His Secret War

Alessandra did not embrace him, nor give a kiss to his cheeks like she may have done. Casting the tax collector a cool glance as he exited the hall, she was trying (and failing) to keep her own expression to something neutral. It was amazing how similar he looked to his brother, yet so different at the same time! She never noticed the way he smiled before... maybe now her opinion was just skewed?

"It's beautiful here at the castle. ...but there are some things that concern me." She had been in such a rush to come speak with him, she hadn't planned out what she would say or how to say it without offending him. Alessandra decided the honest approach would be best.

"I visited the village today. I've never seen a place in such disarray! Did you know that people are practically starving to death and no one can scrape together a living to even feed their children? And what for..? Taxes?" she pointed a finger over her shoulder where the tax collector had just left. "You have to know how terrible it is. Have you not seen your own villages..?"
Ivan's arms dropped to his side slowly when he realized that instead of affections, he'd be receiving complaints. The moment she said she visited the village, he folded his arms and gave a cold stare. He thought he told his servants she wasn't allowed in the village, yet she was just there!? The king felt betrayed and like he couldn't trust this woman anymore. The stare softened before he spoke, however he still felt angry,

"I can't let these people live on my territory for free! It's their problems if they can't live up to my demands."

His tone matched the fury of a child; this was why he was never seen fit to run a kingdom. Alistair was not only older and heir, but he was a much more mature king, with plenty of compassion for the people. Ivan walked closer to Alessandra, taking one of her hands and lowering himself to her face. There was a hint of alcohol in his breath when he said,

"Besides, it isn't your job to run my country. How'd you get there anyway? I thought I told everyone to keep you inside!"
"You can't honestly believe that." Alessandra responded with surprise. Was he not raised to know what his duty was? She allowed him to take her hand, and ignored the scent of alcohol on his breath. What she could not ignore was him suggesting it wasn't her job to care.

Alessandra pulled her hand away and took a step back for the distance. "If I am going to be your Queen, then YES it is my job to help run this country..! You would not have this country if it weren't for the people in it. As their rulers and protectors we're supposed to make sure they are well fed and strong!"

She examined his face, trying to see if any of that was going to sink in. "You do understand, don't you..? That we should lower the taxes and help repair the villages?"
He was silent the entire time she spoke, looking impatient the entire time. When she asked if he understood about helping the village, he glanced over his shoulder to the room he came out of; it had his recent collection from all the villagers. He didn't want to just hand back his precious money or spend it on new supplies to help them. As far as he was concerned, it was their own problem, not his.

"It's my job to make laws, not go perform charity work. I'm the one in power, I'll do as I please. Now don't tell me how to run my country ever again, Alessandra! It's the Queen's job to do as she's told by her King."

Ivan hoped he got the message through to her. He wasn't the type to treat women equally, or anyone else for that matter. He paid his guards and his tax collector, but that's all he had to offer as far as respect went. He then made a sigh and an apologetic look for acting so childish and reached into his pocket, pulling out a silver coin to drop into her hand.

"Here, go put this in some poor man's cup. I've got to go now, I'm very busy. Is there anything else?"
"Then I'm sorry, Ivan." she said, with sincere sadness and regret. "I can't be your Queen."

How could she have not noticed this before? Granted she had only met him three or four times prior, but to not see how selfish he was..? Clearly she was a stupid girl to get charmed by pretty smiles and false promises! Her hands curled around the silver piece, before she turned on a heel to go stalking down the hall.

"I will pack my things and leave immediately. You may keep this castle. It wasn't yours to give, in any case." She most certainly would put the silver in a poor man's cup. And everything else she could spare too!
Ivan watched with awe as she walked away, his cheeks turning red as he held his breath and walked her walk away. Who was going to look pretty beside him now while he ruled in this castle? If he didn't value his crown--Alistair's crown--so much, he would have tossed it against the wall in rage. Instead, he stormed down the hallway, opening a door where he knew a maid was cleaning up.

"If she so much as steps foot back on to my property, I want her in prison!" he barked. The maid was absolutely confused and horrified, her lips trembling when she asked, "Who, sire? A-Alessandra?"

Ivan rolled his eyes and replied, "Of course, Alessandra. She has refused to marry me and I'll not have her frolicking about or telling me how to run my country!"

The door slammed behind him, the maid staring at the door and muttering to herself how immature Ivan was. She, along with the other servants, wished Alistair would return. They knew he was alive somewhere and hoped as much as the villagers did that he'd reclaim his throne.


