Stay True

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Chapter 3

They ran down the halls. Colin had asked Clara to bring a voluminous cloak as to hide her. Finally, they reached the armory. Colin peeked in, and upon seeing it empty, beckoned Clara in. "It's just up ahead," he whispered. She nodded, her eyes wide.

Colin reached a large shield painted with the crest of a long-forgotten knight. He pulled it aside, revealing a small wooden door. Reaching towards the copy of James's key ring attached to his belt, he removed the correct key and brought it towards the lock on the door. Just then, the door to the armory smashed open. Clara quickly shrouded her face with the hood of her cloak. Colin dropped the key.

He pointed his hand towards the entrance. "Natìlsòt," he murmured. Clara started breathing quickly and muttering under her breath. "What are we going to do what are we going to do what are we going to do!" she wheezed.

Colin put a calming hand on her shoulder. Did you hear me cast the spell? he told her mentally.

She froze at the mental contact but soon softened and replied with, Yes. What did it do?

It will distract them for a short while. I learned it in one of Didacus's books...it's an interesting story, actually-

Colin! she thought sharply. She turned towards him and glared as she continued. We have something to do here! We need to find that key so that we can escape!

Right, right, sorry. I think I dropped it...Colin looked around. Here, he finally thought. Near this pile-

His heart sank. It was hopeless.

Over there? Clara probed.

Yes. Colin sighed softly.

In the straw? Really, Colin? Could there have been a worse place to lose something as small as a key?

He rolled his eyes at her, and then pointed to the small pile of straw. Will you please stop complaining and help me find it?

She stuck her tongue out at him and relented. Fine. We do not know how long the spell will last.

It depends on the size of the recipient. Since that was probably a guard and they are an average of-

COLIN!

We started frantically pulling the straw apart. When they had almost reached the bottom of the pile, Colin had an idea.

Look at this spell, Clara. I cannot believe I forgot about it!

Colin closed his eyes and said, "Noeshruht." His eyes heated up, and suddenly he could see things that were under the straw. Colin searched quickly and efficiently. In seconds, he had the key.

When he looked back at Clara, however, her mood was not as triumphant as his was. I don't suppose you could have remembered that spell before we wasted all that time looking through each piece of straw?

We both spun around as the door to the armory opened once again.

Hurry!

I am trying, I am trying!

Indeed he was. Colin was jamming the key into the keyhole in an effort to get them out of there. Finally, when the key dropped from his sweaty hand once again, he just said, "Nanilla," and pointed at the lock. The door swung open.

Clara once again looked at Colin incredulously. You mean that you could have-

He cut her off. Save it. You can finish your tirade once y- once we are safe.

Colin helped her through the door, and then quickly followed, raising the shield to block the door once again.

Once inside, they leaned against the wall and tried to slow their breathing. They were both breathing extremely hard and fast.

Clara took Colin up on finishing her tirade against him. She shifted into a squatting position and hissed, "The whole time we were in there you could have used the spell to get us out! Why didn't you? Why didn't you just skip the whole key thing and just gotten us out of there?"

He had expected more, but she had rather deflated. "That's all, I guess," she whispered. "I...I suppose I just...ran out of things to say."

"Great. Let's keep going," Colin suggested blandly. He was trying to keep the mood light.

They crawled for about two minutes, Clara ahead of Colin, before he heard a soft sliding noise, followed by a quickly stifled squeal, which in turn was followed by a thump.

"Hey, Clara? I forgot to mention that there is a slight decline in the passageway where we have to go under the moat..."

"Really?" she yelled up to him from the bottom of the slope.

Colin slid down a bit more gracefully, considering he was expecting it. "Sorry."

She stood up and dusted herself off. The tunnel was now tall and wide enough that they could stand. The chute that they had just slid down looked like nothing but a dark hole, and the passage extended to either side of them. "No problem," she said, and she sounded a little bitter.

"I just forgot, okay? It was an accident!" Colin tried to make amends.

"Whatever. Do not worry about it. I'm fine," she said, trying to brush him off.

