This is supposed to be a flash fiction. Instead it’s an unfinished chapter of something new. Oh well!
I hid there in the King Feldar’s fields. If they found me, I would be taken before the tyrant king and likely thrown into some labor camp for the remainder of my life. My heart hammered against my chest as I lay on my belly, veiled by thick blades of wild Azure Grass. The swish of the blades bending beneath the feet of guards sounded closer than I liked. I held my breath and silently prayed to Benai, god of the children.
To be fair, I was a bit old to be praying to him. Most children learn to pray to other gods by the time they reach fifteen. But I feared the goddess of women would turn her back. Silla the Virtuous had no pity for girls who found themselves in bad situations they’d gotten themselves into. So at nineteen, I prayed to a god I hoped would forgive my mischievous activities. Children are expected to be a bit impish after all, and having lost my parents two years before, I’d had little training in the ways of being a girl of my age.
Steel sang as it sliced through the tall grass. I squirmed and held my hands against my mouth. They were closer now. I could smell them beside me—the musky scent of horse and sweat drifting with the warm breeze. A shadow stretched and slithered over me as one passed. He hadn’t seen me, or I would already be on my feet. But a second shadow, a much darker shadow, blocked the diamond light of the sun entirely. It stopped.
A tear slid free down the edge of my nose and over my hand. His boots, scuffed and ragged, rested inches from my face. I squeezed both eyes shut and attempted to catch a whimper before it escaped my throat. For two years I’d sneaked into these fields and taken the king’s blackened-berries to sustain myself. Not once had I made a mistake…until this day. I lay frozen, hoping my stillness would help me to remain unnoticed.
So far, the form seemed unconcerned with his surroundings. He shifted, and I listened to the sound of something soft moving above me. I wasn’t quite sure what he was doing, but I refused to give up my hiding spot.
It was an odd sensation at first. The stream of something warm splashing against my back, the stink of urine—I was stunned. He’d decided that was the place he would relieve himself. Men have little concern for their surroundings when they need a piss. As a girl, I’ve never understood it. My modesty, while not nearly as well-honed as other girls my age, refused to allow me to understand how men did it so carelessly.
I knew, with no way of doing anything about it, that I had more than likely been discovered. When the stream stopped, the Azure Grass around me bent and folded, and I jumped to my feet. The guard’s face was a blur as I spun and dashed away, my back still soaked with his piss. My feet pressed hard against the ground. The edge of the field, where it was greeted by the Dimly Forests, was within reach if I could just keep going.
Of course, that was all a hopeless wish, and my tumble over a hidden stone was not much of a surprise. I might have been fast, but keeping up with my feet was a skill I had not quite mastered. I rolled over more scattered stones, bruising my back and ribs. When I came to a stop, I was staring up at the pale green sky, unwilling to move. A face appeared above me, laced with a crooked grin.
“Got her, boys!” The guard laughed and reached down. His calloused hand wrapped around my bare arm, squeezing so hard that I cried out. He lifted me as though I weighed no more than a kitten. “You’ll be coming with us now, young lady. King Feldar won’t be too pleased with you.”
I squirmed. There was no hope to escape him. His hand was locked around my arm, fingers pinching my skin. He stared at me with sharp eyes, black surrounded by white, surrounded by black again. The angles of his face were soft and gave him the appearance of someone kind. That was obviously untrue or he would have let me go.
Already the others were approaching. Six of them, clad in their guard uniforms. Steel chainmail jingled beneath their red woolen tunics. Each of them wore the coat of arms for the king’s family, a dragon’s head with burning fields beneath it. No coat of arms could suit anyone so rightly. King Feldar was no friend of his people. I stared at that image and swallowed against a dry throat.
“She’ll be needing shackles. She’s a fighter.”
Another, more decorated guard stepped forward. His tunic included his own family’s crest—an honor reserved for high-ranking officers of the Royal Guard. Cold gray eyes shifted from mine to the soldier holding me. “Afraid of a little girl, Shaz? She’s smaller than your daughter. Do you also have to put her in chains?”
A roar of laughter rose and fell, but the one beside me remained silent. His lips stretched thin across his face. “No sir,” he said with gritted teeth. “I only know this one has avoided us for two years. It would be best we don’t lose her.”
The officer snorted. “If she’s that much trouble, kill her.” He turned away.
“You heard me,” he said without turning. “Make it quick. Feldar is expecting me for the council meeting.”