Stay True

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Chapter 9

Clara was very glad that the spell had been lifted. She and Colin had discussed whether or not it was Melanie in private, and they decided that yes, it had been her.

"But why is she doing this? She must have known that the spell would fail," Clara said. She had decided to call what had happened to her a spell, since the word "enchantment" still had a sort of mystery to it, a happy, light feel, a sort of, well, enchantment.

Colin said, "Melanie is probably testing the waters. She may want to test how easily she can get into the castle, how difficult it would be to disguise herself as another. I believe that with this, she determined that it is rather simple to bypass our security system. The guards we have are unsurpassed by any in the kingdom, but unfortunately, they are still not the best. Well, I mean, they are the best we have to offer, but..."

"I understand, Colin, do not strain yourself." Colin crossed his eyes at her and they fell silent for time. "But..." Clara sighed. "Melanie is powerful, yes?" Clara asked. Colin nodded. "Then why does she feel the need to try something out? You have told me before that she continually practiced magic, despite it being outlawed, so it cannot be that she feels her powers are 'rusty'. She already knows the castle inside and out, having lived here practically her entire life, so she must already know all the ways to bypass the guard system. So what is it that she is doing?"

Colin echoed her sigh. "I do not know." He suspected that Melanie might have been simply curious about whether or not the ways of the castle had changed. Of course, there was also the possibility that it simply was not Melanie's doing at all. He told Clara that possibility and she shook her head vehemently, brushing it away despite having the very same thought herself. This is what Melanie wanted, Clara told herself. She wants us to doubt each other, to plant wrong ideas in each other's minds, ultimately growing into weeds and poisoning our thoughts.

They were both trying to think, to reason through all of it, but they kept getting themselves stuck in circles of logic, dragged down. Eventually they let it all go. They were just so tired.

Eve poured oils and herbs into Clara's bathwater that evening at Didacus's suggestion, and drawing extra hot water. Clara stepped into the bath. "Ow, hothothot!" she squealed.

"You know, it's said that hot water is very good for relieving tension. If you knew that you wouldn't complain as much," Eve said wisely, pouring more steaming water into the tub.

"Gahhh!" Clara tried to relax. "Well, as it so happens, I did know that and I did complain about it, so there." Clara rubbed some soap into her hair, noticing that a lot of it went to waste when Eve rinsed it out of into a basin. "What a waste," she sighed, echoing her thoughts aloud. Coming from a rather poor family, Clara was very conscious about things going to waste.

Eve just shrugged. "What are you going to do about it?"

Clara thought that the question was rhetorical, but it got her thinking. "Hmmm...There are so many people out there who never get to have a good bath. A hot, soapy one like this would be heaven for them! Even lukewarm would seem like a luxury...we could do a peasant scrub!" At this, Eve wrinkled her nose in disgust, but Clara plowed on. "All we would have to do is save any wasted, leftover potion suds and we could bathe peasants who are too poor to wash their entire family or who live too far away from a water supply to bathe regularly! We would have to have separate stalls for the men and women, which means Colin would be in on it too-leave that to me. But if people are too gross, they can bathe themselves." Clara thought she was doing well. She made to get out of the bath, but Eve pushed her back in.

"Just because those people out there don't get a good bath very often doesn't mean that you shouldn't either." Eve took a handful of bubbles and sat contemplating them for a while, watching them pop. "Maybe it would work...only don't call it a peasant scrub. Call it something like...riches for rags, I don't know, something catchy." She wiped her hand on her apron and held out a towel to Clara.

She stepped out and wrapped herself up. "Why not call it a peasant scrub? I would've gone."

Eve gave her friend a look. "Have you lived in the city your entire life? Do you know how poor city dwellers are?" She did not say it sarcastically or meanly. She was actually asking.

Clara shrugged. "Not really. I lived in a small, poor farm village."

She nodded. "Well I know how city people are. They're too proud to go to something sounding like they will be treated like pets."

