Ariel's journey By David Copland

 

Ariel looked up into her fathers face, and held out the trident for him. Triton shook his head. Ariel started to panic, she looked towards her sisters, and each one turned their face from her. " Please take it", Ariel pleaded.

"Its has fallen on you, to wield the trident Ariel. It is your destiny". Spoke Triton.

"But I don't want it, there's to much power for me to control". The trident began to glow, Ariel felt it's weight grow and grow. She tried to maintain the level of her father and sisters, but the trident grew to heavy, and she began to sink.

"Daddy help, I cant do it", she cried. "Its to much for me, take it please!".

Ariel looked as her farther and sisters disappeared in the gloom, and she sank ever deeper.

"Daddy no!!!"

Ariel sat bolt upright in bed, the sheets were soaking wet, she looked around, a sheet of water flowed down every wall, but didn't pool on the floor. She looked at the other side of the bed, Eric slept sound.

Thin strands of blue smoke appeared, dozens of them, all centred about one place in the wall. Ariel swallowed hard she knew what was there, she slipped out of the wet covers and stood on the floor, her night dress clinging to her body. She reached out to one of the strands, as her finger touched, she flinched as she felt a rush of energy through her body, she ducked under it and proceeded to the meeting point of the strands. As she neared the centre, the wall burst into light,.........

"Ariel are you listening?"

Ariel blinked her eyes, and wafted the dust kicked up by a passing wagon. " erm what?" she asked back.

Eric shook his head, and gave the horse a gentle flick with reins, "you haven't heard a word I have said, look ", he pointed forward, "we are here".

Ariel looked and saw something that never failed to leave her in awe.

Tall columns rose a hundred feet, topped with ornate carvings, done by masters of the art, and a hundred steps lay in front of the palace of the king of Asenthfell. As the convoy of wagons, with Ariel and Eric in the lead, made their way up the long avenue. Ariel looked around at the huge water garden that encircled the palace, even part of it in places. With well kept lawns and neatly trimmed hedge rows, all topped of with a shear explosion of colour from the flower beds, which appeared in every available space. Everything was bathed in the glorious summer sun.

As their carriage reached the bottom of the stairway, Eric's Parents appeared at the top. Eric halted the carriage, he helped Ariel down and called for Sergeant Davie's, he handed him the reins, "take this for me, and make sure everything is taken to our rooms".

Davie's straightened to attention. "Sah!"

Eric took Ariel's hand and together they started up the stairs. The King and Queen, looked at each other smiled, and linked arms and came down to meet them at the half way landing.

"Ah my boy, here at last", Eric went to shake his fathers hand, but his farther pulled him into an embrace, "don't you know how to wright ?"

Eric looked at Ariel. "Sorry but we have been busy the last few weeks", Ariel tried to hide her smile.

"Yes? But not busy getting me a grandchild I bet".

The queen slapped him across the shoulder. "Douglas, will you behave? I didn't have our first till I was a lot older than her", she looked towards Ariel, "pay him no heed my dear, he is an old man who is afraid he might die before he gets to play at being granddad", she gave her husband a withering stare.

"Humph" he retorted. "Anyway speaking of dying, lets get out of the damnable heat before we all start to wither", they all began to make their way up the stairs.

"Ariel" said the queen, "you will have to show me what you have for tonight's ball, you do have such lovely dresses. And I think it should be a mother in law's right , to get a sneak preview". The queen gave Ariel a conspiratorial wink.

Ariel smiled back "naturally", they reached the top of the stairs.

"Eric!!" came the call, from the great doors of the palace.

Eric looked, "Jason!" The two brothers ran to each other, Jason hit Eric with such force that they fell to the ground laughing. They helped each other up, and walked back to the group with their arms around one another's neck.

"Ah, and here is my ravishing sister in law". Jason walked up to Ariel, and theatrically bowed and kissed her hand. "And how are you my lovely, this Luddite treating you well? If not I will have to see to him "

Ariel laughed "Hello Jay, yes he is, but Ill bear your offer in mind"

Eric poked Jason in the ribs. "Now now, don't forget who's wife she is".

Jason shook his head."I know, still cant believe how you got such a fine and lovely catch, must be my charm rubbing of on you little brother"

"Right place at the right time, Jay".

Jason turned back to Ariel. "If you ever get tired of him, let me know".

Ariel patted him on the cheek, "thanks, but no. He has his bad points but I can live with them".

Eric folded his arms in mock anger, "well thank you very much".

"have you all forgotten about me?", a female voice came from behind Ariel she turned.

"Jalle!" And she pulled her into a hug.

"Well I said I would come in my letter, did I not?"

The queen walked over," Ariel and myself are going for a chat, are you coming?"

"Of course mother, show me the way". The three women left, the father and sons alone.

The king sided over to Eric and Jason, "watch out gentlemen, the women have met"

Eric chuckled, "well lets leave them to it, I could kill for a drink"

Jason nodded in agreement, "now you are talking".

The king held up a finger, "well then, follow me" and he led the way through the great double doors and into the palace.

The Queen, Ariel and Jalle, walked along the corridor, Ariel made to turn but the queen grasped her arm.

"No my dear, you have been allocated different rooms this year".

Ariel looked perplexed, as they walked to the end of the corridor. The large doors were opened as they approached, and sunlight poured through them into the corridor, Ariel blinked as her eyes readjusted to the light, she walked into the room. Immediately the view from the window caught her attention, she rushed to the balcony door, opened it and stepped out. "This is wonderful, you can see the whole water garden from here".

The queen and Jalle, stepped out as well, "we thought you would like it" said the queen, " you keep telling us how much you adore it, so we juggled the rooms this year".

Ariel turned and hugged the queen, "thank you so much". She looked back at the panorama that lay in front of her. A huge artificial rectangular lake stretched out from its beginnings under the balcony, an enormous fountain jetted from its centre, shooting twenty feet into the air. The lake was surrounded by a light brown gravel path, with lawns extending either side. Ariel followed the lakes line of site, to the rolling meadows that encircled the palace, it was the most beautiful sight, that she had seen so far in the human world.

The queen broke Ariel's rapt gaze," there will be plenty of time for looking at scenery, lets go inside and see what you have brought".

Jalle took Ariel's arm and began to walk in, "after that we can work out how to do your hair for tonight's ball".

The king led the way down the dark aisle of the cellar, he tapped each barrel till he found the one he wanted. "Here we go, Eric pass me those mugs will you." Eric did as he was asked, "this, gentlemen is the finest beer in all the kingdom, brewed by the bear masters of the northern mountains", he opened the tap and started to fill the mugs, "strong in body, and wickedly strong in alcohol", he passed out the full mugs to his sons, "lets sit".

Eric took a swig of the brew as he looked for a place to sit, "hum that's good". Jason nodded his approval as well.

The king had found an upturned keg, and seated himself," I told you it was", he looked at Eric, " so tell me what's been going on down at your place? I am glad that the pirate threat is over, but the cost of a ship and a damn fine crew was to much". Douglas patted his son on the leg, " but I am glad you and Ariel are all right".

Jason chipped in," how exactly did you get out of that one?"

Eric shuffled uncomfortably in his seat, and began to recount his and Ariel's experience of a few months ago, he skimmed over a few parts that Ariel didn't want them to know. But when he had finished, the king looked at his mug of beer and then drained it, he took a deep breath.

"Well its sounded like quite an adventure my lad, quite an adventure", he went to refill his mug.

Jason sighed, "why do you get all the fun? While I am stuck here, bored out of my skull."

Eric gave a shrug, "simple, you were born first".

Jason shook his head, " I hardly count that as a decent argument".

The king gave a chuckle, "pay him no heed Eric, he says he feels like a calf at auction, but I told him he has to marry sooner or later. He's is like you were Eric, to damn picky for his own good".

"I just don't like being paraded like a prize Boar, every time a high born single female pays me a visit" Jason retorted, "I just don't want to rush into anything, and regret it later. Eric found love, twice if memory serves, and look who he married, one of the most beautiful women on the face of the earth, and were does she come from? A kingdom under the sea! Now if that's not luck then what is?"

The king nodded, "yes but time does not wait, you have little left, enjoy it while you can". Jason nodded his agreement. The king looked up at Eric, " so how is old Grimsby? still devoted to duty as always?"

Eric gave a laugh, " yes he is, he tends to think that the place will fall apart if we are not both there to keep abreast of things, he could run it all blindfold, and standing on one leg. But try and tell him that, and he just looks over his glasses and says 'why thank you, I try my best', and then goes back to his work. I don't think the term relax is in his vocabulary".

The king spoke through his tears of laughter, "yes that's Grimsby all right, one of the reasons I sent him with you, it took me years to find someone to replace him".

Eric gave his father a knowing look, "another reason was to make sure I didn't run the Kingdom into the ground, within six months".

The king wiped away a tear, " well it worked for the best", he eyed Eric's and Jason's empty mugs, "anyone for a refill?" Eric and Jason held their mugs out simultaneously .

Jalle held the pink, ruffled ball gown against herself and gave a twirl, "what do you think mother? Ariel?"

"It looks wonderful my dear", said the queen.

"It suits you well" added Ariel.

Jalle looked down at the dress one more time, she lifted her head, and looked towards Ariel, "erm.....".

"Yes you can borrow it for tonight", she interrupted. Jalle literally jumped with joy, she placed the dress on a chair and started to rummage through Ariel's jewellery box.

"You must have something in here to go with that dress", Ariel rose and made her way to Jalle. Jalle had found a small box, she opened it and removed the sapphire, and held it by its necklace mounting. "this is wonderful" said Jalle as she flicked the sapphire. Ariel felt her mind explode for an instant, but she managed not to show it. "Where did you get it ?" Asked Jalle.

"It was given to me by my mother" replied Ariel.

Jalle quickly put it back into its boxes and laid it gently back, "there is no point looking at what I cant borrow, is there?"

Ariel smiled and fished out some Ruby earrings and necklace. "Here these go well, with that dress" Jalle almost snatched them from her and ran to the nearest mirror.

The queen laughed, "oh to be sixteen again, all the passion and emotion." Ariel returned to her seat." I remember your first time here, we almost had to tie you down to keep you in one place long enough to talk". Ariel laughed at the memory. The queen took a sip from the glass of wine on the table beside her, she looked at Ariel. "I am sorry about Douglas's remark about children, he has no right to stick his nose into your business".

"It's all right, I know how much he would like a grandchild, and I know you would too". Ariel replied.

"What he wants has nothing to do with it, neither does what I would like, its what you want that counts. You do want children I take it?"

Ariel thought of the children of her home, their smiles, their laughter, she would give almost anything. "Of course I would, but it just doesn't seem to happen for me", Ariel took a deep breath.

The Queen sat forward," may I ask if everything is all right between you and Eric, in that way?"

Ariel burst into laughter, "believe me we have no problem there".

The queen chuckled, "well I guess its just a matter of time then. Speaking of time, at my age its takes slightly longer to get ones self ready. I will see you at the ball my dear." Ariel rose as the queen rose, and bowed as the queen took her leave.

Jalle rushed over from the mirror, and grabbed Ariel by the arm. "Come on Ariel we don't have much time", said Jalle as she dragged Ariel towards the changing rooms.

Eric ran his finger around the inside of his collar, maybe he had been a bit too conservative with the measurements he had given his tailor, "damn dress uniform" he muttered. "Ariel, are you not dressed yet? We are already five minutes late". Eric heard the door to the dressing room open, he looked up as Ariel walked out, and kept on looking.

Ariel smiled and gave him a twirl, "so what do you think?"

Eric's gaze was fixed on the blue, low cut, off the shoulder gown. The ruffled shoulders, of the dress matched the soft flowing of the skirt, the dress sparkled as the tiny Sapphires and onyx stones, embroidered into the hem, waist and neck line, caught the orange light that poured through the large windows.

"Well ?" She asked. Eric walked over to her

"You look, magnificent", and he lifted and gently kissed her hand. His gaze was caught by a glint from Ariel's tiara, he had seen that somewhere before.

Ariel noticed his attention, and walked over to a mirror "I know I said I wouldn't", she said as she adjusted the Tiara. "But had Flounder get it from the Grotto for me", she turned and walked to Eric , her heals clicking on the marble floor. "I didn't like the thought of it sat in the ocean for all eternity."

"I couldn't think of a better place for it", he said as he lifted his arm, Ariel took it, and they made their way from the apartment.

King Douglas looked at his Queen, "what's taking them so long Celia?"

Celia looked back at him and started to speak, but crack off the Announcers staff resounded three times on the white marble floor.

"Prince Eric and Princess Ariel of the Principality of Seacove". Ariel and Eric, walked into the light of the huge crystal chandeliers, they stopped in front of the raised thrones of Eric parents and bowed .

The king stood and held his hand up for silence before he began to speak. "My friends, family and loyal subjects. Three hundred years ago the small kingdom of Asenthfell, rested against the northern sea, its eyes set on the multitude of kingdoms that lay to the south, what followed was the most bloody era this land has ever seen. But built on the sacrifice of those who fell in battle, has been the peace, tranquillity and prosperity that we all take for granted today." He looked down to Eric and Ariel. " And today we are here to honour my son and his lovely bride, who between them have taken the principality of Seacove and turned it into one of the most prosperous kingdoms in all Asenthfell, turning it into a major trading port. So its with great pleasure that I decree, that, the principality of Seacove becomes the State of Seacove, to be ruled by its own King and Queen, and to owe no allegiance to anyone except the Crowned ruler of Asenthfell, who shall be honour bound to assist the state of Seacove, in times of need".

Ariel stood bolt straight she hadn't expected this, she thought it was just a welcome party. She snatched a glance at Eric out of the corner of her eye, he looked very pale, and sweat had started to trickle down his temple. By the looks of it, neither had he

"Well, what do you say Eric?" asked his father.

"I need a drink", he mumbled.

King Douglas roared with laughter. "Wine! Music! Let us celebrate my sons good fortune."

Jason walked up and handed Eric a crystal glass, " here I thought you might need this", he turned to Ariel, " you didn't expect this did you?", Jason gave a little chuckle," hehe, well I will leave you both to it , I see a fair damsel who is in need of company". Jason made his way purposely across the hall towards a striking blonde.

Ariel turned to Eric, as he finished of the glass of wine. " So my future King, shall we dance?"

Eric smiled, and held out his hand, " think I have an opening, this evening". Ariel grasped his hand and pulled him to the dance floor.

The moon hung low in the night sky, casting its glow on the balcony and reflecting of the water below. The door opened, and Ariel and Eric walked out, Eric placed the bottle of wine and the two glasses he was holding on the balcony wall, and turned to look at Ariel as she looked out over the moon lit landscape. He walked over and placed his arms around her waist, " a penny for your thoughts". He whispered into her ear.

Ariel gave a little chuckle, " I was just thinking, me a Queen. Wont daddy be impressed". Ariel turned in his arms, and placed hers around his neck.

"In my eyes you have always been my queen" smarmed Eric.

"You know just what to say don't you?"

"I do try", said Eric as he pulled her into a deep kiss.

Ariel stopped and pulled away, the moon light sparkling in her eyes, she reached behind her, and pulled the lace fastenings at the bottom of her gown, she slid the shoulders off and let the gown fall to the floor.

"How do you do that?", said Eric his gaze fixed, "I've been trying for years"

Ariel gave him a seductive smile," we girls do have to have some secrets", she kicked off her shoes. Eric took a step forward, but Ariel turned and climbed onto the balcony wall.

"What are you up to?" came Eric's intrigued query.

"If you want to find out you'll have to follow me". Ariel balanced on the ball's of her feet held, her arms out in front of her, bent her knees slightly , and one graceful movement swept her arms up in and arc, and leapt back into the moonlight glow of the night. Eric lurched to haul her back, but was to late. Ariel's back arched as she slid through the air and into the water, the ripples caused a myriad of patterns and the criss-crossed the small lake. Eric held his breath until she broke the surface, rising out of the water, her wet clothing clinging to her body. She looked up to him, with a "well are you coming or not?" look on her face.

Eric gave a grin as he removed his boots and tunic, and then his shirt, he climbed onto the wall and looked down at Ariel, and then dived performing a somersault on his way down.

As he surfaced something cloth and wet struck him in the face, "show off ", laughed Ariel, Eric grasped the cloth and looked at it, and then looked at Ariel. A mischievous grin spreading on her face, as she trod water with her chin on the surface.

The two began to swim slowly to each other, "you do realise that we still have to get back to our rooms?" asked Eric.

"We'll deal with that when we have to", replied Ariel.

They met in a flurry of arms and kisses, unable to keep afloat they sank in each other arms, and a column of bubbles.

Ariel looked around her, the wall streamed with water, a deep sense of foreboding descended on her, as the blue strands appeared once more, again she walked towards the point of the wall where the strands joined together.

She was ready for the bright flash this time and shielded her eyes from its intensity, she looked up as the light lowered to a glow, there sat her trident, an aura of continually shifting hues of blue surrounded it. A voice boomed inside her head, "Who has the control? Who is the one that would use my power?", the aura shimmered as the voice cracked like thunder in her mind, the pain sending her wincing to the ground.

A soft caring voice came from the bed, "it does have a point you know ".

Ariel looked up from the floor, the booming voice repeating continually in her mind. "Mother? Oh mother make it stop, please make it stop".

"Alas child, I do not have that power". Ariel grabbed her head as the voice inside it increased in strength double fold, and kept on increasing. Ariel let out a cry of pain which turned into a scream, as the voice stared to overwhelm her.

"Ariel, Ariel wake up!" Ariel opened her eyes to see Eric's worried, and still damp face. She wrapped her arms around him, burying her face in his neck as the tears began to flow, and the last moments began to fade in her memory.

"What's wrong?" Asked Eric as her stroked her hair.

In reply, Ariel gave a soft whisper, " just hold me". So Eric held her, till she cried herself into a more peaceful sleep.

Eric sat in the library window looking out over one of the many lawns that surrounded the palace. Out on the lawn a group of children and young courtiers, played a game of blinds man bluff, Eric gave a brief smile as the young woman that had been chosen, grabbed one of the statues that lined the lawn. Eric's thoughts returned to Ariel, the look of panic and terror that she wore, when she was wrestled from her nightmare still hung in his mind. The night had gone so perfect what could be troubling her he thought, but once again he came up blank, it was probably something mermaidian, but as to what, he would have to wait till she knew herself, before he could help her.

The king made a polite cough, to get his sons attention, "Ah there you are my boy"

"Morning father", came Eric's reply.

King Douglas, continued to speak as her walked over to the window, " I have just seen Ariel on her way to the stables, apparently Jalle has talked her into going for a ride".

"I hope Jalle can keep up, Ariel is as good a rider as I have seen", a wry smile sat on his face.

King Douglas held up a finger, "don't go righting Jalle off too early, she can handle a horse, and will give Ariel a run for her money".

Eric lent forward, " Ill put 10 crowns on Ariel".

