“It seems perfect-”
“Yes- the perfect weapon- the perfect poison-”
The images in her scrying vision continued to blur and swirl like paint whirled in a pinwheel too quickly. The voices were so distorted that one could not tell if they were male or female, and the pictures projected to her did not make sense. A middle-aged man shaking hands with a black cloaked figure swirled and rippled like water to become a red-orange mix of flame. The flame soon became the roof of myriad tents and food stands in a busy market, and the two invisible voices resumed their discussion in the background.
“We will meet here.”
“Yes- the perfect place to plot our next move as partners-”
“The best place to change a country-”
“The opportune place to challenge fate itself-Walkera Market.”
“Bring the plans...”
“Count on it…”
Silvia woke from her vision. Although her Sight had been less accurate than usual and had refused to yield to her the future-only the present- she had finally found the answers she had been searching for.
Though she had found what she needed to know, she pondered the images. The Chemist and the cloaked figure were present. She had explored far enough through this medium of information digging that she had discovered the other head of Cyrus power was the figure cloaked in black. There was a scene wreathed in fire. And lastly, the market town. She knew the market town well and recognized it in her vision.
So that would be the meeting place of the Chemist and his mysterious partner.
Silvia had scryed for so long to try and find the meeting place, and she had just found it. She could only absorb the precious contents of the vision as she lay in her comforters watching the ceiling of her tent. She might find the other Cyrus head. But she didn’t understand the reference to the poison. Oh well. She would have to get up. Though she had promised David a big day, this was not what she had had in mind.
Emerging from the nest of soft comforters and make-shift bed was difficult- but not nearly as difficult as leaving the tent itself. She dawdled inside the confined space, killing time. She did not want to leave the tent not because she was afraid of meeting the Chemist again head on, but was reluctant to leave the tent for a different reason. She did not want to cross over the line of solitude and David.
David. She wasn’t quite sure of what to do with him.
She didn’t want to think about it.
She shook her mane of ebony locks, shaking away all the remnants of the sand and doubt that had strayed into her hair. Sticking her hand within the velvet pouch at her waist, she once again drew out the silver surface she had used the night before as a mirror. She studied the image reflected back at her.
The bags under her eyes were too dark, her hair too bedraggled, the blood-red lips too dry and cracked. Her tongue ran over her lips nervously. The girl threw on a black tunic and leggings over her underclothes and pulled on her boots, attempting to look presentable. Until she remembered the agenda.
With a sigh, she took out the knife in her belt and sliced and threaded the outfit in any way possible. She even ran some dirt through the fabric to make the outfit believable. The girl shook her head as she surveyed her reflection. “Pathetic,” she sighed in disgust. What she had just created was a ridiculous shredded piece of cloth around her shoulders. It lacked the grubbiness she needed to pull off this disguise. Somehow it seemed all fake, not only ugly. Suddenly she thought what those human eyes would think of this. She felt her cheeks burn.
Frustrations at her sudden urge to look pretty, her absolute failure of a disguise, and her confusion at the sound of that voice made the princess snap open the tent flap.
The human’s eyes widened and his mouth opened slightly agape, as though he forgot the words about to exit his mouth. He continued to stare at her- quietly observing.
“Well?” she asked impatiently. She did not like the way he gawped at her. She disliked being studied so. It reminded her of her past and her differences and she disliked that.
“I-” he stopped at the sight of the black tatters. “Is- is that a disguise?”
“It’s supposed to be…” she said cautiously. His friendliness had caught her off guard the previous night. And now, she felt confused and muddled around him. And for that, she couldn’t afford to trust him. Eurchess’s words echoed through her mind. The boy of the prophecy.
Let’s see if he is, she thought, straightening her rumpled hair.
“Supposed to be a disguise?” he asked innocently.
“Yes!” she said in exasperation. “I know it’s…not quite right,” she sighed.
“I can help. Are you going somewhere?”
“I was just going to go to the market- I saw something just while scrying. I saw where the Cyrus heads would meet- but I have to go today. I must find out about the other head of the organization and what the Cyrus is up to. I thought the least conspicuous disguise-”
“Would be tatters?”
