** Beauty and the Beast Revisioned - I was inspired by National Read a Fairy Tale Day recently and decided to rewrite one of my favorites. As I began thinking of what to write, other tales popped into my mind. Some of those characters have found their way into this tale.**
"You've got to be kidding me."
There were four more praetorians weaving their way through the side street perpendicular to me, adding to the already five behind me in hot pursuit. I thought for sure I'd be able to blend in with the midday crowd in the trading district. Today was one of the biggest offloading and loading days in the city, Aurora - capital of our faire realm. Named after a lady of legend who defeated an army that would have enslaved our people. If but she were here now - we are enslaved, oppressed, but not in a physically recognizable way.
I adjusted the goggles on the top of my head for good measure that they wouldn't fly off, tugged the bag snuggly on my shoulder, and ran as fast as I was able in and out of the foot traffic. I just needed to make it to the dock and then we'd be alright. Pan was going to kill me. That is, if Red's goons didn't first.
Maybe my plan was a little flawed. The traditional garb of the city, colorful long robes with hoods to protect them from the sun, wasn't built for the maneuvering I was attempting. I kept tripping over myself until I decided to grab the bit of fabric by my knees and hoist it like a skirt. The tall buildings on either side offered no shade with the sun straight above and I was sweating enough to feel drips down my back. Gross.
My name's Arabella, most call me Belle. My father used to call me Elle. He still would, I suppose, were he alive. Don't you start feeling sorry for me - not because of that. Don't get me wrong, I loved my father dearly as did he me. His passing was over a year ago and I've dealt with it. There are more pressing matters that concern us all and I have no need for your pity. Now, a magic carpet that could get me out this mess? If you have that, that I'll take.
I could see the 'ships in the distance. The Windy Bird would be docked at the fifth hub. If I could just get to the first hub I'd be able to use the other 'ships as hideouts.
"Sorry!" I call out, knocking over a fruit display with my bag that had suddenly shifted.
Beyond the not-so-nice words that followed me, my accident proved to be actually a bit helpful. As I glanced over my shoulder I saw that there were many citizens that had stopped to help, stooping or crouched in the already packed street, blocking the pursuit. That may have given me just the amount of time I needed.
"She's headed for the Air Ships!" I heard one of them yell. Some had found a way around the traffic jam and were back on my trail.
I flashed my wrist, a leather band four fingers wide tied with black leather straps displayed the branding of an airship crew member, at the checkpoint and was waved through. Instead of heading toward the Windy Bird, I follow a line to the first hub as planned. The passenger hub. Getting in line with the rest of those wishing to travel to other cities of the realm, I attempted to catch my breath without causing alarm from my fellow travelers.
Most carried the same type of enchanted bag I held. Small, like a rucksack of older times, but enchanted to hold more items than a person could physically carry. It is said that there are sacks that could pack up an entire house, if you had the money to pay for such an enchantment. And magic was no cheap commodity these days.
This ship was painted bright white and had white sails. Like the other vessels docked in the Aurora port, loading was from the bottom side. The 'ships floated at the literal edge of the city - nothing but blue sky below and above. Ramps were open at several sections on the starboard side and the passengers began a small incline walk inside.
I was maybe three persons away from the entrance when I heard familiar commotion behind me. There's no way they knew which one I was.
Stay calm. Stay calm.
My cloak looked no different than a hundred of those around me. Unless... unless one of my followers had been able to keep his eye on me the entire time.
But that's impossible, right? Two more people. Just wait. Almost there. Yes, ok, turn the corner. Almost out of sight. NOW!
With more apologies, I rushed past passengers just trying to find their level and room. This must be one of the more luxurious 'ships. Most of the ones I had been on were open on the inside, mass seating for the journey. Oh, you fancy. I'll have to tell Pan.
I made my way to the top, pretending not to hear as some of the deck hands began to notice my unwarranted presence. All I needed was... yep, perfect. A loose sail with plenty of extra rope from the top rigging. I grabbed the rope, backed to the edge and ran hard from starboard to port and swung out over the gap between vessels.
Don't look down. Don't look... that's... I'm gonna die.
