I was fuming when she hit me, but as she carried on, I felt myself drawing back. You want me in my place? Fine. I let her slap me and yell at me and I just stood there like the bond-guard I was and when she curled up on the floor and cried I just stood there and looked at the wall. I didn’t move as she sniffled her way to her bed and blew out the lantern and I slept on my feet that night because she had never said I could go to bed.
I only half-slept as the sun came up and Alexandria didn’t stir until noon. She had her maid bring her some food and then went back to sleep. I couldn't tell if the maid intentionally gave Alexandria much more food than she'd eat, or if it just happened that way, but Alexandria ate only a small part of the meal the maid brought up. The rest, I neatly polished off after Alexandria had fallen back asleep. It was the first food I'd had since the morning before, and I was famished.
By the time Alexandria actually got up, the sun had started to go down again. She was disheveled and her eyes were puffy and red. She was drooping, and as she slunk to her private room, I was torn between wanting to comfort her and wanting her to suffer for the way she'd treated me. I knew I had no right to blame her for what had happened the night before. The fact of the matter was, she was right. I was a bond-guard and I had been out of line for a long time. I had forgotten my place, and it was probably a good thing that she had reminded me of it. Still, there was a dark, writhing mass in me that said it wasn't my fault I'd forgotten my place. I wasn't the one who had ignored protocol. It hadn't been me who had wanted to walk beside her. But it was my fault. I knew better. I had been raised better. It was my responsibility to protect her, it wasn't her responsibility to be protected. The truth of it was, Alexandria could do whatever she liked; it was my job to keep her safe and it was my fault that I had forgotten it. Now, it was my job to remember and to make sure that nothing like that ever happened again. Like it or not, I was her bond-guard, and if I failed there would be no one else to protect her.
Alexandria emerged from her private room looking better. Her hair was pulled back in a horse-tail and she had splashed some cold water over her eyes so that they were neither puffy nor red, but her face still had the worn look of someone who had been crying. She ignored me as she went to her wardrobe and pulled out a dress. She did not stand in the door and sigh and shuffle and complain that she had nothing to wear or pull out dress after gown after dress and ask me which one I liked. She just pulled out the first one she grabbed and spread it out on her bed. She began to undress and I closed my eyes to avoid embarrassing her, though I don't know that she cared anymore. When I heard her putting on her shoes, I opened my eyes again and swept the room like a good little bond-guard and fell meekly in behind her as she left the room.
Her parents were concerned about her (they didn't say that they had heard her yelling, but I was pretty sure that they had), but Alexandria insisted that she was fine and that she had been up late with Soren, that’s all. Finally, in the last light of the day, her mother asked her to go and buy some flowers for their home as that would make everyone feel better.
Alexandria’s next date with Soren was three days later. He took her to a dinner party on a fancy boat. I, of course, had to go along and I stood behind her all evening, trying really hard not to listen to Soren flirting with Alexandria and her flirting back. They talked about petty things mostly but now and then Soren would say something more serious.
“The count is really slacking this year isn’t he?” he began as the fourth course was being served.
“Sure, I guess so,” Alexandria said, seeming a little uncomfortable. “But who can really blame him, right?”
Soren gave her a patronizing look. “Sweetie, he is watching the people starve while his grain sheds overflow. If the people of this region had any sense, they would rebel.”
“Okay. You’re right. Ooh, look.” She tried to change the subject, pointing at the next course. “Lobster and oysters.”
Soren cast a glance at the food set in front of him and turned back to Alexandria with a look of mild reproach. “Alexandria, you agree with me, don’t you? You agree that the people should rebel, right? Come to your senses.”
Alexandria looked at him and hesitated for a second.
“No, of course I agree with you. The count is not doing his job and he should be put in his place.”
Soren smiled approvingly at her. “That’s right. He should remember his place or step aside and let someone else take over.”
After this, he seemed satisfied to let the matter go and return to lighter topics.
He never saw but I glared at his shoulders between my sweeps of the room. Bond-guard or not, I could see that he was up to something. I didn't know what it was, but it make the flesh on the backs of my arms crawl.
It happened two months after Alexandria had her episode with me. She was out with Soren, again, and as he walked her home, he stopped in the street and kissed her. He stepped back and took her hands in his.
“Alexandria, I want you to be my countess.”
Alexandria’s eyes must have popped, but I couldn’t see because I was behind her, and her voice was high and surprised when she said “But, but you’re a baron, not the count.”
He laughed and gave her a peck on the cheek. “That’s the other thing I wanted to tell you about.” He leaned close to her. “We’re planning a revolt and we’ll all be moving up. I’m going to be the count and I want you to be my countess.”
Alexandria took one of her hands back and put it over her heart.
“You’re going to revolt? As in assassinate him?”
Soren smiled gently. “Don’t worry, I’m not going to. It’s all planned out and all I have to do is a few little things and then take over as count when it’s all over. I don’t actually have to kill anyone.”
I had slid around to get a better view of the street and I could see Alexandria’s expression. She was shocked.
“Soren, what are you thinking? It’s not as bad as all that, and this is treason!”
