The sun rose and set over many days, days that became weeks. The Elves held to their promise to leave him alone, except for Orion. He continued coming around to Zane’s cave, most of the time just standing there, as if he were observing him. One day Zane asked him why. “Because,” he said, “I have never known a man of the Cities before. I...often wondered what you were like.” After that, they began to talk. Not about much, just sharing facts about their respective cultures. Zane learned many things about the Elves, one interesting factiod being that they were religious beings, holding a belief in a single higher power, for whom the star-spirits were angelic messages.
Even at that simple relationship, though, after a while it felt like there was something between them, if not friendship, then at the least companionship. Orion began to figure out casual speech, and soon was speaking a little more normally, using contractions and not stumbling over grammar quite as much. Zane worked out some of the Elvish language, all though it was still beyond him how they spoke so quickly all the time. He also learned what fire dances were -- literally dances that, through a weak magical connection, could manipulate flames. Krista was apparently an expert at it, and Zane could sometimes see the flames rising into the sky at night.
A plan had formed in Zane’s mind, and with each passing day, as the knot of hatred in his chest grew larger, he became determined. Zane was angry, pure and simple, and he wanted to get back at the kingdom. If not for them, my father would be alive now. They killed him. And they are going to pay for that. So the plan had come to him -- he was going to pull a hostage situation. Potentially even an assassination. And he had his eye on a prize -- the Princess Norieja. He knew there would be a hunting party out the next day, and he knew the princess always came late, often unguarded, to such things. I’ll be waiting.
The next morning, he was waiting, hiding (in a tree), ready. He had everything planned in his mind. Zane was sure of his success, and knew he had to tread lightly. A royal assassination, usually even a failed attempt, meant a death penalty. He had to work this out carefully. And I will. I cannot fail now. I could have picked a more comfortable tree, though....
It must have been past eleven, getting on to high noon, before Zane heard light footsteps, and a small voice singing to itself. By the sounds, I would guess a mid-teen human girl, traveling alone. No one with her, and she isn’t on horseback. That would sound different. He smiled devilishly. Oh yes. I’ve got her now. Traveling in the deepest woods, alone, on foot...stupid girl. He steadied himself, gripped his sword, and leaped from the tree.
The girl screamed when she saw him, dropping and scattering the items in her hands. Zane steadied his sword at her. “Don’t make one sound.” He bent down to pick up the objects on the ground -- a collection of parchments and pens. “Drawing utensils. Those are of absolutely no use to me.”, he said, though he did pick some of them up and shove them into his pockets. He seized the girl, holding his blade to her throat. “Now, you’re going to come with me, princess, and you aren’t going to think about crying for help or trying to run, do I make myself understood?”
“Who are you?”, she said. “Why are you doing this?”
“You don’t need to know who I am. Neither do you need to know why I am doing anything. All you need to know is that you should go along with it, am I UNDERSTOOD?”
She didn’t answer. Zane pulled a length of bowstring he had stolen from Krista’s camp out of his coat and tied the princess’ hands. He snapped the chain she was wearing from around her neck and examined it. It was golden, with green stones. “Hm,” he said, tying it around his neck, “I don’t think it’s quite my style. Come along, now.”
He led her, rather roughly into the cave. “And you’ll stay here,” he said, “don’t even think about trying to run. Those rocks don’t stay in one place, and I’m the only one who knows how to get up and down safely.”
“Are you going to kill me?” It was the first thing she had said to him since they’d left the clearing.
“Maybe. I haven’t decided yet.”
“Why? What do you have to gain from killing me?”
“Princess, in my case, the question one should ask is, what do I have to lose?”
“Oh, you’re quick with your replies. Speaking in mental terms, darling, I think I may have lost that already.”
“Oh I can see that,” she said airily, “you are obviously insane.”
“You know what, you’re probably right. Shut up a little now, alright?”
“You cannot give me orders!”
“Princess, tell me -- of the two of us, which of us is standing and holding a sword, and which of us is lying on the ground tied hand and foot? Oh, and refresh my memory, will you -- isn’t the one with the sword seriously considering killing you? Hm?”
She was silent, setting her jaw and glaring at him.
“Like it or not, your worship, I give the orders now, and I am ordering you to SHUT UP!” Norieja complied, but with a defiant gleam still in her eye.