The king thought this over, "make it 20 and you have a bet", Father and son shook hands to confirm the bet.

"Was there something, specific you wanted to see me about?"

"Actually , yes, we have just received a herald from the Eastern frontier, we are getting a visit from Palendor". The king watched as the colour drained from Eric's face. "Oh calm yourself, 'she', wont be coming this time, its just the Lord High Chancellor and some of his aids, to renew trade agreements. Now that they have finally finished their god awful civil war, and have stabilised their country enough, they want to start to rebuild . And I intend to give them all the help I can". The king eyed his son, "I take it that, by your reaction, that you haven't....".

Eric shook his head "no, I haven't".

Jalle turned to Ariel, as they crossed a meadow, "why is your horse called Stormy?"

Well, though Ariel, at least I can tell her the truth. She stroked the black stallions neck, "he's named after a wild sea horse, I tried to tame once".

Jalle smiled , " you've done so much in your life. I've done nothing stuck at the convent school, its so boring".

Ariel looked at Jalle, her stunning looks , long black hair, intelligent and inquisitive wit. Jalle reminded Ariel of herself at that age, wanting to do everything at once, wanting to know everything there was. Ariel knew she had changed over the years but she didn't realise how much , till she was faced with a look at her past. "Your time will come Jalle , don't worry about that".

"Yes , but when. That's what I want to know", Jalleís shoulders sagged.

Ariel laughed, "come on, last one back to the palace is a guppy", Ariel turned stormy around and kicked him into a gallop.

A look of confusion appeared on Jalleís face as she considered Arielís words. "What!" she called, and spurred her steed after Ariel.

Eric and his father waited at the entrance of the stables, as Jalle thundered by closely followed by Ariel. Eric handed over a small pouch of coins to his father.

The king laughed, and patted Eric on the shoulder, "that's what I like to see prompt payment".

Eric just mumbled a couple of obscenities.

The music played , as Jason danced with Ariel. Eric stood next to a pillar and sipped at a glass of punch, as his father held court with the high chancellor. His heart skipped a beat as he heard his name spoken by a voice, that brought back so many memories. He turned and saw the girl he had known matured into the beautiful women before him. Short auburn hair, and a figure hugging black gown with gloves. "Colleen", it was all he could say.

"Well you don't look very pleased to see me", said Colleen looking slightly hurt. "we its probably a shock, did you think I would miss the first opportunity to see you in eight years? Come lets us get some air", and she grasped his hand and pulled him towards the balcony.

Ariel noticed the movement and excused herself from Jason, who's arms were immediately filled by the blonde from the last ball. She walked over to the edge of the dance floor and looked out through the balcony doors.

Colleen held Eric's hands and looked into his eyes, all Eric could do was look back, and didn't move as she lent forward. The touch of her lips on his, brought a wave of memories crashing down on him, their first glance at each other , their first kiss, the heart break of separation. As she stepped back, Eric knew the kiss had been a mistake.

Ariel's jaw almost hit the ground, she waited for Eric to break it off. She waited some more, and then she clenched her teeth and narrowed her eyes, and she stared to make her way to the balcony, but before she could reach the doorway, she was intercepted by the Queen.

"Before you do this , we need to talk", and she pulled Ariel towards a side room.

Colleen smiled at Eric, "I have waited a long time for that".

Eric tried to think, but there was only one way to do this," Colleen , we cant start from where we left off, theirs someone else".

Colleen sniggered, "I never for one moment imagined there wasn't." Colleen looked back through the doors. "Which one is she?"

"Pink dress, red hair", answered Eric.

Colleen looked but was unable to locate Ariel. "I think I know the one, pretty" She turned back to Eric, "but then you always had good taste in women. Well the sooner you tell this girlfriend of yours, the better. I have prior claim", she stroked his face seductively.

Eric took a deep breath, "she's not my "Girlfriend", she's my wife". Eric felt his heart sag , as the joy drained from Colleens face.

"Wife?" Eric nodded. "But what about us? Our promise to each other?" She removed her right hand glove and held her hand up for him to see. Eric recognised the emerald ring he had given her, on their engagement. "what about this?" she asked. Her voice starting to tremble as a tear stared to roll down her face.

Eric looked to the floor, " I'm sorry" he said, his voice a soft whisper.

Colleen hastily put the glove, and wiped away the tear, and looked him in the eyes, "well, I think I have made enough of a fool of myself for one night". With that she turned and rushed away. Eric called after her but to no avail, he walked back into the hall, and scanned the room , Ariel was nowhere to be found.

"Damn it", he said and left the room.

Queen Celia sat on a chair and watched as Ariel paced up and down, "who is she ? and what's she got to do with Eric? ".

"Sit down and ill tell you what I know", the queen commanded. Ariel sat folded her arms and stared at Celia. The queen sighed and began, "Colleen, that's her name, first came here nine years ago with her parents on a official visit from Palendor, they were both young but everyone could see the attraction between them. So when she asked if she could spend the following summer here, we immediately said yes. Both we and her parents liked the match, and we gave it every opportunity to grow. So she arrived the following May, and for the next three months they we never apart. So it came as no surprise, when they announced their engagement".

"They were engaged?", asked Ariel still fuming , but her tone softening slightly.

The queen nodded, " but two days after their announcement, word came from Palendor. Her entire family had been massacred by a sneak attack, by one of the leading noble houses of Palendor", Ariel put her hand to her mouth in shock. "Then a few more days after that, General Aken arrived to escort her back to be crowned, and to lead the struggle against the renegades. She went back, and Palendor spent the next four years ripping itself apart from within. Eric fell apart when she left, all the energy seemed to drain from him, so his father sent him down to Seacove to keep his mind occupied, he also sent Grimsby to keep an eye on him. Then two years later we get one message telling us he is marrying someone called Venesa, then another one two days later saying to ignore the first one and that he's marrying you the following day, as you know we came as soon as we could , but it was still a shame we had to miss the wedding".

Ariel stood, "yes it was. I have to find him, thank you Celia", Ariel hugged the Queen.

"Ariel go easy on him, this is an open wound for him", Ariel nodded and left the room.

Eric sat on the end of the bed and kicked the empty wine bottle across the floor. He placed his head back in his hands, but looked up as the door opened. Ariel walked across and sat, on a chair across from him, she reached out and took his hand, "your mother has told me , do you want to talk about it?" Eric nodded.

"She was the first woman I ever loved, so bad I couldn't bear to be apart form her. The summer we spent together was one of the happiest times of my life, the engagement seemed to make everything so perfect. Then the news came, and she turned to me for support, she didn't know what to do, she was scared by what may lay ahead of her." Eric paused. "Then Aken came to take her back, the night before she returned with him , we made love for the first and last time. As we held each other in the darkness, we promised each other that we would both wait till she could return, and not to torture each other with messages. It seemed best at the time , but the silence was almost unendurable. Then my father sent me down to Seacove, with Grimsby as watch dog, I endured two years of silence before my father sent word that I was to pull myself together and find someone else", Eric gave a laugh. "Hah, I spent six months travelling, meeting some of the most beautiful, intelligent and wealthy princesses in the world, I picked fault with every single one. So I could keep my father happy, and keep single for her return, till on the way back from Glowerhaven, you came into my life", Ariel gave his hand a reassuring squeeze. "I remember saying to Grim, that the woman for me was out there somewhere, I knew exactly where I just couldn't get her. Then after the wreck , all I could think of was you. After it was all finished, I knew that I had to marry you as soon as possible, I feared that if I examined my emotions too closely, I wound not have had the strength to go through with it. I then put her out of my mind and concentrated on what we had, and our love".

Ariel kept her voice soft and calm, "do you still love her?"

Eric thought about this, but kept his gaze on the floor, "as much as time, and the silence will allow, yes I do ", he looked up into Ariel's blue eyes. "But you are the centre of my life now, and no one and nothing is going to change that".

Ariel stood and seated herself next to Eric, she reached up and stroked his face and then pulled his head down to her shoulder, and placed her arms around him, " I know" she whispered, "I know".

Colleen lay on the bed grasping a pillow in her arms, a small circular damp patch under her eye. She lay unmoved as a click came from the door and light spilled into the room. The silence that hung in the air, was broken by Aken.

"So it went that well, did it?" Aken walked around the bed and looked down at her still face. "What did I say? Don't expect too much. You had your hopes too high my dear, far too high."

Colleen spoke , her voice low and horse from crying. "What's the point?" she said her eyes staring straight ahead. "Why did I bother? he's not there" she rolled her puffed eyes to Aken ,"I need him, I'd give anything....... ". Her voice trailed off.

Aken's voice took on a serious tone," even the trade agreements?"

Colleen shut her eyes tight, "anything".

Aken bowed, "as you wish your majesty". and he left the room. Colleen griped the pillow more tightly as tears began to flow again.

Ariel and Eric strolled through the rose garden, the air heavy with scent and humidity. The midnight moon hung low in the sky.

Ariel stopped and began to examine a pink rose," so what do we do now?" she asked.

Eric hands in pockets, gave a shrug. "I think its best we return home tomorrow, no good can come of this situation". Eric walked over and plucked the thorn less rose and placed it in Ariel's hair." And it will hurt her even more, to see us together all the time, Iíve hurt her enough already".

Ariel grasped both his hands in hers, she lifted the both and kissed each in turn, "then that's what we will do".

A voice came from the darkness, "sorry but you may have to alter those plans" , Ariel and Eric looked towards the sound, heavy set man stood sword in hand, and backed by five armed men, they turned around only to see four more men come out of the shadows.

Eric looked at the man, "Aken what's the meaning of this?"

Aken gave a wry grin, "don't worry you'll find out soon enough", and he signalled to his men. As they started forward, Ariel reached with her mind to the Amulet, her hand shoot to her neck, she wasn't wearing it. Eric sized up the first man that came close enough, and lashed out with his fist. he succeeded in knocking the man to the floor but he didn't have enough time to gather his balance before two other men grabbed him, and held him. Ariel made to move forward to help him but stopped, as she felt a cold steel blade rest at her throat. The man that had been felled rose to his feet, and swung a punch at Eric's face. Eric reeled and spat blood, as Aken held his hand up, and ordered the man to stop. "bind and gag him", he commanded. his attention turned to Ariel, "it is a shame, I have to do this. But there must be no witness", he signalled a man to his left, and Ariel heard the sliding of a dagger from its scabbard, and saw the light sparkle from the blade.

Eric fought the men that held him," no don't ", was all he could speak before the gag was in place. Ariel's gaze was focused on the blade as the man strode towards her. She started to move back, but backed into another man who held her as the one with the dagger moved closer.

"Aken , no, don't kill her", came the command from a mounted female voice. The horse and its rider moved from the shadows and into the moon light. "I've seen enough killing". Aken bowed his head to the rider, then nodded to the man behind Ariel. Ariel caught a brief glimpse of the women, before her world exploded into light, then plunged into darkness.

Colleen watched as Ariel slumped to the ground, then moved her horse next to Eric and looked down at him , his burning eyes starred back. "Surprised Eric?" She asked, "you would be very surprised to see what five years of war can make a woman capable of". She yanked her horse around, "lets move", she ordered.

Ariel slowly felt conciseness come to her and she opened her eyes, she made to move her head but the throbbing pain stopped her, she scanned the room , and could just see Jalle out of the corner of her eye, her nose in a book. Jalle seemed to notice the movement she stood and sat on the bed and picked up Ariel's hand.

"Don't try to move", said Jalle, her voice low and laden with concern. "You took a nasty blow", Ariel didn't need reminding where. Ariel made to sit up, but could find no energy, "here let me help you" said Jalle as she propped Ariel up and placed another pillow behind her back.

Ariel finally found some movement in her neck and looked around her, she was sat in the bed of their rooms at the palace, she continued her gaze, and her eyes came to rest on a brown wilted rose. Her look shot to Jalle, but she regretted it when an thunder clap of pain thundered between her temples. She reached up and held her face with her hands, and waited for it to subside before, she spoke. "How long have I been here?"

Jalle gripped her hand tightly, "You've been in and out of consciousness, for four days", Jalle saw the look question in Ariel's face, she shook her head, "no we haven't found Eric. By now they are back in Palendor, they had to much of a lead on us, we didn't find you till the morning"

"Where's Jay? Celia and Douglas?" she asked.

Jalle gave a smile, "Father told Jay to get some rest, he's been sat by your side for three days now, I told him I would wake him if there was any change, so I had better tell him." Jalle shook her head, " I don't know, he thinks because Eric's not here, its his job to take care of you".

Ariel gave a little chuckle, "I'm quite capable of looking after myself, but it is sweet though, go tell him". Jalle nodded and left the room, as she left the joviality left Ariel, Eric was in Palendor, with her. It wasn't jealousy she felt, not that much anyway, the woman was clearly unstable, and she feared for Eric's safety. And with an army of recently battle honed soldiers at her command, it was going to take a long time before they could get him back, unless. But she had to stop those thoughts as Jason entered the room, his hair was untidy, his clothes creased, and his face was unshaven. Ariel couldn't help but feel touched by his actions. Jason walked over and stopped at the end of the bed, he wiped some sleep from his eye, and beamed a smile at Ariel, "so your back to the realm of the living? you had us all very worried"

Ariel cocked her head to one side, "don't worry jay I intend to be around for quite a while yet, besides if they had wanted me dead I would be. But right now I'm famished, Jalle you wouldn't be a dear and get me something would you?"

Jalle walked in from the door, "don't fret, chefs had a pot of vegetable soup on every day waiting for you to come round, ill go and get some", she grabbed hold of jays shirt, "and ill get this 'pain' out of your way" and she began to drag Jason out of the room.

Ariel spoke up, "oh and Jay. Jalle told me how you stayed with me, thank you very much". Jason stopped at the threshold of the chamber, an idiotic smile came to his face, but he was then yanked out of the room by Jalle. When she was alone Ariel's thoughts returned to Eric, 'that's right if she had wanted me dead, I would be. That's her biggest mistake yet'.

Ariel placed her hands on the large oak table and lent forward towards king Douglas, "what do you mean there's nothing you can do, its been almost three weeks!". In the background Queen Celia shook her head.

The King looked up from the maps that lay on the table, "and what would you have me do? send hundreds or even thousands of men to their deaths for the sake of one man?" His tone rose as he spoke. Ariel stared back across the table. His eyes fell back down to maps, "no man is worth that. Not even my own son".

Ariel was not going to let this go, "so what do we do just leave him there, with her?!"

The king thumped his hand on the oak table. "Damn it women! Don't you think if there was anything at all that could be done, I would do it in an instant! But for now we have to wait, do you hear me, wait!!"

Ariel straightened, her hands in tight balls at her sides. Jay came forward and placed his hands on Ariel's shoulders, but she shrugged him off and stormed from the room. Jason hung his head, "she's not taking this at all well".

"How do you expect her to take it?" Added the Queen from her seat.

Ariel sat on her bed in dim twilight, looking at the small portrait of Eric, a small tear trickled down her face. 'Wait' they said, 'nothing we can do'. If she had been younger she would have gone after him without a moments hesitation. she stroked a finger down the silver frame, she had hesitated long enough, maybe there was nothing they could do, but this was something she had to do. She placed the portrait down and went to prepare.

She looked at her self in the long mirror, the room was illuminated by a single candle. Her hair pulled back into a tight ponytail, white blouse and leather jerkin, dark breaches and knee length boots, all covered by her long riding cloak. 'Lace and bows will have to wait' she thought. She turned and walked into the bedroom she looked for the largest chest and opened it, she found what she was looking for at the bottom, next to its larger counterpart.

She lifted it from the chest and as she withdrew it from its sheath, the steel glinted in the dim light........................

Ariel walked into the main hall, the sea broke its power on the shore outside. Eric sat on a stool to one side , two swords on his lap. Ariel blew into her hands and rubbed them together , "Eric do we have to do this now? its absolutely freezing!".

Eric laughed, "hehe, its not cold, just bracing".

Ariel walked over , placed her hands behind her back and bent down and whispered into Eric's ear, "we could always go back to bed, I'm sure it will still be nice and warm". she blew softly into his ear.

Eric stood and handed her a sheathed sword, " nice try Ariel, but your not getting out of this that easily, you have to practise".

Ariel grimaced, "well " she said, and then smiled, "its worked before".

Eric reached out and patted her face, "only twice".

Ariel looked at the sword in her hands, "well you cant blame a girl for trying".

"Yes I can", Eric grinned, "this was your idea in the first place".

Ariel started to bite her thumb nail, "well , I didn't know it was going to take so long".

"So far its taken three years to train you, but your a natural , it should only have taken one. Only you never gave it your all ". Eric kept smiling as he spoke.

Ariel removed the thumb from her mouth, "things came up", she replied meekly.

Eric laughed out loud, "Ah yes , things were always 'coming up'".

Ariel raised one eyebrow, "that's a woman's prerogative". Ariel walked into the middle of the hall, taking a small length or cord that was tied around her wrist, and pulled her hair into a pony tail. She unsheathed the sword and stood waiting for Eric ,"shall we dance?"

Eric withdrew his sword and walked towards Ariel. "Right do you remember what I said last time?"

"Yes I do" she replied, "be creative, but don't over extend yourself".

"And why is that ?" Asked Eric as he slowly circled her.

"Because you leave yourself off balance and vulnerable", she answered quickly, like a child reciting the times tables.

"Good, Right then lets begin". Eric crouched slightly and held out his sword, Ariel did the same.

As the swords touched , Eric tapped her sword and made a sweep towards her had, Ariel swiftly blocked the move. They readied again, but this time Ariel made the first move, a lunge to his midriff, when he blocked she turned in one fluid motion and brought the sword bearing down on his neck.

Eric grinned as he blocked her move, "good, now lets start",

Ariel readied herself once more, Eric let forth a flurry of blows which she countered move for move, ducking under the last sweep she moved forward with her own combination, forcing Eric back a few steps. Both halted looking for an opening, Eric made a lunge, which Ariel paired and pinned to the floor, but Eric pushed his weight into his shoulder, sending Ariel rolling back. She rolled straight back onto her feet and scowled at Eric, "that's not fair!" She said through heavy breath.

"That it may be" answered Eric, "but it worked, that's the main thing". Eric could see Ariel's frown deepen.

The two touched swords again, Ariel surprised Eric by the ferocity of her next attack, forcing him onto the defensive. But Eric paired a weak thrust, and began to move forward once more. Ariel was unable to keep her ground against Eric's onslaught, but she stopped when she came up against the long dining table. Eric came at her with a downward swing, Ariel used the flat of her hand on the blade, and blocked the attack. As the blades struck each other , she sat on the table, and put her full force into her legs as she forced both into Eric's chest.

Eric was knocked from his feet, and landed hard on his rump. He gasped as he regained his feet and breath, Ariel went to help him , but he held up his hand to stop her, "nice move", he wheezed, "very nice move". He took a few deep breaths, and returned to his fighting stance, "one last time" he said smiling.