Soren’s face changed. His smile was gone and his hold on her hand seemed less loving and more threatening.
“What do you mean? You know I’m right. You agree with me, don’t you? You support me, right?”
He posed these as questions but I heard a dark undertone that said bad things were to come if the answer was not yes. I fingered my knives. A small, dark part of me really hoped that he'd try something so I could give him the proper pounding that I'd been wanting to give him for the past few months. This would be interesting.
Alexandria pulled back and blinked like she was trying to clear away a fog.
“This… you… I… No.” she finally got out. She pulled away but he didn’t let her go. He stepped forward.
“This is the right thing, Alexandria. You will support me. We will put him in his place; the grave.” He stepped forward again and was right in her face. “And I will be in my place, the count, and you will be in your place, beside me.”
Alexandria was trying to pull away and she was becoming frantic.
“No. This is wrong and I will not support you. Let me go! You’re crazy and I’m leaving! Let go!” She was tugging and her voice was high.
Soren’s face contorted into a snarl and he pulled back his hand to strike her. Just as his hand was about to fall, I slid behind him and took hold of his arm. I wrenched it behind him and twisted it up until it was just about to pop out of its socket. He was so startled that he yelped and let go of Alexandria’s wrist, letting her fell back.
It seemed that he had forgotten about one of the people “in his place”. Me.
Soren tried to reach behind him to grab me but I stepped up close to his back, put my leg in front of his and an arm around his throat. With him safely controlled, I did a quick search of the street to make sure he didn’t have any friends that might come to save him.
Seeing none, I looked to Alexandria. She was standing a few feet away, quivering arms held around herself, tears rolling down her face.
“What do you want me to do with him?” I asked her.
She jerked and looked at me with wide, astonished eyes.
Soren thrashed and bellowed, “Let me go! You have no right to touch me, bond-guard!”
I forced his trapped arm higher and he gasped in pain. Alexandria squeaked and held herself tighter. I could see that she was in no state to make decisions, so I made one for her. Moving rapidly, I released Soren, slid back and gave him a solid elbow to the back of his head, then caught him as he slumped forward. I set him down less gently than I could have and stepped over him toward Alexandria. She stepped back and watched me with panicked, tear-filled eyes.
“It’s alright, Lex,” I said softly, using my old nickname for her as she was in no state to flip out on me. “It’s over now and we need to go home. I’m going to come give you a hand, okay? You just need to come home, Lex, it’s alright now and I’m here.”
I spoke softly and stepped slowly and deliberately toward her with my hands at my sides, palms facing her as I had been taught to do with frightened horses and dogs.
Alexandria stood still, mostly, and let me take her arm and guide her down the street. She was slow and unstable and I could tell that she had never been treated that way before. She was in shock, and as I helped her up the steps of her house I thought that it was a miracle she hadn’t had worse. I would never let it happen again.
As I opened the door and led Alexandria inside I considered my options. I could take her to her room and let her cry herself to sleep, I could comfort her, or I could take her to her parents. Just inside the doorway she burst into tears and that made up my mind. I slowly walked her to her parents’ room and knocked on the door.
I expected Lucian to answer the door so I wasn't surprised when the door swung open almost of its own volition. I waited and after a moment, Lucian's face darted around the door, below eye level in case we were waiting to stab him. When he recognized Alexandria and I, his eyes widened a bit and he straightened and opened the door. When Alexandria saw her mother and father she sobbed and staggered toward them. I held her up until her father reached her and took her away. He and his wife were in a flurry, checking her for injuries and talking over each other.
Finally, when she was settled in their bed with her mother hugging her, Alexandria’s father turned to me. I had backed away, and I stood opposite Lucien in the room in the standard formation we’d been taught.
I gave him a small bow. “She was walking with Soren and he became aggressive. He took hold of her hands and they had an argument. My lady became worried and I intervened before any blows fell. My lady got quite a shock from Soren’s behavior. I guided her home and brought her straight here.”
He looked at me sharply but accepted my statements as truth, and his attentions returned to his daughter. She was in a terrible condition and stayed the night with her parents, so naturally, I had to stay as well. Lucien and I took turns sleeping so that one of us was always on guard.
In the morning, Alexandria drank some tea and went to her own room. She slept for a whole day and night and by the time she woke up, I was ready to jump out of my skin. I had become even more paranoid than I was supposed to be, and every time someone went past in the hall or a bird flew by the window, I pulled out knives and got ready to fight off a hoard of murderers. That was what came from teaching a guy to fight for his life every moment of every day and then just making him walk around behind some high lady. Bad planning on somebody's part.
It took Alexandria another day to leave her room and even then she only went out for breakfast before coming back. She spent the day in her room but she talked to me a little. By the end of the week, she was almost completely back to herself and she went out to the market for flowers for her room. I was worried that something would go wrong but, thankfully, nothing did. She returned to her room in the evening safe and sound. I took the opportunity to broach a few subjects.
“Mistress,” I began when she had closed the door and was sitting on her bed. “If I may, you might wish to consider temporary relocation.”
She gave me a funny look.
“Why would I do that?”
