She sat on her chair wearing her usual tight robes that delicately covered her, yet revealed her attractive form. An Officer approached her and upon stopping he knelt before her on one knee and bowed his head in reverence. "Princess," He spoke with great care to keep his tone in check at all times, "I have come as you requested." The Princess uncrossed her legs and stood close to the officer allowing her long hair drape over her shoulders before coming it back behind her ear with her hand. She always found a pretext to call in her most faithful warrior, her most cherished soldier.
"Prepare an escort party, I wish to eat near the mountains to the east by the border," She spoke in her soothing yet strong voice, "I wish to see the sun set behind the valleys." He respected her too much to look up, even though it was allowed after the princess addressed someone. She noticed his reluctance which disappointed her, since she took pleasure in seeing his radiant face. He was the closest thing to a friend that she has ever had. They both have been through a lot together in her travels. He knew her as no other, and she saw in him more than just another officer of the royal guard.
She reached out to his chin with her hands, skin contact was considered an honor not to be denied. She knew that he would not resist her. She gently tilted his head upwards slow enough for his gaze to steadily climb up to her hazel eyes that reflected the blue in his uniform. "I will do as you wish my princess," He said. His words left a desire in her, if only he could treat her the way she wished. As just a friend a real friend to be with. She has managed to take him to many great sights and have him enjoy the luxuries that he would not enjoy otherwise. Their conversations were always long but engaging.
"Please rise," the princess spoke. The use of that one word always left him confused. She was the Princess, and he a lowly officer. She needed not to beg nor ask. She was his superior in every sense of the word, yet she elevated him to that of her equal. He cautiously rose to his feet as the tip of her fingers stroked across his cheek, down to his shoulder where her hand rested.
"When will you be leaving?" the officer asked.
"We will leave tonight," she responded with a smile stretching across her mesmerizing face.
"I will make the preparations immediately, your highness," he stated waiting for her to dismiss him. She waited, her hand on his shoulder, she wished to hug him, but that might seem to others as if she was using him for other less admirable reasons. She often saw normal people, common folk greet friends with a hug. Something she desired, but surrounded by royalty and countless mindless servants that would allow her to cut off their arms if she so wished, has left her trapped unable to express her feelings for her only friend. An unrequited friendship, or was it something more than that?
She carefully removed her arm and said, "You may go." He bowed before her lowering his torso almost parallel to the floor. He backed up as customary until he got to the right distance and turned. Leaving her alone with the drones she was taught to treat as objects and not people.
Enough was enough, one day she would escape it all...and take him with her. She would then be able to do everything she wanted, as all young women her age did out in the world. But time was running out for the Princess, for the King was ready to strike a deal with another King, and marry her off to a stranger that she never met. Never to see her friend again.
The Tree's smelled the same sweet mint as always. She rode on a horse, after nearly having to threaten her knight into letting her, down the old trails that led deep into the forest behind the castle. The soft wind blew her long silky hair about. She managed to ride her horse up to the front of the escort where Atzel, her friend and commander of the royal guard, was. He felt her approach prompting him to speak, "I wish you would stay in the center, Princess." Alethia defiantly rode past him sending a clear message that she would not do as he asked. She turned her head back at him with her hazel eyes casting a greenish color reflecting the green pines. "Are you going to catch up?" She asked as if commanding him to ride beside her. Of course he did not let a second pass before he pressed his legs tightly against his horse's ribs prompting the stallion to speed up.
The two rode side by side well into the evening. They finally cleared the forest to overlook a valley found at the base of the snowcapped mountains. The Sun was silently hiding being them, its light diminishing into a smooth crimson glow that radiated through the clouds bursting into a symphony of red, yellow, and gold flames consuming the heavens. A bright spot held out against all odds, a lonely star that announced the coming of the night when it will be reunited with all of its companions. "We should set up camp here for the night," Atzel said ordering his men to work fast, "Hurry, we only have an hour at most to set it up before it gets dark."
The hour came and passed, the critters of the night sang their song as the stars joined in the rhythm casting a concert of wonders. Alethia could not sleep, she wrestled with herself...something was missing. She was alone, the King suggested that some of her "friends" should go with her, but she ignored that suggestion. She got up from her makeshift bed and walked outside of her tent. The cool night air bit her arms. Her night gown offered little protection only covering her torso and legs down to the knee. She didn't like being stuffed in endless lairs at night, but she considered making an exception for when she traveled.
Atzel spotted his Princess leaving the safety of her tent, he wasted no time in approaching her. "My lady," He spoke, "you shouldn't be out here."
"You worry too much," Alethia responded as she stared up into the night sky, "The only danger I run is getting cold." She grabbed him by the hand and walked towards the fire where another guard stood watch. "Come, let's talk. I can't sleep and there's nothing else to do out here," She said. With a nod she dismissed him the guard next to the fire sat on a log that was placed as a bench next to the fire. Atzel reluctantly complied, he knew better than to argue with her.
"Aren't they beautiful?" She asked, "Imagine all the secrets they know."
"Sometimes I wonder if it is even true what they say," Atzel began to speak, for him to open up in front of her was not easy. But when it happened she knew that they would finally be able to speak frankly with each other. "That they are nothing but candles in the sky."
