Two sisters stand before the Darkness. Can their bond really save a kingdom?
|There was once a great kingdom surrounded by the sea and in this kingdom there were all manner the creatures. Those of your world and those from beyond. They lived together in peace under the watchful eye of the race that came before, known only as the Elvian. For more than a thousand years the Elvian ruled the kingdom and during this time, all those living within the land were happy. Songs of joy were sung throughout the realm and the different people and creatures walked and learned side by side without hate or fear. These were wonderful days. But, as with all things, those happy days could not last forever. |
One cold, winter's day a warlord sailed his ships into Blackwing Bay. He told the Elvian King and Queen that his fleet had been damaged in a freak storm and begged their Highness's allow him to dock in the bay so that his men could repair the ships, making them sea worthy once again. Lady Miala, our noble Queen, wanted nothing to do with the captain and his crew. She wished them gone from her lands on the next tide. The Great King Corlt, however, did not share her view. He allow the warlord the use of the docks, for a large and wealthy sum. One that would fill the grain sacks of all the lowlanders and cliff-people. Corlt thought he was helping his people. Had he but listened to his faithful Queen, he would have known better.
In the dead of the night, the crew member's of the warlord's fleet came ashore. Silent as darkness, they moved through the small seaside village, killing all whom they could find and burning it all to the ground. In the sorrow and smoke they stole into the castle. They took every man, woman, and child within the walls to the Great Hall, where the warlords men burned the Duke of Blackwing and his wife, tied to their thrones. Then they slaughtered all who remained. Some while they wept at the feet of the Goddess. Others while they clawed at the doors and windows, begging the Nine for mercy. However, none came.
As the days rolled by, the warlord and his men moved throughout the land. Following the rivers towards the royal citystate of HighGlide, the warlord Cutter earned his name. As the Elvians barred the city walls and King Corlt sat in his War Room with the Elders of Seven, Queen Miala secertly made her way with her ladies-in-waiting to the mountain home of Selenamas the Witch.
The small clearing, that was the only sign of life on the thick mountain side, had a creepy air to it. Fitting for the person who called this place home. Miala dismounted her horse slowly, taking in all that was around her. The witch Selenamas was very powerful but wasn't always the kindest creature alive.
As she had before, Selenamas appeared as if from nowhere in the middle of the clearing.
"Blessings of the Nine, Your Grace." Her voice sounded like rocks tumbling down stone yet her face was that of a young girl, as she had been when Miala first seen her when she herself was by ten winter's old.
The witch made an attempt at bowing or at least something close to it. Miala smiled sweetly, "As to you, Old Friend. I trust you have fared well this past winter. The snows where heavy and I worried about you up here alone."
"You are kind child," laughed Selenamas. "But foolish. I am to old to be worried after. Concern yourself with your kingdom and your King, my Lady."
"It is my kingdom I have come to ask about. Old Mother, I have warned my husband of this man. I begged him to send him and his men away! But his vanity failed us once again. He fancies himself a God, not just a King. And I fear I shall be forced to watch my subjects burn. I will not sit by and allow this to be."
The witch stood for a moment, as if she was waiting for Miala to finish. Then she turned on her heels and marched toward the bare rock face that was the south side of the clearing. Pulling aside some brushes that grew there, Selenamas showed Miala a faded rock drawing. It was simple, nothing like the stone craving in the halls of HighGlide. But it's story was just as beautiful. It was two lovers embraced together under High Moon while Centaur and Unicorns and loins danced around them. Beyond in the hills, wolves lined the forests, sending their unearthly cry up to the Gods. And beyond in the Sea, a line of merfolk and Sea Dragons circled together. Miala stared at the drawing, hoping that it would all make sense. But nothing came to her.
"What is it?" she asked Selenamas.
"It is the end of our world and the beginning of what our world is meant to become."
"That doesn't sound like something I'll enjoy. Can you enlighten me a bit? What do you mean, the end of our world?"
Selenamas laughed again. Slowly she lowered herself to the ground. Speaking in the Ol' Tonms, she called upon the Gods and in front of her a fire burst to life.. Selenamas told them all to sit and they did, glad for the light and warmth of the fire.
Then she began, " Before you were born, Lady Queen, there was another who was Queen in this land. She was a vain and selfish woman, who mixed her royal blood with black magic to gain her wants and wishes. She had three sons. Harold, Hanat, and Oliver. The eldest two where are black hearted as their mother and enjoyed nothing more than enforcing their Queens twisted will upon the people. But the youngest, Oliver, was believed by most to be a sickly child. One whom could not take the cold or damp of this land. For many years, the people lived in fear of what the Wicked Queen and her Demon Son's might do. Stories told of their deeds where the stuff of nightmares.
