by Tiffany Dominguez
The back of the tall uniformed guard was as stiff and straight as the fence behind him. With his cap pulled low over his eyes and his weapons visible on his belt, he seemed on first look to match perfectly the two dozen guards positioned at staggered posts along the perimeter.
But Melia knew differently. When he’d walked by her during the shift change this morning, she’d recognized the deceptively casual walk and mild demeanor.
Had he been sent to save her, or to watch her die? Though she’d made no secret of her love for him, he’d never given her any indication of what he felt.
Without betraying one emotion (after all, she’d been well trained in this), Melia sat down at the loom and began the morning as she usually did. Any sign of slothfulness in prisoners meant a lashing from the guards or restricted food rations. From the first day she’d arrived here, Melia had seen no reason to show defiance. What would it accomplish, drawing such attention to herself?
As her now callused fingers worked the thread in and out, back and forth, she watched the guard out of the corner of her eye. Would he give her a sign?
Three hours later, the bell rang, signaling a water break for the prisoners. As Melia rose from her chair, she found herself staring straight into the eyes of the new guard. He took her arm roughly, as if to hurry her along, but he whispered into her ear, “Do you trust me?”
Melia nodded without hesitation. This young yet seasoned soldier had always served her family faithfully.“Now,” he grunted as he pulled her along to the punishment shed, where the lashings took place. The trail of blood made Melia gag for a moment, but her steps never faltered.
The guard at the door snorted at Melia’s captor. “Always thought that girl was too obedient. Give her a good reminder who’s boss.”
Melia shivered at his harsh tone. She’d seen enough scars on her fellow prisoners to know how little mercy had been shown at this place. Glancing at her captor’s face, she searched it for some sign that he cared for her, that he wouldn’t leave her here to die. But Tristan looked as cold and unresponsive as always.
Once inside, Tristan dropped her arm, took the knife from his belt and tapped on the exterior wall three times. There was a responding tap and then a section of the wall disappeared. The face of a family friend appeared in the opening, a grin on his broad face.
“Hey, princess. Come along. You’re safe now,” he whispered, holding out a hand.Trembling, Melia took it and stepped out into the forest, a free woman for the first time in over twelve months. Once they’d traveled in silence a safe distance from the prison compound, Tristan took her in his arms and pulled her close.
“I’ll always protect you, your highness.”
Copyright 2009 by Tiffany Dominguez, author retains all story rights.