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Fantasy The rise of a fallen kingdom (1x1) (Closed)

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The walls around my world are crumbling. Crashing into the sea, the water rises, threatening to take me under. How had this become reality? Fire blazing below, it's hot breath consuming everything in it's path. I watched as death devoured the kingdom. They had come in the night, stalking through shadows. Not even the moon caught a glimpse of the slaughter, hidden under a blanket of darkness. By the time the sun had risen and cast its light on the horrors of the night, my home was burning.

"My princess, they have reached the gates."

I turned from the window to look upon the face of my hand maiden. If fear could take host in a person and become a living creature, that would be what I saw. I had heard her words but could not find my own. What comfort could I offer her, what comfort could I offer myself? What is there to say when death comes to stand at your door?

"Please my princess, you must leave."

"Princess, no." My words came out softly, calm. "I have no kingdom."

She rushed forward, taking my hand. Pleading with her eyes, who was it she was trying to save? Me or her loyalty?

"I beg of you, you must go," she said.

"Where would I go?" I brought her into my arms, "There is no place they could not find me."

She wept softly. I however found myself unable to shed tears, even as the unspoken truths came into the light. My people are only memories, buried beneath ash. My father, the king is dead. I am now the sole ruler of a fallen kingdom and there is a price on my head.
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The fire cast a stark line across the visage of my ash covered face. My eyes, bloodshot, watching in horror toward the city I had sworn to protect - now torched and consumed like chaff in a furnace. My militant countenance had become shaken at the speed the fire spread across the docks. Even as the ocean rose and flooded the merchant port and the alleyways, the people and my fellow soldiers were not prepared; I...was not prepared! Dammit! Wiping the embers and tears from my eyes, I tried hard to compose myself. The screams of children calling for their mothers and fathers were faint cries; the ringing of bells shook the cobblestone as their towers collapsed under the siege. The chaos...

"You there! Help us! Please!" The cries of a middle-aged woman shook me from my thoughts. Without hesitation, I ran to her. "This way!" Her injured and burnt hands grabbed my vambrace. Her urgency seemed to outweigh any pain that she might be feeling. I followed her, attempting to deflect the fire and crumbling structures of buildings that I will never see again. She took me to a stone building, one that I had recognized during my patrols. The roof had collapsed, and whimpers of pain could be heard from the rumble that stacked where a door one stood. The stones were hot to the touch, but my leather gloves granted me protection that the woman did not have. I pulled away the rubble quickly.

"Please hurry! I can hear the roar of the water coming this way." She watched as I tried to save her child? Sister? Someone!

She was right, the rapids had built up and flooding had grown substantially. The creaking of wooden frames and stone foundations could not be ignored. "You are not safe here! Get to higher grounds. I will save your child." I called to her, pointing toward the castle, toward the northern foothills with one hand and wedging my fingers between stone and broken frames, with the other. The sounds grew louder. "Go!" I yelled to her.

"You almost have her! My baby! Thank you so much! My..." Whitewater pushed as the support beams of the "Golden Tail" tavern, a 3 story Inn and Tavern snapped. The building toppled and fire fell like rain from the rooftops as the woman was crushed beneath. I threw myself into the rubble of her stone home, avoiding the heavy debris. I closed my eyes tightly and continued to remove stones from the source of the whimpering. A medium sized dog pushed its way out of the hole that I had made. Her long white fur stained with blood and detritus.

"...A dog? I thought...She died for a..." I questioned, under my breath as I looked up and met eyes with the animal. "Well, you were worth it to her, so let’s make sure we both make it out of here alive. Deal?" The heat from the fire had made my armor unbearable to wear and fatigue had begun to replace my adrenaline. I shed my breastplate and greaves, placed the dog over my shoulder and white-knuckled the scabbard of the arming sword. I carefully made my way toward the castle and the gate that would inevitably lead me to the foothills and out of the center of this storm.
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Blood. It is not my own. I must keep going.

Time is a tedious thing. Often times it moves fast, racing ahead of us, as we desperately try to catch up. Other times it slows, allowing us a moment to sit beside it as the world continues on. I have a duty to my kingdom, my people and my father. It is duty that carried me from the only home I've ever known. Leaving behind a life that once belonged to me. It was that same hidden vow that carried me away from a dear friend, loyal servant. Leaving her alone and frightened as she ventured into a world beyond ours. It is the stain of red I now wear that is a reminder of that loss. How quickly I had gained my freedom, yet so slowly she had gained hers.

I am burdened.

It is funny what the mind recalls amidst chaos. If you asked, I could not tell you whether sleep had come easy or with difficulty the night prior. I could not say how it was exactly I found myself outside the castle walls. However I can recall every detail of her death. The expression she wore as she looked at me one last time, terrified yet sure. The way her shoulders tensed as she stepped between me and the assailants. The spray of crimson that I now wore. How foolish it was to think that she must choose between saving me or her loyalty. She had done both.

I am bound.

Memories can be a beautiful, yet haunting. A mark seared into the brain. Clinging on to your thoughts, your hopes and wishes. They are pieces of the past assembled together to create who it is we are. How could it be that so quickly, most of my life was now mere memory?

I am sworn.

My palms dug into the earth beneath me as I heaved. I could not bring myself to stand. My body convulsed as I purged the horrors I had seen from my body. Tears followed, flowing from my eyes and cascaded down my face. I found myself void of strength and grace. Only a shell of weakness remained. I struggled to remain conscious, the promise I had made slipping from my fingers as I fought against the darkness.

I am Queen.


