“NO!!” The shrill cry of Princess Persephone rang through the castle halls. She launched her body up in her silk canopy bed, cold sweat dripping down her forehead. The sound of rain on her large paneled window and the clanking of armor that grew ever so close were the only comforting sounds she could distinguish. Suddenly the wooden door to her room flung open and there stood Sir Doouge with his sword at the ready. The two locked eyes, the princess still had tears in her eyes from the night’s fright and her hair was wildly in tangles. Sir Doouge had grown accustomed to the frequent night terrors of the princess and sheathed his weapon.

“I suppose it was the dream again?” Sir Doouge sighed and walked to the princess’s bedside. He had serviced the Kingdom of Lotuses as long as he could remember, him and the princess practically being raised together within the castle grounds. He had seen the kingdom at it’s richest and poorest states, there was never any wars, his sole duty was to protect the princess. The past few weeks she had woken him with her dreams, dreams of leaving her homeland to marry the prince of Berkshim. He felt sorry for the princess as she had only met the prince twice and nothing more then casual words were spoken.

The princess was mysterious with a heart of gold that beat to serve her kingdom.  Though she wasn’t always like that, being a sickly child and bound to the castle’s grounds she didn’t know how to interact with people outside the castle. Often times, after she was able to leave the castle, she fought with other kids. It wasn’t  until maturity that her heart seemed to prevail over reason, and she never raised a fist or even squashed a bug even though she destested them. Everything in the castle and kingdom was pristine until she hit womanhood, when the responsibilities of royalty kicked in. Persephone was bound to die if she stayed here, even if the cure never came, at least in Berkshim she’d be safe. Nobody truly wanted Persephone to leave and he tried to tell her that every day. The future king seemed to be the only hope to cure the illness that had plagued the kingdom, as the ingredients for a cure lay deep within Berkshim’s dense and deadly forest.

“Doogie,” the princess’s use of the knight’s nickname brought pain to his heart, for in three days time she was to be married and leave the kingdom forever,”does anyone live in the mountains that surround the gates of Berkshim?”

Sir Doouge’s face darkened and suddenly his voice was a few tones to deep to belong to himself,”Stay away from the mountains.”

Persephone adjusted herself beneath the feathered throw that covered her body. Something about the tone in his voice made her very uneasy. Sir Doouge had a voice like honey but now it was cold like the steel on his blade, his usually soft blue eyes seemed to have a purple glow. She wanted to press on, saying she had seen a dark skeletal man peering into her glowing reflection in a large black pot deep within the mountains, but something about the all to familiar glow in Sir Doouge’s eyes made her close her mouth and simply nod. All the dreams she had been having made her  want to run, to scream louder, to hide somewhere far away where nobody would be able to make her do anything she didn’t want to. She loved her people, but she also loved the comfort of the home she had always known. She dropped the idea that anyone would dwell in a cave, and have a pot that could make images out of nothing, and focused on the dream she knew for a fact would be coming true; every day she woke up it was one day closer to the end of her life as she knew it.

Prince Jarren was his name, she was to be married to this man that had never left the best impression on her. Though handsome and tall, his heart seemed cold and ruthless. She could never see herself being happy by his side, even if it meant her kingdom would be saved from the illness that had somehow plagued everyone in the kingdom except the royal house, but even Doouge had been rumored to be growing a slight fever.The illness started with a fever, then progressed to vomiting, this would leave many bed ridden and unable to work, finally the body’s surface would develop an armor of painful blisters that when popped created the vile stench of death. With complete access to Berkshim she could send someone to travel into Pallow’s Forest and find the flowers and herbs that were known to only grow in it’s darkest nooks and crannies. She had studied medicine under the guidance of the local doctor, and she had told the princess exactly what was needed to be returned to the kingdom.

“I’m not ready to be married Doogie, I’m only seventeen! Mother didn’t get married until she was twenty three!” Princess Persephone protested as the warm throw seemed to grow slightly colder.

The knight moved with discomfort and cleared his throat, “But princess, your mother was not the only hope at saving the kingdom. I know you’re scared but I know your father, he would only let you go if he knew you’d be better somewhere else. Our kingdom is dying and you’re the last hope that we have.”

Persephone’s usually selfless nature seemed to be tested by this very thought. Her kingdom would surely perish if she stayed, unless she could somehow make it into the forest for the cure before wedding day. Nobody could know how much she desired to wander through the kingdom’s swampy lotus fields that day, it’s said that one could get lost in the sent of the gods, never to be found. Or that the sea would swallow her, allow her to swim far away from this land. The same land she loved and  that wanted to trade her to a ruthless prince for the possibility of life.

 

To be continued…

 

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