A cool breeze promised a cold night as the sun nearly finished setting. The beauty of such an age-old action was lost to everyone in the area. Small dots of scattered fires littered the ground below. High in a gray brick tower allowed a good view for deepening shadows as night embraced the land.

Once again...another decision was to be spat out from hating lips. Once again...there would possibly be another night of solitude and fear, of tears and sadness. Would she ever know the safe, warm recluse of a hot bath or clean clothes? Disdainfully picking at the dirty, tattered dress, slim fingers let it drop. No - she knew - not now and possibly not ever.

'Where ARE you father?' She drearily wondered. She evenly looked at the fortress and the surrounding forest area, hoping beyond hope that someone would find her this night. 'Why haven't you sent someone to save me?' With a deep sigh of despair, a tired head dropped deep blue eyes from the darkening view to stare at shadows around her prison.

Tattered hair tumbled around bare arms. Harshly swallowing, trying not to lose ALL strength, she leaned back on the uncomfortable, prickly straw and slowly pulled a small chunk of honey hair to her view. What was once silk and smooth was now ratty and full of straw or dirt. The only normality she could claim from her previous life was manually comb it out with equally dirty fingers.

It wasn't long before the arrival of her guards. She could hear heavy clomping up the tower's steps even before the door opened. After the wooden barricade swung open to reveal two humanoid, pig-looking captures did she bother to give them her attention. Silently, one pointed a crude-looking spear at her before jerking it behind at the exit to the small, cylindrical room. With a resigned sigh, not feeling any more fear, she stood and walked ahead.

Now out of the cold, high prison and darkness - a darkness kept at bay by a few torches on the stone walls - she stepped onto the ground and looked up. The tower seemed so far up from only a few minutes ago...

A rough force pushed on her back, shoving her forward and nearly to the ground. She barely managed to keep upright while still daintily holding onto her ruined dress to maintain a shred of dignity. After righting herself and giving a small glare in the direction they were walking - mostly meant for the guards - she slowly carried on. It would do no good to keep the whole ordeal any later than necessary. She didn't want to be in the presence of something so foul for more than she had to.

With a prideful chin and even eyes, she quietly walked to the courtyard with nearly ruined slippers.

The sight disgusted her, as it always did. Sparsely laid grass meekly rested amidst dirt. The courtyard was also a practice field for the race; a race that held no respect for the land they inhabited. She stopped before the throng of pigs, dignified eyes meeting him head on. All black eyes gleefully looked back, a disgustingly happy grin on his fat, slobbering face. She knew he was gloating over his rank and ability to keep such a meek, 'helpless' girl under his wide, cloven foot.

Staring at the chosen king of his people, she fought not to wrinkle her nose under the fly attracting stench that encompassed the throng she stood around. Her eyes refused to meet any of the other race, not wanting to show her inevitable fear at what might happen. She knew the king's patience was wearing thin. If she kept rejecting him, as she would continue to do so, her death would be inevitable. But after being locked up for days on end, death didn't seem like such a bad ultimatum in comparison to the life she uncooperatively led.

The silence beat down on every living thing there. The cold wind struck back up, blowing tattered hair around her shivering body. The thin, white dress didn't do much to insulate her small frame against the upcoming winter. She could feel tension from the king and anticipation of the crowd. She knew they were wondering what she'd say this time. Would it be yes or no, and back to the tower for another day of thinking? Her jaw tightened.

No it had always been and no was what it would always STAY.

The smug grin left the king's face, onyx eyes turning cold. "We gather again tonight." He began. His voice grasped the English words poorly, the accent of his ancestor's native tongue making it hard to understand. "I have asked you night after night princess. Each time you reply the same and I send you back for another night to think over your destiny. I am losing my patience, having been far too patient with you already." His eyes glinted with malicious intent. "I offer you one final time princess; marry me. Accept my offer and be by my side, or your death will follow at the sun's final rays by tomorrow." He cut off her automatic and forceful no. "Think well princess. You have been holed up here enough to appreciate all I can offer you. Don't throw your life away."

She glared at him briefly before casting a tired and resigned glance to the ground. She knew it was coming to this. Having spent enough time thinning what he called patience was going to end eventually. 'All good things must come to an end.'

But still...to tell him no and lose her life, or say yes and lose her dignity and betrothal lands. There was no easy way to answer. If she denied him a final time, she would lose what she so longingly held onto. But to embrace his offer would not only shatter her self-worth and dignity as a human, he would swarm her father's kingdom and claim what was rightfully his. The land of peace would know no peace if she gave in. She knew what would happen - he would change the fertile lands of her home into desolate, utter wastelands.

