I walked beside Rupert as we walked through town. This village was unlike anything else I had seen before. The streets were cobblestone. They were narrow streets, wide enough for people to walk along and lead their horses through. No vehicles were in sight, not even bicycles. The shop’s doors were right up to the streets. Some of the buildings were set back far enough that a small patio was set up in front of the doors.
What I noticed the most was the luscious potted plants that lined the streets and hung in window boxes. Snapdragons, pansies, daisies, and so many other beautiful flowers filled the pots. I reached out and touched the soft petals between my fingertips. The bright pinks, purples and yellows made the dark brick of the buildings seem so much brighter.
As we continued to walk, so many other people joined us in the streets; out to shop, grab a coffee or were on their way home. As I watched the people around us, I couldn’t help but feel like I was a part of this. Everyone looked so normal, acted so normal, did such simple mundane things that really made them seem completely human.
“What?” I look up at Rupert, he was looking down at me.
“I just haven’t seen you smile before.” He said. “I mean like genuinely smile.”
I ducked my head away, my cheeks blushing red. I hadn’t realized how comfortable and happy seeing the town had made me feel, even though I had been brought here against my will.
Trying to ignore what he had said, I continued to walk taking in the beauty of this town. We turned off the main road and went down an incredibly busy street. Vendors lined the street selling a verity of things. Fruit, vegetables, crafts, clothing, herbs. I slowly passed each vendor, curious to see what they were selling. Each vendor was smiling, happy, chatting to their customers. It felt so different walking through this farmers market than what I was used to back home. I was used to the constant calls and shouts of vendors begging you to stop to buy something outrageously priced from their stand.
“Is it always busy like this?” I asked as I carefully passed a person.
“Not always. Tomorrow the King and Queen are coming down from the kingdom. An annual parade and celebration of our people and how far we’ve come as a community.” He reached out and grabbed my hand pulling me towards him. “Careful.”
I looked up at him, before quickly looking over my shoulder. A man with a large cart was making his way through the tight crowd, unable to see over the tall pile of boxes, he was bumping into people.
“Ah, sorry there Rupert!” He waved. Rupert nodded his head in acknowledgement and smiled. “Who’s the lassy ye have with ya?” His Scottish accent was thick, it was almost impossible to understand what he had said.
“Ariella.” I smiled.
“Beautiful name for a lass. I’ve never seen ye here before -”
“She’s new.” Rupert cut him off to explain.
“Ah, well congrats on becoming a Changeling. See ya around!” He said as he continued to walk away.
“But I’m not -” I tried to explain, but he was out of earshot before I could finish.
“Come on.” He pulled on my hand again. I looked down at our hands, his large hand looked so much bigger when they were holding my small ones. I pulled my hand out from his and continued to follow him.
“Where are we going?” I asked as we turned back to the main road, leaving the market behind us.
“I’m going to take you to the base of the hill.”
“Base of the hill?” I asked confused, picking up my pace to catch up to him.
“So you can see the Castle.”
We stood in front of the large iron gates. I wrapped my hands around the skinny bars as I looked up at the castle that stood at the top of the hill. It was the most magnificent structure I had ever seen. I had never seen such a well put together castle that was built hundreds of years ago.
It stood large and proud. A long twisting cobblestone path led up to the castle. It had tall towers, with large windows that overlooked the town below. Lanterns hung on each side of the large doors that led into the castle. I looked at it in awe, I couldn’t imagine how beautiful the inside of the castle was. I wondered if it had marble floors, large columns that towered over the tallest of men. I could almost see the beautiful gold curtains that hung and draped against the floors by the windows. I wanted to see inside the castle, feel its warmth and history.
“Remarkable isn’t it?” Rupert’s voice broke me from my own thoughts and dreams.
“It’s the most beautiful castle I have ever seen,” I said wistfully. “Have you ever been inside?” I turned to look up at him. His violet eyes caught mine before he looked at the top of the hill.
“A few times. Every year the King and Queen hold a celebration of the life of their daughter.”
I followed his gaze and looked back up at the castle. “What happened to their daughter?” I asked.
“She was taken when she was around two or three. We don’t know who took her, where she went. The King and Queen thought it may have been a kingdom next to us that we had been fighting with for years.” We stepped back from the gates as they slowly began to open. “I don’t think they took her though. It wouldn’t make sense, when she got older, she was supposed to marry the Prince for a peace agreement.”
