This story was written for a competition on another site. I didn't win, but I did get four votes! Anyway, I decided to post it here, so enjoy!

The Warrior and the Princess

"Tell me about your first love."

A laugh echoed through the dark and dank prison cell, the source of which was a small figure huddled in the corner, dressed in a ragged dress. Her once vibrant red hair was dark and greasy, sticking to her face and neck. Her skin, once her pride, was pale, unhealthily so, streaked with dirt and fading bruises. Her eyes, however, were as blue and clear as a cloudless summer sky.

"The first time I fell in love was very odd indeed..."

Eyes still blurry as I woke from my imposed slumber, I could only watch from where I lay on the cold and uncomfortable ground that was covered with leaves, twigs, and rocks. It mattered not to me that she was seated with a sword held by her side, hands bloody and dead soldiers were strewn about her like rag dolls no longer in use. No, all I saw was the look on her face, peaceful, almost radiating. She was a warrior, it was clear from the armour she was wearing, yet to me, she seemed more like someone sent from the heavens.

"Ah, I see you're awake, Princess."

Her voice wasn't as I expected. I thought she would sound smooth and gentle, like the expression her face still showed. It was the opposite, really. She was quiet and a little raspy, like someone who had coughed too much and was just recovering from a throat infection.

"Where... Where am I?" I didn't mean to sound so hesitant. Normally I was quite bold, I had no reason to worry about repercussions for the words that exited my mouth. I was Princess Siri of Midden, daughter of the King that ruled the greatest kingdom to have ever been! One may call this statement boastful, but the fact remained that Midden had never been bested in a war. It shone as brightly as the moon in the night's sky, as lovely as a rainbow after a storm, as pleasant as a cooling breeze through a field of flowers!

Well, that is what the bards would sing when they performed before us.

"In the Living Forest," the warrior, as I called her in my mind, replied.

The Living Forest? That was nowhere near my father's castle! It was mentioned to be a dark and scary place, where creatures of darkness lurked and preyed on those travelling enough, it didn't seem anything of the sort right now. If I hadn't known better, I would have thought I was in the woods at home.

Meanwhile, the warrior stood up, flicking her cloak, I suppose so that any dirt that was on it would fall free. She then took a step in my direction before stopping, as if she had just remembered something. Curious, I pushed myself up to a sitting position, hands pressing against rotting leaves and goodness knows what else. As I did, I noticed that I was still in my evening gown from the previous night. It had been a lovely shade of lavender with lush violet and silver embroidery, the design that of roses and leaves. Now, it was dull and dirty, ripped in certain places, stained almost everywhere.

The sound of water trickling pulled my attention away from my besmirched gown, returning it the warrior, who was now washing her hands with water from a waterskin. Once they were clean, she closed it and attached it to her belt before once more starting in my direction, this time actually making it to me.

"Can you stand up?" she asked, eyes focused on me. For once I felt a hint of shyness, my eyes moving from hers rather quickly, looking elsewhere, which turned out to be one of the fallen soldiers. Who were they? I didn't recognize their armour, and they did not seem to have any sigil that would mark them as belonging to any familiar house.

A cough from the warrior caused me to look her way once more. "Yes, I do believe I can." Taking a breath, I pushed against the ground and slowly stood up, feeling rather woozy, as if taking one step would send me tumbling.I stayed completely still, and thankfully that did help a little with the dizziness. "Who are they? Who- who are you?"

The warrior's lips curled into a small smile, not surprised by the questions, I suppose. "Corinna, though I am better known and prefer to be known as Corin."

"I've never heard of you-"

"Which doesn't surprise me at all." Corin did not seem offended as she held out a hand, probably to catch me in case I was to stumble.

"Who are they?" I repeated my question yet again. "Why am I here? I don't understand what's going on!"

"It's not safe to talk here, more may come." Despite the gentle look on Corin's face, it was clear she was stubborn in having her way. I, however, was the princess! She had to listen to me-

"Ah!" I did not expect to be literally swept off my feet, yet there I was in a pair of strong arms, staring up at the warrior, feet clearly no longer on the ground! Some people look best from far, as being close showed off their many flaws. It seemed not to be so in this case. My face was red and hot. Embarrassed, I looked elsewhere, eyes now focusing on the canopy of leaves above us. "I- I can walk!"

"Perhaps, but you're too slow." The lilt of amusement caused me cast a sideways glance at Corin. There it was, the small smile on her face, or a smirk, rather. A very unladylike huff left me. I was not being taken seriously, how rude!

It was only a little ways through the forest before we came upon a small clearing, the sun shining down through the sparse leaves of extending branches. There stood a horse, tied to the nearest tree, head bent low as he chewed at the grass growing near the roots of the tree. The sight filled me with trepidation. Was I meant to ride it? I had never ridden a horse before in my life!

