Can the most feared pirate captain in the world save his love and himself from eternal damnation?
When Ashe Steele docks his vessel at the piers of Forest Shore he thought it was just to sell his ill-gotten goods. What he finds is a fabled princess and a kingdom cursed for eternity. Can he save his lady love and himself before it's too late?
The Archmaide cut through the icy black waters, her crew hurriedly working on her decks in the frigid night air.
“Come on, men! Let’s move it,” her captain bellowed.
“Sir,” questioned the first mate, “where be we headed?”
“You’ll see, Crofton, you’ll see. Let’s go, boyos! I don’t want to be able to recognize this baby when you’re done!”
They had lost their pursuers in the dense fog, but still they sailed on at top speed.
“Have you seen my daughter?”
“No, Sire –“
“She’s out traipsing about the town again, Father.”
“Good Lord, Thornton! Don’t sneak around like that boy, you’re liable to scare someone to death,” cried King Argwire.
“My . . . apologies, Father. I just thought you’d like to know,” Thornton grumbled leaving the throne room.
“Wait! Thornton, where did you say she went?”
“Into town, she snuck out again,” Thornton answered in aggravation.
“Yes,” Thornton snapped tiredly, “again.”
“Thornton,” Argwire warned. He watched his eldest son storm out of the room. The king looked at his head advisor and they both shook their heads.
“I’ll have to send one of the guards-“
“If I may, Sire . . .”
“Go on, Bishop,” Argwire encouraged.
“Sire, she’s not in any real danger-“
“HMPH,” Argwire snorted. “She’s a princess, a free roaming one at that.”
“Yes, but, Sire, if you keep her locked away inside the castle grounds you’ll break her heart.”
“I know, I know,” the king sighed. “I’m just afraid some rogue sailor will see her gallivanting around and steal her heart away.”
“If I may, Sire, the odds of that are very slim. Not many boats find our harbor and those that do usually never find us again.”
“Hmph,” Thornton grunted as he stormed back through the throne room.
“I really wish he’d lighten up,” Argwire commented quietly. Bishop nodded in agreement.
A moment later Aleana, Argwire’s free roaming daughter, meandered into the throne room.
“Did you go into town again,” her father asked.
“Oh, Father, it was such a lovely day and I got so-“
“It’s alright, Aleana,” Argwire said raising his hand to stop her. “I just wish you would let someone know where you’re going.”
“Yes, Father,” Aleana smiled as she gave Argwire a kiss on the cheek. “If it makes you happy then I will.”
With that said she smiled brightly and sauntered off humming happily to herself.
“She’s like a ray of sunshine, Bishop. Just like her mother, God bless her.”
“She most certainly is, Sire, and just as beloved, too.”
“If only I could figure out what makes Thornton the way he is,” Argwire continued thoughtfully. “If she’s the sun then he has to be the darkest storm cloud I have ever seen.”
“He is at that age, Sire. Perhaps he just longs for some companionship or what not,” Bishop offered. Argwire nodded in agreement
The Archmaide had sailed the night through and by day break she had been transformed from a pillaging pirate ship to a lost and battered merchant’s ship.
“Sir,” Crofton questioned as he watched Captain Ashe Steele stare steadily at the sea.
“Cap’n, the men be wonderin’ –“
“Tell them to cut the masts to a thirty degree angle, Crofton.”
“Aye, but where-“
“Ever heard of Forest Shore?”
“Ye’ can nay be serious,” Crofton barked, “it don’t exist! It be just a fairy’s tale!”
“It exists, Crofton.”
“You’ve trusted me for this long, Crofton; don’t loose your faith now.”
“Aye, aye,” Crofton sighed walking away.
Aleana awoke the next morning in good spirits.
“Mornin’, Miss,” her chambermaid Shana said happily.
“Is it going to be another beautiful day, Shana,” Aleana asked as she dressed.
“Aye, Miss, that it will be.”
“Oh, good,” Aleana cried merrily. “I do so want to go to town again.”
“Me thinks the young princess has found someone to occupy her time-“
“No,” Aleana laughed, “but there should be new merchant ships coming in today. I want to see what they have.”
Shana just nodded and smiled.
“Oh, stop,” Aleana laughed tossing a pillow at her.
“Aye, Miss,” Shana chuckled.