She turned; ready to continue along the passage. Colin caught her arm as she moved away. "No, really, I'm sorry. I was too clumsy. I tried my best and I like to use magic as little as necessary, okay? I don't want you to get hurt." When he realized that the last sentence he had said was aloud, he clamped his mouth shut and turned red. Thankfully, it was dark in the tunnel, so Clara did not see. Hopefully.

"Thank you," she said quietly. Her thoughts seemed to turn abruptly. "Now let's go! I miss my horse and if we are gone too long, Eve will be frantic! Come on!" she said, waving her hand at Colin to follow as she ran.

"Clara?" Colin called when she was a little ways away from him.

She heaved a huge sigh that he could hear even from where he was and stopped. "What now, Colin?"

He pointed the other direction from her. "The stable is that way."

She slowly walked back. Colin thought she was embarrassed, but when she reached him, her voice was steady. "All right then. You lead."

Finally, they reached the stables. Clara inhaled deeply. She was totally in her element-up on her toes and just breathing, becoming one with the world.

She was brought back sharply when Colin tugged on her sleeve gently. "Shall I escort you to your horse?" he asked.

Clara nodded. "And none of this fancy talk, you," she said. "After what we just went through, you should speak to me like a friend. I don't want to be spoken to like we barely know each other."

"Okay," he said. He seemed willing enough to grab Clara's hand and tow her down the aisle of the stable. There were seemingly hundreds of stalls, all filled with gleaming horses. They nickered as the recognized a kindred spirit.

Clara did not realize that she was smiling somewhat maniacally until Colin stopped and asked, "Are you all right? Your cheeks are flushed, but you're grinning your ears off."

Clara relaxed her face and felt the taught muscles loosen. "Huh. Well, I am fine. Let's just get this show on the road! I was ready when you came in, and making me wait like this is just cruel." Clara crossed her arms in a mock show of anger. Colin looked shocked.

"Me? Cruel? Never!" he exclaimed. Clara rolled her eyes at him. "Okay, fine," he conceded, and they were off. They went to the end of the long stable block and found two beautiful horses – one a glossy white, the other a deep black that was so dark it seemed to be an interesting bluish hue. Colin left Clara with the horses while he ran to get the tack. Clara tried to stop him, saying it was too heavy to carry all by himself, but he refused the offer of help, allowing her to acquaint herself with the horses.

Clara quickly learned that the white one was hers and the dark one was Colin's. Both horses were very sweet and cute, snuffling Clara for treats and showing other horsey signs of affection. She petted them and whispered nonsense to them. Colin finally got back, and they tacked up with surprising speed and left. They rode out of the city quickly, out the back way that led straight into the woods. Clara finally was able to let down her hood, and she shook out her hair. "Ahhh," Clara sighed. "Much better. I really missed being able to ride."

Colin grinned at her. "I can tell."

They rode along in silence for a little while before Clara said, "Wait!" and stopped dead. They both slid off their horses in the small clearing Clara had stopped in. Colin gave her a look of concern and had opened his mouth to ask what was wrong when Clara held up her hand and took a deep breath with her eyes shut. In it, she smelled trees, and horses, and sweat, but she also reached out to the minds around her, save Colin's. After a moment spent listening to the birds, squirrels, and little underground critters Clara had no name for, she opened her eyes. Colin was still eyeing her as if she was crazy, which she probably seemed to be. Clara started by telling him, "Don't worry about me. I'm fine. Also, I know where we are, and I know for a fact that I can reach Lady from here!" Clara was very excited. Colin still looked worried, but she reassured him by saying, "It's fine! I know I can do this."

He still looked worried, but he nodded and went to go hold the horses. Clara sat down cross-legged on the ground after first clearing away some leaves and stones. She placed her hands on her knees palm-up and reached out her mind.

Clara's horse, Roxanne, nudged Colin. "Shhh!" He gave her a little tug on the reins and she tossed her head up but became quiet. Colin stared at Clara's erect back. She seemed to be deep in a trance. When she had told him to stop, he was initially worried, but that soon faded when she said that she would be fine. Colin just wanted to make sure that she did not over-stretch herself again. He was glad that she was using what he had taught her about avoiding mental contact with others. She was able to reach out to the many animals in the clearing but did not delve into his mind, but rather gave it a friendly bump that allowed him to see what she was doing.

