Shadows on the Wall
Eira had been sent back down to the servants’ quarters for supper, where she sipped on rusty brown broth that had lost its flavor. Trying to mimic more proper butlers and maids, with her back straight while eating, she found herself losing her meal with every scoop as it simply poured back into the bowl or onto her apron. Those who eyed her simply snickered amongst themselves, when Eira felt her cheeks grow rosy. She couldn’t help but wonder what life back at home was like. Images of her mother crying and her father sending search parties out for her came first, followed by more tender thoughts.
With her disappearance, she couldn’t help but wonder if maybe Awel was thinking of her. Married though he was, Eira still cared for him, more than any man she had before. It was simply that Adelae got to him first. She sighed when she rested her head on her hand. Her first and certainly most painful heartbreak. Though never one to dabble in hopelessly romantic thoughts, she still cursed their addictive qualities.
Thoughts poured in one after another as she lazily spun her spoon in the soup, forcing her to sift through them like garbage. Everything from when to escape, or better yet, how, as well as of her home and what she would enjoy more once she got back to it, from the comfort in it to the smells she had grown so used to inside. Perhaps this was what she deserved. Perhaps the Coffin Spawn had drained her of any more luck, and then came a feeling that made her stomach drop. What if she was to be here forever? Perhaps life as Susan’s personal maid wouldn’t be so bad. Aside from some questionable opinions, the princess was pleasant, and so long as she did as she was told and kept her head down, General Tanner might not find her. Was it okay to be content with this? Eira didn’t want to think so, yet having seen what these people had built from stone and wood, and the fearsome weapons and armor of the knights, she simply didn’t want to imagine what they were capable of if they wanted to hurt her.
No, she thought defiantly as she stood straight once again. She had to get home. Servitude wasn’t the life she wanted for herself. Negative thoughts were forcefully flooded out by inspiration. Fantasies played out of her escaping in the stillness of the night. Whenever one scenario ran into an obstacle, such as the guards standing watch at the numerous gates from the city to the castle, Eira imagined how she might be able to distract them or sneak past. These seemed daring, but so far she could come up with little else. Though farfetched, she found one that made her heart race. Giant! Perhaps he would come rescue her. She smiled as she entertained the idea in her head. He certainly had the size to do so, and a penchant for finding her while she was in trouble. With the followers he spoke of, these pampered snobs wouldn’t know what hit them. It would serve to be a little inspiration to her, no matter how unlikely. Smiling, she looked up when a rather unspectacular guard walked in.
With a surprised wail a butler was dragged out of the cafeteria into the main hall. The guard, holding nothing more but a thin rod, began to beat him over and over with it. Suddenly everything in the servant chambers ceased and turned to watch the spectacle.
“You find it funny to insult Her Highness in such a way?” The guard shouted. “To slip ink into her meals and embarrass her before the court?” The butler replied only with cries and pleas when his oppressor stopped. With another hard slap across the face, the butler, his clothes shredded and bloodied, panted on the floor when others swarmed in to help him. The guard held his weapon out toward the others around him. “Let this remind you not to test the Royalty’s patience. You are far too easily replaceable.”
Eira was petrified.
She had to leave. She had to get out. No longer did the fantasies in her head suffice. Wiping the sides of her mouth off with her apron, the girl promptly stood up and walked out, on past the servants helping the injured butler and into the laundry room. Her green cloak was all she wanted, and amongst the piles upon piles of royal clothes there, green wasn’t too hard to find. With a leap she bound from one pile to another, hoping to catch the color in such dim light. Ah-ha! At the very bottom of one pile was a folded green cloak, and as she pulled up the massive stack, she found it to be a tunic studded with jewels.
“What do you think you’re doing?” Madam Martin hissed. Her shrill voice and silent movements were enough to make Eira jump, which in turn toppled the pile of laundry before her. She turned with wide eyes as her heart came to her throat. The towering woman narrowed her eyes as she turned her attention to the mess. “Look at this! Oh…I should beat you until that face isn’t so pale.” She marched toward the Green Folk, who swallowed heavily.
“I-I-I was looking for the green cloak. T-Tis Her Majesty’s.”
“You should have asked me first.” Martin scowled at Eira as she loomed over her. It was tense moment, but she slowly lightened up. “I’ll have another fold this. The cloak should be…right…here.” And with but a quick scan of the laundry heaps, she cleanly pulled the green clothes out from the bottom of another pile and handed them to her. “Now get out of here before you destroy anything else.”
“Yes Madam Martin. Thank you.” With that, the girl scurried out as fast as she could back to Susan’s chambers.
Led only by torches hanging on the walls, the castle corridors were much less welcoming than what they were before. It was dim and shadows played all around her. Even after she passed numerous servants and guards dotting the castle, she felt eyes on her. Her heart raced when she found suddenly herself alone. The walls seemed like they were breathing, as if they closing in around her. She could hear scratching soon, first on stone, like the soft tapping of one’s feet while stalking another. With a flick of her heels Eira turned. There was nothing but a long, dark corridor. But there was certainly a presence to be felt.
Eira began to walk even faster now, glad that she was coming toward the T-shaped intersection ahead, its halls having much more light than hers. That scratching sound came again, this time scrapping against wood. It came in patterns; first there was the scratching, then silence, when it occurred again. Eira was nearly running when she stopped and turned again. There was no wood anywhere to be seen but…she gasped.
