Tensions reach their peak and war breaks out. Kyla meets the mysterious Prince...
|Kyla Marie Harrington didn’t look up from her washing as the horseman came galloping through the village. The rider pulled sharply on the reins as he reached the village square and leapt off the horse’s back. He strode up the few steps to the announcement point and started to bellow out his message from memory. She looked up as snippets of his speech filtered into her thoughts. “Prince Nicholas… escaped… able men… war… Desarnavia… names… immediately.” She glanced up in surprise; the Prince had been arrested two weeks ago. She wondered what he could have done to get mentioned again so soon. Leaving her washing on the river bank, she ran over to the messenger. “What has happened to the Prince?” The man, who was a lot more intimidating than he had seemed from the safety of the river, turned, “Did you not listen? I just shouted it out for the whole village to hear and you want me to repeat it?” Even as he said it, she noticed a humorous glint in his emerald eyes. Maybe he wasn’t quite as threatening after all. He sighed, but repeated his announcement to her. He told her that Prince Nicholas had escaped from his confinement in prison and was now looking for all able men to join his rebel army and help rage war on the pretenders on the Desarnavian throne. To aid the campaign, the messenger would stay in the village until sunset to gather names. Those who signed up would leave immediately as these where dangerous times and the element of surprise was crucial if they were to defeat the Desarnavian army at all quickly. She thanked him and returned to her washing, deciding not to tell her family and hoping that they hadn’t already heard. As she finished the last garment, she noticed how young the horseman was; he could only have been a few years older than she was, and she had just turned 17. Kyla had a thought; if he was gathering soldiers for the Prince, then surely he was going to fight too. But he was so young! She gathered up the damp clothes and, as she passed him on her way home, asked him if he really was going to fight for the Prince. “Of course”, he replied, squaring his shoulders, “it is a great cause to fight for!” “But what if you die?” She asked, the thought out before she could stop it. “It would be an honour to fight or die for such a great cause”, he replied, his deep voice trembling slightly with fear.
When Kyla awoke the next morning, it was to find the noise drifting up to the cottage from the village abnormally muted. It took her a moment to remember that most of the men would have gone to fight for Prince Nicholas; this was a region that would do anything to be free from the wrath of Desarnavia. She was secretly relieved that her father was disabled from a previous war, and that her brother was far away on a swordsman apprenticeship, as it meant she would lose neither if the Prince was wrong. She murmured a prayer for the other men who had left to join the fight, and then started to get ready for the busy day ahead. As she walked into town that afternoon, she was struck by how quiet it truly was; there were only women going about their daily business and few people were speaking to each other. She hurriedly bought the items she needed, although some shops, like the blacksmith, were closed as they could only be run by the very men that had gone to fight. As she was walking back up the lane towards her house, the whole ground shivered as a series of rumbling explosions echoed through the hills, fields and valleys. She quickly hurried home, just as her mother rushed out of their front door, all set for heading to town. “Your father has sent me down to the village to find out what is happening, but you will be faster than I, and I need to stay here to care for your father. Go, quickly now, and see what has transpired.” They both put their hands over their ears as another series of resounding blasts shook the land. Kyla hurried back into town just as a blood-splattered messenger arrived from the opposite direction; the direction of the smoke, of the cries of dying men, and of the battlefields. She rushed up to him, “What has happened? What is the news?” The messenger leapt off his chestnut mount and, brushing her aside, strode towards the village hall. “There will be no one there”, she called after him, hoping to prove her authority after the way he had so casually disregarded her, “they have all gone to fight for the Prince”. The messenger sighed, “That is why I am here”, he said. “Prince Nicholas’s army was met only one hour ride from here by the might of the Desarnavian army. It seems there was a spy in our forces and our location was leaked to them. They came at us with heavy artillery and cannons, so they must have been lying in wait for us for a quite some time. Several dozen men are injured and this is the nearest place that can offer help. There may be many more injured, so we must use your hall as a hospital. Prepare the healers immediately.” “Wait”, she called. The messenger was already back in the saddle of his stallion, but looked down at her irritably as he ran a hand through his curly black hair. Kyla found herself wondering what it would feel like to run her own hand through the hair of this handsome stranger. “What?” he said rudely, shattering her daydream. “Do we not get a say in this?” she asked, deciding she much preferred the young, kinder messenger from the day before. She prayed he wasn’t one of the many injured or dead. The messenger snorted, “No, the Prince needs and so you will provide. Only men have valuable opinions on such serious matters, and I don’t see any of them around to help you.” He glared around the deserted heart of the village, as if to prove his point beyond argument. She’d lost and they both knew it. “Now go and get the healers,” he smirked down at her. With that, the messenger turned and rode off in the direction of the guns. By now it was nearly dark, but Kyla was too annoyed by the messenger’s words to care and strode after him without thinking of the consequences, or even why she was going after him at all.
