Lush countryside whizzed by me. I passed a roaring waterfall that sent stinging mist into my face and I heard the bubbling laugh of a brook by my side. My dappled white horse, Alliance, galloped away from the castle walls. I thought how nice it would be to actually be free, I mean, its no easy business being a princess! My name is Princess Rosalie Estelle Marguerite Thermopoly, and I am seventeen years old.
My long light walnut colored hair billowed in the wind as I rode to my secret meadow. As far as I know, no one else knows of it but me. As I galloped through the sprig tree forest, I noticed a young man sitting on the big rock in the middle of my meadow! I quickly dismounted and shimmied up a tree to have a better view.
He was sitting on the big rock that was in the middle of the field writing on a piece of paper. Well, he doesn’t look like he’s hurting anything, I thought. I noticed that he placed the paper under a rock. As I climbed back down the pine tree, I heard a loud RRIIPPP. I gasped and looked at the back of my dress where it was jaggedly ripped up to my calves. Just as I was about to pick the ripped piece of dress up, I heard the pounding of hooves. I looked up and saw the youth riding toward me!
I jumped the rest of the way down the tree and grabbed Alliance’s reins and ran for a clump of dense spruce. Hiding in the middle of the clump, I put my hand over Alliance’s muzzle.
The young man rode straight for the old tree. I got a better look at him and saw he had dark brown hair and sparkling gray eyes. Just as I thought he was going to pass it, he stopped.
“What’s this now, a piece of fine dress? I wonder what colleen dropped this.”
I silently moaned.
“Hey, this is the royal seamstress’s crest! Why this belongs to the princess herself! How very amusing.”
He studied it some more, “I better take it back to the castle with me.”
I felt my heart sink as he rode to the castle.
“Come on Alliance, let’s see what that piece of paper was about.”
I swung up and galloped toward the rock. Lifting a small boulder near it, I saw a sheet of paper, on top of which I read this:
Oh how beautiful are the mountains,
lakes, rivers and the fountains,
from which I gaze at out my tower,
they display such majesty and power,
gurgling streams and roaring waterfalls,
beckon me to escape these dreary walls,
I’m hearing the call of freedom. -- RLN
I burst out laughing, an amateur poet! I stuffed it in my saddlebag, and galloped for the castle.
Alliance’s hooves clattered on the cobblestone path as the drawbridge was lowered. My friend, a stable boy named Peter, came and took Alliance from me and I headed to the door in back that belonged to the kitchen. I didn’t want Father to see my dress and question me about it.
Heather the head cook greeted me saying in her thick, rolling brogue, “Well hello colleen, your cheeks are nice and rosy from your ride I see. I’m cooking your favorite, lamb and potatoes. We’re having company tonight!”
I didn’t bother to ask whom, and opened the door to the hallway. I heard footsteps and my father’s voice talking to someone whose voice I didn’t recognize. I guessed it was probably the guest. Tiptoeing as fast as I could to the elegantly carpeted stairway, I started to run up it.
“Rosalie! There you are, I’ve been wanting you to meet Ralph Lawrence Newman. He’s the prince of Adonoram.”
Adonoram was the powerful kingdom to the North. I cringed and pulled the rip in my dress to the side so they wouldn’t see it. All I’d heard about for the last month was how Prince Ralph would make an outstanding king, an outstanding husband, and an outstanding friend.
I sighed and turned around slowly.
I sucked in my breath, there was the amateur poet! Now I understood what the RLN meant at the bottom of the piece of paper with poetry on it. It stood for Ralph Lawrence Newman! His eyes glinted in amusement when he saw my dress. I only hoped he didn’t say anything about it to Father or Mother. I decided to make my best appearance, stood up straight, smoothed back my hair, and walked slowly and gracefully down the steps.
He bowed and kissed my hand, but as he straightened up, he muttered amusedly, “Such a lovely dress on you your Highness, what with all the gray shimmering satin and pink roses matching your cheeks. I’m sure you wouldn’t want to rip it?”
My cheeks turned even pinker and my green eyes flashed. I curtsied, but brushed past him, then elegantly walked up the stairs, with my nose snootily stuck up in the air. When I reached my bedchamber, I cooled off some. It was so calming and peaceful with the drapings and tapestries on the walls, and the curtains pulled back to reveal an amazing view. I walked over to my full-length mirror and looked at the rip in back. It really was a pretty dress, I was sorry to have ruined it. It had a full skirt that was gray and rose satin with a pink waistline. The sleeves were long and draping, and at the top, they were held together with three pink roses.
I leaned on my window and thought angrily, “Well, he isn’t going to marry me if that’s what he is here to ask. I’d gladly say no.”
I looked out at the garden and saw my maid, Theresa, talking to Peter, my friend and companion, to whom I’d handed my horse. Sometimes I wished I could be one of them, they were free to pick whom they wanted to marry, and whom they wanted to spend time with. Theresa hurried inside when she saw me, and gave me a warm bath.
“Did you see that Ralph Lawrence Newman fellow? My but he is nice looking, how lucky you are to be princess!”
I sighed and said, “There’s a lot more to being princess than meeting a fellow like, like, him!”
Theresa laughed and replied, “It’s not easy being a servant either, we have to get married for riches. Here, wear this dress, it brings the green in your eyes out.”
I pulled on the green satin dress while Theresa worked with my hair. When Theresa gently pushed me in front of the mirror, I gasped at my reflection. My green eyes were sparkling, and my brown hair was pulled up in a cascading flip-through.
“You’re sure to make a lasting impression on anyone who glances at you tonight! Now hurry up, you don’t want to be late for supper now, do you?” Theresa stated.
“No, and thank-you for helping me prepare,” I said, in a hurry to get to the supper table.
My mother is very particular about arriving on time, especially when we have guests.
I moved as quickly as I could without looking rushed, for my mother says princesses are never rushed, and seated myself at the table. Ralph glanced twice when I sat down, at least he had good taste.
Father clapped his hands, and waiters came and served us, then inquired of Ralph, “Do you like to read? Our dear Rosalie spends most of her time reading, or playing music.”
Ralph daintily wiped his mouth and answered, “Yes I do. I quite enjoy literature. Music too, but what I’m famous for liking, is archery and riding.”
Those are my favorite things to do, too. I usually go down to my secret meadow to practice the archery, while wearing a green cloak and sensible dress.
Just then, the royal bugle sounded, announcing a visitor. Father excused himself and stood up. A dashing young knight with brown hair and hazel eyes walked in.
“A thousand apologies Your Highness, but I was sent by my king, the Mighty King of Derkenteire, (pronounced Der-kin-tire,) to announce that his son is ready to wed, and that he needs all young maidens of sixteen and up, that I think worthy of the honor, to accompany me to the castle.”
I felt nervous, how was he going to tell whether or not someone was worthy? I was sure that I wouldn’t pass a test, I’m not like perfect or anything. Father ushered him and Ralph into another room and I anxiously waited for half an hour. Finally, they came out.
“You are to accompany me to Derkenteire castle, milady,” commanded the young knight.
“I am to go by myself?! How do I know that you will not kidnap me and harm me?” I spouted.
“I will be coming with you, since IIIIIIIII was here first, and Theresa your maid is coming with us,” Ralph angrily replied, sending hateful glares at the knight. The kingdom of Derkenteire was Adonoram’s enemy, and Ralph was not letting a future bride get away. But how was I to know that Ralph wouldn’t do anything either? At least Theresa was coming.
But before I could get a word in, Father, giving me a look of remorse, said, “I’m afraid that you’ll have to accompany them, dear, better go and tell Theresa to pack your carpetbag, there is no room for a trunk I’m afraid.”
You see, Derkenteire rules both kingdoms in our province, Charlutteoin and Fromursten, but Adonoram is strong enough to rule itself. That’s another reason why my parents want me to marry into Adonoram, to create a strong bond to defeat Derkenteire. So, anyways, if Derkenteire says you have to do something, you do it. That is unless you could escape it.
I rushed up the stairs and snatched my carpetbag, filling it with my most sensible dresses, a rope, a dagger, 2 fire stones and my bow and quiver full of arrows. You never know what might happen.
The knight was waiting for me at the door, and escorted me to his horse.
I looked at it with horror, surely he couldn’t mean me to ride double with him?
The knight, noticing my glance, answered my question, “You’ll be riding double, milady, as the Prince doesn’t want you to escape.”
I’m afraid the Prince knew me too well, for I’d have been out the carriage door in a moment.
“But that wouldn’t be proper for a young lady to ride with a gentleman alone,” I stated modestly on the outside, but on the inside I wanted to spout it at him.
“Oh, and you won’t be needing all of that escape equipment you’re hiding in that carpetbag either,” he murmured quietly to me, while unloading the rope and one of the fire stones. (Fortunately, I’d been smart enough to throw a cape over my bow and arrows, and had hidden the dagger and the other fire stone in one of my deep pockets.)
A sudden clatter of hooves on the cobbles announced Ralph as he came charging out of the royal stables on a glossy mahogany stallion. It was like the two young men had decided to race to Derkenteire castle. Theresa came out on a quieter gelding and we were off. I stubbornly gritted my teeth and tried to balance myself with the palms of my hands on the horse’s rump, but finally gave up and held onto his armor when I started to slide off the horse. Unfortunately, the knight had grabbed me with his arm.
Ralph’s horse was bigger than the knight’s, but the knight’s was more tuned up, and shortly after galloping out of the courtyard, Ralph’s horse slowed.
I chuckled softly when Ralph impudently ordered for us to slow up, but not softly enough for the knight to not hear.
“Rather an impatient man isn’t he, and you want to marry the fellow?” queried the knight curiously.
I sighed, I really didn’t want to talk to this person, but it would have been rude not to, so I replied, “I don’t have any interest in getting married to anyone at the moment, and the only reason I’d marry that man, is to save my kingdom, from an arrogant, self-centered, domineer-”
The knight broke my ranting by a laugh and said, “My Prince isn’t half that bad, he’s really a nice fellow when you get to know him, at least the real prince.”
He muttered the last bit almost unintelligibly.
I grunted in disbelief.
“No really, in fact, I think that he’s going to like your bold spirit. What are your interests Your Highness?”
“If you’re going to keep with the question asking, you’d better tell me your name,” I replied without answering his question.
The knight hesitated, then, “Sir Sean to you, milady.”
Why did the knight, I mean Sean, seem so hesitant to tell me his name? I thought to myself.
Ralph broke into my thoughts though, as he shouted a second time, “You better wait up for me, sir knight! If not, I’ll have the entire militia of Adonoram upon you!”
Sir Sean sighed softly and muttered, “Yes, your highness,” while turning the black horse under us around.
By twilight, we had finally reached Cropungay Forest and Sir Sean helped me, much to my dismay, down from the horse and ordered Theresa and I to collect firewood, under his careful watch.
“Tomorrow morning, we will be heading out at dawn, so it would be best to get to sleep early,” Sir Sean told us.
When Sir Sean turned his back, Ralph made his way over to me and sat down beside me. “Sorry about all of this, if it weren’t for this blundering… blundering… person, we’d be back where we belonged. Now we’re stuck in the middle of nowhere with some knight we know nothing about.” He looked me straight in the eye, “Sorry also for teasing you about your dress, it really is a shame that you ripped it.”
I think my jaw dropped open, Ralph Lawrence Newman apologizing to me? I stuttered a “you’re forgiven” and then worked on making myself a bed for Theresa farther away from the fire, and Sir Sean and Ralph.
I smiled to myself. After Sir Sean fell asleep, we’d quietly sneak away and travel as far as we could that night back to Charlutteoin. But, we’d leave the camp looking like marauders had kidnapped us. I watched carefully where Sir Sean’s bed was, so as not to accidentally stumble over him in the middle of the night. I then bundled up in my cape and used my carpetbag as a pillow. I planned on keeping my eyes open until Sir Sean fell asleep, but my eyes slowly, slowly started to close.
Whoo, Whoo! An owl hooted in the darkness when I awoke.
I shivered and pulled my cape around me more tightly as a brisk wind blew my hair in my face.
I shook Theresa awake and put my finger to my lips.
I looked over at the two bundles by the fire and couldn’t help smiling a little smugly. This was going to be so easy.
I quickly started the marauder muse by grabbing back my rope and fire stone from Sean’s bag by his sleeping ugly form and threw them haphazardly on the ground before rumpling up where I’d been sleeping, made a whole bunch of scuff marks, and led Sean’s very own horse around to look like we’d been invaded by drunken mad-men.
Finally, we quietly tiptoed out of the camp, wanting to dance and shout. Quickly running with carpetbag in hand, we ran right beside the road so as to not leave any tracks, but not get lost.
Soon I started recognizing landmarks, and came to the Hacren Waterfall, about thirty minutes away from the campsite.
Theresa begged to catch her breath, so we paused to get a cool drink. I then straightened my back and was about to start back on my way when a voice broke my stride.
“Hello, princess, I’ve been waiting quite some time, but you’ve finally arrived.” Sir Sean stepped out of the shadows.
I took a step back, “But how did you get here? I just saw you in your blanket not thirty minutes ago.” I then realized that he could have easily stuffed things in to make it look like him.
“How did you know I was going to be here?” I demanded.
He merely smiled and replied, “Because I would have done the same thing.”
He then grasped my forearm and marched us back to camp, where we arrived just as dawn broke.
“Nice scuffle scene,” he muttered, chuckling softly.
Sean, as I now called him in my head, ordered me to make something to eat out of the supplies in his saddlebags, and awoke the groggy Ralph.
When Ralph surveyed the scene, he gasped. “Good heavens!” he declared. “We’ve been invaded by drunken mad-men!”
“Nothing to worry about,” Sean shrugged off. “I took care of them. They won’t be coming back soon.” He sent me a glare before muttering, “Or leaving.”
Soon I had hot gruel ready. I knew how to cook things such as eggs, bacon, pancakes and the like, but I didn’t want Sean to enjoy his meal. I angrily poured the gruel into some bowls.
“Today,” Sean said, pausing to swallow the gruel, “I plan to go past Meslon Waterfall, cross Cramen Creek, and make it past Bogsworth Swamp.”
Ralph gulped his food down and spluttered, “But, that’s a good 30 mile ride, and we barely made 14 yesterday!”
Sean looked at him evenly, “I think that we can make 30 today,” then looked at me, “unless we have any interferences.”
I blushed hotly and concentrated on the brown substance in my bowl. I decided that it would be best to just go along, the sooner I got there, the sooner I got back. Or so I thought.
We finished up breakfast without further ado, and saddled up and rode off.
Ralph’s mahogany stallion huffed to keep up with Sean’s tuned black stallion as he set a grueling pace. I love going at a gallop, but when you’re doing it for hours, riding double, it can make your legs and back extremely sore. Plus it’s not easy when you haven’t had much sleep, and you start…to…feel…sleeeepppyyy.
When I awoke, we were at a pretty meadow, and I felt a rope tying me to the horse, or should I say saddle.
I guess I must have made some sound because Sean said, “Awake now, princess? I was afraid you’d fall off when I realized that you were asleep, so I stopped and tied you on.”
I was puzzled, how did he know when I’d fallen asleep?
I felt my cheeks burn when he told me, “How did I know? Well, your head was resting on my shoulder, and I knew that definitely wasn’t natural,” he’d snickered.
I felt like poking him with my finger, and that’s just what I did, but he couldn’t feel it for his armor.
With as much dignity as I could, I said in my best “you better obey me” voice, “After we stop for lunch, I would like to ride with Ralph, as he would not treat me so.”
Sean snickered again and replied, “Sorry, princess, you were asleep during lunch, and if I stuck you on his horse, both of you would probably gallop away, not that Grandeur here couldn’t catch up, but it’s easier for me this way.”
I untied the rope, and sat as far back as I could without falling off, while holding onto the saddle’s cantle so as to not fall off.
As we went farther north, it got cooler and the trees got thicker, some displaying snow. In a crack through the trees, I glimpsed a gorgeous mountain peak and gasped in spite of myself.
“That’s Mount Riley, one of Derkenteire’s main attractions,” Sean said with pride in his voice.
It made me want to say something rude back, but instead I clenched my jaw and ground my teeth. Above the wind in the fir trees, I heard the roaring of a waterfall and turned my attention to that.
“Meslon Waterfall, we’re almost halfway to Bogsworth Swamp!” cheered Ralph exuberantly.
Sean simply muttered, “Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.”
# # # # #
I could smell the foul stench of Bogsworth Swamp miles before we even reached it, and it started making my stomach and head ache.
Soon, all I could concentrate on was holding onto the saddle, the stench was so strong.
I gagged, wishing only for the sweet air that was at the Secret Place, no longer secret because of Ralph, but anyways…
“You’ll get used to the air, all Derkenteirians do,” said the evil lump of steel in front of me.
“Well, I am not a Derkenteirian, I am a Charlutteoinian, where the air is pure!” I retorted angrily.
I started feeling dizzy and started to slide off of the horse, but the lump of steel grabbed me. The stench was so powerful. I dimly remember hearing Ralph complain about being a little dizzy, too, and then everything went black.
“Well, Rosalie, glad to see you’re feeling better,” Ralph said when I awoke.
There was a campfire and the stench wasn’t quite as strong, I guess I’d gotten used to it.
We were now in Bogsworth Swamp. They’d evidently crossed Cramen Creek while I was out. Sean was tending to something with the fire, and Ralph handed me a drink. Theresa was busy with a pot of stew.
“I was dizzy, too, but I guess not as dizzy as you. Sir-whatever-his-name-is was sort of worried when you didn’t revive immediately. It was actually rather funny!”
I couldn’t help but join in with his laughter; the thought of seeing the oh-so-brave Sean fanning his hands and looking worried was hysterical. I would gladly faint again with that information. Just then, Sean came over.
“Careful, the wolves are out, and I don’t want to have to stay watch all night because you two were so loud. Oh, and stay close to the fire, you never know when you’ll step into some quicksand in this place.”
I felt myself shiver in spite of myself, and pulled my blanket a little closer. The evening passed quickly, and I found myself falling asleep sooner than I thought.
A cry in the night awoke me, and I looked around wildly, hoping someone wasn’t getting attacked by wolves.
The fire was dead and I felt cold streak through me. I struggled out of my blanket and saw Ralph’s bed-roll empty. I awoke Theresa, then ran quickly over to Sean and shook him awake. His eyes opened instantly, alert and awake.
“Ralph’s missing, and I heard something,” I whispered. I confess I had the impulse to hide behind him.
Sean straightened to his full height and grabbed his sword, “I’m going to go check it out, grab that rope and come with me.”
We quickly obeyed and followed him so closely that I stepped on his heels. Every little rustle in the bushes made me jump. We followed the hoarse “help’s” to find Ralph up to his chest in quicksand.
“I was just going to get some more firewood, and then I sank down. Help me!” he desperately cried.
Sean took the rope and stepped forward when GLUMF he started disappearing into the earth at an alarming rate. He’d stepped into the quicksand, too.
Just then I heard a snarl across the quicksand and four glowing eyes stepped out of the shadows. Wolves. Every part of me screamed “run”! Every fiber in me shouted “leave them and run for your life”! Theresa was already fleeing for camp, and the horses. But, my heart took hold, and with astonishing dexterity, I grabbed the rope that Sean had dropped and tossed it to Sean and Ralph.
Pulling with all my might, I heaved them onto shore, but it was too late. The wolves started closing in. Ralph was bent over, gasping for breath, but Sean managed to lean against me and unsheathed his sword.
“My job was to get you to Derkenteire, and that I will,” he pronounced with renewed strength, and plunged his sword so quickly into the wolves that his sword looked like leaping moonlight.