"Up you go." Corin broke the silence as she lifted me up and deposited me onto the beast.

"I can't!" I yelped, panic written all over my face. "I have never!"

"Don't worry," she replied with a small chuckle, shaking her head. "I'll be right behind you."

I had always imagined that one day, when I would be forced to ride a horse, it would be with a handsome young man who would hold me ever so gently, making sure no harm came my way. In my fantasy, there was no such thing as my bottom aching from sitting too stiffly and uncomfortably in front of another woman, all the while being jostled up and down from the horse's strides.

I'm not sure how long we rode, but it had been at least half a day, judging from the position of the sun. As I had never been out of the castle before, the beauty of the outside world was something to behold. Despite my complaints about various aches, I couldn't deny the feeling of elation within me at the sight of the grassy hills and the trees in the far distance as the forest we started from faded from our sights. There were so many scents to take in, from the grass to the leaves to the lovely wildflowers, perfuming the afternoon breeze.

Perhaps the bards sang songs about these lands as well?

When Corin finally stopped the horse, it was nearing sunset and we were quite literally in the middle of nowhere. There was nothing in sight, aside from a pile of rocks and boulders, a few trees here and there. The terrain was flat, grass growing in little clumps.

"Is there no inn?" I asked incredulously. "Why are we stopping here? And will you finally tell me what happened?"

Now it wasn't as if I hadn't asked before. I had, in fact, and multiple times too. However, I hadn't received an answer and eventually bored of asking. What was the most I could do anyway? Threaten to fall off the horse and run away? I'm sure that would come to no avail.

Corin looked at me a moment before nodding. "Very well, Princess." She dismounted, rolling her shoulders as she stepped back from the horse. "We aren't stopping here for long. I'm meeting someone here, and once that is done, we shall leave once more."

"What happened?" I demanded, irritated that my main question was not being answered.

"You were drugged," she replied simply. "Quite an easy feat at a party." Corin ran a hand through her wavy hair, seeming a little careless as she yanked past what I assumed were tangles. "Really, Princess, it would do you better to be a little cautious."

"My father has the most competent guards!" I replied hotly, becoming frustrated.

"Clearly," was the reply, and the smirk was imminent. "You swooned and were carried off by guards who were subsequently killed before you even reached your room. You're quite lucky I recognize you, Princess, otherwise who knows where you would be right now."

I suppose gratitude was expected, but I was stubborn and did not wish to show it, especially with that tone of hers! I was being mocked and I was not amused. No one had spoken to me like this before!

My hands curled into tight fists and I was about to speak my mind when Corin lifted a hand; her eyes were not looking in my direction, rather out at the horizon. Instead of speaking, I looked as well, noticing there were riders coming our way. "Someone's coming! We should hide, shouldn't we?" For all I knew, these newcomers were companions of the men she had killed, men who I was assuming had dragged me from my father's castle!

"No, I know these men. Keep quiet and stay here. I will be back shortly." Corin gave me a distracted smile before turning and walking away from the craggy rocks, heading out to meet the riders. Where they finally met was much too far from me to hear what they were talking about. Frustrated, I let out a sigh. I did not like this, not one bit! I was cold, hungry and tired, and I'm sure I looked hideous as well. I could hardly return home looking as I did!

"So then? Who were those men?"

The prisoner in the corner, Siri, shrugged a thin bony shoulder. "What do you think?" she asked instead.

"Well..." There was a moment's silence. "If she knew them, then perhaps they were knights sent from your father. Oh! Was your first love from among them, then?"

Once more Siri laughed. "Silly. She killed them."

"What- why?!" I stared at the shadow of the corpses, unable to see anything more with the dimming had returned and was now wiping her sword clean of blood. Truth be told, I was a little frightened of her now. She had so easily lopped off the heads of those three riders! I had never seen anyone do such a thing before, not even one of my father's men at court!

What if she killed me that way too?

If I thought I had any choice in the matter, I would have jumped off the horse and run off into the darkness of the night. At that moment, however, I was in no state to be walking, leave alone running.

"They were traitors," Corin replied with a sigh, shaking her head. "They were supposed to lead you back safely, but I believe they would have taken you elsewhere, just like the other men I had killed in the forest. I wouldn't be surprised if more have been sent after you-"

She stopped, perhaps noticing the look on my face. I was scared of her, yes, but I couldn't help but feel something else. Respect? Or something else? Perhaps I was simply confused.

"Don't worry, your head looks much better attached to your neck than on the ground." Corin chuckled as she pulled herself up behind me. "I'm not going to hurt you, I'm here to keep you safe."

I tensed when I felt her hand lightly pat my cheek. "That's- I'm- I'm not worried!" I glared at her, cheeks hot yet again. Goodness, how familiar was she being? I was the princess, to be treated with respect! "I'm just tired! If they were traitors, and you think more are coming, then what do we do?"

