Chapter 1: Graceless Ambush
Arika stared into the flowing river as she walked along the stone bridge with a pestering prince. His hair was the same shade of a heavy smoker’s teeth and as wild as the hair on corn. She was half-listening to his words as she pondered the idea of shoving him into the water below to give herself a moment of peace. The idea of him getting swept away made her smile.
She wasn’t sure how long he had been pestering her, but likely it was around the time the king made it known to the public that she was searching for a prince to marry. Kingdoms of all gardens began pushing their sons to meet her and most were respectful. Beka was the only one who perused even after he was rejected.
“Um… Lady Sibylla? Are you listening?” he asked.
She perked her head up with a soft hum as she looked over the prince.
“My apologizes– my mind must have wandered!” She lied. “What were you saying, Prince Beka?”
The prince smiled brightly at the acknowledgment. “Well, I was wondering if you have been enjoying the time we spent together? It’s been some time since we’ve last met and I was hoping we could...” his voice faded as the princess’s head slowly turned away from him to focus on the pebble on the ground.
“Stones like these always make me happy! Nature is wonderful isn’t it, Prince Beka?” Arika bent down to pick it up and admired the grey stone that lacked any luster.
It was merely a plain stone, but it was enough for her own intentions.
“R-right! It is most certainly beautiful… stone…” Beka averted his eyes to his feet before exhaling. “It was once again a wonderful evening I was blessed to spend with you, Lady Sibylla. I must depart for the long trip back home. I wish you a safe return home and lovely dreams.” His half-hearted romantic words faltered as he pivoted his heels to walk back from where they came.
Arika waited until he disappeared over the bridge before tossing the stone into the river and continued walking at a hurried pace. Her heels clicked loudly with each step.
“To think the fool still won’t give up after all this time.” She shook her head before walking along the dirt path leading into the forest. “My feet hurt, half my day was wasted, and by the time there-- I’ll likely be scolded by him again for breaking curfew! Why do all the men in my life make me miserable?” She whined dramatically.
This was the umpteenth attempt from Prince Beka of the Hyacinth kingdom to win Arika over. After multiple rejections of a proposal, evading topics like marriage, and expressing disinterest in entertaining the idea of spending time together- faking air-headedness was the most effective method to shorten their scheduled meetings by a bit.
As her annoyance faded away, her focus became on how dark the forest had become. With how old and twisted the trees had become, light rarely penetrated the treetops. She kept a steady pace with her steps never faltering. Arika had walked through it many times whenever she wanted to break from her duties as a princess.
Her walk was pleasant until she heard a loud snap echo through the dim forest.
Large animals were uncommon in this part and she came alone.
The princess knelt to pick up a stone that fits in the palm of her hand, keeping it close to her hand. Her eyes glanced around frequently while her steps quickened.
As the path leading out of the forest came into view, the town’s lanterns made the end of the path glow. Her grip on the rock loosened as her fear began to dissipate.
That was until she suddenly stumbled and nearly fell from tripping. When she looked behind her, there were no roots, stones, or holes in the ground that would’ve caused her to trip. Though with closer examination, there was a thin string that was tied tightly.
Arika looked up and saw a male dressed in light-weight black clothing that covered everything but his bright green eyes that illuminated. He had a small knife pointed towards her and had sharp eyes glaring at her.
However, he noticeably hesitated when they made eye contact. Arika utilized the chance and threw the stone instinctively in front of her and closed her eyes shut. The man let out a cry followed by a loud thud. The princess slowly opened her eyes and looked cautiously, she approached the still man and figured he was knocked unconscious.
Taking a short moment to ponder her options, she undid the ribbons that held her wavy-lime hair up. She tied it to bound the man’s ankles together before tying his hands behind his back. While she made a lucky hit on the man, it wasn’t worth the risk of leaving him alone without an interrogation.
It wasn’t until nightfall when the now unmasked man started regaining consciousness. A small fire crackled before him as the princess sat with a glare on her face.
