I followed my Queen through the dark tunnels, leading us ever deeper into the caves. “Milady, are you sure that you want to be here? This hardly seems to be the place for the Queen to be seen.” I spoke to her, my voice echoing off of the surrounding stone, despite the veil that hid the lower half of my face.
She turned to me, “There is someone that I wish to purchase and the Dragons have denied my emissary’s access to the person.” She was about five and a quarter feet tall, even though the furs she wore made her look smaller. Her black hair was tied back into a bun and her blue eyes were bright with hope.
I understood her need to find someone and save them from the Dragons, the heartless ones who controlled the slave trade on Seteria. We followed the torches that led us to the main chamber of the caves.
Pictures were placed on the walls, those who were for sale. Their desperate faces glinting in the fire light. My Queen moves towards the wall, while I stayed close beside her, my hand on my dagger. The Dragons were usually fair, but ruthless and I refused to take chances when I comes to my Queen’s life. I turned to see her searching for a specific face, before returning my gaze towards others who were walking around the chamber.
I saw a few unsavory characters that made me wish that I had been able to convince my Queen to not come and to send me in her stead. There was one face that made me growl instinctively, making sure that my dagger was unsheathed. The Merchant caught my gaze and I watched the vicious smile blossom across his face. He moved towards us, his body guard following close behind. The Merchant’s round body flounced with each step, his large face twisted into a joyful sneer. He wore red and gold, showing off his wealth.
“Your Majesty!” The Merchant’s hateful voice filled our area. My Queen whipped around, as I stood in front of her, providing my body as her shield. The Merchant bowed too low for it to be polite, more of a mockery of respect.
“What do you want?” I heard my Queen’s diminutive voice from behind me. To most, she would sound scared, but I knew this voice to be the sound of ice and fueled with more than hatred.
The Merchant did not stop his smiling, putting me on edge; I knew that smile too well. “I just wished to see what Your Highness was looking at purchasing.” He looked directly to me, “I would hate to accidentally buy the slave you wanted. I mean, I know you prefer the damaged ones and if the slave was perfect, I would be happy to cripple them for you.”
I felt my muscles tense with his words. I raised my dagger, holding it out as a warning to the other bodyguard. The other guard took the warning and lightly touched the Merchant, “My Lord, we should make your purchases and be on our way. We are running late.”
The Merchant looked back at his guard, “I believe I have found my slaves.” He looked back towards us and I saw his eyes light up. He stepped forward and I raised my dagger in another warning. He stepped around us, ripping my Queen’s hand off a picture and grabbed it off the wall. “Your Majesty, I believe this is the one I was looking for!”
I lunged forward and sliced his arm, forcing him to drop the picture. My Queen grabbed the picture and stuffed it into her bodice. I held the dagger to his stomach, daring him to step into the sharp blade. I grabbed my second dagger and held it out towards the guard. “Come any closer and I will gut him like the pig he is.”
The guard looked to the Merchant and his bleeding arm. The Merchant stepped away from us, gripping his arm, trying to stop the blood. “You will regret this!” He walked back to his guard who helped to bandage him up, before they both went towards the Dragons’ tables to purchase their merchandise.
I whispered to my Queen, “Milady, he is devious and I do not seeing this ending well for us “Is this the one picture we need?”
I heard her sigh, “I wish I could gather more, but we do not have the funds nor the resources to save them all.”
“All due respect, milady, some of these slaves are criminals who had their chance at freedom; not all were stolen for the slave trade.” I looked at her over my shoulder, “Let us be off, milady.”
She walked to being in front of me and led us both towards the Dragons’ tables. I heard the Merchant yelling at the Dragon he was working with about how he was assaulted for trying to purchase a slave. He pointed towards me, “That bitch cut me when I tried to grab a picture! Her master then stole the slave I wanted!”
My Queen stepped up to the table, “My guard was simply stopping him from harming me after he tore my hand off of the wall for the picture I wanted.”
The Dragon called over two others. All three Dragons looked at us, their reptilian eyes looking between the three of us, the Merchant’s guard staying away from the table. “Milady, she should have just removed his arm from yours. This is a safe zone and the use of force is prohibited. You shall forfeit the picture to this gentleman.”
I scoffed at the use of gentleman, calling all three Dragon’s attentions to me. I stared the center one down, not allowing their humanized-dragon faces scare me. The stand-off ended with my Queen handing them the picture from her bodice. “This was the picture we were fighting over.”
