Prologue

Strike ran as fast as he could, his feet beating a staccato rhythm into the ground as he ran to intercept the events that were happening faster than he had thought they could.

He felt as if someone had taken his heart and ripped it from his chest and thrown it to the ground. He felt his breath, hard and swift, as he pistoned himself forward.

Beck had risen from her former position on the ground and was standing up. The evil man held his sword at her throat. He swung it back, ready to bring it down on the unarmed girl.

"NOOOOOO!" Strike yelled a growl from a place inside him that he wasn't aware existed. Strike's sword went back as he ran; ready to block the blow that would kill Beck if he didn't get there in time.

"MOOOVE!" He yelled at her, almost there, almost close enough. Beck saw him coming and dropped to the ground rolling away from her attacker.

Strike leaped in front of her prone form and held his sword up in time to block the scything downward blow that would have certainly killed Beck. As it was, the blow numbed both the fighters' hands but both held on for dropping their only weapon was suicide.

"My turn." Strike said, to his greatest opponent.

Chapter 1

Sollimantra

My name is Rebecka Sollimantra. I am daughter to the ruler of Sollimantra. The ruler is my father the king of all Sollimantra. Sollimantra is a word that means "Peaceful Country" and for generations there has been peace amongst all the lands of Sollimantra. But that record was broken on the eve of my sixteenth autumn. For that year, there would be war and trials. It all started back at my home, a magnificent castle that had withstood innumerable storms, raids, and fights. But this was destroyed along with my father. Things changed for me. Many things happened and I couldn't have made it unless I had help.

It was a normal day at my home. I had just finished my sword fighting training and was heading towards my riding lessons when a messenger came to me. "Lady Rebecka your father, the king, requests your presence in the throne room at once!" He said.

"I'm just going to change. I'll be there in a second." I replied and headed to my room running as fast as I could. I slipped out of my armor and changed quickly into a light dress that hugged my body just in the right places. Then, I put on some running shoes and ran all the way to the throne room. I pulled my tiara out of my pocket, plopped it on my head, attempted to smooth my hair out with my hand and then opened the door.

King Sollimantra was sitting on his throne and when he saw me, he smiled. "Darling, I need to talk to you." His smile was very strained and his eyes were tired.

"What is it, Dad?" I asked, concerned and not smiling any more.

"We've got news that our neighboring kingdom, the kingdom of Coldova has attacked our villages on the North border. No one knows neither exactly why they attacked us nor how many there were but I need you to go and find out what happened." He said.

"Why me?"

"Because I can depend on you to give me exact details and in this job that's the sort of thing I need." He replied.

"As you wish, father. When do I leave?" I asked.

"Tomorrow. I'm sending my best spy with you and I want you out of here before dawn's first light. Okay?"

"Yes, sir." I replied.

Late the same night

King Sollimantra's private chambers

A knock on the door of the King's room made him stir from his place by the fire. "Who is it?" He asked.

"Me, your majesty. Sharp." A voice replied through the door.

"Come in, Strike." The king called.

The door opened to reveal a hooded person. The dark black eyes of a young man stared out from under the hood. "What news, my spy?" The king asked.

"You were right. It wasn't the Coldovans. It was someone from here. The villages were only burned and the girls taken. If it had been an attack, then they wouldn't have left anyone alive. Also, I was told by some reliable sources that the kingdom seal was on the shields." Strike said, as he pushed back the hood. The firelight revealed a tan chisel cut faced, black haired teen whose experience was older than his seventeen years.

The king sighed, tired and worn out. "I was afraid of that." He said. He sank deeper into his chair and put his head in his hands.

"Sire, what do you want to do with your daughter? The situation is getting worse. If we're not careful, then we'll all die here and the people will be fed a lie. Probably that I killed you two and that he's the hero. We can't risk it. When do we get out?" Strike asked.

"You're taking her tomorrow morning before dawn. Take the route that you always take to get here unseen. By the way, how'd you get past the door guard?" The king asked, out of curiosity.