“So they bring the town together to celebrate the life of their daughter. Either the one she’s living or the short life that she did live?” I asked. “Seems kinda morbid.”
He laughed. His laugh was deep and loud. It sent a small chill down my spine. I stepped away from him, clearing my throat to try and rid of the ridiculous thoughts and feelings that suddenly flowed through my brain.
“I guess it could be viewed that way.” He said.
I looked behind Rupert as the sound of horses hooves trampling the ground met my ears. A man wearing a red and gold jacket of royal attire sat on the saddle of the black horse. I could tell he was tall, his legs hung low on the horse. As he got closer, I could see his thick brown hair was a mess at the top of his head from the wind moving through it on his way down the hill.
He stopped his horse in front of us. His golden-brown eyes landed on me before he hesitantly moved them over to Rupert. Something about his eyes didn’t seem right. Everyone’s eyes that I had seen were bright, the gold in their eye shined under the light. His, seemed dull, empty. As I watched him I subconsciously moved closer to Rupert, my hand came up and gripped onto his bicep.
“Rupert.” The man's voice was deep. “What brings you to these parts?” He spoke to Rupert as if he was a pesky bug that didn’t belong. He didn’t allow Rupert to respond before he turned to me.
“Who must you be?” His eyes travelled down my body. I stepped behind Rupert, feeling violated.
“Valerian, this is Ariella. She’s new.” Rupert spoke for me. I was thankful. What I would have said wouldn’t have gone over well.
“Well, beautiful, if you ever want a tour of the castle, let me know. I’d be happy to show you around.” He smiled. I didn’t smile back. I poked Rupert in the back, wanting to leave. Whoever this guy was he didn’t rub me the right way. I really wanted to go.
Rupert cleared his throat. “Yes, well, we will be on our way.” I could feel how tense he was. I could tell he wanted to leave even more than I did.
Valerian nodded his head. “See you around Red.” He winked and continued down the road on his horse.
How original. I thought as I rolled my eyes.
“Who the hell was that guy?” I asked.
“Valerian is the Prince. He was the one I was just talking about. The guy, the King and Queen’s daughter, was supposed to marry.” He said as he looked down at my hand that was still clutching his bicep.
“Oh,” I cleared my throat, quickly letting him go. “Sorry.” I blushed, stepping away from him. “Well, I would hate to have to spend any time with that guy. What an ass.”
“You have no idea.” Rupert smiled. “I’ve been dealing with that prick for years. I really don’t understand what everyone else sees in him. Women swoon at his feet, and men strive to be exactly like him. He’s the equivalent of Gaston from Beauty and the Beast.”
I laughed. “I’ve never heard anything so accurate in my life.”
After our walk through town, we made our way back to Rupert’s house. I sat down at the table in the kitchen while Rupert put the kettle on the stove. I fiddled with my fingers, as I processed what happened today, and most of all how calm and relaxed I was.
“Why do I feel so relaxed being here?” I asked. “I mean I was kidnapped, and I spent my day walking around town with my captor. I mean I didn’t even try to leave! Who does that?” I looked up at Rupert. He was staring at me as he leaned against the counter with his arms crossed his chest.
“People with Stockholm syndrome.” Nix’s voice came from behind me. I jumped, not expecting her to show up.
“Nix.” Rupert raised an eyebrow.
“What?” She smiled. “She asked, I answered.” She pulled out the chair next to me and sat down. “You two are the talk of the town today.”
“Well I mean you, are new. So I guess that makes sense.” Rupert shrugged.
“Not only that, but people were thinking you’ve finally found yourself a wife.” Nix giggled.
I quickly looked at Rupert before I looked out the window, blushing with embarrassment.
“Nix, I’m twenty-seven not one-hundred and fifty like you.” Rupert laughed and took the kettle off the stove.
“Hey I’ve had my fair share -” Nix began.
“Wait a second. Back up,” I turned to look a Nix. “You’re how old?” I looked at her in shock.
“Darling, I may look Eight-teen, but yes I’m quite old.”
“Old and, batshit crazy.” She said, pushing her braid off her shoulder.
“Do you know why Patrick was in town today?” Rupert sat down, stone-faced, as he asked Nix.
“Ah, Darling.” She sipped her tea. “I know everything in this town. It’s been said he came back to town to talk to the King and Queen about their missing daughter.”
“Did they find her?” I asked.
“No. She found us.” She looked me dead in the eye.