It was raining.
Correction, it was pouring.
The small droplets of water seemed to be laying the drums on the roof of our poor village house. I only prayed that the ceiling wouldn’t flood as it had last rainy season. With father gone, I would be left to myself to fix it.
Sighing, I lit another candle.
Outside the wind rattled the shutters, causing me to worry even more about the storm. My fingers went to play with the amulet around my neck, a nervous habit. The smooth cobalt blue stone rested on my chest, the size of a large pebble. It had been a gift from my father before he left earlier this morning for another one of his adventures. The thought of my father’s frantic state led to the tightening of my grip around the amulet.
“Hold onto this for me Adelaide.” He told me, his voice unusually worried. “You must keep it hidden. It is of great value and very dangerous if in the wrong hands.” My father took the thin black threads that held the stone and tied them around my neck. “Never let anyone now that you have it.”
My brows furrowed in confusion. He did not normally give me any of his trinkets. My father constantly traveled in search of ancient and powerful artifacts. He often went to different lands, even worlds. Of course, his constant adventures led to our small stone cabin being filled to the ceiling with such artifacts. Books were stacked high to the ceiling with loose papers tucked inside, holding information on thousands of items that were of inconsiderable value. It was not strange for my father to bring back these artifacts. Usually his adventures were under the command of Xavier, the king of our village, who wanted to use the items as a way to decorate his numerous halls or control his citizens even more. He was a callous and cruel man, but it was his payments that kept us living comfortably. It was not uncommon for my father to return from a journey, only to be sent on another one the next day.
However, it was uncommon for my father to give me one of his precious tokens. Only on my birthdays would he give me such grand gifts, never on such a rarity. It was this small fact and my father’s strange attitude which sent me into a panic.
“It’s only a stone right father? What could make it so dangerous?” Suddenly I was frightened to be wearing the new jewel.
“I don’t have time to explain now. I must hurry before Xavier sends his men here.” My eyes widened at the mention of the Blue Jays, Xavier’s loyal and ferocious soldiers. They terrorized the citizens of our village and constantly harassed the women. I was fortunate enough to be spared their presence due to my father’s position to King Xavier. Now I was afraid of no longer having that protection.
“Why would the Blue Jays come here? Father, you must explain this to me!” I reached out to grab his arm but my father was already taking off down the stairs. Rushing after him, I felt the skirt of my long dress swishing between my legs.
In our small living room my father stood, throwing item after item into his large overnight bag. In a frantic state he traveled across the room. Occasionally he would venture into the kitchen to grab supplies as if he were going on another of his journeys. The casual nature of his actions only worried me more.
“Father, what is going on here? How could one stone be so important to King Xavier? Surely he has plenty in his castle!” I yelled, finally reaching the bottom of the stairs.
After strapping his bag closed, my father turned to me, love in his eyes. His hand went to cup my cheek in affection. “It is no ordinary stone my darling Adelaide. If it was in King Xavier’s hands then our world would fall into chaos. Other worlds as well. That is why you must protect it.” With that he grabbed his bag and rushed out the door into the beginnings of a storm.
“But what does it do?” I called after him, following him to the door. Beside our house my father hoisted himself and the bag onto his horse. Leading the horse away from his stationary position and out into the road, my father replied.
“The less you know the better my daughter. Be safe. I love you.” With those final words my father galloped off down the gravel road that led to the forest. Not thinking rationally, I ran out into the middle of the road, wanting so desperately to stop him. However I stood no chance against the speed of his horse. Just as he disappeared into the trees a thunder clap sounded in the sky. Soon following came the first drops of rain, signaling me to return to the safety of the cabin.
Once back inside I had begun to board up the stone cabin, closing and locking every entry way into our home.
My lips pursed at the memory as I returned to the present. My fingers were still holding onto the stone which was somehow still shining in the darkness of the night. Sighing, I went upstairs to light a few more candles so as not to get lost in the dark. The stairway was dark as I climbed up to the second story. As I reached the landing I saw two doorways, the one on the left to leading to my father’s while the one to the right led to my own. Gazing dishearteningly at his door I walked to my own. Stepping inside I lit a candle that sat by the lone window in the room. Out of habit I began to straighten the few things which were out of place. As I was putting a dress away I came across an old bag which my father had given me for my birthday years ago. That year he had promised to take me on one of his adventures. It was a decently sized suitcase made of deep black leather and had silver handles. Opening the clasp, I realized there was a small satchel inside as well. Both of the bags were in fairly good shape. What a shame they had never been used.