Yelps and snarls sounded, and the two frothing injured beasts limped away, one crashing to the ground after three steps.
Supporting Sean on one side, and Ralph on the other, we made it back to camp. I quickly re-lit the fire, and made five other little fires bordering our campsite in an attempt to keep the wolves away.
Ralph gulped the water I gave him, then exhaustedly fell back asleep. Sean, however, refused the drink and mumbled softly to himself.
I tiredly sank down onto the ground in front of him. I couldn’t believe that Theresa had left. Both her and her horse were gone.
“Why did you stay, milady? You could have run back to the camp and taken one of the horses back to Charlutteion. What made you stay?” the knight queried.
I sighed softly, “To tell you the truth, every part of me wanted to do just that, and run with Theresa. But that wouldn’t have been the right and noble thing to do, and I would have lived the rest of my life sorry that I hadn’t done differently.”
His eyes bore into mine, “Then you have to come with me to Derkenteire.”
Confused I said, “But I thought that I already was going to go to Derkenteire, what does this incident have to do with anything?”
Sir Sean looked down, “Well, you see, this whole thing was a test to see if you would stay and do the noble thing and save Ralph and I. I made him do it. We both had roots we could have grabbed onto if need be. The wolves weren’t planned, of course, but it made it all the more real. See, the Prince only wants the maiden of a noble heart. So far, I’ve done this with seventeen other maidens, and they all chose to flee. You’re the first one to stay and help, so you come to Derkenteire with me.”
I felt tears well up in my eyes. So, because I’d done the right thing, that’s what was really making me go? I felt like stomping my foot. I wouldn’t have done any differently, but it was still hard.
“But how on earth did you convince Ralph to be a part of it?” I queried.
He looked a little embarrassed. “Well, I said if you didn’t stay, then he could have you immediately. Instead of having to wait and see if the Prince will choose you.”
Anger coursed through me. Without saying anything, I strode over to my blanket, covered myself and wallowed in self pity.
A voice rang in the night through my tears, “Thank you, Princess Rosalie.”
I felt surprise jolt through me when he called me by my name instead of the usual ‘milady’, then fell asleep out of pure exhaustion.
That morning, I awoke earlier than Ralph and Sean. I’d decided to do something, it was time for action. I took some supplies out of the saddlebags, and started cooking up some bacon, and some gruel, only this time it was the good kind. I made sure that the bacon looked positively exquisite, and the gruel tantalizing, and went to gather some ‘herbs’. When I came back, my pockets full of leaves, twigs, and pebbles, I saw Sean and Ralph stirring. I smugly noted Sean’s surprised face when he saw the tantalizing breakfast. I don’t think he knew what to make of it.
“Well, a top of the morning to you, and to you too,” I said in a rolling brogue.
Sean looked at me in bewilderment, and Ralph started making toward the bacon.
Sean looked at me suspiciously, “What’s the occasion for blessing us with such a meal?”
I pretended to be contrite and just shuffled my feet, then spoke, “Well, let me dish you up some breakfast!”
Quickly moving to the fire, I could feel Sean’s eyes staring right through me. I made sure to make Ralph’s food leaf free, but in Sean’s, I crinkled up the leaves, dropped a few pebbles, and broke a few twigs in his before stirring his up.
I made sure to give him my sweetest smile before handing him his breakfast. I watched intently as he took his first bite of gruel. He looked up quickly his mouth bulging.
“This food i-”
Ralph broke him off saying, “Delicious! I never knew that a princess could cook so well!”
Sean’s face clouded for just a moment, before he replied politely, “Yes milady, this is excellent, what with the nuts and the herbs, and the sticks of cinnamon.
It is simply exquisite!”
Ralph looked at him jealously and complained about not getting that.
It made me mad the way Sean ruined the “present”.
Sean made quite a point of chewing each mouthful deliberately, and swallowing loudly. When he finished, he ended with an “ahh,” and handed me his empty bowl. There was nothing in it! He’d eaten it all! How he did it I do not know to this day.
I did not have long to ponder that thought until he broke my thoughts with saying that we needed to pack up camp.
“In one more day, we’ll reach Derkenteire Castle, tonight I want to make it to the Eastern end of Athenbury Forest.”
Ralph moaned as he climbed onto his horse, who didn’t look like he could take another step. Grandeur, however, seemed used to the grueling pace, and pranced in place, eager to get moving.
As Sean gave me a hand onto his horse, he pulled me close enough to hear him say, “Lovely meal, milady, do all of the cooks in Charlutteoin disgrace themselves as well?”
As soon as I had sat down, Grandeur took of at an easy canter and I grabbed the saddle just in time.
I couldn’t wait until I didn’t have to ride behind this angering knight anymore. I would rather walk the whole way, I thought to myself. That is, until I saw the River Treflectance. It was at least 100 yards wide, and the current looked extremely swift. I confess I hung onto Sean instead of the saddle when I saw it.
“It’s not as dangerous as it looks, but you need to know the tricks of crossing rivers before you try it. Ralph! You’ve crossed streams before, haven’t you?” he shouted above the gurgling, rushing water, as he took off his armor revealing a blue tunic edged in silver.
“You be- I -ve!” his words were lost to the roaring water.
Sean eased Grandeur into the water and ordered, “I know you won’t like it, but hang on to me tightly, if we get swept off of Grandeur, I can swim you to shore.”
I grudgingly held on tighter, and then we were in the swirl of black water. Ice cold water rushed over my legs as the black horse swam through the wild water.
I felt the current grabbing us and pushing us downriver, and I hung on so tightly that I was afraid that I would take the breath out of Sean. Grandeur seemed to be an expert, though, and he swam with the current toward shore. When we finally, after what seemed an eternity of getting swept over with water, reached shore, I sank off of the horse and hugged myself.
My teeth were chattering as I pushed my dampish hair out of my face. Sean untied some packages and handed me my cloak, soft and dry.
I looked up at him, “Thank-you. But how did you keep this dry?”
“I held it above the water, you were too focused on not getting swept away to notice.”
Suddenly, with a jolt I realized that Ralph wasn’t on the shore yet. I looked around concernedly, but there was no sign of the young king or the tired horse anywhere.
Sean noticed my concern and reassured, “Don’t worry, milady, I’m sure he will turn up.”
He must have said that five times before it started turning dark. I was starting to feel sick to my stomach by that time. Poor Ralph. He was annoying and arrogant, but he was a person, and I couldn’t help feeling wrought that he wasn’t here yet.
“I’m sorry Rosalie, but we have to keep going. We can’t wait for him forever, he’ll probably show up at the Castle in a few days. But I have to get you there for the King’s banquet and the Prince’s Coronation Ball.”
I got up slowly, ate a chunk of bacon, and climbed wordlessly onto Grandeur’s back. We rode all through the night, and finally, come morning, Sean let us take a break and eat breakfast in what he called Daisy Meadow.
“By night’s fall, we should make it to the Eastern side of Athenbury forest, we’ll camp there,” Sean said, his voice surprisingly awake.
I wanted to ask him if knights were trained to be invincible, or if they were just born with it, but thought better. I really hadn’t been all that nice of a travel companion, and for that, I felt sorry. I was disgracing my kingdom and myself. So, I resolved to be nicer. For the first time I saw him as someone who was my age, not just an evil lump of metal.
“Is there any more bacon left? I could cook some breakfast up,” I offered.
Sean laughed, “Not if it’s going to have cinnamon sticks in it.”
I blushed hotly, “Okay, sorry. I just don’t want to have to get married yet, if ever, and then here I’m forced to go along against my will, and even if I had stayed, I’d have to marry to save my kingdom from yours!”
Sean looked away at Mount Riley.
I quickly jerked some bacon from the saddlebags, slapped it in the frying pan, and watched it sizzle. It was done within minutes, and I gobbled it down and left some in the pan for Sean. I packed the rest onto Grandeur, and waited for Sean to mount up.
When something poked me in the back, I remembered my dagger and my bow and arrow. I took my cape off when Sean wasn’t looking, and to my surprise, they were still there! I was delighted, I’d be able to hunt when I reached Derkenteire! Maybe it wouldn’t be all bad.
Quickly throwing my cape back over my shoulder, Sean came walking over.
Soon we reached the edge of the Forest of Athenbury. The woods themselves were dark and foreboding, and they let no sunlight seep beneath their twisted branches. It made for a rather creepy, difficult way. Several times my jaw hit Sean’s armor when Grandeur jumped a log that was in the road. The end result left my cheek stinging, and my heart pounding.
It was near dark when a couple of men stopped us on the road.
“We are just some honest farmers, who need the lady to come help us. My wife is sick, and we don’t know how to treat her,” rasped the man in a desperate tone.
I was just shifting myself to get down, when Sean put his hand on my leg in a warning.
“I’m sorry, but the Lady has to get to Derkenteire castle in the greatest of haste. Now, if you would excuse us.”
The man snarled and pulled out a sword, and ten men stepped out of the shadows and put a sword to the horse’s throat.
“I’m thinking, actually, that the Princess will be coming with us. You let your Ugliness Ryan know that his pretty little bride-to-be is captured. And if he doesn’t send us ransom money,” he sliced across his neck with his hand.
He started reaching for my hand when I grabbed my dagger and stabbed at his hand, allowing me enough time to reach for my bow and arrow and Sean his sword. Soon, my arrows were flying through the air, and Sean’s blade was slashing in what little moonlight there was. The five men that weren’t, well, you know, fled into the forest. I quickly grabbed my arrows, after wiping them off of course, and put them into my quiver.
“Quick-moving, milady. You saved me the trouble of tracking you down, then explaining why I was late. So, thanks,” Sean said.
I smiled at him, for the first time ever, and then got back onto Grandeur, “Your welcome, besides, I love shooting,” then I got more serious, “Sorry for all the trouble I’ve caused you,” I paused, “I really can cook well, I’ll make it up to you tomorrow.”
He smiled sadly, “I’m only sorry that I have to be the one taking away your freedom.”
I was surprised that he knew what it felt like. From then on I was quiet and there were no more disturbances as we made our way to the East side of the Forest of Athenbury.
What I saw took my breath away. A humongous mountain peak capped in white snow peeked through the trees. I hadn’t seen anything like it. We camped for the night, and I fell into a restless sleep in anxiety over the next day.
I awoke before dawn, and went to the edge of the camp to sit on a rock and watch the sun rise over the magnificent peak.
Golden fingers of light crept above the white snow, making the peak look like fire.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?” Sean spoke from behind me.
I jumped, then relaxed after realizing it wasn’t kidnappers.
“It is beautiful, it reminds me of when my father took me to the Western Kingdom on one of his journeys to the Peak of Roland. The sun was just coming up over the mountain, and it made it look like it was on fire, just like here.” I then looked down in embarrassment at telling him so much.
“My guardian used to take me out every morning and we’d watch the sunrise over the peak. But that was before I became a knight,” Sean’s face lit up when he told the memory.
I stood up and made my way over to the horse, “Well, we best be going if we want to make it to Derkenteire, am I right?”
Sean nodded and we mounted up and headed toward the mountain. The thought of crossing it made me shiver, and I wrapped my cloak more tightly around myself.
The way up the mountain proved to be as grueling as I thought it would be. Icy roads and two-foot deep snow made it difficult going, and Grandeur stumbled more than once, causing me to nearly fall off. Sean spoke soothing words to the horse, and we kept on going. About mid-afternoon, a blustery wind blew, and Sean turned concernedly to me,
“That’s not a good sign, it means a storm is brewing. We’ll have to sleep in one of the mountain shacks along the way. Keep your eyes open for one!”
I nodded my head and pulled my cloak around me more tightly. The snow swirling around us made it hard to see anything let alone a shack.
I squinted hard and couldn’t help but think would my parents miss me if I didn’t make it through the night. We rode on for what seemed hours until I saw dark shadow peering at me through the snow.
Unconsciously, I gripped onto Sean as I stared at it. It was a small shack!
“Sean, I think that’s a shack!” I stuttered through my chattering teeth.
He turned his head in the direction I was pointing with my trembling finger. He headed Grandeur to the small lean-to. I leapt down and hung onto Grandeur and made my shivering way into the shack.
It was small and hadn’t been made very well, it let snow blow through the cracks, but it was better than nothing.
I looked around hoping for a blanket or two, but all I found was an old mat type thing, which I promptly put up to keep the snow from coming through the large gaps in the walls.
Sean came in leading Grandeur, who he tied professionally to the lean-to’s doorpost thing. In his other arm he had a small armful of wood.
“It won’t be enough to go all night long, but it will warm us up enough not to freeze to death,” Sean apologized.
I quickly rummaged in my deep pocket and pulled out my other firestone. Sean looked at me in amazement, “How do you ever fit all of your emergency equipment on you? I thought I’d gotten it all off at your castle!”
I smiled, I confess, a bit smugly, “I unloaded the things in my carpetbag, but you didn’t search me, so I hid my bow, arrows, dagger, and other fire stone underneath my cape and in pockets.”
He ran his hand through his hair as I started the fire. It burst into a few small sparks, and then went out.
“Would you blow on it? My governess taught me about the properties of fire, and the oxygen in your breath will help start it,” I said.
He started blowing on the small orange flame gently, and it gracefully began to rise up until it made a big flame on which we warmed our hands.
“I’ll stay up all night and watch the door for the first signs of the storm stopping. You can go to sleep now, but I’ll have to wake you up every now and then to make sure you don’t freeze,” Sean told me.
At first, my mind leapt at the offer, but surely Sean must be tired too, I thought.
“No, that’s alright, I’ll stay up with you and keep you company. It’s too cold anyways to fall asleep. I could tell you about some Charlutteoin legends,” I offered. I’d decided to treat Sean like I would an older brother. If not a bit of an enemy older brother.
He had a funny look in his eyes, “Uh, okay. If you’d like, milady.”
I started with a legend of two crows, and laughed remembering it, the laughter warming my insides, and the fire my cheeks. I told all of the funny legends and old stories I could remember. I gradually drifted to memories of my childhood, my friends, and my life. The night was full of my words, and when finally I could think of no more, I whispered solemnly, “And then I grew up, and all Father ever spoke of was who he’d marry me off to, and Mother made me dress in fancy gowns and take lessons in everything. The only freedom I have is in my archery and riding,” I said wistfully.
Sean looked away at the open door.
“What’s your childhood, Sir?” I asked hopefully.
He laughed at the title and said, “You can call me Sean, but my childhood is something I can’t share, otherwise I’d have to kill you.”
I looked at him half-believingly, “Kill me? Whatever for!”
He looked me straight through, “When the time comes for the need to find out about me, it’ll come.”
And with that he withdrew into a silence that made everything feel cold, even though the fire still burned brightly.
I edged away from the fire, a little nervous with traveling with someone who couldn’t tell me their past. Or if the did they’d have to kill me. I decided I was definitely treating him more like the enemy big brother.
“I’ll, uh, just go and get some more firewood, sorry,” I said and made for the door, but Sean was quicker and stopped me.
“Sorry, didn’t mean to scare you like that, it’s just that, well never-mind, but you can’t go out in this, it’s a white-out, you’ll get lost,” he said, looking more serious than I’d ever seen him before.
I slowly made my way over to my spot by the fire and pulled my knees up to my chest, pulling my cloak around my entire body. I felt my dagger in my pocket and slipped my hand around its cold handle, still wary of Sean’s words.
The chilled dagger’s handle kept me alert and ingrained a sense of protection.
The rest of the night passed without another word between us, and the sun shone bright and true over the mountaintop, setting everything as far as the eye could see to sparkling and reflecting it’s radiance.
I climbed wordlessly onto Grandeur behind Sean, without his help, and balanced myself, again, on my palms.
The horse picked up his feet eagerly and we trotted up the mountain. When we finally came to the top, Sean said, “Look, that is the Valley of Derkenteire, some people never get to see this sight in their lives.”
I looked at the valley. It had a river bubbling through it and the trees had yet to shed all of their leaves. Then I saw the castle, it’s spires reaching to touch the sky. It was much bigger than my castle, but I liked ours better, it seemed a bit more welcoming and not so formidable.
Grandeur whinnied and started galloping down the hill, much to my dismay. The horse didn’t lose his footing all the way down the mountain, to my delight, and when we reached the road at the bottom took off at a breakneck speed. I found myself laughing at the pure pleasure of riding so quickly. Alliance and I used to gallop across the Secret Place like that. I heard Sean’s laugh too, for the first time. It surprised me that he could be so human.
“Sir Sean’s back!”
“The Silver Knight’s here, and with the Princess!”
I heard many such cries as the drawbridge was lowered and we were let into Damasian, the town that surrounded the castle. Sean slowed Grandeur down into a prancing trot that made everyone laugh in delight.
People cried out welcomes to both of us before Sean cleared the way and we cantered to the castle gates.
I felt relief and anxiety over arriving here finally. I desperately hoped that the Prince wouldn’t like me. I couldn’t stand it if I had to be married to the person who had made life so hard to all of the other kingdoms, and who didn’t take care of his own people.
We pulled to a stop in the castle’s courtyard, and I smoothed back my hair and straightened my dress, after all, I was still representing my kingdom, and I didn’t want to make a bad impression. Sean helped me down and properly led me into the castle. It was decorated in streaming red banners that all vied for attention. Trumpeters announced our arrival as we entered the King and Prince’s presence. I walked slowly, toe to heel, toe to heel, as I had been taught, and curtsied low to the ground. The King and the Prince both bowed deeply, as did Sean. I got my first good look at the Prince, and saw that he was ruggedly handsome, and could have passed for Sean’s brother if he hadn’t had a birthmark on his left cheek, under a short beard, but I notice those things.
“Welcome, Princess Rosalie, to our magnificent kingdom! I hope you will enjoy your stay, the duration of which I will decide after the King’s Banquet and the Prince’s Coronation Ball,” stated Prince Ryan arrogantly.
He made me want to pull his little beard until he screamed, treating me like a piece of property.
“Oh, and as a present for coming so graciously,(my thoughts------you mean without a choice!) Sean, would you show her what I have for her,” ordered King Rory, who looked almost exactly like him but older, and only slightly more kindly.
“Of course, your highness,” Sean humbly obeyed.
He led me away to the royal stables and called, “Cian, bring out the present for Princess Rosalie!”
A young boy of about 10 led out a seal dun Arabian stallion, prancing at the lead line.
Sean laughed when I gasped at the beauty of the magnificent beast in front of me.
“What’s his name?” I breathed in wonder.
“Well, his name was Alcatraz, but you can name him whatever you like, your highness,” said Cian.
Only one name came to my mind, Silver Storm, for I knew he would run faster than I had ever gone before.
Sean looked at me closely, “You do know that you’re not allowed to ride out of the kingdom, don’t you? Give me your promise that you won’t run away.”
I felt slightly hurt that he didn’t trust me, but replied respectfully, “I give you my word as a Princess, and a person.”
He nodded, evidently satisfied with the vow, and looked up at me with mischievous eyes, “Don’t you want to try him out? I’ll follow you on a fresh horse.”
I nodded vivaciously, and took the reins from Cian hands, and swung up with ease. I couldn’t help but sigh with the luxury of not having to ride double. I looked at the saddle beneath me, then grinned adventurously. I quickly swung down, and before Sean or Cian could do anything, I undid the saddle and hopped aboard, nudged the raring stallion into the fastest gallop, and felt my hair and cape fly behind me.
“ROOOSSALLLLLIEEEEEE! You’ll kill yourself! Come back here!”