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It had been hours since escaping the horrors that besieged what would be remembered as a once thriving kingdom, now turned to ash and water. Ash and water. The wind had picked up and the sounds of a fallen city, still filled the air - a chorus of broken dreams could be heard echoing against the mountains that surrounded the kingdom. The clover beneath me and my new companion seemed to be the only lush life left of this land – perhaps a reminder that growth and life still exists, even when the weight of mankind presses it. We had made it to the northern foothills; exhausted but intact. The sky still dark and overcast. The attack had occurred at night, but the smog and smoke filled the early morning sky, making time moot. I rolled to my side, placing my mud, blood and soot covered hand on my equally mangy new friend.

“Well…” I thought for a moment, realizing that I had not gotten the name of the dog. “What am I going to call you?” She uncurled and began to sniff me, cautious, but grateful. “How about Ash?” Her attention still focused on the plethora of smells coming from my tattered and stained gambeson. “Well, Ash. We should probably find some food. Also, those who would take advantage of the chaos, may be about. We should find shelter…we should find a home…we…” I stopped myself. My nerves were still on end and my mind racing toward things that needed to be done. Things that should have been done. Tears welled up in my eyes, but I swallowed them down. Ash had begun sniffing and making her way toward the tree-line to a small stream that bled from the mountain’s base and through the foothills. She had found some water. “Of course. One thing at a time.”

I washed what I could off myself and the dog, as we drank and bathed in the rumbling stream. The foliage around the stream and the canopy of trees made for a nice, shaded area that shielded us from vantage points on the hills. There were plenty of fish in the stream, but time would not allow us to take advantage of that. We were as clean as we were going to get. Ash shook the remains of the water from her fur and eagerly awaited me as I slid my leather riding boots back on. I smiled at my new companion. She panted and then her ears perked at the sound of something in the tree line.

“Who’s there?” I called out, quickly buckling my sword belt and rising to my feet.

“You from the city?” A gravelly voice came from the forest as a burly man stepped forward. He was adorned in traveler gear and furs. A hunter perhaps?

“What is it you want?”

“Oh. Me? I just noticed you and your pup here and wanted to say hello.” His eyes surveyed the area and assessed me, looking toward my sword and stopping at my shoulder bag. “The names Tanner.” He nodded as he rubbed his callused hands together. “Is it just you and your dog?”

I had come across bandits before. Men and women who would take advantage of the wounded and those who suffer during times of war. “I am just scouting ahead for my Battalion. They should be arriving shortly.” The lie just rolled out, but his expression gave clue that he did not believe me.

“Oh? A half-elf soldier, are we? A servant of the kingdom huh? It is a shame you didn’t arrive earlier.” He glanced at my pointed ears, the wet hair making them more noticable than usual. He then nodded toward the plums of smoke that came from the city. “Maybe you and your men could’ve stopped that. Hmm?” The patronizing tone of his voice foreshadowed how this might end.

“And what do you know of…that?” I clinched the handle of my sword as I stared a hole through him. Ash stood beside me; hackles raised.

“I know that the King is dead. I know that the Castle is in ruin and the family who once ruled these lands lye with it. What is a kingdom without a King? Hmm? Word gets around quickly, once the banners fall.”

“What do you know of Kings and Queens?” My words were like venom. I found myself defensive of the very idea that hope had also went up in flames.

“Me? Oh, I am just a trapper. I am of no risk to you, soldier. I have never even been inside those walls.” He smiled and continued to survey our surroundings. “I will be on my way. Be careful out here…you never know what dangers the sounds of war draw out.”

“You never know…” my reply was more of a threat than agreement, as I watched him turn and step back into the forest. I grabbed what little remains of my possessions, patted my hip, called to Ash and cautiously walked toward the mountains.

The royal family. The family that I had sworn to protect. It would have been impossible for them to escape. Perhaps Tanner was right. Perhaps hope did go up in flames, with the banners.
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Darkness had won. I awoke, shivering. From the chill in the air, or the events of the previous day, I was unsure. I had rid myself of all that sustained me, void of both sustenance and emotion. I brought myself to a sitting position, surveying my surroundings. The kingdom, my kingdom still burned in the distance. Clouds of smoke intertwining with those above, casting down upon the earth.

I must go.

I cannot continue like this. Finally I began to grasp the situation I had been handed. While my world had crumbled, I rose. Becoming the only past my people would remember and their future. My life was now worth more than the ruins of the kingdom. I solely was hope. A princess given the title of queen. A queen of a desolate castle.

I struggled to free myself from the confines of my gown. The silk falling to the ground. I must strip myself of who I was, to become the person I must be. Bare to the world, dressed only in my shift and bodice, unknown to strangers. Tearing at the remnants of the dress, I fashioned a scarf. One that must not only cover my face but the truth of who I am. I became no one in a moment, yet exactly who was needed.

I died in that room. Now I must go.

It was my feet that carried me, no thoughts aided in the guidance of my movement. I would not turn to look at the ruin that remained behind me, only ahead. My journey was now uncertain, known only to those who have knowledge of such secrets.

"It's not often I come across two strangers on my path."

The voice came from my left. The man who claimed it as his own did not carry a kind face. Only then did I realize just how naked I truly felt. Lost.

"Are you a mute?" he stepped closer, a wicked grin plastered on his face.

Fight or flight. I had done enough flight over the course of the past two days. He anticipated the same.

We seemed to move at the same time. His hand gripping my wrist, the other struggling to meet its mark while I found mine. I brought my knee up to strike him in the groin. He doubled over.

Go now.

