A/N: Hello old readers and new ones! The Guardian is intended as a birthday fanfic for my dear friend and fellow fanfiction writer, Eletha Landon. She has been a wonderful friend and an amazing influence over the past few years and so, it is the very least I can do for her. I regret that it's rather late, but I had a lot of fun playing with this idea, so I hope you will enjoy it! For readers of Amnesia, I apologize for silence in the past two months, but I promise that I will get to it as soon as I can. Without further ado, I wish Eletha Landon an amazing 21st birthday!
Disclaimer: I don't own Darkest Powers or any of its characters.
(A Darkest Powers Fanfic)
Lyle was a small but lively village where many traveled from distant lands to engage in the prosperous commerce. Surrounded on one side with lush woodlands and the vast sea on the other, merchants made their livelihood in the marketplace while others spent their days in the mine, gathering iron ore. Life in Lyle was a busy one, where work started at the break of dawn and lasted until dusk. Although it was relatively peaceful in the day, the villagers were wise enough to remain indoors once night fell. Mischief in the darkness wasn't uncommon and the village guards patrolled the streets to deter the worst from occurring.
Lord Saunders, a widowed nobleman, oversaw the state of the village and was loved by his people. He was a benevolent ruler that was known for his fairness towards his citizens as well as his love for his young daughter. Bound by his promise to his beloved on her deathbed, the nobleman did everything in his power to ensure his daughter's well being and happiness.
Word of his dedication spread throughout the land and rival noble families who sought after his territory have attempted to harm the young girl, in hopes of forcing the nobleman's abdication. Fortunately, the Count's guards were able to prevent their missions before they grew serious, but the nobleman grew anxious that one day, his enemies would succeed.
For this reason, the young child participated in unusual activities alongside her exquisite education provided by some of the land's best instructors. The girl trained under the battle master, who treated her as one of his own. Together, they engaged in both empty handed combat as well as various armed techniques. Although the girl was small for her age, her enthusiasm for her lessons made her a quick learner.
Many of the Count's councilmen disapproved of young lady's extracurricular activities, deeming that they were unfit for a girl of her status. However, the nobleman knew that as his daughter aged, she grew tired of her ever-present guards and more frequently than not, went to creative efforts to avoid them.
As such, the Count reassured himself that should his daughter ever find herself in a dangerous situation, she would be able to defend herself. Or at least, stall long enough for her guards to track her.
He watched from his study as her lithe figure fought off one of the battle school students, slamming the hilt of her wooden sword into the poor apprentice's stomach.
Lord Saunders smiled. Of course, should the young lady ever encounter such a situation, heaven help her assailant, as they would be in for a surprise.
. . . . . . . . . .
"This is a terrible idea, Chloe."
The young girl looked up at the stable boy as he shifted nervously from one foot to another. In his hands laid a set of commoner clothing that boys no older than ten years of age would wear. They still looked as though they would be too large to fit on her small frame, but it was now or never.
"You worry too much, Nate," said the girl as she accepted the clothing. "You said you would help me."
The boy held his eyes closed with his dirty hands as the girl quickly slipped out of her dress and into commoner's clothing. "Yes, but I'll get in trouble when Edmund finds you gone," he protested.
Chloe sighed as she thought of her present guard. His bad luck had caused him to draw the shortest stick and for that, he was on Chloe-duty. She would have felt bad about giving him so much trouble, but she was too curious about village life to feel guilty.
"If. Not when," she argued as she straightened her clothing. "I told him that I was feeling unwell and wanted to rest in my chamber. He probably didn't think that I would tie my sheets together to climb out the window."
The stable boy lowered his hands from his eyes and gave her an annoyed look. "Don't give me that. I'll be back before the castle gates close. I only want a peek around the village. And you know as well as I do that I cannot merely waltz through the guards as myself. So I'll pretend to be you," the girl added as she gave her friend a once over.
Nathaniel, or Nate, as he preferred to be called, was one of her dearest friends as they grew up together within the castle grounds. His father bred some of the fastest horses in the land and Nate looked after their wellbeing. As they were the same age and were constantly together, the nobleman's subjects had often adoringly thought of them as twins. With the slight redness in her otherwise pale hair, Chloe looked like the stable master's son. Even more now with most of her hair hidden under the cotton cap.
