Scarlet Shadow: Secrets and Reunions - Part Five
The dreams were haunting her. Endless darkness surrounded the young Princess like mist. Her mind was clouded. Her nerves seemed numb as she listened for sounds that would never come.
Her eyes opened. No thoughts formed in her mind for many moments. A soft thudding sound came echoing into her ears. A creaking sound followed – the sound of a door. She closed her eyes again, the light in the indigo eyes fading as they fell back into the darkness...
Shade stood at the doorway, contemplating. Had he really seen the Princess awaken? Or was it just another figment of his imagination? Was it hope cruelly playing with him once more? He sighed. Cenoal had given the Acara a much harder blow than was intended, of that he was sure.
He glanced at the young Acara. Her long, scarlet hair was spread beneath her. Beside her on the table lay the scabbard of her butterfly swords. These, he knew, had come from her mother. Her usual swords had been lost not too long before while at Terror Mountain.
There! Now he was sure of it. The pretty indigo eyes opened slightly. “Sensei Welrin!” Shade called.
An aged Lenny was beside the Uni much faster than expected. He made his way inside the small hut and felt the Princess’ forehead. He smiled as he watched the Acara awaken. “It gladdens my heart to finally have you back, Lady Crystal.”
Suddenly, Crystal shot up, almost throwing Welrin back in surprise. She turned her head, searching. Shade shook his head. The Uni knew the Princess well enough to know exactly what she was expecting. Absolutely nothing was as it should have been in Crystal’s mind.
None of this was right! “I’m not on the battlements!” Crystal exclaimed.
Her tutor, Master Welrin, was chuckling. But then, he glanced at the doorway. A muscular Shadow Uni stood there, watching. “I shall leave you and Shade here for a moment,” Welrin stated. “He has much to explain, I expect.”
As Welrin left, Shade walked over beside the bed. Crystal’s steed seemed more than a bit nervous. “Shade, what happened?” Crystal questioned. Her voice was calm, but chilling. “Why am I here?”
“You have Cenoal to thank for that.”
Crystal grabbed her scabbard and thrust it at the ground. A great crash ensued. The blades had jerked slightly out of their casing. She looked at the Uni, her eyes as darker than a moonless sky. “I was supposed to fight until the end,” she said. Her voice was trembling. “And Jeran? I suppose he made sure Cenoal had enough time to get out?” She shut her eyes. Not a tear fell. She was too mad to cry.
“Jeran stayed on the wall,” Shade stated simply. He waited for Crystal to lift her gaze to his. She opened her mouth to speak, but he cut her off. “Cenoal stayed as well.”
Crystal shut her mouth and stood. “I need to speak to the people,” she stated. Without another word, or with any help from Shade, she bent down and grabbed her fallen swords. Replacing them carefully in their scabbard, she didn’t even need to check. The Princess knew that no matter what was done to the swords, nothing could chip their edge...
Crystal nodded to Shade as she excited the small hut. Outside, the soldiers who had escaped were sitting under the branches of the palms. Crystal was surprised by how small they numbered. Very few had escaped the attack. She grit her teeth. She should have stayed; Cenoal had no right to steal away her noble end. Even as her heart screamed in pain for the loss of her dearest friends, she dared not shed a tear. She had cried enough in the past. Enough was enough. She was bearing the weight of this war, and crying was not going to make a single difference.
A yellow Lupe bumped into her suddenly. Crystal hadn’t been paying any heed as to her direction. “Forgive me, My Lady,” he stated, his gaze was on the ground.
Crystal nodded. “The mistake was mine, Sir Tormund.”
The Lupe seemed surprised to find the Heir to the Throne aware of his name. “Please, Princess, I would prefer Tor.”
Crystal nodded once more. It seemed she was doing this more to avoid speaking than anything. Her sharp ears picked up much. They were trained, after all, to hear all a thief would require. The three soldiers nearest to them were whispering. “I heard the Princess betrayed us,” one said. “They say she’s a thief!”
“Nonsense,” another replied. “If that was so, how could her father continue treating her the way he is?”
“She’s his daughter for goodness’ sake!” the last responded. “If that’s your logic, then how about telling us why that Aisha thief decided to save her?”
Crystal stopped herself from listening. Tor was still standing in front of her, obviously uncomfortable. “Could you call the people around?” she requested. “I must speak with them.”
“Of course, My Lady,” Tor replied, rushing off. He stopped suddenly. “My Lady, may I ask you something?”
Crystal shut her eyes. “Of course you may,” she replied. She knew the question would be one all were wondering.
Tor surprised her. “Have you ever been to Altador?”
Crystal shifted her gaze to the Lupe. Altador had been saved and revealed through his great deeds, his and his friend’s, Roberta. It had been maybe a number of months following her departure from Meridell and before the second war. She had never had the time to study the ancient land. “No,” she responded. “I have wanted to visit and learn from them, but I have had very little time on my hands.”
Tor nodded. He rushed off to fulfill the Princess’ request without another word. Crystal sighed. It was time to face the music...
Crystal stood before nobles, farmers, and soldiers. She nervously ran her fingers through her unruly hair, not really caring that she probably looked like a mess. Finally, in a clear voice, she began. “People of Meridell, I stand before you now to end the rumors that have been spreading. Yes, I am aware that many of you believe me a thief and a liar, one who betrayed you by fleeing long ago when you needed me the most.” A short pause followed the statement. “All this is true.” Uproar commenced.
