“Felicie!” A voice called frantically from the outer castle wall as a mucky white stallion galloped toward the ever expanding fields of Vrosea’s fertile land.
Upon the stallions back perched Felicie. The young Selkie princess. Her eccentric smirk and widened azure eyes reflected her wild heart. With a rapid heartbeat thrumming throughout her veins, she flicked the leather reins in her hands and spurred her horse onward. The adrenaline grew with every inch of distance she put between herself and the castle. Free from her duties at last. The insatiable itch to ride far from the imposing stone walls, council meetings and the never ending flux of nobility trouncing about the courtyards like a bunch of entitled so and so’s. This. This was her moment of relief. A moment to truly be herself.
The wind brushed against her cheeks, leaving a crisp, icy sting upon her supple flesh. Trees passed by in a blur and the grassy ground beneath her flicked upward with mud from her steeds hooves. She was headed north of the castle, toward the foreboding mountain range, separating the four kingdoms of the mainland. Out of the four, Vrosea was the peacekeeper. The central meeting point for the others. It was a pleasantly neutral kingdom with fertile lands and home to many races. A place for treaties and allegiances to be formed.
Milanthis to the west was a large, well nourished and prosperous kingdom. As the richest of the four kingdoms, it attracted wavering alliances and often the greediest of enemies. Rumours that it had been consumed by some rare crystal had spread from Milanthis to the Far East and even across the seas.
Thamirea to the east, home to the golden vale and chimeras pass, was an intensely fortified kingdom. The castle sat nestled high atop a cliff. The only passage to and from it was a deep, winding canyon. Filled with military troops and watchmen. Archers lined the canyon walls, almost guaranteeing a safe yet wary journey to the main city.
The final kingdom in the north, Tolheim. It was a kingdom that held immense military power. It’s troops were fearless, bloodthirsty and held strength compared to that of the stones that guarded its mountain pass. The kingdom was gloomy, the citizens fearful and quiet. Tolheims king was known to be a distasteful man. Corrupt and mad with power.
The fields turned to a dimming golden hue as the afternoon sun kissed the horizon. Felicie had distanced herself from her home and found the edge of the Dewebb woods at the base of the northern mountain range. The leather stirrup stretched and squeaked as the young princess dismounted. She cast her gaze forward and examined her surroundings. The woodland was well traversed, full of wild boar and deer for hunters to target. It was closest to Balknein, a mountain side village know to accomodate hunters, mercenaries and travellers alike. Leaves crunched beneath her boots as Felicie stalked into the woods. Above her, the mountains loomed over the treetops as she manoeuvred around roots, logs and large stones. Her footsteps light and precise. A practised hunter in her own right. The conflict between Tolheim and the other kingdoms had been a constant topic of conversation at dinner, so Felicie made certain to travel light yet with essentials to protect herself. It wouldn’t have been the first time that Tolheimian raiders or spies had crossed Vroseas borders to gather intel. Upon her slight frame she carried three daggers, her bow and a quiver of arrows. The clothing she wore was plain. Simple leathers and nothing too noticeable. No dresses nor fancy frills or lace in sight. Venturing so far was an escape for her, a chance to connect with the world that had been untouched by nobility or greed. So dressing the part was a simple decision, though her father would surely scold her for such a blatant disregard of propriety.
Her eyes narrowed when she heard a sound that forced her hairs to stand on end. The sharp snap of twigs and the eerie crunch of leaves sent her mind and body into a wary state. It was common for thieves and hunters to roam the woods in search of food or valuables ripe for snatching. Caution. Felicie reminded herself whilst reaching over her shoulder, silently slipping an arrow from her quiver and positioning it quietly into her bow. With a slow, steady inhale of breath, she drew the string back, lining up her shot toward the source of the sound. Not a moment passed when a nearby bush rustled. Appearing before her, a dark figure. Felicie lowered her bow and let loose a breathy sigh, rolling her eyes. No longer nestled amongst the forests camouflage was a healthy doe, grazing lazily upon the growth beneath her. Such panic over a small mammal.