"How do I look?" she questioned as she twirled around, feeling the absence of the extra folds normally found on her dress.
"Like a stable boy," Nate mumbled. Then a sly smirk tugged on his lips as a thought occurred to him. "But you're much cleaner than any stable boy would be."
Chloe took in his dirt-smeared cheeks and ever present filthy clothing and made a face. "Truly?"
"Truly. Now, how should we change that?"
A handful of minutes and much dirt later, Chloe checked her reflection in the water trough and winced. Her nursemaid, Agnes Talbot, would have fainted at the sight of her young charge. From head to toe, she was filthy. Not to mention Chloe smelled faintly of manure. But as she turned her face from side to side, she barely recognized herself. Surely that meant that no one would either.
"Now, I am ready. Remember to stay out of sight as much as you can. It wouldn't take a steward to realize that you cannot be in two places at once," Chloe reminded her friend.
A nod as the boy's face turned serious. "Be careful. An adventure is not worth your life," he advised.
The young girl gave him a wry smile. "Worry any more and you'll turn out like Russel," she teased, thinking about the tense elderly captain of the guard. She caught the look on Nate's face and she sighed. "I solemnly swear that I will take great care to return in one piece. Happy?"
Nate studied her carefully and after a long moment, he signed in resignation. "Not particularly. But go before you get us both in caught."
Chloe grinned. "Don't need to tell me twice," she giggled and she took off.
The young child hurried back to the main grounds where most of her father's visitors conducted their business. As she rounded the corner, she slammed into something solid that sent her staggering back.
The "something" let out an "oomph" as Chloe recovered. As the figure straightened from the sudden blow, Chloe recognized him to be one of the young couriers that traveled between villages to deliver messages. "Watch it, lad," he snarled.
Chloe flinched at his sharp tone and quickly bowed her head. "S-sorry!" she stammered as she hurried away.
It wasn't until she got within a few feet from the gates that her pace decreased. The young girl braced herself on her knees as she willed her heart to slow. She needed to get out of the castle grounds before she risked being seen by anyone else. But as she headed towards the pair of guards that separated the castle from the rest of the village, she replayed what the messenger had said.
He had thought that she was a boy! The girl felt a smile tug on her lips as she straightened. It took everything she had not to skip. Her disguise worked after all.
Without further hesitation, Chloe bounded towards the gates and the village she had often looked at from her tower.
. . . . . . . . . .
Life in the village was everything the young girl had heard of and more. The stable boy had often recounted numerous tales about the village, but it was nothing compared to witnessing everything firsthand.
Chloe wished she had a dozen eyes as her head turned from side to side, not wanting to miss a thing. The marketplace was the liveliest part of the village, where countless stalls sold off their products to earn their keep.
"Fresh bread for your watering mouths!"
"..the best jewelry in all of Lyle.."
"Get your fresh game! Pheasants… foxes… you want it? We got it!"
The sound of metal clanging nearby caught Chloe's attention as she followed the sound. There, she saw a bearded man hard at work as he hammered his steel sword, still red from the blazing forge. Rivulets of sweat dripped from blacksmith's face as he placed the sword in the water trough. Chloe let out a small astonished gasp as a small cloud of steam rose from the contact.
The blacksmith caught her eye and gave her a nod. The girl recovered from her surprise and waved back before hurrying to see what else the village offered.
Although there were countless of things to see, what Chloe liked most about the village was how free everyone looked. The vendors looked busy, but they greeted everyone warmly. A girl a few years younger than she was, ran laughing as she chased her friends, not giving a thought to the state of her dirty appearance.
Chloe wondered how different her life would have been had she not been born a nobleman's daughter. Would she be running around like the wind too? Even if that wasn't so, at the very least, she wouldn't be under the watchful eye of everyone on the castle grounds.
Here in the village, she was merely a commoner. And strangely enough, it felt liberating. Which was why she was determined to make this day last.
