Treachery and Betrayal
A/N: Welcome to this re-write of a re-write. To those who haven't read the other versions, hope you enjoy. To those returning, good to see you back and I apologise for the very long delay (only 5 years...). This time I will finish it. Honest. But for now, all readers, I hope you like what follows...
Chapter 1: Announcement
The hot wind of the desert blew sand against Crè'ha's dark skin but she barely noticed it. It was something she had grown up with, and she was far more interested in what was on sale in the market. Exotic fruits and wines, furs and silk, jewellery of gold and silver with sparkling gems within. Even the more intricate weapons and armour fascinated her with their designs. This was the best place to spend a relaxing afternoon after a tiring morning studying at home.
Despite how exhausted it made her, she was glad of what she had learned. She knew she was lucky to be learning anything at all. Education was kept for the wealthy, but her father had been taught by his father and so on through the generations from when their family had had the money to send children to a tutor. She was more than happy to absorb all information her father threw at her just for the knowledge that no matter how much money she had, her children could aspire to greater things. Perhaps even Crè'ha herself could achieve something with this knowledge, though her ambitions for herself were small.
"Crè'ha, deary, come here," a warbling voice called over the crowd. A grin plastered itself over her face when Crè'ha saw the old woman at her stall of candied sweets, and she rushed over as quickly as the crowd would let her, ducking behind the awning post to join the woman behind the table.
"Grandma Rem'fè," Crè'ha said gleefully, giving the small woman a hug. "How were your travels?"
"Don't you be calling me 'grandma'. You make me feel so old," Rem'fè said teasingly, her face a mass of wrinkles from her smile. "Selling was good, as always. Everywhere I go I get good sales because everywhere I go there are children that can't resist their sweet tooth. How is your father, deary? Hope he isn't working too hard. You'd better be looking after him. He never was very good at dealing with things alone."
The reminder of her mother not being there still stung even after all these years. Crè'ha could still remember vividly the times she'd played around this very stall, her mother calling her to try some new sweet Rem'fè had taught her to make. Her mother had always loved to cook; the more the food was appreciated, the more she enjoyed making it. Ever since then Crè'ha had been calling Rem'fè 'grandma' though they weren't related. She was the closest thing to family after her parents. Even after the epidemic that claimed her mother, among many others, she had refused to let go of Rem'fè as someone close to her, and Rem'fè had been just as stubborn holding on to her.
Crè'ha's thoughts turned to Pehn'ilran, her father, collapsing into his chair the instant he returned from the King's stables. She worried for him, always telling him to relax. She was glad of gaining her mother's ability in cooking so she could care for him. Ever since her mother's death, her father had flung himself into his work with unnatural fervour. It had not abated since, though his body grew more tired by the day.
Some of her worry clearly portrayed itself on her face, for Rem'fè didn't wait for an answer. "I'll have a word with him later. Knock some sense into him if I have to." She lifted her walking stick that she had been leaning against while she sat as if to hit him right there. "Here, you take some of these," Rem'fè said gently, shifting some sweets into a paper bag. "And don't you fret. He's as tough as he is hard-headed."
Crè'ha peered into the bag. "These are new."
"Yes, I found some new flavours while I was away. You try them. Let me know if you want me to teach you to make any. Always good to share the know-how."
With a thanks and another hug, Crè'ha struggled her way into the crowd again, pondering where to look next, deliberately chasing what worries she had for her father out of her mind. He was at work now, tending to the King's horses. Tonight she would make a stew and then share these sweets with him for dessert. She knew sweets always brought a smile to his face.
Before she had a chance to decide where to go next, however, the call of the palace horn shattered the hubbub of the crowd. Crè'ha joined the procession that now headed towards the square in front of the palace. The horn meant there was to be an announcement. What the announcement would be, Crè'ha had no idea. It was rare for the horn to sound, usually only used to declare a festival to celebrate a Royal marriage or other special occasion. More official notices relating to politics and other serious matters were left to leaflets posted around the city. Crè'ha's pulse quickened as she contemplated the dancing and the music and the parades that came with festivals.
Using her small size to her advantage, she darted between the mass of bodies, heading towards the front of the gathered people. She looked up the steps that led to the palace gates, towering bronze objects set in a thick wall of sandstone. Her father had told her stories of how those walls had repelled many a warring army, their country of Anhal'ta always coming out victorious. Those battles were old history now, the walls now sandblasted to barely show any sign that such events had occurred. Since then the palace had grown, much of the surrounding walls pulled down and the grounds expanded. The stables were Crè'ha's father worked was in the new grounds, protected by only thin walls and weak gates. The entrance to the palace remained as a testament to the past, rather than the defence it was designed for.
Dwarfed by the great bronze gates, stood a man in silks and lace, many guards behind him in their ceremonial armour. It was to this man the crowd of hundreds that had come on the summons of the horn gave their attention. "I am Prince Kelma'ro Fa'antra and I come with grave news. My father, his royal Highness, King Jolna'tara Fa'antra, passed away last night. I wish I could say it was nothing but old age, but among us are those with evil upon their minds. My father was assassinated. His life was a good one and it is a shame that he had to leave us in such a manner, but his reign will not be forgotten, as I am sure that he will remain in our memories as a kind and generous ruler. His death will be avenged, for the assassin was identified before he could flee the palace grounds. A great reward will be given to those that can bring the man Pehn'ilran Mora'ka to receive his punishment."