Her gaze strayed from the doe, scanning the surrounding trees before roaming upward toward the sky. The dim blush and tangerine hue of the setting sun speared through the canopy into columns of light, flickering with dust and small insects. Her mind drifted to hazy inner thoughts and she allowed her eyes to close, the symphony of the forest soothing her nerves.
A swift whistle of air snatched the young princess from her thoughts, her eyes snapping open in time to witness the doe thump against the sodden forest floor. She took a step forward to gain a better look, crouching down beside the dying animal. It’s bristled fur was damp, staining slowly with a metallic crimson. It was a clean shot, the feathered arrow protruding from deep within its neck. The death of the animal did not phase her. It was the undeniable evidence that she were not alone and that the owner of the arrow was somewhere near by. She had placed herself in their line of sight. Her steady hand reached for the dagger tucked in her boot, fingertips just managing to brush the hilt before she felt a sudden presence behind her. How had they managed to approach her so quietly? Had she been too distracted to notice? Felicie cursed under her breath when the familiar cold presence of a blade could be felt at the side of her slender neck.
“Raise your hands in front of you.” The deep, velvety voice of a man graced her ears.
Panic. Like a wave of freezing heat washed over her body. Her chest heaving gently from beneath her tunic. She obliged by lifting her hands upward with her palms facing forward.
“Stand.” The man insisted rather boldly, the blades cold press easing somewhat to allow her some movement.
Now was her chance. She tensed her jaw before thrusting her elbow up and behind her. It connected with the mans wrist, pushing the blade away from her body and giving her enough distance to swing her leg around. The man lost balance and fell onto the forest floor. The princess laced her fingers around the hilt of her hidden dagger and pulled it from her boot, her body swiftly pouncing onto the stranger to pin him. Her knees sat either side of his torso, one hand pinning his wrist to the ground whilst the other pressed her blade to his throat.
There was enough daylight left to take in his features as she gazed down at her attacker with a dumbfounded, wild look upon her youthful face. He was handsome. Very handsome indeed. The hair that framed his face was wild and black. Black as midnight without the full moon. But his eyes were the most captivating sight. Crimson. Like the purest wine or deepest of blood. They gazed back at her, wide with surprise as his lips pulled up at one corner, sporting a cocky smirk. The dagger fell from his now open hand and she could feel his muscles relax beneath her grip.
“Well! Aren’t you a vision.” He teased, his voice sending a delightful chill down her spine.
“Compliments won’t save you from my blade, mercenary.” Felicie hissed, the subtle flush of heat rising to her cheeks.
“Does it appear as if I’m trying to escape?” He mocked her, quirking a brow.
“I have not a single reason to move from this...” he grinned broadly. “...Daring position. Trinket.”
Her own brows raised and she felt her lips parting, her mouth agape. How arrogant could one man be?! She could kill him. It would be easy enough. Who knew how much he deserved it? The thought almost made her smile. Her lips twitched yet she forced a scowl. Felicie was indeed positioned atop a strange man in a rather compromising way.
“You... you’re...ugh!” She growled, quickly jumping off of him and retreating to a safe distance.
Her feet fumbled over a few roots. For once, her footing was clumsy and a little rough as she leaned against a tree to stop herself from falling. The man stood also, dusting off his pants. Upon closer inspection, his attire did not resemble that of a mercenary at all. It was well tailored and fit him perfectly, the seams flawless, colours bold and of good quality dye. His shoulders were quite broad and he stood at least half a foot taller than she did. The man was a beast. A particularly handsome, refined beast.
“As interesting as your story must be. I need to be on my way.” He spoke playfully whilst collecting the deer from the ground and flinging it over his shoulder.
Felicie glared toward him. It was as if he hadn’t tried to attack her a moment ago. As if he were a completely different man.
He stopped and took a peek at her from over his free shoulder, a dangerous look in his crimson gaze. “You’d best do the same Trinket. This is no place for a flower to bloom so openly. One might be tempted to pluck you for themselves.”
Felicie held herself against the tree, within her hand the dagger hung loosely at her side as she watched him disappear into the encroaching darkness.