By Rachel Ann Michael Harris
“Are you sure there’s nothing else you need, princess?” The maid hovered over Katriel.
Katriel snuggled deeper under her quilts, leaving only her head visible. “No, I’m fine.” Now shoo.
“As you say, princess.”
When the overbearing maid finally closed the door behind her, Katriel tossed off the blankets and snatched a pair of boots from under her bed. She pulled out her sword and a coil of rope, as well. She couldn’t believe anyone actually thought she wanted to go to bed before sunset. How sensitive did the court think she was?
After tugging on her boots, Katriel tied one end of the rope to the leg of her bed, then tossed the rest out the window. It came a few inches short of touching the grass. Perfect.
As she climbed onto the window’s ledge, she glanced across the darkened hills to the faint, red light of battle several leagues away. More men died every day and still the Gartiers marched farther across Allowen.
Elihu, don’t let me die by falling. Gritting her teeth, she swung over the windowsill, and crept down the turret with her feet braced against the wall.
It only took a few minutes to reach the second of the castle’s three floors. She would be on the ground and off to the village square before anyone knew she was gone.
“So how many times does this make?”
Katriel stifled a yelp and slipped, scrambling to keep her footing. Below her, leaning against the wall, was the bane of her existence—Misael, her bodyguard. Blast.
“I don’t see how that’s important,” she replied.
He leaned his head back, staring up at her with a bored expression. “You are not eligible.”
“You just have to be sixteen—”
“And a boy.”
Katriel clenched her jaw to hold in a scream of frustration. Her arms began to tremble as she struggled to hold her position. “Can we finish this conversation on the ground?”
Misael shook his head.
“I’m going to fall. I’ll break my neck.”
“Then at least you won’t run away anymore.”
She rolled her eyes. “Fine. Catch.” She let go of the rope.
He scrambled into position just in time. They crashed to the ground, Katriel’s landing cushioned by her bodyguard’s body. Misael moaned from where her elbow collided with his stomach.
Katriel shoved off the ground and headed for the gate. She didn’t make it three steps before her foot jerked short, and she faceplanted into the grass. Misael dragged her back by her ankle. Clamping a hand on her forearm, he shakily regained his feet as he rolled his eyes toward the stars. “Blessed Elihu, knock some sense into her.”
“Don’t use Elihu’s name like that.”
“I wasn’t using his name, I was praying.”
Katriel managed to stand on her own with only her knee throbbing.
Hand still tight on her arm, Misael pulled her toward the rope. “Back up.”
He grimaced with every move and rested an arm on his leg. “Princess, so help me…”
Katriel growled. “I wish you’d never won that contest.”
“The feeling’s mutual.” He rubbed his diaphragm at the spot where her elbow had struck him. “My life would be a lot simpler as a squire instead of a bodyguard.”
She jerked against his solid grip. Apparently, she needed to fall on him harder next time. “Doesn’t that frustrate you? Living safe inside a castle everyday while your friends die in battle?”
He didn’t look at her, but she saw the twinge of his jaw. “I’m where I’m supposed to be.”
Katriel huffed. “Well, I’m not satisfied standing to the side. I’m enlisting in the army.”
“To what purpose?” His voice rose as his lungs began to function normally again. “What more can you do that isn’t being done?”
“I can fight for my people. Alongside them. Another sword to fight. Another body to push back—”
“To die?” He glared at her. “Because that is all you will accomplish. You are a princess of Allowen—”
“And I’m fifth in line for the throne. There is nothing I can do for them politically.” Katriel gripped her scabbard. “This is all I have. Why was I trained to use this if I’m not allowed to fight? There must be more I can do than sit in a castle and let my people water the fields with their blood. What is Elihu’s plan in all this?”
Misael drew in a deep breath and clenched his eyes shut. Eventually, he shook his head. “I don’t know. Only Elihu does.”
Katriel closed her eyes. “If there was another prophet, maybe Father would listen to him. He would know what to do.”
“How long has it been since the last?”
“Father was sixteen when the last prophet died, and Elihu’s been silent ever since. I don’t understand why.” She shook her head. “What if it’s Elihu’s design that I join the battle?”
“Then not even I will be able to hold you back.” He straightened and pushed her toward the wall. “But until then…”
“Are you really going to make me climb back up?”
He crossed his arms. “You came down; you can go back up.”
Katriel glared, but the stony expression on Misael’s face said she’d lost this round. She sighed and grabbed the rope. “Whatever you say, kitten.” A smirk crept across her face at the memory of when he’d missed a match to save a kitten. But that was a happier time. A peaceful time.
As she climbed, the red glow on the horizon caught Katriel’s eye. Elihu, save us. Please hear us.
She didn’t know how, when, or if, her prayer would be answered, but she knew she would do everything she could to defend Allowen. One way or another.
And next time, not even Misael would stand in her way.