Tides

Her mother named her hoping for a bright future. Their kingdom had been at war for twenty years on the day of her birth, and her father was now growing old. The youngest of nine children, Dawn was watched over constantly. She knew little about what went on outside the castle walls. War was a distant thing, a vague concept in her mind. People fought, some died, someone eventually won. The servants and members of the court praised her every move, calling her their perfect tomorrow. As she grew into a woman, she had many suitors for she was quite beautiful. Her older sisters were envious, but had more important things to worry about. Their father was losing, and it was only a matter of time before the enemy would be at their door. Dawn paid no attention to the panic or worry in those around her. Her servants masked terror behind half-hearted smiles. On her birthday, she woke to her servants pulling her from her bed in a panic. She could hardly breathe. A blazing light engulfed her window and curtains. The young women shielded her eyes and placed a cloak on her to cover her nightgown as they ran. "What's happening?" Dawn asked, her voice cracking from her heightened fear. "Shh, dear princess. We'll get you out safe." One of them whispered while the other forced back tears. Screams echoed down the hall. The two female servants accompanying her cried as they covered Dawn's ears. Dark shadows illuminated by the fiery light came towards them. One of her servants pushed her underneath a table. The other servant hid behind a curtain. The servant that helped her under the table went to join her. Dawn saw feet standing beside the table from underneath the tablecloth. The servant woman was pulled out from under the table by her exposed legs, disappearing from her view behind the cloth. She could only see the woman's hands clawing at the ground while she screamed. Dawn heard several hard whacks on something that squished. The servant woman's hands went limp after the sixth one and she could see the messiness of her hair on the floor, but her hands and head looked too far apart to be right. A pool of red filled the floor, spreading onto and under the cloth. Several more whacks, she heard them nearby, and then a small thud against the floor followed by a second, harder one. Dawn couldn't decipher what it was. Then, the cloth was lifted from the front side of the table. A man in armor wielding a sword knelt down and grabbed her arm. The man yanked her out from underneath the table. He held her down on the floor. With his blood covered gauntlet, he took hold of her chin and looked over her face. Tears fell from Dawn's face. "Please...please don't kill me. I'm a princess...My father..." Dawn could barely see anything anymore. Her sight was too blurred by her own tears. "A princess? Which one are you?" The man took hold of her arms and tied them up. "I am Princess Dawn, the youngest child." She flinched at the rope he wrapped around her. It was so tight she thought it would cut right through her skin. "Then I'm in luck. If I bring you in alive, all the better. The public loves a good show." The man wrapped a noose around her neck and tightened it. He pulled her up and kicked her legs. "Get to walking, bitch." Dawn did as she was told. She saw the bodies of her servants lying on the ground, their heads nearby. She was forced to step through a puddle of blood created by the servant who hid behind the curtain. She wanted to close her eyes to the disgusting, horrifying sight, but it stained her thoughts. Whether her eyes were closed or open, the view was the same. The horrid mutilations didn't end at that. As he led her out of the burning castle, bits of her family's servants lay scattered about, some already charred from the flames. She felt immense guilt for not being able to remember most of their names to pray for their souls. The man presented her to someone and informed her of who she was. She was locked up in a cage and put on a metal carriage to be transported somewhere. Inside it, two of her sisters were already there in separate cages. Dawn called out to them. "Luna, Stella, what's happening?" "We're done for. We've lost. They're going to execute us." Luna cried. "We should just kill ourselves and get it over with. I don't want to be put before that crowd and have a man turn his blade on me." Stella pressed her face against the cage bars, trying to reach her sister. She wanted to put her hands through the bars and touch her, but her hands were tied behind her back. "No, you mustn't. Suicide is a sin. Pray for yourself, pray for a miracle. Don't kill yourself." "What did I do? I didn't cause a war! Why must I suffer?!" Luna banged her head against the iron bars repeatedly. "Luna, stop it!" Stella yelled. Dawn started crying again. "Luna, please..." Luna was too far gone to listen. Blood dripped from her forehead as she kept on banging it against the iron bars. Getting tired, she fell down onto the bottom of the cage. She sobbed for a while, then suddenly stopped. "Luna?" Dawn called out her name. Luna bit down hard on her tongue, piercing deeply into it. Stella screamed. "No! Luna!" Luna died in her cage. She was left there for the duration of the trip. Dawn and Stella tried not to look at their sister's body. When they were taken out of their cages, they were reunited with some of their family and members of the court. Her mother, she heard from her sister, Rain, poisoned