"Easy. I simply gave him a distraction and then slipped in when he wasn't looking. Where do you want me to take her?" Strike turned the conversation away from the guard who was, in fact, conscious but totally oblivious to the whispered conversation going on inside the room.

"Take her to the farthest place of safety that you know. Then report back to me. Okay?"

"As you wish. I shall go and prepare." Strike said and then stopped. "What about yourself?"

"I will get out when I can, but only if I can't get the council to stop."

"Sire, Send me word if you need my assistance. I will leave you now." Strike said.

"How are you going to get out? You can't go back the way you came."

"I'm not going out the door." Strike replied, then went to the window and opened it. He swung one leg over the window sill.

"Wait! You're not going to jump! It's forty feet to the ground." King Sollimantra said.

"I know. See you later, sire." Strike said, swung over his other leg, gave the king a cocky salute then disappeared over the edge of the window.

The king ran over to the window and looked out. Nothing. No body, no alarm sent off. In the distance, the king saw a horse with a caped rider. "Brilliant boy." The king thought. "I just hope he's smart enough."

The next morning I was woken up with a hand over my mouth. I attempted to scream through it, when I realized that it was a glove. No germs involved, so I bit down hard.

"Drat! Princess, it's me! You're father's spy!" The person said, ringing the hand I had bitten.

I spit a few times to get rid of the taste then looked up. Surprisingly, I didn't recognize the person. Maybe it was the cloak. "Who are you?"

"I'll tell you when we're safe. Right now, we need to escape." Green eyes stared out at me.

"What? Why?" I asked, fully awake now.

"I can't tell you till we're safe. Please, hurry and grab the things you'll need to stay in the wild." He said.

I got out of my bed; having gone to bed dressed in my hunting clothes, grabbed my prepacked bag, slipped on my running shoes, and then grabbed my bow and sword. "Let's go." I said.

"You'll need this." The boy said, pulling a similar cloak out of his own. "It's cold out."

I put it on and then he walked over to the window. He opened it and was halfway out when he turned to me. "Come on. There's not much time."

"I'm not going that way!" I said.

"It's perfectly safe. Come on." He said then disappeared over the edge.

I almost gave a scream when his head reappeared. "Are you coming or what?"

"How did you do that?" I asked. He shook his head.

"Later. For now, get out of the room and out of this province. Let's go." The boy said then disappeared again. I swung over the sill of the window, a bit slower, and looked down. Sure enough, there he stood.

"Come on. I'll catch you, my lady."

Sounded like one of those cheap novels about ancient times when people were talking all high and mighty. Not at all the case. In fact, no one ever spoke that way. And probably never will again. Unless they are acting.

"I'm coming. And don't call me my lady. I hate it." I said, slipping off the sill.

I felt for the smallest part of a second like I was flying. Then I felt the tiles of the roof under my feet and the world came into focus.

"Alright. Follow my exact footsteps." He put one foot in front of the other, leaning against the wall and gripping the cracks with his hands.

I did as he did, putting my feet on the stones he put his on until we reached a rope. "Slide down after me." He whispered.

I stared, as he wrapped the rope around one leg, grabbed the rope, then slid down with barely a sound.

When he reached the bottom, he looked up at me and gestured for me to follow.

I looked down. Only twenty feet. At this height, I could seriously injure myself, but there was a chance I would survive if I didn't die. Oh well.

I wrapped the rope around one leg, like the boy had, then gripped tightly to the rope. The rope slid between my bare hands and I gave a small yelp when the rope burned them as I went down.

I reached the bottom, my hands stinging with pain and I glanced at them. They were red and some skin was missing. I wrung them, and then realized that the boy had removed the rope by giving one hard pull.

Not comforting. If one hard pull was all it took to remove that, then I had been in more danger than I had thought.

"This way." He said, sticking to the shadows.

I followed as best as I could.

Finally, we got to the back gate. He opened it, let me out, and then closed it. I was worried for a good second. Then he came from over the wall and hopped down to the ground and landed right next to me.

"Good work, princess. Now, let's go."

