posted on 19-Apr-2002 1:00:22 AM
Lost Prince

Author: Taffy
Email: sstuller⊕inreach.com
Title: Lost Prince
Category: M/L
Rating: PG-13, eventually NC-17
Disclaimer: Don’t own them, just borrowing them. Promise to return them only slightly used.
Notes: Alternate Universe, CC

Prequel:

The elderly matron waits patiently as the children scamper around, trying to do anything but what they’re supposed to which is to go to bed. After several minutes of watching them throw pillows at one another she finally announces, “Alright children, that’s enough. Now, both of you into bed and I’ll tell you a story.”
As the children finally do as they are told, the matron pulls a rocking chair next to their bed and makes herself comfortable. “I think I shall tell you the fable of the Lost Prince.”

A long, long time ago there were two worlds that stood on the brink of discovering all that the universe has to offer but some were still tied to the old ways. They were called the simple people. They had rebuked the new ways and had remained as they always had, living simply, and clinging to their old ways, beliefs and legends. One of these legends told of a lost prince that shall be born to a princess and a commoner. That he shall be raised simply. This lost prince would one day rise up and usurp the King and unite all the people of the two worlds. This sounded wonderful to the simple people but not to the King. The King had always looked down upon the simple people for their backward ways, and outwardly scoffed at their legends but inwardly he wasn’t so certain.
Since the simple people asked for nothing from him, it was easy for the King to ignore them, but not totally. The fable of the lost prince would never die and so it came to be that an edict was passed that no royal shall marry a commoner, therefore insuring that no lost prince shall ever be born, and so it had been for generations.

Part 1

Princess Allia held her stomach as she looked in the mirror. She had been wearing looser and looser clothing as she tried to hide it but soon it would be impossible. She hears a tap on her window and hurriedly goes to lock her bedroom door before rushing to the window and into the arms of her lover. He held her in his embrace, as his hand slipped down over the growing swell of her belly he felt a sudden kick against his hand. Looking at her in amazement, “Allia, he kicked me.”

Princess Allia smiled at him, “No Ryal, my love, he kicked me. It seems our son is as excited to see you as I am.”

Ryal grins at her with his love and then catches her lips with his as they embrace once again. After a few minutes they break apart and he looks at her, at the growing curve of her stomach. “Allia, you can’t hide this much longer. Come away with me. I’m no prince but my family is well enough off. I can’t offer you a palace but we can live comfortably. Please say yes.”

Her fear has grown as their son grew in her. She knows that it’s only a matter of time before someone discovers the secret. She paces nervously around, looking at her large comfortable room, then back to her love, “Oh Ryal, where would we go? It’s not like I wouldn’t be noticed at your family compound. My father is going to be furious and your father is one of my father’s advisors. This could ruin your family.”

Ryal shakes his head, “How could two people loving each other and the child that love brought ruin anything? Once we’re married and the pregnancy revealed, it’ll be too late for your father or anyone to do anything. Please come with me.”

Allia looks at him, he fills her with so much love and hope, how could she say no? The thought of running off into the night with her lover fills her with excitement. She smiles at him and her eyes sparkle with her love, “Ok, let me pack a quick bag.” Less than five minutes later Ryal is helping her down the trellis as they head into the night for a future together.

Two weeks have passed and the King is furious. His daughter had disappeared into the night and rumor had it with some commoner. He had scoured the city and surrounding towns looking for them. This morning a report that they had been located had finally brought relief to the worried King and father, but that relief was short lived when his obviously very pregnant daughter is brought before him along with her commoner lover. Bellowing at them, “WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?”

Allia trembled as she looks at the face of fury that her father is wearing. She tries to beg, “Father…Papa, please. I love him. He loves me. We were married last week, please Papa, he…he makes me so happy, please.”

The King wanted so much to grant his youngest daughter’s wish. He had known Ryal since he was born and had always liked the boy, but he was a commoner and nothing could change that. He looked at the swell of his daughter’s belly and felt the stab of cold steel run through him as he recalled the legend of the lost prince. He keeps his tone harsh as he does what he must, “I’m sorry Allia. A Royal may not marry a commoner; the marriage is invalid. You will be sent to the convent of the sisterhood where the ill begotten child that you carry will not be allowed to take its first breath. Your lover here is of conscription age. His father’s connections had kept him off the list but will no longer. He will be sent to the front lines forthwith! Be gone out of my sight!”

The King could hear the screams of both of them as they were dragged away, begging for a reprieve for the life of their child. Those screams shall haunt the King until his dying day.

Through the tears Allia catches a last glimpse of the love of her life as the transport whisks her away into the night. The only thing she was allowed to bring with her was her journal. She’s been writing in it, wanting to remember forever everything she felt of that last glimpse. She finally puts the journal down and cradles the life that is growing inside of her. He’s been restless and doing summersaults all day. She rubs her hand over her belly, trying to sooth the babe but to no avail, he won’t quiet down but then why should he? He has just been handed a death sentence by his own grandfather and has the right to protest. Suddenly the craft banks hard to the left, knocking her to the floor. She hears the cry of “RAIDERS” coming from the cockpit. The small craft has minimal weapons and only two escorts since this region was deemed safe. Obviously that assumption was in error as their craft is once again rocked by weapons fire. She hears the copilot transmit the ‘mayday’ signal as the craft begins to spin out of control as it heads downward. She frantically looks around for anything to hold onto. She wedges herself into a small padded area used to transport fragile items and holds on tight. Every bone in her body is jarred as the ground comes up to hit them. She heard some explosion just as they impacted but now everything is eerily quiet. She’s afraid to move and does so very gingerly but even that causes her pain. She feels something warm between her legs and prays that it was just her son hitting her bladder again but as she again tries to move, she can see the red starting to stain her clothes. Frantically she grabs her belly and pleads with him, “Please, please hold on, please, you’re all that I’ll ever have of him, please hold on for me.”

She carefully makes her way out of the crash, every movement is torture but she has to find help for her son’s sake. The only thing she takes with her is her journal. She has no idea how long she has been walking but her head is spinning and she’s growing weak as a trail of blood runs down her legs.

Han lived in a small cottage in the forest with his wife of almost thirty years. Their life had been blessed in harmony and love. He had heard a loud “BOOM”, saw the flash of light and went to investigate; he was halfway there when he spotted the young girl. She was pale and dazed. She was so tiny except for the swell of her belly. It wasn’t until he reached her that he noticed the blood. She collapsed in his arms. While no longer a young man, he was still strong enough to carry her back to his cottage, but no further. Calling out to his wife, “Anna, Anna, come quick. She needs help!”

Anna ran to the door just as Han reached the porch. She opens it wide and tells him, “Put her on the bed. Oh, the poor dear. What happened?”

“I’m not sure. I think a ship crashed and she was in it. She’s been bleeding pretty badly. She keeps calling for someone named Ryal.” Han looks on as his wife starts trying to assess the girl’s condition. While he and Anna had never been blessed with a child of their own, Anna had midwife plenty and was very familier with how to treat other ailments as well. She was the closest thing to a doctor in the immediate area.

Anna methodically worked to strip the torn and bloody clothes from the girl as she tried to determine the extent of her injuries. What she saw broke her heart, the girl had extensive internal injuries and it was doubtful she would live long enough to see her child born. Looking over at her husband, “Han, stop reading that book and get a fire going in the hearth. I need it nice and hot. I don’t think there’s much that I can do for the girl but maybe I can help give the babe a chance.”

She works through the night and somewhere before dawn the squall of a newborn is heard in the cottage. The girl is so far gone that she’s surprised that the girl made it this long. She shows the girl the small squirming infant. Gently, “He’s smaller since he’s a bit early but he seems strong and healthy.”

The night had been a nightmare of fear and pain but looking at her son it was all worth it. Something inside her knows that she won’t live to see the sunrise but that’s alright, her son will. In a voice barely more than a whisper, “Please take care of him. We…we wanted to name him Max.”

Part 2

Han and Anna were torn about what they should do about the babe and his mother. The only clue they had about who she had been was the diary. From its final entries, they surmised that to return the babe to her family would be its death warrant. So they did what they thought best. They buried the girl at the edge of a small meadow near their home and marked it with a large rock that Han chiseled a small cross on top of. After much thought they decided that it would be best to raise the babe as their own. This caused quite a stir in the local village since Han and Anna were closer to the age of being grandparents instead of first time parents. Since it was usual for them not to come to town too often and that Anna had grown rather ample through the years, no one doubted the origins of their new son, Max.

Anna smiled as she looked out the window of their cottage at her son playing with the new pup. It made no difference to the five-year-old little boy that he had on his new school clothes; he was having too much fun playing tug-o-war to care. As Max loses his hold, he ends up on his butt in the mud while the pup goes dashing off, mocking him. Sighing heavily and shaking her head, she opens the window and calls out to him, “Max, come in here. You’re already a mess and you haven’t even left for school yet.”

She’s waiting at the door for him. As he enters, he looks up at her with sorrowful amber eyes and says, “I’m sorry Mama. I didn’t mean to get all dirty.”

All she can do is just shake her head. She and Han both knew that they spoiled him shamelessly but how could they not? They had given up on ever having children and then suddenly there he was, and what a handful. He was never mean or anything like that, he was just rambunctious and so full of energy. Sometimes she got tired just watching him. “Max, those are brand new and I wanted you to look nice for your first day of school, now look at you. What am I going to do with you?”

Max looked at himself and other than some mud he thought he looked ok. He looked back up at his mama and smiled innocently, “Don’t worry Mama, I can take care of it.”

Her mouth dropped open in shock as his hand glowed softly and as he waved it over his clothes the mud and dirt magically disappeared. She had caught hints that he was special. He had an incredible way with animals and he never got sick. She had witnessed him fixing things but was never close enough to see how he had actually done it. She takes a seat and tries to collect her wits about her. Taking her son’s hands in hers, “Max, listen to me, this is very important. You cannot do that in front of anyone else. Do you understand? You can’t make your hand glow and do things like that. It might frighten other people and you wouldn’t want to do that, right?”

His eyes had grown large and tearful. He’s not sure what he did that was wrong but it made his mama upset. He nods his head and tries not to cry, “Ok Mama, I won’t. I promise.”

As her son experiences his first day at the local school, Anna busies herself reading an old blood splattered diary that she and Han had kept hidden away underneath some floorboards. By the time Max returns home and excitedly tells her all about his class, his teacher and the new friends that he made, she had come to some shocking conclusions that she and Han would discuss well into the night.

Han looks over to his sleeping son. He’s so small, so young and innocent, how could Anna think that their little boy could be the lost prince? Yet as he read the diary again and thought about what Anna had seen him do, how could it not be possible? They both knew that within the royal family there had been many stories of special abilities, just like what Max had displayed. And why would his grandfather sentence him to death? Allia had written of her and Ryal’s marriage, so while they were young and willful, they were obviously in love and had wanted to do the right thing. Why send Ryal away and her to the sisterhood and decree the child not be allowed to live? Who had that authority anyways? There was only one answer, the King. If Max was the son of not Allia but Princess Allia and a commoner then he could be the one, at least the King thought so, and that scared him because if found out, that death sentence could be carried out still. That night they made a conscious decision to discourage Max from using his abilities again, it was for his own good, his own safety.

And so it was that their lives passed relatively quietly for several years as the boy grew into a youth. He was mostly an obedient son but wasn’t above portraying a bit of willfulness of his own. While he always did his chores and kept his grades up in school, he would also wander off for afternoons at a time and occasionally be gone all night. He never would say where he went or what he was doing but they had long suspected that he was practicing his abilities. It seemed it was something that he just had to do, so they said nothing other than to be careful.

The disputes between the two worlds had grown larger and more complicated through the years. Armed conflict, which had only been fought in outlying areas earlier, was starting to encroach upon them and the King was worried. He had sent many a brave young men to defend their home world but the enlightened ones, as the more technologically advanced group like to refer to themselves as, were growing weary and angry that it was only their sons and daughters fighting and dying. The simple people refused, saying it wasn’t their war and would have nothing to do with it. This angered the enlightened ones, they said it was the simple people’s world as well and they should also be fighting for it. The King, an enlightened one himself, agreed. With a stroke of a pen, the ordered was given that all youths from 16 on up must sign up for the draft. Any that refuse to do so shall be immediately conscripted for up to 5 years, no exceptions. As the expected number of new youths proved to be too low, a check of school records was done. Methodically youths were simply taken from their homes over the protest of their families.

Max sat by the fire with his parents reading an old diary. One he had never knew existed before. He had been shown it so that he could understand his parents’ fear for him. Growing up as their son, he was well aware of the ancient myths and fables of his people, the simple people, and was shocked when his parents told him that they had long thought him to be the lost prince. He loved his parents dearly but was well aware that they were elderly; that he had to help them more and more and privately he feared that one-day soon one or both would no longer be around. He also knew that they grew more forgetful of things lately and at first that this was some sort of manifestation of that forgetfulness. All those thoughts flew out the window as he finished reading the diary for the second time. He simply didn’t know what to think. Looking at his parents, at the two people that had lavished love and everything they had to offer on him, “Why tell me this now? Why now?”

They had grown ever more fearful as the children of their friends and neighbors were taken away in the middle of the night. Max was their only child and while they had kept him relatively safe, they knew that the day would come when it would not be so. Han looked at his son with worried eyes, “Max, you need to know who you really are, what you are. Your mother and I couldn’t have loved any more. You know that, but we can’t deny that you are different. You need to know what the possible consequences are if others found out. Your maternal grandfather had already ordered your death, if you’re discovered we’re afraid that sentence would be carried out still. You have to be careful more so now than ever. Please Max, we love you so much, please promise us that you’ll be careful.”

He looks at his parents through watery eyes and tries to make light of things, “This wasn’t exactly what I was hoping for my 16th birthday. I love you both too. I still think you’re both off your rocker for thinking that I’m this lost prince all these years, but I promise that I’ll be careful.”

It was two months later when they came in the middle of the night. Han held a sobbing Anna tightly as the Captain read the notice; Max was hereby conscripted for 5 years into the military service of the King. Max had tried to protest, saying that his parents were elderly and needed his help, that they depended on him but in the end it made no difference. Max only had a few moments to collect a few treasures from home and say a tearful goodbye to his parents. As he embraced his father, he quietly told him, “Papa, keep the diary hidden here. I may need it someday. Thank you both for everything. I love you and I’ll keep my promise.”

Max looked back one last time at his beloved parents standing on the porch holding each other and prayed that he would see them again one day. The transport door closed on him and he took a seat and joined the other youths that had been stolen from their homes that night. It will be the first of many fearful nights to come.

Part 3

The night was long and dreary with rain pelting them as they walked the lonely patrol. Max had been in the service for six months and this was the second platoon he had been assigned to. At first all of their kind, the simple people, had been kept together as a group and then formed their own platoons. Because they shied away from technology, it was thought that they were imbeciles, but nothing could be further from the truth. Once it was realized that they not only understood orders but also were actually capable of following them, those early platoons were disbanded and the simple soldiers as they were nicknamed were integrated in with the regular ones. And not a moment too soon, for several were in dire need of reinforcements. As Max drudged on, his boots sinking in the deepening mud, he looked about and wondered what the hell he was supposed to be able to see in the rainy darkness. He was tired; every muscle ached from over use and lack of rest. The food was horrendous but he ate it without complaint, they all did. It kept their bellies from aching but that was about all it did. As their patrol rounded the last hill, they headed for home, which in this case was a grouping of low tents that offered little in warmth but at least it kept the rain out, hopefully.

He wearily walked into his tent. He wanted nothing more than to collapse on his cot but there are other things that must be tended to first. He shrugs off his pack and sits on his cot as he proceeds to dry and clean his weapons, afterwards he carefully places them next to his bed and then checks the other contents of his pack to make sure everything is in order. Only afterwards does he strip off his wet fatigues, hangs them up to dry and then lights a burner to heat his rations pouch. He does this under the watchful eyes of his two tent mates, who have yet to say a word to him.

He watches the simple soldier take out an archaic device, lights it and sticks his rations pouch over it. He had never known a simple person before, now he’s rooming with one. So far he seems competent enough, just a bit odd, like that burner thing. Using his finger to get the last bit out of his pouch and licking his lips, “So what’s with that? Why don’t you use the heat zapper to warm it?”

Max looks up at him. His roomies usually talk quietly to each other but not to him. They are so different from him. They used technology as if it’s the most natural thing in the world to them, but he finds it strange and cold feeling, unnatural. It’s not easy explaining your beliefs to strangers but he tries, “Tradition I guess. Things usually taste better if they’re warmed slowly. Although I’m not so sure that’s true of this stuff but it is back home.”

Michael looks at him for a bit, trying to decide what to think of him, “You mean that your family would fix your food over fires? Like actually cook it?”

He takes the pouch away from the flame, opens it and takes a taste. Scowling at the horrid flavor, he downs as much of it as possible in a couple of gulps. Wiping his mouth with his hand, “Yeah, my mother is a terrific cook. She makes this stew with the fresh vegetables from the garden in the spring. The stew would simmer all day and you could smell it cooking, making your mouth water. She would make these little cakes and top them with fruit and whipped cream that were out of this world.”

They look at him as if he were crazy. Their attention is drawn to the tent flap as the postal clerk announces mail deliveries. He received a package from home and eagerly rips it open. There are letters and cards from his parents and extended family that he’ll read later in private, stationary and stamps for him to write back on, a book of poems, local newspapers and a metal tin that he immediately tears into. The smell of fresh baked cookies permeates the tent, drawing the attention of his mates away from their chip readers and the latest news and letters from their homes. They stare at him as he devours a couple of cookies in quick succession. He finally notices their stare and with his mouth full manages, “Woo u wike ome?”

They waste no time on snagging a couple a piece and the smile on their faces were of pure bless. While still chewing Alex sighs, “Awesome!”

Max takes three more out before carefully resealing the tin. Smiling a bit smuggly at them, “See told you she was a great cook.”

Michael has no problem taking one of the three cookies that Max left out, “Man, you weren’t kidding. And she’d make things like this all the time…from scratch, no heat zappers, reconstituted mixes, no freeze dried?”

Max just smiles proudly, “Nope, none of that, everything from scratch. Sometimes in the summer the village would gather and each family would bring a dish. It was an all day eating fest that usually ended only when you were ready to bust.”

Alex looks at Max for a long time. Max had seemed nice enough but sort of lost. He thought Max might have been a bit younger than them and now he realized how different and strange everything must seem to him. He’s curious about all that Max had talked about, “Village? So you lived in a village with your parents. Do you have any brothers and sisters?”

Max shakes his head, growing more quiet and melancholy, “No, just me. They were older when I was born. I guess you could say that I was a bit of a surprise to them. They have a small cottage that’s a little ways away from the village proper. I worry about them. Both of them were getting on in years and I was having to help them a lot more these last few years.”

The tent grows quiet as they are caught up in personal thoughts of home. Alex had brought an old guitar with him and starts to strum a few cords and hums the simple melody as Max and Michael go back to reading their letters from home, Michael using a chip reader and Max’s was on simple paper, from his simple family. Over the next several weeks the three had grown to know and appreciate each other. Alex with his quick wit and his wonderful guitar, Michael with his ability to acquire anything they needed so long as you didn’t ask any questions, and Max for his emerging leadership ability and honesty, not to mention his mama’s never ending care packages that brought smiles to everyone in the tent. The three coped as well as possible with the pointless patrols and drills, target practice, marching here, then over there, tear the tents down move them over there and reassemble them, only to tear them down do it all over again.

As the weeks worn on, they noticed that they were getting closer to battlefield; they could sometimes hear it, especially at night. It frayed on their nerves. Max seemed to be more affected than the others. He didn’t understand it, but he felt jumpy and anxious all the time. His dreams were filled with bombs and shooting, blood and gore but through it all there was a strange sense of peace settling over this carnage. He dreamed of a young goddess standing over the battlefield, watching and waiting for it to end so that she could heal all the wounds. Sometimes he would wake in a cold sweat from the dreams; sometime those dreams would end with him and the goddess together as they took on more erotic tones. It left him confused and exhausted, for no matter which way the dreams turned, they consumed his mind at night and prevented him getting the rest his body craved.

She entered her uncle’s tent and purposefully strode up to the planning table that was surrounded by generals. She silently gazed at the battlefield layout and listened as the battle was planned in all its gory details. The first thing she noticed was that this battle was going to be a blood bath for both sides. Their forces were massing along one side of the valley, the King’s along the other and word had come from their spies that reinforcements have been making their way towards the forward lines and would be in place before they could respond, which meant a call for more troops on their side were already being called up to be ready to quickly replace the fallen so that the blood bath could continue.


posted on 19-Apr-2002 1:01:04 AM
As a priestess and the niece of their King, she had free reign to go where and when she pleased without question, even if that was the frontlines before a battle. It had been whispered since she was a child that the night she was born all the stars were in the right alignment and she was the one that would fulfill their part of the legend, that one of high birth shall be called upon to make a sacrifice that shall bring the lost prince to their side and that shall be what unites them all. While she had studied all the legends and folklore in detail, she did not believe in them. She had always told herself that they were simple explanations told in a simpler time to placate the people. It was only these last few weeks that a thread of doubt had crept into her psyche for she had felt him. She had felt his call clearly, especially at night. It elated and terrified her at the same time. She could feel it in her bones that while the price for the battle will be huge, victory shall be theirs, but at the same time not all was as it seemed, and she worried over what sacrifice she would have to make to fulfill those half believed stories of the lost prince.

Uncle Philip eyed her carefully, she was so lost in thought that she hadn’t even noticed the meeting had broken up, “Lillibet, what’s gotten you so interested in this battle?”

She looks up startled as her uncle gently shakes her shoulder. Looking around she sees that almost everyone else has left the tent, embarrassed, “Oh, oh, sorry Uncle Philip. I hadn’t realized, sorry.”

His curiosity was even more peeked as she let the Lillibet nickname go unchallenged. At a silent signal from him, the tent is suddenly cleared and only the two of them remain. “Liz, what’s wrong? Something is obviously bothering you and I want to know what.”

Feeling foolish, “Oh Uncle Philip, it’s…I, I felt him, he’s there, somewhere in the battle lines. He’s there.”

He gives her a hard look, “Who’s there?”

She doesn’t know how else to say it, “The lost prince, I can feel him. He’s there on their battle lines somewhere. Uncle, this battle…this is it, with the battle the legend will begin to unfold.”

He’s not sure what to think, “I don’t believe in legends…but I want you to remain here, firmly behind the battle lines, if anything goes wrong I am leaving strict orders that you are to be evacuated. Do you understand me? No heroics. You may be a priestess as well as a princess but I made a promise to your father, my brother, on his death bed to care for you, to keep you safe and I intend on keeping that promise regardless of some ancient story told by old ladies to small children. You got that?”

Nodding her head obediently, she takes her leave of him but mumbles to herself, “But this legend will be played out, you can’t stop it. I can feel it and so can he.”

Part 4

They sat nervously outside their commander’s tent, waiting for word to enter. All three of them had been unexpectedly summoned and none of them knew why. The last time they had been called in like this was only before their lieutenant to explain how they had managed to acquire extra blankets. He had seemed satisfied with ‘Max’s mama sent all of them extra from home and gosh, wasn’t it just coincidental that they looked just like regular army issue’ explanation. Since their lieutenant was just as unfamiliar with the ways of simply soldiers as most of them, he didn’t question it too hard. Max’s mama sent them lots of things from that time forward and the lieutenant didn’t seem to care to notice. But it was no lieutenant this time, it was the colonel and rumor had it there was even a general in there with him.

