Chapter 1: BRYNN'S CLOUD
When Brynn of Fortis woke up in the castle of Springborough, she had no idea where she was. It took her brain a couple of long seconds to register the large cement blocks that made up one of the rooms that were lent out to visiting guests of the royal Lishens family. Currently, she was tucked into the bed made up primarily of goose feathers sewn into various casings; a casing for a pillow, a casing for a comforter, and a casing for a mattress which gave the sleeper the feeling of resting on a cloud. She didn’t know how tired she was until she leapt into the comfort of a bed, and she didn’t know how mentally exhausted she must have been that her brain temporarily wiped out all knowledge of how she got to her present moment.
JJ, her brother, Mr. Jonathon James himself (Captain Jonathon James, if his stories were to be believed) was resting on a chaise lounge. The chivalrous brother that he is, offered the oversized bed to his sister, preferring to sleep on the harder cushion of the lounge, stating that anything was better than the wooden planks of the ship. Her brother’s mouth was open, and a little bit of drool had already begun to escape out of the corner of his mouth. Brynn couldn’t determine who was more tired, she or her brother, but hopefully he felt as rested as she did at this moment.
When she registered where she was, took in that her brother was still asleep and safe, she rolled over and stared at the bedroom door, willing it to open to the next thing to focus on for the day. When it didn’t open, she simply laid there, playing through how yesterday morning, she had awoken in a hut on the cliff’s edge, overlooking the waters of Cornwall, looking for JJ’s boat on the sea, talking only with a spirit. Sometimes, she wondered if he was imaginary. Then the storm came in, and in its winds, whisperings of malicious intent. It seemed the storm was carrying with it evil spirits bent on doing them all harm. Suddenly, her brother’s ship came in, and when she came to greet it, both she and her brother were kidnapped by the Royal Prince Thomas, because he felt that Brynn had harmed his sister, the royal heir to the throne, Kyrstin.
So, the three of them, with armored guards, ventured back to the castle to see if Kyrstin was all right. She wasn’t. She apparently tried to cut open her brother’s pet (a bear, mind you) to get a piece of royal jewelry that had belonged to the still missing Ex-Queen of Springborough. When she attacked the bear, her royal brother Patrick, a giant who had started his growth spurt, struck her so hard she lost consciousness. This was when Brynn, Thomas, and JJ entered the scene and it seemed everything was going to come to a disastrous head until Brynn spotted the spirit of the Ex-Queen sitting on the throne.
Brynn had begun to see spirits. She doesn’t know if it’s a skill one can learn or a gift one inherits, but as she sat lonely on the cliff’s edge, she began to hear the voice of a guard who had haphazardly walked off the cliff one night. His name was Jimmy, and he was going to become Brynn’s only friend for a very long time. Jimmy talked of many things, keeping her entertained with stories of a life lived and lost; one filled with love, heartache, adventure, ideas, and an appreciation for everything around them. She began to see the spirits of the animals that she hunted with her bow and arrow. She’d let loose the arrow that she had crafted from tree branches and quail feathers and watch as the deadly projectile whistled through the air, sailing between the brush of the forest, and knocking back her hunt several feet before sticking the dead animal to the ground. An ethereal outline of the animal, cloud white and just as faint, would continue to run from the corpse, unaware that its fleshy prison was no longer moving with it. The spirit would turn, perhaps noticing the ground didn’t feel right, or maybe because it noticed how light it felt, and then would see its body, confusion on its face.
Brynn would pick up her kill slowly, trying not to disturb the spirit who was still panicked and confused at what had transpired. Respectfully, she’d cradle her kill, making sure the spirit knew that she appreciated the sacrifice it had made to keep her fed and strong for whatever the future held for her. She’d click her tongue against her teeth, and sometimes the spirit would follow as if the keeper of its body must now be its friend, and whether morbidly or not, the spirit would rest, watching, as Brynn cooked and ate it. Sometimes, the animal ghost would run away when she “clicked” at it. Either way, they never stayed very long. Only Jimmy did.
