After half an hour of sitting and thinking between Peyton and me, he being the more productive one since I knew absolutely nothing about how things worked around there, we came up with a plan.
Peyton told me that the Kings rarely came out of the throne room, with more reason if there was any danger out of it. Since there was an imminent danger (me) around the castle, they had to stay inside the throne room. The problem? It was full of soldiers, and the only way they didn’t kill me is if Peyton was with me. But, that was also a problem because we needed a distraction so the guards could leave the corridor and we could get to the throne room safely.
We were thinking about this when a knock interrupted the silence in the room. I was standing almost immediately looking at Peyton in alarm. Suddenly, a mischievous smile lighted up his face, and something told me he was up to something. He pointed towards the door and I hid behind it.
He opened the door with panic in his face and trembling hands.
“What the hell is he planning to do?” I thought scared that he was planning to give me out to the guards.
“Are you alright?” A man’s voice asked Peyton.
“I-I saw the intruder!” Peyton said in a nervous-wrecked voice, and I paled.
“Well, this is it. I’m screwed.”
“What? Where?” The guard asked immediately drawing out his sword.
“He went to the east side of the castle! He threatened to kill me!” He said trembling. The guard took off instantly, yelling commands to other guards. Peyton closed the door and smile triumphantly.
“What did you do?” I asked wide eye.
“I just made our distraction. Now we need to get to my parents as soon as possible.” He said with a smart glint in his eyes.
“You are genius! For a moment though, I really thought you were going to give me away to them.” I put a hand on my chest in and released a breath in relief.
“Don’t worry, you can trust me.” He said giving me a sincere smile. At that moment, I knew we were going to be really good friends.
The noise of guards running through the corridors filled our ears. After no more than two minutes everything was silent, and that was our cue to live. Peyton opened the door, looked both sides and nodded at me, signalizing that the corridor was clear.
We got out of the room and started walking towards the throne room at a fast pace. I put the hood on in case we encountered a guard and once again they could mistake me for a Black Knight.
My gaze started to roam my surroundings, once again surprised by the beauty of everything around me. The grey marble floors were impossibly clean and polish, huge pillars rose up to the ceiling giving the sensation of space and freedom. The walls were cream colored and not even a particle of dust covered them. Huge paintings were positioned along the corridors. Most of them were portraits, probably from royalty. The look of the people in those portraits was serious, not even a hint of a smile on their faces. I mean, how could they do it? I couldn’t even take a picture without bursting in a fit of laughter. It was just too awkward for me to be serious in a picture, less in a painting.
I stopped in my track when the painting of a familiar teenage boy came into view and Peyton stopped a few steps away from me, curious about my behavior. I looked at the painting carefully, my heart constricting each second my gaze lingered on the painting. The boy was just as serious as the other portraits, looking straight forward with those hazel eyes that meant more to me than anything I knew. His clothes were dignified of a prince; a yellow coat with golden buttons on his chest fitted him perfectly. His light brown hair was styled slightly to the side, and everything on the painting screamed he was perfect, that everything was under control.
The young Cassius looked calm and collected, but I knew better. His father was forcing him to take the throne, he was stressed and emotionally unstable, none of his parents giving him the support he needed.
“He wanted to come back, you know? We were planning to do that, and everything just...” I whispered in a broken voice. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath.
I couldn’t break there, just when I was going to explain everything to the kings. I collected myself and started to calm my nerves. Each passing hour was starting to get harder to be on control, to put on a facade that told everyone that everything was fine when in reality, all I wanted to do was to cry and scream at the unfair world out there to fuck itself and go to hell, to blame this on God who had made me miserable for the last few years not once responding to my prayers.
But I had a job to do. And at that moment, more than ever, I wanted the head of the mages in bloody spikes. I was going to prove to them that they had messed with the wrong girl.
Anger. That was what motivated me to continue with everything, and I needed that fuel to lit up the fire inside of me to make me fierce and fearless.
I opened my eyes, my gaze avoiding the paint. I looked at Peyton that was watching me curiously, pity flickering in his eyes.
“Let’s go.” I said in an indifferent cold voice, trying to forget the paint.
We walked a few more minutes when a soldier appeared. Peyton started to laugh suddenly grabbing my arm as support. I looked at him befuddled, not getting what was he trying to do, especially when a soldier was so near us.
He looked at me with a knowing look trying to give me a sign, which gratefully, I understood. I started to laugh in a low voice trying to imitate a man’s voice, putting an arm around my stomach as if I was dying of laughter.
The soldier walked passed us, muttering something with the lines of “nutjobs”. When the soldier disappeared, the both of us sighed in relief and laughed for real.