Then, on a warm day in the end of summer, a knight riding a black horse baring the seal of the Tiger rode into the village of Fishtown. He cut down ten guardsmen without dismounting his horse. He then threw gold and silver to the crowd, enough that all left with their pockets heavy. No one knew his name nor where he had come from fore just as quickly as he had appeared did he disappear into the forests. For many years this rouge knight would attack the Queens men and shipments, always leaving money for those behind."
Selenamas story was cut short as from deep in the forest, a horn echoed, sounding the call of war. All around her, Miala's court began to panic, one of her ladies even fainting as the horn called again through the land.
"Your tale have an ending, Old Mother? I fear my time has run out."
The old witch took the Queens hands in her own and pulled Miala close. "Listen child. Flee."
Miala smiled kindly but shake her head no, "I can't leave my people, Selenamas. I just can't."
"You must my dear or all will be lost. You are with child Lady Queen and that child must live to bear the one who carries the Light."
Miala froze at her words, unable to believe them. For a moment, she only stared at Selenamas. Then she let out a breath she didn't know she was holding in. "Are you sure?"
"If you stay, you and your child will die. All of these creatures will die. This land will turn to ash. You must live and your child must live. Only her offspring can release the Light and save us all."
My grandchild will save the kingdom, but what about until then? Miala thought, not wanting to voice her fears. The old witch wouldn't have told her to go if it wasn't foreseen.
"My Lady, we must go now!" Called a voice from the forest. Turning towards the sound, Miala was shocked to see her husbands guard waiting for her.
Hugging Selenamas one last time, Miala turned as leap onto the horse the guard held for her. "I am ready."
Zorra and Lizadora loved to listen to the tales their father would tell them each night before bed. Most nights, they would beat their nursemaid, Nara, up the long, twisting flight of stairs that lead to their tower and be in their dressing grown, ready for bed. Their young faces glowing brighter than the candles beside their beds, eager to hear what new adventures awaited.
Tonight, their story was of their favorites, that of Princess Mary and Good King Maruis. For as long as the girls could remember their father would tell them of the adventures of the Good King and his beautiful princess. Lizadora loved the parts filled with posh balls and romantic evenings in the moon light. While Zorra adored the blood thirsty pirates, evil black knights, daring sword fights and betrayal. Their father, King Francis, never read to them. Not a single one of their stories had ever come from a book, though the castle had the most magnificent library. Instead the stories he shared with his daughters came from his own mind.
Zorra had often wondered if these weren't made up stories at all but where, in fact, memories of past events that her father simply pinned as fiction. Lizadora didn't believe that this could be true and for the most part, Zorra couldn't blame her. Their father wasn't quite the dashing knight fighting countless men and monsters they'd heard so many tales of. On the contrary, their father looked more like an old book keeper. He was tall and handsome, even in his advancing age and could ride a horse and shoot a bow with more skill and grace than any man or woman throughout the kingdom. King Francis, however, did not give off the air of a battle tested warrior. He had spent most of his rule enjoying the peace and wealth of his kingdom. Yet when he told the young princesses their stories at night, Zorra could still see a faint fire in her father's eyes and she couldn't help but wonder if such adventures were still to be had beyond those cold castle walls.
"The Good King," Francis leaned forward, as if he were riding a racing steed. "Looking very handsome and dashing chranged forward. His battle scarred armor gleaming in the afternoon sun as he rode across the draw bridge. Fighting off a hundred guards, he's sword singing through the air as he cut them down.
Help me, my King!
Came the cry of his beloved Princess and the Good King rode harder. The evil Lord glared at the Good King Marius from atop his black tower, hate and murder flashing in his eyes. Thunder shook the wasted land the lighting split the sky, yet the Good King Marius was not afraid. He leap from his faithful steed Arrow and fought his way towards the tower, cutting down all those who stood in his way. The brave King continued on, storming the tower as the a tempest raged outside. Up the stairs the battle worn King climbed, gaining strength from each step the bought him closer to his beloved. As he entered the chamber, blood dripping red from his blade, he saw his love held captive by the evil and wicked Lord. A knife rested dangerously close to the creamy skin of her neck and yet there was no fear in her eyes. The young princess stood straight backed and head held high, bravely smiling at King Marius. Fore she knew her King had come to save her..."
