A/N: I just want to forewarn you about exclamation points and their over-usage... this was written when I was in about seventh/eighth grade... that and, well, Conan's a bit full of himself... and the beginning is kind of corny, but I think it is still pretty good overall.

Chapter 1

In the age after magic and magical creatures had vanished from the Earth, the Earth was separated into kingdoms. There was one kingdom bigger than the others were. The king was ruthless and selfish. King F'rayn was highly revered. He had a daughter and a son. His daughter, Beryl, the first born, was ignored by the king though she was very beautiful and suitors would be lined up at her door if the king hadn't expected the rest of the kingdom to ignore her also. Conan, his son, was pampered and, from the time he was born, was trained to be king.

As Conan approached the age seventeen, his father decided to throw a ball for his son. King F'rayn sent out invitations to the princesses in the other rich kingdoms and the daughters of rich and exquisite nobles. He did not, however, send an invitation to his general, a rich man with a gorgeous daughter, for the general's daughter was an experienced sword-fighter and had never lost any of the jousts she had entered. Of course, she entered as a man and dressed in a gray cloak so to not betray her sex. King F'rayn did not want his son mixing with young women like her.

Conan was a spoiled brat who gave no care to what others thought. Whatever Conan wanted, he got. If he wanted a girl to satisfy him for a night, he got her and then disposed of her whenever and however he wanted. Because of that, the people of the kingdom hated him and were careful not to let their daughters go out while he was around, though some always managed to get used by him.

Wilson, the general, was proud of his daughter. She was the son he had wished for, being very talented with a sword. She had needed very little teaching ever since she picked up a sword. Wilson's great-grandmother had been married to an elf, which was pretty uncommon. Elves were tall, graceful, light-footed, and had beautiful voices, but of course, they existed no longer. Katherine, his daughter, was very graceful, but she was tall, light-footed, and had a beautiful voice she rarely used.

Katherine was fifteen and would not stand for any schooling unless it involved a sword. She had won every joust that had taken place at the castle, where she lived. Being Light-footed had helped her to move more swiftly and gave her the upper hand against an enemy. Kathy, as her father nicknamed her, entered the jousts as a man and wore a gray cloak to hide her sex. Because of that, whenever she was at a joust in her cloak, people would stare at her and exclaim, "The Gray Rider!" Some knights and sword masters that had not yet battled with her in a joust would clap their hands down on her shoulder and wish her good luck.

Wilson came over to her and kissed her on the brow. "I have to go continue Prince Conan's training! He is having a ball tonight and I want you to go, you hear! I want you to get married and stop all this foolishness!"

Katherine rolled her eyes. "Yes, father!"

Conan drew his sword from its sheath rather clumsily and set himself in fighting position. Wilson did not correct him, for he could lose his position if he dared to correct a prince.

"Do you plan on taking a bride at this ball for you?" Wilson asked glancing about the stable yard warily, seeing only Thorne and Tyrone, Conan's bodyguards, in sight.

Conan swung the sword in a graceful ark. "Yes, to please my father, I will and then dispose of my bride when a better one comes along." He said with ease as if women were objects you could dispose of whenever you wanted and there would always be a steady surplus.

Conan glanced at Wilson. "There will be plenty of gorgeous women there, though," Conan said in a reassuring way, rolling his eyes.

Not taking notice of Conan's expression, Wilson accepted the false reassurance and continued the lesson.

Despite the fact that he was going to be tied down for a while, Conan was actually looking forward to the ball. He followed the instructions of Wilson carefully and had a practice jest with a knight of one of the low ranks. Finishing the jest as the winner, Conan went off to get ready for the ball.

As Conan walked around the corner he heard Wilson and a girl talking. All Conan caught before he walked out of earshot was "get dressed".

Dressed in his fine linens, Conan walked elegantly into the ballroom. As he looked around, he saw the daughters of nobles and princess smile flatteringly at him. In the shadows along the walls stood the servants waiting to be beckoned by their masters. As was proper, Conan went and asked the princesses to dance with him first. They were all eager to please and would probably make good one-night-stand bed partners, but none seemed to have the ability to satisfy him for as long as the marriage could and would last. Sure, there were gorgeous ones and ones as spoilt as him, but none pleased him at all! Not even the nobles' and courtiers' daughters who usually made him laugh with gossip and jokes.

Conan looked toward the door wondering if they would ever leave. As he did so, he noticed a girl in a simple dress sitting on the steps staring intently at him and his dance partners. A tidbit saucy, Conan walked over to her.

"Why is a commoner here at a ball for the rich?" He asked.

