Author's Note: I am not sure what happened here and I don't even know if people are going to want to read this. All I know is that this idea started brewing this morning and I just couldn't let it go until I wrote the first chapter and put it out there to see what people think. I considered doing this as a Once Upon a Time crossover, but I wanted it to be about Caryl and only Caryl. So I will be using plot elements from OUAT, but only TWD characters in a very AU setting. Please let me know what you think and if you're interested in reading more. It's pretty much all there in my mind already, but it might be too weird for Caryl, even as an AU. I just don't know!
When Carol emerged from the King's chambers she knew immediately that something big was going down. Sir Rick, the leader of the Knight's guard had summoned her and she entered the room to find several knights in armour talking excitedly. Sir Rick smiled and bowed when she entered. "Princess," he said formally.
Carol nodded. "What's happened?" she asked, wanting to be filled in immediately.
"We caught one of them," Rick said proudly, followed by a chorus of cheers. "I think he might be the leader of the bandits. Had 5 small sacks of gold on him. Stole them from a noble family north of the Castle."
"Oh," Carol replied in surprise. The group of bandits had been evading the Knight's Guard for months, making them look rather foolish on more than a single occasion. Carol actually laughed at one of the stories. It seems their leader was quite the archer and had pinned one of the Knight's to a tree with two arrows through his cape. The knight swore it was a lucky miss and he should have been dead, but other witnesses say the archer had not missed, only did exactly what he set out to do.
Stories of the rebel group had spread across the kingdom. They were feared by the nobles, loved by the peasants and a huge thorn in the side of the Royal Family and Knight's guard. Their mission was simple: steal from the rich and give to the poor. They had never harmed or killed anyone. Carol couldn't admit it, but she secretly hoped the group would never be caught, even though she knew it was inevitable. Many of the nobles had more money than they knew what to do with. And she'd been to the far reaches of the Kingdom and seen the poverty many of the peasants lived in. As long as no one was getting hurt, she really didn't see the harm.
Of course her father saw it quite differently. He believed the rich worked for their pennies and deserved to keep them. And there was also the political aspect – the Nobles kept the Kingdom rich. They funded the churches and paid taxes to the King. The more land they owned, the more profit they made, the more money they handed over to the King's treasury. In return the King kept them safe. Which meant he had to stop the bandits.
But her father was quite ill. The King took sick a few days earlier and wasn't doing well. He slept most of the time and barely spoke when he was awake. The doctors were being optimistic and Carol tried her best to trust them. But in several years of ill health she had never seen her father look so terrible.
"He needs to be questioned… tortured if he won't talk," one of the Knights piped up.
"Silence," Sir Rick said loudly. "We don't do a thing until we hear from His Majesty." He looked at Carol, "Has his condition changed?" She shook her head. "Ay, then the prisoner stays locked up until the King is feeling better." There were a few grumbles, but one look from Rick quieted them all.
The room emptied, leaving Carol alone with Rick. "You're not really going to torture that man are you?" she asked.
He shrugged, "If your father wants him tortured that's what we do." Carol felt sick to her stomach. As much as she loved her father he was short on compassion, particularly for this group of bandits.
Carol spent the rest of the day at her Father's bedside, worrying about his condition and thinking about the prisoner. Eventually her curiosity got the better of her. She had to meet the brave stranger being held captive in the dungeon of the castle. After supper Carol threw on a hooded cape over her dress and snuck down to the cold, dark lower level.
As she suspected there was only one guard on duty. The bandit was the only prisoner they had and he was locked in a cell. "Leave us," she said, politely but sternly to the guard. "And tell no one I was here, understood?"
The older man nodded, "please stay back from the bars. If he harms you… your father will have my head." He left through the heavy wooden door, closing it behind him to wait in the hall.
Carol walked over to the cell and peeked in. The man was sitting in the corner, in the shadows, an untouched plate of food on the floor to his left. "Hi," she spoke, pulling her cape tight around her for warmth.
"Unless you're here to let me go, I ain't talking," the man grumbled.
"Well I'm afraid I can't let you go, but I really would like it if you would talk to me," Carol said, wrapping her hands around the bars in front of her and peering at him, trying to see what he looked like through the shadows.
