Author Note: All of my stories are works in progress. I'm just experimenting with different ideas. If you like a story, leave me a message so I know I should continue it.

Night caressed her skin as she stood staring into the pool. The wind slithered up and down her naked form. To humans, this would have been a startling sight. Only a pair of underware struggled to uphold any modesty that might have existed. But there were no humans, and thus clothes were just annoyances. The moon's unrelenting gaze burned through the trees and sought to destroy any shadow that inched its way toward the lady. Crunching leaves heralded a guest.

"Don't you look lovely tonight." The deep voice reverberated in the clearing. Its authority called every leaf and petal to attention; everything except the young woman who still stared down into the lake's slate surface.

"What is it, Hayden?"

"The prince has arrived. He has asked to meet with you."

"Oh, I'm sure he has requested his future bride. Hoping to get an idea of what he'll be humping to fill his disgusting fantasies. He's a pig."

"You haven't even met the man. Don't be so harsh to judge. Anyway, you should still come back."

"You shouldn't take your job so seriously." The lady tore her eyes from her reflection and turned to her Escort. He was two years older than her and had been with her all her life. Hayden's deep, blue eyes had always watched her closely. His arms had protected her since he could walk. His life was to guard hers, and she would miss him terribly. Friendships did not matter to protocol and alliances. Her father, the king, needed Almeon's help. To gain that help, her father willing offered up his daughter as if she were a prized sow. Escorts are not permitted to follow their princesses to other countries. The princess is expected to gracefully depart from her home and everything she knows.

The urge to just jump into the water was almost unbearable. She wanted the currents to pull her under and hide her from her cruel reality. Whether she would come back up for air was undecided in her mind. As she wrestled with that question, arms wrapped around her.

"Allyia," whispered Hayden, "please don't run away." His deep voice sounded down into her bones. Allyia wanted to stay there, suspended in time. His warm body was a soothing contrast to the cool breeze. Why couldn't Hayden be a prince? If anyone alive deserved the title, he did.

"That is easy for you to say. You're not getting married to a demon masquerading as a man."

"You don't know what he's like."

"Quit harping at me. Prince's are all the same. What's to know?

Hayden didn't have a response. Maybe he really didn't want to give one. He wanted things to stay the same just as much as her. The lady turned and rested her head on her protector's shoulder. Allyia felt such a comfort in that moment. If only it wasn't time to wake up from the dream.

Princess Allyia Rosem Puratinar had grown up pampered, but not spoiled. Her mother, Queen Eliza, had seen to it that she knew how to be an independent woman even if she would never actually have to be. Allyia could cook and clean just as good as the servants and could spar right alongside the soldiers. The king hadn't approved of his daughter fighting, but her mother had been quite adamant that Allyia learn how to defend herself. Along with physical skills, mental skills were taught. These were undoubtedly more important. Allyia's parents took no chances when it came to her education. They hired the best tutors in their country as well as from others for the foreign aspects. She had all the right credentials.

When Allyia had turned fifteen, the king seriously noticed that her transition into a woman had begun. Ideas about suitable husbands began to fill his mind during his free time. This did not sit well with the Queen. She had been born in the country that she now ruled, but Allyia would not see the same opportunity. They needed alliances. A political marriage was essential. Allyia had two younger brothers who could ascend the throne, so she was subject to the king's whims.

Queen Eliza absolutely adored her daughter and was always looking for bonding opportunities. She whisked Allyia off to the theatre every time there was a performance, took her horseback riding when weather permitted, cultivated her interest in art and music, and read a story to her every night. The bedtime story was the most special tradition to the Queen. It was the time when she could have her little Allyia all to herself. There were no crowds, prying servants, and especially no Hayden. Hayden should have just tied his and Allyia's wrists together because he followed her so closely. Queen Eliza didn't mind Hayden. He was a wonderful lad and he performed his duties flawlessly. But sometimes Eliza wished he would leave her and her daughter in peace.

Although now, storytime wasn't the same anymore. Her little Allyia was eighteen now. She could read perfectly well on her own, and she did. She devoured books. So their precious storytime had transformed into just talking. Actually, the Queen thought this much more enjoyable. They discussed everything from politics to which courtiers were the handsomest. Her daughter was a fascinating individual. She saw herself in her, but hardly any of her father. Some of the things Allyia amazed the Queen so much that she couldn't believe this was her daughter. Allyia was insightful, but still very impulsive. She had been around stereotypes and false smiles all her life. She trusted very few.

The Queen looked around. Allyia still was not back. Hayden had gone for her nearly an hour ago. It was deemed quite rude by the guests, but everyone else in the court besides the king knew the princess was probably in deep reflection right now. She was always punctual unless she got to thinking about something too much. The arrival of her possible husband could certainly have spurred on Allyia's foible.

There was a commotion at the grand entrance. Allyia entered in a gorgeous, silver gown, embroidered with delicate birds and flowers, and it was accented with a simple pearl necklace. Hayden was on her arm. They did make an impressive pair. Much more suited to each other than Prince what's-his-name. They were announced and made their way to the thrones. They bowed, and King Sorren nodded in acknowledgement.

Queen Eliza looked at her husband. He had a hard gleam in his eye which meant he was very displeased with Allyia for being so late.

The evening worn on in its usual fashion. There was a lot of frivolous, small talk and unnecessary smiles. Allyia was tired out very quickly. Earlier, she had spied the visiting prince as he was eyeing her. He wasn't the fat oaf that had formed from her imagination. He was actually quite attractive. Maybe this wouldn't be so bad…Allyia shook her head. Of course it would be.

The night was three-fourths over before the prince made his way over to greet Allyia. After introductions, Hayden stepped back to give Allyia and the prince their space. He didn't completely disregard them like he should have; he kept his presence known. They had a quite little chat then said their goodbyes with a bow and curtsy.

Hayden appeared at her side to offer his arm and shield the princess from any other attempt at conversation from other courtiers.

"How was it?" he asked in barley restrained curiosity.

"Not quite as horrendous as it could have been. He was a well-spoken gentleman and he kept the conversation going easily enough."


"But overall, his personality is quite lacking."

Hayden didn't want to admit it to anyone, but her comment made him excited. He wanted her to have a wonderful marriage, no doubt about that…but his secret wish was that it would be with him. He sighed. A princess marrying her Escort was scandalous enough in idea alone. He was supposed to protect the princess, not ravish her. But, oh, how he wanted to.

She had begun to talk to a wizened old man. He was an Advisor for the king. His smile overtook his entire face, and his youthful dimples still persisted. Advisor Dorry was his name. Hayden watched Allyia interact with him. Her gentleness and wit made her a favorite at court. Her skin almost had a shimmer all its own. Her beauty could match and exceed any other. Her golden hair was half up in an elegant bun while the rest flowed down her back in perfect curls. Her eyes were a rich chocolate, and they held the compassion that her people adored. She had enough of a tan to look healthy but nothing like someone who spends all day in the sun.

How could the king send her away?