Prologue

"I want to come with you," Christiana said, catching Airic, her head body guard, by the arm.

Airic turned and looked down at her, his eyes softening as he looked down into her green eyes.

"Not this time, little Princess," he said, ruffling her hair.

She ducked away from under his hand. "I am not that little anymore," she pointed out.

He considered her for a moment. She had just turned eleven recently, nine years younger than his twenty. But her large solemn eyes spoke of a much older person, a young woman with the experience of her lifetime.

"You will always be the little Princess to me, Crissie."

She scowled. "Ever since Nanna died you have been acting strange. Going away for days without telling me where you are, getting more men to guard me when you know I do not appreciate it, and constantly acting like an over protective parent."

He grinned. "Someone needs to, since your parents do not bother."

She looked away. For a moment she did not speak.

"Just make sure you come back," she murmured, so quietly that he hardly heard her.

He sighed and came down on one knee in front of her, putting a strong hand on her shoulder and gently turning her to face him. Her large, green eyes held her unspoken concern and fear for him.

"I will always come back, my Princess. I will never leave you."

She gazed at him for a moment. "Then swear it."

He heard the gravity behind her voice. She knew that his word was his law. He could not break it anymore than he could raise a hand against her.

"I swear it."

Her body relaxed and she smiled. He smiled back and drew her into a warm embrace before standing and walking to the door.

"I will be back," he said over his shoulder.

She smiled. "I know."

He was gone.

She would never see him again.

Chapter 1

Unwilling

"Is it true?" she asked her parents desperately. "Did you really order Airic's imprisonment?"

"Your useless, good for nothing body guard? Yes."

"Why? What did he do?"

"He was caught with a band of known rebels, Cristiana, enough said," her father said curtly, looking at her fear filled face with cold, uncaring eyes.

"So? It could have been just a coincidence. He could have just run into them," her voice becoming shrill with desperation to make her father see that Airic had to be let go.

"He attacked the soldiers when they dragged one of the rebels away."

Christiana stared.

"I want to see him," she demanded.

The king was already turning away.

"Father!" she cried. He paused.

"I have never asked anything of you, but I do now. Please, let me see him."

"I cannot. He was executed this morning."

His words hit her like a sledge hammer. Her breath seemed to have been stolen from her lungs, her eyes swam as tears filled them and a dull roaring filled her ears.

"No," she whispered, "no, no, no, no."

"You are sympathetic to your body guard?"

She could not answer.

"Well then you can join him."

Her father's claw like hands grabbed onto her shoulders and shoved her backwards. As she stumbled back the marble walls of the castle disappeared, replaced with wooden stage in the harsh sunlight. The rough callused hands of the soldiers grabbed her and forced her to kneel in front of the execution block. As the man with the black hood raised a mighty, gleaming axe she caught a glimpse of a body in a cart, a familiar empty sword belt at the waist and the hands clenched into fists.

Airic.

The axe sliced downwards. She felt the cold steel against her neckā€¦

Christiana sat bolt upright, cold sweat falling down her face. Her dark hair tangled and knotted from sleep. A cry of fear and loss threatened to emerge unbidden to her lips but she quickly slapped a hand over her mouth to stop the sound. It would not do for the men in the camp to hear her and come to investigate while she was in this state.

Her breath came in ragged pants as she looked around the simple tent. She had fallen off her sleeping cot onto the floor, dirt smeared across her arms and face where her damp skin had come in contact with the dirt.

It had been a nightmare, as well as a memory all in one. Yes, she had confronted her father, and yes he had told her that Airic had been imprisoned and then executed. Airic, her dearest friend, her protector, a brother, uncle, father and mentor to her, the only one that had really cared for her besides her nurse maid.

But no, she had not been executed, obviously, though her father had threatened as much when she had screamed her hate and loss at him.

A silent sob shook her body and a single tear ran down her cheek, but that was all she allowed to get past her self control. She would not let her emotions get out of hand or they would drive her to insanity.

I will be back. His voice echoed inside her head.

A bitter, miserable laugh choked past her throat. What a stupid promise she had force him to make, saying a promise he could not keep, his word broken even as he had spoken it.

She shoved the thought away and got to her feet, taking deep breaths to still her pounding heart and trembling fingers.

With quick graceful hands she tied up her hair, shook out her rough blanket and folded it neatly on the bed. For a moment she imagined her grand room back at the palace and laughed hoarsely. If her father could see her now, a princess, covered in dirt, sleeping on a hard cot in a canvas tent, wearing simple homespun cloth.