Michael looks up at Max and frowns a bit more than usual. That simple soldier looked like crap. Usually when a soldier looked like that it was because he had spent too much time the night before with women and liquor. He knew Max did no such thing, he didn’t believe in it. He was truly worried for him. He knew that Max hadn’t been sleeping too well and was just as exhausted when he got up as when he passed out. Some thought it was because he was scared. Neither Alex nor he realized how young Max was until they were talking about birthdays and Max mentioned his 17th was still four months off. From that time forward he was treated as their kid brother, not that they had that much on him just a couple years, but they were older and were determined to look out for him. They knew him well enough to know that while young and no doubt scared shitless like all of them were, Max was no coward and wasn’t one to run in the face of danger. He and another soldier had exchanged thoughts on this one night after too many beers. Michael still sported a shiner from when he forgot to duck from one of his drinking “buddy’s” thoughts, but that’s ok, Michael still had all of his teeth. Too bad that other soldier couldn’t say the same. No one messed with his “little brother”, no one.

They nervously stand as the three of them are finally summoned into the tent. Standing stiffly at attention they wait until the colonel barks, “At ease.”

The general sits back and calmly appraises these three men, as his eyes land on Max, he thinks, {correction boys really}. He doesn’t like the haggard look of him, but there is something about him, some hidden strength just below the surface that could make all the difference in the world. These three had been recommended for their tight camaraderie, their bravery, resourcefulness and cunning. It had been reported that this haggard boy before him had the markings of an officer if he hadn’t been a simple soldier. As the general rises to get a better look at the boy, he considers that maybe he’ll make an officer out of him yet, despite his disadvantaged background, that is, if he survives the mission. That was the other requirement for the mission, expendability, and all three fit that bill. Walking over to a map table, the soldiers silently follow him. Clearing his throat, “You three have been selected for a covert operation. Tonight, you will infiltrate enemy lines here, get into this area undetected and in this tent there is a valuable prisoner that you need to capture, preferable alive and return her to us in the same live condition.”

He’s looking at the map and can see that this could easily wind up as a suicide mission. They have to transverse five miles of basically open territory or keep to the mountain ridges and make it ten miles, sneak into a heavily guarded enemy encampment undetected and kidnap a girl and then come back with her? Is the general out of his mind! Max doesn’t say a word of this, but the look on his face says it for him. He’s surprised when he looks up to see the general smiling at him. “General, sir, if I may, I have a question. What if she doesn’t want to come?”

The General’s smile deepens, he didn’t ask the stupid ‘why’ question or whine about how, he automatically assumed those had already been dealt with, instead he asked an admittedly amusing but also a very valid question, indeed the markings of an officer of the best variety, a smart one, “You will use your charm to convince her. If you prove not to be as charming as you thought, I suggest a gag and some rope. Unconscious would work as well. There are sleeping agents included in you mission packs. Now, I will leave it to the Colonel to fill you in on the specifics of the mission. Good luck, soldiers. I have the up most faith and confidence of your success.”

Two hours later, Alex is peering through his binoculars, whispering to the others, “Someone want to tell me why the hell we are doing this? What they hell’s so special about this girl that we have to risk our lives to kidnap her?”

Max calmly scans the other side with his binoculars, “We’re doing it because we were ordered to. As to why, does it really matter?”

Michael sourly scours the general area while he times the enemy’s patrol cycle, “Nope, we blow it and we’ll be just as dead. All I’ve got to say is she must be one hell of a priestess to warrant this much attention. So you guys need to be ready to move out when those two patrols stop and turn east, they should be gone long enough for us to make it over to that rise without being spotted. We’re going to need to take this in stages.”

While they had elected Max the leader of their little group, Michael was the one with the experience needed in how to be covert and Max was smart enough to let him do it. Their advances were marked by a lot of waiting, followed by mad dashes, followed by more waiting as they timed each step. As they neared the encampment, they paused for a long while as Michael once again watched the guards’ patrol patterns and Max consulted the map of the encampment with Alex looking over his shoulder. Going from looking at the map to the actual site, Max finally gets things sorted out, discreetly pointing towards the spot, “Over there, that row of tents, the forth one back, that’s where she’ll be.”

As Alex checks it out with his binoculars, “Yeah, well what if she decides to take a stroll or something?”

Michael shakes his head, ”Naw, it’s after curfew, anyone outside their tent is subject to being shot as the enemy.”

Both Max and Alex give Michael a ‘look’, “Gee, you want to reassure us a little more there?”

Michael looks back at them, “What? No sweat, I do this all the time back at our camp. Look, see that guard, he’s getting sloppy. He’s going to reach this end of patrol, wait a few minutes and light a smoke, then turn and go back and do the same at the other end. He’s using the smokes to keep awake. Let’s wait until he passes the tent we need then move out. Keep low, go from tent to tent, keep your eyes open and whatever you do don’t make a sound.”

They are surprised as everything goes like clock work, they slip into the tent without being noticed, that’s were things fall apart. They stand there staring in surprise at not one but three girls and they are all in their nightclothes so they have no idea who’s the priestess that they’re supposed to take. The moment of shock passes and the petite blond one opens her mouth to scream, only to find a quick thinking Michael’s hand clamped down on it. Michael has to bite his lip to keep from crying out as he feels her teeth sink into his hand, drawing blood.

The tall blond reaches for something on the bed and Alex turns his weapon on her. She pauses in mid motion then slowly reaches down to the bed to retrieve her robe. The longhaired brunette simple stays seated and calmly stares at Max. As her eyes bore into him, he gets the feeling that he knows her or maybe knows of her. He’s seen her before but for the life of him, he can’t remember where. Max is fairly certain that the brunette is the one that they want. He keeps his weapon trained on her as he states, “Priestess Elizabeth, we mean you no harm but you’re coming with us.”

At these words, the petite blond sinks her teeth down harder. Michael is practically shaking with anger and pain. Liz looks over at the situation and quickly realizes that the soldier holding Maria is going to do something desperate if she doesn’t relent, “Maria, stop. Soldier, if you let her go, she won’t scream, she won’t resist. Isn’t that right Maria?”

She wants to do the exact opposite but her lady has told her not to. With Michael’s hand firmly implanted on her teeth, she vigorously nods her head in agreement, which elicits a slight groan from her capturer. She slowly releases his hand and he cautiously removes it from her mouth. He flexes his hand that now has a firm imprint of all the dental work her parents had paid for so many years ago. If he hadn’t been so angry he would admire her spunk but right now his hand hurt like hell. He settles for a dirty look for now then turns his attention back to his leader, as they all do. Max feels the wait of those eyes on him, “So Priestess, you have given your maiden’s word that she will not scream nor resist, what about you and her there?”

While she knows that she should be scared for some reason she just can’t muster the emotion. She already knows that they would not harm any of them but that doesn’t mean that they’ll let them go either. She studies him intently, she’s usually so good at reading people and she does get a little from him but that’s the obvious things, he’s younger than she had thought, handsome but rather haggard at the moment, the others give no indication of doubting his authority, but he’s blocking the rest. She wonders if he’s even aware of what he’s doing, coming back from her musing, “I give you my word that we will give you no trouble provided you give us your word that you will insure our safety.”

She disturbs him greatly and he doesn’t know why. No girl has affected him so. There had been several girls back home that he courted casually but nothing serious, nothing that made him feel like this. He’s drawn to her somehow, like part of him already knows her. Forcing himself to bottle these thoughts up, “I give you mine and their word that we will do everything possible to insure you and your ladies’ safety, but time it short and we must leave now.”

Liz simply nods her head then turns to grab her jacket, as do her ladies and then stands and are ready to go. Max looks to his counterparts who are standing there a little dumbfounded. At his direction, Michael and Alex both shrug and then start to march them out, carefully watching out for the ladies’ and their own safety. They are almost to the edge of the encampment when a guard on patrol suddenly comes out of nowhere, “Halt, who goes there? Lady Isabel? What are you doing there and who are these men?”

Isabel knew that her white robe would be rather hard to conceal, that’s why she purposely put it on. They all had frozen when the guard caught them, while she had no intention of disobeying her lady, she had no desire to be kidnapped either. She very calmly turns around and faces the guard, “Why being kidnapped of course.”

Michael’s reaction was instantaneous, “OH SHIT!”

He then uses his gun on stun and zaps the guard. He hopes that this bought them enough time to get a good head start. Grabbing the petite blond vampiress, while Alex does the same with the big mouth over there, surprisingly Max only bows his head slightly as the Priestess takes off in front off him. At first Michael thought she was making a break for it, but is amazed that she’s actually running along with them. He decides not to say anything for now but when they get back to base, he and Max are going to have one hell of a conversation about that priestess.

They ran at full steam for almost 10 minutes when the area before them suddenly became bathed in light, the warning had been sounded and the valley that lay in front was a sea of searchlights. Abruptly Max had them turn to the east towards the mountains and kept them running. Michael and Alex were confused though when instead of heading towards the ridge of the mountains as had been their backup plan, he guided them around to the backside of the mountain, and still they ran. When they reached a forested area Max finally had them come to a halt in a patch of birch trees. Michael watched as Max turned in all directions, scanning the area, then he looked up at the stars and moon, Max never looked more in his element. Finally breaking the silence, “Max, what’s the plan?”

Max looks back at them then motions towards the sky, “It’s going to rain, which will cover our tracks. Plus it feels like it’s going to be a pretty good downpour, that’ll keep them from being able to launch their ships with heat trackers. We need to get as much distance between them and us before the rain starts. We go that way, around the backside of the mountain range.”

So far he had kept pretty much quiet, letting Max and Michael take charge but Alex can’t hold back any longer, “Ok Max, why this way, why not the ridge line as planned? The way you’re proposing is at least a few days hike and the ridge maybe only a day.”

He can tell that his friends trust him but they do deserve an explanation, “Because that way would be guarded. When they don’t find us in the valley, they’ll scour the ridge line next and we would not have that day we need to get across, this way will take longer but it’ll be the last place they look and hopefully we’ll get enough of a jump on them that it’ll be too late by then. Come on, let’s go, we can talk more later.”

The pace was grueling; they jogged ran most of it. The ladies had a hard time keeping up with the soldiers but they never complained, not even when the first few rain drops lead to a light rain, then eventually a down pour as Max had predicted. It was almost dawn before they finally held up in a small cave they discovered along the edge of the forest. They were all cold, wet, hungry and exhausted. The three soldiers silently broke into their packs and pulled out rations for themselves and the ladies. The ladies’ reaction to the food was similar to the soldiers, disgust. As Max downs his ration pouch in three gulps it amuses him to see the look of horror on Liz’s face as she tries to down a little. He finally takes a little pity on her as she practically chokes on the food and fishes out of his pack a little something extra he brought with him. Handing her the carefully wrapped item, “Here, try this, you might find it more palatable.”

Liz looks at his hand with the simply wrapped item in it. She’s now more sure than ever that Max was the lost prince and that he was indeed raised simply, no one she knew still used wax paper. Taking the item from him, she carefully unwraps it and smiled at the moist piece of cake he had given her. Taking a small bite, “Mmm, delicious. I didn’t know your army had such wonderful bakers.”

He can’t help the smile he gives her, “They don’t.”

Michael had been saving his piece for dessert and eagerly unwraps it and takes a big bite with relish, “Nope, that’s for certain. Max’s mama sends us these. She’s a great cook.”

Maria is just staring at the soldier Michael as he holds that piece of cake in his hand. She had just as much trouble as Liz trying to eat this horrid stuff and was almost drooling at what he held in his hand. His eyes finally shift over to her direction, then he shoots Max a look, as if asking if he has to, then pursing his lips together, he thrust it at her, “Here, just don’t bite the hand that feeds you anymore.”

Max grins as Maria eats the piece with just as much relish as Liz, and out of the corner of his eye he spies the Lady Isabel enjoying Alex’s piece. Turning back to more serious matters, “Alex, you think you could take the first watch. I’ll relieve you in four hours. In the mean time, let’s get some shut eye.”

The cave grows quiet except for the sound of some light snoring, but Max and Michael are still awake. As the girls continue their slumber the two soldiers talk quietly over the map, “Max, we’re here and to get back we need to cross over this mountain.”

Keeping his voice low so as not to disturb their sleep, “It shouldn’t be that difficult, it says it’s only about 1,500 feet, a good hike but not that difficult.”

Coming to the point, “Max, a good hike for us, not them. They aren’t dressed for this and we don’t have the supplies for an extended hike. We have only enough food and water for 3 days and that was based on it being only 3-4 people, not six. We’re looking at a 5 day hike minimum.”

He had come to the same conclusion earlier, “Then we’ll have to live off the land. This stream runs the same way we need to go. We’ll be sure to hit it once a day for fresh water and maybe a couple of fresh fish too. There are lots of berries and nuts around in the forests. We’ll survive. Guess it’s a good thing I’m a simple soldier after all. I’m going to get some shuteye. Wake me in a couple of hours so I can take over guard duty.”

Part 5

The walking and running was never ending. They had been on the move for two days now and it was all up hill. Maria’s feet were killing her. She knew that there had to be bad blisters on them but she was afraid to take her shoes off, afraid of what she would find and afraid of her feet swelling so badly that she wouldn’t be able to put her shoes back on. She didn’t understand why she cared. Maybe if she was hurt they would just leave her behind to be found by her side’s soldiers, but that would mean leaving her priestess whom she had taken a vow to serve and she couldn’t do that, so she trudged on. The past two days hadn’t been all bad, for some reason that she just can’t quite put her finger on, it amused her to no end to annoy the soldier Michael.

Liz has been carefully watching him. He’s surprised her with his intelligence and resourcefulness. He hasn’t wavered in his mission. He’s willingly sought out and taken advice from his associates but has also overruled them when necessary. He’s treated her and her ladies with respect and kindness but has not let up on them, either. She’s spent some time trying to figure out if he’s aware of who he is and what part he is to play in the coming battle. So far she’s gotten mixed signals. There’s no doubt he’s a born leader but does he know that he’s the legendary lost prince? He stops suddenly and looks around. They are near a natural hot spring surrounded by trees. As he shrugs off his pack, “It’s getting late. It’s going to be clear and cold tonight, the heat trackers will be out looking for us. This hot spring should help hide our heat signatures and maybe add a little warmth. Michael, can you scout the area, see if there’s anything we should worry about? Then I’ll take the first watch.”

Liz decides that she’s going to find out once and for all if he knows, “Are you sure that’s wise your highness? You’ve gotten very little sleep, less than the others. Surely your highness should get more rest.”

Max froze the moment she addressed him as your highness. He had been aware of her continuing scrutiny of him. It’s been driving him nuts; actually everything about her has been driving him nuts. He had to put up every brick wall he had from the moment he saw her to keep from acting like a complete fool in front of her. He’s afraid that if he lets his guard down for even one moment it’ll all come crashing down. Something tells him that she knows this too. She’s right about one thing, he’s more tired than he has ever been in his life but he’s afraid to sleep because he’s afraid to dream. He can’t build a brick wall around his dreams. He hadn’t forgotten his parents’ thoughts about him being the lost prince, in fact for some reason he had been thinking about that fable quite a bit lately, but he still didn’t think he was the one, how could he be? “I’ll sleep later.”

Liz wants to scream; she thought she caught a glimpse of a reaction to being addressed as your highness but not enough to be sure. But she did see something that she hadn’t expected… fear. He was afraid to sleep. She needed to think about that, about why he would be afraid to sleep. It certainly explained why he got so little sleep. It was so hard to think right now, she’s so tired and, sore. She’d give anything to soak in a hot bath for an hour. A thought suddenly comes to her as she looks over to the hot spring. Without a word she starts stripping her soiled and torn clothes.

Max is terrified as first the coat, then light robe fall to the ground. She bends down to unlace her shoes and slips those off, as she’s just about to slip her gown off, he puts a hand on her shoulder to stop her and nervously croaks out, “Wh…what are your doing?”

Liz smiles up at him innocently, “I was going to partake of this hot spring. Surely your highness would not object to a lady taking a hot bath?”

He manages to stammer out, “Uh…no…I…no, of course not.”

She’s amused at how quickly he turns around away from her and instructs Alex to do the same as she lets the gown drop to the ground. She almost laughs as he jerks upon hearing the splashes of her ladies joining her in the hot springs. Her uncle would be horrified to find her being so bold with enemy soldiers but she couldn’t help herself when it came to Max.

Michael comes back to the forest edge and stands there for several minutes watching the three naked beauties splash around in the hot pool. He decided that he had better get going back to his comrades or he’s going to be in heap of trouble, as it is, it’s already going to be difficult hiding his increasing problem. He finds Max and Alex seriously studying the trees in front of them. Dropping his pack on the ground, he gives the spring another passing glance before reporting to his somewhat nervous group leader, “All’s clear. I spotted a little house about a two-day walk from here. Couldn’t see too much, but we might want to see about getting some supplies or see if they have a transmitter that we can use.”

“Uh, yeah, yeah, we’ll do that. We’ll need to mention to the Colonel when we get back about the line-of-sight transmitters not being the best idea in mountainous areas. Was there a chimney at that house you saw? Smoke maybe?” Max hates that his voice cracked suddenly. He doesn’t miss the slow upward turn of Michael’s mouth that it caused.

“Yeah Max, there was smoke and where there’s smoke there’s fire…in more than one place tonight.” He starts to set out his sleeping roll and food pouch, neither turning his back towards the ladies nor does he look in their direction.

“So, uh, the house, there was a chimney with smoke, so most likely they are simple people. They’d help us if they can but I’m not sure if we should ask. It might put them in danger later on.” Max was just starting to calm himself and his hormones when he heard the giggle and laughter of girls talking. His body seems to be having a mind of its own and he’s getting flustered at the lack of control he has over it at this moment.

Michael keeps up the façade of being calm, cool and collective, but right now he’d give his first born to be alone with that Maria in the that hot spring, “Don’t think it matters. Whether we stop there or not, the enemy is going to be visiting them looking for us. We might as well get whatever help they can offer. Oh and Max, you might want to tell the girls to keep it down before going on patrol, no need to make our position that obvious.”

Alex almost laughs outright when Max backs up to the edge of the pool and tells the girls to be quiet before heading out on patrol. He’s never seen Max so nervous before in his life, poor kid mustn’t have too much, hell if any, experience with the ladies. As Alex heads back over towards Michael, he manages to take a peek or two or three at the pool. As he reaches Michael, he turns more serious, “How you think he’s holding up?”

After dumping the last of his food pouch in his mouth and wishing for the millionth time he still had that cake that the blond spitfire had sucked down in two bites, “Um, he’ll manage. He’s actually been doing pretty well, all things considered. Tomorrow’s going to be the real test though.”

Sneaking another look, “Why tomorrow?”

Laying back on his bedroll, “That’s when the food and heat sticks run out. From tomorrow on, it’ll be up to him and his simple ways to get us out of here without dying of thirst or exposure. I hope we can get some supplies at that house. God, I’d love a hot meal and a warm bed.”

Alex adds, “Or a warm bath?”

Michael grins and purposefully raises his head and looks over at the hot springs for several moments, “Yeah, that wouldn’t be bad either, not bad at all. I’m going to try and get some sleep before taking the next watch, see if you can keep an eye on our bathing beauties over there. Don’t want any of them drowning, wouldn’t want to have to explain it to Max.”

Alex slaps Michael on the shoulder good-naturedly, “Will do!”

Part 6

The dawn arrives with more rain clouds, a welcome sight for those wishing to avoid detection of the heat trackers. Max slowly opens his eyes, it had been another long nightmare filled sleep. This time his dreams kept replaying him being found out and being shot on the spot for simply being whom he was, but all through the nightmare he could feel the presence of the priestess. It was disconcerting to say the least. She was always there, always on his mind. There was no escaping it, not even in sleep. He rubs his hand over his tired eyes when he suddenly hears a muffled moan of pain. He slowly reaches for his weapon before looking around to see what the problem was. He can’t spot anything out of place so he sits up for a better look. He hears the moan again and this time he could tell where it was coming from. Getting up, he quietly walks over to her, “Maria, what’s wrong? Where are you hurt?”

Biting back another moan as a stab of pain goes shooting up her leg, through gritted teeth, “My feet.”

Max scowls as he pulls back the blanket and takes a look. Her feet are swollen, bruised and have blisters that were bloody. Looking around he realizes that he was the only one that had heard; everyone else was asleep or on patrol. Looking back at Maria, “You should have said something before it got this bad. If you were in the service you would be written up for this, after you got discharged from the infirmary. Maria, can you keep a secret?”

She looks at him critically. She knows that Liz had been trying to figure him out, and that Liz believes that he is the lost prince and all this is part of the legend playing out as it was intended. That’s why Liz had willingly gone with him. It’s where she belongs, by him, until it’s time she has to make the sacrifice. And it was Maria’s place to stand by her. She watches his forehead wrinkle as he worriedly looks at her feet, “I’m a priestess’s lady in waiting, if I could not keep my word then who could? Your secret is safe with me soldier Max.”

Max looks around one more time then places his hands on one foot, closes his eyes and concentrates. He opens them after a few moments as he switches feet and repeats the process. Opening his eyes again he smiles at Maria, “See how they feel now.”

Wiggling her toes, she’s amazed to find them pain free, not even sore. Whipping the blanket off her legs she inspects her feet and finds them pink and perfect. He even got rid of the bunions. Looking at Max in shock, “How…how’d you do that?”

Putting his finger to his lips, “Shhh, keep it down, ok? Remember this is our little secret. I’m serious, not a word to anyone about this. My life could depend on it. I suggest that you have Michael help you lace your shoes up correctly this morning. You’ve had them too loose before, that’s how they got that way to begin with. Now, I’m going to go see what I can find for breakfast and see where Alex got to on patrol.”

A little over an hour later, Michael is showing Maria the * right way * to lace a shoe, as Liz and Isabel sit by what’s left of their heat sticks, trying to get what warmth they could from it. She listens to Michael prattle on about the importance of foot care, “They have to be tight or your foot will be moving around too much and cause some major blisters and I have no desire to hear you moaning and groaning about your feet. I’m actually surprised that your feet aren’t that way already considering how you had these laced before.”

She’s in no mood for this right now. Her stomach is starting to growl, she’d even go for one of those god awful food pouch thingies, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, I got. So like where’s the chow. It’s getting late and we need to be going, so pass over one of those reconstituted gruel pouches so I can choke it down and we can get ready to go.”

Michael laces the shoe a little tighter as he mumbles, “There aren’t any.”

She doesn’t believe it, “Wait a second, I so did not hear what I think you just said. You can’t be that incompetent to not bring enough food. Tell me you’re not that dumb.”

His silence speaks for itself. After several moments, Liz very calmly asks him, “So what’s the plan?”

He looks over at her and smiles a little. While he enjoyed the fire and spunk in Maria, he had to admit the quiet calm of Liz was much appreciated, “Max has experience living off the land. He’s going to see what’s edible and there’s a stream not far for fresh water. We’re hoping that it’ll only be for a couple of days. There’s a small house about 2 days away that we’re going to try and get some supplies from.”

Walking into the clearing with his helmet in his hand and Alex like wise right behind him. He takes a seat next to Liz and the others gather around looking at what he’s found, “Here, these are wild blackberries and these are pine nuts. We also filled the canteens at the stream. I spotted some trout in there. We might be doing some fishing come nightfall. Come on guys eat up. It’s actually better than those food pouches we had.”

