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Chapter Four

Of Matrimony and Traitors

By the time I had snuck back into the fortress gates returned the horse and crept thought the palace to my rooms it was nearly midnight. When I emerged through my chamber door I was met by Step mother's death glare, and I knew that I was in for it. "Do you even have any idea how serious this is?" She yelled moments later I stood there indifferent to what she was saying my eyes adverted to the ground as she stood before me chastising my actions. I focused on the floor where I stood doing all I could to keep my emotions under control. "You're getting married to the King of Talusai tomorrow and what do you do? ...you go gallivanting off with some man! The King is not pleased!" The queen scolded

Her words had touched a nerve and I knew it was now time for my tongue to lose itself "Some man? Some man? Milady, Daniel has been my dearest friend since infancy!" I shouted in her face "A man who died tonight in my arms. So, it just so happens that I don't care what pleases, and displeases his majesty!"

"You better start caring! You shall marry Jarred, and I shall hear no more about it!" Queen Alice said coldly her voice now at its normal taunting volume.

"I do not love him, and could never love a monster like him! He's brought nothing but pain to this country!" I screamed shrilly

"Since when has marriage ever been about love?" The Queen laughed brutally as she started towards the door watching my every movement. "It's always been about politics, and always will be...you'd be a fool to think otherwise." she paused her hand on the door latch. "Why am I even having this conversation with you? It's final; you're to marry King Jarred at twilight!" She opened the large door shouting "Guard! The bastard Princess is not to leave her chambers we cannot have her running off again!" That's when I realized what she was doing as I began running toward the large door she slipped out into the hallway.

"No," I tried to stop her but she was too quick and had locked the door behind her. I beat my fist against the locked door "No... No...No...No...No." I sobbed as I slowly slid down the closed doors my sobs echoing through my chambers. Still clad in my blood and sand crusted clothes with my hair hanging limply around me like a black mourning veil I slipped to the floor. 

I looked scornfully at my wedding dress that was on a stand in the corner of my dressing room reminding me of the festivities tomorrow would bring. The room swirled around me my sobs dying away, my body numb from the grief that consumed me with the foreboding reality that my fate was in the clumsy, careless hands of men.

It was nearly time, I sat stiffly in a high backed chair staring at the walls as the sun bounced off the diamonds that where skillfully sewn onto my magnificent wedding gown. The sun was slowly creeping below the horizon, and time --it seemed-- was slowed to an agonizing pace, as my mind cruelly replayed Daniel's death in my head. I knew that in a matter of minutes that my step mother and her fellow torturers would be coming to prepare me for my wedding.

I walked over to the mirrored vanity where my jewelry had been set out for my inspection. Each of the magnificent pieces shimmed in the fading light as I gently ran my hand over each of the large gems that sparkled, promising themselves to be beautiful. Looking into the mirror I hardly recognized myself, I was anything but the epitome of a bride, my eyes where bloodshot, my cheeks where blotchy and red stained with tears, my lips chapped and bleeding from where I'd bitten them. I shook my head disapprovingly.

This was not the way I'd imagined I'd be spending the hours before my wedding, my hopes for happiness slashed, my dreams of being with someone I loved ripped from my hands. I walked around the dressing screen, over to my exquisite wedding gown which stood on a faceless manikin. Picking up a sheer sleeve to survey the beautiful handiwork of some seamstress that had labored to fulfill the Queen's order I noted the beautiful designs of the embroidery that glinted with the various assortments of diamonds and pearls. Dropping the sleeve I looked over at the seamstress's tools, picking up a pair of sheers -that had been used to cut the extraneous strings from the bodice of the dress- in one hand like a knife I took the sleeve in the other, my mind threatening to desecrate the sanctity and symbolic purity of the exquisite dress. In the blink of an eye it was gone, pearls and diamonds splashed to the ground, the cream colored silk ripped, the beauty gone with the priceless work. The fine veil was destroyed, the sleeves of the dress on the floor, the train in pieces and my hands worked, blissfully unaware of what they were doing. Then I awoke from my daze, drawing back my hands covered my mouth to stifle my scream of horror so it would not be audible, as the sheers clattered to the floor with a metallic clang. I had just destroyed the wedding dress, the wedding dress that had take many months to make, and had cost more than the combination of my mother's and my dowry. I looked at the torn fabric in shock, there was no way I could worm my way out of trouble. There was no way I could face my father, or step mother. I had one option.

