Chapter One: Gone
Once upon a time, in a far away Kingdom called Revens, there lived a King and Queen. They were good rulers, fair and kind and loved by their people.
The King, King Daxton, had a younger sister, Lilli, who married Prince Cameron in a neighboring Kingdom called Pyrius. It was eight years since they had become King Cameron and Queen Lilli when one day there was a horrible fire that burned through the castle. The King and Queen were killed, along with many others, but a servant was able to escape with their five year old daughter, Annabella. The faithful servant took the little princess to her aunt and uncle in Revens. They were devastated by the effects of the fire, but so happy that their niece had survived.
King Daxton and Queen Sarabi raised Annabella like they raised their own daughter, Ralene. Annabella and Ralene were five years apart in age, Ralene being the elder of the two, but they were inseparable. Ralene loved Annabella like a younger sister and they got into all sorts of trouble together. The older they got, the closer they grew.
Eleven Years later
“I can’t believe mother and father expect me to marry somebody I barely know!” Ralene exclaimed a few days after her twenty-first birthday, when the girls were riding in the forest.
“At least you have met him before. Do you remember Princess May? She married a Duke she had never met when she was only sixteen. My age! And he was almost ten years older than her! The way I see it there’s no way to get out of this marriage so just be lucky your parents waited until you were older and it’s somebody you’ve met and at least like. And he’s cute.”
“Okay. You make a good point. And to think, we could have been planning two weddings instead of one.”
Annabella looked over to Ralene from where she was picking apples off a nearby tree. “What are you talking about sister?” she asked sharply.
Ralene looked away guiltily. “Well, last year around the time King Henry was murdered, you remembered that?” she asked looking at Annabella.
“Yes.” She replied.
“Well I went to ask father something and I overheard a conversation he was having with mother. They were talking about your betrothal. I heard them say that when you turned seventeen you were suppose to marry Prince Aaric and take over ruling your parents Kingdom from mother and father since Aaric’s older brother became King after their father’s death. Then Aaric went to find the man that killed his father and never returned. So they were talking about who else was available for you to marry. I heard them mention Prince Xander or Prince Liam of Anthel and Prince Rieder of Scri, but as far as I know they didn’t decide.” Ralene finished, looking at Annabella’s reaction.
Her face was stone as she said, “I don’t want to think about what could have happened. Let’s go meet up with Kinsey and Kira. I have a French lesson before supper.” She closed her bag with newly picked apples and grabbed the reins of her horse. “Come on Emmett. Let’s go find our friends.”
“Kinsey! Kira! Kinsey! KIRA!” Ralene’s wild, curly chocolate brown hair flew behind her as she pushed her horse, Lili, through the dense grove of trees that led to the girl’s cottage. She skidded to a halt in front of the front door and slid gracefully out of the saddle as two figures came rushing out, one armed with a small sword and the other holding a bow with an arrow already nocked and poised to fly at the first sign of danger. Two sets of eyes, one green and one blue, scanned the small clearing for threats, but saw none.
Kira lowered her bow and looked at the near hysterical brunette. “Ralene, what’s wrong?”“It’s Annabella. She’s been kidnapped!”
“What?!” Kinsey’s head snapped toward Ralene when she heard that, sending her strawberry blonde hair sailing around her and then gracefully falling back into place where it reached her waist.
“It happened so fast. There was nothing I could do! She was just gone.” Ralene shook with emotion and held her head in her hands.
“Come inside and tell us what happened.” Kira suggested to her friend, trying to ease her distress by wrapping her arms around her and leading Ralene into the small cottage. Kira guided her to a chair at the semi-circle table and walked to the small kitchenette next to it to pour her a cup of tea, placing it in Ralene’s hands. Kinsey sat in the chair across from Ralene with Kira taking the seat next to her, leaving a space between Kira and Ralene.
“Now, what happened?” Kinsey said looking at Ralene. She looked up from her cup of tea and locked eyes with Kinsey.
