Chapter 12 - Hayther
I busted out into the courtyard, my eyes searching frantically for her. Somehow as if pulled by some other worldly force, I found her staring at me her lips were forming my name just as I was calling out hers. My feet were frozen, and I couldn’t snap my mind out of it. In the span of less than a second my whole body went numb as two figures, one with unmistakable blonde curls grabbed her arms and disappear into the crowd moving towards the gate. No one seemed to be noticing the Princess, probably not since she was wearing a black cloak.
Rage kicked in and got my body moving, I was trying to push through the crowd, but I might as well have been trying to swim in the Aragos mud pits. People were in a panic, unsure if they were in danger. All the sudden a few guards who were still standing on the stage fell to their knees grabbing their throats as red liquid quickly stained their uniforms. Another wave of panic pulsed through the crowd. People screamed and pushed for the gates frenzied on by the blood.
I thought I caught a glimpse of blonde curls and reached my fist out latching onto someone’s hair. Their deep grunt was drowned out by the people’s hysteria, and I looked straight into the eyes of Axel. I saw what looked like fear, before I see his fist smashing into my skull. Then I see nothing, I try to claw my way to consciousness but Everose was here with me in this peaceful darkness. She smoothed my hair away from my face while she cradled my head in her lap. I was so content I could stay here forever.
Suddenly I was brought back to the real world by a harsh splash of freezing cold water being poured on my face. I sputtered and sat up quickly, pushing my hair back out of my face. I looked up with one eye begrudgingly at my attacker.
“We got ano’er live one o’here!” yelled a small troll looking old lady. Moles dotted her weathered face, and she was missing most of her teeth as she smiled down at me. She hobbled away toward the water pump near the wall to get more for others. I looked around the courtyard lit by the soft glows of the rising sun and saw there were some who still laid on the ground, some with red stained bricks surrounding their bodies and some without. I touched my cheek and sharp pain greeted me, Axel got in a good punch. The events from last night raced through my mind and I rolled over to hand knees and threw up. I didn’t care who saw me. Fear for her coursed through me, I was there when she went to Eric in the dungeon, what he said to her, I dry heaved again but nothing comes up this time.
As I stood slowly, placing my hands on my knees still doubled over from pain and the feeling that I may throw up again. The oak and iron doors leading into the castle crashed open. A deep voice penetrated the thick fog that has surrounded my mind. “HAYTHER!” I glanced up and see King Ashur barreling towards me, I braced for what was sure to be he his rage against the man who was supposed to watch over his only daughter. Instead strong, yet gentle arms settled around me, squeezing ever so slightly.
“Hayther, when I heard you were one of the bodies out here, I..” he paused taking control of himself like the king he was “I’m glad you’re okay son.” Tears of anger and frustration welled up in my eyes as he let go of me.
“I’m so sorry sir.” my voice shook.
I couldn’t look up at him, my tears just kept rolling down my cheeks “I should have done more, been more prepared.” I felt a gentle feminine hand on my back and looked up to see Lady Ellen and Sir Bracen had joined us, as well as a few others who were scurrying about. All of their faces were ones of confusion.
“Where is my daughter, Hayther?” My stomach drops out of existence, no one knows she’s gone. Precious hours of search are gone, wasted away by doing nothing because of ignorance, because I wanted to stay in my dreams with her when I should be out rescuing her in real life.
“She. She’s...she’s gone...” I swallowed against the sour taste in my mouth. “I believe it was Eric and his rebel group...”
King Ashur was quiet for a moment, “Were you with her last night? Or was it Axel?”
I shook my head “It was me.”
Lady Ellen gasps and puts a hand to her forehead. “Axel was secretly in league with Eric and his rebels.”
Sir Bracen started forward “Don’t go spilling lies! My son would never do that!” I looked up at him stunned, his face looked redder than I had ever seen before. “You probably got hit in the head too hard and started seeing stuff!” Sir Bracen continued, while Lady Ellen had now stepped next to him and put an arm on his shoulder.
“I am not mistaken, Sir. It was undeniably him and he was the one who gave me this bruise.” I waved my hand up towards my face.
Lady Ellen started to weep softly, trailing after Sir Bracen who had already stormed off. The others who had gathered around slink away now uncomfortable near me and the king, who was stoic. He hadn’t moved since I said that she was gone, he was staring at the sky just above the walls, unblinking, unmoving.
I made a decision and get down on one knee, I bowed my head and place my right arm across my chest.
“King Ashur, I, Hayther Arkfeld, hereby solemnly swear by the Goddess Everose to find Princess Everose or die trying.” I pulled out my dagger and swipe it across my palm a sting briefly registered in my mind, but it quickly disappeared, as blood dropped out of the cut on my hand. I let a few drops of blood drip onto the stone in front of the king’s boots, before taking a cloth that the small troll woman brought over. Her gnarled hands grasped onto mine for a moment before she hobbled away to the next person still laying on the ground. I stood up and looked to King Ashur for a sign if what I was doing was right.
His face was white, “Hayther you will do no such thing. I will send a group of royal guards after her.”