Suddenly and idea occurred to me and I grinned. Standing, I placed the two bags on my bed. Rushing towards the closet I pulled out my favorite and most comfortable dresses. Going around my room I gathered whatever necessities that I would need. With my suitcase fully packed I grabbed the small satchel, making my way over to the small apothecary cabinet in my room. Reaching inside I grabbed the small box in which they rested and put it inside the satchel which now rested against my hip. Cautiously I reached into the back, grasping the hand-sized book which rested against the side panel. Pulling my arm back, I retrieved it from its hidden location. Gazing lovingly at the small book, I ran my hands over the golden embroidery on the brown leather.
Book of Spells.
Biting my lip I quickly shoved the book inside the satchel. Against my father’s wishes I had been learning a few bits of magic. He had brought the book back from one of his quests, simply as a collector’s item. What he didn’t know was that I had stolen it from the large pile of books he had thrown it into. I had been obsessed with the idea of magic from the time I was a little girl. My father would tell me various stories of the magical creatures he had run into on his adventures. He talked of witches, both good and bad, who had such great magic that they could turn a man into a frog, or move things with just the slightest movement of their eyes. I could only dream of performing such acts.
Witchcraft was not common in our land, and hardly in our world. At some point, long ago, all the witches which might have existed left, leaving only a few decendents to let us know of their existence. Of course, this was after the Great Burn. For some reason, King Xavier was distrusting of those who practiced magic and sentenced them all to be burned. A similar sentence was made for those who were apothecaries, King Xavier claiming it was simply another form of witchcraft. I asked my father about it once but he quickly told me to forget such nonsense as magic. How could I though when I was surrounded by such mysterious things?
Shaking my head, I latched the satchel shut and checked to make sure the suitcase was locked as well. I was just about to grab the bag when I heard the door being rattled downstairs. My eyes widened as I came to a realization: the Blue Jays were here. Quickly I hid the suitcase underneath my bed so that it would not be discovered. Deciding that the satchel would be fine if saw, I made sure to push the book to the bottom of the bag so that it would not be seen if searched. I rushed to the top the stairs but paused, realizing the amulet was still visible. Immediately I hid the stone underneath my dress and hurriedly made my way down the stairs.
Just as I reached the final step the door was blown in. Stepping inside were none other than King Xavier’s Blue Jays. Their royal blue jackets faded to white at the tips, so snow white it seemed as if they carried the heavy winter’s snow around with them all year long. Two jagged black marks, resembling those of a lightning bolt, crossed to form an X were on the back of their jackets. The elite guard of King Xavier himself.
Fear overcame me in my shocked state. I was not used to their brutality being placed upon me, but I was not so naïve to not know the force they held upon others. Forcing their way into the kitchen, they immediately began to search for what I presumed was the amulet. Dishes were slammed to the ground, breaking instantly. They continued through to the living room, throwing books and papers across the room, creating a snowfall of parchment.
By then my fear had turned to anger. Who were they to come into my home and destroy my precious books? To break our kitchenware? What right did they have? They were nothing but men who were given title by a man who didn’t deserve his own. Gritting my teeth, my hands formed fists as the rage I felt inside.
“What business do you have here?” I questioned, not the least bit fazed by their threatening glares in my enraged state. One of them, a man whose jacket seemed much too small for him, steps forward, pointing the end of his dagger at my nose. His breath smells of the foulest thing and it takes all I have not to turn my head in disgust.
“Listen here, missy. We’ll have no back talk from you. Now you better start telling us where that good for nothing father of yours hid it.” My face turns into a grimace and I push the blade aside with the palm of my hand. The action earned me a small nick, causing a thin line of blood to drip down to my wrist. The Blue Jay saw the red liquid and smiled in devilish pleasure.
“Why should I answer to you? You aren’t in charge of this search party.”
It was true. There was no sign of the usual coat of arms associated with the captains of such a brigade. The coat of arms on a Blue Jay usually meant that the man wearing it was, of course, very high in rank, but also had been considered honorable enough to hold an audience with Lord Xavier himself. Though the position was incredibly high in regards to stature, there was one position that held more power. The sacred silver bird had been seen only by a few, and worn on even fewer cloaks. The broach was in the shape of a silver blue jay, the symbol of King Xavier. If one wore this broach it meant that the wearer was trusted by Xavier himself. Because Xavier was so precautious, and overly paranoid, only a handful of men bore it.
