Chapter 5: Infiltration
The last place I thought I’d end up was inside of a pull cart hiding under bundles of barley, wheat, and bags of flour. Angelo and his friends decided it would be safer for us to travel as market traders and have me hide among the product instead of being out in the open with them. Norio walked with them posing as a guard they hired to protect their wares from bandits. I was inside of a large sac laying against the floor of the cart, my knees pulled in against my chest. There was a large hole with mesh covering that I was able to breathe through but I was extremely hot and uncomfortable. I was forced to keep my eyes closed so that the fabric from the bag wouldn’t get into my eyes. I’d never traveled in such a manor before and I hoped I’d never have to again. I had no fear of small, dark places but I wanted out of here as soon as possible regardless. We discussed going to Fa palace first to warn them and hopefully take my sister to the safe house. We needed to get there fast so we were headed to the nearest sky train station. Sky trains were the fastest and safest way to travel. The Sky trains traveled along magic train tracks in the sky and used a special kind of stone for fuel. People could travel around the world in only two hours; traveling to the next city or country was a mere fifteen minute ride or less.
Before we could reach the station, we had to go through a checkpoint. There were dozens in most major cities and even more as you got closer to the royal kingdoms in each region. I only know these things from what was told, I’d never actually seen anything outside of Gahdehsein. Since Angelo owned a specialty store he often traveled with goods so we weren’t expecting too many problems on our travels.
Checkpoint Offical – Traveling permit and trading license please.
Angelo -No problem, here they are.
I could hear Angelo talking to someone about his official documents so I knew we were at the checkpoint. I was so nervous I was sweating.
Checkpoint Official – Everything looks good here, now we’ll do a quick check on your cargo and you can be on your way.
Angelo -We’re in a bit of hurry, please make it a brief search.
Checkpoint Official – A hurry eh? Is this a shipment for one of the royals or something?
Angelo – Yes it is, so if you could please make this quick I’d greatly appreciate it.
Checkpoint Official -Sure, sure Angelo. Boys make it quick, he’s one of our best merchants.
Angelo – Thank you.
I took slow, deep breaths as I heard footsteps coming around the cart. I could hear people moving things and sliding the other bags around on top of me and I did my best to stay still. After a moment they left the cargo alone and the sounds of their footsteps grew distant.
Checkpoint Security – Everything checks out, they’re good to go.
Angelo – Good day to you gentlemen…
I heard Angelo say to them before we started moving again. After a while I was able to hear the sounds of trains and lots of people buzzing about. The cart continued to move and it soon sounded as if we were moving away from the noise. The cart tilted slightly and felt like it was being pulled up onto something. I was jostled around a little each time the cart was tilted upward and then suddenly the cart was set down on it’s pegs.
Norio – It’s safe to come out now princess.
I heard Norio say in a low voice. I sat up quickly and opened the top of the sac, taking in a big gasp of air. I started to stand and Norio reached his hand out to me. I looked up at him as he pulled me up to my feet. With his other hand, he pulled the cotton sac down the rest of the way to my feet and I stepped out of it. He suddenly picked me up and lifted me from the cart before setting me down on my feet again.
Malaika – Thank you…
He simply nodded. I looked around the train car and realized we were in the storage car. The light was dim and there were no seats so we had no other choice than to sit on the floor. Norio walked over to a space behind the cart and placed his black cloak onto the floor so that I could sit.
Norio – Make yourself comfortable, I need to keep watch at the door.
Malaika – Are you sure it’s alright for me to be out here like this?
Norio – It’s fine. No one will come in here until the train reaches it’s destination, at which time I’ll have already taken you off of the train. I got this so don’t worry.
He said with a grin as he stood against the wall. I went to sit down behind the cart on his cloak and hugged my knees against my chest. There wasn’t much space so I could only sit like this or up on my knees. I looked up to Norio but he was looking over his shoulder through the small circular window on the door.
Malaika – …Say Norio,
Norio – Yes, my lady?
Malaika – Can you just call me by my name? I think it’s safer to treat me as a normal person than as someone of high birth.
Norio – Are you sure?
Malaika – I am sure. Besides, a princess without a kingdom to go back to is merely a homeless girl…
I watched him look at me and sigh.
Norio – If that’s what the lady wishes, but I don’t want to hear you calling yourself homeless ever again. You DO have a home to return to, you just have to fix some things first. Understand?
I felt embarrassed then and looked away from him. It was easy for him to say such things when he had no idea what it might take to get me back home. I had other reasons for not wanting to be treated like a royal other than safety. For once in my life I wanted to just be a normal girl. I wanted to know what it was like for someone to be honest with me and say what was on their mind rather than what they thought I wanted to hear. Since I was a child everyone lived to please me and treated me like something so fragile. I couldn’t continue to be treated like that or I wouldn’t have the strength or courage to go on this journey. I needed to be one of the commoners, I needed to be brave and strong.
