Palos slowly raised his head, wary of the situation, knowing full well that at a moment’s notice guards could be hauling him away. He looked up at the princess, showing the utmost respect but with a blatantly nervous gaze.
“Well?” the princess rested her hands on her hips, throwing her shoulder forward, an altogether impressive feat considering the substantial, billowing skirt that obscured half of her body in a formless mass of silk would have hidden most gestures. “Can you speak or are you dumb?”
“Uh, uh?” Palos cleared his throat, trying to come up with something intelligent to say.
“Oh heavens. If you don’t say something,” she spoke, raising her tone on something, “I may very well change my mind and the guards will be along shortly.”
Palos’ eyes flared open at this suggestion, and he suddenly found his tongue working well, “Oh, no! No, please don’t, Your Grace!” Palos clasped his hands imploringly, “I have a message I must deliver to the king! If I don’t succeed, my family and village will be slaughtered by the Raksha!” At the mention of the familiar name the princess’s eyebrows furrowed, in genuine concern, before she quickly masked the expression with another indolent look of haughty royalty.
“I,” she began slowly, attempting to conceal how excited she was by this news, “have heard of that name before. My uncle and father speak of them often, behind closed doors,” she stopped, seeming to weigh her options, “what can you tell me of them?”
Palos looked quizzically, before changing his expression, realizing it may seem rude, “The Raksha, Your Grace?” Her eyes tore through him, daring him to challenge her, and in that moment Palos had a picture of the gates of hell. The princess uncrossed her arms as she made towards the door. Palos panicked, desperate to convince her, “They’re tall! Hugh! They have grayish skin. They never sleep, and they can kill you in a heartbeat.” Palos stopped, breathing deeply as he had forgotten to in his rush of fear. The princes stopped, turning back around towards him, considering if her interest outweighed the pleasure of turning him over to the guards.
“Go on.” She said, looking directly at him.
“Yes, Your Gace. I only know so much, but traders of the North speak often of the Raksha when they come to visit. I even met a man who claims to have killed one, even had a battle wound to show for it, if it really is a battle wound, that is.”
The princess looked more intently at him, “How?”
“I’m sorry?” Palos said, not understanding.
“How,” once again the princess spoke with that annoying lilt in her impatient voice, “did he kill it, the Raksha?”
“Oh, yes, yes, Your Grace.” Palos frantically searched his mind, scrambling for information pertaining to her inquiry, realizing he had nothing to say. Even if the man had told him how he had killed it, he had no memory of what he said. Palos now found himself digging through his mind, searching for a scattered thought he could prop up as an explanation.
“Well?” the princess cast a suspicious gaze at Palos, informing him that the ruse was almost up.
“Ah, yes. Yes, that’s right. Yes, what he said was, he said that the only way to kill a Rakshi was at—“
“Out with it!”
“Midnight. The reason all others have failed before is because they can only be killed at midnight, and the blade that pierces it must be covered in sap from a froderine flower!”
The princess, looked deep in thought, “And this man, how did he discover this, and how where is he now?”
“Unfortunately, Your Grace, the last word I heard on him was that he had died on the Vellminial Road on the way to Koduras six months back.”
The princess gazed suspiciously at Palos before growing complacent. “Very well, and what was your message?”
“The Raksha are coming to my village. We must get help from the king, or we will all die.”
“Ah.” She nodded thoughtfully, “Head to the gardens behind the castle. You know where these are?” she gave one look at Palos dumb stare before continuing, “Just head out of this room, take a left at the next hallway, then a right, then you will head down a long corridor, and by then you should be able to see it. I shall meet you there tonight. I will see what I can do.”
“Thank you, Your Grace.” Palos turned to leave.
“Oh, and Palos, it’s Talis.” Palos nodded, bowing once more, overcome by the turn of events in his favor. He left that room with real hope he might not fail after all, but the fact that he had lied to princess Talis gnawed at him, and he found it an impossible subject to free his mind from. He only hoped the ruse could last long enough for the troops to rescue his village, then, Palos would willingly turn himself in for his actions.