Ariel reluctantly took her stance, she feared she may have hurt him, but that fear was soon laid to rest by the energy of his offence, her defence was again no match and she found herself up against the huge windows of the hall, the winter storm still raged on the ocean outside.

Their swords crossed between them , their heavy breaths hung heavy in the chilly air. Ariel could feel the sweat as it trickled down from her temple and down her back. She looked up into Eric's eyes, Eric looked back, caught in a moment of adrenaline, physical exhaustion and the proximity of the woman he loved. Sensing his distraction Ariel slowly craned her head forward , and kissed his lips. As he started to respond and relax, Ariel slipped her leg between his and hooked his ankle and heaved with what strength she had left.

Eric lay sprawled on the floor, his sword skittering across the checked marble floor. As he made to get up he found the tip of Ariel's sword pointing at his face, "now that was underhanded and devious, keep up the good work" he laughed, "now help me up".

Ariel hauled him from the floor, they placed the swords on the table and propped each other up as they made their way towards the door, Ariel felt his grip tighten, "what was that about a warm bed?"

Ariel gave a little chuckle, "it will probably be cold by now, though I doubt it will take long to get things nice and warm", she recognised the look on his face, it wouldn't take long at all.

"All right then" he answered as the mounted the stair case, "just be careful I think Iíve pulled something".

Ariel snuggled in under Eric's arm, and drew figures of eight with her finger on his chest, as he stroked her hair. "I'm sorry if you think I was being a bit forceful today"

Ariel kept drawing, "its all right, anyway, I think you came of worse".

"That was the point I was trying to get across, quick thinking can be just as effective as strength, you proved me right".

Ariel rolled over and placed her elbow on his chest, placed her head on her hand and looked at him, "I gathered that much, that's why I won".

Eric stroked the back of his hand down Ariel arm , "that you did, so you have earned this", Ariel sat up and pulled the sheets around here as Eric lent over the edge of the bed and retrieved a long canvas bag, and placed it in her lap, she untied the draw cord at the top, a sparkling sword hilt emerged, followed by the rest as the bag fell away. She looked at the hilt, it was made of silver, inlayed with aquamarine. she ran her hand down the hilt and down the sheath of the sword, "its beautiful", she gasped. she replaced the sword in its cover and placed it at the bottom of the bed. She turned and kissed Eric, "thank you".

"I thought it was about time, you had your own", Ariel saw that look return to his face, "so what are your plans for the rest of today?"

Ariel smiled , "nothing special, why? what do you have in mind?" she had a very good idea what he had in mind.

Eric moved closer, "its a bit hard to explain, I think its best if I just show you", Ariel giggled as he pulled the covers over them , and continued giggling for a long time after...................

Ariel snapped the sword shut, and then fastened it around her waist. She walked back into the main chamber and stood before the small black velvet box that contained her amulet. The thought of wearing it , after the dreams and visions she had experienced filled her with dread, but she would need an advantage if she was to succeed. She had more than once wished she had her trident with her, but that was safely hidden at home. The amulet would give her edge when she needed it. Ariel opened the box and lifted it out, she took only a glance at it before she tied it around her neck.

She took one last look at herself in the mirror, this time she really was on her own, no Flounder or Sebastian to tag along and get her out of trouble, and no urchin either, his death still hung like a stone around her heart. Ariel took a deep breath and then lent forward and blew the candle out, its white smoke curled as her eyes readjusted to the moon light that came through the windows. She looked around the room once more, it was cold and empty without Eric, that she had learned during the weeks she had been alone, it was now or never , she thought , and left the room.

Eric looked around his so called "cell", this place was beautiful. Tapestries hung from the walls depicting the heroic deeds of colleens ancestors. An imposing four poster bed dominated the room. He had learned every inch of his quarters, he had only be able to leave them , and walk the small gardens that the castle held behind its imposing walls, for a short time each day. and then only when he was accompanied by his shadows , in the form of guard Bell and Bell. Or the "two bells as they liked to be know, it was their little joke. They had not been the best of company, during the two weeks since they had arrived. The journey to Palendor had been uneventful, they had had such a head start that it was impossible for them to be caught.

He also hadn't seen Colleen either, she had stayed away from him during the trip, and every time he caught her eye in the ground, she would look away and hurry inside. So inevitably , unable to do anything about his situation, a form of depression had set in. He sat for hours in front of the stained glass window, watching as the clouds rolled by, his thoughts never far from Ariel. She had taken quite a knock, but he was sure she was all right. Somehow he would know if she wasn't.

Eric was knocked from hi thoughts, as the door was unbolted. This time without the usual idiotic banter for one of the Bell's. He looked up from the bed as colleen entered the room, she wore a shimmering black silk night gown that flowed hugging her curves to the floor. Eric could just smell her exotic perfume as it permeated the room. Her heals clicked on the wooden floor as she made her way to he window. Eric's gaze fixed on her , she gave him a coy smile, the gentle wave of her hair framing her soft features. He stood, resting his back against one of the posts of the bed. 'this is going to be difficult' thought Eric, and it didn't help at all, that she looked he way she did.

"So you finally, decide to see me", said Eric keeping his tone flat.

Colleen turned from the window, walked to Eric, reached up and stroked a finger down the side his face. "A kingdom doesn't runt itself". Eric now caught a whiff of the wine that her scent fought so hard to hide.

"Mine will have to, until you let me return to it" he said.

"And to your loving wife I'm sure. Don't worry for her, I'm sure she will find a Cod or Halibut, to keep her warm at night", Colleen grinned wickedly as the calmness was wiped from Eric's face, "It's surprising what information is available for the right price".

Eric shook his head, "really Colleen , I used to think jealousy was beneath you. But then I used to think a lot of things were beneath you". Eric felt the sharp sting as Colleens blow struck the side of his face.

She spoke, her voice quivering with rage. "How dare you? You don't have the right to judge me. you don't know what I have been through, what I have done. have you ever ordered a mans death? seen he light drain from his soul as you pass sentence?" A single tear began to roll down her cheek. Eric kept his silence, at last he might find out what had happen the woman he had loved so much, and still cared a great deal for, even after she had brought him here.

Colleen reached up and wiped the tear away, " I did, what I had to do, for my people", he tone lowered. "I know I have changed, I had no choice. The number of times I sat staring at my own reflection, wanting to tear at my face, the things I had done disgusted me that much"

Eric felt his heart sink for her, what nightmare had she gone through.

Colleen's gaze fell to the floor as she continued. "Once after we had attacked a town, I came to look at the aftermath. it was a form of self punishment, bodies lay everywhere but something caught my eye. I went over and found a young mother and her child, dead, killed by a cannon blast". She swallowed deep as the tears started flow one after another down her face. " The attack had commenced on my order. So that's girls life, she couldn't have been more than a year younger than myself. And the child, a boy Eric, he was so beautiful." she looked up into his eyes, " if we had had children, I hope they would have been half as lovely as he was". She looked away again, Eric could hear her voice breaking under the stress of her emotions. He couldn't help himself, as he reached out and took her hand, she gripped his hand tight as she continued. "But all their hopes and dreams, were extinguished, by words that came from my lips. I had to leave, after I had seen them. I was physically sick as I left the town, the picture of them still in my mind. I cried for days not leaving my room, not eating a morsel of food. On the fourth night it became to much for me to bare, I sat at my dressing table and looked at my mirror. Hatred for myself took control, I grasped a brush and smashed the mirror, the shards fell to the table. I reached out and took a long thing shard, and held it to my chest. The small cuts on my hand already bleeding. I loathed myself, thinking the world would be better off without someone as vile as me. I braced myself to end it", she looked up from the floor, this time Eric saw the girl he knew. The look on her face was the same as the last time he had seen her, moments before she had left his life, scared for the future, and suffering from a half broken heart.

She reached up again and stroked his face, with the back of her hand. "Then" she continued. " I thought of you. I looked down to the shard in my bloodied hands, how could I end it when you were still waiting for me? Even though I hated myself, I knew that there was someone to love me. All I had to do was make it through, and everything would be fine. So I filled my heart with my love of you, and somehow managed to find enough strength to continue"

Eric felt something wet roll down hi face, he was surprised to find it to be his own tear, he went to wipe it away, but colleen stepped forward and grasped the hand before he could wipe it away. "I love you Eric, I always have and I always will", she leaned forward and kissed the tear away. she leaned back, a fresh sparkle in her eyes, and a smile on her face. Eric went to speak, but she placed a finger on his lips. "Don't, I know your married and I'm sure you love her. But its me that's here right now and me that needs you tonight". Colleen slipped the straps of her gown over her shoulders, the black silk slid from her body, "make love to me like you did that night".

Eric tried to think straight, but failed badly. He found it even more difficult when colleen placed her arms around him and pressed herself against him. Eric shut his eyes, he could hear her , smell her and touch her. But his thoughts always came back to Ariel, he hoped she would understand, this was beyond his control.

Colleen smiled as she felt him relax in her arms, and gave a slight gasp of pleasure as he dragged his finger tips down her back. She pressed her lips against his, this time the kiss was returned, as they lowered each other to the Oak four poster bed.

Ariel finished fastening the final bundle of supplies to Stormy's saddle, then double checked all the other straps. she was so engrossed that when Jason spoke from the doorway of the stable she almost left the floor she jumped so much.

"I had a feeling you might do this", he walked into the stable and began to stroke Stormy's nose.

Ariel took hold of the reins and stood before Jason. "I have to do this jay, please don't try to stop me".

" I know Ariel, but I cant let you go, I owe it to Eric not to let you risk yourself on a fools journey. I don't want to lose you as well".

Ariel kept a stern look on her face, " you cant stop me from going" she said and started to move forward.

Jason took hold of her arm and held it tight, " I cant let you go, I'm sorry. Besides what could you do?"

Ariel struggled in his grasp, " if you don't let go you'll find out".

Jason heard the tone of her voice change, but held firm as she made to pull herself from his grasp, " I cant"

"jay let me go!" shouted Ariel. A blue flash lit up the stable and sent Jason sprawling to the floor, five feet behind where he was stood. Ariel felt her mind close in on her, and she dropped to her knees.

She looked Around, and knew where she was. "no!" she screamed. "Not now!". She turned and saw her mother again, just sitting there smiling. Ariel waited for the booming voice in her mind, but it didn't come, she closed her eyes and breathed deep.

When she opened them once more she was again in the stable, she rushed over to jay, she had no idea how much force she had used. Ariel gave a sight of relief, when she found him breathing deep, he would be all right. She had to go now, if she waited she might still be stopped. So she ran over and took hold of stoma's reins and lead him out of the stable and into the night. After she had gone another figure slipped from the darkness.

Ariel made her way east as fast as she could, riding stormy as hard as she dared, she didn't want to hurt him. She kept out of the towns along the way, sleeping on the roadside without any fire, in case she might be discovered. The supplies she had brought with her, had begun to dwindle as she started the climb up the mountain range and into the forests, but she had money and jewels with her to buy food once she reached Palendor. The initial adrenaline rush of her race to the frontier had quickly left her, the only company she had was her own thoughts, and they were not very good company. She had managed to control the vision in the stable, but with it the nightmares had returned. In the first few days she had woke with tears in her eyes, but in the last few mornings she had woken screaming. And the days she spent in the saddle dragged by as her mind ran wild with visions of Colleen and what she was doing to, or with, her husband. The small pang of initial jealousy and been magnified infinitely into blind hatred, and the thought of tearing her apart was the only thing that brought a smile to her face.

Ariel had crossed the border she didn't know how many days ago, her supplies of food were still well stocked but she hadn't eaten in days and then only a small amount, she was locked in a constant cycle of thoughts and nightmares, taking any road that lead west, pulling her cloak around her face any time she met another traveller on the road.

She was riding Stormy slowly up a forest track when a flash of red caused Stormy to throw her to the ground, she rolled a down the incline and shook her head as she looked around to find the cause, she found it.

A man stood upon the road a sharp looking sword in his hand, Stormy had trotted up and around the sharp bend in he track, so she stood and faced him alone. He made his way slowly to her watching her for any sign of defence. Ariel stood shaking from her fall, watching his come closer, he spoke.

"Hand over all your valuables, and ill let you live". Ariel doubted his sincerity, and she went to touch the hilt of her sword, but remembered that it was still attached to Stormy's saddle, when she found it missing that it was on Stormy's saddle. All she had was the amulet, and she was unsure if she was strong enough to make it work.

She had to play for more time, "please take anything you want just don't hurt me" she pleaded. The heavy set man grinned with black teeth and came closer still.

"That's a good girl", Ariel saw a cloaked mounted figure round the bend in the road, then stop, she kept her gaze fixed and the figure raised something to its shoulder. The Robber looked Ariel up and down.

"Now what could a lady like your self....." they both heard the soft twang and then a whistle in the air. Ariel saw him shudder, then followed his eyes down and saw the crossbow bolt protruding from his neck, blood starting to drip from the tip. Her eyes fixed on the point and she shook herself as her heard a loud report, and saw the Robber fall dead at her feet, a large hole in his back. Ariel felt a slight dampness on her face and wiped it away with her fingers, she looked and saw the red of the robbers blood. she looked back up trembling as the cloaked figure dismounted and began to walk towards her through the cloud of white smoke, Ariel focused on her amulet trying to find enough strength to protect herself. but as the figure approached and didn't take out another weapon Ariel began to relax, but didn't remove her focus from the amulet. She only did that when the figure pulled back the cloak to reveal a smiling female face.

The woman looked down and poked the dead robber with her boot, " looks like I arrived in the nick off time", she looked up, " and what's well to do lady like you doing alone out here? don't you know these roads aren't safe?"

" I have to get to the queens castle", was all Ariel could say.

The woman grimaced, "if that's the way your heading, your going in the wrong direction, she is at Hamsterly castle, about four days ride south of here, you were heading out to the north plains, and there not a pretty sight after all that's happened", the woman began to walk back to her horse.

"Who are you" called Ariel.

The woman stopped, "My name is Brenda", Brenda went to move but saw Ariel's gaze fall back down to the body of the robber. " your right we cant leave him here", she said and walked to the body and kicked it into the ditch that ran along the side of the track, " its all he deserves" she smiled at Ariel, "come along , you need to get cleaned up and some food inside you and I know just the place".

Ariel let herself be pulled along in bewilderment, she didn't know what was happening but she knew at last some had changed for the better.

They travelled back down the track for a few hours till they reached an small stream that cascaded down the side of the mountain and cut through the track. Brenda made Ariel sit down on a large rock and went to dampen a cloth. Ariel looked at her reflection in one of the still pools, she received quite a shock. The streak of blood that rand down her cheek was only the start of the grime that had encrusted to her face, the tight pony tail she had began her journey with was no more , her hair was awry and matted in places from sleep out doors. her clothing didn't look much better either.

Ariel looked towards Brenda, she sat crouched next to the stream. She was tall, and was quite beautiful, although she hid it away under a short hair cut, and heavy riding clothes. And Ariel noticed a grace in her step as she walked to her and started to wash her face.

"So how long have you been on the road?" asked Brenda, smiling as she removed the dirt.

Ariel thought she couldn't remember exactly how long so she took a guess, " about ten days".

"No wonder your in this state, have you stopped at all?"

"just to sleep " Ariel replied. Brenda finished washing Ariel's face and stood and walked over to her horse and rummaged into one of the saddle bags, and came back with half a loaf of bread and some cheese.

"here " she said handing them to Ariel. " eat this, I know its nothing fancy, but it will give some energy till we can stop for more"

Ariel ate quickly, she hadn't realised just how hungry she had become. Brenda watched her as she ate, smiling as she saw Ariel tucking into the food.

Jason stood quaking as his father turned redder and redder, as he paced back and forth in his study, " where are they?? no don't answer I know where they are and I know what they're doing. I might have suspected this from Ariel, love torn girl was going out of her mind, but I didn't think she would have took Jalle with her!" The king placed both hands on the table and let his head sag down.

Jay's brow knitted for a moment in thought, " I don't believe she did "take" Jalle farther".

The king looked up "what?"

"When I tried to stop her", a move he regretted after he had regain consciousness. " The amount of supplies she had strapped to her horse would not have been enough for two people, I doubt whether it would have been enough for one the distance she would have to travel to make it to Colleens strong hold in the mountains".

"What are you saying? Jalle went by herself?"

Jay took a deep breath " I think so. you know how sheís been craving for something to happen in her life and how every time it comes close to when she has to return to the convent school, she gets all moody. Well I think she got tired of waiting".

The king finally sat himself down and placed his chin on his hand "There's nothing I can do is there?".

Jay looked at his father it took a lot to make him say that, and then he nodded. suddenly he had a thought, " Father Eric's guard are still within the place, surly its not right that they should be confined here while they could be with their loved ones.

The king nodded ," you're quite right my boy, and you had better go to and bring Grimsby up to speed on the situation, he must be worried after that last message we sent, you'd better leave straight away".

Jay smiled, it had gone perfectly.

Jay walked down the long wide path that lead to the barracks, he found Eric's men taking full advantage of the sun. They were sprawled out on the ornamental lawn, a number of kegs lay turned over and empty and a number of the men were either drunk or sleeping soundly. He spotted Sergeant Davies, stood in the middle of a small group of men, those who still had the power of speech were telling jokes, and Davies was coming to the end of a rather dirty one...........

".........................and he said that isn't my ring it's my..." he spotted Jason walking to them "Tenshhhun" he slurred, and half of those who attempted to come to attention fell over and the rest just swayed, all apart from Davies who stood bolt upright.

Jason couldn't help but laugh at the spectacle, " please continue sergeant"

Davies looked around, "ermm no need sir, we've all heard it plenty of times, we've had little else to do, during these past few weeks. A sober soldier has too much time to think and with past events I thought it best to keep morale high".

Jay took a sniff of one of the kegs yes morale would be very high. He looked up at the sergeant "I have some news for you", he walked over to Davie's, " The king has decided it would be best if you, and your men, were to return to Seacove" Jason saw Davies eyes drop and his shoulders sag, clearly this wasn't the sergeant had hoped for, "and I am to go with you".

Davies looked up into Jays eyes, "as you wish Sire"

Jay smiled and lifted one eyebrow" but it doesn't mean we have to straight to Seacove ..........".

Sergeant Davies eyes sparkled and a huge smile appeared on his face, " Let me get you a drink sire and we can discuss our little sight seeing tour".

Jalle stood at a cross-roads and looked down each road, there was no other way to describe it she was lost, very lost. She cursed herself at not paying attention during geography class. She reached into her saddle bags and pulled out an apple, and took a couple of bites before holding out on the palm of her hand, and letting her horse take the rest. She took another look at the roads and made her choice and headed north.

