“Kill them! All of them!”
That was the last judgment declared by King Garlow, the ruthless king of the Kingdom of Regaleria. He was on his mount, a strong muscular black horse, holding its golden reigns with a posture of a calculating, self-assured, proud man. His eyes were a deep blue; cold and icy; piercing through the destroyed walls of the Vhillana Kingdom. The smell of gunpowder, burnt wood, and rotten flesh reached through his nostrils even though he was just waiting at a hill miles away from the attack.
The fortification of the main city of Vhillana was now breached and all the dwellers of the city, panic-stricken, were trying their best to save one’s own lives. Flames everywhere - from the rooftops of the houses to the marketplace - and even the Vhillana Palace was not spared. It was in total chaos. Men were slain. Women and children screaming desperately in anguish.
The smell of metallic blood was all too evident in the air; an odor that General Midas had deemed fragrant. He was the King’s most loyal general, spearheading the initial attack, and now entering the gates of the palace.
Having shared the same amount of obsession, the general did not have any second thoughts of killing the King and Queen when he and his knights found them at the foot of the grand staircase. In his own hands, the royal blood of Vhillana splattered across the marbled floor.
Content with his present achievement, he licked his bloodied sword and smiled devilishly as he watched the look of horror painted on the King and Queen’s faces. A shot of realization hit him quickly though, and it made his hands feel bitter cold.
“Dammit! Where’s the stone?!” His deep burly voice resounded all over the foyer.
The stone that King Garlow specifically assigned for him to find was not found in either the King or Queen. If anyone should be the bearer of such an important relic, it would be the two royals, but Midas could not find it anywhere in them. Now, realizing that this could displease the King, he frantically took off and bolted straight towards the royals’ chambers in the hopes of finding the stone there.
In the west wing of the palace garden, a greenhouse stood unscathed by the turmoil of the main city. It was certain that such a secluded place would be left off by the soldiers. What harm could plants do? However, hiding in the small basement of the greenhouse was the princess of Vhillana, Princess Lianne. She was still at the age of eleven, innocent in the perils of life, but she knew full well that her parents, the King and the Queen, were in grave danger. She knew that she was hid there for her safety. Though she wanted to go out and find her parents, the only thing that she could do then was cry silently, painstakingly muffling her voice so as not to be heard by the soldiers passing outside.
When the destruction of the main city was over, the soldiers of General Midas were still scrambling to find the coveted stone, an heirloom of the royal family of Vhillana, and apparently, the very reason for King Garlow’s attack. The reasons for wanting such a stone remain a mystery that only the King could answer.
“Father.” A boy of fifteen years old approached the King. He was riding his own stunning black ivory stallion, holding the same gilded chains and sitting regally as a crown prince would do. The crest of the Regaleria Kingdom was seen stitched on the left side of his princely black suit. Though he was still young, the King wanted the prince to be like him, greedy of power and control, thus letting the boy attend on every war he could muster up.
Prince Ruen was an aloof boy, reserved, with seldom expression on his face. Though he had seen the usual look of dread and hardships of the people in every war his father had conjured - seeing the screaming children, the blood oozing in each man’s body, and the disrespectful treatment of the women captured - there was not an inch of pity seen on his expression, something that the King was pleased about.
“You have that look in your eyes my son. What is it that interests you?” Garlow spoke in a baritone voice. He was now lounging in a sofa in a viciously gold-adorned palanquin, with drapes of royal red cloth to cover him from the rays of the sun. He was busily eating almonds and chestnuts as if he didn’t have a care in the world that the scenery he was viewing was a horrific one.
Ruen flinched his brows as he turned to face his father. He then said in half-hearted eagerness, “I wish to see the inside of the palace Father.”
The King deviously smirked and nodded.
“Truly, this palace is a wonder to behold. If not only for that man’s stubbornness of yielding their heirloom to me, this wouldn’t have happened.” He held in one hand a nut-cracker device, while on the other a chestnut intending to break its stubborn shell.
“Go my son,” he continued, “tour the palace to your heart’s content.”
The young prince obediently nodded and went forth to the entrance of the city. He did not miss the dead bodies of the villagers as he ran across them in town, but he was not moved even for a bit at the dreary sight.
When he reached the main entrance of the palace, he admitted to himself that it was indeed a beauty. The grandeur of the palace was almost comparable to King Garlow’s palace mansion in Regaleria. However, if it weren’t for the dead bodies of the Vhillana soldiers and the servants’ blood pooling the marbled floor, it would have been more breathtaking.
He strolled its hallways, the grand staircases, the ballroom, and the throne room, curious of its splendor, but what certainly got his attention was when he caught a glimpse of an intact greenhouse west of the palace.
Such an unusual thing, he thought. For a clearly public area of the palace, it was plain to see that it wasn’t involved in the chaos of the battle. He decided to inspect it further, but not long after he set foot on the interior of the greenhouse, he suddenly heard a low but audible cry.
With sharp eyes and sharp hearing, he followed the origin of the sound, until it all pointed into one location. The basement. The cry was somehow muffled by the wooden floor, but Ruen could definitely make up a good sound.
Intrigued by it, he opened the small shaft, and instantly, he saw to his surprise a delicate sobbing girl of young age sitting at the edge of the basement floor. Her legs were crossed on each other and her face buried against her knees.
The girl quickly glanced up to see who was the intruder of her little solace and was stunned to find that it was a young boy. She couldn’t keep her tears from falling though, and stream after stream it ran down her cheeks. She didn’t exactly know what to do.
