Chapter Two: Durham Forest
“You have to go with us.” Kira stated once the doors to the Hall shut behind them.
“Shh!” Ralene put her finger to
her lips and glanced down the corridor. She motioned for the girls to follow
her and took off. They wound through corridors and up a flight of stairs before
they came to a set of doors. Ralene pushed them open and ushered them inside.
The room was nicely furnished with a table and some couches. There were two
doors off of the room. Ralene walked over to one of them and opened it
revealing her bed chambers. She rushed in and started grabbing some of her
plainest gowns and put them in a satchel.
“Of course I’m going with you. I knew Father wouldn’t allow me to go so I already had a plan. I’m going to sneak out using the servant’s entrance because Father will most likely post a couple guards at my door to make sure I don’t leave tomorrow morning. Then I will get Lili and meet you guys on the road telling the lead guard that Father had a change of heart and knew that I would be in no harm while he was in charge. We will be far enough away by then that he won’t turn around to check. By the time Father realizes I’m gone it will be too late.”
“I wish I could change your mind.” Ralene spun around at the sound of the male voice coming from the door to her bed chambers.
“Darius.” Her eyes widened slightly in fear at the thought that he would tell her father what she had planned.
He chuckled before responding. “Don’t worry. I’m not planning on telling the King. I just came to give you something for your trip. When you said Princess Annabella had been kidnapped I knew you wouldn’t let anything, or anyone, stop you from helping rescue her. So I figured these might be useful.” Darius looked down, clearly embarrassed, as he held out a bundle to her. Ralene walked over to him and gently took it before looking at what it was. She gasped when she saw a pair of male trousers and shirt.
“They’re an old pair that I hadn’t gotten around to throwing away yet. They should fit you well enough.” Ralene stared at Darius in shock; it was so thoughtful of him. In a sudden rush of emotion, she launched herself at him, dropping the clothes in the process. He stumbled slightly in surprise at the sudden extra weight, but caught her around the waist before she pressed her lips against his. It was a brief, unexpected kiss that had Ralene’s stomach fluttering and left both their lips tingling after they pulled away. Ralene stepped back just as suddenly as before and looked down, a blush creeping onto her cheeks.
“Thanks for the clothes. I really appreciate it.” She looked up at him and saw him smiling at her. He walked over and took her hands gently in his.
“Be safe.” He squeezed her hands and kissed her forehead, lingering there for a few moments before walking out the door. Ralene started after him.
“If I didn’t know any better, I’d say Ralene actually liked this Prince Darius.” Ralene turned around to look at her two friends who were smiling like hyenas.
“I think you’re right my dear friend.” Kinsey replied. “And to think, the princess didn’t even have the decency to tell her two best friends about her new man. I’m hurt.” She put her hand over her heart, feigning pain.
Ralene rolled her eyes at them and picked up the clothes Darius had brought her. “We’re engaged. I only found out today.”
Kira plopped down on her bed as Ralene repacked her bag, adding the pants and shirt. “How long have you known him?” She asked.
“When we were younger our parents would visit each other almost every summer. He had a sister that was a year younger than me so we would play together. I only remember him always teasing us. His sister died when I was eight and the visits stopped. I’ve only seen him once between now and then. It was at the ball for my eighteenth birthday but we only danced together once. Mother told me he was going to be visiting because he has some business with Father. They informed me this morning that the business was our engagement.”
“Don’t seem so appalled by it. He’s a handsome prince who obviously adores you and if that kiss was any indication, I’d say you don’t dislike the idea of marrying him as much as you portray.” Kinsey stated.
“I’m just not ready to be married.”
“Is anyone ever really ready to be bonded to one person for the rest of their life?” Kira commented.
‘I was.’ Kinsey thought.
“Anyway, we better head to bed. It’s getting late. Where are we staying tonight?” Kira asked Ralene.
“I’ll have one of the guards show you to your rooms.” She said as she started walking toward the doors. When they got there she opened one of them and walked out. Turning to one of the guards she said. “Please show my friends to the two guest chambers in the west wing and make sure they know how to get to the courtyard from there.”
“Yes your Highness.” He said bowing before turning to the girls. “Please follow me.” Kira and Kinsey both gave Ralene a hug before turning to follow the guard.
