Ch 1: Horse Thief
It had been a trying day, one of many as of late. As Prince Proteus led his hunting stallion Archimedes back to his stall, he could only ponder at how much more complicated his life had become in the wake of the Book of Peace's arrival. Not only did the security required of such a monument exponentially add to his responsibilities, especially after Eris's theft, but Proteus's near miss with the executioner had made his father realize just how much more his son had to learn about ruling and all that it entailed.
And with Marina's "mysterious" disappearance, the delegation was desperate to find him a wife and secure an heir. It was mildly embarrassing, but well worth the look that had flashed in Marina's eyes when Proteus had released her from the betrothal. He wondered about Sinbad and Marina often, hoped them safe and well and, for Marina's reputation's sake, married. Should they ever appear in a city where Marina would be recognized, things could be complicated and humiliating if that ring of gold was missing from her left hand.
Proteus's proclaimed ignorance of Marina's current whereabouts infuriated the delegation, but he refused to divulge the information until either he or Marina were wed. Until such a permanent ceremony was completed, Marina could easily and legally be ripped away from Sinbad. After all, he was only a pirate, and betrothals, especially those of state, were not broken solely by the word of one party. In the eyes of Syracuse, Proteus and Marina were still engaged, and there was nothing Proteus alone could do to change that designation. And at this rate, Marina's father, who would have long ago ripped out all his hair had he not already been bald in anxiety over his daughter's health and reputation, could be caught these days muttering, "impugning her honor" and "headstrong child" under his breath. The prince couldn't help the rush of guilt that choked him every time he faced his worried, almost father-in-law. Archimedes bumped his black muzzle against Proteus's shoulder, knocking him out of his train of thought and back into the present.
"All right, Archimedes," Proteus chuckled as he stroked a hand down the gray's face, rubbing his coal-toned muzzle with affection. "After you grain, no doubt." The horse bobbed his head as Proteus led him into his spacious stall, too well mannered to pull or rush. Slipping the leather halter from Archimedes's head, Proteus ran an appreciative hand over Archimedes's well-muscled hindquarters as the horse attacked the grain waiting in a small bucket. "I've been lying more than I care to lately, Ark. Why is it whenever I have to lie, it has to be for Sinbad?" Proteus wondered aloud to the preoccupied Archimedes, a small huff pushed through his nose, a wry smile twisting his lips.
Proteus left the stall with a sigh. Riding was his only time of peace these days, and he always mourned its ending a little. Several of the horses in the stables were his, but Archimedes was one of his favorites—the well-mannered one. Another was Ramses, a giant blood-bay that was as discerning with people as the most vain of aristocrats, but had slashing hooves and teeth instead of scathing words as weapons. He had injured many a groom, and few could enter his stall and not rush out terrified or bleeding.
Making his way to the red horse's stall, Proteus started to whistle an old lullaby, announcing his approach long before coming into sight. It calmed Ramses, and it started their visits off on the right foot. His other favorite horse was also munching greedily on his supper, hardly looking up when Proteus entered the stall and moved to lean against his side with an indulgent look on his face.
Proteus spent some time rubbing the horse and murmuring to him, taking care to pay attention to his legs and ears, the areas about which Ramses was the most sensitive and shy. However, the horse was coming along well, and barely flinched as Proteus's hand gently, but firmly, passed over his fetlocks and the edges of his ears. Finally stroking the wide arrow-shaped blaze that streaked up Ramses' face in reward, Proteus left the horse to the rest of his dinner. Proteus would have to change for the meal with the delegation and several notable ambassadors tonight, probably bathe as well…
His thoughts were swept away, however, at the distant shouts of the guards. A slim, poorly dressed young man spun around the corner of the stables, barreling past Proteus with only a passing glance at his face before shooting into Ramses' stall. "Wait!" Proteus cried, terrified for the youth's life. Sprinting back to the stall he had just quitted, Proteus winced at the horse's bone-shearing scream, praying that he wouldn't have to explain the youth's death, whoever he was, to his father. Dymus had never much cared for Ramses, and this would just be another excuse to be rid of the animal his father often termed "a menace and monster straight from Hades."
But just as he reached the stall, the door burst open, Ramses streaking out, nostrils flared and eyes white-rimmed, the youth clinging to his back like a burr. Knocked to the ground as the swinging door caught him against the shoulder, Proteus watched wide-eyed as the lad steered Ramses down the aisle by halter and lead rope alone, the horse moving with all the agility and speed of the southern winds.