"What makes you think that?" Alethia asked wondering what he was on about.
"It's just that, they are always there. They do nothing and we are supposed to act as if they decide our fate," he stopped himself short before going on in a rant.
"You're like a silly boy aren't you?" she asked or rather stated as she playfully slapped him in the shoulder, "You've been paying too much attention to those foreigners and their preachers." Atzel blushed for a moment not knowing what to say. Alethia did hope that maybe what those strangers were saying would catch on, that maybe that would bring an end to their senseless traditions and laws that have imprisoned her in a cage of royalty. Maybe...
Aztel's eyes shot up to the side in alert. He unsheathed his sword, catching Alethia by surprise. "What's going on?" She demanded to know.
"Got back inside the tent! We have company!," Atzel whispered a command. Then she heard rustling coming from the trees. The other guards took notice and began unsheathing their own weapons. "Princess! I said go!" Atzel commanded again, that time nearly shouting. Taken aback by his tone, she did as she was told. She got up reluctantly and made her way into the tent, but not before seeing an arrow strike one of her soldiers in the chest. The next thing she noticed was the sound of metal crashing against metal. Atzel was parrying the blows of a bandit's sword. She stared as she saw him kick the bandit's legs from under him and finished him by driving his sword into the man's chest.
They were under attack.
Atzel continued to parry the attacks of the bandit as he carried out blow after blow with his sword. Two high attacks followed by one low attack. He heard the crunching of earth to his back and instinctively pivoted on his heel bringing his foot around whipping at a second bandit's ankle knocking him of his feet. Atzel launched himself at the first bandit's waist shoving him back several feet. He turned with a speed of a lion and delivered a fast kick into the second bandit's unguarded chest then twisted around and drove his sword in him.
Atzel turned in time to parry off the first bandit's attack until he found an opening to strike his face with his elbow. The blow was reciprocated with a kick to the side of his kneecap nearly sending him down on his knees. He drove his sword up the bandit's stomach before losing his head to the man's own sword.
Alethia found herself peeking through a crack in the tent's flaps that covered the entrance. She froze, someone was inside with her. She could smell the scent of a days worth of sweat, the subtle noise of harsh raspy breathing through someone's mouth. She slowly and casually reached into her gown's buttoned opening. She felt a hand on her shoulder violently jerking her around. The man smiled as if he found himself a prize. He pulled her by her hair off to the side and forcefully held her in a tight hug pressing his chapped lips against hers.
The next thing he knew was striking pain spreading from his lower abdomen. His eyes shot Alethia a knowing stare realizing that his death was getting closer with each breath. He tried to hold himself up propping his weakening body against hers. She pulled out the small dagger she used to stab him as he collapsed to the floor. Alethia wiped her mouth in disgust. She then heard the entrance flap move and someone else come in. She turned to find Atzel standing there. He took a quick glance at the dead man on the floor and then at Alethia.
"We have to go," Atzel alerted his princess, "There's too many of them." The sounds of dying men and clashing metal were as loud as ever. Atzel took Alethia by the arm and pulled her outside. They quickly dashed through the cold night into the forest, the shrubs and branches whipped harshly against Alethia's bear arms and legs. She didn't know what was going on, the sounds of battle got less and less distinguishable until it finally became silent again. They managed to somehow escape.
They finally stopped to rest. Alethia panted heavily and was almost surprised that Atzel was breathing practically normally. "Who were they?" she asked.
"Mercenaries," Atzel answered, "There's too many and they were too well organized to be bandits.
"We got away way too easily," Atzel spoke alarmed, "I think I just dragged you into a trap Princess." Without wasting any time, three men with bow and arrows showed up from their hiding place. One of them shouted something out loud; it must have been a code. Atzel went for his sword.
"I wouldn't do that if I were you," came the voice of another off in the distance. It was a man in knight's armor. Atzel realized what was going on. They walked into the start of a military operation. They were the first prisoners of a new war.
It wasn't long before the guards returned to the dreadful dungeon where Alethia and Atzel were being kept. "Princess Alethia," one of the guards called out as he opened the cell's door with their swords drawn. Alethia got up at the same time pushing Atzel down before he had the chance to rush the guards in an attempt to escape. He shot her disapproving and inquisitive a look, and she responded with a sly smile. She had a plan of her own.
The guards led Alethia up several stairs and then through lavish halls lined with countless artwork. Statues of smooth marble, pictures framed by brilliant golden frames. It was obvious that she was in a castle. She made sure to note every corner, every turn and every person she passed. Every foot step was heard clearly, and an echo ringed through the air.
They finally arrived inside a room filled with luxurious furniture and several doors. Everything was neatly placed to receive dignitaries. And in that room, a tall man dressed in royal garb awaited her. "Forgive me for the method of your arrival Princess Alethia," he spoke in a soft tone, "I have prepared a bath for you to wash in. You will be staying here."
