Chapter I of The Priestess

CHAPTER I

Ricard had no idea who to blame for the position he was in. He hadn’t tampered with the gold bricks but it was something Lorne would do. If this was the case, his brother only acted like a friend to get him to let his guard down. Well, it had worked but he would know better than to trust him the next time.

In some ways, Ricard was tempted to blame himself for his troubles. He hadn’t been thinking clearly since he first saw Dragons coming out of the sky breathing fire at his men on the battlefield. Then there had been the Elven Army, which had seemed to come at them from every direction at once. There had been no signs of those Warriors before his men had gone on the attack.

When they had loaded him with treasure and sent him on his way, he had been too busy counting himself lucky to think the matter over. Common sense should have told Ricard he was being set up for a fall by his Elven enemies, but he had chosen to disregard his instincts. He should never have believed those three breathtakingly beautiful women. They had devious and cruel minds in the way of all females. But they had looked so innocent, so ethereal, he couldn’t think past it.

Women. Ricard spat blood and his lips split with the effort. They were all the same, it didn’t matter where they originated. He would never trust another again. Perhaps Lorne had the right of them when he allowed his men free rein to treat them any way they wanted. From this time forward, it would be exactly what he intended to do as well.

Worse than what the women had done was the treatment he had received at the hands of his own family. When his brother had finished his meal, he had come into the dungeons and beat him. He knew better than to believe his father would take Lorne to task over something so trivial as this. Their brother, Evart, wouldn’t dare say a word one way or another if he wanted to live to see another day.

The sound of a key turning in the lock of the cell heralded the arrival of someone and Ricard could only question whether it was Lorne coming back to finish the job he had started, or another. He wouldn’t put it past the bastard.

“Ricard,” the sound of Evart’s voice broke through his brother’s musing.

Evart had known Lorne went down into the dungeons to see Ricard after they had finished their meal but he couldn’t believe how badly he had beaten him.

Evart’s silent look of horror was followed with one of pure hatred and anger. It made Ricard fear his little brother was going to do something stupid. He didn’t doubt that Evart had the brains to find a way to make Lorne bleed without facing him in a battle. But if that happened, Lorne wouldn’t think twice about killing him. As he remembered, their older brother had never exhibited much use for the boy.

“Don’t do anything rash like go after Lorne with a weapon,” Ricard rasped out.

“That wouldn’t be rash.” Evart sounded more disgusted than Ricard believed possible. “It would be suicidal.”

“What are you doing here?” Ricard wondered.

“I brought you something to eat and drink,” Evart explained. The thoughts of what he had been doing to Ricard made him feel like a devious monster, but it wasn’t going to stop him from going through with his plans. There were some things he might reconsider though; especially after seeing what Lorne had done.

“I am not sure I can eat anything,” Ricard admitted, although it hadn’t stopped him when he was in much worse shape in the past. What he knew for certain was that he was hungry enough to at least try.

“Just as well I didn’t bring anything solid then. I will release you from these cuffs so you can use your hands to eat on your own,” Evart informed Ricard. “Father said I was allowed to do that much. I will also get some warm water to clean the blood from you. There is no real proof you did anything wrong so he isn’t about to act on this. Not yet anyway.”

“What you are saying is that Lorne acted without our father’s consent,” Ricard noted. They both knew their father wasn’t going to put up with that. If there was one rule they were all held to, it was as long as Felix wore the crown, no one was supposed to do anything to counter his orders, not if they wanted to live to tell about it.

When the chains fell off Ricard’s wrists, it was all he could do not to yell from the release of the tension on his joints. He held onto the walls and slowly made his way to the only bench in the room. When Evart was sure Ricard was stable, he placed the meal he had brought onto the bench beside him. His brother smiled as well as he could under the circumstances. He saw it was mainly stew and a large piece of apple pie that wouldn’t take much to chew. Lorne had beaten him but he hadn’t broken any bones that would prevent him from enjoying what he considered to be one of his favorite desserts.

Ricard wasn’t as capable of eating as he thought. He had trouble using his hands, although he could chew well enough. This meant Evart stayed with him and spoon-fed him before leaving him behind the locked door once more. He didn’t put him in irons the way Lorne had and he promised to return with warm, clean water to wash with. He told him to rest because no one knew what would happen when morning came.

Evart had a better idea of what to expect from the next day, although he hadn’t planned on acting on anything until he had seen the damage Lorne did to their brother. Things had been bad enough before but things had gotten out of control. Lorne was upstairs drinking heavily, as he had been doing since the death of his last daughter. This meant he would sleep like one of the dead as would the woman he had dragged up to his room. Evart decided it was the perfect time to put his plans to work. What he had meant to do to Ricard, he would do to Lorne. It didn’t particularly mean their father would do anything about it when they discovered the gold in Lorne’s possession but it would get Ricard released and the care he needed to heal. Evart had realized Lorne was King Felix’s favored child from the beginning and as his heir, he could get away with more than anyone else. But could he steal from their father with impunity?

As Evart walked through the hidden passages that led to the treasury, he shook his head and wondered when his life had become such a tangled mess. Although he hated the way his family acted, the truth was they were all he had. He loved them too much to want to see any of them hurt. Despite this, he knew this was inevitable. He decided that if any of them died because of his actions it was meant to be. Besides, who was to say they wouldn’t meet their ends on a battlefield, which was even more likely. They were warlords and death was sure to find them sooner or later.

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