9. The Prince of Marcelia

“Are you alright?” the man’s voice flowed like honey as he extended his hand to her. BA-BUM. BA-BUM. Hataru’s heart pounded in her chest like the hammer her birth father had wielded smashing against the anvil.

“Oh, yes. Yes!” she said, flustered. “Thank you, sir, for the mask and for... for saving me.”

“It was no problem at all,” he replied, “just all part of a days work.”  Although she couldn’t see it concealed behind his mask, she was sure that this man was smiling brilliantly at her. It was in his voice.

The man helped her to her feet, and she dusted off her skirts. He ushered her out of the sun into the cave’s entrance, where they could cool down from their previous episode. After a short break, they started along the interminable cavern pathway, leading to the treasure room. Should I be showing him where everyone is searching for the comb? I know he just saved me, yet can I really trust him? Hataru debated with herself.

“Pardon me, Miss, is something troubling you? You seem a tad bit worried,” the man questioned.

Trying to conceal her inner anxiety, she answered in a innocent voice, “No, I’m fine. I’m just a bit nervous walking with a kind, strong man whose name I don’t even know.” Nothing could get the bluejacket off her trail better than a little womanly charm. Plus, she thought, maybe I can find out who he is, and what he wants. What was it that they taught me in Conversation Class at the castle? Ask questions but don’t answer any? Answer all, but don’t ask? Oh! Why is it that I can’t remember when I actually need it?

“Well, then let me introduce myself. My name is Tarin Vallor, prince of Marcelia.” Hataru stopped in her tracks. It couldn’t be him, could it? The next man on her list to meet, the one who would one day rule over her country of origin? This wasn’t possible! Was it?

Noticing that she was no longer next to him, Tarin stopped and asked, “Is something wrong?”

Recovering quickly, she said, “Oh, nothing at all! But now I’m embarrassed that I haven’t thanked you properly, my prince.” Dipping down into a curtsey, she kept up her act. “It is an honor to be in the presence of someone with such power.”

Brushing away the matter, he rolled his eyes. “I told you, it was no problem! How could I not stop and save the beautiful, young woman from peril? It wouldn’t be right!”

“Oh, I don’t know about the beautiful part,” Hataru retorted, “but still, thank you for your chivalry. If you don’t mind me asking, my prince, why are you here, at The Place Where Earth and Sky Kiss?”

“I could ask you the same thing.”

“I asked first.” Hataru smirked, challenge in her eyes.

“Alright, fair enough,” Tarin raised his hands in defeat. He took a short pause and then continued, “I am on a quest to find an object that was stolen from me, a black dagger that has been in my family for many generations. I believe it had been given to my great-great-great-great-grandfather, King Paladin Vallor, by one of his friends, Captain Lebanon Spry, as a wedding gift when he married his love, the beautiful Ambrossa Catomerus.” Hearing Levi’s last name, as well as her own family’s, made Hataru’s skin tingle. “Of course, beforehand, the two had fought for her heart and for her hand, spontaneously challenging each other to duels, presenting her with exquisite gifts, the works. In the end, however, she chose Paladin, so the two friends weren’t on the best of terms on the day of the wedding. Shortly after, Captain Lebanon set sail, heartbroken I’m sure, never to return again. Rumors say that he left the navy life completely and became a pirate. What a way to throw your life away! The poor man probably ended up in the gallows.”

“Oh my, that would be an awful way to go,” she said, rubbing her neck with one hand, remembering the tightness of the behemoth’s grip. “What a sad story, though, two friends torn apart over a girl they both loved dearly. It seems to me a tragedy.” Her voice was filled with pity and sorrow for the two men from long ago.

“Peculiar point of view, Miss. I’ve never heard someone so concerned over the friends’ relationship. Whenever my father spoke of it, he would always praise our ancestor for winning the girl. He never spoke much of the captain.” The prince looked at his walking companion with thoughtful eyes.

The two continued walking and talking together, laughing and chatting as they made their way to the treasure room. Hataru eventually forgot her suspicions of the prince as she became more and more interested in the stories he shared with her about his family's, as well as his own, accomplishments. Tarin was enthusiastic about his history, boasting over righteous deeds and smoothing over malicious ones. Smiling to himself, he often peeked over at the girl as they walked side by side. Before they know it, they were approaching the glowing entrance to the cave of riches.

Hataru’s heart began racing and her cheeks grew warm. What would Captain Levi say to her when she returned? Would he scold her for running off? Would he be happy to see that she was fine? And what would he say when he saw the prince she had brought back with her? Maybe he wouldn’t be too upset if she told him about Tarin’s dagger. Her body tensed tighter with every step she took closer to the mouth of the cave, afraid about what might happen next. When they came to the opening, however, all of her fears that had been building up inside her head were dropped immediately and replaced with new ones. Peering inside the room, the two beheld a lively battle amongst the piles of gold and silver.

The End

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