Zorra and Lizadora sat on the edge of their beds, their eyes wide as they hung on every word. Lizadora was half hidden beneath her coverlet, terrified of what may befall the star crossed lovers. Eyes glittering in the candle light, Zorra was lost in the world of her father's story. She lived for these parts, the moments when all was still undecided who would be the victor. That moment when someone had to decide to be a hero.
"You would murder an innocent woman just to capture me?' Demanded the Good King, raising his sword to the ready.
"I would murder my own sons and daughters if it meant killing you!' Hissed the evil Lord in return, drawing his own blade from his..."
The word was said with such force that everyone in the room jumped at it's tone. Nara the nursemaid, who had been listening quietly by the fireplace, let out a tiny squeak. Sounding so much like the helpless mouse she always reminded Zorra of. Without turning, King Francis stood with a smile and kissed both girls upon their foreheads.
" I believe that will be all for tonight, my dears," he said.
The chorus of No's that followed where quickly shut down with a wave of his hand.
"I have told you a hundred times, my King," spoke their mother, Queen Marie, from her place at the door. " I do NOT approve of such tall tales,especially before bed. The girls will have nightmares!"
"Honestly, my love" replied the King with a laugh and a coy smile. "You seem more vexed by my tales than the girls have ever been. Even when they were but babes they still loved my stories."
"Mother, please let father finish his story." begged Zorra, crawling the the edge of her bed. " I've been waiting sixteen years to learn what happens to Princess Mary and Good King Marius."
"Shh, Zorra!" hissed her sister but Zorra simply waved her away. Lizadora wasn't shocked. Zorra rarely listened to her...or any body else for that matter.
" I said No and that's final. Zorra these tales are not fit for a princess. All this talk of sword fighting and demons. It's enough to cause you both to take to fits."
"Maire, really!" Laughed King Francis. "You are incorrigible woman. These girls...OUR girls to be taken with fits? By the Gods woman, you speak in nonsense. I know they but young ladies. Yet when was it ever a crime in my kingdom for young women to have imaginations? They could read more disturbing accounts in those history books you hold so dear. At least in my stories Good always wins in the battle against Evil. Things are not so simple in reality, my dear. As you well know."
Squaring her shoulders, Queen Marie turned to her husband. “And as you well know, my King,” snapped the Queen as she stepped forward to lay Zorra back into her bed. “That history has it's purpose. As where your stories do not.”
King Francis reached out and took the Queen's arm, pulling her in close to him. “Have you forgotten, my love, the place my stories used to hold with you?”
Zorra and Lizadora couldn't help but giggle as they watched their mother's face soften into a smile as she looked into their father's eyes. It was only when they stood like this, so close that they could breathe each other's breath, that the gentle side of their mother could be seen. She seemed so small against him. And him so big and strong beside her.
For as long as the sister's could remember, their parents had been madly in love. Lizadora sighed at the sight while Zorra felt as if she may become ill. Yet it still warmed her heart to know that after so many years together they were still able to forget the world around them when they looked into each others eyes. The King and Queen shared a quick kiss before their mother turned away.
“Nara,” she called to the nursemaid. “Please see that the girls go to sleep.”
“Yes, mi lady.” Came the mouse-like voice.
She then turned back to King Francis “As for you, my King. I shall be in my library if you find need of me.”
The bemused tone of her voice caused yet another wave of giggles. With good night's to both Lizadora and Zorra, she swept out of their chamber. The King's smiling eyes following her all the way.
“Father,” asked Zorra as she laid down. “Are any of the stories true?”
“Are they about you and Mother?” chinned in Lizadora.
King Francis laughed as he tucked the girls in. “My darlings, do not be silly. Such things do not happen in our civilized world. The time of black knights and evil kings has long sense passed us by.”
“Then why tell of them,” asked Zorra pushing herself up on one arm. “If there be no true to them?”
“Why my little warrior,” smiled the King. “I never said there was no truth to my tales. Only that such things are of a time long forgotten. Our world isn't as it was before you were born.”
“So there were dragons and demons?” asked Lizadora, who now raised herself up. “There was great evil in the world once?”
“Yes my dear. There was. Before I was King...when I was but a child like yourselves, evil still had a hold of this world. Magic and the unknown where everywhere. And cold, heartless men fought for control of this land. There were dark days. But all things can not last forever. And as always out of the darkness came those who would stand against the evil in the world. Those who believed in the good of man and where willing to fight to protect it. Now rest my daughters. Tomorrow is a big day.”