Speaking of Alistair, he was celebrating his recent theft with Drake and left the coins to his men to count so they could divide it all evenly to distribute to the homes.

"I'm hoping we can make an actual appearance soon, gentlemen." Alistair bowed to his loyal friends, leaving them to their counting while they also worked on another pot of stew. This time, with some chicken in it! They managed to take one for themselves from a grocery cart that was passing through in search of business.

Alistair took the opportunity to finally take his bath. He journeyed past the canopy to a body of water where a waterfall was spilling in to. He anxiously stripped himself of his clothing after searching the area, soaking the shirt linens and hanging them on a branch. While they dried, he stepped into the water, a shiver going up his spine from how chilly it was. There was a bit of sunlight in the center, where he swam to relax for the time being.

He wondered how Alessandra was doing.
Alessandra was so angry she was close to tears. When she returned to her rooms, Hilda knew all to well the look.

"It didn't go well, M'lady..?"

"No..! It went awful! I can't believe how careless he is..!" Alessandra couldn't say it was a broken heart she had... but the revelation of just how deep of a mess she got herself was painful. If she went home and told her father she just insulted a King and turned down his proposal, he might be so disappointed... Yet, it was her father who told her all royal blood should appreciate the sweat and work of the peasants. He would have to understand.

..but how could she go home, knowing what was happening here.

Alessandra had a new fire to her as she pulled out a bag from under her bed and was gathering things from around the room. An extra dress, but the rest of the contents was every valuable item she could carry. "If he thinks I am just a pretty face to wear on his arm like a trophy, he is so sorely mistaken..! There's a real King in the forest, Hilda. And we're going to help him!"

"M'lady you aren't thinking clearly. This is politics, dangerous politics. There's thieves in the forests! Soldiers! This is nothing a lady should be involved in!"

"Then I won't be a Lady anymore!" she retorted proudly. "I'll be a Knight. The People's Knight." Throwing a cloak around her shoulders, Alessandra lifted up the bag. It was heavy...! But she had a good grip on it. "Are you coming?"

"Of course, M'lady. In whatever foolish endeavor you throw us in to."

Both ladies excited the castle, but outside they were stopped by a pair of soldiers. "The King has ordered us to take you to the dungeons if you were caught on his property, Lady Alessandra."

"...I haven't even left his property yet!" she shouted back. That didn't seem to make much of a difference to these two. They were well paid for following the King's orders, so they were more than happy to make a grab for her. Hilda flounced herself in the way, nudging Alessandra off towards the trees. "Run! Run now!"

Alessandra hesitated, but she didn't want to spend the night in a prison either. Before someone made another grab for her, she darted off for the trees. She could hear the footsteps of someone following behind her, but not the gentle steps of Hilda!

When she reached the tree she had met Alistair, she stopped to try and catch her breath! Unsure if they were still following, she leaned behind it and listen. Somewhere nearby was the camp. ...but if they were still following her, she didn't want to lead soldiers right to it.
Alistair stood beneath the waterfall, letting it drench his hair while his fingers combed through it. He felt absolutely relaxed and pleased that he was washing filth from his body. It almost seemed like the odor clouds he envisioned from that cloak were disappearing in the air right in front of him. The water droplets slid through every crease on his muscles, dripped down the tip of his nose...

His relaxation came to a halt when he saw a group of critters scurrying about in a panic. From what Alistair learned in this forest, it meant there was danger nearby. If not a danger, some kind of disturbance. Without another second to waste, he swam away from the waterfall; the rest of his bath would have to wait.

Alistair did his best to shake off the water on his skin and pulled all his clothing back on, the fabrics still damp. He felt very uncomfortable, though it could of been worse.

He swung his quiver back on and rushed away from the pool of water, pushing over plants as he ran through the trees, dodging each one that was in his way. This was only on the other side of the large tree where he met Alessandra... Her figure, in fact, was coming into view as he was running. She appeared to be hiding and had some luggage with her.

Very quietly, he exited the mass of plants, showing up beside her with water still dripping from his hair. He readied his bow and arrow while he stood still, a puzzled look on his face,

"My dear, what are you doing here?"
"Aaiie!" she squeaked, just as quickly clamping both of her hands over her mouth to quiet herself. Hopefully it hadn't carried far! He just popped out of nowhere and surprised her. ...He was also dripping wet. For a brief second she eyed him curiously, but then remembering herself, she grabbed his arm and tugged him behind the tree.