Eric was at his wits end Sleeping with Colleen had been a big mistake, not just because he felt so bad for Ariel, god he hoped she would understand, but Colleen had become even more obsessive. Depressed with a broken heart she had been dangerous, but now she was happy, and in love with him so much he could feel it every time she looked at him. He had gone over it time and time again in his mind, to find out if he still loved her as much as he did before, and it saddened him more to find that he didn't, he loved Ariel and nothing on earth, or beneath the waves, could change that. But everything put to one side, one positive thing had come out of this, he had lost his four hundred pound shadow, Bell and Bell. He wasn't sorry even the silence that now accompanied him was better than their jokes, in fact death was probably better. He walked down one of the many dark corridors towards the main hall , one of the many servants bustled down the corridor her arms heavily laden with sheets, she gave him a coy smile as she past. Eric continued into the main hall and saw Colleen taking with Aken, he stayed at the doorway studying Aken. Eric had enough experience to know that there was something about Aken, something he didn't like. But for Colleen he was the centre of her life and he had a hand in all the running of the country, during his stay and talks with Colleen he had found out what part Aken had played during the civil war that had wreaked the country. It was he that had taught her to be the marvellous tactician she had become, all be it a cold and merciless tactician. As he watched he saw Aken look up and when he saw Eric , Aken gave him a look that sent a shiver down his spine, Eric was sure that Aken would take great pleasure in killing him in the most unpleasant way he could think of, and Eric also knew that Aken would know some very very unpleasant ways.

Colleen had noticed Aken's movement, and a big grin spread across her face as she spotted Eric, she stood and walked over to him. Her black shimmering dress , she didn't seem to have any other type, it clung to her figure as always, she flung her arms around his neck and gave him a hug.

"Why didn't you say something Eric" she said.

"I didn't want to break up the party", he looked over to were Aken was collecting the documents on the table, Eric noticed a map, but didn't recognise the country from the glimpse he got of it. Aken finished collecting the documents and gave him another one of those looks, Eric smiled back at Aken "leaving so soon?" Aken just left.

Colleen just sighed, " I wish you wouldn't torment him so, he didn't think that brining you here was such a good idea".

"To be honest Coll I don't think it was so good either" Eric replied honestly.

Colleen laughed and gave him a playful poke in the stomach, " ooo you are awful, but I love you", and she hugged him even tighter. Eric just rolled his eyes to the roof, he couldn't win.

Brenda smiled at Ariel, she could see a little of the colour had returned to her face. She had been in a sorry state, well that would soon be sorted , she looked up and saw that they were about to enter the small village, where she knew for a fact they served the best cut of meat this side of the Skern river. Brenda lead the way to the Inn and tied both their horses to the railing above the water trough.

She patted Ariel on her shoulder, " this place might not be up to your usual standards but I know the owner and well be treated right".

Ariel didn't care much she just wanted a drink and a warm fire, anything else she would count as a bonus. Ariel followed Brenda into the dimly illuminated, and slightly smelly Inn, her eyes slowly adjusted a she followed her companion to a small table in the corner next to a huge fire place, unlit in this summer season. As soon as they were seated a rather plump man bustled over his bald head surrounded by a short grey band of hair, he rubbed his hand on his dirty apron and looked expectantly at Brenda, " well what ya want?"

" Really Ted , I thought you'd be more pleased to see me" Brenda answered, a fake hurt look on her face.

Ted squinted his eyes and looked closer , a flash of recognition flashed across his face. "Brenda that you?!" He exclaimed," haven't seen you in these parts for a long time, what you been up to? You want your usual?"

Ariel watched as Brenda laughed and exchanged pleasantries with Ted, when he had gone , she leaned over, "you come here quite often?" she asked.

"Only when I'm in the area, I helped him out a few years back, I wont go into any details, but lets just say he owes me big time" Ted returned with a large jug of Beer and two slightly dusty mugs, Brenda blew the dust from the mugs and filled them too he brim and slid one across the table to Ariel. Ariel looked at Brenda closely what ever Ted owed her she was sure that it was worth every Crown.

They stayed in the Inn as the sun set outside eating the meal brought to them , Brenda wasn't surprised by Ariel's unwillingness to eat the meat, and asked Ted to fetch more bread and cheese for her. they talked all the way through the meal, Ariel felt at the end that she had told a little too much , but she was so drained that she had to tell someone to make sure she was still in the realm of reality.

Once Ariel had finished, Brenda sat back in her seat in thought, Ariel waited for her reply. Brenda took a deep breath, "Well my girl, you tell an interesting story, and it sounds to me like you could use some help, however I don't come cheap" Brenda let this hang in the air.

Ariel let out a sigh of relief " anything you want, you will have once me and my husband are back in Asenthfell" Brenda reached out a hand and they shook on the deal. Brenda refilled their mugs.

"lets us drink to a successful partnership then", their mugs clanked and Brenda drained hers, while Ariel took a sip.

Then the door to the Inn was flung open, and in came four very large and very dirty men, Brenda slowly lowered her mug to the table "oh no" she breathed. The largest of the men threw his cloak onto a bench and scanned the room he stopped when his eyes met those of Brenda staring back.

A grin spread across his face, Ariel had seem enough people with this sort of grin to know that it didn't bode well, her hand slipped down and felt the reassuring feel of her sword hilt.

"Well well well, look who's decided to grace us all with her presence" said the large light haired clean shaven man as he swaggered over to their table. Ariel could see that Brenda wasn't pleased to see him.

"your drunk Dane, go away, I don't want to start anything here" Brenda starred at him.

Dane put his hand on his chest "Would I do anything" he said trying to sound innocent, but failing. His eyes then fixed on Ariel "Well who do we have here?" He asked, showing his teeth in a gapped smile. he turned his grin to Brenda " a new lover perhaps?"

Brenda's voice which had been cool before now turned to ice. "She knows nothing of this, leave her alone".

Dane raised his eyebrows in mock shock "ooo so protective", and then lowered them into an evil stare, "but then you always did like to be the dominant one didn't you?" he gave a low mocking laugh.

All the way through this emotional discourse, Ariel's sense of foreboding had grown deeper. She had felt almost sick when his eyes had given her the once over. Her hand had somehow slipped down to the hilt of the sword Brenda had insisted she now wore at all times, even while sleeping, and as soon as she heard that laugh she was sure she would be needing it.

Brenda lifted the table, throwing it at Dane, forcing him back and sending the contents of the table flying. Ariel heard two swords being drawn and Dane and Brenda stood facing each other.

"She died because of your cowardice Dane" Brenda growled accusingly, then her voice softened, "she was the only thing I had"

Dane flexed his fingers around the hilt of his sword, "you saw the force we were up against, we would all have died!"

Brenda's lip curled, "so you ran, leaving us alone to face them , and that poor girl we had sworn to protect, and had be paid for in advance".

"What's the good of money if your not around to spend it?" he retorted.

Brenda ignored him "but one thing didn't go in your favour Dane, I survived. and I'm going to take from you , what you robbed her of, life"

Ariel had sat stunned by the sudden aggression. Her hand still on her swords hilt, but she didn't remove it till the three men that had accompanied Dane had drew there's and had gone to stand by their leader.

Ariel stood as Dane spoke, "you might not find that so easy", he said a smug smile coming to his face.

Ariel drew her sword with a swish, and stood beside Brenda, with a half smile she said, "I wouldn't say that"

Brenda whispered to Ariel through the side of her mouth, "you don't belong in this, leave while you can".

Ariel gripped the sword hard in her hand and breathed back "I'm not going anywhere"

Dane turned his eyes to Ariel. "So Red has a tongue does she?" He pointed at Ariel's head with his sword, "It'll be a pity when I have to cut it from your head".

Ariel went to respond, but Ted the innkeeper rush in between them, his hands clenched and pleading. "Please do not fight in here kind sir, I am a poor man and I could not afford it if things were to get broken".

"Be quiet!" Dane shouted, taking a hand form his sword and back handed Ted across his face so hard he landed on a table which buckled under him.

Brenda saw Dane of guard and seized her chance, by running at him, grabbing him by the waist and crashing with him in her arms through the inn doors, and out into the street.

Ariel hesitated for a moment, and saw two of Danes men follow them out, she made to follow herself but found her way blocked by the third. He slowly shook his head, as he crouched into a fighting stance, producing a dagger to add to his long, and probably very sharp sword. Ariel watched the man, this would be the first time her sword skills would be needed for real. She watched him looking for an opening to attack, but where he stood suddenly exploded in a shower of pottery and Ale. Ariel looked down and the man sprawled on the floor the across to some feet then up and up and up, to the face of an extremely large fur clad man. He was looking woefully at the handle in his hand, which was all that remained of his full jug of beer.

He noticed Ariel's attention on him, and blinked drunkenly as he tried to focus his eyes on her, he smiled and said as clearly as he could, " well you had the prettiest face", Then he staggered off to find some more alcohol, to replace what he had lost.

Ariel ran out of the Inn and looked for Brenda , she found her.

Brenda was backing slowly down the street, Dane and his two companions attacking her relentlessly. She dodged and parried the blows, but Ariel could see streaks of red on her arms and shoulders, she couldn't last much longer. Thoughts raced across her mind, if she ran to her aid she might not get there in time, she had no choice , she had to use the amulet.

Ariel breathed deep and focused her mind upon the amulet that hung from her neck, and raised her sword slowly toward Brenda's attackers. As she raised it two thin wisps of blue light sprang from the amulet and began to circle Ariel body, circling faster and moving up as she lifted the sword. They coiled around her shoulder then wound down her arm to her sword, which began to glow, slowly at first the brighter and brighter as the power grew. Ariel held on to the power letting it build, but before it reached the maximum she felt she could take, she saw Brenda look up the road at her, and start to stare in amazement.

Dane lifted his sword high and swung it down with all his strength, Ariel released the bolt from her sword, the force of the bolt sending her realing to the ground, as the bolt sped through the air it sizzled befoe hitting its target. Brenda looked up in time to see Dane be hit full force by Ariel bolt of energy, and be knocked almost out of the town by its power. She looked back up the street and saw Ariel slumped in a heap, barley breathing. Brenda looked about herself and saw that danes men were nowhere to be seen. She fought against her wounds to rise to her feet, she reached Ariel and made sure she was still alive before she went for their horses, she threw the uncosious Ariel over her horse and climbed into her own before she heard the shouting, it was coming from Dane.

Dane was rolling about on the floor, his eyes shut tight in pain, but his mouth was screaming. " Ill find you!! I don't care where you go ill find you!! And kill you!! Both of you!!" He was cut of by a spasam of pain.

Brenda looked at the spectical and breathed softly "Not if I find you first Dane", then kicked her horse into a trot, and left the town.

Jalle was sure she had seen a town over the tree line, when she had been on the hill she had just decended from. But now she was in the valley she was unsure of which way to go, the trees all looked the same , she brought her horse to a halt so she could think, this was ridiculas she didn't know where she was, and she certinaly didn't know where Ariel was, for all she knew Ariel was on the other side of the kingdom. Jalle bowed her head, maybey it was time to admit she was wrong, and go home to face the music, sure her father would be angry but she could handle him once he had calmed down, she hoped. She scanned the trees for some sign of a path, as she scanned she saw two horses come out from the trees one carrying a rider the other carrying, Jalle squinted to make out what the other horse was carrying, she saw a mas of red. "Ariel!!!!!" she shouted.

Jason rose from the ground and surveyed erics guard of men, having disguarded their military uniforms they now looked like any other heavily armed party of men, but with the lawlessness that had followed the civil war, they would probably just be reguarded as one of the many bands of theives or raiders that now roamed the countryside. Sergeant Davies rode upto his side and dismounted from his horse, he brushed the hot summer dust from his clothes, then saluted Prince Jason.

Jason returned the salute, "please Don, no need for salutes or titles on this escapade".

Don Davies nodded," right you are then, Ill pass the word onto the men". He coughed and took a swig from a small hip flask he always carried, " We have scouted almost twenty miles up the road as far as I can see there aint a soul about for miles".

Jason pursed his lips in thought, and looked at the ground. Well, he thought, this was the time he had always wanted, on his own, time to be a hero. He raised his eyes level with don's, "lets go".

Davies didn't need another word of instruction, he turned to the group of twenty men of all ages and sizes, strewn around the camp site and bellowed. " Right! Get your arses off the ground! We mount up in ten miniets! If you gotta pee do it now coz we aint gonna be stoppin for a while". The men scrambled to their feet and began to break camp.

Jason spoke under his breath, "so it begins".

Eric sat looking out of a window, down into the court yard below, at the people going about their normal lives. Eric's captivity was really starting to depress him, his hopes that hecould reason with Colleen had dissapeared the night he had slept with her. To say that had been a mistake was a great understatement. the only thing left was escape, but hoow? His new found freedomgiven to him by Colleen, against the wishes of Aken, had allowed him to survey the castle. And he had come to one conclusion, ecaped was as impossible as an army breaching the deffenses of this fortress. Eric cradled his head in his hands and let out a long sigh.

His depressive thoughts were interupted by a comotion from the court yard below. Alone rider thundred over the draw bridge and came to a halt before the long steps to the main entrance, where Aken was waiting, his arms open wide in greeting. The rider dismounted and embraced Aken, thumping

him on his back with the flat of his hand.

Eric's interest brightened at this maybey there was something to be learned, something that he could use to get himself out of this place. He stood and ran out of his chambers

into the hallway, almost knocking over the servent who changed the bedding onto the floor. Eric mumbled apologies and continued running, he halted when he heard akens voice comming from the stair well that led from the court yard.

"Its good to see you my friend, you have been away for far to long!.

Another higher voice replyed, " what you ask of me takes a long time to acomplish, especialy with the limeted resources I had at my disposal".

Aken and his companion reached the top of the stairs, Eric had already hidden himself in the shadows, he held his breath as they passed him by. Aken led the way to his personal chabers and closed the door behind him, Eric crept too the door and listened. Through the thick Oak door he could only hear

faint mumbles. Eric went to the next door and tried the handle, it was unlocked, perhaps his luck might change after all. He entered and looked around the room and found what he was looking for a connecting door, he crept to this door and listened closely.

"So preperations are complete?" He heard Aken ask.

"The troops are rested and rearmed", came the higher toned voice.

Eric heard the rustle of paper and Aken spoke again, "here are your orders signed by the Queen herself".

The higher voice laughed before lowering the volume of his speech. "She Really has no idea what you are doing does she Aken?", it was a statement rather than a question. This time it was Akens turn to laugh, "my dear Edmund, I have been using her from the start, she is a means to an end, nothing more, and she has now come to the end of her usefullness. I would have prefered to stay in my current role, I have more than enough power to satisfy me. But when she gos running to asthenfell for aid to rebuild our country she has gone to far, the war made us strong, made our army the most powerfull and best armed, why ask for help when we can take what we need. Better still we will take it all, make Palendor, the greatest power the world has ever seen. But our ruler dosnt see this, though I have metioned it, she seems to think groveling on our belly asking for hand outs is the right thing to do, by my honour I will not stand for it, I will not stand by and watch the country that I love be draaged through the mud, she has to go!" Aken thumped the table with his clenched fist, making Eric jump.

"To kill a Queen as popular as she is will not be an easy task". Replied Edmund.

Akens voice changed Eric could almost hear him smiling, " already in hand my friend. You can not eliminate a head of state without throwing a lamb to the slaughter, and I think our Queens young Prince will surve this purpose adequatly, a lovers quarel that ends in tradgedy".

"But even with her gone, there is no reason why the people should then follow you, there are others with a stronger blood claim to the throne." continued Edmund.

"Ah Edmund, you do not understand the people like I do, they have lived by the sword and musket too long, for there not to be a cry for revenge when their queen is murdered by a Prince of Asenthfell. And when that call go out for blood, they will turn to the leader of the victorious army and loyal general, Me. After a short but bloody war, the people will see me as their leader, and I will be unoposed as I crown myself King". Aken brayed with laughter again joined by Edmund. "And of course the position I now hold will become vacant".

Edmund replied, "as always sir, you are

most genorus".

Eric removed his ear from the door and

breathed the only words that ran through his

mind. "Oh shit"

Ariel looked around her, the suroundings

that met her eyes had become so familiar

during her nightmares. The walls streaming

with water, the thin blue wips of light, she

braced herself.

"Who has control!!". Ariel felt the wieght

of the voice decend upon her mind, "who has

control!!" The voice boomed again inside her

head, causing her body to shake and her

knees to buckle, sending her to the floor as the voice thundered inside her mind. As it

continued, the fear that always acompanied

these waking dreams, slowly turned to anger.

Why should she be afraid? What could it do to

her? All it could do was intimitate with size and

power, and only then in her dreams. Ariel realized that if that was all it could do, then it had no power at all.

Ariel gritted her teeth, and squeezed her

hands into tight balls, with all her strength she

rose again to her feet and turned to face her

tormentor, the Trident. This time when it asked

its question Ariel had an answer.

"Who has control!!" It roared.

"I do" came her reply.

"And why do you have it?!"

"Because I realise that there is nothing

you can do to me, except scare me in my

dreams" Ariel shook from her emotions, her

voice quivering softly as she spoke.

The voice asked. "And what gives you

the right of control?!!"

Anger flared in Ariel's eyes. "I gained that right when the Trident was passed to me from my mother, and by all under the waves you will do my bidding, and you will stop haunting my dreams and come only at my request". She let out a long breath before dissmissing the trident with a gesture, " now begone".

After a pause came the Tridents

responce." As you wish mistress". The aura

around the Trident faded and the wisps of light

disapeared. Ariel's shoulders sagged and she

breathed deaply, she was shocked to hear the

sound of hands clapping.

Ariel turned to see her mother, sitting on

the bed with a big smile on her face. "Well

done my sweet, well done, I knew you could

pass the test".

Ariel ran to the bed and hugged her

mother hard. "I miss you" she whispered.

"As I do you, so much". Said her mother,

kissing her daughter lightly on the forehead,

before lifting her face and wiping away the

tears, and then her own. "listen, I must warn

you, Although the Amulet is connected to the

Trident, and posesses great power, the engery

it uses comes from you if you are too far away

from the trident. So be carefull not to use it to

much, or it could be fatal, you were lucky this

time Ariel, the next you might not be . So

take care and always remember I love you".

The room began to dim, Ariel looked at her mother in panic. " No! Don't go! Theres so much I need to ask you!".

Ariel could not see where the words came from. "Don't worry, we will talk again, count on it". then Ariel's mind slipped back into the darkness.

The first thing Ariel smelled was smoke,Ariel sat up and watched as the fire snapped and crackled, the night was hot and humidity hung in the air, the visions of what she had just seen danced infront of her eyes as she watched the flames. Ariel looked about the fire dimly illuminated the small clearing Brenda had found for this nights rest. She looked up as Brenda entered the circle of light and sat down next to her, she shifted uncomfortably with the wounds Dane had given her , Ariel offered help but Brenda insisted she would heal herself. Ariel felt slightly uncomfortable, she had never known a woman quite like Brenda. Brash, hard edged, quick of wit and force. But Ariel could still see the woman underneath.

"So why did that moron think I was your lover?" asked Ariel, trying to sound casual. The fight and escape was still vivid in her mind as was her dream of her mother.

