A work in progress.A young and inexperienced queen preparing for her first battle, much to the worry of her faithful companion.
There were way too many unfamiliar pieces involved in the assemblage of this new armour. She had already figured out the lower part of the protective gear, having successfully strapped her legs up in the leather bound casing, but now Mackenzie scowled down. She was confused by the remaining pile of body armour. The largest part, which was now clutched tightly in her trembling hands- a gold plated piece, beautifully decorated with an engraving of a phoenix - was definitely the breast plate. Oddly, she had been enticed by its attractiveness the moment she had first seen it and dreamily began to trace her hand over the shimmering image. It seemed to be ablaze in the afternoon sun and she gasped as her fingers warmed instantly from a curious buzz of energy. For a brief moment she forgot about the impending battle and closed her eyes, breathing in the reassuringly familiar aroma of the aged leather. Galian had always allowed her to care for his armour after their early morning drills and she would sit contented for hours, working the thick liquid conditioner into the leather pieces. This armour however, had apparently belonged to her mother and it seemed to have been fate that brought it back to her. It was peculiar how things sometimes turned out, even after this many years. She smiled sadly, allowing her mind to drift back to a time almost seventeen years before, when she would have been curled up in her mother’s tight embrace. For the first time since she had become queen, she felt over powered by a strong sense of pride. A pride of her roots and what was even more astounding was the sudden rush of courage that flooded through her blood.
A loud commotion from outside her chambers had just wrenched her rudely from her daydream. Mackenzie blinked her eyes wide with a start.
“I don’t care what she said.” an angry voice boomed. “I need to talk to the queen. Now!”
Mackenzie twisted towards the door and frowned as Athach barged in to her chambers, his long cloak whipping furiously behind him. A rather flustered looking Nessa hurried in behind him.
He stopped suddenly when he saw her standing in her partial armour. His eyes narrowed to darkened slits. Suddenly Mackenzie was incredibly thankful that she had chosen to wear a cotton shirt beneath her gear.
“What do you think you are doing?” Athach hissed at her, his face livid. Nessa pushed her way in front of him her lined face etched with anxiety.
“I’m so sorry, my Lady. I tried to stop him.” the old woman apologised, shooting a nasty glance towards Athach. “But he wouldn’t listen.”
“It’s alright Nessa,” Mackenzie said reassuringly, patting her old maid on the shoulder. “It’s fine.”
The old woman nodded to the young monarch then left the room slowly, pausing only for a second to frown again at Athach.
Mackenzie reluctantly placed the breastplate back on top of her bed and turned to face the angered wolf lord. This was the first time she had seen him in his full battle gear. Not metal based armour like hers, but instead a sturdy black leather. He wore a high necked, heavily studded vest, that left his powerful upper arms unprotected. A fur lined cloak was the only thing that draped down over his bare shoulders. His lower arms however, were richly decorated with dozens of leather bands and thick metal armlets and his long black hair had been braided through carefully with blood red ribbons. Perhaps the most intimidating of all , Mackenzie noticed with a sharp intake of breath, was the massive battle axe that loomed threateningly over his shoulders. It was strapped in place by a weighty looking belt, that stretched up from his back and crossed over on his broad chest. At that moment though, Athach stood with his arms folded across that barrel chest and was tapping his foot against the granite floor, impatiently waiting for her answer. Mackenzie scowled up at him, infuriated by his attitude. As daunting as he now looked, she was no longer a little girl, so she didn’t think that she should be spoken to like one.
“Well I’m certainly not trying this stuff on for the fun of it.” she quickly snapped at him.
“You’re not going out there!” he said firmly, ignoring the disgusted look that crossed Mackenzie’s face.
“If you expect me to just sit up here, patiently waiting whilst my friends risk their own lives on my behalf, then- then you are very wrong.” she retorted angrily.
“Anyway.” she continued coolly, her hands resting defiantly on her hips. “You can’t stop me. I‘m Queen”
Athach took a menacing step towards her. His piercing eyes almost seemed to burn right through her, but then he stopped and heaved a long sigh of exasperation.
“ No, you are right. I can’t, but I can request that you stay up here well out of harms way. We do have it under control. You don’t have to be there.”
“Yes. I do.” she said a little softer. “Someone wise once told me, that in order to be a gracious ruler, you need to always stand up for what is right and never shirk away from your responsibilities. I don‘t intend on doing that at this moment and I will not send my people to do a task that I would not otherwise do myself. ”
Athach frowned at her. “ I don’t remember saying that.”