Quietly sighing, bewildered but prideful eyes met his. "King of the pig race...you have kept me here against my will for three full moons now. Every night you ask the same question, only to hear my same answer. You stole me from my home in the middle of the night and try to force me into something that will bring ruin to my people...all to gain power to YOURS. You threaten me with a life of misery as a queen, but also death as a princess." Her jaw hardened as her eyes narrowed. "You had my answer then my lord, and you CONTINUE to have it. I will NOT give up my acres for the likes of you! If I die as a princess without seeing my father again, at least I know they will be safe."

An enrages snarl met the end of her speech, the king's mouth curling into an angry sneer. She just sealed her fate. But to die like this, a proud princess of a peaceful kingdom that kept away from the lands of war, was the most honorable way to die.

"You test my patience princess." He spat. Around him, the throng seemed to crowd closer in their anger at her denial. Even though they didn't understand a lot, they read her eyes and body, and that was enough. A hoof pointed in her direction, shaking with unbridled fury. "Tomorrow, I will ask you one final time...before the swords of my warriors. If you deny your life at the hand of death, then you will never see the next sunrise!"

A tight grip from one of her guards roughly jerked her backward. Her arm felt like it was being pulled from its socket before she could regain footing to keep up with them. The guard finally let go and let her walk in front, back to the high tower for maybe her final night.

After stopping inside, a hoof harshly planted on the middle of her back, connecting with her shoulder blades. She heavily fell into the straw as the wood door slammed close, the iron handle clanging its fury. Fighting a cry of pain as straw poked her face and hands, she weakly moved and sat on her haunches. Her eyes heavily watered and her face stung from the straw. Pained tears slowly replaced with sorrow as the fate she sowed sunk in. She was going to die...

Slowly closing her eyes over the inevitable fear that encompassed her, a hand moved and wiped away salt water. Tears would do no good now that she was condemned. The king had not one ounce of compassion or kindness. Maybe it was BETTER this way.

A hand slowly moved to her hair, assessing the damage. She pulled the long mass around, trying to bide time before morning. There HAD to be a way out! With the newly installed terror of all-encompassing darkness, she was filled with an urgent need for life. After hand-brushing what straw she could, she focused on a new task. Looking at the dismembered pile of straw that made up her uncomfortable bed, she set to work on piling what she could find in darkness back to its original state.

After pushing and fluffing it to a recognizable heap she stopped. Nothing fitting for a princess or even a prisoner, but it'd keep the cold stone from her back. With a heavy, saddened sigh, she carefully settled on the pile, moving strands over her frame to try and trap some heat to fight off the autumn nights. With a final look at her round, stonewall room, she settled into an uneasy, blank sleep.

~*~*~

Dawn came all too soon. The crisp, morning rays bent down the haphazardly arranged window, spewing sunlight into her eyes. The once peaceful face, finally able to enjoy darkness and joyous dreams, scrunched tight to keep out sunlight. Her eyes regrettably opened and looked around as the shadows exited for another day. Slowly - shivering from the morning chill as she always did - she disembarked from the mildly warm straw and stretched. Her bones and muscles ached from such an action, forcing her to quell movement.

Quietly yawning, she turned and kneeled in front of a window, looking at the dew-covered morning. Try as she might to leave this cursed, barbaric kingdom, the majesty of the outside forest and morning rays in a cloudless, deep blue sky always took her breath away. With the soft, caressing wind that blew every so often, she felt a small chunk of pain and impending doom fade for a brief amount of time. In this solitude of peace and serenity she gathered strength and fortitude her resolve to face what kept happening to her.

A heavy, recognizable clomping crashed all serenity and majesty back to reality. She was still a prisoner, and it WAS breakfast time again...

The door shoved open, hitting the prison and shaking its unsteady walls. Not bothering to turn to her guard, a small clack sounded, breaking the final grips she clawed at. She quietly sighed, letting the wind take away the sound before the door slammed close again, her guard not bothering to grunt at her as he normally did. She minutely smiled, feeling a small sense of perverse satisfaction in knowing she could annoy them, even in SOME small way. It was the only weapon she had. Though she wasn't a spiteful or cruel person by any means, one had to deal with what they were not when drastic measures were needed.

Turning, she gazed with an upturned nose at the slop lining the bent metal tray. Gradually scooting closer as if it were an alien life form, one hand moved to grip it. 'I wonder if I'll be able to stomach this again.' Although they did feed her, that was putting GROSS assumption on the word! She didn't even bother to classify what lined the makeshift bowl, knowing it tasted as bad as it looked. Scooping tentative fingers into the mess, closed eyes grimaced at the feeling of contact. Oh well...best to plug her nose with one hand and eat with the other...

