A/N: Please review and let me know what you think of this story? Reviews literally make my day. However, enjoy :)
Raialee stared into the ornate mirror. Expressionless grey eyes stared back, fringed by thick, dark, curly eyelashes. 'Grey for ever-changing,' her mother had told her when she was young. 'Grey from the goddess Telagia herself.'
The face in the mirror was tense and pale. Tense from stress and worry, and pale because that was her natural skin colour. In her hand were silver shears. Her hand was clenched so tightly around the handle of the blades that her knuckles were white with strain. She lifted her arm, holding the blades higher. In her other hand she grasped a handful of her hip-length black hair. She had never had it cut before; only trimmed. Never had she wished to have it cut before, she felt its length provided her with a sense of security, however false that security may have been.
"O Goddess, forgive me for what I am about to do," she uttered with her eyes closed, before opening them and squeezing the handles.
With an audible snicking sound, the blades closed around raven locks. A large lock of her hair fell to the floor. Raialee winced slightly, before repeating the action until her hair was as short as a boys. It fell in uneven lengths around her face, but she didn't bother about evening it up. It didn't matter to her either way.
She turned away from the mirror to the clothes set out on the large, elaborate bed. Black trousers and a white men's shirt. It was highly improper of a lady (especially one of Raialee's class) to wear trousers. But Raialee wasn't planning on letting anyone know she was a lady, let alone one of class.
She donned the clothes quickly, pulling on black leather boots once she was dressed before appraising herself in the mirror.
It was the first time Raialee saw her lack of breasts as lucky. With no corset on, and a baggy white shirt, it was impossible to tell she had any. The shirt fell to mid thigh, successfully hiding her small waist and curvy hips.
Raialee felt she could pass as a boy fairly well; it was her eyes and lips that would give her away if anything. Blessed with an angelic face, if not much of a body, Raialee had full, red lips and large grey eyes with dark lashes. She scowled angrily at her image, but she still looked pretty. Resisting the impulse to cry from frustration, she pulled open her wardrobe roughly, tugging through the exquisite ball gowns in search of a dark, hooded cloak. She knew there was one in there, but the many gowns that she had nearly overflowed the wardrobe, burying anything she might find useful at the back.
Finally she found it. Pulling it out took a little effort, but she succeeded and draped it over her shoulders, pulling the hood up. She glanced at the mirror again and nodded to herself. This should do.
Now there was only the matter of weapons to resolve. She couldn't exactly take hers " the quality of them would give her away, not to mention the crest carved onto the hilt.
She sighed loudly from annoyance, casting her eyes around the room for anything that might be of use. She had almost given up on the idea of finding anything useful when her eyes stopped on a dagger. Yes, it was embellished with the family crest, but it was also small enough to hide until she could steal a smallsword.
She attached the scabbard to the top of her pants, ensuring that the shirt covered it completely. When it was arranged to her satisfaction, she grabbed her small bag of belongings she was taking with her and hid it in her cloak pocket.
Raialee was ready to leave.
She knew she could not exit from her bedroom door, so she had already made alternate arrangements. Rope had been sneakily snatched from the servant quarters and tied firmly to her window. She had kept the long loose end coiled in her curtains to avoid it being spotted hanging out her window, but it was now dark and she no longer had to worry about it being seen.
She flung the rope down, and it had barely stopped moving before she slid quietly out the window. Using her feet to keep her balanced she descended the wall as quickly as was possible. There were a few agonising moments when her foot slipped and she was slammed against the wall rather unceremoniously, all the wind knocked out of her lungs, but she made it to the bottom unscathed.
She stood still for a few moments, scanning the perimeter to see if she had been spotted. When all was still silent, she allowed herself to breather again, and began moving stealthily through the night. One last stop and then she was gone from here forever. The thought made her smile, cherry-red lips upturned at the corners.
She arrived at the stables barely minutes later. She was about to enter when she heard voices murmuring quietly.