Mackenzie rolled her eyes at his convenient lack of memory.
“Besides,” she continued , perhaps a bit too pompously. “you know perfectly well that I am capable of matching any one of those soldiers out there, both for skill and speed.”
“I’m not going to talk you out of this am I?”
“You wouldn’t even-”
“Not a chance.” she repeated. He glowered at her for a long time, then shrugged, finally understanding that her mind was not about to be changed.
“Fine.” he relented “ but you must stay next to me, at all times and where I can see you. Understood?”
“Fine.“ Mackenzie agreed firmly, then added in almost a whisper. “Trust me Athach. I hadn’t planned on leaving your side”
And she didn’t have any intention of straying far from him. Although she knew that her swordsmanship was highly skilled, the thought of being attacked still terrified her. At that moment the full implications of an assault had her utterly sickened to the stomach. Just knowing that Athach would be close at hand, calmed her nerves a great deal.
A glint of gold caught her eye, drawing her attention back to the remainder of armour lying on her bed. The image of the phoenix seemed to dance and twist before her eyes, beckoning her to put it on.
“Um, Athach. Seeing as we are now in agreement, I don’t suppose you could help me get into the rest of this armour , please? There are too many weird pieces!”
Nodding , Athach picked up the breastplate. He held it up to the light, admiring the extraordinary etching, exactly as she had done earlier.
“It’s warm.“ He said with amazement, then eyed her curiously. “This belonged to your mother, didn’t it?”
Mackenzie nodded silently. Having someone else mention her mother, was a little harder to take than she had thought. She struggled to speak. But Athach hadn’t noticed. His attention was drawn back to the breast plate. He was busy turning the piece over and over in his large hands, examining it closely.
“It’s a beautiful piece of work.” he was saying. “Not human work though. No. This is of mystical origin, if I am not mistaken.”
“What?” Mackenzie asked, catching only part of what he was saying. Mystical?
“Yes. I would treasure this if I were you. I can almost guarantee that it is the only one of it’s kind. Here, turn around,” he said standing next to her “and put your arms out to the side.”
They spent the next half an hour in silence as Athach carefully fitted her with the rest of the phoenix armour, adjusting it in places so that it moulded snugly against her tiny frame. He checked every inch of the armour, over and over, then once again, just to make sure that it was indeed fitted properly. Having to stand still all that time took its toll on Mackenzie, who couldn’t help but fidget. Athach even had to smack her hand away more than once when she sought to explore the many shiny buckles , but eventually, only when he seemed satisfied, he stood back to admire his work.
“How does it look?” Mackenzie asked eagerly. “Scary?”
Athach raised his brows. “Not to bad. Might make a warrior queen out of you yet. Where‘s your sword?”
Mackenzie went over to her trunk and had only just bent down to pick up her weapon, when the high-pitched cry of a horn made her jump up with a start. It was the sound that she had been dreading and much earlier than she had anticipated.
She glanced anxiously at Athach. “Surely not. It’s too soon.”
They both rushed over to the window and stared out across the horizon. Mackenzie saw nothing. Only the vast white expanse of snow covered fields.
“There,” Athach pointed at something far in to the distance. “just before the forest edge.”
Mackenzie turned to face him, a look of disbelief in her eyes. She knew his eye sight was pretty good but didn’t realise it was quite so strong. “The forest edge? Athach, I can’t even see the forest.”
“It doesn’t matter, come on.” there was a hint of urgency in his voice “They are still a good forty minute march away. ”
Mackenzie snatched up her sword and followed him out of her chambers, their heavy footsteps echoing around them as they hurried through the long winding corridors. She had to run to keep up with Athach’s long strides, her heart beating wildly against her chest as the adrenaline began to pump around her body.
Athach burst through the large font doors and they soon found themselves looking out onto a bustling hive of activity. They were met instantly by a bitter cold wind, that tugged ferociously at Mackenzie’s clothes. She glanced with amazement around the hectic court yard. To the young queen, it appeared to be nothing but an organised chaos, with men and horses darting about in every direction and still more soldiers continued to pour onto the fore court.. Then right in the centre of all the action, she spotted her commander. Balfour . He was already mounted upon his large dappled charger and was bellowing out orders to his convening infantry. Mackenzie watched silently as within minutes he had his soldiers assemble themselves into three orderly, ten man deep, squadrons. He sensed her watching him and stopped briefly as she passed, his eyes widening with surprise. He glanced from her to Athach and back again.
