Chapter Three: Hillshines
When Annabella woke up she was lying on hard ground and her head was pounding. She tried to stand up and her legs felt like jelly and she would have fallen if two arms hadn’t of caught her. She instantly felt her adrenaline start pumping and she started hitting her captor with everything she had. The arms around her loosened and she pulled away as fast as she could, her legs more stable from the adrenaline coursing through her body.
“Who are you?” she said as venomously as she could.
“I’m not going to hurt you.” He said at the same time.
“Then why did you kidnap me?!” she spat at him.
“I didn’t kidnap you. Look around. I’m just as trapped as you are.” He raised his arms to show he posed no threat. Annabella hesitantly glanced to her left and right and saw for the first time that they were surrounded by bars. There was a window high on the opposite wall; too high to climb through.
Annabella’s attention was jerked back to the man across from her when he took a step closer. She instantly took a step back and when he took another small step toward her she heard the sound of a chain moving. Her eyes found the source of the noise was attached to his right ankle.
“I told you, I’m not going to hurt you.” She looked into his eyes and found them to be full of kindness and compassion, easing her worry slightly.
“What’s your name?” he asked.
“Princess of Pyrius?” he asked, curiosity in his voice.
“And Revens.” She said. Her aunt and uncle had officially made her a Princess of Revens when she was ten, in a ceremony that was normally only for children within the first year of their life to make them a Prince or Princess. It was a great honor to be a Princess of two Kingdoms and she was the first ever.
He chuckled before responding. “Of course Princess. You can call me Sander.”
Now that the adrenaline was starting to wear off, Annabella wasn’t feeling stable and her head felt like it was going to split down the middle. She grabbed her head and fell to her knees. Sander hoisted her up and carried her over to a small bench that was attached to the wall. He sat down and held her on his lap.
“Your body isn’t use to traveling by air. That’s why you feel weak and you can’t stand. I can work the muscles in your legs if you would like.” Sander told her. When she gave him a confused look he laughed and explained. “I can massage your legs to relax the muscles, but I won’t if you don’t feel comfortable with that.”
A dusting of pink stained Annabella’s cheeks as he explained
“Oh. Uh, okay.” She nodded her head giving him permission.
When Sander started gently kneading the muscles in her thighs, Annabella let out a small sigh of contentment and rested her head in the crook of his neck. She felt comfortable and safe, despite where she was and how she had gotten there. Sander’s warmth enveloped her and it reminded her how her father, and then her uncle, use to hold her when she was sad or scared. She felt him place a kiss on her head before she drifted off to sleep.
“We’ll stop here for the night.” Ander announced when they got to a small clearing. Daylight was fading fast so everyone was rushing to find firewood and lighting the few lanterns they had.
Kira was looking around when Owen slid down next to her.
“Do you feel it too?” he whispered in her ear.
She took a step away from him, he was entirely too close for her liking, before responding. “Something’s out there.” She started walking toward Ander, with Owen trailing after.
“Sir, I think we should continue moving. There’s a family a few miles away that will give us a safe place to rest for the night.” Kira said.
“If I say we camp here for the night, then we camp here.” Ander said turning to unpack.
“You’re stupid to ignore her. Don’t you feel it too? There’s something out there just waiting for us to let our guard down.” Owen said, throwing the words at the man.
Ander turned back to the two thieves in front of him.
“Now look here. I’ve been doing this job longer than you two have been alive. I’m in charge and what I say, goes.”
Kira returned Ander’s glare with as much hatred and said, “You may be more experienced, but I know these woods better than anyone. This clearing isn’t safe and I’m not going to risk my life or the lives of my friends because you refuse to trust me.”
“This clearing is as safe as Revens castle missy.”
“The hell it” Kira’s rage was cut short by a bloodcurdling scream. All three of them turned toward the sound to see an ogre poised to swing his club at the back of Ralene’s head; she had turned around just in time to see him raise his club.
Quick as lightening, Kira pulled her bow around and shot three arrows in quick succession, one slicing through the wrist holding the club and the other two lodging into his thick neck. Before he hit the ground, six more ogres had emerged from the trees around the clearing.
There was a flurry of commotion as guards scrambled to avoid clubs and reach their weapons. Kira looked through the fighting to see Kinsey wielding her swords to protect Ralene.
“Stay close to me!” Kira yelled to Owen as she started running toward her horse.