“Even if you were, I haven’t the slightest idea what you’re looking for, or why you’ve decided to come here for it of all places.” The words were spoken more shakily than I would have liked, giving them a glimpse into how nervous I really was. Hopefully it didn’t reveal that every word I had said was a lie.
Peppermint, the ironic nickname I had decided to give him, stepped forward again, forcing me to retreat against the wall.
“I said no back talk missy. Now I won’t hesitate to cut that precious little throat of yours. Then you won’t be able to say anything at all. How about that?” I stared at him simply, hoping the slight fear I felt at his words wasn’t obvious. Behind him, the group of seven or so Blue Jays began to laugh.
All except for one.
Although he appeared to be my age, he held a certain power in the way he stood. That power only resonated as he spoke to Peppermint.
“Enough Myoran. We did not come here to threaten the daughter. We were ordered to retrieve the stone. Unless you feel up to disobeying mine and Lord Xavier’s orders, I suggest you and the others go in search of it.” His voice was smooth but with an edge, almost like the side of a knife. Black wavy hair laid atop his head, a few strands hanging limply in front of his eyes, obscuring them from my view.
Instead of receiving the expected mocking remarks, the men scurried off in my house, seemingly desperate to get away. Myoran was the last to retreat, nodding numbly and muttering an apology before treading upstairs, but not without one last glare in my direction. Sneakily I stuck my tongue out at him, causing his face to furrow in anger. Smirking, I turned my attention to the young man in front of me. It was then the sparkle of a tiny silver bird caught my eye.
“The silver blue jay.” I whispered. Not only had he earned the supposed honor, but at such a young age as well. It made me curious: what had he done to be given the broach? As thoughts of burned villages and innocent people being slaughtered crossed my mind, I was suddenly overcome with fear.
“Yes and I’d appreciate it if you’d stop ogling it.” Immediately my eyes left the broach and went to peer up at his face. Then they slanted into a glare as my ears caught up with me.
“I was not ogling it.” Though in truth I most likely had been. “I’m simply astonished that someone so young could earn such an honor. If you could call it that.” I mumbled the last part, hoping he hadn’t heard.
“Why would it not be an honor?” My eyes widened and my cheeks burned in embarrassment when I realized I had been heard. Regardless of the red tinge that covered my cheeks, I did not delay my response.
“Having the silver blue jay simply means you’re trusted by a heartless man with nothing better to do with his time than to ruin people’s lives. Earning it only means you’re as heartless as him.” The words flew out of my mouth before I could stop them. I had not meant them to come out that way. It was never a good idea to insult King Xavier in front of his men, let alone a Silver Jay. They were fiercely loyal and went to great lengths to punish those who disagreed.
Before I could form a sentence to lessen the insult, I was forced against the wall, the stones edging themselves into my back. My feet were slightly lifted off of the ground and a long silver blade was pressed up against my throat. Breathing became a difficult task and I’m ashamed to admit it was for reasons other than the blade. The Silver Jay had completely locked me between him and the wall. I could feel the pressure of the buttons on his cloak through the fabric of my dress. His face, now only a mere inch from mine, crept closer with each word.
“If I ever hear those words, or anything similar for that matter, come from those lips of yours again, I will have no qualms in following through with Myoran’s threat myself.” Fear quaked in my eyes where I’m sure it showed. The only decent thing about our position was that I could now see his eyes. They shined a deep black in the candlelight, almost as dark as a crow’s wing. No, perhaps more like something else.
“A blue jay.” I whispered. The words came out on their own, with no thought before hand. The boy’s eyes narrowed in curiosity and confusion.
“What do you mean, a blue jay?”
“Your eyes. They’re dark like a blue jay’s feathers.” It was his eyes that widened in surprise this time. Inside them was the appearance what looked like pain. As if my skin, or perhaps my words, had somehow burned him, the boy jumped away from me, closing his eyes as if in a way to calm himself down. Before either of us could utter another word, the heavy footsteps of the other men returned from upstairs.