As she takes some from Alex’s helmet, Isabel can’t help grumbling at little, “Great, just great, I’m reduced to having fruit and nuts for a meal. For the record, I will only eat fish if it’s cooked.”

Max can’t help but smile a bit mischievously at her as he announces, “Well, then you had better start collecting kindling before it starts raining again otherwise that’s exactly what you’re going to get, providing we’re successful fishermen.”

Maria groans and rolls her eyes, “Wait a minute, don’t tell me, we’re out of heat sticks, too? How did I get drafted into this one-horse outfit?”

Michael snaps right back at her, “Bite me.”

Maria looks at him with narrowed eyes, “Don’t tempt me.”

It was a quiet afternoon as a cold rain lightly fell on them. Other than collecting kindling before the rain started, they had stopped for only a half an hour or so when they came upon another berry bush that Max had deemed safe to eat. While the berries and nuts they had kept them from starving, it hardly filled their bellies. As they came to the crest of the hill, they had a beautiful view of a green valley with the little house off to the right that Michael had told them about, sitting at the far end of the valley. They stopped as Max, Michael and Alex consulted their map. Alex’s scowl was deep as he looked at the map, then to their surroundings. Unfortunately, his counterparts had come to the same conclusion. Casting a longing look over at that little house in the distance that glowed with warmth, “Damn, there was just no way it could have been easy. Just one night out of this damn cold and rain and something warm to eat. Is it really that much to ask?”

Max sadly shakes his head, “We can’t. It’s in the wrong direction. Going there would add two extra day’s time. If we stay our course, we should be in line with that relay station in one and a half, maybe two days and can use our transmitters to let them know our location.”

Michael’s main interest has always been making sure he and those surrounding him were taken care of, by whatever means necessary. While he doesn’t doubt Max’s abilities and plan, because he is correct, he still needs some reassurances, “Max, you think you’re going to be able to keep finding berries and nuts? What about warmth? The nights are pretty damn cold, that more than hunger is what’s going to get to us first, especially them.”

Max looks back over to where the girls are sitting quietly. When he thought about it, he was amazed that they had made it this far without serious injury or problems. Turning back to the map, “As long as we stay close enough to the stream for water, we should be ok. We’ve been collecting dry kindling as we go. I know it slowed us down a bit, but we need it to start a fire. We’ll camp over here, where the forest dips down close to the stream, get a fire going, then you and I, Michael will see what kind of fishermen we are.”

Alex looks things over again, “Question. We don’t have any fishing gear, no rod and reel, no tackle box, how are you going to catch fish?”

Max grins at that, “What’s a tackle box? Come on, we need to break the news to them then head out, we still have a couple of hours before we can make camp.”

Michael mumbles as they head over to the girls, “This aught to be fun.”

It went over about as they expected, as they continue to get an earful from Maria, “It’s right there, right over there. I say we head that way and walk all night if we have to but by morning we’ll be dry and warm and have a hot meal. Excuse me if I don’t care how long it takes for you three to hand us over to the enemy, but this…this is insane. I refuse to take one step further unless it’s towards that house!”

At a look from Max, Michael does the only thing he can think of. He slings his weapon over one shoulder and an irate Maria over the other. As she’s kicking and screaming at him, he warns, “You bite me again and I’ll bite you back. Now knock it off, we’re going and that’s the end of it. Well, what are you waiting for Max? Lead off.”

They finally make camp in a thick grove of trees that blocks most but not all of the rain. They use a ground cloth as a rough shelter to keep a little dryer and give the campfire a chance to keep going. No one said much but privately they were a little relieved to find that Max really did seem to know what he was doing. Now he just needed to prove to be a good fisherman or it was going to be a very hungry night. He and Michael set out towards the stream to try their luck. Michael says nothing, just watches as Max picks up several sticks, then finally satisfied with two of them he walks over to what remains of an animal carcass, which isn’t much. Michael silently watches as Max takes a couple of slivers of bone before resuming their trek towards the stream. Upon reaching the bank, Michael takes a seat and watches in fascination as Max assembles their fishing gear. Using thread from the patch kits in their packs, the sticks, small stones as sinkers, the bone shards that he sharpened with his knife as hooks, and ground worms he dug up as bait, in about 20 minutes, they have two crude, but very serviceable fishing rods ready to go. As they drop their hooks in the water, “Max, you’re amazing. Is this how you always fished?”

Smiling as he thinks of home, “No, while most of our stuff was made by hand at home, we do have some industry in the village, one of which made excellent rods and reels, but that doesn’t mean I always remembered to bring mine. Sometimes I would just be out wandering around and decide to go fishing. Living simply means you have to know how to be self-reliant. Papa loves to fish. As he’s gotten older, he couldn’t always do all the things he use to, but he could always go fishing with me.”

Michael thinks about what Max’s home must be like. An older loving couple as parents, a warm little house filled with wonderful smells, freedom to wander the countryside. These last few weeks, he and Alex had looked forward to Max’s care packages from home almost as much as Max did. They were always filled with long letters, drawings from friends of village life, quaint country newspapers and articles, and always the homemade treats. He’s pretty sure that Max must have mentioned he and Alex to his mama, for suddenly one tin became two, and in the last week, three tins. They sounded so wonderful, “Max, your parents, how were they doing when last you heard? I know they’re older and you make it sound that they might not be in the best of health.”

Watching the dim sun through the clouds as it sinks lower in the sky, “They’re doing ok for now. Papa said that the village butcher’s son was coming out after school to help take care of stuff for them, but eventually they were thinking that it might be time to move closer to town. They could probably get a small place in town with a bit of land for a garden. It wouldn’t be too bad, but I just hate to think of them having to leave their home that they’ve lived in for almost fifty years. They wouldn’t have to even be thinking about leaving if I hadn’t been taken to fight in a war that means nothing to us.”

They had never really talked about the war and the politics behind it. While it was obvious that Max did not sign up voluntarily, he had never mentioned anything about it, “Max, it should mean something to all of us. It’s not just the cities and technology that we are fighting for, it’s our world, our freedom.”


[ edited 1 time(s), last at 19-Apr-2002 1:02:16 AM ]
posted on 19-Apr-2002 1:02:55 AM
He laughs at that last statement, “Freedom? What freedom? They came in the middle of the night and told me that I was coming with them and wouldn’t be coming back for 5 years. They didn’t care that I was their only child, that they need my help, or that they may not be around in 5 years. They didn’t care about any of that. It was the same for our friends. Don’t you see? We don’t ask for anything but to be left alone and yet we’re being forced to fight and die for it, for nothing… Hey, I think you got a bite, look at your pole.”

Michael had totally forgotten that he was fishing. His pole is bent down and starting to try and jump out of his hand. Closing his grip on the pole, excitedly he holds on and starts to try and land him, which is pretty difficult without a reel. Eventually Max jumps in the water and uses his helmet to scoop him up and out onto the shore, “Damn, that’s gotta be a good five pounder. Man, what a beauty!”

Max grins as he uses a large rock to put the trout’s struggling to an end, “Yeah, now you get to clean him, but do it down stream in case I get a bite. Be kind of nice to have extra in case we aren’t so lucky again.”

Michael picks a spot just down a little bit from Max to clean and gut the fish. They had decided to give it another hour and then head back. Soon it’ll be too dark to see what they’re doing, plus the light rain was starting to come down harder and colder. Just as Michael was getting the guts out, he hears Max’s excited shout of “I got one” and goes over to help. It’s his turn to get in the water and use his helmet to scoop their dinner out. As he ends the fish’s death throws, he holds it up to show Max and gives his friend a rare broad grin. He was about to congratulate him when they hear a noise rapidly heading their way. They both freeze, he’s afraid to turn around, “Shit, what direction is it coming from?”

Max watches the skyline as the ship draws ever closer, “The wrong one. I think it’s doing recon and it’s definitely spotted us. It’s coming right for us.”

Thinking fast, “Ok Max, here’s what we’re going to do. Our weapons are behind us and that’s where they’re going to stay. You and I, my friend, are a couple of simple boys out doing some late fishing.”

His heart is beating so hard, it feels like it’s going to leap out of his chest, “What? Are you nuts, they’re not going to buy that.”

He finally turns around and plasters a big friendly grin on his face while holding up the fish even higher, as if he’s showing it too them, “Yes, they will. With any luck, they’re just doing visuals. The weather is too shitty for the heat trackers to work, so we’re going to give them a view of two buddies staying out late catching fish. Smile damn it and give them a big friendly wave.”

The major comes up behind the private with the low light binoculars, “So what do we have?”

The private squints trying to tell for certain. This time of day and weather makes for difficult spotting. It’s not quite dark enough for the low lights to work right but too dark to see anything clearly without them, “Just a couple of guys fishing. Looks like they’ve had some good luck. That’s got to be a 10-12 pounder he’s holding up. Looks harmless enough.”

The Major grumbles, “Great, probably from the house we saw over there a ways. Take a snapshot of them anyways just to be sure. The General is going to want to review anything we spot for any clue we might find of them.”

As the private takes a quick pic, a captain, the major’s friend comes over and puts his hand on the major’s shoulder trying to comfort him some, “Don’t worry Kyle, we’ll find them. We’re not going to let those bastards get away with them. You’ll be seeing your sister, Maria, and all of them real soon. I know it.”

Part 7

They watch as the ship heads back the way it came until it becomes a tiny dot, and eventually disappear. Michael turns and tosses the fish to Max, “Go clean it so we can get back.”

Max puts the fish down and stands on slightly wobbly legs, “I’ll be right back.”

Michael calls after him, “Where you going?”

Heading towards some shrubs, he yells back,” I gotta pee!”

About a half an hour later they arrive at the camp with dinner and breakfast and with any luck, dinner the next night. They quickly have the fish cut into manageable pieces and cooking over the open fire. At first the group had been lively and congratulatory until Michael told them about the ship. It’s a subdued group that dined on fresh trout that night. As the girls sit around the fire trying to stay warm, Alex approaches Max and Michael, talking quietly, “So, if it was a recon ship we had better be long gone from here before dawn.”

Max looks at him, “I agree but why do you say that?”

Alex explains, “I did some recon stuff when I first joined up. They always take pics of anything that catches their interest to be reviewed later in case something was missed. So right now, they’ve got a nice shot of the two of you and a fish. Think that guard we stunned is going to recognize either one of you? Even if he doesn’t, it won’t take long to figure out that you both were wearing combat boots and fatigues. The second the weather clears, they’re going to be back.”

Max and Michael just look at each other for a moment before Max announces, “Alex, I’ll take second watch. As soon as the rain lets up we need to get moving. We take only what we need. Just leave everything else. At this point I don’t think it matters, they’ll already know we were here. But once we do that, there’ll be no more stopping until we’re in line with the relay station.”

Alex and Michael look at each other then back to Max and nod in agreement, with one exception made by Michael, “Agreed, but I’ve got second watch. You need the sleep. You’re looking more and more like shit and you’re not going to last if you don’t. No arguing or I’ll use one of those knock out agents they gave us on you. Got it?”

Max closes his mouth and chokes back the protest. Instead he just nods and goes about setting out his sleeping roll and preparing for bed and dreading it. He knows they’re right but even when he does manage to actually sleep he gets no rest. He banks the fire to burn low for the night and looks around to make sure all is secure as he climbs underneath the blanket and watches the firelight flicker. After spending some time being mesmerized by the flames he turns a little and spots Liz getting up with her blanket wrapped around her shoulders, trying to get closer to the camp fire, that’s when he realizes she’s shivering. He can’t stand the thought, let alone the sight of him being at least somewhat warm and her not. Softly calling out, “Liz, Liz. Come here. Look if you want, we…we could share. Between your blanket and mine plus the fire, we should be plenty warm…no…no monkey business, I swear, just sleep.”

She thinks about it for a moment. As he raises the blanket, it looks so warm and inviting. With everything that has happened or possibly will happen, she figures she’ll need all the sleep she can get and that won’t be any if she’s sitting out in the cold like this. As she climbs in next to him, she instinctively snuggles up close to him for warmth but she does admit that it feels pretty nice too. Resting her head on his outstretched arm, through a yawn she tells him, “Thank you, you’re right, it’s much warmer this way.”

Max had no real idea what he was setting himself up for, well, maybe some idea but absolutely no experience. As she spoons herself up against him, every place their bodies touched was on fire and that fire was spreading. Suddenly keeping warm was the last thing he was worried about, as he tried to delicately scoot one part of his body away from hers so he won’t embarrass himself. He has to work very hard for some time to keep his emotions and hormones in check, but eventually he manages to relax a little and watch her sleep while bathed on the soft glow of the firelight as his eyes finally close in sleep. She awakens a little later to the soft crackle of the fire and the warm breath blowing on her ear. She gently turns and faces him, studying him in slumber. He’s so much younger than she had expected, but she’s not disappointed, far from it. So far he’s been kind and brave, adorably shy in some ways, and he has a very gentle soul plus very handsome too. She gently reaches up and runs her hand along his cheek and soft beard, whispering, “Sweet dreams my lost prince, sweet dreams.”

Alex comes back at the end of his first watch to the sight of Max and Liz all snuggled up nice and toasty in his bedroll. If that wasn’t surprising enough, somehow Maria has ended up in Michael’s bedroll, unfortunately Michael ended up with her blanket and was sitting next the fire looking his normal non-cheerful self. A quick scan tells him that Isabel has likewise commandeered his bedroll too. He gives Max and Liz another quick glance then heads over to the ever grumpy Michael, “All’s clear. So how’d that happen?”

Michael turns a pissed look on him, “Don’t ask. I’ll see you an hour before dawn or when the rain stops, whichever comes first.”

Alex looks back over to Max and realizes that he actually seemed to be getting some good sleep for a change; maybe all the guy needed was someone to hold on to during the night. He’s glad for it but briefly wonders exactly how that’s going to play out when they get back to camp, “So you want to let him sleep then? No third watch?”

Michael shakes his head, “Naw, one of us might as well get some good shut eye. It’s too damn cold to sleep with just a blanket and that one snores too much. Guard duty is a blessing. Good luck on getting any sleep yourself.”

Alex laughs a little at the comment, but as Michael heads out he looks over to his already occupied bedroll and wonders how true it was. Looking back at how peaceful Max and Liz seemed, then for some reason he looks towards a sleeping Maria, he figures why not. Without ceremony or advanced warning he simple lifts the blanket and slides into his bedroll. He grins to himself at how nice warm it was…and soft, too, that is, until he feels a sharp elbow to the ribs, “Umph, that wasn’t very nice. Look, it’s cold. I’m tired. This is my bedroll. You want to share fine otherwise, find somewhere else to sleep.”

It’s still dark out when Michael returns to camp. A quick bed check reveals Max and Liz still entwined together, with Max wearing a funny little grin as he slept. He sees that Maria must have found a new bed partner by the mass of blonde hair over there and a solitary Alex in his. It’s still a couple of hours until daylight but the rain has stopped which means company is expected at first light. He walks over to the single and grumbles, “Better luck next time.”

Alex opens one eye and looks up at a scowl, “You know, you’re a hell of a sight in the morning.”

Michael just chuckles and moves on to Max. As he nears them, he purposefully steps on a twig that is very near Max’s ear. The boy snaps awake a second later and is sitting up, grabbing for his weapon, “Sorry, nothing like a good dose of adrenalin to get you going in the morning, eh? Rain’s stopped, we gotta move.”

Trying to catch his breath, he simply nods. He was really out of it. He hadn’t slept like that in weeks. His dreams had been, sweet and gentle, of home and family and her. He looks over to her. She’s disheveled and sleepy eyed still but she never looked lovelier. A bit sheepishly, “Good morning. Did you sleep ok? Warm enough?”

She smiles a little as she looks at him. He’s so cute with his hair sticking up. She’s glad to see a little sparkle in his amber eyes this morning. It’s something she could definitely get use to waking up to, nodding to him, “Um-hum, very warm. Thank you and good morning to you too. Looks like an early one.”

The military intelligence agent sat in the room reviewing all the pictures and videos from the previous day. They needed any and all intel they could get before the battle starts this morning. Officially General Philip had allowed Major Kyle to take a recon ship along the backside of the mountain range to scout for any possible flank maneuvers but that was not the real purpose. Priestess Elizabeth and her ladies, including Major Kyle’s sister, had vanished without a trace, kidnapped in the middle of the night by the enemy right under their noses. It had both infuriated and demoralized the troops. The only thing that gave them some hope was that she had not turned up on the other side, which meant one of two things. They were still out there somewhere or they had already perished, but if it were the latter the enemy would have wasted no time in broadcasting the news and further demoralizing the troops. The priestess was known for her kindness and bravery and was much beloved by all, especially by soldiers that knew of the ancient stories and prophecies. He had just finished scanning the last video and found nothing so he moves on to the still pictures. He flips through digital picture after digital picture, mostly it’s just greenery, a little house, some horses and livestock grazing, some youths fishing, your basic ideal countryside. He pauses to rub his eyes then decides to get another cup of coffee.

Coming back to his desk with a large cup, he decides to try again from a different angle. Trying to think through what the probably mission was, it was obviously to kidnap the priestess and take her back to their camp, to show her captured to our troops. It would have been very effective in destroying moral right when it would need to be at its highest, but something went wrong. The guard spotted them and the alarm was sounded which caused them to alter plans while on the run. Most likely their backup was to go along the ridgeline, better coverage but we were on that almost immediately, so where’d they go? He looks over to a map of the area that’s hanging on the wall. They had three choices, down the middle, which would have been suicide, off to the side, possible but more than likely also suicide, or around the backside…possible. Now the question is provisions. If they were well provided they could make this trek no problem, but going this way wouldn’t have been part of their plan, only a last minute decision so it’s not likely they would have enough provisions with them for this type of march. So the question becomes how resourceful are they? Would they know how to live off the land? Would they be able to gather food, hunt and fish? Something clicks in place. Fish, why would there be youths of military age out fishing this close to a battlefield?

He walks back over to the picture, enlarges it, and immediately knows that something is not right. The boys are filthy, several days growth of beard, which means they were normally clean shaven, their clothes are all wrong, their shoes… he zooms in on their feet, “OH SHIT! That’s them!”

He picks up his hand communicator and excitedly announces, “I found them. I found them.”

The wheels of the military grind slow except for the main task at hand, which in this case is the battle that began with the rising sun. All other activities were regulated to the unqualified until the more qualified were available to look into things. It took a call by a sergeant to a lieutenant that knew Major Kyle and who had a crush in his sister for the matter to be brought to the attention of the more qualified, or more precisely to someone who had the authority to allocate the necessary resources. Kyle was barely able to contain his frustration as he was forced to wait until after the general’s briefing was over. The moment it was, he wasted no time on barging in and cornering General Philip. Shoving the picture in the general’s hand, “It’s them. I know it is. Damn, we saw them last night and didn’t realize it until the pictures were reviewed this morning, but that’s them. Those are the soldiers that took them. I already showed this to the guard that was shot this morning and he ID the one holding the fish as the one who shot him. Give me men and some ships and I’ll get them for you…sir.”

Philip takes the picture and stared hard at it, trying to see if either one of these two looked like monsters that would have killed them when the mission was blown. Keeping his voice calm, “Did you have any indication that they were still alive?”

Kyle blinks hard at the question and the general’s demeanor. He had thought General Philip would be chomping at the bit, the same as he, to get them back. Standing ramrod straight, “Yes, sir, I do. I can feel it. They’re alive, sir. I know it, sir.”

Philip looks at the Major and hopes he’s right, “Why?”

Kyle never wavers as he answers, “Because I have to, sir.”

Philip nods at him, “So do I son, so do I. But I have a bigger problem. I can’t divert much of anything to help you. The battle is not going well for us at the moment. They had too much time to gather reinforcements.”

Kyle thinks for a moment, “General, sir. Give me 20 soldiers with two battle transports and I’ll get them back. Think of the boost it would give to the moral of this place to see the priestess and her ladies again.”

Philip looks over to the logistic report, “I can give you half that and I strongly suggest you return them to me in good shape. Major Kyle, pick your 10 best men and go get my niece, your sister and Lady Isabel and bring them back to us. Good luck and God speed to you and the men.”

Max and his group had been at a steady jog-run all morning. None of them missed how scared the ladies had become when informed that they were leaving the camping supplies and everything else and basically making a run for it. Max had estimated that at this quickened pace they would be within range of the relay station by nightfall. The sky was still cloudy but no rain yet, when suddenly there was a loud BOOM and the ground shook, again and again. They all dropped to the ground and covered their heads. As the loud booms that shook the ground continued, Maria lost it, screaming though the tears at them, “Make it stop, just make it stop, please. I can’t do this, I can’t do this any longer, make it s t o p…”

As Maria collapsed in a sobbing heap with Liz and Isabel running to her aide, Michael looked worriedly to Max and Alex, they knew immediately what this meant, artillery fire, the battle had begun. They waited for about 20 minutes to give Maria time to collect herself while they tried to judge how close the battle was to them. They knew that they were in no immediate danger of being hit, but there was always a chance of a stray coming their way. Plus if it were going against them then eventually the enemy would be coming through here to cover their flanks. Max pulls out the map so they could consult it again, “So it sounds like it’s pretty much here, right down the middle.”

Alex pointing along the ridge, “Probably those louder ones were hitting the reinforcements we have here, just on the other side of the mountain. So how much farther we need to go?”

Michael pointing just a bit up ahead, “How about here? It’s in the open more and we’d be dead meat if found out, but Maria’s right, we’re all at our limits and are close to reaching our breaking point.”

Max looks at Michael then to Alex who nods his head in agreement. Looking back at the map, “I don’t like it, not all of us. I’ll go. The rest go along here, off to the side, it’s only slightly farther but it’ll give you some coverage. I still think that ship may come back.”

Michael doesn’t like Max being out there by himself, if he’s spotted by the wrong side, he’s a dead duck, but he’s right, no use getting them all killed if they didn’t have to, “ Ok, but stay low. Just stay long enough to make sure they get the message then get out of there.”
Max folds the map back and hands it to Michael to hold on to. He takes a long look over to where Liz is then turns and runs at full speed down towards the center of the valley, wide open. Michael and Alex watch him for a moment then turn back towards the ladies. Without preamble Michael tells them, “Get up, we move now and we don’t stop moving for anything. He’s risking his life doing this and I’ll be damned if we all aren’t going to be in place if he needs us, move out and don’t stop.”

Max runs until his chest feels like it’ll never get enough air again, but he keeps going until he has a clear view of the relay tower. He stops and pulls out his transmitter and sends a rescue signal. If everything goes right, the green light on it should light up when an answer signal is received back. He waits a minute then sends another signal and then another, still nothing, “Damn it! A smoke signal would’ve worked better. Damn technology anyhow!”

He decides to try moving over a little, to get a better line of sight; again he sends the signal then waits. He moves over a little more and tries again. After a few minutes, he finally hears a vague beep and the green light thankfully lights up. He looks over to the tree line, to where he’s supposed to go and wait. He takes a few steps in that direction, stumbles and falls flat on his face. Every muscle protests as he tries to get back up. Going on sheer survival willpower, he forces himself up and slowly, very slowly heads towards the tree line that looks to be a good 2 miles away.

In the middle of a battle, there are literally hundreds of messages sent and received hourly, making the communication center one of the busiest places imaginable. There was one set of frequencies however that the operators had been specifically instructed to immediately report on and one of them just lit the board up. The operator immediately took down the location and serial ID information and handed it to his supervisor, who handed it to his, who handed it to the Captain, who handed it to the special intelligence officer, Agent Pierce.

