Zahra ran down the halls, her small feet making little noise as she fairly flew. She'd been escaping from things ever since she was a little girl. Even before she could walk, she'd figured out how to get out of her cradle. Now was the same type of thing - it was just a different kind of cradle.
Leaping from a hallway window into the gardens below, Zahra ran as though her life depended on it. Who knew - maybe her life did depend on it.
Pausing to catch her breath, Zahra leaned heavily against the fountain.
"There you are!"
As soon as Zahra heard the words, she took off running again. This time, though, she was at a distinct disadvantage: she had no idea where she was running, and the garden seemed like a maze of some sorts.
Maybe I have more of a chance of living if I stop running away, Zahra decided. Stopping suddenly, she turned to face her pursuers.
"Alright, alright, you have me," Zahra said, raising her hands in surrender. "But whatever you do, don't chain me up and put me in that prison cell. I deserve a proper trial immediately!"
"The punishment for attempted escape is death," Adrian said, crossing his arms. "You're awfully lucky you're so cute - otherwise, we might not have mercy on you. You owe us. So don't even think about lecturing us on what you deserve, because you just might get it."
Huffing a sigh, Zahra felt irritation flood her veins. How dare they treat me like this? If they only knew who I am!
The prince had been watching Zahra with those cool grey eyes. When their eyes met, he raised his eyebrows. "What's your name, girl?"
"Sara," Zahra said, repeating her lie. There was no way she would admit her name to such undeserving ears. "But you won't get a surname from me!"
Adrian had been studying the prince, and Zahra watched as the almost-knight leaned over and whispered something in the prince's ear. She couldn't be sure, but it sounded an awful lot like "I know that look in your eyes."
Bored of standing without effect, Zahra stomped her foot. "Well, are you going to give me a trial or not?"
"You're going to stay here until my father comes home. You see, causing death on the sacred grounds - in your case, the squirrel - is punishable by the offender's death. Your death. The only way the death can be prevented is if the king himself pardons the offender, but my father is away at war. You're going to stay at the palace until my father returns. But I'm warning you: I wouldn't count on his compassion."
"I don't count on anyone's compassion."
A smile flickered across Adrian's lips, and it looked as though he had a retort on his mind. Instead, he bit lip and didn't say a word. His eyes continued to dance with laughter.
"What's so funny?" Zahra demanded.
"You are. You're so determined to prove to us that you're stronger than you seem to think we think you are."
"I couldn't care less what either of you think about me," Zahra replied, lifting her chin. "Well, take me wherever you're going to take me. I'm tired of simply standing here."
Prince Alexander broke in. "You will have to stay in the palace dungeon until my father returns." He paused. "Unless..." His voice trailed off, and he gave Zahra a long, hard look.
Adrian turned abruptly to face the prince. "Unless what?" he asked, voice low with knowing. He shook his head. "Remember Tia," he said cryptically.
Completely lost at the turn of the conversation, Zahra was annoyed. Men. Who can understand them? "I hate men," she muttered.
"I'm sure you do," said the prince. He shared a long look with Adrian. "We'll talk later," he said, voice heavy with meaning that Zahra did not understand. "Take her to the dungeon."
Adrian took Zahra by the arm, though not roughly, and guided her away from the gardens.
Maybe I was wrong, Zahra thought. Maybe it's harder to escape this different kind of cradle.