“You did just learn about a plot to murder and usurp the count. Do you think the plotters will just ignore it?” I tried to be patient but my nerves were frayed.
Alexandria shook her head. “I’m not leaving my home, my parents, just because someone told me that there was a plot. I don’t know anything.”
I bit my lip and took a few deep breaths.
“My lady, I really think you should consider going away, just for a little while until things blow over. Take a holiday or something, just to be safe.”
She was still shaking her head. “No. I’m staying here.” She lay down. “Now go to bed.” She blew out the lantern and rolled over. I stared at her shadowed form for a few minutes before lying down on my blankets at the foot of her bed.
Alexandria mostly ignored me during the next day or two and I was a little miffed that after saving her as I had and being proved right, she was treating me like a regular bond-guard. I had spent the last two months being a proper bond-guard, but now I was feeling more and more like being a proper bond-guard wasn't really enough. I knew things, things that Alexandria didn't, but I couldn't tell her and I couldn't make her understand that it didn't matter to Soren whether or not she knew anything about the plot. She knew of it, and that was all that mattered. I didn’t say anything, of course, but I sulked as I followed her around and I half-wished that someone would attack her. Not to kill but just enough to make her remember that I was more than a little dog to trot along behind her, just enough to make her think about what I had said.
The attack came that second day. Contrary to popular myth, not all attempts at murder occur in alleys at night. This one occurred in mid afternoon on a corner beside the baker’s shop. It was perpetrated by three men, not in black, who were well-trained and wielding well-cast knives of fine Kappernic steel. Luckily, I was aware that they were tailing us so they didn’t get the drop on us.
They attacked very professionally, two at once with one in reserve. Their intent was, I believe, lethal as their blows were not restrained and they didn’t hesitate at all to try to stab Alexandria. Thanking the gods that I had done well at the academy, I pushed Alexandria against the wall and engaged the two men in front of her. She cowered as I whirled between the two, working hard to keep them at bay. Neither of them could have been called a master swords-man, and one on one, I could have finished them off quite easily. Even together, it would have been a simple if I hadn't had to worry about Alexandria. I was severely hampered by my need to stay between her and them. It was almost funny, I thought as I engaged them. Without my mistress, I could have fought any man without difficulty, but without my mistress, I wouldn't have to.
The man on the left swung curved sword in a tight arc aimed at my head while the right made a jab to my hip with a silver dagger. I ducked and spun around the man on the left, leaving Alexandria open as I reached around his neck and slit his throat. As he fell, he was replaced by the third man who cut a jagged curve into to my back as I lunged to block the right man’s kick to Alexandria. Off balance, I stumbled and took the kick myself but it put me in a position to hamstring the right man and push him toward the third man, forcing him to dodge and keeping him from gutting Alexandria. I jumped the right man and snapped his neck before he stood.
The third man and I faced off, he with two slender swords, I with my sword and a dagger. He tried to circle to get to Alexandria but I held him off, dancing back and forth as he paced. He snarled and my own face curled into a growling sneer. With a grunt, the man lunged forward, blocking my jab, and cut with his right sword to my gut. I jumped back and deflected with my dagger, spinning to the side and thrusting the dagger into the man’s thigh. Belatedly, I realized that my arm was horribly exposed. In fact, I noticed this just as my arm was laid open from elbow to wrist.
I staggered back to guard Alexandria and spared a quick glance at my arm. The cut wasn’t deep but it was bleeding heavily and I was already feeling the buzz of blood-loss from the wound in my back. Time was not on my side.
The man opposite me was doing only a little better with blood quickly soaking his pant leg. He pulled out the knife and tossed it down, limping to the side as he looked for an opening. He smiled at me with clenched teeth and I knew that he knew that I was only going to get worse the longer this fight went. To be fair, so would he, but I would worsen faster, seeing as I had two wounds to his one, and I had already been bleeding for a while, and that was really all that mattered. I would have to go on the offensive and that gave him an advantage. Silently, I cursed my earlier misjudgment.
I made a quick thrust to his torso that he blocked and matched with a thrust to my undefended left side, forcing me to block and leaving my right side open. He took advantage and I only just managed to sidestep. Carefully, I let the man trap my sword and flick it away. With a cocky grin, he stepped forward, pushing me back to the wall and grinning with cruel glee as he advanced.
When I reached the wall, I waited, holding my bad arm, as the man came forward. He stopped just in front of me, smiling sickly, and looked at me in gloating derision. I shifted just a bit, bending over a little, covering my hurt arm, giving him a shot at the back of my neck that I knew he couldn't pass up. I watched his feet, and as he swung a sword around for the killing blow, I grabbed a knife out of a sheath on my hip and ducked under his arm, thrusting the knife up under his rib cage and into his heart. The man’s eyes widened and his mouth opened. He gasped and collapsed, staring off into space as he began to spasm. I watched coldly until he stopped twitching, then pulled out my knife. I wiped it off on his shirt and gave him a quick frisk. He had nothing of interest on him other than his knives, and I took a few of the best of them, stashing them in my tunic and trousers. I did likewise for the other two men giving Alexandria a few moments to collect herself.