herself before she could be captured. Her oldest brother, Gale, was downed by a soldier trying to protect his wife and Rain. Rain's dress was as drenched in blood the same as Dawn's, but Dawn noticed large rips in her dress. She dared not ask what she feared. Gale's wife's clothes were disheveled and destroyed in a similar fashion. They were led in front of a scaffold. A man wearing a black mask and wielding a sword waited at the top of it. Beside him, two men and a woman wearing crown sat on wooden thrones. The older man stood up before the crowd. "My good people, today is a glorious day. The war is over and it is us who are victorious. God has shined down upon our kingdom. We lost many brave souls over the years, all men who are surely resting in heaven above us now. Today, we rid ourselves of the scourge who took those lives from us. Bring forth the king." The crowd cheered. Her father was led up to the top of the platform. He was forced to kneel and place his neck on a board. The man with the sword swung down on her father's neck. Four times it took for the man to cut completely through. The hooded man showed the head to the crowd. Her brothers were next, then her sisters. Rain had to be dragged up to the block. She screamed all the way there. Stella was just before her. She went peacefully, not needing to be led. As she rested her neck upon the block, she recited a prayer. Six times, it took. Dawn's turn finally came. She was too frightened to move. She had to be led up the stairs. Her legs shook so much they gave out on her twice before she could reach the block. The crowd's faces mortified her. Blood dripped off the edge of the platform before her. She closed her eyes and waited for the end. "Wait." Someone said. Dawn opened her eyes. The hooded man lowered his blade. She heard the footsteps of someone coming from behind her. The younger crowned man knelt down before her. He grabbed her face and grinned. He pulled her up by her arm and looked over the rest of her body. His hands wandered over parts she did not allow anyone other than her bathing servants to touch. He whispered in her ear. "Are you unmarried, girl?" Her entire body shook. She managed to nod through her tears. "Are you untouched?" She nodded again. He pulled the front top part of her dress forward and looked down at her breasts. He let go and whispered to her again. "Be a good girl and I'll let you live." She didn't know how to respond. She only kept nodding. The man looked over at the older crowned man. "This one is very beautiful. I wish to marry her." The crowd went silent. "Marry her? The enemy's daughter? Son, what are you thinking?" His father said. "Father, those who are still alive in that fallen kingdom are now our subjects and must become one with us. This is my act showing that from these decades of bloodshed, we will rebuild something even greater than before." The young man said. The crowd cheered even louder than before. The man's father gave his approval. She was made to sit in his lap while the remaining people were executed. When the executions were over, she was taken away by servants to begin preparing her for the wedding and her role in the kingdom. Since she was not trusted by anyone, Dawn was kept inside a locked tower whenever there weren't servants around to watch her. The wedding was planned for the next Spring. Until then, she was to learn all the ways of their kingdom and how she should behave as the next queen. The young man was the crown prince. He had been married once before, but his wife died in a strange accident. The prince visited Dawn on occasion, mostly to touch and kiss her, and tell her lewd comments about how much it agonized him to have to wait for their wedding night. "You know, it's alright if I don't, since we're already engaged. It's for the best if I wait, but there's no reason I have to, really." He would tell her sometimes, whispering the words into her ear. Through barely audible words, she said to protect herself, "Please wait. I want to be pure on my wedding day." He found her response charming and would kiss her on the forehead. "Sweet girl, I have no doubts about your loyalty. You will make an excellent wife." The prince would then leave her alone again. No one heard her cries when she was alone, except for the guard who kept watch at her door. He was a handsome man and very quiet. He never spoke to anyone except when questioned. She sometimes forgot he was there. Months passed. She kept herself protected from the prince by using faith and innocence as a shield. The prince grew more demanding as the wedding date drew closer. She met each want with the same words. Her words became stronger the more she recited them. The day of her wedding was almost upon her. That night, she spent most of her time crying. She never gave any thought to having to marry someone she disliked when she lived with her family. There were so many men who adored her, and all were kind and gentle to her. She wished one of them could come save her, but she knew many of them were dead and the others likely wouldn't come to her aid now. The war was done. She cried herself to sleep. At midnight, the door of her room opened. Dawn woke from the sound of it. It was too dark for her to see anything. Someone covered her mouth and pushed her down on the bed. "Don't scream. If you want to leave this place, do as I say." The voice said. Dawn kept quiet. A candle illuminated the room. The