The princess, at that moment, frowned at that smile because all it brought was more confusion to her mind. With confusion came distrust.
“No,” she mumbled.
“Princess, you are talented in many things- just maybe practice a little in this field?” his mouth curved upwards, and the girl had to stop her lips from twitching upwards as well. He was trying hard to be likable.
“Alright. Help me,” she grumbled.
“Change back into something more comfortable. Then we’ll talk over what you’re planning. Something different might work.”
Her eyebrows rose.
“Please, your highness?” he asked, smiling slightly.
She nodded grudgingly and headed back into her tent to change into a tunic with the faintest stitching of burgundy.
“The disguise?” she prompted, walking out of the tent.
“The cloth itself was too high-quality. Pickpockets’ gold.”
“How do you know this?”
“Past experience,” he said, suddenly quietly.
Stunned, the princess was silent.
“You? A pickpocket?”
“I needed to survive.”
They were silent for a while, and David resumed, disguise forgotten temporarily.
“My mother needed me. She never found out that the peasant beggars in our village got close to nothing,” he sounded slightly frustrated and the girl heard pain in his voice. “- and only pick-pockets got anything.”
“We’re going to the marketplace?” Starlight asked, suddenly besides them, chipper than a lark. The princess was so involved with their conversation that she jumped at the sound of the horse’s voice. But she got a hold of herself quickly.
“No. I’m going.”
“Correction…if you want help with your disguise, then for your side of the deal, you have to take us!” the horse replied, evidently thinking he had cornered the princess.
“No…correction yourself- I am going by myself. If you won’t help me with my disguise, then I will swap clothes with some peasant.”
“Princess, we decided that in order to actually be a team, we have to trust each other,” David spoke up.
Before she knew it, they had taken apart camp. She took down the tent and folded it inside her space concealed charm bag. She noticed that David stuffed his blankets inside a shoulder pack Eurchess had evidently given him.
“Look, if you want to pass incognito, then Starlight can’t possibly be our horse- not with that fancy saddle of his,” the princess pointed out suddenly to the boy.
“I know, princess. I already thought of what to do.”
Silvia looked through David’s long eyelashes, waiting.
“We’ll by gypsies.”
Astonished, the princess gaped.
“I know…but listen…” David said.
“No! Don’t you know we’ll be targeted more if we’re gypsies?!” she asked.
“Yes, but wait- that’s the only way we can take Starlight with us.”
“And, we need other supplies too- like water canteens, or money for exchanges.”
“How will we achieve that if we are gypsies?”
“We’ll have to perform.”
“You can still perform as a peasant and get money-” Silvia protested.
“In all the marketplaces in my village, beggars are forbidden entry. Peasants need wares and crops to sell. Gypsies, though despised, can still go in with nothing but their songs and prophecies.
“We can also bring Starlight this way as a gypsy horse. If we have to leave in a hurry, none will question us. Not only that, but also we can find other gypsies in the area and find some news.”
“We can never fake our disguise with real gypsies in the area,” Silvia said, determined to take apart David’s plan point by point. She was not going to make her group a target in this brutal marketplace. Especially this dangerous one.
“Do you know that gypsies are the first ones to go into the marketplace arena?”
“The what?” David asked.
“Yes- In Aarchen, this is forbidden. Not anywhere else. Soldiers take street people, throw them into a ring surrounded by a crowd, and put on a show of mortal one-on-one combat. Sometimes, just to have a place of entertainment and gambling, prisoners or magical creatures are carted in from over-crowded prisons, or slaves are sold into the arena.”
“Then we won’t get caught. We’re not disturbers of the peace, or prisoners, or slaves, or magical creatures.”
Silvia pursed her lips on the last on the list.
“This is not a matter of getting caught or not-” Silvia found her face close to his. “This is a matter of not sticking your nose into situations like this.”
“What are we arguing about now?” Starlight asked.
“Whether or not we should be gypsies,” David said smoothly.
“I think it’s a fine idea- that way I can come and be your own secret bodyguard!” Starlight neighed excitedly.