Alethia began to walk around examining every item in the room. She got to the table that was set up with two chairs, and a bowl of fresh fruit in the center. She looked at the fruit and picked up an apple. "I don't suppose you intend to let me go then," she spoke, "there's one thing you should know about me. I do not like being used for petty squabbles." Alethia stared right at him intently waiting for him to respond. She knew who he was, Count Sheran of the Catsov. He is an arrogant and self loving man who spends his days plotting his next move. He felt sure of himself, like a god among men.
"It does not matter what you like. You'll do as you're told," he told her and walked towards the door. Alethia quickly shouted back, "I will never listen to you, who could listen to a man who can't perform?" There was a rumor of his inabilities, and Alethia knew about it. Sheran turned on his heals and approached Alethia. She shot low and hit him where it hurts, and now he was angry. He grabbed her by her hair and pulled down. Alethia held on tightly to his hand.
"Listen here," he spoke aggressively, "you will learn your place, a woman's place. Never, ever speak out of line again!" He released her and waited for her to apologize.
"Ha!" Alethia mocked him, "Some man you are. You can't please women and you can't even keep yourself composed. What's wrong? Did I hurt your feelings?" She smiled at seeing the fire in his eyes. She knew him before, her father almost married her off to him had she not protested so harshly she would have ended up beside a bloody man and a knife in her hands, in fact that's the argument she used to convince her father to not marry her off.
"GUARDS!" he shouted, "Take this insolent woman back to her cage! She'll be there until she learns her place!"
The guards took Alethia back, and threw her inside the cell. She landed in Atzel's arms before hitting the dark mucky ground. "Princess," he spoke in a scolding tone, "Forgive me if I am being so rash to ask, but why on Earth did you stop me from attacking them?"
"Because I knew they would take me to a guest room. I know where we are now, and I know the layout. Now we don't have to escape blindly," She responded as she remained in his arms.
"Oh," Atzel responded sheepishly.
"It's okay, I forgive you," Alethia spoke with a smile, joking.
Alethia still found herself in his arms, it was the closest to a hug that she may ever have from him. She noticed that the moment was quickly becoming awkward and finally pushed herself away from Atzel's strong arms. She walked over to the old rusty bars keeping them from freedom.
"Would it be too much to ask for a full set of cloths in here!?" Alethia shouted. They both heard footsteps approaching.
"Now for your part," Alethia said. Atzel nodded as Alethia made her way to the far side of the cell and lay down on the ground. Atzel caught on and rushed over to her, he began to act nervous and worried at the same time. By then two scruffy guards arrived and questioned Atzel. They decided to inspect the Princess on their own and unsheathed their swords.
"Move away from her," The bigger guard commanded Atzel who promptly obeyed. The guard opened the door and walked in cautiously as the second approached Atzel with his sword ready to draw blood. The first guard knelt down beside Alethia and placed his hand by her throat in an attempt to gauge her pulse. Her left hand quickly wrapped itself around the guard's wrist. She then used her right arm along with her body to shift her weight so that her legs would wrap themselves around his back. She quickly pulled on his hair with her right arm lifting herself off the ground. At this point the guard lost his balanced and crashed onto the dirty floor and rolled to the left. But by then Atzel managed to swing his newly acquired sworn right across the guard's right arm that held his sword. Once Alethia got up, Atzel gave the guard the final fatal blow with his sword.
Alethia looked over to the side and saw the second guard lying limb with a puddle of blood surrounding him.
"Here," Atzel said handing over one of the swords to Alethia.
"You're handing me a sword?" Alethia inquired as she took hold of the heavy and long weapon. The sword wasn't alien to her, but the situation was.
"I know you're good at many things, my Princess," Atzel said. He's seen her beat some of his men at sword fights in the past, "You are a lady of many talents."
"Thank you," Alethia smiled as she took the sword. She appreciated his confidence in her, his respect. However she still did not feel adequate enough to actually be in a real sword fight, but she wouldn't dream of telling her overprotective knight any of that. It was a miracle that he decided to actually hand her a weapon.
"Promise me you'll only use it as a last resort, I'll do all fighting," Atzel said crushing Alethia's thoughts about being respected by him. He was, after all, just another babysitter. Atzel brushed by her out into the dark corridor. He stepped back in to let her in on his plans, but she had another idea and walked passed him down the corridor.
"Princess!" Atzel whispered rather loudly, "what are you doing!?" Alethia turned around and walked right up to him, he recognized the look she gave him. She was annoyed, and that perhaps wouldn't matter if she was just any other woman. He had the authority to issue her commands if it was for her safety, but that was useless. When she got annoyed not a power on earth could compel her to do anything she didn't wish to do. "We're going to sneak around the main stairway to the first floor via the service tunnels," Alethia spoke, "from there we'll find a room and change our clothes and sneak out."
Alethia stood with her legs spread out ready to fight, and her left hand on her hip with the right hand grasping the sword pointing it down to the ground.
"No," Alethia interrupted Atzel's protest, "We'll do this my way, I know the layout of this place and I know the secret passages." The two stared at each other intently, it was the battle of wills at this point.
"That's actually a good plan," Atzel finally gave in with smile, "Must you always find the harshest way to suggest things to me?"