"Why does the Prince worry about a commoner at his ball when he shall not choose her anyway?" the girl shot back.

She sounded familiar, but he couldn't pick her out.

"Answer my question, fool!" He commanded as all went silent.

She rose up and matched his height perfectly, though she seemed to tower above him.

In a voice as commanding as his, she said, "Invitations were giving out to nobles', courtiers', and princesses. Should I not be here then? If you dare challenge my reputation, then you must fight me for it!"

"Fight a girl? Ha!" He exclaimed with all he could muster after being mentally weakened by her voice.

The girl drew up the material next to her and put it on. It was a cloak. He laughed to himself. Like he was supposed to be scared. She put on the hood. She spoke and he recognized her voice.

"I am sure you are familiar with me now!" she said withdrawing her sword from some unknown place beneath her cloak. "I am the Gray Rider! Do you dare challenge me now?"

Chilled to the bone, "Guards, remove her!" He shouted.

Guards appeared and rushed to his aid before backing away frightened at her, the Gray Rider.

"Don't worry," she said coldly, "I was just leaving." And with that, she left, whipping the gray cloak behind her.

With a gesture, he summoned his guards. "I have to find out who she is."

The guards nodded and followed silently behind him. They followed at a distance as so not to be heard. She walked at a fast steady speed and then finally broke into a run, cartwheeled, flipped twice, and landed sword drawn and its tip pointed at its target's neck.

"Well done!" Said her target.

Katherine sheathed her sword.

"Alton!" She cried.

The man smiled. "That's Sir Alton!" he replied. "You sure like fancy, dramatic entrances, don't you? How does Princess Beryl take to them?"

"Don't you know? I am her royal jester!" she joked.

Katherine looked around. "Is my father home?"

"Yes, General Wilson has been stressed and paced throughout the parlor constantly since you left!" Sir Alton said adding emphasis with his hands and facial expressions.

"I'm going to miss you while I'm gone!" he added.

Katherine laughed at his puppy-dog face. "And I you!" she replied kissing his cheek.

Alton gave her hand a squeeze. "Well, you take care now!"

"Don't worry," she said and vanished into the house.

"So... she is Wilson's daughter!" Conan exclaimed aloud to himself.

"Is there anything you want us to do?" Tyrone said awaiting command next to Thorne.

"Well, first that Alton guy presents a problem. He will surely defend her if he is near her. And what does that mean?" Conan said glancing about at his fellow schemers.

Tyrone and Thorne smiled at each other. "We get to kill him!" they exclaimed together in unison.

Conan nodded happy that they understood and didn't give him a hard time like they usually did. It was probably because they liked killing people.

"Now, we need to think this out carefully!" Conan said with an evil grin.

"Father, I'm home!" Katherine called.

Katherine watched her father come around the corner from the parlor where Alton said he was. He seemed happy, but something worried him.

"Kathy!" He cried standing there greeting her with open arms. Katherine rushed into her father's warm embrace. He withdrew her and looked at her. "I thought the prince would pick you for sure!"

"Well, I am glad he didn't! He is such a... grrr!" Katherine said. She plopped down into the chair right next to her. "I am so exhausted!"

Katherine looked up at her father. "I'm going to go to bed!" she exclaimed.

She got up from her chair and strode down the hall. Evil thoughts rode through her head. I so want to kill that selfish prince. That impudent grin on his face should be knocked of his face and I am just the one to do it! I could do more than that! I could hack off his hands and carve out his tongue! Let's see how the bastard likes that! Satisfied with herself, Katherine tucked herself in and drifted into pleasant dreams.

Conan, astride his horse, watched Alton ride his horse into the woods. Conan kicked his horse and followed quietly behind Alton. He unsheathed his sword.

"Turn and fight for your death!" Conan hissed from beneath his hood.

Alton swung around sharply with his sword. Too fast for Conan and he cried out. Realizing it wasn't Katherine, Alton swiftly stabbed Conan.

Throwing back his hood with the tilt of his head, Conan cried out grasping his stomach. All went dark....

Katherine heard the soft tread of boots heading toward her room. Glancing out her window, she saw that it was dawn.

"Katherine?" someone whispered from her doorway.

"Yes?" she answered.

Alton walked into her room and sat on the edge of her bed.

"I have to tell you something," He said.

"What?" she said waking herself up.

"I have to go and probably can't return!" he said still at a whisper.

"What?" she said now fully awake.

"I killed the prince! He seemed to threaten me so I swung around. I tried to wound him, but I accidentally killed him. I didn't realize it was the prince till it was too late! They will find out that I did it and then I will be thrown in jail. I have to leave the kingdom and never return!"