“Starlight- this is not a game!” Silvia snapped.
“I never said it was.”
“Can we come with you? It’s not safe out there,” David said. Silvia found it too brutal to mention that he himself might be a distraction from this mission and might hinder her progress, despite the hidden implication it was too dangerous for her.
“Do you promise to stay safe? Away from the soldiers?” Silvia asked.
“Yes, yes, yes, stick a needle through my eye and all sorts if I don’t,” Starlight said.
“But Starlight- you can’t say a single word when we enter the marketplace- you’ll be taken into the marketplace arena. You know of those, right?” Silvia asked. Starlight grimaced. Apparently he and his captain had been out of Aarchen’s markets before.
“So, are we going to be gypsies?” David asked.
“I guess we are.”
Holding out an old map of wrinkled yellow leather, Silvia shouted directions to Starlight above the noise of the wind. David clung to Starlight’s warm neck and felt Silvia bump against him as Starlight suddenly veered left, avoiding a cloud.
David felt very cold so high above the ground. He still wasn’t quite used to the idea that his friend was a flying horse.
But then again, he wasn’t quite used to the idea of the fierce princess so close to him in front of him. He was tempted to make sure she wasn’t going to put him in a headlock. She was grabbing onto Starlight’s mane, her face pressed against the horse’s neck to hide from the harsh wind. And his arms were around hers also holding onto the hose. His face burned at the thought of her so close to him, but he wasn’t quite sure why.
“DAVID?!” Silvia shouted over the wind.
“I WANTED TO ASK YOU SOMETHING!”
“CAN IT WAIT?”
“I NEED TO SEE THAT MEMORY WITH YOUR FATHER AGAIN!”
“UMM…THIS REALLY CAN’T WAIT?”
“NO! LOOK AT ME! BUT YOU HAVE TO SURRENDER COMPLETELY TO ME IN ORDER FOR ME TO DIG DEEPER TO SEE THIS AS CLEARLY AS I CAN!”
He reluctantly met her gaze as calmly as he could. Her intense eyes burned into his. She leaned close to him, her lips inches away from his face. He felt his skin tingle and his heart start to pound madly inside his ribcage.
“RELAX!” she yelled into his ear.
“Alright…” he mumbled.
They stared into each others’ eyes for at least a minute before the rushing wind around them seemed to calm and grow still. Suddenly all was quiet and everything to David had turned a bright white, even the princess herself as her features seemed to whiten away to nothingness. Then time itself stopped.
The princess’s voice whispered in the background.
“I’ll need to use some magic on your brain system to help you relax entirely and let your body remember. I need to see some details you might have forgotten, but not your eyes. It is still a while before the marketplace, so don’t worry.”
With a jolt, David found himself dropped into that dreaded memory, the old wood floor, the wooden chairs so familiar yet cold- but only for a moment, for Silvia whispered,
“Do you want to see this? You don’t have to. I just have to examine it.”
“Please- get me out of this-”
And everything turned into a white room. It was empty except for himself. He walked around the perimeter, feeling the walls, feeling the impossible smoothness, the foreign sweetness and burn he felt resonate through his fingertips. These strange exotic feelings caused a thrill within him, and made his heart pound madly.
He suspected that the girl had felt regret at examining his memories and had let him out of viewing the memory again. David realized that the walls in this white room seemed too strange and unfamiliar to be his. There was a certain instinct that he knew that this wasn’t his own mind at all, but instead Silvia’s. He paused.
His fingers suddenly met a smooth protrusion from the surface- a golden doorknob. Curious, David wondered if the princess would ever teach him to ever explore others’ minds to such an extent as hers and to scry.
The doorknob suddenly was surrounded by a smooth rectangle as twice as tall as David. It was a door. But the question was what did this door lead to?
Since he was within Silvia’s mind to take refuge from his own past, he wondered if he opened the door if he would understand this mysterious person better, to see her mind completely. A burning desire ran through his heart at the urge to let the princess know him- but also for her to trust him. He wished that she would stop hiding her secrets from him when she knew many of his. The injustice of this when he blindly trusted her effected in the sudden clouding of his mind.