Gathering his senses in the crack of a whip, Proteus leaped to his feet, dashing to Archimedes's stall. The horse was pacing at the door of his stall, his grain left untouched and his ears almost painfully pricked. Haltering and leaping up to mount his horse in record time, Proteus urged the horse out of the stall and down the aisle at an almost dangerous speed, all the while muttering under his breath, "What is Zeus's name is he thinking?"
As they cleared the stables and Archimedes's hoof beats started to clatter on the cobblestones of the main courtyard, Proteus barked snarling orders to the confused guards. "Close off the grounds! No thief gets away with my horse!" The guards were a little shocked—they have never seen Proteus this… ruthless before. But, then again, no one had ever tried to steal one of his horses before. And one of his favorites, no less.
Despite Ramses' head start, Archimedes was one of the few horses in the stables that could match the red horse in speed. They were half brothers, their sire the same famous war charger. But Archimedes's dam had been of racing stock, and lent her edge of speed to her son. Ramses and his rider soon came into view, veering into the woods when the youth realized that the gates were shutting around them. Proteus narrowed his eyes. Few could navigate safely out of the woods into the surrounding capital. Who was this boy to think he could find his way out of the royal hunting forest?
Proteus ground his teeth as the thief pushed Ramses over a wide stream, his breath catching in his throat as Ramses stumbled slightly on the landing. The prince vowed that if Ramses was hurt during this ordeal, he'd take it out tenfold on the thief's hide. And that was before the boy was shipped off to jail for horse thievery. A few years might be tacked on for the fact that he'd taken one of the prince's mounts.
Archimedes and Proteus were slowly gaining on the pair ahead, smoothly making their way through the obstacles of the forest, Proteus ducking a low-hanging branch with ease. Archimedes spent much of his time in the forest, while Ramses had been bred for other grounds. The red horse was gradually becoming more and more resistant to his rider's cues, his fear and confusion at the strange surroundings grinding away at his edge of attention. Proteus was shocked that Ramses hadn't bucked the thief off yet. After all, some of the best riders in Syracuse had been bucked off Ramses; but the youth was riding him well.
Breaking into a meadow, Proteus allowed Archimedes his head and urged him with a small tap of his heels. The horse stretched out, eating away at more of Ramses' lead with ease and racing hooves. The lad stonily refused to look behind him, although Archimedes's approaching hoof beats were growing louder.
Despite his strength and power, Ramses was a muscle bound beast built for agility and stamina on the battlefield. Archimedes, on the other hand, was a sleek, fleet arrow made for speed, and was by now almost abreast with his brother. They slid back into the dappled shade of the trees, the pair of horses leaping over a log as a unit. Just as the distance between the two horses closed, the thief kicked out, striking Proteus in the ribs. Catching himself before his seat started to slide, Proteus desperately tried to suck down the air the air the thief had knocked out of his lungs. Confused by his rider's retreat from the hunt, Archimedes hesitated for several crucial seconds, and Ramses started to pull away.
Gritting his teeth as his head swam briefly, Proteus drove Archimedes forward, catching up again easily. Completely livid, Proteus waited until the two horses strode in unison, then brought his cocked elbow back against the thief's shoulder. The youth reared back in pain and loosed a strangled breath. Proteus took the chance as Archimedes's longer stride drove him forward, latching a hand on Ramses' halter and hauling back simultaneously on the bay and gray's halters. Both well-trained horses slid to a stop, their hooves buried deep in the thick leaves as their heads and hindquarters dropped to balance the slide.
With a whistle and the low command of "Up," Proteus drove Ramses up into a towering rear. His seat already unsettled by the hard, sudden stop, the thief tumbled off Ramses backwards, landing in the soft leaves with a grunt. Ramses dropped back down heavily, both horses standing utterly still, muzzles close and heads low as they heaved for breath. The horses had traversed over a mile of difficult terrain at a full run, and while neither trembled from exhaustion, they were close. Patting Archimedes's sweaty neck, then Ramses', Proteus nudged Archimedes forward at a very slow walk to cool both of them down. Ramses would follow close without a lead, tired beyond a fussy mood. As he circled, Proteus pinned dark, angry eyes on the youth.
The thief slowly stood, wincing as he straightened. After a fall like that, the strongest of men would be hurting. The small grove was silent but for the panting of the horses and the rustle of leaves under their trudging steps, the two humans glaring at one another. The youth suddenly tried to shoot away, but Proteus reined a quickly recovering Archimedes into his path, the prince's well-shaped mouth twisting into a grim frown as his brows furrowed.
"I wouldn't try it if I were you," he murmured in a low voice few but his father and Sinbad knew to be portent of danger. The boy backed away slowly, spinning away to again run. But again, Proteus blocked his path with the tall Archimedes, hard hooves flashing dangerously close to the thief's feet. With a sigh at the desperation tempered by fear in the youth's eyes, Proteus grudgingly softened his voice. "Enough. I'm not going to hurt you."