How naive I had been. My disguise offered the chance to one again claim my home but left assumptions to be made. I turned to look behind me, to capture a glimpse of the man I desperately wanted to escape. It was in that moment I was halted. Falling backward. I rubbed at my temple, bringing my eyes up to look at the force that had interrupted my escape only to see another man. A man and a dog.
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I had made my way through the forest's edge and the shadows of the Thunder Cliff mountains made it seem all the denser. I stopped for moment, at the base of a dead oak tree, to forge a walking stick. Ash sat at my side.

Tanner's words had haunted me. I was usually good at a reading people, but he seemed to know more than he was letting on. Had he seen something? Is he following me? I began to replay what had happened at the docks, over and over. I found myself lost in thought, but my contemplations were cut short as Ash darted into the woods. "Hey! Where are you going?" I yelled as I went after her.

The dog had stopped near a game trail. Some fabric caught my attention, as I noticed it waving in the wind. I examined closely. "Silk?" I pulled the fabric from the brush and noted that it had been torn. "Well, this doesn't belong to any trapper..." Ash began sniffing the ground as I noticed footprints in the loose ground ahead. Someone ran through here recently. I brought the silk down to Ash, to smell, "Have you done any tracking before?" I asked as I jostled her fur. I wrapped the silk around my wrist, and we followed the footsteps and broken twigs.

We tracked for about 30mins, before we could hear commotion ahead. Ash and I cautiously approached. Stepping into the clearing, I tried to see where the sounds had come from and as I struggled to find them...*smack* I staggered back at the impact of...a woman?

I composed myself and looked to the ground. It was a woman. She looked determined and apparently jostled from the impact. She was certainly not from around here, her expensive undergarments and not smelling like shit, made that more obvious than anything. She had a presence about her. We made eye contact. Stunning, although her face obstructed by...I looked to my wrist. "Silk?" I found myself audibly processing as her bright blue eyes darted from me, to Ash and behind her. Before I could ask if she was safe, she was quick to her feet, drove her shoulder into my hip and slipped past me. "Hey! Hey!" I called to her but was interrupted. Ash began barking in the direction she had been running away from.

"Well, well. If it isn't the half elf." The familiar voice came from where she had ran. "You didn't happen to see my daughter run through here, did you?" He clutched a large knife, with an antler handle.

"Daughter? Doubtful." I replied, noting the wicked grin that cut across his cold face, like piss in snow. He shrugged and lunged forward with his blade. I side stepped, allowing the momentum of his weight to push beyond me. He stumbled into the tree behind me. I drew my sword. He lunged again. This time, our blades met as the glissade of their impact rang and the edge of mine slid to his hand, nicking his meaty finger. "Watch yourself. You're going to get hurt, Tanner."

"I'm going to gut you and your dog!" His eyes widened with rage as he flicked the blood from his wounded hand, to the ground. Ash disagreed with his sentiment and she chomped at one if the furs wrapped around him and began tugging. He swung the knife wildly, missing the dog. I stepped forward to engage, but...*whack*

A thick dead tree limb smashed across the back of Tanner's head. Dead bark splintered and scattered across the Autumn floor, as the large man collapsed, sprawled among the leaves. The woman stood behind him, holding the other half of the broken limb. She tossed it to the side and made haste to grab the knife from his unconscious hand, aiming it at me as a warning.

"Woah! Well done! No need to be frightened of me." I tried to calm her down. She was visibly shaken by what she had done. I knelt to one knee and placed my hand to the neck of the Hunter. "He is still alive, and I don't think you want to kill me today." I looked to her, sympathetically, kneeling before the stranger, "My name is Rolen. I am Comman..." I stopped myself. I could not be so quick to give away my station or my failures. "Are you alright?" I found it difficult to divert my eyes from hers, like a siren in the ocean. Her cool blue eyes met mine. Although her ears and face were obstructed, her elven features were obvious to me. I could not help but smile as I spoke in a language that I had not used in years, “Are you alright?”
My knuckles were white from the grip I had upon the knife, hand shaking. The blade was smooth with an elegantly carved handle. What care went into it's construction, beautiful in it's own right. My gaze traveled to the man sprawled out upon the ground. How was it that a man, a brute, was able to craft something so elegant?


I turned my attention to the man kneeling in front of me. His eyes never left mine as he spoke, like an enchantment had been place upon him. I kept my gaze upon him while slowly lowering the weapon in my hand. Offering fragment of trust to the stranger before me. There was something hidden in the expression he wore, pain, perhaps? It was clear by the language he spoke that there was no longer a need to conceal that part of myself. I pulled the makeshift scarf from my head, the intricate braids I was once wore now loose at the ends as my hair fell down around my shoulders.

I carefully thought about the response I would give. Worried that the air of my words, or the tone in my voice would give way to my title.

"I am alright sir."

Recalling our initial run in, I found it necessary to offer some sort of apology. If not for the introductory impact, for the aftermath of jabbing my elbow into his hip. My eyes lowered briefly to look in the direction of his lower side before quickly snapping my gaze back up. I cleared my throat.

"I apologize if I caused you any harm," I shifted nervously on my feet, "My name is Eny-"

Could I place that much trust into his hands? Would it cause him or myself more trouble to know the truth of who I was? Yet I found it hard to deny my identity, the grandest lie I had ever spoken. It was a necessity however, at least for now. Perhaps time would offer more honesty. Until then I looked a fool, standing before him struggling to give the simplest of things.

"Enna, my name is Enna," I offered my hand, "It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance Rolen."


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"Enna? Well, it is a pleasure to meet you. However, as you are well aware, present circumstances have led everyone to be a bit on edge. Are you from the city? Are you aware that it has fallen under siege?" This was a series of loaded questions, since she obviously was no farm girl. I could tell by her hands that she had to be a noble or a merchant's daughter perhaps?

