By My Honor: Part One
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
"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,
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
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
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...