“Safe travels.” Ralene said before turning to go back through her door.
“I don’t like it, but if the King said its fine then I can’t really argue.” Ander, the guard in charge said the next day when Ralene joined the group. Ander was in his late forties and was second-in-command. He was hoping that when the Head guard stepped down, the King would finally make him Head guard. When the last Head guard had died, the King decided to appoint the late guards son opposed to Ander, who had been second-in-command then too. Ander was hoping he would step down soon in favor of spending more time with his family and Ander would get the position, so he wasn’t going to blow this opportunity the King had given him.
He had a group of twenty guards plus two princesses and a thief, bringing the number of people in their expedition to twenty-four. The night before he had met with the Head guard and the King to discuss a plan. They decided that the first thing they needed to do was head to Quintan to get information.
The Kingdom of Quintan was in ruins after Queen Maria took her own life. Her husband, King Jesse, fell into a depression and withdrew from everything, which left no one to run the Kingdom and it collapsed. Only a few servants stayed at the castle to take care of the King, the rest left. Many people moved to the neighboring Kingdoms, Hillshire, Anthel or Revens just so they could survive. The only other person who stayed with the King was his magician, Maggie. She was the wisest and oldest magician of all the Kingdoms and the sole owner of the Book of Lives, which was an ancient book with a record of every living being. With the Book of Lives she was able to locate anybody. That was where they were headed.
To get to Quintan, the group had to travel through Hillshire. The only path was through Durham forest which was teeming with bloodthirsty ogres, hungry wolves, ravenous boars, and cunning thieves and gypsies. It would take them a little over a day to get to the Hillshire/Quintan boarder and another two days traveling in harsh desert weather until they reached King Jesse’s castle.
“I really hate riding.” Kira grumbled as she pushed her blond hair out of her eyes. The movement of the horse flung it right back into her eyes so she untied the piece of twine on her wrist and tied her hair back.
Kinsey laughed as she rode up next to her friend. “You can always walk. I’m sure Ander would feel better with you walking than riding.” Kira grimaced.
Ander had made if perfectly clear as soon as they left that he didn’t trust her and that a thief didn’t deserve to be riding one of the King’s horses. Being raised by thieves and gypsies made Kira an important part of the group because she could negotiate safe passage through the more heavily populated areas. With the thought that Ander needed her, as much as he denied it, to keep his group safe from at least one of the threats in Durham Forest, she sat up straighter in the saddle and pushed the soreness and pain from the bumpy ride to the back of her mind.
“So tell me, now that the cat’s out of the bag about you being a royal, how were you able to run away from home without having half the guards out searching for you?”
Kinsey sighed before starting her story. “I am one of nine, now eight, children. Damek, Sara, Abraxus, who passed away five years ago, Xander, then me, Liam and Carter, who are twins, Lani and finally Maya. My mother died giving birth to Liam and Carter. A year later my father married Deilah. Lani and Maya are my half sisters. Having seven siblings makes it easy to get lost in the shuffle. When I decided to leave, I told Sara and she covered for me and then I left Anthel as fast as I could. The first few weeks I was constantly looking over my shoulder for any Anthel guards looking for me. The whole time I was hunting Arris down, I was also staying away from main areas and people I might get recognized by. Then I met you and I knew by then nobody was looking for me.”
“Do you ever miss your family?” Kira couldn’t imagine willingly leaving people who loved her.
“Sometimes. But I know that one day I’ll see them again and then I remember how that monster took my chance at a family away and it keeps me going.”
“Do you think my brother is still alive?” Kira asked softly.
“He’s out there Kira. We’ll find him.” Kira returned Kinsey’s smile.
“Get off me!” The girls looked behind them to see one of the guards dragging someone by the back of their shirt. Ander rode to where the guard and his captive were.
“Explain.” He said.
“I caught him following us.” The guard told him before giving the person a shove, forcing them to fall to their knees in front of Ander, who slid off his horse. Kira mirrored his movement and cautiously walked closer to the intruder.
“No need to be so rough.” The silky voice said and Kira found herself stopping in her tracks when his stunning hazel eyes locked on her. A gust of wind brushed his brown hair against his forehead and the corner of his mouth lifted up in a small smirk.
Kira didn’t realize she was holding her breath until he looked away and she let it out.
