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A Royal Venture
The room glimmered with the light of the chandelier. I sipped my wine and watched as lords and ladies twirled in blurs of royal blue and purple. Tonight is my sixteenth birthday and according to law I must be married before I turn eighteen or I can't be queen. My father, the king, was worried for me for I had never before been courted. It's not as if every knight in the kingdom didn't try but I had a major distaste for the empty headed warriors that fought in Suna's wars. I thought my head might burst if I had to listen to another, "Would you like to dance," from a knight. But father said I had to be polite so I simply smiled and pretend to listen to the obviously practiced requests. Despite my hatred for the courtiers and knights when Sir Stuart approached I almost accepted his offer out of pity. Sir Stuart was one of my father's most trusted advisers but he was not exactly, well, comfortable outside his studies and sword fighting. He asked with a smile from ear to ear, "Princess, I see you have not tested the dance floor all night! May I have the honor of your first dance?"
I was about to give in and accept his offer when the ballroom went quiet. The lords and ladies had all stopped and were staring at the lord's' entrance way. There stood a man who was cleverly concealed in the deep cowls of a midnight black cloak. He glided towards my father at the end of the hall. To my amazement my father didn't call the royal guards. I sat there worriedly thinking the mysterious man was an assassin, here to murder the king. As he slid gracefully the last few feet, I heard the faintest whisper ever say, "I must speak with you my lord." The king didn't seemed troubled by the news. He bellowed, "Whatever for?," and "Please, continue in the merriment." As the music began playing and lords and ladies hesitantly continued dancing I heard the whisper again, "It's about the princess", he said. The color drained from my father's face as he, the cloaked stranger, and the royal guards walked towards the study.
I scanned the door for several moments after they had disappeared from sight but I don't know exactly what I had hoped to see. Quietly I snatched up my wine glass and strode over to where my maid of honour, Sir Stuart's wife, was chatting with a young servant. When she saw me coming she gathered up her dress and walked over, "What is it my lady?" she asked. I grabbed her arm and took her over to the buffet table by the study hallway.
"Look Morela I need you to talk to me." Her eyes went wide with worry.
"Whatever he told you is a lie!!!" she shouted defensively.
"No you half-wit I need you to pretend to talk to me so I can hear my father talking." A relieved look swipes over her features and she starts talking about the latest gossip. But I never did get a chance to spy because as soon as she started talking about ‘modern fashions’ my father and two guards practically jogged down the hallway. "Father!", I called, "Are you alright?!"
"We were coming to get you," he says looking me up and down, "I should have known you would try to listen. My face turns a rosy shade of red and I follow him into a large room. There at the table sat the cloaked man clearly impatient to get started.
As soon as I was in the room he mumbles in a strong, low voice, "How long?"
"Give her an hour," my father says rubbing his goatee. The stranger nods and I am pulled out of the room. As my father and I walk up towards my room he explains, "That man is a part of a secret service of our military. He is sworn to protect you at all costs. You will go with him and do as he says. You may not be back for a while but you must pack light. Take a pair of boots and some warm clothes. Also take a small bag and fill it with food and water. I will have Morela saddle your horse. When you are done come down to the stables." He hugs my tightly and walks off. As I pack, my mind races with questions. Where am I going? and Why must I leave? I grab my bag and run down the stairs and out to the stables ignoring the confused nobles.
The night air is cold and it nips at my nose. My hair is swaying gently in the breeze and I look curiously at my horse who isn't neighing loudly as usual. Morela is standing by him holding the reigns and brushing his mane. As I swing myself up unto the saddle she says, "I added an extra blanket and some grains for your horse." I nod my head in gratitude and turn the horse to see the cloaked man sitting astride a magnificent black war horse and my father running towards me. "Go with... my love... my dear." my father wheezes in between desperate gasps of air. I reach down to hug him but the cloaked man shouts, "There is no time for that, we must hurry!" He hands me a dagger that's hilt is in crested with tiny star shaped amethysts. I take the weapon and strap it to my saddle. The man begins to gallop off to the palace gates and i move to follow him. Before I cross the bridge I look back at the lights shining through the castle windows. That's my life back there, I think, All I've ever known. Slowly I turn my horse and trot after the man that has changed my life forever.
We had been riding for hours and my backside was beginning to get sore. The whole ride would have been utterly dull had it not been my first time outside the castle gates. The passing landscapes filled me with awe. First we passed a large town with paved roads and large houses, then we trotted through a thick forest of evergreens and hard packed soil. After that we reached a small village with dirt roads slightly larger than the forest paths we had just left. My eye fluttered and I didn't dare try and guess what time it was. I lifted my head just enough for me to peak at the odd man in the black cloak. Why does this man speak oh so sparingly? What is the secret group he belongs to? Why did he have to take me now?