We kept walking and arrived at the main hall, which doubled in size the other halls. We kept walking, this time making sure our feet didn’t make the slightest of noise since the echo was like a speaker with the volume at maximum.
Peyton suddenly stopped and I realized we were in front of two huge elegant doors that had little iron ivy decorating them, which from afar could be easily mistaken with real ivy.
“This is it. We have arrived.” Peyton whispered, gulping nervously.
My heart was beating like crazy and it was hard to get the oxygen on my system. My fists were clenched, my nails pinching my skin so hard that blood started to come out.
“They can’t harm you if I am with you, so don’t worry.” He whispered assuringly trying to calm me.
Before any warning, he opened one of the doors and pushed with both hands to move it. He grabbed my sleeve and pulled me inside with him. I kept my head low, no giving any clue of my real identity. My hands started to sweat and my heart was in overdrive. We walked further into the room until we were in the middle of it.
“Peyton, dear, what are you doing here?” I heard a soft voice asking Peyton. I looked up slightly to see the Queen and King sitting on their thrones, watching us with curiosity.
Several guards were around the huge throne room, not very alerted with our arrival. The thrones were up a platform, overlooking the whole room.
Peyton bowed towards his parents and I repeated the action not late afterward he did.
“Mother, father, I need you to meet someone.” Peyton said breathlessly.
This time, all eyes were on me, and the guards realized I was a stranger. They looked at each other nervously, their hands grasping the handle of their swords. Peyton looked at me encouragingly and with a soft sight, I took the hood of the cape.
This time, all the guards drew their swords and in no second, Peyton was in front of me. His parents were looking at me with hostility. A cold sweat slid down my back, and I had to put all my will force to not put a hand near my sword. Everyone was watching me carefully, my every move and breath.
“She’s not a threat.” He looked at his parents with confidence. They looked at their son unsure, and their gazes fell back on me.
“Who are you, intruder?” The King said loudly and I had to restrain myself from shaking in fear. I looked at him and in an instant knew were Cassius and Peyton’s features came from. Strong hazel eyes were looking at me analyzing me and I did the same back. In just a second I took him in; shoulder length brunette hair, short beard, broad shoulders, heavy armor, hands in a fist, everything screamed power from him. I had been in the room for a minute only, and I was already scared out of my mind of the royalty.
I lowered my gaze to show respect. “My name is Liberty, your highness.” I said in a soft voice trying to contain the tremble. “My intentions are not bad, I swear.”
My gaze fell on the king again to see his reaction. His demeanor didn’t change one bit.
“What do you want?” His cold voice boomed through the room, making me take a sharp intake of breath.
What could I say to that? With all the time I had before I got there, it never passed through my mind what was the explanation I was going to give them or even more important, what was I going to say for them to believe me.
I internally panicked and nothing came from my mouth. Peyton turned around and looked at me bewildered.
“Say something!” He mouthed fastly.
“I-I met your son.” I said with a trembling voice.
“Great Liberty, just great. Wonderful Job.” I thought to myself, cringing at the stupid answer I gave.
The king raised his eyebrows. “Well, it appears you did.” He said looking at Peyton.
“I mean, I met Cassius, your highness.” I said quickly not even breathing.
A tense silence stretched through the room, and my sweating case was starting to get worse. Never, in my whole life had I been so nervous. My body was so tensed, that moving physically pained me.
“Could you repeat yourself?” The king said in a low dangerous voice as if I just triggered something. I let out a shaky breath and looked nervously around me.
“I met Cassius four months ago. I was lost in the woods and he found me. H-he helped me and well, we lived together those months.” I tried my best to keep the tremble out of my voice and didn’t do a very good job. Heck, the only thing I wanted to at that moment was to do a hole and hide there for eternity.
The silence came back, and honestly, it was killing me. The Queen was looking at me in shock and the King was... blank.
“I didn’t come to talk about that though.” I spoke fastly, confidence growing in me from somewhere.
“Cassius was kidnapped two days ago by... mages.”
This time, gasps echoed around the room. Even Peyton turn to look at me once again with surprise and fear in his eyes.
“That’s impossible. Mages are extinct, and my son is dead.” The King said it with such coldness it took me by surprise.
Trying to build up the courage, slowly I started to move to take the cape off and the belt with the sword and knife. “These things belong to your son.”
I looked at the Queen, and pity overtook me. Her eyes were prickling with tears and her hand was over her mouth in shock. Without any notice, she stood up, descended the stairs and walked toward us. Her long fancy dress trailed behind hair, and I couldn’t stop myself to admire how beautiful she was. Pale skin, blue striking eyes, and blonde hair. She looked in her early forties, yet her face showed no signs of aging.