“Why were you following us?” Ander demanded.
“I was just going to ask if you needed a guide.”
“Don’t lie to me.” Ander snatched the young man’s left hand before he had time to react and turned it so a plain black GT symbol was tattooed on his wrist. “Thief.” Ander sneered. “Kill him.” He said before turning to remount. The guard that had caught the thief pulled out the sword from his side.
Kira reacted instinctually and grabbed her bow off her saddle, nocked an arrow and let it fly right in front of the guards face before he had time to swing his sword. She had another arrow ready by the time he looked toward her. She walked toward them.
“What do you think you are doing?!” Ander shouted at her.
“Let him travel with us. I’ll take full responsibility of him. He can help us.” Kira said with confidence.
Ander stared at her, hatred and distrust evident in his eyes. “And how do you know he won’t give other thieves or gypsies our location so they can slit our throats as we sleep?”
Kira stared back at him defiantly and spoke confidently, keeping the guard with the sword in her peripheral vision. “I know because the group of thieves and gypsies in the Hillshire territory of Durham Forest are a tight knit group. They don’t trust outsiders.”
“Then why did we bring you along?” he asked harshly.
“Because I’m one of them.” Kira said. She saw Ander’s jaw tighten and the thief’s eyes widen slightly in awe.
“Fine.” Ander finally said. “He’s your responsibility. If anything happens, it’s on your head.”
“I understand.” She said, lowering her bow. Ander turned his horse and headed to the front, not bothering to wait for the two thieves to join the group before continuing moving.
Kira slung her bow over her arm and walked over to offer a hand to the young man. He smiled at her as she helped him up.
“Thanks…” he trailed off.
“Kira.” She stated before turning around. Kinsey was there holding the reigns to her horse and she passed them to Kira as he spoke.
“You ride. I’ll walk.” Kira said as if she hadn’t heard him.
“I don’t mind walking; or sharing.” Owen told her smirking.
Kira just looked at him. “If you walk, there’s nothing stopping you from running away and if we share you could easily overpower me and take off. By you riding and me holding the reigns, I can keep a better eye on you. And it’ll be easier for me to shoot you if you try to take off.” She finished smugly.
Owen held up his hands in surrender. “Okay, okay. I’ll ride.” He said before effortlessly swinging himself into the saddle. Once he was settled, Kira started after the group.
“So is it true?” Owen asked later that day.
“Is what true?” Kira asked.
“That you’re one of the Hillshines.” He said referring to the name they are known as by other thieves and gypsies.“Yes.” She sounded bored.
Kira sighed and slipped off the thick leather band that was around her left wrist. The black GT letters were a contrast against her pale skin. The only difference between her tattoo and Owen’s were the thin ovals in an X shape behind the lettering, indicating her as part of the Hillshines.
Owen let out a low whistle when he saw her wrist. She rolled her eyes.
“What’s so special about the… Hillshines?” Ralene asked as she pulled beside Owen and Kira.
“Nothing.” Kira said quickly, pulling her bracelet back on.
“They’re basically our royals.” Kira shot him a look to silence him, but he ignored her. “Since Hillshire borders Quintan and is the quickest way to get into Scri and to Tuan Lake the group that controlled the Hillshire territory of Durham Forest would have more power than many of the other groups. That’s also why the Hillshines are the toughest, most bloodthirsty group of thieves and gypsies in all the Kingdoms. They are held in such high regard among us all and like Kira said before, they are a very tight knit group. There are about six or eight families in all, but Kira could probably tell you more about them than I could. I’ve only heard myths and rumors.”
“Yeah, well that’s all you need to hear.” Kira said.
“Come on Kira. What’s it like being a part of the toughest thief family?” Ralene prodded.
Kira spun around and had a hold of Lili’s reigns in a split second. “I will not talk about my family. Don’t push me Ralene. You will not like what will happen.” Kira’s voice was low and deadly as she spoke. Just as suddenly as she grabbed them, she released Lili’s reigns and kept walking.
Kinsey came beside Ralene. “Are you okay?” she asked quietly.
“Yeah, I’m fine. I’m more worried about Kira right now. I’ve never seen her that angry before.”
“Me either. I think we should give her some space. I’ll try to talk to her later.”