The moon gave gentle light and relief from the sun’s heat. Its silvery touch blanketed everything under it and lulled the unsettled town into rest. Though for some, the sight of the moon meant it was time to emerge from hiding.
Wearing dark, baggy clothing, she crept from her spot among the weeds onto the open cargo car of the train. Quietly, she scurried to a dark corner behind some crates where she’d be out of sight for anyone who chanced to wander by. Her brown eyes scanned the area for any potential movement or threats but found none. Finally, with a sigh of relief, she could relax.
She let her thin shoulders droop as her head rested against the wooden frame of the train car. She was making the right decision. She just knew it. Leaving this town was going to be the hardest part because most people could recognize her here. However, once she finally left this township, she was the same as free. Only her blood could betray her.
Feeling the pang of hunger she'd been ignoring since sunset, she took her last dinner ration from her bag. She need not worry, though. She had plenty of money to use, but she couldn't buy anything here. The merchants would know who she was and that would be it. Her freedom would be short-lived, and she wasn't having that.
Bread never tasted so good. The flaky, buttery roll practically melted in her mouth. She was so indulged in satiating her hunger that she didn’t realize the train had begun to move. A smile graced her face as she watched the world she knew slowly drift away.
The chugging of the train was the only sound she took in for a while until she heard papers rustling within the car. Her eyes widened as she attempted to hunker down and keep still, hoping if she wasn't alone that she’d remain undetected. After a moment of no other movement or disruptions, she assumed it may be a rodent who’d smelled her bread and was searching for crumbs. However, it was hard to continue with this conclusion once she heard a low chuckle.
“That’s funny,” a man seemed to say to himself.
She peeked up over the crates and beheld in the silvery moonlight a man in the opposite corner, reading a newspaper. He looked older and scruffy. His clothes were tattered, and his face was much dirtier than hers. Had he always been there?
He seemed to feel her stare and glanced up from whatever had made him laugh to himself moments before.
“Hello,” he greeted warmly.
“Hello. I’m sorry I didn’t see you there. I was certain I was alone.”
“I saw you come in, but you were distracted. I won’t be a bother to you, Miss. I’m just riding to the next town. With my newspaper, it’d be like I’m not even here.”
“If you wish,” she said with a shrug. “But I don’t mind conversation.” The truth was she was starving for it today. It’d been more than a day since she’d spoken at all.
“Well, me either,” the man said with a broken smile. “My name is Henry.”
“Nice to meet you. I’m…” Suddenly, she realized she’d need an alias. Off the top of her head, she chose. “My name is Destiny.”
“That’s a right pretty name, Ms. Destiny.”
“Thank you… What did you find so amusing in the paper a few moments ago?”
“Oh, there’s an article on the missing Princess Zada. They suspect she was kidnapped but can find no evidence that she was.” He said as he folded the paper with a shake of his head.
"You find this amusing?" She began to wonder if conversing with this man was a wise choice.
“It just sounds fishy to me. I don’t think she was kidnapped. She must have run away.”
“Wh… why do you say that?” Her heart pounded.
“Well, the royal family would never admit that one of their own up and ran off. I mean how embarrassing would that be for them?”
“Yeah.” She looked to the floor as he chuckled.
“One of their own can’t even stand them,” he laughed. “The king and queen are two of the vilest people to have ever ruled. They’re rude and they hate people. Oh, but they love money. Makes me wonder if someone did take their daughter if they'd pay to get her back. But then again, she's probably some spoiled rich brat who takes it all for granted and still probably thinks it's not good enough. People like that are never satisfied."
She looked up at him and beheld him flip his paper open again. The pain of his words seeped in. Was she a spoiled rich brat? Was she just like her parents, the ones she couldn’t stand to live with a moment longer?
No. She would never mistreat their servants and townspeople the way they do. Henry was right about them, but not about her. That's why she had to leave. She was nothing like them and wouldn't stand to watch them berate and belittle all who held titles under theirs, including her.
“What if the princess left because she refused to be part of their ruse any longer? Maybe she isn’t like them and just needed to get as far away as possible.”
“Then, she’s a coward.”
That one sat her up straight as if felt she had a fire poker against her chest. “Excuse me?”
“She’s a coward. If she left her countrymen to be ruled by those horrible people without taking a stand and claiming her own time to rule, then she is as bad as them.”
She slumped and looked at the floor with a frown on her face. His nose was still deep in the paper, so he couldn’t see the slight tear that formed in her eyes. Silence passed between them as she listened to the train's chugging once more.
There was truth to Henry’s words, and as much as it hurt to hear, she felt almost relieved to have heard it. She was a coward if she ran away from a fight that was rightfully hers. She was a coward to leave her helpless people in her parents’ hands. She was a coward if she didn’t get off this train.
“You’re right.” Her courage blundered her fear as her eyes caught a spark of inspiration.
“Oh, I was just speculating. Nobody really knows.” He shrugged and looked up from his paper.
“No, she should defend her people instead of running from discomfort. She should teach the world to value people for who they are and what they bring to the world, not where they work or even how they look. Imagine a world revolutionized by this…”
She got to her feet and crossed the train car to Henry.
“Thank you for your honesty, Henry. You just saved your country.”
His eyebrow arched in confusion as her bright smile was hard to dim even in the moonlight.
“Here, I want you to have this.” She handed him all the money she had in her pack. “I won’t be needing it now anyway.” His eyes went wide in his shock, and he pulled his soiled hat from his head with a slight nod of respect.
“Have a nice life, Henry. Come find me if you need anything.”
With a consuming flame of determination in her chest, Princess Zada leaped from the rolling boxcar and into a pond. Thus, beginning her journey homeward as her destiny of becoming queen was to soon be realized.