He looks so…young. Then again, I already knew he was. A young prince not yet ready to assume the throne.
When you hear the term: ‘Sultan’, an older man comes to mind. The years pulling at his eyes, dulling their life, and draining the colour from his hair. No such ailments inflict upon this young prince however. Still in the prime of his youth; the sun still stains his golden skin, shines against his golden hair, and reflects the depth of his azure blue eyes.
The Alsatian – Valcan, he had named him – leans his head into his master’s hand, whining happy as the prince kneels before his companion. My heart warms at the sight; the love and respect between them is heavy in the air.
Please be safe, Aneria. My stomach turns, thinking of my own companion left amongst the slums of Agrabah. Please be curled up in your sheepskin bed, belly full, and dreaming peacefully.
As they draw ever nearer to the tree from which I am hiding in, I fear my breathing too loud. I slap my hand over my nose and mouth in hopes it will help and shift deeper into the tree, moulding myself to its bark. I watch as Valcan tugs on the young prince’s robe, huffing and whining for a chance to play. His tails swings eagerly as his master’s ghost of a smile breaks through. He crouches low and flings his hands up. Valcan yelps in rejoice and jumps back, leaning down on his front legs and swinging his hindquarters from side to side. It is very strange to see such a large dog playing like this. He has a young carefree heart, I suppose.
His master makes his move forward, feigning an attack. Valcan leaps back before tackling him back, pushing him down into the grass and licking his face. Now the prince cannot help but smile and laugh as he tries to get his slobbering companion off him. No doubt the reaction Valcan was hoping for. He pulls back easily, sitting on his haunches, seeming very proud of himself as he puffs out his chest.
Once he feels the drool has been whipped from his face, the young prince reaches forward to pet behind each of Valcan’s ears. “Thanks, boy. I needed that.”
Valcan hums in reply.
The prince guffawed, “And you knew it.”
His smile slips. “I’m sorry, Valcan. My mind keeps wandering to happier times. I miss my father.”
I blush as I watch over their private moment. I feel guilty for peering in on their time together; this is obviously a place for them to get away together.
Valcan whimpers and rests his head over his master’s trembling shoulder, offering his support and comfort. I remember tell of his parents. I cannot help but sympathise as the hazy memories of my own surface. I was only young when they died. My father was taken away by the guards…while my mother did not wake one day soon after.
The prince never knew his mother. The news of her death during the birth of the only heir to the throne wracked the city to its core. I had been told my mother had held me to her tightly, bundled up tightly in my baby blanket, as she trembled in mourning.
The sultan, his father, was a mere shell of his former self after his wife’s death. Much beloved, the people found it hard to see their Sultan struggle on without her by his side. He held out as long as he could for his son’s sake.
Leaving behind a young man of eighteen years; the sultan left this world, alone, asleep in his bed.
“Your Highness!” We all jump as a guard storms across the garden, shattering the heavy calm.
I watch as the young prince wipes his sleeve over his eyes and tries to compose himself as he gathers himself back to his feet. Valcan grumbles. He is not taking kindly to others in ‘their’ place.
“What is it?” the young prince snaps as he slams his walls up around his vulnerability once again. He sounds so cold and disconnected now.
The guard pulls up short, stuttering and nervous, “I-I…that is the Captain has sent out word that the fugitive Lupa a-and her wolf are running rampant in the city, causing chaos amongst the people. The city guards…they lost them in the market.”
Aneria got away… my thoughts are heavy with relief as the knot in my stomach gives.
“The Royal Vizier says it-it would be…best for you to remain inside the palace until they are found. He said I am to escort you back to your chambers, Your Highness.”
“I bet he did…” the prince huffs, reaching back to stroke Valcan’s head. Something I myself do when I seek comfort. “Well, you can go back and tell Xemnas that I am perfectly fine where I am. As well: If this Lupa creature gets anywhere near the outside palace walls, I trust my own personal guardsmen should be competent enough do something about it.”
The guard’s face turns red with embarrassment at the underhanded reprimand. He falls to his knee, bowing his head low and speaks, “Y-yes. Your Highness. We will do our outmost to keep you safe from harm.”
“Yes. Do keep me safe whilst you continue to fail to keep my people safe…” he said, heavily annoyed with his guard’s priorities. He claws his fingers through his hair, knocking his crown. “You’re dismissed!”
The guard dips his head before making a quick escape.