"Because the last woman I took with me to that ale house, was". Ariel saw Brenda's eyes look to hers for a reaction. Ariel, although living a sheltered life, knew what went on in the world, above and below the ocean. Although she herself had never taken that step, the opportunity had arisen a number of times in her younger years.

Ariel kept eye contact, "why aren't you with her now?" she asked and saw a deep loneliness well up in her eyes. Ariel reached over and gripped Brenda's hand.

Ariel felt Brenda's grip tighten as she began to speak," Her name was June, after the month she was born in, we had spent almost eight wonderful years together, before she was wounded whilst we protected a noble mans daughter, Dane had been the third member of that team but when we were attacked he turned and ran leaving us to face them alone, we almost won, would have if Dane had stayed with us", Brenda paused and swallowed softly, Ariel could see the love radiate from Brenda as she smiled while remembering June, and then sag as she continued, "the wound became infected, and I was unable to move her from the high mountain pass we were in. She lasted two days before she asked me to finish it." Ariel, let out a deep sigh, and gripped Brenda's hand tighter. "At first I couldn't do it, but she asked me to do it out of my love for her. If things had been reversed, she would have done the same for me". Ariel moved closer, and gripped both of Brenda's hands in hers, Brenda looked up into Ariel's eyes, both recognised the heart ache and loneliness in each other.

Brenda began to lean forward, Ariel

leaned back, but not far enough to evade the

gentle kiss. Ariel held her breath, and waited to

see if something would spark inside her, but it

did not come. Ariel sensed Brenda's feeling of

rejection and reached out her hand and

clasped Brenda's in hers and gave her a smile,

before reaching around her neck and pulling

her into a hug. "I'm sorry", she whispered into

Brenda's ear.

"It's all right, I'm just tired of sleeping

alone", responded Brenda.

Ariel stroked Brenda's hair,"you don't have to sleep alone tonight". She cradled Brenda's face against her neck and lowered them to the ground before pulling the covers over both of them, and once again her mind slipped into the darkness.

Ariel could feel the cool damp of the dew on her face before she opened her eyes to see the pastel sky the sun dawned on a new day, she had awoken from a deep uninterrupted sleep the first she had had in a long time. The previous day's events played in the back of her mind as she rose and looked for Brenda, concerned that she might at last consent to having her wounds looked at, but instead of finding her, Ariel found somebody else she had not noticed during the darkness. It took a moment for her to place a name to the grubby female that snuggled onto her blanket, but when the name came, it hit Ariel's mind like a hammer. Jalle!!' Ariel shook the young woman. "Jalle, Wake up!'

Jalle stirred in her sleep and murmured "not now mommy, let me sleep some more.' Jalle seemed to pause before her eyes shot open. 'Ariel! You're awake! I needed to sleep so bad, I've been trying to catch up to you. I haven't slept in days.'

Ariel's brows knitted ' what in the Oceans are you doing here?' she asked.

Jalle answered with her own question: 'Are you all right? you look so terrible'

Ariel gave a grunt of frustration' I'm fine, now answer me.. what are you doing here??'

Jalle sat up and looked resentful, this wasn't exactly the reunion she had expected.

'I thought you might need my help after what happened with Jason I thought you would want some company, but I lost track of you, I only found you when Brenda was carrying you from the village'

Ariel tried to keep the anger from her voice but wasn't completely successful ' this is all I need, somebody else to worry about' Ariel stood and started to pace up and down in front of the smouldering embers of the fire, " This isn't a camping trip, things can be deadly" Ariel stopped as she though just how deadly.

Jalle rose to her own feet, the resentment growing in her voice, "I only came because I count you as a friend".

Ariel felt sympathy replace some of her anger, " I'm only concerned for you, I just don't want you to get hurt or worse", she said trying to placate Jalle.

Jalle gripped her hands tight, holding them straight down her sides, yet again Ariel saw a glimpse at her own past, "I can take care of myself, God when will people realise I'm sixteen years old, I'm not a child anymore!".

Ariel went to speak but Jalle's words repeated in her mind, sending her back to when here father was reprimanding her for doing what was in her heart. What could she do, send Jalle home? she would just be putting up barriers, she herself had spent all her life pushing to there limits and beyond. If Ariel knew one thing about herself for sure, if she anything for sure these days, she knew she was not a hypocrite. So she just looked at Jalle, and spoke "I know you are not a child Jalle, but by the time this is all over you might just wish you still were" Ariel turned and saw Brenda returning carrying some firewood," why didn't you tell me she was here?" Ariel demanded.

Brenda just shrugged," you know now don't you?".

The three of them continued through the mountains, Brenda leading the way, and filling mile after mile with stories of her and Junes adventures, Jalle lapped them up, wanting to know all the details, and Brenda gave them willingly. They stopped when tired and ate while hungry, Ariel had'nt been so much at peace for such a long, with the trident out of her dreams and the warm summer sun on her face, a little of the joy had returned to her life. They climbed one mountain pass after another, resting their horses in the valleys, while they swam in the cool mountain rivers, way below there normal levels because of the drought that was begining to stretch into its third month. Day followed day, taking them higher into the moutains, were even in the height of summer they awoke to a frost on the ground, then they started to decend, the passes were lower and the temperature was more comfortable, Ariel had never felt so far from the sea as she did in these mountains, and she wished she never felt that way again.

Brenda was telling Jalle about one of her adventures, Ariel was amazed she seemed to have an endless supply of them. Brenda was decribing the time she had been in the southern deserts, "There was me June and the arab traders, and we were trying to obtain some cammels so we could cross the desert, anyway they have some strange idea's about women down there, so we eneded up drinking them under the table, and bought the camels for a bargin, you should have seen June drunk on a camel, hehe, she fell of twice before she sobered up". Brenda shook her head an the memory.

Ariel spoke with a smile on her face, " and you didn't fall off?".

Brenda licked her lips" only the once". all three burst into laughter, when they had calmed down Brenda continued, " it was strange place, we heard stories about the local Sultan, apparently he had been a right scoundrel in his youth, till he had found some sort of spirit, he became something of a local hero, and he married the previous sultans daughter. I must say it was a tad hard to believe when we had an audience with him at his palace, widening at the waist, grey haired. His wife was still a beuty, she must have been something special in her younger days ." Brenda took a breath and continued," but back to June and me, we set off across the desert, neither of us had traveled across such arid land before, luckily we had taken plenty of water, and the trade routes....... " Brenda stopped when she realised she was no longer the object of attention, she looked at Ariel, her jaw seemed as if it could hit her saddle, Jalle was similary entranced, Brenda followed they stare into the valley below, tall spires atoped a huge fortress that sat perched on a masive outcrop of rock that jutted form the side of the mountain, they could see a thin road that wound its way up the side of the mountain to the entrance of the castle. "ahhh",Brenda breathed and pointed to the structure,"there my friends, is Eagle Castle" Brenda announced, " and that is where your Eric is".

Ariel swallowed suddenly her throught had become much dryer, she had a feeling this was going to be a lot harder than she had originaly thought.

Eric walked with a purpose through the corridors of Eagle castle, he had to speak to Colleen he had to make her see sense. Though he was dubious about his chances of success. In his opinion Colleen was not in this realm of reality anymore. Some of her more recent behaviour was definitely his fault, he cursed himself again, but was still no nearer to another course of action he could have took. Eric was sure it was because of the carnage she had seen, what Aken had dragged her back to, and turned her into, maybe it was her way of dealing with it all, when everything got too much for her. What ever reality she was in he would have to bring her back to this one soon, or all could be lost.

He found her in her chambers, sat at her desk studying papers, no doubt another decree , implementing more stringent methods, that would get this country back on its feet, without the help of Asthenfell it would be a hard task, and no other neighbouring kingdom had the resources to aid this crippled country. Eric coughed to gain her attention, she looked up at him her eyebrows raised in question. Eric closed the door behind him " I've been thinking about the best way to tell you this, but here gos" Eric swallowed, and began to relay his overheard conversation to Colleen.

"Hah!" came her reply when he had finished, " you expect me to believe this, this.. nonsense?!"

Eric persisted " Aken is going to kill you, and frame me for it". He stated as simply as he could, " he's been paying you for an idiot all the time, since he came and got you!"

Colleen stood and walked away from Eric, she turned and looked at him, "Aken has been like a father too me, I will not entertain such thoughts about him".

Eric shook his head, " he's done a fine piece of work on you Colleen, really excellent. Something around here stinks to high heaven, and its coming from Aken, wether you believe me or not watch out for him Coll, I will be".

Eric turned and made his way out of Colleens chambers, "wait", said Colleen taking a step forward and clasping her hands together, "please". Eric stopped, his hand on the door handle. Colleen seemed to search for words," you don't, erm, you seem to avoid me, ever since that night, you've been so cold to me. I never knew you to be like this, what's wrong?"

Eric turned, he could see the puzzlement in her eyes. "What's wrong is that I'm not where I am supposed to be".

Colleen took another step forward as she spoke, "but you are, your with me. Like we always planned"

Eric shook his head, "Fate never takes the plans of young lovers into consideration when she controls the world Colleen, I'm supposed to be back in Seacove with Ariel getting things ready for our coronation, not here".

Colleen's mouth hung open for a few seconds waiting for the words to come, " but you said you would always love me".

Eric could hear the disappear starting to creep into Colleens voice, "and I always will, but loving you the way I did, helped me to love Ariel the way I do. It was fates choice I was to be with her, and fate will have something planned for you too I'm sure".

A tear started to roll down her cheek, Eric resisted the urge to comfort her, she blinked a few times to clear her eyes, before she spoke again, "but what about that night, when we...?", colleens voice trailed off, leaving it hanging in the air for Eric to finish off.

Eric felt his shoulders sag, "I've asked myself that a hundred times, and I'm still no closer to an answer, maybe the way we departed from each other left a lot of emotions unresolved in me, and meeting Ariel just pushed them further and further down, and that night they surged out from a place inside of me, I had forgotten existed." Eric bowed his head, "I'm sorry if I have hurt you even more, that was never my intention, you will always hold a special place in my heart". Eric felt his hands shake, maybe this would work after all.

Colleen wiped away a tear, and walked to Eric, she brushed her hand down the side of his face, " Its all right, my love I understand now".

Eric looked at her," you do?"

Colleen smiled ,"its obvious, she's used some sort of magic on you, your not in control of you actions....".

"No, wait" Eric tried to interupt.

"that night, your raw emotion broke through her spell, that was the real you, how could I have been so stupid".

A sense of dred decended over Eric, he tried think of what to say, what to do", No colleen please, I'm not under a spell." He thumped his chest, " this is really me".

Colleen called for the guards, "She smiled at Eric again, "don't worry I'll help you, I know how to break the spell". Eric felt his heart stop. The guards entered, "Take him back to his chambers and post guard, if he resists, use force", Colleen lent forward, and kissed Eric's now pale forehead, "Don't worry, I will release you".

Eric had to ask, "How?"

Colleen kept smiling," by dealing with her like we deal with all witches in this part of the world, I will have her burned and the stake, then you will be free". she looked at the guards, "take him".

As he was taken he shouted back to her down the corridor", No! You cant!, please Colleen listen to me!!". She simply closed her door on him.

After the long days of being on the trail it was pleasing for the soul to finally arrive and some sort of civilisation, Ariel Brenda and Jalle entered the town that clung to the base of the cliff witch housed Eagle Castle. They made their way down through busy streets, people were going about their daily business, as if the war had never happened, trade was swift for the market traders, in many ways it reminded Ariel of Seacove, only a lot dryer, and more dirty. Brenda showed them to an Inn Ariel commented that Brenda seemed to know where every inn in the kingdom was located, Brenda had replied "almost". Soon they were seated and nourished by the simple but adequate cuisine the land lord had to offer, towards the end of the meal Brenda had gone to see too their horses as they had secured room at the inn.

Ariel looked over at Jalle, she had a sparkle in her eyes, and the dust from the trail gave her a look of maturity way beyond he years. 'So young and in such a hurry to grow up' Ariel thought, not knowing if she meant Jalle or herself at that age.

Jalle noticed Ariel's attention, "what are you looking at?" She asked.

"A mirror to the past", replied Ariel cryptically. Jalle gave her a funny look so Ariel explained further, " you remind me of myself at your age, passionate and impulsive".

Jalle started to laugh but also started to choke on the food she was eating, she reached for the beer which had come with the meal, Ariel was sure her father wouldn't approve, but she didn't see anything wrong. Jalle cleared her throat, "you where never like me", she replied, through a mouth still half full of food, "your so calm, so reserved, so...", Jalle looked for a word, "...together. I'm a complete mess! I cant pay attention , or so my teachers are forever telling me, I'm unorganised and forever getting into trouble, normally way over my head", she waved her hand to encompass the room, take all this for example. My father is going to kill me when I get home, Ill be lucky to see daylight by the time I'm thirty".

This time it was Ariel's turn to laugh, " you have no idea, that is exactly the way I was, but suddenly I was married to your brother, and I had to pull it all together, believe me its been hard, and everything does fall apart from time to time", Ariel couldn't help but smile as she thought of what to say next," As for your father? Lets just say Dad's have a way of surprising you when you least expect it. Of course it feels like an eternity, but they do come around in the end", Ariel leaned closer to Jalle and whispered, "with daughters like us they have no choice", and she gave her a conpirtorial wink.

Both of them burst into laughter, cut short when the door flew open and Brenda stood there heavily laden, "you want some help?" asked Jalle.

"lets see" replied Brenda, "I'm stood here holding three peoples stuff , and you are there laughing your heads off, damn right I want some help!"

They both rose from the table and went to Brenda, "spoilsport", muttered Ariel.

"I prefer bitch", replied Brenda, smiling.

Jason took a swig from the offered flask and handed it back to Davie's, before reaching forward and stroking his horse betweem its ears as it ploded along the track which ran along the side of a mountain. They had camped the other side of the pass the night before, and made the passage through it at first light. At first Jason had been filled with excitment at setting out on a new adventure, but over the miles and weeks of travel, a sense of bordom had settled over him and Eric's men. But today was different, according to the map they sould almost be at their destination. Their first priority was to locate Ariel, and hope that Jalle was with her. Second, if possible get Eric out of his inprisonment.

Jasons thoughts where interupted, when a scout galloped to him from up the track. The rider stopped and beckoned them to follow him, he then turned and galloped back up the track. Jason looked at Davie's, Davies's looked back and both men kicked there horses into a gallop and sped after the scout. They cought up with him further up the track, when Jason arrivede the scout pointed down into the valley,"down their sir , what do you think?".

Jason took his telescope from a saddlebag and placed it to his eye. The scean that met his eye was alarming, a group of four riders where encircled by a ring of thirty or more other riders. Jason was to far away to make out any fine detail, but something caught his attention, he focused in on a flash of colour, it sent his heart racing.

He snapped the telescope shut and placed in back in its sadle bag, "Davie's get the men", he tightened the reins in his hand and kicked his horse into a trot down the bank, "and tell them to be ready for a fight!" He called back.

Ariel walked behind the cart, they had spent three days planning Eric's rescue, of course Brenda knew some of the locals, and they had agreed to help, all be it for a price, but she was glad to pay anything to get her love back. Although she had doubts about Brenda's plan it was to late now as they crossed the drawbrige into eagal castle. Brenda was walking beside her, and the cart was filled with fruits and vegitables, this was the weekly delivery to the castle and probably their only way in. They entered a court yard, and Ariel's eyes were drawn upwards by the vast scale of the structure, it had a brutal syle of architecture, gargoyles peered dopwn from every vantage point. As her gaze diffted down her eyes fixed onto the only familiar shape, Eric, it had to be him sat staring out across the sky from a large window directly over the court yard, she breathed a shigh, her darkest fear had been allayed. They followed the cart as it passed under and arch and into a smaller yard, where huge doors hung open, smells of cooking wafted out, and a heat haze blasted from the opening. The cart stopped and it driver jumped down, and gave them a nod, at his signal both women took hold of a basket of vegitables and followed him into the kitchen. The heat was intense, Ariel could feel sweat building up on her forehead. they followed the grocer though the kitchen , the cooks and servants where rushing about getting everything rweady for the midday meal. They enetered a store room, even in the height of summer this room was cool, an earthy smell emited from the baskets that lined each wall three high. The grocer closed the door behind them, Ariel and Brenda put down their loads.

"Ill keep them ocupied as long as I can, but the most I can give you is about an hour, no more".

Brenda went over and gripped his hand, "thanks Ben"

Ben smiled, " no need nothing I could do will ever repay what you did for us".

Brenda turned to Ariel, "lets go".

Ariel nodded, "I saw him up on the second floor, in the middle over the courtyard"

"Well that at least narrows the search", Said Brenda, and they made their way out into the kitchen, they had dressed in maids outfit's before they had set off from the town, so noone gave them a secong look. though if they had they may have seen paculiar bulges that showed where they had hidden there weapons. Now they where just two more in the army of servants that ran this huge palace.

They left the kitchens and made there way up the servernts stairs to the second floor, at the exit of the stairs three corridors converged in a huge hall,. Ariel was at a loss as to which one to take, she looked too Brenda for guidence.

Brenda seemed in thought till she pointed to the right hand corridor and said, "this way".

As they walked down the corridor they heard footsteps coming from the other way, Ariel started to panic a little, " keep going ", Brenda hissed out fo the side of her mouth.

The footsteps came closer, and as they turned a corner Ariel looked to see who was coming, she recognised the face it had been the last thing she had seen before she had been rendered unconscious, and her husband taken from her, Colleen, waering a riding outift of black leather. Ariel had to fight the rage that built inside her, at the sight of her. As the Queen walked past both she and Brenda bowed in unison, Colleen seemed to take little or no notice of them.

They arrived at another bend in the corridor, Ariel went to round it but Brenda pulled her back. "He should be around here somwhere", explained Brenda. Slowly they both peared around the corner, they saw mountains of manhood stood either side of a bolted door, Brenda let out a sigh and they retreated back around the corner. "that has to be the one" she said, she looked at Ariel, "I think you will have the best chance here".

Ariel looked at her blankly, " I will?"

She tried to follow Brenda's instructions and 'Slink' upto the guards as sexily as possible. But Ariel had always been blissfully unaware of her own beuty till Eric had arrived in her life, before that she had been the quintessential tomboy, more interested in exploring and playing to be distracted by foolish things that seemed to occupt her sisters every waking moment. During chilhood this had been fine, it wasn't until she started to mature and blossom that the problems began. Not for Ariel of course but the string of hearts she unwittingly left in her wake, as she carried on as she always had, and Eric seemed to desire her not matter what she wore or how she acted, so when she was confronted with two hulking males, who seemed to make eye contact about twelve inches too low, she was sudenly very very emabrrased, it didn't help that Brenda had undone the top of her dress, to show maximum cleavage either.