Katherine slid out of bed in her nightgown and started throwing clothes over top of it.

"What are you doing?" Alton exclaimed at a whisper.

"I am going with you, that's what!"

"Sheryl, what's that?" an old man said pointing to a huge lump on the ground next to a horse grazing in the tall grass.

"I don't know! Go look," Sheryl, the old woman said.

The old man poked the lump with a stick. It groaned and the old man jumped back.

"Sheryl get over here! The boy's hurt!" the old man cried.

Sheryl ran over to where the old man was pointing. Sure enough, there was a young man in the grass with a wound in his stomach.

"Robert help me!" Sheryl cried to the old man.

Robert and Sheryl lifted the young man into their cart.

"He looks a lot like the prince!" Sheryl exclaimed. "As a matter of a fact, that is the prince! Come, Robert. Let's care for him! I haven't done anything since our sons went off and left us!"

"Too bad there aren't any more elves! They could care for this wound and it would heal perfectly!" Robert grumbled whipping his horse lightly. The horse pulled the cart down the lane with the prince's horse following behind, grazing the grass as it went.

Alton and Katherine headed out in the opposite direction of where the murder had taken place. Katherine patted Hawk, her dapple-gray horse, on the neck. She felt very prepared for the long, laborious journey to Franconia, the nearest neighboring country. Before they had left, Katherine had grabbed all her spending money and some dried fruits and meats that were in a barrel in case her father had to make a sudden errand. She thanked the cook silently and left a note on the counter saying that she was leaving and might return someday or let them know where she went.

The forest they entered was known as the NuphinaForest. No one remembers what language nuphina is, just that it means mysterious. The trees seemed to lean forward and listen to every sound they made and would straighten themselves out as you started to turn your head to look at them. As Katherine listened, she couldn't hear any sounds of life except for the humming of insects, a far off chirping, and the sounds of their horses trotting on the rocky surface beneath them.

Katherine stared at Alton. He sat with a refined posture and a troubled look upon his face. She had heard all of what he had told her and it all fit, but she felt as if there was something missing: what comes after. Basically, she felt it wasn't over. She didn't know why she felt this way, but she just did.

She looked up at what she could see of the sky through the trees.

"It's getting late. We have been traveling for a long while," Katherine said.

Alton shook off whatever thoughts he was thinking.

"Yeah, I guess we should, but it isn't safe to camp in this forest. If we go about another league, we should reach the edge!" He said staring straight ahead.

"That's almost three miles away!" Katherine moaned.

"I thought you were used to riding this long!" He said.

"Yeah! This long, not three miles more!" She exclaimed.

Conan sat up and moaned as his stomach hurt and blood soaked through the bandage rapped around his stomach.

"Whoa, whoa there, son! You're not ready to stand up!" said an old man suddenly appearing above him.

"You can't order me around, fool!" Conan barely managed to say from his cracked lips.

"Fool? Hardly! I am Robert. Me and my wife found you badly wounded in the grass." The old man laughed.

"Sheryl! The stubborn fool of a knight woke up!" he called.

"Fool of a knight?" Conan laughed choking and sinking back into the pillow. He took a deep breath.

The old woman who must have been Sheryl now peered over him. The graying woman put her hand over his wound. She scowled at him.

"No more sudden movements, son! You reopened your wound!" She said.

Conan opened his mouth to protest.

"If you tried to go any where right now, you would be near death by the time you walked out the door!" She said putting her finger to his lips. "Now, let me replace that bandage!"

"I have to go! I am a prince you know!" Conan said before passing out.

Katherine huddled near the fire. It had started to go low so she put more kindling on the fire. The night was remarkably chilly for a summer night and there seemed to be no stars twinkling over the Nuphina Forest though the moon hung full in the sky.

She glanced back at the forest. Katherine could now hear beasts growling from inside the forest and other strange sounds she had not heard when she was inside. The sounds would have chilled her to the bone if she had not already been frozen stiff.

Alton was snoring softly beside her rapped tightly in his blanket. She tried to figure out what he had been thinking earlier. As she tried, she couldn't help remembering how her mother used to always say, "One who thinks like others is not thinking." That saying kept nagging at her though she couldn't see how it related to this situation. Katherine groaned. Why do things from the past keep bothering me here, in the future? She asked herself.

"Why am I on this journey? What persuaded me to go on this journey? Everything is going to go wrong just like everything else in this life does when I am around!" Katherine cried putting her face in her hands.

"It's okay," she heard a voice say as two arms encircled her and drew her close to the body they were connected to.

