Chapter 17: Bloody Surprises
One moment the air was laced with sheer tranquility; birds chirped, sounds of water gushing in streams nearby hit my ear drums lightly as the carriages passed along, royal maids excitedly chatted amongst themselves, and the royal guards kept their horses in coordination with the carriages, casually scanning the surroundings, while the no more than seven years old princess Emily Vincent Kozlovsky quietly sat going through a book held in her tiny hands, oblivious to the maids around or the slightly bumpy carriage ride, and the next moment chaos ensued. Panic , fear, and confusion rose in the air; thick enough that I could have cut it with a knife, but that was only if my own senses were not so drowned in panic just like everyone else around.
A perfectly civil conversation between a maid I had come to know in my brief time at the royal castle, as Alexandra and her sister Stana dissolved in to ear piercing screams as an arrow partially penetrated the carriage wall, almost hitting Alexandra. The sisters were not yet done with their first round of screaming when one after another two more arrows pierced the carriage walls making them emit bloodcurdling screams with fervor anew. Screaming would not have helped us in the least bit, but may have gotten us in further trouble, I was highly aware of that fact. With screaming off the ‘to do’ list, I raked my brain to come up with something useful to do with myself. All I had the time to do was grab the small frame of Princess Emily and hastily pull her in my arms and shield her from any impending harm with my body, before the world began to swing. Blue, purple and black dots swam in front of my eyes. The carriage shook violently just a moment before it was airborne.
Immense pain seared through my left upper arm as the carriage with all four of us still inside came crashing to the ground, scattering around into bits and pieces; some small and others larger. My back met the ground with a harsh thud as we landed, with the young princess safely enclosed in my arms hitting my chest with the impact of the fall, while Stana’s body was splayed on top of the princess and in turn I, with an arrow sticking through her back. As an impact of the fall the air was knocked right out of me. It took some while to somewhat get back to my senses.
Fear inducing screams of women, clanking of metal against metal, grunts of pain or effort or both escaping many sets of lips meet my ears as my senses began to come back to me. As I tilted my head to the right minimally, I was greeted by the sight of the carriage pulling horse’s body lying next to me. Blood spurted from its abdomen by the way of a deep gash. Sight to my left was not any more welcoming. The forest soil had turned muddy with so much blood dripping on to it, puddles of blood had formed at some spots on ground my sight could reach to from the position I was in. Most of the royal guards were down on the ground; hurt or worse; dead. Only three guards that I could see were up and indulged in a losing battle with men draped in all black clothing. Sufficiently large numbers of men dressed in black were present at the spot. It was not a very difficult thing to come to the conclusion that they were the ones who had attacked our congregation previously travelling in peace. Alexandra and other females that formed the group accompanying princess Emily were being grabbed and tied by our assailants.
I was too busy analyzing the surroundings that I did not see the man walking my way until he kicked Stana’s body off us making me wince inaudibly at the impact, and grabbed the little princess by her arm pulling her away from my weak grasp. I had a chance to save my dear life by pretending to be dead, and being left behind by these men as a corpse, but I would have been damned if I let them take away the princess without a fight. She was too innocent to let be part of whatever these man planned for her.
Mustering all the strength I was left with; which was not much, I painfully stretched an arm to grab the hilt of a discarded bloody sword lying next to the body of a dead royal guard, and pushed myself up to my feet in a quick movement. It was a mistake on my part. The movement, much too quick for my lethargic brain, resulted in my head swirling, my vision turning blurry, my knees wobbling, and my feet struggling to support my body’s weight. Pushing my weight on the sword, with its pointy end stuck lightly in the muddy land, I used it as a cane to help me stay upright without any movements for a while, till the fog lifted and my vision cleared. Blood dripped down my left arm and fingers, from the wound caused by a piece of wood still rooted in my flesh. Biting my tongue I pulled the splinter out of my arm, and let it fall to ground. It felt like ages but were only brief moments that I had been standing up for, and I already felt exhausted to bones yearning for a bed to take me in its warm embrace, but that was not an option currently. My legs were still shaky, but I was a slight bit more stable now than a moment ago. Taking what I was given, I steeled my resolve; shooing away any ideas of giving up in my mind, and swung the sword with all my strength, as a battle cry escaped my lips, and plunged it right into the heart, of the man carrying away the princess through his back as he was facing away from me. With a cry off pain the man fell on his knees, young princess still in his grasp, and spat blood.
“Let the princess go.”
I yelled, just as I spun the sword again and the blade landed hard on his wrist, detaching the hand from his body. With a scream he fell face forward on the ground; writhing in pain drawing his few last breaths.