“Come with me, Shana. It’ll be fun.”
“What would yer father say, Miss? A chambermaid helping the young heiress gallivant off?”
“I don’t need any help. I gallivant quite well on my own,” Aleana teased. “You’d only be . . . escorting me.”
“Aye, I see. I still must say nay, Miss, but ye’ go along-“
“You don’t know what you’re missing, Shana. Come on,” Aleana persisted.
“Ye’ need to get up, Miss, yer father is expecting you and your-“
“If I get up will you come along?”
“Yer givin’ me a headache, young Miss.”
“Come on, Shana,” Aleana implored.
“Shana,” Aleana continued, “please?”
“Oh, for the love o’ heaven. Fine. I’ll go young Miss, but only ‘cause ye’ forced me to,” Shana groaned giving in.
“Now, will ye’ go and have breakfast with yer father?”
“I promise, love, I promise,” Shana laughed as she crossed her heart. Aleana smiled warmly, kissed Shana and dashed off to breakfast.
“There are days when I wish I didn’t love that li’l minx so much,” Shana sighed as she began to straighten up the room.
Aleana came back about an hour later, a small frown playing on her lips.
“What’s wrong, Miss?”
“Thornton has upset Father again,” Aleana moped as she flopped across her bed. “I don’t understand why he has to instigate everyone.”
“Yer brother is at that age, Love, he is just challenging your father’s authority,” Shana replied softly.
“Why? He knows he’s upsetting everyone else-“
“He just does it to do it, Aleana. He means no real harm, I’m sure.”
“You weren’t at breakfast.”
“I’m sure it’s nothing,” Shana soothed. Aleana made no reply.
“Come along, Miss, ye’ wanted to go to town, lets go,” Shana suggested. Aleana considered this for a moment then agreed. They headed out a few moments later.
“Cap’n, the men-“
“Trust, Crofton, trust. Make a ninety degree turn by those cliffs.”
“Ashe! That’s one big-“
“Trust me, Crofton,” Ashe repeated.
“Aye,” Crofton grunted. “Ninety degrees, boys!”
“Ya’ gots ta be kidden! T’aint nuthin’ but solid rock,” cried one of the crew.
“Just do it,” Ashe barked. He saw Crofton cross himself and shook his head.
“Aye,” Crofton said.
The Archemaide made a hard right turn and headed towards the rocky ledge. The closer the disguised pirate ship got the more alarmed the crew became. Just as it looked like they would collide with the mountainous cliffs they sailed right through them. The crew’s eyes widened it stunned disbelief. Ashe just smiled – he knew the pass was there all along.
“Get ready to unload our goods and make one hell of a killing, boyos,” Ashe bellowed.
“A killin’? But-“
“Lads, if we get caught with Emperor Hans precious cargo we’ll be hung out to dry for sure. These people love foreign finery. We’ll make a killing,” Ashe explained. The men lapped this idea up. The thought of gold lining their pockets and some shore time greatly appealed to them. And of course there were the women. If there was one thing all the men aboard the Archemaide looked forward to it was the women.
They began to bustle about planning among themselves.
“Ashe,” Crofton dared.
“Ashe . . . how did ye’ know? How’d ye’ know it was-“
“Remember the Archmaide’s original captain?”
“Aye, God bless his black heart, I do. He gave ye’ this ship and what was left of her crew ‘cause ye was foolish enough to save his life.”
“That I was,” Ashe laughed, “that I was.”
“What does Ravager have to do-“
“He found this place once before and mapped it out. He made me promise to come here before I died to pay back on Prince Argwire.”
“But, Ashe, lad, Ravager was cap’n of this ship for almost fifty years-“
“Must have been before that, huh, Crofton,” Ashe teased sailing the ship closer to the docks. “Gather the men. We need to com up with one collective story. No need for us to be caught here and lose everything now.”
“Aye,” Crofton said hobbling off to get the Archemaide’s crew assembled.
When they were all on the main deck Ashe weaved his tale for them to stick to. The men chuckled to themselves as they listened.
“And remember to tell them how we had to fight to keep our goods. Just make sure you stick to the story. We want to avoid any unnecessary questions.”
“AYE,” the cheered.
“Good. Prepare to dock, boys.”
