His Secret War

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Romance, Supernatural, Fantasy, Thriller, Space Exploration, Slice of Life
There it was. Standing tall and solid made of large cuts of stone and covered with dark green ivy. The castle was beautiful, not that she doubted her wedding gift would be anything but. The soon-to-be King promised her a castle all of her own for traveling across three countries to be his bride. Zoraida's lands were just as lovely, with forests, rivers, and so much more. Alessandra was in love with the country-side.

"We're here m'lady." The carriage stopped out front and the door opened. Someone holding out a hand so she could step out. Dark hair cascaded over a deep blue dress. Lush fabric that might the green in her eyes pop out. She looked very much like a King's bride-to-be. Alessandra glanced around curiously. First at the castle and then at the woods nearby. She was surprised to see a path there. Perfect!

"I think I'll go for a walk first. You'll have someone prepare dinner?" she asked, already walking towards the path at the break in the trees.

"M'lady, that may not be the best of ideas. There is rumor of thieves nearby."

"Is that similar to the other rumor? Of a secret benefactor leaving gold and treasures to the villagers?" she asked, clearly amused with the whole idea. Of course she has heard all of these stories. This was her land now, and she needed to be away. "Don't be silly. It'll be fine. I promise not to stray too far."

Of course an hour later, as Alessandra ducked under a branch and circled around a tree, she realized she was going to have to apologize for breaking her promise. She lost the path some time back and with the tree canopy over head she was having the hardest time trying to gauge which direction she was walking.
That particular canopy was supporting a lean young man with one of its branches, a wooden flute beneath his lips. His fingers moved with grace on the instrument while he played, his eyelids hiding a pair of emerald pools. Although his skin was scratched up and not washed very well, it was the fairest among the other thieves he was often sighted with.

He was startled by some small footsteps that were awfully close by, causing him to drop his flute and his hat to fall over his eyes. Without a second to spare, he reached up and pushed the hat back on to his head that was covered with sienna coloured hair.

He stood up on the branch, his sturdy boots keeping him well balanced while he dusted off his green tunic and looked to the ground for his flute. Surely there was no one here and he was imagining things... People seldom walked through here unless they were traveling someplace. Even then, they'd be in a horse drawn carriage or at least on a horse's back.

Surely enough, there was a young maiden walking passing through. A fist rubbed at his eye, as if his vision was lying to him. A lady, in this filthy place? There was no denying it. He dearly hoped his allies weren't watching as well, they'd likely rob her. Last he heard, they were having a merry time deeper in the forest with their recently stolen alcohol...

The fellow's mind went back to current events and he remembered he dropped his wooden flute. It was on the ground, was she going to see it? What if it fell on her head!? He gently bit his bottom lip and folded his muscular arms, still watching her... She must be the one marrying his vile brother. She had to be! The other women were too poor to dress as she did.

'Come on Alistair, think! What to do?'
A snap of something in the bushes had her turning around quickly. Her breath caught in barely contained fear as she glanced around the forest wood for signs of what the sound was. Nothing could be seen but more trees and plants. The forest was growing dim as the sun moved lower in the sky, and now a gentle mist was beginning to roll out from the mysterious place it always came.

"This is ridiculous." Alessandra mumbled softly to herself. There was nothing here to be afraid of. Jumping at every gust of wind or creaking branch. She should be ashamed of herself.

Then something caught her eye. She knelt to the ground, picking up the strange thing with a great deal of curiosity. A flute! Just as lost here in the middle of the wood as she. At least there was comfort in knowing she hadn't wandered too far from civilization.
Alistair took notice to the change in weather as darkness began to blanket the sunset in the sky. The girl seemed to be in distress and there was no doubt when she mumbled a few words to herself. He had to come out of hiding at some point, perhaps he could start with her... So as long as she wouldn't give away his hiding places.

He reached into the pockets of his khaki coloured pants and pulled out a pair of brown leather gloves, pulling them on so grasping each branch would be less painful. He got to the final one that would drop him in front of the tree... After taking a deep breath and letting it out softly through his lips, he let go of the branch and let gravity take him to the soil. He landed on his feet, the soles of his shoes making a thud.

