Cold water.

That was the first thing Zahra knew as she swam out of the blackness that had overwhelmed her.

No, the water wasn't just cold. It was absolutely freezing!

Sputtering, Zahra tried to scramble to her feet, but the ropes that bound her held her down. Groping for some way to free herself, Zahra looked up and saw her captor watching her.

Zahra's blood ran cold. She found her tongue was dry from the things she couldn't say.

"So we meet again, Little Sister." Cain's voice was low and condescending. "Really, you ought to know better than to travel around at night. Some bandit might find you to be a hapless victim and capture you for ransom money." Cain laughed, a laugh that was pure evil.

Ah, yes. Zahra knew what Cain was capable of. It had been his crimes that had expelled the royal Naveena family from their kingdom. It had been his banditry that had caused Princess Zahra, her parents, and her younger sisters to live in exile! Finally finding words to speak, Zahra swore at her brother, then instantly regretted her words. Princesses did not swear.

"I've had my eye on you for quite some time, Little Zahra. Or should I call you 'Sara'? Seems that the Prince and his Knight called you that for some time. I've been watching you. You haven't gone unnoticed."

Zahra struggled against the ropes that held her tightly, but it was all to no avail. There would be no escaping, not from this cradle.

"You're a sick woman, Zahra. Kissing the Prince? That's just disgusting. You ought to be ashamed of yourself. Don't you know what kind of a reputation he has?"

"His reputation is far better than yours, Cain!" Zahra shot back. "I would be far more willing to forgive him than I would ever be to forgive you!"

If Zahra had been hoping for an emotional reaction from Cain, there was none.

"So, what are you going to do?"

"How does asking the Prince for ransom sound?"

Catching her breath, Zahra shook her head. "You can't do that, Cain," she replied. "He already sent me away, never to come back."

Cain's hand seemed to come from nowhere. As soon as it made contact with Zahra's face, a sickening slapping sound filled the air. Shocked, Zahra fell back as far as her chains would allow and closed her eyes. Let me die here, she thought to herself. Let me die here...

"Don't lie to my face!" Cain shouted, and as he spoke, spittle flew from his mouth and landed on Zahra's face. "Don't lie to me, Zahra!" he growled again. "You left the castle of your own accord! I don't take kindly to liars. I don't take kindly at all. The last person who lied to me was flogged. How would the Prince like to see his precious fiancee scarred for life?"

Infuriated, Zahra opened her eyes. "Fiancee? That's taking it a little far, Cain, don't you think?"

Cain slapped Zahra again, but Zahra had been expecting it, so it didn't seem to sting as much. Still, the blow caused pain to shoot through Zahra's face, and she felt blood trickle from her cheek to her lips. The rusty, metallic scent of blood filled her nostrils, and she tried not to let tears overflow from her eyes.

"You listen to me, and you listen well. The Prince hasn't told you the whole story. Yes, there's much else to be said. You hear me? Listen up, Zahra. This'll change your life."

The End

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