Chapter 4: Captured and Betrayed
Our feet were heavily pounding on the vibrant green grass as we ran. The feel of it underneath my feet was soft and moist.
It was my first time in person that I was able to touch grass, but there was no time to stop and admire it. Our first priority was to escape the death that surrounded us.
Serena’s hand locked with mine as she led us towards the thickest part of the forest. The grass grew high around the brown trunks of the trees. The bushes were thick ahead and looked nearly impossible to go through.
With our backs facing the battle we were determined to escape the terrifying screams of war. The metal of swords clashing onto the armor rang in my ears. Bodies of warriors laid lifelessly on the ground with arrows imbedded in their armor. The crimson red blood that stained the ground made me nauseous.
With a glance back, I spotted two men on foot trailing behind us with swords in their hands. They wore black tight clothing with many weapons strapped around their bodies. They both were eagerly excited as they looked at each other like they had a plan in mind.
“The women! Go after them now!” A Knight from Aridor ordered amongst the men who had been preoccupied with the enemy.
“My lady, we have to hurry! Aya can’t hold them all off!” Serena was desperately dragging me along with her.
Don’t look back. I encouraged myself.
A gathered strength inside me pushed me forward faster than Serena was running. It was me who began to lead her through the thicket of the bushes. Upon entering the bushes, the branches whacked and scraped at our exposed skin. The dresses we wore clung to the twigs ripping the fabric effortlessly.
We broke through the thick brush into a maze of trees. The sound of hooves followed after us, but not directly behind. We weaved through the tall dark trees with burning legs. Serena and I both were gasping for air as we aimlessly sprinted with our dresses clinging to our legs.
The sharp intake of air felt like an edge of a knife sliding down my throat. My cheeks burned and my stomach cramped from the lack of endurance I could withhold. The soles of my feet were aching from the pointed rocks that would jab through my footwear.
The sound of the hooves were louder as they were closing in on us. To my left I could see the Knight on his galloping horse making his way to cut us off. He whipped his reins harder and kicked the horses sides making the front of it’s hooves slam down harder onto the soil.
“Take care of him!” One of the men yelled behind us, his voice echoing loudly through the silent forest.
Our breaths were heavy as we continued forward ignoring the men that were after us. Out of the corner of my eye I could see one of the men in black dashing in front of us with a quick and stealthy speed. He swung his twin swords around in his hands and leaped for the Knight taking his head clean off. It fell onto the ground with a loud thud and rolled beneath the horses trampling hooves.
Serena’s screams pierced my ears and we both staggered back from the gory sight in front of us. The man slapped the horses behind and it took off with it’s headless owner on it’s back.
The man facing away from us swung his swords outwards revealing the blood that dripped from the blades. Serena began crying holding tightly onto my arm in fear of what may come next. Standing in place I caught my breath while I sent deathly glares at the man in front of us. He turned his head while wickedly smirking.
“Don’t move a muscle,” another man said behind us placing the tip of a sword at our backs.
Serena flinched at my side and silently started crying harder. It had made sense why she shed tears at a time like this, she was young and scared. As for me, it did not matter whether I had escaped or been killed. Anything was better than living the life as royalty with a sick man. It was a adamant decision that I made.
Taking my knife out that Aya gave me the man in front of me curiously raised an eyebrow with amusement dancing in his eyes.
“Artemis,” the man in front of us brought his swords down, “do not fight us, we are here to protect you.”
“What do you mean? How do you know who I am?” I questioned him.
The man lifted his hood from his head resting it down on his back revealing his tan face and brown curly locks. He watched me for a moment with his hazel eyes before he spoke.
“I’m Tristan, my master has sent me to guide you in the direction of safety. At this juncture we can only point you in the right direction. The attack has the men of Aridor distracted, but we must return to protect our leader.” Tristan lifted his arms and placed his twin swords back in the sheaths. He kneeled on the ground and placed a fist over his heart.
