“What can I get you today?”
Octavia glanced over the merchant’s row of fruits and vegetables. Supper at the castle wasn’t going to make itself, and she knew exactly what she was going to be making. “Do you have any cinnamon sticks?” she asked, looking up from the food.
“Not out here, but I think there’s some inside the main shop. Wanna take a look?” the merchant replied with a large smile. “After all, it’s not every day you get to do business with the princess of our kingdom.”
Octavia frowned. Her brown cloak disguise wasn’t working to keep her identity as the princess of Pri a secret. Perhaps next time she would have to take a different approach. “Can you maybe not tell anyone that I was here?” she asked.
He laughed and started walking into the small hut behind him. Octavia followed.
Inside the hut were shelves full of herbs and spices, some of which Octavia had never heard of before. The room smelled like some kind of tea, but Octavia couldn’t place which one. There seemed to be a thick blanket of spice dust laid out across the surfaces, the dust flying into the air when she tapped the table.
“Our only sweeper left a few days ago to fight in the war, and I haven’t gotten around to cleaning myself,” the merchant stated, browsing the shop for the cinnamon sticks.
Octavia nodded and headed closer to the shelves. “What is this?” she asked, pointing to a container with a label reading “Mir Root.”
The man ran over from the other side of the shop and answered, “Oh, that is a special herb. It grows on the base of Mt Velika every fall. I gathered them a few months ago. They’re supposedly good for healing wounds if you make them into tea. Did you want to buy them?”
“Maybe. I have no idea when I would use it though,” she laughed.
The man shrugged. “You never know.” He sauntered behind the front counter and squatted down under the desk. Just as quickly as he went down, he popped back up. “Here we are!” In his hands he held a bundle of cinnamon, tied together with a bright red string.
“Great! How much for it?”
He rubbed his chin as he thought about it. “How about free? I have more than enough cinnamon to sell for weeks. This little bundle isn’t going to change much anyway. Besides, it was payment enough getting to meet royalty.”
Well, you weren’t supposed to know I was royalty, she thought to herself before she smiled and said, “Thanks so much! Maybe I should start coming down from my room more often.”
“You should. Have a good day, princess,” he said, bowing as Octavia left the hut.
She stared at the large brick castle that stood majestically above the kingdom of Pri. Only a few of the setting sun’s rays peeked past the castle towers, casting a shadow over her and the nearby stands and huts. It would be time to make supper soon. Octavia could already taste the cinnamon pie she and her mother were going to make. Scanning over the bag of goods she held in her hands, she noticed that the bag wasn’t as full as before.
“Hi, excuse me!” a voice called from behind her. She turned to find a young boy who looked about her age, barely managing to hold a bag of flour and several smaller bags of brown sugar in his arms. “You dropped these.”
“Oh, thank you.” She strode close to him and held the bag in front of his arms.
He carefully laid the bags in, careful not to leave any of them open or on their sides. As he did so, Octavia noticed his short black curly fro. It struck a chord of familiarity in her. Where had she seen him before?
“I’m Lance,” the boy said, smiling, now done returning the groceries to their rightful place. He took a step back and asked, “Do I know you?”
He’s figuring out that I’m the princess! “Um, no, I don’t think we’ve met before.” She tried to hide her face with the hood of the cloak, praying that he wouldn’t pester her. “I’m Octa—um, my name is...Olive. Yeah, Olive.” She felt kind of bad for lying, but she really didn’t need anyone recognizing her right now.
“Well, it is a pleasure to meet you, Olive.” He bowed.
Octavia returned the bow, noticing a longsword sheathed and strapped to his waist. “So, are you a knight?” she inquired.
He stood back up and chuckled. “No, I’m nowhere near the right age yet. But I am in training. In fact, I’m heading to my training right now. I think we’re going the same way.”
She blushed a little. “Did you want to walk together?”
He squinted up at the sun, no doubt checking how much time there would be before nightfall. “Sure. We better hurry though. My teacher’s going to kill me if I’m not there in time for my training.”
“My dad would do the same thing if I wasn’t home in time” she laughed. If you only knew.
“I can carry that bag if you want. Maybe then you won’t drop more flour.”
The two started walking side by side, in silence. Every few seconds, Octavia stole a glance at Lance, trying to pin down where she saw him before. His high black leather boots and leather belt made her speculate that he might be the son of a leatherworker, but she wasn’t sure. He wore brown pants that were likely made of wool and a plain white long-sleeved shirt. His dark brown eyes had a warm and reassuring factor to them. She had seen eyes just like them when she met that guy...
“You’re Sir Ian’s son, aren’t you?” She almost shouted it, but managed to keep her volume at an acceptable level. She had met the legendary knight Sir Ian once before, when the king had invited him for a celebratory dinner after winning the war. The knight was nice enough, but Octavia had spent most of that day up in her tower drawing.
He grinned. “Yes. He is probably the coolest dad ever.”
“Yeah, I bet.” Sir Ian was obviously better than her father. The king always tried to keep a strong grip on her life and everything that went on in it. Sir Ian was always away doing knightly things, so she assumed Lance could probably do whatever he wanted without much trouble. “I heard he took out an entire army of Napadians on his own during the First Mir War.”