And in a camp of cut throat bandits.

She sobered at the thought and sighed. It wasn't as if she had planned this, when she ran away from home. In fact it was the last thing she imagined.

Gathering some things she opened the flap and hurried out the camp into the trees, easily sneaking past the sleepy sentries on duty.

Silent as a shadow she made her way to the nearby creek. As quickly as she could she cleaned off the residue of the sweat and grime, scrubbing furiously at her skin as if she could scrub the memory of the nightmare away.

She touched her chest, making sure the bandages there still bound her chest tightly flat. It would not do for her to be discovered as a girl.

She had long since become and expert at disguising herself. Airic taught her when she was nine and she had been keeping her identity a secret ever since she had run away from home two years ago. She had learned the hard way that it was easier, and a great deal safer, for a boy to be traveling alone than a girl. She no longer had to worry about someone recognizing her as the princess of Elendor, not here in this country of Araluen, so far away from her kingdom that very few people from either countries knew that the other existed.

For a moment she stared at the rippling water, remembering her one and a half years out at sea, working as a cabin boy. It had been hard dangerous work but it had made her strong. Besides, there was a certain beauty about a ship as it sliced with ease through the sparkling waves, watching the sun sick in the west and the feel of complete freedom, the rest of the world was shut out, no one could reach them, no one could order them to do something that they did not want to.

Until the ship was wreck.

The storm that had capsized her ship was the reason she was here, among a group of thieves and murders. They had pulled her from the waves and she had already committed too much to them before she realized who they really were and what they did.

She could leave. It would be quiet easy. In fact she was planning to, and soon. However she could not leave with a clear conscience. If she was patient, if she waited, then she would soon have the information she needed to wipe them out, or give someone else the chance at least.

She was so close.

She sighed and stood, putting her things in a pouch and stringing her bow.

There was no good dwelling on it. There was nothing she could do yet. Not until Watharen left, leaving his youngest son, the idiot Brent, in charge.

Stalking into the woods she bagged a pheasant and a couple rabbits, just so she had an excuse to be out of camp so early in the morning.

As she walked into camp, the game tossed over her shoulder the men gave her a wide berth. They all knew her as Cris, the young slight lad who had the confidence and skill of a fully trained warrior and a temper to match.

Only one man drew near her: Leven, Watharen's oldest son. She stopped as the dark young man approached her.

The young man could easily be considered handsome. With long shoulder length, dark blonde hair that he kept in a pony tail, as she did hers, a strong jaw, skin darkened by sun and white teeth. If it wasn't for his eyes, so dark they were almost black and as cold as a winter night. He moved with all the grace and surety of a stalking wolf, his sword and daggers ready to bite into any throat of anyone who tried to cross him.

Out of everyone in camp, she feared Leven the most. Watharen was mean, cruel and a good tactician but he was arrogant and had a fiery temper greater than her own. Leven, however, was cold, calculating and cunning. You had no idea what he was thinking of what he could be planning. He was the thief in the night, the crook who waited in the shadows to creep up behind you and slip a knife between your ribs.

She returned his cool gaze and nodded. Leven nodded back. The two of them hated each other, but they both respected, and feared, each other. To Leven, Chris was a threat to his position as second in command.

"My father has orders for you."

Christiana paused, dropping the game on the table in front of the cook's tent.

"Are you going to tell me what he wants?"

The dark young man bared his teeth in a savage grin.

"Seems like we are going on a raid together. Just you and me."

He heart sank. Just the two of them, with no one to distract his cold gaze from her. The thought of being alone with him for any length of time sent chills of dread coursing through her body, filling her veins with splinters of ice.

"What are we raiding?" she said curtly as she made her way through the tents toward Watharen's command pavilion. He followed close behind.

"Seems like the villages in the area have become ungrateful. After we go through all the trouble to relieve them of all that unnecessary supplies that the kingdom keeps sending they turn around and try and get rid of us. They sent for one of their peacekeepers."

"And..?"

He shrugged. "We're going after him before he can come after us."

She didn't answer for a moment. This was exactly the kind of thing she had been dreading. Being sent to capture or even kill the very people that wanted the same thing she did, to destroy this organization or rouges.

She would have to think of something before they got to him, fast.

"Very well," she murmured as she approached the tent.

"Excellent. Young Cris, we're going Ranger hunting."

My first Fanfiction. Hope you enjoyed it. Sorry that it is not very exciting right now but I promise it will be later on. I will try and post a chapter every week. I would love if you would review, just to let me know that someone has read it and my time has not been wasted.