Summary: Lord Tarquin was the lethal war lord ready to take over King Samuel's kingdom. Jza was the determined princess fighting to save her father's kingdom and her step sisters' honour even after she ends up being captured herself. Expect violence, bonds and a marriage no one wants (Hey! that rhymed).
I wrote this in a bit of a rush so expect some mistakes.
Jza shielded herself from shards of glass as another window exploded. She looked up once again and was dismayed to see her precious library in ruins. Glass and parchment was scattered everywhere and the impact of the explosion outside had thrown a few bookshelves asunder. Jza was horrified to see one of the page boys who had been helping her gather books a few moments earlier was now pinned under a broken bookshelf.
She gathered her skirts and quickly ran to help him.
"Don't worry I'll get you out," She murmured to the frightened boy who was struggling to keep in his tears. For an ordinary princess the task of lifting such a heavy object would have been excruciating but Jza wasn't the usual kind of princess. For the first thirteen years of her life she hadn't even known she was a princess and had lived a harsh existence working at a farm. Even after so many years her tolerance for manual labour was far greater than her step sisters.
Jza lifted the wood not caring about the splinters digging into her palms. The boy pulled himself out looking like he ached with every movement of his body. When he was out of the way Jza let the broken shelf fall.
As she was helping the boy up Jza heard someone running inside the library. She turned around and was relived to find it was one of her father's men and not the enemy's.
"Princess Jza, Thank goodness you're okay. Your father has been injured and we're planning to shift him to Goridon castle," He exclaimed.
Her eyes widened at the information.
"Is he expected to live?" Jza could not help but blurt out the first question that came to her head. She was petrified to even think of having to face the war without her father at the helm.
The guard gave a weary smile but it was smile nonetheless and it pacified her. "He's out of danger and the shards of glass have been removed but we must evacuate this castle. The enemy has broken through the first line of defence and the second is wavering as well. We cannot risk the Royal family being captured."
"Ok," she muttered and remembered the boy she was holding up. She held the boy forward towards the man, "His leg's been injured. Please take care of him; I must attend to my father immediately."
The guard helped the boy and let the Princess go on her way.
She ran towards the infirmary and was relived it was not quite damaged as yet. Wounded soldiers were everywhere. Some were crying out in pain while others weren't even conscious. She swiftly crossed the crowd of people and entered the royal infirmary. The room was gravely quiet and the sight of her father looking so pale and quiet disturbed her greatly. The room also contained Jza's step sisters and step mothers all of whom were the quietest she had ever seen them. She had enough sisters to fill the whole room so Jza stood silently in one corner trying to get a good look at him. His head was covered in bandages and so was his torso and she could tell from his paleness that he had lost a lot of blood.
"Hush," one of her step mothers uttered, "Samuel is trying to say something."
Everyone leaned in closer and finally one of the women spoke in shock, "He's calling for Jza."
Jza suddenly felt the stare of all the women in the room. Some of them were curious while the others were hostile. Even after five years of living with Royal family she had never really fit in with the women of the King's family. Out of her twelve sisters only two deemed her worthy enough to talk to while the rest either ignored her or seethed against her. Her existence in Royal family wasn't ideal but Jza wouldn't replace for anything in the world.
"Come on girl, what are you waiting for," One of her step mothers sharply beckoned her forward so Jza moved quickly to her father's bedside.
"Yes, father," She spoke gently as she held onto his hand. She was greatly relieved to find him much more active than he had looked from across the room.
"I wish to be alone with Jza," The King announced as loudly as he could muster and Jza could visualize the great insult and horror the women in the room were feeling.
"Surely, we can hear whatever you want to tell Jza. After all we too are your flesh and blood," The eldest stepsister tried to convince her father.
"No, darling, what I have to say is for Jza's ears alone and I hope that you shall obey my request."
As soon as the women, nursing their wounded prides, vacated the room Jza arched an eyebrow. "Why must you always insist on favouring me like that in front of them? Their opinion of me is hardly that great."
"What my other twelve daughters think of you is not that important anymore," The King wheezed though he smiled at his favourite daughter, "There are far greater things in store for you."
"Far greater than being a Princess," Jza asked teasingly.
The King nodded and tried to get up but he seemed to not be able to. Jza offered to help him up but he declined with a wave of the hand.
"As you know Lord Tarquin's forces are upon us. My men, though brave, cannot hold them off any longer so I've given instructions to evacuate the castle," The King explained.
"I have heard," Jza nodded.
