The following is the first chapter of a story I’ve been working on for a while now. I have been moving pretty slowly because I’ve never been able to spend a lot of time on it, but I hope I can turn it into something. Also note that this is still pretty rough, so please excuse my novice skills as a story-writer 🙂
In a dense forest, a single leaf fell from a tree. A slight breeze guided the leaf down in circles until it rested on the head of a girl. She plucked the leaf out of her shoulder-length blond hair and looked at it. She observed its auburn color, felt its rough texture, smelled its sweet scent. She enjoyed her evening walks through Poplar Forest, especially during the time between the hot and cold seasons. All the plants took on the most beautiful colors. She looked up, a sea of red, orange, yellow, and purple swayed peacefully above her.
The girl continued her walk down the narrow dirt path through the forest, smelling the sweet aroma of the trees, and eventually coming to a small clearing. This was one of the girl’s favorite places. Within the tiny circle of trees lay a tiny pond. Leaves floated on its surface, covering half of the water. The other half reflected the sun slowing moving closer to the horizon. The girl stopped and sat on a rock next to the pond, studying her reflection. Her blond hair parted around her oval-shaped face. She brushed a strand of it out of her eyes, their green irises brought out by the light caramel color of her skin.
The girl took a deep breath of the fresh, clean air. She loved it here. Sometimes, she would sit out here for hours, watching the trees dance and the brides sing. She heard the song of a sparrow and looked around to find it, but she could not. The little creature must have been hiding up high in on of the trees. The girl frowned, sad not to see one of favorite birds.
She looked back at the lake and noticed the sun was close to setting. Time to leave. She would have to hurry if she was to make it back before dark. Normally she would spend more time here, but she had been delayed in coming out today. She had had to assist her father with an issue regarding one of his subordinates. This particular person has caused a problem, and problems were not something appreciated in her family. It was dealt with quickly and swiftly. Her father had wanted to bring his eldest daughter along to show her what being in charge required.
She smiled faintly, thinking of what had happened to the man. She enjoyed a good draining. Her father had even let her have some of the energy that was harvested from the man. She felt its power inside her, writhing just under the surface of her skin. It was hungry to consume and destroy.
The girl came out of her thoughts. Staying out this late was pushing her luck. She should have left by now, but she couldn’t bring herself to do it. She enjoyed the forest too much not to stay as long as she could.
Reluctantly, the girl began to walk quickly back down the path from which she had come. As the day started to fade into twilight, she broke into a run. Being late was something unacceptable in her household, her father would be very unhappy if she failed to make it back before the gates closed.
Fortunately, Poplar Forest was not far from her home, and she soon saw one of the city’s many gates through the trees. She didn’t bother waving to the guards as she passed, though she knew they were watching. The girl enjoyed stringing men along. All she had to do was smile once, and they would be hooked. The guards at the gate had gotten their one smile. They didn’t deserve another.
The girl sprinted down the now stone road, passing shops and stores with merchants closing down for the night. She caught the scent of bread as she passed the baker’s cart, then a whiff of meat by the butcher’s. Her stomach growled. She would eat when she got home. Her food would be much better than these peasant’s, anyway.
Her family’s home came into view, the fading light reflecting off the metal gates. The stone walls grew larger and larger as she approached. She could make out the tall towers of the palace, the sun hidden behind them. She would make it, just a little further.
Something slammed into the girl from the side. She tumbled to the ground and rolled a few feet before stopping. She groaned but jumped to her feet quickly, taking a defensive stance. She looked around, searching for the attacker. True, it was unlikely someone would dare assault her so close to the palace, but better to be ready for an attack that never came than not to be for one that did.
It was almost dark, but the street was lined with blazing torches. In the orange glow, her eyes settled on a form lying on the roads a little way away from her. It was a boy she realized. A poor one by the looks of it, maybe even an orphan. His clothes were dirty and tattered, the thin shirt peppered with holes.