As their father closed their chamber door, Zorra let out a moan. Tomorrow. She had all but forgotten the horror that the dawn would bring. Tomorrow both she and Lizadora turned seventeen and under royal law, must pick a suitor. By this time two days from now, they each would be preparing to marry.
“You know,” Lizadora whispered in the dark. “Nara says it's good luck that we pick our suitors under a full moon. She says it brings the blessing of the Gods.”
Damn her, thought Zorra. Damn her and her willingness to play this ridiculous game. Why must she be so damned cheerful about the whole thing?
“I'm glad you find this so exciting Liz.” Zorra grimly replies. “I, personally, find the whole thing disturbing.”
“That's only because you wish to have been born a man, sister.” Laughed Lizadora.
“No,” hissed Zorra. “I wish to be as free to live my life as one. To travel the world. To sail across the seas to unknown lands in search of adventure and treasure. Instead I shall be conditioned to a life of needle point and bearing children.”
“Is that so terrible, Zo?” Asked Lizadora. “That we may have a husband to love us as Father loves mother?”
“How can you be so sure that whoever it shall be will? How do you know what will come calling, asking for your hand? What if I am married to some idiot? Someone with no fight. No passion. You, dear sister, shall fair better in your choice than I. You are the beautiful one.”
Which was true, at least in Zorra mind. Lizadora had been blessed with their mother's beauty. She was tall like father but small in her frame, like mother. Her golden hair fell in prefect ringlets down her back and her eyes where as bright blue as the spring sky after the rain. Her skin was the color of cream and her hands where fine and delicate as china.
While Zorra had taken after their father, though sadly had not received his height. Zorra was much shorter than her sister, with wide shoulders and turned in feet. She had hair as black as night and was as thick and straight as a hangman's rope. Her eyes were the dark brown color of wet dirt. Freckles dotted her nose and her skin was tanned from to much time spent outdoors. Her hands where scared from a lifetime of horseback riding, hunting, and pretend sword fighting with the stable boys. It was hard for her to truly believe they were twins, because they looked and behaved nothing alike.
“Come now Zo,” said her sister, yawning as she did. “You have an unique beauty all your own. I am beautiful, yes. But you are wild and full of life. I'm sure some prince will see that in you and wish those traits in his sons. You will fair fine.”
As they both drifted off to sleep, Zorra found the idea of being forced to marry anyone twisting her belly in knots.
When Nara came into the bedchamber, her scream woke the entire castle. Lizadora startled, nearly throwing herself out of bed and on to the cold, stone floor.
“What the dragon-fire is the matter with you woman!” She hissed, still quite asleep.
“Mi lady....where....where is ye sister?!” Nara's voice was barely there.
It took a few moments before what she had said reached Lizadora's brain. But when it did, she sat bolt up-right all at once fully awake. Sure enough, across the room, Zorra's bed was empty.
“Maybe she's already down in the wash?” Lizadora said, her voice barely louder than Nara's. But when Nara rushed over to feel the mattress, Lizadora could tell by the look on her face it had been hours sense her sister had been in her bed. Just then no less than twelve guards burst through the door, soon followed by King Francis and Queen Maire. After a moment, the guards all shared the
Instantly the Queens face turned from its usual pale color to bright red. She pushed her way towards Lizadora, who withdrew back into her covers.
“Where is she?” Her mother hissed through gritted teeth.
“I..I do not know, mother. I was still sleeping when I heard Nara scream.”
Queen Maire whipped around to face the guards. “Search everywhere,” she demanded, her voice echoing off the walls like the roar of a loin. “The stables, the armory, the forest...EVERYWHERE!”
“Yes, your Highness.” And with that they all disappeared as quickly as they had appeared.
Then the Queen turned her rage towards King Francis “This is all your fault!” She spat at him. “If you would be more forceful with her
she would not be out running wild throughout the kingdom!”
The King's face never once changed. He still had the slightest hint of a smile on his lips. Which only served to enrage the Queen farther.
“You can stand there with that STUPID grin on your face while our daughter runs a muck? She is to pick a suitor today, if you haven't forgotten. If word of this gets out who will want her? Who I ask you!”
“I fail to see how her seeking a last moment of freedom is my doing, love.”
