“It doesn’t count if you’re already planning your defeat.” Ryder placed his hand on Hera’s shoulder, shaking his head in disappointment.
Hera was a part of a tradition that found it compulsory for females above the age of twenty-one to fight for who would become the Queen’s personal guard after the previous one loses her life. Ryder was her best friend and trainer, and seeing her want to give up after defeating four competitors just broke his heart. They had come so far.
“Ryder,” she pouted, “don’t look at me like that.”
He let out a sigh, “Hera, you’ve already defeated some of the kingdom’s strongest women. Only Tania is left and you’ll be the queen’s guard. Your family will finally be able to pay for Jackson’s hospital bills.” He tried to reason with her.
Jackson was her older brother who had gotten stabbed during a war that took place about a week back. He was one of the late King’s fighter. The King had lost his life during the war and so did the queen’s guard.
“Please do not remind me of that. You and I know that I had no intention of joining this whole thing. My life is at risk.” She tied a bandage around her wrist as she spoke.
“You’re twenty-one, Hera. You knew you would have to fight or watch your family get killed.”
“I know. I just want to fake an injury and be asked to leave.” She got up from where she had been sitting and dusted her black shorts. Hera then wiped a few beads of sweat that had decorated her forehead.
“That would just be unreasonable. I’m the smarter one, so I suggest you listen to me and fight. Go home and rest, I expect to see you here tomorrow.” He said, bending down to pick up his bag.
“Okay, sire,” she mock saluted him, “I shall meet you here tomorrow.”
A smile graced his face, giving her a view of one of his attractive features. Dimples. She loved looking at them. “Get going,” he shooed her, “now.”
Rolling her eyes, she picked up her bag and swung it over her shoulder. “I’m going. Goodnight, Ryder.”
Her smile faded as soon as he called her a warrior. She was no warrior. Hera’s dream was to get married to one of the kingdom’s finest men and have children with him. She wanted to wake up to the smell of freshly baked bread and not the sound of war cries and the pungent smell of blood.
“Warrior,” she muttered under her breath, trying not to wake the sleeping villagers, “I’m not a warrior.”
As she passed by a window, strange music was heard. Who could be playing an instrument at such an ungodly hour? It had to be a weirdo who couldn’t sleep and decided to disturb the peace and quiet of the neighborhood.
“Keep it down, weirdo,” She yelled, face palming when she realized she was also disturbing people.
“Weirdo? Who does she think she is?” Came the reply of a very familiar voice. It couldn’t possibly be.
Prince Carl?” Her eyes widened in shock when she realized she had spoken rudely to the king’s third and last son.
“Damn right I am.” He jumped out through the window, startling her. “Now, who are you?” He backed her into a corner as he scanned her face for an answer.
When she didn’t speak, he stepped on her foot. “Ouch!” She lifted her leg up and frowned at him, “Why did you do that?” She questioned, feeling anger boil up inside.
“You were enjoying having me close.” He grinned at her and in a second, a frown replaced the grin. “Who are you and why are you still outside by this time of the day?”
Hera swallowed as she thought of what he would do to her if he found out who she was. He could order the killing of her family.
“Na-” she started, thinking of a name.
Carl raised a brow at her, “Na what? Speak,”
“Naomi. Yes, I am Naomi Gonzalez.” She lied, flashing him a smile.
“Could you please step back? You’re in my personal space.”
Carl stepped back and adjusted his blue shirt. “Naomi, really?”
She nodded, making to walk around him. “That’s me. I’ve got to go.” She pointed in the direction of her house and then slowly brought her hand back down when she realized she was showing him where she lived.
“Don’t go around calling everyone a weirdo, okay?” He told her before walking off and jumping back into the room he had come out from.
“What a day.” Hera mumbled as she walked home. Her father would definitely yell at her for coming home late.
Like she had predicted, her father, a middle aged man with light brown hair was seated outside their small cottage, obviously waiting for his daughter to come home.
“Papa,” she called, going over to give him a hug, “I’m sorry I came back late. I had to train some more with Ryder.”
“You should have been home sooner, dear. Let’s go in,” he pushed the wooden door open, leading her into the house.
She found it strange he wasn’t yelling at her like she had expected him to. He was oddly calm.