I laughed a bit evilly, and kept on galloping toward a fallen tree I’d seen on my way in. Silver Storm’s hooves clattered on the cobblestones of the town and people cleared the way and gasped when they saw me, the Princess, riding bareback in my fine turquoise dress edged in silver through Damasian. I heard another set of hooves clattering, though, and knew it was Sean or someone coming to take all my fun away.
I clucked my tongue and Silver Storm ran as if he was being chased by the devil himself.
The gates were fast approaching, and I heard Sean yell to close them, but we were too quick, and raced through them. I looked to my left, and saw the burbling stream, which was wider than I’d thought at first, and headed toward it. Silver Storm was evidently enjoying the romp, and excelled his speed even more until I was a little afraid he’d lost his mind, and with a powerful surge, launched us into the air, clearing the creek with plenty to spare.
I let Silver Storm pick the way, and he galloped, like a maniac still, toward the forest. I couldn’t wait to explore it, when I wasn’t busy with doing what the King and Prince ordered, I would continue exploring the kingdom. Who knows, maybe I’d find a secret entrance into the kingdom other than over Riley Peak. It would be of great use if we ever attacked Derkenteire.
I pulled Silver Storm to a stop once a little ways inside the forest, and looked past the trees to see Sean looking like a thundercloud riding around looking at the ground for hoof-prints.
“Good-boy, Silver Storm. I can count on you if I ever do need to escape from here. No horse can outrun you,” I whispered proudly while scratching his silvery neck.
I looked back at Sean to see that he was picking up my trail, and nudged Silver Storm into a trot along the little deer-path I saw. We followed it until we came into a little clearing where there was a pool of water, and a small stone hut. I quickly urged Silver Storm into the trees behind a thick bunch of blackberries where no one could see me. I heard Sean galloping along the path, then saw him stop.
His hazel eyes seemed to see right through the brush.
I felt Silver Storm about to whinny and put my hand on his muzzle. I wished that I could be friends with Sean, but he worked for the Prince and wouldn’t let me out on my own. Besides, I couldn’t trust someone who had to kill me if they told me their past.
He stepped down from the dark bay, and I noticed that instead of wearing his usual armor, he was instead wearing the light blue tunic he’d worn before.
He headed cautiously up to the little wooden door, and knocked lightly five times. I watched breathlessly as the door slowly creaked open to reveal an old man with a long white beard in a brown tunic behind it.
“Sean, my boy! You’re back! Did you finally find the one?! Is she pretty?”
The last question made me blush in embarrassment.
“I’m back Sir Aidan, and yes, I finally did find the one,” he rolled his eyes a little, “And yeeeess, she is very pretty, though that’s not what matters, what matters is,” his voice got lower and I couldn’t here him, “But the problem I came to you with is that she rode off without me, bareback of all things! I don’t know how I’m going to tell her everything, she’s pretty independent, I don’t even know if she’ll be willing to.’’
He leaned closer to the old man and I didn’t hear the rest of what he said. What was all of this about? I sure wanted to find out. And what was Sean talking about being willing to do what? So many unanswered questions buzzed around in my head I was getting a headache.
“Well, my boy, I heard someone ride up, but where she went, I cannot tell you,” Sean started riding in my direction as the old man cried after him, “Don’t forget to practice your training for the joust!”
I quickly mounted and moved as silently through the trees as I could, but Silver Storm snapped a branch, and I charged forward with Sean in hot pursuit. Once out in the meadow, though, I slowed Silver Storm down to a prancing trot.
Sean rode up beside me and demanded, “What are you THINKING riding bareback at that speed!? You could have gotten hurt, and then you’d be in a fine mess with the Prince, and I’d have to pay for it because I’m the one in charge of you for right now.”
I looked at the powerful horseflesh beneath me and stated matter of factly, “I rode bareback all of the time at my kingdom, and frankly, I needed some space without having anybody hawking me. I’m sorry for the inconvenience I’ve caused you.”
I then cantered gracefully back into the gates with Sean at my side.
“I’m sorry to tell you this, but it’s my job to protect you, and unless you have my permission to go anywhere without someone, I’m right beside you,” he stated firmly.
I just kicked Silver Storm faster, and when we arrived at the castle, I headed to the maid I’d been given here, and she led me to my room. After a bath, I put on a light blue silk evening dress, which I’d brought, and walked downstairs.
“Princess Rosalie!” exclaimed the aggravating Prince Ryan.
I gritted my teeth and placed a fake smile on my lips as I walked down the carpeted steps.
“You look lovely! I just sent the royal seamstress up to your room, however, to have you fitted with a bunch more dresses. I assure you they are the finest, and that you will have the most exquisite Derkenteirian joust dress and ball dresses you have ever seen!”
I wanted to roll my eyes at the affair, but merely sweetly replied, “Then I shall head up to see them, thank-you.”
I swept my train and headed back upstairs, angry that he didn’t think my dresses were fit.
The seamstresses, however, were polite, and made me three joust dresses, one court dress, and four around the castle dress, then made me three ball-gowns, not to mention three royal riding habits. Oh bother.
I love greens, golds, blues, and purples, and the seamstresses set to work with my colors, assuring me that they would be ready in time for the Kings Banquet the day following tomorrow. The Prince’s Coronation Ball followed the next day. All day on the Day of the Kings Banquet, jousts were held, as were contests of different skill, including archery for ladies. I stood at the window watching the sunset before I finally went to bed.
The next day, I arose before dawn and opened my carpetbag and took out my archery dress, a hunter green with gold edged sleeves, neck, and skirt. I looked out my window and saw Sean standing talking to some guards and nearly stomped my foot. I’d wanted to practice by myself in the woods, and ask Sir Aidan about everything, but there was no chance of that now. That is, if I took the front door.
I quickly opened my bag and took the length of rope I’d asked the seamstresses to get for me, and went around the bed’s leg once so that I had both ends of rope in my hands. Placing my bow and arrow on my back, I crept out the window.
Fortunately, the window was on the side the wall was on, and I slipped right over the wall, then dropped to the ground. I dropped the one end of the rope and pulled with the other end, and the entire rope came out of the window. I pulled up my skirts, and dashed into the woods, my brown boots flashing out beneath my skirt.
I remembered the deer trail from last morning, and followed it, making sure that this time I was quiet enough the old man wouldn’t hear me. When I got to the clearing, I headed to the right, and found another clearing perfect for my archery. I set everything up, and pulled back the string, and let it go. It landed with a satisfactory THWACK in the bulls-eye of the tree I’d carved in to make the circles.
“Excellent shot! Although you need to put your elbow a little down,” cried a voice from the trees.
I whirled around so quickly that my skirts swooshed.
“Sean if that’s you, you’ll be sorry!” I cried angrily.
Instead of the Sean I expected to see, the old man stepped out of the woods.
“Sorry, didn’t mean to frighten you. You must be the famous Princess Rosalie, who can ride like the wind, fight like a Spartan, and at times can be so pleasant could melt your heart like butter, at least that’s what Sean told me. Let’s see if what he says is true. Here, take this sword,” said the old man, handing her an old, but well-kept sword.
I picked it up with one hand and balanced myself as all of a sudden the old man jumped into action and thrust and parried like a person of 16. I fenced as quickly as I could, trying to remember everything Peter had taught me that one evening with Theresa in the hay loft.
“Very good! You’re perfect, you really are the one!” cried Sir Aidan excitedly.
I stopped fighting and asked curiously, “I’m the one what? What’s going on? How come Sean’s so secretive and everything?”
The old man’s eyes twinkled, “Can’t tell you till I trust you, and you do the right and noble thing and do as Sean says.”
I’d forgotten that I’d disobeyed Sean’s orders to ask permission to go anywhere.
“Sorry, sir, I forgot, although that’s no excuse. I’ll go back and apologize and ask next time I come out.”
Sir Aidan nodded his head and looked pleased. I handed back his sword, and picked up my bow and arrow while I ran back to the wall. I looked to the right and noticed a hole in the wall that I hadn’t seen before. It was hidden by bushes from the inside, and a few bushes on the outside, but there was still room for maybe a horse.
I snuck through and prepared myself for Sean’s reaction and walked to the front door.
He was still talking to the front door guards and a good-looking knight when I walked up and politely placed my hand on his shoulder.
Sean turned and smiled. “Rosalie.”
My face turned bright red in embarrassment when the guards and knight started snickering.
“Um, uh, I was, uh, wondering if, um, maybe I could talk to you?” My words dwindled to a question.
The guards and knight were really starting to snicker now. I could here them whispering about me needing to get a speech therapist.
I turned and gave them my best, ‘I’m just a poor innocent girl and you’re making fun of me’ look. That made them cough in embarrassment.
Sean led me away to a corner where the guards and knight couldn’t overhear us.
“Sure, what do you want now? Let me guess, freedom?” Sean continued smiling at me while he talked, which made my jaw want to drop. What was the matter with him?
“Uh, no, it’s, um, not like that, it’s, see, well… I’m really sorry, I shouldn’t have, I climbed over the wall and practiced my archery when I ran into Sir Aiden and he said a bunch of mumbo-jumbo about something an-” Sean broke in and covered my mouth with his hand. His hazel eyes bore straight into mine.
“Shhh! Not here, everyone can hear you!”
I struggled to speak through his hand, “Um, Sean, you can move your hand now.”
He quickly jerked it back, wiped it off, then replied, “Don’t speak about Sir Aidan to anyone but me, okay? And, I’ll forgive you. I guess I wouldn’t want to be escorted by a girl all the time. I’ll see about getting you a lady escort, either that or you could just tell me where you’re going. And promise that you won’t leave Derkentiere.”
I nearly hugged Sean in delight, but embarrassedly pulled back. My mother had always disapproved of having a guy escort, she had always thought it more appropriate to have a girl.
“Thank you! Thank you ever so much! You won’t regret it,” I gasped thankfully.
Sean mumbled something to himself about he hoped not, then walked away. I felt like twirling around and jumping for joy, I would have a girl escort like I preferred, and I’d have almost complete freedom in the kingdom!
“Oh, but Rosalie, one more thing, no more riding bareback!” Sean called over his shoulder.
I nodded my head, then quickly walked inside to change my outfit, as everyone was staring at me.
It was un-common to be wearing an archery dress for regular every day, and people associated wearing an archery dress for regular a less rich thing to do. I hustled up the stairs, and to my delight found the dresses complete and lying gracefully on the bed.
They were all edged in either silver, gold, or a darker shade of the dress, making them all stand out. There were two dark greens trimmed with silver and gold, and covered in drapes laced in front with chord, showing off brilliant embroidered roses that were a darker green and silver or gold, the two golden dresses seemed to radiate beauty, and embroidered on one were delicate darker pink asters and the other asters in silver. One of the purple dresses was a lavender purple that had vines going all over it with peonies studded in a light silver that had a draping over it, the other was a royal purple that had intricate details all over it in gold.
And then my eye’s fell on the blue dresses, and my breath was taken away. One dress was ice blue, edged in silver lace work, that opened up to a beautiful robin’s egg blue, and was covered with a draping that was laced in front. The other had a boned bodice in duchesse satin, a duchesse satin under chiffon princess line skirt and split chiffon sleeves decorated with crossed chord all in a gorgeous teal blue.
And then, to my surprise, I saw another dress lying on my chair. It was the most beautiful of all. It had a bodice that was of a dusky rose and a belt draping from the center, and then the skirt was the same color, except that it had a lace covering over it with sequins and lace flowers stitched over it, and then the sleeves were a slightly darker rose and were edged in a cuff of sequins and lace before draping into long gauzy arms edged in silver sequins. I hadn’t asked for pink, but it was the most beautiful dress I’d ever seen. I knew what dress I’d wear to the Coronation Ball!
I quickly selected one of the green dresses, brushed my hair back into a flip-through, and walked like the true princess I was down the carpet covered steps.
When I stepped inside the dining hall, all eyes turned on me. I think I even heard one of the numerous knights softly inhale.
“And a top of the morning to you too!” I mischievously called out.
And then everyone in the room was rushing to help me into the chair and I couldn’t help but silently chuckle in my head when I saw the knight, who had previously snickered, shoving to help me into my chair.
Instead of be mobbed, I just opened the chair myself and sat down. Everyone seemed embarrassed to have acted so, well, dazed, and fell to waiting for the meal to arrive. After breakfast, I strolled through the carpeted halls exploring the immense castle. I finally found what I’d been looking for, and opened a carved maple door into the largest room I’d ever seen.
From the floor to the ceiling, which, I might add, was a skylight, it was covered in books. A large fireplace was at the other end of the room, probably used in winter to heat the gigantic room, upon which a grizzly bear’s head stood guard. A desk was on one side, and numerous chairs on the other. A big rug, of an animal I know not what, was on the floor, and I rushed to grab a book before sinking down onto the floor with a chair as my backrest. The rest of the afternoon I spent devouring book after book in the library. I called a maid to bring my lunch into me and ate lamb and potatoes, my favorite, while reading books by my favorite authors. When I finally realized the time, I jumped up, went to the stables, eager to exercise Silver Storm.
I checked in with Sean, of course, before I headed out. Cian stopped me before I headed out, and told me that they also had a beach that was fun to gallop on a little northeast of the castle.
I graciously thanked him and galloped out of the gates, grateful to be outside of the walls surrounding the castle.
I took a breath of fresh air and reveled in the beauty of the early evening.
Sure enough, after a half an hour of riding, we came to a cliff that overlooked a beach and the ocean.
Silver Storm picked his way down the steep incline and soon we were galloping in the waves, sea salt spraying in my face as a delicious wind blew back my hair and cape into a billowing cloud behind us.
I laughed and smiled until my face hurt, and yet Silver Storm kept going. The beach stretched out for miles beyond us, and Silver Storm seemed determined to keep going, and I let him. When we finally reached the cliff that blocked us off from going any farther, I pulled Silver Storm back to a prancing trot. He chomped the bit, begging me let him keep going. He wasn’t even lathered.
I looked at the place we’d stopped and it took my breath away. Sea foam edged the sand, and the sea was a beautiful lagoon blue.
I turned to my left and saw a bunch of trees in one spot blocking a solid cliff, but I could also hear beyond the trees and heard waves splashing the walls.
“Come on, boy, let’s go see that bunch of trees,” I urged Silver Storm over to the trees.
I jumped down and tied Silver Storm to a tree, and went into the trees and saw a cave that the trees had blocked earlier. I rushed back to my saddle and grabbed my rope and tied it to a tree, and advanced into the cave with my rope to guide me back.
Waves splashed me and mist brushed my hair. The cave forked into two directions, but the left tunnel you could see was caved in a little farther.
I headed into the right tunnel and proceeded further into the cave. Small pockets of light from cracks above me allowed me to see that I was headed downwards slightly, and that it looked like someone had carved out the passageway, which was big enough for three horses. I was surprised. To my knowledge, Derkenteire had only one way of entrance, and that was over Riley Peak. That’s what made Derkenteire so defendable. But, if there were a forgotten or unknown entrance, the opposing kingdom would have the advantage! I trembled I was so excited. Maybe the smaller kingdom’s would finally be done putting up with Ryan’s cruel reign.
I must have been in their for ten minutes before I felt my rope tug. I jogged back to the top and un-tied my rope from the tree.
The sun was almost setting, I needed to get back—fast! Sean would think that I had broken my promise if I didn’t show up for dinner, and then they’d be suspicious where I’d been and ask questions and they’d find out about the secret entrance and all would be ruined.
I mounted quickly and urged Silver Storm faster than I’d ever done before.
His leg muscles pumped and the powerful horse went faster than a gallop.
I’d about made up my mind that he was running crazy when he gave a fresh burst of speed.
What had taken a total of an hour earlier, took twenty minutes at this speed.
I couldn’t believe he could keep going, and I wasn’t even using my legs.
When we arrived at the stable, I told Cian to rub him down and give him extra everything before literally running to the castle.
I re-brushed my hair, and pulled on one of the golden dresses before making a less-than-princessly entrance than before.
Everyone looked up in relief when I entered, and Ryan declared, “Let us dine!”
Sean was seated on my right side, and he whispered, when he was pretending to drop his napkin, “What took you so long? For a moment there I thought you had broken your promise.”
I pretended to help him pick it up, and replied, “I would never break my promise. I was just enjoying my ride along the beach. I wasn’t paying attention to the time and lost myself in the,” I searched for the right word that I could use without lying, “beauty of your kingdom,” I finished, wanting to pinch myself for calling Derkenteire beautiful.
It was, but every other kingdom hated the ruler, which tainted everything he touched or owned.
Sean looked at me suspiciously, but couldn’t say anything because we’d already taken long enough, ‘hunting’ for his napkin.
We finished dinner and Ryan announced that he was going to go rest early for the big day approaching. As soon as I excused myself, Sean did the same and ‘escorted’ me down the corridors to what I assumed to be a private meeting room.
“Now, what were you really doing? Talking to some person from your kingdom secretly, or what? A Charlutteoinian, especially you, would never call Derkenteire beautiful if they could help it,” Sean declared.
“I told you,” I said, trying not to sound guilty, “I was riding along the beach and I lost track of time, that’s all, I promise I wasn’t talking to a Charlutteoinian, or relating all of my adventures to my mother or someone,” I said as patiently as I could, waves of homesickness overcoming me at the mention of my mother.
Sean still didn’t look satisfied.
“Okay, I was exploring the beach, that better?”
Sean perked up, “Did you find anything?”
How was I going to get out of this one without lying or telling the truth?
Just then, a maid knocked on the door, calling, “Princess Rosalie! The Highness Ryan wants to speak with you right away in the throne room!” before knocking on all the other doors and saying the same thing.
“Well I better go,” I said hurriedly, and dashed for the door before Sean could stop me.
“Wait! You found something didn’t you! Come back, this is not over!” Sean demanded.
But I dashed through the door before he could snatch my arm and ran to the throne room. I could hear Sean’s footfalls catching up, but I knew that he wouldn’t dare come in without permission. Ha!
I opened the door and quickly closed it before slowly walking to the throne where Ryan lounged.
“I just wanted you to know that I thought it would be nice if you wore matching colors with me. I’ll be wearing a-”
And he rambled on about this tunic he was going to wear and blah, blah, blah.
I nodded my head reluctantly, and heard Sean’s feet shuffling as he waited for me to come out. Hmm, how could I get to my room without him talking to me? I looked to the left and noticed a door which I hadn’t seen before.
“Your Highness, what-” he broke me off to say, “Call me Ryan,” and I started over, “Ryan,” the name tasted horrid on my tongue, “I was wondering where that door on the left leads to?”
“Oh, that. That’s just where the maids enter and leave when they’re bringing me whatever I wish. It goes into the kitchen where there is a set of stairs leading up to the second floor, main hallways, and my room.”
“Oooh,” I said in what I hoped was an excited voice, “I’d love to see how this castle is set up, and you said that there’s a staircase that leads up to the second floor? And it isn’t seen from the main halls?”
“No, it was actually my idea so that guests didn’t have to see all the maids as they rushed to their various jobs,” Ryan declared arrogantly.
“Oh, how clever!” I gushed.
I got myself out of there as quickly as I could, and to my delight found the set of stairs that led up to the second floor. I silently laughed as I crept to my room and saw Sean impatiently tapping his foot as he waited for me to come out. He’d be waiting for quite a long time.
The next morning, I got up especially early and bathed and made sure that the blue dress, the teal blue one, was pressed, and slipped it on. It felt like water on my skin, but I was sure that the rose one would feel even more elegant.
Heather, my maid, came in and did my hair up with little wispy curls hanging out. I glanced at my reflection in the mirror and was pleased with what I saw.
Now, the hard part of the day, avoiding Sean. It wouldn’t be terribly hard since he was probably in all of the jousts and tournaments, but he could bug me at meals, I thought.