"Mm." Clara mulled over her response. "Okay!"

Eve smiled and started toweling off Clara's hair and plaiting it once it was just damp. " I volunteering at this event as well?" Clara gave her an evil grin in response. She groaned, but continued with the pampering. "I like the name 'Riches for Rags'...maybe not rags, though, it's kind of"

Clara rolled her eyes and completed Eve's thought for her, since otherwise she never would have gotten around to it. "How about 'Baths for Bums.'"

Eve smacked her with her free hand. "Clara!" she exclaimed. Clara grinned again in response. They both started giggling.

They soon stopped laughing, and Clara sighed. "I don't know what I was saying. I never know what I am saying anymore. I'm always so-" Clara yawned hugely. "SO tired." Eve dismissed it and told her to go to bed.

After a few more days, however, the tiredness was not going anywhere. If anything, the condition worsened, and Clara slouched around all day feeling lethargic and sleepy. She could not focus on her lessons, which were now only for an hour every day, as a review of everything she had learned so she could be the best, most accurate Melanie she could.

When Clara was called out for daydreaming and drifting off for the third or fourth time, Eve suggested going outside and getting some fresh air. They bundled up, for the days were growing colder, and went out to the castle gardens, which were closer to the gated and moated front of the castle and not the forest, which is what Clara could see from her window. Most of the greenery was dead, but Clara found that the remaining sprigs of dried, crunchy lavender made her throat itch and her nose run.

Taking Eve's proffered handkerchief, the girls decided that they had had enough of post-mortem flowers and went instead to the arena, where the knights had just arrived to spar and practice.

But even watching the fighting did not help Clara feel any better. She nearly forgot about her exhaustion when she was caught in the excitement of a particularly heated match between Sir Stephen and Sir Sam, and again when Sir John attempted to get a lance inside a hoop and toppled off his horse. Clara very nearly succeeded in feeling awake when James had his helmet knocked off by an overeager Sir Jacob, who promptly stopped the fight and apologized profusely to the prince, causing Clara to sink into boredom again.

She could identify all of the knights by now, though, and as she was pulled out of her stupor by Eve posing the question of, if they had to choose, which knight would it be, Clara snuggled into her fur-lined cloak and pondered which she liked best.

Her brother was out of the question, of course. Sir John was quite odd, jam fixation notwithstanding, and Sir Stephen was quite aloof. Sir Paine was difficult to read, though Clara did have a soft spot for his love of animals. Sir Elliot and Sir Burt were both nice enough, though quite career driven. Clara found them a bit one-dimensional. Sir Karl quite frankly scared her a bit, as did Sir Wallis, though part of that was likely due to the fairly menacing nature of his crest; a black silhouette of a parapet on a deep red background. Sir Sam was quite friendly, though rather too muscular for Clara's taste, as was Sir Jacob. Clara didn't know Sir Richard all that well yet, but she got the impression that he was quite the charmer and resolved to steer clear of him until she was more sure about his character. Sir Thomas was, quite simply put, absolutely gorgeous, but polite to a fault, almost embarrassingly so. Clara decided that if she had to choose, it would be between Sir Thomas, Sir Sam, and Sir Jacob.

In sharing these thoughts with Eve, Clara discovered that they agreed on most things (like Sir Thomas's lovely appearance and personality) and disagreed on others (Eve was personally an advocate for Sir John, saying his intelligence outweighed his looks, making it into her top three, while Clara adamantly believed that anyone who is that smart must know how to take care of themselves, and that his appearance was directly related to his intelligence, or lack thereof).

Once they deemed themselves sufficiently cold enough to justify heading back inside, Clara and Eve left the arena and went to Clara's chambers, where Eve lit a fire to dry their clothes by and make some tea. Sipping her drink and staring into the fire, Clara felt decidedly weary. "Eve, why do I feel so tired? Straight to the bone, I just feel heavy and dull."

Eve responded with, "It is likely that it was merely the cold. The weather can do that to a person. Perhaps you should turn in early tonight."

