It was a sweltering hot day in Oriana Palace when the young Prince Felix stormed through the halls. Una was gone. She had skipped breakfast and lessons and left him on his own all day. And now she was going to pay for it! He was going to pull the biggest prank...! And then go tell Father...! And then she'd be sorry...! If he could ever find her, that is. But no matter where he looked, Una was nowhere to be found.
Behind the Prince, trotting along at a leisurely and uninterested pace, came Monster, the Royal sibling's pet. He looked for all the world as if he and Felix just happened to be traveling in the same direction but no matter where the Prince went or backtracked to, Monster was only a few feet behind.
Of course, Monster knew that he was, more or less, following the young Prince. And, despite his nonchalant manner, he was indeed beginning to grow worried. It was very unlike the little Princess to disappear like this without her brother and faithful pet. And there was a strange sensation in the air. Not Faerie or he would have recognized it. No, this was something distinctly human and unfamiliar.
As Felix reached the end of likely places and started upon the unlikely, Monster knew it was time to act upon his own. Abandoning the boy to his fruitless searching, the blind cat made his way back to the girl's empty room and set about searching, putting his nose to work as he sought clues to her sudden disappearance.
Several scents mixed and ran over each other. The maids had been through. Nurse had come in and out several times. A guard or two and several mice were scuttling along the back wall now that the room was vacant. And then he caught it. The faintest scent of strangers. They weren't Faerie or he would have spotted them sooner. No, this was a distinctly mortal smell and faint, sometime early that morning...and Una hadn't been spotted all day.
Cursing to himself, the blind cat spun out of the room and nearly crashed into a wall in his haste. Catching himself he danced through the doorway and rushed down the hall, trailing the strangers and the barely recognizable smell of the Princess.
~ ~ ~ ~
Everything was painfully blurry. Una tried to open her eyes but all she saw was frightening shadows lurking at the edge of consciousness. It was exhausting to try and move or think. Her body was heavy and her head hurt. Her lips twitched as she tried to say something but a lilting voice hushed her.
"Back to sleep little Princess." she thought it cooed, but couldn't be sure. Everything sounded so distorted. Either way it seemed to be good advice and she allowed her fighting body to relax and drift back into oblivion.
~ ~ ~ ~
It had been exactly one mortal year since Eanrin, knight of Farthest Shore, was assigned his task. To a Faerie this length of time feels like only a few moments and the memory was still clear in the knight's mind.
In the early morning light he knelt on dewy grass, highly uncomfortable being so wet, before his Master.
"Sire, you summoned me?"
"Yes, Eanrin. I have a job for you." The Prince had answered quietly.
Eanrin waited for him to proceed but the Prince was silent for a long time.
"There is a girl you must protect, her family as well, but she will be their target. She is precious to me."
Eanrin's heart missed a beat and he looked up anxiously "Is she...the one?"
The Prince smiled softly and nodded.
The bard's chest swelled a bit. Of all the knights surrounding him, the Prince had chosen him, Eanrin.
"There's something else you should know" The Prince's voice cut into his thoughts.
"And her only sibling is a younger brother."
"Of eleven years."
Eanrin's mind swam and he only managed to gasp out one word. "Children?"
The Prince nodded "And mortal."
Floored, the bard could only gape at the amused look on the Prince's face.
"I believe you are the one for this job. Will you accept it?"
Breathing deeply, Eanrin pulled himself together and looked down. An old fear crept into his mind and robbed him of his composure so that it took another moment before he answered hoarsely. "Sire, I do not believe I am qualified."
"You speak of Diarmid" The Prince stated rather than asked.
Eanrin winced at the name and then nodded. "I failed him Sire, grievously so...I am not sure this is the job for me."
"Do you trust me Eanrin?"
Slowly, the Poet lifted his eyes to the Prince' face "Yes Sire."
"Then believe me when I say you are the only one fit for this job."
There was no arguing with him after that.
~ ~ ~ ~
'Fit for the job indeed!' Eanrin thought scathingly as he tore out of the Palace and down into the hunting grounds. One year. One year! And he had already managed to lose the most important part of his job!
Of course, it wasn't a strange thing to have people targeting the royals and there had been plenty of attempted kidnappings. But none had ever been successful and certainly nothing had happened since Eanrin had joined the family. Nothing until this.
How had they managed to get past the guards? Or the staff? Or him? Who were these mortals who managed to get so close as to pinch the little princess right from under the entire Palace's nose?
As he moved a path opened up underneath his feet and he thanked the Prince as his paws touched it and he went flying over the ground in pursuit.
