Arid Seas – Chapter Three
by Dreams in Pink
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Serenity woke to find herself shrouded in darkness. An eerie calm hung around her, and she strained to see any sign of familiarity. She tried in vain to move, but soon found that her wrists, and ankles were bound with a thick, rough rope. Panic boiled in the pit of her stomach, as her eyes frantically searched her surroundings for some sort of saviour. Her breaths grew short, and tears silently streamed down her face. A heavy door groaned in the distance, and a ray of light briefly flitted through the room. The sunshine was soon replaced by a dull candle flame which made its way towards her.
“You’re finally awake,” the man said, his deep voice echoing off of the rocky walls. She recognised him immediately; the bandit must have kidnapped her.
“Release me,” she said, her voice barely above a whisper. Ignoring his captive, the man set the candle down on a rickety wooden table that sat in the center of the room. Clearing her throat, she tried again. “Release me.” Her tone was pointed, as her azure eyes bore through the shadows, watching the bandit’s every move.
“You should take some time to rest,” he suggested, his back turned towards her as he blatantly ignored her request. Serenity frowned, her jaw clenching in frustration and fear.
“Release me. Now,” the girl demanded, her voice cracking as she spoke.
“At least you’ve changed your tune,” he smirked, causing the princess to scowl. “If I untie you, you’ll run away,” he chuckled. Serenity began to feel exasperated as his laugh reverberated throughout the room continuing to mock her. As the man went about his business, the princess tried desperately to free her limbs of the rope. She first attempted to pull her slender wrists through the material, and when that failed she used her delicate fingers to work away at the steadfast knot. Her fingers soon became sore and coarse, the fibres cutting into her soft flesh like slivers.
“You won’t be able to get it undone,” the bandit called from across the room, watching her efforts from the corner of his eye. Serenity let out an infuriated cry. ‘They’ll come for you,’ she chanted in the back of her mind, trying to calm her nerves. Gathering items from a pile in the corner, the man carried a stone mortar to the table, and began to grind flowers with a matching pestle.
“They’ll find me,” she stated resolutely, fighting to hold back the tears. She was royalty, and she would not allow this man to get the better of her.
“No, they won’t,” he replied, never turning his attention away from the work at hand.
“They will,” she reiterated, glaring at him in defiance.
“They won’t, Princess.” The girl was rendered silent, as she sat in bewilderment. She was drowning in thoughts as she listened to the rhythmic grinding of stone against stone; with her visit to Earth kept secret, how did a bandit become privy to her identity?
“You know who I am?” she whispered, her mouth running dry.
“I do,” he replied simply, offering no explanation.
“Then you must know they will be looking for me,” Serenity’s voice grew stronger and regal.
“They’ll look,” he started, “but they won’t find you here,” he sighed heavily, lifting his eyes to meet her gaze. “The king is an imbecile, and the prince is a coward,” he spat, tension strung in his voice. Serenity furrowed her brow; never in her life had she heard such contempt and disdain targeted towards a kingdom’s rulers. Never before had she felt such hatred – is this what the people of Earth were like? The girl felt the panic rise again to her chest, her breathing grew shallow as tears welled in her eyes.
“Relax,” the man commanded softly, kneeling beside her and placing the mortar on the ground. He unhooked the canteen from his waist, and poured some of its liquid into the bowl, stirring the contents together. “Drink this,” he ordered, holding the bowl to her chapped lips.
“What is it?” she asked warily, pulling herself away from the concoction.
“It’ll help with the dehydration,” the bandit explained, urging it forward.
“What’s in it?” Serenity chewed her lip, suddenly aware of her puffy cheeks and swollen eyes.
“Chamomile,” he stated, putting the bowl down and standing to his feet. “It’s a flower,” he continued, picking up a one of the blooms and bringing it to the princess. She took it awkwardly, her wrists still bound together. “Not all of Earth is covered in sand,” he said, watching her curiously inspect its small, white petals and yellow core.
“Okay,” she agreed, licking her lips. He placed the bowl in her hands, and she readily downed the liquid, the smooth, flowery flavour invigorating her dry lips, and hoarse throat. The bandit watched her with a bemused smile.
“Who are you?” Serenity asked, handing the bowl back to him.
“The commander of the Black Cloud.”
“I know that.” Despite her current situation, she had to admit that there was something peculiar about the man. He wasn’t at all what she would have expected the leader of the Black Cloud to be. She had been told they were ruthless savages that stole from the wealthy and preyed on the weak, and while yes, they had robbed her caravan, he hardly seemed cruel and heartless. The fact that she was still alive and that he seemingly intended to keep her that way gave her hope. “But what’s your name?”
“It doesn’t matter,” he shook his head as if to dismiss the question. The pair fell into an uncomfortable silence, and Serenity once again tried to work at the knot on her wrists, only to feel her fingers ache. Pulling a dagger from his boot, the man took a stone off the table, and began sharpening his weapon.
“What will you do with me?” the girl wondered, the bandit taken aback by her sudden question.
“I don’t know,” he answered truthfully; he hadn’t really planned that far head. He paused as Serenity watched the expressions play across his face. A princess was a commodity not to be taken lightly. “I didn’t exactly start the day thinking I’d be babysitting a princess.”
“BABYSITTING?” she repeated incredulously, her jaw dropping in disbelief. “Kidnapping is more accurate,” she corrected.
“I did not kidnap you,” he replied resolutely, his angled features growing sharper with anger.
