[Story] PRINCESS DRIANNA Chapter 21
Ifeoma Isabella Okeke
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A new day dawned and I felt slightly worse for the wear. I rose from bed, my neck stiff and my head pounding. I’d cried myself to sleep the previous night. In the corners of my eyes I could feel the cracked dryness of the tears I’d wept even in my sleep.
Sluggishly I pulled on a simple gown, idly wondering where Wenyt was. It seemed early afternoon if the hot sun pouring through my window was any indication. I wondered why she’d not been in to attend me.
When I was dressed, I hesitantly walked to the door and cracked it open. It was then that I realized I was not in the same chambers I’d been in. They were identical on the inside- as most of the chambers in the palace were- but once outside, it was plain that the halls were not the same.
I was in a completely different part of the palace. There were no guards. The long corridor outside my chamber was eerily empty and silent. I took one step into the hall and looked around warily.
“Hello?” I called. The only response was the echo of my own voice.
Softly I padded down the carpet, watchful of everything around me. After a few moments my scrupulousness seemed unnecessary. There was no one around at all. I began to walk with an easy step and contemplated just what I should do. Should I take my chances at escape? It seemed the opportune moment. But something didn’t sit well about it. It was too opportune. Something was wrong.
And then I heard it- a distant rumbling, like thunder almost. I stopped, held my breath, and struggled to make out the noise. It was not thunder. It was marching.
I began to run, my feet flying down the hall. Clumsily I clutched at my skirts, desperately trying not to trip. I turned corners and with each corridor I passed, the noise grew louder.
Now I heard more than marching. I heard battle cries and the clang of swords. I heard axes cutting through the air and arrows shooting from their bows. I rounded another corner and had to pull myself back at the sight.
The foyer was swarming with panicked soldiers. They rushed about, barricading the door with any furniture they could find. But I could see the heavy wood splintering under the force of the soldiers on the other side.
“Cover the West Side! There’s no one there! Hurry damn it!” Gadel commanded from atop a marble statue. He stood on the pillar, in front of a likeness of some ancient king of my line, dictating orders to his troops.
His blue eyes fell on me and for a moment I stood frozen, unsure of my actions. But then I turned on my heel and ran. The West Side was unprotected according to Gadel’s barked orders. I could escape easily there.
Gadel shouted my name and I sensed he was chasing me. I only ran faster. But as I turned into a corridor, my long skirts tangled about my legs and I toppled forward, falling painfully onto my knees. It was enough of a deferment to allow Gadel to catch up to me. His boots came into my view as I kneeled, panting on the floor.
“Don’t try to run,” he said softly. His strong hand wrapped around my arm and pulled me to my feet. But he was gentle. “They want to kill you.”
“The men- they want to kill you.”
Things began to fall into place for me. “Did you move me? Put me in new chambers?”
“I had to hide you. Your army has come to rescue you, it seems. My men believe your death will bring an end to this battle- and to the war.”
“They are. But I can’t let them.”
For a moment my heart swelled with hope. But then I watched Gadel slowly draw a dagger from its sheath at his side. Terror gripped me, holding me still as he spun me against his chest, holding the blade at my throat. I closed my eyes, awaiting the inevitable.
“Do you know what they’d do to you, Havara? Do you know the horrible way you’d meet your end if I let them have their way? Do you remember the Danubaen prisoners with their heads displayed for all to see? I couldn’t let that happen, sweet.” A gentle hand caressed my cheek and his lips followed its path. “I love you.”
The pressure on the blade increased until it had just broken the skin at my throat. But I could feel the violent shaking of the hand holding the blade and before the first drop of my blood had been spilt, Gadel pushed me away roughly. With a shocked cry, I hit the wall and sunk breathless to the floor.
“Get out of here,” he commanded, his voice low.
“Surely you know all the hidden tunnels and what-not in this place! Use them and escape!” I didn’t move. “Go! Now! Before I change my mind!”
Shakily, I stood to face him. I smiled; there was still some of my Gadel in him. “Thank you.” I whispered and placed a soft kiss on his mouth. As I turned to flee, I registered the taste of his salty tears on my lips.
