Follow the Heart
« Chapter 1 »
When the blade struck, it nicked the back of Shamone’s hand. “You are not paying attention Your Highness,” Ilengor scolded.
Shamone licked away a drop of blood. “That’s because I’m tired.”
“Oh, I’m sorry Your Highness, how remiss of me to forget that when your enemy sees you are tiring, he will wait until you have recovered sufficiently before continuing the battle.”
Shamone pulled a face as Ilengor swung his sword down. Blocking, Shamone punctuated her words as she countered his attack. “I know but then this–is not–a real–fight.”
Kicking Shamone’s legs from under her, Ilengor pressed his sword to her throat. “No, but if it were, you would now be dead Your Highness.”
“That was unfair,” Shamone complained. “You distracted me.”
“So you think your enemy will fight honourably and play by the rules do you?” Before Shamone could answer, Ilengor shook his head. Helping her to her feet, he lectured, “Your Highness, you must choose your fights wisely. Have an awareness of your surroundings and above all, expect the unexpected.”
“But I can do this,” Shamone insisted. “I need more time to practise that’s all.”
Ilengor smiled. “Ah finally, realisation dawns.”
“You’re making fun of me.”
“Not at all Your Highness, now, I think that’s enough practise for one evening.”
Escorting Shamone back down Snake Mountain, Ilengor halted. “I think you should head back to the castle before anyone notices you are missing. Now scram Your Highness.”
Bowing to Ilengor, Shamone returned her swords to him for safekeeping. “Oh, thank Mageena for the food and tell her I will try to visit tomorrow.”
“Go!” Ilengor shouted. “Be gone.”
Laughing, Shamone ran down the road and back home to Greytor Castle.
Princess Shamone was the only child of Princess Opia and Prince Tylox. She was young yet wise for her sixteen years. She was of slim build and stood five feet seven with a mane of rich long black hair that fell about her shoulders like strands of midnight silk. Shamone, like her parents, always walked with an air of confidence because her position in life demanded it so. Shamone, most of the time, appeared regal, but she had a mischievous side, one that often surfaced at inopportune moments. She had a dry sense of humour and laughed the most when arrogant people got their comeuppance. She loved nothing more than to see the high and mighty take a tumble from grace.
Although Shamone was a princess, she loved nothing more than mixing with the people of her kingdom. To her, everyone was equal. She would tease anyone she believed to be stuffy, arrogant or boorish.
Shamone’s parents did not approve of their daughters lapse in royal etiquette, but Shamone did not care. Life was too short, and she aimed to live it as she saw fit, even if that brought her into conflict with her parents and other dignitaries at her castle.
Only her personal tutor and guardian, Mageena, a graceful and elegant lady of mature age, tempered Shamone’s antics. Shamone considered Mageena her closest friend and confidant. Mageena taught Shamone to have an empathy for the poor of her kingdom because not everyone lived in a castle surrounded by servants and wealth. Mageena was the only person Shamone took any notice of because she intrigued her with her wisdom and knowledge of all things.
Shamone would often visit Mageena at her cottage a short distance from her castle. She would spend hours listening to Mageena’s tales of how people would strive to overcome adversity with courage and honour. She would teach Shamone that in your darkest hour you must fight for what you believe in. Mageena had instilled in Shamone how lucky she was to have the power to help others, and so over the years, Shamone had grown fond of Mageena and her husband Ilengor.
Ilengor had retired from his position of high-ranking warriors to her father’s army. Ilengor had spent many years teaching younger soldiers the art of ‘Shenshu.’ Shenshu was an old Hyperion word meaning, ‘The Art of Two Swords.’
The art of Shenshu fascinated Shamone and she would often watch Ilengor practising on top of Snake Mountain, a short distance from their cottage. It was while watching Ilengor one day that Shamone noted that Shenshu looked more like a dance than the art of fighting, and when Ilengor was not looking she would often mimic his moves. There came a day when Shamone plucked up enough courage to ask Ilengor to teach her Shenshu.
At first Ilengor had refused explaining that her father and mother would be mortified if they found out she could wield a sword. However, Shamone had other ideas and trying to talk Ilengor around, she had enlisted Mageena to help convince Ilengor to change his mind.
Shamone had argued that in such troubled times it was only wise to have such a skill at her disposal. To Shamone’s surprise, Mageena agreed, and it wasn’t long before they both persuaded Ilengor to become Shamone’s teacher and so most nights, Shamone would escape to Mageena’s cottage to learn the art of two swords in secret. Shamone soon found out Ilengor was a hard taskmaster and that the art of Shenshu required more concentration than she possessed, nevertheless Shamone wanted to learn and learn well.
When Shamone ran up to the main doors of her castle, Sabian, her father’s younger personal aide, greeted her. Giving him little if no recognition, she made her way up the flight of stone steps.
Refusing to be ignored, Sabian blocked her path.
Shamone glared up at Sabian. “I’m in no mood for your petty quips quibbles or ramblings Sabian now move or I’ll move you myself.”
Unaffected by her threats, Sabian mocked, “Now you’ve hurt my feelings Your Highness.”
Trying to step around him, Shamone rebuffed, “Good.”
Halting Shamone again, Sabian noticed the small cut on the back of her hand.
Curious, he asked, “How did you come by your injury Your Highness?”
