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Publisher Two Harbors Press
Published in Science Fiction & Fantasy
eBook Kindle Edition
When Donovan was twelve years old, his village was raided by barbarians. But the barbarians made the mistake of taking their captives through the Elven woods. The Elves killed the slavers, but mysteriously decided to spare the boys. Under the tutelage of the elven ranger Alayna. Over the years, the boys proved to be a valuable asset to the Elven king, but never more so than when young princess Brandela is taken hostage. Donovan sets out to bring back what he assumes will be a haughty princess, but he never expects to fall in love with her!
Brandela moved steadily through the dark, wet tunnel, acutely aware of Donovan’s presence behind her. Part of her was comforted, knowing he was with her and expecting her to keep moving. Sometimes that expectation was all that kept her moving. Alone, she knew, this coldness and darkness and dampness would be a much greater challenge. But a part of her was strangely uncomfortable, knowing that he was in such close proximity to her backside. This part of her was thankful for the darkness.
Suddenly, something slimy wiggled beneath one of her palms and she stopped and jerked her hands back with a gasp. Donovan, unable to see that she had stopped, bumped his head into Brandela’s backside by accident, sending her forward over the unseen creature again. Brandela let out a most undignified squeal and scrambled forward several feet in a state of panic, before stopping and getting control of herself.
“I’m sorry, Princess. I’m truly sorry. I didn’t know you had stopped. Are you all right?” Donovan could hear Brandela’s rapid breathing up ahead, but she didn’t speak. She hadn’t made a sound since they’d started, in fact. Was it fear that was keeping her quiet, or the humiliation of her situation, or just simple concentration, he wondered. It would be a little humiliating, from a princess’ perspective, to have a strange man’s head ram you in the behind, he thought. There was a trace of amusement in his voice when he spoke again. “I really am sorry. It was just such an unavoidable target—I’m sorry.”
Brandela, now recovered from her scare from the creature, was too shocked and mortified to reply. This man had actually touched her backside and was now joking about it! Accident or no accident, it just wasn’t done to a Wood Elven princess, and he no right to sound so amused about it, either! She was angry and embarrassed, but could not think of a thing to say to him. So, as well as she could manage in the confines of the tunnel, she lifted her chin, renewed her resolve, and started moving forward through the tunnel once again.
It was still dark outside when they finally made their way out of the tunnel and onto the bank of the creek. They were both exhausted and shivering with the damp cold, but Donovan knew they couldn’t rest for long. It would be daybreak soon and it wouldn’t be long before Garock’s soldiers discovered that their prisoner had escaped.
“Wait here and be very quiet,” Donovan instructed Brandela, settling her behind a cluster of low shrubs. “Do not leave or call out for any reason. Do you understand?”
Brandela nodded and lowered herself to her grassy resting place. Her limbs were numb and aching. Staying in this spot seemed like the perfect idea.
Donovan left her there and went to retrieve his weapons and supplies. As he worked, he began to plan their escape. Garock would most likely assume that Brandela would attempt to get back to the Wood Elven forest, so he would probably send his soldiers to cut off any northern flight first. The best thing for he and Brandela to do, then, was to follow the creek further south for a couple of leagues, staying off the banks so the soldiers would find no footprints near the encampment that could help them track her. This would only buy them a little time, but every little bit counted.
The sky was just beginning to lighten when he returned to where he had left the princess. Her eyes were closed and she looked so peaceful that he was loath to wake her, but they had to get moving, so he gently called her name. Instantly, she was on her feet, wary and confused. The months she had spent as a prisoner had obviously sharpened her instincts.
“It’s all right, Princess,” Donovan soothed. “We must leave, though. It’s back into the water we go, I’m afraid.”
She looked at him through the semi-darkness and he could see her relax, trusting him, willing to follow. He reached for her hand and guided her back into the creek, then left her for a moment to cover any tracks they had made.
They waded, swam, and floated in the creek’s waters for the next few hours, letting the stream carry them south for about two leagues. From there, they left the water and headed eastward, which Donovan knew would be the best way for them to avoid any of the pursuing soldiers. It would mean traveling for almost six months until they came to the Kshearry River, then making their way north again to the forest. Hopefully, by the time they were in the north country again, their pursuers would have given up—or better yet, be dead at the hands of the Shadow Elves.
Donovan sighed as he thought of the long journey ahead of them. “Princess Brandela,” he started, about to tell her of his plan, but he was stopped short. She turned to face him just as the sun broke the horizon behind her, casting her in radiant, golden glow. He had never seen anything so beautiful in his entire life.
Donovan, caught off guard by her stunning beauty, completely forgot what he was going to say and stood, simply staring at Brandela.
Unaware of his turmoil, Brandela looked back at him, puzzled, then became increasingly self-conscious as he continued to gaze at her. She was suddenly, painfully, aware of her damp and rumpled, oversized clothes, her unwashed face and wild, tangled hair. She blushed and looked down, sure that he must consider her quite hideous.
