Posted by: rebeccajrobare | February 26, 2012

The Avenging Princess, part 1

1.

As the sun rose to reveal the night’s devastation, the survivors came out of hiding, and the wailing began. The air was full of the stench of dragon, musky and sulfurous, and the high metallic odor of blood, and under both the reek of death. Ekelyn pushed open the root cellar doors when she heard the wails begin, and smelled the destruction as she came into the dawnlight that spilled over the castle wall into the kitchen garden. Others, the children of servants and retainers, came behind her. They gripped what weapons they had found, stones and garden forks, in case the renewed voices did not mean the attack was truly over. Ekelyn clutched a dagger that seemed large in her small hands. She followed the noise through the gardens and toward the courtyard, her young follows alertly behind.

She was met in the archway by a pale guard with a stump of an arm held by a sling. “Thank God!” he breathed as he saw them. “The children!” he shouted into the courtyard behind him. “The children survived!”

Pale faces and wet with tears, they turned toward the small procession as the children entered the courtyard. “The children!” “Praise be to God!” “The Princess! Princess Ekelyn survived!” As the last murmur began to spread, folk rose from their knees to bow or curtsey, and Ekelyn acknowledged them all. Had they not suffered losses to defend her family? But her heart hurt as the children who followed her reunited with parents, were embraced, were kissed, and no one ran forward to embrace her.

Instead, at the far end of the courtyard, the end nearest the Throne Hall, injured ministers rose slowly to their feet, faces grim and eyes wide. They bowed when Ekelyn drew near, but did not otherwise move.

“Highness –” one began, and at the same time another said, “Your Majesty,” and the two broke off and eyed each other. In the silence, then, a third spoke, the First Minister, Ryam, who Ekelyn had known since her birth.

“Ekelyn, my child,” he said, “your parents died defending the walls.”

Ekelyn’s eyes grew wide, but the only other sign of sudden grief was a shudder that went through her. Then she was still, and said softly, “And my brothers?”

“Died defending the rear gates.”

Ekelyn nodded. In her heart, she held fiercely to herself. This is how a princess must behave, she thought. I must be in command where they can see me. “Then they died as king and queen and princes should, in defense of their kingdom and their people.” While I hid in a cupboard. She did not think of herself then as a child of ten, where her brothers were sixteen and twenty. She thought only of responsibility, and wondered whether, in surviving the attack, she had failed hers.

“I would do them honor,” she said to the ministers. They looked at each other uncertainly, but Ryam nodded to them, and they parted to reveal for bodies, laid out on the stone. Her brothers, tunics covered in blood, their faces and bodies marred by the deep sword cuts that had killed them. Her parents, black and red from dragonfire, recognizable only by the twisted crowns melted around their heads.

Ekelyn curtsied to each in turn, then knelt and kissed their brows. As she rose from beside her father’s body, she found Ryam next to her.

“Highness –” he began, and from his formality Ekelyn knew he was about to give her orders, and she would be expected to follow them for her own good.

She interrupted. “Have we done what is necessary for the defense of Alteria in case of another attack?”

The minster nodded. “We have, Highness. The Army and Navy stand ready, and the townsfolk are rallied. Last night’s attack seems to have been focused on the palace, but we will not be caught by surprise should any of our towns or castles be attacked.”

“Good. Do you know who did it?”

“We believe the Empire was behind the attack. Only they have captive dragons to send, and some surviving solders recognized Imperial uniforms on the troops at the gate.

Ekelyn nodded, but she was out of things to ask, so Ryam said what he had come to say. “Highness, we must send you away from here.”

The princess looked up at him sharply, and then her body betrayed her, tears beginning to fall from her eyes. Ryam gathered her into his arms and picked her up and carried her from the courtyard, and Ekelyn knew that no argument would change the ministers’ minds. She never won an argument once she began to cry.

 

2.

The girl who emerged from the forest gate with the chief of the woods-rangers bore only a slight resemblance to the Princess Ekelyn. Her face was the same, but her long curls had been cut short, and her dress of white and pink had been exchanged for tunic and trousers of forest green, her delicate slippers for sturdy boots. She wore a yellow kerchief tied around her neck, and a canteen at her waist.

The ranger who stood with her was dressed similarly; the child at his side might have been taken for his son or apprentice. He looked around, shading his eyes with his hand. A soft whistle echoed down from the wall above. There was no one to see.

“Come,” he said, and set off into the forest, the child following at his side.

The land sloped upward, making a high, wide hill. They followed it up, the ranger pointing out the cairns of rock, the blazes marked faintly on the trees, to show where the little-used paths would lead. Ekelyn was quiet, trying to mark it all in her mind. Someday she might have to find her way alone through this forest. They would send for her, the ministers had said, when it was safe. Ekelyn did not plan to wait until they decided it was safe. The plan she held in her heart but had not voiced to anyone was to learn to fight the way her brothers had, and then return. It was not right for a princess to be kept in safety while her kingdom suffered. She would learn to fight, and then she would return either to lead her people to victory or to die in their defense.

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Responses

  1. I like it! It’s definitely a “beginning,” which is exciting. It sets up a story line-to-be, and doesn’t leave me wondering about information I should have starting off. I should be excited to read more of it.


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