“Your Highness. We will be arriving at the village of Jesk shortly” the carriage driver shouted. Azzara looked out of the carriage window and took in the view of her surroundings. Thick woods surrounded the path that led to the village. The earthy smell gave her a feeling of nostalgia. She remembered when she would play with Kellin and their mother on the palace grounds. That felt like a lifetime ago now. Azzara sat across from her hand-maiden Minerva. Minerva was a middle-aged woman with a kind face. Azzara always thought that her hand-maiden was a beautiful woman even at this age. Minerva was a widow with two young sons, the oldest being a year younger than Azzara. As the princess of Gillia, Azzara never had any real friendships. The only bonds that she held dear were the bonds with her parents, her brother, and Vallarie. That was until Minerva came along. When Azzara was twelve years of age, her mother had placed Minerva as Azzara’s hand-maiden. It didn’t take long for the two to form a close bond with each other.
Minerva became her friend, her older sister, and when her mother passed, a parental figure. Minerva’s husband was once a Knight of Gillia; Gillia’s elite fighting force. However, during the battle of the Bullian Plains, almost all the knights were killed. The Empire executed those that survived as the Gillian Knights were loyal only to the royal family and served as the King’s guard.
Everyone believed that the Gillian Knights were all gone until yesterday. The day before, Azzara remained in her chambers and tried to figure out ways to escape this marriage. Suddenly there was a commotion outside her room door. Azzara could hear the clash of steel and the screams of men. Fear had clutched at her heart again, and images of General Marcus made her drop to her knees. Her chamber doors had suddenly burst open, and three men rushed in. The men wore dirty hooded robes. Each man had a bloodied sword in hand. Azzara immediately started to look around her for anything she could use as a weapon against these intruders. All of a sudden the men bent their knees and planted the tip of their swords on the floor. Azzara recognised it as the bow of the Gillian Knights. The men removed their hoods and revealed three young men. The man in the middle, however, was the one who caught her attention. He had bright golden hair and a strong jaw. When he looked up at her, she noticed his grey eyes that were so deep she thought she might get lost in them. She had felt the blood rushing up to her cheeks.
“You highness,” all three men said in unison. The handsome man spoke first “Your majesty it is good to see you well. My name is Ser Ryder. My companions are Ser Alric and Ser Lucas. Forgive the intrusion your highness but time is of the essence.”
Ser Alric spoke next “Princess Azzara! We are the only surviving Gillian Knights. We would not see the Empire take our homeland away or take our princess away from us. We have come to take you away!”
Azzara stared wide-eyed at the three men in front of her. Was this real? She would not have dared hope that any knights had survived. Now, three knights stood before her ready to whisk her away from all of this dread. “Where would you take me?” she asked breathlessly. Ser Lucas spoke this time “We have formed a resistance, your highness. We have taken up residence at a village near the kingdom’s border. It is an out of the way little village that does not draw too much attention. The villagers have joined our cause. Currently, it is our base of operations.”
Sir Ryder spoke now “Your people wait for you to take charge, your majesty. We would make you our leader and beat back the Imperials from our homeland!” Ser Ryder spoke so passionately that Azzara felt her heart flutter and found herself unable to stop looking into his eyes. Azzara quickly came back to her senses and spoke “Let us away then! Before the imperial guards show up!”
Ser Ryder took her hands in his and spoke quickly “Princess, after the ruckus we’ve caused here, every soldier in the palace will be searching for us. We will not be able to smuggle you away now.”
Ser Alric stood up and peeped out through a gap in the door. “They will be upon us soon. Princess, please listen to our plan…”
Azzara looked out of her carriage window again and evaluated her escort party. Twelve imperial legionnaires. Two Imperial mages. General Marcus Valva riding at the head of the envoy. It was precisely as the knights said it would be. The plan was simple. The princess would insist that they stop at the village of Jesk to rest. It was no easy task for Azzara to speak kindly to General Marcus.
“Lord General” Azzara called out from her carriage a few hours earlier. The General turned his armoured steed around and rode next to the carriage window.
“You called princess?” He inquired in his most charming tone. “Indeed Lord General. I grow weary. I want to stretch my legs for a bit.”
General Marcus produced a smirk that made her want to throw up “Oh my dear little lamb. We are on a tight schedule. I’m afraid.”
