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'Never hesitate. Don't let go of the shield unless you absolutely have to, hide yourself behind it and make sure the horse keeps a solid pace, and-'
I know, I know, hold the sword like my life depends on it. I get it, Comrade.' I shake my head and hand her Ivan's newly altered sword.
'Your life does depend on it, Rose, never forget that.' She nods and clutches the lighter shiny silver in her grasp. Mikhail waits for her a few feet ahead of us as Rose prepares to attack him at full force on her horse. The determination in her eyes always makes me want to see her do better, fight harder and also keep her safe at the same time. Since we started training, things have been less tense and easier. Sometimes the trainings bring us closer as soldiers, closer as a unit and sometimes closer than I'd like to be.
At full speed she takes off and holds the shield in one hand with the sharp altered sword in the other. I watch as the wind flows through her long soft strands of hair. The horse rides with ease into its target and her eyes, the look in her brown eyes; fierce and deadly, strong and steady, she swings the steel at Mikhail with all her might. She hits his armor hard causing him to lose his balance and stagger back trying to regain his footing. I smile widely; she's grown and learned so much since we began training all those weeks ago.
Every chance we got whether resting and camping or just to take water, Rose was determined to learn and she learned quickly. As I was becoming more and more determined to make sure she knew everything I could teach her about protecting herself and working with the men, moving as one and not letting the Moroi get an advantage.'I think this time you broke Mikhail's shoulder.' She looks for him behind her as we both sit near the fire waiting for the fish we caught to cook. 'Nah, he's okay, he's a big boy and can handle hits from little old me.'
I smile and shake my head at her logic. 'You've become more and more unlike the men since training.' A curious expression crosses her face and makes me smile at her innocent question. 'What do you mean?'
I look out into the darkness of the forest, we're only a few hundred miles from home and I let myself lose the control I hold so tightly. 'Your strength, it's endearing and it can also get you into a lot of trouble.' She sighs and nods quietly but I don't mean to make her feel bad about that. 'You treat me as though I am not royalty, calling me Comrade and talking with me like this.'
A worried gaze crosses her face and she frowns. 'I'm so very sorry, your highness. Please, forgive me and my forgetting that you're a royal figure, it's just I've been-'
'Its okay, Rose, its fine.' She turns to me, her eyes big and innocent in their brown curiosity. 'It isn't kind or wise to behave so uncaring with a royal figure. I should have known better.' I shrug and smile to her.
'It's okay, really. It's humbling, reminds me of my family... and home.' Home. A place the both of us longed for, me to go back to and her to find one. She laughs silently and keeps her eyes away from mine.
In the moments like these, the few times we had together to share and talk about ourselves and not fighting. I had begun to enjoy our light banter and finding all the reasons to laugh in a situation like this. 'Home... Something I could never seem to find.' She said it with a playful lightness but I heard the pain in her voice.
'In the castle, in my quarters there are books that I've had since my great-grandfather was a boy. He would read them to my mother and then she read them to us, although, my sisters weren't too keen on Old Russian tales.' We both laugh and I catch the shift of her glum mood become wondering.
'I don't think I would have been much interested in old tales myself.' I smile and nod as the deep yellowish fire crackles before us. 'Viktoria says the same thing, she's the youngest of my sisters and the only one not married. She wants to serve God, she reminds me of you in a lot of ways.' Her frown deepens as I smirk at the choice of words spoken. 'Me? How so, I've been training to kill men bigger than me?'
I laugh and face her with a smile and it seems to capture our eyes. 'I mean the way you were so determined to fight and be trained. She's stubborn very much like you but not as strong hearted.'
'All of your sisters are married to soldiers?' I shake my head no and look back to the fire, pondering the answer to this oddly comfortable question. 'No. My oldest sister was married to Ivan at a young age, before he was trusted into the royal guard at my side. Karolina has taken duty for his family on the council as he left to fight.'
A short silence follows as we both linger in the image of Ivan's death and I think of how Karolina suffered when word got back to her of it. As if she sensed I needed a change of topic another question sounds from her fragile soft voice. 'And the others?'
I swallow my grief and daze off into the fire as I explain my family to this strange beautiful creature. 'Sonya is married to a councilman from the Badica family, well, she is to be married. They would like me to walk her down the aisle but then the war began and now it's a waiting game.' She nods in understanding and more silence lingers as I await the next obvious question. 'And Viktoria wants to serve God, so that leaves you. Does the Prince have a wife or lady in waiting?'