The crown prince was not surprised at all. He cared less that he just found a sobbing girl in the basement of the greenhouse. Abandoned children were already expected in a post-war zone, but just one look at her wet eyes and streaming tears, his heart pained instantly and left his focus in disarray. His defenses invisibly crumbled as he saw the way she looked at him; pleading, begging to be taken out of the darkness. However, amidst the tears, her pale - very pale - blue eyes were tantalizing, gleaming like the stars.
She was wearing a white peasant dress, no jewelry around her hands nor a crown in her head. He almost thought that she was just some random child of a servant, but what caught his attention was the necklace around her neck. The necklace looked weighty on her slim neck, and it had an emerald stone, shaped like an oval an inch big, dangling at the center. He realized then, this was no ordinary girl.
“Please don’t hurt me,” the little girl spoke in a shaky voice.
Prince Ruen looked at her with his striking brown-green eyes. For a second, he was in deep thought and then replied, “I...I won’t.”
Before the girl could speak again, without warning, General Midas appeared at the prince’s back.
“Your Highness! Why are you here?” he instantly queried, bothered by the prince’s presence in such a place. He was waiting for the boy’s reply when his eyes fell directly on the brilliantly shining oval in the middle of the dark basement.
Midas quickly shoved the prince out of the portal. Ruen was a bit surprised, but he only continued on to watch as the general entered the basement and forcibly pulled the panic-stricken girl to stand.
He took the pendant and lifted it in line with her head, scrutinizing it with much eagerness.
For a moment, the girl was puzzled by the man’s enthusiasm on her necklace, but when she felt a forceful tug on her nape, she realized that this man was attempting to take the necklace out of her head.
Midas’ eyes flickered with delight. “Ah! The stone!” His heart leaped, overjoyed upon finally finding the Vhillana heirloom.
Upon attempting to take it, he saw the girl tensed and tried to form a guarded position with her arms. She acted like she could protect the necklace effectively with only her will as if she wasn’t a frail body already.
The general laughed out aloud seeing her painstaking effort. The girl’s tears streamed down her face again as flood and Ruen could clearly see it.
Midas rapidly cupped her tiny jaw with his gross calloused hand and turned her face from side to side, inspecting her features slowly. The girl only did cry in silence as she received his unwarranted attention. An instant fear started to creep inside her as she felt a foreboding feeling when she saw the man’s eyes.
“Yes. You’re your parent’s daughter alright,” he stated, then stood up and turned to face the prince. “Your father would be very much pleased that you have found not only the princess of Vhillana but also the heirloom, Your Highness...”
Ruen gave no comment about it. He only stared at the princess who looked terrified when General Midas pulled her out of the basement and dragged her across the greenhouse to his stallion, all the while screaming for help.
She was looking at him. Looking at him with pleading eyes. Looking at him with disappointed eyes. His body felt frozen and for the first time since he abandoned his emotions, he felt hopeless.
General Midas tied her hands together and covered her lips with his stallion’s regiment flag, then placed her up on the horse, in his front, as they rode out of the palace grounds.
An empty space was left gaping in Ruen’s heart as he saw them riding out of sight. If he had done something...something at all, it would have been to try and save her, but things would have gotten much worse if he did.
He was only contented now seeing the princess still alive and spared from Midas’ bloody obsession.
Prince Ruen was praised by his father in the victory ceremony that night at the Regaleria Mansion. The King was very much pleased indeed especially now that he has the relic in his possession. All of his people and his soldiers were in merriment, but the young prince opted to walk away from it, bidding his father to have an early leave.
He was standing in his balcony looking at the night sky when he remembered the time when he saw the princess. He had never expected she would be the princess the soldiers were looking for, much worse she had the coveted stone hanging as a pendant!
He remembered poignantly her wet, flushed cheeks and the tears that streamed down her face. And those beautiful, beautiful pale blue eyes!
In an impulsive act, he raced towards the main door and exited his chamber with the sole intention of visiting, for the first time, the rumored dungeons of the mansion.
Princess Lianne was still weeping in hopelessness inside her cell. She was hunkered down the ground beside the metal bars, curling her knees to her chest in that part of the cell that was somehow lit by a single ray of moonlight. How cruel for the King to actually lock her in such a cold, deserted place, but the coldness of the dungeon was naught as compared to the cold agony echoing through the walls all over the place.
Afraid of the sounds, all she could do was to cover up her ears hoping to dampen the sound somehow.
In the center of her cell was a metallic gold cushioned seat most probably intended for her as she was of course a princess, but she didn’t even think of sitting there. It was the only companion she had. No warm arms for her to snuggle up. No brilliant smiles for her to welcome. No soft voice to lull her to sleep. Nobody could comfort her.
With the stillness of the night and the damnable silence throughout the dungeon, a sound of footsteps was heard coming towards her cell. She didn’t care to look who it was, expecting it was the dungeon caretaker, but as a pair of black boots came into her view, she quickly looked up.
To her amazement, she saw no towering muscled man, no burly unshaven jaw, no dangling sharp blades, but a young boy standing in front of her cell. She instantly recognized him, owing to their recent contact this early morning, but there was no positive identification she could gather up, save the only thing she knew about him: the son of the king who killed her parents; the young boy who found her in the basement; the young boy who’s the main reason why she was captured.
This boy standing before her was him...
And instantly, her blood boiled to the core.