Katherine inhaled and caught the smell of sweat and horse. Sobbing, she drew herself away to get a look at the person and saw Alton's face looming above her connected to the body in front of her.

Suddenly, Katherine was shaken awake. She couldn't believe she had fallen asleep!

"Katherine, are you all right?" Alton asked his hands on her shoulders. "You were crying in your sleep! You haven't cried since your mother died… or so I believe."

"Yeah, I'm fine," she said getting up. Looking around, she noticed she had fallen off the log she had been sitting on and her legs drooped over it, the rest of her on the ground on the opposite side of the fire.

Since she hadn't changed into her nightgown before she went to sleep, she folded up her blanket and put her cloak on before hopping astride her horse.

Conan sat up in the rather uncomfortable bed that Sheryl and Robert had placed him on. Seeing no one, he swiftly threw himself out of the bed and out the door. In the doorway, he paused glancing down at where the wound had been. He had a fresh shirt on and the scar from the wound was a pinkish-purple.

He had been penned up in that bed for a good four days. That Alton had probably gotten pretty far ahead of him. It angered him that that stupid Robert and that Sheryl with a know-it-all attitude, or at least that is what Conan thought of them, had been able to restrain him for so long. They are probably working with that Alton guy! Thank goodness they weren't home when I woke up! He thought.

Looking around, Conan saw his horse and called it over. He hopped astride and headed in the direction Alton had been heading in four days before. Now he was more determined than ever to kill Alton. If only he knew he was heading in the wrong direction...

Sheryl and Robert came around the corner.

"I am so glad he didn't hesitate to leave," Said Robert. "He was such a nuisance, thinking he was a prince and all!"

"Well, he really was a... Ah! Who cares any ways!" Sheryl said.

"Cares about what?" Robert asked looking at her curiously.

"Oh, nothing," She replied.

It had been four days since they had left the city next to the castle and they had not reached the Franconia yet. Katherine began to wonder if they were going the right way. They should have reached days ago according to what she was told.

So far everything in front of them and around them had been a vast flat plain. There were little or no trees wherever you looked. The trees that you could see were all rather died looking and their water flasks had practically run low.

"Are you sure we are going the right way?" Katherine asked.

Yes, I am sure. Despite what you may have been told, our kingdom, Jargon, is mostly many flat, deserted plains." Alton said.

Katherine huffed angrily.

"Ira furor brevis est," Alton said.

"What does that mean?" she asked.

"Anger is a brief madness," he replied.

"Oh... What language?" she asked.

"It is Latin. Spoken by the people of Latina, which borders Franconia on the southwest side. We are going to enter Franconia on the east side."

Alton looked ahead and they said nothing more.

Conan, leading his horse, trekked over and across rocky hills. He had rode for days through the forest, which his was okay with. After he had left the forest last night, he had had to guild his horse over and around rock after rock and hill after hill. He could not handle that! Conan was only used to walking short distances, not hundreds of yards.

He stumbled over a rock and cursed. Conan had scraps across his previously smooth hands. Why don't I ride that daft horse and make him stumble across the rocks and finds its own around them!

Finally trees started to come into view on either side of him and thicken as he went. There were birch, oak, maple, and all kinds of trees. Some of the trees had buds, some had just plain green leaves, and some were just died trees on the side of a rode that seemed to appear in front of him.

Looking ahead, Conan saw a city come into view. He smiled to himself at the thought of sleeping in a bed again and the other things he could do.

Conan hopped astride his horse and galloped toward the city.

As he rose into the city, he found the inn and it seemed to suit him nicely. He paid the innkeeper for a room and had his horse put in the stable by a stable boy.

There was a nicely dressed peasant girl by the well in the middle of the city. Conan strode over to her and "bade" her to come with him. He guided her up to his room.

"Undress!" he commanded.

The girl hesitated.

Conan huffed. Not in the mood, Conan bade her to go. As she reached the door, he called out to her.

"Has a blond-haired, blue-eyed knight come through this parts?" He asked.

The girl turned around, afraid to be stalled any longer.

"No," she said, "If you need to find someone, you can always ask an old woman named Sheryl. She lives two miles west of here!"

The frightened girl hurried out the door and shut it quietly behind her.

Confound that asinine Alton! He is too smart to head out the same way that he was going! And that Sheryl, me running into her and not even knowing of what great use the old hag would have been to me! Confound that Katherine also, effecting how my life functions! Grrr! Curses!

Ah! I am just going to go to bed and turn around in the morning!

A/N: surely you are laughing with me at this point if you haven't closed this page yet. I am not too good at writing first chapters so that was how it came out... so surely you will read until the end.... hopefully...