They looked at the picture, then my Queen then the Merchant. “Sir, are there any more than you wish to purchase?”
The Merchant handed them a stack of pictures and I felt my stomach tighten into knots. All of these poor souls would be destroyed under his sadistic hand. It did not matter if they were criminals, no one should have to be forced into his ‘care.’ My Queen and I watched the transaction as it finished and one of the Dragons handed the pictures to a slave to gather the merchandise.
The Merchant flashed a hateful smile to the two of us as he stepped to the side. My Queen stepped up to the tables and pulled a picture from her pouch, handing it over to them. I watched as the Merchant’s face became a hideous red. “I demand that she forfeits her right to a slave at this time in retribution for her slave-bitch cutting me.”
The Dragons looked to one another, before they nodded to each other, “Sir, you have received the picture that caused the cut to happen. It is not good business to ban the Queen from purchasing another slave that is uncontested. Please stand with the others who are waiting to receive their merchandise. ”
The Dragon looked at the picture then to my Queen, his eyes wide in shock, “Are you sure, milady?” This caught the attentions of the other Dragons working. The other two who assisted earlier looked at the picture and shook their heads, “Milady, we do not think it is appropriate to sell you this particular slave.”
They set the picture down and I stole a glance at it. It showed the image of a dirty, shaggy male, but despite the dirt and grime, his green eyes shone through it all. I memorized the face quickly, just as my Queen picked the picture up again. She pressed her finger to the picture, giving me a sign to investigate as she continued to haggle.
“Excuse me, sirs.” The Dragons looked to me, “Where would I find the pots?”
One called another slave over, “Show her the pots.”
The slave bowed and motioned for me to follow her. We went around the tables and into the back rooms. We passed by the cells that held the slaves. I grabbed the slave by the shoulder and lightly pressed her into a wall using my forearm to hold her, “Where is the slave with the bright green eyes? The one that the Dragons are scared of.” She panicked and I put my hand on her mouth, “Please, I do not want to hurt you. I just want to talk to the slave with green eyes. If you scream or attempt to run, I will hurt you. Nod if you understand.” She nodded. “Good, now give me the numbers to which cell is his.” She gave me a three and seven. “Thank you.” I let her go, keeping my promise. “I just want to talk to him.”
I walked towards the weathered stone stairs up to the third floor and down to the seventh cell. The slave girl followed me, not letting me out of her sight. I understood her panic and reasons that she would not leave me be. If something happened, she would get blamed and killed, or worse, sold to someone like the Merchant and tortured.
I looked into the cell at the man lying on the bed, “Hello?” I looked to the girl and saw that she was a good thirty feet away from the cell, standing just beyond the stairs. I stepped closer to the cell and called out again, “Hello?”
The male sat up and looked at me, his green eyes glowing in the dark of the back of his cell. “Why are you here bothering me?”
“My Queen is trying to purchase you and the Dragons are trying to stop her. So, she sent me to investigate why.”
He leaned against the stone at the head of his bed, “They are right to not allow your queen to buy me. Now, leave me be!” I watched him close his eyes and lie back down.
I turn towards the girl and motioned for her to get closer, as I refused to walk away from the front of the cell. She took a few steps forward until she was in front of the next cell. “What did he do?”
She shrugged, “Rumor is that he killed his last masters and when the guards tried to subdue them, he killed a bunch of them as well. He was given to the Dragons, in hope that he would be purchased for ‘Games’ and killed during them.”
The blood drained from my face, “For the Games?”
I looked into the cell and saw that the male was standing right next to the cell door. I jumped back, but he grabbed my arm and pulled me closer to the cell door. “Who are you and what do you know of the Games?” I noticed that he was over six feet tall and his clothes were falling apart. His long hair used to be blond, but seemed limp and lifeless.
I tried to pull my arm away, but he was a great deal stronger than me. “Let me go and I will tell you what I know.” He let go of my arm, but gripped my wrist. I took this as a compromise, “That Games are where they send slaves to die. We are put up against other slaves or animals in a fight to the death.” I looked into his green eyes, “Why will the Dragons not sell you to my Queen?”
He let go of my wrist, “The girl is correct; I killed my last masters and I will not hesitate to kill anyone else.”
“My Queen is looking for a Guide and we heard that one of the best is a slave here. She believes that it’s you.”