The second human spirit she saw was the one of the Ex-Queen who had startled her as she was hunting for Squi-bbi-x; a squirrel-rabbit-fox hybrid that had lived in her woods. Brynn saw the spirit out of her peripheral and shot an arrow right through its vapor heart. This was how the necromancer (someone who can commune with the dead) had come to meet Kyrstin, because the Queen Grace had asked Brynn, with her bow and arrow, to hurry and save her grand daughter’s life. Brynn did just that, and now here she was, going from hut to castle; going from uncomfortable cot to enlarged bed stuffed with the feathers of birds Brynn could only, one day, hope to eat.
And while she laid there on the cloud made by human hands, she felt a longing to be back at her hut. For as long as she was in that lonely, small, dirty hut she felt that her parents might return. How odd was it that her parents weren’t around, and neither were the King and Queen, Kyrstin’s parents? While the royal children sat at the table, each shoveling food in their mouths prepared by the caretakers of the royal children, they talked mostly of their parents. The royal children knew that their parents had gone on an expedition, some official trip to talk of things being whispered about on some distant shore. The royals always had to politic, which was one of Thomas’ strong suits that Kyrstin had no interest in, hence what led to the big decision last night.
JJ and Brynn knew where their parents were, too, to a certain extent. Her mother had gone one way up the coast and her father the other, all separating after a long family hug that Brynn could still feel. Her mother’s arm wrapped around her shoulder, her father’s wrapped the other way, each of their hands grasping tightly the other’s shoulder as Brynn and JJ cried, everyone facing the middle of the circle, sharing breath, tucked into their parents grasp. They talked out loud of their fears and hopes, dreams and aspirations, sharing one last family thought before parting. Sometimes Brynn missed them so much it gave her a stomach ache, so she tried not to think about it too long.
She was more afraid of anything that before she saw her parents again she would see their ghosts. But that was something she would never voice.
“You up?” Jonathon James asked, waking her from her thoughts.
She looked over to him, a little more put together. He obviously wiped away the drool that he was just recently collecting on his cheek.
“Yes. Are you?” Brynn responded, most of the thrill and adulation of having Jage (as she sometimes called her little brother) back and safe dissipating, and now the old sibling love-and-annoy returning.
“Do I usually talk in my sleep?”
“No. But, you don’t usually drool when awake.”
“I wasn’t drooling,” JJ responded, checking his pillow to make sure there was no evidence of his nightly salivating.
Brynn chuckled. Her brother was sometimes so smart, and other times still so young to her. While she believed that he had found a ship and a crew to take him weeks out to sea, and that probably they did get tired of stale bread on the sea, and that Jage learned to be an astute fisherman who caught many meals for the crew, she could not believe he had ever captained a ship like he told her over dinner last night. While the sailors Brynn met (or “pirates” as Jonathon called them) seemed to somewhat respect him as a superior, Brynn could not see her brother being regarded by grown men as a leader. He was only eleven, and he was somewhat small for his stature, so one would think grown men, who were used to fighting in taverns, would simply overpower Jage should he get on their nerves.
But, he says he led them. He says he was Captain Jonathon James of The Hampton Chase, and Brynn really didn’t have a reason to argue with him.
JJ turned over to his back and stared up at the ceiling and so Brynn did the same. Sister and brother, separated by twenty feet in the room. One on a bed with skin covered in the dirt from living in a hut, one on a chaise lounge covered in salt from dried sea water, staring at the ceiling of the guest room ceiling of the royal castle, neither with any idea what was to happen next.
“Brynn?” Jage asked, suddenly, cutting through the quiet.
“Do you feel relaxed?”
Brynn stretched, replacing the sluggish morning blood running through her extremities veins with new, vigorous, oxygenated blood. Ready to take on the day.
“Isn’t that funny?” Jage mused.
“It’s so relaxing here. And yet, I feel like we are in over our heads.”
Brynn couldn’t put her finger on it, but, she agreed. She agreed whole heartedly.