I could hear myself breathing, shallow, short breaths. Each sounded like a gunshot to me. My heart was beating so fast I was nearly hyperventilating. I tried calming myself down but it was no use. The darkness was all around me, a black, clammy blanket that was seriously hampering my escape.
Run! Run and don't look back, promise me you'll do this, my darling. I tried to listen to Else's voice in my head but it was getting so difficult. The sounds of the enemy guards echoed all around me so that I could all but feel them beside me. The cavernous dungeons that I had escaped to were only adding to my problems. There were no lights or windows in the tunnels so I had no way of knowing which direction I was taking. I put my hand out, as the guard's footsteps seemed to die away. All I could feel was the wet and grime stuck to the wall after centuries of prisoners rotting in these rooms. I tried to walk forward but my knees had given way. Again, I tried to listen to Else's voice in my head, anything to give me the strength I needed to move. I waved my hands around and hit a bit of wood that stuck out of the wall at an angle. Using it to lever myself up, I got back to my feet and felt for the wall. As quietly as I could, I scrabbled my way along, tripping on objects that I could only feel but couldn't see. This wasn't happening. It just wasn't. The numbness and disbelief seeped into my system and thankfully removed the aching pain in my leg and in my heart. The last hour was a blur. I tried not to think of the people who I had left behind upstairs, at the mercy of the enemy guards who had swarmed into the castle like locusts.
Else. I couldn't stop the sob from escaping my lips. What have I done? Else, my nurse, who's job had been over for many years, but whom I had found I could not do without. She was still lying on the cold marble floor, her life slipping away from her in the blood that I had seen pooling around her head. We had been laughing and talking, as always, making our way from the dining hall to the sleeping quarters when the cry had gone up. Himlanir Guards were being spotted. Everywhere. The watch barely had time to warn the peaceful inhabitants of the castle before he had been shot through the head with a poison arrow. Else had grabbed my arm, yelling at the protection officers around us, to keep close to me. But there was nothing they could have done. We had been standing at the top of the Great Stairs and Else had barely finished speaking before Himlanir Guards were before us. My protection officers had sprung into action, sending the call around the castle, 'Protect the Princess!', before drawing swords against the enemy. But Else had got in the way. And been brutally knocked to the ground. I had watched in disbelief as she lay there, could this be happening? In the Royal Palace of Duthaich? Surely not. Yet, the blood had been real. Else had held my hand as I lay weeping by her side. Go, and don't let them find you. I love you, Liadan, and I will always be with you. I had stumbled blindly from her, as she had slipped quietly away. Around me, guards fought heavily and I ran past them unseen, thankful to God for once, that I had been born as small and sprightly as a water fairy. I had run, stumbling and trembling, towards the dungeons and the tunnel that led from the heart of the castle deep into the Riomhach Forest. It was my only hope. A piece of glass from one of the many broken windows had cut a jagged wound into the side of my leg, hampering my escape.
Above me, I heard voices, much closer than before. Voices that were talking in Canain, the language of Himlanir, instead of Briodal. I froze where I was and tried to steady by shallow breathing. The voices appeared to be getting louder and I stared into the darkness in vain, praying that I could make something out of the blankness. All of a sudden, people were at the other end of the tunnel and the strong candles they were holding strained through the darkness. I could vaguely make out the tunnel and, as quietly as I could, continued to drag myself further along. I could hear them behind me, one of them yelling at me in Canain but I kept going, scrabbling my bloody hands along the war to keep myself from falling. Slowly but surely, they got closer and closer, furiously barking at me to halt but all I could see was the tunnel stretching out before me. I knew that would lead me out to freedom. It was the last thought I had before the blow that sent me reeling to the ground.
The dank smell hit me first when I finally awoke. Where am I? Gingerly, I opened one eye and slowly glanced around. The sun was streaming in through the open window, blinding me. As I came to properly, the pain was intense. My arms had been tied firmly behind my back so that, in my unconscious state, I had been lying on them, cutting off the circulation. I looked down at my leg, which was bruised and still bleeding, the open wound deep and harsh against my tanned skin. I tried to ignore the pain and waited for my eyes to adjust to the light. I looked around, realising I was in the stable outside. There was one Himlanir Guard, snoring softly in the corner, his big belly heaving in and out. I tried to stand but the pain that shot up through my leg made me gasp and sit down again. I started to crawl on one knee, dragging the injured leg behind me. I had got to the door and was contemplating how to get it open when it suddenly swung back of its own accord. The sunshine streamed through even brighter, blinding me again before two hands reached out and grabbed me. I yelled out as I was made to stand upright, the pain in my arms matched only by the pain in my leg. Tears formed behind my eyes and rolled down my face, which I didn't even have the ability to wipe away.
The Guard who had walked in laughed out loud, "Look at this one, Jelyrin. Crying like a babe. We'll soon knock some sense into her." He addressed his sleeping companion, who suddenly woke and laughed along with his comrade.
