She tripped, then fell, twisting in the air for one last frantic gulp of air before her back hit the water. It enveloped her, cushioning her fall and oozing around her body. She sank into the cool, slippery fluid, a descent slower than she’d expected. As it filled her ears and eyes, she began to struggle, pushing toward the surface. The smooth, heavy liquid held her back, pressing down, filling with bubbles as she moved. The bubbles did not rise.
She froze, conserving the last of her oxygen, considering. She relaxed into the silent, weightless support. She saw shadows above her, blurry figures moving, darting around near the edge. She crawled toward the surface, using the density of the liquid to push. In moments, her face broke into the humid, salty air above. A large, calloused hand reached down and grabbed her collar, hauling her to firm ground.
Her eyes traveled from the hand, up the bulging arm to broad shoulders, then to the sweating, red face of the captain. On a scale of irritation to rage, he teetered between annoyed and angry. She was in trouble, but not too much, since she was alive.
“Princess, how many times must I ask you not to walk beside the moat?” His voice was stiff. Before he could continue, she blurted, “Well, at least we know the new gel works. It’s much better than water. It’s not really scary, though, so you might think about finding some large snakes; I think they could navigate the thicker consistency.” The captain’s eye twitched. She imagined he wished someone would give her a thrashing. “Let’s get you inside.”
She grabbed his offered arm and he pulled her to standing. The gel, with no pressure to thicken it, ran from her clothes in watery rivulets. “I should probably stay out for a bit, drip dry, you know.” She smiled brightly at the captain. He narrowed his eyes at her, but she could see guards behind him turning to hide smiles.
“My job is to keep you alive until your father returns,” he growled, “but if you continue making it more difficult than it should be, I’ll request permission to confine you to quarters. Consider this a warning.” She pressed down a giggle and straightened her shoulders, saluting as they began to walk. “Yes, Sir, I understand. No more throwing incendiary devices back across the moat.”
He stopped short, swinging around to face her. “What?” She grinned up at him. “Pretty sure that’s what it was, but we’re likely to find out in a few minutes. A young woman ran to the edge of the moat, threw something over, then off she went. It rolled to a stop near the wall, almost at my feet, so I thought perhaps I should return it. I lost my balance and fell in the moat right after I threw it back.”
“What did it look like?” He scanned the other side of the moat. She pointed to the top of the mossy green bank. “There. That pile of sticks. It looked innocent enough, which is why I threw it back. Why would anyone break the law to throw a bunch of sticks over here? Pretty sure they wouldn’t.”
Moments later, a spectacular explosion sent rocks and dirt flying into the air. Most of the biggest rocks rained down into the moat, landing with a muted splash, but some soared toward them. The captain tackled the princess, his body shielding her from the debris. His big hands cradled her head as they landed. Sharp pain shot through her wrist.
As earthen shrapnel thudded around them, he shouted in her ear, “That’s twice today you could have been killed. Why didn’t you call a guard?” She shrugged. “No time.” The last of the large flying rocks skidded to a stop nearby, sending spray of dirt across her face. She tried to wipe it off, but her hands were even dirtier. He pulled back, sitting up. “Well. You’re quite a sight. I can guarantee none of my men have ever before seen a muddy princess.” He pulled a small cloth from his pocket. “This might help.”
As she sat amid dirt clods and wiped her face, he shook his head. “It didn’t. You need a full wash; let’s get you back to your ladies.” She rolled her eyes. “I don’t need help.” He finally cracked a grin. “Right. Well, they can at least keep you from falling into the tub.” She stood, ignoring his offered hand, and brushed some of the mud from her pants. The movement sent sharp aches zinging through her wrist. She gritted her teeth, hiding the pain.
Handing the small cloth back with her good hand, she noticed an embroidered pink flower at the corner. She quirked an eyebrow. “Like flowers, do you? I would have never—“ she broke off at the dark look crossing his face. He pressed his lips together in a tight line. She pushed hair out of her face. “So…I should probably get inside and clean up.”
He was once again aloof. “Can you manage the walk? I need to check on my men and send someone to scout our perimeter for any additional threats. This could have easily been one rebel working alone, but I don’t want to assume.”
She nodded, turning. “I think I can manage walking a few yards.” As she started toward the buildings, he muttered, “Just stay away from the moat.” She looked back to retort, but he was already striding toward the guards. She cradled her wrist, now swollen, and pushed the heavy wooden door in with her shoulder.
Once inside the cool, dark room, she sank down against the door. The hard, cold stone floor sapped her warmth, reaching cold fingers through her clothes, but she stayed, propped against the rough-hewn wood. Now that it was over, she thought of dying. If the bomb had exploded when it landed, an entire section of the wall would have been destroyed, and she would have been killed. If she hadn’t thrown it quickly enough, or if she hadn’t remembered to stop struggling in the moat, she might have died. Shaking violently from both the cold floor and fear, she huddled around her wrist, exhausted.
Thanks to my buddy for suggesting I write something for fun. 🙂