Grabbing my cloak and my mother's silver locket, I shoved the large door open which had been unlocked at dawn so my step mother could wake me and begin my morning routine. Racing down the halls, I knew what I had to do if I wished to avenge Daniel's death. Skidding past unaware guards I gathered my composure as I came to the entrance to the detention cells, A few heart wrench moments passed and I found myself standing in the dank stone cell of Peter, the one man who could help me.

"Well Princess how kind of you to visit me." Peter laughed sarcastically from his shacked position on the filthy thresh covered floor. "I would bow, but I regret that such an act is impossible considering my situation."

I knew having my back to the door was dangerous, but I needed Peter, so the risk was necessary "I don't have time to play games, tell me what I want...so we can both be on our way!" I shot not in the mood to be toyed with.

"You can't always have what you want." Peter retorted crossing his arms his chains clanking.

"What do you know of Daniel?" I questioned sharply ignoring his comment. I was wasting already precious time. I had to be out of the castle before my disappearance was noticed, and every second that passed delayed me and my goal was a second wasted.

"Daniel? Daniel..." He thought as he scratched his chin as though he was deep in thought. I had often seen my father do the same when I had requested something of him. "Well he's a good chap, a good fighter, a friend of yours, if I'm not mistaken. Why?"

"He's dead! He told me that you where the only one who could help me, now I come to you." I exclaimed

"Well how do you propose that I might be able to help you? Seeing you're supposed to be getting married, and I'm all tied up?" Peter questioned

"Do you swear to take me to your rebel base if I free you?" I asked glancing over my shoulder out the wooden and barred door to see if anyone had come to investigate.

"Yes...but how?-"

I pulled out a set of keys that I had taken from the guard I had knocked out at the entrance of his cell. "Any more questions good sir?"

"No, I think you've taken care of any doubts that I had about your skills of breaking a criminal out of prison!" Peter replied slightly amused as I searched for the correct key that would unlock the shackles. He seemed surprised how close I was to him as I unlocked each of his irons unfamiliar with the proximity but I ignored his strange glances focusing on each lock until they had all clicked off.

"Come on," I urged as he rose to his feet. He was about a good thirty centimeters taller than me, his long dark hair casting a shadow on his face. Following close behind me, we carefully slipped out of the cell and up the winding staircase that led to the main level. Doubling back, we slipped though the servant's entrance. As we slipped through the small passage way I couldn't help but feel a little claustrophobic

"So what provoked you to be a runaway bride?" Peter questioned as we snuck to the stables

"Silence!" I said sharply "You need to be quiet until we get out of the castle grounds!"

"Oh excuse me," Peter mumbled.

"Come on we have to run." I whispered.

Running though the castle was an adrenalin rush as we raced past the guards. When we reached the stables I felt a sense of relief having passed through the second level of security. I quickly grabbed my favorite saddle before slowly setting it back down again. "If I were to disappear, the saddle would be easily recognized as mine because it is my favorite." I thought before exchanging the beautiful leather saddle for an older tattered one that should have been long disposed of. In the stall next to me not two yards away Peter had found a beautiful white stallion and was quickly saddling it with the best tack in the stable. "Flamboyant fool! Does he want to be caught?" I thought to myself taking Dark Angel's reins leading the way out of the stables. Upon reaching the last gate I held my breath hoping praying we wouldn't be detained but with the rush of people coming in and out of the gate for the wedding we slipped past unnoticed 

through the throngs of people. Our disappearances had gone seemingly unnoticed, and had not sounded an alarm so we had a little more time than I had originally projected.

Journeying father away from the castle I began to realize there were several things we needed to exchange and acquire before I could leave the city. Supplies for our journey were desperately needed and a change in attire was necessary for I was in a long richly sewn dress, while Peter was in rags, each the foil of the other. "Come on Elizabeth; please be at home and not my wedding!" I thought helplessly as we approached her humble home slowing Dark angel to a slow walk.

"Anna? What are we doing here?" Peter hissed as I dismounted

"Silence!" I demanded harshly as approached Elizabeth's door. I paused tentatively before knocking against the worn wood.

The planked door creaked open allowing a sliver of warm golden candle light to slip through to where I could just barely Elizabeth's eyes peering out at me. "Anna?" She questioned swinging the door the rest of the way open revealing her long dark dress and the thin stained apron tied loosely around her frail frame. "What are you doing here?" She questioned worry written across her age worn face

I bit my lip, the internal war raging within me. I was knowingly putting the only remaining person in the world I cared about in danger. And for what? Because I was being childish and didn't want to marry the arrogant, fastidious fool of a man I had been betrothed to. I swallowed my fear and prayed she would forgive my selfish actions. "Elizabeth- I- I need help, I'm in a spot of trouble." I whispered urgently leaning in toward her so that we would not be overheard, "We need to get indoors before I can reveal anymore."

