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Author's Note: This story has been written by two people in a collaborative effort. It is written in a story format by way of role-play. This story is completely written but will be posted in chapter increments on a weekly basis. Please review with any comments, critiques or reactions! We absolutely love them in any way, shape or form!
"My father will have my head if I get this dress dirty," Anastasia commented with a content hum, her chin cradled within her palms as she lay stretched out on her stomach within the high grass of the expansive field her father's plot of land included. It was obvious she cared little of her own warning as she stared down at Zach's face and studied his comfortable expression with a faint smile on her lips, their bodies cushioned by the grass and soft earth beneath it. At sixteen-years-old, she knew it was still her place to follow her father's rules but beside her lay the man she intended to marry... and within short order, if she had any say in the matter.
Anastasia, or Ana as she was always called, was the youngest daughter of one of the wealthiest men in the rather large and far-reaching kingdom of Elysia they lived in. With long, bright blond hair and clear blue eyes, she was also arguably one of the prettiest young women. Her heart, however, already belonged to the young man beside her in the grass, laid out on his back with his fingers laced behind his head and eyes fixed on the cloudless sky overhead. There was a faint breeze and it blew the tall grass gently in green and gold waves and Ana took in a deep breath of the fresh spring air. She loved being outside-she always had. She had no taste for the expensive dinner parties her father frequently hosted to boast of his societal status or the exclusive dances she and her sisters were occasionally invited to. Alexandra, her oldest sister, loved such high-society living and Beth, the somewhat naive middle child, enjoyed it equally. Ana, on the other hand, wanted nothing more than to spend all day outdoors.
The sun was hanging a few hours from the horizon and a subtle, warm glow had begun to light up the once blue sky. There was no doubt that dinner would be served soon and Ana would be forced to part from Zach to bathe for supper. Even the smallest time away from him sometimes seemed like an eternity to her. He was her first and only love-she found it all quite perfect.
Though the picture-perfect scenery around them was second to none, Zachary Hayward's attention rested solely on Ana; to him she was perfect. Unfortunately not from as wealthy a family as Ana, however, Zach had reached the age of eighteen without the means to propose marriage to the young woman he loved so dearly.
In their village it was imperative to show the father of the bride the seriousness of an offer such as marriage with gifts, a commendable job, and the finances required to continue the luxurious lifestyle Anastasia was accustomed to. Well on his way, but not ready just yet, Zach was left waiting. He worked hard with his father who was a well known and respected blacksmith and had been saving as much as he earned over the passing months. Within some time he would be well off enough to speak with Ana's father about their future.
"Nevermind that dress," Zach replied with a smile as he slipped a hand out from behind his head to reach out and pluck a reed of grass from her hair.
Ana could only smile wider at his response, a quiet laugh passing her lips as she returned his stare. While she had been filling her time with whatever she felt moved to do, Zach had been earning his keep for most of the day with his father in the main part of town. He still had a few black smudges on his arms and a bit on his cheek, a sign of a long day's accomplished work and a stark comparison to Ana's spotless skin. "Let's meet for lunch tomorrow," she suddenly suggested, her eyes lighting at the idea, "I'll bring some prepared food to your father's shop-you'll be able to take a short break, won't you?"
The idea was one he couldn't (and wouldn't) pass up. "Yes, of course," he laughed a little as his hand returned to her hair to toy with the long strands. "...You won't say no, will you?" he questioned playfully, it being a long-standing joke for the two to speak of their future together. It was simply taking longer than expected for Zachary to propose; normally he would have been getting married at eighteen, not merely proposing.
Say no? Ana couldn't imagine responding in such a way, even in a joking manner!
She knew no matter what, it was up to her father to decide when Zach was ready to propose to her. If she could have things her way, she would have proposed herself!
"Of course not," she mumbled, reaching out to rub away the smudge on his cheek with her thumb.
"It gets harder each time to leave you at the end of the day," he admitted as he turned his face to kiss her palm as he smiled. He longed for a time when they would go home together to their home as family.
