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By My Honor: Part One


by laurelinden

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His mother smiled at him. Her face was lined with the press of worries drawn over too many years, and her eyes seemed hollow in her gaunt and undernourished face, but they shone with a quiet modest warmth he knew she felt for him alone.

    Tory longed to come in from the fields one day and tell her that he'd found a mine of gold - tell her that they were safe forever, and they would eat until their bellies were fat and full; that they could cast away the underlying sick feeling in their stomachs asking in insidious whispers how they'd manage on the morrow. He longed to cup her thin face in his hand and tell those tired, smiling eyes that they could be rid all worry at last.

    He had no such news, though, so the blue Zafara returned the smile, and brushed the dirt of the fields from his worn clothes with calloused hands. "I've finished the harvest, Mother," he told her. "We can pack the goods for market at break of dawn."

    His mother came to him, and hugged him tight. "I'm so proud of you," she said in a whisper. As she released him she turned up her face, and he saw tears in her eyes.

    "What is it, Mother?" he asked in concern, taken aback at her sudden rush of affection. "Are you crying?"

     She ignored the question, but ran her paw through a lock of his fur. As she spoke, she gazed distantly away, as if seeing through the walls of their small home. "Tory, my son, I do not wish for you to be doomed to this life, this poverty. I want you to rise above where I spent my life." Her gaze returned to his eyes, sincere. "Tory, I want you to become a knight."

    He lifted his paw to stop her from saying more, shaking his head. "Mother, no. I could never… You need me here. Ever since Father… we have scarcely enough workers as it is. How could you ask me to leave now…"

    "Tory," she interrupted softly in a mild tone, but firm. "My son, if you succeed as a knight, we will not need to scratch a living from the soil. You will not need to spend every sunlit hour toiling in the fields. What should we do if you grew sick - if you were injured? Our family would be lost.

    "No," she finished, "that would not do. I need you to do this for me, Tory. Will you do as I ask?"

    The Zafara sought to speak, but his throat was constricted with stifled tears. He knew well why she asked this of him; it had been his dream forever. She was ordering him to leave the family behind, in jeopardy, so he could pursue the ambition of his soul. "Mother," he whispered.

    She held his head in her hands, peering intently into his eyes. "They are recruiting new squires now, Tory; I heard the news at market. This is your chance for a better life. My son, tell me you will take it."

    Swallowing hard, the Zafara nodded. "I will do as you ask, Mother. I will leave tomorrow."

    * * * * *

    King Braedon's face was a mask of deadly calm as he heard the news, but Princess Araril knew that beneath the controlled exterior his heart was racing as fast as hers.

    "You are sure of this?" he asked evenly. "There is no possibility of rumor, of deceit-"

    The messenger was pale and shaken as he nodded. "I fear that it is true, my king," he replied, and Araril could hear a tremble in his voice. "Your son is kidnapped, held for ransom, and the ransomers say that they will negotiate only if you or another member of the Royal Family come to them personally, without escort, so that there will be no chance of hidden treachery. Only then will they agree to discuss the return of Prince Aratisil, heir to the throne."

    The leader of the family of royal Draiks shook his head. "Out of the question. My country is imperiled enough with the threat of Aratisil's loss - I will not endanger it further by risking another Royal family member. Unless my son escapes, or the ransomers agree to send a central messenger to discuss terms, the question of negotiation is closed."

    Princess Araril stifled a sob, and fought to make her face a blank mask like her father's. A part of her knew that he was right; they could not risk the loss of more Royal Draiks for the return of one, but her heart was sick to think they she might never see her brother, her twin, again.

    Silently she slipped from the throne room, and no one called her back. Her feet were soundless upon the white marble of the steps, and into her room, her haven.

    A small breath of relief escaped her lips as she sat on her bed amid the clean sanctuary of the room. The walls were a pale, calming blue, and white curtains on the open windows blew softly in the damp spring breeze, carrying in scents of earth after rain, and heather-blossom on the mountains. It seemed strange that the earth could be so fresh, and the birds could sing so cheerily, when her brother's life depended upon the mercy of greed-driven thieves. It should in all rights have been raining.

    How enraged they would be, the ones who had stolen her brother, when they discovered that her father had disagreed to their terms. Would they seek to find another way to profit from the capture - would they trade the prince to forced-labor dealers far away, perhaps, or would they, in the frustration of their work being profitless, find no further use for the prince, and -

    She pushed the possibility from her mind. If I were the one taken, she wondered to herself, What would Aratisil do?

    In her heart, she already knew. She'd known it from the moment the messenger had announced the capture, from the moment her father had forbade them to agree to the terms.

    She must go after him herself.

    Princess Araril's color paled at the thought - she would face the ones who had taken her brother alone, as they'd requested, and demand to know the cost of his freedom. As frightening as the prospect was, it was not as terrifying as the fact that her father would not come after her if the thieves were not true to their word, just as he'd not gone after Aratisil…

    But there was no choice. Her life, she knew, was well worth the possibility of her brother's return. It was the duty of the rulers, above anyone, to put their country before their lives, and Princess Araril knew that her country needed her brother. If going alone was the only way to bring him back, then it was no more, and no less, than what she must do to obey her duty to the land.

    Araril took a leather pack from her chest, and hurriedly folded some traveling clothes into its depths. A small store of apples and cheese and bread were at her bed table, in case she might get hungry during the night, and these she put in a bag on the clothes. As she secured the leather bands of the pack, she realized that she would not be able to leave through her bedroom door, as it led through the great hall, where her father would stop her, seeing her wearing the travel-pack. It left one other way; the window.

    Solemnly she peeled back the comforter of her bed, revealing the clean white sheets beneath. The royal Draik pulled the lengths of white cloth from the bedtop, and piled them at its end. Her nimble paws folded the sheets lengthwise, and she tied knots incrementally in each, that she might have something to grip onto. Securing them to one another with additional knots, she slid the long rope of sheets from her window, where its end brushed the ground.

    As she pulled on the pack, lowering herself onto the windowsill, Araril took a shaky breath, willing herself not to look down to the distant ground. If only she'd not had to take the pack, she could have flown. Her paws were clammy as they gripped the rope of sheets, and she eased her weight onto the chain, scrunching her eyes shut in expectation of a fall, but the sturdy rope held.

    Slowly, slowly, she inched down the length of white, her ears pricked to hear the inevitable calls of alarm from below. Surely someone would see what she did, even through the cloudy darkness of the dusk. Surely someone would notice her escape.

    But the princess' toes reached the earth, and still no alarm had been cried. Adjusting the pack upon her shoulders, Araril glanced around in the gathering darkness, but no one was nearby.

    With paws soundless on the grass, the Royal Draik crept alone into the night.

To be continued...

 
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