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The draft version of Book 2's prologue...
C. 1040 BC
“Get ready, girl!” Her nurse scolded as the young Habren sat crying. Everything around her was in a rush and a panic. Anything light was being whisked away by servants to pack on the horses and anything heavy was left behind. This included all the gold and bronze that lined each wall of the palace.
A tall woman with fiery hair rushed in and shook her head furiously when she saw Habren crying by the window.
“Come here!” She shouted. “Away from the window and hurry! We have no time for this right now.”
Habren tearfully rushed to her. The woman dragged her out of the room.
“Mother,” Habren sobbed. “I don’t want to leave.”
“The Queen is coming, child.” Her mother snapped, fear causing her face to turn hard and cold. “She would like us both dead so we either run away, or we are killed.”
Habren said nothing but followed her mother along the ornate corridors of their home. They were running for their lives - leaving everything behind save for a few belongings.
Habren had the same dark skin as her mother, and crimson hair. The crown that she usually wore had been tossed aside as they made their way outside to the courtyard.
The mother and daughter stopped in their tracks as the giant bronze bell at the top of the palace started tolling - it’s resonance seemed to freeze Habren’s mother.
“The Queen is here.” She whispered. Habren looked up at her mother and, seeing her terror, felt the same panic. A man ran up to them both and took the woman’s hand.
“Estrildis.” He panted. “Take a horse each for you and the child. If I can, I will send your belongings after you leave, but you must go now. Gwendolen has crossed the border of the town and she’s coming for you and Habren.”
Estrildis looked in fear at the man and nodded quickly.
“Get on the horse, child.” She commanded and Habren obeyed. “Thank you, brother. I hope I’ll see you again.”
When Estrildis and Habren were mounted, they set off as fast as they could down the filthy streets, taking care to leave the town by the western way, not where Queen Gwendolen had been.
They made no effort at conversation but, when they were out of the town, only sped their horses on more to leave eyesight of the tall buildings.
Habren looked back at the town that had been her home since she was born. She knew that she shouldn’t have been born - it had been a mistake on the king’s part. But the king had truly loved her mother and as soon as he could, he had left Gwendolen and married Estrildis instead. Habren was then seen as the princess she really was. It had only been a little less than a year since she had been taken to live in the palace, but she had enjoyed the attention and riches that were showered on her.
Her mother, Estrildis, had made a perfect queen. She had been strict but fair and no one could deny that her dark skin and fiery hair made her the most beautiful woman in the south of the country.
The town was being quickly left behind them and they were now riding through strips of farmland where people were working. They looked up at the noblewomen as they fled past but the exiled queen and her daughter paid them no attention.
They only stopped when they reached the river, its current heaving and bulging along the course of it. Their horses rested by the water while the two dismounted. Habren’s tears had gone and her eyes were dry.
“All that we have grown used to over the past year has gone.” Her mother told her. “There is no point in wishing for something that we can no longer have.”
Habren listened with dry eyes. She was about to speak when a flock of sparrows rushed out of one of the bushes behind them. Estrildis and Habren turned to look and saw three armed soldiers walking towards them.
They turned back to the horses but saw 10 more coming along either side of the river bank. They were surrounded.
“What do we do?” Habren whispered but her mother didn’t answer as a tall woman on horseback rode up to them, followed by seven men in armour, each carrying three weapons.
“You’ve led us on a merry dance.” The woman on horseback applauded slowly.
“Gwendolen…” Estrildis began.
“Queen Gwendolen.” The woman spat. “Take her child from her.”
At this command, one of the soldiers marched up and dragged Habren away from her mother.
“I will not have some freak of nature take my throne, as well as my husband.” The Queen sneered. “Your daughter will not be able to claim the throne from my son.”
“I make no claim to the throne now,” Estrildis pleaded. “I plan to leave the country with my daughter. Let us go and you’ll never see us again.”
The Queen grinned while her eyes flashed with a dangerous light.
“You would leave this country and raise an army across the water. I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night without wondering when you’d be returning.” She leaned forward in the saddle and grabbed Estrildis by the hair before the red-haired woman could move back. “I know what you are, freak. You would command your tribe as well as your father’s armies against me. You cannot live. And neither can your daughter.”
The Queen pushed Estrildis back to one of the guards and turned towards Habren.
“Freak,” she sneered and, giving the girl one last look of distaste, turned her horse around and left the riverbank.
The last thing that Habren was aware of was being grabbed from behind and pushed towards the heaving river.