Chapter 1

First chapter of what will hopefully be a good story, lots of adventure.  Please review.

Will I ever see her again?  King Raoul II of Gilder stared out of his elegantly decorated bedroom window, looking down upon his beautiful capital city.  Normally he liked nothing better than to admire his ancestors' handiwork, but today his mind wandered back to a strange and unsettling event that had occurred three days ago.  Only three days!  He could scarce believe it.  It seemed like much longer.  The day had been one of the first really fine days of the season.  With the roads finally dry enough to travel; the King's advisors had seized the chance to send him away from the political unrest that threatened to tear apart his beloved city. 

The cart trundled along the pitted forest path, poorly disguised as a merchant's wagon.  Raoul had too many enemies these days to go boldly and undisguised through territory not controlled by the Royal Guard.  Unfortunately, the meager disguise provided by the cart was not enough to protect the King. 

The cart had only just penetrated the deepest part of the forest when a loud shout echoed through the trees, and five dark, tangible shadows dropped to the ground.  There were very few soldiers accompanying the cart, in keeping with the disguise of a merchant, and those who weren't killed immediately by the attackers dashed off in panic along the path from whence they had come.  Raoul shrank back into the corner of the cart, away from the narrow window.  These bandits must think they'd attacked a rich merchant, a common target in these troubled times.   How would they react when they found out they'd kidnapped a king?  They might demand a ransom that would break his depleted treasury, though it was more likely that they would decide to kill him outright.  As far as the common people were concerned, he would do more good dead than alive.  Disturbed by his own morbid thoughts, the King watched as one of the bandits cautiously approached the cart.  The man, his face obscured by a crude mask, yanked the door open suddenly, but stopped, shocked, when he saw the Kin.  He let out a long, low whistle.

"Bloody 'ell!  'Ey, Jim!  Lookit what we've got 'ere!"

Beckoning to the others, the bandit seized Raoul by the collar and dragged him roughly out of the cart.  The other bandits crowded around, staring.  Finally, after a few moments of stunned silence, one of them spoke.

"What'll we do wit'im?"

Another bandit, who appeared to be the leader, stepped forward, and peered into the King's face.  "We don't got a choice.  We got to kill 'im."

This caused a small uproar among the others, "But he's King"  "We'd be hunted down…"  "Are you mad?"

"Don't you lot see?"  The leader had to shout to make himself heard above the racket.  "What good 'as 'e ever done for us'n?  Mebbe if we kill 'im, things'll get better.  'Sides, what else is we a'posed to do with 'im, eh?" he pressed on relentlessly, "It'd be more than our lives' worth to return 'im to th' palace, what wit' all th'rebels around."

The others mulled this over for what seemed, to Raoul, like an eternity.  He stayed stubbornly silent.  Nothing he could say would change these men's minds.  Finally, they came to a decision.  They would do better to kill him.  The leader slowly took out his knife, his eyes wide with fear at what he was about to do.  The others urged him forward, the voices hushed, half-eager, half-terrified.  None of them had ever killed a helpless man before, let alone a helpless king.  The leader paused for a moment, as though unable to move.  Inch by horrifying inch he moved the knife closer, until its sharp point was pressed against the King's chest. The man took another deep breath, and brought his arm, tensed and ready, into position.  He stabbed.  The knife never reached its target.

Another shadow-cloaked figure landed in front of the King, cat-like, knocking the knife from the bandit's hand.  This figure was also masked, and tense with rage.  The figure moved forward, too furious to do more than stare menacingly at the others.  The lead bandit clutched his arm; it was obviously numb from the blow the figure had given him.  After several moments of awkward silence in which none of the bandits moved a step, the figure spoke,

"Idiots!  You don't just stab a king!  Particularly this one!  Now, get out of here, before I…"

There was no need to finish the threat.  The bandits had already dashed off into the trees, disappearing in the gloom.  Raoul looked up at his rescuer, now picking up the discarded knife.  The figure turned to the King, and beckoned to him, even as he stuck the knife in his belt.

"Come with me."

Raoul realized with a start that this masked figure, his saviour, was a woman!  And an educated one, to judge from the way she spoke.  Slightly shaken from this astonishing revelation he stood and followed the masked woman towards the trees.  She offered no assistance.  It was not until he entered the half-light of the forest that the King realized how dizzy he felt.  I'll just sit down for a moment, he thought wearily to himself, but it was too late.  A roaring sound filled his ears, and he collapsed in a dead faint.

****

Raoul awoke in a large clearing, the green light that trickled down from the canopy above playing across his face.  He sat up and rubbed his eyes, the ache in his head the only thing that convinced him that he wasn't dreaming.  Looking around, Raoul noticed an unusually enormous oak tree on the other side of the clearing.  At the bottom of its trunk, near the roots, there was a triangle-shaped opening.  From inside the tree, came the sounds of someone, or something, moving around.  After a few moments, the masked woman who had rescued the King emerged from the opening.  She carried with her a steaming mug full of a dark brown liquid, which she handed to the King.

"You should drink this, now you're awake." she said calmly, "It's an herbal tea.  It will help to ease your headache."

The King tried to drink the tea, but it was too hot.  He looked curiously over at the woman, who was now leaning against the oak, sipping her from a mug of her own.  Now that he thought about it, she had quite a beautiful voice, very melodic and refined.  She looked quite pretty from where he sat, slim and almost cat-like in her elegance.  Cautiously, Raoul took a sip from his mug, and felt the throbbing in his head lessen almost immediately.  All he could see of his saviour's face was her brilliantly blue eyes.  They were very beautiful eyes, but they showed no emotion whatsoever.  He took another gulp of the warm tea, and was mildly surprised to feel himself drifting off to sleep.  The clearing faded, and his entire world went black.  The only thing that remained in his mind was a pair of dazzlingly blue eyes.