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. Except for one.