How Journeys End by Pineapple | Content Warnings
It had been years since Princess Siana had been so involved with her people. The war had put an end to many of her public appearances. Before the fight had been brought to the Nastur Kingdom, the Princess had loved meeting with her subjects. She adored them—loved seeing how they lived, loved hearing their stories when she could. It had always been rare that her father allowed her to work in close quarters with them, but since her meeting with the soldier Camellia Matis, Siana was determined to learn more about the troubles her people seemed determined to hide from her when they spoke.
Her current project was making sure the kingdom was fed by reviving the farms. Gardening was one of her favorite hobbies and one of her strengths, and enemy forces had decimated crops and the war had squandered resources. Though her father had sent guards with the Princess, she had sent them away to help the current town with rebuilding.
She had stood up from the garden after explaining the best way to maintain the plants, and in the next moment, she rubbed her hands together until a familiar warmth spread between them. In that moment she blew magic across the fields with a gentle breath, she made herself a target. The townspeople watched in awe as the seeds they’d just planted started to sprout when the golden air the princess breathed life into fell into the soil. And then in that same moment of awe, they witnessed tragedy.
Horses rode into the fields—a loud clambering of shouting and hoofbeats. Siana spun around at the noise. She opened her mouth, she turned her hands to an offensive magic, but she was too late. A man grabbed her around the waist. He hoisted her onto his horse and before she could finish the spell, a woman on the horse riding next to them bound her hands with a burlap bag tied around her wrists.
The horses barely even stalled as the riders grabbed the princess, and then they were gone.
Camellia stood in the river, pants hiked up to her thighs and hair tied messily at the back of her head. They’d been in the field for weeks, but this bath was not for her—it was for her companion, her horse, Leif. The treks were long for him, and he tired at the hard ground beneath his hooves at times. The soft, cool ground in the river calmed and eased him as she untangled his mane and tail, washed the dirt from his coat.
They had been tracking a particularly organized rebel group for the past month. Camellia had seen the recovery efforts of the kingdom during their travels. They were going well, much in thanks to the princess who was helping the people personally with her royal magic. The insurgents weren’t focused on the food of the people—they didn’t burn the fields like the soldiers of the Gladiolus Kingdom—they didn’t seem to want to hurt their own kingdom permanently. They destroyed structures and kidnapped a few villagers here and there. Magic users, according to survivors. Foreigners, sometimes.
When a message came in the form of a bleeding heart dove, sparkling and trailing golden glitter, to the general’s tent, Camellia felt a sinking feeling in her chest. It left a smell of wild carrots in its wake and reminded her of the flowers the princess had given her the night of the banquet. Camellia quickly guided Leif from the water to dry themselves off. She rubbed her legs off before starting her work on her companion.
The golden magic associated with the monarchs dissipated from the tent moments before the general pushed his way out in a huff. “Gather!” he shouted, his voice booming and assertive. Their unit was considerably smaller since the war ended, but they were spread across the camp.
Anticipation prickled on her skin as she approached her commander. He was a handsome man, but he was weary. Crow’s feet and gray in his beard and head betrayed the figure beneath his armor and the way he held himself in front of his unit. He’d fought long and hard for the Nastur Kingdom and he’d come out alive and so dignified that Camellia respected his loyalty and integrity.
An elbow nudged Camellia’s side. “He looks troubled, hm?”
She glanced to her side. A white-haired soldier stood next to her, eyeing the general. He was Chrysan, an ally and a friend to Camellia. He was a monster with a spear, but his specialty was a bow. “Did you recognize the bird?” he asked as the general paced and his soldiers circled around him. “It’s a spell the king uses to function as his messenger.”
“Ah,” Camellia answered. “I thought so.”
He smiled, a bitter little thing. “To honor the queen’s death,” he said with an air of faux diplomacy, “just like the flowers they sent back after the banquet. Everything has a spot of blood.”
“Chrys…” Camellia began, rolling her eyes.
“I won’t start,” he promised. She had heard Chrysan’s theories about the queen’s death at least a dozen times. There was something else in his criticism of his homeland, but Camellia didn’t know what it was or how deeply it ran. He sighed, smiling a more genuine smile. “But isn’t it nice to be at their beck and call since you won the war for us, Venus Flytrap?”
She punched him in the stomach.
He coughed out a laugh. “Okay, okay, I’ll stop.”
“You think it’s very important?” Camellia asked.
“If he sent it with the bleeding heart, yes.” Chrysan absently rubbed his stomach where Camellia had punched it, watching as the general squared his shoulders against the heavy burden of relaying their next priority mission.
Their commander inhaled deeply. “I received a message from King Daucus,” he announced. “The soldiers with Princess Siana have reported her missing. He wants us to find and retrieve her before any harm comes to her.”
“Do you at least have any ideas?” Chrysan asked loudly.
The general raised a brow at him. “Yes, in fact, she was working nearby, in the village upstream to the west.”
“It was likely the insurrection we’ve been tracking,” Camellia said. “They’ve been kidnapping magic users, and all members of the royal family have unique magic in their bloodlines.”