Part 8

Michael set a grueling pace and true to his word, stopped for nothing. No one complained, no one dared. As they rounded the natural curve of the hill, they saw him and he didn’t look good. Even from this distance it was obvious that he was in trouble as he was stumbling more than walking. Michael fought every urge he had to go running down there, instead he turned his head slightly and while never stopping, yelled, “Come on, move it faster!”

Kyle was close to losing it. They had found the camp and it was obvious that there were at least 5 or 6 of them camping here. Judging by the fact that they left basically all their survival gear behind, they were planning on moving fast and hard. No doubt they knew he’d be back once they figured it out. But it also showed that they must be nearing there pick up point. Now all he had to do was get there first which wasn’t going to happen with him tracking them, he had to get in front of them. He takes long strides as he hurries back to his ship. They’re close. They have to be. No matter how fast they pushed it, they couldn’t have gotten too far on foot and if he remembered correctly, his little sister was no outdoor lover. Upon entering the ship he’s in no mood to mince words as he barks out his order to the corporal, “Show me a map of the area, narrow it down to this valley. Now add in suspected enemy posts that are close by. This isn’t working. New map, show me a topographical map of the area. Come on, come on, I want details of mountains, forest, and rivers. Ok better, plot our location, now show me what lies ahead of us. Plot the closest enemy posts back in. Nothing, scan out a little further until you find something, anything that belongs to the enemy. There’s got to be something. What’s that blip?”

Corporal, “Reportedly a transmission relay station, sir.”

Thinking fast over the possibilities, he suddenly taps his finger on the display where this side of the valley bends back west some, right in line with the station, “That’s it. That’s where they’re headed.”

The captain has been looking over his shoulder, “There’s nothing there and the relay station is too far, they’d never make it.”

He hates to admit it but these guys were pretty damn smart, too bad they’re on the wrong side, “Don’t need to. My bet is some idiot didn’t think and packed them line-of-sight transmitters; otherwise they would have called for help a long time ago. No, they only need to get here, to this bend and get a clear shot to send a message then hold up somewhere and wait for the Calvary to come get them. If it were me, I’d pick this spot, along the tree line here to wait. You’ve got a clear view of what’s coming in each direction, plus a little cover. It’s the only place they could be without crossing to the other side of the valley. That’s where they are or will be and that’s where we’re going. Let’s get under way, but watch it. If they’ve already gotten there and gotten the signal off, we could be in for some unexpected company. Let’s keep our eyes open. Move out.”

Agent Pierce had hand picked the 20 men a long time ago and trained them well. They were technically special ops forces but they answered only to him. They did the dirty work that people thought only the other side did. Snatching the priestess was a beautiful idea, unfortunately it wasn’t his idea and the General had it in motion before he even caught wind of it for if he had, it would have been his men that would have been the operatives instead of three grunts, one of whom was actually a simple soldier. That’s why you didn’t leave these types of operations in the hands of amateurs, too much chance of a SNAFU, which is apparently what’s happened. He didn’t hold out much hope that they had gotten the priestess out alive, but he had to be certain. If they had, he’d whisk her away for some thorough debriefing after being paraded in plain view of the enemy, while the men would get a pat on the back, a day’s rest and most likely killed in action during the battle the next day. Not so lucky, they’d be on the battlefront before nightfall. The copilot interrupts his musing as he announces that they’re almost there.

They’re all panting hard as they finally reach the spot, Michael is going nuts wanting to go get Max who is doing more falling than he is walking. Finally he just can’t take it any more and thrusts his weapon at Alex, “Here, you take it. Anyone comes that we don’t like, blow them out of the Goddamn sky. I’m going to go get our hero before he gets himself killed. Damn fool, I knew I shouldn’t have let him do it. He’s just a Goddamn, pigheaded simple kid that should be home being tucked in by his mama and not out playing soldier. I’m get pretty Goddamn tired of wet nursing him…”

Alex sets up a defensive position as Michael continues bitching as he heads down the hill then breaks into a run as he clears the trees. Looking around for the best coverage, he points to a spot, “You three, over there and keep your heads down. You think Michael’s going to lay into Max over this? You don’t want to know what he’d do if I got one of you three killed, so stay there and stay down until we tell you otherwise.”

Michael makes it to Max and is half dragging, half carrying him and if he had the breath for it would have been yelling at him and calling him every name in the book, which he promises himself he will do later, loudly, for several hours. They don’t make it too far before they hear them. At first it’s confusing as they try and figure out which direction the ship is coming from before they realize that it’s coming from both directions. As the ships come within sight of each other, Max and Michael look from one to the other and then to each other. Somewhere Max’s body finds a hidden stash of adrenalin as they both realize that they are right in the middle of a new battlefield, turning to Michael, “This isn’t good.”

Michael looks incredulously at Max, “NO SHIT! RUN!”

Kyle had spotted them back a ways back but held off, wanting to get a better idea of the situation, which as he drew closer he realized basically sucked. He had a medium-armed small transport and was looking at highly specialized and armed cruiser, which meant special ops, which meant highly trained and battle harden men. He’s out gunned and most likely out manned but no way in hell was he backing down. He catches a glimpse of the two men, running like hell towards the tree line, right where he thought they’d be. “Battle stations. This is going to be down and dirty. Aim for their engines and don’t quit until they’re on the ground. Weapons free, let’s take the first shot.”

The air felt like it was exploding and the ground wouldn’t stop shaking as both ships opened fire at the same time. Max was having a hard time staying on his feet but then so was Michael. The second they got to the tree line Alex reached out and grabbed Max and hauled him behind some fallen trees where moments later he’s joined by Michael, “Now keep your ass down so it won’t get blown off.”

Max tries to get back up to check on Liz, “Where, where are they? Where’re Liz, Maria and Isabel?”

Michael practically body slams Max back to the ground as the battle rages right in front of them. He’s angry, not precisely at Max but he’ll do at the moment, “They’re over behind us where it’s safer. But I’ll go check on them if it’ll make you happy. Alex, he tries to get up again…SIT ON HIM! Stupid kid, he’s going to get his damn head shot off yet if I don’t watch him… and I’d let him too if it weren’t for his parents…should ship him back home where he belongs…”

Max just looks at Michael making his way over to and then behind some boulders, cursing at him. Looking back at Alex confused. Alex just looks at him for a few moments as the ground continues to shake and tremble and smoke starts to fill the air, Alex finally answer’s Max’s unspoken question, “Your our leader so it’s your job to look out for us. Michael’s your second, it’s his job to keep you from getting yourself killed and right now you’re trying his patience a bit. Just stay down and stay alive and you’ll make him very happy.”

Kyle’s ship is filling with smoke. Their power is quickly dropping. Coughing and choking, “Engineer report!”

It’s the copilot that reports instead, “Engineer’s dead, pilot’s dead, forward cannon’s gone, auxiliary gun battery inoperable, one thruster is gone and I’m not sure we could get enough altitude with just the other one to make it out of here. On a high note, the recorders are still working so they’ll be able to see what happened, if they ever find the ship. In other words major, we’re screwed.”

Thru coughs Kyle gives his answer, “Yeah, ‘bout what I was thinking too. All hands arm your selves to the teeth, turn your personal transponders on and prepare to abandon ship. Remember that’s a special ops ship we’re up against. They aren’t known for taking prisoners and the ones that they do take don’t usually live too long or wish they hadn’t. All hands abandon ship!”

Michael held Maria tightly in his arms with Liz and Isabel huddling close by covering their ears as the battle raged. Suddenly there’s a loud bang and he looks up just in time to see the enemy ship come crashing to the ground. He looks in the other direction to see their ship advance forward. Movement back in the other ship catches his eye as men come pouring out of the downed ship. He looks over to Max and Alex, both staying down low and looking back at him for a report since he has a better vantage point. His eyes look beyond them to their ship, which had easily landed and has many more men come pouring out and they all look very serious. Looking back to his friends he shakes his head and mouths “no”. There’s no need to join the fight, better to stay in defensive positions. After all it didn’t matter if you’re shot by friend or foe, you’re just as dead.

The battle doesn’t take too long but the enemy did put up one hell of a fight, they just didn’t ever stand a chance. As the special ops troops round up a few prisoners, they take that as their cue to come down to meet them with their own. It’s strange that none of them wants to do this to hand the priestess and her ladies over. They’d give anything not to but they’ve obviously been spotted and trying to escape with them would just get them all shot. Max looks like he could cry as Liz looks up at him tenderly, “Don’t worry my lost prince. It’ll work out the right way.”

It takes him a moment to find his voice, ”No Liz, don’t. I’m not who you think I am. I’m…sorry. I’m so sorry.”

She gives him a small smile and then turns and calmly walks towards her true capturers with her two ladies in waiting following behind her. The three soldiers follow them and watch as guards immediately surround the ladies. Off a little ways are five prisoners from the ship, one of whom isn’t that much older than the three of them, who has dark hair and vivid blue eyes watching in anguish as his little sister is now firmly in the hands of his enemies. He had failed her.

Agent Pierce appraises the three ladies before looking over the three young soldiers. He stands before the one that he knows had been assigned as the leader, “Why are there three of them?”

Max wants to go somewhere and curl up and die. He feels sick and as exhausted as he is, he knows that he won’t get any sleep tonight, maybe never again. He finally brings himself to look his questioner in the eyes and his blood runs cold as what he sees, a monster. Standing a little straighter, “They’re her ladies in waiting, sir. They were with the priestess when we took her. We had no choice but to take them as well.”

posted on 19-Apr-2002 1:03:37 AM
His eyes narrow as he scrutinizes this boy leader, “No choice? Of course you had a choice. You could have left them.”

Michael stiffens at the man’s words. He looks over to where Maria is standing and that sinking sick feeling he had has just hit bottom. He knows that this is going to end badly. He looks back to Max, who’s just standing there, not sure what to say, not sure he’s going to like the answer he gets.

Pierce just continues to eye Max for a moment longer then suddenly smiles at him, “No bother. You three did fine. We’ll take care of them for you, no worries. Now, why don’t you three go get on the ship and rest for a bit? You must be tired. We won’t be long.”

They stay rooted in their spots for several moments and only very slowly start to move towards the ship. Max comes to a sudden stand still, then turns and walks back towards Pierce with Michael and Alex following close behind. Max simply can’t stand it. Coming up next to him, “Sir, what’s going to happen to them?”

Pierce looks at him for a moment then shrugs, “For the priestess here, what we had always planned. She’s going to be making an appearance soon so all her world can see her as our captive… later she’ll be taken to some place more secure so we can chat a bit. As for her ladies here, they really are of no value to us, like most prisoners, they just tend to get in the way.”

He abruptly turns away from Max to face one of the guards and very casually tells him, “Shoot the two blonds.”

Max’s mind isn’t working; it refuses to process what he just heard. Everything is running in slow motion. Out of the corner of his eye, he watches Liz shout, then struggle with the guard that was holding her and some how she slips out of his grasp just as the other guard swings his weapon around, casually aims and fires. The second Max saw the guard actually pull the trigger something snapped in him. He felt an incredible rage explode from within. He holds his hand out in front of him and for a second everything turns white. He staggers a bit as his vision clears. The guard that was firing is now a pile of smoldering bones, as are the ones next to him, and the next. Max looks around to see who’s left. There were still some guarding the prisoners but now the prisoners seems to be fighting back. That agent is running back to the ship as are a few others. Max turns around and is relieved to see Michael and Alex still there. They’re staring at him in shock. He keeps turning around until he sees Isabel and Maria. He keeps looking and becomes scared when he doesn’t immediately spot Liz. He’s almost afraid to look down, afraid of what he might see. When he finally does, he’s horrified. Running to her side, he doesn’t even think as he roughly shoves Isabel to the side. As he looks her over, there’s a horrible laser burn to the stomach. He tears her gown some so he could get a better look at the wound. Putting his hand over it he cups the back of her neck with the other and pleads with her, “Please Liz, look at me, please look and me. Please stay with me. You’ve got to open your eye’s Liz. Look at me.”

Kyle and his men finally manage to fight off the guards and goes running over to his sister and hugs her then looks down to the drama that is taking place in front of him, “What’s he doing?”

Maria watches as Max’s hand begins to glow, “Fulfilling the legend.”

Michael just looks at Maria for a moment. He briefly wonders whom that soldier is holding Maria before his attention is drawn back to what Max is doing by the sound of Liz taking a deep breath. As Max finally let’s go of Liz, Michael reaches down and steadies Max so he won’t fall over. Michael sits Max firmly on his butt on the ground, figuring if he falls over he doesn’t have that far to fall, but that’s unlikely in any case as Liz suddenly sits up and wraps her arms tightly around him. Michael looks back over to Maria and that soldier that has his arms still around her. Putting aside personal feelings for the moment, “We need to be getting the hell out of here and fast.”

Kyle meets his eye, “A fresh, well armored transport is already on it’s way. One of my men went back to our ship and called it in, but you’re right, we need to get organized so we make sure not to leave anyone behind. I take it you three are coming with us?”

Liz is gently stroking his cheek as she holds him against her. She smiles as little as she hears a soft snore come from him, “He has to come. We can’t leave the lost prince behind.”

Alex looks at her as if she’s crazy, “Lost Prince? Him? Lady, he’s just a simple soldier, a kid.”

Isabel finally tears herself away from watching them, “Alex, the legend says the lost prince was raised ‘simply’ and he was. Besides, if he’s not the lost prince, then explain what he just did to those soldiers and then healing Liz.”

Michael watches Alex open his mouth then close it again. The glib one finally has no come back. Giving him a slight knock on the arm, “Come on Alex. I think Max is in safe enough hands for now. Let’s help get things sorted out.”

Part 9

There was some confusion when the transport ship arrived. The Captain in charge of it had immediately tried to take Max, Michael and Alex prisoner only to have the priestess and her ladies demand their release, which he was still not inclined to do but ultimately did so only at the direct order of Major Kyle. He watches the three men climb aboard and take their seats. One is so out of it that he could barely stand. He’s surprised to see the priestess go and sit next to him and take his hand to reassure him. He’s had enough; he’s going to find out what the hell was going on before they take off. He purposefully marches over to the major, who was directing the evacuation of some prisoners that they had captured, “Major, sir. That’s my ship and I need to know what’s going on. I need to be prepared in case of trouble during flight.”

Kyle turns and looks at him, he’s right. He needs to know. They all need to know. Sure they would tell them what happened but what they witnessed was so astounding, most are going to have a hard time believing. Damn, if they could have only seen what they had seen. It suddenly dawns on him, as he excitedly starts to head over to his crashed ship, “Captain, take over here. I have to get something.”

Kyle leaves the confused captain and runs back to his crash. He quickly checks the recorder only to find it smashed. There’s one other way. Fortunately they hadn’t completely shut the power off, they needed it for the autodestruct sequence that will go off in 5 minutes. He logs onto the computer and uses his special password, praying the recorder had time to backup to the main computer before it died. Maybe, just maybe, it caught it all on tape. He quickly finds the video file and scans though the images, and there it is, Max holding out his hand, the white blinding light, the guards disintegrating, Liz shot, Max healing her. It’s there; it’s all there. He takes a new data chip, inserts it, and starts copying. A minute later, he has it and runs back to the transport that has been waiting for him. The second the door closes the ship takes off and not a moment too soon. He can see on the tracking system that 4 heavily armed enemy gunners are coming upon the battle site. Now is not the time to for battle, he has more important things to consider, so he gives the command, “Captain, let’s get the hell out of here, top speed!”

Kyle took a seat near the cockpit. As they zoomed off he took some time to watch the three soldiers and more importantly, he watched how his little sister kept looking at the tall broody one but then Lady Isabel seemed rather interested in the other tall lanky one. There was no doubt that Priestess Elizabeth was very taken with Max, the apparent Lost Prince, who was at this moment sound asleep with his head lopped over onto Michael’s shoulder. The four prisoners that they had managed to get were tightly bound and gagged and secured to the floor. It looked rather uncomfortable but that was just too damn bad. Turning back around to the Captain, “How long?”

Captain, “About two hours. Plenty of time for explanations.”

Kyle gives him a wry grin and hands him the data chip that he had downloaded, “Take a look, Captain.”

A few minutes later the Captain is sitting in shock after watching it again, just to make sure he had seen it right the first time, “That’s incredible. That boy over there that’s snoring did that? He’s the Lost Prince? Incredible. So what do we do with this?”

Kyle, “We need to get this info to the General immediately.”

Captain thinks for a moment, “By the time we encrypt it and send it, they get it and transcribe the encryption, we’ll be there already.”

Kyle smiles as a thought occurs to him, “Then don’t encrypt it. In fact, send it on an open channel.”

The Captain frowns, “We can’t do that. The enemy will undoubtedly pick it up along with our location. While we’re well armed and have a good start on them, I have no desire to push our luck.”

Kyle looks pointedly at Michael, “Tell me. What would your side’s reaction be if they saw this, if they new that the Lost Prince was real, that the legend has been set in motion. Hell, even if they just saw or heard about his power and know that he’s on our side?”

Michael doesn’t even think about it, “They’d be scared shitless.”

Kyle just smiles, “Exactly, Captain send this message directly to General Philip. Your assumption was correct. Here is an account of the events leading to the discovery of the Lost Prince. Thank you for the Royal escort for him. Will be returning with him forthwith. Attach the video and send it, uncoded and on an open frequency.”

Captain, “What royal escort?”

Kyle, “The one that we will be getting the second the General finishes watching the video.”

Communications Officer nervously waits for the General to finish so he may show him something. Seeing his moment, “General Philip, General Philip. Sir, we have just received a message from Major Kyle. It was sent on an open channel and was addressed directly to you. There’s a video attached…I think you should take a look at it…immediately, sir.”

General Philip looks at him curiously. He nods and then steps over to the terminal and watches in silence. When he’s done viewing the tape, he asks to have the last part replayed where Max heals Liz, then turns to a Commander of special ops, “Commander, assemble however many attack cruisers you can find and go escort that transport ship back here. I expect an update in 20 minutes and you had better be telling me you have made visual contact with them. Any sign of enemy ships anywhere near them, kill ‘em. Lieutenant, make sure there’s a secure landing area and have the prince and his associates brought before me, make certain my niece and her ladies are in good condition. Have the logistic officer allocate appropriate accommodations for the prince and associates, something close to the priestess perhaps. Also have a corpsman standing by just in case, the prince didn’t seem too well. Now, let’s take a look at that video again and see how we can get this miracle out to the soldiers. This could turn the battle for us, the lost prince showing up, the priestess and her ladies safely returned, yeah, this just may turn the tide for us.”

He watched the escort ships that surrounded them, Kyle had to hand it to the General, it took less than 30 minutes and he had almost a whole damn squadron out there. They had also caught the rebroadcast over open channels of the video being replayed again and again this past hour. Yep, the General was a pretty smart guy after all. Kyle looked out the cockpit window and could see their encampment coming up. Turning back to his guests, “You might want to see if you can wake him up. We’ll be landing in a couple of minutes and I’m certain the General is going to want to talk to him. Might be nice if he was conscious for it.”

Max was very confused, for some reason Michael and Alex were on either side of him holding him upright and telling him to wake up. He hadn’t been aware that he was asleep. As he walk/stumbles down the ship’s ramp, he looks around and can’t quite figure out where he was. He thought they were back at camp, it looked like a camp, but nothing looked the way he remembered it. Someone with a stretcher comes over to Michael and asks him something. As Michael shakes his head and waves them away, Max takes a longing look at that stretcher as he stumbles along wishing he could lay down somewhere. As they walk into a tent a large man comes over to greet them, Michael and Alex temporarily let go of him to solute, so Max tries to do the same. Luckily Alex’s reflexes are still pretty quick and he steadies Max before he topples over.

Philip had taken sometime reviewing the video while he waited for the transport to return. He paid special close attention to the one that had ordered the guard to shoot. It was very clear that the man, monster really, wasn’t the type to take this laying down. He would retaliate and it would be quick and decisive. He would take things personal and that worried him. He needed background info on this prince and he needed it immediately. As they finally arrive and are brought before him, he takes one look at the prince and immediately decides to make this quick or the kid might just pass out on him. He keeps his tone sharp, hoping it’ll force the soldier before him to respond automatically. As the boy sways on his feet and his friend helps him stay upright, he barks, “Stand at attention soldier. Good, now I need to know who you are. Where are you from?”

Max is doing his best to stay upright as the General ordered. Trying to sound coherent, which he really wasn’t at the moment, “Southern Region, Western Province.”

Philip, “More detail soldier, I asked you a question, where are you from?”

Max blinks a few times trying to figure out what to say.

Philip gets a little closer and louder, “I’m waiting, where are you from?”

Max reverts to autopilot and just blurts it out, “The Village of Green, near the southern mountains, Western Province, Southern Region…sir.”

The General catches the other boy looking at him angrily. He doesn’t like how his friend is being treated but is smart enough to stay quiet about it at the moment. Keeping the pressure up on Max, “Do you have family still there? Parents, siblings, anyone?”

Max is confused and room is starting to spin. There’s a general he doesn’t know yelling questions at him for some reason and he’s having a hard time thinking or for that matter standing, slurring his words, “My…my par un’s Haaan an Annnnnaaa.”

Philip watches the boy slump towards one of his friends. The moment he got the information he wanted, his manner changes. It becomes softer, gentle, “That’s good son. That’s fine. You’ve done well. Now we’ll let your friends here take you to your quarters so you can lie down and get some sleep. You two want to take your friend and get him tucked in?”

Michael draws himself up straight, “Yes, sir, general sir, but with your permission. We’d like to volunteer for the mission, sir.”

Philip looks at him for a moment then turns to a corporal, “Corporal, escort these men to their quarters, then these two to the mess tent and then shower tent, get them some clean uniforms and gear, have them report back mission ready in one hour.”

Five minutes later they are dropping an already out Max onto a rather comfortable looking cot, then followed the corporal to the mess tent. While plowing through their third helpings, Alex asks, “So what was that all about? Why’d he want to know where Max was from and what did you just volunteer us for? Are you sure Max is going to be ok here by himself?”

Between mouthfuls, “Max’ll be fine. I’m sure the priestess will be looking out for him. I’m not certain, but I have a feeling that the General is planning on a little family reunion for Max.”

Alex finishes off another cup of coffee, “You think they’re in danger? Think that officer is going to go after them. Bastard, how could an officer just order two innocent girls murdered like that?’

Michael shakes his head, “I doubt that was any real officer. That was a special ops squad. They have their own agendas. Remember that guard had no more qualms about doing it than that * officer * did in ordering it. Yeah, the more I think about it, the more I’m certain that he’s going to be going after Max’s Mama and Papa, if for no other reason than revenge. Come on, let’s go get those showers and clean uniforms, times wasting.”

Michael and Alex knew what kind of operation they were in for when the uniforms they were issued were all black and their weapons had special tracking and detection options on them, plus special night goggles and communication devices. They head over to a harden bunker with high tech security everywhere. The General is there along with 8 other soldiers dressed the same as them all standing around a digital map table. The General introduces them to Commander Thomas who was the group leader. The plan was simple, get in, get out with parents. He and Alex tell them what they know about where his parents’ cottage was, that his parents were elderly and not in robust health. Commander Thomas then brings them up to date on the latest intel, “From the video we were able to ID who the boss was that ordered the shootings. His name is Pierce, Agent Pierce now. Once upon a time he had been an officer in the army but turned to Black Ops about 10 years ago. He’s done some pretty nasty stuff, has a reputation for ruthlessness. He caught one of our agents a couple of years back. He sent him back in a small box. We need to get there before he does. He won’t think twice about using force on them. Now the other problem is ID. These are simple people and generally are not too trusting of outsiders. Have they meet either one of you two?”