Zane pulled the parchment and pen out of his pocket. I’m going to write out a threat letter anyhow. No matter what decision I make about her. If I can get the prince, perhaps I can take them both at once...yes. When Zane had finished writing, his letter read,
I know you are wondering where your sister is. Well, I can answer that question. I have her.
Don’t worry, she’s safe...right now. But consider yourself in the middle of a hostage crisis. If you want her safety to last, I would suggest meeting me at the map coordinates I’ve put down here. You, your kingdom, your orders, you hurt me. You destroyed me. I want to return the favor.
There’s no armies here, no politics...just old-fashioned sweet revenge.
The coordinates are 037 west, 9620 north. Be there.
“You will fail,” said the princess. “My brother will come for me, and you will be left pleading for his mercy. And he won’t give it to you.
“I think I know who you are,” she continued. “I heard the rumors. You’re that squire, Zane Lukas. You killed your friend.”
Zane turned around to face her. “You listen to me, you brat. I told you to shut up. If you won’t comply, someone else is going to be dead by my hand. I cannot make myself anymore clear.” He stood up. “I am going to deliver this letter. Don’t be fooled, those knots are tight. Don’t go anywhere while I’m gone.”
This was the part of the plan that would be difficult. He would have to find the hunting party, and threaten -- or bribe -- a soldier into delivering his message. Then he would return and wait.
Zane found them without having to go far. He came up behind an unsuspecting young soldier and grabbed him. “Don’t think about screaming,” he said.
“What do you want?”
“I need you to deliver a message to Prince Raj.”
“Well then, sirrah, why don’t you tell him yourself?”, said a voice from behind. Zane whirled around. Standing behind him was a tall and muscular young man with sandy-colored hair. He wore a red-and-gold jacket and a thin circlet of gold was around his head.
“Prince Raj, sir! What message do you have for me, then?”
Zane gave him the letter. “Well then, sirrah,” he said in a high-pitched voice, “why don’t you find out yourself?” Then he ran off.
He got about five yards before he heard the yell, “After him!” He kept running to the cave, dodging bushes and tripping over stumps. When he got there, he jerked the princess to her feet. “Get up,” he snarled.
“My brother is here, isn’t he? I knew he would come for me.”, she said, holding her head high.
He pulled her out of the cave and down the hillside, holding her around the waist, his sword at her throat. “Alright then you,” he said when the prince and his men caught up, “stop. Stay back. You forget, I still have the princess.”
“You don’t want to do that,” Raj snarled. “Release her. Now!”
“Ha!”, Zane laughed. “I know you won’t kill me. You never would. Wouldn’t want to get my blood on that good coat of yours, would you?”
“I said release her!”
“Well I say, if you want her, come and get her! You aren’t man enough to face me yourself. You duel me. If I win, I kill you and do what I wish with her. I lose, you get her back and do whatever you want with me.”
Raj raised his sword. “Try me. You’ll never win.”
So Zane came at him, attacking hard. Clash! Right strike. Left strike. Parry. Zane had a hit on Raj, right leg. Parry again. Dodge. Fall back, four steps. Another hit, left arm. Clash! Metal locked with metal. Pushing. Pushing harder. Harder.... Zane was down, his fingers bleeding from gripping his handle so hard. Raj was standing over him, sword raised.
“If you’re expecting me to beg for your mercy,” Zane said coolly, “’fraid you’ll get no such pleasure.”
“Answer me this,” Raj said, “were you going to kill my sister?”
“Yes. Answer me this -- are you ever going to wonder, what I wanted with you?”
The prince brought his sword down. “I don’t need to know.” He turned to his men. “Seize him.” Zane was jerked to his feet. Raj cut his sister free, and she embraced him.
“Brother! You came for me!”
He smiled. “Of course I did, Nori. Did it ever occur to you that I wouldn’t?” Then he looked to Zane. “Bind him,” he ordered his men. “He will be taken back to the Palace City to face appropriate justice for his crimes against the royal family and the Knight’s Corp.” He leaned in to speak to Zane in a low voice. “Gold theft, murder, treason, kidnapping, attempted royal assassination...trust me, Lukas, with the testimony against you, I can promise that you’ll meet your end on an execution block.”
“Too cowardly to kill me yourself, I suppose.” Zane muttered darkly.