“Heather!” I called sweetly to the maid, “Would you be so kind as to bring my breakfast up here? Thank-you.”
Heather smiled at me and nodded. I grabbed my bow and arrows and made sure to fluff up the feathers and make sure everything was in prime condition.
Soon Heather came up with a tray loaded with piping hot biscuits and cold fruit.
“Sir Sean was asking for you, it seems very urgent, Your Highness,” Heather told me.
“Well I don’t want to talk to him right now, and he knows it!” I muttered under my breath, but finally said, “Tell the Silver Knight that ‘when the time comes for a need to find out about it, it’ll come.’”
Heather looked at me strangely while I planned how to avoid Sean the entire day. It would be a bit hard at meals and the ball tonight. When Heather left, I planned my escape route.
I couldn’t just walk out the front door, he would be right there, but then again, he would think I would think that and be waiting at the bottom of my window to catch me, I thought.
I glanced around my room and thought of a way to escape. Suddenly a thought popped into my mind. Be seen, but not actually seen!
I rummaged through my carpet-bag until I found the object of my desire, and quickly put it on over my dress.
The end result, a rather fat looking maid with a gorgeous hair-do. A cape would fix that though, and I threw a curtain over my shoulders and carefully positioned it on my head so as to not ruin my hair.
A few tucks here and there, and my face was covered well enough. I planned to walk down through the kitchen, take off my garb there, and look like the princess I was. Now to carry out that plan.
I quickly tiptoed out of my room and down the staircase into the kitchen, threw off my garb in the kitchen pot chamber, and much to the surprise of the cooks, reappeared Princess Rosalie.
I tossed a coin to each of them to keep silent, and they nodded. With that I strolled out the kitchen door into the courtyard. I quickly looked over to the bottom of my window, and as I thought, Sean was waiting there.
Three knights, whom I’d seen Sean talking with before, were posted at the main doors. Well, they forgot the best door, the kitchen, I thought with glee.
I hurriedly made my way through the throng of people clustered outside of the stands, and made my way to the royal seats.
Prince Ryan had given me a seat with all the other nobles, and I felt a bit nervous at representing Charlutteoin.
I wished my mother and her calming presence were here and could meet all of the noble ladies instead. She’d know just what to say to break the ice. I serenely strolled to the seats, pretending I didn’t have a care in the world, and I heard some of the other ladies comment on my dress.
A freckled young woman with honey colored hair smiled warmly at me, and I immediately returned one.
“Oh, you must be Princess Rosalie, from Charlutteion! We’ve been sooo anxious to meet you!” oozed a rather large lady in a rather tight dress that I recognized as Baroness of Hilldamen.
I smiled the best I could and dipped, “As I you, Baroness of Hilldamen.”
The Baroness turned to the honey colored hair woman beside her, “Lady Cecily, this is the girl your Sean escorted, it looks like he’s done a fine job getting her back in one piece.”
I nearly choked; her Sean? Oh, so Sean was engaged, how amusing. Just another juicy tid-bit to add to his ever growing file.
Just then, the trumpeters sounded and the jousting began, with Paiges announcing, “Lord Trumbar of Athenbury, the son of so and so fighting against Sir such and so.”
And so the joust began, with me clenching my dress every time the horses thundered down the track. I was sure that my dress would be in wrinkles by the end of it all. The sound of splintering wood rang out every few minutes.
“Here, take this cloth so that your dress won’t be ruined,” whispered Lady Cecily.
I smiled gratefully and wrapped the dangerous hands around it.
It was early afternoon before a Paige yelled out, “Sir Sean of Kinsdon the son of Tully the Great, fighting Sir Keith of Germandon son of Harold the 14th!”
I saw Lady Cecily clench her hands together and noticed that he was wearing her scarf. Both of us watched intently as Sean rode out on a prancing white charger, not Grandeur, I noted, and held his lance high in the air. Suddenly, the horses were charging at each other with a ferocity that scared me, and I didn’t breathe as I watched the two get closer and closer.
Suddenly, the silence was shattered by the splintering of wood as Sean knocked Sir Keith completely off of his horse.
I jerked when he got hit and watched in horror as he got dragged by the stirrup.
Sean was prancing on his horse at the opposite end and the crowd roared.
“Silver Knight, the Silver Knight!”
Lady Cecily was the loudest of them all. I decided that I’d watch Lady Cecily and see if she couldn’t give me some clues about what was going on. Sean nodded at her, and then rode off.
The jousting was nearly done, and Sean had beaten everyone except the snickering knight, whom he hadn’t played yet. Everyone watched in anticipation as the two prepared themselves. Snickering, as I called the knight, told me that if he won, he’d make me Queen of the Tournament. I still didn’t like him because of the incident, but I thought I might as well let him wear my scarf once, since it was custom that if a knight offered to win for you, you’d let him have your scarf. And I hadn’t accepted an offer all day, and this was the last joust.
It was like everything became quiet as the two knights rode onto the field. Heat waves made their zig-zags on the horizon as the two rode calmly onto the field.
Snickering’s horse reared up and Sean’s whinnied loudly, pawing the ground like a bull. The clash of the visors being put down rang in my ears. And then they started, moving like a mirage before me.
Sean reached the middle before Snickering could and rammed his lance into Snickering’s armor.
Snickering bent over backward, but still stayed on.
The next round Snickering landed a glancing blow to Sean’s arm, but nothing damaging.
The third and final round, Sean kicked his charger into a wild frenzy and the magnificent beast roared over the ground, and the lance struck Snickering so hard that it splintered all the way up to Sean’s hand.
The crowd roared loudly, and Lady Cecily stood up and clapped her hands. Sean rode the prancing steed over and placed a new lance on her shoulder declaring, “I pronounce you Queen of the Tournament!”
Everyone cheered while another Paige announced that sword play was up next, followed by archery.
“Are you going to be competing in archery, Rosalie?” asked the Baroness, “Cecily here will be. She’s been the champion for the past three years.”
Lady Cecily turned red, “Well, I have had a teacher, but it was close last year.”
“Yes, I will be competing in archery. I’ve always loved shooting and hunting,” I replied back.
“I look forward to seeing the two of you compete, may the best woman win!” the Baroness bubbled.
I smiled to myself, but wished that it didn’t have to be a competition between Lady Cecily and I. We both got up at the same time and walked together over to the sword ring. I couldn’t think of anything else to say, so I said the first thing that popped into my mind, “Congratulations, Lady Cecily, on Queen of the Tournament. Your Sean did very well.”
Lady Cecily replied, “You may call me Cecily, and thank-you.”
“And you must call me Rosalie,” I returned.
We made our way to the ring and watched in fascination as the men battled fiercely. I jumped slightly every time someone got hit and groaned.
“Cecily, Rosalie, are you enjoying the tournaments?” an all too familiar voice from behind us asked, making me jump.
“Sean! You did a wonderful job!” cried Cecily turning around and hugging the knight.
“Congratulations on winning the tournament,” I said politely, searching for a way out.
He stepped forward, “Rosalie, this is your new escort, Lady Cecily,” more quietly he whispered, “ And I think we haven’t quite finished our conversation, you’d better come with me.”
I quickly looked around and saw a Paige announcing that archer’s better be preparing.
“What do you know!” I cried, “It’s time to be getting ready! Sorry Sean!”
I dashed through the crowd, toward the seats where I’d left my bow and arrows. I looked over my shoulder to see Sean saying something to Cecily.
I grabbed the equipment and walked as quickly as I could without looking rushed over to the archer’s field. Cecily was already there.
“So what is so important to have Sean so riled up? I’ve never seen him this way before,” she asked curiously.
“Oh, you know, just where I was on my ride last night. I was on the beach having a grand time, honestly,” I told her.
“Well, you’re very important to him you know,” Cecily said quietly.
“Yeah, I know, if I get into trouble he gets blamed,” I said sarcastically.
“He hasn’t told you, has he?” she said in an astonished voice.
“Told me what?!” I said exasperatedly, “I’ve been trying to find out what’s going on here, but all I get are more questions and no answers!”
“Well, then it’s not mine to say, but he wants to keep you safe that’s all. He’s had a hard life, you know. When the time comes, you’ll understand,” was all Cecily would say.
Finally the Paige announced archery and I sized up my competition. I knew Cecily was going to be one of them, but there was also a lithe black-haired young woman who looked capable, and a blonde-haired young woman who looked pleasant. And sure enough, each of those three scored well.
My turn came and I wiped my hand on my dress, and pulled back the string. I remembered what Sir Aidan had said about keeping my elbow down, and let go. My arrow whizzed through the air with so much power that when it hit smack in the center of the bulls-eye, it went clear through the target. Everyone gasped, then started clapping wildly. Lady Cecily was up again, and made an almost perfect bulls-eye.
Everything went rapid fire until it was down to the black-haired young woman, Lady Cecily, and I.
Blackie stepped up and I could see her shivering with hope. She tried to steady her arm, but accidentally let go of the string before she had aimed and the arrow went down into the dirt. The crowd groaned as Blackie straightened her shoulders and lifted her head before leaving the ring.
Lady Cecily walked confidently into the ring and pulled back the string, then let go with a ZING!
Everyone watched breathlessly as the arrow hit just below the bulls-eye. If I was going to beat her, I only needed to make that or better.
I already had an almost perfect score, thanks to hours of practicing with Peter and Theresa, and pulled back the string.
It was like all of the air was sucked out of the stands as I let go of the string. The arrow went slow motion and I closed my eyes.
A roar from the crowd went up and I dared to open my eyes. My arrow stood proudly in the exact center of the target.
Prince Ryan called me over to get my prize and I humbly walked over. I carried the small trophy of an arrow back to my room in the castle excitedly.
It was early evening by the time the King’s Banquet began. I had Heather re-do my hair and put on a blue ball gown. I couldn’t wait until the ball when I could wear the rose dress.
Quickly looking out my door to make sure Sean wasn’t waiting at the bottom of the steps, I made my way down the kitchen steps and into the Throne Room by the other set of stairs. I crossed through there and went through the right door into the ballroom.
It was filled with lords and ladies, maids and nobles, and food of every kind. The dance music started and men tapped ladies on the shoulder and the dancing began. I hid slightly behind one of the immense curtains and watched Sean, who was in a handsome blue tunic, and Lady Cecily, in a light green ball gown, dancing happily. My eyes roved around the room to see Snickering searching the room.
Bother, I thought, I don’t want to dance with him!
Thankfully, though, a group of ladies crowded around him and basically begged for a dance.
“May I have this dance, Your Highness?” a voice came from by my left shoulder. I whirled around and saw one of the sword fighters standing at my side.
“Of course,” I said politely curtsying.
“You must be the lovely Princess Rosalie everyone’s talking about, the one who shot the arrow through the target? Oh, I’m forgetting my manners, my name is Devin of Gerdenshire,” the young swordsman said in one breath.
We had hardly started dancing when two knights came up and tapped on his shoulder.
“I suppose I have to share,” Devin said with a rueful laugh.
The new knight’s name was Michael, and he had been unable to attend this joust because of some other joust happening in some other town, or so he told me.
By the time I had danced three dances, I had had fifteen partners, and I was thoroughly ready for a drink of punch when Prince Ryan offered one.
Suddenly, the ballroom doors opened, and a ragged figure appeared. He looked vaguely familiar, but was filthy. It was hard to tell anything. The poor man looked half starved and his once fine clothes were torn.
“I demand a drink of water!” cried the ragged figure.
Suddenly it dawned on me, “RALPH!”
He looked over at me and smiled slightly, before collapsing to the floor. Maids rushed over and began fanning him while I brought over a drink of water and a small plate of food.
“Ralph, I thought you were dead!” I said when he revived and was gobbling down food, “What happened!? We waited at the river for the entire day but you never showed up!”
When he had eaten his fill, four plates stacked two feet tall, he began his tale, “When that uncaring knight asked me if I had crossed rivers before, I’d yelled, ‘you bet I have,’ but then when I started crossing the river, my horse stumbled somehow and threw me off. I was then carried by the frigid water about, maybe, 80 million miles downstream before I was finally able to grab hold of a rock. By then it was dark and I was nearly frozen. My horse hadn’t showed up, so I hopped to shore and tried to start a fire with sticks. It took me four hours, but I finally made one and a little hut. My clothes were finally dry, but I was still chilled and freezing. All of my things were with my horse, including my cloak. I finally drifted off to sleep next to the fire, and when I woke up, I scavenged for food.
“There was nothing except a couple of mushrooms and one trout I caught with my hands. I decided that I would start heading up river in an attempt to reach Derkenteire before the day was over. I’d finally gotten to the path, though, when a group of men with my horse jumped me and took all of my clothes. I was in a really bad predicament now, I certainly couldn’t show up in Derkenteire without clothing, so I tracked the men back to their cabin and when I thought they were asleep, stole back my clothes and horse. They’d already eaten all of my supplies and taken anything useful, but at least I had my clothes and horse again.
“But they woke up just as I got onto the horse and chased me all the way to the path, and I was so focused on getting away from them, that I didn’t realize that they were chasing me into the western side of the forest, and it took all day to lose them. By nightfall I had no idea where I was, and camped in a deep thicket. It took me three days to finally get here, which I won’t mention all of the atrocities I faced. My horse finally collapsed, leaving me to walk Mount Riley by myself.”
He broke off in a coughing fit and the doctor told him that he needed to get some rest.
The ball continued and I managed to find some way of escaping every time Sean started to come towards me. Besides, it wasn’t proper to dance with someone else other than your betrothed.
Prince Ryan made his way over to me and asked for the dance, how could I refuse?
“So what do you think of Derkenteire so far, Princess?” he asked.
“I think that it has many natural beauties,” I said honestly.
“But what do you think of my castle?” Ryan queried.
“I think it is more than capable of defending itself,” I said politely, hoping he would not question me further.
I was thoroughly exhausted by the time the banquet was almost over, and managed to slip out before Sean could talk to me. I went through the kitchen door, my favorite entrance/exit, and headed to the stables.
Not even Sean would guess I was in there.
Silver Storm whinnied when I let myself in the stall with him.
I heard low voices coming into the stable and crouched down, hoping Silver Storm wouldn’t trample me.
“Yes, Princess Rosalie is quite a catch. I plan to announce that I’ll marry her at the Coronation Ball, but while all that is happening, and when everyone from every kingdom is here for the grand announcement, I’ll have my troops riding out to take over all of the almost abandoned kingdoms and I’ll be ruler of them all!” a voice I recognized as Prince Ryan’s murmured.
“Your Majesty, I’ll be preparing all of the royal troops tomorrow. If I take the knight’s with me as well, people will be suspicious, but if I just take the royal troops, I can say that we are guarding the entrance to make sure no enemies could get in and hurt the precious Princess,” said a raspy voice I couldn’t place.
“Good job, good job, well I better get back to the banquet before too many people realize I’m not there,” said Prince Ryan.
Only one person walked away though, and I heard the mystery person walk directly in front of my stall, and then pass on to the exact next stall. I didn’t move, didn’t breathe, and prayed that Silver Storm wouldn’t do anything.
After what seemed an eternity of waiting, the man finally left the stables and headed for the castle. I waited another ten minutes before I finally snuck inside and tried to think up a plan. Tomorrow I would have to tell my family, but how? It would take too long to go over Riley Peak, I’d have to finish exploring the tunnel. Hopefully it would lead to somewhere near Charlutteoin.
I only had one day before the Coronation Ball.
Finally I decided that I would explore the tunnel tonight. I pulled my hunting dress on, it was a nice dark color so no one would notice me, and grabbed a few things of food off of my tray before taking all the rope I could find, four scraps of cloth, and putting everything into a bundle. I put a white hankie on the door knob to signal Heather not to wake me up. A white hankie meant the person in the room wanted privacy and to sleep in late.
Now, figuring out how not to rise suspicion by taking a horse.
I climbed out the window and dropped silently onto the wall beneath me before lowering myself onto the ground.
I stayed in the shadows and watched as Cian let the horses out into a pasture for the night. Perfect! No one would really notice before morning that one horse out of the hundreds was missing.
I waited until Cian went to bed before sneaking over softly and whistling to Silver Storm. The horse’s fine head came up and he trotted over.
I tied a few pieces of rope onto his halter to make a makeshift bridle, and tied the four scraps of cloth onto his hooves to silence them before swinging onto his bare back. I hoped Sean would understand.
We rode at a soft canter through Damasian before I remembered that the gates would be closed and pinched myself. It was near 11:00, and I only had a few precious hours to explore the cave.
Suddenly I remembered the hole in the wall under my window! We rode over there and I dismounted and led Silver Storm through the bushes. Leaping back onto his back, we flew through the forest until we reached the meadow before turning toward the beach.
The water looked like pure silver in the moonlight and I would have reveled in riding in the dim light had it not been such an urgent mission.
When we finally reached the cave, I dismounted and led Silver Storm into it, tying the rope onto a tree again. Once inside the cave, I remounted and we were off.
I had lit a torch I’d seen on the cave wall with my fire-stone, which sent twisting figures everywhere.
Silver Storm cantered uneasily through the cave and I hoped there were no bats to scare him.
The tunnel twisted and turned and headed up and down. I wondered if we would just reach a dead end when after what must have been two hours, we reached a small pool of water in the cave and the tunnel widened. I let Silver Storm drink and shared my apple with him before returning to the tunnel. In several spots the tunnel widened and there were burned out fires, and holes in the tunnel roof where there was soot spots. Evidently this tunnel had been used as a house sometimes too.
I only hoped that we wouldn’t be miles away from Charlutteoin when we left the tunnel, if it had an end. Discouragement was weighing me down, and I felt tears run down my face at the burden I was carrying.
All I wanted was to be a little girl again, allowed to get muddy, play with Theresa and Peter, and not worry about marriage.
Silver Storm picked up his pace and I saw that we were rounding a corner and maybe two or three hundred yards the tunnel opened. Water was gushing over the opening and I realized we were inside a waterfall!
I urged Silver Storm out, but the horse pulled back. I couldn’t see through the water, it was a thick sheet of heavy water. I dismounted and let Silver Storm go to the end of his reins and walked to the edge. I walked through the pounding water a little way and saw that if we cantered out we’d splash into a small pool of water that flowed into a stream.
“Okay boy, you’ve got to trust me, it took us two and a half hours I think to reach this place. We only have a few more hours to tell my parents, let’s go!”
I mounted and we charged through the waterfall into ice cold water, and Silver Storm struggled to shore. I nearly laughed in relief as I looked at my surroundings, “Silver, this is Hecron Waterfall! We’re nearly home!”
I urged the tired horse on and soon I saw my beloved castle.
“Open the gates!” I cried loudly, “It’s Princess Rosalie!”
The guards shouted happily, “Is that you?! It’s been forever since we’ve seen you on your daily ride! Are you back to stay?”
Questions pounded me as they opened the gates and lowered the draw-bridge. I jumped down from Silver Storm and Peter ran out to catch him, smiling, “I’m glad you’re back.”
I ran into the castle and took the red carpeted stairs two at a time before dashing into Father and Mother’s bedroom. The guards were yelling at me before they realized who I was. Father and Mother awoke in a flurry of sheets.
“Rosalie!” Mother cried ecstatically while Father ogled me.
“Mother! Father!” I cried as I ran to embrace them.
“What’s the matter?”
“Did they harm you?”
“How did you get here? Are you here for good? Why are you here at this hour?”
A flurry of questions whirled around me and I struggled to answer them as quickly as I could before explaining everything.