Azzara would not give up. “I would be truly grateful if you would do me this kindness, Lord General. There is a village not far from here,” she said sweetly even though it made her sick to her stomach. General Marcus raised an eyebrow and smiled at her. “Very well princess, who am I to refuse the request of such a beautiful young lady with such a pretty smile?”
So here they were. They were arriving at the village of Jesk. The first part of the plan was successful. The next part of their plan was that the princess escapes to the top of a hill overlooking the village. Resistance fighters would be waiting there to escort her to their base.
Meanwhile, Ser Ryder and the other knights would charge into the village with a contingent of warriors and serve as a distraction. She didn’t want to think about how many innocent lives would be lost in this battle. These villagers did not ask for what was about to happen. However, it was for the good of the kingdom. She had to remember that.
The Royal envoy stopped in the middle of the village and immediately attracted a large crowd around it. Minerva stepped out of the carriage first and then helped Azzara out. The people around the carriage cheered as they caught sight of their princess. Azzara smiled and waved as she was instructed to do whenever she was out in public. She looked at all the cheering faces and was saddened by what she was about to cause. I am truly sorry. She thought to herself.
“highness if it pleases you,” said a plump woman who bowed deeply “my husband and I own the tavern here in town. You would do us a great honour if you and your entourage rested at our establishment.”
Azzara smiled kindly at the woman “Of course. We would be glad to enjoy your hospitality” Azzara turned to General Marcus who stood next to her “Would that be alright Lord General?”
“Why of course princess,” he said. The general then began to give out orders to his men “You three! Make sure the tavern is cleared out of patrons before the princess sets foot in there. The two of you! Stand guard outside the door. No one is to enter…or leave” he shot the princess with a sly look “without my permission. The rest of you stand guard around the carriage.”
The soldiers began to rush about to fulfil their duties as Minerva and Azzara walked hand in hand behind the plump woman who led the way. “Minerva it’s almost time” Azzara whispered to her hand-maiden.
“But your highness, how will you get away from the guards?” Minerva asked. “I’ll find a way don’t worry.” Azzara said, “You just make sure that you can get away as soon as the fighting begins.”
“Yes, your highness.”
The tavern smelled like a mixture of vomit, alcohol, and rotting vegetables. Azzara didn’t mind. This was her first time visiting a bar. It certainly wasn’t the type of place she would ever be allowed to go to under normal circumstances. Azzara and Minerva chose seats near an open window to enjoy the cool evening breeze. Two imperial guards followed them and took up positions on either side of the table. Azzara had to admit that imperial soldiers were an impressive sight to behold. Each soldier wore heavy steel armour that covered their entire bodies. The steel was brilliantly hand engraved and decorated. They wore Red and black tabards with the imperial crest stitched on it and carried massive two-handed swords on their backs. The thought of ever having to face thousands of these legionnaires in battle sent shivers down her spine.
“Your Highness, My lady” a slim young girl curtsied to both her and Minerva. Despite her slim figure, Azzara had noticed that this girl was heavily pregnant. “Good evening,” Azzara said to her sweetly “Are you sure you should be working like this? You look as though you are about to give birth at any moment.”
The girl blushed and smiled “My husband has the same concern, your highness. However, we still need money. My husband is only apprenticing as a blacksmith right now” she said looking at the floor as she spoke.
“I understand,” Azzara said kindly. “What is your name girl?” Minerva asked.
“Oh forgive me! My name is Frenna! How may I be of service this evening?” she asked flustered.
“Two cups of wine and whatever the chef’s special is my dear,” Minerva said smiling.
Frenna bowed and rushed off to the kitchens. Azzara looked out of the window and stared up at the sky. The moon was full and bright. A significant change in her life was going to take place. She could feel it.
“Minerva,” Azzara said suddenly.
“Yes, your highness?”
“General Marcus hasn’t joined us here.”
“Perhaps he prefers to not dawdle inside of a tavern. He doesn’t seem the type at least.”
“Perhaps…” what was he up to?
Frenna arrived at the table moments later carrying two cups of wine, two bowls of hot venison stew, and two loaves of freshly baked bread. Azzara thanked Frenna and said, “You should stay indoors tonight no matter what happens.”