Clara nodded, staring into the dregs of her tea and swilling them around her cup. She shook her head and blinked a few times. "Sorry. Yes, I think you are absolutely right." And she grinned up at her maid. Whether or not Eve saw that the smile was fake, Clara did not know, but Eve replied with a seemingly genuine smile of her own, and Clara relaxed.

That night, a piece from an old poem or song or something played through Clara's mind as she tried to sleep.

If I ever should not wake

I give the world my soul to take

Guide me, help me, towards the light

Sleeping in this endless night

The words repeated in her head, over and over, tumbling over each other in a waterfall that swallowed any other thoughts. She tried to raise her arm, her head, to call out for help.


I give the world this endless night.

Help me.

I think I'm dying.

Guide me, help me, should not wake.

The words cascading past each other, blending into one entity, turning over and over in her head. I have to get out.

If the world towards endless night

Sleeping guide me ever give light

Towards endless me take I should guide sleeping if the world wake me help not the night to this light I give in ever my soul I should soul give this the take help in me if I not night the light guide me ever towards my sleeping endless world to wake I





Help me.

Guide me, help me...

No, just help me.


And she felt something shatter. Clara felt the bond on her mind, the thing keeping her looping through the words, again and again, twist and snap, splintering into a void.

She was scared. She was so scared. Eve had not heard a thing. She was safe from the mental onslaught that had encapsulated Clara.

But Colin came running. Colin heard her call. Colin made her feel safe once more. Wrapped in his arms, Clara finally felt secure again. Sheltered in his arms, Clara found peace in her mind and slept at last.


Clara woke as abruptly as if she had been slapped. Her eyes flew open and she sat up almost immediately. When Clara called, Eve ran into the room, rubbing sleep out of her eyes.

"Clara? Is everything all right?" Eve asked, worried.

Clara was looking around, trying to find him. "I thought..." Her heart sank in disappointment, against her will. "It must have all been a dream," she murmured to herself.

"What is it?" Eve was still very concerned. Clara knew that waving her off would only create more worry for her, so Clara fabricated a story about a nightmare, frightening but not too terrible, which seemed to satiate the maid's curiosity.

Clara leaned back into her pillows once she had finished her tale, feeling quite annoyed and not a little embarrassed. She had truly thought that Colin was in her room, holding her, comforting her. When she later questioned Eve about the night in a surreptitious way, the only thing that Eve would say was that Clara had shouted in her sleep. By the time Eve had come to check on her, Clara was already fast asleep again, calm and peaceful.

How odd, Clara thought. She would have to consult Colin. The only thing to come out of the situation that wasn't an embarrassing memory or a strange dream was that her lethargy and apathy towards anything other than sleep had gone, leaving her back to normal; still perpetually tired but not in any sort of sleepy stupor anymore. Maybe it was just a passing phase, she thought.

Later, when she remarked to Colin what had happened (minus the part about him coming to her room and making her feel better; she couldn't bring herself to share this with him for some reason) he said that it was likely that she was just tired and perhaps over-stressed from being Melanie. Clara nodded along and pretended to agree on the outside, but inside her mind was churning over the night repeatedly, attempting to find a logical reason. You are always asking me to use my head, Colin, she thought a bit angrily. Now that I am being suspicious and trying to be reasonable just like you are always telling me to, you are brushing me off and telling me that I am wrong. She filed the entire incident away in the back of her head, remembering the feeling of something shattering, like a binding on her thoughts. She was not quite sure that there was nothing else at play.

To add to her inner distress, Colin announced after Clara had confided her concerns to him that in one week exactly, she would take the throne for the next open council day, which was a very special day in the kingdom.

She avoided Colin for the rest of the day.