“Prince Ryan plans to take over all of the kingdoms when almost everyone is away day after tomorrow for the Prince’s Coronation Ball. While all the excitement is going on, he’s going to dispatch the royal army and take over everything! We’ve got to alert the other kingdoms,” I said in one quick breath.
“We’ll send our best riders out right now to alert Fromursten and Adonoram. It’ll take all of tomorrow to get all of our armies together. When Derkenteire arrives, we won’t be giving up our kingdom’s without a fight!” Father declared fiercely.
“Cedric, Amos,” he ordered the two guards standing speechless at the door, “Quick, get our fastest riders going! We need all of the time we can get!”
“Right away sir!” they cried as they raced away.
Mother hugged me tightly, but I said sadly, “I’m afraid I have to make haste back to the castle, otherwise they’ll notice I’m gone and there’ll be a big hull-a-baloo, and the prince will know something’s amiss.”
“But wait! How did you get here so quickly?” Mother asked.
“I’ll explain everything later!”
With one last hug from each of them, I raced back outside and ran to the stables.
A familiar whinny sounded and I saw my dear Alliance prancing in his stall. I ran over and kissed his nose before taking Silver Storm out of his stall and racing out of the stables.
We galloped out over the draw-bridge and through the gates and headed to Hecron Waterfall.
Silver Storm paused before finally charging through the water into the tunnel. I only hoped that we could make it back before everyone woke up.
The tunnel was brighter than before and I was able to travel faster. Only when we finally reached where the two tunnels forked and I saw the trees was I able to breathe a little easier.
I dismounted and led Silver Storm through the trees and out onto the beach. The waves lapped the shores gently, seeming to contradict that anything was wrong.
“Come on boy, only a little farther,” I urged.
Silver Storm raised his head, and without anything from me began to hurtle across the beach at an impressive speed. If it hadn’t been so important, I would have loved the sea breeze in my face and the foggy morning, but now it irritated me, for it was harder to see.
I looked all around me as the fog thickened for the steep trail up the incline, but couldn’t see it. Panic rose in my throat as I searched desperately for the trail. I was about to move on, when the fog lessened and I saw the path.
Silver Storm picked his way carefully up the sheer hill and then broke into a tired canter. He started heading in the direction of the gates, but I urged him into the forest along the wall and we finally came to the hole.
I dismounted and led the tired horse through.
Dawn hadn’t yet come, and I quickly took off the rope reins and cloth on his hooves and let Silver Storm in with the other horses before quickly using my rope to scale the wall and finally climbed through the window.
I felt exhaustion overwhelming me and struggled out of my dress and into my nightgown before sinking down into my bed. I was out in a flash.
Ten minutes later.
Tap tap tap!
I stirred slightly as I heard the noise. I looked at my door, but realized the sound wasn’t coming from there. I tiredly got up and staggered to the window. Little pebbles were being flung at it. I opened it up and looked down.
“Rosalie, we need to talk!” Sean said as he looked up at me.
“Go away, I need my sleep,” I mumbled, “You don’t know what I went through last night.”
Sean’s face looked pleading, “Please, Sir Aidan wants to see you, right now!
I suddenly woke up, “Sir Aidan?” then my suspicions arose, “Wait a minute, you’re just trying to get me to come down so you can force me to talk, well you’re not doi-”
He cut me off with a strained, “I’m serious, he said it was important for you to know what’s going on. The time has come for you to know my past.”
“Hang on,” I said as I looked around for a dress, “I’ll come through the front door in just a moment.”
“No, no one can know that you came out, it’s before dawn still,” was the reply.
“Fine, oh fine, but you better step away and not look up. I’m quite capable of climbing down by myself and don’t need a catcher,” I muttered to him.
I pulled the shutters and climbed into my still warm dress before sliding gracefully down the rope and pulling it down with me.
“You’ve had practice,” Sean said suspiciously.
“Come on, let’s go,” I said impatiently.
He started throwing a rope over the wall, saying, “I’ll climb to the top and then pull you up.”
I simply walked through the bushes and waited at the other side.
When he reached the top and saw me on the other side, he exclaimed, “How did you do that?”
I pointed at the bushes, “There’s a hole there. Easy peezy.”
I started jogging down the deer path as Sean noted, “You sure seem to know your way around this place.”
I said nothing and continued jogging until we reached the clearing where Sir Aidan’s hut lay.
“One, thing, how come nobody can know about Sir Aidan? And why hasn’t anybody found out about him, I mean it’s not that hard to find his hut,” I asked, pausing.
Sean rested on a tree stump, “Well, it’s a long story, but when he was younger, he tried to stop King Harold, King Rory’s father, from taking over all of the kingdoms and starving his people. He was banished forever and told that if he ever came back, he would be killed. Well, Sir Aidan went away, some say he went exploring the Forgotten Territory, some say he went on several crusades, and others say that he went and found The Scroll.”
“The Scroll?” I queried.
“Yes, some say it tells an ancient legend waiting to come true, and Sir Aidan has told me about it. King Harold heard about The Scroll, and decided to attack Sir Aidan and take it from him.”
“What happened?” I asked.
“Well, he threatened to kill a child Sir Aidan was tutoring at the time, who was like family to him, or told him to hand over the scroll,” Sean paused and I saw his eyes cloud over, “He sacrificed The Scroll for that child, me.”
He stood up, “Well that’s enough of that, let’s see what he wants.”
I walked behind Sean up to the door as he knocked a series of rapid taps. Sir Aidan promptly opened the door.
“Come in, come in quickly!” he ushered us into the small hut.
It was littered with books and bottles full of weird colored liquids, maps of territories I didn’t recognize, scrolls and candles.
“The time has come to hear everything, from the beginning,” he said mysteriously.
The end of Part One. To be continued in Part Two
I leaned in toward Sir Aidan, breathlessly anticipating what was to be told.
“I’ll tell you only what you need to know. Then you will have to read The Scroll and figure out the rest,” I started to protest but Sir Aidan held up his hands, “Prince Ryan is not the real King, the real King, his fraternal twin brother lives in Damasian,” Sir Aidan whispered, as if anyone was listening in.
I had a faint suspicion that this person was Sean.
“And that the father of these two sons loved the younger one better because he looked more like him. The older son was sent to be killed so that no one would know about him, but the young man he was given to had mercy on him and raised him like his own son. The legendary Valiant Knight of high rank, long foretold of to come, reminded him of the boy, so he raised him up to be the best swordsman and fighter he could,” said Sir Aidan, “You must go and read The Scroll yourself, piece together the story and characters, and then choose.”
“Choose what? And I don’t even know where to look!” I cried.
“ Look in the library behind the head of the grizzly bear. You’ll understand later,” Sir Aidan said, pushing me out the door.
Once I got back out into the predawn light, it dawned upon me that once Sean came out he would probably question me about the beach, so I ran quickly back to the hole in the wall.
Dawn was just coming as I ran through the bushes and climbed back into my room. I changed into a different dress and tiptoed into the library. Ralph and Ryan were sitting by the fireplace, looking like they were having a heated argument. I nearly stomped my foot, but knelt down and crept behind tables and sofa’s until I reached a tablecloth and hid under it, listening to their conversation.
“You can’t announce you’re going to marry Rosalie, because what if I want to, and I had her first!” was Ralph’s exclamation.
“Well Derkenteire is very powerful, and if I want to do or marry someone, I can, so too bad!” Ryan arrogantly replied back.
“Well then you’ll call the wrath of Adonoram upon you, mark my words!” Ralph spouted back, “I can have my entire army here in less than 48 hours if I wish!”
I stopped listening and thought about what Sir Aidan had said. I was mulling over how to get them out of the room when a maid came in and announced breakfast. My stomach growled and I gripped my hands together, hoping that they wouldn’t hear it above the fire.
“We’ll finish this conversation later,” said Ryan, composed more now.
I heard their footsteps echoing down the halls, but still I waited. Silently I lifted the tablecloth and slipped toward the fireplace. I felt around the fearsome grizzly bear, but found nothing. After ten minutes of pulling and tugging, I sighed and placed my hands on the muzzle of the bear, saying, “What’s your secret old boy,” before slightly touching the gleaming fangs.
Suddenly, the entire fireplace swung open and revealed a passageway. I gasped before stepping in as the door swung closed. I groped my way through the dark passageway, feeling the cool clammy walls with my hands. I shuffled my feet when one fell and I realized that there were steps. Dimly I saw a little light below me.
I came to a small room that had light flooding in from millions of tiny windows. In the center of a shaft of light, I saw a pedestal on which a parchment lay.
“The Scroll,” I breathed softly.
With careful nimble fingers, I opened up The Scroll and sat down on the steps. I read the following:
Long ago, there was a cruel King who had two sons, who were twins, but he instantly loved the younger son better. Although the older son rightly belonged to the throne, the King gave him to his trusted servant to be killed before anyone realized he'd had a second son. The servant took him to the woods when he realized what he was being told to do. He knelt on one knee and cried for the baby before rushing back to the castle and declaring to the King he wouldn't. The King was outraged and brazenly demanded the baby be brought back so that he himself could kill it. The servant defended the baby with his own life, and managed to push the King back before the King called his guards on him, telling the servant if he ever came back he would be beheaded. The servant went back into the forest and picked up the baby and carried him to the Peak of Riley where he built a shelter and he lived and brought up the boy like his son, 4 years passed. The King had another child, a girl, but he quickly got rid of her. And while the older son grew up to be wise and courageous, the younger became a tyrant and ruled only for the good of himself. He controlled most of the smaller kingdoms and bullied them, while continuing to starve his own people. Foretold in stories and legends, a Valiant Knight of high rank would rise up and crush the oppressive ruler. But the Valiant Knight's wisdom and courage alone could not defeat the powerful Prince, a partner was needed, a Lady with a noble and pure heart. Together, accompanied by an enemy turned ally and another strong loyal princess, they would take over the kingdom and restore peace and order, giving the rightful ruler the crown by all dipping their hands in Meslon Waterfall's water… but alas, every person has to choose if they will remain loyal to the oppressive ruler, or help the Valiant Knight.
I shamefacedly said, “And here I’ve been a wee bit sassy to the Valiant Knight. Oh, man.”
Carefully turning the story over in my mind I decided, “Sean is obviously the Valiant Knight, alias the older son, Prince Ryan is the evil tyrant, that's obvious, Cecily is the Lady with a noble and pure heart, Ralph must be the enemy turned ally… and that means I must be the strong, loyal princess."
I carefully returned The Scroll to it's pedestal before solemnly walking into the cave. The musty smell surrounded me and I couldn't help but feel overwhelmed with everything I had discovered. So this is what Sir Aidan had meant when he had said I would have to choose, I could choose to do nothing and keep the prophecy from coming true, or I could help Sean and Cecily.
"I'll do it," I whispered out loud before pulling on a rope that wedged open the fireplace.
I slipped through quietly before I heard voices.
I froze, hoping, praying that they hadn't heard me. Ralph and Ryan had their backs turned to me. The fireplace grated open and I winced before rolling behind a couch out of sight.
"Did you hear something?" Ryan whispered nervously.
"It's just a log crackling, you dunderhead!" Ralph muttered back.
They resumed their conversation, but I could barely breathe. I crawled on my stomach to the safety of a tablecloth-covered table.
I had to breathe soon or I'd faint and I took in a hesitant breath before I heard someone knock on the door.
"You may come in," Ryan haughtily called.
I heard the door open itself onto the thick red carpet and Sean's voice floated in above the crackling of the fire.
"Have you seen the Princess Rosalie? Someone has asked for her," his voice said.
Ryan answered, "No, I haven't, in fact she wasn't at breakfast this morning, come to think of it. Must be exhausted from the ball last-night. Who was asking for her? A gentleman perhaps?"
"Just a plain peasant, Your Highness," replied Sean.
Plain peasant my eye, it's probably Sir Aidan! I thought, or Sean just wanting to question me.
"And Prince Ralph, you are requested too."
"Me! What does a puny peasant want with me, can't you see we're having an important conversation!" Ralph indignantly said.
"Your Highness, Lady Cecily, and Princess Rosalie are going along as well and would like you to accompany them," Sean persisted.
Yeah right! I muttered in my head.
"The Lady Cecily and Princess Rosalie you say? Well that's an entirely different matter, I'm afraid you'll have to excuse me Ryan. More important matters at hand," and I heard him rise from the couch and walk toward the door.
I couldn't help but notice that Ralph seemed especially interested in Lady Cecily.
So, Ralph likes Lady Cecily? But she's Sean's betrothed, or something of the sort. The conversation must have been pretty bad for him to have given up me to Ryan, I thought.
I heard Ryan rise and go to the door, open it, and step into the hallway before shutting the door. I waited a few minutes before rushing out of the Library. I had just passed the secluded window seat when an arm reached out and grabbed me. I started to scream when a strong hand clamped over my mouth. I instinctively stomped my attacker's foot with my foot and then elbow jabbed him. The attacker moved his hand from my mouth and I was about to scream when I heard,
"Ouch! Rosalie it's me, Sean. Stop struggling!"
I turned to face him and whispered, "You scared me out of my wits, Sean! Don't ever grab me like that again. Next time you'll have a broken nose!"
"Let me guess, another Peter-taught lesson on self-defense," Sean said sarcastically, rubbing his toe.
"Yes," I said defensively, "He said you never know when you could be attacked and hurt."
"I would like to meet this Peter-fellow some time, he sounds like a swell fellow, and he taught you well too," he winced.
"Sorry," I said, more calm now, "What do you want?"
"Actually, Sir Aidan wants you, Lady Cecily, and Ralph to come with me back to his hut to talk. Lady Cecily has already read The Scroll, and now Ralph should."
We walked out of the window seat and into the hallway.
Sean started to head toward the main door-way when I pulled his arm and whispered, "Come this way," and led him out of the kitchen exit.
"So that's how you've been escaping me!" he exclaimed as we snuck out and through the wall.
We ran back to Sir Aidan's hut and I knocked on the door.
"Wait a moment, I'm finishing with Ralph and Lady Cecily," came Sir Aidan's voice through the door.
Sean and I waited for a few minutes, and then he asked, "So what were you actually doing on the beach?"
I hesitated, then remembering that he was the Valiant Knight, responded, "I was relaying an important message to my kingdom."
"You were what!? But how could you do that?! There is no way that you could've met anybody there!"
Just then the door opened and Sir Aidan motioned us in and Lady Cecily and Ralph out.
"Come in, come in, so what did you decide on everything?" the old man eagerly questioned as he sat us down in two chairs.
"Well, I'm in, and I've come to the conclusion that Sean is the Valiant Knight, or the older son, you're the faithful servant, Lady Cecily is the Lady with a noble and pure heart, Ralph is the enemy turned ally, and I'm the strong and loyal princess. Am I right?" I looked over to see Sir Aidan clearly.
To my surprise, Sean and he were laughing so hard that tears were forming in their eyes.
"What's so funny?!" I demanded embarrassedly, my face flushing.
"Well you se-"
They both were snorting and laughing so hard they couldn't get a single intelligible sentence out.
"Well until you two gentleman can control yourselves, I'm going outside to be with two intelligible people, good day," I said, rising angrily before storming to the door.
"Wait, Rosalie!" Sean managed, and brought me back to my chair.
When I didn't sit down, he gently whacked me behind the knees and I fell onto the chair.
"You…you… hooligan!" I spluttered.
That made them laugh even harder, if that was possible.
And finally I hollered, "QUIET!!"
That got their attention.
“Now," I said, my voice dripping with honey, "Will you gentlemen kindly explain what's soo, funny!"
The now serious Sir Aidan replied, "Well, you're almost right, except that you are the Lady with a noble and pure heart, not Cecily."
"Me?!" I asked incredulously, "But, but, it should be Cecily because her and Sean are, like, betrothed! And it said a strong loyal princess! I'm a princess."
"Betrothed!" Sean spit out.
"Yeah, there was this lady at the tournament that said 'Your Sean' to Cecily, so naturally I assumed that you were betrothed."
Sean was laughing again, "Betrothed to Cecily?"
Sir Aidan wasn't even trying to hold in the laughter.
"She's my sister!!" Sean exclaimed.
"Your sister?" I asked light-headedly.
"Yes, that's why it said a princess, because she's my sister, that would make her a princess!"
"But…but…" My voice slowed down awkwardly, "that would mean that I'm the partner person!"
"Uh-huh," Sir Aidan said slowly, like I wasn't too smart.
"But, um, I, well, I… I'm not the right person to be his, well, um, partner!" I said in one quick breath.
Sir Aidan chuckled and said, "It didn't say you had to marry him, calm down Rosalie. It only said that together you would defeat them. I don't know how, but something having to do with magic."
I calmed down a little with those words, "Okay, good. I'm not even sure if marriage is the right thing for me or not. But don't worry, I'll help."
Sean seemed relieved, "I’m glad you chose to help, without you, Ryan's tyranny will last forever."
"Oh, and by the way," I said, "Since I'm helping you guys now, just to let you know," I paused for effect, "there's a secret tunnel-way from the beach leading to Charlutteion. That's what I was doing that one night."
I took a deep breath, "Ryan is planning on having his army take over all of the other kingdoms tonight while almost everyone is away from their towns at the Coronation Ball. I let my parents know and they are alerting all of the other kingdoms now so that they'll be ready and can defeat Derkenteire's army."
"There's a secret passageway!" Sir Aidan breathed, "I remember hearing of some sort of cave when I was a child, but it was rumored that it had poisonous gases in it. Probably just a ruse to keep us children away from it."
"Well, I'm still alive and I rode through it for a while. I think it will be fine."
"Imagine!" Sean said excitedly, "A whole army being able to sneak up on Ryan, appearing from 'nowhere'!"
"Getting back to the invasion," Sir Aidan said, "That means that we need to join everyone's hands tonight in Meslon Waterfall's water, while we have all of the armies together. Tonight will be the last night of Ryan's reign!"
"Ralph is heading to read The Scroll right now, Rosalie, would you alert Cecily and let her know our plan for tonight?"
"Sure," I said and rose and ran out the door.
A breeze lifted my hair off my back as I ran back along the path.
Suddenly I heard Lady, I mean, Princess, Cecily's scream and turned toward the sound.
"Cecily?! Are you alright?" I called.
"Ru..don't..le..them…ge…you," she struggled through what sounded like a gag.
"Cecily!" I yelled.
I heard a grunt before Cecily yelling, "Run! Ralph got caught coming out and Ryan read The Scroll and he's going to kidnap you to stop the prophesy! RUN!"
I heard hoof-beats behind me and saw Ryan riding a black charger.
"Ha! You thought you would help them and overthrow me, never!"
He galloped toward me and I ran as fast as I could into the forest. Fear caused my long legs to run quicker than usual.
Human legs, however, are no match for horse's legs and I saw Ryan's hand reaching down to grab me. I screamed and darted off to the side and took cover in a bush.
"You can't escape me Rosalie, I'll track you down forever. You can't hide from me. You thought you'd help my brother, Sean, rebel against me. I should've recognized him at once," his voice sent chills up and down my spine.
He was pure evil.
He paused as though thinking, then said, "If I can't find you, I'll just go and kill Sean! Then you'll never be able to overcome me!"
I let out a small yelp, then clasped my hands over my mouth. Would this tyrant rule for forever?
"I knew you'd make a noise at that, you need him for the prophesy."
And he rode straight to my bush. I darted out like a rabbit being chased by a fox.
Ryan galloped alongside me and reached down and hauled me up in front of him.
"Stop!" I cried, although I knew he wouldn't listen, as I pounded his chest.
