The royal carriage was not much different to an ordinary carriage. The dark paint that represented the royal family would not ward off bandits - instead, the carriage was more of a target; it may as well have been painted bright red. The plush interior did little to avoid the jostle as the carriage rode over the terrain, brushing my shoulder against my companion. Six people in a carriage designed for less passengers resulted in an ache in my back; and the air to smell faintly of the gas that is let out of rear ends.
I had taken the seat closest to the door, ignoring the protests of the guards, including Ashq, who had been voicing his dismay the loudest. My position wasn't the most convenient in defence, but I doubted I would have any trouble with the thieves.
My eyes closed, I leaned back and rested my head, listening to the conversation that I had heard time and time before.
"Now, after my third drink, my charm was reaching its peak-"
"Gods above, thank you for admitting that your charm has a limit." Kile (who I suspected was the reason for the smell) laughed at his own joke, shaking the carriage as he did so. I chose not to speak, not out of fear of the large man, but due to that I had no business in talk to him. I'm sure that Ashq had shot Kile a glare for interrupting him.
"-And Laup's laugh is almost as sweet as her singing. Shame that she wasn't as talented in bed." Ashq continued as if Kile's interruption hadn't bothered him. I had opened my eyes and leaned forward, not able to concentrate when listening to Ashq. I doubted whether Ashq and Laup had had a conversation with one another, let alone spent a night together, but for the sake of my friend, I allowed him to continue his story. Kile laughed again but the tale barely drew a smile out of the nameless guards - one of whom I suspected was asleep. Mace continued to listen intently but stayed quiet, not wanting to interrupt.
I was the least distracted of them all as I noted the happenings around me. It was I who first noticed that the carriage had stopped. "We've stopped."
Mace glanced at Ashq, a quick motion that I would've missed it had I blinked. "We can't have arrived so soon. I'll have a look." She started to get up, but I stopped her.
"I'm closer to the door. I'll see to it. You may stay here."
"But, Your Roy-"
"I can take care of myself." My jaw was clenched and the words were harsher than I intended. Mace sat back down, nodded slightly and then tried to avoid looking at me, as if ashamed. Since joining the Royal Guard, she had been keen to prove her skills, almost bordering on defying my orders and the orders of Ashq.
I had kept my dagger and my sword with me, although it was assumed that I would have no need for it on the journey to Avaris. But they never left my side as I often felt naked without them - as though I had left something behind but couldn't remember what. They would be put to use against the bandits who had stopped the carriage and it would be a good excuse to stretch and exercise after being crammed in the carriage for hours.
I left the carriage, taking care to close the door quietly, so I had the advantage of surprise against any opponents. I crept around the corner, something I would prefer not to do, but a necessity to avoid any sound. The ground was dry and seemed to amplify my every step but I tried not to wince at the noise and instead made my way to the front of the carriage.
We had stopped in a narrow dirt road, worn by the passing of carriages such as our own. The thick trees and overgrown greenery provided plenty of cover and hiding spots - perfect for an ambush.
My vigilance was not needed. There were no bandits, no thieves and I was disappointed that I had lost an opportunity to fight - an opportunity it seems that I never had. The driver of the carriage, a plump man in his early 40's called Kulwa, had climbed down from his seat and was inspecting something lying on the ground, presumably a dead animal blocking the way.
At the sight of me, Kulwa straightened, fear across his face which I was used to, and then bowed, which I was also used to. My reputation and status had that effect on people - the Warrior Princess was a name that I had earned amongst the citizens of the countries. A name that I would rather not existed - it was often joked about by Ashq. Again, I was mistaken. Kulwa hadn't been looking over a dead animal but instead an unconscious man. He couldn't have been much older than myself - perhaps 23 at the most - with long hair for a male that was almost white. By the state of the clothes and the dirt on his face, I assumed that he had been on the road for a while, no more than a traveller.
"I'll dispose of him." I said. Kulwa looked horrified - whether it was at the thought of me doing Kulwa's job for him, or the thought that 'dispose' may mean 'kill'. The latter was something I had to owe to my reputation - to many I wasn't the King's daughter but the King's personal assassin. Kulwa opened his mouth to speak but thought better of it, nodded and shuffled away.
I picked up the traveller, who I had mistaken to be slight, and carried him in my arms towards the patch of long grass that lined the side of the road, where I unceremoniously dropped him. I made my way to the back of carriage, motioning to Kulwa as I passed the driver.
The sun was setting, painting the sky in a mix of colours. But I wouldn't allow myself to watch. A younger self would've gazed up, watching as though she had never seen a sunset. She would've fantasized of painting, of waiting beside Ashq for the sky to darken and for the stars to appear.
A slight sound of footsteps on the dry dirt.
Mistakes aren't common for me – I was usually accurate when making assumptions. So, I was mildly surprised when I found that I had made another mistake.
I did have an opportunity to fight.
Kile faced me, blocking the entrance to carriage, smiling while the two guards flanked him.
"One of the horses needed to rest. There was no need for you to leave the carriage." There was a pistol occupying the holster by the waist of one of the guards. The other was armed with a falchion. "You've disobeyed an order. I could have the three of you thrown out." As I continued to lie I assessed the three.
The clothes they wore were designed for travel and wouldn't fare well in a fight. The weapons - were they planned for a fight against me?