She frowned. Peasants were always wandering too close to the castle, getting in the way of more important people like her. She turned her gaze from the boy to the stone gates, a few hundred feet away. They were still open. Knowing that wouldn’t be the case for long, she started towards them. Her path took her straight by the still-unmoving boy. As she drew closer, he started to sit up. He seemed to have something in his hand, but she couldn’t see what it was. The boy had managed to get up on his knees and looked around, trying to get his bearings.
Unfortunately, he didn’t see the merchant pushing the cart behind him. Even more unfortunately, the merchant didn’t see him. The cart toppled to its side as it slammed into the boy, knocking him back down to the ground onto his stomach, his arm stuck underneath. Several heads of lettuce fell onto the ground, rolling a few feet on the stone road before stopping.
The cabbage seller came around it to see what his cart had run into.
“Darn peasants boys,” he grumbled when he saw the boy. “Never looking where they’re going.”
The merchant righted his cart, and then knelt next to the boy. He shook him, attempting to wake the boy.
“Hey, kid, wake up.” The merchant shook the boy harder. Still nothing.
The girl hoped the merchant didn’t notice her going by. Much to the girl’s dismay, however, he did exactly that.
“Hey, miss. You have any power left?”
The girl stopped. She couldn’t just ignore him now. The merchant had seen her. Obviously, he hadn’t recognized her yet, but he would if she went into castle. What would it look like if the daughter of the benevolent and caring king refused to aide one of her subjects?
“Why?” She asked, trying to mask her annoyance. “Are you out?”
The man shook his head. “No, but I used up most of what I had left just a little bit ago. I don’t have enough to wake him up. And I can’t leave him here, I could be punished if he’s actually hurt or if he causes a problem.”
The girl nodded. The merchant was right. Somebody had definitely seen them by now. If they left the boy, it would be reported and, while she would probably be fine, the man would surely be reprimanded. Then, it would look like she had used her influence to avoid punishment and push it onto a subject. That would not go over well.
“So he’s just unconscious?” She asked.
“Looks like it. Should have watched where he was going.”
“You hit him,” the girl said. “You should have watched where you were going.”
The merchant huffed and glared at her. “He was lying in the middle of the road. I lost twelve cabbages because of him. I need to sell all I can if I’m to buy enough food for my family. The taxes are high enough as it is.”
The girl stifled a scoff and tried to keep her expression from showing her annoyance. Unhappy citizens were usually uncommon, but she had noticed an increase of them as of late. Not good. Perhaps it had something to do with that new group in the nearby town. Either way, she would need to rectify this issue before it spread. The girl glanced at the boy and determined he needed no immediate medical attention. Time to work her charm.
“You’re right. I’m sorry about your cabbages, sir. Here, let me pay you for them.”
The girl took a gold coin out of her pocket and gave it to the man. His eyes widened as girl dropped the coin into his hand. He had only seen a gold coin twice before in his fifty years of life.
“Th-thank you,” he stuttered, then felt guilty. “Though, I should tell you, a few cabbages aren’t worth as much as a gold coin.”
“Ah, honesty. See, I knew you were a good man. Keep the extra for yourself.”
The merchant blushed when he received the rare complement.
“Thank you, thank you! This will feed my family for a week!”
The girl forced another smile. She was laying it on thick, but it seemed to have had the desired effect. The merchant seemed too overwhelmed by the money to notice her sudden character change. Money fixed a lot of problems. He also appeared to have forgotten about his frustration at the imperial taxes. The seed of rebellion that always started with anger towards its superiors had been removed. Now, she would have to tend to the boy.
“I think we should check the boy to make sure nothing else is wrong. Then I’ll see if I can wake him.” The girl continued with her false manners. “Would you help me turn him over?”
“Oh, yes, of course,” the cabbage seller said.
Together they turned the boy over onto his back. The girl gasped as she the puddle of blood underneath where he had lain, her eyes quickly searching for the injury.