“What is she looking for?”
I shrugged, “I do not know.”
“What are you looking for?”
I shrugged again, “I am not looking for anything.”
He grabbed my wrist again and pulled me until my face was between the bars. He grabbed my hair and squeezed, “Since you hide your face, I believe you to be lying.” He ripped the veil off my face, dropping it to the floor and I saw the shock on his face. He let go of my hair and back away.
“I do not lie, you ignorant piece of excrement. I do not know why my Queen wants to purchase you and if I am able to convince her, I will tell her to not even try to deal with a monster like you.” I reached into the cell and grabbed my veil off of the floor.
“You call me a monster, yet you are marred.” He laughed to himself, “Does you Queen know of your defect?”
I turned to leave, “She does and even regrets not being able to prevent it. I should have let the Merchant purchase you.” I walked back towards the stairs, securing the veil as I walked. We passed by another slave heading towards the cells as the girl led me back to my Queen.
She saw me and waved me over to her, “What did you learn?”
“He is a Guide, but he killed his last masters and the guards who tried to apprehend him. He is supposed to be purchased for the Games. Truthfully, milady, I believe that he is not worth the trouble and should be left to rot in the cells.”
She looked at me oddly, “What did he do to you when you talked to him?”
I looked at the ground, rather than her eyes, ashamed of the tears welling up in my eyes, “He ripped off my veil and called me a liar and said that I was defective.”
My Queen walked passed me and I turned to see her slap the Guide across the face, “Now that you are in my service, you will apologize to my guard. If you choose to not respect her, I will send you to the Games myself.”
The caves became silent as everyone waited to see what he would do. He towered over my Queen, looking at me before he looked down to her. It was a stand-off between the most dangerous man in the land and one of the most powerful women in the kingdom. He bowed to her, precise in his movements, “I apologize to you, milady, for trouble I put your guard through.” He then stood up and looked at me, “I apologize for my words.”
My Queen accepted the apology upon my behalf and turned to the slaves holding his chains. “Remove his shackles and we will be on our way.” The slave looked to the tables, where a Dragon nodded. The slave undid the shackles on the Guide’s wrists and ankles. He rubbed his wrists as my Queen turned to head towards the exit. I was at a loss of what to do, because I wanted to keep her close, but did not want to give the Guide my back.
I ran to catch up to my Queen, as she was more important than the Guide. I whispered to my Queen, “Are you sure that you want to give him our back?”
She nodded, “I gave him the chance to choose between us and the Games. He will not harm us until we have left the caves, because if he tries, then the Dragons will end him.”
I still felt uneasy with the Guide behind us, but accepted my Queen’s decision. “What are your plans for him?”
“I need him to help me find someone, then he can go do whatever he wishes.” She smiled to me.
I stopped walking, “Are you sure that is wise, milady?”
She stopped and faced me, “We shall talk later.” I winced at the harshness of her voice but understood that I was questioning her above my station. She looked passed me, “Guide, would you like to join me ahead of my guard? You are putting her on edge and I need her at full focus to do her job.”
I felt him pass by me and my anger rose. My Queen was making a huge mistake and refused to listen to reason. She started walking again, the Guide by her side and I followed. He looked back at me a few times, just as wary of me as I was of him.
We reached the front of the caves and the world was darkening as the sun started to set beyond the horizon. My Queen reached our carriage and knocked on the door. Silvia opened the door and smiled as she saw the Queen. “Welcome back, my Queen.” She stepped aside and allowed the Queen entry. I grabbed the collar of the Guide and stopped him from entering the carriage. I looked to Silvia who closed the door.
I let go of him and stepped away, remembering that he is faster than me. “Look, you do not like me and I definitely do not like you. My Queen has chosen to trust you and I will not defy her wishes. But understand this, if you try to cause any harm to either Silvia or my Queen, I will not hesitate to kill you.”
He grinned, “Do you really think that you could kill me? I have killed already and have taken out people stronger and better than you. What makes you think that you could defeat me?”
“Because I am the Queen’s Guard and as such have been given the best training the kingdom has to offer. I will not be taken down by someone like you. I will not harm you as long as you do not touch my Queen. She wants you to help her find someone and then she plans on setting you free. If you value your life and want your freedom, I suggest doing as she asks then getting out of our lives.”
He looked at me, his eyes water a little bit, “She plans on giving me my freedom…?”