I shake my head no and look to the floor preparing to explain my feelings on marriage and love, and being a prince who leads his army into battle at the moment's notice. I sigh, folding my hands at my knees and stare ahead at the darkness enclosing the forest but before I can answer, she speaks again. 'When I was a young girl and my family lived near the Moroi kingdom, my mother once told me the story of Queen Daniela Ivashkov. How she was forced to marry King Nathan because of her family's finances and her fathers greed over the council. Is it like that for you, in Baia, do you have to marry to accommodate your family?'
I shake my head no and release a deep cleansing breath.The cricket's sound, the men quiet from eating their dinner and the beautiful Rose to my left awaits my answer. 'No. No, you can marry to better your life and for financial reasons. In Baia, the Dhampir people, they can marry for love.'
An amused expression graces her face, 'and there's no one in Baia that you love?'
I swallow my answer, not yet; I've had my fair share of opportunity with many women. They throw themselves at me; propose me with fine cooking and many children, all the sons I could want. It was fine; they had all the reasons for me to give them a chance. To wife them and raise a family but battle and war, the fight to protect my people had always lay first in my heart. That and I wanted real love. 'As odd as it sounds, being a prince does have its advantages with women and that sort of thing. However, my duty to my people will always come first.'
Rose nods silently, but in her silence I sense another wonder, another question. 'Don't you want a family of your own someday? A wife to come home to?' I sigh again.
My sweaty hand wipes the dirt away from my face, the groans of men and swishes of swords clashing as we fight for our lives hang in the air. We were about a few hundred miles outside, near Omsk and that's when they attacked. Moroi left and right, attacking with no mercy and there were many more than before. I rise from the ground not being able to make it to my horse before they strike. Dimitri made it a point that no matter what a soldier, a well trusted and skilled one, was always at my side.
And so Mikhail had my back and I in return had his.
We rode together, fought together and killed as many as we could. Once again they had surprised attacked us and it was beginning to rain. The light droplets grace the battle field as I wait with the second wave of men for Dimitri's word to attack once more. Now back on my horse, I spot him easily, working his sword and commanding his men as he was born to do. His hair swishes in the wind created by his fierce graceful movements with the enemy. He rides off in determined speed, his face a frown of strong silent fury waiting to be released on the people opposing a threat to him and his people.
Mikhail clears his throat next to me and it catches my eyes. 'He won't signal until he's taken out enough...' I shake my head and grip my sword a little tighter, not believing a word out of Mikhail's mouth. 'Why? We are ready for them, he will signal any time now there's too many to handle on their own.'
Mikhail shakes his head in my peripheral view and faces me as I stare out to the grassy part of where Dimitri and a few men attempt to hold them off. 'Miss Rose, the prince can take out many men when he has reason to.' 'He's protecting us, what do you think? You should be honored to follow such a man into battle and live among his kingdom.' Mikhail's eyes harden at me and he nods agreeing. 'I am but that doesn't mean he can do everything himself.'
A long silence follows our heated exchange and finally the signal is given to Mikhail and we ride down the few feet to meet our fellow soldiers, leaving the pointless doubt behind. I fight my way through, clashing swords, bumping shields and swinging with all my strength the sword the blacksmith has altered for me to carry. The Moroi are strong and most built as if weight training since birth. Their hits stumble me, push back my horse and I almost lose my momentum every time. I carry on though with Mikhail by my side and finish off the Moroi soldiers I've already wounded.
We work well together as long as I don't lose him and stick to the training the prince has given me. The Moroi are everywhere it seems, I lose track of Mikhail once, but easily find him again and were back to fighting like we have been for a lifetime. I hear the groans and yells of the men we have destroyed and wounded. I search for the prince, every time I hear a cry of agony, I couldn't help it. The flashes or memories that we have shared flood my mind as I ride off into the next chaotic battle.
He sits quietly by the fire, his gentle rough hands folded at his lap and his dark deep eyes pasted on the floor. 'One day I would like a family to come home to and have all the memories of pain fade away. To see children smile widely as I come up the grass fields of my home and know that I've fought with my life to get back to them.' He sat in silence again and this time I waited for him to finish.
I wondered if the prince was the type of man that believed he could have that love. A love so powerful it changed the way he felt about putting it away for the duty of protection. A love to share with a woman who understood his duty enough that she would love him anyway, in spite of him being a royal leader and putting his life on the line. 'I'd come back to a wife who would understand me, not just my title as prince and future king, but the role it calls upon me and love me anyway. However, a woman who would have to be so patient is very hard to come by.'