“Then how did I get here and why won’t you let me go? This is clearly a kidnapping,” Serenity reasoned, challenging him with every fiber of her being.
“I saved you!” he spat emphatically, his stormy eyes flashing with annoyance.
“You stole from me!”
“Oh for god’s sake woman,” he threw his arms up in the air, “I would have tossed you out in a heartbeat if I thought you could survive!” he finished, running an agitated hand through his ebony hair.
“Don’t try to play hero. You stole from me, and then kidnapped me!” Serenity retaliated, pulling her knees to her chest, as the anger coursed through her lithe body.
“You followed me,” he towered over her, glowering, “you would have died if I hadn’t brought you back here!” Filled with disdain, Serenity bit the rope, desperately pulling at it with her teeth, growing more irritated with each movement.
“I want to go! Untie me!” she demanded, hot tears rolling down her burning cheeks.
“Untie yourself,” the bandit growled through gritted teeth, as he stalked towards the door.
“They’ll kill you when they find me!” she screamed after him, her face flushed red with anger.
“They can’t!” he yelled back, slamming the door behind him, causing the candle to flicker out. Serenity wailed into the darkness, her head pounding, and body sore. She allowed her body to fall exhausted onto the makeshift bed that she had been placed upon, hugging her knees to her chest. “They’ll find you…” she chanted, slowly drifting off to sleep.
The Queen and her convoy arrived safely to the Earth’s palace, earning a cold welcome from its giant, iron gates. The remainder of the journey had been somber, with morale deflated and worry settled in the back of everyone’s mind. A squire came out to greet the guests, escorting them into the palace. The heavy oak doors were pulled open, and the Queen and her entourage stepped into the grand foyer, complete with marble floors and towering statues.
“Queen Selenity,” the King approached, taking her ivory hand as he kissed it gently on bended knee.
“King Mies,” she curtsied gracefully, bowing her head with respect.
“I want to offer my most sincere apologies,” he said, holding her hand in comfort. “What happened to you and your caravan is not a representation of my people,” he explained, determined to win over Selenity, despite the rocky start to the journey. “When we find those savages, they will be punished.”
“I appreciate your concern,” she replied, “I too hope to see justice for what has happened to my daughter.”
“My best men have already began the search,” he promised.
“Thank you.” Selenity smiled gratefully, as she looked over the man. The years had not been kind to him; his hair was now peppered with grey, his gut enlarged, and his skin growing old. His robes hung loosely over his frame, which was once fit, and tight with muscle. “May I ask, have you entrusted Prince Endymion to finding my daughter? His reputation as a hunter and tracker precede him,” Selenity inquired.
“Unfortunately Endymion has fallen quite ill,” the King stammered, clearly uncomfortable with the topic at hand.
“I’m sorry to hear that,” the Queen replied sincerely, “is there anything we can do to be of help? My advisor, Artemis,” she paused to introduce the lean man standing to her right, “is quite skilled in the art of healing.”
“I would glad to be of service,” Artemis stated, nodding his head.
“That is very kind, but I’m sure it’s nothing our healers can’t take care of.” Artemis frowned at the King’s denial, his hairs standing on the back of his neck; something was off. “And right now finding your daughter is of the most importance.”
“I agree,” Selenity said, casting a glance at Artemis, reading his expression.
Mies took a step closer, lowering is voice, “As not to raise awareness, I believe it’s best that we continue with the proceedings as planned, wouldn’t you agree?”
“I would think finding Princess Serenity would be top priority,” Artemis snapped, “not saving face.” Selenity shot him a silencing glare, and the advisor slowly backed away.
“It is, I assure you!” With a flick of his wrist, the King summoned a handful of servants, instructing them to carry his guests’ belongings to their rooms. “Well, then let’s rest on it tonight, and we can discuss the proceedings in the morning,” he suggested diplomatically. “Oh, and before you retire, may I introduce you to my younger son, Elias.” He waved his finger, and a teenage boy trotted into the room.
“Your majesty,” he bowed, his messy auburn hair falling into his eyes.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Elias.”
“The pleasure is mine,” he smiled, “I look forward to talking with you,” he said stiffly, clearly having been coached. With that, the King turned Queen Selenity and her party over to his servants, which lead them up a long staircase to a set of rooms in the east wing. The walls were lined with paintings depicting previous rulers, and victories of war. A shiver ran up Selenity’s spine; there was something eerie about the Earth palace. She was taken to a large bedroom, with emerald green walls, and crisp white linens. She thanked the handmaiden, earning a surprised stare in return – was that not a normal Earth custom?
“Artemis?” she called, her advisor running in from the adjoining room.
“Yes, my Queen?”
“I want you to tell me honestly, do you think we are being deceived?” she wondered, trusting her instincts.
“I think there is more than we are being told,” he answered truthfully, unable to quash the feeling of uneasiness that simmered in his chest.
“Mm,” the Queen sighed, “keep an extra sharp eye on things, won’t you.”
“Of course,” he bowed in compliance. As he turned to leave he paused, watching the mask come off and the worry run over Selenity’s face. “You know she’s still alive, right?”
“She is. I can still feel her energy,” she smiled sadly, unwilling to give up that small glimmer of hope.
“They’ll be here soon. They’ll find her.” He reassured her, stepping closer to place a comforting hand on her shoulder. The Queen responded in kind, giving his hand a light squeeze; a silent thank you. As Selenity settled in for the night, her mind was running rampant, ‘What are they hiding…’ she wondered, determined to find answers.
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