My horse whinnies and I snap my neck back. Apparently, I've been spaced out longer than I thought. The village is now far out of eye shot and we are headed towards the mountains. "Are we ever going to stop," I mumble. The man flicks his head back and replies, "Princess's should not mumble so, it is not proper." I roll my eyes with disdain but do not comment. My mind is distracted from lack of sleep. The man yanks on the reigns and his stallion goes off towards the mountains. My horse, who had been following his all day, mistakes this as a race. I'm nearly bucked of my steed as he throws himself towards the mountains. I flip and flop in my leather saddle, and cling on for dear life. By the time both horses reach the intended resting spot my head is throbbing wildly.
The man dismounts and ties his horses reigns to a tree. Given his lack of courtesy so far, I assume he is not about to help me off my horse so I dismount and do the same. We headed off to a cave in the closest wall of rock. He sat on a log by the fireplace and begun to build a fire. I sat in a corner and unpacked a canteen and two apples. I started to approach him and knelt to hand him an apple when he blurts, "Go get some wood." I stare at him in astonishment but, remembering my father's words, walked out of the cave. With two apples in one hand I cross over to where a stack of firewood lay. When I returned the man had a small fire cracking. I plop down on the log beside his and stare into the fire. The flames danced on the logs and sprung into the air. The silence is killing me. "Do you have a name?" I ask. He takes a second to think and then replies, "You may call me Jude." My eyes are drooping but I force them open. "You are safe now." he says, but this is the last thing I hear. My head droops and my body falls limply to the side.
I woke to the sound of a twig snapping. Bolting upright, I looked frantically around. Slowly I began to remember where I was. Jude heard the noise too, he's standing close to the wall with a finger at his lips. My heart pounds furiously as he slides noiselessly towards the entrance. He waits a few minutes, scanning the area. Silent as a fox, he pounces out and lands on something with a muffled thump. The two figures wrestle back and forth. "It's me damn it!" Jude stops moving and looks down. His fierce expression fades and is replaced by his normal emotionless face. They move towards the fire and Jude plops down. The other person just stands against the wall with her cloak covering her. She leans on the wall and glances at me. Her voice is filled with disgust, "This is the heir to Suna?" I give her an evil glare but she ignores it.
As Jude begins to work the fire the cloaked woman flips back her hood. Her beauty astonishes me. I gasp and move my eyes to take in her full element. Her beautiful sparkling eyes are the deepest shade of purple, her lips the mostly gentle shade of Perl skin, and her skin looks as if she were a porcelain doll and might break if someone touched her. Although her face is beautiful enough to be an ice sculpture her short, choppy hair makes it all look somewhat odd. Unlike my long, flowing brown curls, she has pure black hair that, although choppy, looks like a masterpiece. She flicks her head in my direction and casts an evil glare. Quickly, I realized I have been staring at her the whole time and tear my eyes away. Jude sees this exchange and manages a small chortle, "Syra, go get us dinner." he says. She turns her eyes on Jude and says, "Of course, we wouldn't want the poor young princess to break a nail getting her own food." Young? She can’t be more than a year older than me! "Then again," she added, she probably couldn't use a bow." Obviously pleased with her retort Syra jog off into the night.
“She's really not that bad once you know her," Jude said as if he could read my mind. "Compared to a coyote," I mumble. Once again Jude chuckles, a calming rumble of amusement. "She's a dear friend of mine and an important part of our kingdom." The tenderness in his voice, I knew they were more than dear friends. But I couldn't figure out why it bothered me so. Perhaps because of her lack of manners earlier. But surely that wouldn't give me a nagging feeling would it? I decide to toss the thought aside.
When Syra comes back the fire is blazing bright with warmth. Syra has two large hares in her hand. Syra saw my amazement and smiled, “Have some new respect for me do you?” She smirked and began preparing the hares to be cooked. Both hares and a single shot just above the heart. The fur stripped hares sickened me with their blood dripping to the ground. Jude fixed a makeshift spit for the hares and before long the smell of fatty grease hitting the fire filled the room. Silence, besides the sizzling, overcame the spacious cave. Jude continued to turn the spit but said nothing. I figured there was no time like the present. “Am I ever going to get some answers?,” I demanded of no one in particular.
“Answers to what?” Jude asked, removing one rabbit from the spit. My mind race with the questions that have, until now, been floating around in my mind.
“Why are we here? Who are you? What secret branch do you belong to? What danger am I in? Who is she?” I crinkle my nose and point at Syra for emphasis on the last question. Syra looks at me, her face red with anger. But then a silencing calm takes over her features. Her mouth opens, she's singing. Beautiful musical tendrils reach out and speak to me. My mind becomes clear, my eyes close. I open my mouth to speak but all I can squeak out is, “What are you doing?” With a final twitch of my fingers, the darkness takes over. I'm unconscious.