“YOU FAIL TO SEE?” Screamed the Queen. Lizadora was afraid her mother's head might explode. She had never seen her so angry. And this wasn't the first time she'd awakened to find Zorra missing. Normally she was content to wait for Zorra to reappear to vent her dismay at her behavior but clearly today that was not the case.
“You, my husband, allow that girl to behave as if she where some wild creature. You are the one to give in and taught her to ride that monstrous beast you so lightly call a horse. You are the one who demands she accompanies you on the hunts and who taught her to use those vile swords and crossbows. You are the one who has treated her as if she was a son when she should have been raised a daughter. Now you can stand before me while our child is missing and tell me you fail to see how any of this is your doing.”
Now Father was laughing and Lizadora was beginning to fear her mother might faint from lack of air. She had her lips locked so tightly together, not even the word of the temple priest could possibly pass. Then everything changed.
Queen Maire raised her hand, as if to strike a bow. The King took her by the arms and pulled her close to him. She fought for only a moment then became very still.
“Listen to me now woman, for I shall not say this again.”
Lizadora sat icy with fear. Her father had never spoken with angr in his voice. Not to her or Zorra and certainly never to their mother. His eyes, which where usually soft and peaceful, had become as cold and hard as the steel.
“I have raised both our daughters to be who they are. Lizadora finds comfort in her books and her gardens, while Zorra lives for the thrill of living boldly. That is neither her failing nor mine. She loves that beast, as you so callously call one of my finest steeds, and he would ride her to the ends of the earth and back again without one faulted step. She is one of the best hunters in the kingdom and a better swordsmen than my best personal guard. I have treated her as herself! If anyone has failed here it is you who has failed to see her for who she is.”
With that he released his Queen and stormed out of the chamber, slamming the door with such force behind him that dust and bits of rock fell from it. Lizadora, Nara, and Queen Maire all stood in silence for a few moments. Both Lizadora and Nara where to afraid to speak. Queen Maire, however, looked as if she could drop dead where she stood. Slowly she turned, her hand resting on her heaving chest, and went to the window sill. She lowered herself so slowly onto it that Lizadora couldn't say weather or not she was really moving at all.
Finally, after what seemed like forever, she spoke but her voice was so quite neither Nara nor Lizadora could hear what she was saying. Lizadora couldn't believe what she had witnessed. She rose from her bed and place her hand on her mother's shoulder. Her mother took her hand in hers, still staring out the window. Beyond the walls of the courtyard, the tops of the village buildings could be seen and beyond that the dark green that was the forest.
“ I'm sure Zorra will be back soon mother.” Lizadora found herself saying as she joined her mother in staring out into the wilderness.
“Have I failed you girls?” The question came so softly, Lizadora wasn't truly sure she had spoken at all.
“No mother!” She said pulling her mother around to look into her eyes. But Queen Maire did not meet her gaze. She simply continued to stare out the window.
“Maybe I have failed you. I've guarded you both so much. You, my dear Lizadora...you always seemed content to stay within these walls with me. To learn your lessons and advance in your manners but Zorra. Well, Zorra has always been willful. Even when you were both just babes she was always wanting to run away. Crawling out of her cradle and reaching for swords. Always loud...always up to her ears in trouble.”
“I take it Zorra takes after father?” Lizadora hoped the question would put a smile on her mother's face but instead is seemed to darken the shadow in her eyes.
“You're right,” she said at last. “She's always been her father's daughter. I should have known. I just wanted you both to be such good friends. Yet it seems I've driven you apart.”
“Mother! Zorra and I are the best of friends. She's more than my friend, she's my one and only sister. Ha, ha more of my only brother at times but I love her all the more for it. You remember when I was nine and I fell from the apple tree in the north courtyard? Zorra was the one who picked me up and carried me all the way to the nursery so Nara could care for me. Then she ran all the way to Dracom to tell you and Father. I could never have done that. You know how terrified I am of those woods. But Zorra had no fear, even then.”
Queen Maire smiled.
Thanks be to the Gods, thought Lizadora. She's going to be okay.
Her mother looked her in the eyes and laughed. “You know, your father nearly boxed her ears for leaving the castle that day. She was so out of breath when she reached us that no one could understand what she was saying. She had to do lines for a month! But she never once complained or objected. She simply wanted us to hurry home to you. Oh Lizadora, I have failed.”
Lizadora was about to object but her mother held up her hand and she fell silent.
