Callis was finding this scenario more than a little troubling. The sun was beginning its descent.
King Lucius stood with his arm extended, his eyes locked on the woman.
She was filthy, covered with dirt from head to toe. It was evident to Callis that she hadn’t bathed in at least a month. Only the skin of her face was exposed, but even that was covered in dried mud. She seemed to be wearing some type of thick material that hung down to her knees, obscuring her body. A hood hung loosely. He wondered who had constructed the disguise and why.
She had found some way to cover it in branches. Callis could imagine that if she sat still long enough she would blend in perfectly to the forest around her, completely unnoticed.
And now the King was offering her his steed.
Callis silently hoped the woman would refuse. The king was a gentleman. He would never force her to return with them to Marigol, even if his doctors could relieve her of that disturbing wheezing that seemed to cause her to shake.
“You can always return to this place whenever you want,” King Lucius said.
A mud-covererd hand crept slowly from a slit in the material toward the king until an entire muddy arm was exposed.
Callis quickly dismounted his horse. It had taken half a day’s ride to arrive at this point in the outlying forest. To walk back would cause them to arrive in the wee hours of the early morning, if they didn’t stop.
They were expected back before sunset. When they didn’t arrive, the sentries would be on high alert throughout the night and a small dispatch of men would be awaiting the dawn to be sent out for a possible rescue mission. It was customary to send a team to find the king within an hour, but when Lucius had taken the throne he had decided to change the custom. His advisors helped him succeed in only slightly delaying the launch of a rescue mission.
“Your Majesty, she can take my steed while you remain on yours” Callis said.
“Nonsense, Callis; I’m perfectly fine with walking. Please mount your horse.”
Dried mud fell to the ground as King Lucius helped the woman mount his horse.
Callis refused to allow his king to walk while he rode his horse. Yes, he respected King Lucius, but it was more than that.
Since childhood, they had been friends, confidants, cater-cousins, brothers. When one suffered, the other felt obliged to do the same.
“Your Majesty, I will walk.”
Concerns still lingered in Callis’ mind that this might be part of a bigger plot to kill the king and overthrow the kingdom. He refused to leave the king exposed to any stray arrows or sharp blades. As the king led his horse on his right, Callis drew in close to the king’s left side, leading his horse directly behind the king to cover him. He was prepared to throw himself over the king to save his life. And if they stopped for the night, he’d have to think devise a plan to protect the king.
“Ma’am, what is your name,” King Lucius asked.
The gentle tone of the question startled Callis out of his preparation
An uneasy feeling tightened Callis’ intestines. For the first time, he paused his mental strategies long enough to notice the expression on the king’s face. Beads of cool perspiration began to line Callis’ brow.
He had been so concerned about attacks that Callis had missed any possibility of a different type of threat–one of attraction.