Allison sat cloaked in the back of the pub. It was Tyler’s night for entertainment. She watched silently from the shadows as he took the stage with guitar in hand. She wore the hooded cloak to hide her features from those who might take advantage of the fact that the beautiful princess had left the safety of the palace to hear a commoner sing.
Tyler looked out among the many girls that filled the normally empty pub; hoping beyond hope, that against all the danger, the princess might come to see him. Tyler felt that his hope was in vain. Whenever he attended the palace to play music for the royal family, Allison always seemed to hold herself aloof from him. But he couldn’t stop loving her.
Allison listened to the frantic beating of her heart as Tyler began to play. She didn’t love this boy, she tried to convince herself. He was a commoner who had never so much as second glanced her. Plus, he was always surrounded by beautiful girls. So why would he ever take notice of the ugly princess? It was common knowledge throughout the kingdom that the princess was beautiful. But she didn’t believe it because that’s not how she saw herself.
Beautiful music flooded over Allison. She grabbed at it, desperately trying to absorb it so she could have it with her even after she left to return home. When Tyler played, it seemed like everything was right with the world. Even the birds gave pause to listen. The sound seemed to cast a spell over the audience, taking them to another world.
Then it was over. Allison knew he had played for over an hour, but the time had seemed to fly by. The rest of the girls crowded to the stage, each trying to claim some part of Tyler’s attention. Allison stood up, and moved like a shadow to the door. She had to get home before anyone found out she was gone.
Tyler saw the fleeting movement in the periphery of his vision. He looked up just in time to see a cloaked figure disappear out the door, a shadow in the night. Tyler’s pulse quickened. Leaving his guitar on stage, he made his way through the sea of girls trying to reach the street. He couldn’t say why, but he knew that the fleeing figure was his princess.
Allison had a family that consisted of her parents, three older brothers, and herself. She was nowhere in line for the throne. Yet, the king and queen still insisted that she find a prince to marry. And now that she had reached the age of 18, her parents were starting to get frustrated with her indecision. But she couldn’t choose just any prince who came to woe, at least not while Tyler was still coming to the palace once a week to play music. But I don’t like him, she reminded herself. So why did you go to hear him? a quiet voice whispered in the back of her mind. She pushed the thought away.
Allison, lost in her thoughts, made a wrong turn and ended up in an alley. She stopped in mid-step halfway down the alley, realizing her mistake. Dark houses lined the alleyway. An edifice to the evil things they witnessed. Even the light from the stars would not make a appearance in that dark place. It all served to plant a seed of fear into her heart. She hastened her step to reach the safety of the street beyond. Her heart skipped a beat as a large, blurry figure rose out of the shadows in front of her. She turned around and started running, tucking her head deeper into her cowl. She was faster than the drunken man, and started pulling ahead. Suddenly, two more figures appeared in front of her. Allison desperately pulled a knife from her cloak. She turned around to stab the drunken man running toward her.
The knife’s path was halted as a big hand caught Allison’s wrist mid-stab. Allison cringed as the hand started to squeeze. The knife slid soundlessly out of her hand before clattering to the hard ground. The man pulled her close and pushed back the hood. Long curly lock of hair tumbled down her shoulders. She struggled to pull away, but he only squeezed her wrist tighter and pulled her closer, curiously examining her features. Allison tried not to gag as she smelled alcohol on his breath. A gruesome smile lit his face, revealing eyes gleaming with wicked intent. He laughed cruelly, and she knew she’d been recognized.
“You look even prettier than everyone says, Princess! I bet you give one great kiss,” He leaned down close, his drunken breath assaulting her nose. For Allison, she felt that nothing worse could possibly happen. She had fallen into the clutches of a crazy drunkard, and worse still she’d been recognized. At this distance Allison could see a series of scars running across his face, from some previous fight.
Scar Face grabbed her chin with his vise-like grip. He tilted her head up and leaned forward for a kiss, despite her struggling. Allison reached for all the courage she could muster. As he got closer, she spit in his face.
The man’s smile was replaced by a scowl. He launched Allison backwards into the waiting arms of his two accomplices. They were ready and ripped the cloak away from her body, revealing her petite figure. They jerked her around to face Scar Face, who was once again, smiling. They held her still despite all her struggling.