They don't know I can speak Canain, I realised hoping through this I could perhaps find a means of escape.
"You," the first Guard pointed a dirty finger at me, "Come with me," he said in broken Briodal. I nodded and hobbled along behind him, putting as little pressure as I could on my wounded leg. He took me into the Castle that had been my home for the last 20 years. Inside, Himlanir Guards stood laughing and talking, examining paintings of my ancestors and acting as if they had a right to be there. My insides burned with anger. How dare they. We walked into the huge Reception Hall where Duthaich's Royalty had entertained visiting Monarchies for the last four centuries. Seated at the end of the room, in front of a huge oak dining table were three men, all deep in discussion. They were wearing the traditional colours of the Himlanir Army, but I could see they were from the Royal Court as their clothes were not the commoner army uniform. I was made to stand in front of the oak table while the three men appraised me.
"Child, what is your name?" the eldest of the three addressed me first, in Canain. I blinked at him, pretending not to understand. He turned to the others, "She must be a commoner. All members of the Royal Court are fluent in their own language as well as Canain and Proliag." I examined him as he spoke. He was old and bearded, his hair white and speckled grey. I assumed he was a finideach, a wise man the Himlanirs used to advise them. The other two were younger. The first had dark hair, blue eyes and was athletically built. He looked young but battle-hardened, too much so for his years. The second was older than the first, perhaps my father's age, and also had the look of a man who had seen too much war in his life.
The finideach spoke to me again, this time in my own language, "What is your name?"
"I am Ciall, sir." I replied, using a commoner name.
He nodded but was still looking at me intently, "Ciall, why were you in the castle?"
"I am a maid here, sir."
He continued to stare at me, so I averted my eyes, "Ciall, where is the Royal Family?"
"I do not know, sir. I am but a maid."
"Have they gone to their summer palace?" he persisted.
"I think not, sir, it is too early for that."
The youngest of the three men, silent up to now, suddenly got up and came round the table to stand before me. "Who do you serve here?"
"I serve the Queen, sir."
"You do not look like a maid, Ciall."
I pretended to not understand what he meant.
He turned back to the table, addressing the other two in Canain, "Well, we'll find them soon. It is only the King and Queen we seek now, the Princes have both been killed."
I could not help it. The small whimper was out before I could stop it. And the man in front of me had a knife to my neck before I could react.
"Princess Liadan. How long did you think to fool us for?"
I shuddered, the cold metal pressing into my skin, "As long as it took me to escape, you murdering ragair," I swore at him in Briodal.
"You are very foolish to talk to me thus, when I have a knife at your throat."
I stepped a little closer to him, the knife digging deeper, "Kill me now then. I do not care."
"You are no use to me dead, Princess. I want to know where your family is. And you will tell me." He spoke to me so angrily I nearly laughed out loud.
"How dare you speak to me thus! You have invaded my country and killed my kinsmen. Now you expect me to betray my family to you too? I am a Princess of the Duthaich Realm and I would rather die honourably than live with dishonour." See what he made of that.
He grabbed my arm tightly and forced me over to the window. "Look down there," he commanded, "There are you beloved kinsmen." I saw the Royal servants standing in groups in the courtyard. "See how thin and haggard they are? That is not my doing, Princess, but yours. Yours and your Duthaich Realm, which treats people badly and starves and beats them." I looked again. They did look quite frail and thin but then, what did one expect after their country had been invaded and taken over?
One of the servants I recognised as a footman suddenly looked up towards the window, "It's the Princess!" He yelled. I went to wave at him before I realised he was not happy to see me. "I hope you rot in hell for all eternity!" He screamed at me while others around him caught sight of me and jeered. I stepped back from the window, shocked. This was these Himlanirs' doing. The people of Duthaich had never showed signs of being unhappy before.
"I see what you are thinking." The man grabbed me and made me stand before the window again, staring down at the angry crowd, "They are free, now. Free to say what they think of you and your family. They could not say anything against you before without paying with their life. Now we have set them free. I would hate you more, were I one of them."
The finideach got up and put a hand on the younger man's arm, "She is but a girl, Prince Easbalair, it is the others who are more culpable."
"You are the Crown Prince of Himlanir?" I could not help asking in surprise.
He turned on me, "Yes. But we treat our people better than you do, and so we are loved and revered as much as you are feared and hated." He walked away from me in disgust, "I do not care if she is just a girl. She is a Princess who has lived in her ivory tower without a thought for the people below. She disgusts me. Get her cleaned up, finideach. " He gave me one last look before turning on his heel and leaving the Hall.
Hey peeps, the foreign words are all Gaelic so if anyone speaks Gaelic you'll probably understand. This is just a trial chap, I'm going to see how it goes. Please review if you liked it or not, so I know whether to continue posting it up!
Merci, Am xx