Clara spent the entire afternoon storming around in her fur-lined cloak, venturing outside only to decide it was far too cold for anything to be out there and then meandering to the kitchens. The cooks and servants all seemed quite surprised to see her there, and Clara cursed herself for making such a stupid mistake. Melanie would never venture into the kitchens to try to get to know the workers, maybe snitch some pastries or bread here and there. Making excuses and denying all the food being thrust upon her, Clara left as quickly as she could and turned to wandering aimlessly about the castle. She knew woefully little about everything but for the drawings Eve had showed her, and she had been shown those a frightfully long time ago. So adventuring Clara went, waving to knights who also seemed to have no more apparent purpose in their hall exploring than she did, nodding haughtily at servants while feeling horribly guilty, and still managing to have a swell time.

Colin was organizing Didacus's various herbs. It had just about reached that time of year where Didacus began to fret about the state of his stores, thinking that he had too much witch hazel and possibly not enough yarrow to last the winter, when nothing new could be harvested while the world had frozen. Every year, Colin assured the old healer that there was plenty if yarrow, and what does it matter if you have too much of something so long as you continue to use the correct amounts in whatever you brew?

As Colin stacked and bundled the brittle plants, his mind drifted to Clara, as it often did. He hoped she was not angry with him. She did seem to have a bit of a temper, though from what he had seen her anger was quick to flare but died slowly, smoldering out to the bitter end. Well, perhaps that was a bit extreme. But she was definitely the grudge holding type. Colin doubted that she would hate him or anything over something as small as giving her a week's advance warning over something she was sure to dread, but what he viewed as an act of kindness she may have viewed as malice or a taunt. Though Colin hoped she knew him well enough to know he would not do something like that. He was probably overthinking it and dismissed the issue. It would resolve itself, he decided. Instead of worrying about Clara, Colin decided to think about how beautiful she was, with her wide, gorgeous, intelligent eyes and her long shiny hair, and how kind she was to agree to help them.

But no sooner did he think of her help than his mind fogged with fear. The Prophecy will be fulfilled, a nasty little voice whispered in the back of his head. Colin shook his head vigorously, raising a cloud of heavily scented dust, making him sneeze. He hoped that he had successfully driven whatever had caused him to think that away. The Prophecy is not necessarily about Melanie, he reminded himself. Dragons are clever and tricky. Just because the King demanded a prophecy does not mean that it will relate to him in any way.

But it will still happen, that same little voice nagged. A prophecy from a dragon always comes true.

Because we make it true, Colin argued. Then he realized that he was arguing with himself, and set his mind back on track with the task at hand.

That evening, as all of the royalty were preparing for bed, James sent Colin out with a strange request. The prince wanted to find a tunic to match Clara's dress for the feast that was rapidly approaching. James wrote it off as wanting to present the best possible front to the Mescian ambassadors, but Colin detected a sulky, resentful tone from the prince and strongly suspected that the King had had something to do with this sudden desire to be matching and fashionable.

The next day, Colin was scouring the open marketplace and wondering why James could not just requisition a female servant to do things like shop for clothes, which Colin intensely disliked and avoided as much as he could. Then he saw it. Colin immediately went to the stall where an old woman was sitting, wrapped in dozens of shawls and squinting at everyone with a friendly, toothless grin. It was sitting there, tarnished and stained with age, but Colin instantly knew it used to be beautiful. It could be beautiful again.

He picked it up and held it in front of the old woman's face. "How much?" Colin asked with force and authority he had picked up from James.

She squinted at the necklace. "Oh, that old thing? I'll take one copper for that, it's nothing."

Colin gave her a strange look that she did not see, as she kept grinning into the crowd of others, all prospective clients to her. Fishing through the coins allotted to him for shopping, Colin was disappointed to find nothing less than a silver. Digging through his own pockets, he found a copper at last and passed it to the old vendor. She bit down on it, seemed satisfied, and waved Colin on.

He walked off. He had nearly finished getting everything he needed for James, so he coiled the long chain into his pocket and set off for the stall that carried cloth.


