A piercing white light suddenly blinded me as I tried to move, my wrists in tight shackles tight to a strong and sturdy wall. I blinked pained as I tried to see who was there. SMACK! Someone hit me hard across the face, my cheek stinging as I blinked surprised. Hit after hit rained down on me as I stood there silent. After several moments, whoever it was turned and stormed off muttering angrily leaving the blinding light trained on my face. I soon gave up trying to get my hands free, blood cascading down my arms as the chains cut deeply into my skin. After what seemed like an eternity, the stranger was back again. Another, younger voice whispered heatedly to them before the sound of a closing door. The beating repeated much the same as it had the first time. The stranger cried out in frustration as I remained perfectly silent, just like before. Time soon became irrelevant as I hung there. After a while the tears stopped coming as I sobbed unsure whether Fyn was alive or Kiimi was safe. I should NEVER have come.
“IT’S NOT HER! What have you done!?” A hoarse whisper snapped me out of my macabre daydreams.
“What’s ya name?” An older voice demanded.
“Mae” I stated simply, wincing as the light was suddenly shut off with a curse and two sets of feet echoed down a corridor as the strangers ran.
I waited silently in the blanket of darkness. I couldn’t even guess how long they had been gone and I’d been alone when I felt the prickly warm fur brush against my leg as the smell of singed fur filled my nose.
“And here I figured they found ya” A guarded voice drawled.
“Why would you think they’d even bother lookin?” I countered indifferently.
“Held a funeral for ya and everything little thing.” He replied, a hidden pain in his voice as he unshackled the chains tying me to my little prison.
“Didn’t think he really cared” I sighed softly as I finally placed the strangers voice.
“The king ain’t cared bout nothing in years” Caius grunted, leaving me to fall to my knees as he finally got the shackles from around my wrists.
“He’s playing a deadly game, and he’s losing” I sighed tiredly as I absently stroked the hounds head as it nudged me impatiently.
The next thing I was aware of, I was laying on a soft mat with heavy bandages around my eyes and wrists. The smell of singed fur eased my panic as I struggled to sit up.
“Take it easy, you need to rest and heal. 3 months of beatings and blinding is gonna take its toll kid” Caius’ voice warned evenly as I felt a hand pushing me back down.
“3 months? Is Kiimi alright? The troubles, FYN!?” I babbled incoherently, fighting with him to try and get up and hurry back to see for myself.
“Sorry bout this” He sighed frustrated as he stuck something into my arm and everything slowly became leaden as something forced me into sleep.
“Damn you” I slurred, unable to fight the sedative no matter how hard I tried.
“Already am princess” He sighed sadly as he gently laid a warm blanket over me.
I was relieved to find some of the bandages had been removed the next time I awoke. Faint outlines were visible as the gentle light stung my eyes. Caius was sleeping awkwardly in a chair, an empty glass tight in his hand and a practically empty bottle of whisky by his feet. As silently as I could, I forced myself up and out of the makeshift tent. I stared surprised as I was met by a rich brown hellhound, staring at me amused. The scent of singed fur told me exactly who it was.
“I need to help them. Please don’t wake him” I begged softly hugging the hound tightly, much to its surprise.
I smiled relieved as it licked my cheek in response, dipping its head before padding inside. I pulled myself up onto Caius’ horse, wincing pained as my muscles complained angrily. Night drew in quickly as I rode through the trees, reluctantly stopping as the moon began to rise and made a fire. Once the horse was settled, I laid beside the fire and tried not to think. Shuffling feet and hoarse whispers caught my attention as my mind wandered.
“I’m tellin ya, it IS” A familiar voice snapped indignantly.
“I won’t hurt you” I remarked amused as I sat up and stretched half-heartedly.
“Ya got e’ry rite to after what we done” The older voice remarked warily.
“Ya can make it up to me if ya that worried” I chuckled ruefully as they slowly inched closer.
“How?” The younger one asked warily.
“Tell me about the troubles” I stated evenly.
“Worse than ever, why it matter to you?” The older one demanded suspiciously.
“My sister is still with my cousin and grandfather. Besides which, I have an idea on how to fix it all” I stated indifferently.
“Really, how?” The young man babbled curiously as he sat heavily beside the fire, shivering slightly.
“Arden!” The older man hissed angrily.
“What? Look what we done to her Tomas. She ain’t in a state to hurt us!” He argued angrily.
“Don’t judge a book by its cover” I laughed amused as Tomas shuffled for a few moments before relenting and sitting beside the fire as the cold got too much for him to bare.
“So how can we help?” Tomas sighed frustrated after several moments of awkward silence.
I merely smiled, laying back against the cold damp ground. They argued hushed before reluctantly turning in to sleep as the night waned on. Despite my best efforts, I was still awake as the sun broke the dawn, the soft sunlight dancing through the dew covered leaves. Hesitantly, I began unwinding another layer off the bandages, wincing as the light stung my eyes tenderly. One more layer left and I still couldn’t see as well as I had hoped. Tomas and Arden watched me nervously as I refused breakfast, seeing to the horse and ushering it back along the trail I had come down the night before. They muttered suspiciously as they repacked their pan before following me into the woods. It didn’t take as long as I thought to make it to the outskirts of the city. Farms were barren and lifeless, the stench of death and decay hung thick in the air. My stomach knotted painfully as I noticed a seemingly well made scarecrow standing in the middle of a barren field, swaying in the breeze.