"We shall use the southern tunnels to leave quietly in the dead of the night," The King revealed and Jza understood what he wanted from her.
"And I'm to be responsible for my sisters and organize them for the journey," She added promptly. The King nodded.
"You are the only one who has the state of mind to achieve this, my thirteenth daughter, but it is with a heavy heart that I must tell you that my daughters are not going with me."
"But where shall we go if not with you, Father," Jza blinked wide eyed.
"To a much safer place, Jza. Goridon too shall fall once Tarquin sets his eyes upon it and I cannot let him get to my daughters," The King paused looking determined. "They are naïve and too ignorant to know what it is to be the spoils of war. I neither want my daughters to be slave to such a man and nor to be used as a bargaining chip. I shall break if anything happens to any of you. Fortunately or unfortunately all my other daughters have made a name in the country. They are so renowned for their beauty and talent that my sources tell me even a man like Tarquin, so isolated from society, knows about their existence," The King could see how morose his daughter was looking so he tried to bring levity to the situation.
"While twelve of my daughters chose to become so renowned in whatever talent they chose to pursue, I did always wonder why my thirteenth chose to stay away from the limelight. Even now people refer to the twelve princesses as the ideals of beauty and don't even remember the thirteenth. You certainly aren't lagging behind your sisters. After all you do have my face and eyes."
Jza snorted at her father's vanity.
"You very well know I never got used to being treated like a Princess. People give me reverence and respect that I haven't even earned," Jza looked down at her hands.
"But you have earned it. Out of all my daughters you are the one who has earned it the most. My soldiers are a filthy lot when it comes to talk about women and you are the only one they talk about with genuine respect," The King patted her head affectionately.
"Maybe it's because I defeated the Major in that archery contest. The only person who could do so and it turned out to be a woman. That certainly turned heads," Jza replied. Her nostalgic smile suddenly evaporated.
"Father, you are a master of distraction. We were discussing Lord Tarquin and your plans to escape him. Cease trying to evade my questions."
"I could never deceive you, Jza," The King sighed. "I damn Tarquin to the seventh depths of hell for the great injustices he is putting upon my country. He knows I have no direct male heir to the throne. He could have asked the hand of one my daughters for marriage and he would have had much easier access to the throne. I would have probably said yes since he is rich and handsome and I have plenty of daughters to spare who would knock each other over if they ever saw him. Now, my only prayer is that they never see him."
"Have you met him," Jza asked surprised by the revelation.
"I was invited to his coronation. A devilishly fine young man he was even at seventeen. I knew his country would prosper under his iron fist. What I didn't know was that the small princely kingdom would grow so well that in less than ten years it would threaten our very existence. I would admire the man if he wasn't such a blood thirsty fiend," The King shook angrily.
"Where must we go if not to Goridon," Jza asked fretfully.
Instead of answering her, the King took off one of the gold lockets around his neck and placed it in Jza's hand.
"In your hand lies the key to your safety," The King muttered mysteriously.
"What it is," Jza examined the locket.
"You remember me telling you about meeting a portal maker once," The King asked quietly.
"Yes, and I distinctly remember telling to not dabble in such nonsense," Jza muttered strictly.
"Well, yes" The King was sheepish; "I decided it was highly worth it to invest in one."
"So this key leads to a portal that shall open a land of another realm."
"Yes, I constructed the whole place just for my daughters. It is safe and completely divorced from our reality. I have tested it myself. The only way to link two different realms is through the key in your hands. The holder of the key wields all the power to open and close the portal. Give it to Raymond; he is the only man I trust to take care of my daughters. Remember to tell him that he must not enter the portal at all costs. The key will be lost to us if does so. The holder of the key must always remain in the realm of its origin."
"If it is big enough for all of us then why aren't you coming with us, Father," Jza cried out in a moment of insight, "We could get away from this wretched war."
"No Jza," The King sighed wearily, "I am King of this land and I cannot leave my people in a time of need. I shall lead my people through this war till the day I die. I have sworn it and I am bonded to this promise. Even if I hadn't I still couldn't go."
Jza felt miserable. She silently cursed her father's self-righteousness but knew deep down that it was the right thing to do regardless of whether he was bonded to his promise or not. Being bonded to a promise meant that person could not ever go against it. Most ceremonies like marriages, coronations or apprentice graduations had the promises in their vows. It was a practice beginning from an era ago and while it was becoming outdated many would still not trust a person who hadn't bonded to a promise.
Her silent anguish was interrupted by a blood splattered guard racing into the Royal infirmary.
