Nobody stopped him. He took the stairs three at a time, letting others pass by as they fled for safety without a second glance. Only once did his hand stray to his broadsword, when a barrel-chested servant tried to grab his arm, but Avaren shot him a hard stare and the man yanked back with swiftly mumbled apologies. The door he wanted, still thick and solid and mercifully shut, was at the end of the corridor. He reached it without further interruption.
The moment he pounded on the scarred wood, the latch turned and a familiar set of green eyes gazed through the opening. Relief washed through him. He hadn't known how terrified he was she wouldn't be in her chambers until this very moment. "Come, my lady." He held his hand out to her in solicitous offering. "I'm to get you to safety."
He blocked the view of any who might be in the vicinity as Loraledra pulled the door wider. Instead of the scarlet gown she'd worn at dinner when the attacks had begun, she wore soft trousers and boots, apparel from a bygone time when she hadn't yet been queen and propriety wasn't such a strict mistress. The auburn curls that were the envy of women both noble and not had been tied back in a leather strap, a heavy braid falling along her spine. Her cloak and blouse did little to hide her full, soft breasts, though at least her height might work to their advantage and fool the marauders into believing she was a man for a few moments while they made their escape. Still, her sensible clothing was only a costume. Anyone with eyes would take one look at her and know in an instant she was the renowned Queen Loraledra.
"Where's Ryel?" she asked, glancing past his shoulder.
Avaren set his jaw. "On the shore leading the fight."
But when he tried to take the satchel she'd had prepared, she refused to relinquish it. "Then you should be down there with him. Don't worry about me. I'll take care of myself."
Ryel hadn't warned she might argue, but Avaren had been prepared for the worst. "I'm sorry, my lady. I can't allow that."
Her eyes flashed. "Your liege needs your sword more than I do."
"I'm under direct orders."
"So I'm giving you a new one."
"I can't." Gripping her upper arm, he pulled her through the doorway. She fought him every inch, her muscles firm beneath his fingers, but as much as he hated having to resort to force, he couldn't allow her to squirm her way free, even if she was the queen. "Please, your majesty. If he worries about you, his mind isn't fully on the battle. Tonthery needs both her king and queen."
The furious set of her jaw didn't soften, but the guilty slide of her gaze to the tiny windows overlooking the sea gave him hope. A moment later, her stance relaxed, the death clutch he'd had on her satchel loosening. "Fine," she ground out. "But as soon as I'm somewhere secure, you're to return to him, understand?"
Avaren nodded in acquiescence. Though he wasn't certain Ryel would approve of such a compromise, it satisfied all of their needs. Ryel's to protect Loraledra. Hers to support Ryel. Avaren's to fulfill his duty to both of his lieges.