Frenna looked at the princess quizzically and gave a deep bow before leaving them to their meal. Azzara gave Minerva a knowing look and stood up. “I would like to freshen up,” she said loudly. Not a moment later the plump tavern owner came bustling toward them and gave a deep bow. “Of course your royal highness, please follow me.”
Azzara followed the plump tavern owner to the washroom with an imperial guard not far behind. The tavern owner bowed as Azzara entered the room and shut the door. That soldier is probably right outside the door, she thought. Azzara pulled off her extravagant white dress, her stockings and her shoes. All she wore now was her petticoat that showed too much of her legs. This is embarrassing, thought Azzara. I need to be able to move quickly. I won’t let this chance slip away no matter the cost. The resistance fighters will be charging into the village at any moment. I have to act fast.
Azzara climbed on top of the bathtub and opened the window. The size of the window was small, but she would be able to squeeze through. Azzara was slim but struggled to push her body through the window opening. Her chest would not allow it. Mother always said the size of my chest was a blessing. Well, it doesn’t feel like much of a blessing right now!
After a painful struggle, Azzara finally managed to push herself through the window. Bits of her underwear had torn off during the struggle exposing even more of her body. There’s no time to think about that now. I have to get to the top of that hill. Azzara sprinted through the village keeping to the shadows as to avoid being seen by anyone. The village was strangely quiet. The resistance fighters should have shown up by now. Where were they? I hope Ser Ryder is alright, she thought. Azzara continued to make her way south of the village toward the hill with the rock formation. Suddenly, there was a commotion in the village. Had Ser Ryder finally arrived? However, she did not hear the clashing of steel or the galloping of horses’ hooves. All she could hear was shouting. It sounded like the shouting of imperial soldiers. ‘Find her! Search every inch of the village! Search every building! Now!’
All over the village there was screaming and yelling as soldiers burst into the homes of the villagers. There were brawls as the men tried to attack the Imperials, however, the hostile villagers were quickly subdued by the Imperials. Azzara moved more quickly. At this rate, she would be found before reaching the hill! Ryder where are you!? She thought desperately.
Azzara finally arrived at the south side of the village and found a path leading up to the hill. She moved silently through the shadows of the night until she reached the top. Azzara looked over at the village and saw it aflame. The Imperials were burning the buildings and cutting down anyone they could find: men, women and even children. The sight horrified her. Why are they doing this!? Tears began to stream down her cheeks as she witnessed the senseless slaughter of unarmed villagers.
Azzara spun around immediately and saw Ser Ryder standing before her. Relief washed over her entire body. She could not control herself at this moment. She had forgotten that she was almost naked. She had forgotten that she was a princess. She ran at Ser Ryder and threw her arms around his neck and held him as she cried uncontrollably.
“This tale has taken quite the romantic twist I dare say”
Azzara’s heart dropped. She felt a cold shiver down her spine and began to shake uncontrollably. General Marcus had appeared, and he had that evil look in his eyes. The general displayed a broad smile that never reached his eyes. Ser Ryder stood in front of Azzara and faced the general with his sword drawn.
“No! He’ll kill you! We have to run!” Azzara said as she gripped Ryder’s sleeve. Ryder turned to face her and pointed the tip of his sword against her throat. “You’re not going anywhere, princess.”
“Wha-…t?” was all she could muster to say. Ser Ryder gave her a crooked smile. Suddenly his beautiful grey eyes had turned into a glowing yellow and his pupils transformed into slits. General Marcus clapped his hands together and cheered “Oh my, this has turned into quite the plot twist! Bravo!”
“I do apologise for the treachery princess,” General Marcus said with mock sympathy “, but I thought it would make for an entertaining tale! Her precious Gillian knights save the beautiful princess in her time of desperate need. She is elevated by the thought of her people forming a secret resistance to beat back the evil Empire.”
Azzara could barely think. She was scared. Her feet hurt from running barefoot. She was traumatised by what had just happened to the innocent villagers. Most importantly, she was broken emotionally. Ser Ryder, the dashing knight she had so stupidly fallen for and trusted, had been working for Marcus this entire time.
