A New Life For Cub And Me
He put me in a locked room our first day there, and then he took Cub away to some other part of the castle. The room was comfortable enough, even though it was a prison. The bed was soft and the bedding was warm. There was a fireplace and plenty of wood, even though the evening was warm enough and I wouldn’t need any fire that night. I wondered to myself what kind of torture he thought he was putting me through. I was being treated more like a guest than a prisoner.
I was brought breakfast, lunch, and supper. There was plenty of food. In fact, there was more than enough food. It was clear that he didn’t plan on torturing me through starvation. I began to get nervous about what his plans were for me. Maybe he was just lulling me into a false sense of security. Maybe he was just planning on making me go crazy wondering what he planned on doing to me.
Evening came and so I lay down on the bed. It was uncomfortable because I wasn’t used to something so soft. I decided to move the bedding to the floor and sleep there. That did the trick. It was more like my home. I began to feel homesick almost immediately. We always slept so close, the others and me. Now here I was, alone. Even when I was out on a mission, I was never alone. At the very least, I had the sound of the forest to keep me company. But it was strange here. There were sounds, but no rustling of the leaves in the trees. No wolves howling in the night. No birds chirping. No whistling wind. Instead, there were the sounds of footsteps in the halls. Voices talking in hushed whispers. There was a strange creaking here and there. It was nothing like the forest.
I couldn’t stop thinking about Sheena. Even though I was alone, she must feel more alone than me. At least I knew that Cub and I were safe. Sheena would have no idea. She would be out there, somewhere, hoping that we were still alive.
Thinking about Sheena made me think about the lullaby she used to sing to me when I was small. We both sang it to Cub now. I thought to myself that maybe if I sang the lullaby, Cub would be close enough to hear it and wouldn’t be scared. I made up my mind that this was the thing to do.
The rain pours down.
The darkness is crying.
But here we are warm, safe, and sound.
As long as we have been living, day’s dying.
But once more again comes around.
So sleep, my dear, until life again wakens.
Sleep again, ’til it’s found.
Dreams should be had, and never forsaken.
Sleep ’til the morning rebounds.
I couldn’t remember the rest of the words after that. I know that I knew them, but I was so distraught, they just wouldn’t come to my mind. Then, from somewhere outside my room, I heard them come back to me, in choked sobs, and I joined the mysterious voice in the rest of the song.
Tonight, as we hear, the birds have stopped singing.
The crickets now making their sound.
To lull us asleep with stars above twinkling,
And firelight to help us wind down.
So sleep, my love, hold tight to your visions,
Cause few things in life are profound.
Dreams should be had, and never forsaken,
So sleep until justice is found.
I lay there in the darkness for a moment or two, pondering the voice from outside my room. The lullaby that we had shared in was one that I didn’t think anybody outside of my little family had known.
“Who’s there?” I called out to the voice.
“I’m nobody,” the voice called back, “Don’t worry about me, you’re better off if you forget about me.”
“But that song,” I protested. “My mother said that it was a song that her mother made up a long time ago. Where did you hear it?”
“That’s impossible,” the voice answered, “my mother made that song up to sing to me and my twin sister. I would like to know where you heard it.”
“What is your sister’s name?” I asked, feeling a little chill in my bones.
“Sheena,” the voice replied.
“Well,” I answered, breathless, “I have some news for you. That’s my mother.”
The voice went quiet for a moment. I was confused. I never knew that Sheena had a sister. The family that had raised her had all gotten sick and died while she was on a long hunting trip at sixteen. We never really talked about Sheena’s family, except for that one conversation that had to do with the song. I had a million questions for this woman, but if I didn’t get her talking again, I didn’t know if I would ever get them answered.
“Hello?” I called out.
“How did she get away?” the voice answered back.
“I don’t know what you are talking about,” I replied. “I am just now finding out that Sheena had another family outside of the people in our tribe.”
“You aren’t from a tribe?” I questioned.
“No,” the voice said, “we were from the towns.”
“Well, then how did you get here, and how did Sheena get into the tribes?” I interrogated.
“Someone’s coming,” the voice declared urgently, “we can’t talk anymore. Trust me, it wouldn’t be a good idea.”
Then, just like that, the conversation abruptly ended as three or four pairs of feet started to trudge through the hallways outside. I was disappointed by the circumstances. I really wanted to understand what had happened with Sheena and her sister, and why they were separated. I had a feeling that I would find out sooner or later, so I allowed myself to drift off to sleep.