The red feather in his hat hung in his face, which he immediately blew back up as he straightened himself. There was a tint of pink in his cheeks the moment he realized he was a mere foot or two away from her.

"It seems, you have found my wooden flute," he said quietly, his eyes of sparkling green fixed on the instrument in her hands. He then inquired, "Are..are you lost?"
Her startled gasp was quickly covered by a hand when she whirled around. Alessandra backed away several paces as she hid the flute behind her back. It was a silly thing to do. ...but so was hiding up in a tree! She glanced up, wondering just how high he had been and for how long he was lurking up there.

"No. I am not lost. Why would you think so?" she played it off, with that haughty air that only someone of her station could pull off. He was... unusual looking for a stranger in the woods.

"Why are you looking around in my forest? Hiding in the tress?"
Alistair resisted rolling his eyes when she displayed such an attitude by calling this her forest and claiming that she was not lost. He could always make another flute, it just took a long time... Carving an instrument was one of the last things on his list.

There weren't any wanted posters of him at this point because no one cared to post them this far. Even if they did, he and his friends would be tearing them down. Since there was no picture with a reward for him to gesture to, he said,

"I only think so because you look lost, m'lady." He bowed apologetically, even removing his hat. There was a quiver with arrows and a bow strapped to his back. After he straightened up again, he sighed and rubbed the side of his neck. This was going to be an embarrassing thing to say; after all, he's royalty.

"I... Live here. Therefore, it is my forest. My name is even on this tree."

He smiled childishly and patted the giant trunk. His name was not visible, but somewhere on the other side, his name was carved there. He hoped to one day show it to his maiden where he'd also carve in her name.
"You live here in the forest?" she asked, her head tilting in disbelief as she cast a wry smile. He didn't speak like a common thief. This had her relaxing enough to pull the flute from behind her back and tap it in her hand. With the quiver of arrows on his back, she suspected he might be a hunter looking for a meal to take back to his family.

"This forest was giving to me as a wedding gift. If it was your forest, you would have to be my fiance." Alessandra walked slowly, making sure to give him a wide birth as she circled to the other side of the tree. Her eyes examined the bark of the wood looking for a clue of his name.
Her reaction to his statement was as he expected, although he didn't anticipate she'd actually look him over and search the tree. His heart began to ache when she mentioned the forest being a wedding gift... Being the sensitive person he was, his face even showed obvious sadness. Even so, he kept his good posture and even crossed his arms before speaking again,

"So... You're marrying my little brother, Ivan?"

Clearly, she didn't know who he was. Bringing up his brother might ring a bell, especially since she could compare their looks. If Ivan wasn't torturing the people of his kingdom, he would have left things alone. Standing by while they go hungry didn't settle right with him, so risking his life being a thief was the best way he could save them.

The thought of her marrying him had him thinking that she was also fine with these people going hungry. Helping her get back home could be the death of him, which he could not allow.

"Well congratulations," he said sarcastically, a pleasant smile on his face. "I have things to do, so I'll leave you to the forest. Careful of the wolves, insects, spiders and who knows what else?"
Alessandra was still searching for his name on the tree, but she paused casting him an odd expression. Little brother? Ivan had not mentioned having any family any still alive. Then again, she didn't have much time to spend with him alone and learn about his life.

He bid her congrats and was going to make his exit. Just when she was going to ask him questions too! She stepped away from the tree and offered him back the flute. Glancing from one side to the other as if she were looking around for those wolves and spiders he was so kind enough to warn her of.

"I apologize for not recognizing you. I wasn't told he had a brother. ...you aren't trying to deceive me so I won't make a fuss about you lurking in my woods, are you?" Though she asked it with an easy tone, Alessandra was a little suspicious. A prince didn't normally run loose through the trees. ...then again, neither did a Lady!
Alistair sighed and took his flute back from her, sliding it into the quiver with his arrows. It came to no surprise than Ivan didn't mention him, but she'd of found out at some point since he was a wanted criminal around here. The price on his head seemed to keep going up every time he pursued the rich people for their coins, but no one has been able to find him yet. Until now.