Alethia smiled victoriously. "How else am I supposed to get you to fight with me?" she answered and moved off to the side so he could lead. One thing that Atzel learned about his Princess, she likes a good argument and welcomes the challenge to be proven wrong. She is more than willing to give in when she is wrong, however she is often right about many things. Atzel took the lead and walked down the dark corridor heading off to the left passage that was shrouded in darkness.
The faint light created by the torch that Atzel carried illuminated the dark old unused passages that he and Alethia walked through. Their steps were the only sound they heard along with the gentle cracking of the flame. Alethia stared intently at Atzel's back thinking about his strong arms that embraced her earlier when she was thrown into the cell.
Atzel had his sword in hand and Alethia had her own as well, she hated that such a wonderful trip was ruined by man like Count Sheran. It was men like him that made her detest them for their arrogance and general stupidity. But it was men like Atzel, who reminded her that not all of them were the same. Atzel, although annoyingly overprotective, recognized her strengths and even gives in to them. Now they were forced to wonder the secret passages that connected the lower levels of the Castle to the ground levels.
Atzel stopped and cleared some cobwebs revealing a lever. He turned around and faced Alethia, he almost lost his breath as his gaze met Alethia. He always thought of his Princess as a beautiful lady, but he never quite saw her in a way that attracted him to her. Her round hazel eyes reflected the gold of the fire. Her lips tightly pressed but full reminded him of her smile, the widest most jovial smile he had ever seen. Everything about her, her long strait brown hair and slender body was highlighted in that passage.
"Well?" Alethia wispered breaking the awkward silence.
"Forgive me Princess," Atzel apologized bringing himself back to their situation, "I found a lever that may lead outside into the main ground level."
"Open it then," Alethia said in a low voice. Atzel nodded and cranked the lever. A portion of the wall inched open with a space just big enough for them to squeeze through. Atzel set the torch into a hole in the wall that seemed to be made just for that purpose. He squeezed his way through cautiously and scanned the area. The white hall, the bright light coming through the tall windows burned his eyes for a moment. By the time his sight recovered he saw Alethia pass right by him and toke a left down the adjacent corridor.
Alethia ran into a lone guard who stood still shocked at what he was seeing. He believed that he ran into some peasant intruder, oddly wearing a silk night gown stained with blood.
"Halt!" the guard demanded. He didn't notice Alethia's sword until it found its way next to his throat. Alethia walked closer to him, he stood still. She got up to a foot away from him and smiled mischievously. "What are you planning?" Atzel asked as he walked up beside her with his own sword drawn. She turned her head slightly to the side. "You'll see," She responded and then faced the guard, "Turn around slowly and lead us to Count Sheran's room."
The guard complied and slowly walked down the corridor took a right and went up a flight of stairs. They all finally arrived at the room, the guard assured them that it was vacant, so Alethia had him open it. Upon getting inside Atzel knocked the guard out and closed the door behind them.
"I guess I'll find the count's wardrobe," Atzel said. But Alethia placed her hand on his shoulder and nodded. "No," she said, "We need to wash up first and fast." Atzel was about to ask about her, he doubted that the count had any lady's clothing around. "He has a dress he expected me to try on earlier," Alethia commented anticipating Atzel's question. She pointed over to a chair near a partition that was used to change one's clothes in privacy.
They spent several minutes washing up, Alethia got dressed after washing herself and while Atzel did the same. Then he dressed up. He had a lavish suit on, colorful and adorned in medals with a slash that held Castov's seal. He hated it.
"This looks like if I was an insecure man trying to overcompensate," Atzel made his displeasure known. Alethia laughed at his words. "Just don't tell the poor fool that, he'll throw a fit," she said. Atzel came out from behind the partition to find Alethia dressed in a long green dress. It had a stylish golden belt securing it the dress to her waist while also making the curvature of her waist and midriff slightly visible. Her long hair was combed behind her. They both looked at each other and simultaneously said, "Let's get out of here."
After turning through the last corridor and getting stared at by a dozen different people, Atzel and his Princess Alethia finally made it outside of the castle and into the front courtyard. The gate was visible up ahead and near it were a dozen horses tied and guarded. Alethia told Atzel that they were on an eastern Castle near the borders between her kingdom and Catsov.
The cool breeze blew Alethia's light and long brown hair against Atzel's ears. They walked with their arms interlocked as if a couple, Alethia firmly held on to Atzel and at times bumped him with her hip purposefully. "Are you enjoying our ordeal?" Atzel asked, "Princess." Alethia then just turned and smiled, "I think they just recognized us."
Immediately Atzel spun around and unsheathed his sword as the guards attacked. Alethia stepped off to the side as Atzel swung his sword up and high into the first guard's shoulder. The guard managed to block the strike and his partner delivered a low swing aiming for Atzel's legs. Being ignored by the second guard, Alethia took out a long dagger and threw herself at the guard impaling his side with the dagger. She pushed him as she pulled the blood drenched dagger out.
Two more Guards, from the area where the horses were kept, sprinted towards the fight. Atzel parried two blows from the first guard and spun on his heals kicking the guard's feet off the ground and plunging his sword into the fallen guard's chest ending his life.