"Patience," Ana reminded quietly, her hand falling away from beneath her jaw. She didn't ever care that her behavior might be deemed inappropriate based on her status. She was in love! She was allowed to act however she wished-even if she wasn't yet married.
Leaning down, she slid her hand down over his chest to rest it there and kissed his lips softly. "Has it really been four years since we met?" she suddenly mused, leaning up to eye him at a slight distance.
He leaned up in an attempt to catch her lips, but failed and sighed as he tiredly stared up at her. "Four long years," he replied. They hadn't met by chance; there was no secret that Zach's father wished for him and Ana to wed, but Ana's father hadn't been particularly fond of the idea. With time, however, he was turning around.
The sound of horses galloping in their direction caused Zachary to lift his head, slowly lowering his arms to push himself up to see over the grass in the direction of the horses. There were four men, suited in uniforms of castle guards and he licked his lips as he watched in confusion as to why the men were on Ana's land. "Ana, come here," he spoke up, reaching to place a hand over hers.
Ana carefully eased herself to sit along with him, glancing back over her shoulder curiously as her ears caught the sound of horses. "What is it?" She saw the guards and her eyes followed their movements as they continued on towards them in the grass. Never before had Ana ever had to address the royal guards and so she was hesitant in doing so just then. They were on her father's land...but for what purpose? In silence, she kept close to Zach's side where they sat, half-hidden by the tall, swaying blades of grass.
The men had a height advantage, as well as knowledge from Ana's father as to where she could be found. Her father was just behind them, tearing after them with an uneasy expression as he tried to reach his daughter when the guards did.
Zach, however, was simply too fixated on the fact that the men were rapidly approaching their exact spot. "...Ana, run inside," Zach told her as he began to stand, worried over the guards' presence.
Yet as the two stood, the men on horses spread out just enough to intimidate the pair into remaining where they stood. "You are Anastasia Aston, correct?" one spoke up as he pulled on the horses' reigns to cause it to back up a few steps and turn so he could address the girl.
"I..." Ana tried, yet her voice failed her for a moment, "I am..." She couldn't help the uncertainty in her tone, though she tried to sound composed. Why was she being addressed? What had she done? Her mind spun with thousands of irrational worries and fears. Had she done something worth retribution from the king? "Zach..." she whispered, grasping his sleeve as she pressed herself to his side, her eyes shifting rapidly over their company of guards.
Zach quickly spoke up, mindful in doing so. "If we done something wrong, we're deeply sorry," he offered as he gently moved her behind him, opening his mouth to offer more until he caught sight of her father breathing heavily as he reached the small group. "Mr. Aston..." Zach began, feeling slightly relieved he was there, but uneasy due to his appearance.
"We have little time, your daughter is required at the castle for this evening's ceremony."
Mr. Aston winced, looking apologetically to his daughter as his mind raced. He had been given so little time to inform his daughter of anything; in truth, he had feared telling her anything and he knew he was mostly to blame. "Ana..."
"What ceremony?" Ana questioned, her brows knitting in confusion as she looked to her father only, shaking her head at the vagueness of it all. "Father, what's going on? What are they talking about?" she pressed further, her grip on Zach's sleeve tightening significantly as her fear and uncertainty continued to rise.
A subordinate guard eased his horse up alongside the head of their group's and it huffed a bit before stilling once more. "We're wasting time," he reminded respectfully.
Nodding his head, the first guard slipped from his horse and righted himself as he looked to Anastasia's father. It was clear nothing of what had been planned was explained to the young girl and he was momentarily angered by the man's decision to keep such news from his daughter. "Miss, please come with us. We'll explain everything as we return to the castle." He was respectful while still directing her to obey him; after all, she would soon hold quite a powerful position.
Zach's chest clenched and he took a step forward, more to keep Ana from the guards as well as make it known he did not approve of their presence there to remove Ana from her home.
"Boy, I will only ask you once to step aside."
Fearful that things might not go as planned and violence may occur, Ana's father finally spoke up. "Ana, I'm sorry, but you must go. I couldn't tell you before..." There was no doubt she would argue it. Leaving her family and Zach would be immensely painful.
