A firstborn heir longs for life outside, and trusts only his bodyguard to help him escape.
| The second moon was rising over the ridge to the west, and unlike the primary moon this one was a study in shadow. It's twilight face was larger and closer than its silver sister, but where she shone bright and high in the sky, the second moon lingered low to the earth and seemed to absorb the light. Looking at it was like peering through a fog in the dark of night to see the soft glow of a fire far away. You could tell it was there, yet it gave nothing of itself away. It held its secrets close, looming large and dark in the star-dappled sky.
Prince Sael Thane loved the second moon, or Noc as it was known here in his homeland, the Empire of Orlysia. It was probably known by different names in the distant wildlands beyond the borders of his domain, but he had never been outside those boundaries. As firstborn son and heir apparent in the royal bloodline that had ruled this Empire for the better part of a millennia, his safety was absolute priority. That meant he was rarely allowed to range far from the protective womb of the Citadel. It also means, he thought wryly, with a glance behind him to his bodyguard hovering respectfully twenty paces away, that I never get to be alone. Sure, his bodyguard Alinae had been his best friend since she was assigned to him 4 years before when he came of age. But if he was being honest with himself, it was a friendship of convenience and proximity, and he had no others friend to speak of.
As any youth would, the crown prince balked at the responsibilities laid upon him, and especially chaffed under the overly-protective attentions of his parents. When they weren't too occupied with matters of estate as Queen and King, Mom and Dad were fussing over him endlessly, worrying about him whenever he wasn't immediately near. It made him wish they'd had more children. It made him wish he wasn't the firstborn. He didn't really want to rule a country, he just wanted to be allowed to go hunting in the wildlands like the blustery young men who told their tales of adventure in taverns over flagons of ale with a pretty girl perched on their lap. That was the life Sael wanted for himself. And he knew that his parents, not to mention the burden of his own heritage, would prevent that from ever happening.
He turned his eyes back to the moonrise, then down to the sprawl of the city below him as the lights sprang up into the gathering dark of nightfall. The business of the Citadel's more nocturnal denizens was getting underway, and Sael felt his heart lurch with longing. Strains of lively music and raucous laughter drifted up to him through the swinging wooden doors of taverns, along with the faint scents of warm Summer ale, roasted potatoes, and oven-baked yardbird. That rustic smell made his stomach grumble in expectation far more than any of the more "refined" feasts that were laid out for him on a daily basis.
He turned again to look at Alinae, who had crept a bit closer to where he stood at the railing. This was the highest balcony on the highest wall of the Citadel, and was also his favorite place in his limited world. His bodyguard, not liking to leave him alone when he was outside the sheltering walls of the inner keep, almost always shadowed him out here. But she seemed to understand his need for alone time and rarely spoke or disturbed him when he stood at the wall and watched the moons come up. A few times he had glanced her way to catch her eyes on the vast stretch of night sky and a small smile on her face. Alinae didn't speak much but he felt that she understood him better than anyone else in his small life. Her presence was a comfort to him when he felt lonely, which was often. It helped to know she was always just a few steps away, even if he would never tell her that.
An idea was beginning to form in the Prince's mind. It was dangerous and just a little bit crazy, but as long as he didn't have to go it alone he knew he could find the courage to do it. He trusted that Alinae would come with him if he asked her to. Turning, he gestured for her to join him at the railing, which she did without hesitation. Her movements were fluid, graceful, the confident and smooth gait of a trained warrior who feared little, who was well aware of her strength and trusted in it. Sael admired that about her. It was so unlike anyone else he knew, and especially unlike himself. He'd been trained to use a sword, as was tradition for any royal heirs born into the family, but he had no real talent for it. Alinae though, she was more than just talented. The woman, only slightly older then he in years but ages past him in experience and knowledge of the world outside, was an artist with a blade.
"Yes, my Prince?" Her voice was just as smooth as her walk, and gave nothing away if she suspected his motives. This was the first time he had asked her to stand beside him at the railing, yet she did not seem surprised or curious. Her overly-formal tone irritated him.
"I told you to stop calling me that," he snapped. She bowed her head in ascent but said nothing further, only waited patiently to hear what he was going to say. After a pause he clapped a hand on her sturdy shoulder and caught her eyes with his. "Let's go out tonight."
Alinae looked at him as if he had lost his mind for just a second, then she composed her face back to the mask of calm stoicism it usually held. "That is not possible. You know the wishes of their Majesties that you remain within the keep after sundown unless accompanied by an escort."
"You are my escort!"
"I am simply your bodyguard - escort means a full contingent of guards. And you know that Sael. Don't play dumb with me."
He rolled his eyes and shook her shoulder in frustration before dropping his hands back to his side, a resigned sigh escaping him. The prince looked up into the night sky again, feeling empty. There was no point anymore, he was a prisoner of circumstance. A bird with clipped wings in a golden cage. He wanted to say something further, to try and convince her to please just let him have one night out there in the real world. But he simply looked at the stars and fought back the welling sorrow in his chest.
Alinae watched him in silence. The starlight gathered in his shining eyes, moonglow illuminating his upturned face as he clearly struggled with a myriad of emotions. Sael was beautiful. Her heart skipped a beat and she quietly chastened herself for allowing the moment of weakness to seep through her personal defenses. She had to remain stone, it was the only way she could do her job, the only way she could truly protect him. However, a deeper part of her wanted to restore his smile. Could she not do both?
She sighed as well, a sound very much like the one she had made. Her hand found its way to his forearm, her touch gentle but firm. When he looked at her she told herself not to think about how his eyes were more lovely even than the heavenly bodies he was so fond of gazing upon.
"Sael, come on. You better put on a dark hooded robe so no one recognizes you once we get outside the keep. We'll take the kitchen exit - they won't say anything about seeing us leave if I ask them to stay silent."
Her heart began racing again when her Prince gave her the brightest of smiles.
(To be continued - work in progress!)