Brown hair stuck to a large, bloody gash on his forehead, the red offset by the boy’s light skin. The cut was not the worst of the boy’s injuries, however. The girl covered her mouth as she saw the object protruding from the boy’s thin, ragged shirt. It appeared to be wooden and round. It became metal as it entered the boy’s stomach.
“Is that-,” the merchant gulped, unable to finish.
“A dagger,” the girl nodded. She groaned on the inside. She couldn’t care less if another peasant died, but there were appearances that had to be maintained.
“We need to get him help right away if he’s going to survive,” she continued, motioning towards the castle gates. “Come on, we can see the royal doctor.
“Are you crazy?” The man said. “The royal doctor is for royals.”
“Yes, I know. I’m royal. Now hurry!”
The man stared at the girl in shock.
“Princess?” He asked. The girl nodded, not trusting herself not to be sarcastic if she spoke.
The man fell on his knees. “I’m so sorry for the way I spoke to you earlier, your highness. Please forgive my rudeness.”
The girl looked at him, suppressing the urge to yell at him. Tell him that he should be sorry, both for not recognizing her in the first place and speaking to her the way he did. She was supposed to be kind though. So she was.
“It’s fine,” the princess said. “Now can you help me get this boy to the doctor?”
It took the man a moment, but he nodded. He lifted to boy in his arms, careful to avoid the dagger.
“Follow me,” the princess said. “Hurry.”
The girl ran towards the gate, the man keeping up as best he could. When they reached it, a guard stepped out from the inside the watchpoint.
“Princess, where have you been? We’ve kept the gate open, but your father will not be pleased if it stays that way much longer.” His eyes rested on the man. “Who is this?”
“This boy needs the doctor, and this man is helping me.”
The guard studied the boy, then noticed the dagger protruding from his body and waved them through. The gate they had used was only a side entrance, so the main part of the palace wasn’t facing them. It was still impressive, though. A massive stone building with columns and arches overlaid with marble. The path they ran down was gravel, with hedges lining either side. Torches were also spaced at intervals along the path, providing light in the near darkness.
The girl led slightly ahead of the man, careful not to get too far. She guided him down the path, then onto a side path to the right. A smaller set of building came into view, these were less impressive. Although the emperor was not as concerned about the appearance of his servant’s quarters as his own palace, the space he gave his servants was still better than most common folk’s in the city. They reached the building and the girl led them to a door which she knocked on hard and fast. An older man answered, a tired look on his face.
“Good evening, princess. A little late to be pounding on an old man’s door, isn’t it?”
“Sorry, doctor, but this boy is hurt.”
The doctor looked at the man carrying the boy and noticed the dagger. The tired look disappeared from his face. “Bring him inside.”
The doctor’s room was small, but cozy. A bed rested in one corner, and desk in another. One the desk rested a lantern, bathing the room in a soft orange glow. The other walls were taken up by shelves and shelves stuffed with books. A table sat in the middle of the room, covered with more books and jars with herbs. The doctor quickly cleared the table off, pushing most of its contents off onto the floor.
“Lay him here,” the doctor instructed and grabbed a pair of glasses from the desk.
The merchant carefully laid the boys body onto the table, his feet hanging off the edge.
“What happened?” The doctor asked as he took a knife and cut the boy’s shirt off.
“I’m not exactly sure,” the girl said. “He ran into me and we both fell. When he tried to get up, this man ran into him with his cart.”
The merchant’s face grew red. “It was an accident.”
The doctor took a white cloth a pressed it around the wound. “Yes, that sounds bad, but I was more curious about the dagger in his stomach. Hold this here and put pressure on it please, princess.”
“Oh, right.” the girl said, moving to boy’s side and following the doctor’s instructions. The girl enjoyed being around the doctor. He was the only one who spoke to her like a normal person, not like she was royalty, and she appreciated that. “I’m not quite sure, actually. When we rolled him over, it was just there.”
