Chapter Twelve(Part three)
Nyala was outright stewing when she heard the first gentle footfalls echoing from the way that Ari had disappeared. She was turning on her heel and marching forward, intent to maim obvious in her features, but when Ari, Ellie and Rolo emerged from the shadows, she froze. They were all whiter than snow, looked stunned, if not terrified and confused, and Ellie was shaking.
"What? What happened?"
She asked in alarm, and when Ari looked up, she seemed to look through her at first. And then suspicion lit her eyes and her old friend tore her away from Zolan, her eyes spitting fire. Ellie went into a defensive stance just behind Nyala, and Ari drew her favorite blade. The other amazons and Balvedarian soldiers reacted to this appropriately, clumping together with their weapons drawn. Keita's features shifted unhappily, his first open display of emotion, and he roared at them all, stepping in front of Zolan.
"What do you think you're doing?"
Rolo didn't move from his place in the tunnel, watching them all quietly before he shifted the slightest bit, frowning at his Prince first, and then at Keita.
"Yes, Ari, what in the hell do you--"
Nyala didn't get to finish that sentence, as Ari butted in, sounding desperate and uncertain.
"Did you know? Where you in on it?"
Everyone stilled, watching Ari glare at the Prince through Keita's protective glance. Zolan remained calm, his words soft spoken when he did speak.
"Know what Ari? What am I supposed to be in on?"
He actually moved past Keita firmly, his hands raise in a placating gesture. Nyala looked ready to pull a knife on her own guard when Ari's next words hit the rest of the room hard.
"Your mother is working with my aunt. She paid to have us attacked, and she wants us dead. Did you know? Are you involved?"
She growled, her stand becoming firm, and Keita looked to Rolo with wide eyes for confirmation. Rolo spoke steadily, nervously.
"We read their lips. They were standing in the rubble of the manor, and your mother presented the Commander's crazy aunt with a trunk full of gold, promising the next payment when our bodies were presented dead at her feet."
There was a pregnant silence after this, and finally, the Princess spoke, her voice shaking.
"You're lying. My mother wouldn't try to kill us. She loves us."
Rolo gave the Princess a sympathetic stare, then replied in a flat, even voice.
"I would never lie about something like this."
Zolan held up his hand before anyone else could speak, his eyes on Ari and Ellie, who weren't dropping their guard in the least, and he spoke softly, reassuringly, his eyes going to Nyala over Ari's shoulder.
"I know about as much as you do Commander. My loyalty is to my wife, I assure you of that, and if my mother really is the one behind these attacks, that can only mean one thing. We're being conspired against, and our lives are in much greater peril than originally thought. We need to get somewhere safe, and then figure this all out."
Ari didn't seem to heat him at first, her eyes glued to his intently. By the time that she suddenly dropped her blade back into its sheath everyone had tensed considerably, her warriors because they knew that Ari would do anything to ensure Nyala's safety against any perceived threat, and the Baledarian soldiers because they knew that they may have a fight on their hands with a recovering Princess and young babe to protect. A sigh of relief echoed through the cavern from all but the General when Ari sheathed her blade firmly and let Nyala past to her husband. When her eyes met his, Keita nodded to a more private alcove.
"We need to talk."
Ari followed after him wordlessly, waving her people into position around Nyala and Zolan, and she followed the General steadily, her arms crossed over her chest. Keita took a slow breath before he spoke.
"Tell me everything. Every detail, and don't leave anything out. How did the ground look, was there anyone else around? The King? Any cousins to the throne? Anything notable?"
He questioned seriously. Ari took an equally as slow breath before she responded, giving an in-depth description. Once Keita had all of that, he started to plan with her, and their combined experience and expertise started to form a beautifully devious plan for action.
Nyala watched as Keita and Ari stood hovering over a crate, where Ari and Ellie had conspired to carve out a detailed map of the surrounding area, and the Princess drew her attention when the woman started to sob.
"But why? I don't understand it!"
She announced in a hushed shout, clutching her babe to her bosom for comfort. There were tears trekking down her face, and her husband didn't seem to know what to do. Zolan looked to Nyala a little helplessly before he responded.
"I don't know Dani. This is mom we're talking about, for all we know, she's desperate to retain her power and doesn't want you giving birth to a male heir. Or never wanted the union between Sha'at and Balvedarian forces in the first place. I'm sorry. I never would have involved you in any of this if I had known."
Nyala gave the woman a sympathetic stare and reached out, grazing her fingers over Zolan's bent head and gripping his shoulder in what she hoped was a comforting way. He reached up to squeeze her hand gently, his eyes swinging to Keita and Ari, and then around the room. After a few moments of silent consideration, he cleared his throat, drawing everyone's attention.
"We need to compile a stock, figure out what we have and what we don't have, and how long we can live off of what's both here and in our personal effects. We may need to lay low for a little while, wait until there's a chance to leave the area."
He got the people that could get up and move around doing so, tossing supplies into different piles, which Nyala was helping to keep organized and sorted. Ari and Keita -with Ellie acting as her Commanders shadow whenever the girl got the chance- never strayed from the crate, their voices low as they discussed methods of escape and their options to escape to. Their weren't many options, and they didn't have much time. If her aunt was working with the queen, she might already know exactly where they were. And that would only end in a slaughter.