Colin's horse Clopfish (and yes, he had a strange name, but he was James's first horse and was named by James the toddler) chose that moment to go graze. So entranced was Colin with Clara's meditation that he did not notice the warm leather reins slipping through his fingers as Clopfish ambled off. Colin swore very quietly under his breath when he did notice and tugged Roxanne along. She snorted and remained where she was. He yanked harder. It was imperative that he reached Clopfish before he stepped on his reins, because if that happened he could seriously hurt himself. "Come on!" Colin hissed. He stole a glance at Clara. She was still very focused, so he risked raising his voice just a little bit. "Roxanne! Come here!"

She snorted again and shook her head at him, sending the metal bits on her tack jingling, but she followed him nonetheless. Colin grabbed hold of Clopfish again and he sighed, sounding quite resigned and getting Colin very wet. He squeezed his eyes and mouth shut and wiped off his face as best as he could.

After what felt like an eternity of pulling on the horses and being slobbered on in return, Clara finally rose and faced Colin, smiling. "Oh, that was fantastic!" she bubbled. He smiled weakly. That is really great. You had a lovely talk; I had to deal with two ornery beasts. Really wonderful for you.

Clara had enjoyed a lengthy conversation with Lady. The horse's familiar subconscious enveloped Clara's in an embrace that was very different from a physical one. It was very relieving. Lady reported that Clara's family was frantic over her disappearance, although there were rumors that she had been spotted somewhere in the forest. Clara was scared at this news; once Lady sensed her discomfort Lady told her that those rumors had been circulating since a little bit after her disappearance and they weren't recent enough to suggest that Clara had been seen on this particular jaunt into the woods with Colin. Clara wished to send some sort of message to her family to let them know she was all right, but between her and Lady they could not come up with any ideas that would not give away the nature of where she was and what was happening. Clara resolved to ask Colin about it on the return trip.

They spoke of more things that were mundane as well. For instance, Clara learned that Dawn was well, and had indeed already foaled, a sweet baby girl that presumably one of her foster sisters had named Twilight, and Dante was growing into a lovely, healthy baby. Missy was on her way to foaling (Clara suggested the name Loic if it was a boy, Esa if it was a girl) and would be moved to a birthing stall later that week. Clara actually talked to Dante as well, but their connection was weaker, him only being one week old, and this time he did not shy away from her thoughts as much and Clara was rather proud of the progress she was making.

Clara had no idea how much time had passed, so after a little while of catching up she told Lady very sadly that she had to go but would try to contact her again in a week or two. It all depended on how busy Clara was. Lady reluctantly let her go, and when Clara came out of her reverie the sun had not moved. Well, it had, but not enough for her to notice. Colin and Clara made their way back to the castle (Colin muttering darkly about a change of clothes) and they managed to get back to their respectful positions without Eve even noticing they had left. Colin had managed to talk her out of a continual correspondence, but was willing to help Clara write and send one cryptic letter. They sent it a few days later, and when Clara visited Lady the second time the horse said that the family had received it and were overjoyed she was safe but sad she was not coming back.

As the weeks drew on, Clara got busier and busier, spending more time with lessons from Eve and Colin, and she was unable to contact Lady again. But she also found that one of her favorite activities was drawing in her bed. She just saw this sort of...image, although it was more like a vision, and she would feel like she just had to get it down on paper... Mostly she drew mythical creatures, such as fairies and sprites. Sometimes other things would catch Clara's fancy, like iridescent bugs or frogs...anything and everything she could think of, splashed across the parchment with her quill almost faster than she could think them. For her, someone who was easily distracted and has a love of anything fantastical, this was a personal bliss.

Clara really liked drawing, but another thing she loved was her secret magic lessons. One especially fine day, Colin was telling her about King Woden's never-ending battle with magic as they lounged in the grassy courtyard after ensuring nobody else was around and setting a few alert spells just in case. "As much as the King has tried to squash the magic out of this land, he will never truly succeed."

"Really?" Clara replied. "I always thought that I was an outsider, a- a-" She struggled to find the right word. Finally, a suitable one popped into her head. "A mistake. Like something was wrong with me." That was when Clara learned that there were creatures of magic out there, like dragons, pixies, and mermaids.

