Chapter One: The Intruders
A pale face is always a giveaway in certain situations. When you've been pacing around in your room, awaiting the news you neither expect to be good or promising, a speechless warrior bursting through the door into the room is a sure confirmation of your suspicions.
I looked at Cadby whose eyes resembled two glass orbs, his mind far away from where we stood. He slowly nodded his head and my heart dropped as I strode quickly towards the exit, grabbing the sword which lay on the table as I went. I passed Cadby, who stood unknowing of what to do, but he soon snapped out of his trance and followed in my wake, careful not to walk too close to me.
My whole body shook as I picked up the pace, rounding corner after corner of the castle's interior walls - though my home had become more of a prison of late rather than somewhere I was proud of living.
"Princess," I came face to face with Aldrich, the King's most trusted advisor, and his voice forced me to stop in my tracks. "Alana, you cannot fight these men. There are simply too many of them for us to handle."
Giving a sigh of frustration and sheathing my weapon, I replied, "What do you intend we do, Aldrich? Let them take over the whole of Sentariel? Is that a sample of a piece of useful advice you gave to my father before he was killed? And now to my brother?" I pushed past him, but Cadby, still behind me, dared to grab my wrist so I couldn't move. "Release me!" I protested, uselessly trying to pry his vice-like grip from my skin.
"Alana, he's right. We'll soon be getting other warriors to help us, but you're no use to us dead. They want you," Cadby reasoned with me, pain in his black eyes. "You have to go," he whispered, slackening his grip, letting his arm drop to his side. "You have to."
"Where do I go?" I asked him, my voice hoarse as I attempted to withhold tears. "Why do they want me?"
"You're the key to getting Damien on the throne. He marries you, and there's nothing we can do to stop him taking over Sentariel. I'm sending you through the Mountains of Urnguard; you'll be escorted to the Elven city of Daeronetil. You'll be safe there - we have allies." He finished speaking just as a shrill scream shattered my eardrums; a scream filled with terror. Closing my eyes, I tried to force the memories of my Mother falling to the ground out of my mind, just as a novice warrioress hurried around the corner, face as pale as the moon.
"They're here - in the castle," she said to Aldrich, shaking.
"Enough to harm our defences if we don't act now. Two of ours are dead already."
As Aldrich cursed under his breath, Cadby addressed her in a hurried tone, "Tell the troops to prepare for immediate battle." She nodded and turned on her heel, disappearing back the way she came. "Alana, go with Aldrich, he's going to try to find Everand. He'll take you to Daeronetil-"
"Goodness, no! Father would have protested!" I replied angrily, remembering the guard who was exiled for being with my mother when she died. I realised that he'd done nothing wrong - his biggest crime was being too slow to stop the arrow piercing the Queen's heart - but that didn't stop the King blaming him for his Wife's death. Before then he was always by my father's side - treated like a son, no less - and that bothered me. With my brother being as individual as one could be, King Orwick favoured Everand as he would his own child, leaving no room for my affections. Leaving no room for me at all.
"Your Father isn't here anymore, Alana!" Cadby gave me a slight shake "and he'd want what's best for his daughter, and right now that's to get you out of here alive and well. Everand can make this possible."
"If you wish to remain alive, you will follow Aldrich."
"Why can't you take me?" I desperately asked Cadby.
"Everand was exiled - he knows the mountains of Urnguard like the back of his hand. No more questions, please. They're here and we need to get you out."
I stood still, my mind racing, and in the distance I heard the roars of fierce fighters and clanking metal; our warriors defending their kingdom. What type of Princess would I be if I let them die in vain? Doing what was wished of me, I nodded and Aldrich started to run down the corridor. As I followed him, the battle cries became distant and we descended a set of stone stairs into the dungeons - a place I'd never been before.
We walked past dozens of vacant metal cages - mostly unneeded in such a thriving Kingdom where thievery wasn't a last resort and murder was unconsidered - though we occasionally passed a shrivelled man whose age resulted in the loss of his mind which led to frenzied and violent actions. I pitied these men; how unhappy must one be to perform such unrighteous acts against God's will? Above all, I feared that I myself would become a mere shadow of my former self - becoming no better than the men behind bars, repeatedly murmuring unclear words to themselves.
At the end of the cell block came a corridor filled with suits of armour, perfectly still yet menacing in their appearance; the dim orange glow of the candles on the walls forced their shadows to dance behind them, fading and reappearing as we strode past.
A groan, loud enough to force a scream from me, echoed down the stone corridor, and a man stumbled into sight, bursting through the wooden doors ahead of us. The man was middle-aged and wearing simple villagers clothes; he had a long, matted grey beard which hung down to his collar bone. A hand was raised to his left eye and blood seeped out of the wound his wrinkled fingers were shielding. After a moment of his desperate groans, each time increasing in volume and urgency, they finally ceased and he keeled over, falling forwards. As he hit the ground with a loud thump, I saw an arrow sticking out of his back; the arrow that killed him.
"They know the underground routes," Aldrich stood still a moment before swearing loudly. Behind the dead man's corpse entered another man; his bow and arrow were aimed towards us, but he hastily lowered his weapons and gave a curt bow.
"Princess," he addressed me discourteously, the resentment clear
in his tone, though I could not yet make out his face in the dim
light. "I'd assumed you were already dead." He walked towards
Aldrich into the light and they warmly greeted each other,
shaking hands and then smiling at each other. "Oh dear, Al," the
man said with a chuckle. "In your letters you never said how old
"I haven't told you a lot in those letters. It's only been 3 years, Everand, and I can't say those years have been particularly kind to you either!"
"No matter, I'm still alive. I have to say, though," he took a fleeting glance at the cobwebs and suits of armour in the dungeon, "I admire the change in decor - much better than golden goblets and diamond-crested cutlery."
I frowned. "You were banished."
"Yes," Everand replied, looking at me as if I'd lost my mind - perhaps I did belong in a cage after all. "So?"
"You're in the castle," I said, ignoring the slight smirk on his dirty, bearded face.
"I'm sure your father would allow it, considering these circumstances."
"My father's dead." Tears threatened to emerge from my prickling eyes as my heart thudded against my ribcage. "And how did you know to meet us here?"
"The King's dead?" Everand's brows furrowed, with sadness blatant in his blue eyes.
Ignoring his attempts to compose himself, I asked again. "How did you know to meet us here?"
"I - Aldrich told me that this would be happening soon. As soon as I received his letter I waited on the outskirts of the city. It wasn't long until I saw them coming towards the castle and decided to take the underground route." His eyes were twinkling under the candlelight as he replied, but he cleared his throat and shook his head slightly, dismissing whatever thoughts were crossing his mind.
"You know where to take her?" Aldrich spoke hurriedly, nudging me towards him.
"Of course I do." Everand sighed and grabbed the top of my arm, spinning me around and leading me back the way he came from. I took a desperate glance back at Aldrich who seemed concerned before Everand closed the doors behind us and drew us into complete darkness.