Gulping, she started in on the task, trying to eat as fast as possible. Just the taste of the goop sliding past her tongue, down her throat was enough for her to lose the rapidly dissolving hunger and toss everything back up. Gritting her teeth, trying to hurry over beginning nausea, she forced hands to plunge to the bowl until it was half empty and she could stand no more.

Possibly the hardest task of the day done, the food-riddled hand hastily wiped on her dress to cleanse itself. A hand pushed the metal tray across the floor, letting it hit the door. Slumping against the wall in renewed fatigue and remorse, she warred with sleep and conscious. It would be all too easy to let sleep take her and fall back to the oblivion. But to do so...she would miss the chance of finding a possible escape. Her head jerked up in remembrance. Her mind DID suggest escape last night... Part of her thought it a tired delirium, not wanting to get her hopes up. But...

Her body jerked to the windows, scanning the courtyard. Morning after morning of constant watching with nothing else to do allowed her to know when the warriors practiced and who milled about the visible area. Slowly peeking out, as if she would be seen from so high up, her eyes came upon a cart of straw a little to the left of her window.

Deep blue widened as that kernel of hope blossomed into a raging inferno. Eyes hastily darted to the door, as if expecting a guard to enter. They quickly returned to the cart of straw, teeth uncertainly nibbling her lip. It seemed like a long way down. But it was a risk she could stand if it meant she could find a way out. Eyes looked at the fortress wall, trying to find a way to get over that. There was only one entrance, and warriors guarded that. Calculating eyes narrowed as she figured the best possible way would be to find the barrels stacked next to the cook's kitchen and climb those. It was a clumsy plan, but she was determined to defy all odds and live.

Pressing lips together through the lump in her throat, she knew if the plan was going to happen, it was now or never. The warriors would practice before the sun got too high and roasted their sensitive skin. Hands tightened over the stone, feeling fear and uncertainty, but also hope and a future past the miserable squallings she was forced to endure. Adrenaline surged as resolve and determination out-voiced fear and worry. It WOULD work, it HAD to...

Slowly leaning up, she looked down at the dress, knowing it would be an eyesore amidst all the dirt. Her eyes narrowed. It would have to do until she could wrap up in something more concealing. With a final glance about her prison, she swallowed harshly before standing. Leaning over one final time and scanning the horizon, she quickly and quietly slipped out. Soon, she was hanging by hardened sun-kissed hands, her gaze on the roof. Her head carefully scanned both left and right to see if she'd been spotted before it looked as far down as possible. Seeing the cart below, she gulped a final time and let go.

The fall seemed to take forever. Her limbs briefly flailed before her back connected, straw breaking through the dress to her skin. She was instantly buried past, nearly hitting the wooden barrier. Pain almost blackened her vision, but her resolve was stronger now than it had been seconds ago. She was outside...WITHOUT guards! Her eyes slowly opened as she struggled to move. Stealth was needed now more than speed and hastiness.

As quietly as possible, she crept to the edge of the cart and peered out. No one seemed to be about. Ears strained to hear the faintest murmurings, she slowly sat up. Thankful her hair matched the straw, she was able to poke the tip of her head up to look around. No one was in eyesight. Feeling a small imp of mischief, like she was playing hide and seek, a smile tugged at her mouth. It was quickly wiped away with the severity of her situation. If she was caught, she was bound to be killed on the spot.

'Best get to work and stop wasting time. If someone knows you're gone, they'll liable to send guards or warriors after you!' Standing, she scuttled off the wagon and ducked down. Her mind searched for the nearest area she could safely get to and climb the wall. There was nothing she could stand on, and the walls were a good ten-foot. Best not to take the chance of trying to climb it herself. To the cook's kitchen it was then.

She was able to duck inside an unoccupied door just before a few warriors off to practice spotted her. Heart frantically beating, breath hitched in her throat, eyes riveted on the open doorway, she stilled in the darkness. The clanking of armor and weapons slowly faded to nothing and she looked around the darkness, eyes adjusted to blackness. Though feeling she was momentarily safe, she didn't allow false security get to her. She needed every human wit and cunning she could muster. She now needed strength more than what she could find within the depths of her soul.

Slowly turning with every cautious, calculated step, she crept into the lower areas of the castle, heading for the kitchen. She knew it was far way from her tower, but not hard to get to. The main thing was just to keep out of sight.

Slowly inching with ears perked to every step she took, she slowly ambled past walls, fingers trailing against stones as she huddled against it. Eyes spotted a closed door and with wide eyes, somehow knew she was here...mostly by the tinkering of pots behind wood. Grunting and squealing behind the door sounded like it was coming closer and her heart clenched, stomach knotting in cold fear.