I closed my eyes and held my breath at the sight of nothing but air and clouds beneath me. But I had to open them again as I knew the other ship was getting closer. This was actually a bad idea. Not the opening of my eyes - that was needed. This whole rope thing. The rope was long, which was needed to swing off of the 'ship. But I started this swing by dropping down - I was below the deck of the other vessel and headed straight for making the first ever Belle Pancake on her hull.
Luck was with me. Just when I needed it, a view port was opened. I put my feet together in front of me and prepared to slide through the opening. At the last moment I screamed for the victim who suddenly appeared to get out of the way of my ramming feet. I hit him square in the chest as I speared my way into the 'ship.
I was fine, but the air was clearly knocked out of this poor fellow. I apologize profusely as I ran to the stairs and climbed down into the maintenance area. I was doing a lot of apologizing today. No one was up or down near this flight, so I quickly removed my robe and wadded it up, shoving it into my bag.
Now I looked like I belonged here. My golden 'ship goggles were on top of my brown hair. I had tried to put it into a pony tail earlier but it was loose now and strands kept getting into my face. You saw the brown leather band I wear on my right wrist. On my left upper arm I wear a thin strip of black leather tied so that the ends dangle loose for several inches. This is in memory of my father. My shirt is off-white, mostly cream, and short sleeved. Over that I wear an overbust sapphire-blue corset. It's not real, just for show - I can actually breath still. I have several belts of different colors of leather and width, and attached to them several utility pouches. My knee-length skirt is maroon of velvet-like material. To end the ensemble I wear black knee-high boots. Not those silly ones with heels. These are made for running.
Scrambling down the stairs I shuffled into the routine of the crew, eyeing the layout and locating the nearest exit. I found it and made my way there casually. Back out in the dock I tried to gauge where the praetorians might be, but it proved difficult without appearing like I was looking for something. I decided just to continue forward and trust that I had given them the slip.
I made my way out of the first hub and back to the main access point for all of the hubs. It wasn't long before I made it to the row of the fifth. Immediately I saw the Windy Bird. She was the last vessel, but the brightest. Her hull was painted that bright blue-green you only find in tropical seas. And her sails were dark blue with white stars. Appearing like folded wings rather than a squarish sheet of a sail, they folded out from the middle and a section was attached at the back like a tail.
I had to keep myself from running, I was so happy to see Pan's 'ship. I couldn't hide the small smile that crept on my lips. Or the fear that replaced it as my arm was grabbed.
"Bag inspection. Reports of stolen goods from the archive - everyone must be checked."
I slowly turned around and replaced my fear with the best impersonation of pleasantness I could muster. How was I going to get out of this?
"She's mine," I heard a familiar voice say. Then there was a sword at my throat. What is he doing?
"Thought you could run off, Belle? With the best of my tools." Tisk-tisking he then addressed the dock guard, luckily not one of the praetorians. We might have a chance of pulling this off. "Thankless girl. I take her in after her father dies, and how does she repay me? Stealing and attempting to desert. "He frowns his bright blue eyes. He almost looks serious! If it weren't for that wild red bushy hair. He really needs a comb.
Pan pulled the bag off of my shoulder and started pulling items out.
"Oh, planning to disappear as an Aurorian, eh?" There was my cloak and he shoved it under his armpit. "Bah! And my favorite multi-wrench," he wagged the metal tool under the dock guard's nose, "They don't make them like this anymore, you know." He shoved the items back into the bag and continued talking. "Good thing you caught her, or she might have slipped away. Well done, sir. Now you come back where you belong." With that, Pan grabbed my left arm and pulled me along, ignoring the stutters of the man behind us.
Pan waited until we were out of hearing range. I could hear the large smile in his voice without even looking.
"Did you see me? Wow, I was good. I had him right where I wanted him and you - you should have seen the look on your face! The sword at your throat was the best."
I couldn't take it anymore. With my free right hand I punched him hard in the shoulder.
"Ow, what was that for?"
"Stop your bragging."
"Aren't you a little thankful I showed up when I did?"
"Of course, Captain."
Then his voice got more serious. "We were beginning to wonder. You didn't meet our deadline."
"I ran into... some complications."
"Well, the Windy Bird is ready to sail. If you are ready," he stretched out his arm with a flourish. We'd arrived at the 'ship and he motioned for me to step up the ramp first.