She nodded "Take your horses around back." Elizabeth instructed before adding in a low tone, "They will be less likely spotted back there."

As Peter and I entered the small house Elizabeth peered up and down the street as if waiting for the guards to come galloping down the street looking for the princess. Closing the door and securely fastening the deadbolt behind her she continued to the two windows in the small kitchen area closing the shutters and fastening the locks. She then smoothed out her long grey hair before looking up at me "Anna, why are you in trouble?" Elizabeth scolded

I cringed she was like my own mother and like my mother she would not allow me to escape, her presence, without a guilty conscious.

"Madame, I am a run away bride, and helped a man escape from prison." I said motioning to Peter, "He knows who killed your son, he can help me." I replied like a child trying to justify their naughty deed "I need to disguise myself; you're the only one I can trust outside the palace walls. I am sorry to have put you in this situation, but I found it necessary at the time."

"You're not in trouble Anna," Elizabeth said her arms folded around her self as she paced the length between the kitchen table and the hearth "You are going to need weapons, clothing, and provisions... correct?" Elizabeth asked pausing a moment she waited for my response. I nodded so she continued "I shall prepare your provisions, you're going to need to change out of that dress you'll be too easily recognized otherwise." She instructed, "I have some clothes that may just do, they're back in my room, in the old trunk..." I just stared at her for a moment in amazement. "Hurry child you don't have much time!" She rushed

I nodded before strode into her bare room, the only furniture, a single bed, the old trunk, a small washing basin, and a dirt streaked Mirror. I carefully set the candle I had been carrying on the floor next to me and knelt beside the trunk at the foot of her bed. Unlatching the rusty latch I lifted the heavy lid with a creak and beneath two of Elizabeth's beautiful handmade quilts lay purposefully place: a pair of trousers, a small cotton outer shirt and jacket, a cloak, and a 15 centimeter blade. Placing the candle stick on the closed lid of the trunk, I glanced over at my reflection in the mirror and frowned. I knew that if I was going to charade as a boy, I was going to have to look the part by cutting my hair and binding my chest with cloth. "First things first," I thought as I unsheathed the small blade and hesitantly held it to my braid. I cringed slightly as the cool metal came in contact with my thick black hair and I began to hack away at the long locks. When my waist length braid hit the floor I set the knife down as I peered into the small looking glass before me surveying my handy work. "Not bad Anna," I smiled at the boy in the mirror my once long hair now a little past my ears.

Then, my back to the door, I set to work on binding my chest. To be honest I wasn't the most well endowed when it came to my bust, In fact that was one of the things Queen Alice taunted me about on a daily basis, but it still posed a problem as most boys don't have figures. I quickly untied my dress and binding cloth before tightly rewrapping my binding cloth make sure it concealed my breasts. Unsatisfied with the results I hastily unbound myself before rebinding my chest being sure that I could not see any traces of the feminine features.

Examining myself in the mirror I nodded with approval before I slid into the old shirt and pants I'd managed to find for myself. I slipped into my boots before strapping the dagger to my side and fastening the worn cloak around my neck. I carefully folded my braid inside my dress before I hid it deep inside the trunk. I grabbed an extra set of clothing for Peter before opening the door to the kitchen.

"Anna?" Elizabeth questioned as I entered the brightly lit common area to find Peter sitting at the dining room table and Elizabeth pacing anxiously.

"Yes Elizabeth it is I! I pull off being a boy well don't I?" I laughed before throwing the clothes to peter. "Lets see if they fit shall we?" I inquired as he slipped into the back room to change. "Is everything ready or is there more to be done before we can disembark on our journey?" I looked over at Elizabeth once the door had shut behind peter. There where dark circles under her eyes as they darted about the room looking at the packages she had prepared checking off everything she had packed to make sure she hadn't forgotten anything.

"Everything is ready." Elizabeth exclaimed as she finished her calculations

"Thank you so much for everything," I whispered as I gave her a hug. Peter walked out of the back bed room and then went to check the horses but I had a feeling he did it to give us some privacy "Take care of yourself Elizabeth." I knew that this may be the last time I ever saw her again. "Don't tell anyone anything; I've taken care to cover my tracks as best I can, but you never know."

"Go majesty," Elizabeth broke from our embrace "choose your allies wisely." She led me towards the back door where peter and the horses waited.