Scar Face wiped the spittle from his face and started talking to the other two men, Goon 1 and Goon 2. Ring Leader cleared his throat like he was making a speech, “Gentlemen, we have been fortunate enough to have had a jewel fall into our gutter.” He paused and looked meaningfully at his captured jewel, “Well, I think it’s time we spent it.” He looked at Allison hungrily, and her throat went dry.
Her breath started coming out in short, erratic bursts. The goons tightened their grip on her in anticipation. Scar Face pulled out a knife of his own. He gently fingered the neckline of her shirt, as if in silent contemplation. Then, another horrible smile spread across his face. Her last vestige of hope slipped away, quickly buried by her mounting fear.
The knife made it’s way to her neck. Allison shrank back into the arms of her captors, avoiding the cold steel. The knife slid under her collar. She heard the tell-tale sound of ripping fabric.
Allison decided to use the last weapon left in her arsenal. She screamed.
* * * * *
Tyler finally made it through the mob inside the pub, and stumbled out into the crisp night air. He looked up and down the street desperately for his princess, but she was nowhere to be found. Anxiously, Tyler ran down the street in the direction of the palace, hoping he might overtake her. He tried to think of what he might say to her when they met up, but his mind drew up a blank. When he reached the end of the street, he stopped. He frantically searched again, but the street was bereft of life. He was about to give up hope when, a terrible foreboding griped him.
All was quiet.
A scream broke through the quiet revere that had settled over the night.
Tyler turned around, searching for the source of the scream, a scream from a voice he would have recognized anywhere. He saw an alley a short distance away. The scream was cut off as quickly as it had begun; leaving an eerie stillness hanging in the air. He started running as fast as his legs could carry him, feet pounding on the cobblestones. In the half light, he could just make out a commotion happening at the far end of the alley. The commotion came to a sudden stop as they heard the sound of pounding feet running towards them against the hard ground. Tyler froze as four figures seemed to melt out of the darkness before his eyes.
Tyler pulled his sword from it’s sheath. The sinister sound of steel echoed off the walls of the dark buildings.
His eyes feel on Allison and his heart skipped a beat at her state. Her curls were hanging in disarray and her cheeks were wet from the tears streaming down her face. One of the men standing behind her had a grimy hand clamped over her mouth. Her chest was nearly exposed from a cut in her shirt that extended from the top to a few inches above the bottom.
Tyler’s attention was diverted to the knifeman who had placed his weapon against Allison’s exposed neck. “Leave now or the princess dies,” the man iterated in a voice full of hatred.
Anger flared through Tyler’s body as he searched for a plan of action. Keeping his disposition calm, Tyler responded in a tight voice of consent, “Fine.” He turned around and started heading for the street, sliding the sword back in his scabbard as he went. Behind him, Allison’s muffled sobs intensified in volume. He walked 20 feet before checking to see that they were no longer watching him. He pulled a throwing knife out of its sheath at his waist and waited for the man to move the knife away from Allison’s body.
Allison watched in something near shock as her knight in shining armor walked away. Raking sobs tore through her body as he sheathed his sword. Scar Face stepped in front of her, smiling in obvious enjoyment at her distress. Allison closed her eyes and tried to still her sobs as Scar Face lowered his knife to knife to cut the last remaining inches of her shirt. She heard the sound of the last few inches tearing. The last few threads released, and Allison felt the shirt hang loose on her body. Now she was only one step away from total mortification. As soon as this man swept aside the fabric of one of the loose halves of her shirt, the rest of her life would be affected in one way or another. And not even her knight had tried to stop it.
Scar Face dropped the knife to the ground and hungrily reached for the scraps of shirt, the boy with the sword completely forgotten by his overwhelming desire. That was his mistake. A heavy thump reverberated through his skull from the back of his head where the hilt had struck. His eyes rolled into the back of his head, and he collapsed onto the ground. To the other men, it had appeared as though their leader had fallen at the hand of some unseen foe. They simultaneously threw Allison to the ground and sprinted in the opposite direction as fast as they could.
Allison had kept her eyes closed at the incoming horror, and had not seen the man collapse on the street. So she remained face down on the ground waiting for the next assault he had planned for her. She tensed as she felt someone kneel down next to her and put a hand on her shoulder.
“Allison,” she heard a soft voice ask, “are you alright?” Allison raised her head and found herself looking into Tyler’s deep brown eyes, his face etched with concern. She pushed herself off the ground into a sitting position, wrapping her cloak tightly around her exposed body. She was about to answer when an overwhelming wave of emotion erupted out of her. Her body had barely begun to shake when she felt Tyler’s arms cocoon around her.