I blanched, I hadn’t been expecting that “But Sir- “He put up his hand to silence me.
“ Hayther you are only one man, how could you expect to find her and fight off this obviously elite group, all by yourself?” his eyes were wide as he raged on “ Put your pride aside boy, this is my daughter, the only family I have left, I will not leave it to a child to bring back my daughter. You are to stay here.”
With that he gave a curt nod and headed back inside. My mind was racing, I knew I couldn’t stay here I had to go and find her myself. I headed towards the guard’s barrack, and into the supplies room. I snatched a large canvas bag off a shelf and head towards my room. I opened my dresser and reached for my spare royal guard uniform but my hand hesitated, of course Axel and Eric would recognize me, but others may not in normal clothes. I opened my drawer with just normal clothes and shoved a few days’ worth of clothes into the bag. I left a dark gray shirt out along with a pair of black trousers. I stripped of my pants first full of dirt and dead leaves stuck to them and peeled off my shirt next and just as it went over my head I heard my door open. I turned towards the door and saw Veryan standing there, her hair was a mess on top of her head like she just woke up.
“Are you going to find her?” her voice was barely a whisper; her eyes were wide with fear. I nodded curtly as I dropped the dirty shirt on the floor and proceed to pull the clean shirt over my head. I grimaced and thought to myself I should take a shower before I leave but decided I had wasted enough time already. I sat down on my bed and started to pull my boots back on my feet completely ignoring Veryan who was just standing in the doorway staring at me.
“I’m going to bring her home Veryan.”
This snapped her out of just staring at me, she mouthed the word home. Something must have clicked in place for her because her mouth settled into that determined thin lip grimace. I can tell whatever she wants was going to happen, no matter what I say.
“I’m going with you.” I followed her all the way to her room protesting and explaining why she couldn’t go. She just grabbed a satchel out from underneath her desk and throws her new trousers into the bag along some of her blouses, I noticed she had more than one now.
“Be reasonable! I will probably have to kill people Veryan, can you watch me do that? Or what if you have to kill someone!” I took a deep breath trying to refocus my anger not on her but at the situation “Can you kill someone? It’s going to be either you or them, who will you choose?” She straightened up and set her bag down on her bed.
“She is my best friend, and during the last attack at the castle I was able to hold my own and I actually saved Prince Dorian.” her cheeks turned a little red at the mention of his name “I will do whatever it takes to bring her home.”
She darted over to her desk, pulled out a piece of parchment and after hesitating for a moment scrawls a quick note to someone. She shoved it in an envelope and I see her scrawl the name Prince Dorian on the front, I decided not to press the matter further, not wanting to start another argument. She hoisted the bag up on her shoulders and her frozen blue eyes peered right through me.
“Where do we start?” she asked me as she squared her shoulders as if ready for another fight, but instead I just shook my head and left the room expecting her to follow.
I glanced back and saw her whispering to a maid and handing over the note before jogging to catch up with me. I headed down the long corridors and out into the bright sunlight, we’ve already wasted enough time, I made my way towards the armory and pulled open the heavy door. Veryan was close behind me and her eyes opened even wider at seeing all the weapons, I grabbed two light weight daggers and held them out towards her.
“These go in your boots.” She reached down and lifted her skirt to put the daggers in place, I gave her one more with belt attached to it, she eyed my questioningly and my cheeks turned a little red. “Uh...this one goes on your thigh.” I turn around to allow her some privacy
“Hayther these daggers will do me no good against giant thugs.”
I nodded in agreement “Those are your emergency weapons, you’ve been training and showing great improvement with a sword and crossbow.”
I lifted a heavy sword and attached it around my waist “therefore I may need you to provide support for me, so you will be carrying this” I hefted the cross bow towards her and she caught it without problem. She hooked it to her pack on her back and secured a quiver on her hip as well.
“Do we know where we are going?” she questioned me, as we left the armory,
“No” I paused “Well yes, Carastil, but I’m not sure where.” We walked towards where the events from last night took place. The courtyard was empty except for a few soldiers still mulling around. I tried to remember last night, I saw them heading towards the gate, but there were soldiers stationed there checking everyone who left. I stared at the gates and then noticed to the left of the bridge a little, the land dips down, I started to walk towards the wall and I heard Veryan’s footsteps keep up with mine.
As we got closer I saw that underneath the bridge was a metal grate that the water drains through, so we don’t flood the courtyard. From a distance it didn’t look movable, but when I got closer I was able to pull it open with ease.
I turned and looked at Veryan “Are you ready to find the Princess?” Veryan looked back at the castle for a moment and then turned to me determination etched in every line of her, she nodded, and we head into the tunnel.
When we come out on the other side we find 6 sets of footprints that head west, towards the forbidden forest. I reach down and feel the prints.
“The mud has hardened therefore these were made last night. Either they didn’t think to cover their tracks or it’s a trap.” I glanced back at Veryan “Be on guard.” The sun was beating straight down on us as we followed the tracks closer and closer to the forbidden forest, Veryan was nervous and keeps up a steady stream of conversation, enough for both of us. I wanted to be in the forest and have a camp set up before night fall
“Do you remember the stories I used to tell you and Ever when we were all little?” I caught her say.
