Welcome back for a new story! Thank you for everyone’s patience who stopped by last week and didn’t find a story. The short break for me was much needed=)
Now on to the new story. I hope you enjoy=)
The mist dampened the ground and deadened sound. It obscured everything but a ten-foot radius around where Zachary lay on his stomach.
Armor rattled to his left, breaking the feeling of isolation. Keeping low, Zachary crawled forward until a guy line materialized out of the shifting, gray fog. Now the rattle of armor was all around him. Lifting the edge of the closest tent, Zachary spied an elderly gentleman attempting to tighten his bracers. The insignia on his left shoulder indicated he was a sergeant.
Zachary let the tent fall back into place and kept crawling. He worked his way under a handcart. On the far side, he froze with his hand under the cartwheel just as vague movement to his left solidified into two soldiers.
“Can’t see far enough to sneeze without hitting someone,” one complained.
The other snickered. “Knowing your luck, you’d spray Sergeant Lawrence in the face.”
“Don’t jinx me.”
Zachary stifled a groan as one soldier stepped on his hand. The soldier tightened the straps on the cart before stepping away, leaving a solid foot print in the soft ground around Zachary’s hand.
The two soldiers turned to lift the cart. Zachary used the moment to scamper from beneath the cart and disappear into the fog beyond. He flexed his hand, grumbling silently about the bruise he’d bare for the next several days.
The snap of flags caught his attention and a slow grin pulled at his lips. Angling to the right and farther forward, he crawled toward the sound.
A new guy line materialized and Zachary froze against the edge of the tent as a troop of ten marched past. When they disappeared back into the fog like ghosts, he lifted the tent wall and rolled beneath. He’d seen the vague movement of command flags above but even still, relief flooded him when he spotted the broad back of Commander Santell.
Rising to his feet, the maid helping the Commander don his armor gasped. Zachary pulled a clean salute as Santell turned. The Commander eyed him, eyed his gray and brown mottled clothing and the ash on his skin and in his hair, eyed the lack of insignia on his shoulders.
The Commander cursed. “You just ruined my day, Zachary.”
“My apologies, Sir,” Zachary dropped the salute as the Commander finally returned it. Out of habit, he picked up a silver spoon off of the table.
“Your apologies! Ha! My elderly backside your apologies. Report, Intelligence Officer Zachary.” The Commander looked pointedly at the spoon and Zachary returned it to the table.
“Your security is lacking, Sir.”
“Obviously.” Sarcasm dripped from the word.
“The fog, Sir, makes you vulnerable.”
“And what do you suggest I do about it?”
Zachary grinned. The Commander groaned.
The Commander was getting back at him for once again shooting holes in his security. Zachary adjusted his jacket again but no matter how he straightened it, he wasn’t comfortable in the dress uniform. Crawling on the ground, covered in mud and stains…he was in his element. Decked out to escort Miss Santell to the latest dance and he felt like the famous sore thumb.
Zachary, I’ve a different, but challenging mission for you. Santell suckered him in. My daughter’s security is seriously lacking. Last week one of her friends was kidnapped for ransom. Figure out how to make Melanna safe and you’ll have holiday for a month.
Zackary jumped at the offer. Now he felt the dunce. Commander Santell refused to let him work behind the scenes. Said he had to see things from the center of the mess…right next to Miss Santell.
Straightening his jacket again, Zackary exited the coach as it came to a stop in front of the Commander’s house.
The white building competed with those around it for attention, boasting a gardened lawn decked out in colors of blue, red and yellow. Zackary resisted the urge to sneeze as he approached the door.
Knocking, he stepped back and listened to the click of heels approaching from the inside.
The door swung inward.
Melanna Santell smirked at him.
“Daddy sent a new uniform?”
She wasn’t talking to him but to someone over her shoulder.
“Yes, dear. Be nice and don’t shove this one into the pond.”
Zackary used the moment they were talking to recover himself. He’d expected a butler, not Miss Santell herself.
She eyed him and then, apparently deciding he was okay, stepped out and swung the door closed.
Zachary thought about offering his arm but then decided to mix things up. She was used to security officers ‘escorting’ her. So be it. He wasn’t the typical officer.
Whistling shrilly, he waited on the step of the house until he heard the coach leave without them.
Miss Santell, who’d started toward it, spun around.
“What’re you doing?” She demanded.
Zachary refrained from chuckling. Her eyes, a shade of green slightly different from her father’s, were lit with anger. Zachary decided it was a good thing only her eyes resembled the Commander. She was pretty when angry. The Commander was not.