The King stood up quickly and went after his wife, a look of anger on his face. He took a hold of her arm but she moved her arm away and gave him a deadly glare. That was enough for him to just let her be.
She stopped in front of me and took the sword from the floor. Her gaze fell on the exact same spot Peyton’s had.
“For heaven and earth, is his.” She said breathlessly, tears streaming down her face. The King was beside her looking at the same place in no time. He frowned but didn’t say anything.
“Oh, and I almost forgot.” I said taking the letter from the waistband of my trousers I held it towards the Queen. “This is for you my Queen.” I said in a small voice, not used to talk to royalty.
She took the letter and looked at me. “Did you read it?”
“No. Cassius made me promise I wouldn’t read it, and I’m a woman of my word.” I gave her a small smile and looked down.
She opened the letter and started to read it, the King by her side read it as well. More tears started to stream down her face and the King was finally expressing an emotion. He looked at the letter in shock and disbelief, meanwhile, I and Peyton looked at each other not knowing really what came next.
And then I remembered. There was yet another thing to prove I was telling the truth.
I took the necklace with the ring out of the camisole and waited for the Queen to read the letter. The Queen read the whole letter and little sobs came from her mouth. She looked at me and my heart hurt for her. My eyes welled up with tears, but I didn’t let them fall.
Without saying anything, I took the necklace and gave it to her. Her eyes were bright with recognition when her gaze fell on the ring.
“H-he gave it to you?” She asked with wonder as if it was impossible for that to happen.
“Well, yes, but the circumstances were not the best...” I swallowed hard trying to take that memory out of my head.
The King was looking at me as well, this time as if he was trying to decipher a puzzle. The frown between his hazel eyes clearly showed the confusion he felt. I didn’t blame him at all.
“He trained you?” The Queen asked suddenly, taking me by surprise.
“Yes, quite harshly if I may say.” I chuckled, trying to ease the tense atmosphere.
The Queen dropped her gaze to the letter once again and with the back of her hand wiped the tears on her cheeks. The King had his hand on her shoulder trying to comfort her. He looked at the letter and guilt passed his eyes for a moment, but it went away as soon as I saw it. I could have imagined it.
“What do you want?” The King’s eyes looked right into mine’s, trying to decide if I was good or bad.
“I want to rescue Cassius and avoid a war with the mages...” My mind instantly went to that last moment I shared with Cassius, what he asked me to do.
“I want to join the Black Knights, temporarily though. Until we found him.” I looked into the Kings eyes, fear crawling into the back of mind not knowing if what I was doing was disrespectful. An image of my head being chopped off in the style of “Alice in Wonderland” made a shudder run up my spine, and finally to lower my gaze. Better be safe than have regrets.
Silence filled the whole room. The quite uncomfortable and tense atmosphere made my body physically itch. I couldn’t resist the temptation and my gaze went up to meet the Kings.
I was surprised to see the King looking at me amused.
“You? A Black Knight?” He asked chuckling.
Irritation crawled up my skin and I swallowed hard in an attempt to not say something rude.
I straightened my back and squared my shoulders. “You haven’t seen my skills yet, your highness. With all due respect, you should not judge me by my looks.”
“Let her at least give the test, father. She could really help find my brother.” Peyton’s voice echoed all over the place, turning heads in his direction. It was the first time that he intervened in the conversation, and I was grateful that he interfered.
The King looked at Peyton bewildered and pointed an accusing finger towards me. “We don’t know her! We don’t know where her loyalties lay with or if she is even telling the truth!” Peyton flinched at his father’s harsh tone but didn’t look away.
“Tristan I think she has given us enough proof that she is telling the truth. Peyton is right. We should give her a chance, and right now, she is our best option to get our son back. Besides, she is the first to mention an upcoming war and it is best to pay attention to it than to turn around like blind fools.”
She looked at me with determination in her gaze. “Let her do the test.”
Suddenly, the slam of a door arrived at my ears. Squeaky quick footsteps could be heard and confusion spread over everyone in that room. A figure in long old robes appeared behind the thrones, walking towards us with short footsteps and a fast pace. It took me long to figure out it was an old man.
In the blink of an eye, everyone was on their knees with the exception of the King and Queen. I looked around me trying to comprehend what was going on. A look on Peyton’s face, who was silently urging me to kneel too, and that was enough to put me into action.
“What’s the commotion? Can’t an old man rest with tranquility nowadays?” His raspy voice sounded exasperated and tired with a certain tinge of humor behind it.
The King and Queen bowed and I was even more confused.
“Who is he?”