Never Too Far Away
Disclaimer: None of these characters have been created by my non-clever mind and all credit belongs to Ms. Levine.
Dry Out of Luck
Karma has a blasted way of biting you when you least expect it, pondered Ella, with really nothing else to do, considering her less than fortunate circumstances. One minute she's having a gay ol' time taking a scenic route on her—supposedly harmless— visit to her Aunt Rainford's, playing the naïve and unsuspecting fool on karma's good side. Then it turns on her so swiftly she suffers the agonizing whip-flash. And for what?
In favor of throwing her carriage in a dilapidated heap on the stiff, pebbly ground, that's what.
If karma had a tangible form, it would probably be disguised as one of those delicious, ruby apples. How appealing it would be until she collapsed and died from poisonous consumption. Although, at this point, even that seemed to be a more attractive idea.
Anything was probably better than being trapped under one's fallen form of transportation.
Hitting a rut in the road, her carriage had flipped over early this morning, efficiently eliminating any path for her escape. Of course, the team of chestnut horses had run off, the footmen had scattered in all directions for aid, and she received the lovely occupation of portraying the damsel in distress under a massive piece of wood and wheels.
That was hours ago.
Not fond of idling around, Ella of Frell had no intention of seeking a savior. But, in vain, she attempted to pry herself free. Being in the unfamiliar town of Bast, she must have appeared a pathetic sight wriggling and squirming under a capsized carriage.
Presently, seeing how she was a complete failure in all aspects requiring an iota of strength, Ella resigned herself to tracing back to all the unwholesome things she'd done in her eighteen years to deserve such a dull, hair-ripping fate. She was trying to repent for them.
Let's see… Ella thought as she clasped her eyes shut in what she believed was contrition. She had squandered the 10 KJs she had received for her birthday when she was enticed by an adorable monkey, which she was promptly forced to return after the poor thing bit her mother.
She had accidentally—or not so accidentally—pushed her childhood nemesis, Marta, into a platter of cake at the Hennesy's ball. But, Marta had deserved it….
Ella mentally slapped herself. That was no way to go about an apology.
So sorry, Gods.
Also, it was pretty heartless to abandon the first boy who fancied her in favor of a free muffin. Terribly sorry, Ella apologized to the higher beings fervently.
And, then she dared to open one eye.
Nothing had changed.
Ella exploded in a cry of exasperation, vehemently whipping her long brown hair from side to side.
But, in mid-cry, her eye caught on a tweeting swallow perched in a willow across from her. She hadn't seen any indication of life all morning. She figured the animals had not wanted to be around her gloomy disposition.
She was mesmerized by the bird.
She was also delirious.
Fatigue encompassing her brain, Ella's mind began to fabricate elaborate ways this little bird could help her.
All she had to do was communicate with her feathered friend and then it could fly away for assistance. She could get through to it, couldn't she? She had always read in fairytales how princesses would have many-a-furry companions. Plus, she had always wanted to be more 'at one' with nature. How difficult could it be?
Ella looked up at the bird with a soulful expression. "Oh, sweet, melodious bird, will you not help me?" Perhaps if she submerged the bird in flattery, it would be more sympathetic to her cause.
The umber swallow quirked its head, as if saying, 'Are you speaking to me?'
"Yes, yes, you," Ella confirmed. "C'mere." The bird opened its wings, preparing to fly. "That's it, good birdie," Ella cooed. She waited with baited breath as the swallow swooped down from its perch and landed on a tree root to the edge of her elbow.
Ella gasped with delight. She did not see how others thought this kinship with nature to be so challenging. Look at her. She was a regular Snow White.
"You do understand me, don't you? You charming swallow!" Ella exclaimed excitedly.
The swallow tipped its head in acknowledgement, she thought.
"You are going for help, aren't you?"
The swallow nodded once again.
Ella's heart soared with exultation. "Go, then, my friend. Take flight!" she beckoned.
As the bird stretched its wings and escalated toward the tree, Ella knew this swallow would be her savior. It was a kindred spirit and was going to retrieve help! Wait was all she had to do.
Still with an elated smile upon her face, minutes later Ella heard the ruffling of wings. Craning her head upwards, Ella saw her bird returning from the opposite direction. The clever bird found someone so soon, she thought with wonder.
Above, the swallow circled around; coasting down toward the same point it had left. Settling down, the bird peered at Ella, and Ella examined it horror. Wriggling in the swallow's mouth was a fresh worm.
"No! That's not what I told you to find!" Ella reprimanded exasperatedly.
The bird twisted its head to look at Ella's agonized face. Not breaking eye contact, the bird gulped down the worm, giving a tweet as it finished.