Sliding back into the shadows, she made sure the hood covered her face while she rummaged through her bag.
"-say that this is ridiculous!" said a voice. It sounded like it came from a younger man as it lacked the distinct deep gravelly tones that older men had. "Why do the stables need to be guarded at night?"
Raialee felt like swearing. Not only were there people out here, they were here to do the exact opposite of what she needed.
"King's orders innit?" replied a man that was older than the first. "We don' getta question't."
Raialee found what she was looking for. It was a small crossbow that was loaded with darts. Before she could lose her nerve she carefully aimed it at the back of the larger one. She released the bowstring and watched as the arrow flew through the air and hit its target.
She watched as the figure slumped to the ground. Before his companion had a chance to dry out, she had reloaded the small crossbow and shot him as well. He fell next to his friend, his face a picture of shock.
Swallowing her revulsion at what she'd done, Raialee entered the stables. Her time was limited. She knew the poison in those darts only lasted an hour, and she didn't want them to wake up before she'd gone a long way.
Almost mechanically, Raialee made her way to her horse. Junito was quiet while Raialee tacked her up, and Raialee was thankful for it. The last thing she needed was for Junito to make a racket and make half the castle come running.
It was only when it came time to mount that Raialee came out of her stupor. Always having ridden with a side-saddle, this was the first time she was attempting to use a common saddle.
After staring blankly for a moment, Raialee gathered her resolve and pulled herself up. It felt decidedly strange, she thought. She gave herself a few moments to adjust, before clicking her tongue and jabbing her heels in. Junito shot forward, Raialee bent slightly forward.
Raialee was riding past the nearest village when she heard the castle's warning bell tolling; it's mournful sounds ringing through the otherwise silent night.
Junito's pace didn't slow, and her rider didn't turn back.
Raialee rode through the night. She continued riding as the sky started to turn pink and then faded to blue. Only when she nearly collapsed from exhaustion did she stop. She was nowhere like she had ever seen before, and Raialee couldn't decide whether to be comforted or not.
She ventured off the path, stumbling through the woods till she found a small clearing. She tethered the horse to a nearby tree before throwing her cloak on a pile of soft grass and collapsing upon it. Her eyes had been closed but seconds before she fell asleep.
When she awoke it was night again. Stars were twinkling in their many-coloured glory. She felt refreshed to a certain degree, but her insides ached with hunger. She ignored the pangs plaguing her as she sat up slowly as to avoid a head rush and rubbed the sleep out of her eyes. Junito was still tethered to the tree, looking relaxed. He had been able to eat the grass surrounding the tree and there were numerous puddles he could have drank from.
Raialee on the other hand, couldn't exactly drink the muddy water there. She swore quietly to herself, and got to her feet, stretching out her stiff muscles. Her legs felt horrible, and she knew it was from the extensive riding she was unused to.
It made her even more wary of getting back in the saddle, but she had no choice. She would ride to the next town and acquire water and food, and see about stealing herself a smallsword. She could fight with a dagger fairly well, but a smallsword was what she had been instructed with.
The path she had stumbled off the day before took a little while to find, but once she had she dug her heels in a bit and Junito quickened her pace.
She could hear the quiet noises of animals as she rode along the path, as well as the soft noise of Junito's footsteps. There was nobody else on the path that night, which spooked Raialee slightly, but apart from that she was relaxed. The animals seemed to quieten after a while and the silence grew oppressive. Raialee longed to fill the silence by idly talking to her mount, but knew it was sheer stupidity to do so.
She had been riding for about an hour when the trees and undergrowth started thinning, and she could hear the murmur of crowds in the distance as well as the soft sound of waves crashing on the shore. She tensed and drew her hood up tightly around her face. One hand held the reins, while the other went to grip the dagger concealed in her cloak. News of her disappearance or kidnap or whatever her parents were calling it had probably spread and Raialee did not want to be spotted or recognised.
