Something about the way Savana looked so sad made me suddenly turn from the carriage and lift the princess into my arms.
"You're coming, nobody knows that it was us, I can hide you for a certain amount of time, and I can help you disappear." I opened the door of the carriage and set Irene down gently inside.
"Are you coming?" I turned to Savana and found her staring at me with her mouth open. "Are you crazy?" she gasped and I looked around quickly to make sure nobody from the castle could see us.
"Yes." I picked her up and put her inside the carriage, closing the door in one swift movement. "Let's go men." I swung up and grabbed the reins, clicking to the horses.
Nobody seemed to notice the absence of the princess for some time. It wasn't until we had been gone for several hours, unloaded the carriage and abandoned it on fire, that the sound of the large castle alarm bell began to roll across the countryside, echoing off the hills.
I had given Savana her own horse and taken Irene with me on mine. Lotan was a broad horse and two could sit quite comfortably on him.
The Princess seemed to be in awe of her surroundings and as a squirrel ran along a branch ahead of us and she let out a cry of delight, I realised that she had probably never before seen one. In fact, she had probably never before left her room.
"I'll catch one later for you to play with." I murmured as I stole a sly glance at Savana. She was pretty skilled on the horse I had given her. Shekla was an arabian mare and her rich chestnut coat glistened as her muscles rippled underneath the skin. Savana sat straight, hands quiet, eyes and ears alert. A warrior queen riding into battle. I was glad she was on my side.
As we approached the mountain region and the forests where my camp was I could see Irene and Savana begin to look puzzled. It looked like sheer cliffs everywhere, nowhere that we could possibly hide, and no visible trail to go over.
I had no need to guide Lotan up the path and around the rocks to the hidden trail. He knew the way all too well. I heard Savana and Irene both gasp at the same time as we rounded a corner in the trail and the mountains opened out into a huge camp that could almost be described as a village.
My people all jumped to their feet as we arrived and the women ran to their husbands and sons, hugging them and laughing and kissing their faces.
"How long have you all been gone?" Irene asked surprised.
"Three days." I replied. "It's a long time when you know that a loved one might not come home to you." Irene said nothing but I could see that she was not used to seeing this way of life.
As soon as the greetings were done, the people began to turn to look at me as I dismounted from Lotan. "Kevin!" a small boy of about 5 broke from the crowd and flung his arms around my leg. I began to laugh then. "Hey Oti!" I lifted Princess Irene off Lotan's back and Oti's eyes began to widen. "Who's the lady?" he asked me in a whisper and I winked at him. "She's a very special guest who might just be a Princess." I whispered back as I crouched down on one knee so we were at his level. Irene looked up at me confused.
Oti took a step back and snatched his cap off of his head. "M'lady." he made a swooping bow, similar in style to mine, and Irene laughed. She actually laughed! The sullen quiet figure that had sat on my horse and not even shown a hint of a real smile in the entire journey tipped her head back and she laughed!
"You're adorable!" she cried, holding her hands out to Oti. Instead of taking her hand and kissing it as she probably thought he would, Oti ran into her arms and gave her a hug. "You're a nice lady." he said cheerfully. "I hope your legs don't hurt you too much." and then he ran off and I stood up fully.
"Oti's father was killed defending their mother against castle guards." I didn't look down at Irene as I said this but I could feel her shift slightly to exchange a glance with Savana. "Someone had to take responsibility for him." I continued. "He is like my son and I am all he has."
I reached the large bonfire and placed Irene down gently on the piles of furs that lay scattered about. "This is prime view for this evening's entertainment." I grinned at her. "Savana?" I turned to see her staring at me with an expression I didn't recognize. "You can sit here too and I'll have some of the women bring food over for you both. Tomorrow you will have to learn how the food system works here, but for tonight you are tired and it is dark."
I arranged for the food to be brought over to them and I turned around to see Savana gently wiping the excessive amounts of makeup off Irene's face. She was actually a very beautiful looking Princess, without the ridiculous makeup.
As the music began to start up I saw people getting up to dance and I smiled and strode over to where Irene and Savana were sitting.
I reached out a hand to Savana and smiled crookedly. "Dance?" I asked.
She took my hand and we twirled about the campfire to the lively music. "I wish Irene could experience this fun of dancing." she sighed and her downcast face made me feel strange.
"She can!" I exclaimed and I ran over to where Irene sat and scooped the girl up in my arms.
"What are you doing?" she looked momentarily frightened and I looked straight at her and smiled. "Dancing." I said with a laugh and I twirled around and around as I skipped back over to Savana. The three of us began to dance then and Irene looked delighted, her face seemed to have gained a touch of colour as she happily clapped her hands while I twirled her around with Savana by my side holding Irene's hands. A small figure suddenly appeared to join us and Oti added the final touch to the party as he clung to Savana's and Irene's skirts and jumped up and down.
I glanced down at the little dark haired boy that I had grown to love and I smiled happily. There was nothing like dancing.