"Help!" Ella erupted. "Did you not hear me? H-e-l-p."
Nodding, the swallow hopped around the tree and began to chirp a song.
Ella slammed her head into the ground. Bloody bird! The damn thing had had no idea what she was saying the whole time! That was the last time she put her faith in a creature with a brain the size of a pea.
As the swallow continued to parade the circumference of the tree, jovially singing, Ella shook her head wearily.
She was officially crazy.
And, still stuck.
Chirping once more, the bird bounced up and down on the tree root, taunting Ella. Cursing the swallow, she glared at it hatefully, watching it do its jumping. Up, down, up, down. Up. Down.
This thing was an idiot.
She glanced down at the swallow's padding feet on the tree root, and then forcefully banged her head on the dirt a second time.
The picture of the tree root had flashed behind Ella's closed eyelids. She jerked her up suddenly.
A tree root!
Why had she not seen it before? Perhaps it was because she had been having a mental epileptic fit for the past few minutes… That fact aside, the root seemed to be grounded just beyond her reach. If she could somehow grab it and pull, she might be able to shimmy her way out from under the carriage. She wasn't lodged in too deep, she estimated. And, honestly, at this point, how could she possibly lose any more of her dignity?
It was a potential escape! And, not a completely insane one, at that. Forget the blasted bird!
Ella made a nasty face at the chirping swallow, smacking it away with the back of her hand, and causing it to ascend into the air with a furious screech.
Ah… Ella predicted she would be expecting another smiting from the Gods for that one. Oh, well. A rock could not change its composition. At least she had given the nature idea a go.
But, more important at the moment was the tree.
With the extension of her arm, Ella tested out the distance between her trapped body and the tree root. She saw that it was not that far, all she needed to do was stretch a bit more. So, taking a deep breath of preparation, Ella lengthened her spine to its maximum height while holding out her hands desperately.
Flailing, she continued missing a steady grip on the root by a few inches. Flailing more earnestly, Ella grinned in triumph as she felt one hand grasp something solid. With a firm grip, she tugged at her body gingerly, which slowly revealed itself out of piles of wood.
No seemingly bloody or broken appendages, which were always good, she then wriggled a bit more. Another part of her body appeared. An excellent process, it was. Then came her legs; it was similar to being birthed by the carriage. Right before the finishing of her knees, she heard a thundering of hooves on the ground, and it was swiftly coming up behind her, which was obviously not a convenient area for her to view.
"How nice that the footmen have arrived just in time", Ella muttered sarcastically. Yes… just as she had completed rescuing herself. Now, there was really nothing else they could do. Hearing the horse slowing to a trot behind her, she yelled to the general space beyond her back, "Thank you for coming so slowly! Really, it's been just peachy mulling over the secrets of human life here. Without this opportunity of being imprisoned under a towering pumpkin of a coach, I'm sure I would not have undergone such an overwhelming character metamorphosis. Never mind the pain and agony. Oh, I relished it for my various sins over—"
"Quite a hostile girl, is she not?" interrupted a smooth voice addressing the quiet road-side. Ella heard the man descend from his horse.
Oh, Lord, Ella silently said a few expletives to her so-far sadistic Gods. The man—who had yet to reveal his face—was definitely not one of her footmen. Damn. It was a bit mortifying being stopped in a rant by a stranger.
"Especially for a girl who is in a distressing situation," the man taunted while slowly strolling around the mess of the crash, "and needs assistance from the person they were verbally abusing." He ended his stroll standing right in front, or rather, above a shocked Ella, who was still clutching the tree root.
Considering the man had caught her spastic display of anger and did not currently have his legs crushed by a bloody carriage, Ella stared at his immaculate umber boots with hatred. As her gaze travelled upwards, she saw an equally pristine pair of black breeches, perfectly accentuated with a dark brown coat over a casual linen shirt, open at the collar. The finishing touch was the man's disgustingly smug face, framed by willfully auburn locks. How Ella scorned this man already.
"Well?" Ella raised her eyebrows expectantly. "Are you going to do something that might be of any use, or enjoy the scenery some more?" She removed her arms from the root and crossed them defiantly over her dirty blouse.
"I'm rather delighting in the beauty of nature at the moment," returned a provoking reply. The man assumed a relaxed stance and glanced around at the foliage in feigned interest.
Ella scoffed. "Fine, if you refuse to help me, then it would be much appreciated if you would simply stay out of my way."
The tall man chuckled with amusement, finally staring down upon her as if she was not in dire need. He seemed to be taking sincere joy in her disgruntlement.