Most magical creatures were very clever and tricky. Dragons, for instance, have quicksilver tongues and will subdue their victims with huge turns of phrase that leave them so confused that you practically step into their mouth of your own accord. Pixies were little things, hardly larger than a child's fist, but they had vast reserves of magic that outsource their size, which they tend to use at humans' expense. Clara read that pixies loved the trees and the environment, and when humans tore down great swaths of forest or even when a forest fire starts (they weren't very common, but when they did happen it is usually a dragon at fault) the pixies find ways to curse the wood. That is why most buildings are made either of mud bricks or stone and wood is mainly used as fuel. Clara was also very interested by the mermaids and their steeds, kelpies. They were very fascinating to her. Little was known about them, partially since they kept to themselves, but also because it was rare to survive an encounter with one. They could be very violent if provoked, and since just going into their territory without advance warning is considered rude, it was really no wonder that there was practically naught but stories and legends about them. Colin and Clara spent nearly every entire afternoon researching magical and mythical beasts in Didacus's library. They would have gladly spent the whole day there, but Clara had lessons in the mornings.

Clara also happened to learn – in between searching for a book on kelpies and searching for where the book on shape-shifters belonged – that her being able to speak with animals was a rare gift. Colin had told Didacus about her powers (Clara was only upset with him for a day or two; turned out Didacus was Colin's uncle, had gotten Colin the job at the castle, and was very trustworthy) and Didacus had only heard of two other cases. Later, Clara found out that she could speak to people who did not have magic. All magical people could telepathically exchange messages with each other, but Clara could speak to non-magic people as well. She accidentally called Eve with her mind to help with a fastening once, and she came running. Fortunately, Clara was behind the screen at the time, so Eve did not see that Clara's mouth did not move.

Eve and Clara did run into a bit of an issue with the marketplace. Eve could go about as she pleased, since she was not meant to be missing and had not yet been reassigned after Melanie's disappearance. But Clara wished to go into the market and try on silly scarves with gold mirrors sewn to them and hold up jewelry that was far more suited for a matronly person and just be able to bond with Eve the way girls do; by shopping. Clara tried to convince Eve that she had never been shopping for anything but vegetables and the occasional bolt of cloth, but Eve was firm on her point that, even disguised, they couldn't risk Clara leaving the tower. So together, they came up with a sort of code that they could use. Eve would do different things with her hair, throwing it over her shoulder or swinging it around as she turned to either show Clara different things or ask what she thought of them. Clara would be standing at her window, opening it slightly forward or closing it completely depending on whether it was a yes or a no.

Once, Eve hit a wealthy woman in the face with her hair. She turned, holding the frothy green scarf she had just been showing Clara, and the scarf wafted into the woman's face, causing her to have a dramatic sneezing fit. Eve had backed away, apologizing profusely, while the woman's handmaiden snickered, and made her escape. She returned to the room to find Clara seated under the window, eyes streaming, laughing so hard that no sound was coming out of her mouth. Eve started to laugh, tried very hard not to, and then burst into a fit of unladylike giggles and snorts, which only made her and Clara laugh harder.

When Eve returned from the market with new things for Clara, they would spend the rest of the afternoon trying things on and spinning about the room. Sometimes another servant making the rounds would hear them and make a surprise visit. Eve and Clara would run around, madly dashing back and forth with armfuls of clothing, jewelry, makeup, everything that was out. Then, if there was enough time, Clara would hide behind the screen and try not to breathe heavily, but twice she had to shove herself under the bed with everything else she had unceremoniously pushed underneath. Eve would make some excuse, and when the servant would leave, would help Clara out of her hiding spot and laugh everything off. Except whenever that happened, Eve would not go to the market again the next day. She said she did not want to risk the same servant being suspicious, and Clara would be bored in the afternoon, though Colin would come on those days and help her find the secret passageways so she could move around the castle unnoticed.

Clara was starting to feel unsure about her relationship with him. She knew it could not last once she was the princess again, for an acceptable princess could never spend so much time with a servant. But she found herself so enjoying her time with him that eventually, she could never imagine giving it up.