He snatched my hands into a vice-like grip and sneered, "NO! I'll do whatever I please to you. Oh, but don't worry, I won't kill you. I'll let Sean think you might be dead to torment him. And when he tries to save you," he ran his hand across his throat.
"You're evil, pure wickedness. You have no good in you, and that's where Sean has already beaten you," I spat in his face.
His hand slapped my cheek, causing it to sting. I felt tears well up in my eyes, but bitterly pushed them down. I would not let him see my hurt.
"Let that be a warning to you, little princess. Not a peep out of you. You're nothing but a pampered baby. Ha!"
Let him think that, I told myself, when the time comes, the "pampered baby" will escape and overthrow him. Ha! I mimicked in my brain.
Ryan pulled out a ram horn from his pouch and blew three long times.
I knew better than to ask what that meant, but still, I was curious.
Ralph's army burst through the trees from what seemed like nowhere. The King was with them, riding a gray charger. We all galloped up the steep incline of Riley Peak, little bits of snow blowing in our faces.
I pulled my cloak tightly around me as the air grew colder as we climbed higher.
"Quickly men! Sean and the rebels will be following to capture the Princess Rosalie, we must hurry!" Ryan hollered above the cool wind blowing into our faces.
The light began to fade as evening turned in twilight, yet Ryan kept everyone going with his brutal shouting and yelling.
More than five hundred men accompanied us up Riley Peak. We road long into the night, the horses panting from exhaustion.
In the early morning, we reached the Forest of Athenbury.
"Alright men!" Ryan shouted above the wind, "We'll reach the Outpost and then rest!"
The men cheered before spurring the horses on.
The Forest of Athenbury hadn't changed since the last time I had traveled in it.
The trees were still dark and foreboding, the sunlight, well, it wasn’t sunlight, and the wind seemed to whisper eminent doom.
The horses solemnly jogged through the dense underbrush, the chilling silence only broken by an occasional anxious whinny.
Even Ryan seemed disturbed by it.
By mid-morning, we had reached the Outpost.
The Outpost was a clever fort, built into the rock wall that ascended high up into the sky. The rocks were sharp and craggy, even they seemed sinister.
High guard towers, covered in vines and thorns, enclosed the impressive rock fort. Recesses in the stone wall hid portholes from which a deadly arrow could be released into an unfortunate victim, and the entrances were seemingly impossible to recognize.
Ryan hailed the watch-guard and ordered for the gates to be opened. I watched carefully as I heard chains clunking and saw a magnificent, huge tree trunk opening.
“Impressive, is it not?” Ryan arrogantly demanded.
I nodded mutely as I realized it wasn’t a real tree at all, just a cleverly disguised tunnel into the rock cliff. In reality, four large trees had been roped to gates that had been built into the rock wall, to give the optical illusion of a massive tree.
The horses jogged into the tunnel. Small torches built into the walls flickered, spewing a dancing white light into the tunnel.
We continued for a few miles before the horses stopped at the end of the tunnel.
We were now in a type of courtyard from which I could see a small but magnificent castle, and two small but ornate gold gates that led to who-knows-where.
Ryan dismounted and, much to my disgruntlement, helped me off.
When he reached for my arm to put in his, I jerked away.
He leaned in closer to me, his hazel eyes boring into mine before lowering his voice, “I’d be careful if I were you, Princess. These are desperate men we are dealing with. If word got wind that the Princess was not actually engaged and protected by the Prince, well, let’s say, it wouldn’t be pretty.”
I shuddered and allowed him to smugly place my arm in the crook he offered.
Ryan led me to the castle, and two guards opened the wide, intricately carved French doors.
My eyes took in the handsomely furnished room filled with statues and davenports and comfortable rugs. A large fireplace took up one fourth of the wall. Four doors led out of the room.
“As you can see,” Ryan said from my side, “I like to be comfortable wherever I go.”
He led me by the arm to the door on the right of the entrance, “This leads to the ballroom. From there, you have access to the library and dining hall. We also have the meeting room, where you are not allowed to go. It is the door on the far wall.”
He led me from room to room as we visited the dining hall, library, meeting room, and the bedchambers.
My bedchamber was in the east wing of the castle.
He turned his annoyingly handsome face toward me, “You will be permitted to have free reign of the castle, if you behave yourself.”
Smiling at me he said, “Too bad that you won’t marry me. Life could be grand,” he swept his hand around the room, “What does a life with the rebels and Sean offer?”
I shook my head, this man would just not understand.
He laughed gently, “I think that after a while you’ll come to agree with me.”
I asked to be excused to my room and he permitted me to leave provided I arrived to dinner on time wearing my best dress.
Practically fleeing from this dangerous man, I ran quickly to the east wing, passing more statues and paintings.
A mahogany door engraved with a scene of a knight and a lady in the woods guarded the entrance to my room. I quickly opened it and slipped inside before firmly shutting and locking it. I leaned against the door and slid down to the carpet. Eyeing the room, I saw just what I wanted; a sturdy oak wardrobe. It was easily six foot tall and four foot wide, not to mention at least two hundred pounds.
I pushed with all my might and finally the wardrobe consented and budged an inch across the thick carpet. I labored until I finally accomplished moving the wardrobe in front of the door.
I brushed my hands together and then finished surveying the room. To the left of the door were large French windows with gauzy curtains. Underneath the first window was a window seat, and under the second, a large mahogany desk with a large brass key, which I quickly scooped into my pocket—no doubt the key to my room. A canopy bed lay on the right side of the room.
I sighed and went to lie down on my bed. The room was very nice, but I’d give anything to be back with Cecily, Sean, and Ralph hiding out in the middle of the woods.
I sat up, and moved over to the mahogany desk. For some reason, I felt strangely drawn toward it. I opened several of the numerous drawers in it, but they were empty. I ran my hand along underneath the desk when my finger caught painfully on a piece of wood.
“Oww!” I gasped, jerking my hand back, holding my finger tightly.
A dark red bead of blood stood out and I sighed, carefully wiping it away.
Then I got down on my stomach and peered underneath the desk, searching for what had caused my finger such pain.
Running my fingernail carefully along the bottom again, I felt a catch.
I paused, and pulled with my fingernail until I felt something give way. Feeling satisfied that no one else would get sliced, I cautiously rubbed along the wood to make sure it was smooth.
Instead of rubbing on wood grain, my finger wasn’t touching anything.
Puzzled, I realized there was a hole in the wood. I shoved my finger deeper and touched something cool and smooth.
A secret compartment!
I scratched around in the compartment until I felt the metal thing fall.
It fell soundlessly onto the thick carpet.
A key. A brass key.
Before I had time to ponder what it went to or why it was being hidden, a sharp rap sounded on the Ryan had told me that our dinner was to be in half an hour, so I sighed, pocketed this key, and forced my feet to move me to another wardrobe that Ryan had had my clothes transported to earlier.
Pulling out my rose-colored gown, I quickly dressed and pulled my hair back with an ivory clip. I looked at the windows before striding over and opening one up. A part of the palace roof was underneath, before a drop off to the ground of about ten feet. Easy peezy, what an easy escape.
Another knock on the door aroused me and I quickly shut the window before yelling, “I’m coming, just a few moments please!”
I heard Ryan’s voice from the other side, “I’ll be waiting, Rosalie, for you in the dining room.”
Once his footsteps faded away, I shuddered and pushed the wardrobe out of the way just enough for me to slip out. Firmly shutting the door, I locked it and slipped the key back into my pocket. I strolled, none too quickly, down the east wing and into the adjoining dining room.
Ryan, five of his highest ranking officers, and numerous servants awaited me. The men all stood up and bowed at my arrival, but the gesture seemed rather pointless to me and I merely nodded my head and sat down next to the appraising Ryan.
“You look very pretty,” Ryan whispered.
I rolled my eyes and was about to shoot back an angry reply when a plan became clear.
If I can convince Ryan that I don’t really care about this whole war thing and win his approval, then maybe he’ll trust me enough to have free reign about the grounds, and I’ll have a chance to escape. And I’ll be able to pick up information that will help us. I have to do it without actually lying though, I thought.
It was a gruesome thought and one that disturbed me, but I could think of no other way of escaping.
I smiled sickeningly sweet and turned to Ryan, “Why thank you, Ryyyan.”
Ryan looked a mere bit puzzled, then pleased before he turned his attention to the officers.
All throughout dinner I pretended to be bored, although in reality I was collecting tactical information and other tid-bits that might come in handy in the future.
“As I was saying,” said the most portly of the officers, “we must press on to find the Rebel vermin!”
Ryan countered, “But if we wait, we can send out spies among the Rebels and find out their tactics, although we need to find someone trustworthy, someone who could actually pose as a Rebel.”
Here, I spoke up, much to the surprise of everyone, “Oh, Ryan, you clever man! That is such a surreptitious plan!”
I followed it with several approving giggles that nearly killed me.
Ryan turned to me in surprise, “What has come over you? I thought you were on the Rebel’s side!”
I giddily giggled again and tucked my head, “I always did think that Sean was a bit controlling. Did you actually think I was on his side?” I paused to giggle again, “I must say that I’m pretty good at acting aren’t I?”
Ryan looked at me in disbelief, “You mean all of this time, you were playing Sean although you were actually on my side? You poor thing! I know how hard it would be to pretend to hate me to get them to trust you!” he shook his head, “You little… thing! Amazing, so why did you do it? Why didn’t you just be straightforward about it?”
I pretended to look at him in astonishment, “Why I thought that you would understand that to get information for the honorable side, you sometimes fool your enemies, and your own teammates. And if someone saw me even being friendly to you once, word might leak out.”
I was acting perfectly, and I hadn’t said a lie yet.
Ryan, “You little conniver! You’re exactly what is needed to win this battle!”
I smiled at him, “I know, so I made sure to join the honorable side.”
He smiled at me, “I’m glad you’re on my side.”
Dinner ended and I could tell that my plan was right on schedule. How I hated it.
After dinner closed, I made my way to the library. I searched over the books, looking for something interesting. As of yet, I hadn’t been allowed outside.
A book with the title, “The Forbidden Land,” caught my attention.
I picked it up and settled in a dark corner.
The Forbidden Land was first discovered by Baron Von Ruthven and his party of explorers. A ruthless man, he ended up killing all of his companions in a dispute over who would own it. The wild land itself eventually took the man’s life. The Kingdoms of Derkenteire and Adonoram had two wars, known as the Fogram Wars, over who was to rule over the land. During each battle, the two commanders of each army suddenly disappeared, and were found dead by a river. The armies, considering the land to be cursed with an evil spirit, disbanded and pronounced the land forbidden, as it was dangerous to one’s life. Over the years, convicts and fugitives occasionally took refuge in the land, and several crusades were made into the land, but few ever returned. Greedy rulers, overcome with the beauty and bountiful natural resources of the land, ventured there, but no one survived. King Mordant decreed a law in the Burgonet Years that the land was to be owned by no one, and that if any person should decide to venture there, they proceeded at their own risk and should not expect reinforcements to come to their aid if the need arose. One survivor of the crusades, however, lived for many years in the Forbidden Land. He upheld justice and holiness among the fugitives and convicts, and came to be known as the Black Knight. Riding on a horse as dark as obsidian, and wearing a set of black armor, he dealt out morality among the few inhabitants. He disappeared some time after the Gorgonian Reign, and the few convicts and fugitives left soon after, leaving the Forbidden Land uninhabited. Due to the dangerous landscape, only three hidden entrances were made to the land.
I set the book down and rubbed my eyes. After two hours reading about the Forbidden Land, and its flora and fauna, I decided to give it a rest.
By a week later, Ryan had begun to trust me more, giving me more and more freedom.
He took great pleasure in having me by his side for most everything, my arm securely tucked in his, head turned towards mine to ask questions and state his opinions.
He really did look quite a bit like Sean, and had a ruthless handsomeness about him that made me feel sick.
On several occasions, I felt the need to get a breath of fresh air to appease my nauseated stomach. Ryan appeared most concerned and asked me if I wasn’t in the best of health.
I merely brushed it aside as a passing feeling.
Tonight, Ryan invited me to the meeting room for a tactical meeting. In the meantime, I slipped out the back palace door, and walked toward the stables.
As I strode along the rock face, there was, to my surprise, a brass gate with Celtic carvings on it, placed into the rock face, and covered by patches of rust and vines as thick as my arm.
Puzzled, I peered closer at it, wondering where it led to.
Brushing away dirt and grime from the lock, I jerked several vines away from the latch and slowly turned it.
The hinges rasped and creaked loudly, but the gate wouldn’t budge. I looked more closely at the lock and gasped.
It looked like the perfect fit for the brass key.
Carefully pulling the key out of my pocket, I cautiously set the key in the lock.
A perfect fit.
The key turned soundlessly, and the gate began to swing open, but was hindered by other vines.
Boots clattering on cobblestones startled me, and I quickly shut the gate, re-locked it, and hurried toward the stables.
Peering out a crack in the boards, I realized in relief that it was just a soldier.
He kept coming toward the stables and I grabbed an oil container and busied myself by brushing it onto a horse’s hooves.
When he entered the stables, he bowed to me before announcing, “Your Highness, the meeting will begin in five minutes.”
I thanked him before he left, and then strode purposefully to the gate.
Throwing a cautious glance over my shoulder, I quickly dribbled oil down the hinges.
This gate was my only hope for escape, no matter where it led to. The unknown was better than staying here. And I couldn’t afford to have a rusty gate hinge make noise and ruin my escape.
I finished the can off, threw it back into it’s box in the stables, and hurriedly ran to the castle meeting room.
As I pulled open the large wooden door, all the soldiers, officers, and Ryan stood up.
I quickly curtsied before taking my seat beside Ryan.
“Your Lordship,” said the fat one with a bulbous nose, “I think we should begin planning our capture of the smaller kingdoms, starting with Charlutteoin and Fromursten.”
I nearly gasped, but caught myself just in time.
Ryan shook his head. “No, first we need to find someone to be a spy for us and go into the enemy camp.”
“It’s taken long enough, don’t you think!” exploded a young captain.
Ryan settled him with a dark glare. “Don’t be too impatient, Captain Echoer. I haven’t found someone competent or trustworthy enough.”
“My Lord,” requested a handsome officer quietly, “if it would suit you, may we discuss as to where we will force the enemy to in order to capture Sean, and how soon we will take action?”
I felt my stomach twist. Without Sean, we were doomed.
It was time.
I needed to get out of here soon. Soon enough to warn Sean and the rebels.
After the meeting concluded, I somberly headed to my room.
I began collecting my most sensible clothing, consisting of two dresses of a dark green and blue, my cape, and a sturdy, loose shirt and, britches. I’d been able to find a pair that was small enough for me in the royal laundry. It was a disgusting thing to undertake to find it, but well worth it.
At dinner time, I also began slipping rolls, bread chunks, and apples into a dress pocket, which I deposited into a clean hankie upon arriving at my room.
I became quite adept at sneaking into the huge kitchen and snatching more bread, fruit, and dried meat in small quantities.
By the end of another long week playing the adoring princess, I’d made a grand total of twelve visits to the kitchen, and had at least three weeks worth of food altogether.
After a particularly interesting evening of dancing, Ryan led me back to my room.
I was laughing gaily, teasing and pretending to be offended at Ryan’s comments.
“Oh, Ryan! You shouldn’t say such things! You scoundrel!!” I giggled at his comments.
He laughed with me. I felt sick. Again. We’d reached my room.
He paused by my door. “You know, you’re quite pretty, Rosalie. A fetching maiden, if I do say so myself.”
I giggled, but inside I wanted to retch and then punch him in the stomach.
“Goodnight, dear Rosalie,” he whispered teasingly as I closed the door, still giggling.
When I shut it and heard his footsteps echo back down the hall, I sank down to the floor, exhausted and disgusted, thoroughly tired and sick of the part I was playing.
I was leaving tonight. If I didn’t, I know I would go crazy playing this part.
Gathering up the clothing, food, rope, strong cord, fire stone, and knife, into a woolen blanket, which I tied tightly, I set the bundle underneath the window and quietly opened the wardrobe.
I pulled out my brown britches and sturdy green shirt, quickly donning them before shoving my dark cloak into my bundle on second thought. It would only get in the way if I needed to run, and could easily snag when I climbed through anything.
Pulling supple leather boots onto my feet, I took a small vial that was full of tree sap and carefully spread a thin layer of the sticky substance onto the soles of my boots. Then, I took a small pouch of pepper I had taken from the kitchen and sprinkled it completely over the sole, the pepper sticking to the sap so that not one sticky patch was left.
I smiled grimly. When Ryan discovered I was missing, he would set out blood-hounds on my trail.
But I wouldn’t leave a trail, or scent.
Through my reading both at Derkenteire castle and the library here, I’d learned that pepper hindered the dog’s capability to track a scent because they couldn’t even pick up one.
After that, I waited. Noises from the kitchen could still be heard, and quiet conversations floated up my hallway.
Ten minutes before midnight, I rose from my bed and crept softly to the window. No noise or movement had been heard for the past half hour.
I very carefully opened the window, and it slid open on well-oiled hinges. In addition to pilfering food, oil had been taken as well, as I lubricated every hinge I would travel through beforehand.
Carefully lowering my bundle onto the roof underneath me, I slid out the window softly, ever so gently setting my foot onto the roof.
Clouds covered the moon, and offered me protection, sending dark shadows everywhere. A steady breeze caused the trees to sway, making me jumpy as I saw the shadows move.
I slid my other foot out noiselessly and carefully closed the window.
Clutching my bundle to my chest, I silently walked to the edge of the roof, before lowering my bag as far as I could reach and cautiously dropping it softly the rest of the way.
I gripped the roof’s edge tightly as I lowered myself down and dropped the rest of the way, landing lightly on my feet.
I brushed away the slight indents in the hard dirt. My supple leather boots moved soundlessly as I reached for my bundle and crept in the shadows towards the stable.
A horse nickered, and I immediately froze, my heart pounding ferociously in my chest. Fear gripped me as I stood stock still in the darkness.
After waiting several minutes with no more noise, I slunk to the gate.
I reached into my pocket, my hand clasped around the cool, brass key. It gave me comfort, and I drew it out and inserted it into the lock.
I turned it and the lock opened with a click. My heart pounded furiously and my hands were sweaty. It seemed so loud, but I knew that the steady wind would cover most of my noise.
Pulling the gate open, I took one last glance at the place that had held me prison for so long, searching for signs of my departure, but I could see no footprints.
With a quiet sigh of relief, I quietly stepped through, and gently pulled the gate shut behind me. Then, reaching through the bars with my key, I re-locked it.
Ryan wouldn’t be able to find me for some time. Eventually he’d notice that the vines were broken on the gate, but by that time, I’d be long gone. Hopefully.
Then I turned and faced the long tunnel that led to… the unknown.
I could only hope that it led me out. Out of this retreat for Ryan. Out of his reach. Out of danger.
I nearly snorted as I made my way down the tunnel, Out of danger? Yeah right. I seem to attract it wherever I go.
After what seemed hours of jogging through the tunnel, I finally began to see a small light at what I hoped to be the end.
I picked up my pace, but it didn’t seem I was getting any closer to the end. Desperation filled me, and I broke into a run.
I had to get out of here. I had to!
Stumbling, I slowed my pace a little, but, finally, saw the opening grow bigger.
I slowed down to a walk. Thick bushes blocked part of the opening, but I could tell from the light that filtered down that it was almost dawn.
I’d jogged all night.
Pushing my way through the underbrush, I stumbled out onto grass.
Standing up, I surveyed my breathtaking surroundings.