"It is obliging that you find such humor from my circumstances," Ella stated caustically. She frowned at his footwear, since it pained her neck to glower at his laughing face.
The man responded urbanely, "My lady, I was only waiting for the ideal opportunity to rescue you valiantly." He knelt to Ella's side and began to remove a broken piece of wood from atop her legs.
His comment made Ella's mood evermore foul. "Forget it. Trail along on your dashing way; I have no need of your presumptuous heroics!" The stranger gave her a dubious look, which she was sure reflected his over-inflated ego. Despite Ella's words, he continued to dispel panels of wood that consisted of a once-intact door. However, enraged by the disregard of her command, Ella began to struggle against the stranger's assistance. She thrashed her body violently to rid herself of the man's hands on the fallen wood.
In irritation, the man grasped Ella forearms to still her writhing. "Stop squirming. I am attempting to help," he ordered. "You are being foolish." While holding her arms with one hand, he resumed his work with the other.
Ella gasped at him in disbelief. "You are being foolish in not letting me be!" Ella spat, while still using her movements to resist the anonymous man's aid.
Suddenly, in the midst of their battle, they heard a creaking from above. Due to the commotion, the remnants of the carriage that were perched on Ella began to waver. Her eyes shot above her with a horrified expression. Both she and the stranger immediately held their breaths in the hopes that the giant lumber would not tumble down on them.
Perverse to their wishes, the inevitable occurred, and the remaining pieces of her travelling coach fell mercilessly upon them in a blinding crash of wood and dust.
Sucking up lung-full amounts of dust, Ella hacked and coughed.
It was impossible to see what had happened. But, groping around beneath the muddle of wooden chaos on her form, she angrily realized that she was still the only person who was a prisoner to the debris.
As the cloud of brown and red powder cleared the air, the man beheld Ella's murderous countenance.
He became even a tad disconcerted, encountering such a look of menace. Because, now, Ella was covered up to her collarbone in rubble. He had leapt away during the crash, which prevented any injury on his part. He presently stood a few feet away from Ella, viewing the wreckage.
The stranger's discomfort quickly changed to self-satisfied merriment. "I hope you realize this situation could have been resolved if you had just allowed me to help. Now," he ordered as he approached her, "hold still while I rescue you from your maidenly suffering. You may thank me graciously afterward." He smirked arrogantly.
Ella gritted her teeth. She could not believe the audacity of this man, whom she did not even know the name of. "You were the cause of this 'situation' and you want me to be gratified that you saved me from it?" she retorted incredulously as she indicated her, again, trapped figure. "I was doing splendidly on my own."
The man coughed a laugh into his arm. The girl looked like a floating head, only seen from her head and up, beyond all the ruin.
An extremely furious levitating head, he mentally corrected.
"Very well. If I mollify you on that point, may I extract you from the wooden carnage?" he smiled, holding up his hands in a mock peace treaty.
"Just get on with it, then," Ella snapped. The man removed his coat, dropping it on the ground, and began swiftly lifting parts of the carriage and depositing them in a pile to the side.
Ella determinedly maintained a silent, mulish expression. Watching his progress, she did have to begrudgingly admit—to herself, of course—that the man was not ungifted in looks. His muscles undulated in ways that were not even fair as he hoisted the large masses of her prison, while his brown-red hair fell down in waves over his tan forehead. In addition, his open shirt gave her an eyeful of a smooth, rippling chest. Though, it was not as if she was ogling; the man's torso was practically shoved in her face, for goodness sake's.
With the last of the wood removed from Ella's body, she felt devoid of energy, having been confined for almost four hours. She laid on the dirt road in exhaustion, her arms limp at her sides. Despite her protests, her stranger—because, if he was anyone's stranger, he was undoubtedly "hers" by now—gripped her upper arms and pulled her to a standing position.
After being horizontal so long, Ella felt a little unsteady on her legs, staggering to a nearby tree for support. Her stranger came up beside her, guiding her rest of the way with an arm at her back. "Easy, there. You've had a traumatic experience. Do not try to exert yourself too much." His tone was annoyingly condescending.
Ella threw him an acerbic look. "My body may be stiff, but I am certainly not mentally incapacitated. Do not handle me like a feeble animal." She brushed off his hand once she was able to lean her weight on the trunk of the tree.
The man opted to lounge by a tree opposite hers, his back propped on the tree trunk. A wise decision, considering the termagant before him, he thought. After all, even he valued self-preservation. And, this girl seemed to want to preserve nothing of his.
"You are fortunate that I came along. Travelling on such an obscure road, you might have been stranded her for several more hours," he said, unable to withstand antagonizing her.