“Yes and I do not renege on her promises.” My Queen stepped out of the carriage, holding a piece of parchment. “Can you read?” He nodded. “Good, this is the contract stating that after you help me that you will be free from slavery.” She handed it to him, letting him read it over. She motioned for me to walk to her. “Silvia tells me that the Merchant has been hanging around, despite already having his slaves. I suggest that we depart as soon as possible.” I nodded to her, as I went to link the horses up to the carriage. I heard her speak to the Guide, “Are the terms to your satisfaction?” There was a pause, before she continued, “Good, now sign here; I will sign here and Silvia will witness it.” I heard scribbling before the door closed and reopened, “This is who I am looking for.” The door closed again.
I hooked the horses up, but could not reach the buckle under the horse. A hand handed me the strap and I buckled it. I stood up and saw that the Guide was helping me with the horses. “I do not need your help.”
He stayed silent, but continued to work. I tried to ignore him as we both worked together to get the carriage ready for movement. When the carriage was ready, I knocked on the door. Silvia answered, “We are ready to go.”
I heard the Queen call from the back of the carriage, “I believe that we can make it to the river before the darkness completely takes over.”
“Yes, milady. Where would you suggest that the Guide sits?”
“I think he can sit and assist you in your driving.”
I gawked at the idea, but took a breath and let it out slowly, “Yes, my Queen. I will let you know when we reach the river. Sit back and enjoy the ride.” I closed the door and walked to the driver’s seat and saw the Guide already sitting there. I climbed up and he handed me the reigns, allowing me to drive the horses. I snapped the reigns and the horses started moving to where I knew the trail was to get to the river.
“Since you are here, keep an eye out for bandits and the such. We are not completely safe until we cross the river and are back in our province.”
“Do you think that someone would be stupid enough to attack us?” He asked softly.
“Never underestimate the stupidity and desperation of people.” I sighed, “I cannot wait until I get her back home…” The carriage ambled along, despite my wanting to go faster. If I made the horses go faster, then the two women in the carriage would bounce around like ragdolls. Darkness came along faster than I thought it would. The trail became harder to see and I had to stop the carriage. I knocked on the small window between us and the inside of the carriage. Silvia opened the door, “Milady, the trail is too dark. Do you have a lantern in there for us to see by?”
Silvia looked back to the Queen and then shook her head, “Sorry, but we did not think that we would be out in the dark.”
“It’s going to take us longer to get to the river, because we are going to have to walk in front of the horses to guide them along.” I saw them nod and I shut the window. “Damn this darkness to hell.” I tried to see, but the darkness was heavy and deep. I set the reigns on the ground and jumped off the driver’s seat. “Damned Dragons for arguing with her about the Guide…” I mumbled to myself as I grabbed the center reigns that kept the horses together.
“How can I help?” I heard the Guide ask me.
“If you could see in the dark, we will not have to try this on foot. If you cannot, then you just need to hold the reigns while I lead the horses through the trail.”
“I am a Guide; of course I can see in the dark.”
I looked back to see his green eyes glowing, “Seriously? Why in the hell did you not say anything?” I saw a ball of fire fly through the air, hitting next to the horses, causing one of them to rise up. “Damn it! Grab the reigns and drive!” I grabbed the horse reign and tried to calm it down a little, before the Guide whipped them into action. I quickly let go of the horse as they lurched forward. I grabbed onto the back of the carriage, where the luggage was stored.
I saw another arrow fly through the air and barely missed the carriage. I knocked on the back window and the Queen opened it. “What is going-”
“Your Majesty, I need the bow and arrows. We are under attack!” My Queen handed me the bow and arrows as I shouted to the Guide, “Steady the carriage!” I turned to Silvia, “Stay close to her and switch sides. The arrows are coming from behind.” I shut the window, as a flaming arrows embedded into the wood. I pulled it out and decided to use their arrows against them. I pulled the arrow back as I saw another one light up. I aimed for the small fire and shot towards it.
I heard a yell as the light stopped moving. We hit a tree root and I bounced up high, almost falling off of the back of the carriage. I tried to listen for the attackers, but did not hear anything beyond our horse hooves the carriage creaks. I notched an arrow, waiting for their next move. After a few minutes of nothing, I relaxed a little and yelled to the Guide, “I think we lost them!”
