynewear had a deep frown, but he had no argument for Aurora’s approach to the war. He hoped it pay off. “Let us hope they do not capture ours,” he softly stated.

Aurora silently agreed, but she had the next move planned out. She understood her pawns, her bishops, rooks, and especially her knights and king. “What are we to practice today?” She paled at the captain’s sudden grin.

“Multi-shot.” Captain Cynewear’s eyes filled with mischief. “Two arrows at once.”

“By the gods,” Aurora breathed. She knew it would be a huge challenge that she could not master today, tomorrow, or any time soon. She decided it was more of a test in patience and teaching in accuracy. She was right as she found the attempt at two arrows was rather tedious.

After practice, they decided on a short ride before returning to the city just before sunset. It was a beautiful evening for the ride too. Aurora appreciated it and thanked the captain on their way back to the city. They later returned the horses to the stable, and Aurora reminded Captain Cynewear to find her tomorrow at her office. They parted ways afterwards.

The queen went to her chambers first so she could clean up and change her clothes for supper. She was late to supper, but Prince Philip had waited for her. She apologized and prompted the servants to begin right away. She and Philip exchanged prayer before they ate then started chatting about their days. Philip laughed about Aurora’s attempts to shoot multiple arrows at once. However, his mood was dampened by the arrival of a messenger. He excused himself so he could read the message alone.

Queen Aurora grew worrisome and suspected it was about King John. She finished her supper and instructed the servants to check whether or not Prince Philip was done. She left the dining room and returned to her chambers. She suspected Philip would seek her out later. In the meantime, she wanted to rest and not thinking about her kingdoms’ troubles.

Aurora lay on her back on the furs beside the fireplace. She closed her eyes and thought about the Moors, rather than the Merawin Kingdom. She thought about Maleficent then about their developing relationship. It caused her to smile even though she was unsure of the direction. It was, at least, a step in the right direction. She agreed with Diaval that it would take time for Maleficent to open up completely. Maleficent was well worth every drop of patience, in Aurora’s mind.

A knock at the door stirred Aurora from her brief daydream. She climbed to her feet then called in the guest and immediately became concerned by the look on Prince Philip’s features.

“What is it, Philip?” The queen neared the trouble prince.

“I must return to Ofsted.” Philip was clearly distressed. “It’s father.” He sat down on the couch.

“He’s worsen,” Aurora concluded. She sat in the sofa chair, beside the prince. “Does he beckon you home?” Aurora truly wished King John was healthy. There was much that Aurora had learned from him about how to be a just and kind ruler.

Philip shook her head. “No, my brother sent word.”

Aurora took Philip’s hand into hers. “You should leave at first light after you have rested tonight.”

“I am unsure whether I can rest at all.”

Aurora squeezed his hand. “It’s unwise to travel at night.”

Philip sighed, and he knew Aurora was right. He nodded after a moment. “I am sorry, Aurora.”

The princess was confused and shook her head. “You do not need to apologize. There is nothing to apologize for.” She squeezed his hand again. “Is there anything I can do?”

Philip shook his head. “I am sorry to trouble you,” he explained about earlier.

Aurora sighed and reinforced her earlier words. “You have not troubled me. You are family.” She frowned. “I wish I could travel with you to see him.” She liked King John a great deal.

“I know.” Philip studied his lap and how their hands fit so well.

“Perhaps we can play chess later this evening to keep our occupied minds off things.” Aurora missed the game and hoped it would keep them busy. Tomorrow night she and the guards would leave for King Hubert’s castle.

“I would like that very much.” Philip gave a smile, but it was weakened by his concerns for his father.

“How about we meet in the library in a hour?”

Philip agreed and left the queen’s chambers after he said thank you. Aurora followed him to the door and gave him a long hug. She hoped his spirits would stay up despite King John’s inevitable death.

After the prince left, Aurora decided her chance at rest was over so she started packing her things for tomorrow night. She organized the items on the bedside and placed the rucksack next to everything. Even though she was a queen, she needed very little after being raised as a peasant. Aurora started closing up the filled rucksack, but she paused from the familiar sound on the balcony. She knew the sound of ruffled feathers when she heard it. Hastily, Aurora tucked the rucksack under her bed.