Once the runaway is out of sight, the prince releases a deep breath, sagging to the ground. He crumbles. Keeping up that strong front against the guard drained him for some reason. Valcan rests by his side, placing his large head on his master’s lap.
“I wish my father was still here, boy.” He mumbles, leaning back on his arms and closing his eyes as he soaks in the sun above. “The city was peaceful while he reigned. There was no crime…murder…”
I shift as his voice withers away. I lift my numb leg. I hiss as the torn muscle clenches having fallen asleep after staying in one position for so long. I fling my leg over and straddle a thick branch that stretches over the prince, snaking along it until I can hear him again.
“I get why the people hate me.”
My grasp on my perch slips slightly before I quickly recover myself. Hate?
“I…I didn’t want to kill her. If I could change things… If I had never been born, she would have lived on. By my father’s side. The people would have continued to thrive under his rule.”
A tear glistens down his temple as he gasps an unsettled breath.
“I am not yet Sultan - yet my people hate me. What hope do I have once I take the throne?”
He thinks the people hate him? I ponder over that. I would go so far as to agree, yes –the people are angry. They starve and struggle from day to day under the thumb of the Agrabah guards. Under the laws they enforce. But I would not say the people hate their prince. He has suffered along with us – just not in the same way. The people still feel for him. His burden. His lose.
The wound may have stopped bleeding, but it still remains; deep and un-healing, buried in the heart of Agrabah.
The prince – the way he reacted to hearing the people of his city were in turmoil…
He does not seem like the kind of prince who would sit back and feel nothing for the struggles his people face. Does he know nothing of the world outside the palace walls? Does he not see the dwindling population of free men and women? Perhaps he thinks nothing of the growth of gold coming to the palace in the tax box? And maybe he does not see the large crates of food that never make their way to the market place but his dining table?
I shift uncomfortably, the branch is pressing against my ribs, making it hard to breathe. I slowly push myself up, wrapping my legs around the branch to keep from falling. I gulp as I watch Valcan’s ears twitch. I freeze. The beating of my heart is too loud. I watch the dog lift his head and look back towards the great tree I hide within. Everything stops. My breath. My body. I am still as I cling to my perch, the wind whistling through my hair.
No use. Valcan’s lips flick up over his teeth as he snarls and leaps to his feet. His fur prickles as he flicks his teeth with his tongue. A treat that I know very well. His ears press down flat to his head and the young prince looks on as his companion begins to bark and snarl up at me.
“What is it, Valcan?” he stumbles to his feet and follows as Valcan charges up to the base of the tree. I swear under my breath as I shuffle, trying to make my way back to the tree trunk. The dog continues to bark as he starts to leap against the tree, scratching his claws down it as he tries - and fails - to climb.
The young prince tries to see what his loyal friend sees as I try to reach for a branch that will swing me back to the wall. I misjudge the distance entirely.
I scream as I fall, knocking the wind from me. I land flat on my back and bash my head into the ground.
The tears stream from my eyes as I struggle to see through the blurry sea of green and blue around me. I hear a deep rumbling through the high pitched ringing in my ears. I fight the urge to vomit as I shift onto my stomach to find where the prince and Valcan are. I stop too suddenly for my body’s liking, my vision swimming as I find the protective creature towering over me, teeth glistening in front of my face. I blink and squint trying to gain back my use of sight, keeping very still – last thing I want to do is startle the dog that has his teeth bared so close to me. The prince cowers behind him, wide eyed.
“Please.” I whimper through the painful throbbing in my head. “Please, don’t hurt me.”
The prince looks confused for moment, regarding the tree that I fell out of before taking a better look at me.
“I would say from the weapons hooked to your belt that you were planning on hurting me before my dog caught you.” The prince takes a step back, getting ready to run for the guards.
“No, please! I wish you no harm.” I yelp as Valcan presses a heavy paw over my wrist. “I came here to hide. Please. I am wounded; I can no more harm you than the grass flattened beneath your feet.”
Silence. Tears fall as I wait for him to call for my head. He looks back to the palace; it would not take long for the guards to come once called.
“How do I know you weren’t here to kill me? I know who you are.” The young prince holds his ground. Valcan keeps his eyes trained on me, waiting for me to make any sudden moves that could threaten his master. “You’re the one they call Lupa. The wolf girl. You killed twelve men this past year.”
He gives me a chance. A small one.
