(Note: This is an excerpt from the second novel of my series. The book one wasn't written in English, and nor was the beginning of the book two - that is why I need to make this note now. This story is told by a girl named Eira. She's currently around 9, and it's happening sometime in the medieval time, in a country and a town that haven't been named.. There's a reason why she thinks and acts older, so try not to stay on that for too long... She's something like a foster child to a "traitor" named Dareon, who was caught and brought to the Castle, along with his children and the whole group of others - Eira refers to them as family. Her true mother and father were accused for doing magic and being heretics. Her mother died in the dungeons, giving birth to her, and her father was hanged afterwards. She was saved by Dareon and took to the Labyrinth, his hideout, where she lived until the soldiers came for them. She pretends to be a boy, and she currently pretends to be unable to speak. There's a boy, friend of hers, named Erik, who knows she does speak (but doesn't know she's a girl), he's taken to train and eventually join the army. Captain Santos is the Castle's captain of the Guard.. Eira also made a deal with a man named Sebastian - he is to help her save Dareon, and she will later do what he asks of her, and their alliance will last for 11 years. She thinks he's a demon, for now (nothing to do with Black Butler, actually, I wrote this before I saw that, haha).. I think I now covered everything that happened so far, very much in short. I wasn't planning on putting any of it here, but there's something about this one that doesn't feel right, and I think I may need your help to figure it out.)
Finding my way through the Castle's corridors, discovering my room and talking to the servants I would now and then encounter, I haven't seen anyone I knew for the first couple of days. I formed something similar to friendship with a cook, an old woman who had allegedly lost her child in some accident with boiling water I didn't want to know much about, after which she refused to come even near the hearth, leaving most of the job to the other cooks. She was, though, an expert in finding ways to reuse the food all the nobles have left behind, carefully rearranging the pieces from lunch and sending them back for dinner. Listening about it from her assistants, who rarely ever stopped grinning while talking about it, for the first time in my life I felt gratitude for not being a noble. The cook, whose name was Ariana, never ceased to amaze me with the stories she told about, joking on the Court's account.
"Silently breaking the rules," she said once, "that is the strength of the servants. Not in a hundred years would I say a word against His or Her Majesty, but it will hurt no one if they ate the same soup two times a day."
She talked about the life there with improvidence characteristic for those who, despite seeming not to care about what happens to them, actually feared being caught. I was sure, listening and smiling as she told me stories of the Prince's young days and his hatred towards carrot, that she would scream and cry apologizing if the mentioned boy suddenly appeared in front of her and demanded an explanation for why she shares his personal history. The only thing she never whished to talk about, even when I wrote with a piece of coal on the floor, asking her with all the angelic blinking and shy smiling, were the dungeons.
"Dark places, my dear, and not something a child like you should want to see."
The fourth day of my life in the Castle, captain Santos came to collect me from my room, in a rush and with a whole new attire for me to wear, informing me of the Prince's return. I frowned, wondering where he was until then, but I had no way of asking, since the promised "something to write with" never arrived. I followed him through the corridors, as he talked about my expected behavior.
"Don't look at him in the eyes if he doesn't direct you to do so," he said. "Well, do not do anything unless he doesn't tell you so. And – I'm telling you this in confidence – do not fall for the Princess's endeavors to make you break her brother's rules, because she will tell him what you did, even if she promises you before that she'll keep silent. Understood? Very well. Inside, then."
He held the door for me and two of his men closed them behind us, and I found myself standing in the biggest hall I've ever seen. All the walls were covered in tapestries, showing battles and coronations of, I surmised, the predecessors of four members of the royal family resting in front of us.
The King was the tallest, with his squared jaw covered in black beard turning gray, and dark black eyes under thick eyebrows. His wife, Her Majesty the Queen, seemed to me as if carved from a stone. She was younger than her husband, pale and with a small round face, dark brown hair curling around it, wearing a gray dress with a dark blue cloak. Her eyes were somewhat lighter than the King's, similar in colour to Captain Santos's, and her lips showed the thinnest of smiles when the two of us walked in.