man holding her down was the quiet guard. He spoke to her again. "Do you want to leave?" She nodded. "You will do as I say?" She nodded again. "Good. I'm going to let go of you. You mustn't make a sound, or I will have to kill you. I don't want to. I'm letting go now..." He removed his hand. Dawn let out a gasp. She stayed quiet as he instructed. "We don't have much time, so I'm going to make this quick. I've been working here for the last year learning every secret of this castle. I'm sure you're already aware of this, but the king is the sort of paranoid type to put elaborate traps all over the place to catch intruders. I'm actually a pirate." He grinned. "I've been here, passing information along back to my Captain. We're raiding tonight. I know you don't want to be here. You can come with me until we're out. Well, unless you want to join us. My Captain doesn't mind women sailing with us." "Become a pirate? I don't think someone like me is cut out for that...I don't know how to fight or anything." Dawn tried picturing herself in typical pirate clothes. It was bizarre and surreal to her. She could never be a pirate. "That don't matter. You can get stronger. Besides, a pretty lady can be quite useful at the right times. You can think it over while we leave." He carried the candle towards the door. "Well, are you coming?" Dawn looked down at her clothes. "But I'm in my nightgown." "Who cares? In a year, no one will remember your face, much less anything else." He stood in the doorway. "If you want to change, you'll have to leave on your own. I'm not waiting around any longer. It's your choice." Dawn felt naked in only her nightgown. For a moment and only a single moment, she considered staying put in that tower. Her family was gone. Those who loved her were dead or had long abandoned her. She was alone. She tossed the blankets aside and ran for the door. 'I was born naked. I wasn't ashamed then.' The pirate waited for her and they ran down the hallway. Outside, she heard screams, of men and women alike. She couldn't make out the words they were calling, but the night looked brighter than before in the few glimpses she got from sparse windows as they ran. "Looks like the Captain's already here. Down this way. It leads straight out. We won't have to pass through all the fighting that's about to happen." The pirate pressed against a stone wall. The wall went forward, revealing a hidden passage way. Dawn followed him down that dark, cramped space. She kept completely quiet as she promised. The man before her was a complete stranger. At the back of her mind, Dawn wondered what his real intentions were and what he might be thinking of doing once they were out of the castle. The walk out seemed to go on forever. Eventually, they made it out. Dawn looked back. The castle was ablaze. In her mind, she caught flashes of that fateful day, her last birthday. Her body froze. All she could see was her servants laying dead before her. She wanted to scream. The pirate held on to her shaking shoulders. "It's alright now. You're not in there. You're free now. It's over." Dawn's surroundings came back to her. She noticed she was breathing heavily. "I'm sorry...it looks so much like..." "The night they took everything away from you? They'll get what's coming to them if they dare cross my captain." The pirate gave her a smug grin. "But what about all the people who didn't do anything wrong at all? What about the servants and children?" Dawn shot back at him. "Captain doesn't allow attacking the defenseless. The only ones who will be cut down are those who fight. Captain only wants the treasure, nothing more." Dawn didn't see how that made it any better. Her brother Gale fought and died trying to protect his family. He would have seen those pirates as a threat no matter what they were after. She countered the pirate again. "Then why burn the castle? That only risks the lives of everyone." "Captain never sets fires. Someone else must have done that." The pirate said. "Besides, they were practically asking for us to take their treasures, setting up such an elaborate system of traps like that. Temptation is a powerful thing." Dawn didn't trust the man's words. Even if he believed it, she knew nothing of what this captain was like. She turned her back on the castle and stared up at the night sky. Off in the distance, a hint of deep red was on the horizon. She felt more lost than ever. Her social upbringing came forward despite her distaste for the pirate's words. "Thank you for saving me. May I ask your name?" "They call me Arrats. Never really liked my name. You can call me anything you want." The pirate started to walk ahead of her. "This is where we part ways. I've got to get back to the boat." Unconsciously, Dawn followed him. "Where do I go from here?" "That's up to you. You're out of that tower at least. Do whatever you want. Be a whore, be a beggar, be a sailor, be a thief, be a nun. No one knows your name. You're free." Arrats shrugged and smiled. He kept on walking. "Wait!" Dawn ran after him and grabbed hold of his arm. She didn't know why she did it nor why she was thinking such foolish thoughts. It may have been her fear or her confused loneliness, but she let slip what her mind pondered in spite of knowing better. "What if I want to be a pirate?" "I thought you'd come around." Arrats had a knowing look on his face, as if he saw this happening the moment he let her out of that