“Just there?” The doctor had retrieved a needle and thread and set them on the table. He threaded the needle and looked at the princess skeptically.
“Just there,” the girl repeated. “There was no else around either.”
“Hmm, strange. Ok, let me see this.” The doctor took back over holding the cloth. “The bleeding seems to be slowing already. That’s remarkably fast for this type of wound.”
The doctor removed the cloth, and the girl saw he was right. The bleeding had slowed to a slow trickle.
“Now, get ready to put the cloth back as soon as I remove the dagger.” The doctor said, placing his hand around the weapon’s hilt. Ready?”
The girl nodded. The doctor slowly pulled the dagger out of the boy’s stomach. The metal glinted in the flickering light, strange symbols carved into it. The princess only looked at it a moment before remembering her job. She quickly pressed the cloth back to the wound.
“Doctor, shouldn’t it be more… more bloody?” The princess was not a doctor, but she was fairly certain a dagger wound in the stomach should not heal so fast.
The doctor grabbed a roll of gauze and some bandages from the desk. “Yes,” he said. “It should be bleeding significantly more. Normally I would need stitches now, but it seems that the wound is almost completely healed. I’m still going to dress it just to be safe, but…”
“How is this possible?” The girl asks, then lowers her voice before continuing, trying to make sure the merchant, standing by the door, does not hear. “Even my father has not been able to truly heal the smallest injuries, let alone something to this degree this quickly.”
The doctor glances at the merchant. “It’s getting late. Let’s let our friend here go back home.”
The princess nods. “Yes, thank you for your help. I wish you a good night.”
The merchant bows. “Th-thank you, princess. For your generosity.” He exits the room and the princess lets out an exaggerated sigh.
The doctor smiles as he begins dressing the boy’s wound. “Was it really that hard being nice, princess?”
“It’s exhausting. I don’t know how people do it. Everyone is so… insufferable and dense.”
The doctor laughs a little. He was one of the few people who knew the princess only pretended to be kind. When not in public, she tended to be speak her mind quite bluntly and let her anger show. It was not that she was always rude, just very, very far from how the daughter of the supposedly benevolent king should act. The only ones who knew about her two-sidedness were her father, her two personal servants, and the doctor.
“Yes, well, intelligence does vary from person to person, princess. Sit him up for me please.”
The princess did as the doctor asked, lifting the boy up a little so the bandage could be wrapped around his midsection.
“There we go.” The doctor set down the roll of gauze. “Should be good. I am a little worried that he hasn’t woken up. Based on the healing rate of his wound, he should be conscious right now. Which brings us back to the question: how is he healing so fast?”
“Like I said,” the princess said, leaning against the table. “Not even my father’s high sages have found a rite in any method to heal like this. Herbal medicine that works over time, yes, but…”
“Not total healing of a major wound in minutes,” the doctor finished.
“Exactly.” The princess thought for a moment. “Could this be a new method?”
“A new method?” The doctor stroked his chin. “It’s possible, but where did it come from? The king is quite good controlling all known methods and finding any new ones.”
“The new sect, what are they called? Mages, yes. I’ve heard rumors of their leader doing things unseen before, but he was killed a short time ago. They must still be using the method he found. This one could be one of them.” She gestured at the still-unconscious boy on the table.
“Easy now, princess, let’s not jump to conclusions. Some of the things that man is said to have done seem a little far fetched. Besides, we still can’t be sure that this group even has a new method, or has anything to do with this young man.”
The princess smiled. “Then I will get proof, or at least figure out who the boy is and how he healed so fast. How long before he will be well enough to be questioned?”
“Based on the rate of healing we’ve observed, he should be ready now. In fact, he should have woken up by now. There is still much we don’t know. I would wait until tomorrow morning.”
“Very well,” the princes walked towards the door. “Have him brought to the interrogation room first thing tomorrow.”
“Yes, princess. Good night.”
“Good night, doctor.”