Previously: Evrial had an awkward visit from Dalex yet was left with an odd curiosity.
A light knock woke Evrial up and she glanced at the window, it was already late in the morning. Her eyes felt heavy and she silently cursed whoever was at the door. It was the physician’s apprentice, Tanessa. Evrial grew up with her in the same little village and they grew to be good friends. Of course, time had taken its toll and she was sad to say that they drifted apart after she was sent to the castle to be a servant. She hoped it wouldn’t be an awkward reunion.
She didn’t wait for Evrial to invite her in before stepping inside with a bounce in her step. She let the girl take her arm when they were settled on her bed. After a few minutes of turning her arm around and feeling it with her thumbs, Tanessa winced, “You sprained it badly. From what I can tell, you’re really lucky that it isn’t broken. What did you do?”
“I fell off a horse and her hoof managed to get my arm on the way down.” Evrial tried to hide the twinge of embarrassment from her cheeks but she could feel them burn.
The girl must have caught on because she chuckled knowingly, “Those good ol’ horses, eh? As you know, father has charge over the farm where King Isaac’s battle horses are bred. We sure had our fair share of falling off, didn’t we Ev? Those were the days, you know, when we didn’t have to worry about being a lady. We could just go for a ride without worrying about riding sidesaddle with our skirts ruffled out properly. Things are very different now, aren't they?”
Evrial cast her eyes down, remembering the freedom she had when she was younger, “I gather since you’re here, your Father didn’t let you stay to help. I wished so badly that he would. You always had a way with those foals. Don’t mind me saying, but he is a fool to let such talent go to waste all because you’re a lady.”
“You know, Ev, I missed you. When you were sent off, I was so alone. You used to be around so often that most of the time, I didn’t know what to do with myself. What could I do, with my personal thinker gone? Oh well, here we are, both in a place where neither of us want to be.”
“It’s not all that bad. I mean, at least there are horses here. The stable is just right there,” Evrial rose her eyebrows mischievously, “I’m sure Dalex wouldn’t mind if you visited. We both know you are the prettiest out of the two of us.”
“We both know? Excuse me for disagreeing with you completely. And I do go by the stables quite often. I suppose my life isn’t so bad. I have learned how to help others and have been able to keep horses as a hobby. Like everyone, I like to complain,” she smiled and brushed her auburn hair out of her face, “I have to go soon. I was supposed to hurry back so let’s put your wrist in a sling around your neck.”
It took a few minutes to get her wrist bandaged for support and Evrial was sad to see Tanessa go. It was so long since they were able to talk. All those years ago, when she heard that Tanessa was brought to the castle, she was so happy. Little did she know that both of their lives would hold them too busy to ever see each other. She knew now, all too well, with Cowan.
Evrial was alone and bored with nothing to do. She couldn't do anything without hurting herself and slowing the healing process. At least it was her right wrist that was broken and not her left. She could do small things like writing and sewing to pass the time. I guess it is time to practice sewing. She remembered Rachel telling her the day before that she tore her cloak. It was the least she could do in return for her generosity the day before.
She walked down the hallway which seemed unusually quiet. She knocked at Rachel's bedroom door and when no answer came, she let herself in. It too, was empty and quiet. Evrial ignored the odd feeling that crept up her skin but she couldn't help being nervous. She saw the cloak hanging on the hook beside the window and quickly took it down. A nice surprise for Rachel. She tried to push the eerie feeling away as she rushed off to her room before the girl caught her taking it.
She settled down in the chair beside the fireplace, thankful that the uneasy feeling had disappeared. She started sewing the tear with much difficulty and could already tell it wasn't going to be a straight seam. It was going to take a while even though she cheated and used her sprained hand a little, just to hold it still while she stitched it up.
Even if she used it a slight amount of times, Mr. Cander would give her an earful if he caught her. Not that she'd mind after so long of boring company of only herself. She would much rather have him scolding her than being alone any longer. After so many years of thinking she hated being in the presence of anyone, she finally realized it was much better than being as bored as she was now. She laughed quietly as she realized that she had only been alone for less than a day. This was going to be a long healing process.
The tear began to close rapidly as she worked at it. It took longer than she had expected but she had to make sure that it wouldn't easily become undone, which led her to stitch it over twice. Once it was finished, she wasn't sure if it looked better or worse than before she got a hold of it. She figured that if Rachel minded it, she could easily cut the stitches and do it over herself. At least she could say she tried.