Alessandra whispered soft. "You were right... trying to tell him didn't quite go as I expected. I think he's going to have me put in prison! Oooh, I had to leave Hilda, I hope she's okay." Would he put an old woman in prison? He did starve a village, he probably would. Alessandra took a shaky breath, trying to calm herself and refrain from crying.

"I don't know if they followed me this far. I really didn't mean to bring them here."
Alistair wasn't surprised to hear that Ivan was unreasonable when she talked to him. When she mentioned being thrown in prison, that had his eyes widen a slight. Was his brother really that selfish and cruel to throw his fiance into a cell? In any case, it was extremely upsetting... Especially since she looked like she was about to have a break down.

He loosened his arms so his weapon was no longer armed and held both items with one hand so he could hold one of her hands with the other. He looked over the the side of the tree to see that no one was coming, running over to the thicker area of the forest. He nearly stumbled due to the weight she had in her hand, but kept his balance thanks to a tree that caught his backside.

"You won't go to prison, Alessandra. They'd have to kill me first, and I don't plan on dying."

Alistair made a smile and gave a comforting touch to her cheek with the back of his hand. It was no longer wet, though it was possibly cold. He then turned around and pulled the arrow back once more, prepared to strike if anyone suspicious walked back. He wanted to be certain it was safe before taking her to his campsite.
Alessandra let her bag slip quietly to the ground once they were in the thicker brush. His gesture made grin, despite how afraid she was.

"I almost wish it was you I was betrothed to." she murmured softly.

There was no time for a reply, however. At the snapping of twigs, she shushed. In the near distance once of the soldiers stepped out near the tree. It must have been easy to follow the path the ran through the woods. With a sword in hand, he stepped around peering cautiously at the trees looking for signs of the Lady! The woods were still the King's property and that meant there was no where to run to.
Alistair held his breath, making no movements while the men searched for her. He didn't want to kill these men because it could blow his cover if anyone realized they didn't return. Not to mention, frightening Alessandra any further wasn't exactly on top of the list.

Fortunately, his comrades were able to sense the danger the same way Alistair did by following the scurries of the creatures. Alexander popped out to be the distraction since he was the most dramatic of the four. Additionally, he looked scrawny enough that he could come off as a peasant and he could run the fastest if needed.

"Sirs. Sirs, I've lost my way."

Alexander disguised his voice with rasp in it, a cough going into his fist as he felt around for the men. He was pretending to be blind with a pair of spectacles on his eyes. After much trying, he touched one of the men by the arm leaned against him. Then he said, "I've lost my walking stick. Won't you help me?"

Alistair was thankful for the appearance of his friend. He had pulled this act off for a few other guardsmen that entered here, allowing Alistair and his other friends to strike if they didn't escort Alexander back to the village.
The guard Alexander latched on to shoved him back with a scowl. Shaking his arm as if trying to get the filth off of it, he stared Alexander down in silence until one of his companions showed up.

"Found the woman?"

"No, just this blind coot stumblin' around. Might as well head back. Bears or wolves will take care of 'er ladyship." Both of them chuckled about the joke. Then he was snatching Alexander by the back of his cloak and dragging him off for trees. "C'mon you pathetic lump. Back to the village with ya!"

The guards stomped back the way they came with Alexander in tow.

Alessandra hadn't realized she was holding her breath the entire time until the guards were no longer in sight. Her relieved sigh came out rushed, just as she was trying to brush stray tears off her face. That was so close! She hoped Alexander wouldn't get in too much trouble with them.

"I'm sorry. Again. ...but I can make it up to you! I have as much as I could shove in to my bag. Whatever isn't money could be sold and given to the villagers?"
It was hard for Alistair not to make a chuckle when Alexander was dragged off, but he resisted. When the coast was clear, he signaled for his men to relax and put their weapons away. They left to the meeting spot they expected Alexander to be when he'd escape the village, for if he didn't, they'd have to dive in and get him. They were less concerned about their own capture and more for their King's.

Alistair looked over to Alessandra, pleased to see her emotions were getting back into check. He looked to her bag and smiled to himself... She was genuinely concerned for the villagers! On top of that, she left Ivan.

"You don't owe me a thing, my dear. I shan't stop you from such a kind gesture to the people, they will appreciate it a lot."