Crystal merely stood silent as there were shouts and protests. Finally she looked up, piercing eyes silencing the crowd. “I feel I must explain now. Darigan was controlled by the Three.” Crystal glanced at Lord Darigan, as though apologizing. He nodded back. “I was hunted and feared the worse. Had I gone to Brightvale, they would have been pulled into a war I feared no one would win.” Now the Princess glanced at her uncle, sitting silently by her father.
“I fled. You thought me gone. And yet,” Crystal paused, looking down at her tattered robes, “you came through it just fine. I was a thief when word reached me that Meridell had won its war. There was no excuse for what occurred, or didn’t occur, after. I didn’t return. I stayed where I was, as a thief. You no longer needed me. I was free.” Crystal looked back up. “You must think me horrid for this, but I don’t regret it. I climbed the ranks of the Guild until I was much more than just another thief.” Crystal smiled a cold, regretting smile. “I was, and still am, the Scarlet Shadow...”
Now she shut her eyes tight, as though anticipating a stoning. But none moved; none spoke. Finally, she continued. “A number of things happened, most already explained in the letter. I know being a thief changes so much. You trusted me, and now you know my secret.” Crystal’s eyes snapped open, her head still bowed. “But now is a time for war, not for negotiations. I am Heir to your Throne no longer. I am a traitor, a thief.” Crystal’s head rose to look upon those standing before her. She watched their reactions of confusion, fear, and... relief? She forced a smile. “But then again, you don’t NEED an Heir, do you? No, you need someone who’ll get you out of this mess.” Her smile faded quickly. “I owe two wars to this Nation. And I will not allow that debt to remain unpaid any longer...”
Shade stood beside the two kings. He was surprised by the reaction of the people. They seemed to accept, no longer with spite, the fact that their princess was the thief they all loathed. His expression triggered a sad chuckle from King Skarl. “Crystal holds a place with her people,” he stated without warning. “It is a place none can reach without much sacrifice.”
Shade nodded, remembering when he had experienced first-hand how much the girl had been willing to go through. “She did so much for the land,” the king continued, “and everyone knew. She refused many of the honors I wanted to bestow. Somehow, the people know when their leaders care for them or not. They know her. No matter what, they know she cares.”
“You don’t know the half of it, Milord,” Shade responded.
Skarl smiled. “I think it is you who doesn’t know,” Skarl replied. “Crystal had to let go of much to keep the land safe.”
“Among them her truth?” Shade questioned.
“Indeed, among others...”
Before either could say more, Crystal was among them. “I’m off,” she stated.
“What?!” Shade exclaimed. “What do you mean ‘off’?”
“I’m going to find the ships carrying the reinforcements before they dock in Meridell,” she replied curtly. “Apparently no one thought about telling them via Crokabek. Now I don’t think the poor petpet will be able to deliver the message in time.”
“I sure hope you’re planning to take someone with you.” Shade responded.
Crystal gave him a look. “How did you expect me to get there?” she asked.
Shade merely rolled his eyes and allowed the Acara to mount him. “We’ll be back soon enough, Milord,” Shade said, seeing the king’s worried face. He was off before the king could argue...
Captain Amreliz mulled about his cabin. The brown Lutari was deep in thought when a large thud sounded from on deck. Quickly drawing his sword, Amreliz rushed out to meet the strange form. Surprise took over as he gazed at the Lady Crystal Turstone, sitting atop a muscular Shadow Uni. “Milady!” he exclaimed. The soldiers he was transporting to Meridell came up as well.
“Captain,” she greeted, giving a quick tip of the head. “I must advise you change course immediately. Danger waits in Meridell.”
“I have just now given the order, Milady,” the Captain replied. “We are set at a course for a small island.”
The Princess’ eyes seemed to widen. “I see,” she replied. “How did you-”
“I myself have trouble believing the turn of events, Milady,” Amreliz continued. “We were warned by a young Aisha. He flew to our ship, believe it or not, WITHOUT a Uni. He was injured heavily, and passed out a few minutes later. Thankfully, he warned us of Meridell before doing so.”
Now the Princess seemed unsure of herself. The Captain wondered if she had heard him. “This Aisha,” she began, “w-what does he look like?”
Amreliz was surprised to hear Crystal stutter, but held his tongue. He knew nobles, and they did NOT enjoy being pointed out. “His coloring is white, Milady,” he replied simply, “and he has brown-”
The Captain pulled a wry grin. He would never understand nobles. Why not just call it brown? “Chestnut hair...”
The girl’s eyes were shut now. “And blue eyes.”
It was then Amreliz realized that the Acara seemed to recognize his description. Without further questions, the Lutari said, “He’s below deck, Milady.”
Crystal nodded and made her way to the steps that led to the ship’s lower deck...
Below deck, a well-built Aisha lay unconscious, his breathing uneasy and short. He had a large gash across his chest, bandaged crudely with whatever clean linens the crew had found. Another wound was at his side. His saber was still gripped grimly in his hand. Around his neck was a small pendant. A small gem was tied to the thin chord. The smooth blue gem glowed brightly, emitting a light unlike any other as it worked its wonders. Crystal watched silently, amazed at the powers of the trinket she had gifted to the Champion of Meridell so long before...
To be continued...