Ariel chewed her lip as she thought of what to say, although the guards didn't seem to interested in what she might have to say. So she gave up on Brenda's idea and decided to use the skills she knew she had. "Come closer", she whispered, and as they cranned forward, Ariel reached through her amulet and touched a finger to each mans temple, and sent a shock of energy through there brains. The two guards continued to move forward, not though there own will power , but through the law of gravity, and both of them made a thud as they hit the ground from their extrem height.

Brenda ran round the corner, pistol musket in hand, "what happened?"

Ariel raised her eyebrows and half smiling said, "I guess I blew their minds".

"nicely done", said Brenda, looking down at Ariel handy work. Ariel went to open the door, "wait", said Brenda "there may be another guard inside".

Eric stood looking out of the window, he'd been confined to his room by Colleen for the past four days, during this time he had devoted all of his waking thoughts to how to get of this prison. He had to make an attempt, and in all his observations now was the best time to try, the weekly delivery was underway. All the guards knew him by sight, he needed a disguise, and the two Bells that where stood on the other side of the door might provide him with one, but he had to take them out first, not a prospect he was looking forward too. Eric heard a noise come from the door, this was his chance, he grabbed the only weapon the room had to offer, a gold candle stick, and rushed to where he would be hidden as the door opened. He heard the bolt being drawn back and the handle start to turn he raised the candle stick high in the air, and brought it down with all his force as soon as the person was insight.

Brenda slowly opened the door, and carfully crossed the threshold, Ariel followed behind her and all she saw was a flash of gold before Brenda reacted swiftly, reaching up and using her assailants momentum against them, throwing what was clearly a man over her shoulder, keeping an arm and folding it behind his back, and pushing her pistol hard into his neck.

Ariel took a moment to comprehend that was happening. "wheres prince Eric", demanded Brenda.

Ariel's mind realised what she saw, her new found friend had he knee hard into her husbands back. "Brenda no that's him!"

Eric spoke up, "Ariel! Is that you? Get this psychopath off me!"

Brenda released her grip and stood up,"psychopath, hah, I wasn't the one trying to bludgeon somebody with a candle stick".

Eric was oblivious to her, as he ran and wrapped his arms around Ariel, holding her close, and kissing her deeply.

Brenda waitied an apropriate length of time before couching to get attention,"sorry this is all very lovely, but will you please help me get those two in here, I don't want the entire garison at our door". Ariel helped Brenda with one of the bells and Eric grabbed the other.

"Boy I'm a surprised to see you", said Eric , unable to take his eyes off Ariel incase she might vanish.

Ariel grinned at him, "its my turn for the big rescue"

Brenda took a look outside the door, all seemed quiet, she closed the door and turned back to see them kissing again. "Oi!" she called, there will be plenty of time for that later, right now help me get the clothes off one of these", she pointed to the smallest of the bells, lying unconcious on the floor. "he cant go about the castle as he is"

"Good paln", said Eric, "that was mine too", and he started to undress the guard and dress himself.

Brenda went and stood next to Ariel, and both looked at Eric criticly, as he dressed himself. "Well it could be worse", said Ariel.

"I don't see how", replied Brenda.

"Well it's all we have ", finished Eric, tucking in his hugely oversized shirt into his ludicrusly baggy breaches. He looked at the jacket that seemed even bigger than the shirt, "its not going to work"

"It has to get you down to the cart we have waiting nothing more", Brenda said to Eric, then she whispered to Ariel, "I can see why you came all this way, he's quite hansome, though I bet I could teach him a thing or two you might enjoy", Brenda smiled as she saw Ariel's face going from puzzlement to shock and back again. Brenda leaned a little closer, "when did I ever say I didn't like men?", she laughed as the puzzlement left Ariel's face leaving the shock alone. Brenda looked at Eric he had finsihed dressing and was looking at them, wondering what was going on. "finished", she asked, Eric nodded, "good lets go".

They moved as quickly as they could without drawing attention to themselves ,they past servants going about their daily duties, nobody seemed to take much notice of them as they made their way down the corridor, heading towards the stairs that would take them back to the kitchen. They enetered the hall before the stairs, "Soldier come here!", an officer walked towards Eric, who tried to hide his face as much as possible under the huge helmet he was wearing. The officder squared upto Eric, "look at me when I talk to you", the officer demanded, and lifted Eric's chin. Ariel and Brenda moved into the stairwell, Brenda sneeked a peek around the opening, while Ariel kept lookout on the stairs. There was nothing she could do The officer was on the other side of Eric, he was on his own, she tapped the dagger she had removed from up her sleeve on her leg in frustration.

As soon as Eric saw recognition flash upon the officers face, he moved, thrusting his torso forward with all his weight , and ramming his helmeted head into the officers face. Eric pulled the dented helmet from his head and threw it to one side. The officer was staggering back his hands cupping his nose, but blood poured though his fingers, Eric took hold of the officer and slammed him into the wall.

Brenda moved on the first sound, but when she saw Eric was in control she waitied till he was standing over the unconsious officers body before she spoke", quite finished".

Eric looked up, "think so".

Brenda nodded towards the stairs, "then can we plaease get going, I for one would like to leave this place alive". Eric didn't need to be told twice, and he followed Brenda into the stairwell.

Ariel looked at them expectantly, "lets get going Ben isn't going to wait forever", she looked at Eric, " what about his face?"

"Forget it", replied Brenda as she started to descend, " we are going to just walk out of here, hopefully they will be too busy to notice us".

Ariel and Eric stood at the top of the case of stairs, and looked at each other,"I hope she is right", said Eric.

"She normaly is", replied Ariel, "come on", and they both followed Brenda down the stairs.

Colleen paced up and down the length of the entrence hall to he chambers, she held her hands close to her chest, rubbing the palms together constantly. Soemthing was scratching at the back of her mind, what was it? Colleen paced some more, it would come , perhaps a drink would help. She walked oner to a small table, half a bottle of wine resided there, its cork pressed into the neck, so half its length showed. Colleen pulled the cork and picked up a silver goblet and poured the red wine into it. The bottle smashed as it struck the ground, sending red wine and shards of glass over the polished wooden floor. Red, she was here.

Colleen turned, eyes narrow and lips tight. "Damn that bitch", she cursed and ran from the room.

Brenda whispeed, "straight to the cart, don't stop no matter what". And that's what they did, the cooks and servent's were to procupied with there own duties, to wonder what two maids and a guard where doing, even if his clothes didn't fit that well. As they exited the kitchen, Brenda gave a nod to ben, who climbed up inot the drivers seat, and took hold of the reins.

Ariel pointed to the cart, "get in the back, there's a cloth, cover yourself, and keep out of sight till we tell you".

Eric climbed in and covered himself with the cloth, Ariel took a basket from the back of the cart and tipped its contents of leaves, over where Eric was laid. She then climbed in herself, Brenda was seated next to Ben, she leaned close,"lets go, as fast as you can without atracting attention."

Ben swalloed hard, "right you are then", and he gave the reins a flick.

Colleen slammed open the door, the two guards she had assigned lay unconscious, one half dressed. She ran across the room and look down into the courtyard through the window. She found what she was looking for ,Red hair sat in the back on a cart half way across the yard. "No!" she screamed, and banged her fist on the glass, she tried to open the window, but it didn't open, she had ordered them bolted shut. She looked around the room, there had to be something, there was, Colleen picked up a chair and hurled it though the widow. she rushed to the opening, the crash had attracted a lot of attention,"stop that cart!!!" She bellowed, "stop that cart!!!".

When Brenda heard the smash, she it had all gone wrong, "shit", she cursed, "Ben move it!" She turned to Ariel who was already reaching under the cloth and pulled out Brenda's already cocked crossbow and threw it to her. As Brenda caught it, she looked across the courtyard and saw and unarmed guard racing towards them, ben had the horse at a gallop, they where almost and the keep, the guard threw himself at the cart and managed to grab a hold, his feet dragging along in the dirt, Brenda stood and looked at him before stamping on his face. The guard fell off, and Brenda felt the bump as he went under the back wheel.

The wood of the cart exploded next to Ariel as a musket round went through it, she looked at the back of the cart, a guard had managed to grab hold and was hauling his way into the back, his eyes fixed on Ariel his sword drawn. Ariel fumbled to draw her own sword, "Eric!", she called. Eric sat straight up, the top of his head, striking the guards chin, causing him to lose his grip and fall from the cart.

Eric rubbed his head, "Ow, what?".

"Get down!", shouted Ariel and dragged him to the floor of the cart. Three more holes, exploded from the side of the cart.

"make up your mind!" yelled Eric.

Brenda, picked off a guard with her pistol, they where going to fast now, they would make it. "More speed!!" she called to Ben.

"There going as fast as they can!!", replied Ben.

Brenda look ahead of them the exit was only a hundred yards or so ahead of them, she heard the ricochets of musket rounds, a felt some of them impact into the cart, she heard Ben scream out in pain, and holding his shoulder. She took the reins from him, and pushed him into the back of the cart, she looked ahead again, the portcullis was lowering, they'd be trapped. Brenda looked to the side, the guard had just set off the gears that lowered it, she could see them turning next to him as he turned towards them and drew his sword. Brenda levelled her cross bow at him and fired, the bolt streaked across the yard striking the guard full in the chest, he staggered back a few steps, before his eyes rolled into the back of his head, and he fell back straight into the gears of the portcullis, there was a sickening crunch as it halted half way down.

Brenda rolled back into the cart landing on a protesting Eric, more rounds hit the cart sending splinters, flying. The horses just made it under, but as they passed under, the portcullis's pointed ends ripped off the seat where Brenda had been only seconds before.

Ariel looked up, all along the fortifications, muskets where being aimed at them, a hail of lead was ready to descend, she didn't have time to think, she reached through her amulet. It glowed brilliantly, and a stream of light fountained from its centre, spreading as wide as the cart. The guards on the fortifications fired, there shots gave a bright spark as they ricochet off the shield, Ariel sustained the shield for two volleys, to make sure they where out of range. Brenda, was stood , slapping the reins off the backs of the horses, getting as much speed as possible, they had made it, though only just.

Ariel, dropped the shield and breathed hard, she looked over at Eric, he was busy inspecting Bens wounds. Ariel tried to move across to him herself but the cart bounced off every pit and rock that studded this well used track. She made it and looked at the wound herself, she could fix it, and still be all right, it was the least he deserved. Through panted breaths, she spoke to Eric, " hold him", and she reached through her amulet again.

Colleen strode out into the courtyard, a group of mounted soldiers was about to give chase, Colleen waved a hand, "wait!", she commanded, she ran over and grabbed the nearest rider and pulled him from his horse. She took his sword and pistol before mounting up. She looked around thirty five men, that should be enough. "Follow me!", she cried as she galloped out of the castle.

Jalle sat on her horse at the edge of town, toying with the bow that rested on he lap. The other three horse, where next to her, saddled and ready to go. She looked up the track once more, they had been gone for almost an hour and a half now, she hoped nothing had gone wrong. Jalle plucked the bows stirring with her finger and listened to the note it made, a rumble slowly drowned it out, and she looked back up the track, Brenda was holding the reins, but the cart looked a mess, something had gone wrong.

She saw Brenda haul back on the reins fetching the cart to a halt, "what's happening?" She asked Brenda.

"Its all gone to crap, we have to get out of here now", replied Brenda. She looked into the back of the cart, "hows Ben" , she asked.

Brenda received a surprise when Ben jumped out of the cart,"I'm just fine, now you young uns get moving, don't worry about me". Ariel and Eric where already mounted, Jalle was leaning over to give her brother a hug.

Brenda kissed Ben on the cheek,"if you ever need anything".

Ben finished her sentence for her, " I know who to contact", he nodded to her horse," go on shift".

Brenda smiled and placed her arms through the two loops of leather, that would hold her back mounted scabbard, her preferred choice if there was going to be a fight. She slotted her sword in it and then climbed onto her mount, she looked at the others, "lets go" , all four riders turned their horses and sprang into a gallop.

Ben stood watching them go from the side of the track, he looked at his cart, well he could afford a new one with what he'd been paid, he decided to leave it and go home, if they came to see him about it he would just say they had taken his family hostage and forced him to do there bidding. He heard horse behind him and he dived into some bushes, he peered out and saw a group of soldiers go past led by a black leather clad woman, they halted at the cart for a moment before continuing on. Ben heaved a sigh of relief, time to go home. then he heard something else, he turned and saw a lone rider clumped past him and disappear down the track.

Ariel felt the wind in her face and the thunder of Stormy's hooves filled her ears, as she and her companions hurtled down the thin forest track, pushing their steads for more and more speed. The horses where already foaming at the bit, and sweat staining their flanks. Brenda was in the lead followed in single file by Ariel, then Jalle, with Eric fetching up the rear. Ariel was sure that what ever head start they had it wouldn't be much, and riding this hard up and ever increasing gradient meant their horses would expire long before they reached the relative safety of the pass, their only hope was that there own steads would outlast their pursuers.

Although she couldn't see Eric it made her feel warm inside and boosted her confidence to know that he was close, though she had spent much energy producing the shield and healing Ben, the feeling of closeness helped her to distance herself from the feeling of drowsiness that always followed her amulet use, now they only just had to get out of this alive. The forest through which they where travelling started to thin, the beams of light which cut through the canopy, widened and began to join together. As they left the forest the gradient sharply rose, the horses began to struggle as they climbed the hill, Ariel could feel the animals distress, "Brenda, we cant go at this pace for much longer", she called.

Instead of Brenda, Eric Called from the rear, he had just exited the forest, "cant stop now not unless you want some company!".

Ariel took a look over her shoulder, through the gaps in the canopy, she could see six soldiers , they where even closer than she thought. Ariel had learned one or two words from the more colourful side of language, and she used one of them," shit!", she called to Brenda, "what do we do now, there's six of them after us!?"

Brenda pulled on her reins, "you keep going for the pass", her horse stopped in a few strides, "Ill cause a little diversion". She pulled her crossbow from its saddle holder, and prime it with a bolt.

Ariel turned in her saddle, "be careful".

"I always am", Brenda said more to herself, and cross bow in one hand and reins in the other she kicked her horse into a trot. "Yah!", she cried and the horse sped to a gallop.

Jalle watched Brenda stop and go past her, she wasn't going to fight them alone was she? Jalle marvelled at the idea she had only heard of in the legends and stories her father used to tell her, but this was actually happening. The adrenalin was racing through her system, she wanted to be part of a legend.

Ariel heard Eric shout, "Jalle no!", she hauled on her reins and stopped her horse, she looked at Eric, he simply shrugged and placed his hand on his sword. She could see Jalle reaching for her bow. Ariel chewed her lip, in thought for a second and them pulled her sword from its scabbard, "lets go" .

Eric withdrew his own sword, "after you my dear".

The riders, must have been to occupied riding at speed through a dense forest, to be on the look out for an attack, so when they exited the canopy of the forest, and started to climb the hill they where unprepared for Brenda hurtling towards them. She levelled her cross bow at the first and released the bolt, the lead riders face held genuine surprise as it struck him it the chest. The second saw what was happening, but was unable to do anything before Brenda smashed the crossbow into his face. The third had half his sword drawn before Brenda stood on her saddle and dived at him, their joint momentum caused them to hang in the air while his mount rode from under him. they landed with the soldier on his back and Brenda with her knees on his chest, knocking the air from his lungs as they landed. Swiftly she brought her knuckles down on his wind pipe, crushing it. She stood eyes darting left to right, the gasps of the slowly choking man oblivious to her. She spotted two more riders still within the forest, that made five left. Brenda heard hooves, turning quickly she was in time to see a soldier swinging his sword at her, Brenda side stepped and turned, grabbing his sword arm by the wrist and using his speed pulled him from his horse. The soldier tucked as he fell and rolled back onto his feet, he crouched low, his eyes narrowing as he drew a dagger from his belt, and then widening when Brenda reached behind her head and draw her sword. He barred his teeth and lunged at Brenda's waist, she parried with the tip of her sword, then grabbed the blade with her spare hand and thrust the pommel into his jaw. The soldier staggered and reached up and wiped his lips, he looked down to see the red of his own blood staining his hand. Rage flared in him and he lunged again, she spun and kicked the dagger from his hand, and as she cam round once more, she slashed her blade across his throat , the soldier reach to the wound to try and stop the flow, he fell to his knees and then onto his face.

Brenda heard a heavy thump behind her, she turned and saw another soldier on the floor, a white tipped arrow embedded in his midriff. She looked up to see Jalle frozen in the firing position. Brenda looked up the hill to see the three remaining riders moving towards, Ariel and Eric, who had foolishly stopped to help. Brenda looked back at Jalle, her gaze still fixed on the man she had felled. "Snap out of it!", Brenda commanded,"can you help them?" She pointed up the hill.

Jalle looked, Eric was twirling his sword above his head, as he and Ariel charged at the soldiers."ill try", she said and notched another arrow, she drew back as she aimed high. Jalle hoped all those archery lessons she had taken would pay off, she let fly.

Ariel flexed her grip on her sword, and lifted it high and swung it down, she saw the central rider go ridged and arch his back , pulling hard on his reins, the horse reared and lost it footing, sending it crashing to the ground. She felt the contact of metal on metal as her assailent flashed by her with a metallic clang.

Ariel looked and saw Eric was still with her, they nodded to each other and stopped and turned their horses, ready to make another charge. What they saw made them reconsider. Brenda and Jalle Arrived, Brenda was still breathing hard from the fighting she had done,"about ten more guards are coming from th......", she followed, their gaze.

Colleen, mounted and flanked each side by a line of ten soldiers. Ariel heard hooves behind them and the soldiers and the end of the lines moved to completely encircle them. Each of the guards held pistols aimed directly at them, there was no way out.

Ariel moved forward to the front, maybe she could reason with her. Colleen moved forward as well, they stopped when they where a few feet apart. Each starred at the other, But colleen was the first to speak," you really thought you could take him from me? No amount of witchcraft can keep us apart".

Ariel straightened her back, and spoke with all the authority she could muster, " we are wed my our hearts and by law.."

Colleen cut her off, "the only law in Palendor, is My word, and I say your marriage is a travesty. You have entranced him!"

"I have not!" Retorted Ariel, "our love is true, I'm sorry...".

Again Colleen cut her off,"you lie!, it was but several days ago, that he managed to break your spell and show me his true feelings".

"What?", Ariel's along with Brenda's and Jalle's gaze landed on Eric, his hung head gave all the explanation. Ariel felt a knife stick deep within her soul.

"Eric you didn't", came Jalle's cry.

"Men!", was Brenda's comment.

Colleen went to speak again, but the sound of a horse and rider made her stop. She looked toward the sound, Aken his mount at full stretch, galloping towards them.

Ariel heard but didn't see Aken enter the circle and take position next to the queen. Her mind was filled by the vision that had proliferated her nightmare during the long solo trek into Palendor mountains, visions of Eric and Colleen in a passionate embrace, she tried to form words to voice, her mouth was open but no words emerged.