All around guards were fighting for their lives. Their numbers were dwindling quickly though. Ogres were large and had thick skin and strong arms. If one got a hold of you, you were done for. Either they would squeeze you to death or rip a limb off as easily as if it was a twig and leave you bleeding until they could come back and finish you off. Their neck was the most sensitive part of them, but an average size man wouldn’t be able to reach it easily unless they were on a horse. Many of the guards barely reached their weapons before being attacked so it was a good bet that none of them were able to mount their horses; if their horses were still there.
As Kira and Owen were running across the clearing, Kira took down two more ogres, only to see more pour out of the almost dark forest. She had her head turned when she felt Owen’s hand at her waist, but before she could react he had thrown the dagger she kept there straight into the neck of an ogre that had been charging at her. It fell with a thud beside her and she was paralyzed for a moment before Kinsey’s voice brought her back to reality.
“Kira! Hurry!” she yelled when she saw her friend just standing there, staring at the now dead ogre.
Kinsey slashed at the flesh right above the ogre’s knees she was fighting and it howled in pain. As it rose its arms to grab her she slashed one hand, then the other, clean off causing it to fall to its knees, trying to hit her. She took the opening, dropped the sword in her left hand, grasped the one in her right with both hands and swung at the soft flesh of its neck with as much power as she could. She turned away and heard a thud as she picked up her other sword and sheathed it. Ralene was already in the saddle and she held a hand down for Kinsey to grab. She swung herself up behind Ralene and heard Kira yell, “East!” before they took off out of the clearing and into the dark forest.
When Owen and Kira finally got to her horse, he climbed up into the saddle and grabbed Kira’s arm, swinging her up behind him easily. She clenched her legs around the horse so she could keep her hands free to shoot still. She saw Ralene and Kinsey mount and yelled “East!” to them before they took off into the forest. Owen grabbed the reigns in his right hand and wrapped his left one behind him and around Kira’s waist to hold her on better. They shot off across the clearing, dodging bodies and avoiding swinging clubs.
“Ander!” she yelled when she saw the man astride a horse and fending off an ogre. He slashed the neck before turning to look at her. “Follow us!” he gave the slightest of nods before turning his horse and following.
“Stop where you are.” A harsh voice said.
The little group stopped where they were.
“Dismount.” Again they did as the voice said.
“If anybody even thinks of reaching for a weapon, I’ll gut you where you stand.”
Kira could hear that there were at least two more people in the darkness surrounding them. Knowing exactly who they were dealing with, Kira smirked as she snatched her bow from the saddle and waited for the quiet twang of an arrow being released. Quicker than humanly possible, Kira sidestepped the flying arrow and snatched one out of her quiver, aiming it at the heart of the person she knew to be standing in the darkness.
“Don’t you remember what happened the last time you shot at me Cody?” Kira smirked when she heard a small gasp and a young man stepped into the small circle of light cast by the lanterns tied to their horses.
“How could I forget? I have the scar to remind me every day.” The guy she called Cody said, smiling before turning his head slightly to show a small scar across his left cheek.
Three more people emerged from the darkness as Kira lowered her bow. She turned to look at the youngest boy.
“I didn’t even hear you Peter. You’ve gotten better.” He blushed at her praise.
“Thanks Kira.” He mumbled.
“What brings you back home sweets?” the man who had spoken first said, his voice no longer harsh and demanding.
“We just need a place to rest for the night Jon. I’m not staying.”
Jon eyed the other members of the group warily, hesitant to trust them.
“They’re with me Jon. I trust them.”
He seemed to take that into account because he nodded to her. “Simon.” He said to the last man and motioned his head toward the group. Simon walked toward Ander and reached for his sword. “No weapons.” He said when Ander seemed like he was going to try and stop him. Simon took his sword and started walking to Owen.
“He’s not armed Si.” Kira said, so he started walking back to his father.
“The Princesses too, son.” Simon looked like he had just got scolded as he walked over to Ralene and Kinsey and took their weapons.
“How did you” Kinsey started.
“Know who you were?” Jon finished. “I may be a thief, but I am well traveled my lady.” He smiled at her.
As they followed Jon, Cody fell in step beside Kira.
“So where have you been?” he asked, draping his arm around her shoulders.
“Any news on Damon?”
“Not yet.” She said sadly.
“I’m sure he’s fine. He probably fell in love with a duke’s daughter and they had to run off to the far corner of Scri to be together.” Cody said trying to cheer her up.