"Where?"

"To a place of safety." He replied.

"How can I trust you?"

"You should have thought of that earlier. I can tell you that your father wanted you out as soon as possible. He told you as much last night when he called you to his room."

OK. Good enough.

"Where are we going?"

"Somewhere safe." He replied, his words few but enough to give you the main gist of things.

"Why?"

"The situation in the castle is desperate. We needed to get you out of there." He replied.

"Who is 'we'?" I asked.

The boy stopped, rubbing his forehead with his gloved hand. "Do all girls ask so many questions?"

"Sorry. I was just curious."

"Well, hold your questions until we are safe."

"How do I know when we're safe?'

The boy's eyes, which were showing over the face mask, were looking at me. The look said, "Are you serious?"

"Sorry."

He led me to the woods where two horses were quietly waiting. Correction, where a horse and a pony awaited us.

"Take the horse, that's my pony."

I looked at him in some confusion.

"OK." I got aboard the horse, a beautiful buckskin.

The boy slipped onto the pony and then turned once to me. "Trust me when I say that it is better for me to ride the pony. He's swift, if I put you on him and something happened, then I could lose you. I can't afford to, so I have to put you on the slower horse for your safety. Keep up as best you can. We will go at a gallop until you see me slowing down."

As soon as he was done talking, the pony turned towards the center of the woods and galloped off.

I urged my horse on, who almost instantly broke into a flat out run. I was almost unseated, but the horse sensed that and slowed down just enough so that I could slide back on. Once I was on good and tight, I nudged him again and he took off just as fast.

This time, I was ready.

I stayed on as we persued my accomplice.

The horse was definitely a racer and was up to the job. But I realized quickly that the small pony was much faster and I clung on gamely, but knew that the boy and the pony would stay far ahead unless he wanted me to catch up.

Slowly, my horse gained ground and the pony decreased its speed. I saw the boy's cloak flapping behind him, but he was slowly slowing down the pony. On purpose.

So much for me catching up.

When my horse pulled level, the boy's eyes grinned at me. "There you are. I was getting worried."

"Don't put yourself at any worry for me. I'll be fine." I said, slightly haughty.

"Then do you want me to leave?" He asked.

"No." I inwardly groaned. "Sorry. It's just been an interesting night."

"OK, I can understand that." The boy grinned.

"Before we go any farther, can you please tell me what is going on?"

"I can't tell you in the open, there could be someone listening." He replied.

"Fine, just tell me where we are going." I said.

"Alright. We're going to a safe place in the mountains."

That was some information.

"Why?"

"Would you please stop that? I know you are the Princess of the land, but my duty is to get you safe and in a protected area and keep you there until the danger passes. It is not my duty to answer your every question. Do you understand?" The boy said, his eyes getting hard and flinty.

"I'm sorry."

I looked down at the ground, realizing that this strange boy was right and that I had to trust him or else I could be killed.

"Look, your dad wanted you safe and I have to protect you now. Follow me and you will be safe." He stared into my eyes, green orbs that held strength, endurance and steel flintiness. But surprisingly, they also held a deep kindness and confidence.

"Alright." I was putting my life, but also the future of the kingdom into this stranger's hands.

"Good, now come, we have a long ride ahead."

With that, my protector nudged his horse into a swift trot and we plunged into the half day light, towards an unknown future.

We finally stopped, it was almost midday. "Where are we?" I asked, barely suppressing a yawn.

"To get something to eat. I'm hungry and need a break; my backside is also killing me."

"Too much information…" I thought to myself."Alright."

The boy took off his mask and unsaddled his pony, rubbing it down a quick second, and then pulled out a packet from his saddlebags. It landed at my feet. "There's food in there. Take the saddle off your horse, rub him down, and then relax wherever you find comfortable. Take a nap. If you are under my responsibility, you need to keep up your health."

I did as I was told, understanding his responsibility to myself as I was directly in line for the throne and that made my life of great importance to the kingdom and therefore I must keep healthy.