Alex looks at Michael as they both shake their heads “no”, then Alex explains, “No, they never actually met us but they do know us through letters and things. His mama even started sending extra stuff in care packages for us. We shouldn’t have too much trouble convincing them we’re their son’s friends come to help.”

The commander looks at them for a moment, “We might not have that much time. Any way you could get a letter or something from Max, or even something, a family secret, something that would immediately identify us to them. I’d hate to have to take these people by force and if they, as you said are not in the best of health. I wouldn’t want to rescue them only to have them die of fright. When this meeting breaks up, see if you can get anything out of him.”

Michael sits by Max’s bed and has been shaking him for several minutes, “Max, Max, come on wake up man, come on, open your eyes. Man, it’s important, it’s for your mama and papa, come on man, they need you. WAKE UP DAMN IT!”

Max reluctantly opens his eyes just a bit, “Wha…what?”

Michael, “Max, listen. We’re going to go visit your mama and papa and we need you to tell us something, anything that just you and them know. We need to know something that will make them trust us…come on Max…MAX, DON’T YOU DARE PASSOUT AGAIN!”

At an actual slap across the face from Michael, Max’s eyes pop open, “Huh, you…you’re gonna see mama and papa? Tell, them I love them and…and miss them.”

Growing frustrated, Alex decides to intervene, “Hey, Michael let me try before you break something, like him. Ok Max, yeah, we’ll tell them that, no problem but hey, should we tell them that secret too? You know the one, it’s only kept in the family, you want us to tell them that too…how does that go again?”

Max groggily mumbles, “You mean about my mother’s diary?”

Michael gives Alex a thumbs up, “Yeah Max, the diary. What was so special about it again?”

Max is drifting in and out, “It…birth Mother…Grandfather…death warrant… told papa…keep hidden…house…”

Alex tries to get some more but is answered only with snores, “Ok I think that’s about all we’re getting, sounds like his papa has some sort of diary from his birth mother that he’s hiding for Max.”

Michael throws a blanket back over his friend and watches him sleep for a minute, “Yeah, and it also sounds like it’s his death warrant if found. I’d say that’s a good reason to keep it hidden. Max, my friend, for such a simple person, you have one hell of a complicated life. When I get back, you and I are going out back, someplace private for a long talk…then I’m going to beat the crap out of ya for putting me through all this shit. Sleep well Max.”

Part 10

Liz had been furious with her uncle, who had upon arrival given orders for herself, Maria and Isabel to be taken directly to the infirmary for medical checks. After they were all pronounced fit, they went to get cleaned up and fed before she finally got to see her uncle. After a warm, loving hug, she let him know her true displeasure, “Uncle Philip, thank you for sending rescue. With the battle starting I know resources would be precious, thank you. However, I am not happy about being separated from the prince. He was not well and I am very concerned for him. He was already exhausted before… before he performed his miracles and after he could barely stand. But I did not see him in the infirmary as he should have been, nor did I see his companions being checked for medical needs. Where are they? Why aren’t they being tended to?”

Philip just smiles at her. He could tell from the video and also from Major Kyle’s report of their return trip that she was fond of the prince, “If you had bothered to pay attention, you could have probably heard the prince’s snoring from your tent since his is right next to yours. They declined medical treatment saying that rest and food was all that the prince truly needed and after meeting with him briefly, I agreed. But since I knew you would be concerned I did have a corpsman check on him and give him a basic look over. I’m told he slept through it and other than the apparent exhaustion was in basic good health.”

Liz is slightly embarrassed, “Oh, I…thank you uncle. I should have known you’d make sure he was well cared for, my apologies. How are his associates fairing? Are they resting too? I believe Maria and Isabel would be interested in knowing.”

He had hoped they’d have returned before Liz approached him. It was unrealistic since they had left only an hour ago and it would be basically an all night mission with the travel time since the Southern Region was a good three hours distance even in their fast, armed scout ship, “They are well, but they had something to do. They’ll be back in the morning.”

Liz was aghast, “They’re not here? Uncle, please tell me that they didn’t go back to do some sort of intel mission for you. They’ve been through just as much as Max, as we all have and are just as exhausted from it. How could you uncle?”

Philip shakes his head, “It wasn’t what you think. The officer that ordered the shooting is in Black ops. He’s ruthless and is going to be looking for anything and everything he can find on the prince, including any relatives. Other than the prince, those two soldiers were the closest link to his family we had and were needed on the mission. I didn’t even have to ask, they volunteered. With luck, they’ll be back before dawn. Now, why don’t you go check on your prince then go get some rest yourself.”

She sat in his tent for almost an hour watching him sleep. He was still covered in dirt and grime but it didn’t seem to bother his sleep so she let him be. She just held his hand and watched him. As her own fatigue was starting catch up with her, she softly caresses his cheek then leans over to gently kiss him on the temple and whispers softly in his ear, “Sleep well my prince, you’re lost no more.”

Agent Pierce was full of rage; he had lost half of his men all over some stupid girl. He didn’t even have the luxury of putting his own spin on his failure of things. That damn recording was being broadcasted before he even had the chance to report in. The second his ship landed he stormed into the command center and demanded anything they had on this Soldier Max and then tore through the tent he had occupied. All he found were old fashion letters from his parents, tins of baked goods and various insubstantial things. He already had his personnel file in hand. It took almost two anxious hours to turn his men and gear around and head out to the Southern Region. As they neared the area, Pierce takes out some of the letters that he found in the tent and reread the most recent. One of the problems in locating simple people was that they didn’t exactly have addresses, you just addressed it to the person and the village and somehow it got to them. As he reads the last letter again, his lips turn up, “Land near the village, we need to find the butcher shop. We’ll get directions from there, one way or another.”

As their ship was about a half an hour away, everyone was double-checking their weapons and gear. Commander Thomas looks over to his newest members. They look competent enough, seemed to know how to handle weapons without problems, “You two listen up. Stick with me. If things go to hell, try not to get yourselves shot. Wouldn’t make the General real happy. Just head back to the ship. Stay on your toes people. Let’s make this quick.”

Agent Pierce keeps a firm hand on the butcher’s son. His dad had protested him being taken but that didn’t matter. A pistol whip and blow to the stomach had stopped the struggle. Before leaving he had explained to them that after they left if they found themselves surrounded by angry town people, their son would be the first one to go down. That seemed to have settled things. They approached the small simple stone and wood cottage with smoke coming from the chimney and a glow coming through shuttered windows. The terrified boy points a trembling finger at the cottage. He looks at the boy for a minute, “Ok, now you listen. You go home and stay there. If we run into any trouble, I’ll come back for you and your family and make good on my threat, you understand me? Good, now get out of here!”

Anna was sitting at the table peeling vegetables for tomorrow’s stew. She can’t help the tears, “Oh Han, this is his favorite. He should be here not out there somewhere with strangers, fighting this stupid war. Why hasn’t he written this week? He always writes every week. What’s happened to him?”

Han walks over and puts his arms around his sobbing wife. He’s just as worried as she was, they’ve both heard the reports of a big battle going on, “He’s just on maneuvers. You’ll see, we’ll…we’ll be getting a long letter soon. He’s ok… He’s got to be.”

Han looks up in alarm as the front door suddenly goes flying open and a man comes storming into the house, “Who are you? What do you want?”

Pierce answers the questions with a blow across the face knocking the old man to the floor. He says nothing as the woman calls her husband’s name and then goes to him. His men roughly pull both of them up and force them to sit in the dining chairs. He pulls out a small video viewer with an altered clip of the earlier events, “I’m Agent Pierce and we’re here to find out what kind of monster you raised. He murdered several of my men and a young girl before turning traitor. Right now he’s at our enemy’s camp, plotting his own worlds destruction. You don’t believe me? Look!”

Both Anna and Han look in horror as they see their son hold out his hand, then the white light and several men are suddenly just smoldering piles of bones, and then shoots a dark haired young girl. Anna is in tears but shakes her head in defiance, “No, no he wouldn’t do that. He couldn’t. What you showed us can’t be true…what have you done to my son?”

Pierce gets right in her face, “Your son. Is that really who he is? See, the only ones that could possibly have this type of power would have royal blood in them, which clearly neither of you does, so how could he really be your son? Tell me who he really is. Tell us what we need so we can help to understand him. See, as it stands now, he’ll be shot on sight, but if you can help us understand him maybe we could talk to him first, it might spare his life…you want to spare his life, don’t you?”

Han’s head hurt like hell and he could feel his heart racing with anger. He should be terrified and on some level he was but right now he was more angry than anything else, “He’s our son. He was born and raised here. He’s a good boy that could never murder in cold blood, he’s not like that, he’s not like you.”

Pierce raises his hand as if to strike the old man again, then stops. Turning to his men, “This is getting us nowhere. Take them outside. I want this place torn apart. There’s got to be something here, some document, some article of clothing, jewelry, anything that doesn’t look like it belongs here!”

They were just coming into the area and doing scans of the forest that surrounds the village, looking for any sign of unusual activity. They didn’t want to go into the village and possibly upset the locals if they didn’t have to. The scan operator notices something, calling back to his commander, “Sir, I think we’ve got something. Over here, there’s a small house and I count 7 people standing around it, sir. Also there appears to be some sort of ship over here at the far end of the village. I think we’re too late, sir.”

Commander Thomas has the ship land just a little north of the small house. As they reach the perimeter, his men spread out with Michael and Alex staying near him. They all use their night goggles and can clearly see an older couple standing a little ways away from the house, being guarded by two men. The sound of destruction can clearly be heard coming from within the house. He scans around the surrounding area and spots three more men guarding the area. Speaking into his com, “I count three on guard plus the two holding the old couple. Count on at least two more in the house plus Pierce. I want the snipers to take down the two guarding the old couple and the scouts take down the three walking posts. Let’s see if we can get those old folks out of danger first, then see if we can do a thing of two about Pierce.”

Pierce was busy watching his men turn over anything that wasn’t nailed down, all drawers were dumped on the floor and their contents strewn about. So far they hadn’t found a damn thing. As they are getting ready to start ripping up some loose floorboards, they hear what sounds like the whir of laser fire, then shouts from some of his men. Pierce looks out the window and sees nothing. He and his two men cautiously go outside. Pierce immediately spots the old couple. Their guards are on the ground dead, and the couple is looking around in confusion. Pierce grabs the lady and holds a gun to her, shouting out, “Hold your fire or she’s dead!”

Pierce ignores the old man begging for him to release his wife. He and the two remaining guards start walking slowly towards the path leading to the village, “Any one comes near us and she’s dead.”

Michael had watch first in elation as the guards were taken down then horror as Pierce grabbed Max’s mama. He looks over to his right at how the forest curves around the clearing just so, ending at the path. He starts making his way over there, staying just in the forest enough to stay hidden. He can hear the commander over the communication piece in his ear, first berating him for doing it then telling him to stay low and not to make too much noise. He has to hurry to get in position before Pierce makes it to the path. He whispers into his mouth piece, “Commander, I’m in position. If the snipers can take the guards out, I can get Pierce from behind.”

Pierce was walking backwards, preceded by his two men. He keeps his weapon trained on the lady. He smirks as he thinks how stupid these troops are, stopping all because of a little old lady. They’re almost to the path when suddenly his guards stumble to the ground, he looks over to see what happened when something from the other direction knocks him to the ground causing him to loose his grip on the lady. He’s looking up at an angry young man from earlier that day, who has his weapon pointed at his chest. The adrenalin was really pumping and it was hard for Michael to keep from firing, as Pierce makes a slight move, “Just give me an excuse.”

posted on 19-Apr-2002 1:04:14 AM
A few moments later Han and Anna are standing in the door way of what used to be their neat and tidy little home, “Oh Han, look what they’ve done.”

As he holds his wife in his arms, “It’s alright, nothing that can’t be fixed.”

Commander Thomas comes up behind them, “I’m sorry folks, but you can’t stay here. Eventually there’re going to be others wanting the same thing.”

Han hadn’t had much time to think about it but he knew that they were probably right, “Who are you? Do you know where our son is? They said… they said he had murdered some people, he showed us this video…that he killed a young girl.”

Alex and Michael come walking in. The house was a mess, but through the mess they could see the warm and loving home it had been for their friend. Alex looks at the distraught couple, “No, sir, ma’am, Max didn’t murder anyone. He did kill the men that were about to kill two young innocent girls. Another girl did get shot but he saved her too. It was the man out there that had ordered their deaths. Max stopped them but he had to use his hidden powers to do it. We’re here to take you to him. My name is Alex, and that over there is Michael, we’re Max’s bunk mates and we’ve been there with him this past week on a mission.”

Anna, “Michael and Alex. Han, it’s the two boys that Max wrote us about. Han, Han what’s wrong?”

Han, “How do we know you’re who you say you are? How do we know that we can trust you?”

Everything was starting to catch up with him and he has a hard time keeping his emotions under control, “Other than the fact that we just saved you, how about this…before Max left he asked you to keep his birth mother’s diary hidden. Said something about it being his death warrant.”

Commander Thomas, “I’m sorry folks but we have got to get going. Max is back at our base camp. He’s unhurt but was too exhausted to come. We want to take you to him. Take a couple of minutes and gather up whatever you need but let’s make it quick, we got to get out of here. Oh and sir, if this diary can help prove that your son is this lost prince that people are saying he is, please bring it. It could be a great help to him now.”

Han looks at his wife for a moment then back to Michael, “Yes, thank you for coming to our aid and for befriending our son. If you could give me a hand over here, I need to move some floorboards.”

Alex watches as Michael and Han tear up part of the flooring while Anna starts collecting some clothing and things and stuffing them into a satchel. He walks over to where a basket was overturned in the corner, underneath it were all kinds of fresh vegetables and there were some herbs in little pots. Anna walks over to the young man, “The garden had been very bountiful this spring. I was going to make vegetable stew tomorrow. It’s Max’s favorite.”

Alex smiles at that, “The one that cooks all day and makes your mouth water, that stew? Are all the ingredients here?”

Anna smiles back at him, “He told you about it? Yes, that stew, all the ingredients are there, I just need a big pot of water to cook them in, oh and a fire.”

Alex goes over and takes the pillowcases off the bed, comes back over and starts stuffing everything in it, “Well, I’m sure we can manage a pot of water and a fire. I know that when Max wakes up he’s going to be starved. Would you mind?”

Anna packs the last of her things and some precious treasures. She and Han look at the little home they had made for the last fifties years, “I’ll miss it but it’s just a place. It’s the people in it that made it a home. Let’s go see what Max has gotten himself into this time.”

Anna had been a little nervous boarding the ship. It was the first one she and Han had ever been on. It didn’t help that that awful man was there too. True, he was bound tightly and gagged. They even made him sit facing the wall so he couldn’t stare at them but it was still unnerving and she and Han held on tight to their seats as they lifted off the ground and went zooming through the air. During the flight Alex and Michael filled them in on what really happened and they were both proud and scared for what he had gone through and what he was forced to do. All she could think of was how she wanted to hold her little boy again in her arms. A little over three hours after they left their home, they were at the encampment. A corpsman quickly checked them over and after bandaging a gash on Han’s forehead pronounced them fine. They were then escorted to their son’s tent where two extra cots were waiting for them along with all the items from home that they had brought. As she entered the tent, her eyes immediately went to the sleeping form on one of the cots. She walked over and couldn’t keep the tears from falling. As she ran her fingers through his hair, “My baby. My sweet little boy, just look at you, you’re always getting so dirty, what am I going to do with you.”

Alex and Michael were given a tent on the other side of Max’s. After Alex explained what all the deal was with the sack of vegetables and herbs that he took, while Alex got their tent straightened away, Michael made it his mission to make certain Max’s mama had everything she needed. Out of nowhere a large cooking pot full of water suddenly appeared, along with cutting and chopping knives, bowls, and an assortment of spoons, forks, and anything else he could liberate from the mess tent without being caught, along with lots of heating sticks. By late the next morning, the smell of home cooking was wafting through the camp and several people came by wanting to know when it would be done.

Max was having the most incredible dream. He was home, asleep in his own bed and Mama was making her stew for him. He could smell it. It was wonderful. He feels a damp cloth go across his face, causing his eyes to pop open. He immediately breaks out into a big grin at whom he sees. Sitting up, he wraps his arms around her, “Mama!”

Anna hugs him tight and then covers him with kisses. Through tears of joy, “I’m sorry to wake you sweetie, but I just couldn’t stand how dirty your face was. Oh baby, I’ve missed you so much.”

He hugs her again. As he hears people right outside, he realizes that he’s not home. He’s at camp, wait, which camp, he looks around in some confusion. He spots Papa taking a nap on another cot. There’s some sort of bandage on his forehead, “Mama, what are you doing here? What happened? Is Papa ok?”

Anna smiles at him, “Yes Papa’s ok, but we did have quite a lot of excitement last night. You know, I rather liked riding in that ship, maybe sometime I could take a more leisurely trip in one, but right now I think you should go get cleaned up. A young lady by the name Elizabeth stopped by a couple of times to check on you. She’s a lovely girl, I understand she’s a priestess too, but I don’t think you’d make a good impression looking like that. A mother may love you know matter what you look like, or for that matter smell like, but a young priestess is an entirely a different matter. She should be coming back fairly soon so you had better scoot.”

Part 11

Max swung his legs over the side of the bed and had to pause for a bit as he stood up. He had been flat on his back for several hours and it was a little disorienting to be vertical. After a few moments, he walked over to his papa, “Mama, you sure he’s ok? What happened anyways?”

Anna wasn’t really ready to talk about last night especially to her son. She knew him well enough to know that he was going to beat himself up over putting them in danger, “Shhh, sweetie, he’s fine, just a small cut on the head but it was a long night and he needs his rest. Now go on. There’s a nice young man outside, I believe he said he was a corporal that is waiting for you. Apparently he’s been assigned to keep an eye on you and make sure you have everything you need. Now go on, go get cleaned up right now. Oh and since the stew won’t be done for a bit yet, you might want to stop by that, I believe it’s called a mess tent, for a bite to eat. I tried it this morning for some breakfast. I’ve never seen eggs that color before. Just get a little something. I don’t want you to ruin your appetite.”

Max smiles as he walks out the tent, calling back, “That won’t be a problem.”

He immediately comes upon the corporal who stands and salutes him. This rather shocks him; nobody has ever saluted him before. Returning the salute, “Uh, corporal. I wanted to get cleaned up but I don’t have any supplies or change of clothes. You think you could help me out?”

Corporal, “Yes, sir, your highness. I already assembled a bag of items that I thought you might need. The shower tent is right this way, sir.”

Max looks up in surprise as they reach the tent, “This is the officer’s showers. Are you sure we’re in the right place?”

Corporal,” Yes, sir, your highness, sir. Unfortunately, sir, these are the best we have. I hope this is acceptable, sir. Here’s your bag, sir. Everything you need should be in there, sir. If you need anything else, I’ll be right out here, sir.”

Max is perplexed as he takes the bag, “Uh, thanks. Oh what do I do with my dirty clothes?”

Corporal,” Just put everything back in the bag, sir. I’ll take care of them for you, your highness, sir.”

Max is unsure what to make of all this, as he’s opening the door, “Uh, corporal. Could you please at least lay off the your highness stuff? And maybe cut back on the sir deal so much?”

Corporal draws himself back up to attention, “Yes, sir.”

Max nods to him before letting the door swing closed. Inside is a series of portable shower stalls down the middle, and some sink basins off to one side and stands with coat hooks along the other. Walking over to the coat hook stand, he opens up his bag. True to his word, the corporal seems to have packed everything he would need. He pulls out the freshly pressed fatigues, shiny new boots, socks, t-shirt, underwear, towel and washrag and in a little pouch with a toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, soap, shampoo, razor, comb, even deodorant, yep very thorough that corporal. He takes the pouch and heads over to the sink basin and makes the mistake of looking up in the mirror, ”Holey crap! Mama wasn’t kidding. Huh, so that’s what I look like with a beard. Um, no, Mama wouldn’t stand for it. I wonder what Liz would think, though?”

Han opened his eyes tentatively. The corpsman had told him he would have a headache and he wasn’t kidding. He can smell Anna’s stew cooking. He slowly looked over to where his son had been sleeping and saw an empty bed that Anna was hovering over. He spotted a pile of linens laying on the floor and realized what she was doing, smiling, “Still making his bed for him?”

Anna doesn’t turn around but there’s no mistaking the delighted mother tone, “He was so filthy. I want his bed to be fresh and clean when he comes back. I sent him off to go get cleaned up and get a little something to tide him over until the stew is finished. He just left. How are you feeling Han? Headache better?”

He sits up gingerly and thinks about it for a moment, “I think so. I think I’d like to get a little fresh air. Maybe see what those friends of Max’s are up to. I won’t be gone long.”

Anna is straightening and tucking in the blanket, “Ok, but don’t get lost. This is a pretty big camp.”

Han comes over and gives her a peck on the check, “No chance of that. All I have to do is follow the smell. That stew is like a beacon and I think it’s going to be attracting a lot if hungry young men before the day’s out. I’ll be back soon.”

After Han left, Anna had some time to sort through the few items that they brought with them last night. She had been so upset when she realized that she had forgotten their photo albums, but could have hugged Han forever when he pulled them out of a bag he had taken. She sat on her son’s cot and started to flip through them, when she heard a discreet hello at the entrance, “Hmm, come in. Oh, hello Elizabeth. I see you’ve brought some friends with you. My, aren’t all you young ladies lovely things. Please come in, sit.”

Elizabeth takes a seat next to Anna and introduces her friends, “Anna, these are my ladies in waiting, Maria and Isabel. They were with me this past week. We all wanted to see how Max was doing and see if you needed anything. What’s that?”

Anna, “Oh, that’s sweet of you dears. Max finally got up and I sent him to go get cleaned up and told him to get a bite to eat. I was just sitting down and looking through what we were able to take with us last night. I’m so relieved that Han remembered our albums. We don’t have too many pictures. they’re sort of a luxury thing to us, so each one is all the more precious. This one is Max’s. See here’s one of Max when he was 3 months old.”

As Liz takes a look and breaks out in a huge grin, “He’s adorable. Look at that, he’s bald.”

Anna chuckles as she looks at her baby boy, “Yes, until he was almost a year and a half, he was all baldhead and ears. Oh look, here he was, oh must have been a little over a year. I remember it was hot that evening and I thought a cool bath might help him sleep. He had just started walking and was so fast, I no more got him out of the tub then off he went, right outside. While I went for him, Han grabbed the camera, got this rear view of him just as he was starting to turn around.”

Maria and Isabel have also enjoying themselves, looking at Max as a baby and a little boy. They start coming into more recent pictures including one of Max and a blond girl all dressed up. Liz was particularly interested in that one, “So um, was she his girlfriend? They’re all dressed up, like it was a special occasion… or date, or something.”

Anna just smiles at her for a moment, “Yes, they were going to a school dance. Her name is Tess and she’s a family friend. Max liked her enough but I believe she liked him more than he did her. I don’t think she was right for him. They hadn’t gone out all that much; I think he was getting a little annoyed with her. She was a nice girl, just not the right one. Well now, look who’s back? Oh Max, you look so much better.”