I heard his voice float back from the driver’s seat, “I am not slowing down until we get to that river!”
I gripped the back of the carriage as hard as I could as the minutes because an hour and then two. My mind ran through who could have attacked us, each idea gave me a few options of how to defeat the threat. Once we are back in our own province, we will be safe. The Queen is loved and respected and none would attack her once we are home… I tried to convince myself that the enemy had retreated, but it had seemed too easy of a fight. I set the bow and arrows on the back of the carriage behind the luggage.
The carriage jolted to a stop, slamming me into the back of the carriage, before I lost my balance and fell off the back. I landed hard on the ground with my shoulders, my head slamming into the dirt and lost my breath. I laid there, trying to convince my body to stand, but it refused to. I heard footsteps and saw the Guide looking down at me, “What happened to you?”
“Next time, warn me when you stop…” I managed to say as I fought the darkness around my vision. He grabbed me by the shoulders and helped me stand. I wobbled and grabbed onto the back of the carriage to steady myself, my vision blurring. I touched the back of my head and then looked at my hand seeing the blood. “Get Silvia…”
I heard him run to the carriage door and knock, “The Guard requests Silvia.” I fell to the ground, my vision swimming. I closed my eyes, trying to not get sick from the moving ground. I heard people running, before feeling warmth flow from the top of my head and through my body. I felt my skin knit and heal, the glowing light bright enough to penetrate my eyes. I opened them as the golden glitter fell to the ground.
I felt someone grab me and help me stand again. I took a deep breath and let it out. I looked to Silvia. “Thank you.” I turned to see my Queen’s worried face from the back carriage window. “I will be alright, milady.” I looked to the Guide, who helped me stand. “Thank you… Did we reach the river?”
He answered, “Yes, but how do we cross it?”
“Ferry.” I answered as I pulled away from his grip. “Stay with the Queen and Silvia.” I walked towards the river, looking for the ferry that would take us back home. I could not see anything in the darkness, so I needed the Guide to use his night-vision to find the ferry. I turned and saw the other three walking towards me. I saw a flash of light reflecting off of their faces, followed by a steady wavering light. I turned back towards the river and saw the ferry as the fire grew.
“How…?” I reached for my daggers and turned around. “My Queen, it seems like something is hunting us.”
She looked from the ferry to me then back to the ferry. “What do you suggest we do?”
I looked to the two moons as one rose and the other was high in the sky. “We have a few hours until daylight and the Guide is the only one who can see in the darkness. I suggest that you and Silvia stay in the carriage and the Guide and I will stand guard. I believe we should unhitch the horses so that they will not become scared and take off with you and the carriage.”
The Queen nodded and accepted my decision. I grabbed Silvia before she could follow, “If anything happens to the Guide and me, I am counting on you to get our Queen out of here without us.”
She nodded and touched my forehead with her hand. “I place a blessing of protection over you.” She stepped away and gave the Guide the same blessing, before retreating into the carriage.
I turned to the Guide, “Can you back the carriage up to the edge of the shore, so we only need to watch three sides of the carriage?”
He nodded and together, we were able to back the carriage close to the water as we could. I walked up to the driver’s seat and spoke to him, while watching for any movement on the trail, “I will unhitch the horses; I need you to keep an eye out for enemies so we are not ambushed.”
“Understood.” He walked towards the other side of the carriage, keeping an eye in the trail that we just came in from.
I gave the burning ferry one last look, before heading to the horses. I unhitched them from the carriage and walked them over to the water, allowing them to take a quick drink. I tied them to a low hanging branch of a tree, before walking back over to the carriage.
Silvia stepped out of the carriage and gave both the Guide and I some food. She smiled at us, “Everything will be alright. I believe that you two can keep us safe.” She went back into the carriage and I heard the lock shut, sealing the world out of the carriage.
We ate in silence, before I handed him my second dagger. “Just in case.” He took the dagger and walked to his post as I walked to mine.
We stood guard for most of the night without any incident. I looked up at the moons and saw that it was getting close to dawn, even though it was still pitch black outside. I heard a footstep behind me and whipped around to find my dagger blocked by another. “Ambu-!” I tried to yell, but someone covered my mouth with a rag drenched in a foul smelling liquid. I felt my body grow heavy and I tried to fight off the attackers. I saw the Guide fighting another group of men, before he was knocked out by a blow to the head. I followed him into unconsciousness.