The span of the large elms shaded her expression, but he was assured that it was not an amiable one.
"Oh, really? You single-handedly exacerbated my circumstances, putting me in more of a dilemma than I began in. How fortunate for me," Ella murmured bitterly, placing one hand on the side of her cheek in feigned maidenly gratitude.
The stranger grinned, his honey colored eyes sparkling. In spite of this girl's apparent dislike of him, he was highly entertained by her quick tongue. "Do you want to know my name?" he inquired, although he could already guess the answer.
"I frankly could not give a damn what your name is. I am extremely fatigued and still have a journey to complete, although I am obviously lacking in footmen. And, because of your gracious assistance, I probably have a concussion as well." Ella probed her head for any bumps or contusions.
Feeling satisfied that she was not going to face a horrible death; Ella looked down at herself for the first time. She was absolutely filthy. The colors of her white blouse and blue skirt were barely distinguishable under the brown dirt and dust plastered on her clothes. She shook out her skirts furiously and brushed off her shirt, which helped as much as not dusting herself off would have.
"I am Char, Prince of Kyrria," the man announced, expecting Ella to apologize profusely and attempt to gain his good graces back. After all, that is what any normal girl would do in her situation. Women fawned at his feet, a daily occurrence that Char justly attributed to his wealth and striking good looks. There had not been a woman he had ever wanted that he did not get. And why should he not? He was going to be king to a vast kingdom; that was the stuff of girlish dreams and fantasies.
Although, this girl was not at a disadvantage, he confirmed as he studied her intently. Her shrewdness amused him, as he had never seen such a feisty woman, considering most girls were taught to be coy, delicate blossoms. And, the dust did nothing to deter the impression she created. On the contrary, the dirtiness of her clothes only enhanced the brightness of her hazel eyes with chaotic tendrils of rich brown hair that fell in ringlets towards her abdomen. Ella presented a pleasantly curvy figure slouched against the tree, with a hint of long legs beneath her grimy skirts. Yes, he thought. He could forgive her quite well. However, Char could see that this would not unfold as he had planned because at the moment her bright eyes were aflame with anger and disdain.
"Of course, you are. Apparently everything that would be completely impossible is happening to me," Ella spoke lowly. She raised a cool hand to her forehead, checking to see if she was having a particularly real nightmare. "I am sorrier than you know to have met you today, Prince Charmont. It probably would have saved us both some grief, especially if you expect me to go weak in the knees." She emphasized her point by turning her head aside in obvious nonchalance as she unconsciously dusted more of herself off.
"You know, I could have you taken away by guards instantly, if I so chose," Char stated reflectively. "It is probably wise not to say anything to me that I would find distasteful," he warned casually with a shrug of his shoulders, leaning forward off the tree.
"If you wanted to have me arrested, I trust that you would have done it by now. And, you certainly would not have gone to the trouble of saving me if you only intended to have me taken away. Some of your men could have gotten me out," Ella replied.
Char grinned happily; much to Ella's bemusement. "So you agree that I did rescue you? I knew you would come around sooner or later."
Ella sighed in frustration. "You would like to think so, wouldn't you? Anyway, that is beside the point. I need to think of a plan, so your charm is wasted on me."
"Oh?" Char inquired.
"Oh, yes. But, fortunately, you will never have to see me again. You see… I am not from Bast, so there is an infinitesimal chance that this," she gesticulated to themselves at a standstill between the trees, "will ever occur a second time."
This piqued Char's interest. No wonder he had never seen this girl before. He was sure he would have remembered an intelligent woman with fiery green-brown eyes.
"What brings you to Bast, Miss…?" Char questioned.
"Ella," she conceded. "Ella of Frell." She owed him that, she supposed.
"So, Ella," he tested the name on his lips, finding that he liked it exceedingly. Somehow, she was personified by it. "Where were you heading this morning?"
I am… visiting an aunt," Ella answered hesitantly. She feared giving His Highness her address, although temporary, could prove to be troublesome for her.
"Who?" Char urged.
"I believe you already said that," he pointed out with veiled patience. "Which aunt?"
"Why, Sire. The only aunt I have," Ella replied forlornly, twisting her face in what she hoped was sorrow.
"You are purposely refusing to tell me whom you are staying with," Char stated in amazement. No one had ever possessed the boldness to deny him.
Ella sighed exasperatedly. "Your Highness, why does it concern you so? It would be better for us to forget one another, as well as this entire day."