Both of their children sat in their small thrones, between the two larger usually occupied by their parents. The Silver Princess took after her mother, with long, curly brown hair and perfect little face features, but her eyes inherited the cold dark of her father's, and observed me with some sneaky expression I didn't find very likable. On her left, her twin brother gave his best to stand to his nickname of the Golden Prince: his hair was a bit less curly, and somewhat darker than his sister's, but his eyes were exactly the same colour as their mother's, and he smiled in a similar way as the Princess. He jumped from his throne as the door closed behind us.
"Where have you been?" He asked Captain Santos, who performed a courteous bow and smiled a smile that didn't touch his eyes.
"My young Highness," he replied, "by the permission of your most respected father the King, I have taken a day to visit my sister at her wedding. I have made sure to leave all your goods in the hands of my most trusted knights of the Guard, and came back as soon as it was possible. I am delighted to see you alive and well and back with us."
I suppressed the sudden need for sarcastic laughter at the sight of such over humbleness of a person who could probably win in a duel against every man in that room, in front of a boy of my age. He, obviously used to that kind of talk, frowned as if confused a bit.
"Why wouldn't I be alive and w-"
"Who is that you have brought along?", the Queen cut through his words, appraising me with her eyes – they seemed almost golden under the certain light.
"Oh," Captain Santos murmured, as if he just thought of me. "He is a gift, so could be said. A squire to my Prince, or a servant of different kind if so he desires."
"I don't like squires," most respected father the King interrupted, "they talk and tell too much. Haven't I had made myself clear on that?"
"Indeed," Captain Santos answered swiftly. "Yet this boy doesn't speak a word. He comes from a family of sailors, and knows nothing about the written word either. I have his older brother among my novices as we speak, and he as well seems to be a promising addition to the Guard's apprentices. But if that does not please Your Highness, I shall send him away at once." Having said that, he squeezed my shoulder, and I swallowed.
Maybe because of Captain Santos's words, maybe because the Golden Prince needed a new toy, and maybe just because luck has suddenly decided to step on my side, they didn't decide to send me away at once. Instead of that, the Prince gave captain Santos the order to take me to the armory and teach me about his favourite weapons. If I understood it correctly, after a long journey he has just came back from, he needed to beat someone in a duel, and Captain Santos knew the most about the best ways to do so.
I followed him across the yard, wondering if I will see Erik anywhere around, and into the armory, where I truly did my best to keep up with the Captain and his explanations, though my thoughts flew away from the swords around us. So close, I couldn't stop thinking, and yet I have never been further. I had no idea, though now I was finally in the Capital City, how to get to the dungeons and rescue Dareon. If he was still alive after all…
"Little Fish," he called, pulling me back to reality, "if you don't pay attention, you might get hurt." He handed me a quill and a piece of paper. "I see you have questions to ask."
Frowning a bit, I scribbled words on the paper's surface – Why did you tell them I didn't know written word?
He smiled a little dark smile, reminding me a bit of my demon, and for a moment I wondered what he's doing now.
"One can see a lot when they don't know he's watching", Captain Santos said. He then took a thin sword, clearly made of silver just as his, with so much rubies on the handle that it must have weighted at least as if it was double in size. "Our Prince's favourite," he informed me, handing me a small shield a moment later. "And our Prince's least favourite, but a good squire will always bring a shield as well – if you don't, he may understand it as your lack of desire to help him survive the duel, and, again, you might get hurt."
Almost automatically, I swinged the sword left and right, holding it in my left hand, and realized I may even grow to be a fond of that feeling. Observing my movement, Santos pulled out another small sword, equally thin though without the decorations, and handed it to me.
"This one you can use, if you wish," he said. "As for the Prince's, all you are to do with it is to take it to him. Have you ever used one before?"
I shook my head, though it wasn't really true – in my days in the Labyrinth, Dareon had more than once put some kind of weapon in my hands, and I was rather well educated for my age, but I was also aware that telling him that may lead to the questions I may find hard to answer, and to situations that may ask of me to prove I'm telling the truth.
"Perhaps you could be taught," he muttered, but said nothing more of the subject.
The Golden Prince was, living up to all the stories I have heard about him, above everything else an arrogant child who believed to be more important than anyone around him – with the exception of his twin sister, whom he obviously didn't wish or didn't dare to hurt in any way – and he payed almost no attention to afferes not concerning him personally. Captain Santos, as I never doubted, was right to say I will see a lot if no one knows I'm looking: from the letters I would sometimes carry for the Prince or even for his father, and from standing next to them as they signed the sentences for heretics and criminals, I managed to get a rather good picture of how most of my old friends from the Labyrinth ended up. Dareon's name never came up, though I have heard the rumours from servants of him being imprisoned somewhere deep in the dungeons, somewhere where not even the light ever goes.