“Papa, did someone die?” She asked, smiling sheepishly when her father turned around to glare at her.
“No, Hera, no one died.” He picked up the lamp and opened the door to her room, “Jackson is not doing well.” He admitted, placing the lamp on the desk.
Hera placed her bag down and sat on her not so comfortable bed. As the poor people they were, they couldn’t afford luxuries like the royal family did.
“What’s wrong?” Panic and fear were evident in her voice.
“The doctor didn’t tell us much, but all we know is that he needs really good treatment and that won’t happen unless we pay. I wonder what those bastards stabbed him with.” He sat down beside her, putting his head in his hands, “I don’t know what to do, Hera.”
She swung an arm around his shoulder, pulling him close. “He will be fine, Papa. I just need you all to give me some time. After I win this, we will have more than enough to take care of Jackson, okay?”
She had come to realize she was being selfish by thinking of giving up. Her brother’s life was much more important, and she would do anything in her power to make sure he lived. Hera was willing to fight more than ever before.
“Child, are you sure you can handle this?” There was a look of concern on his face.
“Yes, papa. I’m positive.”
He smiled at her and then stood up, “Have you eaten?”
“Yes, I have.” She lied. “I’ll just go to bed, I’m tired.”
“Okay then. Goodnight, Hera.”
Wrapped in the icy arms of dawn, Hera shut the door to their house before making her way to the place she and Ryder were to meet up. She had a battle against Tania and if she won, she would finally become the queen’s guard.
“You got this, Hera.” She chanted to herself as she walked through the market. “You got-” She caught sight of freshly baked bread and decided to buy some. “Oh my! How lovely!” she exclaimed, breathing in the aroma of the bread.
“Good morning, young miss, would you like to buy some?” Asked the very cheerful seller.
Hera nodded, smiling at him. “How much?”
“Only five cents.” He showed her his fingers.
“I’ll take two.”
Hera took the bread that had been wrapped up in neat paper and continued her journey. This early, people had already started selling their goods and this proved just how much money was needed.
“This is nice.” She mumbled taking a bite from the bread. She had always loved bread. The other one was for Ryder as she had a feeling he wouldn’t eat at home.
She wrapped up the remaining bread when the training ground came into view. She hated seeing the place, but she had to tolerate it for her brother’s sake.
“Morning, Hera.” Ryder greeted, kicking the air. He was warming up.
“Morning,” she replied, placing her bag down. “Have you had breakfast?”
He stopped what he was doing and faced the brunette in front of him. “No, why?”
“I got you bread,” she brought out the bread from her bag and gave it to him, “It’s really good.”
Ryder nodded in agreement when he took a bite. “Definitely is. Thanks, Hera.”
“You’re welcome. So, the fight begins in an hour, right?” She questioned, picking up a stick and practicing with it.
“Yes. There are some things I want you to know about Tania.” He also picked up a stick and joined her, “She plays dirty. Tania will always go for your leg when you fight. To cause serious damage, I assume. If you have a broken leg, you’re done for.”
A worried expression crossed Hera’s face. She wasn’t feel so sure all of a sudden. Ryder saw this and turned her to face him, “But, I do know that she has a broken rib from fighting Raquel. Use that to your advantage and you will be victorious.”
“How do you know that?”
“I have my sources, Hera. All you have to do is attack her there and she’ll easily surrender.”
She inhaled deeply, closing her eyes. “I hope this goes well.”
Grey and foreboding, the castle stood atop the hill, looking down across the village. It was truly majestic. It was almost time for the battle to begin and Hera had just arrived at the castle, alongside Ryder and her Father.
“You can do this, dear.” Her father hugged her, while Ryder just gave a small smile. He wasn’t really good at expressing himself, but Hera knew him all too well.
“I can.” She encouraged herself, “Ryder, take father to his seat, I’ll go get ready.”
“My seat? I have a special seat?”
“Yes, papa. Go on,” She forced a smile.
With that she walked off to the dressing area. She hadn’t expected to see Tania in there because each fighter had a room all to herself.
“Um… Tania, what are you doing here?”
The red head just looked at Hera like she had grown a second head. “You are in the wrong room, Hera.”
