It was an unlikely friendship between a princess and the daughter of the General. While Samantha was raised to be a proper lady, I was raised to follow in my father's footsteps. My sword became an extension of my arm, my armor like a second skin. My mother was skilled with the bow and it was through her that I excelled in that, as well.
But we were lonely children. Sam was royalty and her parents were busy with affairs of state. My own father spent most of his time away at war. My mother often accompanied him. It was a time where more and more women were being drafted into the army as the supply of men dwindled. The barbarians must be kept at bay. I remember a conversation my parents had. I wasn't supposed to hear it but I eavesdropped anyway.
"They're just people like us. No different and no worse, thrown to the sword because their king and our king do not like each other."
Dangerous words and I often wondered if they were what led to his death.
Sam and I kept each other company. I suppose it was allowed because I curbed her more self-destructive tendencies. Eventually she realized just how serious her position was. One day she will rule this kingdom, and she needed to be ready for that. This had the dual effect of making her work harder to learn the ins and outs of the court, and making her act wilder when she wanted to have fun. There are now three Sams. The one that acts out and has fun, the one that tries so very hard to live up to her father's expectations, and the one that only I'm allowed to see.
And I see a lot of Sam. As soon as I showed aptitude with a sword I was placed as her personal guard. I can go places no one else is allowed to with her, making me a constant source of protection - and supervision. I'm conflicted about it. On the one hand, I'm good enough to go to the front to defend my people. I want to. Part of me needs to. I remember, though, the stories that Conrad Roth, Captain of the guard and my father's dearest friend used to tell me. Still tells me.
About how terrible war was, and what a body looks like when it's been mutilated by a sword. I would flinch and he'd tell me I wasn't ready. I hate that. I'm ready. I know I am. But I'm here just guarding the princess and it chafes at me.
But I love seeing her. I love knowing her life is in my hands. I love being able to talk to her, watch her, listen to the sound of her breathing while she sleeps. I love her and I'd protect her with my life.
The realization hit me so suddenly that it felt like the air was knocked from my lungs. Yet it also came like a slow understanding. I looked at her out of the corner of my eye. Sam was in the royal bath, and the sight of her skin glistening with wetness only served to drive home my epiphany. The benefit of us both being girls was that I could guard her even here. She no longer allowed people to help her bathe but still insisted I stay with her. But now I'd caught myself staring. How many other times had I stared without realizing it?
My armor felt heavy and uncomfortable, like I was standing in the sun. I turned my head away, eyeing the window instead, even though the odds of someone scaling three stories weren't very high.
"Yes, your highness?" I was certain my voice sounded strained. She'd climbed out of the tub, affording me a view I'd always tried to ignore until now. The heat inside my armor was unbearable.
"Sam. It's Sam when we're alone, remember? Could you get me my robe?"
"Of course." My response was automatic. I pick up the robe and slide it over her shoulders. Much more slowly than necessary.
She turned and leaned against my chest, so that my arms were around her shoulders. Rapping her knuckles on my chestplate she gave a little sigh. "I hate this thing. I don't like it between us."
Right this moment I'm grateful for it. I can never reveal these feelings. If I was lucky they'd just exile me.
"Take it off." Sam gave me her most stubborn pout, but I shook my head.
"I can't. How can I protect you if I'm defenseless?" It was a half-truth and one she caught me on almost immediately.
"You're better in lighter armor and you don't even need to wear that stuff inside the castle, let alone my chambers. You just favor it because it adds bulk and makes you feel like you're one of the men. You fight better without it."
And before I could tell her to stop, the Princess had unlatched my armor and it had fallen to the ground at our feet. It was a relief as it had kept the heat in but now I was exposed and vulnerable. It was a disconcerting feeling. When she put her arms around me and leaned against me I feared I would forget how to breath. My gauntlets joined the breastplate and I cradled her with my bare hands.
"You're burning up," she murmured. "We should return to my bed chambers it's cooler in there."
Gods, if only she knew. I let her lead me through the door to the rest of her chambers, not trusting my voice to betray me. The front of my tunic is damp, and I pause to remove my boots and the rest of my armor. She's right, it's too bulky for me, but I might as well be naked.
When I look up she's looking at me. "Your highness?"
"Tomorrow we'll get you fitted for leather armor." That's just like her, to decide to do something, and I don't argue. Not when she uses that tone. Certainly not when that robe clings to every curve, sticking to her body from how damp she is. I long to hold her, not knowing where these feelings come from or if they'd just always been there.
I picked my sword up and started towards the door to my adjoining room. Since I was required to be so close, her old handmaiden's room had been given to me. I miss my old room. I miss the privacy as I'm sure Sam does as well. It took a miracle, but I managed to avert my eyes when she took the robe off to get into bed.
The gods are cruel though. Or maybe the princess was, because her voice stopped me. "Lara, I don't want to be alone tonight."
With a sigh, I returned to the chair, still trying to avoid looking at the princess. I can hear her shifting around in the sheets, and then her feet padded across the floor. Sam was standing in front of me. The moonlight made her skin gleam.
I was tugged to my feet and before I could regain my senses, Sam had me in bed with her. She lay with her head resting on my shoulder. I kept my hand very still on her hip, my other fingers digging into her sheets. Her hand slid under the hem of my shirt on my stomach, just an inch or so in.
Sleep didn't come easily.