No one disturbed them that night, since Andrew had, in the few days since coming to the castle, gained renown for being intolerant of people crowding him; intolerant, in fact, of people in general.
The earliest light of the sun, slanting in through the window, awoke Andrew. He didn’t move at first, instead gazing upon the sleeping countenance of Marie, who had spent the night shifting restlessly, tormented by nightmares. She was relaxed now, though pale, and the twisted sheets were a testament to her uneasy slumber. Andrew stood and went to the door, opening it.
A servant, who had been on the verge of knocking, jumped back, startled. “G-good morning, sir,” he stammered, clearly unnerved by the cold eyes of the ranger. “T-the King wishes to know how her Highness f-fares.”
“She still sleeps. Have some breakfast sent up for the two of us.”
“Y-yes, sir.” The servant bowed and scurried down the hall, disappearing behind a bend.
Andrew shut the door, returning to his chair beside the princess. As he sat, Marie stirred, her eyes fluttering open. “Andrew?” she murmured, her voice weak.
He took her hand, pressing it to his lips. “I’m here, milady. You’re safe.”
Marie shivered, closing her eyes again, and squeezing his hand. “I’ve been having the most terrible dreams…” She opened her deep blue eyes and looked into Andrew’s brown ones. “Did you kill those men?”
“I did,” he replied. “They’ll never hurt anyone ever again.”
“Good.” She sank back into her pillows with a sigh. After a moment, she said, “Have you called for breakfast? I haven’t eaten since they took me.”
“I have. It should be here any minute.” He looked to the door just as a knock sounded. He strode to the door and took the tray from the stammering servant. “The princess is awake and well, but tired. See that we aren’t disturbed.”
He closed the door on the servant’s stuttering acknowledgement, taking the tray over to Marie’s bed. They didn’t speak again until they had finished eating, and Andrew had set the tray by the door. When he returned, Marie was nearly asleep again, but roused herself to take his hand.
“Andrew? Promise me something?”
Andrew kissed her hand. “Anything, milady.”
“Don’t leave me. Please… Stay here, in the city.”
This simple request awoke such a raging battle of emotions in Andrew that it took all his self-control to keep it from showing on his face. No! I’ve saved her twice now. I’ve earned my forest, and I can just go back to it and be left alone.
He opened his mouth to tell her that he couldn’t stay, but as he looked upon the princess’ face, he found himself saying, “I’ll stay, milady.”
She smiled sleepily, giving his hand a weak squeeze. “One more favor?”
Her words were but a murmur as she drifted off. “Call me Marie.”