“We were coming to visit you.” She started. “I had told Annabella how I overheard my parents talking about her betrothal and it upset her and she took off before I could remount. I was going after her when I heard her scream. I pushed Lili faster, but I couldn’t get to her fast enough. There was a man standing in the middle of the path holding Annabella. I think he knocked her out. He told me that he would finally have his revenge and then they just disappeared. They just disappeared right in front of me! I came straight here because… because I think…” Ralene hesitated, her eyes refusing to look at Kinsey.
“What do you think Ralene?” Kinsey demanded.
She looked toward Kinsey, fear in her eyes. “I think I know who the man was.”
Kira looked between her two friends locked in an intense battle between green and blue.
“Who?” she dared to ask.
Ralene didn’t even glance at Kira, but continued staring at Kinsey as she answered. “Arris.”
Kira looked at her roommate when she heard that. Kinsey’s face hardened and her jaw clenched at the name. Now she knew why Ralene was afraid to tell them. They both knew how Kinsey felt about Arris.
Two years ago Kinsey met a Prince that was visiting her father, who they assumed was a Duke since Kinsey wouldn’t say much about her family. They fell madly in love, but he was betrothed to someone else. It was an arranged marriage that had been planned when he was young. So they had to keep their love a secret, but all the while they tried to find a way for him to get out of the arrangement so they could be together. A year past and their love only grew. Many letters were exchanged and secret meetings were held with the help of Kinsey’s older sister Sara, who was the only one she trusted with their secret. Then tragedy struck and when her love was on a dangerous journey through the forest one day, him and his guards were attacked and murdered. Only one survived long enough to bring the message back to his family, with the name of the murderer on his lips. Arris. When Kinsey heard the news she fell into a deep depression for months before finally realizing that the only way she would find closure would be to avenge the death of her true love. One night she snuck into her brother’s room and took some of his clothes, since none of her dresses would suffice in the woods, and some of his weapons. Having four brothers meant that she knew how to use them so she wasn’t worried about being helpless. She fled into the darkness and never looked back. It has been about a year since her love was killed and she was no closer to finding the man responsible than when she started. Nobody had seen Arris and lived to tell the tale; until now.
“We have to find her!” Ralene cried, breaking the tension in the air.
“We’ll find them, Annabella and Arris, and then everything will be better.” Kinsey said, her voice tight.
“Kinsey,” Kira warned “we have to think about this rationally. We can’t just go out and chase smoke. We should tell the King and Queen about this and offer our help.”
“Offer our help!?” Kinsey had stood up so fast her chair fell to the ground with a loud clatter, but it didn’t faze her as she continued to scream. “Do you really think a King would let three girls, one of them being his only child, go out to help look for a murderer and kidnapper? He wouldn’t! He’d sooner lock us in a tower before letting us anywhere near the forest again! Arris killed the man I love and now he’s kidnapped one of my friends and there is no way I’m going to let him get away with it. I am going to find him and I am going to kill him!”
“I know how” Kira started but Kinsey cut her off.
“No! You don’t know Kira. Your brother chose to leave you and he could still be alive. Our stories are nothing alike! The man I love never chose to leave me, he was forced by his position and then he was murdered. Murdered! He was ripped away from me and I never saw him again, not even after he died because they never found his body! You have no idea what that kind of pain feels like and I have promised myself that I will never let Arris cause that kind of pain to anyone ever again. Now’s my chance to fulfill that promise and I won’t lose it.” The intensity of Kinsey’s emotions were rolling off of her in waves and smothering the room in tension. Her eyes were narrowed, her fists were clenched at her sides and she was breathing heavily.
Kira seemed only slightly harmed by Kinsey’s sharp words as she stood up and looked her friend in the eye. Kinsey opened her mouth, but Kira held up a hand to stop her.
“My turn. You’re right that I don’t know the pain you have been through, but I did promise you when we first met that I would help you in any way I could and I haven’t broken that promise yet have I?” Kinsey had the decency to look ashamed at Kira’s words. “I know that the King wouldn’t allow us to go, but he holds no power over us. I’m from Hillshire, not Revens and you’re not from here either. When we tell the King and Queen that their niece, the last royal from Pyrius, has been kidnapped, you know they will send their best guards to find her; with us. We need the help. There’s no way we could find them on our own especially since we haven’t found Arris so far.”