“Half of remaining safe is being unpredictable,” he said and finally offered his arm. “Shall we walk.”
He waited for the yelling, maybe the stomping of feet but they didn’t come. Her scowl disappeared.
“Unpredictable… I like it.” Kicking off her shoes, she picked them up in one hand and held the other out to take his arm.
Walking side by side for a bit in silence, she finally spoke up. Zackary had wondered how long it’d take.
“So officer, what’s your name?”
“Zachary Ulster Ridden the 4th.”
“Kind of hideous.”
“Isn’t it though?”
“Then why do you say the middle name?”
“Because Zachary Ridden is a notorious thief from Seattenburg.”
Silence again. She truly didn’t see, Zachary was sure, but it didn’t bother him. Few did ‘see’ when it came to the way his mind worked.
Thankfully, Commander Santell understood.
The palace appeared ahead. As they passed through the gate, Zachary handed his invitation to the steward.
The man raised a brow but with the Commander’s seal on the invitation, he wasn’t questioned.
“What else helps keep me safe?” Miss Santell asked when they paused for her to put her shoes back on.
“Not walking alone with strange men… or riding in a man’s coach without knowing him.”
Melanna paused. She grasped his meaning instantly and Zachary was a little surprised to see goose bumps on her arms. She didn’t respond, so he simply followed her into the great hall.
He trailed her as she danced and ate and conversed. She didn’t offer to dance with him and he didn’t ask but instead kept to the crowd, watching. The Commander wouldn’t have approved but he wasn’t present. Zachary was beginning to wonder if that was part of the problem. Miss Melanna didn’t seem aware of the risks behind her behaviors.
Catching the flash of her purple dress as she exited the hall, Zachary shook off his thoughts and followed. He found her sitting on a bench in the gardens, gazing up at the star ridden sky. A slight smile pulled up one corner of her lips.
Moving to join her, Zachary paused as another man appeared and sat beside Miss Melanna. The man handed her a glass.
Slipping back into the bushes behind him, Zachary watched as the sandy haired man introduced himself. Miss Melanna returned the gesture and then drank from the glass as the man drank from his own, like he was encouraging her to drink up.
Zachary suppressed a groan and then held his breath as a sneeze threatened to reveal him. Stupid bushes were getting to him.
The man stood and bowed to Miss Melanna before returning the way he’d come. It was several moments before she moved to follow him back into the palace.
As she stood, she wavered and sat down again. She held a hand to her head.
“Come, Miss Melanna, I’ll take you home,” someone said. Zachary looked to the side without moving his head to see a squat but heavy shouldered man.
Miss Melanna stood, surprised. She wavered and the man grasped her arm
“Not sup..shouldn’t ride with someone I don’t know.” She tried to pull away but the man’s grasp only tightened.
“Miss Melanna.” Zachary called out, stepping forward. The stranger turned and it was just enough distance for Zachary to insinuate himself between the two.
Melanna smiled , collapsing against his shoulder as he offered an arm for support.
The stranger glared before spinning away and disappearing down the path.
“Don’t worry,” Zachary mumbled, “I’ll find you and your friend later.” Then louder to Melanna he said, “close call.”
He guided her from the palace as she mumbled a response against his shoulder.
“What was that?”
“You knew that might happen?”
“You father may have mentioned the possibility.”
She swore softly. “No one tells me these thing.”
Getting her into the coach, Zachary propped her against the window as she passed out. She wasn’t purposefully careless…just free spirited. He liked it. She wanted to learn.
“Daddy’s not home enough to realize,” he mumbled to himself. It was sad the other officers who escorted her hadn’t struck upon the simple solution.
“No worries, Miss Melanna, I’ll pass along the message.” He watched her until they reached the house, head slumped and hair mussed from leaning against him. She really was beautiful.
“The Commander’s gonna hate me.” Zachary grinned.
“Teach her?” Santell’s brows were raised at the report.
“Yes Sir. She’d be a lot safer if she knew the situation.” Zachary picked up a small cup from the Commander’s table.
“Don’t pocket anything,” Santell said off handedly as he considered.
“Wouldn’t dream of it, unless maybe it’s your daughter’s heart.”
“What’d you say?”
Zachary grinned. The Commander glared.
“You no good thief, I hired you to find the security leaks in my ranks, not create issues in my family. Now get out and enjoy your holiday. I see you near my daughter, you don’t get paid.”
Zachary bowed and left, still grinning. He was, after all, Zachary Ridden, the famous thief, and Miss Melanna’s heart was a worthy ‘find.’ The Commander was going to hate him indeed.