The Archemaide docked and unloaded her wares while curious onlookers watched and royal guards questioned her captain.
Shana and Aleana wandered around the town, Aleana greeting the people cheerily.
“Are ye sure about the docks, Miss?”
“Shana, trust me. The rogue pirate story Daddy fed you is a bunch of-“
“Aleana,” Shana chided.
“Hogwash,” Aleana finished with a laugh. “There are no rogue pirates, Shana. And even if there were, how would they get past the guard?”
“I’m seein’ yer point, Miss, but still . . .”
“You’re so paranoid,” Aleana teased. They walked down the boardwalk looking over the displays.
Shana became distracted by one of the tables leaving Aleana to meander over to a neighboring display.
“I see the lovely young lady has an eye for finery. Such a beauty as yourself should be adorned in fine satins and silks.”
“Perhaps,” Aleana played as she slipped a ruby bracelet over her hand.
“Those poor rubies are dulled by your outstanding beauty, my dear,” the voice continued. Aleana raised her green eyes to meet a pair of breathtaking stormy grey ones.
“I . . . thank you,” she stammered. Ashe picked up her hand that wore the bracelet and kissed it softly.
“I would expect such loveliness to adorn a throne somewhere, not wandering around a pier,” Ashe marveled still holding her hand. Aleana gave up a small laugh.
“Do you think so,” she asked. Ashe kissed her hand again, never taking his eyes off of her.
“I think you may be a goddess descended from the heavens,” Ashe replied. Aleana tried to fight the flush from coming to her cheeks but failed. Ashe smiled coyly.
“Does the fair lady have a name,” Ashe questioned. At that moment Shana spotted Aleana with the merchant and panic ripped through her soul.
“Aleana!,” Shana yelled rushing over. Aleana’s smile faded instantly and her attentions diverted as she searched for Shana. Ashe’s eyes narrowed. Shana rushed up to Aleana completely out of breath.
“We have got to go, young lady. Come along,” Shana panted snatching Aleana’s hand out of Ashe’s.
“Shana . . . wait,” Aleana protested as Shana dragged her away. Ashe made an attempt to go after them, but they had disappeared in the thickening crowds. Ashe returned to the table very somber.
“Ashe, lad, ye look like someone just stole yer money and ran off with yer wife,” Crofton taunted.
“That woman called her Aleana.”
“Aleana was the name of the queen here . . . when Argwire was prince.”
“Was,” Crofton repeated.
“He’s king now,” Ashe replied thoughtfully. Then, shaking his head, “It’s probably nothing.”
“She was a beauty though,” Crofton remarked trying to antagonize Ashe.
“God knows she was,” Ashe stated absently.
“And she got the rubies.”
“Look,” Crofton said pointing to the empty spot on the table where the precious bracelet had once been.
“She got you good,” Crofton teased.
“Never. Whatever you’re pushing at, forget it.”
“Could the mighty Ashe be . . . “
“Shut it, Crofton.”
“One more word out of you and I’ll rip your tongue out and make you eat it.”
Crofton just laughed merrily at Ashe’s idle threat. Ashe dropped a hefty bag of gold on the table.
“Here, wise ass, keep it. I have to get ready for my meeting with the Argwire. Make sure the boys stay out of trouble. Take them out and get them stone drunk,” Ashe instructed.
“Ye gonna be ok?”
“Ye look a might bit lost-“
“So help me God, Crofton-“
“I’ll send Nearfar to watch the boys. I’m gonna keep an eye on ye, lad. Ye may equal Ravager when it comes to pillaging and barbarianism, but yer heart is gonna be yer fall.”
“Come on, you crusty old coot,” Ashe laughed giving in. “If I’m as bad as you say I am you’d better keep me from the rest of the women here.”
“I swear to ye, Ashe, ye fall in o’er yer head every time a pretty li’l thing smiles atchoo.”
“Now you’re just spinning stories,” Ashe laughed.
“Ravager at least had the sense to go and take ‘em,” Crofton persisted. “Ye just ogle at ‘em.”
“Are you done?”
Shana dragged Aleana the entire way back to the castle with Aleana protesting and looking back the entire time.
“No rogues, eh? Aye, ye’ll be the death of me so ye will,” Shana scolded flopping down on a stone bench in the castle gardens.