"Why?" Char asked, genuinely shocked by her lack of enthusiasm in seeing him again. Was this girl raised by wolves that she had not a whit of interest in him? Or, her eyes must be terribly weak that she could not properly see what a fine specimen he made.
"Because…," Ella stretched out slowly between clenched teeth, as if speaking to a young child, "you do not want to remember me, just as much as I do not wish to think of you."
Ouch. Well, clearly, that demonstrated her opinion of him.
Char had to swiftly change his mental tactics if he wanted her to give him the household where she would be staying. Although he had plentiful amounts of women to adore and entertain him, lately, there had been a certain dullness in his life. Perhaps, it was because they gave in too easily, which he found to be a crashing bore. What was the thrill of the chase when the prey willingly gravitated towards you?
All he needed to do was distract Ella long enough to obtain the desired information. But, which card should he play? Charming? He'd given that one a go, but as one could see, it seemed to have had the diametric effect. What about arrogant ass and suave lothario?
Char gave Ella a swarthy smile, making her eyes flicker at him cautiously.
Yes, definitely suave ass.
"Oh, and do you know everything that I want?" Char suggested artfully, taking a few steps closer to Ella. He reveled in her alarmed expression. Good, he thought. She was not as self-confident as she had so fiercely portrayed.
"Well— that is…," Ella flushed a crimson shade, heat rising to her face, "I don't." Of course, she did not know what he wanted. Idiot, she chastised herself. She had just met the man but a couple of hours ago. But, why was the prince suddenly having such a predatory gait? Ella flattened herself into the tree as Char continued to approach her, his boots crunching gravel on the hushed roadside. "I had only assumed you would have better exploits to occupy your time…," her voice faded.
Smirking inwardly, Char stood directly in front of Ella, her head level with his chin, and he looked squarely down into her upturned visage. "Give me you're the name of your estate, and I shall find a more effective way to use my time," he countered. Noses almost touching, Char could see the wariness in her eyes. He had her right where he wanted; flustered to the point of spilling all the details.
This was becoming an increasingly awkward situation, exceptionally quick, Ella panicked. Here, at a stalemate with the prince of Kyrria, she wracked her mind for words. However, with his face so close to her own, she was finding thinking to be a bit difficult. She had not ever really been in this proximity to the male gender before, as it was entirely out of the realm of decency and propriety.
Devoid of brilliant ideas, Ella was about to give Prince Charmont what he sought. Then, she caught the small smirk in the corner of his mouth, hovering above her.
He had been trying to manipulate her this whole time! Who did he think she was? Some empty-headed courtier, easily duped and managed? Well, he was in for a rude awakening…
She was not to be intimidated.
A veneer of iron overtook Ella countenance, causing her momentary fear to vanish. She raised her arms, laying them on Char's chest and giving him a forceful shove away from her.
Surprised by the momentum of the push, Char stumbled back a few feet. Ella grinned knowingly, crossing her arms in a sweeping movement. "You can rot before I give you anything," Ella chimed cheerfully. "I have no need of you any longer, nor shall you find me again."
"Is that so?" Char retorted, "Well, I relish a challenge."
Both Char and Ella locked gazes, holding a silent battle of wills. Ella's eyes flared with defiance, while Char studied her intently, taking another step in her direction.
Suddenly, hearing a distant calling of her name, Ella broke her contact, crossing the trees and furiously whipping her head around them to see past to the road. Having almost crashed into the prince in her haste, Ella had to shoulder him out of her way.
There, about a mile east, were her coachmen, their blue and white livery contrasting with the brown dirt of the road. Salvation. Never had short, incompetent men been so welcome to her. Ella drew her face back into the clearing, preparing an escape mission.
"I suppose this is farewell, Your Highness," Ella began to conclude, quickly skirting around the trees while still facing Char. Although he was a pompous ass, Ella believed in the necessities when it dealt with royalty. Or, things could very well end badly.
"Um… thank you," she added as an afterthought, nodding her head in acknowledgement.
Having done her duty in graciousness, Ella shifted her body and fairly began to fly down the road, taking rapid strides with her legs and not daring to look back at the cluster of trees that held the prince among them. In plain view of her coachmen, Ella waved them down, picking up her pace to meet them.
Finally, she would be able to see her aunt and forget this ordeal even happened.
Partially concealed by the trees, Char trailed Ella with his dark brown eyes. Intriguing, indeed. She had all but run away from him, barely saving a cursory glance backward. He watched as she became a little brown, dust-covered dot in the distance, halting to address her footmen.
Ella of Frell was an enigma... One that he intended to figure out.
A.N. Thanks for giving my little attempt a read. Hope you enjoyed it. If not, there are other jaguars in the jungle.