“There’s nothing up there Decan. No sign of the man or the amulet.” The voice was Myorans and I shivered at the thought of the possibility of the scent of his breath remaining in my room after they left.
Decan, I thought as my gazed turned back to the boy. It fitted him. It had the same qualities of his voice, both edgy and smooth like a knife. The name seemed familiar though, as if I had heard it before.
“There’s nothing down here either. Of course, a man as intelligent as Darius would never think to leave something of such importance where it could be easily discovered. Tell the guards at the castle to search him again before he is sent to the dungeons.”
My eyes widened in panic. Had my father been caught before he could escape? Had he been harmed? Was he alright? Was he injured? These and other questions rushed through my mind as I stared at the boy name Decan.
Without a though, I rushed forward to grab the collar of the boy’s jacket, wanting to demand answers. The other Blue Jays reacted quickly though. I was pulled off of Decan before I could even mutter a single of the threatening words I had running through my head. My arms were forced behind my back in a tight hold. I tried not to struggle, but it was difficult not to squirm in the uncomfortable hold.
Walking towards me with slow steps full of arrogance and the righteous knowledge that he was in control, that he held all of the power in the room, was Decan, a beautiful smirk lit upon his face.
“Now, now, now, don’t you think that was a little uncalled for?” Gritting my teeth, I stayed silent as our eyes met.
“I’ll take that as a no. That’s too bad. Your attitude isn’t going to help your father in any way, I hope you realize that.” I glared and jolted forward on instinct, but was restrained by the arms of the soldiers surrounding me. My actions only increased his smirk.
“What have you done with my father? What has he done to deserve time in the dungeons?” My voice shook in both anger and fear. My arms were beginning to ache from the strong hold placed upon them.
“All that I can tell you is that your father, Darius, has stolen of great importance to your king, and our lord is very anxious to have it back within his possession.”
“My father is no thief.” The words slid smoothly off of my tongue even though I knew the truth. It surprised me how well I could suddenly lie.
“On the contrary, he is.”
“What proof do you have that my father stole this item?”
“The fact that your father was the only man who knew of it besides King Xavier himself. Also that your father was the man sent to retrieve the item and his confession of guilt.”
“Why would my father confess to something he did not do?” I protested though the evidence was staggering. My mouth became as I realized that proving my father’s innocence was simply not possible, especially if he was really being held captive in the dungeons.
“I haven’t the slightest idea. Perhaps you have might know.” Both Decan’s eyes and words were giving me the subtle order to tell him everything I knew. Afraid and nervous, I couldn’t hold his stare so my gaze turned towards the still burning candles. Though I knew very little, the knowledge I had the amulet was still dangerous.
“Perhaps he wanted to protect someone.” My eyes turned to look into Decan’s. “Or in this case, something.” Decan was now standing in front of me, only a foot or two away. A sly smile covered his face at my words.
“Or perhaps it’s both.” His black eyes glanced down to my side. My brows furrowed in confusion before I realized the satchel still rested there. My eyes widened in worry, realized that all of my apothecary items were inside. Decan seemed to take my surprise as meaning something else for a smirk appeared on his face.
“Check her bag. Darius may have left the amulet here yet.”
Following his orders, the two Blue Jays which were restraining me released my sore arms. Immediately one of them went for the strap which rested on my shoulder, pulling it off. In the process they yanked my long, dark brown hair. Instinctly I yelped in pain, my hand automatically going to the point on my scalp that hurt. The Blue Jays snickered at my reaction, obviously loving the idea of causing me pain.
It had been Myoran that had grabbed my bag. A large Cheshire grin grew on his face as he peered inside the satchel. I stood there nervously rubbing at my sore wrists, watching as the smile only widened. Silently I prayed that they would not discover the book hidden at the bottom. Myoran glanced at Decan, then back at me.
“You should see this.” He suggested, handing over the satchel.
Decan peered inside then glanced back up at me. Reaching inside, he pulled out a small bottle of extract. I gulped nervously as I waited to be sentenced to death. My eyes did not move away from the bottle of extract within Decan’s hands. To calm myself I began to list the various uses for it inside my head.
“Why is it you have apothecary items? This witchcraft was banned years ago.” Biting my lip, I did everything I could to keep from blurting out the truth. Avoiding his eyes, my gaze stayed on the small glass bottle.