Clara woke with a feeling of being cold and hollowed out. The feeling was vaguely familiar, but the long months at the palace had begun to replace the old farm as "home" in her mind. She was not quite sure why she felt the way she did, although Eve was giving her rather interesting looks.

"What is it?" Clara asked. Oh no, I haven't tried to kill anyone while I was asleep, have I? she thought as Eve threw her another shifty glance.

"I just heard you last night," Eve said at last. When Clara continued to look confused by this, Eve elaborated just a little. "You were...whimpering in your sleep. I wanted to come in to check on you, were silent by the time I found a candle. I don't know what happened but you seemed upset." Her eyebrows drew together. She seemed very concerned for Clara, and Clara reassured her friend gently.

"I'm sure I was just having a strange dream," she said, placing a hand on Eve's shoulder. Eve nodded, lips pressed together, and bustled off to attend to her duties.

Clara tried to remember what it was she had been dreaming about. It came back to her suddenly, almost like a flash of light.

A necklace, shiny and silver, a small pendant. On one side, it looked almost like a coin, with a horse engraved in the metal. The other side had words, symbols Clara could not make out. A long chain snaking through the air before snapping towards her face...

Clara startled back towards the present. But she knew why she was not feeling well. She had had one of her prophecy dreams. She could not tell Eve about this, but at the first chance she got she went to Colin, to help her make sense of what she saw and how she felt.

Unfortunately, she would not be able to see Colin until tomorrow. Eve confined her to the bed after one look at her complexion, and Colin was too busy running mysterious errands for the prince to visit her.

Didacus was called, and he declared that he had no idea what had hit her, but that it would probably clear up relatively quickly. On his way out of the room, Didacus winked at her behind Eve's back, so Clara felt that he at least knew what was happening to her and could tell Colin even if she could not. She spent the day reading, attempting to increase her ability as well as seem better learned to any and all visitors she may have to contend with.

Sure enough, when Eve allowed her to get out of bed on the next day, she ran into Duke Alan, who seemed positively set on picking her brains for ways to conquer the Dilaeans. Clara smiled and nodded a lot, and when she was finally able to extricate herself from the conversation which she could not contribute to in the least, she practically flew to Didacus's potion room, where he was sure to be at that time of day.

Sure enough, he was there, though it took Clara some time to find him in the midst of all the multicolored steam and smoke. When she did manage to locate him, facing a large cauldron and quite focused on the bubbling substance within, she shouted over the hissing and sizzling of the various potions. "Didacus! I am so glad I found you. Do you know where Colin is?"

Didacus turned around, and Clara screamed. His pupils were hugely dilated from the darkness of the room and, more likely, the various substances used in his potion making, and his thick glasses only added to the bug-eyed, terrifying effect. When he removed the glasses to ask what was wrong, Clara put a hand to her chest and took a deep breath. "You gave me quite a fright, Didacus, with your eyes so big like that."

He blinked a few times, seemingly unaware of the hugeness of his pupils. "Terribly sorry, my dear. Now, I assume you are looking for Colin?"

Clara was very happy that the darkness covered her blush. "Yes, I am. Do you know where he is?"

Didacus shook his head and slipped his glasses back on, fortunately turning back to the potion so Clara was spared the horror of how he looked. She let out a small breath of relief, sending the colored smoke into a frenzy. Clara stood there for a moment, waiting for more information, but it soon became clear that she was getting nothing else from the old physician, and she left, resigned to searching the castle until she ran into him.

Clara started by going to James's rooms. James was there, wandering about looking for his sword for morning training. Clara recommended he check the armory before leaving again. In her haste to avoid dealing with her brother, she forgot to ask where Colin was, but she did not want to go back in and look like a fool in front of James so Clara headed for the armory herself. Sometimes Colin was there, polishing James's armor or helping out some of the other, younger knights. He was very helpful that way.

Clara decided to take the long way to her destination, exploring the maze of passageways and getting lost more than once. She had a very good time, although once she reached the armory she realized that training must have started already as there was nobody there but a pair of thickset guards. She nodded at them the way Eve had told her, then left for the arena.