Before I could grab the princess and take our not so great chances of escape and make a dash for the dense woods the dirt trail ran along, another set of hands attached to a body covered in black clothing head to toes with exception of the eyes, grabbed her and pulled her away from me.
“Such loyalty, I’m blown away.”
A bemused voice pulled my eyes off the princess on to the owner of the voice; yet another man of tall sturdy build dressed all in black. His brown eyes held humor and mockery as he looked at me, which enraged me to no end.
“Did not think you had such bravery in you, woman, but very much expected such stupidity from you.”
His laughter filled the air, which irked me more if it was even possible. That was it, all thoughts of conjuring some sensible escape plan at the spot were gone from my mind, and the anger took over me.
Adrenaline lent me great amount of energy, that I every bit welcomed, as I launched into an offensive against the brown eyed irksome bastard. He deflected every blow I threw his away with such ease that made my blood boil further. He toyed with me till I was utterly exhausted; using his sword to block every attack from mine, before he in a swift movement hit his sword hard enough on mine to make me lose my grip on the hilt, and my sword hit the ground with a clank while his sword ended up blade pressed over my Adam’s apple. My brain was still registering his speedy attack, when two men grabbed my arm; one each, from behind and pushed me on to my knees. Gulping down the fear down, I stared squarely into the eyes of the brown eyed bastard in front of me, now holding on to my sword as well his.
“Go ahead, kill me, you bastard. Do it.”
He leaned in closer to me, getting on his knees to get on my level, and laughed.
“Ah nah, novio, I’m not going to kill you.”
Releasing his hold on the swords, letting them clatter to the ground, he talked with exaggerated action of counting on his fingers.
“You see I would not kill you because, one; It is too boring, two; it is too messy handling your head and your body along with the fountain of blood you’ll start after I behead you, three; It is too easy and cliché, do you not think so too?”
I was gritting my teeth as he looked at me with eyes full of laughter. I spat at him in disgust, but unfortunately he was predicting it and stepped back laughing.
“Enough playing .Back to work.”
He said in a voice completely devoid of laughter present in it just a few moments ago. My eyes followed his bulky figure, trying to comprehend his next move. He walked to the commander of the guard delegation appointed to protect the princess, lying a little away from me. I could faintly make out his chest rising and falling with his every breath, indicating he was alive.
The brown eyed man in black who looked like the leader of our assailants, placed his foot on a dagger stuck in the guard’s leg and pressed it deeper into the flesh, making the guard let out agonized screams. The man in black grabbed the guard by hair, and pulled him up on his feet. The guard was too weak to put up any resistance; rather he was upright only due to the man’s hold on his hair. With a single flick of their leader’s hand two men clad in all black like their companions vanished into cluster of trees to my right taking along Princess Emily. The man with his hold on the guard’s hair spoke up once the princess’s figure disappeared into the distance.
“I assume you will not tell us whose boots you lick in real, so I have a gift you will take to the one holding your leash for me.”
Another flick of hand from the man, and one of his subordinates handed him a piece of paper scrawled with black ink making words I could not read from my somewhat distant position to the guard. The man slapped the paper on to the guard’s chest right when an arrow hit the guard’s chest right between the man’s fingers holding the paper in position.
He praised one of his men who was holding a bow.
The brown eyed leader of the men in black currently holding me and other royal maids captive, snapped his fingers, and came running a couple of men with a horse, placing the guard with the arrow and paper still on his chest onto the back of the horse. The horse was made to run in the direction of the castle with its rider unconsciously splayed on its back.
I was still looking to where the horse had been just a moment before when the man started barking orders to his companions again. The horrified and crying maids were dragged away by five men, while three men gathered all the valuables our party had before the attack. Once the men got all they wanted to take along, they ushered me along in the direction where the princess was taken. Smoke filled my nostrils as the fire set behind us by princess and my captors spread wildly taking everything in its embrace, crackling in all its glory. My captors pushed me and urged me to move faster with curt commands entwined with insults.
Twigs and dried leaves crunched under my weight, as I placed one step after another hurriedly trying to keep up a speedy pace despite my weakened and exhausted state. After a considerably long trek we began to slow down. I came to a halt at the scene unfolding in front of my eyes, confusing me to the core. We had now stepped in a large clearing with more than hundred men there, all dressed in black. The moment I stepped into the clearing all the men fell to their knees in front of me, including the ones who had come along me. The only man not on his knees was the leader of the men who attacked the princess’s congregation. He was the last one to emerge into the clearing. The moment Princess Emily saw him she ran to him with arms open. He was in no time on his knees hugging her when I heard the princess whisper.
“I love you, father.”