“Commander.” Mackenzie greeted, nodding her head politely. He was obviously not accustomed to having women fight in his army, especially not one as young as her, but he quickly recovered and dipped his helmet in a friendly acknowledgement. Morrigan on the other hand, beamed across at her from in front of his hundred strong wolf army. Mackenzie noticed that each wolf soldier was heavily armed with either a strong axe, a hefty blade or even both. Their eyes were glazed over with that same crazed look she had seen once before in Athach. She shivered as Morrigan approached them, suddenly thankful that the wolf folk were on her side and managed to muster a smile up at the wolf general. He was wearing similar battle attire to his master, only he was cloak less, as was the rest of his troop.
“My lady.” he smiled, with a sweeping bow. “May I present to you, the queen’s first mercenaries.”
Mackenzie gazed around the squadrons of man and beast that flanked her. Along with the wolf army, there was about forty men on horse back and the rest were on foot. Her heart instantly sunk. There didn’t appear to be that many of them. Maybe two hundred at the most.
“Athach” she whispered horrified. “ Have we enough men?”
“Relax.” he said in a hushed voice so that only she could hear. “ We are not a big enough threat to send out a large army. Remember as well that one of our wolf soldiers replaces two or three of your humans and our scout only counted five hundred at most within their ranks. It should be relatively easy test.”
Easy! Two hundred against five hundred. It didn’t take a mathematical genius to predict the outcome to that encounter. Easy wasn’t the word she would have chosen. Perhaps crazy, foolish, even suicidal would have been a better choice. She stepped aside dubiously, as a young page led Athach’s heavy war stallion towards them, it’s hooves, as big as dinner plates, clattered against the stone cobbled court. Mackenzie chewed on her nails and anxiously considered what manner of demise she would soon be suffering.
“ A warrior never contemplates their death” A silky voice echoed through her mind.
“and a queen certainly does not bite her nails. ”
Mackenzie spun around and the tiniest of smiles briefly lit up her otherwise tense face. Linn had ventured out from the comfort of his quiet pool and now stalked leisurely across the square to join her. His flanks glistened with the pond water that streamed down through his shadowy hide. Puddles collected below him on the cobbled floor as he moved forwards. Balfour’s wary soldiers promptly parted to allow him through. Some fought to calm their own horses which reared and shied away from this awful beast before them. They were still very fearful of what this large creature might do to them. Mackenzie however, was far from being worried and fondly reached out with her hand, stroking the velvet softness of his damp hide. He gently nuzzled her face with his long leathery snout.
“Are you going to accompany us out there?” she asked the water spirit hopefully.
“Of course. Although I would prefer to carry you… If you would allow it.” he answered.
“Ride you? Are you sure?”
Athach almost slipped back as he pulled himself up onto his mount. He twisted around in his saddle and eyed Linn critically but Mackenzie only stared, unable to hold back a toothy grin. It would be an experience at the very least to ride into battle on the back of a kelpie. She nodded enthusiastically.
Mackenzie’s mind was suddenly filled with the musical sound of ringing bells. She guessed that this was Linn’s laughter. He slowly lowered himself to his knees so that she could easily climb upon his broad back. She had no saddle and no reins, so had to make do with her natural riding skills to keep herself mounted. She coiled her small hands within his thick tangle of a mane and held on tightly with her thigh muscles, as the water horse leapt back up.
Athach sidled up next to them. Although Linn stood taller than the wolf lord’s charger, Athach still sat higher than Mackenzie in the saddle.
“Well if nothing else.” he said glowering at Linn. “Riding out on that monster, you will definitely strike a chord of fear into our enemies.”
“Monster!” Linn snarled and angrily stamped one cloven hoof on to the stony floor.
“Your friend should learn some better manners, especially since he’s no civilized beast himself.”
“Athach ,” Mackenzie scorned, trying to control the grin that threatened to break through her serious expression. “Linn would prefer it if you didn’t call him names.”
The wolf lord glowered at Mackenzie. “Is Linn ready to carry his queen on to the battle field or would he rather wait for my manners to improve first.”
“I don’t think we have that much time.” Linn snapped back.
Mackenzie breathed deeply, turning to look once more at her small army. Balfour’s infantry were lined up neatly, watching her with their expectant glances. They were as ready as they were ever going to be.
“Athach,” she sighed anxiously “sound the horn. We are ready.”
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