The queen approached the balcony, thankful her handmaids drew the curtains earlier. She smiled when Diaval entered her chambers. “Hello, Diaval.”

“My queen,” Diaval formerly greeted with a slight bow.

Aurora sighed at the man raven’s formality. “How are you, Diaval?”

“Very worn and strained by this human nonsense.”

“I concur.” Aurora guided her friend to the fireplace and this time they sat on the rug in front of the fire. “How is Maleficent?”

“She is just as worn and perhaps more stressed than I.” Diaval sat cross legged beside the queen. “I take it the talks are not improving?” After Aurora’s headshake, he sighed and stared at the fire. “These damn greedy humans.”

Aurora sympathized with Diaval. “I have a fortnight to make my decision.”

Diaval curiously peered over at the queen. “Is that all we have?”

“I am afraid so.”

Diaval grumbled for a moment. “I have been spying on King Hubert. But tomorrow Maleficent wishes me to start reconnaissance work.”

“Have you learned anything new?”

Diaval shook his head. “Nothing we do not know already.” He canted his head and mentioned, “You know what is odd?” He waited for Aurora’s headshake. “Well… I have only heard snippets, but those fools believe Maleficent is dead and that’s why there’s a peace between Merawin and the Moors.”

“How could they think such?” Aurora found it very interesting.

“Perhaps the bards,” Diaval suggested. He tapped his knee a few times. “From what I hear, Prince Philip slayed Maleficent after Maleficent turned into a dragon and killed King Stefan.”

“Noooo,” Aurora whispered in awe. She was astonished and let out a surprised laugh. She considered this information then curiously posed, “They have no way to confirm Maleficent’s death.”

“And she has been awfully quiet these past three years compared to the sixteen… or seventeen years prior.” Diaval understood now. “She barely ever leaves the Moors.”

Aurora considered whether or not King Hubert actually believed the rumors. If he did, then he was counting on the battle for the Moors to be easier with Maleficent out of the equation. However, if he had his own spies in her kingdom, which he most likely did, then he already had more accurate information. In Aurora’s opinion, there was only one way to find out for sure.

“That is most interesting,” Aurora murmured. She kept it in mind for later. She then remembered something she had meant to ask Diaval on his last visit the other day. “Diaval…” She waited until dark eyes were on her. “How long do ravens live for?”

The man raven was startled by the unexpected question, but he seriously replied, “Usually fifteen years.”

Aurora raised an eyebrow and chuckled at him. “How old are you?”

Diaval considered this, his brow knitted together. He finally replied, “Thirty-seven now.”

Aurora propped her right elbow against her knee and lowered her cheek into her palm. She studied Diaval’s handsome features. “You have lived much longer than any raven.”

Diaval dipped his head and considered his circumstances. “It is thanks to Maleficent and the Moors.”

“Because you turn to human?”

“That is part of it.” Diaval had his attention on Aurora. “The Moors also prolong life.”

Aurora knew nothing of this about the Moors. She placed her hand on Diaval’s forearm. “Anybody that resides in the Moors will live longer?”

“Yes.” Diaval stared oddly at the queen. “You were not aware of this?”

“No,” Aurora distantly answered, her mind was going in several directions. “I thought perhaps Fay naturally live longer than humans.”

Diaval was still confused by the fact that Aurora had no knowledge about the power of the Moors. “Maleficent never explained this to you?”

“No.” Aurora removed her hand. She considered why the fairy had not told her.

Diaval decided to head off any trouble by offering, “Perhaps she wished for you to decide on the Moors simply to be with her, rather than…” He realized he was opening his mouth and inserting his wing.

“It’s okay, Diaval.” Aurora pushed it aside and instead gave a smile. “I am happy the Moors have kept you alive for so long.”

Diaval placed his hand on the human’s back. “I am too. Otherwise, I would have missed out in raising you.”

Aurora chuckled this time because it reminded her of the conversation with Maleficent several nights ago. “Yes, I would have not survived without your tender care.”