They would have to be idiots to think they could win against me. They must have thought I had been ambushed and were planning on assisting me.
"You had be gone for too long. We had assumed the worst." I frowned at Kile. That was a lie - I have been out for a few minutes at most. “Besides, you didn’t give us an order to follow.”
In the corner of my eye, I noticed the guard draw out his pistol. Kile's lie was a distraction. The guard fired.
I should consider it luck that he missed. But I wasn't so sure whether the shot was another distraction and was supposed to miss. Instead, a punch was thrown, landing hard on the left of my face. I staggered, and then raised my head, taking a deep breath.
I made quick assumptions at their fighting styles. The guard had no other visible weapon than his pistol - but I couldn't rule out the possibility of a dagger hidden in his clothes. The other guard had the falchion and Kile was unarmed.
As I had recovered from the punch, the three attackers had positioned themselves. The guard reloaded his gun and aimed again.
I struck out, grabbing the barrel of the gun and motioning it down, the bullet hitting the ground instead of the intended target. I pushed the gun backwards, hitting him in the jaw, disorienting him momentarily. All the while, with my right hand, I had unsheathed my sword, taking possession of the firearm with my left. The second guard's attack was more of a charge, her swing leaving her left side open and with a quick parry, I had managed to disarm her. I slashed upwards with my sword, opening her waistcoat and spilling her guts to the ground, spinning around in the same movement to shoot Kile with the remaining bullet although firing blindly.
I had broken the nose of the first guard and he had drawn out two daggers from inside his waistcoat, determined to end my life. I managed to defend against his attack, but the dagger in his other hand opened a cut on my arm, drawing blood. Kile has reeled backwards from my shot but was recovering, determined to make me pay, blood sliding down his arm. I discarded the gun - I couldn't reload it fast enough - and instead, concentrated on Broken Nose's advances, blocking his attacks with the dagger with my forearms; we were too close for me to use my sword hand. I seized the chance to take his dagger, twisting his wrist as I did so. I hit him with the handle of dagger, mimicking my actions with the gun seconds ago, and breathing hard as I did so, I did something that I'm sure I would regret - if he survived that was. I jammed the dagger into his eye, and he fell back with a shocked yell, blood gushing from the hilt embedded in his face, staining his teeth as he screamed.
I had to deal with Kile now, and I circled him, mirroring his footwork. It was almost a dance but he was wounded from a gunshot and I was taking deep breaths as the fight caught up with my body. He had no weapon, and his best chance was to disarm me. If he did that then I had no chance against his fists. He aimed a blow at my face and I ducked, but he grabbed hold of me, head-butting me. Once, twice and then once more. Followed by a kick. Then a hard shove, throwing me to the ground, my sword leaving my side.
He now had the advantage, and another hard kick was aimed at me. A foot was placed on my chest and he sneered down at me. The screams of Broken Nose had died down. Was he still alive?
And where was Ashq? And Mace?
Were they taken down by Kile? Or where they were alongside him?
Was I going to die? I laughed at the thought and winced. I wasn't going to give up so easily.
A gunshot sounded and Kile fell forward, landing on top of me. I wriggled away, pushing him off me, and got up. My saviour was the traveller I had ditched on the side. In his hand was a gun, a grin across his face and a manic light to his purple eyes. I take a moment to stare in surprise and I ponder - where did the firearm come from? He had no weapons earlier and it was a different make to Broken Nose's weapon who lay a few feet away, his thr3 moat slit - no doubt from the traveller. I had to make a quick decision - was he my ally or did he plan to kill me next?
I bent down to take possession of the second guard's falchion, the closest weapon to me. I took my stance, bracing to fight against the traveller. I recognised the falchion - it belonged to Mace. Did that mean she was dead? Or did she give the falchion to the guard?
He moved first. The traveller I mean. But instead of attacking me, he faced the big brute of a man. The size difference was astonishing but would work to the traveller's advantage - he was smaller and faster. Kile was wounded from the gunshots, another advantage to the traveller. His gun was gone, instead replaced by a large sword that I could not name. Again, I marvelled at the appearance of a weapon.
I must bless the traveller for being such a skilled fighter - I had no chance in fighting Kile.
Instead I flung open the carriage door and climbed in. Mace lay on her stomach in a pool of blood, her arms in front of her in bent angles. I muttered a prayer under my breath for her soul - she would've had no chance against her enemies. Mace was an inexperienced fighter, accompanying Ashq and learning from him. I suspected that Kile would've launched a surprise attack against them.
I fumbled with Ashq's wrist, looking for a pulse, my prayers were faster as I panicked. Ashq couldn't die and I breathed a sigh of relief that he was still alive. I smiled to myself at the thought of what Ashq would say if he heard me praying. But why had Kile attacked us?
The traveller stood by the entrance of the carriage - he had managed to stab Kile in the back - a shameful way to die and a dishonourable way to kill. The traveller was full of surprises - he'd made short work of Kile, who even I couldn't beat. Killing Kile was no easy task - he was a Guardian, almost immortal. I stared at him, weary, trying to assess whether I was next to die by his blade. "Aren't you going to kill me?"
The traveller tilted his head, deepening his frown, as if trying to understand what I had said. "Not Waterstone." He paused and then spoke again in broken English. "And you... are a pretty... whore."
A whore? I clenched my jaw, but I couldn't help be amused. There weren't many who called the King's daughter a whore.