Max stood stock still as he stepped into the tent, to the sight of Liz and her ladies sitting next to his Mama, who had a picture book out. This sight would unsettle any young man and he was no exception. As his eyes stayed on Liz, he cheeks started to burn, she was beautiful. She was wearing a simple pair of tan pants and white cotton camp shirt with her hair pulled back behind her ears. He tried but was unsuccessful in keeping his voice steady as he squeaked out, “HI…uh, hi…”

Liz couldn’t help staring. When she had first seen him that night he stole her away, he had been covered in camouflage paint and he just got dirtier from there. This was the first time she had ever seen him all cleaned up. He had on camouflage pants and a green t-shirt with army boots but she had never seen someone look that good in fatigues before. She especially liked how that t-shirt showed off his well-developed arms and it was just tight enough to give her a hint of what was underneath. She could feel the color rising to her cheeks, “Hello. How…how are you feeling? Better I hope.”

Anna looked at her son, standing there staring and turning red with his mouth hanging open and then back to the young brunette sitting next to her who was blushing and staring back. Turning back to her son, who apparently was rooted in that spot and no longer able to speak, “Max, Max dear, why don’t you come in and keep these lovely young ladies entertained while I go see where your papa has wandered off too. Max, Did you hear me?”

Realizing that he had been standing there like an idiot, “Uh, yeah…yeah, ok mama. Wait, where’d papa go anyhow?”

Liz appeared to wait patiently but inside she felt like a giggly schoolgirl. Anna said her goodbyes for now as she left to go hunt for her husband and Max nervously stood there, not sure what to do. After his mama left she couldn’t help the appreciative once over she gave him, which made him redden even more. He reminded her of the shy young man that innocently offered to share his bed that night. Clearing her throat, “So um, your mama was showing us some pictures. Perhaps you could gives us some of the stories behind them.”

How can that little tiny thing scare the living daylights out of him? Oh please let them not be the baby pictures, please. As he takes the seat vacated by his mama, his cheeks turn the reddest color possible, they were his baby pictures. If that wasn’t bad enough, Liz had the album open to the one of when he took Tess to that dance. Keeping her tone a little cool, “So um, tell me about this. Your mama said it was a dance? Did you go to dances often with her?”

He was on the hot seat and already squirming, “Um, no, no, just that once. I only took her to that one dance.”

Liz flips the page and looks over the pictures, “I see, so what girls did you take to the other dances?”

Why was his mama mad at him? How could she do this to him? He was fumbling big time and he knew it, “Uh, just…just girls from school, no one special.”

Liz, “Umph, well Tess must have been a little special since she’s the only one that you have a picture with. How special was she?”

Stammering, “Um, she…she was a neighbor’s daughter. We, uh, grew up together. We were just friends.”

Liz continues to flip through the album, he looked so cute all flustered and nervous, “So as friends growing up, you must have played together a lot as children. Every played post office?”

Would it be wrong to lie? It’s only a little lie and what could it hurt? How much would it hurt if her told the truth? I wonder how she looks when mad? Would it be worth it to find out? Taking a deep breath he decides to find out, “Yeah, it was kinda fun.”

Liz suddenly slams the album closed and gives him a frosty glare, “I see. Well we should be going. We have matters to attend to.”

She’s cute when she pouts like that. Funny, Tess pouted all the time and I drove me up the wall, but not her, it’s kind of fun to see her huffy like that, “But why? We’ve barely had a chance to talk. Was it something I said?”

Isabel and Maria had sat there pretty much forgotten, but that’s ok, they were enjoying themselves non-the-less. They knew that Liz had it bad for Max, all she talked about last night was him, how brave, how sweet, so gentle, so cute. They got an earful, but then they also were talking and for most of the night worrying about their own favorite kidnappers. Isabel decides that maybe Liz and Max need a little time alone. She rises from and at a nod, Maria follows suit, “My Lady, we wouldn’t want the prince to think us angry with him. Maria and I will be fine attending to matters if you would care to stay and reassure the prince. After all we wouldn’t want him in trouble with his mama, thinking he had been inhospitable. Come along Maria; let’s go attend to those matters. Good day to you, prince.”

As they step outside Maria turns to Isabel, “What matters?”

Isabel, “We’ll think of something. Perhaps we could find out how well Alex and Michael have recovered? Let’s go.”

Part 12

The King was more than angry; he was scared. His worst nightmare was coming true. He had watched that video countless times and heard all of the accounts and the one thing it kept coming back to was that legend of the lost prince was real and was playing out before his very eyes. He hadn’t a clue how to stop it. That agent that had gone after him, then the family had not only managed to get his entire squad killed but had disappeared or more likely been captured. He had no clue who this Max really was, only what his official file said. They couldn’t even interview his parents, for they too had gone over to the other side. He was currently having the historians looking through the royal family tree. Only members of the royal family had ever possessed that kind of ability and rarely had it been that powerful, the boy had to be a relative but how? He continues pacing around the room as the advisor comes in, “Well, what have you found?”

The advisor was as concerned about this latest development as the King, “Your Majesty, we have yet to find any direct link between this Max and the royal family. However the population at large has seen this video or at least heard about it and many are beginning to believe it. Regardless of lack of direct proof, they are referring to him as the lost prince. This is having a major impact on the battle that is currently underway. We have had many reports of desertion and insubordination. So far we have managed to stem the flow to a trickle with threats of imprisonment, or being executed for abandoning their posts, but even this won’t last if we cannot offer irrefutable proof that this is not the lost prince. We are losing the battle, Your Majesty.”

The King pauses to look out at his capitol city, “How can this be? We’ve been so careful, all marriages are only allowed after careful background checks. He simply cannot be the lost prince. It’s just a stupid legend anyways. No basis in reality.”

Advisor simply looks down for a moment as he chooses his words carefully, “Actually there was one marriage that was found invalid.”

It was the biggest regret of his life. No one mentioned his youngest daughter. He should have never sent her away. He had just been so scared and angry with her. It was his punishment that she had died in that crash. After much searching they had located the sight but by then there was nothing left. The Raiders had a penchant for taking everything, including prisoners as possible bargaining tools for later, but they had found large amounts of blood in the passenger area and from that, and through DNA tests it was concluded that it was indeed his daughter’s and without immediate medical assistance she and the child she carried perished due to the amount of blood loss. The irony was that the child’s father had survived. He had served bravely for 5 years then returned home. He of course was never allowed to rise above the rank of sergeant, for it was well known that he had incurred the King’s anger, but he had lived and his daughter had not. The King’s fury at that thought and at him had not diminished over time. “No, Princess Allia died in a crash along with her unborn child. But have that Ryal brought in for… questioning, perhaps he knows something.”

The advisor knew that it was unlikely that Ryal knew anything. After being discharged from service he had returned to his family estate and there he remained, never marrying and some said never really living again, “Yes, it shall be done immediately, my apologies for mentioning unpleasant memories. What do we do about this supposed lost prince?”

The King continues to look out the window, ”Release an official statement denying he has a drop of royal blood in him, that there has been a thorough search of all records both public and private and that there is no lost prince. Tell them that this was just propaganda made up by the other side and should be treated as such. Also, anyone spreading these falsehoods shall be detained for treason.”

The Advisor bit his lip on his thoughts on that last part, “Very good, sire. It shall be drafted and on your desk for signature within the hour. By you leave, sire.”

Anna stood over the pot stirring as she looked up there were three very hungry looking boys standing over her watching, “Ok, you three. There’s not enough room to eat inside this tent, so go find some sort of table and chairs or bench that we could use and set it up outside. Also Alex, Michael, I don’t have enough bowls and spoons and forks so you’ll have to bring your own. By the time you have it all setup this should be done. Oh and boys, don’t get in trouble.”

Fifteen minutes later Anna peeked outside to discover a door laying on top of two large barrels for a table and some two-by-fours across overturned buckets for benches. She smiles as she watches her son throw a sheet over the * table * and puts some dandelions in a bottle in the center. He looks up and spots her watching him and gives her an impish smiles, “Sorry about the flowers mama, but that’s all we could find.”

Anna walks over and give him a kiss on the cheek, “They’re beautiful dear. Now, why don’t you go see what the lovely young lady is doing next door and invite her and her ladies for dinner? Oh and let them know about the bowl and silverware shortage.”

She smiles as he shyly nods and with a big grin that he probably didn’t even know he had, heads to the next tent over. Han comes up along side Anna, “What’s all that about? He’s grinning like a fool.”

Anna just watches, “Yes, he is. It’s an affliction that young men get when they’ve fallen for a special girl.”

Han, “How long is he going to be like that?”

Anna, “If he’s lucky, a lifetime. Now, give me a hand with that stew.”

Max walks over to her tent and stands there nervously, trying to figure out how to knock when there’s no door. Finally he decides to just call out, “Um hello, anyone there?”

He takes a step back as Kyle answers, “Hey there your highness, something I can do for you?”

Frowning he’s not sure what to say but he definitely knows that he doesn’t like this guy being there, “Um, I was just wondering if Liz, er, the priestess and her ladies would like to come to dinner. The stew’s ready……uh, and I guess you can come too, if you want.”

Kyle smiles sarcastically and staying put at the entrance, “Gee, what a welcoming invite. I’ll ask but I’m sure they would. Hey, you ladies want to go next door for dinner?”

Han immediately noticed when his son came back with a scowl and by himself, “What’s wrong? She wasn’t hungry?”

A grumpy Max goes to help his papa set the big pot at the end of the table, “No, she’s coming, along with Isabel and Maria…and him.”

Han, “Him?”

Max, “Major Kyle.”

Han, “Oh.”

It was a very strange quiet dinner. Max, Michael, Alex and this Kyle basically were on their third bowls and hadn’t slowed down yet. Liz, Maria, and Isabel were the epitome of poise and decorum as they ate their single helping while casting frosty looks at the boys, except for Kyle. Anna spent sometime watching this play out and decided she should find out a bit more about this situation, “So, Major Kyle, is it? How do you know my son?”

Kyle had been thoroughly enjoying himself. Max’s parents were charming and he has to admit, his mama was one hell of a cook. But the most fun he was having was making Max sulk, and keeping that Michael character on his toes. The jury was still out on Alex, but Michael definitely merited watching. As an officer, he had to mind his manners, so wiping his mouth on a napkin and swallowing before speaking, “Yes ma’am, you might say I was tracking him and caught up with him just as things were about to get a bit dicey. It was quite a challenge. He’s a rather resourceful guy and if I remember correctly a pretty dam…darn good fisherman. As it were, things worked out well I think.”

Han can’t help the smile of pride for his son, even Max’s scowl lessoned a bit at that. He noticed that several people had passed by looking very hungrily at them. While he has no doubt that they are being well fed, the smell of home cooking was enough to make anyone hungry again, “Hmm, what do we do about that? We can’t feed them all.”

Anna has noticed them too, “I know, poor dears. While there’re a lot of leftovers, there’s not nearly enough.”

Liz thinks about it for a moment, looking at Max and his friends, she realizes that if things hadn’t worked out as they had, those three would be on the front lines right now, scared, tired, dirty and very hungry. She smiles with an idea, “The ones that have been on the front lines from the beginning are being replaced one by one so they can get some rest. They’ve been through the worst of it, I’m sure they’d give anything for a taste of home.”

A short time later Liz approached her Uncle Philip with the idea and after having a bowl of stew himself, was more than willing to endorse the idea. Liz and her ladies assisted Anna in setting up a small discreet feeding station near the withdrawal area where they were enthusiastically received by the battle worn. Meanwhile General Philip takes this time to introduce Max, Michael, Alex, Han, and even Kyle to the agent from their special intelligence division for a quick briefing, “Gentlemen, this is Agent Jim, he has been monitoring the reaction of our opponents to the announcement and video as well as doing some information gathering, Agent Jim.”

Agent Jim was younger than the General but not by much. He had seen and done much and few things surprised him, including the ability man had to be cruel, “Good day gentlemen. As you might know, the reporting of the miracle that you performed yesterday your highness has had a tremendous impact on the battle. It along with return of the Priestess Elizabeth has boosted the moral of our troops to new levels while decimating the enemy’s. This had some expected and unexpected results. We have received information that our enemy has had increased problems with desertion. They have reacted to it by threatening to shoot any deserters on the spot any that do manage to get away risk having their family held in their stead and possibly executed. While extreme, it has stemmed the flow for now. Additionally the King has denounced the video as propaganda by our side and vehemently denied that you were the lost prince or that he could even exist. Additionally it was announced that anyone even talking about this is subject to arrest for treason. I might point out that the penalty for treason is execution.”

Max is stunned and horrified, “People will be executed just for talking about…about what I did, but why? How could he do that?”

Jim had seen the video countless times in the last 24 hours and had watched it being taken apart and analyzed frame by frame, only to come to the conclusion that they had no idea how he did it and him being the fabled lost prince was as good an explanation as any. It had made him seem, legendary, beyond the average everyday person, but looking at him sitting there in shock with the guilt and pain so evident in his eyes, brings it back to a simpler level, he’s real. He’s still a young boy with normal feelings and concerns, “Because he’s the King and he can. He’s scared that the legend is coming true and that means he’s going to be usurped, possibly by you and he’s going to do anything and everything he can to prevent it.”

Feeling lost and sick about people suffering just because of what he did, looking at the agent, fighting back the emotions threatening to spill out, “What can I do?”

The agent gives him a stern look, “You can fight. The people need to see you, know that you are real. It will inspire belief in the legend. While the King may arrest many, he cannot arrest his entire population, if enough believe in it, then it can happen. We need to foster the people’s belief in the legend and you. It would help if we could counter the King’s denial. Is it possible that you are related to the royal family, any royal family? At this point, we’re not picky about it.”

posted on 19-Apr-2002 1:05:21 AM
Max looks unsurely at his papa, who with an encouraging smile simply nods back at him, “Perhaps. Han and Anna are the only parents that I’ve ever known, but Anna didn’t give birth to me, a lady by the name Allia did. She died right after I was born. She kept a diary. I… I guess she married against her father’s wishes and the marriage was annulled. He…he didn’t want me to be born. He sent her away and her ship crashed.”

Han places a comforting hand on his son, “She was badly injured when I found her. We were surprised that she lived long enough to give birth. She died right afterwards. All she had with her was the diary. It doesn’t specifically say that she was royal but there were references to palaces and such. After reading it, we decided that it would be safest to keep it hidden, especially when Max got a bit older and…well, he could do things.”

Jim’s eye grew wide as he dared to hope, “You still have this diary?”

Han looked at his son briefly before answering, “Actually, I brought it with me. I thought he might need it.”

They talked for several hours as to the best course of action. It was finally decided that in an attempt to speed the battle along, Max accompanied by his now official second, Michael, and advisor, Alex, would be making an appearance along the battle lines, close enough to be seen but well out of the way of being killed. Scans would be taken of the diary since Max was reluctant it let strangers take it, it was after all the only thing he had of his birth mother’s, to be studied. It was thought that there was a high probability that Allia was Princess Allia, the youngest daughter of the sitting King. And lastly, Han and Anna refused to be moved to a safer area, they did not want to be separated from their son again. As the plans were finalized the boys found themselves with a few hours on their hands, at which Michael decided it was time for that little chat. Picking a spot well away from everyone else as dusk was settling around them, “So Max, you’ve known you were this lost prince that had these special powers for awhile?”

Max is trying to figure out if Michael is more pissed than usual, “Yes and no. My…powers started developing when I was little. I used to practice them when I was alone, but I had no idea I could…well, do what I did. As to the lost prince, I don’t know. Mama and Papa thought so since I was little but I had no clue until my 16th birthday.”

Michael comes to the point, “So basically you knew and didn’t tell us and because of all of this, Alex and I went through a week of shit.”

Max was about to say something when a right hook caught him by surprise, looking up from his current position which was on the his back, “What’d you do that for?”

Michael extends his hand to his friend to help him up, “Just keeping a promise I made to you yesterday.”

As Max feels his jaw to make sure it’s not broken, he accepts the offered hand, “Any more promises that I should know about?”

Part 13

He thinks he has been there for two days but he’s not sure, he’s not sure about anything any more. His life these last years had been a nightmare, he had lost the woman he loved and with her their child that she carried. He had been sentenced to 5 years of misery along the front battle lines; watching good people fight and die on both sides, then home, to no one, to nothing. His family was there for him but he had no heart anymore. He had spent the last 12 years tending to small family matters and nothing more, he didn’t want to. Then they came for him two days ago. Now he knew what hell really was, one eye was swollen shut and it stung where his lip was split. They kept asking him about a kid named Max, wanted to know what he knew about him. He didn’t tell them anything, he didn’t know the boy, but he had his suspicions. No matter how bad his body ached, his heart was starting to have a glimmer of hope, if by some miracle his son had lived he would be almost 17 now and Max was the name he and Allia had picked for him. He was afraid to hope, afraid of the pain that would consume him if he were wrong, but that glimmer refused to die, so he told them nothing of his suspicions no matter what they did to him. The door to the dank cell creaked open, his inquisitioners had returned.

The last two days had been surreal. Max had as agreed made an appearance along the battlefield flanked by Michael and Alex. Agent Jim had tried to get him to wear something * royal * but Max had adamantly refused, he was after all a simple person and wore simple clothes. In the end it made an even bigger impact on the soldiers to see the lost prince and his aides appearing amongst them, dressed like them in battle fatigues. Max was unnerved by the adulation that they seemed to have for him, he had done nothing in the last two days except walk around and be seen. He did nothing, yet the soldiers were ecstatic to see him. He wanted to talk to someone about it but the only one who might know what it felt like was Liz. As a priestess she might have some idea of what it was like, but that presented another problem…Kyle. The General had assigned Kyle as the head of her security and he had taken great delight in escorting Liz and her ladies around camp. Max wasn’t the only one that bristled whenever they saw Kyle with them, Michael was almost seething and Alex developed the habit of mimicking Kyle behind his back. He scowls as Liz passes by him, laughing at some joke or something, with the ever-present Kyle right next to her. He’d give anything if he could be Kyle right now.

Anna had always been proud of her son and never more so than in these last few days. She and Han had kept themselves busy helping the soldiers returning from the battlefront. They were all so young and she could see the scars that the horrors of war had done to them reflected in their eyes. She had no more ingredients for any specialty dishes, but she could hold their hands and listen to them as they talked of home and their loved ones waiting for them. She had heard that the battle was going well for them and was almost over, she sincerely hoped that was true for those young men’s sake. As busy as she had been, she was well aware of the other drama playing out right here in their tent. Her son had a habit of holding his emotions in and only rarely let them slip out. She watches her brooding son sitting at their make shift dining table, scowling as a laughing Liz accompanied by an equally joyous Kyle go walking by. She decides that she’s had enough of this and it was time to light a fire under her son. Taking a seat next him, “Hmm, she sure has a delightful laugh. To bad your too busy sulking to be the one making her laugh like that. But then it’s always easier to sit idly by and do nothing, isn’t it?”

Max’s scowls deepens, “I am not sulking.”

Anna raises her eyebrow at him, “Really? Could have fooled me. Seems to me you need to get off your duff and go attend to things before you lose them.”

Max, “I don’t know what to say to her.”

Anna, “Well, hello would be a good start, and see where it goes from there. Go on, go over there and say hi. Quit sitting like a bump on a log and do something. Scoot!”

Max sticks his hands in his pockets as he skulks over to do as his mama said. Standing at the entrance of her tent, he hesitantly calls out a greeting, “Hello?”

Kyle immediately pops out in front of him and wearing a smug grin, “Hello your highness. Looking for something?”

It’s a good thing his hands were in his pockets so that Kyle didn’t see them balling into fists, “Uh, yeah, I wanted to see Liz. Can you go get her…please.”

Thankfully Kyle disappears into the tent without another word. Now all Max needs to worry about is to not look like an idiot in front of Liz. The minute she comes to the door, his tongue manages to tie itself in a knot, “Hi…you wanna go for a walk with you…uh, me.”

He’s so cute when he’s embarrassed. With a teasing smile and a slight sway of her hips, she links her arm with his, “I would love to, perhaps over there towards the empty field?”

He keeps his hands in his pockets because they’re so sweaty. What is it about her that gets him so worked up and blabbering like an idiot? Why’d Mama make him do this? How does she smell so nice all of the time? As they walk, the silence becomes uncomfortable, he doesn’t know what to say, so he says the first thing that was on his mind, “So you and Kyle are…are…”

Liz smiles a little as she continues to look straight ahead, enjoying his discomfort, “Friends, we’ve known each other since childhood, kind of like you and what was her name again? Oh yes, like you and Tess.”

Ok, so maybe getting her mad wasn’t the smartest thing in the world that he did, no matter how cute it made look. God, does she look cute. When she’s acting in an official capacity as Priestess, she wears long flowing robes of blues and gold, but for every day she chooses simple slacks that fit her snuggly without being too revealing and simple cotton tops that he noticed sometime rode up a little at the waist, showing her taut tummy. She was simple and elegant, perfect. Why is she looking at me like that? Oh, wait, I’m supposed to say something. Clearing his throat a little, “Um, yeah, uh, ok, so, friends. You and Kyle are friends. So close friends?”

Her eyes flick over to him for a second, keeping her tone tart, “You mean like post office playing friends?”

He’s very intently watching his feet. He can feel his cheeks burning and wants to kick himself for his stupidity. He doesn’t know what to say. He’s never had any experience with girls, not really. No one has ever made him feel this way, made his heart pound and his lungs work extra hard just to get in a miniscule amount of air in, or made his loins tighten. Tess certainly didn’t. He takes a glance over to her, she’s just looking ahead but he notices that she’s breathing harder and there’s a hint of redness to her cheeks too, maybe it’s just the walking. “Liz, I…I only kissed her on the cheek. She, she wanted…more, but I didn’t. It didn’t feel right, not with her. I… I was just trying to make you jealous.”

She comes to an abrupt stand still and faces him. Still rather tart, “I see. Why?”

His shoes are getting scruffy; maybe he should shine them tonight. Keeping his head down, he peeks over at her bashfully, “Because you’re cute.”

She’s taken aback by his admission, and how adorable he looked doing it. Her tartness turns to honey as she loops her arm back around his and they resume walking. She gives him a smile that is reflected in her eyes, “Cute, huh?”

His shoes don’t seem that important anymore as he looks at her smile, “Yeah. I thought that maybe we could talk some.”

That evening and several evenings to come, Liz was a permanent guest at Han and Anna’s dinner table. They loved how she brought out their somewhat shy son and helped make him shine. That night the General informed them that they expected this battle to be over soon and they would be advancing the forward areas in the next couple of days, and that this area would be used for a rear staging area and a resting stop for the returning veterans from the front. They decided that it would be best to stay put and continue helping where they could with the returning soldiers, as would Liz and her ladies. Later that night Agent Jim met with them and had some rather unsettling news. Pulling out his report and handing Max a copy, “It seems that our suspicions were correct. We were able to put the crashed ship that carried Princess Allia in the general area of your home at about the right time. Also, there are references in the diary to certain places and relationships that would not have been generally known and certainly not anything a girl would put in her diary. Now, we were able to learn that this Ryal that is referenced was the son of one of the King’s advisors. We have a source inside the hall of records that has confirmed that about the time of Max’s birth, he was conscripted and served 5 years before returning home to his family compound. We did some further checking and there’s not much to report on him until recently.”

