Regimental Blues

1. Prologue

The girl was woken in the night by a scream. She knew the voice, and started from beneath the heavy sheets. Wild with anticipated horror, she ran towards the door of her chamber, flung it open, and rushed blindly through her rooms towards the source of the scream.

She was met at the entrance of her rooms by her maid, who gasped in shock at the sight of the slight figure in her ghost-white nightgown, and hastily forced her back in. "Your Highness! What are you doing out here?"

She choked, "Father…" and sagged into her maid's arms.

The door swung open, and the maid jumped, shoving her charge behind her; but the figure was a familiar one, although greatly removed from her normal appearance. The girl's mother was also in her nightdress, and her hair was tangled and drenched in sweat. The moonlight through the open door glinted on the sword in her hand, which was coated in a dark liquid the girl recognised all too well. Her expression was wild.

The girl disentangled herself from her maid's clutches and ran to her mother, who caught her up in a one-armed embrace. "Where's Father? I heard him cry out……Mother, what's going on?"

Her mother seemed unable to speak. Her mouth opened and shut, and then a great wave of sobs broke through. "They…darling, I don't want to tell you this, but…your uncle killed him."

The word struck her like a roundhouse blow, and she swayed in shock. Behind her, her maid let out a terrified whimper. "Surely not…his Majesty…oh gods…"

She broke off at the sound of footsteps coming down the corridor. The girl's mother leapt up in horror. "We've got to get out," she said urgently. She barred the great door, and taking her daughter's hand, she began to run back through the rooms, with the maid following after in a panic.

They hadn't gone very far, when they heard the bolt splinter and the door crash open. Her mother stopped, and thrust her into the maid's arms. "Get her out of here. I'll hold them off – I'll come for you later. Elina, hide your birthmark, no one must see it. Whatever happens – don't let him find you."

She flicked a lever beside the fireplace, and a hidden door opened behind the coals in the grate, which she shoved them through. The girl opened her mouth to yell her mother's name, but the maid clapped a hand over it and dragged her away as the door rolled back into position . The last image she saw of her mother was of her standing in the middle of the room, sword in hand, the dim lighting glinting darkly off the bloody stains, her face grim and set. Then they were in the tunnel.

The girl fought free of her maid's grasp, and tore back towards the door, but the sound of another voice, a man's voice, stopped her short. It was her uncle's voice.

"Where is the child?"

And her mother's, a bitter laugh: "You'll never find her."

"And what will you do to stop me?" The voice was cruel, insinuating.

Her mother's voice betrayed no emotion. "I will kill you first, Donovan."

"Really, Elizabeth?"

She heard the terrible click, and her eyes grew wide with imminent horror.

The last thing she heard was her mother's ragged breathing, loud even in this tunnel, and then the explosion rocked her world.

She fought back through the swirling darkness, and came to on the musty floor of the tunnel. Her maid's hand was over her mouth, but she heard her uncle say: "Search all the rooms. The child must be in here, or she wouldn't have put up such a fight."

She was numb with the horror and the grief, and she let herself be led through the tiny tunnel by hand, away from the searchers, away from her parents' bodies, away from the dead. She left her life behind her, and walked on into the dark.