Finally rushing up alongside the group came a flustered Beth Aston with teary eyes. "Now, father?" she asked in disbelief. She knew of Ana's need to leave, but had never been told it would be so soon.
Ana's mumble came out barely over the volume of a whisper, her heart pounding as she began to shake her head. Go to the castle? Why? Why?! "Father! I don't understand! Why must I go?" she asked, moving away from Zach and over to her father, her head shaking weakly. "What couldn't you tell me?!" she raised her voice a bit through her demand, her breath coming rapidly the more worked up she allowed herself to become.
The same guard who had spoken moments ago dismounted soundlessly and stepped closer to take Ana gently but securely by the arm. "You must come with us," he told her simply.
In protest, Ana pulled her arm suddenly from the guard's hold and nearly stumbled from her effort.
Seeing the men attempt grabbing Ana made Zach quickly lunge forward, beginning to struggle with the guard who had touched her and with grit teeth, another man men dismounted to pull the boy off his fellow guard.
Beth covered her mouth, watching from behind her father as the men restrained Zach, a prompt blow to the stomach with a knee rendering him useless as he cradled his stomach on the ground.
"Bring the young lady," the guard ordered and soon Ana was scooped up by the remaining guard on his horse. A carriage waited at the front of the Aston home where she would be transported to the royal family.
"No!" Ana shouted, her eyes fixed on Zach as he doubled over to the ground in pain. "Father! Stop this! Why are you letting this happen?!" she yelled, struggling to free herself from the grip of the guard who held her, uncaring of the possibility of falling from the horse. "Zach!" Nothing made sense-she was being taken from her home, her family...and from Zach. Why? Why was such a horrible thing happening? Tears finally sprung into her eyes and blurred her vision; all around her the guards were mounting their horses once again.
Zach was struggling to stand, but the pain he was in was quite obvious and with pained features, he staggered to his feet only to be quickly supported by Beth. "Please... she has to go," she whispered to him, but he pushed at her to begin hurrying after the horses.
"Ana! -No, you can't take her!"
The men kicked their horses, ignoring the pleas of the middle class boy. Their assignment had been to return with Anastasia Aston and so they would.
"Zach!" Ana shouted once more, forced to cease her struggling as the horse she sat atop was kicked into motion. "Stop this..." she whispered weakly to no one at all, her features twisting painfully as she resigned to being taken away without explanation or time for proper good-byes to her father, sister or the man she loved.
"No! Wait!" Alexandra's voice called as she hurried down the main path of their estate in the midst of her sister's transfer from horseback to carriage. "It's too soon!" she argued helplessly, rushing to meet her sister where she was led along towards the awaiting carriage, struggling once more.
"Alexandra!" Ana cried, pulling desperately at the hold the guards kept on her as she caught sight of her older sister a few yards away.
Zach was running as fast as his legs and injured side would take him, tears forming in his eyes and anger rising with every pained step. He couldn't just let the guards take her without reason.
Beth hurried after him, her skirts bunched up in her hands as she tried to keep up with him. "Zachary!" she cried after him, aware he was the one person who had the power to pose a problem with Anastasia's arrangement. Though she hated to see her sister go, there were bigger and more important things to consider.
Over the guard's and her own shoulders, as she was pushed towards the open carriage door, Ana's eyes found Zach and yet she remained silent. No amount of crying out to him would save her from the guards and his attempts at reaching her would end in further injury. She could only watch him with confused sadness as she was urged into the carriage and followed inside by two guards before the door was promptly shut and secured-from the outside.
"No," Alexandra breathed out as she reached the side of the carriage and pressed her hand against the glass window. "Ana!" She, like Beth, had known of their father's plans and knew the true purpose of Ana's deliverance to the castle...but it was simply too soon! She wasn't yet ready to lose her baby sister!
Ana pressed her hand back against her sister's against the cold glass of the carriage window and watched through teary eyes as the carriage jolted into motion and Alexandra's hand slid suddenly out of view, giving way to the sight of Zach. Though she remained locked in the carriage, Ana's attempt at moving closer to the window was stopped by one of the guards as the other swept the curtain into place.