I looked at the boy's face. His nose was nice, not too big nor too small. It wasn't pointy and it wasn't round. It was somewhere in between. His chin was square and his jaw structure was very pronounced.

I sat down under the shade of a great oak tree and leaned up against the trunk, chewing thoughtfully on the bread and cheese I had found in the packet.

I watched my rescuer, trying to figure out what his occupation was besides a spy.

Strong figure with wide shoulders heavily muscled and long arms suggested a bowman, but the sword strapped to his horse's flank also made me think that he was an expert swordsman. His trim waist also implied that he was concerned with his health and figure, as only a hand-to-hand fighter was. His hands were rough, which made me wonder if he was a carpenter or a farmer before he was a fighter, and his tanned face also hinted at his spending a lot of time in the sun… All in all, he was an interestingly intriguing young man.

He finished with his pony and got his food. Once he had done so, he sat down in the sun and sighed, relaxed.

"So what is your story?" I asked. The boy looked at me, surprised.

"Pardon?"

"What is your story? What's your name? Who are you?" I asked.

"Sorry, princess. I am called Strike. I used to be a farmer's son", (As I had previously thought) "-and was to take over his land, but he was murdered by rebels against the crown. I heard plans against your father and told the king as soon as I could find him. It turned out to be a huge organization that I unveiled and your father made me a spy for him. Of course, I had to learn how to fight, so I was given an education. Now, I am helping the only man I love by protecting his daughter. And you? What's your story?"

I grinned. "You probably have heard all about me from my father. I was done with school at the age of fourteen and was to be married off to some guy in the west to protect our land, but it never happened. I have learned law, fighting, survival, and manners by all the best instructors. I also have a knowledge of most plants in our area, but specialize in poisons and have an immunity to several of the most deadly poisons. Then I heard about the latest threat and here I am."

Strike nodded.

"Well, that tells me roughly nothing about you personally."

I sighed. "I don't know… I've only known my dad, and close relatives. There aren't any girls in the castle my age and haven't been since my mother was killed by plague. I haven't had any friends since then. It's not easy for me to talk to other people."

Strike gave a sigh. "I haven't had much chance to get to understand a woman or a young girl. I guess I can sort of relate. Not well, mind you, but I can relate a little."

I grinned at him. "Better than not understanding at all."

"True." His face stretched into a small grin.

I turned to look at his pony. "How come your pony's so fast for a creature so small?"

"His breed is hardy and he has Arabian blood in his veins. I found him in the markets of Ural. About to be sold to a tanner, I bought him for a fair price. I named him Scamp, his attitude is really mischievous. I have had him for several years but his faithfulness is as strong as his breed."

I was beginning to feel rather at home with Scamp and Strike both.

"When do you think that my dad will get out?" I asked, out of curiosity.

Strike shook his head. "I don't know, but it needs to be soon or else he's-" He stopped.

"What?" I was suddenly concerned. "Or else he's what?"

Strike stood up. "We need to keep moving."

We rode on for a few more miles, before I finally got an answer out of Strike.

"Look, your dad didn't want me to tell you until it actually got too dangerous for you to know."

"As your princess, I order you to tell me!" Diplomacy was one of my biggest strengths.

Strike rolled his eyes. "Yes, your highness. Your father is in serious danger of his life. He could be killed by rebels and the neighboring hostile countries." Although he was my subject, he had a bit of an attitude.

"Which countries?"

"Astriut, Gabu, and Coldova. Astriut has always wanted the resources here and that gives them a reason to want your father dead. Gabu wants the riches of the kingdom and the surrounding populous. Coldova is the biggest threat. Coldova wants land far more than Astriut and Gabu. Astriut and Gabu want the material things here, while Coldova wants everything and isn't against some crafty tactics. You know your Geography and politics."

It was true. Coldova was one of the biggest empires around and it bordered on the east side of Sollimantra, while Astriut and Gabu were neighbors across the sea. They didn't pose as great a threat because Sollimantra had the famous cliffs that were nearly impossible to climb up. An entire army would take years to scale those cliffs. Even better, the Ocean Cliffs stretched from our West border all the way to half of the Southern border. After the Ocean Cliffs gave out, our strongest garrisons blocked any ocean entry and they were well kept and guarded.