“No, I have. I've failed to realize that simply because Zorra is not like you doesn't make her any less of a daughter and a princess. She may not always conduct herself in a manner befitting a princess and future queen but that does not mean she's any less worthy of her position. She's proven herself a leader. I am the one who failed to praise her for it.” The Queen case one last glance out the
window then stood, smoothing her gown.
“Enough talk, dear. Come. We'll have several guests soon and we have much to do before they arrive.”
With her eyes closed, Zorra raced through the forest. Delighting in the sound of Eragon's pounding hooves and the rush of the trees. She'd awaken long before dawn in a cold sweat, visions of a man with ice gray eyes still burning in her mind. The dream had been so real, so terrifying that she had to escape, she had to be free, if only once more.
She knew by now the whole castle was aware of her absence. Mother would be in a rage, no doubt have the whole royal guard out looking for her. But Zorra didn't care. For as long as she could she would run wild and free through her forest. It would probably be her last chance to do so in her own homeland.
Carmilia wasn't a large kingdom, King Francis controlled everything from one shore to the other. There had at one time been three Kings all living peacefully on this island but they had killed each other a long time ago. No one journeyed past the mountains anymore. As far as she knew there wasn't anything living on the other side. The pass had been sealed before she was born and no ships came to Blackwing Bay. The whole west side of Carmilia was completely wild.
Maybe that's where I'll go. Thought Zorra as she slowed her horse down to a trot. I'll run away to the Western Coast. No one will ever think to look for me there.
But as she rode on her thought fell back to home and to her sister, Lizadora. Today she would pick her husband and then within the week be married and away. She couldn't leave without seeing her. She also knew Liz would never forgive her for missing her wedding.
Damn her, Zorra thought as she pulled the reins causing Eragon to whine in protest.
“I know, I know old friend.” Zorra said as she learned down to pat his thick, ebony neck. “ I don't want to return either. But we must...for Lizadora.”
Zorra stared out into the forest one more time, a sinking homesickness creeping into her gut. She sent a silent prayer to the Gods, asking for the strength to do what she must, fore she wanted nothing more than to simply stay in that forest forever. Turning her horse around, Zorra began the journey home. Though much more slowly than she had came.
The Ball was to offically begin at the setting of the Sun but the royal families would probably start avviring soon. Which meant her mother would be in a wild frenzy, driving herself mad trying to make sure everything was proper and prefect.
"Which also means she'll be in a devil of a mood with me." Zorra laughed to Eragon, who nickered back playfully. She reached down and patted his glossy neck.
After a good hour of riding, Zorra reined in at a small brook to cool her face and water her horse. Splashing the icy cold river water on her face and the back of her neck, Zorra gazed around her. She thought she was on the same trail she had taken into the woods, but this stream was unknown to her. Looking around, Zorra saw nothing familiar to her.
"I think we managed to get off the path somewhere, old friend." Zorra said to Eragon. "I thought you knew the way."
The horse snorted back and Zorra laughed. "I know, I know. I never said you didn't know your way."
Mounting her horse, Zorra looked around one more time hoping to get her barings. She knew, as everyone in the kingdom did, that the Sun set on Skimar over the Golden Castle. So if she could just find the Sun, she could make her way. But the trees were so think and leafy that the only sunlight that made it's way through was dappled and glowing. But Zorra was pretty sure she was heading in the right dicertion, so she figured she'd just keeping riding until she came to a clear or the road. As long as she made it home by sunset.
She rode on for a while, but the woods were only growing thicker. So she turned around and went back to the stream. From there, Zorra rode over her own trail. Hoping that she would come upon the path she had been following earlier. After another hour of steadying riding, Zorra hadn't found the trail. Trying not to panic, Zorra dismounted and walked around looking for any sign of a path or deer trail.
Suddenly, Eragon started to paw the ground, his nostals flared. Zorra grabbed the reins and pulled her sword from it's place on her saddle. It wasn't a very good sword, in fact it was an old pactrice sword Zorra had found in the backroom of the smith shop. But she had used it many times in her games with the stable boys and young knights. It wasn't strong but if there really were robbers in the woods, it was better than a stick.
"Re Gou!" called Zorra in the Ol Words, the one language that was understood by all those in the kingdom. No sound came in response but Zorra had a sinking feeling that she wasn't alone in the woods anymore. Flipping her reins over Eragon's neck, Zorra mounted slowly. She didn't have any idea where she was. She didn't know where any paths were. She was completely lost. In the forest. Probably about to be attacked by bandits.