It’d been nine years since I’d ventured into the hidden tunnels beneath Iae Wiltur. I found an entrance easy enough but once in the musty darkness, I was unsure I could find a way out. Usually torches lined the walls, lighting the way, but all were extinguished and looked as if they had been for a long while. Cobwebs dangled between them and- to my utter dismay- from the low ceiling where they could tangle themselves in my hair. I wiped at them annoyedly as I stumbled through the darkness.
After a while of aimless wandering, I accepted that I had no idea where I was or where I was going. My only hope was to turn around, try to retrace my steps, and hope that I hadn’t made any turns or followed any forks in the tunnels. Hesitantly I turned, fumbling for the wall in the black. My fingers found it, brushing against the cold stone and I held onto it as I walked in the direction from which I’d come.
For a while I continued this way, until I heard a soft sound behind me. I whirled around, my heart pounding. I listened but heard only silence.
“Rats…just rats…” The thought was not a pleasant one but I preferred it to believing that there was another being in the tunnels with me. More nervous this time, I began walking again, only to hear the sound once again. But I didn’t stop- only quickened my pace, all the while chanting to myself, “Just rats. Just rats.”
The noise grew louder and I became sure that it was the footsteps of another behind me. Or was it in front of me? I couldn’t tell over the sound of my heart pounding in my ears. I whirled one way, then another, the sound seeming to follow me. Panicked, I ran, oblivious of my direction. The sound followed me- louder, faster. I could tell easily now that it was the sound of footfalls. Human or elf or possibly something else? I did not know. I just ran and ran.
But then I couldn’t run anymore. A wall appeared before me where I was sure there hadn’t been before. I clawed and kicked the cold stone in frustration. The footsteps came nearer and nearer. Was it Gadel? Was it Ankeb? Was it some unknown soldier come to take me to my death? These thoughts did nothing but add to my growing hysteria. Frantically, I banged on the wall with my fists and cried out helplessly.
Something grabbed my arm in the darkness and I screamed, jerking away. Whoever it was- whatever it was- reached for me but I kicked and clawed, fighting them away. Until, through my hysteria I heard a familiar voice calling my name. I stilled, panting and coughing through my tears.
“Yes, it’s me,” his deep voice was bliss to my ears. With a cry I threw myself into his arms. He held me tightly, letting me cry into his chest. “I’m here, love,” he whispered. “I’m here. It’s all right.”
“I was so scared…I didn’t know who…I got lost…and…Gadel…the soldiers want to…” For a long time I rambled incoherently and Shane listened, I imagined, trying to piece together the story I was struggling to tell.
“Shh…shh,” he hushed me with a gentle kiss to my temple. “Just breathe.”
I fell silent and allowed my rapidly beating heart to ease into its regular rhythm. When my breath matched his, Shane said, “Now tell me what happened.”
I related the tale in its entirety of my captivity. From my capture, to being stripped of my Power, to Gadel, the dungeon, and Wenyt- I told it all. Shane listened silently and I wished I could see his reaction in the dark. When I finished he was still and quiet.
“Say something,” I pleaded.
“You have to get out of here.”
“That’s what I was trying to do. But I got lost. I can’t remember my way around here anymore.” Suddenly a sphere of bright light illuminated the tunnel. I shielded my eyes, letting them adjust as the little ball hovered beside me.
“Go down this corridor, take your first left, then take the next right. Follow that to the end. You’ll reach a flight of stairs. They’ll lead you to the surface and directly to the base camp where your mother is waiting.”
“You’re not coming?”
“No,” he said. I frowned. I didn’t like the stony look on his face nor the determined set of his jaw.
“What are you going to do? What are you planning?”
“Justice,” he said simply and turned away.
“No! Shane!” I called after him but he ignored me. Frantically, I ran after him but as he turned down a path, he flicked his wrist and a wall appeared behind him, effectively ceasing my chase.
I cursed and, feeling helpless, followed his directions to the surface.
To Be Continued….
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