“And what brought this masterpiece together was our dear Ser Ryder” General Marcus continued “Our dashing hero who rescues the damsel in distress from the evil general! They fall in love, are wedded in holy matrimony, and have many offspring!” he declared dramatically. “You see princess; I am obsessed with stories and plays. I have even written a few myself” he said matter-of-factly “however, our story must end here I’m afraid. There is no resistance, Azzara. Nobody cares about you. Nobody cares whether you live or die, nobody cares who you marry, and nobody cares who controls the kingdom. All these people care about is their day to day miserable lives. As long as there is a government; that is all they need to know. Why would they risk their lives, homes, and families to fight for a princess who was raised in luxury and waited on hand and foot?” General Marcus had stopped smiling now, and his tone became serious.
“There is no more Gillian Knights little lamb. They were either killed along with your beloved father or hunted down and executed by the empire. You have no more soldiers. The only soldiers left, remain at the royal castle with your brother. And I dare say I have your brother dancing to whatever tune I desire…but you knew that already.”
Azzara could not stand any longer. He legs buckled, and she fell the ground sobbing. She was a fool. She believed that there were people all over the kingdom who felt the same way she did. She realised now that it was a selfish way of thinking. The only people this take over affected were herself and her brother. Her desires were purely political and what did the ordinary people care for politics? Innocent people lost their lives needlessly tonight because of her stupidity. She couldn’t bear it. She couldn’t bear the pain of being used and the overwhelming guilt.
General Marcus walked toward her and squatted down in front of her “There is no hero. No one is coming to save you. This is the real world little lamb. It is not one of your fairy tales” The General stroked the hair off of her face. “Don’t touch me!” she screamed.
A cruel smile spread across the general’s lips. “The hero of your tale, Ser Ryder, isn’t Ser Ryder. His name is Xander. He isn’t human either.” General Marcus laughed humourlessly. “Xander do whatever you like to her, just be sure to bring her back alive to Fort Grandile.”
Azzara looked up wide-eyed “You aren’t taking me to the Empire?”
“Oh no” replied General Marcus “I cannot allow you to interfere with my plans by marrying the young prince Mario. I have…other plans for you” Azzara did not like the way he said that. General Marcus turned his back to them and began to walk away “Remember Xander” he called back “Bring her back alive…but not necessarily in one piece.”
Azzara looked up at the face she once found so handsome. Xander’s face had changed significantly. In addition to his bright yellow eyes, Xander’s teeth became sharp and pointed. Black scales began to form on his cheeks and neck. His skin had turned blue, and instead of a nose, there were two slits on his face. His golden hair had vanished, and his hands had turned into black claws. Azzara Screamed in terror as he advanced toward her. What was he going to do to her? She had never felt so vulnerable in her life. She was half naked, defenceless and what’s more she had no idea what manner of creature it was that had begun advancing toward her. “Scream as loud as you like my princesssss” Xander’s voice had become snake-like. It sounded like he was hissing. When he spoke a forked tongue protruded from his mouth. “No one is going to hear you and no one isss going to sssave you hehehe” Xander got close enough to her to lick her cheek with his forked tongue. It felt rough and wet.
Azzara felt sick but more than that she was terrified. “Mmmm you tassste deliciousss. However…I wonder what it tassstesss like down there” his eyes had moved down to her crotch. Azzara let out an involuntary squeal and covered herself with her hands “Please….no!” she pleaded. Xander began to rip at her undergarments with his claws and did not care to be gentle. Significant bloody scratches covered her lower body, and she screamed out in pain. She had never screamed so loud in her life. It hurt. Her flesh was on fire. Her skin was being ripped off, and finally, she lay there completely naked — her undergarments torn to shreds. Her entire body was covered in blood. Her throat felt torn. She could not make another sound. She felt like she had screamed herself out of a voice.
Xander spread her legs apart and poked his tongue out. He licked the air near her crotch area ‘Mmmm’ was the sound he made as he licked his lips. Suddenly a large stone bounced off the creature’s head. Azzara looked passed the perverted creature and saw a man…no, a boy. It was a boy that was no older than her. He picked up another large stone and faced the creature in front of him. He was skinny but tall. He wore torn clothes that were too small for him. He was covered in sooth. Azzara’s eyes were blurred and unfocused, but she could still see his eyes. Crystal blue eyes that illuminated in the darkness around them. ‘Run you fool’ she wanted to say, but no sound would come out.
Xander laughed hysterically “Master! It would appear that ‘The Hero’ has arrived.”