The best day was when Eve took it upon herself to teach Clara how to dance, but Eve was terrible with leading, and Clara always wound up leading even though she was supposed to be dancing as the woman. Since James was busy with his knights, Eve brought Colin to Clara's room and he helped her learn. They made quite an odd pair, Clara in her heeled dancing slippers and Colin in his dirty servant's uniform (he had come from polishing armor, a nasty-smelling task that would permanently blacken whatever clothes he was wearing). But Clara had an amazing time. Colin was rather good at dancing, and though he would wince when she stepped on his feet, he never got angry. By the end, Eve was almost starting to well up, she was so proud. "The two of you look like a king and queen! Clara, you are going to be the best dancer at any ball." Clara realized she was still looking at Colin and he was still looking at her, and she quickly released Colin's hand and stepped away from him awkwardly, thanking him for teaching her. He returned to his tasks, and Eve returned to Clara's lessons.

Though she did not always enjoy her lessons, Clara was certainly never bored. Besides her written lessons, she was required to try her hand at many practical things, most of them time-consuming, ranging from embroidery, which she was rather good at and was a necessary skill for all princesses (and she believed was just something to do in order to appear busy enough not to talk to annoying dignitaries and yet not exercise a lot of brainpower), to helping Didacus mix his potions, at which she was positively dreadful.

On one such occasion, Clara was attempting to replicate the hair potion Eve had bought from a merchant. Eve had had to stop Clara from adding the actual potion to her sad attempt of a duplicate nearly four times. "Careful!" Eve exclaimed again, actually removing the bottle from Clara's hands. "Look at the bottle. It says right here: 'Do not mix with other potions. Contents quite potent.' Then there's a bunch of nonsense about not blaming the merchant for any injuries you might sustain from not using as properly directed, blah blah blah," she read, squinting to see the fine print.

Clara cocked her head. "Potent...potent...what does that mean?" she asked.

Eve put down the bottle and planted her hands on her hips. "Clara, this was in your lesson just two days ago! Don't you remember?"

Clara sat a moment in thought, then scrambled away from her seat on the floor (there had been a rather nasty mishap with a flammable potion and the table a few days prior) and crouched down beside the bed. She rummaged around under the bed for a while before pulling out a meager stack of drawings. Eve bent down beside her and wondered aloud, "What are you doing?"

Clara riffled through the stack and pulled out a large picture of an eye. Each week of lessons had a specific drawing attached to it. She drew during her lessons so that when she looked at the drawing later, she would remember what Eve had taught her about.

Clara scanned the drawing. The definition finally popped into her head. "Dangerously strong!" she said triumphantly. Then she slid the drawings back under her bed.

Eve looked at Clara, clearly confused. Clara looked back at her, still seated on the floor. "What?" Clara asked innocently. "Didn't you want me to find out what 'potent' means?"

Eve shook her head to clear it. "Oh, yes, sorry. I forgot what we were talking about."

Clara slowly stood up. "That's not like you," she said, wary.

Eve pressed a palm to her forehead. "I know. I don't-"

Her eyes rolled backwards into her head. All Clara could see was a sliver of the whites. "Eve?" she called frantically.

Clara's hands fluttered helplessly as Eve tipped towards her. Clara caught her and laid her down on the floor. She realized that there was something she could do. Clara felt for Eve's pulse the way Didacus had showed her. Clara could not find it in her friend's wrist, but she decided not to break down completely until she could not find it at all.

Clara went to her neck. She had almost given up when she felt it. A weak thump against her hand, followed by another. Eve was alive.

Clara released a huge sigh of relief. She had not even realized that she was holding her breath. She mustered her mind and sent out a huge pulse of thought. Colin!

Only a few seconds later, Colin arrived in her chambers. Clara was bent over Eve, monitoring her breathing. Colin walked over to them, clutching his side and panting. Clara looked up at him.

"Did you run all the way here?" she asked. He nodded, too out of breath for speech. Clara placed her hands on her hips. "Well you didn't have to do that!" Clara said indignantly. "Now you'll be useless until you can breathe properly again!"

He waved her off and helped her tend to Eve as well. His breathing returned to normal soon enough, and he explained, "Didacus should be on his way. He was just administering to a courtier with a bad case of being overly pompous."

