Aria sat huddled under a tree as the cold night air bit into her drained body and made her shiver. She had no idea where she was and the forest around her looked intimidating and huge as the moonlight filtered through the trees and made the shadows dance in different shapes.
A howl suddenly made her jump and she looked around, fearful of the animals that lurked in Terra Vale. Wolves had been known to rip a grown man to shreds in less then a minute.
Taking a deep breath she slowly began to creep through the forest, trying her best not to make a sound. Suddenly a movement up ahead startled her and she ducked behind a tree as the sounds of twigs snapping filled the night air.
Aria looked around her quickly and realised that there was no escape except to go upwards. She jumped lightly and caught the lowest branch of the tree in her hands, the sudden jolt of her bodyweight making the muscles in her shoulders ache.
The sound of running feet was getting closer and Aria knew she had little time left to hide. With a sudden burst of adrenaline she pulled herself up onto the branch and began to climb higher up until she found a spot where she could crouch against the tree trunk and have a clear view while remaining hidden from anything below her.
The sound had become more like hoof beats now and she watched as a figure burst from the trees into the small clearing.
Her hand flew to her mouth in surprise as she ducked down and stared at him through the branches. She had only heard of them in folk tales and her mind buzzed with questions unanswered. He stood about eight feet tall, his long black hair billowing about his bare chest as he turned his head this way and that to look around him.
He might have had the head and torso of a man, but the rest of his body was that of a horse, a black stallion.
“Centaur.” she whispered to herself and his head spun in the direction of the tree. Aria froze and held her breath as he slowly moved in her direction.
“Who goes there?”
His voice was low and rumbling and sent shivers down her spine as she tried to crouch unseen among the branches.
“I can sense your presence stranger.” he was right below her now and she was finding it harder and harder not to move. “Show yourself!”
The last two words were barked out like a command and startled Aria so much that she slipped and fell from her perch with a small cry.
Her eyes remained shut in anticipation of hitting the cold ground but the feeling never came. Instead, she felt a sudden warmth surround her and slowly she opened her eyes to see a faint green glow as twirls of light wrapped themselves around her and slowly lowered her to the ground in front of the giant centaur.
“Friend or foe?” his voice now seemed awed and Aria found herself answering in tones she did not recognize as her own.
“Friend most definitely, darling creature of The Vale.”
Her voice was smooth and rich like honey and in seconds the look of suspicion had vanished from the centaur’s face and was replaced with one of awed recognition.
“Matrilanian blood.” he whispered. “Could it be?”
He sank into a bow before her and she smiled as she reached out to touch his forehead.
“You have seen, you see now, and you will see then.” she intoned. “Foran of Vale Valley, son of the Night Kings, will you lead the blind and the weary to a new sight?”
Foran inclined his head gracefully and then stood up, just in time to catch Aria in his arms as she collapsed with a deep sigh.
“The last Princess.” he turned his eyes to the starry sky above the clearing and smiled gently. “I will not fail you.”

The End

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