Allison tried to speak, “I thought . . . I thought you . . .” She couldn’t finish the sentence.
“Shhhhh,” Tyler whispered softly. “It doesn’t matter what you thought. All that matters is the fact that I’m here with you now. I would never abandon you,” he finished.
They sat together embracing for a long time after Allison’s tears had stopped. Neither of them wanted to break the closeness they’d probably never share again. A sudden groan broke through the prevailing silence. Allison recognized the sound as coming from the man a short distance away on the ground. She quickly wrapped her arms around Tyler’s neck, seeking whatever protection he could offer her. Tyler gently scooped her up off the ground, and carried her out of the alley. He kept walking until she finally relaxed her tense body. He carefully set her on her feet. She stepped away from him and looked at the ground. The moment was gone.
“Thank you for what you did back there,” Allison said quietly. She rushed on before he could respond. “I’m sorry you had to see me like this. ‘A princess must always look her best,’” she said it as if she didn’t believe it.
Tyler reached out for her hands, enclosing them firmly in his own. “Allison—,” he began to say, planning on telling her that he thought she was beautiful.
She cut him off, “I should go,” she said, judging the time by the position of the stars, “it’s late.” She slid her right hand from his and brought it to her mouth, letting out a piercing whistle. A short while later, they heard the pounding of hooves as a black stallion came around a corner and started down the lane towards them.
Allison started to pull away when Tyler suddenly turned her round to face him. Allison became aware of their close proximity and of how Tyler was still holding her hand in his own. His intense brown eyes once again held her captive. They seemed to swallow her up as his face edged toward hers. Tyler was inches away. Allison raised her face to meet his.
At that moment, complete awareness of what was about to happen raced through ever nerve in her body. Her brain started screaming at her, “You don’t like this boy! You don’t like this boy!”
She jerked away at the last possible second. The night seemed impossibly dark as she jumped onto her horses back. She sped off in the direction of the palace, leaving Tyler standing alone in the shadows.
Tyler watched her disappear with a sinking heart and growing frustration. He turned around and walked back into the alley. The man was still groaning, but Tyler ignored him. He quickly found his knife and jammed it into its sheath. He looked hard at the ground, silently begging it to swallow him up. His eyes were drawn to a long knife sitting on the ground not too far away. Tyler curiously went over and lifted it up. He found the royal insignia emblazoned on the hilt. That’s when he knew it was Allison’s.
Tyler pushed all thoughts of her away and stowed the knife in his satchel. He left the alley and went back to the pub. The once crowded room had emptied since he’d gone. Tyler didn’t stop to acknowledge the bartender, but went straight to retrieve his guitar before sulking home.
The house was a simple cottage on the outskirts of the village. Tyler lived there with his dog, Bandit. When he walked through the door it seemed more empty than usual. He set his guitar aside and sat down at the table with his head in his hands. Wearily, Tyler replayed the night’s events in his mind. Allison had come to hear him sing, but that didn’t necessarily mean she liked him. Somehow she’d ended up in that alley and he had rescued her. So she was probably grateful to him, not in love with him.
And then he’d tried to kiss her. Tyler slammed his fist against table, a pained expression on his face. She probably thought he was some creeper, the same as those men who had almost . . . Tyler couldn’t bear to think about it. No wonder she had run away like that. Any minimal chance he might have had with her was now crushed. Tyler looked up at the weapons that lined the walls. He had practiced countless hours with them every day, so that, if the need arose, he might be able to protect his princess. First part of the plan had worked, so why had he tried to kiss her?
Tyler looked at the other wall; this one was lined with instruments. When he wasn’t weapons training, he was practicing his instruments in hope to one day win her heart. He realized he would never be invited back to the palace to play ever again after Allison told the king and queen what he’d tried to do. A huge source of his income would be gone because he’d tried to follow one stupid impulse.
Tyler stood up and walked outside to see the stars. His eyes were automatically drawn to two stars in the western sky, one dim and one bright. As a young boy, Tyler had labeled the bright one Allison, and the dim one as himself. Tonight, the stars seemed farther apart than they had ever been before. Tyler realized exactly how much of his life he’d devoted to a fantasy. He walked back into the house with new resolve. He would stop chasing after a dream. If she didn’t want him, so be it.