~ ~ ~ ~
Water. It both burned and soothed her parched throat but did nothing for her heavy head. Una could barely move and breathing was a task that required heavy concentration. Something was pulled over her head and the air took on a sickly sweet scent. She wanted to tell Nurse that she wasn't getting up yet. She didn't feel well and she certainly wasn't wearing a dress so drenched in such awful perfume, she didn't care what was in style! But no words escaped her lips. She struggled to move but that was far too much work. Why was she so tired? And then it occurred to her, of course. This was just a dream. Nothing more than a little nightmare and she would wake up soon if she only gave into the urge to sleep. Blissfully she relaxed and drifted away again.
~ ~ ~ ~
The heavy scent of burning toxic plants laced the air as he approached. Eanrin skidded to a halt just outside the ramshackle den on the Edge of the Wood itself. The idiots had obviously made more of the drug they were using to keep the princess asleep. He and everything else with a nose could smell it for miles around. Everything except the humans that is.
The blind cat stepped off the path and stood still for a moment, taking in the scents of the place. He could smell clothes that still clung to the scents of the garden. Shifting to a better shape he fingered them and discovered uniforms imitating the palace staff. It would have been a simple matter for one prepared to slid over the walls and mingle with the staff if they had clothes like these. He snorted, it was too simple. The people here were too relaxed and trusting. The breeze blew and another scent drew a growl from him as it caught his full attention.
He moved carefully forward until he was standing in the middle of the camp.
"Hey! You!" A man shouted and grabbed at him.
Eanrin caught him and had a brief draught of sea air before he flipped the man a dropped him. A well placed blow to the head and he was out cold.
"Who...who are you?" A shaky voice asked to his right. Another man. And there were two more behind him.
Eanrin smiled threateningly at them. "Normally I'm very glad when people ask that. But you lot don't even deserve to know. Suffice to say everything went horribly wrong the moment you touched my Princess." His hands found a goodly sized tree branch nearby and he swung it. And the men crumpled. Thank goodness mortals were so weak. He hated to think of what that would have been like if they had been Faerie!
He stepped over them and cast about the many scents of camp. His nose wrinkled in disgust. Dirty slavers. Probably hired by some noble who hoped for a prime ransom. After all, the one thing slavers were good for was kidnapping. And at what price?
There. He found her buried beneath a pile of musty blankets and with a drug-soaked sack over her head. He quickly freed her and then held her limp body in his arms. Rage coursed through him as he felt her shallow breaths and feverishly warm face. He had to remain still a moment to calm himself and then he realized how tired he was. How frightened he'd been. And how wonderful it felt to be holding her close; knowing she was safe once more. He smiled softly and ran a caressing hand down the child's face, brushing stray hair back as he went. "You need never fear as long as I'm here, my precious little Princess." he murmured softly.
When he felt steady again he climbed to his feet and carried the sleeping girl back the way he had come. Near the Palace he diverted from his original path, turning aside to the Old Bridge where the children often played. Laying her down at the foot he curled up next to her and became her familiar guard once more.
~ ~ ~ ~
The Old Bridge was the last place Felix thought to look. After all, she wouldn't have gone there without him...would she? But as he slid down the hill and came to a stop in front of it, that is exactly where he found his sister. She was sleeping at the very foot of the Bridge and...was she wearing a nightdress?
With a huff he shook her awake.
Groggily she peered up at him. "Felix? What...?" She pushed him aside and tried to rollover and fall asleep again.
But Felix was having none of it. "What are you doing out here?" He demanded, shaking her awake again.
At Una's feet, Monster rose laboriously and grumbled at the boy who backed off a little.
Una looked at her brother sourly, then blinked and surveyed her surroundings. "What...where am I?" she asked in bewilderment.
"By the Old Bridge." Felix huffed.
He threw his hands out in exasperation "How should I know? I've been trying to find you all day! What have you been doing?"
Una started to stand and then crumpled again, holding her head in her hands with a moan. "My head hurts...maybe I came out here because it felt so nice...and fell asleep again. Oh my head! I'm sorry Nurse! I'll never sleep outside again!"
"You're not making any sense" Felix sighed. He stood there a moment, watching her moan and still angry. But then he rolled his eyes. It's hard to be angry at your sister when she's ill, even if she did abandon you with your grumpy tutor all day. "Come on then, let's get you to Nurse and see if she can help you. It's probably 'cause you haven't eaten anything today."
She nodded and let him pull her to her feet and help her back to the Palace. Halfway up the hill she paused and turned back to see Monster following closely behind. Small Princess and blind cat, they stood there staring at each other for a moment. And then Una smiled softly. "Good Kitty."
"Come on" Felix growled, tugging her after him.
~ ~ ~ ~
Una never realized she had been kidnapped. No one did. There was never an uproar, no one was panicked, and it never happened again.
And despite Eanrin's worries, it became obvious that she did not remember him from her rescue.
And things became normal again. Normal, that is, aside from the fact that Monster stuck annoyingly close to Una for several months after the time she woke up by the Old Bridge.
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