After exchanging some copper coins for a full stomach, Chloe bounded happily toward the docks, hearing the slight chink-chink as she tossed her coin bag into the air and catching it with one hand behind her back. Just as she was about to do it again, a strange sensation that she was being watched shot through the young girl and she froze. She whipped her head to check her surroundings, but other than the fishermen scurrying to finish up for the day, there was no one there.
Her unease was still unsettling in that the hairs on the neck were still standing up. "Don't be a fool. There's no one there," the girl muttered to herself under her breath.
Then she glanced up at the sun, which had covered a great distance since she had left the castle grounds. It was nearly time to return back. Then she eyed the docks, where a fisherman's apprentice had slipped, causing the barrel of fish to spill everywhere. Faintly, she could her him being reprimanded for his mistake.
She should be heading back. But just a quick peek around couldn't hurt.
. . . . . . . . . .
What was supposed to be a few moments at the docks became much more when the sun started to lower into the sea. Her time in the village was up. This was more than evident when the young lady caught sight of the royal guards frantically searching for something.
Or rather, someone.
Chloe winced as another squadron of men carrying her family's crest met up with the sergeant just a few metres away from her hiding place behind a supply crate.
"Any word of her?"
"Well, what are you doing reporting back to me then, you fool? I do not want to see any sign of you until you have the lady with you. Failure to do so will have you pulling double duty in the gardens for a month. Do you understand?"
Chloe watched the men disperse, the threat of failure looming on their heads. She was in trouble now. She hadn't planned on staying for so long, but since it was her first time... the thought trailed off as she realized that she was making excuses for herself, as if she was still such a child. The right thing to do now was to admit defeat and let herself be herded back to the castle under guard. But then, what were the chances that Edmund, who had probably raised the alarm, had merely been mistaken about her disappearance? What if he had overlooked some place?
A plan began to form in the young girl's head. There was a chance that she could still make it back without being caught. Then she could just say that she had merely fallen asleep somewhere and that everyone was fretting for naught.
The girl took about twenty paces forward when the unsettling feeling of being watched returned. Just as she spun, something wrapped around her body as a sharp object prickled against her neck. "Don't even think about calling attention to yourself," a male voice rumbled in her ear. "Just give me all of your coins and you can walk away."
Chloe's heart thudded at the proximity of the stranger and his implications if she didn't heed his warning. However, based on his voice, he couldn't have been much older than she was. Meaning that it wasn't likely that he was much stronger either.
She quickly took notice of where his hands were placed and of how the knife was positioned on her. Her current situation brought her back to her lessons with the battle master where he had insisted on teaching her how to break someone's hold with bare hands before getting into the fancier stuff. That and studying her opponent.
Her assailant was bigger than she was and had a knife. But bigger didn't always mean better. Neither did it meant that just because you had a knife, you knew how to use it. In cases like these, all you needed was a moment of surprise and agility.
Chloe allowed her body relax for an instant, allowing a fraction of space between her and the stranger. Then she jumped into a squat, thrusting her elbows to the side and broke out of the boy's hold. He let out a yelp of surprise when she slammed the back of her hand against the side of his face.
However, just as quickly as it had happened, the boy recovered and blocked her next blow, the element of surprise broken. Chloe tried to make a break for it, but each time she veered in one direction, the boy mimicked her. She threw another attack, but again, the boy blocked it, much to her surprise. Then as she evaded his punch, his leg hooked behind hers as he pushed forward with his body weight.
Chloe landed harshly against the cobblestone path, hissing from the impact of hitting the ground. She held her breath, vulnerable to another blow.
But it never came.
Slowly, she opened her eyes to see her assailant looking down at her with wide eyes. In the dim light, she could make out his features, giving a face to her attacker. His clothing was tattered and worn through, as though he had spent some time on the streets. His face was dirty with a faint scar running along his right cheekbone. His night black hair was messy and overgrown. But even through that thick curtain, the startling beauty of his eyes couldn't be hidden.
They were a luminous shade of green that reminded her of the forests that surrounded Lyle. Looking into them, the young girl saw many things that were unspoken. Although the boy couldn't have been more than a summer older than she was, his eyes had seen more than she had in her eight years of life. And he had suffered in a way she couldn't have imagined. His eyes carried a haunting and desperate air about them.