Aken looked at Colleen , Brenda noticed a twitch on his lips and his constantly fidgeting hands, 'whats got him so nervous?', she asked herself, after all, he was in the winning position.

"Aken I want them taken back to the castle, and I want that witch", she pointed at Ariel,"thrown in the dungeon". She waitied for acknowledgement from him, but all she received was silence. Colleen moved her gaze to him, Aken met her gaze, Colleen saw something in his eyes, pity, remorse, she never found out, as Akens dagger blade slipped between her lower left ribs.

"For Palendor", breathed Aken, as Colleen began to slip from her saddle.

"No!", shouted Eric, jumping from his horse and runnign to catch Colleen. None of the guards made any attempt to stop him. They seemed totaly shocked and surprised by Aken's action. He caught Colleen before she hit the ground, he sank to his knees resting her back against him. The blade still jutting from her side, blood pouring from the wound. Eric looked from Colleen up at Aken, " I'm going to tear out your heart, and let you watch it stop beating".

Aken gave him a short reply, " I doubt it", with that he turned his mount.

Brenda's eye flicked from soldier to soldier, she watched as Aken went to adress a lieutenant. "When I am gone, kill them all and fetch their bodies back to the castle", he then spured his horse into a trot and made his way back down the track. Brenda slowly moved her hand down her leg till her fingers rested agaisnt a pistol residing in its holster. She looked over at Jalle, events had moved too fast for her, fear was written all over her face. Ariel was sitting unmoving in her saddle, her gaze permanently fixed on the dying Queen. What ever she had done during their escape in the cart, wouldn't save them now.

As the lieutenant watched as Aken retreated into the distance, Jalle sat dry mouthed in her saddle, in the silence something caught her ear, thunder? On a clear summers day? She tried to locate its origin, but the walls of the valley seemed to echo it from all directions. She saw Eric lay Colleen down and stand facing the officer, fury and hatred engraved on his face, as if daring the officer to kill him. The rumble of thunder slowly rose and Jalle looked up the hill, just over the crest, something seemed to be bobbing up and down.

Eric eyed the lieutenant ,"lets get this over with".

"As you wish", replied the lieutenant, his face showing no emotion, "Ready!", he comanded, those that had not primed there weapons did so now, a series of clicks came form all directions.

Brenda hesitated, if alone she would have acted by now, but she was not. She had grown close to Ariel and Jalle, that realisation worried her. Junes death had made her vow never to let herself be hurt like that again,'keep your distance, don't get involved'. But here she was again, last time she had survived, a mistake she had thought of rectifying herself, this time Brenda didn't think there would be a mistake to rectify.

"Aim!", yelled the lieutenant , the soldiers pointed there pistols at their targets, flints cocked. He surveyed the circle of gunpowder and shot, he filled his lungs for the final order.

A roar filled the valley, and Jalle saw a lone rider crest the hill and charge sword pointing far infront of his speeding charger.

"Jay", gasped Jalle, finding her voice,"it's Jay!!", she cried.

Jason was already half way between the crest of the hill and the ring of soldiers, when a line two deep and twenty abrest came charging down the hill, weapons at the ready. The soldiers turned to face the oncoming horde, and let fly the volley that had prepared for the four inside the ring. Two of erics men fell from there horses, and jay jerked and reached for his shoulder, his arm slowly turning red. Eric's men let forth there own volley of hot metal, killing four of the guard outright, and hitting a couple of the horse's, who threw there riders to the ground, one being the lieutenant.

Eric jumped at him while he was still on the floor, gripping his throat and squeezing hard. The other soldiers turned and ran before the Jason led charge. Brenda drew her pistol and picked off the other foot bound riders, and stedied her stead as Davies led Eric's menthundering past in pursuit of Colleens soldiers.

Jason slowed his horse and dismounted. "Jay" came Jalles cry as she flung herself at him," I thought I'd never see you again", she let go when Jason winced in pain, " your hurt", she said.

"just a scratch", smiled Jason, and squeezed his sister."Remeber its always been my job to get you out of trouble". he looked up at Ariel, her face was as long as a shadow at sunset,"what's wrong with her?" He asked.

"Not now Jay", said Jalle and started to tend to his wound.

Eric let his grip slacken from the lifeless lieutenant's throat. His brothers presence barly registered as he ran back to Colleen, he checked for a pulse, it was almost to weak to feel, and her breathing was practialy non existant. Eric swallowed as he stood, Ariel was her and Asenthfell's only hope. He looked to Ariel, her lips where a thin line, her brow half furowed. Eric had never seen hatred on Ariel's face till now, Directed at him? Or Colleen? Probably both.

Ariel sat still her mind oblivious to everything around her but Colleen. From inside she could feel her heart aching, she felt betrayed, homesick and very lonley. All because of one woman, why couldn't she just have stayed away? Left them to continue with there lives.

"Ariel, you have to help her", Eric's words ment nothing to her, so she dismissed them. "Ariel!" Eric shook her by the arm, "Ariel look at me!" She just stared at Colleens body. Eric cursed before reaching up and hauling Ariel from her mount, holding her tight by the arm, and grabbing her chin forcing her eye to meet his.

Jason went to protest," just hold on".

Eric shot him a muderous glare,"stay out of this", he then looked back at Ariel, her amulet was glowing brightly, and her eyes burned with anger.

"Let me go", she said, slow and deliberait.

Eric shook his head, "not until you help her".

"She can die for all I care", spat Ariel", now take your hands off me!", the light from her amulet grew more intense, as a threat.

Eric spoke through gritted teeth, "not until you realise there is more to this than just you an me, damn it! Why did Aken put his knife in her?".

Ariel Blinked a couple of times,"Why should it matter to me? Shes taken everything from me".

Eric let his voice go soft, " it matters because if she dies, Aken will have control. And the help she was willing to ask my father for, Aken meens to take by force".

Jason spoke up, understanding what Eric's words ment, " we are not ready for a war, there will be nothing to stop him".

Eric continued, " he may even go all the way to seacove, so if she dies, hundreds, probably thousands will die, and you have the power to prevent that".

"What ever your going to do you had better do it now", called Brenda, who had gone to check on Colleens condition.

Eric stared deep into Ariel's eyes, She could feel the acusation of the silence, she had no choice,"Ill do it", she said and pushed her way past Eric and walked over to Colleen.

Ariel knenlt down beside the dying monarch, taking deep breaths and trying to summon the strength, she wasn't sure if she would be able to do it after all she had done already this day. Ariel centered her thoughts and disguarded her emotions, and placed her right hand on the wound so that the handle stuck out between her fingers. She reached with her mind to find the tip of the dagger, she located it, and reached out with her left hand and grasped the handle. Slowly she began to remove it, repairing the fibres of flesh as she pulled at the dagger. Ariel breathed fast and deep as she hit the last reserves of her energy, Ariel saw the world come in and out of focus. Suddenly the Dagger was in her hand, she threw it to one side, "she will live", she said through the pants she made to regain her sense of balance.

Eric walked up behind her, "thank you", he said.

Ariel felt all her supressed emotion return, along with a last surge of adrenalin, she couldn't contain it, and it built inside her and exploded. Ariel spun swinging her clenched fist at Eric's face, "bastard!", she screamed as she made contact, sending Eric stumbling back blood dripping from his lip, Ariel sawayed and breathed hard,"don't you ever come near me again", she spoke through gritted teeth, suddenly the last of her enery reserves gave out, and she colapsed to the floor.

King Douglas sat at his desk in the ornated library, that stretched the entire length of one of the wings of the palace. He shufled the the papers in his hand not reading any of them, he let them fall to the desk and rubbed the back of his neck with one hand

Awareness slowly filtered throough the blackness, images came blured at first but she blinked them into focus. The dark stain of the wooden beams that ran across the ceiling, seemed familiar, as did the softness underneath her. Ariel had her suspicions about where she was, but they where confirmed without her having to move as she head the tones of her mothers voice. "I dispare I really do", Ariel had shut her eyes but was shure she could still see the shaking of her mother's head.

Ariel rubbed her hands down her face, "I'm sorry mother, there was little choice", she tried to keep as much anger out of her voice as she could, but her mother still picked up on it.

"its allright my dear", her mother began," you are right to be angry, it a natural reaction. But..."

"But what?!" Ariel interupted banging her fists into the soft matress either side of her , she then pushed herself into a sitting position, she glanced at her mother, she was obviously a little shocked by Ariel's outburst. Ariel continued, unrelenting, "no excuse is good enough".

Her mothers voice rose in power and authority,"I ment to say, that a man that has loved you so much these past few years, wouldn't do something like this without a reason".

Ariel just stared at the end of the bed, "Did father ever do anything like this?" She looked back at her mother for a response.

Shaking her head she spoke, " no he didn't, but then we always knew we would wed, We where practicaly raised together as well you know young lady".

Ariel felt a little ashamed she had asked. She felt the tension leave her, all that remained was dispare, "I thought I knew Eric", her voice broke as she said his name.

Her mother pulled her into an embrace as she began to weep."There there my sweety ", she said as she rocked her daughter from side to side. "I know you must have so many questions, I'm so sorry but I don't have the answers".

"Then who does?" Asked Ariel, sniffing softly, "Eric?"

Her mother chewed her lips and rubbed the ends of her fins together. "No", she finally said, " no, I think if you want to truly understand what's happened, you have to speak to Colleen. She must still have some hold on him, a man like Eric dosnt comit this sort of thing on his own initiative".

Ariel was gratefull she didn't used the word adultery,she rubbed her nose and looked up at her mother, her face a mess of confusion, her eyebrows raised in concern, "he did say he loved her".

Her mother held up a finger," But he also said you where the center of his life. And I believe him".

Ariel's expression changed, she looked at her mother closely, "how is it you know so much?"

Her mother began to laugh."Oh Ariel you still have the same inquisitive mind you always had, some things never change ". Her mother took a breath to calm heerself, "in answer to your question, the amulet alows me access to your mind and from there to everything you do everything you have ever done, and everything you think".

Ariel swallowed, she wasn't sure she liked the idea of this.

Her mother gave her a knowing smile,"who would I tell?"

Ariel chewed her lip and tilted her head to one side, true. She watched as her mother giggled. Again the room began to dim colours going from vivid to pastel, Ariel looked woefully at her mother, "be strong my little one", the elder mermaid said, "ask her you may be suprised at the results".

The room faded to black.

A soft hiss rose in her blacked out mind, the hot humid air filled her nose. Ariel allowed herself to be carried by the sound, and the scent of soft damp earth. Slowly she opened her eyes, only to close them again as a flash of light filled her vision, the soft hiss was torn apart by the rip of thunder which folowed. Ariel tried to move, her joints where sore and stiff, she didn't try for long.

"Don't try to move", came Brenda's voice, her hand brushing away the few hairs that had strayed onto Ariel's face.

Ariel tried to focus, but could only make out a dark shape where Brenda's voice had come from. "Where are we?" She asked.

"Deep in the forest",was Brenda's reply, "We moved as soon as all the wounded had been tended".

Ariel could feel some strength returning and tried to sit up once more, this time Brenda helped her. Ariel could now see Brenda's dimly illuminated face, her fetures set in concern. Ariel breathed deep before she asked, "How is Colleen?".

Ariel noted that the pause before Brenda spoke was too long to hold good news, "She still hasnt come round".

"what?", exclaimed Ariel, "but there should be nothing wrong with her", then she added with a grin,"Medically at least".

Brenda failed to see the humour, "that may be the problem".

"Maybey", Ariel mumbled, "take me to her", she aked.

Brenda shook her head, "Your too weak, sleep. Maybe in the morning, if you are feeling better"

Ariel rubbed her eyes and stared at Brenda, another flash of light illuminated the tent, she hoped Brenda had seen the stern look on her face."Take me too her", Ariel repeated. Brenda paused in thought, and then cursed under her breath as she helped Ariel to her feet.

The sky lit up once more, the ripple of thunder following close behind. the noise of the rain incereasing after the clap, "thank you" said Ariel.

Brenda gave her a smile, and then suporting her weight, moved them out into the rain.

Ariel leaned her head back and let the soothing water cover her face, she shook her allready wet hair and ran her free hand up her cheek, pushing her fingers into her hair before pulling her hand down along her neck. They walked but only a few yards before Brenda stopped infront of one of the many identical white canvass tents, branches had been placed against it in an attempt to hide it, the only difference was that this one had armed guards at the entrance. As they moved closer the guard moved to either side, bowing their heads towards Ariel, who replaied with a smile. Once inside Ariel saw Colleen for herself, she was laid on her back, a light cover placed over her body. She looked asleep, but even those sleeping ocasionly make noises or more, Colleen just laid still.

"Leave", she asked Brenda.

Suspicion was in Brenda's voice as she asked "Why?

Ariel couldn't help but giggle at Brenda's unspoken acusation, "Trust me", she said and moved her weight from Brenda and took a step forward, then another. She turned round to face her conpanion, almost teatering over as she turned, but arm flailing she managed to keep her balance. "please", she said, "just make sure I'm not disturbed".

Brenda's expression held only concern, "What ever your going to do, I don't think your strong enough, let me take you back, you need rest". She made to move forward to support Ariel again. But Ariel held up a hand and shook her head.

"I have to try Brenda, who knows what Aken has set in motion, and with Colleen the way she is", she point to Colleeens still, softly breathing body. "She may as well be dead, because she's no use to us this way". The lightning and thunder coinceided ripping the sky apart.

Brenda let out a shigh and let her shoulders sag. "Allright", she said, and moved her hand as if dismissing her own protests, "Ill make sue you are not disturbed" she reached out and grasped Ariel's hand ,"just be carefull".

Ariel squeezed her friends hand, "I will" she replied.

With that Brenda left the tent, leaving Ariel alone with Colleen. Slowly she turned and looked down at her. She held all the answers to Ariel's questions, the reason behind the catastrophe that had enveloped her life. But how to get those answers, how to get hold of the reason that could make some sense of it all. Ariel didn't know. Slowly she walked to Colleen's side, even in the dim light Ariel could still make out her features, she was beautiful. Ariel shook those sort of thoughts from her mind, she had to concentrate on the task at hand.

Lightning flashed as she reached behind her and undid the knot that which held her amulet in place, the roll of thunder came as it fell from her neck and into the palm of her hand. She held it up in front of her face , chewing her lip as she looked at it. It had done so much allready, could it do anymore? She could only hope and try. Ariel reached out and took hold of Colleens limp hand, even though the air was warm and humid, Colleens skin felt dry and cold as she placed the limp hand, palm up, on her lap. Gently she lowered the amulet onto Colleens palm. Breathing deep, she gripped both the amulet and Colleens hand tight with her own, she closed her eyes and slowly let out the breath and hoped.

Sergeant Davies slowly shook his head, "With respect Sir, We are no match for Akens forces, especialy not that fortress".

Eric stood and began to pace back and forth in the center of the circular tent, going either side of the central pole and he walked. He rubbed the back of his neck, "then what should we do?" He asked noone in paticular, "send for help?" He looked at Jason who looked down at the sodden floor.

"It would take ten days to reach Father and another ten for them to return". Jason raised his eyes but not his head from the floor. "But I don't think Aken is going to wait that long, his first priority is to find us, and we cant stay hidden for that long".

Jalle spoke up from her seat, "but you could at least send word to father, at least he would be forwarned"

Eric nodded and looked at Davie's, "send your best rider and fastest horse immediately".

Davie's stood to attention, "Sah!", he barked and left the tent.

"So what about aken?" Asked Jason, scratching the stubble of his chin.

Eric threw his hands into the air, "I have no idea, there are enough scouts out so we will have enough warning if he gets close"

Jalle leaned back in her chair, "In other words we are stuck here", she said.

Eric just shrugged, "where is Brenda? She knows this area better than any of us".

Jason answered, "she looking in on Ariel".

"Did somebody call?", came a voice freom the entrance.

Ariel opened her eyes and found herself on the hill where they had fought Aken and his traitorus guards. Ariel looked around her, the sky was a clear blue and clear, not a breath of wind swayed the grass. As she looked she spotted a lone figure sat staring of into the distance.

Ariel walked slowly upto Colleen, who seemed completely oblivious to her aproach, Ariel gave a slight cough to attract attention.

Colleen turned her head towards the direction of the noise, her shoulders sagged when she saw Ariel. "So this is my punishment? To spend eternity with you". And she looked away.

Ariel tried to keep her anger under control as Coleen spoke with obvious contempt, "I'm so sorry to dissapoint you, but I'm not dead, and neither are you. So eternity seems unlikely".

Coleen turned her body to face Ariel putting her hand out infront of her for support, "What !?" she exclaimed,"but Aken", her voice trailed off, Ariel could see her shake with the memory.

Ariel looked up,they where encircled by Colleen and her guards, Ariel saw herself looking shocked, Eric with his head bowed. The Colleen on the floor looked accusingly at Ariel, who held up her hands.

"This is nothing to do with me", she protested, "I'm just a spectator, we are in your mind".

The sound of hooves drew closer, both of them watched as Aken entered the Circle, exactly as he had ealier that day. Ariel heard Colleen give her orders, then Aken stuck Colleen with his blade. As Colleen fell from her horse the vision faded. Ariel walked round to see Colleens face , it was streaked with tears ,"How could he do it?", Colleen asked her voice quivering, "how?" Ariel had no answer, "I almost called that man Father", she looked up at Ariel, "you say I'm still alive?", Ariel nodded, "your wrong, I died the moment I left Eric to return with Aken. Because when it was all over all that mattered to me was gone. Eric was bewitched by you, all the rest didn't matter. Nothing matters now". Colleen turned from Ariel and stared off into the distance once again.

Ariel sat on the grass next to Colleen, "I swear I have no spell on Eric except love".

Colleen gave a half hearted laugh, "there was a time when I thought the same". Everything began to blur, all except Colleen and Ariel, "What's happening?", asked Colleen.

"I don't know", answered Ariel.

The world coalesced again, Ariel recognised immediately where they where, at Asenthfel palace, down by the river. Colleen stood amazed at their apparent location, from up the bank they heard laughter. They both turned to see a very young Eric and an equaly young Colleen come running over the crest of the bank hand in hand. Ariel saw Eric grab at Colleens waist causing then to tumble down the bank, they came to a rest side by side, dust on their clothes and grass in their hair. They stared into each others eyes, Colleen reached out and drew Eric into a kiss, but before their lips could touch Colleen passed her wet tounge up Eric's nose almost to his eyebrows, Eric responded by jumping on her and tickling her under her ribs till she begged for mercy.

Ariel couldn't help but laugh, even Colleen smiled as she saw her younger self, "we where barely more than children, but we where infatuated".

As they watched Eric fished in a pocket and removed a small pouch. He spoke, "I've been waiting for news to return from your parents".

The younger Colleen's expression changed to one of aprehension, "you have?

Eric smiled even wider, "yes I have, you see I wanted their permission before I gave you this", he opened the pouch and removed an emerald ring.

The young Colleens jaw dropped as far as it would go, "its wonderfull!", she cried.