She seemed just as shaken up as I was. I rolled Tanner over to his stomach, to prevent his unconscious body from choking on his tongue. I awaited her response, but knew she was hiding just as much as I was.

"I suppose he wont be needing that." I said, nodding at the knife in her hand. I could tell she was hesitant to say anything about the city or the siege and I didn't want to push it. "I don't know about you, but I'm heading toward the Thunder Cliff Mountains. I know my way around the area...from...childhood." The lie couldn't have been more obvious, but I do know of the area and it is safer there. "It is a dangerous place in the wildlands, but there is plenty of shelter in the mountains and a small mining community. The people there are friendly and...well, if you are traveling alone, you're more than welcome to come with me and Ash. It is safer than being so close to a kingdom wrecked in chaos and surrounded by people like him." I nodded toward the "hunter" and then called for my canine companion. Ash bounded over from the bushes and seemed to naturally take to Enna. I caught myself staring at the elf, even as I seemed preoccupied with preparing to leave. It was difficult not to.
Are you from the city? Are you aware that it has fallen under siege?

His questions seemed to linger in the air, if only he knew the truth of the answers I could give. Not only was the city my home but I had seen it burn from the highest window in the kingdom. Watched as the flames devoured it whole and the ashes wash back into the ocean. I found it best to hold my tongue, fearful that any answer I would give would bring me to my knees in sorrow.

My new companion held secrets of his own, apparent in the words he spoke. Perhaps he too had reasons for disguise. There was an unspoken vow between us, both aware some form of facade each carried yet each regardful of the masquerade. I studied his movements for a moment, they were uniform, strict. Taught. It was obvious he held some sort of training, I only hoped the oath he had made was in favor of protection and not destruction.

Kingdom wrecked in chaos.

I felt my heart seize at his words. I closed my eyes briefly, shaking the images from my head. I had made a promise to leave the past and walk into the future, a plan of resurrection for both myself and my home. Now I was being offered the chance, a glimmer of hope. I ran my hand across Ash's head as she passed giving a quick scratch behind the ear before looking to Rolen.

"I would very much like to accompany you, I take it you have gathered that I am beyond my element," I smiled, raising an eyebrow, "I would be grateful to have someone with knowledge of the mountains."

The start of our journey was one of silence. Both unsure of conversation to carry, and what that conversation might reveal. I held guilt for the lie I had already told him but he had not recognized my face, my name however would give way to my identity. Yet there was something within me that wanted to place my trust in his hands, to find comfort in his knowing.

"You are a soldier?"

It was a simple question, one that would not take much thought. However his response would be the key to unlocking both of our truths.
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"I was." I said, brushing the limbs from the evergreens as we walked toward higher ground. "But...things change when we often don't expect them to." I didn't want to lie, but I couldn't allow myself to be so vulnerable with her. Not yet. I looked back to meet her eyes once more. "What about you? You look like you've seen a battle or two." I tried to lighten the conversation. Looking to her as I reached my hand for hers to help climb the rocky slope. I found myself cracking a subtle grin. It was the first time I had smiled since escaping.

Ash cautiously made her way up the rocks as well, gaining some ground in front of us. Waiting patiently and wagging her tail - for the first time since we met.
His response was careful yet held all I needed to know. We both were now far from the place we belonged, torn from our stations. Outcasts by no choice of our won. His eyes held the same scene that mind did, flame and ocean. It was something shared and quiet, known and kept.

I smiled only briefly at his question. Lighthearted in effort.

"I have seen only one battle and it was at it's end," I took his hand as we climbed. Careful of my footing. Careful in my thoughts.

We made our way up the rocky slope. Joining our furry companion. I took a moment to sit beside her, mindlessly running my fingers through her hair. I felt my energy draining, reminded once again of the sickness that overtook me after my escape and the void that took it's place. This world was unknown to me, thirst and hunger. My life being one of luxury, it was not often I found myself desperate for the most basic of needs. It brought embarrassment that I had lived so comfortably, never knowing struggle.

"You'll forgive me, I need a moment to gather myself before we continue," I pushed the sheepish thoughts aside and offered him a knowing smile, "I am not used to such travel, especially without the attending of a grand feast first." It was an attempt at making a joke.


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It was nice to talk with someone. Someone who had not seen him just as a Commander, a soldier, a half breed...but as a person. Her hand was soft and affirmed that she had not worked the lands, the forge or the battlefield - I could still feel the echo of her touch. I refocused my thoughts as I watched her sit beside Ash.

She has to be a noble. She must have fled with whatever House she belonged to. But, which one? I knew many of the Houses and most of those with property and coin were high elves. I contemplated to myself as I adjusted my gambeson and sword belt out of habit. I looked around at the evergreens, spotted a juniper tree and smiled...it had become an uncontrollable habit at this point. I walked over to the tree and plucked several of its berries before approaching her.

"A grand feast for a Queen, but we will need to find another source for her noble steed." The smile had not left my face as I returned the jest, took her hands and filled them. "Have you eaten juniper berries before? My mother use to pick them for my sister and I when she would take us to..." I stopped myself. "Unfortunately, the berries can be poisonous to dogs." Ash began to whimper with anticipation. "Awe, I am sorry girl. We will find something for you to eat."