Doubling back to grab a heavy cloak and gloves, it was some time before Clara made it all the way outside. It did not take her so long that their practicing was over, though. Quite fortuitously, Colin was also there, sitting in the front row of the seats and rubbing furiously away at something metallic in his lap. Clara assumed it was a piece of James's armor until he saw her coming and hurriedly put his hands behind his back.

"Colin, what have you got there?" Clara asked, skipping the last few steps into the seats and plunking herself down next to him.

He held up one hand. "My hand." He put it back behind him and pulled out his other hand, now empty. "My other hand."

"Colin!" Clara tried to see what it was, but he blocked her. She sat back, feeling disgruntled.

"What was it you wanted to tell me?" Colin asked, slipping whatever it was unobtrusively into his pocket.

Remembering, Clara became animated again. "I had another premonition last night," she whispered.

"What?" Colin asked. A match had just started between James and Sir John, and Clara could not be heard over the clashing of swords and shouting of all the knights.

"I had another vision last night!" Clara tried again, a bit louder. Colin cupped a hand around his ear. He still could not hear her, though he was trying.

"I had a vision last night!" Clara screamed. Glaring at Colin, she saw his wide eyes and calmed down. Looking around in the suddenly dead silence, she saw all the knights looking her way with mixed expressions of confusion and concern. Sir John was sprawled on the ground, peering up at Clara from over his stomach.

Clara processed what had just occurred slowly, glancing around and realizing what was going on. The match had ended, James victorious, of course. It had been a quick but humiliating defeat. But worst of all, now everyone knew Clara's secret.

James's sword clattered to the ground. Clara stood up and ran. Colin made some sort of excuse about how she had not been feeling well, she meant she was hallucinating, and she had to go back to her rooms and call for Didacus, as she truly was unwell.

How he managed shouting all this, making enough sense that the knights were kept at bay, fending off the ever-suspicious James and still catching up to Clara as she sprinted away seemed impossible. But it was Colin, and he executed it all, catching Clara's shoulder and turning her to face him.

Maybe he used his own magic, Clara thought bitterly. He was hardly even out of breath when he spoke.

"Clara, what happened? Are you all right?" he said, genuinely concerned.

"No, I am not all right!" Clara screeched. "You told all of them my secret! You told them all-"

"Shh!" Colin put his hand over her mouth. Clara tried to bite at him, so he removed his hand but spoke over her protests, clamping his hands over her arms. "I am truly very sorry that I did not hear you. I told them you were hallucinating as a result of your sickness. You spent the entire day yesterday in bed, so they should believe me. Clara. Clara!" He shook her slightly. She was struggling to get away again and tears were streaming down her face. She looked back at Colin. He closed his eyes and reached out to Clara's mind, releasing her arms. In an instant, the barest brush of consciousness, he felt all that she felt. Her pure desperation, her fear, and the vision that started it all. Colin saw a flash of silver before a huge wall blocked him out. He opened his eyes. It had only been a moment, a blink, but it felt longer. Clara had pulled herself upright, cheeks still damp with tears but eyes drying.

"Don't touch my mind, Colin," she said softly. Dangerously softly.

"Clara-" he called. She turned and left. Colin reached out a hand to hold her back again, to try and help, catching nothing but her shadow, the breeze made by her leaving. She turned a corner and he put his hand down.

You would not listen.

Clara stopped abruptly, already out of sight. She heard his voice, but did nothing to acknowledge the contact. She thought she had put up sufficient walls, but she took even those down now. She wanted him to know she was listening.

I am sorry.

Clara inhaled sharply. Fresh tears started to fall. It was not his fault, he hadn't even done anything wrong. But she could not bring herself to turn around.

No. I am sorry.

That was all she transmitted. She spent the rest of the way back to her room taking deep breaths, wiping her face, and imaging thick, unbreachable walls. With spikes.

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