That had answered my question and I looked at the handsome prince in a whole new way ever since. 'I would hope you find your love and have your children. I would pray for it, it's something many people have, but many take for granted.'
He looked to me and our eyes met in a deeper understanding of one another. 'I would hope and pray with my whole life, Roza that you will find the same.'
The moment fades as I'm struck with a heavy sword from a Moroi with blood oozing out of his left shoulder. He's been wounded by my hand but hasn't yet met his demise. I fight with him as Mikhail squares off with two others leading right toward us. My search for Dimitri vanishes as I am now focused on the task at hand, survive this soldier and move on to the next; quickly. He's tough to stick again and harder to block it seems but I don't give up.
I tighten my hand upon my sword, grip my shield and hide my open side behind it and don't hesitate as I swing at him. Our swords clash and the loudest of clanks sounds throughout the forest. My hand aches from the impact and I almost drop the sword but my shield suffers and falls instead. My left side is open and ready to be struck and that's exactly what happens as I miss the Moroi's chest and his sword glides across my left side. From the top of my shoulder over the side of my breast and ending at my rib.
The armor protects me but my shoulder somehow seeps out a deep rich blood and I'm worried. Mikhail shouts for reinforcements and at my delay in reaction, the Moroi's sword strikes again. This time slashing my arm and causing more blood to spill.
'Она раненых!' Mikhail's loud booming voice brings me out of the fight I was in the middle of. I look for her before finishing off the worthless Moroi soldier who now lies at my feet.
I search; my eyes wide with fury and worry look for her as If she's the smallest spot on the biggest of maps. I ride off in a direction I don't know whether she is or isn't. I just ride, the rain growing heavier, the horse moves full speed ahead and I'm slashing anything in my way as I keep searching for her. My sword meets others, cutting skin and stabbing through bodies. I don't focus on who I'm killing and keep riding off into an area I'm not sure Rose is.
My vision blurred from the grime and blood splashing at me. I speed up my horse and ride into a rage of battle, men cutting men, horses being dropped and trampled on. There are too many Moroi this time and we are outnumbered by hundreds. I have to get to Rose, get Mikhail to get her out of here and kill as many as possible before they make the rest of the way into Omsk and then attack the gates of Baia. I still search for her, looking in all directions and when I hear Mikhail's voice again this time closer, I know exactly where to look.
Once I spot them, I notice Mikhail is fighting off three men who were going for a wounded Rose. One gets passed him and begins to fight with her. Now she is strong but not when she's wounded which is what Mikhail had shouted. I watch as they spar, wounded girl with just a sword and skilled soldier swinging away as if she's practice. The thought sickens me and it makes me drive harder to get to her side.
A few Moroi catch my direction and ride toward me, three of them, but I keep pushing. I draw my sword and swing to kill which I do with the first one. The second a little harder to wound as I keep my eyes back and forth to Rose, she's holding on as long as she can, but the Moroi is too strong and she's fighting a losing battle. The third soldier on me strikes me in the back but only cuts my armor. I turn all my focus on the men and let go of the control I'm known for having.
It felt savage, like something else entirely has taken over my body and ends the lives before me merciless. I begin to ride off into the direction of Rose again and that's when I see red. She's been knocked off her horse and is now at the filthy Moroi's feet awaiting a horrid death. It makes me scream to my horse to ride faster, makes my hand grip tighter on my sword and makes my heart beat a million times faster than before. The sweat pouring down my face isn't from the exhausting fighting, it's from the worry.
The worry of Rose's life ending much too soon, 'Mikhail!' I shout in a panic before I see him finally strike down the Moroi who was just about to slash Roza's throat with his sword. Mikhail picks her up and she's on his horse as Edison rides up to meet me as we get close to them.
I get off my horse and run to examine Rose. 'Are you okay?' She nods a little startled and tired but the blood only makes me angrier. 'I'm fine.'
I glare at Mikhail and shake my head as Eddie tries for my attention. 'I should have stayed closer to you or made Mikhail take a partner.' She shakes her head no and I once again hear Edison's voice sounding for my attention. 'I'm fine, your highness, it's just a scratch.' She shows me her arm and I see the blood seep through the cloth of her ripped up clothes. 'Mikhail never left my side, we had just lost each other in the fight, but he got there in time.'
I sigh in relief or disappointment... I'm not sure what. 'Sir!'
'Are you sure you are okay, Rose?' she nods as Mikhail wraps her arm tightly to stop the bleeding. 'It was only a few men but we handled them and I'm fine. Really.'