Diaval nodded and declared, “You would not have in those silly pixie’s hands.” He earned a nice smack to his side, and he pretended it hurt. Once he straightened up, he realized it was a fairly decent smack because his side ached. Diaval wondered when Aurora had built such power behind her arms. He rubbed the sore spot.

“That hurt?” The queen worriedly touched his side until he brushed her hands away. “I’m sorry, Diaval.”

“That is all right.” He blew out a breath. Diaval then leaned in and grinned at Aurora. “Did Maleficent tell you about the time she created a rainstorm in the cottage over your aunts’ heads?”

Aurora laughed, happy for the story. “No. Do tell me.”

“Well,” Diaval started. He told the story along with a few others about Maleficent toying with the pixies all of the time. He enjoyed Aurora’s laughter. He stayed for awhile longer then announced he had to return to the Moors.

Aurora thanked him for coming to visit and checking on her. She walked him out to the balcony. They exchanged a long hug, and Diaval promised the troubles would be over soon. Aurora hoped so.

Diaval neared the rail, but Aurora’s voice made him halt from leaving. He faced her again.

“Will you visit tomorrow night?”

Diaval leaned against the rail. “I will come the night after tomorrow. Do you wish me to come tomorrow night?”

Aurora shook her head and approached Diaval. She held onto his arms and sadly smiled. “Please tell Maleficent that I love her.”

Diaval melted at the sad request. He hoped that Maleficent would come to the castle soon to see Aurora. Yet, they were so busy with King Hubert and readying the protectors. “I will tell her.” He then gathered her into his arms and hugged her tightly. “Be safe, sweet Aurora.” He kissed her temple before he let go.

Aurora stepped back a few times and watched Diaval transform. She stayed there for a long minute despite the raven was gone. She felt guilty for not telling Diaval her plans, but she set in motion for him to find out. Aurora blew out a nervous breath at the thought of Maleficent’s reaction to the future news.

Remembering her game with Philip, Aurora left the chambers and headed to the library. She was thankful to spend time with him and enjoy a game in the middle of the stress. They played a few times until the third game dragged out longer than they were willing to invest for the night. Aurora bid goodnight as they left the incomplete game on the table. The pieces were frozen in their locations on the checkered board. Aurora’s golden king in the throes of battling Philip’s black king while the golden queen was kept protected by the golden knight from the dangers of the last two black pawns.

That night, Aurora tossed and turned in her bed. She suffered from bad dreams about King Hubert. She even dreamt about Maleficent dying in dragon form. By dawn, she was relieved to get up and start her day. She first saw Prince Philip off. Aurora hugged him hard and made him promise to keep in touch with her. She hoped King John pulled through.

After Philip’s departure, Aurora had a quick breakfast and went to the Royal Court. She struggled with two cases of thievery, but she was thankful there were no rape cases this time. Once Royal Court was over, she held a brief meeting with the nobles. She announced that she would be sending a reply to King Hubert about their decision. The nobles were mostly in agreement, mostly.

Aurora left the throne room after she dismissed the meeting. She retired to her office and settled at her desk. She worked a few hours before dinner was ready. Just as she was about to leave her office, Captain Cynewear caught her.

Aurora invited the captain into her office. She sat with him in the visiting area. “Do you have the men selected?”

“Yes, your majesty.” Captain Cynewear settled into a sofa chair. “I also have the horses being organized.”

“We will not need horses for this journey,” Aurora informed.

“My queen, it will be a long journey to Cadalerd without horses.”

Aurora nodded once. “I am counting on it.” She understood the captain’s confusion.

“It will also make it difficult to leave Cadalerd in haste.”

Aurora stood up and firmed, “We do not require horses.” She refused to explain herself.

“My queen-”

“That is all, captain.” Aurora went to her desk. She had her back to the captain and silently apologized for her cold manners. It was hard for her to act such when she had developed a strong relationship with him.

Captain Cynewear was standing up, and he shifted on his boots. He cleared his throat and asked, “What time do we leave?”

“One hour after sunset,” Aurora replied.

Captain Cynewear moved around the sofa chair. “As you wish, my queen.” He left the office without another word.