“But I didn’t do anything,” Aleana proclaimed.
“Nay, but he was about to.”
“Oh, stop it.”
“Ye are so young, Aleana, ye don’ know what men like that can do to a pretty-“
“I’ve heard enough, Shana. I stole the man’s rubies and you’re flying off about him doing unspeakable acts.”
“What did ye do?”
“His rubies. You dragged me away before I could return them. I guess I’ll have to-“
“OH NO! I’ll send one o’ the guards.”
“How will he know who it is?”
“Aleana, I swear,” Shana began trying hard to hide her smile. “Yer father’s gonna have my hide if he finds out that ye was flirtin’ with a sailor boy-“
“You have to admit, Shana, he was something to look at.”
“Aye, that he – STOP THAT,” Shana yelled catching herself. “Don’ ye talk like that!”
Aleana started to laugh. Shana rubbed her face with her hands as if trying to wipe away the guilt. Aleana just laughed that much more.
When Aleana and Shana went back into the castle they were greeted by Argwire. Shana nearly fell over in a dead faint scaring Argwire and giving Aleana another fit of laughter.
“What the devil is wrong, woman,” Argwire demanded holding Shana up while Bishop retrieved a chair.
“No-thing, m’liege, no-thing,” Shana replied.
“It’s nothing, Daddy. She’s just tired. Poor Shana can’t keep up with me.”
“Aye,” Shana panted, “ye’ll be the death of me ye will.”
“Help Shana back to her room, Aleana,” Argwire instructed trying to hide his own smile. At that moment Thornton strode in. When he saw Aleana a wicked smile crossed his lips.
“Did you have a good time at the piers today, dear sister?”
Aleana couldn’t speak – she was stunned. Shana swatted her lightly and she snapped to.
“Yes . . . yes, I did. Come along, Shana,” She commanded as she pulled the chambermaid from the chair and escorted her down the hall.
“Thornton, what the hell was that all about,” Argwire demanded.
“Oh . . . nothing,” Thornton replied devilishly and then walked off.
“When did I lose control?”
“I wonder, Sire, if you ever had it over them.”
Argwire looked at his head advisor shocked by the bluntness of his statement. Then he began to laugh. Bishop sighed in relief.
“You’re a piece of work, Bishop, my old fried,” Argwire mused.
“M’lord,” a guard stated rushing up to the two men and bowing.
“What is it,” Bishop asked.
“Someone is here to see the king. Says he’s a friend of someone his Lordship knew many years ago.”
“M’liege,” Bishop asked. Argwire considered this for a moment.
“Escort him in,” he said at last.
“I want two guards in here, two by the door and two more at the end of the hall,” Bishop commanded. The young guard took off.
“Is all that really necessary,” Argwire asked.
“For the safety of the kingdom . . . and for the sake of an old friend.”
“What would I do with out you, Bishop,” Argwire beamed.
Aleana and Shana were in Aleana’s chambers looking at the bracelet.
“Thank heavens yer father did nay notice.”
“Oh, stop. I’ve never seen anyone fret the way you do,” Aleana chided.
“Just ye wait, Princess. Wait till ye have li’l ones of yer own and they make ye loony like the jay bird.”
Aleana laughed so hard her knees gave out and she sat on the floor in hysterics.
“Just ye wait,” Shana promised trying not to laugh at her wayward charge.
Crofton and Ashe waited patiently to take audience with King Argwire.
“This be madness, lad. Take the money and lets go,” Crofton begged.
“Would you deny a dying man his last wish?”
“Then shut up.”
“Ashe, lad, do ye realize what yer getti’ yerself into?”
“Out of the frying pan and into the fire,” Ashe responded quietly. Crofton just shook his head.
A moment later four guards came and escorted them to the throne room.
“God save us,” Crofton mumbled.
“You requested an audience with me young man,” Argwire asked when they entered the throne room.
“Well, boy, spill it.”
“ A friend of mine made me promise to return the four hundred pounds he borrowed from you many years ago,” Ashe began. Argwire’s eyes widened in skepticism.
“Impossible . . . how,” he stammered. “What was his name?”
“Matrix Ravager,” Ashe and Crofton answered together. Argwire nearly fell out of his throne.
“Sire,” Bishop questioned, unnerved by the rogues.
