As we evacuated people via the North, I turned my horse back once more to witness the destruction of our kingdom. Flames blazed high from every building. The smoke hovered ominously over the area, trapping the vermillion light of the fires within. The place could have been mistaken for Hell. I gazed upon the flagpole, so high it could be seen from anywhere in the kingdom. Hoisted upon it was the enemy flag, waving condescendingly over everyone. I turned back to the palanquin of the King. Through the flaps I spotted him sucking on a grape. The man didn’t care about the damn place. He didn’t care about anything at all. I bet he didn’t even remember about the sick people he decided to leave behind. As long as he was alive, he was happy.
My eyes fell upon the crowd advancing through the North Gate. We could only manage to save one-fourth of the people. Some were covered in the blood of the injured they were dragging along. Some were struggling to carry their beloved possessions. What would they do when they realise that the sick weren’t among them? I was sure that they had relatives amongst those unfortunate souls.
I trotted my horse up to a woman juggling between her baby and her luggage. Respectfully, I stretched my hand out to help her with her baby. “ma’am, why don’t you hand your child over? You seem to be struggling.”
She swatted my hand away with surprising force.
“At least your luggage, ma’am,” I insisted.
“I wouldn’t trust a snake like you with anything of mine! It’s because of people like you who grovel at to the King’s feet that he’s confident he can do anything he wants,” the woman accused.
I stayed silent, trying not to add oil to the fire.
Our kingdom was once ruled by King Hanes, kind and compassionate yet fierce and just. He was a model king, respected by all. His kindness enabled trade with various other kingdoms, despite the fact that our land was small enough to be ignored by the others. But our kingdom never left anyone dissatisfied. There was gold enough for everyone. It attracted the traders like bees to honey, it was what kept our beloved kingdom alive. But when our great King died of an incurable illness, his brother, our current King, King Julius, took over, and ruined everything. He was sly, callous and inconsiderate.
The woman continued, “I’m certain that this tragedy was caused by our halfwit King. How do you knights sleep every night serving that sorry excuse of a human being?”
The people around her gasped in surprise. Badmouthing the King in front of a knight? Unthinkable. But I couldn’t help but agree with her.
“We knights must honour the rules laid by our great King Hanes,” I replied calmly. “We can only be true knights by doing so. Serving the king is one of our duties, ma’am. We don’t ignore our duties.”
“Hmph. How did a murderer like you even attain knighthood?” she retorted.
She was referring to my former post as an assassin. King Hanes had found something in me that he wanted to nurture, and he gave me my knighthood, hoping it would teach me things other than killing. I sighed at the memory, I learnt it all only to serve a self-righteous king.
I left her to stop her from arguing. If another knight came around, she’d be in trouble. Speaking of other knights, I looked around for Natasha. Where was she? It then dawned on me that she was probably with the Princess up front. With that, the journey continued on till late evening, until the people could walk no more.
We stopped under the protruding cliff of an enormous mountain. It was perfect to shield us from the elements. The workers started to set camp. Torches were being lit and pierced into the ground. The servants carrying the palanquin threw themselves to the ground in exhaustion, and out came our pompous King. He brushed himself off and stepped over the tired servants, not even glancing at them. His eyes finally set themselves on me, after which he beckoned me with a wave of his hand.
Sulking to myself, I trudged up to him. “Your Highness?”
“Fetch me something to drink,” he demanded.
I suppressed the urge to stick my sword through his fat belly.
“What are you waiting for, rat?”
That’s what he always called his servants. He didn’t even know that I was one of his knights. I looked down at my clothes. They were worn out from saving people and fending off threats from the enemy’s invasion. I stared back at the King. To him, we were only worth our uniforms.
“As you say, your Highness,” I replied. I quickly turned to a servant and passed the order on to him, before fleeing from the presence of the King. I couldn’t take another second with him. I searched around for Natasha. The quickest way would be to find the Princess.
Our Princess was nothing like her miserable father. She was just like King Hanes, minus the fierceness. But that’s what we knights were there for. She was the only child of the King, and was the only person who could claim the throne after him. I couldn’t wait for the day the Princess would take over. She was our only hope of carrying our broken kingdom to a better age. I gazed around at the desolate people. Rebuilding our home was not going to be easy.
But I couldn’t find the Princess. I walked up to the other knights resting by a campfire, they had no clue as to where she was.