I don't wake until Jude shakes me. He's leaning over me with a worried look in his eyes. When he sees me awake he smiles a bit and helps me stand up. My head hurts and I'm a bit wobbly but I manage to stand. I smile weakly back at Jude and his eyes brighten. I feel almost serene until I see a peaking face from behind Jude, Syra. My face went I white and I ran to the corner of the cave with my hands over my ears. It seems years before I dare remove my hands from my ears. “How dare you! She's young, and I doubt she's even heard of elven magic, let alone experienced it!” I wanted to scream out I'm not a little girl stop treating my like a child, but I choke it all back. Syra's features are clearly regretful.
“Jude please, she's supposed to be the princess, what's she going to do when...” She suddenly cuts herself off when she realizes I'm listening.
“What's going on?,” I half whimper half shout. Jude takes a breath so as to begin a long tale but Syra interrupted.
“Please allow me. I'm sorry to have scared you earlier but please believe I meant you no harm. The sleep you fell into was an information spell so I could simply make you understand everything. As to your earlier queries, we are here to protect you. I am... We belong to a secret branch called the rhiva we are trained as spy's, strategists, and in all forms of trained combat. You are in danger because of that,” she says pointing to my crown. Quivering, I raise my skinny arms up towards my head. I remove the shiny hat from its resting place and give it a good glare.
“So I'm being hunted because I'm the princess?”
“No, because someone wants the jewels,” she rolls her eyes. “Long before you were born our kingdom was in turmoil. Commoners were reborn a beggars, royalty as commoners, and beggars as royalty. For a long time we stayed that way. However when the second generation of imposter royals were born the commoners decided to rebel. Suna was in a great civil war. When the imposter royalty won, the commoners became beggars and beggars became commoners again. By the time of the next revolt we were in our fourth generation of imposter royalty. The royal family was restored to the throne and the imposters were banished, but the threat remained. We could never be fully sure that they wouldn't try to take the crown again.”
“So these... imposters... are back and they want my crown?”
“Twelve years ago, when you were three, your mother was murdered. After that incident our branch was formed to protect you. We devised a plan, but I guess we have failed.” There were tears in her eyes and she squeezed Jude who had grabbed her hand for support. My mind raced with all the information I had just received. It spun in circles until I remembered something.
“What was the plan?” Syra looked away from Jude for a moment, her eyes were worried. She looked back to Jude for help.
“You are not...ready... for that information.”
It's been twelve hours since our last conversation. We all pretty much decided to get some sleep. I was the first to retire, despite my previous naps I was sorely tired. I eased down onto a mat of leaves the Jude had prepared. Although it doesn't compare to my feather mattress at home it's much more accommodating than the rock I rested on earlier. Home. As I close my eyes I try to picture my father, the palace stuffed with nobles, even poor old Morela. I'm awoken by the bright sun's glare on my face. I creep over to Syra and Jude. I notice they're still asleep, remembering how I had had considerably more sleep than them I decided not to wake them. I waddled over to the cold timbers in the fireplace and kick at a log. My mind replays what Syra had said the night before, Then again she probably could even use a bow. It's true, I can't use a bow, but I can prove that I'm useful.
I gather some dry grass and a few twigs to lay in the fireplace. Then I go to the wall and pry loose two stones, not exactly flint and steel but it'll have to do. Striking the stones over and over again I attempt to start a fire, but am annoyed at how useless it seems. Finally a spark hits the grass and it begins to glow. Before long the timbers are crackling with a friendly blaze. On my way back to my bag I notice that Syra and Jude lay unconsciously holding hands. I grab the drawstrings of my bag and pull it open. Selecting tree apples and a loaf of bread I saunter back to the log. I break the bread into thirds and lay one piece of bread and one apple on the folded blankets in front of each log. When I decide it's perfect and the fires doing okay a grab my knife and walk outside. Tying the blade to a tree branch with a piece of rope, I walk towards the sound of running water.
It's such a beautiful day I think to myself as little birds of assorted color chase each other from branch to branch. I laugh at how simple minded, and worry free they seemed. When I reach the creak I gasp. The water is crystal clear and cool, as I lay my hand in the water I feel the fish tickling my fingers with their fins. I point my makeshift spear at one of the fish, follow it's movements, and jab. It worked. A little plume of blood rose in the water and the fish squirmed back and forth. I held the spear steady and stared at the now lifeless fish. I had never killed anything before. Although my eyes watered for the life I had just ended I found the strength to remove it and put it in the bucket I had brought. I repeated this killing ritual twice more only this time, I didn't hold back. Tears rolled down my cheeks as I removed the limp bodies. I just wanted to get it all over with.