Eric just looked at her and raised his eyebrows,"well will you?"

Colleen smiled michevously,"will I what?"

Eric moved so that he was on one knee, and he took hold of her left hand, "Colleen will you do the honour of becoming my wife", he said ceremoniously.

The young Colleen pursed her lips in thought, she looked Eric up and down like she would a peice of livestock before smiling, "of course". Eric slipped the ring onto her finger and then pulled her into a long deep kiss.

"I'd been hoping for that moment for months", said the older Colleen, "I knew after only a few weeks that I wanted to stay with him for the rest of my life". Ariel felt a pang of sadness when Colleen gave a sarcastic laugh at her own words, "but all we had where a few weeks".

Again the earth and sky blured, taking on another form, this time inside. Again Ariel recognised their location as one of the many reception rooms in the palace. The young Colleen stood infront of Eric and his family, the door opened and a soldier wearing the red trim and mountain Eagle of the Palendor guard marched in, on seeing Colleen he dropped to one knee and bowed his head, "your Majesty, I am the bearer of bad tidings".

Ariel saw the young woman sawllow hard, "continue", she said her voice dry.

"There has been trechery your Majesty, the house of Skaith has ambushed the Royal Paty, all have been lost". Ariel could see the older Colleen's lips moving as the message was spoken, "All loyal subjects hearts greive with you. General Aken is on his way and is but a day away, to take you back to Palendor for your coronation and to see that the traitors recive justice for what they have done".

A tear rolled down the young Colleens face, Ariel turned to the elder woman, many more tears where falling down her face. She turned back, the messenger seemed to be hesitating.

"Is there anything more?", Ariel was surprised that the young woman could still speak through the obvious emotion.

The messenger kept his gaze on the floor, "I know it is not my place, being but a lowly soldier", he hesitated again.

"Go on", whispered Colleen, her voice starting to desert her.

The messenger pulled his sword from its scabbard, and held the blade offering the pommle to Colleen, " may I be the first to offer my allegiance and loyalty to my new Queen, and offer my humble services as her protector till general Aken arrives".

This brough a smile to , the young Queen's face,"of course", she said and took hold of the sword. "I accept your pledge and your offer". The messenger took the end of the sword in his hand and kissed its tip.

The Colleen standing next to Ariel shighed, and spoke. "I should have knighted him there and then, insted I think he received some small promotion", She turned from the sceen to Ariel "You know he stood at my door all night?" She gave and evil grin, "Only I wasn't there".

The room blured, changing growing darker, They where still inside but day had turned to night. By the style of the room Ariel knew they where still in the palace, looking around she recognised exactly where, when she saw the young man on his bed, it was Eric, staring at the ceiling. Ariel was worried, Colleen was getting better at controlling whatever was happening.

A series of soft steps came from the balcony, Colleen Spoke, "I almost fell to my death climbing along the building to reach his balcony", the slender figure silhouetted by the moon light streaming through the entrance.

The Eric seemed lost in his thoughts, so when Colleen called his name softly, he did not hear.

"Eric" she called again. taking a few more steps in the chamber.

Eric turned on his bed, "Colleen? ", before he could stand Colleen ran to the bed, they grasped each other hands, and she sat beside him,"what are you doing here?" he asked.

Colleen looked down", are you not pleased to see me?"

Eric smiled and lifted her chin,"of course I am".

Colleen looked at him, her eyebrows so arched that they alomst touched, her mouth twitched as she tried to form words for emotions she had never experience ,"I'm scared", she said simply.

"why?" asked Eric softly.

Her voice was shakey, "It's just that I know that if I go, I know ill loose you". She tried to blink back her tears, "I couldn't bear that", she looked into his eyes, "I wouldn't".

Eric shook his head, "Don't every worry about that, You'll never loose me I swear."

Slowly their lips touched, a simple kiss gaining more passion by the second.

Ariel looked away, she wanted an explenation but this level of detail was too much.

The mature colleen came up behind her, and placed her chin on Ariel's shoulder," Don't worry our love life was short lived.

Sudenly it was daylight, and they stood on the half way landing od the stair case infront of tha palace. A long coloum stretched down the avenue, ranks of mounted and foot soldiers, all dressed in their first unimorms. Ariel followed the colum to its head, there was Aken mounted upon his horse, as always he was an intimidating sight. She looked down the steps, Colleen was saying goodbye to Eric's family, she hugged King Douglas and Jason, and kissed the cheak of Queen Ceilia and Jalle, finally she came to Eric.

"Well this is it", she said, breathing hard to keep her emotions at bay.

Eric's face was solem, "you don't have to go" he whispered.

Colleen looked at the floor, "Yes I do, My people need me". She placed her arms around his neck, Eric responded by holding her close, "I Will always love you", she whispered into his ear, Eric just held her tighter.

After a long moment they parted, Colleen was helped to mount her horse, she looked back at Eric, "Wait for me, I don't know when but Ill be back". The tears she had fought hard to keep back started to roll down her cheeks.

Eric spoke, choking back his own tears, "Ill wait forever for you".

Aken nodded to one of his officers, "Forward!", the officer cried, and the colum began to move down the avenue, Colleen and Aken at the head.

Eric lost control, and ran to his mother buring his face in her shoulder and began to sob.

Ariel looked to her side to locate 'her' Colleen, who had seated herself on a step, tears also flowing from her eyes. Ariel joined her in sitting. "But he never waited, by the time I had wadded through all the blood and death, I'd lost him", Colleen broke down in convulsions of tears, "I'd lost him" she repeated over and over. Their surrounding changed once more this time Ariel found herself stood under the high vaulted ceiling of a Cathederal on a red carpet which led upto a raised platform where Colleen sat, a Crown being lowered onto her head . The pews around Ariel were empty only the first few rows had ocupents, mostly Officers of the army and a few nobles. She blinked and they where in another room , maps laid out on a huge table, Aken was barking orders, colleen was sat meakly in a corner. Sceens began to flash around Ariel and the weaping Colleen, whatever controll she had excersied before was now non existent. Again it changed , this time Colleen was mounted next to Aken, they where high on a hil watching a battle below, a caverlry charge. The world blinked and Colleen stood behind a line of twenty of more cannon, at her command they all fired simultaniously.

"oh no", came a low moan, This time the sound was from her own Colleen, Ariel turned and looked at her, the expresion of dread on her face made Ariel swallow hard.

The suroundings blured, Ariel smelt trhe smoke before she saw the charred ruins about her. There came a crunch from the devistated doorway, and the young colleen made her way into the now open aired room.

"No please I don't want to seee this", colleen pleaded with Ariel, as she stood from her crouch , ran to Ariel and pushed her face into her shoulder, "please make it stop, please!" The panic in her voice grew, as the younger version of her made her way into the room.

Ariel pulled Colleen from her , and stared her in the eyes, "Ive allready told you I don't have any control here, this is your doing", Colleen scrunched her eyes shut, "why are you soo scared?" Ariel asked .

"You'll see", came Colleens weak reply.

Ariel looked to see the other Colleen making her way through the ruble, she seemed to stodd and shudder. Ariel moved to see what had caused the shudder, debries was scattered around, a fallen wall obscured her veiw. when she can around the fallen wall she saw and shuddered herself, the young women lay there, black from smoke with streaks of blood mingling with the soot. Ariel heard crunches behind her and turned to see her Colleen coming towards her, her gaze fixed on the body of the young girl, her lower lip quivering. The younger Colleen, who was closer than Ariel, seemed to notice something about the body, she reached forward and pulled at a large lump of masonry, "NOOOO!!" both Colleens cried simutianusly, Ariel turned away horrified, squeesing her eyes tightly shut, trying to squeeze the vision of the infant from her eyes, she heard both the Colleens bawling, the younger one must have turned and ran, as she heard footsteps fade quickly away, she turned to look where she knew Colleen must be, but when she opened her eyes she wasn't there and their location had changed once more, this time inside. There came a smash of what sounded like glass, and Ariel span round, Colleen was their, but not the younger version, something had changed. Ariel stood frozen as the older Colleeen picked up a shard of the broken mirror in her bare hands, drops of blood started to drip from her hands, turning slowly to a constent stream of dark red.

Ariel's mind raced could Coleen actualy hurt herself in her own memories and pyche?, Ariel couldn't take that chance. Colleen breathed deep and looked down at the picture of Eric she had always kept on her desk, this time she knew he wasn't waiting for heer this time there was nothing to stop her, "Goodbye" she whispered to the picture. She moved her gaze to the thick shard of mirror, in her hands, she could feel the deeps cuts, but it would all be over now, she extended her arms to full stretch, and pulled hard. Ariel ran across the room, when she heard Coleen whisper 'goodbye' she knew she might not make it so she dived at Colleen, striking her in the side, sending both of the sprawling to the ground, there was a smash and Ariel felt a stab of pain, she satup and looked at her leg, a thin red streak ran across her thigh.

"No, no, no, no,", Said Colleen banging her bloody fists and the floor, "Why?, you have him isn't it enough for you? just let me die, its all I want"

Ariel lent her back against the bed and winced in pain, "for me yes, but what about the people of Palendor?"

"Havent I given them enough, I gave them peace, when the war could have dragged on forever, I brought it too a close".

Ariel suddenly made sense of what she had seen at the start of Colleens delirium, "Yes you did din't you. You gave them peace, you won the war, and Aken is About to leed them to war again, why did he try to kill you?" Colleen stopped crying, Ariel waited, during Collens self indulgent trip down memory lane she had skipped that paticular fact. "he wants to lead the Palendorian Army against Asenthfell"

Coleen gave a snort, "He wouldn't dare"

Ariel nodded, "He will and he will win, and when he does do you really think he will stop there? is that the peace you want for your people? Those same people you gave Eric up for? Victorious yes, but at what further cost? They are your people, you made them yours not by luck of birth, but by leadership. and you tell me you will desert them now when they need you most? You Are a Queen, you are THier Queen they need you now, and you would desert them, and leave them to their fate, because of one man?"

Ariel waited for an answer, but got nothing for a very long moment, then "Your right", Said Colleen, breathing out a long winded breath. "your right", Colleen repeated. Ariel said nothing letting Colleen come to her own desision, besides it didn't look like she needed and further prodding. Their suroundings faded to a light matt grey, slowly Colleen raised her her eyes to meet Ariel's. Ariel swallowed hard as she felt a shiver bounced up and down her spine, she only rarely saw that look in anybodies eyes, she only hoped that anger wasn't aimed at her.

"Promise me one thing", asked Colleen.

"What?" asked Ariel, as suspision free as she could manage.

"Promise me that the last thing Aken sees on this world , is my face".

Ariel mirrored the evil grin that spread on Colleens face, "you have my word", she said, and the grey faded to black.

Eric loked at the door way in amazement, "what.. how?", was all he could utter, as he saw Colleen and Ariel standing side by side, with Brenda at their rear.

Jalle jumped from her seat and ran to nAriel throwing her arms around her neck and squeezing tight, "Oh I'm so glad your allright", she shouted into Ariel's ear.

"Glad to see you up and about your majesty", commented Davies.

Jason came up behind Jalle and removed her from Ariel's neck, "come now let her be seated, she still needs rest".

Colleen spoke before Ariel, who was unable to break the locked stare between herself and Eric, "That I'm afraid will have to wait, we must act, you can be sure Aken will be", she looked around and made her way to the trable at the side of the tent where different maps laid messily upon it. Jason, Davies and Jalle followed her. Eric rose and took a few steps towards Ariel, she took a few steps back keep the distance between the constant.

"now is not the time Eric", Ariel spoke sternly, Eric gave a short nod and went over to the table, Colleen had a map of Palendor.

"Here is where the army is currently on maneuvers", she pointed to the Silver river, the border between Palendor And asethfell.

"The perfect place to start an invasion", commented Jason. He looked up at Colleen, "and you didn't notice anything strange about that?"

Colleen fixed him with a gaze, "it is within our territory, I didn't know what Aken was planning till now"

Eric spoke up, "look this isn't what we need right now, what we need is a plan of action, we have to stop him before its too late".

Brenda breathed a sigh, "the only way is too take him on immediately, before he has time to act".

"but as Davies said we are no match for that fortress, we have but thirty men, Aken has nearly a hundred at his command". Pointed out Jason.

"At his command yes, but not all loyal to him" Everyone looked at Colleen, she continued", there are nearly twenty of my own mountain guard, their duty is to guard the castle. Aken only has his own troops from his estates down on the plains, the Army is only following his orders because they come with my Authority,".

"We are still out manned nearly two to one", said Eric scratching his neck, "bad odds but not impossible odds".

Ariel swallowed, "We have no choice, do we?"

Jason gripped his brother on the shoulder, "She is right, we have to act, I will give orders to break camp". With that he left.

Eric placed both hands on the table starring but not looking at the maps. "I hope this works".

"This has to work, or all may be lost". replied Brenda.

Eric gave a half hearted laugh, "Thanks Brenda, just what I need no pressure".

 

 

King Douglas Sat astride his horse his men to his rear, Celia had begged him not to go, but how could he not His children , His and Asenthfellsís future was in danger. He reached down and touched the hilt of his sword it had been so many years since he had needed to wear it, he just hoped he wouldn't have to use it. The day was dry and the dust kicked up by the column of men blew past him on a gentle breeze as they headed for the palendor border.

Aken stood and bellowed, "what do you mean they haven't been found?!".

His adjutant, a young captain shuddered and stuttered his reply. "Iím sorry my Lord, there are so many small valleyís and woodís in the surrounding mountains its takes time to search them all".

Aken slumped into his chair, "they must still have the body of our queen, we need it to prove that she is really dead, or the population will never follow me".

"Are you sure she is dead, my lord?".

Aken raised his chin, "I have killed enough people, to know how to do it right", he drew his dagger and held it up in front of his face, "unless you think I need some more practice".

The young captain began to sweat and the subtle threat, "no sir, what are your orders".

Send every last man out, including those mountain peasants she insisted on having around, they are to find those who have taken colleens body, and kill every last one of them, no survivors, do I make myself clear?"

"As glass Sir".

 

 

They had broken camp at first light keeping to the deep forest, scouts had been sent in every direction, to intercept any patrols that where looking for them, They moved slowly for hours, the tension wearing heavy on each persons nerves, no one spoke unless to give orders, or when Colleen gave directions. Several times they changed direction, to avoid patrols, hiding in dense woods or in narrow gorges waiting for the all clear . it was in once such gorge that they waited now, a patrol had been sighted to the north east, with ten two man scouting patrols of there own, that left only fifteen of them in the main group enough to hide enough to fight. Brenda had insisted on being part of those patrols, and Jason was with another, leaving Eric, Colleen , Ariel and Jalle with Sergeant Davieís and ten of Eric soldiers. And Jalle was feeling very uncomfortable.

Ď You could cut the atmosphere around here with a blunt spooní, she thought. Neither Eric , Ariel or colleen had spoken this morning except when they had too, leaving Jalle feeling all alone in the group, she didn't approve of what Eric had done, though she knew she didn't know half of what was going on. But this stalemate wasn't helping anything , though Jalle knew she wasn't going to interfere, all this relationship stuff was way over her head, and as for this little war they were fighting, suddenly the Nunís school seemed not so bad after all.

Ariel Sat in thought, was it over between her and Eric? With what she had seen inside of Colleens mind, she could understand his actions but could she ever forgive, or forget. No never forget, but forgive?,

"He is only human, my dear", came a familiar voice.

"Mother?", Ariel looked around herself, sure enough she was in her bedroom at Seacove Castle, Her mother on her bed. "Your not going to start one of daddies torrents against humans are you he can barely stand Eric as it is".

Arielís mother sat herself up, plumping a pillow behinde her, "What I ment to say, is that noone is perfect be they human or aquariun, All living things are fallable, especially male".

Ariel walked over and sat beside her mother, who pulled her close and began stroking Arielís hair, " I thought you siad, Daddy never did anything thing like this". asked Ariel.

"No he didnt, that dosnt meen he never made a mistake", Arielís mother let this hang in the air, waiting for Ariel to answer.

"True", said Ariel eventually, "but how can we carry on, as things where?".

"You canít", stated the mermaid, "you both can never be the way you where, just think about this, youve seen his darkest secret, you know the whole story, from beginning to almost the end, can you tell me with a whole heart, that you would have done different, in his place?".

 

Ariel never got to answer her mother as two explosions, erupted both in front and behind them, all the horseís rose up neighing from shock, Eric span his to their rear in time to see a huge tree come crashing down behind them, Ariel saw another fall in front , the few of Ericís men that where with them drew their weapons, pistols and sword, they scanned the rim of the gorge for targets but could see no one, three small cracks of thunder rolled out and three of Ericís soldierís lay on the ground grasping at wounds, Ariel dismounted and went to tend them.

Eric and Colleen had their own pistols drawn, Jalle had her bow in hand an arrow notched, "Who are you!! Show yourselves!!", commanded Eric he glanced over to Colleen who had bowed her head to hide her face.

One lone figure stood on the rim of the gorge, silhouetted in the dim light under the forest canopy, "You are charged with the murder of our beloved Queen Colleen, surrender or you will be killed. ", came the short answer.

Eric swallowed, and flexed the grip on his pistol, god he wished Brenda was here "if we are guilty of the crime you say, why do you not kill us now, and be done with it?".

There was a pause before and answer came, "Those where our orders, but we are not Akenís hired assassins, you will die for your crime, but justice must take its course, this land has been too long without it, now surrender".

Jalle noticed, Colleenís head rise, "if your not Akenís assassins, who are you?" she asked. ariel stood from healing the men , a bit unsteady on her feet, she had not healed them completely, but their wounds would not trouble them.

"We were her personal guard, in these forests we grew up, there was never a chance you would escape,. throw down your weapons!". he commanded clearly getting angry, this time it was Colleen who had the question.

"If there was a change you could perform one last service for your Queen, would you do it?"

The figure snorted, as if the question was beneath an answer, but he gave one, "of course I would".

Colleen threw back the hood of her cloak and stared the figure straight in the eyes, "Then drop you own weapons", she commanded, with all the authority she could muster.

The figure lowered his weapon, slowly letting it drop from his limp hand, and he fell to his knees, "Majesty? Is it truly you?". Other silhouettes appeared around the rim. Ariel studied his face, she had see it before, she was sure.

"Do you think me a ghost?", the man scrambled down the bank pulling the helmet from his head and ran to the side of colleens horse, he looked up at her.

A smile broke on his face. "No your majesty you are not a ghost", he turned to the rest, "Its true! he yelled , she lives!", Ariel's mind made the connection, it was the soldier, who had given Colleen the message of the Parents death all those years ago, she wondered if colleen recognized him also. He looked back at Colleen, this time anger was expressed on his face, "We have been lied to".

Colleen reached down and touched his face, "yes my protector", the officers face lit up," we have".

Clearly she has Ariel thought.


Ed: More to come, we hope.

Late update 6/24/2000

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