“He only infiltrated their base. He just happened to take out a few of them in the process.” He seemed so happy to talk about him, and she could tell he was struggling not to brag. That made his following question surprising. “So, what is your dad like?”
Octavia sighed. “Well, he’s not exactly my favorite person in the world.”
“Why is that?”
She wanted to stop answering, but he had shared, so it would only be fair. “He’s too controlling for starters. He doesn’t want me to do anything by myself, always having others do it for me. On top of that, anything creative I try to do, he shoots down instantly.” She could feel her fist balling up, not that she meant to do so. “He’s a jerk.”
Lance nodded, seeming to understand but, how could he? His father was a famous knight known across the land of Mir for being nearly unstoppable. What could their parents possibly have in common? Despite that, she couldn’t deny that she was curious what his response would be.
“Did you ever think that maybe he is just trying to protect you?” He was staring up at the castle that was growing closer with every step they took. “I know my dad has some quirks that most would think were horrible or ‘jerky,’ but I know he is doing it so that I can be successful and brought up right.”
“You think I’m just stupid then?” Octavia barked.
He rose his hands in defense, and the smile on his face left. “No, of course not! I did not mean to offend you. I just think that maybe your dad is just going the wrong way about keeping you safe, that was all.”
There was nothing but silence after that. Lance stared off into the distance, trying to avoid eye contact, and Octavia thought to herself over what Lance had said. I just think that maybe your dad is just going the wrong way about keeping you safe. Good going accusing him, Octavia. And just when you almost made an actual friend. The walk was awkward, but by the end, it was slightly less awkward.
“Well, this is where we should split, huh?” Octavia asked when Lance stopped walking.
“It would seem that way,” Lance replied, placing the bag back in her arms. “It was nice meeting you, Olive. I hope your dad comes around and gives you more freedom.”
“Thanks. Have a good day yourself. Maybe we’ll run into each other again.”
He smiled. “That would be nice.”
The two broke off in their own directions, and Octavia headed for the castle.
Not too far from the castle, Octavia was approached by three brute men, all brandishing daggers on their waists. One of them, the one with a fully-grown beard, rested his hand on Octavia’s shoulder, forcing her to stop, and asked, “And just where do you think you’re going little girl?” There was no doubt. This was Austin’s crew.
The crew stole from anyone they could get alone, and looking around, Octavia realized that not too many people were nearby. There was one old man dressed in rags and beating his hands on an old basket, but he purposely ignored what was going on. Two of the king’s kingdom guards were patrolling no less than just a few feet away, but she already knew that they wouldn’t be much help. The guards only interfered when something bothered them. Octavia was on her own.
One of the other members of the crew groaned, “Come on, she probably doesn’t even have anything worth stealing.” It wasn’t far from the truth. The crew tended to eat meat. Octavia doubted they’d have any idea of what to do with simple ingredients.
“What do I care?” Austin barked, his hand still on her shoulder. He leaned closer to Octavia’s ear and whispered, “We can still teach you a lesson about coming down here with no one to help you.” His breath reeked of wine, and Octavia couldn’t have been happier when he moved his head back. “So, you want to show us what’s in your bag?”
Octavia tightened her grip. “I would prefer not to. If you don’t leave me alone, there will be consequences.” She still didn’t want to reveal that she was the princess. Maybe there would be a different way out of this.
The three men laughed, the third one mocking her voice saying, “Better watch out for the consequences!”
Her face began to heat up. “Just leave me alone you pieces of pig gunk!” She snatched Austin’s hand off her shoulder and started to speed-walk to the castle.
“What did you just call us?” Austin called. “Little lady, I hate to break it to ya, but you don’t just run away from us until we take everything you have.” He turned to the other two. “Get her.”
Octavia broke into a frantic dash for the castle’s front gates that were less than a quarter of a mile away. The two thieves were right behind her, quickly gaining speed. One of them tackled her legs, knocking the bag out of her hands, and tripping her face-forward. Dirt flew up into her mouth as her face met the ground, making her choke and cough. She tried to stand, but the two men were holding her arms down. She turned her head to the side, and out of the corner of her eye, she could see Austin himself walking up to her.
“You really didn’t have anything useful in that bag, did you?” he said. He pulled out his dagger from its hilt. “Well, might as well give you a little scar to remember me by.”
Octavia closed her eyes as Austin got closer. This is it, she thought. He doesn’t even mean an actual scar, does he? He’s going to kill me! She thought about her mother, who was likely sitting in the kitchen, waiting for her daughter to come downstairs to help make dinner. Sure, she wouldn’t be expecting Octavia to go and get ingredients for pie, but her mom was usually more lax when it came to her sneaking out. She wouldn’t want her to give up. You won’t do this! There was a sudden surge of energy inside of her, coursing through her veins. “Get off of me!”
Octavia’s eyes glowed yellow as a dome of yellow light erupted out of her body, blasting the men away and into the walls of nearby buildings. Suddenly, the area around her was so much warmer. She stood up, confused as to what happened. Was that me?
Before she could completely gather herself, she felt hands on her wrists, locking them behind her back. “Ma’am,” the guard said, “You are under arrest for witchcraft.”