“It’s been four years Cody.” She looked into his green eyes. “Am I crazy to keep looking?”
“No, but you are wearing yourself out. You should be with your own people, not searching the Kingdoms by yourself.” He cupped her chin and lowered his face closer to hers. “Stay. Stay here. With us. With me.” he whispered against her lips.
Kira let her eyes drift shut as Cody pressed his mouth against hers. She melted into his kiss and realized that she had missed having someone who cared about her. She pulled away and smiled at him, snuggling closer to his warmth and when the arm that had been around her shoulders slid down to hold her hand, she allowed it and even intertwined their fingers.
“Maybe.” She whispered.
“Jonathon! Where have you been? You were supposed to be back already.” A woman with curly brown hair and green eyes exclaimed when her husband came into view.
“Look who I found Ellie.” He said after kissing his wife’s cheek.
Her eyes lit up and she rushed over to where her middle son was, his arm around the girl she considered a daughter.
“Kira! Honey, where have you been? We haven’t seen you for years!” she said, embracing the blonde tightly. Kira laughed when the woman held her at arm’s length, inspecting her.
“I’ve missed you too Ellie.” She said before hugging her again. When she pulled away she stepped aside to introduce the other members of her group. “Ellie, this is Kinsey, Ralene, Owen and Ander. We need a place to rest tonight.”
“Of course! Stay as long as you need dears. Any friend of Kira’s is a welcome guest of ours.”“Well not all of them.” Cody muttered under his breath, looking at Owen. He had noticed the looks Owen had been giving Kira on the way there and was determined to make sure he knew who’s she was.
Ellie hustled the group into the cottage. As Ander was passing her she noticed the cut on his arm.
“You’re hurt.” She commented.
“It’s just a scratch. I’ll be fine.” He grumbled. He wasn’t happy about having to rely on thieves.
“Nonsense. I’ll patch you right up.” Ellie said cheerfully.
“She seems sweet.” Ralene said to Kira when they got inside.
“She is, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t any less dangerous. Ellie’s the one who taught me how to use a bow and arrow. She’s even better than I am.” Kira said.
“Wow. You guys really are a tough group.” Kinsey said. Kira sent her a look and said darkly, “Jon and Ellie’s family look harmless compared to some of the other families. Be lucky we were closest to them. You know nothing about the Hillshines.”
“There you go. All better.” Ellie announced as she stepped away from Ander’s arm.
“Kira’ll bunk with me.” Cody said, putting his arm around her shoulders again when sleeping arrangements were being made.
“Okay.” Ellie said. “Then Peter and Simon can bunk and Ralene and Kinsey can have Simon’s room. Jon can set up some tree beds beside the house for Owen and Ander. Is that okay?”
“That’s fine Ellie.” Owen said.
Ellie showed the girls Simon’s room as Kira and Cody made their way to his.
“Don’t do that again.” Kira said when the door had shut.
“Do what?” Cody asked, genuinely confused.
“Don’t speak for me. I am perfectly capable of doing that myself.”
“I was just thinking that I wanted to spend some time with my girl.” Kira cringed.
“I’m not your girl Cody.” She said.
“Oh, so you’d rather be with that thief, Owen?” he spat.
“I just met him today and you’re a thief too Cody.” Kira retorted.
“But I’m a Hillshine. You’re a Hillshine. He’s not.”
“There’s nothing special about the Hillshines. They are just ruthless, blood shedding thieves. Criminals. Nothing more.”
“They? Whether you like it or not Kira, you’re one too.” He grabbed her left arm and ripped the leather band off, ignoring her struggles. “This tattoo on your wrist proves it. It’s not something you can run away from. You can have all the royal friends you want, but you will always be a Hillshine. It’s a part of you and you can’t run from that.”
“Let go of me.” Kira jerked her arm and Cody released her. “I can’t change the family that I was born into, but I can change myself. I’m not a criminal anymore Cody.”
“Then what are you doing here Kira? Why come back?” his voice was softer, but held just as much passion.
“I wish I could tell you that I came back because of you, but I didn’t.” Kira took a deep breath before continuing. “Arris kidnapped Princess Annabella.”
Cody looked confused when she said that. “Then why are you here? We both know Arris left years ago. He’s not with the Hillshines anymore.”