Clara laughed, despite the dire situation. Colin also said, "He should be along any moment now. He was nearly done when I left."

"Okay," Clara said. Nearly a half-hour later, however, Didacus still had not arrived. "Colin, will you go see what's keeping him?" she asked.

"Sure," Colin said. He left; only to come crashing back through the door and slamming it shut a moment later.

"What are you doing?" Clara asked loudly out of anger, confusion, and fear.

"Didacus fell in the hall!" Colin exclaimed. "He appears to be afflicted in the same way as Eve!"

He sat back down next to her again, wiping his forehead. He was scared. "Why do you think we haven't been affected like Didacus and Eve?" Clara asked.

Colin put his hand to his chin to hold his head up. "I don't know," he said, shaking his head ever so slightly.

Clara cast her eyes downwards. "Do you think it is because...of our magic?" she whispered.

Colin shook his head again, but this time it was less of a denial than it was a sign of unknowing. "I think so," he murmured through his fingers. "But I sincerely hope not." Suddenly his eyes widened. "James!"

"You should go check on him," Clara said. She was worried too, for the kingdom, for her brother and father. The scope of the situation had not quite set in yet. She was in shock.

Colin got up and went over to the door. When he got there, he made a sharp about-face and asked Clara, "Should I check on the King too?"

"Nah," she said, trying to lighten the situation. "He's a tough old coot, he'll be fine." Clara was rewarded for her efforts with a small grin before Colin left her and her loyal maidservant alone.

Clara placed her hand very gently on Eve's diaphragm to monitor her breathing. "Please, Eve," Clara pleaded. "Don't leave me. I have already had so much stripped away from me...not you too. We may disagree about many things, but I can see past that and so can you! You are my best friend, the only thing I'm sure of here. We have had so many good times and have so many more good times ahead. Please," Clara finished. "Please."

Tears started slowly forming in Clara's eyes and then rolling down her cheeks. She wiped them away impatiently, aware that Eve's breathing had suddenly gotten stronger. "Eve?"

*****

Everything was very dark. Slowly, some splotches of color filled the bleak and barren landscape of Eve's mind. Voices came from the splotches. They were distorted, but she recognized one as Clara and the other as Colin. They faded slowly back to murky darkness. When she heard their voices, her weakened mind had conjured up an image of whom she had heard. How interesting.

A little while later, Eve seemed to see, like at the end of a dark tunnel, a blurry person. It started speaking, and she realized that it was Clara. Eve also heard what Clara said like she was at the other end of a tunnel. Everything Clara said bounced off the walls a thousand times before it reached Eve. Even so, she managed to catch some of what was said. "...stripped away...disagree..."

So far, these seem to be very bad things, Eve thought.

"...see past that...best friend...good times...ahead...please."

The last word came as a whisper, louder than the rest. Perhaps Eve was coming closer to being conscious again...she regained the feeling in her body. She could feel Clara's hand, she could feel the floor beneath her...it was glorious. She celebrated by taking deeper breaths in and out. Unfortunately, those were too much for her to handle. She fell back into a swoon, only just hearing a plaintive cry of, "Eve?"

*****

Colin sprinted through the halls. In and out of the kitchen. Across the entire castle. As he ran, he thought I hope James is okay. Many long minutes later, he had a stitch in his chest and was barely jogging. His thoughts had changed to Why on Earth is the castle designed so that the prince and princess are on complete opposite ends?

Finally, though, Colin reached Prince James's quarters. He steadied his breathing slightly and searched through his room. James had fallen on the bed. From the looks of things, he had not even woken up yet. Colin sighed at him. "You spoiled little prince," he thought aloud. "Not even awake yet."

Colin had been anticipating having to drag the prince out of whatever he'd fallen into and trying to make him more comfortable, then making the journey back to Clara. However, since there was nothing for him to do with James, Colin decided that he was going to check on the King and then make a leisurely journey back.