Half an hour later, she was starting to seriously regret her decision. It was too dark to see properly, there was a moist chill in the air, and there were unnatural howls and whimpers up ahead. Just as she was about to turn back and try to find her way home in the oncoming fog, she felt a gloved hand clamp over her mouth. Another quickly followed around her waist. A deep, strongly-Desarnavian voice muttered gleefully in her ear, “Oh, you’re not a deserter, are you? Well, I can’t just let you go, can I now? No, no, no. Finders, keepers. Lucky me.” He laughed quietly to himself. She tried to scream in horror as the large, muscled form pushed her to the ground and roughly shoved a handkerchief in her mouth. She groaned I protest at the thoughts of where the square of cotton had probably been before ending up in her mouth. Her protests got louder as he moved his hand from her waist, slipped it under her petticoats and began to run it up her leg. “No”, she tried to say through the material and shook her head vigorously. However, this only seemed to entertain him and he let out a cold, harsh laugh. Then she felt something sharp and razor thin on her cheek and realised that this man would happily kill her if she refused him. He was about to get his prize, when a voice she thought she knew called out from nearby, “Who goes there?” She felt the man tense and seized her chance. Using all the energy she could muster, she thrashed about under the weight still resting heavily on top of her and tried to scream for help, but the handkerchief made her gag and she could barely breathe. She thought it hadn’t worked, but then the weight on top of her grunted and was pulled off with force. As she slowly recovered, she lay still and listened to the scuffling and grunts of the Desarnavian man and her rescuer (or was it rescuers, she wondered) as they scrabbled in the grass. There was a final grunt and then a thud as one of the men collapsed to the ground. Kyla lay in the cold, damp grass, terrified in case the Desarnavian had won. “Anyone else there?” She realised that she had been holding her breath and took a few gasping breaths as she heard foot prints rustle the hedgerow, presumably the sounds of her rescuer searching for anyone else hiding away in it. “Over here”, she stammered. The looming shape of the rude, handsome messenger who had got her in to this mess leaned over her, a glowing lamp in one hand. He helped her slowly to her feet, checking her for injuries as he did so. Then the events of the evening caught up with her and she fainted into his strong arms.
When Kyla awoke, she found herself in her bed at home, staring at the dark, scared oak panels of her wall. She thought it had all been a dream, until she turned away from the wall and saw the young messenger pacing her small, cramped room. She couldn’t help it as a gasp of surprise left her lips. The man stopped where he was and turned to face her. His face was a mask of concern and he seemed so different from the man who had brushed her aside the previous evening; he seemed softer, more vulnerable. “Sorry”, he mumbled, his face and ears a flaming shade of red; “I was just checking you were ok. I’ll take my leave now.” “No”, she replied, surprising herself by her braveness, “I would like you to stay, or at least to know your name.” By now they were both into, but embarrassed, by the conversation. Although it was basic manners, they found it somehow strange and awkward in each other’s presence. “I am afraid I must leave and return to the war that still rages on but, pray tell, what is your name?” She blushed deeply, but replied, “My name is Kyla Harrington, but you still haven’t told me yours.” “That is a beautiful name to match a beautiful woman. I am Nicholas Sebastian Iggledunne.” With that, he turned and left. “Wait”, she called after him, as the reality of his words sank in. She ran to her window and watched the dust rising along the road as the Prince rode into the distance and back towards the battle. Kyla leaned against the window and sighed as she saw her weedy neighbour Mrs Oxlum scuttle towards their house, no doubt to quiz her about the mysterious guest.