Eyes closed lightly in the shade, cuddled up in Levi’s shirt, Hataru dreamed of something she hadn’t seen in years. She was back home, not Isichar’s palace, but her old cottage in Habar. Her mother was there, in perfect health, rubbing her arm and beckoning to wake. Once she awoke, Hataru, now a little girl again, ran out the front door into the shining sunlight. All around her, joy and laughter and happiness swam through the air. A mix of brilliant colors paraded down the road before her eyes, street performers skipped about. She caught a juggler’s ball and threw it back to him; she clapped as the acrobats walked by on their hands. This was the one time of the year that everyone was in high spirits. It didn’t matter if you were a noble or a peasant; celebrating their kingdom’s birth was a patriotic affair.
When Hataru saw the her mother’s friends sporting colorful skirts, not unlike her own, dancing their way down the street she called to her mother, and they swiftly ran to join in. Spinning, leaping, bounding, twirling, the women performed the dance that they had been practicing for months. Hataru took every step with care and did her best not to mess up, for this was the first time she was allowed to dance with the women. She was determined not to ruin it. Her body moved like water, flowing ever so gracefully. It moved like the wind, fluent and never stopping. With perfect balance, she frisked about merrily.
Once she had gotten in sync with the beat of the music and had her routine down, Hataru began to observe the crowd that cheered for her and her fellow performers as they progressed down the road. To their left, the house of the king’s brother sat. It towered over the street, providing shade to the paraders, and the white pillars were decorated with banners of the royal colors. Through one of the tall glass windows, Hataru spotted a young boy, around her age, watching her in awe. His features were sharp, as though chiseled by a master sculptor. His auburn hair was pulled back into a fine pony tail, and he wore the clothes of a nobleman's son. Smiling brilliantly, she added a pirouette to her routine for him, to which he smiled back, waving encouragingly, wanting more. Hataru wanted to oblige, but unfortunately was forced forward by the performers behind her. Taking one last glance at the boy she smiled, but was taken aback when she could not find him in the window. In his place stood a young man with the same face, the same hair, and wearing the same clothes as the young boy had been almost a moment before. Hataru wanted to gaze at his remarkable transformation, but then she felt an ominous hand creep up from behind and cover her mouth. Her eyes shot open.
No one was around. She blinked wildly as she tried to find who had touched her, but there wasn’t a single living being in sight. The sun had finally reached her shady nook and it was beginning to heat up. Wondering what had woken her so quickly, she gazed at the blue sky. Zephyr was right, the sky was a beautiful thing. It was so vast and infinite, and at an altitude this high, there were no clouds to disrupt the view. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw something move. She didn’t pay it much attention, only wanting to enjoy the beauty of the glorious blue ceiling, and she didn’t realize her mistake until it was too late.
In a flash, a giant, scruffy man materialized out of the thick, humid air and stared down at her. He bent down, squinting his eyes, trying to look at her face through his grey face mask. Hataru tried to retreat, but she was up against the mountain wall in no time, trapped. Stomping his feet with every step, the gargantuan made his way toward her with frightening speed, and, for the millionth time, she feared for her life. No one will save you this time, a voice of despair spoke in her mind. Then I must protect myself, she thought back. She looked around, hoping to find a branch, a rock, anything that she might use as a weapon to save herself from this man.
But the man, now only a breath away, used one greasy, beefy hand to hold her throat in a death grip and the other to latch onto her mask. Her pupils shrank to the size of grape seeds, her heart stopped beating, and her body became as cold and immoveable as stone. With a hard tug, the man ripped the mask off, and Hataru was without breathable air once again. Pitilessly, he let her crumple to the ground at his feet, and drew his sword, positioning himself to strike her dead in a matter of seconds. The blade fell with amazing power, inching its way towards Hataru’s beautiful face. A heart-stopping whimper escaped her rosy lips as she shut her eyes and braced herself for death.
The princess waited for the blade to make contact, but the cold, sharp object never came. Her eyes as narrowed, she looked up from her crouched position, gasped, and then coughed on the water she had just swallowed. Now there were two men before her, one was her attacker, the other a savior. She gazed at the new man. He wore a blue, royal navy-style jacket that reached his knees, white trousers, and a pair of black leather boots. His long brown hair was tied back in a neat pony tail with a strip of fabric the same color as her oxygen-deprived lips, and she saw that his eyes were the color of melted chocolate as he looked back at her through his own air mask. He and the other dark fellow stood, swords locked in combat, matched in strength. Neither had an advantage over the other, or so it seemed.
Cautiously, the man clad in blue let go of his sword with one hand, but still maintained the same pressure with the strength of the other, not allowing the gruffy man to gain on him. He reached down to his belt and grabbed an object hanging from it. Rapidly, he removed the object and tossed it back to Hataru. She looked at the sleek black thing, trying to figure out what it was, until she realized that it was another air mask! Faster than a streak of lightning across a stormy sky, she snapped it to her face and gulped in the fresh air it provided. The fog that had begun to cloud her vision quickly evaporated and she could see clearly. Turning back to the two men, she gaped as they resumed their battle.
It was easy to tell who would be the victor as their swords clashed. The filthy man swung either too fast or too slow which proved him to be poor at offense and defense, while the other man was a master of both. Tripping, falling, and tumbling to the ground became a habit of the former; unfortunately, the one thing the man was good at was perseverance. He could not see that he was incapable of winning, so he would not give up. The amateur jabbed and stabbed at the royal navy man, attempting to perform complex sword play moves without any luck, as the other just pivoted or jumped out of the way. It was only a game to him, a game that he knew very well, as if he had memorized the rulebook. He laughed out loud, the thrill of the duel plastered onto his mask-hidden face. Hearing his chortle, the other man fought harder, which only made him more clumsy.
Circling each other for one last attack, one man grinned behind his mask, and the other folded his face into such a scowl that one might wonder if he would ever be able to unfold it again. As if on cue, both men stopped; the new man stood at the edge of the cliff and the grubby man’s back was against the mountain wall. This was it. This last stand would determine the winner and loser of this battle, and the odds were in favor of the bluejacket. Stupidly, Hataru’s attacker let all of his rage fuel his energy. He directed his sword at the new comer and charged. Out of reflex, the man in blue sidestepped the attack, and his opponent flew of the side of the cliff. Fortunate for him, there was a small ledge that caught him before he fell to his death.
Chivalrously, the man in blue reached down and said in a voice as charming as his appearance, “Here now, my friend, let me help you up. I promise not to kill you, if you promise to leave the young lady alone. Is that a good deal?”
Face red from humiliation, anger, and the heat, the gigantor was incapable of speech. His eyes lingered on the kind man’s hand for a moment, and then he swung his sword, with intent to slice it off. The navy man reared back quickly, untouched. Regrettably, he lost his balance and fell on his rump, causing a tremor in the ledge he was resting on. Cracked lines snaked their way across the chunk of rock with gaining speed, until it broke free from the mountain. Hataru could still hear his screams ─ an ear piercing cry ─ several minutes after the horrid man disappeared from sight as he plummeted to his death.
Looking down, over the side the bluejacket sighed contritely. He seemed upset for a moment, but then quickly contented himself by turning his attention to Hataru. Walking promptly over to where she still sat on the ground, he gazed upon her face, hidden behind the mask he had so benevolently given her.