"The horses!" Atzel shouted as the blaring sound of the castle's bells rang. Alethia turned toward him and nodded in understanding. The yelling of the guards calmed down as Count Sheran showed up with a platoon of troops from the side entrance on horseback. Atzel quickly attacked the two horse guards diving low with his sword and swinging high. The risky maneuver caught the men off guard. He managed to take them down within seconds. Alethia made her sprint to the horses.
Atzel made his way towards Alethia as she untied the beasts, but an arrow hit the ground a few feet ahead of him, it was the troops. Atzel cursed as he ran back towards the downed guards and stole their swords. He threw them at the three archers that accompanied that platoon of foot soldiers. They managed to avoid them but that allowed Atzel to run into their formation. With his sword he shoved aside the two pikes that the soldiers used to try to stop him.
Atzel worked his sword into the chest of both soldiers and kicked at the hand of a third soldier who tried to repay him in kind. He found himself stuck, surrounded by a dozen enemy troops. He hoped that Alethia managed to run off through the open entrance, his hopes were shattered with he still saw her green dress of to the side.
While Atzel was busy dealing with the soldiers, Alethia found herself with the despicable Count. He jumped of his high horse with his sword drawn and merely inches from her shoulder.
"You finally decided," Sheran spoke eying Alethia's dagger and laughed, "Imagine that, a woman fighting. I'd be more scared of a monkey throwing stones." Alethia narrowed her eyes, she could no longer hear Atzel fighting, she only had one choice. "You win," Alethia spoke in defeat and stared at the ground.
Sheran lowered his sword and took a step forward and kicked the dagger away.
"A wise choice," he said after Atzel and Alethia surrendered their weapons, "Perhaps you are ready to learn your place." Alethia extended her left arm and grabbed the count's right hand and pulled at it. She then used her right hand to grab unto his armor as she placed her right foot beside and behind his feet and pushed him down. As he fell she held on him, her knee crashed right into his stomach knocking out the air from his lungs. She then punched him square in the throat causing him to loosen his grip on his sword. She took the weapon from his hands and pressed it against his throat.
"I have, my place is obviously above you," Alethia spoke smiling, "not that it makes much difference since you're not a real man." She stared up and saw the shocked soldiers who did not quite know what happened. She turned around to face the embarrassed and infuriated count. "Tell your men to go inside the castle and leave my knight with me," She ordered. The count shouted telling his men to do what she wanted. Atzel picked up his sword and walked over towards Alethia.
"I'm glad you made me show you that move," Atzel said and pointed his sword at the count as Alethia got up. She mounted his horse and said, "I'll take this as a trophy."
"If I were you I'd run back to your men like the coward you are," Atzel said, "And please do get better clothes." The count got up and sheepishly ran towards the castle shouting at his men to attack. But it was too late for that, by the time his troops made it back outside in mass, Alethia and Atzel rode off into the woods leaving that castle and it's emasculated count behind.
The forest smelled of pine and flowers as Alethia and Atzel rode through it on their newly acquired horses. The slow progression of the sun's descent into the horizon worried Atzel who feared that the night would give the enemy a chance to set up an ambush if they were to stop for a rest. He turned over to face his Princess who was starting to show signs of exhaustion. Despite her tough demeanor she was still not as fit as a royal guard such as himself. She simply did not have the stamina to keep up. She faced him as well as she began to tire to the point where she could no longer conceal it. She read the worried expression on Atzel's face and knew that she had to hide the truth before he decides to do something stupid like resting.
"Princess," Atzel spoke as the horses came close together following a road that surely would lead them into border patrols. However Atzel picked that path in the hopes of running into an advanced recon force from their own army. The shadows casted by the tall trees began grow with intensity as the darkness of the night befell the forest. "Don't think about Atzel," Alethia warned him. But he did not care about any threats she could make or follow through. He stopped his horse and seconds later she did the same turning around to see him on his feet.
"Take your horse and move off the road and head towards your kingdom," Atzel told Alethia, "You'll run into our troops eventually, I'll stay here and buy you some time so that you won't need to over exhaust yourself." Alethia did not like that plan, it meant certain death for Atzel. She got off the horse and walked over to him hopping to convince him that he was being an idiot. "You'll only get yourself killed," she said.
"It doesn't matter, you must live Princess," Atzel responded. He was about to say something else but got interrupted by Alethia's hand which swung at his face leaving his cheek burning in pain. Her slap was hard enough that it sent an echo into the trees.
"No!" she shouted, "I won't leave you here, you're coming with me if I have to knock you out and drag you with me." Atzel was shocked, she never hit him or anyone for that matter, aside from the enemy that is. He saw anger in her stance, but sorrow in her eyes. She truly wanted him to be with him. "If we keep going at this pace not only will you exhaust yourself but your horse will-"
"Shut up," Alethia interrupted Atzel with a low tone. She walked even closer to him and wrapped her arms around his body catching Atzel off guard. She rubbed her face into his shoulder, he reluctantly wrapped his own arms around her. "I don't want you to die," She whispered in his ear, "You said that you'd do anything for me, then do this." He pulled away from her and stared intently into her eyes. Her eyes ate away at his soul, it was that same feeling that he felt in the secret passage back at the castle. A feeling of contemplating unmitigated beauty but it was stained with her sorrow and soft pleas. His most instinctive reaction was to give in, but his training and his own loyalty to the crown held him firm in his decision.