“My thoughts exactly,” the general agreed. “The soldiers with her sent a message to the king, who has sent word to us. They’re close by and the timeline is right.”
“Even if they don’t have her, they’ll have a lead,” Chrysan said.
The general raised a brow at the archer. “What makes you think so?”
He shrugged. “They’re organized. They’ve managed to evade us this long. They must know something we don’t, right?”
“Perhaps.” The general huffed. “Get ready to move out.”
It was early morning when the boys and girls that kidnapped Siana finally spoke to her.
They’d brought her to a cave and tied her to a stalagnate that reached from the bottom of the cavern all the way to the top. She spent the night watching the small community around her. She heard whispered conversations, saw close knitted camaraderie, felt stifled laughter vibrate around her. The group wasn’t large, not as large as an army, but it was as big as a single unit, maybe. About as big as the group that had come to the banquet.
The girl who had tied her hands as they rode in fed her after they arrived, and she retied her bags to make sure she couldn’t do any magic or try to escape. The two of them sat quietly during the night, watching the group as they ate. Siana bided her time, patiently seeing and hearing everything and planning.
She expected them to beat her, to threaten her or her father, maybe even kill her. She didn’t expect it when the boy that looked like he was in charge sat down in front of her, a sword between them, and watched her with level eyes.
“I didn’t realize the royal family was withholding the power to eat from its citizens,” he said.
She stared at him. Trained her face not to give any fear, any defiance away. “What do you mean?” she asked. “You mean during the war?”
He had big, shining eyes and sunken cheeks. He looked like he could be Cera’s brother—and she missed him. This boy was his age. Viola’s age. Maybe younger than both of them—in his early twenties. He dismissed the girl at Siana’s side and she saw a charisma—a trauma—she’d never seen in the people her age around the castle. “People were hungry. Are hungry. The Gladioli bastards burned the farms, and… and you all could have just grown more food this whole time?”
She wanted to cradle his face. Make him understand. “No,” she said. “Not all of us. Only I can.”
His blade was at her neck in a second.
She didn’t flinch.
“Why didn’t you do anything? You think your magic is too good for us?”
“No,” Siana answered. “It was a power passed down from my mother. If Gladiolus knew of this power, they’d kill me like they killed her.”
His eyes narrowed. “Maybe you’d deserve it.”
“So do it then.” She bared her neck for the boy in front of her. “Something tells me you won’t. Something tells me this isn’t your first time kidnapping someone—magic users, specifically—just your first time kidnapping royalty.”
She saw the twitch in his body, felt it in the blade against her neck.
She continued, “Something else tells me you don’t kill the people you take hostage.”
“What something is that?” he asked. His eyes drifted down to the small draw of blood at her neck.
“You know well how we work. That our hands need to be free, for instance. I bet that was a quick and lethal lesson to learn, hm? Someone must have told you how rare life-based magic is,” the princess continued. “People won’t tell you anything if they think they have no hope. So, what is it you want? Knowledge? Few would know more than I do. Ask your questions.”
“I should just cut your hands off,” he muttered, the sword falling again between them. “I’d be doing both of us a favor.”
“How would that help me?” Siana scoffed.
His eyes strayed to the sky, to the little bit of scattered light they could see as far back in the cave system as they were. “A monarch’s hands are always covered in blood,” he said, “even if she doesn’t know it.”
“What is that supposed to mean?”
“You’re right about this not being my first kidnapping. Wrong about me never having killed any of the people I’ve taken. The spies that try to infiltrate our ranks—you think I let them live? Or the traitors who would kill those doing good for our people?” His eyes trailed back to the princess, and his voice lowered. “There are traitors everywhere, Princess, you would do good to remember that.”
A shiver shot down her spine. She tried to not let it show—to regain control. “You kill my soldiers and you kill my traitors?” she asked, hating hearing her voice waver. “Who are you to decide who dies?”
He waved a hand. “I let normal people live,” he said.
“Normal people?” she echoed. “Are my men not normal people?”
“Your soldiers, your guards, even your noble friends, are not yours, Princess Siana,” he said. He stood.
“Of course the lords aren’t loyal to me,” she scoffed. “Nobility is full of deceit.”
He nodded. “But the soldiers I’ve met that are supposed to protect the royal court…?”
He knew something he wasn’t telling her and she could feel the window for learning what it was closing. “You only kidnap magic users.”
“We do,” he agreed simply.
“But only the royal family or people with noble blood have magic abilities,” she said. It felt desperate. More desperate than she wanted. She was losing any control she’d had at the beginning of the conversation. She could nearly feel it slipping through her bound and hidden fingers. “My soldiers don’t and couldn’t use magic.”
He sighed as he looked down at her. It wasn’t a look of contempt. It was something more like… pity?
The girl who had sat with her through the night returned, coming back to the boy talking to Siana. “Sir, we spotted soldiers that are headed on their way here. The ones that have been tracking us. They’re well equipped. We should flee.”
“No,” he said. “If they already know where we are, it’s too late. Everyone, prepare for battle!”