When Darby did not answer right away the spear aimed at her head came a little closer and the man on the white horse with the plumed hat repeated his question, “Who are you?” It took her a moment to process the question and another moment for her to remember her name.
“I’m Darby Marshall and these are my friends, Nick Cassidy and Michelle Greanias. We aren’t looking for trouble.” She said, putting her hands up and backing away from the spear.
The soldier narrowed his eyes and turned to the seven other soldiers with him, “Take them.” He said and turned his horse around with great skill and waited for his companions to do their job.
“What do we do Darby?” Michelle asked as the soldiers advanced on them. “Do we run?” She asked.
Darby thought for a moment. If they ran then the soldiers would catch them quickly and probably not be so kind to them. “No,” She said in a low voice. “We let them take us, hopefully their soldiers of the East Kingdom.”
“The East Kingdom?” Nick asked warily as the soldiers surrounded them.
“The stories I told you about.” Darby said before she was surprised by being lifted up by the waist and pulled in front of a soldier on his horse. She swung her right leg over the neck of the beast and gripped the pommel, noting the lack of a horn. The soldier gripped her waist tightly with his armored arm and pulled her back against his chest. She could not imagine that the man would want to, she smelled of salt water and mud. Her feet were caked with it and they were sore from various rocks and pebbles she had stepped on their journey to this world.
Despite her stench, the soldier kept his hold on Darby very tight and it did not relent for the long ride past curious villagers in small towns that looked like something from a movie. The thatched roofs and vertical boards holding the houses together were quaint and small. The people that came out of them were equally ratty and worn. Their clothing was plain and simple, and the world weary look in their eyes spoke of their hardships.
Children ran along side the horses laughing and pointing at the strangers with the bare feet and the strange clothing. The women were shocked at Michelle and Darby’s clothing, shaking their heads in disapproval. But all were curious to know who these strangers were and why they were riding with the soldiers.
After nearly an hour on horseback Darby finally spotted the castle. But when she spotted the castle she grew confused. In her grandmother’s story it had taken three days for Veronica and her son to arrive at the witch’s home which had seemed to be rather close to the entrance. How were they arriving here so quickly?
It was not until the castle gates were parting and the soldiers were crossing the narrow bridge that Darby puzzled it out. Veronica would have wanted to avoid common paths and open villages so she could make her escape from her husband and his rule. That’s why it took so long. Proud of herself for solving the mini-mystery, Darby was shocked when she was plucked from the saddle and placed on the ground, quickly followed by the soldier who had carried her here.
The soldier grabbed her arm tightly and guided her up the stairs to the stone castle that stretched high above the ground. The towers and turrets were magnificent and all in one piece. It looked like one of the grand castles in Scotland or Germany. But as the heavy wood doors that dwarfed all who entered at twenty feet ground open, she Darby began to feel a great sense of apprehension and a tight knot formed in her stomach.
But soon she was steered to the left into a grand hall with velvet curtains and detailed tapestries. Torches lined the walls, offering an eerie glow to the room where a man sat on a large gold throne of superior craftsmanship. The soldier holding her arm forced her to her knees and followed suit, bowing before the king. Michelle and Nick quickly followed and the eight soldiers who had escorted them bowed with respect.
“My King,” the soldier who had pointed the spear at Darby said quietly, with respect.
“You may stand and speak.” The king, who was older than Darby first thought said with a sense of authoritative power that could only be found in those who had lived entitled lives.
“We found these miscreants wandering on the outskirts of our kingdom.” The soldier gestured angrily toward the three still forced to kneel on the cold stone of the castle floor. “Their garb and manner is barbaric and strange. And it appears this woman is their leader.” The soldier grabbed Darby’s hair and pulled to show the king her face. She cried out in pain and tried to pry his hand from her hair.
The king’s eyes narrowed in the poorly lit room. He motioned to the soldier to let her go and commanded, “Come here.”
Glaring at the tall, arrogant soldier, Darby walked proudly to the king’s chair. Feeling indignant she did not bow respectfully or keep her eyes on the ground, instead she looked him in the eye, daring him to do his worst. She could feel the fear coming off Michelle and Nick in waves and she did not want to be caught cowering in the corner.
When she stood before the king, shoulders back and head held high the man on the throne exclaimed in surprise, “Verona?”
Shocked, Darby did not know what to say. Verona? She thought frantically, why does he think I’m grandma when- then the realization hit her like a ton of bricks. “That can’t be possible.” She said out loud, not realizing it had been vocalized.
Turning her wide eyed stare at the king she asked, “Are you Andrew?”
The soldier who had pulled her hair came forward in a flurry of a plume and grabbed her arm, turning her to him, “You will not address the king in such a familiar manner!” He yelled in her face.
“That’s enough Neal.” The king commanded, holding his hand up. “Leave.” He said to the man and turned to the entirety of the court and commanded them to do the same. When the room was emptied and only the crackling of the fireplace and the torches made noise the king spoke again. “Who are you?”
“My name is Darby Marshall. My friends and I have come from the world connected to this one by a door.” She said, watching carefully as the king came down off his throne, still a big strong man though his shoulders were slightly stooped and a small limp impeded his walk.
“How did you know of this place and of my name?” He asked, walking to the fireplace and leaning on the mantle.
Licking lips that had gone dry when Neal had grabbed her hair she thought for a moment and decided to tell the truth. “I was told stories of it from my grandmother. She told me stories of this kingdom, and the West. She told me about Cleo, you, your brother Kempton, the war with Riada, Analee, and the debates of how to close the door between our worlds. She told me about your eventual wife and your son and how they left you to close the door.”
As she spoke, Darby saw a touch of pure sadness in the king’s eyes. Whether it was for his long dead brother or his long lost wife, who, she strongly suspected was her grandmother Verona. But as she thought on this, she made an even more disturbing connection, Veronica had a child, a son. She only had one child. That means Dad is the son!
“And your grandmother’s name?”
“Verona.” Darby said, knowing her grandmother had not just been telling stories, or relating tales that were the truth, instead they were her stories.
The king nodded sadly. “And her son, our son, Charles?”
“My father.” She said.
Nodding again, the king looked at her and said, “Then you are the heir to this throne.”
Darby choked on her own spit and she breathed in too deeply and began a fit of coughing that was borne from disbelief and not a little bit of surprise. While she had made the connection with her father and grandmother, she had not realized it meant she was related to this man, or that she was the heir to this throne. “You can’t be serious!” She exclaimed.
“This is not something to be handled lightly. You are the heir to this throne and must take over in my duties. And most importantly, you must be married.”
A/N: Well guys! I hope you enjoyed it! I'll have the next chapter up soon! Four comments is my cue to put up a new one! :D Let me know what you think as always! You guys really do brighten my day when I see that little orange box on my profile! :D Love ya! ♥Meradee