Evrial hung it up in the girl's room again and wandered down to the kitchen. It was quieter than usual but there were a few people going around doing odds and ends. Unfortunately, Mr. Cander was one of them and as soon as his eyes fell on her, a scowl planted itself onto his face. So much for getting a little work in. She sighed and accepted his shooing until she was out of the kitchen. He shut the door behind her and she was left to wonder what she could do to occupy herself.
Dalex finished filling two buckets full of water before hauling them to the furthest stalls. Always easier to start with the hardest first. His father repeated those words to him when he was just a child and as he grew into a young man, he found so much truth in them. He used them not only when doing simple chores, but in everything.
He thought of visiting Evrial that morning but decided against it. He couldn’t understand his concern for her. He only officially met her the previous day and realized that if he did visit her, she would try to pry something more from him. No matter who it was, he was determined to keep his past to himself. Too much pain lay within his memories to share. He figured she was in good hands and left it at that.
He kept hauling water from stall to stall, eventually making it to the end of watering, which led him to feeding. He started at the very back again and worked his way up the stalls. It wasn't a hard job but it took a good chunk of the morning to finish. By the time he fed and watered all thirty-two horses, it was usually midmorning.
He moved on to brushing three horses from head to toe, thankful that these ones didn't need a bucket of water to get them shining. Doing three horses a day, each horse would be brushed or bathed once a week. Except Tog, the blue roan stallion, he would make time for whenever he could. This stallion came from his home country and Dalex knew that they both felt the same about the world outside. Other than their personal connection, Tog was a magnificent horse with such powerful grace that anyone would admire him. Even someone with an untrained eye would know he was a good horse.
Not only were the Lithian tribe built like bricks, but their horses were built with equal amount of bulk to be able to hold their weight. In all, when you saw them in battle, it would make you want to chance the wrath of the army and desert it. It puzzled him how Lithian had perished and Calderon was victorious. The past couldn't be undone or in his case, understood.
"Dalex," Quinn called to him from the open gate, "get me the two horses in the back, saddle them and bring them around to the arena.”
"The gelding there pulled a muscle from the last training session, we should let him rest for a day or two before we bring him out again.” Dalex hoped that Quinn was in a good mood and would take his advice. He usually listened but sometimes he would get a bit jealous of his knowledge of horses and refused to listen to him. Of course, he always had an excuse when he was in such moods but Dalex knew the real reason behind it.
"Did he? Again? I don't know if he is battle material, he can't take anything without doing this or that to his muscles. How 'bout this one? Is she alright?" He gestured to the sturdy mare beside him. Dalex nodded in confirmation and grabbed a halter before slipping into her stall.
“Easy girl…Easy…” he whispered gently to the skittish mare. Her round eyes betrayed her fear to him. He knew that to look directly into her eyes would only make it worse so he averted his gaze. He outstretched his hand towards her neck, causing her to paw the ground anxiously. He realized that this approach would only make the situation worse.
He continued to whisper soothing words as he turned his back to her. He reached his arm out slowly behind him, letting her approach him. He had done this more than once and it always calmed them down. This particular mare was an abuse victim which made her a little leery of anyone trying to catch her. Especially a man, considering her previous owner who treated her badly was male. Dalex could feel his anger begin to rise as he thought of the horse’s past. He didn’t blame her for not wanting to be caught.
He was brought back to the present moment as a soft muzzle touched his shoulder. He kept his eyes down and reached his arm back to touch her. She shied away a little but soon let him stroke her long, powerful neck. He subtly pulled the lead rope over her neck and she settled down just as he tied the halter on.
He sighed with relief, “Good girl. Good girl.” Once they’ve done something good for you, reward them! Praise them! They’re almost like a young man. Always needing to be told when they’ve done a good job. He smiled as the mare relaxed with him. A sure sign that a horse is comfortable and content is when they start licking and chewing their lips.
As he led her out of the stall, the warning bells alarmed loudly and sent her off into a spook. He tried to settle her down but he could tell that she was too scared to listen to him. He cursed whatever it was that caused the bells to ring as he tied the scared mare to a post outside the stalls. He waved to Quinn as he jogged off to investigate. If they were under attack - which was highly doubtful - it would be his responsibility to prepare the horses for battle. He jogged at a steady pace to the castle entrance and into the kitchen where everyone had stopped their work.