“Wasn’t she at the back of the group?”
“I would’ve seen her if she was. She was obviously up in the front.”
“If she were, I’m pretty sure I would have seen her.”
“She was in the middle then?”
“No, she sure as hell wasn’t!”
Chaos ensued amongst the knights. The Princess was missing, and Natasha with her. I forced myself to think. Moving away from the panic behind me, I sat myself on a rock. I closed my eyes and brainstormed.
I was disturbed by a meek voice. “Mister, I can’t find my mother.”
I opened my eyes and found a kid. She was about four feet tall. She had a pretty bad burn on her right hand and her innocent face was smeared with blood.
“I’m sure we can find her sweetie,” I tried reassuring her. “Come along, where’s you father?”
“Daddy was at the hospital with mommy. They said they would bring my parents and told me to run away with the others. But I can’t find them here. Can you help me?”
Oh God, they were left behind. I looked at the ground trying to hide my face from the child in front of me. The King was going to pay for this, somehow.
I looked back at the kid and put up the best smile I could muster at the moment. “We’ll find them child, don’t worry.”
As the kid’s face lit up with hope, I felt my heart wither. She was going to learn the truth sooner or later, and it was going to leave her devastated.
Something clicked in my head as I was reminded of the sick. I turned in the direction of our former kingdom, where the distant fumes rose into the angry red sky. At that moment, I couldn’t think of any other place where the Princess could be.
The second time that day I approached the King who was peeling a ripe banana. Disgusted, I tried catching his attention. “Your Highn-”
He threw the peel at me. “What are you glaring at, rat?”
I was about to grab his head and smash it against the rock he had placed his royal bottom on. But I suppressed my emotions once again, trying to let the moment pass. “Your Highness, I have reason to believe that your daughter has left herself behind to remain with the sick. We must send a small squad to find and secure her safely.”
I stared at the King, waiting for words to come out of his mouth. But all I got was…
I stood unbelieving. “Your Highness, what would your orders be?”
The King looked at me from head to toe before replying, “I couldn’t care less. If you go, who’ll be there to protect me?”
I lost it. I checked around to see if anyone nearby had heard him. No one except his servants and his knight. I turned back to him, fuming.
“No one could care any less about your sorry arrogant bottom, you ass!”
I looked around once more. Again, no one but the few of us heard it.
I continued, “It won’t be long till they all realise that we’d left the sick behind. Let’s see how you justify your actions then.”
I was shocked to see no reaction from the King. He finally spoke, “I wonder what my brother saw in a murderer like you. Scum like you should’ve been shunned from the very beginning.”
So he did know who I was. His servants were shivering in their places, not knowing what was going to happen next. His knight was extremely confused between drawing his sword out on me or letting things be.
“Look here,” I said. “There’s going to be a price to pay for your ignorance. You don’t care for it right now, but in the end, it’ll fall upon your head.”
The King still didn’t react.
I continued, “Without a means to rebuild our kingdom, you won’t have anything, and that’s when you’ll care. But it’ll be too late then. The Princess is our only hope, everyone here knows it. I don’t care about what you think, but I’m going to save our kingdom.”
With that I set out from under our cliff, grabbed a horse and raced off towards what was once our home.
It took me about two hours before I set foot next to the hospital. I tied my horse to a pole and advanced to the building. The sun was setting on the land, but the light in the area was still strong because of the fires. I entered the burnt building. Despite the chaos outside, it was deathly quiet inside. My footsteps echoed through the ruins. I reached the centre of the building, a mini garden for patients to relax in. But amongst the charred plants and flowers, I found Natasha. She was staring at a half burnt rose with one petal dangling off of it.
“Natasha,” I called. “Where are they?”
She then noticed me approaching. Her face had lost all hope.
“The sick…” she mumbled. “The Princess… They took my-”
“Get it together Natasha!” I interrupted her, shaking her shoulders. “We set out now. On foot. We need to save our only hope. The enemy left South, we go now.”
She shook her head. “West,” she argued.
“What are you saying? I told you they went South.”
“We go West!” she insisted.
“I’m sorry,” she apologised. She said it with a look of guilt on her face. That apology didn’t seem like it was for shouting at me.
“Ok, we go West,” I said.
“Trust me,” she said through a pained smile.
The last petal fell to the blackened grass. I had a bad feeling the price fate set for the King was going to be expensive, and no one would be able to pay it off.