Prologue: The Girl in the Red Hood

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The inn was as she had expected, the insides were dark and grimy and no place for a Princess to be in. Oh, her cursed fate!

Lowering the hood over her even further to hide from the ever curious eyes looking her way, she whispered her instructions to Kira. Kira nodded and made her way to the front asking for a room to stay the night. She explicitly mentioned that their brother was to join them later that night with a brave front. She hoped this would be enough to keep away trouble. The kind that always followed three young women travelling together, all by themselves. Ofcourse there was no brother, but by dawn, they would be gone, before anyone realised.

'Miss, do you think we've been followed?' Myra asked, apprehensive about her surroundings. She was smart to be, after the days and nights they had had.

'We changed routes about a dozen times before coming here. Also, hopefully Raoul and the others have been successful in diverting their attention. They would not think I would go anywhere unprotected.' She said as softly as she could. Her red hair was now black in colour and chopped short till her shoulders. She had vowed to not grow them out, till she got back to her rightful place.

Her green eyes glowed, reflecting the dim lights of the tavern. If she could, she would retreat even further into her deep red velvet hood, which had been sullied to hide the colour.

The road to Rafalia seemed much longer than it was. She didn't know how she would go there undetected. Her life depended on it. Her people depended on it. She would have to, there was just no other choice.

'Katia, can you hear me?' Kira asked waving her hands infront of her face. Katia was the name they were using to address her. It meant something like 'my mistress' in the old Ardelian language, but nobody really used it anymore so they were safe.

'Yes, please continue.'

'From what I can understand, it's not safe to travel the woods alone henceforth and so it would be best to find a group we can meld into quietly. What do you say?'
They looked at her expectantly.

She fidgeted with the hidden bracelet under her sleeve, thinking it over. She had never been asked to take decisions before, especially not life and death ones.

She drew a deep breath to calm herself.
Her life. Her people. Her throne.

'We'll go in a group, find one that is large enough that we'll be unnoticed.' She declared.

***********************************

The horse looked for bits of soft grass and nibbled, while Raven waited for his second-in-command Lucius to come back. He could hear the spattering of hooves against the forest soil and knew his friend was close.

A dark horse, it's coat glinting in the falling rays of golden sun, skidded to a stop infront of the Prince. The rider, his skin as dark as the majestic beast's descended from it and walked towards the Prince.

'A storm is coming, sire.' He said quietly.

'How many?'

'Atleast a dozen this time, maybe more.'

'Any women or children?'

'We are not sure yet. The innkeeper's wife mentioned a group of three young maidens, sisters probably, travelling with a larger group that we know has gone missing. We haven't been able to track them down anywhere else yet.'

'How long has it been?' Raven asked with an edge in his voice. He always hated whenever he heard the women and children being abducted. He knew what became of them.

'About a week, I gather.'

Raven cursed to himself. How could he let this happen?

'Were they fair?' He asked, hoping they weren't.

'The innkeeper's wife said their faces were covered but they looked well off and frightened.'

'We end this now. Too many times we have failed to do our duty. Too many times we've let them get away. This time we'll attack at their core, their den.'

'But sire, what if-'

The Prince's beautiful grey eyes glowed with anger in the near darkness, as the sky was painted orange and light left them.

'No, we strike now, while their defenses are low. Now is the only time, do you understand?' He said with such conviction and passion, that Lucius could not say another word but to agree.

'Yes sire. I'll call on the men. They are ready.'

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