I surveyed our surroundings. The loose rocks made the terrain difficult to traverse quickly, so I had to watch my footing and take my time. I walked up the mountain side a bit further as Enna continued to sit with our friend. "I am going to try to find a spring nearby. If there isn't one, there should be some snow once we reach higher elevation; we can boil it and at least stay hydrated until we reach the town." Both Enna and Ash looked concerned. "Don't worry, I will not venture far and you have Ash to keep watch." I did not want to leave her, but I knew that without food and water, neither of us would have the energy for the journey ahead. "Keep your knife unsheathed, hidden and at the ready in case Tanner has friends."


I had walked about a half a mile. The evergreens and foliage grew sparse as the rocks turned to large formations and jutted out like the teeth of a fallen titan. I would not find water here. However, I spotted some snow a couple of miles ahead. As I began to make my way back, I noticed birds flying in circles in the direction of the snow-covered peeks. Hmm. Carrion birds. Something big has died recently. I whispered under my breath. I had seen many scavenger birds swarm the fields after battle and often with a swarm that size, they fed on a plethora of fallen or a large beast. We best stay alert. I turned to head back down. My focus was abruptly interrupted as the howls of wolves in the distance could be heard not too far away. That isn't good. I picked up my pace.
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I watched as he filled my hands with the berries, blue in color, a light dew glazing the tops of them. His words brought on a smile. In his unknowing, he had been the one to speak my truth. Queen. Would we find ourselves here now, in such close proximity, sharing jokes if he truly knew the reality of his words? Would he still spare me the same glances, or would my title give way to a withdrawn gaze? Would I expect him to kneel, would he? I once again asked myself, was it possible to be a Queen without a kingdom? or am I truly a pretender?

The berries tasted of the woods, a hint of spice buried in their flavor. I was mindful to eat them slowly, giving my body time to react to sudden nourishment. My mind wandered to the story Rolen had begun to tell, yet ended so shortly. Reminded once more of the mysteries we both held. I imagined him younger, even in the brief time spent together it was hard not to imagine him as a disciplined child. He carried the soldier with him still, guarded, careful.

"Be safe," I bid him as he went off in hopes of finding something to quench our thirst. I took heed of his suggestion and kept the knife at my side, Ash on the other. She rested her head upon my leg.

"Father would have been mortified to see a dog on my lap," I said, giving her a pat, "Mutts are only good for the hunt he would say."

Ash let out a low growl in response.

"Now, I didn't say that was my thought on the matter."

It was in that moment I realized the raising of her hackles, her eyes trained ahead of us. A howl split the silence in the air, I looked to where my furry companion had laid her gaze. Wolves. Two of them, massive in their size. At least known to me, never had been met with one outside of drawn pictures in a book. Unlike the drawings, they did not yet have their teeth bared, lunging forward. Yet the wind seemed to whisper that we were in danger, we were not the only ones who battled hunger.


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"Enna! Enna!" I called for her as I slid down the loose rocks, trying to get back to them as quickly as I could. I could hear Ash barking before making my way around the large boulders jutting from the mountain side. I saw her standing at the ready and Ash, being more guard dog than I thought she was capable of! My eyes darted in the direction of the wolves and then back to Enna. "We have to go, they travel in packs and there will be more!" Enna and Ash climbed their way to me as I kept my eyes on the two wolves observing us. Another set of howls came from the ridge.

We regrouped and cautiously made our way around the large rocks. "We won't be able to outrun them and they will pick up our scent. Grab some rocks!" We began to fill our hands with fist sized rocks. I peered around the boulder, "There's more. At least five of them." Ash kept barking, drawing their attention toward us. She didn't know any better, it was her natural instinct to warn us of the danger to come.

I gripped the stone in my hand and hurdle it at the large peppered furred wolf that had begun to flank us. The rock fell short and skipped across the ground. I quickly grabbed another one, but Enna tossed hers first, hitting the mark! The stone smacked the wolf across the face, causing it to stagger back and the others to stop momentarily. I threw another, hitting the same wolf again. It yelped in pain, slipping on the rocky terrain and rolling down the incline. The other four came running.

Enna and I hurdled rocks as hard and as fast as we could, Ash lunged forward toward a big black wolf who had made it just a few feet from us. I drew my sword to assist, but the fight was quick as teeth and fur rolled in on one another. The other three came charging toward us. "Stay behind me!" I yelled, blindly reaching my offhand behind me to assure myself that Enna was there. She was. I could hear her picking up more rocks as I saw them fly overhead and slam into a wolf who had gone to assist the one Ash was engaged with.

I gripped my sword tightly, swinging at a grey and white wolf who advanced in an effort to pull my legs from under me. The strike met fur and flesh, as a line of red painted across the stone canvas beneath us. I lunged with my blade, killing the predator as another chomped into my leather vambrace. I could feel the strength of it's jaws as it pulled me, causing me to stagger. I braced myself against the rock we had hidden behind, in an effort not to tumble down. Using my body weight, I dropped to my knees, drawing the wolf to the ground and shoving my forearm into it's jaws, dropping my sword and drawing a small dagger from my boot. I furiously stabbed at the creature as another wolf leaped toward my back. I could hear the sound of steel scrapping against the rocks as Enna picked up my sword and attacked the creature. She cut across it's chest and it recoiled in pain. I brought my boot across it's face, causing it to fall back. I then threw the knife, piercing the animal in it's side - it limped away in an effort to retreat, before collapsing from it's wounds.

Enna and I both looked toward Ash, realizing that she had held her own against the peppered wolf, as it's neck was torn open and she engaged the remaining threat. I roared like some primal beast in an effort to intimidate it, Enna threw rocks with one hand, clutching the sword with the other. We both aided Ash as the wolf noticed us and pulled away from the dog. Enna swang the sword wildly, as it retreated toward the ridge they had came from.