The next morning I was roughly aroused by the king. He seemed very angry about something and for a moment I thought that he might have been listening to the conversation between Sheena’s sister and me last night. She seemed to think that talking to me would be a punishable offense, and maybe she was right.
“What were you doing sleeping on the floor?” he asked me fiercely. “Only animals sleep on the floor. From now on you will sleep in the bed, like everyone else around here does.” I hastily nodded my agreement.
“You will put these on,” the king ordered, thrusting some clothing at me. “Those things that you have on now will be thrown. What you are wearing now isn’t appropriate for the castle. Burn it after you have changed.” I looked down at my clothing. It was my summer clothing for the forest. I realized how little of my body it actually covered and thought about the clothing that I saw on the women while coming into the king’s castle. All you saw of them were their arms and faces. I cringed, thinking about how hot all of that fabric would be, and how hard it would be to climb and hunt while wearing it.
“My shoes!” I pleaded, remembering my secret pocket with my necklace inside it. “I can keep my shoes, can’t I?” The king looked down at my shoes with a disgusted look on his face.
“Those shoes are dirty,” he argued. “They are heathen shoes. You will throw them away as well.” My face fell, and I caught a glint of satisfaction in his eyes.
Then he left and I tried to figure out a way to keep my necklace safe without him finding it. I knew that I couldn’t chance disobeying him because he was holding Cub somewhere out of my protection. I was never afraid for myself even once since he had captured us and brought us here. I only wanted to make sure that Cub was never harmed. If it weren’t for her, I would have gladly fought him every inch of the way. I might even be dead right now.
I examined the clothing that I was supposed to change into. There wasn’t even a slight hint of a pocket in the dress, and the shoes were only slippers. I couldn’t sew a patch on anywhere because the fabric was so thin that it would create a bulge anywhere I tried it. I couldn’t wear the necklace around my neck for the same reason. I realized that I wouldn’t be able to keep my necklace on me, and it was dangerous to keep it in the room. Either way, I was in a bad position.
I put off wearing the clothes the king had given me as long as I could by picking the bedding up off the floor and making the bed. I did the job as slow as I could so if the king returned I could look like I had just been busy tidying up before putting on the new clothes. I hoped that this would give me the time I needed to come up with a plan. It didn’t.
I was no closer to figuring out what to do with my necklace when I had no choice but to adorn the new clothing. I carefully disrobed and folded my forest clothing and set them neatly on the bed. Then I put the new clothing on. I sat and stared at my forest clothing, wondering how ridiculous I must look in the strange attire that I had on now.
I began to pace around the room. I was nervous about the necklace, but the thought of losing the last bit of the forest that I held onto horrified me as well. Losing my clothing was like losing any ties that I had to the forest. Now the last string was about to be cut.
Finally, I decided to get it over with. It wouldn’t do me any good to put it off any longer. I would just have to place the necklace under the mattress of the bed and hope for the best. I walked toward the bed and then felt myself falling. I had tripped over something. I laid there on the floor, face down for a moment. I didn’t want to get back up and do what I had to do. I turned my head so that my cheek was resting against the hard wooden floor and then reached my arms under the bed to spread out a little. My fingers caught on something and I felt a floorboard come loose and slide out of the floor. I had found a hiding place for my necklace.
I lifted up the flap of leather on my boots and quickly grabbed the necklace out of the secret pocket. I threw it into the opening in the floor. Then I realized that it was big enough to hide my clothing as well, so I stuffed that inside too. I replaced the floorboard as quickly as I could and started a fire. I didn’t know how long it would be before the king came back so I wanted it to look as if I had burned the clothes.
He had given me a lot more time than I thought he would. I sat and watched as the wood I had put on the fire dwindled down. I think it was probably three hours after he had awakened me before he showed up. He looked around the room for any sign of my clothing and then nodded his head in approval when he couldn’t find anything. I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw him check under my mattress for the clothing. It was a good thing I had found the loose floorboard under the bed.
“It’s time for breakfast,” the king began, “you will serve me. After I have eaten, you will eat with the rest of the servants. That is your new role.” I realized that this had been his plan all along. I was going to be forced to wait on the person I hated most for the rest of my life. I contemplated other forms of torture, and found them preferable to this one.
I followed him down to the kitchen, and he introduced me to his other servants. They all seemed cheerful and happy. I came to find out later that I was the only one who was forced into working for him.