“My lady, please understand that this is to bring you to safety. We mean no harm to you, this attack was planned to have you escape from the grasps of Prince Ayden. Our leader wishes to meet with you,” Tristan explained as he bowed his head in respect. The other man behind us had brought his sword down the moment Tristan had stopped talking.
“You’re the esquire the Knights of Aridor sent ahead to scout, aren’t you?” The question made his eyes to shoot up and look at me with bewilderment.
Yes, I remembered the men mentioning the name Tristan.
“How did you-” Tristan began to question me, but my voice spoke over him.
“Do you expect me to trust a man who has betrayed his own brethren? You failed to tell them about enemy lying ahead!” It angered me knowing he betrayed them even if they were warriors from Aridor.
“Believe me Artemis, none of those men are as innocent as you think they might have been. We all have our faults and battle will continue on whether you accept it or not. There will always be a man that craves to rule over another for as long as our kind breathes. This is the way man will always be, but we can keep battles at bay with an intelligent leader. We can create peace for the people in these countries so they may feel safe to walk outside their own homes.” Tristan took a deep breath in and stood from his kneeling position. He dug his hand in his shirt in search of something as he continued to talk.
“If you don’t feel that you can trust us, I’d like for you take this. That way you know that I can trust you.” He pulled out a sliver chain with a aquamarine gem hanging from it. He pulled it over his head while walking over to me. He took my hand and placed the necklace in my palm closing my fingers tightly over it.
“It belonged to my mother, she was killed under the order of the King Xavier Aridor. It means a great deal to me. If you decide to trust in me, head northbound of the river that’s straight up ahead from here. A group of men will be waiting there to escort you to our camp. You can return this to me when you arrive.” Tristan clamps his hand over my closed hand and gives me reassuring eyes before he takes off back the way we came.
“Tristan!” I called after him before he disappeared in the trees. Looking over my shoulder I saw him waiting for me to speak. “May I learn the name of your leader?”
“I apologize, he’s asked me not to share his name until we know that your allegiance lies with us.” With that said, him and the other man left.
Lifting my fingers it allowed me to see the gem that he placed in my hand. It was a beautiful piece of jewelry twinkling from the sun that peeked through the tree tops.
How could he trust me with this?
Closing my hand back over the necklace I felt determined to put my trust in him. We just met, but something was telling me to do as he says and head to this camp to meet his leader.
If they wanted me dead he could have taken my life right here. If they wanted me as a prisoner they would have captured me right now and taken me with them. Instead they’re putting their trust in me and letting me make my own decision. Taking the long silver chain I put it over my head and tucked the gem safely into my dress.
“Will we be going, my lady?” Serena asked me as I had been contemplating the situation.
“Yes, let’s meet with them. I’d like to know who has started the revolutionary army against Aridor.” The decision was made and we continued to travel through the forest in search of the river ahead.
Aya has not caught up with us and I hoped that maybe she might have escaped another way. It would be hard to imagine her not making it, especially if she were caught helping us escape. The King would have her punished or worse Ayden would have something else in mind. I could just see him being the type to torture her in telling him where we ran off to.
Thinking about him finding me made me nervous. Who knows what that man was capable of doing, so it gave me the idea to cover our tracks. Or perhaps I could at least confuse them from finding us.
But how could I do that?
The question wandered my mind as my eyes scanned the area for an idea. If we could somehow cover our tracks or hope that a storm will come through. Judging the sky above it didn’t look like it would be rain anytime soon. If we do happen to lead a trail all the way to the river we could cross it and possibly lead them astray if they do seek us out.
“Try not to drag your feet. If it’s possible try to walk where there’s rocks, so it’s complicates it for someone to hunt us,” I tell Serena and she nods agreeing with me.
We walk silently and stealthily through the forest, just for precautions. We don’t know who or if anyone could already be tracking us. Then again, it could be that I was just paranoid of being found and taken back to the Prince.
