"She has to be in the forest, you lout! Past this forest is the great black desert and no one can survive there!" He punched me in the arm. It nearly knocked me off balance. My wrists were raw from the almost constant bindings, my bare feet bloodied, my legs sore from walking all day, and the one meal I had this morning was long gone. I gave him a tortured moan and he laughed, satisfied that I was as uncomfortable as possible. I lowered my head so he couldn't see the spark of triumph in my eyes.
I held my tongue and regained my footing while the soldiers laughed at my presumed idiocy. I had played the role of dense prisoner since the day I was captured, which was also planned.
I am a member of the underground. When Princess Amoretta fled the castle, the day the northern kingdom of Tiburnium attacked, I had been fighting in the King's army. My swordsmanship was unmatched, Tiburnium soldiers in their black mail and red talbards fell in a great circle about me. I spied the princess as she changed from two-footed, auburn haired, fair-skinned beauty, to four-footed, auburn and blonde furred, sleek fox. She dodged around maces, hooves, and carts set aflame to escape by a cannon-shot hole in the back wall.
The castle was taken, but the royal family escaped. The kingdom's inhabitants were imprisoned, enslaved, or had fled as well. I joined a fleeing band of rebel soldiers, who made camp deep in the woods, protecting the hidden King and Queen. We plotted and planned every day on ways to regain the castle.
The Tiburnium soldiers were sent out to search the woods and villages and farms of the kingdom far and wide for the royal family. When a faction came near to our hideout, we overheard they were still searching for the Princess. We switched tactics. If we could get to her first, keep her safe, she could use her power to defeat the Tiburnium.
I got myself arrested, playing dumb, so they would never suspect me of greatness. After weeks of torture and starvation, I finally made it onto a work crew to scour the forest.
They took me back to the makeshift jail where I was allowed to push the cart of food around to the overcrowded pens, doling out bowls of porridge slop once a day. Being too stupid to cause any harm had its advantages. I passed messages between cells, and could get my hands on items.
They changed the guard at midnight. Just before, I went to the kitchen to return the cart, escorted by a guard. I pretended to chase the head cook around in a childish display of affection, and ducked out the back door of the larder. The cook was an old friend of my mother's. She often gave me extra scraps to keep my strength up, and was willing to play this role. She pretended I was hiding, ready to jump out and scare her, to give me time to escape. We had been playing this game for weeks. "Now where do you suppose he's hiding? Could he be behind the kitchen door? No? Could he be nestled in the sacks of flour?" The guard probably rolled his eyes and yawned, ready for bed, while she searched for a person whom she knew had fled.
I skirted the wall, knowing the guards were distracted by switching places with each other. The castle was built on the high bank of a great river to the east, to make it defensible. Jumping from the cliffs, I prayed they didn't hear my splash. The current carried me downstream; the darkness hid me from view. When I was far enough south of the castle I climbed out and ran for the woods. I hoped the Princess was still waiting.