Kinsey knew what Kira was saying was true so she let some of her anger dissipate.
“Okay. Let’s go then.” She said, grabbing her satchel and filling it with the few items she owned. Kira did the same and soon they were ready to leave. Kinsey then Ralene and finally Kira walked out the cottage door. Ralene walked over to where Lili was grazing and pulled herself into the saddle. Kinsey and Kira would have been walking if Annabella’s horse, Emmett, hadn’t of been grazing next to Lili. Kinsey walked over to him and climbed into the saddle. Kira just stood there with a scowl on her face. Kinsey looked down at her and laughed, reaching a hand down to help her up. Kira reluctantly grabbed her hand and Kinsey hoisted her up behind her.
“I hate riding.” Kira grumbled as they rode off toward the castle.
“I must speak to my father immediately.” Ralene told the guard in front of the doors to the Hall where the King was.
“I’m sorry Princess, but the King is in an important meeting with Prince Darius.” The guard told them.
“Fine. Then you can be the one to tell him that his niece, the Princess Annabella, has been kidnapped while he was in an ‘important’ meeting with my betrothed.” At her words the guards face went white and he gaped like a fish.
Ralene took that opportunity to push the guard aside and open the doors herself. As the trio entered, the King and Prince Darius looked at them. The princess walked straight up to them without hesitation. She curtsied once to her father and again to Prince Darius, waiting for them to bow back, before starting.
“Father. Annabella was kidnapped today on our afternoon ride. I believe Arris is responsible.”
“How did this happen?” the king asked, clearly concerned.
Ralene told the King the same thing she told Kinsey and Kira except this time she was calm and collected. It took the whole ride back for her to collect herself. Being an emotional wreck would do nothing to get her sister back and convince her father to allow her to go with Kinsey, Kira and the guards he would inevitably send to rescue Annabella.
When she was finished explaining, the King motioned a guard over and told him to bring the Head guard to him immediately. The guard rushed out and the King turned to Prince Darius asking him to excuse them. He politely left, bowing to Ralene as he did. Then the king turned back to his daughter and the two other girls with her.
“Who are these beautiful young ladies with you Ralene?”
“These are my friends Kinsey” Kinsey curtsied gracefully for wearing pants “and Kira.” Kira curtsied somewhat clumsily due to the face she wasn’t use to it, having grown up among thieves and gypsies, and she wasn’t wearing a dress so she had to try and copy what she saw Kinsey do. “They wish to go with your guards to rescue Annabella.”The King laughed before answering. “Of course I won’t allow it. I won’t be responsible for the death of two young women that are supposed to be under my protection as their King.”
Kinsey stepped forward. “Actually, your Grace,” King Daxton was slightly taken back that the term only royals used to address a King was being used by this female commoner. “I am Princess Kinsey of Anthel, the second daughter and fifth child of King Rowan and Queen Leah. You have no rule over me or my friend Kira. Either you can allow us to join your guards on their journey, or we will take our own journey back to Anthel to inform my father how our simple request to join your guards to search for our friend was laughed at and instantly denied. I do not think he would be very pleased to hear that. What do you think, your Grace?” Kinsey smiled innocently at the King.
He scowled because they both knew that relations between Anthel and Revens were strained and something like this would make them even worse and possibly cause a war. “My guards would be honored to have you and your friend accompany them on their search for Princess Annabella, Princess Kinsey.” The King said.
“When should we be prepared to leave?” she asked.
“My guards will leave tomorrow at sunrise Princess. I suggest you not oversleep or they will leave without you.”
“We will be ready.” She curtsied again and turned to leave. She caught Kira’s eye and she curtsied and turned to follow Kinsey. Ralene started to do the same, but was stopped by her father’s voice.
“Ralene. I will not allow you to join the search for your sister. Do you understand?”
“Yes father.” Ralene said before curtsying and leaving the room behind her friends.