“Ravager . . . I’ll be dammed,” Argwire gasped. “He sent you?”
“Aye. Made the lad promise to repay ye when he took over the ship. And here the lad is,” Crofton answered swiftly not giving Ashe the chance to speak.
“By God,” Argwire exclaimed. “Bishop, have the cooks prepare a meal in honor of our guests!”
Crofton and Ashe could only look at each other.
Thornton watched all this from the balcony above the throne room, observed by no one – just the way he wanted it. A sly smile cracked his pallid features.
Aleana had coaxed Shana back out to the garden where they sat talking.
“No more about this sailor, Aleana. Do ye understand,” Shana implored.
“Fine, fine,” Aleana said with a wave of her hand. “I can still dream.”
“Ye best not,” Shana barked making Aleana laugh again.
“Uh oh, Shana. Now you’ve done it. Here comes Bishop and he’s-“
“Ye best shush yer mouth, Miss,” Shana warned trying not to laugh at Aleana’s antics.
“Over here,” Aleana called.
“Shana. Princess, your father is having a banquet for some . . . colleagues of his. He-“
“Requests that I make an appearance. Yes, fine,” Aleana sighed.
“Thank you,” Bishop said bowing then hurrying off.
“Something tells me ye nay want to go,” Shana teased. Aleana rolled her eyes in disgust and they headed back inside.
Ashe and Crofton had been given their own chamber to clean up in. While Ashe scrubbed up Crofton paced around contemplating escape.
“What have ye gotten us into, Ashe? They got us locked up in here an’ we can nay get out!”
“We’re having dinner, Crofton. It’s probably the only decent meal we’ll ever get.”
“I’d rather starve,” Crofton growled. Ashe laughed at him.
“Behave,” he warned the old man. Crofton heaved a sigh in disgust.
Several minutes later two guards escorted them to the banquet hall.
“Come! Sit,” Argwire encouraged his two guests. Crofton plopped down carelessly, his eyes bulging at the sight of the food laden table. Ashe seated himself next to Crofton, keeping his eyes on the guards.
Thornton strode in a second or so later. He stopped when he saw Ashe, his eyes shining wickedly. He sat at the far end of the table away from them. Bishop came out of the kitchen and seated himself to the right of Argwire.
“Where is she,” Argwire hissed to Bishop. Bishop could only shrug.
“She was told about the banquet, Sire, but you know how she hates-“
“No matter, Bishop, she was told to be here and damn it she should be here!”
At that moment Aleana entered dressed in the rose and white gown her mother had given her for just such occasions.
Argwire smiled approvingly as everyone at the table rose to greet her.
When Ashe saw her his jaw dropped. Crofton had to shut his mouth for him.
When Aleana saw Ashe she stopped almost mid-stride, her eyes wide with surprise. Argwire looked from Ashe to Aleana and back again, non-plussed.
“Princess,” Ashe finally managed as he left the table. He bowed before her and Aleana curtseyed in return. Ashe lifted her hand and kissed it, smiling brilliantly making Aleana smile in return.
“A-HEM,” Thornton growled loudly. Argwire shot his son a harsh look and watched Ashe seat the young princess across from he and Crofton.
Bishop looked at Argwire questioningly. Argwire could only return the look.
Thornton began the conversation.
“So, dearest sister, tell me about your day on the town.”
Aleana looked at Thornton coldly and Crofton nearly choked on his wine.
“Yes, dear, tell us how you enjoyed your day,” Argwire added as he sliced into the roast.
“Fine. It was fine.”
“Just fine, Aleana? It must have been better then that. You came home with a ruby bracelet today,” Argwire continued. Now it was Ashe’s turn to choke.
“Are you alright, lad,” Bishop asked as they watched Ashe try and regain his composure.
“Swallowed the wine wrong,” he said after a few moments.
“I got the bracelet from a very nice vendor near the docks,” Aleana stated carefully.
“Near,” Thornton asked, “or on?”
“Somewhere in the vicinity, Thornton,” Aleana retorted icily .
“We have guests, can you two contain yourselves for the moment,” Argwire demanded. Thornton smiled casually and nodded. Aleana looked over at Ashe who offered her a wink bringing a smile to her face again.
Dinner continued this way. Thornton instigating Aleana, Aleana firing back and Argwire growling at them both. Aleana finally had enough.