NO! She'd come so far to be caught now! Head whirling around, finding only hallway next to her, a closed door a few paces next to the kitchen door, she dashed for it just as the inner iron rung creaked. The kitchen door pulled inside just as she pulled the door out into the hallway, slamming it shut seconds later. A few confusing noises came from the outside, stopping outside her door.

Eyes took in the storage of food and a few weapons. Hastily grabbing the nearest spear, she gripped the rung and shoved it through, hoping for a few minutes. Just as her hand laxed on the spear, the door was pulled open, wringing a startled cry. More shouts, this time angry, came from outside when the door didn't budge. She fearfully backed away, feeling like a caged animal. At least in the tower, she had windows to look out of.

Her eyes whirled around the small, packed room. Stacks of dried meal and boxes littered the floor, almost enabling someone to get a foothold. With a burst of inspiration, she grabbed the nearest bag and dragged it to the door. Just as she stood to grab another and start piling, a hoof shoved through the space and she shrieked in terror, stumbling away. More shouts could be heard, a lot more sounding extremely far off. Her startled cry and stupid decision to enter the storage room in the first place was what got her in trouble.

She continued to pull bags - mindful of the door this time - until she finally stopped, exhausted. Looking up and trying to catch her breath, she choked back a cry of relief upon finding a small, rectangular hole at the top of the wall. It was a wonder she never noticed before, save her eyes were on the floor the entire time. It looked just enough for her to squeeze through...

Gripping more bags with a new unrelenting fury, she stacked them as best she could against the door. She knew the warriors would break the door, but that would take them a little longer...hopefully long enough so she could shimmy outside. All she needed was reach the boxes over the bags and climb to the top. Someone started shoving from the outside, trying to push the door closed and loosen the spear's meager hold. Biting her lip, she scrambled to the top of the boxes and peered out. She couldn't afford to be careful this time; haste was needed above all else. Without another thought, she quickly pushed through the opening, now grateful she never ate the entire meals her guards left. It was a tight fit, but she was able to wiggle through to her waist.

More sounds of pushing and hitting filled the air gaps around her dress. Hands deposited on stone as she pushed with weak muscles. Her lower body wiggled in attempts to squirm out of the hole like a worm through packed dirt. She started inching and making headway when a crash sounded from inside. Her heart seemed to've stopped. They broke in! Her attempts strengthened, along with her strength. She moved with a fury of insistence that had everything to do with life and death.

Seconds later, during the shouting, something grabbed her foot, getting another shriek. Feet savagely kicked to free herself, also squirming her body farther outside. The pressure ceased when her foot connected to something, and her body pitched forward with a sudden rush as the ground rose to meet her. Startled, hands flew to brace her for impact as she hit hard and fast. Dazed, she slowly stood, wincing at the pain in her hands and arms. They'd taken the brunt of the fall and she was going to have a hard time climbing the wall.

She knew as she looked around and took off with warriors after her, she was on the other side of the fortress. She was nearer the barrels and as she tried to hurry to put more distance, the barrels came into view. She nearly cried in relief upon finding a way out and over. Once there she could go around the wall, hug it to keep the archers from striking her down. She was on the other side of the castle, away from the gated opening. If she could just get over the wall, she could get to the forest and make for the beloved trees she stared at for the past three months!

With the continuation of the weak plan conforming together, it gave her the hope and speed she needed to beat it to the wall. Hands and feet scrambled as she nearly tripped on her dress in haste to get to the top. Battered hands gripped the top stones and she pulled, trying to get a shoe up when her other foot was grabbed.

Mentally crying out in distress and praying beyond hope and God with all faith of escape, she stubbornly clutched the wall and refused to let go. The grip kept strengthening and she had to fight to keep a hold and pull herself up. Soon after, the pull lessened till she was hanging by her hands, stones and mortar threatening to break free. Distressed and saddened eyes locked on her hands and the bright blue sky above them. Harshly biting her lip against the urge to cry at the unfairness of it all, her fingers started losing strength. One by one, they started inching away from freedom, back to the threat of death and solitude.

Quickly jerking her head back to keep from hitting her chin on the wall, her body flew backward against the grip each warrior had on her legs. She fell on them, the air knocked out of her. Before she could rise, hoofed arms wrapped around her, cutting off any other retreat. Her eyes stung with the thought that she was so CLOSE...if she'd only had a few more seconds!

The warriors roughly pulled her to standing position. One hurried over with rope. They all glared as she listlessly stared back, too beaten by the waning grasp of freedom to fight anymore. "Why our king has such an interest in you, I'll never know." A rope went around her torso, the remaining length tying her hands behind her back, keeping her from even eating. "You're more trouble than you're WORTH." A hoof came out and socked her across the face, knocking her off balance, and unconscious.