Heavy breathing and whimpering were the only remaining sounds as we surveyed the area looking for any more danger, ignoring our wounds...for now.
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How trivial it was to be presented as an object, a prize to be claimed. My face gave way to the apathetic thoughts that rattled in my mind. Their words of affirmation and doting falling on deaf ears. Excusing myself hastily, I made way toward the patio. Desperately needing fresh air and to spare myself of dull conversation. I was surprised to find my father much in his own thought, hoping to do the same.

"I too once stood in your place, a ceremony much like this, it was the first time I laid eyes upon your mother," he turned to face me, "An unlikey match, it's true. She was outspoken, untamed. While I held fast in my reserve," he paused, "I understand how very trivial this is to you my dear."

I smiled as memories of my mother surfaced.

"You could not tell me that your love was not meant to be, it was the will of the gods you found one another," I hesitated, "They granted you that choice, there was no need to force a match."

"It is not my wish as a father to lock you in a marriage you do not desire, I would much rather find myself on deaths door than to see your face unhappy," he placed his hand upon my cheek. "Yet as king, I am bound my child. As king I must give up the one pure thing I have left in this world and hand her to the wolves."


"Enna! Enna!"

Due to being lost in thought or the fact the name did not belong to me, I did not register his voice. I hesitated. Did he take notice?


The scene before me was a mix of stone and blade, followed by blood. The sword I wielded covered in the crimson shade. I had never killed a living creature, much less thought myself capable.

We found ourselves very much alive but not without injury. I had sustained only minor wounds, more from the action than actual harm. I focused my attention on Ash first, moving quickly. She held her right paw off the ground making it apparent it brought her discomfort. I inspected her bleeding leg, it was not broken nor sprained. There was not much comfort I could offer her, it simply needed time.

"Easy now, you must let me wrap it," I tore at the bottom of my shift, "This well help and we will slow our pace to match yours." I rested my head against hers, "You were very brave."

I turned my attention next to Rolen, "Are you hurt?" I asked. It was then I took notice of his torn shirt, his exposed shoulder blade. It oozed from a gash, the skin torn and raw. Susceptible to infection if not cleaned.

Quickly I searched the area, there was a patch of snow a few feet from where we stood, a reminder that the mountains grew nearer. I ripped at my dress once more, placing it in the snow and allowing it to soak a moment before returning to his side.

"Let me tend to you," I peeled back the layer of shirt that still hid the entirety of the injury, "Do you have any alcohol on your person?"

He slowly reached for a small flask at his hip, careful to not further bring pain upon himself.

"This will be unpleasant," I said.

He of course would be no stranger to the sting, a soldier with his skill would not be without that knowledge. I went about cleaning the wound before placing the cold fabric upon it to offer relief, securing it in place with yet another makeshift cloth. I would soon find myself without any garment to wear. As I tied it under his arm, I found myself only inches from his face.

"I must make a confession to you."
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Perhaps her father was a soldier? I thought to myself as she seem to be a natural healer. She was careful with the wound. My mother was also a natural healer and beautiful as well, an elven druid of House Cyril. She taught me all I know about these lands, these forests, the beast in them and most importantly...survival. My father, however, insisted that I study more in how to kill people, to survive and to serve.

I hadn't paid attention to how much the wound hurt until the sting of Bluebeard's Best sent fire through the wounds the wolves had left me with. Bluebeard was a good friend of mine and one of the few dwarves I know who took pride in calling me brother. He was a stout dwarf, who specialized in alchemy. It was because of his passion for the craft that his beard stain a permanent and vibrant blue pigment, earning Anvyl Stonebottom the simple nickname of "Bluebeard". I wanted to flinch so badly, but did not allow myself.

I have a lot of scars, but pain never gets easier.

Her hands were supportive but gentle. She had almost finished wrapping my shoulder, silent and focused - then I could feel the breathe of her words against my skin, "I must make a confession to you". The hair on my neck shifted.

I reached for her hand, a firm but soft grasp, "Before you speak, know that I have not always been a good person. I have had to make some difficult decisions that have cost people their lives. Many people. I may not be who you think I am." I turned to make eye contact with her. The sincerity made me look almost pleading, a hidden hope behind my eyes - hoping she would not to see the conviction weighing heavily on me. War was always ugly and being outside of the castle walls more than I was inside of them, I often felt myself homesick and covered in blood and collateral of the land it soaked. As a Commander, I sent people to Lady Death and often acted as her hand. No matter how much war I was in, how much I was able to let go of...the feeling as though I had not done enough to protect the kingdom, weighed heaviest. By not riding ahead quick enough to warn the city. By allowing several of my men to die...I...I played several scenarios in my head as to what her next words would be.
I looked down upon his hand wrapped around my own. They told much of his story without the uttering of a word. It was in that simple embrace that the differences of our lives could be found. His had seen battle, bloodshed and things I could not comprehend. While mine had only found use within the walls of a castle.

Returning my gaze, I met his eyes once more. I may not be who you think I am.

"Perhaps you are not," I said in response. I let my hand slip from his grasp, "But I know for certain that I am not who you think I am."

Was my lack of honesty upon our first meeting, for his sake or my own? My title itself was dangerous, once known, he would share the same target on his back that I carried. I found myself with thoughts of selfishness, even now. How simple I found it to be known as another, without pressure to impress or putting on airs. Then followed a single thought of worry. Would he look at me the same? Would the fresh bond we were creating be severed the moment I spoke my name?

I inhaled, allowing the crisp air to fill my lungs before releasing my breathe. My eyes closed momentarily as I began to speak, "I have not been honest with you Rolen and for that I apologize." I opened my eyes to look upon his face, attempting to read the expression he wore.