"I can't," Atzel said, "My loyalty is to the crown, to the kingdom. And you're far more important to the kingdom than I am. You are of royal blood and every bet superior to that of mine." Alethia felt that sting again, he still saw her as her title, and nothing more. But deep down she knew that was not true, he just needed something to get out of that stubborn legal barrier that made him such an over protective blind man who couldn't see just how much she wanted each other to be equals, how she wanted to be able to enjoy life with anyone and not just egotistical nobles or pampered bratty winches who would scream at the thought of seeing the smallest of insects.
Alethia shoved Atzel against a nearby tree trunk. He tried to shove his way out but she held him in place with her fierce determination. Her lips touched his, and opened up to exchange a kiss that made Atzel's eyes grow wide open. Her body pressed up against his, he had nowhere to go. He couldn't even breath; the shock was so great that he just stood there receiving the kiss from his Princess. So many things went through his mind.
Alethia finally released him from her grasp leaving him out of breath.
"So did I kiss you any differently than any other woman would?" Alethia asked him making an argument out of the kiss. Atzel was disoriented, confused and unsure of what was even going on. He swallowed and tried to speak. "Yes..." he siad, "wait no, you were, um, are a great kisser. Uh..I mean" Atzel didn't even know what to say. Alethia stepped closer to him and he dashed back. She placed her hands on her hips and cocked an eyebrow.
"Really?" she said, "so what is it? Did you enjoy it? Did the heavens open up and smite you because you kissed a Princess?" She purposefully stood in an aggressive posture with her feet spread out and her hip slightly off to a side. She took two more steps toward the retreating and speechless Atzel.
"Tell me was I not worthy to kiss you?" she asked again and took another step towards him.
"Oh no, your highness," Atzel finally spoke.
"Oh so now I have to be worthy to kiss you?" Alethia purposefully took his response out of context. She took another step and had Atzel backed up against another tree. She amazed herself at what a simple kiss could do and just how much of an effect she had on him. She tried hard not to smile or let her surprise known.
"I...Princess..." Atzel was cornered with no way out.
"Just because I'm a Princess and you are not of noble blood does not mean that I can't like you," Alethia lectured Atzel, "And if I like you that means I don't want you to throw your life away as if it didn't matter. Now stop thinking like an ape and get on that horse and leave with me before that other ape finds us!"
Atzel blinked, still not fully recovered from the shock or the Princess' impressive ability to corner him, one of the best knights of the royal guard like a child caught stealing bread.
"Yes, your highness," was all he was able to say.
"Good, now let's go," Alethia said. They both mounted their respective horses and rode off at a higher speed than before knowing that they have allowed Count Sheran and his men more than enough time to catch up. Their only hope now was to find friendly forces.
"Princess, You need rest" Atzel pleaded as he held Alethia in his arms, they managed to clear the forest but not before the night fell. They crossed the border back into their homeland, but he remembered that in war, Catsov would not respect boundaries.
"No, we're almost there," Alethia responded mustering extra strength from her own fierce will and determination. They sent off the horses in an opposite direction to throw off their pursuers. The stars in the night sky started to break through the prison of sun's diminishing light. The golden disk was lost in the horizon and the last twilight began giving way to an ocean of luminous spots in the night sky. The wind swept by Alethia's hair sending it majestically into into the air pulling on her dress. She turned towards Atzel who began walking up the steep grassy hill.
"Will you take a Princess' hands and help her up?" she asked with her seductive low voice. "Will the Princess grace my lowly hand with hers?" Atzel responded in kind in a deep calm voice. The princess extended her arm towards him, a walk to remember. They helped each other up the hill and back down its far side. They saw a small lingering light off in the distance perhaps a mile away, it was a camp. "That could be one of ours," Atzel said, "Or it can be an enemy advance camp." He stared at her and gently squeezed her hand in his. She responded in kind and walked forward, the decision was made, they would find out themselves.
The knocking sound of hooves on the ground registered in Atzel's trained ears. He closed his eyes in a silent prayer, that the incoming horsemen were friendly. Alethia heard them too, the dark figures came from the side to their left three in total. The air became still, the smell of sweat permeated the area. Alethia withdrew her Daggar and refused to let go of Atzel's hand forcing him to take his sword with the left hand. The horses came to a stop.
"Who goes there!?" the soldier demanded to know.
"Atzel of the Royal Gaurd of the Kingdom of Aldea," Atzel responded to the inquiry. The soldier dismounted his horse and made his way towards Atzel and Alethia. Upon seeing the two close up, he quickly noticed Alethia and dropped to his knees. "Princess Alethia," he spoke, "I am thy humble servant, Lt. James of the fifth cavalry. Regular forces."
Before much of anything else could be done, one of the other fifth cavalry soldiers fell off his horse with an arrow impaled in his chest. Lt. James turned around facing the top of the hill where several silhouettes of cavalry men were found.
"Go back to the camp! Get reinforcements now!" Atzel ordered the third calvery soldier. He pulled his princess over to the two horses. James joined the two, they heard the sound of half a dozen horses riding down the steep hill towards them after six more arrows landed nearby. The first shot was obviously a lucky shot.