"I ain't telling you nothing. I won't give up my men. I won't tell you where they are or where they're going. I will die before I betray them," he said in a voice that made Carol's knees weak. She could tell in only a few sentences that he was a man of honour. Well, as honorable as a thief could be.
"So you are the leader," Carol confirmed with a smile.
"And you're likely smarter than you look," he muttered, getting to his feet. "Listen," he said, walking towards her, into the light. "There's only two ways this can end - they let me go or they kill me."
"Oh," Carol gasped when she saw his face. He was younger than she was expecting, likely about the same age as her or a few years younger. And he was handsome, incredibly handsome. Her heart started to hammer in her chest. Carol knew she should back away from the bars, stay out of his reach like the guard said, but she couldn't move. Perhaps he was dangerous, but she wasn't scared of him. Nothing about his approach suggested he would hurt her.
"What?" he asked.
"Uh… nothing…" Carol stammered. "You just don't look like what I expected."
The man laughed. "What were you expecting? Nicer clothes? An ogre? Or someone better looking perhaps?"
Carol was stunned. Was he serious? Was there any man in the kingdom better looking? Sure, he needed a good bath and clean clothes, but everything else was perfect. "I'm not sure," Carol smiled. "I've never met a legendary thief before."
"Hmph," he grunted, sticking out his hand. "Well now you have. Daryl. Pleased to meet you." Carol hesitated, but only for a second before placing her hand in his through the bars. He lifted her fingers to his lips and kissed them, like any gentleman would. "You gonna tell me who you are?"
"Oh, yes. Carol," she replied, flipping her hood back so he could see her better.
"Oh," Daryl gasped. This time it was his turn to be surprised. "And to what do I owe this honor, Princess?"
"Call it… curiosity," Carol said with an easy grin. She was actually shocked he knew who she was. Even though she tried to meet her people the kingdom was huge and most peasants had never seen any members of the royal family. "How did you know who I am?"
"You visited my village many years ago," Daryl said softly. "A man never forgets eyes like yours." Was he blushing? Carol wondered. She was sure his cheeks turned pink right after the compliment.
She was just about to ask him another question when the door burst open and 3 ladies came running through. "Carol, Carol, we've been looking everywhere for you," Lori spoke, breathless. Lori, Andrea and Jacqui were her Ladies in waiting, and her best friends. "This was the last place we had left to check. I told you she would be here," Lori said to the other two. Lori knew Carol very well and it obviously wasn't a huge surprise to her that Carol would be curious about the prisoner. "He's here," Lori added gravely.
"He? Who's he?" Carol asked in confusion.
"Ed. Prince Edward I mean. He's here and he's looking for you," Andrea replied.
"What? Why would he be here?" Carol felt bile rising in her through. She was betrothed to Prince Edward, but there was no way she ever planned on marrying him. The wedding was slated for the spring, but she fully intended on talking her father out of it before it ever happened. Ed was evil. He was cruel and jealous and Carol suspected he could easily become abusive once the power swayed in his direction.
Jacqui had tears in her eyes. "The wedding… you don't know?" Carol stared back, dumbfounded. "Your dad… he pushed the wedding up. It's in a fortnight."
Carol felt like she'd just been punched in the gut. She took a deep breath to compose herself. "Go, before you get caught down here. I'll be up in a few minutes. Distract him until I can get back to my chambers. Tell him I'm changing and I'll be out to meet him soon." Carol spoke quickly and sent them off.
"Wedding?" Daryl said, giving her a curious look once they were alone again.
"There won't be a wedding if I can help it," Carol muttered, deep in thought.
Daryl snickered. "I highly doubt a mere princess has a say in such matters."
Carol shot him a look. "I'll figure something out," she grumbled, which only increased the look of amusement on his face.
"I pray I live to see this," Daryl retorted.
Carol had to go before she was caught. "Here," she offered, taking several pastries from dinner out of her pocket and pressing them into his hands. "These will taste much better than whatever is on that plate," she said, wrinkling her nose. "This conversation isn't finished," she added, flipping up her hood and heading for the door. "I will be back."
"I look forward to it Your Highness," he replied with a formal bow. When Daryl stood he was grinning at her and Carol knew that smile would be burned in her brain until the moment she finally saw it again.