Sophira 2

by Lobo De la Sombra

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© Copyright 2014 - Lobo De la Sombra - Used by permission

Storycodes: M+/ff; captive; bond; rope; hood; plot; treason; revenge; hist; cons/reluct; X

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Part Two

“I take it you know who I am.”

Stunned by the identity of her captor, Sophira struggled uselessly in her bonds. Beside her, she could feel Jenna, her maid, stiffen at the sound of the man’s voice. The young Queen glared at the man standing over her, lithe body twisting as she fought uselessly to free herself.

“It would seem,” the man said thoughtfully, “that I got more than I bargained for.” As he spoke, Sophira noticed that his eyes remained locked on hers, ignoring the sight of her naked body stretched helplessly before him. Leaning past her, he untied the rope binding Jenna’s arms behind her.

“Once you are both free,” he said, rising, “you’ll find clothing in that chest by the back wall.” With that, he turned and left the tent.

Her arms freed, Jenna tore the bag from over her head. Then, ignoring the rest of her bonds, she pulled herself to Sophira’s side, attacking the ropes that held the young Queen. Only when Sophira sat free did she turn to the task of releasing herself.

Working her jaw, which had become sore from the gag, Sophira watched as Jenna, dropping the final rope that had bound her, rose and opened the chest by the tent’s back wall. From within, she drew a bundle of rough cloth, which she presented to the Queen.

“I know it’s not what you’re used to,” she said, “but it is preferable to being naked.”

Shrugging, Sophira shook out the cloth, discovering it to be a dress. Drawing it on, she watched as Jenna donned leggings and tunic. Glancing down, Sophira wasn’t sure she wouldn’t prefer the more masculine clothing of her maid. With it’s low neck and high hem, the dress showed entirely too much of her body, and absolutely nothing of her station. Still, she mused, it was better than appearing naked. With a nod to Jenna, she stepped from the tent.

A small group of men stood gathered before the tent. As Sophira stepped through the door, six of them separated from the rest, moving to stand in front of her. One, the apparent leader, nodded. To Sophira’s surprise, all six immediately dropped to one knee, heads bowed to her.

“Your Majesty,” said the leader, “my men and I viewed you in a most improper manner. For this, we ask your forgiveness.”

“What is going on?” At Sophira’s question, the leader rose to his feet.

“You know who I am?”

“Of course,” she replied. “You are Roderick, leader of a band of rebels seeking to undermine the rule of the crown.”

“My fight,” the man said shortly, “is not with the crown, but with the nobles who seek to dominate this land. I have never struck a blow against the crown.”

“And yet,” Sophira countered, “you are sought for crimes too numerous to list.”

Roderick grinned. “I have been busy, Your Majesty.” His grin faded. “And yet, every crime of which I stand accused is against one of the noble families. I have never raised my hand against the forces of the crown.”

“He speaks truly, Your Majesty.” Startled, Sophira glanced toward Jenna. “Roderick is a good man,” her maid continued. “He fights against the nobles who would subvert the rule of law for their own ends. They terrorize and pillage at will, and when the people stand against them, it is the people who are branded outlaw, not the nobles who actually commit crimes.”

Sophira stared at her maid. “And how,” she asked, “do you know this?”

Instead of replying, Jenna stepped forward, wrapping the outlaw in a tight hug. “Hello, little brother,” she said softly. “It has been too long.”

* * *

“I don’t understand.” Seated on a fallen log, a bowl of stew in her lap, Sophira eyed her maid. “Roderick is your brother?”

Jenna nodded. “I haven’t seen or heard from him since I became your maid,” she said. “Roderick didn’t want your rule tainted by even an implied association with his activities.”

Nodding absently, Sophira turned her attention to Roderick. “How is it,” she asked, “that I find myself here? What part did you play in this?”

“I was contacted,” he replied, “with an offer of much gold for a single job. I was to receive a prisoner, who was to be disposed of in such a way as to ensure they would never return.” He shrugged. “I had assumed the prisoner to be an influential member of one of the noble families. It was my intention to return that person to their home, along with evidence of who was responsible for their abduction. Such an act, I believed, would increase hostility between the noble houses. It might even bring them to fight amongst themselves. I never dreamed it would be you the nobles sought to remove.”

Sophira eyed the man thoughtfully. “What will you do now?”