Max flips through the report and looks up at him, shocked, “Wait, you mean he’s alive? What happened recently? Where is he?”

Jim gives him a troubled look, “He was seen being taken in the middle of the night a few nights ago. We’ve tracked him to the main prison facility outside the city. It’s where they… interrogate prisoners.”

Max turns white as the words sink in, “So he was taken, imprisoned and is being…interrogated all because he might be my father. Why? He doesn’t even know me, probably didn’t even know I survived. What could he possibly tell them?”

Jim shakes his head sadly, “Nothing and they knew that. It’s a psychological ploy against you. Plus it has the added benefit of extracting the King’s revenge. Remember this man got the King’s daughter pregnant, ran off with her, married her, then had the nerve to survive his punishment, while the princess did not. I doubt the King has forgotten him. Actually, I’m surprised that he wasn’t arrested long ago on some trumped up charges.”

Max sits down hard. Anna comes over and puts her arm around him comfortingly. Giving the agent a desperate look, “How do we get him out of there?”

Jim gives him a determined look, “We can’t, all we can do is win this war as quickly as possible.”

Part 14

The war advanced at an incredible rate, with the word of the lost prince preceding it. As towns and villages fell to the advancing forces, they eagerly sought out a glimpse of the lost prince and when they did, word of him spread even farther and faster than ever before. Max was getting used to the adulation but was careful never to take it for granted. Michael had promised his Mama that the first sign of Max’s head getting too big, he’d knock it back down to size and Max had learned that Michael kept his promises. Coming into town after town, he had first thought that all the destruction had been the result of war and while that was true for a good portion of it, he was shocked to discover some of it had been ordered by the King or his minions. He had made it a habit to first review an area with General Philip, and then he, Michael and Alex would return and visit with each and every person. As they were doing an initial review with the General, Max was sick at the amount of devastation, “How do people recover from this? How do they live?”

Over the last few weeks he had seen quite a bit of the lost prince and he liked what he saw, but the boy was so young and had much to learn. As he looked around, he’s sadden by what he saw, especially since he knew damn well that it was not his troops that destroyed the hospital or the food processing plant. They had purposefully avoided those targets; their destruction was by other hands. Shaking his head, “They don’t live, they simply survive. We’ll do what we can but we can’t stretch our resources too thin. It might be a good idea to have someone meet with the town council or what’s left of it and see what aid they need. See what they can do on their own and what supplies they need to do it. It might be easier to send supplies than to send the engineers and builders.”

Max smiles grimly, “I’ll do it, I’ll meet with them. I’m supposedly this lost prince and these are my people. I need to help them.”

This set the stage for Max’s education as to what it took to be a civic leader and how to rebuild. Before long he found himself up to his elbows in arranging food, clothing and medical supplies, in organizing construction guilds to begin the rebuilding, learning to barter and broker for goods and services, and most of all he started learning what it took to help his people and to lead them. He wasn’t above using his powers to help with smaller things that needed work, propping up a wall, moving small debris or fixing a child’s toy, those he did willingly. It was just too difficult to heal, though. It zapped his strength for hours afterwards and there was no way he could heal everyone. How could he choose whom he healed and whom he didn’t? He dutifully wrote his mama and papa every week. He corresponded often with Liz, he found himself pouring his heart out to her. He told her everything, how good it felt to be helping to rebuild instead of destroying, his worry over his father being imprisoned and him too far away still to help him, how it ate his heart out not to help someone seriously injured, especially when they were children, anger over the destruction he saw because of the war but even more infuriating the damage by order of his own King, the damage ran deeper than just buildings and infrastructure, it tore apart families too. He has heard tale after tale of young men being carted of for service, of their families being threatened if they deserted, of loved ones actually being taken simply because they dared to mention the legend of the lost prince. All this and more weighed heavily on his soul and it helped to pour the day’s heartache into letters to his Liz. He’s not sure when she started being his Liz, but somehow she just did. He missed her so much. He eagerly looked forward to seeing her letters that arrived almost daily. They were so full of sound ideas and of hope; it reminded him that there was still a lot of good. He looks up from his supply list to see Michael overseeing a shipment of much clamored for medical scanner beds being delivered to the semi-rebuilt hospital. He walks over to his second and friend and with a smile of admiration, “I thought those were on strict allocation and here there are four of them. Do I want to know where they came from?”

Michael just looks at him, “No, but if you see the supply clerk from the reserved officers clinic back in the reserve area, you never saw them.”

Laughing he slaps his friend on the back, “Saw what? Thanks Michael.”

Alex walks over to his friends looking like the cat that just ate the canary, “So, I see Michael’s up to his old resourceful self. I’m here to let you gentlemen know that we got a special delivery that just refuses to wait. So, care to join me?”

They just look at each other and then their friend as they walk back towards the designated delivery area and suddenly before his very eyes, there she is, his Liz. Some part of him notices that Maria and Isabel have accompanied her but right now all he can see is her, not caring how unroyal it may look he can’t help himself. He breaks into a run and with a huge grin, he sweeps her into his arms and twirls her around as they hug, “Oh Liz, I can’t believe you’re here! God, I’ve missed you!”

Liz can’t answer; she’s too caught up looking into his golden eyes that are absolutely sparkling. As he stops twirling her, his eyes lock onto hers, she watches as his grow huge and then darken with desire. Hers eyes lower to his lips, they’re so inviting, so hungry. She licks her lips as she feels his hand slide up from her waist along her back leaving a trail of heat; as it gently cups the back of her neck and he bends down to take a taste. He tastes sweet and spicy, like something that tickles the taste buds but soothes them at the same time and leaves her hungry for more. She hears a “AHEM” right in her ear and only reluctantly breaks the embrace to look at the owner of that voice. Still in a bit of a haze from the kiss, “Huh? Maria?”

Maria has her arms crossed as if she angry but she can’t hide the slight smile that tugs at the corners of his lips, “As your lady it is my duty to keep you from acting unpriestessly and I say locking lips in public with your lost prince qualifies.”

Although delighted to see Maria, Max scowls at her interruption, this was his first meaningful kiss and he was rather enjoying it. He briefly looks over at his second, “Can’t you do something?”

Michael had been seriously studying the little blond vampire with a big mouth. She was so damn annoying to him that he had decided he was either going to have to kill her or kiss her. At the prompting of his prince, he went for the ladder. Grabbing her quickly in his arms, his mouth was pressing hard on hers before she had a chance to scream. He holds her firmly as she pounds on his chest to let go. As he deepens the kiss he feels her unclench her fist and her hot hands slide up around his neck as she deepens the kiss even further.

Max turns his attention back to his own temptress in his arms. Putting his forehead against hers, he smiles his pleasure at seeing her as his lips seek hers out. Holding her tightly against him, he feels her every curve fitting perfectly against him as his body begins to harden in love and need. He didn’t mean for his hand to slide along that bare spot of her back, where her top slipped upwards when she wrapped her arms around his neck, but he had no intention of moving it. Someone has started tapping him on the shoulder and they won’t stop. He tries to shrug whoever it is off but they won’t go away. Finally forced to break apart again, he turned around and was about to chew someone out when instead he got a shock, “General Philip! It’s you!”

General Philip was part amused and part concerned. He had absolutely no objection to his niece keeping company with Max, he was after all a prince but he could not and would not allow things to go too far, Liz was still his charge and a priestess. Purposefully giving him a dour look, “Yes, indeed, it’s me, how about that? I believe you young ladies have a lot of explaining to do about showing up unannounced. Max, Michael, and where’d Alex get to…ah, Alex get back over here from behind that trailer and Isabel had better not be…just get over here. Now you three young men had quite a bit of work to do if I’m not mistaken, so get to it! While Liz, ladies, come with me.”

As they guys reluctantly leave their girls, the General calls back to them, “Oh and Max, I want to talk to you three this evening after dinner.”

He gets nervous looks back and nods, good. Now what is he going to do with a priestess and her ladies in waiting this close to the front, “Where’s Kyle?”

Liz looks about nervously, “Uh, back at the rear staging area, we, uh, we told him it was um…”

Maria knew her brother pretty well and knew that there was always one thing that would make him back off, “We told him we all had cramps and back off or we’d bite him. Then we snuck off.”

General Philip, “Hmm, I’ll have to remember that in the future. It does explain the hurried transmission I got from him an hour ago about you three being AWOL. I already had him catch the next transport; he’ll be here in an hour to take you back. All three of you should have known better, this is no place for young girls.”

Liz stands a little taller, “You’re right Uncle, this is no place for girls, but it’s the perfect place for a Priestess. Where else are her healing presence more needed than with these people that have gone through so much and the soldiers that have been through so much. This is exactly where we should be.”

Pressing his lips into and angry thin line, the General was not pleased,” I don’t like this. You three are staying back here; you go no further until I ok it. I will give Major Kyle additional resources, female resources that shall keeps tight tabs on the three of you. There will be no more slipping off, no more making out in public, and you will do as I tell you or not only will I send you back to the staging area, I will ship you back home to the seminary and there you will stay! Now go gather your stuff and stay here until Kyle gets here and I get done ripping him a new one for letting you pull this stupid stunt in the first place!”

Later that evening after dinner General Philip meets with Max, Michael, and Alex. Not only is he in full general mode, but pissed uncle mode as well. Coming right to the point, “Liz is my niece, she’s my charge and Maria and Isabel by extension. I will not tolerate them having make out session with boys, regardless of whom they are. They are a priestess and priestesses in training and a certain level of dignity and decorum is called for at all times in public. Since you three seem to care for them so much I would expect you to be conscious of that fact and not do anything to the contrary. I am not pleased that they have chosen this time to become willful and sneak up here, security is at its highest and I am not pleased that Major Kyle allowed them to do so, and since it wasn’t in their best interest, neither should you be! So here are the ground rules, no making out, you will be gentlemen at all times and will act as such, there will be no sneaking around and no sneaking off at any time. If anyone of you wishes to have some private time for a special reason, you will have the courtesy of asking for permission in advance. If anyone of you breaks any of these rules, Liz, Maria, and Isabel will be on the next shuttle back to the seminary on our home world and there they will remain for the duration of the war. HAVE I MADE MY SELF CLEAR?!”

The three boys were standing at attention, like good soldiers, “SIR, YES, SIR!”

Philip nods his head and finally takes a seat at a portable map table, “Good, that’s good. Now sit down, we have some plans to go over. We’re here; the front is advancing here, bypassing the provincial capitol. By following this route we expect within 5 days time to be here, right outside The Capitol City. We anticipate the fighting to be intense. This is the King’s strong hold and he’s not going to let go of it easily. Max, you’re going to have to be ready and willing to take his crown. We never wanted this war, never wanted to occupy this world, you offer us a chance to end the war and end the tyranny that caused it. You’re a good kid and you’ll make a good prince and king. We’ll help you. You won’t be alone. We need you as much as they do.”

There’s a huge lump in his throat. He had been so involved in just the day-to-day stuff of rebuilding that he hadn’t thought too much about what it’ll really mean to be a prince. He wants to help his people. He wants to make things better for everyone but that’d be a tall order for anyone, especially at teenage simple boy, “I want this war to end, it’s destroying us and so is the tyranny. We, the simple people, were wrong; this is our fight, too. All we wanted was to live in peace but how could we if the rest of our world couldn’t? Thank you General. I have a lot of work ahead of me and I’m going to need all the help I can get. Um, General, my father, the prison, it’s right outside The Capitol City. I’m worried that they might…execute him as the fighting gets closer.”

Philip sighs, “Yes, that’s a distinct possibility. We have Special Forces looking at a way we might liberate that prison in advance. It’s not just him; there are lots of innocent people in there that may lose their life if we don’t work to prevent it. We’ll let you know when we get more firm intel.”

Ryal’s world had become trying to breathe. As long as could breathe, he was alive. Sometimes he tried counting his breaths but he always lost track. He would lie on the cold hard cell floor breathing and trying to figure out what Max might look like. Did he have Allia’s chocolate hair and eyes? Or was his hair lighter like his? Did he have his blue eyes, or a mixture of both, hazel perhaps? Was he tall like Ryal’s brothers or stockier like him? He tries to laugh a little at the thought of Max having his ears; they were so prevalent in his family. He heard the explosions of bombs more often now. They made the ground shake. The war was approaching and he wondered if they’d let him live long enough to see it end. He didn’t think they would but he hoped so. Oh how he hoped so, he wanted to see his son at least once before he died. He wanted to tell Allia all about him when he saw her again.

Part 15

As the main body of the army made their way towards The Capitol City, the casualties increased and never was that partially rebuilt hospital more in demand. Liz, Maria and Isabel were kept busy helping the injured anyway they could, writing letters home for them, holding their hand and just listening, occasionally getting calls home put through, and quite often securing basic items that they needed, soap, combs, books, music, anything that lifted their spirits. Max had never had his hands more full. The hospital was meant for the civilian population but suddenly it was being overrun by wounded soldiers and even wounded prisoners as well as administering to the locals. He was scrambling for any kind of supply that he could get a hold of, even if he didn’t need it, he could probably barter it for something he did need, it was maddening, however Michael was never more in his element. He thrived on a challenge and took satisfaction in doing what Max said couldn’t be done. He got the difficult ones. Alex was kept busy working with Michael and in what spare time he had, entertaining the wounded. One of the things Michael had “acquired” was a guitar. Alex was delighted when he found out that Maria was quite the singer and on many evenings they could be found collaborating on some song for the soldiers. Most nights they were too exhausted to think of doing much, which suited the General just fine, but he knew that it wouldn’t last and he was going to be heading forward in the morning. So he fell back to plan B. He watched as they disembark from the shuttle and walked over to greet them, “Anna, Han, I’m glad to see you. How was your trip?”

Anna takes the General’s offered hand as she steps off the ramp, “Crowded. Are they always like that?”

A little sadly, “In times of war, yes ma’am, I’m afraid so. I trust it wasn’t too difficult. Oh, Han, here let me get someone to carry those bags. Oh Corporal, take these to the accommodations that we had prepared for them.”

As the corporal takes the bags, they follow at a leisurely pace. Han, “So General Philip, I was wondering why you sent for us. You made it seem rather…important.”

Sighing and shaking his head, “There are a lot of wounded coming in and the fighting is only going to get worse as we get closer to The Capitol City. Max has done an incredible job in organizing and helping the local population to rebuild, you should be proud. But he didn’t do it alone. Michael and Alex have been working right along side of him and recently so has Liz, Maria and Isabel, which leads me to another problem. My presence is need elsewhere, and well, things between the girls and the guys have gotten…a bit more serious. I would feel better if there was someone here to keep an eye on things.”

Han and Anna looked at each then back to the General, “Philip, has Max done…”

Philip, “No, no, he’s been a perfect gentleman, they all have. I just want to keep it that way.”

Max was thrilled to see Mama and Papa again. They set right to work helping anyway possible while making sure that nothing got out of hand. Anna quickly understood the General’s concerns for not only was it obvious that Max had fallen very hard for Liz, but from the snippy conversation between Michael and Maria and the playful gestures between Isabel and Alex, that love was in the air for all three couples and she kept an ever watchful eye on them.

As the General’s forces moved ever closer to their target, the civilian population of The Capitol City mostly fled to the countryside but there were some that couldn’t. The King watched from his palace as bombs drew ever closer. His advisors were urging him to sue for peace, to agree to be but a figurehead of an occupied world, to even let this lost prince rule for him, anything. They were panicked, the end was approaching and he couldn’t stop it but he refused to give up. If he could just salvage something, he could maybe hold on to some vestige of power. His military commander was waiting for his orders, “Is there a place that we could make a final stand?”

The commander draws himself up to attention, “Just one, the prison, with reinforcements it would be very difficult to take, but…”

The King whirls around to face him, “But what?”

The commander doesn’t want to think too hard about what he was about to say, “But the prisoners would be in the way, they’d be a liability.”

The King doesn’t give it a second thought, “They’re all traitors, the penalty for treason is death. Have their overdue sentences carried out immediately and reinforce the position, that’s where we’ll make our stand and salvage what we can of this.”

He keeps telling himself that what his King said was true, they were traitors and their treason had caused his world to lose. Bowing deeply, “Yes, Your Majesty.”

Agent Jim had just arrived at the forward area with information that had just been received from their palace spies. All around him were signs of an army on the move. The temporary command center were some trailers loaded down with all kinds of communication gear. As he enters one, he finds General Philip surrounded by some special ops people. The General beckons him in, “Agent Jim, I got your message. What is this critical information that you have for us?”

Agent Jim takes out a copy of the communiqué and hands it to the General as he explains, “The King has decided to fight it out to the end. He plans on making his final stand at the prison after it’s emptied.”


posted on 19-Apr-2002 1:06:13 AM
General Philip finished reading same information in the communiqué but somehow having someone say it out loud still sends a chill down his spine, “He’s ordered the murder of all the prisoners, including the lost prince’s father, Ryal.”

Agent Jim, “Yes, General.”

At a nod from the General, Commander Thomas pulls up a 3D map of the prison and the surrounding area. They had been studying several scenarios to liberate the prison and so far the most plausible was a special ops mission aimed at eliminating the guards and freeing the prisoners by surprise and stealth. It wasn’t too well formed yet but time was running out which means simplicity was the best way, “Ok, here’s what we have. The prison is on a bluff with the sea on one side and reinforced on the other with a series of ground birms and mines in between and I’m sure some other rather nasty surprises as well. There are only two clear paths in, here and here. The sea side would be the least protected. We’ll go in by water at night. We’re going to go in hot and heavy, take out the guards and free the prisoners.”

Agent looks at the map, “General, I would suggest you have medivac waiting and triage ready, I doubt those prisoners are going to be in too good of shape.”

The General grimly nods at the map, “The second wave to go in shall be marines and right behind them, a team of medical corpsmen. I’ll notify the hospital in the rear to be ready to receive new casualties. It’s almost dark, Commander Thomas, firm up your plans, draw what supplies you need and be ready to go in three hours.”

It had begun about an hour ago. The interior walls of the prison weren’t as thick as the exterior ones. It made it easier to hear the screams and to wonder when it was going to be your turn. Thanks to his last session with his interrogators, his left arm was broken as were a couple of ribs. His left eye was swollen shut and it was hard to breath through his nose. All he could do was lay on the floor in pain and listen. It had taken him awhile to recognize the popping sound. He would hear a door creak open, then a pop, and another door, followed by the pop. It happened over and over again and it was drawing closer to him. He had only used the ancient armors a few times but he never forgot the popping sound they made as the bullet was discharged. Guns and bullets, not laser guns, they were scraping the bottom of the weapons stockpile. He had been in the army long enough to know that this prison would be easily defended even with ancient weapons and they would want the prisoners gone first. A tears rolls down his right cheek as he hears the door next to his open and he mumbles, “I’m sorry Allia. I wanted to be able to tell you about him when I saw you, but I…I…”

As the sound of the creak, he opens his right eye and turns his head towards the open door, there’s a puff of smoke, and his body jerks as something slams into his side, low into the abdomen. He feels a burning pain as warmth spreads through him and things go black.

Commander Thomas’s forces had used black rubber rafters and climbing gear to make it silently up to then over the prison wall. Dressed in black they worked their way to the prison cells, taking the guards down one-by-one. Once they had secured the perimeter they signaled for the marines to come in and began making their way to the prison cells. They were horrified as they found one cell after the other with only the dead in them. Half way down to the second level of cells, they heard the popping noise. As they rounded a corner, they saw them, three guards opening a cell door, firing the rifle and then on to the next. As they opened the next door, Commander Thomas and his men opened fire and took them down but not before the guard got a last shot off. Thomas ran in to the cell and hovered over the man laying on the floor, feeling for a pulse. Calling into his transmitter, “MEDIC! I NEED A MEDIC!”

Turning back to the man, “Hold on, just a little longer. Just a little longer and you’ll have made it, you’ll survive. Just hold on, damn it!”

Max had been advised some hours ago to expect incoming casualties, but it wasn’t until the operation was already underway and the first casualties were on their way to them that he received word that the incoming were from the prison outside the city, where his father was being held. He watched as each medivac ship flew in. He longed to run over there but people kept pushing things at him to do; besides he would just be in the way. Han had heard about these next batches of casualties being the prisoners and he watched his son anxiously stare over towards the triage area. Walking over and putting his hand on his son’s shoulder, compassionately, “Max, I was going to go over to see what I could do to help. I’ll see what I can find out and let you know. Now, make yourself useful and concentrate on your job at hand. It’ll be alright son, you’ll see.”

Han walked through the casualties lying there on the stretchers and had never been so angry in his life, these men, women, and even children were innocent civilians that bore the marking of numerous tortures and atrocities. By the time they arrived they had already been sedated and given pain medication by the medics but he could still see the suffering in the eyes of the ones still conscious. A hand grabbed out to him drawing his attention down to the frightened eyes of the boy, one not even as old as his own son. Holding on to the boy’s hand, he looks at him kindly, “You’re going to be alright son. It’s over, it’s all over.”

With so many unconsciouses, there was much confusion over identifying the wounded. The medics had dutifully noted on the patient’s tag what cell they had come out of. They thought it was a rather macabre thing to do but it paid off when one of the intelligence officers brought back a prisoner manifest of whom had been in which cell. It was near dawn when the one named Ryal was finally identified. Max had been joyous and angry when he was told, ecstatic that they got to him in time, even if it was just barely, but furious at what he had suffered in these last few weeks. His Mama had been sitting with him while he slept. Ryal hadn’t really waked since he arrived, just mumbled and a few times what had sounded like Allia. His mama looked at him when he arrived and gave him a small smile and a pat on his arm as he took her seat sitting by Ryal’s beside. He just watched him for some time, just sleeping. The doctors had said that he’d make it but that it was going to take awhile. The damage had already been repaired but that he was weak from blood loss, which is something Max couldn’t fix. His face was so swollen and bruised that it was hard to gauge what he looked like, but there was one feature he could see, he had those ears. Slowly his right eye flutters open, looking confused and dazed. Max leans forward a little so Ryal can see him better. Resting his hand on top of his father’s, “You’re in a hospital. You’re going to need some time to recover but you will recover. I’ll make sure of that.”

He’s in a haze, everything is fuzzy and disjointed and so bright. Was he alive? Did he die? Where was Allia? It takes a few moments for his right eye to focus and then he starts to hear things, something clanged to the floor, whispers, crying, laughing, and footsteps. He focuses on what’s right in front of him and that’s a face, a young man’s face. He blinks his bloodshot eye a few times as he looks at him, dark hair, amber colored eyes, that nose, the chin, he’d seen them before. It finally dawns on him who he’s looking at. His vision blurs again as his eye moistens and barely whispers, “Max.”

It takes him a moment to choke back his emotions. With his finger he gently wipes away his father’s tear, “Yeah Father, it’s me, Max. You, you’re ok, you’re safe. Just…just get some rest, Ok? I’ll be back later when you’re a little stronger, I promise.”

As Ryal mouths OK and begins to nod off, Max slips the old diary that he had brought underneath his father’s resting hand and quietly tells the sleeping form, “This is for you, Father. I think she would want you to have it.”