"My name is Enyana and I am the daughter of the Kingdom of Ethannia."


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Princess Enyana? Princess Enyana! I could not fully process what she had just revealed to me. At the mention of her name, it all made sense now. The clothes. Elven Nobility? No! Royalty! The family I had vowed to protect. How had I not seen it earlier? I had only caught a glimpse of the Princess when I had escorted the King from the court to a diplomatic mission, many moons ago. Even then, I was forbidden to gaze upon the Princess. How many times had I violated this now? How flippant I have been. Embaressment befell me.

As quickly as my thoughts and convictions began to race, I instinctually knelt before her in reverance.

"The Right Honorable Princess Enyana: Sir Rolen Kane, Commander of the Arthion Riders and Megildur to the King, your father. My sincere apologies for not recognizing you, and for my lack of respect...for my absence during the attack...for touching your hand and for..." She stood there, I could feel her staring at me, though I would not dare make eye contact. Not now. I stared at the ground, as her shadow approached me.

"I...I am terribly sorry. I have failed you, your Father and your Kingdom." I finally spoke. My heart raced as I awaited her response.
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As he knelt before me, I felt the veil I had been carrying in the days following my kingdoms demise fall around me. In that single action, I felt myself envious of the person I had pretended to be. How simple her life would have been, hard, complicated and without luxuries but simple nonetheless. I found myself torn between the truth I had given and the lie I so desperately wished I could have.

"There is no need to offer apologies, you did not know and there is not fault in that," I turned my gaze from him, looking back in the direction we have come.

"And you are wrong in finding failure in your actions, it was not you who watched the Kingdom burn from behind a window, it was not you who stayed silent as their Father donned his armor," I sighed, my hand trembling slightly, "It was not you who stood idle, yet ran terrified in a moments instance."

My eyes fell upon him once more, as I knelt before him, my knees sinking into the soft earth.

"The guilt we carry will not help us, it must be buried deep and we must continue, for I cannot embark on this journey alone," I smiled placing my hand on his knee, "And it will be a terribly long journey if you cannot meet my eye."


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As her hand touched my knee, I could feel myself recoil and then relax. Not out of fear, but out of respect. I knew her Father and as honorable of King as he was, he too had his secrets. It was I who extended his reach into enemy lands and also the one who refused to kill the mage who spear headed the assault on the kingdom. I refused an order that could have prevented this from happening. How was I to know? He seemed so helpless.

It was surreal. Seeing the princess with her silk dress, kneeling alongside me. It had begun to snow, I looked up to her - her blue eyes looking back. The snow had seemed to slow down for a moment. For a moment I felt like we were the only souls remaining.

"You are right, Princess. We have quiet a trek ahead of us and if the snow picks up, things will get worse." I took her by the hand and we rose to our feet. Removing the wool cowl that I kept folded at the back of my sword belt, I offered it to her. "This will help keep you warm and to hide your identity. However, the temperatures will fall with the sun and we must find shelter and warmer clothes if we are to continue our ascent."

I walked to the wolf I had thrown my dagger into. "Princess, please forgive me for what you are about to see." I looked down at the wolves, "We all must do what we must to survive." I began to remove their hides, a process that had always bothered me, but that I had learned in my youth. I would need a lot of salt to tan them, but at least they would provide some means of warmth. I looked behind me and saw the Princess shivering, as the snow picked up and she hugged Ash. I began unbuttoning my gambison - I would not have her wear bloody furs. When the weather would rise and fall, my gambison not only protected me from my armor, but also helped to keep my temperature regulated. I folded it over my arms, my under was tunic soaked from sweat and billowed in the figid wind as I walked to her. "This will keep you warm, until we can find something more suitable. I am certain you are use to something more clean, but it will be better than that." I nodded to the remains of the pack that had attacked us.
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Pulling the cowl over my head, I thanked him quietly. Studying his careful movements, his eyes that still never quite made contact. He would need time, we both would, for the guilt weighing upon our shoulders was immense. Two barely acquainted strangers, even more so now that the truth had been spoken.

I watched as he carved into the carcasses, there was something artistic in the way the knife moved. Grace in such a gruesome act. Then again what did I know of the world, was there beauty to be found in the art of survival or am I just naive.

Ash was at my side as I desperately sought out warmth. My body unfamiliar with the sensation I now felt, a mix of hunger, thirst and the cold had come to sit beside us. I closed my eyes, recalling the warm fire that burned in my hearth. How I would sit before it and bask in its blaze. How childish the memory seemed now, clinging to a life that was far behind me.

I barely took notice as he approached, offering once more to neglect himself to offer me comfort.

"I have a feeling what I am accustomed too is a thing of the past," I smiled against my quivering lips, "Thank you."

We continued our walk, the wind and snow gaining strength and intensity as we pushed further. Tiny crystals formed on my eyelashes, making it difficult to see the path we walked. Silence intertwined with wintery mix.


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Hours had passed and the snow, thick and heavy, covered the ground and clung to our clothing. The wind had calmed down a bit, allowing frost to settle like dust on a long forgotten garment. The furs had grown stiff and uncomfortable. The crunch beneath our feet reminded us how cold it had gotten.

I looked to the sky in hopes of finding smoke from a warm fire. But, there was none. The need to stay hydrated had become increasingly important. I had almost given up home to find shelter, until we crested another series of snow covered rock formations. "Look!" I pointed ahead of us, to a small wooden structure. "A mining cabin." Small wooden cabins would often sit near mines as shelter outside of the caves. We picked up our pace. "It hasn't been used in years", I said, noting the neglect. I brushed away the snow that had packed against the door, like a barrier.