He scratched the back of his head, the hair standing up a bit because of the dampness. "I could play that song for you? I'm sure it would cheer you up."
He seemed to take everything in stride, Alessandra noted. Despite how his life turned out, and how wretched his brother was, and the trouble she nearly caused. Alistair would be a benevolent king.

Alessandra realized she was probably smiling far too wide, and tried to subdue the look on her face. She nodded softly, kneeling low to the ground so she could sneak the flute out of the folds of her skirt where she had it hidden. Offering it to him, she pulled it back teasingly before finally letting him take it.

"I would love a song, yes! Is there is somewhere we could?" she paused for a moment, blinking curiously at him. "...why are you so damp?"
Alistair gratefully accepted his flute from her. Making a new one would have been such a hassle, especially now. Before he could thank her, he looked down as if he needed proof that he was still a little soaked.

"Oh. I was taking a bath while I hung my clothes to dry and didn't finish either. If it weren't for the scared animals running from those men, I wouldn't have been able to help you!"

He seemed happy even though he was cold from the water. Since he was able to come to her rescue, he was able to see her for another day. Her company put a warm feeling through him, it helped to feel the hole of loneliness in his heart... Before his mind could wander too much he suggested,

"I can take you to a beautiful place to play your song! It's so tranquil, with a waterfall."
Alessandra nodded, leaning down again only to scoop up her bag of goodies. Despite knowing she was now outcasted, in danger, and probably in one very deep mess that would be hard to dig out of - she considered this all a very grand adventure. It helped that he made the offer sound so very pleasant!

"I would love to see the waterfall." she respond with a smile. Her expression turned curious again. It seemed she was often curious. "Would it be a bother if I stayed with you and your men? Though I could stay in the village too, I think."
Alistar slid his flute into his quiver so both of his hands could be free. He offered a hand to carry her bag for her and then an arm if she'd like. Now that she deserted Ivan, he hoped she wouldn't mind his kind gestures. He took note of her constant curiosity, finding that it only delighted him. The faces she made as a result of it and the questions she asked were at times adorable and at others, admirable.

"Of course you can stay with us. You'll be treated very fairly and we can even visit the village to personally distribute your treasures."

He did his best to hide his bashfulness as he pondered what song to play for her. What would be appropriate? Something fun, something sad, something in between...
Alessandra handed him her bag. It was admitted a little heavy for her to carry. Then she was taking his arm and falling in to step next to him as he lead the way to this mysterious waterfall she so wanted to see. With it still being afternoon and the sun still high enough in the sky to make it warm, dipping her feet in the pool sounded so pleasant.

Knowing that she would get to help share gold and goodies with the people in the village was an exciting prospect. Something that was impossible to contain or keep hidden. As was evident with the small bounce in her step and tone of her voice.

"Can I, really? I have so many ideas of things we could do. I bet with planning, we could even snatch things right out of the castle." Wicked thinking to be sure. But she had long since decided that none of these men following Alistair were dangerous or cutthroat thieves. If it was thought about logically, it was Ivan and his tax collectors that were really doing the greatest evil.

Her thoughts had vanished, though, once they were approaching the falls. Breath taking and serene, Alessandra was sure she had never seen anything so beautiful. It wasn't terribly large, but it fell so a pool of water in deep shades of blue. With lush planets and water-smoothed stones. Almost like a mystical place hidden away in the forest. She could easily imagine faeries or water sprites lurking around the water's edge.

"This is so lovely..." she murmured softly.
Alessandra seemed like a different person ever since he exposed her to the damage Ivan's greed and selfishness did to the villagers. She even spoke of busting into the castle where most of the riches were! Alistair had made very few trips to the largest source because the security got worse after every night he did so. Since Alessandra was more familiar with Ivan's current castle status, they could commit the greatest robbery ever!

His thoughts were interrupted when she uttered a comment towards the serene waterfall. Gently, he set down her bag and his quiver, pulling out the flute afterward. He blew a few notes to be certain it was in good condition to play and of course, it was perfect. She kept very good care of the constantly stolen instrument.

"Go ahead and relax; it's been a busy day for you. I'll play you a song."

Alistair took a seat on a boulder beside the pool, his emerald eyes fixed on the sparkling water as he smiled to his reflection. He positioned the flute at his lips and began sliding his fingers across the holes, creating a very bouncy collection of notes that reminded him of singing birds. After seconds of that, it slowed down a little, sounding pleasant enough to dance to.

(( >> There's a song called Come to Me O My Love, if you wanna look it up. Mostly choirs sing it and it's pretty much what he's playing. ))