"I haven't a reason to lie. I'm afraid I can't leave these woods, though. I have a kingdom to take back from my traitorous brother."

Warning her of the wolves reminded him that he shouldn't stay here too long when it was dark. Additionally, there was a meal waiting for him elsewhere.

"Since this is your forest, I can't ask you to leave. Please stay safe." Before departing, he took one of her hands and his and kissed the top of it, smiling handsomely afterward. It had been a long time since he was able to make such a gesture...

That been said and done, he turned himself to walk into a thicket of trees where he expected to meet his friends for dinner. He cared not if she followed, however didn't look back to check.
Standing there in a mix of surprise and curiosity, she tapped her chin in thought. The future King's mysterious brother, hiding in the forest like a wild animal and plotting revenge. Her desire to know more was so much stronger than the need to find her way back to the castle. This was the fate of her future husband, after all. They were simply going to have to save dinner for her.

Alessandra picked up her skirts as she dashed quickly over the forest floor to catch up with him.

"Wait! Why do you call him traitorous? Is he not the future King? I can't let you escape if you're planning to harm my fiance."
He heard leaves rustling and a voice calling to him with more questions, causing him to stop. She decided to follow him, so as a gentleman, he felt it necessary to wait. The did not have to venture too far, but it wasn't easy to see in a forest when it was dark. A flame in the distance is what signaled him the location of his party.

"I left my kingdom for a few weeks and come back to see he took it over, giving me a criminal title on the side. He was always jealous that I was the heir..."

Alessandra wanting to protect Ivan from him amused him a little, but also set a bit of warmth. As much as he despised the brother, he had someone looking out for him. A beautiful lady, at that.

He offered and arm to her and then continued his walk to his trustworthy band of men. He was thankful for the night being present because he could feel his face turning a bit red from bashfulness. This was something he hoped to change, what sort of prince was the shy type?

"Anyway... I'm Alistair."
Alessandra looked at his arm, the hesitation plain across her face. Not far in the distance she could see the glow of a fire. That meant there were others lurking around in trees somewhere, and she couldn't be sure of how many. Finally, she decided it was best not to make a fuss and get herself in more trouble. She took his arm and fell in to step beside him.

"Alistair." Alistair, brother of Ivan. Exiled brother of Ivan? Alessandra wasn't sure if she should believe him. The entire situation sounded a little strange to her.

And she wasn't one to keep her thoughts to herself. "If you are his brother and he wanted to steal what was yours, wouldn't it be wiser to kill you? Now, just like you say, you are going after him. You may come after me too! Or the people he takes care of!"
She had so many good questions for him, a sign she'd be a worthy queen for a kingdom. She wasn't just going to be eye candy or someone to satisfy a king in bed... Even if that's what Ivan intended her to be, Alistair was certain she'd argue against it.

"If he were doing a good job running, I wouldn't be here. He's putting selfish taxes on my people and I can't just run away and ignore it. I don't want to kill him, just stop him. And you're right, he should just come get me. He's too afraid, though. His moronic men can't find me or even catch me when I run."

The fire was only feet away now and he could hear the men calling out his name cheerfully, also asking who was with him. He stopped them from walking and turned to Alessandra,

"You must not tell them you're marrying my brother. These men are far more ruthless than I am and even if I command it, they still might rob you and even kill you if they get the chance."

Alistair didn't wait for her to say anything and went on ahead, the fire's light dancing against everyone's images. There were four men sitting around the flames with bowls in their hands, each talking about how much they managed to steal and leave behind for the poor villagers. One of them spoke to Alistair,

"'ello, me Lord! Who do you 'ave there?"

The prince relaxed his arm so he could let go and then sat down on a log in front of them, reaching for the ladle in the pot of stew.

"She got lost in the forest. She's our guest, so be polite."
The knowledge that he had no control over this men didn't sit well with her. Sitting around a fire with murderers and thieves couldn't be good for one's health. Yet still... he wasn't trying to hide these things. Were he being honest about all of it, that had to mean something. She couldn't go wandering around in the dark alone, so for the time being she could at least learn more about her future husband and the brother he kept from her.