To the left and right, huge grassy mountains towered. I was standing on an embankment that was below a large hill in which the tunnel rested. Directly in front of me, the embankment dropped severely, and led into a narrow valley that twisted between mountains that kept going and going. A small creek ran through the bottom of the valley and I couldn’t help licking my lips. Water.
With a start, I realized where I was. The Forbidden Land.
I needed to make weapons.
Spotting some young saplings to the right, I cut down myself a strong yet pliable sapling.
Making two notches at the top and bottom, I threaded the cord through it.
I knew it wasn’t made or dried properly, but it would have to work.
I sharpened fourteen sticks into arrows and wedged them into my belt.
Feeling more confident, I slipped and scooted my way down the steep embankment to the narrow valley below.
The creek gurgled and rushed invitingly, and I plunged into it, laughing giddily with relief.
I was out of that prison. Not out of Ryan’s reach or danger, but still out of that dreaded place.
I took large gulps of the fresh spring water, then gasped at how cold it was and splashed my flushed face.
After quenching my thirst and eating a small chunk of bread, I began striding quickly down the grassy valley.
Whenever I looked up, the green mountains towered above me, and above them was the sky. Clear blue sky that looked crisp and clean.
Trudging through the underbrush and thick, lush grass, I wondered how anyone could have thought this place dangerous.
A sudden growl shook that thought out of my head and I whirled toward the thick bushes.
Menacing yellow eyes gleamed from behind the leaves as I notched an arrow.
Backing away from the bush and continuing down the valley, I spoke loudly, my tone bold.
“Listen, fella. I’m not going to bother you, and so you shouldn’t bother me. I just escaped from one of the most dangerous, stupid, and disgusting situations of my life, and I didn’t make it this far to be eaten by… whatever you are.”
I carefully kept my eyes roving through the bushes.
I could barely hear anything as the animal slunk through the undergrowth.
It was stalking me.
Still muttering, I kept backing up, glancing over my shoulder to keep from tripping.
“Wouldn’t that be great,” I muttered. “Trip and fall on my backside and that… thing… would be on me in an instant.
I kept up the talking, and found myself feeling relieved. I hadn’t been able to talk honestly to anyone, or anything in ages.
By mid afternoon, the creature had heard almost all of my journey. As if that would keep it from pouncing upon me and devouring my head once I let my guard down for an instant.
“And so,” I finished, “I got away from that hideous, appalling man named Ryan, and escaped here.” I growled in my throat. “If you’d just show yourself, I could get this over and done wi-”
A flash of tawny fur streaked through the bushes and a horrendous screech filled my ears as the thing hurled through the air.
It was a wild-cat. The biggest wild-cat I’d ever seen. His mouth was open, its two inch long fangs glistening. And I was about to be his next meal.
I loosed an arrow, and it lodged itself in the cat’s throat, as I let fly another arrow, and another in rapid fire as it continued its flight through the air.
At the last moment, I jumped to the left, rolling neatly before leaping to my feet.
The beast crashed on the ground in the exact spot I’d been standing, and began thrashing around, my three arrows embedded deeply into his face.
A gurgling growl resounded from deep within his throat as he struggled to his feet.
My arrows flew, hitting him in the chest, and then the liver, and finally, the heart.
I was breathing heavily, and didn’t realize I was shaking until the cat’s eyes, like glowing embers, faded and he slowly died.
A shiver ran down my back as I realized what a close call I’d had. I looked at the cat, eleven of my arrows sticking out, and let out a long shuddering sigh. I don’t know what I would’ve done if he’d used up all fourteen.
Slowly approaching, I took my knife and stabbed him in the heart to make sure he wasn’t just faking, and then pulled my arrows out, one boot on the carcass they were so deeply lodged.
I wiped the arrows as clean as I could, although they were now stained halfway up a reddish-brown, and stuck all of them except one back into my belt.
The last one I stuck in my bow, proceeding through the wooded valley with more caution.
Afternoon faded to evening, and as the shadows grew long, exhaustion began weighing me down and I knew that I needed to find a place to rest.
I could only hope that the wild-cat hadn’t had any babies, let alone any babies that were the same size as their papa.
My eyes roving over the woods, I spotted a rock outcropping. Something in my gut told me to go check it out.
Climbing on top of it, I saw a small hole in the top of it, big enough for me to crawl in, but not large enough for a wild-cat to get in.
I lay on my belly, bow still in hand and peered down.
To my surprise, the hole lowered down into a hollow that was big enough for three people to lay down. Light was streaming from the right side, and I strained to see where it was coming from.
My neck wouldn’t stretch far enough, but I jumped down and inspected the right side and discovered another hole that was similar in shape and size to the one on top. The entire rock reminded me of a drinking gourd with a hole in the side.
It seemed too… convenient.
And then, as I peered inside, I saw fire marks and realized that someone had probably at one time lived here.
I wedged my bundle and bow and arrows through the opening before scooting through myself.
Landing with and unceremonious grunt, I cracked my neck and lay down my cloak on the ground.
Noticing several sticks in a pile, I made a small fire, and pulled out some dried meat, an apple, and a little bread.
I leaned back contentedly, feeling safe for the first time since I’d been at home in Charlutteoin.
The fire crackled quietly and I could hear tree frogs and cicada’s gently crooning.
Sleep overtook my exhausted limbs and eyes.
I awoke to sunlight streaming through the holes.
Shivering, I realized how cold I felt. I rubbed my arms and looked at the dead fire.
I dressed quickly in a dark blue dress and took my cape for warmth.
Eating a breakfast of an apple, I realized that if I wanted my food supply to last, I should try and live off the land. I’d need food for my journey to find Cecily, Ralph, and Sean.
As I crawled with my bow and arrows out of the rock, I thought back to my reading.
The book had said that there was a secret entrance that was supposedly on the eastern side.
Once I got my bearings and enough dried meat and food stocked up, I’d start heading toward the east and hope that I would find the entrance.
No way was I going to go back to Ryan’s castle.
I’d rather get eaten by a wild-cat.
Noticing land marks and strange trees, I began silently creeping through the forest in search of a deer.
Birds twittered peacefully, and not a breeze stirred. I was thankful for that. At least I wouldn’t have to worry about being up wind.
As I made my way through the forest, I saw a clearing up ahead. I wanted to shout in success when I saw a buck with a large rack grazing in the middle of it.
I silently notched an arrow and pulled the cord back to my cheek, sighting up the deer.
He raised his head, tail twitching, and surveyed his surroundings before lowering it again to graze.
Slowly letting my breath out, I prepared myself to let the arrow fly.
Suddenly, an arrow whizzed out and struck the deer in the liver.
The deer struggled, and began to lope away when another arrow shot out and hit the deer in the heart this time.
I ducked down in the bushes, loudly snapping a twig. Wincing, I lowered myself even farther.
A young hunter stepped out of the trees, dressed in sturdy britches and a brown shirt.
His back turned, it was a he, walked to the deer carcass and pulled out the arrows.
I wanted to hit something I was so frustrated, he’d just shot my deer! And who was he? Why was he here?
An even worse thought entered my head. What if he was a ruthless fugitive, guilty of murdering innocent women and children?!
He turned and I critically surveyed the handsome face. Serious green eyes and brown hair that was slightly messy. A rugged fitness was portrayed in his stride.
Calmly striding back toward where he’d appeared, I could see that he wasn’t unusually tall or short, but more of a medium height, with a strong, but slighter build.
He could definitely be a well-trained murderer.
Whoever he was, I didn’t want to tangle with him.
In my crouched position, I began crab-stepping backwards, slowly rising to my full height.
I sighed in relief as I stood up, and turned around to run to my rock.
I lightly stepped down, but a stick snapped loudly. I whipped my head around as I began to run to see if he’d seen.
My foot caught suddenly, and I fell down with a loud crash, accidentally crying out.
I stumbled to my feet and turned quickly to look.
His eyes met mine, and I fled, stumbling on my cloak and thick grass.
“Hey! Wait!” he cried.
I ran as fast as I could, not caring if I was thrashing and snapping twigs.
I could hear footfalls behind me and terror gave my body extra adrenaline.
Sprinting through the thick trees, I saw a little crack in the rock face that stood over to the left in a clearing and breathlessly charged over, hoping that I could squeeze inside and he run right past.
I scrambled into the crack, breathing noisily, and wrapped the black cloak around me.
Quieting my breathing, I watched as the young hunter ran into the clearing, slowing his stride.
He came to a stop, putting his fists on his hips and sighed.
I knew he was listening for my crashing. I didn’t dare breathe.
He slowly turned, searching the area around him.
As his eyes roved around the clearing and came to the rock, I silently prayed he wouldn’t see me.
At this close, I was able to get an even closer look.
I realized that he was younger than I’d first thought, probably nineteen, no more than twenty one.
His eyes passed over the rocks and finished searching the area.
Was it me, or did a look of disappointment fill those green eyes?
Sighing, he walked noiselessly through the brush until he disappeared.
I marveled at how silently he could walk as I waited.
Who knew how long he might be waiting to catch me for?
Now that I knew the land was inhabited by at least one person, I would have to be more careful in my journeys.
I didn’t want to run into this young man again.
But still, what if he lived with a group of people?
I needed to know. Slowly edging out, and then pausing, I made my way out of the crack and tried to creep as silently as I could back toward the clearing with the deer.
It was easy to find my way back to the clearing. My crashing through the forest provided a clear path.
As I approached the clearing, I became more stealthy, staying in the shadows, and crouching behind bushes.
To my surprise, the hunter was still there, just finishing cleaning and preparing the deer, and was now pulling it toward the edge of the clearing.
He whistled, and a horse trotted up to him.
Smiling, he gently patted the horse before grabbing the deer by the hoof, tying it with a rope, and then mounting and pulling the carcass.
Wondering where the horse had come from, I silently slunk through the trees, following them.
Several times he glanced over his shoulder, and I wondered if he could feel or hear me.
As he crossed another small clearing, I followed along the edge and tripped over something.
I managed to bite my lip and land lightly on my hands, as if I were doing a push up with my back side stuck up in the air.
Lowering myself gently before standing up, I peered at what had caused my fall.
Something that was glinting black stuck out of the dirt partially.
I glanced up and saw that the young man and horse had made a little progress, but figured I could catch up with them as the deer dragging behind not only left marks, but was rather loud.
He obviously wasn’t scared of me.
I grabbed a stick and began digging out whatever it was.
After several minutes had passed, I let out a small gasp.
It was a black breastplate. As I continued digging, I found a whole suit of black armor.
Black armor? I thought, That’s strange. No one has black armor made because it is so hard to find the components for. Hmm.
When I finished, I gently tried it on. It fit pretty well.
Strange. Must have been a small guy. A small black knight.
I gasped as the realization struck me. The Black Knight!
“Of course!!” I whispered excitedly. “The book said that there was a Black Knight who upheld justice and honor, or something like that, and then he just… disappeared!”
I jumped up and down. “Well I found his suit of armor!”
Taking of the clunky suit, I laid it carefully in a pile for me to pick up on my way back.
Then, I jogged to catch up with the horse before slowing back down to a slinking walk.
I looked up ahead and saw a small but neat cottage with smoke drifting above it.
My stomach growled hungrily at the thought of something cooking. I told it to be quiet.
The young man jumped down from his horse, untied the deer, and let the horse go free.
I watched in amazement as the horse just cropped grass around the hut before turning my attention back to the young man.
He was now skinning the deer, which was a pretty gross process.
I gagged several times before he finally finished.
With disappointment, I realized that this was only one hut. I’d been hoping that maybe there would be a village, and that I could find someone who would help, and would know where the secret gate out was.
But, I countered to myself, on the bright side, if there’s only one house, that means that this guy is it. No other people to worry about.
When he entered his house with the deer, I crept back through the woods until I found the armor.
Putting it on, I began walking back when I realized in dismay that there was a large hole where I had dug.
If this hunter was as detailed as I thought he appeared, he would be sure to notice this, and would then know I’d been here.
Grumbling, I patted the dirt back into place and scattered some pine needles and grass over it before I stood up and began walking back.
When I reached my rock, I discovered another problem.
My armor couldn’t fit through either hole in the rock.
Sighing, I covered it up with some pine needles and grass so that the sun wouldn’t glisten off it and warn “Hunter Boy”, as I now called him in my head, that someone was now inhabiting this rock.
I crawled tiredly into the rock, and sat down on my bed spot.
My stomach grumbling, I pulled out some dried meat, fruit, and bread, and ravenously ate it.
I made another fire, bigger this time, before settling into my “bed” and falling asleep.
The next morning I woke to my stomach cramped in hunger.
What a lovely way to start the day, I thought to myself.
I needed to forage for some food so that I wouldn’t worry about how much I could eat.
After a bread and fruit breakfast, I crawled outside in my britches and shirt and pulled the armor on.
I figured that this way, if I did happen to run into Hunter Boy, he at least wouldn’t know that I was a girl, let alone that I was the girl who had been spying on him and then clumsily ran away.
With my bow, I practiced walking quietly in my armor as I strode through the forest in search of a deer. I’d have even settled for a rabbit. Or wild pig.
Finally, after wandering around for an hour, I spotted a little pig.
I took aim, then let the cord go.
My arrow struck the pig right in the gut, and he immediately let out a shrill squeal.
He continued squealing so loudly, that I was sure that Ryan could have heard.
When I reached the pig, I took my knife and drove it through its heart.
I heard a snap, and whirled around to see the young man standing twenty paces away.
My stomach flip flopped nervously, and I slammed the visor on my helmet down with a crash before clumsily sprinting in my armor toward the woods.
Pig, you’re dead! I thought, Well, you already are, but, that’s not the point! If you hadn’t squealed, if you just hadn’t squealed!
My thoughts were broken as I tripped and crashed to the forest floor.
How many times could I trip in twenty four hours?
I tried scrambling up, but the young man was upon me before I could take a step away.
He grabbed my arm firmly. “Wait! Hold on, there.”
I stopped struggling and turned to face him, desperately hoping he couldn’t see my face through the helmet. Or tell I was a girl because of my height.
His searching green eyes went over my armor and my weapons taking everything in a calculated manner.
“Who are you?” he asked gently. “Where did you come from?”
I cleared my throat loudly and began to speak, then realizing my mistake, coughed and lowered my voice, making it as manly as I could.
“Uh, well, um… I live here!”
His eyebrow shot up. “You live here? I would’ve noticed you. For how long?”
His tone softened, “And you didn’t answer my question. What’s your name?”
“Uh, I just, uh, got here!” I stuttered in my new man voice.
“What’s your name?” he prodded.
“You can call me, uh,” my mind searched wildly, “Sean. You can call me Sean.”
“Sean?” he asked, slightly suspiciously.
“Well, Sean, I was wondering. Just how did you get here?” his eyes lit up, “And did you come with someone? A young girl perhaps?”
I thought furiously for answers that wouldn’t give away who I was, and wouldn’t be lying either.
“I got here through a gate.” I answered.
“How else?” he snorted slightly sarcastically, but I could tell he wasn’t meaning it in a rude sort of way. “You’re being pretty vague.”
He began leading me through the forest towards, I assume, the direction in which his cottage was.
“And I came by myself, a young girl wasn’t with me,” I stated.
I hesitated before asking, “Who are you? And how did you get here?”
He hopped over a huge log with ease.
I put my hand out for him to help me over, and then realizing my mistake, pretended I was swatting a fly.
I tried hopping up, but slid on the wood and landed on my chest on top of the log before sliding off the other side.
He laughed lightly, pulled me up and said, “Well, Sean, it looks like you’re just getting used to armor. I prefer my britches and a shirt to armor, myself. But I didn’t answer your question.”
Turning toward me with a friendly smile on his face he answered, “I’m Will.”
Will hopped over another log and said, “And how I got here is another story, long story, all together.”
By now we’d reached his cottage.
He waved his arm at it. “This is my home. You’re welcome to stay for supper.”
The way he said it sounded eager, like he really wanted me to stay.
I pretended to be surprised over his home and was about to say how pretty it was when I realized no guy would ever say that and caught myself.
“Bet it took a lot of backbreaking labor, huh, Will?” I guffawed in my man voice. “Sturdy looking place, bet it works in the winter.”
Will nodded and led me inside.
I nearly moaned in delight when I smelled the deer stew simmering over the fire.
“Help yourself to a chair. You can take off the armor, if you’d like.” Will called from where he was stirring the soup.
“Aww, nah, I’ll just keep the armor on, kind of habit I guess,” I let out a hoarse chuckle.
I sat down with a clank as Will grabbed some bowls.
A sudden thought popped into my brain. How on earth was I going to eat with this helmet on?
I wanted to cry as I realized I couldn’t. Not without taking it off and showing who I was.
Will sat two steaming, heaping bowls of soup on the table and gave me a spoon. Then he sat down and bowed his head and said a prayer.
When he finished, he picked up his spoon and began eating.
Noticing me not touching my food, his brow wrinkled. “Aren’t you going to at least lift the metal so you can eat?”
“Metal?” I asked, puzzled.
He put down his spoon and said softly, “You know, the mouth piece?”
I couldn’t believe I knew so little about helmets. I would be able to eat after all!
“Oh, yeah, of course,” I rasped nervously.
Cautiously lifting the piece the tiniest fraction of an inch, I slipped my spoon under and into my mouth.
Warm, savory, hearty, wonderful stew poured into my mouth.
I could’ve hugged Will it tasted so good.
“Not bad,” I commented upon seeing Will looking.
I tried to think what a guy would do, and belched loudly.
Will looked up in surprise.
“Sorry,” I mumbled embarrassedly.
Obviously he wasn’t the type of guy who belched when eating. How was I to know? Almost all of our castle knights did.
I watched Will as he ate and copied some of his mannerisms.
“So, Sean, really, why did you come here, to the Forbidden Land? You must have had your reasons.” He paused, green eyes boldly searching mine.
I awkwardly looked somewhere else. As a princess you weren’t supposed to make a lot of eye contact with a man. It was considered… too improper or something.
Why is that? My mind drifted on a bunny trail until I noticed that Will had said something.
“Sorry,” I apologized, “I didn’t quite catch that.”
I noted to myself that since I was acting like a guy, I needed to keep eye contact.
“Oh, that’s fine. I was just saying, don’t feel pressured to tell me why you came. I was just curious is all. I’m sorry. After all of these years living alone, you kind of get excited when you see someone else. Or two people, actually,” Will said.
He had a strong voice that was slightly deep, but still came out kind.
I tried to mimic it. “No, you’re fine. Well… let me start out with a question. Do you know who Ryan the Prince of Derkenteire is?”
Will looked angry. “Do I know him? Yeah. He’s a dirty coward and cruel ruler.”
Relief flowed through me as I realized I had an ally. Maybe I could trust him. My voice grew slightly excited. “Well, I was, uh, running, or escaping from him.”
Will looked me in the eye and I fought to maintain eye contact. He had such… serious and intense green eyes. “I can definitely understand why you’d want to get away from him. Were you a knight of his?”
I started and replied with vehemence, “No! He’d… taken me from my family and was, shall we say, holding me in prison.”
“Why’d he want to do that?”
“Long story,” I sighed.
He laughed, a manly laugh that I would have to try and copy.
I tried to copy the man laugh, but couldn’t quite pull it off.
“I understand long stories. I’ll have to tell you mine some time.”
It had grown dark by now. I pushed back my chair and stood on wobbling legs. “Well, thanks for the meal, Will. I’d best be going.”
He stood up. “You’re welcome to stay here, if you’d like.”
I smiled, although he couldn’t see it because of the helmet. Definitely not.
“Oh, thanks, but I’ve got my own camp set up.”