“Excuse me,” she grumbled rising from the table.
“Aleana, sit down. We haven’t-“ Argwire began, but Aleana paid him no heed, she walked out of the banquet hall. Argwire sighed – perturbed by his son’s antagonistic behavior and his daughter’s lack of temper.
“I apologize to you . . . I don’t believe I’ve had the honor of your names?”
“Ashe Steele and Crofton,” Ashe replied quickly, drawing his attentions away from where the Princess had exited.
“Very good. Which is which?”
“I be Crofton, the young googly-eyed lad here be Ashe,” Crofton answered. Argwire laughed heartily at the response. Bishop even cracked a smile.
“Googly-eyed, huh,” Argwire laughed. Ashe put his hand over his eyes and shook his head.
“Aye,” a slightly drunk Crofton agreed, “he be that.”
“Your daughter,” Ashe cut in.
“She’s very beautiful, wouldn’t you agree, Mr. Steele,” Argwire questioned. Ashe swallowed, unsure of how to answer. Crofton punched him lightly in the ribs.
“Yes . . . yes, Sire, she is. If I may be so bold, she’s absolutely stunning,” Ashe stated.
“Oh? Do you really think so,” Thornton asked maliciously.
“She is a treasure to behold,” Argwire stated ignoring Thornton’s trouble-making attempts.
“So is that ruby bracelet,” Thornton persisted. “It’s nearly priceless, wouldn’t you agree, Mr. Ashe Steele?”
“It may very well be,” Ashe replied cautiously.
“You are excused, Thornton,” Argwire commanded pointing towards the doors. Thornton rose angrily and stormed out.
“I apologize for their behavior-“
“No need, your highness,” Ashe interjected. “We should be-“
“Oh no, dear boy,” Argwire protested. “Because of your honesty with the money you and your companion or companions may stay here in the castle for as long as your journey allows.”
Crofton and Ashe just looked at each other.
“We’ll have to discuss it-“
“I understand. When you’ve made your decision have one of my guards tell me,” Argwire stated allowing them to leave the banquet hall.
Aleana was in the garden pacing about the paths, surrounded by the fragrant flowers. She was too preoccupied with the ruby bracelet to notice.
Ashe and Crofton meandered around the castle till – somehow – they made it outside to the gardens.
“What do you think, Crofton? Think the boys-“
“Ashe, lad, they won’t want none o’ this. It’s too fancy for ‘em.”
Ashe grunted in acknowledgement.
“They’d be miserable here, havin’ to behave an’ all,” Crofton continued.
“I had no idea she was an honest to God princess,” Ashe mumbled absently.
“There ye go again, back on yer little cloud,” Crofton teased. Ashe shrugged.
“Why don’t ye stay in the castle. Put ye in good with the king,” Crofton suggested.
“What the devil are you going on about-“
“Ashe, look,” Crofton whispered hoarsely, “there be the young vixen what got yer heart,” he finished as he pointed to the Princess who had seated herself on one of the stone benches. “Come on, lad,” Crofton said pushing Ashe out towards the Princess.
“Good evening, Princess,” Ashe said softly when he was within only inches of her. Aleana looked up from the bracelet, startled from her thoughts. When she saw who it was a smile spread across her lips. Ashe smiled in return.
“I’ll be leavin’ ye two alone,” Crofton said sneaking away.
“I do believe these are yours,” Aleana said handing Ashe the controversial bracelet.
“You keep them. I can’t think of anyone more deserving to wear them than you,” Ashe replied, placing them back into her hand. Aleana looked at the bracelet then back to Ashe.
“It’s my pleasure.”
“Would you like to walk with me,” Aleana asked. Ashe smiled so brightly that the Princess had to laugh. “I’ll take that as a yes,” she said extending her hand. Ashe willingly took it and lifted her from the bench.
“You are even more beautiful then I had first thought,” Ashe marveled.
“Thank you,” Aleana replied blushing. Ashe ran his fingers over her face and across her lips. Aleana pretended she would bite them making Ashe laugh.
“You’re most certainly a feisty one,” he commented.
“Very much so, Princess. After all, how may future queens go gallivanting around piers and flirt with sailors,” he teased.
“Oh, stop! You’re the one who started it,” she laughed.