"We keep riding," was the reply.

And that we did, long enough that eventually I fell asleep. Once again, I wasn't sure how long I had been asleep, but when I woke up, what little light had been there earlier was completely gone. It was probably past midnight, and we were still riding, though the gait was much slower now. The grogginess I was feeling began to fade, and it was then that I realized I was leaning quite comfortably against Corin, cheek pressed against her chest plate. Her cloak was wrapped around the both of us.

Perhaps it was the sleep, or perhaps it was something else. Unlike my previous embarrassment, I felt nothing of the sort. In fact, I was quite relaxed, in fact, closing my eyes once more, ready to return to sleep. Thoughts of where we were headed and why it was taking so long didn't even leave an itch in my mind. At that moment, I was quite satisfied with where I was.

"Wait! Are you saying... are you saying that Corin was the one you had fallen for?"

Siri nearly rolled her eyes. "Is it so unbelievable? She was strong and beautiful, and could easily take down any enemy that came her way."

"Yes, but..."

A sound of dry amusement escaped the princess. "Shall I end the story here, then?"

"No! I'm sorry, please continue."

Siri nodded, though she seemed less enthusiastic than before. "Very well. We finally reached my father's castle. You could imagine the relief I felt. Finally, I would be able to eat and change."

"And sleep!"

"Yes," Siri agreed. "None of that came to pass, actually."

It seemed a little strange, finally returning home. Everything looked the same, but I felt different, as if I had been through a life changing experience. Perhaps I had, but even I wasn't so haughty and vain to think I had been enlightened. Perhaps it was simply seeing how everyone was off and about, doing whatever they normally did, not at all taking note of me on the horse. Weren't they glad to see me return?

My discontent must have been obvious, as Corin spoke. "For someone returning home after an ordeal, you seem less happy than I would've expected."

"You wouldn't understand," I replied immediately, though continued after a sigh. "No one is even noticing I am here! I know I look less than appropriate, but still. I am their princess!"

Corin snorted. "The idea that they should care because of your status is laughable, Princess. They resent you, and were probably glad you were gone."

"That- that's not true!" My fists clenched; I felt both angry and hurt. "I- I never did anything to them that they should resent me."

"Exactly. You never did anything. You gave them no reason to care about you."

"I'm the king's daughter!"

"And I'm a blacksmith's daughter," Corin replied with a short laugh. "Neither of us should be rewarded or appreciated for whose children we are, rather, what we make of ourselves." She paused before pointing ahead to the gates of the castle. "Well, here we are."

It wasn't long before the gates were open and we were led inside. Corin's words were still echoing in my mind, causing my mood to turn sour. It wasn't true, was it? I was always told I was loved, adored, not just by my family, but all the people of our kingdom! Anyone who thought otherwise was a traitor or dullwitted. Yet... Corin was neither. I knew this. If she was a traitor, there was no reason for her to have brought me back. And for her wits, well, the fact that she brought me back proved she had those about her.

I was upset enough that my eyes were watering now, blurring my vision. I did have enough sense to wipe them before we entered the throne room, standing tall. At least my father would recognize my worth!

Except he wasn't there. I blinked once and then twice, staring at the person sitting on my father's throne. Not an inch about him was familiar! "Who are- where- where is my father?!"

"Good work, Corin." The man on the throne cast a glance over me before looking to the warrior at my side, who let go of my arm and knelt down.

"Your Majesty," replied Corin, head bowed.

Dumbstruck, that would be the best word to describe what I felt in that moment. My heart was beating like drums at a battle, yet I couldn't find it in myself to move, save the shaking in my hands, and the cold sweat that trickled down my sides. My eyes shifted to Corin. "You... you... you betrayed me...?"

"No, Princess," she replied immediately, lifting her head to look my way. Her eyes were gentle once more, filled with pity. "I was simply being loyal to my King."

"Then? What happened next?"

"What does it look like?" Siri asked with a bland smile. "I was tossed in here, and have been here for a good few months, persistently bothered by your questions."

"How could that be a love story?!"

She sighed. "You asked for the first time I fell in love. This was it. Not all stories have happy endings. You should know that, sitting in this cell with me."

"Yes, but..." There was a sigh. "Perhaps it was for the best. Falling in love with such a person...huh. Well. Goodnight then." There was the sound of someone moving, and then silence.

Siri remained where she was for a good few moments before she stood up, wincing as her stiff joints protested. She let out a soft breath before walking to the other side of the cell, settling down next to a third prisoner.

"Why am

I always the traitor?" The voice was quiet and on the rough side.

"Who would believe I could do all the things Corin could?" Siri smirked, shaking her head. "My stories are best with myself the damsel, and you my traitor first love."

"Either way, tomorrow it ends. Sleep well, Siri."

"Good night."