The unknown man had a red line going down beneath each eye and stopped at his cheeks. He also had cat-like eyes and pointed ears. While observing his features, a few made a clear distinction of his origin.
“You’re from the Snapdragon Kingdom in the mountains, correct?” She asked.
He stared at the blurry figure before him as he struggled to understand her words. His eyes squinting as he tried focusing on her.
Arika hardened her gaze before standing and approached the tied-up man. His mentioning of that name only made her more annoyed.
“Who sent you and what are your intentions?” She demanded.
The man groaned as he slowly regained focus. The moment he saw her face, he began struggling and glared at her.
“You!” he glared at her. “It’s because of your father that my people are suffering! I hate your guts for daring to stand with this!”
“I think I’m understanding a bit more.” Arika smiled sweetly as she stood above him. “I suppose this means you planned to kidnap or kill me?” She suggested with amusement. “I admit, your tripwire was an impressive move. However you–”
“Shut it Why don’t you off me rather subject me to your useless words!” He snapped at her. Compared to the fire, the man’s look of rage burned brighter. His softly curled, burgundy hair was in his eyes and clearly getting in the way.
“You expect me to off you? This is the most botched ambush I’ve seen in a while!” She roughly pushed his hair out of his face with a glare. “I want to know who you are and your intentions. Now.”
The bound man kicked his legs and struggled for some time. Like a fish out of water, his efforts were fruitless and amusing to watch. Arika waited patiently as the man slowly wore himself out.
Soon, the man settled down with a sigh of defeat and rest his head against the tree. “My name is Sin-Vira, prince of the Snapdragon kingdom. My people and I grew tired of your kingdom exploiting us and depleting our resources! The workers in those mines have lost all hope and dying needlessly! My mother even lost the smile she always braved for their sake!” He heaved his chest as his voice became unsteady. “The plan was… to kidnap you and hold you hostage until your father agreed to relent the miners and send his soldiers home. We want peace, but we’re barely holding ourselves together.”
He stared up at Arika’s face. Her skin was as pale as the moon and her rosy eyes appearing glossy. She seemed to enjoy watching him look in fear, but she wasn’t entirely heartless… probably.
Instead, Arika placed her hands on her hips. He adverted his eyes to the ground, visibly trembling as his breathing became shallow. Arika tilted her head to the side before she took a few steps away from him.
“Sin-Vira was it? If your plan was to kidnap me, it would only be a short-term solution. The king would temporarily back off before reinforcing his efforts to regain control over your kingdom. Killing me would only cause retaliation also.”
“Thanks for evaluating my plans. But why are you doing this?” Sin-Vira scowled at her.
“Because I have a long-term solution that would force his hand to relent for good.” She turned back around to face him. “Currently, I am in search of a prince to wed. If we were to marry, a war between our kingdoms would be unlikely and you would have grounds to refuse his demands to exploit the mines if you see the work isn’t justified to benefit both kingdoms.”
Sin-Vira stared at her dumbfounded. “I just attempted to kidnap you. Why trust I wouldn’t try something like this again when you least suspect it?” he questioned.
“A fair point. But I doubt you would throw this away. This is a golden opportunity, Sin.”
“Don’t call me that.”
Arika stifled a laugh at how annoyed that easily made him. “Vira then. I hate to put a time limit on you, but you have until tomorrow morning in this exact spot to give your answer. If you agree, I’ll further elaborate on the plan so it goes as smoothly as possible. If you deny it, I hope you know how to fight better than you ambush.” She untied the ribbon that bound the prince’s feet before untying his hands. “Go on now. The mountains are quite the distance from here! Get your beauty sleep, Vira, prince of botched ambushes!”
The young girl continued her walk to her kingdom with a confident stride. The idea was spontaneous and one she had no real plans for. But she knew she couldn’t have someone like him against her. Dying at the hands of another kingdom was the last thing she wanted to deal with when she had a duty to fulfill.