With the snow cleared, I used my shoulder to open the frozen door. It didn't budge. "We will have to find another way in." Walking around the building, we noticed a cellar door at the back. I used my dagger to wedge the hinges free. The both of us pulled at the doors and managed to free them from the weather's embrace. A low windy howl came from within. Ash sniffed the air as the three of us looked.

"It's going to be dark in here." I kept my dagger in hand and stepped into the cellar. The wood creaking in disagreement. An old oil lamp hung on an iron hook - the oil long gone. It was difficult to see as I used my sword to feel my way around. The cellar was cold and carved from natural stone. Heavy wooden beams supported the frosted hardwood floors above us.

As we felt our way around the cellar, the staircase turned from stone to wood as it led up to a wooden door. Inside the cellar, the natural walls bottlenecked to a cavern, with a thick wooden door and chain with an old iron lock.

"I wonder what this leads to. The mine perhaps?" I tapped the chain with my sword.
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I didn't think the body was capable of enduring such temperatures, my limbs were numb to the cold, heavy as we trudged. I kept at a steady pace with Rolen and Ash even as my brain urged me to stop. Had I been dressed for such weather I would have found the sights beautiful, but instead I found it desolate and unforgiving.

After what seemed like an eternity in time, Rolen spoke. I was quick to lend a hand in opening the cellar door, ready to find relief from the cold. Hoping whatever awaited us inside would offer warmth and a chance to quench our thirst.

My hands traced a path along the wall, careful to move slowly and gain my bearings in the darkness. Ash walked beside me, occasionally brushing against my leg as if to reassure that I hadn't lost my way. It was nearly impossible to make out anything, as if my sight was taken as soon as we entered.

As we reached the door, a shiver ran throughout my body. A remnant of the cold we had endured or perhaps a warning?

"Whatever is on the other side, I hope it is warm," I said as I pulled a couple pins from hair, the braid that was held neatly against my head draped over my shoulder.

"The castle had many locked doors," I smiled as I began tampering with the lock on the door, "and I was a curious child."



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Curious indeed. I watched, impressed by how quickly she had picked the lock. The chain rattled it's way to the ground as the lock unfastened. The sound was unsettling, echoing on the natural stone walls. Enyana and I shared a glance; Ash stood quiet, with her ears folded back. As I reached for the handle, another unsettling sound came from upstairs. Footsteps? Our eyes, looked at the barely visible stairs, half expecting the door to open.

" An animal?" She said under her breathe, drawing close.

"Possibly." I whispered, drawing my sword from it's sheath. "Better to be safe." We focused our attention on the stairs - the creaking beneath our feet resonated with each slow step. Our efforts to be quiet were thwarted by the condition of this place.

As we reached the top of the stairs, the door was ajar. I looked to the dust on the floor, undisturbed and seemingly to have been that way for a while. I placed my hand on the door, in an effort to stealthy open it...it dragged across the floor with stuttering friction. Enyana and I both squinted our eyes and clinched our jaws in response.

I squeezed through the crack to an open room with a wood burning stove at the far end, next to a pile of well kept firewood. An old oaken dining table sat at the corner with two wooden stools, one broken and the other on it's side. Atop the table was an old, long forgotten briarwood pipe. Beneath the table sat a simple dust covered chest. Rusted pick axes and shovels rested against the wall near the front door, next to bags of grain and jugs of dried up lamp oil. The room held no indications of life for quite some time.

"It's safe." I called out. Ash pushed her way through the door, the Princess following close behind. "It must have been an animal." I surveyed the room as I walked to the pile of wood. "I'll try to get us a fire started. There may be some blankets in the chest over there."

As Enyana searched the chest, I grabbed a handful of firewood and kindling. Setting to in a pile next to me, I opened the door to wood burning stove. "What the..." Ashes fell out, exposing the scorched remains of bone. I sat the wood down and used my knife to move it. Human?

I cleared the stove of the remains. Reaching into my pouch I removed a piece of flint wrapped in leather. It took some time, but striking my steel knife against it, I was able to start a small fire. I smiled, looking toward Enyana, "I got the fire started. We will be warm soon."
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As we moved up the stairs, something heavy seemed to hang in the air. A thought lingering, this place was not what it seemed. It held something, something nameless to us now. Hiding and lost. It sent a chill down my spine as we walked.

I've never held much stock in the unknown and that feeling that we are not alone. When I was young we had a servant, a woman who seemed not entirely of this world. She would often tell stories when she came to tend my the fire or prepare my bed. As a child her stories frightened me, I think perhaps she wanted to warn me of that which existed outside the walls of the castle. Knowledge within my sheltered world.

As we entered the room it was apparent it had long since been abandoned, only a few remnants of its past occupants remained.

I nodded gently as I made my way toward the chest. The chest itself was large but plain, no ornate details or heavy lock adorned it. It creaked as I opened it, I retrieved a blanket from the top, shaking it to release the collected dust. I heard Rolen in the background but could not make out his words as my eyes fell upon a small leather journal.

My hands were slow to reach out and grab it, unsure I wanted to know its contents, as if the pages themselves warned to me to leave them be. Again I heard his words, broken from the trance, I turned returning his smile as I joined him.

I sat before the fire, draping the blanket over my lap, "Here, we are both chilled to the bone," I said offering him to join me beneath the woolen cloth.

"I found this also," I placed the journal on the floor in front of us, opening it slowly. I had been right in my concern of its content. Strange symbols splattered the page, I flipped to the next, then the next. They all held the same.

"What do they mean?"

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