Chapter Two

Enemy Soldiers

"Duke Ulric."

A nervous servant addressed his superior. His black hair was cropped short and his brown eyes were glazed over with constant fear. He was skittish inside the Ephralm castle, while a battle raged on outside. Innocent blood shed on streets like laminating rain. There were many fighting for freedom and justice, and revenge for the fallen King. True, his Duke had gained control of the castle, but the King's loyal subjects were not so easy to convince. It could take many months before it was all settled throughout the nation. And even then, would the people except this man who had so forcibly taken the throne?

"King." Ulric replied gruffly, his emerald eyes glinting steel, "King Ulric, young Zel. You shall address me as such."

"But, Y-your Grace!" the startled man spoke, "The Princess Adaline lives!"

If looks could kill, Zel would surely be dead as Ulric sent him a withering stare, that would have caused even the most plentiful flower to die. The young man gulped, but he could not swallow his fear or his anxiety. What awaited him here?

"It matters not. She will not stay alive for long." Ulric finally replied, his dark eyes slowly cooling off, a malicious sneer at her lips, "Her current position has been located, has it not?"

Zel faltered, "Yes, it seems they are in Malad. They're exact position is still unknown."

Ulric made a sound of disgust in the back of his throat, "Pitiful. Not being able to catch and kill two young girls by now. How are the Nevaskan soldiers doing? The ones sent to get their cooperation before the takeover?"

"The King of Malad refused to meet with them. They attacked some of the cities as a rebellion."

"I see," Ulric pursued his lips, "Malad will be of little help, then. Send word to them, tell them to fallback before another war starts there. Tell them to search for Adaline and her companion, and kill them."

Zel took this as a dismissal, but he blundered out a few more words, "What of Nathanial, my King?"

Ulric debated this for a few moments, "Keep him locked up. He may be of use later."

Zel bowed deeply, "As you wish."

- - - -

"Ease up," a voice echoed through the clearing, "They're no soliders. Look at them."

Resha was promptly released, and she rubbed her wrist, scowling in the direction of the boy who had won their battle. He grinned wolfishly at her as more people made their way into the clearing. There was seven of them, in total, and it was clear the oldest - atleast twenty-five - was the leader. His hair was short, cut very close to his skin. He looked like a strong fighter, as well. Resha wondered what her odds would be if she fought against all of them. It didn't look too good from this angle. She bit her lip and glanced in the direction of her sword.

"Are you sure, Garrow? They could be...disguised, or something?" another voiced.

Garrow folded his muscled arms across his chest, "Being overly paranoid won't help our village." he rumbled, and Resha flexed as he turned to look at her, "I apologize for suddenly attacking you both. We're just trying to properly defend our village, as we were told to."

Resha eased up a bit, but the fire in her stomach flared indignantly. She opened her mouth to say something that would make them all feel very ashamed of themselves, but Ada broke in before she could. And Ada was all smiles and forgiveness.

"Oh, no, we understand. You must protect what you must protect." there was a glimmer of melancholy in her soft eyes, "Garrow, correct? You said something about soldiers?"

Garrow nodded slowly, "You two must be newcomers if you haven't heard the news by now. Nevaskan soldiers have been attacking cities around here ever since King Holland refused to meet with them."

Ada's lips trembled, but she held her overly gentle smile, "Yes. You're right. And that's terrible. What are they wanting from you?"

Garrow's frown seemed eternal, his voice lowered dangerous, "They've been here for a few months now. It seems they wanted our King's help in taking over Ephralm. They've begun to use force in our cooperation. I fear a war brewing amongst us."

Ada's face crumpled, but she ducked it before anyone really noticed. Resha's heart twisted within her, and she was furious. She was seeing red. It was everywhere. It burst from her lids and in the back of her eyes, it pulsed around her in waves of heat. Nevaskan She wanted to punch something. She wanted to tear and scream and kick. She had only led Ada onto a path of even more danger. How could she ever keep her princess safe? Resha felt tears of anger touch her reddened vision, but she blinked them away and the faded.