This is what mother always warned me about, Zorra thought bitterly. Damn her for being right all the damn time. Underneath her, Eragon shifted from side to side, biting at the bit and pulling the reins. Before Zorra was able to utter a calming word a sharp, blinding pain pulsed through her head and then...the world went black.
Trouble Finds Me
Hunter panicked as the girl slumped over the neck of her horse and then fell to the ground like a rag doll. He hadn't intended for the rock to hit her in the head but it was probably a blessing in disguise. If that little lady could manhandle a steed like that, then she most likely wouldn't have gone with him without a fight.
Moving slowly, Hunter went and collected her horse. He was a massive beast and bring him under control was a small undertaking in and of itself. Thankfully, the horse didn't seem to want to leave the girls side, so he never ran far. However, that didn't make it any easier By the time Hunter returned to the girl, the sun had sunken deeper into the trees and regardless of all his high hopes, Hunter knew that he would be spending another night in these damn woods.
As the sun disappeared and the forest darkened, Hunter sat by the fire cleaning his fingernails with his knife tip. He had been in the woods for almost three weeks now. He wouldn't admit to himself that most of that time had been wasted, lost in this haunting forest. There were stories about the forests around Limarue. Stories of men in dark clad rode stealing the life out of foolish travels that dared take the forest road. So Hunter had done his best to avoid those more well-traveled routes, preferring instead to stay in the shadows of the thick fog and tall firs that made up this part of the Dark Forest. However, he hadn't planned on getting lost and losing days because of it.
Looking over his shoulder, Hunter watched the firelight flicker and dance across the girls face. Surprisingly, the girl never woke. Several times Hunter had gone to her and felt for her heartbeat, fearing that maybe he had hit her to hard and she was in fact dead. Yet each time, there beneath his fingers was the strong, steady pulsing of the life blood through her veins.
When he first saw her earlier, Hunter had been so busy trying to come up with a plan that he hadn't really taken the time to actually look at his new captive. He had just seen that horse and went from there. But now that he had a moment on his hands to sit back and look at her, she was quite beautiful. Her hair was so dark, it blended into the night. It hung in a thick braid with a few strands loosely falling on her face, framing her fine features. Her skin was a warm, tan color. A strange thing for a lady of breeding, which is exactly what she was, judging by her dress and the fine horse.
There could be money to be made here. Just how much was the girl worth? Who were her people? The closest Citystate was Skrim just outside High Guard, maybe she was one of the daughters of the Duke? Whitecliff wasn't that far either and with a horse like that she quite easily could have covered the distance.
Hunter rose from his place in the grass and listened to the forest. There was deer in the air and he felt the old rumble deep in his gut. It had been almost a year since Hunter had felt the earth beneath his toes and the taste of fresh blood in his mouth. Slowly, as Hunter gazed out into the darkness, the rumble was replaced with sorrow and longing. He missed his home. He missed his people. Above all, he missed his mother. Hunter could feel the tears in his eyes as memory after memory swept over him. Not even thinking or caring, Hunter threw back his head and released a long, low howl. The unearthly sound echoed and danced through the mist and trees, carrying with it his sadness and pain. As the call faded into the night, Hunter listened. Tilting his head first one way and then another but nothing came. As always, his cries went unanswered. Hunter sank down into the grass and closed his eyes. And not for the first time in his life, Hunter cried himself to sleep.
Zorra had been in her share of trouble. Sneaking out of the castle and running the countryside was, after all, her favorite past time. But she also knew that this wasn't that kind of trouble. When the first rays of sunlight hit her face, Zorra thought for a moment that she was still in her bed at home and everything had simply been a wild and intense dream. Stirring, Zorra vowed that she was wouldn't listen to any more of her fathers stories for a while, as they were clearly influencing her dreams. Then the pawing of a hoof snapped Zorra back into reality. She wasn't in her bed in the far east wing of Golden Castle. She was laying in cool grass...and her hands were bond.
Siting bolt upright, Zorra pulled and twisted her hands against the ropes. The course fibers cut into the tender flesh of her wrists causing Zorra to swear out loud. Then the sound of a sword being drawn stopped her. Looking up, Zorra herself nose to tip with her own sword. Following the bright, shiny blade to the hilt, Zorra came eye to eye with a dark forest dweller. The morning sun haloed his frame, making his features impossible to discern. But his robes made of animal furs and from the smell of him, Zorra knew where he was from.
