“NO!!” The shrill cry of Princess Persephone echoed through the Lotus Kingdom’s castle halls. She launched her body up, silk canopy bed swaying with her swift movement. Cold sweat dripping down her forehead, her pillow was soaked and her hair stuck flat. 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. SMASH! Her large wooden bedroom door flung open and there stood Sir Doouge, her sworn knight, with his scabbard at the ready.

He was a large framed young man, though only 15 he stood an astounding six feet tall, making his sworn duty look more like trying hard not to accidentally step on an ant. Ferocity of a tiger loomed in his dark brown eyes, armor half on, one boot missing, glasses hanging by one ear, black wavy locks hung wildly around his face, coming in panicked from bed .

Frantically he scanned the room until the two locked eyes, Persephone still had tears in her’s from the night’s fright and her hair was in flattened tangles. Sir Doouge, who had grown accustomed to the frequent night terrors of the princess, sheathed his weapon. “I suppose it was the dream again?” Doouge sighed and walked to her bedside. Persephone crossed her arms, “No Doouge I keep telling you they are different! They are never the same but the man, he showed me things!” Doouge raised an eyebrow. ” He…well maybe you’re right and it was just a dream,” Persephone wanted to protest but at the same time she couldn’t bring herself to believe that dream could ever come true. She had always had nightmares of this man so somehow he just seemed so real to her.

The knight sighed heavily and sat down beside her, she leaned on his chest. Her hair smelt so floral, he thought, stroking her hair as her mother had once done. There was a knock on the door and in came a ruffled looking old woman in her long nightgown, “Oh mah, noh another night fright ma lady,” the accented woman, an old trawler of many tongues, pulled out a handkerchief and began dabbing Persephone. “It’s quite alright Sheera, you can go back to bed.” sighed Persephone. “Oh naaaah ma lady, eet’s morn’. Time fa yurr eats! I’ll send ya ladies oop.” The maid began shouting names towards the door but Persephone cut her off, “Really Sheera I’m going to be 14 soon you can’t keep treating me like a baby forever now! You all have a lot of things to be doing, the least I can do is dress myself.” Sheera shook her head and clicked her tongue several times, wagging the dreaded finger in Persephone’s face, “Yurr royalty miss, one day err soon yurr gonna ave to eect like eet! But fur now we’ll let yuu do as yuu please.”

Doouge watched the two with humor. Having serviced the Kingdom of Lotuses as long as he could remember this was nothing new, him and the princess practically being raised together within the castle grounds he knew the princess hated being a princess.  Every morning she would fight with Sheera, the head maid and every time Persephone would loose, Sheera’s admit of defeat today felt bittersweet.

He had seen the kingdom at it’s richest and poorest states, there were never any wars, and the royal family was nothing but kind. His sole duty was to protect the princess which was easy enough, but the past few weeks she had woken him with her dreams, dreams of leaving her homeland to marry the prince of Berkshim, Jarren and something about a shadow man but that man was always in her dreams so nothing seemed out of place.

Doouge felt sorry for the princess as she had only met the prince twice and nothing more then casual words were spoken. Though as a warrior of the kingdom he realized Persephone was bound to die if she stayed here as the kingdom had fallen under a mysterious illness in the past few months. Slowly everything in the village had been coming under it’s wrath. The symptoms were severe; vomiting, flaking painful skin, high fevers, profuse coughing, and limb paralysis. Yet only five deaths, but the first death was that of the queen.

In the neighboring kingdom there was said to be a place where the cure to any illness could be found, but even if the cure never came, at least in Berkshim Persephone would 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 even though the princess was far too young to be married.

“Doogie,” the princess’s use of the knight’s nickname brought pain to his heart, for in seven 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, being pulled from his thoughts of Persephone in Jarren’s arm’s. “Stay away from the mountains!” he bellowed, his tone a few tones deeper normal.

Persephone adjusted herself beneath the feathered throw that covered her body. Something about the tone in his voice made her very uneasy. Her knight, her only confidaunt, had a voice like honey but now it was cold as though it had become the steel on his blade, his usually soft brown 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 an older man that had never left the best impression on her. Though he had soft dark skin covered in tribal ink that all the girls in the kingdom whispered about, his heart seemed cold and ruthless. Persephone was only 13 wanting to live her own life, Jarren was 18 wanting to rule kingdoms with his bloodthirsty soldiers for all she knew. She could never see herself being happy by his side, even if it meant her kingdom would be saved from the illness, but Doouge had been rumored to be growing a slight fever. With complete access to Berkshim she could send someone to travel and find the flowers and herbs that were known to only grow in it’s darkest nooks and crannies. As she had studied medicine under the guidance of Jeanie, 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 thirteen! Mother didn’t get married until she was seventeen!” Princess Persephone protested, 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 nature seemed to be tested by this very thought. Her kingdom would surely perish if she stayed. Nobody could know how much she desired to wander through the kingdom’s swampy lotus fields that day, it’s said that  the great Buddah had walked through the fields lotuses growing beneath every footstep, one could get lost in the sent of the gods never to be found. Maybe the sea would swallow her, allow her to swim far away from this land; the same land she loved, but  that wanted to trade her to a ruthless prince for the possibility of life.

To be continued…