Garrow finally smiled, but it was bitter, and he didn't realize how his words had completed changed the atmosphere, "Why don't you come to the village? It'll be getting dark soon, and I reckon it isn't safe for two young ladies such as yourself to be out alone. We could give you a place to stay."

Resha could hear one or two protests, although they were quiet, and only amongst each other. Ada met her glance, and with that glance, she tried to silently tell Resha that it was okay. That everything would be okay, and that they would figure something out.

Ada lifted her head, and her smile was back in place, "Of course. Thank you for the offer."

Resha scowled, and looked up as the boy with the blue eyes placed her sword back into her hands.

- - - -

It was twilight. Dark diamonds danced across the sky as the sun left, taking the light with it. Resha and Ada sat at a small wooden table, steaming soup in front of them. Candles flickered hungrily.

"This looks delicious," Ada said politely, but Resha agreed, it looked pretty good, especially since she was so hungry.

"Don't look at me," Garrow replied, "Talan made it."

Resha shot a slight glare at the boy who sat across from her. His black hair fell into his eyes, and Resha was still angry with herself for losing to him. Talan looked up, catching her openly obnoxious glance, and arched an eyebrow. Resha's lower lip curled slightly.

"If you're still angry about me beating you," he said boyishly, "Don't be. I'm just a good fighter."

Everyone except Resha and Talan snorted into their soup.

Garrow quickly went to chastise him, however, "Talan, that's no way to speak with guests."

Talan shrugged, completely unashamed.

Resha's face was beginning to turn red, her eyes tightening. She had to shove many nasty replies down her throat, but not all would not be pushed away, and her attempts in bravado overcame her, "You're pretty confident considering I went easy on you."

Talan seemed to find this extremely amusing, "Oh, did you? You just risked yourself in order to go easy on a complete stranger. I see."

"Yeah, well, I was completely fine." Resha bluffed arrogantly, "I could have taken you down if I felt you were really going to hurt us."

"Sure, sure," he said easily, "Whatever helps you sleep at night."

Resha boiled, flaming like fire, "Now listen here, you-"

"Resha." Ada's voice was firm, "Stop being rude. These people are giving us a place to stay for now, and you're showing nothing but disrespect."

Resha shot Ada an irritatated glance. It was rare that the Princess was firm with her. But this Talan boy was insufferable! He was so... Resha stopped short on her thoughts as the deep laughter of a man filled the room. Garrow was actually laughing. Resha hadn't even thought him capable, he had seemed like such a serious person.

"Please don't mind young Talan," he said once he was sober.

Resha grumbled a few incoherent words - even she didn't know what she was saying - before finally beginning to drink her soup.

"Is he your brother?" Ada asked smilingly.

Garrow suddenly seemed uncomfortable, but Talan still looked at ease.

"No," he said, "We found Talan by the ocean six years ago."

Talan laughed, "You make it sound like I magically washed up there. I probably fell out of a boat or something, and got lucky."

Ada's eyebrows creased, but she kept a small - yet confused - smile on her face, "Probably? You make it sound like you don't know."

Talan shrugged, "I don't. I don't have memories."

Ada's smile fell, "That's terrible."

Talan grinned, "Nah. I don't care."

Resha frowned. Something told her Talan cared very much, but she didn't say anything. There was an awkward silence for a few moments, before Resha finally brought the soup bowl to her face, slurping it down noisily.

"Sheesh. I thought girls were supposed to have table manners."

Resha glared at Talan through her bowl, before slamming it down on the table and wiping her mouth with the back of her hand.

"Can I have more?" she asked Garrow.

"Resha," Ada reproached.

Garrow smiled an adult-like smile, "No, that's fine. It's nice to see a girl with a good appetite."

Talan grinned as Garrow poured more soup into Resha's bowl.