"Your Highness, The second line of defence has broken. We must act now or we shall have to bear the brunt of the enemy forces," The man swayed with nervous energy.
"Guard, begin evacuating the infirmary now; these men are the most vulnerable," Jza stood up as she started throwing orders at the man. She only stopped when she realized both men in the room were staring at her. She suddenly remembered how inappropriate it was to give orders when her still relatively healthy and sane father, the King of this realm, was in the room.
"Oh, why did I even think I need a son to rule this country when my daughter is enough," The King laughed, "Go on, guard; listen to her. The Princess is the now the second in command." Jza remained silent until she realized her father wasn't jesting. Soon she forgot about the man altogether and planned the strategy for the escape. The various nobles accumulated in the castle were already halfway through the tunnel. She organized a safer route through the castle for the staff and the injured soldiers.
"And what about the Princesses; they still aren't ready to move. They intend to take so much luggage through the tunnel that it shall be harder to move for the rest of the survivors," The guard implored.
"Leave them to me. Now, bring me ten of your finest and strongest men. We need to transport the King."
"Yes, yes, talk about me like I'm merely luggage," The King chortled once the guard left. Jza leaned down and kissed him on the cheek. The King held onto her hands his eyes filled to the brim with emotion.
"Promise me, Jza, that you will take care of yourself and your sisters, Promise me," The King spoke passionately.
"I promise, Father," Jza wanted to cry seeing her father so helpless.
A knock from outside informed them that their men were here. The men quickly entered the room and helped their King onto a wheelchair. She held onto her Father's hand.
"Be safe, Father," She bid him farewell not knowing if she was going to see him again. He smiled back at her and then he was gone. She stood alone in the room wondering how the castle would look without its inhabitants.
Jza walked out of the infirmary and she could see no one. The castle was a frightful place without the life the various nobles, servants and soldiers brought to it. Her footsteps echoed as she made her way up to her sisters' rooms. She looked around keeping an eye for some signs of Major Raymond but he seemed to have disbanded his station.
As she turned into a corner she heard voices. In a protective reaction she crouched low to inspect who the people were. Could it be that the enemy had already infiltrated the castle? To her relief it was Major Raymond but the other man walking beside him was unfamiliar.
"And you say that the castle has been evacuated," The unknown man spoke with a clipped accent.
"Yes, unfortunately; although I know for a fact the Princesses never went through the tunnel," Raymond replied with a twisted smile on his face.
"You mean to tell me the twelve famous Beauties are still in this castle. Did their father mean to appease us by offering his daughters?" The unknown man spoke in a slimy fashion.
"I doubt it; the old coot always has a card up his sleeve and he didn't bother to inform me of his latest games," Raymond scowled, "Do you wish to check on the Princesses in their rooms."
"I believe Lord Tarquin shall arrive in a few minutes. Once he is suitably settled we can continue the search for the lost Princesses. It would be a delight to find such diamonds amongst the loot."
Jza gaped at the retreating back of the two men. Never in her wildest dreams did she imagine Raymond would turn out to be a traitor. She got up quickly from her hiding place and, forgetting all that was proper for a Princess like her, raced towards the second floor where her sisters resided.
As soon as she opened the doors to their rooms she was instantly mobbed by her sisters and completely inundated with questions.
"What is going on?" "Why do you look more terrible than usual?" "I can't find my hair brush."
"Quiet, all of you; there is no time for questions. I need you to follow orders just this once."
"Who are you to order us around like this?" The eldest stepsister asked enraged, her feathery hair for once in her life in complete disarray.
"Our father left me as the second in command and that gives me complete command of this castle. I shall ask you to honour his wishes for once," Jza paused as she slid her hand through her brown windswept hair, "The enemy has destroyed the castle's defences and they roam around freely as we speak," Jza paused again, unable to continue due to the violence of her sisters' cries of panic. Jza breathed in again and opened the locket her father had given her. It did indeed contain the key to the portal; literally.
The key was solid gold with intricate swirls all over it. She looked at it and cursed silently as she tried to figure out how to use it. Her sharp eyes caught an inscription camouflaged in the swirls. Her eyes widened as she realized they were instructions.
She read them again and decided they seemed credible. Her sisters were as yet completely oblivious to what Jza was doing as they circled around grabbing their most precious belongings and screaming hysterically. Jza would have laughed at the pandemonium if the situation wasn't so dire. She didn't know when the enemy soldiers could break the doors and barge in.
Jza waved the key in an anti clockwise motion and exhaled softly the ancient words of a language long forgotten; wishing with all her might that the promised door would appear in front of her.