As if to prove it, Proteus swung a leg in front of him, slipping off Archimedes gracefully. Proteus patted the horse's shoulder in dismissal, and Archimedes and Ramses wandered away to graze. Proteus wasn't concerned—they would return immediately with a whistle.
"Your name?" Proteus asked quietly. The youth tossed his head defiantly, the sun filtering through the branches catching his face briefly. The boy could be no more than eighteen. "Heavens," muttered an irritated Proteus, passing a disbelieving hand over his eyes. "You're little more than a boy." The lad's lips tightened, but he still remained silent. Apparently, this conversation was going to be rather one-sided.
"Listen, I don't know why you attempted to steal my horse. It was foolish, and could have easily cost you your life, especially on a horse like Ramses. But you never left the palace grounds, and Ramses appears unhurt. There is no reason for your life to ruined, not when you are so young. We'll return to the castle, and I'll do my best to soften your sentence." On the last statement, the boy tensed, his eyes widening as he shut down. He again whirled, breaking away to the edges of the glen. Proteus quickly caught up with him and, snatching his arm in an iron grip, knocked him back, the boy stumbling a bit. The prince then drew his sword to display his seriousness over the matter.
When the boy produced a concealed blade from a sheath on his back, Proteus groaned in exasperation. Taking it as a sound of fear, the lad attacked quickly and viciously. Expertly blocking the strike, Proteus fought back, the two slowly drawing more deeply into a heated battle. Although an expert swordsman, Proteus had to work to cover himself—the boy had talent, and some training. However, just as a rhythm was developing, something distracted the youth, causing him to hesitate. Pushing his advantage, Proteus unarmed him, the boy's useless blade flying away to land in the cushion of leaves ten feet away. The prince triumphantly pointed his blade at the boy's throat, the victor gracious enough to look at the loser without a smirk.
"Now," Proteus began. However, before he could say more, he caught a flash of movement in the dark foliage behind the thief. Catching the glint of an iron arrowhead at the last moment, Proteus leapt forward, shoving the boy down. The arrow buried itself high in Proteus's right shoulder, a wave of pain that took his breath away rippling out from the wound across his skin like an icy sweat. The air scored his throat as Proteus dragged breath into his struggling lungs, and he dropped loosely to his knees, his limp fingers losing his sword in the leaves.
Clasping his left hand over the wound as best as he could manage in a vain attempt to staunch the bleeding, Proteus struggled to straighten his winding vision as the archer approached from the cover of the trees, a blade glimmering in the sunlight in his hand and a cruel look on his craggy face. Grasping his sword with his bloodied left hand, Proteus struggled to his feet, valiantly fighting the black that stained the edges of his vision with gritted teeth and narrowed eyes. So focused on his attempts to get up and face the archer, the prince didn't hear the small, cut-off yelp from the thief.
The archer swung his blade with power, but lacked finesse and imagination. Perhaps a little slower than his norm, Proteus still skillfully blocked the blow, moving in a stilted, pained manner, the anger lacing his blood the only thing keeping the prince on his feet. His bloody hand was a little slippery on the hilt of his sword, but determination tightened his grip. The archer attempted to draw him into a duel, but Proteus was well aware that, with his injury, he would never survive a drawn-out battle. Yet the archer kept dancing away, and Proteus heaved a breath of frustration, his head swimming with nausea when he accidently stretched a muscle in his shoulder. Best to end it now—he wouldn't last much longer.
With little strength left, it was pure rage that pushed Proteus to drive his blade through the opening the archer had left straight into his stomach. Wrenching his blade free as the dying man fell with a sickly gurgle, Proteus started to turn to search for the lad when another, perhaps an accomplice of the archer, slammed the hilt of a sword against Proteus's right temple. Darkness stole over the prince's vision with a roar as he collapsed in the leaves with rolling eyes, sliding into unconsciousness.
Woo hoo! I thought this story was lost forever when, after a long and strange series of events, my old computer was quite literally tossed into a dumpster. I can't estimate the thousands of hours I thought lost, but, Microsoft proved hardy, and I was able to recover my stories. So, here's my little continuation after the events of the movie Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas. I felt Proteus got a little shafted with the whole deal, and at the very least deserved a girl. His was stolen by Sinbad. Kinda. Anyway, like Suzaku in Blue Blood and Green Eyes, I feel that a little justice needs to be served to the noble, princely supporting character. Proteus always was my favorite and I forgot how much fun I had with this chapter. So enjoy! I hope you like it!