"Thanks," she said, wolfing it down, ignoring the fact that Ada was shaking her head at her.

"So you're not from here, are you?" Garrow asked conversationally.

Ada paused, "No."

Garrow waited for more, but Ada nor Resha enlightened him.

"Actually," Ada finally said, "We're trying to get the the Capital City here. We're sending a very important message. And we were wondering if you could give us directions? Or even sign us an escort..." Ada sped up, sounding uncertain, "We would pay, of course."

Resha was confused at first. Capital City? Wasn't that Tsaine? It took her a moment as the gears in her brain put the pieces together. Tsaine was where the castle, along with Malad's King was. A King who hated the Nevaskans...oh! That was it! If they could meet with the King, then he could perhaps help them! It was a brilliant idea, and Resha mentally applauded her Princess. She looked at Ada, and the two shared hopeful smiles with each other.

Garrow looked curious, but he didn't press, "Of course. How soon would you need to leave?"

Ada bit her lower lip tentatively, "As soon as possible. But we could afford to wait a couple of days, if needed."

"Tsaine is on the other side of the nation, it would take a while to get there on foot."

Ada smiled wistfully, "We know."

Garrow opened his mouth to reply, but there was a loud, banging knock at the door.

"What in the world," the older male muttered, before getting to his feet.

Ada finished her soup, and folded her hands delicately over her lap, glancing around the house curiously.

The easy atmosphere was shattered as an urgent voice strained itself, "Garrow, there's trouble!"

"What's wrong?" Resha listened to Garrow's reply, intense on the conversation now.

Whoever was at the door was huffing wildly, clearing having been running, "Lucas and Wynn told me they saw Nevaskan soldiers outside of the village! They told me they were heading this way! Everyone is gathering up the fighters in case they decide to come here."

Ada's face was pale, and Resha jumped as Talan was suddenly on his feet. This was the first time Resha had seen him look angry, and she knew real trouble was close.

"Yes, gather everyone. Get ready. We will protect this place...Go!"

There were heavy footsteps and a door slammed and Garrow swiftly returned to the kitchen.

"Ada, Resha, stay here where it's safe. Go into the cellar." Garrow pointed in a direction, his face tight, "There's a door leading there just around the corner from here. Lock it and hide."

Garrow grabbed two swords from the corner of the room, and tossed one at Talan, who caught it with ease.

"You ready?" Garrow asked the younger boy.

"I was born ready," he replied confidently.

Garrow gave Ada and Resha a last departing look before leaving the house, Talan at his heels. Resha's heart accelerated into panic mode. Soldiers were here. Soldiers might be coming. More blood may be shed. Her hands clenched themselves into fists, and her breathing picked up. Was there no escaping them?

Resha's face was set bitterly, and she got to her feet, "Go into the cellar."

"Where are you going?!" Ada reached for her, but Resha jerked away.

"I'm going to fight too. I'll keep them away from you, don't worry."

Ada's eyes watered, "No, Resha! Stay with me!" the Princess played her best card, "What if they come here and find me? They'll kill me, Resha!"

Resha hesitated, mentally debating, "They won't find you. I'll make sure of it." she paused, picking up her sword, which had been settled against the wall, "Don't you trust me?"

"I trust you." Ada whispered.

Resha sheathed her sword, and clipped it onto her belt, "Then listen to me now. Nothing will happen to you."

Ada couldn't speak as Resha made her way out into the looming darkness that crawled across the sky like a shadowy premonition. The hazy moon brought light, stars glimmered like small silverly lights of hope. Resha raised her eyes to them, giving a silent prayer. She licked her lips.

And that's when the yelling started.

A/N: Hm. Something about this chapter seems off to me. I'm not really sure what, but...while I was writing it, it just felt weird. I went over it, but I wasn't sure what to change that would make it better. So I'll post it as it is, and hope it doesn't sound too terrible.

R&R please!