She had misjudged an attack from Ilengor’s sword. Frowning, she lied, “It’s just a nick, done while picking roses in the castle gardens.”
“Punishment for seeking to steal their blossom some might say,” Sabian mocked and pointing to her empty hands, he observed, “And I see that these roses are invisible, how interesting.”
It was Sabian’s sarcasm that Shamone hated the most. Idiot, fool. “If they were invisible Sabian how could I pick them?”
Sabian was more than a match for Shamone’s sharp tongue and giving her a knowing look, he replied, “My question exactly.”
“If you must know I gave them to Mageena, as a present.”
Sabian knew that Mageena had a garden full of roses. There was no reason to take her a bunch from the castle gardens and with that in mind, he rebuffed, “Interesting. Well, people have noticed that you are spending more time at your tutor’s cottage these days than at home. Is there a reason for this?”
“Yes, I take her roses,” Shamone snapped back with equal sarcasm. Tired of being questioned, she insisted, “And if there was a reason for my visits to Mageena you’d be the last person I’d tell.”
Refusing to move, Sabian warned, “Then I’ll just assume that you are up to no good. Why else would you be so fascinated with the castle grounds so late in the evening?”
Shamone was eager to escape Sabian’s company before he pried into her visit any deeper. “I live here Sabian. Why else do you think I’d be out walking in my own grounds?”
“Answering a question with a question, I’ve always thought that a clever way of avoiding the topic at hand.”
Annoyed by Sabian’s refusal to step aside, Shamone snarled, “Exactly what job title did my father give you Sabian?”
With an arrogant air, Sabian peered down his nose. “I am your father’s personal aide, and it is my job to look out for his best interest. Even if that means keeping a close eye on his family members.”
“So in simple terms you are my father’s spy?” Shamone retaliated, and not waiting for a reply, she added, “If so, I will inform him that your time needs filling with more pressing issues.”
Finally, she’d ruffled his feathers. “My job Your Highness requires that I know what’s going on in this castle at all times as well you know.”
“So, you have no job title above royal eavesdropper?”
“Call it what you will but I am here to do a job, and until such a time as that changes I will continue to aid your father in whatever capacity is required of me.”
Brushing past Sabian to enter the castle, Shamone quipped, “Well presently I require you to move.”
“I will find out what you are up to Your Highness, be assured of that,” Sabian called after her.
Shamone halted mid-stride. “Do not threaten me Sabian or it will be the last thing you do before I have you thrown from this castle.”
“A task you will find harder than you think. I have important information that will win your father’s favour.” Turning, Sabian then disappeared into the castle grounds.
Sabian vowed that now, more than ever, he would find out why Shamone was visiting her tutor so much. It would be an interesting challenge, a battle of wits he was more than capable of pursuing.
Prince Tylox had a reliable spy in Sabian. His uncle, the Magistrate of Trudoan, had put him forward for the job as junior aide. He was young, wily and ambitious. Shamone did not know how but he always landed on his feet and somehow stayed on her father’s good side. As a dutiful spy, Sabian was about to inform Prince Tylox that Shamone was gaining a sympathy for the poor of his kingdom. He knew Mageena did not like him so he planned to blame her for influencing Shamone to favour the poor and downtrodden.
Standing before a large log fire in his council chambers, Prince Tylox wanted to know why Sabian thought Shamone’s long-term tutor was a bad influence on her.
With a secret smile, Sabian turned to face Prince Tylox. “I believe that Mageena is filling your daughter’s head with fanciful ideas about helping the poor of your kingdom, Sire.”
Frowning, Prince Tylox paced before the fire. “In what way?”
Seeing an opportunity to stir up trouble, Sabian conspired, “Well Sire, I’ve noticed that Shamone has been visiting her tutor most evenings and sometimes until late at night. It’s rumoured that she’s been mixing with, well, let’s just say less fortunate people than herself. If that wasn’t bad enough Sire, I’ve heard that at certain times of the day Mageena has been showing Shamone around the city. Mageena also encourages Her Highness to wear the disguise of a vagabond so as not to be recognised.”
“What!” Prince Tylox bellowed as his fist banged on the table before him. “Are you telling me that my daughter, a princess no less, has been out in the city dressed as a vagabond?”
Sabian nodded in mock sympathy. “It pains me to tell you this Sire for I know what lengths you and your wife have gone to to make a lady out of her, but yes, I fear these rumours are true.”
Glaring across the table prince, Tylox questioned, “And how long has this been going on?”
“I think it’s only a recent hobby Sire but if you wish I could have them followed,” Sabian offered. “At least then you would be sure of the facts Sire.”
Visibly annoyed at Sabian’s findings, Prince Tylox demanded, “Is there anything else I should know about?”
Fighting a victory smile, Sabian replied, “Nothing I can yet prove Sire but should that change you will be the first to know.”
“Then do it. Have them followed and if your findings prove right, heads will roll!”
Thanks to Sabian, Prince Tylox was now in a less than agreeable mood; irritated he left the council chambers as an impending headache pounded in his temples.
There was now a glint in Sabian’s eye. He could not believe how easy it had been to set Shamone up for a fall. Mageena, he mused, was just another pawn in his plan to destroy Shamone’s world. Leaving the council chambers, he plotted her fall from grace.
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