Norio – Princess? What are you thinking so deeply about?
I didn’t hear him say my name, and I was shaken from my thoughts.
Malaika – Malaika, please call me Malaika.
Norio – Sorry, it’s going to take some getting used to. People usually get their tongues cut out for not addressing a royal properly if you didn’t know.
My eyes widened at his words. I’d never heard of such horrible punishment for something as small as that.
Malaika – In what awful kingdom do they practice such things?
Norio – Well…I think you’ll find out soon enough. I think the practices of other kingdoms should be the farthest things from your mind, Malaika.
Hearing him say my name felt strange yet comforting. I felt myself smiling and suddenly hung my head down. I killed the smile quickly, this wasn’t the time.
Norio – Why do you do that?
Malaika – Do what?
Norio – Stop yourself from smiling.
Malaika – I did no such thing…You must’ve imagined it…
Norio – Sure, that must’ve been it…
I looked up at him with a stone glare hearing the sarcasm in his voice but he was looking out of the little window on the door again.
Norio – It looks like we’ve stopped. Alright put that cloak over yourself, we have to make this quick…
He said before walking over to me. I put his cloak on and the hood over my head. It was so long it pooled around me on the floor so my entire body was covered. Suddenly Norio picked me up and put me over his shoulder. He started running once we exited the storage car from the back door and I had no idea where he was supposed to be going. The fabric of the cloak was keeping me from seeing anything clearly so all I could do was trust him in getting me to safety. I felt like I was going to throw up this morning’s breakfast if he ran any longer but we finally stopped. When he set me down on my feet I lifted the hood up slightly to see Angelo and his friends standing around Norio. We were standing on a pebbled pathway in the woods.
Malaika – Where are we?
Norio – In the southern region near the kingdom of Raythe.
Angelo – We had to split up once we stopped to make sure we got you somewhere out of site my lady.
Norio stepped to my right side and faced them. It wasn’t until now I actually had a moment to get a good look at Angelo’s comrades. One was no taller than me with the physique of a champion swimmer and short, dark brown hair. His skin was slightly darker than mine, a little darker than milk chocolate. The second man was as tall as Angelo but fair skinned and he looked to be of Asian heritage. He was toned with a slender body and broad shoulders. He had strong, chisled facial features and thick stuble on his chin.
Norio – Wait here a moment, there’s something I need to do.
Norio said starting to go on ahead of us.
Angelo – Hold on, what do you need to do without us?
Norio didn’t answer and simply went on ahead of us a ways before stopping on the path. He raised his right hand into the air and a bright light shot out from his hand and up into the skies above.
Malaika – What in the world is he doing?
Angelo – If you don’t even know, should I be concerned?
I couldn’t answer, and I wished I could. I was starting to worry about knowing so little about Norio. Each time Angelo had a question about him I couldn’t provide him with an answer and Norio refused to answer him at all.
From the skies, what looked like a bouncing ball of light came down and landed in Norio’s right hand. The ball of light seemed to change shape but I wasn’t sure exactly what it was. Norio seemed to be talking to it of all things. After a moment the ball of light flew out of Norio’s hand and looked to be in the form of a hawk. It continued up into the skies until it was out of sight. Norio came back to us and we all looked at him curiously.
Malaika – What was that?
Norio – A friend of mine. A few of my guys will meet us on the road to the Fa Palace. We’ll have transportation and back up then.
Angelo – That sounds great, but do you mind telling us who these people are?
Norio looked up at Angelo with impatient eyes.
Norio – You still don’t trust me do you?
Angelo – No. If you want to start gaining my trust you need to be more forthcoming with your information and your identity.
Norio – My identity is none of your business. I have some concerns about telling you who’s meeting us.
Malaika – Concerns? What concerns Norio?
Angelo – Yeah Norio, do tell. Who are these friends of yours you’re trying to protect so hard?
Norio – The Phaloa.
Angelo and his men’s eyes widened with what appeared to be alarm. Angelo came and stood in front of me protectively and his men took out their daggers. Norio pulled a long hunting knife from his waist belt seconds before they drew.
Malaika – Stop it! What are you all doing!?
Angelo – Princess this man is no more than a murderous thug! I can no longer entrust your safety to him!
Malaika – Wait a minute! What are you talking about Angelo!? Who are the Phaloa?
Angelo – The Phaloa is a band of mercernaries and assassins for hire. Most of them are ex – cons and bandits, no better than a pack of stray dogs! If he’s part of them, you can bet he’s not here to protect you.
