We moved quickly through the castle. Three guards approached from a side hallway. I took a breath to tell them to stand down, but before I could speak they fell into step with the others. My mouth pressed shut as we kept up the brisk pace. This castle had been my life, these guards were men I’d grown to count as friends, and yet they didn’t even attempt a rescue. Yes, I had chosen this fate, but anyone outside of the ballroom wouldn’t have known, and those in it probably weren’t too happy about it.
I stole a look at one of the guards. A mixture of relief and worry stirred in my chest. I didn’t recognize the man, in fact now that I had a look at him I wondered how I could have mistaken him from any of the guards in the palace. The raised red tattoo that ran across the bridge of his nose made it apparent he wasn’t from around here.
“Where did you get the guards uniforms?” I looked at my draconic betrothed.
“We stole them.” He answered without looking at me.
“And their original owners?”
He didn’t say anything.
“How many of my men did you kill?”
His sharp golden eyes snapped to me. “Only those we had to. Can your men say the same?”
I narrowed my gaze and looked up at him. “What do you mean?”
“You don’t know?” A faint puff of smoke accented his words.
I realized then that we should have been to the main hall by now. Out of the corner of my eye I began to pick up hints of where were and what our destination would be. We were near the western tower. I kept silent as we moved. This didn’t make sense. The western tower was the tallest of the five that the castle had, but it faced the sea on one side and the castle on the other. Even if they had somehow managed to figure out how to bend space-time, there wasn’t a conduit in the tower. The nearest anchor point was in the courtyard outside behind the main gate and surrounded by two fully stocked guard stations whose sole purpose was to monitor traffic.
“Are you planning on making a last stand in the tower?” I waved a hand at the winding staircase now in front of our group.
Even with the new arrivals, which had totaled nearly twenty, they wouldn’t be able to hold the tower for long. The stairway was wide enough for six wide-shouldered men to walk side-by-side, or fight, which would work in their favor, but this wasn’t the only staircase. Each tower had two separate passages for servants and a central platform that could be raised or lowered floor by floor. The tower would be retaken before sundown.
“Hardly, princess.” Eirikr strode ahead of his followers.
The desert gnomes began to remove their disguises as we wound our way higher. They tossed their stolen jackets on the stairs, most of them used the white frilled shirts to clear out chunks of blue gel from their hair. A couple wiped streaks of the goop to paint designs on their faces, or to simply wipe it on their unsuspecting comrades. Those disguised as guards followed the gnomes lead. I quickly learned that they weren’t even human, the green and red shells on their backs gave it away. A closer look at their skin revealed that it was finely scaled and what I thought were tattoos was natural. The looked similar to Eirikr in appearance with sharp draconic features, but their eyes were more akin to that of a human. None of Eirikrs’ band had looked twice at me, as of yet. I guess sneaking into a hostile castle and stealing a princess doesn’t leave a lot of room for leisure.
Our band more than doubled the higher we got in the tower. Every room, landing, and alcove held a waiting gnome, lizardman, or one of the shelled-folk I did not know the name for. My gown began to stir as wind whipped down the corridor. We reached the top of the tower where even more of loyal troopers waited near the open door. My heart dropped as I looked up at the patch of sky through the door. This was it, I would do my duty, save my kingdom, and avert total invasion. I wasn’t sure yet how plummeting from the tower with the leader of the soon-to-invade horde, but the life of a princess is rarely a fairy tale.
Eirikr strode to the door and waited for the rest of his band to pass through. He held his hand out to me.
“The choice is yours princess.” The dragons’ voice still rumbled, but it was distant thunder on the horizon rather than storming overhead. “Your father gave his word, as did I, but you did not.”
I glared at him. “You doubt my honor.”
He gave a small, slow shake of his head. For a moment I didn’t see him as fearsome dragon, but a king, not unlike my father, with the world on his shoulders. I put my hand in his. He looked down at it and then up at me.
“If we’re going to jump, could we do it toward the sea?” I looked to the doorway. “I’d rather make a splash than a mess on the stone below.”
Eirikr raised his head to the ceiling and let out a quick trio of flames. I was taken aback, maybe he meant to burn me alive. He covered his mouth with the back of his hand and the flames settled down into a chuckle. I stared at him, still unsure what caused this outburst.
“Slip into the castle, escort the princess to the tallest tower, and then throw her from it?” Eirikr shook his head. “What kind of plan is that?”
“I assumed you’d be right behind me.”
“Behind you.” Smoke rolled from his nostrils. “No princess, we’re not jumping, we’re leaving. I’ll lead the way.”
He led me out to the tower. His troopers climbed the stone battlement and stepped off.
A moment later they floated back up into sight riding on clumps of cloud. They lazily rose to a thick concentration of dark storm clouds. He pointed a clawed finger at the cluster of cloud and my eyes began to pick out lines through the mist. I raised my free hand and traced the distant edge with my fingertips.
“A ship?” I turned to look at him.
“A fleet.” He waved hand at the other dark clusters that filled the sky around the castle.
Now that I knew what to look for I could pick out at least ten ships nearby. The band of troopers were heading toward the largest ship. I followed Eirikr to the battlements. He stepped up onto the stone and prodded a nearby cloud with his foot. The mists gathered around his foot until I couldn’t see through it. He stepped off the stone fully onto the cloud and dipped down out of view. I watched in wonder as he floated back up and drifted off toward a nearby ship.
I was alone on the top of the tower now. All the troopers and the dragon lord were riding clouds toward their fleet. I looked back at the door that led down into the tower. My father had betrayed his word, I would not. I stepped up onto the battlement and dipped my foot into the mist. The cloud formed around my foot. I closed my eyes and stepped off.