And they were staring at her in bewilderment.
"You're... you're a girl," he whispered, his voice losing that hardened edge he had earlier.
Chloe stared back at him equally surprised. But as she sat up, strands of her hair fell into her face and she knew immediately what gave her away. Just as she was about to answer, a pattering of footsteps echoed down the cobblestone path towards them. And within seconds, they were surrounded by her father's guards. The sergeant from earlier stepped out as he did a double at the sight of the young girl. "Lady Chloe," he breathed as he took in her dishevelled appearance.
Immediately, two soldiers rushed to help her up as though they were given silent commands. The girl let out a muffled hiss as one of the young men accidentally brushed against her stinging palms. The pain hadn't crossed her mind when she had fallen, but now, upon closer inspection, she could see that her hands were sticky with blood and were imbedded with gravel.
The sergeant narrowed his eyes at the wound and his gaze became icy as he turned towards her assailant as the likeliest suspect. "Boy," he commanded, his voice business-like. "Identify yourself."
Chloe held her breath as she saw the boy's lips move, but his words were inaudible. "Speak!" the sergeant snarled and Chloe flinched at the harshness of his tone.
"Derek." The words came faintly. Then he repeated himself, his voice stronger now, "Derek Souza."
Although his voice was steady, the girl could see the tightness in his posture. His eyes were anxious but guarded.
"You have committed a crime against a nobleman's daughter. Not just any nobleman, but Lord Saunders, the one who oversees this land. For that, you have insulted the people of Lyle," the sergeant declared. "As punishment, you will serve twenty years in prison."
It took a moment for the impact of the words to sink in. Then it did. Chloe's gaze shot to the boy's face, where it had glazed over in shock. Her heart thudded heavily against her chest. Prison for twenty years? It was unthinkable.
Although her father cared very much for his people, he did everything he could to deter crime and keep his citizens safe. She didn't know much about what went on in the prisons, but she had heard enough from the guards when they didn't think she was listening. It was a place for murderers and the bandits. Not a place for a boy who became a desperate thief. Not everyone survived the harsh conditions intended for prisoners.
Looking back at her encounter with the boy, Chloe saw something in him that reminded her of herself. Judging by the guarded way he held himself, the girl knew that he had lived a tough life on the streets. He did everything with a reason. And although he had attacked her, sensing a weaker target, the boy had stopped upon learning that she wasn't quite who he had thought she was.
Even with her young age, she sensed strength from the boy. When they had fought, his skills were unpolished, but he had some talent. If he was trained… Chloe swallowed. He would be a force to be reckoned with.
However, if he were sent to prison instead, then that ability would be smothered. She couldn't let that happen.
Despite the quietness of her voice, it rang clearly through the night. All heads turned in her direction. Even the boy, Derek, stared at her, his expression unreadable. "He won't go to prison," Chloe said.
The sergeant's lips thinned. "This boy has committed a crime. A crime against you, Lady Chloe," he emphasized.
"Indeed. As the victim, it would be fitting of me to decide what to do with him."
A raised eyebrow as several soldiers exchanged bewildered looks. Evidently, this didn't happen on a daily occurrence. The sergeant considered this for a moment before deciding to humour the girl. "Very well. And what say you, my lady?" he questioned.
The girl turned so that she looked at the boy directly. She didn't know if her plan would save him from a life in prison, but she would try. Those intelligent eyes studied her, his face an emotionless mask. But even so, his rigid posture gave away his anxiousness. His fate lay in her young hands. Still watching him, the girl spoke, her voice clear in the still night air.
"I want this boy, Derek Souza, to join the ranks as a royal guardian."
A/N: At the moment, I'm not exactly sure how long this fanfic will be, but most likely less than five or so chapters. The Guardian was an idea I had always had in my head, but never got around to actually writing it, so I am happy that I finally got that chance. I hope you enjoyed this prologue, though I was rather surprised that it ended out much longer than it was supposed to be.
-posted: August 17, 2014