"Princess, take the other horse towards the brushes and stay there," Atzel spoke.
"But sir," James interrupted, "shouldn't you escort her back to the camp?" Atzel nodded. "No, we run the risk of getting intercepted. One horse will go unnoticed but two will arouse the enemy," Atzel stared deep into Alethia's eyes. They communicated more than her words, it was as if he could stare deep into her soul. The dark windows called on to him like sirens luring in seamen with their heavenly songs.
Alethia did not want to let go of Atzel's hand, she stared him down. She preferred the safety of his hand to that of the brushes nearby. His lips moved, she remembered their taste, the feel of his strong body as she kissed him in the woods.
"Please," Atzel begged, "Princess." Alethia bit her lips, her eyes could take him down, but she knew that he only wanted her safety She released his hand allowing him to have it his way this one time. She hopped on the horse and rode off. James, confused he was but he cared not to ask questions, sent off the free horse towards the approaching men. They both stood with their swords in hand and watched as the horse got cut down by the enemy. They charged at them driving their swords into the legs of the horses forcing their riders off.
Atzel plunged his sword into one of them men as he got off his injured beast. James parried the attacks of the second one. Three of the remaining horses rounded about to strike them down. Atzel knocked the sword of one of the three to the side and quickly grabbed onto his leg pulling him off and ending his life in one fatal blow.
James took a hit to shoulder and another to his chest, he died fighting strong. Atzel mounted the horse and went after the soldier that took down the lieutenant. He managed to knock him off the horse and trample him. He heard the scream of a wounded man coming from the brushes where he sent his Princess to hide. He rode off towards her and found her with a dagger in hand, filled with blood, but the Count's sword on her neck. A dead soldier on the ground with gushing wound in his chest.
"Your princess fights well," Sheran said, "But she is no soldier, and you're outnumbered." Atzel turned around and saw a platoon of foot soldiers coming around the hill. Alethia stared at him as if to say that at least they fought back. But there was more behind that expression on her face. So much more that was to be said.
After Sheran had Atzel remove his weapons he released Alethia to one of his soldiers. The Soldier took her away, but not before she glared her eyes deep into Sheran's own eyes. The glare sent chills down his spine, a reaction that he hid. He was relieved that he never married her, she would have made his life miserable and she probably would have killed him. It was an unsettling feeling, feeling threatened by a woman. The wind blew cold air against his face bringing him back to reality.
"You will not get away with this," Atzel said. An archer aimed an arrow at his head behind him keeping him from making any move against the count's life. He cautiously moved off to the side angling closer towards the archer. With a slight glance he saw his Princess being restrained by the soldier who clumsily left his sword sheathed on his left hip.
"Are you expecting your reinforcements? I already dispatched two companies to attack the camp," Count Sheran said as he walked closer towards Atzel turning his back to Alethia. "They'll be far too busy to send any help," Sheran kept taunting him. Atzel inched another step closer to the archer, this time too close for his comfort. Atzel in one swift move swung his arm behind him grabbing the tip of the arrow with his hands pulled it out flipped it in his hands and stabbed the archer in the neck.
Alethia saw that and decided that she should make her own move. She grabbed the soldier's sword with her left hand and lifted her left leg in the air. She brought it crashing down on the soldier's knee kicking it back. The soldier let go of her arms allowing her to pull out the sword and with one swift cut killed him.
Atzel took the bow and an arrow from the dead archer and shot another soldier leaving only five more nearby not counting the other five that were guarding the flank. Two of them ran at Alethia while the other three ran towards him. Sheran unsheathed his sword to attack Atzel however three horsemen rode right in front of Sheran's path knocking him over. The horsemen turned and made their way towards Alethia striking at the three soldiers that were running towards Atzel.
Atzel turned his sights at Sheran determined to take him out but was forced to shoot one of the three soldiers that managed to avoid the horsemen. Atzel quickly ducked and rolled grabbing the archer's small sword after nearly losing his head to Sheran's sword. He got back up on his feet and blocked another attack.
Alethia blocked one of the two soldier's strikes with her newly acquired sword. The blow almost sent her flying back, she was exhausted, she was no soldier. But she kept her ground. She noticed the three horsemen dismount their horses and unsheathed their own long and heavy swords. They were from the fifth cavalry. They stood guard as the other five soldiers finally arrived and fought them off. No one was there to come to her aid. The dark concealed her identity, had they known she was there, they would have came to her first.
Alethia was forced to block two more strikes before the soldier managed to knock the sword out of her hands. He stood with his sword ready to strike but hesitated confused as to whether or not he would be praised for killing the princess or punished. She took the one singular moment of hesitation and jumped at the soldier tackling him to the ground. She wrestled with his right arm trying to pry his sword away from him. The soldier rolled over propping himself on top of her determined to subdue her. She responded by lifting her waist up by pushing with her feet and legs. The move ruined the soldier's balanced. She pulled on his shirt to the side and down onto the ground. She delivered fast and hard punch into his neck knocking his Adam's apple into the back of his throat. She finally pried the sword from him and stood. She shut her eyes and drove it into his chest.