Alessandra hid her nervousness well, sitting down on the log next to Alistair with a shy curious smile at the men around the fire. She hadn't realized just how long it was since she ate, and much to her surprise the pot of stew sitting over the fire smelled really good.

"My name is Alessandra. And who might the handsome men of your party be?"
The men laughed heartily and talked to each other aloud about how nice of a lady she was for calling them handsome. They weren't bad looking men, just a bit dirty and wounded on the skin like Alistair. Alistair felt like he could relax when he saw they were already getting along with her and handed a bowl of the stew. Not too fitting for royalty, but it was tasty. He sat down beside her with a bowl of his own and pointed to each of them,

"Lewis, Alexander, Drake and Peter. We have others, but they stay in the village to help the sick instead of hiding out to be thieves."

A couple of the men nodded in agreement and then stacked their bowls since they already finished. The one called Lewis had a stature similar to Alistair's, however was a little under ten years older than him. He was the adviser while the other three were respected servants.

"Where are you from, Alessandra?" One of them asked. Alistair stayed quiet while he ate, thankful for the warmth his food was giving.
One bite of the stew and she was sighing in blissful heaven! It really did taste as good as it smelled, despite it's humble makings. She eyed each of the men, confused by the mixed descriptions she was getting. They were thieves that helped the sick and poor?

"I am from Loamor. I crossed three countries, mountains, rivers and unforeseeable dangers so that I may have a meal with you gracious gentlemen." Following Alistair's advice, she didn't mention Ivan.

Tilting her head, her thoughts weren't going to spare these men from her questions either. "Why do you risk your lives to steal and then give your earnings away? I don't think I have ever met such noble thieves."
Alistair was impressed with her answers, wondering if she was actually from where she said she was. The men acted modest as a response, one of them taking Alistair's bowl and stacking it with the others. He put his hat in his lap and relaxed himself some more, making a motion with his head as a way of telling them to continue the conversation. After all, she was directing the questions to them from the look of it.

"Aside from the fact it's King Alistair's request, we do it so we can help the villagers be able to pay those miserable taxes and afford food for themselves. Ivan's sucking their homes dry of every last coin! This is what we must do until we find the right moment to strike back. There are too many guards around right now."

Alexander sighed sadly, so Drake put an arm around him and shook him a little like men like to do in comforting half hugs. He was the biggest of the lot and soft spoken. Lewis spoke up,

"Besides, we owe it to his highness for breaking us out of that prison when he returned. Madam, you shouldn't continue to Zoraida. Let us escort you back home?"

Alistair put a palm over his eyes and wished his adviser didn't ask such a question. Lewis pursed his lips and made an apologetic bow with his head to Alistair... He had forgotten to ask before speaking.
Alessandra listened, carefully putting all of their words together in her head. There was no reason to believe they were lying. Not the way they behaved with each other. Which meant her future husband was a man that kept a lot of secrets. This wouldn't do at all.

"I am afraid going home isn't possible just yet. I will be staying at Zoraida for awhile." Her expression was thoughtful even as she finished the last of the stew in her bowl and offered it back to Alistair.

"If you don't mind me asking, how high are the taxes? Is it truly so bad that people cannot to even eat? Maybe I could speak on your behalf. There's no excuse for letting people starve. You can't have a country at all without the people in it..."
Alistair took the bowl for her and set it in the stack. One of them took the dishes, including the empty pot, and disappeared to go clean them off so everything could be used for the next day. The remaining three all exchanged glances, all eyes on Alistair as if expecting him to answer.

"I'm afraid that would not work well. Perhaps, since you're a beautiful lady, he wouldn't punish you for making such suggestions or complaints. It's awfully risky still..."

Peter spoke up immediately after Alistair, "Please don't tell Ivan where we are or what we're planning. Not just because he'll send search parties, he'll suspect you're working with us and possibly hurt y-"

Alistair put up a hand as a way of saying the conversation should stop. The worried men nodding slowly and then stood up, bowing to Alessandra before leaving to go set up their blankets for sleep.

"I'm sorry. It's been a while since they've seen a woman," Alistair said with a sheepish smile. "If you're cold, I have a blanket you may use."