Hera then realized Tania’s room were written on the door and felt herself go beet red from embarrassment. “I’m sorry. Continue what you were doing.” She turned around to leave, halting in her steps when Tania spoke up.
“Good luck, Hera. I hope you can walk out on your own after I win.”
Hera spun around to come face-to-face with someone she so desperately wanted to hit. “Oh, I will.”
Tania smirked at her, “We’ll see.”
Hera was stood behind a door, waiting for her name to be called. Tania had been called and was already in the ring.
“And her opponent, Hera De Ville!” A man introduced, after which the door was open. People were gathered all around the battle arena and cheering widely.
She looked around, eyes scanning the crowd for her father and best friend. Her mother couldn’t be present as she had to stay with Jackson. As she looked around, her eyes landed on a certain prince. He had a look of amusement on his face.
“Please stand in the center of the ring.” Said the man.
Hera was looking directly at Tania who wouldn’t stop smirking. She was going to wipe that smirk off her face with a punch.
“Ready?” The man asked, eyes flickering between the two women.
“Yes.” They chorused.
The man stepped backwards before yelling, “Fight!”
Almost immediately, Tania kicked Hera’s leg. Ryder was right about her going for the legs. Hera fisted her hand in a bid to throw a punch, but Tania was quicker. She had punched Hera square in the jaw. Hera bit back the pain and stepped back just as Tania attempted to punch her again.
“But, I do know she has a broken rib from fighting Raquel. Use that to your advantage.”
Hera was soon filled with anger the moment Tania punched her again. She took a lurching step towards Tania, eyes bulging with rage. “You…” she snarled, going in for a shot at her opponent’s rib cage. Hera pretended to punch Tania’s face to which the red head lifted up her hands, exposing her chest area. Hera took advantage of this and kicked her.
Tania doubled over in pain, giving Hera a chance to kick her face. It wasn’t going to be a pretty sight later on.
“I hope you can walk out after this.” Hera repeated Tania’s words as she kicked her again.
“Stop.” Tania coughed, covering her rib area with her hands. Hera didn’t listen to her, rather, she pushed Tania down and sat on top of her before throwing punches at her face.
She didn’t want to hurt Tania in the way she was doing, but the battle was all about survival to Hera. She grabbed Tania’s hand and twisted it in such a manner that people watching were shocked. They probably had no idea that the human body could twist like that.
“I sur-” Hera loosened her hold when she heard Tania speak.
Unfortunately for her, Tania head-butted her, causing Hera to completely loosen her hold on her. Her hand immediately went to where she was hit. That really hurt.
“Get it together!” Ryder yelled from a distance.
Hera shook off the pain and tried to sweep Tania off her feet. What Hera didn’t see coming was the roundhouse kick coming her way. Its impact had her falling to the ground. Tania took the opportunity to inflict pain on Hera. She had a nose bleed, a black eye and a broken lip.
‘I failed my family.’ Hera thought to herself. She couldn’t defeat an opponent like Tania.
“Advantage, Hera!” Ryder yelled again.
Hera lifted up her hand and hit Tania’s ribcage. It was the major game changer. Tania was coughing up blood and finding it hard to breathe. Hera quickly stood up and walked over to a coughing Tania before punching her unconscious.
“Ladies and gentlemen, here is your winner!” The man lifted Hera’s right hand up.
“That’s my daughter!” she heard her Father yell and smiled, regretting it when she felt pain.
“And now, for Miss Hera De Ville to meet the members of the royal family.”
Right then, four people walked into the ring. A middle aged woman in a navy blue floor length gown with a crown resting on her head was first seen. Soon, three other good looking men approached the ring. Hera’s eyes were fixated on Prince Carl Flynn.
“Miss Hera,” the queen softly called, “congratulations on winning the battle.”
Hera bowed in respect, “Thank you, your majesty. I shall serve you to the best of my abilities.”
“I look forward to that.”
“Congratulations, Naomi.” Carl said, walking up to her. She bowed her head in embarrassment.
“Naomi?” The queen looked confused.
“Oh, it’s a long story, mother.”
Carl flashed her a smile and she mirrored his expression. Something told her this was only the beginning of another story.