Aurora sat on the edge of her desk, and she lowered her head. She ran her hand over her face a few times, trying to wipe away her burden. “Taranis, please protect us,” she prayed to the god.

As the day wore on, Queen Aurora and Captain Cynewear prepared to depart the city after nightfall. Aurora sent word to the captain to contact her when they were ready to depart the city. She had retired to her room and double checked that she had the right supplies in her rucksack. She took a quick bath, knowing it would be awhile before another one.  After braiding her hair, she dressed in her new leathers that Avery had made her. Aurora prayed that she would make it back to Merawin to see her leather armor.

Aurora then collected the bronze sword from under her bed. She adjusted the sword belt so that it went across her chest. She tightened the buckle that rested over her cleavage. Aurora then decided to put her dagger in her boot so that it was a hidden weapon. Finally, she went to the closet and retrieved her black cloak, which she placed on top of the rucksack.

For a few minutes, Aurora stole away on the balcony and enjoyed the warmer weather tonight. Usually only the days were warm and nights cool this spring. She wondered why it was taking so long for spring to come to them. A heavy knock at the chamber doors drew her back into the quarters. Aurora knew it was time when a soldier entered her chambers.

“Captain Cynewear has sent for you, my queen.” The soldier was dressed differently and wore nothing that distinguished him as a Merawin soldier.

Aurora nodded and went to the made bed. She pulled on her cloak first then grabbed the rucksack. She shouldered it on as she followed the soldier out of the chambers. As she traveled alongside the soldier, she realized he had been one of her sparring partners this past week.

“What is your name?” Queen Aurora had an apologetic look.

“Alden, your majesty.” The soldier was leading the way through the castle to where the captain and other soldiers waited for the queen.

“Thank you for your blade this week.” Aurora smiled at the soldier.

Alden smiled and replied, “It was a pleasure, your majesty.” He felt a little uneasy about his next words, but he spoke them anyway. “You were an excellent opponent.”

Queen Aurora chuckled and argued, “I am sure it is different fighting in real combat.”

Alden considered it for a moment. “Yes.” He glanced at the queen. “There is far more desperation to live when you’re in a real fight.”

Aurora suspected as much. She recalled what King Stefan and Maleficent were willing to do during their battle in the castle.

“This way, my queen.” Alden rounded the corner then took the first steps on the left that took them down into the lower reaches of the castle.

Aurora hesitated because it was the same stairwell that had taken her to the dungeons where the destroyed spinning wheels waited for her. All the remnants of the spinning wheels had since been removed, but Aurora rarely went down there.

The soldier paused in the stairwell after he noticed the queen was still at the top. “My queen?”

Aurora pushed down her ugly memories and hurried after the soldier. Together, they weaved their way through the dungeons until they came to a former barracks that was converted to the guards’ quarters. Immediately Aurora’s eyes went over the twelve soldiers that would accompany her. She noted that all them wore a variety of leather and steel, but not bronze or iron. She had requested that their bronze armor be left in the barracks so that they were less noticeable as Merawin soldiers.

“We are ready, my queen.” Captain Cynewear moved through the men until he was in front of her. “Are you ready?” His words hung heavy in the air. He and the soldiers understood that their journey was possibly a one way trip.

Queen Aurora gave a firm nod. “Yes.” She reached behind and drew the cloak’s hood over her face. “Let us begin.”

Captain Cynewear silently agreed and led the way to the rear entrance of the castle. The queen wished to leave unnoticed by all. Few knew about the hidden entrance at the back of the castle, but it was well guarded too.

Beyond the castle, the warm evening greeted the travelers. The trek northeast would take several days by foot. But their arrival would be at the right timing for Aurora’s plans. She also wished to not stand out among the peasants with their horses and shiny bronze armor. It would give Aurora a chance to learn more about the kingdom with her own eyes and ears. She had yet to travel to Cadalerd until now, and she wished it was better circumstances.

For four hours, the soldiers traveled until they crossed into Cadalerd. Aurora pressed the group to go for another half hour because there was a village close to the border. One soldier was sent ahead to scout a location off the main road. Soon, the group arrived at the clearing that the soldier had found for them. Camp was quickly made and two fires started for the large group. Some ate a small meal before laying down for the night.