“If you know of me. You know my reputation. If I had wanted to kill you - I would have – despite your companion here catching me. And those men deserved to die. I…I do not have the strength to give you my reasons right now. Just trust that Agrabah is made better by their deaths.” I hear him hum sceptically and Valcan presses down harder. I cry out desperately, “Take my daggers! I am helpless even with them but if it helps you feel safer – just take them. Look at my leg – see the wound – see the truth I speak! I am not here to kill you! I mean you no harm!”
I hear him shift through the grass. Valcan regards his master, whimpering as the prince gets closer to me. He still does not trust me, even whilst I am still crushed beneath his paw.
I stay perfectly still as the young prince pulls my blood stained boot free and gasps. I know it must look bad to gather that reaction. There was a lot of blood swimming around my toes; it was a deep wound.
The blood lose is catching up to me. Black spots dance in front of my eyes.
“Please help me.” I plead, my head dipping limply to the ground. I feel so weak. I want to sleep. I have never slept on grass before. It is much softer than a sand bed.
“Valcan – enough!” His voice is firm but not angry. He curses. Something constricts around my bleeding calf. Valcan ceases his snarling and the weight on my wrist is lifted. The blood flow returning to my hand prickles and stings. I am too far gone to really care.
“I have potions and…bandages on my belt.” I tell the young prince as I drift.
“Valcan, go…” His voice fades. I no longer understand.
My leg is elevated off the ground and things are tugged from my belt.
Could be my daggers. My only protection.
It is getting colder. Maybe the sun is going down.
Want sleep. Need sleep.
The prince will call the guards.
He will not risk his life – I may have been lying to him.
He did not believe me.
I no longer care. Just let me sleep.
A cell will be warm.
Everything feels numb. Probably from the cold.
…Let Aneria be okay…
They will never find her.
She knows the city too well.
I’m sorry, Aneria. I wish I did not have to leave you this way.
I’m not Lupa. Will you not leave me in peace?
“Lupa, you have to wake up.”
Why wake up? I would rather stay in this darkness. I do not want to see the stone walls of my cell.
“Goddamn it, Lupa! Wake up!”
Ice cold. Wet.
I gasp, heart racing as I am yanked from my head into the real world. I blink through the water pouring down my face. I see the prince holding an empty bucket.
“The hell did you do that for?!” My filter is non-existent when I wake up in the mornings.
The prince almost drops the dripping bucket in shock of my outburst. He obviously has never been spoken to in such a manner. I could not help myself.
His shock is quickly replaced with an angry growl as he tosses the bucket. “That was the only way of waking you up. You’ve been out of it for the past five hours.”
I finally regard the world around me. Its dark but I am not in a locked cell. I am still out in the garden, merely moved into a different area. The rose bushes surround and hide us.
“I had to move you here; the guards came to check on me when they heard Valcan barking.”
I blush, contrite. He had helped me. He had had the chance and he did not surrender me to the guards.
“I’m sorry I yelled at you – you did not deserve that.” I bow my head low.
He is quiet for a moment before he tries to laugh off my apology, “Don’t worry about it. I probably would have reacted the same way had I had a bucket of ice cold water dumped on my head in my sleep.”
I allow myself a shy smile as I meet his eyes. The moon light reflecting in his eyes is enchanting. The deep blue swims and shines. A rare colour amongst the people of Agrabah. A blue diamond amongst a sea of brown.
A shadow in the corner of my eye startles me enough to break my lingering gaze. Valcan steps through the bush, head lowered to me as he comes to sit before my feet. He whines, licking an apologetic kiss along my naked foot.
“Oh!” I exclaim, finally noticing my leg. My boot is gone and a tightly bound bandage wraps around my calf. I trace my fingers over where the wound was and feel the ridges of a healing scar. My heart constricts.
“Thank you…Your Highness.” The title feels strange on my tongue.
“I could not leave you there to bleed out and die, Lupa.” The prince said softly, “What kind of prince would that make me if I did?”
“It would have been in your own right not trust me. I am a convicted criminal after all.”
“True.” He nods sitting down beside me, staring me down. “But you are a convicted criminal that fell into my garden, wounded and scared, convinced that you have justified reasons for your actions. I ask now that you share those reasons with me, Lupa.”
I frown, “You kept me alive out of curiosity?”
He huffed, “No, I am not so ignorant. No…I kept you alive because I did see the truth in your words. It was heavy in your eyes.”