Norio – I told you before! If I wanted to take her away for the bounty, and I’m sure it’s a lot, I’d have done it by now! This is exactly why I didn’t want to tell you who my contacts were. If you don’t trust me, I can’t help her. And if you think you can do this without me you’re sadly mistaken Angelo. You might think I’m the lowest of the low but right now I’m the only one with the means to get the princess to Fa Palace without incident.
Angelo – You expect me to believe the word of a Phaloa!?
Norio – If you want to waste time arguing with me and doubting me, that’s fine. Just know that every minute you waste here, is another minute King Dorieus will have to take Malaika’s sisters and destroy the other kingdoms.
Malaika – Angelo he’s right, we don’t have time for this!
Angelo suddenly turned around towards me. The look in his eyes was so fierce I almost thought he would go into a fit of rage right then.
Angelo – This vermin thinks he has the right to say your name without proper formal speech! Knowing what kind of person he is will you allow this!? Will you still have him as your personal guard my lady!?
I sighed and looked Angelo square in the eyes. He stood back a little seemingly put off by my expression.
Malaika – All of you, put away your weapons and listen to me. You too Norio.
They seemed to hesitate for a moment but they all put their weapons away and gave me their attention.
Malaika – On this journey, we may have to work with people that we don’t like. We might also have to do things that may go against our values and principles. However, if we can save my sisters and the other kingdoms and stop King Dorieus I say it’s all worth it. I know I’ve lived a sheltered life and I know almost nothing of the world and it’s works but, I don’t believe in my heart that Norio has any intentions of harming me or allowing anyone else to. You all are here for the sake of my family, a common purpose. Can all of you set your personal quarrels aside if only for that reason?
I looked at all of them waiting for a response and soon they all went down to one knee and bowed their heads.
All – Forgive us princess.
I rolled my eyes and shook my head at them.
Malaika – Oh please…Get up, all of you. And from now on I want all of you to treat me as a normal person just like you. It only makes sense seeing as no one can know my identity. Only call me by my name, understand?
They all got up and nodded.
Malaika – Excellent. Now no more arguing, we’ve wasted enough time already. Norio?
Norio – Yes?
Malaika – Will you still be my personal guard?
He suddenly smiled then.
Norio – I never said I wouldn’t be.
I smiled back at him before giving him a nod.
Malaika – Good. Angelo you heard him, now stay off of his case. He’s here for the same reasons you are…
I said before putting the hood back over my face and walking past them. A small smile formed on my lips. I’d never been so assertive, it felt good to express myself like that. I heard footsteps a short distance behind me and I had a feeling it was Norio.
Norio – Malaika?
Malaika – Y-yes?
Norio – I hope you don’t see me differently now.
Malaika – Why would I?
Norio – Now that you know what kind of people I’m involved with, I fear you might look at me differently. I hope you’ll give me a chance to explain things better.
Malaika – Of course…It’s just…
Norio – What?
Malaika – I thought when I learned more about you, it wouldn’t be something like this.
Norio – I see. Everyone has a story, not all of them are good ones.
Malaika – And the people in the bad stories aren’t always bad people…
I noticed Norio stopped walking and I turned around enough to look behind me. His facial expression wasn’t the solemn one I was expecting, nor was it a happy one per say. He was looking at me so strangely, I couldn’t explain it. I’d never had anyone look at me like this before. My heart beat sped up and I felt myself becoming bashful again. Norio looked like he was about to say something but I turned around and continued walking again before he could.
It was late evening when we arrived in the royal city of Raythe. We had to go through the city to get to the gates that lead to the road up to the Fa Palace. It was known as the shining city because of the way it lights up at night and continues to shine at sunrise. It was full of sharply dressed nobles and royals alike. Even the merchants were sharply dressed. The commoner merchants and peddlers didn’t seem to be allowed into the city and were stationed along the roads outside of the city. I heard someone whistle in awe behind me.
Angelo – Fancy, fancy.
Malaika – Yeah…
Norio suddenly put his hand out in front of me and stopped me from walking. Everyone else stopped behind us.
Norio – Dorieus’s men at 2 o’ clock…
Sure enough about 5 of Dorieus’s men were ahead of us among the city dwellers. They didn’t seem to be in a hurry but it was obvious they were heading towards the gates to Fa palace.
Norio – I have to get Malaika out of the market area. My men will be beyond the gates and on the road. We need to get through those gates NOW.
Angelo – Agreed. My lady, I mean Malaika. Keep the hood down and your head down, don’t look up no matter what.
Malaika – Okay…
Norio put his arm around my shoulders and we started walking again. I felt my heart racing all over again. Dorieus’s men were already here in the city, had they already made it inside of Fa palace?
TO BE CONTINUED….
COPYRIGHT ALEXANDRIA REEVES 2015