Show how much she has hurt you- look into her heart! Her mind is for the taking!
No! he tried telling himself. Part of his mind continued to rebel against this part of his ethics. He knew that this part dark part of his self could not afford to be set free.
But before he knew what he was doing, his fingers began turning the golden doorknob.
“What are you doing? How did you find my door?” the clear voice asked behind him. He jumped. He felt guilt rush through his system. It was evident not many had found this door, and he had. But he had gone along and had almost opened it.
“I wish you could trust me as much as I’ve trusted you, princess,” he said softly.
“Get away from the door- now!”
“I know you’re hiding secrets- many of them- and I know these are painful. But look- I’m sharing mine with you, and it might be better for you to not just keep the past buried deep within your mind- it might be easier for you.”
“I don’t need friends, human, if that’s what you’re suggesting!”
“Don’t open that door.”
“Alright, princess,” he stepped away from the sweet door, his fingers falling gently away from the golden handle. “I’m sorry. I wish you could trust me.”
“Trust a human? Not after the Chemist.”
There was a new layer of distrust in her eyes.
“Why do you hate me so, princess?” he asked. He screwed up his eyes to block out the beautiful girl from his sight and hopefully his heart. His mouth turned white from pressing then together so firmly. When he opened his eyes again she continued to survey him cautiously, as though he would hurt her. He sighed.
He looked at her sadly.
“I wish you would trust me- that we could be friends. I don’t think you know what you’re doing to me. I feel like I’ve been hurting you but without knowing why- like this morning when I saw you step outside your tent. Maybe you didn’t like the way I looked at you, or something, but you looked at me as though you wanted to tear my head from my shoulders. I feel each time I get you ready to accept me, you shut close right away and hate me more than ever.”
The princess looked at him, suddenly expressionless.
“I can’t trust you now for sure.”
“Your father is the Chemist.”
“That’s why you wanted to see into my memories, isn’t it?”
“I needed to make sure. Do you ever feel a part of yourself almost ready to lose control or your ethics? A part ready to take over?”
She paused. A deep regret filled her to the brim. He looked so hurt. But how could she trust him now? She so wanted to open herself a little wider to him- but now it was impossible.
“That’s your father in you for sure,” she said conclusively.
“Is that why you hate me?”
She didn’t speak. She didn’t trust herself to do so.
David sat opposite from her on another white chair.
“I’m sorry. Princess- please,” he stopped. “I have devoted myself to your cause without much proof you’re looking out for my best interests. However you hate me for something I cannot help. I really wish I-” his voice almost broke.
“David?” she asked. He looked up.
“You’re right. You cannot trust me, no matter how I promise I am with you.”
“Eurchess says you are the boy of the prophecy, and it is my job not just to save the country, but to protect you. We are obviously at an impasse. It is just a matter of time before the Chemist tries to collect you and sway you to join him. Do not give him that opportunity.” She paused. “Swear to me on your mother that you will not even be tempted- especially since he is your father. Don’t join him- no matter what! Swear it!”
She paused again, her guilt visible through her eyes, as though she had pushed him too harshly. “A secret for a secret…” she whispered so softly David wondered if he had heard her correctly.
“Sorry?” David asked.
“David,” the princess’s eyes were, if possible, even more serious. “I admit I haven’t been completely honest with you, and you’re right. You’ve promised to be on our side so many times I can’t even keep count. If I trust and protect you, then we need to understand each other.”
“Umm…” David started looking uncomfortably at his hands resting on his knees.
“I have an idea- just like how we use our Sight. When you see a memory of mine, I see one of yours. In this, you tell me a secret, and I’ll tell you one of mine.”
“David- I feel…” she paused. “I feel horrible. I shouldn’t be acting so horribly to you. It’s true, that you’re human, but you cannot help that.”
David wondered if she looked down on him precisely because he was human and that being human was like a curse.
“I feel ashamed that I am holding this secret against you when you showed it to me freely. And you did swear you wouldn’t join him, though I don’t know how much trust I can put into that promise. So I want to tell you a secret of mine.
“Can you keep a secret?” she asked.