When the town came into sight Raialee slowed her pace to appraise it properly. It seemed of middling size, and she was almost certain she would be able to get what she needed. The fact that it was a coastal town only increased her certainty. Ships would come in and need to stock up, and there would be plenty of inns as there was money to be made off sailors and the like.
Before she left the trees cover, Raialee dismounted and once again tied her horse to a tree. Junito was unusual in the fact that she was entirely black with no fading or markings whatsoever, and she would stand out.
The hilt of her dagger still gripped tightly in her hand, she started towards the entrance of the town on foot.
Torches were lit throughout the town giving it a bright, warm, feel. People bustled along the streets, or hung about drunkenly at the doors of inns and taverns. Different languages were heard everywhere.
Raialee's eyes were wide as she took in her surroundings. She walked down the crowded street, barely aware of the people around her as her eyes scanned each building. It was late, yes, but not so late that stores were closed. In a seaside town, stores were open much later than they were further inland.
Patting her pocket to ensure her coins were still there, Raialee entered the closest tavern, namedThe Flask and Sword.
Edging up to the bar, Raialee asked the tavern-keeper for a glass of water and some bread and stew.
"Water?" echoed the tavern-keeper, looking offended. "What's a lad like yerself wantin' wiv water? I have fine ale here, an' rum. Whaddya want water fer?"
Raialee was silent for a few minutes. She had not been expecting a response like this at all, and as such had no answer prepared.
"I've been travelling," she said after a while, quietly and firmly. "I require water and food. Are you able to supply that or shall I have to look elsewhere?"
The tavern-keeper's chest swelled and his shiny face turned red and Raialee was sure he was about to yell at her - maybe even hit her -and her hand gripped her dagger even tighter to ready herself for defence, but to her surprise he just turned away and went to fetch what she had asked for.
While she stood nervously, Raialee cast her eyes around to see if anybody had noticed the interaction. The tavern was still as noisy and ever and she found that nobody appeared to be looking her way. She breathed a sigh of relief, and turned back in time to see the tavern-keeper making his way back to her, plate and mug in hand.
The sight of the steaming food made her mouth water, and it had barely been placed in front of her before she starting eating. It disappeared within minutes, as did the water. She flipped the keeper a few coins when he came back around and then left quickly, not noticing the pair of eyes that had been fixed upon her.
She was only looking for a sword now, but it seemed unlikely she would find one. She skulked around the town for a little while before something caught her eye that made her freeze in shock. It was her image on a poster, with words scrawled next to it. It seemed Raialee's parents had not been idle. She quickly ripped it down before moving on.
It was sometime later and Raialee was now getting desperate. She closed her eyes for a second and turned her face to the sky, her hands clasped together.
"O Mother Goddess, please help this humble servant," she asked, her voice pleading.
There was no answer, but Raialee had not expected there to be one. Hoping that She had decided to grant assistance, Raialee continued her prowl.
Luck struck. Raialee spotted a group of men swaying drunkenly about fifty metres away, weapons on their hips. Even as she watched, one dropped to the ground passed out. Twisting her hand into a thankful gesture Raialee held it her forehead in thanks to her goddess. Slinking into the shadows, but hurrying her pace, Raialee made her way to the group of men.
Her grey eyes flitted over them, looking for the weak link, and ensuring that said weak link carried a smallsword. He did. Slighter than the rest, his eyes were red from alcohol, and his pale hair hung limply in sweaty clumps about his face.
Raialee didn't delay long; she wanted to leave as fast as possible. Drawing the dagger from her cloak, she crept out of the shadows. She wanted to do this as smoothly as possible, and that meant not making a great commotion.
This was the sort of time she would normally use her crossbow and sleeping darts, but only her family had the darts and that fact was widely known. Using them here would be as obvious as painting a glowing arrow on the ground with the words, 'follow this'.
Raialee came at him from behind while his companions were distracted. He lagged a few feet away from them, leaving himself vulnerable, and open for attack.