tower. He took her hand from around his arm and laced it with his own. "Then you run with me." She let him lead her through the night into the dawn. They stopped before a big ship with a red flag raised. The figurehead was of a woman with wings on her back and bird feet wearing a long gown. The woman's long hair and dress were designed to convey them blowing back gracefully in a strong wind. Atop the woman's head, a circlet and the rest of her body was adorned with jewelry. Dawn found the workmanship of the figurehead breathtaking. From a distance, she and her jewels almost looked real. Not long after that, six pirates approached them. Dawn kept quiet. To her shock, in the middle of the group was a woman. She remembered Arrats did say the captain allowed women to join them. Arrats greeted the woman. "Captain, you've returned. I've brought someone who wants to join us." "Is that right? Let me see." The woman approached her. She wore a big, flamboyant hat on her head and a thick, long coat with barely anything underneath up top. Her long shorts were ripped and her knee high black boots covered in mud and filth. Like the figurehead, she was covered in jewels. The woman jingled as she walked from them clanking together. "Why, you're a pretty lady." "You're a woman too..." Dawn managed to say. "What? You never seen a female captain before? I'm Captain Rana and this here is my first mate Lan. He don't say much, but you can count on him fer anything." Captain Rana motioned over to the pirate beside her. He was a tall man with a blank face. His clothes were dirtier than the others and there wasn't a single bit of gold or a sparkling gem upon him. Dawn didn't let her eyes linger long. Captain Rana put her hand on Dawn's shoulder. "And who might you be?" "My name is Dawn." She said. "Dawn. Arrats, that's the princess you been guardin', right?" Rana looked over at Arrats. "That's right, Captain. I thought you'd like her." He said, proud of himself. "We'll see, we'll see." Rana gave him a cold look in the eye. "Alright, Miss Dawn. From today on, you're the lowest of the low. You sure you're ready for this kind of life?" Dawn looked back at the castle burning. She grit her teeth. "Is it really any lower than the company I kept before?" "You'll fit in well here, Lady. Welcome aboard my ship, the Jeweled Siren. You be good to us and we'll be good to you. If you cross us, you won't live long enough to pray. Remember that and follow my orders. When I ain't around, do what Lan says." Rana took off one of her many necklaces and placed it on Dawn. Dawn looked down at the necklace. "Thank you." "Are you scared?" Arrats asked. "A little...I haven't been on many boats." Dawn looked around at how many men were surrounding her. "Where do I sleep?" "You'll be sharin' a room with me." Rana said as she boarded the ship. "What? But Captain!" One of the men cried out. "I can't trust none of you with a pretty lady at night. I know 'least one of ya gotta be rotten to the core." Rana pulled out her gun and pointed it at the lot of them. "Captain, we'd never disobey you." Another one of them said. "You, I already got my eye on." She pointed the gun directly at him. "No worries, Lady. You'll be staying with me and Lan. You were a princess, huh? You write good? Can ya read maps?" "Yes, I can do both." Dawn replied. "Good. I got some work fer ya later then." This time, Rana pulled out her sword. "And you men, you lay one hand on her and I'll separate you from your most precious jewels." "It's always the same threat, every time. Sends a chill right up my spine," said the one she had pointed the gun at. "Welcome aboard, Miss." Lan passed her. His voice was almost emotionless. She couldn't read him at all. Something about that interested her. "You seem different than the others." "No different than you." Lan's words were vague. "I must warn you. Rana is very loud, even at night. You'll get used to it." "I see." Dawn followed him onto the ship. Arrats was right behind her, along with the other men. Dawn explored the ship while the rest of the crew slowly returned with their spoils. Most of the remaining crew was male, but she was relieved to see Rana had two other women working for her. When the ship set sail, she watched the kingdom by the port shrink a little more with each passing wind until it was gone. Dawn thought of her mother, who had named her hoping for a bright future and her servants who called her their perfect tomorrow. They were all gone now, and tomorrow never came. Dawn felt over the emerald at the edge of the gold chain around her neck. It was impossible to see tomorrow. There was only today, the present. The path before her was a dark one, but so was the world she left behind. If she stayed, she would surely be dead or passed around to someone else. The only sanctuary out there for a woman without a family was a nunnery, and nuns did little to protect themselves. She may find herself like her sister Stella, praying for a miracle that would never come. If those wicked in the world sought to bear their fangs at her, she wanted to show fangs of her own. In time, she may find a better path in life than this one of sin and wickedness, but for now, it was her best option to continue on living freely. She closed her eyes and listened to the wind. When everything was still, she swore someone was singing for her in perfect unison with the waves.
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