Lifting my face, letting the light and shadows dance across my skin, I took in the beautiful nature around me. I inhaled the wet scents of the minty earth smell and continued forward, enlightened by the sound of branches creaking.
It was as if they were speaking to me, whispering the secrets they held. The wind whistles around the tree trunks flowing above causing the leaves to lash and crash against each other. A few leaves fell from the branches swaying back and forth taking their time before they reached the ground.
With my face still lifted, I eyed the green leaf that twirled in the air right up to the point in landed on my forehead. It kissed my skin lightly like the fluttering wings of a butterfly. Looking ahead once more the abandoned leaf fell tickling softly as it slid across my face. A small fit of giggles escaped my mouth.
Ahead, I could hear the sound of water running over the rocks, splashing and rippling. Like a blind woman seeing for the first time, I eagerly ran over to the flowing river.
At the edge of crystal clear water, grey and black rocks covered the ground. The rocks were like pebbles, smoothed out from the water caressing it’s outer layer. As we stepped farther onto the pebbles they made crunching sounds with every step.
It was happiness that filled my heart, but it all vanished too quickly. Like the sun setting and the night sky blanketing the world in darkness, my eyes were covered in blackness.
A dark fabric was covering my sight with a large hand clamping my mouth shut. The person had been quick with his capture not giving me the time to squeal. Panic rose in me, this couldn’t be men from Aridor, could it?
My body fought my capturer trying to break free and run, but the strong grip of the man held me in place. Him threatening me to stay still and cooperate with him felt futile. The longing to be free was beneficial to me, escape had to be an option. Yet, here I am, being dragged roughly away with my feet prying into the layer of rocks attempting to slow the man down.
“Quit fighting! It’s worthless.” The man snarled with an aggravating groan.
The tears that gathered in my eyelids spilled hotly against my cheeks damping the fabric that covered my face. A quick heavy breathing of panic was released from my nose. The strong hands of another man pulled my arms behind my back wrapping a rough itchy rope over them.
The man then threw me over his shoulder while my legs kicked wildly against his chest, but he didn’t budge. His body began walking while my stomach was pressed uncomfortably over his armored shoulder.
The sounds of muffled screams from Serena was a tad reassuring knowing that she was still alive and I hadn’t been the only one they captured.
“Move out.” One of them men spoke, it sounded foreign. Nothing I’ve ever heard before, who could they be?
They traveled with us far, across valleys, through waters, and over mountains. Where had they been planning to take us was beyond me. None of the men talked, only a few words were shared between the four men.
The way they moved, the sounds of their breaths, I analyzed it all. There had been four men who captured us without a doubt. If only I had been paying attention rather than taking in the beauty of forest, could I have prevented this from happening?
Possibly. Although, I’ve been thinking Tristan had lured us into a trap. Entrusting me with a necklace that belonged to his mother and knowing well he’d get it back after he led us to get captured. That’s what it had to be, it was the only explanation I could think of.
The air had began to get colder, the warmth of the sun was no more. It was silent as night crept slowly over the mountains we had been climbing. The moment the sun disappeared completely the creatures of the night woke from their slumber.
The sound of music made it’s way to my ears played by the mysterious tiny creature that was impossible to find. The hooting of an owl echoed through the creaking trees. The earthy smell had turned into a smoldering smoke of wood burning.
Then I heard it, the laughter of men. Not the men that had captured us, no. It was more than just the four guys, it was almost like thousands. The chattering and playful sounds had become so close we might as well been under their noses. Then it became quiet, slowly the conversations faded and the laughter had stopped. Just the sound of throats clearing and small whispers were heard.
“Come on men! Let’s welcome these ladies with our generosity!” The man that had me laid over his shoulder shouted.
The moment he said the words the men roared happily like they’ve received a reward. The man’s strong hand picked me up, taking me off his shoulder, and throwing me to the dirt. The fall had been rough, but it didn’t hurt until Serena was thrown on top of me.