She turned around and saw Atzel engaged in a fierce duel with Sheran. She ran up to the two and stood with her sword in hand. Atzel saw her and was confused at first but then realized that she wanted to fight him. He ignored her, she was too brave for her own good, he thought as he delivered two strong upper shots and one low quick strike with his sword. Sheran was starting to lose the upper hand, so he side stepped to the left and dashed to the right to gain some distance from Atzel.
Unfortunately for Sheran, he didn't notice that he dashed within two meters of Alethia. She took her chance and swung her sword at Sheran's head hitting him with the flat side of the sword. The blow shattered his jaw knocking him off his feet. Atzel stood and watched nearby as he witnessed the shocked man force himself back to his feet. Sheran let out a foul curse. He swung his sword at her head but ended up swinging lower than he wanted to. His sights were off, he was still dizzy from the blow. Alethia easily avoided the sword and swung her own at Sheran's right hand severing several of his fingers. With a wail his sword dropped to the ground.
Alethia dropped her sword and punched the count in the face. She then grabbed him by his armor and delivered a heavy blow with her knee right into his gut and a second one with her knee between his legs. With that it was over, the poor count was hunched on his side on the ground in pain. Though whether he suffered more from the wounds inflected by Alethia's swords, or the knee he received in his groin or his ego was anyone's guess.
The next morning Alethia woke up in a lavish tent. She almost forgot last night's events. A detachment from the king arrived to take her to the main camp. She got up and got dressed. The palace servants were as obedient and silent as always. She gave up trying to strike conversation with them ages ago.
"Princess," Atzel called from outside the partition that defined her room, "May I come in?"
"Yes Atzel," she answered. Atzel walked in now dressed in his blue uniform and battle armor. He looked a lot more comfortable in it than inside the clothes of a discredited noble. "You should hear what they've been saying about you," Atzel said.
"Oh really? What have they been saying?" Alethia asked knowing that by now word about her fight with the count was known to half the kingdom.
"That you have the warrior trapped inside the body of a Princess," Atzel answered. But he was not interested in talking about her image.
"In all fairness, you weakened that man. By the time I got to him he was tired," Alethia said. She noticed the look on his face. His eyes darted away from hers, and not in the old respectful manner either. He had something on his mind, and she knew what it was. He couldn't help but notice that she wore the same tight dress as the day when she told him to prepare their ill fated voyage. Her radiant eyes called towards him, her body sang to his soul as she walked up to him and held his hands in hers. They were so close that they could feel each other's breath gently passing over their lips. Her hazel eyes stared intently into his own dark eyes. He licked his lips and bit them after words.
"We can't," He finally broke the silence, "You are to be married."
"Atzel, the last person that tried to marry me against my will lost several of his fingers and probably the ability to procreate," Alethia smiled as she made that last comment, "I'll see to it that my father learns not to use me as a treaty." She moved her lips to connect with his, but he backed away.
"I can't," he said.
"And why can't you?" came the deep loin like voice from the entrance. Atzel turned around and got down on his knee. "Your Majesty," he said, "Forgive me."
"I know my daughter, I know the affect she can have on men," The King spoke as he walked in, "The truth is that I have undervalued her. Ever since I got word of her kidnapping I regretted imposing myself on her." The king stared at his daughter and embraced her.
"You will always be my little Princess," the king spoke, "But I have to learn that you have strength in you that I cannot contain. I called off the marriage."
"Father?" Alethia was astonished
"You are free to choose whomever you wish to be your husband," the king announced.
"Atzel, get up you foolish man!" she shouted in joy. Atzel stood up and faced her. She took his hand and stared at her father, the message was clear. Atzel was to be hers, he smiled awkwardly back at Alethia and the king.
"Fortunately he is the only man in this kingdom that can handle you," The king said, "I wouldn't have any other man, he kept you safe. He'll do."
"Your Majesty?" Atzel spoke, "Surely you know that I am not of royal blood."
"You'll do well not to speak like that again," the king said with a smile on his face. "As of today I have decided to finally do away with the old traditions," he continued on, "It is what my Queen would have wanted to, sadly I've been too stubborn to listen even after she died. I'll leave you two alone, and Alethia don't be too rough on him."
The King walked out having said his piece. Alethia smiled at Atzel, she gave him the same pleading look with her eyes that she did back in that forest when they kissed. "Please don't look at me like that Princess," Atzel spoke, "It makes me feel so small in your presence." Alethia just smiled.
"Then do as you're told," She responded. She needed no words for Atzel understood his orders. Her eyes attracted his body and this time he pressed himself against her and delivered a heartfelt kiss. She wrapped her arms around him feeling his strong body and pulled back her head. She stared into his eyes and saw a kind soul inside of them. They were alike in that fashion. She too had a strong exterior, but inside dwelled the gentle spirit that was in desperate need of her Prince for protection and comfort.
Outside stood the King, still questioning his decision, but in the end, he too was a knight like Atzel. And he too found a Princess of his own. Only that Atzel is not a chauvinist like he was, he would be a better husband for that reason. The two would make a powerful pair. Nothing could stand in their way.