Will brushed a hand through his brown hair. “Feel free to stay anytime you need it.” He laughed. “It sure is nice to have company.”
I tried the man laugh, and replied, “Thanks for the offer.”
As I was heading out the door, he opened the door.
His frame was silhouetted by the fire. “Oh, and Sean!”
I turned around.
“Keep an eye out for a girl. I saw one when I was out hunting today. She tripped and fell and then dashed away.”
He rubbed the back of his neck ruefully. “Was pretty fast, if I might add. But that won’t keep the wild-cats from eating her. I’d feel horrid if something bad happened.”
I nodded sympathetically. “Well, I’ll keep an eye out for her. What’s she look like?”
He paused. “Well, she looks like she could handle to rough it, capable and all, and she’s about your height.”
“I mean, her face. I won’t be able to tell just by if she looks capable.” I said, although I was starting to grin.
“Well, there aren’t any other girls in the Forbidden Lands as far as I know, so she’d be pretty easy even with that, but,” he cleared his throat, “She was, um, nice-looking, and had brown hair and was wearing a blue dress.”
I nearly laughed as I noticed how uncomfortable he looked when he said nice-looking.
“So she’s really pretty?” I asked in a teasing man voice.
“Well, okay, yeah, but who even cares?!” He rolled his eyes and leaned against the door frame. “If I ever married a girl, I would want one who was pretty on the inside. Doesn’t matter if they’re pretty on the outside if they’ve got an ugly heart.”
I was surprised. Most men I knew only cared if you were pretty on the outside. Well then Will was different than most guys.
Starting to turn away, Will called out once more, his voice much more serious. “Sean?”
I turned back to him. “Yeah?”
He looked me dead serious in the eyes. “If you lay one hand on that girl to harm her…”
From the look in his eyes, it looked like he was going to finish it off with, “I’ll kill you.”
Laughing slightly nervously I replied, “Hey, no way. You have nothing to worry about.”
Really, I thought.
He nodded his head before saying good night and closing the door.
The next morning I got up earlier than before.
I really needed to get a move on this hunting.
Sighing, I stared rather longfully at my dresses. Don’t get me wrong, these britches and shirt were marvelous, but after several days of sweating from nervous encounters, they weren’t smelling so hot.
Biting my lip, I looked away, grabbed some breakfast, and slipped outside.
It was a cool, overcast morning.
Shivering, I pulled on the armor and fitted it properly.
With bow, arrows, and knife in hand, I headed out in the exact opposite direction of Will’s house.
I was tired of having to act as a man. Especially in armor that I wasn’t used to wearing.
Treading as quietly as I could in the clunky black armor, obviously, armor hadn’t been created for stealth operations, I wove my way through the trees, keeping my eyes and ears open to movement.
A slight rustling in the bushes to the right made me quickly swing, arrow notched.
“Whoa! Point that thing some place else, would you?”
I sighed, almost in utter frustration.
Will walked out of the bush, wearing a friendly smile.
“How are you today, Sean?”
“Pretty good,” I mumbled. Or was, until you showed up. Now I’m going to have to stumble through being a man all day.
He ran a hand through his hair, ruffling it into a messy… mess.
“I figured since I ruined your catch yesterday, I’d help you hunt today,” he said.
He pulled out a handsome looking bow and a very nice quiver full of arrows.
I almost wanted to hide my pathetic little sharpened sticks and sapling with cord.
Then, I straightened up proudly, reminding myself that this pathetic little bow had kept me alive and killed a wild-cat. Nothing to be ashamed of. It’s not like it was my fault that Ryan had appropriated my own beautiful bow and set of arrows.
We moved silently through the woods together, when I sensed more than heard that a doe was to my left.
I saw Will look at me with eyebrows raised in a silent question.
Nodding carefully, as to not rattle my helmet, we both raised our bows.
I was slightly annoyed, and decided to show him something.
The second I saw the doe poke her head through the trees, I sighted as quickly as I could and let loose.
With a strangled cry of pain, the doe fell to her knees, my arrow planted into her heart.
I smugly smiled behind the helmet. At least one thing I could do that was slightly manly.
Will looked at me in admiration, no hint of jealousy or competition in his eyes. “That was an impressive shot, Sean!”
I guffawed, and began walking forward, basking in my smugness when I tripped.
“Ugggh!” I groaned in absolute embarrassment and frustration. So much for my moment of glory.
This stupid suit of armor! I thought. If only I was more used to it. It would almost be worth it to reveal who I am and not have to wear it than keep doing this! I’m going to have black and blue marks if I keep this up!
Will didn’t even snicker as he hauled me up. “Don’t worry, Sean. Once you get used to your armor, you won’t trip as much.”
I just silently walked on, cheeks flaming.
The doe was still struggling, although her strength was fading quickly.
Will took his knife, and almost apologetically to the deer, gently killed it.
“Whoa, look at that shot!” he commented, taking my arrow out.
Wiping it clean, I watched as Will whistled shrilly.
The sound of his horse trotting in the woods made me realize that he was going to drag it for me.
Oh no! I thought worriedly, He’ll want to take it to my camp! What am I going to do?
I glanced around wildly, trying to think of something.
That was when I noticed the slinking flash of tawny hide in the trees.
“Will!” I cried.
He whirled around, but the wild cat had already leapt from the branch straight for his horse.
In one fluid motion, Will loosed an arrow into the cat’s scarred back. And then another, and another, so quickly that I had to blink.
Each arrow plummeting straight for the cat’s heart.
My instinct had already taken hold and I was rapidly firing my arrows, also.
The horse was rearing, plunging, and bucking in a desperate attempt to get the cat off.
His frantic whinnies tore at my heart, and I moved closer over to the left of the horse.
One of my arrows sailed and wedged itself into the cat’s eye and it viciously snarled, raising its head.
Long cords of drool dripped from its frothing mouth. It opened its mouth wider and hissed, some of the foam spraying.
This wasn’t a normal animal, it had the foaming mouth disease.
Fear overtook me and I loosed arrow after arrow at the beast, but it snarled in rage.
As if in slow motion, I watched as it bunched its hind legs before soaring off the horse’s back, like an arrow.
An arrow coming straight for me.
I vaguely heard Will yelling in a frantic bellow, “SEAAAN!!!”
I watched as my hand reached down, unsheathed my knife and waited in heart pounding fear as the foaming mouth opened wider.
With a strength I hadn’t realized I had, my hand plunged the dagger into the beast.
We rolled over and over, and I barely felt the helmet being knocked off my head by the cat’s paw as we rolled backwards.
When we stopped, the cat lay on top of me, frothed mouth wide open, inches from my head.
I was still shaking when Will ran over and helped me shove the heavy wild-cat off.
His eyes opened wide when he rolled the cat off.
“What?” I asked. And then I felt my hair brush my face.
I scrambled around wildly looking for my helmet, but saw it was no use.
I could see his mind replaying our conversations, and his cheeks flamed red.
Looking down at my outfit, I sighed. “Well, I guess I can take this clunky stuff off now.”
Will didn’t say anything.
“I suppose I wouldn’t have wanted to tell a guy I didn’t know I was a girl, either,” he said, almost to himself.
And then he laughed, a slight bit of a snicker. “That would explain some things, like how you,” he broke off with a laugh. But then his face grew red again and I could tell exactly what he was remembering.
I looked down, it feeling good to be able to have my hair blowing in the wind, and then looked back up at him with a mischievous twist of a smile on my face. “Sorry?”
His cheeks were flaming, and he turned away, quietly laughing in an embarrassed way. “I can’t believe I said that.”
Will turned back to me, “I can’t believe you asked that!”
I felt my face blushing a little.
Turning back toward the deer I said. “Well, I suppose I’ll have to tell you everything then.
“For starters. My name’s not Sean.”
“Obviously,” came a slight snort.
“I’m Princess Rosalie Estelle Marguerite Thermopoly, heir to the throne of the kingdom of Charlutteoin, daughter of King Reginald Brimley Justice Thermopoly the Seventh, and Queen Candice Lorna Millicent Thermopoly.”
I paused for a breath and turned to look at Will.
His eyes were wide open. “How. On. Earth. Did you get here?”
“I’m coming to that.”
Explaining the rest of my gruesome tale took us the entire journey to my rock to collect my things and the rest of the journey back to Will’s cottage.
“And so, I escaped. To here. And then you showed up,” I broke into a teasing lilt, “and messed everything up.”
He breathed a low whistle. “Whoa. Prince Ryan is an even bigger rascally rogue than I already knew.”
His eyes took on a knowing look. “So… that’s where you got the name Sean from.”
It was a statement, not a question.
“You guys are,” he questioned in a curious tone, “engaged then?”
It was my turn then to blush furiously and stutter out, “No. We’re just acquaintances. That’s it.”
Will held up his hands in mock defeat, “Sorry. I didn’t know, most girls who take on some other guy’s name are usually, well. And then you talked so much about him.”
He threw me a sideways glance.
I wondered why he cared so much.
“It’s okay. Maybe he’d like to think so, but I don’t.” I stopped walking for a moment. “To be perfectly honest with you, Will, I don’t know if I’ll ever get married. I’ve really had over dose on the mean guy prescription when it comes to Ryan.”
“I can see how that might taint your view of all men, but that would be foolish,” Will replied in a sad tone. “There are some really great guys out there.”
“Well,” I said, returning to walking, “we’ll see. I mean, I’m only seventeen. Plenty of life left to choose what I want.”
“You’re only seventeen?” Will repeated, surprise showing on his tanned face.
I nodded and grinned. “Yeah, why? How old are you?” I cleared a log with ease now that I didn’t have that clunky armor on.
“You just seemed… older.” He looked sideways again at me. “I’m twenty.”
We’d reached the cottage. After un tying the deer and preparing it, an even more gross process when you’re the one doing it, although I’ll give myself that I didn’t gag once because I didn’t want Will to see, we headed inside and I piled my belongings on the table.
“If it’s okay with you, I noticed that there’s a lean-to on the back of the cottage, and was wondering if I might stay here?” my voice dwindled off into a hopeful question.
“Well, you can stay here, if you want, but I’ll take the lean-to.” He was already grabbing his clothes and blankets and heading out the door.
I hurried after him and grabbed his arm, “Just because I’m a princess doesn’t give me a right to steal your bed. Really, I’d love to sleep in the lean-to.”
“Really, after sleeping in that uncomfortable rock you called a dwelling, it’s no problem for me to give you my bed. Really.”
He pulled away and determinedly strode for the lean-to.
Whatever you want, Hunter Boy, I thought to myself.
I’d have to show him I wasn’t some namby pamby princess. I hadn’t done that good of a job in the armor and couldn’t exactly blame him for his assessment.
He probably thinks that I couldn’t even get on a horse by myself.
I sighed, went back inside, closed the door and changed into a clean dress. It felt like heaven. I looked into Will’s supply to see if there was something I could make for supper.
Settling on roasted venison and boiled potatoes, I quickly lit the fire.
Noticing several pebbles and small twigs caught in a crack of the floorboards, I grinned ruefully, remembering what I’d done to Sean. I pushed the wickedly tempting thought of doing the same thing to Will out of my mind.
When Will came back inside, everything was already on the table, and I stood with my hands behind my back, waiting.
Surprise registered on his face, lit by the fire. “I didn’t know a princess could cook.”
“Most don’t. But then again, I’m not like most princesses.”
He grinned, a smile that pulled the corners of his mouth up higher on one side than the other.
When supper was finished, we both leaned back in our chairs, relaxing in a companionable silence.
“So, do you know where the secret gates out are?” I queried.
Will leaned back forward in his chair, resting his arms on the table. “Yeah, but you need to tell me where you want to end up before I take you there.”
I sighed, running my hand through my long brown hair. “Well, see, that’s the problem.”
“What’s the problem?”
“I don’t know where Sean and the rebels are, and that’s really where I need to be,” my voice was barely a whisper. “Without me, the prophecy can’t come true.”
Will frowned. “Hmm.”
I replayed back to all of my memories of being in the meeting room with the officers and Ryan, but clearly remembered them keeping the location of the Rebel’s whereabouts top secret.
Suddenly, a sentence of Ryan’s popped into my mind. “No, first we need to find someone to be a spy for us and go into the enemy camp.”
If they need someone to go into the enemy camp, that means they know where it is!
I looked past Will, who was drumming the table with his fingers, to where the black armor lay in a softly glistening heap. Flames’ reflections danced on the black armor, mesmerizing me.
I shook myself awake.
“Will, I have an idea.”
When I told him, he looked at me like I was losing my mind.
“Rosalie,” he paused, “ you just can’t do that.”
“Do what?” I asked innocently.
“Can’t sneak back into Ryan’s camp pretending to be the actual Black Knight and hope that he’ll choose you to be the spy sent into the Rebel’s camp,” Will said in a gentle tone.
“Why not,” I asked in a dead serious voice.
“Well, one, they’re going to want to see your face, and two,” he looked uncomfortable saying it, “well, the fact is, you’re tougher being the girl that you are than when you’re being a man! They’ll see right through your act.”
“Wil-” I began to say.
He cut me off. “How about I go in. Okay? At least I know how to act like a man.”
I blushed. “Was it really that bad?”
Will laughed, that man laugh that I couldn’t copy no matter how hard I tried and made me extremely frustrated.
“Rosalie,” he paused, “it would look as if you’d been sent to ‘Sissy School for Knights’, I’m sorry, but…” he gently laughed a little.
“Teach me then.” I said.
“Teach me how to act like a guy, then.”
Will leaned back, “Why can’t you just let me go in and find your Rebel friends?”
I knew Sean and Cecily too well. “Because they won’t trust you, not yet, anyways.”
He sighed, ruffling his brown hair with his hand. “You’re probably right. I’d just hate to see anyone get hurt. And I don’t think it’s right for you to be acting like a man.”
Will paused. “What are you going to do when they ask you to remove your helmet?”
I closed my eyes knowing that what I’d have to do would be a great sacrifice. Letting out a long breath I responded. “I’ll cut my hair.”
“So?! Then I’ll look like a boy!”
Will gestured towards me, “ It’s pretty evident you’re not.”
My face flushed bright red. “I’m only taking off my helmet, and it’s not like I’ll be wearing a dress!”
This time he blushed. “I wasn’t talking about that, I was talking about your face. It’s too pret-, I mean, feminine to be a man’s face.”
“Well, what are we going to do then?” I asked.
“We?” he questioned teasingly, his eyebrow raised.
I blushed even harder.
“Wait a second,” Will said, snapping his fingers. “What if I went in for the first few times, and took my helmet off so that they could see my face, and then when they’re actually going to send me in, you take the place and talk to Sean and the others.”
I couldn’t believe I hadn’t thought of that before! “Will! That’s brilliant!”
Jumping out of my chair I was so excited, I hurriedly babbled, “And that would take care of everything!! The face thi-”
“Whoa, there, calm yourself, and sit down,” Will said with that lopsided grin of his.
His green eyes glinted. “We’re still going to have to, uh, train you, though.”
“No problem. Let’s start tonight!” I eagerly said.
“Okay,” Will said more slowly, “how about we start out with sword practice.” He gestured at two swords that were in their sheaths, leaning against the wall.
I couldn’t help but start to smirk. Will didn’t know that I could wield a sword pretty well; I’d pretty much skipped all of my heroic fighting parts in the story.
Putting a pretend quiver in my voice I said, “Oh, okay. If you say so.”
Will glanced over at me suspiciously as he gathered the swords up. I almost felt bad for tricking him. He really was a genuinely nice guy.
But still, it would be worth it to see his face.
We found a fairly level plain of grass and Will handed me my sword.
“Okay, so here’s how t-”
I broke him off with a quick balestra, accompanied by a vicious lunge that I followed through with an upwards thrust in which I threw in a deadly little move, my special, what I called the Twist.
Will immediately shut his gob and began deflecting my fierce attack.
I pushed him backwards, and our blades met, ringing, as I tried to counter disengage before performing an expert coulé that made Will have to be quick on his feet.
With concentrated movements, Will slowly began to gain back his ground.
Our swords volleyed in intense bouts until we were flashing our swords faster and faster, both of us stepping closer and closer to eachother until we had our blades locked together in a stand still, both of us breathing heavily, faces inches apart, our eyes scowling.
Will stepped back, pulling his sword loose and laughed, wiping away the sweat from his forehead.
I, too, stepped back, allowing myself to relax. I could feel my muscles shaking from the adrenaline.
“Well, I see that you won’t be needing sword lessons,” Will said, in a gently admiring tone. “Who on earth taught you?”
I grinned. “Oh, just some ol’ stable boy back home.”
He grinned back. “Did a pretty impressive job, I might add.”
We both sheathed our swords and walked back to the cottage, silently agreeing that no more training was needed for the night.
After a quick cup of relaxing herbal tea, Will headed out the door for the lean-to, saying that we would want to get up early to get a head start on the day.
“If all of your weapons training is as good as your sword, then we’ll just have to concentrate on your voice and mannerisms,” Will called from the lean-to.
I snuggled down deeper beneath the covers.
“Whatever you say,” I lowered my voice to barely a mutter, “Hunter Boy."
When morning came, I was already up, having risen with the dawn.
I prepared some porridge, no, I did not make it nasty, and set it to keep warm over the fire before grabbing my cloak, kicking off my boots and heading barefoot over to the edge of the large, grassy mountain that Will’s cottage rested on.
It was another cool morning, the wet grass revealing that the huge clouds that hung over us had opened up and poured on us.
A light mist blew in, making my hair damp and keeping my face cool as I found a rock ledge to sit on, knees up to my chest, leaning back, and thinking.
If all goes as planned, I thought, I’ll be seeing Cecily, Sean, Ralph, and the rest of the rebels in the next week.
I’d never thought that I’d be glad to see any of them. Laughing at how things had changed since then, I went over our strategy.
Okay, so Will is going to teach me man mannerisms, ha ha, man mannerisms, and then he will go back into Ryan’s stronghold, dressed as the Black Knight, I bit my lip, hoping with all my might that things would go as planned and that Will wouldn’t get captured, and offer to be the one to go into the Rebel camp. After a couple of days of showing Ryan his face, I’ll be the one to ride to Sean’s camp, reveal myself, and we’ll be all good.
I felt extremely satisfied, until I realized one thing, How is Will going to get there? Or is he?
The thought of Will not helping us in the battle hadn’t even occurred to me. Well, of course he never said that he would.
I sighed, stood up from the rock ledge and turned around. Seeing Will’s figure striding towards me, I grabbed my cloak and began to climb back up.
A friendly smile was on his tanned face. “I couldn’t find you, so I figured you must be off on some adventure with a wild-cat. Seems like they just can’t resist your charm.”
I laughed, scrambled the rest of the way up, and joined him walking back toward the cottage.
“Will, I was wondering,” I paused, “well, are you, uh, well,”
Will laughed and encouraged me, “Spit it out.”
“I was wondering if you’re going to help me, uh, us fight the battle?” I blurted.
He laughed again and patted me on the head, “And miss seeing Ryan get his rightful justice? No way.”
Will turned toward me and looked me in the eye, his green eyes serious. “You can count on me being there.”
I smiled in relief. “Well, that’s good. So, moving on, how are you going to get to Sean’s camp? I mean if I’m riding your horse there…”
Looking over at Will’s face, I could see no worry, only calmness lining his strong features.
“Oh, that. I’ll run to one of the secret gates and travel on foot to wherever the camp is,” Will replied confidently.
“You’re going to run to one of the gates?! Last night you told me they’re each at least four days travel on a horse away,” I said, a little worry edging my voice.
Will stretched and responded, “I run each morning to help keep me in shape. It’ll be fine, don’t worry.”