Her muffled screams never faltered as the men grabbed our bodies setting us up in a sitting position. The fabric that had been tightly tied around our mouths and eyes were undone. The blindfolds fell for me to see an army of men staring down at us with exhilarating eyes.
Not a single word left my lips as I eyed the men standing before us with a glare. From young to old they all started whistling and laughing with amusement.
“Give us a show sweetheart!” A random man yelled from the crowd while others watched us while taking swings of their alcohol.
“My lady... what do we do?” Serena asked next to me while we both overlooked the crowd of men.
“There’s nothing we can do against an army, unfortunately Serena. Whatever they want from us I’ll take the downfall. You don’t deserve to be caught in my mess...this is...” I trailed off regretting getting Serena involved in this. It was obvious what these men wanted and I wouldn’t allow them to take advantage of Serena.
“What is it you want with us?” I asked, looking them all in the eyes with pure hatred.
Were all men like this?
“The men are bored, you’re going to be their entertainment. Now behave yourselves,” A middle aged man said walking toward us with a bottle of rum in one hand. His brown hair was long and pushed back from grease that had piled in the strands. His eyes were dark with a menacing glare as he looked over us pleased with what he caught.
“Do anything you want to me, whatever you want, but leave the other girl alone.” I demanded through gritted teeth. The man only smirked and stalked towards me dangerously while taking another drink of his rum.
He had a long face with a pointed jaw, a scar that ran along his cheek to the bridge of his sharp nose. The reeking smell of his breath lingered in my nostrils as his face had got too close when he crouched down to my level.
“I don’t think so,” he whispered running his dirty finger along the edge of my jaw. Quickly he gripped my chin pulling my face closer to his undignified one.
A warm wet tongue slid across my face and I let out a disgusted gasp. The man moaned loudly causing others to cheer him on after he licked my face. Anger flooded in me snapping me into an adrenaline filled resentment.
Without my arms I couldn’t fight back entirely, yet the need to let him know I wasn’t going down without a fight was prominent. Drawing my head back and darting it forward I clashed my head with the man’s nose.
An immediate off balance feeling overcame me and my eyesight had been fuzzy. I could still hear the men around me yelling and cheering more.
“She’s a feisty one!”
“What a woman! She just head butted Blaive in the nose!”
“Now that’s something you don’t see everyday.”
The men went on and on while I fell back onto the ground with my head rushing. The pounding feeling from the impact was throbbing. From above I could see the same man, known as Blaive, was standing above me angered by me making his nose bleed in front of all these men.
“Leave her alone!” Serena wailed trying to wiggle towards me to cover my body, but a man grabbed her by her arms to move her out of the way.
“Now you pay,” Blaive said curling his fingers into a fist. He lifted his arm in the air and it came down towards my face. Just before the impact of his fist connected with me a hand caught his. The other man had Blaive by his throat squeezing hard. Not a second later Blaive was thrown backwards making some men jump out of the way.
His body was laying on the ground with the other man standing over him. Just by his body language I could tell he knew how to fight well. The men began to disperse like nothing had happened, but my savior put his hand up to stop them all from moving.
“How dare you lay a finger on her.” The man didn’t shout, he snarled viciously.
“My lord! Forgive me, I did not know!” Blaive put his hands up surrendering to his lord.
“It doesn’t matter if you knew she belonged to me, you don’t treat a woman with disrespect Blaive! You’re punishment will be far greater than you imagine!” The man landed a loud punch to Blaive’s face cracking his nose with a sickening snap.
“Princess?!” A familiar voice had called out to me from the crowding of men. My sight was beginning to fade when I saw Tristan hovering over me with concerned hazel eyes. His shaking hands went to touch me, but he was thrown back.
What appeared next were the mysterious emerald green orbs that reminded of the green forest. The campfires that were lit around us set ablaze to the specks of gold hidden in his eyes.
“You...” I managed to say before drowsiness consumed me completely.
Next time I’ll dream sweeter🌹
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