Thankfully, the King's quarters were somewhat close to James's, which probably had to do with the fact that James was crown prince. See, the King lived right next to the throne room, and, therefore, so did Crown Prince James. Colin peeked in, and saw that the King had been writing a letter. He was slumped forwards on his desk, parchment with wet writing stuck to his forehead. Colin swore very quietly. How am I going to get that letter off his head without seeing what he wrote? The words will have transferred themselves to his head and I cannot view the private writings of the King...

Colin resolved to simply march over, yank the paper off, and be on his way. And, wonder of wonders, that is exactly what he did. Nothing for him was ever that easy to do, but he saw none of what was written. Colin was very happy about his genius plan. He was so happy that he foolishly ran back to Clara. She opened the door, saw him huffing and puffing, looked at him reproachfully, then led him over to her bed and began to fill him in on what had happened.

As soon as Colin's breath returned, he started questioning Clara. "You say that Eve's breathing got stronger? Did you see her open her eyes or anything? How is she now?"

She held up a hand to stem the flow of questions. "Her breathing did get stronger, for maybe four breaths, but it has faded since. I may be imagining things, but I think I saw her eyelids flutter when her breathing got stronger. Unfortunately, this enchantment is too strong. She is back to how she was. How's James?" Her eyes were full of concern for her older brother.

"He's fine. He has not even gotten out of bed yet. Keep in mind, you are used to waking early from helping work on a farm, and Eve and I from being servants in the castle, so we are awake and getting ready to go about our day before our pampered prince is even awake."

"Oh." The fact that this had never occurred to her showed plainly on her face. "Well, at least he's okay. But if checking on him took you maybe a second, and you clearly ran all the way back, then what kept you?" She was so fast at catching on to that kind of thing! She may not have been particularly book smart, but she had great deductive reasoning.

"I was looking around to see if anyone else had fallen. I wanted to make sure nobody was hurt." He had done that on his way back, especially in the kitchen, but fortunately, it was too early for anyone to be cooking in the oven or chopping things. Usually, breakfast consisted of some sort of meat, some sort of biscuit, and some sort of whole fruit, like an apple. No knives required for breakfast. There were some people who had started preparing lunch, but Colin had moved any knives in the immediate danger zones of people. He was hoping he could go back later and move the rest elsewhere.

Colin didn't want to tell her about helping the King because he didn't want to give her anything else to worry about, like whether he'd really seen any of the letter or not. It was a funny story (the King snores and drools-he didn't look quite so dignified when he was asleep) but Colin decided that Clara was stressed enough.

She looked at him strangely, like she knew he was hiding something, but when Colin gave her nothing else she turned her attention back to Eve. "I just don't know what to do," she said. She sounded so sad that Colin instinctively put an arm around her. She stiffened slightly at his touch, but soon relaxed.

"Well, I did take a look around. A spell was definitely cast, and though I do not know who could have done it, at least we have something to go on," Colin said, trying to be comforting. He did think he had some idea of who had done it. There was only one person who could have, really. But he was absolutely not going to tell Clara who. "Our magic is protecting us. We need to see how far the spell extends..." He trailed off, making a mental list of what they needed to do next, which was difficult to concentrate on with Clara there.

Clara leaned against Colin. He was rather comfortable, but she tried not to focus on that. She was trying very hard to hold back tears. She had no idea what to do, her friend was lying at her feet, probably dying, and the only person who could possibly help was lying in the hall in the same predicament as Eve. Clara took a long, shuddery breath.

Thinking about Didacus made her realize that even Didacus had to learn what he knew from somewhere. And where was the largest collection of magical books in the kingdom?

Clara sprang up from her seated position, jostling Colin. He stood up too and stretched. Clara heard a crack, presumably his shoulder or back, and she shuddered. "What?" he asked. "I can't help it."

Clara shuddered again, mostly for effect, before quickly explaining that Didacus had the largest supply of magical lore in his library. "Maybe there's something there that can help us get everyone back on their feet!" she finished excitedly. Colin thought it over for too long. "What?" she said. "I'm despondent to fix this! We need to try anything that could possible help!"

"'Despondent', huh? Nice word," he said slowly. Clara threw her arms in the air. Is he being vague and annoying on purpose? Come on! Finally, he said, "Okay. I'm in. But there are-"

Clara did not catch the end of his sentence. She was already out the door.


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