At these words, Crè'ha stopped listening to the rest of the speech. Her heart which had been racing with the prospect of a festival now felt like it had stopped. This couldn't be true. Her father killed the King? Impossible. Her father was such a gentle man. These were lies. These had to be lies.
She looked up now with suspicious eyes, and through them she saw the son of a man who had been murdered who showed nothing resembling grief. Anger was clearly evident as he spoke of traitor Pehn'ilran with a hiss in his speech. Perhaps the anger for the unjust killing of his father covered all the grief that he was feeling inside.
No! It's not possible! Crè'ha's mind screamed. Staring at this man who spat words of vengeance, she decided he had to be the deceiver. He had to be.
Panic gripping her heart and lungs now, she turned and forced her way back through the crowd to grumbles and complaints at her shoving. The Prince continued speaking, changing subject away from the killer.
"Now my father has departed us, I must follow in his footsteps and lead you as he has done. It is with a heavy heart I take the throne that my father left empty."
The words meant nothing to Crè'ha. She was focused only on getting away from this place, away from the lies, the accusations. Running, headless of those she bumping into and of the curses that followed, she headed for home, praying her father would be there with the answers she needed to hear.
He was, flinging clothes, food and water flasks into two packs. He turned at the sound of the door slamming open, fear clear in his face, quickly replaced by relief when he saw Crè'ha standing there. He pulled her to him, stroking her hair, quietening the panic that gripped her and Crè'ha could feel the trembling in him ease a little as well. He stepped back and knelt before her, holding his hands to either side of her head.
"Whatever you heard, it isn't true. However others will not believe that. So we have to leave. Quickly. Here, take this pack. Is it too heavy? No? Good. Now follow me."
He took her hand and led her out, peering in both directions. She stared up at him, wanting somehow to help him. She wished she could go back to the palace square, run up those steps and scream out that they had been told lies. Instead all she could do was follow behind him and pray everything would be alright.
They wound down alleyways and side streets that Crè'ha had always been told to avoid, the sounds of people on the main street strangely muffled by the buildings close on either side. Though the many turns were bewildering, Crè'ha quickly came to realise where they were headed. It wasn't long before they came into the lane behind Rem'fè's small house. The hut she used to keep her horse and cart in was almost as big as the house itself. Pehn'ilran carefully unlatched the door and was tacking up the horse with the speed of practice. It wasn't long before Crè'ha was perched in the cart with their two packs and Rem'fè's travelling tent, and they were driving out of the lane. Most of the other back routes were too narrow for the cart, and Pehn'ilran was forced onto the streets.
Crè'ha saw him pull his hood over his head, catching the shake in his hand as he did so. She looked around nervously, searching for watching eyes but saw none. Many others were hooded like her father, the shade of a hood a relief to the blazing heat.
The smell of sweets from the cart pulled her mind to Rem'fè. She wanted to jump out and run to her, to tell her what had happened, to explain why they were taking her cart. But at the same time she knew she couldn't leave her father. Though she didn't know what had happened, she believed in her father more than anything else. She had to stay with him, to protect him, to look after him.
Every cry she heard she jumped at, but it always turned out to be directed elsewhere. A few times she saw the shining of sun on armour in the far distance, but it never came any closer. Her muscles ached with tension, but she let it ebb away as the people and buildings became fewer. She breathed a sigh of relief as her father drove them out of the city.
Now she turned to look ahead. The river on which the city was built flowed off to once side of them, its great breadth reflecting the clear blue sky, the odd barge visible in the distance. The road ran straight, roughly following the river, not much more than a pale trail in the sandy earth. Other travellers were spread out on the road in front of them. On the far side of the river, the desert stretched, dune upon dune, empty of anything else. On the other side beyond the road were patches of tough plants between fields worked by the farmers desperately trying to give their plants enough water.
Feeling safe now, Crè'ha climbed from the cart to sit next to her father as he drove the horse. He glanced down at her, smiling a little, though fear still wavered in his eyes. "Let me tell you the story," he began, staring at the road, using the same words he did when he told her tales of heroes and princesses. With a sigh, he continued, "I'll tell you the story of the truth."
Another A/N: Caught your interest? I hope so. Chapter 2 has actually been written already, but I want to write Chapter 3 before i upload in case I need to change something. To be honest there is a part of this I already want to change, but for lack of inspiration I'll leave it alone for now. If any reviewers catch on to the same point I'll probably make some changes. ;)
In case anyone is remotely interested I just want to give a little background on this. It was originally called The Wasteland which I wrote for English as school. The Wasteland will correspond to 'chapter 4' of this (though I've not written it just yet). I first re-wrote it in a similar form to this version, but with my laziness of never putting the final chapters on the web and thanks to a hard drive crash I lost the last three chapters. I have no idea how I finished the story in the first re-write (my poor memory stricks again), so I hope you like this new version.
I've been writing this very fast (2 chapters in less than a week is an unheard of phenomenon for me) so perhaps I'll actually finish this one relatively soon. Stranger things have happened... Or have they? ;) But I should point out that the Uni year has begun once again, so I may not have as much free time as I'd like. I'll try and fit it in when I can. I would like to finish a story for a change. ;)
And finally, as always, please review! All criticism is welcome, though some compliments would be nice too. :)