When she opened her eyes there was indeed an actual wooden door standing in the middle of the room. Her sister's gasped in unison at the luminous light around it. Jza stepped forward to open the door. The key slid in without hindrance and the gold lock opened smoothly. Brilliant light streamed out from the doorway as she opened it. Jza tried to peer in but she could only see the mysterious light.
"Father built this portal for us so we can get to safety in times like these," Jza tried to explain once she turned around.
"Does it lead to somewhere safe?" One of girls piped.
"Father says so; I think we should trust his judgement. There isn't any time to squabble over this so move with haste, sisters. The enemy could be at the door as we speak."
Worried about being captured by the enemy the sisters made their choice of going in to the portal. One by one the sisters climbed through the doorway into the light. They clutched onto each other's shoulders trying to look like they weren't scared but they failed miserably. Gabrielle the second youngest of her step sisters was the last to approach the doorway. She turned around to look at Jza who was standing by the window watching the gruesome battlefield outside.
"What's going to happen to us in there?" She asked.
Jza turned around and approached Gabrielle who was beginning to look hazy in the gentle light filtering through her hair. "I don't know," Jza muttered. She took the blonde's hand in her own and squeezed it in farewell. Gabrielle's eyes widened her she realized what was going to happen.
"You aren't going with us," She gasped with her hands covering her face.
Jza shook her head and slammed the door shut. Once she locked the door it vanished on its own. "I can't." She placed the key back in her locket and wore the gold chain.
Jza slid to the floor feeling incredibly tired. She trembled at the thought of the great responsibility on her shoulders. How could she protect her sisters if she ever got captured? What if she wavered from her duty? She could never face her father again if something happened to them. She didn't even want to live if her efforts ended in failure.
Jza knew there was a chance she could remain hidden in the castle. It was large and as convoluted as a labyrinth and she was well acquainted with it but she could not underestimate Lord Tarquin. What if they captured her and managed to torture the information out of her. Jza wasn't afraid of persecution; she was more worried about faltering while facing adversity.
Jza eyed the knife on the fruit basket laid out in the centre of one side table but dispelled the notion of suicide. Her death would mean her sisters would be lost forever. She did get up to pull the knife out of a red apple but it was meant for her protection and not to kill herself.
A sudden memory hit her at that moment and she remembered what her father said about being bonded to vows. Jza paced as she tried to recall bits of information she had learnt over the years. She knew the bonded could never go against the promise they made but was it because they couldn't physically or because they feared to face unknown grievous repercussions. Jza could not remember any facts that pointed to any such reason.
Jza closed her eyes. In a moment of surprising clarity her decision was made and very familiar words sprouted from her mouth. "I promise thee, as I have promised heaven above that I shall fulfil my duty as thou has prescribed till I lay at the altar of death. I shall keep my sisters safe at all costs. Give me strength."
Even with her eyes closed she could sense the light erupting in the room.
It was at that moment the sound of many footsteps entering the room next to hers reached Jza. The enemy soldiers had finally arrived and Jza instantly crouched down behind one of the sofas cursing herself for staying behind in the Princesses quarters after knowing full well this was the first place the enemy was to search.
The sofa she was behind was pressed against the wall so she was cushioned from all sides. She heard loud grunts and sounds of things breaking as the men searched the room. One man came close enough but he chose push kick the sofa towards the wall. One protruding piece of wood hidden in the upholstery hit her on the forehead but she held back the cry of pain.
Holding her head Jza patiently waited for the activity to die down. Once she could not sense any presence in the room she slipped out from her hiding place. The living room was darker due to the time but she knew the room well enough to navigate with little light. She nearly toppled over a fallen vase but managed to reach the central narrow corridor towards which the entire Princess' rooms open to. Her hand had only just reached the handle of the main door that would lead out to the rest of the castle when she was violently pulled backwards by a strong hand gripping her own.
The other hand slid over her mouth forcefully before she could make a sound and the assailant used his body weight to press her against a wall. She tried to break free but he was too strong for her. Finally, she stopped struggling, realizing that the fight was utterly futile. As her vision focused she realized she was staring into the amber eyes of a man just inches away from her.
This is the second Prince I'm writing about this week. Both Tarquin and Damian from 'Rejected' are arrogant Princes but I'm planning to make them very different personality wise. Damian's more gregarious and fun whereas Tarquin has a very different opinion about what he calls 'fun'. Let's just say Jza isn't going to have it easy.
I don't expect many people to read this but I'm very grateful to all those that do. Thanks!