* * * * *
Tears streamed down Allison’s face as she rode through the silent city. She was almost amazed she still had tears to cry after all that had happened. Had he really almost . . .? Did he really just . . .? She couldn’t wrap her mind around the idea. This wasn’t how it was supposed to happen. She was supposed to marry a prince, not fall in love with a commoner. But I don’t love him, she reminded herself again.
She could see the palace looming closer. She brought her mount to a halt, and gracefully dismounted. They moved surreptitiously to the gap in the hedgerow she had long ago discovered, avoiding the guards at the gate. They secreted to the stables, where she gave the horse a quick rub down before heading to the palace. Allison moved like a shadow across the yard to her window, a skill she had mastered as a girl. There was a rope hanging out of it from when she had snuck out earlier. She started climbing, and soon she was over the window sill of her second-story room. She dropped lightly to her feet and glanced around her darkened room. Everything was the same as she had left it. She pulled up the rope and stowed it away. After quickly changing her clothes, she collapsed onto her bed.
Her mind couldn’t seem to comprehend what had transpired. Images washed through her head, threatening to overwhelm her. She tried to push her emotions away, but they kept coming back. How would she ever be able to face him again? He had saved her. And before she had even given him a proper thank you, she had run off. Tears began to stream unbidden from her eyes.
Prince Andrew was coming the next day. The queen had invited Tyler over to play background music while he was over. Her anger overpowered her. She hated being put on display like a package. She suddenly wondered why she had cried as she had over Tyler. “I don’t even like him,” she whispered to herself. Tomorrow she would say thank you properly and put the whole matter behind them.
* * * * *
Tyler walked through the front door of the palace cautiously. He had been surprised that the guards had let him by without a single word. Maybe the King and Queen wanted to punish him for the way he’d treated their only daughter. The thought flustered him. He couldn’t face the Princess after what had happened.
Since the event he was playing for was a dinner party, the servants had set up his harp behind one of the curtained off areas. That way, he would be heard but not seen. He took up his position at the palace harp warily. He had not yet encountered any of the royal family, and no one had barred his way. His fingers ran up and down the strings experimentally. The soft music filled the silence around him, bringing a smile to his lips. He wasn’t allowed to bring any of his own instruments to play. Tyler didn’t care. He loved the palace instruments. They were all of the very highest quality. He would never be able to afford even their mediocre imitations. The party was due to arrive to the dining hall any moment. He let go of his thoughts and fears the let the music take over.
Prince Andrew escorted frowning Allison into the room. He leaned close to her and whispered in her ear. “You could at least try and pretend you don’t hate me before I’ve had a chance to confirm or dissuade your opinion.”
Allison didn’t need to listen to him. Everything about him spoke volumes about who his was. The way he held himself said haughty. The countless number of rings on his fingers spoke of greed. And the way he had looked at her from the beginning screamed hungry. Even as he escorted her to her seat, he was holding her a little bit too close.
He sat down across the table from her as tradition dictated. He stretched his legs out carelessly. Allison had to practically turn sideways in her seat to avoid touching him. He talked about himself unabashedly. Allison added conceited to the list of things she hated about him. She didn’t even bother listening to what he had to say. Her three brothers were absorbed in their wives and her parents were talking merrily with Prince Andrew’s. Allison had a sick feeling in her stomach that she was not going to be happy with the result of their visit. The only thing that stopped her from standing up and walking out like she had with other suitors was Tyler. His music swirled around her, leaving her breathless. She had never felt quite like this when she’d heard him play countless times before. Allison blamed it on the fact that she was hyper aware of him because of their encounter the night before and her rude exit. She needed to talk to him as soon as possible to apologize for her behavior.
She ignored His Princeliness and lost herself in the music. To say she zoned out would be a massive understatement.
Someone tapped her shoulder. “Princess?”
Allison jumped. Prince Andrew was standing at her side. Everyone else had left the room. A shiver traveled up her spine.
“May I have this dance?” He didn’t wait for a reply.
Her arm almost jerked out of its socket as he yanked her to her feet. She slammed into his chest and he held her tightly there. “Let go of me,” she hissed at him.
When he smiled at her, she realized she was very, very scared. “Not a chance.” He started spinning her. She had to lean into him to avoid falling down. “That’s more like it,” he whispered into her ear.
Allison’s face flushed in embarrassment. She released her tight hold mid swing and went tumbling backwards to the floor. Her arm scraped against the stone floor and she forced herself not to flinch.
