616 AD, The Kingdom of Elmetia
Teagen scrambled under the table as the first fire-drenched arrow shot through the sky. Within seconds, thatched rooftops blazed and smoke bellowed throughout the palace. Frantic screams replaced the joyful music playing moments before.
“Princess,” Teagen’s nurse hissed from behind a wooden bench. “Are ye injured?”
“Nay.” She cast a wary glance as the battle unfolded before her. “What’s happening? Is it Saxons?”
Her nurse stretched her arm over and stroked her hair. “Aye, princess. Seems to be. Now stay put here while I find yer brother.”
Teagen flinched. “Don’t leave me Dera, please—Niall will be with Papa, they’ll be safe.”
Dera’s face paled. “I hope not, lassie, for yer brother’s sake, I pray he’s not.”
What could she mean? Was Papa in trouble?
She jumped out from her hiding place. “Then I’ll come with ye—”
Dera pushed her down firmly. “Nay, ‘tis not safe. Whatever ye do, do not let them capture ye, understand?”
She nodded, dumbfounded as Dera disappeared.
Grabbing the bottom of her long silk dress, she covered her face in an attempt to subdue the nausea that welled within. She wouldn’t look. She couldn’t. Where was Papa? She needed him right now, to hold her, and keep her safe.
A wave of relief washed over her. “Papa!” Teagen ran toward him, tears threatening her eyes.
“Shhh, lassie.” Her father scooped her up and headed for the kitchen just off the Great Hall. He opened a small stone cupboard and placed her inside.
“Stay in here, do ye understand? Do not come out until yer brother gets ye.”
“Please don’t leave me, Papa. Everyone keeps leaving me.” She tasted the salty tears that streamed her face.
Her father stroked her cheek. “Oh, lassie, I love ye so much. Ye know this, don’t ye?”
“Now be a brave girl and stay put.”
She gave her father a lingering hug and breathed in his comforting musky scent, her eyes averting his blood stained tunic. As he shut the cupboard door, the sound of the latch closing sent shivers through her body. The darkness did not mask the coldness of the damp stone walls, or the stale air which stifled her breathing. A sob lodged in her throat. I need to be brave for Papa.
Muffled sounds from outside grew louder—the clash of iron on iron, the collapse of buildings, and cries for help.
“King Ceretic is dead!”
Teagen stopped breathing. It could not be true.
“And what of the rest of the family?”
“Not yet found.”
“We do not leave until they are dead. Burn everything, and gather the survivors—we’ll take them to the slave market.”
She squeezed her eyes together, shutting out the fuzzy sensation that threatened to overtake her.Please, God. Nay. There surely must be some mistake.
Teagen could wait no longer. Despite her father’s strict instructions, she pushed open the door and fell on the kitchen floor. She gasped in a huge breath of air and scrambled to the doorway. Soldiers littered the outside, and in the centre, stood the Saxon King—Edwin the Tyrant. Her stomach lurched as she saw the remains of her father’s body.
Oh, Heavenly Father.
She collapsed to the ground. If her father was dead, it meant her brother Niall would likely be too. She studied the hem of her fine tunic and caressed the intricate beading Dera had sewn on the day before.
She stiffened. If they discovered her true identity as the king’s daughter, she too would be slain. She had to get out of these clothes. Her eyes rested on the dead bodies piled up outside the kitchen entrance and her heart broke as she spotted one of her friends lying on the ground. She kept low, reached out and pulled her friend further inside the kitchen.
“I’m sorry, Hilda,” she whispered to the girl, “but I’m going to need yer clothes. Ye won’t have use for them anymore.” She closed the girl’s eyelids, said a quick prayer, and removed the simple tunic and redressed her young friend in her own grand attire.
She ran out of the kitchen and toward the oak tree at the top of the hill, knowing she would be seen. She perched under a sloping branch and gazed out—her entire world ablaze. Soldiers rummaged through the dead bodies looking for valuables to keep for themselves. Teagen covered her ears as cries penetrated the night. Curling herself into a ball, she cradled her arms around her knees and rocked herself back and forth watching her kingdom fall. They were coming for her, it was simply a matter of time. To survive this night, her identity would have to be forgotten.
Born and bred in England, Rachel writes adventure driven historical romance, she is also a pastor’s wife, and has three beautiful little princesses. She minored in creative writing at university and strives to entertain, inspire and encourage others in their own spiritual journey. She’s also captivated by romantic tales… combine it with a little history and a hot cup of tea, and she’s smitten! Find her at www.rachelajames.com for more information.
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