Coldova was blocked only by the Carefree Canyons and the Modoc Mountains. The Carefree Canyons were deep, going far below sea level. There wasn't a way that an army could go down and up without a matter of weeks, unless a bridge was built. Thankfully, there wasn't any wood near the Canyons. Also the Modoc Mountains had enormous heights that made took you so high that travelers had been known to faint from lack of oxygen.

Which begged the question, how would they get across?

"Wait, what about the Carefree Canyons and the Modoc mountains-? No one could get across those."

"That's what everyone was told, but there is a stretch of flat land right before the Canyons and the Mountains that is flat. We had a garrison there but if an entire army charged the garrison then it would be easy to get through. Unfortunately, we think we might have a problem. A gang of our own people are trying to forge an alliance with the Coldovans to gain control of the country. Your father would be killed as would you, if you could be found."

"Which is why I was sent with you…" Things were starting to fall into place.

"Exactly. I know the surrounding area well, I've traveled along it for several years and know a way to get out of Sollimantra depending on our circumstances."

"What about my dad?"

"He can't abandon the throne without warning. He has to stay put as long as possible and try to change the outcome of the events. The group going against the kingdom has inside information about secret events and organizations that your father has gotten together or broken up. They are recruiting those who were disbanded and using their anger to fuel a rebellion against the king. Our problem is we don't know who the leader is and who is giving them the information that only a few trusted people have."

"We need to talk to those 'trusted people' soon."

"That is what you and I shall do, I will be your protectorate and you will do the diplomatic debates that you have been taught to do. I will protect you, don't worry about that."

"I'm not worried." I replied.

And I wasn't. I knew I could trust Strike implicitly and know that what I told him wouldn't be shared with anyone else without my permission.

"When do we visit these trusted people?"

"As soon as your father has regained control over the kingdom."

"How can he do that when someone is pulling the rug out from under him?"

"Tactics. Bluffs… you should understand this, princess."

"Alright, Strike. I need to tell you one thing that bothers me the most, though."

Strike looked at me, not sure what I was going to say next.

"I hate being called Princess or my lady. Call me by my name."

"I'm afraid that I do not know it."

"Rebecka. Rebecka of Sollimantra."

"Well, Rebecka, you need to remember all your lessons because you will need them to survive the next few years. Things are going to be put into motion that we can't undo and we need to be strong enough and sly enough to survive long enough to keep this small kingdom alive."

Talk about perspective…

Morning dawned but the sun didn't shine, instead it was hidden by rain and the foreboding clouds that cried over us.

I had spent a rather uncomfortable night on the ground but was glad to see that Strike somehow got a fire burning and what food we had sizzling over it.

"Morning. Toast?"

"Yes, please." I was famished, after riding all day with only one meal throughout yesterday.

I ate the toast with hardly any manners, too hungry to care about them.

The toast was followed with some coffee, an egg, and some meat.

I was finally filled and leaned back into the brush and undergrowth that had protected me from most of the rain.

"So, what's the plan?"

"I get you to my home, I find out who started this issue."

"Nice. Simple. Elegant. Except one thing."

"Hm?" Strike asked, barely paying attention.

"What do I do while you scour the land for the saboteurs?"

Strike sighed. "There are several documents you need to sign and write up in the events that you become the queen if your father dies. Also, you'll need to stay in one spot that way I can keep track of you. I can't take you along on all my trips because I need to be able to get out of one place and get out fast. You aren't trained to do so, I am. It is safer if you just stay put, I'll know where you are."

"What do I do if I have trouble or someone finds me?"

"We'll figure that when we reach that point. For now, I have only the rough beginnings of a plan and this will have to do for the time being."

We saddled back up and Strike led the way as usual.

Alright, so tell me what you think!

This is an older story idea I was working on and I needed some help. Suggestions welcome!