As her eyes scanned the beams overhead, she was met with a vaguely humanoid figure. With exaggerated limbs holding its frail form close to the rafters like a shadowy spider, she met its eyes. Those black eyes, flickering in what little light there was, were locked on her, and she knew then what it was.
The Coffin Spawn.
It must have followed her from the forests after the knights took her, and now, in the dead of night, it would have her. Her heart felt fit to burst with fear when she took off. The monster above leapt from one beam to another at such a swift pace it gained up on the Green Folk.
She wouldn’t make it to the brighter hallway in time, Eira realized as her hopes sank. Only there was there any sliver of hope of being helped, as it was much busier with traffic. She could hear the Coffin Spawn race after her, grunting and panting now as it worked itself toward its meal. But thankfully, or perhaps not, there was a door to her right. Immediately she turned and slammed on it as hard as she could, screaming and pleading for help as she saw the shadow come closer.
The door opened slowly, as none other than Sir Bernard was on the other side. Still drunk and wobbling, the elderly knight asked what she wanted. Eira spoke so fast and tried to push herself into his chambers when he simply shoved her right back out.
“Who do you think you are girl?”
“No, no! You don’t understand. I have to…I must…” Eira looked up and screamed as the Coffin Spawn dropped down, tackling her and snarling. Bernard’s eyes widened as he cursed aloud. Stumbling backward, he snatched the dagger atop a drawer beside the door and charged at the beast, reliving his days as a knight for only a split-second when the Coffin Spawn swung a long arm around and struck him down.
The monster turned its attention back to Eira as it pinned her, pulling back her bonnet so as to get a good look at her eyes. It gave a satisfied hiss as it recognized her. The girl ceased to fight back as she stared back into its dark, hypnotic eyes. It was the most chilling sight she had ever known. Its skeleton grin only reflected its delight in catching her at last.
Regaining herself, Eira tried to fight back again, wrestling and wriggling against the beast but it grabbed her wrists in its bony fingers and pinned them down again. It spat at her in satisfaction as it listened to her racing heart. But if it had learned anything from last time, it wasn’t to savor the kill too much.
Eira screamed just as the Coffin Spawn did. Its sharp fangs parted and a bone-chilling cry filled the corridors. In a flash of movement the beast moved to bite the girl’s throat when a dagger cut deep into its own neck. With a painful wail, it removed its grip from Eira and tried to fight back, but Bernard had the upper hand as he stood behind it. With a heavy grunt, he split the Coffin Spawn’s throat and tossed it away. It gave nothing more but a wet gurgle before it was dead.
Breathing deeply, Bernard hovered over the beast as Eira sat up, holding a hand over her heart, as if keeping it from bursting from her chest. Shadows danced on the corridor walls before them, when a mob of men appeared. Mostly knights, at the lead stood General Tanner with a young man adorned in fine clothes and jewelry.
“Why, Sir Bernard, you’ve slain a Coffin Spawn.” For a moment the elder knight stood tall and didn’t seem so drunk. He took a deep breath.
“It was attacking a servant girl Your Majesty.”
“Good work.” James said with a crooked grin. “I say, I wasn’t aware you were still capable of such feats.”
“Thank you sir.”
“Now it’s a good thing you were here when you were. This servant girl might have been killed.”
“Aye Your Highness.” James stepped on past Bernard and offered a hand to Eira. She took it graciously, to which the prince hoisted her up to her feet.
“Maid, what is your name?”
“Eira Your Highness.” She replied with a polite curtsey. For a split-second she made eye contact with Tanner, who even beneath his visor, she could see his eyes narrow. Quickly she yanked the bonnet back up, so as to conceal her eyes in shadow.
“Eira? Hmm. You’ve had quite an experience. Here’s a token for your scare.” The blonde-haired, blue-eyed man spoke with a confident grin, almost arrogant and condescending in fact. He reached into a fat pouch on his belt and tossed two gold coins at her. Eira caught the first one, but the other fell just out of reach and rolled around her feet. Wide-eyed, she glanced at James, then Tanner and then to Bernard, and back down. James brought a hand up, beckoning her to grab it, which she did swiftly.
“Thank you Your Highness.” She said with her eyes downcast. James nodded once and turned to his knights.
“I want this beast stuffed and mounted with the rest of my father’s collection.” Sure enough, two soldiers marched on past Tanner and grabbed the Coffin Spawn before heading off with it. “We’ll have the maids clean the blood up in the morning.” James didn’t even acknowledge Eira again before walking off with the rest of his guardians. Tanner stood staring coldly at the girl and Bernard until the prince walked past, when he walked briskly to his side.
With her heart still pounding, all Eira wished to do was leave. Dropping to her knees, she began to fold her cloak once more when Bernard rubbed over his scraggily, unkempt beard. The jolt of adrenaline into his system seemed to have sobered him up drastically.
“Hey uh…listen lass, please pardon me for not taking your word before.”
“Tis fine Sir Bernard. It has passed.” Eira replied coldly.
“You know my name?” He asked. That’s when the Green Folk looked up.
“You told me this afternoon.” She gave him an icy stare, to which the knight felt ashamed.
“Come inside.” He beckoned. Hesitant at first, Eira watched Bernard walk on into his chambers, his vision still fuzzy as he stumbled once or twice. She thought for a moment. Perhaps if she stayed for but a moment, it would lead Tanner that much farther away from her.