My lord, though as much a child as I was myself, had a strange taste for a boy of his age: he seemed to enjoy, or something very close to that, every moment in which he could show his superiority over someone – whether in signing a death sentence, or winning in a duel with some servant who wasn't even supposed to defend himself.
On the other hand, his twin sister was as lovely as one of the pink flowers in the garden – on some occasion, someone has informed me of just how fast the juice made of it kills. She almost always wore that little smile on her face. For her, smiling and pretending to be pleased with everything was as easy as breathing was for me – or perhaps even easier, considering I couldn't stop imagining the noose pinching around my neck – and while her brother tried so hard to act like an adult, she always did her best to act as if she was no more than a child she should be. She, for some reason, enjoyed to follow me around whenever her brother would give me some task, as if she had her own orders – not to let me out of sight, and annoy me as much as possible along the way. And most of all, she seemed to enjoy talking about all the witches and heretics hanged or burned or killed in some other imaginative way during her short life. Though I didn't really crave for it, I've found out from her stories that there was a hundred uglier ways to die than the way my parents did – I wondered what they might come up with when I get discovered.
Captain Santos, though he was as close to the Golden Prince as he could be, became the only person I felt like I could trust – apart from Erik, whom I could often see practicing in the yard below my window, though I was always too busy to talk to him. I kept on with keeping silent, pretending to not be familiar with the written word as the Captain had instructed me, for so long I started wondering what my voice even sounds like. Could it change in the few weeks I spent among the Court?
The first day of fall, as the leaves in the Palace's parks turned red and orange as if on fire, my Prince came up with the idea of attending the execution of some poor soul who, probably, simply found itself on a wrong place in the wrong time. Though not nearly as excited about it as the royal twins were, I had no choice but to follow my young lord to the gallows. I stood there in silence, close by their side and a few steps behind the Golden Prince, observing as the setting sun bathed the scaffold in blood-coloured light, as the blade of the axe gleamed with gold. Next to me stood captain Santos, with a serious expression and something dark in his eyes, guarding the back of his Prince's chair, holding his silver sword close. The King, under whose feet the execution was to be performed, seemed rather unhappy for having his children watching it, while the Queen didn't show up at all; her seat, left to the Princess's, stayed empty and I wondered if she was feeling well. Both other members of the family, just like the Prince, had their guards behind them, and Santos's men held the first line in separating the crowd from the stage. I caught, in the corner of my eye, the Princess's smile as she seemed to be carefully observing me, and I reminded myself to stay silent and keep my face unreadable.
They then brought out the convicted, and I bit my lip hard in the endeavor not to speak or even inhale too sharply. I knew the man standing there. I knew him since I was so little I couldn't even walk by myself, though back then his face was clear of cuts and scares, his body was one of the strongest I had ever seen, and in his eyes one could have found solace instead of fear. I knew his name and I knew his past, and not only that I knew it – I was a part of it. I was something like a grandchild to him, seeing that he knew Dareon since his young age as well, and he'd taught me how to use bow and arrow. I couldn't stop shaking, watching as two men dressed like knights made him kneel, wondering how much lies and shocks I'll be able to handle before breaking down and confessing everything. Perhaps if I told them everything now, while I'm still a child, I could hope to get some mercy…
His eyes met mine, and this time he
bit his lip not to inhale too sharply. Dressed in boy's clothing, playing as a squire and standing behind the Golden Prince, pretending to be unable to speak, write or read, the last I needed was a wrong word coming from a death sentence convict on his last day. Even if once we were as close as family. He frowned and then smiled darkly, looking at the King but, I was sure, addressing me.
"You can kill us one by one," he said, so obviously struggling to stand uprightly that I almost bursted into tears, finding words he must have known I came here to hear. "But you will never find us all. Our leader still lives – and whatever you did, he always will, in his followers, and those still believing in your rules may as well just go to Hell, as that is what this kingdom of yours is about to become like!"
The King's hands fisted, his fingers turning paler, and he hissed his order. And just as easy as a dead leaf would fall from its home tree, Death took another member of my family under its wing.