Decan wouldn’t take silence as an answer though. The boy stepped closer and placed a finger underneath my chin. Ever so slowly he raised my gaze to meet his eyes. Again, the dark black of his pupils enchanted me but I refused to fall into their abyss for I knew it held nothing but violence.
“Answer me.” His words were soft but held venom. I gulped once more but could not look away from his eyes.
“They were my mothers.” Came my equally soft reply. It was true. I had inherited the entire collection from my mother. Father had been gone again on King Xavier’s request and so I took to the small wooden shed at the back of our land as a means of keeping busy. While down there I had discovered my mother’s apothecary cabinet, along with a small book of other roots and plants that could be used as herbal remedies. I had long since memorized the entire thing so it had been safely returned to the box containing the rest of my mother’s items.
“She was hanged with the others.” Were my next words. A small tear escaped my eye but I refused to show any other emotion. I had shown enough weakness before these men, I need not show more.
Decan’s eyes became soft as he saw the tear. Surreptitiously he wiped it away, then nodded as if he understood.
“Were you going to use them?” Was his next question. Silently I shook my head in a lie.
“I like to carry them around as a reminder of her. I haven’t the slightest idea of how to use them.” Decan nodded once more.
Shoving the extract into the bag, he then handed it over to me. Cautiously, I reached out a hand to retrieve the satchel, but my wrist was quickly grabbed. Decan’s hold on my already fragile bones caused me to wince.
“Make sure you never learn how or otherwise the next time we meet it won’t end so well.” Decan threatened. Nodding quickly I grabbed the leather bag and immediately placed it safely on my shoulder. Decan stared into my eyes before glancing at his men.
“Let us leave gentleman. I’m sure she has a lot to think about.” The Blue Jays snickered but quickly followed the orders of their commander. One by one they began to file out of the room, Myoran leaving last as he sent me another nasty grin. I shivered at the thought of every being near him again.
Decan was the last to leave. Nervously I rubbed at my wrists again while looking at him. Silently he stared at me, no emotion showing on his face. Biting my lip, I glanced away out of intimidation.
Suddenly I felt a hand on my cheek, and a thumb at my mouth. Immediately my eyes swiveled to gaze at the mysterious boy in front of me. Leaning forward, Decan’s face was soon only an inch away. My cheeks became heated and I wanted nothing more than to look away, but those eyes of his sucked me in once more.
“A blue jay.” I whispered without thinking. The grip on my face tightened for a millisecond before Decan leaned into my ear.
“You need to stop making such silly comparisons. They end you up in trouble one day.” Decan pulled back, his hand falling back to his side. “Just like your father.” I gasped at the cruelty of his words, causing his lips to rise into a smirk. Without another word Decan exited the cabin, slamming the door shut as he went.
I fell to the ground. Landing on my knees, I leaned over onto my hands in hopes to prevent myself from performing a face plant. Though flat, my hands shook from the stress and anxiety that was currently running through my body. The day had been a long one. First my father gives me a mysterious amulet then leaves without a proper explanation. Then the Blue Jays arrive to destroy the house while searching for it and inform me that my father is actually in the dungeons of King Xavier’s castle.
A lump grew in my throat at the thought of my father being tortured. I bent my head forward with closed eyes in an attempt to calm myself. My hands formed fists against the stone floor. My hair fell down past my face, causing a shadow to be cast across my eyes. Opening them once more, I saw that not only had my hair fallen, but so had the dreadful amulet. Glaring at the horrid stone that hung from my neck, I wanted nothing more than to throw it away and have it disappear. Unfortunately, I could not disobey my father’s wishes in that way, especially with the way things were now. Whether I wanted to be or not, I was stuck with the stone. It was the only bargaining chip I had.
My eyes widened as an idea struck my mind. Slowly a smile began to creep across my face. I could bargain the amulet for my father’s return and our safety. Surely King Xavier would forgive father if I simply said that I had taken it, mistaking it to be a token of my mother’s. Perhaps then this entire mess would be forgotten and things could go back to as they were.
Then another though occurred. Father had entrusted the amulet to me to keep safe until his return. What would he think if I disobeyed him? Surely he would understand my reasoning. At least, I hope so.
Nodding, I pushed myself back into a standing position. With new found determination, I began to straighten the small house, thinking of nothing but tomorrow.
For I was going directly into the hornet’s nest: King Xavier’s castle.