“Hurry up, Princess, keep up” Damenstrius ushered as he and the teenager ran through the dark tunnel.
Aine could see very little ahead or beside her as she ran, stumbling every now and again over the unevenly laid bricks. The tunnel was narrow and low, and badly lit by a torch here and there. The princess had been in this tunnel before, she had often used it to escape the strict formalities of the castle, but now the matter was much more urgent.
Soldiers’ feet stamped on the floors above them and the screams and cries of the victims of invasion drowned out the footsteps of the two escaping inhabitants. War had been upon the kingdom for a long time but only as a threat while the queen ruled it successfully. But after the death of the queen, the kingdom had fallen apart. No steward had succeeded in reuniting the land to it’s former glory and since then, a hostile ruler from the North had tried to make it his. Today, he appeared to have accomplished his goal.
But while an heir to the throne lived, it would not rightfully belong to him. As long as the princess lived, there was still hope. Damenstrius knew this all too well, and when the former queen had asked him to make sure that hope remained, he had felt compelled to swear that he would do so. The librarian had reached his sixties now, his hair was slowly greying and his eyes were less lively than they used to be, but his age would not stop him from keeping his promise. Luckily, his eyes were still sharp enough to see the outline of the tunnel and he still was still quick on his feet to lead the way. It wouldn’t be long until the enemy soldiers would find the secret passageway, but he hoped the knights would keep them occupied long enough.
“We’re almost there,” the librarian said as he heard the princess take a fall for the third time. “Just a bit further.” He helped the girl to her feet, holding her hand now to keep her up her feet as they ran again. He cared for her like a daughter, though knew she would never look to him as her father. Her real father, the king, had died before she were born in a battle he had not wished to fight. He had been a good husband and a good king, but he was never given the chance to be a father. No doubt he would’ve been a good one.
The tunnel narrowed once they came closer to the exit. Damenstrius pushed Aine ahead of him, looking over his shoulder at the sound of shouting soldiers. “Keep running Aine! Don’t look back! And once you are out, look for the shelter of the trees,” he urged, “I’m right behind you.”
Aine was getting tired, she had been running for ten minutes now, and being an untrained runner, her legs started to ache and her lungs started to burn. She had both her hands against the wall to guide her through the tunnel in the right direction, as it was narrow but not straight. The tunnel seemed to be endless, one curve automatically followed by one more and so on, or so it seemed to Aine as running became harder. But she knew she must’ve been somewhere near the exit now, if the tunnel was anything like the castle itself in length. She couldn’t recall the tunnels to go in any odd directions, and the only sharp turn would have been near the treasure room as that room was underground, like the tunnel.
The air became thicker to breath and a familiar scent traveled it way up to the noses of the two fleeting people. It burned in Aine’s throat, and she coughed, momentarily lacking breath. To her relief, however, the exit loomed up in front of them. It was marked by a red, foggy light. Damenstrius gasped, and it was only a moment later that Aine followed his involuntarily set example. The constant roar they had been hearing above them had not been of the battle, it had been of flames as they fed themselves on the interior of the castle, it’s grand halls, and the stables.
Heat flooded into the tunnel like a suffocating wave, accompanied by the toxic fumes of the ravishing flames. Aine stumbled, finding her way out of the tunnel and pushing away the vines that hid the exit from enemy eyes. She ran on, finding her feet again, but stopped at the end of the open plain of grass between the towering castle walls and the forest. She turned and gaped at the burning heart of the kingdom, and her eyes automatically locked on the fire, but she couldn’t look away even though her eyes were burning and despite of what Damenstrius had said.
Damenstrius. Aine looked around frantically, turning back towards the tunnel, trying to see him somewhere. “Damenstrius!” she called loudly over the thunder of the fire. Her voice, normally sweet as honey, was quivering and harsh with despair. He had been right behind her, but she couldn’t see him anywhere now. The smoke, perhaps the smoke had…She ran along the edge of the forest, looking and shouting for her caretaker, eyes filling with tears from both the foul air and her fear. She half sobbed, panicking, peering around the field as reason lost to despair and fear. Her heart pounded in her chest, so hard it hurt. She breathed in and out, not really in control anymore; her vision was blurring and her head was spinning as she realized she might be on her own. Smoke and fog swirled around her petite form, tearing at her sanity like clawed demons of the dark.
Suddenly, a hand pulled her backwards into the bushes, and a black-feathered arrow plunged into the blackened earth.
Includes terrible sketch of Aine, but with braided hair.