The head servant, a man named Garth, began giving me instructions on what to do. He told me to make certain dishes. I explained to him that I had never made them before and he seemed surprised. He called over another servant, Rossannah, to teach me. I would be making these dishes a lot over the next year.
Rossannah was not like the other servants. She was kind to me and didn’t ignore me. She was patient. She seemed to understand that the chores of the forest and the chores of a castle are entirely different. Even if she didn’t understand the difference, she never let on. She was almost like a forest woman herself. She was rough and outspoken and didn’t seem to care about the kind of manners that were so important to the other servants. I asked her what made her that way. She told me that her father used to be a slave and only those who cared about royalty and traditions teach their children those kinds of manners. Even though Rossannah didn’t really fit in with the others, she seemed to be loved by everyone.
After we had finished making breakfast, Rossannah handed me a big pot of what I now know was oatmeal. She grabbed another pot. A few other servants took the other things that we had made. We all headed out to the dining room. Rossannah told me to watch her so I would know how to serve the king, but as soon as we got out there, my eyes could not see her anymore.
“Cub!” I cried. She was sitting at the table with the king. Her eyes brightened as soon as she saw me and she got up to run to me, but was stopped by the sound of the king’s voice.
“Sit down!” he scolded her. “A proper young lady does not speak to the servants. You will not speak to that woman unless you are giving her an order. Do I make myself clear?” The order he had given her came crashing down on me and I felt a painful stab in my heart. I looked at him with pleading eyes, but all he did was give me that evil smile. I looked down at the pot of hot oatmeal that I had in my hands and thought about tossing it in his face. I held back the urge for Cub’s sake.
“Serve us!” He ordered. I sighed and then realized I could say something to Cub. I walked over to her and asked if she wanted some oatmeal. She looked up at me and smiled a weak little smile and nodded her head. It was the only communication we were allowed, and we took full advantage of it. I scooped some oatmeal onto her plate and walked to the side that the king was on. I scooped some oatmeal onto his plate as Rossannah came behind me and gave him some of whatever she had. She then took me by the arm, gently, and guided me over to the door where we waited with the dishes in our hands. The other servants finished and came to join us.
We were all left standing there until a woman of about forty appeared. She walked in and stroked the king’s hair before sitting down next to him. She peered across the table at Cub and smiled. I instantly did not like her. It was something about the way that she carried herself.
“Good morning,” she said to Cub. She gave a little wave of her hand and the servants all went to her side to serve her. She thanked us sweetly and we went back to our places.
“You may go now,” the king ordered. We all went back into the kitchen. There was a table in the kitchen where all the servants set the dishes. They sat down in the chairs around the table. Rossannah motioned for me to sit next to her.
“Who was that?” I whispered as I sat down next to her.
“The king’s mother,” she whispered back, “she’s going to be raising and teaching the kid. I guess they are planning on creating a lady or something to marry off to the southern king’s son. That is what the rumor is anyway.”
“They can’t do that!” I raged. The other servants looked at me in disgust. Rossannah held her finger to her lips to warn me to stay quiet.
“Don’t worry,” Rossannah soothed me, “I’m pretty sure it is just a rumor.”
We ate in silence. I disliked the taste of everything I put in my mouth. I had grown accustomed to having fresh meat and berries, or other wild foods and didn’t like the grainy foods that they seemed to eat here. Everything that they ate was raised. Everything that I wanted was wild.
After breakfast, Rossannah and I got back to work. She taught me how to prepare more food that I had never cooked before. It all took an extremely lengthy time to prepare. While waiting for food to cook, we started to clean up. Then we served the food again. Then we ate whatever was left over. We did the same for supper.
When all the meals for the day had been done, I was told that I could rest until the morning. I was no longer locked in my room, but I was told that I could never leave the castle grounds. I thought about trying to find Cub and escape, but something told me I would never find her. Even if I could find her somehow, there were guards everywhere and I would never be able to escape with her in tow. I wandered around the castle, looking for weak spots that I might use to my advantage at a time when it would be possible for me to leave. I didn’t find any the first day. Finally, I became so exhausted, that I had no choice but to find my way back to my room and collapse on the bed. I had no trouble sleeping that night.
Rossannah woke me up the next morning. She had decided that she was going to take me under her wing. I appreciated the kindness from her. I knew that I wasn’t going to receive it from anyone else, and so our friendship began.