I chuckled “The ones that used to terrify her? And then you’d be the one stuck awake all night with her because she couldn’t sleep.” We went quiet for a moment, thinking of Ever outside the kingdom’s gates when she’d never left them before.
“Do you think she is afraid now?” Veryan whispered, I thought back to what Eric said in the dungeon that night, my blood starts to boil so I quickly turn my mind’s page to Ever herself. How far she had come so quickly since the attack on the castle.
“Yes, I think she is afraid but she’s stronger now and I think she’ll use her fear to keep herself alive.” That quieted Veryan for a moment
“She’s stronger than you think.” That’s the last I heard from Veryan except for her boots crunching the dirt beneath her feet. We quickly crossed into the forbidden forest and the air around us cooled by a few degrees. I placed my hand on the hilt of my sword and continued forward. “I really want to try and find a place to settle before night falls. We can make a fire and have some dinner.”
The sun was already about 3 fingers up from the horizon dead in front of us, the sky had taken on that mixture of burnt orange and the soft teals as it did when the day was ending. We continued forward and the tree branches became more gnarled and twisted, looking more and more like clawed hands reaching for something better than this pathetic life. The forest floor was covered with mushrooms and dense foliage spreading out underneath the trees.
We rounded a fallen tree trunk that even on its side was taller than I was, I paused for a moment considering it as our shelter for the night, but 2 pairs of eyes stared back at me from deep within, Veryan and I both hurried along. Finally, we saw a small cave, not very deep but at least it would give us a place to rest. I set my pack down and immediately started to gather medium sized rocks to make our fire pit.
“Veryan I need you to gather some kindling for our fire.” Veryan deposited her bag and weapon next to mine. I reached down and grabbed her crossbow
“While I go and catch us some dinner, how does hare sound?”
Veryan smiled “Sounds delicious!”
She immediately started to look around for some timber while I went to hunt some rabbits down. I was careful not to stray too far though, I quickly caught 2 rabbits with ease.
As I was retrieving my arrow from the second rabbit I heard a piercing shriek come from where I left Veryan. I grabbed my arrow with the rabbit now forgotten on the floor and went sprinting. I busted through the trees, arrow loaded and ready to shoot anyone who it may need to. I saw Veryan standing on her toes, her back pressed against the wall, and terror written all over her face. I spun in a 360 motion and saw no immediate threat, I turned back towards Veryan and started to walk towards her “Hayther!” She whispered barely moving her mouth “Don’t move!” The confusion was obvious on my face as I saw no danger, until I noticed something move near the circle of rocks now with branches inside.
A long brown snake was slithering slowly towards her, its tongue flicked in and out of its mouth quickly. I immediately recalled some of the information I learned when I was little about venomous snakes, this one’s head was a diamond shape, and now I can faintly hear a soft rattle. I moved slowly to get a better angle behind it, since it had not noticed me yet or it gave no indication if it did. Its focus was Veryan as I got into position and aimed my arrow at it’s now raised head. Veryan was still frozen with fear, and I prayed to the goddess Everose to please let my aim be correct.
I took aim and just as I was about to pull the trigger I heard a voice that made my skin crawl.
“Have no fear my child.”
The voice itself was slippery and it seemed to come from thin air. Veryan turned even paler, as if that was possible, and fainted. The snake made no immediate move towards her body, instead it turned to me. Its green eyes held mine and a strange feeling of calm washed over my body. “All is well, my sweet boy. Put your weapon down and go to sleep, like your friend”
I felt myself start to involuntarily put the cross bow down.
I mumbled “Like...Veryan.”
Just as the crossbow almost slipped from my hand a loud howl cut through the air ripping me from my spell, I let an arrow fly from the cross bow and it sliced through the snake’s neck pinning it to the ground.
Its body wriggled around in pain, I took my sword out and quickly split its head and body apart. I picked up the now limp body and threw it into the woods. I am less inclined to pick up the head, so I opted to grab one of the sticks from the fire pit and rolled it into the woods as well. I knelt next to Veryan and shook her awake “Veryan were you bit?” Her body just flopped about, her eyes still closed. I pulled her close and put my ear up to her chest listening for a heartbeat. I closed my eyes and tried to listen just as her hand came up and whacked me on the ear. I rolled back in pain and dropped her body. I heard her hiss as she grabs the back of her head that slammed off the ground.
“What were you doing to me?” she exclaimed.
“Trying to make sure you weren’t dead!” I yelled back still laying on the ground holding my ear that I was sure was bleeding.
I swiped at it and looked at my hand, no blood thank goddess.
I sat up and glare at her “So were you bit or not?”
She sat up on her elbows and gave me the same stare “I was not thanking you.” She looked to where the small pool of blood stained the dirt and bit her lip, “maybe I hit my head too hard...but do you remember a voice?”
I stopped glaring and look in the direction of the dead snake body “yeah... I always thought those stories of yours, were just you making stuff up.”
She nodded along with me “Me too.” We sat for a moment considering this until Veryan broke the silence “So did you catch anything? I’m starving.”