The prince immediately pulled her to her feet and attempted to resume the dance. Allison tore her hands out of his and shoved him away. “What’s the matter with you?!”
Anger glinted in his eyes. He stepped forward and gave her a shove of her own. “What’s wrong with me? I think the better question is what’s wrong with you?” He shoved her again. “You’re nothing but a spoiled brat princess who thinks she’s too good for the world!” Shove. She lost her balance and was back on the floor. In the back of her mind, Allison noticed the music had stopped. “That’s it isn’t?! You’re too good for Prince Andrew! I’ve never had any girly turn me down before, and I’m not going to start today!” He moved forward to shove her again, but found himself looking down the blade of a sword.
“I wouldn’t take another step if I were you.” Tyler’s voice was harder enough to shatter diamond.
The prince’s face turned pale. He swiftly backed away.
Without taking his eyes off of Andrew, Tyler stepped back and reached down to help Allison up.
“Thanks,” she whispered.
He looked over to smile at her. That was his mistake. The instant Tyler’s diverted his attention, Andrew unsheathed his knife and sent it spinning across the room. Tyler saw it coming too late. He only had time to push Allison behind him. Tyler caught the blade . . . in his stomach.
He gasped in pain and sank to his knees. Allison screamed. Andrew was advance with his sword drawn, fury was etched in ever line of his face.
Allison crouched down beside him. “Tyler!” she yelled.
Tyler weakly pulled himself free from her grasp. He stood and raised his sword. Even injured, Tyler was the far superior swordsman. With one strike of blade against blade, Andrew’s sword was knocked from his grasp. Tyler raised his sword to Andrew’s throat. He spoke through gritted teeth. “Give me one reason why I shouldn’t kill you!”
Force of will alone stopped Andrew from quivering.
“No!” Allison ran up and tugged on Tyler’s arm. “You can’t! It would be a declaration of war!”
Tyler didn’t make the mistake of looking at her again. He could barely stand as it was. He couldn’t afford to lose focus again. “This man has done nothing but disrespect you, Princess. I find that plenty of justification to go to war.”
She tightened her grip on him. “Please, Tyler. Don’t.” Tears were falling freely from her eyes. She stifled a sob.
Tyler couldn’t deny Allison anything. “Fine. He will not die today.” His next words were spoken to Allison, but directed at Andrew. “But if he fails to properly respect you ever again, I promise his life will come to a very abrupt end.” Tyler stepped back and lowered his sword.
They all turned at the sound of running footsteps outside the dining hall, brought by the sounds of Allison’s screams.
Andrew took advantage of the moment. At the same time, he pulled yanked Allison toward him and kicked Tyler away. For Tyler the pain was too much. He collapsed on the ground, his sword clattering a few feet off. Tyler curled in pain, his arms wrapped tightly around his stomach. He’d already lost a lot of blood, and he was starting to feel the effects of it.
The two royal families came storming into the room. Andrew hugged Allison firmly; her face was pressed into his shoulder, preventing her from making any noise.
“What happened here?!” Allison’s father yelled.
“Dear King,” Andrew’s voice was dripping with lies, “you’ve come just in time. This man,” he pointed to Tyler, “attacked the princess. If it weren’t for me she would probably be dead.”
Andrew’s parents beamed proudly.
Allison and Tyler could say nothing in the latter’s defense. Tyler was too weak, and Allison, try as she might, she couldn’t fight free of Andrew’s grasp.
The kings’ face was red with anger. “Guards, take this minstrel to the dungeons immediately! He will be executed forthwith!”
Tyler could only cringe in agony as the guards dragged him away. Allison’s fighting became so rough that Andrew could not keep his hold on her.
“No!” she screamed. She ran across the room and threw herself in her mother’s arms. “No no no no NO!” Everything else she wanted to say was unintelligible due to the severity of her sobs.
Andrew joined them on the other side of the room. “She’s in shock,” he said by way of explanation. They all nodded their understanding.
“Dylan, could you take Allison to her room?” the king asked his eldest son.
Dylan nodded. He extracted Allison from the queen and carried her to her room.
The kind addressed Andrew. “Thank you so much for all you have done for our daughter, Prince. I don’t know what we’d do if you hadn’t been here.”
Andrew’s mother was overcome with pride. “I hear wedding bells!”
Everyone in the room smiled.