She lunged forward suddenly, like a cobra striking, and grasped the hilt of the sword. She had managed to get it most of the way free when he turned drunkenly, his features alight with rage.
Raialee felt terrified. Despite being taught how to use a smallsword exceptionally well all through her childhood, she had led a remarkably sheltered life. She had had guards to do anything confrontational for her.
His move wrenched the hilt from her grip, and nearly sent her flying. Almost on instinct, she plunged the dagger into his chest.
Blood spurted, and Raialee felt sick to the core. Nothing could have prepared her as to what it felt like to take a life. It took all of her willpower not to double over and start gagging. Her stabbing the man had clued his companions in to her presence, and they were advancing on her.
She slid the smallsword from the corpse, and plucked the dagger out of the chest, her stomach rolling as the action caused more blood to spill forth from the dead man.
One of the other men gave a cry of rage, and leapt towards her, murder in his eyes. She screamed, and turned on her heel before tearing off into the night.
The men gave chase, their heavy footfalls following and making her feel like prey.
This must be what a rabbit feels like when a fox hunts it down, she thought panicked. But she didn't have much time to ponder upon that thought as the men were gaining on her. Not daring to look back over her shoulder lest she fall, Raialee attempted to quicken her pace, but her legs were tired from the unusual exercise. Her lips framed desperate pleas to her goddess.
As if in answer to her prayers, the path suddenly twisted, and Raialee was able to dart into a dark corner without any of the men being the wiser. They ran past the hiding spot where she cowered, shaking like a leaf. Bile rose in her throat, but she swallowed it back down.
To distract herself from the image of the man she had killed, she stared down at what she could see of the sword in the light. It was plain, as she had wished. No emblems or anything of the like adorned it.
As she didn't have a scabbard, she tied it with a bit of rope from her bag to her hip. It wasn't as secure as she would have liked, but it would have to make do. She just had to be careful she didn't cut herself by accident.
Once that was done, she became aware she was still holding the blood soaked dagger. The sight of it sickened her, but she knew she couldn't leave it behind to be found when light came, as it bore her crest. She wiped the blade on the ground and slid the dagger back into its scabbard where she would no longer have to look at it.
It was moments after that that she heard a voice that made her skin crawl.
"Lookit what we've foun' ourselves 'ere,"
Raialee spun on the spot, her eyes wide in terror. She went to grab the smallsword, but she had tied it on too tight, and she was unable to work it free.
The owner of the voice laughed at her attempts cruelly.
"Lil princess bite off more'n she can chew?"
Raialee found her voice.
"I'm not a princess," she told him, though her voice shook with fear as she said it.
"No' a princess?" asked the man. "Aye, me thinks you are. Though, I wasn't sure 'til I saw yer pull tha' dagger out. Nice crest its got there."
Raialee felt her heart sink to the bottom of her stomach. She had barely lasted a day. This was how it was all going to end.
The man laughed cruelly again.
"Git her on the ship," he ordered to the men surrounding them. "But don' kill her."
He said the last bit over his shoulder as he walked away, still chuckling darkly.
Raialee felt the smallest smidgeon of hope rise in her. If they weren't going to kill her, she may have a small chance of getting out of this alive.
Forgetting the sword, she plunged her hand inside her cloak for the dagger just as the men surrounded her.
The first one made a grab for her, and Raialee made a slash at his wrist. Just the tip of the blade caught it, and blood began dripping down his wrist.
"Ye little bitch," snarled the man, lunging at her his hand outstretched. Raialee screamed, and swung the dagger again, but she wasn't so lucky this time, and missed. The man's hand managed to find purchase on her other wrist, gripping it tight enough to bruise. Pain shot through her arm, and she gave a cry. She tried to use her dagger again, but another man grabbed that arm. She began kicking and screaming.
"Enough of this," said one of them.
Raialee looked towards him in time to see his fist swing towards her head. She felt a single moment of intense pain as his clenched hand collided with the side of her head before the darkness overwhelmed her and she sank to the ground.