Aurora went over to Captain Cynewear and mentioned, “I would like to travel to the village.”

The captain was taken aback and nearly argued the idea. However, he had learned his lesson and merely suggested, “It would be best to take another or two with us.”

“Alden,” Aurora selected.

Captain Cynewear nodded and collected the soldier after he ordered his must capable soldier to mind the men. He, Alden, and the queen left the camp and trekked to the village only fifteen minutes away by foot.

“Where to, your majesty?” Alden asked.

Aurora had tugged her hood more over her head. “To a tavern.”

“It would be wise to not say her name or address her,” the captain advised the soldier.

“Beg your pardon, your…” Alden faltered and shyly smiled at the queen.

Aurora flashed him a grin under the hood. She started on her mission to study the peasants around the village. She could already sense the troubles of the looming war on the people. There were few men, who were either old or too young to be in a battle.

“This way,” Captain Cynewear directed the pair. “I can smell the ale from here.”

Alden gave a hearty laugh. “I have heard their ale is much more potent here than at home.”

“Along with their mouths,” Aurora commented.

Alden grew wide eye at the smart remark from the queen.

Captain Cynewear laughed this time. He guided the pair to the tavern and opened the door for them.

Aurora allowed Alden to go in front of her so that the initial attention was off her. She softly ordered, “Find a spot in a corner or close to a wall.”

Alden obliged and moved through the half filled tavern. He approached an empty table, but he waited for the queen to take a spot first. He then pulled out his chair.

Aurora had her back to most of the tavern. She would rather see everybody, but she knew it was better to hide her face.

Captain Cynewear sat across from Aurora. He had a full view of the tavern, and any possible trouble. However, he could tell that it was quiet since most men were conscripted for King Hubert’s army.

The queen settled into her spot and drew the hood off her head. She was comfortable with it.

In moments, the barmaid arrived and offered a greeting to the strangers. She asked if they needed food and drink.

Alden requested for a drink first. The captain second it. But the queen ordered a small plate of food for her supper. She skipped on using the food supplies back in the camp. After a bit, the chatter in the tavern returned to normal.

The barmaid returned with two tankards of ale and food for the only female. After she set the plate down, she placed her freehands on her ups. “So where yeh hail from?”

Aurora instantly handled the question. “My brothers and I come from Ofsted.”

The barmaid’s head bobbed several times. “I have a cousin in Ofsted. They say King John is ill.”

“Quite so,” Aurora agreed. “We were visiting family here.” She had her full attention on the barmaid. “News is that King Hubert is going to war with Merawin.”

Already the barmaid was annoyed by bringing up a sensitive topic. “Our gods be damned king has been bitten by whatever got King Stefan killed by that Fay witch.”

Captain Cynewear lowered his head after he saw the glint in the queen’s eye. He had seen that look plenty of times during their sparring.

Aurora settled her initial ire. “Does he not fear being killed too by that… witch?” She had a hard time calling Maleficent such.

The barmaid sighed and replied, “She was killed by Prince Philip of Ofsted.” Her attention shifted to one of the brothers that made a low noise. She was unsure why he had wide eyes. “But where there’s one Fay witch… there’s another.” She shook her head and left the table.

Aurora sighed heavily and turned to her food. It was true that the Kingdom of Cadalerd believed Maleficent was dead. She started on her food, but she paused because of Alden’s look. “What?” she tempted the soldier.

“They are slightly confused here in Cadalerd,” Alden softly replied.

“Yes.” Aurora tried the potato and enjoyed the soft warmth. “It’s quite peculiar.”

Captain Cynewear considered the queen’s response and attempt to find out information from the barmaid. He wondered if Queen Aurora already knew about the stranger rumors of Maleficent’s demise. Most likely the spies would have informed the queen. He decided to let it go for now and instead enjoyed the local ale. Whatever the queen had planned out, he was meant to play along until he was informed otherwise. Cynewear inwardly sighed and hoped the queen understood her enemy well enough, for his sake and the soldiers’ sake.

To be continued.