Part 16

As the winds of war were quickly coming to a head, there was much drama playing out all around, both large and small. Max checked on his father throughout the day in between keeping things running as smoothly as possible, as several sets of eyes kept an eye him as he did so. His mama and papa because they were worried over him pushing himself too hard, Liz because she could see how worried he was, Michael because he saw the anger boiling in him for what his father had gone through, and Agent Jim, who had returned to the rear area after the successful mission, and to observe how well Max was growing into his role as a leader for he would be fulfilling the next part of the legend very soon. The Capitol City was on the brink of falling and with it, the sitting King. Liz had tried to convince Max to take a break; he had been going for over 24hrs straight and was going to collapse from exhaustion soon. Deciding that she needed reinforcements, she went to the one person that Max would not say no to, she simply wouldn’t stand for it. As Liz and Anna watched him for a moment, he practically swayed on his feet. Anna spots Michael out of the corner of her eye and waves him over. When Michael came over, she then grabbed him by the elbow and marched him over to her son along with Liz. She wastes no time and no words. She grabs the reader out of her sons hands and hands it to Michael, “Michael, you’re his second, so I’m sure you’re quite capable of dealing with whatever this is. Max you’re coming with me. Gentlemen, if you will excuse us please.”

Max opened his mouth to protest only to close it promptly when he got a good look at Mama’s determined face. Arriving at his tent he is marched over to his cot and told to sit. Before he can think too much about it, Liz has his jacket off and Mama has his boots off and he’s being pushed back and sharply told by his mama, “Now stay there. I had better not see you out and about for the next…oh, at least 6 hours or more. I’ll be checking to make sure you’ve stayed put…don’t argue!”

He never got a word in, Mama simply threw a blanket over him and then actually tucked him in, kissed him on the forward and walked out. He could tell that Liz was highly amused by all of this, but she just gave him a sweet kiss on the lips and told him to sleep well and joined Mama outside. He could hear Mama giving his bodyguards strict orders that he was not to be disturbed for several hours. Agent Jim watched most of this from a discreet distance. Of course he didn’t see what had happened inside the tent but he had a pretty good idea especially when Anna reemerged followed by Liz and no Max. With that incident taken care of, he turned and watched how Michael handled the task Max had been working on. He was pleased to see that Michael was quite capable of handling things although not exactly the way Max probably would have but that was insignificant, he got the job done and that was all that mattered. All in all, Agent Jim thought that with the right people surrounding him, Max would do fine as a King. Agent Jim was also waiting until Ryal was a bit stronger so he could talk to him. Ryal’s family had a history of advising the King and will in all likelihood be continuing that role.

The Capitol City was being taken one street at a time. Some had fled and abandoned their posts, but some had stayed and fought only to either give up their lives or their freedom. The conquering forces tried to spare what buildings and facilities that they could but much had already been destroyed. It finally came down to the last strong hold, the palace. The King and his entourage had taken refuge in the wine cellar that had been carved out of solid rock. What advisors that remained had come to tell him that all was lost and that they had no choice but to surrender. The King couldn’t believe it, not after all this time, energy and resources that they would actually lose. As he looked into the faces of his advisors, it dawned on him that there was one face that he had not seen in many a year, “What are you doing here?”

Jaren hadn’t been in the King’s presence for almost 17 years. He had never been forgiven for allowing his son, Ryal, to as the King put it, ruin his daughter. But then Jaren had never forgiven the King for what he had done either, “I am here to see that the man who ordered my son’s suffering and almost caused his death, as well as that of my grandson, relinquish his crown and with it his power. You don’t deserve it, you never did.”

The King’s nostrils flared and his eyes blazed fire at the direct insult, “How dare you! How dare you talk to me that way! I am the King and my family has ruled this world for generations, no one but a member of my family shall ever sit on this throne!”

Jaren smiled as he drove the point home, “And so it shall be. The son of my son, Ryal, and your daughter, Princess Allia, the Lost Prince Max, shall fulfill his birthright and claim the crown and the throne from you. You see, try as you might, you cannot escape the fate of the legend. The Lost Prince will usurp you. Send the word to surrender, stop the killing. There is no point in fighting anymore, you’re finished.”

Max awoke seven hours later to find a contingent of people waiting for him outside his tent. The bodyguards had done their jobs as instructed by his mama and not allowed anyone to disturb him. As he walked out, the people bowed low to him and announced that he now was their new King. There he was, shy of his 17th birthday, unshaven, hair a mess, wearing fatigues that he didn’t have clue when they had been last washed, being handed the crown. He wanted to throw up. He knew that this was going to happen and fairly soon; he just hadn’t realized it would be now. He scans the people before him and finally spots Liz. She gives him a look that says, “I believe in you”, bolstering his faith in himself. Turning his attention to the contingent, “Thank you. You are placing a great deal of faith in me. I…I hope that I will not disappoint you. Um, if you can excuse me, there are some things that I need to tend to.”

He bows slightly to the contingent of people then quickly leaves. He immediately notices that there is a group of some serious looking soldiers surrounding him. As he comes to the tent with the wooden door, it becomes obvious that some of them intend on accompanying him in. Holding up his hand to stop them, “Uh, I don’t think that is necessary. I would like a little privacy in the latrine.”

It was the strangest day that Max could ever imagine. Suddenly he was treated as if he was incapable of doing anything. He had people wanting to help him shower, tell him what clothes he should wear, what he should eat, what kind of bed he should sleep in, who he should see, what he should say, hell one even tried to tell him what he should think, it was maddening. It finally came to a head when one told his papa that the King was too busy to see him. The minute he heard that, his new advisors experienced one of their new King’s rare displays of fury. They would not be making that mistake again, ever. As Max was finally able to get them back off and take some control back of his life, he received word that his father was awake and asking for him. His father was still in the same ward as the other recovering prisoners but privacy screens had been put up for him. Max peeked around one of the screens and smiled warmly as Liz sat there reading to him. As he listened his heart caught in his throat, she was reading the diary to him. Clearing his throat to get their attention only to realize that he hadn’t a clue as to what to say. Liz gives him a reassuring look and goes to him, kissing him gently, “Why don’t you sit down and get to know each other? I think you’ll find that you have quite a bit in common.”

Max sits down as Liz hands him the diary then giving him another kiss and a reassuring squeeze on the shoulder, leaves him with his father. Looking at him, he does look better. He’s sitting up in bed and the swelling had gone down a lot, enough to allow him to open both eyes. A bit hesitantly, “How are you feeling?”

He looks so much like her. He has his mother’s dark hair and the same chin and nose. His eyes are a mixture of her dark brown and his blue but the shape was hers as well. Those ears though, those were definitely his as were his cheeks and general shape. He was tall enough but not overly so, a bit on the slender side but he could see hard muscle underneath the t-shirt and well developed arms, and from what he’s heard, a sharp mind and courageous. A son anyone would be proud to have and he was, “Better I think. I understand that we met earlier today but I’m afraid my memory of it is a bit hazy. I’m…you have no idea how glad I am to meet you. I…I thought you had perished with Allia, your mother. I was so afraid that I wouldn’t get to meet you before…before it was too late. It’s what kept me from giving up.”

Max sniffles and swipes at his eyes, he doesn’t want his father to think him a blubbering idiot, “I’m glad that we got there in time. It was hard knowing that you had been taken and not being able to get to you right away. I didn’t know that you were still alive until then. I’m…I’m glad that I have the chance to get to know you. I wish I could have known my mother as well.”

Ryal smiles a little sadly as his son wipes his eyes again, “I wished that too but you do know her a little from that, her diary. I was surprised to see it when I woke. Thank you, it means a lot to me. Your mother and I loved each other very much and we wanted you so badly. But we were young and foolishly thought that our love would make everything right. It cost us a great deal, but now I have something more than memories to remember her by, her diary and you. You’re so much like her. She would be so proud of you, I know I am.”

Max has to look down for a few minutes so he can get control of his emotions. Looking back up at his father, “Thank you. I…I have a lot riding on my shoulders and I’m going to do my best to…to not disappoint you or her…Could you tell me about her? What was she like?”

As father and son spent some time learning about each other, while others were working on making sense out of the chaos that follows a war. The old King was taken into custody and held in the very prison that he had sent so many to. General Philip initially set up the MP’s as the law enforcement body and met with the King’s advisors to determine what would be the best way to have a smooth transition from one King to the new one. He had been both surprised and pleased to find Max’s grandfather, Jaren. Jaren had been very grateful to hear that his son was rescued in time and was expected to recover and was delighted to hear more of his legendary grandson. Jaren proved to be a very competent administrator and assisted the general in calming the civilian population and reassuring them that the lost prince would be coming and ascending to the throne and with him peace would be restored, which would allow them to rebuild their lives and their world. He also made arrangements for a select few to go meet with their new King and was greatly amused when he heard back from them later that day that their new King had taken quite exception to their attempts to assist him in his daily tasks and that this was one independent new King and would take some getting used to. This was welcomed news to Jaren, for too long had the old monarchy relied on others for their needs and as a result had lost touch with the needs of the people. It was good to have new blood coming to the throne; it’s what they had needed for a long time.

It had been three frustrating days for Max since he had been made King. He thought he should go to the city and meet with the people, let them know who he was and that he wanted to help them but his “advisors” had insisted that he wait until an appropriate welcoming committee could be prepared to greet the new King. They had gone rounds and rounds on that one. He had met via conference phone with the advisor Jaren, who incredibly turned out to be his grandfather. He had been relieved to hear all that Jaren with the help of General Philip, had been able to accomplish. Power had been restored to many areas, the roads were being cleared, food was being distributed and the injured and ill were being treated and tended too. Truly remarkable for such a short time and Max wanted to be there to see it, to see what more he could help with to get the job done. Max still lived in his simple tent and wore fatigues much to the shock of those same advisors. They had brought with them elegant robes to wear, luxurious bedding and supplies, gourmet foods and a personal chef to prepare his meals. They had been horrified when Max ordered them to distribute the items to the most needy and asked the chef to see if he could help the camp’s cooks figure out how to make their meals more palatable. The more they tried to force the trappings of his new office on him, the more he clung to his simple ways, which pleased his mama and papa greatly. He found himself leaning on Liz more and more for strength and support. Some times they would just sit on his cot and hold each other. Holding her in his arms gave him such peace. She was like a sea of serenity in the chaos that had become his life these last few days. Kissing her forehead, “What would I do without you? I know I wouldn’t be able to face all of them if I didn’t have you to come to at the end of the day. Liz, would you…stay with me?”

Liz looks at him, she’s been so proud of him. He’s handled everything so well, especially considering that he had never been part of a royal court before, now he’s the head of one. She watched his internal struggle to be the King that they expected him to be while not forgetting who he really was. Leaning back against him, “Max, I’ll stay with you for however long you want me to.”

He wraps his arms around her and begins kissing her forehead, temples, cheeks and finally his lips find hers and there they remain for several minutes. They break apart for a moment as he looks into her eyes, as he runs his fingers through her hair. He kisses her passionately again and pours his love into his request, “Forever Liz, stay with me forever. I love you.”

Tears come to her eyes as she tenderly touches his lips with hers, “I love you too Max, forever.”

That night they stayed together until the early morning hours talking of their future, of their hopes and dreams, of their responsibilities to their peoples and to each other, and fell even more deeply in love. The next day a more confident new King emerged from his tent, sure that he could anything because he had the love of his life standing beside him. He purposefully strode to where his advisors were staying and startled them, “Good morning gentlemen and ladies. This afternoon along with my second, Michael and 1st advisor, Alex and the Priestess Elizabeth shall leave for The Capitol City to introduce ourselves to the people, to hear what they have to say and see how best we can help them. Please inform Jaren to meet us at the central town square at 1:00 o’clock. If you wish to join us, then I suggest you pack up now. Good day.”

Jaren had smiled at the urgent message, his grandson was headstrong just like his son, then scowled a bit, he had a lot of work to do to insure the new King’s safety. That afternoon Jaren met his grandson and new King for the first time as well as his closest associates including a petite brunette priestess that he had a feeling was going to be playing an intricate part of his grandson and monarch’s life. He was pleased at what he saw in him, in all of them. They were young and full of heart and spirit, which they were going to need to rebuild their world. The people cheered and cried when their new King, their Lost Prince, came to them, and for the first time in generations their voices were truly heard by their King.

The next several weeks flew by as King Max tried to get a handle on things. The first thing he learned was that he could not do everything himself and with the help of everyone, he put together a council that would oversee different aspects of government. General Philip helped to reform the various remnants of their military into cohesive units that helped administer the law fairly until a civilian authority could reestablish itself in the different regions. Michael practiced the fine art of wheeling and dealing to procure the supplies that they needed. Alex served as a sounding board for him as well as a balance for Michael. He had on more than one occasion calmed a meeting or two that had threatened to blow up. Papa helped him negotiate with the simple people, who through their simple ways had managed to bring in and store a bountiful harvest, which they needed to feed their world. Jaren and Ryal guided him through the various laws and special decrees that had been enacted by the previous king with many being overturned or suspended until further investigation could be completed. Liz oversaw the return of their religious freedoms and reopened various temples, churches and other places of worship. Maria helped organize various entertainment events and galvanized their artistic community to take an active part in relieving some of the people’s cares and worries for a while through concerts and theater. Surprisingly several of the artists had hidden away their works for fear the King would confiscate them for his private collection. King Max saw to it that the King’s private collection was redistributed throughout the various museums and galleries for the people to enjoy. Isabel worked with the widows and orphans, making sure they were provided for and locating missing relatives. And Mama took care of him, of all of them, saw to it that they got their proper rest and remembered to eat right, to take some time to rejuvenate their souls whether it was a play or concert, a walk through a garden or simply relaxing by a fire. And no one dared to countermand her instructions not even the King; she was after all a simple mother looking out for her children.

They had years, if not decades of work ahead of them but there was one thing that Max had to deal with, his past. The prison had been devoid of the objects of torture. No longer did anyone have to fear for their lives, just their freedom. Max needed to do this, to confront his past. He stood in the small musty room as the former king was escorted in. Max wanted to hate him; he had every right to. This man had ordered his death before he was even born, had indirectly caused the death of his mother and directly the misery and almost murder of his father, and had caused countless misery on his world and there was something he had to know, “Why? Why did you do it? Why did you fear me, fear my birth?”

The old king looked at the young man in front of him. He looked so much like Allia, it made his heart hurt. He had heard a little here-and-there of what was happening on the outside world and had been astonished at how much this young man had accomplished. He wished he could be just a proud grandfather and hug him but he just couldn’t, “Because you meant my downfall. There could not be two kings.”

Max had come here hoping to find some sort of closure, some answer that would make it all make sense, instead he found an old bitter man. Max simply shook his head in sadness. As he turned to leave, he looked back at him once more, “But I never wanted to be King. You’re the one that forced me to become one.”

Part 17/Epilog

Within a year much had been accomplished. With the two worlds working together, the basic infrastructure needed for communication, distribution, and justice were firmly established on King Max’s world. The beginnings of a legislature were being laid and the judicial system was being revamped to include the basic laws of long ago before corruption and interference from the monarchy had turned it into it’s own rubber stamp of approval of the King’s actions. For the first time in generations, the king had to answer to the people. During this time of so much change, some things remained constant. Max had sought and been given Philip’s blessing to marry Liz and with it the final piece of the legend came into being, for not only was he marrying Liz but Princess and Priestess Elizabeth and united the royal families of the two worlds and their people.

The elderly matron watched the children sleep peacefully. They had never known the fear of war or threat of injustice. While of high birth, they were raised simply. Their world was filled with love and laughter, play and some work for it helped teach them responsibility. They were raised by their parents and extended family and not by nannies or governesses. They were doted on and disciplined by their parents and spoiled rotten by their grandparents for that is after all what grandparents were for. They were little angels while they slept and occasionally little terrors while awake, they were her grandchildren and she adored them. Before long she felt her eyelids close as sleep began to overtake her as well.

From the doorway she watched her dozing in the rocking chair. She felt her husband’s hands circle around her waist as he pulled her closer to him and nuzzled her neck. He was the love of her life and she his and in the bed was the evidence of that love, their two little boys. Tonight had been their anniversary and after dinner with their family, the two of them had treated themselves to the theatre. He smiled as he looked at the rocking chair, “I guess it’s past her bed time too. I’ll go wake her.”

Crouching down at the foot of the chair, he gently shakes her, “Mama, Mama, come, go to bed. Liz and I are home now. Thank you for watching them.”

Anna couldn’t stifle the yawn, “Oh, anytime sweetie. Did you and Liz have a good time tonight?”

He offers her his arm as they head towards her and papa’s room in the summer palace, “Yeah Mama, we did. Sleep well Mama.”

He and Liz take a few minutes to retuck their two little boys in and kiss them good night before retiring to their own room. Liz keeps watching him from the mirror as she takes her jewelry off and prepares for bed. He’s takes his tie and jacket off and hangs them up. Next is shoes and socks, then belt. She catches her breath at the site of her husband as he takes his shirt off. After all these years, he’s still hard and muscular, with just the tiniest hint of comfortable living settling around his waist. As his pants slide down, her sigh of delight is a little louder than she had intended as he looks over at her with a rueful smile, “Am I this evening’s entertainment?”

Returning with an indignant look, “Your Majesty, I have heard you sing and an entertainer you are not, however…”

He creeps up behind her and sweeping her hair to the side decides to sample her neck, “Hmmmm…..”

Her concentration is totally blown, he has always known just what to do to make her body respond to his touch. Trying to maintain some shred of dignity, “However, my husband has neglected to give me my longed for anniversary gift.”

His head pops up at that and a serious frown replaces his earlier grin, “But I…I gave you that necklace earlier. You didn’t like it?”

She forces herself to keep from smiling at his cute hurt little boy look that he can still manage, “Yes, but that’s not the gift that I long for.”

Putting his hands on her shoulders, he looks at her in the mirror, very concerned, “Tell me what you long for and it’ll be yours.”

She rubs her hands along his and looks back at him in the mirror and then breaks into a wishful smile, “A little girl.”

His grin shone so brightly it could light up the room, “Your wish is my command my queen.”

She turns to her husband, her lips seeking his and finding them eager and hungry. He lifts her up in his arms, his lips never leaving hers and carries her over to their marriage bed, one that holds so many incredible memories for them both. He lays her in the middle and hovers over her as they continue kissing. As their lips finally part he takes some time gazing at her, his eyes devouring all that he sees and leaving him yearning for more.

He had done nothing more than kissed her, but he has already made her body tingle with desire and need. He can do so much to her with just a look or a kiss. She smiles devilishly as she thinks of the wondrous things he can do with this hands, his strong, gentle hands. As his eyes continue their lingering of her, she decides that she can’t wait any longer and wraps her arms around his neck and brings him closer to her, so she can kiss him, “There, that’s better.”

She has him at a disadvantage, he already was stripped down to his boxers and she’s almost fully clothed. He tugs at her gown, trying to figure out if it goes over the head or drops to the floor. As her hands freely roam his chest, rubbing and caressing him, his need for her increase to new heights. As he tugs harder at her gown, she decides she had better help him a little or she’ll need a new gown. She seductively blows in his ear, “The zipper’s on the side, dear.”

He gives her a smoldering look as his hands search out that damn elusive zipper. Finally finding it, a hard tug and he can feel the dress loosen. He wastes no time in slipping it down, hooking her panties as he goes and finally freeing her of all clothes. He grins like a kid that’s just been given the keys to the candy store and was determined to sample each delectable piece. Starting from the top, he covers her forehead, eyelids, nose, cheeks and saving the best part, her lips with tender kisses, while his hands explore her tantalizing curves and valleys. He inches downward planting kisses as he goes, covering her neck, shoulders and that valley between her breast with warm wet remembrances. As his mouth finally covers one of her taught, erect nipple. He elicits a moan of pleasure from her. He gently takes her nipple between his teeth and rolls his tongue all around it, causing it to draw tighter and firmer, while his hand mimics this action with the other breast. Releasing it from his teeth, he then takes a little more in his mouth as he sucks hard. He can feel the tremor run down her body. He covers her breast with more kisses as his lips make their way over to the other one. His hand runs down her little tummy that is still taut, with just a slight pucker from the two pregnancies, and rests on the dark mound of curls. As his lips suck and lick and entice her nipple he feels another chill of desire run down her. He takes his finger and begins to explore the moist heat that lies just beyond the dark curls. He can feel the wave of wetness envelope his finger as he gently slips it in and out of her pleasure. He feels her hands reach for him. He has to lie perfectly still for a moment to keep himself from losing control. He wants to take his time pleasuring her, but she’s not making it easy. Each stroke of her hands on his hard shaft increases the pressure and size of desire that she’s building in him. His finger quickens the pace to reflect the growing need in him. Lowering himself still further, his wet tongue draws little circles on her tummy causing her to shiver. Working his way farther still, he pauses as he comes to her dark curls. He looks up and grins at her for a moment, then gently urges her legs a little farther apart as he closes in and tastes her nectar. As his lips and tongue makes love to her, he can feel her hands running wildly through his hair, urging him on. Her occasional moan had grown more constant and demanding as he licks and sucks on her pleasure zone, again and again. She’s swimming in ecstasy as his mouth teases and tantalizes her. Her breathing is becoming gasps as she arches her back and her body releases wave after wave of wet pleasure.

He can feel her hands grabbing his shoulders digging her nails in as she rides the sea of pleasure he brought her. Her taste is like honey and he’s in no hurry stop. He waits until her nails release their grip and he has taken a final loving sample and then a long hard kiss before making his way back up to her. He lays next her for a few moments as he delicately tracers his finger along her beautiful face.

He’s so gorgeous. He’s taken care of himself, either taking some time to workout or doing some sort of physical chore to keep himself trim and hard. And as her hands slowly run down those hard well defined bulges and ridges, she can’t help but to look at his very well defined and hard shaft pressing into her tummy. He has never left her wanting and it looks like tonight is no different. Her fingers teased him along the base that’s covered in wryly, tight, dark curls. She gently runs just her fingertips over his two sacks, enjoying the different texture and feel of them. She smiles at his groan as she leisurely makes her way back to his base and runs her fingers slowly along his length and then circles around the ridge and finally the tip. She can feel him holding back a shudder as a small drop of seed wets her fingertip. She slides down a little and takes a taste. He’s so hot and hard, she decides that she had better just sample. She does after all want a daughter out of this tonight, better not to get too carried away, although the thought of how quickly she could drive him to lose control excites her and her body is already responding in sync with his. She hears his telltale strangled groan that means he’s going to lose it soon, so she abruptly stops. She looks at him, his chest is heaving and a sheen of sweat covers him. His hands tremble a little as he helps her up to him. He kisses her hard on the mouth and for a moment she can taste herself on him before he makes her more comfortable with some pillows under her as he positions himself. She reaches down and guides him to her heat. A slight gasp escapes her as she feels herself stretching to open up to him. He takes his time as he fills her and starts a slow gentle pace of friction. She moans as he slips in and out, in and out, each time a little further in, a little harder, then the hunger, the building need as he leaves her, then returning, further, harder, over and over. She needs him to just stay, to never stop, she needs more as desperate desire drives her. On the next thrust in, she wraps her legs around his waist, giving him a new position that allows him to drive deeper and harder. They are both gasping as they reach the plateau together. Her legs squeeze him as her climax overtakes her. She hears his deep groan reverberate through them both as his seed pumps again and again filling her. They stay together like that for a bit as they come down from their climatic high. He makes a few adjustments so that they stay joined as her legs unwrap from around him and he lies on top of her. His elbows keep his weight from crushing down on her as his forehead touches hers, “God, I love you. I will forever.”

A little over a year later, the much beloved King holds his 3-month-old daughter in his arms. She has chocolate brown hair and eyes like her mother, as did the grandmother for which Princess Allia was named.

And they all lived happily ever after.

THE END