I sigh again and keep looking her over in case we have missed some other injury. 'Sir, please-' I wave Eddie off and keep my eyes to Rose. I needed to explain my worry, explain my determination to make sure no evil Moroi scum would ever come close to touching her. 'When you fell off the horse, I thought-'
She smiled brightly and winced a little as Mikhail knots the cloth keeping her wound safe. 'You thought all of that training for nothing?'
The few men around us laugh and so does Rose but I keep my eyes serious and focused on her. 'No. No, I thought I had lost you.'
The silence is intense as Mikhail and Eddie try to ignore what the prince has just revealed. I watch him as he focuses on Mikhail still looking over my arm. His eyes had always said everything he couldn't and I knew how to read him. I don't know when it happens or how it came to be but the prince and I had developed some sort of silent bond. I watch as he goes over in his own mind of what he's just said and then it quickly washes away as Eddie speaks breaking the tension.
'Sir, the Moroi have called for reinforcements, there will be too many to fight. What should we do, our other camps are nowhere near here. The closest have barely hit is ST. Petersburg.' The news looked to deflect off of Dimitri but he acknowledges Eddie with a slight nod.
Our eyes are still focused on each other as Mikhail gets off his horse and helps Eddie with his injuries, leaving me and Dimitri alone. I clear my throat and hold my injured arm close to my chest as Dimitri's eyes never leave me. 'I'm fine now, I can manage. I'll just stay in back of Mikhail and help him wound as many as I can. I can still fi-'
'Eddie!' He cuts me off and Eddie snaps his attention to the both of us. 'How far are the others?' Eddie looks out to the field where there's men still fighting, he's breathing hard and ready to go back in the swarm of deadly men. 'Just outside of ST. Petersburg, Sir.' Dimitri looks off into the men fighting and then off into a distance that's clear and then back to me. 'How much time until they arrive?' Eddie shrugs and shakes his head. 'It's hard to tell, sir. It could be long until their close enough to get word, a messenger has been sent, but it's hard to say.'
This leaves a lot of worry and unknown options as we try to think of a way to stall until help arrives and that's if help isn't attacked first. With a final glance to the far off distance of trees where no one seems to be and then one back to me, Dimitri sighs tiredly and nods to himself letting us know he's come up with a plan to get us out of this. His eyes linger on me as he explains the idea he has just come up with and I can already tell I'm not going to like it. 'We will have to hold them off as long as we can. Tell the men to work as one and watch each other's backs, we risk nothing and no one.' Eddie rides off on his horse and back into the battle yelling orders to the men he's just received.
Dimitri avoids my eyes and speaks to Mikhail in Russian first before peeking at me quickly and then looking back to Mikhail. 'No matter what you don't stop riding until you've hit the gates, tell the council we need more men and then you return. Quickly.'
I could tell I was missing a big part of information that was part of the plan. I looked to both men in confusion, waiting for my orders and part in this last attempt against the Moroi. 'What do I tell the queen about Miss Rose?' Dimitri's eyes meet mine and in them there's sadness, and hope, and disappointment.
Although I'm sure it was for me as his next orders made me realize something big. 'Tell them we rescued her and she's to be treated as if she was a royal herself. Tell them she stays in my quarters and to have anything ready on hand that she needs.' I glared at him as Mikhail readied his horse and ignored us or pretended to ignore us.
I was in disbelief of what I was hearing and spoke before he could open his mouth to say anything. 'We will wait for you down the hill, for your signal, like last time. We will come in and attack from behind-' Dimitri's sullen sad look gave me chills but not the good kind.
'No, it's too dangerous for you to stay here-' he starts to say.
'I'm not going to leave. I've been in this situation before and I'm ready.' Dimitri shook his head no and held my shoulders gently with his rough yet soft hands. He was already telling me the plan without having to say anything and I did not like where it was going, in fact it infuriated me. 'I'm not made of glass! I can help you!'
I removed his hands with my good arm from my body and the loss affected me immediately. 'Rose, please-'
'No! Dimitri, I can help, I'm fine now!' He shook his head once more at me and stepped closer, the proximity making the moment more tense. 'I don't want you to help. I want you to go.' I shake my head at him now and try to step away, noticing Mikhail in a hurry with getting his horse ready for travel instead. 'I want to fight!'
'I don't need you to fight; I need you to run, Roza! To Baia!' By this time his hands and gentle fingers held each side of my face as close to his as possible. I could feel his breath across my own and the action, the look of pure sincerity in his eyes made me want to cry. 'Get to safety and put my mind to ease, let me focus solely on this.' He nods back to the battle field where the men are fighting with their lives.