“Now,” he replied, “I and my men will return you to your rightful place.” He glanced at the men around him. “We are called outlaws, rebels, because of our stand against the nobles. We have robbed, killed, destroyed; everything we are accused of. Yet our loyalty to the crown has never wavered.” His eyes locked with hers. “We have always been, and will continue to be, your loyal subjects, Your Majesty. Outlaws we may be, yet we are yours to command.”

“My apologies for the roughness of your attire, Your Majesty.”

“It will suffice.” Sophira glanced at the map spread on the table before her. “How is it,” she asked, “that you became the most wanted man in my realm?”

“My father,” Roderick replied, “farmed not far from here. He was a wise, gentle man. He raised us, Jenna and myself, to respect others. Even the nobles, who’s taxes left us barely enough to survive.

“One day, when the tax collectors arrived at our farm, they laid claim to everything my father had. They would not have left us enough to live. My father protested, and was beaten to death as an example to anyone else who sought to withhold taxes. Jenna and I were taken to the noble’s home to serve on his staff. Jenna eventually made her way into the palace, where she became your maid.”

“As for me, I ran away. I would not serve those who had murdered my father. I found the tax collector, and I killed him, along with his men. What he told me set my course from that day on.

“My next victim,” Roderick continued, “was a minor noble. I questioned him before he died, and what he told me fixed my cause. I learned that the King, your father, allowed the noble families free reign to do as they wished. In return, they supported his rule. They became sovereigns in their own right, with more power over the people than even the King himself. Power that they abused, enriching themselves while the people starved. It was against these people, these nobles, that I vowed to fight.”

“Who hired you to remove me?” At Sophira’s question, Roderick frowned.

“I never spoke to him directly,” he replied. “All of my dealings were with a representative. I knew it was one of the nobles, but not which one.

“When I accepted the job, I had no intention of carrying it out. Once you were delivered to me, a group of my men followed the representative and his men and captured them. From questioning them, I learned the name of the noble behind this. Duke Korza.”

“Korza!” Angrily, Sophira swept the map from the table. “How dare he! What could he possibly hope to gain from this? Does he want the throne for himself?”

“Not directly, Your Majesty. My questions also revealed that he has a secret guest in his home. Solange.”

Sophira stared, shocked. Solange, her sister, had been exiled by their father years before, for actions even her father could not accept. Now, it seemed, she had returned.

“From what I could gather,” Roderick told her, “Korza’s plan was to remove you quietly. I and my men were to be blamed for your disappearance. With you gone, he would bring Solange from hiding and have her proclaimed the new Queen. As the only surviving member of the royal family, she would be next in line.”

“And of course,” Sophira fumed, “she would be properly grateful to Korza for placing her on the throne.”

“And things would return to the way they were under your father,” Roderick concluded. “What I don’t understand is why he made his move now. From the information I have, this wasn’t to happen until after the questions regarding your father’s death had faded. Why did he move so soon?”

“Because of her.” Both turned to eye Jenna as she approached. “She,” Jenna continued, “is fighting the same battle you are, dear brother, and doing better at it than even she realized. Her latest decrees have made her too much of a threat to Korza’s power to be ignored.”

Roderick turned puzzled eyes toward Sophira. “Decrees?”

The young Queen nodded. “I have signed decrees,” she explained, “that put new laws into effect. Or would have, had this not happened.”

“Laws,” Jenna said, “that would greatly reduce the power of the noble families. Laws that would increase the rights and freedoms of common people.” She grinned. “But the best one,” she added, “and the one that probably made Korza act, was a decree that all noble families would begin paying taxes.”

Roderick’s eyes widened. “You would tax the nobles?”

Sophira shrugged. “Why not? Are they not citizens of the realm? Should they not help support its upkeep? I also planned to strip them of authority for collecting taxes. Taxes would be gathered fairly from all by people loyal only to me.”

Roderick shook his head. “It would seem,” he mused, “that I have more reason than ever to return you to your throne.”

“The men you captured,” Sophira said. “Do they live?” Roderick nodded. “Good. I will want them questioned officially. Perhaps we can implicate Korza in all of this.”

“They will be held safely until you call for them.”

“Very good.” Sophira gazed at the man across the table, the ends of her mouth beginning to curve upward. “Now, my loyal outlaw, exactly how to you intend to get me back into the palace?”

to be continued...

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