“I know Cody. We are heading to Quintan to talk to Maggie. She’ll be able to locate Annabella. I know it’s a long shot, but it’s all we have right now.” Kira sat down on the side of the bed. Cody sat next to her and wrapped his arms around her.
“I’m worried about her. You know how Arris is. Who knows why he took her, or what he could have done to her by now.”
Cody ran his fingers through her hair, knowing it soothed her.
“You’re going the wrong way.” He said softly.
“What?” Kira looked up at him. He swooped down and captured her lips with his. One of his hands stayed in her hair as the other cupped her face, rubbing her cheek softly with his thumb. Kira let herself relax into the feeling of Cody’s lips moving against hers and she rested her hands on his chest. All too soon he pulled away and rested his forehead against hers.
“I know where Arris is.” He whispered, eyes still closed.
Kira pulled away and looked at him astounded.
“Where? How do you know?” she asked.
“You’re not the only one that has been traveling in the last four years Kira.”
“You visited him?” Disgust and disbelief saturated her voice.
“Before, yes.” Cody looked at the ground, clearly ashamed.
“Before I knew that you were right about him. Before I saw that he was a heartless, cruel monster. Before I realized that I love you Kira. It was only a few days and I regret it. He’s an evil man Kira.” Cody’s eyes pleaded with her to forgive him and she felt her heart soften a bit. He loved her, but she knew she didn’t feel the same. She liked him, but nothing as intense as the feelings she saw reflected in his eyes. She took his hands in hers.
“Where is he Cody?” she asked softly.
“Pyrius. The castle.”
“Thank you.” She said and kissed him on his cheek, right on the scar she gave him, reminding him that she would always be with him.
“Time for bed Cody.” She whispered in his ear.
Cody just nodded and lay down, pulling Kira down with him. With his arms wrapped around her waist and his warm breath on the back of her neck, Kira succumbed to the call of sleep.
“Your parents want to see you before you leave sweets.” Jon told Kira when she woke the next morning. “They said it’s important.” He said when he saw her frown.
“I’ll tell everyone else that we need to make a stop then.”
“They just want to see you. You know how they will react to outsiders Kira.” Jon said as he gave her a look that told her there was no getting out of this.
“Fine.” She sighed. “I’ll tell them to start without me.”
When the rest of the group gathered to continue on their journey, Kira pulled Ander aside.
“Arris is in Pyrius. He took Annabella back to her castle. We can’t waste time by going to Quintan just to confirm what I told you. You guys start on the journey to Pyrius and I’ll meet up with you. I have something to do first.” She told him in the most commanding voice she could muster.
“Are you sure?” Ander asked.
“Positive.” He just grunted and walked back to the group.
“Your highness,” he said to Ralene. “You’ll ride with me for now. You,” he turned to Owen. “Will ride with the Princess Kinsey.”
“What about Kira?” Kinsey asked.
“She’ll meet up with us later. We’re going to Pyrius instead of Quintan.” And with that said, the four of them took off in the direction of Pyrius.
Looking away from Cody’s hurt filled eyes, Kira steered her horse in the opposite direction, removing the leather bracelet on her left wrist in the process.
“We found you.”
“What?” Kira asked, not sure what her mother was talking about.
Her mother sighed before explaining. “When you were about two and Damon was about four, we found you. You were wandering through the forest, you barely toddling beside Damon as he held your hand. We didn’t know where you had come from. The only people in the area were Hillshines and nobody had lost two little kids, so we took you in.”
During the whole thing Kira’s head was reeling.
‘I wasn’t born Hillshine?’ she though. “Who am I then?” she said out loud.
“We don’t know.” Her father said plainly.
“Why didn’t you tell me this before? You lied to me my whole life!”
“We were going to, but Damon left and then you went looking for him and we never got the chance. As soon as we heard you had come back home we knew it was time to tell you.”
“I’m not back and this isn’t my home. Not anymore.” Kira said sharply before standing up and walking out. She didn’t even look back to see if they had followed her, which she doubted. She rode as hard and fast as she could, letting the pain and wind numb her. Her whole life had been a lie and now she didn’t know who she was at all.
Riding like that she caught up to the rest of her group quickly. Slowing down, she came up beside them.
“Did you get everything taken care of?” Kinsey asked her.
“I did.” She simply said.
As Kinsey turned back to the conversation she was having with Ralene, only Owen noticed the few silent tears that slipped past Kira’s strong defenses to slide gracefully down her pale cheeks.