“Why bother with a scarecrow? The fields drier than a desert” Arden remarked confused, wandering even closer as Tomas shot me a wary look.
“Don’t get too close Arden” Tomas scolded firmly, rushing to grab the young man as he almost left the path.
“we need to hurry” I warned coldly as I noticed more ‘scarecrows’ had appeared in the fields behind us.
My worst fear was confirmed as we hurried down the road to find a young girl sitting on the roof of a simple carriage sobbing silently. More ‘scarecrows’ were surrounding the carriage, not a single one leaving the clay like farm land. Except two. The newest additions to the ‘scarecrow’ family. Without all the mud and clay it was clear to make out what they really were. Their skin was grey and sunken, their eyes glassy and dull. It was clear they had been in a fight, bones broken and twisted with cuts and faint bruises. Trails of thick mud were trailing from the farm, wrapping around their ankles and up their legs. They were humans. But what were they now?
“No! Stay back! They got them, they stopped the carriage and they hurt them” The young girl shrieked horrified as we drew close.
“Are you alright!?” Tomas called out ignoring her warning.
The two unfortunate victims turned to us and stared at us with dead eyes. A ghostly figure caught my attention from ahead of the carriage. Her torn dress and pain filled eyes made my blood run cold. The two strangers staggered forwards, like broken robots they reached out for us. The murky thick sludge oozed ahead of them, crawling towards us.
“Pain done cannot be undone, a curse in anger is a curse on all” I murmured softly as Tomas and Arden began to panic.
“What you babbling bout” Tomas growled unnerved as they stopped in their tracks the figure suddenly rushing forward to stand barely a hair breadth away.
I suppressed a shudder, gasping for breath as the air surrounding me turned to ice.
“They hurt you didn’t they?” I asked nervously.
“Love is the only thing in life that has any meaning” A cold, disembodied voice whispered hoarsely.
“I can help if you’d let me” I stated simply as she stared
“All your family knows is lies” She hissed, vanishing into thin air.
I gasped relieved as I finally managed to get a full breath as the air suddenly warmed. The creatures slowly took another stumbling step closer.
“What we gonna do?” Arden stammered startled as one turned and began climbing onto the carriage.
Sighing sadly I tried to remember the book, wishing I had it here in front of me. Cursing softly I knew I had to make it up. A dangerous risk. Taking a deep breath, I began singing. Closing my eyes I thought of the way avinjo had sung it for me when I had been sad. I blushed embarrassed as the last note echoed like a death knell through the unnatural silence. The creatures slowly sank to the muddy ground, the two newest victims crumbly like a fold away chair. The girl sobbed brokenly as she stared at the bodies of who I gathered were her parents. Arden and Tomas shuffled nervously, staring at me expectantly.
“Can you tell us what happened?” Tomas asked warily as I remained motionless, contemplating.
“We were going to meet sister and grandpa but the carriage broke and then, then” She broke into heartfelt pain filled sobs.
“Princess Angelica will be waiting sweetheart, we better hurry onward now” I sighed sadly as I realized what the woman had meant.
A member of our family hurt her deeply. So she was enacting revenge on the heirs. When all you live for is revenge, what do you have left when you finally get it? And is it ever worth it? Does torturing those responsible, those related to those responsible make the pain go away?
“H…ho…how” she began babbling, paling frightened.
“You have striking similarities princess” I smiled reassuringly.
They all stared after me as I simply stepped around the bodies and continued down the road seemingly oblivious to whether they were following. But my attention was firmly on the fuming young woman glaring hatefully.
“Since when did one of you have such power.” She demanded.
“I have a love of books. Tell me, was it worth it? Has reliving all the pain been worth it?” I shrugged indifferently, walking past her taking her by surprise as I made no move against her despite potentially being able to.
“They said it didn’t matter…but it mattered to ME” she replied, her voice thick with pain as she suddenly disappeared once more.
I waited patiently for the others to catch me up as I thought of what she said. We continued onwards in solemn silence, all lost in our own thoughts. The young girl walked with defeated short steps, holding Arden’s hand listlessly.
“So what’s your name sweetheart?” Tomas aske absently as he began collecting twigs as the sun began to set.
“Ilary” She murmured softly “after our great, great, great auntie”
“A lovely name” Arden smiled warmly as I looked around the little glade just off the forest path.
“Ilary vailor, she was queen at the original capital city Rosewood hollow” I remarked absently as I tried to recall more of the book I had read about it in.
“That’s right. She was called the heartbroken heir because she loved someone but he died and she was made to marry someone else. But she was very beautiful and smart” She smiled sadly.
“Yes, she brokered treaties, established a fairer law system and even figured out how to improve the farming and infirmary. So no-one went hungry or went untreated” I smiled warmly.
The night quickly drew in as Tomas cooked, Arden playing a game with Ilary in the mud as I stared into space thinking. I ignored their stares as I refused food once again, more focused on how I would convince Queen Ilary to trust me. I sighed exhausted as they all slowly fell asleep as the moon rose ever higher in the sky, little Ilary protectively between Tomas and Arden. I began stoking the fire as dawn broke and I had yet to fall asleep. Tomas frowned concerned as he woke, groggily glancing around.