I turned and looked at him, like I had never seen him before. My lips still wet from his kiss. My first, and maybe his too? I didn’t know, I could pretend. He smiled and turned, running in the direction of the commotion. Please keep him safe, I prayed, to whoever had the power to do that, and raced back to the Citadel.
I had been friends with Gilfrim as long as I could remember. He had lived in the Citadel with his mother, my lady in waiting, until he started to show Creative tendencies as he approached adolescence. His mother knew it was likely he could have turned out either way. She had never told anyone who his father was, but it had been Hal the Lord of the Creatives. On Gil’s thirteenth birthday his mother had smuggled him out of the Citadel and taken him to live with his father. She had returned to the Citadel to tell people he had run away. They would not waste resources looking for a teenage boy but they would have gone looking for the Princess’ lady in waiting. That’s me by the way, I am Princess Sulah. My father is the King and he rules over the Citadel. The Citadel is populated by the Academics and the specials; they do all the menial tasks in the Citadel. Many years ago we lived in harmony with the Creatives until the ‘Big Debate’. After that the Creatives moved into the forest and my father improved the Citadel’s defences. He was convinced his role was to protect us from their lack of discipline, their bohemian lifestyle. The Citadel was geometrically perfect above ground, but underneath in the sewers and old pipes systems there were still places where halves could meet and if you know where to look you could find a way out in to the forest.
My lady in waiting had stayed quiet for many months and would not tell me how she had smuggled Gil out. Then one day she presented me with a tapestry she had been working on. It was an intricate pattern or swirls and swishes, something my father would never have approved of. Running through all the other lines was a deep purple line and I soon realised it some sort of map. If only I could find the start point, the route would be obvious. It took me another few months to find the door I was convinced was the start point. Ironically it was hidden behind a tapestry of my father. I then had to wait another few weeks until father went to visit a neighbouring citadel before I could test my theory. That had been three years ago and Gil and I had been meeting once a month ever since.
The fatefully day where my world was turned upside down and possibly changed for ever was my sixteenth birthday. I had woken early and was surprised when my father burst in to my room.
‘Happy Birthday,’ He smiled looking almost as excited as I was. ‘Today I have got lots of things planned for you. Chef is preparing your favourite for breakfast, and then the dress maker will be here to finish your dress for this evening’s ball. This afternoon we have a travelling minstrel group here to entertain you with songs and a play they have written especially for you. After that we have the ball this evening and for the first time you shall sit next to me in your mother’s chair. Queen at last.’
‘Wow, that seems like an awful lot to fit into one day,’ I smiled at my father, happy to see him so happy. I couldn’t remember my mother but I knew my father missed her terribly.
‘Right well I shall leave you to dress. I will call your maid.’
‘Will you be joining me for all this entertainment?’
‘Unfortunately not. I have to visit the next domain, but don’t worry, if I set off now I will be back in plenty of time for the banquet this evening.’
As my father got up to leave my lady in waiting entered the room.
‘Ah Tamwah, a quick word about today’s festivities,’ my father said as he ushered her out of my room and closed the door behind them.
I ran over to the door, the stone floor cold under my feet, hoping to hear of another surprise father had organised for my birthday.
‘She is to be kept busy all day. There is to be no sneaking out to see that good for nothing son of yours,’ my father growled at Tamwah.
‘But my liege,’ Tamwah stuttered.
‘Don’t pretend you don’t know. I am the King of this realm and I know what goes on. She is to stay in the castle today.’
I couldn’t believe my ears. My father knew about me and Gil? But he had always liked Gil why should he be like that. I knew he had a strange dislike for the Creatives, but this was Gil.
Later that day father had left the castle and the dress maker finished the fitting quicker than expected, so I decided to try to appeal to Tamwah’s softer side.
‘Tamwah, I need to go and see Gil. Can you cover for me?’
‘My Lady, I cannot let you leave the castle. Not today. Your father has organised so many wonderful treats for you. Surely you want to enjoy your birthday.’
‘I do want to enjoy my birthday, but it would be so much better if I could see Gil. Just for a few minutes.’
‘Your father said you were not to leave. I cannot betray him,’ Tamwah looked frightened.
‘Look we will say that I have a headache and have gone for a lie down and must not be disturbed. I will only be gone a short while.’
Tamwah looked like she might be softening. She had seen us play together as children and she knew how much he meant to me.
‘Make sure you are back before the minstrels get here. You will have to be quick.’
Tamwah went to the chamber door and checked there was no one around. I quickly ran to the secret door in the next corridor. I hugged her tightly, promised to be back before the minstrels’ show and disappeared behind the tapestry.
The look on Gil’s face when I arrived at the camp was fantastic.
‘Su, oh how wonderful to see you. Everyone, Su is here and it is her birthday.’