"What's going on?" He asked Mr. Cander, hoping he had some sort of an idea. The old man shrugged and sent him off to find Cowan. He took up his fast pace again and jogged to the lieutenant's office. He knocked on the door but didn't wait for a reply before barging in. Cowan wasn't there. Of course he wouldn’t here. He would be doing exactly as I am now. Trying to figure this mess out. He left the office and listened to see if he could hear anything in any direction. With much straining, he caught a yell of orders to his right. He followed the strong voice until he turned a corner to another hallway and saw a crowd of guards huddled around something.
As soon as the guards saw him, they parted for him. To his horror, a body of a young girl lay on the ground, horribly mutilated. His breathing became quieter as he lowered himself to Cowan's level.
The man's eyes flicked up and met his own before he spoke, "Her name is Rachel. I don't have any details yet but I know this happened between late last night and early this morning. Her murderer can't have gone far. Russ, Kristof, lock down the castle. Thord, warn his majesty. The rest of you, issue out a search of the castle. I want this sick bastard found.” He stared at the girl's unrecognizable figure, took her limp hand and held it in his own. The small act made Dalex wonder if they had been involved.
Once the guards left with their orders, Cowan sat back and sighed heavily. Dalex didn't know whether or not he should leave but he stayed where he was. He felt like Evrial, but the words escaped his lips anyway, "What are you going to do?"
Cowan looked up and chuckled, a deep melancholy look on his face, "I don't know. Figure out how to get her body out of here without letting anyone see her, catch her killer and then pretend it never happened, I guess." He groaned and wiped his face, leaving behind a trace of blood. Dark bags circled his eyes and his skin was pale. He looked exhausted.
"Do we know who her family is? Has anyone informed them yet?" Dalex knew he was being blunt but these questions had to be asked. If Cowan was going to be the Captain in the future, he better get used to them.
"Her family lives south of the castle a little ways and no, I haven't dispatched anyone yet. I think it more important at present to catch her killer. It might appease her parents to know that he is caught and destined to hang," he paused as if in thought then mumbled more to himself than to Dalex, "though nothing can rid the grief they will have.”
He nodded his agreement as Cowan quickly added, "We best be going. It won't do anything for her if we sit here any longer.”
“I agree. I can do nothing for you here but if you do need me, don’t hesitate to ask.” He stood up and shook Cowan’s hand before departing back to the stable. His mind was winding with every possibility connected to the murder.
Who would dare? He tried to sort out different suspects worthy of interrogation but to his knowledge, Rachel was a girl loved throughout the castle. Who would kill her? It was possible a woman had been her killer but the possibility didn't seem realistic. He knew women could be as cold hearted as a man, but they didn't usually go to such brutal extents. The only thing that made him recognize Rachel was the small ring on her hand.
Considering the ring was still on her finger, whoever killed her didn't do so for her valuables and was careful not to leave a trace. He was sure the ring would have looked awfully tempting to any low man but would give the authorities something to look for. They're either rich or smart... With so many possibilities his head began to ache. Chaos was about to begin with the soldiers searching everything.
He respected the fact that Cowan was going to such measures for her. It did make him wonder if he was involved with her but he decided not to think of it further. Cowan’s relationship with the girl was his to keep private if he wished. If Cowan was anyone else, he would pass it off as a disagreement between servants, despite the evidence that clearly states otherwise. Dalex would help in any way he could if the guards accepted it.
Evrial...she knew Rachel. They worked in the kitchen together. Has anyone told her yet? Surely no one would even think that she had friends among the castle staff. With all the work to be done, they wouldn't find out until it was publicly released. He had to tell Mr. Cander as he promised so he could stop by Evrial's room. Oh gods, how to tell her. As straight forward as possible, after all, she would probably rather the truth.
He changed his direction in the hallway and started for the servants' quarters where Evrial would be. He kept his pace slow, dreading the terrible news that he was to present to her. Absorbed in his thoughts, her door came upon him far too quickly. With a quick breath to release some of the tension in his shoulders, he knocked softly against the cold, bare wood[RM1] .