“Why didn’t you tell me who you were,” Ashe questioned as they began to walk down one of the paths.
“You never asked.”
“But I was right in my first assumption?”
“Loveliness as yours should decorate a throne somewhere.”
“Ah, yes,” Aleana chuckled remembering his line.
“And you do.”
“Yes, I suppose I do.”
“Do you also suppose that we might properly introduce ourselves now?”
“Seeing as I have no idea who you are, that may be a good idea,” Aleana agreed.
“Then, my beautiful princess, we shall introduce ourselves. I am Ashe Steele,” he stated taking her hand and pressing it to his lips.
“I, Mr. Steele, am Aleana, Princess of Forest Shore.”
“I am honored to be in your presence, Princess.”
“The pleasure is all mine, Mr. Steele.”
“Aleana . . . was the name of your grandmother,” Ashe asked.
“Yes. She’s been gone for almost twenty years.”
“She was queen here before your father was crowned.”
“Yes,” Aleana said cautiously, alarmed at how much Ashe seemed to know.
“How long has your father been king?”
Aleana stopped and looked at Ashe very coolly.
“Princess, I didn’t mean to hit a nerve – I’m sorry,” Ashe apologized as soon as he realized he’d overstepped his bounds.
“Why – how do you know so much about us? You’ve never been here before.”
“A . . . friend of mine gave me the ship and her crew just before he passed away. He made me promise to come here and repay your father. He had managed to map out a course and told me in detail how to get here-“
“He borrowed the money from you father when your grandmother, Queen Aleana, denied him. He told me all of this-“
“Just before he passed away, huh? Pretty good story for a man on his deathbed, don’t you think,” Aleana asked mischievously. Ashe looked at her strangely.
“Obviously you don’t believe me.”
“Oh, but, I do,” Aleana said trying not to laugh.
“You . . . are impossible,” Ashe remarked while Aleana giggled.
“So my father says.”
“I’m not alone on that statement?”
“Not by a long shot,” a voice cut in. Aleana rolled her eyes.
“Shana . . .”
“Come along, Princess, ye should nay be out here this late with a scoundrel,” Shana stated as she took Aleana by the arm.
“Scoundrel?! Madam, I assure you I am anything but,” Ashe protested.
“He’s been an absolute gentleman, Shana,” Aleana added in Ashe’s defense.
“Aye, they all be till they get what they want. Come along now, young miss, up to yer chambers.”
“Shana, enough,” Aleana commanded breaking free from the chambermaid. Shana looked at her stunned – very rarely did Aleana exercise her authority over Shana.
Aleana shook her head in dismay then looked at Ashe.
“I must bid you goodnight, Mr. Steele.”
“If you must, Princess. At least I have the honor of knowing I’ll see your angelic beauty in the morning.”
Aleana smiled, curtseyed, allowed Ashe to bow in return then left with Shana. Ashe stayed put in the garden.
When the princess and her maid got back to the room Thornton was there waiting for them.
“Why did you bother to go after the trolloping princess, Shana? She’ll only do it again,” he began in his evil tone.
“Get out,” Aleana commanded.
“Please leave, Thornton, lad,” Shana begged knowing a fight was about to ensue.
“Oh, but, Aleana, my darling sister, I’m oh so interested in your new beau. A sailor isn’t he? What would father-“
“Get out,” Aleana snarled.
“Please, lad, just leave her be-“
“Shut up, Shana,” Thornton barked. “Speak when you are spoken to.”
“You bastard. Get out,” Aleana fumed.
“And what would father say if he knew it had been your sailor boy who gave you those rubies on the docks today,” Thornton continued.
“GET OUT,” Aleana cried her anger finally boiling over. “Get out NOW!”
At the sound of his daughter’s voice Argwire sent guards to the room followed close behind by he and Bishop.
“What’s the matter, Aleana, can’t handle the truth about Steele?”
“OUT,” she raved going after him now. Shana caught the girl by the arm and pulled her back.
“Enough, the two of you, enough,” Argwire yelled storming into the room. “What the hell is going on?!”
Just down the hall Crofton awoke to Aleana’s plaintive yells and became aware Ashe wasn’t in the room.
“Oh, Lord, Ashe, what have ye done now, lad,” he grumbled get