Everyone cheered and one of the women suggested they got the instruments out to play for me. The show was better than anything the minstrels could have done, and they even let me play the shakers.
After the impromptu concert Gil and I moved away from the camp to talk in private. Then for the first time ever there was an awkward silence between us. I looked at Gil and he looked at me.
‘Su,’ Gil whispered. I placed a finger on his lips and moved towards him. He leaned down and we kissed. It was the most magical thing that had ever happen. Slowly and gently we kissed. He pulled me closer and we kissed again. He held me tight and everything felt perfect. We stayed like that for what seemed like an age. Suddenly we could hear shouting, horses galloping, dogs barking and the sound of a hunting horn. We pulled apart and Gil looked at me with panic in his eyes.
‘Su, go back as quickly as you can. I need to get back to the camp. It’s Renegades’
‘Gil, No. I’m coming with you.’
‘Don’t be stupid. You’re the King’s daughter if they get hold of you there’s no knowing what they will do. Go, go now.’
I rushed off towards the tunnel entrance and as I reached the turning by the speedy brook I looked back, just at the same time as Gil did. I blew him a kiss and rushed on. As I rushed along I heard a scream from behind me and faltered for just a second. How could I leave Gil and all my friends in the forest? I knew I had to get back and convince my father to send help. I ran through the forest and then felt myself fly through the air as I missed seeing a trailing root in my hurry.
The next think I knew, I woke up with someone gentle dabbing a damp cloth on to my forehead.
‘What happened? Where am I?’ I mumbled.
‘It’s okay your highness, your safe,’ said a voice came from above. I tried to open my eyes and looked up to see an angel. The light shone from behind her and her voice was as soft and as musical as the dawn chorus, the forest choir that woke the Creatives each morning. She then moved and I realised she was Bella. Bella was the matriarch of the group of Creatives that Gil belonged to.
I sat up a little too quickly and had to lie down again. The pounding in my head couldn’t be a good thing.
‘My lady, please stay still and rest. I found you near the tunnel. You must have fallen and knocked yourself out.’
I slowly raised myself and took some liquid offered to me. It soothed my aches and the pounding in my head lessened almost immediately. The Creatives knew how to use the treasures of the forest to mend all human ailments.
Then I looked around and realised that I was not in the camp. We were in a small clearing I had never seen before.
‘What happened? Where are we?’
‘The Renegades attacked us. We have not seen attacks from them for many years and we had grown complacent. There was no look out and they came through at speed. They grabbed logs from the fire and set light to the tents. Luckily no one was in them. They had new fighting sticks. Two of the men ran at them and fire came out of the sticks, stopping the men. I took the women and children and ran to the back up camp which is left over from years ago. We found you on the way through the forest and brought you with us.’
‘Have the men turned up yet?’ I asked worried about Gil.
‘Come on then, let’s go and see.’
‘My lady, I can’t let you go back. What if the Renegades are still there?’
‘I am sure you know a way we can sneak up on the camp and check out what is going on.’ I gave her my best “I am a princess and you’ll do as I say” look.
As we drew nearer the camp to be I couldn’t believe my eyes. There was no need to sneak up to see what was happening. The camp had been burned to the ground. Some piles of rags still smouldered and smoked. These must have been the tents that had just a few short hours ago had been surrounded by the sounds of joyous life and were now burnt and trampled.
I looked at Bella and managed to grabbed her and lower her slowly to the ground as it all got too much for her. We held each other close and cried. We knew we had to do this here. The other women must not see us like this. We had to help them rebuild their village and their lives.
I walked back to the make shift village with Bella and then left her there to organise the women so they could keep themselves and their children safe, warm and fed. I offered to take them into the Citadel but they refused. For some reason they were afraid of my father. I knew he wouldn’t let me down so I headed back to the tunnel, carefully to watch out for tree roots as I went.
As I approached the tunnel I heard voices and quickly dived into the undergrowth. I nearly showed myself when I realised I could hear my father’s voice, but something in his tone made me stay hidden.
‘You have completed your task?’ My father asked the other man.
‘We have my liege. The Creatives camp has been destroyed. We have kept the men as prisoners and the women won’t last long on their own.’
‘Good, my daughter is still safely inside the Citadel so she will not know of this. Here is the payment as we agreed. Now be gone and make your camp over in Dorgan’s domain. I believe he has some work for you.’
‘Thank you, my liege, and if you should need my services again.. .’
‘I doubt that.’
With that the two men departed and my father headed into the tunnels. How could he have done this? He knew how much Gil meant to me. I can’t believe he would endanger the whole tribe just to stop me seeing Gil. I turned and headed back to the camp. My father would have to learn that Gil meant more to me than anything. I was now bound with the women of Hal’s tribe. Together we would find our men and bring them back. Then I would think about what my father had done, but for now Gil needed me.