I shake my no head as tears develop, I didn't want to leave. My chance to get back at the Moroi wasn't over yet. 'I'm not going to leave you. I won't!'
At this time our hands touched each other's faces as gently but firmly as possible. His touch felt like fire across my sweaty skin, making me want to stay as close as I could to him, but also making me want to do what he says and leave. 'We are ready, Sir' Dimitri nods at Mikhail's words and pulls me closer to his warm rough body as the rain picks up. 'I'm not going to leave you...' I sob now as tears begin to fall slowly.
'No. No, I making you leave me. To wait for me...' His eyes showed the meaning of his words and I knew then why he wanted me to leave. 'Get inside the safety of the gates and I will come to you. You wait, Roza, just wait for me.' I shake my head again, crying as I've never cried before. I'm usually the one saying goodbye to the ones I cared about, the people I loved. He kisses my forehead. 'No, please...' I beg him, but he shakes his head no again and wipes a few dirty tears from my face.
'You go and wait... wait for me, Roza. So we can be married and you will never have to be without family ever again.' That said it all, all I needed to hear and I closed my eyes as our lips met in a soft slow kiss.
I lie in the velvet blanket and watch the ceiling for the longest time. Another night alone in a fancy palace I've come to know as Dimitri's home. It's been weeks with no word of the soldiers that were left fighting back outside of Omsk. Olena, the Queen of Baia, had accepted me as one of their own after Mikhail explained how I was rescued and helped the men kill many Moroi. She gave me my own quarters in the wing where Dimitri's room was and close to the library he always loved to be in she had said.
My wounds had healed, my life was forever changed and my dreams -if I had the luxury to actually fall asleep- were of Dimitri. The day Mikhail returned with a few men was both exciting and disappointing. He didn't bring back many men with him, just ones who needed time to heal and then took more men in exchange. He left with only the news that the prince's camp had been split up and some men were lost, missing or dead. The Belikova's wished and hoped that Dimitri were among the ones missing or lost but not dead.
No, he was too skilled for such pitiful men to end his life. Something else, something more unexpected would take him from this world and not for a long time, or so Yeva had said. She had the dreams or visions like Dimitri had said, just like Rhea. Time passed and people grew up and throughout the everlasting war, no word would come for days. But when it did there was never any word of Dimitri or any of his men that he led with his whole heart into battle.
So I waited just as he asked me to. I would wait and hope and pray that someday my prince will come.
A Year Later.
In the sky, the pure blue cloudless sky, the sun shined a new bright light into the fields. The tall yellow weeds of grass went on and on for miles behind the palace, Karolina had said that this was Dimitri's favorite place to be when he was struggling with life's uncertainties. Viktoria would always tell me to pray there, as often as I went, maybe the prayers would reach him and God would give him more strength to come back to us. To me. I went here almost every day, touching the tall grass lightly and thinking of Dimitri and how he rescued me. 'Rosemarie...'
How much adoration and love in his eyes that made me finally see his point in trying to save me and get me out of harm's way. 'Child?'
How our talks as we trained or as we sat by the campfires would stay in my mind. How at night I would pray and hope that he would just show up at the gates and take me here to the tall grass behind the palace so we would be together. 'Rosemarie!'
A fragile yet strong voice snaps me out of my daze and I turn to face Yeva standing at the beginning of the fields. 'Yes?' Paul, Karolina's oldest son who reminds me little of Ivan runs up to me and stops just a few feet ahead. 'What is it Paul?'
He points back to Yeva and we both look over to her smug smirk, she holds up her hands over mouth to ensure that I hear what she has to say and begins yelling lightly. 'Come along, child!' I look to Paul and then back to Yeva in confusion. 'You should also dress for the occasion!' I look back to Paul again in even more confusion and he just shrugs.
'Why?' I yell back wondering.
Yeva smiles and shakes her head smiling wide. 'Have you lost hope already, child?'
It takes me a few minutes to gather what she is saying. Unlike Rhea, who was straight forward with her visions or dreams and telling them. Yeva like to hide some things and keep you guessing with what she saw, leaving you to figure it out on your own. Then as she stands there smiling widely, Paul runs back to her and they smile to each other, it dawns on me. I look to Yeva again and slowly, a wide glorious joyful smile graces my face as I realize what she means. 'Come on, Rose, we will be late for his arrival.'