Father had told her and her sister many stories about the people in the forest. The Clans, as they were called by everyone else in the rleam, where the originals of this land. Well, the only originals left. Most where Animas, those who are and can become animals. Zorra had only ever met Chieftain Ore Tail of the Tiger Clan and Kinsmen River of the Bear Clan. But in her father's stories there wolves and stags and centaurs
A shape pinch stopped Zorra's mind from wandering. Rubbing her nose, Zorra glared that the boy standing before her...holding her sword.
"That hurt!" she snapped hoarsely. "Stop it!"
From the surprised look on her captors face, he hadn't expect that from her at all. Playing on the moment, Zorra pushed herself up into a sitting position.
"Untie me right now boy! And give me back my sword."
The surprised look faded as the boy's face darkened. He branded the sword under Zorra's chin, digging the sharp tip into the tender flesh. She struggled to stand, eyeing the dweller coldly as she did. He nodded behind her. Carefully, Zorra turned and looked over her shoulder. There tie safely to a tree was a tried, old grey farm horse and her sweet steed.
"Eragon!" Breathing a sigh of relief, Zorra turned and ran to her friend. Laying her head in the soft curve of his neck, Zorra hugged the horse.
"I'm glad your safe, old friend. " she said patting his thick neck. The massive horse nickered loudly at her, as he pawed the ground.
"I know," Zorra said, turning to face the dweller. "I find him rude and unpleasant as well."
Eragon whinny in reply, causing Zorra to laugh. The dweller didn't seem to like this very much because he pointed the sword at Zorra's chest and again nodded towards her horse.
"I'm not getting on my horse with my hands tied." she yelled at him, her temper growing. "Do you not speak Carmilain?"
Yet again, the stranger pointed at the horse.
Zorra started to feel panic rasing in her chest. She could not get on that horse as this man's captive. She just couldn't! She was the crowned princess of Carmilia for the Nine and she would be damned if this clansman was going to take her away like some common farmhand. Turning in a circle, Zorra looked for anything...anyone that could help her. But for the first time in her life, Zorra found herself completely alone and on her own. As the realization of what was happening swept over her, Zorra stood, almost dumbfounded in the small forest clearing.
"All my life, I've wanted nothing more than to finally and truely be alone." she said, more to herself than to the stranger standing before her.
"Lonely, isn't it." spoke the dweller, once more pointing the sword towards her horse.
Her captor hadn't spoken a word for over an hour and the silence was starting to wear on Zorra. The continued indignity of being hulled around like a sack of flour thrown over an old mule was reaching a point she was not going to be able to handle. She was a princess damn it! And this sort of treatment was not befitting her in the least. Suddenly, Zorra had an idea. Weather or not it would work and not get her killed was yet to be seen but at this point Zorra was willing to try just about anything.
"I need to stop," Zorra called loudly. "I need to answer natures call."
At first, Zorra didn't think the man was going to stop. Then he lead his little carvan to a small clearing and came to a stop. After tying off the nag, the man walked the clearing. Stopping here and there, sometimes pausing as if he was listening to sounds Zorra simply couldn't hear. Finally the man made his way towards Zorra. Grabbing her by her collar, the Dweller hauled Zorra from her horses back, allowing her to fall to the ground with a thud. Pulling a hunting knife from his leather belt, the man cut first the thongs around her ankles then the one that held her hands. Zorra rubbed her wirsts were the tough leather had dug into her flesh, leaving ugly red marks.
Without a word, the man pointed to a clump of brushes just off to the side of the clearing. Zorra nodded that she understood. Moving as calmly as possible, Zorra walked to the brushes. Pure will-power was all that kept Zorra from breaking into a dead run that second. But somehow she made it to the brushes.
Well I'm here, Zorra thought look around her. Now what?
Time wasn't on her side and she had to think fast. If she ran away now, she might make it back to the castle. But this man would still have Eragon and she couldn't guarantee that he wouldn't catch her before she even made it out of the forest. She could always fight the man, she was an excellent swords-woman thanks to her father, yet she was without a sword or even a stick.
The crack of a breaking twig stopped Zorra's racing thoughts short. Looking through the leaves of her brushy hiding spot, Zorra saw the man leading Eragon and the other horse over to a clove of honeynutt trees. Seeing her only chance, Zorra took off like a shot. Running blindly through the trees, Zorra didn't dare look over her shoulder, so fearful that if she did she'd see that dweller baring down on her. So she ran and ran and ran until finally Zorra felt as if her heart would explode from her chest if she didn't stop.