"Its Jordan now," I corrected her softly.

"Go now! The palace guard is probably searching for the runaway bride if you don't hurry you'll be caught," Elizabeth said I could hear the urgency in her voice.

We both went out the back door where Peter was already mounted "A safe journey." Elizabeth whispered as I mounted Dark Angel.

Without another word we went forth in the fading light of the sun and in the setting of darkness. We rode in silence until we reached the outskirts of the city and passed through the last gate, by that time the darkness had us securely wrapped in it, and the moon was beginning to rise. "Until we're far enough from the city we shall rest by day and travel by night," Peter said casually, slowing his mount to an easy walk.

I nodded, now that we where out of the city the adrenalin was beginning to thin, weariness fighting to overtake me. "You all right Anna?" Peter questioned

"Yeah, I'm fine." my lips formed a weak, unconvincing smile

"I know a liar when I see one, you look exhausted Jordan." Peter said chuckled shaking his head "You can sleep; I'll keep your reins for you so your horse doesn't stray."

I peered at him suspiciously in the dim light as we followed a narrow trail through the forest of thick pine "fine," I replied after moment tentatively I handed him the reins.

We traveled by night for a week until we deemed ourselves far enough from the city. We traveled another week in silence and then on the fourteenth day Peter spoke "I have a question, but first I must apologize if this offends you," Peter exclaimed "Why is it that you stuck your neck out in my behalf?" He questioned

"You are less offending than others," I laughed "however the answer to your question it simple. I hate my father and most men for that matter because of what they've done to me. When I see a wrong being done, to someone, by men I am obligated to fix it, for that person those men are wronging could very well be me someday. I hope that my doings will be reflected in the same action of help, if I where ever in that position!" I replied and he did not speak "I'm sorry if I offended you." I rushed my apology

"No, you did not offend me." He exclaimed with a warm smile "I have another question --if you don't mind me asking-- what exactly happened the night Daniel died?"

"Oh," I said shortly and then began recollecting the horrible memory "It was right after they drug you off... Daniel appeared over the wall and instructed me to meet him at the docks. After the betrothal ceremony I slipped away and once I reached the docks night had already fallen on the city. We walked along the sea shore and he told me then that every moment I was with him I was in danger, then we where attacked. Daniel died in my arms, his dying words, was you where the one who could avenge him." I whispered being pulled back to the thick woods and away from the blood soaked sands of that dreadful memory. "So I helped you escape and here we are." I looked over at Peter who was examining the trail ahead, avoiding eye contact.

"He was right, you know, about putting you in harms way!" Peter's voice had taken an icy edge.

"What do you mean?" I pulled up on Dark Angel's reins stopping. A wave of terror swept over me as I realized the huge mistake I had made.

"You stupid girl." Peter laughed harshly making eye contact with me. His eyes were dark and wickedly glinting in the fading light "We're at war against your father! Didn't you ever stop to think that you might be targeted because of your status?"

"I'm a bastard, no one wants me." I retorted trying to remain calm. My instincts were telling me to run but, I had to see out what I had allowed to happen.

"No one but Daniel, that's why you where so easy to allure. He was the only man you ever trusted. So why not exploit that weakness?" Peter smiled cruelly as he grabbed the Dark Angel's reins pulling the animal toward his, trapping my leg and foot between the two beasts, hampering my possibilities of escape.

"Daniel would never harm me!" I shouted trying to pull the reins from Peter's grip.

"You're right about that at least," Peter admitted with a shrug "Which is why when we finally extracted the information we needed from him, I exterminated him and found Ryan. The man who died in your arms on the beach was not your dear Daniel, but Ryan."

"Why would you kill a man devoted to your cause?" I questioned

"You are such a stupid, naive, bastard!" Peter laughed mercilessly "Don't you know that there are two sides to this peasant rebellion? You and your stupid friend got mixed up with the side. My side, the side that wants to annihilate all of Elikinis, and every one in it!"

"NO!" I threw myself from Dark Angel my foot still wedged between the two horses. I fell to the ground, dirt flying every where. I scrambling to my feet reaching for my dagger I found it gone.

I turning away I began running as fast as I could, though I knew that I was no match for a galloping horse. Peter's hand caught the back of my shirt and with a loud ripping noise, I was yanked backwards. He'd caught me. "Let me go!" I demanded as I tried to twist from his grasp.

Peter began laughing maliciously "Where would you go!?" He questioned mockingly "There is nothing for miles!" I continued to struggle helplessly against his grasp "You're lucky Princess," Peter said before my world went dark.