She has no idea how beautiful she is, Donovan thought with amazement as he watched her fidget nervously and blush under his stare.
Finally, Donovan remembered himself and looked away, clearing his throat. “We’ll continue heading east,” he told her, and explained their route and his reasons for choosing this way back to the Wood Elven forest. “The journey will be long and difficult at times,” he added. “I’ve estimated that it could take us almost nine months to get back, if we don’t run into serious problems.”
Brandela’s eyes widened slightly at this news, but she could not fault his logic or reasoning.
“I am willing to put my trust in you, but I have one request,” she said.
Donovan frowned. It would be difficult for him to get things for her right now. What could she possibly want? “If I can fulfill your request, I will,” he offered.
“I would like to know your name,” she answered, gently.
Donovan looked startled for a moment, then laughed out loud. “I apologize, Princess. I’ve known your name all along, but in all the urgency to get you away from Garock, I never thought to offer mine. I am Donovan, at your service.”
Brandela smiled. “Thank you, Donovan, for getting me out of there. I shall make sure that my father rewards you generously.”
Donovan’s smile faded and he looked away. He would tell her the real story after they’d put some distance between them and their pursuers. Right now, she was tired and he needed her remaining energy focused on their journey. There would be time for confessions later! Now, he faced east and began walking again.
About the time that Donovan and Brandela began their eastward journey, Garock was being awakened by the persistent knocking of one of his men at his door. He removed the slender form that was draped over him, rolled over and sat on the side of his bed, groggily. Another loud knock sounded from the door.
“I’m coming. Give me a second,” he growled. “This had better be important!” The girl on his bed stirred and gave him a sleepy smile.
“You stay there,” Garock ordered. “I’ll be back for you later.” He smiled unpleasantly. No time for fun right now, he thought.
Garock opened the door to find his second-in-command pacing anxiously. “Sorry to disturb you, sir, but we have a huge problem. The prisoner has escaped.”
“What!” shouted Garock. He had been expecting anything but this.
“As you know, that’s the first place I go when I start my inspections in the mornings. When I got there, I found the guard who was stationed to her last night, dead. Right away, I went in to check the prisoner, but the cell was empty.”
“She can’t be far. We must find her!” ordered Garock.
“I’ve already started the men searching around the encampment, sir. So far, there’s been no trace of her, but the bodies of two more guards were found in the food storage room.”
“The princess couldn’t have killed those men,” reasoned Garock. “She must have had help.”
“Yes, sir. I have rounded up the slaves to question them about anything they may have seen, but none of them had any useful information. I then questioned some of the guards to see if they had noticed anything strange or out of the ordinary in the past day or so, and a few of the guards mentioned seeing an unfamiliar soldier. He was in our uniform, so they didn’t think much of it at the time. We are still unsure how she managed to escape but I’m betting that the strange soldier had something to do with it. I rounded up all of the men soon after, to see if I could find this soldier, but I found no one new.”
Garock frowned and asked, “Where did you say the last two bodies were found?”
“We found the bodies in the food storage room, in the armory building, sir.”
Could they have used the tunnel? Garock wondered. He doubted it. He’d been sure to have everyone killed who knew anything about the passage, except a few of his closest soldiers. Still, it was possible…
Garock began to bark out orders. “Get three units together and send them north. They are to cut off anyone they come across, and if they find tracks, they are to send word back to me immediately and keep following. If they do not find any tracks, they are to continue north until they reach the forest line. They will stop there and await further orders. They are not to enter the forest.”
Garock then took a group of his most trusted men to the south side of the encampment. He inspected the creek banks personally and soon came across what he was looking for. When he saw that the wooden planks over the entrance had been tampered with and pulled down, he cursed. Someone had betrayed him! He would deal with that later; right now, he had to find the princess!
He ordered the soldiers who were with him to follow the creek north for several leagues, searching for tracks along the banks or tracks leading away from the creek. As an afterthought, he gave orders to the men to double back if they found no tracks, and search the creek for a few leagues to the south as well. If they found anything, they were to report to him immediately.
They could not have gotten far, he thought as he watched his men begin working their way north. “Wherever they are, I will find them,” he vowed. His life, and the lives of his men, depended on it! His suppliers were due to be here sometime next month. If he had nothing to present to them, there would be serious trouble. Perhaps he could convince them to extend him more time, but it was doubtful. He thought, not for the first time, that he should never have taken this deal. He never should’ve been stupid enough to deal with the Shadow Elves, and now, because of his lapse in judgment, he and his men would be lucky to survive.
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H. L. Watson was born and raised in Dallas Texas and his always been an avid fan of the fantasy and sci-fi gender as well as a dedicated online gamer. Mr. Watson first came up with the concept of world of ryyah when he was in his early 20s and began thinking up interesting in detail background stories for a videogame concept. As the years went on Mr. Watson adopted his early concepts into what will become known as the world of ryyah book series (The Elven age saga). And these series readers will become well-versed within the world of ryyah and read about many strange and interesting races and characters.